Thursday, February 23, 2017

6.30am

I'm alone in a dark kitchen at 6.30am. Outside, birds are joyful. There is a warm patch under my feet, but I'm still wearing boot socks and a beanie on top of my dressing gown because the house is cold. To be honest, I'm still half awake and can't get it together to light the fire. This is the perfect time of day, when the whole world is full of hope and promise. This is when dreams can still come true.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

ghosts

I've just come from a funeral of a friend's father. A simple service, with rousing English hymns (why is it that Jerusalem always makes me cry with the line "bring me my chariot of fire"?), and a fine eulogy, and a most excellent Joyce Grenfell poem read by a grandson. We drove up to London early -- too early, in fact, because I'd misread the time -- and stopped in a workman's cafe in Kew for a milky cup of tea and a sausage sandwich. Our muddy boots had been jettisoned for black coats, an elegant suit for him, a pencil skirt, sweater, pearls and heels for me. I don't think I've worn heels in four weeks and I tottered about on my toes, feeling rather ladylike. We're like Parker and Lady Penelope in our muddy car. "Guess who the country folk are?" we laugh as our car is lined up with the rather nice, shiny Audis and Mercedes at the Hurlingham.

The boy who read the poem is twelve and we've started a Scotch Egg society together. We're both huge fans, and he gave me his secret place today. "Randall's" he said, "Granny's butcher. They have the best ones." I rather like our secret club. I'm a glutton for all things English - also sausage rolls and Coronation Chicken sandwiches and profiteroles, which were served after the funeral.

I watch my elegant friend greeting her dad's old muckers with such warmth. I watch her brother speak about his father as the breath catches in his throat. I watch her put her arm around her mother, in the front pew, as the curtains are drawn around the coffin.

It's funny how we mourn. Culturally, I mean. The English use restraint. They get through it. We're more histrionic in LA. I don't mean it disparagingly. There's just more drama, more emotion on display. Here, there's a sense that this is part of life. "Always go to the funeral," my friend Gary once said to me. Gary is in his eighties and has been a captain of industry in his time. He's and kind and good and manages to get free nights at the George V in Paris, because he always knows someone. When he gives advice, you listen. It's a simple thing, isn't it? I always believed that you went to funerals for people you knew, but you don't. You go to funerals to support those you love.

It was our first funeral, me & C, and I held his hand in our pew, and listened to his basso profundo belting out the hymns at least two octaves below everyone else (it's so public school, this habit of boys to try to sound as "hard" as possible. Adorable). Everything is different when I'm standing next to him. I am so immensely proud and I feel so completely safe. "Cor, he's so handsome," said a woman I'd never met before, with a twinkle in her eye. "I should nab him." And then she grinned. "Oh but wait, you nabbed him. Oh, and I forgot; I'm married." He hasn't a clue. He has no idea how lovely he is. It's wonderful.

There are still lots of maps. It's a habit of mine (to watch the sun go down. On Echo Beach...) -- I have an intense need to walk every inch of a new place in order to call it my own and in order to lose myself in it. I make concentric squares, or ziggy rectangles, from my house every morning, venturing further afield each day. On Saturday we walked a bit of the Ridgeway Path, between giant beech trees.




And then I stood in the middle of Buckland Wood and realized that I was experiencing something close to euphoria.

video

I listened to a piece on Radio Four about the poet John Clare. I like this very much:
And I'm very interested in the war artist John Nash, who is exhibited at the Tate Britain until early March. He had a special affinity with two hills in South Oxfordshire, named The Wittenham Clumps, and first saw them in 1911, as "a beautiful legendary country haunted by old gods long forgotten". I have similarly imagined places as they may have been hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and wonder whether the old ghosts still haunt them.




Friday, February 17, 2017

welcome

In an effort to be part of my new community, I've joined the local Google email group, which keeps you up to date on the local fete, offers advice on local electricians, tells you about church services, and welcomes new people to the village. My neighbors have been most welcoming, stopping me on the footpaths (I can't imagine that anyone else has a dalmatian, a Frenchie, and wears a Norwegian flag beanie) to say hello. People are very kind here. Although "I've just moved here from Los Angeles" seems to be a bit of a conversation stopper.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

dusk

The days are indeed getting longer. In the month since I've been here - and today marks a month - I've been walking the dogs at dusk, later and later. Tonight it was mild. Only two layers. And the sunset was blood orange and beetroot. It reminds me of walking with my father, always as it was getting dark, never with a torch, listening to the owls and the pigeons fluttering about in the leafless branches. I get a euphoria I don't feel at any other time. It's you alone in the world but the world is in you, is everything, there's nothing lonely. It's all as it's meant to be, perfect and harmonious and connected and peaceful.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Thoughts from the morning's ramble

A couple of thoughts from this morning's walk (all these truths possibly self evident as all good truths are...)
1) Trees carry energy. Touching them and hugging them is empowering. (As long as no-one notices.)
2) We go to nature to recalibrate; to bring the balance of outside in.
3) It's worth stopping for a while to listen to birds.
4) We go outside to lose the ego. Don't make that job too hard for yourself. Try not to look at your phone and just immerse yourself in it.
5) Be brave and trust that the universe will help you. This also requires patience.

Chiltern morning
















 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

the low point

In the world of inherent challenges built into living in a four hundred year old higgledy piggledy cottage in the middle of the rural Chilterns, a dodgy electrical system appears to be numero uno. Yesterday, on discovering there wasn't any hot water, I flipped the switch on the immersion heater and thusly managed to blow the whole system, waking up at 2am to discover my phone hadn't charged (after dropping it in the bath tub), the lights wouldn't turn on, the heating was off and the internet was out. I'm not yet in the habit of wearing slippers (you really don't need slippers in LA but I now have my eyes on those sheepskin booty ones from LL Bean) so I stole down the stairs, phone in hand, and rustled round in the half dark for a bag of arborio rice in which to dunk it. My feet were cold, my hands were cold and my head was cold, so I grabbed my Norwegian flag beanie, and my favorite outdoor coat made from my brother's tweed. I jumped back into bed, along with two now emboldened four legged hot water bottles, and started googling "power outage Cholesbury." Now this might come as a shock, but unlike going to twitter and searching "power outage Laurel Canyon" the former produces no results. If there is a local bulletin board or a neighborhood watch, I don't know about it, and I'm rather alone here, knowing precisely zero people in the village (apart from my neighbors, who've both come by with incorrectly delivered parcels).

At about half past seven in the morning, I took the dogs out to the cricket pitch, as one does, and started asking various dog walkers if their electricity was out too. Every single person looked at me as if I were mad, and replied in the negative. I wonder if "is your power out" an American phrase? I just don't know any more.

None of the phones had charged, nor the computer and the only number I had was my friend Pip, who's a plumber, so I texted him trying not to sound too desperate. "Hi. Could you send me the name of that electrician you recommended?" ("And a one way ticket back to Los Angeles" I wanted to say.)
There is nothing worse than being cold. The Norwegians are good at this; they dress for the weather. They even have a saying: Det finnes ingen dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær...

Looking back at it, it was a low point. I realized my sense of humor had evaporated and the only thing I wanted to do was to go to bed, wrapped in a comical seven layers, feeling incredibly, pathetically sorry for myself. "I am an Angeleno." I thought. I didn't think it with pride. I saw it as a failure. Noble experiment in country living goes awry with first setback. Woman, 53, is not as brave as she originally thought. In fact, she's rather feeble.

I was woken with a pounding at the door. I leapt up, stuffed my three socked feet into my golden Birkenstocks and ran downstairs, opening the door with as wide awake a look as possible. Two people greeted me - a smiling woman with an enormous vase of blue and white flowers, and my mother, with her walking stick and a thermos wrapped in a down jacket. The woman thrust the flowers in my hand as my mother handed me the thermos. "Now you can have a cup of tea," she said. At my lowest ebb, on a cold day in February, in a four hundred year old house, with no heating and no electricity, my mother had come to my rescue. She came in, lit fires, went down on her knees to blow on the flames, got both wood burners working like furnaces, like an angel. And the flowers, which include a huge heart, bent out of pussy willow, were from my lovely man in Berlin.

And suddenly everything got better. The electrician, Nicky, and his merry men arrived and magically everything started working again. There was beetroot soup for lunch. There was a jolly note from my book group ladies. And with heat and light, hope.

Monday, February 13, 2017

be kind

it just struck me: i need to find a way to be kinder to myself.
i think it's important to allow that things will change and they may feel catastrophic, but a few months from now, everything will turn out as it was meant to.
my arms are so tightly around everything, so scared of change in the midst of epic circadian shifts, that i worry, too much, and i make myself miserable with the worrying. it's important to remember that this is a period of change and change is bound to happen but that doesn't mean that bad things will come; not at all. i think this might bring in good stuff, great stuff, the stuff you can't even begin to imagine for yourself.
it took me a full sunny day for that to dawn on me. call me a little thick. or just call me.
love, miss w xx

Kathy, I'm lost, I said



“Kathy, I'm lost,” I said, thought I knew she was sleeping. "I'm empty and aching and I don't know why."

Such strange, strange times. And yes, I know I should be enjoying the adventure, embracing the fact that I've made an epic leap across continents, have come home to my roots, but you know what, this is hard. This is really, really hard. It's grey and cold, and I'm really crap at laying fires, and I miss my (grown up) babies more than I can say, and the worst part? I don't know who I am. I'm have a major identity crisis. Now, granted, I am aware that I sound dramatic, and of course, I will be much better tomorrow, but as I drove home from London today, after having lunch with a particularly warm and kind family of a great girlfriend, and listened to Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Little Princess" on Radio Four, barreling down the always slightly depressing M25, I found myself trying to remember where I come from. Once, many years ago, when I first contemplated coming back to England, an old friend said to me "You can't come back; you're not English any more." And he was right. I'm not sure I've ever been that English, with my Norsk mother, but certainly now, after 30 years in Los Angeles, I don't feel English any more. I still like Marmite and Roast Beef, of course, but I'm just not sure what I'm mad of any more.

Speaking of roast beef, my friend Laura's mama makes a very good one, with yorkshire puddings, and roasted beets and potatoes, and leeks and peas. How particularly nice it is to sit around a table with a lovely family, three generations and a dog, even if it isn't yours.

The dogs weren't sure about Shoreditch. After running around on three hour rambles here in the Chiltern Hills, I'm sure they felt restricted. Certainly last night's 11.30pm walk around the hot spots of Rivington Street and Great Eastern Street was eye-opening; young, drunk people littered about with starry eyes like those in the Giles cartoons. And plenty of discarded kebabs for the dogs to schnarf about for. I was happy to throw my self into a big, white, bed under a big, fat duvet at midnight, doors doubled down again the marauding herds.

After a very good lunch, we drove home to the fog and the drizzle, to just a few spots of old snow from Friday's flurries. I put the dogs in their little coats in case they were cold. I put four layers on in case I was. The green was a little damp. The crows were out. The scouts were gone. I felt suddenly rather melancholic and alone and cold and wondered, as one does, sometimes, but this was my first time, and even as I wondered it, I knew that it was fleeting: what have I done?  I had a good life, a thriving business, a nice house in the canyon, good weather, lovely friends, and I've left everything I know, including where to buy the best bread, where to dry clean vintage dresses, the secret hiking trails,  the gate code to the short cut to Mulholland, from being the master of my own domain, to being a visitor. I'm in a rented house. I miss my children. I miss my girlfriends. I'm cold. And my lovely boyfriend is in Berlin for another week. I'm constantly asked by English people whether I was born in LA. And I'm constantly corrected by English people on my vocabulary (sidewalk/pavement, store/shop, etc.). Let me tell you something: you cannot unlearn thirty years in a week. Reader, I'm a little lost. I'm sorry. And I'm not sure why.

"I don't know what I am" I said to Charlie. He is good and kind, and he has one of those balmy voices you want to hear when you're upset. The dogs are running around in the mist, happy. I'm standing in the middle of the cricket pitch looking into the greyness. He says "remember to embrace this adventure you're on." And then I remember that if you don't take risks and do things differently, things will just stay the same. This journey is good for the soul. It's an adventure. It's creatively fulfilling. It's inspiring. I've never been one for an easy life. I always, to a fault, want the challenge. If there are two options I will choose the most difficult one. I always pick the tricky horse. Searchers gotta search, and all that. His voice is what I need. He purrs at me. I just miss him. 

So here we are. People on Facebook are predicting WWIII. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have rounded up hundreds of people in California, Texas, Nevada. This is the beginning. And it's not good.

"There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness." -- Andrew Sullivan

Update: Monday morning, February 13

The sun is out! It's a balmy 4 degrees in Tring!
This is what you do: you wake up, and you decide to be happy.
Onward.