Ying

I have written this blog for  just over 10 years, its intention was to share, inform, inspire and motivate me to take photos;  its changed directions several times, some are pure information, listings, ponderings, opinions and some show an insight into my life.  it was a quandary whether to share this particular writing, but then I thought, so many of us hide behind our social media platforms;  our addiction to images and screens can somehow project different perfect lives that we all know is not always the full story.  so for the last couple of weeks, I have been a bit quiet, but I now feel the need to share my sadness this week;  I have always tried to be true, honest and hope that some of my wanderings either touch or inspire you to live a fuller life.  I still share this with tears in my eyes, but somehow it also gives me some release to acknowledge that we all go through our ups and downs, happiness and sad times.

And so last weekend my mother passed peacefully  – her strength, smile and easy going nature will always stay with me and it is heart warming to know that she is finally at peace.

I wish that I knew more about her life and past, but sadly the years has flown by and the relationship that we had during her 57 years of being healthy and able to speak was not of the kind where she opened up about her life and emotions.  She is definitely a strong resilient woman – bringing up 3 children by herself proves that, but she must also have been an independent free thinking female too.  She met my father through a friend in Hong Kong – in fact that friend also settled in the UK, but has sadly passed away.  She was in Hong Kong to escape the hardships of China when the family tailoring business was taken away and they had to restart their lives as agricultural farmers – my grandmother died in the village that she was born into and never left it ever.  Her father had built the school of the village, but sadly the village is now a ghost town as all the young leave to get jobs, shunning the life of farmers and banana plantations.

I recently learned that my father had been a troublesome child, raised by his aunt Elisabeth, he was in Borstal by the age of 15 and chose the army to escape imprisonment.  He was stationed in Hong Kong and met my mother there.  I am presuming that they were early 20’s when they met, as my mother always told me that she was 24 when I was born, but to this day, we are not quite sure of her actual birthday.  She always had 2 birthdays, a Chinese one as well as her western birthday.  She was a little bit older than my father too, though there are discrepancies about her real age, relatives have told me that she could be as much as 6 years older!    From the photograph that I have of them dancing, they looked so happy, but that newborn happiness brought a rift to my mother and her family.  They didn’t speak to her for many years – embarrassed, ashamed that their eldest daughter married an English soldier and settled in the UK.  I know that my mother always sent them money all the time to help them rebuild their lives and in fact when I finally did make it to the village in China to meet my grandmother and extended family, I was so surprised to see the houses that they built themselves with the help of the  money that my mother had sent throughout those many years.

I cant remember when they forgave my mother, but I do remember my mother going back to Hong Kong several times, filling a truck with fridges, clothes, kitchen stuff and driving them across to China to her parents’ house.  This was when communism was still strong and you were not able to buy these products easily.  My mother also brought over her younger sister  to live in Manchester, found her a husband and put down payment for another house for her to live in.  I remember that Yik Oiy was only a little older than myself and had never eaten cakes – that was my first lasting memory of her.  Sadly she died fairly young with breast cancer leaving behind 3 young daughters.   As I left home at 19 and my own life took its route, I only saw my mother maybe 4 – 6 times a year.  When I finally reached that inquisitive  stage of my life to ask more about her life, she had a massive stroke – about a year in hospital and rehabilitation and her speech never recovered.  She could only say the first sentence of what she wanted to say, but apparently still being able to understand us.  How frustrating.  So with all the distance between her own family, her own marriage falling apart so early, she kept most of those emotions and feelings trapped to herself.

My eldest daughter Alice is fascinated by our Chinese roots and has really embraced and tried to understand more, but it’s not until recently that I too have become more intrigued and touched by our heritage.  Perhaps it’s the moving times that has spurred this, but more the reality that my mother has slipped away and all that unknown leaving with her.  I think that recently this strange lockdown has ignited my thoughts and desire to discover about my past history– it’s probably the much needed therapy that allows me to speak and learn about my own heritage.  For so many years, generations have lived with their secrets, hiding their backgrounds hoping to be included and respected.  Being Chinese in a western society was never completely easy and I think that’s why my mother hid a lot of her past.

We have decided to use a Chinese Funereal company, which has unveiled a world of superstition and tradition.  we just thought it was nice to incorporate some of the intriguing rituals that I know my mother believed in;  my mother had this amazing resilience to accept the good and bad times in her stride, I never saw her upset or angry, she seemed to accept its ups and downs.  It is a relief that she passed painlessly and is now finally at peace, surrounded by her 3 children whom she dedicated her life to.  I feel such gratitude and guilt about many things around our relationship, but I also feel lucky to have had such a wonderful mother.

Qigong

so after 10 weeks of lockdown, I have discovered new forms of exercise.  a friend introduced me to Katie Brindle, who is a Chinese medicine practitioner, who loves to promote the health benefits of traditional Chinese beauty and healing techniques, but making it fun and easy to do.   Some may find her morning Qigong too lively and chatty, but its a fun way to the introduction of Qigong and its principles and as she talks a lot about all aspects of Chinese health and myths, you learn a lot.  Very strange that at this ripe old age, I am rediscovering my roots.  I used to see my step father do these exercises and kind of giggle; and at the community centre for old Chinese, I see my mother’s colleagues waving their arms around and now totally understand what they were doing.  I think I have spent many years running away from my heritage, trying to be more western and blend in, that I have totally overlooked these wonderful practices.   However, if you are really looking for that calming meditative practice, I would highly recommend Mimi Kuo Deemer who has a lovely aura about her and she shows all the different Qigong moves in her You tube videos – she also teaches online at Triyoga.   I have done her meditation class before lockdown and she really is a lovely teacher.  once we are able to visit classes in person, its my intention to start Quigong classes with her.  I also did a course for the 12 rivers practice with Arron Collins Thomas, who teaches you a sequence of moves that work on the 12 organs of the body;  its very dancelike and the moves work on the meridians associated with each organ, which are very beneficial for energising, protecting, clearing the body and the mind.  Its a perfect regime for now, to protect and nourish your system and building up your immunity. Once you have learned the moves, you can do the whole sequence with warm up within half an hour.  I have to admit, I have done a combination of all 3 teachers, depending on my mood, every single day for the last 5 weeks, and I really do think it has helped me get through all this massive change.  my mood is less temperamental, I have definitely been less grumpy and panicked about the future and some of my minor aching symptoms have dissipated.  I don’t know whether its mind over matter,  but I feel its definitely helping me.   also take a look at Long White cloud, lovely Qigong there too and apparently the teacher of both Katie and Arron. .

Robert and I still do our 12 min breath meditation with Clare Connolly each morning on waking – and this definitely starts our day in a relaxed state.  I have also downloaded the steps app and strive to do the 10K steps,  about 7.5 km for my bodyweight, but its not always possible – its also annoying that you have to carry your mobile around to monitor it – am desperately trying to get off all these devices;  there are pros and cons with technology, but spending so much time on them is definitely not good for your posture and mind.   Once we have some normality to our lives,  I really don’t know how I am going to fit this all in once normal life resumes – I guess I will pick and choose what to keep up, or maybe I will just do a little of everything.

I have taken to practising my 12 Rivers on the terrace just before bedtime – there is something calming about doing this in the open air and with the sun setting.

 

birthday wishes

I thought that this poem was particularly appropriate as my youngest daughter has now reached 21 and my eldest one already married.  not only does this make me feel ancient, but also sad and reminiscent of how quick the years of childhood have flown by.  Its 10 years now that I have been doing this blog, and yet it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was writing my first posts.
Even during this strange period of staying at home, the time seems to be flying past, each day coming and going like the waves of the sea – a reminder that time is perpetual, and our children are beacons of moments of life.  I am hoping that there will be a lot of good out of this massive change;  for the moment it seems bleak for the young and the job situation – the creative and arts side of life seems so difficult to get back to any momentum – but I am sure we will get there.  history has proved it and we are strong and determined beings that have always pulled through and excelled.

This is one of my favourite poems.  Happy birthday Maude – I have but pride and love for you.  I realise that you always hold onto the youngest child longer – as you realise that both of you have grown up.

It is both sad and a relief to fold so carefully

her outgrown clothes and line up the little worn shoes

of childhood, so prudent, scuffed and particular.

It is both happy and horrible to send them galloping

back tappity-tap along the mist chill path into the past. .

It is both a freedom and a prison, to be outgrown

by her as she towers over me as thin as a sequin

in her doc Martens and her pretty skirt

because just as I work out how to be a mother

she stops being a child.

Penelope Shuttle

repair, renew and recycle

so during this lockdown, I have been picking things that I normally leave at the back of my wardrobe, wearing them, then altering and repairing them using the sashiko Japanese method.  I had been doing a diy version of this for many years, fixing tears and holes with similar fabrics, or with vintage white cottons, using pretty lace ribbons to fix up.  however, I managed to get onto a zoom online repair class with Toast, hosted by the lovely Molly Martin and its amazing how a one hour of tuition can make a difference, giving you the tips on how to do things properly and easily.  its the one good thing out of this situation is that as things are taught online, there seem to be no limits to the number of people joining into a class, whereas normally there is such a small capacity in store, you can never get onto one of those courses, they are always booked up!  I also did a darning mend class with Emily Settle at toast  and this spurred me to darn all my socks and holes in jumpers!

last year, I met Esthea Evans in suffolk and inspired by her, I fixed up a few broken linens and repaired stuff.  it really is very time consuming, but also very rewarding, especially if something is your favourite thing to wear, that holds lots of memories – so why not make a lovely feature of your repair, use a contrast colour thread or patch. Its also very eco, recycling and less wasteful!  I also attempted to make some face masks out of some scraps of fabrics that I had!  I have now realised that I should have made them double thickness, but I think that they are pretty.  I had to source elastic online, and discovered James tailoring for sustainable ethical and essential tailoring supplies.  other favourite sites to check out are merchant and mills, great simple patterns, one day I will attempt to make one of their dresses and Wild and Woolly for knitting – Maude recommended this to me.  I also dyed a few of my white cottons that get very yellow around the neck or have stains that I can’t get out, like rust – I have never found a perfect dye colour, so usually mix the blues or bright pink with some of the dark grey  – its all experimentation.  a lovely book to get inspired by is by Clare Wellesley Smith, Slow Stitch – just think that repair and stitching is a mindful activity, which is what we all need to do at the moment.

tea and crafting also looks like a very interesting place – you can do a 3 hour workshop in embroidery, knit some gloves,  make your own candles in a tea cup, sew a tote bag – basically, anything you might want to ever buy, you can learn how to make yourself!!

keeping white fresh and clean

dont you hate it every summer, you go to get your lovely white dresses out and there are all these yellow marks over them?  apparently, even if your clothes look clean and there are no apparent stains, you should still wash them before you put them back, especially clothes that you dont wear that often. its the body fluids, grease etc, even from your fingertips that remains on the fabric.    I have so many antique clothes, that they actually disintegrate with too much washing, so i  dont wash everything each time.  anyhow, i have discovered that if you soak them in Ecover bleach- i have only done this with white things, then the yellow stain miraculously disappears!    i am not guaranteeing it for everything, but the few times that i have tried it, its worked for me.  Apparently baking soda acts the same, so I may give that a try next.

incidentally, my beautiful victorian blouse that i wear rips everytime, so i now sew vintage lace ribbons into the holes to patch up and it seems to not only cover the hole, but adds to the quirkiness of the blouse.   i used to just hang them in my bedroom as decoration, but have decided that its silly not to wear them.   i tend to buy my vintage ribbons from the cloth house, they have a lovely selection as well as interesting fabrics.

Teowa is a violin teacher and actress and is one of my constant muses;  the vintage dress I bought from a shop in spain, apparently it was the owners grandmothers dress….  sadly the shop isn’t there any more.  I really miss photographing people at the moment, its going to be one of the first things I am going to do when the rules allow…….

teowa balthus2__MG_009292_1 teowa balthus2__MG_007171

for one inspirational lady who I miss dearly

it would have been Eilleen’s birthday today, so this is for the most inspirational lady i know.

You inspire me
When my eyes begin to glaze
You inspire me
In so many ways
When I’m on the ground
You seem to know
How to pour blessings down
And spread them all around

You inspire me
When my well is almost dry
You inspire me
And in the twinkling of an eye
I’m back on my feet
You’re so inspiring to me

The road is long
And it winds through the night
But when you’re near
You let there be light

You inspire me
When my eyes begin to glaze
You inspire me
In so many ways
I’m back on my feet
You’re so inspiring
I don’t have to wish upon a star
That’s how inspiring you are
the beautiful lyrics of Nick Lowe

82,white_bud_rose

white roses from my cards range – eilleen’s favourite flower.

secret gardens

strangely we have been avoiding walks in the park now that they have got so busy, and instead have enjoyed strolling round the streets and alleys of nearby areas.  today we walked around the lovely alleys of Hampstead, which really is so old, winding and beautiful.

several years ago, we stayed near Shepton Mallet  and discovered this beautiful historical secret garden, Kilver Court.   it was so tranquil,  a perfect place to just visit and enjoy the view.   we stayed at a lovely hotel, Ston Easton Park for the night, which was sheer luxury – beautifully furnished with antiques and set in beautiful grounds.    The area of Somerset was lovely to explore, a lunch trip to Wells, the Mulberry Factory shop, the farm shop at Sharpham everything you need to make a weekend perfect.

i love the hidden gardens of london – tucked behind residential and industrial areas of london there are so many to discover;  i recently  visited st georges garden, just near to kings cross – a 300 year old burial ground, its a lovely breath of greenery in a somewhat park free part of town.    my architecture buddy Maria, took me to the gagosian gallery in kings cross first and then we walked around the lovely Marchmont Street.   I much prefer a local street with independents…..

although kew is not a secret, its still a lovely place to visit and lose yourself amongst the victorian conservatories and woodlands.   I can’t wait for all these places to open again.  these can all be places to put on your list of things to see and visit.

other secret gardens in london are Abney Park Cementery nature reserve in stoke newington, hampstead hill gardens and pergola in a little known pocket of hampstead heath, built by Lord Leverhulme for his parties a century ago.   the old english garden in battersea park is a more contemporary garden, recently revamped in battersea park.  camley street natural park is in the heart of kings cross that has been turned into a floating forest garden with pond meadow and woodland habitats.  so wherever you are , there is a hidden haven right in your city.  charter house square is another new discovery, right by Smithfield market, with its 14C building, its definitely somewhere to revisit and Mount Street Gardens, right in the heart of mayfair is a lovely place to sit and take a rest.  I have been walking through st Pancras gardens to get to Waitrose in Kings Cross, such a peaceful haven right by the train station and perhaps by one of the most congested roads in London.   another former cemetery, St Martin’s Gardens is close – again only recently discovered on my daily walk.   there is so much to discover locally , just take a stroll and learn more about your neighbourhood – its one of the bonuses  of this time.  if you want to see a list,  the london gardens trust inventory has all the available gardens .   create a wish list now of all the public buildings and gardens that you would like to visit, that will be something to look forward to.

Maya Njie

I first discovered Maya’s beautiful perfume in Greenwich, at one of Wayne Hemmingway’s outside fetes, this was a few years ago.  I was drawn, not only to the soothing aroma, but the bottles, photography and presentation of her products, and also to Maya herself.  She has such a striking, individual and elegant look that I had to visit her stall.  her first creation Nordic Cedar is my favourite perfume – as you can guess perfume is not my big thing, but hers is not at all like the commercial brands that you are used to – its light, subtle and the scent just stays with you.  she has lots to choose from, and each one is reminiscent of a place or inspired by a memory that Maya has experienced.  Maya is also one of the creative women that I have recently photographed.

 

dressing for staying at home

when you are stuck at home, its easy to stay in your pyjamas or tracksuits all day – they are after all comfort clothes, they say relax, they don’t have irritating waistbands or zips, neither do they crease and nor does it matter if you end up crawling on the floor to wipe up that mess from the cooking…..  but there is something about staying at home day after day, week after week, that affects your whole mind and body;  its not just the physical having to stay put, but the mental awareness that the world is changing around you, the future is not foreseeable, your diary is empty,  you cannot plan even the next  birthday or family event.  life is somewhat out of your hands, which is a very strange and disconcerting place to be.

but being able to choose what to wear is still your choice and after all, if you have to pass a mirror now and again, why not catch a glimpse of yourself looking half decent,  it definitely makes you feel good if you like the way you look.  confidence is low at the moment for everyone and simple things like posture and dress can all help.  I find that actually being dressed and washed and combing my hair before 9.30am makes me feel ready to tackle the day.   its a chance to finally go through your wardrobe and try on all those things that you have had for years to decide whether you like them or not.  I have very sensitive skin, and find that labels, seams, fastenings can irritate me, so I am used to layering with cotton and silk layers.  in winter, I will put on wool, but its the final layer and doesn’t touch my skin – I have been known to wear 7 layers during the cold spell.   cotton is the perfect ‘stay at home’ fabric, its soft, machine washable, durable and easy to iron.  I have very few clothes in my wardrobe that you cannot wash and I recently learned from Robert’s posh tailors that dry cleaning your clothes, is not only harsh, but shortens the life of your item and they suggest every now and again soft sponging the items with mild washing detergents.  I even use ecover washing up liquid on some of my stains, especially grease marks.   I always put a thin T shirt layer under dresses, which protects the underarms from marks and am a big believer in silk slips, that not only allow your clothes to hang well, but also protects your clothes from your body lotions or oils.  I am a big fan of white clothes, and if I put them on for the day, but then have to do a really messy job, I will swap into a patterned dress or denim skirt that will easily hide the dirt.  I definitely wear an apron if cooking or even washing up in a dress that I really don’t want to mess up.   mix and match summer dresses with long sleeved t shirts, cardigans, shirts – put longer skirts under shorter dresses to add interest and length, its time to experiment.

I have put together some selfies I have taken during the last month of outfits that I have worn for home and going for my daily walk.  (they all look a bit alike, but I am not a selfie expert and its actually more difficult than when you are looking through a camera and can see what you are doing)   I definitely have a diverse set of clothes, anything from vintage,  designer and high street brands – my favourite clothes for looking stylish, but practical and affordable are mainly from Gap, Muji and Uniqulo – but I always buy in the sales from brands like Toast and Tidystreet Store.  what I do is look at what I like at the beginning of a new season and keep an eye for the sale, even in places like the high street.   Gap and Uniqulo always sale their things and there always seems like plenty of sizes.  with vintage clothes, I. don’t wear them all day, as they are more fragile and the seams tend to split, but some of the 50’s cotton skirts are very hardwearing.  my family sometimes think I am a bit mad with the way I dress, but personally I think you can do whatever you desire in your own home and most of the time when you go out, you tend to cover it with a coat!