Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The essence of summer 2020

Hubby and I nipped out for a walk first thing yesterday morning. The mist hung over the green hills of Turville while the sunlight was so piercing I could barely keep my eyes open. It felt like the last breath of summer... a chance to wander through the fields, past hedgerows and along chalky banks with the sun's warmth on our skin. We even spotted a some ragged purple flowers - a flash of floral excitement late in the season.

The countryside around Turville
The last day of summer?
Our beautiful walk coincided with the step-up in regulations to control the coronavirus. After a relatively carefree summer, it looks like we'll be hunkering down at home for the foreseeable future. I can feel the seasonal melancholy setting in...

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Exiting the corona cocoon

It has been a confusing time. In some ways, I've found the last few weeks of relative freedom more challenging than full-on lockdown. As we emerge from our Covid chrysalis, we are coming to terms with a 'new normal'. There are different rules/guidelines to navigate and we are a still long way off from going to the theatre, throwing raucous parties, or even going on a foreign holidays (despite all the talk of air bridges).

A field at sunset, full of white and red poppies
Hoping for a sweet summer
From talking to friends, a fair few of us are questioning the lifestyles we had pre-lockdown and are hopeful of a fresh start. And there are people (like me) who are feeling unsettled and unsure about what the future holds. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

White privilege, black lives

The Black Lives Matter protest came to the small market town of Henley yesterday, a mark of how widespread the movement has become. We were late to the protest - only hearing about it by chance - but managed to make the tail-end, joining a crowd of students, families and older couples in the main square.

Black Lives Matter placards during a protest in Henley on Thames
Protesters in Henley-on-Thames
There was a small police presence (a rare sight in our law-abiding town). Earlier, I was told, the officers had shown solidarity with the crowd by kneeling in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds - a tribute to George Floyd, whose neck was knelt on by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, for the same duration of time. Long enough for George Floyd to plead for his mother and long enough for him to die from asphyxiation.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Kindness - the new superpower

Throughout the coronavirus lockdown, there will be children stuck at home who have suffered emotional or physical abuse; kids who've witnessed the painful breakdown of their parents' relationship, or watched a mother/father spiral downwards into depression. 

The front cover of a book about ACEs
The book: how we can help people 
who have suffered childhood trauma
These experiences are not uncommon and sadly it has become clear that they can have a long-term impact, affecting not only children's mental health into adulthood, but also their physical health. For example, people who have suffered trauma in their early lives are more vulnerable to strokes and heart disease.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Sweet and sour

The first time I ever sampled sourdough, I was at a business lunch with a contact in New York during the late 1990s. Mid-conversation, sitting in the chichi restaurant, I remember picking up my diamond-shaped bread roll and taking a nibble. My goodness, I thought to myself, that bread has gone off! 

A loaf of sourdough bread on a table in a garden
Sourdough: 'bread with an old soul'
Picture credit: Will Lam
Perhaps I didn't hide my grimace well enough because my companion smiled and told me that 'sourdough' was a New York speciality. I felt a pang for the French-style bread I might have been given in a London restaurant back home...

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Youthful thinking

The depressing thing about getting older is that you'll never be young again. Yes, an obvious point (but bear with me). I look in the mirror every morning and I think, Rats - is that really me? What happened to my skin? Then I reach compulsively for my anti-ageing face cream...

The writer in a boat in New York
My glory days in NYC - boating in Central Park 
#MeAt20-ish
The other day, I was flipping through old photos and observing how youthful I used to be. But then it struck me: it's likely, when those snaps were taken, I'd already started worrying about my wrinkles. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

While the livin' is easy

We got our letter from Boris yesterday. Poor man - I'm sure he didn't imagine he'd end up in hospital himself when he was sitting there, chewing his pencil and wondering what to write. His words - we must slow the spread of the disease and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment - are steeped in irony. 

Digging in the vegetable patch
Tending to our new vegetable patch
Instead, Dominic Raab is left in charge. Two nights ago on the BBC, he looked faintly queasy at the prospect. Incidentally, he was in the year below us at university so it feels rather odd that he's now our de facto PM - like our generation has come of age. Or a bit like my friend Sarah or Cathy running the country, except Sarah is too busy looking after the children of key workers and Cathy is reading the news. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

House frau rules ok

Ever since I gave up full-time work to look after the kids, I've resisted - whisper it - becoming a housewife. The plan, back in 2003 when my daughter was born, was to raise the kids, write novels and freelance. On the whole, things turned out pretty well. Most of the time, I buried my neurosis that I had opted into domestic service. Writing books has brought me fulfilment while also affording me the flexibility to spend lots of time with my kids. As they got older, I've taken on more work.

Sun shining through the daffodils
Sun therapy in the garden helped me feel better
Then along came the Coronavirus. For the first time, our home became both the centre and the outer edge of our world. And who rules over this dominion? Me. During the past few weeks, I have flexed every domestic muscle in my body to keep my family fed, healthy and occupied. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Splendid isolation?

So it's Day One of social isolation. I feel like I can hear the Big Brother voiceover ringing in my ears, giving a running commentary of life in the 'house' so far. On the plus side, online school seems to be going well for the kids this morning, barring a few technical wrinkles. And the dog has enjoyed more walks than usual as we take turns to sample the sunny freedom in the fields behind our house.

Coronavirus haircuts in the kitchen
Coronavirus haircuts in the kitchen
My God, was it only a week ago that we had friends round for Sunday lunch? The last eight days have felt more like a month as we've watched our freedoms fall by the wayside, felled by an unremitting virus. It is incredible how the apparatus of our society - the education system, our economy, basic human rights - can be dismantled so quickly. And in the end, all it comes down to is life itself, the battle to preserve our little flickers of being.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Brave new world

What strange times we live in. I walked into a petrol station yesterday to fill up my car and got terribly excited when I noticed multiple packs of loo roll in the aisle. A rare sight these days. In our household, a shortage had been looming after several visits to my local supermarket last week proved fruitless. I had to resist the urge to buy up more than my fair share.

Even the dog's worried about food shortages 
- he raided a food bin this morning 
Our days are weighted with an underlying sense of dread as we wait for the coronavirus to unleash its full force on our shores. Yesterday's restrictions on social contact - recommended by the prime minister and his advisors - will change our lives in immeasurable ways. For me, the consequences of these restrictions are only just sinking in. Can I still meet a friend for coffee? No, not really. Will book club get cancelled? Yes. And what about Pilates? 

Monday, 2 March 2020

Every delay has a silver lining

It turned out to be quite an eventful holiday. At the beginning of half term, as I finished zipping up the suitcases and disposing of the dregs in the fridge, a text popped up from Easyjet:
We are sorry to inform you that your Easyjet flight xxx has been cancelled. You can transfer onto a new flight or get a refund...
Umbrellas at Cordial Mogan Playa Hotel
Blue sky, sunshine, RELAX
Gee, thanks, Storm Dennis. After a few hours of high stress (12-year old hid in his room), we finally managed to book ourselves onto another flight to Gran Canaria, our holiday destination, three days later - yes, three days later. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Time with the tribe

This one is about friendship. The long-lasting kind. I've just got back from a reunion weekend with my university besties and I'm still basking in the after-glow. We drank too much champagne/wine/gin, ate too much chocolate/cake/canap├ęs and contended with Storm Ciara, but my goodness it was worth it!

Four friends walking along a path together
The journey's more fun with friends
Picture credit: Harriet Bell
So often we take our friendships for granted, particularly during the decades of parenthood and middle age. Even the early narratives of our lives are spun around meeting a romantic partner, or having a child... and yet in the background, friendships run deep like a rich seam.