Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Lifesaving Tea

Making and drinking tea can mean so many different things in so many situations. I have celebrated happy moments with a pot of tea, commiserated with friends over a pot of tea, shared secrets, celebrated engagements, and restored frazzled spirits, all with tea. When welcoming visitors into my home, my hands reach to fill the kettle and arrange the cups and saucers almost by themselves. In the face of bad news, I have almost sleepwalked to the kettle. Sometimes tea is the only way to celebrate, sometimes the ritual of it feels like the only thing anchoring you to the ground.

Having walked all the way to the end of the longest pier in the world at Southend-on-Sea on Saturday morning, we discovered a little shop selling things to raise money for the wonderful work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It is hard to believe that such vital work relies on charity. So you can imagine I was more than happy to do my bit and contribute - particularly as they were selling boxes of Lifeboat Tea, with a proportion of the profits going to the charity.

We brewed our first pot yesterday, and it was really delicious - rich, strong and fragrant. The only problem is that when we want more, it is a long way to the end of the pier! 1.3 miles, in fact. We walked down, and it was just the perfect weather for it. Warm and sunny enough for it to be pleasant, but without having to worry about burning, and enough breeze to make it really comfortable. As we walked along, we passed several rows of benches, facing out to sea. I couldn't help but think it would be lovely to spend an entire day on the pier, watching the waves, and knitting. Then I got to imagining Miss Marple on her holidays, sitting and knitting and watching, and wondering if she would prevent a murder by observing those around her, and using a few well chosen words. I think there was a Poirot where he was on holiday and warned someone about a murder - and it turned out he was warning the would-be murderer not to do it, although you don't realise that at the time. Come to think of it, I wonder what would have happened if Miss Marple had been sitting and knitting on the pier, and Hercule Poirot wandered past, on his own holidays.

Perhaps I have Poirot and Marple in mind because of the other souvenir I bought from the shop at the end of the pier - a copy of The Floating Admiral which was first published in the thirties, and was written by a group of crime club authors - including Agatha Christie. Each one wrote a chapter, and then passed it onto the next - a kind of game of literary consequences.

Although a lot of the seafront at Southend is filled with arcade amusements and the like, and there is a whole mini theme-park right next to the pier, the pier itself is refreshingly unspoilt. Even when you get to the end, there is a place to buy an ice-cream, a place for lunches, and the RNLI shop, but nothing gaudy. There is a train line that runs along the pier, so that you can ride the train either there-and-back or just one way as you prefer. We were happy to catch the train back, and actually got more of an impression of the length of the pier from the steady constant slow speed of the train, rather than our somewhat irregular perambulations!

All that fresh sea air made me sleepy that evening, and I slept really well. Oh I do like to be beside the sea-side...

Monday, 27 May 2013

Lilly Scented Evening

Friday was a bitter-sweet day for me - it was my last day in the Cabinet Office, in a job I have loved, with colleagues who have become friends. I intend to be working there again at some point in the future, but it is sad leaving, for now. I had been at my desk about an hour when my phone rang, and one of our receptionists said they had a delivery for me. I went down to see what it was, and for the first time in my entire life, I had been sent flowers to work.

It was a beautiful hand tied bouquet, from the florists at the train station- the same florists that I walk through the train station on my way to and from work just to smell their flowers! It has pink gerbera daisies, stargazer lillies, irises, and a beautiful pink rose along with some foliage. They have slowly opened over the weekend, and our home is filled with their heavenly scent. They were from the Councillor who I have been working for.

Then Nicole, who I have been working with for a few weeks bought me a lovely bottle of wine, which was really kind. Just as I was about to take the flowers home on my lunch break, my manager arrived at my desk accompanied by the rest of the office - with a lovely card, and some gifts. They had bought me a tea pot and two matching cups, along with a selection box of different kinds of teas, and then some hot chocolate and mini marshmallows too. I was so overwhelmed and touched, and am going to take my teapot to my new office and think of them every time I drink from it.

Just before I left, the lady who is taking over my councillor gave me a bottle of champagne - I have been so, so touched by the kindness of my friends.

And so tomorrow a new adventure begins - I wonder what it will hold!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Little sips of lemsip and dabs of olbas oil have been sustaining me through the last few days whilst I struggle with this cold. It has been as though the weather has been mirroring my sniffles, with overcast skies and chilly winds, and the occasional spot of rain.

So you can imagine how beautiful it was to walk home in sunshine today. The air was still cool enough to burn my sinuses, but it was bright, at last. And as I walked along the little row of Victorian cottages that line one of the roads between work and home, I was struck by the profusion of beautiful flowers blooming in the gardens. Pansies seemed to almost dance in window baskets, and a shock of bluebells had forced their way up underneath a fence. A spray of sweet peas, not quite in bloom yet, but with one or two brave early flowers leading the way, leaned over a gate, reaching out and swaying in the breeze. The next garden offered huge, overblown, blowzy irises. I adore irises - they always look like a painting of themselves, even when you are seeing them in reality. One uncut front lawn was bespangled with dandelion clocks. Utter bliss. After so many months of winter, I was amazed to see that suddenly, everything is in bloom.

And then it hit me - it is mid May, nearly June, so really, it is time that the flowers were in bloom. They are so welcome, no matter how behind they feel!

All this blooming puts me in mind of a quote that I have pinned to my flowery noticeboard at work - Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it turned into a butterfly...wise words, and I hope that even though my time in the Cabinet Office is drawing to a close, it will prove to be a butterfly situation for me!

I collected a Jane Brocket book from the library on my way home - The Gentle Art of Stitching - and visited the yarnstorm blog this evening as a result. Jane has written a post called Repository in which she said This blog has proved to be a useful distraction and source of consolation in recent weeks and months when terribly difficult things have been happening. It's a little repository of good things, small highlights, and positive moments. These are by no means representative of my days, but I put them here to remind myself that they still exist. The thing is that life goes on, that it's counterproductive and not good to be completely submerged by sadness and despondency (that way madness lies etc). Better to acknowledge the bad parts, know that good times will return, and endeavour to keep a balance. which reminds me of something from Mrs Miniver. In it, Mrs Miniver muses on marriage, and says that some of the best aspects of marriage are having somebody's eye to catch at a dinner party, and having someone to save up little stories from your day for, turning them out in the evening like pebbles from your pocket. I couldn't help but relate that to blogs, too. I have always talked about the difficult times I have faced as well as the good, but it is really true that my blog is a repository for me, of my thoughts, and life, cups of tea drank, books read, things made, adventures had, and little happy things observed.

Nothing more, nothing less. Just a little repository. It is lovely to always have somewhere to be able to come and turn over old memories, should I want to. I don't very often read my archives. When I do, it tends to be when I want a recipe I have posted here. But I love knowing that if I want to relive the year we moved or got married or a particularly birthday, or just recapture the feeling of a certain kind of afternoon, when only a bath will do, then I can.

Sometimes I think about blogs, about blogging, what it all means. But today, it just means comfort, peace and joy.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Picking Violets on a Wednesday Afternoon

Many years ago now, when I was working in the second library I had ever worked in, and the one I was to stay with for longest, I worked with a lovely, lovely lady called Angela. Angela is tall and willowy with curly hair and an innate sense of style, who ate bread and honey and understood. One day, when I had had a bad week - nothing was really wrong, but I was just quite blue, she left an envelope on my desk. Inside was a Winnie the Pooh card, the original illustrations, not the Disney version, of a scene of Piglet picking violets. The caption was 'Piglet Picking Violets'.

We decided that some days, you just want to pick violets. It was a kind of recognition that some days you just have to be gentle to yourself, throw over your usual routine, and pick violets instead.

I suspected today was going to be a Violet Picking Day, so I arranged to go home early in the afternoon, after a team meeting. It has been a drizzly Wednesday, and it has been lovely hugging that early finish to myself all day. The violet picking started with lunch in the tea shop with the same lovely Angela who first gave me the card - it was heavenly to catch up, and linger over a pot of tea.

At our team meeting, I had to bite my lip at one point, because the announcement was made that I am leaving the Cabinet Office. In a week and a half. This is one of the winds of change that has been blowing through my life lately. The maternity leave contract I was covering is coming to an end, and I have been lucky enough to secure a post until the end of March as a team leader in Business Support. There is a big part of me that is going to be very sad to leave a job I adore, and colleagues I have become close to, but I am also looking forward to new challenges, and will be keeping an eye out for jobs in the Cabinet Office in the future.

But even so, I was still sad to hear my leaving formally announced. I was pleased to be able slip away afterwards, and go home. I got home around half past three, and did one of my favourite things in the world - took an afternoon bath by candlelight. To my mind it is the perfect Picking-Violet-Day activity. Laying in the hot water reading by candlelight and sipping tea, I felt my mind start to relax and the tension slip away.

I changed into my nightie and cardigan combination, and slipped into the kitchen to cook dinner. My favourite kind of cooking, simple ingredients from scratch, therapeutic stirring and simmering. I made a lentil dahl and flatbreads - I just adore making flatbreads at the moment. They are so simple, and yet delicious, and it feels so satisfying to have made them. The magic secret to them is to sprinkle black onion seeds into the flour before adding the water and oil.

I was lucky enough to pass the evening with Midori Green, who is teaching me a gloves routine she has choreographed herself, and from that we went on to burlesque class, where we are learning another gloves routine. It is slow with lots of stretching, and I am really enjoying it.

And now, back home, eyes heavy with sleep. Smiling sleepily, glad I broke my normal routine, and came home early to pick some violets - it is the kind of tonic that makes me smile for days afterwards.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Winds of Change

Just as we had been enjoying some glorious days of sunshine, when spring had come at last, the winds are blowing clouds scudding across the skies again. Carl and I very, very rarely have arguments or disagreements, but he has pointed out gently, more than once, that when we do have the occasional word, I go very, very quiet and tend to bottle things up.

And so it has been here. Winds of change are blowing through my life again, some good, some that I find it harder to see as good, although hopefully in time it will be so...but I find that I do go quiet when I have too much to think about. I do have some gloriously lovely things to tell you about, I know I haven't told you about my lovely birthday and all my other adventures yet - I must sit down with a pot of tea and blog properly.

But I find when I have been away for a while, I need to just post once or twice first, and then get down to 'proper' posts, sharing news and catching up. And so this is that.

I brought a new nightie several weeks ago now - by FrostFrench, a navy-grey with pink roses all over it, trimmed with cream lace. It is my favourite thing at the moment to come home and slip into my nightie, and a thin grey cardigan that I cut the buttons off and replaced with little violet ones. It just feels gentle and soothing. I get in, I change, I make a pot of tea, and I am home.

I have been reading a lot recently. I have read the first in the Beautiful Creatures trilogy, Lace by Shirley Conran, The Night Circus which was utterly enchanting, and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. I am now reading The Ingredients of Love which is translated from French. It is a pretty little tale, of Aurelie who comes across a novel which features her very own restaurant, and the description of a girl remarkably like her. She wants to talk to the author, so contacts the publisher...but unbeknown to her, the author doesn't actually exist...

I feel so sleepy this evening, I can hardly wait to get to bed and read a bit more of my story, and then sleep. I was late in the office this evening, and when I got home I made macaroons for a charity cake sale at work tomorrow. I have the lights on low, and Midsomer Murders in the background, and everything is gentle, and quiet. I love home, I love it. It feels almost like autumn outside these past few days, and there is a bit of me that longs to just stay at home with a blanket and my tea. But I have lunch tomorrow with an old friend who I haven't caught up with for a long time, so out I must go!

I will be back though, I will be back. Love Mimi xxx