Monday, 1 December 2014

Letter to a Granddaughter - When the Bough Breaks.....

Dear Small Granddaughter,
You are fascinated by Nursery Rhymes, partly because they can be sung, and you need to have almost everything sung at the moment  ("Sing a cat, Annie. Sing a door....... a car. Sing!") In working our way through the Nursery Rhyme book I realise anew what savage messages so many convey. When you're older we can talk about the political messages too, but for now the raw violence is enough.

This weekend you sat on my lap while we explored over and over (and over) again your choice of
Rock a bye baby in the tree-top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come baby, cradle and all, with its disconcerting illustration of baby and cradle plummeting to earth while the parents look up in mild surprise.

What sort of parents leave their baby up in a tree anyway? I'm sure your parents will help you climb trees, but they will never leave you stranded up there. And what will happen if the branch also falls on top of the baby, which seems likely? Well, the parents will go to the kind doctor to make the baby better.
You want it sung. many, many times while you study the picture with great attention to detail. You open the large and beautiful book at this page every time. It's important, even for a two year old, to begin to understand. that strange things might happen; that people, even you, might be hurt. But with truly grannyish need to give comfort and reassurance I repeat many times that the Mummy and Daddy are there, even if they are standing watching in a rather gormless fashion. They will undoubtedly rush forward and catch the baby and give him a big cuddle. Then everyone will laugh and go home for dinner. The baby will laugh most of all. He loved it!

The gore and violence in Nursery Rhymes will disconcert you many more times. Humpty Dumpty is smashed to pieces falling off a wall, and no one, no power on earth can make him better. The Farmer's Wife, encountering three handicapped mice, takes up a big knife and cuts off their tails. Jack fractures his skull in fetching a pail of water. Little Miss Muffet suffers arachnophobia and  panic attacks. People are beaten for stealing, animals get lost and eaten.
It goes on. 

Bad things happen.and the very best way to explore them is while sitting on a warm lap in a safely familiar, lamp-lit room.
Many the perils always be manageable in this sort of safe and caring way, Little One,
With love from Grandma. (Annie).

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Long Ago and Far Away.

A strangely flat world where the horizon fills only a quarter of the train window. Wind turbines, their thin grey arms slowly slicing the air, and the flat grey estuary merges into a flat grey sky.
Low tide in the Humber estuary and pale ochre sand shows through white water. The elegant bridge arches gently over the huge estuary, supported by cobweb thin threads. A small blue boat forges steadily over the broad expanse of reflective water.
The sun comes out just after Goole. (I have wanted to use that sentence for some time). There is sudden vivid illumination of  vast distances of corduroy fields, fresh acid green growth on dark brown earth.
Vastness, when I am used to hills and valleys and trees and steep twisting roads.

This is my first venture away from home in eight months, and it feels as strange and remote as if I'm crossing the Central Asian Plain. I  think I am reconciled to my inability to travel abroad, and this tentative venture into time away from home proves it to some degree. The British Isles are full of enjoyable, weird, beautiful things, even in pouring rain, and I am determined to make the most of what I can experience, rather than hanker for what I can't.
The Humber Estuary may not be everyone's vision of delight, but it is mine.
Everyone else in the train seems to be playing with their phone or asleep, while I revel in light and distance and differentness.
I love train travel. I especially enjoy going through the outskirts of towns where you can look down into gardens and even into bedroom windows. Then I remember that I live in such a situation myself and make a mental resolve to close the blinds when I turn on the lights. But the glimpses you gain are fleeting and often tantalising - unless the signals are on red, in which case it is probably better to close the blinds.

I am travelling north into this different landscape to visit old friends. Very old friends. We met as teenagers and are now Senior Citizens with bus passes and free television licences (I can't wait! Only about a month to go for me). We pick up conversations where we left off many years ago. Sometimes we get confused and slightly argumentative over who said what in 1959, but so often the same idiosyncrasies emerge, and I see clearly the people I knew nearly fifty years ago. The gesture of a hand, the tone of a voice seem absolutely unchanged.
Are we really fixed as people in our late teens?
Life and experience have added layers, but it is fascinating how often it seems that the teenager, even the child, still lurks just below the surface. 
Only just below, sometimes.
It's hugely reassuring.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Morning After.......

Seven a.m. in a silent household.
The bunting sags damply against the yellowing vine leaves. The fridge is over-stuffed with party foods; cold sausages, proper orange jelly made with juice and mandarins, cold rice salad, cheeses and fruits - and I have just remembered the miniature sausage rolls, still in the warming oven of the Rayburn. There are small cup cakes with only lightly licked toppings, and the remains of a birthday cake with  two candles and edible butterflies.

Today will be an easy time. Like Boxing Day, which is my favourite event of the year, people can graze happily on the remains of the day. After all the preparation there is time to relax and reflect.

Yesterday was a day of special celebration, warm enough to spend most of it out in the garden, or crouched within Granddaughter's second birthday gift of Walnut Cottage.
There is much to celebrate.
It is fitting that her birthday gift of the little house was originally made by her Grandfather, and Little E's birthday is also the anniversary of his death. So the two of them feel linked, even though they were destined not to meet.

I had a silent celebration for myself as well, because after eight months of incapacity I can begin to return to normal life.

There was an evening celebration for son and daughter-in-law who went out for a meal here (highly recommended) all by themselves. Not a high chair in sight.

There was celebration of a (potential) new friend for Little E. Little F, Granddaughter of a fellow blogger, who came for tea. The pair of them managed to share a few toys (well. sort of) and played alongside one another with only the odd wary glance. Another few hours together and they would be companions.

A celebration of a beautiful autumn day, and a step forward into the next adventure.

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.