Happy New Year 2016

New Year’s Eve Walk

Happy New Year.

We all say it. We begin around Solstice when we are adding ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,’ for all the winter celebrations that happen in most religions through to dear old Robbie Burns Night, this year on January 25th,

“Happy New Year to you.” “And to you too.” And we mean it. We smile as we pass each other on the street, wishing each other well, peace and health in our lives and even possibly a little prosperity thrown in. For in these days all angst between us is forgotten.

Paolo and his sign

This year there is a longer than usual lull between Christmas Eve with the ‘back to work’ week starting on January 4th. The weekend of January 2 and 3 has given us extra Twixmas days, as those days between Christmas and the New Year have been named in England. These are days are free days, as if in an Egyptian calendar of old. The Egyptians would take five days off prior to the summer Solstice (June 21) in their calendar year otherwise their agricultural rhythms would quickly become muddled. And somehow this falls, loosely in winter, into a pattern for modern Europe. Stores and galleries that could be open have closed shut.  Even Philip the Greengrocer at Yeoman’s has drawn his blinds and stuck a sign on the door, “We will reopen on January 4th.” Good for them. Paolo in his coffee shop on Delancy Street moves slower though his days. Maybe he is taking the extra cup of coffee for himself before facing us trending or grumbling old customers on Christmas Eve.

For some people these are days of total winter peace and contemplation or escapes to warmer climates. For young parents with families they are days of adventures or hanging out with the children while grandparents build memories that will become traditions. For others, the young and not so faint at heart, the days are filled with shopping in the crazy winter sales that beckon buyers in to lay down that credit card just one more time. But wherever and whatever we do we add, “Happy New Year.” to our daily greetings.

The Muslim grandmother who runs our local deli is dressed in her black hijab with a touch of cream here and there peaking through her headscarf. Her hair has turned from deeply black to hold wisps of grey since we have come to know her and she now rings up a senior discount for us both. She knows us all, our types, our styles our needs. “A Happy New Year to you my dear.” “And to you too.”

Crossing the bridge into Regent’s Park a young African woman is taking a selfie and seeing me smile laughs aloud at herself. She is athletic and out for a winter workout. Dressing in bright blue running gear, her hair up in braids she is sunny and beautiful. “Happy New Year,” She laughs at me. And I laugh back to her, “And to you too.”

It is quiet at the Newsagents and finally the Hindu gentleman left in charge on New Year’s Eve has time to ask me, “Are you married? Do you live here?” and more. We take the time he needs as I answer the questions that he may have held for the past ten years of our fifteen year time in the village. Finally another customer comes to the counter and we exchange a newspaper for coin and part. “Happy New Year.” “And to you too.”

Maddy is bustling with her dogs. Never without one to four dogs she walks out three times a day with them while her husband with his new middle-aged dyed beard occasionally goes to the store. Maddy doesn’t have time for the supermarket, she is too busy with the dogs so a grocery delivery van comes down the street for her once a week. Slowly, over the years, we have become friendly over dogs. Her beloved Lucky was in love with our Hana and the feelings were reciprocated with frenzied barking affection whenever they met on the street. She is smiling, “Happy New Year,” we laugh it together. Both happy to see each other and knowing there will be another time for a catch up chat.

After a film at Leicester Square, we walk around the corner into Chinatown on the edge of Soho. The streets are all a bustle and hustle, restaurants full and yet beckoning. A little Chinese supper would be nice. We eventually chose a restaurant where a smiling young woman, wrapped up in her winter jacket, hat and gloves welcomes us inside. The restaurant is full, happy Chinese, Arab, and European customers devouring an early supper. The young wait staff are dressed in black and serious. They have to keep everyone moving, and us particularly as we are a cheap-vegetarian-disappointment. The young men are all hooked up to black ear buds and phones. The food comes quickly up the dumb-waiter and the dishes passed along to us. The fortune cookie and the bill arrive together. We pay the bill and though my cookie tells me “You will make a good investment.” I’m not sure what that will be. Back down on the street the same young woman is smiling and beckoning passers-by inside. But as we leave and smile at her once more she bobs her bow, “Happy New Year, Happy New Year to you.” “And to you too.”

Girl at a bus stop

Returning home, we meet Stan who is heading out to The Queens Pub on the corner walking slowly with his beloved old dog. Though rarely with his teeth, Stan steadfastly walks his dog twice a day. He too has come to know something of us and when I greet him, “Happy New Year Stan.” it is to the boss, my husband, that he relies, “Appy ‘ew Year to you too Sir.”

Abuela Grannys and Apps

The grandmothers I remember came in three main flavors which would slide into each other like Neapolitan ice cream going soft on a summer afternoon: stern, formidable, ancient and kind; eccentric to down-right dotty yet ancient and kind; and those who were just ancient and kind.

Granny Slater

Granny Slater

Lady Pechell was formidable and kind. Each weekday morning she cycled into the village with one or two of her Pekinese dogs riding shotgun in her bicycle basket. She must have been twenty years, a war at least, older than the ladies she joined for coffee at Mrs. Max’s cafe. I never heard their conversation. I was too busy hovering, like one of her dogs, waiting for the treats she would magically produce. In a never secret whisper she would lean towards me, “Here, these are for you.” And three sugar lumps would be slipped into my hand. One for me to suck and other two for the milk cart-horse I rode at the end of the morning from our drive-way to the home-farm. Lady Pechell’s dogs eventually succumbed to sugar induced heart attacks.

Granny T was of the dottie variety. She lived in a small cottage across the road from her family and no longer strayed into the village but was content puttering in her small garden. When she came indoors she would cool her hot, tired feet by moving a kitchen chair up to the refrigerator, pulling off her stockings, opening the refrigerator door and sticking her feet onto the bottom shelf. Instead of tea she sipped a cool Pink Gin while she recovered. She was happy, and safe.

Then there was the ultimate Grandmother. Mudder became a constant in my childhood and was just ancient and kind. Bicycling to my friend’s house I would find her sitting in their kitchen. An old-fashioned apron was wrapped around her soft frame. Her grey hair rolled and unrolled about her softly aged face. Her bright eyes were soft and gentle in their seeing. She twinkled out a welcome as she sat shelling peas, snapping beans or scrubbing potatoes. My friend had never finished her chores before I arrived and so I would always have to wait – in the kitchen with Mudder. This was her chance. When we were alone she would pull out a florin, a ‘two bob bit’ and send me off to The Tuck Shop on the corner of Avondale Road. Here I was to purchase a packet of Craven A cigarettes. I think they cost about 1/6. “Go on, you can have it.” The sixpence was mine and the tuck shop my treasure trove. Mudder taught me that an apron was a part of the Granny Uniform, kindness and shared sweet secrets were the currency slipped in and out of its pockets.

One of the last gifts my mother gave me was the patience to pick up her knitting needles and relearn the ancient art that had keep her sober and filled her lonely hours with purpose. As she lay in bed in the evenings we took apart the last erratic sweater she had made for her grandson. Under her tutelage it took shape again. The result was a marginal improvement that was eventually returned to its rightful owner. Soon it became time for me to venture out shopping for wool and a pattern. I chose a light weight cardigan which was simple in design and happily knit away to have it finished in time for my mother’s spring birthday. It wasn’t until I was proudly sewing the seams closed and adding pearly buttons that I realized, with horror, that she would hate it. The sleeves were three-quarter length, the style only worn by fast woman. On the day of Granny’s birthday, as she unwrapped the cardigan and held it up before trying it on, I could see her lips compress in disapproval. And sure enough, once it was on she began to tug at the sleeves in an effort to pull them down along her arms. But she didn’t say anything. Over those last few months of her life she wore the cardigan almost daily, begrudgingly at first and then with a reluctant pride that seemed to have to been earned by the cardigan itself.

The Granny cardigan

The Granny cardigan

In that mind-numbing time of sorting through her belongings I reclaimed the cardigan. I couldn’t bring myself to let it go. As much for Granny as for myself. It lay folded away for months. At my mother’s memorial gathering one daughter said sadly, “Now we are Granny-less.” But in less than a year she was pregnant with the first of our grandchildren. “Now we will have a Granny again.”
As each of our daughters have entered their confinement and birthed, I have been blessed to be a part of that process. Older mummies all, with new ways and expectations, each daughter has wanted and needed different things from Farm Granny. When the new family leave the safety of the hospital, when the obstetrician, the midwife, the nurses and the lactation specialist are no longer at first hand and they return home, panic and fear can slip through the door with them, looking to stay awhile.

David and his Abuela at breakfast

David and his Abuela at breakfast

The mobile phone with its outside connections to the world is never far from the modern older first time mummy’s reach. There is no app for Abuelas but there is one for new mothers breast feeding. It shines from the phone with bright orange hearts and labels, right and left breast. Once the baby has latched on, you press go, and a timer begins. The seconds fly into minutes timing how long the baby nurses on the right and then the left, followed by the left and then the right breast. There are instructions and guides to follow which, although necessary and helpful, can also be intimidating to the new parents. The phone app can produce panic instead of measuring success while mother and babe struggle to adjust to the nursing process. The baby sucks for four minutes and then needs a breather. Does that count as time nursing or should one press pause? The app makes no allowances for tender nipples and full breasts. There are tears. The app is put aside, (the phone lucky not to be thrown across the room). And now an Abuela Granny can help. Somehow she knows how to soothe baby before putting him to the breast. She remembers positions that give the most comfort to a nursing mother and baby. She knows how to calm and encourage them all, and she does. Soon the parents are feeding, changing and bathing their baby as if they too have been doing it all their lives. As each confinement has come to pass I have added to my Granny uniform an apron with pockets and the old worn cardigan that brings with it the smells and texture of the Granny who came before me. Now they will be put away, until it is time to visit again.

Shopping Baskets are Back

Morning Coffee at the Parlour

At the Fortnum and Mason’s Parlour Cafe service continues at the place of a sedate, unhurried butler coming up from downstairs.
I have ordered an Americano Coffee with hot milk on the side to sip while I wait for parcels from gift-wrap. Already I know that the parcels will be done in the same stately pace as it takes for my cup of coffee to be served. When the coffee does arrive, with the little chocolate ice-cream cone, it is about as perfect a treat as can be.

The Summer Sales are in progress in London. Much as they might like to, Fortnum and Mason’s cannot ignore them. But F&M resent all that mid-season sales imply and it is impressive how they manage to keep the allure around their brand. So the sales tables that are sprinkled through all of the floors are small, and layered with just a little of this and that. On one table lie a few scarves, half a dozen summer hats and clutch bags as if at a summer charity fête. At the kitchen table I weakened to a delicate light green and white stripped mug. It is perfect for those mornings when I do not go out, but boil the kettle at home for a mid-morning Nescafe.nescafe - Version 2

On The Parlour Cafe floor, after the sale table, my eye is quickly drawn to the display of baskets. The wicker picnic hamper is back in fashion. We still have our one from Harrods bought over seventy years ago. Though the real knives and forks have disappeared the then new plastic containers and plates are still alive. These new wicker hampers also have ‘real’ knives, forks, plates and, of course, crystal glasses.

Picnic time

The hamper display is surrounded by shopping baskets in all guises.

All of them are bigger than my mother’s shopping basket which she carried into Fleet every weekday morning.

It would be close to ten-thirty in the morning before she was able to leave the house and drive to town with only a lip-stick and a small change purse in her basket. Once in town she would join friends for a coffee At Mrs. Max’s Café, before walking the high street to shop though she didn’t actually buy very much.

What did my mother do taking those precious morning hours in town? The ladies met at Mrs. Max’s Café, taking an hour or so to pretend they had nothing to discuss, but between sipping their coffee, smoking a cigarette or two, maybe even sampling one of Mrs. Max’s homemade croissants, they chose what secret heartaches to share among the gossip and laughter of friends. Mrs. Max’s pastries were reputedly not only the best in town but in Hampshire. She was French and in some way a refugee from the war. What caused her to be here was a question far too advanced for a child to ask. Did Lady Pechall, with her understanding of many things foreign know Mrs. Max’s story? Had she perhaps been instrumental in helping Mrs. Max get ‘settled‘ in the town? There is no recollection of a Mr. Max. After finishing their coffees and loosening their hearts the ladies got up to leave, saying that they had to ‘get on with it or I will be late.’ Each would stop in this shop and that as they walked the length and back along the High Street, placing orders and possibly putting one or two things in their baskets.

What did my mother buy in our small Hampshire town? Maybe some cooking staples, flour, sugar and raisins. Spices remembered from her years in Africa and still scarce in this immediate post-war period? These she could find in Canes Corner ‘Up to Date Stores’ at the far end of town or maybe at Ernest Oakley’s General Store, situated closer to the center of town. If she has a large list it would be boxed up in an orange crate to be delivered to the house. Mr. James Oakley himself might drive up to the back kitchen door, put the box on the kitchen table and, if Mrs. P was in a good mood and he not too busy, share a cup of tea while chatting, as one does, binding community together. Daily deliveries were still common in the countryside. Milk from Rose Farm Dairy was brought by the milk man on his way home to the dairy farm next door. Late morning would often find me waiting for the milk cart to return and be hoisted onto the back of the old piebald cart-horse to ride the few yards to the farm driveway. Gordon then lifted me back off and I would scamper home again, believing, as children do, that no-one saw me. Bread was delivered three times a week from Jessett’s Store. If he saw me the delivery man would slip me fresh still-warm roll from his basket. Even the butcher, Mr Percy Harden, would drive up with meat and game, considered to big or messy for my mother to carry. It was a time of transition. A time to change, to be more in tune with the new post-war society. For a large Edwardian household such as ours, outdated even then, this was a challenge. My mother had only the beloved Mrs. P. to help her each day. There was no housekeeper to rule the kitchen though my father kept three gardeners for as long as he could afford it.
Today deliver service is offered to the online shoppers of Tesco and Waitrose. Every evening one of their trucks comes down our little street and unload crates of groceries which fit into American sized refrigerators.

Basket for Today

But for some baskets are now the smart midmorning accessory while we become super conscious of our plastic consumption and the need to buy fresh and organic produce.

 

The trolly is permissible on Camden High street though rarely seen on Regent’s Park Road. I bought my basket in Paris, where nearly everyone still shops with a basket.

Basket from France

 

 

But sometimes, when it is full, for I buy most things in our small village, it gets heavy.

 

 

This last week I pulled out from behind the washing machine my mother’s old basket.

photo

She had long ago relegated it to carrying cleaning products up and down her stairs. Somehow she needed to honour its devoted service and hold onto the memories it carried for her.

I too had not let it go and for fifteen years it has held ‘extras’ in the back of a cupboard. But out it came, shaking off the under-stairs dust and, after a spray of furniture oil, it felt perky enough to fit on my arm and come into town. It holds more than I thought. It is well designed and alongside the bigger french basket it has it’s place once more.

Granny's basket can carry

Baskets are for the markets and for those of us who are older, who need the exercise and the daily connection with others. Walking into the village and coming home with our basket full is a good mornings work.

Letter from A. Broad

Letter from A. Broad

Is Back.

It was bound to happen, but I was never sure how or when. Now this blog section is birthed from letters produced biweekly for KWMR.

The Letter from A. Broad title came from a suggestion by Susan Stone when we were mulling over what would be fun and ‘different’ to air on KPFA radio. It was she who laughingly came up with A Letter from A. Broad as a catchy title.

“You should do it.” She said.

“Can’t.” I replied, “It would be too like Alastair Cook’s ‘Letters from America,’” (1946-2004) But the idea stayed. We continued to joke about it long after we had both left KPFA. In the spring of 2004 while in England something, probably political, got up my nose. I decided to write, record and produce a piece. It was no doubt too long but I did write and edit, record and edit, bounce and burn the CD. Then packaged it up and sent it off to KPFA and KWMR. But as I turned to leave our local post office, which is tucked in the back of the newsagents, I was stopped by the evening papers headline, “Alastair Cook has died.” It was stunning news in itself but the timing was shocking. I felt that permission had been granted, maybe even a blessing of sorts and so, for the next six and a half years, I produced a Letter from A. Broad for KWMR. Occasionally I managed to post them on PRX and other stations would pick them up. But I was never as together with marketing as I could have been. I was happy to be in the hands of Pete Horner at mixmonkey.com who composed and recorded the theme music and somehow slipped the programs into podcasts.

Eventually the letters became over-demanding, cutting into all other written or radio work I wanted to do. It was hard to let them go. But having done so, other work has been able to emerge, including this little website and its blogs. Though I wonder why is so much so often bundled in threes? Is it the strands of life folding over each other to make one big braid? So here again these blog posts fall in three strands. The Farm writing, the Nursing notes and now Letter from A. Broad.

It is fun to see and read the news from those of us lucky enough to travel in our lives, Janet Robins sends us fascination PostCards from Paris where she spends half the year with her husband. Beatrice writes and posts her photography from Buenos Aires while Amy Scott has a podcast of interviews with intrepid travelers like herself.
Maybe in the not too distant future I will get back to broadcasting. At the moment I’m thinking about bird song and memory. But for now this writing will hold.