Slow Lane Life II

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


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A Maharajah

Warning: much baby in this post. All baby, in fact.

IMG_0969Baby E’s mother calls him “Maharajah” as entirely befits a very important little person. He tries to live up to his title. (Although she also uses other terms of endearment – “Little potato!” is the one that amuses me most.)

When such an eminent being comes to stay for a week, everyone knows his or her place. We become willing slaves. The Maharajah demands attention, adoration, constant amusement, prodigious amounts of carefully-prepared nutritious dishes, interesting toys and books, an array of live animals to gaze upon in wonder and delight, and strong obliging slaves who can lift and carry him wherever he wants to go, as he increases in weight, mobility and confidence in his holiday palace.DSCF3355DSCF3394

He receives all of the above, and more. Baby E has come for a seaside holiday with his mother, who has been promised time to sleep. The house fills suddenly with quilts to sit on, borrowed fireguard and baby gates to contain, and toys, books, and noise-making stuff to play with.

The willing slaves are a given, of course. The older slave, known as Grandma, takes care of the other slaves (Mama, Grandpa) as well as His Highness, and makes sure that the animals – the live entertainment – receive some attention too. Grandpa has to go to work, but he takes the early morning slave duty, sitting quietly with the sleepy Maharajah while they both wake up properly, and then playing – sleepiness switches dramatically to liveliness in a nano-second. A chronically under-slept mother is instructed to stay in bed for a couple more hours; she does not argue.DSCF3366Version 2

The dog, always rather scared of children, learns very quickly that babies shed special dog treats very liberally. Soggy lumps of toast, half-chewed rusks (sugar-laden in my day, now organic spinach, kale and apple, all very ….er…. wholesome-sounding), and whatever falls from the high chair in pureed form – spaghetti bolognaise (favourite food ever) – are all welcomed by the new and attentive Guard of the Royal Highchair. DSCF3321DSCF3322She walks carefully beside the buggy, and His Highness helps to hold the lead.Version 2

She misguidedly hopes that babies can throw balls into the sea for her. Perhaps one day; for now, the gritty sand is just too fascinating.IMG_1012IMG_1008IMG_1009

All Flossie’s former fear of small children has vanished; she has just added to her pack, and while we remain very cautious about physical contact between Baby E and the animals, she gives him an occasional small lick on his toe, two of the cats come to greet him (fleeing when he shrieks with delight) and we trust that Baby E’s immune system has been strengthened by a week in the company of pets and their hair. The slaves’ duties do not allow enough time for much housework.IMG_1020

Meanwhile, we learn to wake up very early, ready for action. Much of our day involves feeding an enthusiastic eater, but we also go out to amuse ourselves too. IMG_0983IMG_0987

The big wheel is interesting (perhaps less so for Baby E’s mother!)IMG_0999In fact, almost everything is interesting; people, pets, places, food, everything but the car seat. We have the most enormous fun; Baby E learns on the first day to pull himself to stand, spends the week practising (standing up in the bath, the paddling pool, our laps) and by the end of his stay is ready to tackle the step out of the kitchen, which, thankfully, is too high for his chubby legs to manage.IMG_0981DSCF3334DSCF3316IMG_1017

In no time at all, their holiday week is over, and it is time to drive a squalling baby (who hates the dullness of the rear-facing car seat and must also fight very loudly the urge to sleep) and his carsick mother to the railway station some 45 minutes away. We hope to help them both onto the train – they have so much luggage and equipment! Some of it is our fault, the grandparents who send our lovely visitors home laden with gifts….

But things don’t go well. We find that the new policy at the station is to allow only one non-travelling person onto the platform; one grandparent must stay in the ticket office, saying goodbye there, and watching the other grandparent disappear with precious visitors, pram and enormous suitcase, to wait for the train and ensure that all get stowed safely on board.

There is a polite, quiet but determined disagreement about this quite nonsensical rule, which is at odds with the printed notice that states that non-travelling persons may be allowed through the barrier at the discretion of the staff. The staff (in this instance a very young man who looks rather scared) dares not re-interpret the new unwritten policy. No, there is no manager available on a Sunday.

So only The Gardener goes up to the platform with mother and baby, comes down after a few minutes (the train has been delayed) to allow me my turn. But then – so typical of him to tackle a problem head on! –  he goes off to speak to the manager, who does indeed exist after all, and suddenly reappears on the very quiet, uncrowded Sunday platform; we are both allowed to help mother, baby and luggage. He is holding the necessary complaint form; the new policy is to be reviewed soon, and our views will be made known. Oh yes.Version 2

The train stops for 90 seconds only, but the doors are locked electronically for the last 45 seconds, so we dare not get on, for fear of finding ourselves inadvertently transported to Paddington. It is already very crowded; there is almost no room for anyone’s luggage to be added, and mother and baby must leave it all in the open area to jostle their way through the chaotic coach to find their seat. We wave forlornly, but know that they cannot see us; modern travel may be efficient, but its haste is brutal.

They will be met at Paddington, and as the train terminates there, will be able to disembark in a less rushed and chaotic manner. We drive home and pack up the paraphernalia, the baby gates, toys, books, travel cot and all evidence that our lives had been turned upside down for a glorious week in the company of a little Maharajah.

PS: The day after he gets home, I receive this…..

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Five

DSCF3282.jpgOn Monday coming, I will have lived here for five years.  It seems an age, and only since yesterday, all at the same time.

So much has happened in those years, so little happens each day, and somehow I have an unimaginably different life from what I could foresee when I embarked on that long, rather nightmarish trek from Newcastle in the North East to West Somerset, one boiling hot July day.

So I have gathered up five different elements that sum up my life as it appears to me today.

  1. Relationships.

Well, the entirely-unforeseen partnership with The Gardener has to be the most significant element to be introduced into my new life. We have grown comfortable with each other, in the most ordinary ways, yet still retain the ability to talk, laugh, have fun, surprise each other, and to know that this late-found love will last us through the remainder of our  lives.

Then the arrival first of a daughter-in-law and then of a grandchild. I really believe that new parents have no idea of how their baby is going to change life, priorities, thoughts and feelings for the grandparents in the most profound and significant ways. Baby E has created and filled a space in my heart that no one else could ever usurp.

Neighbours (and their dogs) feature daily in my life; there is no escaping the fact that this area has a high proportion of older residents, mostly very interesting people, but I do sometimes yearn for younger friends with a less fixed outlook on life, and I miss my old, arty, lively, politically-opinionated friends up North. We sometimes talk of moving nearer to a city, in order to feel more in tune with other people and their interests and beliefs, but we know that we would lose something quite extraordinary by leaving such a beautiful and rich landscape. This remains an unresolved dilemma.

2. The garden.

This, my first garden, has proved to be an eye-opener for me. I have come to realise that I am not, despite my professed interest, a gardener at all; I do much better with things in pots and planters, and cannot for the life of me maintain a garden to look interesting and colourful beyond Spring and early Summer. Thereafter it deteriorates rapidly into patches of bare earth, rampant weeds, and a jumble of gone-over straggly plants concealing an army of lurking snails. The Gardener is of no use at all, except for pruning and cutting back when things get desperate, as he is run off his feet elsewhere at this time of year, and in any case, rejoices in the jungle-aka-cottage-garden style. This too remains an unresolved dilemma, but oh, can we fight over my desire to lay some lawn down! Or, ignoring the numerous roses, make it into a vegetable garden instead. But then there are the snails….

3. Finding things to do.

I remain overwhelmingly thankful that I am retired and do not, ever, intend to go back to work in any shape or form. I detest having fixed commitments; too many years of working with a full diary, I guess. And I love love love being at home. But I am also aware that I don’t have a lot to do with my time, and am secretly rather embarrassed about my laziness. This was not a problem before I moved here, as I had been so utterly exhausted in those days that becoming comatose would have felt too busy for me. But I need to think about pursuing a wider range of activity, as daily dog-walking and half-heartedly keeping house isn’t really enough any more. I know the word “hobby” is on the tip of your tongue; “short-lived interest” is poised on mine.

4. Cooking.

Broadly speaking, I gave up baking when I moved to this area of teashops and cake (although I still have too many boxes of utensils, trays and tins that need to be rehomed one day). But when The Gardener moved in, a vegetarian with a hearty appetite, I rejoiced in the opportunity to cook ‘proper dinners’ for two, and have expanded my rather homely repertoire to include Middle Eastern and generally more interestingly flavoured dishes. My spice and grain collections and range of ingredients are becoming impressive! Sumac, freekeh, pomegranate syrup, lucuma, and tons of lemons, I can offer all this and more, and I enjoy cooking more than I ever did. “What do you find to do with chickpeas?” a neighbour asked in bemused tones, and was amazed by the response.

However. There has to be a However…. As a result of all this enthusiasm, The Gardener and I turned into roly-polies, and have had to commit to a weight-loss (chiefly portion-control) regime. So now I have become the Food Police; The Gardener has become the subversive element, who enquires innocently about pudding and sneakily slips forbidden foodstuffs into the shopping trolley. But slowly, we are seeing results.

5. Blogging.

Still a great pleasure, as is reading the blogs of others, but rather too closely linked to no. 3; I simply don’t have very much to write about! And, frankly, writing was so much easier when life was fraught – some of you came through the two dreadful years of selling/buying/not selling/not buying/selling the old house/buying the cottage – such an ordeal but one offering rich blog material.

But I’m not complaining. A quiet uneventful life is just fine by me. Here’s to the next five years!

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On this day

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Two days ago, The Gardener and I hopped on a train for a day trip to Exeter, a day trip with a difference. Our chief reason was to see this, before it ended on the 7th:

Shrouds of the Somme, the work of the artist Rob Heard.

We walked uphill into lovely Northernhay Gardens, noting the sombre faces of those who  were now leaving, silent.

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What a powerful, poignant, and I have to say tear-inducing, sight; 19,240 tiny shrouded figures, immaculately laid out on the lawns, many of those nearer the edges with little flowers added by members of the public.

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Each figure represented those who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. 19,240 lives lost.

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There would be another 82,000 casualties by the end of August.

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A man read aloud, gently, from the list of the dead: name, rank, regiment, age. Many were very young, some still boys who had lied about their age to join what must have seemed a noble cause.

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Other, similarly stark and beautiful commemorative tributes had been held across Britain; I wished we could have seen the ‘ghost soldiers‘.

But this was enough. And we too left the Gardens with sombre faces, in silence.


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Who you?

T lives up the road, and is one of the village’s better-known residents. It is wise to avoid her if you need to be somewhere else and have only half an hour to get there, as 29 of your 30 precious transit minutes will have been spent wriggling in desperate politeness trying to escape from T’s entirely random flow of words, before you hoist up your skirts and run for your life. It is usually easy to know when she is approaching, as she often sings to herself, in a high voice, as she walks. T feels strongly about things; occasionally she weeps.

She is always rather smartly turned out, often carrying an umbrella, and is well-spoken, although I am told that she can swear like a trooper when roused.

I always say hello; she always looks surprised, as though accosted by a complete stranger. This has gone on now for almost five years. But sometimes I am the recipient of T’s effortless volubility. The other day we had a lively chat in the road about the Summer Solstice, along with the usual gloomy, very British refrain of  how the nights will be Drawing In from now on. We parted on friendly, familiar terms.

Two days later, she passed me again, wearing a lovely floral print summer dress. “Hello, T!” I said. “You look very nice – what a pretty frock!”

T stopped dead, and looked at me in genuine astonishment.

“Do you know me?” she asked.

For five years, T, only five years.


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Not sitting down

I walked home from Seniors’ Lunch yesterday – at a cracking pace – with Ivy, who is 91 and very deaf but who walks at least three brisk hilly miles on her own almost every day just for the love of it, as well as being in a weekly walking group. She was anxious to tell me some sad news, namely that her brother had died that morning. Her sister had come to tell her, and had encouraged her not to stay away from the weekly lunch, as she had been upset and unable to eat since saying her final farewells to her brother in hospital two days ago. She did come, ate some lunch, but seemed deafer than usual, and hadn’t mentioned her loss until we left.

Her brother had been a very sick man, and his death came as a release from suffering for him and almost a relief to his sisters. What upset Ivy most was that he had been ten years younger than her, and it felt too unfair that he should go first, taken before her, and before his time. We talked sombrely about how difficult it is, as you age and remain fit, to see so many friends and family die before you. Ivy comes from a large family, has many grand- and great-grandchildren, and is related by marriage to half the town and adjoining villages. Her memory is sharp, and goes back a very long way indeed.

As I always do, I had to look over her garden, filled with thriving yet venerable plants (“that one came from my father” – in 1963), and to admire the roses that The Gardener prunes for her each year, and I watched her go into her spotless, comfortable  little house that she maintains herself without help. But she turned about and came out again, saying that instead of “just sitting down” she would walk over to her other brother’s house, to help him with the funeral arrangements. And we marched briskly on.

Later I realised that despite her sadness and her feeling that she should have been the one to die, rather than her brother, a mere 81-year-old, Ivy had no real feeling that she was old at all. Older yes, old no. Life remained full, active, busy, independent. Long may she continue to feel that way.


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Mirror, mirror

Who is that mysterious and fascinating baby?

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It’s someone rather delightful, with a ready smile, a great sense of fun, and a Doting Grandma, that’s who.

Baby E.

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The family moved house the day before my arrival, so boxes and bags were everywhere, waiting to be unpacked, and parents were incoherent with tiredness. Not that Baby E cared; he maintained his sunny nature, his endearingly-two-toothed smile, and his confidence that life was just splendid. (Apart from having to get dressed or undressed, which, in his view, remain a serious assault on a defenceless infant, requiring strenuous (thankfully fleeting) bawling for rescue.) I had him all to myself for two days, while his mother went on a course and his father went to work. Baby E is the perfect companion.

I came home rather mopey; like many grandparents, we live too far away to be really useful, and unable for many reasons to consider moving to be nearer. It’s hard for us all. But I do miss this little boy….

Mopey days require a burst of sea and big skies, so on Sunday The Gardener and I went off to Exmouth  for the afternoon. The rain eased a little; Flossie had a rapturous swim in the sea and chased a ball about on the sand.

L1115795.jpgDSCF3236.jpgThen we explored Topsham, a charming little place, and fantasised about living somewhere with a sea (or estuary) view.

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When Baby E is older, he can come for seasidey/steam trainy/outdoorsy holidays with us; it’s a comforting thought.

PS: Spotted in London:

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