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Life Laundry

Julie Lawford Aug 18I’ve been having a bit of a sort-out and a clear-out lately; physical, emotional, psychological – and digital too. It’s come about through a combination of reasons. Dealing with the clear-out of my mother’s life, possessions and paperwork over the last 18 months has shown me, quite brutally, that just like her, I’ve been holding on to much more stuff (of every kind) than I should be.  It’s made me question what I’ve been keeping, and why, and look afresh at everything, challenging it to show me its value or its beauty.  Then the whole naughty gallbladder business over the last several months has made me feel, well… vulnerable… in a way I haven’t felt for a very long time. With this (hopefully) behind me, the need to reassert control over my life and environment has been compelling.  And for the first time in several years, some old stress symptoms were making a most unwelcome return.  Last time they’d proved difficult to shift and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again – ignoring the early warning signs, failing to deal with the stressors.

Time to think

Over the summer I had a lot of time to think, as I spent a few weeks doing little else whilst my insides settled down and my physical scars mended. This pause for reflection  helped me decide to use the remaining months of 2018 to consolidate, reassess and, personally speaking, regroup.

So as soon as I felt my energy levels pick up again, I got on to it.

Out with the old

I’ve been ruthless with the stuff that needed to go. I’ve been back and forth to my local tip with general and recyclable waste, garage, attic and cupboard clearance. I’ve been shredding… and shredding… and shredding more.  Old financial paperwork and old client work formed the bulk, but my philosophy has always been ‘if in doubt, don’t bin it, shred it’.  My local council very kindly told me it was ok to break the rules just this once  and put six bags of shredding out for the recycle collection in one go. My alternative was living with the six bags blocking my kitchen door, whilst I carefully filtered it out a little each week for, oh, I don’t know how many weeks, but certainly until long after Christmas. I’ve been clearing out my wardrobe and bagged-up stock of old clothes too (multiple sizes, remember my constant yo-yo weight battle?) so local charity shops and Ebay have benefitted. Horror of horrors, I’ve even been thinning out my bookshelves.

I’ve dusted top shelves, reorganised cupboards, glued and sewed loose bits of stuff, consolidated a giant bag of travel-size toiletries and sprayed some noxious pink treatment all over my lichen-stained patio and decking. (I’m not at all convinced it will deliver the results the marketing blurb promises, but time will tell.)

Emotionally and psychologically speaking, I’ve been tackling issues which have lingered in my life for longer than they should have done. In one instance this involved a difficult conversation, but once the talk was talked, the weight that lifted was palpable. Another, a resignation from a thankless voluntary position I’ve been holding because nobody else wanted to do it. After too many years, I’ve decided it’s someone else’s turn, and that’s that. I’m giving plenty of notice, but I’m not intending to make succession planning my problem.

Other changes are taking place, enthralling and unexpected. In recent months one or two friendships have reappeared, repaired or strengthened in ways I could never have anticipated, whilst I’m consciously letting other less enriching connections fall away.

To the administratively mundane… There was the bundle of more onerous desk-based jobs which have clung to my task list for far too long. You know the kind of jobs I mean; the ones which you stare at on your list every day, knowing they’re on there because they need to be done; but you can’t face actually doing them because they’re too complex, or boring, or tricky, so you move on to do something easier instead. Three down, two more to go, and already I feel so  much more in control.

Digitally speaking, I’ve been busy on the keyboard too. I’ve reorganised my data files, culled my contacts list, sliced away at my slew of email folders, sent thousands of pointless photographs to the trash-can and checked my back-ups are working. Phew!

Somehow, I’ve made the time to have major electrical works done at my house too, the list of little things that needed doing having finally grown so large that it involved three precious weeks of my electrician’s time.  Next stop – finding a painter for the top-to-toe domestic redecorating project – and I’m on it!

To blog, or not to blog

One last thing though, and it concerns you, my lovely readers. I’ve made a decision about my blog. You won’t have seen that much from me lately – and that’s because I’ve let myself off the hook, freeing myself from the self-imposed burden of posting regularly.

The decision I’ve now made, is to stop blogging altogether.

I opened this blog to build an audience for my writing. Initially I wrote about the experience of writing, then of trying to get an agent, then of self-publishing. When I ran out of steam on that front, I began blogging about weight-loss and healthy lifestyle, and lately my blog has ranged all over the place – no core topic, no strong stand, no clear message… and perhaps (though I may be being very self-critical here) not much point at all. So I’ve decided, for now at least, to call it a day.

I didn’t want to disappear without a trace, leaving those who care wondering whether something ghastly has happened to me.  So this post will stay up for a while, perhaps a month, before I take down the whole blog and leave a holding page. Not sure if I’ll be back or not, but I think, probably, not.

I love writing, you see. But I don’t make enough time for it. And when you have a blog, and you find yourself with a couple of hours to write, the obvious thing to do is to write something for the blog. Net result – no actual writing of actual fiction, no developing of Novel Number Two, happens. And that’s another thing that I want to change in this great Life Laundry period.

The process of clearing out the old, makes room for the new. And that’s what I’m hoping – intending – will happen. That in reasserting control, clearing down some of the clutter of my life, I can make time for the things I want to do more of. One of those is to focus more consistently on my health and fitness, and another is to write fiction, properly, again.

So – and I hope you will forgive me – this is me, signing off. For now, or for good, I’m not sure. But I really, really am so very grateful to those people who have actually read (and hopefully enjoyed) my posts over the months and years. Thank you for reading, for making yourself known, for commenting, for interacting – it really has been a pleasure.

Adieu.

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Well, stone me! #gallstones

2018-06-29 18.36.36Three months and not a little confusion, falling-through-the-cracks and communication hiccups later, I finally had my gallbladder and its impressive payload of gallstones removed, in the latter days of June, courtesy of the NHS – just a week or so shy of its 70th birthday milestone.

Things went more-or-less as they should, save for the fact that a bigger than usual gallbladder meant a bigger than usual keyhole incision in my bigger than it should be abdomen. Then – as far as I can tell – this was followed by a bigger than usual amount of surgical rummaging about to sew me up. (In the words of my surgeon, it was a bit tricky … and that, I think, is as much detail as I choose to cope with.)  Mea culpa though, at least in part, because for the first time in my life, obesity was cited as a co-morbidity.  That’s a fairly brutal word to see, even though it doesn’t mean quite what you imagine it does. Ironic it was, all things on my healthy lifestyle journey considered, but I have to suck that one up.

But that wasn’t the end of things. A couple of weeks after my operation, with things generally going just fine, I found myself doubled-up in agony and back in hospital again, as some kind of surgery-related kink or blockage knotted my insides. That kind of pain, you really don’t want. It took several days to resolve, as I attempted to rest my protesting intestines, my arms perforated by cannulae, dragging a drip-stand wherever I went, and not get too stressed about it all; all in an overstretched, overheated ward, during one of the most suffocatingly steamy weeks of the decade.

But as the cliché goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and my silver lining has been that with the surgery, followed by the imposed starvation necessary to relax my twisted gut, I have waved farewell to a further 10 pounds.  That leaves just 10 more to go until I’m back where I was at my lowest, in May 2017.  That’s properly within reach now – so I’ll take that win.

Then, at last, I will be able to put the psychological, emotional and physical disruptions of the last 18 months behind me, and continue the onward/downward weight management drive. Hopefully by the next time I need hospital care (ummmm…. hopefully never?) they won’t feel the need to note obesity anywhere on my records.

The Lifecycle of a Yo-Yo Dieter #FullDisclosure

Even when you think you’ve got the healthy eating thing nailed, it can all still go horribly wrong. Again and again. And again.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll be familiar with my excited posts (for example, here and here) about the massive benefits and gains I’ve enjoyed as I shed the pounds throughout 2016. And you may have noticed that I’ve gone a bit quiet about the weight-loss situation in the last year.

Well… here’s why.  When it comes to managing my weight, I’m a habitual Yo-Yo.  And what goes down…

Downhill all the way – except when it’s uphill

As far as I can remember, including my lately renewed efforts, there have been ten sustained periods of weight-loss in my life, beginning at the tender age of 21.

1981:  Loss of 2 st / 28 lbs / 12.7 kilo

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Aged 21 and weighing-in at 11 st 5 lbs / 159 lbs / 72.1 kilo at the outset, that 28 lbs qualified as mega. It earned me Lifetime Membership of WeightWatchers. Today I would kill to be the weight I started at back then, again, let alone the slender form I achieved after a few months of modest self-control. It didn’t seem hard – at least, I don’t recall the hardship. I do recall eating a lot of beansprouts in tomato puree on dry toast though. Little did I realise what was to come in the years that followed.

1989:  Loss of 4 st / 56 lbs / 25.4 kilo

This time the work started around 14 st 7 lbs / 203 lbs / 92 kilo. My life disrupted by divorce and then career-change, a swirling cocktail of negative and positive influences served to transform my approach to food in ways I still don’t fully understand; for a while, at least.  I did it all by myself this time; skipping meals, developing a single-track approach to lunches (smoked mackerel and undressed salad, every day – yes, every day), shunning alcohol, and falling for a trainer at my local gym (great motivation to hit the treadmill). For a while, I drew energy from the way I could see both me and my life transforming. For a while.

2002:  Loss of 3 st 8 lbs / 50 lbs / 22.7 kilo

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I kept a lid on my weight for a while but eventually it nudged steadily upward again. In 2002 I’d just been made redundant and come out of a very toxic relationship, so my life was again disrupted and unsettling. I’d decided to go self-employed – which was simultaneously invigorating and downright scary.  I needed to feel stronger, more together, more in-control of myself – not unlike I’d needed to feel back in 1989. Flexing that Lifetime Membership card for the first time, I went back to WeightWatchers, and the stars aligned. My membership card for that period, which I have never discarded, tells me that I started out at 16 st / 224 lbs / 101.6 kilo. I thought that was the worst I would ever let it get. But I was wrong.  When the weight-loss stalled for a few weeks, I lost the plot. Every single pound I’d dropped went back on in the 18 months that followed. It’s hard to describe the sense of helplessness I felt.

But there was more to come:

2004:  From 244 to 219 lbs…

2005:  From 234 to 218 lbs…

2006:  From 246 to 235 lbs…

2007: From 246 to 242 lbs…

By the time of that pathetic attempt in 2007, I had all but given up hope of losing weight permanently.  I could see that every time I lost weight, I put it back on, and more besides.  I became afraid to try again.  So I didn’t, until…

2013:   Loss of 1 st 8 lbs / 22 lbs / 9.9 kilo

By now I was back up again, at an unbearable and lumbering 18 st 13 lbs / 265 lbs / 120.2 kilo.  I kept my food intake under control for around six months and lost weight slowly, before it all fell apart… again.  And at the age of 53, those surplus pounds felt like a permanent fixture, a metaphorical if not literal millstone around my waist. I was resigned to almost always being the largest person in the room; to worrying if picnic chairs would hold me; to getting out-of-breath when faced with more than a single flight of stairs; to seeing good people, with the best of intentions, begin to treat me as if I were… disabled.

And you can see why they did, can’t you?

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Then, it seemed, the universe threw me a lifeline:

2015/16:  Loss of 5 st / 70 lbs / 31.8 kilo

And quite the lifeline it was. At my heaviest ever, I was introduced through business networking, to a healthy lifestyle coach. I weighed 19 st 4 lbs / 270 lbs / 122.5 kilo. The most powerful impact that working with my coach had was to help change my mindset. For the first time I focused on a holistic healthy lifestyle rather than weight-loss for the sake of it.  I locked into powerful visualisations, focused on what I wanted to gain rather than what I wanted to lose – and what sort of a person I wanted to be. And it worked. In 12 months, I lost 70 lbs, and it felt (and I felt) … amazing.

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Even when the weight-loss stalled, I didn’t actually gain anything, bouncing along in a plateau state for several months. For the first time ever, I believed I had gained some mastery over my capricious fat cells and my chaotic eating habits.

Everything goes well, until it doesn’t

But if the universe had thrown me a lifeline, it seemed it was still possible to drown.

In early 2016 my mother fell ill, dramatically, unexpectedly, and terminally. In the two months during which I cared for her, I lived on healthy snacks, grabbed whenever I could find a moment to myself. I was grateful for the Marks & Spencer Food Shop at the hospital, where I picked up a super-green salad and mini packet of kofte kebabs almost every day. (Yes, there’s a pattern here… when I find a meal that works, I stick to it!) When she came home for her last few weeks, the deli shelves at the M&S store my local filling station became my daily pit-stop.  Whilst everything else seemed to be spinning out-of-kilter, I kept the whole healthy lifestyle business under control (to be fair, sometimes I could barely eat for distress). I even managed a decent walk on days when kind souls offered an hour or two of their time to be with my mother.

Until, that is, she died.

Since that day in May 2017, I’ve managed to undo about half the stellar weight-loss job I did on myself.  In total, between then and March 2018, I regained no less than 37 of those 70 pounds.

Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ everyone has very kindly said. And I was grateful for their empathy and understanding. Emotionally exhausted, weary and sad to my bones, I started out on the process of deconstructing her life and disposing of her things. This has proved to be time-consuming and energy-sapping, and more often than not, very, very hard. I’ve blogged occasionally about it (see here). Whilst it’s been an enormous relief to have my brother working alongside me throughout much of this clear-out, it has been an intensely difficult personal journey too, for many reasons.

I’ve stayed away from sugar though. That was my one consolation as the weight crept back on. I never went back on the sugar. But I let other things back in; if very occasional take-aways weren’t that much of a problem, the 3-for-2 bumper-sized bags of crisps (potato chips) were. Where I didn’t succumb to biscuits and cakes, I did to increasingly more generous and more frequent slabs of cheese and ever larger blobs of butter. My portion sizes grew and my daily walks fell away, always with the excuse that I was ‘too tired’ or that I had ‘too much to do’.  And one by one, the pounds returned – and I returned to my carefully stored bag of big-clothes.

But the universe had one more trick up its sleeve.

In March, I ended up in hospital as a result of what turned out to be an attack of cholecystitis (that’s a big, evil and unbearably painful gallstones problem).  I blogged about it here.

As I wait now to have my gallbladder removed, the guidelines as to what I should and shouldn’t eat, to stave off any potential future attacks, are varied. But whichever way you look at it, they do boil down to an incredibly healthy diet.  From low-fat to no-dairy to small portions; from avoid fatty meat and stay away from fried anything to eat plenty of vegetables – you just can’t argue with it. As spicy foods may have been a trigger for me, I’m avoiding those too.  Add my avoidance of added sugar into the mix and my diet has become, well… a bit dull. However, I’m not complaining, as this dull, healthy diet that has been enforced upon me on pain, literally, of… pain, is helping me to shed those pounds again.  So far, of those 37 lbs I regained, I’ve lost 17 since March. There’s another 20 to go, but that feels within my grasp, now that I’ve recaptured my mojo, and my enthusiasm for health over comfort-eating. And when I’ve re-lost those remaining 20 lbs, I feel positive about staying on-track and chipping away at what remains, which is easily another 30 lbs.

Positive, but not complacent. Not with my track-record.

Onward and upward… or downward

I feel stronger again though. Strangely, with the threat of another crampy gallstones attack hanging over me, it’s not that hard to eat cautiously and modestly. And with the weight-loss – and perhaps too, some distance from my mother’s death – has come a re-gaining of lost energy and the impetus to continue with the exciting process of physical and mental transformation which was taking place two years ago.  I’m taking more care to exercise regularly too.

But I’m under no illusion; I’m a Yo-Yo dieter and that’s my physical and psychological ‘cross-eyed bear’, for life. As soon as my attention goes elsewhere, or I feel the pull of the comfort-food, the weight soars back on. But at my age, I can no longer expect to get away with it. Serious health problems will – for sure – surface, if I don’t keep a lid on my impulses. I must stay the course this time. But to do this, I need to re-connect, vigorously, with the positive healthy lifestyle choices I was making a little over a year ago – and with those massive gains in which I was revelling for those few wonderful months.

I just hope I get a clear run at it now. No more killer blows to the emotional solar-plexus please, for a while at least.

Well now, that was interesting… #NHS

Getting carted off to hospital in an ambulance at 4am, doubled-over with acute abdominal cramps that just won’t go away; not the best start to the week.

I’ve had a stressful year, upturned – the untimely death of a parent does that. So when stomach problems started to surface a few months ago, that’s what I put it down to – stress. I’ve had several instances of crampy discomfort, one or two much worse episodes more recently. And then there was Sunday. Sunday was off-the-scale. I’ll spare you the details, but the upshot, after several increasingly painful and vile hours, was this: A call to NHS111 when I could stand the pain no more and was thinking I might be having an actual heart attack; the despatch of an ambulance; a day in a chaotic and overwhelmed A&E; nil-by-mouth; the extraction of blood – lots of it; X-rays and ultrasound; people prodding and poking (I hope they were doctors); a further day on a ward operating beyond its remit; industrial quantities of antibiotic and painkillers on drip; thence to be packed off home with instructions to avoid overly fatty meals and attend a clinic next Monday to see what comes next.

Unbeknown to me, over recent weeks, I’d developed an inflamed gallbladder and a ‘deranged’ liver, courtesy of some errant gallstones, one of which kicked off the latest, greatest episode of vileness and agony. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty at all.

That’s more detail than anyone would want, so I’ll leave the rest of this miserable experience to your imagination. Save to say a word or two about the extraordinary situation in my local hospital (that’s Hillingdon Hospital in West London, but it could just as well have been any hospital, anywhere in the country), and the equally extraordinary professionals who are doing their very, very best in utterly over-stretched conditions.

I have a lot of time for the NHS – it has served my family well over the years and is a good and positive thing,  whatever Donald Trump might think. The UK is a much, much better place for the NHS. But this venerable institution is in trouble, thanks to a decade of austerity (from the financial crisis, which was kicked off by the USA’s sub-prime loans catastrophe).  A decade of under-funding has left the armies of dedicated and committed professionals across the NHS fire-fighting, horse-trading, and doing everything in their power to deliver care in totally and utterly strained circumstances, day after day, night after night.  And do you know what? All except for one sullen nurse, every single person I met in the last few days at Hillingdon Hospital, was doing it with a smile and good cheer. And I imagine it’s much the same in every hospital and clinic across the country – because that’s the kind of people they are.

They raced around, chasing down scarce equipment. They juggled cubicles, tended to people on beds in corridors and chairs all over the place. When they needed more beds they ‘flexed’ a day ward into service, forcing them to cancel who knows how many minor operations in the process. If the odd minor thing fell through the cracks, they stayed on top of what mattered.  And they kept going, through twelve hour shifts and acres of… carnage.

It’s a crime that the NHS has been expected to operate under such conditions.  And now that we’re getting the small hints that ‘austerity’ might be coming to an end, the very, very first priority of the Government must be to pump money into its veins and jump-start its exhausted heart before it expires altogether. The country deserves it, but more than that, those hundreds of thousands of extraordinary professionals – nurses, doctors, consultants, radiologists, anaesthetists, orderlies, porters, paramedics and everyone else, yes, even the administrators and managers – deserve it.

Ben Enwonwu #UnexpectedDiscovery

Ben Enwonwu’s Tutu (1974). Photograph: Ben Enwonwu / Bonhams Press Office

It’s an extraordinary experience, filtering through my mother’s personal archive. Many times, it has elicited a ‘what the…’ response from me. Why did she collect this or that?… What was she thinking of, when she put this or that at the back of a cupboard?…  How did she…?  Who was that…? What on earth is… this or that? If you’ve ever cleared-down the accumulation of a busy and engaged life, which, it’s fair to say, held the odd secret, you might relate to these feelings.

But every now and again, something rises to the surface which makes me stop and properly ponder.

Yesterday, I was listening to the BBC London News. There was a short piece on the recent discovery of a ‘lost’ artwork of considerable value, by the now renowned Nigerian artist and sculptor, Ben Enwonwu. It was fascinating, as this artwork had been gracing the walls of an apparently ‘ordinary’ North London flat for several years. You can read about its discovery, and the forthcoming auction here. The painting, dating from 1974, is of the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, known as Tutu.

What stuck out for me, was the artist’s name. You see, I recognised it. Not from being a connoisseur of art of any kind – I’m not!  I’d come across this name very recently. It took me a few minutes to locate what I was looking for amongst my mother’s profusion of paperwork and correspondence – the stuff she never threw away; an airmail envelope, containing three letters, two handwritten, one typed, along with a clipping from a newspaper. The sender of the letters – one Ben Enwonwu.

The two handwritten notes date from 1970, and it seems that Ben Enwonwu had noticed someone in a restaurant in London, who he believed to be my mother. He was not certain it was her, as it had apparently been some years since they were friends, and she was with a man he assumed to be her husband. So he had not approached her. He commented that she looked just the same as when he’d known her – an observation which would undoubtedly have delighted her. As he had only her maiden name and father’s address, to which he subsequently wrote, I assume their original acquaintance must have been prior to 1956.  My mother had apparently replied, and at some point had sent Ben a book relating to house purchase.  Whatever else happened between those two 1970 letters, and indeed after that, remains a mystery.

The third letter is from early 1978 and seems to have come as a result of my mother sending Ben Enwonwu a card, which had by then found its way to him in Nigeria. He updates her on the purchase and subsequent sale of that original house, and muses on how good it would be to live nearer to my mother. Well, I thought. Well, indeed.

It’s clear from this trio of notes that there was certainly a friendship, fondness and perhaps at one time, more, between my mother and Ben Enwonwu. It’s not insignificant that she kept his letters.

It’s an intriguing discovery on many levels, and it always delights me to see different facets of my mother’s life reflected in the accumulation of her paperwork, and I never judge what I find. But I’m a little wistful that we’re unlikely ever to know more of this unexpected friendship.

Meantime, the whereabouts of the other two of the trio of missing Tutu paintings remains a mystery. Disappointingly (from a purely financial perspective) all we have… is those letters.

 

 

Vision Versus Reality #2017 #2018

In January 2017, in preparation for the year ahead, I created and shared my first Vision Board. You can see the post about it here. As regular readers will know, 2017 didn’t quite go the way I had envisioned.  You can’t plan for the kind of disruption that comes from your mother getting a brain tumour. Life goals and good intentions go out of the window as every energy is directed towards the most pressing – and distressing – of circumstances. I rest my case.

My 2017 Vision Board reflected various aspects of my life on which I wanted to focus during the year; healthy lifestyle, relationships and family, work/life balance, creativity/creative writing,  travel – that kind of thing. In the end, by far the most important aspect was… family. We, my brother, sister-in-law, their children and I, pulled together as a family like never before. As the ties with our mother severed through her illness and death, the ones which bound us together strengthened immeasurably.  That was an incredible positive from last year. And set against all the sadness, the weary work of clearing down our mother’s life, those strengthened ties have been an overwhelming joy, and by far the best thing to emerge from the last 12 months.

At the start of 2017, I also had some themes for the year ahead: Health, Inspiration, Renewal, Social, Creativity, Love.  The two which resonate most with me as I look back at the year are Inspiration and Love. For all the difficulties and challenges which bumbled along over the decades, but don’t seem at all important any more, I see my mother as an inspiration to the kind of life I want to live in the years to come. For various reasons, her life changed course in her mid-fifties, and she made the very most of those last 28 years or so. I can think of no good reason not to take the very same approach myself, to the next however many years of life I get.  And love… of course. How can you care for your mother in the last weeks of her life without experiencing an overload of love. Frustration, pain, despair, anxiety; all the above, yes. But overwhelmingly, you experience… love.

This year I’ve broadened out my themes a little – you can see. I make no secret of the fact that after giving the last year to my mother and her passions and priorities, I’m looking forward to reclaiming my life.

To help keep me on-track, there are some Acid Test questions:

  • Is what I’m doing/eating helping me to become more healthy?
  • Is what I’m doing/eating helping me to get closer to my life-goals?
  • Is what I’m doing/eating aligned with my personal values?
  • Is what I’m doing/eating making me feel happy and positive about myself and about life?

I’m the first to admit, I’m not perfect – a long way from it. But I need to do better, hence those tricky questions.  I need to recover some of the mojo which powered me through an incredible 18 months of weight-loss and health improvement and get back on track with all that business. I want to reawaken my creative brain and I need to regroup, socially, professionally and personally.  It feels like a tall order at the moment, I confess.

I’m asking the universe for a break – no more all-consuming crises this year please.  Though if they come, they come, of course. But in the meantime, I’m going to set off along the path, the one I marked out a year ago, a little later than intended, and I’m going to give it my very best.

Festive Greetings

This is the Christmas Greeting sent out by Edition Peters, the music publishing house that is so closely connected to my family heritage. It’s so beautiful, I wanted to share it with you for Christmas.

The firm is based in Leipzig, London and New York, and they’ve found some lovely imagery of each city, to reflect the season. The ensemble is singing in the salon, which was once part of my great-grandfather’s apartments ‘above the shop’, at 10 Talstraße, Leipzig, where my brother and I recently visited. We can find connections everywhere in the world, if we only look for them, but this one is a strong one for me, and to have stood in this room as we did, listening to music as our family did in the pre-war years, before everything changed, was significant.

Happy Christmas, internet friends and followers. Thank you for staying with me through a difficult year. Thank you indeed.