Friday 30 January 2009

The Surprise Party

Twelve Dancing Princesses
Illustrated by H.J. Ford
The Red Fairy Book (1890)

My mother was overwhelmed by your kind, kind messages.

The friendly people of Blogland
are not yet real to her as they are to me.
She sees only the words, flat on the screen.
I see smiling faces in Melbourne and Sydney,
Abingdon, Cambridge and York,
New York, Maryland, the Ozarks and Seattle,
and places that I do not know of.

She wanted to know why you had all written to her
and I tried to explain that...
well, that is what we do in our virtual village.
We get up in the morning and see the messages
from the heat of the Melbourne summer
and then in the evening we read of the snows
of the American winter.

Sometimes the news is wonderful and life-changing
and sometimes the news is sad.
And on those days we share the joy or the pain.
Most of the time it is just chatter,
people passing the time of day.
Making each other smile,
taking a moment to notice and appreciate
the wonder of the world around us.

This is what my mother does every day
in her real country village.
The cars stop in the small lanes
and friends lean out of the window
to pass the time of day.
She will chat to the postman who brings the letters
and the lady in the village shop
and hear about their children and grandchildren
even if she has never met them.

Our worlds are not so very different.

And so she sent me her first ever email:

Subject: Message to My Daughter

Hi Alice This is a miracle
I find it easier to write to you,
but I will persevere.


Wednesday 28 January 2009

A Message for my Mother

My mother.

A musician and an artist.

She has explored many art forms and
when we were little
there were always things on the go:
an embroidered panel,
a watercolour,
a patchwork cushion.

Now that we have left home
she has more time to concentrate on her creative work
and one day I asked her if she was enjoying
the freedom that an empty nest brings.

She said
"I would give anything to have you all at home again."

Being our mother always came first.

My Brother's Lovely Wife has given up work
because she is expecting a Little Baby Cousin
and she is teaching my mother to use the computer.
Every Wednesday they get together
and have a cup of coffee
and explore the Internet.
I know that she will read this post
and so I just want to say
Hi Mum!

Tuesday 27 January 2009


How do you feel about orchids?
Do you like them?
I thought I didn't...
but I was wrong.

This burgundy and ivory orchid was bought on a whim
and is a source of unexpected pleasure.
The tall sprays of slim green buds have opened
to reveal elegant, exotic blooms.

It is really called 'Bartley Schwartz'
which seems a cruel fate...
I think it needs a stage name.

Monday 26 January 2009

A Flutter of the Heart

There was a parcel for me on Saturday morning.
A small parcel, tied up with stripey string.

I was very, very careful
as I cut through the brown paper.

Inside: the famous spotty tissue paper,
layers of cardboard,
And my painting!

My heart flutters with delight.
Who would guess that such a small thing
could give such pleasure.

Thank you, Vanessa - I adore it.

Saturday 24 January 2009

The Ten Commandments

Thou shalt honour MrM
who is the mobile phone coordinator for the Family.
Thou shalt respect thy mobile phone
which is a valuable item.
Thou shalt be awed by MrM's encyclopaedic knowledge
of tariffs and special offers.
Thou shalt attempt to use up thy monthly text allowance.
Thou shalt not under any circumstances
make calls from overseas with thy UK sim card.
Thou shalt not leave thy mobile phone at home.
Thou shalt not lose thy mobile phone
at the bottom of thy handbag.
Thou shalt not drop thy mobile phone
in a supermarket car park.
Thou shalt not delete texts about London Irish
from MrM without reading them.
Thou shalt not laugh uncontrollably
when MrM confesses that
he dropped his new Blackberry in the bath
and when he had secretly dried it out in the airing cupboard
it almost worked.
Except the number 5.

Friday 23 January 2009

Bedside Story

Sal wonders what I have on my bedside table
and the answer is ...not much.

The truth of it is that by the time I get to bed
I am so exhausted
that I shut my eyes and go fast asleep.

However, I have just bought some new bed linen
at a bargain price
from Laura Ashley in their sale
and the pretty embroidery and crochet edging
delights me in that brief, brief moment
before my eyes close.

Thursday 22 January 2009

A Shout-Out for Tracey

Tracey is my friend.
I really hoped that she would be
as soon as I read the first comment that she ever posted here
and that is the way that it has turned out.

I have been reading her blog for a long time now;
I have chatted to her on the phone
and last autumn we met in London.
It was the end of a difficult year:
Pip had been in hospital for major surgery,
Ashleigh was on the other side of the world
and then there was an unexpected tragedy to deal with.

All through that time she was designing quilts,
sewing and making plans for the launch of her new venture.
imagine that...
I admire her so much for believing in her dream
and working so hard to make it a reality
despite all the challenges that she had.

Congratulations, Tracey,
I hope that it is a wonderful success.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Standing at the cliff edge

I have been so grateful for your kind, thoughtful comments over the past two weeks. It made me wonder anew at the power of blogging. Each one of you has been so encouraging to MasterM as he set out on his travels and so perceptive in your support for me. It is so much easier to stand at the cliff edge when you have friends beside you. Thank you.

It dawned on me that I have been reading blogs for 2 years now and so I have been dipping in and out of other lives for quite a while. Watching children grow, people heal and projects blossom. Little by little, all of you have become so familiar that I keep a part of my mind to wonder how you and your families are and to think of those of you who for one reason or another are meeting new challenges.

And I suppose that you feel the same about my family.

So I thought that you might like to know that MasterM has landed safely:

I am now in Lima... I think I might just go to Cusco tomorrow though if I can because I dont want to miss out on Machu Pichu, and I might be able to squeeze some other stuff in afterwards...

One less thing for us all to worry about.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

A Defining Moment

Today, my thoughts are with all my friends
who are proud Americans,
at home and abroad.

Capitol Hill 2009

It is a privilege to watch
this great celebration of democracy
on Capitol Hill.

Capitol Hill 1859

MasterM flies South

St. Christopher
from the Belles Heures of the Duc de Berry

By the time that you read this
MasterM will be overhead somewhere,
enroute to South America - first stop Lima, Peru.
I was going to write a jolly post
about all the First Aid that I made him pack ...
but somehow I didn't have the heart.

He left with his rucksack full to the brim:
trek towel, first aid kit, malaria pills,
yellow fever vaccination certificate,
guidebooks, spare mobile phone, universal charger
and 21 pairs of socks.

(Please don't ask me about the socks...
I had a moment of madness...
it seemed ESSENTIAL that he had clean socks.
I know, I know...
I accept that he was very kind to humour me.)

On Saturday night he organised a big party
for 50 of his closest friends
at the pub where he worked in the autumn.
There were friends from school and from South Africa
and people that he had met since the summer.
He invited us too (which was very flattering)
and so we dropped in to say hello.
There was a great atmosphere
and it was good to catch up with these wonderful teenagers
all of them bursting with energy and joie de vivre.
MasterM told us that at the end of the evening
he ordered a shot of Apple Sours for everyone
and even he was impressed
by the long line of shot glasses on the bar.

One of MasterM's great talents is making friends
and not just making them
but the business of keeping them by staying in touch.
I know that when he returns from South America
there will be a long list of new numbers in his mobile phone.

I also know that it will be very quiet while he is away.

Monday 19 January 2009

Just for the Record

Sunlight glinting on sugar crystals catches my eye.

The lady who cleans my office brings in
homemade onion bhajjis
in the most extravagant and eccentric shapes.

The tiny American academic tells of her Christmas holiday.
She travelled in rural parts of Japan
and ate ferns.

The noisy South African academic listens politely
and then tells of his conference in China
where he ended up in a restaurant called
The House of Frogs.
Everything on the menu was based on frogs.

The tiny American academic rises to the challenge.
She tells us that she was the honoured guest
at a meal in China
and was given a bowl
and a plastic glove.
She retrieved the goose foot
from the bright orange sauce
and chewed it ostentatiously.
It was essential to show how much she enjoyed it.

The South African retires gracefully.
The tiny American wins.

My tall, friendly academic from two offices down
explains that he is no longer vegetarian.
He stayed in a hotel in Wales with an amazing menu
and had an overnight conversion
so that he could eat the Full English Cooked Breakfast.

This ex-vegetarian describes a dish of duck
cooked with red onions and plum sauce
in such detail that it makes me feel hungry to think of it.

What will MasterM be eating
this time next week?

We pore over guide books
with recommendations for steak restaurants
in Buenos Aires.

He reminds me that his uncle
came back from South America
with bags of deep fried grasshoppers.

Roast Beef for supper.

Unless I go to the supermarket NOW
there will be no food in the house this week.
We might need to eat the pointsettia.
Which would be bad for Family Karma.

Sunday 18 January 2009

A Circular Argument

If you chop leeks

and peel potatoes

and slice bread

you can make cheese on toast

and float it on soup.

Which is a good thing to do
on a cold, wet day.

Friday 16 January 2009


1 - 15 Dec
I adore the flame red splash of pointsettias
and fill my fireplace with plants.
16 - 25 Dec
I can't imagine my home without pointsettias.
25 - 31 Dec
I have started
to fall out of love
with the brash, bold colours.
1 Jan
I don't want pointsettias in my home.
Fortunately, most years the plants know this
and politely shrivel and die.
5 Jan
This year the pointsettia is unnaturally healthy.
I have tried neglect
and am considering cruelty.
16 Jan
I am getting desperate.
Does anyone want to adopt a pointsettia?

Thursday 15 January 2009

Miss Charming

MissM had a silver charm bracelet for her birthday
with lots of empty rings.

And so, before Christmas,
MrsM made a secret visit
to an antique jewellers.

It was such fun to look though the tray of charms
and wonder who had owned them before.
The shop owner was entranced too
and picked out charms to tempt MrsM.

After much discussion
a winged Pegasus, a tiny mouse house and a cheeky robot
were wrapped in tissue paper
to rattle on her wrists
and make her friends smile.

In January, MrsM and MissM returned to the antique shop
with Christmas money
and discovered an Aladdin's lamp with a genie inside
and a carriage suitable for a Heyer heroine.

MrsM is struggling with her conscience
because for two pins
(or maybe even less than that)
she would have a charm bracelet of her own.

But you can't copy your daughter.

Can you?

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Paws for Thought

I would like to draw your attention
to the little known fact that
many writers owe their success
to their Cocker Spaniels.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Virginia Woolf

Enid Blyton

Cocker Spaniels are renowned for their
sharp intelligence,
classical features
and total loyalty.
It is not surprising that they are inspirational.

Having said all that...
it does depend on what material you have to work with.
I try my best with MrsM.


p.s. Bonjour, Molly

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Desperate Measures

MasterM has 'flu.

I DO KNOW that he is going to South America

I have prescribed a dose of Family Magic

the Lemsip Mug
the Happy Teddy for Poorly People
the Movie.

(It would appear that
the best movie for Poorly MEN is
Lord of the Rings.

Move over, Dumbo.)

Monday 12 January 2009

Shopping with My Family

MasterM needs shoes.
He REALLY needs shoes
because he has been too busy to go shopping
and his shoes have achieved a level of designer decay
that even he finds disgusting.

MissM has agreed to provide style guidance,
MrsM will provide the money
and MrM has come to act as enforcer.

And so we are all on an escalator, going up.

Ahead of me my son is making my daughter laugh.
I turn to my husband
and he smiles at me.

and I think...

"This is what it is all about."

Tuesday 6 January 2009

MrM Gets His Revenge

Monday Morning

"Get Up!
Get UP!
Do you know what the time is??
It is 7.15"

MrsM leaps out of bed.
It is her first day back at work
and she does not want to be late.

She is very disappointed
that her new alarm clock
(which she bought while MrM was considering bags)
has let her down.

She runs downstairs to the kitchen
where she discovers that...

It is not 7.15am...

It is 6.15am.

She totters back upstairs to bed for half an hour.

(MrM claims that this was an innocent mistake.)

Monday 5 January 2009

Shopping with MrM

I regret to report that
MrM and MrsM have just had an argument.
In Public.
Oh! The Shame!

MrM decided that he needed an Executive Rucksack
to carry his laptop and his important business paraphenalia
(pencil case, iPod, Financial Times).
MrsM regrets the passing of the leather briefcase
but understands that times move on.
Fashions change.

MrM and MrsM go to a very large Department Store
with a lot of stylish options.
MrsM has been shopping with MrM before
and she knows that the best thing to do is abandon him
with the poor shop assistant for half an hour
so that MrM can explore exhaustively
the many features of the bags on offer.
In the meantime MrsM will check out all the special offers
in the entire store.

At the end of the 30 minutes MrsM goes back
to the bag department and rescues the poor shop assistant
who is looking as though he is going to sign himself
into the Priory for work-related stress.

On this occasion MrsM arrives to discover a catastrophe.
MrM has fallen in love with a Swiss Army bag.
It has 34 pockets
and each pocket has two zip fobs with the Swiss flag on.
If there was a light breeze MrM would become a wind chime.

MrM looks so happy with his choice.


MrM looks crushed.

"Take the smart, black, executive bag"

MrM points to the big label with the Swiss Flag on.

"Think of your image"
"Don't you thinks it looks macho?"
"You should be aspiring to intelligent not macho"
"It has 34 pockets including one for my iPod"
"It looks as though you stole it from your seven year old son"
"It is me that has to use it"
"Listen to me carefully.
I am going to leave you now and go and have a cup of coffee
You can join me when you have bought
the smart, black, executive bag."

At this point the shop assistant looks desperate.

"If you think I have been harsh,
imagine what MissM would say"

(MrM will be commuting tomorrow with
a smart, black, executive bag.)

Saturday 3 January 2009

The Grand Tour

Today we went for lunch with friends.
They are the parents of MasterM's best friend, T.
The other guests were the parents
of one of his other best friends, B.
We have known these boys since they were 13.
The boys sat at one end of the table,
full of laughter and fun.

At the other end of the table
the parents spoke of
cheap flights,
travel insurance,
tips for travelling safely,
methods for transferring cash in an emergency.

In three weeks time MasterM will be in Peru.
He will meet up with B for a while
before travelling on to Brazil and Argentina.
T will be in Ghana teaching
and will travel to South America in April.
We will not see MasterM again until July.

I feel unbearably anxious.
As you know MasterM is an experienced traveller
but I feel that this trip takes him outside
any safety net that I can create.
He will have to rely on his resources,
common sense and ingenuity.

What can you do?
If you bring your children up to be independent
you have to let them go.

Friday 2 January 2009

My Body is a Temple

Yesterday we had coffee and cake
in The Parlour at Fortnum & Masons.

Each cup of coffee has a tiny ice cream!

And then we went downstairs
and bought chocolates from MasterM.
Self Indulgent!

Alas, my body is starting to feel uncomfortably like
a Temple to cake, ice-cream and chocolate

so emergency action is called for.

Today, it is homemade Turkey broth for lunch...

Thursday 1 January 2009

Welcome to 2009

New Year's Eve, 2008
Skaters outside the Natural History Museum.

We spent the morning in London
with my brother and his wonderful wife
who are expecting their first baby in February.
2009 will be a very special year for them.

Whatever your plans and hopes for the New Year
I wish you success and happiness.