Monday, 5 October 2020

Would Raving and Ranting Help?


The ancient Greeks had a word for it, they called it HUBRIS, closely followed by NEMESIS. I can’t say that I was surprised when the long-expected news broke. Contrary to the reaction from some (only some) parts of the international media I am also not going into hypocritical overdrive. Does anyone think he is going to learn from this? Probably not. Our pound shop version said at first that he now knew the score, but it looks like he has long forgotten it again.

So, it’s autumn now. At first I didn’t want to believe it, I carried on digging and forking and pulling up, but then it started to rain. And rain. The days drew in markedly and there’s a definite chill in the air. In spite of the rotten quality of the photos (oh, damn Google, will they ever get it right?) you can see the difference in colouring.

I am staying in bed much longer in the mornings and going to bed ever later in the evenings. Some days I will have a nap in the afternoon. The weekend was dismal, I didn’t see a soul. Whatever am I going to do with myself for a whole dark winter? The PM  has warned us all that it will probably go on until Christmas and beyond. After feeling no serious ill effects during spring and summer I believe winter will be a whole different kettle-of-fish. Enough already! While the weather is awful I read, and read, and read. A book a day is nothing, sometimes I finish one and start another within hours.

I feel like constantly moaning and complaining, except that fulminating without letup is so tiring! Do you know what I mean when I say I mutter curses under my breath, slam around in the house, find fault with everything and everyone? The other day I got cross when collecting medication from the surgery. They’d left out my lifesaver COPD inhaler and I had to go back to claim it. “We had to wait for it to be delivered”, said the woman at the window. Not a bit of it, I don’t believe it; at other times somebody would have made a note on the packet telling me so.

There’s something else which annoys me every time I open a new packet of pills: they stick sticky tape over the ends now. Both ends.You fumble and fumble to get this tiny bit of tape off, if you succeed the bit of tape then sticks to your fingers and you stand over the open kitchen bin trying to get it off and deposit it inside. Of course, it won’t come off, it’s too small and too sticky. You have to go and find a piece of dry kitchen roll and transfer the remaining fraction of tape from your finger to the paper. You could, of course, just cut through the tape while it’s still attached to the pill packet but what do you do with that? Plastic sticky tape is not meant to be recycled. 

Oh, dear saints in heaven, life is getting ever more complicated. And Google definitely isn’t helping. Getting these two mean and fuzzy photos on took ages. Grrrr!

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Who said gardening is a doddle?

No wonder the stump was swaying in the recent high winds; I watched from the window in the roof and saw that not only the huge nest of dead ivy but the body of the stump was rocking. Time to call HandsomeHunk and get him to get the ivy off before it fell on the drive or maybe on my head when I was walking past under it.

HH duly came and inspected the job. "Won’t take long”, he said confidently. "I've brought my extension saw and  a long pole. I’ll be able to shift it.”


I usually go out and work with the helpers, perhaps a bit of supervision is included too, as I haven’t known either HH or WW (Wiry and Willing if you forgot) for long. HH comes uncomfortably early and I was still organising myself indoors. Very soon the doorbell rang although I’d told HH that I would come out as soon as I was in a fit state. I saw that he had left off the hard hat and was pushing at the ivy rather than sawing it off. 

“I think you'd better come and look for yourself” HH said. I saw that he had a tall ladder leaning against the stump. “I can’t climb that ladder”, I said. It really was much too long for me and I wasn’t sure I had the  necessary courage or agility. “You won’t have to climb up”, he said, “ you can see the problem from down here. The tree is completely hollow”. 

So it was. HH had taken off the ivy nest and the innards of the rotten stump were visible. He pushed at it  and large bits dropped off. He poked some more and sawdust came dribbling out.

After much careful prodding the ivy crown and top of the stump were off completely. But then disaster struck. The stump had been host to a large climbing rose (yes, another one of the monsters which can grow to 20 m or more, with vicious tendrils armed with even more vicious thorns) and quite unexpectedly, the bark incl. chicken wire and rose came off and thudded into the large philadelphus shrub next to it.

The bark would have made a wonderful cave for several children, except that the chicken wire which had held up the lower strands of the rose was firmly embedded in it and would have cut any child to shreds.

However, all came right in the end, after much toil and trouble. HH finally managed to salvage the foot of the tree which we saw is home to dozens of bumble bees who have burrowed into the soft timber, dislocating little heaps of natural sawdust. I will be delighted if the stump can remain as rent free accommodation for the entire insect population of the garden.

Unfortunately, I am now left with piles and piles of debris. As WW is cutting the hedge at the same time I have a problem. How to get rid? I’d love to have a bonfire but I’ve already smoked out the village once, they won’t be very happy if I do it again before they’ve had a chance to forget it and forgive me.

PS: it’s taken me hours to write this  really rather insignificant post. I am quite exhausted from swearing at Google for messing me about and changing things and making things so difficult. The uploaded photos are of poor quality, apologies. And there’s no ‘reverting to the original Blogger’ anymore either. But at least Google have found my yyys and xxxs again and several other letters they mislaid.

Blast you, Google.

Big Google/Blogger problems,

 I think. 

posts appear without ysome necessary- (see!) letters and I don't know what to do.

Ditto, posting photos is now a problem. See -you once I've worked the thing out.

If -you have any- (!!) suggestions, I'd be grateful.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Are you sure you are living the life you always wanted to live?

If you found out, right now, that these are the last few days of your life, could you say, tonight, that today you did exactly what you wanted to do?

For the moment, forget about pestilence, politics, war, famine; forget about smouldering fights with family and friends; forget about anything you have no control over, focus on yourself and what you can control, here and now, in your own life. 

Has today been deeply satisfying? Have you sailed through? Did you take the time to smell the flowers, savour a fragrant cup of coffee, do a kindness, to yourself or someone else? Yesterday was Sunday, was it the same day as every other or did it hold a special moment? Are you at peace with yourself?

I don’t know where any of this has come from. Like for so many of us older folk, the pestilence has brought me a lot of thinking time and observing time. The nights are drawing in, they are also getting cooler; I noticed that some leaves on my ornamental Japanese cherry tree are turning red, always the first sign of autumn in my garden. For several weeks I have been thinking how come I cope with solitude as well as I do, why am I not missing daily contact with people. And then I remember that daily contact with people has never been a priority for me and that some contact has actually been against my better judgement.

Vaguely I have been wondering why I continue to feel that I must make an effort when I don’t miss some people or activities at all. Indeed, why have I never realised that there are positively toxic people and toxic activities I’d do well to shed. Does it matter that some people’s feelings might be hurt if I don’t jump when they whistle?

My needs are modest, I aim for modest pleasures in life. There isn’t a great deal of time left, I must make sure that how ever many last days there are, I enjoy them at my own pace.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Of Matters Temporal and Temporary

It looks like I am not going to take sensible advice anytime soon.

“I think this could be a lot of work to keep it all going. Are you sure you want to carry on? Do you think you can?”

I had my son and his wife for a visit and a lovely time of almost endless talking it was. My voice was quite hoarse when they left. However, to qualify, we chatted for hours, with the exception of the time they spent clearing up more of those heaps of prunings, choppings down, clearings out and repair man’s leavings that I seem to collect nowadays. Only about six weeks after the previous five trips to the dump another three followed this time.

My daughter-in-law admired what she saw but there was a definite look of concern on her face. She hadn’t been to visit for a year at least and, not only did I become older by a year, but my house and garden haven’t shrunk in that time. Even worse, my gardening obsession has returned and, my knees having become stiffer, my energy levels lessened and my old codgerdom having increased, she had every right to express doubt in my general ability to continue my slightly head-in-the-sand attitude. For the knees I have bought a kneeler: it is not too difficult for me to get down on my knees, it’s the getting up again that’s the problem. The kneeler has two upright handles which allow me to heave myself up quite easily. I combat the energy loss by working for short, hour-long, bursts and taking a rest in between. As for the old codgerdom I try to make a virtue out of it; I quite enjoy looking helpless and asking all those nice men who come to do jobs, and even neighbours, for assistance.

I believe that my d-i-l’s concern is genuine, not the ”let’s-put-mum-out-of-her-misery-and-put-her-in-a-nice-home-for-the-elderly" syndrome. Not at all. She did, however, while we were sitting idly not watching a TV show neither of us was interested in, look around and remark on the ’stuff’ I have. The full book shelves, china and glass cupboards, pictures, rugs, ornaments, CDs, vinyl, DVDs, etc; all the stuff one has around and hardly uses. And that was just one room. I could see she was really bothered, which in itself was unusual for me; nobody has been concerned for me in any way for years, maybe even decades. My own son has only recently started to ask “Are you alright, Mum?"

“What do you want done with it all?” she asked.
I was puzzled. “Done with it?”

“Yes, all this stuff that you value and enjoy and then somebody comes and takes it away, and your whole life just disappears."

I think she was thinking of so-called house-clearers who bring a van, tell you they’ll take it all away if you just pay them a few hundred pounds and skedaddle.

It appears she was worried about the two of them, after my demise (which she hoped wasn’t for a long long time yet), having to descend instantly, sort out and dispose of, and vacate the house almost the day after the funeral. Come to think of it, the funeral too was a problem, had I made any arrangements?

Poor d-i-l, she was thinking of her own parents after their death, when she and her sisters laughed and cried and reminisced while clearing out the former home. There are three of them to support each other. I think she was comparing their situation with mine, as she imagines it, solitary, unregarded and neglected and unloved by the very few family left. She only relaxed when I told her about the facts and procedures of probate (which I also hope won’t be necessary for a long, long time yet) and that there will be no need to vacate the house until after that complicated process has been finalised.

Her visit has made me think. She is quite right, I must go back over arrangements made years ago; I have actually been meaning to make changes to my will for some time now. Then there are unofficial bequests of bits of furniture, jewellery, books, etc. Charitable donations need decisions. And maybe I should appoint a second executor, the one named now is getting a bit old himself. And as I am going to live for a long long time yet, he might be senile by the time I pop my clogs.

However, regarding what started this all off, my daughter-in-law’s musings about house and garden and all things temporal and temporary, I say this: good advice is always welcome, but what you do with it is up to you. You only ever ask for advice when you already know the answer, having already made up your own mind anyway and all you are really asking the other person is to confirm your own decisions.

Having ordered a load of large plants like two Italian cypresses, a couple of bamboos, a mahonia, and a hydrangea, from a wholesale supplier on the internet, would confirm my decision: I am not giving up gardening and garden designing anytime soon.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Doing Well

Sitting in the comfortable chair in my study, feet up on the footstool, book open on my lap. I am calm and quiet, reflecting on life as is and life as was. With the single exception of missing Beloved, then as now, I am content. There is no help for it, as Carson McCullers put it so movingly:

the way I need you is a loneliness I can’t bear and there is nobody who can fill that loneliness except for the one who is no longer here”,

but bear it I must. Being alive brings the obligation to embrace unpleasant things as well as the pleasant ones. Even the most determined 'look on the bright side’, and all the insistence on 'positive thinking’ doesn't provide us with a constant diet of flowers, sunsets and cute kittens. Accepting that ‘life is hard and then you die’ is a clarion call to living life, warts and all.

So, I am content. The patter of soft rain on the window tells me that doing outdoor work is not advisable for now, whereas a spot of meditation is. Yesterday, I spent many hours outside gardening, doing hard and dirty work, like mulching, potting up, cutting ivy, carrying heavy loads until I could barely drag myself to the bench in my ‘woodland garden’ (a small patch of beeches and hollies and yews. I sat there, not moving, doing nothing much at all except taking in the sounds of nature, birdsong, the murmur of unseen small creatures, the soft rustling of beech leaves in the gentle breeze.

Autumn cyclamen are appearing in all parts of the garden, a welcome sight particularly in areas which are otherwise just green, like the view from the compost heap towards the leaf mould enclosure. Everybody who comes to help in the garden admires my compost. “Did you make this all yourself ?” , asked WW (Wiry and Willing - who is fast becoming a worthy successor to "Old Gardener”);  he sunk his hands deep into the heap, rubbed the compost between them and smelled it. “It doesn’t stink at all”, he said. “Lovely”. If I am remembered for nothing else but my compost when my end comes I am satisfied. Others leave great deeds behind, works of art, pearls of wisdom, empires and the destruction of empires. Leaf mould and compost are like me: practical and useful and given to long periods of rest and just being.

For me gardening is therapy, it fulfils my need for outdoor creativity, the result is pleasant to the eye and beneficial for health and wellbeing. I am currently reading a book by Sue Stuart-Smith “The Well Gardened Mind” sub-titled 'Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World’;  she says:

Like a suspension in time, the protected space of a garden allows our inner world and the outer world to co exist free from the pressures of everyday life........
there can be no garden without a gardener. a garden is always the expression of someone’s mind and the outcome of someone’s care.”

For now the world within my hedges and walls is my castaway haven and this morning, looking out of the kitchen window while putting on the kettle for my morning brew I saw movement round the foot of the bird table. My blackbird fledglings are back, dad had brought two of them and they were all three picking busily at the ground. I call them ‘my’ fledglings although they may be another family entirely, but it feels good to believe that I have done my modest little best to help them survive during their most vulnerable time. I sincerely hope mum and dad call an end to breeding now, this must have been their second clutch for this year’s summer; in a good long summer garden birds with a ready supply of food and clement weather can have three sets of young.

The rain has stopped, should I cook my dinner or go outside ? Yesterday evening I was so tired I couldn’t bear the thought of cooking,  so all I had was a bowl of rice crispies. Perhaps I had better prepare a meal before I go out.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Blackbirds, Rosie and Books

Whatever am I going to do about my resident fledgling blackbird? Or maybe blackbirds plural?

About 8 to 10 days ago I first noticed that there was a very young blackbird hopping around close to the back of the house on the terrace. There is a bowl of fresh water standing there as well as access to various kinds of bird foods, both on the ground and in the air. I know that blackbird fledglings are fed by the parents after they’ve left the nest and, also, that they don’t learn to fly until then. (Google is wonderful - I didn’t know any of that) Their food is grubs, worms, insects, not so much grain or fat balls. Above is the first photo I took, seeing its properly formed tail I thought the youngster would soon be off.

A few days later I took this photo of another young bird. At the time I thought it was the same bird as the first. This one too kept hopping about close to the house and the patch of ground just in front of the back terrace where I have some shrubs and a few herbaceous flowers.

Yet a few days later, maybe 2 or 3, I saw this little chap (or girl - I can’t tell at this age) which seemed to be a bit younger than the other (?) birds, fluffier, downier. All had exactly the same behaviour pattern, they all skulked around in the same very small area, frequently nodding their  head up and down, up and down, appearing to find breathing difficult. After minutes of nodding, they all sneezed and coughed, ending with a soft little chirp.

This morning this little chap turned up, again nodding and sneezing and picking at the crumbs I’ve spread on the terrace. Are they all the same bird? Do all blackbird fledglings constantly nod, opening and shutting their beak, and shake their heads and sneeze?

I am obsessed with my lodgers, checking on them first thing in the morning, keeping them close to the house because of marauding cats. Shouldn’t it be flying by now if it’s the same bird? I’ve seen them drink from the water bowl and pick at the crumbs I’ve provided. They hop about quite actively although there are always long breaks in the hopping while they are sitting still, in full view of me and possible predators. The problem is that I haven’t seen the parent birds feed them. That’s not unusual but what with me spending hours watching the fledglings ( from a suitable distance) I’d have thought I’d have caught them at it. Grown up blackbirds are quite tame in my garden, they stay close to my feet and spade, waiting for me to produce worms, when I’m digging the earth. 

Oh dear, I am so worried, I want them to fly off and lead happy blackbird lives and sing beautiful songs for me.

This is the new wall, trellis and door frame, seen from inside and out. A new door has also been installed. Rosie’s trunk is visible again and shows promising new shoots. I shall have to weed round her feet, provide her with a good mulch of compost, some rose feed and a few drinks. Next year she’ll be as good as new, ready to snag and scratch anyone’s hands who tends her without taking the greatest care.


In just two sittings I read a most extraordinary book about a woman who escaped her successful London life by moving to the wilds of an island in the Scottish Hebrides. to run a derelict croft. She describes her existence there which, initially an idyll, soon turns into a fierce struggle for survival. She lives the rawest, most pared back life, poverty stricken, ill and lonely, and always facing the hostility of the islanders who resent all incomers. But this is not a misery memoir, it is a triumphant tale of rebirth and renewal, with nature being the driving force.

It is hard to believe that this story is entirely factual, once or twice I said “No” in shocked accents and, of course, of
necessity, it is a wholly one-sided account. But, even if only the half is true, it really is breathtaking. The language too is beautiful, the most lyrical description of nature I have read in a long while.