slow lane life 3

slow lane life 3

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Rounding up

I keep returning to this blog, begin a new post, get bored with the boring boringness of what I'm writing, delete it all, and go away. 

But if I don't write something soon, it will be 2017 and I will start a new year with guilt and shame, and I have enough of that already, what with the mess and disorganisation all around me today. So I shall ignore the empty boxes for the decorations still lying about, although first I will go - oh my, right now! - to water the tiny tree and apologise to it. Then I shall write something.

There, that's done. I could hear needles dropping reproachfully on the wrapped presents as I watered. Sorry, tiny tree.

No doubt you are as busy  and preoccupied as I've been? It's that time of year, although I'm not sure why it should appear so hectic, because I've been more or less ready for ages. Perhaps there's a clue in that 'more or less'....

Also, along with so many others, I have been miserable, depressed, worried and sometimes plain terrified of how the world is looking just now, and how uncertain and frightening the future appears. Yet I know we are the fortunate ones; how those who must endure the terrible suffering, the privations and violence that the media barely mention, must be feeling is impossible to truly imagine. We do what we can to stay informed, to help, to support, to campaign, to practice compassion and to try not to despair, but there are days when my safe and secure life feels like a mockery.

And yet it is what grounds me, what supports me in understanding and reaching out to others to try to help; my life is a small life, but it shows me that people, home, family, routine, loving and being loved matter immensely too. And it allows me to feel hope.

So. My small life has been quietly busy with things that matter to me.

I went to Glasgow, had a perfectly lovely time with my sister Anne, who was sporting a slightly mad hat, and looking more like our mother as each year passes. We had four lovely days together. 

We strolled through the Christmas market in George Square, decided we wouldn't be cooking at all, so we ate nice things in various restaurants instead; we also shopped in well-stocked, Christmassy, but surprisingly quiet stores (late November is an excellent time to go city shopping, it seems!), watched a bit of television, a rare event for me, and caught up properly with each other. 

We took a slow stopping train to Balloch, and had a lovely boat trip on tranquil Loch Lomond, the largest inland stretch of water in Britain. The weather changed by the minute.

All too soon I had to fly back to Bristol, where the sainted Gardener was waiting to collect me.. The flight takes well under an hour, which makes it slightly aggrieving to have to spend so much more time in the airport before take-off, on the off-chance that the security queues are lengthy and slow. 

All very easy for me, this trip, although my poor sister didn't fare so well. At this time each year she has a reunion with the group of people with whom she worked setting exams; they all live fairly locally to both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and their overnight stay in a small and lovely hotel does not entail much upheaval in their lives. 

Anne, on the other hand, has to take a ferry to Piraeus from her Greek island, the more convenient little hopper plane's schedule having suffered in the ongoing austerity measures, staying overnight in an hotel before making her way to Athens airport and then on to Glasgow. She brings a very large, almost empty suitcase.

The purpose of this enormous case is to be stuffed to its last gram of weight allowance with cat-related/Burns Night-related/cold weather-related/prescription meds-related items. I help with the packing, weighing, repacking, weighing, repacking, recalculating what needs to go by post instead, weighing and worrying. We made several trips to the post office, and I must say, the staff in there could not have been more helpful and friendly, patient and practical, joining in cheerfully with the weighing, repacking, weighing and repacking, etc. of the many items that had to go by post.  We were all on first name terms by the end, although this is in fact rather easy in Glasgow, which I consider to be the friendliest city on earth.

Next time, I promise her, I won't leave until it is almost time for her to leave too, so that she doesn't have three extra days in which to carry on with the shopping, packing and weighing palaver. 

If there is a next time..... This reunion and sisterly-shopping bonanza coincides each year with Greek ferry strike season, so her trip is always a bit of a gamble. This year, she was stranded in Piraeus on the return trip, spending several days fretting about the cold hotel room, the uncertainty of the strike's duration, the difficulty of getting a seat on the hopper plane, the state of the haggis being stored in the hotel mini fridge (yes, lots of haggis - she and her husband give a Burns Night dinner each year to 30 friends!) but mostly the general misery visible everywhere, with increasing homelessness and destitution in austerity Greece, and the thin half-starved cats, which, of course she feeds. And then she found that the little plane had a smaller luggage allowance, so she was penalised and had to pay for the excess weight. Her emails to me began to hiss with rage and frustration as they arrived.

There were more goodbyes.

At rather short notice, The Gardener's youngest decided that working in a care home just round the corner from home might not be the gap year experience of her dreams, and set off for Australia, to stay with her childhood friend and his family. It all happened rather quickly, with our enthusiastic support, leaving little time to mourn. Her older sister had blazed this trail successfully some time ago, but it is never easy to say goodbye to your youngsters and watch them step forward into the unknown and many miles away. And she was ill on arrival. I thought The Gardener was being brave as the terse dismal messages came in, but soon the photos of smiling faces and oh-so-blue sky and sea began arriving, and we settled down and stopped worrying.

Last week the Gardener and I drove to London to be the witnesses to Baby E becoming a citizen of Mexico. We drove because I couldn't bear the thought of all those trains, Tubes and buses required to reach the family; I doubt if I will be doing it again though - crossing London in crawling but dementedly-busy traffic takes forever and is frankly scary. 

We took an early morning cab to the Embassy. Buses drove flinchingly close to the cab; it is many years since I drove across London, and I know I could not do it now. 

The Mexican Embassy is a modest building, and its door brasses are sadly neglected and unpolished. (I notice these things; I'm a born old-fashioned housewife at heart.) We were early, and it was chilly. Eventually, we could go inside, to a rather nondescript front office and waiting room, where baby E could practise his high-speed crawling, slapping his chubby hands loudly on the floor as he scooted back and forth.

The citizenship and passport process was somewhat underwhelming; no pomp and ceremony, no oath of nation loyalty or whatever it was that I had secretly hoped for. Instead, it was much like any form-filling exercise in a bank or post office, except slower, although the smiling Mexican staff were delightful as they made us sign many forms and took tiny inky thumbprints from a surprised baby E. 

The whole thing took two hours, ending with a passport photo being taken of E sitting on the counter looking adorably cute - this has to be a first for any passport photo, I suspect. I found that I had mixed feelings about baby E having dual nationality, although I too had this once. The idea of him ever being free to live in another country, so far from his Grandma, does not sit easily with me! But I said nothing; it made sense for him to be registered and have a Mexican passport, able to travel freely in the country where the other half of his family live. 

The Gardener then sloped off to see the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery and get his camera's dusty sensor cleaned at Leica, whilst the less cultured of us wandered through Hyde Park and had bratwurst and a ride on the carousel in the Winter Wonderland, before taking the young Mexican home for his nap.

The next day, his doting Grandpa and Grandma went home, to spend a hectic few days preparing for the family's arrival on Friday to spend a week with us over Christmas. I decorated the tiny potted tree, watched intently by two wicked-looking cats, wrapped presents, cleared space in the fridge and freezer for the mountain of food that is yet to be bought, and made a little patchwork coverlet for Baby E's travel cot. The final (or so I thought) arrangement of the squares laid out here doesn't correspond at all to the finished quilt; mysterious! Sewing is not my strength, but baby E won't be critical of the end product.

I had a birthday. I am now 68. I don't mind in the least being 68, but I remain amazed at how I managed to get to it. Where did the years go? And did I really spend so many of them holding down a job? In retrospect, it seems a remarkably pointless way of spending most of one's life.

We went to Devon, intending to have lunch in Topsham, then a walk on Exmouth beach. But Devon was foggy - very beautiful, but bone-chillingly cold - so we gave the walk a miss and read the Sunday papers over a pub lunch at the quay in Topsham instead. Sometimes, you can cut yourself some slack, and after all, I was now 68....

So what now? Christmas, New Year, another year of fears and frights, shocks and surprises ahead of us, no doubt, and ongoing horrors, but I hope some better times too, especially respite and peace for the most troubled. We can only stay hopeful.

Happy Christmas, all, and warmest wishes for a better year ahead.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Cheese, haggis, and thermal vests

I'm off to Scotland tomorrow, to stay with my sister for a few days. She has returned from her Greek island and its unseasonably hot weather (lunching in a bikini by the sea last week!) to Glasgow and its sub-zero temperatures. She will be there for over a week, so we shall repeat last year's delightful visit, do our mutual Christmas shopping (so much easier to take the gift recipient with you, rather than guess at what might be a successful present) and generally enjoy each other's company.

We shall also complain about the cold outside, and I shall complain about the heat in the shops. It's traditional.

Her husband remains on the island, caring for innumerable cats that they have rescued and cared for over the years. So many of them now belong in the house with them that they can't travel together any more, but many more live in colonies and are fed daily as well as checked up, healthwise. A true labour of love.

The Gardener, bless him, will stay here and care for our crew, as well as ferrying me to and from the airport. I shall ring him each evening and ask penetrating questions about what he's having for dinner - if asked retrospectively, I find the answers to be rather vague, and heavily weighted towards cheese....

Me, I shall be eating whatever I like, hearty Scottish fare, designed to keep out the cold. Glasgow has some wonderful places to eat, and I take a break from my largely-vegetarian regime. Haggis may feature. What, you don't know about haggis? Och, how shocking. Read on: HERE.

Back next week, with photos. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Not shopping

I wrote a post this morning, having a good old moan about the deluge of excitable unsolicited emails I've been receiving for days, each peppered with exclamation marks, large capitalised lettering and a general sense of urgency. So irritating, I thought; I'll shop when I choose. Leave me alone.

Black Friday. What on earth is that about? Such unsubtle marketing to drive us into hasty purchases of stuff we probably didn't need, that probably wasn't a bargain anyway, and that we would probably look at sourly after Christmas, overdrawn and sick of our sudden increase in material possessions but no corresponding storage space, muttering "Why? Why?"

But then I deleted it, because I couldn't keep it short (moaning has to be brief, or people go glassy-eyed) and neither could I ignore the many worldwide social, economic and ethical issues that accompany our materialistic excesses at this time of year. Too much to write about this morning! Easier to look at my own consumerist tendencies rather than rail against other people's.

So instead, I will think about a little radio interview I once heard, in which the Dalai Lama had been taken round a supermarket (I know, a surprising sort of visit for a spiritual leader to make), emerging empty-handed. He was asked if he hadn't wanted anything in there?

"Oh yes!" he replied, with his characteristic laughter, "I wanted many things! But I didn't need anything."

A lovely lesson from a lovely man.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Third attempt

A few days ago, I drafted a blog post about how I was trying to manage a period of bleak hopelessness. You know, how the world is going to hell in a handcart, that sort of thing. Doom, gloom, depression, despair. On a really bad day, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in attendance. 

I left it in draft, feeling slightly better for having expressed my deep gloom and anxiety in words, and without passing them on to other people; I don't know about you, but sometimes talking to other angry, upset, scared people doesn't help at all, and just amplifies my own misery. And as these grim periods will, the feelings of despair faded. 

"This too shall pass" (which I once heard said in Gaelic, sounding utterly beautiful) is one of those immensely helpful phrases to keep in mind when I'm feeling low, because of its profound accuracy.

Later, I deleted all that I had written for my blog, and wrote a more positive account, about the haven of home, the reassurance of domestic life, Four Horsemen on the horizon rather than at my elbow.

I even put some cheerfulness into the next post, with photos.

And Blogger ate it. Didn't leave a scrap to show I had ever been there, glooming and unglooming over the keyboard for over a week.

Oh drat. Start again.

So here are some photos, without the previous accounts of my fluctuating emotional state to accompany them.

Looking round my home this morning, on a dark wet day, I wanted to show what was comforting and reassuring. This is what I saw:

The Gardener, cheerfully painting an ugly (not old, not original) black beam in the small cramped kitchen, whose ceiling now looks higher for its beam being changed to a watery grey-blue. He had earphones in, and sang along (tunelessly, as one often does with earphones in place) to something unidentifiable; tomorrow he will do the final coat and then move on to other pressing painting jobs. 

Cats glued to their heated pads, sensibly avoiding venturing out into the rain, whiling away the hours until dinnertime. What a life.


Cups of tea and slices of buttered home-made Blacksmith's Tea Loaf for elevenses. I baked! I haven't baked for ages, and had forgotten how much I enjoy it. This is one of those tea loaves that improves with keeping, and on day 3, was just right.

A little set of cleaning tools ordered for Baby E. He loves to chase the broom or the vacuum cleaner at home, and is a high-speed crawler; if you are the one doing the sweeping, you find yourself overtaken and your efforts seriously hampered by a small but determined 'helper'. He's going to love these. 

They prompted me to find a very old photograph of Baby E's own father, aged about two, also 'helping' his Grandma as she scrubbed the tiled hall; he preferred to sweep the pavement:

The post came; an order of tulips, which if all goes to plan, should yield containers in the Spring filled with these beauties:


Christmas presents, mostly books; I can't share what they are, but they are serious and informative, offering a wider and more balanced view of what is going on in the world than the biased reports of our hate-filled media. I think the recipients, serious and well-informed themselves, are going to be pleased.

And so the day went on, placidly, purposefully, and really rather productively. I didn't set foot outside at all, as dark, wet and windy is not my ideal weather, but I sorted through cupboards and trunks, found the Christmas decorations - and the lights all worked! - and the gift I had put away safely (i.e. forgotten where I'd put it) for my sister, whom I will be visiting in a week. The Gardener walked the dog, I made dinner, and we lit the wood burner. Cats forsook their heated pads to join the dog in front of the fire; we toasted our toes. We had a FaceTime call with the family, Baby E pressing up against the computer, fascinated by the small on-screen image of his Grandpa, and we all looked forward to Christmas, when we will be together, here.

I feel better. Home is where the heart is; my heart is always in my home. I know the Four Horsemen are out there somewhere, rattling their ghastly weapons and threatening to ride forth, but here in our little haven of a half-painted cottage, today was pretty tranquil, cheerful and - dare I say it? - almost optimistic. 

Hoping you all have something or someone to help you feel grounded and secure in these uncertain times.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Moving on

Autumn seems like a good time to be shedding old blogs. 

And so my old blog (SSL II) will be shut down at the end of the week, and I'll be blogging from this one for the foreseeable future. 

You may not notice any difference, of course, apart from the absence of family photos; the split infinitives and other grammar felonies will still be here, the fuzzy photos, the erratic postings, and the general burbling on about nothing in particular. 

If you're intending to stay, you might like to update your blog-reading list to show the new name, for anyone who missed my notice-to-move and arrived too late to find me. (That feels like a very egocentric and conceited thing to ask!) And if you want me to list your blog, and spot that I haven't (it's such a laborious process!) just let me know. I've been a bit of a slacker in both reading and blogging, but promise to Do Better now.

The cats also assure me that they will keep their own blog going, although, in my opinion, it consists chiefly of empty promises - I blame the heated pads that have proliferated in the house and kept them glued to sofa and chairs the moment the weather turned autumnal. 

Monday, 7 November 2016

Being Grandma

Back home now. Phew, what a hectic few days, being the emergency Third Pair of Hands for poorly Baby E! A long-lasting heavy cold, chickenpox and then another episode of bronchiolitis is a lot for a little 13-month-old to bear and for his anxious parents to cope with. I was glad to be of help.

But he's on the mend now, thanks to the thorough assessment and treatment offered by King's College Hospital Children's A & E Department, and within a few days I was able to return home, exhausted and grateful to have a change of clothes and shoes, a glowing wood burner and my own bed waiting for me, after a lovely welcome from The Gardener and the animals.

I'm still tired. Grandmas may be useful, and an unending source of love and support, but they don't get any younger!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Spotty Muldoon is calling

Off to London tomorrow for a few days, at short notice. Baby E's parents both have work commitments, and poor Baby E is unable to go to the nursery he usually attends twice a week, because....

....he has chickenpox.

This possibility had occurred to me the moment I clapped eyes on him when he arrived in Italy, as I always think there is a distinctive 'look' with chickenpox, a sort of washed-out shabby greyness. I'd even asked L if she'd had it before, knowing that we all had. But Baby E remained spot-free. After his return home, he started producing the distinctive blisters, and while far less unwell than earlier, is still under the weather. 

The cavalry, aka Grandma, has been called for, and has responded with alacrity. I look forward to having him all to myself during the day.

The Gardener will hold the fort here, although as his cold carries on making him miserable, I'm on the alert for tell-tale spots appearing on him too. So far so good. One Spotty Herbert in the family is enough at any one time.

It's at times like this that we wish we lived closer, but then where would Baby E come for his seaside holidays? 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Fiddling about

It's proving really time-consuming and tricky, this setting up of another blog. I want all the bells and whistles that I had on my first Blogger blog, and some of the ease of posting pictures that I had on my Wordpress blog. 

Instead, I find I'm having to set up Google Photos, and the back up system that goes with it and keeps interfering with my computer's performance, whilst trying to work out how to make my front page more useful, and not to run into the limits that Blogger imposed on the first one, as well as not losing the Wordpress one when I try to archive it. I'm not at all technical, Apple have already told me that my computer was now officially Vintage and about to become Obsolete, and I really could do with Nelly* at my elbow, guiding me through what seems an interminable process.

Meantime, I managed - when one of you raised the matter - to install a Follow button. Followers are good for a blogger's insecurity issues.... Please do use it, and then try to be patient while I muddle along hoping to make this work. 

Meantime, here's a photo of something or other, picked at random. Oh, it's a cropped section of one that makes Shelagh, our Canadian friend, and I laugh immoderately every time. The Gardener took it of us both from across the road as we chatted, sitting on a wall in Lynton last September. Neither of us had noticed the man and his dog sitting behind us - but oh, when we saw the picture on a computer screen later.... that dog!!

Look at that mouth!!

*"Sitting with Nelly" - a nice old-fashioned expression that means a new employee spending time with an old hand being shown the ropes. 

Note: I have never worked with anyone called Nelly, for which I am rather sorry, but I do remember a truly horrible woman who clearly loathed the doomed task of showing me how to work an old departmental switchboard, and who with barely-disguised hatred made it impossible for me to understand any of it. As a 17-year-old in a school holiday job, I was terrified of this gorgon and her plugs and leads, and may even find - should I ever encounter such a switchboard again - that I am Emotionally Scarred For Life.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Off we go

After so many encouraging comments, I feel I should be making more effort here! So I'll start with a round up of our recent family trip to Tuscany. 

A curate's egg of a trip, it was too....

The Gardener and I arrived at midday, were met by L, our lovely friend and dearly-loved street auntie (when we lived as neighbours in Newcastle) of Flossie, had a quick look at the glorious Leaning Tower and all the tourists taking selfies in front of it, and went for lunch. We were waiting till 5.30 when Baby E and his parents were due to arrive.

But then the heavens opened, the rain fell in torrents, thunder roared and crashed, lightning flashed, and we decided that Pisa did not hold enough delights to keep us for a few more hours and set off instead to L's home in the hills outside Lucca. Even in the deep gloom, pouring rain, and lit only by lightning, we could see how beautiful the countryside was. The next day, opening shutters in our bedroom, we were to find the most breathtaking views all around; wooded hills and precipitous roads, olive groves and drifting early morning mist - just perfect.

We looked round L's new house. She had made the life-changing decision to move to Italy over a year ago, leaving us marvelling at her courage and ability to settle in a new country, culture and language. And what an excellent decision it was!

And then we three went back in the rain to Pisa airport. L copes well with Italian rush hour driving, but her language can be a little unladylike.

The family duly arrived, and we could see at once that Baby E, grey and listless, was not well. Hard on the heels of a lengthy, barely-cleared cough and cold, he had just developed a new and horrendous cold, which was to worsen. 

We picked up a hired car from a firm we will never use again, and in convoy with L, made our way back through the continuing storm to where we had rented the huge old house next door to L for the week, met with the owners, who explained all its idiosyncrasies, and delighted The Gardener by instructing him on how to light the gigantic woodburner in the workshop. This monster, of industrial proportions, was not built to be a decorative feature in the sitting room, oh no; square and ancient, it heated the house efficiently, using logs the size of half tree trunks. The Gardener loves a stove, and that stove exceeded his expectations by miles; he emerged from the workshop each evening smelling strongly of smoke but decidedly satisfied with his results.

You can spot the stove behind the owner, here adding to the monster log pile.

The house is for sale, and if we had the money, plus the same amount again to restore it well, we'd have been sorely tempted to make the owners an offer. But dream on.....

The next day, worried by Baby E's laboured shallow breathing, harsh rattly cough and soaring temperature, we took him to the walk-in emergency room in Lucca hospital, where he was seen at once, treated (in screaming outrage) with a nebuliser and a miraculous decongestant, and emerged a few hours later with temperature down and spirits up, parents and L the translator exhausted by the process and the emotional upset. Slowly over the rest of the week, he improved, probably because he generously shared that cold with his Grandma and Grandpa Nonna and Nonno.

Things got better. We toured lovely Lucca, ate a fabulous but enormous lunch, walked the massive walls, marvelled at the colours and the beautiful buildings. What a wonderful place to have as your nearest town! L was wonderful, kind and uncomplaining about the additional duties imposed on her by our need for a translator in the hospital and pharmacy, and the growing risk of our germs passing to her to be endured after we had gone home. She drove in convoy to and from Pisa and Lucca several times, to beaches and countryside and into the hills; I chose to sit with her instead of in the hired car with the family, which gave us a great opportunity to catch up with each other thoroughly.

We went to the seaside. It was sunny and warm, though not warm enough to swim - not that I would have gone swimming anyway, no no nohow - but we sat on the sand, ate our sandy picnic, watched L's sandy dog, Tina, swim and play, and came home again in our sandy cars. 

We (L, Baby E and I) went up the hill behind the house, where the views stretched for miles, and watched a man harvesting his olives - L's aren't quite ready yet, but people are putting their nets down in readiness for this task.

The Gardener, L and I went to Florence, which L knows well and she guided us round. Now I know Florence is very beautiful, filled with wonders, but by this time my own cold was raging, and I had to battle with the sore throat, the nose-blowing and the secret longing to be tucked up in a comfortable bed instead of enacting scenes from A Room With A View. I shall have to go back to Florence (perhaps several times) to exorcise the memory of a day of Being Brave But Not Caring Very Much About Renaissance Art.

Baby E spent one wet and misty day with Nonna and Nonno while his parents visited Florence, and we did nothing at all; he was happy to lap-sit, convalescent but quiet, while we compared our phlegm and mucus production - oops, did I really say that? - and drank tea. (I am one of those embarrassing travellers who know that only in Britain can you trust the tea to be tea, and travel with my own supply. Don't judge me. I am invariably proved right.)

We visited pretty Viareggio, walked along the pier at Marina di Pietrasanta, watched men fishing, and allowed Baby E to crawl on the boardwalk, which he did with enthusiasm - he was definitely getting better - and to watch the crashing waves (and the crashing surfers in them). 

We drove uphill to Pietrasanta itself, which we loved most of all, and far too soon, it was time to pack and plan our journeys home the next day.

But then.... Baby E's mother received a text from the airline telling her that their flight had been cancelled, due to industrial action at Pisa. Ours would be brought forward by one hour.

So the family had to travel a day later than us; they didn't seem to mind (how odd of them!), and planned a return to the Marina. We left them with the hired car (for which we were charged an extortionate fee for that extra day - in fact the word extortionate was to be used more than once in connection with the car hire firm) and set off early the next morning, driven by L, whose life in the summer seems to consist chiefly of driving to and from the airport in the service of friendship. 

And our flight did not take off. We sat, and we sat, in a packed departure area, until a solution was found by our budget airline to the problem of the striking ground staff: in groups of eight, our entire cohort of passengers was trundled by small minibus to the plane some distance away, until everyone was on board, feeling very relieved, and the pilot could inform us that our luggage was to be re-scanned due to a fault with one of the machines. So we sat and sat some more. Meantime L had returned home, to email our cat and dog carers of our delay and to track our progress online. L is approaching sainthood, in our opinion.

We arrived in Bristol airport only a few hours later than originally planned, with The Gardener brewing his own raging cold. We have been feeling both happy to be home with our own animals, wood burner and comfortable cottage, but also that we must return to L in the near future, to pick up the threads of our holiday that had been somewhat marred by sickness and anxiety, this time without imposing unexpected burdens on her hospitality.

With luck, her own olive oil will be ready and bottled by then. I shall trade for it with British tea.