Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Remedial Work

Looking out across Cardigan Bay from Gwbert

It's probably not surprising that the last four months have left us feeling a bit frayed round the edges. There’s a lot to process and a need to rest and repair so these are some of the remedies that have helped this week.

Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. I can’t believe it took me so long to get round to reading this! I absolutely love Kate Atkinson’s writing but was a little bit put off by Life After Life which is my least favourite of her novels (and that’s a very qualified ‘least favourite’ - it’s head and shoulders above the pack). Atkinson is so good at demonstrating the best and worst of human behaviour through her characters and A God In Ruins is simply dazzling in its brilliance. It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

Long runs.  I’m not sure how I’ll fare in the Llanelli Half which takes place in a couple of weeks - my Women’s Troubles have taken their toll (‘Stick with it,’ advises my GP of the remedy that’s supposed to sort everything out and since things are slowly getting better - I hope! - that’s what I’ll do). I do know that the contemplative nature of long runs in this beautiful part of the world certainly restore my mental balance. 

A Luxury Loo. ‘Did you know,’ Tom observes, ‘that this loo has now cost £500?’ £500!  Neither of us was very taken with the grim-looking chemical loo in situ on Blue Nun but replacing the entire bathroom in our house didn’t cost much more than that, thanks to some very canny shopping.  How has a loo for our bargain boat cost so much?  The bulk of the money’s gone on a pair of very sturdy brass seacocks which ensure that only the water that’s supposed to be there enters or leaves the boat which is always a Good Thing. Alas, if we’re on a long passage, I’ll probably won’t even see the loo as I’ll be clutching my good friend, the black bucket, however it’s cheering to know we’re gradually accumulating everything we need for comfortable sailing this summer. I wonder if it would be too much to hope for some sunshine? 

Writing.  I’m happy to say that my next contribution to The English Home magazine appears soon but, sheesh, ever since my catastrophic posterior vitreous detachment last summer (still feeling some of the effects from that), not to mention recent events, it’s been a bit hard to get in the mood for writing fiction. I dig out my poor, neglected novella, decide that 14,000 words are fine, 6000 need a lot of editing and another 10,000 need to be written. Oh well, the only remedy for that is to get on with it.

Family. Is there anything more beautiful than the soft nape of a baby’s neck? I spent a few days with Lily, Russ and Bee this week and there’s nothing that melts my stoney heart more than giving Bee her tea. Her little innocent face, the trusting way she opens her mouth to a spoonful of food and the delicate, careful manoeuvre as she wraps her fingers round a raspberry have gone a long way to lifting my low spirits. And jumping along with her in her ‘Jumperoo’ and crawling on the floor getting her to chase me also ensured that other cure for knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care a good night’s sleep… for me.

Ladies who lunch - with Lily and Bee

Monday, 15 February 2016

One Day at a Time

Boats do not look their best in Winter - not even after a slap-up lunch of sawdust sausages and greasy chips at Milford Haven - especially a boat that’s out of the water, drenched by weeks of rain and standing under trees. Poor Blue Nun has acquired a slimy green coat and Ken, my father-in-law, who is staying with us for the week looks at her doubtfully. ‘Nice,’ he says, rallying. Tom and I talk merrily of how we’ll all go for a sail in the Spring, conscious that even ‘tomorrow’ is too big a concept for the man who has just lost his wife of sixty years. One day at a time is quite enough to cope with and this week we’re doing just that, offering small distractions every day, not to deny grief, but hopefully to provide a small glimpse of future possibilities.

‘Oh, lovely - a table by the window!’ we cry, piling into seats, glad to get out of the cold Tenby rain. What could be nicer than a grandstand view of the magnificent beach? And, look, the sun’s just peeping out! Refreshments arrive and I’m about to take my first bite of a carrot cake when I become sharply aware of the conversation between the elderly ladies on the next table.

   ‘It’s very good, you can hardly see the difference between the two. How does it feel?’
   ‘Well, quite comfortable, actually. Better than the eye patch. I was nervous at the fitting, especially with all those rows of eyes looking at me. (Jolly laughter all round the table). But in the end it was a bit like choosing a new handbag or shoes to go with a dress. They said it was a perfect match!’
   There is a chorus of approval but, feeling slightly green, I’m relieved when one of the women working at the cafe is hailed by the dear ladies behind us heralding a change of topic.
   ‘Your hair!’ they say, ‘it’s so different now. Did you have a perm?’
   ‘I lost it all with the chemo,’ comes the reply, ‘and it grew back curly.’
The sorry saga continues and it’s not that I’m unsympathetic, far from it, it’s just that we’ve seen so much of hospitals lately. ‘You haven’t finished your cake,’ says Tom. We leave the cafe and walk into a watery sun and a rainbow arching over the town. It’s too much, at first, for FiL who chose ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ to close Rita’s funeral service but eventually he takes it as a good sign.

A good news day beckons; Rose and Si have finally completed on the purchase of their first home. Hurray! I’ve resisted furtive ‘drive pasts’ for fear of jinxing the sale so today’s our chance to have a proper inspection. Rose and Si will be living three hours away, between Bristol and Bath, but what should be a straightforwards journey turns into gridlock just outside Swansea. There’s no traffic info so I check my phone to discover we’re in the fallout from a fatal accident. More misery. Five hours later, my spirits are considerably lifted when we see Rose and Si in their new home which is bright, light and spacious with a beautiful garden. We round the day off with a brilliant meal in a splendid gastropub, The Lock Keeper, which is right on their doorstep. For a few hours all seems right with the world, but on the way home, I hear FiL weeping. Even one day at a time can be tough.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


On Monday we said our final goodbyes to Tom’s mum, Rita, who died at the end of January after what had been a very distressing four months.  I wrote this poem to banish some of the most painful images and to remember my mother-in-law instead in snapshot moments when she had seemed so full of life.  I showed the poem to Tom who asked for it to be printed on the Order of Service for Rita’s funeral, but was asked by Ken, my father-in-law, to read it instead.  Rita, it was my great privilege to do this one last thing for you. 


Be carefree.  A child again.
A Devon maid, plucked from London,
dabbling bare feet in the dappled Dart.

Be glad at heart.  A bride beside
a steadfast groom.  A marriage spanning
sixty years, paper to diamond.

Be supple and strong.  A champion,
a huntress in white, your name
glowing gold in the Sussex sun.

All pain is gone.  There is nothing
to fear. Be a breath in the wind.
Be the warmth in the air. 
Be at peace now.

© Christine Stovell

The photograph above is a lovely moment captured by photographer Alexa Loy at Rose and Si’s wedding.