Saturday, August 1, 2015

Where my grandparents lived.

This was a couple of paragraphs I wrote just before attending my mums funeral. I know Cotesbach so well that I didn't need to be there to know what it looked like. I could almost feel the air and smell the area before I left Wales for this trip. I think I wrote this in preparation for the day, just so I could cope better.

He stood there by the village pump.  It was all so familiar, but it was all so different.  The quiet hamlet was still, as always; bypassed since before he first came here a child, and few additions since he were a wee young'un, when a row of semis were built along Main St. just beyond the small Norman church, opposite the rectory.

It’s not one of those perfect idyllic scenes, no duck pond, and no half timbered, thatched pub.  The “village” hall behind him was new enough that he remembered coming to visit his grandparents one summer to find half the green had been replaced by a building site, and by the time he visited for Christmas there was a low modern building surrounded by an awkward gappy hedge of young cypress trees.  Now the brick had thirty plus years of soot, and weathering to take the shine off it, and the building was obscured by tall luxuriant trees.

Though the playing field to the left of the hall had provided hours of fun, the adventures had been had on the right in his gran-dad's garden.  It had been a large plot of land with a pig sty, a glasshouse which in the summer had the bitter air of green tomatoes, and several sheds filled with rusting tools, smelling of dust, soil, paraffin, oil, mowers and rotovators.  In the orchard at the back of the quarter acre lot there had been a chicken run, where pullets and bantams strutted and clucked.  Fed on millet, mash and windfalls they paid with golden yolked eggs, and when the eggs came no more, nana would have them for the pot.  That land was off limits now.  Nana and grandad had a bungalow built there for their final years.  When their estate was settled the lot had been divided and sold.

By the pump was a modest semi.  That was where his mother had been born and raised.  That was the first place he’d spent the night away from home; where he’d learned to set and light a fire; where he’d woken, not to the sound of a dustcarts yawning hydraulics or city buses diesel purr, but to the soft baaing of sheep, and the lowing of cows.  This was the house where the food tasted smoky since grandad had always insisted that they use the range; anything cooked by gas tasted of, well gas of course.  Vegetables were boiled soft, potatoes softer and meat was thin and chewy.  Toast meant a tanned face as you sat on the hearthrug and held your bread inches above the late evening coals.  A tanned face, flushed with heat, but your feet cold from the draught as the fire pulled air into the house under the doors and through the gaps and cracks in the steel framed windows.

The last time he’d been in the village was a lifetime ago.  It had been a funeral.  Grandad outlived nana by a few years, they were buried up the street, alongside an uncle.  That was where he was going today, to say a final goodbye, this time to someone too young for such a parting, but someone who deserved the rest and peace.  His mother was coming home, to the place and people she loved.

Monday, April 21, 2014


You know that feeling inside when you are pottering around some small town on a lazy afternoon.  The day is your day, and you are doing your thing; So you have this casual euphoria going on, the type that tends to a ease a casual smile onto your face, and make even the light drizzle conspire to add to the quaint beauty of the stone walls, and peeling paint on the window frames and iron railings.  So you understand this mood I’m talking of.  

You will also know that curiosity which will make you turn down that narrow alleyway, the one that slopes encouragingly towards the river, and you will know that sudden joy when the sun comes out to reveal a small walled garden. A red brick walled yard filled with terracotta pots pouring geraniums over the wall and floor, and the old butchers bicycle with its basket replete with goofy faced pansies or the rusty pram used as a planter full of snapdragons. Good, we are in the same place.  That smile on your face.  The one right then. That is the smile she always wears, and when I look at her face I feel like I too am stood there in that quiet alley, the walls ashine from the recent rain, and the plants green and fresh, their colours so alive.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I threw away the cork this morning. That’s the cork from the champagne we used to see in the new year. As I threw it away I thought of all the corks I have kept, I could have kept, or never had a cork for to keep. Back in Britain when I was sorting through my things at my parents house I found an old cork. It was the one for my 18th, or was it my 21st, but there it was, unlabelled in a box of loot and booty. Not knowing which birthday it was for, that cork didn’t really lose any worth, but it just felt worthless holding on to.

So the catalogue of corks, those I have, haven’t and never have had:-

18th Birthday. This was a quiet birthday with mum, dad and Helen, just before she headed to University, and so I assume Stewart would have been there too. I got my second stereo, midi cut with a linear tracking two speed turntable. I guess the venue for dinner was The Trooper in Christleton, just outside Chester, that was our de facto celebration restaurant. I might be wrong, it might have been out at Tarvin, or Tarporley in a small country pub. Since University starts in October I am sure Helen was there. The stereo was a Fisher, and replaced my old Bush.

21st Birthday. This was a lot more public. I had a Christmas dinner with some college buddies, and a couple of friends from High School. I don’t remember Helen being around, but she was working by then.

Graduation. Well, there was no champers. Mum and dad took me, and my friend Paula for a nice dinner in Chinatown after the formal ceremony in the Free Trade Hall. I remember it was a good meal, and when we were browsing the shops in Chinatown after there was a rack of Asian Playboy magazines, and Paula teasing me about how I’d probably want to have a look in them.

Engagement. It was New Years Eve 1994 when we formalized everything. I say 1994, because I first came to the US in 1993, and David was born in 1997, implying marriage in 1996, and so, since we had a year of betrothal before, and it was New Years Eve, in Chianti’s restaurant in Merced, on our way home from a day in the snow in Yosemite. I don’t remember that cork, or if we had sparkling wine. I just remember the look of joy on the faces of the people at the next table. It wasn’t a surprise engagement, but we didn’t know that morning we were going to formalize it before the year was out.

Wedding. This must be in the box with the guest book and the photo album. I remember the wedding fell flat in many regards. We had to choose to either marry in America or the UK. It was easier for my immediate family to travel to the US then for Evelyn’s to go to the UK. This made for a smaller congregation, but freed us up for a civil ceremony in a romantic location. It rained in the morning, but dried for the ceremony. I remember my mum was very impressed, but like all couples, in retrospect, we kinda wished we could have took the money and added it to a down payment and got into a house sooner.

Wetting the baby’s head. Sure, this should have happened, but I was on the sympathy wagon through the pregnancy and while he was on the breast. The actual day was very tiring, Evelyn going in for induced labor about 3pm, and after a stressful, sleepless night, going for a C section 22 hours later. Evelyn got some rest, but I had to carry on, straight into new dad mode, not getting any sleep until after visiting that evening. I was allowed to stay in the hospital for a couple of nights. Not having the kids christened or baptized meant we never really got a formal welcoming for the bairns.

Wetting the other babies head. Well, everything moved so quick. From Evelyn asking me to stay to breakfast and not rush off to work until he was in my arms took less than 3 hours.  We were busy with a toddler, a baby, my mum there to help us out, and my busy work schedule.  No time to party, just plenty of cups of tea.

Romantic getaway weekend.  There’s only been one of those since the kids arrived.  I guess at some point there should have been champagne, but we elected to stick to margaritas, tequila, beer and Southern Comfort.  Oh, there was a night away from the kids, and Asti was consumed then.  It felt like a second honeymoon in some regards and a second date in others.

I guess since I left home properly (excluding college) I have had 20 New Years, only one was at a friends, and only one had my parents around.  I don’t always get bubbly, New Years has mostly been a quiet holiday in this household.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Love letter #1

My dearest,

I scarce know where to start, but suffice it to say I am in love.  I am in love with you, with your eyes that smile and your hair that dances.  I am in love with that voice of yours which carries strength, but also shows great tenderness.

Your accent intrigues me, I’d love love to hear tales of your home state, your hometown, your life before you moved here.  I am sure the more I hear the more I will love.  I want to sit and talk and listen, exchanging tales of who we are and where we are going.

I love your sense of style, your clothes brighten these grey winter days.  I admit I like the way you dress to show your curves.  I love the playful charms on your necklace, and those fun earrings.  I’m curious about that hint of tattoo I’ve seen peeping over your collar, are those feathers belonging to an angle, and eagle, a gryphon?

I would be most honored if you would join me for dinner one evening soon,

Yours humbly,

Berty Mauphin

(555) 555-5555

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Castello di Amorosa

Some short number of years ago a very rich man decided he wanted an interesting property.  He'd already got one successful winery and wasn't really after another, but his love for Tuscan architecture led him to build this reproduction castle in Napa valley.  The castle was completed in 2007 and has become a very popular destination in the wine country.

The castle was built using as many traditional techniques as possible to add to the authenticity.

There is a small formal garden around the castle, but it really is slap bang in the middle of a field of grapes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A simple tale of the end of a day.

It had been a beautiful July evening.  Typical of the East Bay, a coolness blew in about 5pm and took away the days modest warmth.  The light cloud cover flirted with the yellowness of the setting sun, but never really lit up in a majestic way.

There was a party played out below that cool evening sky.  The family enjoying a summer gathering to celebrate the success of one of the younger members, you know those parties, graduations, engagements, new jobs.  One of those.  In amongst the crowd was one of the older cousins, a beautiful young woman.  Those around her who knew her best noticed an extra glow to her this evening, and not after that third whiskey sour, but when her i-phone started beeping.  There he was, crashing this party via TXT, but she looked so good on it that they didn't care.  They all kinda knew by the way she had been acting of late that there was someone new on the horizon, and they all wished her well.

She bowed out early from the gathering and headed home.  I think we should follow her to make sure she doesn't stray.  Her claims of being unwell seemed real, her voice had been husky, and she had been a little less chatty than usual.

When she got home the first thing she did was to try an old remedy, a hot toddy and a warm bath.  She started the water running into that old claw foot tub (I kid you not, it was an older house), and reached for the bottle of Bodytime bubble bath, custom scented the way she liked, vanilla with a hint of ginger and cloves.  Then she returned to the kitchen and started the kettle, pouring a generous shot of whiskey into a tumbler and adding a spoonful of orange blossom honey and the juice of a fresh lemon.

Onto the bedroom where she started to disrobe.  The thin silken scarf had eased the evening chill, but as she discarded it she knew it was pretty but had not been practical enough.  She rubbed the sides of her slender neck, rubbing some warmth in.  She kicked of her strappy shoes, and reached behind to unfasten her playfully short dress, the one that had left her slender legs to cool too far.  She knew who would be wanting to help unzip her, she’d been teasing him by SMS all evening.  She wanted to be unzipped by him, but not tonight, not with this nagging sore throat, not with having to be ready for a day’s hiking tomorrow.

Stood there in her bra and panties, she saw herself in the full length mirror, and imagined how he would look at her.  She knew he’d see only the good things, but what does he like?  She imagined him stood behind her, the way he’d described a few weeks ago in a playful email, just holding her gently, an arm around her waist, and kissing her here, she reached her hand to lift her hair clear of the back of her neck, caressing where he would plant his lips next time he saw her.

Her reverie was broken by the piercing whistle of her kettle.  She grabbed her perfunctory terry towel robe and went into the kitchen to add the final ingredient to her drink.  The alarum had also brought her to the bath in time to find the water tank had flushed through its slowly gathered hot water, and was now running in tepid.  She pulled the sleeve up on her robe, and swished the scalding and mellow water layers together.

The finishing touches? Yes, light a couple of tea-lights, turn off the overhead light. Robe, bra and panties to the ground; and step through the cool popping bubbles into the sub-foam tropical water. She sank to her knees and painted sleeves of bubbles onto her graceful, slender arms. Her limbs delighted in the delicate feel of lacy foam.  Her nose pleased by the baking smells of her bath. She sank her cute behind onto the cold iron of the tub, stretched her limbs to the length of the bath, and sipped on the warming toddy. Her body started to warm not only from the drink, and the bath but also from another source; that final ingredient being a lusty glow for her new beau.

Hot Chocolate

Have you ever been sat in a coffee shop, enjoying a warm mug, when a beautiful woman walks in? There is a ripple through the room.  It starts with the not so studious student at the back who glances up from behind his Steinbeck or Kerouac or Proust, to see who caused the bell to ring, or the breeze to blow, or the traffic noise to enter.  You know it’s someone interesting because his glance is not 5 seconds, but 25, or 45 seconds.  Then this reverie is replaced by him losing himself back into his fiction and his vivisection of the author’s words.

The next to notice is that old codger, one who would have been sucking idly on a pipe, but this is 2013, not 1973.  They have evolved over the years, depending where and when you are.  It would have, at one time, been a peaked cap like a sailor’s, and a Guernsey sweater, or fair isle, but now, and here, it’s an aging hippy, a soft collared shirt replacing his homemade tie day, and a grey haired ponytail, the remnants of a tamed dead head.  The eyes carry that “if I were ten years younger look”.

These clues and cues get other middle aged, middle classed men turning to see the attraction, and the wives, girlfriends, daughters all turn to see what the fuss is.  And this transient wave of admiration and smiles of varying caliber passes swiftly through the place.

Have you ever been sat in a coffee shop, enjoying a warm mug of cocoa, when a beautiful woman walks in?  Your day has been stacked on your yesterday, and your yesterday’s yesterday, and each has been longer than the preceding one.  You are lost in idle thoughts, watching the swirl of chocolate syrup melt into the whipped cream that is melting into the cocoa.

She walks into the room and notices you didn't notice.  You didn’t flinch at the bell.  You didn’t stiffen at the breeze.  You didn’t huff at the hum of traffic.  The wave passed over you, and all that happened is your peripheral vision registered legs to your left, not a threat, just a presence, not related to you.

Have you ever been sat in a coffee shop, enjoying the look and smell and feel of a hot mug of cocoa that warms you after the mid-fifties chill wind which whipped foaming waves off the giant Californian sea loch, when a beautiful woman tugs playfully at a wisp of stray hair on your head, a playful non-verbal “Hey you”?  And before you have chance to pick up your spectacles and put them on, she is stood talking to the barista twenty feet away.  You’d felt vaguely aware of someone alongside you, but they had not addressed you, and though your peripheral vision had acknowledge “legs like hers” you had not perceived “her legs”.

You look across the coffee shop, now fully focused, with corrected vision, back in this world and not lost in your own.  There she is, and that wave has past, and everyone else has had their moment of paying heed to that grace and beauty, and you alone are looking upon your loveliness; knowing the sound of the voice too distant to hear, hearing the order for tea, imagining the phrasing, the politeness, the softness.  Though all you can see is the back of her head, you know the smile that rests on that face; you know the transient expressions that meet each challenge from the server.  And then she turns to rejoin you, and you can see that her days too have been too long, but her spirit shines through, and you know your spirit is lifting and you feel a shine through your own jaded self, just knowing she is there for you.