Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Dear Rose

Dear Rose,

I arrived home from work yesterday to find a parcel from you. It's so unusual to receive either parcels (unless they are from Amazon), or indeed a letter - with a hand written address - that I got most excited. Nowadays it seems that Christmas is the only time that a real honest to goodness handwritten envelope drops through the letter box. I used to write letters all the time. To pen pals, friends and family. Fan letters to favourite bands or film stars. Letters to newspapers for writing and poetry competitions. I never did win any of them, by the way. Emails, texts and pure laziness have put a stop to it all. Perhaps I should take up the tradition once more?

Of course I recognised your handwriting; so elegant and loopy. Written in ink, which makes me yearn for my old Parker ink pen that my Dad bought for me at age 11. It was silver, and I used to use blue/black Quink ink. I remember the pleasure to be had from squeezing the ink from the bottle into the cartridge. The pen was a gift, and we went together to the stationers in East Street to buy it. I thought that it was very fancy indeed.

There don't seem to be these kinds of shops around now. Is that the same where you live. We have a national chain that supplies fountain pens, stationary, paper and the like, and I can remember as a teenager wandering around its' aisles looking at erasers, memo pads and pencil cases. I don't think that I can remember the last time I actually entered a shop that smelt of paper. A warm, dusty kind of smell, that had aisles full of the most appealing stuff to touch. A bit like the smell I imagine 84 Charing Cross Road to have.

I watched the film staring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins over the Christmas period. I had never seen it before, and was absolutely charmed by it. I have to tell you that I devoured the book in one sitting. I went to bed early last night, and couldn't stop turning the pages. I would have loved to have met Helene. It's a rather romantic notion of mine, the idea of writing for a living surrounded by books and paper and gin and cigarettes. I'm so pleased that she found great success with her book; she struggled and suffered for her art. And her love of books is something that resonates with me. Although I wonder what she would feel about books available on a Kindle. She'd loathe it I'm sure.

Her passion for non fiction, and her desire for obscure titles reminds me of scouring the charity shops looking for just the right book. I have found many 'forgotten' favourites that way. Last year I picked up an Adrian Mole book that had gone missing from my book shelves. It was as well thumbed as the one I had lost, and I was so pleased about that. I imagined the previous owner enjoying and chuckling at  the same bits of the book as myself. Just last week I bought a collection of Philip Larkin poetry from our doctor's surgery charitable stand. I have wanted to red more of his verse for the longest time, and there it was waiting for me.

I still cherish the very first letter that I received from you. It was such a surprise! That someone would take the time to write after having read this blog. And the fact that it arrived with a partial address, and a description of the boys and Honey to guide the postman to the right door! It was so generous of you to feed my ego that way. Honestly I bounced about the house for the rest of the weekend. You have thought of Olly too, with your postcards and letters to him. We have written to each other about our families and the day to day business of our lives.

Which leads me on to that very topic........

Yesterday morning there were Black Caps in the garden. A new visitor, they were feeding on the fat balls that my Mum diligently looks after. She is also taking care of all the laundry and ironing while she's staying. She doesn't need too, but she wants too. She likes to be busy, and I guess it makes her feel as if she contributing while she stays. It shouldn't be for much longer. Her new apartment is having the shower room revamped, and once that's done she's off. I know that she's really looking forward to having her own front door. I know that Olly will be sad to see her go. If he had his way, she'd stay forever

I forgot how easy going my Mum is. She's a trifle deaf in one ear, which the boys delight in. She is always producing treats for them, which no amount of stern looks from me can dissuade. She loves her pensioners bus pass, and has all the bus times tables committed to memory. I think she's off to Camborne tomorrow; they have good charity shops, and she's after some books to read. She's also on the look out for a glass butter dish. She'll find one; she has the charity shop eye.

Alfie's mock GCSE examinations began today. I drove him to school. He was beside himself. It may be something to do with the fact that he's done very little revision over Christmas. I was torn between feeling cross and feeling sorry for him. He has not enjoyed secondary school at all. He has been very difficult to be around as a teenager. In fact he has been absolutely vile at times. But I love him, of course. And I see so much of me in him, that it hurts to see. Self-conscious, gauche, shy, awkward, wanting to fit in yet dying to stand out. He's no idea what he wants to do at college really. He's scared of the future. He has been nigh on impossible to guide and help. His manner is so stubborn and defensive. But all you want to do is help. As a parent, your hope is that your children walk a generally easy path through life, all the while knowing that it's virtually impossible to do so.

Sam is still at home. He returns to Uni next weekend. I'm driving him. I have high hopes that we'll spend the weekend in Liverpool absorbing the culture, but I think I'm kidding myself. I'll probably cut a lone figure on the ferry across the Mersey on Saturday next. He lives on Penny Lane, but had no idea of it's significance until I played him the song. He's in the middle of thrashing out his dissertation, several essays and revising for an exam. And eating me out of house and home, and wandering the halls at four in the morning.

Olly has been off school poorly today. Two days into the new term, and another virus has struck. This one combines the joys of a sore throat and headache with a nasty temperature that spikes during the day. He's been flat out on the sofa, and asked to go to bed at six thirty this evening. He did have a lovely weekend up until that point. Out for a birthday play date with his best friend on Saturday, and a trip to Porthcurno via the scenic route on Sunday.

We got Betty out of the garage, and took her for a run along the coastal road to Land's End. She only broke down once, and that was because her fuel gauge doesn't work, and Marc hadn't taken into account the miles we'd already done in her. Luckily we had some spare fuel. You should always have spare of everything when you own an old VW camper. Luckily I always have hot chocolate, tea bags, long life milk, bottled water and a packet of biscuits stashed away. So we made a brew while waiting for her to be topped up. It was all very amicable.

Marc is currently restoring a VW soft top Beetle. She's even older that Betty, and he's named her Rizzo. I've only seen photos of her, cause she's in a garage just outside Cardiff. Marc attends to her during the evenings he is away (he currently works just outside Newport). I have her hub caps, wing mirrors and lights under my bed. I'm not at all pleased about this arrangement, but it would seem that my bedroom has become a depository of stuff. My dreams of having a feminine retreat from this male centric household is looking less likely than every before. I've demanded a summer house. Well, wouldn't you?

We have had really varied weather; one day bright sunshine, the next low cloud and poor light levels. It makes for interesting decisions clothes wise. It also makes for some stunning atmospheric views. I am one the few people I know that enjoys this time of year. A pared back earth reveals form and texture that I don't generally notice. Sparse vegetation helps me to see beyond to the shape of a tree of the pattern in a rock. It's a sculptural time, and also one of expectation. The buds of early Spring are already pushing up, and there are daffodils in my sister in laws garden.

This week I hope to get out into the garden for a little while. I have a pond to clear (the high winds have bought down so many palm leaves that it's buried in them), some bulbs to plant that should have been planted last Autumn, and a bit of faffing too. If I want that summer house, I need to think about moving shrubs and plants around. And Shipshape has entered its' quiet period. There's not many visitors around during January or February, so I'm trying to use my time wisely. There may be painting in my future too. Lots of doors and walls and skirting boards.

I write this post as a tribute to you, dear Rose. I hope that this finds you and your family happy and well.

With much love,

Leanne xx


  1. I love that book and film too! I remember dragging my family along Charing Cross Road on a trip to London, in the hope that someone may have opened a book shop on the spot. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Sadly, I think it was a McDonald's or something equally vile. Don't worry about Alfie's mocks - half the point is to put the fear of God into them and kick start that revision. I'm very envious of your camper van and soft topped Beetle. Talking of 'Beatles', what a 'fab' address Sam has! I hope Olly feels better very soon. xx

  2. Dear Leanne,
    Another fan of Charing Cross road here. The weirdest thing is that my mum was living in that road when she got married, according to the certificate. I too love receiving letters. Not so hot on replying, but I still have my very posh Waterman fountain pen and a bottle of brown ink. That stationers was one of my favourites too as a youth. It’s not quite the same today with its special offer bars of chocolate at the till. Do hope all goes well with the mocks and that you get to share Liverpool with Sam. Say hello to the Mersey for me. B x
    P.S. whatever ever else would you want under your bed!

  3. I dream of a feminine retreat as well, but alas it seems unlikely for me too. I used to love that blue-black Quink. Do you remember Harold Hockey at the top of Blackboy Hill? Sadly gone in the past few years. I loved it in there. All the pens and pencils and notebooks and writing paper. Bliss. A handwritten letter is a very fine thing. I have a box where I keep all the ones I receive. I would have loved to be a lady in the olden days who sat at her writing desk in the morning attending to her correspondence. I had a blog post in mind on just that subject in fact, I really should see if it's ready to come out yet. Have a good week Leanne, and enjoy the quieter time, it is very well deserved. CJ xx

  4. England seems stuffed full of virus bugs at present. Hope the little lad feels better soon. This can’t be Sam’s final year already, surely? How time flies. Hope Alfie’s mocks go well. L didn’t do a whole lot of revision for his either but got good grades in his real GCSEs. It’s a familiar pattern, I understand. Enjoy your down time xx

  5. What a lovely post. So much that resonates with me, especially the desire for a woman cave and the love of stationery.

    I doubt very much that Alfie would be interested in any advice from anyone, but if I had my time to choose what to do at college again, I would ignore any push towards wholly academic subjects, even though I'm quite good at them, and would think very hard about what sort of place I would like to spend my days in so that I didn't do anything that ended me up in an office full time. I'd try to do something with at least a small practical element so that I could get to the end of the day and think 'I did that' or 'I made that' or I helped someone to do that'.

    Enjoy your week. The John Piper exhibition at the Tate Liverpool is meant to be good, if that's your sort of thing.

  6. You're brave to be out gardening. Putting the washing out is enough for me at the moment - frozen fingers... The days are getting lighter though so we are over the Winter hump hopefully.

  7. That books sounds lovely I must see if our library has a copy! It must have been lovely to get Betty out again! It just isn't the weather to be in the garden at the moment, it is either to wet, windy or cold! Sarah x

  8. I wrote my Christmas cards in my old fountain pen from school - that came from a proper pen shop, using some ridiculously old blue black ink. my teenager looked at me as if I was someone from the dark ages. I'd forgotten how I always ended up with ink all over my fingers, and somehow I missed that. it may become a thing of my present and not just of my past.

  9. Leanne - I ordered the Helene Hanff book when I saw it on your instagram - and by the next afternoon had finished it - I LOVE the film with dear Anthony Hopkins, and recovering from the awful flu virus gave me the perfect excuse to indulge myself. Thanks for the idea (does that sound like I'm stalking you?) My copy has the follow up story in it - the Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - did yours? It's fab, a diary or journal format rather than letters but featuring many of the characters she introduced in 84. It satisfied my curiosity and passed the time in a rewarding way. So thanks for the prompt. Enjoy those lads, even the stroppy teen. These are difficult times for young people that's for sure. Enjoy your running and your plans for the garden. I quite envy you your relationship with your mum, would love someone to do MY ironing.

  10. Hi Leanne. I must be the only one here not liking fountain pens - we had to use one at school from year two and it was very difficult indeed to make neat join letters with my small poorly coordinated hands and a smudgy fountain pen. I love to write with a soft pencil most of all. I remember happy hours in stationary shops, the kind that smells of old paper. I think the reason why these no longer exists is because we like to browse and enjoy the experience but then go across the road and buy at the national chain. I myself am guilty of this sometimes, at the local bookshop. I hope Alfie finds his way. My own teenager is at times loathsome, it makes living with him difficult. He gets so so angry all the time, it is a bit worrying. Life, eh? Wishing you a happy weekend when it comes. xx

  11. My oldest teen at college is a trial at times too. I can't put it on my blog because he reads it but boy, does he get bent out of shape over stuff. He doesn't have a clue about life after college. I'm tired of walking on egg shells, he says he's stressed but frankly I think he's lazy, no pride in anything, everything rushed and ruined and like Christina says, so angry. I'm sure he wants a job with as few hrs as possible to sit on xbox all day. I constantly boost his confidence in himself, if he watched less negative, pessimistic youtube humour and less perfect image on media that would help, yes it's worrying indeed. All the best, Cx

  12. I was given the book, 84 Charing Cross Road, by a 2nd hand bookseller many years ago because I frequented his shop so often. "You will like this!" he said, and I did. I loved it. I read it until it fell apart and then I found a hardback 1st edition (quite by chance.) It formed a book list for me, how else would I have read 'Q'? And then they made the film and I loved it all over again. I now have that on DVD and have recently lent it to a friend who I am sure will love it, too. She'd never heard of it, so maybe it will send her to the book. Even though I know the end, I still cry when Helene receives the news ... but I won't spoil if for anyone who hasn't read it. It's just so beautiful. I know the dialogue now, even when the American woman rocks up in the shop and they think she might be Helene, but no, she's from Wilmington, Delaware ... and how the chap says that "how we love our cups of tea and how life would be unsupportable without tea" ... and how I agree! It's a while since I watched it, but once my friend returns it, I shall watch it all over again.
    I also love fountain pens. I had a Parker 51 (loved it, learnt shorthand with it, but never needed to use it, so now I haven't a clue) but now I use a Lamy Safari, and love that although it's not elegant like the old Parker. I always used black ink, we were told by our very proper English mistress that we mustn't use lined paper for our letters, but use the guide sheet under plain paper, and that the paper must be white or pale blue or pale grey not any other colour, and ink must be black or blue, certainly not green or purple. I did have a phase when I was about 14 for green ink, though!
    Margaret P