Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A last goodbye

Here is the prayer I read at Gran's funeral last Friday. More cheery blogposts will follow, I promise!

Ok, God,
it’s time for a chat.
I know, I know – when it comes to prayers I don’t do much listening
and you are sitting back, waiting for the imminent discourse.
Well, today it’s like this.
Gran’s dead.
Ok – I know you know that too.
That’s part of being omniscient or omnipotent or one of those other long, theological words people use instead of plain English.
Anyway, we are here to remember her,
to thank you for her life,
and – to a certain extent – to say goodbye to her.
That’s the bit that’s really tough,
‘cos she was one of those people that you’d really like to live for ever.
She worked hard at that: 97 wonderful years.
And we are so thankful.
Thankful for being a part of her life.
Thankful for her faith, her serenity, her wisdom.
Thankful for her love of family and friends.
Thankful for her generosity and laughter.
Thankful for her elegance, thankful for her ability to make clothes.
Thankful for my wedding dress.
And even thankful that, in the midst of her dementia, she still had brilliant moments of clarity,
when her faith shone through and we could see the loving, mischievous lady underneath.
So we thank you, God, for giving her to us.
And we are sorry for the times we’ve messed up.
For times we could have spent with her and didn’t.
For times we upset her, or argued with her, or lost her famous bramble mousse recipe.
Yep … there is much to be sorry for.
But you are a forgiving God, and on that we depend.
Take care of her – please.
I know you promise us eternal life in heaven with you
and I rejoice that she is there
- with Mum and Grandpa –
a trio of people who spent time listening to you,
now worshipping you to eternity,
no pain, no crying, no sadness.
So look after her
and look after us
‘cos I’m looking forward to meeting up again. One day.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Family Heirlooms and Household Management

There are few good things about the death of a loved one, but finding things in their possession that you never thought or knew they had is (or can be!) one. So far I have discovered a book of Schumann's children's pieces for the piano that Gran won as a Music Prize, aged 10, and a small tennis trophy that she won in the year of her marriage. Part of the fascination is wondering why some items are kept and others go by the wayside.

It turns out my grandmother had a copy of Mrs Beeton's Family Cookery. It cannot have been an original (that would have been called 'Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management', and would not have mentioned the War!) but is dated Nov 1928 when my gran was only fifteen. I wonder what a fifteen-year-old today would have to say to being given this tome?

Being a somewhat reluctant housewife at present, I decided to have a look at what Mrs B thinks I should be doing. It doesn't start well.

Housekeeping has been aptly described as the 'oldest industry.' It is certainly the most important, the very linch-pin of life's daily round.

I fear I am a failure by the end of the second sentence of the book. I bit further down that page I get a bit closer to the sentiment...

Whether the establishment be large or small, the functions of the housewife resemble those of the general of an army or the manager of a great business concern.

I know I only have two children, but nevertheless I do feel I am commanding an army ... though my regiment may not be the most disciplined or strict. I can also see how I am the manager of a great business concern: managing the finances, dealing with disputes (have you met my children?), negotiating, purchasing, meeting deadlines. Keeping everything functioning on an even keel around here would challenge the wealthiest FTSE 100 CEO.

The next sentence is ...

It is hers to inspire, to mould, direct; vigilance or slackness on her part will alike inevitably be reflected back.

... and I think I must have a poor reflection. I'm not sure I shall ever inspire anyone with my housekeeping!

And one of my favourite bits:

A woman's home should be first and foremost in her life, but if she allow household cares entirely to occupy her thoughts, she will become narrow in her interests and sympathies, a condition not conducive to domestic happiness. In many households, especially those where the exacting needs of a young family constantly clamour for attention, very little leisure can be secured for rest and recreation, but it is generally possible by proper methods of work, punctuality, and early rising to secure some, and this should be jealously preserved.

So - yes - my hour in front of Grand Designs is sacrosanct and - yes - my children will have to be more punctual in their habits for getting ready for school and - yes - I will get up early.... well, maybe not the last one, but two out of three aint bad! Long live domestic happiness!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


cherry tree blossom pink pictures, backgrounds and images
On Monday morning my grandmother passed away.

It is hard to know what to say. She was 97 years old, with a heart stronger than mine I suspect. Over the last few years dementia took an increasing hold, frustrating her and those around her. Her death was a release, but remains a profound loss.

For she was a joy to know. The picture of her as a baby, hung on the wall in her room, portends a handful of trouble: not difficulty, but mischief. Even then there is a glint in her eyes, as if she's saying, "I know: I look like any other baby, but I'm not. I'm me, and I'm going to let you know it."

Of course, I only drift into her hourglass at about twenty to the hour. But she was always special. She cooked the most amazing meals. She made many of our clothes, including the joys of my childhood dressing-up box with its bridal headdresses and flowing cloaks. She taught me how to sew and how to use a sewing machine. She had housemartins in the eaves that we would make lardy birdcakes for.

She was the contact point with my cousins - distant in location, but the most idolised relations we had. The summers were spent in the garden, playing silly games and chewing the grass. And when my grandparents moved into a granny-flat with my uncle and aunt living above, there was a new lease of life. Aged 71 she retrieved the tennis racket she was given for her 21st birthday and played against anyone willing to try. Given that she'd had a hip replaced about 15 years before it was quite remarkable to watch.

She was the reason we all spoke well in public. She had been trained as an elocution teacher, and woe betide any of us standing up in a school play and not being heard. Every consonant placed, no dipping in volume, head up, shoulders back: she's always (in my mind) sat in the back row ensuring I keep the speech on track.

And then Grandpa died, and we worried about how she would carry on. But fifteen years later she has seen three of her grandchildren married, and six great-grandchildren arrive and has outlived all the others of her own generation. Aged 84 she made my wedding dress. Aged 92 she had games and jigsaws out for my children to play with when we visited.

When I last saw her, just over a week before she died, she was frail and sleepy. I don't think she knew who I was, but she was adamant that she knew both her children (my mother and uncle). And she spoke of her faith, faith that I know I have inherited via my mother. She was in some level of communication with her God, repeating Amen in a comforted fashion. And, in a moment of clarity, she said, "If everyone loved God as much as He loves us, the world would be a happy place."

As I kissed her goodbye she thanked me and said, "You will remember me, won't you?"

Yes, Gran. I will.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Eco-friendly durability

A couple of years ago I had a good sort through all our bedding. It was a moment of super-organisation for me, putting all the ones we use rarely (i.e. for visitors!) into bags and sticking labels on so I know what is in the bag. Astonishing organisation for me - and, it turns out, essential if you want to find a spare sheet in a hurry when one of the kids has vomited repeatedly all night. Knowing that a sheet is single or double, fitted or flat, or even (actually) a duvet cover is remarkably useful.

With the various moves since then there was an entire box that had not been touched and at the weekend we finally got round to sifting through the unpacked box of bags. Now, what I didn't mention above was that I didn't go for fancy bags, or special storage, for all these spare sheets. No: I reached for the bag of carriers and (it turns out) Tesco and Sainsbury's.

Our supermarkets are always telling us to re-use their bags, sometimes offering money back if you do. There is also eco-pressure to make the bags biodegradable, so they don't clog up landfill sites for ever and a day. So here is my non-scientific study of the durability of their bags.

Firstly: Sainsbury's

Secondly: Tesco

So, if you want strength and durability, go to Sainsbury's. If you wish them to degrade and fall apart, try Tescos.

Or, better still, buy a jute bag and keep reusing it. Even when degrading it must be more environmentally friendly than the flakes of Tesco bag I keep picking up off the floor.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The world is the size of a pea

Crikey - it has been two weeks since I wrote here. That's the problem with wandering. Over half-term we wandered across the sea: this time, to Northern Ireland to see family. Grannie & Gramps looked after the children for a couple of nights, so my husband and I were able to get away and talk about things - and not just the house/builders/disasters at home!

It is a long time since I have stayed in a B&B: a very British institution, focussing a lot on homely accommodation and a huge breakfast. The first morning we sat down with the only other guests, a couple our parents' age. They were talking about visiting their daughter; about how many times per year they come over to Ireland; about how difficult it is to fly from Norwich now there's no direct flight to Belfast; about the rain (of course: there is a lot of it!) ... then as soon as my husband mentioned his parents in Belfast she said, "Oh - you're the Withenays!"

It was a slightly spooky moment. It turns out they know my in-laws from church in Norwich.

As I said at the time, the world has shrunk to the size of a pea. We can't even get away to somewhere we've never been before without being known.

The Mountains of Mourne are truly stunningly beautiful. Even in the rain. Given the moans and groans I gave throughout my teenage years, I think my parents would be astounded that I chose to go for a walk despite the weather. Most of the walk was through drizzle. It only really began to rain when we reached the dam at the end of the valley and the end of the walk.

Well, the end of the way out. We had a (much quicker!) 3 mile hike back to the teashop and car into which we dripped. I had water squelching around in my hiking boots and was quietly praying for the survival of my mobile phone in my trouser pocket. The tea was essential to warm us through again, but we left pools of water everywhere. Back at the B&B we left our clothes in front of the Rayburn and they were only just dry when we left the following morning.

Ireland isn't the Emerald Isle without reason: year-round rain means year-round green.


I've changed my design background (in case you hadn't noticed!). Do you like it? Is it too brown? I liked the map image - it seemed to go well with my Wandering theme ... although I do now seem to be far more settled. It may all change again as I seek to find the design that suits me and the blog best. All comments and advice are welcome!

Photo of Silent Valley, copyright Awesome Stories

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