The Strangest Treat of All

stormy sea

This week I got out my pink highlighter pen and crossed another treat off my list. Each time I do this I get a rush of satisfaction from solving a mystery. When I made the list six years ago, I had no idea how each of these sixty wishes would come to fruition and what the experiences would be like. I recounted the stories of thirty-one of them in 31 Treats And A Marriage, and since then I’ve carried on enjoying the remaining twenty-nine. I’ve done most of the at-home or close-to-home ones like horse riding lessons, planting some old-fashioned roses, and reading Middlemarch but there are still thirteen left and they include more demanding adventures such as Japan and an American train journey. Some are already in progress; I’m part-way round the glorious 630-mile South West Coastal Footpath, and can hardly wait to resume it next weekend after a break for the winter.

As each treat goes through metamorphosis from unknown prospect to memory, its personality is revealed and the mystery is solved. By then I know where it fitted in, and what it was like. In the beginning, they were simply things that I wanted to do whilst I was still fit enough to do them but I had no fixed plans. And that turned out to be lucky, as soon after, my life turned into a stormy sea that heaved with overwhelming events. During that time, the treats provided an anchor. Thankfully, life is much calmer now and the sun has come out.

sunshine

One of the remaining twenty-nine treats has been to ‘get a clock with a nice tick.’ That ended up on the list because Continue reading

Say It Now

leeds-town-hall

Photo: Leeds Town Hall by Andrew Roberts

I was in Leeds last week doing research for a book and in amongst all the industrial history that I discovered, I also came across an outstanding café. Mrs Atha’s is tucked away down a side street in the city centre and not only was it a sublime place in which to linger, but it got me thinking about human interaction. I went for a late breakfast and as I queued to place my order, I took in the surroundings. With bare brick walls, wooden floors, and the now ubiquitous vintage china, it looked pleasant enough. But when I got to the front of the queue and started talking to the two neatly bearded young men in smart black aprons, I was reminded that businesses have a choice. They can do things—or they can do things with care. This was the latter. “Do you have soya milk?” I asked, explaining about my lactose intolerance and migraines. “No,” said the young man. “We use oat milk because it sits in the coffee better.” Without thinking, I wrinkled my nose rather rudely. “I’ll make you a cappuccino,” he said. “I don’t like warm milk,” I said. “Try it and if you don’t like it, I’ll make you something else,” he replied persuasively.

Unconvinced, I sat at a table and waited. Opposite, a man in a three-piece suit with bracelets and a flat cap, tucked into his breakfast and then beamed Continue reading

There’s A Lot To Talk About

trinity-college

Dublin has been on my list for a long time and last weekend I finally got there. It was a treat timed to coincide with my birthday and one of the benefits of living only ten minutes from an airport, is that we were in the city centre in time for breakfast. Unlike many of the things I’ve longed to do, I had no preconceptions. I was simply curious about this nearby capital city.

We started with a guided tour and walking through an archway into the huge, elegant courtyard of Trinity College was a stunning moment. From there our guide swept us through the key events in Dublin’s history. I knew so little about Ireland that the details were new to me but it was no surprise that Continue reading

More For Less

 ducklings

We all know that patience is a virtue but unfortunately it was in short supply when my children were young. There seemed to be so much to get done, and one of the things that frustrated me most was the painfully slow rate of progress whenever we went out. They’d trail along, dropping things and stopping and starting so that it took forever to get anywhere. My solution was to train them all to walk extremely fast. I strode along at a cracking pace and they soon learned to keep up. The younger ones protested at first but before long they’d be trotting along with their older siblings. In true dictator-style I managed to persuade myself that it was good for them as they would develop ‘wonderfully strong legs.’ But now many years later, I get my comeuppance for this hard-hearted mothering Continue reading

Biting the Dentist’s Finger

alan_rickman

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

It must be a relief to the Queen to have got to New Year’s Day, and Paul McCartney is surely feeling thankful, too. Many other familiar figures haven’t been so fortunate this year and I for one, will particularly miss Alan Rickman and Leonard Cohen. But making it to the finish line of 2016 is no protection against the inescapable process of ageing, and Buckingham Palace recently announced that the Queen is reducing her workload. It came as a surprise because she has been monarch for so long, but to step down as patron from just twenty-five of her six hundred favoured organisations, seems entirely reasonable— in her ninety-first year, she of all people has earned the right to slow down a bit.

This year, the ageing process has had a big impact on my own family and I’ve written previously (The Old Man and the Pea, Enhanced Eating, Beginning, Middle and End), about the 96-year old gentleman who lived for many months in my sitting room. This July he became my father-in-law and a few months later we moved to the house that was refurbished with his needs in mind. The garage has been converted into a bedroom and separate wet room for him, but sadly he has Continue reading

How to Eat Your Christmas Tree

lanzarote1

Last week we escaped the December chill and snatched a week in Lanzarote. It had never particularly appealed to me, but it turned out to be a strange, unearthly place, and we loved it. Volcanic eruptions have shaped the island and at least a quarter of it is covered in bare, craggy lava. We walked along the black sands of secluded coves, ate in a restaurant where the food is barbecued over a volcano, and descended deep into the earth to explore cathedral-like caves. The more predictable pleasures were the golden beaches, the warm ocean and the delicious Spanish food. As I write this I’m remembering that this time last week I was in a summer dress, squeezing lemon over a plate of superbly fresh fish, and watching the surfers ride the breakers.

But all good things must come to an end and my attempts to forget the Christmas preparations were dashed on the plane coming home. I flicked through Continue reading