Monday, 6 February 2017

The Bee



Philip found a bee today. It was in a bucket of water at the allotment. He didn’t know where it had come from, or what had caused it to end up in the water, but it was in a sorry state and thoroughly soaked through, so he decided to see if he could save it. 

He fixed up a temporary cover to protect it from any passing birds who might have wished for a different outcome, then he rushed home to make sugar syrup. Returning back to the allotment, he went about his tasks, leaving the bee safely on a bench, with a teaspoon of sugar syrup close by. 

As the weak February sun started to warm it through, Philip kept going back to check that all was ok, and every now and then he blew gently on the bee to speed the drying process. 

He watched and cared, doing as little, but as much, as was needed to give it back strength, until it stirred, then buzzed, then finally flew away. 

No money changed hands. Philip didn’t worry whether the bee would repay him or abuse his kindness with a sting. He just did what he needed to do. 

A good man did what he thought was right, and only good things happened.

And that’s how I'd like our world to be.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Just like Beatrix Potter


We leave the house and turn together to walk up Crown Road. The forecast warns of rain and another drop in temperature this afternoon, but for now the sun is bright with just enough warmth to melt the frost and warm our backs.

'Up and along?' one of us says, knowing the other will understand, and we do, crossing the High Street to take the Millenium footpath up to the woods. Halfway up we clamber over a stile that seems to grow in height each time we cross it, as the earth around it gradually wears away. 

 'Or how about along then up? We'll be able to stay in the sunshine a little bit longer.'

It's a less-used route, at least by humans, but tractor tyres have flattened a pathway and either side the telltale signs of recently dug holes and small round droppings tell us there were rabbits here not long ago.

'They'll be in their burrows now, sitting by the fire with a nice cup of tea and a slice of bramble pie, wondering what those thundering footsteps are doing overhead' I suggest.

I've never quite moved on from believing that the world under our feet is just as Beatrix Potter might have painted it.

'Along then up' turns out to be a much steeper route, so we pause frequently, each time turning to look back at the valley behind us, never failing to absorb its simple beauty. At the top of the hill we turn into the woods. Dry fallen leaves cover the path. Thick under foot, their crunch is a delightful reminder of all our childhoods.This is what we've come for. We scuff and trample, shattering leaves into clouds of dust that will filter down into the soil and feed the trees that dropped them.

I'm the first to spot the chestnuts shining between the leaves. We're never usually in time to see any more than the prickly open cases, their soft white insides turning slowly brown, but today it seems we've got to them before the squirrels. Perhaps the wind last night has shaken down a new crop, or maybe, just like the rabbits, the squirrels are sitting cosy by their firesides, their cupboards already stocked for winter. Either way the chestnuts are there for the picking. We shuffle through the leaves, spotting more and more until our pockets are full, our legs misshapen and lumpy.

As we turn for home, I start humming a Christmas song, imagining chestnuts roasting on the open fire we'll light a little later. Philip is already musing about collecting sprouts from the allotment to cook with them. 

Halfway down the hill I stop and look again at our street, nestled in the valley below. I know I'll never tire of the sight. And as we get nearer to our own burrow, I can't help thinking that down there too is just as Beatrix Potter might have painted it.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

27th February

27th February 2015. A Friday, which automatically makes it better than the preceding four days. One day before the end of the month, four days after pay day, not quite winter, not quite spring. A something and nothing sort of date. 

When I was young, there were only a handful of special days each year; Christmas and my birthday stood proud at the top of the list, with the months in between punctuated by other family birthdays. Holidays were special, but never on the same days and never certain. Bonfire night had its own rhyme to help us - remember, remember the 5th of November, but the dates for Easter, and for Mothers' day and Fathers' day danced around each year, so you could never be sure when they'd fall. 

As I got older, friends' birthdays were circled on the calendar and each time I started a new relationship, the date became significant for a while. Eventually there was a wedding date and then each year its anniversary, a husband's birthday, then all his family's, and in no time at all, four special days for the children. 

As they grew up, it seemed like the calendar was always full; birthday parties, dancing lessons, football matches, school terms starting and ending. Then when I met Philip there came a whole new set of dates to remember, a walk in the snow, a wedding in the sun, the day we came to Shoreham and the day we left. The day, just eight weeks ago, that we came back again.

As our lives have unfolded, the dates have kept coming, people have got older, grandchildren have arrived, but amongst all those dates, all those circles on the calendar, the reminders, the anniversaries, the significant events, February 27th has never been a special day. 

Until yesterday. 


Annie Elizabeth Longworth. A daughter for my handsome son Ged and his lovely partner Natalie, a baby sister to Oliver, a new granddaughter for me. February 27th will never be a something and nothing date again.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Backstage



It's the final performance of Robin Hood, and I'm backstage in the village hall. At any other time, this would be the play group's storage area, but this week the plastic boxes of toys and the child-size tables and chairs have been stacked to one side. With the introduction of a clothes rail, it's suddenly a dressing room for the Shoreham Village Players.

Around me, other members of the cast are waiting for their next scene. There are never enough chairs for us all, but it's no big deal; when someone gets up to go on-stage, someone else sits down. When someone needs to reach their costume on the rail we all bunch up a bit, when someone gets cold and wants a seat by the only radiator, we all shift round.

There's a speaker on the wall, for us to hear the action on the stage, but it only seems to be picking up the music from the piano, so every now and then one of us checks where we are in the script, making sure that the youngest players don't miss their entrances. Kenny brings round my stick for the auld crones scene and we go through our lines once again, too caught up in the comfort of the ritual now to dare going on stage without another practice. Next to us, Emily and Hatty quietly sing their shared song, reassuring each other that they really do know the words. Kate, our director wanders through; she knows it's too late for her to say anything now, but we all sense her unspoken determination for us all to do the very best we can.

Patsy and Janet check costumes, helping to fasten the out-of-reach buttons, pinning up an over-long skirt. Michelle is in charge of make-up; transforming Luke into a talking frog, Josh into a bat. Beth flutters her glitter-lined cats eyes, while the Shoreham Witches show off their sparkling painted nails and the Scottish Widows adjust their tartan skirts. Our Dame bemoans the discomfort of a false bust, and I'm dressed as a man, but nobody seems to find anything strange.

Every few minutes someone passes round a bag of sweets.  While we're still discussing the relative merits of jelly babies and wine gums, a tin of Quality Street appears, quickly followed by a tube of Pringles, then a pack of chocolate biscuits. At the interval, just when it's most needed, a tray of tea and coffee arrives as if by magic.

We've a wide range of ages between us, but that doesn't seem to matter. People pose together for group selfies, they share games on their i-pads and mobiles. We all sit and listen as Ellie tells us about the time they staged Oliver, when it was so cold backstage that everyone sat in sleeping bags to keep warm. People share memories of other favourite shows, talk about the characters they'd most like to play, put forward suggestions for the next production. While we chat, we keep an ear open for what's going on on-stage. When we get to the point where the audience is supposed to join in with a song, everyone backstage sings loudly as well, realising for once that we don't need to keep our voices down.

Before we know it, we're all on stage for the curtain call, smiling out at the audience, standing in line to take a single bow. All that's left is one last chorus of the final song and as the applause fades away, I realise how just how aptly the words describe what it's been like to sit backstage with the Shoreham Village Players.

'If there's a moral to this tale,
It's do not shut the door.
In Shoreham Forest, there is room,
For all types rich and poor'


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Sometimes



When I was young, and there was something I really really wanted, I'd find a million reasons why I wouldn't get it, why I didn't deserve it, why it wasn't worth the wanting. And just the same last year, when I thought we might be able to come back to Shoreham, I tried to convince myself, and anyone who'd listen, that it didn't really matter.

I made myself think about the darkness in winter, the frequency of power cuts, the scarcity of parking, as though all those things might somehow be a charm against disappointment.

I tried not to think about the kindness of neighbours who offer you a home, and make you feel like it's yours. I stopped walking through the village in my mind.

I almost forgot the views from the house in Crown Road; looking out the front bedroom window, past the Chapel and across to the allotments; standing on the doorstep to see the street tipping down towards the river; feeling how the hills hold the village in on either side. 

I somehow let slip the sounds of sparrows in the tree across the road, the roar of the oil-fired boiler as it starts up in the morning, the click of wood on wood as the front door closes shut. 

I steeled myself against revisiting too often the other memories; of putting up the Christmas lights; of Philip chopping wood, lighting fires, clearing snow; of the day he proposed and the day we got married. 

Then I found out that sometimes, the things you really really want, are the things you might deserve, and the things you end up getting. 

On 6th January 2015, we moved back to our house in Shoreham. 

Today, I remembered the poem we shared on our wedding day.


Sometimes - Sheenagh Pugh
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The end of the holiday

When I was a child, holidays were magical. Every year, for the week or two that we spent away from home, I was another me; living a different life in a different world, spending time in a place that was filled with new things to do, friends to make and places to visit. Of course it was a totally artificial creation, but for the length of the holiday it was real to me. I belonged in that world and I never wanted to leave.

A couple of days ago, as I read the last few pages of a book that had completely captured me, I recognised that old feeling; a familiar sense of loss, a wistful wishing it could all carry on for just a little bit longer.

Just like arriving on holiday, whenever I begin a new book, it takes a day or two to get into it. I start off feeling a bit unsure, finding my way around, wondering how it might unfold. Bit by bit, I start to feel comfortable in my new surroundings, I see who all the people are and where they've come from, I begin to work out what they're like and what their contribution might be. As I read on, those characters stay with me, I find myself thinking about them, even when they're not right in front of me.

About three quarters of the way through, my reading slows down. I've been caught out before, thinking that there were dozens of pages left to read, only to find that they were filled with promotions for other books, guidance pages for book club readings, or an extract from the author's next novel. Now, as soon as I realise that the unread section is getting thinner, I flick to the back to find out how many pages are really left. If I have to reach the end of a book, I need to prepare for it, and if possible, put it off just a little bit longer.

When the ending comes, as it inevitably must, and even when it's the very best ending that could have possibly been written, the sense of loss is palpable. I think about what happened in the story, and wonder what might have come next for the characters that have become my companions.  For a while, the thought of starting another book seems almost disloyal.

Eventually though, I remember that the very best way to get over the end of one holiday, has always been to have another one to look forward to. So then I place the finished book with all the other ones I've read, in the book pile that's gradually turning into a book wall. And I look at the stack of those I've yet to start, wondering where the next one might take me.



Tuesday, 20 May 2014

I wonder if the Railway misses us...

They seemed to be hardly Railway children at all in those days, and as the days went on each had an uneasy feeling about this which Phyllis expressed one day.

"I wonder if the Railway misses us," she said, plaintively. "We never go to see it now."

"It seems ungrateful," said Bobbie; "we loved it so when we hadn't anyone else to play with."


Edith Nesbit had a way with words. I'm not sure I can find a better way to describe how I've been feeling about this blog.

I used to visit every day, but I rarely do so now, and as the days go on, I have an uneasy feeling about that. It seems ungrateful. 

I used to love it so - the worlds it helped me uncover, the people it helped me meet, the conversations I used to have.  

And so, a little like the Railway Children, I thought I'd come back and wave - wondering if anyone still passes by and hoping that someone out there might wave back. 

Let me know how you are, tell me what you've been up to, and if you're feeling indulgent, help me come back and play.