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

(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

Big Bright And Beautiful: The Annual #BloggersBash 2016

When SachaHughGeoff (Geoffle) and Ali said this year’s Bloggers Bash was going to be bigger and better than ever, they weren’t kidding. Their hard work (and from what I hear some shenanigans too, but I know nothing…) paid off.  What a truly wonderful day from start to finish.

My day started out on the train with hubby just after 8am to London.  At Waterloo, we went our separate ways, he to wander around some of his old haunts (heading for a pint and some fish and chips) and me on the Underground to King’s Cross Station.

Thankfully, Graeme Cumming had put out a call for a pre-bash gathering at O’Neills pub for those wandering aimlessly with time to kill before the official Bash kick-off at 1pm sharp. I say sharp, because last year I arrived late and missed the meet and greet.  Not this year!

Me with Graeme and Marje (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Graeme, me, Marje

Turning my little map upside down (I’m left-handed, my excuse), I headed to the pub, relieved to find Graeme there propping up the bar, even if with a glass of water.  Me too.  It was only 11.30 in the morning after all; we had to pace ourselves.

Then arrived Marje, Esther Newton, Lucy Mitchell, Helen Jones and Julie Lawford.  It was lovely to get the chance to chat with them for longer this year.

Esther and Me

Esther and me

After some chips (a small bowl and expensive portion, but that’s London for you…), Graeme, being the gentleman he is (thank you…!) led our little group to the venue not far away.

And then…there we were, greeted with wonderful warm hugs from Sacha at the door (wearing killer heels), then Hugh and Geoffle and Ali who, as well as dispensing lovely hugs, was busy registering everyone and handing out name tags.

From then on, I didn’t stop talking.  Yep, it’s true.  Even for me, who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, by the end of the evening I thought I was going to lose my voice. A relief for some, no doubt.

Great to see Hugh again!

Lovely to see Hugh again!

It was wonderful to see Suzie Speaks again, and this time chat a little more, joined by Steve (Steve Says), who I remembered as a guest over at Hugh’s blog a while ago. Great at last to meet Judy Martin as well as Christoph Fischer who I’ve only recently started following thanks also to Hugh – book fair here I come! – and Barb Taub.

Did I say lovely hugs?!

Did I say lovely hugs with Geoffle?!

There were three things I was determined to achieve at this year’s Bash:

  1.  Arrive early;
  2.  Chat to as many people as I could;
  3.  Take as many photos as I could.

Well, I managed the first, but the second and third I didn’t do so well.  It wasn’t until later in the day (too distracted with hugging, talking, laughing…enjoying!), that I realised with horror I hadn’t taken a single photo other than at the Award’s Presentation.  Last year I managed one only.  Yikes!

Most of the photos shared here were taken in those last few moments which meant sadly I couldn’t get everyone as some had already left.  I also didn’t manage to speak to everyone…

But it was great to meet brand-new-to-me bloggers albeit briefly: lovely Ritu, Shelley WilsonMary Smith and Emma Kay who is a theatre blogger and really enjoyed getting to know her.

Me, Marje, Emma

Me, Marje, Emma

And then I met Urszula who came all the way from Poland.  It was wonderful to meet her in person; we know each other from Charli Mill’s weekly 99 word flash fiction prompts at Carrot Ranch.

I enjoyed chatting to her and of course getting a few pics, including one of us together with Sacha and Geoff, the four of us ‘Rough Writers’.  We’re sending a message to Charli in Northern Idaho of love and support in the face of a crisis which she explains in her latest post . Please read it if you can. When a fellow blogger and wonderful friend who gives to so many needs help, she knows we are here for her sending light and hope her way.

Geoffle, Urszula, Sacha and me. Hi Charli, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch and all our friends there!

Geoffle, Urszula, Sacha and me. Saying hi to Charli and all our missing friends…

As the afternoon went on with a buffet served and drinks available at the bar,  we took seats for the guest speaker Luca Sartoni, Growthketeer at Automattic . He gave a very interesting talk about, among other things:

  1. Stats (don’t stress, even though ‘numbers are sexy’… they should not be everything…)
  2. Reblogging (he never uses it and couldn’t believe how many of us bloggers do…’Press This’ is the way to go, he says…)
  3. Having fun (letting go of those platforms that give you the most stress)
  4. Following your own blogging path and don’t be distracted by what others are doing.
  5. Don’t stress (did I say that already?  Must be the lesson I need to hear…).

Last, but definitely not least, the committe read out the Awards Presentation throughout the afternoon. Read all about it and see who won in Sacha’s post.  Many congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

Bloggers Bash June 2016 (1)

Hugh, Ali and Sacha handing out Awards


Bloggers Bash June 2016 (28)

Hugh making sure he gets every last bit recorded…worries me, that…

And so, what more can I say about such a lovely day with so many lovely people?  New friendships made, ‘old’ ones deepened, and I even got to play with Geoffle’s magnificent purple beard.

The Purple Beard - now gone sadly - but lovely while it lasted. Until next year...

The Purple Beard – now gone sadly – but lovely while it lasted. Until next year…

And then it was time to say goodbye.  Hugh kindly walked with me back to King’s Cross Station as I hadn’t paid attention earlier and couldn’t remember how to get back.  Thank you Hugh!  A couple of tube changes later, met hubby at Waterloo and we caught our train home. He had a lovely day too, although he was still bemused about finding himself in the path of a naked bicycle rally.  No kidding.

Thank you so much Sacha, Ali, Geoff and Hugh for a truly memorable day; you made the Annual Bloggers Bash a great success, a day filled with warmth, friendship, fun and joy.

And guess what?  The committee is already beginning work on next year’s Bash.  So mark the date – June 10th 2017.  See you there!


Posted in Bloggers Bash | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 160 Comments

London Calling

London May 2015 (55) Boost 2What is it with London this year? It beckons for several reasons, a memoir workshop being one.

I promised an update on the course, but first I would like to thank so much those who have continued to ‘stick’ with me during this time, even when I haven’t been able to blog or visit half as much as I would like.

It really never ceases to amaze me the generosity of this blogging community.  Trying to balance writing (or should I say rewriting…), blogging and managing the stuff of everyday life, remains a constant challenge.

The course gives the first hour split into two half-hour slots for two people selected each week to read an extract from their work in progress.  We have to make sure to have ten copies of our work to hand out so others can read along and if they wish, write comments and feedback on them.  After a short break, there is an opportunity to share a shorter piece for the others.

I have read twice and the helpful and positive feedback I received from both the tutor and a few of the other writers has been very encouraging. This is the first time I had ever read out my work in front of a group of  ‘strangers’ and although a nervous wreck before hand, as I read on, I gradually felt more confident.

I hadn’t realised just how tough it would be, but I can see the benefit of doing so.  Reading my work out loud to myself (or sometimes to hubby if I can corner him, poor man…) is a good way to edit, but reading to a group is something quite different: my writing feels more tangible, the prospect of actually finishing the book and heading towards publication more real.

Listening to others read and gleaning advice from the tutor’s feedback on the different issues that come up is also helpful.  But the problem is there is no time to ask specific questions.

Now I’m back at square one: working on those dreaded rewrites, ongoing since last September.  Some of you have asked how the memoir is coming along (again, thank you for your interest!) which encourages me, especially when I feel ‘stuck’. Writing a first draft was a breeze compared to rewrites.  I know that now.  But I’m gnawing my way through to the core of the story, to the parts I really need to tell.  If only for a few more hours in the day, if at all possible…

This is not without the help of my friends and fellow memoir writers bringing their knowledge, shared experiences and encouragement along the way, for which I am more than grateful:

Jeanne writes of her struggles with the dreaded rewrite in her excellent post,  From Life Story to Memoir: The Rewrite and shares some great advice for anyone facing the same.

Irene is writing a weekly Memoir Monday on Tuesday series (as a follow on to Lisa’s Memoir Monday updates) in which she explores the process and mechanics of memoir.  I highly recommend her posts for anyone writing memoir.

Speaking of recommended posts, but on a completely different subject,  friend and published memoir author DG Kaye, recently asked this in her extremely helpful and timely post: Is #Windows 10 Hijacking Your Computer?   If you’re having a problem with constant pop-ups to update to Windows 10, then I say run, don’t walk to Debby’s site; she gives us great advice to cure this problem, her hard work and research saving us the trouble. I did…thank you so much Debby!

Back then to London and my other reasons for going: not only a family outing planned there later in the summer, but I’m off again tomorrow for the Annual Blogger’s Bash. A huge thank you to the four committee members SachaHughGeoff and Ali who have done an amazing job of organising it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing ‘old’ friends and meeting new.

You can read Hugh’s hilarious post about the Bash explaining how you can join in even if you can’t make it on the day. And of course, wishing all the nominees for the Blog Awards all the very best.

A wonderful weekend to you all and I’ll do my best to catch up better next week.

Love Sherri x




Posted in Blogging, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 74 Comments

Window On A Train

I gaze through the train window looking for my fox, but so far, it is nowhere to be seen.

I put down my book, wanting only to soak up the beauty of the English countryside as it zooms past my window, and I marvel that for so many years I longed to feast my eyes upon this green and pleasant land.

But the view goes by too fast.  I want it to slow down so that I can catch my breath and find what I am looking for.

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

The world races by but I want to beat it at its own game. (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

And then I glimpse a splash of yellow shot through spring’s verdant green ~

English Dorset Countryside in May (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

I know if I am patient, if I aim my phone camera just right, I will find my reward ~

Rapeseed Fields in Dorset, England May 2016 (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Rapeseed Fields in Dorset, England May 2016
(c) Sherri Matthews

And there they are: rolling fields of rapeseed’s bursting yellow, patchwork quilts laid out as buffers against the grey, brooding skies of a May heavy with rainfall.

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

One day, I see a deer bounding through a field and on another, I smile at a family of bunnies, white tails bobbing up and down like cotton wool puffs caught in the wind.  I watch pheasants strut their stuff, their nature-gifted palette of painted feathers shimmering red and blue and green in the morning sunlight. All go by too fast for my camera.

And still, as the train rumbles on from Somerset to London, there is no fox.

Every Tuesday since the middle of April I travel to London to attend a memoir workshop.  Six hours travel time for a two-hour course.  I am hoping it will help me clarify the process of structure, thematic threads and reflection, the nuts and bolts of the craft of writing memoir.

But I have discovered that it is in the journey, not the destination,
where my answers truly lie.

(c) Sherri Mathews 2016

(c) Sherri Mathews 2016

When I was a girl living in Surrey, before my parents split up, they built a boarding cattery at the end of our garden. One day, we had a surprise border: not a cat, but a fox cub. Entranced by my dad’s stories of a mysterious fox who lived in the woods at the back of our house, but which I had never seen,  I could not take my eyes off the young cub.

But although mesmerised by the beauty of its soft, red fur, its cute black boots and bushy, white-tipped tail, it was the fear in its eyes that held me.

For two weeks we kept the fox cub in one of the runs that also held a cosy little shed where it could sleep and keep warm and cosy against the elements.  But that fox didn’t sleep: horrified, I could only stand by and watch helplessly as it spent its first few days gnawing at the wire of the run, its gums bleeding, desperate in its bid to escape.

I cried quietly to myself as I watched its suffering, wondering why the people who owned it had left it with us when it was so miserable; so alone; so frightened.

I wanted to help it, but I couldn’t.

My dad was the only one who could handle it. It took time; he had to earn the fox cub’s trust who at first attacked when Dad tried to get near, but one day I watched in awe as with hands protected by thick, gardener’s gloves and after much cajoling through gentle whispers, he managed to pick it up, hold it close to his chest and carefully stroke it.

And then it was my turn. Dad let me stroke its little face and I marvelled at how soft its fox-fur felt beneath my small hands and then I watched as the fear in its amber-gold eyes gradually melted away.

Decades have passed since the day my dad tamed that frightened little fox cub, but somewhere still in the telling of this story lie the remnants of a little girl who once felt helpless not only for the fox, but also for herself.  She grew up and found her strength, but it was different for her father; although he saved the fox, he could not save himself.

And today, reflecting on these things while looking through a window on a train, I remember where I was, where I am now, and where I am going.

But you see, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten.

(c) Sheri Matthews 2016

(c) Sheri Matthews 2016

I saw a fox once, from a train window.  I wrote about it, almost three and a half years ago.

But another fox found me and it wasn’t in a field.

A few weeks ago after a family gathering,  I settled down in the passenger seat for the hour-long drive home, closed my eyes and fell sleep.  A little while later, I came to as I heard Hubby say, “Look, a fox!” My eyes flew open but I saw only an empty verge along the deserted road.

“Oh I wish you had seen it,” said Hubby, “He looked right at you!”

I thought he was making it up, the part about looking at me, an embellished story knowing it would make me smile.   But he told me that a fox had shot out into the road in front of us, but instead of darting into the hedgerow on the other side and disappearing as they usually do, this one had stopped.  With a swish of its tail, it had turned its head and, according to hubby, looked straight at me.

“Are you sure?” I asked.  “It was probably looking at the car, or something else…”

“No.  It was definitely looking at you…”

But I had missed it.  I had my eyes closed and I missed it.

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

On the train, I switch off from the clamour of every day life and I reacquaint myself with a world waiting to be explored in the view through my window.

There, I meet my uncluttered thoughts and I find what I am looking for in places I did not expect. I find not the end, but the beginning.  And I find the delicious escape.

Yet still I search for that fox through my train window.  I know it is out there somewhere, prowling through the fields and the woods and the open roads.

“I promise to keep my eyes open…” I whisper through the glass. “This time, I don’t want to miss a thing…”






Posted in Family Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 125 Comments

Memoir Loneliness And Tony Soprano

Sitting with my mother in the hospital a few weeks ago, an elderly man shuffled into the small waiting room, flopped down into a chair, sighed and said, ‘Three children, eight grandchildren and I never see them…’ A nurse fast appeared, helped him to his feet and walked him out to wherever he needed to go next.  I could only mumble a quick goodbye.  Was it true what he said?  I hoped not, but how sad if so.

I wonder how some people end up so terribly lonely, isolated and forgotten.  And loneliness kills.

An NHS (National Health Service, UK) article titled, Loneliness ‘increases risk of premature death’, taking much of its information from a study carried out by researchers from Brigham Young University in the US headed up by lead author Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, states:

‘…the harmful effects of loneliness are akin to the harm caused by smoking, obesity or alcohol misuse.’

A previous study in 2010 goes into more detail of the findings, and summarizes thus:

‘The results of this study remind us that health has a strong social element and is not merely physical. Connecting with others can improve both mental and physical wellbeing.’

It goes on to suggest several different ways to help combat loneliness, particularly for the elderly.

West Bay Jan 2016 (15) With Text Edited

Mum has been home for a few weeks now and recovering well.  She lives alone, but she is not lonely.  She is blessed with close family, friends and neighbours.  Thank you so much, dear friends, for your love, concern and prayers, your messages have kept me going these past several weeks, so that although absent from blogging, I have known you are there.

And while I’ve been away from the Summerhouse,  I have used any time I can manage to press on with my memoir rewrites.  Since I finished the first draft last September, I’ve struggled, despairing, many times reaching for it only to watch it slip through my fingers like oil.

I had set myself a deadline, you see, because thanks to fellow memoir writer and blogging friend Lisa I will be going to London next Tuesday, and every Tuesday after that until the end of June to City Lit to attend a workshop for memoirists looking for help with the last push on their WIP.  Lisa will post Memoir Monday weekly with updates and connecting with other memoirists.

I have never attended a writing workshop of any kind before, so this will be a new adventure. And of course, I get to meet Lisa, which I am very much looking forward to. Excited, nervous, just about there with a rewritten second draft, I’m moving forward, oil slicks notwithstanding.

The finish line is there, I can almost see it…

Mere, Wiltshire March 2016 (5) Edited 2

So what of Tony Soprano, Mob Boss of The Sopranos (how did we survive without DVD box sets?).   There’s a man who, although surrounded by family and ‘friends’ (although, how many friends can a Mafia Boss really have?), exudes loneliness.  I love nothing better than a book, film or TV show that captures the psychology of the criminal mind in all its complexities, something that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember.

Tony Soprano’s complex relationship with his psychiatrist, his outbursts of unhinged violence tempered by moments of tenderness and vulnerability that he would rather die before revealing, make his character one of the most fascinating and compelling yet abhorrent and disturbing that I’ve ever known.

He is not conventionally handsome, but he oozes charisma and sex appeal.  No spoilers here (I have yet to watch the final season…) but this is the best thing I’ve ever watched.  Better than Game of Thrones, better even, dare I say it, than Breaking Bad.  And I love both.  As it rolls from one episode to the other, my heart races at the thought of what I know will be its cataclysmic denouement.

Losing myself in The Sopranos at this time of my life has proven to be peculiarly therapeutic. Don’t ask me how, but it is helping me write my memoir. The Soprano storyline walks me along a constant knife’s edge between the love of family and the terrible deeds done to protect that family.

The masterful screen writing and acting (in my humble opinion, I’m no expert), compels me to further explore through my writing the war we wage deep within ourselves, vying for victory between the light and dark of the human soul.

Norfolk Broads 2nd Edited

Writing is an isolating and lonely business.  I think the course in London will be a good thing as I admit to going a bit stir crazy sometimes. But although I have experienced loneliness a few times in my life, I have not known the kind that the elderly man spoke of and I hope and pray I never will.

I hope he has someone, even if just one person, who cares enough to visit him. Tony Soprano is a fictional character, but I wonder how many people in real life he represents, a man who seemed to have everything, except true friends.

And true friends are the purest gold, worth more than any stash Tony Soprano kept hidden in the rafters.  Love and connection with family and friends is a life saver. Studies prove it.








Posted in Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 152 Comments

Missing Blogging

Dear friends,

Eight days ago, my dear Mum suffered a stroke, an awful shock.  My boys (and Eldest Son’s Lovely Girlfriend) were home with us for the weekend to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day, hubby’s birthday and our tenth wedding anniversary which was on Friday, the 18th March.

Just as we sat down to lunch before taking the boys to the station for their train journey back home, I took a call from a friend of Mum’s who, thank goodness, was with her at church, when it happened.

Mum recently celebrated her 80th birthday.  Active, vibrant, beautiful, classy, she celebrated with vim and vigour.  I had posts planned (among others) to share some of our recent milestone family celebrations and a few pics, but that’s all on hold now.

Spring Tete-A-Tete's for Mum

Spring Tete-A-Tete’s for Mum

Since then, with much relief, I’m so glad to let you know that Mum is recovering. We are already looking to her return home and her after-care.

But understandably, there will be a lot to consider as I divert my time to help look after her (while also holding down the fort at home), which means my days are filled in ways that make it impossible for me to blog at all for the time being.

I’m sorry I didn’t get this message out earlier, I just haven’t had the chance, but I did want to let you know why I’ve been absent from blogging.  Thank you to those who have left comments on my last couple of posts,  which I’ll reply to as soon as I can.

Thank you again also to those who already know via Facebook and who’ve been in touch in other ways (and again, sorry for my slow responses…) with lovely kind and concerned messages sending love, thoughts and prayers.

Please know that Mum is getting a little better and stronger each day, not always easy, up and down, but all the while retaining her wonderful sense of humour.  We expect a full recovery and for that, we are eternally grateful.

I miss you, I hope to see you soon.

Love Sherri x




Posted in Blogging, Family Life | Tagged , | 137 Comments

The Voice Of Asperger’s Syndrome

I look at the photographs of the five-year old girl with the scarf tied around her shoulders like a cape and tears slide down my face.  In some, she holds a paint brush and looks down intently at her growing work of art.  In others, she makes shapes out of playdoh, walks in the garden, sits in the bath or sleeps soundly in her bed.  But in every photograph appears her constant companion – her cat Thula.

Not so unusual you might think, except that this beautiful little girl is autistic and it is her cat who has helped Iris find her voice in a world where before, she hardly spoke or smiled.

Now, as her mother writes, Iris will speak to her cat – ‘Sit cat’ – and interacts in ways she never could before.  This moves me to tears, but I cry also because with her capes, her love of painting, the way her hair falls softly across her face and her ever-present cat, this little girl in so many ways could be my daughter when she was the same age.

My third child (Aspie D), was not diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until she was eighteen.  Although she is on the Autistic Spectrum, she has a form of autism that is commonly described as ‘high functioning’.  She doesn’t have the problems with speaking like Iris,  but she struggles to make sense of her world because of communication, sensory and social difficulties, as clearly explained in this article by the National Autistic Society.

Her anxiety levels, already on high alert, kick into sensory-overload in public; hyper vigilant of her surroundings, the energy and concentration it takes for her to focus on a conversation and say the right things exhausts her, as she thinks only of making her escape from the loud; from the clatter; from the disorder and the chaos swirling all around her.

Sometimes, she tells me, it is like drowning.

Claire & Butterfly Edited 2

It was the safety at home with her family and her pets who calmed her when returning from a day at school.  There, she felt only loneliness, unable to understand when the other girls wanted to talk about dolls and fixing hair and watching ‘girly’ programmes. All she wanted to do was to wear her brother’s tee-shirts, make capes out of pillow cases and walk down to the creek and get her hands dirty looking for frogs in the mud and reach into the sparkling, cool water for tadpoles and salamander eggs to bring home to hatch in our pond.

How could she explain when she didn’t want to hold hands with other girls because she didn’t want them touching her, or when she didn’t smile at the right times or laugh at their jokes if she didn’t ‘get them’?

The worse thing to ask someone with Asperger’s Syndrome is, ‘What’s wrong with you, why aren’t you smiling?’ Or tell them, “Why don’t you just go outside or meet up with your friends?” Seventh Voice expresses what this really feels like in her excellent post: ‘Things I wish people would stop saying to those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome‘.

At such times, feeling cornered; misunderstood and exposed, the blankness of Aspie D’s expression belies the all-consuming thoughts and emotions crashing through her over-stimulated, anxiety-drenched brain.  Unable to express what she really felt for so long, silently enraged at her powerlessness within a society that wanted her to conform, to be ‘normal’, to be what others expected her to be, only taught her how to become socially avoidant.

I read recently that studies show that the brain of a child with autism retains forty-two percent more information at rest than the average child.  Is is any wonder that anxiety and exhaustion plays such a huge part in the lives of those on the spectrum?

Claire & MaisyReading about Iris and her cat Thula, I think of Maisy, our fourteen year old tabby.

‘Found’ by my daughter in a kitten room at a cat shelter near our home in California, their bond formed from the moment eight week old Aurora (as she was named at the shelter) sprang onto Aspie D’s lap as she kneeled down in a sea of kittens.

Today, their bond is stronger than ever. I knew the value of pet ownership for children, but I didn’t know about the life-changing role ‘therapy’ pets play for those on the Autistic Spectrum (Maisy, like Thula, is not trained as a therapy cat, she’s ‘just’ a pet, but she also loved to take baths with Aspie D), something that is now scientifically proven.

An autistic little girl found her voice through her gift of painting and her therapy cat Thula, her story beautifully told and photographed by her mother in the recently released Iris Grace.

My daughter at twenty-three travels her own path to find her true voice, each day bringing her ever closer despite her life-long challenges.  Along the way as I journey by her side,  grateful and honoured to call myself her mother, I came across the video clip below on Facebook. It is the only time I have heard my daughter say this is exactly what it feels like  when she goes out.

Please, if you only have two short minutes, I would humbly ask you to watch this clip.   I find it difficult at times to explain what it is like for my daughter living with Asperger’s and how it affects her daily life.  This clip, I hope, will help. It might make you cry as it did me and my friends on Facebook who watched it, but it also brings powerful voice:


Taking this opportunity to let you all know that Charli Mills is hosting a flash fiction competition over at Carrot Ranch to help raise funds for an autistic boy Noah and his service dog Appa. Cash prizes too!

The deadline is extended to March 31st, all details here.

cr-extended-deadlineYou can read Shawna Ayoub Ainslie’s latest post with updates about her son Noah and his service dog Appa at The Honeyed Quill here.  The photos alone will stir your soul.

Posted in Asperger's Syndrome | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 124 Comments

Laundry: Women’s Work?

Robots are taking over the world.  Well, maybe not completely, but they are doing a good job of it, according to a newspaper article I read recently.

There are robots in bars in Japan serving cocktails (I wonder if they shake or stir…?) one robot filling prescriptions in a hospital pharmacy in California (really…?)  and now, scientists from the University of Columbia have developed a robotic iron that not only does the ironing for you, but doesn’t leave any creases (but what if want a crease…?).

I wonder what my grandmother would have made of this news?

Granny and laundry go hand in hand when I think about Irene’s  Times Past challenge which she hopes ‘will give us social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location’.

For February’s prompt, Irene asks:

Prompt No 2. First memories of wash day. Was it a ritual in your house. Did you have to play a part. What kind of washing machine did you have? Was it the sole province of the women of the household? What was the style of your clothes line? Any memories of doing the laundry you care to share. I am sure that we are going to find some differences both geographically and generational with this one. Help me prove myself right or show that I am wrong by joining in.

Writing as a tail-end baby boomer growing up in a village in Surrey, England in the 1960’s and Suffolk in the 70’s, my ‘wash day’ memories take me further north to a place I visited many times as a child…

Granny loved ironing so much (or so I believed), that I nicknamed her Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (the ironing-obsessed hedgehog from the Beatrix Potter stories).  But Granny didn’t just have the latest, all singing, all dancing iron; she was also the proud owner of an ironing press.

Allowed to ‘play’ with it as a girl – supervised of course – I remember clearly the hiss of floral-scented steam as I released the handle to lift the top, only to reveal the perfectly pressed and starched article inside once the steam cleared.  It was like magic.

My grandparents lived in a large Victorian style house in Hale, Cheshire.  With its polished, wood floor of the large, open hallway, bay windows and window seats, a huge attic and endless nooks and crannies (not forgetting the beautiful summerhouse at the end of the garden), it called out for adventure.  There was even a cellar, which is where Granny did her laundry.

If doing the laundry was drudgery for her, she didn’t show it.  She taught me how to take each item of clothing out of the washing tub (no automatic washing machine for Granny until a decade or so later…) and feed it through a wooden wringer. I loved turning the handle as water squeezed out from one end into a bucket below as the flat, much drier, clothing appeared through the middle and out the other end.

Next, I helped her hang the washing with wooden pegs on the long line outside, or if raining, on an airer in the cellar.  By the 70s, she was the only one I knew who had an electric dryer, but she used it rarely since it was expensive to run. She always preferred to iron, and she ironed everything, including tea-towels and knickers.

Granny did much more than washing and ironing. Holidaying as a family on the Norfolk Broads was one of them. 1960s (c) Sherri Matthews

Granny did much more than just washing and ironing.
Holidaying as a family on the Norfolk Broads was one of them. 1960s
(c) Sherri Matthews

There was no particular wash day in my house, but it was women’s work for both my grandmother and mother, and one of my chores growing up was the dreaded ironing (not taking after  Granny in that department).

We had a rotary washing line at home which always reminded me of an upside down umbrella as a child.  When I first visited California in the late 70s, I was amazed to learn that hardly anyone hung their washing outside. Everyone had matching (and huge to me) ‘washer and dryer’ sets, something I had never heard of.  The ‘washers’ were top loading, not unlike the ones I had seen only at launderettes in England, since our washing machines were/are front loading.

Granny continued to enjoy ironing all her life, which is just as well as she always seemed to have a massive pile to get through.  Baffled by this, one-day I asked her about it,  since by then she lived alone. “Most of it’s for Frank, dear,” she laughed.  “I do all his ironing.  He’s too old to manage it himself now.” She was pushing eighty herself, and Frank, as it turned out, was younger than she.

In fact, most of the ironing belonged to friends and neighbours who could no longer manage it. She also disappeared at mealtimes with plates of food covered with foil for the ‘old folks’ who lived around the corner or in the flat above hers.   She was that kind of woman, one who inspires me still.

Although she would have been intrigued by the robot iron, I  know without a doubt that she would never have given up ironing.  Scientific or not, nobody could press a trouser crease like my Granny.



Posted in Childhood Memories, Family Memoirs, Times Past Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 133 Comments