Slow Lane Life II

How we moved to the West Country and learned to slow down even more


The other bits

For those who asked, or wondered, here are the bits and pieces relating to the wedding or to what comes next. Most importantly, the Lovely Baby (as Anne calls him) is due on September 19th. If he is anything like his father, he will be very late, giving his mother the longest twelve days of her life, then arrive complaining of being very tired and sleep for three weeks.

The wedding was just lovely. The previous day and the morning of the wedding were not quite so lovely, and involved a lots of last-minute running about, frayed nerves and volatile emotions, deliveries of cake and decorations, creating buffet food for the planned picnic in the park later on (“there’s no more room in this blasted fridge!”), and the future mother in law, realising with some despair that not only was she not going to have time to visit the hairdresser as planned for a wash and dry, but that she would not have time to do it herself. Or find her lipstick. The lipstick that might have distracted from her lack of jewellery, that was sitting on the dressing table back home….. In years to come, when the wedding photos are resurrected, there may be murmurings of how very old and worn the mother in law looked on the big day, and they would be entirely accurate.

The bride’s stepfather, who happened to be over from Mexico staying with his old professor, was there, a charming man in a floppy green bow tie, who made the most beautiful speeches, quoted poetry, said exactly the right things at the right time, and cheerfully trotted off to the corner shop for the forgotten odds and ends.

We took some photos before setting off. Not very smiley photos, admittedly, but we did our best. No hats, no ties, what a relief. The bride wore red shoes.

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The bride had curled her hair a little, and found it to be a total waste of effort in the heat and humidity. The Gardener took the groom to the post office to send off the last-minute work orders that had been stressing him the previous evening, made sure he had some breakfast while they were out, and generally ran last-minute errands and kept matters as calm as possible. That man…. everyone should have a Gardener when times are fraught.

Once we were all in the taxis and meeting up with friends for lunch at the gallery opposite Southwark Registry Office, we all became very smiley indeed, and started to feel decidedly happy.


After lunch (the bride tucked in: “The Baby is hungry!”), she and the groom moved to another table to rehearse their wedding promises, and then we trooped cheerfully across the road for the ceremony, grateful for air conditioning at last.



And it turned into the event it really was intended to be all along, small and intimate, relaxed and calm, just 12 of us there, old friends including the bride’s super-glamorous friend from their infant school days, who had flown in from Rome that day for the occasion. Her poor mother, not long home after spending sad days recently, attending her dying mother in Holland, could not come, choosing sensibly to travel from Mexico when the baby is born; my heart went out to her having to make the decision not to come, but everyone understood her reasons.

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There were tears, of course, and not just from the bride.

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As the groom’s mother, I kept being congratulated, and for the life of me can’t think why. Maybe for surviving the previous 24 hours and still being able to smile, without whining once about having to clip my hair back with a very unclassy hair clamp and having not a hint of eye shadow or lipstick to relieve the tired eye-baggy look. Everyone became somewhat dishevelled with the heat; one friend arrived unaware of the black marks all up her arm from the builders’ debris in her house, another had to keep checking that her outfit remained modestly in place with the safety pin she had to use, everyone’s faces gleamed and glistened, and our hair misbehaved terribly. And nobody minded in the least.

The Gardener took many photos and made sure the absent mother of the bride received them very quickly, which she did, with great joy; she is already planning a massive celebration in Mexico City for next February, and we know already that it will not resemble in any way a small gathering of twelve close friends….

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The cake had to be a Victoria sponge. The bride had insisted on it, and nothing else would do. The future mother in law refused to make it, saying that it would be three days old by the time it was eaten, and anyway, bringing it from Somerset on the train, Tube and another train was not going to help freshen it up any. So the groom ordered one to be made by the artisan bakery next to his old workshop, and his talented friend made the Day of the Dead cake pops with which to decorate it. Please note the bride and groom pops.

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After the wedding cake and champagne, everyone trooped off to the park, bearing all that was needed for a picnic; this would be followed by a gathering of many more friends later for beer and pizza in the pub, where the rest of the wedding cake would most certainly be demolished. The Gardener and I had already whispered that we would not be able to stay for this, as we had to cross London in rush hour for our train home.

And so we did, in boiling heat, to reach Paddington station where the temperature was around 95 degrees at 6 pm, and where many trains were delayed or cancelled because of railway tracks buckling in the heat. But we did get home eventually, too tired to think straight. The happy couple went off for a bucket-and-spade holiday at Rye /Camber Sands, and will soon be home to pick up where they left off, working flat out, waiting for the Lovely Baby to change their lives forever, and – hopefully – to feel that their wedding, haphazard and changeably planned as it was, had been a great success, and an auspicious start to their new family life.


Half day

We’ve been busy; even I, that is. The Gardener is always busy at this time of year, complaining about the willingness of lawns to grow at supersonic speed, coming home with a startling patchwork tan, and I’ve been painting skirting boards and doing other equally dull home-maintenance tasks. Our lovely friends Sandra and Dave from Newcastle have been to stay, and the diet that was intended to reduce the Mother of the Groom’s body weight by half for the July wedding did not do well at all. Yes, there is to be a very small wedding in July; more of that another time. Meantime the poor Mother of the Baby has had a bereavement and is in Holland for funeral and family time. Her journey by Eurostar/train and bus took only 6 hours, door to door; so much easier than queuing interminably in airport security.

At short notice, The Gardener took the afternoon off, and we packed the dog and her dinner into my new(ish) car and went to Lyme Regis, on the Jurassic Coast. Three counties in one day – Somerset, Devon and Dorset. Intrepid Travellers, us.

It was a breezy, blustery day, and Lyme had a slightly gloomy feel, with day trippers milling about aimlessly and shouting crossly into mobile phones “Where are you? I saw you go into that shop and now you’ve disappeared!”. Ice creams and sharp-eyed seagulls were everywhere, and no one seemed to be having fun. The Gardener thought the place was run down, remembering a glorious impromptu visit one hot sunny day many years ago with young daughter, but I could not agree.

Amongst the closed shops and shabby back streets, there were such interesting houses, newly painted. Those colours!

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A young man was trying, and failing miserably, to launch his kite. In my experience, launching is the easiest bit; keeping the little devil aloft is where the challenge lies. But although he ran about energetically in the stiff breeze, the kite refused all coaxing and wrapped itself forlornly round his shoulders and legs.

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Stifling laughter, we walked on. Looking back, there was no evidence of a kite in the sky, and we guessed that this particular battle had been won by a piece of brightly coloured nylon on a string, with a mind of its own.


Nice little place, Lyme Regis; lots to look at, away from the main street; little alleys and hidden corners to poke about in.

We looked with interest at the new £19.5m coastal defence wall and walkway to Charmouth; Lyme Regis is particularly prone to erosion and landslip, that yields many wonderful fossils to be gathered up before the waves claim them. Decisions to protect the land against the sea (or not) are complex, and have to be made with extreme care. You can read more here, along with the excellent quote ‘The sea has more time and energy than any local authority’ (Brunsden, 2011). Living as we do close to Porlock Weir and its doomed beach cottages, we are keenly aware of the power of the sea and of the balance to be struck between us stubborn and resourceful humans and the forces of Nature. Lyme Regis has gone for rock armour (huuuuge boulders) and concrete, big time.


Further up the coast, at Sidmouth, Flossie swam in the dogs-permitted area of beach, leaping joyously over waves, clearly playing a game by herself. Such a delight to take anywhere, that dog. At Dog’s Dinner Time (how well she knows that phrase!) she amused passers-by by the speed and enthusiasm with which she polished off her meal; she was then ready to sleep, snoring audibly, on her comfy bed in the back of the car as we drove home under a beautiful sunset sky.

We’d had a decidedly disappointing pub meal, and came home muttering about the need for proper preparation next time – even spur-of-the-moment outings like this could be improved by throwing together a basic picnic. The Gardener even suggested a car kettle for tea (Thermos tea being in our shared opinion quite undrinkable) although perhaps in the West Country, richly endowed with tearooms, this might be a step too far.

It had been a pleasant afternoon, on the whole, although The Gardener will have to work overtime to catch up with his gardens and their incessant growing in order to make up for time taken out. And the chipped paintwork at home won’t wait either – the annual excuse of it being a winter job has been exposed for what it is: Putting Off.



What to do when your supermarket’s sad, reduced-in-price collection of mixed blooms are all you could find last week, and you wanted something to put in the lovely heavy vase you picked up for £4 in the charity shop? (I daren’t count how many vases I have.) Take out all the uninviting yellow and greeny-white ones, and the coarse filler greenery, and pad out the assorted pinks with a bit of frill from the garden. That’ll do nicely for a couple of days longer.DSCF0670

The rampant geranium threatens to take over the world out there, and the sweet cicely – a wonderful substitute for cow parsley (which is pretty too, but creates slimy malodorous water) – is ever obliging when you need a bit of vase-filler. DSCF0675DSCF0674

The other geranium, a cutting of the one that reaches neighbour Dave’s roof in a good year, has just emerged at the garden door, ready to go hell for leather now.


The garden is wearing pinks and purples for May….

The Patty’s Plum poppies sit prettily beside the log store, beneath the Shropshire Lad rosebuds, but they can stay where they are, visible from the kitchen door, to lift one’s heart when busy cooking dinner.


It’s been a good winter for slugs and snails too, but as they are not the correct colour for this post, they won’t be shown.


Modern technology again

The thing about becoming a prospective grandma is that you get to say “In my day…..” quite a lot. Mostly in tones of wonder at how much better some things have become. At one point, late in my pregnancy with the Lovely Son (44 years ago – unbelievable!), it was thought that there might be a twin hiding in there with him, and I was subjected to an x-ray that entailed much awkward and uncomfortable positioning. That was as techie as it got, back in my day…..

The wonder of modern scans leaves me amazed; the clarity, the detail, the fact that I now know that the Bean is to be my grandson! And how lovely to hear the joy in my son’s voice as he tells me this, his secret hope.


And somehow, it all begins to feel a great deal more real.




The camera bag and (we think) all its contents have been returned from Penzance and await collection in Bristol station’s Lost Property Office.

Your sympathy, Colleen’s suggestion of St Anthony, Lesley’s distance energy whatever-it-is, and maybe two rather snotty emails to Mark Hopwood seem to have yielded results.  Or maybe it was luck, or staff honesty. Whatever it was, The Gardener is one happy man this evening.

Today’s email from FGW’s Customer Relations Senior Officer indicates that she knew that it had been found, which suggests some follow-up on management’s part; it also contained three apologies, which in my office-based days I always thought was a good number to include in any response to a letter of complaint, even the totally bonkers ones.

We are catching a train to Bristol tomorrow to collect the bag hug the Lost Property Manager and go for lunch somewhere nice, to celebrate its return after a week of grief and loss, guilt and self-recrimination.

You may stand down now, thank you.


Lost Property or It Never Rains But It Pours


Grrrrr and grrrrr and GRRRRRRRRR! again. You have been warned.

Imagine this. You are a man whose most prized possession is a camera, one that you will never again afford. It is with you at almost all times, and you are part of a network of people with similar enthusiasms for this brand of camera and its assorted lenses and accessories. You have had a few days in London, having fun; you have spent an entire enjoyable day with other photographers at a regular street photography event known as the Leica Meet, and you have walked many miles. The next day,  it is time to sit peacefully on the train home, eat your M&S sandwiches and look forward to being back in your own bed. The First Great Western train is clean, comfortable, with lots of leg room for the tall man, and is strikingly punctual.

But when – most uncharacteristically and really rather tragically – you leave a bag containing your treasured and expensive camera and two lenses on the train as you rush to scramble off with more luggage than you are used to carrying, and realise within five minutes what you have done, you rush back into the station and report the matter at once. You do this whilst striving manfully to hide your own horror and feelings of stupidity, and you try very hard not to turn blamingly on your companion who had hissed “Hurry UP!” (twice) because she feared the train doors would close before you managed to fight through the crowds to reach them. You are both tired.

Another passenger overhearing the tale of woe in the Customer Services office suggests that you could ask for the bag to be removed at the next station, where, if you caught the following train, due in 25 minutes, you could retrieve it. Sounds like a sensible and practical solution. The bag contains enough personal ID matching what you are carrying, to prove that it is indeed your property.

But no.

First Great Western does not work that way,

Instead, you are given a central phone number to ring, to report your ‘lost property’. You ring it. This call takes a while, as the line is poor, everything has to be carefully described, and the person taking your information wants to check the spelling of every other word. Your companion is sitting marvelling, and not in an admiring way, at how many simple words have to be slowly and clearly repeated and spelled out during this laborious phone call. And she isn’t helping either: she  hisses at you again, very irritatingly, that no, it isn’t a dark green shoulder bag, but an olive drab (paler, more brownish) canvas bag with a webbing strap, and this time you do turn on her and she shuts up, blaming herself for the whole incident. The passengers in the room listen, appalled and enthralled, and devise strategies amongst themselves to be helpful when you are finally finished with your call.

Everything else you can transmit about the matter has been given: the train number, departure time, where it came from and is going to (Paddington, London, to Penzance, Cornwall – a tediously long journey, as it happens), and where you got off (Taunton), the letter of the coach, the seat numbers, the bag being situated on the overhead rack, the numerous assorted items inside the bag with said camera and lenses, what was in your sandwiches, the colour of your socks. Oh, and how your companion looks like she is already composing a letter of white-hot furious complaint about the lumbering and time-consuming process, and how she is muttering about what First Great Western would have done if you had left your child/elderly parent/cat in a travelling basket, or something life-saving like insulin, or dangerous/explosive, or horribly stinky like the cheese you once bought in Majorca and found within minutes was too anti-social to travel with. But you remain patient and polite, although you are pale and shaken, because at this point you do not recall anything at all about the insurance policy you hold at home, or even if you have an insurance policy at all.

You are told that if you haven’t heard anything within a week, you can ring Paddington and ask about your item. This sounds like a standard response, bland and vague, no indication that a process of locate and retrieve has just been set in motion. Helpful passengers and companion share feelings of disbelief at the casualness of the response; there are more mutterings of “What if you had left a ….. (insert your own example of what you might not wish to leave on a train, or indeed to find above your head in the luggage rack)”.

You go back to the car, and your companion won’t let you drive because she suspects you may find concentrating on the road challenging. The drive home is silent and brooding; the beloved camera will be hard to replace, indeed impossible if the insurance situation is as dire as you imagine, and you keep remembering what else was in the bag – your work diary for one; your birthday iPhone, a fountain pen, card readers, costly spare batteries, and probably lots of other little things that you would rather not lose.


The next day, you ring Paddington; a week is too long to wait, and your nerves are shredded.

And again, it’s a slow laborious call, repeating all the details you gave yesterday, because – despite the electronic age having dawned some time ago, none of the information seems to have been transmitted from the central number to the Paddington office.

Your companion wonders if the slowness of both call-answering people might have less to do with thoroughness or the challenge of poor lines and differing accents than with writing everything down in longhand with a stubby pencil? Perhaps the electronic age has not yet reached Lost Property.

She says nothing very much. She is still suffused with guilt for trying to rush you off the train before the door closed, and knows how brave you are being.

And then Paddington tells you airily, “Nothing has been handed in yet.”

“Handed in”? “Handed in” as in the train cleaning staff having scooped it up along with the paper cups, newspapers, umbrellas, coats, laptops, cats in travel baskets, elderly parents and other detritus that must be a regular feature of all train travel, sifting through it for items that perhaps shouldn’t stay in the black plastic garbage bag? “Handed in” by an honest fellow passenger who noticed it and decided to resist temptation to take it home and flog it on eBay? Your companion has a bit of a rant. Well, a lot of a rant. And then she finds this article, and despairs utterly. Notice where Paddington appears on the list.

TFL Lost Property office

On a moderately positive note, she (well, you know it’s me, don’t you, so I shall stop using this annoying ‘companion’ ID) has checked the insurance documents, and to our enormous relief, confirmed that the camera and one (only one!) lens were insured; it’s too early to contact the insurance company, as the ghastly week of waiting has not yet expired. But we are not consoled by the story recently heard (or read somewhere – was it from one of you?) about a woman whose simple enquiry to her insurers – that she did not follow up with a claim – resulted in a massive hike in her premiums at renewal time, just for letting on that Something Had Happened. In addition, we have to spend time reading those documents with care. Insurance policies may be written in Plain English these days, but they are still mightily complex and instil a sense of dread and hopelessness to the claimant who fears being under-insured or seen as a possible cheat. That ordeal is yet to come.

But an email has now been sent to the Managing Director of First Great Western, to highlight the rather slack responses received when about a small fortune’s-worth of photographic kit has been left on a train to be followed by swift notification and  very precise details of where the items were located. It also suggested a more… er…. dynamic approach to retrieving and securing them. A polite email. A restrained email. No sarcasm or attempts to be amusing, mostly just facts and questions –   irritatingly detailed facts, true, some questions (see above, ref. elderly parents/explosives/cats, etc and an urgent request for help in retrieving the bag, as well as a suggestion of staff training to offer more reassuring communication with worried passengers. Me at my pompous best, I’m afraid.

The Managing Director of First Great Western is called Mark Hopwood. After googling him under ‘CEO of First Great Western’ I found not only his name and email, but a number of very interesting and amusing articles about another passenger’s long but ultimately unproductive exchange of emails with him, blogged and now published as a novel. Read HERE for more about Dominic Utton, his doomed struggle with FGW and his book. The point that cheered me was that Mark Hopwood responded personally each time – or at least someone did using his name – with what looked more like a genuine response to every issue raised.


I wasn’t hoping for a personal reply, Mr Hopwood being a very busy person and we the careless travelling public being a faceless mass who leave valuables on trains in the most slapdash way, but I had hoped that we would receive assurances that all was being done, etc. etc. plus at least three apologies. The pompous email was sent on Sunday, copied to Sue Evans, Director of Communications. On Monday a standard response, bland and unencouraging, with no reference to the issues raised, arrived:

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your email to our Managing Director, Mark Hopwood.

        Thank you for writing and we will respond to you as soon as possible. 

        Kind regards
        Nicole Black |MD Correspondence| First Great Western |FREEPOST RSKT-AHAZ-SLRH | PL4 6ZZ

Grrrrr. I anticipate being told again that “nothing has been handed in yet” but perhaps I am being unfair. Nicole, find someone whose very being, body and soul, is bound up with his camera, and ask him just what it feels like to have left it somewhere by mistake. Make sure you have tissues handy; it could be a bit of a weepie.

Meantime, we – who in our daily lives try earnestly not to be too materialistic or over-attached to ‘stuff’ – murmur consolingly to each other, little phrases like “nobody died”, “it’s only a camera, after all” “we need to just let it go”. But wouldn’t it be nice to know something about its fate? Anything?

And now I’m off to enquire of the workshop how the damaged car is faring….. Things may only get worse.


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