On a lighter note.

I’m going to keep this blog a little lighter, hopefully less emotional and I have no intention of mentioning death at this stage, but where we end up is anyone’s guess. If this was in any way edited I would promise to cut it out at the edit, but then it wouldn’t still have the stream of consciousness vibe to it, would it. (Stop waffling –editor).

A few years ago, Flash and The girl etc etc had spent Christmas with their Father and were returning on Boxing Day. The Dancing Queen decreed that we should make the house look like a welcoming Christmas grotto full of wonder, and candles. I don’t like candles, I’ve never liked candles, they always smell synthetic and quite frankly, you might as well burn money.

But The Dancing Queen had issued the decree, so candles it was.

When she went to collect the children, I set to work. After another turkey sandwich and a mince pie or two. Ok, I calculated that it would take an hour for them to return so I sprinted around the house with a few tea lights after 50 minutes.

They returned to Santa’s grotto and we commenced the annual “See How Much Wrapping Paper Mungo could eat” festivity.

The kids were thrilled with their haul of presents and took them to their respective rooms to inspect more closely. The Dancing Queen popped to take the neighbour a mince pie.

There followed a series of events which, to this day, make me shudder and might give you an insight into the family life of a neuropathically abnormal family.

As I walked up the stairs I caught a glimpse of Flash flying through the air re-enacting a dive he had seen on Match of the Day – perfectly normal – he landed on the side of his brand new wooden bed which then disintegrated.

Whilst I was enquiring as to his health, I suggested he popped downstairs to watch some tv. He didn’t argue.

After 10 minutes staring at the broken bed and realising it wasn’t going to repair itself, I too went downstairs.

As I entered the living room, Flash was dutifully watching the tv. However, I couldn’t help but notice the flames from a tea light going up the wall on to the tinsel. When I calmly asked Flash why he hadn’t seen fit to mention the flames, he pointed out that he had been told to watch the tv and keep to himself for a bit.

I blew the candle out, except it wasn’t a candle, it was a tealight, so the liquid went up the side of the holder, against the wall. And onto my face.

I think I might have cursed, mildly, at this stage.

As I dashed to the bathroom, Flash pointed out the hazards of tealights.

In the bathroom, I doused myself with water and held a damp flannel to my face, whilst biting on a rubber duck to try and stop expletives being shouted.

There was a rather urgent knocking on the door, it was The Girl etc etc:

“Mark”

“In a minute”

“MARK”

“One second my love, I’m a little busy”

“MARK!!!!”

“Yes, The Girl, etc etc”

“Well, you know that new blind you put up in my bedroom”

“I do, isn’t it lovely”

“Not any more, I pulled it too hard and it fell off it’s runner and has fallen out of the window”.

This series of events lasted 7 minutes.

The Dancing Queen returned from our neighbour.

The bed was replaced, the blind was replaced. All returned to normal.

So, there you go, no death, just a mild singeing and an insight into an autistic household.

Just the same as having “normal” kids, but different.

 

A bit of kindness.

I always thought the word kind was a bit like the word nice, a bit of an anodyne platitude, a bit overused and, well, a bit dull.
A bit like writing a bit, a lot.

Gardening is cool.

Special, mental, not normal, weird, different, stupid, useless, disruptive, unteachable.

Labels, just labels, just nasty little labels.

One of my other jobs used to be teaching gardening at a school with kids who, at different schools, at one time or another, had one of these labels carelessly and unkindly thrown at them, and do you know what, those labels stick, and sometimes those labels don’t come off.

But there are some people who spend all their time brushing away at those labels, unpicking the glue they are attached with, be they parents, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language teachers, sign language teachers. These people have a label too, they are heroes, but so too are the people who are having the labels brushed off.

Gardening is therapeutic, be it the repetition of a task, the completion of a task, the fact that you get a physical workout or, in my opinion thinking about something else that allows one’s own anxieties to fade a little. Gardening can be done by anyone, regardless of age, gender, ability and it boosts confidence I don’t think these are trite words, I see it happen all the time:

The lad who can spend 45 minutes sowing onions. The girl who takes her time to find bulbs that have been forced out of the ground and replants them. The boy who will happily spend 30 minutes washing dirty tools. The boy who apologises before he speaks to you in case you think him impertinent.

My favourite used to be the boy and girl who approached their teacher, to tell him that he is cool and does he want to be in their band. Upon being told that the teacher is neither musical or tuneful they told him it doesn’t matter because it’s his trousers that are cool. For someone who has never been cool, I was thrilled my trousers were.

But my own favourite at the moment; my pal who is trying to come to some sort of terms with his Mum’s death who is creating a memorial garden for his Mum and chats endlessly about his Mum when he is focussing on planting sweet peas and Dahlias.

Dahlia.

Insightful, joyful, amazing, heart-warming, polite, beautiful, oh, and cool.

Much better labels, don’t you think.

Lady Q.

A friend of mine died on Friday.
I accept that isn’t the opening line you have come to expect from the nonsense that is my blog.
But she did.
Friendships take many forms, be they equal, unequal, intense, slowburners, social media based or real.

She was a real friend .
When I first met my friend she was staying somewhere I worked, her son came out for a chat and he enthralled me with his positivity and knowledge of Thomas The Tank Engine.
They rented a house locally and then bought a house and employed me as their gardener. They were one of that very special and quite small group that treat everyone the same: with respect and decency. When your job involves going to people’s houses and gardens regularly, it is amazing what you don’t see and hear. There is a relationship and the merest enquiry as to your health can make one’s day. Add a coffee, cake or sausage roll and you have loyalty for life. Yep, you can call me shallow, but rarely hungry.
Lady Q (a nickname, she didn’t need a title, she was a Lady) loved her garden and last year she asked me to redesign it, we brought in year round colour, we brought in symmetry and we brought in wallflowers and dahlias, sweet peas and gladioli because they reminded her of her parents garden.
When we got to her garden to work she would invariably be sitting at the kitchen table and she would call out to me to come inside and look at the latest plant porn on her computer.
“Mark, how many Dahlias shall we get”
“1,3 or 5, the choice is yours”
“I’ll order 15”.
She was generous and she was kind.
Invariably we got to chatting about educational needs for people with learning difficulties which she was passionate about and gave me so much advice. I also talked about life at home, particularly when I was struggling to fulfil my role as a step-father to our children who didn’t always do as expected. She was kind and never judged.
I will miss Lady Q deeply.
But not even minutely as much as her devoted husband and good friend of mine, The Lord Chancellor (yes, another nickname) and her two darling boys who will need a lot of love, help and support.
There will be tears but there will be smiles: the sweet peas were delivered on Saturday. I had asked for 12, I received 36.
2018 – the year of Kindness, Friendship and sweet peas, loads of sweet peas.

Beach ramblings.

If I ever disappear, I will probably be in one of two places: either, under the patio having driven The Dancing Queen to despair at my constant railing against what I see as important stuff, or, and hopefully more likely, at Watergate Bay.

Watergate Bay. rocks.

We are just back from our annual visit to what is my favourite hotel, I don’t say that lightly, because I have been very lucky to stay at some fabulous hotels – Grenadine Lodge in Dalyan, Turkey and Muxima in Aljezur, Portugal also being amongst my favourites.

But I don’t want this to just be about me telling you why to go to such and such a hotel, because frankly, you can probably make your own mind up about where you want to go. And I want to be able to go when I want and not find them fully booked.

So I’m going to tell you about my second favourite walk at Watergate Bay – it’s the most amazing Cornish bay as well as a hotel.

Watergate Bay cliffs.

The walk itself changes every single time you do it, and the distance varies each time also, you can do the walk in the morning and do a completely different walk in the afternoon. In fact, being Cornwall, you can have four seasons in one walk.

So, the walk is on the 2 mile sandy beach, if the tide is in, it’s a very short and wet walk, but the tide soon goes out and exposes the golden sand. That’s when families start appearing with cricket equipment and buckets and spades and dogs, dogs being allowed on the beach all year round is fabulous- it never appears to get terribly busy – but we only go between November and March, so, as ever, I’m not a terribly reliable witness.

If the tide is out and you are going to do the full circle of the beach, you have to decide whether to walk into the prevailing wind first or last. I tend to turn left from the ramp and walk to the bottom of the beach with the wind behind me and then walk all the way to the other end into the wind to get the wind behind me for the last bit back to the ramp. But be a maverick, do as you wish, be a leader or be a follower.

Don’t forget, followship is as important as leadership. I went to see Ant Middleton (Him off the telly and out of the SBS) give a talk this week, what an inspiring man. I went with my pal Jon, who questioned me afterwards as to why I liked Ant Middleton when I normally baulk against over-confidence and overt Alpha Male-ism. The answer is, I baulk against people who think they are Alpha-Males and have nothing to back it up, whereas real Alpha Males command respect by leading by example and admitting to not being perfect, but work at being perfect. That’s what I think anyway. What that’s got to do with my second favourite walk at Watergate Bay is anyone’s guess.

I love beaches, the sea is a never ending source of calm for me, even when it is rough, I see patterns and hear noises that I find soothing. The cliffs at Watergate Bay are rugged, and crumbling and home to birds and, in the Winter, icicles. The rock pools that appear provide wonderful swimming pools for dogs, there are caves to shelter from the wind and spray and make echoing noises in.

Watergate Bay Icicles..jpg

There is a plaque on the wall of the cliff commemorating the crew and people who attempted the rescue of a Liberator aircraft in December 1943, which gives the walk a contemplative feel. It’s hard not to feel small and a bit inconsequential when you are dwarfed by giant cliffs and historic heroes.

As I age, I realise I’m turning into my Mother, which I hope isn’t as weird as it sounds, I mean I appreciate the colours and sounds of nature much more, I always remember her telling me to stop and watch nature whenever I could, as it’s a constantly moving picture of colours which you would never think possible. So it was great to have her with us on this trip and to be able to tell her that I was starting to understand her now. To which she responded that she hoped to understand me one day too. But I was speaking to her in Dutch.

Mum. Watergate Bay.

Time flies, I’ve got to go and see why The Dancing Queen is digging up the patio.

Go to Watergate Bay, it’s beautiful and the hotel is amazing – except in the third week of March, I hear its dreadful then – which just might be when we go.

Those of you who have managed to follow any of this blog, well done, but also, you might be asking why the beach is only my second favourite walk. Obvious really, my favourite is from my room to breakfast. Where I create a self-made 3 tiered waffle extravaganza, layered with bacon and maple syrup.

 

If you go down to the woods today….

One aspect of writing a blog that I find quite difficult, apart from actually writing it, is what are my boundaries, where does my story encroach onto someone else’s story and reveal stuff about them which they might not want reveal. I counterbalance this by remembering that surely my dear reader must understand that there is only a scintilla of truth in most of what I say.

I should put a disclaimer in, along the lines of “If you like what you read, it’s probably about you, if you hate it, it’s about someone you don’t like, and if you’re ambivalent, who cares anyway”.

Once I’d reconciled myself to the fact that I was never going to meet anyone I would wish to have children with, let alone them being able to countenance such a thing, I met my darling Nancy, The Dancing Queen. And she already had two children, The Girl Who Believes She Should Be Obeyed and Flash. There might be a smattering of autism and a syndrome or two lurking about, but that doesn’t define them nor does it matter. And that’s their story, and not mine.

However, we used to have a dreadful time getting Flash to leave the house due to his anxieties – we still do, but that’s more to do with him being a teenage boy – so we got a dog. I’ve written about Mungo before, and I’ll write about him again. But he was a tool, a tool to get Flash out of the house, to think about something else, to perhaps even learn to love.

Dogs need walking, children need to get outside and parents need to get some fresh air.

We used to go to a wood with a friend, she was called Emma, so naturally it was known as Emma’s wood. Then we got Mungo, and Mungo knew every inch of that wood: we would let him off the lead at the start of the walk and, an hour or so later, put him back on the lead and leave the wood. We hardly saw him in all the time in-between, for all I know, he could have sat by the stile, smoking a fag and eating a pie whilst we got our exercise. Who knows what dogs do when they are out of sight, I suspect Sprout runs a card school when I’m out. The point is, the wood became Mungo’s wood.

Digital StillCamera

So, whilst we were in the general vicinity of Mungo as he took his exercise, we had to find something to do. Because ”Just walking is boring”.

So, we invented the “Whacking Stick” game, and having rewritten this section four times now, I can understand the looks I received when the children described it as a (adopt the voice of a rather breathless 8 year old) “game where our step-father walks behind us and threatens to hit us with a stick and hits it on the ground if we walk on the path, rather than climb over fallen branches”.

To deflect from this game, we invented “Ambush” the rules, as explained by a 10 year old, are quite simple: “Your step-father goes ahead whilst we are walking in a stream and when we are below him, he throws leaves and sticks at us”.

samsung pics 085

Now, in black and white, I accept these games sound dreadful, but they were fun, the kids got filthy, we got filthy and there was always hot chocolate in a flask for half way round. And don’t forget, we live in a Country where Pooh sticks is a much treasured game.

This wood also hosted Flash’s birthday one year, half a class on one side of a valley and the other half of the class on the other side. With a river running through it. And adults hiding, ready to ambush. And the sides slippery with mud. No one died, it was fun.

Digital StillCamera

Then there was running through the swamp, and if you stopped, there was the threat of the monster coming to get you, unless of course your wellie fell off, you were allowed to go back for that.

Or stream jumping, which is as it sounds, jumping across a stream whilst Mungo tried to trip you up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Okay, this wasn’t the stream we had to jump.

 

I’m beginning to realise why Flash didn’t want to leave the house.

But it was fun, the kids got filthy, we got filthy and there was always hot chocolate in a flask for the end of the walk. And don’t forget, we live in a Country where rolling a cheese down a hill is a much treasured game.

We only ever had one mishap, and, on reflection, we perhaps shouldn’t have allowed The Girl Who Believes She Should Be Obeyed Who Also Has No Sense Of Direction (I must come up with a shorter nickname) choose where we walked one Sunday, only to find ourselves in the middle of a Pheasant shoot. It did add some realism to the war game we were playing. I think they believed it wasn’t deliberate.

So get outside and terrorise your children in the name of fun. The Dancing Queen says I can’t write this – but you get it, don’t you, it’s a joke, there’s no truth in it all. Well, the fun bits true. I’m going to stop now.

Don’t Worry, fantasise.

I hope I know you well enough be honest with you, I haven’t really been in the correct frame of mind to write for you recently, I start writing and then “stuff” comes into my head, you know, the daily the niggles, the things that have been said that shouldn’t have been – by other people of course, not me.

And that’s a bit daft really, because, and please forgive my honesty, I don’t really write for you, I write for me; to get something off my chest or just to rattle on until I come to a point where I haven’t got anything left to say.

So I asked someone for some inspiration for this next Blog and we shall call her The Pilates Pixie and do you know what, her idea was brilliant and inspiring and thought provoking so I’ll pretend it was mine.

It’s something we all do, all of the time, but don’t realise we are doing it and when we realise we are doing it, it’s impossible to do it any more. It’s not rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head whilst licking your own nose with one elbow touching the ground. But try it anyway, I can do it, because I am very good at Pilates – (I can’t and I’m not, but I give it a go).

It’s meditating.

And the Pilates Pixie is right when she says that meditation is the state of mind you reach when you are doing a repetitive job that you are completely confident about and it allows your mind to drift and think about what might have been and which fantasy career you might have had, well that’s our interpretation of it.

So I started thinking, what fantasy job do I think about when I am engrossed in a job like mowing or weeding or putting up the framework for next year’s climbing beans.

And I realised that I really do have my fantasy job:

  • I’m outside.
  • I’m being creative.
  • I’m surrounded by people who appreciate what I do. Some of them even bring coffee and cake. (Going off on a tangent here, you can’t imagine how happy you make a gardener when you make them a cup of tea or coffee and bring them a piece of cake when the wind, rain and sometimes snow are coming at them horizontally).
  • I’m nurturing.
  • What I don’t get done today, can be done tomorrow.
  • I can take my dog to work.

Sprout tractor.

Yeah, I guess I’m happy.

I’m not a stained glass window maker, but I can see the attraction. Although my favourite stained glass window is in the church of St Martin in the Fields, which isn’t stained, but it is beautiful – have a look. Last time I was there I stood looking at the window listening to a Christian service being taken in Cantonese, it made no sense. But happiness doesn’t need to make sense.

Neither am I a horse trainer for cowboys for films, or a cowboy trainer for horses for films, but I can see the attraction, but not in a Brokeback Mountain kind of way. But if it makes you happy, go for it.

CowboyMark.
I think I would have been a pretty good cowboy if I had wanted to.

 

But if those happen to be your fantasy jobs, you may not get to do them, but bear this in mind, every time I look at a cowboy film or a stained glass window I will think of you, and your insight, and your humour and the fact that you keep the Dancing Queen occupied for a couple of hours a week to let me recharge my batteries. So thank you.

Another part of my fantasy job would to be a writer, an author, a storyteller, a wordsmith. But I don’t reckon I’d have an audience. So I’ll just carry on doing these therapy sessions that just happen to involve writing.

Until next time, happy fantasies. And if anyone could fantasise about getting rid of this horrible winter weather, I’d be most grateful. And HAPPY.

And if you need some help learning to meditate, I know a really good teacher.