Saturday, 24 July 2021

Very Important Places.

This is the place where I last sat with a dear friend. Quite recently. Now it will be enshrined in memory.
Many others will sit here, and we will have afternoon tea, as we did then. Tiered cake-stand in fine bone china, patterned most appropriately with forget-me-not flowers. Home-made cakes and scones, of course. Cucumber sandwiches, of course, and there will be honey still for tea, but I doubt if anyone else will make a special request for sticky jam sandwiches. I doubt if anyone else could face death with such bravery, compassion and thought for others. Forget-me-not.

This is the place where people can walk into a new section of garden, cool, quiet, fern-filled. Soon there will be a special table for outdoor meals (as well as for me to do a bit of potting up). Children will need to watch out for frogs and possibly trolls under the bridge. But the trolls will have to be small, and certainly not of the breed found on the internet. The lower support rail of the bridge is formed from the adventurous and successful growing of a giant Echium last year in my front garden. I was so proud of it. It reached my bedroom window with its great spire of bee-filled blue flowers. It eventually blew down in a gale, and the stem was like a tree-trunk. I couldn't bear to throw it away. So it was incorporated into the bridge.
The small ginger curly head crossing the bridge is not a grandchild, but a very charming poodle visitor who has just been on holiday here and approves of the garden.


This is the place where my husband created a door many years ago. The door is  still there, but the summerhouse that surrounded it has gone. It's a suitably eccentric door with glass panels, one of them painted by our son. The door opens on to a totally overgrown and inaccessible railway embankment, but my husband fixed a 'Private' notice on the outside just in case (or perhaps because he had it and needed to fix it somewhere). It's all still there.
I found it difficult to lose the hard work my husband put into creating the summerhouse. But it had to go. The door didn't.
 Every garden needs a door into another secret garden.

This is the place for a different sort of door - a fairy door of course, with solar-powered lighting and a staircase inside the opening door. It's positioned so that it may be checked at night from the bedroom where the fairy-watchers sleep. It has been built into the dry-stone walling by the team of stone-masons who did the garden reconstruction work recently, as was the very rustic bridge, created from special timbers. They seemed to quite like it, but they could just have been humouring me.

The fairy-watchers haven't found it yet. I hope they haven't already out-grown it. 
The garden will grow, new memories will be created.
But old ones will be treasured, as will the people who created them.

Special thanks to my bridesmaid of some decades ago, Hellen, who took the photos when I wasn't looking.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

All Changing.


Still in the middle of change, but last week great progress was made in this garden. This is the result of my long time of isolation which resulted in lots of thinking time and a realisation of what is really important for my hopefully remaining years. I have realised how much I hope to be able to remain here.

 In my house which is large for one person, but not large enough if all the family should want to be here together.  

In my garden which is complex and needs a lot of maintenance, but which is a wonderful place for friends and family, especially smaller ones.

 In my neighbourhood, which contains many friends and which is ideally located for good local shops and local rail and road transport, even though I have not used any form of public transport since the pandemic started.

Before Covid struck I had regular help with both house and garden, but since then I had to manage without anyone entering the house, and now I find that I'm able to continue alone.

The garden needs a lot of attention, so it seemed to be time to simplify things. The greatest need was for repair of the crumbling walls, built by my husband from reclaimed stone.  Another need was regrettable but necessary; the demolition and removal of a summerhouse, also created from reclaimed materials and now in a sorry state fourteen years after his death.

So last week it all began with a firm called Colwall Stone who came to do not only the stonework but also some other tough jobs; removing old fencing and replacing with something different, as well as demolishing and removing the summerhouse, replacing it with a stone patio.

This firm does beautiful precise work with stone, but here they have been asked also to create a rustic bridge suitable for Hobbits, to incorporate a fairy door into a dry-stone wall, to make a stepping-stone path from the bridge to the new patio. And to be completely fair, they not only picked up my ideas but they ran with them, suggesting and finding the rustic materials for the bridge, and also finding a stone arrow to point to where the new family-and-friends dining table will be (so that none of the grandchildren will get lost in the bamboo jungle). They have also been asked (not to say nagged) about respecting some of the planting, and one team member is learning rather more than he wants to know about alpines. I hope the regular deliveries of tea, coffee, biscuits and occasional cake help. It's small return for all the cheerful consideration and extra care that is given.

There's more work to go, but I am so encouraged by the results so far that I can look forward to all the planting work to be done as my part. I'm so thankful that I had the time to sort out what I actually needed to do, and that I've found a team who can do it, no matter how eccentric it may seem. All it needs now is family and friends to come and enjoy it.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

A Cat's Tale.

 Not everyone wants to be saved from their current life-style. Some could be quite well adjusted to living in a manner that others may think is not ideal for their best physical or (heaven help us) mental health. Hoarders, for instance. Feral cats for another instance.

This is not a portrait of the cat that has recently been moved into my neighbourhood. He is reluctant to pose for a portrait during his very frequent visits to my garden, despite the fact that he's spending so much time here. He glowers through the windows at me as he scampers past on his way to the killing fields at the bottom of the garden. If he had fingers I'm sure he would raise a couple of them in my direction. However, I think the portrait sort-of sums him up, a shifty-looking loner. I hope I'm not being too hard in my judgements, but if I am it's because I have good reason.

He's a townie, a street-wise city cat; a thieving, murderous cat.  Or at least he was until he was rescued by a well-intentioned neighbour. He's oldish, sexually active, an enthusiastic hunter, a fighter and has probably been fed by numerous other well-intentioned people in the city centre, such as those very kind ladies (usually) from the Cats' Protection League. Or he's a skilled scavenger. Or possibly he knows about cat-flaps and how to get through them when they are left unattended. Or all of these in combination. But he's survived independently, lived a busy life, may well have numerous children of all sorts of sizes and ages.

But now he's been brought to live here, alongside many other cats who have their own devoted owners and their own cat-flaps which open and close in conjunction with their own microchipped shoulders. Not much chance of a nifty raid on someone else's supper dish. Not even much chance of a dustbin raid during the night. Everyone has those massive wheelie-bins, and if a cat falls into one of those he won't get out again. I expect he knows that. Even less chance of a quickie with a local girl. The local girls have their flaps locked in the early evenings. They stay at home, watching television programmes about wild-life, or just sleeping comfortably on  a cushion or a lap while being stroked. Not even the chance of a fight. The local boys don't go out after dark either. They have all met with the local Vet.

During the day he can run across the road, causing vehicles to swerve, and go hunting in a garden full  of dear little fluttering birds. Some of them can hardly fly and are just a mouthful. There are all sorts of birds that he won't have met in the town-centre. There are great hiding places, and easy pickings. The only problem is that he now knows there's a rather fearsome white-haired old lady who's recently spent about £40 on bird-food and who is very much against the continuation of massacre.

What he doesn't know, and what the white-haired old lady knows is that he has an appointment with the Vet coming up soon.


P.S: He's had his treatment from the Vet and is recovering in his new home. It seems that he's realised his new home could have benefits, because he hasn't been seen in my garden since Operation Day. My neighbour says he (the cat) is completely different. The birds and I wait and see.

P.P.S. Oh no he's not!

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Letter to a Fairly New Grandson.


Dear Smallest Grandson,

Such good news!

You arrived in England, coping well with a long drive into Germany and a shorter flight across to London and have stayed on for a holiday. You have met your English Granny, your Uncle and Aunt, your two cousins and even a few of your parents' friends. It has been a very special time for us all, and I think it has been for you, too.

I hope you will have some memories of it because your parents managed to organise such a lovely location for our meeting (and went through all the necessary isolation and testing processes needed for travel). You did it, they did it, we all did it. Even the weather was kind to us.

So you have met us all, not as the baby we've seen on Skype, but as a walking, very aware, fully interactive toddler, full of curiosity and specific interests.

Music! Yes! (A specific musical toy handed on from your cousins which has been used an awful lot.)   Birds! Oh yes! Any birds, large or small, anywhere. Good on water, good on grass, good zooming about overhead, good but a bit frustrating to chase. Food! Usually enjoyable, always interesting at so many levels (literally; on the plate, on the floor, on the face and hands but being manipulated with increasing skill into the mouth). Your Daddy's and Uncle's 40 year-old toys; I'm so glad I have an attic large enough to store the best for you and your cousins. (Well done, Fisher Price.) Textures, especially the giant bear called Ollie Gark, and the sheep-skin rug that your cousins think is a polar bear.

                                       (And you've had a smart London haircut since this photo was taken!)

You enjoy your bed, too. Even an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar place. You settle into it at around 7p.m and sleep, peacefully sleep for nearly twelve hours. What a wonderfully calm and happy toddler.

You came, you saw and you certainly conquered, Little One,

With lots of love from Granny.

Monday, 5 April 2021

I Didn't Intend This to Happen.


 Easter Monday, and the near-by hills are veiled in mist, low cloud and swirling hail-stones. Yesterday their sky-line was dense with silhouettes of walkers, cyclists, runners, and the sky above them swirled with multicoloured parachutes and their dangling navigators. 

We live with unpredictability, all of us, and sometimes see safety being sacrificed to opportunity - the chance of a crowded get-together in the sunshine versus the risk of infection, the chance of airing the parachute versus the chance of a freak gust of wind. Sometimes it feels quite like the Good/Bad/Dangerous Old Days; a bit of  'let's grab the opportunity', 'let's do it before Someone stops us again', 'it's going to snow tomorrow - let's do it today'.

In my younger days (a long time ago) I valued opportunity and generally went for it at full-tilt and occasionally at some risk to myself. I had a few somewhat alarming experiences and never mentioned them to anyone, knowing I might be prevented from having such adventures again. Health-and-Safety and Mental-Health were not on anyone's agenda in those days. No one knew such things existed, let alone tiptoed around the mine-fields that they have become. Risk assessment? What was that? Looking back I'm quite surprised that I'm still here but I have no regrets about any of my past adventures. Well, hardly any. I still haven't told anyone though.

What I didn't see coming was caution, concern, a low-level anxiety, even a small measure of what can only be called timidity. How truly awful; how cramping of the life-style. And now I have to think, 'what life-style?'

I'm so fortunate, so appreciative of having had two doses of Pfizer. Genuinely fortunate, genuinely appreciative, and still the kind, caring, sheets of information come, signed by Matt (Hancock) who is fast becoming my most faithful and regular correspondent. I feel cared about, protected, thought about - and fearful. Still hugely appreciative, but also aware that I am no longer able to be true to myself.

This is a time like no other. I have very vague memories of War Time. I was born shortly after The War started - the Second World War, that is. But my memory tells me that shops were open, cinemas too. I went to see Snow White and Lassie Come Home and had to be removed from both in floods of noisy tears by my embarrassed mother, making vivid memories of an afternoon in 1945. There was rationing, there were no bananas, no new clothes, the only toys were homemade. But we, my small gang of girls and I were free agents when out of school, and never once was there a term-time weekday when school wasn't open. Bombs fell, people died, bad things happened but life went on for some of us in the most unbridled and adventurous way.

It was never on my horizon to become an anxious old woman but that's what seems to be happening. As the external situation seems to be improving my internal one splutters and fails. My anxieties are all for  others, a category now constantly referred to as 'loved ones'. I've been vaccinated but I know that I could still infect others, unknowingly, stealthily dangerous.

I have been informed many times that I'm in a position of extreme vulnerability and now I'm afraid that I feel it, and I don't know how to escape from it.  The Shielding Category officially ended on the first of April, but not for the shielded who are advised to continue as far as possible.

I really didn't intend to become old and anxious.

Sorry, Loved Ones!

P.S. The cure for timidity seems to be driving on three motorways twice each (for completely valid and essential reasons). Encountering hurtling lorries seems surprisingly good for Mental Health.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Just About a Year.......


Just about a year of near-isolation. Shielding. Initially being told not to leave the house, then not to leave the premises, being allowed out a bit, but then back in again, now to remain shielded until the end of the month. Then what?
A project, that's what.

Just about a year of sorting out house and garden. Everyone now has sacks and boxes and bags full of  amazing STUFF; unwanted, outgrown, outdated STUFF, and no one can donate it to the charity shops. For a long time no one could even take it to the local rubbish dumps. We've all been living with it and now we really want to live without it. I am resolved to need considerably less, and I never needed much to start with. Not really. Books, paper, pens, cooking things, a few clothes. It's interesting to find how much I've been able to do without this year. 

My garden has been my refuge. It has protected my sanity....or has it? I was having help with it, but initially I was not able to continue that. I lost weight and, surprise, surprise, I could cope without help. 
I bought myself a Christmas present on-line. Ratchet, telescopic long-handled loppers. I could cope. I could do almost everything from ground-level but not heavy building and deconstruction work.
So now there's a project about to start.

This garden is complex and labour-intensive, made even more so by my husband's determination to use only recycled materials for his projects. He died fourteen years ago, and the garden had remained as something of a memorial to his skill and persistence. The stained glass portrait above is a rather surprising likeness of him on a bad day. It's supposedly of Saint Luke, but there's a resemblance. He placed it above the door of his second home-made summer-house. The rest of the summer-house is built from old timbers, including doors which his grand-daughter is always hoping will lead to Narnia or somewhere involving Harry Potter. 
There are magical play-places, but increasingly risky play-places as old and rotting timbers and much more ancient stone crumbles away.
There is a great deal of stone and grandchildren love climbing on it. There's an area they call 'Flower Mountain', partly built of stone removed from a local church during restoration work. You can see exactly why the stone masons needed to remove and replace such stone. It crumbles away, disintegrates in frost. It's trying to get back into earth. It is no longer safe for small scrabbling feet and hands.

Quite soon there will be different stonemasons working here to restore and stabilise Flower Mountain so that it can be climbed safely, but Saint Luke and his rather warped surroundings will be leaving the garden and will be replaced by a new patio area.
I find this difficult because I think I know what my late husband might feel about my actions. It's really hard to do this, to change something that has the nature of a memorial, but I've had a lot of solitary thinking time this year. I may need to be somewhere else while Saint Luke is taken down though, shielding or not.

Fourteen years after a death and the moving-on can still be difficult, but during this extraordinary year we have all changed. My husband never met his two daughters-in law, nor his three grandchildren. Who am I to say what he would be thinking? He would possibly have been prepared to tear down his garden structures with his bare hands in order to keep them safe. Or to get them climbing ropes and make them do it properly.

Saint Luke will be safely rehomed within the family.  
Perhaps the children will make him look more cheerful.
And I will be here, keeping busy and waiting to see what might happen next.


Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Keeping the Rules


I went out for my permitted walk yesterday, and returned to find this, photographed through the vine leaves by my neighbour. I thought there had been a sudden snowfall on my lawn, but there was a magnificent Sparrowhawk, being a Pigeonhawk and doing some socially-distanced outdoor eating.

She was keeping the rules, just as I am. ('She' because she is so much larger and more powerful than the male. Please note that this is a fact and not a sexist comment, and this girl was huge - even more huge when she tried to take off with a pigeon-filled crop.)

Although the very difficult 'shielding' situation has been lifted, people in my situation of extreme vulnerability have been advised to return to isolation with the exception of being able to meet one other person outdoors to go for a walk.

In recent days this has been good, in sunshine and with magnificent autumnal colour surrounding us all. In rolling mist it's not so good, but still possible. In wind and rain it's still possible and it has to be, otherwise my legs will drop off. 

What is not possible is travelling to meet people far away, or even relatively near. Not even going next door to say thank you for the photograph.

How I wished that my nephew was here to photograph this beautiful bird, but he's in New Zealand in Southern hemisphere spring-time. He has created so many superb photographs of birds (and many other things). However, two days ago we managed to talk via Skype, in the evening for me and the next day's breakfast time for him. As we concluded our talk another Skype call came through. It was my elder son and my youngest grandson, playing in a sunny room at mid-day on the same day as here. They were stacking wooden bricks and grandson was chewing on a plastic giraffe in front of huge windows with views of sky-scrapers and distant snowy mountains. Not their usual views in Austria. Grandson is in Canada for his parents' wedding tomorrow and the distant mountains are the Rockies.

I've not yet been able to meet my nine-month old grandson, I won't be able to attend my son's wedding, I haven't properly talked with my nephew for a long time, but I genuinely, genuinely feel a very fortunate old biddy.

I'm still here, and there is now some hope of this solitude changing. In the meantime technology enables me to reach across the world, over time-zones, through night and day, into tomorrow and back to yesterday: to see and talk to people who are so important to me, to have virtual suppers with grand-daughter and grandson senior, to witness the development of a baby and to have some form of attendance at a wedding half a world away.

We keep the rules in the huge hope that they, and the possibility of vaccines, will work.