Thursday, 18 September 2014

Self Pity And Other Vices

When delving into the philosophy of how best to live life in midlife and beyond, many bloggers stress the importance of remaining productive, being positive, keeping busy, working for others via charitable deeds, and practicing gratitude for everything life hands out, every breath we take, every additional day we are granted. Idleness, self-indulgence, a bout of self-pity, a moan about ’the unfairness of it all’, some healthy self-interest, are castigated as unworthy, foolish, sinful. There’s that little word ‘self’ again. Perish the thought it should get a foothold!

Well, I don’t agree. Not in the blanket, no-deviation-allowed-ever way.

What did the ancient Greeks call a person who takes the afternoon off instead of concentrating on filing her (overdue) tax return? A lotus-eater! A diet not to be sniffed at in my opinion. What’s the point of having reached that famous midlife and beyond point if I’m still flogging myself into a frenzy of activity?

I am looking up poems for tomorrow’s poetry group meeting. The subject is ‘Happiness’, which, according to the advocates of all those virtues mentioned in the first paragraph, is the sure-fire result, if only you practice what they preach.

Guess what, not a single poem on Happiness I found, praises relentless positivity, busyness, rattling through the days on a quest for achievement, aching muscles and a to do list with every item crossed off. A bunch of lotus-eaters if ever there was one, these poetry merchants. They are happiest lying on their back in the grass, watching drifting clouds,  their reverie interrupted by the cries of a flock of geese. That’s all they need to set off a train of thought ending in something as fleeting and immaterial as a poetic idyll. (Unless they are enclosed in an attic, starving and warming their hands on the pitiful flame of a candle stub.)

I’m all for it. (The lying in the grass, not starving in a garret)

As for the most vilified sin of all, self-pity, who can say that they are entirely free of the occasional bout? Why is it considered to be particularly disgraceful? I see it as neither a virtue nor a vice, but simply an inevitable emotion. Others may sympathise with our misfortune, but the moment affairs of their own divert their attention, we are alone again, unconsoled. We have to be sorry for ourselves: nobody else can sympathise with us as steadily, as loyally as we, and it is from such sympathy that we draw strength to put a decent public face upon our misfortunes.

I’ll allow gratitude. Aesop, another ancient Greek, said ‘Gratitude is the Sign of a Noble Soul’. But I doubt he meant it in the sense of being grateful for all the nasty surprises life has in store for us. When the people of Delphi sentenced him to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, he cursed them. After they’d thrown him to his death off a cliff, the Delphians suffered pestilence and famine.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Sometimes Things Don’t Go So Well . . . .

but then again, they do get better eventually. Not only all good things, all bad things come to an end. It’s been that kind of a week. Up and down.

George rang to say that  Millie’s biopsy lab results had come in. Would I like to come and discuss them with her. (George is a girl vet, real name Georgina; I don’t think she can remember far enough back to when she was last called that.) Well, she said. why do things the easy way when complicated is an option. Talk about unusual, she said; personally, I’ve never come across another dog with the same symptoms.

This sample shows an extensive area of ulceration and superficial necrosis. There is a heavy cellular infiltrate dominated by granulocytes with a substantial number of eosinophils. There is haemorrhage. Lymphocytes, plasma cells and macrophages are also present. . . . .
...locally severe ulcerative dermatitis . . . . eosinophilic folliculitis and furunculosis of the face is present. . . .”

Enough already, this is Millie we are talking about, Millie, who is a sweet and gentle creature with a rare ability to stick her nose into all sorts of dungheaps and a well developed talent for scavenging, who loves everybody, animal and human and would never willingly forego the pleasure of demonstrating this love. The short diagnosis: Eosinophilic Dermatitis. No certain trigger, except possibly an allergy to arthropod bites or stings. Among even more uncertain other triggers. 

The only treatment for the condition is steroids. Although steroids hinder the healing process, the holes on Millie’s face are closing up; unfortunately, along the way she decided stitches didn’t suit her; she unpicked them,  and now she has a small scar on her nose which is permanent. 

All that before her second birthday in our house! (She’s nine-and-a-half now and going strong). In spite of her recent trials she happily comes for walks, although on our ramble to the blackthorn hedges on the Shropshire Way to pick sloes for Beloved’s wine making she appears to find her tongue a heavy burden to carry.

Paul and I made some beautiful compost this week. He is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Gardener in that respect. I wish I could help lighten his mood, but he is a true clinical depressive and we just have to be patient and wait for his medication to kick in. I really should know that the dead-eyed monster cannot be influenced but, in spite of knowing, I still find myself chatting brightly and encouragingly. Idiot woman. There’s a large dollop of selfishness in my thinking: although I am deeply sorry for Paul, I am also desperately worried that I might have to find yet another gardener which would send me into another black hole, being one of the causally afflicted.

Even on a dull day as here in this picture, our part of the world is an earthly paradise.
It’s rotten luck that sometimes the golden fields of paradise are obscured by gloomy skies.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

What’s HE Doing?

Thanks Hilary

The waiting room in the skin clinic was quiet; people were  reading, staring out of the window, occasionally shuffling their feet and drinking water from plastic cups filled at the water fountain. Although the clinic was busy, there were plenty of empty seats and the atmosphere was peaceful and patient. Everybody was middle-aged and older except for one young mother and her son, a little boy too young to be able to read but old enough to look at pictures and recognise what they depicted.

I had my Ipad to read; there was one empty seat between me and the little boy and his mother. The centre table held a pile of magazines which soon engaged the child’s interest. He fetched one magazine after the other and plonked them on his mum’s lap; once he’d collected the whole pile he asked mum to open them and to look through them page by page. So far so good, he was perfectly quiet and didn’t really disturb anyone else, except those who might have wanted to glance at a magazine themselves.

Now comes the bit I found to be worthy of comment: the magazines had pictures, the usual stuff,  people, cars, houses, etc. The little boy pointed to each picture in turn and said “What’s HE doing”, the emphasis on the ‘HE’ regardless of the subject.  Again, that in itself is no great cause for concern but to me the mother’s reaction to his unchanging question was. Invariably, patiently, kindly, she answered him by telling him that 'the car was shiny, the man smartly dressed, the house big, the lorry articulated', etc. etc. Never once did she do what to me would have been the most natural response, namely to invite the child to explore the picture with her and for the two of them to work out what was happening in it.

After about the 20th ‘What’s HE doing’, I muttered under my breath ‘You tell me, mate’. He heard me and very briefly looked at me, but quickly turned back, continuing as before.

Is learning really just being told what’s in front of you or is a great part of it discovering things for yourself, with the help of someone else naturally, working them out, browsing, getting them wrong sometimes but persevering nevertheless. It’s a long time since I had small children but I can’t remember ever just stuffing them with ready made answers to their questions. Not that they would have appreciated this, they probably complained that I ‘made a fuss’ and 'talked too much’.

There is this lovely story about David Attenborough  -  Godfather of Natural History TV  and one of Britain’s National Treasures  -  as a young boy finding an animal bone in the garden and taking it to his father, a GP, who pretended not to recognise it. Instead, they pored over zoology and anatomy books together. “They shared the excitement of discovery."

If one of the little people in your household shows open curiosity and a wish to explore, indulge them, and gently lead them on the path of discovery. You might even learn something new yourself.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Stupidity squared

I really shouldn’t give this book free publicity. Rarely have I been more cross with myself for wasting hours and hours on a book. Another 700+pager but, oh dear me, what a lot of rubbish.

BookBub or a similar site were advertising the title as an Amazon ’special offer' ebook; as I’ve seen the author in the Guardian bestseller lists I thought I’d give him a go. Bestseller lists are by no means indicators of quality writing; I really must remember that for the future.

So there you are in a story about the intended rape and plunder of a pharaoh’s hitherto unknown tomb with the regulation sets of baddies and goodies. The goodies do all the work and the baddies reap the benefits. Once, twice, three times. The goodies (who aren’t really much better than the baddies because they also plan to smash and grab for themselves rather than a worthy cause) don’t seem to learn that the baddies are only a step behind them at every turn and merrily and enthusiastically dislodge a whole river and mountain to get at the treasure, trusting all and sundry on the way with their secret (secret? shifting a river and half a mountain?) undertaking. Scores of people are mown down irrespective of creed, colour, holiness, except, of course, our heroes and heroines (yes, two very beautiful women also figure prominently).

Naturally, the baddies die horribly, each separately and slowly and our heroes emerge victorious. Even more nauseating, the author inserts his name into the story as the famous chronicler of such derring-do throughout the book, just in case we forget who is serving up this delightful dish of tripe.

Why did I persevere?
a) because I am stupid and
b) I wanted to see the ending.

Although I skipped a lot of the book during the last third I was hoping he would surprise me and do what he did to the river: diverge into an untried channel. He didn’t, he stayed true to formula right to the bitter end.

Friday, 29 August 2014


What is it with me and, no doubt, many others.
You know that what you are doing isn’t good for you. Experience has shown that that is so and you have often paid the price. And yet, you refuse to learn.

"It needs doing”, is what you say. Or  “It’s my duty”.  Or  “But I enjoy it”.
“Maybe this time I’ll get away with it”.
“Let’s just test the waters, no more than a toe .... "
“I promise to stop at the smallest sign”.
“I’m sure it’ll be alright”.

Luckily, it was. At the first sign of trouble I stopped, terrified. Sat down, swallowed my medicines and waited. Pathetically whimpering “please, please, not again.”  Not out loud, of course, that would be too shameful. I do have a bit of dignity left, in case you’re wondering.

Stretching up into the plum tree, picking what the birds had left, then heaving a dozen heavy fork loads of damp vegetation from one compost bin into the other, following this with filling the green wheelie bin ready for garden rubbish collection and dragging it 170 yards down the drive to the road, none of that would have fazed me before. In fact, it would have been barely a couple of hours work.

I hate that I can’t do this now without repercussions. It’s not fair. Not bloody fair.

How stupid of me that I can’t get it into my head that things are what they are and that the judicious application of common sense would ensure a relatively trouble free existence for many years to come.

“Yes, but ..........

"Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain,” so old Friedrich von Schiller said.

I left the fork leaning against the compost heaps. Every time I go by I pick it up, load it up and dump the load into the next bin. One or three forkfuls at a time. I wonder how long I manage to restrict myself.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Swings and Roundabouts

Did I sound just a tad smug in my previous post almost a week ago? Being self-satisfied and boasting about how good things are never pays off. Not for me, anyway. This week has been a humdinger for stumbling blocks and domestic misery.

Paul the gardener called for a morning’s work; hardly had we got started when heavy clouds chose Valley’s End, and my garden specifically, to shed their load. Paul carried on regardless, so I couldn’t chicken out. We adjourned to the compost heaps under some large trees - the rain was less wet there - and chatted while we worked. Suddenly Paul burst into tears. “Sorry”, he sobbed, “I just don’t know what’s wrong, I’ve been very weepy and desperately depressed for days.” He knows that I understand, being a depressive myself, so I let him talk and made appropriate noises. There’s nothing else you can do. Eventually he calmed down and we continued working.

I spoke to him a day later and he said that the cloud had lifted, he felt much better and hoped he wouldn’t need to weep into my compost next time. I suggested that peeing into the compost might be better than crying. We also agreed that it would be more productive if he didn’t top himself until he’d helped me to lick the garden into shape. Gallows humour. Depressives find that sort of talk funny.

Then the dog came home with new lesions on her face. The last course of treatments was to have sorted them out permanently. Back we went to the Vet’s Surgery. “Come back in the morning”, Sarah said, “and let George have another look at her”.  George had seen her before, as had Anne and Percy, two other Vets. So that makes four opinions altogether, so far. George said all that remained to do was to take blood samples and undertake a biopsy under full anaesthetic.  Millie has become a very expensive dog, and there’s no end in sight to the Vet’s bills. But we love her.

She had her op on the same day as Beloved had to be taken to hospital for a consultation with another one of his many specialists. This pretty much meant that I was on the road from nine in the morning to near six in the afternoon, ferrying Millie and Beloved around. I get tired and a long day’s driving and hanging about is not what I had planned for my old age. I was exhausted at the end of it, looking forward to some time off.

Then, out of the blue and without any prior warning, two basins in the downstairs loo and bathroom seized up. Nothing would shift the water. A plumber was called and his attendance promised for the following day. And the day following that day. He still hadn’t called this morning. We have other wash basins, so the lack of these two in the bathrooms was inconvenient rather than serious . . . . . . .

. . . . . until the boiler which supplies hot water and heating for the whole house packed up. It sits next to one of the basins.  One minute Beloved was doing dishes under running hot water, the next the water turned cold. The boiler man from Bosch was called and his attendance promised for next Thursday.

“What?” “Next Thursday?”

We had only just had a service done and paid through the nose for it. Bosch is a very reliable firm and they pride themselves on the perfect workings of their product. We wouldn’t dream of having any other boiler, and the only engineer we would let near it would have to be a Bosch trained one. They are expensive, but worth it for the peace of mind. Until something goes wrong . . . .

“Calm down”, the lady at the other end said. “That’s just for the records. I will of course, right now, see if one of our engineers is in the area before next Thursday. I’ll be in touch”.

She was as good as her word. The engineer called this morning. “Nothing much wrong with the boiler”, he said. I’ll fix a new fan, it sounds a bit rough. Still, while I’m here, I’ll have another look”.

“Funny”, he said, "the boiler seems to be full of water. Did you say this basin is blocked?”

It turned out that the boiler is a condensation boiler and needs an outlet for the condensation it produces. (Aren’t I clever, I understood that!) And its outlet was blocked.

I was ready to go spinning down the plughole myself by now. The plumber supposed to come and fix the blocked drains still hadn’t called. I rang Kevin, his boss, the owner and slave driver of the building company involved and complained - well, threw myself on his mercy. Beloved says I’m good with people like that. Besides, we frequently use the company and always pay our bills on time.

Kevin came within the hour, had a chat with the boiler man who was just packing up his equipment and set to work.  He took apart pipes in both rooms, found nothing, opened manhole covers outside, found nothing, and scratched his head. “I’m going to have to take the bath panel off and see what’s under the bath”, he said. He did, found the blockage in a complicated junction of pipes from several directions, removed it, replaced the pipes, fixed the panel back into place, and after a bit of a clean and tidy up, you wouldn’t know anything had been amiss.

So there you are, keep flushing your pipes thoroughly, and all will be well. I wish the same could be said for Millie and Beloved. Not to mention my own pipes.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Blogallimaufrey - A Weekend in August

Sometimes, I just potter. Days without plan, without purpose,
days when I can land on any activity I fancy, at any time, suit me well.
They don’t come around very often but this weekend was a real treat.

Digging around in the ‘spare’ freezer I came upon two bags of last year’s plums.
This year’s crop is all but ready to pick, so what to do with them?
Why, make a few pots of jam, of course.


And then there’s the garden, an hour here and there is always a pleasure. It’s neither hot nor cold, fairly dry, perfect weather for some pruning, chopping back and even a touch of weeding. The clumps of daisies, faded now and wilting, have gone, weeds have been pulled from cracks in the paths and a few shrubs have been thinned and pruned. The currently freshly filled compost heap is gigantic; it’s needs turning and shovelling into the one next door, which is still filled with ripe and ready compost. That’ll be a job for Paul when he next comes.

But there’s been a lot of standing and staring in admiration as well. The flame bush is out, the shrub border which has lost all its flowers is looking very interesting and the flower border proudly presents an attractive display of late summer flowers.

Yes,  for once  I am pleased.

Just look at clematis ‘Abundance’, climbing high up into the plum tree.  It’s name is a fitting one.  In one season, after being cut right down to the ground the preceding autumn, it climbs and rambles and spreads itself without thought for any other plant in its path; even a tree doesn’t stand a chance. Up and over it goes. The flowers last for weeks, right until the early frosts. Anyone who has a tree that looks better dressed up could do worse than try ‘Abundance’. It’s fully hardy too.

Not a bad show for late summer.
Yes, I am quite pleased, for once. 
I complain too much about weeds and mess and disorder,
I should take a step back and look at the overall picture more often,
forget about weeds.


A neighbour came to collect Millie for an hour’s walk this afternoon.
That meant that we could take our time over Sunday lunch
and enjoy the best part of a bottle of Merlot with our meal.

But I didn’t want Millie to feel abandoned by her mum so I gave her a very thorough brushing in the garden when she came home. That is a big pile of dead fur. During her last illness, which was most probably due to a deep seated infection caused by mites getting into the skin and erupting into small, bloody, craters all over her nose, she was on steroids and antibiotics and parasite repellent for her coat, all of which came with nasty side effects, making her feel a bit sorry for herself. The medication didn’t improve the condition of her coat either. But she’s getting better and the thoughtful expression on her face is mainly due to the close attention she is giving to a large treat in her mouth, which takes some serious chewing.


The rest of the time I have been reading. A never ending yarn of 832 pages, ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton, a hugely entertaining novel about the New Zealand goldrush of the 1860s. It’s a fascinating story of hardship and skullduggery,  a consummate literary page turner, intricately crafted and beautifully written. But it definitely requires staying power. I have reached page six hundred and fifteen.  An awful lot of words.