Two bees or not to be?

“Hi, bee…”
“Hey, bee!”

Say hello to Charlie and Brendan!

Charlie is the one on the left.  He’s younger, a bit of an attention-seeker.  Brendan doesn’t mind, he’s the quiet one.

They are part of the family, have been for about two years.

This is a family effort.  My husband took the photo, while they posed.  My daughter uploaded it for me.  

We hope to cheer up your day.

Have a laugh.

Have a nice day.


It’s in the genes…or is it?

My high school teacher once remarked in front of everybody, “look, she’s sitting so quietly there, just enjoying the company”.   You had it spot on, she was talking about me not speaking up in groups.  What she didn’t realise was, I was good with one on one but wouldn’t utter a word when there were three people.  Not. A. Single. Word.  Got it from my father, I am pleased to say, being shy and reticent and all that.

Listen to this:

“She’s afraid I’m going to turn queer,”  I said to mother with a smile.  “Oh heavens,”  mother laughed.  “My daughter’s been queer for years.  Don’t let that bother you.  She got it from me.”

That was Joan Baez and her mother.   You can meet them in Daybreak*.

It is good to know that I am not the only one with that defence.  Since primary school, all the teachers ever wanted was for my daughter to join in with group discussions and feel free to express herself.   During every Parents’ Evening I had to keep smiling and telling them that ‘she got it from me’.   But true to my reserved nature, I stopped short of saying  ‘don’t let that bother you’.

Does it bother me that I pass on one of the weaknesses of my family?  I don’t know.   I can’t help it, can I?   It’s in the genes.

Or is it?    My daughter is musical.  She sings, plays the violin and piano, teaches herself guitar and is going to graduate with a degree in Music this summer.   Me?   I am tone deaf.   Seriously.  Music goes to your heart, not mine.   I am moved more by the lyrics than the melody.   I have been to  over a  hundred of  her concerts, the repertoire sounds familiar yet I cannot properly name even ONE piece of music with the title and the composer.   When I hear the tune, sometimes I can tell you when and with which orchestra she played, but search me, I wouldn’t know who by.   So, where did it come from?   Give me some credit  I would tell you, I did listen to Chopin during my pregnancy.   Otherwise it is from her father who can easily hum and name a tune, classical or contemporary.

Honing on.   Baking.   Never my forte.   But here is one I made earlier :

If Wishes Were Banana Cakes    (18/5/98)

Can’t bake
Won’t even try
Doesn’t like messy fingers
                       Neither do I

When Mama sees 3 ripe bananas
Wishing it were a cake
HAS  to do it
   Papa and I

Into the orange bowl
3 ripe bananas go
Crush them, or
Mash them until no longer
   recognisable;  Pour in
          6 oz self-raising flour        
Add    2 beaten eggs
          4 oz soft margarine
          4 oz castor sugar;  Quite sure
It wouldn’t make your tooth ache

Mix them well
Greased tin ready
          Gas mark 4
          Set timer to one hour twenty
Patiently, patiently
Mama’s wish
          makes me hungry


“My poetry was lousy you said………  We both know what memories can bring,  they bring diamonds and rust” **


Fourteen years ago I made a record of her primary school life in 25 poems.  Glad I did.  Not because the poems were of any good (they were not) but  what had been written could now serve as stepping stones down memory lane.   Who would have thought the little girl that didn’t like messy fingers is to be the aspiring baker?   She didn’t know that either.  For many years, banana cake was the cake when mama desired.  Until last summer, her ambition was to be a music journalist.   Then suddenly that same summer her passion for baking flourished.  She was overwhelmed, and had never been so sure of what she wanted out of her life before.

There follows a change of heart and soon,  a different career path.   One paves with artistic and creative sugarwork.   Culinary school  will follow university.  In the meantime, birthday cakes and desserts are made for friends and family (do I really want you to know I have since gained a few pounds?  Nah).  Without  any training. just looking up recipes the finished products she presented are both tasty and looking delicious.   And the French macarons!   Of course I am biased, I am the proud mother (even though she didn’t get it from me), but you can always confirm it with all the birthday girls.    Way to go, I’ll say.

It is a long way to go.   To settle into the real world and live a life for herself, by herself.   Whatever she has got from us, or not from us, we hope will have prepared her for the new beginning.  Scary as it may be, for us to let go, for her to move on, we are in it together.


*  Daybreak  Joan Baez  An Autobiography   Avon Books 1969

**  Diamonds and Rust   Joan Baez  1975

To Kindle, or not to Kindle?

My family loves books.  We have them in almost every room, now even the kitchen has a shelf full.  My daughter and I are fast readers.   We can finish something light in a matter of hours, or the Millennium Trilogy (1853 pages)  in less than a week.    My husband takes his time.

We read all sorts.    

(A Kindle can hold up to 1400 books.)     

I only started reading in high school.   Famous Five, Secret Seven, to begin with.  Little Women, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice (all abridged) before I  encountered Daphne Du Maurier.  No, no, not the famous (or infamous) Rebecca of Mandalay, I got to Jamaica Inn first.  She became my favourite author, and since landing in England, I managed to track down all her work from local libraries and re-read them every few years. 

In my younger days when I didn’t mind a bit of hard work, I ploughed through Hemingway, Steinbeck, Maugham, Lawrence, Eliot, Poe (names to impress!).  Later I took interest in  memoirs — Antoine de Saint Exupery, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Bergman, Lillian Hellman, Helene Hanff, Richard Feynman, Lance Armstrong, Torey Hayden… —  a long list from all walks of life.  As if the ’embroidered words’ of day-to-day happenings not intriguing enough I finally picked up best-sellers.  Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Anita Shreve, Ian McEwan, Jodi Picoult, Amy Tan…  Easy read is what I am enjoying now, although tackling Dickens has been on my mind for longer than twenty years.  I’d very much like to begin with A Tale of Two Cities

I used to read all my daughter’s story books, just like any ‘helicopter mums’ (you have met them, haven’t you?  Hovering above their kids keeping tag of their every movement, and joining Facebook?! ).   I kept pace until Harry Potter  killed off Voldemort, I wouldn’t go on to Middle Earth  for the Rings.  Nor could I venture any further when she pulled out her father’s H G Wells, Anthony Burgess, Tolstoy, George Orwell, Arthur C Clarke…from the shelves.   She  easily appreciated One Hundred Years of Solitude, and  Anna Karenina when I couldn’t.  Her  one  other  challenge, from  her  high school  Classics teacher who  believed they wouldn’t understand it, is Ulysses.  We just have to get the book.

(The Kindle has more than a million free books.)  

When I moved to England, a third of the boxes shipped were books.  How did I know?  The removal man pointed it out and remarked: “you’d save some money if you left these behind”.   I didn’t listen to him.   To me it’s a whole new world out there, speaking a different language, with a different culture and I had to try to blend in.   There was no one else I knew.  Scared was not even the word, to put it mildly.  The only consolation was my husband had been in the country for nearly two decades and he’s there to help me cope, together.  That made all the difference, him being there. 

Still, I needed my books  with the familiar Chinese characters, when he went away on business trips.  It’s the familiarity of my past life  I was clinging onto.   The books I chose to read that shaped and defined ‘me’ ; the stories and words that once cheered me up/moved me to tears/inspired me then did it again and saw me through the first few years of my adopted new life.   Holding and turning those familiar pages, some  with paragraphs underlined,  reflecting and remembering the mood I was in while reading, I found strength, comfort and solitude.  Now these Chinese books are either gathering dust on the shelves, or  packed away,  you might have guessed that I finally settled down, after 24 years. 

(Will the eBook kindle warmth to comfort the difficult and anxious days?)

Anxious days indeed when I had tennis elbow two years ago (I don’t play tennis, I watch — Nadal just won his record 7th French Open if you are interested).  I feared the constant dull ache  was  there to stay.  How depressing.  I could not hold a cup of tea with one hand.  Had to use both.  I couldn’t read either.  When I read I don’t put the book on the table; don’t put it on my lap; I hold it with my right hand — the one suffering.  It is not the same holding it with my left, believe me.  At that time I was going through Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, hardback, 514 pages.  I  had to leave it.  Now the pain is no longer active, but I have lost the bookmark.

(A Kindle weighs less than 170 grams.)

Mail has been a very important part of my life.  Still is.  But I have stopped writing letters.  I send emails.  If I have found the electronic messages more efficient and approved of the new technology, why  am  I  still  reluctant to leave the romanticizing of books behind and move forward?   Is it just me, loving the touch of paper and the beautifully bound covers, and the hearty weight of everything intelligent and sentimental in between?

I don’t know.  I don’t have a well thought through argument here.  I like admiring  our shelves overflowing with books.  But I also like the idea of travelling light, especially on long haul flight,  when there is  a limited luggage allowance.  I can’t make up my mind.  I just cannot make up my mind.  So this is absolutely not a hint to what to get me for my birthday, or Christmas, OK guys?