Of ashes, memories, fresh food and boat cleaning

If there was ever an argument that might persuade me to move to the vicinity of Newmarket, it would be Southgate’s. I went there this morning to discuss Mother’s ashes. She died six years ago, and after the funeral, which we arranged with Southgate’s, she was cremated. The plan was to have my father’s ashes disinterred from the spot where they are buried, and which I think he would have thoroughly disliked, and mix and scatter his and Mother’s remains together.

In sitcoms, until the advent of Six Feet Under, undertakers were generally depicted as gloomy souls. At Albin’s, South London’s leading undertakers, the mood is upbeat, and when a colleague and I visited (for reasons I shan’t go into here) we had a wonderful time. We also learned that they watched Six Feet Under. I forgot to ask Luke at Southgate’s about the television programme, and I think now I should have asked him if he knew Albin’s, which like Southgate’s is a family firm.

He remembered Mother’s funeral, and Aunt’s; remembered that they came from Northern Ireland and we established that he has friends who live near to their birthplaces. But I was there to talk about the ashes. Or rather to collect them. Continue reading

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Soup Season

What is it about the end of the year and the start January which suggests soup? It’s not just me; my neighbour Jolita has also got the soup bug. At a guess, it goes back to childhood and Mother making meals from festive leftovers. To be fair, I don’t remember any soup, but I do remember a nut bread she made based on a recipe in a copy of Family Circle someone had passed to us. Is Family Circle still going? We weren’t a magazine taking family, though the Radio Times was taken weekly, and I was a big fan of the Dandy before I reached double figures, then it was Jackie and Fab208 as often as I could get them, with very occasional forages into Rave before I graduated to Honey. Nowadays it’s the Guardian and magazines from various organisations I belong to or charities I support. Favour, the magazine for supporters Hearing dogs of the Deaf doesn’t feature many soup recipes. But then neither did the Dandy.

That said, for me soup generally begins with what I have in the fridge rather than a recipe. And this week I had some celeriac that needed using, lots of tomatoes, and some nice white bread that was past its best. So Monday’s soup was a version of ribollita which worked surprisingly well. Motivated, I moved onto tomato soup, with a pound of tomatoes and some other veg I already had. I found a recipe which became the base for my soup, but to my surprise it didn’t include garlic. Surely some mistake? Easily rectified though, and thus emboldened I added half a tsp of ginger purée instead of the tomato purée I did not have. I love chilli, so after a slight hesitation I added a few flakes. Continue reading

Captain’s Log: Monday

Tomorrow, as well as being my birthday, is the fifth anniversary of Mother’s death. Clearing out some papers a couple of weeks ago I found a letter sent by a friend I have known since we were both five. She sent it just before Christmas 2013, and I imagine it must have been contained in a Christmas card. In the letter she commented on the fact that Mother’s death and my birthday happened on the same day, and remarked that for me this is a time of year when the space between heaven and earth will be particularly thin. It certainly feels like it today.

Although tomorrow is the anniversary of her death, today is the anniversary of the last time I saw Mother alive. And on and off today I have felt waves of emotion, reliving some of the memories of that day, and other memories of very different times. I’m sure part of the reason for this is that I am at das Boot where I stayed as she lay dying and for for several days afterwards, and also that I was with Older Nephew yesterday so family feelings got stirred up with the pair of us reminiscing about Mother’s wonderful baking repertoire. For the most part we had different favourites, but we were united in loving the marmite whirls she would make from scraps of left over savoury pastry. Heaven. Continue reading

Pictures to Follow

According to my Fitbit, a piece of technology I love more than I could have ever imagined, I walked around fifteen miles. Which means Celia did too, as we spent the day together. It’s not everyone who would be happy to spend my birthday walking in wind and occasional sunshine across the fens, but fortunately it’s not only poetry and dying mothers that has underpinned our friendship. I’m saying about, as Fitbit speaks metric, so it tells me I walked 26.16 km, and my conversion to imperial is approximate at the least.

We breakfasted on porridge and coffee. Celia normally has tea, so that might explain how even before the washing up was dry she’d broken the coffee pot and managed to move the pull-out table from its runners on one side. Mind, I am the person who threw the kitchen scales out of the galley window and into the mud at the base of the marina where they are doubtlessly puzzling the resident fish.

We set off before either of us could do by more damage, changing our shoes for walking boots, and clothed in several layers against the wind. As a first port of call we were heading for Wicken Fen, a nature reserve run by the National Trust. I went there once with Mother many years ago. We always meant to return but it didn’t happen. Celia and her mother had planned to go, but didn’t make it. So motherly ghosts came with us yesterday. Appropriate for me at least since Mother died on my birthday four years ago.

It’s hardly The Pennine Way. I am listening to Simon Armitage read his book, Walking Home, Travels With a Troubador on the Pennine Way, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys walking. With an hour of listening to go, he reads the sentence, ‘I walk therefore I am’; a feeling familiar to anyone who has enjoyed a spell of walking day after day no matter what the terrain. Actually I’d recommend it to a anyone, but maybe not listening to it on the bus as I started doing, as my snorts of laughter drew curious and worried glances from my fellow travellers. Whether they were members of the Communist Party I know not.

Regular readers of this page may recall that Celia and I have a track record for getting lost when we go walking. I was mildly concerned, though I hope it didn’t show, when Celia said she had forgotten her compass and her whistle. I was hoping it wasn’t going to come to that. Maybe she needed to redeem herself in her own eyes, anyway her map reading was exemplary and we reached Wicken Fen in time for lunch. I was hovering over whether to have a baked potato as well as the soup which sounded greenly delicious when the most heavenly cheesy smell filled the air. Home baked scones about to leave the oven. Decision made, and a severe setback for my progress towards becoming an egg eating vegan (sic).

I even photographed the lunch; it was that good. We went round the boardwalk after spending a long time in the very wonderful shop. Celia upgraded the OS map from the one I had onboard and which I believe belonged to Mother, to a new one with larger scale. There was a windmill, and misled by the Wicken flour for sale in the shop, we assumed it was used to grind grain. Not so, it drained the fens and allowed people to grow crops. In one hide a coup,e with strong binoculars some in whispers about birds they could see several miles away. I took a photo of the information board showing the great crested newt which made me think of Janh1 and Sabina. A modern windmill ironically keeping the fen moist to protect it as a wildlife habitat stood diagonally opposite the old mill. Continue reading

In Mother’s Footsteps

So here’s the plan: reach Birmingham by eleven, find the tourist information office for a map and find out how far away the hospital is; look for a (self) guided walking tour; visit the museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard; return London by the afternoon train.
Of course it may not work out like that. Maybe I’ll have jettisoned this plan by the time I leave the station, and instead allow my nose to lead me, and wander the city’s streets and squares.

My return to the Midlands just over a week since the sortie to Coventry is thanks to some special offers on trains which Viv of the book group circulated. I shan’t have a lot of time, hence the plan.

You might be thinking I am going to visit someone in hospital. No, I’m not. It’s the buildings I want to see; specifically the older buildings, the ones that were there on the 1940s when Mother arrived to take an entrance exam that would allow her to train as a nurse. I understand that part of the hospital was originally the workhouse, and that there is an archway, unlisted that is threatened with demolition. Maybe it has already gone.

We never visited Birmingham. Although Mother had many fond memories, I don’t know that she ever returned. The closest I have been is a ride around Spaghetti Junction enough route to somewhere I don’t recall when I was a teenager. Continue reading

Under the Same Sun

Westie Puppy is back in her Belfast home and thriving. MasterB has not been outside for two days. The birds are emptying one of the four feeders in the garden and ignoring the others.

Half past five tonight and it was still light. It is spring. The evidence is all around us in the shape of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses. New shoots pierce the earth. Trees are in blossom. Neighbours are turning the earth in their gardens and planting small purchases made at flower nurseries. I went out without my gloves.

Today is St David’s Day, 1st March, just over two weeks to go before Ersatz Paddies take to the streets wearing dubious hats and swearing allegiance to Guinness. When I was a child being Irish was unfashionable. Actually, it was more than unfashionable, it was social leprosy. I remained largely ignorant of this due to Mother’s relentless programming. My sister and I were brought up to believe our half-Irishness was a miraculous bonus, something of pride and joy. Similarly being the daughters of a working mother when girls we knew at school had mothers who mainly stayed at home. How I looked down on them. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

I was around twelve when the penny finally dropped that I was doubly socially inferior as far as many of my classmates and their parents were concerned. At Mother’s funeral one of my cousins, the one who the rest of us see as being fantastically and unaccountably right wing, queried my description of Mother as Irish. It’s how she described herself, I replied. Another cousin said Mother would have called Derry Londonderry. No she didn’t, I said, hearing Mother’s voice in my head saying she came from Co Derry.

A few years ago Cousin and I deposited our grandmother’s autograph book at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Much as we valued it, it seemed to have a significance beyond our family. It’s clear that my grandmother and her friends all considered themselves uncomplicatedly and proudly Irish. There are many patriotic entries for St Patrick’s Day; verses, pressed shamrocks, pen and ink drawings of harps. My grandmother signed the Ulster Covenant. Look online and you can find her name. I am guessing that post Partition she may have called herself British, but I don’t know. By then she was married and trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and increasing hardship, leading to her premature death in 1927. Continue reading

One Week On

This whole media access thing is very strange. I know I have comments on the blog, because I have had notifications via my ‘phone (battery how dead), but I cannot view them or answer them via my iPad because despite positive bars apparently the signal strength is insufficient. It was also insufficient last night when I posted via Blogsy, which is where I am typing now. Does Blogsy have some special deal with the internet? Why is it that nine times out of ten I can post from Blogsy but be unable to view anything else online? Not being technically savvy, these things bemuse and bother me.

Older Nephew came to das Boot today shortly after a text from Celia had alerted me to the fact that the Brexit narrative had again deviated from the expected path. This time it was the announcement that BoJo is not going to stand as a candidate to lead the Tories. Unable to face up to the crisis he has created, was Older Nephew’s opinion. I agree. Continue reading

She Ain’t Dead Yet

When Mother was ill in hospital she said she wanted to die. She said it again at various times when anxiety, fear and dementia overwhelmed her.

Listening to Aunt, what I hear is her desire to live. I told her today that I don’t think she’s dying now. She is someone with too firm a grip on life. Maybe that was why she sent me out to buy her some wafer thin ham and bread rolls. I confess I was surprised by this request, but not as surprised as the Specialist Nurse when I told her of my shopping list.

“Not for her,” she said. Her words were more a statement than a question. I skipped the bit about being vegetarian, and said, “Yes, for her. She says she’ll nibble them.”

The SN, so surprised she nearly forgot her professionalism, told me Aunt was amazing and that she astounded that she was still alive. I’ll leave you to sort out which she is which there. I am confident you’ll cope.

 

A similar tale with the Hospice Nurses who have been so used to being rejected by Aunt that they now just ‘drop in’ if they are near. “She’s a very determined lady,” they said. “Yes,” I said, thinking that if they had met the clan en masse it might have been an experience from which they would not have recovered.

Cousin and I have often said that Mother and her siblings, who of course include Cousin’s father, my Uncle Tommy, were a difficult bunch. One of my first school reports said I was determined to the point of defiance. Mother loved to quote it, I think she saw it as meaning I was cut from the same stone as she was.

But I have kept you waiting. Here are two photos of Aunt today. The first shows her looking very severe, though I think she was looking at photos of MasterB who she loves, which I had just put on her tablet. Though thinking about it, it may have been when she scrolled back to look at our various outings over two summers. When she saw the photo later, she looked at it in surprise. “I bet you didn’t think you could look so stern,” I said.

Stern Aunt

Stern Aunt

The second is marred by shadow, but the smile is there, so is the bruise on her head. I have tried to tell her that she has a global fandom, but I don’t think she’s taken it on board. Not sure how to progress that one.

Still Smiling

Still Smiling

We listened to Lemn Sissay on Desert Island Discs and she loved his voice. She gasped when he spoke about how his foster parents were told to consider the placement an adoption, and I should like her to hear it again, maybe in bits, and to hear her comments on his story.

No, she is most definitely still alive.

Kitchenless

I had lunch around five o’clock, courtesy of Celia who has furnished me with keys to her flat and given me the run of the kitchen.

The fitters arrived twenty heartstopping minutes late; traffic. I asked Danny to text me if they are delayed again. My nerves won’t take this. Mother was an inveterate worrier, a champion worrier, a worrier of awe-inspiring breadth and depth. Had there been an Olympic sport in worrying she would have brought home gold time and time again. I don’t think I’m in her league, at least I sincerely hope I am not, but something of her dedicating worrying seems to have rubbed off, and comes to light at times like these.


So once the fitters, Danny and his brother Nico, had arrived, I turned my worrying energy in the direction of the floor tiles; would they arrive early enough for Danny and Nico to lay them today? had the driver got Danny’s number if I was out?

Then when those two worries were allayed, I went onto tomorrow’s delivery. Then I had to put that worry aside when Danny pointed out, a trifle sourly I thought, that there was only one bag of tile adhesive. I had ordered two. A phone call to the suppliers (Tile Giant in case you’re interested) resulted in them admitting the fault but saying they couldn’t get another bag to us before tomorrow.

I am so glad I decided to take these days off and loiter while the work is being done. I made a mercy dash to the branch on the Old Kent Road – yes that’s the cheapest property on the London version of Monopoly and in my ‘hood’ as chaps and chapesses say these days – and brought home the goods. Thank goodness I am not living in the west coast of Scotland. On the other hand, if I were, I should probably be living in a larger property where I could have stored everything and so had the tiles, adhesive and grout delivered some days in advance of the project. Continue reading

A Walk in Kent, Part One

It all went very well until the lunch stop. The sun shone; the blackberries we intended to gather in the afternoon were abundant; the path was clear. Fab.

Two year ago, Celia and I did this same walk. In my mind at least, it is the Dead Mothers Walk, as for both of us it had been the summer when our mothers died, and this walk was our day away from normal life and its demands.

Roydon Hall, where once the Maharishi held sway, is still for sale, and had very tasty blackberries we could reach through the fence.

 Roydon Hall with Blackberries


Roydon Hall with Blackberries

Continue reading