Sunday, 7 March 2021

Midlife Crisis

 It’s only now, when midlife has long passed, that my midlife crisis is hitting me. ( Google says that Midlife crisis” may be another name for the grief, exhaustion, and anxiety that can affect people for a prolonged period between ages 40 and 60. The origins may be physiological, emotional, or societal.) When I was in early midlife my attention was on surviving. Now, in old age, for the first time, motivation is lacking, targets and goals have vanished and there is a panic-stricken feeling that time is not only passing too quickly but also being wasted. Could that just be the effect of Covid? 

I would love to be able to boast that all the idleness under Covid has encouraged me to broaden my horizons, to give serious time to serious reading, to watch critically acclaimed TV programmes, to catch up on concerts, plays and philosophical discussion, documentaries and improving lectures, all widely available digitally. What riches there are to be sampled, what depths to be explored.

No, sadly, what I have done is broadened my bottom instead, sitting for hours, watching endless repeats of ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Morse’ and ‘Poirot’. Yes, I have spent many hours reading, book after book, mainly novels, but of the calibre that needs almost no engagement of brain cells :’Mary Stewart’, Angela Thirkell’, 'Georgette Heyer’, ‘Marcia Willett’, ‘A. Mc Call Smith’, ‘Barbara Pym’, and others, whose names I have forgotten. Whenever that diet of 'warm bath’ literature has become too cloying I have picked up slightly more demanding non-fiction but for the life of me I have not been able to choose the option of reading Kindle-downloaded writers like Hilary Mantel, H. Jacobson, Garcia-Marquez, Sebastian Faulks, or Ian McEwan. I have a highly acclaimed production of Checkhov’s'Uncle Vanya’ recorded, ditto several series of ‘Deutschland’. They are all awaiting less fraught times. For now I need that warm bath escapism. 

I recently had an email from a former blogger who still reads blogs but no longer writes herself, saying that she felt a little intimidated by me, because: " You are so articulate, possessing an air of intellectualism and, with your considerable and impressive knowledge of literate, poetry, art and theatre; your husband, a Classical musician; your friends, most of whom seemed to be cultured and well educated, made it a little daunting to leave a worthwhile comment.”

Well, did you ever! Dear commenter, I don’t know if I am flattered but, if you are reading this, you will have been disabused of your false impression of me for good by this post. Intimidated, Goodness, Gracious Me.

As for further reading material, I picked up my March 81 diary last night, which had the following gem:

“A silly clot from the Gas Board came on Monday. He pronounced our Ascot Boiler unsafe for use. It is now an offence to use the thing. We know all about the danger from gas fumes and we are all quite careful about using the bath or shower, always leaving the window open. Nobody wants to die there, after all. Still, I suppose there will be a letter soon, giving instruction on future use. The silly fool trod in Kavli’s (the cat’s) toilet tray and tipped the whole mess over his shoes. He wasn’t particularly friendly when he came, he was even less friendly when he left."

I found some good advice easily adaptable to pouring over old diaries in "Finding Henry Applebee” by Celia Reynolds:-

"If you want my advice, kiddo, Uncle Frank once told him, you’ll do as I do and think of the past as a casual acquaintance: warmly, but not to the point you want to invite it over for a beer every other night of the week. “

Well said.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Words Words Words

"A word is dead, When it it said, Some say.
I say, It just Begins to live That day. "  Emily Dickinson

So many words, for good or for ill, and I am losing the power to speak them simply because the opportunities to do so are fewer and fewer. Talking to myself is just not the same. Although I have had some excellent conversations with myself, they usually finish quite soon, mainly because I tend to agree with what I am saying. As I always win every argument with myself there’s no point in it. I am also rather tired of the old ladies’ croaky voice I sport when I haven’t spoken for a few days and the endless clearing it takes before I am satisfied with what comes out of my mouth.

The other day I went to the front gate to drag the bins back in after collection just as the postman drove up. He stopped, stuck his head out of the van and asked: “Are you Mrs. W?” “Yes,” I said and took the mail he was offering me. That, dear readers, was the sum total of my speech that day.

Zoom meetings are such clumsy tools; you may say 'better than nothing' and I would agree, but how tiresome all the same. In small groups, say four or so, you are all waiting for the previous speaker to finish. Unless someone says your name, calls you up, as it were, after this pause you all speak at once, and nobody hears what anyone is saying. One to one is possible if both of you are polite and neither of you hogs the conversation. It’s difficult to interrupt the flow politely when facing a screen. 

Large meetings I find to be a nightmare. I was invited to join a group of fifty or so. The German Embassy had scheduled a virtual meeting with the subject of :”Brexit - now what?” for us Krauts resident in the UK. The speakers were ambassadorial experts on law, taxes, customs and excise, travel within the European Union and related matters, all of importance. All revised since Brexit. The experts were all men. By golly, don’t male experts talk. We could write in questions we had but were otherwise muted. And because the experts talked (and talked) our questions remained largely unanswered. I have a problem with long-windedness. I almost invariably switch off mentally. Being muted you can’t ask for the speaker to get to the point. I still don’t know if Aunt Betty can send me a jar of homemade jam without filling in reams of customs forms. And, of course, it would have been utterly impolite to ‘leave’ the meeting. Whereas, in real life, I can always find an excuse why I simply have to rush off, being properly, regretfully apologetic, of course.

For many years I have kept a diary, using 1000s and 1000s of words, maybe even millions. Because I am getting old I think of death and all the stuff I am leaving behind, unless I clear most of it away. Posterity is not going to want to preserve years of my pathetic scribblings; my children certainly won’t. At random, I picked exercise books of 81/83. Dear Readers, without hesitation, I can tell you, that if I met the past me I would not like her. It seems that I spent many bottles of ink and untold school exercise books to tell myself that my life was a disaster, that I really must do something about it, that nobody understood me or my sufferings. I was unkind to myself and everybody else, although there were few mentions of others, me being to a very large extent concerned only with spineless, whingeing me. Perhaps those particular months in 81/83 were particularly difficult, I no longer recall. What I will do, though, is read on, year after year. Surely not all the time before my new life with Beloved was miserable? He certainly wouldn’t have wanted to throw in his lot with a perpetual moaner? 

If I come across anything worth repeating, I might repeat it here.

“Be careful of the words you say, 

Keep them short and sweet.

You never know, from day to day,

Which ones you’ll have to eat.”




Sunday, 14 February 2021

Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

Fat raindrops race down the window pane,  avoiding the shiny, pearly patches of earlier gusts of rain sticking to the unwashed glass, and end in splatters on the lower frame. A busy wind ruffles and drives last autumn’s remaining shrunk and shrivelled leaves across the moss infested grass, to land at the foot of hedges. Blackbirds fight each other for any crumbs left from the handfuls flung out by my generosity; angrily they chase each other and bicker with sharp cries. Mine, all mine, they seem to warn. Were they kin last year? They look adult now, the aggressive males with bright yellow beaks and the females with their brownish speckled breasts, a little in awe of the males. The females might retreat while the male struts his belligerent stuff, but she soon comes back and sneaks food when his back is turned.

Neither Blackbirds nor the weather take the slightest notice of Valentine’s Day. No chocolates, hearts and flowers for me either. Except that I have already set aside a bottle of Rioja, a bit of steak and some liqueur-filled cherry chocolates for later. It’s too wet and cold to bother picking flowering stems in the garden, so no harbingers of spring indoors.

Many of you will know that Valentine’s Day is another of the Christian festivals that took the place of ancient pagan celebrations, for safety’s sake, of course, just in case Christians would be tempted to follow the ancient rituals of naked rampaging and the beating of women for the purpose of ensuring fertility. Plutarch’s description of Lupercalia leaves no doubt:


 "...many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Hardy folk those ancient Romans. Surely even in Rome the middle of February is cold enough for any man running around naked to be in danger of having his bits frozen off? 

A tad different from Hallmark’s contribution to the happiness of modern days females, who are content with a cheesy card promising eternal love and a few chocolates in a giant heart shaped box.

This must be my all-time favourite poem for Valentine’s Day;

‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Appreciating blogging.

 How sweet you are, how darling. Thank you for kind words; it is true, much of the pleasure of blogging comes from the feeling of community. 

When a blogging friend of mine, urspo at sporeflections, recently said that he had been blogging for 15 years, I decided to check on my own length of service. Last November I had done12 years. Heavens, you get less for murder, as my dil is wont to say. Mind you, she applies it to marriage rather than blogging.

When I started I was green and young at heart; if I was not, after all, going to become one of the great writers of the age I might as well try the very lowest form of writing, a positive waste of time, as my then writing teacher said. Much better to slog at something serious, she suggested. But she did agree that I had found ‘my voice’, loud and clear. Only much later did I learn what that means.

In spite of feeling shy and very tentative I soon enough mastered the blog format, true,  not gathering any followers, but discovering that writing down my thoughts, however hesitantly, brought a kind of pride. So I carried on, ever more relaxed and confident. I also discovered the joy of photography.

I’ve always had a horror of being deemed mediocre, something to do with kindnesses my parents felt obliged to send my way. “Is there nothing you can do properly?” was one of their favourite expressions. Heigh Ho, it’s a long time ago, yet it still rankles.

Inspiration came easily, Beloved and I had decades of bouncing ideas off each other, stimulation came in the form of plays, concerts, meetings with friends and the heated debates we shared, gardening, walks in the Shropshire countryside, giving a home to dogs. I also delved into my past, my life in a newly liberated Germany, history, bits of geography. Then there were the memes, the communal writing to a subject, often funny. By now I had amassed a respectable number of followers, sadly, Google took several dozen away from me because the bloggers didn’t have a Google account. However, I persevered.

Then Beloved died. It was hard to carry on, nothing made sense, much was pointless. For the last three years there have been huge gaps, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Covid made it worse, suddenly there was nothing to say, unless I went back to the writing I had done during the early to middle years, i.e., leave the daily boring grind behind. Skim the surface of life at present and find what gets caught in the sieve. I want to concentrate on being truthful rather than bang on about facts. After all, both in my country of residence and, say, the US, we have recently learnt that facts are easily bent out of shape, invented, and twisted to make ‘alternative facts’, which are fervently believed by millions of people. So, let it be truth, maybe a personal truth rather than a universal one.

I really hope my blog will change a little, set off in a different direction, maybe use some poetry again.

I blame reading poetry in bed for the very late hour, it is now 5.16 in the morning, time to go to bed.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

A Title? for this mess?

 It’s getting harder and harder to come up with an interesting blogpost. I don’t go out socially, I only meet people very casually on a walk, when we stand and shout at each other from a distance, or the people who come to help around house and garden. The main topic of conversation is Covid and vaccinations, who’s had one and who’s still waiting. I’ve had one, the first of the two Astra Zeneca ones, which are now found to be unproven for the over 65s in European countries. I had mine last Saturday and apart from a sore arm I’ve had no ill effects so far.

So, would you like me to tell you that we had a lovely morning and a very wet afternoon? No, why would you want to know? Would you like me to tell you about the several virus mutations appearing on several continents, two of them in the UK alone? No, you already know that if you are even semi-conscious. Would you like to know that a small bird flew into the window but then must have recovered and flown off again because I couldn’t see a body. (Unless, of course, a raptor chased it and snapped it up for dinner). 

But here’s something which might interest you: shall I tell you that I’ve put on several kilos during the lockdown lockup and decided to go easy on the chocolate and drink less wine in the new year? If I tell you that I lasted less than a week would you be interested? No, of course not, why would you.

So, how about this, seeing that today, the 2nd of February, is Candlemas,’St Mary’s Feast of the Candles’,(’Mariae Lichtmess’ in Germany), officially the Feast of the Purification and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Today therefore, in the Catholic Church, lights and candles are blessed and candlelit services and processions are held. In Germany these candles are lit throughout the year during times of sickness and stress and personal hardship. Just the thing for an epidemic, methinks.

Candlemas Day, plant beans in the clay
Put candles and candlesticks all away.

By this season it has grown light enough to do most ‘inside work’ without candles, the verse continues. Really? Not where I live unless people stop ‘inside work' at 5 o’clock. I hardly do any work at all in winter, inside or out, does that mean I don’t deserve light? Sometimes I wish I weren’t quite as lazy and unmotivated, had a bit more oomph. At other times I find laziness suits me.

Of course, today is also Groundhog Day, a weather forecaster not only in the US, although different kinds of animals are used as forecasters, a hedgehog might be the animal being so very unkindly roused from its hibernation in Germany.

If Candlemas Day bring snow and rain
Winter is gone, and won’t come again.
If Candlemas Day be clear and bright
Winter will have another flight.

And if your Candlemas Day brings both sun and rain, as mine did, what is the prognosis then? Wishy-washy weeks? 

And finally, a bit of advice:

A good farmer should have, on Candlemas Day,
half his turnips and half his hay.

Sorry, I have no idea what that means. Also, for the life of me, I cannot see what possible comments this post could provoke.

Monday, 25 January 2021

One very good reason to be cheerful

 or maybe several, at that.

Not the flood, naturally; that’s more or less what is expected in January, although it’s never welcome. There is a very minor river under all that water, I’ve posted many pictures of it over the years and periodically mentioned poor neighbours who regularly have to sweep mud and slime from their cottages. Today and yesterday we’ve been inundated with snow and ice on top of the floods and I’ve not wanted to risk going out.

Enough of the weather; I’ve learned a lesson on a totally unrelated matter, i.e., decision making is good for you. Very good. Coming to terms with, and accepting what one cannot change, is good too but I have already more or less learned that lesson in the past.

Let me tell you a story. I have new neighbours, well, newish neighbours; they moved in three years ago. Since then they have been renovating, knocking down and rebuilding, their very ancient cottage, parts of it dating back to the 14th century, and I am sure it’s quite beautiful inside. They aren’t very neighbourly in many ways, friendly enough when you meet them but not given to joining village life. That’s entirely up to them, of course.

Although our houses are a good distance away from each other we have a common boundary, consisting of partly fencing, hedging, an ancient stone wall and several red brick walls and the back of a falling down barn. 

“We need to start on the barn now,” said they one afternoon. There they stood in my garden, looking at the back of the barn. I agreed, the barn is in very poor repair. They weren’t actually asking permission, just telling me that they would need access from my side. Well, naturally, I thought, a week or two of disruption, but one has to be agreeable to neighbours in need.

A letter from the planning office arrived, as required by law, giving a website with details of my neighbours’ plans. Quite idly, with absolutely no malice intended, I checked the website, and found that they are not only planning to repair the wall but rebuild the barn and create a bijou residence with workshop, storage space and parking area combined. A sizeable undertaking indeed, nothing like the plan they had informed me of.

I rang them, she answered the phone and I could tell she was quite taken aback that I had taken the trouble to access the project website and wasn’t altogether pleased with their plans. She instantly shouted down the phone at me.

“You must have a very selective memory then,” she said, “ we told you that we wanted to repair the barn." Nobody shouts at me without retaliation. I did, however, stay polite.

The next day he came over and rang the bell. “I am not going to argue with you”, he said, “we are awaiting planning permission for the project as it is detailed in the application. Oh yes, and our builder says he needs to erect scaffolding on your land.” I was floored. Suddenly, I felt very old and very alone and very helpless. They were going to bully me into giving permission to use my land for their purposes, God knows for how long. I needed to gain time to think. “I need to understand exactly what is involved, bring your builder over to explain it to me,” I said.

Several days later the builder arrived; I was a nervous wreck by now, literally feeling ill and dizzy and unable to sleep.

A jovial type of chap, the builder was calm and friendly. I am sure he told me more than my neighbour liked. He showed me exactly how much scaffolding there would be, the tarpaulin that would have to cover it, the plants that would have to ‘be bent over’ or removed and how long he foresaw the work would last. “Three months minimum”, he said, “depending on what we find when we get started.” Have you ever known any builder who kept to his timeline? I haven’t.

I was almost shaking with nerves but said nothing more while I watched them move off. Having finally rediscovered the pleasure gardening gives me, after many years of neglect, my heart was sore at the thought of losing yet another year. When I mentioned it to him, all he could say was :” with all due respect, if you like gardening so much, haven’t you got all this other space to do it?”, waving his arm in the general direction of the back of the house. 

I hate it when somebody says “with all due respect”, it implies no respect at all; it’s what politicians say in interviews just before they become really rude. I was furious but still couldn’t find the courage to send neighbour packing.

For weeks I felt worse and worse, my blood pressure shot up, the dizzy spells accelerated, I dreamt horrible dreams every night, woke often, ever more tense. I am not exaggerating, I felt so awful I rang the surgery. 

And then, one weekend, I had enough. After agonising for weeks I finally recovered my backbone. I wrote a letter, telling them that there will be no scaffolding erected on my land, that I will give permission for any work needed to be done to the backwall, and only the backwall, from my side, that I am willing to put up with a builder or two and their ladders for as long as this work takes, but, and it’s a big but, that the rest of their renovation and rebuilding project is absolutely not my concern. Several times during our negotiations neighbour and builder assured me that the wall would be repaired from inside the barn; from which I understand that surely it is the main body of work which requires scaffolding, not the backwall. 

I haven’t heard a word since then. I am determined to stick to my guns. ‘With all due respect’ indeed.

Going back to decision making and how it’s good for you: from the moment I dropped that letter through their letterbox I’ve gradually felt better, my blood pressure is now back to normal, I sleep again, and the tense muscles in my back are relaxing.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Cheerfulness is Breaking Out ?

There are one or two reasons to be cheerful after all,  this winter flowering viburnum is one of them, even if the picture is, once again, of very poor quality. I have no idea how I can make photos clearer, as clear and focused as they were with the old Blogger. I am using the same camera and doing nothing different, that could account for it.

Life is more and more circumscribed in the UK, we are in the third lockdown and there’s little hope that we will climb out of the pit any time soon, vaccinations notwithstanding. I am still waiting for mine, but the advice is, that even after having received the vaccine, we are to remain vigilant and as close to home as possible. Staying out of circulation makes for a dull life and there’s little of any interest to blog about. Zoom meetings are a poor substitute for meeting in the flesh.

W.W. (wiry and willing) called today. He promised that we will soon be out in the garden again. There are jobs he can do now, like laying a crazy paving kind of path; all stones have come from the walls of the old castle which have got buried in the garden over the centuries since the castle was razed, and have since been dug up by me and Beloved and old gardener and kept aside for just such a purpose as the one I have in mind. I also want to lower all the hedges which have grown taller than necessary and take far too much light from beds. A job for W.W.’s chainsaw. Snowdrops are out in several places and aconites are just beginning to show their golden heads above last autumn’s leaf fall. More reasons to be cheerful! 

I really must go out more, while we had snow and ice I was worried about slipping and breaking something. Hospitals bursting at the seams with Covid patients are not an attractive destination at present. Amazing, how fear concentrates the mind. 

I am very fortunate that my son has stepped up to the mark, he rings me once a week, usually on Sundays, for a long chat. I had no idea that he has a well developed interest in politics, we only ever used to ‘just chat’, but now he is my weekly ticket to staying sane and letting off steam about the dire state of the world, in general as well as specifically. While casual meetings with like-minded friends are verboten, I miss a good old session of getting hot under collar. To the rescue comes son; we have an hour or more of serious raving and ranting and, boy, do we have something to rave and rant about! There is no need to go into details, there cannot be a single person anywhere who is not aware of the near tragedy, all of us, in our respective countries, might be facing. Still, as George Orwell said: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims... but accomplices”.

And finally (there has to be an ‘And finally’, as they have on the news, something silly and light, to make you go off with a smile on your face) : very occasionally I have contact with my ex-son-in-law, we might send Christmas emails or birthday wishes, we have remained on good terms through the years. Well, we had a light hearted correspondence during the festivities, nothing much about nothing much. But he ended his message with:

Onwards and upwards, and don’t give up on the blog… much of Shakespeare’s best output was penned during plague!

giving me an unexpected chuckle. Friko and Shakespeare, eh? I didn’t even know that he followed my blog.