About Grace Lessageing

Writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. Leader of a creative writing group. Ex infant teacher. Living in Christchurch UK.

A Dog’s Breakfast of Linguistics

Driving towards the Spanish border and San Sebastian I am attempting to reclaim, renovate and restore my rusty Spanish, a language that’s languished unused for a couple of years. A few words and phrases float in- ‘Si’ ‘No’ ‘por favor’ ‘gracias’ ‘lo siento’ ‘la cuenta’ ‘cervezas’ and ‘banos’. All the essentials. Then I get to wondering what the word for breakfast is and it becomes an irritation. I can find the German word-‘fruhstuck’ but I’m frustrated by Spanish breakfast. This is absurd, mainly because we’ve no need whatsoever to be ordering breakfast in Spain.

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We locate a site with great mountain views and stretch legs by plunging down a steep, bendy road towards the sea. The weather has turned hot and muggy and by the time we’ve returned and got some chairs out the first drops of thunderous storm have arrived. Rain continues until bed time but by morning it has all cleared and it’s bright, sunny and fresh.

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A convenient bus ride takes us into San Sebastian via Monte Igelda [where our site is], stopping at the ancient funicular en route. After locating the tourist office we follow a suggested walking route around the city which takes in major plazas, the waterfront and important landmarks such as the Basilica. We stop for tapas lunch at ‘Tapas Santana’, where a sumptuous display of tapas dishes fills the counter and hordes crowd in. I look at the menu and there it is: desayuno-breakfast. Of course!

Husband waves me to the counter to order, although I’m not ready, not well enough rehearsed in my renaissance Spanish. I muddle through aided by the kindness of the waiter and we are rewarded with a delicious lunch.

We leave next day for San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and get hopelessly muddled when our new SATNAV decides the best route is along unmade mountain cart tracks, but at last we find a sensible coast road, albeit winding and tortuous. The terrain here resembles the Amalfi coast but with fewer tourists even now at Easter time. After a number of glitches, including a near-death experience on the motorway when a bendy bus decides we are a pesky nuisance and attempts to do away with us, we arrive to San Juan de G, a destination better known as a location for filming Game of Thrones than for scenic or religious significance. It is, however spectacular.

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The tiny church of San Juan, dating from AD890,  is perched upon an island rock accessed by a winding path across a stone causeway. The path down [and up!] is steep and arduous. But plenty of people of all ages, sizes and fitness are tackling the walk. Remembering the Tiger Cave Temple climb in Thailand we decide this is a doddle, which it isn’t, but we make it down and up.

It is only a stone’s throw then down to Bakio, where a perfectly nice, free, well-serviced aire awaits. Here is surfing galore so of the many vans parked up a lot are typically bohemian and strewn with the paraphernalia of the sport.

Leaving Bakio we head off towards Comillas, the steady drizzle strengthening into steady rain, which continues throughout the day and is still dropping relentlessly when we arrive to our selected site. On into the evening it rains…and rains. Next morning it is still raining. So the rain in Spain is not restricted to the plain, clearly…

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Normal for Now

I was sitting in the bar area of the Barfleur on its way into Cherbourg, reading Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ when I glanced up as we were gliding past the Irish ferry, ‘W B Yeats’.

I’d just reached the part in the novel where Trinity student Connell gets totally wasted during his summer break and is lured back to the flat of his former secondary school teacher where she has the intention of ravishing him [until the excess of alcohol precludes the act].

I got to thinking, then that I’m pushed to recall the names of any of my secondary school teachers. I can remember my very first teacher, Miss Hunter, who I loved. I can almost   remember the name of my next teacher, in the juniors, Mrs  Someone. We moved. I know who my next teacher in the juniors was because it was my dad.

I passed the ’11 plus’ and had the dubious reward of going to Wisbech High School, where our newbie form was ruled over by an austere and frightening Scottish woman whose name escapes me, but might have been ‘Miss MacFarlane’. I was anxious the entire time, for two terms. Then we moved again and there was a plethora of remote characters who entered classrooms, delivered their notes and left.

In the sixth form, studying English literature, among other things W B Yeats was on the syllabus. I developed a lifelong dislike of W B Yeats’ work and to this day I shudder when I hear mention of ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’. We were never given a chance to explore and enjoy the work; never had the background explained or saw how it related to Irish history and politics-let alone to my own, teenage self.

‘Normal People’ explores a teenage love story from more contemporary times. In the story Connell connects much more to the texts he is studying. As students, he and Marianne drink, do drugs, party in much the same way that I did during my 70s student-dom in London. How long ago it all seems now-and it is!

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Now here we are in Avranches in the warm sunshine of an April evening, having driven off the ferry to travel hopefully and with the relief of the Brexit delay wrapped around us like a snug blanket-for now. It is pleasant enough to sit outside in the square with a beer and survey the elegant decadence that is commonplace in French architecture.

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When we pulled into the ‘aire’ there were already French motorhomes in place. We reversed back just as a couple were leaving to walk the few hundred metres into town. They turned, smiled and waved in greeting and I realised I was almost holding my breath until this moment. Maybe, just maybe we are still as welcome as ever in the places we love and will always love to go…

What Kind of Parent are You?

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I was lucky to receive three cards on Mothers’ Day. The first to arrive was a sparkly depiction of two unicorns-large and small-portraying an idealised, rainbow-backed vision of motherhood, cosy, pretty and delightful. The second a hand-drawn picture of two figures side-by-side, one larger in trousers [me], the other small in a dress [Grand-Offspring]. The third a photo of a ravaged old hag.

Of course I’m delighted by all of these depictions of myself, as parent and grandparent, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they’ve all remembered the day. If your Offspring have negotiated all the hurdles on the way to adulthood and continue to communicate with you it must be some kind of miracle.

Parenting is like navigating the seas, periods of calm punctuated by violent storms. Sometimes the storms are catastrophic. Sometimes the calms are flat enough to believe you are becalmed and stranded, never to reach the shore.

When the offspring are safely grown and in their own nests you may consider your duty done but that is very far from the truth. You continue to feel responsible, to offer support, to care, in a way that few creatures in the natural world do [except perhaps for elephants?].

Myself, 38 years ago and pregnant, I was an ignoramus on the subject of babies. While I was acquainted with the development and behaviour of young children, when I had the first I was exhausted and  panicky in equal measures-a rabbit caught in the headlights. My long held belief that babies ate and slept was shattered. As they grew I was unprepared for the frustration, penury and utter boredom that life with toddlers can be. But in other ways they were, at that time, the very best part of my life.

Becoming a grandparent is well documented as delightful and easier [in that you ‘can hand them back’] although there are hazards and traps to avoid. I was prey to much advice as a new mum-‘Pull yourself together; you’ve only had a baby’ was one gem [as I lay strapped to various devices in the hospital bed, post Caesarian Section]. So I try to stick to merely describing my own experiences while also attempting to adhere to parental rules and guidelines regarding treats etc

There is a huge variety of parenting styles, from controlling to liberal and most are dependent on our personalities as adults and, perhaps, our own experiences as children. There is no such thing as a perfect parent so we must rely on guesswork, friends or manuals to solve conundrums like faddy eating. The fact that I came to depend on the quaintly old-fashioned ‘Baby and Child Care’ by Dr Benjamin Spock demonstrates how long ago I became a mum. But if not trendy, his approach to child rearing seemed calm and sensible at the time.

Above all I do hope I’ve managed to maintain some vestiges of humour as they’ve grown up. Long may it continue!

 

Imagine…

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On a recent walk we came across a community garden.

The latter stages of the route, near to the shopping centre took us through a housing estate which, in the past, had a reputation for being somewhat ‘rough’, resulting in school numbers dropping and so on. The housing is mixed-blocks of flats, terraced homes, semis and detached, much ex-council and now presumably housing association. The estate is not pretty but neither is it hideous since there is a great deal of green space, trees, open areas. And in the midst of one, large, open space was an enclosure laid out with raised beds, a neat row of compost bins and a shed.

A father and small daughter were working in one of the raised beds, planting and tidying. It was all shared, the dad explained and the produce from one bed could be harvested by anyone for their needs. Fresh, home grown fruit and vegetables!

To work in a garden is one of life’s pleasures. You are outside in the air, serenaded by birdsong, creating, nurturing, coaxing, often accompanied by a cheeky robin and some industrious bumble bees. It can be frustrating when plants refuse to thrive or are consumed by pests but this is more than offset by the satisfaction of seeing flowers or vegetables flourish from your ministrations. Gardening also exercises a lot of muscles you didn’t know you had!

Walking along past the community garden I allowed my mind to wander. One day I may not be able to tend my own garden. But there are long waiting lists for allotments and in our squidgy, little country space is becoming squeezed by the need for housing-new homes’ gardens becoming smaller.

What if elderly and disabled people who wanted to stay in their own homes but were unable to garden were paired with those who wanted allotments but perhaps couldn’t afford one or didn’t want the long wait? There would be a shed-full of tools. The results of the labours could be shared-as could the expertise of the person who used to tend the garden.

The garden owner would get visits-perhaps even someone to keep an eye on their wellbeing. The gardener may get a cup of tea!

I read of a scheme in the Netherlands [where ideas to help the elderly and disabled seem to abound] where a student could receive accommodation free in the home of an elderly person who might need a little help with housework etc. Of course I can think of many students who it wouldn’t suit at all-and many elderly would be horrified at the thought of a stranger in their house-but still there must be a lot more who’d be happy to share if it meant they could stay at home.

For now, though it’s back to mulching for me-backache or not…

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Sunshine Blogger Award

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Fellow blogger Janet has kindly nominated me for this award. To find her blog, which describes her travels around the UK and includes all kinds of eclectic details, visit here: https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/

The Rules….Well, there are always rules are there not?

1.Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and make a link back to their blog.
2.Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.
3.Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then write them 11 new questions – or cheat and use the same questions
4.List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog.

So here are my answers to Janet’s questions:

1.Tell us three things about the place and country where you live now.

a] The small, Dorset town where I live has the largest parish church in the country.

b] Its harbour is host to 2 rivers.

c] British bitter [of which the British are very proud] is unlike any other beer anywhere in that elsewhere beer is what we would call ‘lager’. British bitter comes in myriad tastes, flavours and colours from pale honey to chocolate.

2.Can you name a teacher you remember for their influence or words of wisdom?

I loved my very first infant teacher, Miss Hunter, who was kind and innovative, bringing in a beautiful Battenburg cake to teach us fractions. Sadly I was only with her for 2 years. Thereafter no teacher seemed so lovely.
3.Have you been to a school reunion, if so were you glad you went?

I moved schools several times and lost contact with friends each time. I was invited to a student reunion but having looked ant the list of respondees could find nobody I recognised, so no-I haven’t!
4.If money or rarity were not problems, what would you like for your next birthday present?

I would like a contract with an agent or publisher! [and an interview with Jenny Murray for my newly published novel!]
5.If you were stranded on a desert island with nothing and let’s face it, if you were shipwrecked you are not likely to have your favourite books etc. Would you rather have any person with you or be alone?

If I could have a choice I’d have Husband, for his practical skills and his unfailing sense of humour-otherwise I’ll take solitude.
6.If you were offered a part as an extra in a film, what would you like to be?

In the previous life as a teacher I was usually type-cast as a witch, so I suppose that’s where my thespian skills lie…
7.If reincarnation is true, who or what would you be next time?

I’d like to be someone who understands science [especially chemistry] or a brilliantly successful novelist. A combination of the two would be good [like Barbara Kingsolver?].
8. What is your favourite mode of transport?

Easy. Our beautiful, comfortable, versatile motor home, which takes us anywhere in Europe and provides me with the security to travel without worries. [Regular readers may know I have a health issue that can make travel tricky!]
9.City, suburbs or rural retreat?

I’m unsure whether this refers to home or visits, but living on the edge of a small town with excellent transport links and water meadows extending from our garden could not be better.
10.What is your idea of a dream night out?

There is no single answer to this. I love to dine out with friends or family, I love the theatre or live music or comedy performance. We were at a festival once and Russell Howard popped up on to the stage unannounced which was wonderful. Sometimes the best night out happens without any planning, but good company/music/entertainment all makes for a good night out.
11. When you are buying birthday cards do you choose flowery or funny ?

I always go for humour, unless it’s funerary or someone I don’t know well.

 

Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

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Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

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The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.

 

 

 

A Take on Transport

I used to love driving. I was late to learn, at 25, pootling around Putney in south London all of one cold, dark, snowy winter in the evenings after work, with my British School of Motoring instructor. My steering was unorthodox, he told me and said that I should have some lessons in daylight since I’d only ever driven at night.

I passed my second test, at Teddington-a place I knew no more of than Guildford, where I’d failed 2 weeks before. Then I acquired my little old, faded green Austin A40 with a steering wheel like a bicycle wheel and doors that stuck and had me crawling through the hatchback to enter and exit. But I was ecstatic to be independent at last.

Throughout the early years of motherhood, when there was only one family car, the independence was gone with the vehicle and I was reduced to shank’s pony, pounding the streets with a mewling sprog in a pram and wondering how it had come to this?

In the single-parent-working-full-time years I regained some autonomy with a battered Volvo and could load kids inside and camping gear on the roof rack in the holidays or collect bits and pieces for the ramshackle home I’d purchased and was attempting [on evenings and weekends] to do up. I loved to drive. I enjoyed long journeys-even when it took 9 hours of traffic jams to get to the Kendal home of friends I been invited to for a weekend.

Somewhere along the years to old age however a gradual falling out of love with driving took place; not that I won’t or don’t drive, but I’ve come to appreciate other modes of transport, becoming a fan of buses, especially with the gaining [finally] of my pensioner bus pass. I’m not the only bus-pass-holder to take a child-like pleasure in gaining the front seat on the top deck, either…

Then there’s the train, where a ‘seniors’ railcard gives a worthwhile discount. Of course it isn’t as glamorous as it was when I was a child, when you walked along the corridor and slid open a door to a compartment, but if you are lucky enough to get a seat it’s possible to drift into a reverie and gaze out; or listen to others’ conversations [real or phone]. These days train travel can be a frustrating and tiring business, as we found when, having travelled, 2 weeks ago, 4,000 miles by air through the night on a trans-Atlantic flight to Gatwick, arriving at 5am, all the trains south towards Southampton and beyond had been cancelled ‘due to signal failure’. Lovely. Just what you’d wish for after an 8 hour night flight.

On flights, ferries, trains and buses, where someone else has the responsibility, I think the trick is to sit back and relinquish control. Watch the movie, look at the view, listen to the conversations, read your book. Better to travel hopefully [and also to arrive!].