The Lilac Dance

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The lilac boughs hang heavy as we dance our strange duet,

Oblivion kisses gently, as the trembling forget.

Below there seeks the stranger, silent but for one,

Who screams and shakes and fails and falls, to lie down and be done.

 

The twilight hush is roaring as we quickstep to the tune

that ancient ghosts alone composed to serenade the moon,

Wielding power over nature, and time and tide and womb,

To wax and wane and rise and fall til midnight fades to noon.

 

We slow dance in the evening, below a setting sun.

Our doors are closing quietly, til all are shut but one.

With hands outstretched the music fades and the clocks begin to chime.

In distant echoes and empty halls the dance declares: you’re mine.

 

Image courtesy of http://www.mccarter.org

Reasons to Love Portsmouth

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Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth Harbour, United Kingdom (Courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

I love Portsmouth and back in my pre-column blogging days, I wrote about it. I have lived in other areas, but have always returned. My parents were born here, and I gave birth to my own daughters in the same hospital where my mother had given birth to me three decades prior.

 

My father’s family were well-known fishmongers and fruiterers, going back to the early twentieth century, and my mother’s father was an electric welder in the docks. The Arnett side of my family are still going strong with their bingo halls and leisure industry, but there are very few of us Lushs left.

 

I am Pompey born and bred. I don’t sound as though I am, or so I am told, but that’s because of a private school education that was funded by the sales of second-hand cars, video rentals, and the profits of a pub and pool club; again, all local to the area.

 

There are a variety of reasons why I love the city. It often gets a bad rep, but as with many things, that’s usually by people who have never even lived here. A friend of mine once tried to convince her husband to relocate to Portsmouth. He had grown up in Oxford and they had met whilst living in London. Somewhat unfortunately the night that she believed would be her trump card (a New Year’s Eve 14 years ago) proved to be the demise of her plan, when we ended up locked in the Spice Island pub by the police after someone was glassed in the face with a bottle. Oops.

 

My children attend lovely schools in Portsmouth, I teach in Portsmouth, and, despite a fair amount of my friends now living countrywide due to the dispersing afforded by our choices of university years ago, my husband and I still have a majority of our mates living in Pompey and the surrounding areas.

 

Our children attend the fabulous youth theatre at The King’s, the sea is on our doorstep, and coffee shops such as Home Coffee in Albert Road are too good to move away from. The staff in the latter are absolutely lovely, providing a friendly haven where dogs and kids are welcome, and where you are greeted by your first name and treated as though you matter.

 

Albert Road, Palmerston Road, the skyline with the dockyard beauty of the sun setting behind industry as you drive in across the flyover. Canoe Lake, the city museum, the libraries still dotted citywide. The friendliness of our neighbours, the huge variety of cafes, restaurants and bars. The common, the festivities, the bandstand in summer. The South Downs only a drive away, the ever-changing landscape of the countryside behind the city, Portsdown Hill at dawn on an Autumn morning. All these things, I love. The fields at Great Salterns, the mini-highstreet of Copnor Road, and the effort of the residents at making Portsmouth the best it can be.

 

Portsmouth holds ties that bind and no sooner have we ever considered moving, than we dismiss the idea and settle back down to marvel at the sun pouring itself into the horizon of another Pompey sunset.

 

Home. There’s no place quite like it.

 

Bowie, Loose Ends, and Liberating Yourself

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A week or so ago, my husband and I were discussing David Bowie. This was prior to his death, and linked to his 69th birthday, his new album release, and because we are fans of the film, The Prestige.

 

Bowie starred in The Prestige and played the role of Nikola Tesla. There was something magnetic about Bowie on-screen, whether acting or singing, and his passing seems, in some ways, like the death of an era. An era that spawned more ground-breaking, maverick and iconic legends than any since. Justin Beiber may have tried to microscopically up his game recently, but there-in lies the problem; it’s just a game. He is no legend.

 

The fact that Bowie died within 48 hours after his 69th birthday, which was also the chosen release date for what will be his final album, seems all the more poignant. And leads me to believe that sometimes, the human spirit manages to battle against, and control, whatever is trying to kill the body. Often in life, we hear of someone passing away at what seems like a ‘perfect’ moment. It is unthinkable as humans that there is such a thing, and that this is not an oxymoron, but seeing as death is inevitable, and it simply must happen, surely some moments are preferable to others?

 

It also suggests that where loose ends exist in life, humans fail to flourish. And where loose ends have been tied and cut, we automatically feel more at rest and soothed in spirit. Perhaps, therefore, this is something that we should try and carry forwards in our as much of our lives as we are able.

 

Perhaps you are sat reading this now, and you know that there is something you’ve been meaning to say to somebody, some message to pass on. This could be something that will cause happiness, or something that will make somebody laugh, or make their life easier. It may be something you’ve been meaning to say or do for a long time, but simply haven’t gotten around to.

 

Alternatively, it could be something that is difficult to do and that you’ve subsequently been avoiding, but that, once done, you will feel all the better for. Acts like this can be cathartic and, once the initial difficulty is faced, leave us feeling a large load lighter.

 

On this note, I’d like to say a thank you to a reader of my column, Debbie, who sent me an incredibly thoughtful card recently. It arrived in light of my New Year column and, because it was just before my birthday, I assumed it was a birthday card and saved it until then – which only served to make it even more special, and to contribute to a day that was already perfect. Thank you – you know who you are.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 19th January 2016

Image courtesy of crossexaminations.org

 

Leftovers Are A Private Pleasure

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Before Christmas, I met with two of my oldest friends for lunch in Winchester. Louise, Ruth and I have known one another since our school days. When you consider that one of us is a London-based architect and has had four babies, one of us is a teaching member of senior leadership in Oxford, and I’m in Portsmouth juggling a demanding teaching post, leading a subject, with two kids and a column, we don’t do badly on the contact front.

 

Inevitably, given the lunching nature of the catch-up, we began discussing festive food and, in particular, leftovers. Part of the Christmas tradition is leftovers but, please ask yourself, would you want to eat somebody else’s??

 

As Louise wryly observed, above the rim of a glass of vino, leftovers are a private pleasure. Such wise words. The concept of munching somebody else’s bubble and squeak is simply unappealing. The idea of somebody’s leftover roasties being mushed up with their leftover veg and reheated? No!

 

I’m unsure as to why this is, but leftovers are definitely best enjoyed by one’s self and one’s family. I remember one year visiting a relative on Boxing Day, and being confronted with a plate of soggy bubble and squeak with baked beans next to it. Firstly, this is not my choice of side dish – even the words ‘bean juice’ (shudder), let alone the sensory experience of it tainting other foods on my plate and getting steadily colder, makes my gag reflex tingle. Secondly, the idea of eating bits of food that have previously been cooked, not stored by myself, and being, essentially, the unwanted parts of someone’s previous meal, sets my teeth on edge.

 

Obviously this is crackers, akin to when you accidentally touch a leftover bit of soggy, spongy food in the sink when washing up (CRINGE). You know there’s nothing wrong with the food leftover from someone else’s meal, and if it were in your own house you’d be happy to eat it (for the avoidance of doubt, I do not mean the stuff in the sink), but when it’s somebody else’s, it loses appeal. Perhaps it’s the connotation that it’s been scraped off plates, as opposed to carefully set aside during serving?

 

On Boxing Day, my husband and I set the table in the evening for what my youngest daughter refers to as ‘pick n’ mix’. She was in her element (so much so, that she spilt said husband’s glass of Chateauneuf right across the table… the tablecloth… the blinis). But, prior to the wine disaster, I had popped some cheeses on a plate. By the end of the wine soaked meal, there were leftovers aplenty; pate, ham, the aforementioned cheeses and so on. Would I have rolled these back out for other people when they visited? No – I couldn’t bring myself to munch some stinky Brie that has a smear of pate on it, and a couple of crackers crumbs, in someone else’s house, and subsequently I don’t think I could bring it out in mine. Obviously my husband and I stuffed out faces with the leftovers the following night… because your own, personal leftovers, are what Chrimbo is all about.

 

I also make various meals with leftovers. Whatever meat is left from the Sunday roast goes in the slow cooker, for either a curry or a stew, in order to be economical with both money and time. But could I serve that to friends when they come for dinner? No. Yet I am happy, in fact I positively relish, spending the evenings between 24th and 30th December eating little besides leftovers.

 

They are indeed, for me at least, a private pleasure. Good call, Ms Etherington.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 12th January 2016

Image courtesy of tender stem.co.uk

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Before the Wine Went Over… 🙂 x

 

Hygge – Do you have it??

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Image courtesy of yessyogastudio.com

Being a lover of language, I am never happier than when engrossed in a good book. I follow nerdish pages on social media that bemoan the incorrect use of their/there and too/to/two. I love a homophone and I love it when my equally bookish friends construct a sentence that is a SPaG thing of beauty. In essence, I love words. There are worse things to do in life and I, like most self-aware humans, can list my own faults until the proverbial cows come home, but adoring books and the written word ain’t one of them.

Subsequently, I am delighted to announce, that I have discovered a new word! (For the avoidance of disappointment, I should point out that I mean new to me. Sadly I am not about to prove incendiary to the linguistic world and all its wordporn fetishists.) I have discovered, drum roll… hygge – and, even better, it is a new word with a meaning that sums up much of what I attempt on a daily basis.

 

Hygge, pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, is a Danish concept, roughly translating as ‘cosiness’, but it more than this. In countries such as Denmark, known to be one of the world’s happiest countries, hygge is a way of life. It is about inner fulfillment, nurture, and general snuggliness.

 

According to the BBC news website, a college in central London is teaching its students how to achieve hygge as part of their Danish language course. Denmark has winters that stretch into infinity, and the concept of bringing light into our homes in the darkest of months (Christmas, anyone?) is nothing new. But to have a specific world-view that relates solely around ways in which to comfort your soul – how fantastic is that?

 

Cosiness and nurture are close to my heart, and much of my home centres around it. Nearly every piece of furntiture, every knick-knack, has a memory and meaning attached to it. I like low-lighting in the evening, a roaring fire in winter, and candle-light wherever possible.

 

My husband and our friends, Jodi and her lovely husband Dave, have even been known to have dinner parties (alright, ‘takeaways’), in our pyjamas, and having friends like these – friends with whom you laugh so hard that your daughter tells you off the next morning for having kept her awake, is also part of hygge.

 

I have written before about the importance of the ‘little things’ in life. Three years ago, my husband was seriously ill and spent several weeks in QA. His release from hospital, his recovery, and our time spent together afterwards, only served to enhance my belief that we need to treasure, recognise, and learn how to create things that make us happy.

 

Little things, like sipping a hot drink from a favourite mug in a moment of silence, can provide joy. The sensation of the cold sea at the very tip of a hot summer shoreline tickling your toes, or an aching blue sky that stretches to tomorrow on a spring morning, can be enough to change your mood for the day, to make you feel complete, to make you feel alive. A glass of good wine, or a few pages of a favourite book, can soothe and regenerate.

 

We all need a little hygge in our lives. Actively searching for ways in which to soothe your soul, make you happy, and to fill that gap that sometimes cracks inside us, is what life should be about.

 

Google ‘hygge’ today. I’d love to hear from anyone who is inspired by what they find, and the ways in which you incorporate it in your life.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 5th January 2016.

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Image courtesy of meghanbphd.tumblr.com