Early morning at the poppies #morningwalk

Remembrance in November is a tricky business and I always approach Armistice day with mixed feelings. This year has been no exception with the World War One Centenary. It is such an important anniversary, WW1 & 2 created such social change – women’s suffrage, advances in education, medicine, workers rights. War casts a long shadow over nations and landscapes. I was surprised listening to From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4  this week which contained a shocking statistic. A hundred and fifty tonnes of WW1 shells are still being dug up in Ypres every year – local farmers call it the “iron harvest”.

As I have written before, remembrance for me is an important time of reflection and I have still been deeply uncomfortable with the majority of the coverage. When I hear the jingoistic phrases being repeated again and again by the newspapers and politicians and through images posted on social media it makes me shudder and makes me feel sad that we don’t have a wider vocabulary for discussing how horrific war actually is. It reminds me of Wilfred Owen’s last line, “The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.  (How  sweet and honourable it is to die for your country).  It feels like even now, 100 years on, we still put too much emphasis on propping up the lie – the glory in sacrifice rather than the gore in the trenches.

Mud & poppies

Reading Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Vera Brittain, Virginia Woolf and Pat Barker fundamentally changed my outlook on the world when I was growing up. They are writers I often think about and especially turn to at this time of year. I can’t help think about the First World War without thinking about shellshock, those shot for cowardice and conscientious objectors. With all my heart, I wish we could find a way to include a greater range of perspectives in how we remember. Harry Leslie Smith wrote a thoughtful article in The Guardian is worth reading about conscientious objectors in both wars.

This year I thought about how I want to mark the war and have remembered in a range of ways. I took part in Lights Out reading Edward Thomas poetry by candlelight on the anniversary of the first day of the war. I went to the Britten’s War Requiem at the Proms which made me cry. The line that stayed with me was from The Parable of the Old Man and his Son:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

There was a lady sitting behind me, on her own, who didn’t know the work. She said to me at the end “it makes you glad to be alive”. I didn’t really know what to say, I think she meant because the music though difficult was so glorious to hear live and we were so lucky to hear such an amazing performance. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it made me  think about man’s inhumanity to man and I was feeling pretty bleak.

Marion Alsop wrote a great about what it is like to conduct Britten’s War Requiem which contains a fantastic quote: ‘No piece of art can bring back a single one of the millions of people killed in armed conflict since Wilfred Owen’s death in 1918, but the War Requiem can challenge us to think about what it is we people to do when we send them to war. This is what art is for, and it’s important.’

Yesterday, I went to see the Poppies at the Tower before work  - I’m still not sure what I think about it but seeing 888, 246 poppies is an awe inspiring sight. It reinforces the scale and the waste.

Remembering is important to try and stop ourselves repeating the same mistakes again and again. Cultural remembrance is difficult to get right and often controversial. But we need to keep telling the stories of the war and what they can tell us about bravery, resilience but also healing, reconciliation and peace.

If you would like to read more reflections about remembrance here are my previous posts. My Subject is War and the Pity of War (Britten War Requiem), Why This Year I Won’t Be Wearing A Poppy,  Beyond Living Memory (Harry Patch and Passchendaele) .

"At the going down of the sun... We will remember them." #sunset #SE23love

Reading Edward Thomas & Thomas Hardy by candlelight. #lightsout #100years #ww1

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Happy birthday monkey: blogpost in honour of my niece #birthdays #proudaunt

Today my niece turns three. She got a bike for her birthday and is enjoying going “really fast” on it. I love how she likes being strong, loves climbing and being outside. She has a huge conker collection and can name a variety of animals and birds. Hippos are particular favourites at the moment.

There have been so many funny moment and phrases that have had us giggling over the past year. From her turning round on monkey bars to instruct us to help her (“Hold me Lara!), drinking fizzy water (“it’s spicy on my tongue”),turning around super excited in Frozen to say “it’s magic!”  with big eyes to hilarious phone conversations which run along the lines of “where are you? Why are you in London? Are you sad?”. Always keen to know where I am and why I’m there.

There has been reading books in bed, dressing up as the Gruffalo, paddling in the sea on Cornwall and Broadstairs, dancing, first trip to theatre to see the Tiger Who Came for Tea, playing in the fountains on South Bank and eating rice. Fun car journeys where Lyra looked at me and got me to hold on to the car door or her hand as we drove down steep roads (“Aunty Lara – Hold on!”), singing Nellie the Elephant a ridiculous numbers of times (trunk, trunk, trunk).

Over the year I’ve been impressed by how quickly vocabulary has come and watched how her interests have changed and developed as she has changed from being a toddler to a little girl. While I know she has her moments, I love the slightly anarchic phase pre-school where the behaviour is a bit wild, fearless and untrained.  The funny toddler logic conversations are hilarious and gives you a glimpse to how they are understanding the world which is fascinating. When reading Snail and the Whale she saw the stranded whale on the beach in the picture and roared “get back in the bath!”  

Being an aunt is the greatest joy. Aunts have had quite a bad deal in fiction and history. We’re often depicted and spinsterish, frumps, sometimes mad and often drunken. I love being the slightly naughty aunt who might encourage her to blow raspberries or dance crazily in the morning or wear unsuitable clothing combinations. Apparently it is not helpful to parents if you say “does it matter if she wears a tutu skirt over her pyjama bottoms to the supermarket really?” I’m conscious that all too soon she will be self-conscious and wanting to fit in, probably a bit embarrassed by her aunt turning up and wanting to give her a big hug.

I find myself gushing more about her than I ever thought possible and taking great pride when telling stories and anecdotes. It still makes my day when her face lights up and she looks genuinely pleased to see me, I love it that she wants to sit next to me or on me. I love being someone she will pretend to whisper secrets to and make each other laugh by pulling silly faces.

Happy Birthday Monkey – thank you for making us laugh so much and play silly games!

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Afternoon in the woods #sydenhamwoods #nofilter

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  Hello.  I’m still here. Over the years I’ve developed strategies for helping me feel grounded and perking me up when I’m feeling down or need to relax. A favourite thing is to get out of the house and walk somewhere, getting into the outdoors is really important for me and I’ve always wondered around places I’ve lived. I put it down to dog walking and living by a canal growing up so I could also escape for quick walk or bike ride to think and clear my head.

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Blue skies #nofilter View on Instagram

Last week I escaped to the glorious Sydenham Hill Woods with some friends. I first discovered the woods through the local Wildlife Trusts bat walk where I saw a range of bats and heard a Tawny owl.  I feel very lucky to have it near me. Tramping through woods on a warm October day was good for the soul. The sort of day when you just feel like you want to do star-jumps all over the place. 

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White spotted jellyfish #horniman #aquarium

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Today I popped into the aquarium at the Horniman museum. You know just to check on the fish and see what is new there. Today white spotted jellyfish. Woo! The aquarium is definitely a place where I feel a great sense of peace, you can be mesmerised by the movement of the fish and their beauty.  I’m aching and stiff from a great yoga class yesterday and needed something restorative. A quick trip round the aquarium and wander in the gardens did the job.

As the days get shorter and I feel the call of winter hibernation, I can start to fill a little off kilter. Autumn is my favourite time of year – I love the colours, the slight chill in the air and the sense of change and renewal that comes at this time of year. But I sometimes find it hard too –  my energy levels start to flag and its harder to spring out of bed in the morning. So this year I’m trying to make my foundations strong by soaking up any sunlight on offer and also frequenting some happy places to help boost my spirits and embrace the coziness of autumn.

Last month I gave a short talk about my blog at Borough Belles and it made me realise how much I have been missing this particular space.  After all this time I love this space on the internet where I write and share what I like.  I like that I have improved over the years and that it’s still here.  I started blogging because I fell in love with the fact that people write about all kinds of things on the internet  – textiles, gardening, nature, travel, science, books, music, places to visit but also personal things about their homes and lives.  My blog reading osscilates between all these things depending on whim but I love the stories of people’s lives most of all.

Talking about my blog reminded me that sometimes writing things can be scary and feel exposing but it can also be wonderful.  Posts might take me a while to write but once they are out in the world I like them.  My main rule with the blog is to not treat it like work – I try not to worry  about rules, obsess about webstats and I cherish comments or signs that people have enjoyed my posts.  I love the reaction from other people that I get, texts, emails or mentions in conversation.   Blogging makes me feel connected to my friends and I love reading their blogs as well.

I also like to keep  it real – it is easy to turn it into a one woman marketing campaign about all the great stuff you are doing and make it magazine perfect. This is less interesting to me, I can read about people like that in magazines.  Talking about Messy Tuesdays at the WI reminded me how fun is was to write about things that people would never usually “publish”.

So here’s to making more time to come back to this happy place. There are always so many things to write about and I am still doing things.  Reading.  Having adventures.  Spending time outdoors. Plotting new schemes. Striving to make the world  better place. Enjoying music. Making lists.  Thinking about writing.  I have notes on my phone and scribbles in notebooks to turn into posts but sometimes you just need some time to percolate.  Here’s to a full and happy Autumn. 

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I like the night before a trip – a busy blur of washing, cleaning things, list-making. I’m sitting here charging a million things,  ticking things off my ferocious to-do list and working out if everything on my packing pile is really necessary. I’m trying to travel light with small suitcase and feeling of calm.

There is always a small voice in my head saying “is it really worth it?” Knowing that tomorrow will be a insanely busy day in the office and I’ll try and cram 4 days worth of work into 1. The minute I arrive in different country though I know it will be good. I’ll relax and start exploring. It is six months since my last trip and I’m eager to be on the move.

The last few weeks I have been thinking about what I want to see in Berlin. My list is a little overwhelming. There is the art. The culture. The amazing museums. The sad (and horrible) history. I am already realising that 5 days might simply not be enough. But that is exciting because it means it might become a place to go back to and that gives me a thrill.

I over-prepare for trips abroad – I tend to read a lot about where I’m going and always have (at least) one guidebook on me at all times. The planning is part of the fun – the conversations you have with people, day dreaming, wondering what it will be like when you arrive and don’t speak any German. And, I love guidebooks!  For Berlin I have found a wealth of blogposts, maps, suggestions of things to do, books to read, see, eat and absorb while in Berlin.  But more than the usual tourist trail, I also love pretending I live in foreign places and doing things that locals might do.  We are staying in an apartment so I’m hoping that we will go to a local supermarket to see what we can find there.

A while ago I went to a School of Life talk about the Art of Travel and the idea of sensory travel was mentioned. The key phrase I scribbled down in my notebook was about allowing “your senses to be your compass”.  Travel is so visual – snapping photos and it’s easy to forget to really take in a place. I’m going to try and occasionally put the map and guidebooks away and see what I can find – notice different smells, try different tastes, maybe even find different sounds to listen to.

However, first this suitcase needs some pruning….

 

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:: Being lost in a good book.This week I powered through Jamaica Inn which I loved.  Wild men, wild moors, wreckers and Cornwall. I was very sad when it ended. Mary Yellan is such a fantastic character – she has the wildness of Catherine Earnshaw but with compassion, less self-centred and makes much better choices.

:: Feeling energised at work – recently work has been hard (very hard), huge amounts to do and very long days. However I appear to have regained my mojo and have powered through my to-do list which is a great feeling.

:: Long light evenings meaning you can finish work with blue skies overhead.

:: My local neighbourhood has a street piano outside the station. I’ve been a bit scared to try playing it but I will soon because it was so lovely being serenaded walking home on Thursday night!

:: Listening to Bellowhead, Martha Tilston and Alt-J – makes me type faster and I’m sure think quicker! I’ve also really enjoyed the Women’s Hour takeover episodes this week as well.

:: Cocktails and catching up with a very good friend who haven’t seen for TOO long!

:: Next week I head to Berlin for 5 whole days – yippee! I’m currently list making of things to see and do, putting things in piles to pack and generally getting excited. Part of the fun of travel is anticipation as well as frantically running around doing things. I have never been to Germany before and am excited – have just discovered Berlin Zoo has a 5-story Aquarium, 5 floors of wonder! Amazing!

I started writing Reasons to be cheerful posts to remind myself of all the fun, good things I see, read and find out about every week.

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For those following the blog for a longtime you will know I’m not a natural completer finisher in life, my craft pile of UFOs and life to-do lists are definitely a testament to that. I would say I’m more an’ ideas and enjoy the process’ type of person. However recently I have a few “commitments” coming to an end (calling them projects would feel a bit grand!) and it feels great.

The end of Lent meant that I finished my plastic challenge which was brilliant, eye-opening and extremely challenging. I loved the support and conversations I had about the environment and it really made me consider how and what I consume on a daily basis.  This week I have finished my 100 happy days which I have loved taking snaps for – they have been some gorgeous gentle reminders of things that everyday make me happy.

In a couple of weeks, I will step down from Borough Belles which will be a big change for me. I’ve been on the committee for about 3 and half years, being President for last two. I have mixed feelings because I love the WI, have made brilliant friends from it and it has also been a really important community for me. There has been something very grounding having a group where you turn up and chat with while crafting, dancing or eating cake. (All important happy day making things).  I’m really lucky that in Oxford I found the fantastic Bluestockings and in London the wonderful Borough Belles. But I’m also excited by the idea of stepping back a little and cheering from the sidelines.

In the past, I would have immediately thought about WHAT COMES NEXT and new projects but this time I’m taking the opportunity to breathe, just be for a while and see what I fancy doing. There will be lots of plans to make and goals to reach but for the moment I’m savouring in the after-glow of actually finishing a few things and feeling some tension ease from my shoulders.  There will be blogposts coming about all of these things I can feel but for now I’m just taking my time.

All change here.

 

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Now the bright morning-star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire!
Woods and groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.

John Milton

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:: Amazing knitters. Felix’s book is fully funded because of the generosity and enthusaism of the knitting community. Hurrrah! I can’t wait to see my copy.

:: Amazing runners. Today is the London Marathon which always makes me cry. This year my friend Vicki ran it today which is amazing as before Christmas she didn’t really run.

:: Tiger balm to soothe my shoulder after yoga injury and peppermint oil in my shower gives me a boost.

:: Sunshine and cherry blossom. I have been taking a lot of blossom photos this week.

:: Having an aquarium on my doorstep, I can just drop in and talk to the fish for a bit. Always relaxing.

:: Homemade salad for lunch at work.

I started writing Reasons to be cheerful posts to remind myself of all the fun, good things I see, read and find out about every week.

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