So often, over the years, I have asked myself what love is. How it can be that it manifests itself in so much heartache, so much joy; such companionship, togetherness, caring, sharing, supporting - the list goes on, and underlies all my being, particularly when I am being really stupid or selfish. And yet still I feel cherished by my dear husband, despite my madcap ways.
I think I discovered love's true meaning in early 2001 when I was in hospital; a flu-like virus caused unexpected liver and kidney failure. It was touch-and-go; pumped with drugs and with a body gradually wasting away, all I wanted to do was sleep for ever. One morning I was woken by a gentle kiss on my forehead; it was a kiss that drew me back from the abyss - Raymond bending over me, willing me awake, back to life. I did not even know he was there. I remember that moment whenever I am feeling particularly churlish. Love manifests itself in many ways; why else would this dear man spend four days this last week rectifying my crashed computer when he has plenty else to be doing?
The photograph above (taken in artificial light, so rather weak) is part of a much larger stitched sampler I designed and made for him twelve years ago, for his 65th birthday. The quotation, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" is taken from a sonnet written in 1850 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Please double-click on the image to see it in greater detail.
All these pink-and-terracotta hearts seemed an appropriate image for St.Valentine's Day, the day when birds are traditionally supposed to mate. Some, like geese, mate for life and if one is shot and killed, the surviving partner will pine away.
A 'poetry moment': the other day, whilst sorting papers, I came across this poem I wrote on Valentine's Day in 1980 - from the mention of all the flowers, it must have been a warm Spring! I will go into the garden now and see what I can see; maybe pick a posy for the breakfast table.
St Valentines Day - 1980
Spring has sprung
With sweet flowers
leaving cold winter
Spring has sprung
with sweet violets
Primulas and aconites
Little crocus and yellow iris
Spearing the frozen earth.
And on this day
Beloved of St Valentine
Hearts are filled
With another year of love.
And here's one I found that I had written ten years earlier, in 1970, almost thirty years ago. I cannot believe this but all is coming to light because of 'the computer crash' - I've been capturing old files. It's certainly more appropriate to the present weather! But, oh, I find it almost too poignant: back then, I was only 33 years old (71 now) and our two little boys were amongst the polar-bear children flying down the hill, younger than some of our grandchildren. What it is to remember through what one has written there and then. Yet it seems as if it were but yesterday.
St Valentine's Day - 1970
Wild white world!
The laughing sledges screaming
Down the long hill,
Polar bear children
Spread-eagled, hair flying
In the glimmering snow;
Wind blow cold
Sun sparkle the frost-held trees
Breathless, all waiting for the
And young wondering spring
Glad under the soft helpless blanket
of weight-deadening, leg-wearying
white whipped snow -
Young snowdrop sprung spring
Longs to leap out, to come flying
Through the sodden grasses
Into the burgeoning trees.
Flowers to spring dew spangled forth
Birds to burst with bright-eyed love
Singing into the warm sun
Sky to be dipped in the blood-quickening haze;
All living things outward opening
Into the daffodil morning
Into the wide, sweet green world.
Coming down to earth, and a Valentine's Day gift for today: I have made Raymond one of my 'Cotswold Farmhouse Fruit Cakes' - his favourite - which we will eat by the fire later on, with tea in porcelain cups. Raymond will read; maybe I will take out my knitting. I certainly can no longer stomp up to the top of the steep sledging hill.
Here is my cake recipe (please use either grams or ounces, but don't mix the two measurements):
162 grams (6 oz) each of butter, soft brown sugar and self-raising flour,
225 grams (9 oz) luxury mixed dried fruit,
50 grams (2 oz) glace cherries cut in half,
40 grams (3 oz) chopped mixed peel,
3 medium-large eggs.
Cream butter and sugar, then beat in eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of flour as you add each egg, to stop the mixture curdling. Coat the fruit with a little of the flour and set aside. Then fold in the rest of the flour, and then the fruit. Tip into a double lined loaf tin and sprinkle the top with a little demerara sugar. Put onto the middle shelf of a warm oven (reg 3 /325 F) and bake for a half hour, then turn the oven down to reg 2 (300 F) and cover the top of the cake with a double layer of greaseproof paper. Bake for a further three-quarters of an hour, or until a skewer placed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire-rack, end enjoy.