Friday, 31 July 2020

Good Intentions

Under the huge weight of the pink rambling rose stretched along the middle halfway up the picture are a brick wall, a wooden trellis and a garden door. The trellis is broken, the wall is cracked and the gate is held shut with string. HH (handsome hunk, how could you forget) will come and mend, as soon as the rose has finished flowering. The rose will be chopped and chopped and chopped, until there is little more than it’s thick trunk. That beauty is more than twenty five years old  and still going strong.

I feel like time is standing still. Time was when things just happened, then they were over. Time just passed. We always come to the end of things, it’s a kind of relief to know that. Is that true still?

Urspo, in a slightly pensive post, reminded me of Beckett's ‘Waiting For Godot’, a play exclusively about waiting, waiting for an event that never happens. Is that what happens to us? Will there ever be a vaccine and a solution for Covid19?  Or will we sit, like Vladimir and Estragon, in this desert of humanity’s own making for evermore? Will it help if I turn a blind eye and do what Voltaire suggests in Candide :”Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” I want to take this line literally, without looking for Voltaire’s social criticism. Candide exposes the failings of his society but at the end of the novel, Candide and his companions find happiness in raising vegetables in their garden.  The garden represents the cultivation and propagation of life, which, despite all their misery, the characters choose to embrace.

A lesson to be learned, all the way from the 18th Century. Tending one’s garden (whichever way you read that) is the only way to live.

I have said before that in these uncertain times I turn to either non fiction or novelists who amuse me. Nora Ephron is one such, she can cheer me up during the darkest days. In Heartburn she has a paragraph which seems to be written for 2020:

What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles.

Tired of Covid, tired of this Vale of Tears we find ourselves in, I will turn my attention to happier thoughts. Will you?

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Losing (Trivia) in Lockdown

Lots of important things have been lost, of course, but here I am talking of the much less important ones. Perhaps I shouldn’t use this heading; those of you who have lost loved ones, jobs, livelihoods, have my heartfelt sympathy and I hope that time will heal the pain and anguish you feel.

In my own case, losses I can immediately put my finger on are trivial indeed. It starts with holes, the holes in my earlobes. I have not worn much else than leggings, baggy t-shirts and loose trousers, bare feet or socks for close on four months. Ear rings are not part of such outfits. I love ear rings and often wear them in ordinary times, but not now. I don’t really know why not. I went through the common or garden jewellery box the other day, again, don’t know why, and the jumble of stuff inside made me lift up some very simple danglers and try to put them in. Not a chance, poking them into my ear lobes really hurt. My holes have disappeared.

There isn’t really much point in trying to wear outdoor clothes with waist bands. I have most definitely lost my waist. When I complained, Wendy said :” that’s age dear, waists disappear as you get older”. If you say so, Wendy, but in my case the expanding waist measurement may be due to age but ageing is ably assisted by chocolate. Being lactose-intolerant I shouldn’t eat chocolate other than the non-fattening 80% sort but I do like a truffle or two, even if it gives me diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Who coined the phrase "being one's own worst enemy”? I wonder if they had idiots like me in mind?

Next I tried the car. I haven't driven anywhere ever since the beginning of lockdown and what with things easing I thought I might get to the optician and also go for a haircut. Really, I am quite glad that my current glasses don’t allow me to see myself clearly, I look like a witch! Not the one with the black cape and pointy hat but the ‘old witch’ with grey hair sticking off her head. Anyway, the car was a non-starter, literally. No sign of life when I clicked the key at it, not even the doors moved. Battery dead as a doornail. My helpful mechanic came, did some magic and towed her away to charge up the battery overnight. She is now back in the garage, still not being driven although I am determined that I will use her soon, before I need another expensive charge-up.

Something of much greater importance to me, and not nearly as trivial as the above, is that I seem to have lost my confidence. When my son was here he took me to a couple of supermarkets in local market towns. I had a short list but lists have never before stopped me from dawdling in the aisles, letting myself be persuaded by clever marketeers to try this or sample that product,  and load my trolley with on the spur-of-the moment items. Not this time, I felt totally unsure of how to negotiate the aisles, the direction in which I was supposed to travel, how to stay away from other customers, not to linger and take my time over the item to choose, how to approach the cashier and how to pay for my small haul of groceries. My hands were literally shaking, I fumbled with bags and didn’t dare to get closer than two metres to the next person in the queue. I have to say that everybody was very kind, the cashier must have seen how nervous I was and he called me and my hand basket to the front of the queue because everybody else had full trolleys. Both my son and I wore masks throughout while only maybe half the other shoppers did. The store was by no means full. I was seriously glad to get out again and all the way home I felt trembly and fearful inside. What has often been a pleasure has become something to be afraid of.

How will I cope when life demands that I set foot outside my comfort zone?

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Living through the Pandemic

Everything arrives at my front door, heavies like sacks of bird feed, garden supplies like grit, potting compost, horticultural sand, fertilisers; not so heavies like groceries for me and friends who cannot get their own delivery service going, small parcels, large parcels, desperately needed parcels as well as a few - a very few - treats. None of the delivery men/women ring the door bell, apart from the groceries everything is left either on the doorstep or on the bench in the ever open shed door.

No problem, as the front door is totally secure; the only time I get cross is when there are parcels of plants left withering in the sun. They are usually baby seedlings, hardly able to survive without instant attention.

Deliveries have taken off in a huge way, this business is one of the few profitable ones. I always say a heartfelt thank you when I catch the drivers, for making my life easier. All those essential services I didn’t even think about before the pandemic, suddenly assume giant proportions.

In spite of existing restrictions I am still relatively contented. I am not even keen on going back to the local café; a friend rang to invite me to meet there but I turned her down. The German Conversation group has invited itself to a meeting at my house; I have insisted that we can only meet in the garden, not indoors. If it rains, well, then I hope they bring brollies! Or have the sense not to turn up. The more I read about the long term after-effects of Covid-19, not to mention the severity of the illness for oldies with pre-existing health issues, the less I feel tempted to socialise on any but the smallest scale. Just think how much wiping and disinfecting I’d have to do before and after the event!

Having said that, I do go and see, or welcome, a friend or two at a time. Yesterday we had coffee in Wendy’s garden, three of us sitting and nattering for two hours solid. Politics, gardening, music, the meagre repeat fare available on TV, gossip about all the silly people who ignore Covid19 rules - we had a lovely time, hardly wanting to stop.

I am more careful about restrictions than is laid down at the moment. We are governed by such an incompetent bunch of liars and morons it is as well to make up one's own mind about staying safe. The science says that a second wave of infections is more than likely during the coming winter, at the same time as the flu season arrives.

My son came for two days earlier in the week, “for a working visit”. And work he did. I was amazed at how he got through the tasks, never imagining that he would indeed see off such jobs as taking eight huge builders’ bags of green waste, several heavy windows, half the junk in the garage, a broken down bird table on legs and a dozen or more large plastic bags of weeds, collected over the whole of the spring, to the dump. It took six separate trips! I had spent weeks worrying how I was going to get rid of the stuff. A very useful chap to have around, I am glad to say.

Gardening is still my main occupation, WW and HH have both come up trumps and, although they certainly don’t give their services for free, they are getting through all those long neglected jobs, allowing me to realise that I am catching up with myself. I have almost reached the stage where I can finally relax and think about replanting.

More of that anon. Paul has done me a favour by dumping me.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

IF ONLY......

...... I can stay abreast of developments in technology, politics, current affairs, fashions and whatever else the modern world throws at me;

...... if only my mental faculties stay sharp(ish) as at present;

...... if only I can stay on top of all physical work required to make life acceptable to me and pleasant;

...... if only my finances last, what with the global economic downturn,

well, then I will never have to grow old and retire from active life.

If only.

Fat Chance.

This bunny has still not been very happy; in fact, I’ve been feeling a bit lost and lonely. At first I welcomed the rain, both the garden and I gave a sigh of relief that the heat relented and gave me a breather and the garden a good drink; after more than a week of on-and-off thunderstorms and showers I am ready to say ‘thanks' but 'no more, thanks’. I should be patient, the rain is still needed, but lack of opportunity to get myself good and dirty and exhausted doesn’t do my mental health any favours.

Hence the opening lines; my recent birthday has given me much to think about. I’m doing a bit better today, having spent the morning carting around watering cans, feeding hydrangeas, clematises, a little olive tree and a couple of lemon trees, the latter three in pots. Indoor ferns have had a good trim and been allowed to come out. Ditto the winter flowerers. They all enjoy a few months out of doors. With me all the while dodging heavy showers, of course. At least the rain is warm.

Paul has forsaken me. He was ailing for about three weeks and the last time I enquired after his progress he emailed to say he was lots better but not coming again. "For personal reasons". No notice or further explanation. Just bang, like that. Fair enough, I have not been very happy with his efforts, but he was a nice chap, nice enough for me to think of keeping him on for the jobs he could do and pairing him with somebody better able to cope with longer hours and heavier work.

However, he has taken the decision for me. Good luck to him.

Since then I have been asking around for recommendations; several friends have mentioned several gardeners, mostly garden labourers without great knowledge but plenty of brawn; I have chosen to interview one chap not so much brawny but wiry and willing and one muscled handsome hunk. If either or both stay the course, one will become WW and the other HH. They will do different jobs. Both are more expensive than old gardener of blessed memory and recent Paul; but I am becoming reconciled to the idea of spending money on the garden, if I want to stay here. Besides, I am planning to reorganise the beds and do away with at least one, maybe two, of the more labour intensive areas. One is to become an area for conifers and junipers instead of herbaceous perennials.

Here’s hoping.

Writing this I have become aware that I am behaving like someone who has endless years of gardening ahead of her. Of course, I don’t. If I had any sense I’d pack up and sell up and go into retirement and withdraw from active life, exactly the opposite to what I am hoping to do above. But while the bullet points above hold true I might as well ignore old age and incipient decrepitude and enjoy what’s left. Like I told my Mum, when she dithered about buying herself a new dress she liked because “I don’t have enough time left to enjoy it”, : "even if it’s a day and no more the new dress gives you pleasure, it’s worth it.”

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Not a Happy Bunny

It had to happen eventually, working like a madwoman in the garden had to lead to some injury or other. It did. Excessive sawing and secateuring at an ancient rosemary bush’s thick and convoluted stems did for my right hand. The bush grows in a raised bed along the wall with my neighbours, all the while I was sawing away I was cursing and telling the bush to "come on”, “give already”; two thirds of the way through I yelped in pain, either my tools were too blunt or my hand just doesn’t have the strength it once did, suddenly my wrist and thumb were on fire and I had to give up. I heard my neighbour potter in her own grounds, but she forbore to get involved, for which I was immensely grateful.

I am really hard at it, at least, I was; luckily we are having a few rain showers and I can’t do much outside anyway today, something else for which I am immensely grateful. There is something obsessive about my need to work outside. Paul has another ailment which stops him working and I’m doing it all myself, turning heavy compost, mulching, pruning, weeding, lugging heavy bags and mountains of brush to be taken to the dump eventually, if I’m lucky and get help; otherwise I’ll have to hire a skip, which is expensive. The thing is that without help I simply cannot cope any more; I have a big birthday coming up which means that I am going to be less and less able physically. Already I am surprised at how tired I often feel. I was thinking of telling my doctor about that but then I know what she would say: “you are not in the first flush of youth, what do you expect?” It’s true, I am stupidly unwilling to let age stop me and sit back on my haunches and retire to the old ladies’ corner gracefully.

The fact remains, if I can’t find regular and capable help, I must give up the house and garden and move to somewhere more suitable. The idea appals me, I love my house sitting in what used to be the centre of a beautiful garden in a magnificent location. I have been just so fortunate. No doubt I’d have no trouble selling up but where could I go? Nearer to my son? That would be sensible but it also means giving up. I could try and hire a company to make my garden less labour intensive, swapping large flower beds for hard landscaping. Whatever I decide to do needs careful deliberation. The one thing I feel unable to do is letting it all go to rack and ruin, closing my eyes to it.

I really feel like moaning today. I can just about type with the index finger of my right hand so I’ll continue. This damned virus doesn’t seem to realise that it’s not wanted and the numbers in the UK are still frighteningly high. I think I am actually now afraid of getting back into the world; I have the most troublesome dreams when I manage to sleep at all, often to do with overcoming huge barriers to getting home. Last night I lost track of my friend who was dependant on me to get her to the station; I kept ending up on the wrong platform and in the wrong station myself and never connected with her at all.

Depression is setting in, life is far too complicated. Although I have happily withdrawn from the burden of normal demands for the past twelve weeks, the thought of remaining entirely on my own for months yet is traumatic. No wonder my nights are disturbed. I dreamt of my daughter the other night, begging for help with something. In my dream she laughed and vanished.

The only good thing is that it’s summer, the days are long and bright and I welcome the odd rainy day. The earth was so dry that I could hardly get a fork in and the birds found it difficult to peck for worms and seeds. Nature helps too, apparently the air in cities has cleared, pollution is diminished and wildlife is taking over the spaces vacated by man. If only we could learn from this and allow nature its rightful place again. What will we take away from this catastrophe? Will we allow our Earth to recover or simply carry on where we left off when it’s all over?

One last thought, a good one: I have prepared a Mediterranean vegetable mess with garlic and chalots and a slice of my delicious meat loaf to go with Singaporean noodles for my dinner tonight. If nothing else brings pleasure, perhaps a pleasant meal makes for a welcome change. Cheers!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Getting to know myself during Covid 19

It’s hard to find something to post about when you do nothing but spend time at home. We’ve had glorious weather and I’ve been working like a madwoman in the garden, physically exhausting myself in the process. The more I work the less there is to see, the more dry brown earth emerges. The more I dig the bigger the piles of plastic sacks filled with weeds grow, ditto the piles of brush, shrub prunings and whole uprooted shrubs lying in corners which should, by now, be attractive and tidy areas for sitting and watching the garden grow. I shall be ever so cross if I die before I can replant everything next autumn or spring; all that work for nothing.

There is a good thing about being physically active outdoors: it makes for a cheerful and happy state of mind, so maybe it’s not all for nothing. Paul still comes once a week, but now only for two hours, his energy doesn’t last for longer. I almost exclusively reserve the jobs which are too hard for me to do, nothing routine like weeding, he still has strength, even if his stamina leaves much to be desired. Agewise, I could be his mother yet I work harder than he does. I am glad that he officially stops work after two hours and doesn’t drag out his time with me to three hours, as previously, with a rather long tea break in between. There’s no tea break now and I only pay him for two hours. I like Paul very much, he is a nice chap and knowledgeable about plants and I certainly hope he continues to come.

There’s a chill wind today, I’ve allowed myself a day off. Once or twice, during the hot and sunny days, friends have come to call, by invitation, one or two at a time, and we’ve sat in the garden in late afternoon, at a distance of no less than 2 m and enjoyed a glass of wine over a natter. We are all very sensible and do not meet in each other’s houses yet, as per government directive. The incidence of Covid 19 in Valley’s End is minimal, less than a handful of cases and no deaths. Many of us are of retirement age and therefore vulnerable. There is one dog walking acquaintance who turns up once a week or so, who explains her uninvited presence by saying that her dog has wriggled through the bars of one of my gates and insists on raiding my garden. So, naturally, she has to follow him, scoop him up, apologise for her invasion by blaming the dog and look longingly at the chairs on the terrace. I must ask her to come on a specific day, she is obviously lonely.

Which brings me to a question I’ve been puzzling over. Ever since I’ve understood the meaning of the terms introvert and extrovert years ago I’ve thought of myself as an extrovert. I am not shy in company, I face meeting new people with equanimity, I am lively and chatty at parties, I talk to people before they talk to me. At the same time I can take or leave people and find solitude nothing to be afraid of. Sometimes, I am lonely because I lost my soulmate but, otherwise, my own company is sufficient for my needs most of the time. I even talk to myself.

But that is surely not how an extrovert reacts to the present lockdown? I am always reading about people who are terribly unhappy and longing for hugs and face to face conversations, whose loneliness cries out for human contact and who are in danger of becoming mentally ill. These people have all my sympathy, so many are old and alone, feel abandoned and shut out, but I simply do not feel that way myself. What is wrong with me?  When I read these sad stories I question my capacity to empathise, I have no idea what it feels like to be in their shoes. Solitude to me is something good, something to be welcomed. Does that mean I am an introvert after all? Or even more fortunate, I am an introvert/extrovert whenever either state suits me?

Considering that I’ve had nothing to post about I have used an awful lot of words to post it. That’s what Covid does, it makes wafflers of all of us.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Last night I had one of my I-absolutely-cannot-be-bothered-to-fall-asleep-nights. I went to bed at the usual time, read a bit, switched off the light and waited to disappear into the arms of Morpheus. Morpheus wasn’t interested. Wasn’t having it. Any of it. In spite of a generous helping of sleeping pills. Nothing doing. On these occasions it’s almost as if I really don’t want to sleep, like a horse refusing a jump. What I did, however, was gardening, in my head, all the jobs waiting to be done, in detail; had it been light I might actually have got up and done them. Or that’s what I told myself.

Instead I got up, fetched a packet of crackers and a glass of sweet sherry and read a magazine for an hour. It was about 4.30 am when I went back to bed. The birds were up and singing.

This morning all those gardening jobs were still there, waiting to be done. Of course, I was too tired, after my mostly sleepless night, to tackle any of them. I am a daemon for sorting things out at night, come daylight, not so much.

February was the last time we went to see a performance by The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon. I took this photo of the phone box and post box then, they are both outside the Festival Theatre itself. Theatres may not reopen until next spring. Balls, indeed.