Monday, October 25, 2010

Jambo

My beautiful cat died this morning. He was 13 and we have had him since the day we returned from our honeymoon.

He has been declining recently but in the last two days it was clear that it was the end. He didn't eat, barely drank and by last night could move only one or two steps. I sat with him this morning - he was lying outstretched on the carpet exactly where we had left him last night. As I stroked him and felt his breathing become shallower he responded to my touch, almost purring but with hardly any voice and moving imperceptibly towards my hand. All around me the normal morning chaos of half term - Stan on a computer and Raff creating Lego brilliance. G is the most outwardly affected, but Raff in his wonderful sensitive way wanted to be the person to tell Stan, and now he is writing a poem to honour him.

I am lucky that I have never before watched the life go out of a sentient creature and I was unsure how it would be. I did not call the children to witness it and I am glad, because after he had stopped breathing his hind legs stretched out, twitched and relaxed as did his front paws and there were other movements which were just the last electric pulses passing through muscles which would have confused them.

Jambo was memorable for his panther-ness; extraordinary size and deep black glossy coat, and his voice and I keep thinking I can hear him yowling in his half Siamese way. In fact it was one long yowl that brought me to him this morning. I will miss him in the silence, even though as my friend and I agreed this afternoon there were days when his constant 'conversation' was wearing and we would squirt water at him. He would react by grumbling, squeezing his bulk out through his cat flap and sauntering all the way down the garden, muttering curses as he went. Most of all I will miss the way he would wake me by patting me with the utmost care on the nose or eyelids, claws completely retracted, entreating me to rub his head before settling down, often next to me on the pillow and purring like an engine next to my ear.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Year in the Life of Faversham

This year I managed to get about 12 pictures into the final exhibition and rather excitingly I won the public vote for which I get a prize (don't know what!?) on Tuesday. And I even sold a print on the back of it, so all round quite chuffed.
The picture appeared here first

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rather late blog about our hols

We left Kent in a blaze of sunshine, I managed a lovely evening swim at Seasalter the night before we went and vowed to do much more of that when we came back. Unfortunately when we got home 2 and half weeks later (at the beginning of August dear readers) autumn had arrived. So I think I have been in a slump since then and couldn't face writing. But the in between bit, the 2 and half weeks in Noirmoutier was a lovely holiday with as much nothingness as we all needed and a lot of sun, sea, oysters, wine and reading.

We went to Noirmoutier again as we seem to have found a formula that works for all of us - tent practically on the beach, campsite with no frills except for their wonderful canvas tents, with fridges! Our days were slow to start, we always seemed to be washing up breakfast as the grand dames were prepping their lunch. This time Michael and I treated ourselves to bikes for a week which meant I could ride into town for the morning bread.


I treasured that trip - a moment of solitude to start the day and to go at my own speed. I passed this pretty house in the old town each morning and would like to have a go at painting it one of these days.

And we had a lovely trip to a favourite beach Le Danse Rouge - where all the super-posh houses and yachts are. The boys and I all got our sketch books out and georgia added to our haul of seaglass.



One great trip across to the other side of the island on our bikes took us to the dunes at L'Epine. The Atlantic coast is very different from where we stay, wilder but beautiful and the beaches are deserted.




Stan Canute We had two trips over here and if we go again I would like to stay on this side of the island for a day or two. The sea seemed warmer which it can't really have been but I swam out a good couple of hundred metres and it's far deeper that side. One of the other things I always manage on these holidays is a daily swim- up to a kilometre each time - it's always hard to get in but I manage it and then never really want to get out! The first year we went I gave everyone a fright by swimming out and then vanishing in amongst the boats at anchor, but now I can be gone for ages and ages - and it's so peaceful.

This year we decided to take longer coming back. Previously we have packed up our tent - the cleaning and tidying taking the sheen off the relaxation, then all piled into car and belted back, arriving home the next day aand then going straight back to work .... a good way to induce the post-holiday blues! This time we drove east along the Loire valley over 2 days, stopping at various wineries, tasting and buying. The valley is stunning, with the wide fertile plains edged by high limestone cliffs in to which are set houses, castles and the caves where the wine is stored.
After Tours we headed north to Amiens where we stayed in the centre of the city a short walk from the cathedral in a very typical French hotel, narrow stairs leading up to assorted rooms - pretty basic but so much more characterful than the cheapo Hotel F1 we normally afford on the outskirts. The main reason for going to Amiens was my long held desire to visit the Hortillonnages unique ' floating' smallholdings and allotments that stretch - over 300 hectares -but only 25 are cultivated.
They were rescued in the 1970's from a proposed bypass and are now looked after by the Friends of the Hortillonages. They are not really floating , but are cut through with narrow canals called "rieux" and channels, so the only way to get from one to the other is by boat. The Friends association run trips around the gardens in the traditional boats called 'barque a cornet' which are like punts with small electric motors.

The banks and edges of the gardens are extremely fragile and so all boat traffic must be slow and not leave a wake.

We also visited Jules Verne's house which is a stunning art deco piece and of course Raff loved all of the pictures and imagery.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Race for Life


Georgia and I ran the Race for Life with our friends Amanda, Polly and Celeste last Sunday in Margate. With very little training the ladies managed a respectable time of 33 mins - now the Faversham 10K seems a disctinct possibility...and this from someone who hated running at school.
The back signs which the runners all wear always provoke my tears - one family were all clearly running for a very young boy- his sister, mother, grandmother aunts and cousins. It's hard to run when you're weeping. This year at the end there was a fence onto which you could pin the signs; a place to pause as you leave the site and give thanks for those poeple we know who have made it through and remember fondly those who didn't.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Flat Holm - an awfully big adventure


Just back from an extraodinary day courtesy of the wonderful other half of my family. My ma in-law Penny has spent the past three years undertaking a practice based MA. The subject of her study has evolved over the course and in the end her major project has been a study of an island in the Bristol channel called Flat Holm. Penny's grandfather Ralph Alfred Erskine Somerville, was a highly decorated gunner in the Royal Artillery and lived on the island, one of very few people who did. Even more unusually as there were few married soldiers stationed there, Penny's father was born on the island.

This weekend we celebrated the culmination of the work that Penny has produced, an exhibition comprising drawings, etchings, screenprint, photos, writing and enamel work, plus an evocative book which you can buy here. Yesterday evening was the private view, which was held in a unique arts centre on the waterfront of Cardiff Bay. The arts centre occupies an historic Norwegian Seamans' chapel which was relocated when the Bay development and regeneration was under way. It's an extraordinary sight, this tiny clap-board structure in amongst the marble and glass clad architectural monstrosities that accompany this sort of development.

After a late night - dinner for 16 takes a while.... we had to get up super early this morning to get to the dock for our boat ride - no ordinary ride this, a high speed rib ably captained by our skipper Ryan.

Never have so many small members of our family screamed (with joy and a little fear) for such a consistent amount of time!

The boats are often hired out purely for the "bay blast" experience and so there were several nautical hand-brake turns and swerves. On the way out we were well dressed in waterproofs provided, and they weren't really needed as it was relatively calm - but on the way back, and just wearing our civvies, Ryan had a little fun at our expense and enjoyment - those of us on the left of the boat caught some spray as we headed back, but a cheeky swerve into someone else's wake meant that no-one remained dry....through every layer of clothing! Oh, and my sunnies could have done with wipers.

We were welcomed onto the island by some of the most lovely people I have ever met - the wardens of the island who live and work there as volunteers. Their openness and kindness and made us feel welcome from the minute they helped us off the boats, tried to gather us together (herding cats comes to mind)
and continued as 2 of the guys took 5 of the 6 smalls off for an hour long treasure hunt across the island, leaving us free to explore without worrying about cliff edges and abandoned gun emplacements.



All we did have to worry about - and this involved wearing building-site hard hats or waving a stout stick above your head- were the dive bombing gulls. There's a huge colony and they are currently hatching their young so really protective.


The island has a working lighthouse,
a no longer working but amazingly sculptural fog horn, series of gun emplacements, magazine stores, farmhouse and the barracks, where we had this wonderful team snap of the whole family.
I'm not sure in the end who was more excited about the family gathering, us or the wardens who work on capturing the stories and heritage of the island as well as the ecology. I think it is safe to say that the children will remember today for the rest of their lives, talking about their memories, the fossils, rabbits, seagull chicks and hard hats! It will shape their shared heritage and I'm sure they and we will be back again.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunny Sunday

What a glorious day again - thought it was all going to go badly when I woke to rain on the skylight, but it has burnt away leaving a lovely warm day. Even better was a call from the lovely Carolyn in Luddenham telling us the asparagus was ready. They used to grow it commercially and have now retired, but the asparagus hasn't and so they invite us and others to help ourselves for free. Yipee! So G and I whizzed over after late breakfast and gathered armfuls of the lovely stuff.
This afternoon has been very "pottery", am still wiped out by a vile cough which leaves me gasping, so taking it super easy. Even so I finally tackled all the weeds in the drive which have been strangling the lavender we planted last summer and as I did so was rewarded by the first of our regular swallows and the sound of a cuckoo. What with all of that and the lane turning green and lush I am feeling very springy - now please will this cough go away?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sunny day, picnic packed, salmon en croute with dill crème fraiche for us and bangers in buns for the sprogs. We met up with Stan's best friend Isaac and our great friends Lesley and Jamie at Groombridge Place for Stan's 6th birthday treat. I had only ever been once with my cousin Honey when we were unfortunate enough to be rained on so badly that we had to admit defeat and head back to Honey's house to apply our clothes to the tumble drier! Today was clearly not going to pose that kind of a problem. Groombridge Place is a kid and adult paradise with everything from beautiful, formal gardens,peacocks, a vineyard, the"Enchanted Forest" filled with boardwalks, fox runs, labyrinths, forts, mazes Tree fern valleys, incredible swings on the longest ropes ever and all sort of other magical treats. There's a short canal with a small boat to carry you back to the start if your legs are too weary - or simply for the fun of it.
We started with our lunch on the grass, next to the water and with views over the fields to the Spa Valley railway line allowing frequent glimpses of the small steam tdain than runs back and forth- and when you couldn't see it you heard the whistles and toots. Fortified we set off up through the vineyard which is the steepest climb so good to get it done before small legs are weary.Then to the boardwalk and rope runs - there are two levels, and the kids pelted up the "tricky" one involving tunnels, balance beams and wobbly bridges, which I was coerced into, despite not conforming to footwear rules which stated "stout" (not slippy old Birkee's) and despite becoming less enamoured with crawling through tunnels as I get older..
One of the things the forest is well known for - and Stan's most anticipated part - was the fabulous swings. The boys had been before and were really looking forward to it. There was a small melt down as Georgia (taking seriously her role of grown-up big sister) read the sign to the birthday boy, which stated that no-one under 10 could go on and relaying this info to him before we could moderate....so he shed several tears before we explained that some rules were made to be broken...including the one that said only one person at a time, I had a blast up there with Stan on my knee. Because of the incredible length of the ropes they swing not only to great height but at a majestic pace...want one!

Stan checking the map - which might have been more useful later when he and Isaac got "lost" -(or you could say, took an unplanned route?) causing a small amount of concern and making several adults run up more hills than they might have liked.

After such a full and at times adrenalin filled afternoon, we settled down for tea, birthday cake (or rather birthday-mountain-of-brownies) and rays. Happy Birthday lovely boy xx
Huff, puff
Lesley
Quieter time playing Horrible Histories Top trumps - Stan checked thoroughly, but apparently there really is no card for Hitler..
Jamie
Finally the gardens closed and we went home, but not without first checking the standard of the local pub.. and can report that it has fine beer, great vibe and a lovely sunny grassy lawn where we sat and supped and the kids ran amok - how they had any energy left beats me!