Sunday, 30 March 2014

Love and ladybirds

The teenager has returned from her trip to France with a bad cold and an arrow through her heart.  Not a nasty accident when doing archery but a visit from Cupid.  She had a bit of a holiday romance with a boy her age from another school.  So she spent yesterday lying on the sofa coughing and snuffling; catching up with soaps and Towie; and messaging this boy.

Meanwhile I spent my Saturday doing loads of her washing and mowing the lawn.  There are certain chores I don't mind much so I tend to do these first, ignoring more tedious ones.  Hanging out the washing is one but mowing the lawn is my favourite.  I like the smell of the grass and it's very satisfying and soothing walking up and down in straight(ish) lines.  Not that I'm a perfectionist - our lawn is full of moss and weeds and yellow patches where the dog has peed too often.  It still looks ok after a good mow, though.

It was a lovely sunny day and I spotted a butterfly or two.  A peacock sat still for ages on one bush - laying eggs perhaps. There were also loads of ladybirds around.  We have had a plague of ladybirds in the house over the winter, hiding in the window frames and occasionally crawling around the ceiling in the kitchen. But we put up with them as ladybirds so pretty and, so I believe, eat other garden pests.  They are my third favourite insect after butterflies and dragonflies with their rainbow wings.

So I got out my camera and attempted a picture. No glasses so I couldn't see very well and the first two attempts were very blurry. Then I realised that I was photographing not one ladybird but two in close proximity and all over the bush were pairs of ladybirds mating.  So I have included a rather rude image in  today's post.  Oh well, I suppose it is springtime and time for love.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Gotcha nuthatch!

I've been trying to capture on camera this shy visitor to our garden for the past two weeks.  Have eventually succeeded. He's easily frightened off and is always looking around him checking for dangers.  Sounds familiar.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Things that might happen...

Early yesterday morning I waved goodbye to teenager for the week as she is on a school trip to France - staying is a chateau, doing various activities such as abseiling and also visiting war graves in Northern France.  She seems to have squeezed most of the contents of her wardrobe into her very heavy suitcase for the four nights she is there, but appears to have forgotten a rather vital accessory - her hairbrush.

Inevitably, I spent the day waiting to hear that they had got there safely.  Texted her on the coach around midday to see how the journey was progressing.  No reply.  Tried again in the afternoon. Still nothing. I knew all must be well as I'd have heard from school if there was a problem.  But kept inventing things that might have happened. Coach crash; abducted at service station; fire in Channel tunnel...Was 7.30 before she eventually got in touch with a brief dismissive text saying her phone had run out of charge on the journey. Mobiles actually makes things worse for the overanxious mother like me.  They give an illusion of security, that you can make contact quickly but then it's frustrating if you can't.

She's 14 now and so I have to let her go off and be independent without pestering her all the time.  But it's tough and not just on occasions like this trip.  A couple of weeks ago on a sunny Sunday afternoon she set out for a ride on her bike around the village with the girls who live next door. Great, I thought, a bit of fresh air and exercise for a change.  So mowed the lawn and half an hour passed.  Still not back though the circular route takes no more than 30 minutes. Went to the supermarket to stop myself stressing, certain they'd be back when I returned.  No.  Took dog for walk across fields and listened out for the usual squealing which indicates their presence.  Nothing.

It was a beautiful afternoon - sun shining, daffodils and blossom.  Attempted to banish negative thoughts and be mindful. Listened to birdsong, but imagining ambulance sirens instead.  Future nightmare scenarios spooled through my mind and I was choosing funeral songs. Visualisation comes easily to me, but only the bad stuff.  Tried instead to visualise her wedding, but failed.

Nearly back home with heavy heart when I heard the telltale squealing behind me.  Three girls with hair streaming behind them and four boys all on bikes. Nice boys, old friends from primary school whose mums I know. They'd met two of them and then called for the others.  Relief swept over me, but hid it well.

The problem is, of course, bad things do happen all the time.  Phoned NZ sister at the weekend and she told me of horrible drowning accident which had occurred on the beach near them.  Was off again, visualising the horror of this poor woman watching her husband rescue her young daughter only to drown himself.  And who could not be moved by the raw grief of the relatives of the passengers on the missing Malaysian aircraft?  I was a bit uncomfortable with the cameras intruding on this.

I'd welcome any advice on how I can stop myself worrying about things that might happen. Or is this just how it's going to be?

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Me with some my best friends - two of my sisters. 1967?  I'm on the right/

This post was inspired by a school assembly last week.  Pupils were being warned again about the perils of Facebook.  In the hands up which opened the assembly some kids claimed to have over 1000 'friends'.  My daughter has around 200, all of whom she claims to have met.  They were asked to remove from their list of 'friends' anyone they did not actually know properly - those friends of friends etc. The head ended the assembly by saying that for her friends were people she had met in person.Which got me thinking.

A friend is someone whose company you enjoy, who supports you when you need it and listens to you.  So in the last year since I've been writing this and reading other blogs I feel I've made some new friends.  I look forward to the posts from my favourite bloggers and am delighted when some of them have read and commented on mine.   I know that sometimes bloggers meet up for real - I recently enjoyed reading this post from Avril at School Gate Style who met up with other fashion bloggers in London.   I wonder whether the friends I've made on here would be as I imagine if we met and what they would think of me..... .

One of my favourite blog discoveries in the last year is written by Yvonne Watterson who is from the same area of Northern Ireland as me, an English teacher and mother of a teenage daughter. She now lives in Arizona but still has close links with NI, writing for the local newspaper in Antrim.  Her posts are proper serious writing dealing with issues and ideas, yet personal at the same time. I was shocked and saddened to hear how she lost her husband in November, around the same time I lost my father.  She wrote about her grief in a very moving yet dignified way and my heart went out to her.  She has now decided to have a break from blogging to write a book.  I'm pleased for her but will miss her regular posts.

Yvonne announced her decision to have a break from blogging.  But recently a couple of the bloggers I read regularly have not posted for a long time and I'm hoping they are ok especially since there were hints that all was not well in some cases.  I miss them as I would a friend who's gone away.

So that's why I don't agree with our head 's view that a friend has to be someone you have met.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Reading Autobiography Part 2: 10 more top reads

Our contribution to the school World Book Day extreme reading photo collage.
So as planned here is Part Two of my all time top twenty reads.  It was much harder to finalise this list - there were a lot of possibles and I've changed my mind several times.  These books made the final cut for various reasons, not all really to do with the 'quality' of the book.  Some were chosen because they are associated with  particular time or place.  Others are there because I remember the sheer pleasure they gave me when I read them.  A good book for me also has to be memorable and maybe say something about the state of the world or about the human consciousness.  No - that sounds pretentious.  Shall I just get on with it?

The Bridge by Iain Banks
Have blogged before about Iain Banks' books and how sad we were when he died last year.  This is my favourite of his books - I've read it twice.  Banks also considered it his best novel.  Almost sci-fi and not my usual kind of book at all with several overlapping narratives but there's a kind of love story at the heart of it. I suppose that made me warm to it more than some of the others like Complicity which I found too violent. The bridge is the Forth railway bridge in Fife and is kind of central to the whole novel.  Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which nearly made the list, is similar in structure but The Bridge is better in my opinion - not as long or as weird. 

Praxis by Fay Weldon
Once upon a time in the early 80s before I became a teacher I'd decided I wanted to work in travel.  Did a post-grad course and got a job, working at first for an Irish tour company (my boss was John Doonican, brother of Val, for those of you old enough to remember).  Then, when that folded, found a job with Alitalia, the Italian airline.  I worked in a building on Oxford Circus and it all sounds very glamorous but it wasn't.  I worked in accounts; it was boring; the building had no windows and there was a creepy little man called Orlando who accosted me every time I went to the photocopier.  Escaped mentally by reading my way through everything Fay Weldon had ever written during lunch and coffee breaks. This one is the best in my view. She a great writer - humour and a serious feminist message mixed.  Met her once at a Chester Literature festival event - she's a very entertaining speaker.

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
An unusual book which explores bullying and relationships between young girls. It's like another of my choices, Patrick Gale's Notes on an Exhibition as images of painting are used throughout the novel.  I also met Margaret Atwood at a Cosmopolitan book day in London (!) many years ago.  She signed a book for me. Lovely lady.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum Kate Atkinson
Still her best book in my view and nothing since has come close until Life after Life  Read a copy after it first came out in 1995 and haven't read it since but still remember it.  On my to reread list.

The Stone Diaries Carol Shields
I'm seeing a pattern in the books I've chosen.  The last three tell the stories of (fictional) women's lives.  So does this one.  It's a fictional autobiography in fact.   It's a long time also since I read this but some episodes (the birth for example) so well written that I can rerun them in my mind like a film.

Star of the Sea Joseph O'Connor
One of two Irish entries to the list though to be honest I could also have included at least of one Maeve Binchy's books.  I read every single one of these and then passed them on to my mother-in-law whose usual  reading was Mills and Boon.  Great storyteller and another sad loss recently.  Star of the Sea is a more demanding read, telling the story of a ship on the way to New York at the time of the Irish Potato famine.  Click here for a proper review by Terry Eagleton.  Like my recent favourite, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, it is narrated in a series of documents; news articles, letters etc.  So is The Stone Diaries I think.

Beloved Toni Morrison
Gave up on first attempt at reading this, but came back to it and glad I did. Disturbing and memorable and there's the chapter which begins 'I am Beloved.. which sent tingles up my spine.

Fingersmith Sarah Waters
My favourite of all her novels.  A great storyline and set in Victorian London. Has the best plot and most unexpected plot twist ever.

Notes from an Exhibition Patrick Gale
Read this a few years ago followed by all the rest of Gale's novels.  Interesting portrayal of family life and mental illness.

Skippy Dies Paul Murray
Last book on the list and another Irish writer. Have blogged before about this book here. Hard to choose between this and Zadie Smith's White Teeth.  Similar because both use humour and create a picture of contemporary life, Smith in London; Murray in Dublin. Went for Murray in the end. 

So that's it.  I'd love to hear other people's top twenty.  It's been great linking to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for the Year in Books, but won't link this as I'm kind of breaking the rules and have done my link up for the month already.  But if you come across this post via Laura, I'd love to hear from you. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

My favourite books: a reading autobiography - Part One

I finished Harold Fry this week during a bout of middle of the night insomnia.  Thanks to all of you who encouraged me not to give up on him  - yes it was worth continuing to read.  I cried for Harold and Maureen and for Queenie.  Although the journey seemed implausible (and interminable), actually the ending didn't.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't read it, but I liked the way the media coverage of Harold's journey was satirized (maybe not the right word - more gently mocked because the lovely thing about Harold was the way he was uncritical and accepting of everyone).  Also his reunion with Maureen was beautifully described.  It reminded me of a book I read years ago about love between older people: Paul Scott's 'Staying On'.

For my March contribution to the Year in Books, I'm going also going to use an idea I found on another blog I read, Veg Plotting.  This blogger (and yes she mainly writes about gardening) has selected a list of her all time top twenty favourite books.  I like this because I'm constantly on the quest for the kind of book I love - one which I cannot put down or which makes me laugh or which says something important about the world.. And then there are those which are associated with a time and place. The problem is that too many of the books I read don't really meet with my expectations.  These ones are the ones that do.  I'll confine myself to a sentence or two about each otherwise this post will be very long.

Formative books

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
My mother read this book to me and my sisters in front of a two bar electric fire in the sixties.  A favourite childhood memory.

Anne of Green Gables L.M Montgomery
One of several classic children's books found on a bookcase at Granny's house, Sunday School prizes for my aunts. Sunday School prizes were the main source of books for us as children.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and other Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis
Like many of my choices, inspired by watching the BBC Sunday tea-time drama.  Found the series in the lovely wood panelled library at the Rainey Endowed School.  Here began my lifetime love of libraries.

The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
I long for a walled garden because of this book which I can clearly picture myself reading in Ballyronan.  Bought an beautiful illustrated copy and read it to my daughter when she was about 8 or 9.


Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
My first classic novel studied for 'O' Level.  A bit of a struggle then but now my favourite Hardy because at least there's a happy ending. Can't bear reading 'Tess' as Angel annoys me so much.

The Rainbow D.H. Lawrence
Studied for A level with our wonderful teacher Ken Keys.  I remember being seeing a double rainbow, an arch within an arch, days after splitting up with my boyfriend at the time and seeing it as terribly symbolic. It seems cringeworthy when I look at it now, though.

Hard Times Charles Dickens
My favourite Dickens. Great plot, as with all of Dickens. I like his defence of Fancy over Fact at the beginning of the novel.  Michael Gove take note.

Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
Well as one of five girls, how could I not love this book?  I'm the eldest and, yes, I'm more of a Jane than a Lizzy.  Always the good girl, pleasing mummy.

Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
I love the mystery and the description of the rhododendrons and the first line is so resonant 'Last Night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.'  A classic novel with a similar character, Jane Eyre (too priggish), didn't make the final list. About 15 years ago, I saw an excellent stage adaptation of the novel with June Brown from Eastenders as Mrs Danvers - it was my last ever visit to the theatre with my mother.

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
The best modern classic and my favourite book to teach. I love the narrator - who could not be moved to tears when she says 'Hi' to Boo at the end.  Even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a more recent novel on a similar theme, nearly made the list.

So that's it for the first 10.  Will do the rest of the list next week if you are still interested.  I'd also love to her other people's top 20.

Thank you so much to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for the Year in Books link up.  I've found some fascinating blogs because of it and had more readers here too.  I hope you don't mind me diverting slightly from the original idea in this post, Laura

My March read is Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe.  I'm already most of the way through it, having had several bad nights' sleep this week.    So I'm going to try Stoner by John Williams too. Thanks to Older Mum for this recommendation.

Springtime in The Secret Garden