Sunday, November 04, 2018

Speak Love Into The Universe

Hello, everyone, from your erstwhile blogger friend, who is hanging her head in shame at the infrequency of her contributions. I haven't written for so long that I fear I may have forgotten how to write, so be prepared for this to be laden with cliché.

I had to drive today for about four hours, to and from an extremely good lunch at my sister's house (which made the drive completely worthwhile) and in so doing, managed to catch up on BBC World Service and its excellent programming (click here for a link to a man who travels on Greyhound buses and interviews people he finds there and then writes songs about them in the style of Woodie Guthrie) and NPR's essential Weekend Edition which introduced me to a young Syrian-American rapper and singer,  Monica Haydar. A muslim woman with a masters degree in Christian ethics, she explores what it is to be other in modern-day American. "If there was ever a moment to speak love into the universe, it was here," she says.

The thing about driving is that you're focused, and for once, off the dreaded social media, and trying to forget about the mid-terms (Tuesday). I just can't anymore.  I like to be alone in the car, with the evening spread against the sky, listening to good American journalism.

I met people at lunch who asked me why I didn't have an American accent, whether I liked America, and what I thought of #metoo. I say what I always say, that I sounds English because I never chose to indulge a mid-Atlantic accent, but I still write color instead of colour, and that my little beating heart is American, despite all the English trappings, despite my triple string of pearls, my silk scarf, my love of old Colefax & Fowler curtains. My heart beats for NPR and apple pie and Laurel Canyon and Joni Mitchell and dusty paths off of Mulholland and my beautiful American children, strong, and brave, and doing what they love. And the way you get chills when they sing the national anthem badly at horse shows. And "you can anything you want to do." How I love that my children grew up in a country and a time when that was their reality.

It's been nearly two years. Earlier this week I panicked a little at that and wondered if might if I might lose some more friends in Los Angeles because I'm here and apparently I'm a bit of a crap friend. Isn't it funny how we run through life, packing our days with busy-ness, with stress, with too much work which we gladly embrace, and hardly take a moment to breathe and think and look at the fact that life is just whizzing by? I wrote to my girlfriends, as I do when I panic. I told them I missed them. I awaited their responses like a teenage girl by a telephone. They come in slowly, words of encouragement and love, news of children, bits of gossip, the whole panoply of life going on as I remembered it but different, filling a whole sky with news and color. It's lovely.

A few things have happened that make me pause a little: my darling man's daughter has had a sweet little baby girl who had a very difficult birth. She is a beauty and a survivor and she's tough and all will be well. And my friend who lives close by fell from her horse and is massively concussed with brain swelling. It isn't completely clear what happened, but it was a wet morning and she was on a steep hill in the woods and the horse fell. She was found unconscious. She will be fine. She too is a survivor in her pink nighty with her plate of hospital brussels sprouts, but look how we take these things for granted. I send her videos and promise pirate jokes, and wonder at her awesome ability to worry more about everyone else than herself.

We are looking I think at a fight for democracy. That's how it feels. We're actually testing whether or not we deserve a democracy.  I love Dan Rather who said yesterday:
"Imagine a national consciousness shaped by empathy, and seen through the lens of "there but for the grace of God go I." Solving tough problems is helped when approached with humility. Many of our national leaders may fail, but we can try to hold ourselves to a higher standard."
God bless America. No, really.

So, it's Sunday night, and I'm sitting by the fire, trying to do some work, and the dogs are here, and there is some tea, and I shall pick Charlie up from the station soon, but I'm thinking of those I love, my magnificent children, my brilliant girlfriends, the family and friends left behind, and the family here that I'm beginning to know and I feel both incredibly rich and incredibly humbled, embarrassed at how much I have squandered and how many hours and days and years have been wasted with stuff that doesn't matter. People who aren't worth it. Tasks that are unimportant.Things that mean nothing.

And then this beautiful Syrian-American Muslim woman is telling us, like an angel, to speak love into the universe. Strip it all away and remember this, I think. We must speak love into the universe. Love is all there is.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Song of the Builders

Song of the Builders

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

- Mary Oliver on #NationalPoetryDay


Monday, October 01, 2018

Best Pasta e Fagioli EVER

No really, try this. 
Aalto I drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on at the end, alongside the red chili flakes and the parmesan. 



Did I mention that a whole family of peafowl are residents on the farm where we live? This is the old man and his tail feathers will be full again in the spring. He's quite bold, scares hardly at all, and directs his family around the property. He actually swans about. At dusk, you can find them perched on the fence by the gate house, all the grown ups, including the white one, and their babies. Thistle is, as you can imagine, OBSESSED.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Friendship, dumb pheasants, pasta fazool

At lunchtime today my oldest friend and I were stumbling around the beautiful open commonland in Maidensgrove. It's a huge field, at least a mile long,  surrounded by old beech trees, that was originally ploughed up as part of the war effort.  We had three dogs with us, my two beasts, and her rather lovely rather submissive Golden Retriever, named Ivy. I say stumbled because I have a tendency to walk very fast (forever being told by my mother that I was too slow, I stride purposefully like a lacrosse teacher) and my oldest friend walks rather slowly, thoughtfully, taking it all in. I considered mentioning the fact and realized that it didn't really matter. We didn't have to be anywhere (except for a 2.30pm table for lunch at the local Five Horseshoes) and our dogs were scooting around in the grass like very happy bunnies. It was then that I considered the notion of friendship, under those grey skies with the grass under our feet. A friend is someone who appears to be one thing, but shows up as something else. Let me explain, this lovely woman and I don't talk that much. We text, and occasionally chat on the phone (I blame myself for this because of phone phobia) and when we first see each other it's all quite polite and sometimes even slightly awkward, but whatever happens, I mean whatever happens, she knows me and she shows up for me.  No matter what. No questions asked.  And then it's like we're fourteen again. We laugh.

And she is an iceberg. Only a third, even less, shows. The rest is underneath, and reveals itself slowly. She is selfless and kind, and doesn't think about herself at all, until pressed. But she runs deep.

Today we decided to start a book club. But what I really want is to read the book she is about to write. It's a strange, strange world, we say, and laugh at our banality. Why we do things, what is important to us. We talked about boys, and rape, and things we felt we had to do, situations we found ourselves in which were uncomfortable as hell, but we were unable to say no. We felt it our solemn female duty to be kind and compliant and to do these terrible things we didn't want to do. We didn't know how to have agency over our own bodies.  We thought it was cool when a cute boy liked us. We thought that people were judged by the way they looked on the outside. Oh it's such a waste. It's just so sad. Our friend, at 17 and an au pair, was lunged at by the "man of the house" while she was ironing his children's clothes. And she didn't know how to say no. And she didn't want to lose her job. Or her paycheck. And she didn't know if saying no would make him violent. So she went with it. She was SEVENTEEN.

Thank God that our girls know differently. Thank God our girls have agency, have confidence, have choices, know that they can choose the boys, and not vice versa. Jeez, the horrible situations we got into. (I feel so lucky that I have ended up with good men. My ex-husband and my lovely partner are both gentlemen with a strong moral core, a sense of right and wrong, not alpha males prone to drinking kegs and trapping women.)

I'm digressing.

I was thinking so much today about the nature of friendship and how women like me, outwardly extroverted, but inwardly introverts, pretend not to need friends, like to be hermits, spend a lot of time alone, either with dogs or with a book, but how we all really, really need friends even if we are horrible ones ourselves. I am the worst. I've killed a friendship this year (I tell myself now it's not my fault, but that I could've handled it better if I had picked up the phone, if I hadn't been so stubborn) but I so appreciate those friends who see you for who you are and can get over the fact that you are phone phobic and can reach out even if you haven't, and know who you are in your core, can see your goodness and treat you as if you are good, and don't judge you or laugh at you behind your back, who realize that you are a whole human. I think of my oldest friend, who walks too slowly and thinks I'm bossy (she says this like it's a good thing, like she's envious of my forthright manner; she says this with pride), and how we can discuss the proper pronunciation of "elegiacal" for hours, and who has seen me at my worst and my most ugly and who I can still make laugh, and I feel so effin' lucky. And whereas I will leap wholeheartedly into a fire kicking and screaming and punching people in the nose, she is slow and measured and thoughtful, and waits, patiently, for her moment, and then delivers a master blow. But she doesn't hate me for my kung fu approach to life.

We moved house, by the way. I don't know if that has been obvious by my complete ignoring of this blog. Between the move and the work, I am gazonkered.  But we now live in a lovely farmhouse at the South Western end of the Chilterns, in a rural community not far from Henley and Stonor, and actually even Reading, where there are fast trains to London. We live in a farmhouse down a mile-long driveway studded with chestnut trees and Norwegian maple, with wide swathes of grass verge that it's impossible not to gallop on. And my little horse lives across the driveway, with 12 or 15 other horses, and she sleeps in a field at night with another mare, a grey named Silver. And we have peacocks flaunting our lawns, and those dumb pheasants (they are the dumbest of all animals, truly) on the driveway, and partridge, and wood pigeons, and the fields are full of red-tailed hawks, as the farmers are ploughing and the vermin are being churned up. The open fields are like West Side Story - seagulls on one side, hawks on the other, crows in between spaced out like guns. The walled garden is at the crossroads of the Ridgeway and the Ridgeway bridlepath, so we are in walking heaven. Thistle has yet to bite a peacock, but my money's on the exotic white one. Fingers crossed we don't get chucked out. Or, alternately, the peacock might nip her which would make everyone happy. There is a gamekeeper called Ian and a gardener called Lester and a handyman called Steve, and they are all completely lovely and conspire to help us. They speak with pleasant, old-fashioned Oxfordshire lilts and Charlie tells me not to mimic them but I can't help it. It's the most pleasing accent I have ever heard. Lester parks himself at the gatehouse and gives ramblers potted history lessons (and throws in a lot of mentions of Henry VIII for our visiting American friends. He says things like "I'll look for your cheque in the post at Christmas" and grins broadly.

Tomorrow I shall make proper authentic pasta e fagioli with white beans and rosemary and not too much tomato (pasta fazool for you Tony Soprano fans). I don't have enough time to cook but I get on kicks. You know how it goes. I love the taste of cooked rosemary and white beans and salt. I love it.

Goodnight, if there are any of you left reading this. I won't promise you anything, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment and well being when I've finished here.

With love. xo

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Morning swim

I think if everyone started their days this way, with a swim in the Oslo fjord, in the cool blue water, when there isn't a sound but the birds, all would be well. No boats, no other people, very little breeze, just you and the salty water, washing it all away; all the angst, the worries, the self-doubt. Sea water cleanses the mind. I am going to say that boldly. Yup. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

An Orange

An orange (9.14.04)
A simple Valencia orange, unwaxed, with mottled yellow skin, moled with brown, when cut into revealed the most juicy, succulent flesh. With a glistening sharp knife I imagine to be a dagger, I pierce the skin and quickly sliced it into seven wedges and shoved each piece into my mouth in quick succession, ripping the flesh from the pith, spitting the pips ferociously onto the little green plate, and sucking down the sweet juice. A red Moroccan bowl on the kitchen counter holds seven more orange, each a little shrivelled, but now I know the secret. I am staring at the bowl longingly, trying to clear the fog from my mind. I can smell the zest on my fingers and can feel little bits of flesh in my teeth, reminding me that today, in the deepest of hollow moods, that little round orange saved me. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

English things abide

Good morning.

I'm not sure if the hot weather has broken, but there are clouds today, interspersed with the sun, bringing hope of rain. The rain is desperately needed. Fields are brown and corn is ripening at an alarming rate. The countryside looks more like September than July. And the hedgehogs are thirsty and coming out to look for water. A sweet little thing was in the driveway last week, so I've put out water.

English summer things abide. We've been to a party in the garden of a house in Norfolk, with Pimms and white wine, and heels sinking into the lawn. And I was worried I was dressed too loudly. And that my heels may have been too high.  It's hard to find the balance. DM's ex was there too, just for added angst. So what do you do but drink too much sauvignon blanc and dance just a little too enthusiastically at the silent disco? The following day we floated out to sea on the North Norfolk coast. The sea was warm and sandy and inviting, and it was all washed away. I am not sure much beats swimming in a warm, gently rolling sea with the one you love, while English holiday-makers frolic with colored beach umbrellas and throw tennis balls for their black labradors in the background. And England had won their game, so everyone was happy.

And driving around the Norfolk countryside, along tiny lanes with arched hedges that practically meet in the middle, by families walking with dogs, bike riders in their lycra, staring intently at the road, cattle lazily flicking away flies, groves of horse chestnut trees in large, formal fields, eccentric little bridges, and crazy Queen Anne architecture, and found objects. My friend has a large iron cart wheel, just the rim of it, ancient and rusted, hanging in the tree above their pond, like an Anthony Gormley sculpture, providing a specific and site-specific view. The essence of the land in one little circular piece of metal.

A friend I haven't known for years and hardly knew as a child really, but someone I oddly felt connected to, is an artist, and we were surprised and delighted to go to the arts fair she helps run. Serious work. Good work. Strong work. Nothing like what you'd expect in a sleepy little country village. A lovely surprise. But best of all to know you have found your people. "I feel like myself when I'm with her" I said to DM. It's true. We laugh as if we're 12. We're children. That's a very good feeling. Seek out those with whom you feel childlike.

The dogs, I'm unhappy to report, are still very very naughty. At a little birthday in Hyde Park last night, they rushed enthusiastically at every other dog - a lurcher and a rather gentle Weimeraner - with the ferocity of storm troopers. The Weimeraner, uncharacteristically named Scooby, fell in love with Bean, and as you do when you're in love, followed her everywhere and wanted to do everything she was doing, including stealing chicken bones from the trash bag under the table. Old and young, human and canine, on the grass, with blankets and rosé and tiny cupcakes, until it was dark and we realized it was time to go home. A lovely way to celebrate a birthday.

English things abide. A nice man is boxing in our bathroom cupboard so that the mice no longer congregate there for group therapy and potluck suppers. His name is Neil and he lives in Tring and he has told me that it will cost between 600 and 800 pounds to replace the windows in the house. I am worried that they won't last another winter. He agrees, which makes me feel slightly less OCD.

The gooseberries are doing extremely well. We've decided to harvest them this week, for jam and crumble and fool and vodka.