Wednesday 17 May 2017

Emoji my friend?

I wonder, can we find an emoji for every human mood? When we scan the range of smiley faces to insert into our posts, is all life there? I must be getting the seven-year-itch – it is 7 years since I left full-time teaching – I need a change of place or face or just more sunshine! Can we sum up folk we meet by their ‘smiley face’?

🌞 Some people radiate warmth. It’s good to be in their company. It’s a bit like being at home again but you’re all grown up now and out having a drink instead.
😀 Others are happy, they smile when they see you. They laugh at life’s absurdities.
😁  A few are comedians, cracking jokes, and an entertainment. We laugh & love seeing them.
🤔 One or two are thoughtful, pensive and like a good conversation; stimulating and good to know.
🤕 One chap I know jumps off buildings, another cripples himself marathon running or seems accident prone… yet they both persist. They'll carry on till their ankles give way.
🤒 Some always seem to be ill and their lives consist of hospital, GP surgery, therapy, treatments, special diets and conversation is always the same and glum. And about them.
😩Another  wears everyone down with their misery and angst. Are they suffering anxiety disorder or  clinically depressed? It’s a cold experience and their point of view so out of line with others.
😡Then there are the complete miseries. They can’t know how bossy and negative they are, or surely they’d do something about it, wouldn’t they? But perhaps they too suffer from depression.
😵Oh and the confused. They barely know the time and appear to be in a state of complete chaos. Must be difficult but if they are blithe about it all who am I to comment…?
🤐And what about those who are inscrutable? So afraid of letting anything personal out into the open…conversation can be very difficult.
😧The stressed. A lot of these about. So busy coping they forget how to relax or laugh.
I like folk who can say ‘It doesn’t matter…’ and put things into perspective. It’s a skill.And I like people who enjoy pub quizzes - it's fun and you get to have a drink or three.
😴 And then there’s me. Half asleep, overweight and trying to cope with the mixed emotions around me. But I hope I can be 😃and🌞and good company. Perish the thought I’m one of these ☹️or🤧or👺

But do we ever see ourselves as others see us? And what if we never learn to project happiness? 😀

This week you really should ...

Learn how to make a medieval wattle-and-daub wall. Wear knee-high wellingtons or stout boots -you never know what lies underfoot when making your own ancient domicile. You will be joining an expert team of archaeologists and builders. Meet 6.30 am daily by Farrow and Ball for travel by shepherd’s hut to our nearest mystery ancient site. Bring own packed lunch and toilet paper. Mead served at noon. Chemical lavatories only. No dogs.

Haven’t you always wanted to spend £60 foraging for root vegetables on a Saturday afternoon? Well now you can. One small trowel allowed. Remember how our forefathers dug for grub? They didn’t carry Wilkinson Sword shovels with them did they? Meet outside the Holy Well at St Credo Parish Church at noon. Back 3pm.

We all know the view from Avebury Ring but HengeWalks&Builds offers you a fine panorama from atop The Ridgeway. Learn how to build your own  Stonehenge from quick-set cement blocks. All you have to do is create your team, decide upon a leader and plan your strategy. You’ll have the challenge of a stiff walk uphill to the ridge, making a raft, dragging your ‘stone’ blocks down to a clearing and recapturing Stonehenge as your team thinks it looked. Judging takes place at dusk.
All this for £100 every Thursday evening, summer time only. Meet at Avebury stone circle, near the car park, no later than 5.45pm. No mobile phones.


Monday 15 May 2017

Barmy, tired or mental health issues?

I've had a fantastic response to my badger post. Apparently cloths soaked in eucalyptus oil might literally put badgers off the scent. I love them but don't want my seedlings withered and emaciated because they've been uprooted. It'll be interesting to try that remedy before being driven barmy!

What with the badgers and our welcome but demanding social life we've had a busy few weeks: We had a small party before our Open Studios, thereafter we were open house for three days, meeting & greeting and making sales, raising charity funds etc. Between the gardening - a very busy time trimming, watering, mulching, tieing back, lawn cutting - we've had two more big parties and I've been trying to sort out wearable clothing, unwanted crocs, second hand books and other items for a car boot sale. Yesterday I neatened the lawn edges and generally hoovered outside. I washed endless linens and T shirts which may be good for a car boot and fell asleep in the sun for about 5 minutes. Why this activity? The warm, dry weather was merely coming to an end! Gardening and drying rugs and heavy towelling robes are far more difficult when the rains come. I sat down mid-afternoon - after a party the night before - and managed to take a photograph of the manicured garden.  I was just in time. Within moments the heavens opened!
Today Richard and I are surprised we are tired. And we shouldn't be shocked by our weariness. We all have to be sensible about flagging energy levels. Fatigue can play funny tricks on one's mood and mental well-being. The body is saying it needs a rest.

More importantly, regarding mental health, I note Eva Wiseman, in yesterday's Observer was quite rightly saying awareness of mental health issues is at an all-time high. But, she asked, where's the provision to help said issues? While I tap away here, feeling glad I am merely tired from overdoing it, my heart goes out to those who have overpowering mood changes, panics, depressions and anxiety or personality disorders. At least I know that if I rest or go for a walk or watch Casablanca I'll feel restored. It's not that simple for those for whom a cup of tea, paracetamol or a lie down aren't the answer. Eva Wiseman hit the nail on the head. Awareness of issues is not enough. Mental health needs preserving, nurturing and treating - when an inbalance sets in for more than the odd few hours, simply because we've done too much! Well said Eva. As a special needs teacher I know that provision is all.

Thursday 11 May 2017

The badgers got me off my guard today

In the old days, let's say 2013, I could dig and weed the flower beds in February, if they weren't frozen, enjoy the daffodils in March, put compost down for the French beans and in April think about planting leeks (or sowing them). By April Richard would have cut the lawn at least four times and by now, mid-May, we'd be enjoying the splendour of the vegetable beds. But that was then!

Since early spring this year we've been thrown by the activities of the woodland wildlife who visit our garden. They feed (and dig) our lawn and beds like it's an all-night diner. The leeks I sowed in March were scooped up one night. It made the raised beds look as if the badgers ( for it is they) had decided to become wine growers and had taken up grape-treading. I bought packs of leeks to replace my stillborn seedlings. Within days the pencil-like plants were lying flat on the soil, their roots out of the holes I'd made carefully for them with my dibber. Instead of 36 leeks I now have about ten. One of the original 36 is now thickening - the way it should - the rest are flailing around like blades of grass recently trimmed by the lawnmower. I won't be sowing my usual lettuces and leaves - can't cope with the carnage when I go forth with my watering can.

Now we have no hose pipe and garden tap at the top of the garden the vegetable beds are truly suffering. The early broad beans were upended by a badger who must have learned his technique from queuing for ice creams; watching the servers scooping vanilla ice out of a big tub.Richard has replanted his broad beans and resown more. We now have 50 small plants - far too many - as he didn't expect his first set to grow - they were for autumn sowings. Since the raised beds will have no access to the hosepipe I have sown spinach seeds (as a medicine for Richard's macular). Spinach suffer less from a lack of water. So far these seedlings haven't been interefered with. My French bean seedlings are so successful I have run out of window ledge to house them. About ten grew last year.  Most of those were eaten.This year I have more like sixty. Now I'm making space for them in our mini-greenhouse but they are going to be ready too quickly. It's been so warm they have leapt out of their seed trays like a goldfish jumping out of its bowl. (Before the cats we had a goldfish who jumped out of his bowls so often his new home became a baby's bath. We think he was a carp.)

In order to cope with too many seedlings I'm turning old flowering plants out of their barrels - hoping the badgers won't stand on hind legs to get at our brand new beans. The water butt, usually overflowing this time of the year is getting decidely short of water. It's been so dry and we haven't quite worked out how to water our vegetables now the water pipe has been shut off.  The water butt has never been in so much demand. Is it a good idea to lay a hose the full length of our garden, up two sets of steps, so we can have instant liquid for our kitchen garden? It could be 100 feet in length...

When the beans are planted how long will they last? I wanted to add more compost to a bed today. What did I find? Six heavy stones had been removed from in front of the compost bin (badger deterrent) and a scattering of rotted vegetable matter strewn around my neatly swept gravel paths. ( I only swept them yesterday.) I feel like the mother in Harold and Maude on finding her son, Harold, who has pretended to cut his wrists, spraying blood all round the mirrors in their well-appointed bathroom, (not his first quasi-suicide attempt). On seeing blood everywhere she cries 'This is tooo much!' Do I battle on or grow flowers in the raised beds next year...? I love badgers but we had a hole about a foot deep in the broad bean bed today. It's been quiet for a few days. I thought we were safe. But no. The badgers were back...They got me off my guard...

Saturday 6 May 2017

Time and Place

Watching the excellent film interpretation of Ishiguro's Remains of the Day I was reminded of the day, in my early years as SENCO (school special needs co-ordinator) at Patchway, when the A46 was closed for filming. I travelled along that road morning and night, from Bath to Patchway and back, for twenty years. Early in the 1990s, when filming of Remains of the Day began, our section of the A46, just outside Bath, was blocked, and we took another route.
     The early scene in the film where Stevens, seemingly trapped in Darlington Hall for decades as a butler, seen driving out of the big house on a rare visit to Clevedon, was captured in the space of a few hours. We know this because the A46 was open as usual the next day. Of course the 'hall' being used was beautiful Dyrham House, in Dyrham Park, and I passed its entrance, from where Stevens drove the 1930s Daimler, twice a day, from 1990 to 2010, but in a much less prestigious car! However, whenever I see the opening shots to the film I'm so grateful that when passing the entrance to Dyrham I was always free to go home, unlike Stevens. The final shots of a trapped pigeon finally making its escape from the hall are moving. Unlike the bird Stevens is still incarcerated with little or no privacy, family nor home of his own. He was 'in service' for life. The novel encapsulates duty, its virtues and restrictions. I know no-one in such a subservient role.

Even more of a jolt - when comparing my life and fortunes to others' - I was horrified to learn that it was on March 13th, a day before my birthday, but removed by a mere 13 years, that the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto at Krakow took place. In researching the war years for the sequel to my novel 'Coming of Age', beginning in 1939, where the first book left off, I was shocked that a mere thirteen years to the day when my mother went into labour with me, her first born, established Jewry in Krakow was no more. I learned these facts from watching Schindler's List. I have yet to read the book but the film shows the gradual lack of freedoms endured by Jews, until the ultimate is achieved; their annihilation. Thirteen years is hardly a life-time. It's a shockingly short passage of time between their deaths, their tortures, the brutalities meted out on them, and my birth. It feels very,very close.

When I was three I would take my mother's hand and 'help' push my newborn brother in his pram to our local park. There, peering between the pink and yellow rose bushes, I could look down at shiny railway tracks, wait for a whistle, see white smoke and finally jump up and down at the site of the steam train passing through to Birmingham and the huge world beyond.

When the Jews of Krakow stood in railway trucks, melting in the heat, passing out from hunger, lack of air and water, and herded about like cattle, condemned for slaughter, I cannot believe they viewed the steam train, so beloved by nostalgic train-spotters, with affection. For us the steam train represented a journey of excitement, into the big city, into a world of the unknown. For them, in March 1943, they could only feel fear and doom. My memory of  seeing shiny railway tracks as a three-year-old will be for ever corrupted by the image of  tracks entering Auschwitz.

Adverts on the television still show suffering: street children in Asia, refugees in camps, the starving babies in parts of Africa and Yemen, donkeys crippled with overwork. While I sit in the comfort of my study watching scenes of depravity I recall the day my father told us he had been in the liberation party for Belsen camp. He had never talked about it until I was in my thirties, the year we took him on holiday to Arromanches, France, where he had served in D-Day. I had had no idea he had witnessed the results of acts of gross inhumanity. It explained, however, why dad had given me 'Spotty' for my first reading book. It was written, at a child's level, as a plea that we should accept those who are different from us, even if that difference is merely being spotty in a non-spotty world.
     Dad had witnessed wicked cruelty, intolerance and lack of freedom for human beings who happened to be living at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I am ever grateful to have a comfortable home in a beautiful city. I can come and go as I please. Not everyone, not even the butler Stevens, had those freedoms. He's seen 'disappearing' into the wainscotting he had just polished, accepting he had to be seen and not heard, pushed to one side, unimportant. A different time and place.