Slow Lane Life II

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



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.



Slow Lane Life should perhaps be called Variable Speed Life at present. Its usual sleepiness is interspersed with bursts of intense activity and planning, drama and dilemmas, family stuff that may or may not involve a wedding before the birth of the baby (I am surrounded by such indecisive people!), a new solo business for the Lovely Son.

His previous shared business was featured in May’s Home & Antiques magazine (thank you to Pam of In This Life, who spotted the article and alerted us to the glowing testimonial generously given by the couple whose house was featured. We had been shown round this house last year, and I thought the article didn’t do it justice, as it is an interesting, artistic and eclectic yet comfortable family home): DSCF0554IMG_8275 - Version 2 IMG_8269 And there are plans for another,  smaller, shared business for him and Girlfriend, of which more in due course if it works out. They’re worker bees, these two; I marvel at their energy and productivity.

On a less significant level, but still mind-occupying, has been a newly-painted bathroom for us, a decision to be made about changing my car, dented, scraped and slightly temperamental in the matter of its electrics, a patchwork baby quilt (thankfully pram-sized) to be made by me – yes, me! with my sewing skills/lack thereof! – and a ‘proper’ baby quilt, much more likely than mine to become the heirloom, made by Anne of Frayed at the Edge (who I hope will feature its progress on her blog in due course), and a garden that transmogrified overnight from muddy patches with weeds to Spring jungle. And judging by this photograph, an ill-assorted jumble of furniture to be set out properly…. DSCF0644 (2) Add to that a trip to London, missing our first train because of the appalling traffic congestion of the local county town, always a nightmare and many times worse just now as a major road is closed off for six weeks, but helped onto the next fast train by means of a sweet note written by the chap in the ticket office:

Due to severe traffic congestion in Taunton, these good people have missed their train: please grant passage. Martin, CSA

At which point the People in question stopped ranting, and were Thankful as well as Good. DSCF0661 There followed three very full-on days with the Lovely Son and Girlfriend, catching up with the Bump, shopping for the Bump, and taking the Bump out for meals. The Lovely Son had an enforced induction into one-stop shopping for baby clothes and equipment, and now knows the difference in sizes and purpose of muslin squares, particularly the top-and-tail ones that come colour-coded. For a man who hates shopping for longer than five minutes, he took it well.

The Gardener had a day out with the Leica Meet, a group of camera enthusiasts who gather to take street photographs and talk camera bodies, lenses and bags till their ears bleed with the joy of it all.

I ended up with a sore toe from all the walking (but mmmmm, that delicious Balkan dessert in Peckham Bazaar! So worth it!) and relied – unusually for me – on antihistamines to cope with the plane tree seeds blown about by the cold wind, but we had a lovely time. London is so interesting and varied for us small-town folk! We love the plethora of little independent shops, the multi-ethnicity of it all, the opportunities to shop for or eat really different food. We had a rather culture-free visit this time, but galleries and museums can wait, I guess; we’ll be back again.

And now we are happily home, and we wait anxiously: for news of the precious bag we left on the train home, for the prognosis – probably gloomy – for The Gardener’s car, in the workshop again, and for our next London date – will it be a wedding or a birth? We’ll see. Meantime, I must conquer my fear and start on that baby quilt…..


Learning curve part II

The expectant mother – Son’s Girlfriend – has been staying with us for over a week, joined a couple of days ago by the Lovely Son himself. During that time, as well as buying a pram, we have continued to familiarise ourselves with all manner of things to do with pregnancy, childbirth, child-rearing, and the many many many things to worry about regarding them all. There is so much – too much? – information out there, and it can all be used to torment the worried well. I feel almost grateful for my cluelessness at 22, in the months of blissful ignorance before the Lovely Son was born.

Yesterday evening we drove the expectant parents to the railway station, and waved them off. I wondered, as they departed with babyless pram, if I was the only person who thought about The Importance of Being Earnest?


The Gardener, his days of parenting a newborn a mere seventeen years behind him, has been a calm, sensible, reassuring rock in the turbulent seas of of fearfulness last week.

At one point, he said quietly to me: “Next week, we are not talking about babies….” Well, maybe.

We are visiting in May, and then we shall Go Shopping. And talk about babies some more.


It’s that time again

You know which time. The time when the increase in daylight shows your house up in its winter shabbiness, highlighting the high-up cobwebs, the chipped paintwork, the dingy corners.

The time that shouts “Spring clean! Tidy up! De-clutter! Paint!” but those are familiar themes here, regardless of light and season, and often ignored. But it really is that time, and action must be taken.

So we’re going to paint. This cottage is mostly painted white, which suits its simplicity, but sometimes we long for a splash of colour on the walls.

The bathroom, moist, dusty, spidery, is desperate for a makeover; its once-crisp white and pale greys are rather tatty now, and look cold and uninviting. In my desire for simple, easy-to-clean, hygienic-looking bathrooms, I fear that, quite inadvertently, I have developed a great talent for making them rather bleak and chilly-looking.

This will be our first project.

We are going for Autentico paints this time round – the Outdoor range is perfect for bathrooms and kitchens, I’m told. Just as simple to apply as Annie Sloan chalk paints, but with a much lovelier choice of colours.



Inspired by this old sponge bowl, we’ve chosen Summer Sky and Roman White for the bathroom walls, after a lively discussion with knowledgeable stockist Claire from Hatty’s Attic.

DSCF0538 DSCF0539

And while we’re adding colour, the space between the two little interior windows in the utility area will be getting this old wall shelf, recently acquired from a downsizer whose garage was bursting at the seams with all the stuff she thought she could fit into her new cottage. Oh how I empathise…..


Probably painted blue too.

I’ll keep you posted.

Now for the Spring cleaning part. (You didn’t think I’d be painting over the dust and cobwebs, did you?)


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