Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Just a week

 A week ago, I was feeling anxious. I know that's not rare. Like so many other people across the world, trapped at home, cut off from our usual lives, my mind had started to question and fret. Last week, it seemed, there was a reason beyond all others to worry. My daughter Megan was having her baby.

I should have been full of excited anticipation; the arrival of her third child, my eighth grandchild, it should have been something to celebrate and enjoy. But somehow the world had got to me.Too much sadness, suffering and anger, affecting our friends, our families, our countries. I'd started to wonder if I'd had it too easy, if somehow I'd been pushing my luck. 

We'd arranged that I could be her childcare 'bubble', that I would stay at the house, looking after the boys, while they went off to the hospital. The day passed, playing in the muddy garden, building lego houses, drawing pictures and eating pasta. It was fun, and all the lovely things it always is, but still, I watched the clock, and waited. And waited. 

I told myself not to worry. I remembered the births of my own children, how long each one had taken, how wonderfully they'd worked out in the end. I reassured myself that Megan knew what she was doing, that Andrew would help and encourage her. I'd been there when Charlie and Harry were born, I knew how she well she could cope.  But as the day ticked by, the clock slowed, the minutes began to take hours. I alternated between wanting time to speed up and praying for it to stop. If I could freeze the world now, then we'd all still be ok. If nothing moved forward then nothing would change and nothing bad could possibly happen.

I dozed and woke, unsettled and disorientated, until just after midnight, my phone buzzed with a message 'She's here!' Matilda Elizabeth, born at 11.56, weighing 6lbs 12ozs.

A week has passed since then. 

Megan is home with beautiful Matilda and my phone keeps buzzing as she sends me picture after picture. In each of them I see how the family are adjusting to the new baby; Andrew getting to know his daughter, the boys working out what it means to have a sister, and Megan cherishing every minute.

In some of the pictures, Matilda's eyes are open. I wonder what she's thinking, what she makes of this world she's entered. Not yet time for her to worry about disease, inequality, or climate change. For her, the only experience she knows is to be surrounded by love. 

Just a week, but a timely reminder of the power and possibility of love and the hope it brings for a kinder, more thoughtful world. 

My hope for Matilda is that she grows strong and fair in that love, that she takes it and spreads it wherever she goes.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020



There are men in our house.

We’re having a new central heating boiler fitted.  Changing from oil to electricity feels like the right thing to do - for us and our planet - so, the oil tank has gone from the garden and now the boiler is being replaced.   

But that means there are men in the house. There’s one in the loft, sorting the wiring, one outside filling a hole in the wall where the old flue has been taken out, another with his head in the cupboard under the sink, talking about water pressure.

Philip and I sit opposite each other at the kitchen table, wrapped up against the cold. I’m wearing my biggest jumper, a scarf, fingerless gloves, he’s in more layers than a man from the north should ever respectably wear.

He’s working, managing to concentrate through the noise of drills and hammers, the sounds of strange men talking above our heads, the blasts of cold air from doors left open.

The old boiler was here a very long time – it’s seen several families come and go. It made everyone feel welcome and kept them all warm. It didn’t stop because there were strange men in the house.

But me? I can’t settle to anything.

Monday, 6 July 2020

I should have been....

At the start of the year I wrote a list, not of New Year's resolutions, but of the 60 things I'd like to do in 2020 - the year I became 60. Though I knew at the time I might not achieve them all, I didn't quite envisage the struggle I'd have to make even the first ten.

On 23rd March, with the Corona Virus spreading, the Prime Minister announced that the country would go into lockdown. The next day, my 60th birthday, I stayed at home. 

I didn't run the London Marathon, I didn't go to see Paul Heaton at the Palladium or on a wine-tasting tour of the local vineyard. In May I should have been in Wales with Philip, in June I should have been watching my son running across the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Though technology helped me to see my children and grandchildren on their birthdays we all missed out on hugs and birthday teas. 

And so it went on.

In April, my eldest daughter Claire had her fortieth birthday, and last week, in what might well have been the highlight of my year, we should have gone together to watch the tennis at Wimbledon. 

Instead, I've been watching old matches on the BBC. I've revisited the mighty battles between Federer and Nadal, seen Murray finally beat Djokovic. I've laughed at how hairstyles and tennis kits have changed, and cringed at the old commentaries that insisted on using women's married titles, yet referred to them as girls. I've witnessed the introduction of tie-breaks and yellow tennis balls, and listened to the change in volume as the crowd moved from polite applause to raucous cheering. Seeing these matches has brought back memories of a whole lifetime, of rushing home from school, then work, for two weeks every summer, to sit in front of the TV to watch Wimbledon.

Today, the featured match was the men's final of 1980, Bjorn Borg against John McEnroe, one of the greatest finals ever played. Watching it though, I found I couldn't remember it at all; not the amazing shots, or the rallies that turned the match first one way and then another. I couldn't recall the fourth set tie-break, or the final outcome.

Forty years ago, as that final played itself out on the grass courts at Wimbledon, I was twenty and my beautiful Claire was just six weeks old. As the match wound its way through all five sets, I would have been holding her, or feeding her, or willing her to sleep. As Borg and McEnroe showed off their skills as tennis players, I was only beginning to learn what it meant to be a mother. 

Today, I can hardly believe how quickly forty years have passed. While the world has been changing, I've seen Claire grow from a funny, chatty, clever little girl to a strong and caring woman. If things had been different, we might  have been sitting together at Wimbledon last week, but I don't need to feel sad about that. It turns out that what I should have been, is exactly what I am, her very proud Mum.

Monday, 29 June 2020

What is it you see first?


What is it you see first?

            Is it the worst, the mindless, thoughtless deed,

            the violence, the selfish greed,

            the cutting word, the slur you heard

            the disregard for you, your creed?

Or is there something else you see?

            A vision of humanity,

            where each and every one has worth, 

                regardless of their place of birth,

            where what we say, and what we do, 

                is measured by a different view,

that sees the good and shouts it loud

and spots the kindness in the crowd

and looks to soothe another’s pain.

And tries its best.

Again, again.


Friday, 31 January 2020


In 2011, we left Shoreham. 

We didn't know for sure if we were doing the right thing, but we'd thought about it long and hard and it seemed the best option; a way to secure our future, a chance to buy a house of our own, an opportunity to feel more independent. 

We'd chosen carefully, but there was no way to know how things would be once we'd actually left. 

We didn't go far; everything that Shoreham had to offer was still in touching distance. We could visit whenever we wanted to, and we did, but it never felt quite the same. It was no longer our village, we were no longer part of it.

We'd left Shoreham, but the village never quite left us. 

A few years later, we had the chance to return, our former neighbours hadn't forgotten us, they hadn't taken offence that we'd chosen to go away. They welcomed us back with open arms - they knew this was our home, just as much as we knew it ourselves.

And today, on a day when I feel so desperately sad that we are leaving the European Union, my wish for all of us, is that one day, in the not too distant future, we'll have another chance to return.

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.

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.