You Can’t Push The River

This is one of my favourite sayings. I have used it many times to counsel patience in others, but rarely have I used it to counsel patience in myself. The river goes at its own pace. My recovery from major surgery has been remarkable, but it has also moved on at its own pace. The scarring on my belly has faded from its once livid appearance, but I remain covered up on the beach as the scar on my ribcage looks like I’ve survived a shark attack. It will take more time to fade.

I have lost a lot of weight and have continued to grow lighter since I left the hospital five months ago. Cancer is not a recommended weight loss regime, and now, with a reduced stomach size, keeping the weight on is a struggle. There is a disconnect between mind and body as I also never have an appetite. I could go all day without eating a thing and not notice! I work to a timetable so this cannot happen.

And as the weight falls off the workings of my stomach seem to me to be revealed like a village lost to the reservoir dam, exposed during the drought. I can see a round ball on the left when I am full. The one message that gets through, because suddenly I can’t move as my system is working flat out on whatever I have been eating.

But today was a cool milestone day. Today I was brave enough to try nauli, the stomach exercise I had been taught thirty years ago when I began learning Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I stood up with my legs shoulder width apart, slightly bent at the knee, and exhaled all the way out, then pulled up my stomach muscles high into my ribcage.

Nothing bad happened! So, then I went on to contract the stomach muscles in the centre, then right, then left, then again, a number of times. It felt good. It felt like I was, at last, beginning to reconnect with the vital functions of the body. I am determined to reinhabit this corporeal form.

I may not be able to push the river, but perhaps I can learn how to better ride the rapids and roll with the currents, and trust that one day I will be recovered, and, perhaps, improved, in a bid to honour the new lease on life that I have been granted.

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Sunny Sussex by the Sea!

Royal holiday home the Brighton Pavilion in the subshine

What an incredible weekend to arrive in this exotic gilded location, the grass was parched, and the air was dry, and the tourists were out in force. Under the trees a student was sitting cross-legged, carefully committing the Brighton Pavilion to paper with fine line pens. I was here in the city to help my daughter celebrate her graduation from Sussex University with a first-class degree in zoology.

What a gilded corner of Empire!

The ceremony had been cancelled last year due to Covid-19. We had just recovered from a bout ourselves just a week earlier, caught at a crowded Paris concert. At the graduation ceremony there were few of us wearing masks in the auditorium. The event was excellent, well organised, and went off like clockwork. I only hope the variants-of-interest were also not in attendance.

Back outside the venue, in the sunshine on the promenade, music floating up from a beach café, the struggles of the pandemic, and attending university during those times, seemed very far away in the collective euphoria, celebrating hard-won success. All the hope, and expectation in the air was quite inspiring, and wonderful to see, and be a small part of.

Great things, and better times, will come!

Honestly, this is on the island of Britain. No, really!!
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We All Want to Live in a Castle!

Or at least go to school in one! Don’t we? The castle at Sille-le-Guillaume, just a half-hour on the train from Le Mans in North West France, was used as the town’s school right up to 1971. A purpose built school was built across the road and the chateau opened to the public as a tourist attraction and exhibition space.

Today the chateau still retains much evidence of its former use as a school and continues to undergo renovation works. We peeped in through a window at an unaccessible area and there were noticeboards on walls and chairs stacked up on desks. It made me wonder whether it still hosted lessons?

The Armoury Tower

I’d like to believe that the Armoury Tower was where the headmaster had their office. If I ran a school in a building such as this, with a tower this cool, it would be irresistible. The door at the bottom leads to a circular room with an amazing corbelled ceiling; perfect for detention!

In the guard room there is grafitti said to date from the Hundred-Years-War, carved into the stone walls by bored guardsmen itching for something to do, some proper battling perhaps.

The image of a sword is quite clear, but as for the rest, its for the academics to decipher. Are they tallys of how many enemies they hit with an arrow, or are they a record of someone’s winnings at cards? I guess living in a castle back then had its own share of drudgery mixed in with occasional excitement.

These days I guess there would be arguments over whose turn it was to drag the hoover up and down the spiral stairs and had anybody remembered to top up the moat? But that would have to be balanced by the amazing views from the top of the tower and being able to dive into the moat from your drawbridge on hot summer days!

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First Family Cats

From the Cancer Memory Diary.

I called Uncle Alan and Auntie Eila Nunc-nunc and Nauntie, and the names stuck their entire lives long, signing their pet names in my birthday cards for decades. My parents and Grandma Bing were close with them too and we would often wander down the lane to their house for tea and a chuckle. The Goon Show was popular and I would be entertained by my Dad and my Uncle doing the silly voices.

When the talk turned serious I would climb down off my Mother’s lap and try and talk to my Aunty’s cats. They had strange names, Finnish names that my aunt pronounced as if she was singing to the cats. Grandma Bing had a black cat (she was a witch and this was proof) who had a perfectly ordinary English name.

Our current crop, Mr Cornflakes and Nutkin

Rodney the cat was so callled because, ‘that was his name before I turned him into a cat,’ said Grandma.

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘The boy I caught stealing from the coal store,’ she said, ‘and that’s why he’s black all over too.’

Rodney didn’t seem to mind being a cat. I would lie next to him in the sunshine and listen to his purr.

Once, in the depths of Winter, the snow covered the three steps up to our front door and Grandma came in the house from her caravan and shared my bedroom. There was ice on the inside of the windows where condensation had frozen on the glass.

Wrapped up against the cold, I went to the front door with Grandma and Rodney. The black cat sprang out into the white snow and disappeared at once. He hopped and jumped and when he landed all we could see was his black tail, tall above the snow.

We laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

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The Cancer Memory Diary

Shortly after my diagnosis last summer I picked up a notebook I had been given for a birthday and began to fill it with memories. I felt I needed to download in case the worst happened, but instead of fear I found many happy places.

The Old Oak Tree…

I grew up on the same plot of land as my father had. My uncle and aunt had built a house a hundred yards further along the lane, and my grandmother lived in a mobile home at the side of our plot. I would visit grandma almost every day, playing hide-and-seek with the curtain hung over her door.

In front of her caravan was a horse chestnut tree planted by her younger brother, Jack, before he left for Australia. To one side was the christmas tree that had been on my parent’s kitchen table for their first christmas as a married couple. Today both trees tower over the old garden.

Grandma would laugh, and cough, then puff on her cigarette, and vanish inside as her kettle began to whistle. I was warned against bothering my grandma, but she never raised her voice or seemed to get annoyed.

She used to take me on walks along the lane to visit my aunt. When Grandma and Grandad bought the plot before the war the lane was just a cart track through the woods.

I remember the lane in summer. All the hedges are bursting with life and the light is so bright the gravelled lane shines like an unending ribbon of gold. It runs straight on to a vague horizon that was the extent of the known world at the time.

But the image, the memory, exists completely out of time. It is more than a moment, and if I gently focus my thoughts, I can re-inhabit that time and space and discover the overwhelming sense of wellbeing that comes with it.

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What is a Castle for?

There are many reasons why a castle gets built. Some are strong rooms to protect a town’s goodies. Others are built to garrison troops. Some are built just to show off!

The castle at Zonza was all about demonstrating the power of the King. It’s black granite towers rose up above the trees, and from the top the King could survey all the lands under his domain, all the way to the sea!

It was built with the help of an ancient sorcerer, a Corsican Mazerre, who tapped into dragon-magic to raise the sheer black walls of the castle high above the valley floor.

Of course, there is nothing much left to see these days of the Castle of Zonza, but beware, for the dragon magic persists, and remains very potent to this day…

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The Red Chateau

Carrouges vies with many to be our most local chateau, our home town makes do with a scattering of Manoirs. It is an odd castle for this region in that it is built almost entirely of brick. Only the oldest parts are heavy with stone.

It is surrounded by a wide, and deep moat that is home to some sizeable mirror carp and a one point in the brick facade you can see where bees have settled their hive within one of the walls fifteen feet above the waterline.

When we visited the Cuban cellist Ana Carla Maza was performing in the ballroom in the Southern wing on the first floor, which was a treat. She accompanied herself on the cello alone and her energy nearly blew out all the windows.

The Red Chateau has seen its share of action with Sir Jean de Carrouges joining the Duke of Alencon in battle against English royal armies. The chateau was looted in the French revolution and again later when the Nazis arrived in the twentieth century. But by that time there was little left as the family had sold as much as they could to keep the home fires burning.

Sir Jean de Carrouges IV was a headstrong and somewhat litigious head of the clan who took on, and lost against his local Count several times in disputes over land holdings. However, he was lauded for his fearlessness in battle and loyalty to his, somewhat insane King, Charles IV. Sir Jean was killed in battle at Nicopolis in Hungary fighting the Ottoman Turks.

Today there is an exhibition space for touring shows, the ballroom sees musicians and small acting troupes appear, there are hunting rooms open and a tour of the living quarters. Volunteers staff the gift shop and guide parties through the history of the castle.

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What does a writer do all day?

What does a writer do all day? Well, for a start, there are fish to feed and then there are phone calls to make, castles to explore, and mysteries to solve before tea-time…

And now I am on Instagram and Twitter etc, I am busy promoting myself and my book, The Legend of Zonza (formerly Mandorlinfiore) under instruction from my dynamo of a publisher! This means generating and approving ‘content’ every day after breakfast (with a break to go and feed the ducks in the garden).

Apparently, scientifically speaking, sharks are our cousins!

I hope that what I do will provide entertainment and brighten the days of fellow travellers wherever they are going. I have to get on with putting words on paper now (I’m old-school like that) so have a good day wherever you are!

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All In Good Time…

What can you do when you can’t do very much? It depends, I guess, on whatever you were used to doing! Years ago, an epochal age maybe, I dug a hole in our back garden in an afternoon. I lined it with a leftover single-membrane roofing sheet saved from landfill, and carried bucket after bucket from the outside tap (we had no hose yet) until the new ‘pond’ was almost filled with water.

For some time I had carried around two tubs crammed with all the waterlillies that had survived the voraciously hungry Castle Cary ducks on the town’s Horse-pond. Sadly the yellow lily didn’t make it, but the reds came through. In the tubs I also had some mosses, oxygenators and snails and other assorted wild things. These were emptied into their new home, the lillies spread out their leaves but they looked a little lost in their new environment, but that evening we watched a pond skater zipping up and down. We called him Pierre, naturally.

I waited and watched the new pond. It remained unnaturally clear and the edges of the liner stayed uncut and pointing at the sky. I planned to trim them, fold them under rocks etc, all in good time. A week later Celine arrived home with our three children and four bags with fish in them. The fish, all with names like Carrot, Serious Black and Radioactive, settled in quickly and the pond began to become a real wildlife magnet.

Fast forward to today and the pond has gone from strength to strength. At lunchtime there were already eight blooms above the waterline from the Attractions and Aurora lilys and there are dozens of fish too. Since I cannot work during my convalescence I have begun to make good the edges of the pond, unfortunately this means disrupting an extensive ant colony that has also thrived beside the pool. I have been bitten a few times. The stings remind me I am alive.

The air is thick with butterflies and dragonflies, wasps and flying beetles, all coming for a sip of water or to lay eggs. There are two very slender dragonflies, bright red, dancing together just above the waterline, dipping down onto a lilypad for a second before spinning off to the new water mint in the margins. Above them there is another dragonfly, a bright blue specimen the size of my thumb.

I have been using found stone and old tommette tiles that were in the barn. Our wedding stone, a mini-menhir stands at one end, and we also have an old milling stone, most likely once used in the production of cider. The work isn’t finished yet, but there is time enough, good time, and I’m looking forward to the next time I am up for a little landscaping.

The fish adore the mini solar fountain!
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The Fox and the Hare

Evangeline checked her camera trap and revealed a story of the inhabitants of the secret valley. Madame Hare is a very busy thing who uses this track day and night. She keeps a lookout while she goes about her business up and down the embankment.

Madame Lièvre

Less than fifteen minutes after the first photo there came another. Mr Fox was following close behind.

Monsieur Renard

There are two old fables that come to mind. The first one tells of a hare who is invited to supper by a fox only to realize that she is the main course. Beware who you trust seems to be the message of that tale.

Another tells of a hare who loses her home to a fox. The fox and the hare were neighbours, the fox living happily in a house made from ice all winter. When spring came the fox’s house melted and the hare felt sorry for him and invited the fox to share her home. He agreed and then kicked her out.

The homeless hare wandered the forest, upset at the loss of her home and the betrayal by a friend. She met a wolf who offered to help her, but he was scared off by the fox. The same happened to a bear.

Later that day the hare met a man and his dog. On approaching the house the man said loudly, ‘I’m looking forward to wearing a fox-tail on my hat!’

Of course, the fox scarpers and we have a happy ending.

Here in the real world while out walking the byways, we have found evidence of hares caught out by wily foxes. However, later camera trap pics indicate that our Madame Lièvre escaped the attentions of this particular Monsieur Renard this time around!

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