There Will Be Tears

There is nothing pleasant about seeing a ninety-six year old man in tears at his wife’s funeral. Uncle Bill bore up well, and showed evident pleasure greeting his various nieces and nephews outside the crematorium. The service, conducted by my cousin Tom, was kept light at Uncle Bill’s request, and it was good to see him nodding and smiling, laughing at one point, as Tom reminded us of happier times. The tears came afterwards, when we gathered to have tea and sandwiches and Uncle Bill was assailed by a stream of people offering condolences.

I’m glad to say he smiled again, and we made plans to meet in the summer (we being as many of the clan as can be assembled at one time) with photos to share, pencils to annotate, and memories to swap. His younger son, the one who lives in Melbourne, looks so like his father it’s a bit like time travel. He goes home tonight, so the jet lag he’s just getting over will be overlaid by the next long haul flights. But it was good to see him by his father’s side, and I’m sure he’d vote it worth the discomfort. Both sons are supportive, and the family is close. They are concerned for Uncle Bill, but while he mourns the loss of a wife, they have lost their mother, their children have lost their grandmother. That’s never easy, no matter how old you are. So mutual support all round will, I trust, be the order of the day. There are bound to be more tears, more moments of dislocation and aching loss, and that’s right too. Continue reading

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A Different Death

As it turned out, by the end of yesterday evening it wasn’t Cat’s life and death I was thinking about, but my Aunt Ella’s. I got the call around 10.30 to say she had died earlier in the evening. An expected death, but not expected quite this soon. Tonight I spoke to her husband, my Uncle Bill, Mother’s favourite sibling and the last one surviving. He’ll be 97 in the autumn. I don’t know how old Aunt Ella was, but I’m guessing around the same.
We spoke the other night after I had spent some time over the weekend with his daughter-in-law who was in London for a few days. It was she who told me Ella had widespread cancer and the doctors were talking about weeks, at the most, months. Yesterday afternoon I sent this picture to her of her then infant husband with his mother Ella.

Mother and Son

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Maybe I’m a Millionaire

On the way home from a good day out in the Smoke with Celia I bought a copy of the day’s Guardian and a lottery ticket. We’d walked, talked, eaten, been to the British Museum; Celia to the Scythians exhibition, me to look at the Assyrian galleries in greater detail.

The day was colder than I’d thought when I left home. I was glad of the hat I bought in Leigh on Wednesday. Lunch was in a small Korean café in Museum Street called Bimimbab. Delicious. I’ll happily go there again.

Doing the lottery routinely is a relevantly new thing for me. In the past I have bought the occasional ticket; at one place of work I was part of a consortium that never won anything; but buying a ticket every week is a recent development. It has a lot to do with Brexit and my fears for the future. The chances of winning the lottery are extraordinarily remote, but a touch less remote than if I had no ticket. Continue reading

More or Less Christmas

A few days before I left London for Northern Ireland Celia and I were walking down the road spotting the windows where the early adopters of Christmas 2017 decorations had been at work.

Early adopters for London that is. My first walk with WestieBoy revealed that all of Cousin’s neighbours had already dressed their homes for the festive season. Any idea I might have had that this was a country thing was put to flight when we had a three generations meal just outside Belfast. The bus between the Europa station and Saintfield went past house after house bedecked with fairy lights. My cousin Alex and his daughter Nadine were negotiating about how many trees they needed to get. Last year they had four.

I was invited to a wreath making session on Saturday morning, I declined but there were several other occasions where I found myself completely at sea amid earnest discussions about garlands, table runners and goodness knows what esoteric necessities of which I was completely ignorant.

I realised I have never been in Ireland in early December before, though I have spent Christmas there. I was culturally challenged.

I expect Auntie Anne (my mother) made a lot of Christmas, remarked Cousin. Not really, no, I answered. Mother was an ardent declutterer decades before the term entered popular usage. She tolerated Christmas decorations when we were small, but by my teens insisted that cards from friends and family were the only ornaments that mattered. I don’t remember the last time we had a tree. Cousin was surprised. She questioned me further which made me reflect on how Mother had so wholly abandoned this tradition from her native land. Not that there would have been much jollity in her home when she was growing up, but she must have seen what other families did.

I like a bit of tinsel, I am big on fairy lights at any time of year, I have gold and silver stars and little padded Christmas trees that I scatter on surfaces. Mother would not have approved. But I don’t have a tree, and the mass rush to buy and consume at Christmas leaves me cold. So I was very pleased to read this article in today’s Guardian.

There was a programme on the television earlier this week that I could not watch. It was about the most expensive presents imaginable. People with untold wealth commissioning others to find gifts costing millions of pounds. I found the concept obscene. The idea seemed to be to make the rest of us jealous of the mega rich. It made me feel their lives were very poor if this was their definition of pleasure and success. Ostentatious wealth is somehow very unattractive. That isn’t stopping me from buying a lottery ticket for tonight’s draw but my ambitions are fairly modest;enough to buy a two bedroom property with private garden in the same locality I live in now.

I’m set to enjoy my pared down Christmas. There’ll be parties and socialising, but no diamonds either on display or coveted. You can keep your designer labels and overpriced witnots. The gifts I’m giving are not expensive, but I have thought about the recipients. Prosecco will be drunk, nibbles eaten, carols sung, and far from feeling deprived, I anticipate thoroughly enjoying the jolly season.

Have a good one.

Petersfield Circular

You might think, having been unable to take photographs during the Three Generations Boat Ride as I had not checked that my camera battery was charged, that I might learn from my mistake. But no. Same error different day, different camera.

My cousin Russell and I had agreed to meet up on 25th August for a walk. Initially we were thinking of Dungeness, but it’s a pig to get to by public transport from London (though why I should bad mouth pigs I don’t know; I am pretty fond of them as farm animals as it goes) and equally awkward from where Russell lives in Hampshire.

Rather late in the day, i.e. just before bedtime 24th, we spoke, and R proposed a circular walk from Petersfield. The train journey suited and so it was agreed with R assuring me there was a pub for lunch en route.

Now back in my pre-teen days I did my first ever sponsored walk for Shelter, or possibly Oxfam, between Petersfield and Godalming. I stopped two miles short of the twenty mile goal with feet covered in blisters. I am not sure I have ever returned to Petersfield.

It’s very couth. When you leave the station the first building in front of you is a business catering for equine and country interests. There’s a book swap/exchange in the station. A station which consists of just two platforms but has toilets.

Russell was there to meet me, and the texts we had exchanged when I was on the train suggested he was less confident about the pub, so had double rations with him for our lunch. I had a bottle of water and a small bag of salted popcorn. In Petersfield I added a couple of bananas, three gorgeous apples and a peach to these, but the peach and one of the apples I had eaten before we even got to the starting point.

Starting Point, Petersfield.

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The Many, Not the Few

In today's Guardian, I learned that “Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.”

What a relief. Cancel the banquets, stand down the riot police, put the placards away. Business as usual, as Theresa May might say. Though how much longer her words will have an audience wider than her nearest and dearest is a subject bookmakers are assessing as I write.

Having held an election she did she was not going to have, to get an endorsement for hard Brexit and to do things she has not deemed the electorate sufficiently grown up to be told, Mrs May finds herself with a reduced number of Tory MPs, yet bizarrely seems to think that she can go on being PM nod acting as though the country has not just given two fingers to her plans for continued austerity and a hostile relationship with the rest of the EU.

The Tories like to paint themselves as the fiscally responsible party. I don't know how much it costs to hold a General Election, but it's obviously more than a few quid. Now the rumours are we could have another before the end of the year. Couldn't we spend the money on something else, the NHS springs to mind, and just ditch the right wing, nationalist agenda and revert to being annoying members of the EU?

For all I know, that is exactly what is happening. I am at das Boot for few days, listening to birds, not the news, planning an early night with MasterB who has already commandeered the bed. I thought he wanted to go out a little while ago, so put on an old sweat shirt jacket and discovered the mice have used most of the right pocket for nest making. I wondered where the soft green stuff had come from. We spent about five minutes ashore before he headed back to das Boot. I am hoping this will not herald a disturbed night.

It's a beautiful evening. No one else is here. We have the skies, the water and the birdsong to ourselves. The cuckoo has just stopped calling; swifts and swallows skim the water eating insects. The bats are flying by the trees.

On Friday I met my cousin Russell for a walk in the countryside near his home in Hampshire. I have been meaning to post pictures ever since. We have both been voting Green for the last I don't know how long, and that discovery of shared beliefs has helped underpin our new relationship as older adults. It also helps that he is now vegetarian, as are his wife and their two children. We were both fairly glum about the election when we arranged to meet a few weeks back, but just as the mice have nibbled at my pocket, so Jeremy Corbyn has nibbled away at the expected Tory landslide, so now we have a hung parliament. It's a strange thing to celebrate, but we are. My liver is going to rebel at some point soon.

Our grins when we met on the station platform were wider than those of a wide mouthed toad. We hugged each other and decided that lunch would be a celebratory feast, even though we were in a part of the country where as Russell put it a bit too graphically, they'd vote for a turd if it was painted blue.

And feast we had. The chef may have been Tory, I don't know, but s/he made a mean lunch. A lunch we enjoyed after several miles of green and luscious countryside as we discussed the election and its result.

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The Arrival of Spring

In the short time I have been away winter has begun to recede and make way for spring. Walking Westie Boy the past couple of days my heart has lifted to see the snowdrops and crocuses in gardens and by the roadside, fat lambs in the fields and yellow gorse in the lanes. The days are noticeably longer, dwindling to soft greys and blues as the sun streaks the clouds with pink.

 

While I looked, Westie Boy sniffed. He may have missed the rabbit that hopped ahead of us, but his nose twitched at burrows, his head disappeared down the entrances to larger animals' abodes, and we had a difference of opinion about the wisdom of rolling in cow dung and fox poo.

 

Ewes lifted their faces as we passed, keeping a watchful eye. Their lambs, less wary, bounced about them, or nuzzled at their bellies. Farmers were making the most of the extra daylight, working in the fields. Once the elderly golden retriever at the bottom of the hill rushed out barking, but when we passed on later walks, he slept on on the porch step.

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Of Cousins, Culture, Colds and My Cat

Crumbs, Friday already, just the weekend and then I fly home. Mind, I should be back in five weeks to enjoy a weekend of culture at the Heaney Homeplace with Cousin’s friend Ann. I have booked my flights this morning, and am texting and whatsapping to arrange cat care for my boy.

Last night we went to see Cousin’s brother, my cousin Tom, who has just retired as a church minister. He and his wife have their hands full packing up the contents of a house that has been home for some twenty years, finding somewhere new to live and visiting their eldest son daily in the hospital where he has been for nearly five months.

Tom was keen to offer me sets of books he will no longer have room for, or maybe I’d like the imposing and very fine sideboard his father thought would be perfect in a rectory. It wasn’t just the fact that the luggage allowance on Easyjet precludes such items that made my refusal more prompt than diplomatic; my own home is full to bursting.

The new house sounds promising, but it needs a lot of attention. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that the deal goes through quickly and the most disruptive work can be done before they move in. Retired Church of Ireland clergy do not get magnificent pensions, and this particular cleric has been giving his money to good causes for years.

So our talk ranged through family memories, Young Tom’s anticipated move to the Brain Injury Unit to begin his rehabilitation, removing polystyrene tiles from ceilings and the merits of plasterboard, whether their two cats may move to the country and live at Cousin’s while their dog (don’t stroke her, she may try to bite you) will move with them.

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