Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

Tom washed the kitchen floor yesterday and the colour of the water was similar to the colour of the water from the clearing up of the flood. It bought it home to me that how ever wonderful the clearing up process was, the evidence of its destruction is still on our streets; along with the sandbags and the bridge, we are still here.

I wrote the following at the time and then posted a less wordy account;-
Water, it is one of the greatest forces of nature; we all know this. One has seen the damage it can do on Wthe television, we know it in our heads. But when it rages out of control through the place were you live you know it in your heart.

Like Boscatstle our flood started on the higher ground surrounding our valley. They say between 2 and 3 inches fell in a short space of time and the trickle of water that bleeds out of the ground of the hill, and forms a pretty little stream that runs down beside Tanhouse Road, turned into a monster. A fearce and frightening monster that ripped boulders from the ground and cars from their parking place; that bursts through locked doors and leaved a calling card of thick sticky mud.

It was described to me as sounding like a volcano; it came in the dark of night turning a road into a torrent, rolling boulders and tossing them in the air as it tries to find its way to the river. Cars were carried away and discarded, as they piled up with scattered rocks, soil and tree branches to dam the way forward along the road; on it surges bursting through the front door of a house and out the back: there was no gate so the stones of the wall are exploded apart to be used as further ammunition by the water to smash and forces it way forward. It was as if it panicked when it reached the main road, another rush of water was coming from the stream that gives whispering Waters its name. It too has picked up souvenirs of it journey, pea shingle from the escape lane, which it carried all the way down to Quay Street. Being unsure of which way to go the water spreads out carrying its brown sludge through more locked doors spreading it murky waters into shops and houses. Finally it carried on down South Street continuing its destruction bursting open our back gates and depositing two inches of mud and flooding the little cottage next door. It pounded through the medieval arch with such force it hit the house opposite and rolled back on itself like a wave. More flooding occurred as the water spread out on the even ground along the river, up to waist deep at its worst. It was fast, furious and deadly.’house restoration,log burner

The advent windows progress day by day (I am number 13 this year) and the street Christmas trees are up and decorated with lights, I love that each shop (or in some cases private houses) are responsible for their own lights and therefore they are all different. It all underlines the fact the calendar is telling me, it’s that time of year again.

My Christmas letter has become an excuse for me to indulge myself the time to reflect on the year that has just passed and to record it as a kind of diary that I always enjoy reading at a later time. One of our great excitements is that after living in a house without an open fire for the first time in our lives, that has now been rectified and at last we have a log burner and warmth. As lovely as this is it is not our biggest or best excitement this year; that happened the day of our annual arts and crafts festival in May. As with other years I had offered my services and I was committed to seeing stallholders to their allotted spots down on the parade first thing in the morning. We were woken in the dark early hours by the telephone, I sat up instantly awake to hear the voice of my eldest son, Kate was in labour and I had promised I would have a case packed ready to leave when this call came. Never has a sense of duty and personal desire been so opposed. So I heard of Jacob Zachary Watts arrival into the world standing in a marquee in the early hours of the morning with a face wet with tears of love mingled with tears of frustration; as soon as someone else was there to take over my responsibilities I was on my way. I once read a quote by someone whose name I can no longer remember which was; ‘Grandchildren are your reward for not murdering your children.’ On a visit to see them recently I passed Jacobs slightly ajar bedroom door in the evening, and as I peeped around it I saw Kate sitting cross legged on the floor feeding him, and as she did so she was looking down at him as only a mother can looking at her child as she gently stroking his face. It was one of those moments where I felt so full of emotion I am surprised my body can contain it.

The restoration of the house is still on going, sometimes its two steps forward and one step back, for example the moving of some light fitting on the ground floor turned into major electrical work, resulting in floors of rooms we had finished being ripped up. However at last we have heat in the house, our lovely log burner, well one room really, but it does permeate the ceiling and take the chill out of the bathroom above. Hopefully the rest of the work in that room will be finished by Christmas as we will be 15 for dinner.

At the moment of writing 19 going on 20 year old Totty, our lovely old cat, is still with us but we are not expecting her to still be here Christmas, she will be sorely missed. will give you pictures of the advent windows and the flood.

Sitting here with town’s brass band playing in the street we really do believe it will be a Merry Christmas and a happy new year, and we wish one and all of you the same.

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Monday, 22 November 2010

Cornwall's floods, Lostwithiel

We are fine. The bottom of the garden had 2" of mud and had the car been parked there it would have been a write off. The force of the water burst the back gates open and caused some damage to them but I think they only stayed together through habit anyway. Talking of the car, Tom usually parks down on quay street but since he had to put his wellies on to get in it a few weeks ago, (it often floods a bit on a very high tide) he parks it by the church when he can and that is where it was.

It was a flash flood, one home had been condemned, seven shops are closed through having all their stock damaged. They are not missing much, the town is very quite, everyone thinks we are still covered in water. Traditionally the next two weeks are among the busiest of the year, that is not going to happen this year. We miss the bakery the most. The clean up was fantastic by Friday afternoon all the town streets were clean, they carried off hundreds of tons of mud, rocks and pea shingle from the escape lane main road that had washed right down as far as Quay Street. Dozens of cars were ferried out of town to be scraped. Skips have come and gone for all the furniture and flooring that has been thrown out of peoples houses. The poor bridge is still waiting for a proper survey and closed as an unsafe structure. The two huge long armed diggers and HGV lorry that dealt with clearing the debris washed down with the flood did not cause its collapse, but we are not allowed to walk across it. It divides the town in two. Going to the dentist, station or collecting my grandson from nursery is now a long walk around.

The force of the water is what surprised everyone, crashing through locked doors and carrying off cars or slamming them together or against remaining solid objects; dismantling stone walls and the mud, how everyone hated the mud.

Tanhouse Road is still closed as it is blocked with rubble. (This is the road the flood came down.)

Stories of insurance companies suing the environment agency because of drains not cleared abound.

However good things often come from bad, and it is not until you are about to loose something you take for granted that you realise how much you love it, so if our lovely bridge survives we have plans to pay homage to it.

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Somewhere in my ancestry there must be a tree because at this time of year my sap rises and I become a different person. There is also the added anomaly of picking up from the Morphic Resonance the feeling of holiday from the people on the street.

Waking this morning to a beautiful blue sky with the lightest wispy clouds, the sort that would be the white of the paper showing through the wash of blue in a water colour painting, warm sun, bird song and the occasional gull call, it felt like a holiday. I have been waiting for weather like this all winter with greater anticipation than usual because our new kitchen is downstairs. It gives us the sort of access to the garden I have not had since the house I grew up in. Lostwithiel is in a valley sheltering it from the wind and in our south facing garden there is a corner, up against the house just outside the kitchen, which is a perfect sun trap even first thing in the morning. It is here that we have had our breakfast the last few mornings; made more magical by the braver of the birds that have come and shared this spot with us at the bird feeder situated about four feet from the garden table, the robins, the lonely ring necked dove and the occasional blackbird. On Friday I was in my workroom above the kitchen, gathering together my lacemaking kit to take to the Lace Guild Convention I was attending at the weekend, and I could hear my lovely Tom in conversation with my two and a half year old grandson accompanied be the gentle sound of spoon on bowl. Their gentle voices drifted up and although I could not hear what they were saying I could imagine them together sharing breakfast and I had one of those moments that touch the very core deep inside your being with feelings of love and contentment so intense it feels almost to great to bare, and you know the only way to store it for those dark days that sometimes just have to be got through is to write it down.

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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

When we first came to Lostwithiel our garden was completely overgrown; over grown in a lost garden sort of way with steps, paths, raised beds and walls completely hidden, so overgrown that no light penetrated the window of the downstairs kitchen. Tangled and entwined wisteria, ivy and brambles hung in garlands from tree to tree, this is a garden with very little useful soil, the ground being just a solid tangle of roots. This ancient garden with its tunnels and dark hiding places made it a sanctuary for all forms of wild life and a hunting ground for all the local cats. With a huge amount of earth moving, hacking, slashing and plant rearranging it has become a little more accessible a place. Therefore it has seen more human activity and our own cats eventually claimed it as territory for themselves, and we now see fewer cats. Therefore it was an occasion for comment when Tom saw one eating some bread that had been put out for the birds. Our one remaining cat is now so old she only goes in to the garden when we are out there, and only if the weather is warm so the birds generally have it for themselves.
Since moving the kitchen to the one downstairs we have put up a bird feeder in easy view of the window which we keep well stocked, and have been trying to teach ourselves to identify them; although we have enjoyed the pair of ring necked doves that live in the trees in the garden since we have been here. So it was with some dismay we noticed through the window small downy grey feathers blowing in the wind when we entered the kitchen at the end of the working day on Saturday. Tom’s first reaction was to blame the cat we had seen the day before. The kitchen is at the end of the original wing to the old house which is not at right angles to the main building, and the garden continues at the odd angle down to the bottom where it reached South Street. To look properly into the garden you have to be close to the window, and as we did this we saw the back of a large bird of prey as it left the circle of feathers on the lawn with the body of the dove in its claws and fly away.
The surviving dove has so far remained, but it has left us with a different understanding of the phase ‘feeding the birds’.

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Saturday, 20 March 2010

Uncoated steroid tablets taste exactly as you would imagine poison to taste. I know this because I have to take eight pills a day for the last three days with two more to go. The reason is not clear and the doctor and I disagree to the cause of my face turning glowing crimson, followed by an itchy rash that makes me want to scratch my face off, and swelling in places giving me an unrecognisable appearance. This has happened twice over a three week period resulting in me wanting to keep a low profile.

It was to this end that when Dillon requested to go to the beach we decided to go to the most secluded one we know. I am not going to tell where it is but we do have a paint colour named after it. We travel down narrow country lanes, the sort that are only wide enough for one car and you need to keep an eye out for where two could pass so that you know how far you would need to reverse should you meet a car coming the other way. Living in Cornwall has made me rethink what constitutes a narrow road. Maybe I have just never travelled along these roads at this time of year before but my delight in the unexpected wonderment at the road sides made me momentarily forget my glowing fat face. More often than not Cornish lanes have steep banks on either side; this is either where stone walls have become so overgrown with plant material as to look like a earth bank, or the road so old and well trodden as to have worn a deep furrow into the ground making it lower than the ground on both sides. Either way the edges of the roads were thick with snowdrops, I have never seen them in such profusion layered in drifts up the banks turn after turn along the road. I had expected to see the early primroses but this was made lovelier by the unexpected nature of it.

Dillon took some persuading to do the walk that leads to this beach, he kept asking where the beach was until he could look down onto it, and even then it looks a long way away. It starts with fifty steps then a zigzag path with a rapid decent ending with a scramble over roughly hewn steps in the rock. The day was unseasonably warm with a beautiful deep blue sky, someone had left a fire smouldering but that was the only evidence of humanity. We collected some more drift wood and built up the fire but it was just for fun because we were able to take off our coats and dig with Dillon in the sand. We collected odd bits of broken plastic flotsam that Tom and Dillon called treasure and ate our pasties that were still warm from the oven and a bear’s foot, a pastry stuffed with rich dried fruit and citrus peel covered in icing and flaked almonds, from the bakers that are big enough to share. We persuaded Dillon to make the climb back up to the car park by wondering aloud if he was big enough to climb the steep mountain back to the car, and he did, all the way even finding the energy to climb the wooden gate at the top. It was just a day out but it felt like a holiday.

And my face?; the water blister type swelling is subsiding for the second time leaving my completion with the texture of a deflated old balloon, you know the sort you find behind the sofa six months after the party where it retains the surface area of the inflated balloon while being shrunk to the size it was before being blown up. Trust me when I tell you on eyelids and the soft area under the eye, this is not a good look. Am I going to look like I am 80 years old for the next twenty odd years until I in truth reach that age? Oh please no.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

My weekend treat is the Saturday Times. As a very slow reader I tend to avoid daily newspapers relying on television and radio to keep me up to date with what is happening in the world on a superficial level, but generally I am happiest avoiding depressing news, I know it is shallow and small minded of me not to acquaint myself of important matters of state, international politics and world disasters. But I get so anxious and worried by the grief and mayhem my own life then seems so mundane and unimportant making everyday ordinary things seem pointless. So I concentrate on the bits that come with the paper.

I love the magazine and always read Robert Crampton’s ‘Beta Male’ on the last page with varying degrees but mostly immense enjoyment; how much of what he writes is the real Robert or how much of it is a made up character he writes about as himself, I am never likely to know. This week he wrote about his aversion to shopping and how everything has to be exactly right for his shopping experience to be successful, some of these conditions are outside the shop keeper control others fundamental to an establishments ethos. Even though his reactions are complicated and extreme, as a shop keeper I found it interesting and informative.

It was ignorance that gave me the confidence to open my shop, the only real training and experience I had was that of a shopper. The idea of a shop emerged from a statement I made to my husband in a fit of frustration about wanting to fine a shop with the things in it I wanted to buy. Once it was decided to use the space we had been renting to someone else, how that space was furnished, lit, decorate and arranged was decided by what was already there and to create a space I wanted to spend my time in. I knew nothing about the art of shop fitting. I knew nothing about conducive environmental conditions and the science of hot spots for display. All I had was training in textile design with a special interest in arrangement, placement and positioning; which included an understanding of colour shape and form. So when Robert talked about his need of space and minimal goods on display, I compared his vision with my shop. When he talked of how he liked shop assistance to be it made me think of how I behave with my customers. And I realised I probably haven’t changed my behaviour in how I would speak to someone in any shop I’m in. I am generally nosey and interfering and often speak, offer unsolicited opinions, or comment on other peoples prospective purchases; I have been mistaken for a shop assistant (while out shopping) and even offered a job.

So what is my ‘shop assistant’ style? My shop if full of lovely things that I feel passionate about, I love to shop and love helping others to shop and that really is how I consider my roll, to give information, advice and also an opinion. Or often times just a chat, a shoulder to cry on, a baby to comfort, a celebration to share or news to impart.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Do we ever really grow up? I’m talking about those feelings and desires we keep tucked away for fear of looking foolish. Having children and grandchildren is a great outlet for this as one can be seen as entertaining them. Also for me personally buying toys for the shop indulges my inner child. We have just taken delivery of the most wonderful soft toys, beautifully dressed mice and rabbits, some with knitted jumpers and one even has lace-up shoes. It is interesting the things that we loved as children stay with us. It was soft dolls that held my heart when I was young, I had a rag doll my mother made me from a black material that turned navy blue with time, she had various hair colours as it was changed from time to time as combing the wool it was made from thinned and became unattractive – its last incarnation was white, the colour it still is. At one point my sister and I cut a mouth so we could feed her our sweets, having to pull out the remains of the previous one before stuffing in another. She was very well dressed, I remember making her a wonderful black and white dog tooth coat once, but then we made all her cloths; it was all part of the game.

We also made smaller rag dolls, it is difficult to remember the size now, but about 4” tall, they had the same woollen hair and my sisters was called The Duchess; if mine ever had a name I can not remember. My brother was allowed to join our games as long as he was the coachman, he had a large stagecoach, and even then we thought it an inferior thing made of plastic, blue plastic, with yellow horses; doors that open would have redeemed it but the duchess had to suffer the indignity of having to be stuffed through the window to enable her to be driven around. The duchess had the settee for her house and I had an armchair, and we would crease a scatter cushion in the middle to made a sofa for them, they too had a shoe box full of cloths each mostly ball gowns and stoles; we never knew what happened to them, it would be interesting to see how they match up to our memories. So when I see the wonderful little mice and rabbits with their lovely crafted cloths I think how the child I once was would have loved them and hope that this generation of children will be allowed to be children long enough to make fond memories like mine.

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

life's lessons

I was having a February moment last week when Tom asked me what was wrong. I answered, “I have just realised the best is behind me.” Not that I believe I will never have more wonderful moments, but I will never again run just because I feel full of life, and have the energy and stamina to do it; never again be full of ambition to build a life for the future; never again have smooth skin, be a size 10 in proportions that matter and do crafts with dextrous fingers.

Not that being older does not have certain advantages; I do not feel hard done by. I have had that part of my life and it has been a full, eventful, rich and rewarding time so far. I am still having a lovely life, packed full of experiences spanning over half a century, and that gives one knowledge and confidence. I cherish these lessons living has taught me, the most important being, ‘If you do not have what you like, like what you have.’ The more joy you can get from small things the happier a life you will have. I have always thought it was having attained the age I have that taught me this.

Sunday we took Dillon to the Eden Project, he loves it, and it was his choice that we go there. We do so every two or three weeks. It was the first Sunday of half term and busier than it had been all winter, as we approached the land train I commented to Dillon that I wondered if our usual seat would be taken; on seeing us the land train man told him it was OK our front seats were still free. We watched the skaters, made Shaun the sheep inspired models in the Mediterranean dome, had lunch, played in the sand pit, climbed on stuff and were on our way to the Core to see the machines when we came across a lawn where in the summer they had circus type activities, spinning plates, hoola hoops, juggling etc. He stopped and said, “All the toys are gone; - that’s a shame.” Then he told me to step on to the grass, “Lets do hoola hoping!.” So we both stood and wiggled our hips with imaginary hoops, he was just as happy as if he really did have the actual thing. There it was, ‘If you do not have what you like, like what you have.’ He is two and a half years old - just two and a half!
We played in the Core, went up in the lift, not a lot of those in Cornwall, lifts; played drums, watched the automata (five times) and travelled on the bendy bus. As we got in the door at home he said, (just two and a half remember,) “Thank you for taking me to the Eden Project today.” There we go again The more joy you can get from small things the happier a life you will have. My heart could have burst, may be the best isn’t over just yet.

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

We live above the shop, and as I have probably mentioned it is a Georgian grade II listed building. With 3mm thin glass in our windows that let out the heat without central heating to supply it in the first place. Plus old solid walls, of a combination of stone and cob, are also not good insulators especially when they are damp because they need re-pointing. Eldest son’s partner found it amusing that she could see her own breath while staying over Christmas; she was standing on the first floor landing at the time. Granted it was a bit chilly, but nothing like this evening, this evening it is cold. Chicken soup weather by the bucket, ( well not really a bucket but a pan big enough to bath a baby in), weather where you need to cuddle a hot water bottle as you dash from heated room to heated room. This does not include the bathroom, the only room with wooden shutters, which we do not open until the weak sunshine has melted the ice on the inside of them. There is a country were people go from a hot sauna to roll in the snow, I can’t remember which one but it feels a bit like that getting out the shower in the morning.

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