The World Needs More Crazy People

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I went to see the Grandtwins the other day, and realised halfway there that I was not going to make it home again without filling up with petrol. So before setting out for home, I asked Son No. 2 where the nearest garage was, and he said ‘Oh, there’s one right here, on your way back to the A1! You just have to go the long way round.’

He gave me directions and soon I arrived at a little two pump garage, where, just as Son No. 2 had said she would, a lady came out of the little building to fill my car up for me – a rare treat these days! She was very friendly, and we chatted a little as she filled my tank. She told me a bit about fuel prices and how long they’d been in business (over forty years) and I told her about the girls .. and then we walked over to the shop so that I could pay.

When I walked in the door, I said ‘Wow!’

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See all those trophies? There are five hundred of them, although clearly not all of them are visible in this photo. See the shelf sagging under the weight? When they take all those shiny things down to dust, they turn the shelf over to let it straighten out before it slowly bends the other way again.

The lady’s name turned out to be Judy Cooper, and all of these trophies have been won by her family for stock car racing – her husband started in the game when he was sixteen years old. He no longer competes, but her son does. And does he race any old clapped out car, stripped, re-built and quickly painted up in the back yard? No, he does not. He races Reliant Robins1 and sometimes stretch limos. And they are not at all badly painted, because this family also paints stock cars professionally under the name K Cooper Racepaints. They have exhibits at the Birmingham NEC and everything!

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The Cooper family have won so many awards between them that it almost doesn’t seem fair to let them continue to race … and yet, why the hell not? Since they’re so good at what they do, and they’re providing entertainment for people, asking them to stop would be like asking Mick The Miller’s2 owner to pull him from the Derby to give the other dogs a chance. Not gonna happen. So Allen Cooper will continue to burn rubber on the stock car circuit, and presumably, one day, that shelf will fall down3.

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Behind the counter, and on the walls, there are various photos and Judy kindly showed me the calendar that some of the pictures here are taken from – the Trackstar Banger Racing Calendar from 2013 featuring her son, Allen. She’s rightly proud of her intrepid family.

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If you are ever down that way, do pop in and get your fuel here: K Cooper Motors of Sawtry is the name. I’m told they only make 3p profit on each litre of petrol because they can’t compete with the supermarkets any other way. So, petrol prices are excellent, it’s a friendly little place and you won’t even have to get your hands dirty!

Oh, and if you want to know a little more about Allen Cooper, there’s a fun little article here.

1 Reliant Robins, in case you don’t know, are possibly the most dangerous car to use for stock car racing. Firstly, they are three-wheelers, which makes them very unstable when cornering – especially in slippery conditions – and secondly because they are made of fibreglass, which has a nasty habit of becoming a fireball if it catches fire in a crash. Like, for instance, when you mess up on the cornering. Crazy, huh? But hey – someone’s got to do it. Just think how boring the world would be if everyone went around being sensible all of the time. Seriously. We’d have no bravery, no space exploration … and probably precious little creativity.

2 Mick the Miller is considered by most people in the business to be THE all-time-great racing greyhound. His remains are now stuffed and on display in a natural history museum in Tring.

3 Because the sad fact is that even MDF has its breaking point, and gravity is no respecter of shiny trophies and has no compassion for owners who don’t want them bent out of shape.

Losing my mojo

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When does it cease to become rest and recuperation and become mere laziness, I wonder?

Since I picked up this bug in November, I have been unwell quite a lot of the time and still don’t feel great. After struggling along for a week trying to pretend everything was normal1, back in those misty autumn days, I decided I had to change tactics and rest.

So I stopped walking the dogs2, I stopped cooking, I stopped getting dressed for the day, and I stopped reading my Italian translation of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train’. There were, of course, other things I stopped doing, but stopping my reading in Italian was a milestone. I simply did not have the mental wherewithall to struggle with it, because yes, it had become a struggle. I also had to stop talking on Skype because .. well, I didn’t a voice worth listening to, and when I talked much, I’d go into paroxysms of coughing and couldn’t stop. For much the same reason, I stopped exercising, too.

Of course, once I’d stopped struggling to read in Italian, I stopped all other Italian studies as well. It’s quite true; when you’re so unwell you keep falling asleep on the couch wrapped in a blanket, it’s pointless to try to concentrate on anything because you simply can’t do it. So, no reading, no writing, no talking, and no games in Italian. I skipped over the posts on Facebook in Italian, and I put away the Italian books and got out an English one (it was a Harlequin romance which just goes to show how unwell I was3).

Once or twice, when I felt a bit better, I opened up Skype and conversed with a couple of people. Then I went downhill again and could barely cope with English again.

And now here we are in January. I’ve just had a chest x-ray because I am still coughing. Nowhere near as badly, but yep, still coughing. No results yet – I won’t get those till next week, so I have plenty of time to convince myself I have lung cancer or TB, or a tomato vine growing down there or something4.

From time to time I have managed to read a short text in Italian, and I no longer have to be in bed by 9.30pm because I’m dead on my feet on the couch, but I still struggle a bit.

But here’s the thing: I no longer know if I’m struggling because I haven’t been exercising properly or stretching my mind, or if I’m struggling because I’m still not over this wretched thing. I might open up Skype tonight and see if I can hold up my end of a conversation. I did manage a short chat with two lovely Italian girls in the Milano Bar yesterday while shopping in the lovely market town of Stamford, and I haven’t forgotten absolutely everything I know, which is nice, but I’m a bit nervous of going for a protracted conversation in the same way that I’d be nervous of trying to walk into town (a matter of five or six miles), or climb the Tower of Pisa. Just the thought of that makes me want to go and lie down.

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The other day, I promised to dust off the treadmill, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t do it. Instead, we found ourselves vacuuming and moving furniture in preparation for a visit from the Grandtwins and it was quite enough exercise, thankyouverymuch. OH thought so, too, and went so far as to forbid me to have anything to do with the treadmill whatsoever. So it’s still stacked with boxes, though one is now nearly empty. I have at least been trying.

The day before yesterday I decided I was about ready to pick up my Italian reading again, and I couldn’t find that damned book! ‘Il Mistero Del Treno Azurro’ was nowhere to be seen. I looked high and low. I looked everywhere … Finally it was run to earth yesterday in a shopping bag – I must have taken it somewhere thinking I might need something to read, and it never got put back on the shelf because of my lack of mojo (see title, above).

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I guess now I have no excuse … but I might have to start again at the beginning again. How am I supposed to remember who did what to whom after all this time?

Oh well. I suppose I’ll need something to do while I’m in hospital getting the tomato taken out of my lung.

1 Whatever the hell ‘normal’ is.

2 It’s very hard to walk a greyhound who likes you to run with him when you have hardly enough breath to walk across the kitchen, so I let OH do it. ‘Let OH do it’ being a euphemism for ‘refused to go outside at all’. When he went down with it, too, I had to help with the dogs, but I’m pretty sure that’s what made me ill again.

3 I knew I was feeling a little bit better when I graduated to Georgette Heyer. Later I moved on to Katie Fforde, but I’m not sure it’s actually intellectually superior to Heyer. However, now I’m reading Terry Pratchett, I know I’m making progress. I’m getting the jokes and everything!

4 I’m really, really good at this. I’ve had so much practice, you see.

A Conversation with OH

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We were going upstairs.

I was ahead of OH, but we were both struggling with fatigue after a long day doing not very much at all1

Me: ‘Aaaaagghhh! I’m sure there are five more stairs here today. Who’s been adding steps to our staircase?’

OH: ‘I dunno!’

We made it to the top and he paused.

OH: ‘Can you count?’

Me: ‘You want me to count? Why? What do you want me to count?’

OH: ‘Oh, nothing … I just wondered, because I’m sure it was more than five!’

We are in our early sixties. I’m sure we shouldn’t be feeling like this all the time. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been ill for so long, on and off, with this fluey bug thing we picked up back in November? And I do know that interrupted sleep can really do a number on you, and we both wake far too many times in the night …

I know early sixties isn’t old, as such, but we feel it. OH has various disorders, including Type 2 diabetes (though he doesn’t really accept that he’s any more than ‘borderline’) and now has a trapped nerve in his shoulder which is causing his hand to go numb, which means he drops things. I have various disorders, including fibromyalgia, and a cough which has persisted for months. Neither of us has any energy. So we are off to another round of ‘further investigations'; he for physio and an appointment with a orthopaedic consultant, and I for a chest x-ray (for starters). Oh, deep joy.

We know people of around our own age – and some older than us – who do exciting things like cycling around Peru, or climbing mountains, etc. And we want to know how they do it! To me, these days, cooking dinner is an achievement, and I have a huge dog bed in the bath which is waiting to be rinsed because I got halfway through washing it and my neck and shoulders seized up.

Is this the Winter Blues, do you think? I mean, we both did quite a lot of walking – stairs and everything – when we were in Italy last year, and an envelope through the door yesterday reminded me of a day-long dog show trade stand I usually manage to pull off (with help from OH, of course), and which they’d like me to do again this year. Anyway, I don’t feel depressed. Just old and creaky.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to ask when was the last time I used that treadmill, aren’t you? And I’m going to say ‘I can’t remember, but at the moment it’s covered in boxes which I tossed up there when I was tidying up for Christmas’ and then you’re going to say ‘Well, there you are, then!’ in that way that people do, and you’d be right. So let’s take that as read.

Tomorrow morning, I promise. I will at least get those boxes sorted and dust it off, okay?

And then, we’ll see…

1 But which felt like a long day doing a heck of a lot of things on account of the fact that we’ve both been unwell for so long. We’d walked the dogs and been shopping, and made cups of tea, stuff like that.

Let’s all go to Birmingham!

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Only if you want to, of course, but if you should so wish, there should be absolutely no trouble at all in fulfilling your desire – apart from having to negotiate some horrible traffic1 and find a car park, that is. Or you could use public transport and it would be even easier.

But during an interview on Fox News, a ‘Terror Expert’, one Steve Emerson, gave millions of people across the USA the impression that Birmingham, England was totally ruled by Muslims and that non-Muslims simple did not go there for fear of reprisals. This is pure fiction2, and whether it was a deliberate untruth or not, the likely effect will be to stir up intolerance and increase tensions. And that’s not going to help anyone.

Here’s what he said, according to one of our better newspapers, The Guardian:

“In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.

And, parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire.”

Well. I was born in London and have been there quite a lot, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it!

Far from being a Muslim-controlled stronghold where non-Muslims are not welcome, Birmingham is a vibrant and thriving city, and I am not at all afraid to go there. Multicultural? Yes. High immigrant population? Probably. But it has no more trouble than any other large city anywhere in the world and probably less than most. It is a well known and much-visited business, shopping, cultural and exhibition centre. I’d be happy to let my old granny go there for the day if I had one.

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Don’t see many people being beaten for not wearing the right clothing in that picture, do you?

In fact, I shall be going to the NEC in Birmingham myself in a couple of months. I will be wearing jeans and a tee shirt, but I don’t expect anyone to give me a second glance, let alone challenge me because of it. Heavens above, we probably have a comparable percentage of Muslims right here in my own city.

So, dear American friends of mine, please, please, PLEASE stop watching Fox News! I have never heard such twaddle in all my life as I heard quoted today! And it’s dangerous twaddle.

1 Quite possibly, Spaghetti Junction, depending on which direction you are coming from.

2 And reportedly caused David Cameron, our Beloved Leader, to choke on his porridge, which I would have given much to see.

Photo of West Midlands bus in Birmingham courtesy of Free Foto.

Photo of a Birmingham shopping centre courtesy of Pixabay.

The Pixies Are Coming!!

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You know how you’re supposed to get the Christmas decorations down by Twelfth Night?

Well, by my reckoning, the 6th January was nearly a week ago now, and while some of them are down and packed, and the tree is somewhat bare, the rest are still squatting on the dining table and beginning to draw up rent agreements, while the empty boxes are waiting to be re-packed.

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I don’t know why it’s taking us so long this year. I suppose it’s partly this bug (which still won’t let go and bugger off), partly laziness, and partly … well, just doing other, more interesting things. They’ll have to go soon, though, because I want to get back to the genealogy and I’ve decided that this year is the one in which Stuff gets Organised and I’m going to need the table for that.

Meanwhile, I’m still being eyeballed by a lonely reindeer on the windowsill (who has inexplicably turned his back on his friend the rocking horse), and the glass candlesticks on the mantlepiece are still sporting their red bows. There’s a rather sadly empty foil card hanger twisting gently in the breeze by the conservatory door, too.

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The cards themselves are down, though. I have them in a pile on the table among the tree baubles, the reindeer bells and the tinsel, waiting for me to reply to any little Christmas notes which have been scribbled inside1.

I have a neat idea for the old cards this year, by the way. I’ve bought a couple of those self-adhesive photo albums2, and I’m going to cut the fronts from the most interesting cards and stick them in the albums to entertain the Grand-twins when they come round. Incidentally, I love the fact that sparkly cards are back in fashion again, don’t you? Even if the sparkle does come off and get everywhere – even on the dogs’ noses. It reminds me of when I was very young and all the cards seemed to be decorated with glitter.

Anyway. I remember my mother telling me, back in those far-off days, that the reason the decorations had to come down by the sixth of January was that if you didn’t do it yourself, the fairies would turn up in the night and do it for you. If I remember correctly, I said something like ‘Oh good! Can I stay up and watch?’, but Mum said no. She said that if we didn’t take them down tidily, the fairies – which were not good fairies, but bad fairies – would tear them down and throw them around and break things, so I gave in.

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I’ve since learned that the custom for taking decorations down by Twelfth Night was begun in Victorian times, and one legend (almost certainly started by one of those stern Victorian parents) says that pixies live in holly, which has been a favourite Christmas evergreen for centuries, and they don’t like to live indoors for too long. So, if they’re not put outside (with their holly) fairly promptly, they can turn mischievous and cause trouble.

Well, I suppose it’s possible. I’m not sure I’d notice though, with the mess this house is in at the moment – or maybe they’ve already been! It certainly does look as if … well, as if someone has torn down the decorations in a hurry and kind of left a mess.

The dogs didn’t make a murmur though. You’d think they’d at least bark … !

1 If my friends and family are really lucky, I might get to that before next December.

2 Which are death to the long-term storage of photographs and I really must get round to getting my ‘Year in New Zealand’ photos out of those things and into proper acid-free albums.

The Nutrition Dilemma

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Vogel’s sliced bread – soya and linseed, as you see.   And very nice it is, too, even though OH is very rude about it and says it looks and feels like a brick. 

Anyway, one day when I opened up a new bag, something was Not Right and I felt quite cheated.  Not simply because my new loaf was a bit short, but because here I am trying to keep track of my food intake, and a slice is no longer a slice, those from the new loaf being half the size of the old one, so I can’t look at the table on the back and say (for instance) ‘Aha! This slice contains .34g of sodium!’

Nutritionists are always saying, are they not, that you need 15mg of this trace element and 350mg of that one, plus at least 320mg magnesium and 30 units of vitamin E, and less than 2,000mg of sodium and so on?  And we all need our ‘five-a-day’ of fruit and veg to stay healthy.

At least the five-a-day should be easy, right?

Well.

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These two stalks of broccoli came from the same pre-trimmed packet, bought from my favourite supermarket a while back.  Waitrose, along with the rest, label the packets with useful information to help you choose wisely1.

In this case, the useful information is that seven ‘spears’ will provide me with one of my five-a-day.

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Oh really?  Which size ‘spears’ would that be – the big ones, or the little ones?  Or should we pick at random and try to find an average?  Not to mention that the NHS suggests that:

Two broccoli spears … count as one portion.”

It all seems very confused, but let’s try to work this out:  say I eat a banana with my cereal for breakfast, an apple mid-morning, and drink a glass of fruit juice with my lunch.   That’s dealt with the fruit.

I might have tomato soup for lunch, but the experts say that our five-a-day should be made up of two fruit portions and three veg, and tomatoes are a fruit2.  Alrighty, then – a salad. How about a green salad?  I’m reading that a ‘cereal bowl’ sized portion of lettuce is one of my five-a-day.  What size bowl would that be, then, being as there is no such standard size as ‘cereal bowl’? And would that be ten shredded lettuce leaves, or the two or three whole leaves which would also fill that same bowl?

Moving along, I guess I’m supposed to nibble on raw veg during the afternoon, because I’ve used up my fruit allowance for the day so dried apricots etc are out.  Dinner is easier, because I love all kinds of cooked vegetables except fennel.  Potatoes don’t count as a vegetable, but green beans, broccoli (Ha!), carrots, asparagus, peas, they’re all good.

Meanwhile, I’m suppose to keep my dairy intake up (to prevent osteoporosis and get enough of certain vitamins inside me), eat enough protein for the old growth & repair thing, and eat nuts and seeds for their trace elements, minerals and vitamins content – oh, and don’t forget the dark chocolate which apparently is incredibly good for us, but can’t count as one of our five a day either, even though it comes from a tree and is a part of a fruit.  Then it’s recommended that for a good night’s sleep we should eat lots of foods containing tryptophan, and eat wholegrain cereals for energy and to help avoid type 2 diabetes, and plenty of good fats which are essential for cell health and also the cardiovascular system.  And so on.

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe that eating a good diet will lead to a healthier me, even though I’m only sporadically good at following one.  I just don’t see the numbers adding up, here.

I have tried. I kept track of my food on Spark People3, and found it impossible, while sticking to 2000 calorie a day, to ever reach the targets on their ‘RDAs’ chart, especially while eating my ‘five a day’ at the same time.  So I asked a nutritionist.

I said ‘How do I balance my diet so that I’m eating enough of all the different food groups to get all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements I need, every day, without ballooning to the size of a number 73 bus?’ 

Well, OK, I didn’t put it quite like that, not wanting to come across as belligerent, but that, in essence, was my question.

And she said ‘Um. I’m not here to answer that type of question’, which I’m afraid I took to mean ‘I don’t have a clue’.

I’m beginning to suspect that the only way is to simply cut down on the bad stuff and eat what the hell I like.

1 … Or maybe just to help themselves sell more fruit and veg. It could be either.

2 Although the NHS have made the arbitrary decision that tomatoes are in fact vegetables. And so is cucumber, which is also a fruit. Not to mention aubergines, peppers and mushrooms. And if you want to be picky, so are beans – unless you shell them, in which case they’re seeds.

3 A very useful site for tracking your nutrition.

They said they’d be back …

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Roadworks.

We have a series of parkways which wind through the city. Two lanes each way, grass and trees on either side, daffodils planted in the spring and so on, because the Development Corporation did a wonderful job back in the ’70s and made room for green spaces and trees along the sides of the main routes. You can drive from one end of the city to the other in some places without even realising that you’re passing through a built-up area with industry and housing estates and so forth all behind that green slope studded with trees. Of course, there are other places where the industry and the roundabouts etc break things up a bit, but the overall effect is quite nice.

And now – thanks to the ever-widening boundaries of our fair city and the inevitable increase in traffic and demand for parking spaces – things are changing. Some of the parkways now sport ugly concrete central barriers instead of a strip of grass and trees, for instance. I think this may be a European thing.

Another change is a plan to turn the parkway through the centre of the city into a boulevard in more than just name, with wider pavements and wider crossings. There will be more traffic lights, but they tell us they’ll be planting more trees – we’ll have to wait and see what it turns out like, but in the meantime some green has been lost and there has been chaos. For most of last summer right up until the Christmas shopping period, we have had slow traffic, dust, mud, traffic jams, and gridlock. We’ve had noise, car parks closing and opening up again, flashing cones, temporary barriers and moveable traffic lights. In short, all that usually goes with redevelopment in a busy city centre. But they very kindly stopped work for Christmas so nobody actually got lynched.

We wanted to go shopping in our brand new giant Waitrose1 yesterday and found that the work had been started again. We hit problems two roundabouts out from where we were headed; traffic in our lane was crawling and the right hand lane was blocked by a stationary car trying to merge into the left. Eventually, of course, some kind soul stepped on the brake pedal and let him in.

While we waited we had a little discussion.

What should we do? Should we move out into the right hand lane and hope that the blockage was after the next roundabout, the one where we needed to turn right? We couldn’t see anything – it could simply be congestion from the works further up, where they were actually, you know, doing stuff.

Or should we stay where we were on the basis that if the blockage was before the next roundabout, we’d be the ones sitting in the right hand lane trying to merge back into the left? And everyone would be cursing and calling us ‘Bloody queue-jumpers’.

We crawled. We stopped and started and crawled some more. Eventually we decided to move over, since … well, we couldn’t see anything. But it was not long before a line of cones came into view and then we caught a glimpse of the roundabout. The traffic was moving round the roundabout quite normally, turning right and everything, but we were being forced into a single, left-lane-dwelling wagon train of vehicles.

So tell me: why did they not put up a sign, before the previous roundabout, warning of congestion ahead? It would have given us all time to choose an alternative route.

Or better yet, why not divide the two lanes with cones nice and early, and make the right lane a ‘right turn only ahead’ lane? Anyone in the left lane who’d got stuck there by mistake could simply go up to the next roundabout2 and turn back, and those who chose the right lane early could smile smugly and just … go!

It seems so simple to me that I surely must be missing something, so what is it I’m missing?

I’m sure, you, dear readers, will have some suggestions to offer. If you can make them humorous, oh, please do! A little comic relief after a journey like that is always welcome!

1 Normally I’m not a huge fan of knocking old buildings down to make way for modern glass and concrete, but in this case it has been an improvement. I like Waitrose, and the one we had before, though conveniently situated inside the big shopping mall, was tiny. Come to think of it, I hate that mall anyway, so this is even better since it means there’s less reason to go into it at all!

2 We have plenty of roundabouts. The things are everywhere, confusing Americans and learner drivers and – it has to be said – making life easier for the rest of us. I think only Colchester has more roundabouts than we do. But I learned to drive in Colchester, so I’m alright.

Vandalism in the Churchyard

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I live in a large-ish village just outside a small city somewhere towards the east of England.  To protect the guilty, let’s call it the village of Glimmer1.  It has the usual features of village life; a pub, a village hall, a Post Office (now complete with a small supermarket), three small housing estates, two schools, a manor house, a playing field, and – of course – a church.  The church has a little churchyard surrounded by a stone wall, and filled with graves and trees and stone angels and so on.

When we walked our two dogs this morning, we noticed some Unusual Activity in the churchyard.  It turned out to be tree felling.  Some safety-helmeted men were blithely chopping down a small row of yews.

I handed Sid’s leash to OH and stomped across the road to find out what the heck they were doing and why.

Me:  ‘What are you DOING??’

1st Man: ‘Cutting down these trees!’

Me: ‘But why?”

1st Man: ‘Give you a better view of the church’

2nd Man: ‘It’ll be looovely!’

Me: ‘It’s vandalism!  Who decided to do that?’

1st Man: ‘The Parish Council … ‘

2nd Man: ‘… and the Church …’

1st Man: ‘.. and me.’

Me: ‘But they’re yews.  This is a churchyard.  You can’t cut … it’s … they’re meant to be here!’

1st Man (with an air of playing the trump): ‘But they’re not Historic‘.

Me: ‘They will be, if you leave them long enough!’

1st Man: ‘They’re damaging the wall!’

I looked at the wall.  It looked fine.  Totally undamaged, from where I stood.

1st Man: ‘And the gravestones!’

I looked over the wall.  I could see some fairly undamaged-looking gravestones about a metre away from the base of one of the trees.  Undamaged, considering their age, that is.

1st Man (tugging feebly at some ivy): ‘Look! We’ve found some gravestones, hidden away in here!’

Me: ‘Well, finding gravestones has some value, to a genealogist, I have to admit.  But it’s still vandalism.’

1st Man (firmly): They found a photograph.  There were soldiers walking past – WW1 soldiers – and the trees were not there then!’

Me (believing that if you give a man enough silence he’ll feel obliged to fill it):  ‘…?’

1st Man (falling neatly into my trap): There was just a hedge.  A yew hedge.  It went all along here.’

Me: ‘And are they going to replace the hedge?  The Historic hedge?’

1st Man: ‘ Uh … ‘

2nd Man: ‘ … No’.

1st Man: ‘But these trees .. these trees are not Historic.  They weren’t in the photo!’

Me: ‘By that logic, neither are the forest of signs up the school road’.

1st Man (and I kid you not): ‘Yeah, but you need a different kind of saw for that’.

So, we are going to be left with a bald churchyard so that people can see the church from the west. This ignores the fact that there are trees on the village green, which is just to the west of the church. You’d have to be practically leaning on the wall to get a view of the church from that side for half the year.  There are still yews on the other side, too, obscuring the view from the east.  These guys had no instructions about those yews, so those yews are going to be allowed to live… for now.

We – the villagers – were naturally not consulted.

English Churchyards traditionally have yews, and they have become havens for wildlife,   partly because they have yews.  Well-maintained yews are amazingly good at both sheltering and feeding wildlife – the pulp of the yew fruit being the only non-poisonous part of the tree.  Birds eat those and poop out the toxic seeds.  Mice nibble at them and leave the seeds.  Foxes, snakes and raptors come after the mice and small birds.  Hedgehogs probably find the thick, dark leafy bases very cosy places in winter – especially if the tree is close to a wall. And in spring, birds nest in them.

But our churchyard has to be ‘tidied’ and ‘cleaned’ to conform to a photograph someone found and thought it would be nice to recreate in the name of ‘remembrance’. Well, colour me pissed.

OH said later that he thought we ought to start a rumour.  He said we should tell the two most noted gossips in the village (who shall be nameless) that we’d found evidence that those trees had been planted as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War.  And we spent a few minutes happily wondering what kind of furore that would cause … until I pointed out that if they’d been planted as a memorial, there would surely be an entry in the Parish Records to that effect.

We wouldn’t have done it anyway of course, but, as they say, ‘it’s better to light a candle than to sit in the darkness and weep’.

Or was that ‘it’s better to light a fire under someone’s backside than suffer in silence’?
 
 
1 Which is not its real name.

It’s never dull with OH

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We are both still suffering with this Hideous Virus, so we are languishing at home, apart from the odd shopping trip and unavoidable outings like walking the dogs and so on.  You’d think, perhaps, that conversation would flag.  You’d be wrong.

Coming out of Morriways the other day with a laden trolley, OH pushing for a change, the following took place:

Me (rushing forward a few paces, but a little too late to stop a large pack of Cushelle plummeting to the ground): ‘Aargh!  Wait, wait!’

OH (looking at me sternly as if it were my fault): ‘Those toilet rolls are Errant!’

Me: Ahahahahahahahahahaha!’

OH: What?

Me:  Errant!  Errant toilet rolls!’

OH: Well … well … well, it’s a good word!  That’s twice they’ve tried to throw themselves off the trolley!’

And it’s true. There are some things that, no matter how carefully you balance them atop your carefully stacked trolley, will always unbalance themselves and try to get lost, or trip someone up.  I wondered briefly what would happen if I took them back inside and tried to exchange them for a better-behaved pack, citing OH’s complaint about their willful nature.  I decided against it on the basis that we’ll probably want to shop there again in the not-too-distant future.

We got them home without further mishaps and I’ve shut them in the spare room, but a part of me still wonders if, next time I look, they’ll have climbed the bookshelf or be found nestling cosily among the empty cardboard boxes and padded envelopes in the ‘Might Come In Handy To Post Things In’ pile.  Or perhaps I’ll meet them halfway down the stairs in the middle of the night.

Maybe that’s why public toilets have theirs locked into special toilet roll prisons and attached securely to the walls.  They’re fed up with the damn things throwing themselves to the floor and going off for a wander.

Brickbats and Bouquets

Dandelion-1000

It occurs to me often that people are very quick to throw brickbats1, but seldom offer bouquets.

Years ago now, there was a women’s magazine that I used to read which had a section on the letters page where people were invited to nominate someone who had gone above and beyond the call of duty. The story would be published in just a couple of paragraphs and the magazine would send a bouquet to the nominee. One might be a hairdresser, for example, who had stayed late to make sure that a client had the perfect hair for an important occasion. Another might be a dustman who had bothered to bring the empty bins inside a property for an elderly person and tuck them away tidily instead of leaving them in the middle of the path outside. You get the idea.

I can’t remember what they actually called this section, but the paragraph which described it said something along the lines of:

“We are all so quick to throw brickbats when someone has annoyed us, but seldom bother to send a bouquet to those who have made us smile.  Today, Mrs X of Anytown would like to nominate …”

And it’s so true. We grumble about things that happen in our daily lives. We send angry letters, and we ring the management, and complain to the newspaper, or the next door neighbour, or the lady in the Post Office, and we criticise freely.  But how often do we take the time to actually thank someone properly, let alone write letters of commendation?

Since reading that magazine, I’ve tried to make a point of doing that, when I think of it. This morning, for instance, while I was at the doctor’s surgery for my appointment, I called at the medicines collection counter to thank the pharmacist for sorting out my husband’s inexplicably delayed prescription so that he had it on Christmas Eve instead of having to wait until after the holidays.  Her face lit up, and she smiled and thanked me for bothering to call in and do that. It’s such a simple thing, and it cost me nothing, and yet it brightened her day just a little bit.

Once you start to think along these lines, it’s amazing what you see. Do you know how many people go through supermarket checkouts without even making eye contact with the person behind the till?  Is it any wonder so many of them look terminally depressed?  Imagine how much it would change someone’s day if everyone smiled and thanked them.

Even though I am aware of all this, I’m conscious that I don’t do it enough, so I think that maybe this will be what passes for my New Year resolution: I will make more of an effort to connect with people, particularly people in service jobs – waiters & waitresses, till operators, bank clerks, bus drivers etc – and simply thank people when they deserve it. Maybe a good thing to do would be to send people a thank you card in the post in the old-fashioned way if they perform their duties extra-well … or better yet, write to their manager and let them know?

What do you do? Drop any ideas in to the comments box, and let’s see what we can come up with.

1 For my non-native English speaking friends or those too young to know this one, a brickbat is a piece of brick or stone used as a missile. If you pick up half a brick and aim it at someone’s head – so tempting sometimes, I know – that’s a brickbat.