Covid and Peanut butter sandwiches.

In a world gripped by Covid, we are all struggling, in our own way.

The day has been one of torrential rain, gales so fierce it is difficult to go outside.  I am safe and warm in my home, but I am also in a country that many are facing starvation – poverty so dire, it is difficult to imagine the sheer extent of it all.

So tonight I write, not of pretty gardens or far off beautiful places, but of what is happening, right here, right now.  And the heart is breaking for those who fight the elements of the fiercest cold, and the most desperate of hunger. The predicament has always been here, but perhaps Covid has brought the plight of the homeless and destitute to the fore.

Began for me, oh dear, staying longer than expected in South Africa, and making the best of it.  What to do, get though this, until I could fly back to London.

I felt very sorry for myself. How to pass the time and I have no work here.  Do a little decorating, work in the garden … wait it out.  Then  I found, by chance, a group of women who were making sandwiches for children who were now, not getting a meal at school, for schools have been closed.  Make a few sandwiches, they asked, help these children have at least one meal a day in their bellies.

I can do that, I thought.  Make my own little contribution.  Toss in a bag of oranges, or two. Every week I made sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches ( peanut butter is more nourishing) and happily deposited my bags of charity at the point of collection.  Once a week. Keeping the distance.

If I could post some of the pictures of the children, and adults, receiving packages of basic food, I would. But I won’t, for their sakes.  They are lovely, the utter gratitude, but also the real ‘picture’ of hunger, and fear. They do not need to be put on social media, or this post, and I will respect them.

This amazing, and generous, group of women has grown to the stage where nearly two thousand sandwiches are made every week.  As is, the need for other basics became evident.  Blankets, clothes, diapers, plastic, drinking water and even just something like tampons were top of the list. A handicapped child was found in a squatter camp, his mother trying her best. We were made aware, hospital visit arranged, a wheelchair donated by funds from children, parents, anyone who could help. Still I thought, do what I can, from a distance.

I was asked to visit a squatter camp, to take photographs for a newsletter, for a charity. Was reluctant. It’s one thing helping out, and quite another, getting up close. Feelings of dread, not wanting to seriously engage. I did go. There are people, of all races, living under plastic sheets, hoping against hope for a wooden structure, a steel container, anything to protect them from the elements. There is no race issue here, only one of survival. In the most basic form. The most basic act of just getting through the next hour, the next day.

And I thought.  How did you get to this?  How can you not make something of yourselves, seriously, is there no job, or self help scheme to lift you from this desolate state? As I began to speak to a few living there, there isn’t. Zenophobia excludes help. A few are trying to earn a few cents by begging at stoplights, making scarves and jewellery, selling plants they have gathered in the mountains behind them.  Yet, everyone I spoke to was strangely calm, hopeful and grateful. Can I just say, I felt so small.

I would love to post pictures of the smiles on those children’s faces when they received a peanut butter sandwich. I cannot.

The pandemic has prevented many from going to work. I worried about getting more wine. Africa is Africa and poverty will always be here I suppose, but now, in this time, people are willing to risk getting Covid rather than starving. They will risk the disease instead. In becoming involved, I have seen the elderly grasp at a parcel of soup mix, children running for bread, mothers crying quietly with resignation, others huddled against the cold. Under plastic, crates, makeshift corrugated iron sheets. And still helping others.

Around the world, statues are going down, anti racism protests, political chaos.  Dare I say it, but there are do-gooders who shout for a while, and go back home.  They should come here and see the volunteers who risk their own health, and at times safety,  to go into townships and squatter camps to feed and nurse the worst hit by the lockdown. Quietly – in all weather.

I would love to post the pictures. I won’t. I will honour those who think a tin of beans is a gift.

As the rain beats down, and the winds lift the tiles, I think of those who need a blanket, and a peanut butter sandwich.

 

As they say, keep safe, but also, keep giving. Give in any way your can.

 

 

 

Keeping faith and those French cafés.

C’est possible!

Saturday afternoon and I am onto my bigillionth cup of tea. Am a viable little teapot of late. Morning tea, blah mid-morning tea, after lunch tea … afternoon tea… it goes on and on and on. Count tea before I can count the wine. Dream of coffee. Dream of coffee on the sidewalks of Paris, which since this week, is possible again. Who would have thought, those tightly packed cafés, a breath from the person next to you, facing forward and viewing the world with a great little noisette, would be back in business? Can’t keep a good thing down.  Drinking coffee at home, during the lockdown, just isn’t the same n’est pas? Paris has come to life again, and plans made, sidewalks widened, tres interesting head gear in place,  the romance may be tainted, but not forsaken. Talking of inspiration, I have my little list this week.

Getting away, when I can get away. It’s to the beaches, the mountains, the cities. Until it actually happens, here’s to dreaming of Europe’s beaches. This of course, may have to wait until next year, and I shall never complain about Easyjet ever again. Much to complain about of course, nothing like the six am flight from Gatwick to lose one’s faith in humanity, big time; having to reduce luggage befitting a sparrow on route to the sun, the security snarls, stripping and apologising for whatever because you are convinced you must be guilty of some heinous crime. Not to mention the lovely louts in airspace, drinking largers in slipslops and the greasy spoon offerings before being shoved into a seatless space whilst the Speedy borders bully their way in front of you. I digress, I will not complain of Easyjet again for she can get me to the beaches of Shirley Valentine and Donna Sheridan. Low Budget airlines do test the faith, but I am keeping the faith to get to travel again. Hold that plane!

Whilst the rest of the world slowly returns to a semblance of what we know, the focus for me, rather than be pessimistic (and I have my moments), is instead on the amazing resilience all around. The last to be allowed to resume to business are the Hospitality, Wedding and Events and Beauty industries. You can imagine what the hair looks like now – think Charles Manson, but even in this faith remains for rescue. Many restaurants have turned to delivery services, setting up shop outside to serve customers. Entrepreneurs are offering online courses, writing great articles and making videos to keep their livelihoods relevant whilst holding out for salvation – it will come.

We will always want to go somewhere special to celebrate, meet friends. Weddings will happen. All will be well, if but in a different form.

We are still here. We have planning and projects to explore. Face realities of what still exists and what we can salvage out of what is not working anymore.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Brene Brown. Keeping the faith is key. Believing that we can rise, change, deliver and drag ourselves up from the floor over and over again, is what makes each of us unique and valuable.

Adding bookmarks of inspiration to daily life, is what it means to plan forward, rather than be stuck in the disappointment of the time. We need creativity, innovation and regeneration now. New careers are out there, it may be a first for you, doing something you never dreamed of.

Think outside the box, if the box of your life has a lid on it. No matter our age, we are all going to have to be inventive – no-one is immune to change and this mother of all change has many of us in the starting blocks, running a new race. I’m ready and impatient to start. And then to the beach and a stop at the Café de Flore.

 

Image: Christophe Petit Tesson

June. Glorious June.

Envigorated. The first of the week and the first of the month. Double delight.  We are beginning to see the light.

Who would have thought that the first half of the year, 2020, would have brought such immense change, deep level five changes to our lives? Who would have thought? Life became about biding our time, locked down, hopeless to control, in the worst season of war some of us had ever experienced.  And we suffered, we lost, we feared and we got to know a different kind of future – for some, still unknown – do we still have jobs out there, can we still go out there, how will it be, how will we cope?

Just like that, half the year swept under a veil of fear and uncertainty. Being our time, housebound, locked out, locked in. Brutal stuff .We learnt the possibilities of confinement, tried this ,did that, baked the banana bread. Some exercised, some began on line courses, some cried all the time, some rebelled – but the collective human nature, coped.

Where I am tonight, lockdown is still deep. But, and little by little, light shines through. Today we were allowed to buy wine, ‘hello wine!’ and able to walk around at all hours of the day. These little givings changed all around me, smiles came forth … and we still look to the skies to see the planes, for so many of us are waiting to board – me back to England and missing the Summer, but hopefully that this will happen soon. In the meantime, in lockdown, all sorts of acceptance happened.  Being here, at first, was scary, so far from my family and what I know, but now a time, a retreat of sorts, to accept the quiet and kill the fear, the stuff, hone into the what matters and that is a good thing.  As I said, the stages, which is now, the planning and doing time.

Would I have done this if life was as frantic as it had been? Doubt it.  I have been forced to slow down in in that, to find the simple stuff, lost long ago.  Cherish that.  I have sorted photographs, memories, songs, little anxieties and the past.  And now, with June, happy June, it’s the light to where we fly.  To the light we look up too.

I have finally spent time in my other home.  And made it more so.  A family place to come to and love.  Over the years we rented, had strangers stay, and now it’s finally become the place of peace.  Am here now.  It has also become the place of family to return to, have when things are good, and not so good, and done.  When I leave, close the door, and I can, it will be here. Times we are given things we at first, resent.  This was part of a settlement and I thought, I don’t want to live here, I live there and all that … the lockdown of being here has forged a new love affair. It is home.

Life gave me two destinations. Blessed I think. Not by choice, but now by choice.

For me, June has the beginning of true Summer,and the beginning of Winter.  The vineyards are turning golden to red, to brown. In England, the roses are blooming.

It’s all about the light, wherever you are.  The slow but steady lifting of darkness this year. Parks are opening, shops are opening, coffee is back on the menu. We can walk, and talk again of subjects other than Brexit and Covid. Thank you! We have downed the crafts and seeking nature.  We can dance with optimism in anyway we choose. The into ourselves and re-inventing is going to bear fruit. New careers, dishing the old out with the plughole, force drive to the other ourselves.

Confetti June.  Diaries are opening again. Plans are possible. I am excited.

We have found the small stuff, the little posies, the big bouquets of life. To the rivers, the beaches, the mountains and the stage of all that we can do.  And I am not alone in this, in this possible reinvention, renewal and loveliness of it all.

June is a great month. Glorious June.  You have come around and we are back on the stage of all we want.

We are going to be amazing – women, and men, who have had to re-define all we are.  Begin again. Try again.  And in that, the stage is open, the waiting in the wings is over … take centre stage in your life and live it with gay abandon.  If this time has taught me anything, it’s that we have no time to just be spectators in our lives, but to be the number one headline in it.

Happy June, I embrace you – you are the bride of all that can happen.

Break the rules. Make your own. A month of all the loveliness possible.

 

The Pandemic P’s and how you will flourish in the midst of it.

‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity:

An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’

Winston Churchill

 

Sometimes words just don’t mean much when your life has fallen apart.  There are no clichés powerful enough to make you feel better.  Trivial platitudes don’t cut it when the soul lies lifeless and the heart is torn apart.  We question life itself; what is the point of all the struggle and loss?  It is in the understanding of why, why not, and how I deal in times of trouble, that I was forced to re-evalute, re-direct and re-adjust my life, over and over again.

Some of the scariest moments in my life, I willingly, or unwillingly, contributed to.  They were partly of my making.  Life came to easily to me, and when it all went wrong, after the outfall, I had to face up to some very hard facts – and how I was going to move forward from that point I thought I would never have the courage. Call it growing up. At my age. Call it facing the truth about oneself, but in all the darkness, like now, like the five stages of death, we are faced again with something out of our control, and rather than give into the wasteland, we need to see this as an opportunity to look deep, open the wounds, find the source and change what needs to be changed, to be ready when we can no longer blame the war, but take responsibility for how we are going to embrace what we find in the next step.

The Pandemic caught us all unaware.  It may change, but for now, these are the 5 P’s that most account for my getting through this time, and I hope it helps you too.

 


  • PANIC

Of course.  Not at first, we sort of became numbed individuals as the reality of this illness arrived, like fog over an airport, and we are no longer able to carry on as normal.  Orders to wash our hands, wear gloves and cough into our sleeves, that was all.  Panic grew as the numbers of casualties and deaths increased – this was becoming something serious.  Plans to stay at home, and get to the home we were going to stay in, for a little while … till it all blew over and the skies opened up again.  Bad news became the norm, we really began to panic; about food, medical supplies, not seeing family and friends.  Everything closed up – this becomes real, we are in seige mode.  The war has begun and we are totally unequipped for the onslaught.

The level of panic remains for we have no cure.  Anxiety leads to sleepless nights, frayed reactions.  We are locked in, or locked out.  Arguments happen, snapping at others increases, loss of freedom leads to cabin fever and not working, to listlessness.  Initial banter and resilience wanes. WE are all pessimists, and rightly so – the enemy will not stand still.

Accept the panic, it still comes in waves, but this, for me, subsides as a hibernating bear.  As long as I don’t prod or defy it, I can tred lightly.


  • PAUSE

Difficult.  Being asked to.  We are not a generation of small stuff.  Big lives, bold moves.  Time turns to water. Days to a dripping tap. We are in the shelter of hoarding and waiting.  Obedient. The day before grows stale, as the jokes and memes and catching up with those you don’t really feel the need to anymore.  Longing for those you do grows intense. In the pause, you are willing new things; the learning of a language for a country you cannot visit, the baking of food you have no taste for. Cleaning with vigour to find some order.  Everything known to you looks different. Effort becomes the operative word.  Elastic pants your friend.  The Pause period, which we are still in right now, is one of letting go, be it willingly or not caring a damn, is dangerous.  We begin to accept what we would never before. And we are tired, tired to the bone of expecting, of media, of all the horrendous reality of our state of being, outside the window, and inside our souls. The excitement of the pandemic affair, deflates very quickly.

Times I am so down, listening to myself breath is enough. The fog is everywhere still, but, and it is a lovely but, the eyes begin to focus of the small stuff. The heart flings aside the fluff and the mind … the mind is a mess, but its time for a spring clean.  You have enough time now, no excuses and, oh my, the dust is everywhere, physically and spiritually, everywhere. Recognise that we have no choice but to pause, and in that pausing, recalibrate.

With time on my hands, and planes on the ground, I did the anger, and the wallowing, and the doing nothing in depression, and am facing the third stage.  Like the levels we are being forced to live in now.


  • PRAISE

If you keep a gratitude dairy, you will understand the meaning of praise. Giving thanks for the good things in your life, for moments that mean so much, for others who contribute to your happiness.  I don’t have a gratitude diary, more like an angst journal, but being alone in lockdown, the person I have to face, and give some praise to, is myself. Praise all those I love, they know that, and now it’s time to turn inward.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to praise yourself.  Over, and over again.  Whatever you think about being egotistical and rather be self depreciating, let it go.  You are your own soldier here.  The one going to walk out with, you. Gosh, you have made it this far, warts and all, with all the scars and the journey can only get better now.  Strip the layers of negativity you wrap around yourself and now is the time to do it.  Everyday.

It’s not about losing twenty pounds or running for office.  Not about being prisoner to the past, or martyr to falling down.  This is the time to be super honest, and super selfish.  Praise in the time of pandemic of self love at her best.  Be vulnerable, be honest and then be loving, and complimentary. You are  amazing, and if you need a makeover to be phenomenal, now is the time.

Praise everything you have, and are.  Everything you thought you needed and now don’t anymore.  Praise simple aspects of your day; how you put on your make-up, change the sheets, fold the linen.  Praise the messages you send, the kindness you exude, the ability to finish a crossword/puzzle and savour the way you taste your first sip of wine, toss the pasta – make is a slow, deliberate act of daily things that you do in your own special way.  A compliment to you, your own dance.

To praise is to reflect and say … I am ok.  I am not perfect, but I am no longer defined by others.  When the lockdown ends, be sure of a few surprises … and if you are not alone, no need to share this pact with yourself.  To go all the way to the inner most part of you, is the restoration and re-invention of the rest of your life.  Question everything. You have the answers already.

 


  • PLAN

This time would be such a waste if we did not plan for better.

Now that you have survived the initial wave, sat around watching the paint dry (or every series on Netflix) – now that you have taken stock of the things that make up your life, and your life itself, now is the time to plan.  So often we follow a path in our lives established by environmental factors, or falling into patterns of place and people that we bump along, quite happily.  Some are still on that road, happy and content.  Some have found some bumps and fell into a ditch. There is nothing that truly dictates what we should and should not do.  Just because you don’t come from a family of avid cooks, it is not too late to become a maestro chef, an artist, a journalist.  So you have never lived alone, become a CEO of your own company, or even written a blog, but that should not stop you.

The universe has thrown the room quite open.  Everything is up for grabs. I have always loved ‘The Invitation‘ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and thus I send it to you.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Just saying – this takes courage, and it brings rewards.  This is the time.  Plan for a journey, a career, a whatever – yes even in My Silver Street time, and greatness is close.


  • PERFORM

Here is the most difficult lesson.  The most difficult part.  The follow through.

We will survive this Pandemic.  We will be patient and go through all the stages. When it does end, will we perform? Take all we have been through and take centre stage in our lives, as we should?

I know I cannot go back.

Will meet you at the café of Life for the best coffee and the new stories of us.

Images: Youtube, Love this pic.

Lockdown, a little bit of sex and the Chameleon going for a walk.

Lockdown day one million.  Little mercies.  A good walk.  Will I call it a ‘Beautiful walk’ as at My Silver Street?  In the beginning perhaps, on the Estate and nature in all her glory, hedging towards Autumn. Now it is the same walk, round and round. At least I still drag myself out of a virus inflicted crazy dream and little sleep state and pull on the trainers.

Beginning each day with ‘Enough, going to do this and that, change my life, change the world’ to end of day … blah. Getting the little soldiers into a plan of action.

The weekend had me in a chatroom. The Zoom Room.  Chatting to family who are shedding the jumpers for summer frocks, and an Art Class; sketchbooks.  Of course Karen, the moment you find a shop open with Art Supplies. you have to buy the biggest Sketch book known to man.  A great big, bloody red Moleskin sketchbook.  Initially the idea was sound, to put and plaster and tag and dot little pieces of inspiration.  Quite the other when you have to show it to the group via webcam and cannot actually hold the atlas/doomsday book up for them to see.  Memo, a little one will look so much more attractive in your handbag whilst sipping a noisette ‘a la sidewalk cafe in Paris in future.  The Red peril will not fit into your suitcase.

Where the Art continues to be curious and beautiful, the book reading attempts right now, have been less so.

The painting is by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)  You can find it in the Wallace Collection, in London.  It speaks of abundance, both in flesh and nature, of plenty, of fertility and harvest.  Surrounded by humans, satyrs, children (fertility) and reference to Bacchus/Dionysus, the god of wine and hedonism, the composition is one of sensuality, voluptuous abandon and lust.  Lust, sex and passion.  An allegory of Fruitfulness.  Ripe with sex.

Poetry does it beautifully, and many novelists can engage the words with graceful imagery to evoke all the nuances and beauty of sex.  Just as many get it so wrong. So embarrassingly wrong.  There is even a ‘Bad sex in literature award’.  I kid you not.  Anyway, there is no Daunt Books close by, but dear Lord, why have the past two ‘International Best Seller’ books been sadly lacking in writing about sex in a realistic, yet magical way.  Of course, the first I read had to deal with every topical subject the author could tap into; we have war, rape and revenge.  Now I am trying to, with a skewering, vinegar in your eye determination to finish, has me going ‘oh dear, forgiving Lord, has EL James begun writing under a pseudonym?  Have I not escaped her? Again the topical jam it all in list: dreary marriage to a cold hearted orc, jumps in the Seine, totally rescued of course, anyone can dive into the Seine with its currents and whip out the desperate – runs away, to the idyllic seaside town.  Instant job, lodgings, favourite of all – late life sexual awakening, first orgasm and sjoe … the convenience of it all!  Does it not reduce you to a pulp of craving for wine – it did me.  So please, good recommendations for I cannot do the ‘hope it goes to Hollywood’ stuff.  Amazing don’t you think, when you think of it, just how every book seems to be ‘The number 1 bestseller’ – what would happen if it were the ‘Number 4 best seller’? Oh dear … Suggestions please, or I shall revert to the classics once again (always a good thing) to read about real passion and sexuality.

Fans of EL James, by the way, you have made her immensely rich.  I hope she took some grammar lessons with the loot.

Sadly, the past week, we read of the passing of Nigel.  Monty Don and his beloved Nigel, which I watched religiously on ‘Gardener’s World’ – the perfect couple, boy and his best mate. They were the closest to what I believe a real home, garden and life should be.  It is a long time ago, I had any of these together, and I suppose they were like a dream team – his loss will be great, for those who love the programme, but immense for Monty Don and his family.  Times I think, this is what it really should be like, pushing the wheelbarrow through the seasons, followed by two faithfuls in a beautiful garden – and the nuzzling, the unconditional love an animal gives, that is the most powerful love. I hope one day, when I grow up and settle down, I will have a companion like Nigel.

In closing, I stumbled upon another unique couple.  On my walk today – we have  to distance and it’s rather a stop and let pass situation, complete with masks, as one does in the fresh air. Seriously? An elderly gentleman came towards me, and I stopped to allow him right of way.  Walking stick in one hand, the other was held out in front of him, almost in a shield holding fashion and it was only when he was right beside me, I noticed the chartreuse, bulging eyed chameleon perched there.

I am not a fan, afraid more like. When it comes to some animals, I wish David Attenborough a long life, he can cuddle them. Yet, as I walked on, I thought of how much he must love that green fellow.  The responsibility to nuture is there. Is gives sense to being. Maybe the fraught existence of sex and lust and passion has waned with every step.  Maybe he still feels them all, I hope he does. We must endeavour to feel the fluttering for as long as we can.

Reflections in the water.  A few Geese and Coots still visit.  The birdsong is lyrical, and the tiniest weaver is in the orchestra. It is a quite and reflective time; I may not be able to visit the Galleries, but art abides.  Not sure of the reaction if I meet swivel-eyed Sam, now being aware of him, but how charming was that moment in the morning?  Just to find a really, really good book that doesn’t make me despair.

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
–“Sonnett XVII,” by Pablo Neruda

“my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom”
–“since feeling is first,” by e.e. cummings

Want more words like these … be safe and plan for your own continued journey.

Till more xxx

Image: own and Bournmouth news.

One rose can be your garden.

If daybreak brought about a misguided twittering for sorting the social media, it has ended in an argument. A desire to pick up a fountain pen and write an entry that requires scratchy nib on paper and a dash of sherry.  All efforts of managing passwords, updating profiles and back and forth, back and ruddy forth to get a new code, change a forgotten golden password, is a teary endeavour and I lost.  It turns out I have three Twitter accounts, none of which I can change, or delete without upsetting the other one, and I want none of it.  If I must cull all to create anew I shall, but on another day.

The proverbial cherry was a message sent by a friend. Is this you, she queried with a link on Face Book. Now, what was I to make of that?  Was it me who sent it, perhaps cloning or being disrespectful?  Was I in the You tube link doing God know what?  Such were the words and just as the fingers tapped into a strange URL I shrank back in horror and closed the window.  Did I touch the devil himself?  Turns out my friend thought I had sent it, changed my password, apologies to all and have now decided, I am going focus on something lovely rather than the mean, disrespectful lot out there. Vulgar, human or not.

Sometimes one just has to step away.  Counselling has taught me that.  When things cannot be conquered, or changed, go smaller.  For me that can be a number of things.  And only lockdown has taught me the value of these, more prominent, more acute, more lasting.  I have learnt the value of a perfect cup of tea. The British answer to everything. Be it the cup of char, the infusion, the rooibos, whatever your fancy – it is the brewing and savouring that brings relief.  The good book.  I can write volumes on this – for years every joining a book club and finding drivel in the ‘Number one best seller.’  Topical – like a screenplay, must have angst, heartbreak, rivalry and for that extra touch, rape. I am talking about a book that will transport in words, create heavenly images, triumph in the everyday. A good, intellectual book will touch the soul rather than pass the time. An excellent glass of wine.  Past times, wine was water with a twist, had vat loads of it – now to look, sip and savour.  A long, languishing bath with classical music, and bubbles – so long that the skin will winkle and the wrinkles of the mind ease.

A pet cuddle.  Miss those but appreciate them more now.  And a garden. You may not have one but to be in one is like falling into the personification of beauty.  I found a few roses ready for the vase today, as you see, and rather than plonk, I placed each one lovingly, in a vase and thought, where would you like to live in my home? Making a meal, not for mere consumption, but glorification of the dish. Each action, each process, one of deliberate undertaking. These little things take me away from the fraught time, the uncertainty and down, down into the enjoyment of just letting the mindful cake be placed in the oven and keeping the door closed until it is time.

We cannot run at this time.  We have to slow down, but slowing in a fashion of fusion of little things.

And of course, family.  This is a wonderful accumulation of blood, of amity, of others we chose to spend our lives giving ourselves to. The definition has changed over the decades.  We can love whom we please now, at last.

The day is complicated with the times now.  To re-design lives and work that will not fit anymore. Becoming more imaginative to survive, re-direct, re-shape, rediscover who we are, what we want and how to make it work.  It is not so new really, it is just our new time.  So, in the morning of got to get going, find some way to make a living, pay the bills, validate our identities, I was ready to give up with … at this age, now, what the hell do I know and how am I going to convince myself and everyone else, that I still matter – to, it will come, there is time … will go back to the simple measures of breathing in, breathing out, putting the cake in the over and waiting for it to rise, without hurry, until the answers come, in the small soaking up of what makes me happy.

Tomorrow to tame the beast.  Today, home. Be it here, there, in a one bed flat or a four bedroomed house, if there is a garden, a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a good book, a soft nuzzle, a bath and my family … it will come.  And be extraordinary. It will be a different, but a better journey home.

 

 

 

 

The diary that time forgot.

Every since I can remember, I have been the diary type of gal.  Dear Diary.

My daughter was angry with me when I destroyed my teen diaries – it was the de-cluttering and moving of stuff, but endearing it was that she may want to read my silly musings of being in love with Robert Redford and that beautiful chap from ‘Chopper One.’  The seventies desire for Wesley in ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ and who could forget Nick Nolte emerging from the ocean in ‘the Deep?’  I wasn’t fussy or anything, anyone would do to come and rescue me from a small town in the Free State, when high school was about disappointing dates and detention.  I was a child living out of herself, into dreams of better things.

My diaries are my chapters.  Written notes on friendships and romance, children’s playdates and visa applications.  Notes on ‘he loves me not’, and divorce. On the dying, and changing and being lonely and lost.  And good things, notes on Rome and Juan Les Pins.  My of course, the best children in the Universe. Tangible references of jobs suffered or loved – places lived in and said goodbye to.  All in those little books.  It will be easy to read my life one day.

Always a thrill to get the one for next year.  Clean, smooth pages to be filled. A ritual. And not just any diary, it has to be such that I have travelled the world to obtain, just the right one.

This year began the same way. Notes on clients to meet, tours to give, trips upcoming.  And then the dairy just … sort of died. We went into Corona forever it seems.  The willingness to write in it seems obtuse, hoping to fill, lying fallow on my table. The loneliness overwhelming, the silence too loud.

Had an entry yesterday. A doctor’s appointment in Cape Town, some thirty minutes from my home.  Easily done in better days, now nervous to leave the sanctuary and dare the drive, but I had the letter of permission to travel – oh dear Lord, even writing this seems insane. I had something to do other than fear, and listen to the negativity and gloom, I could travel, albeit a mere distance.  Felt like an exploration, not without dread and the dread manifested in two police/military road blocks.  What should have taken little time, turned into an hour and half of stressful edging in traffic, being pulled off and questioned as to my purpose to get into my car in the first place.

Cape Town, like any other city in the world, is a lonely place, bereft of life. The doctor’s rooms a laboratory.  Sanitising to within  the layers of skin, shoe covers, head covers, masks and gown.  How can one be amongst a few and still feel so isolated and untouched?  But, as much as I have become a criminal in the foraging of wine in this country, I also discovered that there was a possibility of coffee, a real, barista type coffee, secretly vended at a service station.  Which service station was elusive but having had the letter to travel, I was determined to drink the beans before going back to lockdown.

At first I thought, it must be the service station at the airport, weary travellers and needing the fix and all that.  Veering towards the airport, I slammed into another roadblock, now having expired the appointment and no reason for being there.  This is fear, I thought: how to explain my reckless abandon of rules in search of coffee? I was interrogated, and turned back. Before leaving the freeway, I spotted the midas gold on the other side of the highway, it was to be true, sighting of red coffee cups outside the venue.  Only I was on the wrong side. Undaunted, I turned back over the bridge, made it to the place and order the largest grande whatever in existence.  Only to realise, stupid, stupid me, that now I was on the highway, back to Cape Town, contravening all rules and about to be arrested for getting a cup of coffee.  The fear, the angst, the delicious nectar.  In the end I managed to get back without a fine, or worse.

Angry. Astonished at the lengths I would go to for a bit of normality.  I am a London girl, coffee is our go to, our first stop, our conversation.  In a way our identity, how we call the order, feel caffeine mix with blood and strut to the tube empowered with our morning sanctuary. What the f…k is this all about? We face months of servitude to the virus, to the government and the not knowing what is going to happen, day after day, month after month.  Coming here before lockdown seemed a good idea, but will I still be lockdown when the rest of the world is coming back to life? There are questions, quiet resentment, lots of fear and no information as to when and how we shall overcome and find some semblance of normality – and most of all, be able to fly home. For me, the rebellion in finding a cup of great coffee was my stand.  But is it worth a diary entry? The coffee thing that is?

The United Kingdom, and many other countries have suffered great fatalities with the virus.  Life has ceased, and fallen apart in so many ways.  As with the rest of the world, but where I am, hunger is becoming more of a threat, than the virus.  Little can help those who cannot work, living in dire conditions and facing poverty and starvation. Seven weeks of no income is awful here.

And so, tonight, as I look at my diary, with helpless frustration, I don’t even want to think of maybe, when, whatever … hang on,  at least I thought so.  She may lie idle now, for who wants to record another day of nothingness (oh, I went for a walk, now allowed) and how many times I thought I saw a spider in the house … not so much.  We no longer speak or debate about Brexit, or can confirm dates, meetings, visits and now that I have cancelled my trips until when … the lethargy of uncertainty is of no value for the dairy.

But then, as a friend who has also survived a few rough years, and bought a guest house in December said: ‘We have been through so much worse, this is nothing and we are going to be fine’, I thought: unlike Pepys, I don’t want to record any more pain and suffering and write a plague diary … wait for the novels and plays etc … but I should record the little things that have taken precedence at this time. Like seeing the ocean again for the first time in weeks, how my hair is about to lose control of its own nature. How the human spirit is beginning to defy draconian laws.  Being there for others, supporting the frontline workers … hoping and hoping it will end, and how this mad woman, nearly got arrested in pursuit of a great cup of coffee.

Be safe, be well and dream of better … it will come.

 

Victory in Europe, travel and resilience. Going somewhere slowly.

Today, seventy-five years ago, Europe, breathed again.  Victory in Europe day.  Enemy defeated, though years of hardship lay ahead.  Survivors remained frightened, mourned, lost incomes, homes, the semblance of normality.  Individuals questioned just about everything, trusted few … had little to hold onto, but, little by little, began again.

The war to end all wars.  Not so much.  We are in the midst of The Third World War, only this time the enemy is an unseen virus.  We will get through this, and most now acknowledge that the world as we know it, and ourselves, will never be the same.  We will take the rubble of life remaining and build something quite unique.  My daughter keeps telling me that the previous war went on for four years, I should be patient after wanting it done within weeks.  We are an impatient lot, are we not?

In this strange time, my thoughts turn to sowing seeds and watching things grow. I can’t remember the last time I planted seeds.  The other day someone spoke of October and instinctively, I thought, that’s months ahead, I won’t be here … and they cancelled my flight to London, indefinitely. The idea of doing the same thing, day in and day out is foreign to me, but perhaps I will learn.  Cancelling all my travel plans today, hotels and Eurostar brought such sadness to my heart.  In the ensuing boredom of mid-lacklustre morning, scratching around the house for want of something to do (apart from the incessant cleaning), I found a wooden box, filled with my mother, and grand-mother’s photographs.  There are oceans of them floating around, these taken on a trip to Europe, a mere four years after VE day in 1945.

First trip to see family in Holland since the war.  Visit other European countries, travelling again.  The moment did not go amiss.  Was is not for my parent’s love of travel, I would not have walked past St. Paul’s weeks ago. During the war, a German bomb pierced the dome of St. Paul’s, destroying the high alter.  In 1945 services given in thanks for the end of the war, was attended by more than 35 000 people – the church survived.  I pop into the side chapel whenever I can. Notre Dame is being rebuilt.  We need to witness these magnificent symbols of man’s ability to create, design, paint, plant and build, to be in awe.  We travel to experience these pillars of man’s resilience under adversity, in and to tame nature, to glorify God or the gods, to be humbled and surprised.

How patient my parents, and their parents must have been back then, waiting to travel again.  To see for themselves how the world has changed.  To re-connect again. How patient must we be?

Today is VE day.  Against the odds, the war ended.  Maybe we will have a VE (virus elimination) day soon.  Pray it happens.

Have a blessed weekend and keep the spirit – it’s been weeks since the Hag meltdown thank goodness … looking back to plan going forward.

 

A strange, but lovely week.

Cannot tell you how enveloped with the pride at managing the second week of ‘Couch to 5K’ and the soothing voice of Sarah Millican, though I think I may require physiotherapy quite soon.  This is the body of the 60 something – there is the fortitude and strong belief, and then there is the reality of wanting to, from sloth to super marathon, in isolation syndrome.

It is a syndrome, like the Stockholm syndrome;  the angst and terror has become an intimate bond of small spaces and the real desire to ‘begin again’ – clear all, delete all and gather the threads.  Finding half embroidered project abandoned years ago – shall finish that.  Open the puzzle (did so with great fever) – if I can manage one piece per day, quite chauffed.  All these things being rather attached to becoming unattached, it is a syndrome.  One good thing though, as the Hag is slowly transforming into Corona Syndrome of coping, calculating and blah, am no longer succumbing to all day and night attire, or flicking the edge of the duvet in an illogical attempt to convince myself ‘what does it matter anyway.’  The hair is now balayage – am not going gray with threads of luscious platinum – it’s murky mordor with follicles of grey on the top and remnants of burlesque blond at the bottom. And I am getting used to it. Go figure, I haven’t lamented about the lack of salon once – except for the waxing.

I digress.  I am doing well, as I am sure you are.  I am also about to run out of wine again and the restriction on that front is a mirage, enough said.  There are ways and then there is always pineapple beer – if I can do the hair, I can ferment something in the garage. Depends of the level of mania.

One of the more fetching activities over the past few weeks, has been the restoration of my slither of a garden.  For want of any garden centre open, I have been talking (yes, we know) and coaxing my roses to what is now a shower of white blooms throughout.  Summer splendour. Was I not too acutely aware of how boring photos of single blooms are (little like some food photos) I would present my pretties.  Gardening and Spring.  Hence Monet’s garden. The book was bought there on my first visit in 2007 and I have been back for more.  Longing for the repeat.

Another, ‘The English Garden’ by Peter Coats.  At least twenty years old.  I have so many gardening books and always dreamed of owning one, with borders and a kitchen garden, how about you?  This has not turned out to be (though I still dream) and it does not lessen my love for visiting others.  It’s about the ethereal beauty of creating and taming nature. Ethereal beauty.  Makes me happy.

What else inspired me this week.  A few links you may enjoy.

  • Of course, a little gardening to begin with.  Love Alan Titchmarsh and Country Life has offers some of his wisdom.
  • Passionate crush on Peonies, and yes, more gardening advice from The English Garden, on how to grow them.
  • Do you know about the National Garden Scheme?  These are private gardens, some offering B&B options and if you love gardens, make a plan to see some in England.  Enjoy the virtual tours of some of the most stunning on show.
  • Longing for Paris? Afar will help you be a Parisian in the lockdown (not so much comfort) of your own home. Viva all those croissants.
  • Talking Paris? David Lebovitz will help you create a bar in your own home.  Look for his virtual classes on his website. Love his journey to Paris and making a new life, his own way.
  • Setting the background to a groundhog, lockup day. Hip Paris.

Is it  all about gardening and Paris? C’est vrai.  These are the happy places, the garden and a memory trip to Paris.  Been a week of real frustration, then feeling bad about being frustrated because so many are worse off, and then being frustrated because, at sixty, life has a few more chapters and I feel as if I am in limbo in one.

We are all in limbo. We are all feeling fragile and lost. Strange times indeed.  But is this not the perfect time to also take stock of that long … yes … long life and go … ain’t done yet, and plan.  Perhaps for the first time you are putting yourself first? Going for the make or break? Changing what you think was a given to a bust up of set things?

It has been a strange week indeed. Angry, annoyed, anxious but so worth buckling down to change.  For in the fear, the lack of fear is the one true thing we can give ourselves.  It is a gift to dream, and not fear if all is still out there.  Take care of yourself, give yourself a break and dream.  No matter where you are now … you owe it to yourself to dream, be it a trip to Paris, a lovely garden, friends and family and getting off that couch. You are worth more …fyi … you are here.  Where to tomorrow?

Let’s see and go there. My homework is done, I have passed (albeit with maybe not the best marks) but nothing like a little lockdown to fuel the ambition.

Take care …

It is forgiven to falter when the world is askew …

I’m fine, truly I am.  The world has gone mad, a plague is upon us, we dig deep, we smile and wish each other well … we can do this!  We can, we will and blah … Sunday night (is it Sunday) and if we have to be honest … this is bloody awful.

Take it from someone who has chosen optimism ( a dear phrase) in the darkness that has clouded our lives.  Been through worse, she says, this is nothing compared to the chapters in a long life that one would rather skip over.  This is a but a new challenge … a foreign challenge we have no answers too … and there are the moments, and we are entitled to them.  Be kind to yourself.

In the five weeks of isolation and devoid of physical contact, the days began with ‘I shall build a puzzle’ and do all the things I never had time to do right? Watch movies in the afternoon, eat pasta for breakfast, have wine at two in the afternoon – all rather marooned on an island kind of thing.  We use a razor (this is another story), we tap into thinking our scary hair will empower us – sans all the little lovelies we used to do, are hanging for a while.  The memes flood my inbox, laugh and keep that cheery disposition amidst the silent blaming and thinking, it’s just for a while.  Then things like ‘hang in there, the war lasted four years, Anne Frank hid for five years’ sort of things keep coming my way and I am armoured for the days when I don’t really know what day it is and the news just does not get better.  And then I think, shall I always try to be optimistic, or shall I just be honest and say … this is bullshit, but deal with it anyway.

The new normal.  Accustomed to isolated routine. Apart from flattening the curve, it has also flattened who we are.  Our lives, our individuality is flattened for habits that make us unique.  I like my coffee this way, take this bus, walk along this street, meet in this pub and so forth … we are not allowed, so we become levelled in that … all together in the doing little, worrying about money and jobs, and family and death … we worry about that.  Not so much before, classical, universal issues were something we didn’t have to confront at the time … and Sunday nights, this is what I think about.

I cannot face another puzzle. Truth.  I cannot bear to think that this will go on forever, be excited about making masks out of fabric and stand two hundred feet from another. That Paris and London are like other cities, zombie fashion of desolation – that galleries lie quiet and eerie. People running out of food.  It all seems too gastly, even with the cheerful upper lip fixed firmly.

And then, and then. The sunlight hit my little pineapple.  A gift from my special friends when I left London a few months ago. For a little while.  And I had to just stand, look at it and think for a moment.  That little pineapple represents all the pineapples found around London.  A time when life was exceptionally difficult, life was tenuous, grief all around and for those that could afford it, a pineapple was a token of wealth, of prosperity.  Could cost you up to 350 pounds.  If no pineapple was to be had, to rent it, print it on wallpaper, fabrics, mould the form into plaster casts on walls, in gardens … all about the pineapple.  Even on the tips of St. Paul’s cathedral they are, in gold. Aspiring to the pineapple. Who would have thought?

In 1664 London was plagued. ‘Ring-a-Ring O roses” … we all fall down. This is not new to civilisation – we are in a new plague and we shall survive and I look at the pineapple and think … it is history that will define us. We are making history now, and how we deal with it, will be the making of us. And the beginning of us again.  Delving deep into history is the way forward, for we have faltered, and cried, lamented and feared before. Be it the plague, the pestilence, the wars and now another form of onslaught, I look at my little pineapple and think how life re-built before. To better things. To Sir Christopher Wren and other architects, to scientists and key essential workers, out there, not just dealing but planning to make it better.

My Sunday blah … anxiety and worry is what so many felt before me, when life went crazy and we didn’t know the answers. Like now. I don’t know,  I can’t solve it and I have to believe. I have to have faith that it will pass and it will.  History is a great teacher.

A new normal.  Being present.  Not listening to the doom sayers. Being occupied and planning for next week, next month and next year.  It is going to be fine, going to be good – going to be different but we can deal with that. Not, and not again I say, be excited about a puzzle or food, or wine, or tokens of making it through another day … making it matter when the world is struggling, I am struggling but I am going to be the best, the most amazing maker of a new time.

For now, in my line of business, times are really tough. Tourism will take a long time to recover. But it will… we will always want to explore the world, learn more about our cities, our landscapes, our history and how we fit into it all … it will recover and I will be ready, despite the Sunday blues, it will be the best time to show others what was, the pineapples and how we are survivors, like those before us, to make a new normal – be the best time we live in. Sunday night and I am thinking about the Churchillian in me … and I will be sharing it with you soon. London will be even more magnificent …the world will be new, and magnificent. Trust on a Sunday night, is what I need to believe in. And I do.

Monday will be the optimistic day.  Sunday blues are allowed … be kind to yourself, it will pass.

Keep safe, have the blues, and plan  …