Saturday 26 December 2020

Three bubbles

When our two bubbles were setting off to join us we knew there were covid risks on meeting indoors but we’d taken precautions. 

All my ‘bubbles’ had had negative covid tests in the few days before Christmas. When bubble two arrived they had mulled wine and nibbles on non-sharing plates outside. Afterwards they went off to bubble one’s bonfire where he made the real thing:-red wine, orange juice, star anise and cinnamon sticks heating on a cauldron.

Meanwhile I basted the turkey every thirty minutes and became disappointed that the honey-glazed parsnips didn’t roast properly but they did cook...

And - when we reflected - we lit a candle for our mums who are no longer with us and thought of the truckers holed up in Dover. We thought of refugees and the homeless. We said thanks that we had escaped the worst of covid and that during 2020 had merely only had to put up with civil restrictions. We wore Santa masks and hats indoors and ate at a social distance. Then went outside to let the air in and any possible virus out. From thereon we left the back door open for the rest of the evening.

We hope we took enough precautions. I think we did but we knew Xmas Day was a risk simply by meeting indoors. And in reality we aren’t starving, nor in a war-torn country and we have enough money to be comfortable. We enjoy the warmth from an effective heating system and have had lots of support from friends and neighbours from the beginning of lockdown one onwards.

Best of all we have good friends who wanted to be with us. And we did what Matt Hancock said: on Christmas Day no kissing and no arguing.

Enough said. Happy Boxing Day and thank your lucky stars! 

Sunday 6 December 2020

Exploitation of the poor verges on evil

I am glad this week’s The Observer chose to include a feature about the shocking and shaming scenes of abject neediness in Burnley. This was a follow up to street Pastor Fleming’s short film Poverty and the Pandemic: Burnley which has been showing on BBC News Channel.

In Harriet Sherwood’s Observer piece -  Exploitation of poor verges on evil - she went further than describing how desperately poor some areas of Burnley are. She referenced the increase in the work of The Trussell Trust and its food banks and the evil of loan sharks. But it continued to shine a spotlight on the very poor today.

I taught needy children for over thirty years but even that didn’t prepare me for Fleming’s film.It was harrowing in its depiction of devastated lives. It left me weeping and as troubled as I was after seeing Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home when I was a mere ten-year-old. No one can forget the scenes of Cathy living in a condemned house, being torched in a caravan nor being forced to give up her children to the authorities as she was homeless and could no longer care for them.

After seeing Poverty and the Pandemic and emailing family and friends I managed to get some of us to immediately send donations to Fleming’s Church on the Street fund. More will come. I felt impelled to act.

It was impossible to ignore the Dickensian plight of Burnley’s desperately poor. ‘Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?’ asked Dickens’ Scrooge upon hearing that it was at Christmas, especially, that need was felt. Yes. Lock ‘em up. That was Scrooge’s solution. But how are things any better now than in 1840s London? 

After years of austerity Britain, chronic low pay, a lack of council housing, erosion of the welfare state and benefits plus increased financial insecurity for many how can our poorest be anything but desperate? Especially when they can’t work owing to lockdown. Their story needed to be told and The Observer helped.

Lockdown,shut down, shut out.

‘But they would rather die than face the work house’ said one charity worker to Scrooge.

‘Let them be quick about it and reduce the surplus population,’ Scrooge replies. 

Monday 30 November 2020

As we enter the last month of the year

As we enter the last month of the year I am more keen than usual to mark Advent. Not with a sticky, chocolately calendar but with holly, flowers and colour.

This is the last month of an extremely difficult year. 58,000 UK dead since March, in a mere eight months. To put that in perspective 70,000 UK civilians died in the whole six years of WW2. 

In that war people could still go out and enjoy a film or newsreel at The Regal or The Odeon. They could go to work, travel on buses, visit friends, go to dances. Yes they had to endure the blackout and bombs but thankfully life, as they knew it, was still there for the taking. They didn’t have to stay home-save lives.

But for us, two generations after WW2,  the last week of March began badly. I remember queuing for groceries, watching empty buses sail by and, hearing from others, that supermarkets were stripped of nutritious foods. Who could fail to be moved by the tv interview of the absolutely knackered nurse crying into the camera as her supermarket had no food left and she had nothing to eat. 

By April I couldn’t get a delivery slot with Sainsburys and relied on a farm shop, local butcher and great friends and neighbours to provide me with groceries. 

Come May we were all used to face masks, zoom, home baking, hand sanitiser, leaving goodies on each others’ doorsteps and hot weather. It was a beautiful spring with very little traffic. And there had been a debate about whether face mask wearing would help stop the spread of coronavirus. It seems astonishing now.

In May we had our regular grocery deliveries back again and I began to venture out much more. I also spent a lot of time in the garden, improving it, along with a friend. But by July I began to get tired. I’d done charity sales and grown a lot of vegetables. I needed to do so much cutting back in the garden and I felt in great need of a holiday. But travel was verboten.

And, in September, to add to the weariness, our breakfast room ceiling fell in. That created even more toil. It had been a hard  year and once that was finished off and painted Richard and I finally went on holiday.

After that I began to pick up. There was far less to do in the garden and the trip to Devon revived us. In October we travelled there again. But we had to rush home ahead of lockdown#2.

This last month has been a duller than usual November. Grey skies have made an uninspiring backdrop to leafless trees. But we are still here. We haven’t had covid_19. We haven’t been laid off and we aren’t looking at a lonely Christmas nor a cold, hungry one.

In a couple of weeks I shall start making my Christmas charity donations. This year the need seems greater than ever. We can only pray that the vaccine roll out will be earlier rather than later. 

We all need more colour in our lives. 

Wednesday 18 November 2020

‘The Crown’ ain’t fun anymore


This time last year I took it upon myself to do something everyone else seems to glory in: binge watch. In the dull, dark mornings of November 2019 I clicked on Netflix. I enjoyed the physically and authoritatively big screen characters of ‘The Crown’ on the substantially larger and smarter tv than we were used to. 

It seemed the need for protocol and putting on an act far outweighed their fusty but glamorous palaces in the royals’ lives. But I was fascinated by the concerns these wealthy, regal, real-life people had. I was even moved to pity when I watched the episodes of deep unhappiness suffered by Prince Charles at school and beyond. I bought it.

But this time around I feel like not pursuing the latest series at all. At best tv is much-needed escapism at this time of lockdown. But ‘The Crown’ is not providing that. I find the depiction of Princess Margaret, especially, to be snarling, pompous and cruel. Whether she was really like that hardly matters, now. Entertainment it ain’t.

I was astonished that in 1979 the Queen or one of her staff would not alert her guest, the newly appointed Margaret Thatcher, to the correct dress codes for pre-dinner drinks and hiking in soggy fields around Balmoral. In this series the royals appear hell bent on laughing at their guests. How rude and unkind. I didn’t buy it.

In a later episode the newly introduced Diana is made to face all the royals who stand in a ring around her while she has  to be told off - in front of everyone - about her lack of understanding of whom she should curtsey to and in what order. This smacked of abusive rudeness. I could not believe the royals would, again, openly laugh at their guests. But what do I know, actually?

I am a very unlikely reader of ‘The Daily Mail’ but on the BBC’s ‘The Papers’ I spotted the Mail’s headline ‘How The Crown lost the plot.’

I read on and could only concur with Richard Kay that the plot is indeed lost. This new series is so far removed from the truth that it’s hardly worth watching. If it’s untruthful it can’t be insightful.

And this morning Simon Jenkins, writing in The Guardian, my usual read, made the following points, inter alia, which are, according to the historian Hugo Vickers, fabrications:

1. Lord Mountbatten wrote to Prince Charles the day before his death.

2. The royals laid traps to humiliate Mrs Thatcher on a visit to Balmoral.

3. Princess Margaret ridiculed Diana for not being able to curtsey.

4. Prince Charles daily called Camilla Parker Bowles in the first five years of his marriage to Diana.

Jenkins says the current storyline ‘...caricatures the royals in the worst possible light.’  Entertainment should be fun and yield a sense of escapism. But this November I and many others have a greater need than usual to enjoy tv output. Not to be disappointed by it.

I don’t need to see constant unpleasantness on the tv. Life in lockdown in a dull, damp November is difficult enough. Back to binge watching comfortable episodes of Jeremy Brett as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or his nephew Martin Clunes in ‘Doc Martin’. At least there’s intrigue in the former and beauty and humour in the latter. That’s escapism. That’s entertainment. Not vicarious humiliation. 

‘The Crown’ ain’t fun anymore. 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Bring on the women!

 After lockdown#2 was announced, and we rushed back from our shortened holiday in Devon, I’ve tried to stay fit by going for walks. However my preferred fitness fun is swimming - if the water’s warm. But, as in the words of Basil Fawlty, that avenue has been closed off to me, and I’ll settle for walks around the outskirts of the city of Bath.

I’ve come to appreciate what a gender split there appears to be on our streets. Something in my sixty years I’d never much noticed. The walkers were, in the main, middle-aged women like me, or others of various ages and stages of motherhood, or even young couples. But everywhere I went I could not escape white-van-man.

I was using the walks as an opportunity to take photographs of our city in lockdown. But everywhere I went - it seemed - there was a parked white van populated by one or two men reading their papers or checking their phones. And there were others:- it appeared that every few yards a workman would jump out of his van carrying something heavy or another might merely pull up and park all the while blocking the pavement. If I tried to take a photograph of Prior Park or Bath Abbey from my preferred spot another white van would pull up and hamper my view.

All the evidence from my sojourns into the city make me feel there is plenty of work out there, for some. Whether it’s telecommunications, building repairs, house movings and exchanges or deliveries the work of the man-and-his van seems plentiful. But I felt surrounded by men in vans! 

I mention this as it’s so unlike lockdown#1 when the streets were empty. In those hot early days of April lockdown the tarmac was noticeable for its grey crumbliness or perfect smooth blackness - depending on how worn it was - and all the more noticeable as it was suddenly so underused by cars, vans and trucks.

This time the roads still seem busy. Not everyone can work from home. A builder can hardly fix a roof remotely from his MacBook. 

My next walks will be on quieter streets, I think, so that I can enjoy taking photographs without feeling surrounded by busy men or white-van-man reading the sports pages. And I won’t have to dance around these vans that necessarily, in our narrow streets, have to park on pavements.

But where are the women? Bring them on! It feels a bit one-sided out there. 

Monday 19 October 2020

A Tale of Two Sheds

It all began in an energetic spring. Lockdown was a mere six weeks old and after a lovely April spent outdoors painting anything made of wood my attention drifted to seed sowing and hardening off.

I only have two window sills and two indoor cupboard tops on which to start off my seedlings. No, I have no greenhouse nor a conservatory. And this year, on top of all the extra chores such as sanitising frequently-touched surfaces, washing all groceries under the tap, sorting my husband’s meds and arranging workmen to do whatever workmen do, I got tired of taking my trays of seedlings in and out of the house twice a day, uncovering them for slightly longer periods, and I decided I needed a greenhouse. But, better than that, a new shed with a greenhouse front. 

Hey presto! Such a thing as a potting shed seemed the ideal solution. My aunt was quite adamant in her specifications for such a new potting shed. Was it cladded? Was it lined? How many windows opened? 

And where would I purchase it? I sorted out all the fine details she’d itemised. Then got on to a-man-who-constructs-sheds.

He came to look at the site I’d chosen for the new potting shed. The sun was at the right angle and should bring on my beans and tomatoes a treat.

‘No, no, no. That won’t do. There’s no room,’ he said.

( No room? There was a huge gravelled area at the top of our garden doing nothing).

‘And look at that slope.’

I couldn’t see a slope.

‘What about the cherry tree?’ I ventured expecting the answer “We can dig it up and replant it”.

‘I’ll get my chain saw to it, leave a small stump. Burn the rest.’ 

I almost passed out in horror.

These were not the responses I was expecting.

‘But I can do you a small shed in that space over there. On a gravel floor.’

He pointed to a dark corner I hadn’t even considered. 

‘I want a solid base.’ I said. (What was the point of a wet gravel floor? Everything would get wet! And what had happened to my idea of a potting shed?)

‘Difficult,’ he muttered.

I would not be put off.

‘There’s another place we could put a potting shed. A second shed,’ I said, showing the less-than-enthusiastic workman a paved, flat area. He looked and measured and kicked a few slabs. And eventually he agreed that would work. Except there is already a shed there. 

‘What if we move the old shed up to the gravelled area?’ said I, still foolishly optimistic.

‘Nah. Only good for firewood. It’ll fall apart if we move it. It’s rotten through. Not a bit of good.’ Great!

I felt rather more deflated after this last exchange. And the question of moving our water butt created such problems that I wondered if I’d actually ever taken ‘A’ level physics. Maybe I had absolutely no comprehension of how water travels. Was it me?  

We left it that a small shed could be erected on the gravelled area with a new concrete base and I would order the shed myself and get back to him. I felt somewhat dismayed. I’d wanted a potting shed - in the sun!

Suddenly it was the end of August. And it was a filthy, cold, wet day.  I put the same questions, queries, plans for my shed(s) and my preferred solutions to a friend of ours. He could see no issue with what I suggested and within days the site of shed number one was ready. He had carefully dug up the cherry tree and moved it to a pre-fertilised plot for me. No chain saw nor burning required. He also shifted my water butt and rerouted the guttering. My idea worked perfectly. Yes. I did do ‘A’ level physics after all. My raised beds were also shifted and that made space for a 1.83x1.83m shed. (6ft x 6 ft in old money).Thank you my friend. If you are reading this you know who you are. 

And no-one had to burn a perfectly healthy, pretty cherry tree or worry about a wet gravel shed floor nor uproot precious rose shrubs or worry about a sloping shed roof to allow the guttering to meet the water butt at the right point.

Stage one was over. 

After a beautiful April when the year was young and the sun was shining who would have imagined how hard it would be to even get the garden site ready for just the one shed? It was the devil that in August the weather had turned against us. Friend number one had shovelled so much soil in damp, drizzly, murky conditions he looked like he’d been in a rugby scrum. Friend number two (DFL - down from London ) trimmed an enormous rambling rose and cut it up into little pieces for the green waste bin and changed her rain hat at least twice. I changed my outdoor coat three times. And I was merely transporting garden waste. Not digging nor hacking back.The bloody rain did not let up. But we finally managed to organise the garden such that at least one shed could be sited and be used effectively. April, May, June, July and now August. Back in the spring I’d had such plans...

And what had happened to my dream of a potting shed? I wanted storage, windows, staging and a side door. When had my idea - from last April - been derailed? 

It seems I needed two sheds. One for boring things ie a dry shelter for garden tools, tarpaulins, vegetable fleece, a riddle, the cat basket, a wheelbarrow etc And the other - a potting shed - for fun creativity: for sowing my seeds, for potting on, for hardening off, for ripening. In short to cut out the work of transporting seedlings and young plants from inadequate window ledges to the outdoors and back again morning and night for six weeks during April and May. 

Today, dear reader, it is October 19th. And I’ve managed to order one shed. Friend number one collected sand, cement and concrete blocks to make the base. Way hay. We were in business. Or so I thought.

Can you deliver the shed? Yes. Can you bring the shed sections through the back gate to the gravelled area? Yes, madam, we can. Can I have a double door on my shed? Yes. And when can you deliver? The website says 2-4 weeks.

‘You’re looking at 10-12 weeks, madam.’

‘January?’ I asked, my heart sinking.

‘About then.Yes.’

‘If I also want a potting shed ready for next April when should I put the order in?’

‘I’d say the end of November.’

‘Thank you. I’ll do that.’


By the time I get my two sheds a covid-19 vaccine will have been found. And I’ll feel about a hundred. But I’ll be two-sheds-better off.

Marvellous! Excitement over. We’ll be in a new decade by the time these garden constructions are in situ. And I haven’t even mentioned what the workman said about coming over to make the concrete base nor my husband’s reaction to all this change. That’s, as they say, a whole other story. Friend number one is taking over and starting footings and preliminary painting work this week, while the weather is still open. In March 2021 I may have a potting shed delivered. Better not get my hopes up though! 

Perhaps I could rewrite ‘War and Peace’ while I’m waiting.

(Is it me? Is it?)

Friday 16 October 2020

Do adults laugh less often than children?

Apparently it’s an urban myth 

that children laugh 300 times a day.

I taught in schools for 32 years and children in my classroom didn’t laugh that much. Or at least that’s how it felt. They moaned. They said ‘Aw, miss.’ They avoided work. Most of all they would natter to the person next to them. But to say they laughed 300 times a day seemed a whole lot of laughter to me. 

According to Rod A Martin, author of ‘Do Children Laugh Much More Often than Adults Do?’ children laugh 7.7 times per hour during play. This is based on observations of five-year-olds carried out by the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. That’s humour without the ‘u’.

If we assume the five-year-olds are awake  early, say 07:00 and go to bed twelve hours later they laugh 7.7 x 12 = 92. 

92 laughs per day.

However children don’t play for 12 hours. They might be in class at age five. They might be at home still. Part of the time they will be interacting with adults, or eating, or having a bath or watching something on a screen. To say five-year-olds laugh 90+ times a day is, therefore, generous.

To test out the myth that adults hardly laugh at all I decided to mark down each time I chuckled, laughed or made some sound in my throat that was more audible

than a simple smile. That was over the course of a short day, approximately midday to 8:00 pm. 

That day a friend came round. We sat in our masks in the sitting room with the doors open. And we laughed. I watched a couple of quizzes on the tv - with Richard Osman. I chuckled. I cooked and listened to the radio and a couple of comedies at night time. In other words I spent more or less a usual day. Of course I was more conscious of the number of times I laughed. That could have raised the number of titters because I was consciously trying to prove adults laugh more than 15 times a day. So this was not a scientific study but I clocked up 44 laughs over a few hours, less than twelve hours at any rate. 

It is true we grow more serious as we age. My younger friends laugh far more than my older ones. However my younger ones happen to be ones who haven’t suffered from depression. And my older ones seem to skirt or delve deep into depression or feel loneliness. Not all. Just more than I would have imagined when I plumped for early retirement. To be mixing with people who aren’t joyous all the time isn’t something I planned after 32 years full time graft. In other words I thought people would be happier than I found them to be. Perhaps I mix in the wrong circles.

To truly test out the theory that adults laugh less than children we need scientific sampling, scientific conditions and a scientific definition of laughter. Plus someone neutral to record the laughs.

But, back to Rod A Martin who does suggest some adults laugh more than their infants.

‘Two-year-old infants laugh an average of about 18 times an hour during interactions with their mothers, whereas their mothers laugh almost twice as often, at about 33 laughs per hour.’ So that’s the research. 

Don’t babies cry a lot? 

Case closed.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Mental Health Awareness Day

What is the point of an awareness day especially Mental Health Awareness Day ? The reality of suffering mental health problems and being given such diagnoses is that the NHS is so stretched that in our experience (and we aren’t alone) patients are sent home from hospital still under the effects of anaesthetic or the trauma of surgery. The mental health team (MHT)  is brought in after a long time on meds (usually antidepressants) prescribed by the GP but because they too are so stretched the MHT discharge folk who can cope ie go to the shops, have a ‘carer’, are not suicidal nor a danger to themselves or others. 

Private psychiatry, in our experience, won’t take on a case while their colleagues in the NHS MHT have the patient on their books. Many work in and out of private/NHS consultancy on a routine basis anyway.

Mental health awareness. I can make the reading public aware. It’s about very poor provision indeed. And it’s not the fault of the psychiatric doctors, nurses and social workers. We know that funding is dreadful. But it’s not my fault, ie the ‘carer’, either.

And why make everyone aware of mental health issues if the treatment, support and funding are inadequate? I understand ‘Mind’ and local groups are helping by getting patients out for walks and activities. I applaud  that. But the problem resides in the home. As I implied above I am now deemed a ‘carer’. Thanks for nothing! 

My husband did the driving, shopping and cooking while I worked full time. Now I’m retired I’m doing the shopping, cleaning, cooking, dealing with his meds and numerous medical appointments. I didn’t ask for this. It’s not a job I applied for. But I’m stuck with it.

And I’m not qualified. Yes, I can shop, clean and cook. But do I really want to? If I’d chosen to become pregnant, in my twenties, I’d have known what it meant to juggle child care, look after the house and garden and work full time. But my husband’s mental health issues were not planned and our whole way of life seems altered because of his needs and the lack of support. 

And add the stress of the pandemic ... It’s a perfect storm. 

Wednesday 7 October 2020

These aren’t a few of my favourite things

Thirty years ago I had an accident which damaged my left knee. We were on a school trip to Exmouth, camping under lashed-down tarpaulins, military style. Thankfully - as staff - we had one tent each. By the time we went on this school excursion I’d already had an injury to my back and was cautious in my movements.

One sunny morning we lined up, again military-style, to collect our packed sandwiches and orange juice cartons. It was only day one of the week’s field trip and we were going out on a boat. We had half of year nine with us, plenty of staff and the weather looked good. However, whoever ran those boating excursions has, thirty years later, caused me to have an arthritic knee.

That day the incompetent crew allowed our boat to go out when the waters were shallow, ie the tide was out. In order to stop us running aground they slowed the boat to a halt and each one of us had to jump over 8 feet from the deck on to the sand below. That’s ok if you don’t have a bad back nor a fear of heights. I had both. I angled myself such that I wouldn’t land on my back and took the plunge. I landed on my left knee.

For the next few hours that injury caused me great stiffness but I could walk. That night told a different story. The knee, as they say, blew up like a balloon. I lay on a rickety camp bed under billowing tarpaulin for days. I could barely reach the shower block. I had no painkillers and no doctor was sent for. 

Last year - the day of Trump’s visit to the UK - I knelt down to pick something up from the carpet. Aaargh! I couldn’t move. The pain in that same knee was acute. I managed to pull myself up on to my stronger leg and fell on to a chair. The pain was so bad I couldn’t even raise my weaker leg on to a stool. Nor could I get upstairs to get my anti-inflammatories.

What to do? We had guests coming and Richard was having routine surgery and needed support when he got home. I put on the tv - remote controls save struggling to get up and switch the box on - Trump had landed.

Eventually the pain subsided enough for me to heat a wheat bag to soothe the ailing joint and get upstairs for my painkillers. I limped around with a long-handled umbrella as support. And made a tray of tea for when our guests and Richard arrived.

I have, after all these years, just had an x-ray for the knee problem. It got worse again during early lockdown when a friend was doing some tree surgery for us. The weight of the chopped wood, when I shifted it off the lawn, must have upset my damaged knee. Not my favourite thing. An arthritic knee.


Today I was up at 6 am, in very early dawn light, to put out waste food for the recycling trucks. It was raining last night and I truly resent Wednesday evenings. I hate sifting card, metal, glass, plastics and food waste into inadequate containers and dragging them out on to the pavement. They burst open encouraging wildlife to pick over the entrails. But most of all I find the notion of putting out peelings and more unmentionable food into a separate bin even more revolting. Until very recently we had an active composting bin in the garden. But the local badgers have got into it and strewn the contents over our veggie plots so many times now we’re not currently making much home-grown compost. We need a new badger-proof bin. The drum kind with a sturdy frame and proper locking device. 

I feel especially aggrieved that the recycling team often leave washed, carefully-sorted plastics behind. I don’t know why but my guess is that printed labels won’t recycle. Some polypropylenes have to go in the main bin. Thus far cellophane and plain plastics have been accepted for recycling. Plastics with labels have had to go in the general rubbish. What is the point of that? I thought we were trying to cut down plastics waste. Not my favourite thing. Recycling never gets easier.


Now that summer is behind us, winter is, meteorologically-speaking, fifty days away, it’s time to put the garden to bed. But the lack of dry days for hanging out washing is a nuisance. Yes, we have a heated airer, yes, we have a tumble drier, but I like sheets drying in the wind. Less so rushing out in the rain, in the semi-darkness, to save the dried washing from the constant showers we are having.

I’m doing so much more around the house, partly as we are eating out far less and partly because Richard is still unwell. As a result I rely on the dishwasher, our fabulous new Shark upright vacuum cleaner, the microwave and the washer-drier. I cannot imagine for one moment what it must have been like, a hundred years ago, doing endless domestic chores. My great aunt washed using a dolly. Their bedding had to be hung around to dry on airers in front of a coal fire, which itself caused ash that had to be cleaned out every morning. Each evening the fire would be relaid with scrunched-up newspaper and kindling, to be topped with sooty coal. Every plate, cup, saucer ( there were few mugs), saucepan, bowl, knife, fork, spoon, server had to be washed and dried... three times a day... there were no dishwashers. A carpet sweeper just about got up debris from the carpets but great aunty Louie had to thwack rugs on a washing line to get the dust out. There were few vacuum cleaners. And everything was cooked on the stove - or on the range in older houses - there were no microwaves. 

I got tired yesterday and had a rare nap around 6pm. Richard cooked. But the weariness that overcame me was after I’d made plentiful use of the dishwasher, the microwave, the Shark vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher and had had someone in to trim a hedge in our front garden. I couldn’t possibly contemplate the domestic labour great aunty Louie had endured. I was ready for my bed after a relatively straightforward day of chores. But the recycling always gets my goat. It will be written on my gravestone

‘Here lieth Kathryn Nina MacPherson 

Wednesday’s recycling finally got the better of her’

Domestic chores are not among my most favourite things. Our cleaning ladies are on furlough. Should I get replacements? Or is it a risk too great? I don’t know whether having someone in the house - touching surfaces - going from one home to another then another and another - is a good thing. These times of coronavirus are testing us in ways that couldn’t be foreseen. 

And I need to stop complaining. I have my health. I can cook, clean, do the garden, hang out the washing and do the dishes. Unlike some poor souls. For them lockdown must bring life’s difficulties into sharp relief. 

Sunday 6 September 2020

You may well ask

Imagine, if you will, a blithe September afternoon.The Rudbekia are at their orange finest and the sunchokes wave like their larger cousins, shiny yellow sunflowers, in the gentle breeze. 

That’s if you happen to be in the right part of the garden, however. If you were unlucky enough to be a sunchoke and have been planted near the shed and in manured soil with the sun on your face, you’re in for it.

Because of that manure your roots have thrived, multiplied and spread into the lawn. And gardening is all about control and Victorian neatness. Cutting your roots out of the lawn last spring means drastic measures will take place this autumn. 

First up is the wife who gets the man to help her stick a fork right through your tangle of roots and wrench them out until they are torn from the clods of earth you called home. But she’s one of the better fat controllers. She’s brought along buckets of water into which your torn roots are placed so that your shiny yellow faces don’t wither and fold.

And all along the flower bed she goes; digging, tearing, separating and lifting. Your mates join you and they are squashed into your tub of water with alarming cruelty. But it’s back-breaking for her.Your roots are tough.

Then what on earth is he getting up to? You may well ask!

When you are all removed from your flower bed the fun really starts. He digs out enough soil to provide himself with a graveyard plot and he scatters it on the beds where your mates continue to glow, undisturbed, in the snatched September sunshine. And she provides more tubs which he sinks into the big grave-like hole. Then you are transferred into these tubs and, with your feet in water, you are buried. 


A whole bed of sunchokes has been dug up simply to be placed in plastic tubs, full of water and compost, back into the soil where you’d grown happily for the last five years.

Ah! I get it. She doesn’t like your roots spreading into her lawn. So you’ve got to be grown in containers. And now you feel sick and weak. The uprooting has made you wilt. They’re going to put a bean stick up your back side, throttle you with string and force you to stand erect, even though you’d rather flop all over the soil. It’s all been such a shock, being uprooted like that. And simply because you were successful. You were growing well. So you had to be put into containers, like mint, so you can’t spread.

It took him five hours on that sunny September afternoon. Why couldn’t he just put his feet up and watch the racing on the tele, if he’s so interested in the turf. 

Friday 4 September 2020


When the kitchen ceiling came down last week there was the inevitable clearing away of debris. This I achieved surprisingly quickly. And I was relieved we weren’t having heavy showers at the time. I stored the damp and slithery broken plaster board and roof insulation in bags on the patio. Then the farce started.

Friends came to help me in the garden last Friday but it isn’t a pretty sight seeing someone digging in soil getting as muddy as a rugby player on a wet November Saturday afternoon. Nor is it fun sitting next to a pile of wet roof insulation and broken bits of grimy grey plasterboard trying to serve tea to my helpful, weary garden workers. 

Dragging long whips of rambling rose to the garden waste bins was even more farcical. They kept getting caught on garden furniture as I wrestled them to their bye-bye bins. At one point so much growth had been hacked back by my ufl* friend I could only pile it up by our front door. Imagine how our co-op delivery boys felt! Trying to get to the front door knocker was as impenetrable for them as POWs tackling the jungle in the film ‘The Bridge Over the River Kwai’, (needless to say without the cruelty, starvation and forced labour). We must have looked like a mad house. The patio resembled something from The Somme. It rained hard and the mud kept flowing. But my friends persisted shovelling soil, cutting back rambling roses and moving raised beds, even though they were getting soaked.I ran out of rainproof jackets for them.

But I rewarded them with a fish n chip supper and Aperol spritzers. 

This week I managed to get our breakfast and lunch ready - on trays - in our upstairs snug. It’s a small study-bedroom with tv, sofa bed, bureau, teaching materials, books and papers related to my writings. In there I plugged in the mini fridge so that we didn’t have to endure tea flavoured with milk that had gone off. The mini kettle was a boon as was our supplementary tv. In that way we could leave the builders to enjoy ripping out the rest of the plasterboard and roof insulation. And they could get on with replacing it all with bales of new insulating material and plasterboard without us annoying them by getting under their feet making cheese sandwiches and boiling kettles.

But when they’d finished plastering the new ceiling the dust layers were thick enough to grow autumn sowings of overwintering lettuce! Despite putting dust sheets everywhere the carpet - to be replaced if our house insurance coughs up - was daubed with flesh-coloured plaster and had a sheen of cough-inducing dust. 

The night the builders finished I considered whether to leave our redirected baskets of kitchen implements and ingredients in our over-full living room. But we’d had enough of eating off our laps in the snug. We needed to be able to see our dining table. So, before our builder paints the new plaster, some time next week,I, possibly foolishly, put our measuring jugs, pyrex dishes, baking trays, herbs, spices, baking powder, food processor and other electrical wizardry back into the newly-ceilinged kitchen. 

Next day my gardening friend reclaimed dust sheets from the shed. When the plaster has dried and it’s ready for a coat of paint I’ll somehow drape the shelves of pyrex dishes with the dust sheets so that I don’t have to move everything out into the living room yet again. 

On a positive note the kitchen units and skirting boards cleaned up very well and I painted the skirting boards, despite being very tired. But it’s looking cared-for. 

Of course, next day, it had to start raining which meant any washing had to be tumble-dried. Piles of washing in limited floor space is beyond annoying. 

And the newly refurbished kitchen space became a bottle-neck. There was simply too much going on in a small space. The carpet, after two days of restoration, needed to be shampooed. Richard wanted the electric airer down as we had so much laundry to dry. We were tripping over each other trying to carry the carpet shampooer and airer downstairs while temporarily using the stairs as storage. It was madness. And our gardening friend needed an extension lead to be plugged in so he could finish jobs in the garden for me. Nevertheless, even though both men were being truly helpful, I banned him and Richard for an afternoon and shampooed the plaster-laden carpet with death threats if either of them walked over it while the carpet dried. 

My old Henry vacuum cleaner had managed to get up clods of plaster but my month-old Shark coped less well. I thought I’d damaged it with too much plaster-sucking. But yesterday I took the brushes and rollers out from my really efficient Shark stick cleaner. It wasn’t plaster that had clogged the vacuum head but a twig that had got caught behind a roller. A twig?? No wonder the suction was so poor. But all cleaned up well and I have my new Shark back in suction heaven. Thank goodness for small mercies. 

But what of the bloody garden hose? I was desperate to flush away patio debris from the mammoth rose-hacking of a week ago. And the remnants of the piles of plaster board. But yesterday was another farce. Our builder messaged me to say the contract waste removal team was trying to get to our patio to shift the ex-ceiling debris. But I was at the far end of the garden when the message pinged its way to me. And my knee was so painful, after days of shifting kitchen ware, hefty garden cuttings and ceiling debris. By the time I limped to our patio to unlock the gate for the contractors they had got in and were busily shifting the rubbish. Had Richard let them in? No. He was asleep. ( His meds still seem to knock him out until about 11am). No the clever contractor showed me how he’d looped our padlock over the gate and gained access. (Note to self - care with security for our front gate or else we become a burglars’ paradise.)

still needed to wash away the rose clippings, dust and debris on the patio but the bloody hose wouldn’t work. An annoying connector valve - according to our Neighbourhood Nextdoor community faqs - has to be fiddled with in order to allow water from the outside tap to fill the hose and run through it freely. A whole morning and several You Tube ‘how to’ videos later showed my up-to-his-knees-in-mud friend and I how to adjust the annoying valve. Finally the Hozelock worked and I could actually hose the patio down. By which time it was almost unnecessary as we’d such heavy downpours it’s a wonder the garden furniture wasn’t washed away. And, having successfully shampooed the previously plaster-caked carpet, it was in danger of becoming a magnet for mud. I was running out of rugs and mats. Will the rain ever stop? 

My last but one garden project to undertake before I drop with exhaustion is to dig up late summer-flowering sunchokes. They spread too rapidly for my liking. They have a sunny yellow flower and really make the garden shine as we move from the August heat into more moody September weather. But their roots have to be contained - rather like mint plants. My back and knee usually complain if I do too much digging but my knees-in-mud friend managed to get the fork and spade into the congested root system when I feared injuring my knee and aggravating my back problem. 

However I successfully pushed the plants straight into huge tubs of water so they didn’t wilt. Was I succeeding? Just about.

The next task is to reposition a waterbutt, guttering and its downpipe. But, for now, I’m going to enjoy the weekend, watching a Marple and reading The Guardian. One day we must return to semi-normality. Enough farce already. 

*ufl - up from London

Saturday 29 August 2020

Is the war over yet?

Do you remember, back in 2005, when former Japanese soldiers Yoshio Yamakawa and Tsuzuki Nakauchi emerged from the jungle on the island of Mindanao, 600 miles from Manila? You may not remember their names but they’d been hiding in the mountains since US troops devastated their division in 1945. They were unaware that world war 2 had ended 60 years before, and were afraid that they would be court-martialled for desertion. So they’d hidden in the trees. 

In May 2005, as old men, they emerged from their hiding place in the Philippines, asking to go home.

Another Japanese soldier, Hiroo Onoda, secreted himself in the jungle on Lubang Island near Luzon, in the Philippines, until 1974, because he didn’t believe that the war had ended. It was only after his elderly former commanding officer was flown in to see him that he surrendered.

Speaking of emerging, for a variety of reasons we’ve hardly emerged from our house over the last month. But 30-odd days is not the same as 60 years. And our comfortable home isn’t a cave in the woods or mountains of a foreign land. 

Last week I was explaining to a visitor that our cleaning ladies hadn’t resumed their duties since lockdown. They felt it was too covid-risky to be travelling and working from house to house. And I agreed with them.

‘What? After five months? And they still haven’t gone back to work?’ he exclaimed. 

He felt, rightly or wrongly, that they should be going out to work. 

But I have some sympathy for their plight. I am very risk-averse and only now am I considering doing anything as brave as having my hair cut. When I do go out to the shops or travel on a train - in the next couple of weeks - I’m sure it will feel like I’m emerging from my own jungle hideout. But emerge I must before I start growing roots! How must those veterans have felt in hiding for all those decades? We are struggling after just five months locked-away. 

The last time I walked into Bath it was a blazing hot day in late July. About a month ago. It isn’t simply covid-19 that has isolated me for the last four weeks and kept me at home. After a mammoth gardening session, lasting a week from late July to early August, my trapped nerve and old knee injury were so aggravated that I couldn’t walk. August, for me, has been a bit of a write-off. But there’s so much to do at home, it seems. 

Over the last two days I’ve carried huge whips of brambles and climbing roses, thankfully a friend initially used the secateurs. And I’ve dug soil, transported soil, tipped soil, you-name-it I’ve done it with soil. And I’m waiting for my knee and trapped nerve to hurt in response to all this hefty gardening. I’ve hardly had time to poke my head above the parapet and ask ‘Is the war over yet?’

Sunday 23 August 2020

Aargh! Our ceiling’s just collapsed!

My plan for today was simple: take my Observer voucher to our little shop, exchange it for the paper, buy bacon, make breakfast and settle down to read the news. Thence to write about how lucky we are to live in a quiet part of a lovely city and happy to have plans to go away once schools are finally back. That’s if schools do go back and teachers are able to take up their posts safely. I’d want lots of assurances that I could wear a see-through mask and have a perspex screen from which to conduct lessons if I were contemplating teaching in my old classroom once more. Currently I feel very uncertain that teachers and pupils will be safe from covid. However I see plans for less movement around school buildings and shorter days are in place in some institutions. I see little detail about sanitising and mask-wearing, though.

With few thoughts other than a leisurely Sunday to look forward to I listened to BH with one of my favourite broadcasters and went downstairs to make tea, feed the cat and get Richard’s meds ready.

As I entered our breakfast room it looked as if our cat, Nelson, had torn apart two cushions and left the inards on the floor. I got closer and called him. The table cloth I’d put down was covered in grit and once inside the room the full horror of a fallen ceiling met my eyes. It wasn’t the cat’s fault. Some dodgy plasterboard, which had needed replacing for years rather than months, had collapsed. The carpet was covered in grey slabs which broke up even more as I handled them. 

I’d planned to get to our shop soon after 10:00 am before Maya ran out of Observers but by 10:20 am I was still clearing, hoovering, trying to feed the cat in a clear area of 30cm square and making a pot of tea.

By 10:30 am I’d tidied enough such that the worst of the plaster board and insulation was in a huge plastic bag on the patio. I’d rung our builder who advised wearing a mask just in case fibres got to me. And the carpet was slightly damp. A leak! Water must have forced the flimsy plasterboard south. 

This isn’t the first collapsed ceiling that I’ve dealt with. I’m reminded of a similar state of affairs,  that equally took me by surprise, but that was almost forty years ago. 

When Richard and I moved into our first house, about three weeks before we married, he was still teaching full time. And, although we’d moved house on the Friday he went back into school that evening to act as Judge Hathorne in the school production of ‘The Crucible’. I’d moved house, essentially, with friends. One loaded her very large estate car with much of our belongings. A van from Somerset arrived with my mother-in-law’s furniture, ( she was moving into a care home), lots of men friends helped me carry boxes and ‘white goods’ into the appropriate rooms and by the evening I felt settled. 

Lo and behold, just as I felt a good day’s work had been had by all, I went into the bathroom and witnessed the ceiling light fall to the floor, as if in slow motion, followed by tons of insulation. We’d known the ceiling was dodgy and already had quotes from builders to get the work done. In time. Not the night of moving in.

Weeks before I’d rehearsed Richard’s lines with him, in our rented flat, surrounded by packing crates. I couldn’t wait to move to our own house with our own garden and kitchen. I didn’t bank on having a bathroom we couldn’t use...

And again, this morning, the same sight faced me. Plasterboard all over the show, albeit only a fraction of the total ceiling area. 

We have our builder coming tomorrow. But, as I relax, finally, 12 hours after discovering the collapsed ceiling, I’ve put my feet up and am ready to peruse The Observer. It’s not been a relaxing day. After lunch I discovered even more plasterboard behind a glass-fronted cabinet and a drip, drip, drip from somewhere rather too close to electric sockets. This afternoon was spent emptying the cabinet, moving it, clearing up even more debris and cobbling together a meagre meal of roast duck. That was around 5:00pm. 

My family thinks it’s best to get the work done rather than rely on house insurance pay outs, which can take an age to process. That will be a decision for tomorrow, by which time I will wake up and plan my day as if it’s a Sunday all over again. I feel I’ve lost a day today. As I draw the bedroom curtains and shut the windows I remember the optimism I felt when I opened them. I did not then know the state of our breakfast room floor, nor the work that lay ahead. And yet I still feel lucky. 

News from India, Belarus, The Yemen, Beirut, Syria, our own unemployed and those fearing eviction is so much worse. Falling plasterboard is unlikely to be the worst thing endured by those people at this time. Our television, internet, lights, cooker, electricity, warm running water and safe, cold drinking water are still at hand. I count my blessings. Falling plasterboard is a set back, not a way of life, and it hasn’t, as yet, affected anything else in the house. 

On Wednesday the weather looks fair. I shall enjoy it. And make up for today. 

As you were...