"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
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
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.