The Funeral – a story

Exercise two The funeral a short story written with Jojo Thomas and friends. The subject is a funeral. I chose to do a piece of fiction loosely based on the preparations for my mothers funeral.

We gather around the fireplace and wait. We drink coffee and tea and watch the flames climbing, escaping. No one speaks, we are waiting for the priest.

I can’t quite remember him but I think he is a tiny little fella with grey hair and flaking skin. I never much liked him, but mum loved his visits. She used to say that he always had the gossip!

We hear a car make its way up the hill. By the time I get to the door, its parked and a tall slim man is walking towards the steps. It’s not Father Joe, so I don’t know how to greet him.

‘Good evening father. Is father Joe coming later?’

‘Father Joe had to go to Dublin. Lucky divil!’

‘Oh, and you are?’

‘Father Gordon. New to the parish. I met your mam a few times. Lovely lady. So sorry for your loss.’

Father Gordon is about six foot four with dark hair, chiselled cheek bones and the brightest blue eyes. Without the getup, he could pass for a rock star. He shakes my hand and I lead him into the lounge.

‘Will you have tea father?’

‘Sure tea is grand, but a drop of whisky is better.’

‘Oh, yes, of course. Sorry, I didn’t think…’

‘What that priests drink, in Ireland?’ His bright blue eyes look into mine for a moment too long.

‘Oh, sorry, yes, stupid of me I will get that in a moment. Let me introduce you to my sister Hanna, my brother Alfie and my husband Jacob.’

I point to each of them. They stand in turn, as if being presented to the Queen, at one point I thought Hanna was actually going to curtsy.

Everyone is quiet as the father drinks his whisky. We are waiting for instructions for the funeral on Friday.  The priest looks at each of us in turn and I instantly start to feel a little like Red Riding Hood in the sights of the Big Bad Wolf!

He addresses all of us. ‘So, where do you all come from?

‘London’ It’s a chorus as we answer together.

‘Ah a great place. Spent a few years there when I was a novitiate.’

It seems he is determined to chat, I nod and try to conjure a smile.

I start to flick through the papers I prepared for his visit. I look over at my husband hoping he will register my feeble smile and see it as a call to arms to take over the conversation. As if reading my mind, Jacob leans in and asks Father Gordon about his time in London, where he lived, what he liked to do, where he went after London. I watch Jacob conduct the conversation drawing in Hanna and Alfie at key points. He is like a skilful conductor, slowly but precisely drawing in each instrument of a very small orchestra.

My neck aches from all the time spent leaning over my laptop researching poems and hymns, I should know what her favourites are, but I don’t. It took me back to the last time I attended mass.

I stopped going to mass when I was about 14, it was after a long conversation with dad when he told me I had a choice about whether or not I attended.  So, the very next Sunday I declared my intention to stay at home. Mum was not pleased and made me look after Hanna, I complained and mums retort was that it was better than the punishment I could expect in Hell for missing mass!

I move my head to one side and then the next, slowly, so I don’t draw attention. I don’t want to discuss my faith or lack of it. Jacob is still managing the conversation so I can tune in and out as I choose.

Father Gordon is explaining that he was a military chaplain in Bosnia. His smile has faltered and my husband lets the conversation die, much as the fire is dying in the crate.

We are silent while Father Gordon reads the notes I prepared for the service. He then advises us on the hymns and readings, we are attentive and almost compliant. He is talking about Holy Communion, do we want it. I want to shout at him that I really don’t give a fuck about Holy Communion but, instead, I say that its up to him to decide, I wont be taking it.  Hanna can’t resist poking the priest.

‘What about Jacob father, he isn’t one of us you know, is he allowed to take it?’

He thinks for a minute and then answers her, ‘only if he doesn’t swallow! ‘I nearly cover him in the tea that spurts out of my mouth. Hanna looks shocked and excuses herself.

Father Gordon now has Jacob in his sights. ‘Sure I have no problem with other religions, you can take it if you like, it wont hurt you and it may even do you some good.’

Jacob is smiling. I can see he likes the priest; anyone who can get one over on Hanna is in his good books. Jacob replies to the priest, ‘I will give it a miss, but thanks for the offer.’

Father Gordon leans in and his head almost touches Jacobs when he says. ‘You know you’re not going to heaven, don’t ya?’ He sits upright again waiting to see how Jacob will respond. I am tempted to rescue, someone, anyone, but stay silent. Quick as a flash Jacob responds. ‘Maybe not; But then, maybe your not getting in either father.’  Alfie’s sharp intake of breathe expresses my thoughts exactly. I don’t want Father Gordon to take against us, he has vast swathes of power in the pulpit. Seconds later Jacob and Father Gordon both burst out laughing and shake hands. Now, I can breathe again.

As he gets ready to leave, Father Gordon points to the three cars parked outside the house. ‘Those cars out there, are they yours?’

The worst winter in a decade meant we were all driving four wheel drive cars, Hanna has the Mitsubishi, Alfi a luxurious Range rover and we have an Audi.  They did look impressive all standing to attention.

Alfie answers. ‘Yes’

‘What will happen to your mam’s car when you leave?’  I forgot about the bright red Hilux parked around the back of the garage. How does Father Gordon even know it exists?

Alfie, who hasn’t spoken much this evening takes control. ‘Now father we haven’t decided yet. Sure we want to help people out an all, but you wouldn’t be edging for one would you?

Father Gordon is not one to be put off lightly, ‘If there’s one free, I wouldn’t say no!’

We all laugh, pretending that Father Gordon is having the gas with us, but we know the score. The church expects and most people deliver.

Back to School

Why is it that every September I get an urge to buy new stationary?

People who know me well, know I love a new notebook and that I have a bit of an obsession with fountain pens and colourful felt-tips! So far I have resisted the urge to splurge on stationary. A couple of weeks ago I tidied my stationery cupboard and neatly organised existing ‘virgin’ notebooks. I also cleaned some of my old fountain pens to get them working again, ready for the Autumn term.

September has always felt like its a new beginning, it brings endless possibilities and opportunities. When I was at school it meant a new classroom with a new teacher but mostly the same pupils. We shared stories of holidays and gasped at each others exploits. It sometimes meant new uniform. For most of my working life I embraced it as a time to renew skills and dust down some of the old ones ready for the onslaught of work.

This year is different because work is sparse and likely to stay so for the next few months. Having accepted the situation I now believe that this gives me time to think about new skills. Over the past few weeks I attended several online workshops. Although initially uncomfortable, I am now embracing zoom and google classroom. I love that I can sit in my own home and learn from wonderful tutors from across the world, chat with colleagues in breakout rooms, read materials and view videos at any time of the day or night. I am learning the content they are teaching, but even more importantly, I am learning what works and doesn’t work on these platforms. So, this year instead of a notebook, I treated myself to wifi headphones and stands for my iPhone and iPad.

Last week I had trees in my garden pruned and other plants cut back.  We do pruning to help send nutrients to the healthy parts of the tree. If we don’t cut it back, the tree will keep trying to send nutrients to bits that are dead or dying. Perhaps, in the past, by using a new notebook I no longer felt burdened with old notes or finished works. Maybe a fresh, new, and blank page gave me permission to explore.

I have decided that this September is a time to cut out less valuable activities and work, so that I can let new things in. Perhaps where any part of my working life is fading I need to cut it back so new shoots can emerge. I have enjoyed a great many years working with inspiring people doing engaging work and I believe that was only possible because, every few years, I gave myself permission to adapt and change my working world.

Like many people, I don’t know where 2020 will end for me, work-wise, but I do know that I intend to keep learning. I absolutely believe that learning is a creative process which leads to adventure, engagement, and sometimes it leads to great opportunity. Back to school is, for me, an important stepping stone.

I wonder how other people are experiencing this September and would love to hear from you. 

 

 

What gives me joy?

Its a simple enough question but, since the lockdown started, I have sometimes struggled with it. On a dark day when I feel lonely and sad my husband will touch my hand and say, ‘do the things that give you joy.’ Its a wonderful act of kindness and he is telling me to stop worrying about working, tidying, cleaning, cooking, finance, or looking after any other aspect of our life.

He works from home every day so, as we approach the weekend, the thought of not having to worry about work or anything else gives him joy. He is capable of reading a book whilst there are dishes on the side that need to find their way into the dishwasher.

Very sadly, on Tuesday, I learnt of the death of a man who has been a mentor and coach to me during my 26 years in business. I  liked him a lot and respected him. We didn’t talk often, but when we did it was normally deep, wide ranging and illuminating. I feel sad  that he continued to work right up to his death and whilst  enduring cancer treatment. I feel deeply saddened, that someone who helped me plan my retirement will never see his own. I felt sadness for his family, work colleagues and for the other people, like me, who benefited from his diligence, warmth, sometimes harsh critique but always support.

I notice that it is important to know what sadness is, because then, if I can feel that, I can also know joy.

About an hour ago, as we were having lunch something pinged on my phone and for absolutely no reason I started to cry, uncontrollably. It lasted for 10 minutes. My husband offered some sage advice and ended it by suggesting that I do whatever gives me joy. He suggested that it may be an idea to sit in the garden and read a book. I agree that is a good idea, it always gives me pleasure to read. So that’s the solution then!

As I contemplated a cup of tea, I got to thinking about ‘What gives me joy’ and the answer is simple. Its conversations with people, ideally, in person. The conversation doesn’t have to be lengthy but it has to be meaningful. It can be a discussion where we have to agree to disagree and it will still give me joy. It could be a conversation with someone in a work setting, someone who asks for my advice, that always gives me joy. I had a few of those over the past few months and every single conversation has given me joy.

So, thank you to everyone who called for a chat, sought advice, had a coaching session. You give me joy. x

A second seaside trip!

My first overseas holiday was a long rail journey to Austria where, with my school mates, I stayed in the beautiful town of Kitzbuhel. Fast forward to 1979 and I moved to Paris to study and work. I lived in the 16th Arrondissement, in a place called Port de St Cloud but I spent 1200px-Les_Deux_Magots,_25_September_2019every possible free moment walking the streets of central Paris, visiting museums and sitting watching people from the seats outside Deux Maggots which was near my school.

Since the Seventies, I have travelled overseas most years. Its always fun doing the alphabet of countries and I  can normally find somewhere visited for every letter, with the exception of L, Q, X and Y. Qatar is the only Q and who knows I may get there one day. Yemen is the only Y and I am unlikely to visit. ‘L’  has a few options and I may decide to visit at least one of them at some point in the future. No country or sovereign state begins with the letter X!

2012 was, for us, a significant exception to the overseas travel rule.  I refused to leave the UK, it was an act of defiance, of rebellion and it came at a time when I was still grieving for the loss of my mother. I refused to leave the UK until my husband agreed to an adventure. It was a withdrawal of willingness to go back to our usual haunts.

So, when foreign travel was off the agenda, I took a flat for a winter rental from 3rd January 2012, luckily for me the rental was extended to the middle of May. The flat overlooked a pebble beach and I could watch the sea coming in and going out.

It was the therapy I needed. It was the place where I started to write fiction. It was also the place where we planned our travel bucket list. We had different perspectives on when we should embark on our adventures: My husband assumed it would all happen when we retired; I felt strongly that we had to do it while we were still working and young enough to climb onto ribs and endure the hardships of some of the journeys we were considering.

Top of that list was Antarctica and in 2013 we undertook a most amazing journey which included a trip over to Easter Island. Fast forward and we have seen and done way more travel than we ever expected.

We had plans for last year including a trip to New Zealand but those plans were put on hold because of family illness. We also had lots of plans for this year, but they will not now happen. We wonder if we will ever travel by air again; we hope for a vaccine.

east headSo, for the second time this summer, we travelled to spend a week in a flat over-looking the sea. We fell asleep  to the sound of waves lapping or crashing onto pebbles.  We walked the beach from Bracklesham Bay to East Head or vice versa. We sunbathed on a tiny balcony. We had a Chinese takeaway!

We started to think about future adventures and we agreed that for the next couple of years these adventures may need to take place in the UK. Re-engaged with our love of sailing, we considered the possibility of sailing around the UK. We realised that even though we will not be flying anywhere, we have many options and the only thing that holds us back from experiencing more adventure will be our own hesitation.

chichester-marina

Once again I am grateful to East Wittering, the beach, the sea, the holiday agents for organising accommodation, and the people working in the shops and restaurants for providing for our every need. It seems that East Wittering is, for me, an inspiring place. Its a place where my husband and I engage in important discussions and it is where we seem to take important decisions.

Now, we will work out exactly how to make our plans a reality!!

In the meantime, I have decided to sort my photos into alphabetical country order so I am sharing my travel alphabet below. I am really interested to know where others have travelled, so, do message me.

My Travel Alphabet

A = Africa, Argentina, Antarctica, Austria, Antigua, Australia and Ascension Island

B= Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Belize, British Virgin Islands and Barbados

C= Chile, Capo Verde, Canada, Cuba and Cyprus

D= Denmark

E = Egypt

F= France and the most amazing Falkland Islands (how did I miss this off the first time I did the list!)

G= Germany, Greece, Grenada and Guatamala

H – Holland, Hong Kong

I – Ireland, India and Italy

J = Jersey and Japan

K = Kenya

L=

M = Mexico, Mustique, Martinique,  Montserrat and Moldova

N = Nigeria and Norway

O – Oman

P = Peru, Paraguay and Poland

Q =

R = Romania (This is a bit of a stretch, Moldova was once part of Romania!)

S = Spain, St Lucia, St Martin, Senegal, St Kitts, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Sri Lanka and Switzerland.

T = Tanzania Tunisia Turkey Trinidad and Tobago

U = United States of America  United Arab Emirates and Uganda

V= Vancouver Island, Virgin Islands (US) Vatican City

W= Wales (this doesn’t come up in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s list of countries, but I am including it anyway!)

X =

Y=

Z = Zanzibar

Freedom

“The ocean was one of the greatest things he had ever seen in his life—bigger and deeper than anything he had imagined. It changed its color and shape and expression according to time and place and weather”

Haruki Murakami

On 10th July 2020, I sought, and I found freedom by the sea!

In fact, I fount it living next a small flat, in a simple English coastal village.

My freedom is glorious, wondrous, magnificent and inspiring.

The daily news deterred me from booking a holiday, but the draw of the sea became all consuming. I thought that I might just go berserk if I stayed cooped up in my London home for much longer. A bit of googling and my husband found a property with availability.

“The sea always filled her with longing, though for what she was never sure.”
Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

As we are preparing to leave London, we ask each other countless questions such as: Is it too early to leave the confines of our home? Will there be crowds of people? Did the people who rented the flat last week have Covid? Will my cleaning remove any trace of the virus from the sink, door handles, bedside tables, crockery and cutlery? Have I forgotten anything that will mean I have to go to the shops and engage with people who may have the virus? Will we be able to park outside the flat to unload the car? Will people look strangely at me wearing my mask around the place?

The answer to the last question is, yes, people look strangely at me and my husband wearing our masks.  We only wear them in shops or when passing large groups. One man told his family not to cough as I walked past, they all fell about laughing, a bit like the robots in a very old Smash advert! Others whisper to each other and point at us. Its not like my part of London, where people are often seen wearing masks. It feels disagreeable and I feel conspicuous.

In the Cooperative store, a young woman who attends the till, gives me good advise about how to stop my sunglasses steaming when wearing a mask, Apparently you need to put soap on the edge of the mask, just where it touches the glasses. It does actually stop the steaming! She, at least, was grateful that I wore a mask when she was serving me.  That one conversation and her kindness at my obvious embarrassment, made all of the other sneers and whispers insignificant.

There is nothing exciting about this village; a pub that spills over into the road with people holding plastic pints.  A Tesco store which is in chaos, not sure how to handle social distancing,. An array of bric a brac, charity, and cake shops, but I have no interest in visiting any of them.

The place we are renting is not luxurious. The flat is basic, clean and minimalist. Its minimal in a way that means the owners did, just enough, to make it habitable for a week or so. But, and its a big but! This flat has a dual aspect Seaview!

“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

So, I found freedom in being able to watch the ebb and the flow of the waves, the sunrise and the sunset, the tide coming in and then going out.

My freedom comes from experiencing the energy of the sea, inhaling the ozone, and falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping or crashing against a pebbled beach.

 

Covid 19 – Day 112

Over 100 days ago I had my last ‘normal’ day: I saw a client, went to the hairdressers, did a bit of random shopping and joined friends for dinner at a local Indian restaurant. Washing hands on arrival and even part way through the meal, elbow bumping our friends and the restaurant owner. The day was ‘normal’ but even in early March we both felt a little uncomfortable with the proximity of so many others. We had a great meal, lots of fun and frivolity and it was a memorable and super evening.

The next day we celebrated my husbands birthday, at home!  We haven’t really left home much since then. I started a video log that day and have recorded six or seven videos to remind myself of the journey we have taken these past few weeks.

I wanted to do something to help others but was scared to offer to work at a supermarket or volunteer in a hospital. Quite quickly I volunteered for the NHS responder service, I have been on duty most of the time but have never been called. I offered free coaching to friends on Facebook to help people who may be worried about their careers. I had a few requests and I have loved the contact and working with those people.

I worked from home for a couple of clients for about a month and then things stopped. It started up again a few weeks ago and I hope it will build from here. It seems that the life of a freelancer is going to be a bit bumpy over the next year or so.

When the full lockdown was called I found I had to divert my energies to other tasks like cleaning. In the early weeks I also did a lot of clearing, but the clearing soon became problematic because I didn’t have anywhere to store things. The dump and charity shops all being closed meant that my garage got full quickly.   I soon stopped sorting and started rearranging things.

Workshops started to appear online and I signed up for a few of them. Not all of them worked for me but I was grateful for the people putting in the effort to deliver content. I now have a few things I do regularly. I find that I benefit from this new way of connecting and learning.

Sewing is a passion and I continued to work on some of the projects I started at college. Different to the quilts I usually make with commercial fabric these projects are made with home dyed fabric. Sheets that would have been dumped got a new lease of life. I learnt to use scraps, no use to anyone, to weave new pieces of fabric and I am really pleased with the results. A fellow student started a coronavirus quilt project and I was eventually able to contribute a piece to his work. Sewing and knitting, as I say some of my passions, have been a bit of a struggle in lockdown. I realise that both sewing and knitting are good community activities and isolation makes it harder to focus.

A couple of weeks into lockdown I was invited to join a local bookclub which would meet every two weeks to discuss selected books. Its organised, on Zoom and everyone who participates is passionately interested in discussing books. Some of the books have been daunting like The Heart’s Invisible Furies, controversial like American Dirt, or fun and inspiring like Sweet Sorrows by David Nicholls who joined our group for the last half hour to take questions. He was a joy and it was so inspiring to hear him talk openly about his writing practice.   Our local book group continues online and that is a lot of fun with a mix of books including the magical The Binding. The local group is also about friendship and support and has been invaluable.

My garden has always been a place of refuge and never more needed than in the lockdown. I can’t decide if the hot weather in London is a blessing or not but it does mean that I am noticing things more. For example, this morning I saw the sun rising at 04.45 and last night I was able to sit in the garden until very late with the sun setting at about 21.20.

Its hard to believe we have now passed midyear and that the days will start to draw in. I wonder what the next stage of the Pandemic will bring for me and John. My heart goes out to everyone who is shielding and to those people who live on their own. This has been hard for the grandparents stuck at home alone who can’t see their children and their grandchildren

I don’t have any big revelations or advice to give anyone. I am truly grateful for friends and family who contact me or respond to me, you make my life joyful. I am writing this post to acknowledge my over 100 day milestone.

Renny is to blame!

 

blue and yellowPleased with the relationship between the blue and yellow papers, I take a coffee break. Downstairs, in the hall, I watch Renny stretch out his arms and close his hands, it is a long yawn. I ask if he’s been outside. He doesn’t answer. I turn toward the kitchen door.

He is struggling, like the rest of us, to meet the conflicting demands of lockdown, exercise, work but I am beginning to tire of Renny’s moods. He broke the rules and I am exhausted after days of fever and coughing. I return to the attic, reveling in my first bookbinding.

100 Words

This is my first attempt at a Drabble!

It was written using six phrases from a random selection of books which I will post later.

Pendippy

We know what’s coming and we’re not going to wait around for the PM’s announcement on Monday.  The car is jammed with food, wine and treats for Alex. For me, its the normal detritus of a crafting life; needles, every kind of needle, wool, fabric, thread and my trusty Husqy.

Alex was furloughed this morning, its a term I’ve never heard used in relation to people, and it means that he will be paid to not work for the next twelve weeks. It took us all of 20 minutes to agree that this gives us permission to leave the City and travel to Pendippy. Its a large whitewashed house with a distinctive red roof and its been my family home for over 40 years. There is electricity, running water and an Aga which keeps the old place pretty warm even on the coldest days. No one lives there now, so me and Alex visit every summer for a couple of weeks to check it out and ensure it is maintained.

Over the past few days, as supermarket counters emptied, Alex worked out exactly how much food was needed for the next 12 weeks and through Amazon Prime stocked up on bags of protein shake, coffee, porridge and UHT milk.  In his last Sainsbury’s dash, he managed to grab the remaining few bags of pasta and a bundle of cans of tomatoes. At Pendippy the freezer is full of the best local Salmon and other goodies left from our last visit and we can forage for fruit and veg in the gardens. We intend to live in isolation, without leaving the grounds, until the worst is over. We have no phone signal or wifi but we have a library full of books, and, we have each other.

Excited, we jump in the car for the long drive north. As we approach Pendippy the air seems cooler, the sun is fading and it looks like rain might follow.  I open the car door and I hear the crash of waves on rocks. The seagulls are soaring and swooping above us, no doubt out for their evening meal. 

The extensive pine forest behind the house has, before today, always given me the creeps. It makes the back of the house dark and gloomy but today it gives us privacy from the town, so no one will know we are here. There are some locals who don’t want City folk  descending on their village but we have as much right to be here.

Anyway, we’ve decided that we have no intention of leaving!

pendippy