Retrospective Prose

Taking up the final Discover Challenge of the year which, using the word “retrospective“, urges us to look back at our work over the past year, I was prompted to write – as is so often the case – to pen some prose. It reflects some of my thoughts on the year, as well as my feelings on what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. 

New Year’s Eve.

The sun sinks to her retreat below the horizon,

Allowing twilight to close her darkened shades on the day,

Before night time lulls the world into dreamless sleep.

It was a clear, cold, moonless night,

The stars shimmering like multitudinous specks of glitter on the black velvet sky.

The air was dry, icy and cold, but taking a lungful of it did me the world of good.

I walked to the end of the street, did a left and cut through onto the canal.

I marvelled at the stillness of the black water.

As I looked,

I fancied that the black water resembled a scrying mirror,

Such as witches use, and that perhaps,

If I gazed long enough,

I could perceive other realms.

I smiled.

Your whole life is on the other side of the glass. And there’s nobody watching.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

Do you see the real you, or what you have been conditioned to believe is you?

One is an infinite consciousness,

Capable of being and creating whatever it chooses.

The other is an imprisoned illusion,

Imprisoned by its own perceived and programmed limitations.

I used to be the latter,

But not anymore.

Now I dance to my own rhythm,

And when you dance to your own rhythm

Life taps its toes to your beat.

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Some More Prompting

Back in November, I wrote a piece entitled “A Little Prompting“, in which I took all the Daily Prompts from that month so far, and wove them into a kind of conversational piece. It was rather well received by my readers – more so than I was expecting, if I’m being perfectly honest.

Now, as I take a look through the Daily Prompts from December, I confess that I am tempted to have another crack at it. There are more words to go at this month, and, whilst it’s true that I could wait until the month is fully at a close, if I’m being honest, by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, my brain will be a full two-thirds eggnog and thus fit for nothing. 

So, let’s take a look and see what I have to work with, shall we? Working from the month’s first prompt of “Echo”, we have: Echo. Construct. Panoply. Sacred. Vanish. Martyr. Protest. Treasure. Missing. Abide. Mystical. Flee. Bespoke. Conundrum. Folly. Maddening. Fishing. Moody. Relax. Fortune. Enthusiasm. Calm. Discover. Bounty. Festive. Retreat. Ovation. Pillage. 

OK. Here goes! 

I looked around at my fellow guests gathered at the table for Christmas dinner. It was all the usual suspects, each one looking like some faint echo of all the dismal Christmases that had gone before. Each year was just the same as the last, all of us trying our best to construct some semblance of joy and conviviality, and pretending that we did in fact want to be there.

The table groaned under the panoply of food, and, as I surveyed all that was on offer, I was pleasantly surprised. This year, some of it actually looked edible. Soon, our hostess would enter, carrying the turkey like some sacred artefact, on what she adamantly claimed was an antique salver, whilst no doubt simultaneously hoping that the “Made in Taiwan” stamp would vanish from the back.As our hostess placed the roasted bird onto the table, I couldn’t help but wish that the turkey and I could swap places. At least the poor bird wasn’t aware that it was a martyr to our supposed merriment, whereas we all had to smile politely and pretend that none of us wasn’t there under protest.

A short while later, and once the detritus of the main course had been cleared away, our hostess insisted that we turn out all the lights so as to get the full effect of the flaming, brandy-soaked Christmas pudding. I wondered whether she had put sixpences in the pudding again this year.

“There’s treasure in here for one or two of you lucky people!” she shrieked, as if reading my thoughts. Last year, poor old Mr. Bloom-McQuillan practically choked on a piece of her so-called treasure. Mr. Bloom-McQuillan, I now realised, was missing from our holiday gathering. Had he had the sense to stay away? I wondered. Or had he merely sought to save face and inhaled one of his own sixpences ahead of time?

I was shaken from my reverie by Miss Harman’s harpy-like voice announcing, “No brandy butter for me, dear! You know I can’t abide dairy!” A statement that was followed by Mrs. Hansen stating that she thought the whole butter making process to be somewhat mystical. She couldn’t be drunk already, could she? Maybe she was siphoning sherry from a bottle in her handbag. It was this thought, and this thought alone, that made me smile and gave me the strength I needed to resist the urge to flee. Mrs. Hansen was unfailingly dressed in bespoke designer dresses that were at least ten years too young for her, and was in all respects a veritable enigma wrapped in a conundrum.

By the time the coffee came around, I was convinced that this entire charade was pure folly, and determined not to engage in it next year. It was maddening. Then again, I said the same thing last year, telling myself that I should do something far less soul destroying, like fishing for example. Oh! How could I be so moody at Christmas? I should just try to relax and enjoy myself. Our hostess’s shrieking claim that her daughter was spending Christmas in the Seychelles, with her banker boyfriend about whose salary she wasn’t sure but she knew he earned a fortune, soon curbed my enthusiasm.

It was at that point that I realised I had been stirring my coffee for slightly longer than decorum permitted, prompting Mrs. Patterson-Combs to lean in, pat my hand and tell me to calm down. For my part, I resisted the urge to pinion her hand to the table with a cocktail stick and tell her that never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down! Instead, I grabbed the decanter of brandy and poured a heavy slug into my coffee, in the hope that it may help me discover what was left of my sanity. Maybe I could try to emulate Fletcher Christian and launch my own mutiny on the Bounty. The idea of sending our hostess out into the open sea in a tiny boat and telling her she’d reach land sooner or later, amused me probably a little more than it should.

As our festive dinner drew to a close, and everyone bade our hostess goodbye, I pressed myself as far back into the taxi seat as I could, in an effort to retreat as quickly as possible from Miss. Harman, Mrs. Hansen, Mrs. Patterson-Combs and all those like them. At least we had been spared the wrath of our hostess, unlike last year, when she was deeply miffed that, upon her presentation of the turkey, we had failed to give her the ovation she was obviously expecting.

Back at home, I entered the living room to find my flatmate standing on the sofa, shouting and screaming at the TV.

“What on earth are you doing?” I laughed. It was the first time I’d been happy all day.

“I’m playing “Pillage the Village”” she replied, beaming at me and offering the controls, “You want a go?”

Happy Holidays folks!

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The Path of Light and Shade

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The path of light and shade. This particular path runs through the woods near to my home.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, just as the clock struck midnight, my husband and I clinked our glasses of champagne together and shared a kiss. I distinctly remember what I told him as he held me. “This time next year we’ll be in Italy. I promise.”

Now, as I write this at my desk, looking out over my garden in Belgium, I am overcome with the regret of an unfulfilled promise. Not that our non-move to Italy was any fault of our own. The offer of a teaching job in Italy fell through, followed by family illnesses, the loss of several beloved pets, and financial circumstances that caused us time and again to dip into the funds we had judiciously saved for the move. The writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders was right. “Life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans.”

As this year wore on, and as it became ever more apparent that we would not be moving to Italy, I couldn’t help but think that the path of life had been robbed of sunlight. There were chinks of light here and there, of course there were; but, overall, the road ahead seemed shrouded and clouded by the murkiness of missed chances and plans gone awry.

Yesterday, however, – Christmas Day – as I lay on the sofa feeling so stuffed full of food that I thought I may never be able to move again, I had a kind of epiphany. It came in the form of a remembered quote by Stephen King. He said, “If you’re pushing and pushing and nothing is happening, stop pushing.” He was talking about writing, of course, yet I couldn’t help think that this could also be used as a quote for life. We had pushed and pushed for a new life in Italy, but no matter how hard we pushed, life – and our dreams – pushed back against us. Nothing was happening.

What if we stopped pushing? What then? Would that be giving up? Or would it have the effect of allowing our dreams space to breathe, allowing us to step back and see that the path ahead is not clouded by murkiness, but rather it is beautifully dappled – as is life – by light and shade. After all, it is only when you step out of the shade that you can appreciate the warmth of the sun.

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Tea Time Questions

Over the course of my life, I have been asked many tough questions. Some have made me laugh out loud, such as when my then 14-year-old niece asked, “Auntie Nelly, how do you know if someone’s sexy?” (I defy anyone not to answer that with “you just do”) Unfortunately, she didn’t accept that answer and followed it up with, “Well what is sexy?” My response, as I remember, was, “Well, it’s when you see someone or something that gives you a tingle, and you think “phwoar yeah”” Just as I was hoping she wouldn’t ask where you get the tingle, she said, “Oh, well in that case there’s a boy in my class who’s sexy.” At that point, my maternal instinct kicked in and I had to resist the urge to lock her in her room until she was 30!

Other questions have made me cry. One, which I have been asked several times over the years, as I have stroked my desperately ill  or aged and incontinent cat, is, “There’s nothing more I can do. How do you want to proceed?” Always, I knew the answer, and yet knowing never made it any easier to say.

However, the origin of this post began, not with any of the questions which I have been asked over the years, but rather the questions posed on tea bags. Yes, you heard that right folks! Tea bags.

You see, a few days ago, I bought a box of Pickwick Earl Grey tea bags from a supermarket in the Netherlands. When I opened it, I noticed that on the little paper label of each tea bag, was written a question. Naturally, the questions are written in Dutch, but it seems that Pickwick have been inviting people to log on to teatopics.nl and write their own questions, some of which are then put on the tea bag labels. The idea is to get people to slow down, to take their time, enjoy their cup of tea and ponder their answer the question posed.

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Tea time questions. This one reads “Would you rather be able to change the past or the future?”

I thought it would be fun to list the questions that I have come across so far when I have come to make a cup of tea, together with my answers. I shall then throw open the floor to you, my dearest readers, for you to give your answers to these most random of tough questions. A great way to get to know each other better, don’t you think? OK. Here goes nothing!

  1. What would you love to say to your younger self?

I would love to tell my younger self to always stand for what you believe in, even if you’re the only one standing. I’d also say that it’s perfectly OK to go down, take a count and clear your head, but you’ll never know what you can achieve if you don’t get up. Oh, and I would echo the words by the great and the gorgeous Helen Mirren, when she said that she would tell her younger self to tell people to “fuck off” more!

2. What do you want to do for your next birthday?

Hmm. I’d love to spend a week or two touring round Italy. I think that would be a perfect birthday experience.

3. What is the strangest dream you’ve ever had?

I used to be a huge fan of Formula 1. My all time racing hero was, and still is, Ayrton Senna. I was devastated when he died, and even to this day, more than 22 years later, I still get emotional when I think about that day. Several years after he died, when the world seemed to be talking about Michael Schumacher, I dreamed that I walked into a room that was kind of an office. Ayrton Senna was sitting at this office desk, writing notes on some paperwork. He looked up at me and smiled as I came in, and I had a feeling that I’d known him for years. We chatted a while, and as I went to leave, I said “You’re the greatest, you know.” He smiled this strange, sad smile, and said “I used to be”. I shook my head. “Always” I replied, and opened the door. “Thanks” he said, smiling a proper smile this time. “Anytime” I said, my eyes filled with tears. I left. The door closed. And then I woke up. I just got goosebumps writing about that.

4. What did you love when you were little? 

Now, I don’t know whether this means in the realm of food, or TV, or games, so I’ll answer them all. When it came to food, I loved my Mum’s homemade meat and potato pie. God, that was the best taste ever! As for TV, there was some much. I loved the A-team, and there was a series called “Tales of the Gold Monkey”. It was set in 1938, and featured a pilot called Jake Cutter and his best friend, a mechanic called Corky. I always thought that his one-eyed Jack Russel, imaginatively called “Jack”, was his best friend though. I wasn’t really much into games, and if I wasn’t watching TV or listening to music (I loved A-ha and Bros!) I was generally reading. I loved reading. Still do!

5. What things (not family or pets) would you rescue from your house if there was a fire.

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t rescue anything. As long as my husband, my cats and my birds were safe, everything else can be replaced. I know some people will say, “But what about photos etc?” Yes, they’re important, but all those memories are in my head. I don’t have to look at photos to remember them. Pick up. Move on. Make more memories.

6. Would you rather be a king/queen for a day, or a child for a day?

A child, definitely. A whole day with no worries or concerns, being able to play and act silly without getting disdainful or disapproving looks, and be able to eat loads of sweets! I often think back to when my friends and I were children, and how often we’d say that we couldn’t wait to grow up. What the hell were we thinking?

So, my dear readers, now that you have my answers, why not make yourselves a nice cup of tea, sit down and ponder what your answers will be. I look forward to hearing them!

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Breathe, Relax

As I wrote in my last article Senses Cure The Soul, when life gets to be just that little bit too much, I turn to nature and the senses to relax. Many times, I find that simply getting out into nature and taking photos to convey what I see and feel around me, will clear my head and lift my spirits. Here are a couple of photos that I have taken at times when my soul has needed some grounding. These photos too, are the ones I find myself coming back to whenever I need a sense of peace and relaxation.

The sun sinks to her retreat below the horizon, allowing twilight to close her darkened shades across the day, before nighttime lulls the world into dreamless sleep. These words, and the accompanying photo, were the product of a very stressful day. My beloved cat, Snorky, had passed away that morning, and, that evening, as I sat on the step, the words poured from me.

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Dusk.

The canal lock. I often walk along the canal when I need to clear my head. When I took this photo, I was struck by the almost hypnotising symmetry of the canal as it stretched away, seemingly into infinity.

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How could I not relax when I saw this sunburst? It was, to me, so stunning, that after I had captured it before the moment and the light changed, I spent what seemed to be an age simply staring at it.

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