Sunday, June 29, 2008

BMTTS.... practicalities at sea

When I first went to sea with a small child, I remember looking at the ridiculous railings. I mean, they were just thin bars, not solid. The kind of thing children love to climb. Only, this time it was like climbing a fence 12 or more storeys high. With a loooooong drop to the sea. I do believe my hair stood on end at that point.

When I mentioned this to Geoff, he reminded me that it was a working ship and not a cruise liner, and also said that, should a child fall over board, it would be like landing on concrete, and they probably would not survive the fall. Never mind the miles deep water. Or being sucked into the engine outlet thingys or the propellers. I looked at him, and said...there is not a mother alive who would not go over after their child. And at that point, I think what hair he had left also stood on end.

Fine, he said. If you ever have to, just make sure you a) scream loudly so someone hears you, b)take a lifebelt with you, and c) jump feet first, as far out as you possibly can. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I never had to try this. My kids learnt fast never to go anywhere near the railings, and as I said in a previous post sometime ago, I used to use reins, and tie them to the railings so they could not fall when we were next to the pool. It worked.

Once, Geoff took Andrew down to the engine room to see the engines, and while they were there, there was a power failure. Now, as the senior electrical engineer on board, the only person who could fix that was Geoff. Only he had a 2 year old with him. At the bottom of the ship. And the lift did not work. So he did what every intelligent man would do. He picked Andrew up and announced they were playing the monkey game. Andrew was to cling to Geoff with arms and legs, and hold on very tight. And he started climbing the lift shaft. All 15 floors of it. Or the equivalent. Right up to the bridge, from the bowels of the ship, because that was where the emergency exit was. With my 2 year old hanging on like a monkey.

I knew nothing of this until Andrew came barrelling through the cabin door shrieking with delight at the new monkey game, and the fact that he had been on the bridge and Daddy had climbed and climbed and climbed. And Geoff just grinned and said he had to go and fix the power, as the ship was drifting somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, and that was not on the agenda for the day. And off he went.

And you can just imagine what my hair was doing at this point.

But those sort of things happened very rarely. And I smile about them now. Most of the time, it was fun. Wonderful meals and entertainment in the evenings, and usually other wives on board. Sometimes children too. Somehow the kids always ended up in our cabin, though. Probably because of that magic box of stuff I always had with me!

There were no baths in the cabins, just showers, so I rigged a "plug" of sorts, by using a piece of heavy rubber, and a filled 2l bottle of water on top of it, and then filled the base of the shower with water, so the kids could have a "bath". Thankfully, there was a drain in the bathroom as well, as we had tidal waves everywhere, but they did get clean in the process. It was such fun watching them run down the corridors. Sometimes they would be running uphill and sometimes downhill, depending on the way the ship was rolling. If you ever feel seasick, by the way, lower your centre of gravity. Sit on the floor. It is amazing what a difference that makes!

When they got a little older, they used to use a cadet's cabin near ours. These cabins had twin bunks, and their own shower, so they had somewhere else to play too. And to decorate. They also had somewhere to read in peace and just have space alone, which was good.

The children always loved lifeboat drill. They would grab their hats (essential) and put on shoes (also mandatory, though I have no idea why), put on their lifejackets and we would race to the lifeboat stations. They would be blowing their whistles all the way. I always kept essential "abandon ship" things in the drawer nearest the door. Things like passports, survival blankets sweets etc. Thankfully, once more, we never had to use them.

When families, or wives travelled, they were responsible for the cleaning of the cabins, not the stewards. And while Geoff had his cabin cleaned and all his clothes laundered for him when I wasn't on board, I did it all if we were travelling. We used to go down to the ship's laundry or the officers' laundry and use their massive machines. The tumble dryer would have things dry in minutes. Not like domestic ones! On one temperature. Ultra hot. I made the mistake of throwing everything in one. Just once. Half came out in a size more suitable for dolls. Other stuff would hang on lines in the officers' laundry. Unmentionables were hung to dry on lines I rigged in our bathroom. Not ideal, but do-able.

Every week the captain did his rounds, and as a courtesy to wives, he generally just looked in the door but never inspected our cabins. Usually.

There was one captain who shall remain nameless, who used to barge in, and shine his torch in corners of our cabin and mutter under his breath. I think that is where my considerable efforts to control my temper were sorely tested. He was also one of the few men I have ever met who expected me (and other wives) to stand back and allow him to walk through the door first. He used his rank as captain to the detriment of his rating as a man with manners. I have a thing about good manners. Thankfully we did not have to travel with him again. Once was enough.

Life at sea is regulated by the clock. Everyone works in particular shifts, or watches. Well, most people. 4-8, 8-12, 12-4. Both night and day. The ship has to keep moving. Meals were at set times, as were tea breaks. So our days were neatly broken down into segments for us. Between breakfast at 8 for us and before tea at 10am, it was time to clean and tidy the cabin and do washing etc. After tea, was the time to go out on deck, swim, play, go looking for dolphins or whales, or flying fish. Time after lunch at noon, was for crafty activities or games. Time after tea at 3 was for more outdoor play, showers etc, and then supper at 6. After supper, it was time for cabin quiet play and getting ready for bed, and then in the evening, there was entertainment laid on for the adults. Either quizzes, movies, darts competitions, card games, etc etc.

If there were a few wives on board, we usually got together in the lounge for aerobics before tea in the mornings, when the washing was on! It was the one time we could usually guarantee no-one was around to watch us leaping about with vigour. This was complicated a trifle by the movement beneath our feet. Ships don't stay still, you know. The kids used to try to copy us, or watch movies while we were being energetic. Then we would have tea. And biscuits (cookies). Of course.

If the weather was bad, we spent more time doing crafty things, and every day after lunch, Geoff used to come back to the cabin for an hour and play with the children. So I had an hour or so to myself. Now you see why that magic box of stuff I used to take on board was so important! I will post more about the things we used to do next time.

This is actually fun. As I am writing, I am remembering so much I had forgotten. And I am glad. I can put it down on paper for my family. Thank you all for your lovely comments. I will carry on posting, but will probably intersperse these posts with other random bits.

For those who have asked, I am being as good as I am able to be about the knee. It is still swollen and uncomfortable, and the couch, icepack and cushions are close companions! We will see what Tuesday brings.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

BMTTS.....more thoughts

It is possible that some of you might have found yesterday's post a little "hard". Emotion-less. Believe me, you could not be more wrong. Lots of emotion there, just hidden. Probably much deeper than the ordinary woman would need to hide hers.

In our day to day lives, I was the only security my children had. And if I had been weak and feeble, they would have had no security. Because I could cope, and did, Geoff was able to continue to do the work he loved. And please do not think I am donning the robes of martyr here. Nothing could be further than the truth! It is just the way it was. The failure rate of marriages in the merchant navy is one of the highest in the world. And that is completely understandable. It is a tough way to live. It is a tough way to be married. And so is the life of a pilot's wife. A soldier's wife. And so many more.

Normal expectations don't work. Normal ways to do things don't work.

Had I let my children see me constantly crying from loneliness, or incapable of functioning, I would have been cheating them of a childhood full of happiness and security. They had a wonderful happy childhood. And I developed from a 21 year old "child" into a woman capable of running a home and raising a family. My own family, my parents and sister were part of the team raising my children.

Andrew was a very deep thinker, even as a toddler, and he needed his Mum to be functioning and happy. Diana had me, and she had her big brother. David had what was, effectively, 2 sets of parents, as Andrew was 12 and Diana 8 when he was born. They saw me cry at times. They also saw me smile again, and get on with things. They knew it was ok to be sad. They also knew that it was ok to cry. Just not to spend days doing it. Wallowing.

And they always knew their Dad was coming home.

Geoff's career also meant that our social life was entirely shaped by my friends. He didn't work in an office. He didn't have the opportunity to grow his friendships. His fellow officers came from all over the country and indeed, the world. They didn't live in the same town, and every ship he moved to, had different men on board. Sometimes he only worked with them for 6 weeks. So friendships were different for him.

We used to laugh (and sigh too) - his idea of a perfect holiday was to be at home. Mine???? Hahahahahaha. I had been home for months and longed to go somewhere new. Exotic places??? He had seen them all, of course. The idea of him on a cruise is laughable. Remind me to tell you about when we sailed out as passengers to SA. I have never seen a man more out of place in my life. He followed anyone in uniform about all day and kept telling me what the ship was doing. It was hysterical. The ship was moving, therefore he should have been working. You have no idea.......

In the end though, it is all about compromise.

We could never guarantee that he would be home for holiday time, so I took the children camping, and away for breaks, although not very often. If he was home, he came too, but if not, we went with friends. If we had waited for him, we would never have done anything at all.

When he came home, he just wanted and needed his family. I, on the other hand, had to develop networks of friends who were there for my family. Both when he was away and when he was home. I needed friends. I needed contact with other adults. Conversation. Sometimes he had nothing at all in common with them, and sometimes they became good friends. But his friendships were not individual ones. He was never around long enough to build them. He was an insular man, in a sense, but he was happy.

So the balance in a long distance marriage is difficult to quantify. Judge. Assess. I do know that had I been married to anyone other than him, my life would have been markedly different, and so would I. I wouldn't have had to develop some parts of me as I am today, but I would have had the opportunity to develop parts I will never know about. Life is strange.

I am on a path unique to me, and I have been since the day I was born. I know where I will ultimately end up. It is just the route I am taking which is so very different from the routes I imagined as a child.

I used to worry about how my children would settle down and raise their own families, you know. They had never seen a "normal" family in operation. Been a part of one. You know what I mean. Going to work. Coming home. Living together like most of you do. Working as a team. Building something together, without each going off at different tangents. I think that was the most difficult part. We would start planning something, and then he would go to sea, and we would both work on those plans, but by the time he came back again, our plans had gone off in randomly opposite directions!

I likened it to 2 vines planted alongside each other. In a normal marriage, the vines intertwine all the time as they grow. Bouncing ideas off each other. In my marriage, because of the complications of distance and time apart, the vines grew in different directions, and had to be trained back together when he was home. Sometimes they managed. Others they did not.

I think that one thing I am eternally grateful for is that I was born when I was. My generation was not raised expecting perfection, or with the notion that you discarded things which were not perfect. You worked hard, weathered storms, celebrated things going well, and when they didn't, made changes to make things work better. The idea of "having it all" was never an option.

Was it ideal? No. Absolutely not. Was it worth it??? Without a shadow of a doubt. I look at who I am now, and at my three great kids today, and I am glad I survived

Being married to the sea.......

Friday, June 27, 2008

BMTTS.....shore life

One of the things I learned very fast, was not to weep, wail or gnash my teeth when Geoff went back to sea. I think I was right, or perhaps, maybe I was wrong. Whatever. It worked for me. I would tell the children Daddy had to go to work, and now why don't we go and paint some pictures etc etc etc. If I had given into the wailing bit, we would have spent the greater part of our lives weeping and being mournful. And it would not have made the slightest bit of difference. Daddy went to sea. We stayed home.

Initially, Geoff used to bring home presents for the children when he came home, but I soon noticed that the babes would charge past their Dad and reach for the gifts, so we stopped that one. I wanted them to be happy to see their Dad, not the presents. He still bought things, but we kept them for later or for birthdays. We made banners and posters for when he arrived home, and it was an eagerly anticipated event.

At various times, we had maps with markers of where the ship was and counted days, but largely, we just got on with our ordinary everyday lives. The house was always filled with children and Mums, and we certainly did not lead a lonely life. I don't think I have ever been bored in my life, and I have always been creative, read voraciously, and played sport. I think the kids learnt by that example, in retrospect. They are similar, in their own unique ways. And all of them are very stoical people too.

When there were father's days at pre-primary, we found someone to go in Geoff's place. Father's day gifts were stored for his homecoming, as were birthday and Christmas presents. One year we made him an advent calendar of little notes, gifts etc and put it in a shoe box for him to open each day. As I have mentioned before, he recorded (on an old tape recorder!) stories for them to listen to at night now and then.

As a family, we were included in everything our friends did, and as a woman, my friends made sure I was invited to dinner parties etc too. And if there was an evening function at school, they would park at my home, which was near the school, and we would all walk round together. I was incredibly blessed.

Our normal life was when Geoff was away. The abnormal part came when he arrived home. We had an agreement that he would watch/observe for the first few days and slot in with the routine, rather than throw the whole thing out and disrupt everything. It took a lot of adjusting, believe me. There were all the extra-mural timetables to learn too.

I was so used to being responsible for everything from opening all the post and dealing with it all, to paying bills, the budget, cars, shopping, discipline, childcare etc. It was difficult to include him, or to hand things over. So working as a team was very challenging. This will be difficult for anyone who has not been in similar circumstances to understand. We would just get things running smoothly and he would be off again! Things like problems could not be shared. They had to be dealt with alone. So if there was an issue at school, I could not wait for him to come home to sort it out. It had to be taken care of.

We still travelled when we could, and did some deep sea trips as a family if they coincided with school holidays, and also plenty of coastal trips. The children were as at home on the ships as they were ashore. And none of them ever got seasick, thank heavens.

When I was expecting David, as Christmas neared, a giant tug, towing some tankers to the breakers yards in the Far East ran into a bad storm off the Cape, and the tankers were adrift near the coast. The scrap metal worth even then was astounding, and understandably, no-one wanted hulking metal wrecks to be decorating the stunning beaches, so a salvage attempt was made. Geoff was on leave at the time, and the company asked him to go out to the sinking tanker, with other engineers, and try to stop it from sinking. (I told you he was good at his job. Very good.)Hmmmm. Just what a woman needs to hear when she is 6 months pregnant.

He, of course, said YES!

Nothing like a challenge, not to mention the extra danger money. Danger money???? As I said, just what a wife needs to hear. So he and his colleagues were dropped on to the tanker by helicopter. And there he stayed for a few weeks. Including Christmas day. We, on the other hand, could get in the car and go to the beach and say...oooh look! See that ship leaning a bit over there??? Daddy is on that. Well......not quite. "Daddy is working on that ship out there" was about as close as it got. We did not mention the leaning bit. And no mobile phones, remember!

On Christmas day, however, he and his friends launched the gemini craft (inflatable powerboat thingy) and came ashore onto the beach for an hour or 2. There we all were...the 3 wives and assorted children, waiting on the beach. The kids could show him what Father Christmas had brought them, and he could open his presents too. Though he chose not to take them back with him. In case the ship sank.

Happily, it did not.

Mind you, he had done a survival at sea training week. They dump you in the ocean and you have to swim about a bit and then get hoisted into helicopters. This is the man, who before he married me, had been at sea for 15 years, and could not swim. His view, along with many other sailors was that if the ship sank, he would rather go down immediately. The options of swimming for days and getting nowhere or being eaten did not appeal.

However, with swimming pools in our gardens, he had to learn. And he did indeed. The sinking tanker was near the shore, maybe a mile or 2 out, so he would have known which direction to head.

And he was home for David's birth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Being married to the sea......

Being married to a man who spent 99% of his working life away at sea, as a career Merchant Navy officer, meant that my life was completely unlike those of my friends. And my children also, consequently, grew up in a "different" kind of home. Daddy was not going to turn up every evening, and when he was home on leave, he was not going to be at work during the day. So everything I ever knew about marriage and parenthood went out the window, and I had to make up my own rules and work things out for my little family instead.

I didn't know other mothers in the same situation. I did eventually get to know a couple, but our lives have been uniquely different in many ways. Geoff was away for 9 months of the year generally, a minimum of 3 months at a time. 2 trips on, and 1 trip off. I used to say that the first couple of weeks of leave were like a honeymoon. The next couple were like normal life and the last couple, it was a race between us to find out when he was going back to sea.

He was who he really was when he was at sea. People who only ever saw him at home, had no idea of his identity once he set foot on a ship. He moved differently, purposefully. He was very very good at what he did, and he loved it absolutely. He was also enormously respected.

I always knew he was a sailor. I knew he would be away most of the time, and at 21, I was too young to understand just what that would mean for me. Especially once we had a family. But I adapted and adjusted and it worked out in the end. It is just as well that I have always been fiercely independent. I needed to be. And coming from a very close family, and living near to them, was also an enormous blessing.

When I had Andrew, Geoff was in Norway, on his ship. Those were the days when you had to call the company head office, then they would send a telex, which the radio officer would pick up and print off and take to Geoff, and then the whole thing would be repeated in reverse for him to communicate with me. Telex sending was only for emergencies. Like babies. Otherwise, you wrote letters and sent them to the company head office and they would send them to the agents in ports the ship was visiting and somehow sometime, the letters would arrive on board. It took weeks. Conversation was not something you could keep up by letter easily!

Nothing like emails, texts, mobile phones etc. Now it is so different, of course.

Anyway, I drove myself to the nursing home to have Andrew, and handed my keys to the receptionist for my parents to collect, and went off and had my baby. Geoff only came home when he was 6 weeks old. He left again when Andrew was 3 months old. I swear the nuns at the nursing home all thought I was a single Mum, because even though his photo was next to my bed, and the flowers he sent were there too, they had rarely had the experience of absent fathers at births. But I had my family there and they all helped enormously. Andrew was the first grandchild/great-grandchild, and was adored by all from the moment he arrived.

Geoff absolutely loved his babies. He spent endless hours with them. He walked them, winded them, changed their nappies, played with them. He crammed everything into the few weeks he spent with them. All of them.

So where was I....

The company he worked for allowed wives to travel. Children under the age of 2 could do coastal trips, and over 2 could go deep sea too. So Andrew went to sea when he was very small, just a few months old. By the time his first birthday rolled around, Geoff was standing by a very large container ship being built in France. Dunkerque. "Standing by" means being there as it is built, so that you know how it works, and how to fix it when it doesn't. He was there for months, so Andrew and I flew over to join him for a while. He turned 1 in Dunkerque. The company had taken over an entire hotel, so it was easy to stay with Geoff, and Andrew and I used to walk around the town every day, go to the beach, and explore. And then I came to England for a couple of weeks to introduce him to his Nanny, in Plymouth before we flew home to SA again.

Once he turned 2, we could go to sea, and so we spent a year on the big white ships (container ships) before we decided to have another baby, and 3 years and 9 months after Andrew was born, Diana made her appearance. This time, with Daddy present.

Up until the time Diana was born, our lives were very much centred around travelling. By the time he was 3, Andrew had probably spent half his life, at least, on a ship. It worked well, as there was no schooling to consider, and so it was only once Andrew started pre-primary when he was nearly 4 that things started to change. And we had to adapt to shore-life.

But that is enough for now.......

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Notes from the couch.......

I have just ordered some books from Amazon. I LOVE ordering books from Amazon. However, I am not good at waiting for them to arrive. But I will have reading material to keep me busy and may well order a few more. Thanks to a delightful son , who gave me an Amazon gift voucher for my birthday. Thank you, Andrew and Ann! And thank you for your suggestions, girls. I will let you know how I get on.

Life on the couch is really scintillating. So exciting that I have managed to fall asleep both afternoons, and miss vital sets of tennis. I usually wake when one of my friends barrels through the front door. Friends who deliver my shopping and friends popping in to see how good I am being about doing nothing. Nice helpful friends.

However, I am at the stage again where I can see what needs doing around here, and so that is when I close my eyes (to block out the view of the dust) and then I fall asleep.

So if you are looking for excitement, this may not be the best place to be today.

However, there is something really serious on my mind.

I had an email from a friend this morning, with a letter from a friend of hers in Harare, Zimbabwe. It has disturbed me so much that I am thinking of forwarding it to the Prime Minister. The only thing stopping me, is that maybe there will be repercussions for the lady who wrote it. It sickens me to the stomach. It is time for the world to say "ENOUGH". We will all have to live with the fact that we have done nothing for years, but wring our hands and say the words.

I am ashamed of myself. Of this country. Of the western world. Of the world at large.

I have done nothing to help stop the torture. The appalling violations of human rights. The misery. Africa is a long way away. So it is easy to shut out of my mind.

I have some thinking to do.

There has to be a way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

BAAAAD idea...

I went to work yesterday. Not a brilliant move at all. You see, I have this ridiculous idea that I am indispensable. I am not. They can survive very nicely indeed without moi. And the consequence is that my knee is not happy. The swelling has not gone down at all. There is a lot to be said for long skirts. Thank heavens I am not required to show my knees to the world at large any longer. I am off to see the doctor this morning, and as I am here, I am clearly NOT at work.

Lots of "nots" there. The upside is that, if I have to return to the couch, Wimbledon has started. I love watching tennis. I love playing tennis too. Until we moved here, I used to play every week, and go to coaching too. There is nothing to beat taking a bucket of tennis balls and serving them with all the speed and strength you can muster as a stress-buster. I remember arriving at one coaching session and marching straight past my (young male) coach, and saying...just give me a bucket of balls. He grinned and headed for cover until I had got rid of the lot of them, and regained my equanimity. Once I was human again, we had a very nice lesson, thank you.

I have been to Wimbledon quite a few times. There is tennis magic in the air there. I have been in both rain and sun, and have loads of happy memories, so when I see it on the screen, they come flooding back. Queues for strawberries. Crowds. Wonderful tennis. Laughter. In fact, Wimbledon is all about queues. It is the only major tennis tournamnet where people camp over night in the road, waiting for the day tickets to go on sale in the morning. There is almost a carnival atmosphere. A friend popped round last night and told me that the company who does the flowers there, has had the contract to do them since 1948. I think. Amazing. Tradition. That is the other thing Wimbledon is all about.

Anyway. I can watch Wimbledon. At least for today. We will see what the doctor has to say. I have also found out that some of my friends love playing tennis too, so maybe this summer I will get back on a court somewhere.

Providing I am not using a zimmer frame.

Update: I have seen the doctor. I am off work for at least 2 weeks to start with and will see the orthopaedic consultant if there is not marked improvement in a week. 2 WEEKS!!!! So the couch and I are bonding again. I need books to read. Any suggestions? I wanted to get the latest Elm Creek one but that takes too long to order through Amazon. Give me some new suggestions, people! Please!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Collateral Damage.....

Have you ever heard of the lateral collateral ligament??? No? Neither had I. Now I know exactly where it is, and how it feels when you tear it. What a stupid name. Lateral collateral. This does not suit. At all.

I was minding my own business teaching my year 8s in the last lesson of the day yesterday, and I turned to get something. My body turned. Unfortunately, because I was wearing rubber soled shoes, and the floor is a sort of rubber, my feet did not turn with me. And my knee felt instantly weird. I am moving all the time when I teach, whizzing about helping individual students, and doing stuff. I get bumped and bashed quite a bit. It goes with the territory.

However, with a class of year 8 boys about, I thought it unwise to check the knee then. So I creaked up the stairs at the end of the day to the staffroom, and had a look. "Good grief...what have you DONE???" was the general shriek from my friends. I don't know when last you looked at your knees, people, but they are seriously ugly things. Mine looked like an elephant's knee. Hideous. Swollen. With lumps and bumps which clearly do not belong there.

So I came home, rested it, took some anti-inflammatory capsules and thought that would be that. Until this morning. I was talking to my son on Messenger after I hobbled down the stairs, and he suggested calling NHS direct. This is a free NHS call line staffed by nurses, and I spoke to a delightful lady who told me to go to A and E. So I did. And I have torn the lateral collateral thingy.

I am supposed to lie on the couch, with ice packs and pain killers and do nothing for a few days. Please tell me why this does not happen on a Monday??? On a Friday, it is most inconvenient. And while I love my couch, I do not like being told to lie on it. I like to choose to do so myself.

I glared at the man at the hospital, and his mouth was definitely twitching. Have you got plans for the weekend then, he said. Of course, I replied. I am doing a rock and roll marathon. And he roared with laughter. He told me that rest was an order. I told him I work full time and the weeekend is when I do everything else. Like live. Get on the couch he said. Unfeeling beast.

Anyway, I came home, collected David and we went shopping for his suit. And THEN I came home and lay on the couch. I nearly used one of those little electric cars at the shop, but David would have disowned me. I have always wanted to drive one.

See?????? Those are my toes in the distance. You need to share the couch here. As it is raining and positively wintery, I have the cloud over me. That is the softest fleece in the world. Known to my family as the cloud. And the ice pack is in place.

Judith??? I know what you are feeling. I empathise.

So this is the fun way to spend a Saturday. The friend who took me to the hospital reminded me that this is the second thing which has ground me to a halt while I have been working at the school. And he suggested that I leave before the 3rd thing happens. He could have a point.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Halfway through another week already...

It feels like winter around here today. Cold wind blowing and rain hitting the windows with vigour. It is oh so tempting to think of switching on the heating again, but it is JUNE for heaven's sake. I will curl up under some blankets instead.

One more day of exams for David. Some have been good, he says (like today), but some have been horrible. Like yesterday. Oh well. We have to wait till mid August for the results. And there is absolutely nothing I, personally, can do about any of it. And helpfully, he announced today that he had good news and bad. The good news was that the exam was great. The bad news was that he has lost his phone. Oh joy. Add that to the list of things to acquire before he goes to uni in September.

My poor sister has just had 2 weeks of holiday, and it has rained nearly every day. She had intended spending lots of time in her garden, but I know gardening in the rain would not be my choice either. Mud is not a particularly attractive proposition at the best of times. I have never had any desire to have a mud bath. Come to think of it, no-one I know has ever had one. Any of you?? Do tell. I may have missed something!

I seem to be taking random posts to new dizzy-ing heights here.

I can't tell you how divine it is to walk into the garden (rain or not) and pick some lettuce leaves for my salad. I get such a kick out of eating things I have grown! The tomatoes and beans are looking splendid. They are growing. As in... are alive. And so are the roses. They are all blooming now, and the bushes are covered with buds.

Soon it will be 2 years since Geoff died. I can't believe the date. He went into hospital on the 26 June 2006. And he died on 7 July. It still seems like just days you know. I think, because the hospital complaint thingy is still dragging on, it keeps it in the forefront of my mind so much more. I had another conversation with the complaints department last week. I was in the staffroom at the time, and everyone fell silent and listened to what ended up with me informing them, quite calmly and eloquently, that I had made enough concessions and compromises, and that no, I was not prepared to wait until August to see the man, and that they seemed to have lost sight of the fact that I was, in actual fact, the complainant here, and that they should prioritse my appointment accordingly. Humph. The girls cheered when I put the phone down.

So now I wait again. At this rate, it will take forever.


I need to go and water the hanging baskets. They never seem to get any rain in them. And I need to think about supper too. I have one hungry son mooching about. Brain food. That is what we need. Maybe tuna......

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday musings....

Thank you all for your lovely are very sweet! I think I am going to call myself the Memory Maker.

The exhibition is on for another week, and I have to say that I really wish I did not have to be at work. I could help out more. I was there for about 3-4 hours on Saturday, and ended up with the mother of all headaches, came home and slept for hours. And so Sunday was a washout for me too, and I never did get all the things I have to do over the weekend done. I moved like a slug all day. Sigh. I will be playing catch-up all week. You know when you have to get up at 5.30am, come downstairs and iron your clothes for work, that things are not working well on the home front. But then, if I had not slept most of the weekend, I would probably not be functioning at all now.

I was chatting to my son last night, and we were discussing how much effort we need to put into everything we do (like exams) and I used my work as an example. It is not news to anyone that I am not wildly thrilled with my job. However, I am totally incapable of giving anything less than 110% to everything I do. It can be a failing. Believe me.

I wish that I could go to work, do what I am paid to do, come home and let it go. I can't. Every single day I set of to work, believing that maybe that day, things will be better if I work harder, try harder, have more patience, try different things, have more faith. And every day I come home, more exhausted than before. I give till there is nothing left, which is why I end up at the weekend, closely resembling a zombie. I don't know how to do it any other way.

If a child wants to talk, or work through break, then I am happy to be there, so I seldom have any break in my day. And then when I come home, my son says things like "Smile, Mum" as I drag myself through the motions of cooking dinner, and trying to spend some time with him. I have got the balance all wrong.

There has to be an easier way. I just never learnt how to take the easy option. I have always chosen the hard road, and I must be certifiable. It is my own doing. I know that. I can decide to do things differently. I am just very bad at that.

The trouble is that "going through the motions" is completely at odds with what I was trying to tell my son. I want him to put everything into what he does, and to do his very best. The one secret to making that work, though, is to absolutely love what you are doing. Doing something you love energises you immensely. Working towards a goal or realising a dream. And that is why I have always told my children that I don't care what careers they choose, just to make sure that they love what they are doing.

So it is time, I think, for me to listen to my own words of wisdom. I love doing other things. Like being a memory maker. Being a friend. Being a daughter and a sister. Being a Mum. Being creative. If you spend the greater part of your day doing something which is totally wrong for you, there is nothing left to focus on doing the stuff you love and are good at. Things, perhaps, which you were born to do. It is all about using those talents, isn't it? (My grammar is up the creek. I am too tired to bother.)

The quilts I make are not perfect. But then, neither am I. They are part of me, though. And they will outlive me, I think. I am full of dreams. The hard part is making those dreams reality. However, I have already wasted enough time on the things which don't matter much in the end.

I wish I could see round the next corner in the long and winding road......

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Some of you will have seen photos of these quilts before, but here you go anyway. The exhibition is in a nearby town, and is called Mixed Media Mesdames. It is going very well, and the feedback has been great.

The quilt above is one I made for friends in my Family Tree series. The fabric is hand dyed (by Louise) to get the right African skies colour, and the quilt is called Rainbows and Roses. My friends are South African and live in England, hence the Rainbow Nation and the rose of England. I use all sorts of charms, embroidery, notions etc to represent the people in the family which are sewn onto the tree. And the little bags have micro miniature replicas of the books they have written in their field, and the newspaper one of their mothers used to work for. I absolutely love making these. Hours and hours of work, but such fun. Some of the fabric is from South Africa too. The range of blue and white is very typical. It is hand quilted. I will post a close up if anyone wants to see it. I love the way it looks against a 14th Century wall!

This is one of my personal favourites. Cityscape. Again, it is hand quilted and there is a lot of beadwork and embroidery on it. It just sort of grew from an idea I had. I started off making a house. Then another one and as I said, it grew. No plans, just a street which happened. I don't really follow any rules. I let the fabric make the magic. I don't really want to sell it, but I have put an astronomical price on it, and we will see what happens. There is over 80 hours of work in this one. I love it. The old college where the exhibition is on is beautiful. It has amazing stone work all exposed, and the roof is stunning. There is a gallery at one end, and everything looks stunning in the hall. Very professional. So what am I doing there????? There is beautiful jewellery, textile art, weaving, pottery, painting, embroidery, stunning original art. It is a lovely collection. So many beautiful things.
So this is what the hall looks like. I have 10 quilts on exhibition. 4 from private collections. They are all my babies. I have lost count of how many I have made, but at the moment, the only commissions I am considering are for memory quilts and family trees. I love the detail and handwork they involve, and the fact that they are highly personal. Making memories is good.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I am still here....

Another week is nearly over. Tomorrow is Friday and the start of the weekend. David will have written 6 of his 9 exams. There will be 28 more working days till the summer holidays. Not that I am counting or anything......

I think I am a contender for the world record in yawning. I feel it should be a new Olympic sport. I may need to start a petition. This is clearly going to be a post of great literary merit. `

I have been staring at a blank screen for a while now, waiting for the muse to strike. However, I do believe the muse has departed. Probably on a summer holiday. Together with the sun around these parts. We are back to sweaters and jackets again. I have just checked, and there is a chance of sun next Tuesday. Gee, thanks.

It must be because I am now 54. I don't recall being this wiped out when I was 53. I was interesting back then. I had stuff to say. Oooooooh bring back the youthfulness of yesterdaaaay! Wail.

Ok. I can do this.

I am going to relax in a hot bath and count my blessings. One by one. I will even add the exotic bath smelly stuff I got for my birthday. I may attempt reading a book. And then I will go to bed and sleep. And maybe tomorrow I will be capable of coherent thought, and actually manage to write something of interest.

Did I mention that my quilts are in an exhibition this weekend?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Peace in the garden....

First, let me apologise for not visiting and leaving comments and all that sort of stuff. I have had no time to do anything, and I hate not knowing what everyone is up to. I will be round to catch up as soon as I can actually catch up with myself. Minor detail.

Ironically, work was reasonable today, but I had to run a zillion important errands on the way home, and by the time I finally sat down, I promptly fell asleep. David starts his A level exams tomorrow, and I am a wreck. He on the other hand, is calm and relaxed. I am not. It comes with the "I am a mother" territory.

I am in need of laughter. And peace.

When life seems to consist of form filling (for my son's uni), paying bills, writing letters to officialdom, paperwork for my job, and lesson preparation, laughter, unless it is of the hysterical variety, is rather scarce. I am tired. It is as simple as that.

One thing I love to do when I get home in the late afternoon, is to walk around the garden, deadheading the plants, watering them, checking to see how many roses have bloomed, and how much everything is growing. It is a wonderful way to wind down from the frenetic pace of the working day. And my garden is starting to really blossom.

I wish you could see inside my mind. It closely resembles a washing machine in the middle of a spin cycle. Thank heavens for summer days and that the roses choose this time to open their petals to the sun. My eyes can see and appreciate the beauty of each lovely flower. I can smell the glorious scent. I can hear the birds singing in the trees and bushes. I can feel the warmth of the paving slabs under my bare feet. I don't have to think to be able to relax in my garden.

I love coming home.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sun on a Sunday

I have checked, and you can get a raclette at Amazon in the States. That means they are probably widely available elsewhere too. Go! Try it!

The sun is shining today and I have been up for hours yet again. On weekdays, I need the alarm. Weekends?????? Hah. Just when I could do with hours more sleep! Never mind. I can always rely on the trusty couch to send me off to dreamland. My son is sure it has narcoleptic properties. Mind you, the French Open final is on this afternoon, and I will absolutely be watching that. Roger Federer is my all time favourite, but I do believe Nadal is king of the clay court. But then, I do believe in miracles.

Today my brother-in-law celebrates his birthday. He is catching up again. He is a year younger than me. Happy birthday, Peter! I called to speak to him in Switzerland, but he is at work, and I may not be able to catch him today. He is a world class chef, and works crazy hours. Mind you, if he wasn't so good, no-one would be queuing to eat at the restaurant now would they. Anyway, I had a long chat to my sister instead. That is always good. And she understood why I was not a ray of sunshine. So we laughed. And things always look better when you can laugh.


The weekend passes way too fast around here. Blogland is quiet. America is asleep, and most people are enjoying lazy summer days. Oh my word. I have just walked through my kitchen wearing my reading glasses. You do not want to know what it looks like. I am mortified. Sundays are days of rest. Supposed to be. It looks fine with no glasses on. Groan. Sigh. Groan. I will have to roll up the sleeves and do something about this. Right now is probably a good idea. Then I can spend the rest of the day feeling virtuous. Now where did I leave the industrial strength cleaner.............

Today I am thankful for:
  1. My sister and her ability to make me laugh
  2. The sun warming my garden
  3. The budding roses about to flower
  4. Petrol in my car
  5. A day to relax and rest
  6. Perceptive friends

Saturday, June 07, 2008


This is a raclette. You can grill whatever you like on the top and melt cheese underneath. The traditional way my brother-in-law has raclette is to boil tiny potatoes, and you chop garlic and have raclette cheese which you dust with paprika, and melt under the grill while you cook thin bacon on the top. Silver onions are always served as a side dish.

I add chipolata sausages to the grill, or strips of chicken breast. What ever you like, really. And we always have a tossed salad. We also love layering the cheese under the grill with onion, or mushrooms. It is incredibly filling. Luckily, we can get raclette cheese here, but any swiss cheese would do, even Cheddar, which is clearly not Swiss!

It is a lovely way to eat. You stop and start as you wish, and everyone cooks their food the way they like it. You pour the melted cheese over the potatoes. Just divine.

If you have some vegetarians with you, they can also cook different vegetables in the little pans you each have for cheese on the top as well. So it suits everyone.

And my day? Not so spectacular. My mood is pathetic and altogether too self-centred to report. I am less than impressed with myself.

But tomorrow is another day.

Saturday stuff....

Saturday mornings are good. Even if the sun is not shining. And the house needs attention. And my hair is looking like something more suited to an alien. And even if I have indeed been awake since 4.05am, for absolutely no fathomable reason.

I love Saturday mornings.

One thing good about waking so early, is that I don't have to feel guilty about spending x number of hours reading blogs, because the hours before 9am do not count. Not on Saturdays. This is a new rule I have made. I like it. Especially as it is now almost 10am. And no, I have NOT been barrelling about the blogging world for 6 hours. More like ...well...a few. And I have done the washing and the dishwasher and folded things..... and had 3 cups of coffee.

Yesterday, Jean came round for supper. Her house is in the final stages of renovation. That means the maximum amount of chaos as one kitchen is ripped out and the new one put in. And the entire content of her kitchen is in piles all over the house. So coming here was the sensible option. I had planned to do a bbq but the rain rather dampened my enthusiasm, so we had raclette instead. I have a new raclette, and I had everything ready, had chopped up the onion, mushroom, garlic and cheese, boiled the potatoes, and then discovered that it had a SWISS plug on it.

So it wouldn't fit in any adaptor in the house. Of course not.

So I did what any intelligent woman would do. I chopped the plug off. Then I stripped down the wire casing, stripped down the individual wires, and found a new plug, and wired it in and switched it on and...... voila! The little red light went on and the house was filled with the new-appliance-burning-off-the-factory-finish-odour. Delightful. It worked. I do like little red lights which mean things are working. Might I add that throughout my advanced "let's make this electrical thing work" tutorial, my son was hovering nearby saying things like... Do you know what you are doing? Are you sure you won't blow the mains electricity? Do you know which wire goes where?


I am a genius. Or more likely, I am a woman who is going to have a raclette, even if I have to leave my comfort zone.

And the raclette was indeed delightful. Jean thoroughly enjoyed her introduction to Swiss cooking. It is great. The best part is that everyone gets to cook their own food, so I had very little to do. I must have raclette parties more often. Winter is better though, as that grill kicks out a great deal of heat.

And if you ever happen to lay your hands on the most delightful of rose wines...Blossom Hill White Grenache, you will be forever grateful. Chilled.

I could write about work, but frankly, I can't be bothered. More of the same. Blah Blah. Saturdays are the day that work is NEVER mentioned. Another new rule. I am on a roll here. Rules are good, when I get to make them. I could write about global warming, the state of the economy, fuel prices, politics, deeply meaningful things. But I won't. Not today.

Today is going to be about fun and laughter and friends, and family and I am going to do stuff I want to do. My friend Glynis is celebrating her birthday today, and I don't care about the weather. I will report back later.

Have great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ramblings again.....

I have no idea where today went, but as I have been up since 5.30am, it has been a loooooong day, and now I see it is 10pm. I am blathering here. It must be sleep deprivation.

Some blithering idiots have burgled our local cash machines again, and that means a trip to the nearest town to get money at the moment, which has not thrilled me at all. I become highly incensed when I think how hard most of us work and then some imbecile comes along and thinks he can help himself to our money.

Ok. Rant over for now.

I have been blog-hopping while my son has been helping at Crusaders, and have discovered some really lovely new places to visit. When I am thinking straight, I will post the links for you to check out. I cannot believe how many places there are out there which I have yet to discover. Thousands! Millions, probably. No matter what your interests or hobbies are, there are places to visit. Wonderful. Now, if I only had the time to do so...... Sigh.

After a few weeks of constant grey skies, and more rain than I care to think about, today the sun came out for a short while. It is amazing how spirits lift, and you feel more energised when the world is golden. I just love to come home and open the doors and windows, potter around the garden and water my plants. The tomatoes are flourishing, and the lettuce is spectacular. The roses are in bud and they just need a little more sun to bloom at last. And hopefully we may be able to bbq again soon.

I love summer.

In the UK, our summer break (school holiday) this year is just 5 and a bit weeks. Last year, it was just over 6weeks . 6 is the norm though. We do not have anything like the American 3 month breaks! And so help me, a government think tank has announced that 5-6 weeks is too long, and the children forget too much over the summer holidays and they want to make the breaks shorter. I hope not. The irony is that the actual holiday is right at the end of summer. And the exam season is in full swing till the end of June, so that makes conditions unpleasant for the kids writing them. It is also peak hayfever season.

Anyway. I have rambled enough. I need some sleep. Maybe tomorrow I will have something more interesting to relate. One lives in hope.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Modern day miracles.....

I have no desire to write screeds about work. But all I will say is that at lunch time at 1.30, I passed another member of staff after doing duty out on the courts, and he said...You look absolutely exhausted. Yes. Well. There I was thinking that the day was reasonably ok. It is interesting seeing oneself through other (younger) eyes. What kind of image am I projecting to the little darlings then???? The fact that I was very tempted to call in the marines in Period 3 may have something to do with it too.

The nasty shock of the day was discovering that we do not break up until the 23 July. WHAT??? I was not thrilled. Those 4 extra days seem a very long time to me.

However, moving swiftly on to important things.......

I have HOT WATER!!! This is 2008, and it is indeed a miracle, brought about by miracle man, Matt, the plumber. Last night, I ran a lovely deep bath, reclined in it with a sigh of absolute bliss and promptly dozed off. In water that was not 2 inches deep. Filled by bucket after boiling on the stove. And carried up the stairs. Repeatedly. The taps actually produce hot water all by themselves! Hello First World...I am back!

The element had a crack in it, so only produced lukewarm water, and now it is fixed. Oh the excitement. It took him half an hour. And, as finding a good reasonable plumber is up there with great achievements in today's world, I will add that Matt is a gem. I asked him what it would cost to rip out my old bathroom and install a new one in the same place. He actually mentioned a figure which would mean that I could defer my attempts to become a plumber with the aid of google. I may not be 227 before I get a new bathroom after all.

And now I am whizzing off to work. Maybe there will be miracles at work there too today.....

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The week that was.....

This time tomorrow morning, I will be on my way to work. I am not cheering loudly while dancing a jig of delight. In fact my head aches just thinking about it. You can imagine some dirge like music playing in the background. Slumped shoulders. Mournful expression. Pathetic. You get the picture.

Actually, all joking aside, I met a friend from bookclub in the village a couple of days ago, and she said to me..... you are looking wonderful! So different! And I thanked her, and said the only difference was that I had had a week of holiday from work. Hmmmm. She could not believe the change. It makes you think, doesn't it. Heaven only knows what I look like on a normal working day. Maybe those kids are not wrong after all. Maybe if I wear something pink and fluffy that will make a difference. Unfortunately I am not a pink and fluffy woman. But I could be! You may stop screeching with hysterical laughter right now.

Today is also the day I am supposed to be running the race for life. However, I have decided I must have been certifiable to sign up in the first place, and I will do nothing of the sort. Racing and me (I? Me? Huh??) are not a good combination. I will stay here and send them a donation. I do think it is a wonderful idea, but I am a recent convert to self-preservation. Staying alive seems a reasonable goal. Maybe next year. See? I can make decisions which do not please other people. I am practicing.

Yesterday evening, I was sitting here at the computer, after evicting son #2 so I could check my emails, and the phone rang. I heard this voice say "Linds? Linds?" and I said "Yes?" and then I snapped out of my Saturday afternoon stupour and realised it had an AMERICAN accent! Morning Glory was there on the other end of the phone! What a wonderful surprise! And you know, people, we were right back at the end of that conversation in the tube station again, and laughing and chatting a mile a minute. Wonderful. It made my day, and I was still smiling hours later. And we still forgot a million things we wanted to talk about. I am now making lists to aid the somewhat less than brilliant memory. For next time. There will be a next time. Definitely kindred spirits.

So where has this week taken me? Not far in physical terms. But in terms of peace, a long way. Restoration of the spirit, ditto. Rest....that too. Creativity? A long way.

It has been good. Really good.

And if those pesky squirrels DO NOT GET OUT OF MY GARDEN THIS SECOND, I will go and get some kind of tank and dispatch them in a more permanent fashion......

Goodbye, peace, she says, as she zooms out into the garden in her gown brandishing a broom........