Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Going green

 The light streamed through our bedroom curtains at 5:30 am today and I was wide awake. But that was far too early to get up, feed the cat, get breakfast & make a cuppa. The wind had dropped, the storm had lost its energy. It was sunny out but felt very cold.

Thankfully I managed to get back to sleep and by 9:30 the day had begun (again.) However I underestimated how long it would take me to have a bath, hoover, do my hair, pack my swimming gear, get Richard’s meds and offer the cat four different types of food. Yes. He was being fussy. By 10:30 I had managed to eat breakfast and down a cup of tea. I had remembered to fill my water bottle, but had still to make Richard’s sandwich for lunch and pack myself a couple of mini cheeses. 

The BBC News clock showed it was 10:46 and time to leave the house. In my attempt to be green and have a low carbon footprint I’d decided to bus it into town. But as I slammed the front door I had a nagging feeling I’d forgotten something. It’s just as well that I checked my bag. I couldn’t unzip it as threads of the ribbon to my key chain had got caught in the zip. I tugged and tugged until by some miracle I eased the offending keys out of the pocket and fully unzipped it. Hey presto!  I could retrieve my bank cards. (Vital for contactless payments on the bus.) Imagine all that fiddling with a queue of folk behind you waiting to alight? Curses.

But by the time I’d got my zips sorted I was late. And of course, en route, I saw loads of people I knew who I would have loved a chat with. Instead I rushed to the bus stop with 2 minutes to spare. 

And every seat on the bus was taken or reserved for disabled passengers. A kindly person gave up their seat for me. I can’t stand for ages - I’m waiting for a knee op - I wanted to shout. But my glasses steamed up owing to my over loose MacPherson tartan face mask so I swore under the mask then took my seat. 

The bus journey and, later, bits of shopping were mercifully uneventful. And I had time before my swim to take photographs of the 1866 decorated post boxes in the beautiful Pulteney Street. But walking up the hill to the hotel’s swimming pool seemed arduous. I must have looked out of breath as an annoyingly chatty woman whom I remembered from the week before managed to catch my attention with the words ‘It’s easier downhill.’ Did I look that decrepit?

I didn’t engage in banter. She had irritated me the previous Tuesday but I found a bench, swigged a few mouthfuls of water and felt restored. Then I looked for the bike stands. Surely they’d always been at the entrance to the leisure spa? I hoped no-one was watching me wander around the car park with my shopping trolley looking lost and confused. 

Then I saw a rail with a very faint sign telling me ‘bicycles left at owner’s risk’. 

All I wanted to do was to leave my metal shopping trolley frame secured with a bicycle lock. I was taking the trolley bag itself into the lockers with me. There is no room for a whole trolley in the minuscule space they call a changing room. 

But, of course, the shopping trolley bag would not pull out of the frame. I tugged and tugged (again)and spilt my bottle of water on the ground and got cross. Then the bag budged and I staggered up twenty steps to reception where four young things behind the desk were chatting away. They ignored me so I shouted ‘I’ll just go through then.’

One thing about lockdown is that there can never be more than four people in the changing room at any one time. Bliss! And at least the locker was big enough for all my belongings. 

The water was warm. I saw an old friend who was just getting out and for over thirty minutes I exercised my podgy body. 

I love the water. Even the showers worked and I was the only one to use the hairdryers. I met another friend en passant and had a merry chat. But, of course, the feeling of energy and goodwill couldn’t last. The water dispenser had hardly anything in it and took an age to half fill my bottle. I was going to be late for my bus home...

And before I rushed downhill to my return bus I needed the loo. I had to negotiate yards of fat, blue tubes, brushes, huge vats of soapy water and electric cables. But I nipped into the ladies before being spotted. Contractors were shampooing the hotel carpets in advance of reopening after lockdown and I shouldn’t have been using the hotel guest loos.

Outside at the bike stand I retrieved my shopping trolley frame. The bag fitted back in place with remarkable ease and 

I managed to get to the bus stop with a few minutes to spare. Success! 

But my knee was hurting and I needed painkillers. And on the bus every seat was filled apart from the ones up three steps at the back of the bus. I swore, again, under my tartan mask. I was in luck. A very nice woman looked after my trolley as I really didn’t want to lift it up those three steps. 

And we were off. I pushed two painkillers in my mouth but couldn’t reach my water bottle. It was in my shopping trolley - where else? three steps away.

And then we were home. I saw a couple of friends on my walk back to my garden gate and enjoyed a well-earned cocoa when I got in. It was very blustery outside. But neither of my friends had had time for a cappuccino. I really felt the need. 

What’s the moral of the story? 

Going green is knackering.Even though we know walking and taking the bus will help save the planet and cut down on car exhaust pollution it takes effort to go green. What to do to make it more practical? Don’t take my shopping trolley on the bus? Go by taxi or simply leave more time to do things? Get sorted and get a takeaway cappuccino like everyone else? 

And stop being cross! Going green is going to be hard work, I think. Especially if I keep  getting red hot and angry. I intend to persevere and calm my temper. 

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Tolkien & industrialisation

Many people know that JRR Tolkien moved from Africa to a Warwickshire village when he was a boy. His father died in South Africa before he ever set foot in England again. Later - owing to financial difficulties following his father’s death - their mother moved JRR and the rest of the family from the idyllic village ( the shire) to Birmingham. 

As someone born in the Midlands I can clearly see how the contrast between town and country, industrialisation and rurality, clean air and smoky, dusty air belched out by factories would strike a sensitive lad like JRR. 

My parents were professionals. They weren’t labourers but my grandfather was a skilled foreman at an iron foundry. The muck in the air created by the Bessemer Convertor eventually killed him and nana lived in reduced circumstances as did many women when they became widowed in 1930s-40s. However nana was looked after and employed by a good man - a family friend - who couldn’t see her financially ruined. And she owned her own house. She led a happy, hard working life thereafter.

Many years later when I was a child there was woodland at the bottom of our road ( sweetly called Nightingale Place) and our house was surrounded by three fields. It sounds idyllic. But it was close to the industrial midlands which JRR disliked. I never knew the inside of the factories and only noticed the noise they made when machines started up again one new year after a long festive break. JRR’s son, Christopher, who died in 2020, said his father had a fear of mechanisation and of the modern world: Rural life and certainties destroyed by machines.

Only now are governments waking up to the notion that if we destroy nature we destroy ourselves. If we burn fossil fuel the air becomes thick and clogs our lungs. If we fell forests and jungles we make creatures homeless. If we block out the sun we die.

I see more and more articles about electric cars and alternatives to power stations to heat and light our homes. During this lockdown we would have missed the tv and the internet for sure. We can’t endure a British winter without heating. So alternatives are essential if we aren’t to lead lives like 1380s peasants.

JRR Tolkien was right to draw a distinction between the ugliness of factory flames and pollution and the bucolic life of the countryside. It would take a huge amount of adaptation, however, to become demechanised: to get rid of our cars and learn to ride a horse or a bike again. It would take an immense effort to light our home with candles and go back to a range for cooking and heating. And industrialisation brought work to thousands in the Midlands.

But the decades of relatively cheap transport, fuel and power in the home has come at a cost. JRR Tolkien could see that. But a Professor of Anglo-Saxon ( who wasn’t even sent to school when he was little) and Professor of English Language and Literature is a very different man from a Midlands industrialist who sells taps, and a labourer who makes them, for a living.

Both thinkers and industrialists have to learn from each other if we are to avoid catastrophe. 

And now I read the headlines   “‘urban flight’ raises house prices in villages.” Another kind of disturbance and imbalance in the community. Another stress for the countryside to absorb. We all need to treat our environment with care. And not push out those families who made their homes there long before the pandemic. City dwellers may have enough capital to move to the countryside. But can villagers afford to live there when prices rise? 

There’s a lot to consider in the tug of war between town and countryside, urbanisation ruralism. We all need to have a care.  

Friday, 23 April 2021

fraud, a con merchant, scam, a rip off

What a strange day. I feel I’ve been ripped off three or four times today. It’s a record for me. I’ve never knowingly been conned nor paid over the odds for shoddy goods or workmanship nor been fooled into accepting something poor or ‘not as advertised’. But in these times of chronic penury and unemployment amongst, in particular, folks on less than the minimum wage, I came close to being a victim of a scam today - more than once.

Scenario one

A workman was going to do DIY for me as I can’t do it myself. I don’t do DIY. I GAMI instead. ( Get a man in). But this workman has put off coming round three times already. And, what’s galling is I gave him an advance so he owes me his time. I understand he may not be able to make it for a whole variety of reasons but jobs have to be done. I’m tripping over extension leads in our kitchen waiting for ‘the man’ to turn up and use them... Do I put them away? As soon as I do we all know what will happen.

Scenario two

Our local co-op is closed for a refit. Yes. Even in a pandemic. A time when for some people their local shop has been their lifeline, their time of social mixing and distancing, their link with reality. But hey ho. None of that matters - our store was only refitted five years ago. My god the logo and colour scheme is so last decade. 

So what do people like me do between big shops? I have a choice:

I go to my very local corner shop and pay heftily for some items, less for others


I go into the city to one of the bigger supermarkets 


I use Deliveroo.

Today I chose the latter.

After watering all my plants, repotting my tomatoes and peas, weeding, moving geraniums and trays of leek seedlings into the greenhouse and sorting seed trays for sowing my beans I felt like making a quick order for one or two vital groceries. Yes it was quick to do but by 3:25pm - the deadline for the delivery slot - I received a message to call the rider. He or she couldn’t find our house. But he or she was on the phone every time when I rang so I left a message. Then an odd text message came up about verifying who I was with HSBC. My bank isn’t HSBC. I immediately sensed a scam and reported it via ‘chat’ to Deliveroo. Minutes later I had a phone call from Sainsburys head office in London and an official-looking email from Deliveroo. Head office was concerned that a) the rider hadn’t even collected all my order from the store and the author of the email was concerned that b) there was strange activity on my bank account. I was in the middle of an attempted scam. But Sainsburys and Deliveroo were on to it. And I wasn’t charged. I merely re-ordered my groceries and within minutes a genuine rider turned up with the groceries that, scam or no scam, I still needed. Phew!!!! I just hope whoever was behind the rigmarole has been identified and apprehended, me lud.

scenario three

I managed to make a staycation booking today. It is for three of us for a week in July and is before the schools break up for the long summer holidays. (Except they might all be doing summer school to make up for lost learning due to covid closures.)

A little while after the booking confirmation had come through the fees had risen. (They were already hefty imho but there was very little choice of accommodation left to book, for all the reasons we know). But costs had gone up by about £600. I complained to the owner/manager who has now given us seven nights for the price of six and the overall total is about £800 cheaper than it might have been. Another sneaky rip off which I narrowly avoided. 

It seems we have to have eyes in the back of our head, have to be alert to any suspicious or unexpected text or email and have to ignore landline phone calls from unknown numbers like the plague. It seems scams, frauds, rip offs and cons are the way some people are making money out of those of us who can still afford to GAMI, have groceries delivered and have a July holiday on the south coast.

I remember the tale of someone who was furious that their purse had been stolen. And a wise soul said ‘You may feel awful but how desperate must you be to have to steal a purse in the first place?’ 

But I’m still cross some folk out there think I’m a push over.

It has indeed been a strange day.  Behaviours during the pandemic have altered. All done under the cover of lockdown. Like spivs. The black market. That sort of thing. 

Different people are feeling the pinch. But I’m also somewhat distracted. Not only, among all of today’s shenanigans, did I break the handle to an Emma Bridgewater mug, rendering it useless, after, again, tripping over the extension lead in the kitchen for the man who isn’t there, but I decided to go to bed about 10:30 pm. I’d had a fruitless day.

Bed would be the best place for me. Or so I thought. 

But ... I’d only left the electric blanket on all day and the windows shut. It was like an oven in there. Even going to bed has been an ordeal this evening. A strange day indeed.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Brave cold world

 And tomorrow and tomorrow we six can mix in our gardens once more. Except this morning I wrapped up with scarf, beanie and parka just to go out to buy my Observer. It was near freezing!

All our heating went on - including the spare heaters in the hall and kitchen. Who’s going to mix in a six with a gin & tonic or Aperol spritz in their gardens in temperatures still close to 40 degrees?

The seedlings in my new greenhouse will have rotted before they get chance to emerge in to this brave cold world. I haven’t put the heater on in there for more than a few hours at a time and that’s clearly not enough in these late winter-like conditions. 

And in my case the socialising in a brave cold world will have to wait. I appear to be too busy: On Monday I will be socialising indoors with my surgeon. Yep I have an appointment in orthopaedics tomorrow. On Tuesday I’m doing a walk with a friend  on the canal towpath. Water is always relaxing. On Thursday Richard is socialising with his GP then the nurse and on Friday it’s shopping at the co-op and Carers Cafe. The cafe is a good mix of people and we chat and have a laugh. But we are allowed to do that during lockdown too. So that leaves only Wednesday when I can risk catching another kind of coronavirus by getting cold outside in our garden. I think not!

The weather forecast is looking better for early next week, hoorah. A mini heat wave. Until the short-lived sunshine fest gives way to more blasts of cold wind for Good Friday. ( Which reminds me - I must remember to buy Easter eggs.) 

The following week the only excitement in our household is having the window cleaner and a professional here for a post-winter deep clean. Perhaps, if temperatures allow, we can have a fish & chip supper outdoors again.

But the following week we have our rule of six at play in the garden for our 40th Wedding Anniversary. Our Ruby Wedding.

But even that will be so different from the celebrations we organised for my parents’ 40th. Dad, I recall, thought he was going to the garden centre to buy flowers for mum. And mum wasn’t sure what was happening. But we all ended up in my brother’s garden with my parents’ friends, neighbours and family. Looking back it took some effort but it was a lovely sunny September day. And dad was quite moved at the surprise we’d given him. The photographs tell us it was a grand day out.

Meanwhile for our Ruby wedding six of us will be wrapped up in scarfs and rugs on our patio eating a double-chocolate cake from M&S. And with a bit of luck Richard will join us. It is his wedding anniversary too but clinical depression can dampen any event. So not as much fun as my parents’ do but at least we have a few friends who want to share our day! 

The following weekend we are going away. Another friend is driving us to the seaside so that we can truly enjoy our Ruby Wedding. We have a regency sea-facing apartment booked. A few steps’ walk across the promenade from our front door and we are on the beach. Please let the sun shine as we enter our brave new, post-lockdown world.

( It’s too cold for me. After I’ve posted this I’m going to have to switch on the heating again. Brrrrr.) 

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Even the lovely Greta Scaachi

The miniseries ‘The Terror’ is not an easy watch, on several levels. But you can easily detect the Ridley Scott effect. From a purely practical stance, since ‘The Terror’ is set in 1874 in an arctic winter, light levels are very low. We witness marooned seamen in flickering candle light which illuminate their faces as they speak to camera. Which, as a viewer, means one has to concentrate! 

But when the hapless sailors are outside their ship, on pack ice, hunting the monster which is killing their shipmates it is hard to see the action. I’m sure it’s part of the design. Keep the viewer guessing about what lies beneath. But it’s not an easy watch seeing ‘Jaws’-like bits of limbs deposited on white-cum red impacted snow. Even worse the sight of a leaning body which is only leaning because the top half of the torso has been left to dangle over the side of the ship. Its legs are still in place on deck but hacked from the rest of its human remains by the said monster. The legs and torso are in two halves. No. Not an easy watch.

Enter, then, the beautiful Greta Scacchi. No, she isn’t freezing and being mauled to death by a giant polar bear with a strangely human face. She is at home, in Blighty, seeking news of her husband. The crew have been away in extremis for two winters. And naturally she wants to know her husband is well. She learns nothing. 

And we hear no more of her. Greta is merely acting a small part in a tv series about male Victorian adventurers. They are seeking a northwest passage - a passage through the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the Arctic. I understand China was the desired destination and a northwest passage there was sought. Greta is, as ever, good but underused.

When I first saw Greta Scacchi on screen she was a great beauty. But in some ways I am heartened when I see her in films or on the tv now. She is still a beauty. But even Greta Scacchi has become rotund. And, after weeks of lockdown#3 with no swimming pool open to me, I too have run up the pounds. Yes I’m gardening and walking but with a gammy knee I need a weight-supporting activity like swimming to keep me fit.

I try to diet, of course, but walking and swimming are my friends. Now my knee needs a partial replacement that essentially leaves swimming as my go-to exercise. No prizes for guessing that my weight has gone up over the course of the pandemic.

I well recall this time last year, when Italy’s covid death rate was soaring, one Italian journalist saying ‘You will get bored, you will put on weight’ meaning what would happen during lockdown in the UK. Covid had only just reached our shores at that point.

With the best will in the world - and I don’t have a lot of self-will when it comes to exercise - one is limited to local walks during lockdown. And when it’s cold outside there is little incentive to get active.

So here I am. Getting fatter not fitter. Even Greta Scacchi has put on weight. I’m sure she and I are not the only two to pile on the inches. She’s still good to look at. There’s still hope. But after a three-hour walk yesterday my knee has throbbed at times today. And I loved the walk along the canal in the March sunshine. 

I’ll just have to keep taking the painkillers...

Monday, 8 March 2021

International Women’s Day

 It was no coincidence that ‘The Glorias’ was shown on Sky Cinema yesterday. The life, travels and travails of Gloria Steinem, from little girl through to footage of the real self protesting at Trump in 2016, was powerful and a joy to watch. 

It was not an easy early life, especially for the teenage Steinem. But she was a wanted child and was loved as a little girl. And it made me, the viewer, still feel the impossible is possible. A great film, directed by Julie Taymor who was behind ‘Frida’, which I recently rewatched. Strong women, all.

‘The Glorias’ is a non-sensational telling of Gloria’s writing and feminist-activist life. I was ahead of the curve. I read about it in the reviews as the one to watch in praise of International Women’s Day. But, after working in the garden, depositing gravel and bark and re-digging the veggie plot, I wanted an early afternoon Sunday treat. I didn’t get to the reviews until after I’d seen it. Richard was truly engaged, too. And it dovetails aspects of ‘Mrs America’ - where Rose Byrne plays Steinem. Steinem herself preferred the depictions of her in ‘The Glorias’. All credit to Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore who are Steinem at various stages of her hardworking life.

I was shocked, yes, truly, that as a woman in a man’s office she was considered to be the coffee provider for the male newspaper journalists. It shows I’m from the next generation along. Steinem is a pre-war baby. I was born almost a quarter of a century later. And no man, in the working environment, has asked me to make him coffee. Ever. So fuck off.

It is with thanks to Gloria, Ms, Rosie Boycott et al at Spare Rib and Dame Carmen Callil and others at Virago that women my age have read about the fight - and enjoyed the profits of those fights - to have choices over our working conditions and reproductive lives. I didn’t have to go through an abortion, as did Steinem and countless other activists in the 60s and 70s, because the pill was prescribed for me when I was in a long-term relationship. Easy. But only easy because others before me had made it so.

As a teacher I enjoyed equal pay from day one. And it is only now, now my husband is ill, that I cook for him every day. For forty years he was the chef in our household. 

A significant part of ‘The Glorias’ shows Steinem’s connections with Indian low caste women and their physical struggles with never-ending childbirth and brutality within marriage. Later she is a scribe for Native American women at a women’s convention and presides over one of their leaders’ ceremonies: This Native American speaker becomes a female chief of her tribe. Hoozah! Steinem is also part of a discussion group of Asian American women who felt their voices were not being heard. To say nothing of black African American women’s fights for equality.

Steinem didn’t shy away from being an advocate for these groups. In this way she is truly an international spokesperson for International Women’s Day.

‘The Glorias’ was so involving and, at 2 hours 20 minutes, a long watch; it deserves another viewing. When I’m not cooking or making coffee. 

I loved the way Steinem walked out of one of her jobs because she was asked to post some letters. As Bella Abzug said - she wore a hat so she would stand out and wouldn’t be mistaken for a clerical assistant. We owe these women. But the fight is not yet over.

Happy International Women’s Day. Take nothing for granted.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The shock of losing a robust elder

 When you’ve had a parent who has always been - or seemed - well, it’s actually harder for those of us who are left to adjust to their demise.

Captain Sir Tom Moore’s family believed that when he contracted covid_19 he would come home again. Others from outside the family might have thought that - as he was 100 - the chances of recovery were poor.

But when your parent has always been there. Rarely in hospital. Rarely on medication. Still walking about, getting taxis to the Pump Room, in the case of my mum, here in Bath, at the age of 89, it’s hard to believe they won’t recover.

I have great empathy with Captain Sir Tom’s family. When a robust parent reaches their nineties and their centenary their immune system simply isn’t as strong. I believe that is why so many elders die of pneumonia. The body doesn’t, or can’t, shake it off at that grand old age. 

My mother died from a series of mini strokes, not infection. They followed a massive brain haemorrhage two days after her final trip to the Pump Rooms, which she took, by choice, by taxi. She loved the pump room trio and quartet. And she didn’t mind standing in the tourist queue - at 89! 

But a massive stroke felled her three and a half months before her ninetieth birthday. We simply weren’t prepared for it. At the time she was medicated for stage 2 diabetes. (She lost the diabetes when she lost weight). But apart from blood pressure tablets and eye drops she was remarkably fit and able.

However, looking back, we can now see the small changes in her - following a heavy cold - were likely to have been the start of a series of tiny strokes which passed without recognition.

When I read of the wealthy and famous dying in their eighties I feel grateful mum lived as long as she did in almost excellent health. To live to 89 and still be independent and active is a great lifestyle to aim for. To live well and enjoy company also accompanied Sir Tom’s great age.

When a parent is so blessed it is hard to accept they are unwell let alone close to the end.

As one doctor put it to me ‘Your mother’s body has done its work.’ Simple but true words from someone I trusted. That was when I began to accept mum wouldn’t be around for ever. 

It’s so sad Sir Tom’s family have endured trolling owing, I believe, to their taking an overseas trip in December, in a pandemic. But hadn’t the old man earned what was to be his final holiday? Others, of course, have been less lucky. Many families couldn’t sit by the bedsides of their loved ones in a covid ward. That’s the problem with being in the public eye. If he’d raised the money quietly without any media interest they could have had that final holiday and very few would have known about it, I guess. But less charity funds may have been raised. Swings and roundabouts.

My mother wasn’t in the public eye but she enjoyed her last trip to the musical soiree in the Pump Rooms. Enjoying life. 

Let’s not get bitter.

Here’s to you Captain Sir Tom!