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remembering valerie lester

‘Do with your writing what you’re doing with your life,’ Val advised sagely. ‘Be brave.’

- from The Latte Years

Val and I on one of her friends’ boats in Annapolis, June 2007.

Val and I on one of her friends’ boats in Annapolis, June 2007.

My beloved friend, and the wonderful writer, translator and scholar, Valerie Lester passed away in June. How grateful I am that our paths crossed when she visited Hobart nearly 20 years ago. I owe her a great deal.

She was one of my greatest and most enthusiastic cheerleaders, set many wheels in motion for me and, as per the excerpt from my book above (which she loved), always encouraged me to be resilient and brave.

“I exhort you to keep writing,” she said in her last email to me.

Bloody Mary’s (I think!) in Annapolis, July 2007.

Bloody Mary’s (I think!) in Annapolis, July 2007.

A few weeks after Val’s passing, I learned I had been accepted into my PhD program, which I’ve now begun in earnest. I would have so loved to share that news with her. My PhD project was inspired by a tiny bit of research she asked me to do for her while she was writing her book about Phiz (Dickens’ principal illustrator), so it’s been nearly 15 years in the making. I hope I will do her proud. The project so far has been thrilling and I think it's going to be a real adventure. I'm so grateful to Val for leaving the first few crumbs on the trail for me.

What a talented, generous and fascinating person she was. I have so many happy memories of her and her husband Jim when I visited them in Annapolis in 2007. Most of them involve jazz music, poetry, and gin and tonics! They were both such dear friends and I miss them both very much.

With Val and Jim, Annapolis, July 2007.

With Val and Jim, Annapolis, July 2007.


Go well, dear Val. Until we meet again.  

when july was summer

Gin and tonics in our backyard last July.

Gin and tonics in our backyard last July.

Last July, it was summer, not winter.

Our one-way tickets to Australia were booked.

London wasn’t home any more. It’s a hard feeling to describe, when life is carrying on as much as it always has, but now there is no point buying plants for the garden, or that piece of furniture, for you know now there is an end date, and soon you will leave this corner of the earth. The house you live in and love will soon be someone else’s. You will disappear. It will be as if you had never been there at all.

Here is something I wrote at the time. Just some little observations. Things I wanted to remember.

Tom and I walking up to the street fair, July 2018

Tom and I walking up to the street fair, July 2018

8 July 2018

The third weekend in a row of high temperatures, the sun beating down, unfiltered by cloud. My shoulders tanned brown. Tom and I walk up to the village Green, where there’s a street fair. They’ve closed the road by the train station so the usually car-choked streets are filled with donkey rides, Enfield for Europe protestors, gin and tonic stands, a Mini convertible we know no one will win. The smells are intoxicating - Caribbean food, curries, kebabs, Vietnamese tofu grilled on hot coals, halloumi fries piled with pomegranate seeds.

enfield-for-europe-july-2018-philippa-moore

England are playing Sweden in the World Cup in a few hours so giant television screens are set up on the green, the air full of expectation. By the time we walk home with food for lunch, the streets will have emptied significantly. A few hours later, roars, screams and cheers will signal that England have triumphed. 

I linger at the plant stall, my favourite, full of varieties of sage and mint - apple, peppermint, pineapple. Heartsease, its purple flowers shaped like little hearts. House leeks, to ward off bad spirits. Thai basil, which I’m longing to cook with having been watching Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. All the plants I would buy if we weren’t leaving. But it’s going to pain me to part with the ones I already have. I keep my coins in my purse and move on. 

plant-stall-london-philippa-moore

For weeks now we have lived on salads, veggie burgers, dips and raw vegetables, grains that can be cooked with water from the kettle. I can’t remember the last time I made pasta, soup or a curry. We have a little rain for the first time in nearly four weeks and my thirsty plants gulp it down.

The hard cantaloupe melon we bought yesterday, barely giving off a fragrance, is already ripe and begins to perfume the house. It is beginning to dip into a smell that is less perfume and more compost heap. I suspect we must eat it today.

melon-philippa-moore

The smell of over-ripe melon will always make think of that last summer in London.

PS: The reason for the photos with captions on them is because a few days later, on 13 July - bizarrely, coinciding with Trump’s visit to London - my phone died and I hadn’t backed up any photos since May. The only way I could access these pics was through Instagram stories!




one hundred years wasn't enough

My grandmother Daphne as a baby, with her mother Pansy (her real name was Emily but everyone called her Pansy). Taken in London, November 1919.

My grandmother Daphne as a baby, with her mother Pansy (her real name was Emily but everyone called her Pansy). Taken in London, November 1919.

the light, the season, 

is fading. 

what will be left by winter?

what will be left by tomorrow?

will our family be one person down,

without the one whose heart started

before the guns of the Great War

fell silent,

whose breath spanned two centuries,

whose soul knew many homes.

I wrote the lines above as the sun set last Monday night after hearing the news earlier that day that my beloved grandmother, who I spent three hours laughing and doing crosswords with only a few weeks ago, had had a small stroke and was fading.

I went to say goodbye to her last Wednesday. And on Saturday evening, a week out from her 100th birthday, she passed away. We had been anticipating her 100th as a family with great joy - we even had a letter from the Queen, all ready to go. So it hasn’t been the week we thought it would be, though it has still been a celebration of a long and fruitful life.

But it is also, to use a well-worn phrase, the end of an era.

We were so lucky to have her for so long. But that doesn’t make losing her any easier. She is irreplaceable. It feels strange to now be living in a world without her when, until a week ago, she had always been here.

How lucky I was to have her as a grandmother, and what a shining example she was of how to live well and authentically. I adored her sharp wit, her endless fascinating stories, her cooking, her affinity with plants, her love of nature. She taught me to cook, to sew and to play cards. She indulged every one of my silly childish whims but she always treated me like a grown up. She encouraged my love of writing and storytelling. When my book came out, she was in the front row at the launch and she read the whole thing, with a magnifying glass.

I will always cherish the memories of her indefatigable spirit, her sense of fun, her generosity, her quiet conviction, her pragmatism, and her fierce independence. Sometimes, when I was growing up, I felt so different from the rest of my family, convinced on some occasions I had been swapped with another baby at the hospital. But then I would think about Ma and her mother, and the kinds of women they were and realise ‘ah, that’s where I get that from’. I am proud to think that both their spirits live on in me, somehow.

Without her influence, I know I would have been a very, very different person. I am so grateful.

All of the above I told her while I sat with her quietly last Wednesday, holding her hand and stroking her hair. But I wish I had told her these things more often while I still had the privilege of being in her company.

So let this be a timely reminder for you, dear reader. Tell your loved ones you love them. They really won’t be here forever. Even though, in Ma’s case, it felt like she would be! I’m so glad Tom and I moved back to Australia when we did and that I got to spend lots of time with her these past few months. Those memories are now very precious indeed.

me-and-ma-philippa-moore

Happy 100th birthday Ma. As far as I’m concerned, you made it.

I will love you always.

***

Daphne Lucie Elizabeth Moore
11 May 1919 - 4 May 2019

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Me with a pencil case I wish I'd bought in Typo, Melbourne Central, on a too-brief visit in June 2013.

Me with a pencil case I wish I'd bought in Typo, Melbourne Central, on a too-brief visit in June 2013.

Now that the redirect on my old site finally seems to be working, I thought I'd write a quick post to say welcome to my new corner of the web!

If you're thinking "WTF Phil...I don't visit your blog for a few months and you've just...moved?!" then please visit my FAQ and fill yourself in there. I think I pretty much covered everything!

Now that my near-10 years at Skinny Latte Strikes Back is at an end, I'm really excited about the new directions I'm going in and keen to share it all with you.

The biggest news is that my husband and I have moved back to the city, after nearly three years out in the country getting a much needed change of scene and perspective. I'm beginning to think that there are two types of people who leave London (and perhaps this applies to all big cities the world over) - some that leave and never return, and others that leave, come back and then never leave again! I suspect Tom and I might be the latter camp...but never say never.

As the last of the boxes is unpacked, I feel more like myself than I have for a long time. The canvas is blank again and my paint brushes are itching to be used. 

There's so much to share with you all and it's coming soon. Thank you for your love and support and patience. I hope you'll continue to share the journey with me.