Believe in yourself

illustration of sad girl

Oh, it’s the hardest thing sometimes, isn’t it.

I was asked recently to dream some dreams and come up with some big ideas for a new project. No problem! I said. And really, it’s no problem, not at all. My head is always full of new ideas.

The thing is, I’ve come up with an idea so comprehensively huge it’s scaring me. I’m not sure I want to be in charge of an idea potentially this big.

But… maybe this idea wants me to make it happen.

Here’s another thing. In the process of dreaming this idea up, and in the research, I’ve discovered that there’s a circus group who are calling for creatives – and artists? – to train and then volunteer with them for a couple of weeks in refugee camps in Europe this Autumn, bringing play and laughter and creativity to the children living there.

It’s been pulling at my heart.

In so many ways, not least political, I want to go and help. But… why would they want – me? What can I possibly bring? I can’t spin a plate or dance and I know no circus skills. Could I do it? Would they laugh at me?

But… I can draw and paint, I’m good at being silly, in a quiet sort of way, I adore children and I smile a lot.* I could do art, for sure. Would that be enough do you think?

I’m trying to believe I could do it, terrifying as it feels. I’m going to email them for more information, and see what they say.

Scary things often come two at once.


*This should really be the first line of my CV.



On Saturday night, I went to see the film Maudie.

I didn’t pay much attention to the details of the film my friend texted me about. After all, she was proposing an outing to a film, then dinner out somewhere, and a glass of wine. As soon as I’d figured out the arrangements, I was in.

(The only bit about the film I registered from my friend’s text was: Ethan Hawke. No need to beat about the bush here. I’ve admired Ethan Hawke as an actor* since Before Sunrise. Just the right mixture of angst and brooding, with a twinkle in the eye.)

So it was a wonderful thrill to sink into my seat at the Arts Centre, somewhat giddy with excitement at being OUT OF THE HOUSE! and discover that the film – Maudie – was about the life of the Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. You’d think that the clue was in the name, but perhaps the prospect of just going out had distracted me.

Maudie is a beautiful film, directed by Aisling Walsh. I knew Maud Lewis’ work, and a little of her story, but the film was such a delightful surprise. Immersing and focussed and calm, it tells the tale of an irrepressible spirit. Maud Lewis (a totally brilliant Sally Hawkins) was a little different – maybe you could say that she looked different from other people, perhaps due to her rheumatoid arthritis. She seemed to find herself on the fringe sometimes.

The film’s a love story. It’s so beautiful, and I cried often** and laughed a lot too. It’s a quiet film with spark, humour and grace. It’s true in real life that Maud, small in stature yet utterly indomitable, married Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), and they lived in a tiny wooden cabin. Maud loved painting, and her joy in the action of creating came across strongly. She painted everything in that little house, decorating it from top to bottom with flowers, birds, cats, patterns. In time, her paintings, sold on the doorstep of the tiny painted cabin, caught the attention of locals, and then people further afield, and eventually wider acclaim came through TV features and press.

It’s said she never sold a painting for more than a few dollars.

Maudie left lots of spaces for the work and the story to just tell itself.

I absolutely loved it. I went to bed thinking about it, and woke up still thinking. The sign of a good film.

I want to go to see something else now! I love the cinema, especially indie films.

Want to come?***


You can look up Maud Lewis and discover her beautiful work here.


*OK, his rugged look has something to do with it, I’ll admit  🙂
**I cry at everything.
***You’ll have to drive me though. Can we go for dinner afterwards too?


A wish is never wasted

painting of wistful woman by trudi Murray

A wish is never wasted – in progress


Galvanised into action by yesterday’s results, the boy now has a way forward. He’s still bouncing off the walls with joy, and excited to get started. So today I’ve been helping him sort through four year’s worth of studying – piles of paper and folders and notes and binders.

Recycle? Keep? Irrelevant? Useful? You know the drill.

We did pretty well, and it was so nice to chat while occupied in a mundane but weirdly soothing task. He kept stopping, wide-eyed, and saying – ‘I’m going to University!’

A wish isn’t always granted, but a wish is never wasted.

My wishes for today:

Peace. Kindness. More painting. No more attacks. No more hate. Sleep. Wellness. Love.

I wish it all for you, too. xx

PS: I also took my daughter out with me to run some errands. I hadn’t had much breakfast, so I decided we’d stop for a cup of tea (and maybe a biscuit, to get us through until lunch?) when the heavens suddenly opened, like they do sometimes in Summer. People were running in breathless out of the rain, splashing and laughing, and all of us inside were peering out, exclaiming at the fat raindrops bouncing back off the road. In the hubbub, while no one was looking,  I ‘accidentally’ ordered Eggs Benedict and a pot of tea (the milk jug was shaped like a cow. The Fallow Deer* is my kind of place!). Later on, I realised that my current obsession with this Naples yellow colour, above, is now stretching to food – I might start painting with hollandaise sauce 🙂

PPS: And my fervent wish that our boiler would be mended has, I think – maybe – fingers crossed – hopefully come true (though I hardly dare write it!). Thanks, Sam. Good plumbing detective work.

*Have you been to The Fallow Deer cafe in Teddington? It’s very good.


Results day


And look at those white Converse! How does he keep them so white?!

The boy did it!

After months of hoops and hurdles – the application form, the personal statement, the interview, the offer of a place (conditional on some dauntingly high exam grades), and then weeks and weeks of tough exams, and a long wait…

The results are in. He did it!

We woke up early, nervous. We’ve been discussing endlessly – is it right to let the boy aim so high, with no back up plan? A prestigious, innovative course, as though made for his inventive, engineering brain. With such a small intake of students, places are highly contested and the stakes were impossibly high. The competition fierce. Would it be better to temper the dream with something more achievable? As parents, oughtn’t we bring a voice of reason?

But… but… it seemed… right. So we didn’t. We agreed with him. We all went headlong and bonkers into it together. At one point, school emailed us, saying they thought this was a rather precarious plan, and probably very unachievable. We emailed back saying, yes, it’s breathtaking, but you’ve got to hand it to him.

Sleep wasn’t easy at many points along the way.

So yes, we were nervous for him this morning, knowing the disappointment that was inevitable, if he fell at the final hurdle.

And we leapt about the bedroom with delight when he came rushing in, clutching his phone, reading out the email – Congratulations! Your place has been confirmed. We look forward to greeting you as a student in October.

Amazing! Yippee!

We went to school later to collect his actual results, but no one really cared what they were!

I would have been writing about young Felix today whatever the result was. I’m so proud of him – his calm vision and single-mindedness has been incredible.

Well done, Felix!

PS: I promise I’ll paint something soon. I just can’t settle to anything 🙂



This is the leg

This is the leg that had a cut
and this is the germ that crawled right in
This is the fever that came on fast
and this is the bed of hot and cold
This is the dash for help at dawn
and this is the Doctor who acted quick
This is the blip he expertly spots
and this is the query? a bad surprise
This is the Doctor who ordered a scan
and this is the specialist and her machine
This is the findings in black and white
and this is me, reluctant to hear it

This is the waiting.

This is the fun, I thought on the way
and this is the town I’ve never been to
This is the map I followed along
and this is the clinic here, at 3
This is the waiting room, hot and full
and this is the baby crawling about
This is the consultant, halfway through
and this is his list of people to see
This is my turn, ushered in
and this is the battle of wills he wasn’t expecting

This is the way he lays it out
and this is the way I scrumple that up
This is the reasoning he tries after that
and this is the stare I give him.
This is the way he doesn’t flinch
and this is the way I keep on looking
This is the moment I almost break
and this is him, looking down first, shuffling his papers

This is the victory.

This is the part when he offers to tell me a story
and this is me bluntly saying I don’t need a story.
This is my questioning, the need to know the long words
and this is him almost dismissive.
This is my insistence,
and this is his acceptance and then a thorough explanation

This is the professional covert glance at the clock.

This is the moment of me expressing how I feel about it all emotionally
and this is him spitting it out.
This is his bald outline of how the facts are totally different to how I feel about it.

This is me staring him down (again),
and this is me not crying not crying not crying.

For Gods’ sake, do not cry, you fool.

This is my question of ‘what ifs’, the prospect of not doing anything, nothing at all
and this is the outcome: death
This is the low blow about seeing my children grow up

and therefore

This, this is my consent.

This is me poised and tall until the exit and down the stairs and out the door and round the corner
and this is me on a bench in the churchyard, crying.

This is the pub where I stop and consider a drink
and this is the courtyard of builders
This is the reality – do I really think I’m going to sit in there with a drink by myself and not pique their attention?
This is what usually happens to me.
And so this is the bus home.

This is the mac and this is the desk and these are the paints and here are the words
and this is the haven I’ve built.

And this poem is the furious revenge.





West Dean Chilli Fiesta

We first stumbled across the West Dean Chilli fiesta about 15 years ago, on the way back from a week on the Isle of Wight. We’d discovered that all toddlers really want to do on holiday is throw sand about and dip for crabs off the harbour wall. It seemed beyond our sleep deprived capabilities to go half way round the world to achieve this seaside utopia, so we always went to the Isle of Wight.

A drive to the South coast, a short ferry ride, a hop along the coast to a fishing village, a small rented flat. Plenty of ice-cream, a TV* to watch films in the evening, and lots of sea air – perfect. We were all happy as anything. The year we had a 4 year old and a 2 year old, with light shining at the end of the baby days tunnel, was the best holiday we ever had, and on the way home, we found West Dean gardens.


West Dean started holding a chilli festival in around the year 2000 – we were at one of the very first. Back then, it was a small, homespun affair, with just a few stalls and very niche chilli paraphernalia – in truth only catering for real chilli obsessives. All the food and produce on offer was HOT HOT HOT. We had no lunch with us and so we fed the boys tiny mouthfuls of red hot chilli con carne mixed with huge dollops of yogurt. (They’re still alive). Mr M, who is a super hot chilli fan (he grows them from seed, dries them, cooks with them, sweats into his supper – you get the idea), LOVED it.




We’ve always remembered it. So it was interesting to go back on Friday, and see that over the years the chilli fiesta has become a huge event with 25 000 visitors!






We had a great time. There was brilliant live music, sideshows, cookery demonstrations, shopping stalls (of course. My only gripe: some of them were now too generic. Handbags at a chilli festival? I liked the specialised chilli stuff better). It was sunny, which was good, after all that rain. We had a drink and listened to the music, and the atmosphere was very chilled and friendly. West Dean has some beautiful gardens and glasshouses to look round, so we did that too, and I got lots of inspiration for mad flower paintings.









Teenager L practiced his photography. He loves a good garden, and enjoys flowers (child of my own heart). We went round together with my camera, murmuring to each other in delight. Most of these photos are his.




And I did some drawing.



Then we dished out some cash and everyone ran off to choose their own lunch. The food stalls were excellent. The kids went for Thai food or spicy chicken. Alex and I shared bubble and squeak with an egg on top, with hollandaise sauce. And then we succumbed to a tray of vegan pakora – seriously good.

Right at the end, in the gardens, Mr M snapped this picture of us – how sweet is this?!



Definitely worth a visit!
Have a look at West Dean.
It’s also an art college – I’ve got my eye on a few courses 🙂
*We didn’t have a TV when the kids were small. We missed watching films though. Now of course, you don’t need a TV to watch TV!

Toaster wars


After our day at the castle, and the night in the hotel, we drove on to see family for a gentle day together. Not much to report – simply eating and relaxing and swimming and then more eating. And then we drove on again, to another night in another hotel, (cooler, but with worse beds) and then breakfast.

The hotel’s dining area had a couple of those wonderful toasters, where the bread slides in the top horizontally and travels round inside on a conveyor belt, under heating elements, getting more and more sizzled, until it drops out of the bottom and onto your waiting plate.

Naturally, I was hooked. Forget the rest of the cooked breakfast, all I wanted to do was toast things.

I wondered which machine was faster, and there was only one way to find out – feed a piece of bread into each machine at the exact same time, and watch. Easier said than done, as there was a long queue of breakfasters, for the toast was excellent; white bread just on the wrong side of cheap, turning out perfectly crisp and yet doughy, and expertly browned.

After a while of watching the situation like a hawk, I managed to get into peak position with two pieces of bread in hand of equal size and shape, and both machines empty and at the same stage of their revolution. This had taken some logistical boldness, but I was determined. So there I was, with each hand simultaneously feeding each machine with a piece of bread, when the man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said I wasn’t adhering to the toaster regulations.

There was a sign – ‘RULES of the toaster’. In bold type. Playing games with the toaster wasn’t allowed. Toasting croissants wasn’t allowed. Trying to toast bacon wasn’t allowed. Toasting your tie wasn’t allowed. Only humans to operate the toaster. Do not toast while under the influence of the minibar.

Quite which rule he thought I was breaking with my scientific explorations, I can’t say. Or perhaps he thought I’d jumped the queue (guilty, I suppose). I examined his face – totally serious. Not a hint of a smile. I couldn’t decide if he was winding me up, chatting me up (which clearly wasn’t working) or was actually upset.

I turned back to the toaster.

Two perfectly toasted slices of bread lay humbly on the countertop – one to the left, one to the right.

We will never know which slice won.

I spread one (the winner? the loser?) with butter and marmalade, and the other with Nutella. There was no time to get too upset about the interfering man, though I did throw him a few hard stares over the top of my teacup, almost causing him to choke on his toasted bacon.

But we were headed to a festival,* and we had to get going!


*Sort of –  you’ll see.

More later!

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