Friends of Friends

My circular walk takes me and Jessie from our back door up to the South Downs Way, along a bit and then down and back round – I have to say that I am just boasting about this as it has no real relevance – neither has this picture of Jessie, not least as it is a summer picture, but please, as they say, live with me on this.

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Today was frosty and bright with lovely sun and it was a delight to be out and walking in such weather and seeing the views. But like all things, you get complacent about your surroundings.

So, instead of just walking and admiring the view, I took to musing what I would do with a significant lottery win. I am not talking a million or two here, I am going for Euro Millions.

Now and then I buy a lottery ticket just so that I can have this fantasy, and it works on a walk, especially useful if it is not cold, lovely and clear, but a drudge of a walk through mud and rain.

After taking care of immediate family, and donations to charities involved in causes I believe in – refugees, clean water, the amazing Medicine San Frontier, education for girls – there is still a lot of Euro Millions left over.

I can’t believe I will ever stop buying my clothes from charity shops or rescuing ‘brown’ furniture from auctions.

So, after we have bought a bigger house and clean, dry barns to be a home to such thing as Georgian dressers (bought at a fraction of the price that some pine number would fetch), there will still, as I say, be a lot leftover.

But thanks to my walk, I have a plan.

I am going to set up a fund called Friends of Friends.

The idea is that anyone we know who wants to do a project which has some benefit to other people gets some money.

It can’t be money just to make someone’s life easier – worthy though that would be – it has to be of interest/use to others.

It doesn’t have to be charitable – it can be a business, and event, an entertainment, a project, but it has to benefit more than just the person getting the money.

It is only available to people with two degrees of separation from us – that, of course dear reader, means someone we know, or someone who knows someone we know.

Already I can think of someone who could make some really interesting art projects in Liverpool and another who could utilise buildings in deepest Herefordshire to run very special courses to help people do better presentations and lots of other things.

I know someone who is trying to change the world through advanced storytelling – or at least he was last time I talked to him.

Someone else would probably have a project up her sleeve for women in Bosnia, another would have an idea or two about what could be really useful in York…..

By the time I was heading back up our lane, I had started to outline the email I would send round everyone I know, with the criteria.

And I was planning how many interesting times we would spend at the opening of these ventures.

So, I got home after my walk (all 11,000 steps of it ) and told the Best Beloved that I was going to the village shop to get a paper, a lottery ticket, and why.

And, he said a long time ago when he had been dealing with big, big sums of money and people competing for it, he had thought then of how good it would be to create the same kind of thing but generously and philanthropically.

Go for it, he said.

So if you have an idea or project that would fit the bill, I would love to hear about it.

But, I have to say, I have not won the lottery – yet.

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The Cellar

We have a lovely American couple coming to stay soon and we once visited them in New Hampshire where everything was white picket fences and retro diners that served pancakes, bacon and maple syrup.

My sister has always had a penchant for horror movies and spent quite a lot of her late night youth on the sofa with our dog for comfort and protection, scaring herself half to death by watching horror movies.

( She is now teaching my niece the delight of thrilling yourself by being scared. Maybe a good lesson in life.)

These two facts may not seem connected but it my (very limited) experience of horror movies, white picket fences and innocuous looking towns often feature.

I looked at the pretty houses in this town in New Hampshire and wondered who was lying in the cellar with an axe in their head or was waiting for night so they could get up and stalk the locals.

Though I do understand the dramatic necessity, the idea that someone hearing some noise in the cellar, when the storm has cut off the electricity or you are a young woman alone in a house under strange circumstances, then creeping down the cellar steps is just plain idiotic.

Don’t go down. Stay where you are and pile all the furniture you can lay your hands on against the cellar door.

Or, get out and run to the nearest house with lights on and a family car parked outside.

Lock yourself in the toilet.

Anything but go down the cellar steps – are you stupid?!

We have a cellar and to be honest it holds no fears except for the need to stop just piling unused stuff down there and have a good clear out.

However, our dog has never set foot down any one of the cellar steps in all her life and will stand, at the top, waiting for you to come up unscathed, or meet a dreadful fate beyond her control.

Wise dog.

Art in Our House

We have quite a lot of art in our house – some of it brought from our previous lives (and quite different tastes ) and therefore some pieces are having to live cheek by jowl with pieces they would never normally want to cohabit with.

In our bedroom we have what I think is a great piece. Painted for me by a struggling artist – he swapped this piece for a sofa I wanted to get rid of – it is an abstract made up of lots of small squares in which you can find all sorts of images if you look at it in the right way.

I can find hens in a wintery yard, hook-nosed man, birds, reindeer..… sorry this is not a good image of it but you, dear reader, get the general idea.

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It used to hang it in my sitting room in a previous life and many a friend has sat on the sofa – obviously not the one I swapped for it – and found all sorts. Mostly they had a wine glass in their hands, but it whiled away many a pleasant half hour or so.

As it was painted for me. So it has a lot of snow in it. I like it very much.

(That cannot be said of my best beloved and my family who with the exception of my very smart, insightful, artistically thoughtful niece, seem to have no inclination appreciate it at all.)

In our sitting room we have some pictures which really, badly needed lighting better and it is amazing what a difference good lighting makes to how a painting looks.

Never ones to go half measures, we set about designing and installing really good lighting appropriate to each picture.

No, of course we didn’t.

But we did buy, from Ikea as it happens, a central fitting with directional lights so each picture now gets its own lighting. It works very well.

But it does show up that the painting of Aunt Jessie needs some attention. Aunt Jessie is some relative of the best beloved’s mother’s family but we have no more details.

 

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Isn’t she an amazing woman?

She used to hang above a mantlepiece in Brussels which could be seen from the street and more than once, a passing neighbour would stop us and say how much they liked to see her as they walked past.

One day soon we will get her cleaned up and the small tear in her mended.

But what needs more urgent attention are the more than 20 pictures which we have earmarked for the small bedroom.

Framed by the BB way back in the Autumn, they are waiting to be hung.

It is a testament to this year’s good weather that we decided to wait until there were some grey days when we weren’t doing anything else to set about hanging them.

As I speak I can see them over my left shoulder, all propped up and anxious to be hung….

Remind me one day to show you all the lovely woodcuts I have found in books falling apart and the hare painting, and while I am it, remind me to tell you about the Japanese images we have got in the kitchen and the two images my BB bought as cards for me to describe our relationship, and then remind me to talk about how we bought the painting by a Brussels painter of the walk we used to do – and it is a snow image, and the boat painting we bought in the Paris antiques market and the painting I bought him when he thought I was leaving him – and he loves best , and the one over the sofa in the kitchen, painted by the same artist who did my bedroom painting – this time I swapped it for a bed…….

 

The Sussex Housewife Syndrome

There are some days when I realise just what a Sussex Housewife I have become and some days when I see another example of the tribe and don’t like it.

The other day, and dear reader this is my annual moan about the after Christmas donation ‘boom’ to our Oxfam bookshop, there was a woman who brought in some books.

It is not an absolute rule, but more often than not a snitty donator gives crap books and never buys from us.

( Nice donators do too, but at least they are nice about it.)

She was a Sussex Housewife like myself so there might have been some tribal loyalty, but oh no.

We were stashed out with books and I was on my own sorting them. There were boxes, carrier bags, black bags, piles, heaps, crates, of books.

She walked in with a bag of books and handed them to me saying, ‘ I need my bag back and I have more in the car so if you could empty that bag quickly, as I am parked illegally, I will bring the next lot.

I asked how many more she had as we were rather over-filled – as, I might add, she could see.

‘ I have as many as I have and no, I didn’t count them individually before I brought them to you. But as I said, I am in a hurry so could you just empty the bags quickly.’

She might as well have said, ‘You can’t get the grateful charity volunteers these days, no more than you can get good staff.’

All of her books went in a sack. They were some old law books, written on, out of date, unsaleable.

Followed by bags of battered, dated cookery books, browned paperback fiction and a few Jeremy Clarkson’s for good measure.

I was tempted to just hold a sack open and get her to empty them in but of course, we don’t do that.

So, I have spent a lot of the past couple of weeks, practising my sweet smile in the face of adversity.

But just as I am mentally spitting venom at the Sussex Housewife syndrome, I come up short against myself.

This week, my book club is meeting to discuss an intense, pre-war Norwegian book. If that isn’t Sussex Housewife, goodness knows what is.

And to make matters worse, we are meeting in a nice local restaurant and the book title, and subject matter, is Hunger.

No Trace Remains

Some years ago my best friend and I walked sections of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and very lovely it was.

She was map-reader in chief and my role was to enliven our walk with snippets from a guide book.

‘As you rise steeply from the beach you will be passing the site of XX Castle – of which no trace remains,’

Now, there were a lot of similar sentences in that book and whilst I am prepared to believe that there were a lot of castles on the coast of Wales, for so many to have left so few traces is rather suspicious.

It is not as if the stone has been used for local dwellings which is often the case with under-used castles, because the local dwellings are usually pebble-dashed bungalows and I for one, am not convinced they have a strong layer of castle stone underneath all those pebbles.

Anyway, I was reminded of this ‘no trace remains’ phrase when we were recently in Stratford-Upon Avon, home of the bard.

Of course there are loads of references to Shakespeare – every second shop is Shakespeare’s bakery or bookshop or something- but not much of a real trace remains.

Yes I know,there is the house where he was born with several engaging guides dressed in appropriate costumes who can point to gloves like those which Shakespeare senior might have made in this workshop and painted wall-hangings like those his mum might have brought as part of her dowry.

And there is a child’s sized bed which pulls out from under the adults’ and its base is a criss-cross of rope with a device to pull the strings taught – from which comes the phrase ‘sleep tight.’ Which is interesting but no one has the faintest idea if Shakespeare slept on something similar.

And then there is the place where the house he once owned stood – now it is a garden, unimpressive very small museum, and of course, expensive gift shop.

But all in all, not much of a trace remains.

Which, of course, is not putting off the millions of tourists which go there to see the merest sniff of a trace magnified into various ‘attractions.’

We stayed in the White Swan which was all very nice and old and cosy etc etc. (As far as I am aware it has no real connection whatsoever with Shakespeare.)

Above the mantlepiece there was a quote written in suitably Olde Englishe script and it said, ‘I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety. Henry Vactz. ‘

‘ Well,’ I said to my best beloved, ‘ At least half of that  quote worked. I have never heard of him. Looks like he might have been Czech though.’

‘What?’ he said, ‘ That’s Henry V Act 3.’

The Archers & Game of Thrones

I am probably not the only middle-aged woman in Deepest Sussex who is a very keen consumer of The Archers and Game of Thrones, probably…

An Oxfam colleague and I came across a whole heap of the George R R Martin books in the bottom of a box and, rather to my surprise, he said/admitted he and his wife were addicted to both the books and the television series.

He encouraged me to take the first in the series and said he was sure I would be a happy reader. Yes, dear reader, I was.

I am not about to go into a critical analysis of the books but suffice it to say there is a lot of historical allusions and I rather like that in my fantasy book, between lots of gory violence and no mean amount of sex.

The best beloved thought about buying me the box set of the first series but then realised he could get it all from LoveFilm.

Now we spend many a happy evening ploughing through them and I have learned to stop saying,’Oh but it’s not like that in the book. They …..’ It doesn’t go down all that well.

(After long and stressful days, we have been known to resort to an episode or two of Doc Martin but we try not to admit that in public.

But ow we salivate over the nest series of Game of Thrones. I do realise they are different genres and Martin Clunes might find himself adrift in Westeros.)

Game of Thrones allusions have been making their way into our conversations.

Up on the Malvern Hills the other day we were pretty sure that the wildings would be living on the Herefordshire side and our friend with the small holding near Bromyard should be on the lookout.

I do realise this won’t mean much to anyone who has never bothered with the series so instead of amusing you with even more conversational allusions, I will desist.

Except to say that a regular comment on any aspect of the news these days is ‘Winter is Coming!’

The Archers of course are one long box set, running year after year, after year after year stretching back in my case to my early twenties. (At least now I am in the proper, ageing, Radio 4 demographic.)

I find it mildly amusing to know that I share a hairdresser with Shula, who lives nearby shacked up with Brian. I know, I know, you didn’t think that was happening did you…

The best beloved has worked rather hard to tune out of The Archers for all the years I have known him but of course, even he, did get into the Helen and Rob story line.

It is surprising who you meet who are Archers fans – the most unlikely of people sometimes, and of course it is part of the fabric of Radio 4 – and I am an unashamed wall-to-wall Radio 4 listener.

Way back, on Radio 4 I first heard The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and raved about it to my fellow students – as you can imagine a Radio 4 listening, bread baking, dog owning, mostly non-drinking student as I was, was viewed as odd but then as I had found the only centrally-heated flat for miles around, I was indulged.

I like Desert Island Discs, I love I Am Sorry I haven’t a Clue and am even willing to tolerate Money Box and Poetry Please. The trouble is that Radio 4 does a lot of repeats then a weekly round up of the best of the output so you can hear the same thing quite a lot of times.

(In a spirit of full confession and in the sure knowledge not many people will read this, I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the Shipping Forecast.

I’d like to be, and I understand why people do like it but for me, I am happy when it is over and The World Service kicks in and I can hear about revolutionary sheep farming in Nigeria or whatever.)

But then you do hear stuff on Radio 4 that is quite marvellous. Just last week, for example, there was the story of two people who had both been wrongfully jailed for many years – him in Northern Ireland and her in America. They had met at an Amnesty International Conference and ended up together.

They bought a place in the quiet countryside and set up a refuge, half-way house whatever you might call it, for other people who got out after years of being locked up for something they never did.

Listening to them and the people they had helped was just fascinating.

So, though I realise Radio 4 is made for me – lefty, liberal, middle-aged and thus it feeds my own world view, I am not giving up and challenging myself to anything new – except of course another episode of Game of Thrones which is not really my world.

Honesty Bars

It may of course be because this is the beginning of dry January, but I’ve been thinking about honesty bars I have known.

There was the one at the Solar Do Castelo which, just in case you don’t know, is a lovely boutique hotel built into the castle walls in Lisbon.

When my best beloved was a man who was collected from the airport and driven with blue flashing lights and motorbike outriders, we stayed there as guests of the Portuguese government.

He was assigned a bodyguard which impressed me no end. The man was rather small, no taller than me, but no doubt he could have killed with his bare hands.

One of the many charming features of the hotel – apart from the tinkling fountain, peacocks, gorgeous room, great view and, of course, the honesty bar – was the fact that it was inaccessible by car.

You had to walk about 100 metres up a cobbled lane and into the nicely lit courtyard and entrance.

When we had done the official dinner, and the official fado ‘session’ which had most of the other guests wiping a tear from their eyes, we at last, got to go back to the hotel.

Getting out of the official car at the foot of the cobbled lane, I said to the bodyguard that it was late and we didn’t need him any more ( not that we really needed him at all – Lisbon not being all that threatening) and he smartly replied that he was not on duty to protect me so basically I could do what I liked, but he was seeing the BB to the door.

On a trip to Yorkshire, my BB went with my brother in law to see Featherstone Rovers in action. Being brought up in the south, with a firm grinding/grounding in rugby union, this was an eye opener all round.

( If not for the delightful nature of Yorkshire men, he could probably have done with a bodyguard more then, speaking as he was with a posh southern English voice, than he ever needed in Lisbon.

That night, by way of contrast, we went to stay at The Star at Harome.

It is a Michelin starred pub that, over the lane, has a converted barn with bedrooms, and accepts dogs, and it had an honesty bar. What’s not to like?

(We ate in the restaurant and, I would like to point out dear reader, that this is not usual. We don’t do this very often. Before. At all.

And, all round, should have eaten in the friendly and a lot less posh, bar.)

Anyway, then we and the dog, adjourned to the circular sitting room in the barn where they had left a fire lit, an honesty bar – did I mention that before? – and a load of games and books.

We three were the only guests.

So, we played a long series of backgammon games and were scrupulous in writing down what we drank. Honestly.

The dog was rubbish at backgammon.

But, the honesty bar I remember most fondly was in a bed and breakfast outside Nottingham.

It is rather a long story, so feel free to skip yet more honesty.

This was a time when I worked for a trade union and part of my patch was the East Midlands.

Most meetings, for obvious reasons, were held in the evening so there was always a search for somewhere nice to stay.

( I got fed up with hotels and hotel bars and hotel food and always tried to find somewhere more interesting/devoid of lecherous men.)

I found this place in a book called Off the Beaten Track – and it was indeed.

It was a former vicarage inherited by an woman who was an artist and general eccentric and she was happy to have me arrive at 10 at night, save me some soup and bread and a good glass of wine, and we would chat.

Given that it was near Nottingham, there used to be people who were working at Boots headquarters for stints, or there for meetings or whatever, and some became regulars like me – but they tended to arrive at usual hours, so I rarely met them – but every now and then I made it at civilised hour.

There were also one-off visitors too, there for weddings, on trips, etc etc and, on the rare occasions when I arrived at a civilised hour, I was enrolled as host.

She didn’t believe in small tables for two or four so everyone ate at one table – all very Wagamama now, but in those days it was nothing if not revolutionary.

And, if I was there or one of the other regulars, we were expected to make conversation and generally ensure, the rather surprised, other guests had a good evening.

The honesty bar was in the kitchen and it was a perk of being a regular. Quite often we would bring bottles and add them to the stash and anyway, generally no one could ever find the honesty note pad so it all kind of equalled out in the end.

The owner and I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten her name, took honesty to greater lengths than most B&Bs.

Once when I went there and said when I needed to come next, she airily told me that she had been invited for a few weeks to the South of France but she didn’t want to let her regulars down.

The key, she explained, would be under the geranium pot, there would be food in the freezer and the regulars could come and go as they liked and oh yes, she said, if you find the notepad, let me know what you owe.

Yes, dear reader, we regulars did.