Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Family Life

"Felicity in family matters is as rare as hen's teeth,"
I once read.

I tend to think of myself as the keeper
 of the family happiness,
but is that a thankless task,
or even possible?

I am like the self-appointed shepherd
of a small, ornery flock
who only want
 to be left alone
to go their own way.

My idea of a blissful family day is a pub lunch,
all of us together, 
followed by a long walk afterwards.
Only rarely is this wish indulged,
because one person doesn't like to eat out
and the other doesn't like to walk
and the third wants to listen to a radio programme

Let's go to Combe Gibbet, I said.
High upon Combe Down
is a long chalk pathway
with incredible views
of Berkshire and Hampshire,
and maybe even Oxfordshire.

I remember reading about Combe
In her memoir about
the intense love and rivalry between sisters
Hilary du Pré says
that her famous sister, Jacqueline
described Combe as "the top of the world."
Jacqueline du Pré took her husband
Daniel Barenboim
up to the Combe Gibbet.
She loved it; he loathed it.

It is a wild, beautiful place
but a little haunted.

This is a two-person gibbet, apparently.
were hung in this place in 1676.
For crimes against family: adultery, which led to murder.
I wonder if the sky looked as ominous
on that day.

Against this backdrop,
even the haystacks look a bit menacing,
and lonely, too.

And yet, unexpectedly,
the sun will sweep across
the landscape.

Family life is like that, too.

 Here we go
over the stiles,
one after another.
Sometimes with a helping hand,
sometimes entirely alone.

These oak trees have endured
who knows what.
They seem to have grown together.
I think that can happen in marriage, too
if you are fortunate.

If there is anything that makes me happier
than seeing my children happy, together
I can't think what it might be.


ewix said...

I agree
I agree
I agree.
Wonderful clouds sweeping over the English landscape too.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, I would happily go on that walk with you and I would promise to behave!

You should frame that last photograph! So charming!

jane said...

beautiful post bee. thank you... p.s. your views are breathtaking!

ArtSparker said...

That was sort of like a very short novel...

As someone who is aware (today, very aware) of having a challenging relationship with her mother, I can only say (well, I'm not the first one) that some of these disagreements with the agenda by daughters are necessary for self-definition.

B said...

Oh, few things are more complicated than family relationships. But I love how you put it, and I love the two photos of your daughters to start and finish your post.

Margaret Gosden said...

Yes, one wishes the 'self definition' phase of children could be a little less harrowing. But, how good that you can translate that into a moody piece, mirrowing the landscape, showing how quickly feelings can change. You remind me of Mrs. Ramsay and her role in the family, establishing order in the flux of nature!

julochka said...

the light, the dark, the oak trees. very well said.

linda said...

These oak trees have endured
who knows what.
such lovely and thoughtful words~

They seem to have grown together.
I think that can happen in marriage, too
if you are fortunate.

If there is anything that makes me happier
than seeing my children happy, together
I can't think what it might be.

I do so agree...thank you for such an inspiring post, and a beautiful one too~

linda said...

I tried to copy and paste this in in my comment...I hope it wasn't too mixed up!

Beth said...

You’re not simply the shepherd – you’re the centre of that universe – the one who keeps it going – whether they recognize it or not. No small feat – although at times, frustrating.
And, yes, it is one of life’s most joyous pleasures to see one’s children laughing – and taking delight in being together. Laughing with them is delightful, too.

Stealth Genius said...

It looks way different in pictures than it did in real life...

Maybe it's just the fact that you used MY camera to take these photos!

Stealth Genius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
willow said...

This was a very lust worthy post, indeed.

Spectacular pics and lovely thoughts.

julie king said...

this is a lovely post which brings back memories of my two kids when they were still home with me. moments to relish forever!

Christina said...

how beautiful and mysterious. the clouds were, especially gorgeous.

steven said...

bee what a brilliant post!!! i love your connection of the vagaries of family dynamics to the landscapes you share here. i really get that! my heart is lost inside my family - especially my children. i love to be with them and to share things that i value or that they value as a family. but i will acknowledge that we are four individuals who share a space. i alone seem inclined to want more intimacy in our shared experiences. absolutely gorgeous photographs bee. i think i bought a book of walks in that area when i had looked at offa's dike and got a little carried away by buying all sorts of books about long distance walks!!!! have a lovely day. steven

The Things We Carried said...

Heaven it is!

Delwyn said...

Well Bee you were lucky to get everyone out on the walk this day...I remember those romantic notions I used to have of family outings ...and no-one wanted to the end I settled for evening dinner together each night...if we could all come together for a small portion of the day I was happy...

Happy days

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Oh my what a lovely post!! What touched me so much was your writing on the oak tree and I understand what you mean. My husband and I have been through so much and because of that, I feel we have grown together. Also, to see my daughter happy in all that she does brings me so much joy.
Tracy :)

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow. Creepy but so cool, the history, the stories.

And yes it is a thankless task, but how wonderful of you to do it anyway.

Beautiful images of the girls enjoying themselves in spite of it all. Brao!!!

Sara said...

What a beautiful post! The scenery reminds me of what my husband and I saw this summer when we visited the Huffington chalk horse. I don't know my English geography (I live in California) but perhaps it is in the same general area...

I agree wholeheartedly with your idea of a blissful family day! And those sorts of days are oh so rare for most of us it seems. I'm happy your family indulged you and that you took us along.

And is also brought happy memories back to me of our summer trip to your beautiful country.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

A lovely day, indeed. I miss walks in the English countryside... followed by a pub something at the end :-)

I am glad you all enjoyed your day out. XO

Nimble said...

The phrase that comes to mind: herding cats. (Although after this summer's county fair I think herding pigs might be harder -- at least cats can't knock you over.)

There is a glow to enjoy from a family outing. I'm glad you had such a good day.

Kelly H-Y said...

Oh, I loved that! Your words, your pictures ... beautiful!

Chairman Bill said...

That viper's nest, lovingly referred to by many as the bosom of the family.

Dick said...

What truths and delights here. I know Combe Gibbet from rambles with Reading friends and I know about the turbulences from my first time around as a dad.

My three bicker and bundle along, but they depend more upon us than on themselves or each other so the beginnings of autonomy are not evident yet. But love's in place and, as you know in the final analysis, no-one quite escapes its tyranny! said...

The clouds actually look divine to me. I guess that's because I'm deeply fascinated by all types of clouds. The photo of the oak trees took my breath away.

Dumdad said...

Lovely post, heart-warming photos.

Pub lunches with all the family - that's what we did this summer in the Kent countryside. Nothing better.

Sarah Laurence said...

That is a blissful day – you bring back pleasant memories of our pub lunch and country walk. How true about the difficulties in achieving this goal with family. I love the photo of the road, twisting and branching through the fields. Thanks for taking me on your walk even when I can’t join you in person.

Shaista said...

Well, you didn't just take the family on the walk, you took all of us! So wonderful, someone described this post as a mini-novel and I agree. Stories within stories... And no, it is never a thankless task - it is essential to be keeper of the family happiness!

Italo said...


A Modern Mother said...

Sounds like you had a nice walk!

Meri said...

Yes, clouds sometimes drift across the family sky, and then the sun shines through. How about that?

kristina said...

so well written, and paired with beautiful photos!
ah, family relationships - the hardest thing to get right. I hope you'll get lots of sun!

Fantastic Forrest said...

You already know by now that your text and photos are brilliant, so I'll just say a big ditto about all that. (A Patrick Swayze/Ghost-type ditto, never a Big Fat Idiot/He who Must Not be Named-type ditto).

But I have something else to say. While sharing these observations about family, reflections of which I see in my own life, you continue to introduce me to something new. In this case, it's Du Pré. Intrigued, I did a little research.

I'm not surprised her husband didn't like Combe Gibbet. As I'm sure you know, in the early 1980s, Barenboim began a relationship with the Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, with whom he had two sons, born prior to du Pré's death. Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, reports "Barenboim tried to keep his relationship with Bashkirova hidden from du Pré and believes he succeeded."

I wonder. Maybe those trips up to Combe Gibbet were her way of making him feel uneasy. Ha!

Lucy said...

Gosh, sometimes it's difficult enough to find agreement on what everyone likes to do when there are just two people and a dog, I often wonder how whole families manage at all!

Lovely pictures, hope your rentree is going well.

Stacey Childs said...

Wow beautiful pictures, you live in the England we (colonial children) are taught about: romantic, nostalgic, Wind in the Willows-esque. Very lovely!

Bee said...

Thanks, everyone, for your gracious comments.

FF - If you think that love triangle is interesting, you should read this book and discover how Jackie wanted to "share" her sister Hilary's husband. Hilary may have had use for the gibbet, too.

Fantastic Forrest said...

But the link to the book says that it was with Hilary's blessing...

Just sayin'. :)

Bee said...

You need to read the entire story. Have you seen "Hilary and Jackie?" Great movie; based on that book.

Lisa said...

This is so lovely. I treasure those happy family moments - no matter how few and far between.

My favorite sound in the world is my children laughing together, unaware that they can be heard.