Of Blogging Blues And Otters

Today, the view from the Summerhouse is grey and wet.   Yet I am heartened at signs of spring bulbs rising from winter’s slumber with fresh, green shoots.  Soon, the view will be awash with colour.

As I work on the last leg of my memoir revisions, I  feel like a spring bulb:  hidden away, seemingly asleep, but working hard to grow a shoot of writing progress, the completed draft, closer to the surface.

Concentration and focus on writing is one thing; my increasing challenges as a carer and advocate for a family member are another.  And this leaves me with not much left for blogging.

My solution, I think, is to post short (but hopefully sweet…) posts when I can.  Just a few words, with a photograph or two, maybe a quote or a 99 word flash fiction while I focus on my writing…

Because I don’t want to disappear, and I do want to visit you, dear friends, and I will be working on that…and thank you so much for your understanding and to those who’ve recently helped with suggestions to ease me out of my blogging blues.

One idea from dear Sarah was to post a haiku and a photo, as she regularly does.  I have always wanted to try my hand at haiku, so let’s see.  I was encouraged by her beautiful post about the different forms of Japanese poetry featured at her friend (and my new blogging friend) Bill’s blog, Artistry With Words.

To kick off my new blogging regime then, I thought how nice it would be to share with you some photos from a sunny day spent at Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre in Cornwall last summer.  It is one of several posts I was forced to abandon at the time…

It was a baking hot day, for England, but these darling otters, both British and Asian, including their babies, came out to play ~

otter-world-july-2016-6 otter-world-july-2016-8 otter-world-july-2016-12 otter-world-july-2016-19

otter-world-july-2016-26 otter-world-july-2016-28 otter-world-july-2016-30I thought it would be against the odds to snap a shot of a family of otters looking in the same direction.

Next time I post, let’s hope the view is sunny and bright with the bulbs in full bloom and we will say hello, how lovely to see you again, and share a smile beneath spring’s warming sunshine…

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Nature & Wildlife, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 95 Comments

In The Raw

As the sun slowly set on 2016, I watched from a beach on the Dorset coastline, and I thought of my dad.

west-bay-sunset-dec-2016-5-editedToday, writing my first post of a new year, I think of all that’s happened since I wrote my first ever post.  Four years of blogging.  Three years of writing my book.  Another year begins and I’m ever hopeful that this is the year I publish my book.

One of the last things Dad and I spoke about was my book; he loved hearing all about my writing.  Brexit happened while I waited to hear back from him, keen to know his thoughts. Dad watched the news avidly, always interested in the world around him.  But I didn’t get the chance.  I wonder what he would have made of Trump.

Between Christmas and New Year, I received an email from my cousin. Her mother was my auntie, Dad’s eldest sister. To my cousin, Dad was ‘Uncle Bobbie’.  She sent photos I’ve never seen of my dad as a boy, of my grandparents when they were young, of me as a little girl snuggled next to Mum, sitting on Dad’s lap, holding Dad’s hand; smiling for the camera.

I always wanted to know more about Dad, about his younger life: what he did; where he lived, how he did at school.  What happened.  What went wrong.

You can learn a lot from old photographs. I discovered, thanks to my auntie’s annotations, that as children in the early 1930s, Dad and his siblings took family holidays at Bognor Regis, Tiverton and Southend.  That they lived in Leicester during WWII.

That each of them celebrated sumptuous 21st birthday parties at long tables bedecked with crisp, linen tablecloths, around which sat family and friends dressed in black tie, cocktail dresses and furs and drinking champagne, headed up by my ‘Godfather’ Granddad, cigar in hand, beaming proudly. In fact, in most photos of Granddad, he is holding a glass of champagne.

Bittersweet. Raw. Memories of lives and eras gone by, yet kept alive through photos and words.  Especially words.

Me with Mum & Dad. Mum knitted Dad's jumper. It was orange. 1960s

Me with Mum & Dad. Mum knitted Dad’s jumper. It was orange. 1960s

Before Christmas, lovely blogging friend Tina Frisco, invited me to write a few words about my blogging/writing goals for 2017 for her Spotlight on #Blog Visions for 2017  New Year’s post, a huge honour to feature alongside several amazing bloggers.  Thank you Tina for helping me get moving after Christmas!

And when dear friend Charli Mills invited me to write the first essay for her new series, Raw Literature: Starting the Conversation, I was both thrilled and incredibly nervous. Charli challenges us to examine and look past the ‘shittiness’ of our first drafts; to explore, as she defines it,  that ‘…first lick of flame after flint sparks…’.  That moment when we find the real story and discover the writer we really are.  Thank you Charli, for believing in me.

In my essay, Raw Literature: Memoir & What Lies Beneath,  I share that ‘moment’ when I realised why I write memoir, always looking for the true story behind the story I’ve always believed it to be. But there are some stories we will never really know, and perhaps we do not need to.

Time then to get back to work. Thank you dear friends, family, online and off, who read my blog, my writing, for taking the time to leave your lovely comments of encouragement; for messages, emails, texts, something said quietly in person. I hope I show you the same kindness, love and care in return.

My 21st birthday was very different to my dads, and that’s another story.  But discovering my granddad’s love of champagne, it looks as if I have him to thank for my New Year’s mantra, found hanging on a wall in a pub, naturally…

new-years-resolution-editedI hope 2017 is kind to you all, and I raise a glass of bubbly to second that.

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Blogging, Family Memoirs, Guest Blogs, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 125 Comments

Christmas Present

It doesn’t seem possible that Christmas is just over a week away, a New Year chasing its heels. So much has changed, not least of all the weather. The last couple of weeks in southern England have been unseasonably mild, although unlike last year, we did have a few frosty days in November.

november-frost-2016-5november-frost-2016-1november-frost-2016-3-editedWhat happened to those white Christmases of my childhood I wonder?  For me, they really did exist.  It took me a while to get used to a Californian winter when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Winter wonderland scenes with fake snow, icicles and huge, plastic snowmen in front yards looked out of place against the azure sky, bobbing around in warm, Santa Ana winds.

But it is Christmas Present I am more keen to think about today.  Which means presents! And what better presents than books, especially debut novels recently published by three dear friends.

Sarah Potter, (and thank you again so much to Sarah for featuring me as her Guest Storyteller and to all who left such amazing comments), published her first novel Desiccation last year.

desiccation-cover-smallAn urban fantasy, sci-fi crossover fiction, it’s best described as ‘St Trinian’s meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  And it is, and it’s a wonderful read.  I know, because I read and reviewed it on Amazon.

Sarah followed up very recently with her latest upper-middle grade crossover fiction novel, Noah Padgett and the Dog People which tells:

The tale of a boy who fell into the paw-hands of a villain crazier than the Mad Hatter and more puffed up than Mr Toad…

npdp-ebook_imageI have the paperback ready and waiting on my bookshelf, but as well as for Kindle, it is also available in audio format.

Great stories take us to places we might otherwise never go.  A classic, of course,  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, takes us back in time to a world very different to ours, yet its message of forgiveness and love is timeless.

Every first weekend in December,  with great anticipation of seasonal celebration, my family catches a steam train to the tiny, medieval village of Dunster in Somerset, England, its narrow streets transformed into a Dickensian candlelit delight.

A castle overlooks the village from on high, hosting a Victorian Christmas all of its own…

dunster-christmas-2016-7First some sweet music from this lovely harpist…

dunster-christmas-2016-3Then to open presents…

dunster-christmas-2016-13Time to feast in the grand dining room…make sure to look for your place card!

dunster-christmas-2016-9Followed by traditional Christmas cake and pudding by a warming fire…

dunster-christmas-2016-10And then, how lovely to retire to the library for a glass of port and a nice, quiet read of those recently purchased books…

dunster-christmas-2016-14 Away from the peace of the castle, once owned by the Luttrell family but now by the National Trust, things were more boisterous…

dunster-christmas-2016-2One man walked along a tightrope while playing a violin, accompanied by his friend playing a moving piano. Even Jacob Marley would have enjoyed this entertainment. Maybe…

Thinking back to that beautiful library, what a thrill it must be to at last hold the book you’ve written, laboured over and finally published.  I know this is just how Hugh Roberts is feeling right now with the launch of his debut novel Glimpses this month.

glimpses-kdp-cover

A collection of 28 short stories sure to delight – and shock – with thrills and spills, twists and turns, humour and horror. I know, because I’ve read most of these great stories on Hugh’s blog,  Hugh’s Views and News, although he tells us that he’s changed several and added some new ones. To celebrate his book launch, Hugh is running a competition with the top prize a £100 Amazon Gift Certificate.

One of the happier parts of this year have been the many, long walks I’ve taken, through sunshine and rain (but no snow, yet…).  I think of another lovely friend, ‘restless’ Jo, who takes us on her Monday walks with her gorgeous photographs and narrative no matter the weather; I know she will remember the beautiful, Roman city of Bath.

Hubby and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Christmas markets at Bath at the end of November.  It was very cold that day – our brief frosty phase – but a warming cup of mulled wine helped greatly while walking around the market, admiring the beautiful, Bath stone buildings, including the old Pump Rooms (where afternoon tea is now served)…

bath-2016-10

bath-2016-4bath-2016-11bath-2016-13Although there is no skiing in Bath due to the distinct lack of slopes and yes, snow, there is an Apres Ski Bar for anyone who wants to pretend…

bath-2016-15It’s very cosy and Christmassy inside. Hot chocolate? Coffee? Prosecco?  It’s all there…

bath-2016-7And for those who have other things in mind, if not skiing…

bath-2016-14This year, my blogging hasn’t been exactly prolific, but I’m so grateful to those who still visit the Summerhouse.  I’ve known dear Jude since my very early blogging days, and I’ve always enjoyed participating in her photography challenges when I can.

Jude runs a Garden Photography challenge over at her gorgeous blog Earth Laughs in Flowers, and December’s theme is urban floral displays.  I wonder if her ears were burning when I told hubby I had to take photos of these pretty floral displays outside a restaurant just for her…

bath-2016-3

bath-2016-2

Although I don’t blog as much as I used to while working on my memoir, since returning in October, I have continued to write 99 word flash fiction over at dear friend Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch.  I post them in her comments in response to her weekly prompt rather than here for the time being, purely because of time constraints.

Through Carrot Ranch, I’ve met a wonderful group of writer friends, one of whom is Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark.  She very recently released her debut collection of short fiction, Hinting at Shadows

hinting-at-shadows-cover-reveal-lemon-sharkI have always enjoyed Sarah’s wonderfully edgy, what-lies-beneath writing, and look forward to reading her ‘microburst’ stories that promise and intrigue…

‘No one escapes life unscathed. Delve into the deeper reaches of the human condition and the darkness
that lives there.’

Last, but not certainly not least, I must tell you about the beautiful post my wonderful, sweet friend Patsy Parker shared, in which she tells of the absolutely stunning painting she made for me called Sherri’s Red Fox in honour of my dad and our walks in the woods.

And then she mailed it to me, from California, framed and all. Isn’t it stunning?  I cried when I opened it…

sherris-red-fox Please check out Patsy’s awesome blog Patsy’s Creative Corner and her other amazing artwork.  She is incredibly talented. You’ll get a wonderful welcome, guaranteed.

Thank you so much dear Patsy, and many congratulations to Sarah, Sarah and Hugh…thrilled for you all!

*******

This is my last post until after the New Year, but I’ll be hanging around to visit and do the rounds for as long as I can before launching into next week’s Christmas preparations.

Until then, I wish you, dear friends, a Merry Christmas and a
happy holiday season filled with joy, love and peace
from my home to yours…

picture-156

…and a Happy New Year to all!

Love Sherri xxx

*All photographs and videos copyrighted by Sherri Matthews and a View From My Summerhouse 2016

Posted in Books & Reading, Christmas, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 131 Comments

December’s Guest Storyteller, Sherri Matthews

Delighted and excited at my invite from my dear friend Sarah to feature as her Guest Storyteller today! As a writer of non-fiction, writing a short fiction story (400 words in this case) lets me mix things up a little. In my story, A Blue Coat for Christmas, a Christmas gift isn’t all it seems…Thank you so much to Sarah for inviting me to her wonderful blog, and thank you, as always, dear friends, for visiting and reading!

Sarah Potter Writes

Sherri

Sherri has been writing full-time since 2011.  Currently working on her memoir, Stranger in a White Dress, she has been published in a variety of national magazines and two anthologies.  Sherri raised her three, now adult children, in California for twenty years and today, lives in England’s West Country with her hubby, Aspie youngest, two cats, a grumpy bunny and a family of Chinese Button Quails. She keeps out of mischief gardening, walking and snapping endless photographs.  Her garden robin muse visits regularly.

You can find Sherri’s links of interest at the end of this post.

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Sarah says: I’m thrilled that Sherri  has agreed to make a return visit to my blog as guest storyteller with a seasonal story to delight us all. Some of you might remember her Christmas-themed story Chocolate Umbrella from December 2014. This story received 54 likes and 79 comments, which was a fantastic response…

View original post 549 more words

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An Italian Journey: Writing And Healing

September arrived and with it, any thoughts of writing vanished.   My birthday; a long-awaited holiday.  Both beckoned.   But somewhere in the space between early spring and autumn’s first flush, everything blurred into one big smudge of I can’t face it.

We heal, eventually, from family illness and loss, but scars do not disappear. And something, at some point, has to give, even if only for a short while.  My long-burn writing dream never died, but in the deep, silent part of me, my ability to focus, to write, lay in tatters.

So I retreated into long walks by the sea and drinking wine in my garden, listening to the birds singing their sweet September song.  I offered up my writing, like a bird held gently in both hands, and I let it go and watched it fly away.

And then, with gentle persuasion, I took Hubby’s hand and I flew away too, on our long-awaited holiday to Lake Garda in Italy.

lake-garda-sept-2016-116

Stunning views of the Alps, lakes and the Black Forest as we flew above France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria on this beautiful, blue sky day. The Stewardess knew something, as she returned with not one, but three gin and tonics – each! – with a knowing wink. It wasn’t just the hum of the plane’s engine that was buzzing… (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

From Verona airport, we travelled on for not quite two hours to the north-western shore of the Lake, where, against the backdrop of the Italian Alps,  sits the exquisite and historic village of Limone.

The name Limone is Italian for ‘lemon’, and lemons and other citrus fruits once grew in abundance in the now ancient lemon groves, dating back to the 14th century.  The terraced columns of the Limonaia del Castèl are still clearly visible.

lake-garda-sept-2016-68-editedDuring the summer, they are opened up by candlelight for visitors to tour, with lemon trees still grown, albeit in smaller quantities.

lemon-groves-1 But ‘Limone’ is also the Latin word for ‘boundary’. Lake Garda is made up of three regions; Limone is part of the Brescia province, in the Lombardy region.

Limone also, quite possibly, holds the secret to long life: In the 1970s, during a routine medical check-up, a man was discovered to have high levels of cholesterol but without any of the expected damage.  Doctors went on to discover that this man, members of his family and a small community in Limone, all carried a type of protein that keeps cardiovascular disease at  bay.  Hopes continue that this protein can be replicated for the general population, but so far, we wait.

The view from our balcony was truly spectacular.
To the right ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-284

lake-garda-sept-2016-286 lake-garda-sept-2016-288And to the left ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-141The ever-changing skyline transformed the mountains as a work of art ~

limone-mountain-views-4limone-mountain-views-2limone-mountain-views-5The walk down to the lakeside took us down narrow – and steep! – cobbled streets ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-198 lake-garda-sept-2016-131 lake-garda-sept-2016-77 lake-garda-sept-2016-419Past houses bursting with blossoming bougainvillea ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-76 lake-garda-sept-2016-85 lake-garda-sept-2016-412 And shops filled to the brim with every good thing ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-211lake-garda-sept-2016-192 lake-garda-sept-2016-193lake-garda-sept-2016-126lake-garda-sept-2016-195 lake-garda-sept-2016-417lake-garda-sept-2016-196 lake-garda-sept-2016-194lake-garda-sept-2016-210For a quiet place to sit, there is no lack of cafes, bars and restaurants ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-422And then we found the harbour ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-89limone-harbour-5 We walked along the beach ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-203 lake-garda-sept-2016-326 lake-garda-sept-2016-327 Places to dine, take in the view, relax, pop up everywhere in Limone ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-294And swans enjoy the lake too ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-100But even as lost as I was in all this beauty and tranquility, it wasn’t until we visited Malcesine across the water, only a twenty-minute boat ride way, that I found true magic.

The beaches and streets and harbour of Malcesine were just as gorgeous `
as those of Limone ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-178lake-garda-sept-2016-96limone-harbour-3-edited-2lake-garda-sept-2016-165But it was while walking around The Scaliger Castle that I felt a familiar stir, like a breeze, in that deep, silent place where my writing lay in tatters.

Not just the stunning vistas, but a glorious history ~

streets-of-malcesine-2 streets-of-malcesine-10 streets-of-malcesine-13The 13th century castle has been extended over centuries, owned by The Scaliger Dukes of Verona and later by the Austrians in the 19th Century.

As I climbed higher, the view became ever more breathtaking ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-36 lake-garda-sept-2016-2 lake-garda-sept-2016-19 lake-garda-sept-2016-21lake-garda-sept-2016-22lake-garda-sept-2016-35lake-garda-sept-2016-26 I reached the bell at the very top ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-34And then, as I walked through the castle, I read this, quoted from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era:

How I wish  my friends could be with me for a moment to enjoy the view which lies before me.‘  J W Goethe, from Torbole, 12th September, 1796.

I felt just the same way ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-102-editedWritings and sketches by Goethe filled the castle and I realised, to my thrill, that I was walking in his footsteps, for he had once visited this very castle during his ‘Italian Journey‘ in 1786. Forced by strong winds to take harbour at Malcesine, he wandered up to the ruins of the castle for some peace and quite, but someone crept up on him and stole some of his work.

It caused an outcry as Goethe was suspected of being a spy, but his ‘gentlemanly appearance and his power of oration’ won the day.    From then on, thanks to the high regard for Goethe and his visit, albeit an unplanned one, Malcesine became the tourist haven that it is today.

Reading about Goethe’s Italian Journey inspired me more deeply than I at first realised.  Stopping for a light lunch, we found a quiet place just off from the harbour ~

streets-of-malcesine-17-editedThere, I found a moment of rare and sublime contentment.  Enjoying a bowl of homemade minestrone soup and a glass of Prosecco, languishing in September’s Mediterranean warmth, I could not take my eyes off the green shutters facing me.

At the table in front of them, a family of three adults finished lunch and for a little while, nobody sat there.A man played a violin over by the harbour and two small children laughed as they chased one another down by the water, but through the world passing by, words tumbled out of the deep, dark place where they had slept inside me, undisturbed, for so long.

One would need a thousand styluses to write with. What can one do here, with a single pen?  And then, in the evening, one feels exhausted after so much looking and admiring.’  J W Goethe, 5th November, 1786.

And then, at the empty table, sat my dad.  Not a ghost, not a vision.  He was just there, smiling, telling me to enjoy my life, to laugh and love and to LIVE it.

That evening, back in my hotel room, I took out my single pen and notebook, unused for too long, and my writing returned.   I wrote ‘Green Shutters’, and I found the flow of my memoir, inspired when I least expected it by my own Italian journey.

lake-garda-sept-2016-329And I’ll say Buon Appetito to that.

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Posted in Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 154 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving

From across the Shining Sea, I wish my dear American family and friends
a Peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving.

Melted Frost On Winter Violas (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Melted Frost On Winter Violas
(c) Sherri Matthews, November 2016

Posted in Nature & Wildlife, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments

Lest We Forget

Escaping the clamour filling news headlines and social media lately, I stood alone in my living room this morning at eleven o’clock to observe two minute’s silence.

With the television on, as Big Ben chimed, cameras caught moments throughout the UK of not only gatherings of military commemorations for Armistice Day, but of ordinary people, including school children, stopping to show their respects in remembrance and in silence.

One camera panned to Somerset artist Rob Heard’s memorial Shrouds of the Somme on display at Bristol Cathedral. Each shroud carries the name of the 19,240 British soldiers who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in World War One.  We remember the  19,240 ‘Tommies’ who ‘went over the top’ and didn’t return.

I remember men from both World Wars, like my husband’s grandfather, Walter Rideout, who fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1914 and his father, Albert Matthews, a ‘Desert Rat’,  who fought in El Alamein in 1942.  Both survived and returned home and barely spoke a word about it.

But Albert’s younger brother,  Stanley George Matthews, did not survive, for he 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 years old.

I think of such men today and of walking around Green Park in London back in March when I stopped for another reason, fascinated by the way the late afternoon sun beamed flames of light upon the magnificent Bomber Command Memorial.

wwii-memorial-green-park-london-14

Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park, London (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Designed by architect Liam O’Connor from Portland stone, bronze sculptures of a Bomber Command aircrew stand tall in the midst of the memorial.  They represent the 55,573 British, Commonwealth and Allied Nations’ Airmen who served in the RAF Bomber Command and lost their lives during the Second World War.

wwii-memorial-green-park-london-1

(c Sherri Matthews 2016

(c Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

The memorial was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, the year of her Diamond Jubilee.

And in the words of Winston Churchill:

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

All these soldiers fought and died to give us the freedom we enjoy today, but I wonder what they would think of the way we treat that freedom now?

We honour them and their very great sacrifice with the deepest of gratitude. They died for our peace and safety, that we might live, and decently, when they could not, and we must not let them down.  We must remember them.

Lest We Forget…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

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)

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The Black Cat And The Strawberry Moon

Before I got the news about Dad, a ‘Strawberry Moon‘ appeared in our June skies. So-called as it marks the beginning of strawberry season, this full moon was a rare occurrence because it coincided with Summer Solstice on June 21st, the first time for almost fifty years.

Strawberry Moon, June 21st 2016 (c) Sherri Matthews

Strawberry Moon, June 21st 2016
(c) Sherri Matthews

As if by magic, while taking the above photograph, Eddie, our black cat, appeared on the roof of the Summerhouse.  I’ll save this one for Halloween, I thought at the time.

Eddie And The Moon (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Eddie And The Strawberry Moon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Eddie was born in a barn and loved every second of it.  Raised on a Dorset farm until we adopted him as a ten week old kitten, ten years on and he still thinks he can come and go as he pleases.  But we keep him at night as much as possible.  Strangely, on cold, wet nights, he does not protest.

But whatever the weather on Halloween, we always keep him safely indoors because some people have strange, superstitious ideas about black cats.  Others, this year it seems, also have strange ideas about clowns.  I hope we don’t see any tonight…

But I don’t like to think about all that as we carve our pumpkin…

Eddie gets into the spirit of Halloween (c) Sherri Matthews

Eddie gets into the spirit of Halloween
(c) Sherri Matthews

And set out treats…

Trick or Treat? (c) Sherri Matthews

Trick or Treat?
(c) Sherri Matthews

The Strawberry Moon has been and gone, but I wonder still at the memory of its ethereal, shimmering beauty lighting up our Summer Solstice skies.  I wonder if Dad looked up into the sky that night?  I like to think he did…

And I wonder, did he remember a night in 1969 when we stood side by side and stared up at the moon, imagining what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first time they walked on the moon only a few months earlier?

Dad and I often talked about the moon and the stars and the skies.

Memories of Halloween spent with my children; of sky-gazing with Dad; of Eddie running wild as a kitten: all threads woven into the fabric of storytelling.

But I expect the only story Eddie will be telling tonight will be the one about a full tummy and a nice, cosy chair to curl up on.  No worries about clowns or black cat superstition for him.

Keep safe, have fun and Have a Happy Halloween!

Jack (c) Sherri Matthews

Jack
(c) Sherri Matthews

Posted in Family Memoirs, Halloween | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 88 Comments

It Is What It Is: Goodbye Darling Dad

Hello dear friends,

When I signed off here three months ago, I hoped to return in September with good news about my memoir writing progress, but in early July I got a call from my uncle telling me my dad had been taken from prison to hospital.  Nothing has been the same since.

There was talk of pneumonia. Dad and I had last spoken in May, he had sent a couple of cards that month sending his love, as always, and to let me know that he was waiting to hear news of test results from the hospital.  When I asked him how he was feeling and he replied, ‘Oh, not so bad…’ I knew, for him, that meant not so good, but I hoped he would soon be in touch with good news.

That was the last time I heard from him.

Me and Dad - a rare day out to Kingston Lacy, Dorset (c) Sherri Matthews

Me and Dad – a rare day out to Kingston Lacy, Dorset
(c) Sherri Matthews

Father’s Day came and went, I sent cards, but heard nothing and I was getting worried.  I didn’t know then that Dad’s health had deteriorated rapidly and he was seriously ill.  The prison didn’t have my number; if my uncle hadn’t called me, my brother and I would never have known.

I got authority from the prison to visit dad first thing the next day.  When I walked into the ward, I saw two prison guards dressed in black sitting next to a bed with an elderly man lying half propped up on it, but I didn’t recognise him.  I think it was then that I went into shock.

Every movement, every word, everything that happened after that will be forever engraved on my mind.

I turned to the nurse and said, ‘That’s not my dad…’  All I could see was the huge tumour on the side of his neck and I couldn’t reconcile that this was the same man I had spoken to several weeks before, waiting for a hospital appointment.

And then he turned his head towards me, and opened his eyes and I knew him then and I ran over to him, and there he was, my darling dad. All I could do was wail and weep and take hold of his hands and reach my arms around his bony shoulders and kiss his head and stroke his hair and tell him a thousand million times how much I loved him through the mess of tears falling all over him.  I could not contain my emotions, I thought I was losing him there and then.

The guards were shocked – ‘We’ll give you some privacy, so sorry…’ and moved to a seating area across the room, not knowing what to say.

The nurse looked shocked too. ‘Nobody told you?’ she questioned, her eyes as wide as mine must have been wild.

‘No, nobody told me…I didn’t know…’ I sobbed.

I had expected to find my dad unwell, I knew his health was poor, but finding him dying from late stage cancer with no warning knocked me into a world of pain and grief so suddenly, that I couldn’t think straight.

‘I’ll get a doctor,’ she mumbled as she rushed out of the room.

Thank God for that Wednesday afternoon.  They were the last hours I had with Dad, when he was still able to talk to me, albeit it with difficulty.  When I told him I wasn’t going anywhere, he gripped my hand and nodded. I knew then I would be with him to the end.

The nurse suggested I help him drink from a straw and as I did so, I smiled at him and said, as our little joke, ‘Oh Dad, what have you done now?’ He looked up at me and raised his grey, wispy eyebrows, the twinkle in his smiling, naughty-boy eyes and the small shrug of his shoulders telling me what he always said when things didn’t go to plan…

‘It is what it is.’

And so it was. Five days I had with my dad.  Five days to see him through to his last, gentle breath, as I held his hand and kissed him goodbye and breathed in the scent of his hair and head and stroked his still handsome face, breathing in his essence one last time, the essence of home and family and of the happy childhood my dad gave to me and my brother, and all the crazy adventures that followed.

(c) Sherri Matthews My favourite photograph of my dad with me and my brother, 1960s, Surrey, England

(c) Sherri Matthews
My favourite photograph of my dad with me and my brother, 1960s, Surrey, England

And always, always, the love.  Nothing ever took away our love.

Dad died surrounded by the love of his family, as peaceful and as gentle as I could have ever dared hope for.  His funeral took place on a beautiful, summer’s day, the kind he would have loved, the day before what would have been his 84th birthday.

I asked the Chaplain from the prison to officiate.  He had walked around the gardens, planted and tended by the inmates, with Dad many times.  A private man, the  Chaplain told me, but one who loved the world around him, who loved to listen to the birds singing and admire the flowers and shrubs and trees that grew just outside his prison cell.

I visited the prison to meet with the Chaplain and the Governor after Dad died and it was good to see Dad’s last earthly home, a place where he was cared for, where friends looked after him.  Dad always had a home with me and my brother, if he had wanted it, if it had been possible, but prison was the only home Dad knew.

Yet, at the end of his life, Dad was granted Compassionate Release, meaning he died a free man.  He would have got a big kick out of that news.

But the hardest moment in that day was taking away Dad’s worldly possessions contained in three small, zip-up sports bags.  I still can’t bear to go through them…

For a long time I wasn’t able to focus or do much of anything; I pulled away from writing and all social media.  I spent a lot of time with my family over the summer, taking time away to recover, enjoy the outdoors, breathe in the fresh air.

I adored my dad, you see, and always will.

Dad’s favourite bird was the robin, my Sweet Robin of course, shared here many times. Camping in the beautiful Dorset countryside this summer a few short weeks after Dad died, a young robin appeared from beneath the hedgerow on the path in front of us.   He stopped for a minute or two, then hopped off ahead, as if leading the way, and then stopped again.

Here is the video clip, very short, of what happened next.  We wondered if the robin was alright, but as soon as it heard other people coming, it flew up into a tree above, out of sight.  That robin was fine, and he helped heal my grieving heart as I caressed his softness and sweetness, as he allowed me to that beautiful summer’s afternoon.

Life carries on, but grief doesn’t disappear overnight.  Thank you so much for allowing me to share these personal stories about my dad. I have so much more I want to write about him, about our life together, and I will, in time.  But for now, I hope to return here more often, although I am back to my memoir, back to where I left off before that fateful call in July, so I will do the best I can.

I have missed you all, and I will see you again very soon.

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Family Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 147 Comments

My Sandwich Generation And The Song Of The Summerhouse

What has happened to my ‘Great’ Britain, my ‘United’ Kingdom? Last Thursday, over thirty million people voted in the EU referendum,  out of which 52% voted to leave, 48% to stay. In Brexit’s thunderous wake, I, like millions of others, woke up on Friday morning in shock asking, ‘WTF just happened to our country?’

The fallout I feared kicked in immediately. Accusations of misinformation and misleading facts (lies?) now fly thick and fast.  Some are left wondering why those who made promises about pouring millions of pounds back into the NHS now avert their eyes away from their voters straight back down to the bottom of a beer glass.

A Dark Day For London (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

A Dark Day For London
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

If some used their vote as a protest against ‘Just Call Me Dave’ and his broken promises, they got more than they bargained for: Yes, our Prime Minister failed us, but this wasn’t a general election and he got more than a black eye. He is crippled.

Our country is in leadership free-fall. Who will stand in the gap with the experience as Prime Minister to do what is right to put our nation back on its feet, to negotiate with the EU which is desperate to get us the hell out, now that Vote Leave has spoken?

Maybe I’m missing something but last time I looked, there was no sign of Winston Churchill and our finest hour is nothing but a distant memory.

And what of the great divide ripping apart my Beloved Broken Britain
across the generations?

I know what it’s like to live in a foreign country;  I lived in America for almost twenty years and raised my three children there.   I was welcomed into my new home, but I wasn’t a citizen so I couldn’t vote.

But the issues presented over the years mattered strongly to me, and I made sure that I understood what was at stake so at least I could talk about them with my friends and children as they grew up.

And one of the  greatest gifts I’ve been able to give each of my now adult children is dual British and American Citizenship. They have choices.

A new life in America (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

A new life in America 1987. Ronald Reagan was President, Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

And of course, they always had free movement across Europe.  But since Brexit, the generation gap, if embittered before, is now a stinking, gaping wound with our adult children feeling betrayed by their parents and grandparents who, they believe, have destroyed their future by voting Leave.

Figures from this YouGov poll show the huge voting disparity between the generations:

18-24: 75% remain
25-49: 56% remain
50-64: 44% remain
65+:     39% remain

The Guardian’s online article quotes:

“I’m so angry,” wrote one Twitter user. “A generation given everything: free education, golden pensions, social mobility, have voted to strip my generation’s future.” Another statement, from a commenter on the Financial Times website that has been widely shared, summed up the sense of furious betrayal among the young: “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of its predecessors.”

I feel their pain. I feel my children’s pain.  This is why I voted Remain, to stand in solidarity with my children. But things are not what they seem when looking at statistics.

Although a whopping seventy-five percent of 18-24 year olds voted to remain, it is estimated that only thirty-six percent of that age group actually voted.

Because I didn’t have the vote for almost twenty years, I rammed down my children’s throats the vital importance of what it means to have the privilege – not the right – to vote, and that they must always, always use it.  I’m proud of my children for voting.

Every vote counts, each one.  Otherwise our voice is just a whisper in the wind.

But what of my generation, the baby boomers who apparently have it all? What of our voice?

Not all of us can take early retirement with golden hand-shake pensions, houses paid for and travel at will.  Some of us in our mid-fifties missed that boat as we face many more years of hard graft, mortgages to pay and a cosy retirement disappearing as fast as our nest egg, if we ever had one at all.

And some of have elderly parents to look after with adult children still living at home, some with physical and/or mental disabilities.  We work hard as unpaid carers, advocating and supporting our loved ones as they navigate a depleted NHS under severe strain thanks to government cutbacks.

We do the best we can to give our children the best we can, helping them financially, looking after grandchildren and guiding them through life crises.  We do it because we love them. Just like our parents loved us. And all the while hoping to God our health holds out in the years to come so that by the time we reach our so-called ‘golden years’, we won’t be too knackered to enjoy what’s left of them.

We are the Sandwich Generation and we are silent.

Finger-pointing and blame, whatever our generation, whichever way we voted, or look like or where we come from, is destructive and dangerous. I worry about the contagion of this ‘Brexit effect’ and the bitterness and anger and the appalling racism arising out ot it.  We need to pull together more than ever at a time like this.

Can Britain be Great again?  What of our England? And trust me, I am not taling about the football here…

On a lighter note, I have discovered that since I had an Irish grandmother, I am eligible for an Irish passport.  Not sure how that affects hubby or my children, but at least there is a glimmer of hope if things go completely tits-up here.  Funny, I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland…

I didn’t want to write about such a heavy subject.  This post was supposed to be about my generation, but only because I wanted to join in with Irene’s  Time’s Past Challenge, ‘Reflection on Favourite Childhood Meals‘.

I planned to tell you that growing up in a village in Surrey, then Suffolk in British 60s and 70s,  I wondered if my memories of meal times might be more unusual than most.

Sometimes all you need is a cup of tea...and someone to drink it with (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Sometimes all you need is a cup of tea…and someone to drink it with…and to keep calm
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

For one thing, I remember my mother making lasagna for us, but when I told my friends at school the next day (we liked to swap mealtime stories for some reason), none of them knew what lasagna was. This would have been the mid 1970s, around the time Britain joined the European Economic Community as it was then called.   No irony there then.

I wanted to tell you that my tastes were typically British – favourites were roast lunches on Sunday, usually chicken, sometimes beef as a treat with Yorkshire pudding, Shepherd’s Pie or stews and casseroles. I was wary of anything more adventurous.

This I blamed on being scared out of my wits one afternoon by the sight of a pheasant hanging by its green, scaly feet from the cloakroom (bathroom) ceiling as  black, thick blood slowly dripped from its beak into a bucket.  Dinner, thanks to a gift from a friendly farmer who no doubt fancied my mother.  Or maybe it was road kill?  I can’t remember.

But I do remember refusing to eat it when Mum presented it on the table as a casserole.  I couldn’t bear the thought.

I also hoped to share some photos from Stourhead for Jude’s June: The Essence of Summer garden photography challenge. Goodness knows, the Summerhouse needs some colour and beauty to lift the mood…

And then I wanted to update you about my daughter’s (Aspie D)  Chinese Button Quails who are now living outside in an aviary, very happy in their new home I’m pleased to say.

New home for Chinese Button Quails (they all shot inside so can't see them sadly, will work on that for another photo). Notice they now live by the side of the Summerhouse :-) (c) Sherri Matthews

New home for Chinese Button Quails (being skittish, they all shot inside so can’t see them sadly, but will work on that for another photo). Notice they now live by the side of the Summerhouse 🙂
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

But sadly, poor Raisin (Mooncake’s (the only male) second wife) died.   Now we have five, all healthy and happy, but raising button quails is a delicate task, one Aspie D takes very seriously.

Some of you may remember this photo of the darling chicks from last year:

Newly hatched Chinese Button Quails, June 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Newly hatched Chinese Button Quails, June 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

Here is one of them now, all grown up (which happened within a couple of weeks
of the above photo!) ~

This is Marmalade, daughter of Mooncake and Raisin (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

This is Marmalade, daughter of Mooncake and Raisin
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

We have a personal battle: Aspie D’s care-coordinator from the Asperger Specialist Team has handed in his notice and is leaving with no replacement (cut backs in mental health are dire). We are back to where we started three years ago with the search for proper support while she makes her way in life.  And she will find her way.  I know it.  But the next few months will be tricky for many reasons.

And then, as ever, there is the memoir. I’ve hit a wall and I can’t seem to punch my way through…

So what to do? Well, dear friends, sadly I am going to have to part ways with blogging for a while.  I admit I am struggling and I need to take a step back to focus on my family and finishing my book.  My plan is to return in September with a new strategy, a new way forward, a new push in all my writing/blogging.

I’ll love and leave you with this song, Duck and Run by 3 Doors Down, one of my all time favourite bands and a song I’ve listened to since my Californian days.  This message keeps me fighting as it did then through turmoil of a different kind.   It is my mantra and for all those who feel disaffected: we might be down but we won’t run.

I’ve made it the official Song Of The Summerhouse.

I’m taking a blogging break, but I’m not going anywhere.  Stay with me, will you?

I will miss you all, dear friends, but I wish you a most wonderful, safe, joy-filled summer.
See you in September!

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Current Affairs, Times Past Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 150 Comments