slow lane life 3

slow lane life 3

Saturday, 22 April 2017


Having been gently chivvied along by some of you, I thought I should make the effort and tackle the post (with somewhat random pictures) that I've been putting off. "But I've nothing to write about!" I mutter to myself. "I have such an uneventful life there's only the same-old same old to report!" But really, there's always something happening, quietly or otherwise. And not all of it is good.

Our friend S, in her mid-50s and recently diagnosed with breast cancer, was bracing herself for treatment. She underwent a huge battery of tests, and to her horror, was given the worst prognosis of all. Time may be short, and friendship needs to step up more than a notch to support her through what is to come. Thankfully, she has good friends and a frank, clear-sighted attitude, facing with courage the cruel combination of stark facts, little hope and too many grim unknowns. But everyone is reeling.

The lovely grandson, baby E, is turning into a proper little boy, a glorious mix of strong feeling and vibrant energy, despite frequent bouts of ill-health. He is thought to be asthmatic,  although no one wants to pin that label on him while he is still so young (19 months); his coughs, colds and fevers, and the accompanying paraphernalia - inhalers and nebulisers - are a constant feature in the family's life. I worry about his life in London's polluted air, and welcome his visits to us. Like his father, he does not appear to be sensitive to dog or cat fur, but only to dairy, which makes it relatively straightforward to cater for him.

My sister Anne arrives from her Greek island on Monday, to spend over a week with us. She will bring with her a little pot of a miracle oil with which a friend (on instruction by his aged mother) sorted out her badly-sprained ankle. On investigation, it was found to be an ointment made from St John's Wort, beeswax (in her case from blessed candles from a particular church on the island), olive oil and a secret blend of herbs. It is available commercially, but you know how it is: being local, home-made, with secret ingredients and a church blessing, it is vastly superior to anything bought over the counter! 

I look forward to these island offerings; last year I received a jam jar filled with a dense syrup made from the red grapes grown by a friend, boiled down - nothing added - until it had reduced to a thick, barely-spoonable consistency, and apparently useful for coughs and colds. Also very palatable stirred into hot water and sipped; a sort of black treacle/metallic/sweet/rich flavour. 

Then there was the lifetime's supply she brought me of Greek mountain tea - Sideritis or  ironwort - to be steeped in boiling water for three or four minutes, and again, useful for colds and respiratory ailments. She looks after our physical welfare with traditional Greek folk remedies; I in turn will nag her about her smoking, and do my best to put some weight on her birdlike frame with traditional Somerset calories. 

In the middle of her visit, baby E and his father are coming to stay for a few days over the May Bank Holiday; the quiet house will be energised immediately. I shall warn the cats. My daughter-in-law, who works as a doula, cannot come on those dates, but will visit later on - that means another delightful visit from E! 

Anne (Great Aunt) has not met baby E yet, and is in for a treat. She loved his father enormously at that age, and she will love baby E. He in turn will love her, but not until staring sternly at her for an unnervingly long time before yielding to friendly overtures - a technique he has mastered on public transport. 

On the domestic front, we have steeled ourselves to begin the painting that we've talked about for at least two years. Much of this cottage is painted white indoors, so I've added the odd spot of colour to draw the eye, and of course once one area is painted, in this case the end wall of the hallway, the remainder looks atrocious, so tomorrow we start on the rest of the hall. It will be a very soft, pale grey - the hall is gloomy and needs to remain as light as possible - and must cope with muddy-dog splashes being washed off it at regular intervals. I'm hoping for a tasteful, calm effect, which means we must be more disciplined about the number of coats, shoes and dog leads we have on display.

Perhaps it is only I who notices the general tiredness of the walls; I painted one side of the hall a long time ago, and gave up in despair at the awfulness of the very expensive paint I had chosen (yes, Farrow & Ball - I had been warned that professional painters hate it, but I didn't listen, and now I understand). No one has ever noticed that one side is a cream colour (not quite what I'd hoped for either) and the other, never tackled, remains grubby white. Time to pull our socks up!

We have also replaced the hideous flooring in the dining room - a mottled vinyl tile that never looked clean, and that we detested, although it coped well with old Catkin's frequent throwing up; now it is an oak-effect laminate, and cleans brilliantly. We would have liked genuine oak (well, who wouldn't?), but budget and scrabbly dog claws made this impractical impossible, and we are happy with what we could afford. 

The dining room is a challenging area, with a route through to the stairs (the door of which must be kept closed to avoid a certain wicked cat (see above) from sneaking up there to claim it as her territory in her own particular way), an interior window, the ill-assorted furniture that seems to be my trademark, and an oversized table that takes up too much space but is wonderful for when the family is here and there are many serving dishes. 

Like the rest of the house, nothing is straight, or level, or really right-angled:

Which is, of course, part of its charm.

And that's all for now from the house where nothing much ever happens. As they say round here, "Cheers, then!"

Monday, 20 February 2017

And suddenly

February rattled along at speed too; Spring is just about here, snowdrops everywhere, and violets just up the road, the wafting scent of daphne in the evenings, and very busy birds bustling about. I have tulip shoots everywhere, but for now, must content myself with shop-bought blooms.

I almost wrote that nothing much has happened here lately, but on reflection, it certainly has. Baby E and his mother came and went. He was such fun to have around, especially now that he is mobile. He bowled about speedily with his bandy-legged trundling walk, arms aloft for balance, making him H-shaped, and pursued his current fascination with opening and shutting doors. The small cupboard under the windowsill was the best - open it carefully, and BANG! it shut. Do it again. And again. And again. Make sure the sitting room door is closed. Every time anyone comes through it. Scuttle rapidly across the room, and shut that door firmly, even if someone is coming in, gingerly carrying a cup of tea. Naughtily, we left doors open deliberately, knowing that he would rise to the challenge.

And then they were gone, bearing a picnic for the train journey, and leaving the usual gaping hole in our lives. The role of grandparenting is so different from parenting; I have more understanding now of my own mother, who, I thought, over-indulged my son greatly when he was small, and irritated me at times in doing so. I would protest that he really didn't need a little present every time she went shopping, or to have his every wish met at once. And now I find myself doing pretty much the same things, happy to oblige a small, smiling, dimpled tyrant, happy to bend the rules, happy to get up early each day, welcoming the sleepy, smiley face, and most of all, happy to be Grandma.

The cats have caused some heartache. We had to say goodbye to dear old Catkin, probably about 18 years old now, and ready to go. I wanted the other cats to know she had died and not just gone missing, so we left her on view while The Gardener dug a hole in the garden. The other cats examined her very throughly as she lay in her cardboard box - they would not have dared get so close to her bad-tempered eminence in life. Then the lid was put on, and afterwards a little willow planted over her. Another era had passed.

Catkin's arch-rival and enemy, Lottie, has had a horrible time too.

Recently recovered from illness, she went to the vet for a routine dental clean and polish, and, to my guilt-ridden horror and surprise, emerged bloody and drooling, after having five extractions. The others were terrified, spitting and running away from her, but after a day or two of recovery, medication and a thorough wash, Lottie's position as queen of the household was re-established, to everyone's satisfaction. 

A friend has been to stay, newly-diagnosed with breast cancer, reeling with shock, needing to talk, and we have spent the weekend walking on the beach, eating, drinking herbal tea (well, not me....), researching - oh so many sources of information, often quite contradictory - on diet, preparing for chemotherapy, surgery, and how to stay relatively sane during this most terrifying process. Ironically, she has never looked as well as she does at present, each week and each test yielding more and more bad news.

Meanwhile, The Gardener has been laid low with an atrocious cold, not helped by worrying about having passed it on. And I have done what I always do - feeding everyone. I can't help myself - my mother and grandmother were exactly the same, using food as the medium to express love, care and concern, managing illness, anxiety, and coping with fear of the unknown. If you should ever come to visit, be prepared for this, and for being sent home with tuck parcels, containers of soup, or cake, farm eggs and possibly a couple of pounds on the hips. We all cope in our different ways; the Feeders amongst us know what we must do, and get busy with pots and pans.

I think I may be glad when February is over.

Friday, 20 January 2017

January is speeding by. It's been eventful.

We met friends for lunch at an old pub just off the M5, as they were travelling from the North East to Cornwall for a holiday. After a lovely couple of hours of catching up, we went our separate ways, and The Gardener and I carried on to the nearest John Lewis (almost two hours' drive from where we live! Oh, the deprivation I have suffered as a result!) to look at tumble dryers. 

We were clearly in an irresponsible mood, for we spurned the sensible dryers and ordered a television instead. And a good sound system to go with it. The Gardener hates tv, and usually falls asleep in seconds, making him a less than companionable viewer, but he does have a huge library of music and also relies on YouTube for more, so we justified the mad expenditure by telling ourselves we would use the new system "for everything". Hmmm. 

1958 model
This is all my doing. When I went up to Glasgow to stay with my sister, we had seen a 2-part documentary about a Scottish island, and I had rediscovered the pleasures of television when a programme is worth watching. I came home and badgered The Gardener to rethink our tv-free home.

By choice, we have not had a television for about five years. And now we do; our sitting room will need to be rearranged to accommodate it. After the clever, sleek, unnervingly large object was delivered, and we set it up, we remembered why we had consigned our old temperamental telly to the loft - television programmes are mostly dire, and the news is even worse when delivered with pictures than it is on the radio. 

So, fearing that we might have made an impulsive, expensive error, but rather thrilled with the picture quality, we have dug out our old DVDs and CDs, and are learning the language of apps and Netflix instead of the heat pump condenser dryer that had been our original aim. The new telly sits awkwardly on a cupboard for now, cables trailing everywhere: with our thick stone walls, and the horrors of drilling into them, we hang nothing up until we are certain that it will be in its right place for a long time. And we keep forgetting to use it....

But life hasn't all been consumerism gone mad. 

Before: bright-eyed and enjoying a box of bubble-wrap
Lovely Lottie, "my" cat (i.e. the one who is most obviously attached to me) suddenly sickened, stopped eating, lost weight that she couldn't afford to lose, already being a tiny bony scrap under all her fur, kept falling off her perch, and had to be taken to the vet. Three injections later, she came home again, but did not improve, so back we went.

She was kept in overnight for observation and blood tests - I hadn't been prepared for this, and found myself on the verge of tears after handing her over. Having taken her as a rescue eight years ago, aged about 18 months, half-starved and desperate to be loved, I have a very special place in my heart for Lottie, who despite her apparent frailty, rules the others with an iron paw, and is mistress of the Death Stare when displeased.

I suspected some sort of middle ear complaint, having watched her over-careful walk, like someone who was trying hard to disguise the fact that they were slightly drunk, and the toppling off the arm of the sofa every time she fell asleep.  But being kept in a cage for observation perhaps prevented this becoming obvious, although I'm sorry now that I wasn't more questioning when I handed her over. 

The tests all came back as normal; Lottie came home, stalking round the house, inspecting all areas in a careful but dignified manner, with her devoted followers Millie and Scooter trailing about after her rather pathetically; they had missed her. 

"She's back! She's back!"
And slowly, over the next three days, she got better.  Now she is enjoying being the pampered convalescent, having small but frequent extra meals, and sleeping without falling over. My fright and fear of loss have receded.

Then I had to go back to the North East for the funeral of a dear friend's mother. Despite the sad occasion, it was lovely to meet up with most of my old friends again; this was the first time I had returned since I moved to Somerset more than five years ago, although I have had visits from them all in that time. 

For them, it was the first time they had seen me since I grew out my hair colour and turned Gracefully Grey. Or - more accurately - just Grey.... Surprisingly, it was well-received, and we talked about needing to rethink one's (clothing) colours to suit the new hair. Rethink my tatty old dog-walking clothes? Radical. The experimental tiny pink streak that I'd had put in a couple of weeks ago had washed out, but I'm considering making this a regular/variable feature. That or a lilac rinse - remember those? Only kidding.  

Perhaps less Dame Edna
but a touch of Helen Mirren?
Sadly, no such glamorous comparisons could be made. My brief 24-hour stay coincided with a streamingly awful cold; I dreaded getting on each flight so obviously marked as the woman who would pass the obligatory airline cold on to every other passenger. 

I spent my visit apologising for the germs; brave friends hugged me while instructing me as they did so not to breathe on them. During the service, I found that hymns are a reasonable cover for coughing and blowing. If I hadn't felt so ill, I would have yearned to stay up North for longer and catch up with everyone, but I was glad to get home to The Gardener and my own bed, to spend the day (and half the night - this is being written at 3 a.m.) in my dressing gown, honking, blowing and sipping pineapple juice for the tickly cough.

Next month, Baby E, who is just starting to walk, and his mother are coming to visit, as much for the clean air as for the chance to be spoiled rotten. London is worryingly polluted, and Baby E has constant colds and coughs. His Grandma had better be well by then, ready to fly the flag for Somerset's healthy environment.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Onward and....

hopefully, upward for 2017. Hopefully, or hope, will be my key words for the coming year, along with calm and kindness. Challenging stuff!

The decorations and cards have been taken down, the little tree is standing outdoors in its pot, probably sighing with relief at being far removed from the wood burning stove, and is waiting to be replanted in a larger garden elsewhere.

The mantel remained decorated and lit until today, Twelfth Night, as tradition demands, chiefly because I am inordinately fond of fairy lights.

Instead, there will be pretty china, and some Spring flowers in tiny vases.

The fridge and freezer are being restocked rather plainly, and it's back to a mainly-vegetarian life for me, after a brief but enjoyable week of cooking traditional roasts and casseroles.

Our spell of family life with a loud, energetic baby is over, and he is greatly missed.

Happy New Year to us all, and hopefully peace, calm and kindness to come in the year ahead.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Rounding up

I keep returning to this blog, begin a new post, get bored with the boring boringness of what I'm writing, delete it all, and go away. 

But if I don't write something soon, it will be 2017 and I will start a new year with guilt and shame, and I have enough of that already, what with the mess and disorganisation all around me today. So I shall ignore the empty boxes for the decorations still lying about, although first I will go - oh my, right now! - to water the tiny tree and apologise to it. Then I shall write something.

There, that's done. I could hear needles dropping reproachfully on the wrapped presents as I watered. Sorry, tiny tree.

No doubt you are as busy  and preoccupied as I've been? It's that time of year, although I'm not sure why it should appear so hectic, because I've been more or less ready for ages. Perhaps there's a clue in that 'more or less'....

Also, along with so many others, I have been miserable, depressed, worried and sometimes plain terrified of how the world is looking just now, and how uncertain and frightening the future appears. Yet I know we are the fortunate ones; how those who must endure the terrible suffering, the privations and violence that the media barely mention, must be feeling is impossible to truly imagine. We do what we can to stay informed, to help, to support, to campaign, to practice compassion and to try not to despair, but there are days when my safe and secure life feels like a mockery.

And yet it is what grounds me, what supports me in understanding and reaching out to others to try to help; my life is a small life, but it shows me that people, home, family, routine, loving and being loved matter immensely too. And it allows me to feel hope.

So. My small life has been quietly busy with things that matter to me.

I went to Glasgow, had a perfectly lovely time with my sister Anne, who was sporting a slightly mad hat, and looking more like our mother as each year passes. We had four lovely days together. 

We strolled through the Christmas market in George Square, decided we wouldn't be cooking at all, so we ate nice things in various restaurants instead; we also shopped in well-stocked, Christmassy, but surprisingly quiet stores (late November is an excellent time to go city shopping, it seems!), watched a bit of television, a rare event for me, and caught up properly with each other. 

We took a slow stopping train to Balloch, and had a lovely boat trip on tranquil Loch Lomond, the largest inland stretch of water in Britain. The weather changed by the minute.

All too soon I had to fly back to Bristol, where the sainted Gardener was waiting to collect me.. The flight takes well under an hour, which makes it slightly aggrieving to have to spend so much more time in the airport before take-off, on the off-chance that the security queues are lengthy and slow. 

All very easy for me, this trip, although my poor sister didn't fare so well. At this time each year she has a reunion with the group of people with whom she worked setting exams; they all live fairly locally to both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and their overnight stay in a small and lovely hotel does not entail much upheaval in their lives. 

Anne, on the other hand, has to take a ferry to Piraeus from her Greek island, the more convenient little hopper plane's schedule having suffered in the ongoing austerity measures, staying overnight in an hotel before making her way to Athens airport and then on to Glasgow. She brings a very large, almost empty suitcase.

The purpose of this enormous case is to be stuffed to its last gram of weight allowance with cat-related/Burns Night-related/cold weather-related/prescription meds-related items. I help with the packing, weighing, repacking, weighing, repacking, recalculating what needs to go by post instead, weighing and worrying. We made several trips to the post office, and I must say, the staff in there could not have been more helpful and friendly, patient and practical, joining in cheerfully with the weighing, repacking, weighing and repacking, etc. of the many items that had to go by post.  We were all on first name terms by the end, although this is in fact rather easy in Glasgow, which I consider to be the friendliest city on earth.

Next time, I promise her, I won't leave until it is almost time for her to leave too, so that she doesn't have three extra days in which to carry on with the shopping, packing and weighing palaver. 

If there is a next time..... This reunion and sisterly-shopping bonanza coincides each year with Greek ferry strike season, so her trip is always a bit of a gamble. This year, she was stranded in Piraeus on the return trip, spending several days fretting about the cold hotel room, the uncertainty of the strike's duration, the difficulty of getting a seat on the hopper plane, the state of the haggis being stored in the hotel mini fridge (yes, lots of haggis - she and her husband give a Burns Night dinner each year to 30 friends!) but mostly the general misery visible everywhere, with increasing homelessness and destitution in austerity Greece, and the thin half-starved cats, which, of course she feeds. And then she found that the little plane had a smaller luggage allowance, so she was penalised and had to pay for the excess weight. Her emails to me began to hiss with rage and frustration as they arrived.

There were more goodbyes.

At rather short notice, The Gardener's youngest decided that working in a care home just round the corner from home might not be the gap year experience of her dreams, and set off for Australia, to stay with her childhood friend and his family. It all happened rather quickly, with our enthusiastic support, leaving little time to mourn. Her older sister had blazed this trail successfully some time ago, but it is never easy to say goodbye to your youngsters and watch them step forward into the unknown and many miles away. And she was ill on arrival. I thought The Gardener was being brave as the terse dismal messages came in, but soon the photos of smiling faces and oh-so-blue sky and sea began arriving, and we settled down and stopped worrying.

Last week the Gardener and I drove to London to be the witnesses to Baby E becoming a citizen of Mexico. We drove because I couldn't bear the thought of all those trains, Tubes and buses required to reach the family; I doubt if I will be doing it again though - crossing London in crawling but dementedly-busy traffic takes forever and is frankly scary. 

We took an early morning cab to the Embassy. Buses drove flinchingly close to the cab; it is many years since I drove across London, and I know I could not do it now. 

The Mexican Embassy is a modest building, and its door brasses are sadly neglected and unpolished. (I notice these things; I'm a born old-fashioned housewife at heart.) We were early, and it was chilly. Eventually, we could go inside, to a rather nondescript front office and waiting room, where baby E could practise his high-speed crawling, slapping his chubby hands loudly on the floor as he scooted back and forth.

The citizenship and passport process was somewhat underwhelming; no pomp and ceremony, no oath of nation loyalty or whatever it was that I had secretly hoped for. Instead, it was much like any form-filling exercise in a bank or post office, except slower, although the smiling Mexican staff were delightful as they made us sign many forms and took tiny inky thumbprints from a surprised baby E. 

The whole thing took two hours, ending with a passport photo being taken of E sitting on the counter looking adorably cute - this has to be a first for any passport photo, I suspect. I found that I had mixed feelings about baby E having dual nationality, although I too had this once. The idea of him ever being free to live in another country, so far from his Grandma, does not sit easily with me! But I said nothing; it made sense for him to be registered and have a Mexican passport, able to travel freely in the country where the other half of his family live. 

The Gardener then sloped off to see the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery and get his camera's dusty sensor cleaned at Leica, whilst the less cultured of us wandered through Hyde Park and had bratwurst and a ride on the carousel in the Winter Wonderland, before taking the young Mexican home for his nap.

The next day, his doting Grandpa and Grandma went home, to spend a hectic few days preparing for the family's arrival on Friday to spend a week with us over Christmas. I decorated the tiny potted tree, watched intently by two wicked-looking cats, wrapped presents, cleared space in the fridge and freezer for the mountain of food that is yet to be bought, and made a little patchwork coverlet for Baby E's travel cot. The final (or so I thought) arrangement of the squares laid out here doesn't correspond at all to the finished quilt; mysterious! Sewing is not my strength, but baby E won't be critical of the end product.

I had a birthday. I am now 68. I don't mind in the least being 68, but I remain amazed at how I managed to get to it. Where did the years go? And did I really spend so many of them holding down a job? In retrospect, it seems a remarkably pointless way of spending most of one's life.

We went to Devon, intending to have lunch in Topsham, then a walk on Exmouth beach. But Devon was foggy - very beautiful, but bone-chillingly cold - so we gave the walk a miss and read the Sunday papers over a pub lunch at the quay in Topsham instead. Sometimes, you can cut yourself some slack, and after all, I was now 68....

So what now? Christmas, New Year, another year of fears and frights, shocks and surprises ahead of us, no doubt, and ongoing horrors, but I hope some better times too, especially respite and peace for the most troubled. We can only stay hopeful.

Happy Christmas, all, and warmest wishes for a better year ahead.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Cheese, haggis, and thermal vests

I'm off to Scotland tomorrow, to stay with my sister for a few days. She has returned from her Greek island and its unseasonably hot weather (lunching in a bikini by the sea last week!) to Glasgow and its sub-zero temperatures. She will be there for over a week, so we shall repeat last year's delightful visit, do our mutual Christmas shopping (so much easier to take the gift recipient with you, rather than guess at what might be a successful present) and generally enjoy each other's company.

We shall also complain about the cold outside, and I shall complain about the heat in the shops. It's traditional.

Her husband remains on the island, caring for innumerable cats that they have rescued and cared for over the years. So many of them now belong in the house with them that they can't travel together any more, but many more live in colonies and are fed daily as well as checked up, healthwise. A true labour of love.

The Gardener, bless him, will stay here and care for our crew, as well as ferrying me to and from the airport. I shall ring him each evening and ask penetrating questions about what he's having for dinner - if asked retrospectively, I find the answers to be rather vague, and heavily weighted towards cheese....

Me, I shall be eating whatever I like, hearty Scottish fare, designed to keep out the cold. Glasgow has some wonderful places to eat, and I take a break from my largely-vegetarian regime. Haggis may feature. What, you don't know about haggis? Och, how shocking. Read on: HERE.

Back next week, with photos. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Not shopping

I wrote a post this morning, having a good old moan about the deluge of excitable unsolicited emails I've been receiving for days, each peppered with exclamation marks, large capitalised lettering and a general sense of urgency. So irritating, I thought; I'll shop when I choose. Leave me alone.

Black Friday. What on earth is that about? Such unsubtle marketing to drive us into hasty purchases of stuff we probably didn't need, that probably wasn't a bargain anyway, and that we would probably look at sourly after Christmas, overdrawn and sick of our sudden increase in material possessions but no corresponding storage space, muttering "Why? Why?"

But then I deleted it, because I couldn't keep it short (moaning has to be brief, or people go glassy-eyed) and neither could I ignore the many worldwide social, economic and ethical issues that accompany our materialistic excesses at this time of year. Too much to write about this morning! Easier to look at my own consumerist tendencies rather than rail against other people's.

So instead, I will think about a little radio interview I once heard, in which the Dalai Lama had been taken round a supermarket (I know, a surprising sort of visit for a spiritual leader to make), emerging empty-handed. He was asked if he hadn't wanted anything in there?

"Oh yes!" he replied, with his characteristic laughter, "I wanted many things! But I didn't need anything."

A lovely lesson from a lovely man.