Sunday, March 28, 2021

Snippets

28th March 2021

 Snippet memories of my nan.

A few poems


The Range

Scrunched up newspaper in hand,

You rub the top of the range.

Every morning,

You perform this ritual.

A little bit of spit,

Your strong arms working,

Back and forth,

Then, circular movements,

till it shines.

Standing back, you inspect your work,

Your sigh of satisfaction,

Is not just in the job well done,

It says, I’m still here, still alive

You throw the dirty newspaper

Into the oven.

And smile


Messages

You take your old black bag,

One, you’ve had since

 way back in my memory,

One, who’s leather

 is now just unattractive specks,

One, even I would have discarded

long ago - you don’t care.

Into it you put

 your blue tattered purse,

The one which hasn’t shut properly

Since the shooting

 of JF Kennedy.

The one from Marks and Spencer

That mum sent you for Christmas

In 1960.

You head off

to do your messages.

You might buy bacon

At Walter Mahoney’s,

And ask him

about his wife,

you’ll buy the paper

at Ryan’s,

And maybe

some sweets for me.

On spindly legs,

legs that appear too frail to hold

your ample body-

A little ball on sticks-

Face set against the wind,

You waddle up the town.  

 

Bets

We,

Sit at the farmhouse table,

Together,

Pour tea from the old crock pot,

The one with the hairline crack

Down the side.

The Tipperary News,

Spread out across the table,

The horses page,

You,

Biro in hand,

Study form,

Mark your favourites.

On a slip of paper,

You write the winner’s names.

“Pick one” you say to me.

I do.

You do not say,

“That horse has no chance.”

You simply promise

To put a few shillings on,

Just for me.

One day you’ll  teach me

To study form

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Being a grandma in the pandemic

  14th Feb 2021  

Being a Grandma in a Time of Pandemic


A friend of mine became a grandmother for the first time this week. My heart went out to her as she wept while telling me how she wasn’t allowed into the hospital. Only her daughter’s partner was.  Baby had to go into intensive care. My friend was anxious and upset.

It’s always a bit special the first time. I became a grandma in 1994. I accompanied my daughter throughout her labour. Her husband took her in for the birth and as soon as my grandson was born, we went in to see him. I was holding him close to me within an hour of his birth. I have tried to be there equally soon after the birth of all 25 of my grandchildren. 

It’s the best news in the world to hear that a new baby is expected, and when a daughter or daughter-in-law goes into labour, I, for one, can’t focus on anything else. I probably do more pacing than the father-to-be! I long to hold and hug the new grandchild. 

It’s that closeness I miss during this interminable time of the pandemic. There are some grandchildren I haven’t seen for over a year now. 


One daughter was due to bring her husband and eight children to visit us during the summer. As you can imagine, with that number, there had to be an efficient plan. Unfortunately, the day before the due date, the UK’s ‘Rule Of Six’ was imposed on us. Having them to stay meant we’d have 14 of us in the house. As we see them so rarely, we did consider breaking the rules, but then fear of being caught got the better of us, even though, morally, we felt we would have been justified since none of us were mixing with others. 

It was to be their only holiday, a few days, three maybe, at the seaside with Grams (the nickname my eldest grandson gave me and now all of them use, right down to the youngest) and grandad.  I looked forward to swimming in the sea with the older ones while their ever-patient grandad taught the younger ones to swim. It’s a family tradition of ours which has happened every year, and at least one under-six would end their seaside holiday with this new skill. The evenings would be spent with stories and hot chocolate – whatever the weather … But it was not to be.

Another daughter lives only three miles away, therefore we get to see her family a lot more often.  Like the above-mentioned daughter, she also homeschools and sometimes when we pop round, we get lured into their school day. 



My favourite time to catch them is the hour they call poetry teatime, even if it does usually happen at lunchtime!  

A teapot, cups and saucers, cakes baked by the children and poetry books decorate the large table.  We take turns to read a poem. They’ve been doing poetry teatime since before Maria, now three, was born. 

I would swallow back tears as I watched her ‘read’ her poem proudly to her brothers and sisters, who would all give her a hearty round of applause when she’d finished.  After poetry teatime I found it moving how my lovely husband, their grandad, would sit with his guitar and encourage the ones who are musical. What a picture. It’s hard to know who enjoys it more, him or them. 

At the beginning of the first UK lockdown my husband had a cancer operation, so we didn’t think it wise or safe to continue to see them. My heart felt as if it was cracked down the middle.  

When hubby was recuperating, we went to see them a few times. The house, set several feet above road level, had iron railings in front of it. The six children, with mum, would stand behind them like inmates in a prison. We’d be on the pavement beneath, about eight feet away. 

From there we’d chat, sing songs together and catch up with their news. I ached to pick the little ones up, to hug the older ones tight. But those railings did their dreadful job.

We resorted to zoom meetings which, as good as they are, are not the same. You can’t be personal. We’ve had some good ones, family quizzes like the one at Christmas which one of my daughters organised. Everybody joined in and a great time was had by all.  But what’s missing is the intimacy. Seeing all the grandchildren on the screen is lovely, but it can seem superficial and distant.

For my birthday I organised a zoom party. Just the idea of a party on zoom sent some of the older ones into fits of hysterics. I did see their point. Maybe it could even be described as an oxymoron. The session itself turned out better than I’d expected. 

Six screens, 17 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren joined me. 

Zoom

To try and have some order with so many, I asked them to prepare something, a poem to read, a piece of art to show, a song to sing. 

“I’m going to bake you a cake, Grams”, Livi said in a text, “and I’ll eat it for you.” I think that’s what you call 12-year-old humour. 

On the day the others thought Livi hilarious as she showed us all her beautiful traybake. I drooled as I’m sure they all did when I saw the chocolate and smarties covering the top. 

While Livi ate ‘my’ cake, my eldest grandson started off the proceedings. His daughter Rose, aged four, ran to get a book and asked her dad to read her favourite story. I watched her eagerly ‘help’ her dad in the telling of the story, her little smile warming my heart. This is the next generation, I thought. 

Although we had a special time at the zoom party, I still had difficulty with the lack of real intimate contact. 

For that reason, my New Year’s Resolution for 2021 is to write to each of my 25 grandchildren. I mean a handwritten letter, sent in the post, to each one personally. 

Letters

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago. Letter writing has gone out of fashion, I suppose. 

I still have letters that I wrote to my grandmother from when I was a child. Unfortunately, I wish I had kept her replies. She always replied. She knew me better than anyone. Some of her words, the ones I remember still, influence my life today.  

I already keep in contact with the oldies via text, Facetime and sometimes email, so my focus was to start with the younger ones, all those under 15, many of whom don’t have their own phone. When there were four in a family, or in one case, six, I’d send the letters together, addressing them to the eldest in the group. I put Holy Christmas stamps on each envelope and, as I dropped them in the post box, I sent up a silent prayer that, maybe, one of them might answer me.

That was two months ago, and I have to say I’m delighted to report that my expectations were exceeded. I’ve had quite a few letters back. They give me a lot to think about.

In the letters, as I respond to each one, I’ll get the chance to help them with life’s questions. I expect to get more, but if I don’t I will try again and, if nothing else, maybe they’ll at least look forward to their personal letter from Grandma. 

Rediscovering the art of letter writing is one of the unlikely fruits of this pandemic. It’s one that can never replace the intimacy of a hug, but until governments and scientists allow us the real thing once more, it’s a hug in words, and one that will last for generations to come.


The Coffin

 23rd March 2021


A Poem- The Coffin

 

I peer down at you,

Your face serene, wrinkles smoothed out,

A heavenly countenance.

Your hands clasped together,

Resting on your favourite dress,

The blue one,

What is that weird, stretchy, material?

I’ll remember in a minute –

Oh, yes, crimplene,

In your hands-

Hands, that milked cows,

Toiled in harvests,

Baked soda bread,

Scrubbed kitchen floors,

Softly caressed loved ones-

In those hands, gnarled

with a full life lived-

your rosary,

wound between your fingers,

as it used to be,

when we,

prayed together,

in the kitchen, or

in your bedroom.

Your sing song voice,

Speaking to love itself.

I miss that.

Here you are in this box,

Gone now.

Gently, I release your rosary,

Each finger, giving in

To my longing.

 I lift it to my lips,

Kiss the memory of you.

Quietly, though others

May hear,

I whisper familiar words,

Our words.

Tears try to break through,

I can’t keep them back.

In the end

I have to let them flow,

Dear Nan,

I didn’t want you to go.

 

 

 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

March 19th TTOT

19th March 2021 

Gifts 

 I've been reliably informed that:

"Gratitude and anger can't exist in the head at the same time."

Nevertheless I'm going to try and think of ten things that I'm thankful for this week. 

There must be some, right?


This week, two times the same idea was sent to me. The first time it was in my prayer. I was being told to "plug into the source". It hit me, but I was willing to let it go. After all, what do I do with a piece of advice like that? 
The next morning, I'm in a room with a group of writer friends and almost the exact same words were given again, "plug into your source".

Well, hearing it once, it's easy to  walk away as if I've not heard, but twice and the same message. Ok, that's for me. God is telling me, is he not, to plug in to the source? Right, but what is the source, what is the plug. 

Without deliberating  too long. It occurs to me that the source is God himself and the plug is my prayer. That's encouraged me to alter my diary and make appointments for those meetings to take place. I mean, I do call round often, but this is putting it in more of a place of priority. It's something I've been struggling with for a while. Now, I just need to turn up for the appointments . 

It's hard to put into words how thankful I am for this spiritual uplift. Thank you Lord. 


2

We had a visit from the eldest grandchild this week. Oh my word, such joy, I could almost not contain it. He was in the area for work and visited us. Not having seen him in over a year, it was difficult not to hold him close a hug him tight. He lives with his wife and four children at the other end of the country and it takes five hours to get there, so popping to see him isn't on the cards even in normal times. This visit kept me cheerful for days.  Joy , joy , joy !!!

We are looking forward when the lockdown will be lifted enough for us to get in our camper and travel on up to see him. 


3

Oh my word, the interview with the wonderful Carrie Jade, which absolutely blew me away.   Find it here if you're interested  LWS Interview with Carrie-Jade Williams.   

Although young, she lives with Huntingdon's Disease. She literally let's nothing stop her. Full of joy and life, she manages to make you question , like Mary Oliver said "Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life?"  

You won't be sorry to find her!!! 

She has also compiled a free list of Writing Resources here:  free Writing Resource list


4

The Sacred Circle, my group of writerly friends. Yes, we are there to encourage each other with our writing, but it's so much more than that. It goes much deeper. We've worked together now for more than six months seeing each other at least weekly and in between times, checking in on our channel in slack. I feel so blessed to have found these beautiful people, who have no idea how much they've helped me, especially during the pandemic. Well, we'd never of met, but for the damn virus, so, my dear ones, I have to say thanks to the virus. There you are. Who'd of thought? 

5

I have to go get a new journal. I've been thoroughly spoilt with the last one I bought. You see, I was treating myself, spending more than I would do normally. "After all," I said to myself, "you're worth it." But again, a lesson to be learned. This gorgeous one has grown in my affections and I cannot now go back to the cheap sort, which had thinner paper, which wasn't easy to use with my Waterman Fountain pen. Did I just call those awful journals, "the cheap sort"? Funny that, because what I've learnt is that , although I spent three times more on my luxurious, delicious, journal, which is a pleasure to write in, it actually lasted more than three times as long as the inferior ones, thus making them, the cheaper ones. No, I found it hard to believe too. I had to do the sums a few times before I was convinced. If I happen to be lucky enough to find them again , which I hope very mush I do, obviously, I will buy at least five, so I don't have to worry for a while.


6

Although I've come to number six, I have to say, this point of gratitude is no less important than any of the other, even the first . It's just how things came out of my muddled brain. 

On Monday this week I met up with a good friend for a walk ( our exercise) by the sea. It's always great to see her and this time it was even more lovely as she kindly listened to some of my worries. Don't friends always do that for each other. We manage to see the wood for the trees in the other ones problems when sometimes we struggle to see them in our own. As the sea came crashing in and the seagulls squawked above us we enjoyed about an hour together, which, for me was much too short, but I'll see her again soon. 

7

Today is St Josephs day. I'd like to think I have a great devotion to dear St Joseph. I do try.  Go here if you want to find out why I love him: 

 https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2021-03-19

Pope Francis has declared this the Year of St Joseph and urges  us to go to him  for all our needs. 

So this thank you is for my Faith, so rich and so beautiful. 

8

While I used to do all the cooking ( well, except for exceptional circumstances) now, with me holed up for hours in my bedroom - I did have an office of sorts but I won't go into that here - doing my writing, others are producing meals . At least twice a week and more in some weeks, my husband or one of the boomerang children will take over . At first I found I felt guilty that they were doing it, you know, my job and all. It took me a while to let go.  However, after they did it a few times and did it happily at that, I soon convinced myself that we are four adults living together and I am not the only ono with the right and the responsibility for the running of the household. Maybe between the three of them, they could do it all ! Or is that wishful thinking?? 

9

We celebrated Mothering Sunday last weekend . What a joy ! Most of my day was spent facetiming children and grandchildren who were giving me their love and entertaining me with stories. In the post the next day I got cards, late of course as the post is always slow these days, and surprise deliveries, among them a beautiful bookmark, which is hard to describe, with its unusual leaf and butterfly of gold. More pressies included swiss chocolate, a set of flavoured teas and earrings. Lovely as it was to get the presents, it's more what they were really saying that struck a cord with  me and to think of their love for me brings a tear to my eye. So grateful that I have the children I have. They are the best!! 

10

Since Christmas, with no sign of being able to get to see the grandchildren, as some of you may know, I started writing them letters. Yes, to all twenty five of them. This week I've continued to get replies from them. It makes my heart do a little leap when I see the letter, sometimes two or three, on the mat. I always write back promptly. OK, yes, it takes time, but I think it's important. Who knows where it will end.

And that's it for this week. There are many other things I'm thankful for. Life is good and I'm blessed in so many ways. 

Until next week.




Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Writer's Life?

9th March 2021

What Do I Do, Now That I’ve Finished My Memoir?

Staring at a blank page is disheartening, especially when I don’t know what I am going to write.

But, here I am. I stare out of the window, watch clouds move quickly across a grey sky, watch trees sway as if they’d uproot themselves at a moments notice and walk away.

Back to the page, that white space that my eyes don’t want to focus on. I don't give them the choice. I make them. Right. Now. What to write? How do I begin?

Since finishing, for the present, with the memoir, I’m at a loss as to what to write about. My Ideas don’t seem to want to know me. They left without saying goodbye. I’ve no clue what I’ve done to deserve their scorn. We were getting on fine when time was limited for them, when I'd keep them waiting, saying, I'll get to you soon. But now, the focus is all on them. Seems they don’t like all the attention. 



But, you know, It’s a peculiar thing, that when I was working on the memoir, I spent a very small portion of my time actually working on the memoir. Somehow, the fact that it was in the background, waiting for me to turn up, day after day, made me use that very time for “procrastinating”, not staring out of the window, but writing. Like it was another way to avoid doing the harder work. I mean, I actually had a few things published, for goodness’ sake! Also, I spent a good deal of time replying to comments on Slack, again , not doing the work.

Do other writers have this problem, I wonder?

Is it that I need a big project on the go, whirling around, lurking at the back of my mind, before I can allow  myself to play with and enjoy my own creativity?

I mean, with this time now, I could write those personal essays that I’ve been talking about. I could write more poetry. I could write a blogpost, I could...See what I mean?

So, what’s the matter with me?

Why am I unable to settle into any writing that I consider worthwhile?

I have slowed down.

I don’t like it.

I need help.

In a Zoom catch up session with other wonderful writers from the London Writers Salon, I explained my predicament.

“I’m at a loss,” I said. “Since finishing my memoir, I find I don’t know what to write, or how to write, or sometimes, whether I have anything worth writing at all.”

They all sympathised with me for a few minutes and if they could, they would have put the kettle on and brought out the chocolate biscuits. Until one writer in the room spoke to my problem.

“Write about it,” she said, “use it to get you started again. Use it to get you unblocked”

It was like I'd been hit on the head with a broom. All of a sudden, the sun shone again, the ink in my pen made itself ready, working its way down to the nib, my journal sat next to me, expectantly, presenting a clean page.

“Sounds like I’ll be needed,” I could hear them say.

Then for the rest of the day, I didn’t write. Well, except for a letter to a grandchild and some comments on other peoples work. Yes, sad, I know. But the thought was planted, and my mind ruminated in the fresh compost.

Now, this morning, I thought, what have you got to lose. At least give it a try.

So, here you have it, my fellow writers.

So, my advice to you, for what it’s worth and that’s for you to decide, is , if you are stuck and can’t find your creative self, even after looking in all the usual places, just get started with that. Start with where you are. And at least you’ll have started.

— — -

If you’d like to stop by the Writers Hour at the London Writers Salon, here is the link:

https://writershour.com/#lwswh2020

There are 4 hours throughout the day. ITS FREE. We turn up, put in the chat box what we’re going to work on, listen to an inspirational quote and write for 50 mins.

No pressure, no accountability. Just writers writing together. It’s wonderful and has made all the difference to my life.

Friday, March 5, 2021

One Night In Tel Aviv

 5th March 2021

One Night In Tel Aviv

“The tragedy of the passion brings to fulfilment our own life and the whole of human history. We can’t let Holy Week be just a kind of commemoration. It means contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ as something which continues to work in our souls.” –Saint Josemaria Escriva.

It was precisely the thought of contemplating the mystery of Jesus, that urged myself and my husband to want to make a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That and the fact that it was on his “Bucket List.” We’d talked about it for years. Finally, it was the approach of Peter’s 70th birthday that gave us the push.

“We’re not getting any younger,” he said, “let’s go while we still can.”

I loved the idea of seeing all the Holy places, those places I’d been to many times in my imagination, placing myself as one of the characters in a scene — where Jesus was born, where the miracles took place, where he celebrated the last supper with his friends, and so much more — yet, for me the sense of urgency wasn’t the same.

His 70th Birthday came and went without us having made a plan. As always, we needed a little nudge. That nudge came from a dear friend we visited in the July, four months into Peter’s 70th year. Our friend, who had a terminal illness, enthralled us with stories of his many visits to the Holy Land. Keen for us to go, he even offered to plan the trip for us and to pay for it. If he was willing to do that, we reckoned it was definitely worth us making the effort so we promised each other that we’d get to the Holy Land before Peter turned 71.

6th March 2020

We are on the coach to Jerusalem.

“On your left is a mount, reported to be where Jesus caught up with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus…”

We look out of the window — a field, buildings in the distance, grey skies (just like England, it’s raining).

Yesterday, we set off with hopeful hearts, leisurely dropping our baggage off, after a night in the hotel at Gatwick, and having enjoyed a cooked breakfast — sausages, bacon, eggs, tea, orange juice. Totally relaxed.

Three hours into the five-hour flight one little toddler near us couldn’t cope any longer. Everything her mother and father tried — playing with her, feeding her, walking up and down with her, — was met with ever increased screaming. I had great sympathy for the parents struggle and as I wondered if there was any way I could help, I watched another mother, sitting beside me, with a child of similar age, put down the book she was reading to her little boy, root in her day bag and pull out a snack box of raisins.

“Might these help?” she offered the other mother both the raisins and a warm smile that said, I know what it’s like, we’re in this together. As her eyes caught the gaze of the other, they both shared in a moment of deep, yet universal understanding. For me it was a privilege to witness such a simple act of kindness that meant so much.

With peace restored I returned to my guidebooks and my dreams of our Pilgrimage. There was so much to look forward to, not least the chance to have meals dished up to me twice a day, having nothing to do with them except eat them. That sounded like Heaven to me.

When the plane landed Peter and I helped the little families off with all their belongings. The two families with the toddlers had other small children who took up the arms of both mums and dads, so we helped with pushchairs and bags, for which they were all very grateful.

As we waited for our baggage, we found a few people who were also on our Pilgrimage. When we all had our bags we went as a group to find our guide.

Nidal, ticked us off his list in almost military fashion. Two pilgrims kept us waiting for fifteen minutes because they were hungry and had to find food. None of us were impressed. Nidal told us that he had some bad news, but he’d tell us on the coach. We walked behind him in pensive mood wondering what it could be. Maybe one of the Holy sites isn’t open, maybe a hotel can’t take us and we have to go to an inferior one, what could the bad news be?

On the coach we hear the news,

“I’m afraid your Pilgrimage is cancelled.” Did I hear properly? “Bethlehem was put on a 30-day lockdown this morning, just before your plane took off, due to the coronavirus. We couldn’t get the message to you in time. The people coming from Manchester have been informed and won’t be joining you …” he went on. I’m not sure what else he said. Something about going back to England tomorrow. We’ll stay one night in Tel Aviv. Bad news? Yes, but God’s will. So, we rejoice. “He has another plan,” said a lady at the back of the coach. Yes, I thought, you have another plan, Lord.

The Embassy Hotel in Tel Aviv didn’t do dinner. Nidal told us we’d be reimbursed £30 for a meal and we had the whole of the City to explore. At any other time that might have sounded like a tempting adventure, but after a long day travelling and knowing that there’d be more of the same the next day, the gift lost its shine.

With our bags thrown into our room and after a quick wash, we didn’t think it was worth changing, we set out of the Hotel onto the city streets.

Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast, looks like most seaside towns or cities anywhere in the world. Not wanting to get lost we walked in straight lines, not veering far away from the main road that ran from our hotel down to the sea.

We peered in restaurant windows. It was my worst nightmare. I didn’t understand the menu and couldn’t work out how much a meal would cost us. There was no way I was going into a place without knowing how much I was likely to spend. We kept walking.

“Ahh, Mexican, can’t go wrong with that,” poor hubby just wanted to eat. Same thing, food and prices I didn’t understand. I couldn’t bring myself to chance it. We kept walking, kept walking…

“Let’s look down here..” we turned the corner, “we’ll just go down a bit, not too far. Hey, is that a pub there?” It was.

Molly Bloom’s an Irish pub, hidden in a side street. I felt my shoulders relax, my breathing slow. This was something familiar.

“Do you do food?” we asked

“Yes.”

“Do you take dollars?”

“Of course.”

We were shown to our table. I smiled to myself when I saw the Irish beer mats. Irish music was playing in the background, harps and shamrocks decorated the walls. We could easily have been in a pub in any village in Ireland. Even some of the other customers were Irish. I felt at home. We sat with our Guinness and waited for our vegetable shepherds pie and I thanked God for the blessing of finding such a great place.

Next morning after breakfast at six forty five, we set off on the coach to visit Jerusalem. Nidal pointed out places on the way — the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus met Cleopas on the road to Emmaus and the Garden of Gethsemani, with the Church of Mary Magdalen.

We walked along the Via Dolorosa, ending up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was buried. It was all a rush A shame.

Back on the coach, Nidal said goodbye and left us with the driver, who drove us to the airport. As we approached the terminal, we saw all the lanes into the airport shut off. Men in uniform, carrying rifles -police? Army? Militia? — directed the driver to pull over to the side. What on earth is going on?

Silence settled on all pilgrims on the coach as the driver was questioned. Then the uniforms, three of them, peered through the windows. They wanted to talk to a pilgrim. Seconds passed slowly as they waited for a volunteer. Then my husband stood up. I resisted the urge to pull him back. I watched him from the window, answering their every question with a smile. Good in a crisis, my husband.

It turned out we were the only flight out of Tel Aviv that day. The airport was eerie with just the one planeful of people wandering around the cavernous halls.

What a relief it was to touch down at Gatwick Airport.