In The Joy And Memorial For A Friend

I tried, but I cannot write another thing until this man who meant so much to me is heard:  a man called John who has left this earth for a better place but who gave my heart a safe place to heal, when I needed a friend, like a father when my own was absent.

My words are frozen, you see, trapped in a sea of ice.  No longer in flow but solid and harsh, at once unbreakable with no sign of melt.

I thought my muse had abandoned me.

Then…hush! As I look forlornly through my kitchen window at the untouched bird feeders hanging in the tree at the end of the garden, a sudden flit of colour zips into view. I take a sharp intake of breath and gasp.

What is this? Can it be…?

Why yes, it is a gift from God above – my Sweet Robin, for he has returned to me!

Robin in Garden Oct 2012 (8)

My Sweet Robin has returned to me! (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Oh dear John! How I wish I could share this news with you, this celebration of the pleasure of such gifts.

I remember how much you enjoyed my photographs of Sweet Robin flitting merrily from branch to branch in my garden one snowy morn.

There I was, fancying myself as some sort of nature photographer, speaking, yes speaking to my robin.  And how he posed so handsomely, allowing me to creep ever closer, snapping away at his puffed-up breast and mischievous, coal-black eyes.

And my heart soared with joy at such a sight.

Sweet Robin in Somerset Snow Jan 2013 (c) Sherri Matthews

Sweet Robin in Somerset Snow Jan 2013
(c) Sherri Matthews

For you in your delight, so thrilled to share with me your own little garden robin, your constant visitor, that long, white, winter.

Walking through the grounds of Forde Abbey this late November season, there, in the autumn-glass reflection on the lake I imagined a slide-show of all the places you visited with my family.

Forde Abbey Gardens - November 2014 (c) Sherri Matthews

Forde Abbey Gardens – November 2014
(c) Sherri Matthews

November’s rush of breeze enticed the trees to bare their branches for winter’s rest, and in its whisper there I turned, to the call of your laughter carried on the air.

Remember the time when you took us all to London?   You knew well my crazy obsession with that old fox Henry VIII as we toured the Tower of London and we giggled like school children in the museum at the sight of the size of his regalia – what a man! – yet shivered at the thought of what he did to his poor wives.

Well, dear John, guess who I got to hang out with this weekend at Barrington Court’s Christmas Fayre?  And I managed to keep  my head…

But there is so much more than this: broken too many times, you reached out in your gentle and wise ways and helped put me back together again by showing my family nothing but love and affection and help where needed.

We all travelled many paths together along the way.

How wonderful to just keep walking... (c) Sherri Matthews

Path at Forde Abbey, November 2014
(c) Sherri Matthews

View of Forde Abbey and Gardens November 2014 (c) Sherri Matthews

View of Forde Abbey and Gardens November 2014
(c) Sherri Matthews

Forde Abbey Nov 2014 (17)

Wouldn’t it be great to just keep walking… (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Birthdays, university graduations, milestones, holidays, my wedding – all of them, you were there.

John, me and my mother, March 2006, Wedding Day (c) Sherri Matthews

John, me and my mother, March 2006, Wedding Day.  It was bitterly cold!
(c) Sherri Matthews

I did not know what to write, the words disappeared and nothing made sense.  Even now, I am not so sure of my expression.  But what I do know is this: today my robin returned and my heart is full of thanksgiving for my dear and beloved friend John.

Posted in Family Life, Family Memoirs, Sweet Robin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Make My Day: Bite Size Memoir

What makes your day?  I have to admit, the first time I read Lisa’s prompt for her bite size memoir challenge, the first image that struck me was of my old friend Clint, or should I say Dirty Harry. But my other friend Geoff took that idea running and made a much better job of it than I.

But aside from looking down the business end of a 44 Magnum and being, how shall we say, coerced into making someone’s day,  it is in the small moments of life that we find the most joy. Those indescribable moments when somebody takes the time to say or do something nice for no other reason than they actually mean it and not because they have an ulterior motive.

Or when our kids call to say hi, just because.  Or when you hold the door open for someone, male, female, young, old, who cares, and they actually take the time to say ‘thank you’.  Or when we remember to send a friend a message to say we’re thinking about them. These things really do make our day and it doesn’t take much.

These past few weeks have been harrowing, not least of all because I have only just managed to go without painkillers these past four days after four weeks of agony thanks to  a tooth extraction which turned into a surgical extraction. I will leave the rest to your imagination.

Towards the end of October, I might have mentioned (oops) that I was going to take some time away from blogging this month. As in the entire month.  Well, as you can see, that hasn’t happened.  Don’t ask me why.  I fear I will end up waffling so I will write more about that later.

I recently attended my first gathering of literary prize winners. It was inspirational listening to a few of the winners reading excerpts from their poetry, short stories and novels and telling of their journeys to publication.  It really fired me up to keep writing and write some more, and some more after that.

Afterwards I chatted to a few of them. It was my first time meeting a group of writers (offline!) but I was one of the few who turned up who either wasn’t a winner or a friend or family member of one (I found out about this event through my local bookstore). When asked by one or two in conversation, ‘Are you a writer?’ it felt wonderful to reply, ‘Well, yes, actually, I am!’  And without making any apology for it.   That really made my day.

Hubby and I took a walk yesterday through the gardens and grounds of the glorious Forde Abbey, a private home open to the public from March to the end of November.  Aspie D came with us.  She took lots of photos, including a few silly ones of us larking about.  Now that really made my day.

Forde Abbey on a dark, November day (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Forde Abbey on a dark, November day
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

But my thoughts hide in the shadows as I grieve for the recent loss of a dear family friend and struggle with the endless problems caused by my dear old dad’s release from prison this week. He is 82, in poor health and at this point, there is nothing else I can add to the story.  But I’m sure things won’t stay quiet for long.

With these thoughts in mind, and always so grateful for the small touches, the priceless gifts of the overwhelming kindness of family and friends, online and off, it is this story, in 150 words, no more, no less, that I tell today:

Make My Day

The first article I ever submitted to a magazine was about my relationship with my alcoholic father and the peace I had eventually found in our relationship.

Following Prima’s instructions for submission, I posted my manuscript and waited. And waited. Weeks went by and nothing.

That’s it, I thought. I’m not up to the mark, they didn’t like my story. But something niggled away at me. I decided to go for broke and followed up by email. Again, I waited.

Two weeks later I took a call from the editor of Prima; she wanted to publish my story. I was ecstatic. But Dad was busy robbing a bank at the time (I later discovered) and I needed his agreement.

At last, from prison, Dad told me how proud he was of my writing and gave me the one thing I ever asked of him – his blessing to write his story.

Posted in Bite Size Memoir, Blogging, My Dad's Alcoholic Prison, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 93 Comments

We Will Remember Them

Today is Armistice Day which, on this 11th November, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.  Today in  London, a young cadet will plant the last in a sea of ceramic poppies in the grounds of The Tower of London: one poppy, 888,246 of them, for every British and Colonial soldier, sailor and airman who perished in the First World War.

This moving and poignant artwork - Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red – was created by artist Paul Cummins and it is he who will hand the last poppy to the young cadet just before 11 o’clock this morning.

Commemorations will also take place to honour the fallen in the Second World War, with today marking 70 years since the D-Day landings and the end of Britain’s conflict in Afghanistan.

On the hour at 11 o’clock this morning, a two-minute silence will be held across our land in remembrance of all the fallen and the great sacrifice given by so many.  I wonder what men like my husband’s grandfather would make of this day.

Young Dorset boy Walter Ridout joined up as a volunteer in the Army in 1914 and fought in the Battle of the Somme. His war ended in France three years later in 1917, when he was gassed with Mustard Gas and invalided back to England.  A stoic man and not one to complain, as soon as he was able, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work as the farm labourer he was to be all his working life.

He went on to marry and have six children, one of whom was my husband’s mother. They all lived in a tied cottage, Walter taking a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and a flagon of cider every day for his lunch out in the fields.  If no cheese was available, he took a whole onion and ate it like an apple.   During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard.   He lived well into his eighties, but he never spoke of the horrors of the trenches, nor of his fallen brothers whose names are represented by a handful of ceramic poppies in London today.

Then I think of Albert Edward Matthews, a gritty Londoner, my husband’s father, who served as a Tank Sergeant in the 8th Royal Tank Regiment as a Desert Rat, fighting in El Alamein against Rommel’s Afrika Korps in 1942.  He travelled through Libya to Italy and into Germany, where his war ended in 1945.  He stayed in Germany until 1948 before returning home to England, marrying my husband’s mother.  It was known that although he rarely spoke of the war, his nightmares never left.

But one man in the Matthews’ family didn’t make it home: Stanley George Matthews, ‘Uncle Stan’, lies buried deep below the black, heavy waters off the coast of Greenland, brought down with HMS Hood, sunk on 24th May 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck. He was twenty-two.

Poppies in Norfolk (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Norfolk Poppies
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(From the poem The Fallen, Laurence Binyhn 1869-1943)

Posted in Current Affairs, Family Memoirs, HIstory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 107 Comments

A Walk With Swans

Somewhere along the Jurassic Coastline of Dorset lies a shallow, salty body of water called Fleet Lagoon. Sheltered by Lyme Bay at Chesil Beach, it provides an ideal nesting ground for the world’s only managed colony of Mute Swans.

In the 1040s, Benedictine Monks built a monastery and formed the Swannery to farm swans for their banquets.   The monastery was destroyed during King Henry VIII’s reign in 1539 and since the 1540s, the Swannery Sanctuary has been under the stewardship of the Ilchester Estates.

View of the Fleet Lagoon, Abbotsbury Swannery (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

View of the Fleet Lagoon, Abbotsbury Swannery
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Today, 600 swans are visited each year from March to November at what is now known  as Abbotsbury Swannery.

During one of our visits to England from our then home in California,  it was my delight to spend a day at Abbotsbury Swannery with my children and their granny one glorious June day. I hauled around a now archaic camcorder (the kind that held a full size video cassette), thrilled to capture the hatching of a cygnet on film.

Many years have passed since that day, but last Saturday hubby and I took a drive to the countryside of Dorset and decided on the spur of the moment to visit the Swannery on what turned out to be its last opening day until next March.

On the way, driving through the heart of this historic and beautiful county, we took a quick pit-stop to admire the iconic Hardy Monument looming high into the late autumn sky above the village of Portesham.

Hardy's Monument  (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Hardy’ Monument
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

This monument was built in 1944 in honour of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.  It was Hardy who held Lord Nelson in his arms as he was dying, while saying the immortal words, ‘Kiss me Hardy’.

Today the National Trust owns the monument, but according to its website it is currently closed to visitors due to parking problems.  However, the day we pulled off the narrow, winding road for me to take this shot, we saw more than one group of ramblers hiking their way towards it.  One cheeky rambler had the temerity to tell me that I  ‘cheating’ by driving and not walking. I’ll remember that next time, thanks Mr. Rambler.

Parking is free at the Swannery but the cost of admission isn’t cheap: £10.95 for adults, but cheaper if booked online.  However, since it is dedicated to the preservation of this priceless colony of Mute Swans, we felt it was well worth it.

As we entered, the first thing I got was a shock as a black hooded apparition jumped out at me.  Who was this stranger lurking in the herb garden?  A cardboard cutout of a man dressed up as a monk as it turned out, but it did give me a fright, much to hubby’s amusement.

Monk's Herb Garden, Abbotsbury Swannery (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Monk’s Herb Garden, Abbotsbury Swannery
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Heading down the path, we came across a ‘Bug Hotel’, the remnants of a felled tree that came down in the storms last winter and which is now a natural habitat for a variety of insects in which to hibernate and breed.

The Swannery was badly damaged during last winter’s storms with awful flooding that assailed the Dorset coastline, but they have done a wonderful job of repairing the damage.  Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again this year.

Storm damage at the Swannery in February 2014 (c) Sherri Matthews

Storm damage at the Swannery in February 2014
(c) Sherri Matthews

Then we saw our first swan and a ‘teenage’ cygnet…

Abbotsbury Nov 2014 (30)

Magnificent Swan (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Abbotsbury Nov 2014 (31)

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Mother & Cygnet (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Mother & Teenage Cygnet
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

By the end of October, some of the swans move off-site for the winter months but there were still many left for us to see on this November day.  The pathways had overflowed with nesting swans when I had visited years before at the height of hatching season. Apart from a few ruffled feathers and cross hisses from the male swans, it was remarkable that they had been so accommodating as visitors walked among them.

No nesting swans at this time of year though, and the paths were easy to navigate, yet incredibly, we did see one pair guarding what looked like the remnants of an old nest just off the path…

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

…while another pair enjoyed an afternoon nap.

Sleeping Swans  (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Sleeping Swans
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Then, at last, the beautiful lagoon opened up before us…

At this time of year as some of the swans migrate, other visitors drop in to say hello:

The Swannery also provides shelter for orphaned and injured swans, releasing them as they hopefully recover.  In return, resident swans make sure to obey the rules…

Keep On The Path (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Keep On The Path
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Not only a peaceful and invigorating walk along the path through this sanctuary, the Swannery offers spectacular views of the surrounding Dorset countryside…

Views of Lyme Bay (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Views of Fleet Lagoon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The reeds provide nesting material for the swans.

Fleet Lagoon and Dorset countryside (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Fleet Lagoon and Dorset countryside
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

As we turned away from the lagoon and back along the path, it was obvious that swans are not the only birds catered to, as can be seen from this owl nesting box:

Just before the exit there is a display of the kind of boats once used for hunting and fishing on the lagoon:

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

There is also a display for those interested in WWII history about the Bouncing Bomb that Barnes Wallis tested on the lagoon in March, 1943:

For those who might want a play at the end of their visit, there is opportunity to take a spin on the pedal go-karts:

Pedal Go-Karts (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Pedal Go-Karts
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The Swannery was quiet on this early November afternoon. After the unseasonably mild October, the breeze whipping up from the lagoon had a bite to it, giving warning of the winter yet to come.

But the sun wasn’t ready to put its hat away just yet.

Path at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Path at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

As shadows grew longer and the sun bathed all in day’s end burst of warming glow, we said our goodbyes to the swans. Not only their peaceful sanctuary, but also a place of tranquility and welcome respite for us, as fresh as the salt-air that filled our lungs.

Abbotsbury Swannery (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Abbotsbury Swannery
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014


For beautiful walks from all parts of this wonderful world of ours, Jo invites us to join her for her weekly Monday Walk and will be delighted to take you along.

walking-logoIf beautiful photos of all creatures great and small bring you smiles galore, then Michelle is just as delighted to welcome your entry over at her Weekly Pet Challenge.




Posted in Birds of a Feather, Nature & Wildlife, Travel, Weekly Pet Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 120 Comments

Bonfire Night and A Drive in the Wilds of Wiltshire


Can I get away with re-blogging my November 5th post from last year? I am cheating, I know – and apologies to those who read it last year – but for those who haven’t and would like to know a little more as to why, in the UK, we burn an effigy of a man called Guy Fawkes on a bonfire every November 5th, hopefully this will explain things a little clearer!

To those of you celebrating later on, I’ll be there with you letting off a few fireworks and I wish you a very Happy Bonfire Night!

Originally posted on A View From My Summerhouse:

 Remember, remember!
 The fifth of November,
 The Gunpowder treason and plot;
 I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

(English Folk Verse, c 1870)

When we lived in America, the ushering in of November brought with it a twinge of sadness for me, as I was unable to share with my children one of the most important nights of the year which I celebrated as a child growing up in England, a night steeped in centuries-long tradition: the night of November 5th otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night.

For those of you who might not know what this is all about, the activities which will take place this very night up and down this wonderful isle of ours are held in celebration of a failed (Catholic) gunpowder plot to blow up  (Protestant) King James I and the Houses of Parliament.


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99 Word Flash Fiction: No Way Out Part Five: Breathe

Time for Tuesday’s 99 word flash fiction over at Carrot Ranch.  Rolls around fast doesn’t it?  This week Charli has asked us this:

‘ In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rut. The rut can be a habit, a circuit or a furrow in a road. It can be what causes the crisis, tension or the need to change. And if your writing feels stuck in a rut, use the flash fiction to do something radical. Who knows what is lurking behind the doors of your imagination!’

For those of you who are still reading along to find out what happens to our friend Bill (and I do thank you so much) I was very relieved to read this prompt, as it is just what I need to give Bill a helping hand.  If anyone is in a rut it’s poor Bill, putting it mildly.

Last week’s installment was dark and heavy with some confusion over Joey (Bill’s brother) and Bill’s little boy, whose tragic loss haunts him still.  I didn’t make that part particularly clear and also it would have been better if I had used the word ‘motorbike’ instead of  ‘bike’.  Hopefully things are clearer now.

I wonder if this will be the last flash for Bill as I would like to whisk him away and develop the story.  What do you think?

You can read the previous installment here and if you would like a reminder for part one and how Bill got started, click here.

No Way Out Part Five – Breathe

Bill buried his head in his hands as the doctor uttered just five words: “Joey’s operation was a success.”

By early dawn and back home, Bill retrieved his phone from the bin where he had dumped it the day before. So many missed calls from a lifetime ago…

He saw it then: the repossession letter on the kitchen table. Bill’s upper lip curled as he grabbed the letter and his lighter. Outside in his back garden, sparks flew up into the dawn-lit sky as he watched the letter burn.  Now he breathed.

“Not yet you bastards, not yet.”

Posted in Flash Fiction, Writing | Tagged , | 65 Comments

Bad Hair Day: Bite Size Memoir

After sharing all those photos of pumpkins and happy memories from a life once lived in California, our Halloween this year turned out to be a very quiet one, with only a handful of trick or treaters.

'Window Mouth' carving by Aspie D  (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

‘Window Mouth’ carving by Aspie D
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Still, daughter got one or two compliments from a few of the children about her pumpkin carving, one of whom told her: “I like its window mouth”.

So another week begins and here in the UK, we prepare for a celebration on Wednesday, the 5th of November, that sadly, I wasn’t able to share with my children when living in California.

Yet to come is Bonfire Night, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night.

This is the night when as kids, we built a bonfire in our back garden, put a ‘guy’ on top (the guy being a ‘man’ made up of leaves stuffed into a pair of Dad’s old trousers and a shirt with a stuffed sack or stocking for a head) and set fire to it. We also let off fireworks.

All to remember a man who tried to blow up the the Houses of Parliament in 1605.  Oh what fun!

I didn’t know that one day I would be leaving California to return to England.  Life didn’t turn out as planned, in fact it went spectacularly wrong in some ways, but one result of this was that my children got to enjoy American Halloweens and, years later, very British Bonfire Nights.  Best of both worlds I would say.

These seasonal memories bring along a few others, some rather painful in their own right.  Painful as in  ‘Bad Hair Day‘ memories which Lisa has asked us to share in our bite size memoir.

Moi?  Bad hair day?  No, never.  Surely not.  Well actually, yes.  Too many to count. Who doesn’t want beautiful hair?  In my quest to achieve the perfect hairstyle, I have tried everything: long, short,  in between and all the rest. Usually ruining it in the process.

Why are we never happy with what we are blessed with?  My hair was curly and thick and, as someone once told me, ‘dishwater blonde’.  Nice. What I really wanted was long, perfectly straight, gleaming black  hair.  Unlike my daughter, who by her late teens was experimenting with every colour under the sun, I did not go down the black hair dye route.  Instead, I gave up on that dream and looked to another.

In the 1970s, Farrah Fawcett’s hair was ‘it’ thanks to the iconic television show Charlie’s Angels and I wanted hair just like hers. In my feeble attempts to achieve this, I did what I could with the help of a hairdryer (why couldn’t straighteners have been invented then?) and tried to ‘highlight’ it.

During my first trip to America, I discovered a nifty little product called ‘Sun-In’.  This was (is?) essentially a bleach product that I applied to my hair and left on while sitting outside, waiting for it to be activated by the sun.

Not long after this photo was taken, my hair was well and truly fried.  Your guess is as good as mine as to what I was hoping to achieve with this look:

19....? (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Me 1979 – Los Angeles California  Two years after this photo was taken I cut it all off.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Here is my bite size memoir in 150 words, no more, no less:

Bad Hair Day

Always wavy and ‘full of body’, by the time I was thirteen my hair was downright frizzy and I hated it. So frizzy, that my nickname at home was ‘Crystal Tips’.

Thinking I had found the solution by going to bed with my hair wet tied back in a ponytail with an elastic band (giving it a smooth bounce, strangely), this soon ended thanks to the ruinous split ends it caused. A session at the hairdressers took every penny I had earned babysitting.

Keeping my hair long until I was 22, I cut it all off after my young husband died. The years went by, I tried everything including going through a ‘Princess Diana’ phase.

But years before that, with my hair as thick and frizzy as ever, I took full control: time for a spiral perm. Forget Lady Di, welcome Glenn Close, Bunny Boiler.

I blame it on hormones.


Me & Aspie D - California 1993 (c) Sherri Matthews

Me & Aspie D – California 1993
(c) Sherri Matthews

Posted in Bite Size Memoir, Family Traditions, Memoir, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 95 Comments