Friday, 7 September 2018

Did You Know . . . .


that ‘The functions of the Mistress of the House resemble those of the general of an army or the manager of a great business concern.’

I have been dipping into 'The Housekeeping Book' of olden days and all sorts of wonderful information, instructions, prohibitions, advice to young women and new wives can be found within.
I particularly like the capitals for the Mistress of the House and the lower case used for a general and a manager, be they ever so lofty. Mind you, the Vicar of Wakefield had it that : ‘The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queans’. (I looked up ‘queans’ - it means an impudent or badly behaved girl or woman, or a prostitute.) Serviceable to whom, one wonders. Independent minded women have always got short shrift from the mainstream of domestic theorists, so many of them men.

Having had little interest in new clothes for the past two years this interest was rekindled when I had a very close look inside our closets and wardrobes and chests of drawers; Beloved’s stuff has all gone now, apart from his dressing gown, a summer anorak and a couple of his favourite shirts, all items I now wear. Ditto some of his thickest and warmest socks, which will come in very usefully during the winter. However, my own clothes are sadly lacking in shine and rather shabby after years of wear and needed replacing. I get fashion catalogues and emails sent from fashion houses and department stores, all unsolicited (I may possibly have bought items in the past), so I consulted these. I hadn’t purchased new clothes for so long that I was horrified to see the prices. Nevertheless, a few tops, shirts, trousers and leggings (for the gym) arrived in due course and I admit it feels good to be wearing something that isn’t falling to pieces with age. I like the look of myself again, too.

Be that as it may, the activity of purchasing does not please one lady author, who had this to say: ‘This ranging from shop to shop has given origin to a fashionable method of killing time, which is well-known by the term “Shopping” and is literally a mean and unwarrantable amusement. I wonder if she would absolve me from blame, as I did my “Shopping” on the internet. I wish I could amble from shop to shop, all along the High Street, and take my time, browse around a bookshop, have a meal somewhere, linger over a cup of coffee and watch the world go by. I may be fancy-free and independent, but I am still accountable to Millie. Poor dear Millie, she is quite decrepit now, although her steroid medication has given her a renewed lease of a semblance of a doggie life. Her hearing is gone which makes her difficult to organise; I also think she has dementia, she does not want to let me out of her sight. Leaving her alone is a problem, there are just two houses where she knows her way around and feels safe, my friend Jay's, who is dog mad and Millie’s best friend and my other friend Ralph’s, who bosses her around in a nice way. I am having the suspicion of dementia being present because all her routines have changed, whereas before she had regular favourite bedtimes, doggie beds and toilet habits she is now all over the place. And yet, she still has a reasonable quality of life and eats well and happily, is fully continent, and appears to be happy provided I’m close. If I have to leave her alone it’s usually for no more than a couple of hours.

My leg is getting better. The swelling is now confined to the ankle and heel and even there disappearing noticeably, almost by the day. I have had all these weeks of mostly sitting and reading with the odd little Millie walk and a potter in the garden. When the summer was at its hottest I reclined gracefully and read novels, taking sips from cooling drinks. I am glad, that by living long after The Housekeeping Books’s strictures, I escaped its censure of indulging in the much decried pastime of reading novels. Apparently, young ladies were wont to indulge and could therefore not hope to achieve the heights of the housekeeping skills necessary to make a good match and thus become serviceable in life.






Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Onward and Upward


but not looking solely towards the future rather than being in the here and now. Continual learning is an essential part of life. (I looked up the difference between continual and continuous and have plumped for the former, continuous learning might be too headache-inducing).

Anyway, I had one of those lightbulb moments the other day. I took courage and invited three friends to supper, two came and one cried off; the three of us had a lovely evening. These ladies are easy to get along with, chatty, we had a conversation consisting of personal details, a bit of gossip, a few remarks about the state of the world; a friendly conversation in spite of quite marked differences in opinion. There was the first lesson: you can be on good terms even if you are not in agreement about quite serious matters. I had decided to go easy on the work involved, no hours of preparation, slaving over a hot stove; this was the menu:

cold smoked wafer-thin meats 
olives and feta cheese
crusty French bread
ice cold Zinfandel to drink

marinated lemon and herb chicken breast filets
roasted mediterranean vegetables
baby potatoes
Merlot

chocolate fudge brownie and cream

coffee

Looked at quickly it seems quite impressive but none of it was work. Shoving a dish of chicken filets and a dish of vegetables in the oven is no work at all. I burnt the fudge round the edges but as we were only three and not four as planned the middle of the dish was sufficient for our appetites. Second lesson: even when half the food served is bought at the deli the meal can still be interesting and good to eat. Something to remember for my next supper, I might even invite a chap or two, although I may have to put more effort into ‘sparkling’ conversation.

At the moment I am rather obsessed with the near future. I made two appointments with my favourite doctor, just to ask him for his educated guess as to my longevity or otherwise. I cancelled both appointments. You can’t just walk into the surgery and demand “how long have I got”; “what plans should I make” ; what hassle can I spare myself?” Solicitors and legal matters, house renovations, finance plans, even holidays. Round and round in my head they go. No longer having the person with whom you used to make decisions near leaves you a bit breathless. I don’t have family to consult - well, I have my son, of course, but I don’t think that I’d find his advice totally acceptable. He is a lovely man but we differ in basic ways of looking at the world.  

Apart from the damaged leg I am actually quite well at the moment, there is no reason to think that I might not survive for a good few years yet. Which is more or less what one of my friends said. She sounded quite nonplussed at my dithering about what needs doing. “But you’ve decided to stay in the house,” she said, implying that " there are maintenance jobs pending, there are legal matters after your husband’s death to settle, there are financial provisions to sort out". How right she is.
There is no need for advice on the necessity of doing these jobs, just maybe on how to do them. (Just to clarify: this lady is ninety and has been a very active widow since her husband died some years ago.)

So, lesson three: don’t go round and round in circles, look at the actual, current, situation and start at the beginning, in the here and now, not in a nebulous and possibly frightening future. So today I have booked a plumber to change some taps and sort out my aged radiator thermostat systems. 










Sunday, 5 August 2018

Backsliding

is my default position, it seems.
Not so long ago I promised myself that I would accept every invitation - well, ok, not the ones that primarily benefit others and cause me a lot of effort and mental and physical expenditure for little return - but my good intentions have already fallen by the wayside.  And for nearly three weeks now I’ve paid the price - that is if you believe in ‘just deserts’. Which I don’t. If there were such a thing as just deserts in this world a lot of people would not lead the happy and prosperous and untroubled lives they live.

Back to me and invitations. A big 70s birthday bash came first. The hosts had hired a hall, caterers, musicians, drink, and everything that makes such things successful. The celebrations were to embrace a ceilidh, my first, and a slight source of nervousness. Country dancing and singing? In public? Without being drunk? Maybe not.

Then came an invitation to an 80th birthday bash, again with food and drink, music and lots of people. Again I found a reason why I shouldn’t go.

The last major invitation was to the wedding of a young friend of mine. It was to be a huge do, with a big marquee in her dad’s field, sit down dinner and a dance at night. The event of the year, with ladies in hats and gentlemen in formal suits for the church service. I saw no way out, had had to accept when the invitation first came, several months ago. I no longer have formal dresses and ordinary day clothes would not have been suitable, so I searched the internet for something neither too expensive nor too formal, coming up with exactly nothing. Smart trousers, jacket and a silk shirt would have to do. I was less and less enthusiastic about the whole thing; you know what it’s like when you feel you must make the effort but really and truly would prefer not to? The idea of sitting in a marquee in 30C, dressed up and unable to put your feet up, surrounded by people you don’t know except for the immediate family of the bride who would, naturally, be too busy to attend to you personally, did not appeal.

And then it happened. An actual bona fide excuse for not going to the wedding of the year (locally) fell into my lap. Or rather, I fell into the excuse. Gardener and I were out, I was about to show him a bit that needed his attention, marched there ahead of him under full sail, saw a dog poo in my path, swerved, and landed in the dip between a flower bed and the lawn in my heeled mules and promptly fell flat on my face, luckily avoiding the dog poo. I scrambled up, gardener laughing his head off, my dignity badly dented but otherwise apparently unharmed if somewhat sore. I thought little more of it and continued gardening.

Two days later the first big bruises appeared. Then my leg swelled up, more bruises appeared, the colours deepening into midnight blue. Now, nearly three weeks later, I still suffer. The doctor says I must have ruptured a blood vessel and bled internally. “It will get better eventually”, he said, “your foot will be the last part affected. Don’t worry if it swells up.” Thanks for reassuring me, doctor, I’m awaiting results.  “In the end the blood will be reabsorbed and the discolouration will probably disappear too”.

For a good two weeks I have spent the days sitting in an easy chair with my very painful leg on a footstool covered with cushions, read and watched (whisper it), daytime TV. And been bored out of my skull.

What do you think, is this ‘just and fair punishment' for inventing excuses (well, actually, lying) to my friends in return for their kind invitations?




Sunday, 22 July 2018

Can’t stay away

in spite of feeling that I have nothing to say. I am feeling a little sheepish about having been away for so long.

It’s been up and down, mostly up, the past two months. In fact, most of the time it feels like I’ve turned the corner; you may not understand when I say that I am coming back into myself, that I am not on the outside looking at the strange ‘me’ I was for more than a year, but that that ‘me’  and the ‘I--myself’ I have always been are closing in on each other. Of course I am often sad but being solitary is not in itself a dreadful thing. Having decided to stay not only in Valley’s End but in my house until such time as I either must, or wish to move, has taken one major decision out of the equation. Sure, there are several other decisions to be made but they are not as life changing as a move. Which means that I can take my time over anything else. And if I don’t want to do anything, well, I won’t. In any case, perhaps the decision will be made for me when the idiots who call themselves ‘our government’ back themselves into such a corner that they take revenge on EU citizens living here without British passports and expel the lot of us.

I still follow the news obsessively and what sad reading it makes. Is humankind really turning into a nasty, mean, hateful, selfish, greedy, unkind mass? Sometimes I’m glad my years are numbered except that I feel guilty for leaving a huge mess behind for the next generation to clean up. Does every generation feel like that? Statistically things are getting better, poverty, disease and wars are decreasing, it just doesn’t feel like that. Perhaps the current older generation is the first without first hand experience of war, wide spread hunger and lack of basic necessities. We have food, clean water, shelter; we brought up our children to expect the same for themselves and their children, we live in peace and security. And still the world feels like a hostile place and far too many are viciously opposed to grant these blessings to those human beings who lack them.

What do I do? Stop reading and watching the media or get involved? My quiet little backwater allows me little personal involvement other than perhaps make donations to organisations that try to make a difference.

Organisations that deal with the continued existence of our planet are close to my heart and hand. When I look at my garden I could weep. This being  the first year that gardening has featured on my pleasure list for several years, when old gardener and I have worked hard on at least two days a week, it’s been all for nothing. Or nearly nothing. Clumps of herbaceous perennials have dried up, shrubs are drooping and even trees are shedding leaves from the stress of coping with temperatures way beyond our experience. From Algeria in the west, to the Arctic Circle in the north and the Baltic States in the east a huge swathe of land is sweltering in unnatural temperatures. Similar conditions are devastating Japan, Africa, Canada, North America, Australia. Sweden, country of snow and ice for months on end has asked for help with huge forest fires. The global forecast is for more rainstorms in winter and heatwaves in summer. Here in the UK the effects are relatively mild, although we have hardly any rain this summer and scorching temperatures, the heath fires have been put out and we have so far only reached the lower 30sC. Too hot for me, at any rate. I hardly move between midday and 5 o’clock. I have read an awful lot and also watched quite a bit of afternoon TV. Of course, I am lucky, there’s no need for me to move if I don’t want to. I go to the air conditioned gym to cool off.

For the first time in a thirty year marriage I am marrying our books. We always had his and her shelves before, now I am sorting through both, discarding some and reorganising the rest. Boxes and boxes go to charity shops, some antiquarian books I hope to sell, novels are shelved in alphabetical order, others arranged according to subject matter. Any of the novels I will never want to read again go into the give-away piles. I seem to have chosen to read  many more non-fiction books than fiction recently, have also started to buy new ones which is possibly rather stupid of me. Out with the old - in with the new.

For everything there is a season and not just a season but a whole new chapter of life. This is my fifth chapter: childhood and youth, a first very miserable marriage, a period of hard work and child rearing, and a second very happy marriage. I am settling into this latest, and probably last chapter of my life with renewed hope and the realisation that even now, and on my own, there are joys to be had.



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

Change

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.