In the days of sunshine

These hot sunny days are ideal for sitting reading a good book in a shady corner of the garden.

Ironically the title of the book I am reading does not reflect the kind of weather we’ve been having. “In the Days of Rain” by Rebecca Stott is a recently published memoir, based on the life of the author growing up within the cruel cult of the Exclusive Brethren, and the fear of approaching End Times and judgment. As her father lay dying he asked her to finish writing down his story of their family living within the confines of the EBs, and their escape from it. But it was not an easy task. Rebecca’s father ran out of time as he tried to negotiate the “thicket” of what happened in his past, and capture it in a way which made sense. And Rebecca too struggled with the material, her own memories, and her father’s writing stashed in a box under her bed for years. Her own children helped her begin to sort it all, and gradually find a way through the forest of the past events.

Her memoir is a beautifully written and crafted attempt to make sense of what cannot truly be understood. How can anyone undesrstand the mixed motives and complex beliefs of the well meaning and decent people who her parents had once loved, but who drove so many to despair and even death. Perhaps I can understand more than many of her readers, because I, like Rebecca, was born into a family of fourth generation members of the Exclusives. Her story is not my story,  but I enjoyed her interpretation of the things that happened, and it was a relief to read descriptions of behaviour and emotions so recognisable to me. Sometimes her memoir reads like a novel, sometimes it’s more like poetry.

Listening to the inspirational Hilary Mantel offering the first of her Reith Lectures, “The Day Is for the Living”, I was struck by her comments about history, and our attempts to capture the past, in fiction, drama, and other creative writing.  She said “It is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them. It’s no more than the best we can do, and often it falls short of that”.

But even so Hilary Mantel’s best attempts to capture the past are reckoned as pretty good, and, in my opinion, so is Rebecca Stott’s. I am looking forward to Hilary’s next Reith lecture, and I am taking advantage of the hot sunny weather to reread “In the Days of Rain”.

C’est la vie?

I have eaten strawberries for lunch today, picked from our own garden, large red and delicious. Lovely, but… I have had to share them! With wood lice and slugs. It is disappointing to pick a large ripe fruit and discover it is hollow, eaten from the inside. Still, c’est la vie as they say, and some careful washing and cutting gave us plenty of sweet mouthfuls to enjoy. IMG_1443

I also mowed the lawn this morning, and it looks smooth and lush. But there is a cost… the destruction of a starry spread of pretty daisies and buttercups. Garden life is an inevitable mixture of growth and cutting down.


Life often seems to be this muddle of disappointment, compromise and worse.  We spent a lovely few days with friends this weekend in London. We watched the amazing spectacle of the Trooping of the Colour, wandered the parks, ate ice creams and saw the sights in the sunshine. We cruised on the Thames and enjoyed good food and each other’s company. But the darker side to London life was revealed with the news of the terrorist attack on London Bridge and the shadow of this and previous terrorist attacks was never far from our awareness, not least because of the presence of so many armed police.

C’est la vie is an expression which usually conveys a necessary acceptance of disappointments and times when life is not neat and tidy. Times when it is hard to reconcile the minor paradoxes and contradictions of life beyond our control, such as woodlice in strawberries.

But for me the contradictions and horror of terrorist attacks aren’t so easy to just accept and then carry on with life. It is a dilemma which can’t be shrugged off. Is such violence and destruction an inevitable part of life? Or is this a time to ask the question why?  Time to seek understanding and consider ways to initiate change without retaliation? Can there be a resistance to such hatred which does not return evil for evil?

I am still pondering … No easy answers.

May play

Today is the first morning I have eaten breakfast recently without the noise of high pitched chatter, running feet and giggles. We have been in grandparent role for the last few days, and our little grandson constantly reminds us of the art of playing and enjoying the moment.

Writing well at the museum

Back in the UK for a week now, and we’ve seen a lot of rain, and felt the drop in temperature.

Today the heavens opened just as a group of us were congregating at our local museum, The Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne. The Museum hosted two Writing for Wellbeing groups which I run, Colehill Writers and Just Write. We had the use of their lovely modern learning centre, strategically placed next door to the cafe, which serves excellent teas and cake.

We wrote initially from objects from the museums collections which could be handled and appreciated physically. We wrote firstly from our senses, descriptive writing. And then allowed ourselves to follow trains of thought, memories, and imaginings generated in our minds by the same objects. We dug to a deeper level when we then wrote about the feelings and emotions stirred by the objects.

This “Body, Mind, Soul” approach to writing from collections is included in the year-long action research project, Museums, Health and Wellbeing  and it is great to have a chance to use the rich resources of our own local museum.

We may have started with a cold drenching, but our afternoon soon warmed up and as the sun came out we had a lot of fun and laughter exploring the fascinating and quirky objects in the Museum galleries and the beautiful gardens. Then we reconvened for teas and delicious cake, while shaping and sharing the word sketches we had made around the Museum.

I certainly enjoyed the afternoon, and it was a lovely example of the way our local museums can offer great spaces for writing, and enable communities to access their heritage as well as build new connections.

Stuck under Vesuvius

Today we left Sorrento by coach to visit the archaeological site of Herculaneum. Progress was slow in the Italian morning rush hour traffic. And then we stopped. Stuck on the narrow mountain road. It took us close on an hour to get through a road blockage caused by tree cutters at work.

Sitting there helpless in a traffic jam, with Vesuvius dominating the horizon, we gazed out to sea to the volcanic island of Ischia, made of tufa, surrounded by green waters, and Procida, with its volcanic spas and mud baths. In 79 AD the people of Herculaneum looked out to sea, and waited for boats to escape the volcano which was threatening to destroy them. Initially the smoke and ash spewing from Vesuvius blocked the sunlight, but did not fall on them. But then volcanic mud, loosened by torrential rain, poured down the mountain and engulfed the town of luxury villas and bathhouses. The accompanying fireball carbonised everything in its path, including the inhabitants.

When our coach eventually arrived at Herculaneum we toured the remains of the town. Painstakingly uncovered, dug out of the volcanic mud which had solidified 2000 years ago, the houses contain beautiful mosaics, and amazingly preserved wall frescoes.

A spa town of its day the mud bath it received was fatal, and we saw the poignant skeletons of victims huddled in the boat arches on the shore. No rescue came for them. They were trapped. It was fascinating and sobering to see evidence of the sophisticated and glamorous life of the Roman Herculaneum, and its sad end.


Thankfully we did not get engulfed in the flood of traffic on our return journey, and escaped to the luxury and comfort of our hotel.

Designer Capri

We set the alarm for 6a.m. in order to catch the early ferry from Sorrento Port, and make the 30 minute crossing to the Island of Capri. There we transferred to a smaller motor launch and as the early clouds dispersed, we set off under clear blue skies on an azure sea. We paused to view fantastic geological formations around the coast, and to gaze at unimaginably expensive villas, belonging to the rich and famous, perched on the clifftops.

Our cruise around the island completed, minibuses took us up the winding narrow road to Anacapri, with ever widening views across the bay of Naples to Vesuvius. From there it was the single seated chair lift, suspended over rocks where wild orchids grow, which carried us all the way to the top of Monte Solaro. More view gazing at the top, across Capri and along the distant Amalfi coast. Vesuvius and Naples and the islands of Ischia and Procida clearly visible in the other direction. After a quick cappuccino it was the quiet beauty of the return chair lift to the town to find lunch.

We caught the minibus to descend the hill to Capri town, where we wandered the narrow streets among the beautiful hotels and designer shops. Traffic free it may be, but it was still congested – with huge numbers of tourists. We had designer priced Cokes sitting in the piazza, and watched the world go by. A day of natural beauty and designer glamour.

Treasures from Pompei

A day of wonders from the past, this morning we visited Naples Museum to see  treasures saved from the archaeological sites of Pompei and Herculaneum. Amazingly fine marble mosaics, rescued from the floors and walls of the city buried in ash, along with wall paintings, sculptures and other artefacts of poignant beauty.

This afternoon we travelled on to the site of Pompei itself, where in 79 AD the town and its people were buried under metres of volcanic ash as nearby Vesuvius erupted.  Some were asphyxiated by the toxic gases, other burned or buried. It was moving to see the size of the town, and its beautiful villas, shops and public buildings. Many original wall colours and paintings to be seen, and grooves from the carts and wagons still there in the roads. So long ago and yet so present.