Thursday, 29 April 2010

Eating an elephant

For the last few weekends, the pattern for Saturday morning has been the same. Get up, feed the animals, have breakfast, and then load another pile of the old porch roofing material into the car and take it to the tip. Or the Domestic Waste Collection and Recycling Centre, as it prefers to be known these days.

Yes, the knock-on effect of having a new roof was that I was left with the old one to dispose of as I saw fit. And no, I'm not exactly sure why this happened - I guess I simply forgot an important part of the conversation when I commissioned the work. The spec is just another of those things that I used to leave to R. When we had work done for us, I had to make the tea and look after the workers all day, so R could jolly well do the negotiating-a-price part (which has never been my forte in any case).

Initially I wasn't too worried when the roofer left me with the small mountain of old corrugated roofing panels. "Oh well, I'll just have to hire a skip," I innocently thought. The last time we had one, the cost hadn't been too unreasonable, and it would be a good opportunity to get rid of some other rubbish as well. But these days the basic hire cost is supplemented with landfill tax and THEN they weigh the bloody thing and add a price per tonne. It was going to cost me a couple of hundred quid or more to dispose of the sheets.

R would probably have suggested that we got one anyway and hang the expense. But that was back in the ancien régime - the one with two salaries coming in. In these more straitened times, another solution would have to be found.

The Land Rover was still out of action at the time, so I couldn't put it all in the stock trailer (not to mention the fact that it would have involved me reversing it back through the gate - a task that I will do almost anything to avoid). I guess I could have called in a favour from someone, but I like to ration those for when I really need them. The sheets were beyond reuse, which meant there was no point in offering them on Freecycle. Burning them would probably have resulted in a visit from Environmental Health.

So the pile sat there for a couple of weeks under its blue tarpaulin until the message finally sank in that it wasn't going to spontaneously combust or teleport out of there on its own. I would simply have to break up the sheets and take them to the tip one bite at a time. Fortunately the car was already in a disgraceful state as it was well overdue for a wash. I had also been using it all winter to carry hay, so the inside was as bad as the outside, and it couldn't really get a lot worse.

The first carload barely made a dent in the pile and I was very tempted to go straight back and get another instalment, but I am trying to keep my petrol miles to a minimum and that would have defeated the object of going only whenever I was going into town anyway.

Over the weeks I didn't quite make it to first-name terms with the gentlemen who run the centre, but I did become rather adept at reversing quickly into the right bay as soon as a gap appeared. And I found out how many other things are recycled or collected there. There is even a British Heart Foundation box for books, so I have been whittling down the excess book collection at the same time. Hurrah!

And this Saturday I am delighted to say that I finally saw the end of the pile as the last batch found itself a new home at the tip. It has been an object lesson in patience if nothing else.

And Moose is very happy to have his boot space back. He was most unimpressed by the whole business.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

I am She-Ra

It's no good.
I've looked in the mirror from several angles and can safely say that you would struggle to find a less likely-looking superhero. Even before the telephone box transformation!
Just a sad combination of chronic overachiever and widow who desperately wants everything to be as close as possible to the way it was before. Even though it never will be.

But I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who took the time to reply to my last post and talk me down off the ceiling. I really do appreciate you sharing your own stories, which are every bit as painful as my own. Why this helps so much I don't know, but it does.

And thank you for giving me permission to let things go. Sometimes this idiot brain struggles to see the obvious. I just need to stop over-thinking things and simply do what is good for me. Why is that so difficult?

Anyway. Enough of this introspection. There are things to be done, runaway trains to stop, people to be rescued...

Thursday, 22 April 2010


I had a phone call today that I knew was going to come eventually, but had been trying to put out of my mind.

One of the down sides of living out in the country is that the nearest hospital with an Accident and Emergency department is a 45-minute drive away. Because of this, a First Responders group was set up in the village a few years ago. R and I signed up along with many others. We did the necessary first aid courses, got our certificates and our names were duly added to the list of Responders.

Although I took the training and the exercises seriously, I never really expected to have to use it, beyond the odd cut finger or sprained ankle.

I certainly didn't expect to find myself using it on my own for nearly 40 minutes in the early hours of one August morning.
But that is what happened and, in all my naïveté, I thought that once the paramedics had arrived and restored his pulse, it would all be plain sailing from there. The fact that, when I arrived at the hospital, the A&E nurses were full of praise for the way I had kept him going, made me even more certain that everything was going to be alright.

Pride certainly does go before a fall.

But back to the First Responders group.
Once a year we had to attend a training course to revalidate our certification. Naturally last year, it was politely glossed over and nothing more was said.
But the year has come full circle and Neil, the training coordinator, rang me this evening to ask - very gently - if I wanted to do the CPR course this time around.

I know that I ought to go and do it, if only to exorcise the demons in my head.

But I can't. I just can't.

The thought of touching that truncated plastic dummy is making me feel physically sick. The flashbacks that have been under control for months now started up again almost the minute I put the phone down.
All I can think is that that stupid dummy feels nothing like a lifeless body that is depending on me to keep it going. It isn't gasping as though it is still desperately trying to stay alive. Its skin is a healthy flesh colour - not blue. It doesn't have the dead-weight of what had been a healthy vigorous man just a few minutes before.

And nothing - absolutely nothing - prepares you for the possibility that you will do all the drill, perform CPR for as long as it takes, and the person will still go and die on you. The childlike belief remains that following all the steps on the DR ABC list will miraculously restore them to life, while in reality the truth is that all you are doing is merely improving the odds a little in their favour.

I know I should do this, and will probably feel better afterwards if I do.

But I just can't.

Not yet.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


In our little village we have a table tennis club that I help to run with two friends at the Community Centre. This started up a couple of years before R died and, as he was away during the week for much of the year, he very much encouraged me to get involved.

We run the club from September through to Easter. It all started as something for the village kids to do on a Wednesday evening. Then a few adults turned up for a bit of a knockabout after the children went home, and it has gone from strength to strength to the extent that we started playing in the local league this season.

It was probably the first social thing I did after R died - the club started up again no more than about 5 weeks after his death. I don't know why I felt I could do it. Possibly because I realised that I was now on my own, and needed to get back out into the world, even though I really didn't feel like it. Or possibly because the kids didn't ask any difficult questions, so it was a non-threatening way to ease myself back into the world of people. It certainly wasn't for the table tennis at first as I had all the concentration of a demented butterfly at that time; my game was shot to pieces and remained that way for months.

But whatever the reason, it quickly became the bright spot in my otherwise grey week. It got me out of the house and forced me to think of something other than my grief. I think that that the kids taught me to laugh again.
And the adults who came along to play have formed the core of my unofficial, but unswervingly loyal support group within the village.

Take Brian, our coach, for example. He and his wife Janet are blow-ins to the village like R and I. He is now in his early 70s, while his wife is a few years younger. For some reason, they 'adopted' R and I as surrogate children (despite already having four of their own). Janet, in particular, was devastated to learn about R's death, and they have been so sweet in the way they have unobtrusively looked after me ever since, both emotionally and with practical support.

The latest example of this came this weekend.
When we moved to this house, I built myself a set of compost bays behind the barn. This was a rather Heath Robinson affair, created out of old fence posts and pallets. It didn't look too good, but nevertheless served its purpose well for 6 years. This year, however, it had started to rot and totally fall apart, and some serious repairs were needed.

Sad, isn't it?

I can't remember exactly why I came to show Brian the parlous state of my composting facilities, but when I did, he said that he had exactly the solution to my problem.

And so this morning we built this:

Amazing what you can do with a couple of pieces of rebar and some old corrugated sheet!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Magnificent obsession

A couple of days ago one of my neighbours said that the Daffodil Lane should be at its best this week. Poor Moose has had to put up with runs lately because I am still training for the Race for Life. He doesn't complain, but it doesn't give him a lot of time for mooching and sniffing while we are out. So I decided he deserved a good, long, slow walk today, and we set off down the hill to the start of the lane.

It looks promising, even if the sheep don't appear very interested.

Round the corner. Yep, the daffodils are definitely out.

Up the hill a bit, and they are starting to come thick and fast.

We had to stop here for a little while as Moose found something very interesting to sniff...

... then it was off down the hill, past the entrance to my friend Pip's farm. No let-up on the daffodil front though.

The daffodils were planted - every single bulb - by an old boy by the name of Maldwyn. A life-long bachelor, he lives with his brother and sister just off this lane where they have a small farm. The daffodil planting started some time after he retired from the Council's Parks and Gardens department - I think he must be in his early 80s now. When I asked him about it, he said he started at the end of their track and got a bit carried away - and just forgot to stop!

A few years ago, the village built this seat for him at the prettiest spot on the lane.
It looks over the weir.

R used to love this spot too. We often brought friends down here to stop a while by the river and give any dogs with us a chance to splash in the water on a hot day.

Moose was a little disappointed that I wasn't going to stop and throw sticks in the water, but it was soon forgotten as we started going up again.

There is a whole army of daffodils along this stretch. A positive host, if ever I saw one.
"I'd better check the other side of the road," says Moose.

And if you look very carefully, there are a few other little goodies that Maldwyn tucked in here and there when he had a few leftover plants.
Here is a little patch of pulmonaria peeping out from between the daffs.

Oh look! Some more daffodils.
You can spot his progress along the lane as one variety takes over from another. I cannot imagine how long it took him to do this.
The Autumn after R died, I planted a whole sack of bulbs in his memory. It took ages, even while I was at my most manic. But this stretch of road must hold a truckload of the things. It is unimaginable to me how anyone could keep going at the task.

There isn't a lot of space available for planting beneath the hedges here, but even so he has managed to tuck some into the poor soil.

Looks as though we are coming to the end...

... then a final flourish as we reach the village sign.

Maldwyn is a kind, gentle and modest man. But he has certainly made his mark on this little patch of Wales. I hope he will be with us for many years to come, but when he does go on to his reward, what a legacy he will leave behind him.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Good days

Despite my recent period of introspection, the good days come along much more regularly now.
I won't say perfect days, because those don't happen any more, but cheerful, bustling, busy days when I get so absorbed in what I am doing that there is no time to be sad, and my end-of-day body is virtuously tired. When I can look back over a day in which things have been achieved, progress made and a little more chaos turned into order.

As I sat eating my breakfast this morning, the early Spring sunshine was pouring in through the kitchen window.
Or it would have poured in if it wasn't for the parlous state of the glass.
Window-cleaning was one of R's jobs. Not because it had been officially allocated to him, but because his love of light meant that he always cracked first when it became too dingy in the house for his liking. Another reason is that I really don't like heights and climbing ladders very much - the last time I did the job, the upstairs windows were left uncleaned and things were getting pretty dark up there.

So it was the perfect opportunity to deploy what was possibly my favourite Christmas present last year and the perfect tool for the widow with no head for heights. A 3 metre extensible pole! All the window-cleaning attachments fit it and I can now reach the upstairs windows without having to leave terra firma. (It will also allow me to paint ceilings without too much of a struggle).

With the house windows all clean and sparkling, I moved on to R's chilli house.
This was the little greenhouse he bought himself when we got my big one. Quite extraordinarily we managed to erect it without a single argument!
I'm not sure how it acquired the title of his greenhouse seeing as how all the plants were sown, potted on, planted out, harvested and cooked with by me. He may have watered them once or twice but - whatever - it was his chilli house!

And it is now clean and ready for the next crop.

After lunch the sun was amazingly still shining, so it was time for some sowing.
There are few things that make me happier than sowing seeds. I love the regular lines drawn in the freshly-raked earth with the sprinkling of potting compost on top to show where the seeds are. I love the lack of weeds in the recently-sown area. I love the promise of good things to come.
This cold frame is full of my second sowing of heirloom lettuce varieties - mostly the cut-and-come-again types. From May until practically the end of the year there will be salad on the table at least once a day. The least I can do is to grow pretty varieties.

The other cold frame is now full of brassicas - cima di rapa, cavolo nero, quick-heading broccoli and mustard greens. There is nothing fresh in the garden right now apart from a few parsnips, leeks and artichokes - the wait is driving me mad, and it will be at least another month before the first salads are ready. But in the meantime the constant round of sowing, potting on and planting out will take my mind off things.

Sadly it wasn't such a good day for this little fellow though. He must have flown headlong into the greenhouse and broken his neck.

He is now residing (very well wrapped, I hasten to add) in my freezer!
I mentioned it to a friend whose brother is a wildlife artist, and she told me that he could use it as a reference subject for his work. As most wild birds in the UK are protected by law, apparently painters and taxidermists are desperate to get hold of suitable subjects by legal means.
Being turned into art seems a fitting end for such a beautiful creature.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


I worry about myself sometimes, really I do.

I have written before about how it has become very important to me to have calm and order in my life. Much more so than it ever was in the past.

Now this doesn't mean that I am a neat freak or that my home is spotless. With a dog that is constantly running in and out of the house and mud season still upon us, you should see the state of my kitchen floor! But I do need to know where to find things and I get far more pleasure from freshly-dusted, uncluttered surfaces than my former self would have thought healthy. And I have become ever so picky about how things should be done.

I also seem to have developed little rituals somewhere along the line. I have the same breakfast day in, day out without ever getting bored of it. My going-to-bed routine has ossified as well: make cup of Earl Grey tea, fill hot water bottle and put it into bed (I like a warm bed, but cold room), go out and lock the chickens up and send the dog out, fetch a glass of water, clean teeth, get into bed, read until I can't keep my eyes open any longer, drink my tea and fall into a deep, deep sleep until morning.
Even if I have people to stay, I still have to do all the steps or it doesn't feel right.

Sometimes you need to see yourself through another person's eyes. Then you realise that it probably isn't the end of the world if someone commits the heinous crime of making coffee in your favourite tea cup. It is quite scary just how easily these things can assume an exaggerated importance.

Surely I'm not ready to be a mad old widow just yet, but the list goes on and on. When someone sows a bunch of seeds for me to not quite the right depth, it really would be a bad thing to dig them all up and sow them again 'properly', wouldn't it? And it probably isn't the done thing to suggest that another person's washing-up technique is sub-optimal, particularly when they have been slaving away at the sink for ten minutes or more.

Then again, does it matter? I don't know.
Probably not in the great scheme of things, but it does seem a bit scarily controlled and not entirely normal.
Perhaps I need to practise simply letting things go for a while.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

I get by with a little help from my friends

It was R's birthday last weekend.

Just like last year I had decided not to make a big thing about it, but some weeks ago his brother and sister-in-law arranged to come over. And asked if they could bring some friends. Trina is a garden designer and Simon can turn his hand to pretty much anything. They said they were coming here to work!

I have already moaned about how with all the snow and work and everything I have been unable to get the homestead knocked into shape this year. This time last year I was totally manic and full of adrenaline, which enabled me to get most things done. The fact that I haven't been able or haven't had the energy to do it this year has been getting me down so much.

So the bargain was that I would keep them stoked with food and ply them with beer in the evening. When they arrived on the Friday it was too late and too dark to do any work, so we had a leisurely meal and caught up with all the gossip from the last few months.

Saturday morning though, Simon was itching to get started.

The thing I really wanted to achieve from the weekend was to set up some chicken pens to stop my birds marauding all over the garden and digging up my seedlings. So while he was measuring up and seeing what materials I already had in the barn, the ladies got to work on the vegetable garden.

Driving down to the timber merchant with R's brother gave us a good opportunity to talk on our own. Jon has had a rough year for various reasons - he has lost a lot of weight and seems to have aged a lot. We talked about R, of course. I think we are both in a similar place - we are getting on with our lives, can cope with the day-to-day of his loss, but still feel it to be such an outrage that he is gone. After all the anguish and raw emotion of the previous months, what it all boils down to is that It. Is. Wrong.

He should be here pounding in fence posts with us, chatting about work and family, setting the table, opening a bottle of beer. He should just be here. That's all.
And he isn't.

But while we were away buying chicken wire and nails, Simon the Human Dynamo wasn't resting. No. He managed to get my Landrover working again. And performed the same miracle on the bench saw that wouldn't start for me. Relaid some wonky flagstones. Mended a couple of the chicken coops. When we returned with the pen-building supplies, he was off again.

As long as I kept him and the others fed with tea and cake, they kept working!

After two days of this, I had a pair of orderly chicken pens.

They will need some netting over the top to stop the hens flapping out, but otherwise the two pens will allow me to rotate the birds between the two and keep the ground sweet.

And I have an empty, washed and dug over greenhouse.

And a totally cleared vegetable garden, with hedge cut, beds dug over, cold frames washed, broad beans, onions and 1st early potatoes planted all ready for the spring frenzy.

I also seem to have acquired a new sawhorse and all the odd pieces of seasoned tree trunk lying in the barn are now neatly chainsawed to size (I was made to promise not to use the chainsaw on my own!).

On Saturday evening we all raised our glasses and wished R a happy birthday. Not too many tears, but a missed presence in the room.
He would have so loved the weekend.