Great Expectations

We are given 2 different messages in life: don’t expect too much (because you’ll be disappointed).  But then we are also taught to hope and dream – to expect great things.

They are both generally things we are taught by our parents.  You get told not to expect too much at Christmas and birthdays when you’re little because your parents are trying to protect you from disappointment (Grandma’s present normally.  You always hoped that this year wouldn’t be a knitted sweater.  The disappointment when it wasn’t a tape or a computer game cartridge – showing my age!)

The other message is that you can be whatever and whoever you want.  This is a great message ! You can! But we get restrictions put on us at school with exams and choices.  We have to do what we get good marks in, not necessarily what we want/love to do.  A lot of us end up drifting because we follow the choices that school made for us.  That is probably why a lot of people get to their thirties and have no idea how to do anything else.

If you were lucky and were taught as I was that Grandma made you that sweater out of love and she thought of you with each stitch.  (You realise this about 10 years later!).  If you can get through school and get out into the world you can do whatever you like.  Even if you get to your thirties and are slightly disillusioned.  Change is always possible.

One of my favourite sayings is “shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll be among stars.”  I love this – it says dream big and it doesn’t matter if you don’t make it – at least you will have tried.

Written for the Daily Post “Great Expectations” –  https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/great-expectations/

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An attempt at conversation…after 40 years of marriage

Crow’s feet fanned silver eyes which registered disapproval and disappointment. Her mouth was ringed with lines which if they were spread into a smile would make her seem twenty years younger. She lifted a delicately polished finger nail up to her crow’s feet as if to wipe away a tear. The lace thinness on the back of her hands showed veins and arthritic joints keeping the diamond ring and golden wedding band which still shone after 40 years of wearing them.

Her hand trembled slightly and she self-consciously forced it back into her lap and clasped hands to stop them shaking. She stopped herself reaching out to pick up her cup and saucer. The trembling grating of bone china on bone china would wake him up.  He needed his afternoon nap.  She reached up to smooth her hair gently, barely even making contact. She knew it would be perfect. Her pearl necklace hung perfectly over her twinset which was in an inoffensive beige colour. Beige went with everything and it suited her to be non-descript – to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible.

She sat upright in her armchair staring at her husband of 40 years. Her silver expression didn’t waiver. Her face was composed; her hand steadied and she grasped the porcelain saucer firmly. Not a tremor. She sipped on the weak infusion of tea with half a slice of lemon (pips removed). Her eyebrow raised into a perfect arch, as her husband snored in his armchair opposite.

He felt her gaze on him from under closed eyelids and could almost hear her eyebrow raise in that supercilious manner. He kept his eyes closed, shifted in his pretend sleep, attempted a snore, relaxed his neck so that his head lolled against the arm chair. He let his jaw fall slack. He just had to wait until she finished that damned ditch water that she called tea.

His cardigan was a focus of disappointment – always done up wrong, worn over the elbows and a day old handkerchief in the pocket. He preserved that look with care and recreated it every morning. He made sure that he blew his nose loudly into the hankie before putting in the pocket. His trousers bagged around his waist. He didn’t believe in belts. Perhaps he should invest in a nice pair of braces? Nice spotty ones. Her expression would be priceless. Socks and tartan slippers completed the image.

His silver hair was brushed back from his forehead with Brylcream – a style that he’d worn for 65 years. He couldn’t break that habit. But he did go unshaven now whenever possible – he couldn’t get his face to align with his razor. It seemed to sag in all sorts of places. His eyebrows straggled down to twist into his eyelashes and God knew what was going on with his nose and ear hair. The overall impression was of an unkempt, slightly dotty old man with a great head of hair.

He heard his wife silently put her cup and saucer down on the tray; equally silently stand up, pick up the tray and glide softly across the pile carpet. And still he faked sleep. She’d turned, as he’d known she would at the doorway, to check up on him. He froze: neck loose, jaw slack, a bit of drool making its’ way down his chin. He heard her eyebrow raise again as she carried the tray out.

One brown eye opened and checked the empty room. He didn’t move his body just incase he needed to fake sleep again. Also it took him a moment to get everything in gear to move. He peered around his nose and tried to straighten his neck. He’d got a crick in it from “sleeping” for so long. She obviously had something to discuss with him and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep her at bay. 77 minutes was his record.

She carried the tray into the kitchen; snapped on rubber gloves and washed up her cup and saucer, the teapot, tea strainer, milk jug, sugar bowl and sugar tongs; threw the doily into the bin and stored the tray in the slot specially designed for trays between the cupboard and the dishwasher. She snapped her Marigolds off and hung them over the tap. She needed to talk to him. She could wait until he stirred himself. His naps were getting longer and longer.

He yawned and stretched. He could hear her washing up the tea tray. He had a couple of minutes to get to the French windows and down into the garden. If he timed it right he could be in the potting shed by the time she hung her gloves up. He moved smoothly to the door. His wellies were waiting outside. In less that 7 seconds slippers were off, feet into wellies and the door shut behind him with a soft click. He kept to the hedge away from the kitchen and circled around the back of the greenhouse and into the potting shed.

Another Short Story

A faded, grey shadow of a girl stood in front of the check in desk. He looked up from the racing pages with a start. “Didn’t see you there. Can I help?” She didn’t speak, just continued staring through vacant eyes. He couldn’t see any spark inside her. The greyness was all consuming. The fluorescent sign flickered bright pink and yellow across her face. “Vacant”. The sign was right about her. Definitely nobody home. He tried again. “You want something?” Her lips moved but no sound came out. He didn’t know but it had been days since she had been allowed to use her voice. Nobody had wanted to hear what she had to say. Nobody had noticed her. They had left her in the background. The greyness had consumed her entire life. She’d left and nobody had noticed. Nobody had asked her opinion about anything for years. She didn’t know how to respond. She mouthed the words. Her throat constricted with the sudden movement. She felt like she was going to be sick. The words were stuck. She needed to get them out. This was the first step. Wrong – she had left. That had been the first step. She needed to find her voice now.

“I need a room.” It came out as a hoarse whisper. It was barely audible across the desk.

“What’s that?”

“A room.” She swallowed. Saliva was lubricating her throat. She cleared it and swallowed. “I need a room. Please.” She was determined that her new life would be full of pleasant manners and kindness now. No more demands, name calling or swearing. She was starting afresh.

A Short Story

Who else might turn up in a hotel like this one? And what would their story be? Stories in under 500 words. 

Taylor felt sorry for the man. He’d turned up at 9.45 looking haggard, worn and like he’d been through hell and back. He’d joked that his motel wasn’t an emergency room – maybe he ought to try a mile down the road. Obviously not the right thing to say. Not a joker. He mumbled something intelligible. Taylor put the key on the counter. There was only one reason people came here. Need. It wasn’t a bad place, but it wasn’t the sort of place you had to have ID. “Down the hall, third left.” The guy didn’t look up. Taylor sighed and got off his stool. “Follow me.” There was no point in trying to attempt conversation. The man followed like a child. Taylor wasn’t interested – the man would be gone by tomorrow. He showed him along the dark corridor and into his room. “Bed. Bath. £45 cash.” The man took a leather, monogrammed wallet out of his suit pocket and gave him the cash. Money, or lack of it, was obviously not the reason he was here.

He held the key out to him. “Out by 10.” His glimpse into the man’s life through his wallet made him take a second look. Leather soled shoes, grey pinstripe 3 piece suit, no tie, clean shaven, neat hair. Not the average punter. He backed out of the room but the man didn’t notice. Just stood there staring at his over-polished black leather shoes. The door shut between them and Taylor immediately felt the air change. He paused against the door frame. The man oozed with despair and it was contaminating everything. He needed some fresh air. He stomped back downstairs and went out the back for a fag.

***

Julian registered the door closing with a jerk. He’d registered taking 50 quid out of his wallet for this shit hole of a room. He’d registered the neon sign advertising rooms in its fluorescent flashing blue. He could have gone to his apartment or a decent hotel at least but huge warning signs had flashed up in his head. He needed to distance himself. He couldn’t go where anyone would find him. This had seemed like the perfect option. He’d walked as far as his leather shoes could take him. The tie had been the first thing to go. He’d put it in his pocket. It might come in handy later. The décor lived up to the neon sign’s promise. It was a vacant room. No character. No colour. That was what he was looking for. He’d stepped away from the most colourful day of his life for this? The answer was a resounding yes. He was free. 

My take on Virginia Woolf’s suicide

Virginia's garden

Virginia’s garden – Rodmell

She sat down to write. Nothing new there. It was a daily ritual. She never knew what would come out of her pen or typewriter these days. But this, she knew exactly what to say. Everything was clear. She knew what to do. Write the letter and leave it. Walk to the river. Find something heavy to weigh herself down just in case panic made her want to survive. Walk into the river. Drown. Simple. Everything resolved in one easy move. No more voices. No more headaches. No more noise. Just quiet death. He would understand. He always understood. He looked at her with such compassion. She wished she could feel better. For him.

***

Her coat was wrapped around her ankles and it clung to them like a persistent child. She felt the cold penetrating her shoes, her stockings, her calves and up her legs. It was like icy tentacles shooting through her veins. Still she stepped deeper. There was no turning back this time. As she stepped in to the fast flowing muddy water her coat released its grip on her ankles and floated out like a balloon. The stones in her pockets felt like lead weights dragging her body deeper into the river. She was cold to her chest now and had to keep breathing steadily to stay fixed on her goal. Gravity stepped in and was pulling her down. Her plan was working. The tide felt strong but each muddy step felt like an iron anchor sinking into the mud bottom. Each step grew harder as she tried to pick her feet up and take another step deeper.

The shock of water on her face made her falter. It slapped some sense of reality back for one second and as she opened her mouth the water rushed in. Her head was pulled backwards as the river pulled at her hair. The cold ran through her insides too now. It wouldn’t be long.

***

The armchair sagged under the weight of years. It lay waiting. The window opened over the lush garden while the door shut it out. Spring blossoms nodded around the window behind the glass. A light drizzle spattered on the window. It was damp and cold inside. The electric fire glowed fluorescent against the tiled fireplace. It barely penetrated into the room. The books shivered on their book case and were huddled together for warmth. Paintings hung limply on the dark, damp walls.

He’d taken to being in her rooms, waiting for news. He knew she was gone but the cold comfort from her room cheered him.

***

He knew she was dead. He’d known on the first day. It was now the fifth day. He waited. For the telephone call, or the knock at the door. Everyday he walked to the river tracing the steps he thought she had taken.

They had found her walking stick abandoned on the bank. He roamed the canal path for another sign but there was none. He knew he wouldn’t find anything. She had planned this. It hadn’t been a clumsy mistake when she’d come home soaked to the skin the other day. She had tried then, but something had gone wrong. This time she had been better prepared. It had been definite. She didn’t plan to return. Her letter had told him as much. He didn’t need to take the letter out – he had memorised it in the first few moments of reading it.

***

It was three weeks before they found her. She had been abused by the tide and by the elements. The local boys had mistaken her for floating driftwood and thrown stones at her lifeless corpse.

I fully admit that I am not a Virginia Woolf scholar. This is entirely made up from my basic knowledge of her death.

The Story of Your Life

What would you say if someone asked “What is your story?”  What would you pull out as the important and dismiss as trivial and insignificant?  What value do you give your experiences?  How do you begin and where do you end?  Does it start with birth and end with death?  I was born.  I lived.  I died.  (Who said that?  I can’t remember).  What happens in the middle part?

I have started keeping a note of my memories and I suppose that they are the most important ones as they are the ones that I can actually remember.  They are not always good memories but they have made an impression.  I have lots more memories which I haven’t written down yet and they will all form the majority of the middle part.  Family.  Friends.  School.  Boyfriends.  University.  Nights Out.  Jobs.  Life.  Added to all these fantastic things is always a flip side but no less important.  Losing family and friends.  Heart break.  Nights in.  Losing jobs.  Not being a part of life.  Hopefully a healthy combination of all of the above will make for a rich and varied tapestry of life!

Both of my grandmothers lost their memories towards the ends of their lives and I wish they had written down some of their experiences.  It would be nice to know their thoughts and feelings and how perhaps things don’t change inside a person, even though times have changed.  I would like to be able to give my children and my grandchildren a diary and let them know that they are not the first people to go through what they’re going through.  To let them know that grown ups are not completely bizarre creatures.

Hopefully my story would be interesting to them (if not to rest of the world!).  What is your story?

 

Virginia Woolf Summer Events

Leonard and Virginia, as I Remember Them – Cecil Woolf
Friday 21st June 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Cecil Woolf is the nephew of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. He followed in their footsteps by establishing his own independent literary publishing house in 1960. Among many other works, he publishes the Bloomsbury monographs, which celebrate the life, work and times of the members of the Bloomsbury Group. He was fourteen when his Aunt Virginia died, and had paid a number of visits to the Woolfs at Rodmell and in London. In this talk he will reveal fascinating insights into his time spent at Monk’s House, and his childhood recollections of Leonard and Virginia.
£10 – includes a glass of wine

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by George Charles B...

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by George Charles Beresford Deutsch: Die zwanzigjährige Virginia Woolf, fotografiert von George Charles Beresford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Introduction to Virginia Woolf – Sarah M. Hall
Friday 5th July 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Learn more about Rodmell’s most famous resident, with writer and editor Sarah M. Hall. Sarah is a prominent member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, a regular contributor to the Virginia Woolf Bulletin, and author of Before Leonard: The Early Suitors of Virginia Woolf and The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury. £10 – includes a glass of wine

To the River – Olivia Laing
Friday 19th July 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year, To the River is the story of the Ouse, the Sussex river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941. One midsummer week, over sixty years after the author’s suicide, Olivia Laing walked Woolf’s river from source to sea, resulting in a passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape – and how ghosts never quite leave the places they love. £10 – includes a glass of wine

Monk’s House Garden – Caroline Zoob
Friday 2nd August 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Caroline Zoob, celebrated textile designer and embroiderer, and her husband Jonathan, were the last tenants at Monk’s House, where they spent 10 years caring for the beautiful garden. 2013 will see the publication of Caroline’s book about the remarkable garden that Leonard Woolf created, and in this talk she will reveal fascinating insights into how it has changed over the past 94 years. £10 – includes a glass of wine

A new VW play

“A Knife In The Whale”, a play by Liz Jardine-Smith and directed by Dominique Gerrard will be shown at the Compass Theatre in Ickenham (Uxbridge) on 31st May. “Virginia Woolf spent her life seeking to understand her own mind. This new play explores the links between her creativity and the mental illness she suffered throughout her life.” http://www.compasstheatre.co.uk/index.php/events/a-knife-in-the-whale/

Leonard Woolf Society

An inaugural meeting of the Leonard Woolf Society was held in London on 24th May 2012. The date 24th May was chosen because it was the day of departure of Leonard Woolf from Colombo in 1911. A Symposium on Leonard Woolf is being held on 24th May at Room G37 Senate House, Malet St., London WC1; there is also an entrance from Russell Square. Time is 2.30 pm to 6.00 pm. Registration fee of £10 for the Symposium includes LWS membership for 1 year.

A Humble Tasting

As a guest of the Humble Grape wine tasting, I was swept into a world of intimate vineyards, an historic region and fabulous wines. The tasting itself was an overview of six wines from the Loire region of France, and was a congenial evening with relaxed hosts and excellent food to compliment the wine.

Saumur
Saumur (Photo credit: besopha)

To me personally, it was a comfortable, friendly reminder of a region that I visited often on family holidays and it conjured up memories of fairy tale castles, stunning landscapes and the ever present Loire which makes this region one of the most fertile and best areas of France for growing vines. I already feel well disposed towards these wines – Saumur, Chinon and Sancerre are all names that I am familiar with for their turrets and battlements and now for their wines as well. The sandstone which was once used to construct the beautiful buildings is also apparently a fundamental ingredient of creating the kilometres of wine cellars which pepper this region.

Humble Grape are a small independent wine merchant who specialise only in small and often family run vineyards and their personal selections are often not found anywhere else in the UK. As such you can expect an elite selection of wine for an excellent price. And the best way to know what to buy is to attend one of their wine tasting events.

The Domaine des Mailloches 400.9 is one lovely vintage that we tried, produced by 8th generation Jean-Francois Demont – only 2000 bottles are produced a year if Jean-Francois is satisfied with the quality, and of those, Humble Grape import 120 bottles for each vintage. (The 400 refers to the 400 litre oak barrels in which the wine is matured for 18 months and the 9 refers to the year, 2009.) As Cameron said you can lay this bottle down for a few years, but why not drink it? I agree completely and this was my favourite wine of the night – wine is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family.

I have to say that I’m more of a red girl than a white and although the Domaine Balland-Chapuis Pierres Fines Pouilly Fume was excellent, I much preferred the reds later on in the evening. A couple of them came from the Domaine Pichard & Jourdan (Les 3 Quartiers Vieilles Vignes 2010 and L’Arcestrale 2010). The fact that I particularly liked was that the Humble Grape boys have to fight to get the wine – and it’s worth the struggle. Apparently Philippe Pichard is quite a character who still makes the wine despite his advancing years, but trying to get him to sell it is another story. Thankfully his wife’s gentler business skills are on hand to do the deal! And yes, the wine is worth it. The Jourdan family have managed to break into the insular Loire area and have bought the property retaining Philippe as the wine maker.

As a novice wine taster and often wine drinker I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. An excellent selection of wines that I wouldn’t have chosen myself and some lovely canapes. All in all a pleasant evening looking out over Shakespeare’s Globe, the Millenium Bridge, the Tate Modern and the Thames.

The next wine tasting events – 8th May for a Bordeaux Tasting, 15th May for a Tuscan Feast, 5th June for Italian Gran Turismo, 10th July for Burgundy.

Join the Humble Grape wine club from £180 per month including your first case, a complimentary magnum of Champagne or Bordeaux and various discounts and special offers.

Boating on the Broads

I have been looking through some old slides from my grandparents battered old leather suitcase and came across this fantastic picture of my grandmother circa 1958 or 59.  The box of slides was entitled “The Broads” where I know my Dad was taken on holiday and they went boating, sailing, fishing – anything to do with being on the water.  My grandfather’s passion was sailing and boats which has been passed on to my Dad and Uncle.  We also have distant ancestors who were boat builders too…it must be in the blood!  But back to the picture…

scan0002

I love the fact that she wore a rather natty headscarf to keep her hair tidy whilst out on the river.  Check out also the provisions lined up neatly inside the boat, with proper cutlery and a tea towel.  This was a lady who was prepared and had a family of hungry men to feed!  She also obviously didn’t let standards slip outside the home!

But she looked like she enjoyed herself!  Here she is with Dad…

scan0016 Wearing a practical boating outfit – a pleated skirt and cardi.  And with a radio on board by the looks of it.  It’s like some idyllic scene out of “Swallows and Amazons“, by Arthur Ransome which I would highly recommend reading!

scan0022

I wonder how much the Broads have changed more than half a century later?

Shoot for the moon!

“A shot aimed is a shot lost. Aim with your eyes shut.”

This goes beyond anything any professional sports person will tell you – you've always got to keep your eye on the ball/goal/prize. Work hard, achieve, put the effort in and you will get the rewards, and you will deserve them. But how much sweeter is life when you risk it all and the risk pays off? If you live within the boundaries and follow the guidelines all the time, will you have missed some of the magic? How about all those times when the outside chance comes in? Sometimes life calls for a little bit of blind faith.

I am not condoning giving up trying at all but maybe once in a while we should all close our eyes and see where life takes us.