Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Magique Faraway Tree

Dearest Emily,
Every morning after travelling to work, I'm in need of a coffee and croissant and a peaceful view.
Yes, Em, I do know that I live two doors away, but that's not the point.
I make my freshly roasted coffee, I take it along with my croissant outside and sit and revel in the beauty of the view of a magnificent Horse Chestnut tree opposite my corner shop- on School Green.

 It's a delight , and I've bathed in its seasonal glory now for a year. It sits amongst a whole row along School Green road, planted at the turn of the last century, some now sadly diseased.
This one has escaped illness though- and dubbed 'harbingers of the season' I've loved watching the Horse Chestnut's changing face, as it tells us what's around the corner this season.
For me, this morning contemplation, sooths the pscyche and feeds my soul.
There's beauty in every stage of the march of time, Emily. This tree doesn't have an ugly moment. The lovely summer we had this year, followed by a very slow passage through autumn towards winter, saw it drop its fruit into the stream below, and dapple its beautiful leaves with gold, red and yellow.
For the Horse Chestnut, Winter is but a whisper of bare branched time- last December, even the daffodils on the bank chimed with its fresh new green foliage emerging just as January awoke.
It was a lovely reminder that spring wouldn't be too far away.
A little further along the row of trees is my Rabbit Hole shop-view, and this last week Emily, we got a bit of magic all for ourselves here in Freshwater.
Recently- rather unusually for us, (at least for the last four hundred years anyway) we seem to have been invaded by French persons. I first noticed this one Sunday morning as I came out of my corner shop carrying a tray of coffee and croissant to join my breton sporting, cigarette fuming friend, Steve.
As I walked through the door, I was snapped by a chap photographing my shop.
"Bonjour" I quipped aluding to the scene.
"Bonjour" he answered in proper French, and we chatted about he and his friends first visit to the Island which was 'charmant'. A week later- more French, and then last week, Uncle Joe called me from the Rabbit Hole to the corner shop- to translate a bit with some sailing book purchases.
We chatted a bit in my halting franglais and their halting fringlish.
These lovely youngsters had arrived in their sailing boat that they were taking to Brittany, at Yarmouth harbour- and had been marooned since by the inclement weather.
Two days later they appeared again, purchasing more armfuls of books, and then holing up for the afternoon with tea and cake at the Rabbit Hole, intersperced with trips up to the charity shops, and skipping over to the green to smoke.
Whilst I was baking in the kitchen, I could hear singing, a lovely harmony being practised, and in my imagination- I tagged them as Roux and his band of gypsy friends in the film Chocolat.
Little did I know then, Em.
A knock on ther parlour door- 'is it ok if we sing?'
'Of course' I  replied, later to hear that they would be performing something soon up at the Piano Cafe in Freshwater Bay.
"When?", I asked.
"We will tell you, we will be back".
I was out on friday when they did their afternoon rehearsal, which ran over into knitting class-time, causing whoops of delight to find yet another excuse not to knit...
They were to perform a 'little piece' on Sunday at three.
So, my friend Caroline and I took a hike up to the Piano Cafe for three o'clock , and sat with tea to watch whatever was about to entertain us.
 as a quite charming devized performance that began with all four facing the bar doing the 'you're going to miss me when I'm gone' followed by an acoustic guitar piece with mime- see here...

This was followed by a duet accompanied by some acrobatics, then some sea-shanties and a rousing 'Sweet Home Chicago' cover saw many of the customers up and dancing after being invited by one of the singers to join her to dance with them.
The finale involved- the girl who did acrobatics doing a handstand- which flipped her skirt upside down to reveal a floral skirt- her stripey knickers becoming a top- and between her legs- a monkeys head. This all now formed the impression of a character- (her legs becoming now- the characters arms.)
Phew, that was hard to describe- but the picture will show you better-

What fun Em, this little show was entralling and really well devized, by a group of marooned friends, who met at sailing school last year. Instead of being fed-up with their maroondom, they went around the Westy Wight- chatting to people who including myself- all fell in love with them- and turned up at the Piano Cafe to be entertained by them.
They finished with a round of 'Thank-you's' to all who had made them welcome.
I didn't want them to go home!
Hope they come back next year Emily.
Well that's my lot for today Emily- I'm off tomorrow to pick up a miniature Camper-Van, and have a surprise instore for all you girls when I visit at Christmas.
Your ever-loving Grandmother,

GiGi xxx

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Extraordinary Co-ordinating

Dearest Emily,
Since we last spoke I've just been getting on with ordinary life really, which as we both know- has its moments. Here are two such moments to bring a smile to your lips, and make you giggle.
On Sunday, we were lucky with the tides and the weather- so it meant that the fabulous Freshwater Inshore Lifeboat guys could do the spreading of Grumpa's ashes.
He wanted it quiet and low-key, and again, he was very specific about how, and where- and had given directions about the exact spot.
His lads that he was training were in his beloved D Class boat, and as they spread the ashes handed to them from the big boat, I read 'Crossing the Bar' (so apt it is for your Grumpa that Tennyson must have written it just for him Em!.)
Then, the big boat went round in a big circle as we strew the water with sunflowers and chrysanthemums. 
There was a minutes silence, before we headed back. The day was beautifully sunny, warm and the sea calm.
I've tried to capture the moment in this painting Em, all seemed vibrant, and Grumpa is in his 'happy place'.
The funny thing is Em, that when we got back to the Boathouse, the Crew kindly gave us the co-ordinates of where we had been. In an effort to let everyone interested know- my brother-in law set up a natty little 'still-life' with a tea-mug depicting the letter P (Grumpa was a massive tea drinker) and the piece of paper with the co-ordinates on it...
A nice shot, I think you will agree. The following day questions were raised by someone about the co-ordinates, which proved to be in Madrid!  (or, if the longitude and latitude were muxed-ip-Kenya!)
We did laugh,as Grumpa was very keen on seeing more of the world.
Better we use the picture then, for now. If you take a boat to Scratchells Bay, and can see the Needles to the left of the horizon, and the edge of the Island to the other, then it's the spot in front of you.
Today, I was late for work as usual (it's all that getting from one place to another stuff Em, yes, I know I'm next door but one) and I set up, fluffed about with the Coffee machine, emptied the dishwasher and set about packing up an Internet order, as a couple came in and started browsing.
The man was an engaging East-Ender, and his wife had a familiar face, which struck me though I couldn't place it, or feel that I knew her.
We got chatting as you do here in a bookshop, and it turns out she works for David Bailey, so we had a common interest in photography and its world.
Later in the conversation (hubby had remarked on the shop's name, and the niceness of calling people by their title.)
Theirs came out in the chat, but only later did it transpire that she was one of Queen Victoria's Great-great Gradaughters...
And then, Em, the penny dropped. 
She looked familiar because she looked like a young Queen Victoria.
What is more, her husband is a portrait artist named Michael McDonald, who had painted her in her Great-Grandmother's dress, here it is...

See what I mean!
Another ordinary week comes to a close dear Emily.
It's a while until I see you all as there's a lot to finish hereabouts with the new shop and guest-accommodation and Teagarden, but we'll chat and FaceTime until then, loving your 'Super-Cooper' picture,
Your ever-loving Grandmother,
GiGi, xxx

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Art of the Ordinary

Dearest Emily,


The West Wight appears to me to have had a steady increase of visitors this summer. Throughout August it was so- seemingly busier this year than usual, and we were fortunate in meeting some lovely customers who appreciated our dear Freshwater.
One chap who lived in Haslemere, visited both shops three times during his holiday, and on his last Tea and Victoria sponge, we chatted as he sat in his now favourite spot by the window, overlooking School Green.
He was quietly engaging in speech, and had previously told me he had been to the Island as a child, but not since.
I asked him what he had enjoyed, and he gave me some food for thought...
'The people here, they are ordinary.
They say hello.
They don't conform.
Where I live (Stock-broker belt- my words) everyone conforms to a social stratum and they all dress accordingly.
Here they don't.'
No, Em, they don't.
They never did.
I think that is the essence of what I love about Freshwater.
The ordinary.
How, ordinary we are, collectively visiting our plethora of charity shops and dressing ourselves and our houses from them.
How ordinary we are to raise money for local causes and volunteer and fight for them tooth and nail.
How ordinary to share plants, vegetables and fruit and recipes.
To respect, stand by and care for each other when in grief or distress.
This, dear Emily, as in days gone by in my favoured focus of the 1860's, is how it rolls in a gentle, quiet and ordinary community.
Which is quite Extraordinary.
In the 1860's, Julia Margaret Cameron lived here, visiting and caring for her friends and peers, and photographing them as she went.
Charles Darwin, wasn't the Darwin we now understand from History- here, he was a chap writing a book, an angst ridden Scientist, who was all out of sorts (he knew he was about to blow his Wife's religious beliefs out of the water regarding evolution, but all that showed was a man troubled and anxious.
Tennyson wasn't Alfred Lord Tennyson, he was a chap who had written a poem that had enabled him to buy the house he rented, who had mood-swings and fretted about cash flow.
Julia herself, had a husband who had fallen out of favour in getting a job (Government Post-wise) as he'd taken the flak for Macaulay. His Laudenam habit didn't do much for his earning potential either, and Julia quietly assumed a genteel 'Amateur' status, whilst being paid handsomely for her likenesses, and therefore providing for her large family.
Her aristocratic background was very different from her ordinary life in Freshwater, and she loved and embraced it.
A pioneer in historical terms for her ground-breaking photographic work.
So, is Freshwater.
A beautiful, quiet, rural, seaside community that honestly beats to its own drum.
Not possible to pigeon-hole in terms we can grasp.
It is my home.
'Is there no-one Commonplace here? ' said Anne Thackeray Ritchie in 1853...
Everyone, extraordinarily Em,
And that is what I love.
Hope School went well today dearest, and give your sisters a big kiss from me-
Your ever-loving Grandmother,
GiGi xxx

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Freshwater Follies. Chapter One; in which GiGi realises things arenot always what they seem.

Dearest Emily,
I've been busy making notes for your new little sister's book, and thought I'd post you snippets from time to time. So here we have the first draft of the beginning of Mrs Middleton's Tales from the Bookroom. All characters aren't entirely fictitious, but with what we are about to relate-nobody would ever think it could be real!

Nobody in Freshwater ever really retired. Maybe it was the fresh air, and the incredible land and sea-scape. Maybe it was something in the water. Maybe the fact that on full-moons, no police wanted to work that shift played a part...
Ninety-year old's yomped up the Down regularly, in front of GiGi's eyes as she traversed the barbed wire fence, tearing holes in whatever inappropriate garment she was wearing that day. Dog-walking did not mean a change of clothes, or a walk down the lane, and through a gate in order to go back up Julia's Field next to The Lane onto the Down, and past her house.
So, torn clothing became the norm, as did being overtaken by SR's. SR's were GiGi's dub for those she deemed the Super-Race. There were quite a number of these in Freshwater- comprising all ages from 65 (the Spring Chickens of the Super-Race) to over 100. These people spent their days Kayaking at the Bay, Yomping up the Down, Running Marathons, Running Cafe's, Lecturing, and Volunteering.
Freshwater, it had to be said, was a quite extraordinary place- almost it seemed entirely run by Volunteers. GiGi reflected that if the Government caught onto it- they'd simply throw away the public purse, and let everyone just get on with it- Freshwater style. If it was sink or swim, Freshwater was swimming and the SR's were in the lead, sporting white swim-caps and red bathing costumes for the women, and the men were out fishing with spears.
 It was then, GiGi reflected later, when she was living in The Lane, at the foot of the Down, with an incredible view down to the Bay, that it all began...
The big old Victorian house they had rented was at the top end of The Lane. GiGi loved it all year round, Summer days began when the sun rose ridiculously early- lighting up the house as though it had suddenly been illuminated by aliens, half-blinding everyone in their path. Sunsets comprised of reflected light bouncing off the Cliff's at the Bay, and full-moons gloriously danced across the water- a little further each month into summer- where they became quite simply spell-binding. Winter saw the tourists off, and the Down became a blustery, bleak and stormy place at the edge of the earth it seemed to GiGi- who would sometimes look out of the back window up towards the horizon that the Down depicted- and she'd see no-one, and nothing, and this became somehow, all and everything, and  comforting in its lonesomeness.
One particular May night though, wasn't quite so comforting. GiGi was sat reading, as a piercing scream could be heard. The dogs barked, GiGi froze and listened, wondering what on earth it was that she had heard.
An hour later, the Down las lit up by the searching light of a Helicopter.
It was raining, cold and windy, as she and Mr Middleton traversed the barbed wire fence to find out what was happening.
Mr Middleton decided to go down to the Bay, rope in hand, to see if he could help-returning forlornly, with the news that a Policeman (barely out of nappies) had turned him back.
That night, the playing out of a real-life drama (not a televised version) in front of their eyes, one in which they were powerless to help, had prompted Mr M to join the Lifeboat services.
GiGi had scoured Facebook for news- as it was unquestionably the best way to find things out locally (other than the locals Tom-Toms, which certainly during daylight hours, were a force to be reckoned with.)
A couple had been walking along the cliff edge, it was reported, and the Wife had fallen, and the Husband had fallen, trying to rescue her. One had been transported by air to Southampton Hospital.
The next day, GiGi tried to find out more about the incident.
She walked down the Lane to Orchards the 'corner shop' where for the last 150 years, local news was spoken rather than bought off the printed pages of a newspaper. Nothing to be heard there, as it seemed Linford the Bull had earlier that morning been seen coming out of Green Lane and over towards Orchards. This occurrence had topped the morning news and eclipsed any other items.
GiGi walked back glancing more often than usual around her, lest a stray bull appear through a hedge. As she approached home, Mrs Potsby could be seen, via some clippers trimming a hedge, a big bag of hedge trimmings in front, and her blonde hair, gloved hands and clippers behind. 
"Hello!" said a voice behind the hedge "Lovely morning!"
"Yes, indeed" said GiGi "compared to last night and all that..."
Mrs Potsby cut in " I know dear- the wind, how it howled, we couldn't get out of the front door. Luckily it's all calm and bright this morning- I've been putting off this job for ages." She dropped the clippers, and appeared around the side of the hedge, wiping stray leaves from her hair.
"Linford escaped again I hear, took three women and a farm-hand to get him back to the field this time."
The field, GiGi thought, made him no less a threat to the public, than the road. From March to October, he was plonked onto it along with a Super Race of old cows, who year after year, produced little Linfords, who too ambled and gambolled up the Down, along-side dog-walkers, families and SR's on a mission.
Mrs Potsby went on about hedge-trimming, the opening hours of the tip being sparse, and the difficulties of life fitting in with a working day.
As GiGi approached home, somehow all thoughts about hearing a scream had turned into a howling wind and Linford's escape. As she entered the kitchen, and put on the kettle, this seemed confirmed by the sight of the great beast, scratching his neck on the barbed wire fence a few feet from her window.
Over the next few days, the story had disappeared as though it was a part of GiGi and Mr M's imagination. Nothing too had been mentioned at the Lifeboat practice. Mr M had said it was probably because he was a newbie, and anyway the problem about the slipway was becoming an issue.
That was the first unexplained disappearance that GiGi remembered....

Hope you like it so far Em, there's quite a bit to come!

Your ever-loving Grandmother,

GiGi xxxx

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Easter down the Rabbit Hole

Dearest Emily,

Hurrah for the Easter holidays, for time off to spend with family and friends. Great to see you guys and catch up on hugs, giggles and fun.

We opened our second shop for this holiday too- with much reason for adorning cakes with Bunny rabbits, chickens and chocolate.

The religion of my life hasn't a lot to do with world nonsense. Easter to me, simply means the start of a season to come- a part of the year when everything around me wakes up, the days get longer and show promise of sunshine and smiles- of life affirming hope for joy laying ahead. Baby rabbits signify birth in Spring, eggs and chickens the same, and chocolate ones just signify fun.

And that's it I'm afraid to say Em, no Jesus on the Cross, no anti-Easter offence- no offence actually. As I wake each day, and hear dreadful reports of atrocities carried out in the name of religion- my heart bleeds along with compassionate souls. But, religion sucks for me. In the name of Lewis Carroll making some imaginative sense of his surroundings by nonsense- the reality of things sometimes is more nonsensical...

Back to the Rabbit Hole, where everything is normal. I have to say, after its first weekend of opening- that I thought a Bookroom pride of place for strange tales...
Nope- you should've been a fly on the wall at our opening party Emily!
To be squirrelled away, as treasure for your next little sister's book.

Which, if it were a children's story- it may well begin with what you said to Annabel, when you were siiting in my little car...

As I took this shot you were saying "Come on Annabel, let's drive off and get some sweets!"...

Adieu for now, my lovelies,
Your ever-loving Grandmother, 
GiGi xxx

Monday, 7 March 2016

Telling Tales from the Bookroom

Dearest Emily,

It's been a little while since we spoke last on here- and I've been mulling over what to write for your new sister who is due in July.

You of course- being the first Grandchild and the eldest, got my first foray in print (post-knitting book.)

Back then, my excitement at sleuthing dead people and discovering that Julia Margaret Cameron of Freshwater fame was the muse for Lewis Carroll's White Queen in Through the Looking Glass, held no bounds and to accompany curating an exhibition at our Decadent Dimbola, I penned and coloured in your little book- and little then did we know what was to follow!

Leaping forwrds to 2014, and you were to have a new sister then! So, time for a new book, so it seemed to me, as she would need a book dedicated to her too. GiGi and the Cat was the result- a pastiche on what was occuring at Dimbola (freakishly happening in real-time as I was writing it) in the style of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.

This time, I didn't do my 'colouring-in' of Tenniel's work, instead creating my own 'Grotesques'.

Having no exhibition to curate this time- my manuscript languishes until I set my self ready to pastiche myself and my colleagues in print, (Annabel's birthday this year, Em.)

Now, here we are with the news that number 3 Grand-Girlie is cooking- so I had better get my thoughts together as to what to deicate to this new little treasure...

Well, as I have been writing your blog 'Tales from the Bookroom' since you were teeny-tiny, and we've journeyed together from The Bookroom in Yarmouth, to Decadent Dimbola, then Mrs Middleton's Shop in Freshwater- and we're about to go down The Rabbit Hole at my new shop-  we really have covered a lot of nonsense together, and I think it is high Carollian-time to spill the beans about Freshwater and the Wild West Wight. Seeing as how GiGi and Grumpa have elevated ourselves from D.F.L's (Down from London's) to fully-fledged Immigrants over the last 5 years- and life has taken on an altogether altered state, here on a little Island that's a few hours from ye olde metropolis- yet a million miles away from normality.

I remember Emily, when we first moved here, and Uncle Joe was all set to start his first term at school- aged 13, having been brought up in the centre of a city, and bringing the street-wise, yet sensitive teenager out to the proverbial sticks. All was going well, and I found myself taking up the offer from Mr Edmonson to work in the local Bookshop- where I had always half-joked that I would give up chasing Fashion-dragons for and thoroughly enjoy.

I did enjoy it- and there I began to write your blog, marvelling each day at the things I learned, heard and saw- and so it has been ever since.

One Wednesday, when I was doing my 'other job' which entailed dragging items of old clothing stock out of crammed cupboards, ironing it and photographing it on a dummy and whacking it up on ebay (a financially rewarding yet thoroughly tedious way of earning a living) I wandered out for a stroll. The moble library was visiting in the car park- so I hopped in and browsed, picking up a few choices.

That evening I sat down to read one-

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C Beaton.

Having been an avid Agatha Christie re-reader since I was thirteen, this spoof-sleuth, and her radical journey from P.R in central London to hapleess Cotswold Villager- pugnacious, and bending, but never yielding to village-life, took my fancy.

Agatha was authentically difficult, everything she touched turned into an adventurous nightmare. The blackly comic story of her efforts to embrace her new life, where she was neither able, nor willing to make her own quiche for the local competition- buying one instead from a chelsea deli- and entering that instead- amused me.

Her winning- yet poisoning the judge- and then sleuthing haphazardly to find out how he really died, bludgeoning her way around half-blindfolded through a quiet Cotswold village where everyone called each other by their surnames- delighted me. My fresh-aired evenings were Agatha filled as I also fifty- something, carved out my own new life out of the thick of it in London.

Grumpa was working away, and one day, I rang him and spoke about the book- having met the real-life 'Vicar's Wife' in the story a Mrs Bloxby- though my one was no longer a Vicar's Wife by profession- the way she gracefully glided about her 'parish' range bells of similarity. I decared to Grumpa that I was now living in this book and promptly changed my name to my married one- having previously used my single surname. This became my nom de plume for your book- but it stuck!

Since then, I have read, and re-read all the Agatha Raisin novels- and it is with these in mind- tongue firmly in chic, that- Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you-

Mrs Middleton's Tales from the Bookroom
number one...
where fact and fiction dwell as conspirators-
Freshwater Follies
Nobody in Freshwater really retired. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was the incredible landscape. Maybe the fact that on full-moons no policemen wanted to work that shift...
Ninety- year olds yomped up the down, past my eyes as I clambered over the barbed wire fence to walk my dogs, tearing any item of clothing that traversed it daily...
Enough already Em, I shall carry on with my first chapter and let you read it once I'm done. LOOKING FORWARDS TO SEEING YOU AND ANNABEL AT EASTER!
Your ever-loving Grand-mother,
GiGi xxxx

Saturday, 6 February 2016

A Little Tour in Middleton

Dearest Emily,

I do love looking around people's houses- seeing how they live, what they choose for decoration. Shops too- how they are styled, the care taken with the displays.

I had a feast for my eyes today- when I went to see some lovely interiors in Middleton...

First of all- The Library...

A lovely warm and cosy sitting room, in reds and greens...

A pretty hallway,


 and last but not least- this lovely Haberdashery;

actually- let's have one more- the Apothecary;

Did you know that Middleton had a Haberdashers and an Apothecary Em?

Well, there's a whole street I didn't know anything about. It has several houses, an Apothecary, Haberdashers, Booksellers and a Flower shop.

It's true that no-one goes there much, just those that know about it.

And there are very few of those.

To get there, you go to Middleton- to a little road between two others, near to Weston Manor. Then, you drive down the lane almost to the end of it.

Now you must go- on foot. Only a few paces, through a gate, and knock on a door.

If you are very lucky you will be invited in, taken through the hallway, kitchen, conservatory and back garden.

Then, you go up some steps, through a door into another dwelling-and there Em is the street!

No, I'm not making it up- it's all true...

There on a workbench is the Street.

all in miniature and made by Patricia!

It is quite incredible Emily! Next time you are down- Patricia might let you see it. I showed my pictures to our Chairman, and he'd very much like Patricia to do an exhibition once it is all finished.I hope she does.
Look what she made for me too;

Amazing work, eh?

Lots of love to you and Annabel,

Your ever-loving grandmother, GiGi XXX