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.


  1. A lovely post, Rachel.A little bit of everything.
    And the state of the world bothers me greatly, especially knowing that so many people I know are so much closer to horror than I.
    But I try, in my piffling-small way, to give what aid I can.

    And for many there are still birthdays to be marked! I hope you marked you 68 suitably?

    If I get my skates on I may get a post up before Christmas, but in case I fall at the first hurdle - here's to you and those you love.May some of the sparkle last well into 2017.

  2. A lovely post, and great photos......good to hear you are all OK. I wish you all a " Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year". I am looking forward to my youngest ( 29) coming home from Oxford on Friday til 5th. Not seen him for a couple of months as he is busy working full time and doing a Masters! Middle son and wife will be here Xmas day and will cook the meal again....wonderful...I can just relax with a drink while it all happens ! Will see the grandkids Xmas afternoon. X

  3. That does not sound like the slow lane to me.
    The bit about driving in London made me chuckle. I'm married to a Londoner, and, after years of telling him to slow down and keep to the left on country lanes, was amazed and impressed the first time he drove me around London. It is a completely different skill!
    As for the world, if only people could put hatred to one side. Perhaps the older we get, the more pointless we see all this violence to be.
    Peace, that's what I'm aiming for in my own tiny world, and what I wish for you and everyone.
    Merry Christmas!

  4. I'm very impressed by the way you've got one of the cats to be the fairy on the top of the Christmas tree ... will they be taking it in turns ?
    Many happy returns! You're now the new 48 .
    Just the right age to join the new Dad's Army against the small-hearted stupidity, bullying and cruelty that threatens to take over .

  5. Merry Christmas to you and yours from North Carolina.

    Yes, we are a bit depressed over our recent national election (a minor thing; you might have heard about it there in the UK?) Voltaire once said "History never repeats itself. Man always does.", which makes me wonder about the coming year and all the predictions of the second coming of the 1930's. Let's hope that clearer heads and hearts will prevail.

  6. I read your news letter with avid interest. Never boring. What a lot you have done. Happy Birthday too! Like you I wonder how I have managed to reach my sixties without really taking note.

  7. A wonderful post expressing a lot of what many of us feel.Have a lovely Christmas with your family.

  8. 68 you say? That's nothing - I got to 70 this year and, like you, wonder how it happened since neither of my parents made it past 61.

    Have a wonderfully festive time with the family.

  9. Have a lovely time. (I feel for you in your Mexico-dread. As you know, I do not approve of my dear ones being far away... But it sounds as if they're fairly grounded in England at the moment.) Pat the cats for me!

  10. I must have abandoned my comment to you which was just to say I read your all your news avidly. Never boring. I wonder if I passed the Gardener at the National Gallery.
    I too wonder how I managed to be in my sixties. Surely that is someone else's age, not mine?