Thursday, 9 December 2010

Protest and Education

There is much kerfuffle going on in the Uk at present about the Government's proposal to increase University fees.  It has been made quite clear that no money will have to be paid up front - student loans will be available to cover these fees at the time they become due, and graduates will not have to start repaying these loans until their earnings reach quite a high threshold - certainly far higher a level of income than we ever had, even while bringing up 4 children!

One of my children did go to University, and came out of Bradford with a very respectable degree - despite her dyslexia, and very little financial support from us.  None the less, I am, personally, very irritated by this wave of anger on the part of many students and their supporters.  They clearly don't realise that Higher Education, or even basic education, is not a right, but a privilege, that in many parts of the world, for millions of people is no more than a dream. Also, while many degrees can lead to their holders adding greatly to benefit of the nation as a whole, many more certainly do not - we all know of graduates working in burger bars! 

Higher education, like everything else that is wholly or partially funded by tax revenues, needs to demonstrate that it is not taking from those with very little in order to benefit those who are already comparatively privileged, and is of benefit to the nation as a whole. We have a tendency in the West to be in awe of academic achievement to an inordinate degree, yet anyone in the working world with any experience and understanding is all too aware of graduates who have got positions of power and caused much trouble as a result of their lack of wisdom - which is a quality no University can teach.

I had some further education - I trained in Dress & Design, and got a very good pass - when I then went into the working world (in Savile Row) I discovered that all I had worked so hard to learn was useless, and my experience is far from unique.  My husband has been in archeology since the early 1970s, on and off, is extremely experienced, and has been highly valued by much respected archeologists.  He is now working under young graduates with little field experience, who frequently seem unable to recognise the difference between naturally disturbed soil, and evidence of human occupation. He is seeing destruction of evidence and appalling archeological practice of all sorts, but he is not listened to because he has no degree, and the bosses all do. The work is paid for partly from public funding, as was the education of those who run the company - in my view, and all-round waste of public money.

At the same time as this is going on, old people and the disabled, who have limited capacity to improve their situation, no matter how willing, are seeing their support systems cut back, and their tax bills going up.  I hear 'It's not fair' from many of those protesting about increased University fees, well, I have news for you, life isn't fair, and the already privileged should not benefit at the expense of the weaker members of our society.  If you have a place at University, be deeply grateful, most of those who went before you in this world didn't have the chance - at any price.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

An eye opening weekend

The last weekend was a revelation.  My son has spent a couple of months converting a high top transit van into a mobile coffee bar (whilst also working full time in a big department store at managerial level!) The last weekend of August was his first booking, and we went along to offer support, as Jeffery had been helping with the actual conversion and installation and might be needed in an emergency!

This first outing was at an event known as 'The Gathering', a large meeting for Live Action Role Play fans (known as 'Larpers' for obvious reasons)  The Gathering is held near Derby, in the grounds of an elegant Stately home, and takes up a large proportion of the grounds, as it is attended by thousands of enthusiastic players of all ages.  We had never had any close interaction with Larping before this weekend, although Nick has been involved for a long time, and many of his friends are vigorous Larpers, and this is where the revelation lay.  To see thousands of people, from small children under school age, to our contemporaries and people in wheelchairs, dressed up in costumes that could have come straight from 'The Lord of The Rings', engaging in complicated military and magical manoeuvres in one part of the estate, while yet more took the opportunity to have a snack or a coffee, and more searched the traders marquees for improvements to their outfits - well, it was quite astonishing! 

What was even more impressive was the overwhelming sense of friendship, community and support coming from almost everyone, even the busy Stewards, Referees and Marshals were tactful and supportive to obvious fish out of water!  As an ex-craft fair trader, I was VERY impressed by the quality of workmanship in the Traders area, especially the leathercraft. There were plastic (but very convincing) weapons of all sorts, and they were vigorously wielded, too!

Wandering around were Romans and Greeks in full armour, with enormous crested helms, 18th century and later regiments of Highlanders, in full tartan rig, with perky Glengarry caps and Claymores, and hordes of fantasy characters.  Elves in silver wigs, some with blackened faces, others sporting pointed ears, strolled in company with wizards and Camelot-style knights in armour, others were clearly tree spirits, with leaves and blossoms trailing across their faces and clothes, and everywhere there were swirling cloaks in every colour and fabric imaginable! 

Most delightful were the children, all dressed up, and with lots of places to go and things to do!  Can you imagine how wonderful it must be, as a child, to have parents who not only let you dress up in costumes and play with swords and axes, but who join in with you, and take to camping for a long weekend playing with thousands of other grown ups doing the same thing?  Where a child who knows the rules, and is clever enough, can defeat a 6 foot adult in full armour?!  What a way to stimulate a child's creativity and imagination, and ally that fun with applied maths, history, tactics . . . . magical, in every way!

Best of all, Nick's first outing was a great success, despite a few teething troubles - he couldn't make coffee fast enough!  Now we have to help him tweak his systems to be more efficient, ready for the next exhausting event - and find out how to become Larpers ourselves!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Communities, tribes, friendship and the Net.

Communities. Tribes.  There is much discussion about these, both online and in the traditional media - many of the latter being very disparaging about those who spend much time on online social media, implying that they are some kind of social misfits, who can't make friends in the normal way.  This is out-and-out bigotry. 

Online, in particular, there is much talk of 'Tribes', and the modern use of the word is not so different from the original, meaning a group of people bonded through common interest.  That common interest may, originally, have been basic survival, but that's not to say that it is no longer so, in a more amorphous sense.  With the explosion of human beings on this planet, small, village-style communities have become rare in the developed countries - physically, they still exist, but the inter-dependant  survival mechanism no longer functions in the same way, as we have become so much more mobile, we can go elsewhere to meet our needs.  Thus we have lost village shops and pubs, and even the church, once the heart of communities of this sort, no longer has such a hold on our identities.

However, humans are communal creatures, we were once prey animals, deep in our past, and survived and became strong by working together for mutual benefit, and by adapting to changing circumstances not just as individuals, but as groups.  Those who were not part of a community of some sort were always more vulnerable, not just physically, but mentally.  Put simplistically, if we don't share our map of reality with others, it becomes more and more distorted until  we become mad.  We need to compare our picture of the way things are with others' pictures, to learn from others' experience and adjust our picture accordingly.

With the density of population, and the increasing variety of experience, finding commonality with those physically accessible becomes harder, the denser the population, the more likely isolation becomes - and with it, distorted pictures of reality.  Throw in physical disability to the equation, increasing the likelihood of isolation, and the web becomes a vital lifeline. 

I spent many lonely years, surrounded by people and responsibilities, but with no one I felt commonality with, and the strain didn't do my sanity any good!  It's a cliche that the loneliest place is in a crowd, but the truth of it should not be ignored.  We need to recognise the vulnerability of the lonely, and be grateful for the doors that the net can open.  I have been on Facebook now for about 3 - 4 years, and I was very nervous about it at first, with all the prejudices that ignorance produces!  It took me many years to overcome my technophobia, and like many converts, I am now a technophile! (though still a very ignorant one, but now the search for understanding is exciting, rather than scary)

Facebook, and more recently Twitter, have enabled me to reach new communities and new tribes.  I am no longer lonely, so long as I have my Macbook and an internet connection.  This doesn't mean I have no friends that I interact with physically - quite the reverse, the net has helped me keep in touch with people I might have lost touch with as our lives have taken us far apart, physically.  Of my 4 children, only one is physically close, so Facebook, in particular, has become a vital tool in maintaining contact - and even in improving our relationships, in some ways, as we have never been brilliant at writing letters, or picking up the phone!  Messages on Facebook can be read, and answered, at a time convenient to the recipient, which may not be a good time for the person who wants to communicate initially, and contact is easy to keep up with acquaintances through their status messages.  This is not a 'puff' for Facebook, but a recognition of the value of online social networks.  Many of my generation are afraid of such things - their lives are poorer, and they are lonelier for their fear and prejudice.

This is not to turn a blind eye to the risks posed by unwary social networking - but are they really any worse than those of face-to-face relationships?  We hear about terrible online scams - are they any worse than 'cowboy' builders, or the con artists who fleece old people of their savings going from door to door?  Of course they aren't, you have to be a bit streetwise, whether that's a bricks-and-mortar street, or the information superhighway!  The Net is a very sophisticated tool, and is as useful, or dangerous, as the skills of the person using it, just like any other tool.  Would we throw out hammers because someone could use them to batter people to death?! Or even castigate them as dangerous, to be tightly controlled?  I think that's paranoia. 

If you're reading this, you're obviously a net user, what's your experience of online friendship, tribes and communities? How do they compare to your physical ones? Does one lead into the other? Can you help other, less technologically comfortable, people find their online tribes and communities?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

There is a person who visits this caravan site almost everyday, and my heart is lifted every time I encounter him!

He is the Postman, a beautiful, young, black man, with gorgeous ebony skin.  However, what lifts my heart, and is his true beauty, is his smile.  We rarely exchange any words, but he always smiles at me, and it's a smile that lights up the world!  He doesn't just smile with his mouth, but with his whole being, and I feel empowered and energised every time.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The role of arithmetic in fashion!

Over the weekend I managed to do the right front and the first sleeve - which just goes to show that I don't have much of a life!  However, I do have a sense of achievement, which is also highly desirable and not always easy to have.

When I sewed the first sleeve in, I discovered that the shaping was slightly out, but I shan't worry too much about it as I have made a generous size, and with future patterns from the same book, I shall have had a heads-up that the shaping of the sleeve head doesn't translate readily to other yarns.  Once I have washed the finished jumper, I am confident I can shape the damp garment well enough. The shaping of a sleeve head can be tricky at the best of times, and was a job I really struggled with when I was at College in the mid 60s.  Pattern drafting involves alot of mathematics and that really isn't my subject!  As a result of changing schools so often (after my father died when I was 5, we travelled alot, going wherever my mother could find live-in work) my arithmetic skills were patchy, at best, and if it hadn't been for my headmistress at my last school, Miss Conrady, I would never have understood any of it at all!  Bless her, she seemed very stiff and starchy, but there was a caring heart in that rigid bosom, and she devoted many hours of one-to-one tuition in her study to my enlightenment.  Thanks to her I managed enough understanding to cope with most of the numbers that have been thrown at me over the years, and to gain my pattern drafting qualifications (though I wouldn't trust myself to draft anything too complex these days.)

Weather permitting, I hope the next post will be of my finished jacket - weather being crucial, as I like to wash, rather than press, my finished work, and I need good, dry  and warm weather to dry the jumper!  I have never liked the result of pressing knitwear, even with the lightest touch, it tends to flatten the yarn, and, while it may look neat and professional to the eye, my experience is that the result is less comfortable in wear. Maybe it's just me, but there it is - I'm fond of doing things my own way, and don't have much time for rule books!   Like Elizabeth Zimmerman, I like to 'unvent' things (for non-Zimmerman addicts, that's her word for inventing your own way of doing things and achieving the result you want, based on your own understanding of the techniques involved, rather than doing things 'parrot fashion')

What is your passion? Do you 'unvent' things in your own life, too?

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

First Knitting blog!

This jumper is for me!  It is based on a pattern by Jane Ellison, in her book 'Knitting Noro'.  However, much as I love them, I can't afford Noro yarns - they are hand painted, in Japan, and absolutely gorgeous, but aspirational for most people.  I also have a certain ethical discomfort with spending alot of money on extravagantly beautiful yarns, when most charity/thrift shops have either lots of odd balls of unused yarn and/or knitwear that can be unravelled and re-knitted.  At the same time, I am aware of the cost to the environment of synthetic fibres, so like to buy new wool, or other natural fibres, whenever I can afford to.  (Especially as sheep farmers are struggling not just to sell their wool, but to get enough for it to even cover the cost of shearing!)

About 6 months ago the low-cost supermarket, Lidl, offered for sale some all-wool sock yarn at a ludicrously low price, so - I went slightly bonkers and bought lots of it!  Not that I intended to knit lots of socks (though I'm doing that, too) but I have long been in the habit of mixing finer yarns in combination to create thicker yarns of my own colour and texture choice - it's a bit like being able to 'paint' with yarn.  The sock yarn was marked as 'Machine washable', sadly this turned out not to be the case, as it felted easily, and it was withdrawn from sale, many purchasers choosing to return it for a refund. I decided to keep it, make what I could with it for myself, and wash the results carefully by hand - after all, it was pure wool, in lovely colours, and a little care would give me quality garments to keep for many years.

I have already made several jumpers, and only one has shrunk - spectacularly.  I made a cabled jumper for my husband, which turned out to be very difficult to dry in a small space! Since the wool in it had cost about as much as normal wool for a crop top would have cost, we decided to take the risk of washing it in the machine, accepting that it could well be a total loss.  It was. By the time it came out of the machine it was too small for my 2 year old granddaughter!

I am using 3 strands of the sock yarn knitted together on 5.5mm needles for this jumper, blending 5 different colourways to create a tweedy, subtle stripe.  I am, as I almost always do now, using circular needles (Knit Pro Symphonie) as they support the weight, instead of creating leverage on my slightly arthritic hands, and they mean that I can never lose one of them, no matter how disorganised I am, since they are attached to each other!  So far I have made the back and the left front, and sewn them together at the shoulder. I am now working the right front. It is all in garter stitch - very simple, but I love the texture, and the result is very warm (if a little bulky) as it has lots of air trapped in the fibres, like a duvet.

Further progress reports soon!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Finding a way forward?!

I gave myself quite a headache, yesterday.  I have been thinking for some time of selling my knitting online, but haven't been impressed with the usual suspects - ebay, etsy or folksy - as none of them really seem to be pitched at the market I want to reach. Also, i've been unsure of what product will best have a market and be something I can reliably produce - I'm not thinking of trying to run a full-blown business, but I do want to run things in a business like way.  As I have problems knitting large garments (between arthritis and a replacement elbow, my body isn't always that strong or reliable!) I had thought of making quality baby clothes in machine washable yarns, that are both stylish (to appeal to young Mums, rather than Grannies!) and practical (for the same reason) so, I decided to do some serious online research of what's already out there, how it's getting to the market, and what the pricing is like.

After some 4 hours of intensive surfing (Google must have been fed up with me!) I had an intense headache and a severe attack of despair.  The web seems to be awash with baby clothes (especially quirky hats - what's that about?!) mostly in nasty colours and yarns, or  very pretty, but not terribly practical, vintage style knits in horrendously expensive yarns.  Those seem to me to be rather turbulent waters into which to deep my toes - far too crowded with other craft, not very well steered!  So, I thought, what's the situation with adult hand knitwear?

Again, I could find quite a few sites, but while I could find wonderful traditional Fair Isles, Arans and Ganseys, or the kind of arty-farty knits that shriek "Look at me, aren't I clever?! Look what clever knitting techniques I can do!" or even the kind of In-Your-Face brightly coloured, so-called 'Ethnic' knits, there seemed to be no simple, wearable and modern hand knits at all!  Now, while I'm an experienced knitter, and have got my needles round quite alot of techniques (I do enjoy learning - just learned to do 2 socks at the same time, pure delight!) I see no point in designing a garment around a particular technique.  Clothes are meant to be practical, first and foremost, and stylish.  The technique should be a means to an end, not the end in itself, and while fashion is exciting, style is more personal and important.

When I studied Dress & Design at college in the 60s, I rapidly realised that a garment that is uncomfortable, difficult to keep clean, or in any other way impractical for the wearer is not going to earn its place in the wardrobe for long, and the purchaser is not going to return to that source for further purchases, either!  Classic designs last because they work, but they need to be re-assessed in the light of current life, so a style of garment that worked well in, say, the 1940s, is going to need tweaking more than a little to work well in the early 21st century!  However, it would be foolish to throw out the baby with the bathwater, the shape of the human body, and what it does, don't change much.

So, I'm thinking of making One-of-a-kind knits, and blogging about each one as I create it, from design, through yarn selection etc to finished garment, then making the result available for sale, so it will be more than just something nice to wear, it'll be a story, too.

So far, so good, but then we have the issue of a website.  In about 5 hours of surfing, I didn't see one site that I found satisfactory!  I have to start from scratch.  It must be easy on the eye, not too business-ey, but business-like.  It must load quickly, so my potential customers don't get impatient (it'll be picture heavy, so that's crucial)  It must have a youthful feel, as my potential customers will be young and stylish (not easy to get my head round that, as I'm no spring chicken) and not take itself too seriously.  Uuuuum!

I think I shall experiment by blogging about one or 2 garments on here, and ask anyone who reads this to give me feedback, please! And I don't mean compliments, but serious 'this is rubbish' type comments where needed, please!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Changing climates

When i started this blog, we were moving on a regular basis - Sod's Law, now we move comparatively rarely, since Jiffy seems to be getting longer contracts in the same area.  Employers don't seem to be able get a handle on the idea that because we have a postal address in one place, doesn't mean we can't up sticks and work anywhere in the country!  For 18 months we have mostly rotated around Gloucestershire, predominantly near Tewkesbury, now near Cheltenham, maybe he'll get a job in the office of his present employer, and we'll push the boat out, go somewhere really new to us - all the way to Cirencester!!!!

Strangely, even though we don't seem to be moving much, my dissatisfaction with stationary, bricks-and-mortar living seems to be appeased by ever more downsizing!  The more 'stuff' we get rid of, the smaller our home-on-wheels becomes, the lighter and more lissome life feels, like we could release ourselves from the bounds of the earth, and float away to wherever we fancied!  I know we can't, but it FEELS like that kind of weightless liberty.  Yet, at the same time, this small, cosy space also feels so much more secure and safe than an immovable building, with so much more internal space, divided up into claustrophobic portions (known as 'rooms')  One space, with thin but well-insulated walls, so that one is always aware of the background of life all around, part, even, of the outer world, seems to me much less enclosed, and restrictive, than thick walls and larger spaces full of furniture and the detritus of many years of living.

Received wisdom tells us that security lies in a job, an 'owned' house/flat, promotion, etc, yet it seems to me that such things are a velvet prison.  In a rapidly changing world, once more the gift that brings security (what an illusion!) is what made humans so powerful in the first place - adaptability.  The days of 'jobs for life' died long ago, but still we are encouraged to aspire to that, and to all the badges of such 'achievement' - the biggest TV, the latest model of car, the newest fashion, the brand names that the media dictate are the most desirable - I beg your pardon?!

None of these things can be taken with us when our time comes to go - and go we all must (Immortality has always seemed to me the most frightening of nightmares, can anyone explain to me why so find it appealing?) All that we can take with us is our memories and our conclusions on the quality of a life lived.  When that time comes, we will be alone, for no one can approach that transition with us, and whatever deceptions we may have wrought upon ourselves will be exposed. 

My security lies in the knowledge that I have always done the best I could, in the understanding I had at the time, and that where I have made mistakes, and caused pain or damage to others, I have done my best to make reparation.  There is no safety, life isn't safe, never was and never will be. The desire for safety is the desire not to live, for the dead are the only ones with nothing to risk, whom life's vagaries can no longer impact upon. As my bodily frailty increases I know I am increasingly less adaptable, physically, but I believe my mind is becoming more so, as I let go of the fear of disaster.  Disaster is only something for which we have not prepared - as in the saying that there is no bad weather - only the wrong clothes! We cannot, metaphorically, all have a wardrobe to cater for all weather, but we can learn to adapt as the climate of life changes, and that's about being willing to learn and to let go of that which is no longer valuable in the new climate.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Can we stop history repeating itself? Do we want to?

If we don't know, and understand our history, we will be doomed to repeat it.  I was tickled to find this quote in the blog of one of the several young, inspiring bloggers I read. He recognised the truth of it, both on the global scale and on the personal, but I know I didn't at his age! 

When we are young, all is fresh and new, we feel love, and so many other powerful emotions, for the first time, and their intensity can be overwhelming, totally wiping away any other view and making rational decisions quite impossible.  The joy, and pain, of young love is unrepeatable - thank heavens!  When I look back to the see-saws of emotion that I underwent when I was younger, I am deeply relieved I am no longer subject to these gales and tsunamis of perception, but also grateful to have had my senses so exalted.  The calmer seas of age are no less enjoyable, but sailing on a gently rippling sea, in the shelter of the headlands of experience is alot more relaxing, allowing one to savour experiences more deeply.  

Following the General Election here, in the UK, a little knowledge of history also brings a calming perspective!  The election of 1979, when Margaret Thatcher swept to power with an overwhelming majority, began a new era - one that most of us who lived through it regret deeply. Such a majority meant there was very little tempering influence over the actions of a group of people who were rather like religious fundamentalists, they believed utterly in their version of truth, and imposed it rigorously.  As one gets older, one realises that no one has 'THE Truth' and that such a belief results in bigotry, and bigotry leads to oppression.

Thatcherism lead to an enormous increase in the gap between the 'Haves' and the 'Have nots', which was perpetuated by Tony Blair and his 'New Labour" (which to most of us bore no resemblance to any kind of socialism)  I am not particularly Left or Right wing in my political stance, it seems to me that both extremes have some truths, but also have some bigoted, emotional misconceptions in their world views. 

I am extremely heartened to see the Right wing and the Centre of British politics making a sincere attempt to work together for the good of the country - this seems to me real patriotism, which is a different beast from from the Jingoism so often seen in the media, and I hope they can make it work.  The media keep reminding us that this is the first Coalition government since the War - but omit to recall how well that Coalition worked!  Conflict makes excitement and therefore viewers/readers for the media, but it's not good for a healthy society.  Perhaps the cynics/sceptics who keep decrying the stability of this new government would be wise to take a step back and realise that if this doesn't work, their bank balances, along with the rest us, will suffer?  Take the medicine, folks, before we all go to hell in a handbasket.

Monday, 26 April 2010

What kind of geek are you?

Anyone who is not a geek for something is boring, so keep that in mind and find something worth geeking about." Colin Wright   (In 'How to be Remarkable' a free e-book that I heartily recommend - he is remarkable, so it's from the horse's mouth, as they say!)

"Geek' has become a derogatory word for many of my generation, implying a young person who wastes their life on dead-end techno games and and other pastimes such as Warhammer  or LARPing.  I'm with Colin on this one - just because someone's geekery may not be yours doesn't mean it has no value, if you reject their geekery, you are demonstrating (a) you have a closed mind and (b) you are afraid of life! 

If you haven't a clue about someone's geek subject, this is a great opportunity to learn.  5 years ago, my son was working for Games Workshop, running big events for them, I really didn't understand  what it was all about, and thought it was a dead-end job that was all about an escapist pastime, and was worried that it would disable his ability to make a good life for himself 'in the real world' - poor, unimaginative woman!  I care enough about my son that I decided to take part in this table-top wargaming hobby, to find out what it was all about (know your enemy!)

Well. am I glad I did!  I never got very far, to do it well would have required a level of time and commitment I simply didn't/don't have, but I discovered that there is much to learn about strategy, tactics, psychology, sociology, bonding, art, hand-&-eye co-ordination, creative thinking  . . . . a long list of skills, from these guys (and girls!) and their hobby.  I met some lovely people (alot less judgemental than many of my own generation!) who are still adding much joy to my life, and learnt to question my own assumptions at every turn. 

There's also an old saying that if you're bored, you're probably boring!  This experience certainly proved the truth of that to me - these young people (mostly) rarely complained of boredom, there were models to make & paint, if they had no one to actually game with, magazines, events (massive ones, the kind of organisational skills my son acquired still blow me away!) art work to create and admire . . . . . always something to keep the mind active and enthused, and a fine opportunity for those who are socially isolated, in any way, to make friends and develop social skills. 

Geeks? They're wonderful!   Being a geek is about being excited and passionate about life, and I'm an unashamed geek, though my passion isn't for Warhammer 40,000, great though it is!  My passion is about the quality of life, rather than the standard of living, my passion is  about acquiring and sharing skills and knowledge, my passion is about doing all I can to empower everyone I come into contact with to be the most they can be - to be glorious GEEKS! (Oh yes, and I'm also passionate about knitting and 'artist' bears and , and, and . . . . . loads more!)

What kind of geek are you?  If you're not a geek, why not?

You can follow Colin on Twitter , he is @colinismyname, and he points you in the direction of excellent reading!

If you liked this, please spread the word in whatever way suits you! Thanks for reading, please comment and give me some feedback.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Letting go

Many a year ago ( in the mid 1970s, to be accurate) I married a man whose parents lived in Whitstable, Kent in the family home where he had grown up.  Suffice it to say that it turned out he had ALOT of mental/emotional problems, and I eventually fled to Orkney with my children, in order to get as far away as possible from him, without actually leaving the country!  Consequently, it's a place I have very mixed feelings about, especially as we used to go to Seasalter quite a bit when i was a child - so I have 2 different layers of happy memories of dog walking etc on the shingle beach, all tangled up with some corrosive feelings of betrayal and fear, swilling around to make some very confused ghosts in the machine that is me!  Today, my present husband, the delightful Jiffy, took me back there.

The ghosts are no more, I have walked the shingle anew, and left all my pain on the beach.  Moreover, I have filled their space with contented memories of sharing a wild and beautiful place with my Jiffy and Sioni (our ageing but doesn't-believe-it terrier)  The gusty spring wind blew it all away, and we wandered past my ex-in-laws' house on the way into Whitstable, and I was glad it was still there - even though new houses have been built on the garden that 'Papa' loved so much.

We found a lovely restaurant for lunch (the 'Samphire' if you're in Whitstable any time!) and had the best fish pie in years, then wandered around taking pictures of new memories.  It's good to go back as a visitor to your own history, sometimes, once you have enough distance to get perspective.  It helps you let go of 'stuff' that can be a millstone round your neck, even though it's as ephemeral as memories that haunt your present - they can be surprisingly weighty and cumbersome, and their loss is truly liberating.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Easter meanderings

This blog is entitled " A Wandering World" but there hasn't been alot of wandering over the past year! (apart from holidays, which don't really count) I'm glad to say that we'll be doing a little bit of wandering in the next few weeks, not quite holidays, more by way of a change of scene, as life has not yet offered us work to take us somewhere different.

Tomorrow we head for The Smoke, well, close enough! We will spend a few days near Dartford, in Kent and visit with family, then return to Gloucestershire, but to a different site, one where we stayed in a much smaller caravan, in much more uncertain financial circumstances, when we first made Gloucestershire our base in 2004. It's near Cheltenham, and we shall be there while our granddaughter, Bethan comes to stay over Easter. We are greatly looking forward to her stay, and taking her to share all sorts of lovely places that we know - let's hope she enjoys it as much as we expect to!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Memory Lane

We not only live a mobile life, we try to live as minimalist a life as we can, so I've been scanning in the scads of hard-copy photographs that we own, so they are digitally stored (and take up less space) and the originals can be given into the care of my children, who are not so enamoured of the mobile/minimal life!

This process has, of course, resulted in many trips down Memory Lane, which could have been seen as time-wasting, but which I've found to be deeply positive and affirming. As we go through life, it's all too easy to stand in judgement on oneself, specially if others express their dissatisfaction with you! I have finally realised that storing up other peoples' assessments of you in an archive of judgement is the road to madness and depression, not to mention a life that is wasted! Any mother will tell you that you're on a hiding to nothing - everyone, parent or child, could do it much better than you! This archiving process has given me a new perspective on my own mothering.

The 'static' between myself and my children has sometimes led me into believing that I was the worst mother in the history of mankind (no, I'm not exaggerating) and I half expected, despite the wisdom of hindsight, to find many pictures of sad, lost-looking children. Instead I found a treasure-trove of laughter and joy, pictures of giggling faces, families fooling around on the beach, picnicking in parks and generally enjoying life together.

I found, too, reminders of how beautiful my children always were, how they all have a family resemblance in one way or another, and they have handed down the generations. All of us have a resemblance as tiny children, and 2 of my daughters have grown to look remarkably like my sister as they have grown into women, while my son and middle daughter have retained the 'Black Welsh' look that I have (my father's family came from a farm near Lampeter)

I have still only scanned in about half of our store of photographs, which date back, in some cases, to the early years of the 20th century, so I still have many adventures in Memory Lane to look forward to!

Friday, 26 February 2010

A Crystal Palace with wheels.

In1990 we started out on our 'mobile living' adventure. Jeffery's father had recently had a heart attack, and, as his home was on the south coast while ours was in mid Wales, visiting him had been difficult - we could not afford a car as well as a mortgage and 3 children! Becoming mobile was clearly important, but so was having a home - how to square this particular circle? At this time i was home schooling the children (the eldest of the 3 had become school-phobic, following major bullying, and the 2nd had specific learning difficulties which were neither acknowledged nor supported) so staying close to school was not a problem, the only tie was the house and my husband's job.

So, we asked ourselves, could we combine home & transport? To cut a long story short, we decided that a large American-style motorhome would give enough space and conveniences, and give us independent transport, too. With the dubious support of the Bank, and putting our house on the market, we invested in a 'Camp Mate' RV on a Chevrolet base vehicle. The next year or 2 were a VERY sharp learning curve! Over the past 20 years we've had an eclectic collection of vehicles, ranging from our swank RV through a converted ambulance, a bus we converted ourselves and a real Gipsy Vardo (20th century style!) to our present, brand new caravan.

It really has been an adventure, or rather, a succession of them! Nor have they ended yet, the comfort our present home has offered us through the recent, harsh winter has far surpassed any previous home - with or without wheels - so we are not tempted to return to bricks and mortar. We have survived losing a wheel at speed from our caravan while towing (I recommend Al-Ko's safety hitch!) many snowy winters when house dwellers shivered in cold, disconnected houses, and lots of trying extrications of large vehicles from small spaces (e.g. tiny Welsh country lanes!) We have enjoyed spending nights in many glorious locations, such as a lay-by overlooking Jura, where we watched the sunset over the Paps with amazement, or another where we had no tv, phone or radio signal, but were lulled to sleep by the rushing of water flowing down the granite cliffs on the opposite side of the glen.

Our gipsy caravan was probably the most spectacular of our homes, with its glittering chrome, mirrors and glass everywhere - including engraved windows! Tasteful it may not have been, but glorious it most certainly was - if it hadn't weighed so much, we'd probably still have it, but it simply took way too long to get from A to B, and climbing a hill was a nail-biting affair!

Our present, luxurious Abbey Spectrum535 will certainly remain home for some time (barring disaster) and I am confident it will be our window on many new, exciting aspects of Britain, and possibly further afield.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Southwick farm, a very special place.

We are coming to another time of change, a nexus point in our lives. Jeffery's contract in Bishops Cleeve comes to an end a week today, and, as yet, he doesn't have another one to go to - a chance to step back, take a breather and assess our life. This is not unusual in our lifestyle, and, while we may feel a bit insecure financially for a while, it is one of the pleasures of our way of life - we don't so much 'get off the treadmill' as the treadmill/rat race leaves us alone for a while!

However, this is a very different nexus point for from any we've had for a good few years, because this is the longest contract jeffery has ever had - 14 months. To be in one geographical area, let alone one place, has not been the norm for us for 5 years or more, and has been something we have actively avoided, we have itchy feet! This time, we will leave where we have stayed for the best part of a year with great sadness, and will return when life gives us the opportunity with delight. We have spent as much as possible of this last year at Southwick Farm, a Caravan Club 'Certificated Location' ( ie a small site licensed for 5 'vans under a scheme run by the Caravan Club, usually a farm or someone's back garden!) These sites supply a place to site your van, water, drainage and rubbish disposal, and most now supply electricity, too. Some are very basic, and in small spaces, you can feel very much that you are treading on the owners toes, but others are spacious and easy going, and make you feel like you can treat the place as home - with respect for others, of course. Southwick is very much one of the latter, with an added dimension that, once you are a regular, you become accepted as part of the farm's community.

The Southwick community is special, there are houses on the farm, let to tenants, and several small businesses operate from here, as well as the farm's own business. This multiple use means that there is always something happening, people to talk to and a general feeling that you will not be on your own in time of need - but neither is it noisy, intrusive or wearing. It is a sizable farm, growing fodder & bedding for horses, with strong social connections with the country community through hunting and Young Farmers, as well as links through the nature of their business. Through the year there are many social events happening on the farm, from enormous, glorious parties in the farm buildings (truly, the best barn dances ever, from what I could see!) to pony club-type gatherings, barbecues and the Hunt itself, of course.

As well as all that, though, Southwick is a place of beauty. It has big skies, with glorious, mind-expanding sunsets, it has traditional hedgerows sprinkled with venerable trees - many hung with a rich mistletoe harvest this past winter, as the weather changes, Southwick shows a new face - and each one has its own beauty. Even the mud that afflicts us at present has the rich, thick quality and colour of melted dark chocolate! In the snow, Southwick has an ethereal grace and glow, the utilitarian shapes of agricultural machinery and debris are lent a soft, sparkling new shape, sculptural and inspiring, putting one in touch with the long history of the place. In the snow, it's easy to imagine how it must have been in past centuries, the fields and hedgerows, the way of life have really changed only superficially, the link with the earth and nature is still strong in places like this.

Both the people and the place here at Southwick have made us feel at home, in a way we never have before, and we will be very sad to leave, though, as always, excited by the next challenge!