Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Minor irritations.

Life is full of minor irritations. Here are two of mine from the last week. One: standing, freezing, with wet hair, in a car park after swimming, trying to work the ticket machine. It wants me to key in the last three digits of my car registration so it can calculate how long I've been there from the photo on its CCTV camera, but it doesn't recognise the first three digits and now wants the whole registration. The touch pad is infuriatingly over-sensitive and unresponsive by turns so that I keep keying in wrong letters and numbers and going back to delete them again, having to click between the numerals pad and the alphabet pad every time. And after all that it rejects my car reg completely, plus the code I've been given by the leisure centre for a reduction, saying neither are 'valid'. Finally it charges me 60p for one hour - very reasonable - but then swallows my two pound coin, as well as a good fifteen minutes of my life, without giving change, for either.

Two: taking great care to put groceries away tidily in my new, clean fridge, with a system, only to find when my back is turned Husband empties all the fruit and salad and veg, including an enormous bag of carrots, loose into the salad trays instead: "Because they will rot in that plastic otherwise" he says. "Not at the rate we use it all up," I reply, exasperated. Now every time I open the fridge I'm confronted by a riot of higgled-piggeldy produce and have to wade my way through to find what I want.

But none of this really matters, does it? Nothing really matters very much at all, except for family and health and being warm and dry and fed. I really have nothing to feel irritated about, my life is fine, more than fine. I know this at the time these minor irritations are occurring. I know this now, on reflection, and in particular I know this a day or two after these events when I am sitting in a huge, cold, packed church at the funeral of someone who took his own life.

There will be no minor irritations for him anymore, no major ones either, and also no spring, no summer, no autumn, no winter, no family, no health, no warm, no dry, no wet, no cold, no hungry, no fed. No Christmas, no birthdays, no holidays, no family landmarks; like seeing his own three children grow up, marry, have children of their own. There will be nothing. And for his family left behind there will be a lot: unimaginable pain and sorrow reverberating through the years and down through generations.

I came home from the funeral and I talked to my children about suicide. Not perhaps a subject many people are comfortable talking about with their children - with anyone - but I had also seen the Panorama programme on the subject of male suicide only a night or two before, and read articles in the paper about it recently, as I'm sure you have. 

Almost everyone I know has a story to tell. Husband's friend from home killed himself many years ago now, just before we got married. The elderly father of someone I know also took his own life. Both were men, and I have sons; sons who will day be men too. And suicide it is the biggest killer of young men in the UK. The statistics are shocking: 

* suicide is the most common cause of death in men under the age of 35. 

* 4.858 men killed themselves in 2013. 

* The suicide rate amongst men now is the highest it's been since 2001, 

* Three times that of women. 

* The use of anti-depressants has increased fivefold since 1991. 

* Today, around 13 men in the UK will kill themselves. 

* Today.

It is likely that someone has killed himself in the UK in the time it has taken me to write this blog. And I know that one mother, returning from one heart-wrenching funeral and talking to her three boys, and then blogging about it, will not make one iota of difference to that, to anything. But if, as they say, silence is a big part of the problem, the treatment of the whole subject as taboo, then my silence on the subject won't help either. 

No one knows what is happening in those final moments in the mind of someone who decides to take his own life. We can't be there, we can't leap in and alter the course of events, we can only look to those who are left behind, our brothers, sons, husbands, uncles, fathers and talk to them, and keep talking to them, and tell them how much they are loved and valued and hope and pray that they are never brought so low that they ever think it's the right answer. Because it's not.

Love E x


Here's a very moving piece in the Telegraph. I hope you're able to cut and paste it. If not look it up, from Feb 24th 2015.

I didn't know what picture to put with this so I used one of my evergreen Clematis at the top, the Avalanche. I think it's really beautiful.


Monday, 20 April 2015


Food. You can't live with it, you can't live without it. Sorry, that's wrong, you can live with it, you HAVE to live with it. The five of us go through mountains of the stuff. As a family we must be at Optimum Food Consumption with boys who are now 18, 16 and 12. Particularly since the 18 year-old is still living at home with us, working full-time during his gap year.

We never have enough potatoes, bread, juice, milk, kitchen roll or shower gel. Don't ask me why the latter two, that's just the way it is. I reckon they stand in the shower, tipping gel bottles upside down while scratching around their nether regions, or something. Either that or they drink the stuff because we never have enough juice. And they must grab whole handfuls of kitchen roll to wipe their hands/feet/noses/unmentionables/spillages when my back is turned.

And guess whose responsibility it is to keep us stocked up with it all? Oh yes, muggins here. The truth is I feel like a failure if we run out of things they particularly need/like/want. I am programmed, like some sort of demented mother blue tit, with a desperate desire to sate their every need.

You want smoked salmon to go in that bagel, darling? Of course. It's an oily fish. It's packed with Omega 3. The instinct to feed the boy a high protein, low fat, super food he is actually requesting virtually tears me from the sofa by itself, as if my feet have been pre-programmed to take my reluctant body with them straight round to Tesco Express. No matter that I am tired because said boy came in at 3 am and woke me up. No matter that smoked salmon costs a King's ransom and that when I mention having to get some to my mother on the phone, she shrills: "Smoked salmon? That's for Christmas!" And she has a point.

In truth I flit from Tesco to Sainsbury's to Lidl to Waitrose, depending on where I happen to be at the time, in a never-ending and fruitless quest to keep the cupboards stocked. One big shop a week on a Friday (in Waitrose) is supplemented by three or four smaller ones during the week (Tesco Express, Lidl, sometimes Sainsbury's). Plus Husband visits the farmers' market every Saturday on his bike to buy meat and eggs. 

I shop til I drop because I dread, DREAD I tell you, the moment one of my fledglings declares his desire for something I cannot supply, especially if that desire is a healthy one. 

At the moment I cannot keep enough plums in the house, or deodorant, or blueberries. Middle One has gone all fussy over breakfast since I substituted the white bread he was using for cheese toasties with half and half (half white, half wholemeal, because white is SO BAD for him). Now he will only eat breakfast if I make him some homemade blueberry sauce to go on his pancake (oh yes, Youngest has pancake EVERY morning because he is skinny and we are trying to build him up, have been trying, as it happens, for about four years). And Middle One must eat a proper breakfast at the moment because he is 16. 16! Work it out for yourself. Exam season looms. He must be at peak performance, race-horse ready.

Right, so I can't linger here blathering on, we need some little gem lettuce for a salad tonight to go with the chicken risotto I plan to make with yesterday's leftover roast chicken. And we've run out of kitchen roll. Again.

Love E x


P.S. And I know kitchen roll is not environmentally friendly and shopping in Waitrose makes us sound obnoxious. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Completely beside myself.

I have the zeal of the convert, the enthusiasm of the crusader, I am born again, bathed in the true light, or perhaps that should be the Paperwhite light? 

I never thought this could happen to me. I was a non-believer, an agnostic at best. I've always eschewed them, some of my best friends are Luddites, it took me years to throw out my leather-bound BBC Filofax, remember those? (But to be honest this was at least in part because I HAD a leather-bound BBC Filofax, from when I worked there millions of years ago). 

But now I have ripped it from its packet at last, from where it was languishing, rejected and unloved since Christmas when I rashly bought it as a present for Husband and it backfired spectacularly: "But you know I hate them, Elizabeth." I have appropriated it as my own, worked out how to use it, bought a book to read on it, read that book, and now I am completely in love with the Kindle. Sorry, the eReader (no branding here).

I know what I said. I know I said they are witchcraft. I know I said I like proper books: the feel of them, the smell of them, the swank of them. But you can't take proper books on holiday with you, can you? Not lots of them. You can't take a The Rough Guide to Herculaneum and Pompeii with you on the train from Sorrento alongside the novel you are currently reading and not have the combined weight of them in your handbag break your arm off as you walk around the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in Europe.

And there numerous other benefits I hadn't even thought of. I can turn up the font size so I don't need my reading glasses. I can continue reading my book even when the Captain says, "Crew, dim cabin lights for take-off".  I can instantly look up words I don't know the meaning of, like ithyphallic, (a prize to the lucky reader who can guess from this clue which book I am currently reading) and incidentally this is all very good news with regards to the book group of which I am currently a member, since recently I had been struggling to keep up with the reading.

This is in part because I had gone off reading books completely in favour of writing books and reading newspapers, which was in turn in no small part because reading books had become such a chore. And this, I now realise, was because of two critical factors: font size and availability. Sort out the font size, make the words HUGE, and it's a lot easier to read them even in the trickiest of conditions. Have the book with you at all times in your bag because it weighs next to nothing  and suddenly you can read it in places you wouldn't ordinarily have done so, like planes, trains and automobiles… or even downstairs.

I just read a book with a lot of fight scenes in it (this is not my usual choice of reading you understand, I was reading my brother's novel) and although I am sure lots of people LOVE books with fight scenes, they are not usually my cup of tea and with the Kindle I found I was able to read these bits quickly, the pages skimming by in a whirr of electronic characters at a speed my eyes and page-turning skills alone could not have managed. 

So now I have high hopes. I'm reading everything much faster. I really might be able to get that mountain of books on my bedside table despatched before next Christmas. I might even be able to get my book group book read in time for the next get-together, and even perhaps that novel a kind friend dropped through my letterbox some weeks back with a sweet note, which read: "the whole time I was reading this I was thinking of you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did." (How lovely!) 

The Kindle has opened my eyes to new possibilities. I honestly can't see a single thing wrong with it, except perhaps that I can't lend out books to friends anymore, but I never liked lending out books to friends anyway.

Now, where on earth has that charger gone?

E x


Saturday, 4 April 2015

A tripe sandwich.

"What I'm looking forward to more than anything" says the elderly American gentleman sitting at the next table,"is having a tripe sandwich." He delivers this very loudly, with his heavy New York drawl, as if sandwich is two very distinct words rather than one.

Middle One and I exchange glances. The guy sounds exactly like something out of Seinfield, which Middle One loves and which consequently I also know rather well. Every episode.

"You gotta go to Roma," he continues, "all roads round here lead to Roma." 

As you may have gathered we are on holiday in Italy, Sorrento to be exact, staying in a hotel on the cliff top. This is for a number of reasons:

1. We wanted to get away over Easter.

2. I love Italy and I book the holidays.

3. I have for some time been keen to see Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Day two and our guide up Versuvius, Raffaele, tells us it could erupt again at any moment. He says this as we are standing at the edge of the crater. Raffaele has a dark complexion, compact frame, wild curly hair, mad eyes. I can't emphasise enough about the eyes. 

He goes on to tell us that his wife is so terrifying she could kill a shark. If the volcano erupts they will move to Australia, he says, where his wife will swim in the sea and despatch any shark who dares to swim near her.  Middle One and I exchange glances.

Perhaps breathing volcanic fumes all day has done something to his sanity? Or perhaps telling tourists the exact same thing all day, every day has scrambled his brain? Or perhaps he was mad in the first place? Either way Raffaele is plainly bonkers and gives us something to talk about later.

On Capri we escape the crowds in the main square by heading up a steep covered lane which wends its way out of town, right across the island to the opposite side where we suddenly find ourselves alone, standing on a high platform, surrounded by cliffs on all side, staring out to sea. It's spectacular. 

"The Emperor Tiberius lived on Capri" I say, as the wind whips around us and howls through the trees. "He got up to all sorts. He had lovers he'd grown tired of thrown from the cliffs, possibly these very ones."

Husband looks at me warily.

"Nice," says Middle One.

In Pompeii we visit the stunning Villa Mysteri where we come across one of the calcified bodies for which Pompeii is so famous. It still has teeth. You can clearly see the open mouth of the person who died in agony two thousand years ago. Possibly he lived in this beautiful villa. Certainly he strolled this stunning land, nestled between rolling mountains and azure sea. The Bay of Naples is a beautiful place, I think, but it is the people here, both past and present, that make it so fascinating.

That evening, back at the hotel, the loud American is heading for the lift. "Over the counter drugs!" he shouts to his companions. "Take some and I guarantee you'll sleep all night. Don't come to me in the morning telling me you had a bad night's sleep if you had over the counter drugs: antihistamine. You'll sleep all night. That's guaranteed." 

Love E x 


P.S. After writing this yesterday we visited Herculaneum. It was absolutely incredible. If you ever get the chance, go. It is a perfect little Roman town sitting where the archeologists found it, in a huge hole in the ground. You are able to clearly see where the town originally met the shore line and where many of its inhabitants sheltered from the volcano in cellars and sadly perished. Their skeletons are still there.