25 May 2010

Wild for the city

I live in London and, despite the fact that it is one of the biggest cities in the world,there is a lot of wild-life here, that you might not expect to see. Foxes are quite common - we have a family living at the foot of our garden and they often come out to play on our lawn, much to Snoopy's annoyance. I can recall our niece coming down from her home in the Lincolnshire countryside to stay with us and being surprised at seeing her first fox close up.... in London of all places. She said she never sees them in the countryside. People around here often deliberately leave food out for them and they become quite tame. One used to come to our garden gate every night, when I put out dogfood for it, but we stopped doing it as it seemed unfair to mess with their natural routine of hunting. It's quite usual to see them trotting across the road at night, or standing on the pavements, watching and listening. We have seen a badger walking across the road late at night - only one, mind, but nevertheless, proof that they live here. We are inundated with grey squirrels, so that we don't even look up if one comes into the garden. Snoopy has great fun in the park chasing them back up the tree trunks,if they dare to come down foraging for food. They often sit on our garden fence and taunt him, daring him to chase them, which of course he can't, because a patio window divides them.

Over the last ten years or so, we have had an ever-growing population of exotic parakeets. It is said they escaped during filming of the African Queen here in 1951. They hang out in our local park and can be seen squawking in the treetops or flying around in search of food. They often visit my neighbour's garden to peck at wild cherries on their tree or snatch a nut or two from the bird-feeder. There is a down-side to all this in that a lot of familiar species like sparrows and blackbirds seem to have disappeared from our gardens, where once they were in flocks, but it is lovely to see the colourful parakeets in the heart of the big city. In warm weather, you can almost imagine you are somewhere exotic. They, for their part, don't seem to mind the cold and snow in the winter!

When Greg was quite ill towards the end, he used to sit in the kitchen/diner (bottom level right - see my previous post) and watch the wild-life as it came to our garden. It was the only distraction he really had, apart from the television or looking into the bottom of his whisky glass. He always used to sit on the same dining chair from morning till night - sometimes all through the night. It was HIS chair - close to the television, close to the garden, so that he could go out for a cigarette. Kay and I have not felt like sitting in that chair since he has gone. There is not a day that has gone past when I don't come into the kitchen and half expect him to be still sitting in that chair. I sometimes pat it when I walk past and ask him why he became an alcoholic and why he left us.


About a week after Greg died, I came down one morning to the kitchen and lying on Greg's chair was a green parakeet feather. It had not been there the night before and we had not even had one in the house anywhere. I tried to rationalise that maybe the cat somehow had brought it in, but she has never even brought in so much as a mouse or dead bird before, let alone a feather and why leave it on that chair? Furthermore, I have NEVER seen a green feather lying about outside for as long as the parakeets have been here. The cat would surely be unable to wrestle killing such a large bird and if so, where was the rest of the bird? I am not a believer in the paranormal, so I tried to dismiss it with logic, but it did spook me a little. I kept the feather - it is rather pretty - and put it on a shelf in the kitchen.Then, after the funeral, Kay and I took my mother home at Easter. When Kay and I got back home again, the feather was back on the chair. Now, I don't know about you, but I have absolutely no explanation for that.

18 May 2010

Home sweet home

From what I have said in the past about living in a six-storey house, I can imagine some of you think I either live in a lighthouse or a windmill or a huge mansion or am just telling lies. Just to reassure you on all those points, my house is in a terrace of modern houses right in the suburbs of London. It's what is commonly known here as a townhouse. From the back or front it looks like a three-storey house, but the bottom level of the back and front are not aligned, so there are six half-levels. The staircase zigzags through the middle of the house. It looks a bit like this from the side.


The bottom right is the kitchen
The bottom left is the entrance hall, WC and garage.

The middle right is the lounge.
The middle left is the main bedroom and bathroom.

The top right are two smaller bedrooms, one of which is the study.
The top left is Kay's bedroom and another bathroom.


If you forget to take something to the top of the house with you, you have a long way to go to fetch it and vice versa if you forget to take something down with you. It certainly keeps me fit. Now imagine just how much more exercise I get clearing out the chaos in the study on level 5 to take things down to the garage on level 2. Up/down/up/down/up/down. Today I have been working like a navvy, breaking up some old furniture to arrange a different lay-out in the study and hopefully make more room. I've also taken several crates of old magazines, waste paper and general rubbish to the local dump. The study is beginning to change from Cinderella to the beautiful princess. Moreover, I'll sleep well tonight after all that hard work.

14 May 2010

Suddenly, my whole life flashed before me

At the moment I am keeping busy, partly through choice, partly because the daily post brings mountains of paperwork which needs dealing with. Much needs to be done in the house too. Over the last few years as Greg's health declined, he did not feel like doing any DIY which he had always loved doing before as a means of switching off from the stresses of his job. Nor did we have the funds to get someone else in to do it, as he drank and smoked our spare money away. So now, I am going through each room of our house very slowly, sorting though stuff in cupboards, clearing out rubbish, being ruthless about things I don't need any more and either taking it bit by bit to charity shops, the refuse dump, or selling it on ebay. It is a big job, because we have a house on six levels (a tall thin house with a room on each level) with 4 bedrooms, a cellar and a garage. It is not made easy by the fact that in the past we both were afraid to throw things away because of their sentimental value or in case they might come in handy one day. Once the clearing out is done, I intend to decorate the rooms - either doing the repairing and painting myself or in worst case scenarios getting someone else in to do it. I plan it will take a couple of years but it will keep me busy and therefore help me over the initial bereavement period. Apart from all that, I still intend to visit my mother frequently who lives sixty miles away and do the same in her house.



This week saw me making a start on what I grandiosely call "the study" - the fourth bedroom crammed from ceiling to floor with bookcases, his and hers desks, laptops and their now-defunct predecessor desk-top computers. Not to mention other stuff that has been dumped unceremoniously on the floor as there is nowhere else to dump it - such as Kay's old board games/jigsaws etc intended for sale on ebay so kept close to the computers as an aide memoire when I get around to writing the adverts. Yesterday, I tackled the five-drawer unit that stands alongside our desks. I very much doubt we have gone through the drawers since we moved into this house 22 years ago. Every time, in the past, that I have opened the drawers with the intention of tidying them, I have shut them again quickly, as the task looked too impossible. But there is one positive thing that Greg's death has done and that is to impress upon me that I must go through this process if only to spare Kay the job of doing it, if anything should ultimately happen to me. So yesterday, I attempted the impossible, opened those drawers and my whole life flashed before me. I had no idea what was in those drawers and what I would find. I found Greg's university dissertation written forty years ago; countless university membership cards with photos of him as a fresh-faced 19-year-old on them; all sorts of bits and bobs that had a story connected to them from different stages of our marriage; old batteries; paperclips of all sorts,shapes and sizes; home-made anniversary cards we had sent one another; the odd foreign coin from a range of countries: super 8 cine films of 1980s holidays; index cards or notebooks with his writing scribbled on them; business cards with contacts from his early days as a journalist; an instruction manual for something long gone. It reminded me of a sketch from the British comedian Michael McIntyre entitled "The Man Drawer". In a few hours, having emptied out the contents of the drawers either onto the desk in piles of subject matter or into the waste bin, I had wandered through 40 years of our life together. It was most unexpected and a strange feeling.

07 May 2010

Running with the Baton

Before he took early retirement six years ago, Greg was a journalist by profession, an international radio journalist, and was always watching news, devouring elections and enlivened by international and national politics. He would have been in his element this last few weeks, glued to the TV set, watching the first ever televised debates between the three main UK political contenders. He'd have been up all night last night watching every agonised constituency result come through. He would have been over the moon to hear about the electoral reform that clearly now seems on the cards. He was always a staunch supporter of Proportional Representation. He'd be jumping for joy. But he's not, because he isn't here and he doesn't know and he never will and he's missed it all by two months.

Me? I hate politics, I can't stand the all-night swingometers and I'd sooner have a decent night's sleep than watch the same drab line-ups awaiting their fate as the results in a constituency somewhere near you are read out. I'm just not that kind of person. I don't mind reading about it once all the fuss is over. I just can't stand the boring chewing of the cud. But this time,what have I done? I've watched it all (the debates/swingometers, the lot) and agonised and wondered at what's going to happen to us all in this ridiculous Hung Parliament situation we are now in. Because I've got to do it for Greg. He wouldn't otherwise know. How weird is that?

01 May 2010

Pounds lighter


I'm nearly three hundred pounds lighter today and I don't mean of the weight variety but of the wallet kind. Before you go imagining a big ostentatious piece of jewellery or even a boring state of the art washing machine, think again. It was spent on Snoopy's visit to the vet. Whilst at my mum's, he became very subdued, morose-looking (if you could say a dog looked as if he was about to slit his wrists - he looked it), slept all day on the bed upstairs, would not be sociable at all and would not eat a morsel for three days. Finally I noticed, when he did put in an appearance, that he kept pawing his face or rubbing his left cheek along the floor. Putting two and two together (the fact that he did not want to eat and rubbing his face) it did not need a detective to come up with toothache or something similar. A visit yesterday to a local vet confirmed my suspicions. Snoopy had a temperature and appeared to have a swelling like an abscess on one of his teeth. The vet decided an operation today under general anaesthetic was the only way to examine what the extent of the problem was and possibly extract the tooth. So after a worrying night (for me - Snoopy didn't have the foggiest idea) I took Snoopy along first thing this morning, held his paw while the pre-med injection took effect and until he was led off mildly-protesting to the operating theatre! It was rather comical seeing him desperately fighting the pre-med - his body wanted to collapse onto the floor, but his brain was telling him to try to stay upright. The result was a lot of wobbling and sinking of his back end, followed by rigid attempts to stand upright again. It was hard leaving him, but I knew it was for his own good and would make him better in the long run.


I telephoned the surgery after lunch to find out how the patient was doing and was told to collect him mid-afternoon. To my utter surprise, I was told there was no abscess at all but an enormous lump of sharp wood wedged between two back teeth and a pointed bit jammed into the roof of his mouth. Ouch. I was given said lump of blood-stained wood in a plastic bag as proof and a memento to frame, so Snoopy could tell his descendants in the future all about his war wounds. The vet thought I had been throwing sticks for Snoopy and warned me against doing this. I had to correct him that Snoopy just helps himself to twigs as they lie around in the park or woods and chomps through them (and even swallows them). No matter how hard I try to get them off him, he runs away, thinking it's a great game of chase. "It's my stick, you find your own", he seems to say. The only way to stop him eating the twigs would be to have him on the lead all the time, which, as any serious dogwalker knows, is not ideal exercise for the dog.


Anyway, the removal of said bit of wood (the consultation, pre-op blood tests, pre-med, anaesthetic, antibiotics et al) came to a few pounds short of three hundred pounds. I could have got a nice day or two at a health farm for that! But, as they say in the l'Oreal advert, ...... he's worth it.