Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Reasons to be Cheerful. One, Two. Three.

Dear Lord, shoot me now if I have to continue to live in a country where the sun appears once every two weeks if you're lucky. I'm perched on a concrete slab in the garden, listening to birds, laptop on lap, dogs at my feet, staring at verdure and bluebells and white puffy clouds about which Wordsworth would swoon. The sun is out. For the first time in a while. The sun is out and all is well with the world. There is light.  Finally.
☀️"First of all we shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark." 
This is from the Big Book, ie the AA big book. It's perfect, isn't it? And that's how you feel after a week of oppressively grey skies.  

I shivered in London yesterday, completely inappropriately dressed for driving rain, in jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt and my lovely navy blue Miu Miu coat which sounds grand but is a serious dog hair magnet. Freezing and grumpy, I ordered the rose mint tea at Le Comptoir Libanais. They pour it from a height into little glasses. It's just slightly sweet and warms your hands. I was waiting for my old workmate from Los Angeles. We started out in the business together. He taught me Yiddish words and brought in warm bagels and cream cheese from the best deli on Pico every Friday. We went to meetings at Avenue Pictures together, in his old Toyota which reeked of cigarette smoke, and laughed. He came in looking fifteen pounds lighter and announced that his mother had died a month ago. I didn't know. I hadn't been told. But I could feel the weight of it, the weight of his sadness, which stayed with me on the train all the way home. I didn't know what to say really. The death of a parent makes you question everything, makes you look at the world differently, blows you apart. He showed me pictures of his mom in cats-eye sunglasses, with a necklace of flowers, grinning, in Acapulco, 1972. Acapulco! Where all the chic-est people went in 1972. Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, my friends' parents from suburban Philly. 

At four ayem I had a crisis of confidence. I wanted to tell everyone "I've lost my confidence. I don't know who I am any more." And I thought better of it. I thought it didn't look very professional. But later, in the the morning, I confided to DM. I knew I was drowning in it and I had to find something that would make me feel like it was going to be all right. I found Cyril Connolly, he of The Unquiet Grave, witty epithets and contemporary of George Orwell, Cecil Beaton and Anthony Powell. "In 1967, Connolly settled in Eastbourne, to the amusement of Beaton, who suggested he was lured back by the cakes they had enjoyed in school outings to the town." And why wouldn't you move somewhere for cake?

But this is what I found:

“The secret of success is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore.”   -- Cyril Connolly.

And somehow, this helped me sleep. 

Why do we not learn? Why do we not remember the things that have to be done to remain in light? (My favorite Talking Heads track is here.)

Once again, with feeling: Here are the things you should do every morning to remain on the right side of your mental health if you are prone to anxiety or depression.

1) Do not drink. Or, do not drink in excess. You will wake up with a deep sense of existential angst and paranoid anxiety.

2) Get out of bed when you wake up. Greet the day. Walk the dogs. Listen to the birds.

3) Meditate. This lovely woman has some good ones on Instagram (we used to do Kundalini together in LA: here. You only need three minutes. Or, if you don't meditate, just breathe a bit. This is helpful. It's important to expand your belly as you slowly breathe in, and to contract your belly as you exhale.

4) Shower. The water is healing. The water will help you.

5) Be in nature. Walking among trees, even for 10 minutes, will help you.

6) Connect. Reach out to friends.

7) Practise kindness. This is never a mistake. Especially, be kind to yourself.

8) Make a gratitude list. What are you grateful for? (Today, I'm grateful for the blue skies, the puffy clouds, the birdsong.)

9) Love those you love as much as you can.

10) Music soothes the soul. Do not allow yourself to be without it.

11) Read. Poems help me. Trashy novels may help you. Whatever takes you on an adventure outside your own life is worth reading.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Taxi

The Taxi

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


"This is how we should start every day," I say as we slosh through the mud on April 10. It's pissing down. There are puddles the size of ponds. The trees are hardly budding. To cheer myself up I sent a Christmas-style email letter to all my Cali girlfriends last night trying not to sound too desperate. "Oh it's lovely here. Refreshing! Great for the complexion!"  DM is circumspect. "It's quite wet" he says, as the Frenchie fords another stream. The sky hangs down oppressively. I am beginning to understand the British pre-occupation with the weather.

We wake up in the morning earlier now that the light comes in the window before six. The birds make it hard to stay sleeping. I noticed this more acutely when I first moved here and experience spring and the coming of light. The sheer joy of the birds made me want to be out in it with them. Especially when the sun was shining.

I'm always surprised and happy to see him there next to me, usually with his headset in his ear, listening to the morning program on Radio Four while drifting in and out of sleep. Whatever bad dream I've had, whatever anxiety I've felt in the early morning evaporates when I see his sweet face. And he brings me tea. I hear the same routine every morning; the kettle boiling, the clink of the cup, the sound of the teaspoon with its swift tune on the side of the cup. Dum bara dum bum. Dum DUM. And invariably, with the tea comes the question "is it raining?" Every single morning. "Is it raining?" This morning, boldly, I asked "why does it matter?" We always put on waterproofs and hats and gumboots; we always prepare for the worst. It is counterintuitive to me. I come from where the living is easy, where we prepare for nothing but earthquakes. You barely need underwear in California. Birks, a dress, a pair of cotton knickers, some someglasses, sunscreen, a bottle of water, a few dollars, and you're on your way. Although I tell people that all you need is a dress.

The morning habit, the way I like to start every day, is to walk the dogs before eight, before everyone else is out, while the village is still sleepy. I try to notice things. The little violets on the footppath to the field. The swathes of ramsons on the common (enough wild garlic soup for weeks). The tiniest, imperceptible buds on the cherry by the gate. These little signs are what keep us going. The notion that we are moving slowly into another season. The lambs with their mothers. My mare's coat which is thinning out, becoming silky as summer approaches.

Boiled eggs, toast and tea and then a day of work.

"Are we co-dependent?" he asks as we walk down Parrotts Lane listening to morning wood pigeons. "What does that mean? It's sort of like existential. I know what it means but find it hard to articulate." "Wrapped up in and allowing for the other's neuroses but in a bad way," I say, as articulate as a table. I think of Paul and Linda but I don't say this. "Perhaps it's when you fill my wine glass just a little too much?" I say. The most healthy thing about this relationship, I tell him, is that we can be apart from each other. Even now, when he is upstairs at the desk, and I'm at the kitchen table. I'm aware that he is here in the same house, but we don't have to be side by side, conjoined.

Second relationships are very interesting. You are both scarred by marriage, in very good and very bad ways. You don't want to make the same mistakes again. We are both intuitive and emotionally attuned enough to know that you can't always be sure of this. We are attracted to things that we're comfortable with, even if they are extremely toxic. This doesn't feel toxic to me. It feels gentle and kind and intimate in a way I've never really known before. There is no place we can't go. That feels refreshing. And healthy.

The further we go, the more established our rhythm. We begin to ignore the mud and the drizzle. Our cheeks are rosy. This might be called the flow.

Monday, April 09, 2018


Inspired by my trip to Boston, where tinned fish is code for hip, I served up an incredibly easy pre-lunch snack for my Sunday guests; something for them to nibble on while I made the Yorkshire Pudding in the kitchen. (By the way, my Yorkshire Pudding rocked, which surprised me because I convert every amount from mls to cups, per my American nature, and then guesstimate. But they rose like little mushroom clouds. Hurrah!)

Sardines at Saltie Girl, Boston

What you will need:

A pretty wooden board or platter (I used a beautiful one my son made for me.)
Two tins of sardines in olive oil (I use Portuguese. Open the tins and leave them there, glistening in their little coffins.)
A jar of roasted peppers, whizzed up in the food processor with a clove of garlic and some olive or chili oil (this is scrumptious and people who protest the sardines can just eat this on bread)
A little bowl of mustard
Crackers or bread
Cold, good butter
Sea salt

The thing about sardines is that people think they don't like them till they try them. You will be surprised at people's reactions.

At Prune in New York, they serve sardines with Dijon Mustard and crackers.
At Saltie Girl in Boston, they serve them with red pepper relish and sea salt.
It's your choice.
I'm just delighted to be re-introduced to these versatile little fish.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Fosbury Flop

It really does suck when you discover you're not invincible.
I'm currently lying in the bath while DM brings in kettlefuls of boiling water, and pours it in. I scrunch up my knees so I don't get burned to allow the heat to permeate. He sits on the loo seat next to me in his Philadelphia Eagles hat and asks me if I want another cup of tea. My back is really quite sore. Am I really someone who is going to discuss my ailments? Apparently so. Yesterday, on the first truly springy spring day we've had, a full on sunny day, my girly mare decided that the perfect confluence of events -- sunshine, spring grass, wind in the trees, coming into season, a jumping lesson -- would be the ideal opportunity to spook like mad at a ghost the other side of the fence, scoot her bottom underneath her while snorting with flared pink nostrils and do the most enormous buck which took her from one side of the ring to the other. I pride myself on my ability to sit to bucks, but it was a big one. "Yup. That was a big one" said my trainer, Chris, stalwart and sage-like. And I flew right over her ears as if I were mid Fosbury Flop, and landed with a resounding thwack flat on my sacrum and my head. Yes, I was wearing a helmet. "Don't move for a bit" said Chris. "No shit, Sherlock" I thought. There is that momentary assessment: Am I alive? Is anything broken? Who am I? and then I look up at Bella's beatific face: she is standing next to me looking confused, quizzical. Dude! You put me here!
"Look at this!" says Chris, like a boy scout. "This is where she took off;" he points to a hoof print in the sand, "and this," he says, triumphant "is where you landed." There is a good twenty feet of expanse. I don't know whether or not I deserve a medal.
Last night, DM ministered to me in bed. Red wine. Queer Eye. Chicken Tikka Masala. Heaven.
So I shall hobble today.
And I shall ponder my mortality.
Have a perfectly lovely weekend, dear friends.

And never stop taking risks. It's what keeps us alive.
What's that quote "the most creative things happen outside of your comfort zone."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

I’m With Her

Emma Gonzalez for President. 


Some thoughts at the end of March

I wonder sometimes about my darling man, who has been deemed "The most stylish man on any red carpet" by an award-winning filmmaker, ripped out of the chic-est part of Shoreditch and dumped into a muddy episode of "The Archers." His smiling face at Terminal 5 arrivals yesterday made my little heart soar (the highlight of the flight was a dip into Henry James' "The Bostonians") but no sooner were we in the car than we were alerted that the lovely little mare #bellabellabella was colicking. Poor uncomfortable girlie, kicking at her tummy, swishing her tail, zig-zagging her stable, pawing at the straw, seemed perhaps a little happy to see us, and was very good and sweet when the kind Spanish vet shoved half her arm up her bum. Darling man stood by bravely, asking good questions. "Does this have anything to do with her itchy udders?" I asked the vet. "I'm sorry. I haven't had a mare before." "I didn't know horses have udders" said DM.

My father frowned on people who were brought up in the City. He didn't trust them one iota. Now that I've been a city girl for more than half of my existence, I find myself happily transitioning from one to another. DM is extremely happy here in our little cottage, beset by mice and rain and a rambling, overgrown garden. ("We really must do some gardening this weekend" he says). But sometimes I think he feels like the French Bulldog, who blinks bravely when I take her out in the rain, the faintest hint of a question on her face. Are you sure you want to go out in this? And then boldly galloping across the cricket pitch, splattering mud in her wake.

The characters are rich and evergreen. The gossip is ripe. Our challenges manifold. "The Beast from the East made life up in the Hilltop Villages very uncomfortable, however IT made it possible to pin-point the worst affected areas. Thank you to everyone who offered advice on which roads were open..." - Letter from the County Council

Oh, we soldier on.

As the weather remains precipitous, I've put out suet and seed balls for the little birds. DM discovered that a very pretty little Blue Tit is nesting on the window ledge of our office, all blue and yellow for Easter. The dogs believe that the lard balls are a test of their ingenuity; I've witnessed Bean, the spotted dog reaching up onto the bird table and pushing one off onto the ground for her own pleasure. This morning, the crows are squawking blue murder as they huddle the hazel bush for the bird food hidden there. With the extra evening light, everyone is feeling more animated. People smile as they walk. The wild garlic is everywhere. The horses are losing their winter coats.

It turns out that Bella the mare isn't colicking but her girly parts are not functioning as they should and so she is irritable and uncomfortable. Girl, I get it! The vet suggests kindly that she go on the pill. "It happens in older mares," he says. And I nod my head sagely.

I've been writing about expanding and contracting, like the universe. I think we do it to protect ourselves. Fear makes us contract and turn inward. Love expands us, makes us push out further and further, taking on everything. Today, I'm contracted. Lack of sleep has added to this. Four full hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night, enough to see the West Coast go to bed and the Europeans wake up. I'm berating myself for not reading enough, for the inability to write more every day, for being all over the place, and apparently, now, for being bossy. My friend told me this at lunch yesterday as if it were a good thing. I'm not sure what to do with it. I'm not sure why she said it. I'm not sure what it means or why I dislike it as a word. "I'm assertive" I say, assertively. The dictionary says that bossy is "fond of giving people orders, domineering." I don't think of myself this way. I suppose it's one more thing to think worry about.

Perhaps it's cultural. Being assertive, tough, ballsy are all very American traits and I suppose I am an American now (separate from the fact that I listen to NPR all day long, have a subscription to the New Yorker, refuse to call it TK Maxx and favor color.) Perhaps the lack of sleep is making me too sensitive. Who knows?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Every man his stony acre

Right now in my kitchen window

I love this time of the day. Seven o'clock in the morning. Snow on the ground, but pink light in the sky indicating that sunshine may be here soon. The branches I picked in the woods on my mother's advice have fully fledged bright green leaves on them, which is as thrilling as you can imagine after such a long, dark, grey winter. Just the merest thought of spring makes me feel like a very buoyant Tiggerrrrr.

The truth is, it lifted*. Everything is looking up. We drove through Swaffham in Norfolk and TWICE there were murmurations of starlings, both there and back. Twice. Now if that isn't a sign! I have googled "Murmurations Swaffham" and I still don't understand why that town possesses such magic.

We stayed in a huge, comfortable, elegant, dog-strewn, messy house in Great Massingham on Friday night, feasted on a supper of venison sausages cooked in red wine, shallots and juniper, and slept in an enormously comfortable Victorian sleigh bed with gorgeous, old, mismatched sheets and pillowcases, surrounded by church windows (we were on the site of a medieval Abbey). In the morning, the wood pigeons perched on our window sills and mournfully called out to Betty. Large blonde dogs invaded the bathroom as I sat in the clawed tub, surrounded by books and Colefax & Fowler wallpaper circa 1986. Oh I love houses that are dressed in the eighties fashion, so Princess Diana in their ruffled collars and, their raw silk, and blazingly loud chintz, their tassled, blousy curtains.

I said, as I do (to be fair, almost wherever I go, like Paul Young who lays his hat) "Let's Live Here!" "You Must Buy It!" said my sister on text, in unison. Norfolk is where I feel at home. And let me explain why: it's in my blood. My father felt like himself there. The bones of my family, for many generations, lay in that earth. And the people are my people. There are bohemians, poets, artists, potters, gardeners, hen lovers, watercress growers, mad horse people ("there are no rules with riding in Norfolk" said my friend Lily who is 15), free spirits. Here in the Chilterns, arguably the most beautiful countryside in the south of England, there are more bodices, more lacing, a tendency to sensible beige footwear and practical cars, to an adherence to an unspoken code, and perhaps a sense of shock, yes SHOCK! at ideas not found in the pages of the venerable, pearl-clutching Daily Mail. "I want to be where the people are," to quote The Little Mermaid. My people.

My darling man has exactly the same level of curiosity as I do, and so driving from little village to hamlet in search of the elusive house-to-move-into was a pleasure. RightMove and GoogleMaps in hand, dogs in the back, eclectic playlist, and the crisp, cold sunny air from the latest blast from the North Pole. We whizzed around happily, stopped for lunch in Stanhoe (The Duck, highly recommended) and ended up in Holt at Old Town for most excellent minimal work clothes.

Charlie & Chris on Peddars Way, Norfolk

Most notable was a walk on Peddars Way, a Roman Road, and now long distance footpath that stretches from Knettishall Heath to Holme Next The Sea, where it connects with the Norfolk Coast Path. (I have just read that it connects to the south, via the Icknield Way to the Ivinghoe Beacon, which is just a mile or two away from where we live now).

Part of the Norfolk Songline project

This we found on the side of the path. We discovered through research that it is a project Norfolk Songline: Walking The Peddars Way by Hugh Lupton and Liz McGowan. "The idea of a songline comes from the Australian Aboriginal belief system, in which each ancient track is the score of a vast, epic song, whose verses tell the stories of how the landscapes and its landmarks came into being." (luphen.org.uk)  But these words!

"From Blackwater Carr to Sea Gate, since the ploughing first broke the bread of land, pightles and pieces, plots and pastures, to every man his stony acre."

To every man his stony acre. How beautiful is that?

"Each ancient track is the score of a vast, epic song." Such a heavenly idea.

(*With thanks to my friends and blog friends and sweet people who reached out during Severe Brown Dog time. It was horrible and I hate to ask for help, but I did, and you came back and offered it, guileless, with love and understanding. Thank you. Yesterday, I was talking to My Darling Man about the idea of love, and particularly parental love, and I think it is, in fact, acceptance, and the idea you are loved and okay as person no matter what you do, or what you struggle with. This community give me that, very separately from my "public life" and I am so, so grateful.)