Well, that went well.
It’s been a week of good fortune so far in the Gregory family. Good news for our daughter who has secured a fabulous step on her ladder to success which is likely to involve her moving back to London and jetting around Europe and the US doing what she loves and is brilliant at – publishing books. She’s a very private person so I won’t go on about it too much here, just enough to make it clear that I am very proud of her.
Good news also for the GUS.
It was a tense weekend, with sessions in front of the TV, watching the ‘How to pass your practical driving test’ on repeat for most of Saturday, followed by a couple of hours more rehearsing for battle in the chariot on Sunday.
I was mindful of his first attempts at driving, which involved a turquoise, cerise and gold coloured ‘Li’l Tykes’ vehicle, powered by a pair of very sturdy little legs, in a somewhat haphazard fashion around the large living room of our various apartments in Hong Kong – some of the rooms were large enough to cope well, some weren’t. I do recall (vividly) Toby’s elder sister, Natalie and her teenage friends attempting to squeeze themselves into said vehicle to provide an exemplar for the little chap; indelibly etched upon my memory are the sights of Elle (who was actually mostly small enough to sit reasonably comfortably in the tiny driving seat) and Tom (who, frankly, wasn’t) with legs akimbo protruding from the non-existent windscreen and a backside hanging out of the equally hypothetical rear window, which gave new meaning to the word ‘booty’.
Thankfully, these long-buried anamneses have not adversely affected the GUS’s will to learn to drive, although I suspect there may be some therapy bill in the future for ironing out issues raised by such recollections!
In the US, young drivers can begin ‘Drivers’ Education Classes’ in many high schools – I’m not certain, but I think they have to be at least fourteen and a half years old to begin learning to drive. I’ve always thought it would be one very important thing that here in the UK we could consider. Get ’em whilst they’re young and perhaps this will result in more careful drivers when they eventually obtain a full driving licence. It’s not common practice here though, since in order to drive any vehicle at all in the UK the driver MUST have reached the age of seventeen (or, in some exceptional cases usually involving an enhanced mobility component, sixteen). Farmers children can and often do learn to drive tractors at an earlier age, which I think they’re allowed to do on private land (i.e. around their farm) but unless you have some exceptional reason for needing to drive at a younger age, seventeen is the magic number for young motorists here.
So when the GUS reached the designated number of days upon this Earth, he sent off for his provisional driving licence and studied, off and on, to pass the theory test. More off than on the first time round as I recall… but that obstacle was cleared in a matter of two or three months and since then he’s been revving up the Astra on a regular basis with those badges of progress emblazoned firmly on the front and rear of the vehicle – the dreaded ‘L’ plates.
We tried the magnetic ones to start with. Twelve sets of little white squares fluttered joyfully into the ether, freed from their entrancing tethering before we gave in and stuck the markers to the car. It may have been a tad embarrassing to careen around in a carriage marked as an inexperienced coachman, but such is the lot of parents – to do what needs to be done and be thankful for the opportunity.
The day finally came yesterday when the GUS would be tested on his SACKs of motoring proficiency. For those who aren’t teachers, I should probably explain what SACK means – it’s an acronym that stands for Skills, Attitude, Concepts and Knowledge. It’s always made me giggle to think of students carrying around these ever-growing hessian duffel bags filled with parcels labelled ‘Skill: can type quickly’ and ‘Attitude:is considerate of others’, as well as ‘Concept: understands how to walk across a road without dying’ and the inestimable ‘Knowledge: reads at level 43(b) with great expression’, as if this is any use to anyone, except for OFSTED inspectors, but I digress once more. I’m not supposed to be moaning about the burden of teachers any more. Or maybe I will moan thus, but not today.
He’s a good driver. He can make the car go forwards AND backwards at reasonable and responsible speeds AND he knows where to find the tyre pressure requirements at a glance (which, incidentally, was more than I knew until Sunday, perhaps an indicator of how useful this knowledge actually is when you’re driving!). He’d overcome his fear of heeding his father’s advice to make it obvious when he’s looking in the mirrors so that the examiner cannot be under any impression that if there was a twenty-foot tall green and purple dinosaur strolling somewhat inexplicably two cars behind, then Toby will have definitely have made eye-contact with it and have a fully-formed plan of action to deal with any unheralded flight of fancy that it might take.
He was ready.
He passed. First time. With only three minor errors.
Way. To. GO!
Clearly months of driving back and forth to York along the infamous 64 has its advantages – experience will always stand you in good stead. I’m really very proud of Toby for this success – job well done. Onwards and upwards from here!
Thanks for reading again my friends – looks like we may crack a milestone sometime very soon – almost ten thousand hits already!
My gorgeous grand-daughter, Harriet – whom regular readers will know already as ‘Harrie’ – has just had her fourth birthday. For once, I’d managed to get her present in the post so that it arrived in good time and she could open it on her actual birthday morning. I won’t crow too much about how great an achievement this is for me, but it’s not happened many times before and I’ve been a grandmother now for over eleven years; there are four grandchildren with a total of twenty-six birthdays so far and I’ve probably managed this basic requirement about four times in all. I know. I’ll stop beating myself up now.
So, Harrie has reached this grand age of four and I was immediately swept back nearly thirty years when her mother was hopping from foot to foot almost every day after her third birthday, begging to know ‘Is it my birthday tomorrow?’. Every. Single. Day. For a YEAR. The final six weeks after Christmas in the run up to her birthday was relentless – ‘When it’s my birthday, I want to be a banana’ she declared emphatically. For some reason that I could not fathom for the life of me, Natalie wanted to BE a banana. She loved them. She loved the colour yellow more than almost everything else she knew of. I’ve spent the afternoon looking for a picture of Natalie when she finally reached the longed-for day, wearing her brand new bright yellow trousers, sweater and matching gilet (it WAS the ’80’ folks!) and the most magnificent, enormous smile on her face. It looked remarkably like this one of Harrie.
Harriet is modelling her new birthday treasures – upon her head you will notice a rather exciting cycle helmet, of an ‘Alien’ design. Note the three googly eyes, green and purple pokey horns and wicked sharp teeth that complete the additional protection should Harrie fall from her bicycle or scooter. This was a present from another family member and I think goes particularly smartly with her new quilted jacket, made with great love by her doting Nana (that’s me, in case you were wondering!).
I came across the two ‘crocodile teeth’ (as Harrie describes them) pink toggle buttons in my spare button jar a few weeks ago. I’d forgotten they were there but recognised them instantly as the spare ones that Marks & Spencers’ always provide with their garments. They had come from two pink duffle coats that Natalie and her sister, Donna had worn when they were about six and eight years old (respectively).
This old photo shows the original coat. (It’s a good job I’ve learned to focus the lens better these days!).
I dug around in my stash to find other scraps that would make a good match and then stitched together strips to make these brightly coloured squares, creating a cheerful top-side for the jacket. I decided on lining it with some of the pretty butterfly fabric that I used to make a dress for Scarlett last summer and as a couple of my other fabrics had butterflies on them, decided to use a butterfly embroidery stitch to decorate the quilting.
I’m pleased with how the garment looks. I’m thrilled to bits that when Harrie opened it, she squealed with delight and donned it immediately, over her pyjamas and then wore it for the rest of the day. It doesn’t take much to make us both happy!
I’m thinking of maybe doing another one of these jackets and posting step-by-step instructions to make it, which I’ll maybe do when I’ve finally finished the cushions I was making for Donna’s Christmas present!
Thanks for reading again!
A new piece of art this evening – a simple digital collage from our walk in the woods a couple of weeks ago. I love the way the light found its way through the trees, creating an atmosphere of serenity. I hope it gives you peace to see it.
The Grown Up Son, I’ve decided, should have a new moniker since ‘The Neanderthol’ is outmoded and has outgrown its usefulness as a descriptor, although a few of his grunts still suffice to communicate a fairly wide range of subjects quite a lot of the time. That’s probably testament to my ability to translate these gnarly grumbles into meaningful utterances, honed by many years of teaching small children to get along with each other, as much as anything. Anyway, GUS seems as good a name as I can muster and henceforth this is how I will refer to my big boy. I’m sure he’d prefer ‘GUS’ to ‘Big Boy’ any day. Please, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that!
So, GUS came home from the education establishment yesterday all abuzz.
Actually fizzing with what might, in other circumstances, pass for actual, tangible enthusiastic excitement.
Yeah, I KNOW!
Hence the need to adapt his sobriquet to something more appropriate.
I needed to sit down, so overwhelmed was I with this development, even before he told me the reason for this one-eighty in attitude.
When his sister was his age and indeed from being about 11 years old, she was always abuzz with too much frenzied fizzing and was regularly marched outside with instructions to ‘go pop’ which was the best way to curb her excess energy. She’d go out onto the apartment’s playground and jump up and down for five minutes straight, whilst waving her arms around maniacally and squeaking, squalling and just occasionally shrieking at such a high pitch that only dogs could hear her. Fortunately. Another outlet for her massive energy was lots and lots of sports – hockey, rugby, basketball or pretty much anything that involved chasing around after a moving object. Hmm… I wonder if she was a dog in a previous life perhaps? She WAS born in the Chinese Year of the Dog, so maybe that explains it.
Where was I?
Oh, yes, the EXCITEMENT.
So, there my precious GUS was, literally hopping from foot to foot, bursting to tell us how his rather extraordinary day had panned out.
You see, the day had come when he connected the dots.
For several years now, GUS has expressed his ambition to become an Actor. Please, whilst you read that, can you do me a favour? when you see the word ‘Actor’, imagine the magnificence that is Brian Blessed reading it aloud. ‘ACT-ORRRR!!!’ he would boom, magniloquently. That’s how I want you to hear it in your head, every time you see that word in this story. It’ll lend a little je ne sais quoi to the proceedings, that I hope will make the experience more joyful for you, dear reader. GUS has,in more recent times, begun to diversify this aspiration into directorial channels but acting, directing, being in the business of making films is where it’s all at for him.
Actors tend to hang out together for a variety of reasons, most usually because they want to promote their latest creative project, either for their own benefit or because the studio behind the project says they have to. Either way, there’s a LOT of networking when you get into this line of work.
‘So, I was chatting with Elijah Wood and Celyn Jones this afternoon, about their new movie, ‘Set Fire To The Stars‘,
which is about the tumultuous life of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas…’ GUS began with a combination of words that simply blew me away. I mean, ‘tumultuous‘? I didn’t even know he knew that word! And then ‘Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas‘? Four more words in a sequence that I never imagined he would utter. Maybe the years of banging on about culture have not been in vain after all…? But then. THEN. That’s when the penny dropped.
My little boy had spent the afternoon chatting with Frodo Baggins.
What else is there in life?*
I guess that when your offspring go, well, springing off into the world of men and elves, then these experiences become quite commonplace. And so the FUN begins!
*Honestly, I’ve had to promise not to get star-struck ever again. I’ll never get a mention in the Oscar speech otherwise.
Thanks for reading again my friends!
From a great writer, about two muses whom we all miss now. Thanks Andy, for writing this and saying it all, so succinctly and beautifully. see – I needed far more than the requisite seventeen syllables just to say well done!
I love it when the family come to stay. There are all sorts of gorgeous, funny, poignant moments and happy times that I always regret living so far away that we can’t do this every day. Anyway, yesterday we went for a lovely stroll in Dalby Forest on a perfect Winter’s day. A pale cerulean sky with fluffy white vapour trails belied the Siberian setting as it fell below freezing during the course of our perambulation.
Aghast at the natural beauty of this landscape, with a deep valley, heavily wooded with lofty trees, packed so densely as to almost obliterate the light, I found myself marvelling at the mysterious panorama. Carved at an improbable gradient, the road snaked through the forest to an attractive visitors centre, looking for all the world like an alpine ski-village, so deep was the hoarfrost on this magical journey.
A glaring white mist thickened as it drew close to the Earth, giving a feeling of descending into a primordial or ice-age swamp as we drove towards the centre, where we found details of a most engaging Gruffalo Nature Trail, perfectly suited to our intention for the trip.
A pair of delightful (European) robins greeted us at the outset of the trail. One hopped onto the wall and posed perfectly – he’s clearly an old hand at this. Portrait captured, he hopped, skipped and jumped from pillar to post, from branch to ledge, guiding us skillfully onto the trail’s start. I was in seventh heaven already.
Watching my small people and my not-so-small-any-more people striding forth into the misty pathway, looking for gruffalo clues and enjoying each other’s company, I felt content. Life is wonderful at times.
I may not get time to compose another post before the old year ends and the new begins, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. For Auld Lang Syne, my friends, for auld lang syne.
See you in 2015!
Thanks for reading once more.
It is finally here… our youngest child had reached adulthood at last. Tobias Mark Gregory was born this day in the Matilda Hospital, on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong at 3.56am and so he has now reached the grand age of eighteen, which makes him a proper, fully fledged grown-up person. Actually, due to time differences, we noted he was actually 18 at 7.56pm last night!
It’s a day I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. If you read my last piece, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the prospect of an empty nest after all of these years with at least one small person to take care of, to look out for, to nourish and to cherish, is a somewhat daunting one. It’s a momentous day for us.
Toby was a wonderful addition to our family who has brought so much joy and happiness with him. He has sunshine in his heart and something else that is all-too-rare a quality, he is a genuinely kind and loving person. I don’t know what the future holds for him of course, but I know that the world is a much better place for having him here in it.
He has grown from a wee little Piglet (his older sisters were Pooh Bear and Tigger) into a gentle giant with grace, a keen eye for detail and a robustly dry and quick sense of humour. He is great fun to be with.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing of course… the sheer number of times I’ve been astounded that he is still alive is too many to keep count. From febrile convulsions in infancy and falling head first into a playground sign (five stitches in the forehead, aged three) and again from a thirty-foot rock face (overnight in hospital thanks to concussion, aged five), through a dozen sporting injuries and consequent trips in ambulances from pitch-side to A&E departments – that’s what you get for playing hockey AND rugby from such an early age I suppose – to peritonitis and broken ankles in later teenage years. He has a medical rap-sheet of misadventures that belies his cheerful smile. I can only say that it’s a good job he isn’t actually a cat, because he’s used up ALL nine lives and then some!
I can’t think of a better way to congratulate my big boy, who will forever be my Neanderthal, although I suppose now he’s an adult I should call him my ‘Young Man’. I’ve collected together some photos of his life so far and I hope this little Tobys 18th birthday (click on the words to watch it!) slideshow works to say Happy Birthday Toby!
Thanks for reading!
For a while there I was engulfed in a mortified mire of misery, submerged in suffocating self-loathing as ‘dark as the helmsman’s bark of old that ferried to hell the dead‘ as A. C. Swinburne once said.
When I get so depressed that all I can do is try to beat the world at Scrabble or match rows of analogous ‘Bejewelled’ gems to pass the time, and then bemoan my lack of purpose so that this is almost the only thing that keeps my grey matter from stagnating utterly, I cannot write at all. I should, because the whole process is rewardingly cathartic as I discovered yesterday. I should make myself a motivational poster to put up on my pinboard above my desk to remind me of that fact.
See, now I have a purpose again.
It makes a huge difference.
A while back I visited a local village and took a bunch of photos around the churchyard there. If you click here (or visit the link on the sidebar for the archives in October 2014) you can see the original story. Only if you want to of course… I’m not trying to be bossy here.
Anyhoo, (NOT a typo there – it’s a word I use frequently) you may recall I took a picture of a small bird’s egg lying amongst the leaf-litter between the gravestones and a yew. The fact that there are usually yew trees in graveyards in England (and possibly elsewhere I imagine) is a constant source of amusement between my youngest daughter and I as, having spouted this *fact* as we strolled through her Oxfordshire village one sunny afternoon, I failed miserably and in spectacular fashion to identify a yew in someone’s garden – she’s teased me about it ever since. It’s not really funny now of course – I guess you had to be there – but whenever I see that word it raises a smile in my mind. Which is always a good thing.
Where was I?
Oh, of course!
Back to the story.
The bird’s egg.
Well, of course, I had actually been out that morning to catch something *interesting* to enter into a photo competition that I was keen to tackle. This was to be the second competition that some fantastic people had organised over at the Creative Group for Bedlam Farm which I’ve mentioned before, once or twice, perhaps. The theme this time was ‘Nature’.
A slightly conspiratorial atmosphere prevailed as my FAB hubby and I dressed for our outing in the pre-dawn October darkness. The plan was to go and capture the sunrise over the pumpkin patch on the Pickering Road, about six or seven miles away. It was magical and I was pleased with some of the shots achieved, hoping I had captured something worthy of entering in this contest.
During the first contest earlier in the year I had sent in what I had thought was a winning shot of a bee *visiting* a flower, but it hadn’t even placed, so I was apprehensive about what a winning shot might look like and how on earth I could achieve it. I had agonised for days about which photo to send in and was genuinely devastated when my eventual choice was overlooked for a prize. I was very aware of the deadline approaching for this second match and determined to find something to compete with.
With the sun fully up by eight o’clock, we’d headed home, passing through Rillington on the way. There was something special about the light that morning – cool, bright, crispy and properly autumnal. I had to stop and take some more pictures. I snapped away enthusiastically at kaleidoscopic leaves, briskly babbling brooks and ghostly gravestones in the hoary churchyard. When I wrote about it later I imagined a moment of time travel, being transported through the years to visit the lives of those commemorated in stoney memorials.
And then came a moment of pure clarity. Lying on the leaf litter between the tombstones and the aforementioned yew tree was a forlorn-looking half-eggshell. The edges crazed and fissured and inside was complete empty. Devoid of residue from the albumen or anything else in fact. My eye was drawn as if by some powerful magnetic force to the whiteness and the blank inanition of the fragile shell; I dropped to my knees instantly to find myself almost at eye-level with the fronds of grass and detritus on the ground. This was an automatic move that my brain seemed incapable of controlling – my photographer friend, the inestimable Jeff Anderson, has repeatedly instructed me to ‘get down low’ and search for the light from the right perspective – his words ringing in my ears gave my legs the clear message to move myself into an advantageous position.
It looked even more ethereal from this viewpoint.
I could almost hear the little chirruping that the tiny new life would have made as it freed itself from the confines of the protective shell. Perhaps its mother was answering her offspring’s uncertain pleas, gently encouraging and cajoling the tiny birdlet to cast away their fears and spread their wings so that they could emerge into this wondrous world, continuing a line that is older than Time.
All that remained now was the discarded shell that had cherished its cargo until it was no longer needed.
And I saw myself for the first time.
I’ve been a mother for over thirty-four years and my two eldest children fledged an age ago.
But I still have my Neanderthal at home, for now at least. He will be eighteen in just a couple of days time – in fact with a labour that lasted for thirty-four hours, it should have been his birthday today, but that’s a whole other story that I hope you’ll tune in for on Tuesday. Not long after this momentous occasion he will depart from our nest and start his own adulthood. I am fully aware of this – it’s not like it’s any kind of surprise, I’ve know this day will come since he was first conceived.
The thing is, now it is almost here, and it is tapping me on the shoulder and shouting ‘BOOM’ in my other ear.
I’ll have an empty nest for the first time in my adult life.
I deliberated for weeks about whether or not to send this picture in. It seemed a little simple. Black and white simple.
I played around with the image, giving it different colours to see how it affected the feel of it. Eventually I settled on this hint of green, symbolising envy and perhaps new beginnings, coupled with a dash of blue to add just a touch of sadness to the ambiance of the image.
It turns out that I’ve struck a chord with people, who like this image for its simplicity. I am pleased to say that it won the competition – much to my genuine surprise.
And the judge’s comments, coupled with the congratulatory messages from my fellow Farmies have lifted me back into the Land of the Living. They gave me a moment of real life. I’m so very grateful.
Thanks for reading again!
* The penguin image is from a very informative page about African Penguins that can be found here
Post Script: December the 13th was my mother’s birthday. She would have been ninety-four this year. I mention this because of her connection to the Neanderthal’s birth, which you can read about here, if you wish!
As I was washing up the breakfast porridge this morning I heard the familiar scuffling noise as the postman delivered the morning mail and I sing-song-shouted my usual ‘Thank you!’ to his rapidly disappearing frame as he trundled back down the lengthy garden path. He raised his arm in a gesture of acknowledgement and I swear he was chuckling to himself as he went on his way.
The reason for the chuckle soon became very clear as I bent down to pick up the solitary item on the doormat. A letter, about A5 sized (approximately 8 inches x 5½ inches) sat there, beaming up at me. It was addressed to ‘Nana, Grandad + Toby’, so I knew who it was from even before I picked it up.
As I picked it up, smiling inside, I turned it over and this is what greeted me:
There was a fair amount of glue and sticky tape holding this little bundle of love together, which required some very careful and rather tricky negotiation, but eventually, we managed to prise it open and feast upon the great gift held so tightly within its depths.
Auntie Donna (that is Harrie’s aunt, not mine of course, because that would be a very difficult relationship to explain… Donna being my daughter and all… :) ) had been looking after Harrie on Monday as she was too poorly to go to school, after a weekend of coughing, raised temperatures and the now familiar consequences.
Harrie simply adores school and was terribly miffed at not being well enough to be with her teacher so she had asked Donna to help her to do some schoolwork, such is her devotion to her studies – dedication that many others could learn a great lesson from (mentioning no names, Mr Neanderthol… :) ). Let’s not forget, Harriet is nearly four now, so these things matter a great deal to her. Donna had found an excellent compromise – let’s write a letter to Nana!
I give you the contents of the letter – I am sure Harrie won’t mind me sharing them with you all, because I challenge anyone to not feel instantly cheered by the wonderful simplicity of this fabulous message, in pictorial form – ‘You are my lovely family, I think of you often and I love you so very much!’. For those who need to be more literal, I’ll interpret the drawings for you: Back row, left to right Toby, Grandad and Nana (the one with all the hair – boy, she’s nailed that one!) all holding hands; front row – Harrie, eating a doughnut. Of course.
Yep, feeling very pleased to be a loved Nana today!
Thanks for reading again!