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Remembering Flt Lt Bill Astell DFC - and my father

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Tuesday 19th November 2019



In the week following Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, I dug out a very special book that was sent to me last year. It is called Casualty of War - Letters home from Flight Lieutenant Bill Astell, DFC. It was conceived, written and compiled by Chris Ward who is a Bomber Command historian and author and has written more than anyone about the wartime history of 617 Squadron, aka The Dambusters.

On May 17th, 2013, I wrote a piece on this blog entitled 617 'Dambuster' Squadron 70th Anniversary  In this I talked about the privilege of living in Bill Astell's former home and I feel no different today. The joy of the book I was sent is that I can now place a living, breathing personality into this space that we have both called home.

Chris's book is founded on his research and knowledge as a war historian but, more importantly, from his friendship with Bill's youngest sister, Heather, who was 14 years his junior. Heather was able to provide …

When Mothers and Teenagers Don't Mix!

Today I have cleaned 51 window panes with pure elbow grease; cleaned ten mirrors; cleaned four toilets; cleaned three basins; scrubbed the shower; polished all the wooden kitchen surfaces as well as the kitchen table; polished the banisters; polished two chairs, one bed and two other pieces of furniture; thoroughly hoovered a landing and two other rooms; shaken out four rugs; put two washes through the machine and dryer; folded laundry; emptied and reloaded the dishwasher; washed up pans; emptied every waste bin in the house and extracted the recycling; disinfected the main kitchen bin; fed the animals twice; walked the dog; conversed and made hot drinks twice with the tree surgeons; attended to sick husband; cleaned Aga (twice); made porridge and tea for sick husband and youngest daughter; made lunch; made supper from scratch (a stir fry as a special treat for youngest daughter who's always asking for it); made two phone calls to fix domestic problems; called my mother lengthily…

Lessons in Loneliness

1st October, 2019

This morning I decided to switch things up a bit. Instead of emptying the dishwasher in silence (breakfast radio being too noisy for me at 8am and Breakfast TV too distracting), I finally worked out how to listen to a podcast via our Sonos system. Just the same as listening to the radio but you search for Podcasts instead. Wow, that easy. I can be very stupid sometimes.

Having watched Sue Perkins on The One Show on BBC the other night discussing loneliness, I was drawn to a TED Talk on the subject. I also remember watching a programme dealing with the same issue a year or so back on TV. I was moved to write about it but of course never actually did. I do a lot of writing in my head which never sees light of day. The words just seem to lurk there in the darkness, lonely and gathering dust...
Let's face it, communication and connection is a basic human need. That’s why our forefathers drew symbols; that’s why the symbols developed into language; that’s how we start…

Hefted?

I have just returned from a transformative holiday in Greece to find that my increasingly small flock of Herdwick sheep have disappeared from our field.

In less than six months I have lost eight of the ten animals I started the year with. In March I lost one of the five Herdwicks to inexplicable illness and blindness. In June I had to say goodbye to my beautiful 'daughter' Beanie, our motherless lamb - umbilically connected to me by the bottle feeding and love we gave her in her first weeks and months - due to an equally inexplicable incident where I found her on her back in the field and henceforth unable to stand upright on her back legs despite rest and medical attention. The agony and the anguish of having to cull a much-loved animal I suffered twice in two months.

We got rid of the pygmy goats - little buggers. Couldn't cope with their Houdini act. Cost us a fortune in new fencing, all for nought.

And now our remaining four Herdwick's have decided they are no lon…

Menopausal Mother Meets Mother Nature

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Tuesday 21st May, 2019

Menopause seems to be a hot topic at the moment and boy did I have a menopausal moment last night! A hugely frustrating (yet ultimately trivial) thing sent me into a stratospheric rage with expletives pouring out of my mouth like there was no tomorrow (apologies to my neighbours); my anger, my tiredness, my hormonal imbalance left me bulging-eyed and screaming and sobbing to the point that I actually thought I’d give myself a brain bleed - if not a sore throat. My family looked on at me slamming my fists on the floor and dribbling with utter disbelief; the terrified dog hid upstairs and refused to come down. This is not good. More amusingly, I had gone to a yoga class that evening and we'd done forward bends which induce a quiet mind. The teacher bade us farewell with the words 'have a peaceful evening'. Yep, well, that didn’t quite work out! If only she could have seen me two hours later she'd have given up teaching yoga forever...

So today, wri…

Say Hello Say Goodbye

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It's a vile rainy, chill Wednesday afternoon in early May - so very different from this time last year where we were enjoying endless hot sunny days and thought we'd all died and gone to Heaven. What a difference 365 days make! I have nothing better to do than sort out piles of papers, move endless 'stuff' from one place to another around the house, trying to work out what to chuck and what to save, and doing the laundry and cleaning.

So instead I have decided to sit down and write this, sparked by 'Don't Get Me Wrong' by the Pretenders playing on the radio. It instantly took me back to the top of a mountain in Courchevel in the French Alps in 1987. I was in the middle of my season as a rep for a ski tour operator in Courchevel 1650. The sun was blazing out of a bright blue sky, the snow was glistening white and deep as far as the eye could see and Chrissie Hynde was pumping out 'Don't get me wrong' from a massive speaker at the top of this con…

Mothers and Daughters

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Tuesday, 30th April, 2019

Today began and ended well. The bit in between wasn't so good.


We woke to clear blue skies and after dropping youngest daughter at the school bus I took my camera and my sheepdog for a stroll down the lane to capture some images of the ewes with their lambs in the soft misty morning light. The newborns nestled in the marsh grass, their mothers chewing the cud contentedly nearby. Such a simple, commonplace rural spring scene, but always so delightful. The bonds were tangible between mother and child as Lily's quiet presence on the lane still disturbed them all enough to get up and move further away, the little lambs trip-trotting to keep up with the safe harbour of their mothers.


Images captured, I wandered back up the lane, picking up a spray of broken blossom cast down carelessly by the recent storm together with a dislodged twig bursting with new green life. I would find a place for them in my kitchen. I heard the tinkling of a roadside stream, hidi…