Our fortuitous river work-outs

Staying active and on the move underpins one of our favourite days out – a meander by the river and the serendipity the journey will throw in our path.

On Sunday I awake to blue skies and feel the pull of the great outdoors. Downstairs , my kids are sat on the sofa with screens on their laps. He’s building empires on Mindcraft and she’s following a loom band tutorial on how to make a dog. Have they noticed the beautiful day? I doubt it. I want them to notice that the green knots on the briars at the end of our garden have finally yielded blackberries. I’d like them to feel the grass beneath their feet.  I’d even welcome an argument over who gets to throw the frisbee first.  I want to get them OUT.

Were I to ask who wants to walk five miles, I’d get no takers. Instead I ask who wants to play frisbee?  If I meet resistance I’ll throw in the promise of an ice-cream as well. That’s not necessary. I have two ready recruits. I gather together our modus operandi – the whistling frisbee, a tennis ball I can slip into my pocket, a scooter for him, a skipping rope for her and a picnic for our pit-stop. DH completes our merry band and off we set. Scooting and skipping, it takes us 15 minutes to get to the river.

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The boathouse and jetty are nestled down an incline off the road and the boy loves to freewheel to the ferry.

The river is not wide and our trip across is very brief. On quiet days Ben, the ferryman, will take us on the “scenic route” where we circumvent a  small island. Somedays he’ll take us to a nest he spotted earlier and we’ll count the fluffy ducklings. On Sunday we do the crossing straight. Ben’s installed an old table football set under an awning by the boathouse. We’re promised a game on our return.

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Once on the far bank they throw the frisbee.  DH tosses the scooter over his shoulder as the saucer-power kicks in. The children make good progress, taking it in turns to throw, then catch.

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We advance this way until we come to a playground. They treat it like an assault course. In one gate, a whizz on every frame and out the far exit. Back on our river path my son asks for the tennis ball and throws it high above him then claps until its close enough to catch. My daughter even notices the blackberries on the hedgerows. I promise her we’ll pick some on our way home. Last year a dog walker almost put an end to our berry harvesting.  “Avoid those low ones” he said, “that’s where the dogs pee”.  It’s taken me the year to get her to start picking again and we make sure to go for the high berries.

They sprint ahead this time and run to the play-boats – Ratty and Moley. They are just about visible, protruding above the long grass.

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Two raised platforms take the shape of sea-faring vessels and have been the scene of endless fun and games over the years as well as the site of new friendships.  Today they have a boat each to themselves. I’d read the dedication on the sign before but take note of it this day. Screens have their use. I take out my phone and google the inscription:

 “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

It’s taken from “The wind in the willows”.

We entice them away from the boats with the promise of ice-creams at the cricket grounds, five minutes on. I know I’ll get a good coffee there too. DH tells them the story of the original Ratty and Moley over 99s’.  Next to the cricket field are more swings and a play house  that has seen better days. The plastic’s been bleached from sunny days like today.  There’s a small climbing structure my son calls the Pandorica so he heads to it. His sister is happy to follow and fall in to whatever adventure he dreams up.

Our destination is Hampton Court and we have at least another 1/2 mile to go.  I-SPY will progress us further . We file pass Moseley Lock. As we get close to the big bridge the banks get sandy. My kids call this the beach. They might throw pebbles or decide to break into their lunch to feed the swans and ducks. We’ll find a nice tree in the shade and have our picnic before repeating the journey to get us home. DH promises the boy a game of pirates on Ratty and Moley while my daughter and I pick the berries. They are out early this year. We must get back to the ferry before 6pm when the bell to beckon is taken down. There’s a sprint to the jetty as they both want to be the first one to ring it to alert Ben that are ready for fetching. The kids remind us that they’ve been promised a game of table footie. We don’t renege on that.

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Back on the road the scooter and skipping rope reappear. When they start to flag a little I rely on an old favourite – car-counting. We choose different colours and do a car tally on the walk back to our house. Silver trumps.

Homeward stretch
Homeward stretch

As we walk through the door I hear my son shout “last one to the trampoline stinks” and off they both run.  My husband grabs us two beers. He’s caught the sun and it suits him. I tell him we must have covered five miles today. “More than that”  he says pushing our achievement up by another mile at least.
We might not have a gym membership or wear lycra but you’d have to call us an active bunch nonetheless. I put the berries in the freezer and not the fridge.  The crumble can wait for another night.


This is my entry for the Mark Warner Blogger Challenge 2 in conjunction with GoApe. I hope I’ve demonstrated how our family stay active and on the move.

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Art attack

What’s an acceptable time for me to hold on to the art work my children brought  from school this week? It’s bin day tomorrow and I am fighting the urge to purge. The kids spilled out of their classrooms carrying bulging portfolios as big as themselves. There are some pictures I’d like to keep but must I hold on to it all? I’ve ear-marked a couple of pieces for posting to grandparents in Ireland. A few will make it on to the wall. I’ll already weeded out some drawings which I know will not be missed.

My daughter was delighted with her brother’s Lenten promise at first. Written on a flame  it reads “I will be nise to my sister”.  Less obvious is the periphery text : “The Hole  Spirit givs me courage to stand up to my sister”. I’ll not be dumping that. We’ll all enjoy that in a decade or so.

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I love that they’ve been creative. Proof that school is not all about SATs and structure. But what’s a family to do with an African hut?


Tip toe

Last Monday I learnt from my FB feed that Dermot Healy, Irish writer and Sligo resident, compared to Beckett and highly rated by Seamus Heaney, died. Suddenly. Prematurely (he was 66 and had a massive heart attack at home).  I didn’t know the man though I’d heard him read twice and after one of those readings he’d signed my copy of his book. I didn’t know the man but I somehow ended up in a pub nook with him, his wife, Patrick McCabe and a couple of other local artists residing in the West. Sixteen years ago.  And on Monday when I heard he’d passed I felt a light go out. Not that I thought we’d meet again but the world seemed a little duller without his literary illumination. The last time I felt that was when I heard of Garret Fitzgerald’s death. He was the grand old gent of Irish politics, super intelligent and principled. Polite too. He was a frequent traveller when I worked with the airlines.

I went into a funk for a while after Garret and now I could feel the same happen for Dermot Healy. A day later I heard I didn’t win the Turkish commission and the following afternoon I get a text from my bank about an out-of-character transaction in New York. Was it me? I wish. So my card is cancelled and I’ve the headache that goes with it.

And then the final blow, the swipe that totally winded me. I arrange to meet an old pal. We only get to catch up a couple of times a year. Glorious sunshine, a cafe in a walled garden. Air kisses. I tell her she looks well following an op she had in the interim. She tells me she feels good too. She asks what I’ve been up to and I tell her about the school reunion. She wonders why I’d have wanted to go back. She’s had an invite from her alumni but is quite definite that she won’t be attending. We speak some more on that. I might have moved on to some of my projects and then she erupts. I can’t remember the tirade verbatim but it went something like this – Would you ever come back to the PRESENT. Stop living in the PAST (and in Ireland). Stay in the HERE and NOW. What does your husband make of all this introspection? You’ve got a good man and two kiddies and there you are buried in the past. Are you depressed?  Do you need to see someone? You’re always trying to save other people – you’re in no fit state to help anyone. Sort yourself out first. If you were going to be a writer it would have happened for you before now (ouch).

There was no malicious intent on my friend’s behalf. She was speaking her mind but it wasn’t what I needed to hear. Who knows what was behind it all or what I triggered for her. Her stuff is her own and for her to sort out but what was weird was my reaction, how readily I took on what she said. Doubt (who I’ve written to and about here) was back on my lap, winking up at me. Take me home it said and I did.

I felt utterly crushed. It didn’t start as a niggle either. It was a blow and it was instant. All the work I’ve been doing on me and on fear and doubt dissipated over our coffees. My hopes and dreams annihilated. Her words crushed me because I let them and that’s what really bothered me. My compliance.

There followed a few days of suspended projects and impotency. I was spent. When I told DH, I wondered if he’d say “Ah,ha’ and chime in with her about how he and the kids are being neglected. He didn’t at all. He just offered me encouragement and his continued support. Five days on and I’ve rallied. I don’t need concern. Hers or anyones. And if that’s all that’s on offer I’ll take a wide berth for the moment. I need to be around optimism and faith. Luck will always get a good reception here too.

I’m toping and tailing with Irish literary greats. It’s fitting and fits in

The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light;

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats

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RIP Dermot Healy.

Luck out – here I stay


I’ll have to contend with being an arm-chair traveller

I don’t trust my gut anymore. You know that inner voice we know we should listen to.  The teller of truths. The wise one.  The niggles you should have listened to that whispers too late “I was right all along”.

A few weeks ago I chanced upon a competition for bloggers – the prize a trip to Turkey, not just to enjoy all the thrills that go with a Mark Warner holiday but I’d be getting a commission too. A chance to blog to my heart’s content.

And the entry process couldn’t have been simpler. All I had to do was tweet a picture of me and family on a holiday. Any holiday.  No clever caption. No inspired prose required. Names would be put in a bag and 10 winners pulled. The odds were looking good. I fired off my entry. I sent it in twice to be sure it registered and for the three weeks since then I wake up on high alert. Fate has been my bedfellow. Like I’m fulfilling a prophecy that ends in September in Turkey.  At Sunday lunch a fortnight ago I get the long half of the wish bone. I’m not so cocky that I offer my daughter the wish though I can clearly see she’s disappointed she ended up with the stubby end. “Please, chicken wish granter, let me go to Turkey”.  I get my kids on to the task as they say their night prayers. I didn’t disclose that the prize had a no-kids clause attached.  I’ve cut a few deals with myself as I listened to that little voice say “Swim 10 more lengths of the pool and your chances of the Turkish trip will soar”. In the same vein I sponsor that FB pal I have not met in over ten years but who’s asking me to support her efforts to cycle to Paris and back. All done with my eye on the prize, on Turkey. Last Friday week I stayed back to clear tables after the school comedy night, all the time banking my luck.

And the universe seemed to meet me half way. It wasn’t just my yearning, the trip was fulfilling my destiny. Why else would I get an email out of the blue from Ceyla my wonderful pal from Istanbul. Notoriously poor at keeping up contact her newsy epistle pings into my mailbox last week. Admittedly she wrote to me from Riyadh where she now lives but it stirred memories of her Turkish wisdom and ways and of the Turkish evil eye bead she hurled in to my garden to bring me luck before she left for Saudi last year.

A mums class night is in a Turkish eatery in Teddington. It could have been at the Thai BYO we’ve gone to for the past couple of summers. But Turkey is flirting with me again.

Dining out in Bristol on Saturday night we didn’t eat at a Turkish restaurant.  However baklava was served with our coffees. My sister and husband arrived unannounced on Sunday night. With a near empty fridge I suggested we get take-away but they wouldn’t hear of it. I was reminded of an episode from Ready steady cook as my brother-in-law reach’s in to our fridge and retrieved a cucumber, a block of vacuum packed Halloumi I’d forgotten was there, some tomatoes and olives.  We had houmous – we usually do. The couple work great as a culinary double act. My sister finds couscous in with my baking ingredients. Twenty minutes later we had before us a feast worthy of an Ottoman Empire.

It doesn’t end there. Last night instead of doing their homework my kids are glued to the TV, to the Simpsons… can you guess where I’m going with this….. Bart,Marge and Homer. Homer, the Greek poet, is reputed to have been born in Turkey.  Read the signs!  And I did.

But this morning when I woke I knew something had changed. I checked twitter and my fears were confirmed, my dreams shattered. I am not to be among the ten after all.  My Turkish odyssey shunted before it began.  How could I have got it so wrong.




The writing’s on the wall….

Last weekend placed me in Bristol for the final stage of a course I began over fourteen months ago on Creative writing for wellbeing and reflective practice.  The directive was to “develop and consolidate skills as reflective practitioners in order to facilitate others”.  It’s been a lovely journey and in the true spirit of the course I did reflect on my progress as I sat on the 6.10 train from Twickenham to Bristol on Saturday morning. I was looking forward to a weekend spent learning about and practising what I love with a bunch of like-minded people. I whipped out my pad and pen and started to write but it was too early for coherent thoughts to flow.  Instead I looked out the window. As we approached one of the stations en route I noticed a gable on a building with huge letters spelling out CHANGE.  Could this be a message for me?  A signpost.  Perhaps I’m not on the right track after all. As our train drew closer I noticed the smaller script running a long side it.  S-E-E.  SEE CHANGE.  And you know I can.

(I didn’t get a picture of the gable from the train but saw these murals in Bristol later).


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Don’t miss the obvious


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