Saturday, 11 July 2015

In at the Shallow End







Late evening in the kitchen, and the swimming gear dangles, damp and depressing after a bad day in the pool.
How I hate this swimming lark, but how determined I am not to be defeated by it all.
Then I think, 'Defeat is all right. It will give me more time in the garden'.
But no, I will struggle on.

I was quite excited when I found out that at my local pool people over 75 could have unlimited swimming for £10 a year. When I told my younger son he said, ' Come on, Mum. Everyone in Malvern is over 75. You'll not be able to stand in there'.
Well, he was wrong. Not everyone over 75 wants to swim. And neither do I. At least, I do, but I hate this process of having to master skills that seem to require far more coordination that I possess.

Recently, in a small warm pool in Wales, with lots of grab rails and ladders I could do widths and lengths and float and glide and swim a length underwater. I didn't splash or flounder. I even felt a touch of triumph, once or twice, and the very kind instructor told me I was good. How positive is that? How reinforcing? And how incredibly childish, to need such reassurance in the mid 70s?
Not childish, or rather child-like in the most basically human way. How much better we all feel and respond when we think we are being good. Doing well, accepting approval are things we all need throughout our lives, and when you live alone such things can be in short supply.

However, in the small warm pool in Wales a length is equal to considerably less than a width in the impressive local pool.where a length zooms so far into the distance that it makes my goggles steam up.
A leisure pool is nothing like a swimming pool.
At least not to an insecure old biddy like me.
For starters I can't climb down a ladder, which is my preferred way of getting into water. I have to walk down a sloping tiled 'beach' and when I totter into deeper water there are no comforting rails along the sides.
There is a wave machine, there is a great plastic tube that hurtles people into the deep end. This is fun, apparently.

There is, in compensation, another kindly instructor, and he and I have the vast, echoing, shimmering acreage of turquoise water to ourselves - apart from our own private life-guard, up there on a high perch.
I tell the instructor what I think I can do, and then I find I can't do any of it.
Oh!
I can do the arms bit.
I can do the legs bit.
I can't do them together. I can't balance, I can't breathe. I gibber. I haven't gibbered for a very long time, but I gibber in the glittering water, and then I can't do anything at all.
How elderly. How humiliating. I wished my son was right, and that it was a case of standing room only. But this is a private lesson, and there is nowhere to hide.
Absolutely nowhere.
The instructor and I formulate a sort-of plan, but I suspect that he sort-of thinks I will give up after such an uncomfortable time..
But I won't.
Even though at that point two dinky four year-olds appear for their private lesson and immediately go into efficient front and back crawl modes.

As I creep back home down the hill, toting a soggy bag of towelling and with knees like jelly, I know that I must creep back up again.
Soon.

P.S. I've found a ladder. I can get into the water without gibbering. Things are looking up!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter: Peas in a Pod.






Dear Small Grand-Daughter,

High on a list of my wishes for you is a creative imagination, along with good health and happiness and all the usual grand-motherly concerns. Imagination can be the spice of life, creating magic from the humdrum, peace from the turmoil, fun from the banal......and last weekend, joy from pea-pods. Who would have predicted that shelling peas could be such a wonderful entertainment; for you as the pods went 'pop' and for your parents and me as we watched you quivering with anticipation.......'Do it again, Annie. Do it again,'?

Then you decided that each pod contained a family of peas; mummies and daddies, babies, uncles, aunties, cousins, grannies, so each had to be checked out, and some families were found to be larger and more complex than others. After that came the need to taste uncooked peas, and perhaps their pods as well. It takes quite a time to prepare lunch this way, and perhaps it's only grannies who have the time and patience to do it.
So, thank you for giving me a weekend to spend with you and your widening horizons, and to give me the realisation that grannies are good things with lots to give, even if they can't run about very much.

The question, 'Why?' has become significant lately. Sometimes it is used as a delaying tactic when you've been asked to do something else, but more often it is a real need to know, fuelled by imagination and by your great enthusiasm for books and stories.
We worked through some of your favourites, looking at why things happened the way they did. Peter Rabbit, for instance, had been specifically told not to go into Mr. McGregor's garden, but defied his mother and did so. A few weeks ago you told me that Mr McGregor was 'not kind' shouting at Peter, chasing him and taking his little coat and shoes. This time you worked out that it was Peter who was not kind, eating the vegetables that Mr. McGregor had grown, and that Peter was a bad rabbit, taking things.
Similarly you now think that Goldilocks was wrong, going into someone's house, eating their breakfast, breaking a chair, sleeping in someone else's bed without asking them. You used to think the bears were not good, coming back and frightening her, but now it's Goldilocks who is not kind, frightening the bears.
Not kind.
Not kind at all.
Kindness is important.

In the peace and seclusion of Walnut Cottage we ventured into thoughts of why people ask you not to do things, and we reached a sort of conclusion that it is because Mummy and Daddy don't want you to be hurt. This was clearly the case with Peter Rabbit.

Then you cooked a few meals in your cottage - fish and cheese with tomatoes and carrot juice - yum! You fed your new horse  who is called 'RideaCockHorse' and you are a Fine Lady when you sit on him, although Banbury Cross defeats you somewhat.
You made a lot of (private) phone calls on the remote control for the old t.v. because we couldn't find your official plastic phone. 'Hello...yes, I'm working.....at Annie's house. Yes, cooking now....... I'm too busy. Bye!'
This afternoon many people call you via the old remote control, people you know, people from books and nursery rhymes. The witch from Room on the Broom really needed a quick word, but again you were busy in your house, working hard, keeping an eye on the plastic babies in their cradle, constantly mashing up juice in the little liquidiser.....'Tomato or orange, Annie?' 'Have you any cucumber juice?' 'Oh, you are silly, Annie!'

At least  a year ago I found myself marvelling at how much you knew, and how you were making sense of the world.
Now I'm really marvelling, and I have to remind myself that you are someone whose age can still be counted just in months (32).
How on earth has all this happened?

Thank you for teaching me so much, and for reminding me constantly of the simple joys to be found in life.
With love from Granny (Annie).


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.