Paused for thought

Paused for thought

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Postcards from Anglesey - Penmon Beach

I have always loved visiting family. They are a massive part of who I am and are hugely important to me. I have always felt this and, as a child, I especially enjoyed trips to see my grandparents. Both sets of grandparents were wonderful and I have so many happy memories with them. What reminds me of them as I write this ‘postcard’ is that my paternal grandparents lived near a beach that was a mix of sand and pebbles. I spent many a happy hour whiling away the time, my grandparents observing from their beach hut, or sometimes joining in with swimming in the sea or building a sandcastle or two. On one occasion I’m certain what we built was more of a fortress!

When in Anglesey we decided to take our children to the seaside. I had packed a bucket and spade before we set off and envisaged hours frolicking on the sand chasing the waves whether inwards or outwards bound. What we found though was Penmon Beach. A lovely pebble beach with several rockpools filled with tiny red swimming things that frankly I couldn’t begin to identify, save for being certain that they weren’t midge larvae.

Some people may be disappointed to come across a pebble beach if their imagination had been filled with sand castles, but for me there sprang that lovely warm familiar feeling you get when a happy memory is invoked. Yes, it’s harder to walk on, buckets were used to collect pebbles not sand and there was no frolicking to speak of, but the memories could still be made and I would definitely recommend it as a beach to visit with children.

To get to the beach you are requested to pay a small fee to pass on the toll road but I considered it worth it. There is a lovely and once again very friendly café which also sold gifts and, much to the delight of our sons, postcards, a cheap collectible that we are happy to indulge. There is also a lighthouse there which added interest and lovely views across to Puffin Island and beyond, to the mainland. A wonderful little find and one which will remain stowed fondly in my memory for years to come.

So concludes my postcards from Anglesey from this trip. I hope that you have enjoyed them and that they may give you some idea of the wonders that await you if you chose to venture to this lovely island.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Postcards from Anglesey - Llynnon Mill

Venturing out of Beaumaris we found a few little gems leaving others to be discovered for another visit.

One of our visits was to Llynnon Mill. We visited the mill on a beautiful sunny day. One of those days when there was barely a cloud in the sky and we felt like we had ventured to Brittany not Wales. Having got over various stomach upsets our boys were in fine spirits and keen to explore.

Built in 1775 Llynnon Mill is the only working windmill in Wales, and it produces wholemeal flour. Unfortunately the downside of the beautiful weather was that it wasn’t windy enough on the day we visited to see it working. The staff were wonderful though, showing our boys how to make flour from wheat and letting them have a go with rotating a smaller mill stone to the one turned by the mill. We were shown how to collect the flour from a shoot between the first and ground floors too with both boys being rewarded with handfuls of flour when the shoot was opened. They also talked them through the process of sowing the seeds with one generous member of staff pretending to be a horse whilst the older two of our boys took it in turns to ‘sow’ seed on the grass outside the mill with an old seed drill.

A very short walk down a grassy path led us to the two roundhouses on site, set up to demonstrate living quarters for farmers over 3000 years ago. We were particularly surprised that a standard sized double bed would have been shared by seven family members! The roundhouses were big and airy inside and felt cool on an otherwise warm day, although no doubt the pleasant temperature would take on a chillier edge during the winter months despite room for fires within to allow for some heat. On a side note to this, and a point that I had not thought of although it seems obvious now, roundhouses with their thatched roofs did not have a central hole to allow for the release of smoke from the fire as this could cause an updraft that would set fire to the roof. Instead smoke would accumulate inside and harmlessly seep through the thatch. I really do feel like I learn something new everyday!

Back to our visit though, and after we had seen the roundhouses we took a very short stroll on from the mill to where the remains of a bakery stood, with a large brick oven which used to bake 80 – 90 2lb loaves at a time. We took it in turns pretending to load the oven and I was immediately grateful for our much smaller electric version at home! We finished off our exploration on a small grassy area next to the bakery. It was perfect for family photos and our picnic.

In the present and reflecting back on that day the mill was superb. A really lovely family day out. We happily spent 4 hours there relaxing together and sampling the local ice cream served in their café. A little wonder, filled again with the friendly, happy reception that had been forthcoming in Beaumaris, helping our journey to falling in love with Anglesey a little bit more.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Postcards from Anglesey - Beaumaris

Last week we took our young family away for what will be our last term time holiday for several years. We chose Anglesey as our destination, having never been before and wanting to explore somewhere new together. There was so much wonder there that I thought a few ‘postcard’ style blogs might be in order to catch some of the beauty and warmth that we felt.

We found a lovely house in Beaumaris to call home for the week. Spread across three storeys with thoughtful little touches like flowers in the fireplace, pretty lining paper in the drawers and a toy cupboard in the children’s bedroom, not to mention the delicate pieces of china that adorned every room. It was suitably cosy but large enough to explore and spread out for some quiet reflection and play.

From this base we set out to explore the town itself. What struck me initially was that it seemed a little but lovingly cobbled together. There are an eclectic mix of buildings and as I come from a town which largely sprang to life in the 1800s with the centre being quite a standard regency town this mix really grabbed my attention. When my husband and I were looking to buy our first home many years ago my one stipulation was that I wanted to live somewhere that wasn’t a carbon copy of the house next door, and I think had we been looking in Beaumaris this would have been a very easy wish to fulfil. The history of Beaumaris is long and interesting, and much remains to tell the tale through the variety of architectural styles, including of course the impressive but not quite finished castle built under direction from Edward I between the late-1200s and mid-1300s. The houses, hotels, and library are other examples of buildings leaving markers in time as the town grew and became established.

If you stay in Beaumaris for longer than a lunch break then the second aspect that may strike you as it did me is just how friendly and tranquil it is. Some of the shops were too small to take our rather large buggy into but it didn’t phase the owners at all to do business at the door, with me asking for items and being passed them in exchange for money. There is an especially lovely little bakery on Castle Street which I would highly recommend if you happen to pass. There are a number of friendly charity shops too, with some marvellous vintage pieces waiting to be discovered.

In Beaumaris there is a real feel of community, something which other towns can only strive to build more artificially but felt very natural here. On my stroll through the town I came across a tree decorated with teddy bears. Sadly there was nobody nearby to question about the meaning of this and I have been unable to locate anything online but it seemed to fit a town full of little but friendly surprises.

My final thoughts on Beaumaris are centred on the pier and the Menai Strait. Our house over looked this and I spent an enjoyably relaxed evening watching sailing boats floating up and down it. There is no marina, instead all moorings are tidal. The pier is busy though, with a variety of boats taking visitors out to Puffin Island and beyond. The views across the Strait are superb, you can see across to Snowdon and watch the dancing lights of towns in North Wales in the evenings shining out across the water.

This clean, tidy and friendly little town will definitely be one to which I will return.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Truman Show

My husband and I enjoyed a date night last night. Snuggled on the sofa we chose to relax with a film and the film we decided to watch was The Truman Show. One which neither of us had seen for years.

I recall I watched this film shortly after it was released on DVD, in my university years. Along with the rest of the fictional America depicted in the film I was saddened by the boundaries and restrictions placed upon an unwitting Truman. Horrified by a director calling for a storm at the conclusion to try and dissuade Truman from escape. The coldness with which the line "he was born in front of a live audience" was uttered in response to Moses's appeal to cease the storm because Truman might die was unnerving, a human social experiment and entertainment show gone too far. I was delighted when Truman gave his final "good afternoon, good evening and good night" and disappeared through the door in the cloud.

This time though, I watched it with a different view. One which, quite honestly, surprised me. Yes the experiment, the reality show, was extreme. To do that to another human in the name of entertainment would be completely uncalled for. But to me, on this viewing, Andrew Niccol's writing took on another element. Perhaps, instead of willing Truman to be free, we should will him to be captive. He had been brought up in a very safe and sunny world. One where his biggest problems (ignoring momentarily his fear of water) were being jumped upon by his neighbour's dog and being accosted by twins who manoeuvred him up against the bill boards of advertisers paying to get a mention in the show. He had a job, family and friends. Ignore too that these relationships were largely false and completely set up. To him they were real. This was his world as he knew it and one that for him, at that time, was a safe place.

As an audience we are seemingly encouraged to want more for him, to want his freedom, to want him to know what's happening. When we learn of Sylvia's removal from the show we wish she'd said more rather than just planting a seed of doubt in his mind. But if he had lived in ignorance would he perhaps have been happier than an adult propelled into a world who knew him, but one in which he knew virtually no truth? The complexities of real relationships, jobs, responsibilities were something that had been staged for him on the show and would be new to him outside it. Of course we hope he lived happily ever after. We hope he and Sylvia found each other and she supported him as he adjusted to reality. 

There isn't a Truman Show 2, and I don't have access to Andrew Niccol to put my thoughts to him and understand what he believes happened to Truman post show. Hope is therefore all I have to offer to this fictional character. But concern is underlying it in every step.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Birthday musings

Yesterday was my birthday. This year it was a rather hurried affair, snatching time to open presents and cards in between attending to my middle son who was poorly with a tummy bug and amusing our other two children. There was plenty of time for thought though. 

When I was a child, birthdays were rather self indulgent. Large parties, cake and a bounty of presents and cards, the latter of which were mostly kept safely. I love to look back through them now, invoking memories of happy times with people who I am growing old with, have since lost contact with, or people who are sadly no longer with us. 

I recall one birthday when a classmate set his alarm on his watch for the time of my birth and upon hearing it's incessant beeping the whole class, teacher included, were roused into a chorus of 'happy birthday'. The day was sunny and we were having a science lesson. This memory is still vivid, coming from a time when life was without some of the difficulties and anxieties that our adult years bestow on us.

Another memorable occasion was a party at my parents house, my childhood home. Our back garden strewn with blown up lilos to bounce on, our trusty old Sinclair C5 rolled out to enjoy. My eldest sister had drawn beautiful pictures of butterflies and turned them into badges for me and my friends. My middle sister was getting involved in the fun. 

As I grow older I realise that my birthday experiences are rolled out in my memory like a map of my life experience in more general terms. My 16th birthday when I had a live  band and a function room booked for example and nobody save my very closest friends turned up. My boyfriend and sisters were dispatched to round people up and save it from being a disaster, but it was an important lesson for my teenage self that life was and is so much bigger than one person and their birthday. In my twenties I disappeared down a cave in Ireland with my husband on one birthday and would have happily spent the day there, in hiding from a world I was beginning to understand but one in which I had not yet mastered the art of adult confidence. Now in my thirties I am harnessing my enthusiasm for life and learning to use my experience, passion and confidence to find the positives and to give things a go.

I started writing this blog to find my creative voice again, once strong in my early twenties I confess I set it aside through fear that it simply wasn't (and still isn't) perfect. It still bothers me that to some these posts will be nothing more than 5 minutes from their life that they can never claim back. I hope though, that for others I might invoke a thought, a moment of self reflection or perhaps even challenge a view lying imbedded and undisturbed.

Back to the present and I am required as a mother and a wife again. Little hands tugging at my clothes, a baby sleeping soundly but mouth twitching in anticipation of being fed, a day spread out before us all to explore. My husband and I approaching it with enquiring and confident adult minds, and my boys relishing it with childish abandon from their happy and secure little world.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Eight Toes, A Dew Claw and A Cottontail

Growing up I was surrounded by animals, we had hundreds, literally. I have recently been involved in sharing my knowledge of guinea pigs and it started me thinking about some of my forever friends who are no longer with me. One which comes to mind time and time again was my rabbit, Morgan, who was my pride and joy in my early twenties.

The journey began in the garage of a family friend, looking at a newborn litter of lionhead rabbits (kittens). They were gorgeous, no doubt about it. Naked and blind but still gorgeous. I was off to university a few weeks later and the friend had offered me my pick of the litter, a companion to see me through university days and beyond. I couldn’t choose immediately because I simply couldn’t tell what their individual personalities would be, so I arranged to come back a couple of weeks later. When I did I chose a white ball of fluff, with dark coloured ears and a map of the UK and Ireland positioned on his nose. He was the runt of the litter and had been partly hand reared; he was not only gorgeous but inquisitive and friendly. He would be a perfect companion for me, and hopefully me for him. I already knew where my digs would be and my landlord had told me that he was quite happy with me having a house rabbit. I envisaged nights snuggled up, me reading my books and my little friend having his head tickled.

Before long I picked up my little ball of white, now called Morgan (which according to the baby name book meant White Sea) and headed up to Liverpool with him on the train. About halfway through the journey after checking on him for the umpteenth time, I thought he looked a little sad so lifted him out of the cat carrier and wrapped him up in a nightshirt much to the delight of the lady sitting opposite who declared herself to love him at first sight (although she did have to ask what he was first). He snuggled in my nightshirt, in my arms, for the remainder of the journey, and our bond started from there.

Morgan quickly became accustomed to university life. He particularly appreciated the coos of family, friends, housemates, friends of housemates, friends of friends, workmen, and in fact anyone else who saw him and wanted a cuddle. He lapped up the attention like a spoilt child and I considered that he was worth every second of it. He would delight people with his mid-air aerobics, kicking his feet out and scampering around the room. When he got particularly excited he would circle people, although fortunately that was where his flirtatious attention to them normally stopped, and most didn’t realise that their feet had become objects for his amorous attention. If they were singled out for extra special attention he would lick their hand as a mark of his friendship.

His attention seeking behaviour soon transferred to our train journeys. I would often return to my parents’ home for the weekend, to catch up with them and old school friends, but I would never leave Liverpool without Morgan accompanying me in his cat carrier. Unlike some animals, he relished the sight of the carrier, as he associated it with having a captive audience. He quickly learnt that women would coo over him, as would children, and he particularly liked poking his nose through the bars at the front of the carrier to get a good look and announce his presence to them. He also learnt fairly quickly that men did not share the same enthusiasm and would almost glare before turning his back if a male passenger sat next to me, as though it was somehow my fault he wouldn’t be getting much attention.

He was demanding for treats. His normal rabbit food was ok, but not nearly as interesting or enticing as toast, which he would jump onto my bed to share with me in the morning, or anything else that he thought he liked the smell of. Pasta was a favourite smell until he got close enough to stick his nose in my bowl and realised that it wasn’t so interesting close up. Again, this behaviour transferred to train journeys. To his mind, sandwiches were made to be shared, at least the bread was, as was anything else that he was interested in (please note, bread a not a recommended food source for rabbits except as a very occasional treat). Carrot sticks, apple or anything that resembled food I would give willingly to him as part of his diet were to be huffed about. Normally this was displayed as a pronounced turning of his back to me, with an occasional kick of hay towards me for good measure. Anything where the packet rustled as it was opened was of particular interest and, again, if it resembled something that turned out not to be very interesting, hay would be forthcoming. This behaviour didn’t stop with me. If a nearby passenger was eating something that he thought should be coming his way his nose would appear, and very few could resist his big dark eyes, made all the more alluring for the dark circles of hair around them which looked something like thick liquid eyeliner.

Morgan was a constant friend. When I was sad he was great at sitting patiently with me being cuddled, when I was happy he loved to play. Long after my time at university he lived as a house rabbit, enchanting those who met him. The end of his life was an incredibly sad day for me and one that still brings tears to my eyes nearly 10 years later. I still have a photo in a frame of him. Never forgotten.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Deliberations on my relationship with social media

I'll be honest, I have a love hate relationship with social media. At times I splurge every detail of my fairly mundane day over networking sites in the hope that someone might find the can of baked beans that upended itself onto my foot vaguely amusing and perhaps even reassured that they weren't the only ones having ‘one of those days’. On other occasions I'll share my intellectual thoughts of the day or the people who have inspired me and I've wanted to find out more about. Then I'll go quiet, still there, observing, but being quiet and keeping to myself that my 5 month old baby has uttered his first word or my 4 year old had taken his first wobbly moments on a bicycle by himself without stabilisers. Why does this fluctuation occur? Perhaps because finding time can be difficult? Perhaps because I have a moment of self-doubt and don't want to be that person who over shares, don't we all know one? I'll let you believe this but I know it's mostly because I allow myself to be influenced by others. I'm just about to post about my baby's word and someone else will post a photo of an immaculately turned out mother and baby at a wonderfully expensive baby sensory class, 177 likes and 83 comments of "aren't you both adorable" later and I've become deflated. Or my son will take those first wobbly steps to cycling independence and someone will post about their child who has just mastered using a knife and fork and I'll panic that I don't want to look like a show off. In some ways this is human nature, acting and reacting to those around us in a sensible and thoughtful manner is part of our social intelligence. Someone once said "the world isn't about you, not everyone will be obsessed like you are" and they're right. It's not. But human nature also allows for some of these thoughts and feelings to be propelled to the forefront and social media is the worst platform for sharing your own successes for this reason and, perhaps more importantly, because you can't see the reaction of your audience. Like sending a text that says "would you like to meet for a cup of tea and a piece of cake to discuss things?" (this, no joke, is how my husband invited me out on our first date). You have no idea of the tone and whether it's a good and happy occasion or a serious one. Through your posts you have no idea how your online friends will react. You hope, of course, that friends in real time and your family will take things at face value, but real time friends vs. online ones is a post for another day.

So I asked myself some fairly outwardly basic questions: Why do we feel the need to celebrate every minute detail of our lives? Would we do this in person? Waltz into a pub and declare to a room full of semi-strangers that your baby has cut his first tooth? Or that you had a haircut that morning? I suspect not. So what makes it acceptable to do so via an online social media site? We hide behind enhanced photos of sometimes fake or at best posed smiles. When was the last time you saw someone with their bedhead intact after a rough night's sleep for example? Or when someone has been caught in a rainstorm and their normally perfect 'do is slicked against their face, mascara running down their cheeks? Are we turning into Eleanor Rigby, but rather than keeping our faces in a jar by the door we actively encourage our privacy to be invaded and present our ‘face’ from the security and comfort of our homes, or maybe worse, we carry it round in our pocket with our internet enabled devices. Be honest, how many photos or ‘selfies’ have you taken in some wonderful location just to get the perfect one to present to the world as your profile picture?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I know how I feel today, but not tomorrow. I do wonder though if in an age of increasing social media platforms there might be a time, a place, perhaps in the not too distant future, when we wish we’d created more a honest and modest online version of ourselves.