Posted in Family, Personal life

For Father’s Day: A Voyage Around My Father’s Talents

Laura and Grandpa on the beach writing in the sand
Laura with my dad on the beach at Mousehole

On Father’s Day today, seeing so many people remembering their late fathers on Facebook reminded me just how lucky I am to have reached my age and still be able to share this special day with mine. 

How lucky my daughter is, too, to be able to spend so much time with her grandfather, especially as I was 43 when she was born. Living just 20 miles away from my parents, she’s been able to build a close bond with them that will always be a part of her and who she is.

One of the many things that Laura has learned from my father is to paint beautiful pictures. They’ve both inherited my grandfather’s artistic talents. Here are two pictures that I treasure, which grace a corner of our living room – my dad’s garden by Laura and our garden by my dad:

Grandpa's garden by Laura
Grandpa’s garden by Laura (aged 7)
Grandpa's painting of Laura's garden
Laura’s garden by Grandpa (aged 70+)

My dad’s love of music has also filtered down to her. Here’s a music stand that he made for Laura when she started flute lessons:

Music stand made by Grandpa for Laura
In the background is the piano from my dad’s childhool home

He’s made many extraordinary pieces for me too, over the years, perhaps the most remarkable being this pewble:

Wooden pewble made by my dad
Is it a pew? Is it a table? No, it’s a pewble!

He even made an information panel, as you find in so many National Trust properties, giving curious visitors the history of this unusual piece of furniture.

Actually, that’s just a bit of fun – the pewble is entirely his own invention, created to make a virtue out of the uneven floor in my kitchen. It’s a cross between a pew and a table, the table behind the pew serving as a worktop. The table has longer legs than the the bench, to accommodate the steps. How cool is that?

Above the pewble is the stained glass panel my dad made to replace the old larder window that was broken when I bought the house:

Stained glass larder window
The window between the walk-in larder and the kitchen

With 18 separate panes of glass, it has the same proportions as the original. My dad etched it with the date that my first husband and I moved into this house. After John’s death, I remarried, so my father added a new inscription with the wedding date. Never let it be said that my dad isn’t even-handed.

A further celebration of my second marriage is the gorgeous calligraphy my dad made of the song sung at my wedding by my cousin Sarah (who also carries our grandpa’s musical genes):

Robert Burns calligraphy by my dad
Yes, he painted the rose as well

Now, stop me if I’m boasting, but I haven’t even mentioned the rocking horse yet, lovingly carved over many months as an early gift for Laura when she was barely big enough to sit on it. It now takes pride of place in our sitting room and is very popular with Laura’s visiting friends.

Laura's rocking horse
Stabled in our sitting room

I’m very, very lucky to have such a gifted, focused and productive father to make such beautiful things for my house. But that’s not the point of this post. What matters isn’t the beauty of these things – their good looks are just a bonus. What matters most is who made them and that he made them for me and my family. Whenever I look at any of these artefacts – painting, calligraphy, pewble, window, rocking horse – what I see most of all is a manifestation of my father’s love. Now that really is something to boast about.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


Another post about my father, written for his 80th birthday last year: In Praise of Pine Cones – and Grandpa

And in the interests of balance, a post inspired by my mum: The Scent of A Mummy

Posted in Family

There’s No Time Like The Present……. (My 2013 Birthday Post)

My new millefiori watch
And at the third stroke, the time will be: forget-me-not past daisy.

When this year’s birthday presents remind me of the passage of time, the irony is not lost on me. Who wants to contemplate their own mortality on a day that brings them closer to it? Oh yes, I know that every day does that really – but not with the same dramatic impact as a birthday.

Unwrapping boxed DVD sets of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games makes me realise with a jolt that although these events were still in the distant future when I celebrated my previous birthday, now they are simply history. For future generations, unable to say “I was there when Mo Farah took his double gold!”, they will be the  stuff of legend. Just as for me, the end of World War II is defined by snapshots of crowds rejoicing in Piccadilly Circus and a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, for my descendants, the 2012 Games will be defined by shots of Mo Farah’s astonishment as he crosses the finishing line to take gold (twice) and by soundbites of  Chad Le Clos‘s ecstatic father celebrating the young swimmer’s victory.

DVD Boxed Set of London 2012 Olympic Games from the BBC
History, captured and put in a box.

Fastening around my wrist the hyacinth blue strap of my beautiful new watch bordered with Venetian millefiore glass, I mentally award top marks to my parents for their psychic powers. I’d never mentioned to them that I’ve had my eye on this watch in the Museum Selection catalogue for several seasons. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re so closely attuned to my tastes, when they’ve known me longer than anyone else has. For a moment, I gaze at the secondhand ticking round from one tiny glass flower to the next. It’s like some sort of ancient rural device for telling when it’s milking time. And then I think: there goes another minute of my life that won’t come again. Better stop clock watching and make the most of it. As I’ve said before (and I hope I’ll say many times again), “Seize the (birth)day!”

L'Occitane bottle of Elxiir of Youth
And they said it didn’t exist…

But later that evening, I stop worrying. Rummaging in the bathroom for a new bottle of nightcream (yes, I’m now old enough to qualify for nightcream), my hand alights upon a small, blue Occitane bottle that may have the answer to my prayers. It’s an elixir of immortality, according to the label, at least for the face and neck. I wonder what would happen if I splashed it on all over? I think I’m going to need a bigger bottle.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Seize the Birthday And Celebrate Yourself! (2012 birthday post)

Birthday Thoughts and Diabetes (2010 birthday post)

Posted in Family, Personal life

My New Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

English: New Year's Resolutions postcard
Gosh, what a list to remember – no wonder the Bishop had to write it down (New Year Postcard – Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love new beginnings. I love the opportunity they bring for replacing bad habits with good ones. I feel just as excited about the approach of New Year as I do about Christmas. Because for me, New Year’s Eve is inextricably linked with making New Year’s Resolutions.

That’s not the only time that I look forward to making resolutions. With the single-mindedness of a heat-seeking missile, I find other opportunities to contemplate reform all year round: the beginning of each school term, the summer solstice, the spring and autumn equinoxes.  My birthday on 18th January is perfectly timed to jump-start any stalled New Year’s resolutions before I’ve had time to forget what they were.

If I still find myself in need of prompts to change, I can always fall back on that old mantra beloved by the manufacturers of fridge magnets and bookmarks:

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

But there is such a thing as trying too hard. We could probably all come up with a huge list of things we’d like to change about ourselves: lose weight, get more exercise, eat better, drink less, keep the house/car/offspring cleaner/tidier,  keep on top of the gardening/ironing/housework, read more books/better books/less trash.

When Did Your New Year’s Resolution Last All Year?

One of the the reasons these things crop up every year on most people’s lists is that every year they fail. I can’t remember anyone ever telling me on New Year’s Eve that they’ve had to find a new resolution because they’ve kept the one they made last year.

So for 2013,  I’m going to make just one New Year’s Resolution. That way, I reckon I’ll have a greater chance of success. By choosing this resolution very carefully, I’ve stumbled on a great strategy. If I manage to keep this one, I reckon I’ll end up reforming in lots of other ways without even trying. What is this powerful resolution? It is TO GET MORE SLEEP.

Lately, I’ve got into the bad habit of burning the midnight oil. I lead a very busy lifestyle: I go out to work, I run my own business, I have family commitments including school and PTA volunteering, I’m the trustee of a local diabetes-related charity, I blog, I write books. Sometimes the only way I can come close to doing everything I need to do is to cut down on my sleep.

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. Fran...
“The lady’s not for sleeping.”  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who Needs Sleep Anyway?

Unfortunately, I’m no Margaret Thatcher. No, hang on, make that fortunately. What I mean is, I need more than the four hours of sleep per night on which our former Prime Minister governed the country. (Well, that explains a lot.) To be fully functional, I need at least 8 hours in winter and 7 hours in summer. Don’t ask me why there’s a difference but there very definitely is. When sleep-deprived, I do everything less well/less frequently/less enthusiastically/late.

An Ingenious (Re)Solution

My theory is that if I focus on getting my full quota of sleep, everything else about me will improve. I’ll be much more likely to have the energy to cook meals from scratch instead of resorting to ready-meals. With more physical energy, I’ll be more likely to go for a run. With my wits fully about me, I’ll be more productive and focused in my work. Rising earlier, fresher, in the morning, I’ll be less likely to be late for work. Going to bed earlier, I’ll find  more time to read in bed: that ‘to-read’ pile will diminish in no time.. It may seem counter-intuitive to get more done by doing nothing, i.e. sleeping, but I truly believe it could work.

So if in 2013, you see me taking forty winks at my desk or nodding off in School Assembly,  please don’t wake me up. I’d hate to break my New Year’s Resolution.

Happy New Year!

What’s your attitude to New Year’s Resolutions? Do tell!

Posted in Family, Personal life

Meeting Our (Rugby) Match Provides A Family Outing

Rugby match viewed from our stands. I'd rather we'd been able to view it from our seats.
Somehow the pitch looked smaller and squarer than I’d expected

Recently I did something I’ve never done before: I watched my first live rugby match. Actually, forget the live – it was my first rugby match of any kind.

A city centre stadium would not normally lure me away from our cottage fireside on a chilly Sunday afternoon, but I was subject to a force of nature: Hurricane Laura, aka my nine-year-old daughter.

Laura had been taking part in a tag rugby course at school, run by an outreach coach from Bristol Rugby Club. Always keen to try a new sport, Laura threw herself into the game in a style all of her own. Rather than jostling  competitively with the other children, she trotted round picking up the tags as they were dropped, politely handing them back to the players who’d lost them. She does like things to be tidy.

At the end of the course, the Rugby Club kindly gave a free match ticket to every child who had taken part. Ah, those outreach folk are smart: how many junior school children are likely to go to a rugby match unaccompanied? Consequently every child’s family had to buy at least one adult ticket. As the match fell on a Sunday afternoon, when most families like to do something together, most of the rugby-playing children had more than one parent in tow. One little girl even took her grandparents and baby brother too.

Photo of Gordon doing his puzzle during the rubgy
This is Daddy watching the rugby. Not.

And so it was that on Sunday afternoon, with woolly hats, thermos flask and gritted teeth, we dutifully took our place in the stands. (Stands? What’s that about? Why not seats? I thought rugby was meant to be a civilised game.) Our spirits lifted a little when we spotted the stadium’s cafe selling piping hot pasties. Well, rugby does burn off a lot of calories. But to my surprise, I soon found myself distracted from my pasty by the game. This I did not expect.

As the match got under way, I discovered that it was like watching ballet without music, in which all the ballet dancers are on 6,000 calories a day. Although the players had legs like tree trunks and the physical resilience of a tank, they had real balletic grace. As they surged across the pitch, entirely focused on seizing the ball, their raw power reminded me of lions hunting gazelles on an African plain. Actually, it was more like lions hunting lions. I especially liked it when, for some reason I did not understand, a smaller player was pitched up above the scrum, half leaping, half hurled into the air. The only damper on my enjoyment was worrying about whether they’d hurt themselves.

Laura and friends engrossed in a sticker book
Laura (with colourful hairtie) and friends busy watching the, er, rugby.

By half time, my grasp of the rules was still slim. It was a breakthrough moment when I realised that the total on the right of the scoreboard was not the second team’s score but the number of minutes that had been played. No wonder the team I’d thought was losing was looking so cheerful.

As the game drew to a close, I looked down at my daughter. She had spent the first half playing on the steps with her friends, before sharing a portion of chips with them at the interval. For the whole of the second half, she had been completely engrossed in a sticker book, neatly dressing up dolls in foreign costumes. The closest she’d come to watching the match was getting the autograph of a man in a bear costume serving as the home team’s mascot.

But never mind, I think she got her money’s worth for her ticket.

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser (December 2012/January 2013).

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other ones about my daughter’s attitude to sports:

Keeping Up With My Sporty Daughter        Mermaids, Magic and Medals     

2020 Vision: Predicting the Future for Hawkesbury’s Sporting Children

Posted in Family, Personal life

We Really Do Not Need Another Reindeer

Plastic toy reindeer from Bristol Zoo
Monarch of the Toybox)

With Christmas still a month away, I’ve been resisting my daughter’s requests to put up our decorations this weekend.  

The festive season doesn’t start until December,  I tell her. No matter how many “Buy One Get One Free” or “3 for 2” offers we see, now is not the time to buy  crackers, tinsel or wrapping paper,

In any case, we already have lots of Christmas decorations stashed away in the cellar. Once we’ve turned our kitchen calendar to its final page, I will bring them back upstairs. When I do, there will be plenty to go around.

Then, at the zoo today, she suggests we buy a plastic reindeer. We really do not need another reindeer. There are whole herds of them in this house, in various shapes and forms. We have more reindeer than Santa:

  • a large cuddly one with light-up antlers the colour of traffic lights
  • a small plush that looks like it’s leapt out of a Babycham advert
  • a Playmobil team of reindeer, complete with sleigh and Santa
  • a bristly creature made of bundles of sticks
  • a family of small straw reindeer that stowed away in our IKEA trolley

How many reindeer does a girl need, for goodness sake?

But then again, for how many more Christmases will my only child be treasuring these childhood trappings of Christmas?

This morning she had a playdate with a friend. Together they retreated to the playroom and all fell uncharacteristically quiet. I asked her afterwards what games they had been playing.

“Oh, we didn’t really play,” she replied vaguely. “We just sat around and talked for a long time. And we flicked through the Argos book to look at Christmas presents. She’s getting an iPod touch.”

Comet the Reindeer with light-up antlers
Comet, the only reindeer whose antlers light up and flash

With a twinge of melancholy, I recognised that this will be her last Christmas in single figures. Then we’ll be on a slippery slope to the teenage years, when her wish-list is more likely to be clothes and make-up rather than cuddly toys and games. Playdates will be supplanted by sessions experimenting with make-up and biro tattoos of boys’ initials.

That is of course as it should be. If she’s still requesting cuddly toys when she’s fifteen, I shall be worried. But I’m in no hurry.

And so on this afternoon’s trip to the zoo, I find myself positively encouraging her to bring home yet another a small plastic reindeer.

After all, it is nearly Christmas.


If you liked that post, you might like this one about My Best Childhood Christmas Memories.