Monday, 29 June 2015

Indignant of Middle England.




Here I go again.....the equivalent of last week's door-to-door pressure selling. Now someone has found me a buyer so I can move house. Well, not really move house, but move into one of their so-called Assisted Living Apartments.
Extremely thoughtful of them, but the sale presents a few problems, the main one being that my house is not on the market and their hopeful purchaser is going to be disappointed. They might have asked me before they found this buyer, but I guess that someone, somewhere found my date of birth and decided  that at the age of 75 I must be past making any sort of rational decision.
This potential sale offers me a worry and hassle free time with no estate agent fees, no removal fees, free valuations, a guaranteed price and a contribution (unspecified) to solicitor fees. You bet!
I wouldn't need removal fees because I'd have to sell the furniture. None of my Victorian family clobber is going to fit into the tiny retirement rooms. Free valuations? By whom? Presumably by the same agency that gives the guaranteed price. What on earth does it all mean? (Don't tell me, I think I know.)

But it also claims that I can start enjoying 'a more colourful assisted living retirement'. Now this might have its moments?

As with the countless helpful schemes involving computer repairs in exchange for bank details, Nigerian diplomats wanting somewhere to put their money and other too-good-to-be-true offers there must be people who respond to this sort of thing. There must be senior citizens who receive a letter like this and make a decision to downsize and move. Other retirement facilities in the area have been offering M&S vouchers to anyone who will go in and have a look round. Just look round, no pressure, no signatures needed? Enough vouchers to buy a new cardigan.
Similarly does anyone suddenly decide they really, really want a conservatory or double glazing because someone rings up and offers amazing prices in return for an instant decision? Well, they must do, or else people wouldn't keep trying it.

When I was in Madeira a couple of years ago I was puzzled by the boat trips which promised 'No Time-Shares'. Then I learned something of the degree of pressure applied by Time Share Salespersons to visitors when they were captives on a boat cruise.
What with the dish-cloths and the assisted living it's starting to feel a bit like it here.

To cool down I look a a photo my son sent yesterday: It's of the giant waterlily at Kew.



Then I remember how, as a very small child, I loved the photo of this in The Children's Encyclopaedia. There was a little girl sitting in the middle of a leaf.  Magical! My parents took me to see it in its real and humid flesh, and again I was filled with indignation at not being allowed to clamber into the pool and sit on Victoria Amazonica.
Nearly seventy years on.
Still indignant.
Still in Middle England.



Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Coffin-Dodging or Death by Elephant?




A young man has just been to the door. He had a battered sports bag filled with dish-cloths and tea-towels, a selection of which he expected me to buy. When I declined his offer his mood deteriorated rapidly (it's a hot day in Middle England) and he threw his wares back into the bag and stamped off down the path. As he reached the gate he turned back and called, 'Effing coffin-dodger!'
Who? Me?

I would have been interested to take him up on a few points. Effing and dodging coffins, for instance. Surely an oxymoron?
Dodging coffins? How? Are they being thrown about? Dodging them implies a level of physical activity and agility which I could actually see as being quite complimentary.
Does having white hair and declining to buy an over-priced dish-cloth imply that you should be in a coffin?
I would have liked to explain a few points and find out how he justifies this sort of approach to potential customers.

Avoiding a coffin? Yes. I already have this one organised, I hope. I wrote about it here some years ago, and the forms have been registered.  But it is necessary to die neatly and and the right sort of time for this one. Not during weekends and Bank Holidays, for example, when the relevant University office is closed, and not with too many bits missing.

In the time it took me to get back into the garden my thought processes had cantered on, and I was thinking about people taken totally by surprise when they thought themselves invincible, and when there was no insurance either. A number of Burmese Kings in the 15th and 16th centuries, for instance. I've been reading about them.
King Tabinshwheti had heard about a most auspicious white elephant and went off on a three month campaign with some of his staff to find it. On his 34th birthday he was decapitated by some of the staff in the general confusion about the elephant, although there were a great many other political issues going on at the same time. The elephant remained elusive. Can this be the origin of a White Elephant stall at the jumble sale?

King Razadarit went out to lasso an elephant, but lassoed himself instead and died, strangled by his badly thrown rope.
Crown Prince Minrekyawswa died when his own War Elephant was wounded and rolled over, crushing the Prince in his howda, while King Uzana was trampled to death by an enraged elephant.

Who would have thought it? All those active, rich, powerful young people being mashed by elephants, or while looking for elephants.
No matter how well-protected and agile you are you can't avoid the ultimate end.
But I think you can dodge a coffin.
The young man was right.
Bless him!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

When the going gets tough.........


...........I get going here.
Here in my garden with Patty's Plum, one of the most dramatic of big Oriental poppies..... and with Allium Christophii (below, right). This sort of planting makes me realise I can be something of a drama queen in the privacy of my own garden, but Christophii has decided to spread itself around the place, as have the equally big Alliums, Purple Sensation. 


So has this bright red honeysuckle, rescued as a dry twig many years ago and now weaving itself all through the frame of the big swing, so that visiting sons can barely manage their chin-ups.

Many plants do their own thing in my garden. I put them in the ground and stand back. Things that are difficult to grow sometimes escape from where they have been carefully planted and appear somewhere else, somewhere that is meant to be inappropriate, but they have decided otherwise. 
Some things just appear all by themselves, like the great big pineapple lily eucomis that came to live under the kitchen window. I have no idea how it got there, but it's very happy by the drain and puts up more flowers every year.

When the going gets tough the garden is a huge consolation. There is always something to do, and I mostly manage to do it, one way or another. There is always something interesting happening, and there are visitors who come and share it with me.


Granddaughter waits for afternoon tea, and she had (mostly) made the shortbread. 

I am grateful to the kind people who expressed concern over my lack of blog postings. I hit a bad patch, as we all do, and so went to ground for a while. 
Thank you. 
I am very appreciative of the concern.

Friday, 24 April 2015

In at the Deep End






An anniversary of sorts. A year since I had unexpected surgery which resulted in many side-effects, and which has put my life into a different pattern for the last year. The pattern has been generally unpleasant, not to say miserable.
So for some reason I decided that I must mark this anniversary by trying to push myself into doing something I really did not want to do. And then I would feel better. Ha!

Pot-holing would be my absolute first choice of things I don't want to do. I am not prepared to go that far, or that deep. I am not prepared, ever, to go down a pothole, to squeeze through a dark rocky tunnel, to possibly be trapped by rising water.
Travelling in a hot-air balloon is number two, or at least travelling in that dangling basket with no sensible way of getting out of it apart from thumping down and probably tipping over. Being dependent on wind and flame doesn't seem the best idea to me.
Swimming is number three.
So I went for the swimming option.

I am bad at swimming. I flounder about and forget to breathe. I don't like the chlorined water, but swimming in open water is a whole separate category of nightmare. Thank goodness I have not passed a vestige of this dislike to my sons, one of whom swims in any river, sea, lake or large puddle he can find, the other who holds all sorts of open-water diving qualifications.
Not only is there a dislike of swimming, but there's a reticence about appearing in a swim suit. I would quite like a Victorian bathing machine to tow me down to the water so that I can then submerge myself very, very discreetly.

Several weeks earlier, when it seemed like a good idea, I booked a swimming course here. But nearer the time it no longer felt like a good idea, and I had extremely cold feet, not just about facing several acute dislikes head-on, but also driving at least twice as far as I have driven in the last year. If I hadn't paid in advance I would probably have cancelled.
But I went shopping and realised that there are swim suits with what is called 'tummy control'. I really need whole body control after surgery, but having some area under control is a positive step.

I drove to North Wales on Easter Sunday, accompanied and over-taken by large numbers of motorcyclists on huge, glossy expensive machines. I envied them, encased in leather, sitting there being dashing. They were just having a great day out, going to see some waterfalls or the sea. None of this nonsense about proving themselves, testing themselves.

I arrived. I booked in. I unpacked and I looked out of my window at the monkey puzzle tree outside and thought how much I would prefer to be climbing it, rather than dunking myself in a swimming pool.
Then we started, five of us in a very warm pool. Well, it had to be warm because we were in it for up to four hours at a time. And we could do more, if we wanted.
I was much the oldest, but I could do what the youngsters did. Steve is a wonderful teacher. He explained a lot about bouyancy and natural floating levels and made us swim with balletic grace. Well, he tried. No thrashing about allowed. Be kind to the water, let it help you, it wants to help you. Don't disturb the water, don't create even a ripple. Just relax. Enjoy it.

I came home again. I felt proud of myself for having faced things I find difficult. I would do it again and try to improve, to be graceful, to breathe sometimes, to relax and enjoy it.
I think I feel better.
It's good to go on learning at 75.



Saturday, 18 April 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter: How to Get Through Nap-Time Without a Nap.






Dear Not-So-Small Granddaughter,
At nearly two and a half you are at that pivotal point of needing but not wanting a rest after lunch. When you reach my age you will be both wanting and needing the same nap.
So you go into a quiet room for at least some quiet time. When you are in my house you sleep (or not sleep) in your uncle's old bedroom which is a treasure trove of unfamiliar objects as well as your own growing collections. You like to check that he's gone off in an aeroplane before you explore thoroughly, and he usually has so the coast is clear.

Your parents go off up the hills for a walk, and you and I negotiate the ground rules for napping. I tell you that talking is good, singing is good, shouting and yelling are not good. You agree.
"Whistling?" you ask, hopefully. Yes, whistling is very good. Lying in a warm bed and practising whistling might even lull you to sleep.
We go upstairs and select three or four soft toys to have a nap with you. We discuss the toys that are at home and reach an agreement that they are not here and we're not driving sixty miles to get them. We discuss drinks and use of the potty and agree that neither is essential at this moment. I tuck you up and give you a kiss and say "Night night", even though it's not. You smile happily and snuggle under the duvet.
I feel successful as I go downstairs.
Then I plug in the intercom.

There is a lot of background noise. The duvet is churning. "Peter Rabbit, hold Annie hand," you say. (I am Annie, you can't say Granny)."Wee now, on the potty...... Now read a book......... Sing a song........ Sing a Peter Rabbit song....la.la.la. like that.....sing now. Sing in my bed. Sing, sing, sing........... Read a book in my bed........another one........... another one. Now singing......wah, wah wah, singing in my bed....... I'm playing..... No! Sit down now by the table. Yes, round and round the table....... Lie down now. No! Sing Happy Birthday.......... There Rabbit, yes, hopping........ Hop. Hop. Hop!"

Feet patter overhead. It must be the rabbit, hopping.
There is the sound of drawers opening and closing.
"Oh, H's (uncle's) paper......... Oh, H's book..........More book............ More paper........ Oh, look! Look! Boys and girls." You have found some old class photographs in one of the drawers.

The wardrobe door opens.
"Oh, big shoes. Big coat. H's shoes........... Oh, look!"
A contemplative pause.
Should I go up and check?

Then, "In my bed now. Oh, oh, I can't get back over there. Sssshhh........... Back now. Where's my duck? I want my duck....... (singing) Little duck went swimming one day, quack, quack, quack.....little duck came back.......... Ringy roses all fall down..........Annie, ANNIE, pick me up..........Oh.....come back, Daddy, Mummy, Annie.
Hello, me come back in that door..........oh."

Then there is attempted whistling and a lot more singing. The bedside cupboard drawers open and close rhythically. Toys are talked to, told to put their coats on, lie down and have a cuddle, eat the food that is in their mouths....eat it all up.

When I guess the time is right I go upstairs. You are sitting happily surrounded by the finds from the drawers and cupboards. A collection of jigsaws, a book with magnetic pictures I had earmarked for next Christmas, photos of your Daddy and Uncle in their primary school days.
You look rested and refreshed, ready for the next adventure.
"Hello, Annie," you say. "Look at this!"

I'm looking.
And listening.
With love from Granny.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Magic in Bed.






Sometimes my nights are long and broken. I awake in the small hours, and instead of worrying about the garden and the roof slates and whether I locked the back door or not I turn on the radio beside my bed. There is always something of interest, and last night was especially so.
Magic tricks on radio!
How much better than on television. Card tricks, when you can hear the flutter of the cards being shuffled, the clicks as they are laid out on a table top, the appreciative gasp of the audience. You can't see the cards, but you know it must be a marvellous trick.
Disbelief is almost suspended.

Sawing a man in half on the radio. You can hear the crunching and sawing. Is it bone, is it wood? You can't hear any screams of pain or squelching of blood and guts, so perhaps all is well? The images are startling, but you know it's going to be all right, really. Such a relief when the audience laughs and cheers. Phew! That was a close one.

A man is chained up with yards of metal chain, secured with three, no.....four padlocks. Four padlocks and yards of metal chain. He can't move. His hands are padlocked, so are his feet. Now they are putting him in a lift, and by the time he reaches the ground floor he will be free. How can this be?
The lift descends........ 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, (it's quite a slow lift, the suspense is great,)..... 2, 1, ground floor. There's a clank, a grinding noise.......the lift doors open......the man steps out, free, mobile, totally unchained. The crowd goes wild. I have the best view of all, alone here in the darkness. There's a glittering pile of chain in the lift. The man is rubbing his wrists. He must be sore. How many attempts did it take to get it right, and how embarrassing it must have been when the lift doors opened to reveal a crouching, contorted chained figure? I can see it all.

Uri Geller is interviewed by Dr. Anthony Clare in the psychiatrist's chair. Just for good measure Uri bends a spoon or two. Dr. Clare goes rather quiet. A vivid image, which I greatly enjoy.

I am drifting a bit in the warm bed.
I think about puppets on radio, especially Archie Andrews who had his own radio show. Even as a child I wondered if he was actually there or not, but he had a tremendous following until he was somewhat killed off by televsion.
I remember Terry Wogan's brilliant fireworks displays on radio every November. The scratch of the match, the hiss of flame and then the glorious technicolour displays. The greatest firework displays never seen, indeed.

So many other great opportunities not yet on radio, roller-skating for beginners, weaving classes, life drawing.
I think idly of the possibilities of a series about origami.
Not seeing is believing.

Night night!


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Let there be Light.






Sunshine creeps round my house, day by day extending its reach, fingering its way past window edges so that each morning and each evening I can catch glimpses of it earlier and later. This week it reached the point when it slid through a gap high in the hills, rolled down them and lit the end wall of my study, briefly illuminating the dust on the wall clock, the finger marks on the glass door.
Oh, it's spring cleaning time.
It happens every year.
This house I know and love so well is my own personal Stonehenge. As the sun hits the study wall, so I also know that I must get out into the garden, to try and get it under control before everything starts reaching out to the increasing light and warmth.

After days of bright sun, but also the sort of blistering cold wind that can remove the skin from your face, two friends and I went to look for new growth in the new light. We found it in the snowdrops here in Birlingham. This tiny ancient Worcestershire village, with its population of just over 300, has a churchyard literally filled with early spring flowers, snowdrops first. There is nothing more encouraging, more hope-filled than the sight of these bravest and earliest of delicate flowers, nodding in the slightly warmer air of early February.
Each small grave of the Victorian babies who lived here for one month or just one day has its own clumps of flowers, as have the imposing memorials of the older past members of the congregation. Snowdrops carpet the churchyard and now they are spreading out beyond the graves to decorate the grass verges of the adjoining road.

Birlingham is one of those quintessentially English places, easily missed by those in a hurry, but really not to be missed this week.
(Tea and cakes available in the village hall at weekends. A wonderful luncheon menu at The Swan Inn just down the road.)