Monday, 23 May 2016

My Own Worst Enemy?

On the terrace of the RSC Stratford-upon Avon
Beloved sitting on the left.

The thought has been in my head off and on for the past two weeks, so yesterday I googled it. Mr Google has the answer to everything and cites many examples of self-sabotage. Picking just one of the many, here is a psychiatrist and career consultant saying:  "We unconsciously respond to stressful situations in ways that hurt us.”

My situation is stressful, yet, there are women in Valley’s End who have a much harder row to hoe than me. And, in public anyway, they appear to be coping better than me.  I can tell they are tired, I can tell they wish things were easier, but they remain cheerful, they smile, they cajole and badger and drag their poor old relics into the bright light of public display. And it does both them and their spouses good.

I went to see my lovely GP for a minor niggle of my own and, him being an absolute gem of a man, he said that I must get out by myself at least once a week, that I must continue with activities I enjoy and, most of all, stay in contact with friends and have as much social interaction as is available.

And that is exactly where the doggie lies buried: I am not, never have been, a fan of organised or communal entertainment. The ladies I mentioned in the earlier paragraph are never happier than when they are in the company of many, sitting at a table for twelve, say, in fast and furious conversation, shouting louder than anyone else - in a nice way - and generally having a wonderful time.

We’ve tried it. We’ve joined a pensioners’ luncheon club. Beloved sat over his plate, miserable, deeply bored, irritated by the noise; I sat opposite him, equally bored, inwardly fuming. Why can’t we see these lovely people for what they are: salt of the earth and making the best of a bad job. My hearing is good, I can’t decide whether that was an advantage or a disadvantage during the riotous banter going on.

We have yet to try a daycare centre. On the face of it, it would be a good place to drop Beloved off while I continued into Shrewsbury for some me-time, but the moment the kind and compassionate staff showed signs of organising games and communal activities he’d grab his stick and crawl out of the place.

Call us stand-offish, conceited, superior twits, but we find a quiet lunch for four or a trip to the theatre much preferable. We did both, had a lovely lunch with a couple where the husband is in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s, when we mostly talked about books; we also went to Stratford to see a performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline with just two friends. Whereas the communal jollities happen frequently, the outings we prefer come round only occasionally, leaving us isolated and at a loss to know what to do for the best. Although I may wish we were temperamentally suited to join in and, in the safety of a group of sociable, boisterous and gregarious people, forget our woes, going against our nature - Beloved and I are very similar in that respect - won’t do us any good either.

Once life was joyful and exciting, complex and satisfying. Now we realise that it is finite and sad and can be intensely frightening. Whatever it is, it has to be borne. And I don’t believe that going with my instincts make me an enemy to myself.

To each his own.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Thanks very much anyway,

for the kind enquiries I’ve had from  many of you as to my state of mind and general wellbeing or otherwise.

You realise, don’t you, that if you ask me “how are you?”  I might just possibly tell you? No manners, that’s me. Telling you how it is is not at all the done thing in the UK and the correct answer is always “Not too bad, thanks” if you’re common and “Very well, thank you” if you’re posh,  even if you’re shortly to be thrown into the fiery furnace, weeping and wailing and gnashing your teeth. Like if you push your shopping trolley (hard, and maybe deliberately, because they’re slow and you’re in a bad mood)) into someone’s ankles they invariably turn round and say “Sorry”. Whereas I would quite likely say “Watch where you’re pushing that thing!"

And if you ask me “What’s new?” I have nothing to say at all, except maybe that the garden is overgrown and weedy, that Millie is getting fat for lack of walkies, that I’ve had three separate bouts of AFib in the last four weeks, but am feeling better (who knows for how long - see, there’s positive thinking!), that Beloved's still eating and drinking and sleeping, and making bad jokes, that I’m bored out of my skull and utterly depressed most of the time when I’m not stressed to the point of wanting to rip everybody’s head off.

Told you I’d tell you. Satisfied?

What’s even worse is that I’m compensating for stress and rage by eating chocolate, loads of it. And getting fat. Without chocolate I’m a fiend in human form, impossible to get along with. I did an hour’s round trip to get to my favourite chocolate shop on Friday, taking Beloved along for the ride and his own chocolate fix. What do you think happened? He ambled along the shelf, pawed a bar of the stuff here and there, put them all back and said “I don’t really feel like chocolate!”

On the drive to the chocolate-selling town we’d stopped off at a very fancy Food Centre, posh and horribly expensive, and what did we do? we argued about bread. Apparently, all bread has a rubbery edge now. Or so he says. He wished to explore the breads this Food Centre had on offer, he said in a posh voice. He’s good at big words in a posh voice. So I said that one of the freezers at home is stuffed full of bread of all kinds, shapes and sizes, wholemeal, sourdough, white, black, French pain de campagne, German rye, English soft. Very well, he says, no need for me to go in then, you go and buy what you like.

It was lunchtime, attached to the Food Centre is a restaurant, nothing fancy, good enough for a bite and a drink. We even had a table outside in the pleasant sunshine. Millie came too; she lay between us looking up first at me, then him, hoping for a handout. She was in luck. Beloved said his lunch of pulled pork was tasteless, practically inedible, chewy, too bready (bread again) and as for the salad, which consisted of rocket leaves, well, he said, how am I supposed to eat this? With my fingers? Apparently the fork wouldn’t spear the blasted leaves.

When, in the name of all that’s sane in this crazy world we have been pitched into, will we get used to the status quo? There is no hope. The prognosis is bleak and cure is there none. We can bicker and row and make the rest of our time together a penance or we can stop and enjoy what’s left. Positive action is the only thing that helps. How long does it take to accept your hand and play it for all you’re worth? Even the doctor said ‘it’s quality of life that counts, not quantity’. When I told her that I wasn’t going to nag Beloved into giving up his glass of wine, eating only the most sensible food, stopping him from sleeping several hours during the day, making him take exercise he can no longer cope with and any or all of the good advice handed out by helplines I thought she’d want to tell me off. But no, staying as happily together as we’ve been for many years was the thing to do, she said. Put the nagging on hold.

I am leaving the comments section open for this post. Although I am very grateful for your empathy, your kind thoughts and prayers, please don’t go soft on me. If I need anything, it’s a calm and competent and very thorough talking to, otherwise known as a kick in the backside.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Sheer Misery

There’s no point pretending it’s not happening. No point in sticking my head in the sand or hiding behind a nice big woolly mum. It is happening, it is real; Beloved is ill, both mentally and physically. It no longer matters who or what caused it, if last year’s medications tipped him over the edge we must accept it. Playing the Blame Game won’t make a blind bit of difference.

We are once again waiting for an assessment of his state of health and therefore in limbo. I have a permanent headache, feel flat, depressed and obsessed with the situation. It’s like standing at a carousel in the Arrivals Hall at the airport, helplessly watching a big suitcase full of demons going round and round and round and nobody claims it for their own, least of all me.

What on earth can I blog about? Perhaps I could start a new blog: 'The Road To Oblivion’. Or I could list the outings we undertake, singly or jointly, like meals with friends or in the pub, shopping trips; there have been some rare family visits, one where the visitors actually made a difference by clearing some long neglected jobs; there’ve been long or short walks with Millie, depending on the weather. Also depending on weather have been stints in the garden. Nothing has brought any lasting relief, that merry-go-round in my head is merciless.

So deep is this misery that I don’t want anyone to try and coax me out of it. When I told a friend how flat I feel she said that coming out with them to see a movie would be good for me, that I always seem to rally when circumstances demand it. I know all about brave faces and accepting their invitation might have been a good idea but afterwards I still have to go home and climb into my screeching head again.

I’ll come back here when the load lightens, or when we’ve had the assessment. In the meantime forgive me for wallowing in misery.


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Miracle of Spring

Come sweetheart, listen, for I have a thing
Most wonderful to tell you - news of Spring.

Albeit Winter still is in the air,
and the Earth troubled, and the branches bare,
yet down the fields today I saw her pass -

The Spring - her feet went shining through the grass.

She touched the rugged hedgerows - I have seen
her fingerprints, most delicately green.

And she has whispered to the crocus leaves,
And to the garrulous sparrows in the eaves.

Swiftly she passed and shyly, and her fair
Young face was hidden in her cloudy hair.

She would not stay, her season is not yet,
But she has reawakened, and has set
The sap of all the world astir, and rent
Once more the shadows of our discontent.

Triumphant news - a miracle I sing -
The everlasting miracle of Spring.

John Drinkwater
English poet and playwright

. . . .and has rent once more the shadows of our discontent . . . .
Triumphant news indeed. Whose spirits do not lighten on days such as these.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


Following news sources online is a mug’s game. There are too many sites which concentrate disproportionately on hyped and blown up bad news. Headlines scream at you, deliberately phrased in such a way that you are drawn in against your better judgement. Result: depression and feeling down-hearted. Yes, bad stuff happens all the time, but concentrating on it to the exclusion of good stuff doesn’t make it better.

Living in a phoney bubble of privilege and positivity is plain stupid, we must face reality. After all, we are part of the human race, living at this time,  constantly confronted with the awfulness of traumatic events. 

Desperate refugees pressed up against barbed wire, children with huge hungry eyes, mass shootings, politicians in the UK all but shredding each other over the EU referendum; and then there’s the surreal and well nigh unbelievable spectacle of Donald Trump. 

But there was better news too more recently:

What, really?
Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall? I can’t have been the only one whose face cracked into a huge sneery grin when the news came through. Finally, something to make me giggle. I loved the pictures of the happy couple, (particularly the close-ups), arm in arm, Jerry in flat shoes, so as not to tower over her shortish groom who's 84, and looks every day of it. 

And so Rupert plays his part. Shifting
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

However, it doesn’t do to make fun of Murdoch. At 84 his money bags can still cause our craven government to kowtow and let him have all the best programmes on the BBC for a song. Even for the man who can, and has, bought himself everything his mean and desiccated heart desires, the other man’s grass is always greener.

Not that you could mistake him for a sheep; a wolf in sheep’s clothing, more like.

Paul knocked on the back door today. The celandines are out in the hedges.Yes, it’s that time of year, March, the most exciting and provocative month in the garden, full of promise, with blizzards one minute and sun as warm as in May the next, with thunder and lightning, frivolous snow flurries, fierce storms pelting you with sleet and hail and soft breezes to make you throw off your hat and gloves. Yellow-gold March, with daffodil, coltsfoot, aconite, buttercup, dandelion and marsh marigold all vying for the attention of the earliest insects.  

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Permutations, Perambulations and Pictures

Millie is throwing me a dirty look from under lowered, speckled-white eyebrows: “Can we Please go out? It’s a lovely day.” 

“Oh, very well then.” She’s right, it’s chilly but the sun is out and I really shouldn’t waste the morning. I’m still very much up and down, given to mood swings, feelings of depression one minute, hopeful the next. A brisk walk in bright sunshine would surely do me good. 
It is indeed a cheery morning. We go up the old track leading out of Valley’s End towards Bishop’s Castle until we get to the crossroads, where we turn right, with our backs to Bicton Hill.

Ever since we’ve first lived here I have called this crossing of two field edge footpaths “Gallows Corner”. I can no longer remember who told me this but today, wanting to find out more about this gruesome, now disappeared, relic of past justice I asked several long time residents and local historians; none of whom had ever heard of it. Mr. Wells remembered the stocks next to the Town Hall, now the village museum, where wrong ‘uns, who had celebrated market day a little too carelessly, were shackled by their legs; I suppose they were lucky not to have been thrown into the lock-up proper from where they wouldn’t even have been able to see the fun, there being no window in the mouldy cell. On the other hand, well-meaning burghers might have pelted them with rotten vegetables?

Having walked along 'The Modems’ (again, I must find out why this track across the hill on the Southern edge of Valley’s End has this name), towards Radnor Hill we climbed the stile conveniently cut into the hedge into the next field.  Radnor Hill is mainly limestone, discovered and quarried by the Romans when they colonised this part of the country in the middle of the first century AD, and even today there are remnants of very early quarries on top of the hill, with several smaller and more recent quarries nearer the base.

Back down in the village, having slithered down a still muddy and steep path, via the old pool which has caused so much controversy and falling out of neighbour with neighbour, and along a small stretch of road past the entrance to the alms houses, we turned left to the allotments and the kissing gate, which leads to a track between two fields.  A kissing gate is a type of gate which allows people to pass through, but not livestock. The normal construction is a half-round, rectangular, or V-shaped enclosure with a hinged gate trapped between its arms. The kissing gate is often the subject of chatter about the origins of its amorous-sounding name. The prosaic answer is that it derives from the fact that the hinged part touches – or ‘kisses’ – both sides of the enclosure rather than being securely latched like a normal gate.

That hasn’t stopped many clinging to a more romantic notion: that the first person to pass through would have to close the gate to the next person, providing an opportune moment to demand a kiss in return for entry. I know which answer I prefer.

Kissing gates are often found at the entrance to church graveyards but there is no evidence that this has any symbolic significance.

Once we are through the gate - I have to hold it open for Millie and she snakes through without demanding a kiss - the field track to 'The Green’ lies ahead. (in spite of its name, ‘The Green’ is our tiny industrial estate consisting of three low and rather attractively built structures - one even has arched windows, like church windows. The industry pursued here is entirely rural, causing neither pollution nor noise.) The lower slope of Radnor Wood  is getting closer.

Three ponies and three sheep live in the paddock  at present. The field on the left has some kind of crop growing, possibly rape. Or perhaps winter wheat? I have no idea why just three sheep, when they are so plentiful everywhere else and are certainly never given any special treatment.
One of the ponies comes to inspect us. I often have an apple in my pocket, perhaps that’s why. Millie and the pony sniff each other but then lose interest. (‘The Green’ industrial estate is visible over the hedge on the other side of the paddock). At the other end of the field edge track we climb a stile and return to the village and the ford across the river.

Snowdrops and daffodils brighten he banks of the river. The waters have receded, although the river ‘was out’ when we had those endless heavy rains earlier this year and at the end of last year;  the levels have sunk, roads are clear and 4x4s can cross the ford again. I wouldn't like to try crossing in my small and ordinary car but then, I don’t have to. Valley’s End has a perfectly good humpback bridge built as recently as anno 1450 and still going strong. Well, with the fairly regular exception of lorries crashing into it, causing the locals no end of amusement while watching desperate drivers trying to extricate themselves without doing too much further damage. Many times drivers who had miscalculated the angle from road to bridge simply shot off, leaving the scene of the crime in as great a hurry as our narrow country lanes would allow. But, no more. Valley’s End has installed a camera! The guilty party will be caught and made to pay! Unfortunately, the parish finances are none too healthy and I am not sure that there was enough money in the kitty for both camera and film.

Millie was right to get me out. I am feeling much better. Tired, of course, after little in the way of exercise for several weeks, but I might take heart and go off again tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Well, there you are then . . . .

yet another reason to smile.

We made marmalade,
14 jars of it.

Although it’s a bit late in the year for making marmalade,
this lot should see us through to the end of it.
I use thinly cut Seville oranges which are at their best in January.
Mind you, it’s perfectly alright to cheat and use ready cut prepared oranges too.

Bittersweet and sticky,
marmalade on hot toast is real comfort food.