Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Major Scandal and the Village Rocks!

Major Hutton was a force to be reckoned with in the village. Local parish councillors dreaded his appearing on their doorstep or turning up at meetings, for they knew it wouldn't mean good news. The local newspaper was well used to receiving one of his lengthy letters, his headed notepaper elicited groans from the editor when yet another three page epistle landed on his desk. He was outspoken, often to the point of rudeness, and seemed to think that having been a Major and getting on in years entitled him to be like this, no apology or explanation needed. Nor would it be given even if asked for; the Major rarely apologised, everyone knew this.

So there was no-one more surprised than Phoebe when she found herself on the receiving end of a rather blustering apology from Major Hutton. He'd turned up unnanounced and uninvited on her doorstep last Saturday morning, and if there's anything Phoebe dislikes it's visitors of this kind. Not that she's the most sociable of beings, at times she tends to retreat into her cottage and won't be seen for days, and rather like the Major, she never feels she has to explain herself. It's just Phoebe, she values her time alone, and guards her privacy. She's never been particularly fond of Major Hutton, sensing that beneath that well turned out exterior was a man who was both a bully and a coward at the same time. A bully until someone stood up to him, and then a bit of a coward, often backing down, as happened with the incident with the squirrels drey earlier in the year, which some of you may recall reading about. Having been married to a bully in uniform, she knew the signs, but kept her views to herself, and if asked what she thought of him, she'd simply say, 'Not much' and leave it at that. Their paths crossed at village events, but that was all.

So there he stood on her doorstep, holding his tweed cap in one hand, using the fingers of the other to smooth down his moustache just as Phoebe opened the door to him. A bit embarrassed at being caught preening, he coughed rather louder than intended, startling one of the cats that sat beside Phoebe, almost as if guarding her. Phoebe had an inkling as to why he was standing there, but wasn't going to make life easy for him, not at all. So she stood and stared at him, one eyebrow raised quizically, waiting. The Major on the other hand, was also waiting for her to help him out and ask why he was there. Seconds dragged by, each looking at the other, the cat trying to nonchalantly wash itself as if it hadn't been scared half out of its wits by the Major's cough. Neither spoke, until in the end the Major had to back down and be the one to speak first, and as Phoebe told me later, it was his place to do so, after all, he was the one in the wrong.

It had all begun last Wednesday when an old friend of Major Hutton's had arrived, unexpectedly. It seems Rowley was doing a tour of all his old Service chums, one last visit whilst he was still capable of driving himself, no particular plan in mind he explained, which was why he hadn't been able to give the Major any warning. They went to the pub for lunch, the Major looking decidedly uncomfortable, not his usual loud self many commented later, but hardly surprising really they added.

Several drinks were downed before the food arrived, a bottle of red wine with the meal, a couple of brandies afterwards, and the two old comrades were very relaxed. Well, the Major still had the look of a rabbit caught in headlights about him, and it wasn't long before his worst, hidden fears were realised. Rowley began reminiscing, loudly. The Major kept saying 'Shh, not so loud old chap!' but Rowley had a good head of steam up and away he went. Out came the indiscretion with the CO's wife, the bouncy cheque scandal, posing as an officer and a gentleman to a rich widow in order to extract money from her, the bullying of female recruits, and the final misdemeanour which led to his being discharged.

It didn't take long for the gossip to get around the village, this time not aided by Elsie, it seemed to have a life of it's own this juicy titbit! Phoebe heard about it, even though she hadn't been out of the house due to the snow on the ground and really not having the need to go out. One or two friends had popped in to make sure she was OK, all telephoning first of course respecting her need for privacy, and all had told her what had gone on, how the Major had been well and truly embarrassed and not shown his face in the village since his friend drove away from the Major's house early on Thursday morning. As soon as his car was out of the drive, the Major had almost scuttled back inside like a frightened animal, as Elsie put it in the village shop, where she hastened after witnessing this.

And the reason for the visit to Phoebe? He had gone to apologise, for giving the wrong impression, not exactly lying to anyone as he put it, but just not correcting them when they assumed he was entitled to use the rank Major, which was how he had introduced himself when he first came to live in the village several years ago. 'Force of habit m'dear' he explained, still standing on the doorstep having not been invited in, as expected. It had just slipped out when introducing himself in the pub for the first time, and since then, he'd been The Major. 'I know I should have put it right straight away' he said to Phoebe. 'But you know how it is, the longer that type of thing goes on....' 'Type of thing?' asked Phoebe. 'Oh, you mean deception?' Here the Major issued another of his coughs, muttered 'Quite, yes, sorry' and once again a silence descended.

By now Phoebe was beginning to feel a bit chilly, so she hurried him along. 'So what exactly are you doing here Major, sorry MISTER Hutton?' 'Just came to apologise, say 'sorry' for not being honest from the start. Bad form I know, no excuse, sorry' and with that, he turned on his heel and began to walk away. 'I suggest,' shouted Phoebe, 'that you apologise to those who are interested or who were taken in by you in the first place. I don't fit into either category, good day', and with that she closed the door firmly on the snowy world and went back to her cosy fireside and her book, which coincidentally was Roger Moore's autobiography called.. 'My Word is My Bond'. (One of Phoebe's passions, though she never spoke of it, was for old television series of the sixties and seventies, The Saint amongst them.) As she looked at the title of the book, and thought back to her visitor, she couldn't help but laugh out loud, once again disturbing the rather skittish cat.

One of the more interesting and beautiful old houses nearby is Heddering Hall, lived in by a couple from London, he having made a fortune in finance, she having made a successful career of spending some of it. Luckily there was lots left, as she liked to say. But a large house of that kind took a lot of upkeep, and apart from anything else, as Joanna, the lady of the Hall liked to say, it was such a beautiful place it should be shared. And so they got into the business of hiring out the hall for commercials, film locations and such like. It's siting at the edge of one of the villages meant that often nobody knew who was there, what was going on, other than there would often be a long caravan of trucks and four by fours making it's way up the drive off the main road, often having driven through the village first. For many who had no interest in such matters, like Phoebe for example, the first they would know about it would be seeing it in some costume drama, or advertisement on television.

However one recent hiring of the hall left nobody in any doubt as to what was going on, and was yet another occasion when apologies all round were called for. The Hall had been used for the making of a pop video. Now I am not allowed to say who it was, even though I was there and I knew it was all going on.... I was there helping a friend who had been called in to provide flowers, lots of them, which came in very useful later on. Even though in the past there have been camera crews and the like all busy at the Hall and nobody aware of it, on this occasion there was no getting away from the noise. Which was loud. You could hear rock music blaring out for three days non-stop it seemed. Many of the villagers with cars followed the noise, thinking that we had been invaded again by ravers, and whilst some were mollified to learn it was all legitimate this time, others felt that the countryside was no place for such a cacophony - that would be the 'Major' at the forefront of this little group of course. But most agreed it was too loud, went on for too long, and heaved a joint sigh of relief when the trucks and limos and so on drove off through the village, restoring peace to the Hall once more, and leaving Joanna going around the village distributing huge bunches of flowers to everyone with her apology and firm promise that no, they wouldn't be doing that again! No more pop videos for the Hall, no more rocking in the village, it will all soon be forgotten, just like the Major's less than upright behaviour.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Some big bangs, party plans up in smoke, and villagers put their heads together. Or not.

Readers of these tales will know there have been several occasions in the past which have caused some consternation amongst the villagers... the sight of a caravan arriving on an empty field, the noise of a rave disturbing the peace of this usually tranquil spot to name but two. Then of course there was the earthquake last year. Not known for its earthquakes, isn't Norfolk. In fact some people would say that it isn't known for anything. Which is a fallacy, obviously. It's known for Norfolk Dumplings, Bootiful Norfolk Turkeys, the Norfolk Broads, and being flat.
I digress... the earthquake was only a minor tremor, well, not even that really. In our house, for instance, a wardrobe door rattled, as did a window frame and there was a slight wobble to the bed. But it was the source of many a conversation in kitchens, over breakfast tables, in the coffee shops and village shops all around here, for oh, all of a morning and then folk lost interest.
Living in a rural community surrounded by woods and farmlands we are used to being awoken in the morning by loud bangs, often caused by poachers but more usually the bird scarers in various fields around here. Though to behonest, sometimes you have to wonder at the effectiveness of them when you drive around and see flocks of geese, or pigeons, or crows all descending on fields to gorge themselves silly before struggling to fly home, slightly weighed down so lacking a bit of height, and lacking also, the usual graceful take offs and landings.
But loud bangs at night are another matter, unless of course, it's two weeks before or after Bonfire night and Hallowe'en. If only shops would stop selling fireworks until the very last minute, that might prevent the idiots who think it's fun to set them off any old time they feel like it, once darkness has descended. But shops want to make money, so as soon as October comes along, so do the adverts and displays of fireworks.
Poor Elsie hates this time of year. It may surprise you to know that she is quite a nervous lady.... I know it's hard to believe bearing in mind she can be over-bearing and forthright, to say the least. But bangs make her nervous, and this time of year you will never see her outdoors once dusk has fallen. She scuttles away inside, closes all the curtains, locks all the doors, and has the television on loud, much to the mixed feelings of her neighbours who have their own television, but often switch it off when Elsie turns hers on and have a radio version of their favourite soaps like Corrie and Emmerdale. But even Elsie heard the commotion at almost midnight three nights ago... well, she was in bed by then of course, as was the majority of the village. But not asleep for long.
Once folk got out of bed and looked outside, saw the pretty firework display, dismay set in, and hearts plummeted. It was obvious what had happened.
An emergency meeting of the parish council was called, members summoned by bells, well mobiles mostly and land lines for the Luddites as we like to call ourselves. An outsider from another village, or a group of them, had broken into the shed at the back of the village hall wherein were stored the fireworks for the village bonfire party. It was no secret they were kept there, and as the Major was often warning us, lack of security would be our downfall. A padlock on the door was all the security this shed possessed, and not even that thanks to the intruders, who broke it off, took all the boxes of fireworks outside and then set light to them, one after the other. The Major just couldn't stop himself saying 'Told you so! Damn fool idea keeping them in a shed like that, though I suppose you could be grateful the shed is still there!' By now the secretary to the PC was getting a bit sick of the Major, who always had to stick his ugly great Romanesque beak in, (her words), and rarely offered any sensible help. 'So what would you suggest we'd done Major, not that it matters now'. The Major suggested that the fireworks shouldn't have been all in one place, that members of the PC should have each taken a box, that might have been a help, or at the least kept them in something more secure than a wooden shed that had seen better days with a lock on it a child of five could have opened. Eyebrows were raised, many wondered what sort of five year olds the Major had come into contact with, mini SAS members presumably. (He liked to allude very vaguely to his military career, often tapping the side of his nose and muttering about 'best not to say too much' when pushed for details of this illustrious career, for that is all he would say about it, that it had been illustrious.)
The Chairman of the PC said there was no point in discussing the lack of security or anything else, the deed had been done, by some dastardly outsiders - it had been silently agreed that nobody from this village would do such a thing - and what were they going to do about it? The result was that the credit cards of several members got a good airing, boxes of fireworks were procured, the villagers will be rallying round and the bonfire party will go ahead, as planned, on Friday.
Not so for one of the neighbouring villages whose bonfire was set alight in the early hours of this morning, and it has been generally assumed it was a crime perpetrated by the firework thieves. The Major, of course, said it was 'a damn fool idea to set the thing up too early, serves them right', which attitude didn't endear him to anyone, even though to a man (and woman) the rest of the PC agreed with him. It was doubtful that another bonfire could be put together for this was the second one that the villagers had gathered wood for. A local property developer had been destroying, sorry renovating, some old cottages and had thrown out beams and parquet flooring, into a covered skip and offered it free to the villagers for their bonfire party. It was to be left in the skip, covered, until needed this weekend. (The villagers in these parts like their fireworks and bonfire parties so much they stagger them so that you can go to one nearly every night for a whole week, at the end of which you are sick of burnt bangers, charred tatties, and never want to see a toffee apple or toasted marshmallow again.. well, at least not until the next party!) But word got out that there was some good wood to be had for nothing, and late one night, in a white van (what else?) the wood was stolen away. You might well be asking if people know it went in a white van, it must mean someone saw it, and if so, why didn't they do something? Fair point. It seems one of the old ladies in the alms houses was up and about, picking herbs in her garden which she maintained had to be picked in moonlight and at a certain hour of the early (very early) morning, otherwise their efficaciousness was diminished. (I'm only repeating what I was told!) There are no street lights in her village, and at that hour of night it is usually all quiet, but she heard a clackety motor veehickle (her words, my spelling of them) and looking up saw a white van driving on the other side of the Green. She thought nothing more of it until she heard what had happened, by which time it was too late of course. At the moment, nobody knows if there will be the usual bonfire party in their village, and our PC chairman has suggested we pool resources and have one big one here, maybe lay on a minibus for those who don't have cars. There is to be another emergency PC meeting this evening to discuss this, and the ladies who make the tea and cakes for refreshment time are working extra hard at present.
The other story that is the latest hot topic of the moment is the outbreak of nits. Not a nice thing to talk about, but it seems they are rife at present. The Major said it was despicable in this day and age that the blighters were still making their presence felt... such a lovely way with words, don't you think? But it seems to be a fact of life, that nits will thrive, and so the village shop has brought in extra supplies of treatments which are selling like hot cakes, flying off the shelves as Elsie said, thinking she had made a pun about flying insects, nits being included. Of course, we all know who was in the shop at the time and had to put her right, telling her that nits don't fly or hop or leap, don't we? But the presence of nits causes much consternation amongst the mothers of children at playgroup and school of course, and whenever children were seen putting their heads together to whisper confidences, secrets and moans about parents no doubt, they would be yanked apart, or at best screeched at. Still, there's always someone to benefit from others dilemmas, in this case the manufacturers of nit shampoo! And writers of lousy jokes.....

Monday, 5 October 2009

Heirs and Gracies

Many villages have the Big House... around here there are more Big Houses, double-barrelleds and Rt. Hons than you can shake a stick at and apart from the odd occasion when villages have had to be moved because the residents at the Big House didn't like seeing the workers cottages from the drawing room windows, usually we all co-exist side by side reasonably happily. For some, like Elsie, there will always be a 'them and us' situation; she all but curtsies when the lady of the Manor appears in the post office. Well, we call her the lady of the Manor only because she lives in the manor house, which has been in her husband's family for several generations.
The Howton-Spandles, as we keep telling Elsie, aren't Lords or anything, just your ordinary Rt.Honourables, but to Elsie, that's as good as having been smacked on the shoulder with a sword as she puts it. They have lived in the village since the 1800's I believe, and over the years have extended their house, adding the odd wing here and there, so that what started off as a square house, now has two single storey additions to either side. Like the house, the grounds aren't much to speak of either, in fact there is little to be said in it's favour, it's not one of the nicest manor houses around here. Not open to the public, but like most big houses it takes money to keep it going.
Dinsdale took over the house and estate on the death of his parents a few years ago. He came here from his job in London, with a new bride and lots of ideas for generating income, none of which have really taken off. He breeds deer and rare breed pigs, as well as growing organic vegetables, and has set up a small farm shop, which he and his wife, Polly, run themselves, with part time help from the village. This is the one good idea he has had, others have been little short of disastrous.
He used to organise shoots, but part of his land bordered that of the village hall, and it upset the old ladies playing bingo to hear guns being fired, and the ladies who ran the creche said the children got very upset when they saw a pheasant fall from the sky. This was really the best bit of land for shooting, but with complaints from the locals every time he had a shoot, in the end it was agreed he'd find some other way to make money.
He tried to set up a Christmas Tree plantation, but the siting of this made it too easy for any Tom, Dick or Harry to simply walk in and help themselves to a tree, which they did, in droves so very little money was made from this venture, and not enough to warrant trying again with a more secure area.
He thought of a PYO apple farm, but as Paddy, the part time gardener pointed out, this would have been fine had he not decided to rip out all those lovely apple trees in the orchard because Mrs Howton-Spandle wanted a tennis court and swimming pool. It would take years, he said, to establish enough trees to offer PYO, it would be more like PYO if you're lucky, he said. Dinsdale, never a man blessed with much of a sense of humour, didn't find this at all funny and stomped off to pick an argument with Polly about tennis courts and loss of possible income.
When he heard that a neighbouring Big House had got itself licensed as somewhere people could get married, this became the next Big Thing. He researched it, and the fact that the neighbours house was less than a quarter of a mile away, as the pheasant flies, included fabulous grounds with ornamental pool, an orangerie, gazebos and rose garden, and a house that boasted a ballroom ideal for the reception, seemed of little consequence to Dinsdale. He was all ready to set the procedure for licensing in progress, had the literature all ready to be printed, advertising in national magazines sorted and just waiting for the final go-ahead when the roof fell in, literally. One evening they went to bed safe and snug under their tiled and mossy roof, the next morning they found themselves sharing their bed with it. It was going to cost tens of thousands to be repaired, and so the wedding venue idea had to be quashed. But, like the PYO, it remains on Dinsdale's list of possible 'nice little earners'.
But top of the list right now is renewable energy, wind farms in particular. With being flat, Norfolk lends itself in certain areas, to wind turbines. Notably in the North Sea off the coast, but inland there are several small groups of them to be found, or just the odd one or two as at Swaffham. Nothing is more likely to cause contention than the siting of these turbines it seems. Whilst most people agree with the need for renewable energy sources, most of these people don't want to be able to see the wind turbines, let alone live within sound of them. So Dinsdale's proposal to have five wind turbines on an odd bit of land on the edge of the village, on a slight rise, has not gone down well. There is no housing nearby, other than a solitary farmhouse owned by a curmudgeonly old gent who has raised no objections to being able to hear and see five wind turbines from his house, and Phoebe's cottage, and since she has long been a supporter of all things green, she isn't worried about them at all.
The same can't be said for the majority of the villagers around these parts, even those who don't live in this one have said they will be a blot on the landscape, don't belong in this beautiful, unspoiled bit the countryside. When Dinsdale, and the men from the turbine company, pointed out that if everyone felt the same, then none of them would ever get built, there were mumbles and murmurs but no further arguments. Polly though, has found herself snubbed by some locals who previously would at least nod their heads at her by way of greeting, and Dinsdale found himself dropped from the village boules team, which means he really is not flavour of the month in the Cocky Pheasant, a rather old fashioned drinking establishment in the next village. However, as Dinsdale pointed out to the bemusement of Polly, there's more to life than balls and booze, and so his plan for the wind turbines is going ahead, and we have to wait now whilst all the official channels are gone through, a bit like wading through treacle at times, but rules is rules.
Helping out in the farm shop may not have been what young Gracie, Elsie's god-daughter had in mind for part of her gap year. It was more like swanning around the Med or Greek Islands with some of her rich friends from college, or even going to work in her other godmother's hotel in Skegness would have been better than being stuck in a village in the middle of flat nowhere, with Elsie - you think so Gracie? Never been to Skeggie dear, have you? said Phoebe, listening to Gracie's rant in the village shop.
None of us knew Elsie had a god-daughter - she is apparently the grand-daughter of one Elsie's oldest friends from school (never knew she had any of them either!) who convinced her own daughter that it would be good to have Elsie as godmother. Nobody knew why, nobody bothered to ask why, for the sake of peace and quiet they agreed, and so there was Elsie, eighteen years ago this was, resplendent in a hand-sewn blue crimplene dress and sleeveless jacket, with a pale blue straw hat with an ostrich feather, making the promises that godparents make. She was proud as a peahen, she told everyone, not wanting to say the 'c' part of the word for the male of the species. And for eighteen years she has dispensed her duty she says, sending birthday cards with five pound notes, and Christmas cards with book tokens, to Gracie. Over the years, she has received in return, the forced THANK YOU FOR MY PRESENT letters that children, for time immemorial, have been made to sit and write to long lost relatives they don't know and may never meet. She has also received the occasional photograph of Gracie, the last one being of a sweet-faced twelve year old, with braces and pigtails, in her school uniform... another awful ritual children have to go through, the school photo.
So when this leggy blonde with pale pink highlights, wearing a pelmet for a skirt and a vest which revealed she didn't bother with underwear, and with an ear piece through which could be heard some screechy noise, turned up on Elsie's doorstep one evening last month, armed with a hold-all and a forced smile, Elsie was at a loss. She thought the girl must be lost, or collecting for something, until she said 'Hello Auntie Elsie, I've come to stay, here's a letter from Mam', as she wafted past into the house.
For a while Elsie just stood and stared at the letter in her hand, then looking about her as if to make sure nobody had seen all this, she scurried into the house, looked at the girl and demanded to know who the heck she was. 'I'm Gracie, dontcha recognise me then?'
Elsie flopped down onto the sofa, hand fluttering over her chest, and said that Gracie would have to give her a moment to recollect herself. Gracie shrugged her rounded shoulders, and went into the kitchen, where she made herself at home, and a cheese sandwich.
Eventually of course, Elsie had opened the letter, read that Gracie had been in a bit of bother and because of this had been refused permission to go on any jollies with her friends for her gap year, and as further punishment she was being sent to stay with Elsie. Elsie was a little affronted at being seen as some sort of boot camp, a punishment for a misbehaving teenager, but was appeased by the sight of a cheque for several hundred pounds 'to help with the housekeeping', and asked to please make sure Gracie found some gainful employment otherwise she'd just sit around and look for trouble, or wait for it to find her more like!
Elsie had never been responsible for anyone, so it was all a bit of a 'curving learn' she told the Major when they had one of their regular little chinwags over tea and cakes, served in Elsie's sitting room. 'I don't mind telling you Major, it was all a bit much at first, setting rules and so on, and then trying to find work for her, well, you can imagine what that was like, employment isn't easy to come by even for qualified people let alone some flippertigibbet fresh from school and she has no idea what she wants to do now let alone with the rest of her life'. Pause for breath, during which the Major thought he might get a word in, but no, off she went again. 'Anyway, as luck would have it that nice Mrs Spowton-Handles was in the village shop saying they could do with some part-time help up in the farm shop and so I offered Gracie to her there and then. Course, his nibship wanted to give her the once over, and judging by the way he looked at her, it was more than a once over look. Still, Gracie seems to like him as well, loves his posh accent she says and he has ever such nice hands, for a farmer. I tried to tell her he was a gentleman farmer, at which point she just laughed and said, he ain't that much of a gent Else, know what I mean? Naturally I don't know what she means, but she seems happy working in the shop, works late a lot though, I always thought it closed lunchtimes on Wednesdays but she doesn't get home till gone six some times. Ah well, more tea Major?'

Thursday, 20 August 2009

It's Party Time!!!

Whilst the villagers are a friendly outgoing lot, on the whole, it's a quiet place to live. There are the usual villagey events to attend, fetes, sales, open garden weekends, charity events, the occasional concert - most recently up at the very big house nearby with Katherine Jenkins. A group of villagers got together to attend, each taking something along for the party, each taking their own choice of seating, so there was a mix of large squashy floor cushions for the slightly younger and more agile namely Sue and Lizzie and their partners, Violet and Laurie had deckchairs which they had no trouble setting up, and Hugh and Tilly somehow managed to take along two rather smart cane chairs and cushions. The food was light and delicious apparently, mini things like quiche, chicken satay, salads, home-made pizzas, individual cheesecakes and bowls of fresh fruit, freshly baked rolls, and iced peach tea, sparkling pink wine and fruit punch. A veritable feast it sounds, and a good evening was had by all. You take a risk booking so far ahead with our weather of course, but the evening was dry and sunny and warm, and they chose a spot with some shade from the setting sun, and not too far from the stage. The fireworks which always appear at the end of these concerts, were magnificent as ever, if over too quickly for some of us who enjoy the free show from our bedroom windows!

Normally not party animals, the villagers seem to have been bitten by the party bug this last month, as there have been several more unusual parties.

The first was held at the beginning of the month on a nearby beach, when a group of locals decided it might be fun to hire a beach hut for the day and spend it by the sea. This party included Pru and Leonard from Orchard Farmhouse who had organised it, Phoebe, Hugh and Tilly, Daisy and Alan, who by now are considered 'an item' and very happy on it they look too, and Violet from the gallery. The men folk, as is often the way, decided to set up a small portable barbecue, and the women provided the food, as is usually the way! The day began cloudy, and hearts sank in various houses as curtains were opened and the grey skies revealed. Phoebe thought it didn't matter, after all, you could always sit in the beach hut and play poker, or bridge, or Scrabble maybe. Neither Violet nor Pru and Leonard were fazed by the greyness, Hugh and Tilly always optimistic just assumed it would get better as the day went on, and Daisy and Alan didn't care either way as long as they were together! Pru and Leonard took Phoebe and Violet, while Daisy and Alan happily squashed in the back of Hugh's old Rover.

The beach hut was at the very end of a long line, and by the time our group arrived, several already had doors open, children and adults milling around, and the smell of frying bacon was in the air. There was a glint of sunlight reflecting off the water on the distant horizon, and Hugh was convinced that it was coming their way. But nobody seemed to mind at all. A radio was playing classical music softly inside the beach hut, and people just pleased themselves as to what they did. Violet and Phoebe were happy with their books, the Scrabble was set up for anyone ready for a game, some went for a walk hand in hand along the sand (and no guessing who!). The barbecue proved to be a success, the sun came out by lunchtime and a gentle sea breeze blew. The people watchers were happy to sit and people watch, the older members of the party needed a little nap, and despite the fact there were several other beach huts in use, it wasn't particularly noisy, and the group stayed until late in the evening. On the way home they stopped off at a well-known pub where Pru and Leonard treated everyone to freshly cooked fish and chips, a perfect end to a lovely summer's day outing.

If you lived in certain parts of the country, then you will have had a wonderful view of the meteor showers. In our part of the world, you really needed to be away from the glare of street lights and so on, and going out into the countryside was your best option. Daisy's Alan (as everyone calls him) lives a few miles from here, in an old farmworker's cottage. It was actually a pair, but the previous owner knocked the two tiny houses into one reasonably sized one, perfect for an Alan, and maybe a Daisy too? He is blessed, so he thinks being a keen astronomer, with no lighting nearby, even the closest village is little more than a hamlet and has old fashioned street lighting, not this awful orange version that most of us have to put up with. So light pollution is minimal, non-existent really, and Alan decided to have a meteor shower party! Which has to be a first?

Everyone was invited.... even Elsie and the Major. Elsie wasn't particularly interested in astronomy, once she had it explained to her it was nothing to do with forecasting your future, but any chance for a mingle with the locals and free food and Elsie couldn't resist. Especially not when the Major offered to take her in his car! Now this caused a few raised eyebrows as you can imagine... old Moanalot and the Drama Queen getting it on? I don't think so, but it would be nice to think they had someone else to moan at apart from the rest of us.

Again, we were blessed with a lovely evening, more importantly, the early hazy cloud of sunset had dispersed and there was a vast expanse of dark sky by ten o'clock. The party began with a barbecue at eight, Alan has a proper brick built outdoors one which he is very proud of. He also had one of those brick ovens built, a la Jamie Oliver... turns out he is a keen cook, much to Daisy's delight and consternation, the latter because she has spent some time slimming down and now falls in love with a man who is a superb cook! When dusk fell, most of the outdoor lights were turned off, and everyone had a superb view of the night sky by the time it was dark, and were delighted by the flashes of light, and the dashing across the sky of lights. It perhaps wasn't as spectacular as in some areas, but there were 'Oohs' and 'Aahs' all the same, and more importantly, everyone had enjoyed a lovely social evening.

Not so far from here are a group of three villages which share a vicar who is keen on holding events at the church, or in the vicarage garden, to raise funds for local causes, like the Youth Club, the Oldies Club, getting computers into the shared village school and so on. As anyone who has been involved with fundraising knows, it is hard to come up with something different, to attract the attention of locals and get them keen to participate. So he's decided that there needs to be a theme which can run and run, so taking away the necessity to come up with new ideas. He has decided that whatever activities there are, whatever games, whatever food and drink, has to begin with a certain letter of the alphabet. Now this year is the first, so should have been an 'A', but he decided that it allowed little scope, and was causing as much angst and stress as trying to think up a new idea anyway. But when he thought of the letter 'B', apparently ideas just kept 'fizzling into my head' he said.

So the vicarage fundraiser is to be a 'B DAY'.. it took a while for it to sink in with Elsie, and the vicar, why this was so funny! There will be bowls, of the ten pin, skittle and crown green type - luckily the vicarage, as is often the case, is a large rambling pile with huge gardens and there is a paddock as well, for the days when the vicar had a horse and carriage and needed somewhere for the horse to frolic. Bingo inside the conservatory, Battledore in the orchard (battledore and shuttlecock is centuries old, and played with two people, who have to hit a shuttlecock between them with bats for as long as they can without it hitting the ground), Board Games, a Bridge tournament, Bat and Ball games in the paddock. This is as far as his list extends but he is open to suggestions, the event is in ten days time. As for food, I believe this is proving trickier, so far he has come up with Bananas, as in sandwiches and splits, Beetroot, Beef, and Butties (which Elsie says is pushing his luck, but I can see the humour in it). Blinis and Baked Alaska were suggested, but discounted for various reasons, such as a lot of people wouldn't have heard of the former and the latter would be impossible to bake in large quantities. Biscuits seems a good idea he was told, and maybe Barbecue, someone could set one up and sell all sorts of barbecued food, from chicken and Burgers (another B there vicar!) to fresh fruit. Anyway, it all sounds promising and different, this bidet.

Before that though we all have an important event this coming weekend, when Hugh and Tilly are getting married. It hasn't come as much of a surprise, and everyone is delighted - well, of course Elsie had something derogatory to say about it, as she does most things, and muttered comments of 'Ridiculous at their age' to the Major during a private conversation they were having at the night of the meteor shower party. Nothing is private with Elsie, she has a voice like the proverbial foghorn, which only seems to have one level. The Major harumphed and said 'Quite agree m'dear, downright silly', at which Elsie made a quiet 'Mmm' and looked off into the distance, and the Major then went red and coughed into his handkerchief rather noisily.

The service will be in the Church, which several of us have offered to decorate. Knowing Hugh's love of flowers, this makes me a little anxious, but I am sure he will have other things on his mind. We are keeping it simple, English flowers both tamed and wild, tied in small bunches with raffia and displayed around the church. There will be a small luncheon party at a nearby hotel, just for what little family they have and closest friends, and then friends are invited to the reception from three o'clock onwards, held at Pru and Leonard's as they have all that lovely outdoors space - we are all certain the sun will shine on them, but if not, a marquee will be erected for a small dancing area with tables around the edge, opening out onto the orchard where tables and chairs will also be set up, bunting and fairy lights. The newly-weds ('Ridiculous, calling them that at THEIR age!' grumps Elsie) will be having a week's honeymoon in the Cotswolds, and we wish them all the happiness in the world, such a lovely couple they make.

And so there will be plenty more of the empty bottles, party poppers, dirty glasses and smeary food plates to be cleared away, but luckily Pru and Leonard are paying for someone to do this so there won't be the usual, awkward mutterings of offers of help grudgingly offered and eagerly accepted. And August will come to a close, summer winding down and autumn slowly approaching for the villagers, and who knows what this will bring?

Saturday, 25 July 2009

In which Daisy makes a wish (or several!), the ducks make a great escape, and a raving good time wasn't had by all!

Daisy is in a rut... her feelings and words, not mine. She has been using the internet dating sites for a month now, and has so far been very disappointed, not to mention shocked at the blatant lies some men will tell to make themselves sound more interesting than they are. She had hoped that by using a computer to advertise themselves, they might be more honest. But there was her first date who looked nothing much like his photo at all, and then admitted it was a man from a hair product whose face he had used... copying it from the box apparently, fiddling about with it until it looked like a real photograph. That was date number one, which could easily have put Daisy off, but she is nothing if not persistent in her search for Mr. Right (almost). So she carried on, has had four other dates since then, all of whom turned out to be disappointing. One dressed in 1940s clothing, even had brilliantined hair.. Daisy joked that she was almost blinded by the reflection of the cafe's lights bouncing off his head, though not so blind she couldn't see that really, he wouldn't do at all. When she did meet one who matched his photo, who looked every bit as good as he did on the website, who had some interests similar to her own, it turned out he was looking not for Miss Right for himself, but someone who would make up a threesome with his wife! Daisy decided to take up reading again instead and one of the books she read was one I recommended, Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber, and so taken with the idea of making up a list of things you have always wanted to do but never have, that she decided to make up her own list. Not quite running to twenty, as yet, but she has some interesting wishes on there.
Wish number one was to go for a full makeover... she looked a bit like Rose, from the series The Golden Girls, if anyone ever saw that? A bit fluffy, soft, ditzy too. We love her ditziness, but the image could definitely do with an update, we agreed.
Wish number two.... go rollerblading.
Wish number three.... learn how to fly a glider.
Wish number four... have a home of her own, away from her sister.
Wish number five... fall in love again.
Wish number six... to be more assertive.
And so the list goes on, mostly fairly straightforward wishes, and when I asked why there wasn't something really outrageous (and no, I didn't think rollerblading and learning to fly a glider was THAT outrageous at all) she said that she wanted to keep to things that she felt were actually achievable, since one of her wishes is to stop setting herself up for disappointment, something that has happened to her all her life.
Well, she has had the makeover now. It is over a week since the perm was cut out, and the new, really beautiful Daisy emerged, minus the pinky blushers and too-heavy eye makeup. Now she has this short cropped irregularly cut, we can see she has the most fabulous green eyes without all those layers of colour and mascara, which have been pared down to the lightest dusting of eye shadow and the merest brush of mascara, and no blusher at all. She's thrown out the old lady clothes as she calls them, and has a whole new wardrobe.... she took herself off to a personal dresser type of woman in one of the big department stores in the city, who gave her loads of advice, and now has a wardrobe more suiting her age and build. And underneath the clothes she had been wearing has emerged this sveldte lovely woman, one who makes heads turn, or so it seems.
Remember Darren, the young lad who helped Daisy become savvy with computers? Well, when Daisy went to the library the other day, Darren was in there with an older man. Quite tall (one of Daisy's prerequisites), clean shaven and well dressed with polished shoes (more boxes ticked) all his own teeth and a gentleman, both of which she noticed when he smiled at her, whilst holding out her seat at the computer for her. Darren introduced them, this was his Uncle Alan he said. And with the bluntness and honesty Daisy knew him for, he calmly announced that he thought, since Daisy didn't seem to be getting anywhere with internet dating, and as his Uncle Alan had been widowed well over a year now and was ready to start meeting ladies again, they should get to know each other. Having said which, he stood up, winked at his Uncle and left. Daisy and Alan looked at each other, and as Daisy said to me this morning when we met in the village butchers, something happened, something magical and unexpected, and what's more, it happened to both of them! She's not getting carried away, bearing in mind one of her wishes, but things are definitely looking up for Daisy on the lerve front.

Don't they just look so dejected? Wouldn't you think that escaping the tyranny of a foul-mouthed loud parrot shouting at them all day, not to mention superior, squinty-eyed Persian cats hissing and charging at them, that they would be walking with a skip to their waddle? These are some of the ducklings that were, crossing the road in the village, making for... well, we are not exactly sure where they are going next, but this was taken just a couple of hours ago. They are the ducklings that were who lived with their ma and pa in Phoebe's orchard. She has a pond in her garden, which is where their parents decided to take up residence last year, being joined earlier this year by another branch of the family. All together three females and two males were cohabiting happily in Phoebe's garden. Then there were all the ducklings as well, and now there are none. Phoebe doesn't know when the adults went, she's not one to keep an eye on these things, just lets nature and animals get on with life really. Anyway, far too many ducks for a pond that size, even though it is a natural pond and bigger than your average garden pond. And nobody seems to know quite why they are going either, but the direction they are headed leads to the road down to the farm, where there are several wild life ponds on a piece of what was set aside, and which became so much loved by wild life of all kinds, that it remained a sort of wild life haven, with newts, frogs, toads, dragon and damsel flies, all sorts of moths and flora and fauna, with muntjack deer coming to drink from the pond right on the edge of the field as well. So maybe the ducks got wind of this superior site and are, as we speak, settling into a new home? I don't suppose Phoebe will miss them, and Birds Eye will still carry on blaspheming to all and sundry, and the cats will go back to bullying each other.

Deep in the heart of the woods on the edge of the village, not much goes on. You can walk through and see the deer, the squirrels scurrying up tree trunks, hear lots of scrabbling noises in the undergrowth, the tap-tap-tap of woodpeckers, the calling of wood pigeons. All of which are noises you like to hear, it's part of why you walk in the woods perhaps, a welcome sound. The same cannot be said for the loud BOOM BOOM BOOM we all heard a couple of weeks ago.
The warm weather was with us, so bedroom windows were being left open at night to let in what bit of fresh air there was. Some of us hear the owls as they go about their business in the dark of night, the occasional shot of a poacher's gun in the distance. Sometimes you can hear tractors and harvesters working in the fields a few miles away, the sound carrying in the night, as they pick peas for the frozen food factory. (Which is why the local produce in the local shops and supermarkets, doesn't include peas. Instead they have been grown in Yorkshire or Worcestershire as a rule.) There will be the odd car driving through the village, maybe a doctor on a call out, someone coming home from a late night out, or a late shift at work, maybe going to work. We notice the sound, realise we need to go to the loo (again?), then get back into bed and acknowledge the sound is there, but it doesn't prevent us drifting back into the land of nod. Usually. On this particular night we were all awoken by BOOM BOOM BOOM, and screechy female voices. For those on the edge of the village, and those living on little lanes with no lighting, they could discern a glow in the sky above the treetops of the woodland, which was where the noise was coming from. Everyone turned over, tried to sleep. Some got up and closed the windows, others didn't manage much sleep and awoke in the morning, opened the windows, expecting quiet, only to hear BOOM BOOM BOOM.
It eventually went quiet mid-morning, and talk in the shops was of nothing else but this illegal rave, why hadn't the police put a stop to it sooner, what do we pay our taxes for, and so on. Those interested enough went to have a look, and came back with tales of discarded condoms, needles, drink cans, food wrappers and other deposited items which I shall not go into but leave to your imagination. Of course, there is no knowing how accurate these descriptions are... one or two bits of debris can grow to a veritable refuse tip by the time the story gets passed from one person to another. Safe to say though, that a group of well-meaning locals were seen later that day, armed with plastic bin liners and rubber gloves, some with those long-handled grabber things, ready to turn back OUR bit of woodland as they like to call it, to what it was before these bleep bleep kids came along and made a bleep bleep mess.
And who said country life was quiet?

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

'Tis the season for openings and being feted!

Yes, it's that time of year when flower shows proliferate, fetes abound, and all over the country, gardens little and large are being opened by their proud, and sometimes timid, owners. And it's the latter type of opening I thought I would concentrate on this time, so maybe you'd like to come with me on a visit to some of the gardens around where I live. If so, grab your straw hat, your purse, and follow me, for I have the map of gardens open. I would love to have filled this posting with fab photos, but sadly, not all the owners were happy about having their gardens shown on a blog, even a modest one like mine, and it seemed unfair to display some, and not others. So you have to make do with just two photos... the above is self-explanatory, created by Maisie, the grand-daughter of one of Phoebe's neighbours and adorned with flowers. As was the little girl herself, who proudly sat next to the sign, wearing a wreath on her head of flowers from the garden, and handing out copies of the little map that she had helped Phoebe draw.

Those of you who follow the blog will know that Phoebe is seen by many as a little eccentric,
and not generally known for her love of children or patience with them, but for some reason she and little Maisie, aged nine, have struck up a friendship. Maybe it's the fact that Maisie visits only about twice a year which helps. Anyway, Maisie can often be seen wandering around the garden alongside Phoebe, with one of the cats following on behind, both of them often silent as they go from copse to vegetable patch, to herb garden and orchard. Occasionally Maisie will stoop to look closely at something, look up at Phoebe, who will then bend down and presumably answer the question posed. Nobody has mentioned this new friendship to Phoebe, they would only be met with stony glances and mutterings of 'What's it got to do with you? not always delivered quietly. And in case you are wondering, BIRD'S EYE was safely shut away in the lean-to, from where he could be heard blaspheming occasionally.
In fact the villagers were amazed that Phoebe agreed to open her garden in aid of a local charity. Unlike those gardens listed in the famous Yellow Book, where 'every garden must provide enough interest to engage the visitor for 45 minutes', there was no such stipulation here. Gardens of all sizes were open, some like Phoebe's taking that 45 minutes to walk around and enjoy, others just glanced from over a small front garden wall, with no invitation to step inside. More of which later.
In Phoebe's garden, what you see is what you get.. the plastic flowers are there still, and Maisie invented a little game, details on the map, where people had to spot the falsies from the real thing. No prizes, but as Maisie said, it was more for those who didn't really much care for gardening but were being dragged out to accompany someone who did! Nor had Phoebe bothered to weed and make it all pristine, to her mind if that was what you wanted well, there were some very famous manicured gardens not far from here to suit your tastes. In her garden, it was a work in progress still (after more years than we care to number!), it was a real garden where weeds grew, and some things got overgrown, others covered in mildew or aphids. Whilst all the people were visiting, she tended to keep out of the way, leaving it to Maisie to take the money, along with the Major who insisted on acting as chaperone!
In Mr Bartholomew's garden some visitors were amazed to see what went on round the back. Being familiar with the front of his house, the roses and honeysuckle surrounding the front door, the scent of old-fashioned pinks and lavender bushes, up till now, the only people who had even caught a glimpse of the back were his friends, or those who nosied through the yews in the churchyard. Not everyone wants to be seen doing that of course, so to be amongst the beautiful vegetable garden, which at this time of year was productive with salad crops and beans, to see the lovely old fashioned wigwams made of branches from his fruit trees in the orchard beyond, reached via a gate set into a well-clipped hedge, was a joy. There were pots of flowers too, on a little terrace where he took his meals in the summer, beneath a wonderfully old, faded umbrella, patched in places it was so old. Hanging baskets of tumbling tomatoes and some filled with petunias. He told me that he was thinking of getting a beehive, to put in the orchard, because of the plight of the honey bee at present.
From here we can meander along to Elsie Drew's garden. Now it may come as something of a revelation to know she has one, some cattier person than I might wonder that she has time to tend it, what with being the purveyor of village news and all! But Elsie's late father was a keen gardener, and their house was built at a time when houses came with big back gardens, with space to keep chickens and even a pig, to grow all the vegetables to feed a family, and so from a young age she was used to going and picking fresh produce. Although her garden may only be the size of a back yard, she has it full of pots of vegetables, anything that can be grown in a pot and then picked and eaten, she has a go with it. Her front garden is just a very small paved area as well, but with pots of geraniums to liven it up, so it doesn't take long to look at her little space, and she is one of those who is not charging, just happy to let people have a look at her garden and see there is another side to her nature. And of course, whilst people are looking, they often have private little chats, about this and that, so you never know what 'news' you might pick up!
Pru and Leonard wanted very much to open up their garden as well, but they haven't had time to work on it yet, but she has promised next year, a strawberry tea!
Some of the owners lay on refreshments of course, included in the price of admission. The most anyone charges is a couple of pounds, and they tend to be those offering tea and scones. In one garden, belonging to Laurie, she has taken advantage of extra people being around, and laid out some of her smaller pottery pieces in a little tented gazebo, and Rowena has done something similar with small knitted items... tea cosies, egg cosies, fingerless gloves, little knitted dolls. Hers are laid out in her summerhouse, a rather wonderful log cabin affair with TWO rooms! And a small verandah! Inside it is cool, a fan working to keep the air moving on this warm day, so it is a welcome retreat for a few minutes. She is serving iced tea and fairy cakes in her not inconsiderable conservatory, made in the kitchen by her sister and husband.
But there are those gardens where you just look without entering... small front gardens, thankfully not taken over as car parking spaces. One is set out as a giant chess board, the pieces laid out, and an elderly couple sitting on benches across from each other, playing. At night, the pieces, which are on casters, move into a special wooden crate-type of affair, locked away for safety down the side of the house, on the inside of the side gate, out of sight. Another garden is new, you can tell by the pristine way the gravel is laid with not an indentation from a foot, and the plants look so perfect. All grasses, different colours, and you can see, that as time goes on and they grow, often into each other, on a day with a little breeze, they will sway and move elegantly. It all looks elegant in fact... until you glance into the far corner, away from the front door, where in the shade of a Stipa Gigantica sits a carved wooden mushroom, about two feet high and at its widest point, and underneath, two small fairy sculptures, made from iron, sitting and having a chat. Not visible easily from the street, certainly not to the casual passer-by but in full view of the sitting room window, where no doubt this bit of whimsy brings a smile to the viewers face, as it does to ours, now.
One small front garden has been given over to nature, with a small pond, wild flowers seeding themselves everywhere, plants beneficial to bees and other insects, a little log pile in one corner, a rest home for bees to overwinter, and one for ladybirds too. This garden probably doesn't take too much looking after, nature does it for you, and it had people sitting on the wall, waiting to see if the frogs would make an appearance... everyone knows there are frogs in this pond, at night, at the right time of year, you can hear the males calling to their loved ones. I guess you'd have to be a female frog to appreciate it!
But it's not only gardens that are open, for the local allotment society have opened up their patch. Here you can talk to the owners of the plots, and as with the gardens, there is so much variety. Some are growing a mix of fruit and veg, others just one or the other, the most colourful being those who grow flowers in there too. There are those belonging to a couple of young mothers, feeding their families and seeing this purely as a larder, then at the other end of the scale are Sue and Norman, growing for prestige, to see who can get the longest carrot, the heaviest marrow, with all manner of weird and wonderful growing methods involving drain pipes and so on. You can get advice on growing, even purchase some of the produce, and later in the evening, the barbecue will be lit and people will sit and socialise over a burger or banger, a glass of cooled cider or beer, or home made hedgerow wine, elderflower champagne maybe if you are very lucky.
Not only are we helping a local charity by visiting these gardens, but it gets you meeting and chatting to people you might otherwise not have a chance to see. People you have perhaps passed in the street, nodded to out of politeness, and now, you know their names and can maybe spend a little time having a mardle. You come home perhaps lighter in purse, but with jars of' home made preserves, or a cake or two as well, having spent a lovely summer's afternoon.
I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to some local gardens... maybe we'll do it again next year? Or maybe, just maybe, I might open my own? This photo below isn't it, sadly, but the front of one of my favourite places for a holiday, in cider-growing country. I just like the photo!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Village tittle-tattle, news from Orchard Farmhouse and hearts a-fluttering!

When you want to know what's going on in a village there are several ways to go about it - you can join a group like the WI, stay behind after church for coffee in the vestry, hang around the post office on pensions day, sit at a table in the local and earwig barside conversations, stand at the village school gates - although in these times it's best to do this if you have a child to collect or drop off, or be with someone who does - browse the magazines in the newsagent, or the shelves in the village shop when there's a queue built up. Better yet, in our village life is made so much easier... you just ask Elsie Drew. No need for introductions to this lady, you've heard me mention her before!

So it was thanks to Elsie that we heard Hugh (Mr Bartholomew to her) had been seen driving Tilly (that's Miss Asquith to her) and her cousin, who arrived last month to help look after Tilly while her ankle repaired itself, around quite a bit. Elsie says he must have hated having that gooseberry of a cousin, but that things are back to normal and he is still spending an awful lot of time at Tilly's cottage. How Elsie knows this, we aren't sure, for they live at opposite ends of the village. But we know from past experience it's best not to ask how she knows. Someone did once ask 'But how do you really KNOW this for sure?' to which Elsie's response was to turn her head slightly to the left, wink with the right eye, tap the side of her nose and then make a closing zip movement across her lips. Which probably means she doesn't really KNOW anything at all doesn't it?

It was Elsie who told us about the possible strife in the village band, all thanks to a flighty young piece called Marilyn, who has big blonde hair and plays the cornet. Now for most of us the band is just something that's always been a part of this village for the last couple of decades or so, playing at the fete, local fundraisers and travelling to other villages in the area to do the same. It also plays carols at Christmas here and outside the village, and occasionally has been known to take part in competitions. But as to the mechanics of how a band works, the hierarchy and so on, most of us are ignorant. Not Elsie of course, and how she knows all this, or even if it's correct... who knows? But apparently this young woman, single, in her twenties, plays the cornet and is in line to be next principal cornetist. The significance of this was lost on us, but apparently this exalted position is usually combined with being the head of the band, so it is a position that most young members dream of and aspire to. Marilyn came into the band and within a month was made up to principle cornetist. So, we asked, does this mean she will be the band leader soon? Elsie shook her head. This was apparently what was so mystifying and in her book, and 'I'm not alone in this thinking I'll have you know', it was just a ploy on the part of the present leader of the band to ingratiate himself with her. Royston, for that is his name, is a bit of a fusspot, a figure of mirth to many younger members of the community - the older ones are more discreet about how they feel! He is inordinately proud of what is really a very boring looking uniform, and struts about the place, full of his own importance. It was reported that one day, when he had taken his nets down at the living room window to wash them, he was seen hoovering the walls of that room!

When Elsie heard this, she nodded her head and said it came as no surprise to her. She was in the village shop at the time, and Daisy asked her what she meant, despite getting a warning look from Esme which loosely interpreted itself as PLEASE DON'T ASK. 'Well, that sort are always a bit fussy about their house aren't they?' Again Daisy just couldn't stop herself... 'What sort?' she asked. 'Them homosapiens' said Elsie, seriously. Daisy had to excuse herself into the back room where she put a cushion over her face and laughed uproariously. In the shop Esme had a slight uplift at the corner of her usually downturned mouth as she informed Elsie about what homo sapiens meant. Any further speculation and discussion was brought to an abrupt halt by the arrival of Reverend Green, shared vicar of several small parishes in this area, and one of the few single men who was safe from Daisy's clutches, as she said she could never be serious about a man who wore a long dress sometimes.

On to things we do know for sure, and that is that Gerry-the-yurt-dweller has moved on. As swiftly and ignominiously as he arrived, only this time in the dead of night. Pru and Leonard went to bed and the yurt was just visible through the trees; got up the next morning, opened the bedroom curtains and no yurt. They hastened down to the orchard to see what sort of a mess had been left, but apart from the indentation where the yurt had stood, the flattened and shortened grass, there was no sign that anyone had been there at all. Sighs of relief all round, and seen by Pru as the icing on the cake of their imminent move into the farmhouse. They expect to move in at the end of the month, and have planned a big party with marquee (not yurt!), lots of food and drink, in the garden and orchard, with music too.. though from a music system, not the band, about which Royston apparently feels a bit miffed... according to Elsie!

Since the economic downturn, the property market has been very quiet as we all know. There are quite a number of houses in the village that have been for sale for over a year, but also several have sold in recent months. One of them was a rather sad looking end of terrace cottage down one of the quiet dead end roads leading off the village green. Unlike the rest of the terrace, which consisted of five other houses, this one was double fronted, and one could see that in it's time, it must have been a very pretty little place. There is an old wisteria which still puts out masses of purpley flowers each year, a couple of roses clamber across the front wall and around the front door, and there is a lilac tree at the end of the drive. This cottage has a private drive, the one at the other end of the terrace has a drive which allows access for the people who live in the middle three, to get around to their parking space and garage behind the terrace, so it is seen as the most desirable of the terrace. It was lived in by a retired school teacher, Harold, who had a stroke and needed to go into a residential home this year, when it became clear he couldn't really look after himself.

And so his home, Lime Tree Cottage named for the lime tree that stands at the bottom of his back garden, went on the market. Inside it hadn't been maintained properly for years and there was a lot of work that needed doing, though nothing major or structural really. The heating needed bringing up to date, windows changed, new electrics and a whole lot of cleaning out and decorating, and it was priced accordingly. It had only been on the market three weeks when the SOLD sticker was placed across the FOR SALE board erected in the front garden by a local agent. Being where it was, you couldn't see what was going on unless you lived in the terrace, so it was only when a new face appeared in the village shop one Saturday morning, and then in the newsagent on the Sunday, that people knew who had moved in. Well, he didn't have a sign on his back saying he was the new owner of Lime Tree Cottage, no, someone in the newsagents asked was he a visitor as they'd not seen him before. No, he told them, he had just bought Lime Tree Cottage. Elsie was quick to get to church and couldn't wait for morning coffee after the service!

He is tall, blonde and with grey eyes, wears silver rimmed glasses, well-built though not muscly or fat, very nicely spoken but with a definite Norfolk twang underneath, and age is about late forties. No wedding ring so obviously not married, and he only bought masculine newspapers, a small pack of cigars and a bottle of milk that Sunday. Elsie has a remarkable memory, and I am sure it won't be long before she knows his name, occupation, where he was born, does he have family, a wife, prefer tea or coffee..... and when Daisy sees him her heart will definitely be a-fluttering.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A tale of a couple trying to get rid of a man, and a spinster trying to find one.

Work at Orchard Farmhouse has been moving on apace, thanks to the generally fine and dry weather we have had in this area, no rain for several weeks now, though the strong winds did send some large sheets of bright blue plastic flying across the fields where they got caught on hedging, luckily. Pru and Leonard have done so much work in what seems a relatively short space of time, gutting the old farmhouse, though managing to retain some of the original features. Life in the caravan has become a little fraught at times, mainly those times when there was no escape, and when even all the tempting items to be found in various catalogues did nothing to raise the spirits. But these things pass, and now we are accustomed to seeing vans and lorries going up the long drive carrying materials, and a few luxuries too, mainly from the local reclaimation centre. (Funny how what would probably have been called once a scrap yard now has this upmarket name and image!) Terribly tempting these places can be, as Pru found to her cost. She went in looking for some old fireplaces, wanting to reinstate them in the master bedroom and main guest room. Leonard left her to it whilst he looked at the old hand tools and gardening equipment, but later he regretted not keeping a closer eye on her, especially when he saw several items being loaded into the trailer and the back of the four by four. Not only had she found two fireplaces, but an old butler sink, two fabulously over the top mirrors, an old dresser which was being delivered later by the owner of the yard, and several boxes of books, china and old tablelinens. He knew better than to question her choices, or ask where she thought they would go in the grand scheme of things.
But when they returned home, Leonard and Pru both regretted having gone out together, for there was a yurt in the orchard, and a rather battered 2CV which had obviously driven across the field to get there, was now parked on the edge of the orchard. Pru looked at Leonard, Leonard looked at Pru. Neither was too sure what to do, both hoped the other would take the initiative. Leonard knew this, and knew too he was expected to be the man and go and get this sorted out. He went to their caravan to retrieve the two labradors, and manfully strode across to the orchard, Pru following closely behind.
There was the sound of strange music coming from inside the yurt, not loud at all, so Leonard harumphed and Pru shouted 'Oi' trying to sound a bit rough and ready, rather than the lady she was. The labradors, not being used to this noise, barked loudly and began to leap about on the ends of their leads. The music stopped and a silence fell. Leonard called 'EXCUSE ME' in a very loud voice. A few seconds passed and eventually a man crawled out of the yurt, a rather hairy person with dreadlocks in his head, several facial piercings too. Well, as Leonard explained in the pub later on, he was rather prepared for the worse, expecting some grunts or foreign language to come out of the man's mouth, instead of which there was quite a cultured, 'I say old thing' type of voice, which rather threw Pru and Leonard somewhat.
It transpires that this man, Gerry, is a wandering poet, going around festivals and so on, giving recitals, busking in parks and on beaches, anywhere he can...during the finer weather. The rest of the time he goes back to his normal job of gardener/handyman. 'He's not without money it seems,' explained Pru, 'so more or less able to do as he pleases. He only works as a way of breaking the monotony, he says.' Mumbles of 'All right for some' came from several of the drinkers at this point. 'Quite' muttered the Major, who everyone fully expected to start on one of his rants, but who was strangely quiet, and has been for some time now. Those who know him know they will find out the cause for his unusual reticence to pontificate on most subjects, when he's ready.
Well, Leonard and Pru said it was all very well, but they would rather this man left, at which point he began to mumble something about the farm having belonged to his ancestors, that he came here every year and nobody bothered him. The locals all said this was a load of tosh, there had never been anyone camping or living rough there on a regular basis, and this man was a nutter if ever there was one.
All this happened a few weeks ago, and despite their best efforts, despite being polite and brusque by turns, Gerry and his yurt are still taking up space in the orchard. Whenever he nips out to the next village (where he has to shop as Esme has refused to serve vagrants as she calls him!) Pru and Leonard think about taking down the yurt and dumping it at the road side, but neither can figure out quite how it's put together, and are afraid of the consequences of doing it anyway. So they fall back on the politeness for a few days, going up to the yurt several times a day to ask him to leave... putting letters on the windscreen of the 2CV... shouting at him to GO AWAY. Nothing, so far has worked, but now they've decided enough is enough and the law is being involved, with hopes that this will resolve the situation sooner, rather than later.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the village, in the village shop, Daisy's hopes of finding a man have taken a step nearer realisation. Everyone in the village knows that Daisy wants a man, and whilst it sounds a bit crude like that, what Daisy wants is a gentleman and a gentle man, someone to take her dancing, out to dinner, to the cinema, to woo her, and eventually to bed her, not to put too fine a point on it. Everyone also knows that at some time or other Daisy has been out with most of the eligible, and one or two ineligible, men in the surrounding villages and hamlets. Not that there are many eligible ones, which is why she fell prey to the other sort, on a couple of occasions. She reads the columns in a certain magazine for people over fifty, hoping that an advert will appear that will 'speak' to her, of a man seeking just such as she. Months go by, and although there were one or two who looked possible, the reality of the words behind the ads proved to be less than honest. The usual thing, 'own hair and teeth' turned out to have little of either, so technically he wasn't being untruthful, but wasn't the impression Daisy got naturally. 'Enjoys the high life and having a good time' turned out to be a Lothario looking for an older lady to add to his 'present collection of lovelies' as he put it. Not what Daisy wanted either, she wants to be the one and only, and why not?
Then one day she overheard one of the young women in the village - a single mum - talking to her friend whilst waiting their turn in the post office, about this chap she was chatting to on the internet. 'Ooh, you want to be careful you know, there's all sorts goes on there!' her friend pointed out. 'Oh, don't you worry, I'm not about to meet him or anything, not yet anyway.' Daisy got to thinking that maybe this was the route she should be following... trouble was, she had no idea how to use a computer, and the only one they had was for Post office and shop use only. She could remember the day the letter came for Esme, telling her she had to go on a course to learn how to use the new computer that was being installed, 'to make life easier, keep up to speed with modern life' were amongst the reasons given for the computer arriving the next week. Esme had railed against this, she was of the old school, though stopped short of quill pens and double entry ledgers thick with a coating of dust. She couldn't see why things couldn't stay as they were, but Daisy pointed out to her that they had to keep pace or get left behind. It was a phrase she'd read somewhere and thought it suited the moment, though it caused Esme to look at her rather oddly.
When the idea came to her of using a computer in her search for a man, she knew that the one in the back room wouldn't be any good, for Esme had access to it, and this was something she had to do in private. Not secret, she told herself, just private, there was a subtle difference.
So armed with her library books, one fine morning last week Daisy took herself off into the nearby market town, ostensibly to return her library books, but she knew there was an area of computers for public use. Not that she knew what to do, but ever the optimist Daisy knew she would find one of the librarians willing to help her get started.
It being market day, when all the buses from the outlying villages descended on the town, the library was busier than usual, and after handing in her books, Daisy slowly strolled over to the bank of computers. Most of the seats were occupied, there was just two empty ones. Daisy chose the one by the window, thinking she could sit and stare out, look as if she was thinking about something. Sitting down, she took a notebook and pen from her bag, and then just sat staring at the screen. She hadn't a clue what to do, and suddenly she felt useless, and sad, and ridiculous, who was she kidding, find a man, at her age... daft old woman. She put her notebook back in her bag and just then a male voice said, 'You all right there Gran?'
'You cheeky young .... I am not your Gran, don't be rude.' Well, as Daisy told me, in confidence, later, this young man went bright red, apologised, and then in a very pleasant voice, which didn't go with the trousers hanging off his bottom and shirt hanging out and hair that could have done with a good stiff brushing, asked if she really was all right. For some reason she couldn't explain, Daisy then apparently went on to tell this young lad of about 18, this perfect stranger, that she was looking for a male friend on the internet, only didn't know how to even switch the damned thing on! Darren showed her everything, helped her sort it all out, got her registered on sites, and an hour sped by she said. She now knows how to get 'locked on' again and find the sites, see if there are any responses or any 'newbers' to look at - as you can see, she hasn't quite got the hang of the terminology yet, but she's not too bothered either.
So Daisy's hopes of finding her man have moved on apace. Of course, I am telling you this in the strictest confidence, Esme would have a blue fit if she knew what Daisy was up to, but you have to admire her don't you?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Someone gets carried over the threshold, someone gets a new gardener, and several get a new garden!

The dawn chorus has been added to lately with the muffled BOOM of the bird scarer in the farmers fields nearby. Which seems a waste of time to me, if you saw the numbers of pigeons that descend on it from time to time, all of whom are layabeds and so don't hear the BOOM, and probably wouldn't care anyway.
I was in the shop the other morning, enjoying a mardle with Daisy, when in burst Elsie, making the little bell almost tinkle itself out of its bracket. I love the sound of this bell, much preferable to one shop in the next village which has this awful buzzer concealed under the doormat, so everyone who steps on it makes this loud BUZZ, and you can imagine the fun local children have, running in and out! No, a little tinkly bell is much more civilised and more suited to spinster ladies. Sorry, one 'unclaimed and unattached for now' lady and her 'quite a bit elder' sister! Daisy's words, not mine. Anyway, whenever Elsie bursts in anywhere, you can bet your bottom five pence piece that it's because she has news to impart, ie gossip.
'Guess what I just saw, go on, guess, betcha can't can you?' came out, all of a rush. Daisy and I looked at her, then at each other, then shrugged our shoulders, and before we could say anything, Elsie informed us that she had just seen Mr Bartholomew carrying Miss Asquith over the threshold of her little cottage! Daisy and I didn't know what to make of this, was Elsie hallucinating, had she been at the nettle wine again or what?
'Are you sure Elsie dear?' asked Daisy.
Elsie sniffed, which she does a lot really, usually more out of high dudgeon than a case of the sniffles. 'How could I be mistaken about something like that pray Daisy?' she said, in what she calls her 'best voice' usually reserved for the vicar and senior members of the WI - which she only joined because they occasionally meet up with a certain other WI with 'Royal Connections' as she puts it. 'How could anyone mistake seeing a tall, distinguished, quite handsome considering his age, gent (and this confirmed our suspicions that secretly she fancied him herself, despite comments about men being useless lummoxes etc., etc.) carrying a small, genteel lady over a threshold attached to her cottage. Go on, tell me!'
Well, of course we had to concede defeat, but needless to say both Daisy and I were intrigued to say the least. We suggested Elsie ought to go round on some pretext or other, find out what was going on. She said she wasn't as nosey as some folks, so them as wanted to be nosey could just go ahead and be so... said all the while staring at me!
We were trying to figure out, in as disinterestedly a way as we could so as not to appear nosey, how we could find out the reason behind the over the threshold carrying, when Esme entered from the back of the shop, announcing she was just going to take a few essentials round to Tilly's cottage, just to keep her going until her cousin Martha arrived tomorrow.
Three heads turned towards her. 'What?' she asked in that snappy, snitty voice she sometimes uses... well, her normal voice actually.
'Why does Tilly Asquith need essentials, why are you taking them, why can't she come herself, and why is her cousin going, and why do you know all this?' asked Daisy.
'Heavens Daisy, it's like twenty questions living with you sometimes. In no particular order Tilly needs a few essentials taking to her because she is incapacitated with a badly sprained ankle, sustained when she was out walking, and slipped on the stile going into Sprocketts Field, which was wet due to the rain. Luckily she was with Hugh at the time, and he had his mobile with him... you know he only just got it recently and it took him ages to figure out how to make a call. But he rang the local surgery, helped Tilly hobble down there, luckily only a short walk from the new surgery as it happens. The doctor then ran them back to Tilly's cottage, Hugh carried her indoors, and then Tilly rang me to fill me in on all this. Her cousin is coming up from Oxfordshire to look after her, but won't arrive until tomorrow. Does that answer your questions Daisy, satisfy your curiousity Elsie?'
Of course it did, thank you Esme.
My friend Rowena, she of the ribboned, braided hair and penchant for fancy walking sticks, has had to give in and get herself a gardener. Many years ago she was involved in a car accident which left her with a permanently damaged left knee, which seems to get worse as she gets older, though she is only 55. When she was in her late forties, she and her husband divorced, and she bought one of the old outbuildings belonging to the Sykes family farm, no longer farmed and sold off, piecemeal, several years ago. A strange sort of set up in that none of the barns are close to each other, but each stands in it's own little plot of land, some bigger than others, and there has been much speculation over the years as to what they really were used for. Anyway, she bought herself one on a largish plot, bought mature fruit trees to create a small orchard, some hens, and rare breed sheep. She had the building gutted, and whereas one of the others close by has been renovated in a modern style, Rowena's is full of interesting objects picked up on travels overseas sometimes with her ex-husband, and the usual flea markets and charity shop finds too. Trained as an accountant originally, she now makes a living designing and making knitwear, some of it from her own fleeces. Over the years, her other main hobby, her garden, has grown and developed, and she has her own organic fruit and vegetables, salads and herbs which she gives away or swaps for other things, a cottage garden bursting with flowers, and a beautiful lawned area, where she plays croquet! By herself usually!
But then she had the accident and although for several years she has managed to look after the garden, of late it has been too much, and she has made the decision to get a gardener. As luck, or fate would have it, in the latest issue of our village magazine was an advert put in by Dilys, a lady gardener newly moved to the area and looking for work. Rowena rang her, and the next day when I was visiting and sharing some of her delicious coffee, Dilys came over and the two hit it off immediately. In return for a small wage, and a share of the produce, Dilys is taking over the garden. Rowena naturally gets first say as to what she wants from it, and will go and pick it herself, but the rest Dilys can use. They will make joint decisions as to what to plant and where - for now Dilys is going to plant cut and come again leaves, herbs, and other veggies as they decide on together. The tomatoes are already started and coming on, as are peas and beans, but Dilys has plans to introduce different beans next year, not the usual broad and runner types apparently. Rowena had been fighting against getting help in, but knows that now was the right time after all, for her angels had sent Dilys. Or fate. Or nothing more than pure coincidence, depending on your outlook.
We are an area blessed with lots of sites full of allotments. Some of them are decades old, matching the age of the delapidated buildings on them and the gardeners are even older. You can see a variety of buildings, from the neat and tidy real potting shed type, to one made out of old packing crates, belonging to an ex-Serviceman (both shed and crates that is) and which looks like it should have fallen down years ago, but which has stood over ten years now, and makes for interesting reading, destinations painted on the odd one or two, comments scrawled on it by fellow allotmenteers too. On fine days you can see people working their own allotments, or standing around sharing a flask of tea and having a chat, putting the world, and their absent allotment neighbours plots, to rights. Several women now have their own allotments too, and on one site it took a while for the male gardeners to accept them, so I was told. The women were ignored, and so formed a little group themselves, often sitting late into a summer's evening, a bottle of wine and a plate of sandwiches between them on a rickety old table, the ladies themselves on a variety of old chairs, enjoying the late evening sunshine before heading back home. It seemed this looked an attractive way to end the day, and gradually the men began to talk to the women when they were working on their allotments, to the point where you can often drive by in an evening and see them all chattering away, and at weekends, spouses and children come along too, creating a lovely family atmosphere, everyone getting involved in the work of the allotment and sharing the food and fun after.
For residents of a certain village though, they have been given their own, very new site, on some unused land owned by the council, where small allotments have been fenced off, each with a spanking new six by three shed as well. The site is a lovely open one, very slightly on an incline, but not enough to be a problem, and nearby is the old parish church. You can imagine working in your allotment, listening to bell ringing practice on a warm summer's evening, and offering up a prayer maybe for a good crop.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

More about the 'babe magnet', the blossoming B&A friendship, a wild cat strike and a reading group meets.

I'd love to be able to tell you that the mystery surrounding the mysterious telephone box call had been solved.... Laurie had told me she was sure she knew who the man was, but now she has become rather cagey about it, saying she was wrong, it wasn't anyone I knew. Which sort of indicated to me SHE knew him, so it may not be anyone in the village anyway. Those who thought the Two T's might be involved in some illicit menage a trois, or that he was having an affair, were way off the mark, nothing could be more unlikely. So that one will have to be laid to rest for now, which in a way is a relief. Well, would you want to know that maybe a friend's husband was having an affair with her sister? .
However, I can tell you that Mr Bartholomew and Miss Asquith, aka HUGH and TILLY (and thanks once again have to go to Elsie for overhearing their private conversation and passing on this information about their Christian names!), are getting on famously it seems. He drove her to an art exhibition in one of the neighbouring villages last weekend, and they were seen walking, her arm delicately linked through his, around the village last evening. It's hard not to have an 'Ah Bless' moment when you see them together, it really is. But they do look as if they fit together, and it gives hope to all the getting-on-in-years bachelors and spinsters of this parish.. well, except for Elsie, who has said she has no room in her life or her house for men, 'cluttering up the place as they do, with their smelly ways and lazy habits.' Probably sighs of relief amongst the eligible men of these parts then!
There has been consternation though, amongst the inhabitants of one of the nearby villages, as there have been rumours of a large black, puma-like cat on the loose, living in woodlands on the edge of the village. Recent rumours of a bear living in woods in another part of fhe county proved to be false and were down to some group or other.. 'acting rather irresponsibly as these sorts of people are wont to do', according to Major Hutton... who else? But the cat is another matter. Described as being as big as a large sheepdog, black all over, though some say it has white markings on its body, with a long body, long tail, small head. One person claimed to have seen it pounce on a rabbit in the fields, but most people who have seen it, though that amounts to less than half a dozen, claim it roams along the edge of the trees. Of course, tales of these wild black cats abound all over the country, one wonders if there is actually some truth to them, or just folk jumping on the bandwagon for their fifteen minutes of fame in front of a microphone or reporters notebook.
This was one of the subjects we talked about after the reading group meeting. The group was very recently set up and met for the first time only this week, and among its members are several people already known to readers of this blog. There's me, along with Phoebe-the-eccentric, Lizzie-the-writer who goes in for mini marathons for charity, and long rambles with local walking groups, and Esme, part owner of the village store with her sister Daisy (Esme always being thought of as the tall pointy one, and Daisy the small round one!) and by far the more serious of the two, happy as a spinster whereas Daisy longs to be kissed.
Then there's two other people you haven't met yet... first, my very best friend Maggie. She and I have known each other over fifty years, and for almost all her life she lived in the same town we grew up in. I moved around a lot, she stayed put, only ever coming to Norfolk on holidays to stay with some rich relative, an Uncle. After looking after her parents when they became ill and subsequently died prematurely really, one from cancer the other of a broken heart, she decided it was time for a big change. Never married, never wanted to be, happy, independent, with a wide circle of friends who she wasn't too sorry to be leaving behind as she was looking forward to the adventure of making new ones, she came to live in Cargrave Manor. Her rich uncle had died and left her his rather small fortune, and so she was able to buy an apartment in this lovely old country house, recently renovated and turned into four good sized apartments. Hers is the whole of the left hand side (as you look at the house full on) on the first floor, with bay windows, a wonderful balcony built over the old garden room below on the ground floor, two bedrooms, large study, wonderful views of woodland and sea (just). She earns her living as an alternative therapist, working out of a practice with several others, and leads the life of Riley, according to her.
The other member is another of my closest friends, Ian. An architect, 50 and single, and my neighbour. He's prone to moments of madness... like coming home from his office in the middle of the afternoon on a fine sunny day and whisking me off in the BMW for an ice cream on the sea front at Hunstanton. Working for himself has it's perks, he says. And it's attractions for women too. He was married once, but she upped and left one day, no word of warning, just went leaving him a 'Dear John' and since then, he has vowed never to let any woman get too close. There have been lots of long term relationships since we've known him, mostly with much younger women, all legs and blonde hair they used to be, though there was one exception to the rule I remember, but I think she was a bit too feisty and political for his liking, especially as she was of a different political persuasion! There was one relationship we thought was going to be the one to break his own rules about not getting too close. They were together over ten years until quite recently... she wanted more than just living with him, but according to him when he told me she had packed her bags and left, she was a lovely woman, but 'that spark wasn't there, you know?' and he looked at me, rather too meaningfully some would say. Elsie for example, who never lets a nuance pass her by! Anyway, he is quite happy living on his own now it seems, and decided he would like to join the reading group when I told him about it. This is good, because it means we won't just pick female fiction, but will be forced to look at other genres too.. it is so easy to just stay in your comfort zone, when it comes to reading and most other things.
So the six of us have agreed we will meet once a month, at Maggie's... she has the space, there is no problem with car parking, no interruptions from spouses, children or animals, and we can sit on her balcony once the warmer weather and longer evenings arrive. For now, with a chill in the air, we sit around her log fire and the first book we discussed was 'STILL ALICE' by Lisa Genova. Probably not for the faint-hearted, this is about a Harvard Professor, Alice, aged fifty, who begins to forget little things. She puts it down to the menopause, even though there are no other real symptoms of it, but when out running one day, she suddenly finds herself not knowing which way to go to get home, on a circuit she has done every day for years. Then she knows it is something more serious, instinct tells her what it is, and when it is confirmed as EOAD, Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease, how she deals with it will be the key. The book is sad at times, heartwarming at times, positive at times, bleak too, and the author has really seemed to get inside the head of someone 'losing their yesterdays', as it's put. After we had done the bookish bit, we then sat and chatted about what was going on in the village, and the area generally, and left several hours later, full of home made lemon drizzle cake and excellent coffee. What a lovely way to spend an evening!