Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Getting away from it all

I work freelance from home. Before R died this made for a great life - it made the whole farmstead thing possible and allowed me to take time off too when R was between contracts. After his death I just shut down the business completely, saying "don't call me, I'll call you" and ignoring the increasingly frantic messages on the answering machine. I could barely tie my shoelaces, so there was no point in trying to work.

When the New Year came I realised it was time to get back to my desk. Partly because if I didn't do it then, I probably would never be able to get going again and partly because the household income had reduced to zero overnight and the savings were not going to last forever. (A post on the joys of getting probate when you are unmarried and there is no will I shall leave for another day!).

Possibly the one good thing about the current recession is that the work has picked up very slowly. Perhaps a little too slowly at times, but it has allowed me to retrain the thinking muscles at a gentle pace. However, concentration often eludes me still, deadlines are difficult to meet unless very generous, and my confidence levels remain at an all-time low.

So when a client recently asked me to go on a fact-finding mission / meet-the-end-customer trip, my first reaction was to make my excuses and hide under the desk for a few days. But all the little obstacles that I raised to make the whole trip impossible were somehow overcome and it soon became obvious that I wasn't going to be able to get out of it without appearing a total numpty.

Monday morning therefore saw me loading up the car for the trip up North, leaving my Wonderful BIL and the plasterer working on the house and having to make their own cups of tea for a couple of days.
It was the best thing I could have done.
OK, it may have been for work. It may only have been visiting a magazine printing plant in Sheffield. But two days away being a professional person, rather than a widow have given me such a boost. It sounds awful, but I loved being able to dress up in my posh clothes for a change, eat in restaurants in good company, stay in a nice hotel and talk about something other than dead people for once.

Of course there were tears when I got back home and he wasn't here to tell all about it. I was also greeted by white plaster dust footprints all over the house, a sulky dog and a sick chicken. Even so, I had a glimpse of 'normality' for a couple of days and it now doesn't seem quite such an unattainable goal. This feeling may not last, but at least I know it is possible again.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Penblwydd hapus, cariad

You would be 47 today.
It is a beautiful sunny day, the house is full of daffodils and your sister is coming up. We will raise a glass of champagne to you tonight.
Caru ti am byth.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Riding the wave

"How are you doing?"

How to answer.

OK. Up and down. Just surfing the wave.

Perhaps the last of these is closest to the truth. From the early days when I could barely stand upright on my board for a few minutes, let alone any longer, I now see that I have come a long way.

The view from upright on my board isn't bad. I can see the sun shining and the little puffy white clouds. There are birds flying in the sky, people with smiling faces a long way off on the beach. In these brief moments with the wind in my hair and salt spray on my face, I remember just how great it was to be alive and think, "I can do this. I really can do it."

Every now and again an extra-large wave catches me unawares, unceremoniously dumping me into the water, with a noseful of water and arms and legs flailing in an undignified fashion. Some days I can laugh at myself and climb back on the board. On others I need to sneak onto the beach, dig a large hole in the sand and hide there until the world has gone home.

The strange thing is that I can feel these waves building up behind me, but don't seem to have the capacity to take evasive action. There is a Significant Day coming up and it appears to have triggered the flashbacks that I thought I finally had under control. The swell of emotion is growing and no amount of positive thinking seems to help. I just know that soon I am going to find myself soaking wet having just received a seawater enema.

I really want to understand this "thing". I want to enjoy the life that stretches out in front of me. I don't want to - no! I won't be defeated by the utter crap that is R's death.

But sometimes it is hard getting back on the board.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A tiny consolation

When your team loses the Triple Crown in the last couple of minutes (the championship was never really on the cards if we're honest), you can console yourself with the fact that we make the best lamb chops in the world!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

New life

Last year I took the decision not to bring the ram in to visit my three ewes. There were lots of good reasons for this: my grass needs a bit of a rest this year so the fewer mouths grazing it the better, I need to buy some electric netting to keep my girls under control as they now have the measure of the three-stranded fence and I thought it would simply be easier with fewer feet to trim, vaccinations to administer, fleeces to shear, ...

It was the right decision. I know that in the sensible half of my brain. But now that my neighbours have started lambing in earnest and the air is full of bleating, and now that the next field is full of these little darlings, I am starting to regret it. I want some lambs of my own to waste hours watching. I know I can wander down to the bottom fence and watch from there, but it isn't the same.

Next year, perhaps.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Small compensations

When you have a shaky, skin-crawling fever and a throat that feels like it has swallowed a reel of barbed wire. And when there is no one else at home to give you the TLC that you need, think positively. At least there is a litre of chocolate ice cream in the freezer!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Acts of kindness

R was, it must be said, a bit of a wine snob. My family joke about my 'inheritance' in the wine cellar (or the cupboard under the stairs as most people would call it). So I know he would have looked askance at this bottle of homemade dry white that I received from a lovely freecycler in return for several bunches of willow whips that have been cluttering up my barn for over a year now. He would have been wrong, though, as it was very drinkable indeed.

I can't count the number of little acts of kindness that I have received over the past seven months. There are the neighbours who knock on my door to say hello as they are passing, the friend who brings me a cake every time she calls, those who phone, text or email on a near daily basis. A couple of days before R's funeral, one neighbour knocked on my door. She apologised for not having come to see me before, but then said, "I could see that you had family and other people with you, so I didn't like to bother you. But I just wanted to let you know that when they have all gone home, we will still be here to look after you." And she has been as good as her word ever since.

I live in a small upland sheep-farming community. The people here are tough, but they look after one another in a non-emotional sort of way. In the first few weeks after R died, several times when I was walking the dog a battered Landrover screeched to a halt beside me, the old boy inside got out and shook me by the hand, saying "I'm sorry for your trouble". I seemed to have acquired a degree of respect for holding it together on the surface at least. I guess if you have a barn full of 300 ewes all ready to lamb, you can't take much time off, even to mourn the death of a loved one.

And the little gestures that make life worth living even on the crappest of days still keep coming. Yesterday I had the opportunity to pay a little of it back when a neighbour asked if I could collect a load of wood with him as his own 4x4 was in for repair. It was good to be able to give, rather than receive for once. And then he dropped the bombshell. Was I alright for money? He and his wife weren't rich, but they had a little put aside and would be happy to help me out if I needed it before the probate came through. I was torn between the sheer excruciating embarrassment that we both felt at that moment and the overwhelming wave of love and kindness that washed over me. I can't remember exactly what I muttered in reply, but we ended up agreeing that he would kindly arrange to fill my woodstore instead. Even that was beyond the call of neighbourly duty, but it was greatly appreciated nonetheless.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Taking stock

When you suddenly find yourself on your own, you quickly realise how many activities there are that require at least three hands to carry out easily. Not so much two people. Just that extra hand that holds, lifts up or supports something or other. It is not absolutely essential, but it doesn't half make the job easier.

For me, one such job is dispatching a chicken for the pot. If you are a carnivore and subscribe to the Tom & Barbara thing, then at some point you will have to kill a chicken.
There is nothing pleasant about this, but I always feel much better about it if the bird has gone within 30 or 40 seconds of being picked up from the coop. And for this I need another hand - to open the lid of the coop, to open the gate and to wield the all-important broomstick. I could do this on my own, but it is a much swifter, calmer and thus humane process if there is another person there to help.

So I am fortunate in having a number of friends who also raise chickens for the freezer. When one of us has some birds ready to off, the travelling circus meets up at their house to do the deed together, fortified by lots of cake and homemade soup. Once the initial squeamishness about what you are doing wears off, it is an oddly collegial activity in an Amish barn-raising sort of way.

And when the birds have all been plucked, dressed and packaged for the freezer, what remains are several carcases and a large pile of giblets. Combine these rather unprepossessing objects with a bunch of root vegetables and aromatic herbs and the result is tubs and tubs of fragrant and golden chicken stock.

I feel there will be a risotto in my not-too-distant future.

Sunday, 8 March 2009


This is Moose. He has me, a field to run around in, sheep to obsess about, a long walk every afternoon, a full belly and a bone to chew in the evening. He is as happy as a dog can be.
Sometimes I wish I were a dog.