Eulogy for my father

Patrick 5x4My father’s funeral was three months ago last week, and as several friends have told me strictly, it’s about time I posted HIS eulogy to go with my mother’s. His funeral was on December 9, and he died on November 26, three months and a day after my mother. I miss them both so much.

My brother and I accompanied both our parents to the furnace: it needed planning, but after I had conducted a funeral service myself, I had seen how the coffin was left in a corridor waiting for the furnace to be lit and I decided I didn’t want my parents to go the last few yards on their own. For our mother’s cremation, it went smoothly. My brother and I left the church together after the funeral for the crematorium, accompanied by the funeral director and the vicar; he said a few prayers including a most wonderful psalm, I rested my cheek against the coffin, the funeral director said “they are ready” and we went behind the scenes, through the kitchen, and waited while the coffin was pushed pneumatically into an oven so hot that when it went in there was a shot of fire as if by God. It was raw and it was holy. Continue reading →

On time and nuns and MP3s

P1040645In Ladakh, northern India, a few days ago, I decided to walk from the city of Leh to Choglamsar Tibetan refugee camp, where I had taught for a summer, 30 years ago. It was five km, and I was determined not to ask the way.

I asked the way.

So much had changed. There had once been three shops, Now. Well, now there are more.

In the office I explained my story. The man looked blank until I mentioned the Buddhist nun who had shared her room with me in children’s house number 8. Then he jumped up and disappeared into another room. Ani Garab is here, he said. Continue reading →

A white chicken and a silver wheelbarrow

I looked out the window just now and THERE WAS A WHITE CHICKEN standing beside a silver wheelbarrow in our garden… Of course I wished – it almost hurt – that I had followed my instinct and painted it red, like in the William Carlos Williams poem. I had wanted to do it this spring just in case a white chicken wandered along. And then it did wander along and I wasn’t ready. Is there a metaphor somewhere there…. ? 

Faith in Conservation reissue

In January 2003 my husband, Martin Palmer, came home to the little cottage we lived in in the Peak District, and said that as part of the World Bank funding of some projects with his charity he had to write a book about what it was all about. They were going to publish it later that year.

He showed me the first draft of his history of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), the charity he had set up with HRH Prince Philip eight years before.

It was nice, I said, and obviously it was amazing for the short amount of time he had available. “But if the World Bank is going to publish it, couldn’t we write a better book, an engaging one, full of stories that people would actually enjoy reading?”

And he smiled, as if that was what he was hoping I’d say, and asked me if I’d put a bit of time into improving it. “And maybe rewriting,” he said hopefully.  Continue reading →

A deadline, thundering ahead

ImageThis untitled ink and watercolour sketch by the extraordinary Californian artist Martin Ramirez somewhere between 1948 and 1963 seems to sum up my week.

I’m spending every waking hour at a desk with a train of a deadline thundering noisily past the window.

This little person doesn’t have toppling bookshelves full of wonderful art books though (and nor do they have a wonderful swiveling chair which arrived on Monday, and which distracted me for several happy minutes, until I felt a bit woozy with all that turning.) Continue reading →

Always look on the bright side

ImageIn September 1993 I was sent from The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong to cover the first Beijing bid for the Olympics.

I was a rookie news reporter who knew just about nothing about sport, but I had, three and a half months before, been assigned to do a daily “100 days to the Beijing 2000 bid” countdown, with a new locally generated story every day.

After I had interviewed every potential olympic and paralympic athlete in Hong Kong that still left about 93 columns to find, each written with increasing desperation and I am ashamed to say even on one occasion involving cajoling one of the big hotels to make a “Beijing 2000″ chocolate cake. My reward was to be sent to Monte Carlo to cover the vote.

I remember how, on my way out of the airport in Nice, there was a shortage of trolleys. But a nice Englishman suggested I put my bag on his trolley and as he pushed it towards the buses, I asked him whether he too was going to the Olympic meeting. He said he was with the Manchester 2000 bid. When I got onto the press bus and he into another, the British journalists who had been preening themselves on the plane from London looked extremely impressed.

“How did YOU know Bobby Charlton?” asked the man from the Press Association.

Sir Bobby Charlton carried my bag once

Sydney, of course, was awarded the 2000 Olympics. I remember going to the Australian party that night and an Ozzie athlete telling the barman: “don’t worry about the champagne glasses, mate. I’ll just take the bottle.”

The Chinese had cancelled their party int the room next door, but halfway through the evening, I found the Manchester party in a smaller room down the corridor, with Britain’s finest athletes – including Sebastian Coe and Chris Boardman – sitting in thoughtful mood. Sir Bobby Charlton spotted me as I stood peering in at the door. “You again! Come and join us!” he called out. Continue reading →

500 words a day

I’ve just been signed up onto a “Summer Novelists’ Club” run on facebook by friends at Columbia College in Chicago, with the target being 500 words a day, starting today, May 16th. We had a couple of weeks warning though I didn’t use them very fruitfully. The aim is to finish on August 28th, which somebody has calculated is in 106 days time, meaning theoretically 53,000 words of the first draft of a novel will have been written down, ready for improving. I love these kinds of numbers. It makes it all seem so very possible. No, it makes it all seem so very easy. My first 568 words sped by this evening. Which is just as well because I got the beachball of death on my mac, and had to type them all back in again. Second time round they came to 504 words. Hopefully means that I’m editing on the way, rather than just forgetting. It’s not all about words of course, but it is, usefully about sitting down in front of a blank bit of screen at the beginning, and making it into a slightly less blank bit of screen at the end, hopefully with a few useful or interesting images or moments somewhere in the middle.