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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Wedding Anniversary

Last week it was our wedding anniversary. It is 33 years since we married, 35 since we met. We were little more than children back then and we have in many ways grown up together. We don't often buy each other gifts but my husband always gets me flowers. This year it was a stunning bunch of freesias from De Jager. (We have sent these flowers to friends in the past and they are absolutely the best.)

I happened to spot this architectural oddity and bought it for Mr. G. to place in the garden.

We envisage growing something up it next summer, maybe deep blue morning glory or a tiny flowered pink clematis to scramble up and around it.

Occasionally, I wonder who and what I would have been had we not met. Would I have been a writer? Would I have had three auburn haired children? Would I have been happy? A long relationship is bound to have its ups and downs and we have had our fair share. From a logical point of view, it is remarkable that we have survived so long together for, on the surface, we do not have much in common. I was brought up in the country, he in the town. I can be impetuous, he is more measured. I am fairly shy, he is more gregarious. He is a de-clutterer and I have a tendency to hoard. I am impatient and, unless it is something to do with flatpack furniture, he has endless reserves of patience.

On a day to day basis it drives me mad when he throws the newspapers away before I've had the chance to read them or turns out my bedside light when I'm halfway down a page of my book at night. I drive him to distraction with my habit of writing things on scraps of paper and leaving them all over the house and my tendency to blame myself for everything that goes wrong even if it has nothing to do with me.

On the positive side he has introduced me to cricket, a love of rugby and bean gravy (half a tin of baked beans heated up in some gravy - delicious!). I like to think that it is through me he has developed a love of gardening, more of an interest in art and an inclination to read more.

Having him by my side and on my side through thick and thin has made me a very different person to the one I was when we married on that sunny September day so long ago. His encouragement, his belief in me, his love has, I know for sure, made me a better and braver person. Even after all these years I still can't believe my luck that we found each other and he chose to spend his life with me.

And whatever life has thrown at us I think barely a day has gone by when we haven't found something to laugh about. When people are interviewed who have been married for much longer than Mr. G and I, they are often asked the secret of a long and happy marriage. Many of them cite a shared sense of humour. For us being able to laugh together when the world has bombarded us with problems has been a blessing beyond measure.

Thank-you for reading. I hope you have a happy and laughter-filled week ahead.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Writer's Life

A few weeks ago I read a report in the newspaper that two thirds of British people would like to change their job. We all know people who are in the wrong jobs, who ended up there without intending to but who don't know how to escape. I would guess that a substantial number of those have a burning desire to do something more creative.

Recently I did a critique for an aspiring author. In his follow-up e-mail this person used the word 'vegetate' in relation to his current job and, over the air-waves, I felt his frustration. What he really wants, above all else, it to be a published writer and hopefully he will become one.

It seems to me that being a writer has a rather romantic air about it, especially to those longing to chuck in their jobs and to write full time. Maybe this is why a few years ago, a student from my old school rang and asked to shadow me for a week as I worked. I was stunned and wondered if she had any idea what writing fiction entailed. Maybe if I wrote biographies or factual books or even historical fiction it would have been do-able, for a day or two. But there is not much research involved in my line of fiction and I think she would have been horribly bored watching me staring into space or typing random thoughts on to my keyboard, so I gently declined.

A few days ago when rummaging through my bookshelves I came across Natalie Goldberg's book, Wild Mind. I love Natalie Goldberg, the directness of her writing style, her encouraging tone, her energy. Very early on in this book she states that 'Being a writer is a whole way of life, a way of seeing, thinking, being.' It sounds all-consuming, doesn't it?  Daunting and slightly exotic.

I began to think about what 'being a writer' means to myself and my writer friends. They are normal people with normal lives. We have the same worries, hopes, fears, domestic duties, family commitments as the next person. We bake bread, we walk the dog, we worry about the bills, we are there for our children etc. etc. and in the midst of all the hurly burly of modern life we carve out portions of time to write. Sometimes our efforts are lucrative and celebratory. Sometimes our writing lives are dispiriting and frustrating. Very few writers make enough money to support themselves. That it not to say that you shouldn't do it but it is not a quick fix. For most ordinary people, devoting yourself to becoming a writer means that you're in it for the long haul, rain or shine.  I think it is risky to look at writing fiction as a career path; far better to write because you absolutely love it and there is nothing you would rather do. That is when you work will come to life.

I found an excellent blog post by Howard Gardner on creativity in education (that's a whole other post!) but one sentence stuck out.

'Creativity is not an easy option'

He is absolutely right. It isn't. But I believe everyone is creative in their own way and everyone needs an outlet for that creativity, whether it is baking, gardening, painting, making music, sewing or writing to name a few. The alternative is to 'vegetate', to stop 'seeing, thinking, being'. There is nothing mysterious about being a writer and nothing particularly romantic when the cat is sick next to the keyboard!  For aspiring writers, if you have a love of words, of books, of reading, and a determination to succeed, I believe anyone can do it. But the key is patience. We are all prone to being too hard on ourselves. We are often in too much of a hurry. My advice is not to expect too much too soon and one day, when someone asks what you do, you will be able to say with absolute pride, 'I am a writer'.

Thank-you for reading. I hope you get the chance to do something wonderfully creative this week.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Dazzled by Dahlias

About four or five summers ago I bought a dahlia plant from my local florist. Little did I know what I would be starting when planting it in front of the children's old playhouse! Since then my husband has developed a passion for dahlias.

Dahlias are at their peak in September in the U.K. This week we went to see the spectacular display at Baddesley Clinton, a moated manor house belonging to the National Trust, dating in parts from the twelfth century and nestling in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

I love Baddesley Clinton. I love walking across the moat with it's silky green water ruffled by the occasional diving duck and into the sun-filled courtyard.

Inside the house is mainly panelled but it is not at all gloomy. The rooms are cosy and of a comfortable size and on the day we visited, light flooded through the leaded windows.
During the Reformation, Baddesley Clinton as a 'safe house' for Catholic priests and there are three priest holes here, two of which are reputed to have been constructed by Nicholas Owen, who was the main builder of priest holes during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. He was eventually tortured to death in the Tower of London and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Despite the fascinating history of the place, we had really come to see the dahlias and here they are in all their glory...

I really wished I had a wide-angled lens so that I could take the whole border. The colours were stunning.

Each petal is so perfect...

The colours so energising...

Amidst all this showiness is the modesty of a lemony white. I love the shadows on this one.

To be honest it's a day when I should have been writing but soon the dahlias will be fading and I didn't want to miss them. More importantly, I didn't want my husband to miss them. In a couple of months the gardeners will dig up the corms and sell them off so we are already making plans to go back and treat ourselves to a little piece of Baddesley Clinton.

Thank-you so much for reading. Have a lovely week.