Friday, April 29, 2011

A Perfect Day

Well it was everything that I was hoping for and more - what a perfect day! A bright Spring morning, marching bands, crowds of well wishers, flags galore, a beautiful bride, a handsome groom, a procession of carriages, a throng of happy people celebrating the occasion and then not one kiss but two!

My day started at around 7am with a lovely cuppa in my niece's cosy kitchen. She lives in a beautiful stone house in Great Somerford Wiltshire - one of those chocolate box villages surrounded by green fields and English countryside.
Then my sister Julia slipped into something a little more formal - her wedding dress and tiara - while I put on my 'bridesmaid' dress and hat on. Champagne and Smoked salmon was served and we didn't move from the TV for 3 hours - well except when I jumped up to throw the confetti over the happy couple when they emerged from church - Its still all over the lounge floor!

We oohed and aahed over the Queen's outfit, admired the handsome princes and got a bit nostalgic over how they must be missing their mother today. We offered fashion advice to all the celebs as they arrived and then went all gooey when the bridesmaids emerged. It was when the bride arrived that rendered us speechless - Didn't she look splendid - just splendid! The service was very grand but seemed very natural at the same time and you can just see that they love one another and will do 'till death do us part'.

When it was all over we changed into red, white and blue and made for the local where the locals were agog with it all. A barbecue was in progress and we sat outside toasting the happy couple amongst assorted children who were running around in princess outfits and then we walked over the allotments to Frog Lane where a street party was in progress and more food was thrust into our hands.

The villages made me feel really welcome and I have to admit I envy their community spirit and their beautiful surroundings.
Coronation chicken for dinner and the board games are about to come out.

Later we can watch it all again - several times I suppose - I don't think that I will ever tire of watching and it will bring back memories of a perfect day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Head in the Clouds

Its amazing what there is to do in and around my hometown- just today for instance, we went up to the site of one of the old collieries where a statue has been erected to commemorate the miners who worked there. St Helens was built  around the glass industry and coal mining. In the early part of the twentieth century it had five coal mines - all fully operation. Our coat of arms depicted the motto 'ex terra lucem' - out of the earth light. Now they are all closed and the buildings demolished and Pilkingtons Glass is greatly reduced in size and other sources of employment keep the population busy.

The statue was erected in 2009 and is the work of a Spanish sculptor  Jaume Plensa. It takes the form of a young girl’s head with her eyes closed in a seemingly dream-like state and it stretches an imposing 20metres into the sky. The piece has a white, almost luminescent finish in marked contrast to the black of the coal that still lies below. I think its beautiful and to see it set against the backdrop of a summers blue sky was amazing.

We then stopped off at Sankey Valley for a country walk along the banks of the Sankey brook. It used to be the site of the first canal ever made in England - The Sankey Valley Canal and it now a well used nature trail. Today it was lovely to see families out and about enjoying a walk or cycling along the trails on a lovely Spring day. there 's something about the sound of  water and the stream attracts lots of bird life which provided a tranquil soundtrack to our meander. I wandered off the path into the woodland and found some lovely patches of bluebells and wild garlic to feast my camera on.

After popping home to Julia's for tea and cake we spent the rest of the afternoon at Bents Garden Centre which is much more than a garden centre and filled with desirable homeware and decor - Not at all shabby but very chic. I think I would like to be reincarnated as one of their buyers - whoever they are they seem to know my taste and I could have spent the earth!

Another lovely day - I wonder what tomorrow will bring - I can only dream!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Spring Parade

England is just one big garden at this time of year  - it's so good to be back in this green and pleasant land - and such a rich and lush , dazzling  emerald green compared to Africa's khaki bushveld. My sister Julia's garden is a pocket handkerchief of colour - purple pansies, orange azaleas,  pale yellow gorse and a beautiful tree laden with pink cherry blossom that flutters around like wedding confetti in the breeze.

Today we drove through narrow winding roads into the nearby countryside where bright yellow rapeseed crops clashed harshly with the rich green fields bordered by sprouting hedgerow.  I oohed with delight as we turned each corner and Julia had to stop the car every five minutes while I jumped out with my camera. I just love the fact that the countryside is so accessible and that there is still so much of it teeming with wild flowers  - my favourite being bluebells.

We came across a  whole bank of them at the top of Shirley Brow - a sea of shimmering blue in the dappled shade. Again an emergency stop and I approached them on springy ground to take better photographs (they are on my other camera and I haven't packed my adapter to get them onto the computer but when I do I will share the photos). The  earthy forest carpet was filled with that hyacinth perfume that just sceams blue - a sight to remember and the fragrance unforgettable.

I could hardly bear to leave that place but we were off to the Houghwood Golf Club for lunch with a view - over the verdant Lancashire plain to the Mersey estuary.It was our lucky day as a Spring wedding was taking place at Houghwood  - ribonned  vintage cars, top hats, tails, a beautiful bride resplendent in ivory satin, bridesmaids in soft lilac and an assortment of wedding finery and hats to admire.

Driving back through Billing, Crank and Crawford villages - Union Jacks and St Georges flags fluttered  outside stone churches and quaint cottages to celebrate England's patron saint - reminding me that I am well and truly home!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over!

Hooray - I am off to see my family in the UK tomorrow and have been so busy of late that today I had a mad run around trying to get myself organised. No doubt then I get to 'the other side" I will find myself with all the wrong clothes and random odd items but my late mother would be very proud of me as I heeded her advice and am making sure that I am leaving home not only with clean underwear but with pristine new undies!
My favourite everyday/wear under your T shirts bra from Woollies has been discontinued  and replaced with something made in China that is padded - the last thing I need is padding so I have been searching for a replacement - to no avail. Today I dashed into our local old fashioned proper bra shop and was measured and fitted. What a shock - lets just say that there is a little more of me than there used to be - actually a lot more - in fact my cup runneth over or as they say in Calendar Girls "we are talking going to need considerably bigger buns."
It is Murphy's law that sexy slim bra straps are the new fashion item at the moment worn with the asymmetrical neckline - my new bra straps resemble car seat belts and would probably keep my assets stationery at the speed of light. Very reassuring as I take off and land several times in the next couple of days. On the plus side (excuse the pun) I cannot tell you how comfortable I am feeling right now - my new bra fits like a glove - well a pair of gloves really!  Another advantage is that I doubt that I will every bump my nose on anything again and I am sure doors will open for me without me having to knock.
The ladies in the bra boutique were very helpful, kind and compassionate whilst I mourned for my 34B cup of yesteryear.We agreed that it is important to keep abreast of developments in later life - its very easy to let things slide!
So tomorrow I will stick my chest bravely out and head north in my new undies.
I am not sure how frequently I will be able to get time to blog in the next few weeks but rest assured you will hear ALL about my travels in my return.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When did shabby become chic?

I have never really understood the concept of shabby chic – who would want to buy furniture that is chipped and scratched and what’s more pay a small fortune for it. Let’s face it – these professional stylists may have enough time to trawl around second hand shops in order to find pretty objects but whenever I pop into one its seems to be crammed with brown Draylon suites and curly imbuia side tables! Of course we are supposed to recover these in faded florals or casually fling fringed throws on them to cover the cigarette burns or paint the furniture in duck egg blue or white and then sand it all off again.
When a friend suggested lunch at a new place in town last week that specialises in this look - I thought great, I am going to see some lovely nostalgic pieces and who knows I may pick up a bargain. Boy was I wrong – not only was the decor on sale similar to stuff that I sent to the rubbish tip when I last moved home – the price made more than my eyebrows rise – it elevated my blood pressure!

There is a very fine line between shabby chic and junk and very few of us seem to be able to distinguish between them. The shop’s name gave the impression of gracefully aged mementos of a bygone era but was filled with battered old ‘crap’ and very overpriced ‘crap’ at that! Things our parents would have given to the bin men! I was examining one such item – a tatty old overpriced cushion when the owner strolled over and waxed lyrical about what a wonderfully romantic accent piece it was. I loitered awhile waiting for my friend to arrive surveying grungy fabrics, tarnished mirrors and insipid prints in over-gold frames and then a blood curdling shriek pierced the air.”Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God” shrieked some female. I hurried towards the commotion expecting to find at least a severed head or a 16 metre boa constrictor but no, the reason for this wild screeching , was a battered old settee with a carved wooden frame, stuffing pouring out of its dirty brown upholstery and the lattice work at the back looking like an old tennis racket that had been left in someone’s garden shed for too long. I stood in amazed shock while I listened to the owner and her friends make orgasmic moans and squeals of delight as they circled this 'amazing find'. I couldn't help think of the fairy story the Emperor's New Clothes - you know when no one will actually say that the King is walking around naked in case they look foolish.

I was rescued by the arrival of my friend and we sauntered into the adjoining empty coffee shop and sat on clapped out chairs at our wobbly painted table complete with artificial lavender springs and ordered something from the very limited menu - obviously the scarcity theory was carried over to the kitchen where wartime like rations were being drooled over. The food was mediocre, the service shabby and when the bill arrived - well that was very chic! I wont be going back - Shabby Chic is not for me - I appreciate old and beautiful objects and i know that recycling makes sense but I know when I am being conned!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

There’s nowt so queer as folk!

“Come and help me get these curtains down,” I shouted to the better half – the one with muscles – the other day, and before I could help myself I added, “It’s a lovely drying day and mark my words, there won’t be many of these before winter sets in.” The latter part was said in a broad Lancashire accent as if uttered from a shawl wearing, apron clad, clog hopping pinch faced washer woman! The fact that ‘winter doesn’t set in’ here in PE and that we are living in the middle of a 3 year drought made me feel pretty foolish!

Now where did that come from I thought and then this got me thinking about some of the other voices and phrases that rattle around my mind and occasionally pop out of my mouth. Words like ‘salt o’thearth’ when thinking about the fine qualities of some of the less pretentious people I know and “well I ‘ll go t’ foot of our stairs” – when experiencing an unexpected surprise (granted I haven’t said that for a while but I think it quite often). And “no wonder the weather is all upside down –its them Russians sending rockets into space.” Of course some of these words are part my growing up the latter phrase belonging to Nan Westwell who blamed most things on the Russians!

My roots are in the north of England but my family weren’t shawl wearing, apron clad, clog hopping pinch faced washer women so I can’t blame it all on them. I think TV programmes of the day are partly to blame. Coronation Street for example was full of characters who said “here you are chuck.” which I have been heard to say when dishing out the ice cream and chocolate sauce! I visited Coronation Street once on a trip to Granada Studio and wandered around the cobblestones looking for the Rovers Return so I could catch a glimpse of the ‘snug’ and I even knocked on Vera’s door to see if she wanted to come to Bingo. I was very tempted to buy a pair of Betty’s shocking pink plastic earrings in the souvenir shop but alas I didn’t have the leopard skill fake fur jacket to compliment them.

Catherine Cookson was in her prime around this time too. For those too young to remember or not acquainted with British fiction circa 1970, she wrote these gritty northern period dramas with characters like the Mallen Girl, Katie Mulhollnad and Tilly Trotter (yes really – there was a Tilly Trotter trilogy). It was all one story really – just sold...sorry told... in different ways. Always a poor but proud young woman, always a virgin, always set upon by a well to do mill owner or the son of a wealthy landowner, always another scheming female to be reckoned with and always a happy ending with the said Tilly Trotter, Mallen female or Katie ending up rescuing a failed business or working her fingers to the bone (another one of my recent utterances) to save the family name and marrying a wealthy mill owner, wealthy landowner or whoever she hated at first sight in the first chapter! It was all very addictive stuff and full of north east of England euphemisms that have been translated into 17 languages, but how they translated, `I'll skelp the hunger off you' or `He's got a slate loose' or `Bugger me eyes to hell's flames!' I really don’t know!''

So, as I was saying, all this norther-ness rattles around my mind and occasionally pops out of my mouth. One day I am sure that they will find a cure of AIDS but I am a product of the north and a child of the fifties - a terminal condition, I am stuck with it - “Ee By Gum”! There’s nowt so queer as folk!”