Monday, 19 July 2021

The brickbats keep on coming,

for weeks now. I am so tired of them.  Wah-wah-wah. And I don't mean the sound of a trumpet. The only respite is getting out into the garden and working, when it's neither too wet, cold or hot. At the moment it's too hot. I know, I know, I am wailing about the changeable UK weather when other places are burning, sizzling or drowning. But then I freely admit that I am a whingeing Minnie, forever complaining. Luckily there's no one to hear me. On the other hand, if there were someone maybe I wouldn't complain so much. Part of the problem is that it's me who has to catch all the brickbats single-handedly and there's never anybody to share in finding solutions.

About those brickbats: they are draining me of every drop of pleasure in life. As if Covid alone wouldn't be enough to do that. You know about the leaking and rotting shower room. The third or fourth delegation has been to assess the damage, take endless pictures and do a bit of umming and ahing. Finally, the last chap from the actual people who do the work came and left me a lot of paperwork to fill in regarding the materials I want to be used, the colour of paint, which tiles, the whole palaver. When I threw myself on his mercy and asked him to just look at everything and replace it with similar or identical he made the job'sworth noises. "We can't do that", he said, "we need you to specify exactly what you want, within the cost limits, of course. We only get paid once for every job and if you change your mind when the job is finished we don't get paid again." Well, blow me down with a feather, there was I thinking I could go on and on demanding a change of paint or tiles as the fancy takes me. NOT.

I know nothing of such matters, those of you who do will ask yourselves why is this woman moaning, she should be glad she has got her Insurance Company to take over the repairs. Maybe so but I DON'T WANT THE HASSLE.

Next I had a letter from my energy provider. "We are ever so pleased to be able to tell you that we have gone all efficient and up-to-date and sold out to XXX, who will be happy to accept you as their customer. All you need to do is rearrange everything, get a new Direct Debit going, and make plans for your future energy consumption. The sensible thing for me to do is look carefully at the paperwork, compare prices and conditions with other providers and make a decision. DO I WANT THE HASSLE? Of course not.

Next thing I dropped and shattered my phone. Again, a minor problem you might say. My contract had run out and all I needed to do was spend a morning on the phone and get a new phone and contract. The sensible thing to do was to look carefully at the paperwork, investigate and compare prices. MORE HASSLE. I want things to STAY THE SAME!

I am all Apple computerised. Yes, I know they are expensive, but the gadgets last and there's rarely any trouble. And if there is trouble I have this lovely man in the next village who is a whizz at all things Apple and has always seen me right. In the past. My iPad was slowing down seriously - it is old in years, like its owner -, the new phone needed tweaking and my desktop, which is also very old, could really do with a sort-out too. Besides, I had the distinct impression that my backup disc had given up the ghost when I last updated the desktop. I rang the lovely man's office. HE HAS RETIRED! With some trepidation I asked was there a replacement Apple specialist? Don't forget I live in the depths of the countryside and specialists for anything are few and far between. "Well, not exactly a specialist but yes, someone would come and look at my gadgets". The phone lady also said that the replacement technician was rather slow in replying and I had better be patient. The man eventually came, a real computer nerd, who said little, smiled less, sat at my desktop with phone and iPad also in front of him and fiddled. And fiddled. And fiddled some more, for several hours. I foresaw a bill of several hundred Pounds but, contrary to my inclination and habit, said nothing. Nerds must be treated with kid gloves, their social skills are not instantly evident, and I needed the man, and practised patience. I am not at all sure how good he was, there have been a few glitches since he was here and I decided to buy a new iPad because the old one slowed down even more after his ministrations. Suffice to say that he walked off with my external hard-drive (Backup), found it to be dead, and returned with a new one a week or two later. His bill was very reasonable for all the hours he spent on my gadgets - do nerds not need food? The new iPad arrived; just to be on the safe side I set it up myself.

You may think that I have come to the end of my brickbats, but no, there's more. You all know about Brexit, the most pointless, masochistic ambition this country has ever gone in for. You may also know that I am one of the EU nationals "who shouldn't be here anymore, having had the gall to come, take over "our jobs", live off social security, never pay taxes, and should all be sent back to where they come from". Etc. etc.  June 30th the period for applying for resident status came to an end and, as I had applied a long time ago and been accepted I thought that was that. BUT I HAVE NO PROOF! None of us "bloody foreigners" has proof. There is no mechanism for proof! What larks there'll be when we want to use the NHS or, God forbid, go travelling!

And, to cap it all, the Fatherland, which sends me a small amount of pension every month, has had second thoughts as to my actual existence. How do you prove that you are alive?

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Dripping mad

In my previous post I said "When you get to my ripe old age you realise that nothing much matters..." I haven't changed my mind about that but you can still be surprised. One often says "I've seen it all before, and, equally often, that is true; yes, I frequently use the claim that old age prevents me from doing things I really don't want to do and yes, my slightly crafty and ever so slightly dishonest wheeze gets the required result in that somebody kind and helpful will do that job for me.

But back to the surprise. I appear to have a leak behind the tiles in the new shower room, not a very heavy one but the sort that will eventually cause damage if it isn't rectified. I can hear the steady drip drip when I use the bathroom quietly and listen for it. I have never made a claim on the house and contents insurance and it came to me that perhaps this is a job they would pay for. There's nothing wrong in asking, after all.

Believe me, asking is fine but the reply astounded me. In my innocence I thought that insurance companies either turn you down or they send a workman to check the claim. Was it ever thus? First of all the insurance lady at the end of the phone line, who is so sweet and helpful when it's time to renew my policy was not at all nice now that I was asking for their money. After an exhaustive list of questions which I answered to the best of my ability she ungraciously accepted that my claim might - just might - be accepted but first there were several hurdles to overcome. First of all they'd have to send a building firm who would establish where the leak is. Following that they'd have to send a surveyor who would establish the extent of the job, the probable cost and determine whether the job would indeed constitute a genuine claim acceptable to the insurance company. I would have to pay the builders' fee (£300, the excess on my policy for "escape of water") upfront regardless of my claim being acceptable or not. The final insult was that the company to whom I pay my annual premium is not the company with whom I am insured but is underwritten by yet another company.

To recap, my relatively small claim involves two insurance companies (both well known and reputable), a building company representative who normally charges £800 for finding a leak but whose services I could have for the sum of £300 - I know where the leak is, I told them I know - and an official surveyor to say yay or nay. All want paying, by me, their hapless customer. And there is no guarantee that the claim will actually be accepted.

Can you blame me for erupting? In a nice and polite way, of course. I find that being calm and polite always pays, nobody is going to react kindly to a foul mouthed harridan. I had two subsequent phone calls from two different company employees - I didn't even bother to understand which company either of them represented - and both were most apologetic and assured me that I didn't have to pay anything up front, that they would simply deduct the excess from any services rendered at the final reckoning. Success! Would you have quietly paid over £300 before you even knew if your claim was valid? Lots of people probably will and do and kick themselves afterwards.

I still don't know how this will pan out. The builder is coming on Thursday, but I will most definitely not pay him £300. Come hell or high water (even if it's only dripping).

Friday, 4 June 2021


So, the Chinese have changed their mind on the legally allotted number of children a couple can have. After strictly no more than one for several years it crept up to two, was very recently changed to three and probably counting, seeing how Chinese couples found that one was plenty of hassle and I am not at all sure how many couples will follow regulations. It looks like so many official roadmaps that are handed out to the masses from on high, wherever you might be: first you complain, then you fall in with what becomes the norm and in the end you resent changes to what has become an officially sanctioned way of life that has become comfortable and perfectly manageable. Besides, one costs less than two, always a consideration. The Chinese didn't work out the effect on the population numbers when they blithely ordered that a knot was to be tied in the baby producing mechanism.

What are children for? Seriously. When we had no means of birth control other than some very fallible methods, children were produced, wanted or not. You may be too young to remember the days when women dreaded that time of the month, particularly when they, or more often, their partner, had let the heat of the moment overtake fear of pregnancy, a fact they may soon have come to regret. Whether you were married or indulging in sin mattered not so much, although married breeding at least didn't bring the opprobrium that unmarried mothers faced. Breeding is not a word used nowadays although I recently saw a programme which provides brides for millionaire old men; the old codger who looked every minute of his 73 years was laying down his requirements before acquirement,  viz. :  must be attractive, must breed at least two sons, have some money and means of her own, and the most astounding requirement was that he "couldn't go above 35" What he was not asked by the note-taker?/ agent?/marriage broker? was what he had to offer an attractive young woman with means of her own, other than an urge to impregnate her. "So tell me, Miss Brown, what first attracted you to Mr. Shrunken-Shanks Moneybags?" might have been a suitable question for a possible contender. I remember that wonderful scene in Sex And The City when Samantha takes an elderly man to her bed who has indulged in Viagra beforehand. When he leaves the bed to go to the bathroom (we oldies need to pee more often) her face is a picture of distate as she watches his back view recede toward the bedroom door.

So, what are children for? To continue the human race, of course, you will say. Me too, when I'm feeling generous towards said race, although there may soon be no planet to house and feed all these children. In my peregrinations in blogland I have seen many female bloggers describe themselves as doting mothers, wives, grandmothers etc. In other words, apppendages first and foremost. A lot fewer mention professions, or give a precis of  interesting facets of their lives. In other words, a purpose other than caretaking. I admit that there are many women for whom  this caretaking is a holy and much loved pleasure, to be seen as the fulfilment of a woman's deepest needs, as well as her bounden duty. Fair enough, to each his own. But give those women who prefer not to have children - not the poor souls who desperately want a child but it just doesn't happen for them - I mean the ones who choose not to get pregnant -  the right to follow their own path. All that phoney pity, the intimate questions re the "patter of tiny feet", "w-h-e-n  can we expect a happy event? Is there perhaps a touch of envy when the harassed mum sees her friend's active social life, her independence, her clean and tidy flat free of Lego strewn about to trip you up?

Children are wonderful in their allotted sphere. They can be a joy and delight and, I suppose, mostly are. But we can no longer count on children as an insurance policy for old age, "to take care of us as we once did for them", which, if I remember rightly, was the way in Far Eastern civilisations (and maybe other civilisations too, but it was the Chinese which caused these ruminations), where old age and its concomitant wisdom were much revered.  We can be proud of them when they reach maturity, we can also be disappointed, we come in quite useful when the children's children require a doting grandparent to double up as unpaid childminder, we can sit and watch from the sidelines, but we cannot - or very rarely - be part of a family embracing all ages under the same umbrella, the way things once were, even in my lifetime.

My son is a very good example of what I mean. He has a large family circle, with the usual chequered his- and-her children, inherited adult siblings, adoptive and inherited grandchildren, his own soon to be grandchild; I know that he is happy with the status quo and enjoys it all immensely, albeit slightly sporadically. I am no part of this family, not from any malice on any side, it just never happened that I was included, or to be honest, included myself. He does what he can for me, visits several times a year, cheerfully works his way through my extensive list of jobs reserved for him; we take the time to sit and reminisce about "our olden days", then he leaves to return to his busy life. That's how it should be, I must be glad that he leads a loving and contented life. For the rest, we have slightly "dutiful" telephone contact on Sundays, when we catch up on the week's events. I am not complaining. Besides, he means well.

I also have - or had - a daughter. As those of you who have been my faithful readers for a while know, she fell out with me many years ago and has never felt any need to enquire after my wellbeing, neither during good times nor bad. For a long time I fretted and worried, but everything passes.

When you get to my ripe old age you realise that nothing much matters, and that includes children. You want them to do well and live well-adjusted lives and if they pass on the better parental genes to following generations you can sit back and say:" job done as well as can be expected under the circumstances". 

One thing I would advise you to do, even though you absolutely do not need my advice: keep those pennies safe for the time when the Happy Endings facility beckons; without those pennies God Help Us All. And, in the meantime, enjoy yourselves.


Monday, 19 April 2021


 Sorry, I WILL be back.

Mental and physical problems, none too serious, are getting in the way of blogging. Hope to speak to you soon. Life is throwing brickbats even though I don’t want to build a house.

Friday, 2 April 2021

The Blackout That Wasn’t.

 Picture a perfectly normal evening, supper, a bit of telly, a book. No alcohol. Bed at a normal hour, between 11 and 12, lights out and snuggle in. By 1.30 am I knew I wasn’t going to get to sleep without help so I got up and found a couple of sleeping pills. “Best go for a pee”, I thought then, "otherwise I might have to get up again before long".

That was my last conscious thought.

Next morning I woke up normally, got up, went downstairs, and proceeded with what I do regularly every morning before going back upstairs to make my bed.

“That’s funny,” I thought, "crumbs in the bed?”

a) I don’t eat in bed, and

b) when would I have eaten what I don’t eat in bed?

My eye caught the bedside table, where I saw a tin of stale crackers and an empty sherry glass. Eh? How did they get there? 

There have been occasions when I’d go downstairs during a sleepless night and have exactly that, some crackers and a small glass of sherry.  But downstairs in the warm kitchen, not upstairs in bed.

NOT upstairs in bed. So when did they get there? And how?

Answer came there none, no matter how hard I tried to recall the events of the previous night. Nothing, an absolute blank. Not even a partial recollection. A complete blackout.

For the next few days I puzzled and puzzled, even going so far as thinking of a TIA (mildish transient stroke) or some such. I didn’t seem to have any further symptoms apart from being just a touch worried. Lately I have been having lots of headaches, a bit of pain here and there, more and longer lasting bouts of depression than I like. But nothing I am not used to.

I decided to consult my GP, by phone. Initially, all consultations are currently by phone. My GP heard me out, asked a few additional questions and came up with an instant diagnosis. 

"It’s the sleeping pills”, he said. “ you took two when you normally take only one. Besides, these particular ones (Zopiclone), nasty things they are. I personally don’t like to prescribe them”.  He hadn’t, it was another practice doctor. “Don’t worry,” he added, “there is no cause for alarm, I don’t even need to see you. Had I taken two sleeping pills I might have lost a few hours myself.”

I am glad he was so certain, I had indeed been worried for several days, feeling uneasy. But doesn’t that beg all sorts of questions? 

Why prescribe dangerous medication? I might have fallen down the stairs during my nightly wanderings. An episode like that is frightening, how can he be so certain that nothing more untoward had happened? How do I find out that he is right, take another two pills some other night and see (or rather not see) what happens?

Any ideas?

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Life affirming Gardens

Hallelujah, winter’s all done and dusted, bar the shouting. It is so often dark and difficult and can be very lonely. But today is the vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring. From today the days are longer than the nights and things will get better and better. It’s still coolish but nothing will keep me from getting out into the garden, unless spring turns contrary and throws rain and snow and ice at me between now and summer.

WW (Wiry and Willing, to give him his full name) and I have already spent happy hours digging (him) and me standing over him and telling him what, where and how deep, and exactly which holes to hand over to me for new planting. He created more light by filling builder’s bag after bag with  hard hedge trimmings and shrub prunings, some of which I too have provided. Since I have my new secateurs pruning is so much easier. Decent tools make all the difference. WW brought his son and his son’s truck along and between the two of them they’ve shifted a mountain of greenery and taken it to the dump. And still the mountains never seem to be any less, I can’t wait for my son to come and help move stuff. 

The other evening I felt quite miserable, never having anyone to talk to and eating every meal by myself were getting to me, so I got on to my favourite garden nurseries on the net and indulged in a mad splurge. Others buy clothes and shoes, I buy plants and books. Five boxes arrived over two days, filled with two date palms, two mahonias, three hydrangeas, three cornus , a collection of lupins and some heucheras, and a honeysuckle;  apart from the date palms, which I got at a reduced price because I spent such a lot, all plants are new, unusual varieties which I have never grown before. I have dug up large flower beds and tried to weed them thoroughly before replanting, with minor success. However, lockdown has shown me how precious life is and working myself into a frenzy over weeds is not an option. Live and let live is the new motto.

For the moment the new plants look bare and boring, just you wait until they start growing. I’ll have a jungle border soon.

The tree doctor called today; for some time I have been worried about the taller and older trees around the edges of the garden. I have lost several already. There is one beautiful green/gold cypress of 30m, an ornamental cherry and a youngish (30yr old) walnut tree, all of which have had me worried every time one of the gales has blown up the river valley from over the border with Wales. Westerlies are often quite serious storms nowadays. Probably to do with climate change, they are occurring far more often than they did. Doctor Tree put my mind at rest. The cypress could be topped and reshaped but I’d lose the  pretty lacy curlicues right at the top and the tree would no longer look natural, but ‘doctored’, as it were. As he said that the tree had done the necessary to withstand gales by growing bumps around the trunk (yeah, me neither) there was little danger that it would topple over for the next 20 years. He pronounced the walnut tree healthy enough in spite of its gnarly and split bark; that left the cherry, which he thought should have the ends of its branches trimmed; a bit like taking the split ends off in a haircut. There is ash dieback all over the country; I have several ash trees which, cross fingers, still look healthy. Some ash trees are resistant to dieback, could I be one of the lucky owners? Not just ash, other trees are dying too; it’s a problem for which there is as yet no solution. Doctor Tree seemed quite worried.

I like trees and would prefer to keep mine going for as long as I am here. Apparently, you can tell if a tree comes to the end of its life by keeping a close eye on leaf growth. If leaves grow all along the branch, right to the tip, the tree is fine, once the ends stay bare there’s trouble ahead.

The work on my neighbours’ barn still hasn’t started. I think they probably haven’t been given permission. Turning the stable cum barn into a bijou residence is what is called ‘change of use’; with listed buildings the Planning Office frequently turns such requests down. I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself but, truth to tell, I don’t much care. 

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.