Saturday, 26 May 2018

More This and That

'There is no more ridiculous custom than the one that makes you express sympathy once and for all on a given day to a person whose sorrow will endure as long as his life. Such grief, felt in such a way is always present, it is never too late to talk about it, never repetitious to mention it again'.
Marcel Proust

My friend Sue sent me this quote. She also said it might make her want to read A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. The quote I appreciate very much, it’s utterly simple and deeply true. But read Remembrance of Things Past? Seven volumes of a total of 3,031 pages, containing more than 1,267,069 words, and more than 2,000 characters — it's a daunting read; not surprisingly, it is one of the longest novels of all time. Proust is also one of the greatest novelists of all time and this novel is his magnum opus, but starting to read it now? ‘Had we but world enough and time’ (Andrew Marvell’s ‘To his coy Mistress’) comes to mind. So Proust will remain unread by me. I had an idea after reading the quote : why not call the novels ‘Nostalgia’ for short? I thought that was rather clever of me but I don’t suppose many others do. Perhaps it’s someone else’s idea and  I just read it somewhere and I’m not really clever?

I helped bury a good friend of ours last Monday by attending his funeral, a man who’s son said of him in his eulogy :”my dad was an intellectual, to the point of possibly being a snob about it.” I like that. I like unashamed elitism, provided you keep it in the family, as it were.

Millie is becoming an ever greater worry. She tumbled down part of the stairs again. The vet said to make her stay downstairs, but how? My friend said to put a suitcase on the bottom step. Millie follows me around wherever I go in the house. She is on steroids now but really, she suffers from old age for which there is no cure. She has gone deaf too. When a vet says ‘it’s a question of quality of life now’ you know what o’clock it is. The other day we went on to the castle bailey where a lot of tourists were admiring the ruins. As she is wont to do, she went to every group for a bit of attention and to say hello and most people cuddled and stroked her. She obviously got confused by the assorted legs and hands, so she just lay down for a bit. I was down the hill by the five bar gate back into the field by now, waiting for her. I called and whistled and created quite a kerfuffle myself but she couldn’t hear me and, in the end, several people led her down the hill towards me. Clambering back up to meet them halfway I hurt my sore knee all over again; I am still limping.

Going to the gym with my sore knee is a bit of a problem too. I can’t put weight on it which means the treadmill and similar machines are out. But the rower and standbikes are fine. As are machines which I hope will reduce my flabby batwing upper arms a bit. I hate showing bare arms, I suppose anybody over fifty does. On the whole, I have quite taken to gym workouts, and Dan, my Fitness Instructor, who has measured my progress, is pleased with me. I have the suspicion that FIs are conditioned to praise all of their guinea pigs, how else are you going to go on jumping through the hoops? We all need to be praised. I genuinely like the gym because the exercise makes me feel good but I still have to force myself to go sometimes. Contrary creatures, we humans.

Old gardener comes two mornings a week at the moment. Because of the long winter and late start of the gardening year everything was delayed; with warmer days having arrived there was a sudden explosion of growth and, almost overnight, bare branches, dead plant stems and bare patches turned green, with weeds mostly. Gardener rests more often than he used to do but he still works very hard for a man of his age. I don’t mind a bit, it gives me a chance to chat. He and his missus seem to be happy in the new house, she even buys plants for the small garden, which is unheard of. They’ll have been married for fifty years in July. Gardener is already grumbling that they’ll be spending money on a tea party for the family and that he will be spending yet more when he takes her out for a celebratory meal. Like many of his background he grumbles about spending money on non-essentials when secretly he is proud that he has it to spend. Or so I read him, anyway.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

I tried and

yes, it has helped.

It may have something to do with the weather or it may have something to do with a change in attitude, there is most certainly an occasional feeling of positivity. Strange how being told to “get your hair cut” and doing exactly that, can kickstart a new beginning.

Romeo and Juliet, a 'pair of star-crossed lovers’ who marry in secret and ultimately die because of their feuding families, at the RSC Stratford, was part of it. It’s not my favourite Shakespeare play but it certainly has some wonderful lines.

'Parting is such sweet sorrow.'

Are there lines more apt than these to describe the sadness at the loss of a loved one?

When we go to Stratford we often stop at a brand new upmarket supermarket for some choice foodie items on the way home. As we did this time.

In supermarkets many of the pre-packed things come in twos, two of fish filet, vegetables for two, puddings and pies for two, etc. I buy these double portions and put one in the freezer, but they just don’t taste as good as fresh. So, this time I decided not to freeze but share the largesse with a friend, from starters to main course to pudding, thereby renewing my pleasure in entertaining; (and not doing much of the cooking myself). Having just one chosen friend to a meal or a glass of something cool and delicious has boosted my confidence after two years of no invitations to the house at all. Sitting outside on a hot day, nibbling delicacies, drinking sparkling wine and gently discussing minor matters of the day, lifts the spirits of the gloomiest person.

Having single friends (not all widows) to a meal is not all I did, I also made dates with friends for meals at pubs and restaurants, common or garden ones in Valley’s End as well as some rather good ones further afield. And enjoyed them all. It still feels strange to do these things without Beloved and I still have the urge to tell him about them when I get home. It also still takes some time to realise that I can’t and never will again. Perhaps that will wear off in time?

There was a day out in Ludlow with a friend which was rather a success. Do you know these outings when everything falls into place? For months I had been saving up small jobs that needed a visit to a town of a size greater than the nearest one down the road. Really small things like a new watch battery, also a tiny battery for my kitchen timer which hadn’t worked for a good six months, a couple of visits to a bank and a building society, a particular kind of bath sponge only found at one particular chemist, a new pair of trainers, a drop off of a box of books at a charity shop, taking a poster to be framed, etc. I finally treated myself to some orange peel sticks coated in dark chocolate at the Chocolate Gourmet and came away happy that everything had been achieved. To top it off my friend took me to a pub for lunch. It doesn’t take much to rediscover that pleasure can be had for very little effort. If food is involved, it seems, my pleasure is almost guaranteed. I do rather mention food a lot.

Something else has taken up my time, requiring greater effort but easily achieved: the garden is once more on my agenda. Old gardener is back with me whenever the weather allows and the two of us garden companionably. We have our break, just as before, and gardener tells me about his adventures in his new home. His ‘missus’ seems to favour frequent house moves and he quietly - grumbling under his breath - falls in with her wishes. I think he is a bit scared of her. A couple of widows live near him and both have twigged that he does gardening. “I don’t want it known”, he said to me, “I wonder how they found out.” One of them he rather likes the look of. “She’s right tidy looking,” he said, meaning she’s attractive. An Italian lady, he thinks, with a name he can’t pronounce. He has now given up his bigger jobs like the one at the ‘Manor’ and only looks after me and another German lady. I can see him acquiring the Italian lady too. Possibly as an antidote to his grumpy wife. At seventy I feel he is entitled to a little light relief.

Friday, 27 April 2018


One minute I am sitting staring into the void, the next I get up and the perspective on life changes.
The winds of change blow indiscriminately, sending you hither and thither without conscious volition. It might be a good thing for those like me who find it difficult to move into one direction or another deliberately. Times change and we change with them.

Or, as Dr Samuel Johnson had it (in his Drury-lane Prologue Spoken by Mr. Garrick at the Opening of the Theatre in Drury-Lane, 1747)

When Learning’s triumph o’er her barb’rous foes 
First rear’d the stage, immortal Shakespear rose; 
Each change of many-colour’d life he drew, 
Exhausted worlds, and then imagin’d new: 

I love the phrase “each change of many-coloured life he drew”. I should hold on to that thought, accept that change is inevitable and maybe even welcome it. Taking baby-steps. Life is for living and 'for the living’ and living it means being part of it in all its many-coloured facets. Death and grief are part of life.

The Syrian satirist and philosopher Lucian, whose works (written in ancient Greek) were wildly popular in antiquity has several very suitable quotations:

The world is fleeting; all things pass away;
Or is it we that pass and they that stay?


Realise that true happiness lies within you.


Not every story has a happy ending, 
but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth telling.

Beloved’s son and daughter in law came for a flying visit all the way from the US; as you know I live way off the beaten track, far from motorways and airports, and I would have understood if they had chosen to save themselves the extra two days’ travel to spend time with a relative-by-marriage only. But they came and I am both grateful and very appreciative; I had a great time with them, we talked about everything under the sun: politics, literature, music, travel, family news and, of course, Beloved. I handed over old photographs, family documents, music Beloved had written during the course of his life, even his school reports and records of prizes he’d won during his studies. I still have a large box of poems and diaries and other writings; in due course, after reading everything myself first, I will pass them over too. Beloved’s son is very like his father, in looks, bearing and intelligence; having him was almost like having Beloved again. It was a good visit.

My step-daughter-in-law was most encouraging, she told me that I must get a decent hair cut, find a colouring product that doesn’t provoke an allergic reaction, look after myself and get out from under the cloud of sadness. She also told me the story of an old aunt of her’s, who lost her husband in her early seventies and lived for another 20 years, apparently enjoying every minute of it, going travelling, making new friends and indulging her every whim. 

Very well, I will try.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Decisions . . . . .

and how to make them?

I don’t know how you would feel, but I find it very hard to make any at all since Beloved died. Being the only one to decide on major life changes is complicated; when there are two of you - preferably not more than two, otherwise there will be three or more different opinions - you can talk, sometimes for days, weeks, months, but eventually you will sort out problems and find solutions that suit both of you. With luck and goodwill.

I’ve had an unpleasant head cold since Friday afternoon, which fast turned into a chesty one. The kind of cold that you catch as if it were “thrown at you” as my mum used to say, without warning. All the cold remedies on the medicine shelves are long out of date, I haven’t had a proper cold for two years, but I am using some of the ones whose sell by date was sometime last year rather than two years ago. After all, can aspirin/paracetamol - the main ingredient - or sickly sweet cough syrups ever lose all their potency?

For two days I stayed indoors, barely washed and never got out of my pyjamas. A friend kindly bought my Saturday paper when he went for his own, waddled Millie along the drive - that’s Millie waddling, not my friend -,  and on Sunday a neighbour offered to take her for a quick walk. I was grateful but I should have turned her offer down, because this lady walks at a fair lick and Millie does fifty meters at fifteen minutes. And even then she has to have a little sit down on the way. She came home limping badly.

So Sunday night we were both feeling very poorly indeed. Millie woke me from a light, snuffly, snoring doze when she collapsed against the bedroom door as she tried to turn over. Obviously, I got up and calmed her, both of us lying on the floor. Whereupon, and not for the first time, it hit me. “What if something really serious happened?” You know what I mean, something serious enough to cause an injury which leaves you unable to get to a phone. And even if you get to the phone, whom can you ring for help in the middle of the night?

My mind flips from one side to the other. Do I sell, do I stay, do I find somewhere smaller, less isolated? Nearer a bus service, a train station, the shops, a cinema, a theatre? No point moving closer to my son’s town, he’ll be moving home himself again soon. I’ve even looked at residential retirement facilities, small one or two bedroom apartments, but there I’d probably live in close proximity with people a lot less mentally and physically active than I am.

I simply cannot come to any decision; could that mean that decision making is not a good thing at the moment? I’ve been feeling better again yesterday and today, have chatted with people, been to the gym, done some gardening - that always makes me want to stay put. Nowhere else would I get a location like the one I have now, no other home could be as comfortable as mine, the home I’m used to. So why move? Because of the comparative isolation and the larger than necessary house and garden, of course.

So, round and round in circles I go.

If I stay, I must do some decorating. If I leave, decorating will be a waste of time and money, not to mention the upheaval, the mess, the inconvenience. But moving house makes for upheaval, mess and inconvenience. And huge expenditure.

Perhaps it’s time to stop fretting and continue as I am, for now. Or, perhaps it’s time to make lists of pros and cons, weigh up things, get in touch with the professionals for estimates, house valuations, find help like the old-fashioned companions rich old ladies employed. Sadly, I am not a rich old lady. Besides, I am far too young for a companion.

Perhaps the solution is indeed to get organised, collect information, then evaluate and make those lists of pros and cons. How pathetic it all is. Help! I'm beginning to bore not just you but me too.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

One year on . . . .

. . . . and last month I hit rock bottom. Just as that heart specialist (how apt, ‘heart 'specialist) told me a year ago, that the end of the first year would be hardest to cope with. I’ve barely been able to rouse myself to do anything at all, off my own bat, that is. When other people have encouraged me to do things I’ve given in and done them. But as soon as I’ve been out from under their well-meaning efforts I crawled back into my cave. The weather was awful too, cold and damp and wet, with snow and ice for a week twice, which meant that I couldn’t even get out of the garage and drive to a supermarket. Did I feel sorry for myself? Not really, it was more a dull ache, a feeling of loneliness and abandonment. TV, books, chocolates and wine were my constant companions, but even they didn’t do much to lighten the mood. I wonder what I’d’ve been like without those crutches.

What I need is a passion. I have friends who sing in choirs, work in spite of being in their late sixties and seventies, endlessly help with grandchildren, work on village committees and church affairs, run all sorts of do-gooding charities. None of these activities tempt me. Not for the moment, anyway. I’ve said it before, I am not a joiner. My voice is a croak, proper work has long left me behind, my grandchildren are grown up. I’ve been on committees in the past and hated it. Quiet, behind the scenes charity is more my bag than noisy, front of house, ‘look how hard I work and how marvellously I run the show’ charity. I have to admit, if anything were down to me it would probably not get done. Or get done without fanfare.

So, how do I get a passion? Gardening was once one, I’d love to start again when the weather improves. In fact, last week I already did a full morning’s work and several short spurts and paid for it. No matter, easy does it. I have gone back to the gym after a break of a couple of weeks, worked out and paid for that too. Aches and pains are the natural outcome for sudden onset of physical jerks by the elderly.

I kid myself that going back to college would do the trick, retrieving my failing memory of Medieval European history, for instance, but blame living in the sticks for non-availability of any academic, interesting courses. Perfectly true. Online courses don’t quite answer the need for human interaction.

It’s only been a year, perhaps it’s still early days and I should not feel guilty for my lack of enthusiasm and my inability to ‘look on the bright side’. Positivity, Arghh.

There is the theatre, of course. I had a couple of injections of stage dust. First, "Imperium, The Cicero Plays," a seven-hour, two part version of Robert Harris’ trilogy about the rise and fall of Cicero, the Roman lawyer and politician. (Robert Harris described it as ‘like the West Wing in togas’). We stayed overnight at a delightful boutique hotel dead opposite the theatre, which allowed us to do some shopping in Stratford, an interesting town quite apart from the Shakespeare connection.

Then came ‘Macbeth’. Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy of greed, ambition and lust for power is everywhere at the moment. We saw the RSC version with Christopher Eccleston (ex Dr. Who) and Niamh Cusack.

Both plays are gripping, of course, but hardly a bundle of laughs. What is it they use in theatres for blood? There is such a lot of it in Macbeth. Barely anyone left standing at the end of the evening. Sitting in the front row I got sprayed with what I assumed was meant to be snowflakes during the final fight between Macbeth and Macduff; the stuff stuck to my black cashmere jumper and wouldn’t come off. It has now, without any brushing. Clever people, back stage personnel.

We also went to the opera: the Mid Wales production of ‘ Eugene Onegin’. The opera combines Pushkin’s compelling and heart-breaking story with Tchaikovsky’s sweeping lyricism in a stunning exploration of love, death, (more death) life and convention. Filled with breath-taking arias including Tatyana’s great letter scene and one of my personal favourites, Prince Gremin’s aria, the tale contrasts the simplicity of country life with the sophisticated excesses of Russia’s pre-revolutionary court and tells of the fated love between the innocent Tatyana and the world-weary cynic Onegin.


In spite of Mid Wales Opera being very much a provincial company and the orchestra being reduced to one representative of each instrument for lack of space in the pit, the evening was a success, as we told a lady with a pad and pencil taking notes of what we said. Is that how reviews are written? Get hold of audience members standing around after the performance and take down their freshly received impressions? We didn’t realise we had attended the first night.

Although the opera made for a pleasant evening, much more memorable was the meal beforehand in a pub/hotel in the centre of this small Welsh town just over the border from England. The place was heaving, very noisy, with beefy young men milling about everywhere. One giant TV screen was
showing an important rugby match between Scotland and England, (The Six Nations Championship is an annual international rugby union competition between the teams of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The current champions are Ireland, having won the 2018 tournament.)

These for the most part young Welshmen bellowed their approval every time Scotland had an advantage,  (I don’t know the rules of rugby) and their dislike of and disdain for the English team couldn’t have been expressed more clearly. We were just barely half an hour away from the English border; amazing how much animosity there exists between some Welsh and the English. I had a taste of that myself once when an elderly Welsh lady pushed me and Beloved off a bench on the promenade at Aberystwyth by shuffling closer and closer, first to the middle, and then to our side of the bench. We gave in gracefully.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Trying to Stay Cheerful . . . .

but it's not easy in the depths of winter, at this late stage in the season. I had a post planned about the turf wars breaking out among the more aggressively territorial birds, like blackbirds, thrushes, robins et al. Every morning before break of day a thrush sat in the very top of the tall conifer in the garden and shouted out her war cry to all and sundry :”this is occupied land, enter my territory if you dare.” The thrush has been absent for days now, not a peep out of her. The icy Siberian winds, bringing heavy snow and the nastiest weather for years, frightened even the hardiest bird species. Instead of heralding spring they have been squabbling on and around and under the feeding stations. Twice every day I went out to feed them and clear some patches of snow for the ground feeders. It’s been a losing battle. Warmer temperatures are on their way. Hallelujah!

This is a country full of weather watchers, The leading news stories have all concerned themselves with travel conditions, weather reports, endless pictures of people stuck on the roads in cars and lorries, on trains halted midway through journeys, unable to move. Surely, if you don’t use winter tyres or chains, you stay at home when snow is falling in such quantities as we had this past week? And if you have to make your journey, surely you take shovels and blankets and hot drinks and other life saving equipment? As well as said winter tyres and chains? Nah, let’s all complain about the authorities not doing enough to stop the snow.

Anyway, I feel better now. Besides, I think I air this rant every winter.

So, staying cheerful. The more I am cooped up at home the less active I become. I’ve been binge watching ancient episodes of The Big Bang Theory, until I want to chuck something at the screen when Sheldon is at his most opprobrious and the others just humour him and fall in with his wishes. Even Penny just sighs and rolls her eyes.

I have also been binge eating chocolate. It feels like my waistband is shrinking. It can’t be my waist expanding, can it? TBBT, chocolate and frequent warming, calorific snacks, hours reclining in a large, comfy chair, occasionally nodding off for forty winks, none of these promote healthy and active cheerfulness. Ah yes, the gym was meant to provide for that. But guess what, I haven’t been to the gym for a good two weeks, partly due to other engagements and partly due to my car being stranded in the garage.

I had started to enjoy the gym, there is something addictive about regular exercise; the thing is if you, for whatever reason, stop going, the addiction wears off and lethargy sets in and you have to fire yourself up all over again. Tuesday and Friday morning old biddies and old chaps go and use the treadmills and stand bikes, medicine balls, weight training machines and lots of other apparatus whose names escape me. There we all are, turned inwards, counting squats, stretches, pulls and pushes, knee bends, etc.; the fitness instructors give you exercises and homework to do, so many of everything, and we perform, silently, lips moving with the effort of counting, breath getting shorter and muscles beginning to ache.  A friend and I were sitting on two adjacent bikes, both pedalling madly, like a couple in a two seater pedalo on a boating lake. Except that we were going nowhere.

Reading has helped to pass the time; there is a pile of unread books awaiting my attention but, instead, I searched for something utterly enchanting on my shelves. Quite unexpectedly, I lit upon the small row of Michael Innes’ crime fiction; I think nowadays these stories would be called 'cosy mysteries’. Innes’ real name was J.I.M. Stewart, he was an academic and serious writer of literary criticism, but his crime fiction is a delightful mixture of crime, erudition, adventure and a charming picture of an imaginary England which, if it was ever real, disappeared between the wars. I chose ‘Christmas at Candleshoe’, an amusing tale, beautifully told, of some eccentric country folk, and a gang of boys prepared to defend the dilapidated manor and its nonagenarian owner against all comers, particularly a group of shadowy thieves bent on removing long buried treasure. The book reads as if it had been a pleasure to write, with Innes indulging himself gleefully. I shall reread the others I have by and by. I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with Sir John Appleby next.

Monday, 19 February 2018

This and That


As I’ve said before, I now accept more or less every invitation extended, in fact I appreciate it when people include me. We always went to every social occasion as a couple, so being invited on my own is flattering and heart warming. I assumed that Beloved was the attraction, and that I simply came as the lesser part of the package.
Not so? Maybe.

However, I tend to gravitate towards widows more than couples in my own invitations. In the olden days I never saw widows as ‘widows’, just as women on their own. There is always a slight feeling of unease when it comes to couples; even the most friendly ones. Is it perhaps that the new widow reminds them that it could happen to them too and they’d rather not face up to the possibility? Is it that we’d rather push the thought away as far as possible? After all, as my son said “it really doesn’t bear thinking about.” Beloved and I thought about it a lot during the last couple of years but it still didn’t feel ‘real’; not until it happened.

Being with other widows is easy. Of course, we talk mainly about the person we lost, and how we lost them. Perhaps we repeat ourselves at each meeting, that doesn’t seem to matter. We go into detail about the final illness, what the doctors said, what the children did or said, how shattered we felt, how grief is all pervading and how hard it is to pick up the threads of life afterwards. We all share that knowledge and understand. Spending time with other widows is easy and healing.


The other day I came home after a lovely long and chatty lunch with one of these widows. I was feeling relaxed and, after chewing the fat for several hours, I was ready to sit quietly and put my feet up back home. Before I reached the front door I was stopped in my tracks by a tremendous din outside the gate into the castle grounds. Those of you who pay attention to such matters know that my hedged boundary marches with an open expanse of greensward which is used by dog walkers and tourists visiting the castle. I rushed to the gate, the row really was fearful, with screaming and shouting and high pitched dog yelping. Lorna’s greyhound was attacking a smaller dog as well as Robert, its owner, both of them howling in pain and anger. Lorna was some distance away, but a friend walking with her was nearer my gate; looking down on the fracas I saw the greyhound turn away from Robert and his dog and run back to Lorna. Everybody was shouting by now, me included. As the greyhound reached Lorna she began to beat him with the doubled lead, viciously, with all her strength. Now the greyhound howled too. Seeing the carnage I screeched for Lorna to stop, which was the signal for her friend to screech at me. I couldn’t make out much of what she said but “you don’t know what happened, mind your own business” came across loud and clear. Lorna was still beating her greyhound and I was frantic to make her stop but Lorna’s friend screeched all the louder the more I tried to bring Lorna to her senses. Nobody paid any attention to anybody, all was uproar and noise. Perhaps it’s a good thing that there’s a steep bank between my gate and the path below where all this was happening otherwise I’d have rushed down and beaten Lorna with her own dog lead. And might have been had up for assault and battery myself.

By now Robert had picked himself up, gathered his badly bleeding dog, examined his own thigh which showed a deep bite and, cursing Lorna and swearing to involve the police he went off.  Apparently, this was the second time the greyhound had attacked Robert’s dog. This story was quickly all over Valley’s End, with everybody taking Robert’s side.

Lorna is a mad woman, everybody says so. In the evening she came ringing my doorbell, ostensibly “to apologise for her friend screeching obscenities at me” but really to convince me that she ‘has never beaten a dog before’  - not true acc. to consensus around the village - and that Robert only got bitten because he came between his dog and the greyhound. Some excuse! The greyhound is out of order and needs muzzling and training, not beating. According to Lorna he ‘fully understands that he has done wrong and equally understands that’s why I beat him” .  Did I say she is generally considered to be mad? When I remonstrated with her, pointing out that animals do not reason, she calmly said 'we must agree to disagree’.

The greyhound is still roaming unmuzzled, Robert’s and his dog’s wounds are healing, incurring hefty vet’s bills and some painful treatment for Robert, and the police have indeed been involved. Robert is grateful ‘for all the support he has received in Valley’s End’ and Lorna is licking her wounds, still promising to all who want to listen that she will do everything to keep her dog under control. So far nothing has happened. The next fracas is only just around the corner with everybody saying “what if it's a child being attacked next time?”.