Lost on the Surrey/Sussex Borders

So far 2017 seems to be The Year of Not Blogging, but hopefully that will change. It is also the year when language comes under fresh assaults from people who call lies alternative truths.

But let’s draw a veil over the last few days and think of something else, something that reminds me why the world is somewhere I still enjoy, and why I think it’s worth fighting to protect.

As I said in my last post over a week ago, Celia and I went on a ramble and as it was the anniversary of Aunt’s death, we thought we could call it Auntie Mary’s Walk. Just one problem: we’re not entirely sure where we went. Celia and I have yet to go on a ramble where we don’t get lost.

At this point I’m pretty sure we were on the right track.

Hedgehog Lane

Hedgehog Lane

Postbox and Black Cat

Postbox and Black Cat

This wasn’t the route we were following, but it ran alongside ours for a while.

Fancy a Pint?

Fancy a Pint?

In retrospect, perhaps we should have followed it, as we never did reach the pub. As the pubs we have planned to eat at in the past have invariably been closed or no longer serving food, lunch has been the point where we have deviated from our planned route and ended up somewhere we did not expect to be. This time, although Celia called the pub and confirmed they were indeed still open and sold hot meals, I announced that given our track record, I intended to take soup with me. It was this (deserved) lack of faith that prompted Celia to go to Stanfords and buy a map. Though she did bring sandwiches.

We got lost quite early on, but were rescued by a woman walking a rather lovely Golden Retriever called Bingo. Naturally I do not know the woman’s name. She set us on the right direction and off we went. Given that we passed most of the things she told us to look out for, I don’t understand how we found ourselves at the wrong end of the map.

However by that time we had been thoroughly enjoying ourselves. The fields and ditches were covered in a dusting of snow.

A Dusting of Snow

A Dusting of Snow

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First Anniversary

This Saturday will be the 14th January. I understand that on the other side of the pond the floss-haired one will be inaugurated as President of the United States, something that strikes me as a being a joke too far, as well as being a jolly disrespectful thing to do on the first anniversary of Aunt’s death.

Or so I thought, but Lyn has just emailed me to say it’s the 20th, not 14th, so goodness knows where I got that idea from.

 

Auntie Mary october 2015

Auntie Mary October 2015

I meet quite a few Americans through my work. I have yet to meet one who says (confesses?) s/he voted for Trump, which may be significant in itself as I am meeting those who travel away from their home country, and I know a large number of US citizens never acquire or use passports.

A woman today, I’ll call her Jane, told me she is returning on Saturday, and marching on Sunday as a Nasty Woman who is not going to be quiet. She won’t be alone; just her party comprises two busloads of similarly nasty women. She cheered my heart. Continue reading

Welcome to Londonistan

No surprise to learn I am here because MasterB is enjoying Outside Time.

The last two mornings he has woken me up at five and asked (loudly) to go out. This is exactly what Cat used to do. It worked well with Cat and it has worked well with MasterB this weekend as I have been out most of each day, and I am glad to know he has enjoyed himself in the early morning light. It also works as I fall asleep as soon as I get back into bed.

Aunt’s obit appeared in a national newspaper this weekend. I was a bit surprised to learn it has been online for month. A friend emailed me tonight to say she had read it. She described it as ‘lovely’, which pleased me, as a) Aunt was lovely and b) I wrote it. Nearly four months since Aunt died. I hope others who didn’t know her and who don’t know me will read it and marvel at her resilience. The editor at the paper was full of admiration for her. She emailed me several times to ask for more information about Aunt. I like the thought that Aunt’s life may be an inspiration others.

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30th April 2016, Captain’s Log

My watch strap has broken. OK, not exactly the end of the world, but very annoying, and a reminder of how much I rely on being able to glance at my wrist and know what time it is. A bit more annoying as I only bought the watch strap a week ago. I'm thinking about my bed and wondering if !MasterB will settle. He's not exactly had a lot of exercise today, though earlier this evening we played for a while and then I turned all the lights out so he could sit on my knee and look out at the ducks swimming beside us and the geese flying overhead. Celia may come tomorrow, and if she does, she has offered to look in my flat for his harness and bring it with her.

 

It's cool now after a warm, sunny day. Well, warm after the winds that were gusting first thing had calmed down. Cosy on das Boot, I had woken feeling too warm. That was the second time I woke. The first time was when Himself was vocally reminding me he had not had enough to eat. I did, for a nanosecond consider getting up then. It was as dawn was breaking, and I understand that otters are swimming the river then. If it had been a simple matter of strolling down to the river bank, being immediately rewarded by the sight of frolicking otters and then returning to bed, I'd have done it. But I think it's more of a wait in the cold light of a new day and hope.

 

I heard a cuckoo this afternoon. It seems to me I always hear my first cuckoo of the year when I am at the marina. I had to leave das Boot to get a newspaper. The nearest newsagents is at Burwell. I have been there lots of times. Somewhere I read that it is the largest village in East Anglia. Until today I had thought I knew its extent. But I decided on a different route back, turning left instead of right, then a series of right turns to bring me back to a familiar road, and Burwell stretched away and far beyond where I thought its boundaries lay. I passed a building advertising freshly laid eggs and homemade chutneys. I noted it for times when the hen lady has run out of eggs.

 

My morning drive took me through Reach where I dropped off several bags of used cat litter and found the recycling bank. At the Organic Farm I bought tomato plants and a second hand copy of a Len Deighton novel I read in the 80s, a bunch of yellow tulips that had been reduced to 50p because they were already open. They opened further in the warmth of the car, and are now boldly splendid in the blue and white striped vase Mother bought from the Oxfam shop. It was intended as a present, but she started using it, as indeed she did all the other things she bought that day. At the time I was puzzled. In retrospect, I realise it was one of the signs of her entry to dementia.

 

I was wearing Aunt's body warmer, and realised I was in the local uniform of the horsey community. There's a fair at Reach every May Day Bank Holiday, and the death defying rides, tooth rotting sweet stalls and all the rest of the paraphernalia is being set up.

 

Back at the marina, Ian was working on his boat. He and his wife Jackie have become people I look forward to seeing when I come east. They are warm, unpretentious, generous. True to form, Ian checked out the engine of das Boot. I have been worried as when we ran it a few weeks back no water came through, meaning it wasn't sucking up water from the river to cool the engine. He fixed it in a trice. The pump needed to be primed. Phew.

 

I spent the rest of the day being alternately active and lazy. I finished listening to a not very good story while digging horrible muck out of the window frames. I sat in the sunny fore cabin and read the paper. I considered the filthy exterior of the port side of the boat and wished I had got the water pump and hose out after lunch. Hence the plans for tomorrow morning if it's warm enough.

 

Unusually for me I have taken hardly any photographs, though I have my good camera and all my lenses. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next time. I don't know how many more seasons I shall have das Boot, but if I can manage it, I shall be here quite a lot this summer.

Pictures to Follow

The grebes are nesting, but not next to das Boot. This year they have chosen a spot on the river. I watched them busy collecting material. It seems much noisier spot than in the marina, but I suppose most grebes don’t have the luxury of off river facilities. I took some pictures, but it don’t know they show more than vague outlines.

I forgot MasterB’s harness so he can’t have shoreleave, and this time he seems rather keen. I’ve been playing with him, but it can’t be as interesting as the smells he’d have found out on a walk. Indoor cats must miss out on a lot.

 

The forecast has been so dire I nearly didn’t come. But in my heart of hearts I knew I wanted to be here and if there was a chance the weather might be kind, I would come. So there I was this morning, still vacillating, but at the back of my mind choosing the things I would pack. Pity I forgot the harness. Maybe if it’s quiet tomorrow morning I’ll risk taking him ashore and letting him run free. Not if it’s windy though. I don’t want any accidents when he gets back in board.

 

The journey east was varied. We left in sunshine, drove through hail with winds that swept the rain sideways across the roads. Pedestrians in Stratford outlined by garments wrapped round them. Then more sunshine; winds that chased clouds across impossibly blue skies; scatters of raindrops.

 

There were roadworks. There are always roadworks in spring. One lot had us crawling several miles until we were clear. I stopped at a petrol station and filled the tank.

 

Near the start of the undulating road across the fens that leads to the marina I nabbed half a dozen eggs from the nice egg lady. The road seems even more undulating than a week ago. Mary and her two uncontrolled but beautiful Labradors was here. They ignored her commands and jumped up at me. MasterB, so had been quiet and accepting most of the journey began to cry plaintively as I emptied the car. I wanted to get the bed made before he came aboard. When I let him out of his box, he made big eyes and sniffed everywhere before taking refuge under a pillow.

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Mixed Emotions

I am aboard das Boot on a spring evening. I came here this afternoon, after a later start than planned, but I had been weeping over the tributes to Victoria Wood, then my nice neighbour Lawrence was helping connect my television to the internet.

I have a strong suspicion that Victoria Wood’s fame never crossed the Atlantic. In my adult life her writing and performances have been a continued pleasure. I believe sometime in the past I posted a link to her singing one of her many compositions, Let’s Do It. Check it on YouTube and you may understand what you have missed if her name is new to you.

Although I came up to das Boot a couple of weeks ago, I came by train, and met Brian who has been doing some work on my neglected vessel at the station before coming here in his car. Today was the first time I have driven East since Aunt’s funeral, and the first time I think I have ever stayed here without calling her. I want to tell her that the Great Crested Grebes are around and I am crossing my fingers they will again nest near das Boot; that there are new born lambs in the field next door, and pairs of ducks swimming about the marina; that I saw bluebells in the roadside woods, and stray tulips posing as wild flowers on the verge.

My visit is brief. I shall go home tomorrow. Last time I was here I realised the while. Brian has making the necessary improvements the boat’s interior has filled with dust. Like every man who has ever worked on das Boot, Brian does not share my philosophy regarding dust sheets. Whenever I leave, I cover the soft furnishings and the mattress, put bedding into zipped bags, with the aim of reducing the amount of spider poo and other unwelcome additions to them. Brian has removed the dust covers, folded them neatly, and not replaced them. What is it about dust covers that men don’t understand? Continue reading

State of Mind

I see that this week’s photo challenge is State of Mind, and that the person setting it has commented that the photos we take often reflect the state of mind we are in. I’d agree with that. I think we are often drawn to images in art galleries that speak to us in a very personal way, and it makes semse to me that I am similarly drawn to take pictures of things that either reflect where I am at the moment or which feed a particular need. But not always.

These pictures for instance were because I was alarmed by the funghi on the cherry tree. I ahve sent copies to the people who maintain the garden but so far not had a response. I’m hoping it’s harmless, but if you knwo anything about it, please laeve a comment.

So I probably shan’t be taking part in this week’s challenge. Continue reading

Of Rio, Television Sets, and Family Heirlooms

On Channel 4, whose news programme at seven in the evening is required watching chez IsobelandCat, they are starting to trail the Rio Paralympics. Can it really be four years since the blissful summer that was London 2012? Impossible. Yet maybe it’s not so bad as four years on I can still feel that thrill, that joy that marked the occasion. Seeing the footage again gives me a tingle of excitement about Rio.

Maybe this time round I’ll be able to watch the Olympics and the Paralympics from the comfort of the sofa. My postage stamp sized television is about to be supplanted by one I have inherited from Aunt. In 2012, when Jessica Ennis won gold I was up close and personal in front of the screen. It was the same when I watched David Weir, the *weirwolf*, net his three gold medals. And Hannah Cockcroft, Mo Farah and all those other amazing athletes.

It’s appropriate I have Aunt’s television as I bought her her previous one. I don’t remember ever buying shampoo for her, but that is a large part of what I have inherited too. She left all her money to the church, leaving some aside for the substantial refreshments and the cost of her funeral. While she was still alive, knowing that we would be the ones to clear her home, she said that Linda and I should take whatever we wanted or could use. Most stuff is going to a charity that works with homeless people but which also has a connection with a centre collecting things for refugees. Aunt’s clothes are going to keep women in the Calais *jungle* warm. Her fortified foods will hopefully help those suffering from malnutrition, and her stocks of gluten free food will mean some of her fellow sufferers of coeliac disease living in precarious circumstances may get the right diet. Continue reading

Substantial Refreshments

After the burial it was time to head for the hotel for refreshments. I was going to be in the limo for this journey. Philip, the undertaker, said the car would take us wherever we wanted. Within reason, he added after an infinitesimal pause. I looked at him questioningly. The day before, he explained, one woman had asked if it could take her to the coast. Mind you, he added, if you promise my father (the driver of the limo) fish and chips at the end of the journey he’ll take you anywhere.

We settled for the hotel.

A few hours after Aunt died, Older Nephew looked at the will. Aunt had left instruction that *substantial* refreshments should be provided after her burial. This immediately made us want to know what had caused her to make this specification. Annoyingly, she had gone where we could not follow to find out. My cousin Tom, charged with co-ordinating the family in NI to come to the funeral (a task as easy as herding cats), and a clergyman, laughed when I read it to him. *Light* refreshments, he had seen specified often enough, but *substantial*? This was a first.

We speculated that she must have been to a funeral where afterwards the mourners were offered a meagre selection of crisps and a packet of iced gems. Of course, we shall never know what the real reason was. A death sparks lots of questions and topic of conversations you’d like to have with the person who has just died. In my case, being charged with the arrangements, I shouldn’t have minded a little more clarification about what substantial meant. A number of people have suggested it meant quantities of alcohol, but as Aunt drank seldom and little, and the family in Ireland is almost tea total, I didn’t think that was correct.

After much studying of the menus at the local hotel which was to host the post burial part of the day, I asked them if we could swap some things, exclude all egg dishes when they said (in answer to my question) that the eggs they used were not from range birds, made a decision, and then worried about if I had made the right one until last Thursday.

A quick survey of the mourners decided I had, and at the end of the day, when the hotel staff were clearing up around the family who were the only people left, gathered around two tables pushed together and sharing stories, we had the sense to ask for doggy bags.

If I were to do it again, and that’s not likely, I would say no to sandwiches. They were the only part that disappointed. They had been made slightly in advance of our arrival and refrigerated. The result was that they were a bit dry. Otherwise, the food was great, and people tucked in and chatted. Although I obviously knew my family, and some of the friends and neighbours, there were quite a few people there whose names were familiar but whose faces I did not know. I had had the bright idea of asking people to email their memories of Aunt so that these could be included in the Order of Service.

If you caught the whiff of sarcasm in the adjective *bright*, you were spot on. It was a good idea. The end result made me glad I had done it, and lots of people said how much they liked it, but it was a headache getting some people to write more than “she was a good Christian with a lovely smile”. I felt instances of her good Christianity would build a clearer picture. The ex-teacher in me came out, and some people received returned work, where I pressed them for particular memories, rather like the Point Example Explanation pupils need to remember when writing essays. I mean, saying Shakespeare was a good writer and he had a beard won’t get you many marks in the exam, mainly because it says next to nothing about him. Continue reading