Saturday, 19 August 2017

Not that simple

My parents didn’t want me to marry Frog.  I did though and they never forgave me, and I never forgave them for trying to stop me.
    We’re not very good at dealing with conflict in our family. We sweep things under the carpet and smile. I carried on visiting my parents and we carried on chattering about inconsequential things, my migraines – which started with my marriage – a sign perhaps that all was not well.

‘Well,’ said my brother as we walked round his farm after my mother’s Thanksgiving Service in March. ‘That’s it then. We’re orphans now.’
    (Our father died in 2006.)
    ‘Yes, isn’t it wonderful,’ I said. ‘Free at last.’
    I shocked my brother, but I meant it.
    But it's not that simple, is it?

As I said in the previous post, Frog and I brought back a lorry-load of stuff from my mother’s house, including boxes and boxes of books which my four siblings who had already been through the bookshelves didn’t want. I piled them up in the conservatory and started to go through them. Most of them I rejected out of hand: novels I knew I’d never read; history and biography which I find boring; books of my father’s on boats, World War Two, shooting. One book however caught my eye - A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson.

I remembered my mother showing it to me a few months before she died. I’d thought at the time that it sounded vaguely interesting but my mother couldn’t really explain its significance to me because she had no puff left to talk and her brain was addled by all the drugs she was taking to stay alive. In any case, I used to tune out when she went into long stories about her grand friends or described aristocratic family trees. She did however say something about a friend with the extraordinary name of Philippa Tennyson d’Eyncourt. How could I forget that?

I picked the book up and saw that it was inscribed to my mother ‘with thanks and love’ from the author. I then found my mother’s name in the Acknowledgements. I started to read the Prologue and came across the following:

A daughter’s attempt to break free from the parental bond can become an act of rebellion against an assumption that submission is not only expected but integral to the relationship.

Yes! I thought.

I delved further. The book turned out to be an account of the women in the Sackville-West family. The author is the daughter of the aforementioned Philippa and grand-daughter of Vita Sackville-West (gardener and one-time lover of Virginia Woolf). According to the family tree in the front of the book, Juliet was born the year after me, and Philippa the year after my mother.
    Knole House, the Sackville family seat, is in Kent a few miles from where I was brought up and where several of my family still live. We went to the house once on an outing from school although I don’t remember much about it. More vivid is the sexually-charged game of hide and seek (or something) I played with friends in my early teens in the park one summer evening.
    My mother was friends with Bridget Sackville-West who lives at Knole.

Knole Park (photographed by Suz, my mother's carer)

I began to understand the significance of the book, and because my discovery of it seemed both apt and timely – not to say synchronistic – I began to read.

The book takes each of the women in turn down the centuries, starting with Pepita the Spanish dancer with whom 'Old' Lionel Sackville-West fell in love in 1852. While all of them struggled with convention and the limitations imposed on them, not to mention the inhumanity of the upper classes (or am I just biased?), it’s Philippa’s story where I am now with its lack of both love and a meaningful occupation that’s really touching my heart. In fact, I’m finding it almost unbearably sad.

I am relishing my freedom, and I probably couldn’t talk to my mother about Philippa even if she were still here, but I’d like to.

One of my mother's last outings - visiting Knole to have lunch with Bridget
(photographed by Suz)

Sunday, 13 August 2017


When I started this blog back in February 2011, Ellie wasn’t even one year old. Now she’s seven – and much much easier to look after. She’s pretty obedient and can manage with one hour’s walking a day rather than two, so long as she can spend the rest of her time in the garden, which is something of a relief for my poor old legs.

Ellie this morning
Ellie 6 years ago
She only has one vice (and in my experience all dogs have one): barking. She barks at large vehicles, especially 4x4s and especially if they’re towing a trailer. It must be her farming ancestry. And she barks at the sun and the moon because she thinks they’re hot-air balloons of which she is absolutely terrified.
    Recently we had her clipped, as is the fashion, ready for the hot weather. (What hot weather?) She did keep her magnificent tail however – which you can just see in the photograph. We discovered that under all that fur was quite a thin dog so I’ve upped her rations. She still looks quite thin.

Back in January 2015 I blogged that my mother had been taken ill. Ever since then her health deteriorated and she finally died in February this year aged 89. In the last month or so we have been trying to clear her house ready for sale – or at least my brothers and sisters who live close by have been trying to clear it. Frog and I made the four-hour journey from Devon to the house in Kent in a large van and spent a couple of days loading it with stuff to take away.
    If you’ve ever done it, you will know that clearing away the remnants of someone’s life is a brutal experience. All one can think is that the person concerned does not need all this stuff any more and that they have gone on to higher things.
    All this stuff of course, some of which I’ve passed on to a charity shop but some of which I’m keeping, has meant sorting out a lot of the stuff we have ourselves in order to make space for it. I’ve always been a sorter-outer but Frog, who has always been a hoarder, has turned into a sorter-outer too and has begun to tackle his barn of a shed, a double garage, his music room and everywhere else in the house and garden where his stuff has accumulated around obstructions like debris in a river – outside the shed and garage, outside the back door, the spare room, the loft, the kitchen table and all available corners, shelves and floor space.
    As you can imagine, it’s fairly chaotic.

Outside the back door - Frog stuff


In October 2014 I mentioned that I’d taken over as editor of our local magazine. Being editor was a fascinating experience and I’m glad I was able to do something for the community. I learnt lots, both emotionally and technically. In April this year however I gave it up. I wanted to get back to my own writing and I couldn’t take the magazine any further without drastic changes to its organisation which I didn’t have the strength to do.

My penultimate magazine - with one of my own photographs on the front!

So, as you can see it’s all change here. And hopefully this blog will help me make sense of it all and take full advantage of all the opportunities now coming my way.

It’s quite exciting really.

PS Monica - welcome! Sorry I've not been in touch. As you can see from the above, circumstances took over. Also, my email programme crashed and I lost all my addresses. So do please email me.