Saturday, 30 December 2017

Christmas 2015

Dear family and friends, 

As you decorate your ethically sourced pine and defrost your free-range nut roast, are you all feeling blessed?  

We wouldn’t dream of judging those who embrace disposable commercialism by acquiring plastic tat for their kids and indulging in a month of boozing.  Its just not what we are about.  Go on and snogg the boss or Xerox your bits at the office party but its not WHO WE ARE.   Following retreats to the US, France, Spain and Lyme Regis we have evolved, both as individuals and as a family.  

Andrew is whipping up a feast of organic quark and lentil delights for our celebrations and I plan to mark the festivities by being present.  It’s a gift. My mindfulness regimen has been brutal but soooo worth it.  I’ve taken to wearing yoga pants wherever I damn well please.  They work really well from school gate drop-offs to dinner with other concerned Chiswickites.   We Sparkes have decided to mark this Christmas by exchanging hand-made gifts and I’m certain my hand knitted woollen leggings will be a great hit with Alex on the rugby field.   A far better alternative to skins, I’m sure he’ll agree and I’d be pleased to produce them for all the players in team colours.  Nothing’s too good for my precious firstborn.  As far as Emily is concerned, avarice be dammed. We are donating, in her name, to the upkeep of a village goat in a wonderful community we visited in Outer Vladzakoo.  Its all about empowering the people.    Andrew will receive the benefit of my inner peace and a simple book of reflections I’ve jotted down over the past year as witness to our journey.  

The children are cool.  Alex now in secondary school with almost zero spending money, an ancient mobile phone and plenty of growing room in his new blazer.   Personally, I’d agree that weekly bathing suffices but it seems society takes a dim view of natural body odours.  As a music scholar, he gets pulled out of class to work on his drums and voice frequently enough that at parents evening in November, certain teachers of core subjects had yet to lay eyes on the boy.  But its all good.

Emily joined a new school for Year 5 and so far seems happy enough talking to herself and anticipating letters from her pen pals.  She spends a great deal of time hanging upside down over a sofa back and perfecting cartwheels.   Apart from writing in her journal and singing, she devotes much of her time to inspecting her face for any changes or anomalies.  She has mastered applying nail polish to one hand and hopes to tackle the reverse in early ‘16.  

My parents will no doubt be celebrating the run up to Christmas in their newly renovated apartment in Paris.   Eric will be motoring around London in his new wheels supplied by his new job and possibly in the company of his new girlfriend.  Right on, man.  That’s almost too much joy to be spreading in one newsletter so I’ll leave it there.   


Christmas 2016

2016 was a mixed bag for us.  Between Brexit and President elect The Donald, it has been a discombobulating year to say the least. 

Most of our highpoints were our times away from home.  In February, we travelled to Barcelona and had a fabulous time visiting the sights and sampling tapas.  The kids didn’t think much of the Picasso Museum. They felt he started off alright but later work such as his ‘Las Meninas’ were beneath contempt. 

In addition to planning a fabulous weekend in Paris kicked off with a conspicuously chic picnic on the Eurostar, Andrew pulled off a surprise getaway to Madrid for Cynthia’s 50th.  For the remainder of the year, we sponged shamelessly off our relatives with breaks at Tig and Andrew’s enchanting cottage in Lyme Regis, as well as the Colemans in Paris and Normandy.    

Workwise, Andrew changed tack and became a Latin teacher across three schools and various tutoring gigs.  He’d last taught at his old boarding school when Thatcher was PM and has had to adopt a more softly-softly approach to students who are no longer motivated by the threat of swift beatings.  You may have heard that Latin is a dead language, so no great changes in that industry since those heady days of his unbridled youth. 

Cynthia has also stepped back in time to take on insurance work.  Now that site visits are partly superceded by sitting at home downloading satellite images, risk reports can be filed from the comfort of her bunny slippers and fetching onesie or moth-eaten leisure garment.  Hypothetically speaking.  Not that she owns a onesie but you get the point.  I vow to wear normal clothes when the children have friends around next year.  That said, such fun to slip into my trusty Madonna holdovers from the “Desperately Seeking Susan” era when they are all out of the house. 

With Alex now 12 and in Year 8, we have a form of live-in aftercare for Emily.  He usually remembers to pick up his sister who is 11 and in Year 6 at a school across the road.  Alex has stunned us with a fantastic report card given that much of the time he opts not to review for exams stating that he “can’t be bothered” and that “life is too short”.   I will be adopting his laissez faire bonhomie as the first of my New Year’s resolutions and will retort similarly when Alex is next hoping to locate rugby socks or a fresh school shirt. 

Drumming continues to grip Alex’ interest as does table tennis.  You’d think hanging around parks in various European capitals waiting by a ping pong table for someone (anyone) to turn up appears a little suspect but not in his world where language and lack of social intercourse of any kind is no barrier to picking up a game with random passers by.    I am greatly comforted that he keeps words to a minimum and grunts at perfect strangers so it isn’t behaviour reserved for home life!

Emily is perfecting cartwheels, backflips, walkovers and various other bendy moves learned in her Saturday gym sessions.  This follows an extensive campaign when she insisted she wanted to take classes despite our unwillingness to indulge her in this pursuit.  We had our reasons, namely that when an 11 year old spontaneously wants to pursue this dream, the entire West London gymnastics community snorts derisively that to attend this or that class, you’d have to have signed your daughter up at conception.   Andrew and I stood shoulder to shoulder, united in parental we-know-bestnest while she slowly eroded our will to live and applied stealth like tactics to make us doubt every decision we ever made on her behalf.  In a final offensive, Emily wore nothing but a spangly leotard she’d purchased, from the back of a sales rack in an industrial estate in Normandy for 9 euros, day and in day out for a solid week and we finally caved.   So she attends a weekly dance, tumbling, gymnastics, cheerleading hybrid class that keeps her off our backs.

Emily is busy preparing her 11+ exams and it won’t be long before she’ll know where she is going for Year 7.  Following loads of visits to schools rated by her on the basis of uniform style, cafeteria smells and presence or absence of boys, she has created a shortlist.  I’m not going to name names but some of the schools we visited were scary places full of very precocious girls in smart uniforms—at least from the waist up.  From what we could see some skirts weren’t strictly speaking of approved lengths.  Nor where they even, technically speaking, skirts at all.  Call me old-fashioned but a nice ankle-length tweed wouldn’t go amiss.

Upon reflection, we had much to be thankful for this year although I was unable to channel that sentiment into a reasonable looking pumpkin pie.  Being half American, it is my job to muster up treats at Thanksgiving and July 4th – the latter being great fun when you live in England and are married to a Brit.  Nothing like painting one’s nails red, white and blue and waving a cheery “Happy Fourth” to every passerbye on the Chiswick High Road. 

But back to Thanksgiving, I resorted to remaining unflappable and to act like the recipe came out exactly as a distant ancestor or the inhabitants of some remote location intend.  I have yet to be questioned and suggest you try this for yourselves.   Soggy base on that pecan pie you say? Not a bit of it.  It’s a traditional family recipe from Mooseprout where my Great Aunt Vonga ran the women’s local "Stitch and Bitch" sessions.  She was known across county borders for her reinterpretations of Amish quilts integrating family jockstraps and tea towels (Beautiful work from a woman with hands the size of meat cleavers).  She used to chew tobacco and whistle motown tunes to stay alert blah blah blah…by the time you are part way through this insane family recollection, they’ve lost the will to live and the pecan pie has been eaten/discarded.  

We hope Christmas finds you with loved ones and that 2017 will kick off full of great plans.  Do drop us a line if with your news and come visit!

Christmas 2017

Aren’t these few days of limbo between Christmas and NYE bizarre? We are a little schlumpy after all the planning and wrapping and eating and tidying up.  I, for one, feel like a deflated lilo at this juncture.  It’s early and I’m sitting in our kitchen with a coffee watching our moronic goldfish swim around and around.  Pointless pets, really.

This year we travelled back from our celebrations in Normandy with a stuffed car and barely enough space for two bickering children plus handheld devices. I don’t know why I spend so much of the year bemoaning dependency on electronics when those long car journeys would be insufferable without them.  And no, I don’t want smug messages back from anyone detailing the rollicking fun their families have with singsongs and marathon sessions of ‘I spy’ whilst on journeys with tweenies. 

Looking back on 2017, we remember wonderful trips to Wales, France, Turkey, Italy and our beloved Lyme Regis.  Highlights included family tennis on Valentine’s Day, releasing paper lanterns into the night sky and watching turtles hatch.  Emily and Andrew escaped to Yorkshire visiting his old school and other stops along memory lane.  Alex and I spent a long weekend based in East London exploring Greenwich, climbing the O2 Arena and sneaking the boy into Kingsman despite him not being 15.  The four of us snuggled under blankets and gawped our way through another David Attenborough series.  Doesn’t he make you want to pack up and move to Costa Rica immediately? The most outdoorsy thing I did when gifted a wetsuit was to spend a large part of the year shoehorning myself in and out of the damned thing, stand ankle deep in seawater and shriek like a toddler every time I spotted a wisp of seaweed.  A work in progress!

Alex transitioned from Year 8 to 9 (Grade 7 to 8) at West London Free School and gave up table tennis for rowing.  He is still into his music and is an avid collector of random facts.  Emily moved up to Year 7 (Grade 6) leaving Primary school in the dust when she joined Lady Margaret’s. The commute by tube took some getting used to with constant text updates from her travel buddies along the lines of “near turnstiles” and “copy that - heading to platform now” etc…She also confronted terror and agony by getting her ears pierced for her 12th birthday. 

Andrew started a new job at King’s House in Richmond and loves it!  Still so strange to see him head off at 7:20am with a tie on, gripping a travel mug .  He is too into his Latin derivations and wonders why our eyes glaze over when he launches into the etymology of the word banoffee.  Although he finally resigned from school governing, he took on a new role on the board of a local housing trust. 

I pootle along adding the odd project to my auction house consulting.  The Sainsbury Centre in Norwich recently opened a Faberge show I helped with.  Approaching contacts for loans when The Queen and A La Vieille Russie had already committed to the exhibit was no hard sell.  I’m also involved with the Gunnersbury Museum near us that will re-open in early 2018. 

So that, in a nutshell, is us. We are so grateful for our families and friends as we struggle to make sense of Trump, Brexit and the rest of it.  We are not sad to see the back of 2017 and full of plans for the New Year.

Wishing our dearest from here to not so near a wonderful beginning to 2018!

Much love from Cynthia, Andrew, Alex and Emily xx