Saturday, 27 September 2014

Grownups say the strangest things.

When you visit my museum you will always come straight in from your world into the kitchen where we began our journey last week but from there on everything is always changing and a door which last time opened onto a room full of Chinese embroideries may this time take you down to Weymouth Harbour and the Sailing Club.  From time to time I see people that I remember well, you may think you recognise them too and events long forgotten replay.  Suddenly I find myself standing dripping wet and shivering on the harbour wall as The Merry Widow, a twelve foot Yachting World Cadet is righted and bailed out.  She has been lent to me by Arthur Meech who hasn’t warned me that the main sheet often jams; this time it jams just as I let go the mooring and a sudden gust comes sweeping across the harbour.  She doesn't just capsize, she turns turtle and the top of the mast sticks in the mud while the little wooden dagger plate floats forlornly down the harbour.  Oh the shame of it, at twelve it seems as though everyone is watching me.
Back in the kitchen my grandmother is sitting by the fire and I am in my favourite place  under the table hoping that the grownups will forget that it is past my bedtime.  She is talking to a group of friends about a night at the opera.  It all sounds very grand and exciting until she says ‘and the Royal Family were in a box.’  Grownups say the strangest things and I know if I interrupt I will be sent upstairs so the memory is tucked away till the right time comes  to ask questions. 
The larder door is at the back of the kitchen and on the slate shelf is a great mound of butter newly churned with drops of water oozing out of a crack down one side.  I can see it’s yellow so why do the grownups call it grey?  ‘Because it isn’t really black,’ comes the reply, ‘we don’t sell it, we give it to friends,’ which leaves me completely bewildered.  Many years pass before I learn about the black market. 

A memory that still makes me smile concerns a pig.  I had seen it grow up and the time had come for it to hang in the larder waiting to be jointed and shared among family and friends.  It was the day of the County Show and the only person at left at home was an elderly aunt.  When we all returned she was in a right state, ‘A man came,’ she said, ‘He wanted to look in the larder, I tried to stop him but he said he was from the Ministry.  He said we shouldn’t have killed the pig without asking permission and he would have to take it away as evidence.’  We never saw the man or our pig again.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

My Mind is a Museum

My mind is a museum - ‘Let’s pretend.’ D’you remember when your world was new and how those two words promised the very best games? Then anything was possible so let’s pretend that I can invite you into my mind. If you wander around on your own you could easily get lost, much of it is like an old fashioned agricultural museum with stacks of ancient tools that no one wants these days, a bushel basket for harvesting apples or carrying logs to the fire in winter in one corner, a yard broom and a mattock in another. Round the corner there’s a door leading into the kitchen were coals are glowing inside the open door of a blackened range. On the floor is a rag rug with a tabby and white cat curled up enjoying the warmth, beside her is a basket of clean washing. On the top a kettle is just coming to the boil and two flat irons are warming. Michette will soon come in to make the tea, she’ll pick up the iron using a special pot holder, one I made myself, so she won’t burn her hand, then she will spit on the bottom of the iron and if it makes a sizzling noise she will pick up a shirt and spread it out on the ironing board and the room will be filled with the smell of warm cotton as she smoothes away all the creases. This all belongs to a time long ago, I can have been no more than six years old for I had just begun to sew, but everything is still as clear as yesterday. Laptops and mobiles were beyond any imagining, doors that opened as you approached them were the stuff of fairy tales, but I grew up knowing how to light a fire with a handful of twigs and as the sun went down we lit oil lamps and at bed time carried a candle up the stairs to bed. Every year there are fewer and fewer of us who remember a life like that when pans of milk were set beside the stove for the cream to rise till it was thick and yellow and a crack with thick sides appeared right across the pan showing that the cream was ready to be skimmed off. Thick clotted cream with a spoonful of strawberry jam on new crusty bread, does anything taste so good today? Last week I was asked where I came from, ‘I can usually tell from the way people speak but I can’t pigeon hole you’ said my friend, ‘Central China,’ I replied, ‘I was born in a French Convent on the banks of the Yangtze.’ ‘But you don’t look Chinese.’ ‘I’m not; my mother got me onto the last ship to leave Shanghai as the Japanese were coming in over the northern border. I was one of the lucky ones; a little baby didn’t last long in a concentration camp.’ But that, as they say, is another story.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

A new husband and a new way of life. At first we were very comfortable sharing a working space, two desks in the small conservatory at the back of the house but the day came when Barry found my oil paints and easel abandoned in the corner of a room upstairs and suddenly there wasn't room for me and my desk any more. Luckily my daughter came to lunch the following day - 'There's only one answer,' she said, 'you've got to have a shed.' At that moment a knight in shining armour came round the corner disguised as near neighbour (knights in shining armour are usually heavily disguised these days) and within a couple of months he had built my dream castle. It is still called The Shed and to some it may be just a small wooden box but to me it's a palace and perfect. Now we each have our own space we have found the recipe for a very happy marriage.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Another New Beginning

In the beginning I was a student, a septuagenarian, an undergraduate and a full time carer. Despite a very full life I still found time to be a writer and thanks to a lot of encouragement, a friend who is a suburb illustrator and a wonderful publisher Phoenix House became my first novel. In 2010 I found myself stranded on an unknown shore, a widow without a purpose in life, plenty of time but no sense of direction. Fortunately fate took a hand and suddenly I was in the middle of a real life romance. Even at three score years plus rather more than ten it is possible to fall in love and suddenly every day was full of light and laughter and three years later it still is. The only people to suffer are the characters in my two unfinished novels who are mouldering in the bottom drawer of my desk wondering if there is any future for them. It is time for another new beginning, a resolution to rescue my characters and report on my life and theirs every week. I used to write in a hut beside the sea, I now have a shed in the garden but that is a story for next week.

Catching the magic

At last the sun is shining out of a clear blue sky and instead of the constant sound of the howling wind (yes howling really was the only word to describe it)the only sounds now are from crying seagulls. Snowdrops and miniature daffodils are smiling through the grass outside The Shed and spring really seems to have arrived. Portland has been very lucky, although the Chesil Beach was pounded by huge waves and the road that connects us to the mainland was closed several times our problems have been nothing compaired to those on the Somerset Levels and in the Thames valley. Our garden fencing has been blown down but that can be easily repaired. My only real problem is returning to a regular writing pattern, I've done enough research to get on with the next adventure in the life of the Pullen family. Four years have passed, Ginny and Rick have both left school and Lou is about to be the only one left at home with her father. The whole family are sitting round the breakfast table in Cliff House, I can hear them all talking but this morning I can't sit down with them; I can't catch the words and string them together. To loosen up a pianist plays scales and arpeggios, a dancer works at the barre and in the days when I made pots for a living I would wedge up half a hundred weight of clay before sitting at my wheel and throwing a series of jugs. With a dozen jugs in front of me confidence returned and nothing could stop my inspiration. It always worked but now the slightest thing breaks my train of thought and the magic goes.