Thank goodness that the sparkle of light on leaves can still lift my mood. A walk on the beach and sunlight on the sea has the same effect.
On most mornings we have popped down to the beach, listened to the waves, watched the changing moods of the clouds, walked over the pebbles in the hope that a stone with a hole right through will reveal itself. Some people call them hag stones, we have always called them holy stones.
Luckily we were able to get together at Christmas as a family. Ten people sat round our table tucking into dinner cooked beautifully by my eldest son, assisted by Sheila his partner, who had also made a traditional Christmas pudding!
At last it was a chance to reconnect with everyone, my youngest son, Caroline his wife, all three grown up grandchilden and Meagan my eldest grandson’s partner. We played games, drunk a lot, eat a lot, including one of Caroline’s special trifles. We exchanged gifts from under our version of a tree, which is always branches from my youngest son’s garden, set in the usual pot brought back from a holiday in the 60s at Le Baux in France. Alan and I hang with favourite bits and bobs collected over the years. The most poignant this year was the peg doll santa my sister had made many years ago.
Sadly Judy my dear sister died in November 2021. She was ten months younger than me and for most of our childhood for some reason that we never really understood we were brought up as twins. We had identical plaits tied in bows and identical clothes made by my mother, an excellent seamstress and just one of her many talents.
I was so thankful that Judy’s eldest son and mine had brought her down in her wheelchair in August and her three wishes were granted!
One was to eat fish and chips on the beach, the second to dip her toes in the sea and the third to find one of the holy stones with a hole right through it.
The guys put up a picnic table, uncorked the bubbles, collected the fish and chips and after we had all enjoyed the meal, both boys pulled off their boots and carried Judy over the pebbles so she could dip her toes in the sea.
Suddenly a complete stranger with someone in a wheelchair nearby, rushed down to the sea with a pair of sea shoes and insisted on helping to put them on Judy’s feet. Such is the kindness of strangers.
All magical especially when she suddenly saw a stone with the hole right through where we were sitting.
We walked along the cliff walk from Saltdean to Mollies for coffee and cake. In seconds a guy busy serving stopped and made space for her chair so she had a wonderful view of childen playing and taking dips in the sea.
Naturally since then memories have contined to flood in. As single parents Judy and I both went to college and trained to be teachers. The hours were such that we could pick our chilren up after school. We did art at our own level and we both gained distictions. I painted in oils and Judy did huge collages with machine embroidery. Nevertheless we were still performing with marionettes to subsidise our teaching grants, shows in schools and even some cabaret. Judy went on to teach in a school in Wallington for the rest of her working life. She re-married but in later life suffered from Parkinsons. She was a surviver and I loved her lots.
As children we had often been left to our own devices in seaside resorts while our parents performed with their marionettes in theatres in several seaside locations. The longest was three seasons in Blackpool.
I have written several Judy poems over the years, here are a few.
The beach is a seascape
the wind sings a song in the air,
sand seems to go on for ever
in the distance the pier and the fair.
The thud of the hooves as we canter
our hearts beating faster at speed
faces flushed with exertion
as my sister takes up the lead.
We slow down and splash along shoreline
hands on the reins check the pace
When the journey of life takes us forward
we’ll remember this time and this place.
Our parents shows took place in the Arcade Theatre three times a day. One year they rented a flat overlooking the sea on the main road where Blackpool’s famous illuminations were set up.
How can we sleep, sleep with this din
when all that is out there wants to come in.
The windows ajar and the curtains are free
ripples of moonlight dance in the sea.
A huge paddle steamer trundles along
with thousands of lights it moves through the throng.
It comes creeping along on the tracks of the tram
cars all start hooting because there’s a jam.
Songs from the old days are blaring out loud
every so often they’re sung by the crowd.
The brightest of colours red, blue and green
flick on and off to highlight each scene.
An enormous Mad Hatter is pouring the tea
and pirates trap lost boys under a tree.
Witches and Wizards are busy with spells
goblins and fairies are living in wells.
The boat is upon us and dazzles our eyes
we find ourselves falling like kites from the skies.
On a giant helter-skelter we find ourselves slide
we’re twisting and turning enjoying the ride.
On candyfloss mountains we’ll bounce and we’ll jump
on lollypop twisters we’ll land with a thump.
We’ll spin round and round on pink and white twirls
and sail the dark sea on liquorice swirls.
We’ll stop and have tea that the Mad Hatter makes
run after the knave who steals all the cakes.
We’ll follow the piper who gets rid of the rats
stroke the soft fur of the fairyland cats.
The boat trundles on to the end of the track.
It’s lucky for us that it makes it’s way back.
So we leave magic dragons and fish that can talk.
Three little pigs that are out for a walk.
We pass by our window and take a great leap
tired with excitement we soon fall asleep.
Our sheets made of cotton have mud here and there,
to remind us at daybreak we really were there.
The North Pier Blackpool
It’s a small world for our marionettes
three shows a day on the North Pier.
Our parents busy, we take stock-the mighty
black tower, the circus and ballroom.
Donkeys stand in line ready for a ride
trams trundle along the promenade.
Crowds gather on the famous golden mile, kiss me
quick hats, tuppence to see a mermaid.
The man from Mars in bright green jump suit
is surreptitiously eating a big cream bun.
And so the season goes on, families from the mills
the mines and the factories, everyone laughing.
Of course there were times over the years when my sister and I went our separate ways,
times when we fell out, but writing poems often came to the rescue and sometimes she
sent a poem of her own back to me.
I shared the next poem at a writing/retreat in Ireland that I went to with my friend Maggie a few years ago. The following year I was told the organisers had put it up at the end of a retreat in a celebration of words which was lovely.
Seeds take flight with the softest blow,
on dandelion clocks you know
How long can that be?
And who’s in charge of time? Tell me.
Twin spirits drift and sometimes fly,
but cannot separate or die.
Distance is all in the mind,
a word for space I think you’ll find.
Alienation is a choice,
but takes an angry tone of voice.
Despite the walls, the gates, the locks,
think of the seeds around that clock.
They drift, they fly, they find some ground,
and safely grow until they’re found.
This last Judy poem I sent to her last year she wrote back and said she loved it.
I loved your bright acqua aura crystal eyes
your high spirits and how you didn’t hesitate
to tuck your frock into your knickers
and climb trees in Highate wood
the way you splashed into muddy
streams on Parliament Hill Fields
caught sticklebacks with your bare hands
sloshed slimy frogspawn into a jar
I loved the way you giggled when our kittens
wouldn’t lie meekly in our dolls pram
the funny face you pulled when mother
insisted you take your daily Virol
your naughtiness your untidyness
your cheerful chatter in such contrast
to my own slow disjointed speech
and your devil-may-care attitude to life
I loved it when you didn’t complain when
Miss Simmonds insisted you dress as a daisy
for the Sunday School play and later take
a boy’s role because you were so thin
I loved you because you let me mother
you when our mother was so preoccupied
and how you just threw ingredients into
a bowl to make all those wobbly cakes
the freedom we shared cantering
over Blackpool sands that last summer
and how clever you were to pass the eleven plus
when I didn’t but how sad I felt years later
when you said how abandoned you had felt
walking that mile to your new school alone.
This year the dandelions and the forget-me-nots in the garden will have even greater significance.
Post script – It never rains but it pours so I was not a happy bunny to discover last July I had macular degeneration in one of my eyes. Luckily despite covid I have had monthly injections in it and it is improving. Now I have it to a lesser degree in the second eye so that one is also beng treated. It all came as a bit of a shock I have been so used to gardening, reading, wriing, painting, editing films and of course blogging. I’ve just had to slow down and pay more attention to the small print! Keep safe. Ann x