Friday, 12 September 2014

Severn Boring.

Yesterday, another of these lovely warm misty September mornings, a friend, her eighteen month old daughter Molly and I went to see this.
Not with wet-suits and surf boards though.
Just with some drinks, a copious picnic for Molly and a folding chair for me.

We went downstream from where we live to the pretty village of Minsterworth, where the River Severn has to push its way through a comparatively narrow channel on its route to the sea.
For this is the secret of boring success, the narrowing of a channel, so that incoming sea and outflowing river meet in conflict. As the tide rises sea trumps river and suddenly the river is forced backwards, upstream, fighting and churning all the way until the tide relents, sinks and allows the flow to reverse again.

A natural phenomenon which occurs twice a day, and sometimes the effect is barely perceptible. Then occasionally a combination of factors; wind direction, low air-pressure,  high level of water in the river, high tides and always, always the pull of the moon build together to make the effect spectacular, to make the primary wave dramatic and its after-effects memorable. Then determined characters rush out with their surfboards, canoes and even micro-light aircraft to follow the wave at about 8 to 12 miles per hour as it roars and weaves along the river's path through green fields.

A pleasant saunter on a surfboard you might think, but not when you see what is just behind the primary wave, for there is a churning, racing maelstrom of dark opaque water, punctuated by random whirlpools and conflicting currents. There are huge gyrating tree trunks, swirling logs and random detritus bobbing and cavorting in an unpredictable dance as fresh and sea water continue their wrestling match along the river bed.

After nearly an hour the flow of water slows, and the clots of foam from riverside manufacturing begin, very slowly, to sink. The sea water feels the pull as the tide begins to turn, and after a brief period of tranquillity the whole process is reversed. River trumps sea, and the invading salt water is pushed back.

So Molly concluded her picnic, parishioners at the nearby church stopped serving bacon butties and coffee, the cameras were packed away and we leave the mighty Severn with its third highest tidal range in the world (in the WORLD - our local river) to push all that salt water and old wood back out to the open sea.

Not boring at all.

Friday, 8 August 2014


I've had a few days away, very unexpectedly, here.
The ambulance, summoned by a wonderful neighbour, arrived almost before the phone call ended.
Two paramedics treated me with immense care and kindness, checked me in all sorts of ways, and then carefully trundled me into the Accident and Emergency Department.
I was whisked along on a comfortable trolley, pushed to the head of the queue (sorry, other patients), checked and tested and rechecked and finally admitted to the Surgical Clinical Decisions Unit.

I wanted to take the bed home. It was one of those wonderfully adjustable jobs with a great mattress. If you've got to be stuck in a bed, those are the beds to be in.
The care in Worcester Royal Hospital was of the highest order. The cleanliness and hygiene likewise. The food, when I was finally allowed to sample it, was unrecognisable from the bought-in mush that I remembered from some years back. Now it is freshly cooked with a good choice at each meal.

I admit that I was dreading being admitted here. The place was full of bad memories from the time my husband was so very ill. The time when I visited daily to try and get some nourishment into him because the staff were too busy to feed individuals.
I don't need feeding, or much other care, but now I am also elderly and potentially confused at times.
I was treated with complete respect, and without the faintest hint of age-discrimination. I saw others, more confused, treated likewise, especially in the nights and early mornings by a young male nurse. very grateful thanks to Worcester Royal Hospital; to a nurse who is not afraid to hug when needed, to surgical staff who shake hands and listen, and to the many staff who keep the place spotless and the patients well fed.

Sorry if I've been somewhat dismissive in the past.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Oestrogen Also Rules.

A true story for G.

Peace is restored to the garden.

At the weekend  Cat (small Granddaughter's Significant Other) enjoyed a lot of TLC in the swing. He needed it because  few days earlier he had been the subject of a particularly bold kidnap attempt in the park. He had been snatched from Little E's hands by a puppy, tossed around, chewed and hurled round the park with quite a number of people trying to rescue him.
Very fortunately, he was rescued and restored, damp and shaken, to his rightful owner, who was equally damp and shaken. They both came here for some rest and relaxation in the shade.
'Thank goodness',  I thought. 'Thank goodness the builders and fencers will not be doing their usual things next door, and the air will be clean and pure and relatively noise free.'

It stayed that way over the weekend.

Then they came back.
They had decided I was a lady, so I decided to act like not only a lady, but also an Earth Mother.
It was a very hot morning. I told them I was concerned for them, struggling out there in the heat, struggling with concrete posts and heavy fencing panels. Averting my eyes from the tattoos and considerable amounts of glistening flesh I asked if they would like a hot or cold drink. They opted for hot so I took it out in pretty china mugs and gave them a little talk about dehydration.
They didn't know what to call me, but later decided on 'Madam'........'The cups are empty, Madam.'
'As I've done that for you, perhaps you'd be kind enough to move your lorry so that I can get my car back into the driveway?' I said. There was a general scramble for the keys and the lorry shot forward. They offered to wave me into the drive, but I assured them I could manage.

I offered another drink a couple of hours later and delivered another brief lecture on the perils of dehydration while working in the noon sun.
Shortly afterwards there was a crash and a volley of expletives as a concrete fence post hit something it shouldn't have done.
'That's at least two quid in the swear box, Damien,' said his partner. 'You know what we said while the lady's here.'
'The lady is here,' I said. 'Have you really got a swear box?'
'Yes,' they said. 'It was bad last week'.
I agreed that it had been bad last week and asked them where they were donating the money in the swear box. They looked a bit blank. I don't think they had planned that far ahead, so I was able to ask them to donate it here, because as soon as I'm better I will be returning to work here.

They returned to work, with another drink in fine china planned for another couple of hours.
There was a steady hum of industry, but nothing else. Even the radio fell silent. Cat and Little E. could have consoled each other in the swing, three year-old neighbour could have visited with impunity. The air stayed fresh and clean and pure except for the odd minute or two of concrete-cutting.

Perhaps the china mug is more powerful than the pneumatic drill?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Letter to a Granddaughter - The Joy of Telephones

Dear Small Granddaughter,
We don't see each other very often, so now you have decided to telephone me.
Quite often, if you can get away with it.
"Annie, Annie, Annie!" you say (you can't say Granny, and I like 'Annie').
"Hello, hello, hello," I say. "What do you want me to sing?"
I sing 'Baa baa black sheep', and it meets with approval.
I sing 'Humpty Dumpty', 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', 'Jack and Jill Went up the Hill', 'Oh, The Grand Old Duke of York.'
Each rendition meets with huge approval, a demand for an encore.
I never realised that I was so skilled vocally. I have never played to such an enthusiastic audience, never received such totally admiring, uncritical approval.

I divert into a slightly dubious song about a baby who behaves rather stupidly in his bath-tub (he drinks the water, eats the soap and tries to eat the bath-tub but it won't go down his throat.) He is taken away by a lady with an alligator purse, probably from the NSPCC.
"Where did that come from?" asks your father.
"It's one of those deeply traditional tales, probably by the Brothers Grimm", I say, but you are already calling for an encore.

When there is a brief lull I tell your father that we should be using Skype, as you are showing me toys and teaching me the difference between blue and yellow in between songs.
"Oh no!" he says."If she thinks she can see you by pressing a few buttons we'll never get her off the lap-top".

Thank you, Little E. for making me feel like the most desirable, entertaining person on the planet.

With love from Annie.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Testosterone Rules.

It's always a mistake to sing the praises of the peace and solitude of my garden. The last time I did it I went out the following morning to discover that the badgers had trashed the strawberry bed in an attempt to dig out a bumblebees' nest. This time it's to be painfully aware of the start of the property-development project taking place next door.

First to arrive are the machines, a small, agile digger and a shiny yellow dumper truck. My three year old neighbour from over the road is thrilled.
Next to go are the fences which have ensured my privacy for the last twenty years or more.
Then comes the testosterone - buckets of it. The Earth-Moving team, then the Fencing team. The machines are switched on, as is the radio.
There are about seven men in a small garden. It's very hot, so there are lots of tattoos on display. Then they shout to each other over the noises of the machines and the radio. A lot of what they shout starts and finishes with, 'F***'. Not so good for the three year old neighbour.

The agile digger swings around, occasionally bashing into my unprotected garden plants.
I go out to confront one of the Fencing team who is lopping at a beautiful little acer - my beautiful little acer.
I tell him he has no right to do that. He says he has to, and chops a bit more just to make the point.

A huge lorry with hoist and grabber makes frequent roaring appearances at the front of my house to remove debris.
The digger is used as a hammer to pound at the concrete on the driveway. My house shakes.
The 'F***ing' continues.
Welcome to the world of property development.

22nd July.

Two of the workmen apologised for the foul language, saying they realised I was a lady.
Perhaps they even read the blog?

Friday, 11 July 2014

How to get Lost in a Small Space.

I sit in the garden with my eyes closed.
I hear the breeze rattling the bamboo leaves. I feel it lifting, cooling, while the sun makes hot patterns on my eyelids. When I concentrate I can hear the air.
There are distant voices, distant traffic, machinery cutting something some way away. People are going to buy things, keep appointments, look at things they might want to buy, meet and talk to one another, work in a myriad ways.

A wren chirrs. It's probably annoyed because I'm near its flight path.
A blackbird proclaims loudly about something very dangerous, probably me again.
High above me a buzzard mews, above the trivial fuss, circling, spiralling, riding the air. I resist the temptation to open my eyes because I know what I will see.

A sudden crescendo of sound - like an aviary erupting in joy or panic or both - as the children from the local school troop past on the other side of the house, more or less in crocodile formation, more or less pleased to be going out to swim or to run about in a competitive way. There are screams and shouts.

I do not need to open my eyes.
This space, this garden is printed on my cortex, etched into every part of me. I could probably weed it with my eyes closed, which is sort-of comforting when I think of my declining sense and sensibilities.
With my eyes closed I can be lost.

There's a muddle of memory, ancient and modern.
There's small granddaughter, picking her careful way through plants as tall as she is in order to get to her swing and the raspberries.
There's a magical evening with a son playing classical guitar as the light fades.
There's an equally magical time with other son, in the darkness, watching for shooting stars and seeing them - lots of them.
I can see a great collage of happy times; my husband, deep in conversation with his nephew, a group of friends drinking sherry through Cadbury's finger biscuits (used as drinking straws - worth trying!). Friends and family, good wine, cucumber sandwiches and scones, and yes, there is honey still for tea.

I am here, and I stay here while my body sorts itself out.
There is nowhere else that I would want to be.

So many memories, so many people loved and missed.
And then coming back.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Please Turn Over.

The Greater Spotted Ladybird appears in the garden. Summer has come and I'm here to appreciate it all.
But I'm also thinking of having Please Turn Over tattooed on my back, and Do Not Resuscitate on the front because I've been given the realisation that I am no longer invincible, and that when you get to three score years and fourteen things can go wrong and can't always be put right. Ageing is not something that you recover from, but something that you must acknowledge and accept with a strong dose of realism.
Nine weeks after surgery and I have learned a lot. I begin to emerge, battered, scarred and humbled from a series of unexpected events.

Life will not be the same, for a variety of complex reasons, but as my recent weeks have been so full of waiting rooms and appointments relating to health matters I don't want to write about that.
What I want to write about is the overwhelming kindness and support from so many people.

I am not good at asking for help, and I haven't had to ask.
In hospital I was touched by the kindness of people who knew the exact angle to bend a drinking straw, and who made time, one long and painful weekend, to come and sit with me and tell me their stories. I was touched by the thoughtfulness of a lady in the kitchen who made tiny pots of jelly in the hope that I might be allowed to eat them, and the nurse who was determined to find some pain control that worked.
I was made to feel a great success for being able to sit up, stand up and walk. I was assured that I was doing so well, so much better than most people, being brave and determined. Brilliant in fact. (Also rubbish - I was a mess, but it's still very powerful to be made to feel good, especially in one's most fragile moments.)

Then I came home, and people appeared and told me what they were going to do - make me a drink, change my compression socks, weed the garden, put me in the car and take me up the hills (and bring me back again!), do some shopping, escort me to my many appointments, bring a meal and share it with me.
Sons and wife and partner have travelled considerable distances and cut lawns and vines and hedges, moved heavy things, made me smile and reinforced the message that life goes on.
Grand-daughter has come and sat on my lap, reading books very carefully and then danced and pranced and run around and made me laugh.
Fellow bloggers have expressed concerns and sent kind thoughts, and one has the specialised ability to be very, very supportive (you know who you are, especially Zhoen). And I have not been able to respond, but still the kindness and thoughtfulness has poured in. I am very grateful.

I begin to emerge, accepting that life has changed and I must change with it, acknowledging the things I can no longer do, and getting on with what I can and must do. The tattoo, or at least the clear recording of my wishes is important. But even more important has been the realisation and acceptance of the kindness and thoughtfulness that surrounds me.
I am a lucky old person.