Sunday, 28 June 2020

IF ONLY......

...... I can stay abreast of developments in technology, politics, current affairs, fashions and whatever else the modern world throws at me;

...... if only my mental faculties stay sharp(ish) as at present;

...... if only I can stay on top of all physical work required to make life acceptable to me and pleasant;

...... if only my finances last, what with the global economic downturn,

well, then I will never have to grow old and retire from active life.

If only.

Fat Chance.

This bunny has still not been very happy; in fact, I’ve been feeling a bit lost and lonely. At first I welcomed the rain, both the garden and I gave a sigh of relief that the heat relented and gave me a breather and the garden a good drink; after more than a week of on-and-off thunderstorms and showers I am ready to say ‘thanks' but 'no more, thanks’. I should be patient, the rain is still needed, but lack of opportunity to get myself good and dirty and exhausted doesn’t do my mental health any favours.

Hence the opening lines; my recent birthday has given me much to think about. I’m doing a bit better today, having spent the morning carting around watering cans, feeding hydrangeas, clematises, a little olive tree and a couple of lemon trees, the latter three in pots. Indoor ferns have had a good trim and been allowed to come out. Ditto the winter flowerers. They all enjoy a few months out of doors. With me all the while dodging heavy showers, of course. At least the rain is warm.

Paul has forsaken me. He was ailing for about three weeks and the last time I enquired after his progress he emailed to say he was lots better but not coming again. "For personal reasons". No notice or further explanation. Just bang, like that. Fair enough, I have not been very happy with his efforts, but he was a nice chap, nice enough for me to think of keeping him on for the jobs he could do and pairing him with somebody better able to cope with longer hours and heavier work.

However, he has taken the decision for me. Good luck to him.

Since then I have been asking around for recommendations; several friends have mentioned several gardeners, mostly garden labourers without great knowledge but plenty of brawn; I have chosen to interview one chap not so much brawny but wiry and willing and one muscled handsome hunk. If either or both stay the course, one will become WW and the other HH. They will do different jobs. Both are more expensive than old gardener of blessed memory and recent Paul; but I am becoming reconciled to the idea of spending money on the garden, if I want to stay here. Besides, I am planning to reorganise the beds and do away with at least one, maybe two, of the more labour intensive areas. One is to become an area for conifers and junipers instead of herbaceous perennials.

Here’s hoping.

Writing this I have become aware that I am behaving like someone who has endless years of gardening ahead of her. Of course, I don’t. If I had any sense I’d pack up and sell up and go into retirement and withdraw from active life, exactly the opposite to what I am hoping to do above. But while the bullet points above hold true I might as well ignore old age and incipient decrepitude and enjoy what’s left. Like I told my Mum, when she dithered about buying herself a new dress she liked because “I don’t have enough time left to enjoy it”, : "even if it’s a day and no more the new dress gives you pleasure, it’s worth it.”

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Not a Happy Bunny

It had to happen eventually, working like a madwoman in the garden had to lead to some injury or other. It did. Excessive sawing and secateuring at an ancient rosemary bush’s thick and convoluted stems did for my right hand. The bush grows in a raised bed along the wall with my neighbours, all the while I was sawing away I was cursing and telling the bush to "come on”, “give already”; two thirds of the way through I yelped in pain, either my tools were too blunt or my hand just doesn’t have the strength it once did, suddenly my wrist and thumb were on fire and I had to give up. I heard my neighbour potter in her own grounds, but she forbore to get involved, for which I was immensely grateful.

I am really hard at it, at least, I was; luckily we are having a few rain showers and I can’t do much outside anyway today, something else for which I am immensely grateful. There is something obsessive about my need to work outside. Paul has another ailment which stops him working and I’m doing it all myself, turning heavy compost, mulching, pruning, weeding, lugging heavy bags and mountains of brush to be taken to the dump eventually, if I’m lucky and get help; otherwise I’ll have to hire a skip, which is expensive. The thing is that without help I simply cannot cope any more; I have a big birthday coming up which means that I am going to be less and less able physically. Already I am surprised at how tired I often feel. I was thinking of telling my doctor about that but then I know what she would say: “you are not in the first flush of youth, what do you expect?” It’s true, I am stupidly unwilling to let age stop me and sit back on my haunches and retire to the old ladies’ corner gracefully.

The fact remains, if I can’t find regular and capable help, I must give up the house and garden and move to somewhere more suitable. The idea appals me, I love my house sitting in what used to be the centre of a beautiful garden in a magnificent location. I have been just so fortunate. No doubt I’d have no trouble selling up but where could I go? Nearer to my son? That would be sensible but it also means giving up. I could try and hire a company to make my garden less labour intensive, swapping large flower beds for hard landscaping. Whatever I decide to do needs careful deliberation. The one thing I feel unable to do is letting it all go to rack and ruin, closing my eyes to it.

I really feel like moaning today. I can just about type with the index finger of my right hand so I’ll continue. This damned virus doesn’t seem to realise that it’s not wanted and the numbers in the UK are still frighteningly high. I think I am actually now afraid of getting back into the world; I have the most troublesome dreams when I manage to sleep at all, often to do with overcoming huge barriers to getting home. Last night I lost track of my friend who was dependant on me to get her to the station; I kept ending up on the wrong platform and in the wrong station myself and never connected with her at all.

Depression is setting in, life is far too complicated. Although I have happily withdrawn from the burden of normal demands for the past twelve weeks, the thought of remaining entirely on my own for months yet is traumatic. No wonder my nights are disturbed. I dreamt of my daughter the other night, begging for help with something. In my dream she laughed and vanished.

The only good thing is that it’s summer, the days are long and bright and I welcome the odd rainy day. The earth was so dry that I could hardly get a fork in and the birds found it difficult to peck for worms and seeds. Nature helps too, apparently the air in cities has cleared, pollution is diminished and wildlife is taking over the spaces vacated by man. If only we could learn from this and allow nature its rightful place again. What will we take away from this catastrophe? Will we allow our Earth to recover or simply carry on where we left off when it’s all over?

One last thought, a good one: I have prepared a Mediterranean vegetable mess with garlic and chalots and a slice of my delicious meat loaf to go with Singaporean noodles for my dinner tonight. If nothing else brings pleasure, perhaps a pleasant meal makes for a welcome change. Cheers!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Getting to know myself during Covid 19

It’s hard to find something to post about when you do nothing but spend time at home. We’ve had glorious weather and I’ve been working like a madwoman in the garden, physically exhausting myself in the process. The more I work the less there is to see, the more dry brown earth emerges. The more I dig the bigger the piles of plastic sacks filled with weeds grow, ditto the piles of brush, shrub prunings and whole uprooted shrubs lying in corners which should, by now, be attractive and tidy areas for sitting and watching the garden grow. I shall be ever so cross if I die before I can replant everything next autumn or spring; all that work for nothing.

There is a good thing about being physically active outdoors: it makes for a cheerful and happy state of mind, so maybe it’s not all for nothing. Paul still comes once a week, but now only for two hours, his energy doesn’t last for longer. I almost exclusively reserve the jobs which are too hard for me to do, nothing routine like weeding, he still has strength, even if his stamina leaves much to be desired. Agewise, I could be his mother yet I work harder than he does. I am glad that he officially stops work after two hours and doesn’t drag out his time with me to three hours, as previously, with a rather long tea break in between. There’s no tea break now and I only pay him for two hours. I like Paul very much, he is a nice chap and knowledgeable about plants and I certainly hope he continues to come.

There’s a chill wind today, I’ve allowed myself a day off. Once or twice, during the hot and sunny days, friends have come to call, by invitation, one or two at a time, and we’ve sat in the garden in late afternoon, at a distance of no less than 2 m and enjoyed a glass of wine over a natter. We are all very sensible and do not meet in each other’s houses yet, as per government directive. The incidence of Covid 19 in Valley’s End is minimal, less than a handful of cases and no deaths. Many of us are of retirement age and therefore vulnerable. There is one dog walking acquaintance who turns up once a week or so, who explains her uninvited presence by saying that her dog has wriggled through the bars of one of my gates and insists on raiding my garden. So, naturally, she has to follow him, scoop him up, apologise for her invasion by blaming the dog and look longingly at the chairs on the terrace. I must ask her to come on a specific day, she is obviously lonely.

Which brings me to a question I’ve been puzzling over. Ever since I’ve understood the meaning of the terms introvert and extrovert years ago I’ve thought of myself as an extrovert. I am not shy in company, I face meeting new people with equanimity, I am lively and chatty at parties, I talk to people before they talk to me. At the same time I can take or leave people and find solitude nothing to be afraid of. Sometimes, I am lonely because I lost my soulmate but, otherwise, my own company is sufficient for my needs most of the time. I even talk to myself.

But that is surely not how an extrovert reacts to the present lockdown? I am always reading about people who are terribly unhappy and longing for hugs and face to face conversations, whose loneliness cries out for human contact and who are in danger of becoming mentally ill. These people have all my sympathy, so many are old and alone, feel abandoned and shut out, but I simply do not feel that way myself. What is wrong with me?  When I read these sad stories I question my capacity to empathise, I have no idea what it feels like to be in their shoes. Solitude to me is something good, something to be welcomed. Does that mean I am an introvert after all? Or even more fortunate, I am an introvert/extrovert whenever either state suits me?

Considering that I’ve had nothing to post about I have used an awful lot of words to post it. That’s what Covid does, it makes wafflers of all of us.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Last night I had one of my I-absolutely-cannot-be-bothered-to-fall-asleep-nights. I went to bed at the usual time, read a bit, switched off the light and waited to disappear into the arms of Morpheus. Morpheus wasn’t interested. Wasn’t having it. Any of it. In spite of a generous helping of sleeping pills. Nothing doing. On these occasions it’s almost as if I really don’t want to sleep, like a horse refusing a jump. What I did, however, was gardening, in my head, all the jobs waiting to be done, in detail; had it been light I might actually have got up and done them. Or that’s what I told myself.

Instead I got up, fetched a packet of crackers and a glass of sweet sherry and read a magazine for an hour. It was about 4.30 am when I went back to bed. The birds were up and singing.

This morning all those gardening jobs were still there, waiting to be done. Of course, I was too tired, after my mostly sleepless night, to tackle any of them. I am a daemon for sorting things out at night, come daylight, not so much.

February was the last time we went to see a performance by The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon. I took this photo of the phone box and post box then, they are both outside the Festival Theatre itself. Theatres may not reopen until next spring. Balls, indeed.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Afternoon all,

how are you doing? Getting a bit fed up? A bit bored with your own company? I am. Not madly depressed or sad, just a bit bored. Mind you, would I be any better off if I had a family now, maybe a few brothers and sisters, an aunt or uncle tucked away somewhere? Kids closer by, kids that actually liked me enough to want to live close by? Who knows. But then I was the one who moved far away from everybody.

A time like this concentrates the mind, come the rainy day and there’s not much else but dandelions around - it’s dandelion time in the garden and the hedgerows and verges - and all the family you’ve ever had is either dead or they’ve forgotten about you and live a life that's neither more nor less happy and contented than the life you yourself live. Once I had a lovely aunt, she’s the one I remember with affection; she was poor, with a husband who cut hair for a living in a tiny rural hamlet. Not much money to be made there. Auntie loved life, laughed a lot, celebrated every birthday, every occasion that lent itself to celebration and some that didn’t, and always had a plate of Dutch cheese open sandwiches ready to share. Auntie is long gone, I wonder what she would have made of it all now? Laughed, raised her shoulders 'what do I know’, and said, "it is what it is”. I know what Mum’s sister, my other auntie, would have done. She was the one much given to bursting into tears at the least opportunity, everything that ever happened was chosen by ill fate and aimed directly at her. Both of them are dead now but I know which one I’d rather sit with round the kitchen table.

They are all gone now, Mum and Dad, the aunties and uncles, even some of the cousins, not that I ever had many. Two kids max. per household was the going rate in the family, at least the side of the family I knew. And some only had the one, like my Mum and Dad. All of that generation had a hard time of it, two world wars, hungry childhoods and not much prosperity until much later when things generally got better. But they never experienced a pandemic, Spanish flu, avian, swine, HIV/aids, sars, mers, all scourges of the last 100 years, passed them by. Would they have borne them as stoically as they lived through their own times?

I miss them and, most of all, I miss Beloved. Not that I would want him as he was at the end, but the way he was when we sat opposite each other in the kitchen, when one of us would ask a question and so a conversation would start about a wide range of subjects, subjects which would need exploring in detail, whether we knew the answer or not.

I miss the old people and I miss Beloved. Often now my thoughts turn to the past and I want to ask what they think about this and that, do they have any advice to give or do they know as little as I do. The latter probably, but it would be good to find out.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Just Saying . . . .

I made a disappointing discovery: one of my friends, someone I was not only fond of but admired greatly, has turned out to have feet of Covid19 clay. Supposedly, we are all in this together, but some of us are further out on the periphery than others, able to dip in and out at leisure. Looking around me I have judged that this one or that one would maybe not stay the course, crack under the strain of isolation, break the rules and get out from under without considering the consequences. In some cases I was right. But this particular friend I judged to have excellent self control, determination and staying power, yet this is the one to break the rules in the most spectacular fashion.

We are all only human, we all make mistakes, we are all getting fed up and nobody wants the situation to go on for longer than it needs to. But to flout the rules deliberately and claim special status for reasons of personal convenience is just despicable and highly irresponsible.

Maybe that friendship has run its course.

We have to pretend, said Old, we have to pretend about so much these days. We have to pretend to like things we don’t like. We have to try so very hard to be non-judgemental.
The Dept. of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

Instead of sitting in judgement and feeling disappointed I should just continue to do what I’m doing, get into the garden more or less every day for at least two hours. The longer and harder I work the less attractive the beds are. More and more naked earth appears. I used to accuse Beloved of pursuing a ‘bare earth policy’,  he was keen to strip the beds back to basics and proclaim lots of my favoured plants to be weeds that needed clearing when we first came here. Now it’s me who does that. I have ordered a few pots of herbaceous perennials and some colourful annuals to close the biggest gaps once I get to replanting.  Luckily, the garden has a respectable 'bone structure' in the form of shrubs and trees. Spring flowering clematis like the one in the picture help too. Paul is coming tomorrow, I hope that together we will knock a few more weedy problems on the head.

Last night the outer scab came off my lip, quite naturally. The inner scab came off a few days earlier, the inner scar healed very quickly, I am glad to say. No infection anywhere. There is a small visible scar and a small patch of scab left, but nothing to spoil my beauty. I’m relieved.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Glück im Unglück (A Blessing in Disguise)

Oops, there she goes, falling like a sack of potatoes, spilling herself all over the stairs.

After a day spent largely in the garden, evening came with its normal quota of tiredness. Happy and contented tiredness. Eleven at night and time for bed. Had I shut the shed and garage? Better check. Yes, all safe and sound, no need to worry. Locking the inner door to the shed was the last thing to do before climbing the stairs. I hadn’t bothered to take off my thick-soled, non-slip trainers; that was my downfall. Literally. Turning on my toes my right foot refused to move, my left foot was in too much of a hurry, stumbled over the right and there you have it, I shot forward, unable to brake and came to rest on the stairs, my chin hitting the step with an enormous crack. Instantly blood came gushing out, with me in serious pain.

Eleven o’clock at night, on your own, is not a good time for an accident of that nature. In the mirror I saw that my own teeth had cut my lower lip from inside to out. I googled “how to stop bleeding of the face and mouth”. Ice packs should do it in twenty minutes, Google said. Three ice packs later I was still bleeding. It was two am by now. I decided to ring 111 for advice, the service for non-emergency help. Initially I spoke to someone non medical, after a whole raft of questions they referred me to a nurse, who actually rang back a little later. Another raft of questions which I answered honestly, without making too much of a meal of it. All I wanted was advice on how to stop the bleeding. Halfway through the call the nurse said  ”the ambulance is on its way, you shouldn’t have to wait too long.” What? Hospital During The Time of Covid 19? Not bloody likely! I’d rather bleed to death in the comfort of my own home!

Anyway, the ambulance did indeed turn up fairly soon. The paramedics weren’t even inside the house yet when I informed them that they had had a wasted journey, the bleeding was lessening and under no circumstances was I going to hospital with them. “There there,” they said, "first let’s have a look at you.” They did what they called ‘obs’, (my blood pressure was off my personal scale) wrote it all down, both of them sitting on the floor, operating their various machinery, attempting to calm me down. We actually had quite a pleasant chat.

By about three am the bleeding had most certainly lessened. Finally, the paramedics agreed that there was no immediate need for me to go into any hospital; instead they advised me to visit the local minor injuries unit the next day. I didn’t even do that. I’d rather spend the rest of my life with a deep scar on my lip than contract the virus and have no life left.

Before they left they admitted that I was doing the right thing. “To be honest”, the female paramedic said, “before now, we have taken people to hospital for different reasons, without a fever, and the same people have come out with a high temperature.”

Today, two evenings on, I have recovered somewhat from both the accident and the shock. Yesterday I spent the whole day dozing, taking painkillers, not even getting dressed. Today, I am feeling much better, I did a bit of gardening with Paul, and tried to eat on one side of my mouth. But the fat blue lip has already gone down, there is a bloody scab closing the wound, and I am hoping that there will be no inflammation. I might ring my surgery doctor for some advice on how best to avoid that.

Wish me luck.