London weekend

When people ask me where I’m from, I just say England. I’m not English of course, I’m half-Swedish, half-Italian, living in Abu Dhabi and with a house in France. But no one really wants to know all that. Added to which, England is where I feel most at home.
Rupert, Leonardo and I just got back from London yesterday. We flew in on Wednesday and en route to the friends we were staying with drove up Redcliffe Gardens, the first place I lived in when I moved to London aged 16. Actually it wasn’t strictly the first place. Prior to that I had lived in a bedsit in Maida Vale, which was utterly dingy but I loved it. There was an old Greek man who lived downstairs and used to feed me Moussaka. And I worked at what was then Hennes, now H&M in Oxford Street.
I suppose what struck me so much driving up Redcliffe Gardens was how little it has changed in 20 years. I am a totally different creature, with children and published books and an unhealthy obsession with Chelsea football club. But London is almost identical. Maybe that is one of the reasons I feel so at home there.
We started our visit at Stamford Bridge, where we watched Newcastle beat Chelsea, funnily enough with a great friend of mine from the time I lived in Redcliffe Gardens. Leo and I spent Friday morning on the Stamford Bridge tour, and Saturday at the FA Cup Final. In between we shopped (Peter Jones, another example of how London remains the same), saw friends and went to the National Gallery and the Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. An ideal five days. Leo was weeping when we left and asking how soon we can go back. I have booked him into the Chelsea Soccer School in July, so we will be there then at least. But if I can sneak in a visit back home beforehand, I will.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

Blast from the past

My friend Floss just left today, she has been staying with us for the past week. When I first met her some 30 years ago at a pizzeria in the King’s Road there were two things that differentiated her from everyone else. One, she had a red mohican, and two, she was an utterly obsessive Chelsea fan. One of those things remains the same.
We were best friends all those years ago. We did everything together. We lived close to each other, she was still living with her parents in Sloane Square, and I was renting a room nearby from a long-suffering girl called Angela whose life was about as far removed from ours as was possible. Floss and I spent all our time together, at my place or hers, and going out.
We used to go to night clubs a lot; the Camden Palace, the Mud Club, Crazy Larry’s. We were backing singers once for Steve Strange and my other claim to fame is that I was once told by George Michael that Andrew Ridgeley fancied me. But back then, before they were famous, they were known as ‘the wallies from wham’ and I wasn’t interested. Of course I was also in love with ‘Heathcliff’ as some of you might remember him, who by a strange coincidence was here last week, missing Floss by just a few days.
Floss and I lost touch when I went to university and she went around the world. A couple of years ago my friend Marco told me he had seen her.
“She’s just the same,” he said.
“What? She’s still got a red mohican?” I asked. (Floss is on the left below)
He put us in touch and she came to my book launch in London. We then swapped lots of emails, mainly about Chelsea, until she asked if she could come and stay. I didn’t know what to expect really. Thirty years is a long time. I really thought it would be a bit like having a stranger in the house. But it wasn’t. The amazing thing is, that she really is just the same (apart from the hair-do) and I felt like we’d never been apart.
I don’t know if it’s a significant thing or not, hooking up with people from when you were young, maybe it’s totally irrelevant. I suppose if nothing else it’s good to know that people who knew you so long ago still want to hang out with you. And that some things never change.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

Insomnia….again

There are many things you can do when you wake up in the middle of the night. You can lie there and try to get back to sleep. Sometimes that works, but not, as was the case with me just now, when there is a little person next to you who has just had a nightmare and keeps throwing her arms in your general direction while she sleeps.Or, as is also the case with me tonight, there are a million things going around in your head such as how to finish the novel, what to eat for dinner, where is above-mentioned little person’s science test and how best to deal with an extremely pesky work situation.
My friend Carla’s view on sleep is that if it doesn’t come naturally, you take drugs. I once took a sleeping pill. It was when my father was staying with us one Christmas. The next day I was like the walking dead.
“Why are you being even more stupid than usual?” he asked me. I told him about the pill. He flew into a rage such as I have never seen before. “Sleeping pills are for the mediocre,” he yelled. “You are a writer. If you can’t sleep, get up and write.”
So after an hour and a half of trying to get back to sleep I have decided to do just that. There is a novel to finish and an article to write.
And even if it doesn’t help my own insomnia, it may help someone else’s.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

Harvest Festival

For about an hour this week, I could have been in Wiltshire. I went to Leo’s Harvest Festival at the church next to his school. The children sang hymns and harvest songs, we said a few prayers of thanks and the head of the primary school made a little speech.
As we filed out, I bumped into the (Welsh) headmaster and we had a chat about the hideous rugby world cup semi-final. Then I stepped outside into 40 degree heat and my illusion was shattered.

Rupert teases me about my obsession with Wiltshire. For some reason I have a notion that if we lived there in a large thatched cottage somewhere on the edge of a field, our lives would be perfect. I imagine driving the children to school along a windy road with high hedges either side and wild flowers in the ditches. Dropping them at the school gate and heading off to Waitrose to do the thrice-weekly shop before going home to work on my latest book in a office with central heating instead of air conditioning.

The reality is probably that we would be living next to a water-logged field, impenetrable without a boat for most of the year, that Waitrose would be packed full of people and utterly hideous, and that the roads on the way to school would be jammed with people with road rage and we would be broke from paying endless tax.

But until I try it, I won’t believe it.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Solvitur Ambulando

When we lived in France, we would go for around three walks a day. One mid-morning, one late afternoon and one after dinner. Mostly we would up to “the cross”, as we called it, the end of the small road we lived on, marked by a metal cross at the edge of a vineyard. On this walk we would walk over two small rivers and pass our almond orchard. We would often (on the mid-morning walk) run into the postman, who would stop for a chat but then take our post home anyway to save us carrying it.

I hadn’t thought about these walks for a while until Rupert woke up the other morning and said “I’d like to go for a walk to the cross.” It was the weekend and I think he was wondering what we could do for the day. The heat is still pretty unbearable and so there really is a limit. It’s basically the mall, or stay at home or drive to Dubai and go skiing, in a mall. Faced with those options, a walk to the cross seems like heaven.

I think one of the most unsettling things about living abroad is the constant question of ‘when are we going to go home?’ It is becoming more and more difficult to make any kind of decision. The longer we stay here, the more complicated it becomes. The kids are now all in the British School where they seem to be blissfully happy. In fact Olivia says she won’t leave here until she has finished school. Bea is literally blossoming and comes home every day with house points. Leo is just about to get in to (fingers crossed) the football, rugby and cricket squads so will be utterly content.

As for us, well things are fine, obviously we can’t walk to the cross, but we do have more time to hang out with our children because the lovely Nirosa does all the domestic stuff, leaving me free to read Winne-the-Pooh (genius book), play tennis and write. I remember my stepfather once advising me never to move in with a boyfriend “because you won’t leave until it gets really bad”. Which I suppose is the case with us and going home. And unless we fall foul of the (sometimes less than predictable) law or disaster strikes, I can’t see it ever getting really bad.

There is that Latin saying, Solvitur Ambulando meaning ‘it is solved by walking’. I remember we used to chat about problems on our walks and often come up with solutions. When I walk alone I come up with plots and ideas for the book. We do walk now, but instead of rivers we cross major road intersections and instead of our almond orchard we walk past a royal palace. And of course one of the major topics of discussion is how long to stay here. Most often we come up with the same conclusion. A while longer.

The cross will have to wait. The good thing is, even if we don’t go back for another ten years, chances are it will still be there.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Travels with a yogi

We went on holiday with four children and a yoga teacher. Ria, as our teacher is called, is also a good friend. I have known her since we first moved to Abu Dhabi. It was Amanda, a friend I was in touch with via email before we even got here who suggested I go to her class.

“She’s amazing, and has the best body ever, you just look at her and you’re motivated.”

So off I trotted to Ria’s class and she was right, I was motivated. But not just motivated to change my body shape. Ria is a true yogi in the sense that she is also very keen on the spiritual side of things. At the end of every lesson she would tell us to focus on our innermost desire, something we wished for, and visualize it happening. I would think about the novel, to the extent that when it finally came out, I gave Ria a copy of it. She very sweetly burst into tears. Maybe it was the prospect of having to read it.

I am pleased to say that this spiritual influence has now affected my children. We did lots of yoga there (see above) and since their week with Ria, not a negative thought is allowed. “Look for the positive,” Bea urged me the other day when I got woken up at 6am by Leo slamming a door. “Maybe you were meant to wake up early to do something special.”

“Don’t worry about the future,” said Olivia when I told her I had been fretting in the night. “Live in the now.”

Leo is similarly smitten, and the most dedicated yogi of them all.

Hugo and Rupert seem less convinced, but I am hoping that eventually this new zen-ness will get to them too, and we can all live blissfully ever after. With Ria, of course.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Drama on the beach

The house we are staying in here on the beach in southern Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed in. It is called Thalassa and, as the name suggests, is by the water. It is a big sprawling house with high ceilings, wooden floors, fans and comfy places to read (or write) books all around the property.

As I write this I am listening to the waves. Every day the kids have been body surfing, we have walked up and down the beach with the three dogs, and explored the rocks at the end of our beach.

This morning started out just the same. At one stage I headed back home with Bea and Leo, stopping for a quick body surf en route. The sea was a little rougher than usual. I had seen a group of people by the rocks and said to Olivia “they’re too far out”.

Just as I got to the garden gate Olivia ran to tell me Ria, a friend who is with us, told her to run and get help. “There’s a woman drowning,” she said.

I asked the staff in the house to call an ambulance and ran back out to see what I could do. The beach was filling up with people, friends of the missing lady, locals, stray dogs, all running towards the rocks near to where the group had been swimming. Ria had told a couple of locals to get a boat and we saw them first run past the house and then row out towards the rocks.

One of the friends of the lady told us the lady had been swimming with a couple, a huge wave had washed them all out to sea, the man had managed to grab his wife and pull her towards the shore, but not the other lady.

The whole group waited anxiously for the boat to arrive, one young local man braved the waves on a surf board to try to reach her. A group, her boyfriend included, went to the rock, I kept the children off it, and at one stage Ria told us they could see her floating in the water, face down. But still we all hoped that she would somehow come out alive.

The boat finally reached her and we all walked along the beach to meet it. Ria asked if either of the men on the boat had phones. No was the answer. She wanted to explain how to try to revive the lady. I took the children into the house while the rest of the group carried on down the beach. After about half an hour Ria came back.

“There was no hope,” she told us. “It was obvious when they pulled her from the boat there was nothing we could do.” Despite this two people did try to resuscitate her, but to no avail.

We are all still in shock. It is so horrible to think that the beautiful sea (pictured above) we have frolicked in all week and admired has killed someone. I can’t imagine how her poor family is feeling, hearing that their loved one has died in this holiday paradise. Of course all I could think about was that it wasn’t any of the children. I can’t imagine the panic and fear, thinking of them being lost in those waves, in that vastness, the immense sea, with barely any hope of finding them alive.

Needless to say we are staying away from the sea for the rest of the day, all grateful and happy to be together.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

For more…

Twitter: @HelsFP

Facebook Fan Page: Helena Frith Powell – Writer

Tweet, tweet, I love you….

I am hoping it is a little but like the early stages of a romance. You know those first heady glorious weeks when you want to know EVERYTHING about the other person and spend EVERY second of the day with them, preferably in bed.

I am, of course, talking about Twitter. For so long I have said “I don’t have the time” and “What’s the point?” and “Who cares what all these geeks are up to?”  But now I am well and truly in love, or at least in lust.

A whole new world has opened up. A world where I can know the results at Roland Garros almost before Rafa has hit the winning forehand, where any major news events will not happen without my knowledge and where fashion trends are only a tweet away. In fact I can follow just about everything I care about, including my children and my husband.

My favourite tweeter is a man calling himself @FrankLampardUK who is hysterically funny and always spot on. I have a fantasy that he really IS Frank Lampard and my favourite footballer is as cool off the pitch as he is on it. Sigh.

The downside though is that my husband has fallen in love too, in fact he is much worse. Head over heels, obsessive love has struck him. He spends his whole day glued to his iphone. And he’s competitive with it. He now has twice as many followers as me so is jolly pleased with himself. And is up to all sorts of tricks like a ‘tweetdeck’. And he knows what all @ and the # are all about. Clearly a mid-life crisis. But I guess there are worse ways to spend it.

I am going to spend as much of mine with Frank Lampard as I can.

Copyright:Helena Frith Powell 2011

A Real Man

Some of you will have seen this, but it is so funny I am posting it in case any of you have missed it.

A real man is a woman’s best friend. He will
never stand her up and never let her down.
He will reassure her when she feels insecure
and comfort her after a bad day.

He will inspire her to do things she never
thought she could do; to live without fear
and forget regret. He will enable her to
express her deepest emotions and give in to
her most intimate desires. He will make sure
she always feels as though she’s the most
beautiful woman in the room and will enable
her to be her most confident, sexy,
seductive, and invincible.

No wait… sorry… I’m thinking of wine.
It’s wine that does all that…….

Never mind.

Things I have discovered

It was Shakespeare who said that no traveller returns, meaning that when you go away you come back a different person. We are now well into our holiday and I have learned a few things about myself and life in general.

I have learned that I want to live in a country where the waiters have summer houses. At dinner in Paris the other night we were served by a charming waiter aged around 50 who had a summer house in the Var. I felt this was a sign of a civilised country.

Rupert’s grandmother Kitty said one should always stay in the best hotel in town. I would say that you should never stay in a hotel where you don’t want to steal the bathroom products.

Finally I have discovered that Wales is a very nice place. This is my first visit here and I know that the weather (constant sunshine) has been extremely unusual, but we have liked it so much we may come back next year. I think this has more to do with the friends we are staying with though than the weather, however good it has been.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010