GIFTS MY MOTHER MADE ME

GIFTS MY MOTHER MADE ME

I was discussing with a friend the recent death of her mother, and her sense of loss made me reflect on how we tend to take our mother’s love for us for granted, something o which we are entitled. My mother gave me many gifts, some of which I list below.

She gave birth to me.

MY childhood, on the whole, was happy for which she must have been largely responsible.

Her physical care of me was diligent and I grew up without defect or injury.

She taught me to speak educated English with good grammar and an acceptable accent.

She taught me to read and write.

She always encouraged my writing.

She showed me how to critically examine a novel and write an intelligent crit of it.

She showed me how to deconstruct a poem.

She taught me how to dress well, in clothes that suited me, on a small budget.

She taught me to sew, knit and crochet.

She taught me how to wear make-up.

She taught me how to entertain and the rules that went with that.

She showed me how to converse with both women and men.

She taught me to cook, to bake and about nutrition.

She showed me how to house-keep (though I have to admit, it wasn’t the chief strength of either of us!)

She showed me by example how to behave wih dignity and circumspection (in so far as I do.)

She was a great support to me with my children and gave me very good advice as well as practical help.

She was loving and kind to my husband.

She always gave me very good advice, recommending one be generous in victory and gracious in defeat, and commending tolerance and forgiveness (one has to acknowledge that she did not always follow her own advice!)

She sewed many lovely cushions, beautifully embroidered which are worn now but in my loft as I cannot bear to throw them out.

They are not insignificant gifts are they?

I blamed her because she did not successfully oppose my father in some of his sillier notions – such as our being denied access to books, and not being educated according to our ability. But I now realise she lacked the power to oppose him in matters where he felt strongly. She was even so a modifying influence on him. I did understand her weakness because I had the power to oppose him and eventually did so, but I now see that I had inherited that power from him. Not having it herself, she could not make a stand against him.

I should have followed her advice and been more forgiving and tolerant. Towards the very end of her life she became rather demanding and unreasonable but I now see that the dementia that she briefly suffered from made her incapable of sound judgement or sensible thinking or action.

She said to me once that I had been an inspirational daughter and one of the joys of her life. I think I was insufficiently grateful for her loving kindness and generosity.

She was a good mother.

CARRYING ON SEWING

CARRYING ON SEWING

I like sewing. I learnt at my mother’s knee (and my grandmother’s.) I sewed most unsuitable clothes for my baby doll from my grandmother’s scrap bag. I did sew at school but I always had a fraught relationship with any ‘home economics’ teacher. Her class which should have been a glorious cornucopia of scraps of fabric, lace, ribbons, thread, buttons, sketches, photos and other stimulating delights was in fact a sterile shrine to tidiness and she herself, although technically competent was a triumph of repression and whatever the opposite of creativeness is. I’m sure she managed to put lots of people off sewing for life. Under her critical eye we made a lap bag of gingham with crosses embroidered in the squares ‘to hold one’s knitting’. (I never knitted). Next term I thought, Great, we’ve escaped from the boring work bag, only to discover we were to make a pair of horrible gingham knickers which nobody ever wore, and a yellow drindyl skirt which didn’t suit me. I despised them all and I’ve not been very keen on gingham ever since. But it didn’t put me off sewing.

I’ve sewn on four sewing machines – my mother’s Singer, my own Janone, another Janone, and finally my present Brother.

I’m still getting pleasure from sewing though I find it more difficult these days because of shaky hands. Sometimes I just have to wait until the shakiness passes.

So yesterday I had several projects kicking around in various unfinished states. There was a patchwork table runner for Elisabeth with a red theme; a pair of trousers that I’m shortening; a white Channel type jacket that I’m shortening the sleeves of; a pale green silk bed jacket that I’m making out of an embroidered quilt which I hope to cut artfully so that it needs no hems, and a pale green silky cotton of the same colour to make into pyjamas. Also a beige and brown silky furnishing fabric with a leaf pattern that I hope to make into a short sleeved top and wide trousers to go with the other brown trousers (the top that is). In my head but not so far into anything more tangible, are plans for a waistcoat in Harris tweed for John and a car quilt made from cashmere and velvet.

John, looking at this mess (creative can be disorderly) suggests I put them in my sewing room and bring them out one by one and finish them. I agree that this would be sensible and I cart them all upstairs and them bring down the white jacket and brown trousers to complete the alteration.

After lunch I begin by attempting to thread three needles but my shaky period descends and I cannot do it, not even with the aid of a needle threader. I am patient; I continue to attempt it for15 minutes. I swap the sharp needle for an embroidery one (which has a larger hole) but no joy.

I fall into a fit of the dismals. It is no good. I CANNOT continue to sew if I am unable to thread a needle.

I reflect on all the sewing I have done. I made a suit in pink tweed with silk lining and a silk blouse with a bow to a pattern by Molyneux; I made a brown Harris tweed maxi coat; I made a camel suit with a short military style jacket and a long divided skirt. I made a green velvet dress that I wore on the evening of the day I was married. I made a Victorian style long white cotton nightdress embroidered with butterflies and trimmed with broderie anglaise which I wore to the hospital when I had each of my children. I made a pram cover in white, embroidered with poppies and ears of corn with an A on it which John used to turn over so that the beautiful embroidery was hidden when we would leave the pram. I made curtains for all our houses. I made a patchwork duvet cover. I recovered two three seater sofas, complete with piping. I made a denim sut for John. I made clothes for the girls – a matching black watch tartan dress with a white linen collar for the two girls and me. I made a blue velvet dress and a matching hooded cape trimmed with white maribou feathers which secured the role of Mary for both girls in the nativity play in subsequent years. I made corduroy jackets and trousers, wth machine knitted hats, gloves and scarves in fairisle pattern to match for all the children. And then I’ve sewed for my grandchildren. I made a black velvet hooded cape for Alexandra with a black and silver lining in a starry and a dress to match. I’ve made quilts for each child; cotton pyjamas and dressing-gowns beyond counting. I made patchwork blankets for the dogs and cats of the family.

Sadly I think this will all have to come to an end. I’ll have to leave my craft group, which is a lovely friendship group as well. I begin to wonder to whom I will give my sewing machine and my collection of materials. What is the point of my existence, I wonder, in a fit of depression that suddenly drifts like a grey and dismal cloud in and conceals the familiar Sussex country-side. My family and friends would be better off without me.

My calm persona judges that I have indulged myself long enough. “Let’s try once more” she says. “What’s the point,” I reply. “It takes too long.” But her will, once she speaks it, is quite inexorable. But she has picked up the needle where I had stuck it in a pin cushion, and she discovers that all this time, I have been attempting to thread the sharp end of the needle, where there is no hole. She has three needles threaded in as many minutes and in a whisk of her needle she secured the trouser hem and the sleeve, and these garments are ironed and hung in my wardrobe.

“Perhaps,” she says dryly, “We should consider a new pair of glasses first.”

I decide I won’t throw the towel in just yet!

THE JOYS OF JANUARY

THE JOYS OF JANUARY

I thought I’d write a blog on the pleasures of each month of the year, so I begin with the joys of January.

Are there any, is my first thought. Of course there are. January is my second least favourite month of the year (after November). It’s dark, with dreary weather of one kind or another, and various types of self denial – alcohol, food, spending. What fun​? What joy is there in that? But then, consider:

Firstly, there’s the relief of getting rid of the Christmas decorations, which by early January, I’m beginning to think of as ‘Christmas tat’. Once it’s all cleared away, one’s home looks elegant and understated by comparison.

Then there’s that wonderful thing – The Return of the Light. Normally you notice the improving hours of daylight in the first week of January, but the weather has been so dank and dreary that it was 27 January when I first noticed that it was still light at 5 pm. Then I felt like a Stone Age woman standing in Mae’s Howe on Orkney, thinking, We have survived the winter!

In years gone by but still within our memory, snow and ice used to bring fun (in our youth). The world would be transformed into a beautiful silent wonderful place. The water in our well would be very very cold but it did not freeze and we could see where the fox had jumped the stone wall and crossed our garden on his way to somewhere else. It is many years however since we have experienced such a winter transformation. We used to blow a hole on the ice which formed on the inside of the windows.

There are the pleasures of coming home in the evening to a warm house with the lamps lit, the fragrant smell of winter stew, and a favourite tv programme or book to enjoy.

I enjoy the winter wardrobe. The leather boots, the tweed coat, the woollen hat, scarf and gloves, velvet, wool, perhaps fur (faux!)

Then there’s the thrill of finding the first flowers emerging into the dark garden. There are already snowdrops, cyclamen, a few crocus, the fragrant daphne bholua and yellow mahonia.

We have no major family celebrations in January, but January 25 sees us eating haggis (which we like) with mashed turnip and potatoes, and hoping that the memory of the bard endures forever.

January is the month of the goat, and is ruled by Saturn. People born in this month are Capricorns, who are allegedly dutiful, fatherly, work oriented people.

January is a month that seems to pass quickly, and then you are contemplating the features of February, which is my seventh favourite month of the year.

HARRY’S M’ DARLIN’

HARRY IS M’ DARLIN’

It is difficult to understand what has happened to Prince Harry and Meghan, his wife that has been so terrible that they have been forced to contemplate their future role in the royal family and to make the decision to avoid the press. Harry’s insistence on our learning ‘the truth’ from him, reminds me of Edward VIII’s speech on his abdication, which is not a good model for a royal speech.

You begin to wonder if Meghan married him simply as a career move, and having greatly enhanced her profile, will just return to her acting career if it all goes wrong. I do not believe that her treatment at the hands of the British has been racist. She has been welcomed and admired. No doubt there will have been some objectionable comments by crackpots and bigots but they are always with us.

OF course any ‘royal’ person has the right to decline the honour and retire into private life, but this by no means guarantees any reduction of Press interest in them. Prince Harry seems to have behaved in such a way that he may continue to stimulate press interest in him while losing his previous protection. To have challenged the Press in court seems foolhardy in the extreme. Could his be a long concealed but now rising to say his piece resentment at the press for having ‘hounded his mother to her death. I have long since speculated that the princes must at some level blame their father for the death of their mother. He did not love the Princess of Wales and he made this perfectly clear. And as for their stepmother, I do not believe the ‘happy families’ tale. How could the princes not resent her when she was a ‘third person in the marriage’ and caused their mother great unhappiness. How insulted must Diana have felt when she was publicly rejected – shining beauty and as lovely as the moon goddess she was named after – when her husband preferred Camilla over herself.

This reminds me of a performance I went to, with Carolyn, of a performance by a group of girl saxophonists and comedians whose name escapes me. The song that got the strongest audience response was a little ditty:

Prince Charles rejects the charms of his new bride.

He prefers Camilla Park-and-Ride.

But to be serious, I believe Harry enjoys the approval and affection of the British people. Rumours that he is not genuinely the offspring of kings are entirely without foundation, in my opinion. He looks too much like Prince Philip for there to be any doubt. Whether he can pull off his proposed plan, and whether his wife can endure the difficulties of her position, I very much doubt.

However, I wish Prince Harry every success in the endeavour.

THE QUICK AND THE DEAF

THE QUICK AND THE DEAF

All my life, I’ve had exceptionally good hearing.

In my youth, I could (with concentration) when in a restaurant, tune in to the conversation at any table. I could and still can hear people approach and recognise them by their step, but my companions would often say I was mistaken, and only after a minute or so, when the person actually appeared, would they acknowledge that I had been correct.

In my twenties when I would get migraine, sometimes my hearing would be so enhanced that I could hear the conversation in the office above me, and that was hard to bear. Very sensitive hearing has some down sides. It makes you intolerant of background music – I feel you should either listen or put it off, and crowded, noisy places can be painful to endure.

I’ve always loved silence though it is increasingly rare in the modern world.

This week I’ve had the illness many of us have had, which is a head cold which lingers and seems to be impossible to get rid of. To my surprise it totally blocked my ears and I literally couldn’t hear a thing except some internal roaring. I then realised that I have never been surprised by the arrival of anyone for I have always heard them coming from afar off. Whereas this week I have been startled by people arriving unannounced at my elbow..

I also can see that it’s no fun being deaf. For a start there’s no visible indication that you have any difficulty. It’s quite dangerous in traffic and so on because you don’t hear danger approaching. I hadn’t realised how much humour and wit depends on speed. Somebody round the table mumbles something and everybody laughs. You try out various options in your head of what their remark sounded like but by the time you’ve figured it out and thought of some witticism to offer the conversation has long since moved on.

I know myself that it is tedious and tiring to speak in louder volume than is natural so that a deaf person may hear you, and I fear many of such unfortunates will be taken for stupid or dull which may be far from the case.

As for me, I’ve heard many things I shouldn’t have.

I occasionally hear people say to John, sometimes whispering, So how is Anne really. (The whispering makes no difference.) I do not regard this query with any warmth. He always replies non-committally as I would wish him to do, but I think uncharitably, why don’t they ask me how I am? I do tell people my hearing is very good but they don’t seem to take this on board.

I heard a doctor say to a nurse way out in the corridor outside our ward, of the lady in the next bed to me (nearer to him than I was): Of course there is no possibility that this wound will ever heal. I looked in alarm at the lady but she lay peacefully in her bed so I presumed she had not heard him.

And on the train from Brighton to London, although I was seated at one end of the carriage and she at the far end of it, I heard a woman discussing on the telephone her surprise at the non guilty verdict for a trial where she had been on the prosecuting team, and I a member of the jury. I could have told her it had been very hard work to persuade some of the jury to deliver that verdict, but I was not going to be as unprofessional as she was.

People of normal hearing frequently have no idea what some people can hear.

PS My cold is improved and my hearing has recovered but still not to its normAl capacity.

THE YEAR PASSES

THE YEAR PASSES

2019 has moved swiftly, if not smoothly, through its paces and is drawing to a close.

It has not been a vintage year. Rather it has been a year of spectacularly bad behaviour on the part of all of our parliamentary and government classes. At the end of it, we appear to have, more or less, a functional government (though it remains to be seen how much it can coordinate its different roots and vote in necessary legislation.)

I have survived to the age of seventy, and I therefore feel that I’ve had my allotted allowance of days and could be called to depart at any time. Although I’ve had Parkinson’s disease for 22 years and couldn’t truthfully describe them as having been easy, I’m still here, am still myself and can still do most of those things that I most enjoy. I feel quite well in myself and don’t especially feel that my departure is imminent.

During this year we lost our friend, Arthur de Caux, and John’s brother-in-law, Howard Driver both of whom are sadly missed by their surviving families. We had no additions to the family this year to take their places.

We have had a year of very different weather, which resulted in our having a family camping and caravanning holiday of two weeks of absolutely glorious weather, but which for some people has meant devastating droughts or floods.

Though I stand by my republican principles, I am surprised to find myself offering A Toast Unto Her Majesty. It is in all of our interests that she survives as long as is comfortably possible for her because it is most unlikely that her successors will function with the caution and discretion that she has exhibited throughout her long reign.

So we go forward into 2020. I wish you all good fortune in it.

POST ELECTION BLUES

POST ELECTION BLUES

Everything about politics at the moment is unpredictable and surprising, but I am quite amazed at the reaction of the losing parties. Thy are not in the least chastened an are being most ungracious. They NEVER seem to listen to the electorate. They behave with anger and resentment as if we were stupid and have let them down.

I believe there are three main reasons why people voted Tory. There are those who actually ARE Tory, have always voted Tory, and therefore they naturally would. There are those who having listened to the arguments felt that the Tory view offered the best deal for the country in the widest sense – NHS, economy and so on. And there are those who would never have believed that they would one day vote Tory, who did so in desperation, because it seemed that Boris Johnson offered the only likely route to what the country had democratically previously voted – ie to leave Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn is a very able man, with honour and principles, but I do not believe he wanted to be Prime Minister. He is an Opposition Leader.

I remember Sir Alex Douglas Hume, a Tory PM who was not generally memorable. He lost an election to Labour and in the post defeat interview was invited to say that the people would regret their error in voting for Labour. For all he was a belted Earl (the press laid great stress on his being belted – I don’t understand the significance of this – are there unbelted earls?) he firmly replied:

“The good people of Britain have seen fit to elect a Labour government. We hope to be Her Majesty’s constructive opposition.” Douglas Hume had grace and humility, and I have come to believe that this is the only permissible and proper statement for an outgoing Prime Minister to make.

Boris Johnson has been elected Prime Minster in a period of great instability and difficulty. Let us at least accord him the traditional ‘honeymoon’ period at the start of his premiership when we wait to see how he will tackle things. I wish him luck – which he does seem to possess in great measure- for he will certainly need it.