Monday, 19 April 2021

Apologies

 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.




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.”

Anonymous.

 

 

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.

Here.
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.

Lethal.
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.