Sassenach Swallow

Migration notes from North to South and…….

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

Spring has sprung in Ilminster

Spring has sprung in Ilminster!

2015-11-05 11.21.24The daffs are out, magnolia blooms and blossom studs the hedgerows like clouds of stars. I find all this incredible having spent so many Februarys battling wild weather north of the border. Sitting on my step eating lunch with warm sun penetrating my woolly layers, feels most unnatural.

The building project that Offspring One and I have been working on since last November is finally coming to a close; the end is in sight. I can now see a house I might like emerging from under the caul of plaster dust, possibly even a home!2015-11-09 15.30.54

It is 18 months since I packed up my beloved old burrow and headed south with a heart high with optimism and a spirit ready for new vistas.  It was however quite different from my imaginings.


I used to believe dear friends, that when you set yourself free on some adventure it would all be glorious, but take heed fellow travellers, that dream was quickly shattered for me!  It has been quite a struggle for this old goat to change her ways and homesickness still wracks me. However, all the experiences I have had, including this house malarky have taught me much and given me many gifts.

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the wee loon

I can now strip walls, ‘cork’ and paint like a pro…actually that is not quite true…. I am as rubbish at DIY as  I  was three months ago and rely heavily on my team of trusty helpers to carry me through! My best mates are in the builder’s merchants where I virtually live and I have gained half a stone in weight from an endless sandwich diet. The highs and lows of refurbishing a property have left me sleepless with anxiety, exhausted from hard labour and, I am sure, permanently impregnated with dust.  My hair urgently needs attention from Sarah at The Hair Shop in Alford!

The skip is abo2015-12-05 16.05.24ut to give way to tubs of flowers, the new windows that came on a pallet all the way from wonderful Matt Rae in Huntly, are all in place, the Morso stove roars contently on what must be a lifetime’s supply of scrap wood and startlingly white paint, not fake wood wallpaper, covers the walls!2016-02-18 13.28.12

Progress indeed!

Offspring One leaves on Friday to resume his summer work at Scarlett’s Garden Cafe then  Small Hound and I will  be left contemplating a room full of possessions that we have not needed for the last 18 months and most probably don’t need now. A daunting prospect. I might have to get yet another skip!

Sunshine helps however and my ever patient new neighbours will certainly be relieved to return from their holidays to find  the third overflowing skip gone, the  hammering, banging, drilling and relentless beat of Radio One ceased and peace  restored  to their quiet street.

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the  lining goes down.. with difficulty!

So, the swallow has landed, for the moment. The nest is almost built, the unpacking begun and somehow life will go on. Scotland will never be forgotten and even as I write my next visit is being planned. Before April can fool me I will be heading up through Cumbria with massage couch in tow and yoga mats in the boot to the open roads, wide spaces and clear light of the place I love best in the world, a place peopled with beloveds that I am sure that will always be called home. I hope to see you there!



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from here you cannot see the long list of ‘snags’ yet to be sorted… ie. the plasterer comes tomorrow!


Summers Passing

This tiny wee lad has joined our clan! Our sixth grandson and at only two weeks old he has already beguiled us all! Welcome little Francis!


‘..and we are put on Earth a little space,

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.’

William Blake

Bella, my gorgeous granddaughter however  still reigns supreme over all these young bruisers…some of whom are already taller than me!

There has been much ‘clucking’ at Scarlett’s Garden cafe these last few weeks as you can well imagine. Loads of surrogate grannies have been waiting expectantly (!) , needles clacking for weeks and weeks! Not least this one but without the needles….!

The ‘twigs’ for the nursery have been slowly gathering over the summer and Daughter in Law One is now very happily ensconced with the little man in a beautiful bower attended on by doting Dad and a stream of delighted visitors!

The cafe garden needs less attention as  summer is withdrawing so I have been gadding about recklessly before my immanently more settled life pegs me down. Work, commitments and bills are peering over the horizon in an ominous fashion but for the present I am still eking out the last vestiges of my sabbatical for as long as dare…and mourning the swallows as they move on without me.

Loaded up with tent and chattels, Dartmoor and my Wild Wise family have been the prime attraction.

The Day Millicent Found the World
William Stafford

Every morning Millicent ventured farther
into the woods. At first she stayed
near light, the edge where bushes grew, where
her way back appeared in glimpses among
dark trunks behind her. Then by farther paths
or openings where giant pines had fallen
she explored ever deeper into
the interior, till one day she stood under a great
dome among columns, the heart of the forest, and knew:
Lost. She had achieved a mysterious world
where any direction would yield only surprise.

And now not only the giant trees were strange
but the ground at her feet had a velvet nearness;
intricate lines on bark wove messages all
around her. Long strokes of golden sunlight
shifted over her feet and hands. She felt
caught up and breathing in a great powerful embrace.
A birdcall wandered forth at leisurely intervals
from an opening on her right: “Come away, Come away.”
Never before had she let herself realize
that she was part of the world and that it would follow
Wherever she went. She was part of its breath.

Aunt Dolbee called her back that time, a high
voice tapering faintly among the farthest trees,
Milli-cent! Milli-cent! And that time she returned,
but slowly, her dress fluttering along pressing
back branches, her feet stirring up the dark smell
of moss, and her face floating forward, a stranger’s
face now, with a new depth in it, into the light.

Thanks to the initiations of weekends on the moor I can now sleep like the dead through raging storms, run through the darkening woods at night unperturbed and have found my Story Telling voice. Campfire councils should, yes really should be mainstream for all ages.

And as for a Medecine Walk…..’When I stand in the thrumming darkness and look up at the startling stars I know i am truly alive. Walking towards the campfire in the pre dawn glow I discern my friends in thoughtful reverie, siloueted  round the early flames – hugging steaming mugs and breathing smoke. We head off individually shortly after into the dewy chill where moon sized cobwebs scintilate as the sun clips the horison revealing filigrees of pearls. I sit back to back with Scots Pine who reveals her secrets to me when i become still.’

if you move carefully
through the forest
like the ones
in the old stories
who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,
you come
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,
that can make
or unmake
a life,
that have patiently
waited for you,
questions that have no right
to go away.
— David Whyte
from Everything is Waiting for You
©2007 Many Rivers Press

Somewhat shamefully I delight in remaining unwashed for days and being barefoot at every opportunity….we have in fact, discovered our feral nature. Always one for woodsmoke and foraging, now its part of the life I breathe… Its coming back to the world that’s the tricky bit…Even Small Hound is a camping Hound now!

I watch amazed as children are urged to ‘eat nicely’ or sit for hours in chairs when in truth, lying in tall grasses watching butterflies, snuggling down under the stars or eating with ones hands is so beguiling. I know there is a happy balance but it would be a tragedy never to have experienced the land as lover, the world as animate ‘ and there for us to be free in’. Thank you…David Whyte. I fear that many people today never get this opportunity or would not even want to if they did.

Our most recent weekend was extended for some by a few days thanks to the visit of Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen who came to Schumacher College for Coming Home to the Animate World.

I tell you, this was life changing stuff and if you haven’t read Soul Craft, Bill’s book, you are in for a treat! Spending time at Schumacher College is also life changing having been co- founded by Satish Kumar of Resurgence fame; everyone works, studies and contributes to most aspects of running the college as a community. It attracts leaders in their field from around the world who recognise here the opportunity to expand horizons and create sustainable methodologies for our time.

The River Dart snakes around Dartington and its depths and stillness have a special quality; attracting heaps of families who picnic and swim in its dark smooth waters.In fact all the rivers round here have had kids leaping and plunging into their warm pools on hot days…its a joy to see. Summer as it can be but sadly soon to come to an end as coats are appearing among the flip flops and sometimes it’s chilly enough for a fire at night.

The Sussex loons need a granny this week as Offspring Two is also off gadding. Here the hedgerows are black with sloes and small blue plums; they resonate with the tick tick tick of wrens and startled blackbirds. The early morning windows are rimmed with white condensation as the nights cool and oh that fire feels delicious in the evening. The early dawn has a deep silence which takes me back to childhood  mornings on the Downs but it soon disipates with the light and distant roar of traffic. The persistant rain has left the clay fields swamps…..

Back to the West next week to settle some more twigs, this time in Ilminster. It still feels odd to be ‘settling ‘ in England but Grannies are useful at times and I need to land somewhere for a while. But not for long. I have felt the wind under my wings…….

Once we get the keys to this new burrow  I will be ably assisted in this flitting and decorating business by Offspring One whose winter occupation it is to undertake tasks such as this……I am very fortunate as he is also very experienced at placating demanding old wifies!.

I will be wielding paint brushes and navigating ladders alongside him in between forging work connections round about. The former is not my forte as anyone who knows me knows….. It always amazes me that paint can spread so far so fast….However needs must!

Time will tell whether this is a long term pause or just a pausette but my guess is that the dark skies, wide empty roads and breathlessly beautiful land up north with draw me home before long as it always does. How could it not? My heart never ceases to beat with the call of the seals at Findhorn, the curlew on the hills in Glass and feel the Correen slate under my feet in Clatt. Sassenach by birth but swallow by inclination, and swallows always return home.

Revelation Must Be Terrible
Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.
Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor
of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.
Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world
you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
and the world steps in
to test the calm fluidity of your body
from moment to moment
as if it believed you could join
its vibrant dance
of fire and calmness and final stillness.
As if you were meant to be exactly
where you are, as if
like the dark branch of a desert river
you could flow on without a speck
of guilt and everything
everywhere would still be just as it should be.
As if your place in the world mattered
and the world could
neither speak nor hear the fullness of
its own bitter and beautiful cry
without the deep well
of your body resonating in the echo.
Knowing that it takes only
that one, terrible
word to make the circle complete,
revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.

— David Whyte
from Fire in the Earth
©1992 Many Rivers Press

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward.

I am a pawn in a bigger game.

Having set myself free from the banks of my old life I can now respond with greater ease to pebbles, stones or small rocks tossed into my river…any alteration to its course by default offers a new opportunity. Pebbles there have been plenty and rocks too.  Wild and Interesting adventures have followed in their wake!

‘What you can plan is too small for you to live’

David Whyte

Six sunny months in this verdant suburb are now drawing to a close. Chased by planners and bulldozers intent on creating social housing outside my door where farmland  flourished only a few decades ago – it’s time to move on.

I have grown so fond of all that is here – the pond with its swans- the people and winding path through the meadow that leads to a fabulous pool, the regular whistle of the train that marks my days. And of course proximity to Waitrose!

“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”

Mary Oliver

Crossing the M5 and leaving the enclave of the West Country proper, I will be heading for the small market town of Ilminster. If I am not gazumped that is! The English house buyers hazard. There the Minster bell tolls in the stillness of night, the conservation town  thrives with its independent shops and happenings happen.

Grandchildren need a granny. Small Hound needs a garden, not a patch on a path. I need a pausing place before I  turn my head for the hills. Meantime, can I live without skylarks?

The sun glints off the apple tree outside my window, laden with fruit – the hedges and grasses stand apparently oblivious they are to become a car park… or do they know their fate?

Feeding swallows twitter on the wires – the gathering sound of autumn. Already the hedgerows are thick with blackberries waiting for jam. Do they know their fate?

My terraced house, seen only once will surely open its blue door to me – but I do not know what it offers. A sea of roof tops held in a circle of hills, drop away from new garden. They have a certain charm but will be a new experience. So will the ‘goat’ track down the steep hill to the arts centre, theatre and cinema. All a far cry from the Scots pine and silence that greeted my waking every day for years.

The hum of traffic is part of life here…sometimes a roar, but on occasions when in the cleft of a hill, or sheltered by trees, a deep silence.  The sunshine and warm air however, are beguiling. I still chase the sun like a true northerner…. starved of it for decades!

I mourn daily the dark spaces and bright skies of Clatt…. and my friends. Old friends can never be replaced.

But Hermann Hesse has the last word.

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slave of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

Call to the Wild

Summer was like your house; you knew
Where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
As onto a vast plain. Now
The immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
Sucks the the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
Ripened until it is real,
So that he who began it all
Can feel you when he reaches for you.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Elderflowers jostle in clotted cream clumps. Every hedgerow and field border are thick with them.

Not only is the sun shining but the air is warm here now and beguiles me with the ease it offers; inside is outside and outside is inside and habitually layered garments now lie abandoned on chair backs and fence posts.

I feel positively guilty at the pleasure of it when I think of my beloved homeland, north of the border still battered by the bleaching north winds that used to tear at my lungs, crisp, clean and delicious.

Not withstanding that, summer is summer and for the first time in years shorts and summer dresses have been dragged from bags under the bed. The Small Hound seeks shade and bowls of water are offered everywhere for dogs.

Rarely is there a brisk blue sky. Mottled clouds span the horizons and the southern haze contains the warmth close to the land. The puddles are cracking and my beans look very sick in their pots. I am not accustomed to container gardening and feel lost for a solution….

Last weekend I was on Dartmoor. The landscape there is very jaunty; it bounces along, up and down, in and out with each ‘up’ offering extraordinary glimpses of deep valleys, dairy cows grazing knee deep and startlingly bright trees. The memory of Postman Pat in his little red van is clear in my head as I head down to Moor Barton and the Call to the Wild camp.

Turning off the road and down the track into shady woodland I am surprised that dartmoor is not all moorland as I had expected. ‘One thing I wont be able to cope with is midges’ I announce to my companions’. The first person we meet is literally covered in midge bites…..and proceeds to attract every tick around. The other nineteen of us however remain almost unscathed! Phew!

The weekend proceeds in a relaxed way, so relaxed that it is easy to underestimate how much we are learning. Wild food appears in tantalising dishes, loads of it, new tasks are mastered and no one bats an eyelid at crawling from their sleeping bag at 3.30 am to hear the dawn chorus,heralded by a solitary Robin ( the Redstart slept in!). This must be because the Night Jars were spellbinding last night as they swept the trees like over fed bats.

By Monday, porridge for twenty cooked over an open fire is a breeze; who needs matches?!

I am unexpectedly part of a ‘village’ community (as advocated by Stephen Jenkinson in his magnificent book Die Wise); a new experience. All ages, all backgrounds and cultures working and learning together, close to the earth. We are as close as brothers and this is only weekend two. Four more to go. With Bill Plotkin’s book Soul Craft as my constant I feel privileged and amazed to be here at this time, this timely time of creating new paradigms for being alive and ageing without regrets.

‘our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet’ Frederich Buchner

Our farewells are warm and heartfelt. The outside world is calling so we scatter to trains and buses and unanimously wait with impatience for our next gathering.


“You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
Except the one in which you belong.”
― David Whyte

Summer Salad

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

The fields are star spangled with buttercups. Hovering in a sunny haze as far as I can see. In Scotland last week the gorse was like a thick river of butter marking out fields and smudging the hills but here the hedges tumble with pink campion, cow parsley, bugles and vetches often making each walk a navigational hazard. The Small Hound returns not only ‘clarted’ in cow pats thanks to the dairy industry but red with mud and sometimes snaking cleavers.

imageIt comes to me that we do not need to garden. ( well not much!) The land lives through us. Celebrating its abundance by foraging is a magical way forward… Not necessarily to be taken up full time in the north east of Scotland but in sunny Somerset…well? There are certainly delicious alternatives to buying ageing salad in a vacuum bag.

Offspring Two has been walking me through the verdant landscape of Sussex and reminding me of the bounty right there, here, under my nose! To name but a few that are available in May….

Alexanders, Bistort, Burdock Leaves, Carragheen, Chives, Common Comfrey, Dandelion Flowers, Fairy Ring Champignon, Fat Hen, Good King Henry, Goosegrass, Gorse Flowers, Hawthorn Leaves, Hop Shoots, Lime Leaves, Lobster, Milk Thistle, Morel, Nettle, Pollack, Ramsons, Rock Samphire, Sea Beet, Sea Purslane, Silverweed, St George’s Mushroom, Sorrel, Sweet Cicely, Sweet Violet, Tansy Leaves, Watercress, Wild Chicory, Wild Fennel, Wild Mint, Wild Rocket Leaves,

Jack by the Hedge is so delicious and just pouring out out of the hedgerows in Somerset; a salad as you walk! Maybe we could take up grazing as a way of sustainable living….’ Pick as you go’!



Cleavers are so enthusiastic to be lightly steamed with butter that they volunteer to come home with us as The Small Hound has discovered. Hawthorn leaves beg to be pulled as you pass and wild sorrel carpets the woods.

Wild garlic and nettle are a bit tough now but had their time, but can make do with plantain and good king henry, fabulous alternatives.

So, death by the sword to country folk who darken the chill cabinets of supermarkets for their greens!

The Small Hound is on lead arrest. She has been so well trained to scatter cats from my garden back home that old habits die hard….. She has voluntarily taken charge of the task for everyones garden in our little row… a full time job and not popular. There is a cat on every wall, and another peering round every corner. If they didn’t run things would be different! No more the frantic scratch of nails on the path as she tears past.

Notice has been posted of the demolition of the abandoned houses across the green space in front of our house. Once a garden it is studded with apple trees but will soon be a car park. We will be enclosed by a tide of new bungalows and social housing. I do not fancy living on a building site so the swallow will migrate again at the end of the summer.


“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Mary Oliver

The Pause

 David Wagoner says it all…..

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest know
Where you are. You must let it find you

It is cold as cucumbers.  The hedgerows are lathered in primrose and  the ground is parched and cracking after weeks of sunshine yet todaythe air chills my skin as winter does.image

Months of a nomadic existence  have led me to this place. Some have called it ‘ The Armpit’.

However, I do not see the boarded up houses awaiting demolition or the graffiti that adds a slash of colour to the Weavers Arms but relish instead the verdant path that meanders alonside a burn  and through a meadow to a smooth pond with swans. Fishermen on Sundays. At the end of this path is another delighimaget;  a  sports centre with a brand new sauna. ( and lane swimming!) When I arrived on Day One, the foyer was jammed full of Keen Beans all clutching bright sports bags who cheered me in! It was 6.30 in the morning!

The Small Hound waits patiently outside the pool wrapped in my reassuring jersey.

The dazzling  haze of green that covers the trees heralds what seems to my ‘north of the border eyes’ , a very premature summer. Wild birdsong and a persistent Wood Doo wake me before dawn… Or is it dawn? Hard to tell with the street light outside my window.

The roar of the M5 at rush hour sounds like the roar of the sea at Findhorn Bay, a place that rests close to my heart. A happy association.

Small children chatter their way past my door to an Offsted Outstanding Primary school. Everyone smiles. Nearly everyone chats.

I have landed. I am home. For six months I can rest in a tiny, immaculate white cottage. It stands in a secluded row, set back from the road, a residue of a workforce that presumably peopled the now skeletal red brick woollen  factory that quietly crumbles on the other side of town.

I care not (any more!) that the promised new porch has left me stumbling through a red brick building site for well over a month because the Small Hound has decided to resist giving sport to the cats, and my postage stamp courtyard is bursting with beans racing up teepees.

Nearly every day so far is a sunny day and finds me upturned in Eldest Offspring’s cafe garden, (  weeding, pruning, planting or painting and varnishing if not. Part of a hive of busyness I have a purpose, meaning and fulfilling work while I cogitate the future. I am indeed blessed.

You see, I can also cross a field to watch Live Streaming from the National Theatre or sob my way through ‘Still Alice’. I then can drop into Waitrose to restore myself with a free cup of tea if I so wish….. Before heading home through the kissing gate. This is extraordinary after 40 years in the sticks and is in fact the envy of even more urban friends.

Speaking of kissing gates, the Small Hound and I have learnt one big lesson. On returning home last week laden with homemaking necessities; a large door mat, a broom and bundle of carpet offcuts, we got stuck mid gate. Wrangling and wrestling and using all my best yoga moves we remained thus until something finally gave way and we shot through and out at full speed! I am sure there is a salutory moto there.

Trains tear to London and down to the West Country at very regular intervals. I cautiously cross the line on my daily ambles with the Small Hound, feeling the thrill of travel every-time, yet, like the newly arrived swallows I am happy to rest up for now.

Enough migrating for the moment.

Last Post from Lyon

We come whirling out of nothingness scattering stars like dust. The stars made a circle and in the middle we dance. The wheel of heaven circles God like a mill. Turning and turning it sunders all attachments. Rumi

After a wonderful month this chapter in Lyon is now closing … I have learnt so much, not only French and made some great friends. The links with my homeland continued throughout my time here regardless of distance, including the  assignments for  Briony Goffin’s creative writing group in Milverton. The piece below came with the instruction to write for 20 minutes on favorite or memorable toys or games.

My babies are not dolls.

Mum pats the sofa in a confiding and comforting sort of way. I snuggle in beside her in gleeful anticipation.

The catalogue is open on her knee and I carefully and methodically turn the pages – examining each baby in turn for their qualities.

I am well practiced now and know what to look for. A pretty face, blue eyes but most essential of all is the soft body. Oh yes and the clothes. This one in a blue romper is perfect.

From that day forward I wait. It can be weeks and I am not good at waiting.

There is that wriggle of excitement that denotes a certainty of satisfaction and also that other one, the more uncomfortable one, the anxiety that she may not come, may not be ‘in stock’ and therefore exchanged for a lesser model. Do they care enough to get it right?

Tissue paper crackles. Cold is at the window. It is the day.

Lost in a family of elders I am derided for my impatience. Church. Lunch. Walks and tea. It goes on and on.

Now the Tree. At last. Once again I am teased and taunted by older siblings who have an axe to grind; there are indeed quite a few gifts for me. I squirm silently.

I cannot help but scan the wrappings – shape and size of course and always a box – she always comes in a box.

My turn now. The striped paper and huge red ribbon add to the delay… is she here? My heart depends upon it.

Staring out at me through the cellophane window is a baby. Rose red lips, curled plastic hair and cheeks all round waiting to be kissed. In a pink dress and little white socks she is not quite the one but she is very pretty and smells delicious.

She scrambles out of the box and amidst a sea of paper and string we fall in love.

Her soft body nestles into my soft arms as I rearrange her frills and examine her interesting knickers and little plastic toes.

The banter goes on over my head. Behind the Christmas tree now happily  forgotten, my baby and I  sing together, oblivious to dinner preparations and champagne corks flying.

Later, we creep unnoticed up the stairs into the darkening house. I find Matilda  sadly sitting in a corner. I gather her up and kissing her briefly on the cheek, tuck her in beside the baby and sing a sleeping song.

This is my best Christmas EVER.

Le Weekend – Week Two

‘Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning…Awaken your spirit to adventure; Hold nothing back, learn to find ease and risk; Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,For your soul senses the world that awaits you. John O’Donahue

The snow is not far away here. Climbing up the steep hill to St Just this afternoon, I look back to Grenoble and the Alps in the fading light. It is such a surprise and so exciting to see the crooked outline of mountains over the rooftops of a city. This hill rises up from the network of lanes of the old city through narrow streets and into an increasingly suburban landscape.


imageLyon is intriguing. I am gradually falling in love with it. I have been beguiled by the golden buildings, wide surging rivers and arching bridges. Ochre and orange   nestle side by side on the waterfront, bordered by trees and wide walk ways. The bike routes snake the streets, deeper and deeper into new areas yet always safe. It is not big as cities go yet very divers and even I, with a non-existent sense of direction, find my way home with ease.

You must wear a helmet’ says a well meaning friend. A helmet?! You are kidding! This is France. I did see one older gentleman suitably protected as he tentatively manoeuvred his little scooter amongst the crowds last Sunday (they are de rigueur here) but no one else would consider it. The Grand Lyon ‘velos’, heavy unwieldy beasts that they are, are on every corner… and are part of the subtle subterfuge to encourage a lifelong love affair with Lyon… I swear it.image

For the rest, those that live here, pavement and street alike are their playground; ignoring lights, bouncing on and off curbs and bypassing crossings. Wings in action! The city moves and we all move with it.


Today I skirt the Saone with fingers for the first time frozen to the handlebars of my bike, en route for the Musee des Confluences. Almost sick with cold I take a tram for the last section of the journey to this brand new, architecturally stunning centre in the old docklands, only to be met with queues round the block. Bitterly disappointed I decide to wait till midweek to repeat this expedition and go ‘walkabout’ instead.image

Yesterday I saw ‘Mon Ombre’ at Espace Tonkin with marionettes and a clown that left me spellbound. More than one treat per weekend is probably greedy… but that is what Lyon does for you… leaves you greedy for more.

La France – Week One

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Apologies to Quentin Blake

You could only get a more international group on a metro. Even then it would a challenge. We all mouth out unfamiliar sounds like nursery school kids with their times tables, some with more success than others. My new friends are much nearer their school days than I am hence the terms, ‘Passé compose’…..’prenoms relatifs’, direct or indirect, all ripple off their tongues with ease.  I have to wrack my brains to remember anything about them at all…!

My head aches after three intensive hours and I stumble out into the dusk and a convenient Cafe Bar across the road where I can sag over a ‘Pression’ and pretend to read Le Monde.

Its Le Weekend and after a long and frustrating hour working out how to access the city bike and much help from passersby I speed out under a blue blue sky to find parks and satisfyingly flat shingle routes between trees and grass. I feel greedy for green spaces.

After peddling miles, getting gloriously lost and skimming along beside the shining steel surface of the Rhone bordered by washed out rushes, I come upon young acrobats walking wires, or trying to, stretched between trees. In the hot sun they roll over and around the wires, bodies glistening, swinging and bouncing. They make it look so easy. It seems that in order to really become accomplished you bounce the wire till it looks impossible but in fact becomes possible… bringing it close and becoming intimate with it… an analogy for all life’s problems…?

Today its cooler. Muffled in my big coat I meander the other way, down toward La Mer. It never ceases to delight me that the road signs say Paris, Marseille and Grenoble, fielding my imagination in interesting directions. Even ‘La Mer’ printed on the path leads me off on a mental journey to Provence and a feast of memories while I weave through a sea of Sunday walkers to find the route for cyclists. Its slightly downhill and the wheels whirl almost by themselves, the people disappear and I skim on alone… heaven.

The roads are quiet  as the sun goes down and it feels blissful to idle my way home, click the bike into place and waddle a bit awkwardly  towards a ‘Chocolate Chaud’ and a welcome rest.

Tomorrow is soon enough for verbs.

 Tell me, what is your plan to do?

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver. Carp Diem.

South for the Swallow


It always gives me a thrill when the Eurostar emerges into France  and shoots across the flat landscape toward Paris.  Today it is dank, grey and foggy… no different to London!

As it pulls into the Gare de Nord it is hard to contain my childlike excitement. There is however no time to ponder as my train is late and it is to be a very quick gallop to the Metro for my connection.

My rucksack only holds three sets of clothes and a yoga mat but weighs a ton and wobbles in an undignified manner as I run with arms full of bags and bits. I feel a trickle run down my spine as over dressed, I leap up the escalator at Gare de Lyon, grapple for my glasses and scan the board for my departure gate.

I have missed it.

At this stage of my sabbatical I find it easy to lose confidence in my vision. When the waves of anxiety roll in on their circadian rhythm I wrangle with their voices; maybe I have gambled too fiercely and daringly with my life, usurped any chance of finding work or a landing place again? Perhaps I will not emerge out of this mini Gap year as a butterfly but instead, a fully fledged parasite; prematurely dependant on the state for support.(A timely synchronicity to me volunteering for Crisis this last Christmas?)

Trust… that ephemeral word rears its spectral head out of the mist and spins me like a paper bag in a whirlpool.

‘Well!’ I consol myself; at least I am having an adventure. I have put my neck on the line, challenged myself and am learning many exciting things that I would never have leant if I was safely ‘back home.’ In addition, The Offspring (sprung off from where or what I wonder…) remind me that adventures don’t have to end. Life doesn’t need to be safe, and, happiness is where you are and not dependant on owning a roof (bills, lawnmower, oil tank and slipped slates after a storm)

 ‘What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?’ Anon

It is doubtful whether being able to throw a pot on a fast spinning wheel or learning how to create a beautiful image from a block of wood and magically print it will be hugely appreciated on my CV but they have both been integral to my homecoming whilst attempting to wean from all that has been familiar for forty years.

A Workshop on empowering us to create personalised rituals with Sue and Gilly of The Dead Good Guides (, another exploring the profundity and possibilities of the inner life with Marian and Wendy from Body Soul Europe, ( and then being awakened from sleep by touching the possibilities of living and dying well with Stephen Jenkinson of the Orphan Wisdom School ( will  however all continue to inform how I live and work forever.

Now France! A whole month in Lyon with Alliance Francaise!  My mini life is packed into bags and abandoned  in Somerset. The Small Hound is parked happily with Sibling One on the farm…. at least I hope she is. Sibling One has become somewhat hard of hearing. The night before my departure when chatting I was reminding her of The Small Hound’s undoubted qualities. She replied,        ‘ yes, yes, we will have it for breakfast’. Hum….

All earlier excitement is well justified on arrival in Lyon.

My curiosity now deepens as to what will unfold from here… butterfly or parasite… that is the question!

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