My son Tom, born in 1977, was part of an early generation of children to be brought up on top-notch picture books. Puffin Picture Books, at £1.25 each, were an affordable treat for all of us. We didn’t tire of reading him ‘The elephant and the bad baby’, or ‘Not now, Bernard’, or anything illustrated by Quentin Blake or Allan Ahlberg.
The books we all loved were passed on to Elinor, then ten years later, to Emily.
Then they were carefully packed away for years. Elinor (aka Fanny the Champion of the World) married and had twins. Out came the boxes of books for Alex and Ben to enjoy.
Then these books, some almost as old as Tom himself, came full circle. His son William is enjoying them as much as his dad ever did.
Last night, this is what William picked to have read to him. Though there’s no need really. He knows everything off by heart.
If you go walking in Wensleydale: if you go for a walk from Jervaulx to Jervaulx via Thornton Steward, you’ll come across this tree home, at the edge of a field, commanding views over the valley.
It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere much, but I always like to imagine a doting grandfather, tall and rangy from a tough life’s farming and probably reminiscent of the BFG, lovingly creating a little refuge for his grandchild in this hollow tree.
I couldn’t fit in it, neither could you. Perhaps the grandchild is too big now. It’s all a question of scale after all.
Many of you ask me how my daughter’s getting on. Well, her treatment is over, and her hair is growing apace. She’s decided to prove how well she’s doing by training to do the London Marathon next year, to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research, and help fund further research into oesophageal cancer.
A few weeks ago, I did a deal with my son. My angry, grieving, difficult son. It wasn’t a deal I wanted to do, and – in many ways – it felt like a pact with the devil. I told him that if he would engage with a course of counselling, then I’d do what he’d been asking for, and start to look for a new partner.
I knew that it would take several weeks to sort out my son’s head, and, through counselling, he’d probably realise that his problems were not going to be easily solved by my acquiring a substitute for his dad. I wasn’t ready for a relationship, and was otherwise muddling along as a double – not single – parent, but at my wits’ end.
Both boys have been desperate to see me happy again – and that, they believe, means for me to be married…
Our friends from Laroque d’Olmes are with us. They’ve visited us in Yorkshire before, and are big fans, both of the friendliness of the locals, but more especially of the landscapes, whether dramatic or domestic, that we’ve been able to show them.
The other day it was the turn of Wharfedale, whose dramatic landscape was sculpted first of all by the glaciers of the Ice Age. Since then, the River Wharfe and its tributaries have created waterfalls and river cliffs, cut gorges and deposited patches of sand and shingle on riversides. We couldn’t show our friends the underground landscape of passages, caves, pools, streams, waterfalls, stalagmites and stalactites: but on a day such as we had on Sunday, with the sun shining and the sky a startling shade of blue, who cared?
We took them to Kettlewell, and on a walk worth doing for the names of the features we passed. You go up Dowber Gill, and pass the Five Sisters waterfall. Then it’s on to Providence Pot and the old lead mine workings, up to Hag Dyke: Great Whernside’s just further on.
We finished our day at Grassington, having a quick look at the dramatic waterscape at Linton Falls.
Berlin is the home of street art and creative graffiti. If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll already have glimpsed the East Side Gallery: though that is planned and curated.
Away from the city centre, street art is so much a part of Berlin life that walking tour companies vie with each other to show visitors the edgiest and grittiest current manifestations of this vibrant art form. Even big companies climb on the band wagon. Back in the early years of this century, Nike paid for this piece.
Somehow, global companies making use of a movement powered from the bottom up seems slightly to be missing the point.
I’m in London, doing a spot of childminding for two-year old William. But after all that city living in Poland and Berlin, my inner Country Mouse needed some attention.
A city farm then. This turned out to be a Good Idea. It involved an exciting trip through the waterways and futuristic high-rise building sites on the route of the Docklands Light Railway. It involved, in the smart business district of Canary Wharf, an exciting intermittent fountain that commanded William’s rapt attention for many minutes.
It involved a ferry crossing to get us from one side of the Thames to the other. ‘Did you see the seal?’ said one of the crew. No, we didn’t, but it turns out they’re rather common.
And it involved a saunter along the Thames views. Then we arrived. Surrey Docks City Farm. Path, through parkland and with riverside.
It’s a farm, but not as we know farms here in North Yorkshire. The animals are behind fences, and the crops are in beds rather than fields. But it’s nicely ramshackle, in a good way, and a real piece of countryside among the high-rise. William and I befriended sheep: monster woolly breeds from the South Downs and from Oxford, quite unlike their rangier northern cousins. Donkeys requested loving pats on the back. Here was the biggest sow ever. Ducks were a-dabbling, up tails all. Goats played King of the Castle to increasingly complicated rules, jostling each other off the heights: and hens busied themselves policing the entire site.
William was, if anything, even more interested in the vegetables. Those gourds! They were long, thin, and taller than him. Those pumpkins! So big, so h-e-a-v-y. And the long leaves of the cavolo nero! So tough, so leathery, and such an intense shade of dark green.
Everything in the cafe is home-made. So we had lunch there – an enormous lunch – before retracing our steps. The ferry was still as exciting, and there were workmen hanging off the gangway onto the boat, doing unimaginably interesting things.
The fountain as entrancing as first time round. By the time our train journey was over, William was fast asleep.
We’re just back from our holiday – that epic journey through Poland and to Berlin. It feels like the beginnings of a voyage of discovery into a so far almost unknown part of my family history. And I may have a post or two to share still. You have been warned.
But here’s just a bit of fun. Walking down a street in Krakow the other day, I spotted the streetscape behind us reflected in the window of this car. Here it is: