May 2020 is here with longer days, warm weather and amazing colour shows in the countryside. For the first time since I have been introduced to Henley-on-Thames, 33 years ago, I am truly discovering the beauty around me. Until this year I have never had so much time on my hands as this was taken with raising my children and work. Of course we went for the occasional Sunday walk around the countryside but I have never observed the changes as regularly as I do now. I am in awe of what I see. For the trees and flowers, it is business is as usual. I am humbled.
My planned move to Turkey is still on hold. I have a room in a beautiful farm house kindly offered to me by my oldest friends In Henley. I still remember the rainy May day in 1987, the 10th to be exact, when I first came to Henley with a friend, who kept apologising about the weather during the drive from London where I was living at that time. We went to a lovely country house with stables where I met my now ex-husband. The rest is history. I was welcomed by the same people who will bid me farewell when the time comes.
During this lockdown period, the majority of people of my age that I know, are in their own home, sorting cupboards, classifying photos, trying new recipes, making sourdough bread and tending to their garden. As for me, I am learning to live in an unfamiliar, albeit beautiful place, and trying to be as discreet as possible. Trusting my instincts when to be part of the family and when to let them be amongst themselves is very important. Offering help without being patronising is also very important. I hope I am not making a mess of it.
Most of the time dinners are on me! Cooking is a joy and learning how to use an Aga cooker is challenging and amazing. Emma, my friend’s talented ceramicist daughter, is vegan. Adapting recipes to a vegan diet is fun. I have made my first oat milk bechamel with oil instead of butter. It worked brilliantly. However nothing ever smells cooked, burnt etc on the Aga so I can’t leave the cooking unattended for long, I keep tasting to see if it is ready or that progress is being made. The four ovens, with different temperatures, are a dream. As if I did not have enough things that I know I will miss once living abroad, I will now miss the Aga cooker as well. The list is getting longer. Who would have thought?
I am also learning to live with the contents of two suitcases. I have moved out of my flat in March when it was still cold obviously, so my winter clothes were useful then. Just in case my belongings would not arrive in Bodrum on time, I had packed a few summer items in another case. How lucky is that! I am now wondering, as many of you do too I am sure, why do I have so many clothes, shoes? At the moment, a favourite top, for example, I wear once a week, wash it, wear it again. In normal times the same top gets worn maybe once month, if that. Time will show if I will remember this and do something about it when I am in my new home. A luxury in this house is drying my sheets in the sunshine. I almost can’t wait to get into bed and feel the crisp sheets and smell the fresh air as I fall asleep. Another luxury is, you might think this is weird but to me it is heaven, the contents of the food bin go directly into a compost heap. It doesn’t take long for chickens to see what’s on the menu.
A dilemma, and again I am sure I am not the only one, is what to do with my hair. Continue colouring or leave it ‘au naturel’? Maybe this is a chance to see my true colour and learn to accept it gracefully. According to my colour chart, done many moons ago, I am a winter ie pure, strong colours like red, white, black etc, but since I have started colouring my hair lighter and lighter, winter colours started to look not so good on me. I look pretty dreadful in black for example. I have a feeling my natural colour will suit my skin tone and of course, as my move is to a sunnier climate, natural hair will be so much easier to maintain. Saying that, I have a shop bought colour in my bathroom just in case… My eyebrows! Oh my eyebrows…. They definitely need life long attention.
This lockdown has confirmed my belief that a nice routine is good for the soul. Like many people around the world, Emma, her mother Maggie and I start our day with Yoga with Adriene. There was an article about her yoga routines in one of the recent Sunday Times. She is a charming young lady from Texas. Her instructions and guidance are clear and easy to follow on You Tube. Benji, her dog who is often lying around, is probably the most Zen dog in the world. He is so chilled! We have completed ‘Home-30 day yoga’ and started another 30 day titled ‘True’. Adriene gives a heading -Home, True etc- to her 30 day sessions accompanied by a subheading for each day. eg recognise, grow, gratitude etc. This lovely morning activity is helping us to set the tone for the day. After that everything seems to run smoothly.
Not only am I learning how to live with cats, chickens and goats, I also had a go at ‘throwing a pot’. ie making a clay pot using a pottery wheel. Emma has an amazing, fully equipped, professional studio in the garden. She very kindly gave up some of her time showing me how to do this. As a result, I have a few little pots, egg cups proudly displayed in my bedroom. Emma has studied ceramic design for her MA in Copenhagen. I love her creations. Log on to her website to see it for yourself. emmalouisepayne.com She is also on instagram: @emmalouisepayne. A few weeks ago she featured on an article ‘Artisan Homewares From Our Favourite Hotels’ in the Daily Telegraph. You can see her coat hooks, lighting pendants, decorative vases in soon-to-open Hertfordshire hotel and members club, The Birch.
So life goes on, not as planned but still fine. I am grateful to all the key workers who expose themselves relentlessly to the virus. I am equally grateful to my friends for their wonderful hospitality and making me feel at home. Although I miss my sons very much and wonder when I will be able hug them, I continue to remind myself that we are lucky to be healthy and safe. This too will pass and in the meantime I am enjoying the countryside and becoming quite the English gentlewoman!
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