For the longest time, I thought “home” was a place. Where you live, the house or flat or other dwelling that you return to.
During the days before my beloved Dad passed away, in a tiny hospital room in the acute cardiac unit, I realised that I was wrong.
Home is not just a place, it’s the people you love.
So that little room was home in the truest sense, Dad and Mum and I all together, helping each other through that most final of partings. I’ve never been anywhere more filled with love.
And home is, of course, not just your parents, children or partner.
It’s where you feel you belong. Whether that’s with a group of friends, or in a particular place, or a mixture of the two…
I’m amazingly lucky to have lots of people who feel like home, and several places too (not least my actual house).
Last weekend, I was with my best friends from uni, in a cottage on a lake in the Cotswolds. We went boating on the lake, and I was home, both with them and on the water.
And I’m now much more aware of people, rather than just places, being home.
I also spotted lots of things Dad would love, which I’ve added to my Instagram hashtag… #thingsthatwouldmakedadsmile
Where is home for you? Who are the people who make you feel at home?
There’s still no easy way to say this, so here it is: on 8th March 2017, my beloved Dad passed away, with Mum and I by his side right to the very end.
It was a gentle, peaceful step over after a few traumatic days in hospital, and I will always be thankful that we were able to be with him – for his sake, and also for ours.
In the six and a half weeks since, I have learned things.
That grief is not linear.
That it is possible to be more devastated than you ever imagined, and somehow keep going day after day after day.
That losing someone you love is a physical, as well as an emotional, pain.
That six and a half weeks can feel like five minutes and several lifetimes simultaneously.
Writing and taking pictures have always previously been my saviour when bad things have happened, but this loss is too big to process.
I don’t know how to be me without Dad in my life. He has always been there, and has always been on my side. He and Mum and I have always been Team Watkins – and our trio is now two, and neither of us really know how to process that.
Though I am so thankful for Mum – she is also devastated, but in our grief we are at least together. And she understands more than anyone else does, which makes days spent with her easier than days spent anywhere else.
My Dad was rather special in lots of ways. I know I’m biased, but even with that. It’s impossible to get his whole life into a blog post, but over his 72 years on the planet, 45 with Mum and 31 with me, he packed in enough life experience as the next ten people you’re likely to meet.
I heard stories at his wake that I had never heard, and I have never been anywhere, not even at weddings, where so much love for one person suffused a place and imbued every tear, every laugh and every word with such joy for having known him.
Mum and I put everything we could into his funeral – though I had definite WTF moments and moments of not wanting to do it – not because I didn’t want to do the best for him, but for the simple fact that I didn’t and don’t want him to be dead.
We had an amazing celebrant, Roxanne, who helped us to capture his spirit in words (he would definitely have approved – words and stories were his thing), and a wonderful funeral director, Maxine, from Hunnaball. I think he’d have approved of that, too!
His coffin had our flowers and also our Cornish flag, his Stetson hat and a helicopter on it – it was perfectly Chris.
It was a sad but also wonderful send off – very personal, and very fitting for the amazing human that he was. And the wake was (to my surprise) joyful from start to finish. The pub we chose was packed out with people reminiscing, and looking at the photo boards we had put together, and celebrating his life and that we knew him.
I feel so many feelings at the moment, I’m exhausted just from feeling them. I’m told this is quite normal in the early stages of grief. First time I’ve ever felt normal and I don’t like it much!
Something I keep returning to is how lucky I am (relatively speaking, in the sense that we all have to pass on one day – clearly I would have preferred it not to be just yet in Dad’s case) to have been able to stay with him in hospital. How privileged Mum and I were to have 24 hours of peace with him at the end, where he was with us but sleeping, pain-free and calm. Those hours by his bedside were so precious, to be able to say everything we wanted to, to cry, to laugh remembering things we’ve done together, to read him messages from the many, many family and friends who wanted to say goodbye.
To wake up in the same room as him & Mum on the morning he died, incongruously giggly, because he was snoring and Mum was snoring, and I remember many a childhood holiday morning listening to them snore away merrily.
That little side room off the cardiac unit might have been a hospital room, but it was home in the truest sense of the word – it was bursting at the seams with love and the three of us, the most important people in each other’s lives, were there together, helping each other through the trauma of parting.
To sit with him right at the end, as he made his final journey and the step over to the big bar in the sky, as he always called it and I will forever think of it. To see with my own eyes that it was peaceful, and know that the two people who loved him most, and who he loved most, were with him right until the end.
To be able to tell him that I love him, will always love him, and am so proud to be his daughter – these things had been said frequently during our life, but it was still a privilege to be able to tell him again, to know that he knew without a shadow of a doubt just how special he is to us.
To have been inspired by his courage and fortitude when the consultant told him he was dying – to have loved and been loved so much that his loss has sliced through the core of my being and Mum’s.
All of those things make me lucky despite losing him, and so immensely proud – and he always told me that grief is the price we pay for love. It feels like a price worth paying, to have had him in my life.
I was terrified of coming home that night. We went to Gran’s once we left the hospital, and then eventually back to Mum & Dad’s, and then Mum very bravely sent me home to my kittens. She was right, in that if I’d stayed with her that night I may never have left, but I was so scared, and so emotionally done for I didn’t know how I’d react to being at home.
His spirit was everywhere at their house – his chair by the window, his cigarettes, his desk and his computer, his coat over his office chair. All the tiny things that you don’t even notice till someone has gone. But it felt very much like he had come home with us, and it was somehow less painful.
I walked through the door of my house, and sat on the floor and cried.
Because he is here, too. He built this house for me – we have spent the last 18 months on the project and he put my last shelves up in January this year. It was his last great legacy, and he is everywhere.
In the banisters that we waxed together, in the furniture that he built, in the garden he designed and the garage studio he insisted on converting in November, even though I was happy to leave that another year or so.
In the beautiful fence panels in the garden, the bar he and Mum bought me as a housewarming present, the much-loved BBQ he taught me to cook on when I was small, and which is now in pride of place in my garden.
He’s in my books and my technology, my sentimental jewellery and my beautiful kitchen. In my scotchguarded carpet and my curtain rails, and my decking we planned to turn into a pirate ship.
My whole home is a monument to his love for me – something I hadn’t fully appreciated until that evening.
He is physically gone, but he is very much still with us. There have been little signs – blackbirds and helicopters, a book I picked up by chance which had too many spooky similarities to be anything but a sign.
All sorts of things, but most of all just a general feeling that he is there, still. Just beyond sight, beyond that veil – but there, nonetheless. Keeping Mum and I safe as he has done all his life.
We are coping, day by day. I have survived this far with incredible family and friends, copious kitten cuddles, and the strategy of taking ten minutes at a time.
I miss him more than I thought possible, and there is a huge, gaping hole where he used to be. Nothing is ever going to fill that, but I hope in time I will get used to living with it.
We have so many happy memories – our travels and road trips stand out (especially the Alan Jackson trip in 2015 – a true once in a lifetime memory), but even our day to day life is a happy memory.
Fate works in mysterious ways, too – after being made redundant and then deciding against a job in the Gulf in 2008, I decided to stay in Essex and moved to Colchester where my parents followed me a couple of years later.
Geography means I have been able to pop in to them, and them to me, for all of that time – and when I bought my house, they were able to project manage the build for me without having to stay away from their own home. Which also led to lots of sundowners in the garden, and BBQ dinners when I got home from work. Mundane at the time, so very precious with hindsight.
I’ve stayed more or less single throughout my twenties & into my thirties – and while I’ve had various opinions about that during that time, I’m now more grateful than ever that I made that choice. I made it for my own happiness, but a side effect I hadn’t even considered is that I have had time and freedom to spend with Mum and Dad regularly. I see them most weeks unless I’m away, sometimes several times a week, and while the house project was in progress I saw them most days. That time, now, feels like a gift.
And so. Somehow or other, Mum and I have to learn to live without Dad. Or at least, without his physical presence.
It is the small things which are the hardest – when the cars play up, or the oven breaks – all the little things he would fix without batting an eyelid.
I hung all my pictures in my house over the Easter weekend – I think he’d be very proud, despite the fact that I will be needing blue tac to make sure they all stay hanging straight…!
The blog will, I suspect, be a big part of my recovery. I’ve missed it, but I wanted to post this before I resumed normal posts, and it is still so raw and I’ve found it very difficult to write. I’m sure more about Dad will find its way onto the blog as I remember it, discover it or rediscover it – but for now, I am going to post this, and then take away all “shoulds” and allow myself to blog, or not, as I feel like it.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you are one of the incredible humans who has been there for me and with me during this time, thank you even more. I am told that one day I will feel like myself again. Until then, I’ll just take ten minutes at a time.
In memory of truly the best Dad a girl could ever wish for. I’ll try always to make you proud.
22 August 1944 – 8 March 2017
Dad’s chosen charity for donations in his memory is Devon Air Ambulance, with whom he worked for many years. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here: http://christopher.watkins.muchloved.com/
Some time ago, the wonderful Laura Sparling created a limited edition run of custom cat lampwork beads – you could choose all the options and they would look, more or less, like your cats.
LOOK AT THEM…. they even have the right colour eyes!!
Obviously I thought this was the best thing ever, and proceeded to buy lampwork portraits of Luna and Clover.
And then I bought a house and everything went to hell in a handcart for eighteen months while I rebuilt it.
This morning, I had a pet portrait shoot booked that sadly had to be rescheduled due to miserable weather, so instead I decided to have a mini artist date – and turn these cats into earrings! (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type…)
It wasn’t a complicated make – extra ingredients were sterling silver ear wires and 3mm jump rings. I removed the lobster clasps from the cats and added the extra jump ring and the wire – the extra ring makes them hang the right way more easily.
And here are the finished earrings:
Plus of course the close up at the top.
It was lovely to make something for me – and even lovelier to now be able to take my idiot felines with me wherever I go!
I’ve written before about having a jar to track how much you actually get done even while you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels.
My jars have come out of storage (finally!) and this year I’ve decided to use them as happy jars.
Partly because I now have my bullet journal for everyday tracking, but mostly because there is enough shit going on that reminders of the happy are always very welcome <3
So here are my two for home (the big one lives on the bureau in my living room, the smaller on my studio desk):
I’ve found a new home for the straws!
There’s a smaller version on my day job desk, and the plan is to empty all three at the end of each month, and record the happy things either in a journal or on the blog. I’m hoping it will work as well as my gratitude journal has in previous years, to boost my mood and recognise the good things regardless of what crap is going on around me.
Have you ever had a happy jar, or a collection of happy things?
Considering we live in a heavily digital world, I still get an amazing amount of parcels through my actual letterbox – and this makes me happy. So I thought I’d restart my “postbox” series, with things that arrive, mainly unexpectedly.
January’s been a fabulous month for this, with:
A gorgeous unicorn notebook and happy note from my lovely auntie (who also gave me the pink “crazy cat lady” mug I am drinking from as I write this – she knows me well!):
Unicorn poop scrub and a book hangover candle from the gorgeous Annastasia:
NEOM energising hand balm courtesy of Naomi – this stuff smells incredible – they’re expensive but oh-so-worth-it (and they don’t even pay me to say that!) :
and a wonderful surprise delivery of threads from Judy!
There have also been some stunning Urban Decay lipsticks and some amazing decorative patches from Em, but I haven’t had a chance to photograph them yet!
It’s only three weeks in – I feel that 2017 is doing a good job on the happy post front, so far!
Having recently rediscovered artist dates (I’m actually reading the Artist’s Way now, along with two friends, and it is so far both wonderful and a bit uncomfortable), and with the studio now finished enough to work in, I’ve been collecting ideas of what I can do with precious alone time.
There’s lots on there from the general list of things I want to do in 2017, but the one that caught my eye this afternoon when I returned home from spending Sunday with my parents was UNICORN BARK.
Chocolate bark is quite an American thing, I think, but chocolate is chocolate whichever side of the ocean you’re on, and when you can make it swirly, sparkly and pastel coloured, I’m definitely in.
It’s also easy and quick, which given everything I should be doing other than making chocolate, is a good thing!
Good quality white chocolate (I used Menier, and made a mini 100g bar of bark for this first run)
Food colouring in the colours of your choice (I went for purple, pink and blue. Online opinion says you should have oil based candy colouring. I couldn’t find this in a hurry, so went for Dr Oetker gel colours which worked fine!)
Greaseproof/waxed paper (I used foil/parchment which I believe was from Aldi)
Hundreds and thousands, glitter, sparkly sugar bits (all optional – mine were bronze sugar pieces from Waitrose which I had lurking in my cupboard)
Line a shallow container with your waxed paper.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of water on the hob. If you’re using the microwave, do it in 15 or 20 second bursts, or you’ll do what I did with the first bar, burn the bottom and end up with inedible crispy chunks in your chocolate. And wasted chocolate is practically a crime!
When smooth and stirrable, split between three or more bowls – one for each colour.
Working fairly quickly, mix your food colouring into each bowl. I used about five drops of the gel colour to get this strength, which I’d say is strong pastel – you can adjust as you fancy.
Dollop the coloured chocolate randomly into the waxed paper tray, swirl around a bit with a fork.
Sprinkle with your choice of toppings, then leave to cool (not in the fridge as this can do weird things to the chocolate’s finish).
When it’s properly cool, break into pieces.
And voila… unicorn bark!
The last of my yearly review posts, this one is all the things that have happened this year.
2016 was hard… in so many ways, for so many people. So I’m focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on the good here, because those are the things I’d like to remember.
Friendship was a major theme of the year for me – making new ones, consolidating new-ish ones, refreshing old ones, and letting go of some entirely. Also, right at the end of the year, making friends with a kindred spirit in the cat food aisle of Tesco. Yes, really. #officiallyacrazycatlady. My friends have put up with a lot this year, and have endlessly soothed and comforted me during the bad times, and also shared in and multiplied the good ones. I am unbelievably blessed!
Kittens have had an interesting year – Luna got hit by a car at least once and lost all her claws on one foot (they’re just now starting to grow back). She came home three more times with mashed claws, and we had two more emergency vet visits, at which point I bought a curfew cat flap, which they are not that excited about, but which is soothing my frazzled nerves during the winter days when it is full dark before I come home. They’ve had a whole string of things wrong with them, including an operation Luna needed on her mouth earlier in the year, and I am now on first name terms with the entire staff of Colne Valley practice. Who have been amazing throughout. They are, however, as glorious as ever, and while I’ve had some WTF moments, I am very glad they are in my life and that they’ve survived the building of the house, the garden and then the studio!
The build is finished! I’m writing this from my garden studio, and I got all my keys back from various trades on 22 December. Which felt momentous, after sixteen months of disruption. It has been exciting and stressful in equal parts, though now the dust is (literally) starting to settle, I am enormously grateful to have created my perfect home almost from scratch. Now I just have to pay for it…! The studio feels particularly momentous, as I need to kickstart all my business activities again, and having a dedicated home for that is quite magical – it’s true that you don’t know you’ll miss something until it’s gone! It’s also very restful to have my living room back and not have trailing cables all over the place…
Another year, another list to update – this time my epic Daydreams To Do list.
In 2016 I managed to cross off…
2. Create the fantasy fine art photos that have been in my head for decades – after some tentative faffing in 2015, and some loving kicking from lovely friends, I have made a bit of headway with this – mainly camera calibration, confidence and ideas. But I did create this little lovely in a stolen moment just before sunset one summer evening…
Work needed, but it made me so happy and was the first thing I’d made for ages for the pure joy of it!
3. Outdoor dinner party (ideally hosted but I’d attend one just as happily, as long as fairy lights are involved) I had a gardenwarming BBQ in August!
4. Swim in a mermaid tail Yep, more mermaid swimming happened this year, and I met & swam with other mers too!
16. Take a boat out on Coniston & Windermere, following in the Swallows & Amazons’ footsteps – not quite, but I did follow in the Swallows’ footsteps on a gorgeous day trip to Pin Mill earlier in the year, with Rhiannon and Janine. We saw Alma Cottage, had lunch at the Butt & Oyster, had a glorious walk and then finished with tea & dessert at the pub. Everything about the day was magical!
27. Wild swimming – her’es me, just about to go into the sea, in Selsey!
29. Vintage events – Twinwood festival with Lou this summer – it rained but it was still glorious!
31. Photography training & courses – I did Nicola Taylor’s Creative Photography Roadmap in February, and will be diving back into that in 2017, and I had a training day with Kerrie Mitchell in March.
36. Meet an online friend in person – Met up with lots of mermaid friends this year!
39. Make a video for YouTube – not sure why this has been on my list so long, but here’s a mermaid one I made…
41. Finish my five year diary and buy another one for the first half of my thirties – I did finish my five year diary on my 30th, and I did buy another one, but I haven’t actually written in it all year!
45. Create a library in my house – my spare room is now a library with a TV screen and a sofa bed – reading perfection!
46. Complete an online class This year I completed Do What You Love <3 There are many half finished ones to go!
53. Go kayaking. To the pub?! I went kayaking almost by accident in October, with the girls, for Ally’s birthday. It was glorious! (I did try to go with Maddy in August but sadly that was the day Luna-kitty had an argument with a car, so spent the evening in the vet’s instead!)
As always, it’s lovely to see things on my list come to fruition, and I hadn’t actually realised I’d done so many this year! <3
Well, on the surface this year’s been a doozy. And not in the good sense!
But instead of focusing on all the bad stuff, I thought I’d try and see what lovely things have taken place this year, against the background of the world going completely mad and me losing a little of my (already dubious) sanity.
First things first – there’s always a list in that sidebar over there, and here’s what I had for 2016:
cook a curry from scratch ~ ride a horse, a unicorn or both ~ spend time by the sea ~ swim in a mermaid tail ~ have my colours done ~ go skinny dipping ~ visit ruins ~ wild swimming ~ build a garden studio ~ silversmithing workshop ~ photography training ~ launch mermaid school ~ start a herb garden ~ track business progress ~ experiment with film cameras ~ GEA meets
Not too bad, actually – I swam lots in a mermaid tail and launched mermaid school to the world, so got quite a few other people to be a mermaid too! This included a couple of random people at the pool I regularly swim at, dear friends Emily and Louise, Megan at Bodyposipanda and her lovely friend Joely, Lizzie, a selection of my amazing family who jumped straight on board, and of course my gorgeous clients.
I also managed to spend time by the sea at Selsey with Lou, which was incredibly good for the soul, much needed, and also involved mermaid tails and wild swimming – though swimming in the sea in a tail is MUCH harder than I expected! Hugs to Jo for the amazing pictures she took of us under very difficult conditions 🙂
Likewise I spent a blissful afternoon on Clacton beach with fellow mermaid Emily, talented photographer Grace and her fab other half, and bopo beauties Megan and Joely. We had an absolute blast and I hope to do lots more around the #bodypositivemermaids idea next year!
I had my colours done with the gorgeous Janine in January – I am a bold Winter, and I have found it transformational to know what colours and shades are most me. Highly recommended! Here’s a gallery of Sophie being draped, she and I did it together and it was fab!
My herb garden is up and running (well, currently snoozing for winter) was very effective and even survived the garden build! The only things it’s missing are parsley and thyme. Photos next year!
I had a day of VIP training with Kerrie Mitchell back in March, a catch up call with her just the other day, and this year I’ve become friends with the fabulous Sarah who has been photographically kicking my backside beautifully 🙂
And I’m typing this from my garden studio, which is three quarters of my converted garage, cosy as anything and honestly the culmination of so many hopes and dreams, I can’t even. Also it was finished on 22 December – cutting it fine for 2016 much?!
So a pretty good show for that little list, I think!
I’m still working on what I want to do in 2017 – but keep an eye on the sidebar, it’ll be up soon enough!
As Christmas Eve eve draws to a close, I am once again completely bemused by how fast the year has gone (I’m sure there is a conspiracy) and how much good stuff there has been in what feels, overall, like a very bad year indeed.
I celebrated the winter solstice with friends on Wednesday, with cooking (which turned out amazingly) and glitter jar making, which was a lovely way to start winter and end my build.
I got my keys back from my builder the day after the solstice, and oh, this studio space – it already feels like the most peaceful, productive space I’ve ever had. I am full of gratitude and excitement… and my home feels like home again, which is wonderful.
After Luna’s fourth incident, a couple of weeks ago, of arriving home with split, mashed claws (this time accompanied by a fat lip and heavy, terrified breathing for longer than is healthy, so yet another emergency vet visit), I gave in and bought a curfew cat flap. It’s made by Sureflap, who made the microchip flap I already had, and still does selective entry using microchips so that only my two furry idiots can come in. It also has a function where it locks itself at a certain time in the day, which I have set for half past three in the afternoon, so the cats still get eight hours a day of outdoor access but are safely in by the time it gets dark, and away from the school run and people rushing home from work. And away from the asshole tabby cat who seems to come out at night, and who I am fairly sure is part of the reason Luna keeps coming home hurt – the first incident was almost definitely a car accident, but there is no way she has been hit four times in four months when we live in a cul de sac!
Programming the cats in was hilarious – they recommend installing it and getting your cats to walk through, but with my luck this year I decided it’d be infinitely better to catch each cat, put the flap into learn mode and put it over their head before I installed it into the door. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but I wish I’d filmed it – by the time I’d managed to get both cats programmed in, I was helpless with laughter, we’d got through an obscene amount of treats, and they sulked for the rest of the evening!
The proper year review post will come, once I’ve done my planning for 2017. This year I got an accountant (the lovely Kylie) who has successfully managed to get me to submit my accounts, and has done my tax return, so for the first time in years I am clear to spend NYE planning and relaxing, rather than doing my sodding business accounts in a panic. This is a Very Good Thing.
But today, I really just wanted to say Happy Christmas / Yule / insert whatever you celebrate here, mark the end of my day job year, and give heartfelt thanks for the studio where I am sitting and typing this to you.
I’m looking forward to Christmas and have mostly managed my shopping this year – though am behind with cards and have struggled to fit in all my responsibilities with all the things I love and want to do. For lots of reasons, I would like this to be the last year that I work full time at a day job – one of my big 2017 goals is to drop some hours so there is more balance in my life. And more consistent blog posts as I enter my thirteenth (!) year of blogging – if you are reading this and you’ve stuck around during this rather random year, I am delighted – thank you!
So after that wonderfully rambly post with no real point (I love having this blog back as a non businessy one), here are some more pics of the glitter jars. The turquoise represents the sea, the pink & gold is sunrise/sunset and the deep blue is the night sky.
Merry Christmas, happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2017!!