Saturday, February 27, 2010

Guilty pleasures

I'm hungover, maudlin, I can't possibly have a hangover when I haven't gone to bed yet. Can I? Yes I have.

The senior daughter, fresh from London Fashion Week, and I, swept up the lane in the pouring rain, to have pre-dinner drinks with friends in the village. A very jolly affair, but three gin and tonics later, I felt much like "the morning after" It has dawned on me that they must have been at least trebles.

I began this post on Saturday evening - then ran out of steam completely. I am afraid that these days, try as I might, I cannot raise much enthusiasm for A Life Reclaimed.

I am beginning to realise that there is not going to be a Life Reclaimed, and I fear for my future. Nothing seems to touch my philandering husband - he refuses to answer questions about his finances, he refuses to cooperate, he refuses to pay me any maintenance saying he has no money. Unsurprisingly, he still owns 5 cars, takes frequent holidays, is in the process of buying a house, and is not short of money to live a full life. Why cannot the law protect me, and call him to account? He is threatening me now that if I do not accept his unfair offer, based on non--disclosure, he will apply to the Courts for me to pay all his costs.

Last week I rallied briefly, and went down to London to see the junior daughter. In the past I went every week, to check she was OK and to do various things to help her - but now, I cannot afford the petrol to go very often, and have only seen her twice since Christmas.

We had lunch at Pizza Express, using a 2 for 1 voucher, I might add! It was good to spend time with her, and also, to see Posetta Baddog again. She excelled herself by howling with pleasure when I arrived, and then did a huge wee, totally losing control!

On the way home, I thought, damn it, and went into Daunts Books in South End Green. I bought 4 books, and felt so guilty - I could not afford them. I hugged them to myself, pushing away the guilt: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, The Book Thief (can't remember the author - I actually had to order that one) The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, and the new biography of Irene Nemirovsky who wrote amongst others, Suite Francaise. A cornucopia - I suspect that I will burn the midnight oil with these, dogs curled up beside me in bed.

Daunts is my favourite bookshop - a brilliant eclectic stock of books, they will order anything, and the staff are beyond charming. Every book gets a bookmark, and they have brilliant cloth bags to carry away one's prizes)

(Some friends took me to see The Last Station last week, which inspired the purchase of Sofia Tolstoy's Diaries. The film was excellent, I adored it, so well done - Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer were amazing. It was actually a German film, shot in Germany, but it might well have been shot in Russia. Well worth seeing)

To compound my extravagance,I nipped into the Euphorium Bakery next door to Daunts and bought three slices of a delectable Tarte au Pomme, to take to friends who had asked me to supper on my return home.

There are some delights still to be savoured, but they are becoming few and far between.

Today the sun is out, last night there was a welcome sharp frost, so today the sky is blue, the air is sharp, and there is much birdsong to be heard. This afternoon, I am playing tennis, which will be a joy after all the terrible weather we have had recently. For the first time in months, my lovely kitchen is flooded with sunlight and maybe, Spring is around the corner. I have a bowl of red floppy tulips and catkins on the table, their pollen dusting everything with a fine mist. I am about to make a Moroccan Orange Cake, a Diana Henry receipt, which we will eat after we finish our game of tennis.

I keep telling myself that I must be positive - I suppose that after a lifetime with someone, it is difficult to comprehend how they could be so unpleasant and so spiteful. It negates everything - and so there are no good memories left. And - a much loved family home will have to be left behind, and he will depart for a new life that does not include his family. His loss.

Just writing again, I suddenly feel a little better.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"I was unfaithful, I had affairs, I cheated ..."

"I was unfaithful, I had affairs, I cheated, my behaviour was unacceptable" Poor old Tiger Woods, mea culpa mea culpa, but at least his next utterance was "I am to blame". This was a public relations exercise, no doubt, but it took a lot of courage, I suspect, for him to deliver it.

How I have longed for the philandering husband to utter such an expiation - instead of telling me constantly "to put up or f.. off" whenever I confronted him. I just feel so sad, but of course, there must be an element of blame on my side, noone is ever blameless, but I have endured years and years of infidelties and lies, and what a waste - everything turned to dust.

My friends split into two camps - the ones who can't understand really why I pulled the plug after so long, why upset the apple cart in my mid-sixties, and the others who, for years, had urged me to do something, having seen how utterly miserable I was, but determined to try to salvage something, especially for my girls.

Well, I have salvaged some things, my self-respect, and peace of mind, and I have two wonderful girls, but there is nothing much else. I will lose my home, he has lost his job, and there is little money left after years of his profligacy, racing cars, and affairs.

However - I do sleep at night, and I am not now left at home on my own knowing full well that he is off continually with other women. And - even worse - having to entertain people who later turn out to be his mistresses, or having to endure the knowledge that he entertained his mistresses in my home, when I was away. I must add thst I found these facts out slowly over the years. Dear God, what a fool I was.

I have thought long and hard about why, these days, so many marriages do not survive - many seem to break up later in life. We live longer now, and maybe man is not a monogamous creature, and cannot sustain such long relationships. Who knows - but it is a rare second relationship that survives - and so what was all the upset and heartache really about?

Men are like children, and always think the grass is greener, and the world is full of predatory women, targetting marriages because they feel 'entitled' to such a life for themselves, but it is a mirage, and like thirsty travellers in the desert, just as they reach the oasis, it fades away, and the oustretched hand is full of sand, running through the fingers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snow, and yet more snow

Impossible as it may seem - but, I am beginning to think that I am about to be snowed in yet again. It suddenly started snowing at about 11 this morning, and hasn't stopped since.

Luckily the senior daughter left for London as it started to snow -she has gone down for London Fashion Week, so it would have been a total disaster if she had been snowed in here. I gather she had an eventful drive along the lanes towards the M1, but arrived safely in London eventually.

I wrapped myself up and the dogs and I trudged out to give my sheep hay and their special sugar beet nuts - they looked so funny, the snow was settling on their thick coats, on their eyebrows and eyelashes, as they thundered towards me, pushing each other out of the way in their headlong flight to food. Billy flew along behind me, and tried to catch the nuts as I flung them over the gate. Maud picked her way sedately over the snow, disgust written all over her face. I had shut the kitchen door behind us so she could not get back into the house. She hates snow, cold, rain, and tries to nip back inside at the first opportunity. Billy loves the snow, and races across the lawns and round the gsrden at speed, ears flapping, tail whipping.

By the time I had chopped some kindling for the fire, and piled logs up for the baskets, the three of us were covered in snow, cold and running for cover.
I cannot believe this weather - I wouldn't mind it so much if I didn't live down the bottom of a steep lane, which makes it almost impossible to drive my car out up into the village. Damn front wheel drive cars. Roll on the ancient Land Rover for future winters!

I have spent the rest of the day working my way through a huge pile of ironing - lurking in the bottom of one of the baskets were various articles of clothing that the younger daughter and I had taken to Cornwall in September. Almost time to wear them again! The family room is cosy, the fire glowing, the dogs are curled up in their baskets, and there is barely a sound to be heard. The house settles down whenever the senior daughter departs, and I relish the peace - but I know that when she returns to New York in March, I will be immeasurably sad.

Appropriately I can hear Vivaldi's Winter in the background on the wireless. I think it is time for hot marmite toast and Earl Grey tea. I am counting my blessings that I am not commuting home from work this evening - in a few hours, I will pull down the blinds and settle down for the evening with a glass of wine, a plate of risotto, and then a good book to read.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Re-Gifting, Recycling, Make Do and Mend

With the return of the senior daughter from Copenhagen, where she has been attending Danish Fashion Week, my thoughts are returning to the sorting out of the house.

It is unlikely that she will be too involved with this now, as there are exciting events unfolding in her life, but I will from time to time force her to help, before she finally returns to New York.

She has been instrumental in focusing my mind on this problem, and has been very inventive.

Before Christmas, she wrote about the habit we all have of hoarding lovely presents and also her press gifts, and not actually using them up - and I also wrote that I was now using some such things, instead of lining them up prettily on the shelf in the bathroom

I have expanded this practice, and very fruitful it has proved. I have unashamedly re-gifted such things, I have trawled through drawers and cupboards and sold unopened toiletries and bottles of scent on E-Bay, had a wonderful time with the hoarded bath oils and scented candles, and given a lot of good things to charity shops, including good but old bedlinen to a homeless charity.

She and I have been through all my clothes, many of which were too big for me as I have lost over two stone in the last 18 months. I am a terrible hoarder, always putting things away "in case they come in useful". To a point, this is exactly what has happened. We have furiously E-Bayed piles of these clothes as well as giving them to charity. And - delight of delights, there have even been things, some years old but once much-loved, that I can now wear again.

The moral of this story is that out of heartbreak comes positivity. I have had to do all this because my philandering husband has refused for some time now to pay me a penny in maintenance. So - I have had to be inventive in order to pay the bills. So far I am doing rather well - just how many clothes/possessions does one need to live one's life? Not so many - and it is good to also help others whilst cleansing one's own Augean stables.

Today I am going out in my late aunt's woollen-lined Aquascutum raincoat - which must be at least 50 years old. And very good it looks too after a visit to the dry-cleaners!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A much loved childhood home

After writing about my wistfulness over St Valentine's Day yesterday morning, I pulled myself together. Calling the dogs, I set out for the first good long walk of the year.

As we strode up the cart track, the three of us filled our lungs with the damper more congenial air. Maud and Billy sped off. It was so good to see Maud almost back to her normal self.

And - I saw the first lambs - and the catkins were smothered in pollen, looking as if they were dusted with mustard powder, and swinging from the branches. I have written before about my love for the changing seasons, and yesterday I felt myself unfolding, and better able to face the world.

The dogs put up a muntjak deer, a pheasant, a rabbit, life was good they were saying to me, at last we can enjoy ourselves once more.

As usual on a good walk, I became deep in thought. This was what I hsve missed recently, fresh air and thinking time.

The senior daughter has been coming and going since her arrival back in the UK in late November. When she has been here, we have been clearing out the attics and cupboards. We have spent many an afternoon sitting on the floor, sorting through old photographs, letters, bags of possessions. Over the past 16 years, I have had to clear out my aunt's flat, my mother's apartment in Spain, and my stepmother's cottage. Most of the belongings were brought back here, and stored in the attics.

What a rich haul of memories. Coupled with all the childhood possessions of my two daughters, I personally found it overwhelming.

What to keep, what to bin, what to sell, what to give to charity? Three months down the line, we still have not finished.

We found wonderful clothes made for my paternal grandmother's trousseau, about which the senior daughter has written on her blog, my uncle's cricketing sweaters and school reports and memorabilia from his Rugby schooldays before the War, my stepmother's hunting stocks, kid hunting gloves, stock pins, her hunting crop. My mother's long satin evening gloves and pretty lace edged handkerchiefs, photos, letters, my father's camel hair dressing gown and rug he had at boarding school.

And - a photograph album containing pictures of my childhood home. I was brought up by my maternal grandparents, even though both my parents were alive. I was born at the end of the War, in this house, in my grandfather's study. I lived there until my grandmother died, not long after I met my husband-to-be

I loved that house with a passion - sometimes still dream about it. I was a solitary child, it had a huge garden, six acres, and I spent hours outside, reading lying on a rug under the willow trees by the lake, playing with the dogs, riding my pony, annoying the gardeners, who were always 'reporting' me for picking the flowers, and the soft fruit when it was ripe. "Madam, Miss V has picked such and such again"! This was because every morning, the flowers and fruit and vegetables were picked and taken up to the house, and woe betide me if I interfered with this ritual. This is where I got my love of flowers from, I remember the baskets of roses and sweet peas, delphiniums, lupins, and peonies.

I remember the tennis lawn being mown and then rollered by the large old white horse kept solely for this purpose,his hooves wrapped in sacking to avoid marking the grass, being taught to ride my bike by my grandfather's chauffeur, Laurence. In a way, it was a typical Edwardian childhood, a step back in time. I was not allowed to eat my meals with the adults until I was 8 years old - but it was much more fun anyway to eat with the housekeeper in her sitting room!

I did love that house. My biggest treat was to sneak up to the attics where there were old leather suitcases filled with old photographs of family holidays taken between the Wars, my grandparents and my mother and her sister travelled widely all over Europe. (I found some of these albums recently) All kinds of strange possessions were in those attics, piles of old wooden skis and brown leather ice skates, gas masks, and old chamber pots!

Full circle, you see, as I am now clearing out my attics, and the senior daughter is fascinated by her finds. History repeating itself.

I long for my childhood home. I remember every nook and cranny, the creaking back staircase, the smell of the loft over the stables, where racks of apples were stored, 'Mr McGregor' chasing me like Peter Rabbit when I had my hands clasped round illicitly-picked raspberries, how I used to feel when the car turned into the drive when I returned from boarding school. How I used to hide in the kitchen garden when I knew I had handed over a terrible School Report! Memories, memories, how I hug them to me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A wistful St Valentine's Day

Here I am again - tentatively continuing after my hibernation - and, thank you fellow bloggers for your kind welcome back good wishes.

Sunday morning, Valentine's Day, and I am sitting as usual in my kitchen surrounded by reminders in papers and magazines that today is a day for lovers, gifts, red roses, and hopes for the future. No such luck for me. If I was honest, it is many years since the soon to be ex sent me flowers or a card, or even remarked on the significance of 14 February on the calendar. When I cleared out his office after chucking him out, I found a myriad cards, and messages, but, dear readers, none of them were from me. So today I am telling myself that I made the right decision, and perhaps 2010 will be MY year at last.

After such a miserable winter with the most extreme weather for years, at last it looks as if Spring is round the corner. The snowdrops are struggling through, catkins are appearing and my favourite dog walks are becoming less soggy and more manageable. The dogs have hibernated with me - walking has not been a pleasure, and we are longing to stride out again, being able to notice the signs of nature unfurling in the hedgerows and perhaps, very soon, the first lambs of the new season.

Maud has been very ill recently, and after what happened to Violet last year, I held my breath for 48 hours, hoping against hope that all would be well. She is a tough old bird, last week she was 14, and thankfully, she is now well on the road to recovery. Billy waa distraught whilst she was at the vets, he wouldn't eat, and sat mournfully in his bed. I took him with me when I went to fetch Maud, and he was beside himself with delight when the nurse brought Maud out to us. She - true to form - took one look at him, walked past and straight to the door. A good recovery, I think.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Green shoots of Spring?

The end of hibernation? Perhaps - I have certainly been living underground and disconnected from the real world.

It is some weeks since I last put 'pen to paper' - but here I am tentatively reaching out and trying to pick up the threads and making a new start in 2010.

I had a busy and fulfilling run up to Christmas 2009 - I was blessed to hsve the senior daughter home from New York, and the house felt loved and lived in once more. This is a family home, that comes alive when it is full, and there is laughter and fun and the rough and tumble of everyday life.

The weather was quite appalling, unseasonally cold, snowy and icy and life was difficult. We were snowed in before Christmas, it cleared, and then with the arrival of the three days of Christmas festivities, the icy conditions meant we were marooned, unable to get the car up the lane. Luckily guests who had come before Christmas just managed to get away, and then the family who were meant to go away from home for Christmas elsewhere were unable to travel! What a jumble - but it was fun - everyone pitched in and we shared Christmas Day with friends also trapped in the villsge, and it was a very jolly time. The best laid plans of mice and men, etc.

Afterwards, down to earth with a bump just after New Year. More snowfalls and I was marooned in the village again. I lost my sense of humour and became really depressed. Only so many dog walks, old films on television, and searches through the fridge turning up unappetising leftovers, can be tolerated, and the 'black dog of depression' silently envelopes one.