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


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


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.