Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Dormitory

Thistle is staring at me while we wait for the kettle to boil. I've tied her to the Aga so that she doesn't try to bother my mother's elderly dog while he has his morning saucer of milk. He is very, very old and very, very frail, and I know that she intimidates him. This is his house and we have taken over, while caring for my mother, and he is confused about the whole thing. On the 4th of June, it will be sixteen years since she adopted him, at three months. And the 4th of June is exactly three months after my late father's birthday on the 4th of March, so there is some magical thinking here, about the link between the dog and the man who were, perhaps, born on the same day, and this somehow makes the whole conversation of whether or not he should be put down so much harder. It's not my choice, I know, but it's hard to watch this poor, skeletal creature wander about confused. He's not the dog I remember or the dog who would leap up at me when I arrived from America, imploring me to take him for a walk, and who would happily climb huge tree trunks so I could take pictures of him. He is very sad and confused now, and shakes when Thistle gets near him. He is blind and deaf and hates being touched, though I have cut great clumps of goop out of the hair around his eyes. He eats well, and he loves his milk, but other than that he sleeps, or paces the wooden hallway in the middle of the night, his long nails clicking on the boards. I don't like conversations about death or whether we can dictate who should die. What authority do we have? Or is it our responsibility?



There is an infestation of glis glis (edible dormice) in this house. And so it has been for as long as I can remember. And so it was in the house we grew up in, just a few hundred yards away from here. Glis glis were released into the wild, possibly by mistake, by Walter Rothschild at the beginning of the last century in Tring Park, only a few miles from here. As a result, the whole of this part of the Chilterns is awash with them. They're awfully cute, furry little creatures, with huge brown eyes and a little bushy tail, fat and cuddly, and like Alice in Wonderland, they sleep a lot, mostly during the day. People have been here to "control" them - the last man would catch them in traps and drive them a few miles away to release them into the wild (but my inkling is that they are rather like homing pigeons and probably just journeyed back, with their little rucksacks and bandanas.) But as with any house with two families living in it, they don't always respect our space. A drawer for knives and forks has become a cozy cot because it's next the Aga, and it's even more cozy now that the knives and forks have been closed into thick, sealable plastic bags (and washed again before use because I am so squeamish). A linen cupboard is a whole dormitory. A drawer filled with wrapping paper and ribbon is a makeshift nursery.

A trap was set last night and one pitiful soul has been caught, lured in by the promise of sweet apple. He is still in there and stares at me dolefully. I'm not sure I can let Thistle have her prize again today. One day was enough. (Yesterday's victim was savaged on the lawn as he made a run for it and he did quickly after a vigorous shake.) I'm not sure that picking one or two of these creatures off and murdering them does anything to the overall population, does it? My mother tells me that she can wring a pheasant's neck easily and without thinking about it because she is so used to it. I tell her that I can't even squash an ant. I don't like death. I try to save everything. And I am now mourning that poor little brave glis glis as it ran for its freedom across the lawn. My sisters will laugh at this. They are more of the stuff and nonsense generation; they will think me weak and too Californian and borderline Vegan. I just don't like it a bit. I wish we had better rehoming options.

So now there is one dead, and one in a trap sitting outside the door, and there is another asleep in the knives and forks drawer. There are also at least four in the roof above the bedroom, because they got the band back together last night. What to do?

The venerable, ahem, Daily Mail weighs in here.



Meanwhile, we walked about eight miles yesterday. Charlie wants to talk. I am content just looking at things, being swallowed up in it, meandering through it like a swirl of raspberry in ice cream. There is not a more beautiful time of year; lambs and blossom and swallows and finches returned from Africa, daisies and buttercups and wild pink geraniums, fat horses grazing under oak trees. The greenest of green greens. Softly wafting clouds. The sense of things being okay. Time has stopped and yet there still isn't enough of it. I find myself wanting to learn about the migratory patterns of birds, circadian rhythms, the language of trees, Wilding, understanding the ecosystems of canals. We saw a swarm of bees in a tree by the Grand Union Canal, and later, in Aldbury a beekeeper in his garden. Two mini donkeys. A monster patch of rhubarb with stems as thick as my wrist. I want to absorb it all. But then, lingering at the back of my mind, constantly, are those words: Are You Sure You Have Anything To Say?


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Walk it out

Sheep on the byway from the Nettlebed estate to Nuffield, May 14


Walking it out may be the answer. I did 7 miles this morning. The astounding thing is that Thistle, who is a small French Bulldog, did the whole walk too, and didn't complain once, and didn't even pick a fight with another dog. I'd like to call it the cheese tour - we started in Bix, and walked to Highmoor, skirted Nettlebed and back home through Nuffield. The bluebells are fading now, but there is cow parsley (Queen Anne's Lace) everywhere, and white hawthorn, and the hedges are filled with young oak. Big, billowy flat-bottomed fairweather clouds, luminous green beech, finches and larks and starlings, wood pigeons and rooks. And lambs everywhere, snoozing gently in the sunshine. Yes, walk it out, I say.

One of the wise Buddhist teachers I follow on Instagram, and I don't remember which one, so forgive me, suggested the other day that anything that comes your way, just say "thank you." I've tried to adopt this idea. With varying success, I might add. But this morning, oh my goodness, there wasn't anything else to say. How can we possibly begin to appreciate all this useless beauty?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How's it going in your neck of the woods?

Here's a few things that are going on chez moi. How are you doing out in the world?


  • The weather went from a blousy 75 degrees and sunny, proper August Bank Holiday weather over the weekend, to minus 3 on Monday night. Nature, once again, keeping us on our toes.
  • This was the day that Boris spoke to the country. I thought he sounded okay until I saw this.
  • My mother has broken her ankle in two places and is being looked after quite brilliantly by my daughter, who is also trying to hold down her very rigorous WFH job in advertising analytics. They are living on a diet of Bon Appetit, Alison Roman and Momofuku recipies. I'm slightly jealous.
  • I've made a deal with my daughter to write my book two hours a day. In turn, she's running every day. As I don't want to disappoint her, I'm going to stick to it. Even if it sucks, I don't care. There have been years of procrastination. And now, as we're all going to die anyway, why not? (Regular programming will return soon, I promise. I'm really not this person. Glass half full, always.)
  • Yesterday was the worst day I can remember; total loss of mojo, humor and warmth. I was then told by a kind person on Twitter that three planets had all gone into retrograde at the same time and so we were all fucked. Of course not as fucked as we have been by that Orange Idiot in the White House.  Yes, he's the worst possible leader for the worst possible time. I am at the point that I don't want to see or hear his name ever again.
  • Journalists rock. Thank goodness for the White House press corps, who are now working together to catch him out on his lies. Yuck.
  • It's my son's thirtieth birthday tomorrow. As I think of him as about 9, I find this hard to imagine. Somehow, despite it all, we are all still alive and we've made it through thirty years. Yup. Couldn't be prouder.
Ned and me and Teazle, Christmas 1995, I think.

  • I'm sick and tired of this lockdown. I just want to get a blow dry, put on lipstick and heels and a dress and go somewhere ridiculous for lunch. Or even a meeting at a studio. Anything.
Five years ago, when I still dressed up. Vintage Ferragamos. With Thistle.

  • I dry my sheets on the washing line. I don't iron them. I've always been a stickler for ironed sheets, but something about windblown, slightly crispy white linen sheets is making me enormously happy.
  • I have a garden in a house I can't move into yet. Nothing is more thrilling than gardening. I can't wait to move. It's all I think about; being in my own house again and tending my own garden. I live for that garden. That garden is my Hope.
  • This piece by Taffy Akner-Brodesser will make your world better. Surprisingly it's about Val Kilmer, but not really.
  • Sending you love, even if I don't know you. Also, feel free to email me. I don't really know how to reply to all the comments here directly. My name is bumble and my email is bumble@bumbleward.com. Thank you for being here. xo

Thursday, May 07, 2020

May the Sixth

Good morning, fine folk of the world. It is May the sixth and I believe we are in our sixtieth day of lockdown due to Covid-19. There have been 30,000 deaths in the UK (an inaccurate number, because of lack of testing and monitoring) - the highest in Europe, and nearly 72,000 deaths in the US. Here, in our little corner of Oxfordshire, beauty and horror co-exist. I cannot complain of much hardship where we are. We live in a beautiful, rickety old farmhouse surrounded by fields and ancient woodland, horses and sheep and pheasants. We listen to the owls at night and the peacocks calling to each other during the day. We do all the bourgeois things - buy bread from our excellent local bakery wearing our masks and gloves, online yoga, Zoom drinks with friends. We have our work and our dogs and each other. And yet, there is a hidden spectre, a dark force slipping into everything, unseen, unheard and largely undetected until it's too late. I don't sleep because I'm up at night reading the New York Times. I experience fresh outrage each day at Trump. And I think about my lovely Kundalini guru who told us years ago, when we were swooning and dancing in the era of Obama, and showing mock outrage at things that now seem so ridiculous, that we were going to face a very dark period. I was so irritated when she said this, in the middle of a floaty sat nam meditation with lovely, calming music, surrounded by beautiful yogis in their white dresses, just completely bumming out the mood - I mean we were going to stroll down Sunset Boulevard afterwards to get green juice smoothies... But, here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic that it's hard to get one's head around.

I can only tell you of my experience, and I am, I suppose one of the luckier ones. Stay well, dear people.



Monday, May 04, 2020

Not failing

It's been nearly nine years now since my husband and I ended our formal marriage. And as I sit by the window in the morning haze, listening to the peacocks and watching the recycling truck picking up the bins, the sun twinkling behind the lime tree, cup of tea by me, my lovely man asleep in our bed, I realize that in the face of this pandemic, the rest of it takes a back seat. There is no time for holding grudges, for vituperative behaviour, for regret, our only job now is to hold each other, to be kind to each other, and to move on, together. It was J's birthday yesterday and I was genuinely happy to hear his voice, full of its childlike, infectious enthusiasm, and I realize that I spent some very, very happy time with that man, that he's a good man, a genuine man, and more importantly, he did his best.

C talks about his marriage as "failed" and I have to say, I don't think there are any failed marriages, or very few. We enter into them in the right spirit, we will them to be good and strong, we spend time playing our roles, trying to do the right thing, we raise children who are strong and able and kind, we did our best.  This is not failing. This is all we can do.

In the early morning light, when you first see the sun or hear the birds, set this intention: do your best, and say thank you. That is all we can do.

And if you are weary of the news and would like to hear something a little more uplifting, here are two lovely pieces from BBC World Service Outlook:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3cszd2y

Also, I'm reading this, which is quite wonderful.

One more thing: Thistle in the buttercups yesterday.


Much love to you all, wherever you are. May you be safe and happy.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Linden

Onward, onward, but where are we going?

I have a bicycle now. It's pink and suited to an eleven year old girl, so that fits me perfectly. I've taken to racing Thistle down the mile-long drive and back. She flies. I swear she goes forty miles an hour, as fast as her little legs will carry her, determined not to be outdone by the evil wheels. Whizzing about on bikes is good for the soul. I would imagine similar exhilaration may come from hula-hooping or bouncing on a trampoline. A friend of mine put on a pair of old-fashioned roller skates, as made popular by Melanie in 1972, and skated around her neighborhood in Sherman Oaks, California, before anyone but the birds were awake. It's this kind of rebellion that we need, don't you think?

Dettol is my new best friend. I love its smell. I feel put to shame by my friend Vivien who wanders around the house each day in a pinny, with her bucket and mop and feather duster and makes her house spic and span. She pointed out when she was last here (in the kindest possible way) that my windows were awfully dirty. I hadn't noticed. I have cleaning shame. I've always been the one with the lovely housekeeper (it's really not unusual for working women to have lovely housekeepers or cleaning ladies in Los Angeles, and not as elitist and bougie as it seems). Before I moved here I don't think I had ever mopped my own floor. And now I love the smell of Dettol in the morning.

Speaking of Robert Duvall, Eleanor Coppola's diary from the making of Apocalypse Now, is well worth the read. Simply written, yet profound, it explores the relationship between a man and a wife when the man is one of the most powerful filmmakers in Hollywood, and how she somehow addresses that balance, as an artist and a mother. It's marvelously descriptive and very insightful.

I'm almost embarrassed to write this, as I'm sure most of my readers (all three of you) will think that I've lost my marbles after that last post about The Shift, but that night I dreamed the most wonderful dream. The kind of dream that you wake up from feeling refreshed and ready and changed and calm and soothed. It was a balm of a dream, a tsunami of a dream. I realized that every single person in it was there to show me something; they were showing me a new way. It was very simple, really, as I walked through a market square (has to be some Bowie allusion there) arm in arm in a friendly way with a young man who took me to a room where the people were learning how to elevate. There were some ropes, but just as helpful props, rather like a yoga class. A few young women were suspended from the air, as if in flight, their arms moving gently like women, as delicate as ballet dancers. But I understood that I didn't need the ropes. All I needed was to choose to fly, to choose to step into the sky and into a higher place, a higher consciousness, and there it was waiting. Once I walked into the sky, it was easy, I whooshed from place to place with other smiling souls, and realized, really quite profoundly that every single one of us is connected to everyone else, and that we aren't put on this earth, we choose to be here, and our job, once we are here is to try to elevate everyone else, to love, to be kind, and to lift each other to a higher consciousness.

Are you still with me?
If so, I hope you're safe.
Sending you love from the birds of Nettlebed; the blackbirds on the lawn, the swallows in the stables, and the goldfinches darting in and out of the linden tree at the bottom of the garden.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Shift

Good morning from South Oxon, where the surreal and balmy summer days have given way to some much-needed rain, and clouds. Everything is a stunning, heart-stopping green, the green of new growth, the acid lime-green that comes only for a few weeks and then fades, exhausted. I've never a witnessed a more beautiful spring; the bluebells are everywhere, ridiculously, blatantly swanning their wanton blueness, flaunting it, here we are, and we are everywhere. There are fuchsia orchids in abundance - not once have I seen a wild orchid in a wood since my childhood and now there are dozens of them. The birds. Oh my goodness the birds. We have swallows, blue tits, finches, blackbirds in the garden. Pigeons, of course. And Lester said he heard a cuckoo last week but I have not.

I've been sorting through my thoughts about all of this, and it's almost impossible to dig up what is anxiety and what is magical thinking and what is conjecture.

Nature is playing an elaborate trick on us, said a cyclist I met in the woods the other day. A good trick, he said. Nature is doing a reset, they say. Yes, yes, and yes. I believe all of it. I believe that we are part of an incredibly complicated, mathematically intricate, beautiful interconnected system, a huge fractal structure, and we're all part of it, and everything single thing affects another, and so on. I don't know where this is going or where we will end up, but I believe with every cell in my body that this is the right thing, and this is what we need right now. That's not to say that it isn't a very scary time, too, with so many unanswered questions - about the virus itself, about its impact on the economy, on society, especially the most vulnerable, on democracy, and how we will live in the future.

People like Eckhart Tolle and the Kundalini yogis who following the teachings of Yogi Bhajan (of which I'm one, if only slightly lapsed), believe that there is an enormous shift in the consciousness of the whole planet; that we're moving, in simple terms, from the Piscean age to the Aquarian age. The Piscean age, which we've been in for the last 2000 years is dominated by a vertical hierarchy and power. The Aquarian ages is about networks and information, and a horizontal structure which will provide true equality in the world. Change is painful and people will react in different ways. Some will open their hearts and minds (Tolle) and some will defend against change and long for the Golden Age (Brexit/Trump/etc).

Perhaps this is precipitating that shift. More people are paying attention to nature, to exercise, to the natural world. More people are reading and connecting (when we are prevented from connecting physically). I see in my world and with my friends a shift away from the consumerism and amassing of things that was so popular in the 80s and 90s, and being replaced with a much-needed pairing down. The beauty of simplicity has become more and more apparent. Stuff feels vulgar, silly even.

Like many people, I've been struggling with sleep and with finding the balance between being informed about what is going on in the world, and reading the most important pieces, and being oversaturated with it, and the despair that follows knowing that the Leader of the Free World is a certifiable lunatic. At my kindest, I'd say he's way too dim to be leading. Lack of empathy feels so last season, doesn't it? Do you sleep?

Existential angst hasn't ever been closer, and yet it's strangely comforting to be this near to it. My mother had a fall nearly two weeks ago (the story itself is heroic, and funny in equal measure, and I will tell you about it at another time) and we've been around hospitals and doctors quite a lot. It's not where you want to be at this time, despite the brilliant NHS and all the smart measure they are taking to ensure that people are safe. We have masks and gloves and hand sanitizer, and we're careful, but oh my gosh,  hospitals are not where you want to be.  My mother is now safe and home, and has a pink cast on her broken ankle, and my daughter is caring for her, and she is in good spirits. But still for two weeks we have to look for signs of raised temperature (even though that may not be a sign, according to latest research) and a cough, etc. It's not fun. I'm sorry for this rant. It's blurting out of me. I am glad for my brave Viking mamma.

Here a few things that provide solace:

The Yale Happiness Lab podcast: https://www.happinesslab.fm/
Oprah and Eckhart Tolle on A New Earth: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/oprah-and-eckhart-tolle-a-new-earth/id1458654443
Advice from an aid worker on anxiety: https://www.pituitary.org.uk/news/2020/04/bear-vs-virus/

Sorry, we'll be back to original programming soon. I'm struggling a bit. Love to you, wherever you are in the world. xo