Monday, 10 February 2020

After a rough week back in July, 2016 I thought of things I'd like to do by the end of the year Mark and I turned 50. Rather than the 'challenge myself' stuff that got me starting the blog in the first place, it's what I thought would help me feel positive, proud of, or just plain enjoy. 

I haven't managed them all but I got 15 of my 20 achieved. 

  1. Go fishing  - Hurray for fishing - it was great fun. 
  2. See the Giant's Causeway How has that not happened? Still, current state of arthritic knees makes it hard to imagine it happening in the near future
  3. Try salsify and Jerusalem artichokes  Salsify didn't taste of very much, Jerusalem artichokes were OK. 
  4. Go rock pooling - A happy day at Sandsend took care of that
  5. Sing in a choir - I think I'm  over this one. Somehow I'm not bothered anymore. 
  6. Grow cut flowers - Huge success! 
  7. See live music - Since first writing the list I've seen James, Elbow and George Ezra.
  8. Visit Hadrian's Wall - What a lovely day out that was!
  9. Spend all day at the movies - Nearly managed it then life got complicated. 
  10. Learn to apply make up properly - Heather-in-London got for sorted, but the hot flushes of menopause mean it's a skill I can't use just now. No one needs mascara running to their chin.
  11. See the Northern Lights - TICK! Best thing imaginable.
  12. Go whale-watching - Also TICK! A morning watching a pod of orca hunt for herring before a night chasing Aurora Borealis. What a day.
  13. Learn a new range of cooking - I can make loads of curries now, and am not intimidated by long lists of spices
  14. Sew something I can wear - My slouchy jersey T Shirt was a lot of fun to make
  15. See a new ballet company - My birthday trip to Covent Garden was amazing. What a venue, what a company
  16. Learn to play a song on an instrument - Another music based challenge I moved past, totally forgot.
  17. Go Birdwatching on the Farne Islands - Not only that but Bempton Cliffs twice AND met lovely Iolo Williams from Springwatch
  18. Return to Paris - (and eat enough cheese to sink a ship) TICK
  19. Cook a decent roast dinner - I can roast a chicken!!!!! I've done it three times and didn't even need to name the last one. My first attempt, with Janice the Zombie Chicken was pretty traumatic for us both (especially Janice, because she was dead) but I feel confident about it now
  20. Build sandcastles - because it's fun yet I never do it anymore. And still haven't.
I made a T shirt!

In addition I've seen a starling murmuration, made a stained glass artwork, organised annual street parties, seen 2 of my children reach adulthood, gone on marches and protests, rejoined active feminist campaigning, been to Venice, played virtual reality video games (badly!), swum in a river, built and aviary and kept quail, eaten a tasting menu at a Michelin starred restaurant, met several of my heroes, seen loads of theatre and tried a number of new crafts.
Stained glass 

Now to look forward...

Starling murmurations are amazing

Monday, 3 February 2020

Present or correct

Here we are at the start of February, having seemingly skipped winter altogether. The weather in Yorkshire's been a long wet autumn and the garden's still flooded.  It may not be the drama and catastrophe of the Australian fires, but our weather pattern is deeply messed up. The water in the poultry drinkers has only frozen 3 times. It used to be a regular occurrence.

My plans of a wildflower meadow may be doomed this year - having carefully collected yellow rattle seeds in August, the bottom of the garden has been either sodden or actually under several centimetres of water and we haven't had the succession of cold snaps needed to germinate the seeds.
Less a garden, more a swamp

Yellow rattle is a semi-parasitic plant that draws much of its energy from hijacking the roots of grasses, so it's a useful tool when wanting to diminish a lawn's vigour and allow native plants to flourish. I was so pleased to find some in a meadow to harvest, in the hopes of making the garden a more wildlife friendly habitat. Ah well, we'll see how it plays out.

My wildlife camera has been a bit of disappointment so far. Plenty of action, almost all of it Gonzo. Just the occasional clip of Isaac, or rain heavy enough to trigger the motion sensor. I'm hoping spring will bring a little more variety.
Not the wildlife we were hoping for
Ballet Weekend rolled around again and if anything it surpassed itself. On Friday I took myself to see the uplifting and delightful Come From Away. It's basically a hug in theatre form. Saturday afternoon I treated my Very Excellent Mate Bon to her first trip to see Hamilton. New cast for the third year, so I got to see some different interpretations of the roles, and Bon was (obviously) absolutely smitten. It was brilliant. Then Bon treated me to The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. I actually enjoyed it more this time - having never seen the original film I was a bit lost on our first viewing. All in all the weekend was a wonderful break in an otherwise challenging month,

Sitting in The Room Where It Happens once again

I confess I loathe January and am glad to see the back of it.  It's got too many birthdays. Typically, I've used up all my gift ideas (and money) at Christmas. However from December 23 to January 29th I have a stretch with my father-in-law, daughter, eldest niece, younger niece, brother, mum and son to buy for - and celebrate with - where appropriate. Mum's birthday was difficult but at least we're past it now. Zach's was lovely - deferred celebration until his mock exams were over, and he has such a lovely gang of friends.

So here we are, the plethora of birthdays over until the April cluster (me, Dad, Luke) and the days lengthening enough for the hens to start laying.  This is good. Spring's not far away, and everything is better in the spring.

Something odd happened last week. I was fannying about on an internet forum - OK, Mumsnet; I came for the radical feminism and stayed for the craziness of the AIBU board - and responding to something about mothers, I wrote "My Mum loved that too."


Past tense.

That's the first time I used the past tense without having correct myself from the present. It jolted me. I've been saying "Mum's got those shoes; Mum hates risotto; Mum sews her own clothes; Mum likes musicals but not opera so much..."  for months now. Yes, obviously I know she is dead - and I had to write to the people who hadn't heard when the Christmas cards to "Kate and Bri" arrived. But I hadn't  - oh hell, I don't know - adjusted to it? Acknowledged that she's in our past not our present, maybe? Each month that takes me further away from her feels like a betrayal. I'm not sure by whom, her for dying or me for living.  Grief isn't terribly rational.

But suddenly there is was, a past tense. An admission that Mum's not here, that it's memories not current events. I think it's probably healthy. I'm sure it's normal. But I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.

Monday, 30 December 2019

That's amore

When the moon hits your eye...

PIZZA, baby!

Because I had the good luck at 17 to meet the best person I'll ever know (although granted, he was well-disguised as a scrawny self-important teen with a prog rock fascination I will never understand) AND the good sense to stay with the ornery cuss for 33 years, I am in the fortunate position of living with someone who loves and knows the very soul of me. As a result, his gift selection is brilliant.

I was dreading Christmas this year - the first year without Mum and to a large degree without Dad too because he needed to ignore it all for his own wellbeing. Mark found things to rekindle my excitement and engagement in the world. The man's a magician.

First amazing gift was from my parents-in-law at M's suggestion. They got me a wildlife camera so we can see who and what visits our garden at night. I'm absolutely delighted. I know we've had some hedgehogs over that past 2 years and that foxes visit to hope for a wandering hen (never mind the rodent corpses our cats thoughtfully provide) but actually seeing what comes when, and how it behaves is very exciting.

I've spent my Christmas money from my brother on a large charger and lots of rechargeable batteries so I can run the camera down the bottom of the garden. My plan is to move it every few days until we discover where we are most likely to see our nocturnal visitors.

The next brilliant gift was my own personal Springwatch experience.

I love Springwatch. I love Chris and Michaela and poor deposed Martin and I'm bearing with Gillian hoping she finds her feet as a presenter eventually but above all I love Iolo Williams. He's the lanky Welshman who bubbles over with enthusiasm and delight at all wild encounters in this tiny but remarkable country. Iolo's the reason we went to the Farne Islands and why I wanted to see a murmuration - I didn't know such things existed and he inspired me with a desire to seek them out.

He's doing a talk at a centre near my Dad for a local wildlife charity. Mark's got tickets for Dad and me and a copy of Iolo's book about UK wildlife so I can get it signed. I'm beyond delighted.

So far, so middle aged twitcher. Which is an identity I am proud to acknowledge, by the way.

But the third gift...

That's the "yeah, great, thanks for the two scented tree resins, Caspar and Melchior, but where's Balthazar with the gold?" gift.  Not just ace but brilliant.

A pizza oven.
assembled inside, but for OUTSIDE use only

I know it's a fairly shameful claim, but we eat more pizza than any family I know. Luke would eat pizza for every meal of his life if he could. I love Roman, Neopolitan, Chicago style -  all of it. I remember my horror moving to the UK in 1985 and seeing the ghastly cardboard discs passing as "pizza" here, and my cousins' bemusement at my disgust. (Britain, I love you but your food prior to the 90s was a damned disgrace). I've experimented with lots of different dough recipes, various cooking techniques, bought pizza tins, stones and peels. Ever since my Very Excellent Mate Nic talked about how she and Ady built a cob pizza oven on their croft on Rum I've been trying to persuade Mark we need one.

The Ooni 3 is a work of genius. Like my beloved Eglu did for hen-keeping, it makes wood-fired pizzas a doddle in your back garden. It's portable, it takes 15 minutes to heat up rather than the 4-6 hours of a cob oven and the pizzas cook in under 2 minutes. They are beyond anything -
I can't recommedt them enough. I made around 8 of them today, I think, maybe more.

The dough recipe I used was a very simple one - 500g strong flour, 300g water, 7g quick acting yeast and a heaped teaspoon of salt. I put it in the kitchen mixer for 10-15 minutes then moved it to an oiled, covered bowl in a warm spot in the kitchen. The first batch was done while the kitchen door was open and it was really cold so I popped it in the Instant Pot on the "yogurt making" setting for 90 minutes. The second sat in a sunny window.

Each dough batch made 5 balls weighing 160g. After a second prove I kneaded and stretched each into a 24-30cm circle (this is a lie, they were weird splodges). I put flour on the peel (official name for that metal flat thing that gets pizzas out of ovens) and plopped carefully placed the dough on it. 2 spoons of pizza sauce, a scattering of olives/pepperoni/nothing, a generous sprinkling of mozzarella and a quick shimmy to get it from peel to oven.

The thing cooks unbelieveably quickly. I charred the first one because I couldn't believe 30 seconds was enough before turning. (it was)
in which we learn 60 seconds a side is too long

Using the peel, I pulled the pizza out every 30 seconds or so and rotated it 180 degrees. Within 90 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on the temperature of the baking stone at the heart of the oven) each pizza was perfectly cooked.
one of many misshapen but delicious pizzas

I had a brilliant time. I was supposed to be making dinner for everyone but I got overexcited and made pizza for a late lunch first. This was serendipitous, as trying to use an unfamiliar cooking technique with FIRE and at up to 500 degrees Celsius in the dark would have been a nightmare. I did have a second batch in the dark but it was much harder to see whether things were cooked/burnt/undercooked so in future I'll stick to cooking with actual visibility.

It was wonderful to find things that are fun and exciting, especially when I'd anticipated this season with a fair amount of dread.

If you need me, I'll be pitting olives and sourcing 00 flour online for the foreseeable future.

Happy New Year, and may the coming decade be kinder than the last.

Friday, 20 December 2019

It's been a weird year

This is likely to be a clunky post. It's the "Previously in Jay's 2019", the one that recaps where I've been so I can move on.

The year started dreadfully because our ace Luke was in a bad way. Accessing mental health support when each arm of the service says "Yes, he's clearly badly in need of help, but not our specialised flavour of it" is exhausting and upsetting. However, things did improve eventually.

Obviously Mum's illness and death meant May and June barely registered.

A mystery illness in July had me admitted to hospital and meant I missed both RHS Tatton show and cancelled our 25th anniversary celebrations. In September it ceased to be a mystery and became an emergency surgery, onvernight stay in ICU, week-long stay in hospital on many drips and a long, slow recovery at home which pretty much ate up my life through to early November. It also scared the bejeezus out of Mark. However, I managed not to die so that's a good thing.

Luke and I had an overnight visit to London where we ate pizza 4 times in 4 different places to decide on London's Best Pizza (we have done previous research on this important topic in the past). My part in this wasn't very scientific because I had a different pizza at each place, so my contribution was mainly financial. Luke was a purist, naturally, and had a Margarita at each one.

Pizza Union was cheap and cheerful but its crust was far too crunchy and toppings a bit slapdash. Pizza Express was its usual self - overpriced for what it is but enjoyable enough. Pizza Pilgrims had a great sourdough base but the sauce and toppings were very soggy. Soho Joe was the runaway winner - great sourdough base, good sauce, plenty of cheese. Very friendly service too.

We also managed to fit in Book of Mormon and some serious book shopping time as well. That was the highlight of my autumn.

Mark turned 50 and bought a crazy car - swapped the much-loathed Ford for an enormous aged Lexus that's got both a hybrid engine and a cassette deck. It's very comfortable but also very funny. Cassettes. Seriously.

Understandably, Dad is very much not in the mood for Christmas. I did all his shopping/wrapping stuff to give him the chance to opt out, and then tackled my own. I feel like I've been wrapping things for days, but it's all done now - if not to my usual standards nor enthusiasm.

The kids have been great - they understand that I'm not feeling very celebratory and have stepped in to some of my previous roles. Mark and B chose the Christmas tree - only needed a mere 3 foot cutting off it to fit it in the house, and took a bit of the doorframe with it - and the 4 of them decorated it without me. They were very thoughtful and didn't use any of the handmade decorations I made with Mum when  was young. Finding a message from her on a gift bag I was reusing had me in tears all day, so the fewer trigger points to trip me up the better, quite frankly. Grief is hard.

Because the universe hadn't finished being cruel, Dad's closest friend died last week. He was a lovely man and a great support to Dad. His poor family will have a damned rough Christmas.

I've been trying to keep my Reasons To Be Cheerful 1,2,3 project on Twitter going through this year, even when it felt very hard to find them.  Above all my reason for cheerfulness has been the compassion, love and support I have been lucky enough to receive from my family, friends and neighbours. I'm a very fortunate woman, I know truly lovely people. My garden and its produce has remained a source of happiness and balance. Recognising and appreciating small pleasures whrn they occur has also been important.

As I escape this ghastly year, I wish everyone a peaceful New Year. I wish that hope, compassion and good hearts are enough to make 2020 better for all of us.
Have a good Christmas, however you're spending it.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

What a difference a day makes

The day I wrote my last blog post, Monday April 29th, was the day everything changed.

It was the last day of Luke's teens. Miss B was going to a friend's house after Rounders so the four of us could watch Avengers Endgame. (It's not that B couldn't come, she just isn't interested.) We couldn't go on the opening weekend because Z was on a camping trip so we'd been extremely careful to avoid spoilers. We had brilliant seats, we'd been looking forward to it for ages, it was going to be A Good Day.

As not monsters polite patrons, we all turned our phones off for the three hours plus trailers. It was a good film. Or at least I think it was, because I honestly don't remember much. Events rather overtook us.

In the lobby of Leeds Everyman Zach was the first to turn his phone back on. He was already ringing back a missed caller when I saw I'd missed numerous calls from Mum. "Hi, Nana, yes, she's right here - Mum, Nana wants to speak to you."

On Good Friday 10 days before, the four of us went to a screening of Monty Python's Life Of Brian with Mum, Dad, my niece and her pal. It was tremendous fun culminating in an audience singsong. When we got back to the house I noticed Mum had an awful bruise on her hand. "Wow, what happened? That looks dreadful?" Mum was startled. She hadn't hurt herself, didn't feel anything. Odd.

She mentioned the following day she was feeling really tired. She'd just had a 17 year old move in, so I thought that wasn't really surprising. Teens are ace but knackering. Over the next week she was increasingly exhausted as she carried out her normal active life - Nordic walking... I swear I'm a changeling in that family - but not being able to manage her usual number of matches at her beloved table tennis showed something was clearly Not Right.  She went to the GP on Monday morning for a blood test.

"The doctors say there's something wrong with my blood, my bone marrow isn't working. I have to go in tonight for a transfusion."

And that was it.  New rules applied.

It's not supposed to be this way. Mum is the one who is supposed to live to a grand old age. Dad's had so many health problems, he looks increasingly frail when something else hits him - he lived through sepsis and complications following surgery in the last two years alone.  Colin's 80 and had a quadruple bypass over 20 years ago, turned down a subsequent one. Marion's health has been lousy for years, and she struggles to get farther than her garden.  Mum was the youngest, the fittest, the one with the most smoking-free years, the one with the healthy lifestyle and active engagement in the world. Everything you're supposed to be. Everything that's supposed to keep you in good health.

The narrative went wrong. The wolf ate Red Riding Hood, the ugly sister marry the prince. There are supposed to be rules, damn it.

20 days from the blood test, my Mum died.

On the whole, it was a good death. 15 years too early, but good. Her illness was short with very little pain, just exhaustion really. She could make her peace with what was coming, she reflected on her life and said she'd been so very lucky. She could say her goodbyes - in person or by text to her cheering squad of friends and family on a WhatsApp group we made for her. I was able to stay overnight a few nights, thanks to the lovely staff at The Christie in Manchester, so she wasn't alone for much of it, and she was with Dad, Neil and I when she died. As her oxygen levels dropped, the morphine kept her from feeling distress and she died holding our hands.

Everyone said I'd been great. Everyone said I'd been a rock, a wonderful daughter. It's bullshit. I did it because I could, and I *had* to do something. Sitting at her side all day, getting drinks, pulling lip salve on to stop them cracking, moisturising her hands and feet in the dry hospital air, helping with bedpans and meals, drinks and CPAP masks... these were all small and achievable things. Even the travel was nice - the transpenine rail journey is a breautiful one and the tram from Victoria to West Didsbury goes through some lovely areas. That was the easy stuff. Sitting at home wondering what was happening would have been far harder.

I knew Mum was dying. So did Mum. We talked about it, which is a bloody difficult conversation to have. She didn't want to distress me, and I wanted her to be able to talk and just ignore my leaky eyes because that was OK, it didn't matter, and I couldn't stop it so let's just not worry about that and keep talking.

She was frightened of suffocating. I promised I'd intervene, I'd be her advocate and fight for what she needed when she couldn't, to make it as unscary and as gentle as possible. She remembered her own Dad's death, and how desperately she tried to hold on to him when he was ready to die. He asked her to let him go; it was so hard for her. She didn't want that for us. I can't speak for Neil, I know he and Dad were blindsided by it which makes everything harder, but I was OK. Mum knew she was dying, she knew how she wanted it to be and I could help.

We talked about the funeral. She used to want to be creamated but later decided burial, especially an environmentally sensitive woodland burial, would be better. "And don't let your brother get one of those tacky floral MUM displays. You know what he's like!" Yes, I do know, and it's OK Mum, I've got you covered.

In the immediate aftermath, I rang Mark to come and fetch me. Dad and Neil were reluctant to leave me alone at the hospital, but quite honestly it was a relief. I've never liked crying in front of people, and I was struck numb anyway. Best to have a little time to sit quietly.

I rang the few people I thought would need to know in person, then sent out a message across WhatsApp, Facebook Messanger, email and text to everyone else. That was OK too, although talking was hard, except to my cousin Al who loved Mum like a mother so was in the same boat, really. People obviously wanted to express their grief, their shock, their sympathy. I didn't want to listen - it felt like a burden I had to help them carry and I didn't have it in me. I just wanted to be quiet and still.

Dad kept crying, and yelling at himself for crying. I didn't cry, not much. I still don't. A little leaks out now and then but it's soon shushed and moved to the side. It's not like Dad, it's not that I don't think I should cry - I do! I think it would be natural and healthy. But I can't face it. I can't let it out because I don't know if I could stop, how to regain control again once I started.

Words help. Words always help. They give things form, make it possible to turn them around, inspect from different angles, reinterpret the world.

Some of the words -
It's a wood. There is a path. Mo, Kim and all the other medical staff at The Christie showed us that path, explained the obstacles and terrain we'd encounter on the way, but ultimately we'd go from Having Cancer to Remission to Transplant and then to Healthy. That made the cancer far less scary.  I took notes while they talked so I could keep on track, I could hold the information and share it to everyone as needed, so no one needed to frightened or misinterpret or feel lost. We have a path and I have the map safe.

Then there's a huge box in the path. A Pandorica, a Pandora's box, a monolith. It completely fills the path, there's no way past it. And maybe inside the box is Mum, gone, out of reach, locked away. Or maybe it's grief in the box. I don't know. But there's such an enormous block and as I walk towards it I sheer away. I swerve. We're like magnets repelling. I can't get close to it, my self-defence moves me to the side. Then I shut down. Napping, watching telly, sitting in the garden still and quiet for two hours at a time.

I don't know what the correct response to bereavment is, but I don't think this is it.  All the time I have tasks to focus on, I'm just fine. List of funeral directors, research what to ask, send out enquiries.  Research flowers, celebrants, coffins, what are normal processes, who else do we need to tell, what is the next step.

Six days after Mum died I had my long-awaited trio to London (50th birthday present) to see the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.  At the time I'd have said I had a brilliant day in London. It was truly remarkable, so much sunshine and happiness. There were tricky moments bubbling up, but I mostly revelled in the warmth, the beautiful things, the music, the remarkable building.

As I experienced it I thought I was putting my grief aside for a few hours. However, it didn't work out like that in the long run.

The trip down was great, being handed free bouquet and a book was lovely, the Royal Ballet was as wonderful as I hoped and the Royal Opera House itself is absolutely magnificent.  But when I think back to the day it's tainted by the numbness of trying to keep the grief at bay. Of oversharing and crying at strangers on the train home. (Oh god, those poor women!) Of crying in the shop changing room as I chose my outfit for the funeral. Of the shop worker hugging me, she used to be an oncology nurse. Of pouring so much energy into keeping the door closed on grief I couldn't fully experience anything. The loss was so new and raw.

It was in a fabric printing workshop a few weeks later that it all burst out. We were supposed to be doing a moment of quiet reflection before the next project started, and I cracked. Grief poured out in loud, messy sound. I wailed, I shrieked. I locked myself in the bathroom and howled snottily until I couldn't breathe. It was hideously embarrassing to rejoin everyone, but I did feel a pressure had lifted. At least it hadn't happened at the funeral. Public displays of distress are very much not my thing.

I stopped seeing people. I knew they would want to express their condolences, to talk to me about it and I just couldn't face it. My Very Excellent Mate Kirsty was an absolute rock, bless her, and listened to my babblings for hours, administering coffee and cake regularly. I avoided everyone else, even some of my very dearest friends because I just didn't know what to say. Mark wanted to comfort me but I wouldn't accept comfort, I just wanted to close myself inwards, turn everything off.

Now we're at nearly 3 months since Mum died. Dad's done lots of the admin associated with death, and had to face his loss every minute of every day. It's heartbreaking. I'm so proud of him and I hate that he has to go through this.  I've done bugger all, except help sort some of the more personal items out - emptying handbags, sorting jewellery and toiletries, that sort of thing.  I'm not as numb, but I'm still far from accepting it. I go to ring her regularly. I take photos to send her and remember I can't.

I'm lucky. I lost someone from the right generation - not a partner, not a child but a parent, the way you are supposed to as people get older. I have friends and cousins haven't been so fortunate, and that's been just awful.

I'm lucky.  I had my Mum with me until I was 50 years old. Mum lost both her parents by 38.

I'm lucky. We argued and blew up at each other sometimes, but we had brilliant times together too, and we knew we loved and were loved. Not all people have that relationship with their parents.

I'm lucky. I didn't have to see Mum dwindle and suffer, to lose herself to dementia or be trapped in an ailing body. She was fit and active and relishing life until her final weeks.

I'm lucky that Kate Williams was my Mum. But I don't feel very lucky just now.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Dear Zoo

Happy Birthday!

I've passed my half century, along with my First Ever Best Buddy Beth, Cerys Matthews of 6 Music, and the Open University. Balloons and cake to us all!

Like your typical eight year old fifty year old, I made the excellent decision to take a picnic to the zoo.  I say zoo, I mean the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster which is a friendly and excellent place.  It functions partly as a normal zoo and partly retirement home for animals no longer in the zoo breeding programme. It's one of my favourite places and somewhere all five of us enjoy.

Feeling pretty lazy, I bought a pack of fondant fancies to serve as a mini birthday cake. Feeling hungry, I made spanokopita to take with us on the picnic.

Leeds used to have a place called Salt's Deli, and their spanokopita was to die for. They vanished some years back and I really had a hankering for the lovely spinach and filo pie. As usual, I turned to Felicity Cloake of The Guardian for recipe advice. I roughly followed her recipe here.

I reduced the spinach from 1kg to 750g and would recommend increasing the feta to 350g. Chopping and massaging a tablespoon of salt through the fresh spinach did work, but I had to put it in a colander with heavy weights on to help remove the excess liquid.

It was a pretty easy recipe and I highly endorse it - it was delicious and kept me in lunches for several days. My VEM Kirsty had a taste and went home to cook it herself.

We had a brilliant time at the Wildlife Park. The baboons were busy with new babies, and freaking out about a male mallard that was somehow terribly threatening as he swan serenely around the pond. There were fights over a stick, brawls over getting too close to the babies, sibling jealousy, male posturing and female impatience with all this crap.  Pretty much like the rest of us. Except for the mallard phobia, obviously. That was just weird.

The painted dogs were remarkably laid back in the face of their neighbours' noisy chaos. I'd swear one of them was rolling her eyes, but anthropomorphising is too easy. 

One of my great delights is visiting the polar bears in their 10 acre playground. Polar bears are HUGE. Really, really huge. Not "gosh, that's big" type of beast, more "Holy Geez, look at the the size of him!" It's hard not to want to go in and give them a cuddle, even if they'd eat you - they are gorgeous and hey, a bear's got to eat. You don't get to be the world's largest land carnivore without a heck of an appetite. This is beautifully demonstrated by the sign on the staff entrance to the bear enclosure "Do You Know Where The Bears Are?"

Victor is my favourite. He's a behemoth of a bear - old, wonderful, father of 10,  grandfather of many. He had a lovely swim in his lake and spent a lot of time blowing bubbles because he can.  

I love the capybaras and the maras; if a rabbit and a deer had babies, they'd be maras. For my 40th birthday my Best Woman SJ bought me a hutch and two guinea pigs (Lola and Lotta because they were small and very funny) and it's hard not to see the capybaras as giant free-range guinea pigs, happily bimbling around and dozing in the sun. They *definitely* want a cuddle and a scratch on the back.

Guinea pigs on steroids

We were delighted to see the tiny baby anteater, Licky Minaj, having a cuddle with her mum then having a little wander in the outside world. She's ridiculously cute. Top work crowd-sourcing the name, YWP. No Anty McAntface for you.

Our big surprise of the day was discovering that armadillos go jogging. Watching them trot in opposite direction around their well-worn circuit had us transfixed for ages. Sure, the marmosets were cute, and it was exciting last time when they escaped, but jogging armadillos are adorable.

After our picnic, a visit to the tigers and giraffes, total failure to find the Amur leopards and a pause to admire the black rhino standing to attention, we met with Elvis the Emu. Elvis is under the misapprehension he's an ostrich. No one wants to hurt his feelings, so he lives in the African enclosure and hangs out with the female ostrich who's too polite to say anything. Maybe it's in the name.  We adopted a hen called Elvis from my good friend Lisa recently. She and her lads all refer to Elvis as "he" despite Elvis laying eggs daily.  Emu, ostrich, boy hen... Live your best lives, Elvis.

It was a lovely day spent with my best people. Dinner at Salvo's and home again to indulge in another birthday treat - watching the live-action Peter Pan from 2003, which remains one of my favourite film.

Over coming weeks I've a series of workshops, courses and performances to enjoy as I continue my bid to make this a year I look outwards rather than in. Textile printing, glass work, sewing garments, seeing ballets and shows... 50 has a lot to look forward to.

I'm handsome and I know it

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

To the half century.. and beyond!

Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a list of happiness-inspiring things I'd like to try before the end of the year I turn 50. It all seemed reassuringly far away, I had loads of time to do it all. 
2 years ago I updated my progress, and then completely forgot about it.
Last week my mother-inlaw reminded me of my list, and asked if there was anything on it she could facilitate as my birthday present.
I'm 50 in 3 weeks.
Better get my damned skates on.

Here's the list, which I could add to as I found new things I wanted to do. Those I've done are highlighted with white:
Venice is incredible.

  1. Go fishing  
  2. See the Giant's Causeway - Still haven't arranged it
  3. Try salsify and Jerusalem artichokes
  4. Go rock pooling again - somehow the opportunity hasn't arisen
  5. Sing in a choir - I'm a wuss. Nearly gone to 5 different ones and always bottle it
  6. Grow cut flowers 
  7. See live music 
  8. Visit Hadrian's Wall 
  9. Spend all day at the movies  
  10. Learn to apply make up properly 
  11. See the Northern Lights 
  12. Go whale-watching 
  13. Learn a new range of cooking 
  14. Sew something I can wear  
  15. See a new ballet company 
  16. Learn to play a song on an instrument 
  17. Go birdwatching on the Farne Islands 
  18. Return to Paris 
  19. Cook a decent roast dinner 
  20. Build sandcastles - not done that in ages, and I like it
  21. See Venice while it's still there
  22. See at least one of the birds on my most wanted list 
  23. Visit Petra - never going to happen, but it's the ancient wonder I'd most like to see
  24. Start another business
  25. Find a fossil
Each of those I have done has given me such a sense of achievement or pleasure. Seeing a Bearded Tit (keep your sniggering to yourself) at St Aiden's wildlife park the other week had me grinning for days - such a tiny bird, and so glorious! Venice was beyond my expectation of beauty and impossibility. Except for the eating of octopi it was perfection itself. (Octopi are probably smarter than we are. It's rude to eat them.)
weeks of sweetpea bouquets

I'm so glad Mark's mum reminded of my list.

Moving forward, I've found a workshop to achieve No.14 at the charming Hello Workshop in May. If I can make myself a T shirt someday I might be able to make myself jersey tunics, and I LOVE tunics.

M's parents are kindly treating me to a train ticket and ticket to see the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden - WOW! - so I can achieve No.15 as well as seeing one of my favourite ballets, Romeo and Juliet.  I'm ridiculously excited at the prospect.

My parents generously offered money for a trip.  I'm clearly horrendously middle aged as I decided I'd rather use it getting new stuff for the garden. Isn't that a lowering thought? It's true though; I spend all my daylight hours outside once the weather is half decent and eat most of my meals in the garden. Replacing our rickety, collapsing table and chairs with something better will give me many more hours of happiness than a weekend break, even if I were visiting the Giant's Causeway or Lisbon or somewhere else wonderful. Being in my marvellous garden is my easiest source of happiness. It's often scruffy but it's wonderful.

Obviously the trickiest is to start another business. I loved being self-employed, and I would be delighted to be so again. I need to think of something I can offer that other people would pay me to do. I'd say 'watch this space' but I feel I'd leave you hanging a good while.

What should I tackle next? 

The music? I have access to a ukulele, guitar, recorder, keyboard and clarinet, but can't play any of them.  Probably the wisest "play a song" route is the uke or the keyboard. 

Finding a veggie/fish - friendly roast dinner to prepare? Mark always does the roasts here. I prefer non-English food myself (if it doesn't start with garlic, why even bother?) so I've not been motivated to learn to do a roast properly with all the trimmings. Actually, asking Mark to teach me how to do it would be fun, we like cooking together... until I remember how critical he is of my knife skills and that I inevitably tell him to sod off about it. 
Perhaps not.

Planning a day at the seaside for rock pooling and castle building is easy enough - I just need the seasons to turn. I'll put a reminder in my diary and arrange it.
The movie one needs a confluence of events - enough films I'm interested in out at the same time, and not at a manic time of year like Christmas. We used to love our 3-movie days, in our pre-kids life. There are very few mainstream movies of the 90s I haven't seen, unless you include horror. (Remember, I'm a wuss) It would be a lot of fun to ditch being responsible and binge watch films in a cinema again.

So, newly inspired to seek out my adventures and about to hit my half century, I'm making plans. I'm not going to stay inside, letting my anxieties dictate the pace of my life. Spring is here and it's time to grow up and grow onwards.

I'd really appreciate any suggestions or advice, my lovelies. It's a big world and I do get a bit daunted.