My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
Just before Christmas, a couple of evenings after our internet and landline were felled for a week by the wrong sort of snow, I was unexpectedly detained in Bristol by the need to take my mum to the emergency room at Southmead Hospital.*
As the thick walls of our Victorian cottage don’t admit mobile signals, I was for a moment stumped as to how to let my husband know that I’d be very late home.
Then I realised the solution was simple: I’d text a neighbour to pass the message on. Unbeknown to me, she was away from home too, but she kindly forwarded the message to another neighbour a few doors down. That neighbour happened to be on the motorway at the time, but she phoned yet another neighbour, who then nipped over the road to deliver the message in person. Problem solved.
Returning home towards midnight, I was more grateful than ever to live in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, and not only in the season of goodwill.
It was a bonus that this three-step system had not distorted the original message, Chinese whispers style. Not so when I first started seeing Gordon, who later became my husband, when “He is Scottish and lives in Swindon” quickly morphed into “His name’s Scottie and he comes from Sweden”.
But then, as now, intentions were of the best – and that matters far more than accuracy.
With grateful thanks to Emma Barker, Jane Shepley, and Joan Yuill, and all good Hawkesbury neighbours.
*I should add that my mum made a speedy recovery, so happy endings all round!
My column for the October edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News
In the first hour of a trip to Legoland on an INSET* day in September (no queues – hurrah!), I spot several signs that I must be getting old:
Realising I’m admiring the autumn colours of the landscaping as much as the theme park’s rides
Being more interested in the opening times of the coffee shops than of the attractions
Wondering how many plastic bricks the builders trod on in stockinged feet while assembling the hundreds of Lego models on display
Considering whether the staff valiantly performing in character costumes are thwarted RADA** graduates
Not minding the circuitous walks between attractions because they boost the step count on my fitness tracker
But such churlish thoughts are vanquished by lunchtime, supplanted by the childish sense of wonder that results from strolling, Gulliver-like, among miniature models of famous landmarks from around the world.
Despite the 17,777 paces notched up by my step counter by bedtime, I leave the park feeling rejuvenated. Expensive though Legoland may be, at least it’s cheaper than Botox.
*For non-British friends, I should explain that an INSET day is an In-Service Training Day during the school term, when the teachers go to school but the pupils do not. Each school has theirs at different times, so it provides the perfect day to take your kids to a popular attraction that is normally swamped at weekends.
**RADA is a leading British school for actors
My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback.
My column for the July 2017 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News shares my husband’s latest gardening crisis
As he’s nearly severed a finger not once but twice while cutting wood, when my husband announces that he’s going to prune some of the trees in our garden and a chainsaw is mentioned, I decide my best course of action is to retreat to my study and hope for the best.
A little later, an anguished cry comes from downstairs.
“Help! It’s an emergency!”
I nearly have an accident myself running to his aid, wondering what injury he’s sustained this time.
Pale and anxious, he’s standing in the middle of the kitchen pointing at a small pile of sticks on the table. That’s not much to show for an hour’s pruning, I think, then I hear some faint cheeps, and realise it’s a nest full of open-beaked baby blackbirds.
He’s inadvertently pruned the limb supporting the nest and is unsure what to do about it. My maternal instinct kicks in on the mother bird’s behalf.
“Put the nest back in the same tree as close as you can to the original site, and she’ll follow the sound of her chicks to find them,” I advise him.
When he steels himself to check next day, all are alive and cheeping, so I’m guessing my plan worked. I bet the mother bird told her chicks off for moving the nest while she was out, though.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to try this collection of five years of my columns in the Hawkesbury Parish News, with, as bonus material, a previously unpublished set of essays about country life that I wrote when I first move to the village over twenty-five years ago.
“Totally charming… makes you want to pack up and move there right away” (5* review on Amazon UK)
My column for the June edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News
Having grown up in a suburban semi, identical to every odd-numbered house in the street (the even numbers were its mirror image), I’d always wanted to live in a house where you couldn’t guess the layout of the rooms from outside. Moving to my Hawkesbury cottage allowed me to achieve that goal.
Here, visitors regularly get lost trying to find their way out.
Our new extension has added a further surprise. Now that it’s nearing completion, we really must start calling it something other than “the extension”. For some unknown reason it’s labelled “the breakfast room” in the plans, although we don’t expect to eat breakfast there. I need to change the name before it becomes ingrained.
I missed that trick with our utility room. Now every time I refer to it, I picture Batman’s utility belt, instead of a laundry.
So I’m going to wait to see how we use our new room before deciding what to call it. I feel like one of those parents who refers to their new baby as “Baby” for a week after it’s born, while trying to decide which name would suit its looks.
I did the opposite with my daughter, naming her Laura some weeks before she was born. What a good thing she turned out to be a girl.
And in case you’re wondering why I named her Laura, and with such certainty, before we’d even met, this post from my archives will tell you:
Driving to hospital for a routine rheumatology appointment this morning, I heard a moving interview by on BBC R4’s Today programme with Ryan Riley, a young man who has set up a new initiative in memory of his mother who had died of lung cancer. It is called Life Kitchen and aims to help people whose tastebuds and appetite have been adversely affected by chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer. The interviewer Nick Robinson recently had lung cancer himself, and although he barely mentions it, the project clearly resonated with him.
Why It Resonated with Me Too
It hit a nerve for me as well because seventeen years ago my first husband died of leukemia after a brief but brutal illness (seven weeks from diagnosis to death) in which one of the first and lasting characteristics was the change of his attitude towards food and drink. Losing his desire for both, he rapidly lost weight and with it his physical strength and mental resilience.
I tried to tempt him with various foods in his hospital bed – he was an inpatient for virtually the whole time – with no success. It wasn’t that the hospital food was bad, but it wasn’t great either. Because of the inevitable lag betwteen ordering and eating it, he often didn’t want the dishes he’d chosen by the time they arrived.
There was one memorable evening when I was visiting, as I was every weekday and twice a day at weekends, when he was delivered a pork pie, still in its wrapper and as solid as a brick. He could barely stand to look at it, and was about as likely to eat the plate as the pork pie, indigestible as they are at the best of times. I assumed he’d ordered it because it was something he’d enjoyed eating in happier circumstances, but as an invalid food, it was, er, invalid.
Giving up on hospital food, he would ask me to bring things in that he thought he might fancy, despatching me to a supermarket or takeaway to fetch whatever his whim of the moment was. And whatever it was, he would practically never eat it, his palate reduced to intolerance of just about everything.
I remember him clutching my arm in real distress at one point and saying “What if I can never eat more than five different foods again?” (I forget now what those five tolerable foods were, but he wasn’t eating much of them either.) I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was the least of his problems.
At that point I was myself living largely off food from garage forecourt shops bought on my journey to and from the hospital, apart from whatever was on the lunch menu at my workplace. I’d therefore end up eating his rejects to avoid waste. I’ve never felt as conspicuous as when surreptitiously eating Kentucky Fried Chicken out of a cardboard box in the middle of a hospital ward surrounded by seriously ill people, trying not to let its spicy, fatty fragrance waft around the ward.
Of course none of this was his fault, but it was enormously upsetting for us both. Already exhausted and stressed out, I felt terrible for feeling cross and resentful and anxious about the cost. I wouldn’t have minded if all this effort had made him eat, but the weight just fell away from this man whose body had always been strong and healthy and more than adequately covered with flesh. It was like watching him dissolve.
How to Support Life Kitchen
Whether Life Kitchen would have made a difference to him I will never know, but surely it is an idea worth supporting and exploring. I’ve just made a small donation to its crowdfunding appeal, and if you’d like to support the cause, you’ll find more details here, along with Ryan’s own moving story: https://www.gofundme.com/LifeKitchen You can also follow its progress on Twitter at @LifeKitchen.
Full marks to this young man for dreaming up the initiative. I am sure his mother would be very proud of him.