2013

2013

 

2013 draws to a close.    For me, there were many highlights.

Meeting my beautiful cousin, Sheena, with her husband and daughter on the island of our common ancestry in the Hebrides.

Gathering on a shore in Lewis somewhere North of Stornoway, with my husband, my brother, our cousin, the three children and four grand-children plus our indefinable relative, my cousin’s daughter, and all their spouses as appropriate, and watching the flowers for my mother float away on the Atlantic.

Visiting the iconic Falling Waters, most famous private house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, through which a river runs, in Pennsylvania, USA, with our hosts, Anne and Ken Sullivan.

Going with John on a beautiful morning in Orkney and walking around the completely empty site of a huge and ancient complex thought to pre-date Stone Henge and marvelling at the wonders produced by ancient peoples.

Spending a fabulous day in hot sun (a miracle so far North) on Lewis with Joanna, Lawrence and the girls on a beach we practically had all to ourselves, miles of golden sand, sea a sapphire blue.

Having lunch in the hot sun by the Marina in St Raphael with our friends Hedwig and Hily of Belgium, and Nan and Steve of Scotland.

Visiting an amazing exhibition of Japanese embroidery of flora and fauna at the beautifully remodelled Ashmolean Museum in Oxford with our hosts Elizabeth and Jonathan Roberts.

Staying in an attractive cottage a few footsteps from the River Thames with Elizabeth and Robert and watching the river activity on the  day of  the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race.

Meeting the charming and enigmatic Alex Salmond at Culloden.

Watching the new house of Sarah and Rory take shape while their son Ewan learned to walk and is now beginning to talk.

Spending a dusty weekend with Elisabeth and Robert, celebrating my birthday, and advising on some of their renovations, secure in the knowledge that we don’t have to execute the plans!

Sailing with John up the Thames from Margate to under Tower Bridge on the Clyde paddle steamer Waverley.

Taking pleasure in receiving your emails and postcards, your comments on my blog, the visits you made to me for coffee, the lunches we went out for, the invites to your houses, craft group, book group,(s)  philosophy group.   I enjoyed them all.

May the gods of good fortune smile upon you and yours in the year to come.   Peace be upon you.

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HAVING THE BUILDERS IN

We’ve been staying this past week in the house of Elisabeth and Robert.   The builders are in, and as a result the place is incredibly noisy, dusty, chaotic.

The ground floor is uninhabitable.  Walls have been knocked down; the remaining walls are bare to  the brick.   There are holes in the floor.   Ceilings have all been removed.   To escape this you have to struggle through a plastic double curtain on the stairs to keep the dust out.   (This  doesn’t work.)   Everything, including you, becomes covered in a fine layer of dust, no matter how often surfaces are wiped.    The upper  floors are not too bad, except of course that everything from the ground floor is dislodged into them.  The attic itself was being decorated by Robert and John, so was not available to use.   Worst of all was the bathroom, where there were only floorboards through which light from the builders downstairs seeped up through the cracks.    Sometimes  when desperation made you chance going there, someone would be drilling at a point which felt as if it were directly under you, and you were convinced you were in imminent danger of collapsing in a very undignified heap right through the floor.

I thought the pair were coping very well.   The builders’ voices (in Polish) echo through the house.   They seem happy in their work with much laughter.  Their hammering, drilling, sawing is continuous.   Polish Radio can be heard everywhere in the house.   There are endless decisions, major and minor, to be made in every room.

It is, at present, a mess.   And yet … the basic house is of good proportion: sunny, light and quiet.  You can perceive, even among the dust and disorder, the bones of the new rooms beginning to emerge.

I was remembering Elisabeth’s first attempts at interior design as a teenager when she redecorated a bedroom for herself when Joanna vacated it to go to University.   Just using things we had in the house, and recruiting the help of her girlfriends to paint a stencilled wisteria on the walls, she created a room of such calm elegance and charm, I felt like moving into it myself!

Robert too has excellent taste (proof of which being that he married my daughter!), and a New Zealander’s abhorrence of anything too pretentious.   Although I don’t know if Elisabeth would claim just at the moment that she ‘can sew cushions’ (not that it matters since her mother can – or she can purchase them!)  – Robert can certainly buid wardrobes.

They have weeks to go but I have every confidence that they and the team they have hired will create a lovely home.

Rory and Sarah’s project is also coming to a successful conclusion and is very spacious and charming.   I look forward to visits to the capital and the completed houses of both my Southern children.   And if we have to do a little house / dog / baby sitting in exchange – well, that’s no great hardship, is it?

E F BENSON

Since being given, by my children, a Kindle, I’ve acquired a bad habit (to add to my many other ones) of purchasing books in the middle of the night during periods of sleepless boredom.  At such times you are probably more inclined to re-read some known and liked author rather than venture into the unknown territory of an untried author.  My latest purchase was a collection of the Mapp and Lucia novels by E F Benson, to the delights of which I was first introduced, years ago, by my erudite friend Elizabeth, now of Oxford.

They tell of English small town (really village) life – a subject of which I know practically nothing.   The period covered is one in which well ordered households still rejoiced in servants – parlour maids, cooks, gardeners.   Although you might think this would be a  cosy subject, in fact internecine wars are waged, campaigns fought, battles lost and won – all over significant issues such as who will play Queen Elizabeth 1 in a summer tableau.

One of the pleasures of reading this novel is that the house occupied at various times by both Mapp and Lucia is that of the novelist himself, Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex.      (This house was also occupied at an earlier period by the more famous author, Henry James.)    This  house is open under the National Trust scheme, although on a very restricted basis, so although it would not be entirely accurate to say it was only open when the moon was full, the wind was in the east, and it was a Wednesday with a P in the month, it certainly feels like this whenever you try to storm its barriers.   However, the actual house and the wider town of Rye are described with great accuracy in the novels and the recognition of these features is one of the pleasures of the books.    They are nicely observed, and very funny.

I recommend E F Benson.

WINTER WARDROBE

We’re heading into Winter now.    I love the changing of the seasons.

One day, it seems we’re in summer:  bare legs, sandals, dusty air, the grass dry underfoot – and then one morning you go out and sniff, canine fashion and there!   You can smell Autumn, far off but still coming inexorably onwards, cool, damp, slightly smoky.   My spirits always rise.

After Autumn, Winter, and with it the enticing prospect of withdrawing into private space;  the sitting room with its lamps on and the fire burning;  a pile of books;  scones and tea;  peace;  time to recharge the batteries.

Then there’s the wardrobe switch.   By September I’ve had enough of the flimsy clothes we brought out with such anticipation a few months ago (and this year have actually worn) – the strappy T shirts, the linen trousers, the silk dresses, the cotton blouses.

I physically move some of my clothes from one room to another over a couple of days, switching 6 or so at a time.   You take out the cool climate clothes with mixed reactions.   Some may have been purchased late last season and never worn.   You’ve forgotten all about them and greet them with excitement.   Others you haul out and wonder why you didn’t fling them out last year and dither whether to discard them now, or put them in the ‘wearing’ wardrobe and see if they will still ‘do’.   As you bring out the winter clothes, you match them up, seeking new combinations, and making mental lists of which new accessories – leather boots, a sweater, a new scarf, will give a little fillip to your collection.

This is a serious business indeed!   My birthday is in December, so I’m a winter woman.   In cashmere, tweed, wool, leather boots and gloves, perhaps a fur hat, I feel most comfortably myself, so perhaps it’s just as well I live in Britain, and can wear these clothes practically the whole year!