On being British

Teenage me would not have thought much about the Royal Wedding, yesterday. She would have reminded everyone that the monarchy is a disgusting, archaic idea that does Britain little good other than bring in tourism, which we’d get anyway, because we have HISTORY. She’d have told you, in no uncertain terms, how disgusting it was that a group of people were treated differently by sheer accident of birth. That having a monarchy means we will never be able to adequately bridge the gap between rich and poor. That they were all fairly awful people anyway, by dint of having to live such sheltered unreal lives.
In fact, I might have thought all of that, right up until we arrived in America, a few weeks ago. There is, of course, something about being in any foreign country that makes you very aware of your own nationality. Sometimes, it’s because you look around and think ‘Wow, we do it so much better at home’. Sometimes it’s when you have to speak to the waiter in very loud, very slow English because, of course, you never bothered to learn enough Spanish. Sometimes it’s because of the way people can spot you as different from a mile off (though I’ve been told this is because of the colour of the Husband’s hair).

In America, though, they love the British. Okay, so maybe it’s a little patronising; the British accent is ‘awful cute’ after all. But they are happy to talk to you; happy to hear about all the differences ‘across the pond’; happy to show you their way of doing things (You have to tip waitresses because they haven’t worked out the idea of a minimum wage yet, right?). One girl stopped us in the street. “Are you guys British?” she gushed. “Say ‘hello’”, she begged. “Hello” we said. “No! No! Say it properly!” she asked.
“‘Ello, guvner” said the Husband. She roared with laughter.

They also love America. There is no fear about being patriotic. They aren’t embarrassed that it might not seem cool. They are unashamedly and totally in love with their (frankly, ludicrous) belief that everything they do there helps every citizen to live the American Dream: To work their way up from the bottom and become something amazing.
It’s a beautiful dream. But it won’t work if you don’t help the poorest people a little more. Like with free healthcare.

Being in America made me proud to be British. I may have mentioned before that I can stop whole lessons and wax lyrical about the NHS, I believe it is so important. It isn’t just the NHS, though.

Quick aside: I was speaking to a woman in a bar in New Orleans. She worked in the medical industry. I asked her what the reasons were for a lot of Americans not wanting a free health service. She said “People like me wouldn’t get paid enough”. I said I understood, I was a teacher. She blessed me, said it was wonderful that I did such a lovely job, started talking about God. I said “Forgive me if this sounds rude but, that’s kinda my point. Don’t you think that a free health service, helping those people in society who are the greatest in need, is the most Christian thing a country can do?”. She left soon after that.

No, it isn’t just the NHS. It’s this:

A sign outside a bar in Memphis (or was it Nashville?) reminding people that they have to leave their guns at home and can’t bring them into a bar.

And it’s the radio over there, that makes me proud to be British. We drove all the way from New Orleans to Chicago, listening only to local radio stations. The music was good. I like a bit of Country. But the Husband likes to listen to talk radio when he’s driving, so we tried some of those stations. No word of a lie, I heard a radio presenter call the president of the USA: Barack Hussein Obama, Peace be Upon Him. I heard an entire radio slot that appeared to be about how odd gay men are; listing every stereotype I’d ever heard. I heard a presenter using the ten commandments as a reason why Obama’s plans to tax the rich higher were anti-Christian (It’s stealing, and that’s wrong). The level of stupidity and stubborn refusal to change made my blood boil.

(It was wholly different when we got to Chicago, I have to say – and I know that it wouldn’t be right to judge all Americans with the same brush, or whatever the saying is, but these guys were pure evil).

So, returning to Royal Wedding mayhem was actually quite refreshing, and took on a whole new meaning to me. I watched the service and was reminded again what a fantastic institution the Church of England is (though I was sad that Rowan wasn’t given the opportunity to have a little joke with the nervous pair). Even the BBC commentary on everything the guests were wearing, was so hopelessly quaint and innocent, that it made me smile.

So, it might be embarrassing, and it might not be very cool. But, I’m proud to be British this weekend. We don’t do so bad after all.


Purrrfect Anais

I was at a wedding recently (more on that later) and was a little shocked to find that all of the bride’s other friends were quite incredibly talented musicians. More than one of them got up and performed – some had even written songs just for the happy couple. It made me think about how it might be that she had found this people and why it was that I wasn’t so surrounded by brilliance.
We need to find new friends, I said to the Husband, all of us are talentless freaks.
This isn’t true, of course. Perhaps it’s something to do with the UK (the wedding was full of Americans). We just don’t shout about our talents as much as we should do. Self-promotion is seen, over here, as a little crass and that just means that too many truly talented people are hiding away for fear of ridicule or jealousy. Enough! I say!
And so, I’m talent-collecting. I’m going to watch out for incredible talent in my friends and loved ones and shout about it here.

Starting with the lovely Purrr, a friend from Uni who I’ve only really known since; a true artist. It isn’t simply the wonderful paintings that make Purrr an artist. You could meet her in a bar, and realise in seconds that she isn’t of this world – she isn’t one of us. She’s fragile and beautiful and a little work of art – just like the lovely ladies she paints on old book pages. One such painting is now in our living room, apologies that the photo quality is terrible (and the framing is shoddy, but I so desperately wanted to get her on the wall, that I couldn’t wait to have her mounted professionally!). Paris, 1957 – Anais, in her favourite room. As I imagine many of Purrr’s customers feel, I like to think this one was painted just for me and named for my favourite author.

Check out Purr’s work here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Purrr?ref=pr_shop_more . Or like her on Facebook! I’m also a big fan of Patrice reads obsessively. What great clothes these little ladies have!

What a talent and an inspiration. It’s a pleasure to know you, pretty lady.

How to make a mess, part 2.

The garden’s coming along nicely, with this funky new pot holder that I bought online and screwed together myself. I’m getting pretty nifty with a screwdriver, as you can see.

The bench also arrived, and will be the death of me… I think I may have underestimated how long it might take to paint a bench. I got up for five days in a row and painted until I just couldn’t paint any longer and it still isn’t done! But, boy, what a great colour!!





Next on the list is a handmade mosaic tile, a mirror / plant holder which should be arriving any day now, and a bird house of some kind… Fun!

Friends like these…

When I was growing up, I struggled to have good friends. It seems to be hard-wired into a girl’s nature to think one should only have a Best Friend and no need for any one else. Or, at least, that’s how it was for me. I had a host of ‘best friends’ one after the other, and was happy, until they all found someone better to hang out with… or, in one case, found life too difficult… and opted out.
But, over the last ten years or so, I have found myself surrounded with some of the most beautiful people. When I started University, I realised I wasn’t that hard to love – at least, not always. And my current Best Friend is someone I met in the very next room to me on my first night in halls. I have many friends from Uni still, most of them not necessarily the people I knew best while I was there, but who I love dearly…. and Facebook has brought me back in touch with a lot of the people who really made a difference but with whom I lost touch.
The friends I see most often, though, are newer friends. My London Friends. And even these, I realise with a jolt, are people I have known for over 7 years. I can’t list them here, I don’t think I need to, but I just spent a lovely weekend with them all. After Uni, the best thing that happened to me was a chance meeting in a pub with the Best Man – which moved me to London where I met the Husband and my Brother in Law (neither of which had those titles at the time, that would be weird). Then, after a year in North London, we advertised for more housemates on Gumtree and found the American and the Journalist. We were incredibly lucky, or God was watching out for us, because when we advertised for housemates, we found life-long friends. Family. And now, years down the line, the group has grown, to include former Uni friends on the Husband’s side (now friends in their own right, of course) and girlfriends and husbands and other significant others… and suddenly I have a group of friends who I really could turn to in an hour of need… but also who are excellent fun to drink with.
I feel immensely privileged to be able to grow up with these people, and grow old. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been our choice to spend a weekend in the suburbs walking and having dinner parties, but now, we enjoy ourselves and laugh over the Observer together, and pat ourselves on the back that we have come this far and… well, it is pretentious, but we like it…
And all of them, behind the boisterous silliness and jibes, love me entirely for who I am… and I love them the same. I am very lucky. I don’t think I tell them that enough.

An old pile of papers

“Mollie Salvers was lonely. Not alone, but lonely”
So starts a story I began on the 11th February 1995 – about the time when I was reading a great deal of Thomas Hardy and the Bronte Sisters. I never finished the story, but I did write a full synopsis, which I share here:

Mollie and Joseph (her husband) split up.
Mollie goes to stay with her Aunt Constance in Oxfordshire (“Aunt Constance was a strange creature of obvious wealthy ancestry. She was respected within her countryside village as one of the oldest and wisest residents and, as a young woman, had been courted by many a hopeful youth”).
She meets Adam, who she loved as a child. Adam is a recluse and has changed greatly since their childhood – his sister flung herself from a cliff after a failed love affair – he has never recovered.
Mollie still loves Joseph very much. She discovers she is pregnant. When she tells Joseph he is happy, but thinks it is better if they don’t get back together.
Mollie finds herself growing closer to Adam. She needs him, but he falls in love with her.
While on a walk on the cliffs, Adam admits he loves Mollie. She tells him she doesn’t feel the same. Joseph turns up – he has heard everything. He picks a fight with Adam. Mollie tries to stop them and is pushed away. She is hanging by one hand off the side of a cliff. Joseph turns to a nervous wreck but Adam helps her up.
Feeling useless that he couldn’t help, Joseph throws himself off the cliff.
Adam and Mollie live happily ever after.

That, there, people, is an Oster / Price masterpiece that will never be written…


Wikipedia will tell you that the Welsh word Hiraeth has no direct translation, but that the University of Wales, Lampeter (that’s right, the best Uni in the world) attempts to define it as “a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, and the earnest desire for the Wales of the past”. I’m not sure that, as a non-Welsh girl, I’m allowed to claim to feel this, but I will claim it nonetheless. Maybe it’s the childhood holidays I spent in Wales, with English grandparents, but Welsh cousins. We’d stay up ‘late’ at night, playing Red Indians (we were non-PC back then) and creating Pagan rituals to the moon. This was, I’m sure, an invention of my beautiful cousin’s – she has always been so very creative, so very romantic… so very Welsh!
Maybe it was the years I spent living there through University. I had never felt so entirely comfortable with any group of people, so utterly accepted. There was something beautiful and very special about living in such a small space, being known by almost everyone you passed. Even now, I know it annoys the Husband and the other ‘spouses’ when we all get together and all we can talk about are the glory days of our student youth. I think it’s unusual how many of us are still in touch, but that might just be what happens when you’re thrown so viciously into such a tiny and incestuous group. I count many of these people as family, even if – when I meet them for drinks these days – I can’t actually remember what it is that they do for a living.
Or maybe it’s that there really is just something magical about Wales.

I spent the last week in Wales. First, staying with Mummy Wordman in her haunted house in Llangollen. I’m always disappointed when I don’t see ghosts. I’m a true believer (I subscribe to the Fortean Times for Gawd’s sake) and yet they don’t come visit me. I can only assume this is because they don’t, in fact, exist. Which didn’t stop me from being freaked out when, after a fairly sleepless night, I asked Wordman and Bee if there were ghosts in the house and they just looked at each other and said “Do you really want to know?”. I had to drink an awful lot of wine to get the courage up to go and sleep alone in a room that has two doors (Where does the other one go? I’m told it’s just a cupboard, but I’m not so sure).

Cherry Tree. Imagine being able to leave your house and walk mere metres before you find yourself on a mountain. Wake up in the morning and hear nothing but the birds and the breeze in the trees. Make tea by the Aga, collect the coal from the shed, sit by a roaring fire all day. This is a life I dream of. I nearly moved in permanently. There is a kind of poetry around mountains, it gets in your lungs.

[I want to write about the Little Man who makes me smile so. How we played NeeNaws in the cushions, how he learned to say my name and melted my heart, how he dragged me round the house with a hose putting out fires, how he giggled as I turned him upside down, how tickly his tummy is, how much I love him. But he makes me gushing and silly, so I won’t.]

After Llan, we travelled back to Ponty for Wordman’s birthday. It seems to have become a tradition; the same people watching the rugby on his birthday. Maybe it was a tradition before I knew him again and got invited. Last year, Cardiff were playing away, so I was totally unprepared for Cardiff on a Match Day. The sheer number of people was dizzying, even for a Londoner like me. Everywhere you looked there were people in their Rugby shirts, the pubs were rammed, you could get your face painted on the streets. Noise, excitement, laughter… and none of the worry that at some point someone will get stabbed. It was a Wales / Ireland game. The only time I’ve ever seen two opposing teams so happily drinking (and singing!) together.
We watched the match in the Rugby club next to the Stadium, so that we could hear the roars. I wore a borrowed Lions shirt, and tried not to speak too loudly in my English accent. Later, I was amazed to find myself being dragged away from talking to men in a club. “It wasn’t like that!” I protested, “we were talking about the problems that arise from teaching Religion in such a multicultural environment as London, or whether the early-nineties really were a fashion minefield – he wasn’t chatting me up!”. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that this is the way Welsh men chat you up. It is a big step up from “Oi! Wanna snog?!” – which is all I remember from my brief single years in London. (but easier to avoid, if you are – like I am – happily married!). Even I, though, recognised that being hoisted over the shoulders of a gentleman who then called for a taxi, was probably a pick-up. But, then, I deserved it for telling him how much I liked Gingers… And even he was smiling.

[Note to the Husband: None of them was as lovely as you, I promise]

People talk to you in Wales. They smile and greet you as you walk past them on country roads. The women in cafes call you ‘love’ or ‘bach’ (which always reminds me of the Best Friend – who so loved hearing it). People stop in the street to catch up, because they all know each other. Everywhere there is laughter and song and history.

They voted Yes. I think it was a good thing.

A new leaf buds

Spring. It’s definitely here today. And with it, comes a renewed desire to live. Maybe I’ve spent so long at rock bottom that I’m finally rested enough to start to pick myself up. Or maybe it’s the dawning realisation that no one else is doing anything remotely useful to aid my recovery (by that I mean professionally, not personally – I am surrounded by beautiful people) so it’s down to me to get back on my feet and pull the broken parts of my soul back together again.

Whatever, I feel good today. There is hope. I even caught myself singing out loud!

At the weekend, some beautiful flower fairy sent me some narcissi (or little daffodils) in the post. They had come all the way from the Scilly Isles, and the brilliant burst of yellow really made me smile.

There was no card, though I searched and searched, so I had no idea who they were from. Asking around, I came across many people, who all said “Oh! They’re not from me, but I wish they were!” – there’s a lesson in there for all of us.

After a while, the mystery was solved by my lovely cousin. They had been sent by my Auntie Sally, which was a much lovelier surprise than any of the people I might have suspected. It’s always nice to know that someone is thinking of you.


Over the last few days, I have attempted to get out and about a little more than I have been. Firstly, out of necessity. I had a meeting with the headmistress. It wasn’t a meeting I was particularly looking forward to (though I should have known better, she is a wise and honest woman) so I felt really lucky to find myself sitting on the bus next to a chatty woman and her grandson. “Did you hear what happened to the 93 bus stop?” she asked, as I tried my hardest to stop my hands from shaking and not have a panic attack about being on the journey to school.

“No” I replied.
“They nicked it. One day it was there, and then it was gone”. We had a laugh about that, and she took my mind off everything. (Except, maybe, how it is possible to steal an entire bus shelter from a main road in Morden without anyone noticing, and also why you would want to…).

Today, the little old lady who stopped me in the park to remark on how lovely it was that I was wearing purple when everyone else looked so gloomy (she agreed it was nearly spring) and the man at the coffee shop who gave me a free shot of the richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted, and the boy who remarked to his mother and I: “You can’t walk through the river. You’d get wet”, were further proof of what I have begun to suspect: Not only are there still some lovely people in the world, but also – and you don’t have to go with me on this one – there are sometimes people who are real answers to prayers. The prayers of all those people around me of real faith are daily sending people to make me smile. And for that, I thank those people and Whoever Else is responsible. I feel very blessed.



One other reason to be joyful. The council came to dig up the road the other day. I got cross, thinking it was for some awful reason, and then, yesterday, some lovely men came and planted a row of these little beauties.


Hurrah for Local Councils everywhere (while there’s still reason to hurrah).

Honey Boo, in the Wood

What is it about prozac that makes me want to cut all my hair off? The first time I was prescribed it, I did this:


I’ve had a fringe before. I was kinda bullied into it by an over-zealous hairdresser, who charged me a stupid amount and then made me cry. It worked, sometimes, but whenever it rained the edges would curl up and my head would resemble a mop – or a dog of some kind. So, really, I think I knew I couldn’t get a fringe again. Least of all because I promised the Husband not to let me do it again because they’re such a pain to grow out.

But, man, I really wanted one.


Luckily, one of my dearest friends is also genderly-misaligned (I think I made up that phrase, I’m still playing around with how to describe it that will most annoy, without being offensive – that’s the way with friends). This means that I can get girly advice whenever I need it without having to talk to girls, which I find almost impossible. So, Wordman (Wordperson?) talked me out of anything too short, too extreme or too difficult to change as soon as I’m back on my feet and maybe not so mental.

Above is the result. I’m a bit nervous about the sweeping side-parting, but hairdressers have been trying to get me to take a side parting for longer than I can remember, so I let her have a go. And she’s lovely, so I trust her.

In other news… Wordgirl (nah, that sounds too much like street slang) has maybe set up a way to leave comments on this site. Which may, or may not, be a good thing. We’ll see…