Ivy Grace, a life in pictures and film

This is a film that we put together to play at Ivy’s naming ceremony on 26th February 2012 at Kensington Unitarians, on Palace Gardens Terrace, London.

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Remembering Iris and Cyril Spring, Peter Maddrell and Dan Mabelis


Outside St Matthew's Church, 27th November, 1937

This is a talk I gave at St Matthew’s Church, Yiewsley, on Sunday 27th November 2011.  

Thank you Richard for that introduction. I must say that I feel truly honoured to be speaking today, invoking the memory of my grandparents Cyril and Iris Spring, 74 years to the day after they were married in this church!

And I am grateful to you all for listening to what some might regard as an intrusion.

But my grandmother died earlier this year at the ripe old age of 94, eight or so years after my grandfather, who himself made it to 88, or ‘two fat ladies’, as he used to say, with a measure of incredulity in his voice!

For us though, today is a celebration of family, and I’m joined by as many of grandma and grandad’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends as could make it to remember them, before we go to share a lunch together at a favourite family pub.

After that, we’ll make a pilgrimage to Burnham Beeches, to carry out one of my grandparents’ last wishes: that we would scatter their ashes amongst the trees there.

It’s a place that conjures happy memories for many of us as a destination we visited frequently with Iris and Cyril and our families as we grew up.

Now, as with most kids, I used to try and ignore my parents’ and grandparents’ advice as much as possible, so the following seems apt as Richard’s recommendation when I asked for a suitable reading about family.

Grandma with my Mum, 1939

It comes from the Bible’s book of Proverbs, and here’s my Mum, Sheila, who is Iris and Cyril’s daughter, and was a pupil at St Matthew’s School many years ago:

Obey the teaching of your parents – always keep it in mind and never forget it.

Their teaching will guide you when you walk,
protect you when you sleep,
and talk to you when you are awake. 

The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teachings shine brightly. 

Correction and self-control will lead you through life.

In fact it was only in the last few years of her life, when I came to really know my grandmother properly, following the death of her beloved Cyril, that I started to really appreciate the honesty and wisdom of her counsel.

She was a very smart woman, who did not suffer fools gladly.  With grandma, you somehow always knew where you stood.

Grandma and Grandad with our family dog Holly

She had a profound love for her wonderful husband Cyril, and I strongly remember the acute loss she felt all those eight years after he was gone.

Thankfully my grandfather felt a similar love for Iris as well.

But he was also a man of true principle.

On one occasion, he resigned his job after disagreeing with his employer’s decision to sack a colleague.

But whilst grandad was the driver in the family, grandma always seemed to have her hands on the wheel!

She also had a remarkable mind for figures, and would no doubt have been an entrepreneur if she had been born half a century later, and experienced some of the benefits of the modern world.

But the truth is that neither was obsessed with work.

In fact, after each other, their second love was in many ways dancing – and it is a great regret that I never once saw them engaged in their true passion.

But they were proud of their ability, and that they had been able to share their skills with others, teaching countless people the joys of old-time modern sequence dancing.

Grandma and Grandad at a Dance

Now, I experienced a sad coincidence yesterday that I wanted to share with you.

Whilst looking for some video of grandma and grandad that I knew was on one of a dozen or so tapes I shot in the late 1990s, I found some great footage of friends from that era.

For some reason I felt inspired to send a note to someone that I have not seen in years, and who called back almost immediately in response to my message.

We had a wonderful catch-up, but he also had sad news – a mutual friend, Dan Mabelis, who would have been in his late thirties, died a few weeks ago in Malaysia, in a scuba diving accident.

In fact my friend and I both first met Dan under truly tragic circumstances; he was one of two survivors of a car crash that had killed another of our mutual friends, Peter Maddrell, along with two other students in their early 20s, back in the mid 90s.

It reminded me just how fragile life can be, and that my grandma and grandad were lucky indeed to live very long lives.

And whilst those lives were marked by periods of great tragedy, including two world wars and a great depression, there were many great and happy occasions as well – the birth of treasured children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for starters.

Toasting Grandma at 94, with almost all the family

Now I mentioned one of my great regrets earlier, and somehow, as I invoke memories of people who lived full lives, as well as those whose lives were cut tragically short, it feels right to mention something I recently read, which described five great regrets of the dying.

It was written by a hospice nurse, who had helped a great many people into the next life, and who found that time and time again, the same regretful themes emerged:

Firstly, people frequently wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

Second, they wished they hadn’t worked so hard.

Third, they wished they’d had the courage to express their feelings.

Fourth, they wished they had stayed in touch with their friends.

And finally, they wished they had let themselves be happier.

Fortunately, I think it’s true to say that grandma and grandad, and my friends Dan and Peter for that matter, would not have felt more than one or two of these regrets, if at all.

And in my view, if any of them resonate for you – as some have for me – it is never too late to make a start!

On which note, let us with happiness at the memory of good lives, well lived, move on to the next part of this special day.

With grateful thanks to Revd Richard Young for finding space in his busy advent service for our family.

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Does booze make London less of a 24-hour city?

Marhba and Al Farawlah by dayLast Guy Fawkes night, I took a walk around the block for half an hour just after midnight. It was amazing to me that there was not one pub or bar out of at least a dozen that was still trading after 12:30, especially after Britain was promised 24-hour alcohol licensing a decade or so ago.

Of course Westminster is famous for being very tough on licensing, so it was interesting to see which places are still open and doing a thriving trade.

In the whole area, there were just three.

Tinseltown is a new-ish burgers and shakes place that has moved in to where a branch of barbecue joint Bodean’s used to serve tasty meat. But one relatively unique characteristic was a Halal meat sign in the window. Its closing time is 1:30am, and it was doing a fairly brisk trade. Guess what though: it doesn’t serve alcohol.

The second place open was the Al Farawlah Arabic supermarket, which means ‘strawberry’ in English. This is a nice shop that we buy a lot from. It does not have a door, because it never shuts. And guess what: it doesn’t serve alcohol.

There really was only one other place trading, or at least not shutting up shop. A Moroccan lounge, called Marhba, or ‘hello’. For some reason, in the three or four years since it replaced the local outpost of Pizza Express, we’ve never been there to eat.

But when I say it was doing a roaring trade, it is a huge understatement. There were maybe thirty to forty people sat outside under toasty patio heaters, puffing away on shisha pipes, and it looked like there were at least the same number indoors as well.

I asked the waiter when they close for the night, and the answer was ‘never’ – it’s another 24/7 destination. By day, it’s a fairly nondescript looking restaurant, but at night it is practically the only show in town.

It looked like a cultural melting pot crossed with continental cafe culture. But of course, minus the alcohol.

So my question is whether one of the greatest advantages that New York has over London – its 24-hour culture – would be at least partially overcome if more cafes and restaurants that don’t sell alcohol would just see what it is like to stay open all night!

Presumably pubs and bars are hamstrung by the licences that allow them to sell alcohol; perhaps they can’t stay open, even with a promise not to sell booze. But it would seem – and perhaps someone with some knowledge of the law on this could clarify – that you can do what you like, if you forgo the moonshine.

The paradox of course is that most traditional Londoners probably wouldn’t want to frequent a late night destination that won’t sell them a drink.

Or would they? I would love to know the answer, whether you’re a traditional Londoner or not.

And certainly the people at Marhba looked as though they were having a great time!


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Meditations by Jinananda

View across the water at the Winter Palace, Beijing

I’ve finally got around to editing some new meditations by my friend, the excellent meditation teacher Jinananda.

I first encountered him at the West London Buddhist Centre in 2007, when my doctor recommended that I try meditation to help with a bout of insomnia I was having at the time.

I have found meditating to be beneficial ever since, and would really recommend anyone to give it a go. You need really do nothing more than sit comfortably and listen for half an hour.

If you would like to download a copy of any of them to put on your own mp3 player, simply click the down arrow just to the right of the sound waveform.

This first meditation is for absolute beginners, and is designed to make you more aware of the sensations in your body:


The second is a mindfulness meditation called the mindfulness of breathing, which is one of the most popular meditations you will find. I listen to this several times a week, usually, although this is a completely new recording:


The third is called the metta bhavana, and it is sometimes known as a ‘kindly awareness’ meditation. I think it is particularly powerful, and also listen to this on a regular basis:

I am grateful to Jinananda for allowing me to share these.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

And if you would like to learn more, I would recommend anyone to visit the West London Buddhist Centre, where there are regular drop-in classes at lunchtimes and on Saturday mornings.  If you live far away though, I’m sure you’ll find someone doing similar things in your area, if you look around.


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Why can’t you add maps to a TomTom Start 20? And is TomTom customer services any good?

So, we had our fantastic TomTom OneXL sat nav stolen a few months ago.  It was sad, as it has travelled the world with us, but really was our own fault, as the car had been left unlocked, because we were distracted by the then still  relatively novel distraction of trying to get a baby safely out of it!

Following a quick bit of research, and positive recommendations from friends, we discovered the TomTom Start 20 as a reasonably priced upgrade to what we had before.

It works very nicely, has a built in screen mount, is faster, and has lots of other features to recommend it.

What we didn’t expect to discover was that you can not add new maps to it.  It would seem that the slot where you can add more memory and store new maps, does not yet work, and that TomTom plan to rectify this ‘at some point in the future’.

This is actually quite frustrating, as we had a US map installed for years, enabling us to use our sat nav in the States every summer and winter since we bought it, and it had cut down on all sorts of hassle when driving in America.

To add insult to injury, TomTom had been emailing us for weeks, “Don’t miss out on the TomTom super sale!”, to say that there was a 30% discount right now for adding maps to your satnav.

We are heading to America again soon, and the inability to add maps seemed a very retrograde step, so I wrote to TomTom to ask whether they would discount the TomTom USA for iPhone, or give us a free US map later if we bought the USA TomTom version, to get us through the difficulty, or in some other way compensate for marketing a sub-standard product.

I was really surprised at the response. It was a form letter, effectively, saying that the feature we wanted was unavailable; they gave no indication when the feature would be added, TomTom further declined to offer a US map by way of compensation, and did not offer any other concession for the annoyance of not being able to add a new map.

So I emailed the CEO of TomTom, as I think people at the top of an organisation are often unaware of what goes on further down the hierarchy, and explained that following this pretty poor customer service, we’d think again about buying another TomTom in future.

Following success in the past through Tweeting customer services people, I also started Tweeting the UK TomTom Twitter account.  A helpful person kept replying that she felt our pain, but didn’t seem to have the power to do anything about it!

I thought when I started writing this post that there had been no response still, five days on, to my note to the boss.  But having just logged in, it turns out that TomTom has subsequently taken the message I’d sent to the CEO, and slotted it into our email chain in their customer service system.  And someone from the firm is going to call on Monday to discuss further.

It will be interesting to see what sort of response I get.  In the meantime, I wonder whether anyone else has bought one of these TomToms, and been disappointed that they were unable to add maps?

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Have I really just added a blog to my website?

It appears that in about 30 seconds just now, I created a blog for my website at www.frewin.co.uk/inmylife. This may or may not have been a sensible move…

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