SONY DSCLast week we attended the wedding of John’s eldest daughter, Kerri.

It was a lovely day, and I think this is one of the occasions when a picture is worth a thousand words.    Above is yours truly, dressed for winter!


The bride, Kerri, Nigel, the bridegroom, and Jessica, Kerri’s daughter.   Below that is a photo of the bride and her attendants, and beneath that John’s eldest son, Darren and his wife Joanne, brother and sister in law of the bride.


The bride and groom, Jessica, Leila, the bride’s niece on the far left, and Craig, Lucy and Megan, children of Darren and Joanne, the bride’s nieces and nephew, and John’s grandchildren.


SONY DSCSONY DSCThe cake, made by me, the basic decoration by myself with the assistance of Alison Chaston, and finished off in situ by Kerri and Jessica.

It was a lovely day!

All photographs courtesy of John Armstrong.   (PS   I can’t seem to get the comments beneath each picture, but I’m sure you’re quite smart enough to figure it out.)



Persons of my former acquaintance (low life types of feeble intellect and little discrimination) have occasionally had the temerity to suggest that yours truly is a silver-tongued deceiver who could with artful cunning apply a positive spin to any chosen subject, or conversely ruin some poor innocent’s reputation with a few well chosen, carefully planted, deceptively mild phrases.   You, gentle reader, being an intelligent person of taste and sound judgement, know that this accusation is a foul calumny, and that your humble correspondent deals only with shining truths and accurate analyses.

It has occurred to me however that I may have – inadvertently – presented you with a picture of myself as an accomplished and successful dress maker.     In this scenario, completed projects are  disgorged by my sewing machine with all the ease of an aeroplane ejecting parachutists.   According to this legend, emerging from my sewing room is an unending triumphant procession of elegant dresses for me;  silk dresses for my  granddaughters, velvet capes, quilts to go on their beds, pretty pyjamas and dressing-gown for all the ladies of the family, kilts for the boy, handbags to order, curtains, cushions, throws and mats for new houses, aprons for all and so on, all articles greeted with cries of delight by the grateful recipients.

Well, yes.   But we can all make mistakes; it’s neither easy nor invariably successful.

The week I’ve been making myself a cream wool dress.

I’ve adapted the pattern to my exact requirements – it’s a shift, very plain, with a zip at the back.   I’ve made three versions;  a brown wool with faint white stripes;    a greenish plaid;    and a sleeveless red linen version.   They’re all reasonably satisfactory and I’ve worn them a lot.

I had bought the cream all wool tweed fabric at a wonderful mill in Oxfordshire while staying with my friend Elizabeth nearby.   I did wonder if it was the right colour, weight and texture, but concluded it would be OK and proceeded to make it up into a classic shift, with a V neck and three quarter length sleeves.   It took ages.

I am NOT pleased with it.

The material looks like a dog’s blanket.    When I press it, there is an aroma of sheep.   The material is several shades of yellowish cream away from the winter white I need.   Although exactly the same as earlier models, it makes me look fat.   I’ve fiddled endlessly with it, and still the neck won’t sit right.    Although I know that the shoulders and arms are both exactly the same length, the way it sits on me it looks as if one sleeve is longer than the other.   It’s a DISASTER, darling.

I consider taking it to my lovely craft group and lamenting my failure to them.   They are all proper ladies.   They wouldn’t laugh.   They’d all do their best to help and encourage me.   Plus, one of their number is that magician, Alison, who can make anything out of anything and the insides of whose garments are as beautifully finished as the outsides.    But I’m sick of the thing.   I don’t want to work on it, talk about it, even think about it any more.

You can generally incorporate anything into your wardrobe, even if in its basic state it doesn’t suit you, by judicious selection of things to wear with it.   After extensive, time-consuming and messy trials, I discover it only looks tolerable with one garment – a very long, lean-line, creamy white knitted alpaca coat/cardigan (purchased from the Alpaca shop on the A 22.)   The reason this suits it is because it HIDES most of it.   With a black and cream silk scarf (a gift from Nan Wylie) to give vertical emphasis and conceal the neckline, and a cream necklace of biwa pearls, made by Joanna and gifted by John, plus black leather boots and black leather gloves (bought in Biarritz) it looks tolerable.

However it only looks OK if I keep the coat on.    This combination is too hot for most interiors, and not warm enough for outdoors.   The coat is too long to wear anything over it.   In addition, though I’ve lined it, it’s itchy.   Basically, it feels like you’re wearing a hair shirt.

The white knitted coat has shoulder pads, and as I wear it with other things I need to retain them;   they are not detachable.      The  dress has shoulder pads which I included in a vain attempt to make the neck and shoulders look OK.   They are inside the dress, attached to sleeves and shoulders and between the fabric and the lining.   To remove them would require a major reconstruction.   In consequence, the outfit looks like something General Patten might have worn.

I present myself in my entire ensemble to my husband who looks at me cautiously.   He can see I am not happy.    He is deceived by the outer accessories and assures me that it is fine.   I remove the coat and scarf and I see him hesitate.   Then he says it’s not too bad;  I’ve spent a lot of time on it.    I can see he’s looking at my derriere.   He says, maybe it’s not the most flattering garment you’ve ever made…   can you take it in around the hips?   I think, what he actually means is, it makes your bum look HUGE, and I feel, with frustration and fatigue, positively tearful.

John takes me out and we buy a grey dress and jacket.

So what should I do with the Dog Blanket Dress?   No self respecting dog would have anything to do with it.


I’ve watched one or two marriages, lately, fall apart on the couple’s approaching  retirement, which seems even sadder than an earlier disintegration would have been.   It seems very unfortunate that couples who have stayed together through the hard working years of life, reared their families, and have arrived at a stage when they might have hoped for a more peaceful time together, should discover when they turn to one another that they no longer have anything in common.

When you look at the marriages of those around you, there is a tendency to flag some up as more problematic than others, but when people have been together for over thirty years, you tend to assume they they’ve resolved the difficulties to their mutual satisfaction.  There are NO marriages without tensions within them – a complete absence of tension would be a problem anyway – and all successful marriages go through some periods of difficulty.

There are many elements to a successful marriage.   The first one, obviously, is love.  By this I do not mean the heat of physical desire (though I would have thought that too was a necessity), but the unselfish love that puts the other person’s interests before your own.  However, both parties must possess this quality.   If only one person truly loves, the selfishness or indifference of the other  will eventually erode that love.

But there are more mundane things that help, such as sharing common interests, or at any rate a willingness to enter into another’s interests.   I have often been surprised how women can enjoy the benefits of their husband’s work and career – they have a large house, nice holidays, the luxury of bringing up their own children, yet they have little understanding of the pressures or demands of the job.   In a household with two careers, each partner must be willing to make sacrifices on his or her work front from time to time, to support their partner’s ambitions;  this support must not be a one way traffic.

Sharing a leisure interest helps too.  If one of you likes horse racing, riding and hunting and the other is terrified being on horseback, while this is not insurmountable, it is a definite handicap.

Willingness to establish the dominant family unit as being you, your partner and your children, and while hopefully retaining warm relations with the family units you both came from, recognising that you are now primarily  spouse and parent, and not child or sibling is important.   Your spouse should not just become a new member of your existing family but an equal partner in your own household.

Sometimes when you look at a marriage with pronounced tensions, you can see that one of the partners is very stable and steady;  that whatever happens they are going to stand in their place, and these marriages, while not indissoluble, are less likely to fall apart.

Persons having limited pre-marital experience of other partners can sometimes be a problem.   As people feel themselves getting older and their sexual powers waning, they may be overwhelmed with a sense that they did not experience enough;  that they wanted more variety or passion or excitement.   Wild oats however should definitely be sewn in one’s youth, when one can afford the  risk or endure the pain.   Wild oats are meant to be spent swiftly;  not conserved.

In later years, family life is a great pleasure.   Seeing and helping one’s children and their spouses set up home together, helping with their families, receiving their help and support in turn, doing these things the two of you together – these things are among the great pleasures of growing old.       The grown up children of marriages have pleasure in bringing their children into the family circle, and in being recognised as Mummy and Daddy in their turn.    Although the eventual death of a grandparent is a great loss, it is as nothing compared to the sorrows, anger and bitterness when one partner  abandons their spouse for  some unknown other and tramples upon and destroys the family citadel which the children of the marriage experienced as a protection for them, and assumed would be available as a place of comfort and safety for their children.   It’s difficult to understand why people fall apart at such a time.   There’s everything to lose and little to gain.   It’s rarely by mutual consent.  One party abandons the marriage and the other is devastated.

And there’s no magic answer either.   There’s no charm or talisman you can hold that will guarantee the survival of your marriage.   It is a dynamic exchange and it is forever vulnerable, even in its strength.

A good marriage is a bulwark against misfortune.   But it can never be taken for granted.   I’d like to close by saying, all you need is love, and certainly you cannot have a successful marriage without it.     But you need more than that.   You need to have an instinctive awareness of what you NEED – as opposed to what you think you want – when you make your choice.   You need the faith to wait until you meet the one for you, and not settle for a substitute.    You must also be able to see both the ordinary man with his hurts and his needs and his human limitations who will need your help; and that he is also the prince who comes riding (or that she is the queen of your heart.)   You need to be able to tolerate his faults.  (There’s no-one who doesn’t have some.)   When, occasionally, the going gets tough, you need generosity of spirit, to be able to forgive and set aside your hurts and count it all as nothing.   You need to appreciate his virtues and strengths and not take him for granted.    You must have the strength to stand your ground and the courage to advise him what he will not willingly hear.   You will need the flexibility to know when he is right and you are wrong and change your position gracefully.  You must remember that for everything you give to him, he gives to you in equal measure.    You should remember him as one of your blessings, every day.

When you reflect on all these things, it is amazing that so many marriages do survive.                                                                                                                                      

Finally, you need a little bit of luck.



The past week has been taken up with the buying and selling of cars.   We have decided I do not drive enough to justify a car to myself; taxis would be cheaper; and that we will share a car in future.   John of course has dealt with most of this.   My input has been largely confined to climbing in and out to see if I found access easy enough, and commenting if I liked the colour.

I’ve owned five cars in my life (not counting those I’ve shared with John.)   The first, when I was 19, was a Mini Traveller with moss growing in the wooden bits.    Then I had a blue Mini van.   After that I had a Vauxhall Chevette, and finally two Volkswagon Polos.   As you can see, my main interest in vehicles has been their reliability and usefulness.   I absolutely did not want a vehicle that drew attention to itself in any way.

I once got flagged down by the police in the early hours of the morning returning to my parents’ house.   This was on an empty and unlit stretch of road.   I slowed down, but I did not stop until I came to a stretch of road which was well-lit and had occupied houses.   I suppose the police were surprised when the driver of the vehicle was a young woman;  they demanded to know why I had not stopped immediately, but when I replied that the road was empty and unlit;  I did not know what they wanted, but I had slowed down so they could easily follow me to an occupied  stretch of road, they did not argue the point further.   They looked into the back of my van and saw a box shaped object and decided they would check it out.   What’s that, they asked, in the act of opening the rear door.   It’s a bee-hive, I answered.   The policeman did not open the door any wider.   Are there bees in it?  He asked.   Now I may  know little about cars but it  was clear he knew nothing about bees (apart from that they stung.)    Yes, I answered.   The hive was empty but no doubt there would have been the odd bee skulking about in it somewhere.    He seemed to lose all enthusiasm for searching the vehicle.   “You’d better get on home, miss.”   I nodded and as I went off, his colleague shouted after me, ‘It’s not safe driving about at this hour of the morning on your own!’    I refrained from observing that I’d met no danger apart from over-enthusiastic policemen.

When my car departed last week, I was surprised to find I felt a little sad.     I have driven and owned cars since I was 19 and regarded driving as one of the great pleasures of the 20th century.   I used to enjoy the power and aggression of John’s mightier cars.   Some spotty boy racer, seeing you were a woman, would rev up to his full power and overtake you.    After a day pushing prams and supervising toddlers, you’d smile to yourself, cause your engine to snarl a little, and leave him in a cloud of dust.

I drove with the children to Antwerp.   John met me at Calais (in his Belgian car.)   On the way I got set upon by some half wit, hater of women, or the British, or both, who kept passing me and then slowing down to near zero right in front of me.   Of course he didn’t know that I was accompanied by an avenging angel, who appeared apparently out of no-where and drove him off the road on to the hard shoulder!

I drove the girlfriends to France.

I once  drove from Strathpeffer to Livingston alone and without stopping and got a migraine as a result.

Men’s interest in cars has always been a subject of incomprehension to me.   Staying as his guest in Oxford after he had left Sussex, I was once talking to Jonathan Roberts about a mutual acquaintance.    ‘Does he drive a (… make of car)?’ asked he, trying to remember the person.   I of course had no idea, and I later related this conversation to John, remarking on how odd it was that someone would remember people by their cars.   “It’s not odd at all,” responded John.   “Anyway, that chap’s car wasn’t a —-;   he drove a —–.   Jonathan was remembering (an entirely different chap); he’s the one who drove the car he was thinking of.’     I retired, astounded, reflecting on the total mystery that is a man’s thinking process.

Someone conducting market research on what kind of car adverts appealed to women once asked Geraldine Lane and me if we would answer some questions.    I’d have declined, but Geraldine agreed before I could do so.  When I heard the subject of the research, I laughed and the man looked at me enquiringly.   “You’re going to be SO disappointed.”    So we gave him the ten minutes.   What cars did we own?   How much input did we have on the choice of the family’s main car?   What features were important to us in a vehicle?   And then, which adverts did we remember?   Yes, we remembered Nicole and Papa.   Yes, we recalled a car driving  through fires.   Yes, we knew the lion went from strength to strength.   Yes, we understood there was a car whose main attraction seemed to be its bottom.   But what WERE those particular cars?   We had NO idea.

So do I know what car we have purchased?   Well, yes I do.   It’s the same as the one we had before but a different colour.    I did notice it was a different colour.  It’s no good asking me any more about it.   That’s all I know.