Signs of Summer by the Sea

Tree by the sea in full spring bloom

Tree by the sea in full spring bloom

Our tree by the sea is in full bloom. The sun is rising at 5:15am and setting at 8:25pm. Seagulls are squawking at dawn and we are looking forward to summer in Felixstowe.

Before then, we have a few more trips to make – places to go, loved ones to see and events to celebrate. But summer is in the air, and the longer days and warmer nights have their effect in luring one’s mind to the months beyond.

In anticipation, a 1907 British music hall song by John A. Glover-Kind:

  Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
  I do like to be beside the sea!
  I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom!
  Where the brass bands play:

Cheers to the summer by the seaside, wherever it may be.

Thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth II

AA 2016 Queen bday

Today has been a day of celebration, gratitude and respect in the UK, and much of the world, for this amazing woman who is now 90 years old. She is the longest-serving monarch in British history.

Local celebrations included seaside picnics and lighting of several beacons throughout Suffolk.

Happy birthday and cheers to you, Your Majesty. Hope you’re having a wonderful dinner with your family and wishing you many happy and healthy times ahead.
AA 2016 Queen kids

Clive and I are gradually getting over our Aussie jet lag, reconnecting with Felixstowe friends and working our way through the coming-home checklist.

Thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Pacing, Presidential primaries and Paris planning

Winter afternoon, Felixstowe

Winter afternoon, Felixstowe

We continue to work on pacing ourselves, during each day and with respect to our 2016 travels.

I’m happy to say that although Clive is still hobbling a little, his footsteps aren’t quite so faltering this week. His ankle is gradually improving, thanks to ibuprofen gel, ice (a bag of frozen corn, to be accurate) elevation and rest – particularly having a break from all those snow-covered footpaths and parking lots and long walks through train stations and airports.

It’s been great catching up with friends (happy birthday, Ferd!) and activities (love those Orwell writers). And though we’re not planning any long walks yet, we’re looking forward to a Sunday outing for Valentine’s Day.

US Elections

I’ve also been gazing back across the Pond, especially since we spent two weeks in the U.S. in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and this week read and watched reports from the New Hampshire primary.

Along with our friends and acquaintances here, we watch the process and players with a mix of astonishment, amusement, horror, disbelief, fascination and interest. Fortunately on UK news it’s but one story among many other world events. It helps me that in almost every news report, whether print, online or on TV, seasoned reporters and so-called experts all seem to agree this year’s activities are truly unprecedented and unpredictable.

Planning for Paris

My plan beginning mid-next week is to be writing in Paris. The first week will be a private writing retreat, followed by Clive’s arrival and some ‘just us’ time.

We’re also excited about a weekend with two very special young people whose identity will remain a surprise until final plans are confirmed. (It’s not any of our children and unfortunately a third very special person is too far away to join them this time). T&T, know that C&C are so looking forward to sharing some of ‘our’ Paris with you.

Winter evening at Place de la Concorde, Paris

Winter evening at Place de la Concorde, Paris

Wishing everyone a good week ahead with just-right pacing and not too many election shenanigans.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

February Focus: Felixstowe and Faltering Footsteps … and Paris

February evening in Felixstowe

February evening in Felixstowe

This year, the month of February falls between visits to our families in the USA (January) and Australia (March/April).

Felixstowe: Coming Home

February in Felixstowe

February in Felixstowe

We’ve been home in Felixstowe for less than three days, so still getting over jet lag and progressing through the coming-home checklist.

Our 2016 goal of pacing ourselves has become more important than ever, since Clive stoically has been hobbling around with a sprained ankle for several weeks.

Faltering Footsteps

The first sprain occurred last December. It seemed to heal, but after a long walk in early January, there was a relapse. Given the amount of walking one does when travelling, we debated whether Clive should make the trip to the U.S. He insisted he would be okay and he was indeed able to get around, albeit limping more often than not.

We spent a total of 14 nights away (including one in-flight), an intense trip in many ways but I’m thankful for the time with my son and belle-fille in Washington DC and my mother and family, including my son’s wonderful in-laws, in New Jersey.

Now that we’re home, Clive has seen the doctor and received treatment advice, including instructions to rest his ankle as much as possible.

Paris in Mind

In a couple weeks, I’ll be heading to Paris, for a private writing retreat during which time I plan to finish a challenging chapter of my Paris-based memoir. A week after that, Clive will join me and we’ll have a few ‘just us’ days there. I’m looking forward to the time in Paris the way I imagine a desert explorer looks forward to a long drink of water.

Then it will be time to prepare for Australia.


March/April Down Under

Although departure isn’t until mid-March, we’ll be away for 31 nights (including three in-flight) and Clive has been busy organising many different dates, accommodations and travel arrangements to see his daughter and son and family. More on this trip when the time gets closer.

Focus on February

For now, I’m just trying to keep focus on February, to remain present and mindful as we catch up with appointments, friends and activities and enjoy Felixstowe’s special setting by the sea.

And I hope and pray Clive’s ankle will heal without further pain or intervention, so he can fully enjoy our upcoming travels.

Our tree by the sea the day we arrived home

Our tree by the sea the day we arrived home

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Room for Writers at the Orwell Hotel, Felixstowe

Room for writers at the Orwell Hotel

Room for writers at the Orwell Hotel

Felixstowe is blessed with two writing groups, both of which I enjoy immensely. Both are friendly and welcoming, so if anyone nearby has the urge to write, feel free to come along to a meeting any time.

Today marked 2016’s first gathering of the Orwell Writers League, named after the hotel in which we meet. I arrived early, in case any members of the group preferred not to be photographed.

The Building

2 AA Orwell 1

Orwell Hotel on a cloudy afternoon, Felixstowe

This grand Victorian structure opened in 1898. It sits on a busy roundabout at the top of Felixstowe’s main shopping street, across from Great Eastern Square, the town’s original railway station (now small shops) and near today’s station.

Inside, you’re greeted with dark panelling, gold wallpaper, burgundy patterned carpets and soft lighting from chandeliers, sconces and lamps.

3 AA bar 1 coffee

Bar at the Orwell Hotel

The first thing we Orwell Writers do, on our way in, is order a coffee or tea at the bar. Just before the meeting begins, one or two staff members kindly deliver them all together.

Clive, my son and I have shared an English afternoon tea in the hotel lounge and attended Felixstowe Book Festival author talks in His Lordship’s Library and the Elizabeth Suite. We enjoyed a friend’s farewell dinner in the Buttery and danced the night away at a wedding reception in the ballroom. We haven’t had a drink in the bar lounge but it always looks inviting to me.

Bar lounge at Orwell Hotel (several customers not in photo)

Bar lounge at Orwell Hotel (several customers not in photo)

The room for the Orwell Writers, the Furneaux Suite, is on the first floor (U.S. second floor). There’s a lift, but most of us take the stairs. They only creak a little as you go up, adding to the ambiance.

Stairs at Orwell Hotel

Stairs at Orwell Hotel

Room for writers

‘Our’ room, pictured at the top of this post, has pink and cream striped walls, a very long and very well-polished table, burgundy armchairs and drapes, portraits nestled in arches and a deep pink ceiling.

After several decades in a large corporation, I feel at home around a conference table.

I love the character of the room and the characters in the room. We usually number 8-10 on a given day. Though we differ wildly as individuals, when we’re in this room we’re all writers. We share current projects, do specific exercises to develop our skills and, when requested, provide peer-to-peer feedback.

Perhaps in a future post I’ll write about the other local group, the long-running Felixstowe Scribblers. This evening group meets at the Library, by definition a wonderful writers’ venue. The room is plain, with fluorescent lighting, formica tables in a ‘U’ shape and orange plastic, stackable chairs. Though the setting is so different, the writerly camaraderie and support is the same.

Sometimes a room surprisingly takes your fancy. I’ve spent a lot of time in libraries, but not too much in Victorian rooms. This probably explains why I have such a soft spot for the Orwell Writers’ room.

Other end of the  conference table & room, Orwell Hotel

Other end of the conference table & room, Orwell Hotel

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Washington, DC.

The Amusing, Perplexing and Oh-So-English Pantomime

Felixstowe Spa Pavilion, 2015 pantomime

Felixstowe Spa Pavilion, 2015 pantomime

The beloved Christmas pantomime – aka panto – can be described as a comic play, often based on a fairy tale, designed to entertain the whole family.

This sounds rather pleasant and benign, but when Clive first told me about pantos, he went on to say they included such aspects as:

– the lead is often a very buxom female, played by a man

– the male lead, often a young boy,  is played by a woman

– the show is for the kids; the script for the adults; everything is riddled with wordplay and often-sexual innuendoes

– there’s often dancing and a lot of slapstick comedy

– there’s a lot of audience participation and interaction: ‘Oh no, he’s not!’ ‘Oh yes, he is!’ ‘Look out! He’s behind you!’

– during the performance, the actors throw sweets and/or water on the audience

– many well-known actors and actresses have performed in Christmas pantomimes; they say they love them because they’re so much fun

Having never heard of this 16th-century tradition, I thought pantos sounded amusing, perplexing, and quite English, especially related to wordplay and innuendoes and the ability to enjoy simple silliness and humour.

My first panto

Four years ago, during our first Christmas season in the UK, Clive took my son and me to a panto – our first – at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion. There we saw ‘Aladdin’ along with hundreds of euphoric children and their parents.

Clive had prepared us well for the event. My memories include:

– the lead man dressed up as an absurdly-buxom woman, breasts flopping and heaving throughout the performance

– many mistaken identities

– much slapstick, with broomsticks, buckets and the like

– great amounts of water squirted and sprayed and thrown on the audience – buckets of it, in fact, aimed at the first few rows, causing children to scream with delight

– children – and their parents, I must add – loudly booing the villain when he appeared on stage and shouting out, ‘He’s behind you!’

– and of course, when the lead replied, ‘Oh no he’s not’ everyone shrieking back as one, ‘Oh yes he is!’

And on. And on. And on. At the end my son said, rather firmly,  ‘That was a once in a lifetime experience.’

A French poet’s view of the panto

Charles Baudelaire, the great Romantic poet, wrote about a pantomime he saw in 1842. The italics are mine.

‘I shall long remember the first English pantomime that I ever saw … at the Théatre des Variétés. Few Frenchmen appeared to relish this type of entertainment … the more indulgent among the audience said the performers were vulgar and second-rate. But that was not the point. The important thing about the performers is that they were English.

‘ … the special talent of those English actors for hyperbole gave a curiously gripping reality to this monstrous display of the farcical … it was all gone through without the faintest indication of ill-humour. They leaped and ran through the whole of the fantastic performance.’

from ‘On the Essence of Laughter’ (translation by Peter Quennell)

So what is one to make of this renowned Christmas tradition?

One side of me says (only to myself, at least until I publish this post): It’s so juvenile and crude, really – all the cross-dressing and bawdy jokes and how many references to ‘passing wind’ are we supposed to find funny? Men prancing around as women just don’t do it for me. The joke quickly gets tiresome, and who wants to see ‘stars’ (eg ‘the Hoff’, Lord help us all, or Priscilla Presley, who has returned multiple times) well past their use-by date dressing up as the opposite sex? Really? And please don’t make me sit near the front.

My other side admonishes: Don’t be such a grouch! It’s English humour, it’s entertaining and it’s all good fun. It’s the Christmas spirit! So what if the jokes are lame? It’s harmless and everyone enjoys it. Don’t be so critical! You know you smiled and even laughed at ‘Aladdin’ and when the lead-male-buxom-woman said the villain was not behind him, you called out with best of them, ‘Oh yes he is!’

Dick Whittington (and his cat)

We’ve opted for ‘it’s all good fun’ – at least once every four years – and, motivated by a friend in the cast of Felixstowe Musical Theatre, performing in the lovely nearby town of Woodbridge, booked tickets for the last weekend of November to ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’.

According to the BBC, Richard Whittington was Lord Mayor of London from 1398-1419, known for his stellar moral character. After 1600, popular fictional stories about him appeared, in which the lead character, unlike the real one, was a poor man with an expert-mouser cat who helped him earn his fortune in London.

Apparently the panto cast includes, among others: Franky Banky, Zappo the Wonder Horse (Top Half), Zappo the Wonder Horse (bottom half), Rats 1-30, Snow White, and Sylvania Fulbright (the dame).

In due course I shall report back, because one way or another it’s bound to be an experience.

Felixstowe Musical Theatre, 2015 pantomime

Felixstowe Musical Theatre, 2015 pantomime

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe, looking ahead to Paris in December.

Clive’s Birthday: A Few Remarks about My Husband

The birthday guy

The birthday guy

I nicknamed Clive ‘Mr Original’ in the early days of our relationship.

My husband is truly a unique individual: a guru of pop music – and BBC Radio 2 Popmaster, I might add – a DIY expert, a computer wizard, a savvy traveller, a generous and supportive father and grandfather, and the best friend I could ever ask for.

Summer afternoon in Paris

Summer afternoon in Paris

Most of all, Clive is a sensitive, caring individual. When we met in Sydney, Australia, he told me he was originally from a place in England called Felixstowe. His life story hasn’t always been a happy one; like many people in the world, he has experienced his share of life-changing losses and challenges.

But, unlike many people in the world, Clive always focused on the positive. He got up every day and made the most of his situation and opportunities. And he still does that, every day – just gets on with life and all it has to offer. He has incredible strength of spirit and the most amazing positive attitude of anyone I’ve ever known.

Clive and his grandchildren on the beach in Felixstowe

Clive and his grandchildren on the beach in Felixstowe

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would one day live and write blog posts from the British coastal town where Clive grew up.

Several of Clive’s lifelong friends joined us for his birthday celebration earlier this week. Ray – growing up as cousins in the extended family and time spent playing at the Clarendon Hotel; Maddy, whose priceless friendship and aerogrammes to Australia helped sustain Clive in the teenage years following his mother and stepfather’s relocation Down Under; David, a friendship formed in the church youth fellowship – not to forget these two winning trophies as part of their team coming first in the popular Felixstowe Bible Quiz.

Felixstowe Bible Quiz winning team: Clive second from right, David far right

Felixstowe Bible Quiz winning team: Clive second from right, David far right

[Digression: for those unfamiliar with this precious piece of history, The Children’s Newspaper of 28 February 1959 reported,

Every week Sunday-school classes at Felixstowe (Suffolk) prepare for the Annual Bible Quiz. This event attracts over 1000 people to watch teams from all over the town competing for the coveted St. George’s Challenge Cup. Now the idea has spread via the columns of a local newspaper, sent out by a reader to a relative in Canada, and children of Orillia, Ontario, are following their example.’

You can read more about this quiz team and another of life’s full-circle moments in A Sydney-Felixstowe-Darien Circle.]

In more recent years, friends old and new have included us in their own special events and days of celebration. This week we were so happy fifteen of them could help Clive celebrate his birthday. No matter where you call home, friends and family make all the difference.

Happy birthday to my wonderful Mr Original and many more.

Travels together - at Seven Mile Beach, south of Sydney, Australia

Travels together – at Seven Mile Beach, south of Sydney, Australia

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.