Sunday, 28 December 2014

I Saw Three Ships........

................but not sailing into Bethlehem on Christmas Day in the morning. In fact it's a puzzle as to what geographical/divine intervention made possible this event, but never mind. These three ships were in Bristol harbour on Boxing Day in the morning. Two ferries and a tethered restaurant boat to be precise, but very interesting all the same.

It was a different sort of Christmas, the making of new tradition and the end of the old, a sort of rite of passage for me as I will be 75 tomorrow and life changes for all of us.
The old tradition, for my sons and me, was heavily involved in the church where my husband worked. I use the word 'heavily' with care, because it was. The duties for all of us were onerous, and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were somewhat fraught with duty and responsibility and hard work.
We spent many a Christmas Eve scaping wax off the tiled floors after the Christingle sevice when little children were given lighted candles stuck into an orange and when wax was dribbled into medieval tiles.
I spent the later part of Christmas Eve in a state of apprehension, knowing my husband to be alone in church full of the most valuable silver, and knowing that the churchyard was populated by people who had spent the evening drinking in the local pubs and probably also knew about the silver. There were no mobile phones in those days, no communication between the church and the house in the churchyard where we lived. Only a locked door.

But it was a privilege, always, to have such access to a beautiful building nine hundred years old, to be behind the scenes, to realise just how much dedication and hard work went into the production of the music that created a powerful emotional response for so many others.
Tradition was all around us, centuries of it, tangible.

This Christmas was different, away from home for me, but at home for my younger son and his family. Time for me to let go of some things and let others create new traditions. Time for Granddaughter in her Christmas fairy tutu (which she's inclined to wear pulled down around the knees or up under the armpits) to give out the presents. Time for an evening round of a rather racey new game to be played on a different kitchen table, a game whose instructions advise that it is not suitable to be played with older mothers or grandmothers. I am both and can hold my own in the rudeness stakes. There is nothing new in that.

But some different some things I hope will not become traditional, foremost among these being the slamming of my elder son's head in the car door (by me) as we loaded up.
The disagreements with SatNav will probably be thoroughly traditional with many by now. I have it set on a nice, calm, female voice and I do as she tells me. My sons use a different system which is obviously better than mine. More masculine.
But we got there, as I drove through an unfamiliar city centre late at night, gibbering with exhaustion and fear as the nice, calm female directed us in what was clearly the opposite direction, advising us on 'U' turns all the way.

Perhaps the Wise Men argued with the guiding star? The principle is the same.
We got there, as they did.

Happy, peaceful New Year to you all.

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.

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.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Bit of Time Off

Flowers from my elder son this morning - a lovely surprise in the middle of many surprises, not all so lovely.

I have never received so much attention within a relatively short space of time. I feel surrounded by well-wishers and supported by offers of help. I fear that it could become addictive, 'Look at me, I'm poorly.'
No, probably not.
I concentrate on getting all the paperwork in place, cutting the hedges and the lawn, tidying the shed (again), taking all that old roofing felt to the tip, not being the least bit poorly.
But I will be taking a bit of time off as I have to go into hospital at the end of this week to have my spleen removed.

Spleens are valuable and interesting things.
 I know that now.
 I didn't know before, but now I feel very attached to mine and don't really want to lose it. It has served me well and invisibly for 74 years, sorting out my blood balance and protecting me from infections.
Dear old spleen. I am sad to be parting from it.

The circumstances of our parting are to be as civilised as possible because I'm booked in to a nearby private hospital as a National Health patient.
Thank you, National Health Service.
This happened because the shortest waiting list was here, and the NHS needs to reduce its waiting lists and times.
I am grateful for the care and courtesy that has been shown to me through several potentially undignified pre-surgical assessments. There is not a hint of age discrimination (which I think could even justifiably happen when one has used up the three score years and ten).

So for a while I will be away from blogging. The private rooms have wifi, and I have a Tablet for e-mails, but not for writing anything more on a tiny keyboard and a morphine drip.
Bad idea.
I must not bid on eBay, either.
Anything could happen on the morphine drip, never mind the tiny keyboard.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Letter to a Grand-Daughter - Bye Bye Babyhood!

Dear Small Grand-Daughter,
There's a twinge of sadness in bidding farewell to your babyhood, and a high level of joy in greeting your
all-singing, all-dancing, walking, talking, climbing, splashing, laughing, yelling, gleeful, totally interactive toddler-hood.

It all happened so quickly.
One minute you were lying on a sheepskin, sucking your toes, and the next you're mastering light-switches and door knobs........ and I'm not even going to mention mobile phones and touch-screens.

I have always respected your self-awareness, and now it's even more apparent. You assess what you can do, and then you do it carefully. A month ago you took some hesitant sideways steps, crablike, in my house.
How we applauded, and how you joined in the applause, knowing achievement when you felt it in the strengthening knees and spine.
Then you took your time, developed your skills. Now you march about, turning, carrying things, stamping in puddles, confident and skilled. But when you approach the steps down into the kitchen, or out of the front door you go into careful reverse-crawling mode.
Wise child.

Knowledgeable child.
How do you know so much?
How do you know that a cartoon giraffe in a book is the same animal as a giraffe photograph in another book? You've never seen a real giraffe, and it might be quite a shock when you do.
I know the theories of concept formation, and I must have witnessed it happening before in your father and his brother, but somehow, in you, it seems even more magical, more powerful.
Oh, the power of grand-parenthood, when somebody thinks you're wonderful.
Which you are.
Never doubt it.

You pick up my ultra-special silver pen (which no one else is allowed to touch) and you draw a spirited abstract in my ultra-special One-Sketch-a-Day book ( which, need I say it, no one else would be allowed to do). You draw in lively fashion but within the small confines of the space for the day. You study it for a moment, then give me back my pen. You take the pen again to check that you have clicked it off and then point out my ultra-special pen case, making sure I put it away properly.
You are sixteen months old.

Then we go outside and examine some very stale water in some discarded plant pots. Everything is interesting, everything is worthy of detailed examination.
You throw the water about a bit, you plunge your arm in and get soaked, you stamp in the water on the path. You shout and jig about because you are in need of music, a bit more entertainment.

We go back inside and after a brief skirmish over washing, you have a snack. Blueberries eaten one at a time, biscuits picked to bits and thrown to the cat, milk drunk boldly and gluggingly from a two handled mug, like a Tudor serving wench. You roar with laughter at my jokes, you screech with delight at the other cat who pushes his way through the cat flap. You struggle to get out of your restraining seat. You want to get through the cat-flap yourself.
I know you.
You are sixteen months old and many people think you're wonderful.
Which you are.
Always remember that,

With love from Grandma.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


                  Limbo as portrayed by Hieronymus Bosch - not very much peaceful waiting going on here.

It's that dance that involves shuffling under a pole held low and horizontally.
It's one of the frenzied images of morality produced by Hieronymus Bosch.
Most appallingly, it's the place where the Roman Catholic Church taught that unredeemed souls bearing the weight of original sin went until they could be admitted to heaven......a vast waiting room of unbaptised babies, crying in the darkness.
It's a state of waiting.
It's where I am at the moment.

It's an unexpectedly peaceful place for someone who is used to a fair degree of choice and control. I'm waiting to be told what degree of surgery I need and when. The decisions will be made by people I don't know, but in whom I must have the most profound degree of trust.

I find this extremely interesting because in this increasingly sophisticated world a great deal is expected of us in the two extremes of caution and trust.
Nearly every time I switch on the computer there's someone having a go at getting some money from me.
I often answer my telephone to someone who wants to help me claim the money owing to me through mis-sold insurance, or otherwise help me with all sorts of problems I may not even realise I have (and this is despite the Caller Preference system). There was a particularly nasty one the other day purporting to be following up an accident to a member of my family. Nasty, nasty stuff, and of course I don't trust any of it.

But then I go into a room where an unknown person operates a clever bit of machinery that apparently can see inside me. If that had happened to my grandmother she would have no more believed it than I believe I've bought an insurance policy without realising.

I meet a charming man who will cut me open and take out some bits. I say, "Thank you", and trust him to do exactly what he says. How illogical might that seem?
How illogical might it seem to put one's life in the hands of someone we have never met, will never meet, but who will hurtle us up in the air for several thousand feet and drop us down again on the other side of the world? Yet many hundreds of us do it every day
Life is dangerous, and we all have to accept the risks every time we take a step. Being born is the most dangerous thing we can ever do. Assessing risk is one of the most sophisticated things we have to do, whether it be crossing the road or eating prawns.

Then there is the situation where you can do nothing or very little, For me, this situation called limbo is a good place where I can take stock, tidy the drawers, do the paper-work, generally Be Prepared and have complete trust in others. We all need the occasional jolt when we realise we are not omnipotent and that our control of life is a fairly thin veneer.
There is no Hieronymus Bosch-type howling in the darkness going on here. There's a relaxing time pottering in the garden when the sun shines (and it DID, yesterday), admiring the daffodils nodding in the cold drizzle when it doesn't.
Limbo is all right.

Rhossili Beach, the Gower, Wales, added for Frances, who finds Mr. Bosch's Limbo a bit too much!

Sunday, 2 February 2014


The mention of bad or rather bizarre taxidermy in the comments of my previous blog posting seems to have triggered a flood of memories, not just from me.
Zhoen kindly directed me to the right source.

Walter Potter was the man who had the skill and imagination to make tiny frilly knickers for tiny dead and stuffed kittens to wear under their wedding clothes as he created his complex, highly detailed scenes of Victorian life.

I remember seeing some of these ( to me) magical creations when I was about eight years old. The images stayed with me, and I yearned to possess a miniature school-room full of tiny rabbits, all with their even tinier slates and chalks.
I wonder now if I realised they were dead, preserved creatures, or if I saw them as wonderful little toys. After all, there were very few toys in Post-War Britain, so these detailed dioramas must have seemed as enchanting then as when they were created in Victorian times.

Looking at them again now I am filled with a different type of wonder. What a leap of imagination to go from stuffing your own pet canary to creating a drinking scene of stuffed rats, a complex kittens' wedding, and a guinea-pigs' cricket match. What an awful awful lot of little deaths it took to create each scene. And how each scene has been appreciated and remembered - in so many different ways.
Once seen, never forgotten, for whatever reasons.
No wonder Damien Hurst wanted to buy the entire collection when it was dispersed.

There's more about Walter Potter's taxidermy here, but note that the exhibition is over.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Bit Shaken, not Stirred.

An example of very bad taxidermy, but something of how I'm feeling . The wildlife at the bottom of my garden looks a great deal happier than this sad example, but I feel that he represents me, about to eat humble pie.
In my previous post about waiting rooms I was somewhat scathing about the National Health Service.
I apologise, as humbly as the appearance of this unfortunate fox!

Several family members have needed a lot of support and medical care in the last year, and now it's my turn.
I've been in a few more waiting rooms and, although the magazines may not always have been up to scratch, the care and the speed of its delivery have been wonderful.

Within three weeks of finally admitting that I was feeling unwell I have been scanned and X-rayed and blood-tested and booked in with a Consultant Surgeon at a privately-run hospital - all on the National Health Service. I can't believe the speed, efficiency and kindness of all concerned.

I am also very grateful to my neighbour's cat, Agatha, who triggered a quite impressive asthma attack for me. I  have a degree of allergy to cats but I don't have asthma, or at least I didn't before that happened. So I thought I should go to my G.P.and ask for some Ventolin before I made my next visit to son and daughter-in-law who have two cats. For once I stopped myself from saying I was fine when he asked how I was feeling. After all, I usually only go for flu jabs, and when you're seventy-four you're likely to feel somewhat frayed around the edges.
Aren't you?
But for Agatha I would not have gone to the doctor, and I would have continued to feel awful, thinking it was only to be expected after my last birthday.

Incidentally, I'm a cat-magnet. Cats love me, want to sit on me, rub round me, tell me I'm wonderful. I like them too, but if  I touch them I get swollen eyes and a streaming nose. Are they doing it out of a sort of perversity? Is it because I don't make much eye-contact and leave them to do their own thing? Or am I just genuinely irresistible? To cats, I mean.

Anyway, thank you, Agatha,
And thank you NHS for all that has happened so far, and in anticipation for all that is to come.

Agatha, in Guardian mode.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Waiting......with fish.

A hiatus for me, as I have to sit in three different waiting rooms on three consecutive days.
But always plenty to do, luckily.
I can do my daily drawing, now in its third year of endeavour,
I can eaves-drop, shamelessly.

Today's waiting room is the dentists'. An elderly couple, who are probably younger than I am, notice me drawing the aquarium and begin a furtive conversation:
She: Why do you think they have fish-tanks in the dentists'?
(pause for thought)
He: I expect it's to do with healthy eating.
She: What are you on about....healthy eating?
(pause for more thought)
He: Well, you know. Better to eat fish than meat, isn't it?
She: Oh, I see.
Longer pause.
She: I wonder why they don't have them in the doctors' then.
He: No one's going to tell me what to eat.

I think briefly of the complications of catching and preparing a plate full of neon tetras. Then I think of whitebait, and how much I like it with brown bread and salty butter. I try to compare the cost of a plate of fried neon tetras compared with a plate of whitebait.
Well, it passes the time even if unsatisfactorily.

I finish my drawing and decide to look at a magazine. The magazines at the dentists' are new and glossy, those in the hospitals are dog-eared and out of date. I decide that the magazine quality is an indicator of private practice (the dentist) as opposed to National Health Service.

I choose a magazine devoted to up-market country-style living. There are subtle mono-chrome adverts for hand-built kitchens zooming off into the middle distance over hand-crafted marble floors. There are sludge-grey bespoke conservatories ready to be attached to Georgian mansions; some of them can be designed to contain swimming pools. There are cashmere throws and amusing sculptures made from willow twigs, bedrooms with white painted floors and great rosewood wardrobes groaning with brocades and velvets.
There is little connection with the sort of country living more familiar to me, which involves a lot of mud and the smell of diesel and damp Barbour jackets dripping over the Aga. Waxed cotton and wet wool steaming, as opposed to those chunky candles fragranced with cinnamon. Magazine kitchen tables have glossy pyramids of polished fruits and a tumbling arrangement of out-of-season flowers, as opposed to peelings waiting to be taken to the compost when the rain stops,  plus last weekend's newspapers and all that unsolicited mail for thermal vests and cheaper insurance waiting to be recycled..

Other magazines available have less appeal, golf, motor-sport, financial matters.
So I return to the fish. They seem busy, darting around their little world. I wonder about their attention span, their memory. Perhaps life seems constantly new and fresh, full of surprise, possibly full of delight, or possibly full of threat and anxiety.
It's hard to tell with fish. They don't give much away.
Angel fish might be easier to catch and cook. They would fit neatly on toast.

Ah well, tomorrow the tattered day-old newspapers, the posters asking me if I am obese, the many offers of help to stop smoking, the dehydrated potted palms and the endless conversations about the iniquity of parking charges, that's if you can find a parking place to start with.
Always  plenty to do.

Next day.

A surprise this morning, a very smart hospital waiting room with a very smart aquarium - big black and white fish cruising dreamily between dark volcanic rocks.
Apologies NHS, you too have been reading the right magazines (and only £2 for a parking space. I could have stayed for four hours, watching the fish for that price).