Thursday, April 30, 2015

Home truths

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Anon

 

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Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the small voice at the end of the day that says ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Mary Anne Radmacher

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A brief encounter

Sometimes I write a blog post and I fail to get across what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it. I feel like that about yesterday’s post. I may delete it.

Today is a picture postcard, with no nuances, delicate or otherwise.

The Lancaster canal runs through Carnforth, a spitting distance from the railway station, where David Lean filmed Brief Encounter. I saw Brief Encounter once and hated it. Here’s a trailer. I prefer Victoria Wood’s parody. I like the atmosphere and the photography of the film but Trevor Howard is a million miles from my idea of a romantic hero, which is a huge deal for me. And I have other quibbles.

But I did want to see the refreshment room on the platform to see where it all happened. We went for a coffee (excellent) and a freshly made scone (delicious) and we had a huge long chat with Andrew who runs the place. It was brill. He let me have my picture taken behind the bar.

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The adjoining refreshment room…

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And here is the station clock which also features in the film:

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Monday, April 27, 2015

À la recherche du temps perdu

The Lancaster canal - which we sailed down last week - is a few miles from Morecambe where my Gran lived. And a few miles further north, near Hest Bank, you get a view from the canal of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills beyond.
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My Gran used to take us train-spotting at Hest Bank. She was disabled but had a hand-controlled car and she would park on a sloping lane that ran beside the west coast railway line from England to Scotland. She would sit in the car and knit, and Jen and I would climb through the fence and sit on the grass above the line, with our egg sandwiches and our proper trainspotters’ notebooks containing all the engine numbers, ready to tick them off. Gran always looked up when a train came so she could be a third pair of eyes in case we missed a number. I loved those trips. She was a fabulous Gran.
Dave and I walked down from the canal to search for the place. It is 55 years since I was there but I knew we were on the same lane. Now the express trains travel at 125 mph and there is a huge metal fence to stop you getting near the track.
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We missed the express, but managed to see a slower train.
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We walked back up Pasture Lane in hot sunshine and got back to the barge in time for Dave’s five o’clock fix of news headlines on the radio. Hundreds of refugees had drowned in the Mediterranean. I was overwhelmed by sadness.
When I went train-spotting with Gran in the summer holidays, I had no idea that the world was such a terrible place where millions of people lived impossible lives, and died in dreadful circumstances, and there would be nothing I could do to make it better. Sometimes I wish I was back in that time.
This month a photo of a Syrian girl went viral. She had her hands in the air because she thought the photographer’s camera was a gun. She was four. How must she see the world?

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I’ll be posting a long post later today, but until that arrives, here’s another photo from our trip. (You can just make out Dave’s new dungarees that he bought in response to his clothing crisis a few weeks ago.)

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Self-indulgence

You know that wedding outfit that I got too fat for before the wedding arrived? The one I bought from the designer clothing agency in November? Well on that same occasion I bought my first ever pair of stretch jeans.

Going for a narrowboat holiday on a canal with no locks – which is what we just did - is the holiday equivalent of stretch jeans: pure self-indulgence. No good will come of it.There is no work to do and you grow fat and lazy.

We had a wonderful time, and not just because the days were hot and sunny. This is my favourite photo from our trip on the Lancaster canal.

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It was the morning I decided to stay in bed and write while Dave set off down the cut. (He set off at 06.45 so I have some excuse.) Unfortunately this was also the morning we came across the only swing bridge on our trip, so I had to get out of bed after all, to open it in my pyjamas. The photo shows Dave waiting for me to get back on the boat.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Check in/Check out

I’m back. But I’m going away again tomorrow and my mind is full of lists and urgencies and not full of blog posts. I’m sorry. I will be blogging again, but not for ten days.

In the meantime I can offer two pictures from the family wedding weekend which shows the effects a new baby can have on ancient relatives.

Here is my brother Jonty holding his nine-week-old great niece:

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And here is me with the same baby – my great niece.

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Yep. I am old enough to be a great aunt.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Consequences

It’s all very well living off the fat of the land and massaged kale in Boulder, but not if it means that the wedding outfit you bought last November no longer fits you for the wedding you are going to this Saturday. Oh dear.

Fortunately, there is something else in the wardrobe that will just about do, as long as it’s sunny and warm. If not, I’m in for a chill.

Also fortunately, the planned outfit was second-hand and can go back to be sold at the clothing exchange where I bought it.

I am going away till next Friday – a family wedding first, and then a jaunt, so if I don’t blog while I’m away, you’ll know it’s because of the inadequacies of mobile Blogger. That or too much champagne. (I live in hopes.)

I am feeling more chipper today, dear friends, so….as the fat woman used to say at the end of The Morecambe and Wise Show - “Goodnight, and I love you all!”

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Yesterday

Have you ever woken up feeling low and spent the day that way, and not known if it’s because you’re tired, or because you had bad dreams (which lurk there, yet you can’t remember them) or if it’s because you miss your best friend – dead for six weeks – or your mother – dead for six years – or if it’s because you don’t know where life is going? Or is it just because it’s a sunny April day, and whereas the day before you were happy because of that, now you find yourself agreeing with T.S.Eliot…

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

I’ve just been looking for an April photo to illustrate this post and realised that the light is special in April (as it is in September but in a different way). It’s bright and beautiful and uncompromising, but the distance looks mystical. Look at it here:

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There are people all over the world who are suffering. I know that. I feel it. I know that my troubles are trivial. I published this post because I like blogs where people share their feelings; and someone, somewhere, might find it helpful.

“We read to know we are not alone.” C.S.Lewis

Monday, April 06, 2015

being here now

I could start by asking why the tourist from London thought I’d like to find his visa receipt for The Nature Kitchen, and the wrapper from his Oats So Simple bar at my favourite thinking place on the Monsal Trail.

But I won’t.

What I really want to say is that on a warm, sunny Easter weekend when the daffodils are out, there is nowhere I would rather be than here at home.

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I’m having an idyllic weekend and I hope you are too. It began on Friday when the family member who declines to be named came to see us, and for the first time in ten years he let me take his photograph. It made my Easter. I’m sorry I can’t show you the photo. You’ll have to make do with an Easter photo of Lux.

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And a really interesting shot of Cece in Palm Springs:

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I started the day with a one and a half hour messaging chat with the Aging Hippie who is on holiday at the coast and had wifi for the morning. Her Peace Corps outpost is deeply rural with no wifi, so we usually have to make do with inadequate and unsatisfying Skyped conversations - me on my laptop and she on her mobile phone – during which we have to shout, and the conversation is stilted because of the time lapse.

Then I went for a bike ride on the Monsal Trail, where I was greeted by two magpies. I am not superstitious at all except for a lingering shame-faced unease about magpies (one for sorrow, two for joy). How do I shake this?

Now I am going to continue de-cluttering, which is really fun!

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

the definitive guide to de-cluttering

I went in the Boulder bookshop and bought a novel I had been looking for, and this little book on the recommended shelves caught my eye.

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It was a sweet, small, attractive hardback and I picked it up to flick through and rather liked the approach it took. Then I thought – I’ve already got a de-cluttering book at home that I have never read – and I put it back on the shelf.

When I go away without Dave, he often asks if there are any jobs I’d like him to do while I am away. This last time I said – “Wouldn’t it be great to spring clean the porch?..Clear out all your stuff to the shed that shouldn’t be there, and then paint the walls.” He seemed to take it on board. I rang him on my last weekend and he said he’d been painting the porch, and my heart skipped a beat. Then he said “And now everything is back exactly where it was.”

This may be what prompted me to return to the bookshop and buy the life-changing magic of tidying up.  I devoured it on the flight home and am now in full clear-out mode.

It’s different from other similar books I have read. The author, Marie Kondo, is described on the back cover as “Japan’s preeminent guru of tidiness.” I like her very simple, straightforward approach.

Firstly, she says you should clear out your stuff by category, not by room. And you should start with clothes and work you way down her list of categories, at the bottom of which are photos, letters and mementoes, because these are the hardest, and you need to have got your de-cluttering muscles limbered up in order to tackle them. This made sense to me.

She also says you should make de-cluttering an event, not something you do a little bit every day. I liked that.

The best thing about her approach is the way you are supposed to make your decision as to whether or not to keep something. It’s not – if you haven’t used it/worn it in two years, throw it out. No. You should take each item into your hands and say to yourself “Does it bring me joy?”

This sounds a bit nutty. However, it really works with clothes, which is what I have started on…

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I have mentioned my cashmere hoodie to you before. It is so scruffy I’ve taken to wearing it in bed to write, and nowhere else. I picked it up yesterday and asked if it brought me joy and the answer was no. It made me feel sad, because I had once loved it and now it was old and wrecked. So I cut off the sleeves above the elbow and it’s gone in my sewing drawer. It would make hot water bottle covers, or patches for other cashmere jumpers in the same colour of which I have three. (It’s eau de nil, but that’s not clear from the picture.)  OK, I haven’t thrown it out, but I have thrown away the bad bits, and it will be re-used for something else. Other clothes ARE now in a bag destined for Oxfam.

This does not help me with the porch, however. Marie K says strictly that you must never clear out other peoples’ stuff. I agree with her, so I am leading by example. I wonder if Dave will notice.

My guess is no.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Today >>>>>>World Autism Awareness Day

Regular readers know that my husband Dave and my grandson Tate

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have Asperger Syndrome, (see this post from last year). It’s also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Now it’s simply called Autism.

Phew. Now we’re over the boring bits about terminology, I want to share two things. The first is a very short video talk given by a young man who has ASD, telling us 10 things he wants us to know about autism. It’s interesting, lively and helpful: follow this link. 

The second thing I want to share is a long excerpt from my novel about a woman married to an eccentric man who doesn’t realise until late in the game that he is autistic. A few people have suggested that this storyline is not realistic. I beg to differ. I’d always thought Dave was eccentric and awkward, whilst being attractive, funny and lovable, but it was only when someone else in the family was diagnosed with ASD, that Dave and I realised that he has ASD too.

There is a lot of stereotyping about autism, especially in popular culture. This is understandable. It’s a spectrum disorder, which means it can vary widely in the way it manifests, and this makes it hard for the ordinary punter to grasp, hence the simplification and stereotyping.

Good grief, this is turning into an academic paper, not a blog post.

I’ll stop droning on. Here is the excerpt from BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, when Fran has realised that Sol has ASD:

“Fran couldn’t imagine her life without Sol. Sol was central to everything. He was special and weird and she loved him for it. The crazy stuff he said made her laugh. He made her whole world bright with his nonsense – that stuff about sharing a bath with Wittgenstein! If she had challenged him on it and said “Don’t talk rubbish – you wouldn’t really share a bath with Wittgenstein,” he would have said “Why not? The Romans went to the baths together. Martial and Catullus went to the baths with their friends. Why shouldn’t I share a bath with Wittgenstein? But you do realise that Wittgenstein is dead, don’t you? So there is, actually, no possibility of my doing so?”

Yes – you crazy weirdo – I know full well that Wittgenstein is dead.

But the thing was, she wouldn’t even have known who Wittgenstein was if it weren’t for Sol. She would never have heard of Martial or Catullus. She wouldn’t know what a gerund was. She wouldn’t know the little she knew about black holes and quarks and supernova if it weren’t for Sol. Her vocabulary would be so much poorer - she wouldn’t know what meretricious and chimera and coruscating meant if it weren’t for him. So much of her knowledge base came from him. He was intelligent and cultured and widely read. He was her own tame polymath. How could she live her life without him and make do with ordinary, normal, pastel-coloured people like George and Fiona and Debbie and Chrissie?.…………………

…….. Was his strange, material way of viewing their marriage due to Aspergers? How could she have been married to him all these years and not recognized that he had a definable condition? Was it because Asperger syndrome varied so much from person to person? Or was it that when you live with someone and adapt to them bit by bit over so many years, you lose the ability to be objective? You just think of the person as themselves – not as someone with a condition. And isn’t that how you should think of someone, anyway? As themselves? Not as a condition or a syndrome or a disorder on legs? But all this Asperger stuff was irrelevant anyway. All that mattered was that she loved him.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

It’s so green!

The only time I want to be rich is after a sleepless, endless night-flight, when I stumble off the plane past the first class seats – you know – those ones where you can lie down flat. (Oh, and when I see amazing biker jackets in the finest, thinnest, softest, navy leather in a shop on Pearl Street, Boulder.)

It’s always painful saying goodbye to my family out in the States. Isaac told Lux I was sad, so she gave me a huge loving hug and said, in an attempt to cheer me up: “Everyone has to die, Sue. And you’re going to die fast.”

Be that as it may (!) I’m startled by how green it is here. It’s spring in Boulder, but the grass has not recovered from the harsh winter snow. Weather…weather. We were eating outside there on Monday, and on Tuesday night when Dave collected me from Manchester airport and drove me home over the hills, it was snowing.

It’s good to be home. It’s good to be back at my own laptop so I’m not blogging on the edge. The technological uncertainties and inadequacies of mobile Blogger make blogging on holiday an activity to be undertaken only by the determined.

So.

Hi!

Thank you for supporting my part in the World Autism Awareness Campaign, and telling people about BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU being free last weekend. And if any of you (who haven’t already done so) feel able to post a review of it on Amazon, I’d love it.

Also, I haven’t mentioned that there is an interview with me on Chrissie Poulson’s blog here.

Isaac, Wendy and kids are now in Palm Springs.

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I am here, and ready for spring.