The Arrival of Spring

In the short time I have been away winter has begun to recede and make way for spring. Walking Westie Boy the past couple of days my heart has lifted to see the snowdrops and crocuses in gardens and by the roadside, fat lambs in the fields and yellow gorse in the lanes. The days are noticeably longer, dwindling to soft greys and blues as the sun streaks the clouds with pink.


While I looked, Westie Boy sniffed. He may have missed the rabbit that hopped ahead of us, but his nose twitched at burrows, his head disappeared down the entrances to larger animals' abodes, and we had a difference of opinion about the wisdom of rolling in cow dung and fox poo.


Ewes lifted their faces as we passed, keeping a watchful eye. Their lambs, less wary, bounced about them, or nuzzled at their bellies. Farmers were making the most of the extra daylight, working in the fields. Once the elderly golden retriever at the bottom of the hill rushed out barking, but when we passed on later walks, he slept on on the porch step.

Continue reading

Of Cousins, Culture, Colds and My Cat

Crumbs, Friday already, just the weekend and then I fly home. Mind, I should be back in five weeks to enjoy a weekend of culture at the Heaney Homeplace with Cousin’s friend Ann. I have booked my flights this morning, and am texting and whatsapping to arrange cat care for my boy.

Last night we went to see Cousin’s brother, my cousin Tom, who has just retired as a church minister. He and his wife have their hands full packing up the contents of a house that has been home for some twenty years, finding somewhere new to live and visiting their eldest son daily in the hospital where he has been for nearly five months.

Tom was keen to offer me sets of books he will no longer have room for, or maybe I’d like the imposing and very fine sideboard his father thought would be perfect in a rectory. It wasn’t just the fact that the luggage allowance on Easyjet precludes such items that made my refusal more prompt than diplomatic; my own home is full to bursting.

The new house sounds promising, but it needs a lot of attention. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that the deal goes through quickly and the most disruptive work can be done before they move in. Retired Church of Ireland clergy do not get magnificent pensions, and this particular cleric has been giving his money to good causes for years.

So our talk ranged through family memories, Young Tom’s anticipated move to the Brain Injury Unit to begin his rehabilitation, removing polystyrene tiles from ceilings and the merits of plasterboard, whether their two cats may move to the country and live at Cousin’s while their dog (don’t stroke her, she may try to bite you) will move with them.

Continue reading

Back on the Bus to Belfast

Back on the bus to Belfast. It would be fun to continue in this alliterative way, but the people I'm meeting have names that begin with F and J.


Fiona, known to WordPress readers as Speccy, and I have met once before by the Europa bus station. That was a summer's day. It's February now, and chill winds whistle and find unprotected gaps in clothing, seeking out the spaces between glove and sleeve, sneaking down the back of a collar and testing the advertised thermal qualities of underwear.

Continue reading

Bench Mark

I met my cousin Russell today and we enjoyed a walk in the Surrey countryside not far from where we both grew up. It was fabulous. If we weren't related we probably shouldn't know each other, and that would be a loss inmy life. He is, I think, eight years younger than I am, supplanting me in my position as the youngest of the first cousins on my father's side of the family. His mother, my Aunt Madeleine, was the youngest of the four siblings, and always in my father's eyes young Madeleine.


We had a lot of family chat. Russell is the spit of his father Frank, and his son is spit of Russell, but there are moments when he says or does something, when he stops and looks with his head very slightly lowered, when he is my father to the life. As my Aunt Kath saw my father in gestures and expressions of mine, I am guessing that anyone watching us might have guessed our relationship.


The purpose, or perhaps that should be the stimulus, for the walk was my desire to see the bench Russell was commissioned to make that is installed on the Hurtwood on the Greensand Way. We walked through the morning, then just as my stomach was starting to rumble we reached the Hurtwood. And as we walked the short rise, there it was.

The weather, which up to this point had been kind, and bright enough to make me regret not bringing sunglasses, clouded over and the wind blew cold. I added an extra layer, then another. But the setting was wonderful. We looked out over a valley in the Surrey Hills. Russell produced a paintbrush to dust some if the sand away, and we sat down to eat our respective lunches.
A woman appeared in bright dress, Nordic walking and accompanied by a very lovely Labradoodle. It turned out the Labradoodle, Paddy, was not hers, but borrowed for her Friday walk.

Big Small World

Late again, and again no photographs, but I have to post tonight as it is my last night in Australia. This time tomorrow I shall be in Singapore. By Tuesday I shall have travelled back to the northern hemisphere and be heading home.

I struggle to believe I am on the opposite side of the globe to London. There have been so many similarities between here and home. It's the differences that catch you. Or at least they catch me. Growing up in a post imperial world, the idea of empire meant little to me. Sometimes there were references, usually ironic, to when the maps were red showing the extent of British Rule. It all seemed a very long time ago. Continue reading

Sunday Night

Cousin is watching a programme called Suits where the most commonly used line by any character is I don’t give a shit about…. If there were a swear box it would be getting quite full. As dialogue goes, I feel it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Do the script writers have these words on a clipboard and paste them in every few lines or so? I think I’ll stick with Shakespeare.

Night is falling and I plan to head off to bed soon. Tonight we have not been to the hospital so we are at home and the prospect of getting to sleep before midnight is deeply attractive. Westie Boy and I had another walk.

We have a deal: he can stick his head into rabbit holes so long as I can take photos. These are my favourite gate posts along the road. I must have photo graphed them dozens of times.

Quite a few of the pictures of hedgerow flowers I have tried to take have suffered from a sudden impatient tug by Westie Boy at the other end of the lead. Really he is not keeping to his part if the deal very well, maybe he resents the fact that I refuse to let him roll in the cow manure that patterns much of the road.

The Day the Music Died

Last night the incomparable Ian McMillan compered the TS Eliot Prize nominees reading their poems at the Royal Festival Hall. Since Celia introduced me to this wonderful event, it has been a fixture in my Januarys. Tonight the winner will be announced at the V&A. One of the poems was about the Day the Music Died, when the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were all killed in a 'plane crash.

It wasn't something that affected my life, as I wasn't that long out of the womb. Later I enjoyed Buddy Holly, who I always associate with Jimmy Ruffin as I was introduced to their music at the same time when my sister borrowed albums by both of them from a friend; and I have seen the musical twice, but he was always someone who spoke to a generation before mine.

Popular music provides the soundtracks to our lives, takes us back in an crotchet to places and times we had all but forgotten. The lyrics articulate our angst, our anger, our love, our hope. Never underestimate the power of popular music to glue your memories together, to create shared bonds with people.

Today the music died again. I heard about it via Instagram, and had an elongated 'this doesn't make sense' moment because only the other week I read an article about his new album, released just this weekend. It talked about him being reclusive, spending time with his young daughter in the privacy of their home. So the implication that David Bowie was dead didn't add up. Continue reading


My holidays in Northern Ireland generally include one or more pilgrimages to places of shared family interest. As a child, I spent many holidays in Upperlands with Cousin, her parents and her siblings. So off we went to meet Cousin’s big sister for a light lunch and a walk round the dams that powered the machinery at the linen factory which used to be the main local employer.

Water power

Water power

So we walk and we talk. We recall people and events from decades ago. Cousin tells how in a moment of rage with her now husband, she threw her engagement ring onto the path by one of the dams, then had to scrabble about to find it, rather ruining her grand gesture.

It’s a great place for swans. There’s an island where they nest, safe and unmolested. Each pair had at least five cygnets. It occurred to me that this would be a perfect bird sanctuary. I said this aloud, and was distressed to learn that the land has been bought by developers and so could one day be a gated community. And I don’t mean a prison. Continue reading

Airborne Reflections

The ‘plane home is full to capacity. Behind me as we complete boarding, and passengers wedge their hefty hand luggage into the overhead lockers, a father is explaining to his small daughter the card she has found titled ‘Safety On Board’ in the seat pocket .

The cabin crew are walking up and down, checking our seatbelts are fastened, and the captain has explained that the reason for our twenty minute delay is due to hold ups on the return trip to Barcelona the plane has made earlier in the day.

I wonder idly if the next duo of flights will also involve a destination beginning with the letter B. Brussels. Perhaps. Or Bordeaux, Birmingham or Bilbao.

Or maybe they will move along the alphabet; graduate to Cairo, Cadiz or Cologne.


Continue reading

Of Banking Mysteries, Swotting for Work, Memories of Mother, and a Happy Aunt

Back in London my local bank is being decommissioned. The letter I received explained that more and more people are turning to internet and telephone banking with the result that the footfall in branches has fallen. It suggested we could use the Post Office instead, or go to another branch some two miles away.

Goodbye NatWest

Goodbye NatWest

There are obviously a couple or three things wrong with that. A bank two miles away is a lot less convenient than one round the corner from where I live. But it also ignores the fact that this was the busiest branch of NatWest I have ever used. Absolutely no sign of reduced footfall there.

Bizarrely, other branches where there are acres of floor space and no queues stay open. I would guess that the author of the letter has never been in our local Post Office, where the queue often snakes out of the door.

I suspect it will be turned into a luxury block of flats. Everything else is.

I have quite a bit of work to do for jobs I accepted with gungho confidence, only to realise once committed that they are somewhat out of my sphere of knowledge. So some mega swotting required. The dusting will have to wait. Continue reading