Monday, August 23, 2010

Life moves on or life slips back in time?

Another day, another week. Life trundles on inexorably, a slow train on the tracks, destination unknown, unrelenting, on and or, perhaps, slides back into a much-loved, oft remembered previous comfort zone..

Last week was very quiet, after the festivities of the previous week it was time to slow down, and take stock once again. I have to confess that I had rather overdone it and needed to slow down.

I spent the week slowly clearing out more cupboards and drawers, slowly consigning 25 years in this house to boxes, the charity shops, and yet another skip.

I tackled the linen cupboards - laying everything out on the landing, and just sitting whilst my life was spread before me, each item telling a story, and memories of my childhood, and subsequent life unfolding before me.

Marrying the philanderer, brought an end to my previous life, the Edwardian upbringing I had enjoyed at my grandparents' house, a life of privilege, a life I have mentioned before here in A Life Reclaimed, except that it is not a Life Reclaimed now, certainly not the life I enjoyed before my ill-fated marriage.

My grandmother kept a wonderful house, Edwardian, a step back in time. I loved the house in which I was born, and not a day goes by without me thinking about little vignettes of my childhood spent there. Sitting surrounded by piles of linen, lace trimmed, monogrammed, fragile and much-loved, I remembered again how I loved my childhood in this house.

There was a linen room in this house, this childhood home of mine. Large cupboards lined the walls, bedlinen in one, table linen in another, and so on ... A large table under the window held an ancient treadle sewing machine. Once a week a woman from the villsge came to do the household mending. She turned sheets outside to the middle, and shirt collars and cuffs were turned and buttons stitched back. Lace was mended, new lace stitched to new bedlinen, table napkins and cloths were repaired, she was an essential part of the household. How times have changed.

I remembered how, on my return home at the end of every term at my boarding school, I would rush upstairs to my bedroom, my bed would have been turned down by the housekeeper, crisp linen sheets, trimmed with lace, with matching pillow cases, in summer the sash windows open, with a wonderful view of the beloved garden, in winter, a fire burning in the grate.

As I sorted out the linen last week, I wept, every piece reminding me of something in my past young life - I sorted everything into piles, the lace-trimmed pillow cases, the sheets, fragile with age, the tea cloths, I remembered how they would be used every afternoon when we had tea, again lace-trimmed, embroidered, every one evoking memories. Tea would be taken in winter, by the fire, in my grandmother's little sitting room, in summer in the garden, by the croquet lawn. How clear all these memories were to me last week.

The fire burning in the grate - every morning during the winter months, I would be woken by the laying and lighting of the fire in my bedroom, and each evening when I went to bed, I remember how I used to lie watching the shadows of the flames dancing in the dark. on the bedroom ceiling. On chilly late summer evenings, I would also look forward to the prospect of a fire to enjoy at bedtime. To this day, I fantasise about finding a house with working fireplaces in the bedrooms, the hot water bottles placed in the bed with a nightgown wrapped round it so it was warm and cosy to put on, before slipping into crisp cold sheets.

I truly think that I am slipping back in time. Nostalgia is a drug, a soporofic, oh so comforting, a shell into which one can retreat, and shut off the outside world.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sound the trumpets celebrate ...

I am quite mad - I am sitting at the kitchen table, as per usual, having had a brilliant Saturday - the rain is lashing down, it is only 7.30 pm but the house is dark as night and I am listening to Purcell - "Come ye sons of art, an Ode for the birthday of Queen Anne" I lurve Purcell, I am waving my glass of wine in the air, and just loving the music. I was born in the wrong century - I adore 17th and 18th century music and one of the best things about living on one's own is that I have carte blanche to listen to what I bloody well like, instead of being exhorted to "turn that racket off"! The ex stretched to Enya, and not much else.

I do not know what has happened to summer, the gloom has descended like a funereal pall, and it is like winter. When I took the dogs out mid-afternoon I caught a warm, sunny spell, but 20 minutes into our walk, the heavens opened.

The rain lashed down, big angry pregnant drops of water, and as one, Bill, Maud and I hared for shelter under a hedge, which thankfully had high overhanging branches. Bill shivered as the huge drops splattered rhrough the leaves, and gave me baleful glances as he tried to avoid them. Maud has a thicker coat so she was fine, but I only had a T-shirt on, and was getting cold and wet. As quickly as it began, it stopped and we ran for home.

Before it began to rain, the sky looked extraordinary. Patches of dark grey, with billowing white clouds, small blue areas, and for all the world looking like an ominous William Blake illustration. I felt as if a monster was going to jump out of the sky. Once it began to rain, the sky suddenly become a uniform steel grey, almost the colour of Billy's coat. Very odd.

Purcell is still going strong - it is too loud for the dogs, who keep looking reproachfully at me. Bad luck, I am loving it.

A good friend came by for brunch this morning on her way back to Cumbria after performing Granny duties in London and Kent, we had about three hours of non-stop natter, and it was lovely to see her. We met first 34 years ago, when we all left London for Kent, with our babies in tow. Much water has passed under the bridge in the ensuing years. She left me with a bottle of Moet pink champagne - when shall I drink it, with whom should I share it? When I do broach it, I shall think of her and drink a toast to our enduring friendship.

As a finale, may I thank everyone for your lovely comments and birthday wishes - my birthday was all I could have wished for, apparently everyone was very anxious to celebrate my 65th, perhaps a little too eager! Anyway - I have had fun this week, my house looks like a florist shop, I have spent quality time with my girls, heard from old friends, and feel better about myself than I hsve done for a long time. I salute you all for helping me to recover.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

12th August 1945

Today, dear readers, is a sad day, a day of reflection, today Aurora has reached a milestone. Her 65th birthday, how can I bear it? I cannot possibly be 65 years of age. Unfortunately, it is the stark truth, 12th August, 1945, was THE day, the day of my entry into the world. Three days before VJ Day, a new beginning for a war-ravaged world. Somehow, it seems fitting, as I am now experiencing a new beginning, a renaissance.

This is the first birthday of my whole life that I will spend on my own. A good friend will drop in tonight for a glass of wine and some melon and parma ham. I do not feel abandoned: I have had many cards and the phone is ringing constantly. Old friends from whom I have not heard for some time, even some years, suddenly, I find that people are thinking of me and supporting me. I have lost very few friends, it would appear.

I have just spent two days in London, staying with the Junior Daughter. The dog posse came too, to see their London cousin Posetta Baddog, and we all crammed into the tiny London flat. Thankfully the Junior Daughter has a very pretty little garden, so dog beds were spread outside, and down flopped all dogs in the sunshine.

The first night I went out to supper with the Senior Daughter, so we could have some catch-up time. We ate delicious dim sum and other related goodies - and had a good gossip. I am getting a dab hand at collecting vouchers and freebies, this particular restaurant was offering one free main course with a meal for two or more. I am getting exceedingly proud of my thrift, borne out of necessity. The dim sum were some of the best I had ever tasted - spinach, mushroom, and scallop with prawn. I shovelled them down.

Bedtime that first night was hilarious. Bill and Miss Maud are beyond clingy with me when we are away from home - and the Baddog is guilty of extreme possessiveness. I share a double bed with the Junior Daughter - but up hopped Bill, Miss Maud, followed by the Baddog, all jostling for pole position.

Not the most comfortable night of my life. I eventually got to sleep in the early hours, waking to find the Baddog upside down between the Daughter and me, paws drawn up beneath her chin, Miss Maud tangled up with her, and Bill draped over my knees, anchoring me so completely that I felt as if I was in a straightjacket, and eyeballing me to make sure he wasn't forgotten. Ah, such dominant dogs!

This day was the Junior Daughter's birthday - amazingly, she had been due on my birthday, but arrived twenty minutes too early, much to my chagrin.

After a leisurely start, we sallied forth for a joint birthday lunch. Eating out is a rare treat for me now. So - twice in two days is sheer extravagance.

The Junior Daughter wore her best bib and tucker, she looked enchanting, and I was so proud to be seen with her.

We ate the most lip-smackingly delicious lunch, we both had herb-encrusted scallops, all buttery and juicily, burstingly fresh, baked in the shell, followed by chargrilled squid, with a salad of broad beans, tomato concasse and mint. It all just exploded in the mouth. Sated, we stumbled out to Marks and Spencer at Marble Arch, for a little light shopping therapy. Just the odd T-shirt.

When we arrived back at the flat, the Senior Daughter had popped in whilst we were out and left us both a ravishing tarte aux fruits for our tea. Clever, as we had not had a pudding! There was also a wonderful bunch of roses for me, deep yellow fringed with orange, long stemmed, with glossy dsrk green leaves.

So - to be on my own today is not such a hardship. It would not be truthful to say that the day will not be without a certain poignancy - but the tristesse I feel, is for the loss of my family life - not at all for the loss of a husband who lied, cheated and spent his way through a 45 year relationship, and must confront his own demons.

I am free.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The return of the heron

Sunday morning, total peace here in my own little corner of heaven.

This peace, however, was rudely shattered at 7.45 am by Bill baying, and Miss Maud yapping in a high-pitched frenzy. The Sunday papers, Lordy me, were being delivered - hours earlier than usual. This, coupled with the fact that for once I had slept far longer than usual, and wished to remain asleep, should have made me very grumpy indeed.

However, I was secretly proud of my protective canine companions. Last year, when our beloved Violet had her terrible accident in the lane outside the house, Bill saw it happen, and since then has waged a war against the perpetrator, the man who delivers the papers. Bill has never forgotten, and wreaks his revenge whenever L appears outside the house. Dear, clever Bill.

My lie-in ruined, I stumbled out of bed and drew up the blind. On the bank of the stream in the paddock, stood "my" heron. I could not believe my eyes - I had not seen him since the beginning of the summer, when the water levels dropped due to lack of rain, and seeing him today, seemed like a wonderful omen.

Usually he is balanced on the hand rail of the little chinese bridge we had built over the stream. I had never seen him on the ground - he looked a little like a pelican, crouched down. Then he stretched up, and put his head straight up, beak vertical to the sky. I opened the casement window to watch him. He preened himself, and then slowly rose up to the handrail on the bridge, perched for a minute, and took of in slow motion, wings flapping slowly, legs hanging down, positively prehistoric looking.

As he slowly rose up to clear the trees, a shot rang out, my heart sank, but he just veered right round, and flew off in the other direction. My clever heron, how pleased I was to see him again. Was he back again, to reassure me all will be well?

Now I am sitting in the kitchen as I am wont to do, Classic FM playing softly in the background, the dogs slumbering outside on the terrace, there is a small bird making little urgent whistling noises, and though technically in the village, I could be miles out in the countryside.

I have just listened to Faure's Agnus Dei, and next it will be Elgar's Serenade for Strings. A feast for the senses. I get such joy from wonderful music and my little personal nature reserve that surrounds me here.

Billy the Kid has just lain his dear head on my lap, and gazed up at me with his gentle, liquid brown eyes. Maud is standing in the doorway, staring intently at me. Time for a walk.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

So - ex-Mrs W, how would you describe .... ?

So, ex-Mrs W, how would you describe the end of the first week of your Life Reclaimed? My response? I reserve judgement.

It has been an interesting renaissance. I have already written about the lunch party I so enjoyed last Sunday, I hsve mentioned a supper with friends, followed by lunch with friends and all rounded off by a visit to Glyndebourne.

Lunch on Wednesday was such fun - my friends, B & T, have been so kind and have given me such support. We ate at a local restaurant which is quite unique - it is owned by a Portuguese family, who have run it for many years. It is an amazing experience to eat there, it is always full every day of the week, even though it is out in the countryside, the clientele are mainly regulars, members quite definitely of the silver foxes, and the staff are unbelievably jolly.

Looking around the dining room, I realised that whether I liked it or not, I also was one of these silver foxes, although obviously, I considered that I looked years younger than anyone else, of course. Such conceit.

Notwithstanding, it was fun and I find B & T charming and great company.

To Glyndebourne the following day. I had not realised that the dress rehearsals were like performances, not actually open to the general public, but all the tickets are made available on a complimentary basis to family and friends of the cast, and some Friends of Glyndebourne.

It makes for a very relaxed atmosphere, because the dress code is not the usual black tie and evening dress one, but just ordinary clothes. One still picnics in the Interval - my friend and I arrived very early, so set up our little picnic camp, had a glass or two of chilled white wine, some olives and some cheese. It felt slightly strange because the performance starts at 4.30 pm, too early to have had a proper lunch.

I loved putting together our little picnic. As I was unearthing picnic paraphanalia, finding cutlery, tablecloth and napkins, I felt a little tearful. Life is so different now, and I so miss doing things like this. I packed a beautiful lace trimmed cloth that belonged to my aunt, big linen napkins to cover our laps, and as I did so, lots of memories came flooding back.

I roasted a poussin, with tarragon, butter, and lemon, which I just cut into quarters, to eat with our fingers if necessary, cooked tiny new potatoes, made a little mayonnaise flavoured with lemon juice, white peaches poached in sugar syrup and white wine, with a little creme de framboise liqueur stirred in at the end, to be eaten with thick Greek yoghurt, and put together three cheeses, some ripe epoisse. Shropshire blue, and some goat's cheese. My friend brought the salad made from lettuce grown on her allotment, all unusual, some dark red, some frilly, some mottled, and some Russian gherkin cucumbers, sweet, crisp, and slightly bitter, and also the wine. All quite delicious.

Now for the opera - I had never heard of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress - a huge oversight, as it turned out. It was wonderful - a alightly slow start for me, but then, I really began to enjoy it. The libretto by W H Auden, the scenery by David Hockney, what more could one ask? I loved it - opera is actually light on story - but always the music and singing are magical. We knew Matthew Rose, who sang the part of Shadow, and who had kindly given us our tickets, so it was lovely to have a connection with the performance.

It did turn out to be a very long day - nearly six hours driving in total, but so enjoyable. I am fortunate that I can continue to do things that give me so much pleasure - but I do have to cherry pick now, I cannot do everything.

So - my final answer at the end of this first week? I have had a jolly time, but it was all still tinged with a certain sadness, old memories die hard, and it will take time for the dust to settle.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A resume of the first half of the first week of my new life

It is a vile day - dull, miserable, and raining with a thin persistency that soaks surprisingly quickly. Bad news for dogs.

I decided to take them out at 8 am because I am going out to lunch, and wanted to wash my hair without getting it ruined before I even set out to meet my friends.

I wished I had had my camera to hand. Both dogs rushed off across the garden to the front gate, as usual, However, two strides before the ford, and Miss Maud went on strike. God, she is annoying. I am afraid I just went on ahead with Bill, but I turned round after a minute or two to see a forlorn little Jack Russell just standing in the middle of the lane, the rain dripping off her little body. Every inch of her body said "How could you, how could you a) take me out in the rain b) how could you abandon me and c) you obviously love Bill best because here I am all alone". Daft mut.

Needless to say, we quickly turned back, and as she saw us heading towards her, she made an Olympian spurt back home. Now - I will have to go out again, and ruin my freshly washed hair.

This is turning out to be a very jolly week - life is definitely looking up.

On Sunday, I went to a lunch party held by friends the day after their daughter got married. The marquee was in a field, beside a little tributary of the Cherwell river, the sun shone, and it was a quintessential English high summer's day. We had drinks outside the marquee and then lunch inside. I just had the jolliest time - I am past the stage where I was nervous about going out socially on my own and I find that people now accept the situation and are very warm and kind to me. In fact, I actually enjoy myself more, and am even beginning to meet more people than I did when I was married.

Last night friends came to supper, today I am out to lunch.

Tomorrow I am going to a dress rehearsal of The Rake's Progress at Glyndebourne with a girlfriend. We both know one of the singers, and he has given us complimentary tickets. We will take a picnic but it will not be as formal as a full-blown performance. So - life is fun again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A metamorphosis, Damascene conversion ....?

Well, this feels like the first day of my new life. After months and months of railing, and wailing, and torrents of self-pity, a metamorphosis has taken place, a Damascene conversion, the light at the end of the tunnel, call it what you will, hurrah!

Maybe it is because my health is improving after months of being under par, maybe I have at last grown-up, maybe it is the build-up of strength I have accrued from good friends, who tell me the truth, how I should pull myself together, how I am worth more than the personna of the bleating poor little me, oh yes. They have often told me what I did not want to hear - but buried within the trenchant advice, I have picked up on what I needed to know, and here I am - hopefully a mended and stronger person.

I salute you, all those good friends who have been there for me, told me to p sometimes! On how I have come to appreciate you all. In my previous life, I was so unhappy, so buttoned up for years, that I did not realise how many good and kind friends I had, and whom I now treasure.

There is so much more to life, and I am ready to grasp it with both hands.

It really is interesting how the clouds suddenly lift, and there is a way forward.

I have much to do, and how I will enjoy it all with gusto.