Category Archives: Sophie is reminiscing

X is for Xampanyet

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A tiny tapas bar in the Born area of Barcelona, near the Picasso museum: a little slice of history where locals and tourists alike gather to soak up the atmosphere, the food and the cava.

It’s never easy to get a table, but once you do, shuffling along benches and perching on stools to squeeze everyone in, you’re always in for a treat. From the ubiquitous pan con tomate to plates piled high with melt-in-the-mouth ham, from little red peppers stuffed with cheese to fresh and vinegary anchovies. We always eat too much, and it always costs a fraction of what we think it will. And it’s always washed down with copious amounts of house cava – served in vintage saucers and strangely refreshing despite being a little too sweet.

As I’m writing this I realise I haven’t actually been there for ages. For a while, after one of my best friends relocated out there with her family, Barcelona became my second home. But then I moved out of London, and Arthur came along, and suddenly popping over for the weekend became somewhat more challenging. We did make it back to the city this summer, but like many places in Barcelona this little tapas bar was closed for the holidays. I guess I’ll just need to book another trip to savour its flavours again.

X is for Xampanyet.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.

Word of the week: family

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This has been a sad week for us. We’ve said goodbye to two of the oldest members of our extended family, and Arthur has had his first experiences of the bittersweetness that comes with family funerals.

On Wednesday we travelled to Cardiff, where most of my Dad’s family are based, to attend the memorial service for my Great Aunty Gwen. She was ninety one when she died, and right to the end exuded a glamour reminiscent of times gone by. She was a wonderful musician, and though her natural home was in the classical world she still very much appreciated the more modern sound of my brother’s band and offered her advice as they readied themselves to release their music to the world.

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Aunty Gwen never married, but as the sister of my late Granny she has always been a part of our family. She was a very private person, but in recent years, particularly around the time of my wedding, she began to talk of her lost love and the flame she still carried for him. I found it hard not to feel sad for her, often sitting alone at family gatherings. But as well as having the support of our extended family – particularly my Aunt and Uncle who still live in Cardiff – her memorial service brought home the important place she held in her local church and community.

I will miss her gentle, softly spoken manner, and the twinkle in her eye whenever she was reminded of her youth.

Then on Thursday we headed to The Lizard, the furthest reaches of Cornwall where most of my Mum’s family live. There we were to celebrate the incredible eighty five years lived by my Nanny, Dora, and to say our final goodbyes.

Even as we were travelling down it was clear this was going to be hard. I’m finding it difficult to know what to type now as the words keep catching in my throat and I feel tears pricking behind my eyes. She has been such an important presence in my life, so immensely inspiring in the strength and determination that saw her through some terrible tragedies and yet so calm and comforting too. Her pride in each and every one of her grandchildren was palpable, and I am so glad that Arthur got to meet her several times too over the past two years. Watching her sit with him on her knee was so magical – he seemed to ignite yet another side of her that I’d never seen before.

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I read the eulogy at her funeral, and was astounded again at the life she lived. Looking round the packed church (they even had speakers outside for those who could not squeeze in) it was clear that she’d touched and inspired so many. I’m not going to retell her whole story here, but I am very, very grateful to the strangers who pushed a teenage Dora out of the path of a flying bomb in wartime Walthamstow.

My mum was so brave through it all, sharing a poem which urged us to focus on her legacy, on living our lives rather than dwelling on the passing of hers, and on doing so with love and happiness.

And my resounding memories of this week are of family coming together, solidarity in the face of sadness, with laughs as well as tears.

Sitting in my Grampa’s house with all the history it holds, watching Arthur weave between the legs of his aunts and uncles and my aunts and uncles and high-fiving his great grandfather when it was eventually time to leave.

Poring over all the incredible images my Mum’s brother had collected of their mother’s life, capturing so many family gatherings over the years. One of my favourites shows Nanny surrounded by the eldest of her many grandchildren, cousins proud as we said hello to the newest addition to our family. We’re all in our thirties now, and we were all there in that little Cornish village to say farewell to the grandmother we shared.

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I know that I am very lucky to have such a wonderful extended family. And I’ve never been more grateful for my immediate family either, my parents, and my brothers, the women who’ve chosen to spend their lives with them and of course the gorgeous man who chose me, and our beautiful son.

We all gathered at my parents’ house on Wednesday evening, had a late supper and raised toasts to those who are no longer with us.

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There was something magical in the air that night, and I think it is what people call love.

Goodbye Aunty Gwen, and goodbye dear Nanny. Thank you for the lives you lived. We will do our very best to live ours in a way that will continue to make you feel proud.

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The Reading Residence

V is for Vietnam

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For our honeymoon we went to Vietnam. It was a challenge fitting even a fraction of what I wanted to see there into those two weeks, but I was determined to try.

We started in Hanoi, spending two days walking around the city, soaking up the sights and smells and flavours. That was where I took this picture: just another selection of wares in a pavement stall, but one that with its seafood and herbs and vegetables sums up what I love about Vietnamese food. I love the colours and textures in this picture too, and the shapes – all those circles full of promise.

So much of our trip was about the food, really. That was what had inspired us to go in the first place – the pho and the summer rolls and the banh cuon we’d enjoyed in restaurants in Hackney. We had a Vietnamese supermarket near us there too, but it was wonderful to see all of the ingredients in their homeland.

By the time we left, we’d sampled all sorts of new dishes, successfully dodging the peanuts that would have triggered an allergic reaction to discover a huge range of exciting tastes. We’d seen noodles being made, rice paper rounds drying in the sun, prawns being crushed to create the pungent paste that was seemingly at the base of everything. We’d learnt to cook some new dishes as well: spicy seafood hotpot, and even those delicious banh cuon – delicate and slippery steamed rolls filled with prawns and pork.

I’d love to go back, and not just for the food. It is such a beautiful country – and so steeped in history. Hopefully one day, when Arthur’s a little bit older, we’ll be able to revisit for a longer trip.

V is for Vietnam.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODCast Dove.

 

U is for upside down

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I’ve raided the archives again this week. This photo of me doing a headstand in the garden pretty much sums up my early childhood: outdoors, and upside down. Whether it was hanging in trees, rolling head over heels or walking on my hands I was never happier than when things were the wrong way up.

I remember one morning in primary school when someone bet me that I couldn’t stand on my head for the whole of break. Never one to turn down a challenge, I promptly kicked my heels towards the sky. Everyone else got bored after a few minutes but I was seriously proud of myself when the bell went. That, and a little bit dizzy.

It’s something that’s never really left me. I got very into trampolining in my teens, drawn by the prospect of somersaulting through the air. I learnt to fly forwards, backwards, tucked, piked and straight, twisting and landing on my back and front and feet. It was pretty awesome.

As I bounced into my twenties I still somersaulted whenever I could, but I’d hit a (virtual) ceiling. I couldn’t really learn new skills without proper training, and there was too much else going on for that. So I branched out, finding a circus school and working on my tumbling.

It all petered out a bit as teaching and later pregnancy and motherhood took over my time and energy, but I’ve still found ways to get my fix. Last summer I persuaded Leigh to take me and Arthur to circus camp : we spent a week in the rain in deepest darkest Cornwall juggling and tumbling and hanging from the trapeze.

And I’m back to trampolining too. I couldn’t believe my luck when we moved to Torbay and I found somewhere that was not only prepared to let adults loose on the trampolines but also timed it so the babies could do a gym session too. Arthur’s moved up to the toddler class now, but I still get to turn the world on its head every Friday.

There’s a metaphor in all of this. Something about seeing things from different perspectives, not accepting the common viewpoint, wanting to shake things up until they’re topsy turvey from time to time, just to see what happens. It’s liberating, for the body and for the mind.

U is for upside down.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast. 

Q is for queue

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As I was mulling over words to inspire my contribution for the letter ‘q’ I kept being transported back to a very particular place. To a queue I stood in for hours and hours on end on many, many Saturday nights. Well, afternoons really: we were waiting for Whirl-Y-Gig to open, a club I frequented in my teenage years which at the time was held in Shoreditch Town Hall. It kept the rather unusual hours of eight until midnight – handy for sneaking out as a sixteen year old, and a party which people were keen to extend by whichever means they could.

The queue started to form in the middle of the afternoon. Often when we made it there by four or five it would already be snaking down Old Street – people chatting, banging drums, excited about what the night would bring. On the night this photo was taken I’m pretty sure we’d arrived early and made it to the steps of the town hall itself. This was the most coveted spot, the place you’d find the most hardened regulars, where you could look down over the pavement as the queue and the anticipation began to build. I vaguely remember dancing to The Prodigy’s ‘Out Of Space’ as it blasted out of someone’s battered ghetto blaster.

Once we were inside it really was as if we’d been taken to another dimension. Colours and music and lights and rhythm, dancing at the front of the stage as if our lives depended on it. Everyone was so friendly, their hugs and smiles quickly replacing the grey hostility of the London streets we’d left behind.

The streets around Shoreditch Town Hall were very different then. There was The Blue Note in Hoxton Square, the Comedy Cafe and a couple of pubs on Curtain Road, but nothing like the teeming mass of bars and restaurants and wannabe hipsters you find there now. There are even hotdog stalls on Old Street on the weekends, peddling their questionable wares to drunken tourists. A long, long way from how it used to be.

We took less photos then of course. It took me ages to dig this one out, trawling through boxes of old prints, and even then the picture I found was clearer in my imagination than in reality. Not that it wasn’t fun: there’s something quite different about holding physical photographs in your hands rather than just scrolling through images on a screen. I’m still friends with the core group of people I hung out with twenty (!) years ago, and it was pretty awesome to see us as we were then – at parties and festivals, in gardens and parks, cooking and laughing and getting up to no good.

We’re scattered across the globe now, from London to LA to Osaka, but there’s a bond that was formed by adventures like standing in line for hours on a grimy street in East London that I don’t think will ever be broken.

Q is for queue.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.