30 June 2022

I do like to be beside the seaside

I've just been away. On holiday. By the seaside. I managed to escape my cage for a short break with my best friend of 53 years. I even went abroad - if you can count The Isle of Wight as abroad!

Holidays these days seem to be a rare option for me. Being a widow, with no siblings and with friends who are either married and have their own plans or live a million miles away so not geographically or socially close to arrange such things with me, means that I either contemplate a holiday alone or just don't go anywhere at all. When my recently-widowed best friend of 53 years (we met as 18-year-olds on our first day at uni at the hall of residence when we came out of our rooms to use the bathroom) suggested we go away somewhere together, I leapt at the chance. She lives about 80 miles from me, so all arrangements were done by phone or text.

When Kay was little,  my husband and I used to take her camping in the New Forest. The campsite there was run by the Forestry Commission and we had wild ponies wandering around our tent which was a real joy for a five-year-old. We visited the New Forest many times after that and came to love Hampshire and particularly Lymington by the coast. For that reason I yearned to return one day and my friend agreed  that was a lovely spot to centre our holiday.

Lymington is a lovely town full of Georgian houses built around the late 1700s or early 1800s. You half expect a heroine from a Jane Austen novel to come out of one of its front doors. Its long High Street leads downhill to a cobbled harbourside, where yachts and swans jostle for space and the lamp posts are decorated with brown-headed gulls or egrets resting their legs. I have always loved being close to water - be it sea or river or lake - as I always find it very calming for the soul. Sitting on the harbourside eating an ice cream was my idea of heaven. Of course, girls need to shop and Lymington did not disappoint with a variety of unique shops (and not the usual chain stores that you find in every High Street  just about everywhere). We ventured into the New Forest and saw expanses of heathland and grazing wild ponies who wander onto the road at a split second as you pass. You have to have your eyes on stalks to be prepared for them!

Lymington harbour

Lymington Harbour

Yachts galore at Lymington

One day we caught the Isle of Wight ferry to do a day-trip as foot passengers and went over from Lymington to Yarmouth, a quaint little "town" comprising of about two short streets of shops/pubs and no more. The ferry ride was again very relaxing and I seriously felt I was going "abroad". The weather was very sunny and balmy.


For our last day/night, we moved on to Christchurch in Dorset and again enjoyed walks by the river, seeing many yachts and hundreds of swans. The Priory and Priory gardens were amazing - mentioned in the Domesday book, the Priory is an amazing piece of architecture and as we wandered around we were treated to an organ demonstration being put on for some A-level music students who were visiting.

Christchurch Priory


Norman Hall of the Priory

Ship-shape town houses on the Christchurch waterfront. Price £1.3m.

Old ducking stool in Christchurch



As I had gone down by train and the trains drivers were striking that week, I was anxious whether my return journey would be affected, but in the event, the journey was not as ghastly as I had feared and I was home in the usual time. All in all just the break I needed to dust away some long mental cobwebs. 

10 June 2022

Things are going at a snail's pace.


Kay and her fiance's hunt for an affordable house in London continues. First of all most of the prices are completely unaffordable.  But that is not the only problem.  There just aren't enough properties for sale in the region they are looking at to be commutable to both their workplaces. In fact last weekend when she and her fiance went along the high street to introduce themselves to estate agents and see what was available, the agents just laughed and said they were one of thousands doing the same. Too many looking at too few properties. Which can mean only one thing - it is a seller's market!  The recent stamp duty moratorium has caused a rush and thus exhausted the stock for sale. Plus the fear of rising prices generally has now made people cautious to move at all.  Kay and her fiance are having to move to London to start new jobs as part of their training, so need to find something and as yet have never been able to stay in one place long enough to even contemplate buying, so have only ever rented.  As they are in their 30s now, they see this as their next proper home to settle down and raise a family. 

One very run-down three-bed terraced house needing lots of modernisation and hardly any garden was on offer in excess of £800,000. It's in a labyrinth of workers' houses built around the turn of the century - rows and rows and rows of them,  back to back. There is no way a young couple on the bottom of the housing ladder can afford that. Even the 10% deposit is out of most people's reach. Their search continues in the hope that more properties will come on the market. Meanwhile it is looking like they might both move in with me in August, when they start their new jobs, and put their furniture in storage until a house in their price-range miraculously appears. That or the bank of Mum will have to help them get on the housing ladder at all. 

26 May 2022

North-South divide.

Much has been said over the decades about the great North-South divide in this country. Most of its proponents from the North argue that Southerners have it all too easy, have the best jobs, houses, standard of living etc and those in the North are hard done by. Some Northerners carry their bitterness to the extreme. My daughter was bullied terribly in her first year at a university in the North by a Liverpudlian flatmate who saw it as her life's aim to reduce my daughter to a terrified wreck and completely ruined her university experience, purely because my daughter came from down south and had a London accent.

I would go as far as to say us Southerners don't have it all and are in many cases worse off for living in the South. Yes, there are plenty of jobs and plenty of housing, but our standard of living is not great.  I don't dispute there there is higher unemployment in the North, but I am merely comparing like-professionals with like-housing and travel costs. 

Rental property in the south is astronomical compared to that in the north. On the left of the two photos below,  look at this TWO-bedroom flat on the ground floor of an old house in Newcastle for £700 per month . Compare that with a similar property in London  (photo on the right) where you can  only get a ONE-bedroom ground floor flat for a massive £1250 a month The further into the centre of London you look, they are even more expensive. The one shown is in the suburbs. A similar ONE-bedroom flat closer to the centre is £1550 per month.

   


Kay and her partner Darcy are having to move to London, as their jobs now dictate a career move about which they have no choice,  as it is part of their training programme.  Up to now they have been renting a one-bedroom flat in a crumbling Victorian house in Surrey for £1000 per month, but want to get onto the ownership ladder, as they are both now in their 30s. 

A lot of Kay's uni friends in the North have settled with their partners or husbands and bought their first properties. They can typically afford detached or semi-detached houses with a fair amount of garden in Yorkshire or Lancashire, such as this one below left at a bargain £240,000  Kay will be lucky to get a one-bedroom flat in a run-down area of London for that price. Compare that northern house price with the one in the photo on on the right to give you an idea what Kay would have to pay in London or anywhere in the Southern region for a whopping £650,000



Furthermore, If she wants to furnish it with nice things or decorate it, she will need to find the money over years and years, compared with her friends who have saved money on the house price and therefore can have it all at once and now.

The cost of travel and commuting around London and the South East doesn't come cheap either. With congestion charges of £15 to enter into the city centre or extortionate commuter train and bus fares  to get about the vast expanse of London and the SouthEast, it does not even get covered by the paltry London Weighting, which in no way makes up for the disparity of prices.

I have always argued that someone who is doing a similar job in the North to someone in the South is far better off. A teacher or civil servant or other professional will earn a similar salary, wherever they are,  but the one in the North will have their standard of living for a third of the price the southerner has to pay. They can therefore afford nicer cars, more exotic holidays, new furniture, kitchens and whatever they want to spend their spare cash on. The Southerner will have to make compromises or do without, as they have no spare cash.

The disparity does not stop there.  When buying a house, stamp duty rises according to house prices, so the southerner will always pay hefty stamp duty for a more modest house compared to their northern counterpart who, on the above examples, will pay very little stamp duty.  Even in death, if the house is passed to a southerner's children, they will be clobbered for 40% inheritance tax when they inherit a modest property, whereas the northern property (although far grander, but of far less value) will attract no inheritance tax at all.

It just aint fair. Incidentally, all of those photos shown above can be looked at in detail on Rightmove by clicking on the price tag links. 

08 May 2022

Food for thought

For the last four years I have volunteered at a foodbank which is run from a local church. It started a good few years before I joined, when somebody knocked on the vicar's door and begged for food, as they had not eaten in three days. The vicar raided his larder and produced some food. A few days later, the same person returned with a few others and the queue grew. Over time, the vicar set up a trust and the foodbank was born. 

It's main aim is to feed the local homeless, jobless, people of no fixed abode and sofa-surfers, but nobody is turned away.  Many feel quite embarrassed to be there in the first place, but you can tell they have no choice. Some are pensioners struggling to survive on a state pension, others have mental health issues, quite a few have lost jobs during the covid pandemic. The foodbank is open for a few hours every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

The vicar, however, recognised that food alone was not the only answer to their problems so has, in addition to the three-weekly food collection days, set up:

  • advocacy to advise and help filling in benefit or housing applications
  • literacy to help with reading, writing and maths
  • clothing to replace torn clothes
  • sewing to repair clothes with more life to give
  • a cooked two-course meal on the Friday sessions 
  • a cafe to have a snack and meet friends on the Tuesday and Saturday sessions
  • a shower and washing machine for those with no fixed abode

I help out handing out food and I am the sole person to do the sewing repairs. I am gradually getting to know many of them and just chatting can help them open up and feel normal, when their life is often chaos and lonely. On the cooked meal day we can serve about 100 people, on the other days at least 40 or 50.

We rely on donations from the general public (both food and money) as well as generous donations from local supermarkets and shops when their goods are getting close to use-by dates. We do not accept fresh meat or fish, but prefer shelf goods such as tins or jars.  One local baker provides end-of-day unsold bread and we do accept eggs. We offer toiletries too and even dog or cat food, as many have pets.

Sadly, over the last few months donations have not been so forthcoming, as  our usual  donors have been hit by rising costs and inflation, so stocks in our container have  started to dwindle. With this in mind, the church held a plant and cake sale yesterday to raise funds for the foodbank. I made 10 slabs of cake (shown in the photo below) and each slab was sold for £4. I helped run the cafe and the local community poured in to buy cakes and hot drinks either to eat on the premises or take away. We didn't stop for two hours serving an endless stream of people. Outside the plants were flying off the stalls too.  By the end of the afternoon, we totted up the total and were thoroughly amazed that we had collected over £1,100. In just two hours! That will buy an awful lot of tins and toiletries to see us over the coming months until the Harvest Festivals in the autumn can swell our stores again. 





02 May 2022

Animal Mad


This picture shows an advertising board outside my local cafe. It made me laugh, but it also reminded me how we as a nation love our pets. You can usually tell someone from the way they treat animals.  I have noticed that, for example, hospitable and lovely as Greek people are, they treat their animals very badly. On my Greek travels over decades, I have never seen so many stray dogs and cats, let alone tethered goats and horses out in the searing midday sun with no shade.  Seeing the awful footage of the war in Ukraine, one thing has been evident. Not only are the poor people fleeing from their homes, but they carry their pets with them. It makes the Ukrainian people's plight even more heart-rending. It could be us.

23 April 2022

How high?

When you work for the NHS as a junior doctor, you are not supposed to have a life outside the hospital. That is, at least what is looks like to me. You are not supposed to have serious relationships, settle down to buy a house or raise children. When the NHS says "jump", you reply "how high?" They don't care that you have commitments that might affect your decision to follow their bidding.

Kay has been busy since before Christmas, applying for the next stage of her career and it has been so stressful, you would not believe it. She is applying for Registrar training and selecting the specialty she will practice for the rest of her life to get her to consultant level. She has chosen two specialities which will dovetail with one another, each taking four years to qualify, so a total of at least eight years ahead of her to get to consultant.

Kay is 30 years old and newly engaged, so naturally wants to consider marriage, buying her first property and having a family in the next eight years, but all of that is in jeopardy because of her job. She has just undergone two very gruelling interviews with the two specialty authorities. On paper, she has a lot of experience  and glowing references from her bosses, but 80% of her success depends on the 20-minute interview alone. Not good if you are nervous. There is a three-week wait for the results of the interviews when you find out your ranking out of the total number of people interviewed. (Obviously there are more interviewed than there are jobs available. In Kay's case, because she was made to do an extra year, when the Royal College randomly changed the rules, there is now a bottleneck of two academic years competing for one year of jobs, which makes it even more competitive). Once you have been successful at interview, you can then place the jobs available in order of preference, obviously ranking your first choices as close to where you live or want to settle, not that THAT matters a jot to the selection panel.

Kay wants to live closer to me, so I can help with childcare in the future, plus her fiance has no choice but to be based in London, so a job in London is key. She has already been putting out feelers to house prices in the area and working out with lenders what sort of mortgage they could expect. This week loomed as the week she would know whether she had been offered a job from next August and where. The offer came in on Tuesday and was not in London. In fact it was not even close. It would involve a two-hour commute each way on motorways. She was so upset to think that she may not be able to live with her fiance/husband during the working week for the next eight years, or start a family, let alone buy a house together, if she were to accept that job.  All her dreams came crashing down. It is not made easier by the fact that she has to change hospitals every year to gain a wider experience of different procedures, so for example getting a job in a region that covers two or three counties could involve a commute of up to 100 miles a day,  if you were bold enough to put down roots somewhere. After a stressful day or nightshift that is unthinkable. She had the choice to accept the offer, decline it or hold it in case it could be upgraded for a better offer. A better offer came in, but still not close to London and in a region that covers three counties. If she moves every year to be a reasonable distance from the hospital she is allocated, then she can say goodbye to a relationship, to kids and buying a house. It is so unfair. We are praying she gets upgraded to London, although there is no guarantee. It just depends on whether people, who have been allocated London, decide they don't want it and it can be offered to someone else. 

No wonder our doctors are stressed or go abroad. The whole system needs overhauling.  This is no way to treat staff. If you want to get an idea of what it is like being a junior doctor in the NHS, look no further than the BBC series This is Going to Hurt. It says it just like it is.

UPDATE: After a week of stress and nightmares, Kay has now been upgraded to an area of her choice. Why couldn't they have offered it to her in the first place?!

01 April 2022

Musical extravaganza

One of the choirs I attend at the local boys' school had its first concert of the year last weekend and its theme was loosely musicals. I say "loosely" as there was some other stuff in there too but we covered many medleys from My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, The Lion King and then added the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley and Putting on the Ritz. Another choir joined us to cover songs from Cats, West Side Story and Les Miserables. At the end of the concert, we adjourned to the Refectory where some of the schoolboys played in a jazz band, a brass band and a pop group. They entertained the adults (both choir members and audience) while we sipped wine and bopped away. It was great evening. Kay was able to come along and watch and said we sounded great.  Here is a song or two from our performance kindly recorded by a friend who was in the audience. Spot me - I'm wearing a white top!!






21 March 2022

Garden of Hope

The weather here has recently been incredibly mild for March and today I was even able to walk around without a coat or even a cardigan. It was a lovely sunny day with clear blue skies. I suspect the weather patterns are still coming from the South. Last week, we had a fine dusting of Saharan sand over our cars and garden furniture. My window-cleaner came today and said it had made his job twice as long, as he kept having to change the water.

The fine weather has made me want to get out more and walk to do errands rather than drive.  Today I passed a sight that is a mere 50 yards from where I live and always makes me smile. It is a beacon of hope, amid the awful news coming from Ukraine, that there is basically good in the human race and good will eventually triumph over evil.

Someone along my road (let's call him Kevin) has taken it upon himself to plant a beautiful display on the common verge. Let me set the scene. This is what you see as you walk along my road. 



If you home in on the second tree furthest from you (beside a turquoise car) you will see plants around the tree. I have blogged about this before and it has been like this for quite a few years. I half-expected some jobsworth at the council to condemn it as being a health risk or something stupid, but it has remained and cheered up passers-by no end.

Unfortunately, during Storm Eunice a few weeks ago, branches of the tree came crashing down and fell beside the little impromptu garden. Council workers removed the branches from the road, but cut them up and  heartlessly dumped them on the flowerbeds until lorries could take them away. You can see the big scar on the tree where the branch once was.


Kevin was heartbroken about the way his good work had been trashed and put out an appeal on our local Facebook group for donations to fix it. I and many others contributed to his appeal and he raised a fair bit of money. This was the first thing to warm my heart that people appreciated what Kevin has been doing.  Kevin thanked us all personally via Facebook for our donations and he promised to get the site back up to its former glory.

Today, as I walked past Kevin had obviously been busy, for this is what I saw





He has even planted a little herb garden and invited passers-by to help themselves.


It really cheers me up every time I pass it and reassures me that there are more kind people in the world than there are Putins.

14 March 2022

Ukraine

My  sore thumb has continued to cause problems all week - it is difficult doing things one-handed, particularly doing up waistband buttons and washing up (I'm not supposed to get the steri-strips wet). You never realise how important a digit is, until you can't use it, particularly an opposing thumb. Hopefully the bandaging can come off today and I can inspect the wound. I have not used the car this  last week, as I did not want to cause an accident - grasping the gearstick with a gammy left hand was not so simple. Thank goodness for true friends who have ferried me about to choir sessions this week.

It's all small fry though, when considering what the poor people in Ukraine are going through.   The West stands paralysed while Putin tells lies as an excuse to perform even more uncivilised atrocities in "retaliation" (or so he explains it in his callous mind), including threatening the West with nuclear deterrents, bombing hospitals, schools and ordinary civilians' homes. 

I watched an interesting series on BBC2 about Hitler's war with Stalin (see here). It echoed many of the tactics used by Putin now and may explain what is going on in Putin's mind. I wish I knew how to copy the bit of the video here, but at 56 minutes 57 seconds on the second episode there is man talking about dictators in general and it sums up Putin to a T. 

However, I cannot believe that in 2022, some 80 years after the last World War, mankind has not learned a lesson - that war is futile and deliberate war crimes will not go unpunished.  My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people and I can only hope this terrible mess will be resolved quickly before more lives are lost and damage done. 

07 March 2022

Fun and games

Kay and Darcy visited me for the weekend to celebrate their engagement officially. We went out on Saturday evening locally for a lovely Italian meal. They certainly make an attractive couple and I am so happy for them. It takes me back to when Greg and I were young and the world lay at our feet, full of excitement and we had lots of plans for the future.

The following day we laid flowers at the crematorium as it was the 12th anniversary since Greg died. We looked at his entry in the Book of Remembrance and "told" him about the engagement, "introduced" Darcy to him and "spoke" of the awful events unravelling in the Ukraine (Greg used to work for the BBC World Service newsroom, so, had he been still alive, this awful story would have  preoccupied him at work). It was a tearful visit for us all - even Darcy who would have loved to meet Greg. 

Afterwards, I was preparing lunch for us all and managed to slice a huge wedge into my thumb pad instead of an onion. It bled profusely down my thumb, hand and arm and took at least 20 minutes of gripping it tighty to stop the bleeding enough to apply a plaster. It continued to throb all afternoon until Kay took me to the local urgent care centre for it to be examined. Fortunately it didn't require stitches but they put steri-strips on it and bandaged it up again tightly, as it was still bleeding profusely. I have been told to keep the bandage dry and clean for seven days before I even attempt to remove it -  even then it won't have healed entirely. I was planning to do a lot of spring gardening this week as the weather was dry (for a change). It looks like that is not possible now, as well as several gym visits I had planned.   

24 February 2022

Listen, Do You Wanna Know A Secret?

For the past four months, I have been sitting on some very exciting news, but I was sworn to secrecy so couldn't tell anyone about it. I say "anyone" but I think I would have not survived four months if I had told absolutely nobody. Instead I told three people, whom I trusted implicitly and I knew they would not be able to spill the news accidentally, so that it got into the wrong hands. But now I can breathe at last and publish the news........

KAY HAS GOT ENGAGED!!

I have known since the end of October, but she didn't, hence the secrecy! At that time her boyfriend (for the sake of this blog and anonymity, let's call him Darcy - for he is indeed appropriately handsome and everything you could wish for, just like Jane Austen's hero character)  contacted me and asked if we could meet in secret, when Kay would be not around. Immediately bells starting ringing in my head, but I tried not to get too excited. A few weeks passed and a weekend came in early December, when Kay was up in Yorkshire visiting old uni friends. 

Darcy came over to see me on the Saturday evening and looked very nervous. He told me he had been with Kay for six years now, loved Kay very much and couldn't envisage life without her. He wanted to ask me two questions. The first was whether I would be happy if he asked Kay to marry him.  I was so touched by his old-fashioned approach of asking me first if I minded. Of course I said YES. The second question was whether I would help him choose the ring.  Kay has often given me ideas of what she likes and doesn't  like when choosing rings, as  recently we had been looking in jewellery  shops for me to buy her something to mark her 30th birthday last summer (six months have gone by since July and I still owe her a 30th present). We have often nonchalantly looked at engagement rings in the window as we  inevitably passed by them  and she had commented on exactly the kind she would like, if ever her relationship with Darcy got to that stage. So I had a pretty good idea and Darcy knew this.

In early January, Darcy and I arranged to meet one day in Hatton Garden in Central London. I had suggested this, as there are not many jewellers locally, and those that exist are often little niche boutiques and therefore the choice is pretty limited. I felt Hatton Garden would swamp us with shops and help us decide. Sure enough, there were zillions of jewellers not just in Hatton Garden street alone but in the labyrinth of backstreets too. If we so much as glanced in a window, someone would come rushing out to accost us, asking what we wanted and invite us inside so that they could show us all they had. We got very good at giving them a put-down and in the end restricted our search to four shops that had received good reviews online. 

I had already done my homework beforehand and felt quite the expert, reinforced by the talk  the various jewellers trotted out when we sat down. When choosing a diamond, you have to be aware of the four Cs:-

  • Cut - how well the craftsman has cut it so that it reflects light to its optimum.
  • Clarity - whether there are many imperfections in it - diamonds are naturally-mined stones and so will have some imperfections, but these are graded on a scale from none at all to many. These imperfections are not visible to the naked eye but will only be picked up by looking at the diamond with a spy glass.
  • Colour - from pure transparent sparkle through to a yellowy colour
  • Carat - the size and weight of the diamond.
All the while I felt like I was with my toyboy, so had to make it plain from the start in each shop that I was the mother-in-law from hell and not the bride!  That comment produced many a smile and somewhat eased the tension (and strange looks as we walked in).

We were shown many shapes, sizes and versions of the four Cs. There was one shop where Darcy and I felt it was the best of them all. We were pretty much decided on the perfect ring, but wanted time to think about it, so left contact details with the shop and said we'd get back to them after a few days.

A few days later, Darcy had made a decision and put a deposit down on that ring. We arranged to go back in late January to collect it, once it had been polished and its setting checked. Also the diamond had a unique ID number engraved into it (not visible to the naked eye) which means if the ring is ever stolen or lost, it could be traced back to its rightful registered owner. 

Now, Darcy had visions of when he wanted to propose. Not on their 6th anniversary in late December, nor on Valentine's Day, but in a place that meant a lot to them, but that could only be done while they were on holiday and that holiday was not until this week. So from late October to late February, I have been bursting to tell all and at the same time falling over myself not to spill the beans to Kay, every time I spoke to her, particularly as I was conferring with Darcy behind her back.  Darcy finally proposed to her on Tuesday  (an auspicious day as the date was 22.02.2022) on a romantic walk that meant a lot to them both and the secret is, well, no longer a secret! She said YES.

Now I can relax - but only for a bit. After all, I've now got wedding planning to do and, in the absence of Greg, who would certainly approve of Darcy,  of that I am certain,  I've got a father-of-the-bride speech to write. Wish me luck. 

19 February 2022

A Sign of the Times

For some strange reason, I often wake at exactly the same time in the middle of the night. I am not sure why.  Seeing as I live close to a railway line, maybe that's the time when the first commuter train to London passes by or maybe it's an aircraft flying low as it makes its descent towards Heathrow airport. It may be neither of those things and an inherent part of my bodyclock. Goodness knows, but I can get quite excited rather than upset when I look at the clock and see.....




Just look at that symmetry -all 5s. I feel disappointed if it reads 5:21 or 5:36. It's just not the same. 

Similarly I can get excited, if I wake and see.....



Or the same if I see 1:23 - there's a pattern there. Ascending or descending.
 
An even more special time is......


That really is the cream on the cake. 

And don't get me started on words a digital clock can spell, such as SOB (5:06), BIG (6:19), BOB (8:08), BIB (8:18) and GOB (9:06). 

Do you think it's time for the men in white coats to come and get me?

12 February 2022

BLOOMING LOVELY

Two of my choir friends gave me an amaryllis plant at Christmas. It was already potted with a huge bulb protruding above the soil and about two inches of stalk growing from the bulb. I didn't have a chance to deal with it before Christmas, but took it out of its box in late December and followed the instructions to put it near light and keep it lightly watered.

For a week not a lot happened, but by early January the stem started slowly to grow taller. By mid January it was a good foot tall. 

By late January it was two feet tall and a bud was visible. 


The bud pushed higher and higher each day until you could almost see it grow - it was gaining about 2-3 inches each day. I put a stake in, as I was afraid the stem might not take the weight of the bloom. 


The bud pushed higher and higher above the stake. It got to three feet tall and then the bud started to pop into five segments. 






During this week, the individual segments have popped and the most beautiful blooms have appeared, each 8 inches across in diameter (the size of a bread-and-butter plate). It really is a beauty to behold. 


I had never had experience of an amaryllis before, but I certainly can recommend having one.  They provide so much joy watching them shoot up and bloom in a matter of SIX weeks. Apparently with the right care, you can cut them back to soil level and leave them outdoors over summer, then bring them back indoors before winter and start them off again in December. Fingers crossed I can get the same enjoyment next winter. 

06 February 2022

Busy bee

You may have noticed (or not) that I have not been posting for weeks. My diary has been a merry-go-round. Apart from the usual stuff that keeps me occupied, I have been experimenting with new things.

My friends and I are still looking for a choir that has a similar sort of vibe and repertoire as our old one that broke up in March 2020. The woman who ran that had simply given up under pressure, as she had too many irons in the fire and couldn't cope. The choir was the one thing she apparently found dispensable. The lockdowns were the perfect excuse not to continue and we were dumped unceremoniously by email. I had made four lovely friends through that choir and we became "ladies wot lunch" outside the choir rehearsals. Once lockdowns and choir restrictions were relaxed, all five of us sought to find a choir similar to the disbanded one. We found one local choir in September that we love and will continue with that, but the genre of music is more semi classical (whereas the old choir was lighter - pop, soul, folk, musicals) so it still did not quite fit the bill and we wanted to find a second one. as a contrast.  We must have tried umpteen different choirs since September and from January we continued in earnest to find more. Two weeks ago, we tried another. It is supposedly more light-hearted although this term we are singing the entire score from Hamilton - for those who know that musical it is predominantly rap and very challenging. I think we shall persevere if only for the challenge! Unfortunately, despite very stringent rules (open windows in freezing weather, lateral flow tests before rehearsal, nobody to attend if they even have cold), we received emails ten days ago to say the choir leader and eight sopranos have all tested  Covid-positive, so this week we have had a firebreak and there has been no rehearsal.  I have been testing  every day for the last ten days and so far so good......

The other demand on my time has been that I have joined a gym. I really enjoyed the twelve free NHS-referral sessions I had last autumn, so felt inspired to take up membership. Membership for the over-60s costs less than the weekly single pilates class I used to go to, but membership allows me to go to the gym as many times and for as long as I want, get a choice of over 100 classes a week and use of the swimming pool. It is, as they say, a no-brainer. I've had a health-check, in which I was told I have a metabolic age of 56 (in reality I am 71), so that cheered me up no end,  and my bone density is fine for my age as is my blood pressure. I need to lose half a stone (the excesses of Christmas and a November birthday always pile on a few pounds). I also had a proper induction to all the equipment in the gym and have managed two classes all in a week. I have another 98 classes to go to and see which ones become my favourites, so am feeling positive. 




09 January 2022

The Catalyst

I have found it very hard to cry since Greg died. Part of the reason is that the last six years of our marriage was very traumatic.  Greg's drinking was on such an astronomical scale that my life was like a living a nightmare, so when Greg died, the nightmare stopped and it was a relief. I could breathe again, never more to be afraid of what I might find in the morning or even whether there would be a morning at all, if a cigarette fell from his drunken hand in the night and caused a blaze. There have been occasions when I have been close to crying with wistful thoughts of what might have been if he had lived and been sober. I have often played out what retirement would have looked like together, if we had had the chance, but then reality has dragged me back into the real world and I know, if he had survived the tumultuous symptoms building up all over his body, our relationship would not have survived intact. 

There have been so many times when I wished he could be here to witness what it going on in the world. As a news journalist for the BBC World Service, he was always interested in world events and we would have had long conversations about Trump, Boris, Covid, Afghanistan, Syria, even the Lib-Con coalition in 2010. He has missed all that and there are times I want to tell him all about it, but still I have not cried.

This weekend, Kay and her boyfriend have been visiting me. After supper last night we put on a film I had recorded from the TV over Christmas. It was A Star is Born - the 2018 version with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Filmwise I have lived in a sort of bubble for decades. I have seen a few  films, but many have passed me by as my hearing is not great without subtitles, so I tend not to go to the cinema and often haven't the stamina to sit through one at home. Anyway, it's not much fun watching a film on your own. I must also confess that I hadn't thought much up to now of Lady Gaga either, but then, if truth be told, I had only heard a few of her songs which seemed as crazy as her dress sense. I also knew A Star is Born was a remake of an earlier film in 1976, but I had never seen that one either.

So we settled down to watch it last night and by the end of it, I was blubbering like a baby. For those who haven't seen it, it featured an alcoholic whose musical career hits the buffers at the same time as a girl, whom he helps musically and falls in love with,  rises to fame. I tried throughout the film to hang on to myself, but the closing song (I'll Never Love Again), played as he dies, completely destroyed me and I fell to pieces. Kay insisted I watch another film for light relief, so we watched Paddington which was the complete opposite and made us laugh. However, in the night and again when I woke this morning, A Star is Born was on my mind. I have to say, too, that it completely changed my mind about Lady Gaga. Her acting was impressive and her voice on the songs was amazing.  And it was the catalyst to make me cry. 



24 December 2021

A poem for our times

A friend sent me the following poem he'd received from somebody in Canada. It's an updated version of the poem "T'was the night before Christmas when all through the house....".  Enjoy. 

Twas the night before Christmas, but Covid was here,

So we all had to stay extra cautious this year.

Our masks were all hung by the chimney with care

In case Santa forgot his and needed a spare.


With Covid, we couldn't leave cookies or cake

So we left Santa hand sanitizer to take.

The children were sleeping, the brave little tots

The ones over 5 had just had their first shots,


And mom in her kerchief and me in my cap

Had just settled in for a long winter's nap.

But we tossed and we turned all night in our beds

As visions of variants danced in our heads.


Gamma and Delta and now Omicron

These Covid mutations that go on and on

I thought to myself, "If this doesn't get better,

I'll soon be familiar with every Greek letter".


Then just as I started to drift off and doze

A clatter of noise from the front lawn arose.

I leapt from my bed and ran straight down the stair

I opened the door, and an old gent stood there.


His N 95 made him look pretty weird

But I knew who he was by his red suit and beard.

I kept six feet away but blurted out quick

“ What are you doing here, jolly Saint Nick?”


Then I said, "Where's your presents, your reindeer and sleigh ?

Don't you know that tomorrow will be Christmas Day? ".

And Santa stood there looking sad in the snow

As he started to tell me a long tale of woe.


He said he'd been stuck at the North Pole alone

All  his white collar elves had been working from home,

And most of the others said "Santa, don't hire us!

We can live off the CERB* now, thanks to the virus".


Those left in the toyshop had little to do.

With supply chain disruptions, they could make nothing new.

And as for the reindeer, they'd all gone away.

None of them left to pull on his sleigh.


He said Dasher and Dancer were in quarantine,

Prancer and Vixen refused the vaccine,

Comet and Cupid were in ICU,

So were Donner and Blitzen, they may not pull through.


And Rudolph's career can't be resurrected.

With his shiny red nose, they all think he's infected.

Even with his old sleigh, Santa couldn't go far.

Every border to cross needs a new PCR.


Santa sighed as he told me how nice it would be

If children could once again sit on his knee.

He couldn't care less if they're naughty or nice

But they'd have to show proof that they'd had their shot twice.


But then the old twinkle returned to his eyes.

And he said that he'd brought me a Christmas surprise.

When I unwrapped the box and opened it wide,

Starlight and rainbows streamed out from inside.


Some letters whirled round and flew up to the sky

And they spelled out a word that was 40 feet high.

There first was an H, then an O, then a P,

Then I saw it spelled HOPE when it added the E.


“Christmas magic” said Santa as he smiled through his beard.

Then suddenly all of the reindeer appeared.

He jumped into his sleigh and he waved me good-bye,

Then he soared o'er the rooftops and into the sky.


I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight

"Get your vaccines my friends, Merry Christmas, good-night".

Then I went back to bed and a sweet Christmas dream

Of a world when we'd finished with Covid 19.


* CERB is the Canadian furlough scheme.

15 December 2021

The First Christmas


Things have been hectic of late. What with stupidly decorating a difficult room (see previous post) too close to Christmas, it meant that everything else I normally have well in hand became all behind. There were Christmas cards to write, presents to buy and wrap, food to get in and freeze, the house to tidy and clean, not to mention trying to get out into the garden in a dry spell to sweep up the leaves and put in winter bedding plants. (I swear the leaves are falling from the trees later and later each year. They used to be down by the 5 November, but now the last leaves don't seem to drop until the first week of December.) So I have been on a treadmill of never-ending chores. In addition to all that, one of my choirs had its concert last weekend, so there were scores to learn and rehearsals to fine-tune everything. 

I have finally come up for a little breath and have two days to prepare for Kay's visit  at the end of the week. We are celebrating Christmas a week early. She has managed to escape it for many years, but has drawn the short straw and is working over Christmas - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Not only that, but 8am to 8pm (call that 10pm in reality) shifts. It won't be worth her commuting the hour-long journey to me at the end of each day so it means she will spend what is left of those evenings on her own at her home. Her boyfriend will be with his family. It also means it will be my First Christmas entirely on my own. I have no brothers or sisters or even cousins. My nearest close friends live 60 miles away. One did invite me to share her Christmas with her wider family, but she added it would be a nightmare as everyone ends up arguing and shouting. I declined. The current surge of Covid cases again is a little off-putting and a train journey to get to her, plus the thought of heaping more stress on her family, seemed to be a bad idea. In a bizarre way, I am actually looking forward to spending it alone. Normally I am up to my eyes preparing turkey and pigs in blankets with all the trimmings. By the afternoon I am exhausted and fit for nothing. This time I can relax with the TV remote and a box of chocolates from morning till night. and channel-hop to my heart's content. 

I shall still have the magic of Christmas, but a week early, as Kay and I unwrap our presents together and have the festive meal. So a Merry Christmas and a Happy Healthy New Year to you all. 


10 December 2021

It's never too late

Not surprisingly alcohol deaths have reached a new high according to the Office for National Statistics.  More people died in 2020 from alcohol abuse than in any year before, soaring by 18% compared with the previous year.  In terms of people, that was 8,974 deaths. The blame has been put squarely at the pandemic which has increased loneliness, depression and anxiety, plus of course alcohol is cheaper to drink at home than in a pub or restaurant.

For all of those affected by alcohol or living with an alcoholic, it is not too late to seek help before the inevitable happens. Don't believe it can't happen to you. Just click on to the tabs above. The prognosis tab is a scary list of what could face you if you continue to drink heavily. The useful contacts tab will help you seek help. Do it now. A new year and a new start beckons.

23 November 2021

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

I've been busy the last few weeks - too busy to blog and read other's blogs. The reason? Because I have been decorating a room that hasn't seen paint or tender-loving care for over twenty-five years. One of  our smaller bedrooms is grandiosely called The Study, because that is what it is. It's a workroom with desk , filing cabinet and 6 ceiling to floor bookcases that line the room. It once boasted two his-and-hers desks, but I have long since dismantled one of them and put a sofa bed in its place which can double as a bedroom if need be.

The reason it has not been decorated in over twenty years is quite simple. In my six-storey house with only one room on each storey, it is impossible to move furniture from a room without moving it up or down a flight of stairs, which, for me on my own, is nigh on impossible. It means furniture has to stay in a room if it is being decorated, but when the room is lined with bookcases crammed with books and paraphernalia, it is virtually impossible.

Or so I thought. I had been planning to decorate the house starting with the very top and moving down. To this end, I have hired a painter to start in the New Year, as one room needs replastering and quite outside my skill set, but I knew  (and he confirmed) that painting the study would be a logistical nightmare. I sat on the idea for a while but one day I had a good hard look at the logistics and worked out a way to do it all myself. This is the reason I have been absent for so long -as it took a good while to accomplish single-handedly and I can say with some real satisfaction that I am cream-crackered.

First, I covered everything with dust sheets and painted the ceiling. That was by far the easy bit, although I hate painting ceilings with a passion, especially now I seem to have arthritis in my neck. Then came the difficult bit. I had to pack up all the books and items on two bookcases, find room to store them in another room  on another level a staircase away. I then dragged (with difficulty) the two bookcases away from the wall into the middle of the room, painted the wall and skirting behind them, dragged the bookcases back into position the following day and reloaded the shelves with the books and items. I then moved on to another two bookcases and so on over the course of a week until the wall behind all six bookcases had been painted. I then moved on to the other two walls in the corner of which is a huge L-shape desk built by Greg and which is attached to the floor. I dismantled that and painted the walls in a very vibrant peacock blue which matches some material I am going to make a roman blind out of. I ordered a large rug to cover a very sad looking carpet that cannot be replaced because of the same logistical problems of doing it with all the bookcases in the room.

Except for the blind, which I shall make in the next few weeks, I have now finally finished and am chuffed with the result. I have never known The Study looking so good and it smells so fresh too.