Monday, March 30, 2009

Having the Builders In

As I am writing this, the builders are attempting to fix a loose floor board in the master bedroom. It’s been an irritation ever since we moved in, located as it is directly where the 21st Century Husband has to step when he gets out of bed. It makes the most annoying squeak and has been driving us both crazy for ages. Finding the source of this squeak is proving very difficult and the noise from upstairs has me seriously worried the builders may be coming downstairs by a rather unorthodox route - and by this I mean through the ceiling - if they are not careful. Hammering, sawing, banging - it’s making me very nervous indeed.

We’ve had quite a few settlement issues in this house actually - and by settlement I mean actual physical movement of the bricks and mortar - so the company who built our house agreed to send some chaps to sort it out. There are some plaster problems where the walls join the ceiling and a few rather alarming cracks in the lounge and dining room, all of which are being fixed as I write this. The staircase has also settled by about a quarter of an inch, so there is a builder repairing that now as well. A quarter of an inch doesn’t sound like much, but on a staircase, it’s like a mini San Andreas fault and not an easy thing to repair.

So not only are we without curtains in two major rooms, but this rather unsettling environment is going to go on until tomorrow lunchtime. I’m not terribly good with this kind of chaos. It’s usually pretty quiet around here during the day, so it is quite disconcerting to happen upon someone with a saw, paintbrush or plastering equipment every time I turn around. Thankfully they are very nice chaps, extremely thorough, and visibly and verbally not impressed that their colleagues did not do the job properly first time round. In fact, they are actually fixing things I had not even noticed!

It’s going to be great when it is all done, and will mean that we can finally start decorating. It will be so nice to get things freshened up around here. You have to leave the “builders emulsion” (a light, non-vinyl paint with a high chalk content in a terribly mundane shade of beige) on the walls for twelve months to let everything dry out. We’ve been here fifteen months now and all that has been holding us back are the things that are being fixed today. I’m itching to start buying tester pots of paint and get going on things.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue working away here in the kitchen, which seems to be the only place that no one else is rushing around in. I’ve just been informed they have found the source of the squeak upstairs, so hopefully I will not be being joined by any unexpected guests arriving unconventionally from upstairs anytime soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nobody's Perfect

I consider myself to be a pretty good cook. Most of the recipes I invent are successful, and people often compliment me on the food I serve. But every once in a while, I hit a rough patch. This time, it has lasted three days.

It started on Friday. I bake nearly all my own bread now. It saves money and my family absolutely loves it. Plus the house smells of fresh bread which is a bonus because it means people don’t notice if the house is messy. Fresh bread = domestic goddess - whether you are one or not. Because I am not superwoman, I use a bread machine to work this domestic magic, but the results are usually absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, Friday afternoon they really weren’t. It didn’t help that I forgot to make bread until late in the afternoon and decided to use a rapid bake setting as we were going out in the evening. My second mistake was deciding to try using country grain flour for the first time. Why I didn’t just stick to one of my tried and true recipes I do not know. Usually when bread comes out of my bread maker, it is beautifully risen and golden brown. Not this loaf. You can see from the picture above, the results were not very good at all. The worst part was, not only did the loaf look bad, but despite the fact I had used the same weight of ingredients as normal, it was so heavy it felt like I had used lead to bake it. As soon as it cooled down, it went straight out on to the bird table. To be fair, the birds did enjoy it. I’m glad, because I sure would not have wanted to eat it!

I didn’t have to cook Saturday as we went out to dinner which actually was probably a good thing! Today, the 21st Century In-Laws came for Sunday lunch. I baked a cake which turned out beautifully for tea, but we actually ended up having it for dessert for lunch - because the crumble I baked for dessert came out of the oven inedible. Now, if there is one thing I can make, it is crumble. (If you are reading this in North America, crumble is like Apple Crisp; we make it with all kinds of fruit in England.) I must have made several hundred crumbles in my lifetime - from rhubarb to apple, using fresh or frozen fruit, all of them delicious. I used the same crumble topping recipe I always use and everything. But because my fan oven was full of the main course, I used the smaller, conventional oven at the top to make the crumble. I will NEVER do that again. I remember I baked a cake in the top oven once and it didn’t turn out well either, but clearly I forgot that this morning! The crumble came out of the oven with a doughy top, but it was so soft I could not even pass it off as a cobbler. It’s a good thing my in-laws are really nice people because they could have really teased me over this one. I mean, let’s face it, crumble is pretty basic! But everyone was lovely about it and raved about the cake, which I really appreciated because despite the brave face I put on it, I was extremely embarrassed! I mean, I write recipes and articles on food for heaven’s sake - you’d think I could manage a crumble!

Hopefully my rough patch has come to an end. (Seriously, all this bad things come in threes stuff is not what I want to hear right now!) I’ve baked another loaf of bread which turned out beautifully, and I have to say the main course at lunch was really delicious. I’m looking forward to salvaging my rather damaged reputation in the coming week. But if you are having a rough patch with cooking right now, please don’t get discouraged. It really does happen to everybody!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Sum of Its Parts

This is the breakfast nook in my kitchen. If you look closely you will see nothing in it actually matches perfectly, but somehow, the whole thing works. Actually my whole kitchen is like that. Although the kitchen units and counter tops are bespoke, the sofa, table, chairs and sideboard are all pieces that have a history. They are an amalgamation of things we have collected over the years and of the memories that go with them.

One of my favourite things in the kitchen is the table you see in the photograph above. When I was a kid, I ate almost every meal around that table. We played cards around it, I did my homework on it, we talked around it; I basically grew up around it. I was the second generation to do that actually, as it was the table in the kitchen of the house my Mom grew up in as well.

Every time I look at that table it makes feel grounded. So much has changed in my life but that table has always, on some level, been there. I know its history and it knows mine. Mind you, it has gone through its fair share of changes as well. It was originally mahogany coloured and very dark but my Dad refinished it in the 1970’s and made it quite light - almost pine coloured. Then, when the table came to me it was a bit damaged from years of wear, so I took it to a specialist refinisher, who helped me decide to take it about half way back to its original colour. It was a good decision.

The only problem was the chairs. You see, they were badly damaged. Dad had painstakingly taken them apart to refinish them and they never quite went back together properly. I vividly remember one of them falling apart with me sitting on it in my parents’ kitchen one day not that many years ago. It was funny in retrospect; I grabbed pieces of chair in my hands in a sort of Chaplin-esque film imitation as I slowly sank to the floor, but I have to say my Dad was really not amused. I desperately wanted to have the chairs restored, but the artisan who did the refinishing gently told me that there was just no way he could do it. It would cost too much and they would only fall apart again. I was so disappointed - I kept them anyway, but could not use them with the table as they are far too fragile.

So for a time, we used some other chairs we had but I wasn’t really happy with them. No matter how hard I looked, I could not find anything I liked. Finally, last month, we stumbled on the chairs in the photo above when we visited a new shopping mall in West London. When they arrived they fit right in. Even though they are new, they have a history too, as we chose them on our eighteenth wedding anniversary.

I’ve talked about the painting on the wall in my blog before (in the 4th February entry this year). It’s a huge piece of our history, as is the sideboard which I bought for cash one year after Guy got his bonus from work. I fell in love with the little spice drawers in it. It’s over ten years old now and I still love it.

Finally, my breakfast nook is just how I want it. Over the next little while I show you how it fits in with the rest of the kitchen. I’m trying to create a relaxed ambiance in this room, sort of country style, but interspersed with a few modern twists. So far, it all seems to be working. What I love best about how it is evolving is that there is nothing perfect about it. It’s a whole comprised of some very distinct and different parts - but the sum of those parts is very pleasing indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mothering Sunday

Yesterday was Mothering Sunday in England, and I was treated to a lovely lunch at The Boathouse at The Beetle and Wedge. It was a gorgeous day and we really enjoyed eating our lunch at this gem of a place on the edge of the Thames.

Our in-laws discovered The Boathouse quite by accident one day years ago when driving through the Berkshire countryside so when we moved down here in 2007, we sought it out. Since then, we have had a number of delicious meals here. A lot of their food is cooked over coals on an amazing indoor grill, right in the restaurant. Yesterday we watched as the chef cooked a beautiful piece of lemon sole over the flames for the 21st Century Husband and the 21st Century Teenager’s steak was also cooked this way. I had roasted salmon on a bed of spinach, which was cooked in the kitchen by another chef. All our dishes were delicious. We were not disappointed by our starters either - from the 21st Century Husband’s Seafood Soup, served with croutons and cheese to my skewer of grilled Tiger Prawns, everything was delicious. The desserts were just amazing too. Afterwards we wandered down the banks of the Thames for a little bit, taking in the lovely weather and gorgeous scenery.

It always seems slightly odd to me having Mother’s Day in March as coming from North America I was used to celebrating this day in May. When my Mom was alive, I used to send her cards on both occasions and flowers on the day in May. The reason we celebrate Mothering Sunday in March in England is based on two historic traditions. One was that a day in March was the only day young people in service were given as holiday to go and visit their mothers. As they walked through the fields on their way home, they would gather flowers from the hedgerows to present to their mothers when they arrived. There was also the old tradition of returning, on the middle Sunday in Lent (almost always in March) to one’s Mother Church - either the church attended as a child or the main cathedral in the area where you lived.

For some odd reason, the British media and even some ordinary folk here often make fun of the idea of Mother’s Day being in May in North America and also of its more secular origins. Of course, people in North America - all of us immigrants at one time or another, would have had difficulty returning to their “mother church” without a long and dangerous journey across the seas, so that tradition was pretty much dispensed with, making the choice of another day - in much finer weather later in the year - a lot more sensible.

I don’t think it matters when you celebrate the day to be honest, but it is very nice to have a special day just to say thank you to your mum (or mom!) and treat her to something nice - or to remember her if she is no longer with you. I must admit I did burst into tears at lunch yesterday as the lady who walked into the restaurant in front of us on her zimmer frame (walker) looked very similar to how I remember my own Mom in later years - plus she was wearing a navy jacket almost identical to one my Mom had.

Here in England, more and more people are referring to Mothers’ special day as Mother’s Day instead of Mothering Sunday, partly as our society becomes more secular and also as we are influenced more and more by the wider world. I do find it ironic that the media insist on portraying Mother’s Day in May as so much a secular - and somehow second best -holiday, in a country where actually church attendance is much lower than in North America. I’m pretty sure there were more bums on seats in church pews yesterday in any province in Canada or state in the US than there were in the United Kingdom - even though people who rarely attend church here often do so on Mothering Sunday. I think it’s time as countries that we all started accepting each other’s Mother’s Day traditions and just let each other get on with it. Does it really matter in this day and age if the holiday is secular or not, provided everyone can celebrate it as they wish to? I don’t it matters at all, and I’m a church goer, so there! It’s not like it is Christmas or Easter for heaven’s sake.

Whatever we call it or however we celebrate, how wonderful to have a day where we can thank those who mean so much to us and treat them to something special in return for everything they have done for us. Here’s to mothers the world over - those that are here and those who have gone - and to those of us who are mothers now for everything we are and everything we do.

“Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.” Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dinner at Westminster

It was everything I dreamed it would be. The Houses of Parliament are beautiful, inside and out. We had a wonderful tour with a gentleman who was a real character. Nearing retirement, he delighted in regaling us with tales of the goings on at Westminster, past and present. He knew so much about the building it was quite amazing and the stories he told gave us an insight into the real day to day life there.

Westminster Hall is the only part of the building to survive from the original palace, completed in 1099. Standing under the immense ceiling, held up by beams of English oak, you feel almost overwhelmed by the history. In this hall, King Henry VII presided over feasts, King Charles I, William Wallace and Guy Fawkes learned of their horrible fates and King George V, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Winston Churchill lay in state. As you go on up the massive stairway and on through from here you walk through halls lined with statues, where suffragettes chained themselves as they attempted to obtain the vote for women. Then you come upon the most amazing lobbies outside the House of Commons and the House of Lords, ornately decorated with beautiful ceilings and wall decorations. The House of Commons is smaller than I expected, but walking past the Speaker’s Chair and standing by the dispatch boxes is an experience I will not soon forget. The House of Lords is almost overwhelming in its beauty, the walls lined with oak and the 22 carat gold encrusted throne at the back of the room. It is just awesome, in the original sense of the word!

Dinner was in the Members’ Dining Room, and it was absolutely delicious. Red mullet on a bed of couscous was the appetizer, followed by a main course of corn fed chicken on risotto with snow peas. Dessert was a light and dark chocolate cake that was absolutely wicked, and coffee was served afterwards with tiny chocolates and sweets.

As we walked out of the Palace of Westminster through the courtyard after the dinner had finished, we looked up to see Big Ben from an angle I have never enjoyed before. We were looking at it from inside as opposed to outside. The iconic clock was gorgeous from this angle and as it bonged eleven o’clock I felt so grateful for the opportunity to spend time in such an amazing place.

We wandered back to the hotel and topped it all off with a champagne cocktail. It was an absolutely wonderful evening.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Black Ties and Big Ben

This painting, by Henderson Cisz, hangs in our living room. It’s one of my favourite views of London, looking over the Thames towards Westminster Palace, home of The House of Commons and the iconic Big Ben.

Tonight we are attending a dinner at there, in The House of Commons Members’ Dining Room. It’s a black tie celebration to mark the Golden Jubilee of the senior school the 21st Century Husband attended and is being held in the presence of the King of Greece, who is a patron of the school, and his wife.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Westminster Palace, or the Houses of Parliament as they are also known. My mom used to read me a Ladybird book about London when I was little. It had lots of paintings in it and it was the one of the Houses of Parliament that fascinated me the most. Later, when I watched the animated Disney version of Peter Pan, it was the scene where Peter flies over them that made me decide one day I had to come to England. Of course, once I did finally make it to England nearly fifteen years after that, I decided I wanted to live here and the rest, as they say, is history.

So today I am excited that, after twenty years living in this country, I finally get to go inside this iconic building. Everyone else is looking forward to the dinner and hobnobbing with the bigwigs - but I’m excited about the tour of the House of Commons and actually being inside this amazing building.

So tonight, when we are all dressed in our black ties and beautiful frocks, there will be a little five year old girl jumping up and down with excitement somewhere inside me. I only hope she doesn’t get out!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fitting a Quart into a Pint Pot

I had a lovely letter from a cousin today. He is in his seventies and lives in the Midlands. He and his lovely wife, who has sadly now passed away, were some of the first people I visited when I came over to England with my parents in 1985, and later on my own. I look forward to his letters, not only because his beautiful handwriting makes them almost works of art but also because he writes the sort of letters you can sit down and read over a cup of tea - proper old fashioned chatty letters with lots of lovely details in them. He also has a charming turn of phrase, and when commenting in the letter I received today on how busy I always seem to be and how much I do said that I was clearly “still managing to fit a quart into a pint pot”. I thought that was lovely and took it as a real compliment.

You see, I feel very strongly that life does not come to you, you have to go out and get it. Not only that, but you have to make the very most of everything you go out and get. My conviction that this was true was further reinforced when I watched my poor Dad miss out on fulfilling so many of his dreams - all the things he was going to do “someday” - because his and my Mother’s health did not hold up. I resolved that from now on, “someday” was today. I always try to experience as much as I can and fulfill as many of my dreams as I possibly can now in order to avoid putting too much off for “someday”.

I also think it is very important to be happy now - not to insist that you will be happy “when”. I don‘t like to hear people say, “I’ll be happy when the mortgage is paid / I get a new job / the kids settle down / I’ve been to the Bahamas, etc.” You need to enjoy every moment, and not put off your happiness until “when” anything. Constantly wanting more can drive you absolutely nuts, and there is a huge amount to be said for counting your blessings and being happy in this moment, even if everything is far from perfect.

I cried for Natasha Richardson and her family this morning. When something so sad happens to someone in the public eye, it reminds me how tragedies happen to people all the time, we just do not hear about it. I don’t mean to suggest for one minute that Natasha put things off till someday or waited to be happy “when” - I’m sure nothing could be further from the truth - only that her death has reinforced my resolve not to do either of those things. I’m always banging on about “Carpe Diem” (seize the day) but there really is something to be said for it.

I am not a fan of fridge magnets, but I do have two of them prominently displayed on my fridge. One says, “Every day is a gift, that’s why we call it the present” and the other, “Remember that happiness is a means of travel not a destination.” Both of these are worth remembering every day.

As for me, as long as I’m able, I’ll keep fitting that quart into a pint pot and being grateful that I can.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Day Out In Oxford

Today I met a friend in Oxford for lunch. It was a wonderful time out, a step away from the hustle bustle of ordinary life as for a couple of hours we wandered round the cobbled streets and the shops and chatted over coffee and later, lunch.

First occupied in Saxon times, Oxford is most famous for its iconic university. First mentioned in records from the 12th century, it is one of the first great established centres of learning. Its college chapel, Christ Church Cathedral, is also a cathedral for the Diocese of Oxford. Many of the buildings that comprise the university are stunningly beautiful. Some are off limits to anyone other than students and faculty, and ancient archways offer tantalising glimpses of the courtyards and buildings which lie beyond.

Due to the student population, tourists and industry, Oxford has a hugely cosmopolitan feel. As you walk through the town, you can hear several languages being spoken. There are tons of cafes, bars and restaurants and the centre positively bustles. Bicycles, the preferred mode of transport in Oxford, are everywhere. It is not just the students riding them, professors ride them too!

Oxford is a city of contrasts, and many old buildings have been restored and added to. An super example of this is one of the branches of Prêt à Manger, a sandwich shop, which is housed in a building that has a Norman arch and fifteenth century beams. However it has been sympathetically restored and the staircase is composed of all new wood. It’s quite beautiful and a bit ironic - fast food and history side by side!

Certainly, our visit today wet our appetite for further exploration. Come to think of it, most of my visits to Oxford have been quite rushed and it really is a city that invites you to spend a little more time. It’s only a half hour by train from where I live so I think one day soon I’ll play the tourist. Perhaps I’ll really get into the spirit of things and even take the open topped double decker bus tour!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shamrocks, Lockets and A Very Brave Girl Indeed

When I was a little girl, St Patrick’s Day was a very big deal in our house. It was considered to be something very special and it meant a lot to us all. The leprechauns would leave me something by my pillow on the morning of every St Patrick’s Day. Sometimes it was candies, sometimes it was a trinket and one year it was even a beautiful pincushion in the shape of a lady (which had actually belonged to my maternal Grandma but I didn’t find that out until much later). I still have it in my sewing box all these years later.

We always exchanged cards in my family on St Patrick’s Day. We also wore green and had some sort of a treat to commemorate the day. The best time was when my Dad brought home amazing shamrock shaped cookies; the worst was when I tried to make soda bread which turned out bearing more resemblance to the Blarney Stone than to bread! But whatever was on the menu, St Patrick’s Day was always a special day indeed. It was a day for remembering who we we were and where we came from.

You see, my paternal Grandmother, Mary, immigrated from Ireland to Canada in the early 1900’s. She was still only a teenager when she left her home and family to travel with a group of girls to Canada. These girls were escorted by a gentleman who owned a mill in a place called Galt, and they were seeking a better life in the new world.

I immigrated to England in the 1980’s, the days of airplanes and fast cars and “it’s a small world after all”. If I was scared when I left Canada, Mary must have been petrified. When she left Ireland in the first part of the twentieth century, it took weeks to get to Canada, by arduous sea crossing. She wore a locket around her neck, the same one I am wearing today. In it are photographs of her mother and father, who she probably expected never to see again.

Mary worked in the mill for several years, during which time she met my Grandfather. He told me that she ran into him on roller skates and that it was love at first sight. Where on earth she found roller skates in that day and age I have no idea, but I’m heartily glad she did.

As it happened, Mary did travel back to Ireland once, in a very small plane back in the days before commercial flights were the norm, to visit her dying father. But other than that she never set foot in Ireland again, nor did her parents ever visit the new world she had moved to.

Now my grandparents and my parents are gone, the mill Mary worked in is a ruin, a national historic sight in Cambridge (Galt was re-named in the 1970’s), and I live closer to where Mary came from than any other member of my family ever has.

Since I have lived in England I have always found St Patrick’s Day a bit disappointing. Yes, there are parades, but never nearby and nothing to the scale of the ones in New York or Chicago. Celebrating here seems to have a lot more to do with beer and drinking too much than the fun we used to have when I was little.

I had resolved to make cookies shaped like shamrocks this year, but I was too busy, and a last minute trip to various supermarkets and bakeries in the hopes of finding anything delicious with a shamrock on it was totally fruitless. Previous years have been much the same. People here just don’t celebrate St Patrick’s Day like they do in North America.

I must admit I do miss my parents today. Holidays, particularly ones that are not celebrated by everyone else, really bring their absence into sharp focus. Since my parents and my Aunt died I have not had a St Patrick’s Day card, so I was delighted to receive one from a cousin this year. It really made me smile, but it is the only decoration I have up to honour the day and as I sit here not wearing green (I don’t seem to have anything green anymore) I feel a bit like I am letting the side down. Although I did kiss the Blarney Stone last year so that has to count for something!

Oh well, la plus que ça change, la plus qu’il reste la même - or not as the case may be. I’m still a quarter Irish, and very proud to be so, still the daughter of a first generation Canadian and the grand-daughter of a very brave girl indeed. Thanks for being so brave, Grandma. I (along with at least two dozen other people) wouldn’t be here without what you did.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How Others See Us

My Goddaughter drew the picture you see above on Saturday when we were visiting. It’s a portrait of me. Although you might not recognise me from her portrait, it is a very good rendition of me when you consider it was done by someone who is only six years old. It is how she sees me - medium sized, with glasses and long hair, eyes, a nose, a mouth, two arms and two legs. It really made me think about how we see ourselves in comparison to how others see us.

To be fair, on Saturday I was kind of frazzled. I was having a bad hair day, I had a pimple on my cheek that was really driving me mad (I don’t think it is fair that you can have pimples and wrinkles at the same time) and I felt anything but attractive. But to my Goddaughter’s six year old eyes, I looked pretty and she told me so. My husband had also complimented me on my appearance earlier in the day. At the time I felt really irritated with my hair and I took pains to explain to him exactly how inaccurate his compliment was. Why did I do that??? It didn’t make me feel any better and it sure made him feel bad.

I’m not the first one to fall into that trap though. How often do you hear women putting themselves down just after they have been complimented? Or heard someone complain about how awful they look just as you are thinking that actually they look really good today? It’s rare indeed that a woman sees herself through rose coloured glasses. Most of the time, she’ll be looking with a magnifying glass and a microscope, not just at her appearance, but at her conduct and life style.

Why are we so critical of ourselves? Certainly the media and society are responsible for promoting unrealistic images of women in the press - from airbrushed models to “perfect” movie stars - but surely we are grown up enough to realise that those things are just not real? Well, on a good day I am, but on a bad one, I’ll be comparing myself to all those images and coming up really short. Actually, one of the best ways I know to start the day off on the wrong foot is to be critical of yourself. We all have flaws, but surprisingly most of them do not even get noticed by other people - until we point them out that is. And pointing them out is something we do with great regularity. Usually our motivation for this is to get reassurance - no, I can’t see that pimple, yes, your hair looks great, no, you are not too fat/thin/tall/short - but all it really does is draw attention to something that most people don’t even see. When I had my hair layered at the front recently I was devastated. It came up shorter than I had expected and although my stylist did a wonderful job of the cut, I didn’t feel it suited me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why had I done it? Why had I not left well enough alone? What was I thinking? Guess how many people noticed I had had my hair cut? None. Nada. Zero. Even now as it is growing out eight weeks later, not one single person I know even realises I had the cut done. I sure wasted a lot of time worrying about something no one even noticed.

Then there are imagined flaws - vague things we beat ourselves up about that are virtually un-noticeable by anyone else. I focus a lot on my nose. Let’s just say it is a distinctive nose and small it isn’t. But no one ever complains about it to me - instead I get compliments about how I look in profile and people often compliment me on my appearance. My nose is part of me, and without it I would not look at all like myself. So why worry about it? Food for thought (for me too!).

It is important to take good care of yourself, to look and be the best you that you can be. It gives a good impression because it shows you care. But being critical of yourself is completely counter-productive. Having a bad hair day? Embrace the joys of the pony tail or treat yourself to a new hat. Got a nasty pimple? That’s what concealer and make up is for. Feeling like you handled a situation badly? Really look at it, in conjunction with your thoughts and feelings at the time. Chances are you did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. If in this instance, you really did mess up, then try to make amends or apologise to anyone who got hurt - whatever is necessary. Do it and get it over with - but don’t spend ages beating yourself up for it.

Unless you are one of the very rare exceptions in this world, very few of whom I have ever met, chances are you are a really nice person. Furthermore, I firmly believe that everyone is beautiful in their own way and we all have beautiful qualities about us. It’s important to know these things about yourself - that you are a good person and beautiful in your own way. When people compliment you, realise that they are passing on a thought that is genuine and heartfelt, not making something up. It’s hard to give compliments; people rarely do it unless they really mean them.

So no matter what kind of a day you are having today, starting from this moment forget about bad hair days, imagined flaws or anything like that. Every moment is new and you are important and special just as you are. The thing that bothers you most about yourself is probably something ninety-five percent of people are not even aware of. Life is way too short to waste worrying about something no one else even notices.

The Gorgeous Jurassic Coast

We went to visit our friends in Dorset on the south-west coast of England on Saturday. They live in some of the most beautiful countryside in the country and we spent a fantastic day with them. Part of our visit involved a journey to Lyme Regis, to walk along the sea front and breathe some fresh sea air. It was a glorious sunny day as you can see from the photographs, and also quite warm, so it was a really lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Lyme Regis is part of the Jurassic Coast, so named because it is a treasure trove of fossils. The famous paleontologist Mary Anning was born there and in the early 1800’s found the first complete skeleton of an ichthyosaur there. There are so many fossils along this coast that you find them almost by mistake as you walk along the beaches, which is a good thing as digging or chipping away at the cliffs is not allowed. Having said that, the cliffs are constantly eroding, and any loose fossils you find are yours to keep quite legally. If you don’t fancy fossil hunting yourself, there are hundreds of amazing fossils for sale in local shops. Like Mary Anning, who sold the she found fossils to boost the family income, the shopkeepers along this coast trade heavily in these coveted items.

Now there are hundreds of little sea side towns like this along the coast of Britain, but I think Lyme Regis is one of the most beautiful. If it is a clear day you can see all the way along the coast past West Bay on and to Poole. There had been a rock slide on the beach before Lyme and although it was a good few miles away we could see clearly where the earth had fallen away, exposing lighter, unweathered rock behind it. It was stunning. Although Lyme Regis has a typical seafront area with arcades, ice cream shops and souvenir havens, further back there is a honeycomb of streets full of lovely little shops and art galleries. And the front is fun in itself - we spent a pleasant half hour playing Shove Hay’penny in the arcade and between us managed to win two little toys for our six year old Goddaughter. Then our friends treated us to ice cream, which we ate while wandering along the sea front.

Lyme Regis is quite famous historically and in terms of literature as well. Jane Austen sets part of her novel Persuasion there and John Fowles, a resident of Lyme, set the French Lieutenant’s Woman there. In the opening scene of the film made from his book, Meryl Streep stands on The Cobb, a small artificial harbour dating from the time of Edward I, in very stormy weather. Having walked along The Cobb today, in fair weather, I would not be keen to do that. It slants sharply towards the sea in places and is incredibly high up. I had moments of real vertigo as we walked along it. Meryl Streep was very brave indeed to stand there in heavy Victorian garb in stormy weather! You can see The Cobb in the photograph above (the bottom one).

We thoroughly enjoyed our outing to Lyme Regis and I highly recommend it. It’s wonderful if you are a tourist from abroad as well as it has all the charm of the British seaside without too much of the commercialism that can make seaside towns seem a bit shoddy. In fact, a drive along the Jurassic Coast would make a very pleasant day (or indeed few days) out.

Whether you are an armchair traveller or are planning an actual visit, if you would like more details, please click here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What Have We Done?

I spent the better part of this morning with the 21st Century Husband at the 21st Century Teenager’s School meeting with the Deputy Head. I think we were all flabbergasted by the reason we were there. You see, yesterday afternoon, not once, but twice, the 21st Century Teenager was surrounded by in excess of thirty other boys and “party boyed”. You may well wonder exactly what that means. Indeed, up until yesterday I thought a party boy was just a chap who partied too hard, but sadly I was wrong. When the 21st Century Teenager was attacked yesterday, he was surrounded, hit, kicked and punched while - get this - the boys rubbed their genitals up against him. No, you didn’t read that wrong, I did say genitals. They chant while they do it, and as if that was not sick enough, someone videos it on their phone as well. Another boy had been attacked in a similar way the day before. When the 21st Century Teenager attempted to extricate himself from this sexually abusive beating, the perpetrators asked him what his problem was “‘cause it’s all just a joke inn’it mate”. A joke? Surrounding someone, physically and sexually abusing them is a joke?

Needless to say, the school are taking it all very seriously, but it’s all too little too late as far as I’m concerned. What have we done as a society to allow children to grow up like this? I mean, this school is in a “good” area but it’s been over-run by “bad” kids, like so many schools in England. Furthermore, you are not allowed to retaliate against your attackers because in these days of political correctness gone mad they have more rights than you do. Go figure.

All I want is for the school year to be finished so that the 21st Century Teenager can leave and go on to Sixth Form elsewhere. But what a daunting challenge to have to spend three more months - writing some of the most important exams of his life during that time - in that hellhole.

If you listen to the news - with its reports of drunk and disorderly youths, knife crimes and other attacks on the rise, you might be forgiven for cursing this “younger generation”, but I happen to know a lot of that generation and most of them are wonderful kids - really motivated and hard working, ready to take on the future with a positive attitude and a desire to make a difference.

Remember when we were “the younger generation”? I remember all the adults shaking their heads and worrying about what we were getting up to, but it was nothing like this. But what have we got up to to allow such a huge proportion of an entire generation to turn out so badly? So many schools in the United Kingdom are having huge problems with behaviour, bullying and crime. Somehow, somewhere something has gone horribly wrong.

Of course, there are lots of theories about why this has happened. The effect of the media’s obsession with the negative on society, economic issues, societal structure and everyone’s favourite old chestnut - “they’ve had troubled lives” are often highlighted. I certainly don’t pretend to know the answers, but what I know for sure is that something has gone horribly wrong.

Somehow we have allowed a society to develop where the family is totally fragmented. Many families need two wage earners just to make ends meet and both parents are often away all day and into the evening. Once kids reach a certain age (about nine around here) there are no organised activities for them to attend. People don’t always live near their extended families anymore so in many cases the influence of a steadying adult - like an aunt, uncle or grandparents - is simply not close to hand. In many cases, our children are raising themselves - and from what I can see they are not doing a very good job.

Before I go on, let me stress that I do not feel that it is wrong for both parents to work, I just think that someone has to mind the children - be they male or female, parent, relative or hired help - and in many homes that just can’t happen because of economic pressures. It used to be said it was the children who suffered, but now it is not just them, it is the rest of society as well.

Furthermore, our obsession with the self and the individual - to the expense of corporate accountability - has left us with a society that gives everyone rights without necessarily enforcing their responsibilities. Hence a society in which I can be prosecuted from defending myself against an attacker should I injure them whilst doing so.

I don’t like to think that I often get up on a soapbox here - my purpose is to enrich and encourage, not to preach - and this is in no way a criticism of women who do not want to or cannot be housewives or stay at home mums - but I think that we as housewives should be very proud of the effort we put in making our homes and raising our kids.

Oprah Winfrey says, “Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.” She is right on target. It’s time for discrimination against women in the workplace who have children - the days of the glass ceiling and raised eyebrows when a woman has to attend to the needs of her child - to be over for once and for all. And for those of us mothers who are able to be housewives, it is time for us to value ourselves and for society to value us too.

Corporately, as a society, we have to start leading by example once again. By having respect for ourselves and each other we can begin to repair this damage. Children learn what they see, and a society where anti-social behaviour only attracts a slap on the wrist or a small fine is not a society where we can raise responsible adults. Furthermore, we need to value our families and spend time nurturing them, whatever our profession might be.

I only hope it is not too late for the lost ones of the younger generation we see today because many of them will raise the children of tomorrow - in fact with teenage pregnancy at an all time high some of them are raising them now - and unless there is change that just does not bear thinking about. It’s time to stop moaning about the way things are and work at changing them. I’m not sure quite how we as a society need to start, but it sure is time we found out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beware the Ides of March

My Dad always used to say that. Technically, the ides of March is the 15th of March (the “beware” bit originated because this was the day in 44BC that Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Senate) but for me the ides seems to be coming a bit early this year. Okay, I am exaggerating - Caesar would argue that in comparison to his ides of March mine are going pretty well - and he would be right. I’m just not having a very good day today.

It was an early start as we had to get one of our cars in to the garage for its MOT. An MOT, for readers not from the UK, is a road worthiness test taken annually by every car over three years old. We have two new cars and one five year old car which we have kept because a) it is not worth selling in this market and b) it is an estate car and as my car only has two seats is quite handy to have around. So I got up and got ready to go out in a hurry as the 21st Century Husband had an early meeting at work and we needed to get the car to the garage by 7.30am. (Thankfully it is not far away.)

I went in to wake up the 21st Century Teenager and found a very poorly boy, full of cold with a terrible sore throat and thumping head. He was not very well last night, but I had hoped that he would be a bit better this morning. As this is his GCSE (big state examinations) year, it’s worrying for him to miss any school at all, but the last time I encouraged him to try and power through an illness, the school sent him home and told me on the phone he was “very poorly indeed”. That can be translated from school speak to English as “You are a horrible mother sending your poor sick boy into school”. I was not risking that again.

I took the 21st Century Teenager a drink and some medication, and settled him back down so he could get some rest. Meanwhile, the 21st Century Husband was virtually ready to go. In the end, I showered at the speed of light and rushed out the door with wet hair and only the barest minimum of makeup on. As I drove the car to the garage, I hoped I might not be noticed at that early hour of the morning, but believe me, there are loads of people to see you not looking your best at any time of day. I was particularly piqued to see an immaculately dressed, perfectly made up lady dropping off her car at the garage looking askance at me as if I was somehow letting the side down. I blushed scarlet and felt about two inches tall.

The 21st Century Husband dropped me back off at home and headed on to work. Things ticked along okay for a while until he called to tell me that the car had failed its MOT because of a broken lightbulb over the number plate (which didn’t sound so bad) and the front break pads needed replacing (which did). A bit of labour and three hundred pounds later, the car passed its MOT. Ouch.

By now the 21st Century Teenager had slept for a few hours and was looking decidedly better, so I decided to venture out to Pangbourne to run some errands. I parked and hopped out of the car heading into the pet store for bird food and peanuts for the squirrels. My purchases were so heavy I decided to pop them in the boot before continuing on my errands. As I opened the boot, I noticed a huge amount of scratching on the back driver’s side bumper (check out the photo above). Now, I’m the most careful driver I know and if I had hit something - particularly if I had hit it that hard (!) - I would have known about it. The trouble is the car is quite dirty from the country roads I drive on so I’m not exactly sure when this happened. Either the valet parking person on Monday damaged the car, or someone ran into it in one of the two car parks I parked in yesterday and did not have the decency to own up. Whoever it is, I hope they scratched their own car worse than they scratched mine. And I hope they get caught in a really long traffic jam on their way home, miss an important appointment, break out in spots and (if they are a woman) break all their fingernails.

I know that is very immature and you should not get attached to material things, but I’m really gutted that my car is damaged. I have never loved a car as much as I love this one and I want to put a sign on it saying “I didn’t do this” or “Not My Fault” until we can get it fixed. It’s not the sort of thing you want to claim on insurance either because before we even start the “I have no idea what happened” does not give a very good impression. Added to this is the fact that my car is in the “fast car with big engine” insurance bracket and I don’t want to do anything to increase the premium. So that will be another few hundred pounds to get that fixed. Double ouch.

Funny, though, how God has a way of tapping you on the shoulder. Suddenly I’m sitting here feeling grateful. None of the things I am worried about here are really that important. I mean, the 21st Century Teenager is hardly ever sick. When I went to the pharmacy to get something to make him feel better, the chemist went through a list of “does he have” ailments - all of which I could answer “no” to - that made me realise just how blessed we are. Diabetes, asthma, heart disease - nope, nope and nope again. That in itself is worth rejoicing about it. Furthermore, although my car is scratched, it is not dented, so the repair should not take too long and although it might be costly, at least it is fixable. Although I am not happy about spending the money on the repair, I do have the money to do it and won’t have to go without to get it done. Also, as I didn’t cause the damage, I have nothing to feel guilty for. And that’s before you get to the part about having a beautiful roof over our heads, enough to eat, gainful employment, a happy marriage, a great kid, people who love us and a really nice life.

On reflection, I’m grateful to say that the ides of March are going really well here in the 21st Century Household. And I’m having a pretty good day after all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Marking Anniversaries

The weather yesterday was almost the same as the day the 21st Century Husband and I got married - 9th March 1991. It was really windy that day too. In fact it was so windy there is one photograph (not the one above!) where I look like I’m about to do an impression of Sally Field in the 1970’s television series “The Flying Nun” with the aid of my veil. But to be honest, aside from being a little cold, the weather didn’t bother me one bit.

Our wedding day was wonderful. It was really traditional - I wore a dress that Kristin Scott Thomas’ character in the movie Four Weddings and A Funeral would have definitely have described as a “meringue” and there was even a little page boy (who is now 21!). As we drove up to the church in a vintage Rolls Royce belonging to my father-in-law, people pressed their noses up against the windows of the pub opposite the church to watch us. Unlike many other brides before me, I arrived early for my wedding, much to the consternation of my bridesmaids, who had to rush the 21st Century Husband into the church. (There was no way you could be late if you were travelling with my Dad - he was never late for an appointment in his life). Dad walked me up the aisle - I’m not sure which of us was more nervous - and gave me away to the 21st Century Husband who stood waiting for me by the altar. It was truly the happiest day of my life up to that point.

The church we were married in, St Nicholas in Chislehurst, Kent, was originally built in the 15th century, but there has been a church on the site for over a thousand years. The history was palpable as we made our vows, and I don’t think I have ever felt as profound a sensation of eternity as I did that day. What made it even more special was that we were married on the 21st Century Husband’s twenty-fifth birthday. And that is why, yesterday, we were celebrating both our anniversary and the his birthday as well.

There were those on my husband’s side who doubted the wisdom of a marriage on a birthday, but I was following the example of my Mom and Dad, who had married on my mother’s birthday. I thought it was a really romantic thing to do, and would have been happy to do it on my own birthday if it had not involved waiting another four months to do so!

It was fun remembering old times yesterday, but even more fun celebrating the present. The 21st Century Husband and I spent the day together yesterday and it was lovely. We went to the Westfield Mall at White City, on the west side of London between Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush. It is huge and really beautiful, so like a North American mall it is wonderful. We were only there for a couple of hours so hardly got round even half of it, but we had a super lunch and can’t wait to go back. We met the 21st Century Teenager at home for tea and cake in the late afternoon. I love making birthday cakes. I’m not very good at fancy decorations, but everyone seems to like them. After a quick glass of champagne it was time to go out to dinner. We ate at Bel and The Dragon, a sort of bistro-pub on the waterfront in Reading. The food there is just amazing, and it was a wonderful evening.

We played racing games on the Wii console and drank champagne when we got home (yes, this does make playing on the Wii slightly more difficult!) and before we knew it the celebrations were over for another year. It went by so quickly, I just wish it could have lasted longer, but I’m very grateful for such a wonderful day.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Where Do The Weekends Go?

When the 21st Century Husband and I first met, weekends seemed to stretch on forever. I have no idea how, twenty years later, weekends can suddenly seem so short. It seems like three seconds ago it was Friday afternoon and I was looking forward to what is now practically over.

It seemed to be about the time that we became three, when the 21st Century Teenager (then the 21st Century Baby of course!) was born that things began to speed up. It was a slow process at first, this strange speeding up of the cosmos, but as time wore on, things seemed to move faster and faster. And one day we woke up living on the edge of suburbia, our baby was sixteen and weekends seemed to be about two minutes long.

I am reassured that we are not the only ones who seem to feel that weekends are shorter these days though. I think it is because we pack our lives so full of activity. Where weekends years ago used to be relaxed, unplanned expanses of time, now they are often planned with almost military precision in an effort to fit everything in. I still enjoy them though.

Take this weekend for instance. We had a relaxed morning at home on Saturday, tackling some of the closets in the 21st Century Household. This could have been stressful, but we decided to approach it with a new attitude and in the end it was incredibly satisfying. I actually found shoes I did not even remember I owned hiding in the back of one closet. They are virtually new and still in style - result! We spent a few hours in the afternoon at the gym and then a quiet evening at home en famille watching a film. Today we went to a friend’s 18th birthday celebration which was really lovely. We spent the afternoon amongst friends drinking champagne and toasting a wonderful chap on the cusp of adulthood with a million possibilities before him and a whole life to explore them.

So even though it disappeared too quickly, this weekend was wonderful. Part of the reason for this was that it was largely unplanned (with the exception of the wonderful birthday party which was something we all looked forward to). I do think we need to try not to plan so much. The trouble is there are so many interesting things we want to do, and lots of folks we want to see, and I do find if you don’t plan things in advance sometimes they just don’t happen. It’s striking a balance between planning a bit and not planning too much that I struggle with, and that I think almost everyone else we know does too. But if we can get the balance right, we can really take advantage of those two wonderful days known as the weekend.

And once in a while, you get a bonus day - like the 21st Century Husband and I do this week. It’s the 21st Century Husband’s birthday tomorrow and our eighteenth wedding anniversary and we are taking a day out to spend together. In the late afternoon we’ll meet up with the 21st Century Teenager to celebrate all together. I love bonus days.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Mistaken Identity, A Clutter Crisis and The Washing Monster That Just Won't Die

It’s been quite a week here in the 21st Century Household. The getting hit by a car thing did not start the week off well I must admit - but actually that is not when things started to go a bit wonky.

It was Sunday actually, when chaos began to seep in around the edges of my life. I started getting loads of emails that were not meant for me. They were all to do with real estate - and Sotheby’s - an estate agent in California, thousands of miles away. There were tons of them. Emails about open houses, emails arranging viewings, emails from clients talking about what they wanted in a house and their budgets - in short, emails about something I have nothing to do with. The 21st Century Husband got right on it, and discovered that these emails were all for a lady who lives and works in California - and whose maiden name was identical to my married name. She had bought a new web domain after her marriage and her email address was actually her first name @ her first name and new married name . com. In order to make her life easier she decided to forward all her work email from Sotheby’s to her personal email address, but I guess whoever was doing her web forwarding got mixed up and routed everything to her first name @ her first name and maiden name . com. Well, that is actually my email address, not hers. So all her Sotheby’s work email was coming to me - and still is actually - but I’m getting ahead of myself. I called the nice lady on Sunday and explained what was happening and she promised to have it fixed. I began forwarding her email to her. By Tuesday (over forty emails later), I was still getting her email and the marketing director of Sotheby’s was involved. After even more phone calls last night (why do I have to bear the expense of calling California when this is nothing to do with me?) the emails keep pouring in. Let’s just say it’s now Thursday (and an awful lot more emails later) and I’m really getting annoyed. I mean, I’m a nice person and everything, but having to sift through my inbox and forward someone else’s email to them makes me feel like an unpaid and unwilling personal assistant. I don’t know whether to just stop forwarding the emails in protest or what. I’ve just sent yet another stroppy email asking them to fix it, so we’ll see what happens.

Also, I’m beginning to think that clutter can actually multiply. I had a real blitz on Sunday, clearing a whole closet and moving on a lot of clothes I no longer needed. I assumed that this would be a signal to the universe that I was on the right track and I would be empowered to finally get the house organised. That’s not exactly how it has turned out. Every time I start on something else (and I’m full of de-cluttering enthusiasm here!) another issue pops up and I accomplish the square root of nothing. Thankfully none of the issues are major ones, and I am incredibly grateful for that, but minor things can be incredibly disruptive and time consuming. And somehow through this chaos, I swear the clutter is multiplying. The house is now messier than before I started to de-clutter. Go figure.

As for the washing monster, well, I’m really worried it might actually eat me. I thought the new washer and dryer I bought would mean that I would finally catch up with the three washing baskets full of clothes waiting to be washed. You see, my old washer was so temperamental and noisy it really did slow the process down, and I assumed a new one would solve the problem. Well, the washer and dryer are great, but this crazy week has meant that I have not actually been able to find time to actually get the clothes in and out of the machines. And that is before we even mention the ironing.

I have to confess the reason this is bothering me so much is that it is an important weekend in the 21st Century Household. It’s the 21st Century Husband’s birthday on Monday - and as we got married on his birthday eighteen years ago - it’s our anniversary as well. He’s taken Monday off so we can have a long weekend. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. So, I’ve got this wonderful idealised picture in my head of a fabulously relaxing long weekend that naturally takes place in our picture-perfect clean, tidy and de-cluttered house. I now have only twenty-four hours left to pull this miracle off and frankly, without divine intervention I don’t think it is possible. I don’t like asking for divine intervention into something so minor - God has a lot more important things on his plate than the state of my house. I also really don’t want to have to ask the 21st Century Husband to do menial household tasks on his birthday weekend, and as the 21st Century Teenager is studying for exams I can’t go asking for help there either.

I’ve got twenty-four hours and the clock is ticking. I think the lady from Sotheby’s unwilling personal assistant is about to go on strike, and if you all will excuse me, I’m just off to go do battle with some multiplying clutter and a rather ferocious washing monster. (I’ll leave the ironing for now. I can always hide it in a closet - if I can find one with any empty space in it!)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Wildly, Weirdly Grateful

Ever since I read Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance nearly ten years ago, I have made it a point to cultivate what she describes as “an attitude of gratitude”. I must confess I do not keep an actual gratitude journal as she recommends, but I do make it a point to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day - whether it is something exciting or as simple as a lovely hot cup of tea.

Today was one of those gorgeous Spring days that just make your heart sing. It was not all that warm, but it was glorious nonetheless. It was a busy day though, with back to back commitments and more than a few jobs to do around the house. When I finally made my way out to the grocery store about four o’clock to do the shopping, I was more than a little frazzled, despite having just finished a yoga class.

Things did not improve after I got to the store. Unusually, it was not very well stocked with the things I had come for and because it was relatively late in the day, it was also rather crowded. I found myself in need of the ladies’ room, and found their facilities to be so dirty and unkempt I almost did not bother to go, but persuaded myself otherwise as it was a matter of urgency. By the time I had checked my groceries out, I was not feeling grateful for much of anything.

As I walked out into the car park, I noticed it was unusually busy. Cars were jostling for spaces, so much so that one virtually pushed me out of the way as I tried to negotiate my way to my car. The driver was so pushy that he would have driven right into my shopping trolley if I had not quickly pulled in out of the way right behind a car. I finally got turned round so that I could cross the road to my own car which was on the other side. It turns out someone had carelessly left an empty shopping trolley just behind my car and this was part of what was causing the cars to crowd the pedestrians. I now had my back to the car I had tucked in behind, but I had to wait to cross as yet more cars were streaming past me, trying to negotiate their way past the empty and abandoned shopping trolley left near my car.

Suddenly I felt an almighty thump all across my back, shoulders and bottom. It was quite painful and for a brief, dizzy moment I chastised myself for stepping back into the car I had tucked in behind. Then I looked behind me and saw the back window of the car was right up against me and the brake lights were lit up. It had backed into me, not the other way around. In shock, I crossed the road, opened the boot of my car and started to load my groceries in. The car that had hit me sat motionless as I did so. A passing lady stopped and said, “Are you alright? You just got hit by a car!” I looked at her, still stunned and said, “Yes, I think so, just a bit shocked.” I continued to load up the car. “Seriously,” she said, “are you sure you are alright? It hit you quite hard.” “Yes,” I replied, not at all sure that I was but feeling somewhat embarrassed, “but thank you for asking.” She carried on doubtfully and I looked quizzically across at the car that had hit me, which still sat motionless in the exact position it had been in after it hit me.

Finally, the driver pushed the door half way open, leaned out and said, “Are you okay?” Still in shock, I replied, “Well, you did back into me you know!” “Yes,” she confirmed, “I’m sorry about that. Are you okay?” I confirmed I was and she drove off. I watched as she reversed and realised I had been positioned squarely behind her, right in the middle of her fairly large back window. She had reversed without even looking.

It took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts and I sat in the car until I felt steady enough to drive home. At first I wondered why on earth something like that would happen, and turned the event over and over in my mind. I felt rather cross with the driver that hit me, particularly as she had not even bothered to get out of her car when she spoke to me, but oddly even more so with the pushy driver who had caused me to stand behind her out of the way in the first place. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to stop being cross and consider just how lucky I was.

The car that hit me was reversing and thankfully doing so quite slowly. Although my shoulders and back were a little sore, I was not badly injured. What if it had been someone pushy who decided to reverse quickly? I would have been pushed into my shopping trolley and then out into traffic - and I certainly would not be driving myself home as I about to do. Also I am fit and well, and because of all the exercise I do, quite strong, so I was much better placed to absorb the bump I got than if I had been less so. Not only that, but in this day and age when people are reputedly rather an uncaring bunch, someone stopped to ask me if I was okay - and made sure I was before they carried on.

I realised that even in this situation, I had a lot to be grateful for. Meister Eckhart, a twelfth century German theologian said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is “thank you”, that would suffice.” I’m think that is a pretty good prayer for me to pray today!