Monday, April 27, 2015

Why are we so lucky?


Driving from Ashridge into our driveway.  I channel Lady Mary when I say "why are we so lucky?" but this is my favorite place on earth and where I grew up. It's where I am from. Indescribable beauty in April. 

Plane thoughts from Abroad: England is a balm

I am aware that England is a balm for me: The sound of the blackbirds and the wood pigeons, the budding branches of the beech tree, the pink cherry, the ancient bones underneath my feet. I allow myself to be absorbed in it its river, lulled along like a branch, meeting tributaries, detritus, but still surging forward with its soothing flow. It bathes me, this river. It takes all the self-doubt and the anxiety and washes me free of them; it’s my savior.  I arrive unclean and I leave baptized anew.

There is time here. I am so aware of people rushing about in Los Angeles, filling their days in the most improbable ways, with scheduled meetings, scheduled exercise, scheduled dinners, leaping from one appointment to another, and getting somehow caught up in that rhythm, which is exhausting. Having to spend afternoons in bed to revive oneself. I watched my girlfriend in London cook and clean and take her children to school, and look after her son who needs special care, and attend to the needs of her husband, and make two different suppers, and look after an old lady who is lonely, and walk the dog, and still have time to sit with me in her kitchen and laugh, over mugs of tea, while her garden burst with green vibrancy – all apple trees and lavender and hellebores. She fits it all in but doesn’t overcomplicate anything – meals are simple, modest, delicious. Going out doesn’t become a competitive sport. Treats are treats and they don’t happen daily, preserving their special-ness.

At my mother’s house, I’m in gumboots almost the moment I arrive, walking down the drive and onto the common, finding the bluebells, the baby bracken beginning to unfurl, remembering the familiar beeches with their knobbled trunks, the chalk which lays on the ground, embedded next to the flint, which you pick up and use to draw love hearts on tree trunks. I still draw love hearts on tree trunks, even now, when I’m not sure whose name to write. I remember when my marriage first ended, and I still believed he’d come back, I wrote JF on the old wooden fence by Brightwood, scratching the chalk into the green moss. And JF once again, although it was a different man, a year ago. Note to self: find someone with different initials next time round. But the hearts are still drawn, and I suspect that it means I’m open.  There are wooden stiles at the edge of fields where you can sit and view the village, the same old church, St. George’s flag waving, and faces you pass wondering if you’ve forgotten them, whether they were childhood friends. There are many conversations about the weather, and a couple with a dog named Barry (“bar-reh”) who insist that the forecasters are wrong and far better to watch the signs in the clouds. My mother’s dog is kind and obedient, and so very delighted that I am there that he traipses happily with me for miles over the countryside, through the heath to the Roman road, and back through the copses, delighted as I am to find ghosts and rabbits and startled deer.

Just as my phone ran out of battery on Friday, I saw a white stag, the white stag – and there always has been one in Ashridge – and while I know it’s a genetic mutation in the herd, here, it’s still magical. It’s still A Sign. I’m not sure of what. But just like the love hearts that are drawn without a name in mind, so the white hart can be a sign of Something Good.

An old friend spent his birthday in Norfolk in an old house by the sea, all his favorite people for a long weekend, the way big birthdays should be. His wife made a book to mark the occasion and had everyone send their favorite recipes.  “We have a tradition” he says “after dinner, when we’ve had a little wine, to see who can walk the farthest with a pineapple balanced on his head.” Amusing pictures of men precariously balancing pineapples are packed into the book, flanked by bemused, patient, smiling wives and girlfriends. There are people in warm jackets and scarves walking hand in hand and arm in arm on windy, pebbly beaches, smiling. Men hugging men, women hugging women, women hugging men, just a lovely picture of middle-aged (for let’s be honest, it is middle age, this thing we don’t want to think about) camaraderie. Friends laughing together. These are the things we remember. These are the things we need to remember.

England is a balm. She soothes me. She strengthens my bones so I can take on the brave new world of Los Angeles once again. She injects fortitude and humor back into my veins. She broadens my perspective, allows for possibilities, reminds me of what I love.

One of my mother’s oldest friends came for lunch yesterday, with a friend of hers. They were on an excursion with Friends of the Norwegian National Theatre. Once a year they come to London for a few days of theatre and opera. They had walked around London, had lunch at Rules, taken in the second best performance of La Traviata they’d ever seen. My mother and her friend had worked at BellShips together at age 22, back in 1957, and they’ve been friends ever since. The other woman, a women is elegant and clearly had been a great beauty in her day. Both are dressed well, yet practically, and my mother discovers she has great friends in common with both of them. They arrive by train and my mother serves them champagne and canapés – tiny Norwegian open sandwiches on pumpernickel, smoked salmon with dill, and shrimps with mayonnaise. I hover in the kitchen preparing the vegetables for lunch while listening to them laugh, all 80 years old nearly, yet sounding about 25, three attractive, smiling, elegant octogenarians recalling their life’s adventures.  My mother has made roast shoulder of lamb with red currant jelly and mint sauce (“fresh mint from the garden this morning” she says) and potatoes with dill, carrots, cauliflower with a little white sauce, mange tout. I make gravy with some red wine and the pan juices.

(Note: they’ve just brought round orange squash on the plane to LA. When’s the last time you had orange squash?)

For pudding, there is apple and blackberry crumble with double cream and Eton mess. The table is laid with pink tulips and daffodils, the old Norwegian silver, her crystal glasses, silver salt and pepper pots. It’s perfect. My mother can hardly walk and yet she does these things so beautifully, so effortlessly. “It is such a pity about your mother’s injury” says her friend, Bjørg. “You know she used to be one of those most athletic people I knew.” I know this. We go through old albums and she’s riding or skiing or dancing or sailing or swimming or water-skiing, all with that big smile on her face. There is a program about three-wheeled wheelchairs for using on country paths. John Craven interviews the people in them. “They wouldn’t be very good in the mud,” says my mother. “How about a golf cart?” I wonder out loud. I imagine her out on the common, whizzing about, wind whipping up her hair, Tiny, the terrier, running gamely behind.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Actually, no, this isn't ok

Actually, no, this isn't okay. I have thought about this in all kinds of different ways and from a thousand angles but I have decided that it absolutely not okay to be iced out, especially by someone who professed to love you. It is not kind. And it lacks empathy. 

Let me tell you why. 

When I was 12 I was put into Coventry for 2 days. Maybe 3. All I know that every single girl in my class was not just not talking to me but ignored me, didn't look at me, for such a long time that I was utterly traumatized. I had no one to tell. I didn't want to worry my mother. We didn't have pastoral care (it was that kind of boarding school) so I sucked it up. My crime? Carrying the bag of the English teacher. My classmates taunted me and made up a song to Cliff Richard's "Devil Woman" and sang it at me for two whole days. It was quite simply horrible. 

It's been nearly 3 months since I broke up with the man in London -- the one I told you was brilliant and sweet and kind. I have discovered that kindness isn't one of his virtues. Apparently I was wrong. He has blocked me. BLOCKED me. On email, phone, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.   Yes. I am serious. I have been blocked. Like a criminal. It's so so hard to get my head around. Originally I thought I deserved it. Then I thought he was protecting himself and actually he was just so in love with me that he needed to take care of himself. But I have discovered that it is just to hurt me. That is all. 

I don't know how this happened or why. But I do now know why I care. Because suddenly I am 12 again. And Cliff Richard is blaring out across the common room at my hideous Victorian boarding school. And I have no one to talk to. 

Yup. It sucks. 

My mother, with whom I have stayed for the weekend, has a much less generous point of view. She is so furious that i fear she might smack him on the nose with a saucepan if she sees him. 

Thank you for letting me share. 


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bleeding hearts

London in the spring time, I have discovered, is the panacea.

There are foxes screaming to each other in the night, wood pigeons, girlfriends drinking ginger tea, forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts, a woodpecker heralding the arrival of summer. There are oaks and beeches and great stretches of lawn that makes one want to cavort and cartwheel. There is sunshine, cherry blossom, men in white trousers and iridescent orange shoes. Soup, school lunches, hot cross buns. Cadbury's dairy milk. Laughter. So much laughter. Budding trees and tulips (from Amsterdam). Tears. Chopin's Nocturne. 

It's hard to be here because last time I was here it was with the man I loved. I see him everywhere. I don't want to but it's hard to miss. The city looked different before I met him and now I hear him commenting on everything I see, even the golden pheasant at Kew that two small Parisian children were chasing --with all the stealth of the Pink Panther -- to try to get a picture. 

Yesterday was earth day and we spent a few hours of it at Kew. My best, oldest friend and me, just wandering through the trees and acknowledging the geese and circling the Henry Moore, gobsmacked. The last time I was at Kew was aged 9 when I was in Mr Williams class at Little Gaddesden C of E school. I have a picture of me and my brother and Tim Young in a red anorak outside the large Victorian greenhouse. I am not sure that 9 and 7 year olds fully appreciate the joy of a botanical garden, but its magic wasn't lost on me this time. "We could hide," I said to Vivien. "We could hide and then have a picnic when everyone has gone." "and the statues would come to life and we would have a party under the stars and no-one would know" she said. 

There is no-one in the world who makes me feel so comfortable. We amuse each other all day long, and somehow manage to avoid irritating each other. We are Patsy and Adina. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Vanessa and Virginia. Or two fourteen year old schoolgirls talking about boys and bursting into song at the slightest provocation. Miley. Elvis. Bowie. Hot Chocolate. Sinatra. Ian Dury. Nina Simone. Toots & The Maytals. 

I am a lucky girl. 


Monday, April 20, 2015


Due to one complete arse of a commenter, I've had to change the commenting policy. You will now have to sign in to comment. Apologies for this. I've just had a complete sense of humor failure with The Troll. Thank you, dear people. Love, MissW xoxo

Thursday, April 16, 2015

For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

"For What Binds Us" by Jane Hirshfield, from Of Gravity and Angels. © Wesleyan University Press, 1988. Reprinted with permission. (via Writers Almanac)


There is a most distinct whirr of summer in the air. The birds are chirpier, the butterflies are everywhere (monarchs, orange tips) and even my old dog is springier in her step. The doors to the house are open all day long and the dogs and I wander in and out, depending on the position of the sun. Something good has set in. The malaise has lifted. It's hard not to be knocked over by the glorious green loveliness of it all. And the green in Southern California is ephemeral. We're in a drought and from now on through the fall, everything will turn brown.

I have chamomile on my desk, a gift from a friend, who brings it every Sunday that I invite him for dinner. He goes to the Farmer's Market in Hollywood, and picks me up a bunch. I dry it in the kitchen amongst the hanging pots.

I wish I could talk about the book I'm reading. It's a galley and it's not out for a bit. And it's about sex (and love) addiction. A memoir written by a famous writer. I want to pictures of paragraphs every few minutes. I want to send chunks of it to old lovers. I want to say: this is it; this is what we struggled with.

And the online dating saga continues. I'm reminded that everyone does it, which puts my feeble "I wasn't bred for this" cries to rest, and fully labels me a brat for even muttering those words, but I did, to my friend Michael, who has been kind and good, and helped me through the stingray-infested waters. The ten or so men that are recommended each day as matches for me by look mostly like gang members, not that I couldn't go for a bit of rough on the right day, if the moon were at the right angle, but they're not exactly what I'm used to. Let's put it that way. Tinder is better. There is a sharper quality of photo, a little more art direction, but I'm reminded that this is for people who want a quick one in a dark alley (which I'd happily be up for, if the planets aligned, I'd had enough gin, and I didn't have to talk to them). OK Cupid seems to be the best bet. A couple of nice gentlemen have written witty introductory notes and I find myself warming towards their pictures with their arms around small children and English bulldogs.

The thing is, I am a talker. I'm not a meet-me-in-a-dark-alley kinda girl. I'm not a prude. But talking is the shit. Conversation is sexy. I want someone who will talk to me and reveal new worlds to me and wow me. I know I'm asking for too much. And I want to be bowled over and electrified and sizzled. Is that a word? I want to be sizzled, babe.

This quote I'm going to pull, because it's good, and relevant. Apologies to the author. I will give you proper attribution once you give me your okay:

"They say that when you meet someone and feel like it's love at first sight, run in the other direction. All that's happened is that your dysfunction has meshed with their dysfunction. Your wounded inner child has recognized their wounded inner child, both hoping to be healed by the same fire that burned them."

I remember this. I remember saying one day to the ex-bf, when we were in his flat in London and he was writing, and I was sitting on the edge of the kitchen table, looking out the window, drinking some tea with chai spice powder in it, and I realized that I'd felt this way before, that there old, old ghosts in the room with us. "We know each other from a long time ago" I said. And he said something absent-minded, like "Yes, remember, we used to walk in Fryman all the time." There was an energy from the beginning, and we both hoped to be healed by the same fire that originally burned us. 

It's tempting to stay single, caught up in your own little vortex, where your heart is protected and you never once have to place it outside of yourself to get pummelled (or soothed). I walk in the mornings, with the dogs, and the birds sing and I wonder what possibly could be better than this?

Wish me luck, comrades. xo MissW

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Thistle & co in the bamboo jungle


Past One O'Clock

Past one o'clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night. 
I'm in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you. 
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love's boat has smashed against the daily grind. 
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts. 
Behold what quiet settles on the world. 
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address 
The ages, history, and all creation.

-- Vladimir Mayakovsky