Home…Sweet Home…I Suppose…

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Looking out across the city, from Castle Rock

I have a love/hate relationship with the city where I live. Nottingham. Supposedly home to Robin Hood, Charles I raised his standard here at the start of the English Civil War, Richard III stayed here the night before his death in battle at Bosworth (the last true English King to die in battle too) and one of the largest slums outside London during the 19th century.

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An interesting fact from the Castle Musuem…

Although I have lived here for over twenty years now, I still don’t like it very much. And yet… I miss the place when I’m away. I adore London, the theatres, the diversity, the vibrancy and total utter madness of the city, and yet it’s almost a lost love – I had my chance there and missed it. I love North Yorkshire, Whitby, Harrogate; all places from my childhood that I love and miss passionately, where my actual family originates from, starting in the early 1700’s.

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Found him!

So… Why am I here? When my parents divorced, my mother moved to Nottingham for work – we also have one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country – and as she had primary custody of me, I came with her.

Both my children were born here, and I have had some of my worst times here. Some of my happiest too… been homeless and also found security. I was talking to a man the other day, from Walsall, and he said the East Midlands isn’t really the Midlands of the country at all. Nottingham is a peculiar place, coming quite late in the day to be an acknowledged settlement in comparison to places like Lincoln and York.

Situated in a dip in the actual country and surrounded by a sandstone ridge, the city is built on a network of caves that have served purpose as wine cellars to bomb shelters… but as a rule, most things, political and weather, tend to blow straight over the top of us. As a constituency, it remains staunchly labour and we are quite lucky in that here our M.P. works primarily for the people, not the party.

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Weird sunset as I was walking home… 

The weather in the East Midlands is generally a bit of this, a bit of that, and some of the other… basically take a coat, jumper, umbrella and sunscreen out wherever you go and you’ll be fine. In the city itself, there is history past, and in the making (apparently we are putting in a bid to be the 2023 European Capital of Culture…hmm)… a fascinating, horrible city.

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My house…if someone could kindly tell the National Trust to leave and shut the door on their way out…

There are gems. Wollaton Hall, which I fondly refer to as my house, and the Castle. The Castle is visible from all areas of the city, although strictly speaking, it’s actually a fortified manor house, with only the gatehouse remaining from the original 1087 structure.

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I know I’m home when I see the Castle, lit up, glowing and golden, welcoming me home. So. There you have it. Nottingham. Come and visit… you might like it. But then again, you might not…

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The Alternate Path

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Oh, he’s here now, I’ll get the door!” the man called back to his wife.

She looked up at him over the top of her glasses and smiled, lovingly.

Thank you, you’re so good to me.”

He smiled back and went to answer the door. Her son stood on the doorstep:

Ah, good to see you, young man! Come in!” The older man gave him a quick hug and took his bag from him.

Your mother’s just through there, she had one of her heads yesterday. She still gets a little… unhappy.” The man laid his hand on the younger man’s arm.

I know, I know, don’t worry, I won’t upset her,” the son reassured the older man.

Darling, it’s wonderful to see you!”

He entered the warm, bright sun room as his mother rose to greet him. Small and gently blonde, she radiated happiness as she accepted her son’s embrace.

It’s good to see you looking so well, Mum,” he said.

Oh, it’s all down to him, you know, he thinks I don’t notice, but he’s so kind, always there; I – I’m not afraid any more.”

The older man re-entered the room and glanced sharply at the woman, both assessing and reassuring as he gently touched her arm.

Come through, my love, I’m making tea, and then we can sort something out for dinner while we catch up…”

The younger man followed his mother and her husband into the kitchen, another warm and inviting room and took a place at the table.

He watched his mother move about the kitchen confidently, putting dinner together, her husband passing her things as she reached for them and always tender, aware.

The younger man told funny stories about his friends and their escapades at university, scandalous enough to elicit gasps of delighted shock from his mother and humorous, reproving glances from her husband.

After dinner, a comfortable silence prevailed and the son was quietly pleased with his mother’s progress, as she leaned against her husband, watching some television programme.

He closed his eyes briefly and was instantly taken back to a small, dark, smelly room, his mother sobbing in the corner as the small fat man shouted angrily at her, berating her for yet another imagined slight. She shrank in fear as the small fat man, his father, raised his hand and –

Darling, whatever’s the matter? You’ve gone as white as a sheet!” His mother looked at him anxiously.

Nothing, nothing – I thought-for a moment, we were –”

No. No. That’s over.” Her husband leant forward and patted him comfortingly on the knee. “Look. Go to bed. You’ve had a long journey and you’re obviously tired.”

The son said goodnight and left, and as he did, he glanced back and was inexplicably moved by the tender way the older man lifted gentle hands to his wife’s face. He smoothed her hair and kissed her softly. For a tall man, he was quiet and controlled in his movements, calm and gentle to be around and as his mother leaned into her husband’s embrace the son watched and had a sense of truly coming home.

* * *

That night, he slept badly. Disturbed by dreams of past, loud voices and banging footsteps, screaming televisions, slamming doors and womens’ tears.

As he woke, he woke in a blur, cold sweat beading his face and sticking his armpits. It was early, but he could hear voices, so headachy and cross he went downstairs.

He opened the kitchen door, the door to his past and was taken straight back to the nightmare. His mother, tears rolling silently down her bruised cheeks, thin shoulders trembling as she stood in the corner, facing the small fat man who was his father, brandishing fists and words…

OR

His mother and her husband looked up from the Sunday papers they were reading, startled by his abrupt entrance into the quiet warmth of their kitchen.

Darling, would you like some tablets – perhaps the wine at dinner last night didn’t agree…” She looked concerned and put her hand on top of her husband’s. “Would you –”

I’ll get them. Don’t worry.” He rose to his feet and as he passed the younger man, briefly rested an arm across his shoulders.

Don’t worry.” He said again, and smiled, kindly.

My Nan’s Sewing Basket

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My paternal grandmother was one of a generation brought up to believe a lady should have a well-equipped sewing basket and furthermore, be able to use its contents in the way in which they were intended.

Likewise, at my school, we were all expected to be able to sew a straight seam, replace a button, follow a pattern and know a reasonable amount of embroidery stitches.

I don’t think my grandmother and mother altogether approved of each other…

Shall I let the seams of those trousers out a bit, dear? They do look awfully tight…”

No thank you, Mrs. Murdoch, they’re supposed to be that way, it’s fashion…!”

My mother was more for the practical uses of sewing, like stitching up gashes in fetlocks, plaited manes, ready for showing… so it was left to my grandmother to teach me its gentler applications.

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Now, I am not the world’s greatest needlewoman – I still can’t follow a pattern and the finer points of knitting escape me – but I remember very clearly the delight of being able to have a look through my Nan’s sewing basket, and marvel at its treasures…

Reels of sewing thread, neatly aligned and in a wonderful spectrum of colours from black to red to pearl grey. A little packet of real gold thread, purchased solely for the mending of a ball gown; strips of a white bendy substance, that I found out was real whale bone, frowned upon nowadays but which had in fact been salvaged from one of her own mother’s dresses.

Soft skeins of embroidery silks, heaped and shiny like material jewels, ready to be used on the squares of cambric, I think it was called, that came with useful little holes for me to practise my stitches.

I loved the wheels of glass headed pins, and liked to re-arrange them in the order of the rainbow colours, and fiddle with the needles, arranged in size order, in their cotton case, stabbing little holes in the cushion shaped like a tomato…

Don’t do that please dear, it will end up being more hole than cushion…”

I loved hearing the stories behind the scraps of fabric and lace:

Well, that came from your uncle’s christening gown that I made, your grandfather brought me the lace back from a trip to Brussels…”

I would listen, spellbound, stroking the soft velvet ribbons, lilac and white, neatly coiled and fastened with a tiny gold safety pin.

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The button tin – well, that was a separate treasure all in itself. I think at one point it had been one of those tins handed out to soldiers in the First World War, and somehow, it had found its way back with the family member and been passed to my Nan as a keepsake tin. Most of its paint had been rubbed off and it was a little battered, but it did useful duty guarding Nan’s collection of buttons… Brasso-ed buttons dull with age that bore some indecipherable insignia on it, possibly from that same relative’s military uniform; tiny, dainty mother-of-pearl buttons, lost from evening gloves and never returned, horn toggles from my father’s childhood duffle coat, workaday buttons of plastic in shades of grey, black and white, jewelled buttons from various dresses that had long ago been cut up and re-purposed and my personal favourite, a menagerie of buttons shaped like animals, little ducks and giraffes and kittens of course, all of which at some time had been used on a dress or cardigan for me.

I was the only girl grandchild at that time, and Nan loved making the beautifully crafted frilly dresses, with smocked fronts and lacy hems, the delicately crocheted cardigans and jumpers…

She also taught me the value of having a decent pair of scissors in the house. She had several pairs, all for different jobs, all regularly sharpened and housed in their own protective cases. She never would have dreamed of using her dressmaking scissors for cutting hair, or her embroidery scissors for trimming nails…

I may not have been lucky enough to inherit my grandmother’s skills with a needle, but I was BLOODY annoyed the other day when I found my partner using my good sewing scissors to remove the fat from his bacon…

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Home

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In her day to day life she coped. She managed. In the workplace, her co-workers noted her for her dedication to her job and her determination. No-one knew what lay beneath. At night time alone, alone in her bed, she hungered. The memory of his touch burned her skin and branded her soul. Above, she was as calm as the proverbial millpond.

Occasionally, the passion that simmered beneath burst through like bubbling lava. It manifested itself in outbursts of temper, quite unlike her usual moon-calm self, as sudden and unexpected as a desert storm. Her colleagues noticed.

When she woke from sleep heavy eyed and angry, she could bear it no longer. Never one for the doctor, she had no wish to bare her soul to the kindly old man who had known her since birth, and turned instead to a more “New Age” solution.

Her colleague, a wispy woman who spent most weekends at spiritual events, had taken her aside once, confidingly:

“You’re an old soul, my love… has anyone ever suggested hypnosis to you? Perhaps you have some issues from a past life that need resolving…”

She thanked her colleague politely and gently removed the woman’s hand from her arm.

The idea, however, took root. Waking yet again from another dream where her soul was left yearning for she knew not what, she took matters into her own hands. She researched thoroughly the credentials of each hypnotist she found – she was that sort of person, ordered and methodical. She determined that she would find the cause of this underlying distant unhappiness and eliminate it. It had no place in her life.

Her appointment time arrived and she dressed with care. Comfortable loose clothing and an open mind. The pleasant woman hypnotist welcomed her in and directed her to a padded chair. She sat down and surprisingly, for one who considered herself so strong minded she was there. He was waiting. She was lost in his deep, dark gaze and her body knew him and mourned his passing.

But he was there, arms outstretched and as they enfolded her she went home.

***

The hypnotist panicked. Unable to recall her, she ran for her phone to call emergency services. If she had stayed and watched, she would have seen the woman’s chest cease to rise and fall; the faint smile that curved her lips as she stopped breathing.

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Calcite and Clever Cats

_mg_8943Honey Calcite tumblestones – useful for enhancing confidence, memory and intellect, linked to the Sacral and Solar Plexus chakras, helping to align the two

Calcite is a wonderful, all purpose crystal that comes in a variety of colours – much as cats do – and is a positive reinforcement of beneficial emotions – much as cats are… well at least when they’re in a good mood. Careful placement of calcite throughout the home or work environment ensures a calm flow of energy that circulates, bringing serenity and carrying away stress and negativity.

_mg_8975Aids mental healing, and can dissolve ingrained beliefs and thought patterns. Can stimulate the immune system and absorbs negativity

Calcite improves energy flow and cleanses it at the same time, removing emotions that may have stagnated and linking to the higher consciousness. Calcite is both active and stimulating – be prepared for a burst of physical and spiritual awareness as it encourages spiritual development.

_mg_8961A powerful detoxifier, it can be used to facilitate new beginnings and cleanse and align all chakras

Calcite is found in a rainbow of colours that can work with your chakras, in addition to their metaphysical properties of cleansing and energising both the physical and spiritual bodies and their environments. All the rough pieces pictured have been acid-treated to enhance their colours and give a soft tactile feel to the stone.

_mg_8948Linked to the Base chakra, this crystal increases energy and releases both physical and spiritual blockages

However, although it is an active crystal, it is also stabilising and supportive, encouraging belief in oneself and allowing you to face your fears and formulate solutions to setbacks.

_mg_8938Mangano/Pink Calcite, a stone of forgiveness and love that can release past fears to allow forward progress, linked to the Heart chakra

Calcite calms the mind, allowing clear thought and analysis and establishes a link between emotion and intellect… I have had quite a lot of cats during my life so far, every one of them a joy in their own individual way.

_mg_8983Blue Calcite is gentle and soothing, helps recovery, removes anxiety, lowers blood pressure and enhances communication. It filters and returns positive energy…

However – and this is not just a proud mother speaking – my cat, Charlie, or Princess Charlotte Oddpaw to give her full name and title, is undoubtedly the most intelligent cat I have ever known. Ting, my Siamese, is definitely the sweetest, but she’s not exactly the brightest sandwich in the tool box… I look at Charlie and sometimes I am a little intimidated by the very aware, non-human intelligence she possesses.

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She is self-aware, which is apparently a marker for animal intelligence. This is tested by means of placing something on the animal you wish to test, like a sticky dot, or something, then putting it in front of a mirror, pointing the dot out to the animal, and seeing what happens next. Or something like that. I’m no scientist. (If you want to check… use Google and look for the Mirror Test, developed by Gordon Gallup in 1970).

In the spirit of scientific research, I stuck a little sticker on my cat – obviously not very sticky as it can cause fur trauma – and put her in front of my mirrored wardrobe. I pointed to her reflection, at her shoulder where I had stuck the dot, and said in a horrified tone:

Oh no, what has Mummy done to you?”

She looked at her reflection, looked at me, and delicately removed the sticker with her teeth and dropped it on the floor, her thoughts as plain to see as if she’d written them down…

Stupid woman. Did she really think I wouldn’t notice?”

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Charlie can open doors. With the power of her mind… No, not really… she has very dexterous little paws that she can use to good effect to obtain what she wants. She can hook her paw underneath the fridge, and press the rubber seal so it opens. She knows quite a lot of words – I lost count after twenty – and can even say some of her own.

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For example, she knows to run away quickly if someone approaches her saying:

Does Charlie want a kiss kiss?”

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And yet she will sit, regal and queen-like, as I do homage to her beauty…

Who’s the best cat? Who’s the most beautiful?…” blinking golden eyes, slowly and superbly, secure in the knowledge that we, her people, are putty in her dainty little paws…

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The Thought Mouse

Mousie (3).jpegWhere’s a real mouse when you need one? Still… you get the idea…

The old lady sat in her chair and looked out of her window, over her back garden. The front garden was little more than a token, a slip of green and a stone step, enough on which to set a pot of cheerful seasonal bulbs. But her back garden brought her pleasure: crammed with old fashioned roses that lounged against the walls or reached joyously upwards, spilling silky petals and heavy scent.

The potted jasmine threw lacy designs against the trunk of the old lilac tree, growing delicate white flowers, the shape of an elegant lady’s shoe that overflowed with perfume. As the old lady’s sight had failed, she had come to value her other senses more dearly and had taken care to grow plants that spoke to her with their smell and touch. She reached absent-mindedly down to the side of her chair, reached for the soft warm ears and rounded head of her dog, then sighed as she remembered. He had passed from this world and into the next a couple of months earlier, lying in her arms while the nice young lady vet spoke soothingly.

The old lady felt a shove of grief, as vicious as a mugger but pushed it aside and resolutely peered into her garden, seeking distraction at the bird table. Bold starlings chattered and bustled, while little brown sparrows darted in to seize a beakful of seed and deliver it to their half-fledged babies, chirping sweetly and fluttering their wings imploringly

But what was that? A sudden scurry, a swift rush, sharp enough to catch her old eyes. A little mouse! He looked cautiously from behind the geraniums and darted a little closer to the food. The old lady smiled to see him select a sunflower seed, holding it in his tiny pink paws and nibbling at it delicately. She watched as he wiped his whiskers fastidiously and left, following an obviously familiar route along the old brick wall. Weeks passed, and it grew to be a regular event.

“Come on then, cheeky,” she would call and a small brown head would pop out of a crevice in the wall, black beady eyes alight with interest, The old lady waited for his visits and he brightened her hours, for as summer progressed, she knew she hadn’t long left.

One day, she left a little piece of chocolate by the bird table, a particular treat for herself and something mice preferred above all else, she recalled hearing somewhere. She waited for the little mouse. He arrived, following his usual route, but instead of seizing his chocolate and retreating, he sat up on his haunches and regarded her steadily.

“What is it then? You’ve got a look in your eye like my old Rex when he wanted a stroke!” Gently the old lady reached out and touched the tiny head. Smooth warm fur, soft as silk met her fingertips and the old lady smiled.

A sudden flurry of wings startled the mouse and he left rapidly, with a whisk of his tail. The old lady got to her feet – for all her age she had remained fit and limber, thanks in part to careful eating and regular walking. Suddenly tired, she returned indoors to sit in her chair, and enjoy the evening sun as it set over her garden.

“I’ll just close my eyes a minute, then I’d better see to dinner,” she thought. As her eyes closed, she felt again the warmth and fragility of the little mouse head under her fingertips and smiled, as the last of the evening sun fell upon her tired old face.

***

The house was empty and clean. Airy and welcoming. The young couple marvelled at the price and high ceilings, loved the mortgage and picture rails.

“All untouched, so perhaps if you fancy a good make-over project, rip out the garden and extend the kitchen into this area…” The man and woman looked at each other. It was peaceful, happy and welcoming. No one had lived there for months and it would be a lovely house to raise a family, pleasant and untouched.

And yet, if anyone had cared to look, as the smart young estate agent swept the hopeful young couple out of the room, they would have seen a trail of tiny pawprints, along the old skirting board and disappearing outside.

Words and drawing Copyright © 2016 Samantha Murdoch

Dalmationite and Dogs

For Alex…

My family’s dogs were a big part of my life when I was a little girl. I learned to stand, clutching fistfuls of fur and hauling myself upright against our German Shepherd Nikki, who bore my maulings good naturedly. I created miniature worlds between his paws as I sat and played, marching little animals across his shoulders… He also taught me my first adult lessons in grief… Returning home from school to find him gone, it broke my heart, but I thank him for his gentle love and guidance. In comparison to myself, my mother has always been a ‘dog person’. I am primarily a ‘cat person’ but I love dogs too and have had a couple who have co-existed happily alongside my various cats.

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Rosie was another notable character from my mother’s succession of dogs… my first sister dog, she taught my older son how to treat a dog. She would tolerate no nonsense, yet was loving and kind. When my younger son was born, I laid him at her paws. She sniffed him delicately, sensitive nose reading all the nuances of this new little person I had brought to her for inspection. Then she gave me a look as if to say:

Another one! Don’t you think I’ve done my duty?” However, she went on to become an adored auntie dog, to hug at the end of a hard school day and receive comfort and understanding from her wise brown eyes.

My older son was quite offended on one – he went towards his little brother, intending a play fight… he never reached him, as Rosie stood and pushed herself in front of my younger son. She bared her teeth – just slightly, but the message was clear:

Hey! We’ll have none of that here!”

She grew older as my son moved from toddlerhood into a little boy – he learned the same lesson I did at about the same age, our beloved animals never live as long as we want them to, but our lives are the better for having known them, and learned their lessons of love and loyalty that they have to teach.

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Next was Rowan, beautiful and golden. She took more to my older son, but had plenty of time to spend with my younger son. I watched them both, once, outside at my mother’s as my son drew complicated chalk pictures and explained them to her. She watched, fascinated, her ears twitching to the enthusiasm in his voice and eyes following every line of the chalk.

Good natured and loving, she also had a congenital heart defect that my mother was unaware of until it was too late. My son and I stood outside the vets while my mother said her goodbyes. As I comforted him, a tiny white feather floated down from the sky to land at our feet. I had my words:

Rowan was such a good dog, God could only lend her to us for a little while, then He needed her back. She’s left you a feather from her angel wings.” My son still has it.

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Now my mother has Erin, paler than the traditional Shepherd colours of black and tan – her father was white – show quality, but really just our little girl. She’s the most vocal dog Mum’s had, and can say things like “Horrible”, “Hungry” and “Harare”. Perhaps she’d like to visit. She’s loving, affectionate and trusting, my mother’s constant companion – I’d worry about her a lot more if she didn’t have a dog. Erin has one particular game that I find reasonably amusing… she shows me she’d like her toybox moving so she can look into it. Then I have to get her toys out, one by one, and show them to her. She’ll prod them with her nose and that’s a sign to put that one away. When I happen to choose the one she wants, she’ll grab it and run off… sounds quite tedious but the dog enjoys it! Another favourite is to chase my younger son around the garden, leaping and grabbing and SQUEEZING his bottom with her teeth to produce a scream…

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All these canine family members had, and have, love, loyalty, trust and an innocent sheer joy of life… Dalmationite helps you live in the moment, rather like a dog, encouraging you to enjoy this present incarnation and connecting to the base and sacral chakras. It is both protective and sensitive, a guard dog for the spirit, as it will enhance your awareness of danger but help you to remain calm and deal with it.

IMG_6222 (2)The black spots are Tourmaline – skulls don’t have to be scary, they are actually quite  a powerful symbol of new life and knowledge

A typical interpretation of this stone is that it can help you attune to the innocent child within, strengthening your sense of fun, helping to dissolve depression and restoring energy. Dalmationite can stop you from overthinking and help you get out there and just do it… At the same time, instilling awareness and the ability to plan for every eventuality. A good stone for children – what child doesn’t love puppies! – it encourages fidelity and stabilises emotions and can help you release the desire for revenge that could be potentially harmful to yourself. It’s another good stone to use for animals, enhancing the link between Mother Earth and her children.

I think we could learn a lot from our canine family, their unquestioning love and trust in us should be repaid in our care and love for them. Their ability for love and joy in life is one that we would do well to adopt ourselves… dogs just get along.

Walkies anyone?

_MG_6279“Hey! It’s good for all animals you know!”