Posted in Personal life, Travel

On A Mission To Post A Parcel

Village post office in Hawkesbury Upton, Gloucestershire
Hawkesbury Sweet Hawkesbury Post Office (photo: Wikipedia)

Ash Wednesday finds me on the high street of a town that’s new to me,  searching for a Post Office in which I can post an important parcel.

I’m up against the clock, because I’ve left my husband and daughter parked in a restricted zone where the parking ticket for our camper van, in which we’ve come away for half term, is about to run out. I march purposefully through the pedestrian precinct, scanning the shop fronts on either side of me for the familiar red oval logo.

After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I’ve passed endless charity shops and poundstores, two pawnbrokers, a halal butcher and a surprising number of greengrocers displaying neat, open baskets of exotic fruit and vegetables, the kind that characterise Asian and Caribbean cookery. I’ve given a wide berth to ‘Jackpots’, a tacky arcade of slot machines offering prizes of up to £500, according to big signs in the window. Just 90 minutes’ drive from Tetbury, we might as well be in a different country. No cosy tearooms, antique shops or bookstores are to be seen. There’ll be no rich pickings in this high street’s charity shops.

A Lost Soul

With a glance at my watch, I give up trying to find the Post Office on my own. I am not my husband: I will ask someone for directions. But spotting a helpful looking person is no easier.

Everyone I encounter is pale, downcast, jaded and sad. Their clothes are cheap, dark and drab, with one exception – a podgy fellow in his twenties sports a black hoodie to the front of which are stitched brightly coloured, giant metallic dollar signs. From the rest of his ensemble, I infer that these indicate his aspirations rather than his bank balance. If I accost any of these passers-by, they look as if they might burst into tears.

Then at last, like buses, two friendly faces crop up at once. There on a street corner are two smartly dressed young men, standing quietly looking about them as if at a loose end. They are quick to make eye contact with me and flash me a smile. Emboldened, I approach them.

“Excuse me, can you please point me in the direction of the nearest Post Office?” I plead.

Their smiles broaden.

“No problem,” says one, “it’s right there.

Modern British Post Office logo
It must be a sign!

He points to the other side of the street. The Post Office, based within a shabby convenience store, is exactly opposite where I am standing. I’ve been too preoccupied with people-watching to spot it. About to mumble an embarrassed apology for my stupidity, I cast my eyes downward. They alight on the young men’s lapels, where I spot badges identifying them as members of a church known for sending young missionaries out into foreign parts. I do not envy them their task in this dismal town. It’s my turn to flash a smile.

“Thank you so much!” I beam. “You’ve been very helpful.”

I think they will need all the encouragement they can get if they are to make it through their duties today. If I can’t summon up the resolve to ask the locals for directions, how hard must it be to talk to them about saving their souls?

Mission Accomplished

But as I join the queue in the Post Office, I castigate myself for my arrogance. Though armed only with smart suits and old-fashioned haircuts, these pleasant young men are bolstered by a much greater force than my smile: their unshakeable belief in their god. Though I don’t share their faith, I hugely admire what they are doing. I am suddenly moved to pay tribute, and so, my own mission accomplished, as I march back to the car where my husband will be impatiently drumming the steering wheel, I determine to show some resolution of my own: I decide to give up alcohol for Lent.

Mysterious ways…

Can’t see the wood for the trees… (image: Wikipedia)

This article was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, March 2013.

If you liked this article, you might like these others about post offices:

The Power of the Postage Stamp – about my daughter’s new hobby

Who Will Buy? – a memoir about the change in our village shops and services

Posted in Uncategorized

Say It With (Fake) Flowers

Logo of IKEA

Frankly, I’m flatpacked out. I’ve reached that stage in my life when my home is more enhanced by getting rid of items of furniture rather than acquiring new ones. And I certainly never want to see another Allan key.

But this doesn’t mean my passion for IKEA is abating. These days my visits target the little bits and pieces that fit easily into my Ford Ka – and chief among those just now is the Ikea artificial flower.

An INSET day provides  the perfect excuse provides the perfect excuse for my daughter Laura (8) and I to mount an assault on IKEA. Using her new-found map-reading skills, honed in this term’s topic on “The Awesome Outdoors”, Laura leads off round the store. She is trailing one of of their small  new yellow trolleys designed to hold an IKEA yellow bag once it gets too full of stuff to carry without crippling yourself.

My main prey today will be some fake plants to create an indoor window box effect on the shelf behind the piano and whatever fake flowers are currently in season. (In season? What am I saying?!) Since we acquired them on our previous trip, long-stemmed sunflowers have been blazing in our bay window as if basking in Provencal sunshine. Even though I know they’re fake, they’ve lifted my spirits through the recent foggy days.

Toy cat with fake flowers from IKEAPeering from the top of Laura’s yellow bag is another device of clever artifice: Lulu, her spookily lifelik toy cat. Whever we allow her the luxury of batteries, she purrs and makes subtle little feline moves. She seems an appropriate toy to have brought with us to the land of IKEA make-believe. Lulu is so lifelike that I sometimes place her in public view in our front room, on the windowsill or sofa, to deter burglars.  I am surprised that no member of staff (sorry, co-worker) requests we remove her from the store. Nor does any mad old lady reproach us for animal cruelty. (I was once scolded by a stranger for leaving Laura’ lifelike, lifesize toy collie dog in a hot car.)

Our mission is successful: as a harbinger of plastic spirng, IKEA is serving up a new stock of gorgeous white daisy-like feverfew floers and long-stemmed golden buttercups. I scoop a dozen stems into the yellow bag, where Lulu is now reposing on a flowery fleece blanket (new, £9.99).

Ikea artificial flowers in green glass vaseDecanting the flowers later into my grandmother’s old green pressed-glass vase on my kitchen table, I’m uplifted every time I pass them by. They may not be real spring flowers, but they’re putting a spring in my step.

Psychological research has proven that artificial plants in an office setting have as much benefit as real ones on workers’ well-being. Naff placebos they may be, but placebos work, and that’s good enough for me. Happy plastic Spring Equinox, everyone.

 

(What are your naff pleasures in life? I think we should be told!)

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: Saying It With Trees

Posted in Family, Personal life

When it Comes to Christmas Presents, Small is Beautiful

Laura's display of Playmobil characters and other small friends ice-skating at Christmas (Note Santa passing by in his sleigh)

‘Tis the season to start tidying!

In the Young household, the arrival of the Advent calendar kicks off our annual quest to banish clutter. When Santa arrives, we don’t want to have to tell him there’s no room for new toys – or so I keep telling my daughter Laura.

Not that we’re anticipating a flurry of extravagant gifts this year. Now approaching her ninth festive season, Laura has produced a positively frugal letter to Santa, reflecting our current economic climate. Even if he delivers everything on her Christmas list, it won’t take up much space. The intriguingly specific “yellow and white doggy key-ring” and “a biro with different colours” should fit easily in her pocket, while the requested “air freshener” will require only a couple of square inches of shelf space.

While I applaud my daughter’s restraint, I’m anxious that she doesn’t miss out on the most important Christmas present of all: a large cardboard box  to play for the rest of the holidays. (They don’t call it Boxing Day for nothing.) A few weeks ago I invested in a big wooden ottoman for my bedroom. The even bigger cardboard outer in which it was packaged has since provided Laura with many happy hours of creative play. First of all it was a bus, taking her cuddly toys on outings. Then, as easily as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it turned amphibious, morphing first into a rowing boat then into a sailing ship. With the children from next door as stowaways, she spent a happy Saturday sailing round the living room. You don’t need to live in the Lake District to beat Swallows and Amazons at their own game.

Laura’s pocket-sized presents are the antidote to the huge items on my husband’s wish-list. After a pleasant hour of Googling, “a large telescope with stand” is soon joined by “a powerful SLR camera” without which, it seems, no serious telescope is complete. At least I won’t have to find house-room for these gifts, because he’s also desirous of “a garden observatory” in which to use them. I’d like to see the postman fit that through our letterbox.

To be honest, I’m now at an age when I neither need nor covet Christmas presents. I’d be happier to have none at all. For me, as an atheist, the festive season is all about spending quality time with family and friends, and I’m planning my December social calendar like a military campaign. Though to my mind there’s no finer place than Gloucestershire to spend Christmas, our festive tour of duty will take us as far afield as Scotland to ensure we can catch up with all those we love best. The only disadvantage is that after this holiday, I think I’ll need another one to recover. Alternatively I could just go AWOL now and again to escape the action – unless Santa brings me the one thing featured on my Christmas wish-list: a cloak of invisibility.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

(This post was originally written for the December 2011 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.)

Posted in Personal life

In Praise of Village Shops and Post Offices

The Post Office, Hawkesbury-Upton, Nr. Yate an...
Hawkesbury Upton Village Post Office (Image via Wikipedia)

What turns a shop into a superstore? After all the build-up to the launch of a new superstore in our nearest market town, I happened to be away on holiday when it finally opened. I forgot all about it till driving past one evening after the clocks had changed and there it was, like an alien spaceship, its strange round tower all lit up. A small alien bribe had landed on my doormat while I was away – £8 a week in vouchers for the first four weeks, clearly designed to have me inescapably in their thrall by the time my big Christmas shop was due. But who’s interested in aliens when your own planet is perfect?

Because here on Planet Hawkesbury, we’ve already got all we need for the Christmas season. In November we had three special festive shopping events, thanks to Pre-school, the Primary School PTA and Severn View Farm, each packed with fabulous gifts that you’d never find in the biggest, brightest chainstore.

And if you didn’t manage to pick up all your presents  at these events, we’ve got our own gift shop on the doorstep all year round – aka Hawkesbury Post Office, whose tasteful gifts are eminently easy to mail, ideal for posting to friends and family far from home. And let’s not forgot our lovely Hawkesbury calendar and Christmas cards!

The Village Shop is happy to order in all our Christmas food shopping, to arrive just in time for the festivities. We won’t need to fight traffic jams or risk the winter weather. (Last December’s deep  snow must have caused havoc for anyone who left their shopping till the last minute.) Give Ann and Mark your list and they’ll do the rest. Now that’s what I call a super store.

So this year I’m going to be avoiding the Christmas rush. I’ll be spending all my time with family and friends instead – and enjoying the many seasonal events that will surely be previewed in this month’s parish mag. I hope you will too.

Happy Christmas!

(This post was originally written for the December 2011 issue of Hawkesbury Parish News)

Posted in Personal life

Up the Garden Path

garden plants and furniture locally sourcedMy resolve to tidy my small front garden before the autumn turns into a bigger job than I planned. By the time I’ve pruned the trees, pulled up the weeds, and rescued the periwinkle from the ivy, I’m gazing at a surprisingly large empty space. Next step: to refill it. Next stop: the garden centre.

Three days in a row, I pop into the one in Nailsworth, emerging each time with an armful of pots. One by one, I plant my purchases, choosing each site carefully, as if placing the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But by the end of day three, there are still some spaces. I resign myself to a fourth shopping trip. This could prove to be an expensive week.

But before I set off next morning, I must stop at Hawkesbury Upton Post Office to buy a stamp. On my way up the path I spot a tray of plants for sale. There’s a pansy in just the shade of purple I want to match my periwinkle. I check the price: just 20p. The garden centre till receipts flash up in my memory. Their prices were ten times higher. I rummage around in the tray in search of further bargains. I find a lovely sage for 35p: perfect for my colour scheme. Dropping some coins in the honesty box, I wonder why I bothered with the garden centre when this humble little tray was just yards from my door. It’s an added bonus that these plants were raised in the village – it means they will thrive in my garden too.

It makes me wonder whether I can source the other item on my garden shopping list so close to home and at a comparable price. I’m after a bench. I know I won’t get much change from £200 at the garden centre. Then I remember a little while ago I drove past some home-made garden seats for sale outside a house in Horton. Before I can be tempted to hit the garden centre, I nip down the hill and discover I can secure two lovely chairs for just £20 a throw.

So no more lining the pockets of garden retailers and chain stores for me: I’m going to be shopping much closer to home in future. Globalisation – who needs it? Give me villagisation any day.

 (This post was written for Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2011 issue – now on sale in the Hawkesbury Village Shop and Hawkesbury Upton Post Office!)