Saturday, 3 October 2020

Superb September

September distinguished itself with incredibly warm weather. So unseasonably warm, both during the day and at night, that I almost felt uneasy: global warming. The first day of the month, in fact, saw me in church cleaning out the boiler room after recent renovations: a filthy job, entailing lots of moving crockery and other things off and on shelves. I was extremely hot by the end of it.

Then it was back to school, a slow easing in to the term with three days of preparation. Should have been intensive INSET, but due to Covid-19 and the mandatory 7 day self-isolation, no one could come to do any training. I wasn’t particularly sorry...

Birthday and wedding anniversary came next on the first Saturday in September: it was also the day of the Rocquaine Regatta. We went down for a swim at L’Eree, more sheltered from the wind, then managed to catch the rowing and raft races as we retraced our steps before climbing back up the hill to home. The weather was wonderful, so a quiet, relaxed afternoon in the sun before fish and chips on the cliffs to finish the day. And, of course, a chat with Jonny and Adele in the morning – we’d already spoken to Cara, Cat and Andy the night before which was, of course, already Saturday in New Zealand.

Sunday saw me visit a local ‘apple fair’ – equivalent of an autumn fete. I arrived just in time to see the ex-Bailiff take part in the pie scoffing contest...good fun. My dear neighbour Nicky was in charge of the tea tent – the Canterbury apple tart, which I had helped to make, had already vanished by the time I got there – but a local folk band started singing. More good fun.

Then, back to school. Can’t believe another school year is beginning. #mustbemad  I have a lovely class this year, albeit with the usual challenges. I have known one particular family for many years, having taught the two older siblings. We have soon settled down into a routine...

The weather continued to be good, although my swims tailed off from the middle of the month as the tides were neaps and it was difficult to time a swim without wading through a lot of shallow water. By the end of the month, the water had started to cool a little.

We found ourselves very busy at weekends. We helped marshal for a charity walk one Saturday; had our ‘church@home’ to lunch another Sunday, after I hosted breakfast for friends the day before. They brought beautiful flowers which have given me great pleasure for a couple of weeks. More friends to supper the following weekend... with Sunday church and Saturday afternoon teatimes with Kareena, it was hectic fitting everything in at times. And, of course, Skyping with Jonny and Adele, and Cara Grace... Great fun.

One big difference this month: normally, we would be meeting with friends for Bible study and prayer every Thursday evening, as has been our habit for the last 15 years, apart from holiday times. No more. It is a relief, in some ways, not to have to traipse out or prepare every Thursday, when we are tired as the week nears its end, but there is an element of sadness and loss...

Now it is October, the weather has turned cooler, and Storm Alex is causing havoc in France. But that is another story for another month...

Monday, 31 August 2020

Amazing August

 Most of August was spent at Fauxquets Valley campsite - see Travels With Pickle - but we bookended our stay at home. The first few days were final tweaks to the house - every corner cleaned and polished to Mr Pollard's highly exacting standards - and getting the garden looking as immaculate as possible. AKA trimming hedges and bushes, of which there are Far Too Many.

The end of the month saw us, thankfully, return home. Good to be back. The guests had left it spick and span, so it was just a question of unpacking the motorhome and then unpacking our store room, having cleared out kitchen and bedrooms for them.

But the main surprise was the weather. August had turned unwelcome the last few days: cloud, rain, wind, storm even - and then then wind swung round to the north, bringing chills. Yet the last couple of days of the month were wonderful for our south-facing property. Sheltered, we were too hot outside on both patios, front and back. Walks - and blackberry picking - on the cliff path were a complete pleasure as there was no wind to speak of, the sun glanced dazzling off the open sea and, as a bonus, we had the cliffs to ourselves, save for a few pipits and a couple of gannets diving for fish offshore.

The daily swim - I have barely missed a day in the last couple of months - was so wonderful down at Rocquaine, though the sea was quite choppy. I bump into a particular parent down there quite frequently - always a pleasure to see her. We cycled home up through the lanes, a quiet route past a wonderful view over the bay. So wonderful, that we decided to come back down - with a bottle of Bailey's Salted Caramel liquer - for a (literal) sundowner at sunset.

It was absolutely lovely. The sundowner was a little bit of a let down, though: the glass we had decided to share, so romantically, had cracked on the way down, so we were reduced to taking swigs from the bottle. Not quite so romantic as sipping decorously from glasses...

Still, it was worth it. Saw the 'green flash', though it was more of a green glow around the sun, and iridescent cloud above it - apparently, a very rare phenomenon. 

So August ended, in the end, with wonderful weather. So much to be thankful for.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

July: journeying on

July had begun to settle into a rhythm of swims, gardening, walks, gardening...and then we added spring cleaning. An opportunity had come up to rent the house out for a few weeks, as we would normally do when away each summer.

I had been considering a 'staycation' in any case. I recognised that, were I to stay at home all summer,lovely as it is, I would be spending much of my time catching up on the house and garden - particularly the garden - with no real chance to unwind. We couldn't easily go off the island without having to self-isolate for two weeks on our return: the prospect of travelling over to Covid-infested England wasn't appealing and there were no boats to France, so that, in our opinion, was that. The local campsite a couple of miles away in the Fauxquets Valley had been a happy stay last year, so, we decided to see about going away for a few nights. 

We spent a pleasant day, though, investigating the motorhome 'aire' at Beaucette Marina in the north of the island. Cycling up there and visiting friends on our travels gave us a happy 24 mile cycle ride. The motorhome parking could have been well-sited up at Beaucette, the former quarry filled with boats of all descriptions from barges to yachts, but its view of the back of the restaurant, complete with rubbish bins, held,  unsurprisingly, little appeal. 

There are two other campsites in the north: Vaugrat, next to our former house, was lovely and well-sited with just a short walk to the beach, but it does not accept dogs.Pity. The other, the Bailloterie, was where we spent two weeks on our arrival in Guernsey. A pleasant, sprawling site, but without the charm of the Fauxquets. Nor is wifi quite so easily accessible from the van there... So, the Fauxquets it would be.

Booking the Fauxquets online was not without its problems and had to be done in two chunks. When we called in on a ride one day to check that the booking was valid, it was somewhat disconcerting to be told that they don't like long-stay visitors of more than three weeks. The reason: the campers get 'complacent' and start inviting visitors - a strict no-no - and who can blame the owners for their no visitors policy. The swimming pool would be filled with half of Guernsey's children if they got the chance. It didn't exactly make us feel welcome, though, and left me with a determination to be on my best behaviour. I'm a little concerned that Pickle will not feel the same way...

So the last ten days of the month were spent arranging for the guests to come. It is, indeed, the most wonderful feeling to have cupboards cleaned and emptied, the freezer defrosted - a long-held aim - and the house absolutely immaculate. Despite Jonny and Adele's absence, I am loving the feel of the clean, empty entrance hall. Even the dog crate has been stowed away in the office...

There was still masses of time to catch up with friends for coffee, go swimming and cycling, or walk the dog. Lovely to see a lot of my dear neighbour and friend next door Nicky, always so much to chat about. We will miss being able to pop in quite so easily but it will be a good excuse to cycle up to say hello.

There were a couple of challenges. Although we met new friends, partly through newcomers coming to my ladies breakfast one Saturday morning, July saw our home group, which had met for 15 years, split into two as the groups 'multiplied'. It wasn't easy. 

Then, at the end of the month, Jonny and Adele left England for Tanzania. An anxious and prayer-filled 48 hours: one cancelled flight (nothing like turning up at the airport to find your flight to be conspicuously absent) and concerns that the next flight, with another airline, were also indicating that it was cancelled couple with Covid-related uncertainty about the paperwork required to enter Tanzania. Still, all was well and they returned home with only one slight delay en-route. Phew.

The end of the month saw me enjoying an evening swim down at Rocquaine. There were only a couple of other people there: it was grey and windy, with a little surf coming in on rough waves. As I bobbed about in the water, I watched people walk by behind the top of the high sea wall. I couldn't see very well, but it looked as if there was a goat walking along with them. Strange - it must be some sort of child's buggy, I decided.

It wasn't a buggy, though. It was a goat. A Golden Guernsey ram, magnificent horns soaring above its long golden hair. It was being led about on a lead, like a dog, in the courtyard of the Imperial Hotel at the end of the road. Only in Guernsey....

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Jubilant July: part one...

Mid-July update:

July arrived with a bang in the middle of the last week of term, Jonny and Adele still teaching live lessons up to the last minute. It had been a long haul for them: they had been teaching and preparing lessons since their arrival at the end of March. Jonny would start his first lesson at 6.30am (8.30 am in Tanzania) and then spend the afternoon preparing lessons, only emerging at 6.30 or 7 in the evening. The pressure had eased off somewhat as the end of term approached – having worked all through the Easter holidays and most of half term, both J and A were ahead in their planning and preparation – and they were able to get out for a daily walk and/or, in Jonny’s case, run.

The running amazed us. We dropped him off one afternoon at Jerbourg Point in St Martins. He ran the length of the cliffs all the way to Pleinmont and then walked and jogged home – a distance of well over 25 kilometres. As Adele commented, he would run and not even look tired afterwards. Incredible. (But then he had won a high-altitude trail half-marathon a few months earlier, running at 14,000 metres asl across the rugged terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro.)

My last week was full of practices for the class play performance, an abbreviated version because of lockdown; while the children practised, I got to know some of the Year 5 children who would be in my class in September while their teacher conducted rehearsals. Then it was tidying up and preparing for the holidays before a tea party for the parents and the farewells of the last day.

And it was a good ending to the term. The children had grown and matured and, importantly, the parents had appreciated everything we had done together to help the children have a successful year. One parent had organised the others to collect for a generous voucher gift and, while that is very much appreciated, what I really loved were the thankful cards and emails. It was wonderfully satisfying to be able to celebrate the children's progress and know that they were well prepared for the Adventure of Secondary Education.

Then it was Holiday Time!  J and A made the most of their last week with us. We went on walks and cycle rides, enjoying summer on the island. Our first outing was to Hauteville House, Victor Hugo’s home. It is like being inside an amazing art installation – the young guide was highly knowledgeable, explaining the provenance of various artefacts and giving a fascinating insight into Victor Hugo’s life and work. We even had a tour of the beautiful walled garden afterwards.

HuThe tides enabled us to walk over the causeway to Lihou, exploring the Venus pool and watching gannets and a myriad of other seabirds diving for fish.

We took a picnic to Herm on the hottest day: we had the beach at the northern end of the island to ourselves, but Shell Beach and Belvoir Bay were crowded, as was the boat, where we met several friends and acquaintances all making the most of their Guernsey ‘staycation’. One particular delight was seeing a sparrow hawk catch its prey just a few metres away from us before it perched on a rock to eat. I had never had such a good view before.

We did bike rides together; had a fun meal next door with Nicky and Richard; and a last walk to Pleinmont the morning they left.

Then it was over. The last three and a half months with them here have been wonderful. I never for a moment found myself wishing I had the house to myself and we all thoroughly enjoyed our time together. Still, we were glad they were going off to spend time with Adele’s family before returning to Tanzania... ten days up with Phil and Judy and then going down to Falmouth to Adele’s sister Jenny and family. We pray that they will all remain Covid-free...

As for us: well, a flurry of activity has kept us somewhat distracted. Intent on not returning to an empty house, we went shopping for geraniums for the garden and replenishing groceries before we dared return home to a somewhat bemused dog. Pickle sat and stared at the car in puzzlement and, indeed, spent the first couple of days staring through the glass door to the hallway where Adele had usually been sitting, teaching lessons or working on craft projects.

The weekend was full. Ladies’ breakfast for nine, meeting new women, then tea with Kareena. Sunday was hectic – church@home, then a wonderful, relaxed shared lunch with the usual ‘gang’ of seven families together – such good friends – before we came home for a glass of wine with dear Martin and Sarah who cycled up from Le Gouffre.

The week saw Richard embark on a project to install a drip irrigation system for the pot plants scattered around the house while I managed to prune and cut back the diseased, dead wood in several of the huge camellia bushes we have. Satisfying, and long overdue.

These ten days have been tinged with sadness, though. First, on the first Monday of the holidays, was Stan’s memorial service. It was live-streamed, so we could join in. I wept my way through the wonderful talks, reminisces and songs. So, so sad to have lost him so quickly.

Then there was dealing with the repercussions of a decision to ‘multiply’ our home group. We started this group over fifteen years ago with four friends, learning to trust each other and live life together. The group had grown and shrunk over the years but was now composed of 15 wonderful people – too large, though. Although we had long recognised the need to divide, it nevertheless came as a shock and the division turned out, in the end, to be so unequal that two groups were not viable and so, reluctantly, we find ourselves without the prospect of our regular Thursday evening meetings. Watch this space...

In all of the visits and socializing, I ended up with a houseful of all kinds of cut flowers... sunflowers splashy bright and elegant roses, with sweet peas and lilies spreading their perfume. So kind. A consolation in the midst of just a little grief.

So that was the first half of July. Phew. What a rollercoaster of a fortnight....

Thursday, 9 July 2020

June, jumping ahead.

June came and went in glorious technicolour and at breakneck speed.

Firstly, we returned to school. Initially our return was to have been in half classes/classes for half the week... the details being worked out yet changing rapidly. In the end, we returned in socially-distanced whole classes. I and my class had to move out of our classroom into the computer room, sitting so precisely one metre apart that there was, literally, very little wiggle room. Children had to sit back to back or at right angles to one another, forbidden to lean over or towards anyone else. While all were delighted to see and be with their friends again, it was very stressful trying to maintain the distance. There were many minor infringements by accident or, in one or two cases, outright rebellion once or twice. (A quick email to parents soon sorted that one out.)

After a couple of weeks we were allowed to return to normal. Back in the classroom, albeit in a different table formation: this was the last two weeks of school and so I allowed the children to sit where they wanted. That was not without its problems, but we all survived and ended on good terms. In fact, the thank you cards were especially lovely and meaningful this year: what a privilege to feel that I had made a difference to a child's life, helping him navigate another year of schooling to emerge stronger, more mature and happier.

This is why I teach. (And, of course, the satisfaction in promoting Good Grammar. Nothing like it.)

Before the end of term, though was an even more intense than usual helter-skelter ride where we fitted in many end of term events: sports day, an end of term musical performance and tea for the Year 6 parents and even a successful trip to Lihou Island. We stayed the night, playing games, taking photographs, jumping in the Venus Pool (a deep rock pool below the cliffs), dodging nesting sea gulls and even a quick dip in the sea.

Another delightful surprise was the neighbour's middle child, who arrived one Sunday morning with an apologetic and embarrassed air, a bottle of wine and a delightful thank you note:

At home, life was full of cliff walks, cycle rides, cups of tea, meals out, meeting up on the beach... and getting together with friends for breakfast after a gap of several months. Marvellous weather enabled us to enjoy the profusion of wild flowers, fields of pink foxgloves and campion giving way to the white and yellow of ox-eye daisies and chamomile...

Two months without Covid-19 on the island. No more queueing outside shops, nor social distancing inside or around town. Everything opened up and returned back to 'normal'. By the end of the month we felt as if we were in a bubble of protection, a haven in a world of turmoil... with still almost no contact with the outside world...

And Jonny and Adele were still with us, working their socks off, teaching online to the end of term without a break. Teaching had been intense for them since February.

We all looked forward to a week's break after the end of term at the beginning of July...

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Marvellous May

The advent of May heralded a new normal, a good settling into routine and the chance for many celebrations.

The three teachers in the house worked intensively with online teaching and pre-recorded lessons. Jonny and Adele began their days with lessons starting at 6.30 am before moving on in the afternoon to prepping for the next batch. For Angie, hours were spent sitting in front of a computer screen, answering queries from students, liaising and meeting online with colleagues or marking assignments. The latter proved to be an absolute nightmare: multiple documents needed to be opened or downloaded, then deciphered. Work was submitted upside down, sideways, out of focus or illegibly faint. What could have taken a minute or two 'in real life' could take up to 10 minutes onscreen, especially when marking maths. How the children expected their teachers to understand their work when questions were not numbered, ot submitted haphazardly in any sort of random order, was a mystery...

Online teaching, was, however, fun in many ways. Individual 'chats' or actual calls with children, helping them with completing or managing their assignments, were very rewarding, albeit not sustainable in real life. Having spent half an hour working through a variety of problems with one child gave me pause for thought: doing that with every pupil would mean a 10 hour working day just on conversations... Some wonderful work was submitted and parents, too, gave feedback on the lessons. Indeed, my Year 2 RE lessons were some of the best planned and most satisfying, for both my pupils and me, which I have delivered for a long time.

There were many benefits to working at home: most of all, the opportunity to be flexible. So lunch breaks were taken sitting on the patio; a cycle ride before work was possible, or a  midday dog walk; and there were many opportunities to take a brief break and then return, refreshed, to a very challenging work situation.

When not working, we took advantage of the weather, which was tremendous: no rainfall at all during the whole month meant clear, sunny mornings, beautiful cliff walks and stunning flowers.

Shopping became a rare occurrence: we ordered online and ventured out only every ten to fourteen days, early in the morning before the queues started. A new rhythm to life...

Two birthdays - Richard's and Adele's - were celebrated in style with, firstly, drinks with Nicky and Richard over the fence, complete with birthday banner, and then, for Adele, a special meal. Pizza night, with the discovery of gluten-free pizza bases. The end of the month saw the first couple of barbecues - happily, we had unwittingly asked Nicky and Richard over on Nicky's birthday, spending a lovely evening together.

May saw us move out of lockdown: May 3rd, in fact, was the first day with no new Covid-19 cases on the island and by May 27th there were no active cases at all. (Nicky kept notes of all the data in her diary, updating it every day as numbers of active cases dropped.) We moved from total lockdown, where we were allowed out only for essential, infrequent shopping, medical visits, and a maximum of two hours of exercise, first to four hours of exercise and then the possibility of 'bubbling' with another household, where we were allowed to meet up in each others' homes without having to maintain any kind of distance from one another. After that, we were allowed to 'bubble' with two other households as well... and then: no bubbles at all, but unlimited meetings with any one else as long as we maintained a metre distance in our homes and gardens and two metres in public places, gathering in groups of any size up to a maximum of 30. Non-essential shops and businesses prepared to open, and schools were given permission to return after the half term break. But that is next month's story....

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Ponderings on grief

I have been musing wordlessly on this for several weeks, mulling over Stan's untimely death and all it means to those who love him, wanting to express, to clarify, to organise my cluttered thoughts. Grief has been likened to a tangled ball of wool, and so it is. These are just a few of those untangled thoughts. The rest, leaden, stay deep within my heart. For now.

This, sometimes, is how I feel. When I remember. When an email arrives from Tami. When I see references to Central Asia; or Colorado; or Kenya; or ....just anything. Anything can remind me.

The shock of Stan’s sudden passing has stayed with me and, sometimes or so it seems, almost intensified. I find myself more teary, more upset and more unable to talk about it. This morning, in church, I was in pieces afterwards. We sang an old hymn, reminding me of an incident with Stan and Tami in Africa Gospel Church we attended together all those years ago. Sharing a hymn book, I saw Tami smile at Stan – and of course he smiled back, with that wonderful kind grin he had – as they sang together. Now they can do that no longer.

And I just wonder how Tami is feeling. Unimaginable: for I must feel only a fraction of the grief. Surely she must wish to be with him.

The world was a better place with Stan Brown in it. Fortunate is heaven, now, to have him. His body may have entered the decay process, but his soul continues on forever. I regret there were not, in latter years, enough shared moments. Life. moves on. until life ends. Gladly, for us, that is not the end of The Story.

Yet in the here and now, we carry grief still within us. While we strive to live in the present moment, mindfully focusing on what just IS, not what was or will be, the past informs the present. What has happened, or not happened, changes us. The present influences the future. The grief remains.

So, for now: just don’t ask me how I am. I may not be able to choke out a reply. Because this, sometimes, is how I feel. Even when I do not remember. This grief is me.