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!