Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Is there anything more dull?

Is there anything more dull than a blog post that begins "I am nine days in to dry January"?

Strangely, it's quite revelatory. Here I am at eleven o'clock, sitting on the sofa by the embers of the fire, listening the washing machine run and writing. Even the dogs have gone to sleep. I am quite alone, having written my thank you letters and cleaned out my email inbox. Usually I'd be asleep. Even after one glass of wine, I'd find my eyelids heavy. This new world is rather exciting and yes, I suppose a little smug.

We got home yesterday from Los Angeles and it's cold and beautiful here. Eliot's evening sky is spread out. Gloves are required. My kitchen is more chilly than I'd like because it has windows on two sides. Windows I wouldn't swap for the world because it gives immediate access to sunset and peacocks and horses riding by, to the naked oak in the field, and far in the distance Didcot and the two humps which I presume are ancient earthworks.

I have succeeded, it seems, in stretching time. If only someone had told me this sooner.

Do you think we drink to get through life, to cut us off from the ugliness or do we drink because wine is delicious, or do we drink because it's a habit, and it was our parents' habit and our grandparents' habit before them. I'm full on The Cocktail Party meets Ice Storm. It seemed uncivilized not to have a drink in my parents' heyday. Champagne before lunch on Sundays. Gin & Tonics at night. Wine with supper without fail. And yet, this clarity you get nine days in...wowzas.

I promise I will try not to be dull. I will try to remain silly and outrageous and weird, but I like this state. I really do.

I thanked Tej for her prayers for the little baby who was having trouble after it was born and she seemed unimpressed, or rather, she took it in her stride. Guru Ram Das, she said, he makes miracles happen. I think he did. I'm always slightly suspicious when I go to her class that she has cast a white witch spell on me. I didn't know one could feel this good without divine intervention...

Don't be ashamed of who you are.
Own it.
Don't listen to other people trying to make you more like everyone else.
Be kind. (I try). Be patient. Be optimistic.
I do think that good things will come to those with a fierce heart.

Satnam good folk of Bloggerville.

I will try to be less smug tomorrow. Much love xo

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Between Years

Maybe it's the jet lag, the lack of sleep, the discombobulating effect of being in your city but somewhat rootless (staying in other people's houses) but I find the time between Christmas and New Year difficult. I am out of my routine, in Los Angeles, trying to juggle seeing friends and spending as much time as possible with my children, and it feels, well, odd. It could be that we miss the dogs, or getting up early to feed the horse breakfast, or maybe as a Cancer, I don't do well unless I am in my own house...there is a tiny piece missing.

Los Angeles could not be more beautiful. Bright, cold, sunny days, chilly desert nights. Blown out blue skies with perfectly formed tiny melon pink clouds floating on the horizon. Those tall palms that shimmer in the sunlight. It's full of warm friends and old memories and favorite spots. My children are here - bright and warm and amusing and erudite. My love is here, sleeping beside me in a cozy bed in a friend's adorable guest house. All is well. 

But let's face it - 2018 wasn't a great year. Most of us suffered anxiety at the hands of the Fool-In-Chief, and I suppose we look towards the new year with trepidation. None of us want a repeat of the nasty surprises, bad decisions, and general ugliness we have experienced this year. 

This is a period of reflection. We want to be better people. We want to find new and creative ways to live. We aspire to be more empathetic human beings. We want to find more meaning in our lives. I suppose these few days which are neither work nor really play force us to look at our lives and to reflect on how to be nicer people, more attentive friends, give back more to the world, be less selfish and ego-driven. 

This morning we head out to the desert. A place where reflection is easier because there are fewer distractions. ("Jesus Wandered Here"). I have books I want to read, things I want to write, complicated life problems to sort out. Meditations to focus on. Perhaps it's ok to feel confused and thoughtful for a few days a year. Perhaps it is healthy. 

This is one thing I have fully ignored and au regret it. Somehow a daily depository for the thoughts and worries that accumulate in your brain is healthy. And once the silt and dregs have been deposited it allows a clear path for creativity and art. And I believe that one should practice art in whatever form it works for you every single day. Every Single Day. 

And it wouldn't be me if I didn't say this:  Let's all try to Vibrate Love. Even through the difficult times. 



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.