Christmas Thoughts

I received a joyful email the other day: a fellow adopter, in her 40s, wrote that she had read my book Dear Mummy, Welcome a couple of years ago during the adoptive process and now she is the proud mum of a teething ten-month year-old on her third reading: I just felt compelled to write to you to say how absolutely wonderful your book has been for me as a single adopter…it has become something of a bible during all the different stages…

Whenever I learn that my book has been of help I get a huge sense of satisfaction, and I was particularly appreciative of this email because it arrived whilst I was recuperating from an operation to mend a broken wrist (I slipped on a concrete jetty whilst we were enjoying a few days at Thanksgiving on the Gulf coast). What a boost the email was! I even decided that day to make scones, prompting a friend here to recall her great-grandmother who lost an arm in a train accident and continued rolling out pie crust dough.

Mike told me that there can be advantages to a change in circumstances and he cited the example of Robert Louis Stephenson who, if not for his melancholia associated with consumption, would never have written Treasure Island. I don’t expect to write a blockbuster but I have, I think, benefited from an enforced period of relaxation, allowing all those books that had piled up over the months to be read. And during a period of cold weather here – often only in the 30s during the day – it has felt deliciously cosy lying on the bed with the sun streaming in through the patio doors.

The house became even cosier yesterday after Mike and Mattie fetched the Christmas tree, a lovely tall bushy one which, as Mattie keeps reminding us both, was her choice. But the proud 13 year-old no longer, it seems, has the same sense of excitement at dressing it, leaving me to do the bulk. This I found to be an additional therapy for so many of the baubles have a history behind them. Hanging them up I thought of the person, or event, that had brought each one to us: that little chimneysweep from Mattie’s former foster mother (now sadly deceased); the set of Victorian cats from a neighbour in Sussex; the little cowboy boot that Mike gave to Mattie during her first Christmas in Texas; the pink ‘sugar mouse’ she made long ago from flour and water; the painted tin animal shapes from Mexico; the grey knitted mouse that my youngest sister Caryl made for me over 40 years ago; and the little decorated wooden spoon from my other sister, Molly… The only thing missing was something to go on top and after hunting through Mattie’s memory box I found the golden-curled cardboard fairy that the two of us had made for her junior school Christmas tree when she was eight. Now that sets off another train of thoughts …

Saturday Stuff

On Saturday everyone in the family got up early – Mike had agreed to take Mattie to a charity run on the other side of town whilst I awaited a phone call from BBC Radio Sussex: Danny Pike wanted to interview me for a programme they were running as part of National Adoption Week. One of the objectives of the programme was to quash misinformation about eligibility for adoption, including age limits. I cast my mind back and recalled that I was 47 when Mattie first moved in with me, and although she has now just turned 13 – we celebrated this birthday with my parents who were recently here visiting – I often see the big dark eyes of that little four-year-old I first met outside the foster parents’ farm cottage.

Mum and Dad seemed to have really enjoyed their visit here, mosquitoes aside. We, too, enjoyed having them and it was very sad saying goodbye at the airport last Monday afternoon. ‘We miss the warm weather’, both told me when I rang them after their return home. Our next visitors will be Mike’s daughter, Courtney, and her two small children, in early December. We saw Courtney, briefly, in Austin recently; she was there with her husband whose film was showing as part of the Austin Film Festival. With any luck, we should still be enjoying blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s by the time she and her children visit us.

I had mentioned the weather to Danny Pike on his radio programme when he asked me about the differences between Sussex and San Antonio. I also told him that I missed the Downs when we first emigrated, ‘though San Antonio is beautiful in other ways.’ I thought of my words when I went out on a bicycle ride following the interview. I was travelling along one of the many greenways that the city has built alongside its creeks when a brown and white mottled hawk swooped down in front of me. The bird flew in front of my bike for a second or two before disappearing. I looked up but there was no trace of it, though a little later I spotted about a dozen vultures circling above the creek. I stopped cycling to watch them and was then thrilled to see thirty or so more fly out of the live oaks and mesquites to join them. It was utterly peaceful watching them fly against a perfectly blue sky, with only the sweet sound of the nearby mocking birds and cardinals breaking the silence.

Later in the day, we picked up Mattie from her charity run and in the afternoon Mike made a barbecue to which we invited Brooklyn, a girl of Mattie’s age who recently moved into the neighbourhood from Tennessee. Mike cooked beefburgers (or hamburgers as they are called here) and I made pinto beans, guacamole and salsa. It struck me, as we were eating by the poolside, that we were all newcomers to San Antonio – Mike moved here from north Texas, then Mattie and I came over, and now Brooklyn. I later thought how well she and Mattie seemed to be getting along as they enjoyed a long game of monopoly though Mattie seemed particularly pleased to be winning. Fingers crossed, their friendship will continue…

Healthcare and Kitchens

On Friday the Homes @ Gardens Editor of the San Antonio Express came to interview me for her Sunday column entitled ‘Cooks and Cocinas’ (Cooks and Kitchens). The timing was good for I would anyway have had to give the kitchen a good clean in advance of my parents’ imminent visit to San Antonio! The editor and I were soon chatting about all sorts of things for it turned out that she had adopted two children herself; one is now the same age as Mattie. She asked me if I had faced resistance in the adoption process because I was single and I replied that my sister, a health visitor at the time, had greatly helped my cause. When I then explained what a health visitor was, she responded, ‘How terrific!’

I had the same response from a neighbour who recently gave birth to a baby boy and who said she would love a health visitor – if only. Her husband added that the delivery of their baby, which entailed a short stay in a local hospital, had cost them several thousand dollars. As self-employed lawyers, I imagine they will be checking out their options on the new healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare as it is more widely known. Mike and I will be doing the same for me and Mattie.

It has been a revelation to hear via the radio and TV of the millions of Americans who have thus far been excluded from health insurance either due to prohibitive costs or because insurance companies have refused those with pre-existing conditions. Some of the examples I have heard on the TV and radio have been pitiful. One hopes that if the Democrats get back a Senate majority in the mid-term elections and/or Obama’s successor is equally progressive, then Bills will also be passed to ensure equal pay for women (!) and to raise the minimum wage.

My parents arrive tonight and apart from the fact that we have just noticed water coming through our hallway ceiling (a plumber is on his way!) we are greatly looking forward to their visit. Mike has been doing some DIY around the house these past few weeks, including painting the stucco on the back of the house; as usual his work is immaculate. Happily, my parents will be here for Mattie’s birthday. She has already decided that we are to eat at Paesano’s Italian restaurant and for dessert I am to order an ice cream cake from Brindle’s, her favourite ice cream parlour. Hard to believe she will be a teenager in less than three weeks …

The Last Day of Summer?

September 1st was not only Labor Day in the US but officially the last day of summer. So tell that to the weather! In San Antonio, since the start of August, we have been experiencing temperatures that frequently touch on the 100s – though the mornings have just started to be cooler, there is a fresher smell in the air and distinctly more cloud cover during the day.

We enjoyed a respite from the heat during a recent holiday in San Francisco, visiting Mike’s daughter and family who live in the mural-covered Mission district. This is a largely Hispanic area that reminds me of a mixture of Southtown San Antonio and New York. I had forgotten, since my first stay in San Francisco thirty years ago, how lush a place it is – lemon and peppercorn trees laden with fruit, shocking pink passionvines with saucer-size blooms and an abundance of shrubs and flowers of every shape and colour. What I had not forgotten was how chilly the city can be, especially in the mornings when low lying mist can take a while to clear. On the plane back to Texas, Mike, Mattie and I all at various times muttered how we welcomed the summer heat of San Antonio!

The foliage in this city can be just as stunning as San Francisco. The mainstay of the south Texas garden is, or should be, the drought-tolerant Texas native plant. I say ‘should be’ because only recently have native plants and xeriscape landscaping come into favour here. Indeed, a charming old South Texas gardening book that I found in a second-hand bookshop sports a picture of daffodils on its dust cover! I have to profess a real admiration for the native shrubs and perennials that take such a battering from the summer heat and later, the odd days of freezing temperatures in winter. With the help of a gardening book that Mattie and Mike bought me for Mother’s Day and some advice from the Botanical Garden where I volunteer on a weekly basis, I have very much enjoyed planting out our garden. The latest native plant to go in is called ‘chocolate soldiers’ which has lovely brownish green floppy leaves and tall violet spikes. I have planted it close to a lime coloured squid agave and a bluish-green twist leaf yucca in the bed under the ash trees outside my study (there are currently a couple of squirrels scampering around it). On the other side of the garden (or ‘yard’ as they say here), in the bed that runs the length of the swimming pool, I have planted a variety of Texas sages (blue, white, cyclamen, coral and scarlet), Mexican marigolds, milkweed, some prickly pear cactus and grasses, amongst others. Many of these plants are dormant during this hottest part of summer and the colours of the foliage therefore less intense than in San Francisco. Two days after our return, Mattie, togged up in new school clothes and smart new trainers, started Grade 7 at her middle school and Mike and I took the opportunity of some time to ourselves to see the new, and very enjoyable, Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine. Some of the scenes were shot close to the area where we had stayed in San Francisco. And the chilly air-conditioned cinema reminded me of those cloudy mornings of our holiday!

Childhood Pastimes

We recently travelled to Missouri to visit Mike’s brother and sister-in-law. On the morning of our departure, we were somewhat bleary-eyed having hosted a neighbourhood drinks party the night before, but soon we were packed and headed in the direction of east Texas and Arkansas. We spent the night in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a spa town once frequented by convalescents, baseball players and gangsters alike. The main street comprises an elegant collection of bathhouses that sit directly over the springs. The town was once called the Baden-Baden of the US and interestingly, what I saw of Arkansas, with its tall pine forests and lakes, did indeed remind me of Germany.

The next day we reached Springfield, Missouri, an area once inhabited by the Kickapoo Indian tribe. Much of our time was spent visiting places that Mike and his brother had frequented as children – springs, creeks, a trout farm and the hillside spa town of Eureka Springs. We also drove through Fair Play, where the two boys had grown up and where their father, the local doctor, had kept cows. Though the town is now somewhat neglected, most of its inhabitants having either long passed away or moved on, it was not difficult to imagine the Huckleberry Finn type of childhood that one would have experienced in a place where everything – church, school, hamburger joint, bank, general store, hardware store – were situated within yards of each other.

Later that week we moved on to Kansas City, Missouri, a large elegant city famous for its jazz and cuisine, including Kansas City-style barbecue. The main purpose of our visit was to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art where we not only saw several paintings of Mike’s favourite painter, the American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, but also an exhibition of Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo. Later that day, Mike was keen to try Arthur Bryant’s legendary barbecue joint and although he was somewhat disappointed, not least with the quality of the barbecue sauce, I have to say that when we left the place all of our plates looked as though licked clean.

The following morning we crossed the Missouri River into Kansas and drove alongside miles of golden wheat fields followed by soft green prairie land dotted with black Angus cattle. Several hours later and we were in Oklahoma, formerly known as Indian Territory; part of our journey was on the so-called Trail of Tears, referring to the forceful removal in 1838 of thousands of native Americans from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Apart from the occasional oil jack, the flat landscape was quite bland and when we later drove into Texas, everything immediately looked more cared for. We spent the last night of our trip in Fort Worth, Mike’s former home, and where, until four years ago, Mattie and I spent many summer and Christmas holidays. It was a thrill to be back, not least for the wonderful restaurants and world-class museums, which put Fort Worth firmly on the map as the cultural centre of Texas. Mattie particularly enjoyed re-visiting the old stockyards area where twice a day a cattle drive is re-enacted through the streets, and I remembered her, as a five year-old, attempting to ride the mechanical bull, just down from the rodeo building. After a delicous meal at the El Salvadorean restaurant, Gloria’s, we headed home. The only downside of our trip was the traffic on the I35 headed south but a forced detour onto some side roads led to our buying some local cantaloupe melons from the back of a truck. A sweet end to a sweet trip.

Three Celebrations

Our dear former neighbours from the UK, Jo and Ann, have been to San Antonio and gone!
Those of you who have read Dear Mummy Welcome will remember that they became particularly close to Mattie when we lived next door to them in Sussex, and it was lovely to see that relationship continue on this side of the pond.
Jo and Ann were the first visitors to stay in our newly renovated home in San Antonio, and how exciting it was to greet them at the airport on the Monday evening and whisk them off to our favourite Mexican restaurant, Sol Luna. ‘I remember you mentioned this restaurant in one of your blogs,’ Ann exclaimed, on arrival. Happily, they didn’t find the salsas too overpowering.
Later, at home, I pointed out the various paintings and pieces of furniture that had been transported over here – though the furniture looks somewhat different: the sofa and chairs have been covered in brightly coloured southwestern prints and the ink and food-stained kitchen table and chairs have been repainted and resealed.
During their stay we visited the Missions, the Alamo and the River Walk, the Mexican quarter, the nearby German towns of Gruene and Boerne, the botanical gardens and the McNay art museum; we also enjoyed a barbecue or two on our patio, a swim in the pool and an evening at The Scenic Loop, a patio restaurant just out of town where there is live country and western music on Saturday nights. As I looked around the table, it struck me that it was only because of Mattie coming into our lives that we were all together in San Antonio on that lovely evening.
Good sports as they are, Jo and Ann even watched some of the finals (best of 7 games) of the NBA basketball championships with us on a couple of evenings – San Antonio Spurs were playing against Miami Heat. (Back in England, suffering from jet lag, they would even check the score of one of the later matches at 3am in the morning)
The only downside to Jo and Ann’s stay was that they brought the English weather with them! We are used to the odd rainfall in June but not a whole week of it. It was rather like monsoon for the rain would start late afternoon and then bucket down for an hour or two.
We experienced even stranger weather conditions last week when it became blisteringly hot, hitting 108 degrees on Saturday – the highest temperature ever recorded for June in San Antonio – and who says global warming is a hoax. Happily, it rained the next day and temperatures are back to norm.
We have three celebrations coming up – Mike’s birthday on Wednesday, July 4th on Thursday and our first wedding anniversary on Saturday. My parents celebrated their 60th anniversary in June and I remember from my blog, ‘How to Get Married in Texas’ that last year they had just missed out on an invitation to a garden party from the Queen. This year they were thrilled to receive a telegram of congratulations from her, and we look forward to celebrating the event when they arrive as our next set of guests in the autumn.

Enchanted Rock

During Memorial Day weekend at the end of May Mike, Mattie and I travelled northwards from San Antonio to visit Enchanted Rock State Park, in the middle of the Hill Country. It rained during the morning – as it has done a lot lately – and on our approach we could hardly see anything of the surrounding hills. ‘It reminds me of North Wales,’ I said to Mike, looking up at the clouds – ‘and I never thought anything in south Texas would remind me of North Wales!’ We decided to have lunch first, after which hopefully the weather might have improved. We popped into a little barbecue joint called Cranky Franks, just outside the German town of Fredericksburg. Mike and Mattie chose brisket and I chose the pork ribs; both were delicious and they were combined with the usual sides of coleslaw, potato salad, gherkins, jalapeno peppers, pinto beans and – much to Mattie’s delight – chocolate or vanilla pudding for dessert. Just as we left the little ramshackle building and headed towards Enchanted Rock the sun came out, and later the sight of this huge pink rounded rock formation was stunning. We now enjoyed perfect weather for the ascent, about 700 yards up a steep granite hillside dotted with yellow-blossoming prickly pear cactus, sprinklings of rusty pink and bright yellow wildflowers, and tiny flowering sedum. My only complaint was that I forgot the camera; the panoramic views of the Hill Country were just lovely and there was not a building in sight. I can’t wait to go back and do the four-mile hike that skirts the bottom of the Rock. Back in the car, we followed some empty winding roads in the direction of Johnson City and were thrilled by the sight of a roadrunner that crossed our path. The roadside verges and stony fields were completely covered with wildflowers of all colours, a particular delight as our last trip to the Hill Country, in April, specifically to view the wildflowers, had proved disappointing. The recent rains no doubt have been the reason for the late emergence of these gorgeous but short-lived blooms.

In Johnson City, named after the family of Lyndon Johnson (the former president’s wife, Lady Bird, was responsible for establishing Enchanted Rock as a State Park) we enjoyed a glass of local white wine before heading back to San Antonio. This week marks the end of Mattie’s first school year and Mike and I are so pleased that she has made such a seamless transition from her junior school in England to her middle school here; the school has proved to be a very good one and thankfully Mattie has found her niche. I was surprised, on first arriving here, to find so many private Christian and Catholic schools in existence, which sprang up in the mid-1960s when Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, thereby ending legal segregation. For me, the greatest shame of the abundance of private schools is that it splits up the children in our neighbourhoods, but in this part of the U.S. it seems to be an accepted fact.

Fiesta, Fiesta!

It is Fiesta week here and according to the San Antonio Express, more than 3 million people have come to the city to celebrate.

The first Fiesta parade was held in the late 1800s, to honour the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto; groups of women decorated horse-drawn carriages which they paraded in front of the Alamo whilst pelting each other with flower blossoms. The (later) Battle of San Jacinto spelled the defeat of the Mexican army, freeing Texas to become a sovereign country. It remained so for ten years, before joining the United States. One is reminded of this brief period of independence by recent bizarre calls to secede from local Republicans, unhappy at the presidential election result.

The opening day of Fiesta still takes place before the Alamo and Mattie recalled that last year we had only been in the US a week or so at the time. When I look back to those somewhat disorienting early days of our emigration, I remember Mike and I filling in forms and taking Mattie to get jabs before she started her new school, as well as searching for a new home. This year, things have been a lot less frenetic during Fiesta week and Mattie and I attended a ‘Night in Old San Antonio’, held at La Villita, a small historic village situated on the riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. La Villita was once home to native Americans, Spanish colonialists and then Mexicans and this annual event highlights the impact of various cultures on San Antonio and Texas.

The little Czech town of West that was partially destroyed last week because of an explosion at a fertiliser plant was already well known in Texas for its bakeries, and particularly kolaches – Czech pastries filled with fruit, meat or sometimes vegetables. Mike reminded me that on Mattie’s and my first visit to Texas back in 2005, we stopped at one of these bakeries, ‘The Czech Stop’, and I recall Mike buying several fruit kolaches for us at the time. I was pleased, on glimpsing a local newspaper in Starbucks the other day, that ‘The Czech Stop’ had not been damaged in the explosion; in fact it remained open throughout the night serving pastries and acting as a shelter. (Articles like these would have been on the front page of national newspapers if not for the other horrific event last week, in Boston.)

Apart from the word ‘kolache’ the Czech language has had little impact here, unlike Spanish – San Antonio is fully a bilingual town. Though it struck me the other day that Mattie and I have more than one language to learn now: I had asked for an ice lolly in a shop downtown, only to receive a blank look from the Hispanic lady on the opposite side of the counter. So I pointed to the fridge. ‘Ah, you want a paleta,’ she grinned at me. ‘What do Americans call them?’ I then asked. ‘Popsicles,’ she smiled.

Mattie speaks another language of sorts, too, at school. I recently gleaned that one doesn’t say, ‘What’s Up?’ now, but simply ‘Sup?’ ‘So what do you say back?’ I asked her. ‘I just toss my head and point upwards,’ she grinned. Once, when she announced a high mark in some school tests, I, in the spirit of things, announced, ‘I think that deserves a High Five!’ But Mattie looked at me over her glasses and said, ‘Mum, I think we need to talk about limits.’

Memory Lane

I recently received an envelope with a Canadian postmark from a childhood friend, Sian, with whom I last had contact more than 40 years ago. Sian’s Mum, who is still in touch with mine, had mentioned to Sian my book Dear Mummy, Welcome, which caused her to write.

I used to assume that if my family had stayed in Wales, I would never have travelled, would have married early and had children. From Sian’s letter I found out that she did indeed marry early, she and her husband moved to western Canada soon after and she never had children. Following a divorce and a very happy second marriage, Sian wrote, her life, far from civilisation, is very different to the one she had envisaged, yet she loves it. Mike mentioned that when he, Mattie and I made our road trip from Texas to Montana in 2007, we were only a short distance from Alberta and might have visited her had we known she was there. Perhaps that chance will come again.

Sian wrote, ‘I remember my friend Beth across the road. How I envied her, her dark skin and dark hair, so very pretty.’ Funny, I envied Sian her fair hair and curls, and her pink bedroom full of things that I would have loved to own! Sian recounted memories of our childhood. ‘Playing cricket in the street or hide-and-seek, time spent in garden sheds and in dens at the back of our gardens where we spent countless hours, listening to stories of Winnie the Pooh at school…’ She enjoyed identifying family members in the book, too, recalling how my younger brother David would go round to their house to visit their Dad ‘who had him convinced he was an astronaut, his hard hat being his helmet…It was a sad time when you moved to Wolverhampton. You were missed.’ For me, looking back, that time resembled something from an Enid Blyton book.

I was just nine in 1966 when my father’s new job took us from Wales to England. Years later, during the adoption process, I recalled that move as a significant loss. Yet only after reading Sian’s letter did I realise that for both our families that idyllic childhood froze the same year: Sian’s father (most likely everyone’s favourite Dad in the neighbourhood) died just before we left, her mother re-married and she had to adjust to living with a new step dad and step siblings in quite a different part of the city. I told Mattie about Sian’s letter and she asked me to read it to her over tea. I have to admit to shedding a few tears.

Mattie, Mike and I took another trip down memory lane last week, on the eighth anniversary of Mattie’s Adoption Day. This was only the second time that the three of us were all together for this special day. After giving Mattie cards and gifts in the morning (a metronome from Mike and books and hair accessories from me), we had lunch on the patio at Paesano’s Italian restaurant. Mattie chose her favourite Chicken Alfredo followed by chocolate pudding. During the meal, I reminded Mattie that on that first adoption day we almost missed the court hearing when a court clerk had waylaid us by mistake. ‘Typical’ grinned Mike. He had been back home awaiting the return of all the family members for celebratory eats and drinks. ‘I remember that cousin Mei ate some food from the table as soon as she arrived back and you told her off,’ said Mattie gravely and I smiled at the thought that Mattie, who liked to be the little boss back then, no doubt enjoyed that particular event. Later in the afternoon of her eighth anniversary, Mattie and I went to see a film and then do some shopping, during which she bought me a little gift. ‘It’s your adoption day, too,’ she smiled at me.

Spring Has Sprung

Spring, it seems, has sprung! Outside Mattie’s school, the grape-like blossom of the mountain laurel fills the air with its bubble-gum fragrance; and last week I had my first sighting of wildflowers: clumps of rust-and-gold Indian Blanket, and bluebonnets, beside the cycling path along the San Antonio River, south of downtown. Further north, at the Botanical Garden, the pomegranate trees now bear tiny green leaves – though it will not be until July or August that they will bear their luscious fruit. During my last visit to the Garden, I noted that the great white egret had disappeared. I first spotted it in the autumn when it was contentedly ensconced on an orangey-rust branch of a cedar tree, haughtily gazing down upon a gaggle of geese at the lake edge; later in winter, when the cedar had shed its leaves, it was poised on an upturned log in the middle of the lake. Now, only turtles occupy that log and I imagine the egret flew further south, to the Gulf coast, during a cold front. When Mike, Mattie and I made a day trip to the coast last weekend, I noted the odd splash of pink phlox here and there on the roadside and Mike pointed out that the mesquite trees were beginning to sprout leaves. The old timers, he said, used to say that spring had arrived when the mesquite trees became green. As we approached the coast, the mesquites became greener, finally giving way to dark alluvial farming fields, punctuated with the occasional oil jack. The large oil refinery near Corpus Christi is always, for me, the sign that our journey is almost over.
Instead of staying at Corpus, this time we took the small car ferry a short distance over the ocean to Port Aransas, situated on a long spit. Last time we did this, dolphins ducked in and around the ferry. This time I imagine the water was too cold for them. It was for me, too: though I got as far as putting on my swimsuit, in the end I only had a paddle. After lunch, and a long walk along the beach looking for shells, we spent a while watching cormorants and teal at a small bird preserve. There was an alligator, too, lurking somewhere in the waters though during our visit it failed to reveal itself. Mattie spent most of her time looking through a large telescope – a peregrine falcon was perched on a telegraph wire in the near distance – and I was reminded of our very first trip to the West Country back in the UK when Mattie, then only four, loved to look out at the sea through telescopes. Then, Mike had to lift her up to do so. Now, eight years later, she is of course tall enough to manage herself.
We drove back to San Antonio in the early evening. The sun hung low in the sky like a large burnt-orange ball until just before seven it disappeared from view. Only the odd electric light now dotted the countryside until, finally, the bright lights of the city appeared. During the journey, Mattie had kept wanting to hear one of my Nanci Griffith albums. I mentioned the Texas singer/songwriter in my book, Dear Mummy, Welcome and it was back in 1997 when by chance I first heard Griffith, at the Royal Albert Hall, singing about Texas bluebonnets. Funny to think that all these years later, Mattie has become such a big fan of hers.