26 February 2010

(Im)patience rewarded!

I'm off to the nearest newsagents to grab a copy of Warwickshire Life magazine!

This month's edition of WL will feature the first installment of a monthly column written by yours truly!!

When I was approached with by the magazine's remarkable and formidable editor, with an offer of a monthly column, I was stunned speechless. 

Surely, she was in jest? 

Little me? My thoughts and words in print? And I would get paid to write them?! Why, that's crazy talk! That sort of thing doesn't really happen.

Well, apparently, dear Reader, it can and does happen. I just spotted a notice for my new "series" on the cover of the online edition. (Right next to a dishy pic of Clive Owen, no less!)

Goodness, me.

24 February 2010

Where there's smoke...

What a way to spend the morning!

I've just been admiring the cracked, weathered beauty of reclaimed bricks, and discussing the virtues of Spanish slate, Yorkshire ash concrete, Cotswold stone, and English limestone.

Lily was impressed by the re-claimed bricks, too!

Just spent the past hour meeting with, Jim, one of the DEB’s brother’s best mates who is an exceptional builder and craftsman. Jim is proposing designs for the fireplace in our new living room.

The DEB spent the weekend stripping our chimney-breast of its ghastly 1970s-inspired wallpaper, and now we hope to transition the fireplace from a funky, uber-mod gas fire (complete with its designer, faux sea stones for a fake, beach-side fire effect) in favour of a more rustic, real fire.

Jim has given us tons of options, and loads of ideas to consider.  With such infinite possibilities, it makes me hope, just a little, that winter will last forever!


15 February 2010

Seasons of love

Love is a drug, as Bryan Ferry noted; the chance to be intoxicated by it comes along all too rarely; and I for one believe the chance is worth plenty of adjustments – in terms of who I think I am, how my life is supposed to go – and even, perhaps, in terms of how cold the water is that I can stand.  – Naomi Wolf, “Midlife Passion”, Sunday Times Style Magazine, 14 Feb 2010

Naomi Wolf’s comments about ‘second chance love’ could not be more true. The rush of love is all more precious and delicious when it is found and enjoyed after one has been wounded and bruised in prior skirmishes on the battlefield of amour

This is certainly a thing to be celebrated, and I was delighted to read such a heady, breathless, almost frothy account of “midlife passion” from Naomi Wolf, a stalwart of the American feminist movement.

She writes: “I am sure that some of the feelings of intense wellbeing I have around my lover has to do with things as simple and inexplicable as the fact that the rhythm of our heartbeats and breathing happen to be in alignment. When I am near his pulse, I calm down. It doesn’t get much better than that.” 

I know exactly what she means.

The D.E.B. and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple this weekend. And what a weekend it was! A weekend full of tears (happy ones), joy and laughter.

Valentine’s weekend started for me with bang. On Friday, I was invited to appear as a “Coffee Club” guest on “The Annie Othen Show” on BBC Radio. Annie and her team had planned an exciting pre-Valentine’s Day special, which included a vast, in-studio chocolate fountain; and a bit of retail therapy, with us three Coffee Club guests doing a blind sample test of candles and hand cream.

The piece de la resistance was a special appearance by Mr. England 2009, Andreas Kattou. A Warwickshire lad from the town of Rugby, Andreas is of Greek Cypriot extraction. His family own and run a popular local fish and chip shop in Rugby, he has already raised millions for charity (“Children in Need” and “Help the Heroes”), and he loves his mum. He was a doll.

As is probably no surprise, when Mr. England arrived, and chocolate body paint surfaced. Annie Othen asked me to have a go painting Mr. England with the chocolate paste. Jane Austen character that I am, I painted a big chocolate heart on his arm, but refused to lick it off!

Annie had invited me to be on the Valentine’s show as I had developed a reputation as an incurable romantic the last time she had had me as a guest on her show.

At the top of the show, Annie asked each of us our thoughts on Valentine’s Day. The two other guests gave very realist and borderline cynical responses. To be far, Pam, a ‘Virtual Vicar’ with iChurch, made a very good point that Valentine’s Day can be a very difficult time for the lonely, the single, the bereaved, the divorced, &etc.

As such, I feared sounding sappy or superficial by comparison. But, hey, when you’ve got a good thing going on, why be shy about it? So, I said, that yes, I was very, very excited about Valentine’s Day, and very much in love. But, I tempered this enthusiastic response by adding that the D.E.B. and I – being second timers – strive to love and care for each other so that every day is Valentine’s Day.

I could hear the sound of the world puking collectively in the corner, but I didn’t care. What I had to say was as true as rain on a summer’s day in England. The D.E.B. is so wonderful and loving, that he makes me want to be a better wife to/for him, everyday.

“Most marriages don’t need work. What they need is laughter, forgiveness and the odd lie-in.” – Andrew Clover

On Sunday, the D.E.B. and I rose early, and exchanged Valentine’s presents over morning coffee, and then went to a special “Thanksgiving for and Celebration of Marriage” service at St. Peter’s Church.  

The Vicar had us invited to take a special role in the service. Mid-way through the service, the D.E.B. and I stood in front of the congregation, representing all the husbands and wives present, and then led the married couples in a re-affirmation of their wedding vows, and in a litany of praise, thanking God for the blessing and expression of God's Love that is marriage.

It was just like getting married all over again. *SIGH*

It was a very powerful service, with married couples of all ages and lengths of time being married taking part. The choir did an amazing job, and performed Bach’s anthem “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” a popular wedding favo(u)rite. Around the church there were streams of happy tears as people reminisced together quietly on their own wedding days.

After church, the D.E.B. & I came home, wrote cards, wrapped the chocolate chip cookies I’d baked the night before, and delivered them to four of our friends in the village, who are alone and/or recent/recent-ish widows.

The Virtual Vicar on the Annie Othen show had made me think about this, and the importance of spreading some love to those dear women, so that they would receive a card of love on Valentine's Day.

Then we took a little road trip to Woodstock, down near Oxford, to Blenheim Palace -- the stately home where Winston Churchill was born. It was beautiful day. Cold, but beautiful. And, Blenheim is a remarkable and amazing place.

I was also able to arrange a special Valentine’s Day Sunday Lunch for us in 'The Orangery' at Blenheim. It was dreamy. The restaurant itself is quite grand – I wore cashmere – and the views over the gardens and grounds from the restaurant are just breathtaking.

Moments like this, I think, are what Naomi Wolf is talking about in her essay. Those moments when there is no one else in the world; where you are surrounded by beauty; where you could sit for hours, for days, with a bottle of wine and talk about everything, and absolutely nothing. With a dollop of chocolat marquis just for good measure. 



10 February 2010

Every woman has one

Let’s face it; no one likes the word ‘vagina’.  I blame the soft, naggingly nasal consonant sounds with which the word is endowed. It simply does not inspire feelings of fondness.

Many years ago, before I was a sassy New York diva-nista, I had the good fortune of landing a job as a guest professor at a small women’s college in Western Massachusetts. Teaching at Mt. Holyoke College was like being back in high school - in a good way.

There were “Milk and Cookies” feasts during Exams week, and Champagne and Strawberries on the Lawn just before Graduation. The distinctly feminine environment of the college encouraged an overwhelming sense of enveloping sisterhood and openness.

In those days, around Valentine’s Day, the community was treated to an annual student production of Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues

The auditorium would be packed to the rafters with women – and a few fearless men – of all ages, races, shapes, sizes, and persuasions laughing until they cried at Ensler’s hilarious home-truths about the joys and pains of being a woman. Ensler’s objective was to create a forum wherein women could revel, relish and rejoice in this vital part of their anatomies.

So important is this part of the female body that in the US women are urged to receive annual gynecological exams to ensure that all is in working order. This is treated as serious business, and not to be taken lightly. I even recall instances when I received notices in the post and phone call reminders from the doctors’ offices advising me that “that time of year” was approaching.

Just like the term for the organ in question, no one enjoys these examinations. However, they are, we are told, a necessary and routine evil.

Apparently, the NHS would disagree.

A few months ago, I phoned my local surgery (Doctor’s Office) to make an appointment for a “full physical exam” – the code I have used often enough in the States to indicate a gynecological exam. 

There was silence down the other end of the phone. “Pardon?” The receptionist asked.

I felt myself blush.

“You need an exam for what?” the receptionist pursued the point further.

I stammered faintly, “My…my…girlie bits.”

Girlie bits?! Where on earth did that come from?! How had I spontaneously channeled my 8-year-old self?

On the other end of the phone, there was shock and panic. I hear the sound of a hand being chapped over the mouthpiece of the receiver, and muffled voices speaking swiftly in the background.

The voice returns to phone, and speaks sternly: “Sister (The Nurse) will see you next Thursday at 11:00 A.M.” With this, the call briskly ended.

I was left, on the line, feeling embarrassed and confused.

I arrived for the appointment full of dread. When Nurse calls my name, I slink into her office sheepishly.

“How can I help?” she says brightly, all smiles.

I disclose my request, and from her reaction, it becomes very clear to me that she has had no prior knowledge of my intention.

She blenched, and lost her friendly composure, as if I had just announced my return from a tour of duty as the chief paramour of the French Foreign Legion.

Her hesitancy was matched by my own shy reluctance and swirling embarrassment. Following an awkward conversation, wherein we both said little, and a lengthy and uncomfortable silence, a truce was called.

She took my blood pressure (not surprisingly sky high!) and my weight, and I then scurried away as quickly as possible. For weeks, I was troubled by this encounter (and the phone call episode) but said nothing to no one. I broke my silence yesterday when I stopped in to see my Wonderful Lady GP (General Practitioner) for a refill allergy prescription.

“How are things?” she asked, her smile always soothing. Feeling a bit disgruntled, I allowed myself vent.

After listening to my wacky tale of woe, my Wonderful Lady GP laughed aloud heartily through her beaming smile. “Oh, you should have spoken to me first. I would have warned you!”

If I had spoken to her initially, she would have alerted me to the fact that annual gynecological exams and smears are not routine procedures in the UK. In fact, according to my WLGP, many British women in the UK live their entire lives without ever having an exam or a smear at all. Cervical smears are offered to patients – as an option -- every three years.

 Now, it was my turn to blench.

“Three years?” I questioned her, bemused. “Yes,” she said flatly, and explained the rational behind it: “If the NHS got involved in annual physical exams for women, that would be all that the NHS would do. All day, every day. There are just too many women in this country, and every woman has one.”

With a policy such as this, the thinking goes thus: The only reason a woman would choose, request or require to have an exam and smear outside this three year period would be if something were seriously wrong, or grossly amiss. Hence the reactions I’d encountered.

Thankfully, my Wonderful Lady GP has also practiced medicine in Canada and the US, and as such is more familiar with our approach to the yearly female check-up.

“So,” said Wonderful Lady GP. “I’m happy to give you an exam if you want one.”

Well, truth be told, no one actually wants to have to that done. I’d rather have a root canal without anesthetic! If I’m offered a “Get Out” clause, than I will certainly take it: “No thanks,” I said. “I can wait.”

All of this now has me wondering. Can one deduce from this that the NHS is lax and negligent in their care of British women? Or, are health care providers in the US over-zealous and opportunistic – lining their pockets by encouraging women to undergo a needless, annual, routine procedure?

One thing is certain: Britons and Americans are divided by a common language; and clearly, ‘vagina’ is not part of the vocabulary.

08 February 2010

A Room with a view

“Home is the most important place in world.” – IKEA motto

The Bell ringers are practicing as they do every Monday evening at St. Peter’s Church. It is a sound I have come to know, love and cherish living here. The sound is steady, strong, and clear. It is the sound of normalcy, of all things being well, and as they should be in blessed Barford. It is a sound that touches me deeply, comforts and soothes me.

Here in our new home, I am even closer to this wonderful sound. Our new home is just over the road (across the street) from St. Peter's.

From our new bedroom window, the D.E.B and I have a perfect view of that sweet little church, where we were married just over 8 months ago.

So, this is home.

I know at last how “Home” feels. All my years of wandering, striving rootlessness have come to an end. Playing on our penchant for Merchant-Ivory films, the D.E.B. joking suggested we call our new home “Howard’s End” – as I have now bid adieu to that chapter of my life.

I do feel a sense of ending, and wonderful new beginning. I have never had a place to call my own. And, now, feeling so settled and complete, I realize how unsettled and unfulfilling my past truly has been.

My heart breaks a little with sadness for that girl, the former me. I wish that there were some way that I could go back, speak to her, hug her and tell her everything turns out tremendously in the end. 

“Just wait and see,” I would say to her. “One day, you will live the life you imagine!”

The D.E.B. and I have been in our cute, little house only a very short while. We are still up to our ears in boxes, but things are coming together slowly.

I discovered the incredible pleasure vortex that is IKEA UK in Coventry this weekend. I will never be the same...

The D.E.B. has done an absolutely amazing job of assembling stylish Swedish furniture, for our snazzy “Scandiwegian” house. (For some reason, Barford seems to have more than its fair share of sassy, Scandinavian designed houses that were a rage in Britain in the late 1950s-60s.)

The exterior is not much to write about, very functional, practical. But the inside is pure magic. True to the Nordic artistry, the house is all about light, height and open space.

I feel like I can breathe in this house.

This weekend, I also finally, finally began unpacking boxes that arrived with me from New York over 18 months ago. When I first arrived, the D.E.B. and I were living in a rented house, and so there seemed little point in unloading all my worldly possessions in a place we were only going to pack up and leave eventually.

What joy then, over this past weekend, to re-discover the treasures of my life! It became very clear to me, while perusing these objects and trinkets of days past, that I have been collecting and accumulating my entire life for this very moment.

So many things that I had completely forgotten I owned have now at last re-surfaced to claim pride of place in our new home.

It also a wonder, a joy and a blessing to have found a kindred spirit who shares, enjoys and adores my aesthetic.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. – John Keats 

H1N1 is not a postcode! - A cautionary tale

Valentine’s Day, Pancake Day, Chinese New Year, and the start of Lent.

Can it really be February already? Where has my life gone?

H1N1 is not a UK postcode. But, it is a destination.  A very bad destination!

Dear Reader, this is a cautionary tale. 

Swine flu is no joke. The past two and a half weeks of my life are a largely a blur wherein I have struggled valiantly to remain conscious and vertical; somehow managed to move house, and miraculously gave a coherent, week long series of Shakespeare lectures at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

I can honestly say, I did these things, and much more, only by the assistance of the legendary “force” of Luke Skywalker/Star Wars fame.

Just over three weeks ago, I went to the leisure club one evening for a swim. As is my wont, following my dip in the pool, I rewarded myself with a ‘melt’ in the steam room. While in the steam room, I was joined by a chap who had just finished his workout in the gym. 

As one does, we chatted about the bad weather, and the need to work out more. Shortly within the conversation, my steam room companion revealed that he has had swine flu in the past few days.

Germ-phobe that I am, I was seized by panic and dread instantly. With tact and moderate haste, I excused myself from the steam room. I assured myself quietly that my worst imaginings were unfounded and purely irrational. However, less than 3 days later, I was laid low completely with a high, raging fever.

Day after day, as the illness wore on and on, I blamed myself  -- for not getting the swine flu vaccine. The NHS has been quite adamant about encouraging people to get the vaccine; particularly, those with long-standing conditions, such as asthma, and those in special circumstances, e.g., pregnant women, and those trying to conceive.

In fact, early on, the NHS went so far as to release a statement recommending that women who were thinking of/planning to conceive seriously reconsider, and postpone attempts to conceive due to the potential dangers of swine flu.

My GP – a wonderful lady doctor, originally from South Africa – urged me to get the vaccine, but I thought I knew best. I thought the whole swine flu thing was “much of a much-ness,” that people were making a great deal of fuss over nothing. 

I was wrong!

I have never felt so awful in my life! There were times when I wondered, quite sincerely, whether I could or would ever get better. Sounds quite dramatic, I know, but it is very true.  Three weeks later, and I am still recovering.

The one, superficial benefit from all this is that I have lost nearly half a stone (roughly 5-7 lbs.) of weight as a result of this health nightmare.

Tough lesson learned.