Friday, March 17, 2017

There Will Come Soft Rains

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,   And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;    And frogs in the pools singing at night,  And wild plum trees in tremulous white,    Robins will wear their feathery fire  Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;    And not one will know of the war, not one  Will care at last when it is done.    Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree  If mankind perished utterly;    And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,  Would scarcely know that we were gone. 
-- Sara Teasdale


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Light & warmth, always

I'm sitting at my kitchen table, with the door wide open, and the birds singing at me. Glimpses of blue sky and fluffy clouds, an occasional pheasant. Not bad for March in England. Beautiful flowers in front of me, from my sweet man, who appears with them from the train.

The dogs are slowly getting used to the lazy foot traffic that goes by the garden gate; women with pushchairs, a man and his dog, an occasional Amazon deliver, horses trotting by. They burr and grumble but aren't sure if they should leap into action.

I love this little house. I love waking up in the morning to the birds and the light, the sound of wood pigeons and imminent arrival of spring.

And I love that my mother's rather eccentric lamp fits in so well (note the chamber pot for visitors, because the loo is so far away).

There are thousands of pictures of my children strewn around the house. As I unpacked my boxes, I was rather amused to discover that I'd brought more pictures of the children than anything else. It's one of those hard things; think about it too much and you will be sad. But the youngest arrives for Easter and hopefully her brother isn't too far behind. Every day, things get better, the days become longer, the sky lighter in the evening, more birds wake up, a smaller degree of cortisol panic throttles its way around my body, fewer voices tell me that I'm mad to make such a great leap.

And more and more you realize, you love those that you love and those that don't love you should be left alone. There will always be haters, and that's okay. And more and more you realize that people rise to the occasion, especially those that you think you are protecting. They can handle. They want to help. People are coming out of the woodwork to help me, to make things happen, to make life easier. It's really quite amazing. Especially my mamma, who, when I dropped in on her yesterday and when we'd had our fill of RightMove real estate porn (as we do, every time) said to me "don't forget that book you should be writing..."

My friend Kay brought me bread, wine, a candle, salt. And the card said:
Bread: this house will never know hunger. Salt: Life will always have flavour. Wine: joy & prosperity. A candle: Light & warmth always.
It's wonderful, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Maps and Pi day

Today is Pi Day (3.14) which always reminds me of when my daughter was at Wonderland Elementary in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, and she'd come home with a whopping pumpkin pie (my absolute favorite). As we're not in the canyon, I've fashioned a pretty good approximation of a La Scala Leon Chop, using little gems instead of iceberg. These are without fail the best salads in the world and remind me both of my daughter, who would beg me to pick up chopped salads from La Scala after she'd returned home from school on the east coast, and my niece, Fliss, who announced after her first: "Now I want all my salads chopped." It's something about the dressing that works so well. I'm sure they don't use olive oil, and the red wine vinegar isn't great quality, but the combination takes your breath away.

Los Angeles is far, far away, but the check-ins are what I live for: the emails from friends "It's book club tonight so I'm thinking of you?" "Bum, when are you coming BACK???" The Instagram pictures from Din Tai Fung. The views from Runyon. The missed middle of the night Skype call. The recipe for green Thai curry with cod and eggplant, from my darling son.

I live for maps. Two new ones have been delivered through my door: bridleways of Chartridge & Cholesbury, footpaths of Wendover. Maps help you discover where you are in the world. They also help you discover where you are in the world -- the triumph of discovering a new, unseen route, and the satisfaction of realizing that you no longer need to refer to them, that you're walking on familiar paths. I am thinking a lot of the notion of being lost and being found and what that means. And why we place so much importance on knowing where we are. When I lose it, and I wish I could say it happens rarely, but there have been a couple of decidedly challenging moment this week, and the basis of it is feeling displaced, not literally, but on a soul level. I struggle with it all the time - I wasn't really American in American and I'm not really British in Britain. Now, this isn't the worst thing. For example, when my mother, who is Norwegian, first came to England and she would accompany my father to Perthshire in August for grouse shooting, she found it enormously hard with the glamorous, grand English women, who lived in Chelsea and Kensington, and knew all the right people, and spoke endlessly of the cocktail parties and grand dinners they'd been to. My mother felt left out, and her self-worth plummeted when she heard one of them say "well, you never know with foreigners." (This is just a jaw-dropper of a statement, as narrow-minded as you can imagine, of course.) But that is a phrase she adopted for her own, and said if often, dripping with irony, and with a big grin on her face, because, actually, it gave her license to behave as she wished. Her behavior was of course impeccable, and all the silly women who didn't give her the time of day, well, that was their loss.

I've thought of adapting it. We went to a very jolly quiz at the village hall a few nights ago, at the suggestion of our lovely neighbor who came round in the morning to see if we were free because a couple had dropped out. It was brilliant. Cottage pie and raspberry and cream pavlova roulade and wonderful people and very challenging questions. I hope, I believe we were good contributors. But back to my point. I realized that Charlie and I were high-fiving each other like high schoolers when we got a question right, and I wondered, later on, whether I look a little, um, exotic. Americanisms have dropped seamlessly into my lexicon, not just in language, but behavior as well. Of course, everyone was completely lovely, and didn't say a word, but I worry about these things...

While the car was being MOT'd we walked to Ashridge Monument at 9am for a Bacon Breakfast Bap with Brown sauce, a cup of tea, and a lovely conversation with a man called John, who'd recently lost his dog, and seemed to adore mine. He bought them a breakfast sausage, with my permission, and proceeded to feed them, while talking about Andy Goldsworthy and the wild parakeets of London. Strangers are awfully kind here.

Sunday's challenge was being lost in a dense pine wood with a map and zero bars on my phone on a brand new, perfectly lovely, but unknown horse at five o'clock (translation: it was getting dark and I was miles from home). I think about this incident a lot. I am brave. I have a brave horse. I do not fear being lost. But what do I fear? Nightfall. This is interesting. The morning, and I'm talking 5.40am is elating - the birds are singing and there is a cold, grey light. It's my favorite time. It reminds me of my father, of dreams of my father, of weird fever dreams where there may or may not be pink light, and sheep grazing, and a mist over the grass, and dew. Where there may be the sound of pigeons, or cock pheasants alighting. This is the time of day when everything is new, when everything is possible, where the whole world is open.

I suffer from insomnia. Profoundly. This piece in the NYT was more than inspiring to me. It put me on a different level of track:
Dr. Francesco Benedetti, a psychiatrist in Milan, and colleagues noticed that hospitalized bipolar patients who were assigned to rooms with views of the east were discharged earlier than those with rooms facing the west — presumably because the early morning light had an antidepressant effect. -- from Richard E Friedman in The New York Times.
This is one of the most hopeful things I've read. I now wake up facing east. The sun rises and the sky fills my room. At 5.30am I am buoyant. This is the thing that makes me know I am in the right place.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

light and faith

Things are beginning to settle. The exhaustion of every single thing being new is dissipating, and the rhythm is starting to hum, quietly.

Dawn is a lengthy process. At 5.40am I could see light outside the window and now at 6am, the birds have started to sing. It's this optimism that I have missed for all these years: however long and dark the night, there are birds and light not very far away.

Moving is a lesson in faith: every day, I've got to believe that it will all come together, that it will all start to work smoothly, that this is where I am supposed to be.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

In The Bus

Somewhere between Greenfield and Holyoke
snow became rain
and a child passed through me
as a person moves through mist
as the moon moves through
a dense cloud at night
as though I were cloud or mist
a child passed through me

On the highway that lies
across miles of stubble
and tobacco barns our bus speeding
speeding disordered the slanty rain
and a girl with no name      naked
wearing the last nakedness of
childhood breathed in me
                   once    no
                   once    two breaths
a sigh    she whispered    Hey you
begin again
again     again    you'll see
it's easy    begin again    long ago  

-- Grace Paley


Whizzing along

I really don't like to step out of my comfort zone, but when I do I am please with the results. There is something comforting about being on a train, by the window, watching trees, houses, wires, pylons, ploughed fields, red brick houses, sheep going whizzing by. The green carpet seats, the business men in their ostentatious ties, the hungover students in beanies, the unfamiliar announcements. And the giving up of control. Car culture is about control. One drives oneself. LA culture is car culture. LA culture relies heavily on ego. Trains level you out. They equalize. We're all in this together mates. We can discuss the relevance of grammar schools, Theresa May's latest speech, our dependence on our phones. There is a subtle communication that goes on here in the carriage. None of us speak but we spend a lot of time trying not to look at each other, or touch each other, even if we are inches apart. It's a far cry from the Fuck You! car culture I am used to. He cut you off? Give him the finger! Are you turning or not, you moron? Who cares? I will take Fountain. 

This is peaceful in its cold discomfort. In its 1960s era heating systems, in its containment. 

There are paths everywhere where I live, many of them stomped and shaped over thousands of years by so many men and women before us. It's that stuff that takes away one's self-importance. I am just putting one boot on front of another, on this muddy path, where so many more interesting people have come before me. 


Sunday, March 05, 2017


Gusty rain here. Gutsy rain? Lots of it, and wind, the stuff that makes your cheeks sting. I'm still enjoying it as if it were a novelty, smiling all over my pink face, watching the dogs run and and wriggle and run again. It's quiet in the cottage kitchen this morning. My kitchen table has is covered in the parts of the hoover, which I took apart, washed and can't put back together again, displayed on a linen glass cloth, a plastic bag containing a girth that doesn't fit, and a heavyweight horse blanket that's far too big. Yesterday my father would have been 103, and, fittingly, a little horse I'd looked at 5 weeks ago and couldn't get out of my mind, arrived in a horsebox from Wiltshire. She's tiny, a former racehorse, 11 years old and although she's 15.2, built like a pony, with little square hooves, fine bones. Audrey Hepburn, or a ballet dancer. Delicate, aqualine, refined. Enormously sweet, and still settling in. She is a little worried to be in a new place, but displays incredibly good manners, and apparently superior breeding, and in a very English way, feels it would be untoward to complain. The bridle I bought her is huge. Her browband sticks out two inches from her face, and the bit is two sizes too big. The saddle slips off of her high withers and skinny belly, and so I've found a breastplate. She is tiny, and delicate, and very, very sweet. Like a child, I can't sleep, dream about her, can't wait to whiz over there to see her, as I did this morning, clutching a bag of chopped up apples. As she doesn't know anyone else, she whinnies when she sees me. Note to other horses: this scores you a lot of points. Good plan.

There are people coming for lunch, which is perfect, because the raining is pouring down.  Charlie arrives from London soon. We shall light fires and make it cozy. There is lemon posset and roast chicken and sweet potatoes with sage. And we'll listen to this crazy version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, recomposed by Max Richter. It's on Spotify, find it. Extraordinary stuff. It makes me cry.

The world is blowing open. It's as if there were weeks and weeks of cloud cover, and you'd never know unless you were above it that there is a whole, endless, hopeful blue sky. And do you know the way the world looks after the rain, shimmering with a thousand prisms? Every day the world changes. Here I am in the middle of all this ridiculous natural beauty and every single day, it changes. Tiny things: green shoots that will be bluebells, tiny buds forming on branches, daffodils about to explode in hedgerows. And for me too, everything is beginning to feel right, as if I'm exactly where I'm meant to be.

I hope you have a lovely Sunday.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Beaufort Wind Scale

When I was quite small I remember being rather taken by the Beaufort Wind Force Scale. In our text book there was a beautiful pen and ink illustration of the damage done by varying degrees of wind force, from wind blowing through a few leaves, to whole tree trunks lying on the ground. "Observe" said Mr Williams. "Don't just look." And so through observation, you could surmise the strength of the wind on that day.

Storm Doris (my mother came over and announced triumphantly "It's Doris Day!") has strewn trees and branches and twigs all over the paths around us. Frantic emails to the local grapevine include information about power outages, fallen trees blocking paths, wobbly rooves and errant big cats. Yes, I adore the local email grapevine. It's full of the most useful tidbits about the village, or the group hamlets, known as the Hilltop Villages. Imagine a sort of Perez Hilton sans the bitchiness, for rural Buckinghamshire.

It's raining again. I'm trying to be cheerful about rain. My house is cozy and I have tea and soup and books, but it is raining again. Therefore: mud. Mud is part of my lexicon and my outfits; smeared over boots and socks and leggings. This is why the mud room was invented. You cannot get away from the stuff. The dogs have become very obedient. "In your bed" said in a semi ferocious voice after a walk is implicitly understood.

But back to the Beaufort Wind Force Scale. Imagine if something like that existed for the state of a relationship? Small, subtle signs to indicate what was going on. Takes phone calls mid conversation? Category 4. Answers in monosyllables? Category 5. Doesn't answer: Category 6.