I read somewhere that time accelerates as you age. This is my impression and may be because as you get older you do fewer new, memorable things. Memorable things that you do for the first time populate the time-scape and as you look back, if there aren’t many it seems as if the time has flown by. I don’t suppose it matters much as it’s all just a trick of the memory but it’s good to have things to look back on and one of the reasons I blog.
There was a time I did something new almost every day but that’s not so easy now with all the restrictions. Last week I bought Saville oranges for the first time and yesterday I made marmalade for the first time and got my first sugar burn!
When we are next in Peterborough I am going to have a go on my daughter’s new adult scooter (she uses it to get to work at the hospital avoiding parking and public transport) — it’s manual like the ones we had as kids but bigger — I used to love my scooter! This will require the manufacture of padded knickers — the only proved way to avoid fractured femurs (I should have had them years ago) and I will certainly need them in Kettering when I try the new grown-up motorized scooters that whizz up and down the Headlands with some of the youngest 17 year olds (with driver’s licenses) that I’ve ever seen. Before I can do that I’ll have to get my first i-phone (that’s how you mobilize the scooter) and waylay a school-boy to help me (I’ve done that before).
A friend of mine (I won’t identify him any more specifically — you’ll see why) likes to go to work each day using a different mode of transport, it was easy to begin with, especially as they live on a waterway (that narrows identification down a bit). Car, bicycle, skate board, paddle board, kayak, walking, running along the beach… As time goes on finding new ways gets harder — swimming, sailing… Running over the dunes? (But that’s really just running). Running over the dunes naked! He could do them all again naked even if it does mean going early when it is quiet. So if you knew who it was and where to go you could see him at 5:30 am riding a child’s peddle-cycle, stark naked, along the sea-wall.
When you see me streaking down the Headlands in nothing but my padded knickers you will know that I too am running out of new things to do.
A cade lamb, orphaned at birth and bought up by a silly woman and a clever dog will not be like other sheep. Aby has had her portrait painted, has been photographed for magazines (not Hello! but she was the centerfold for Border Life). Basically she is a celebrity — the ovine equivalent (in my mind anyway) of Joan Collins and also looking very good for her age.
Yesterday I found what I thought was a calf halter in the shed and I used it to tie a great sheath of brushwood to the wheelbarrow so that I could overload it like a Greek donkey and wobble to our “30 meter heavy duty compost heap” — our special habitat in the woodland. This is a safe haven for dozing hedgehogs, nesting wrens and the innumerable wood moulds and fungi that live in our little piece of temperate rain forest. Aby came with me for the walk.
On they way back I wondered if Aby was too old to be halter trained — she does after all identify as a cross between a dog and a human (a category that EIDCymru refuse to recognize on their annual sheep and goat inventory). As usual she was walking to heel. We stopped and I picked up the halter from the barrow and threaded it into a noose configuration — simple. Aby looked interested — lifting her head up to look at the circle of rope that I held in front of her. Without thinking I just slipped it over her head! She was pleased with this new award and set off to show it to Tex, her new companion with me still attached to the other end. As she ploughed on through the mud I was left behind — I tugged on the rope to demonstrate the principle of the process. The noose (for that is what it was — not a halter) tightened, she pulled harder. Not wanting to hang her, I let go! She headed up the hill. Her deadly pendant dragging in the mud and looking for something to grab hold of so that it could strangle poor Aby.
I gave chase — I grabbed — I missed — I grabbed again (this is fun) — I caught it as it circled her neck — she accelerated and swerved — I lost my footing and described a wide arc landing on my back in the mud (I thought “fractured femur — hospital — covid” but I didn’t let go) I was not in pain. Aby was no longer pulling. She was lying on her back with her feet in the air. What a piece of luck — she was caste — immobilized by that primitive quirk of sheep neurology whereby the do not work when they are upside down. I had time to pull myself together and remove her rope noose.
Our relationship may take longer to sort out — she stomped off feeling humiliated and totally let down and has been firing withering looks at me ever since. Like the car that rolls and has a dent on every panel, I was wet and mudded on every surface.
We took a look at the older stuff and I accepted the proposition that it might just be asbestos, took some to the tip and had it checked and confirmed that it was asbestos. They thanked me for my offer but said they didn’t want it — at any price. At this point it could have stayed behind the shed for another 20 years but no, with the help of a friend with a digger we have sorted and stacked it and tomorrow an approved contractor is arriving, at immense expense, in PPE to double bag and remove same to a place of safety (actually controlled un-safety) after which I will get a certificate!
And look — space for a new barn!
Tomorrow the man will come to measure up for the steel frame of the new barn and we will order the wooden cladding, the painting of which will be another new diversion.
Have you ever wondered why robins have such iconic status at this time of year?
It’s because they raise our spirits on miserable days — coming close as we garden in the winter rain. This week we have been excavating the old farm dump — decontaminating! Guess whose been helping? Actually (Bill points out) they use us (turn over this clod for me, will you?) They seem to like our company but they want our help (can you move this log?) They make us feel useful and you’ll catch yourself chatting to them as they flit about picking up the creepy crawlies that your digging uncovers. They used to sit still when we sketched them or painted them and now they come in close when we want to photograph them. You don’t need a great long lens to snap this little chap. He may be a cliche but he is most obliging!
No one is allowed visitors. We aren’t allowed visitors except for Liz, Bill’s sister (she’s in our bubble) but today in aid of Granny’s mental health we went for a walk in Peterborough. Why would anyone want to go for a walk in Peterborough? Not even around the cathedral. Just a Sunday constitutional — an elderly couple walking 20 feet behind a young couple with a little boy — shouted greetings — shared townscapes — a visit to the duck-pond. These little things make all the difference! But, do you know, we are noticing other winter visitors!
Did you know that these gregarious, noisy birds (sounding like a pack of hounds) make long term monogamous bonds and the divorce rate is only 5-8%(I don’t know how we know) and 14-20% are in same sex relationships. Their sexual orientation is flexible — widower ganders may re-pair with females (who are smaller). Large homosexual couples often have dominant positions in the flock and may act as guardians. You don’t have to watch geese for very long to realize how cautious they are and how mindful of potential threats. As they move around the available grazing in the local park individuals are watching the humans and the dogs and leading the others in defensive phalanxes.
In the last couple of weeks we have noticed some other winter visitors, photographed by Bill Branford (BY-NC-ND 2.0), mainly on Pitsford reservoir.
Here is a beautiful smew from the end of last winter — seen at Rutland Water
In the Spring Bill and I were locked down in Wales which was bliss. The winter finds us in urban Northamptonshire — locked down and out of Wales. I miss the hills, the cool rain, the conviviality of all the socially distanced nods and waves and yelled greetings from passing quad bikes.
But there are compensations here — my bad back and gammy knee have improved. We have sorted out lots of things (had a new bathroom fitted), I have been writing a lot about my medical student days, ‘A Testicle on a plate,’ and the Christmas wine delivery has just arrived.
Once the school traffic has gone the streets are empty and the robins are in full throttle and the shrubs are full of berries.
Today I donned my new FFFP3 mask (by order of offspring) and walked in to the centre of this old shoe town to get my boots mended — it was very quiet and, apart from a few food shops, the cobbler was the only other place awake — in Northampton cobbling is essential (even the football team is called the ‘Cobblers’).
The new book is to be the first of a trilogy — the prequel to Iolo’s Revenge (published a couple of years ago) — I am tempted to entitle it ‘The Badass Trilogy’ as in ‘what turns a nice girl into the woman I have become (according to my daughter)?’ Of course the answer is ‘Life!’
My mother was not killed in the war, obviously — she survived and had me and lived to know her grandchildren and now, after her death, they repeat her stories to their children. I wish I had listened more to these when they were first-hand and taken notes.
Mum was 16 at the onset of World War II, she worked in Central London and for some peculiar reason her work was evacuated to the south coast (nearer to the enemy) — to Eastbourne. This was judged to be safer than London.
In about July 1940 just after her 17th birthday she went on her bicycle to play tennis, riding alone along a country lane in her short white tennis dress — not a soul about. A mighty thud shook the air from behind her — from the direction of the town — she peddled harder. Then there was the roar of an aircraft getting louder, she glanced over her shoulder to see a black shadow approaching fast, she looked around — there was no cover -just a ribbon of Tarmac, a ditch and close cropped pasture on either side. She peddled with all her might. There was machine gun fire — she threw herself into the ditch and the bullets strafed the road a few feet away, sending up spouts of dust and the smell of hot tar. Her bicycle jumped convulsively. She lay in that ditch, her arms over her head, in the embrace of that cool mud for a very long time.
Finally ‘when the plane had had time to get all the way to Berlin!’ she said, she extracted herself from the ditch, moved her mangled bike and splintered racquet from the bullet scarred carriageway and set of to walk back to town and her digs.
She didn’t make a fuss but that evening she telephoned her father and soon after she returned to Central London where she lived and worked throughout the rest of the war, witnessing the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
When I was a child and we climbed out of the Underground at the Aldwych Mum would be reminded, she would remember climbing up these steps once before, exiting of the Tube — at that time there had been a blast and she had been blown down the steps. Recovering herself she continued up into the dust laden air to the surreal sight of a red double-decker bus sticking out from the first floor of the building opposite where it had been blown by the blast. She said it was a V1 flying bomb (the sort that you could hear coming, they were the worst, when the engine stopped, you held your breath as you waited for the bang). Mum had had another near miss but no fuss! The casualties, which were considerable, were not dwelt upon.
In the evenings, she and her father would walk to the Archway bridge that overlooked the City and watch the fires burning.
Meanwhile in Eastbourne sporadic bombing and gunfire continued with significant civilian casualties. By 1942 the Nazi tip and run attacks were happening all along the south coast but worst of all in Eastbourne — low flying Messerschmitt Bf 109’s delivering their single 250Kg bomb to key targets and causing maximum fear and disruption by attacking the streets with automatic fire before escaping back across the Channel.
Mum felt much safer in the capital — somehow there the conflict felt less personal!
“The more certain someone is about covid-19, the less you should trust them.” This is the conclusion of an excellent article by Smith G.D., Blastland M. and Munafo M. in this week’s British Medical Journal freely available on their website.
They are not discussing loonies or even those with reputational or political agendas but the serious science — that knowledge that is evolving every day in the fields of epidemiology, behavioural science, immunology and (I add) economics. This is a new pandemic at a unique time — there is no certainty, we are feeling our way. It is not a battle of philosophies — nothing is that simple. We have to listen and try to understand what is going on, and next week we may learn something new that will change our understanding and that is good — not bad!