Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Perils of the Medieval Age

Perils of the Medieval Age

When I was little I loved my pediatrician.  Dr. Sandy Matthews was a white haired fellow with penchant for speaking his mind.  The bonus of this character trait was that he would occasionally rate my opinions higher than those of my Mother.  This was a rare event, and from my vantage point on the examining table it was an event I thoroughly enjoyed observing.  “She is too young to shave her legs”, my Mother would state with conviction.  “Oh, don’t be silly.  No she’s not.”, came the astonishing professional reply.  Needless to say, I loved Dr. Matthews and rather hated eventually growing too old to visit him. 

My dentist, on the other hand, was not my favourite.  His office was in a rambling old house on Peachtree Street with cavernous rooms, dark wooden floors and ceilings as high as church and he possessed the rather unfortunate name of Dr. Funkhouser.  This moniker sounded entirely too much like a mad scientist to me particularly when combined with his small squinty stature, his crisp white coat and his tray of lethal-looking dental instruments.  Who can possibly look upon those needle-sharp tools and not be unnerved?

I would approach each appointment with Dr. Funkhouser with as much trepidation as a child can muster, certain that this visit would be the visit he would find the dreaded cavity and therefore have the opportunity to use those brier-sharp weapons on me.  I would sit in that strangely tilted chair with my little head held back, mouth open, eyes shut tight, with that bright interrogation light shining hot in my face and I would wait for the inevitable.  But no luck for Dr. Funkhouser; he never found a cavity in my mouth.  After the perilous experience was over he would instruct me to go to a large drawer in his desk and take a treat.  Inside that drawer were lollypops and suckers, jawbreakers and gum - a smorgasbord of sugar that told me just how badly he hoped to find a cavity next time out.  So I would avoid the candy entirely and choose a tiny puzzle instead.  Then I would throw him a knowing look of triumph and leave as fast as I could.  Terrified of that tray of dental instruments, so shiny and so sharp, I brushed and flossed religiously all through my cavity-free childhood.

Dentists will no doubt refute this assessment of their profession, but for someone as phobic about dentistry as myself, the whole thing does not seem to have progressed too far past the medieval age.   As far as I’m concerned there might as well still be pigs on straw in the waiting rooms.  Those instruments of torture are still on display, as polished and keenly honed as ever.  And I am still, frankly, terrified.  So when a diabolically dense peppercorn found the one weak spot in one of my upper back molars and cracked it decisively in two, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.  What I did not expect was to hear that the tooth was beyond hope, would, in fact, need to be pulled and I would have to have an implant installed.  I received this disturbing news after I had been given novocaine which, as you may know, involves injections in my mouth.  Needles.  In My Mouth. See what I mean?  Medieval. 
The removal of my tooth was a horrid experience, one I was not sufficiently prepared for, and one I shall not soon forget.  No, I did not feel pain as I was numb up past my eyeballs.  Instead I felt as though my head were collapsing in on itself, turning me inside out like a sock.  I left my dentist’s office that day determined never to darken his door again.  I would not get an implant.  No.  I would simply be minus one tooth.  That wasn’t so awfully bad, was it?  Who knows, I thought, maybe I can learn to squirt water out the side of my mouth like a clown and thus have a hilarious, albeit unexpected, party trick with which to entertain my friends and relations.  

Of course cooler heads (namely The Songwriter’s) prevailed and last week saw the black letter day roll round.  (The procedure was to involve, I was informed, even though I tried not to be, the placement of a steel post into my bone.  Immediately, a mental picture of medieval torture flashed into my head and I asked not to be told anything further.)    It was also the day when it was confirmed that one anxiety pill makes me relaxed but two knocks me clear into next week.  The dentist recommended this dosage and he probably knew what he was doing because the two hour ordeal seemed like fifteen minutes to me. Upon returning home, I fell into bed and slept till morning at which time I was told by The Songwriter that Edward had pushed him right out of bed during the night in his utter insistence on keeping watch over me.  The big white dog slept all night with his head on my tummy.  Edward, who once broke his own back molar and had to have it removed, knows about dentistry.

I do regret the loss of my newly acquired party trick.
I suppose it’s back to interpretive dance. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Werewolves and Candy Bars

Werewolves and Candy Bars

My parents told me not to be afraid of thunder.  They told me it was merely the sound of the angels moving their furniture around.  So I lay in bed on stormy nights imagining the houses of the holy being redecorated.  Angels with their halos slightly askew as they shoved painted wardrobes into corners and four-posters nearer to diamond-paned windows to take better advantage of the heavenly views.  The thunder would roll and I would see a large red ottoman being dragged across a golden floor.  My head still fills with damask and toile in every storm that blows.

They told me Santa would not stop at my house if I stayed awake.  So I lay in bed with my eyes scrunched up tight in concentrated effort, certain I would never fall asleep.  But of course, I did and, of course, he stopped.  I still feel the need to go to bed early on Christmas Eve.

The tooth fairy flew into my window every night I lost a tooth, slipping her dainty green arm beneath my pillow as I slept to leave me a shiny new quarter.   The Easter bunny, white as snow with out-sized ears, hopped unseen down my street every night before Easter.  I know because he left a basket on our dining room table for me and me alone.  

Magic was a part of my life and I never questioned its reality.  No one ever told me my life was populated with creatures who, in fact, did not exist;  I was supposed to figure that out for myself and indeed, that is what happened to most of my friends.  But I was, I suppose, an anomaly, for those doors in my soul through which I wandered and discovered the unseen to be as true as the seen, never closed.  They remain open even now, years later.  I know it is possible, if you know what to look for, to actually marry a prince.  Animals can speak volumes if you remember how to listen and you are never alone in an empty room.  I know there are extravagant worlds just beyond the realm of my own understanding and after years of practice I know how to spin straw into gold.

On the eve of my first ever journey to the Scottish Hebrides, my father took me aside and with a slight mischievous grin told me to keep an eye out for werewolves and to always have a candy bar in my pocket.  We laughed and hugged but as I walked away I noticed something half-serious in the glint of his eye.   
Things things are inherited, you know. 

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you 
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. 
Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.” 
Roald Dahl

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A List For Summer

A List for Summer

Where I live, the months of Spring are enchanted.  After the bleak greys of February, March bursts on the scene with more green than the liveliest imagination could conjure.  And it seems to happen so suddenly - one night we close the door on a black and white world and awaken the next morning to all the magic of Spring, much like Dorothy opening the door of her fallen farmhouse to Oz.  

In these iridescent months I am to be found in the garden, or the nursery, or driving between the two.  I’m planting window boxes, moving old plants around, gently welcoming new ones.  I hurry outside in the morning to water.  I wander around in the evening and admire.  I consider myself a gardener.  But then comes the middle of June.

Where I live, the months of Summer are trying.  Heat seems to fall down from the skies and rise up from the earth in equal measure.  The air is irriguous; you feel as if you could gather a chunk of it up in your hands, form it into a ball and throw it against a pine tree where it would burst open in rainbows of water.   When the white sun finally sinks into the ground it leaves behind a night so heat-exhausted it barely moves.  We fall asleep to the macabre music of the cicadas, thankful for air-conditioning and iced tea.

In these sweltering months, I pray for rain to water my garden, or sweetly ask The Songwriter to do so.  (Don’t you love that photograph of Eudora Welty attempting to water her Jackson, Mississippi garden in summer?  Believe me, there’s no place hotter than Mississippi.) I sit by the window and nibble strawberries.  I read fat books and watch old movies set in cold climates.  I plan autumnal journeys.  Occasionally, I peek out at my garden to make sure it isn’t bleaching in the heat.  A gardener?  Ummm, hardly.

We are smack in the middle of summer at present, and the weather is behaving accordingly.  Edward’s walks are late in the day, and shorter.  Some mornings he flatly refuses to go outside and no amount of coaxing will persuade him.  But the days are not void of their pleasures.  There’s cold watermelon, for instance.  And espadrilles.  Straw hats with wide brims.  Flowers, so many flowers.  Honeydew melons and peaches. Fresh corn.  Good music.  A whole batch of new programs on Masterpiece Theatre.  Late afternoon naps on cool linen sheets.  Life is good here in summer.

Here’s a summer list of good things!
I hope you enjoy it.

1. Wolf Hall Soundtrack
I have this CD on constant play this summer.
So atmospheric, it sounds like cool stone castle walls.
Find it HERE

2. Seasalt Jute Bags
I have several of these kinds of bags.
For flowers and groceries, yarn and books.
These are especially charming, don’t you think?
Find them HERE

3. George and Charlotte
I cannot help it.
I adore these two.

4. Mario Badescu Facial Spray
The best thing for my skin in the summer.
Rosewater, Herbs and Aloe. 
So refreshing.
Find it HERE

5. Arcadia Britannica
Well, this made me grin.
It also made me want to don a green gown, place an extravagant crown on my head 
and go dance around in the forest, but that’s another story.
Find it HERE

6. Summer Pajamas
White cotton pajamas are simply a must for summer.
These are the ones I bought this year.
Love, love them.
Find them HERE

  7. Morris Wallpaper
William Morris is a favourite of mine and I am so in love with this new wallpaper.
I keep wandering through my house trying to find a place for it.
Find it HERE

8. Little Pitchers
Being lucky enough to have neighbours who keep miniature goats, 
I fell hard for these whimsical little pitchers.
Milk for tea or cream for strawberries.
Maple syrup for pancakes on Saturday morning.
Raspberry coulis for homemade ice cream.
These are perfect.
Find them HERE

9. Instagram
I am having so much fun on Instagram.  
So many inspiring people to follow.
Check out Ros Byam Shaw.
And do come visit Edward and me!  You’ll find oodles of photos of our travels, our garden, our cottage and the ever illustrious, ever mysterious, Apple.  She detests having her photograph taken, but I catch her out occasionally.  Like this photo above, when she was entirely focused on chipmunk watch.
Don't you love her extravagant ears?   
Find us all on Instagram HERE

10. Holidays
If you haven’t already booked your summer holiday, 
may I suggest this one?
Yes, that's the sea outside your door.
Find it HERE

And finally, 
This has been a momentous month here in the States.
Issues have been decided and for as many of us happy about things, there are those who are decidedly not.  As I write this, South Carolina is debating whether or not to remove the Confederate flag from its State House, the arguments rising and falling with the emotions.
I read these words recently and think them most apropos for our country this summer.
They were written on the wall in Mother Teresa’s Home for Children in Calcutta.
It pays, I think, to hold them close. 

"People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.  In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."


Sunday, July 5, 2015


“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

Erma Bombeck

And from my Father’s favourite tv show….


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

No matter what movie she saw, my Mother generally expressed the same frustrating, yet humorous, review.  If the guy got the girl, she liked it.  If he did not, then she did not.  This cinematic peccadillo of hers was rigid and it applied to any and every movie she saw, including those in which it was difficult to conceive of any characters paired up in a satisfactory way. ( I’m thinking of E.T. and Driving Miss Daisy here.)  I blamed this rather skewed way of viewing film on Gone With the Wind.  That moment when Rhett finally walks out on Scarlett has greatly affected Southern women for ages.  The film ends with Scarlett determined to “get him back” and no Southern woman ever doubted that she would.

To be honest, I’ve never revered the fabled Gone With the Wind as much as other born and bred Southerners.  The movie never made me nostalgic.  I could never manage to work up a wistfulness for what the opening credits declared to be “this pretty world” where “gallantry took its last bow”.  Instead of seeing Scarlett as resourceful and tenacious, I always found her manipulative and mean.  Melanie’s legendary “goodness” was too saccharine for my taste and, to the bewilderment of some of my girlfriends, I never could fathom the knee-buckling attractiveness of Rhett Butler. But more importantly, no matter how many red petticoats Cap’n Butler gave Mammy, I always saw her for what she was.  A slave.  

On the sunniest day the shadow of slavery still colours the South.   We have come so very far out into the light but that shadow still lurks.  It can still lie between the lines of a politician’s speech.  It can still crouch behind the eyes of a darkly closed mind.     This polluted shadow of our region’s past shows up all the darker when it is thrust into the light of the world as it was last week in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the horrific glare that bore down on that murderous scene we can easily see racism for what it is:  pure evil. And as the inevitable selfie images of the murderer surfaced, the eyes of the world saw the symmetry of symbols:  the same flag he celebrated was flying over the capitols of many Southern states, including South Carolina itself.

There are some white southerners who will tell you that the confederate flag is a symbol of loyalty and honour that speaks to the attributes of our heritage.  Some will tell you that our nation’s only civil war was fought solely to preserve state’s rights.  I have always found  both assertions to be delusional at best, disingenuous at worst.   While a lot of us have forefathers who indeed fought, and died, in that hideous war, I have never found it disloyal to say that they fought on the wrong side and that, thankfully, they lost.  I have also never found it difficult to imagine what my black brothers and sisters must feel when they see that flag flying today.

It is just as impossible to defend the South’s moral history as it is a mistake to let that history define it.  The South is full of graciousness and kindness.  It teems with a beauty and a mystery impossible to duplicate anywhere else on the planet.  But the Confederacy was not the lovely “Old South” of Gone With the Wind.  It was a ugly place of well-documented cruelty and horror.  We should not venerate its symbols.  Take that flag down.