Meditation on my mum

A very strange and surreal week just ends. We were called by dad who asked us to come up to see mum. She had been in hospital for 2 weeks. Very odd to begin with as no one really knew what was wrong; after blood tests, scans and prods and pokes, still the medics seemed to be none the wiser. We were called, mum was asking for us, dad said, so we went. Then to our surprise, shock and sorrow she slipped down hill really very fast, and two days after we arrived she passed away. Her heart and lungs were tired and old, and did in the end fail, but actually, for a woman whose reproductive system was the bain of her life for 70 years, her death certificate proclaimed metastasised malignant ovarian cancer as the secondary cause of death. A diagnosis that was only made this last week, and the prognosis of “maybe a couple of months” I finally heard as she was dying. A rum affair indeed.

So, to a funeral. I have taken on quite a lot of the work in organising this, including working with the celebrant to tell her story in the tribute. To this end I wrote a meditation on mum, and I share it here, respectfully to honour her passing and recognise what an amazing lady she could be.

Mum – my meditation

Mum was an arts person, not a scientist. After studying literature at Liverpool University her greatest love was reading, although in later years she seemed to have “far too many to mention” magazines to get through before she could start on the books – but it didn’t stop her buying books… and books and more books… so many that when we emptied boxes when she moved to her bungalow in Swineshead that they were two abreast on some shelves. We could now fill a library with her collection!

mum and dad's 004

She didn’t just read but was a skilled writer too, her love of words shone through in her creative expression. She wrote creative non-fiction as well as some stories, but also poetry, like the one Harry read at the start of her funeral service. She was a stickler for grammar and punctuation – very old school – and I remember my school essays having her read pen corrections as she tried (mostly in vain) to help me with my English. This upset me a lot at the time, but I am envious of her very great knowledge of the mechanics of the English language. This skill was very useful when she was contributing and then editing the village magazines in Lincolnshire.

Talking of mechanics, this was one skill that was essential whenever she made her beloved train journeys. It was a standing joke in the family that every trip by train was fraught with delay, engine trouble or some other drama. She never failed to complete a journey, but she always alighted with a tale to tell.

Telling her tale was major inspiration in her abundant writings. Many did not make it to print but part of her collection were a set of fine stories she entitled “Pilgrimages” where she was in A&E or subsequently admitted to the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston and these appeared in the Heckington magazine. They still make me giggle, and on reading her collected works I see her humour and storytelling were a large part of who she was even if not everyone was privy to them.

When we went to see Julie, the florist for her funeral, she remarked that mum was a clever lady, and I think that is something people will remember about her. Also her dry wit – quite sharp at times – but always delivered with a straight face. She liked satire, and programmes such as “Have I Got News For You” were a staple in her TV schedule. Intelligent conversation as found on Radio 4 was another source of pleasure, and this station was a long standing accompaniment to her life. I remember as a child we started each day before school with the Today programme, Brian Hanrahan being a favourite. Later on when I would ring her there was often Radio 4 in the background – she liked to listen while she ironed. Women’s’ Hour, The News Quiz… these were all favourites.

Later in life she often resorted to Classic FM, especially at night when she wasn’t sleeping. Her love of music was also revealed in her piano playing, she tried very hard! During our childhood there was a time when Chris, mum and I were all taking piano lessons. (Mum and I were both jealous of Chris’ effortlessness with music, his ability to hear a tune and reproduce it with seeming ease!) She reports from this time the piano teacher saying “You have a good knowledge of the geography of the keyboard…. It is just a pity your map reading is a little off!”  (I found this quote amongst the vast quantity of dog-eared A4 jottings that are her writings) However she persevered and worked hard at difficult Beethoven pieces, the pages covered with many, many black notes… I loved hearing her play, and I now have the privilege of owning the piano we all played.

Singing was another great love; I remember her singing enthusiastically in church all my childhood, and after the move to Lincolnshire she joined Heckington church choir when she was only one of three at times. She also was vociferous when watching Songs of Praise, belting out the words which she always seemed to know from memory, even before the BBC helpfully started to put the lyrics up on the TV screen.

Although mum was much more of an indoor pursuits person it seems she did love to dig a vegetable patch – she found it therapeutic she said. I remember black and white photos of her at various homes in the past, sleeves rolled up, fork in hand, smiling. At Swineshead she still enjoyed her fruit and veg patch, always having copious fruits for jams and pickles – there are still jars and jars in her kitchen cupboards today!

She was very proud of her North-East heritage. Both parents hailed from the Durham area and both degree educated, not usual for mining families in those days – she came from a clever family indeed! Mum loved Durham and many pictures in her home were of this beautiful city and its magnificent cathedral; there is one arresting image I recall vividly of the church looming moodily over the river in a northern fog. Dad has said that the cousins should have these; I think that is a lovely idea.

Being an only child, her extended family; her grandparents and numerous uncles, aunts, cousins, were important to mum. She loved to visit the old places, and talked fondly of the annual trips “up north” with her parents when she was a child. When I went to Newcastle University I think she was doubly proud, and it gave her an excuse to visit once again.

Mum was not an easy person sometimes; she had had many difficulties and sadness in her life, which seemed to weigh heavy with her. When I could approach her in the creative places, (we shared writing and reading as great loves) I found a thoughtful and quick witted woman who would play with words to comic effect. The night we spent alone in the house together just when my parents were moving to Great Hale, and we read Mills and Boon to each other – all heaving bosoms and rasping breaths – we both laughed until we cried. Our shared writings and poems, our exchange of letters, our talking into the night or over long, long days (once for 12 hours straight)  about our shared history and thoughts on that. These were small and, sadly, not so frequent glimpses we each got into the others’ world… I will honour these times.

Rest in peace, mum. 17.8.34 – 20.11.14

Merry month of May

The last months have flown by… the planning for our wedding and then a week later the completion of the house purchase have left me with no energy for writing – no head space I guess. I am here now, however, sitting at the dining table in The Glass House with the spring sun trying to break through the early morning grey cloud and I feel the urge once again to capture the moment in wiriting.

Over night it rained heavily and the noise on the glass conservatory that runs across theCIMG0454 whole of the rear of the house is loud and yet at the same time comforting. The sense I get is of being aboard a ship; water sounds are close and the house timbers creak in the wind, and while nothing sways (thankfully!) I feel a motion, a sailing along in time. This morning I can stand on the bridge balcony and appreciate the garden and beyond; it is a wonderful sight.

The weekly routine has had to change to allow J to continue to work in Oxford. I am spending more time in Shropshire alone during the week but I am relishing the time to inhabit my new home and feel how it feels to live in this place and in this space. J joins me at weekends to potter in his new shed/workshop and to do DIY – he has been a frustrated DIYer since we started renting nearly four years ago!

The house is airy and spacious with a pitched roof in the upstairs living area so it feels a little like a barn conversion, and with all the glass it is warm, very warm. We have installed thermometers and have readings of up to 85 degrees in the lounge when the temperature outside is more like 74, in the consevatory it has reached 95, no wonder the grapes on the vine are growing. The solar panels on the roof heat the water, and so far we have had the sun-heated water temperature reach over 70 degrees, in England, in May! We have started to work out how to open windows or doors to allow free flow of air through the living areas, and to create enough draft to cool it down without making such a gale that things blow away – a  delicate balance required for this and a whole new skill.

Another new skill is adapting to being J’s wife – well not so much a skill as a wonderful priviledge. It feels so right and so perfect. On the 2nd May we were joined in matrimony and when we said our vows I felt the truth of our words:

“I promise to love and to care for you, to trust you and be honest with you, to stand by you whatever the future may bring. I promise you loyalty and friendship both now and always.”

Our day was so beautiful, and we are reminiscing about it already – it’s only 3 weeks ago! While we await the professional recordings on video and film we have constantly been looking over the photos sent to us by family and friends, where everyone is smiling, talking and enjoying the day, I was stunned by how well our small group of guests got on. For me the day was a perfect blend of intimacy, fun and romance.

The ceremony was in an oak panelled room in a small country hotel and for this most precious part of the day our guests were comfortably sat on sofas. This seems to sum up the wedding; not too formal and a little different to convention.  After the celebratory lunch we continued to buck wedding trends with a non-conventional steam train trip and then an evening hostelry tour… no first dances for us! I bet it is a day we and many of our guests will long remember fondly.

And so today I am sitting and writing in my lovely Glass House and remembering my wedding day. The weather is cooler now and the morning sky has darkened; rain is on the way – however nothing can dim the bliss that is mine; this truely is a merry merry May.





Been busy….

… away from my computer and from home, so thought I would share here one of the adventures.

Roz at 5

Me at five years

Last week I enjoyed a couple of days with my adopted mum reminiscing over my childhood. Well, I was only able to cover 3 years in the time we were together, but I left with a promise that I would return for more.

Mum used to keep a housekeeping and events diary during the time I was growing up. It was used mainly as a way of completing the weekly letter to my Gran who lived in Dorset, whom we saw twice a year in the half term weeks. Apart from that I think it recorded household expenditure (in the days long before home computers) and some reminders for birthdays. It was the family “go to” book for what happened when. This was true for my inquiry, and the main thrust of our discussion on this occasion centred around 1972 – 1974 when I was between the ages of four and seven. In this time we moved house twice, dad seemed to always be painting and repainting rooms, and mum was constantly washing bedding of various sorts, as well as massive amounts of clothes and curtains. These were the events that were worthy of inclusion, along with the car breakdowns, plus the job and school starts and stops. Included too are what appears to be a constant set of illnesses of one sort or another; we were faithful congregation at both doctors and church.

I am engaged in life writing, and am working on the autobiographical material in my life. I had spied the diaries in the bookshelf last Christmas when I was up with the parents, and it reminded me that they would be a good way to access some facts through the years of my childhood; what really happened when and where. At the time I arranged the visit this was all I was thinking would be possible, but as mum and I were talking, the factual record became dotted with living memories. We recalled my brother’s 8th birthday, long forgotten until we remembered him being car-sick and not making it out of the car in time during his special day out. The car had plastic seats, and although mum and dad tried to clear it up as best they could, the car stank for weeks afterwards.  Mum reckoned that it stank until they sold it – lovely!

We talked too of mum’s history and childhood; my grandparents and her cousins. She has a great pile of stories ready to come out, some of them she has already written for various magazines, competitions and writing groups over the years. I love reading her reminiscences; by doing so and in hearing the stories (some old favourites of hers I have heard many times before!) I am able to add adult understanding to my own history, and that of my adopted family. This feels like an important process of growing up and accepting what has gone before as well as appreciating the long and winding road that brings me to where I am today. Besides, it is all work in progress, and grist for my writing mill…




Music everywhere

I have days where I listen to no music at all, it is all too noisy and lively for this peace –  loving soul. Then there are days where it seems necessary and I “find” music I haven’t listened to for a very long time. I don’t very often ferret in the CD drawers, as I play most of the music I do listen to from my iPod, but today, for reasons unknown, I was drawn to it. I had a fancy that I wanted to add some Eric Clapton… and I knew J’s collection had a few that my collection missed. (By the by, I found a poignant sign of our cementing partnership was the mingling and mixing of our music collections. This was a significant step in togetherness for me, and it maybe a topic for posting another time…)

As a result of today’s ferreting, I have uploaded 15 hours of CDs on to iTunes. Some are golden sounds I have known and loved;  Blondie’s  “Parallel Lines” (rediscovered in the drawer – I am delighted, I didn’t know I had it on CD), Kirsty McCall’s “Glorious” (which is), Madonna’s “Music” (as far into dance music as I ever ventured), and then there is what I went looking for; Eric Clapton’s “461 Ocean Boulevard”,  a lovely album, quite new to me  although J said he was listening to it in the pub when he first went up to University in 1973!

So, just now, I am revelling in the music and enjoying hearing some old and some new tunes. In the past I have always found that even if I may not have heard a song for years (maybe ten or more) when I do it all comes flooding back; the era, the memories, even some of the feelings. I am now listening to “The Best of James”, added to the playlist today but originating from my Indie period in the 1990s. This album was released in 1998, which I could say was not a good time for me. I refer to it as my “black and blurry” period with too much work, not enough nourishing fun, and too, too, much living it up madly without due care and attention for health or wellbeing.  As I listen today I am expecting the old feelings to wash over me, but this is not what happens, the songs just sound familiar and friendly, but fresh, and I feel a million miles from that time in the late 90s.

What wonderful news this is for me! Where music has always taken me back to its time and place, the “there and then”, I find I am now able to be present in the here and now. I am not trapped in the old feelings and can listen with new ears, having no unwanted intrusion from the history these songs would have provoked in me on past listenings. I feel released and free to enjoy my music in a whole new world, the world of now. I am looking forward to revisiting some other classics of the collection that maybe held more horrors from the history. I wonder how they will sound with my new ears?

No Place Like Home!

“Where are you from?” has always been an awkward question for me, it may sound simple enough but my answer is definitely complicated. I used to find a pause would build up while I ran through the many alternative responses in my head, and the questioner would look at me with increasing curiosity.  After years of stumbling, I worked out the simplest solution – give the inquirer the answer they are looking for. As the question often comes when people hear me speak, and my pronunciation is not from wherever I currently am, saying “My accent is from Yorkshire” covers the ground I think they want to cover. I made this leap when I realised that when in Yorkshire I don’t get asked the question, so there it must sound like I am from “round these parts”.

Now I come to consider it, my answer has me assigning a separate identity to my accent and disowning it as a part of me. I think this reflects the difficulty I have had identifying myself as a Yorkshire woman in the past. Although I spent the years aged three to eighteen in various Yorkshire towns and went to school there, I was born in London to an Australian. Then I was adopted by parents of whom neither are from Yorkshire, so we all arrived in God’ country as aliens. The school years and family life in the county did nothing to embed me, the Yorkshire identity sitting uneasily; I never did own it and so answering The Question with “I am from Yorkshire” does not feel truthful.

Until recently I have felt neither at home nor found much belonging in my adult life. After I left Yorkshire I headed to the north east, to university and beyond. Leaving there ten years later I did feel a deep sense of loss, that life was ripped away as I moved south with my husband to accommodate our future plans. I had a connection with the region and made good friends, so moving away was difficult as I felt I lost my footings.  We moved closer to relatives geographically, but as I had never felt relaxed in any family this did not prove to be a comfort. I again felt alien; my accent and lifestyle so out of place and unfamiliar in the south. I have lived in the south now for 19 years, but it is not my home.

I have a notion that home (where one belongs) has a deep attachment to family or heritage or place. Families move around so much more in current times, some are very loose and separations are common. Very often children are not familiar with grandparents, or even parents, who live miles, or continents, away, and scant time or inclination may impede many meetings face to face. Heritage and family ties can get lost within a haze of disinterest if not nurtured. I wonder how many people today feel displaced or dislocated from their home as this cultural isolation from their past is more prevalent.

When the element of adoption is added then this can intensify the dislocation; I certainly have had a “lottery” feeling to my history. My mother happened to be in England when I was born (she may have been traveling on and I could have been born elsewhere), I was adopted here and did not return with her to the antipodes. My adoptive parents were randomly selected, and just happened to be registered at the same adoption agency as me – and I was born early, so if I had come on time, would I have had different parents? This leaves all elements of home (family, heritage and place) very fuzzy indeed. Who and where is home? And to whom and to where do I belong?

Answers have begun to emerge; I have finally found places on the earth, within the soil and with others, that feel like my heritage and family; I have established an identity that comes from inside me; I have taken a name I chose that fits me, it incorporates where and to whom I feel I belong.  I have created a homeland within myself, a heartland that sustains and comforts me. It may not help me yet in answering the question simply when asked “Where do I come from?” but I am working on a new answer that feels authentic and valid in the context of all my history.

The Sea of Memory

There was a moment this morning when I was unexpectedly thinking of all the cats that have graced my adult years. My cats have always been precious parts of my life, although I am now without one, and over the last 25 years I have had the companionship of seven felines in various configurations. This morning memories of them swept through me – joyous ones of kittens and playfulness, and tragic ones – of deaths or illness. The recall was vivid and intense where I felt tears prick my eyes, I miss my furry friends. The whole situation was a surprise, it felt like a non sequitur in my head as nowhere in recent previous hours had my cats, or my memories of them, been referenced as far as I could tell.The beach

I was then struck by a metaphor of a tidal sea that sweeps up on to a beach. What if every memory we form, even if we can’t consciously remember it, is incorporated into this sea? I imagine I am on that beach where each time the tide comes in memories get washed up, and some come to rest half buried in wet sand. Walking up and down the beach it may be that I can encounter memories that have been dumped here by the sea completely at random. This morning I reached down and picked up the early tide’s offering without noticing that I had. By recovering the beached memories I bring them to mind, turning it over and over, looking at it from all sides.  Next, I picture myself throwing the whole lot back into the surf whereupon they sink under the rolling waves. Consequently the reminiscence then fades in my mind, and I wonder at the power of this Sea.

I wonder if it is possible to swim in it, to pick up memories that I want to follow and ones that I want to see. I also wonder if it is possible to bury some so deep in the underwater trenches (that are far deeper than mountains are high) so I don’t have to think of them ever again. This may be a potent visualisation to play with…


When I first anticipated a relationship with J I was berated by my best friend because I banded about the term soulmate. She, quite rightly, was cross as for 15 years prior to this event I had always poopooed the idea of soulmates as romantic guff. She had insisted that it was her soulmate that she was looking for, and I, irritated by her insistence, would try to reason with her, explain how the world was not like that – and even if it was what were the chances of meeting this supposed soulmate? Her response was unwavering. She looked at me sympathetically and announced that Fate would play a hand – and didn’t I believe in destiny?!

In those days I did have a view that soulmates, if they existed at all, spent their entire lives looking dewy-eyed at each other and cooing gently; a condescending viewpoint at best, I concede.  At the time I was married  to a lovely bloke; we got on well, we lived if not always harmoniously then with a great deal more accord than some of our friends – we were friends, and at that time I thought this was as good as “soulmates” got.

Then unexpected things started to happen. I became “Hallmark woman” thinking and saying romantic things. I developed a jukebox in my head, and I found meaning in all sorts of love songs that I had previously not taken seriously. I started singing – out loud!  It was weird I tell you, but it was not the most weird thing of all, that happened 2 years earlier.

I began a masters degree, and as part of the practical work I was to be allocated a supervisor. In the room with me on the day of the allocation were my 25 fellow students and seven strangers – our soon-to-be-assigned supervisors. I immediately noticed the tall, silver-haired, bearded man and I distinctly remember saying to myself – he will be my supervisor and he will be called J .And so it was, and so he is, and I was not surprised. And this completely unremarkable and forgettable event was lodged in my memory for ever as clearly as if it had just happened yesterday.Two together

After the year we spent in a professional relationship we became friends by mutual consent. I did not know at this time that J does not make a habit of “acquiring” friends from professional contacts, and so I did not know that this was a rare event. At this point all was unconscious, maybe now I could perceive it as we were being driven by destiny, and Fate was taking a hand? We talked of things as we did with no other, and we shared our secrets in a growing intimacy that neither of us was able to prevent; it slipped in while we drank tea and by the time we became aware it was too late, we had gone over Niagara Falls and were waiting to splash down – to sink or swim, to drown or endure.

A rendering that may be seen as inevitable began, as both J and I sawed up our past lives to be together. We ripped up marriages and families like ripping up carpets, leaving exposed and cold surfaces. We alienated people and had major transition issues, going in to shock which lasted months if not years. We were a million, million miles away from looking at each other with dewy eyes and we were not cooing gently.

As I look back on this from a few years down the line I see that my original issues with the idea of soulmates were correct; there is nothing lovely-dovey or superficial about meeting someone who unpicks the fabric of your being, which is as painful as it sounds, but wants to help you to weave a different one in the more colourful pattern of the new life you lead. Someone whose deep soul needs are so whispered that you can hardly hear that they are the same as your own. Someone who has spent a lifetime hushing and stilling these needs so as not to have to feel them unfulfilled, but whose eyes reflect the fountains of sorrow you share, and reveals those you can help to heal.

No, I still don’t believe in soulmates in the way that I perceived them back then – but who’s to say my dear friend wasn’t imagining what I have since discovered; soulmates are not found in Hallmark card sentiments, nor in trite lyrics to love songs, but they are found in other people and that precious, intimate connection between souls.


This is an old poem, but I have just seen that my sister has been out celebrating some netball achievements, and it got me thinking to this poem. I wrote it in school a very long time ago (1982), but it reminds me of how Netball used to go.(BTW it looks better on a computer screen than on a phone, as the layout is wide.)


Play in                                                                                    Play out


Jump up                                                                                Ball out


Throw in                                                                                Catch high


Throw back                                                                           Loud cry


“Wrong way”                                                                         Back Up


Throw long                                                                            “Ball, duck!”


Blue in                                                                                   Goal scored


Good throw                                                                           We roar


Centre pass                                                                          Whistle blows


Short time                                                                              Short throws


Up high                                                                                  Down low


Out again                                                                              Another throw


Quick shot                                                                             Long pace


Up court                                                                                 Fast race


Centre third                                                                           Once again


Goal missed                                                                          Try again


Whistle blows                                                                       Loud long


Game stops                                                                           Players throng