Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Letter to a Grand-Daughter - Walnut Cottage Revisited.

Dear Small Grand-Daughter,
You're really not so small these days. There is a theory that you are about half your adult height at two years of age. You have a month to go until you're two, but by our current reckoning you will be about five feet seven inches tall when you're grown up. That's taller than your Mummy, and the same as your Grandma. I hope I might see you at that height.

Anyway, looking back rather than into a hazy future, here is Walnut Cottage again. I wrote about it two and a half years ago when I first knew that you were coming. You were just the size of a walnut, which is why I called your house Walnut Cottage
We were all so full of joy to know you were on your way, but we didn't know who you were, and who you would be. We still can't know that, but we can know the loving, happy, characterful small person you are today at nearly two.
I didn't know that you were going to be a dear little girl with a mass of golden curls who would spend a weekend racing about, looking after us, giving us all plastic cups filled with imaginary tea. I didn't know that you would be such a people-person, so full of fun and interest in others. I really didn't know that you would lull yourself to sleep, whispering the names of family and friends, and then wake up the same way, thinking about the people who are important to you.

So this photo shows you what my neighbour, a skilled carpenter, did  yesterday. Walnut Cottage is being  tidied and sorted and kitted out for someone who likes making pretend tea. Someone who trundles around with a ginger toy cat in a pushchair and who gives many stuffed animals careful and gentle rides on the swing in the garden.  There will be a kitchen with ladles and saucepans, a cradle for dolls and cats and bears, a comfy chair, a table for colouring and drawing,  places on the wall for your art work.There will be books in there, of course, and a rather special toy toaster that makes you dance and shout with delight when the plastic toast pops up. Things that have been collected over the past two years, in case you need them.

Perhaps you will also enjoy the cars and diggers and sticks and stones collected by your Daddy and Uncle when Walnut Cottage was really more of an arsenal than a little home.
Things are still here for you; all the options are open.
But your Daddy and Uncle never really went in for tea-making and looking after others. Their speciality was trying to make what they called 'poison' from sand, soil, food colouring and other tasty morsels from the garden.
Their time in the little house was often tinged with excitement and danger. Or so they thought.

However you choose to use Walnut Cottage I know you will find great happiness in so many little things.
I also want you to know that you give back more happiness than you can ever believe.

Very Happy Birthday, nearly-two-year old,
With love from Grandma.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Personal Message.

Here is the stone seat beside my pond. I've been sitting here quite frequently in the last couple of weeks, trying to assess how many of the new fish have escaped the attentions of the heron.
This morning I discover that someone else has been sitting, or at least crouching here too. And they have left me a clear message that this is their territory.

It is perilously easy to be anthropomorphic about animals, and I find myself particularly prone to do this about the fox or foxes who make free with my garden most evenings, nights and early mornings. I know they do this because I have borrowed a motion (ha) sensitive camera, and I've seen what they're up to. I also know because they have the odd fight and shouting match in the road outside my bedroom window, usually at about four o'clock in the morning.

I know foxes are not everyone's cup of tea, but I have a certain admiration of the ingenuity of the urban foxes who create a successful life in such proximity to people, especially when many of those people may be hostile to them.
This faecal message tells me I'm being watched. I wish I had been able to watch the creature who hopped up here in order to leave this message, and the several other similar messages I have received over the last couple of years.

A few years ago foxes in this area nearly died out because of a severe outbreak of mange, but they are back, strong, healthy and with what I have to interpret as a sense of humour. I recently watched a pair of youngsters, working their way round a neighbouring bungalow, bouncing up to have a look through each lighted window. The occupant had no idea she was being investigated.
It was probably the same pair of adolescents who played volleyball with my previously neatly-stacked plastic flower pots and left them scattered across the lawn.

But who was it who left the same faecal message on a pair of leather gardening gloves I had accidentally left out overnight - left out on another garden seat moreover? And  whose aim is so accurate that they almost got it down the hole in the lawn where the washing line goes?

I cannot help but take this personally, and to be pleased that I am never alone in my garden.

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?