Sunday, 23 June 2019


Roughly once a month Paula and I meet for supper and a glass of wine in the White Horse. We book a small table in the pub window which seats two comfortably and four at a squeeze and spend several hours chatting nonstop until we’ve set the world and our small corner of it to rights. Paula has been widowed for several years more than me, she is also a good number of years older and wiser. In spite of her great age she has a permanent twinkle in her eye, she enjoys her life and has no intention of giving in to old age. In our rural world clothes are of little importance really, but Paula always makes an effort, uses make up and has beautifully kept nails. Compared to her I am scruffy.

Provision for old age is high on the agenda in our talk. Both of us own our homes and both receive an old age state pension. We also have additional occupational pensions; maybe Paula’s is worth more than mine as she has been a teacher for many decades and teachers’ pensions in the old days were generous. What I am actually saying is that, things staying as they are, neither of us needs worry about putting food on the table. And yet, we worry.

The funny thing is that Paula worries about the distant future. Her usually so jolly face turns serious. “But what if house prices fall when things get bad with Brexit?" she asks. It seems she has worked out how many years the value of her house would safely see her through the cost of residential care. “So, if in a few years’ time I have to go into a home and my house is worth less than now I could only  afford to have care for five or six years.” Paula sees nothing but penury ahead. Although she spends money on holidays she certainly doesn’t spend freely. Apparently her accountant has asked when she intends to spend a bit more, reminding her that she can’t take it with her. And yet, Paula worries. Paula is in her early 90s and fit mentally and physically so there’s no immediate prospect of her having to go into a care home. (If I could be like her I’d happily live into my early 90s too.) The average lifespan in a care home in the UK is between 1 and 3 years. Therefore, ‘in a few years’ time’ plus several years in residential / nursing care would bring her close to the end 90s. True, none of us knows what lies ahead but I think that her house, pensions and savings will probably see her to her end comfortably. When I tease her and ask how long she plans to go on for she laughs ruefully and admits that she’s both over-ambitious and over-careful.

Here’s a question which exercises me too:

do you splurge or do you hoard ?
do you live every day as if it is your last or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live twenty more years ?

PS: yes, I know this is strictly a first world problem and a very nice one to have. So please don’t remind me of the millions of people who have a hard time putting regular meals on the table and would only be too glad to worry about an old age they may never see. That’s a problem I cannot solve.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

I’m puzzled,

what is it

   with environmentalists who make a huge thing out of plastic bags (yes, agreed, nasty things, as are plastic straws, both totally unnecessary) but fly many times each year for pleasure, on short haul  trips lasting no more than a long weekend and long haul trips to far flung places for a ten day holiday?

  with feminists who shout down anyone else who dares to open their mouth (who may not even have such a very different opinion from theirs) as loudly and insistently as any self important male?

  with busybodies who, no sooner having taken up residence in a place, try to mould it to their idea of a village, setting the tone, and running it vociferously and self righteously, although the village has been doing perfectly fine for decades without their input?

  with people who pillorize you for having groceries delivered or not eating exclusively home grown or organic when they themselves chuck a lot of their organically grown produce away because it rots before they can get round to eating it or it just isn’t up to accepted norms?

  with all those women who jumped on the MeToo etc. bandwagon (yes, yes I know, I too have been very uncomfortable about male intrusion into my personal space, have been propositioned and inappropriately touched) and then appear barely dressed, boobs falling out of their tops and skirts slit to the hips. If that’s not selling sex what is? There was this picture advertising a new film, I think, showing a line up of three men and one woman; the men dressed warmly for winter on a very cold and grey day and the woman in an evening gown slit from hip to toe with her bare leg aggressively thrust forward.

What’s an angry girl to do? Bite her lip to keep the peace? Or let rip?

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Going to the Movies

I expect most, if not all of you, have easy access to a shiny new, modern, plushly upholstered, deep seated multiplex, with many screens all showing a choice of the latest blockbusters and maybe even   a worthwhile non mass produced art film. You probably have vendors for popcorn, drinks and ice cream. It’s a splendidly modern, comfortable, luxurious experience, maybe even including the services of an usherette. (Are there still usherettes to light you to your seat?) You settle in and watch your chosen film. Afterwards, you get up and leave. If you are in company you may discuss what you have just seen in a few sentences before you move on to whatever comes next for you.

You have no idea what going to the movies means in a little back-of-beyond place where the whole event happens in the village hall. The film, possibly chosen by popular demand, has been advertised for some weeks. It’s the only one on offer. Village halls are large, empty spaces, the multi purpose ones have a raised stage at one end for village pantomimes and amateur dramatic performances of slight comedies, some written by the village’s literary titan. In an annexe there are rows of chairs and trestle tables, cheap plastic or wooden ones, which can be unfolded. Another annexe holds a kitchen for the inevitable tea and cakes donated by village ladies. There may even be a bar in the more adventurous communities whose fundraising efforts have been successful over the years of the hall’s existence. Many events happen in the village hall, from dog training sessions via all kinds of exercise classes for the older generation, to indoor fairs, vegetable sales, and a myriad of fundraisers by various village societies. And movie shows.

Some kind souls on the hall committee - of course there’s a committee, nothing in rural England happens unless it’s organised by a steering committee - have gone in early to set up a few rows of hard chairs. These are soon occupied and whoever comes later fetches their own chair from the annexe. If you are in a group you help yourself to a trestle table and range chairs to one side of it. You may have brought your own alcoholic drink or some snacks, but you can rely on tea being served during the interval. Yes. a village movie show has an interval. Quite an extended one, actually. If the bar is open you can buy a drink, a beer or a glass of cheap wine. But the highlight is the obligatory choc-ice.

The interval is necessary to replace the DVD disc. During the changeover the social part happens. Everybody gets up and mingles. Friends are greeted, enemies are studiously avoided, gossip is exchanged and people who last met a day ago fill each other in on what happened since. It’s like the Bath Pump Room in a Jane Austen novel. Of course, the film gets a look-in too, although, for the moment, a bit round the edges.  ‘What do you think of it’ , this is asked either with a smirk or a shudder, depending on how scary or sexually explicit it is.

The film finally gets discussed properly on the following days. On this occasion it was “The Favourite”. “Did you go? What did you think? Did they really swear that much? And what about all the sex? Was that necessary? Bit too much, in my opinion. I was hoping that (insert name of elderly, prudish, sheltered-life lady here) didn’t have her hearing aids in." Followed by a shudder. “Whatever can afore-mentioned elderly lady have thought of it?” Another delicious shudder, accompanied by a perplexed shake of the head. All are happy, It was a splendid evening. Some of us even took our folding chairs back to the annexe.

So, now tell me, which venue would you rather attend, your germ-free multiplex or my do-it-yourself village hall?

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Gardening Matters

Yesterday is History.
Tomorrow is a Mystery.
Today is a Gift,
that’s why it’s called a Present.


(I only found this quote quite recently and liked it so much I decided to share it here. It answers my current state of mind exactly and I will try to remember it whenever sadness overwhelms me.)

From the Daily Telegraph
Chelsea Pensioner Ron Wilkins enjoying the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Credit: Paul Grover
This past week I’ve been watching the Chelsea Flower Show - the 106th show - on TV both during part of the day and for another hour and a half in the early evening and what a magnificent show it was once again. I have never been there myself, not even when we lived in London; not only is it very expensive when you consider the cost of the ticket, but adding travel cost and an overnight stay make it even more exorbitant during show week. On top of it there are the crowds, I’d probably faint if I were forced to move slowly through them. TV is fine for me, you get a much better idea of the show gardens and the presenters explain and showcase the most interesting aspects, and the most spectacular plants. Of course, the gardens are indeed ’show’ gardens, there’s little that’s transferable to your ordinary plot; bridges, buildings, verandahs, walls of water, broad steps, massive trees, tender and/or oriental and African plants aren’t usually to be found in your average back garden.

Chelsea gives a gardener endless ideas and much inspiration and I’ve been sitting, fingers twitching, brain itching and the gardening nerve twanging incessantly, almost too restless to stay and watch rather  than go outside and get weeding. What with Austin gone and Paul being slow and lifeless, I must do much of the work myself. I’ve been given the names of two gardeners who might be interested, one actually telephoned and left a message. You may ask ‘so why haven’t you interviewed them’? B-e-c-a-u-s-e  that means sacking Paul. He is so depressed and silent and, yes, lifeless, that I feel sorry for him. He is also extremely hard up and needs every penny he can earn, although I don’t actually see that he earns what I pay him. Both new chaps are probably more expensive, but I’d make them work for their wage or sack them; I don’t know them, so sacking them isn’t as unpleasant a task as sacking Paul, whom I know well.

Acc. to the presenters the fashion in Chelsea this year has been for naturalistic planting, lots of various shades of greens, relaxed, not the usual clumps of three, five or seven of this, then another parcel of three, etc. of that throughout beds. This year the same number of plants has been used but dotted around, mixed with each other. One thing which impressed me no end is that flowering weeds have been allowed in too, in certain ‘wild’ gardens, or at least the sort of plants that a fastidious gardener would so designate. Old Gardener began to ail last year, took frequent breaks and forgot to weed in the more hidden areas. I myself couldn’t do it because of last year’s back problems, so things got overlooked and the results are only too obvious this year. Large patches of perennial weeds have taken over and smothered the few wanted plants left from previous years. I have had a go myself this spring but there’s no way I can get on top of it all without help. So, round and round I go: dismiss Paul and employ one of the new chaps? Maybe I should chicken out altogether and move to a smaller house and garden.? How sad that would be but my decision making motor needs serious oiling before it can run smoothly. So, round and round for the moment . . . . . .

This is a miniature clematis which all by itself has no impact, but planted under, and
letting it thrust its way up and through, a recumbent juniper looks rather spectacular.
I had it in a pot before, with a small trellis, but it was hardly visible.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Gentle Everyday Life

Amelanchier in blossom

The high thin whistle of returning swallows and martins swooping joyously in the sky is everywhere, it is definitely spring. Finally. It’s still none too warm and I haven’t taken tender plants, the lemon and olive trees and ferns out of the conservatory yet but no night frosts have been forecast for the next week and I might risk having Paul carry them outside when he comes on Monday. I usually do this in the middle of May although there is always a warning not to do anything rash before the end of this month. In these ‘Franklin’s Days’ beware late and destructive frosts, thunder and unreliable weather.
According to a Devon legend, the sharp frosts which sometimes occur at about this time are the revenge of one Franklin, a beer-brewer put out of business by competition from cider. He therefore vowed his soul to the devil in return for frosts on each of the three Franklin’s Days around May 21st hoping that these would kill the apple-blossom and ruin the cider crop.

It will also be time to strim swathes of spent daffodils before the beginning of June. So many plants die untidily, leaving a horrible mess for several weeks but as they need the dying foliage to replenish their stores of energy to produce next year’s flowers we must put up with the yellowing flattened carpets. Having lost old gardener I am in a bit of a pickle. There is no way I can do all of it myself, certainly not the really hard jobs like dealing with compost, with digging, pruning trees and shrubs. I have an area of nasty plum tree suckers. Old gardener cut down the tree last autumn but the suckers have spread and infested a large patch. I have no idea how to get rid of them. It’s a problem. If I can find someone to dig them up and maybe poison the remains I could level the area off, put in what is known hereabouts as a “water feature” (very fashionable, a kind of fountain with a built in pump which allows for the water to rise and fall and produces a pleasant sound) and use bark chip or gravel to cover the earth. There is a very beautiful acer in the same bed which I want to keep. A water feature would be just the thing to set it off.

I am gently forcing myself to meet people, for lunches at a cafe, supper at the pub, a movie being shown at the village hall, a coffee here and there, a friend popping in for an hour, a poetry reading evening, and so on. Very mild, non-threatening and non-tiring entertainment. I think it must be doing me good. Once Millie is gone I won’t have the automatic daily conversations with other dog walkers.

Talking of dog walkers: I was in the High Street the other day on my way to the surgery when I passed a man and a woman standing by a gate, gossiping. I said “good morning” as I was passing them. The man turned, said good morning back and then: “Ursula? It is Ursula, isn’t it? I didn’t recognise you without your dog.” I expect I shall have to get used to people do a double take. Having said that, a long time village acquaintance came down towards me as I was going up a steep lane the other day. Again I said good morning; she stopped, looked at me closely and said “I didn’t recognise you with your head down.” Hm, have I become a changeling? It is said that mortal children are often substituted for a changeling during May, perhaps that goes for some adults too?

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Love, Affection, Feeling Fond

Here’s a question: Do we only truly love those by whom we feel loved or can we love without expecting a return? (Forget about unrequited young love from afar, I don’t believe there’s much substance to that, but you may, of course, think differently, particularly if you follow some of the greatest poets both in antiquity such as Ovid and Dante and more recently, Goethe, not to mention modern popular music.

I was thinking of love because of Millie, of all things. Remembering Beloved, with whom I was both in love as well as loving him deeply, unquestioningly I thought at the time of our lives together,  I now think that the fact that he loved me as deeply did no harm to our close and harmonious relationship. Many of you use blogposts to describe how warmly you are enmeshed with your families, children and grandchildren. Long may it continue and may you never be disappointed. That kind of relationship needs work, tolerance and understanding each other’s needs and preferences. My own family is not as successful at this as yours.

But back to Millie, she had a serious stroke the other evening. She has recovered now, at the time I thought the end had come. While I sat comforting and nursing her for the many hours it took for her to return to a more stable condition I realised, by and by, that with her death the last common link with Beloved would disappear too and that there would be nobody left by whom I would be loved unconditionally. I am not comparing the love of an animal to the love of a human being but, in my opinion, it comes at least halfway up the scale. I have more affection for animals than some humans.

Quite definitely we feel affection for good friends. But here too the fondness must be returned. For how long can you be friends with someone who ignores you, behaves in an off-hand manner or treats you badly when it suits them. Some people are natural door mats but I’d hope you are not among their number. If your friend refuses to accept your friendship in the spirit in which it is offered, change your friend.

We can, of course, grow fond of those whom we employ. Old gardener has worked for me for many years, we toiled together, sat and chatted (me listening to him more than the other way round since he became deaf), we got tired together, drank tea, admired the results of our labours, gossiped, sniped at others; in other words, we were on very friendly terms and I was very fond of him. And now my dear Austin, Old Gardener, will  garden no more. He is very ill, his strength gone, his good humour vanished. He is in the clutches of a pair of nasty cancers,  neither treatable; I shall miss him and his penchant for indiscreet gossip as well as his pleasure in telling long stories about life in the bad old rural days. I am not sure that Austin was as fond of me as I was of him but that doesn’t seem to matter in this case. It matters very much more in the case of Paul, whom I have also mentioned here several times in the past. Paul is back with me for the time being. I doubt that Paul is fond of anyone, maybe his mother, but no one else. He is a serious depressive and that depression allows him no room for anyone else but himself. I am sorry for Paul but I am not fond of him. I need a return which he is at the moment unable to give.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Disposal, Acquisition, the Kindness of Family and Humbuggery

My son’s 4monthly visit was due after Easter and being the dutiful man he is he came, staying for one full day and two halves either side, an improvement on his plan of driving up one day and leaving the next. I wonder if he and his wife remind each other that it's  'that time of year' again , time to go and see the old dear, see how she’s doing and if she needs any kind of assistance. I persuaded him that two half days just didn’t get anything done, particularly as I wanted to spend the middle day in the nearby county town for some much needed shopping and a number of errands which had been queuing up for a good six months.

Once upon a time I’d have been looking forward to an exciting family visit, with meals in restaurants and all sorts of walks and outings. Last week we did what we always now do on these occasions, we filled a carboot with bags of junk and garden waste for the municipal dump.  Nowadays excitement comes from chucking large and small items into huge containers and mountains of general waste through a giant window. There was a time when pleasure came not from disposing of things but acquiring them; how times change.

Still, on the in-between-day I did some acquiring too, mainly smalls. (Underwear for those of you who don’t know the term) Once a year I go to a particular, well-respected and straight-laced old ladies’ store to replace knickers, camisoles, pyjamas, socks, etc., everybody goes there for their underwear, even young ladies. In days gone by replacing ordinary smalls was a boring chore, now it’s the highlight of a shopping trip. I was in need of a fairly extensive order, there hadn’t been a chance to go to Shrewsbury for a good year, so I filled a few bags. A strong man to accompany me was a really good investment, he carried all the bags and trooped from shop to shop with me like the patient and kind soul he is. By the end of the day my back was pretty sore and I was leaning forward quite painfully. My son also drove me, another wonderful circumstance, I was in pain and so tired at the end of the outing that I was enormously glad not to have to concentrate on driving for an hour. When I am well I can manage to drive myself to Shrewsbury for a shopping trip with no problem but not when I am as crook as I’ve been for a good year now.

I have seen a physiotherapist who has given me a list of exercises to do. She examined my back and exclaimed :”nothing moves at all, everything is locked in.” The exercises are fairly light for now, mustn’t cause a new spasm in the lower back, and I sincerely hope they’ll help loosen me up and get me fully upright again. Apparently these things take time, older people do not recover as easily as young ones. I think there is a small improvement already after a week. I also went back to the gym for the first time in weeks today.

I experienced a couple of cons recently, one of them during the shopping trip. Sometimes I wear Beloved’s watch, which needed a new battery. A smooth, be-suited, highly groomed and politely spoken salesman said :”Yes, Madam, we can do that. What we do is charge you £20 for which you get a ten year guarantee, for ten years we replace the battery free of charge.” On the face of it a reasonable deal, you might say. But it’s an average watch, nothing fancy, will it last another 10 years? Will the shop still be there - so many shops disappear from High Streets all over the country almost overnight. And will I remember about the guarantee from year to year? Up to now a battery replacement cost no more than £10 and less in some jewellers. But I was tired and although I recognised the con and even said “I might not live for another ten years”, I went along with it. I sincerely hope that for them it turns out to be a bad deal and that I will indeed go back once a year or so to have them replace the battery.

The other con was really much worse because it was almost fraudulent. Drivers need to renew their licences on reaching 70 years of age. I had a letter from the relevant government department telling me to do so and emphasising that it could be done quickly and easily via the internet. “Just fill in the questionnaire and we’ll send your new licence.” said the government website. Keen to save time and effort - letters need to be carried to the post office - I had duly filled in the questionnaire when I came to an abrupt stop. In enhanced capital letters across the middle of the page it read “PAY NOW” £70.”

Underneath this demand there was a very small paragraph saying that the government department has nothing whatsoever to do with the people making the demand, but that these people check over the answers and expedite the application process. UTTER RUBBISH. Applying for a new licence is free, the applicant will receive it within 2 weeks and, in any case, can continue to drive until then. A prime example of outsourcing that beats all. And it’s not even necessary! I wonder how many people fall for it, after all, it is a government department which deals with driving licences  and one should trust them, shouldn’t one?