Thursday, 25 November 2010

Stealing Thanksgiving....

I've always loved Norman Rockwell's's always seemed to me, here in sometimes grey & rainy Britain,to symbolise all that's exciting, shiny, hopeful about the United States. GIs in uniform, their caps at a jaunty angle (" got any gum, chum?!"), little girls with pigtails and freckles, dime stores, drug stores, ice cream sodas, pecan pies, coke bottles, ladies in 1950's swirly skirts with little white gloves and well groomed young husbands...and Thanksgiving! A magical holiday in the dreary month before the glitz of Christmas.
As a child, of course, my admiration was tinged with envy. Another day off school! Another wonderful family dinner! Perhaps presents??
But now that I'm older, I just think what a beautiful thing it must be to have a day set aside to celebrate...everything! Health, happiness, home. I wonder why we don't have it here - after all, those pilgrims were British when they landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620! We should have given thanks for their success, at least! What a time that must have been. Absolutely terrifying. Much as I adore New England, a part of me always feels a little sad when I see all those familiar names: Taunton, Bridgewater,Warwick, Greenwich, Mansfield, Uxbridge...Braintree, Weymouth, even Boston itself!They all speak to me of the homesickness those early settlers must have felt. Clinging on to a little of what they'd known, in the wilderness and unfamiliarity of their new surroundings. Of course, I'm sure it was no picnic for the native Americans either...these blustering newcomers with their sense of entitlement, come to inhabit their land...
But here we are. Nearly 400 years later. And I like to think that most of the Thanksgiving prayers around the millions of tables today.. groaning with turkeys, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies...won't differ so very much from those said at the first celebrations all those hundreds of years ago. Thanks for friends, for family, for health and for the beauty and bounty of the country that we live in.

I'll second that. Happy Thanksgiving, America. I'm so glad the Mayflower made it...


Friday, 19 November 2010

Memories of a Princess

Happy news of the Royal engagement this week have , inevitably, brought back memories of the mother that Prince William lost at such an early age. Diana was such a part of life in this country for nearly 20 years that it's still sometimes hard to realise she's no longer here. Pictures of her are still printed frequently (& will be more so now in the run-up to the weddng I have no doubt) and stories still written even 13 years after her death.

She wasn't much older than me, and at the time of her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981, I was at that very impressionable, romantic stage....mid-teens....hearts and flowers! She was like a fairy tale to me, I collected cuttings for my scrapbook, analysed & devoured every those days, her style was copied endlessly too. My friends and I all had versions of her flicked bobbed haircut, wore similar 'piecrust' collars, blue some way or other we were all under her spell. My family went to London, to friends who had a flat that overlooked Hyde Park, the night before the wedding - the biggest firework show ever! We had a red, white & blue buffet supper - still have nightmares about dyed blue rice salad! The day itself was hot & sunny...we waited with bated breath for a look at THE dress...and there she was, our dream girl, in a huge puff of clotted cream silk! Some people saw creases - we just saw gorgeousness. I can remember every minute of that day, I videotaped the ceremony & would replay it so often that it ended up crackled & grainy! The obsessions of 14 year old girls can't be underestimated! In 1983, she came to OUR TOWN!! Her red helicopter landed on our school playing field and some of my friends & I skipped a lesson to see her open the new shopping centre in the rain (highly illegal - I hope my mother doesn't read this!) I remember she wore damp, green velvet & a feather in her hat along with that sweet smile!

The years rolled on and everyone knows what happened. The news of her death came to me in the early morning of the day after my Mum's fantastic 60th birthday party. It will always rank as one of the biggest shocks of my life. Gone. Just like that. In the week between that day and the funeral, I went up to London & vsiited Kensington Gardens. I hear people now saying that the events of that week weren't 'real', that the country was gripped by hysteria,that it was all manufactured...well, I was there. And there was nothing manufactured about it. The gardens in front of the palace where she'd lived were, literally, a sea of flowers. Florists vans parked in the road were giving roses away (free) to people...and such silence despite the crowds. Everyone was in shock. I remember seeing a business man, in pinstriped suit,with a briefcase in one hand and a white rose in the other making his way towards the floral mountain. Candles in jars lined the fence. Old ladies,cheeks wet with tears. Our Princess gone. No more Diana.

Life goes on...years pass. can it be so long since we last saw her? And now one of her beloved boys is to marry, and the sight of his mother's engagement ring (an iconic object in my 14 year old eyes!) on his beautiful fiancee's finger has brought her back once more. How she would have loved news of this wedding. Her sons are her lasting tribute and the contribution she made to their early lives can only be good for our monarchy, I think.

Congratulations to William & Catherine. And I offer up a silent toast to Diana. Because I miss her still.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest we forget....

"When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will shine in this now barren plot
And fame upon it through the years descend:
But many a heart upon each simple cross
Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss."

From "A Soldier's Cemetery" by John William Streets (known as Will) who died, aged 31 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916

                                                      WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Aujourd'hui a Paris....

Thanks so much for all your sweet words about poor gentle China. I'll pass them all onto Natalie, who'll be as touched as I was, I know.

This week is a wild one, weather-wise. Rain and heavy winds are battering the windows as I write and wrenching the last leaves from the trees...Alice has to be prised from her cosy place on the sofa for a's hard for me to go out too,so much nicer to be in the kitchen with the oven on and Radio 4 keeping me company. But I currently have Christmas cakes baking, and they take some time, so I really have no excuse - and I always feel so much better after a bracing walk across the hill, the wet gusts whipping my cheeks into a healthy glow! And it means that I earn the cup of hot Earl Grey I'll make when I return!

Paul is on a special trip today, that I thought you'd like to hear about...

We have 3 close friends: Dave, Steve & John - they all live within a few minutes of us (although in different directions) and we socialise with them and their partners regularly. Paul, especially, has been friends with them for many years and they all get on so well...
Each year they, plus a few other male friends, have a Boy's Christmas Lunch somewhere special - usually in London. I generally find them a restaurant that I think would suit their purpose...hearty, good food and, most importantly, a lengthy & well priced wine list!

This year, they've decided to buck the trend and forsake London for they'll be off in early December, on the Eurostar for the day. They're all very excited. So excited, in fact, that they've decided to have a 'trial run' today!! They all went into London early this morning and made their way to St Pancras Station, where they caught the train that will take them under the Channel and into France's beautiful capital. They'll be lunching at Le Timbre (The Postage Stamp) so-called because of it's small size! The chef is British - Chris Wright - and the restaurant looks gorgeous...Paul has promised to bring me back a menu!

I thought you'd like to see a photo they sent me from St Pancras an hour or so ago...

from the left: Paul, Steve, Dave & John. As you can see, they hit the Champagne Bar early!

I know they'll have a wonderful day and I can't wait to hear all about it! But for now, I have a reluctant little dog to winkle off her warm blanket and out into the au revoir  and a bientot! xoxo

Friday, 5 November 2010

Goodbye, Sweet Girl...

Just a little post today. It's pouring with rain here in London, and dark already too. Alice was clipped this morning and now looks very smart & tidy. Tanya, the lovely lady who grooms her, always attaches a cute little bow to her collar, just to finish off the look - today, it's ocean blue with a diamante flower in the centre. So cute. Alice always feels a little self-conscious when she''s just been clipped, probably because we cuddle & kiss her even more than usual as she looks so darling - she must wonder what's going on!

While I was waiting for her to be 'done', I received a very sad message. Some of my followers & friends might remember China, the deaf sharpei belonging to my friend Natalie, who we looked after while she was in Australia in January. The sweetest natured dog. Alice wasn't too pleased to share her home at first, but China bore the nagging with the utmost fortitude and they got along famously in the end.

As you have probably guessed, China died earlier today. She'd had a horrible start in life (her ears were sewn up as a puppy by her vile first 'owners') and she had a few health problems. She became very ill yesterday and deteriorated after a night at the vets. Natalie had to make the saddest decision - all that a good pet owner can do, in the end. Stop the pain, stop the suffering and release her to run free once more.

I'll always think of her with love. Gentle China. Rest in peace, sweetie.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. We have LOTS to do ! Alice is looking at me...."feed me, feed me". I'd better go...xoxo

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Home in November

I've now been home for 5 days...feeling more normal after the jet lag and mostly back to my normal routine. In some ways it seems impossible to believe that I was ever there. That this time last week I was sitting on a blanket in Cotton Tree Park, by the Pacific, in 28 degree heat, with Esther & Alfie (my youngest Aussie nephew) and our friend Sue and her daughter. Ibis (which are like pigeons there) strutted around us, picking up bits & pieces with their beautiful curved black beaks....rainbow lorikeets screeched as they flew overhead...we drank iced Diet Coke and the air conditioning was on 'high' in the car. Today I took a long, blustery walk with Alice - it was 10 degrees on the hill - golden leaves twirled overhead and scrunched underfoot...the wind was so strong that I tied my woollen scarf tightly around my neck...and this afternoon as I took my break I had a hot cup of tea and ate a toasted crumpet with maple syrup! So different.

I always feel a little flat and low when I leave Esther and the children. We have such fun and I love the 'ordinary' things that we do. Every morning at 7.30am, I heard Esther's alarm go off and knew that the next sound would be the slap slap of two pairs of bare feet as my darling niece and oldest nephew (Scout & Kip) ran into my room with a cheery cry of 'Morning, Ray!!!' and a huge hug for me. Then breakfast, the school run, the daily chat with Tamino the rescued Princess Parrot who exercises by flying round the kitchen and alighting on the nearest shoulder, the cuddles with dear Clara Bow the one-eyed black pug & Peggy the beautiful black brindle Staffy, the chats about dinosaurs and sharks with adorable Alfie....and Esther, always Esther. The joy of seeing her first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The bliss of finally sitting beside her at the movies instead of just talking about films we've seen. The aching sides from laughing more than I ever do with anyone else, about the most ridiculous things. The luxury of not being 12,500 miles away. It's all very hard to leave behind.

But my beloved Paul was waiting at Arrivals and it was so good to see him, and my parents and youngest sister Lucy and toddler nephew, William...and, of course, darling little Alice. She gave me the cold shoulder for a couple of days & refused to sit on my lap...but she's now back to normal and curled at my feet as I write. That's my life - happy there, happy here but always slightly torn.

I hope everyone's having a great week, thanks so much for all your wonderful birthday wishes and comments. It means such a lot to me, truly. xoxo