slow lane life 3

slow lane life 3

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Just sitting thinking

I'm in my old home. It is quiet and sunny, and the absence of much of our old furniture makes it feel spacious and airy. I like this pared-down living, and think I shall never accumulate so much stuff again, wherever I live. Gardener, are you paying attention?

I'm here because I am waiting to meet a woman from a holiday cottage agency, who will 'appraise' the cottage in terms of its suitability for holiday letting. I have no doubt about its suitability, myself; this area has many such cottages, and they do well. 

But I do have doubts about the agency requirements: we can't market and let simultaneously (this makes sense) and we would be tied in for at least a year. But I shall discuss and listen, and then think about our options and the alternatives. My head is buzzing.

Potential buyers have come and looked at the cottage; all loved it, they said, but so far no one has loved it enough to buy it. So we think about holiday letting as a way of staunching the haemorrhaging of savings as we maintain two homes, although this will impact on the days when potential buyers can view the place. It's only been on the market since early March, so I must be patient, but waiting is costly.

Complications also exist relating to our new home, which is now under offer. As a mews wing of a large manor which is being sold, any sale is likely to take months, and as tenants we have protection in law, but it is unsettling, and we may not wish to stay once our lovely, kind landlady moves out. 

But for now, we stay put, and try not to predict the future too catastrophically. But we know we will never live in such a lovely place again, with its glorious view, its grounds and ponds, its absence of traffic, and its wonky old gates that we lock at night. A gated community of five adults, nine cats, four dogs, and - until a recent tragedy - a tame Muscovy duck. The notion amuses us.

Our view of the Quantocks:



Millie at the gates:



Millie and Lottie on the drive:


If we need to, we can come back to our own beloved cottage, but it feels like retreating after a difficult decision was made to sell up and move, and not carried out. And I can't bear the thought of the cats having to negotiate traffic again....

I wander round the cottage as I wait, making a list in my head of jobs to be done here this week. Outside, the recent very wet weather followed by hot sunshine has made the garden, often pretty at this time of year, turn into a wilderness. Later we must tackle the suddenly-rampaging weeds (Herb Robert - how I hate you!) and paint the shed door. 



Between March and May - rampage!



To my amusement, I notice that a couple of last year's potatoes escaped the harvesting with little E, and two sturdy 'volunteers' have emerged in the old patch. 

At the new house, my potatoes are being grown in bags and buckets, and seem to be thriving too. Little E has his own potato that he planted in a pot; photos are taken and sent to him of its emerging leaves, in the hope that he will come to enjoy gardening as well as eating.

..... The appraisal has been carried out, compliments given, and we will be given details of the cottage's earning potential soon. There are many things for me to take away and think about, and that's what I shall do. Meantime, dear Flossie has been left alone for rather too long, so I shall go back to her and the cats. We will walk, and sit in the sun, and just be in the moment.

Back soon. On the cats' blog HERE I've been questioning what to do with my own blog. Views welcome.


Monday, 18 February 2019

Happy days

Last week I was in London, visiting the family after an urgent appeal for help. Little E had been sick, with another bout of hand, foot and mouth disease, a viral condition rather like chickenpox, apparently quite common in small children, although I had never heard of it until he first contracted it. By the time I arrived, he was on the mend, but his busy parents were glad of an extra pair of hands and his mother had a dreadful cold. Oddly, given my aptitude for coming home with a cold each time I visit, I didn't catch it, despite the violent sneezing and coughing, perhaps because she dosed me liberally with high-strength Vitamin C. Or because we avoided physical contact; anyway, I was lucky this time. 

Little E and I hung out together for a few days, played, talked, sang, told stories. I generally make up the stories myself. Current favourites are those that involve a little boy, with - by amazing coincidence - the same name as E, who grows up to be a digger driver. E's mother raised an eyebrow at the career choice, but Grandma plays shamelessly to the passion of the listener. She doesn't know enough about what makes world-famous brain surgeons or  Nobel Peace Prize candidates to create a gripping story for a three-year-old, especially one who waits with bated breath for the point in the drama where the would-be digger driver - after some minor hiccups involving reversing - passes his test, is given a job and his own digger. 

Other favoured stories involve Daddy and E having adventures together, such as being lost in the woods in the dark and being rescued by a wolf. Oh yes, we love wolves, E and I, especially the ones who find you wet, scratched by brambles and stung by nettles (E having experience of these unpleasant plants), wandering in the dark woods, and set you on the road home. 


Of the many things I find enjoyable with small children, it is story-telling that I love the most; my own mother was a superb teller of simple stories, and whilst not in her league at all, I find little E a rapt listener, who loves the repetition but who sometimes rushes headlong, too soon, into what will happen next: "andthewolfcameandDaddysaid...." requiring me to alter the plot a little, just to keep him on his toes. We sing silly songs; I am not a grandmother with much dignity, and E has a great sense of humour, so we laugh a great deal together.

We went to the muddy park (and its cafe, that bustling oasis for grown ups who have just reached the end of their tolerance of swings and slides and roundabouts and trying to keep their toddlers out of the mud and the puddles). I marvel at the exotic names of modern children, and how all the mummies refer to themselves as 'Mummy', never 'I' and wonder if I did the same, all those years ago?

I enjoy these park visits less; I too wait for the moment when, frozen and damp, I can declare it is time to go to the cafe. We visited the Horniman Museum nearby, always an interesting experience; on the way there, we were thrilled to find men repairing a burst water mains (lots of large machines! Lots of water flowing in the road! A huge water-filled hole in the pavement! For E, it was probably the best event of my stay.)

On the crowded train home, I sat next to a young woman artist who was travelling to  a short residency in Cornwall and who offered me her last piece of chocolate, thus breaking our side-by-side silence. She originates from Kalmykia (no, I didn't know either) and we had one of those strange and lovely conversations that very occasionally arise between total strangers. We didn't find out each other's names, but we shared odd personal anecdotes. I told her about the gong baths that I'd experienced, and she told me about her work with sounds, and how she grew up in a republic which is the only one in the West that is predominantly Buddhist, and how she would walk in the early morning to the temple to listen to the chanting and the gongs.

A few days later we exchanged emails and first names; she wrote: "I really enjoyed our conversation, so spontaneous and joyful". Our paths will probably never cross again, but it was a sweet little experience. 

Kalmykia - an 'official' video.



This week, we have been finishing the cottage in preparation for it going on the market, with  deep-cleaning and much tidying. Although we haven't quite finished; the weather has slowed the painting of the windows, and I need to consider how to make the interior look comfortable and homely when we have taken so much furniture out of it to our new home. Not a massive challenge, but lamps and cushions, mirrors and one or two neutral pictures will help. 

Also, a clean oven. Now that is a challenge....



Already, with so many personal touches removed, it is feeling less like my home, and less painful to spend time in it, and the new place is beginning to feel homely. 

This new location is proving to be more interesting and fun than we initially thought. While I was away in London, The Gardener came home one evening to find the main drive covered in frogs and toads. Last night it was the same scene. They make a range of endearing little noises, chirrups, croaks, small cries, and cover the entire parking area outside with their presence; this is a regular annual occurrence, we're told, and we know not to drive the car at all, or to walk in the dark without a torch. But oh, in such numbers - hundreds and hundreds! - I find this sudden invasion rather unsettling. One toad fine, many toads slightly creepy.


In the morning the drive was clear, and the pond was heaving with life. I am currently consulting the internet to learn more (or more truthfully, the basics) about these creatures.





Tonight there were fewer of them out there; this chap sat quietly by our front door.



The cats go in and out, explore the ruined end of the building, and accompany the dog and I when we walk down to the bottom field and around the pond. The enmity between them and Erick continues, but seems less intense, especially as squirrels are making themselves more obvious and offering some distraction. 



Erick lurks, but not always with Scooter in his sights; he too likes a bit of squirrel-watching. And Scooter wanders into Erick's territory with increasing confidence. All of my cats love it here. But we do not become complacent.... cat battles can erupt with sudden ferocity and blood-curdling shrieks - Millie specialises in the latter, generally before a claw can be drawn.

Here is Erick, lurking in the shrubbery.


And Scooter claims the back of the house, although Erick has yet to concede it..



The couple who live in the huge trailer at the side of the main house will be moving soon, with their three mad little pugs and two cats, leaving us behind, with only the owner of the manor and her cats as occasional contacts. 

The Gardener goes to work, and I spend long periods alone and in silence, and it feels just right. I have no idea how long we will live here, or what will happen next, but that seems fine too.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Just commenting....


Checking on other people's blogs, I notice that none of my comments get published, or indeed seem to reach the recipient at all. 

When I try to post a comment, I am offered only the option to use a Google account (which I have, but am not asked for any detail), and my comment disappears without trace. Help!

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Big changes and new carpet terror


Last October, I drafted the tentative beginnings of a post which would hint at a new adventure being planned by The Gardener and I. 

I didn't go on past the first sentence because it all felt too uncertain, too unsettling, with too many unknowns to answer any questions that anyone might ask. We were about to embark on a somewhat unusual change of home, location, lifestyle, and I was less than sure that it might work out well in the end.

But now we've embarked on this new life, and I can write about it. Perhaps the very act of writing will help make it more real to me, and help restore my feeling of being grounded in my home, a sense which has got lost somewhere in the move and the half-unpacked belongings that haven't yet found a place to be put away.

About two years ago, during and after the ghastly and wounding experience of trying to sell the cottage and buy a stable conversion, when I had to choose between an unhappy sale and my own mental wellbeing, I pledged never to buy and sell simultaneously ever again. Next time, we'd rent somewhere and sell the cottage empty. Easier said than done, with cats and a dog in tow, but not impossible, we hoped.


And suddenly, a little ad appeared in the local paper, for a mews cottage, attached to a large manor, which was to let. The Gardener spotted it, and insisted that we try to view it. I wasn't keen - winter was approaching, I wasn't ready for any upheaval, and certainly not for trying to market our home in the current economic and politically unstable climate. But I went along with him, on condition that his first question to the agent was about pets being accepted; if the answer was no, we'd go no further.

But the answer was yes to cats, unsure about a dog; the owner (with four cats of her own) would like to meet the dog before deciding. At which point, we knew things should go well; amiable and placid Flossie usually makes a good first impression. She came with us to the property, and having a tennis ball in her mouth and therefore not another thought in her head, was introduced to the owner, was politely hopeful that the ball might be thrown for her, ignoring the bold cat who strolled up to sniff her and the tame duck that crossed in front of her, and successfully passed the Dog Acceptability Test.


It was a dismal, wet day; we drove round to the back of the lovely manor and viewed the cottage, which had stood empty for some months and was definitely in need of some freshening up, and somewhat to our own surprise, decided to apply to rent it. The formal process via the agent took a surprisingly long time, but in early December, all was ready, with fresh paint and new carpets throughout. 

Except that we were not. The family were spending ten days with us over Christmas and New Year, and the prospect of moving into a newly-carpeted house with a small child, a muddy dog and a bunch of cats over the festive season was too challenging to consider. Instead, we paid the first month's rent but spent the holiday in our own cottage, where spills and stains would not be catastrophic, and the cats knew where they fleeing to if the toddler proved too much for their genteel nerves. 

We had a lovely time together, brought everyone over to show them the new house, little E declaring the manor "a palace!" and enjoying being able to pedal his little tractor up the traffic-free drive. When they had returned home to London, the serious business of moving most, if not all, of our belongings, commenced in earnest.



Tractor driver, his Grandpa and Flossie visiting "the palace".

Much of my trepidation about the move seemed to centre on those new carpets. Apart from an old Persian rug in our sitting room, our own cottage has hard flooring throughout the ground floor, is very muddy boots- and animal-friendly, and we are all too aware of the wear and tear, the hairball, dog hair, and mud-related stresses our floors must endure. So far, I have been right to worry; this cottage is surrounded by evergreen oaks, and leaves, twigs and other outdoor debris find their way in quickly, supplementing the usual  grubby impact of the animals. I vacuum daily, unheard of for me; I wipe and fret. We are already resigned to the prospect of eventually having to replace those once-pristine carpets when we leave. 

Our own cottage will be spruced up in the next few weeks, and readied for marketing; neglected jobs such as painting window frames and making small repairs will be carried out next week, and then the sale board will go up. Beds and sofas remain in place there; we had no room for them here, acquiring instead a large sofa bed for when we have visitors, and they help ease the sense of unlived-inness that grieves me when I go back to my old home. I am awash with mixed feelings; I loved the cottage so much, but am ready to let it go, trusting that someone will buy it to love it too.



The 'new' bit - front door 1914

So.... where are we now? In what feels like the middle of nowhere, yet half a mile from the sea and fifteen minutes' drive from our old home, in a mews cottage, not in the least cottage-like, but more of a little wing attached to the back of a once-grand house, now part-crumbling and decaying, set in greatly-reduced grounds. Interestingly, the converted stable we had wanted to buy two years ago once formed part of this manor's estate. 

Our cottage is extended and completely modern inside, and cosy when the boiler co-operates; the mullioned windows at the front give it a historic look, despite the slightly incongruous cat flap cut into the solid front door, and behind us is a 14th Century ruined abbey. 


A huge Magnolia Grandiflora grows up through the abbey ruins, a treat for us when it flowers in summer.

The manor's heyday in the '60s came to an end with the mortal blow known as Death Duties. The current owner, who saved it from further ruin 20 years ago, holds it all together, but we fear its years must be numbered. 



The lovely door on the right is our shortcut to a huge rear courtyard.


We hope to stay here until we succeed in selling our own home. This will give us time to cull the heaps of belongings that fill our bedroom, ("This looks like some terrible fly tipping incident!" I complain) and to continue to reduce the contents of fridge, freezer and pantry that had to move with us, but that really don't have enough room here. Culling and decluttering are not easy for either of us, but we must, we really must.

It will give the cats time to grow accustomed to the malevolent presence of Erick, the owner's dominant cat; their initial excitement at having trees, a huge courtyard, ruins, to explore, and French windows to run in and out of, was tempered after a few days by Erick's arrival to pounce on Scooter and let him know who was the boss.



Scooter on Neighbourhood (Erick) Watch. 



Erick refusing to let us drive away without him.



I lit some little candles during one pre-Christmas visit; this is our hall window.





The manor is lived in all year round, and in parts is very grand indeed, with a friendly and helpful owner. Another couple live in a huge trailer to one side. Between five adults now in residence, we have 9 cats and four dogs, a tame Muscovy duck who appeared last autumn and whose previous owner could not be traced. 

The duck sometimes makes determined dashes to get inside before we shut the front door. Thwarted, she makes shrill little noises of disappointment (Muscovy ducks don't quack, apparently) and waddles stoutly off. Sorry, dear girl, but you can't come in. I have my terrifyingly-new carpets to think of....


Our bedroom window.

There is much wildlife here, deep silence and total darkness at night, no visible street lighting, no traffic, and absolutely no mobile signal. Last person home at night locks the big gates at the end of the drive; The Gardener hates them as they and their padlock require physical force and do not yield easily, especially in pitch darkness. But once inside, we become part of a tiny, somewhat eccentric community, not reliably connected to the digital outside world. We love it.

Postscript: Today I felt miserable and out of sorts, resenting being a tenant and not really in charge of my own home, and I noticed that Flossie was also rather mopey. Homesickness had hit us both. So we drove back to our old house. Flossie and I walked round our familiar circular route, then I pottered about inside the house, gathering things to bring back with us. I wrote a to-do list of jobs to be done there at the weekend, and M, our lovely friend who lives up the road and raises the blinds for us each morning, called round for a cup of coffee and a chat. The Gardener joined us, bearing long-stemmed thank-you roses for M, and then we left, Flossie and I feeling brighter and more settled after a therapeutic visit home. 

If I could pick up my beloved cottage and move it to a quieter, leafier area, I would, and never part with it. But instead, I will let it go, enjoy the present and be open to whatever happens next.... 

To Be Continued.


Friday, 28 September 2018

Some months later....

Occasionally, I receive a sweet email from a blog reader asking if all is well, as I haven't posted anything on this blog for a long time. 

Indeed I haven't, nor have I always responded properly to the enquirers, so today I'll attempt to put this right.

Firstly, thank you to those of you who still keep an eye on me, and take the trouble to wonder where I've gone. I'm touched that you do this, when you are so poorly rewarded, and sorry that you had to ask.

It's been a challenging and unusual year so far. Suzi, the friend whom I have mentioned in earlier posts, whose cancer diagnosis in February 2017 caused so much heartache, died in July this year, and I wanted to write about her final days. I wrote several draft posts, and abandoned each one. I was looking for a way of commemorating her, but also to help me to understand what they meant to me, to The Gardener, and to our friendship with her.


But this proved surprisingly difficult to do. Was this to be a post about her, a memorial of how we met seven years ago and became unlikely friends, or was it about me, and how I became unexpectedly drawn into the last stages of her life? It feels like it should be more of an account of her last days, and how we had drawn closer than ever envisaged.

I had gone to visit her for a couple of days, and ended up staying with her, at her request, through her final month of life. She lived alone, although she had many friends, but her independent spirit and sense of privacy had stopped her from exposing her fears, her increasing weakness and the ravages of cancer to almost every one of them. She presented a positive, cheerful face to the world, carried on working in the job that she loved, going out for meals and shopping trips, and hid the grim realities even when she had emergency admissions to hospital, refusing visitors and communicating mostly through that most misleading medium, texting. And as a result, no one really understood that she was approaching the end of her life and deteriorating rapidly.

But she let us know, and witness, her true state of mind and body; she called our home her safe place, and was able to be her real self here, brave and unflinching at times, but also terrified and openly vulnerable. Other than nursing staff, I was the only person permitted to to see and assist with her ever-increasing dressings. Eventually she was no longer able to travel to stay with us, so we went to her, and at her request, I stayed on, while The Gardener returned home to hold the fort.

The team of wonderful District Nurses, who called twice daily to change her dressings and monitor her condition, welcomed me into their midst, relieved that someone could remain with her at night and look after her sensibly. They relied on me to be watchful and realistic, and in turn sensitively supported me as well as Suzi. I learned surprising things about myself; I could cope unflinchingly with messy physical situations, and Suzi learned that she could accept physical help without relinquishing independence or autonomy. We recognised that we loved each other more than we had really acknowledged before. 

That month, during the heatwave, was an extraordinary experience for us both. Suzi allowed herself to be looked after, and I felt privileged to be allowed to do so. She said she loved how I didn't need to talk all the time, or expect her to talk; she understood what many people don't, namely the value of silence, of reflection. Although she was still rather keen on background pop radio, which is always a sore trial to me, she learned to turn it off, along with the audible alerts on her phone, when she needed to rest. 

At one point, knowing that her time was short, I summoned The Gardener, who, ever practical, helped with the conversation that she had always avoided, sorting out her will and her funeral wishes, which until then had existed only in her own head. Together, we sorted her affairs, worked discreetly and successfully at reconciling her with her family, and had astonishingly frank conversations about death and dying, all matters that she had put off or avoided as she clung on to life and a determination to live it as fully as possible.


I stayed with Suzi. The tiny daily outings in the car petered out. And slowly, slowly, this feisty, stubborn, strong-willed woman began to let go, to surrender to the inevitable, quietly and with her habitual  dignity. As she slept more, relied on pain relief more, ate less and began to inhabit a smaller, more immediate world of physical care, all that seemed to matter was having a reassuring presence to fetch and carry, watch and wait, hold her hand and not be afraid.

We lived quietly and just waited. And then the day came when she felt ready for the hospice, and within a couple of days had slipped away as she had hoped, quietly and surrounded by friends and family.


I look back at those last days, hot sunshine flooding her tranquil apartment in a converted mill,  with its trees, its quiet pond and its wildlife, as almost a magical time; people said to me repeatedly after her death that it must have been emotionally difficult for me to undertake these end of life tasks. 

But that is not how it seemed to me, then or now; I feel privileged, in a way that is hard to articulate, to have helped ease a dear friend through those days to slip away quietly with few of her worst fears realised. So many deaths are unexpected, or in a hospital setting, where we can feel helpless or excluded, and I appreciated very profoundly being trusted to stay to the end. 

As her Executor, I stayed on in her rented flat until her beloved cat could be re-homed with a friend as Suzi had intended, and the family could clear her possessions. It was very painful to let him go, and that was when I really felt the impact of her loss, weeping in the empty flat and feeling utterly bereft. 


I was oddly reluctant to leave the mill after a month of a most intense yet uplifting experience there, but after Suzi's well-attended funeral was over, The Gardener and I came home, to mourn and miss her, to accept that we would not be seeing her again, but to know that we would never forget her.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Looking forward

Goodbye 2017. 



Looking back, 2017 has been an abysmal year in far too many ways, and I for one am very relieved that it's coming to a close. I've felt knocked sideways by it at times.

Let's hope that the coming year is brighter, better, kinder, more caring, more thoughtful, more optimistic, but if it isn't, I will do all I can to make this happen in my own life, in little ways perhaps, but as a counterbalance to the bewildering and frightening world out there.

In line with this, I think I'm going to rest my blog for now; I've found it increasingly difficult to find much to say that isn't despondent and doom-laden. It has begun to feel like hard work to avoid every post becoming a written form of that usually-cheerful neighbour popping round unexpectedly "just to say hello" then surprising you by bursting into tears all over you.

I'll keep the cats' blog going, because there are updates - be warned, some sad ones - to post there, and the cats themselves are a source of comfort regardless, for those of us who like that sort of thing!

I wish you all health, happiness, hope, peace and love (yes! especially peace and love!) in 2018.



Sunday, 24 December 2017

It's that time again!



Yes, that time already. Time is speeding up; the familiar markers of the year have rushed through at an alarming rate. No sooner has the Summer Solstice been and gone but the family birthdays fly past, then my own, and all of a sudden the Winter Solstice is upon us too. And then Christmas arrives and my usual uncertainty as to what day of the week it is gets worse than ever.

Anyway, it's here, as is the family. The house is a chaotic mess and full of toys, noise, laundry and ridiculous amounts of food. We will be one person more this year; our friend who is seriously sick has refused to accept the barely-credible bad behaviour of her own adult children for a moment longer, and has agreed to spend Christmas with us, where she knows she is loved. She is making the long drive this afternoon. We will be bursting at the seams, but who cares. Loving kindness is the best gift of all, I think.

Baby E is no longer a baby, but a talkative toddler in love with us all, including the dog ("Hallo, Foshie!" innumerable times a day) and the cats ("Cootie gone!" - as Scooter flees from his enthusiastic advances). We are all in love with him too, despite the occasional mega-strop, and highly amused by him. He orders us about - we usually obey, although Flossie is largely oblivious to his stern instructions to sit, eat, not eat, or how his toys are "Mine! Not Foshie!" We walk on beaches, gaze in wonder on our local steam trains, and have intense conversations about diggers....





  
I hope this season will prove to be festive for you too; after the general ghastliness of this past year, we must all be wishing for a calmer, saner, more loving year to come, but also bracing ourselves for whatever lies ahead.

Wishing you all warmth and love and kindness; Happy Christmas and see you in 2018!