Angela’s Ashes

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Mother’s funeral, but it was someone else’s death I was remembering last night, Angela’s.

Over the weekend I received a message to say her ashes were to be scattered on Monday evening in the churchyard of Old St Pancras church, the church where her memorial was held. At that memorial friends and colleagues read a selection of poems by Angela. Last night, Nicola, who now teaches voice, and who taught drama and English back in the day when she, Angela and I worked together, had been asked by Rob, Angela’s husband, to read two poems while the ashes, with I hope Angela’s generous spirit, were released into the air.

Before Nicola arrived, Rob, an actor, and now a frail elderly man walking with the aid of two sticks, and very slowly, announced he would sing a song to Angela. It was My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. We stood in the shade of the Hardy tree while his cracked voice rang out, and we knew he felt the pain of her loss as keenly now as when she died. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having suddenly blurred vision.IMG_3923

The Hardy tree is named after Thomas Hardy who had the task of clearing the headstones of the graveyard, and now they are grouped around the tree which has grown into them and joined them in a mutual embrace. Continue reading

Unconditional Love

I spent yesterday with Nephew, his partner and their baby. We walked and talked and ate, cooed over the baby, talked about dogs we’d like to have, cooed over the baby again, talked about love. The usual. Quite a lot of people talk about their pets giving them unconditional love as though that is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s definitely wonderful, but I should hope that the humans getting a pet are also giving unconditional love, and that parents would not have children with the love conditional on their exam results/looks/sporting achievement or whatever.

Among some papers I was sorting last week I found this photograph. Continue reading

First Anniversary

This Saturday will be the 14th January. I understand that on the other side of the pond the floss-haired one will be inaugurated as President of the United States, something that strikes me as a being a joke too far, as well as being a jolly disrespectful thing to do on the first anniversary of Aunt’s death.

Or so I thought, but Lyn has just emailed me to say it’s the 20th, not 14th, so goodness knows where I got that idea from.


Auntie Mary october 2015

Auntie Mary October 2015

I meet quite a few Americans through my work. I have yet to meet one who says (confesses?) s/he voted for Trump, which may be significant in itself as I am meeting those who travel away from their home country, and I know a large number of US citizens never acquire or use passports.

A woman today, I’ll call her Jane, told me she is returning on Saturday, and marching on Sunday as a Nasty Woman who is not going to be quiet. She won’t be alone; just her party comprises two busloads of similarly nasty women. She cheered my heart. Continue reading

Square Eyes

After a day spent staring at a screen as I start on my tax return, an unispiring experience where I am shocked at how little I earn, this evening I have turned to the slighter larger screen in the corner of the sitting room. It’s been mainly Channel 4; the news, the Paralympics, The Last Leg, shortly the Paralympics again and I’ll be watching until Ellie Simmonds races just after 11.30. But I had a bit of a break on ITV remembering how much I loved Cold Feet all those years ago, and finding that this return series is again reeling me in.

I didn’t watch the first episode last week. Call me a coward, but I didn’t want all those wonderful memories spoiled by a crass revival. However the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, so tonight I decided to give it a whirl. It is rather wonderful to find that your memories are not rose-tinted, that the writing is tight and the performances warm and convincing. Hermione Wotsit (not her real name, but I can’t think of it at the minute) is great as the buttoned up Karen, now estranged from her husband David, played by Robert Bathhurst as an overgrown prep schoolboy who functions well in high finance but badly everywhere else. Born into a different class he’d could have been Arthur Daley. Widowed Adam has a new much younger wife, who despite the misgivings of his old friends turns out to be a good sort. Pete is crumbling into depression, struggling to make a living and working as a cabby and a carer. His client is a crabby James Bolam, obviously enjoying himself in his role. At the rate I am acquiring TV programmes I want to watch, going to Australia is going to be a bit of a wrench. Continue reading

Out of Reach

It's a rule of fruit picking that the best fruit is either too high or protected by nettles and brambles. Still, it's that time of year when the blackberries are ripening and high on my list for this morning was to go a-gathering in Reach.

I've written about Reach before. It's a village near das Boot with a perfect pub and a perfect organic farm. Most of my blackberry gathering over the last four summers has taken place there. Not all the berries were ripe. Some were still at the flowering stage, so should I get back within the next month or so there's a good chance I shall get a second crop.

Continue reading

Weekend plans

Friday already. The days are flying by. Staying with Cousin is like stepping into a life I know but do not usually live. I catch up with her friends, her children, the dogs, her in-laws, our shared family.

Walking Westie Boy yesterday I met her neighbour Julie. “How long are you home for?” she asked. Home is a loaded word, and I am not sure I could ever live here. Apparently I am an Irish citizen by right and birth, but I am English in my core. It is England that has raised me nurtured me, made me who I am. Mostly. Because in England I am aware that under my Home Counties accent lies another self, my half-Irish self, complicated by it being a Northern Irish, Protestant self, which to some means a non identity, a non country.

Which I find odd; because my English self is descended from immigrants from both Germany and France, and maybe elsewhere that I don’t know about. Why is it that your claim to nationality in one country should depend on ancestors rooted there for millennia and in another by your ancestors desire to belong to that country?

After Mother died I donated her mother’s autograph book to the Ulster Linen Library. The entries were from before her marriage. Around 17th March many were signed by friends describing themselves as proudly Irish. There were carefully inked harps and shamrocks; poems about Ireland; love of country written in flowing copperplate. A few years later those same people presumably described themselves, post partition, as British. Nationality is a strange creature. Continue reading

Of Rio, Television Sets, and Family Heirlooms

On Channel 4, whose news programme at seven in the evening is required watching chez IsobelandCat, they are starting to trail the Rio Paralympics. Can it really be four years since the blissful summer that was London 2012? Impossible. Yet maybe it’s not so bad as four years on I can still feel that thrill, that joy that marked the occasion. Seeing the footage again gives me a tingle of excitement about Rio.

Maybe this time round I’ll be able to watch the Olympics and the Paralympics from the comfort of the sofa. My postage stamp sized television is about to be supplanted by one I have inherited from Aunt. In 2012, when Jessica Ennis won gold I was up close and personal in front of the screen. It was the same when I watched David Weir, the *weirwolf*, net his three gold medals. And Hannah Cockcroft, Mo Farah and all those other amazing athletes.

It’s appropriate I have Aunt’s television as I bought her her previous one. I don’t remember ever buying shampoo for her, but that is a large part of what I have inherited too. She left all her money to the church, leaving some aside for the substantial refreshments and the cost of her funeral. While she was still alive, knowing that we would be the ones to clear her home, she said that Linda and I should take whatever we wanted or could use. Most stuff is going to a charity that works with homeless people but which also has a connection with a centre collecting things for refugees. Aunt’s clothes are going to keep women in the Calais *jungle* warm. Her fortified foods will hopefully help those suffering from malnutrition, and her stocks of gluten free food will mean some of her fellow sufferers of coeliac disease living in precarious circumstances may get the right diet. Continue reading


What is it about a journey that makes me emotional? Driving up from London, I was, for fairly obvious reasons, thinking about Aunt quite a lot. Ten miles from her home, I began to feel tearful; two villages away from my destination I was weeping. Stopping to buy eggs, I took deep breaths before resuming the road. Only too clearly I could imagine her flat; going in, expecting to see her, her no longer there. I have come east three times to dead or dying relatives. The roads are dense with memories.

As it was, having MasterB with me made my arrival easier as I had to make sure he was alright, and that got me over the threshold and inside. And of course Aunt wasn’t there. But her bed was, just as when she last went to sleep in it.

Dismantling someone’s home after his or her death is a curious thing. In some ways it is very intimate, and there have been moments when I have felt that I am doing something sacrilegious, or least boorishly intrusive. But it has to be done. Continue reading

Number Not Recognised

This morning I was playing with MasterB and thinking I should call Aunt. These are the hiccough moments. Since she has been too weak to attend her church I have often called her on a Sunday morning. Later in the day I am competing with visitors and the daily ‘phone call with Uncle Bill.

So, a bit of adjustment. MasterB of course doesn’t know she is dead, but he did know Aunt who loved him. He was very relaxed and trusting with her. They met shortly after I got him, and each time he saw her after that he wound himself about her, rubbing his face against her, and making himself at home in her home.

At home

At home

I started to make the Ginger Ninja calendars for Aunt. The first year there may have been just the one. Maybe a second for my Aunt Nessa. I don’t remember now. Six months of Cat, six months of MasterB. Cat and Aunt had a special relationship. I’d say he exploited her good nature. Certainly he recognised her as someone who would give him attention and listen to him. Continue reading

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