Girl In A Pale Blue Dress

Something extraordinary happened at the weekend: my uncle and auntie celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary.  Fifty years of happy married life.  I say extraordinary because I don’t know anyone else in my family who has achieved anything like this kind of marital longevity.  They celebrated by hosting a five-course luncheon for 75 friends and family in the same area several hours north of us in Cheshire where they have lived since they married.

That part of the world holds many precious memories for me as that is where my grandparents lived when I was a girl.  They had a rambling Victorian house with a summerhouse at the bottom of the garden, the very same summerhouse that is my inspiration for the name of this blog.

It was a privilege for me to take part in this celebration because as a five-year old, I was one of their bridesmaids.  My memories of their wedding day are vague but what I do clearly remember is my  pale-blue bridesmaid’s dress of which I was so very proud. My mother shortened it after the wedding and turned it into a party dress.  Wearing it with my matching, sparkly pale-blue shoes, I must have thought I was the bees knees.

But it’s strange what we remember isn’t it? Memories of that same dress remind me of a visit to my other grandparents for a family gathering and ending up lying on their bed with a stomach ache from eating too many cocktail onions.

As a memoir writer I am constantly looking back to my past because I have to.  So often we hear that it isn’t good to look back too much on the things that are painful, but sometimes we have no choice.  The past is the past and what happened back then can’t be changed.  But I’m learning that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.  After all, isn’t this what history is?  And how do we learn unless we look back on our mistakes to make sure that we change things for the better?

Our lives are woven into the fabric of family life giving us continuity and a sense of our place, our fit in the world, and celebrations of this kind remind us of that, giving us renewed hope, particularly when so many parts of this fabric are so threadbare that they eventually disintegrate.

At the celebration party I met one of the other bridesmaids.  We don’t know each other and have not met since that day fifty years ago but it was clear to me that my dad had left an impression on her.  Life and soul and all that.  She asked after him and of course I had to tell her that sadly his life has not gone well.  I didn’t elaborate, there was no need.  She seemed to nod knowingly.

My mother has a photo taken from that day.  I am looking to the side and squinting as if the sun is in my eyes.

Wedding Photograph.  Me as a five year old directly in front of my uncle with my dad to my left as you look at the photo.  The other bridesmaid that I met at the weekend is the lovely lady behind me with the dark hair, to the right of my auntie. (c) courtesy of Elisabeth Nelson 2014

Wedding Photograph, 1964.  Me as a five-year old directly in front of my uncle with my dad to my left as you look at the photo. The other bridesmaid that I met at the weekend is the lovely woman behind me with the dark hair, to the right of my auntie.
(c) courtesy of Elisabeth Nelson 2014

I am in awe of my uncle and auntie’s still-intact marriage, the storms they’ve weathered, challenges they’ve overcome, laughter, tears, heartache and joy.  They didn’t wait for blue skies to get them in the mood for happiness: they rolled up their sleeves, got on with it and lived the life that was/is handed to them. The brokenness of my family life lies like a perpetual ache in my soul but that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop heeding the call of those same blue skies, because they don’t wait for anybody.

I was only five years old when my uncle and auntie got married and I was mercifully unaware of the heartache to come.  What I do remember, is that on that day I had flowers in my hair and I was just a little girl in a pale-blue dress.

………………………………………………………….

This week, Charli has asked us to consider a phrase instead of a single word prompt for her flash fiction challenge:

‘September 24, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a story where “blue skies won’t wait for you.” What is your character waiting for? Is it too late or  does the impulse come in time? Maybe blue skies are a calling. Try not to think to deeply, and do a quick free-write. Invite your unconscious mind to the page and see what it makes of the phrase.’

As a ‘quick free-write’ I suppose it’s not surprising that this is what came to me for my flash entry:

Blue Sky Freedom

Catherine bristled. Breathing deeply, she stood up along with the others as the Bridal Chorus played.

“What’s wrong?” whispered Steve without looking at her.

“Nothing!” She hissed. “I’m fine!”

Spoken vows scratched across Catherine’s heart like shards of glass, her wounds fresh and deep.

Steve leaned in. “Blue skies won’t wait for you sweetheart, so if you want out then get out. I’m not stopping you!”

Catherine stared at a single shaft of light beaming in through the stained glass window behind the vicar as he declared:

“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride!”

 

 

Posted in Family Life, Childhood Memories, Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Such Is Life

After my recent post in which I shared some of my writing fears and insecurities, I felt a huge weight lift and for the first time in some while, a sense of renewed purpose and yes, joy buoyed me up.

The Pantheon, Stourhead, England Built in 1753 and modelled on The Pantheon in Rome, it was described in 1762 by Horace Walpole as having few rivals ‘in magnificence, taste and beauty’. (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The Pantheon, Stourhead Gardens England
Built in 1753 and modelled on The Pantheon in Rome, it was described in 1762 by Horace Walpole as having few rivals ‘in magnificence, taste and beauty’.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A new determination set in enabling me to keep focused on my newly initiated writing discipline (if I am ever to finish the first draft of my memoir), and although fully aware that the road ahead is far from smooth, I felt stronger than I had done in months to prepare for the inevitable pitfalls.

This busy bee keeps working no matter what... (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

This busy bee keeps working no matter what…
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

But my writing took a back seat once again and not because any of this changed: on Friday morning I rushed my daughter to A&E (ER), whereupon she was admitted to hospital. She returned home yesterday in the late afternoon.  Viral meningitis was suspected but thankfully not.  Still, some sort of nasty virus.

Now we are back home and I feel as if I’ve lost three days in the real world and I am overwhelmed to the point of numbness because I am so far behind with everything.   What can I do?  Well…absolutely nothing except start at the beginning.

Each season brings with it new challenges... Autumn Leaves at Stourhead (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Each season brings with it a new perspective…
Autumn Leaves at Stourhead
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

What is most important is that my daughter is so much better and she is back home. Thank God.

Walking on through the turnstile with the merest of interruptions. Entrance to Stourhead House (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Pushing past the turnstile…
Entrance to the path to Stourhead House
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Blogging had me on a roll last week, so I thought, but these past few days in the hospital with my daughter have changed that.

If not a cottage by the sea, then how about the Gothic Cottage at Stourhead? It even has a fireplace for those crisp, winter mornings... (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

If not a cottage by the sea, then how about the Gothic Cottage at Stourhead?
It even has a fireplace for those crisp, winter mornings…
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Whilst sitting quietly by her bedside as she slept, I pondered the view from the large window in her room.   Being seven floors up, it overlooked a long row of trees, their leaves tinged with the colourful message of September’s autumn.  The sky hung grey and damp after Friday’s storm.

Thunder, lightening and torrential rainfall had heralded our arrival on Friday morning; as I helped her from the car park to the hospital’s entrance, I had managed to catch my daughter’s faint smile as I told her she wouldn’t forget this day for more than one reason, it being suitably Gothic in its pronouncements.

A different point of view... (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A haven of peace and tranquility amidst the storm…
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

But I also thought of the last time I had looked out of a window from another room not far from hers overlooking the same view five years ago when I had worked there as a medical secretary.

I thought of the five years since and all the difficulties and problems my family has faced and overcome. I thought also of the day when I said ‘enough’ to living on the sidelines of life.  I didn’t want any more ‘lost days’ and so I took one step forward towards my writing dream. I remembered the day everything changed when, sitting in my kitchen with a cup of tea, I read this by novelist George Eliot:

‘It’s never too late to become what you might have been.’

View of The Temple of Apollo, Stourhead - used in the film Pride & Prejudice.   I'm sure that Henry Flitcroft, who built the temple in 1765, had no idea how famous his creation would become centuries later. (c) Sherri Matthews 2014 (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

View of The Temple of Apollo, Stourhead – used in the film Pride & Prejudice.
                      I’m sure that Henry Flitcroft, who built the temple in 1765, had no idea how famous his                                 creation would one day become
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

German philosopher Goethe said:

‘Each indecision brings its own delays, and days are lost lamenting over lost days…What you can do, or think you can do, begin it.  For boldness has power and genius in it.’

Whatever the view, we have to keep our vision alive.   View of The Pantheon and Bridge at Stourhead Gardens. (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Whatever the view, we have to keep our vision alive.
View of The Pantheon and Bridge at Stourhead Gardens in early September.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A friend I’ve known for 20 years visited me a couple of weeks ago from California.  We hadn’t seen each other for twelve of those years and it was a thrill for me to share this little corner of England with her.  As we strolled along by Stourhead lake taking in the sights, we talked of days long gone when our children were small and played together, of the highs and the lows and of the different challenges we have endured over the years.  These gardens and their buildings have endured for not far off 300 years: we, like they, are still standing, although of course we are much, much younger.

More than anything, we are grateful for our many blessings, for our visit and today I am so very grateful that my daughter is home and recovering.  And now I write.

Such is life.

…………………………………………………………

I’ll do my best to catch up with you as soon as I can…Love Sherri x

 

Posted in Blogging, Friendship, Weekly Photo Challenge, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 95 Comments

A Birthday, A Star Sign And Flash Fiction

It was my birthday last Wednesday but the celebrations started off the weekend before sitting on Brighton Beach watching the sun set whilst sipping a glass or two of Prosecco with my lovely people.

On the day, I was treated to lunch at a wonderful vintage tea room by my lovely mum and daughter, who enjoyed it as much as I did.  From the minute we walked in, we felt as if we were going back in time:

Of course, we had to take tea in all its finery:

Time for Tea (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Time for Tea
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Later on I was wonderfully surprised by a delivery of a gorgeous basket of autumn flowers from my daughter:

Birthday Flowers (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Birthday Flowers
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Wait...is that a Kindle Paperwhite hiding behind the flowers? (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

                  Wait…is that a Kindle Paperwhite hiding behind the flowers?  Thank you lovely Hubby!                                  The hints worked!!
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The celebrations continued with family and friends into the week and even the cats were overcome in their excitement to join in the festivities:

Maisy & Eddie so very excited for Mummy's birthday...or not... (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Maisy & Eddie so very excited for Mummy’s birthday…or not…
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Well…I’m sure they meant well…

Interestingly then that over at Carrot Ranch,  Charli posted her ‘zodiac’ prompt for this week’s flash fiction challenge on the date of my birth, asking us the following:

‘September 10, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) focus on the personality traits of a character informed by the zodiac. It can be a revelation of how he or she acts or a focus on behavior because of personality traits. It can be a relationship ruled by the stars. You can have fun and exaggerate, or keep it subtle and refined. You can use zodiac terms or not.’

My star sign is Virgo although I may not have had a star sign at all: at a crucial stage of her pregnancy with me, my mother was told that she was losing her baby and was admitted to hospital.  It was only because a doctor happened to have a listen one last time with a stethoscope – there being no ultrasound equipment back then – and to his amazement detected a heartbeat, my heartbeat, that she was told her baby was in actual fact very much alive.  I wasn’t going to give up without a fight was I?  I was having none of it and was no doubt delighted to prove the doctors wrong.

As it turned out, I was born too early and I was far from the text-book bouncing baby by all accounts, but I made sure to remind my mother that I was not an ‘easy’ baby by screaming at the top of my lungs for a few weeks (months?).    Such was my fate then to be born a Virgo and I’m happy with that.  Heck, I’m happy to be here.

Here is my flash:

Stars In His Eyes

“I love looking at the stars, don’t you?”

Lacey sucked smoke from her cigarette and almost choked.

“Stars? Don’t start on stars. Matt goes outside every night to ‘study the stars’. He didn’t give a damn about them until a few weeks ago.”

“But look Lace…up there! Doesn’t that intrigue you, the symbols and the meaning? There….Orion…see, his shoulders, sword…”

“Orion? Give me a break! That’s all Matt keeps talking about. If I didn’t know him better, I’d think he was up to no good… ”

“Let’s go inside and crack open that bottle shall we?” smiled Helen weakly.

Posted in Family Life, Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 81 Comments

The Sad Demise of Charles P. Snake

We thought we had a poltergeist in our home a few years ago. 

My aspie daughter (lover of all creatures bright and beautiful and the more unusual the better) had wanted to own a pet snake ever since she was a little girl.    We had the usual menagerie – dogs, cats, hamsters, rats, fish, lizards, ducks, chickens, birds, a box-turtle and even a fire-bellied toad called Longlegs – but the one pet my daughter really wanted was a snake.

She begged me on and off for years but I was extremely loathe to let her have one in the house, not only for practical reasons (what if the cats got to it, for instance) but because, sorry to say, I really can’t bear them.

I felt this way about pet rats and the boys had to work on me for years before I relented.  This is because I grew up in the Suffolk countryside and the only rats I knew were vermin the size of small dogs with teeth that would put you in the hospital with the black plague should one ever care to bite you.

I’ll give the kids their due though, when they set their little hearts on something, they did their homework, presenting me with all the facts and figures explaining how they would look after their rats, how clean/friendly/intelligent they were and what great pets they made.  They presented their persuasive arguments so well I’m surprised they aren’t lawyers by now.

So relent I did and I have to say, over the years, I did grow rather fond of Blue and Snowy and their sweet little faces.  It was their tails I couldn’t abide…

Sweet Blue, eldest son's pet rat.   (c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2014

Sweet Blue, eldest son’s pet rat.
(c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2014

So it was that my daughter managed to persuade me in much the same way by blinding me with her heavily researched and impressive knowledge of snake ownership and assuring me that she wanted a corn snake, which is harmless, non-venomous and small, as far as snakes go.

Welcome Charles P. Snake, fondly known as Charlie.  Now, I admit, as much as the kids loved Charlie and enjoyed letting him wrap himself around their necks, arms and torsos, I am afraid that I couldn’t bring myself to do more than touch the top of his little head with the tip of my index finger.  That was as much as I could manage, bless him…

Charlie enjoyed getting into the 'spirit' of things at Christmas time... (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

Charlie enjoyed getting into the ‘spirit’ of things at Christmas time…
(c) Sherri Matthews 2013

Charlie settled down into his new surroundings (a vivarium, which fit nicely in the corner of her room upstairs, far away from me…) and seemed happy and healthy.  Even the cats, when their curiousity and crafty attempts to bat at the glass windows of the vivarium to get him to do something, anything failed, soon became bored and left him alone.

Then came the ghostly happenings in my daughter’s room.  First, her bedside lamp had moved in the night and then she started to hear odd rustling sounds.  Her nerves a little on edge as it was, she was really scared when in the small hours, she felt a ‘presence’ on her bed as her sheets seemed to move of their own accord.

Convinced that she was the subject of a supernatural visitation, she hardly dared look but found no logical explanation  as to the origin of these spooky events.

Until, that is, the next morning when she made a startling discovery - the sliding window to Charlie’s vivarium was slightly ajar and to her horror, when she looked inside, it was empty.  Charlie had disappeared, into thin air.   Now, to her credit, she didn’t tell me any of this until after the fact.  I had to laugh when, in gleefully telling the story to her grandmother, I heard her say:

“I knew then that it was Charlie who was making all the strange sounds and movements in my room but I didn’t dare tell Mom that he had escaped or she would have lost her mind!”

Well, I would have lost something, probably my life, if that snake had crawled on my bed in the dead of night, or worse, inside the bed.  I can’t even imagine what I would have done if I’d known that a snake was loose in the house and couldn’t be found.

Thankfully, there is a happy ending:  my daughter, desperate to find her beloved snake, eventually did so – curled up sound asleep inside one of her shoes at the foot of her bed as if nothing had happened.

After that, Charlie didn’t escape again and my daughter didn’t have to worry about me ‘losing my mind’.  At least, not over that…and he brought great joy to her and those who are partial to snakes.

But sadly, Charlie has now slithered off into the great snake unknown where he can hiss to his little heart’s delight for he is no more.  He will never again shed his slippery skin and he has eaten his last supper.  We have to say goodbye to Charlie and my daughter is sad for her loss.

But she still has her African land snail. His name is Vladimir and he will now move into Charlie’s old vivarium now that it’s been cleaned out and filled with a few inches of lovely fresh soil for him to burrow into, as snails do, apparently.

He is quite different to the snails that have eaten their way through my garden this summer, so I’m told.  I do hope so but at least I have the comfort in knowing that should he escape, he won’t get very far.  The cats aren’t the slightest bit interested, which is good.

Vladimir, the African Land Snail (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Vladimir, the African Land Snail
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Charlie left his mark on this family, no doubt about it.  His spooky trail of mischief during his adventure of a lifetime will never be forgotten, a fond memory amongst those of all the beloved pets we have lost over the years.

I would though like to think of one final twist in the tail of this story: Charlie was not just any run-of-the-mill corn snake – due to his unusual markings and colourings, he was what is known as a ‘Ghost Corn Snake’.

It’s nice then to know that Charles P. Snake lived up to his name
in word as well as in deed. 


Goodbye Charlie, it was nice knowing you.

Posted in Asperger's Syndrome, Family Life, Pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments

In The Fear Of Writing

Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Budleigh Salterton, Devon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

My dream is slipping away from me.  I thought I owned my dream, that I could do what it takes to fulfill my dream.  But now it is fading away.

Why? because I am full of fear.

My fear has paralyzed me like a deer frozen by the glare of headlights of the car heading straight for me.

What has happened?  The words used to flow, I felt free when I wrote, pure and alive.  I gained the confidence last year to start writing my first book. I’ve shared often and enough about why I feel I need to write this book, a memoir of a time kept alive only in my heart and mind.

Yet, as I bash away on my laptop in the telling of it another story emerges, weaving its way non-stop through the original storyline.  It doesn’t change the premise of my book but it brings up more than I bargained for.

In response to Charli’s excellent post: When the Wolves give Chase, we shared a running dialogue with Irene in her just as excellent follow-up post: Writing Tips: Starting the Flow during which I discovered what is known as ‘writing into truth’.

In other words, as we excavate deeper into our writing the more it ‘writes back’ to us, revealing hidden truths, telling its own story.

This is not always easy, but it now seems plainly obvious that in the telling of my story I must tell it all because if I don’t then I am writing fearfully.  And If I write with fear, then I am not writing at all.  In this way, I still own my story and it won’t run away from me leaving me stranded in a crumpled heap in its wake.

I wonder how many times a fisherman is struck down by fear when out at sea? Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Stephen King is famously quoted as saying:

 ‘…fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.’

Writing fearlessly is as liberating and as joyful as anything I’ve ever done.  Many of us know that incredible feeling when we’ve written something that we stand by, believe in as straight from our hearts, telling the true depth of that particular piece.  We gain confidence when we know that our work is well received and acknowledged as such. Pure validation.

But writing isn’t always so pretty.

quote-by-sarah-brentynBlogging gave me the confidence to recently submit six of my poems to a competition but none of them placed.  I know I’m not a literary poet, far from it, but I did at least try.  Did it knock me back?  Being totally honest, yes it did.  The rejection hurt.  Welcome to the world of writing, I hear you say!

There is no doubt, we have to be tough as writers.   Very tough.  We have to dig deep into that inner resolve to not give up, to keep going and not to become discouraged.  But stupidly, I allowed the disappointment to bring me down.

This is the thing though: I wrote those poems fearlessly.  They were written from a place of deep, abiding emotion, whether from grief, loss, despair or joy and love, written in the moment and shared here on my blog.  So I stand by them, good, bad or otherwise.

They are my creations and I have to believe in them.

Somebody must have enjoyed painting this creation... Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Somebody must have enjoyed painting this creation… Budleigh Salterton, Devon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

But – and it’s a big but – our creations are meant to be shared, our stories are meant to be told.  I struggled with this mightily in the beginning of writing my memoir, plagued as I was with thoughts of:

‘What if nobody wants to read my book, what if it’s a load of rubbish and irrelevant and meaningless to everyone except me and maybe one or two family members?’ 

In the months since I started writing it, I’ve read and learnt a great deal about the memoir writing process thanks to some excellent memoir writers here in the blogosphere and I am eternally thankful for their support, input and encouragement.

Sometimes I want to sqeeze through the gap and head out to the open sea just to clear my thoughts... (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

I just want to squeeze through the middle of my crowded thoughts and escape to breathe in the freedom of the salt-pressed air…
Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

What speaks to me the loudest is this: it isn’t a case of how deep and dark the story is when told fearlessly and in truth, but that it’s written well and that it brings home a powerful message of redemption.

There has to be redemption. 

There also has to be a deep connection with the reader. As I progress through my story, I’m very aware I’m sharing a deeper, personal part of me than I’ve ever shared before and frankly, it scares the hell out of me.   As I battle for freedom from this dilemma, I can see how this has caused my recent writing fears to escalate as I’ve descended into a downward spiral of writing negativity which has all but paralysed me.

Writing can be a lonely and isolating business and our fears are magnified because of this.  For me, it is a constant battle to put these fears down and to carry on, well…fearlessly.

Won't you take a few moments and sit down next to me for a chat and a nice cup of tea? Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Won’t you take a few moments and sit down next to me for a chat and a nice cup of tea?
Budleigh Salterton, Devon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

This presents me with a problem because lurking deep within my writing process is my bitter enemy, commonly known as ‘Self-Doubt’.  I am my own worse enemy.  Yet wasn’t it acclaimed author Marianne Williamson who wrote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
.’

I could so easily sabotage myself but if I do I’ll despise myself.  What about all that talk of better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all? Did that go flying out of the window?  Meaningless hot air?  No.  Absolutely not.

But I don’t want to fail.

Owning your dream means having your belief in yourself
outweigh your fears.’
ucb

How then can we stop fear from holding us back, preventing us from achieving our goals and ultimately our dreams?  Is it possible to fear rejection and success all at the same time?  I wonder how many times we are forced to question our motives in our writing, especially when writing memoir.

I had to smile wryly when I came across this quote by Frank Sinatra:

 ‘The best revenge is massive success.’

Come on, be honest.  I’m sure there are one or two people who come to mind that you’d just love to prove that to…

Sometimes I ask myself this: “Are all successful authors depressed alcoholics who love cats?”  Surely not.  I’m no Hemingway but darn that Black Dog. I do enjoy a drink when the occasion calls for it and I love my cats.  So there it is then, but how often have we sold ourselves short?  Mark Twain once said:

‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear,
not absence of fear.’

So courage it is then.  That’s what we need, and not only for ourselves: my fears and raging insecurities keep my poor hubby up many a night.   Before embarking on a writing career, a warning should be issued not to the writer but to the writer’s partner and family for those days when things are really bad:

  ‘Warning!! Writer at Work. Keep Out But Be There To Pick Up The Pieces At The End.’

There’s only one other way to have the ‘Victory’ as a writer and that is to keep writing, and I don’t mean to preach to the choir here, but we can’t afford to ‘Take It Easy’…

Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Take it Easy?  Not if we want the Victory! Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

So then, in the writing of this and sharing my fears with you, dear friends, perhaps I can now see that my dream isn’t slipping away after all.

Budleigh Salterton, Devon (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Budleigh Salterton, Devon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

And for that I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Posted in Memoir, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 138 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

What I love about the Weekly Photo Challenge is the ideas it gives me, often completely out of the blue.  For instance, I thought I knew just which photos I was going to post for this week’s ‘Dialogue‘ theme until I read this:

‘Dialogue is an engaging conversational exchange.

When it comes to photography, dialogue can be perceived as a consensual interaction between two images.

Placed next to each other, each photograph opens up to meanings that weren’t there when viewed alone.

Each composition reveals the photographer’s specific sensitivity to certain content or visual elements.’

So I had a re-think and what came to mind almost immediately was a photograph I took while on board the Arcadia cruise ship back in 2006.  This was our honeymoon you see, a two-week cruise around the Caribbean.   Neither of us had ever been on a cruise ship before and we haven’t since.  We are often asked if we will go again and although we never say definitely not, we also don’t say definitely yes.

If the opportunity (and finances) ever presented themselves again however, I’m sure we wouldn’t turn it down.

Neither of us had ever suffered from seasickness before the cruise, so we smugly assumed that we would be fine.  During a rather rough crossing around the Bay of Biscay in early April (returning from the sultry climes of the Caribbean to sleet and snow back home is no joke), hubby and I, although no doubt looking a little green around the gills, were some of the few who were able to stick it out without being confined to our room.

I do wonder though that this might have been because I discovered, quite by chance, that a greasy burger and a pint of Stella are the perfect cure for seasickness.   But that is another story which I will save for another time…

Meanwhile, back to that photograph.  One of the several bars on-board Arcadia is named ‘Electra‘.  There you can dance and drink the night away should you so wish.  What we particularly loved about it was the way beams of neon lighting lit up every surface of the place.   It was, well, electrifying.

One evening while there, we got the idea to try a glass each of Crème de Menthe.  Daring weren’t we?  I remember being fascinated by the way the fluorescent lighting bounced off the table and the way it caught the contrasting emerald liquid shimmering in our glasses, so of course I decided to play around with the camera. You know, have a little fun.

Then I remembered another photo of a glass ceiling taken from a different part of the ship.  What do you think?  Do you see any particular ‘dialogue’ going on here?

……………………………………………………….

Just as an aside, and for a little more fun, here are the photos I was going to post originally, illustrating as they do a bit of ‘dialogue’ in the literal sense.  Well, almost…

If a picture paints a thousand words, then I wonder what these guys would have to say:

"Oh come on, I was only joking!" (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

“Oh come on, I was only joking!”
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

"Well fine then! I'll shut up!" (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

“Fine!  Be that way, see if I care!!”
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

* Frosty Silence* (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

* Frosty Silence*
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

These three photographs were taken with my mobile phone camera at Budleigh Salterton in Devon, a most delightful little seaside town that we discovered last weekend. More photos to come soon.

 

Posted in Birds of a Feather, Family Life, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

September Rose

September it is then.  Time for picking ripe blackberries from the burgeoning hedgerows to be stewed, sweetened and then baked into golden-crusted pies.  Topped off of course with lashings of steaming hot custard.  But before that, and autumn arrives in all its glory, there is still time to remember summer and what it gave us at its height.

Not wanting to end on a ‘frayed’ note, and how very kind it was of you to show concern for my slug-ransacked garden, I must show you that all is not lost.

Still, on sunny days, butterflies play before their summer is over…

Butterfly in Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Butterfly in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Trailing Lobelia cascade from my hanging baskets…

July Garden 2014 (1)

Summer Hanging Basket (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Roses bloomed and flourished in the eighth-warmest July in the UK since records were first collected in 1910 (source: The Guardian)…

My Iceberg Rose in the back garden, sneaking in one last bloom before summer’s end, makes for a glorious display…

Summer Garden Aug 2014 (2)

Iceberg Rose (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

This is good news indeed because several years ago I almost killed it off.

While admiring all the blooms in my garden one balmy summer’s evening, I couldn’t help but notice that they were riddled with aphids.

Not wanting to use chemical sprays, I had tried everything including spraying them with washing up liquid diluted in water but they kept on coming, devouring the new growth and baby buds like ravenous monsters, tiny though they are.

Keeping a bottle of rose spray to hand, also used for black spot and mildew, I marched over to the shed and grabbed it.   Aiming the bottle and pointing the trigger I declared war on those aphids and sprayed my beautiful rose-bush from top to bottom, as per the instructions, until every leaf was covered wet with the stuff.  Job done.

“That’ll teach ‘em!” I smugly pronounced to a rather startled hubby, such was my exuberance.

Sitting back down, about to relax in the knowledge that my roses would now thrive and  about to take a nice sip of my cold, summer drink – Pimms anyone? – a troubling thought out of nowhere gripped me like an ice-cold vice.

Wait.  There were two blue plastic bottles in the shed, practically identical.

Which is which?  Rose spray or weedkiller?

Which is which?

If hubby had been surprised before, now he was down right puzzled as he must have thought I had lost the plot completely as I leapt out of my comfortable garden chair and bolted for the shed, whereupon I let out an unearthly howl. Yes, dear reader, upon grabbing the very bottle I had used, I discovered to my horror that I had just doused my gorgeous roses with weedkiller.

Hubby jumped to the rescue as I hopped about like a crazed frog crying, “Oh no, my poor rose, what will I do, it’s going to die…oh no, oh no!”

That is the clean version at least, what I actually said would be unprintable.

So what did we do?  Well, we grabbed the garden hose and sprayed the rose with water completely soaking it and then watered all around it to make sure that as much residue as possible washed away into the ground away from the roots and from the surrounding plants.

For the rest of the summer I watched as the roses wilted and faded and the leaves turned a disturbing shade of yellow.  But it did not die.  That winter I cut it right back and by the following spring, much to my amazement, it burst back into life, albeit rather sheepishly, and finally, after a couple of years it returned to its former blazing glory, thus:

Iceburg Rose (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

My Iceberg Rose forgave me
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

No longer discouraged, I carried on.  In early summer, the warm air was sweetened by the graceful and familiar scent of lavender as it drifted softly on the breeze…

Lavendar in Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Lavender in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

009Lanterns and candle holders decorated flower borders here and there…

June Garden 2014 (11)Geraniums that survived the winter months, unheard of in these parts, burst into life by the side of my summerhouse, thinking rather audaciously
that they were in the Mediterranean and certainly not in the
West Country of England…

Geraniums in Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Geraniums in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

…and the Acer Tree spread its delicate branches to form a canopy across my old, worn bench…

Worn bench beneath the cool canopy of the Acer Tree (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Worn bench beneath the cool canopy of the Acer Tree
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Fuchsias which also survived the winter sprung up in unexpected places, never minding what else might stand in their way…

Bleeding Heart Fuschia (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Fuchsia
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

‘Duck’ (hijacked rescued much to the delight of my children from the Norfolk Broads when found floating aimlessly on a tiny river inlet while on a boating holiday) enjoyed bobbing about in the base of the fountain, no longer working but I like the look of it, and which, over a decade ago, sat in my Californian garden…

June Garden 2014 (13)And my herbs of sage, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, parsley, rosemary and mint all escaped the slug-scourge…

Garden MintAnd when my lavender was in full flow bees visited daily although sadly, not as many as last year…

Garden in May 2014 (7)So it is that we can leave summer’s glory behind as it makes way for September’s harvest. 

Yet there is one more thing I need to do: there is someone I must thank.

Not too long ago I had the most amazing surprise. Clicking on a pingback from my lovely blogging friend Steven I was stunned into mouth-gaping silence (and that never happens) when I read his post.  Steven is a superb writer and artist and as part of his series of drawing portraits of his blogging friends, he drew mine.  I was moved greatly by his wonderful act of kindness and generosity.   I urge you to take a look at his blog if you haven’t done so already for much more of his fantastic artwork.   He’ll be thrilled to have you drop by.

For roses and a heartfelt thank you. September it is then.

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