Holidays 5

I am temporarily browsing with the dear old aunt – now 85 and as perky as ever. Her memory is so marvellous we both have the urge to strip her brain of any bits of past-family news before she departs this life. She came to the wedding in a borrowed hat (rather too big and stuffed with paper) and thoroughly enjoyed it – everyone always so pleased to see her. It turned out to be such a pretty wedding (fraught with drama to the end!) I gathered up the 18 frozen corpses, banging together like rocks [could they be pheasants I wonder??] , a mountain of branches, buckets, wire, flowers, jam jars, my fur coat and the aunt on the previous Thursday evening and delivered things at the various houses as I went along.

Our trip to X was marvellous. Good times started as soon as we got on the train. There were a nice bunch of people travelling with us. All of us united by ‘third-class coach conditions’ (sleeping curled on the hard seats, three-day picnics because train food is so expensive, suffering discrimination and rude behaviour from train guards and conductors on account of being the lowest economic class on the train). Anyway we had a lot of fun and it was even quite hard to part from a few of them – living with people for three days and nights it seems as if you’ve known them for years. Travelling across Canada is an amazing experience. It is such a vast country and you remember that the railway runs along the southernmost part, and that all the major cities and towns follow the railway – which leaves about 80% of the country sparsely populated, remote and wild: ‘The North’, in fact, – ‘The North’ being also a very romantic almost legendary country, deeply embedded in the collective Canadian conscious, a semi-myth that I can feel somewhere inside me too. As a matter of fact it’s pretty incredible to see how little of Canada is populated even when you travel the main route. You can go for a whole day and night in Ontario just passing the occasional Indian village and for the people who live in those villages the train is often the only means of transport. The train passes once a day. Of course the whole country was deep in winter and snow when we were travelling: the Rockies, days of flat, flat prairies where the sun goes down on a sea of snow like it does on the flat ocean, the vast frozen lakes and forests of Ontario – and then you’re in Montreal one night after days of spaciousness and nature, wham right into Montreal main station and crowds of people milling around and bright lights and noise and speed.

As long as it was fine it really was a gorgeous place for lazing or boating – but the walking was a bit too energetic to be really attractive in spite of the wonderful views to be gained by fighting up through the bush. It really needed a sailing dinghy to be complete! But the old launch with its African Queen chugging diesel engine was useful in a leisurely way – the only trouble being that its throttle-fixing catch was broken so that, if you didn’t keep your hand on it, it gradually slid back to an almost-closed position, and the boat went very slowly indeed – but that meant standing down in the well of the boat, under a rather low roof, and getting the smell of the engine – whereas if the throttle had been alright, one could have stood up on the seat and looked over the top the whole time – and steered with one foot.

Al fresco shower

The holiday home is minute and my heart sank – it’s really rather scruffy but once here 24 hours I feel it’s my ‘scruf’ and don’t mind so much! It’s got all mod cons in quite its own style – the frig is in an outside shed with the loo and the shower is in the garden – lovely hot water – and basin too.

We have an electric fry pan, jug and single ring cooker, radiator that’s left on low all year round to keep it aired and a party line phone for the whole Bay regulated by a form of Morse. We’re one short and one long!!!

 

Having good time in glorious USSR. Still have our noses, but X’s feet keep threatening to fall off!!

House repairs 3

X did a good job for me clearing a gutter that was flooding every time it rained – I reckoned no one would thank me if I tried to do it and fell off the ladder!! He also fixed the electric mowing machine – I couldn’t get the wheels down more and it was digging up the grass and very heavy to use – I think he’s a very pleasant young man.

Did you find out about the damp rot from the smell, not the downstairs exotic cooking???! Couldn’t this be the converters’ liability?

Our blasted man’s not turning up day after day and now there’s little hope of having it done by Christmas which we really hoped for. Infuriating. The man gave us a quote and said he’d start at the beginning of September. Well, after putting it off for over a month he rang and said he wouldn’t start till the beginning of November because he had finals at varsity! Economic History of all subjects too. What are builders coming to?!

X has been working like a slave since we last saw them and not only has he bought a house and landscaped half the garden but he built on a double garage and flat for his in-laws and made all the furniture for it from kit-sets.

Last weekend we went up to help X with some of the cleaning of their house. I spent the afternoon doing the 11 ft high kitchen ceiling and the upper walls which were liberally coated with grease. They had let off a smoke bomb earlier in the day so I was not afflicted with flea bites which the girls have both suffered from after an earlier afternoon there.

This time the front end loader (with four big wheels) got stuck altogether and they had to bring their big bulldozer in to to extract it. Result – great gouges in the turf in several places in the field – and when it stops raining I must go and have a look at my water pipe which runs across the field barely covered by the grass. I fear the worst for it – though mercifully it is not all that difficult to replace if they have broken it -it just needs a small length of the black pipe, two copper tubes of six inches or so for the joins, a couple of jubilee clips and a thermos of hot water to soften the pipe enough to get it on the tubes.

I cleaned out both the tanks. The top one was quite a job. I cut a manhole in the top, through which I stirred up the mud on the bottom while the water ran out (having disconnected the tap) until it was shallow enough to get inside to wash down the sides. I couldn’t get all the mud out, but did manage to dilute what remained below the level of the exit pipe quite a lot. It had been doing quite a job as a settling tank. And it certainly has quite a lot to cope with. Even when the creek appears to be running really clear, the filter is dark brown and thick with mud after 24 hours, reducing the flow into a trickle.

X noticed a drip coming through their porch; she rashly poked it and two bucketfuls of water came through. A hole in the porch roof. The man was due to come this morning – I hope it doesn’t prove to be worse than they think.

The porch roof

Nuisances of life 4

The other day I was cutting the stalk out of a lettuce with a carving knife and it slipped so now I have 6 stitches and a most dramatic sling. It’s so difficult doing almost everything with only one hand. My thumb aches – don’t attack your thumb with a carving knife. It bled everywhere.

The wrong tool for the job

Had the lambs shorn yesterday. They never got around to them on Friday. They look so different without their wool – all angular – and with enormous great ears sticking out! We had a sharp shower this morning and they looked very disconsolate – the water was evidently getting through to their skin and making them shake themselves to get rid of it.

I think from various remarks they have made that they are very short of money for developing his place, and he is really caught in a cleft stick because it wouldn’t carry enough stock to produce a living for the family even when properly fenced and fertilised, so he had to go out working for other people doing fencing and so on, to keep the pot boiling, while all the time he needs to be doing the same work on his own place. It must be very frustrating.

It had been an awful week, she’d turned the dryer on and afterwards had found the little boy’s kitten had been asleep inside, of course it was dead, the inspector had been and she’d not got any of the 4 jobs she’d applied for.

X got bronchitis and the heater which we had ordered – and which we were planning on to save us almost but not quite literally from freezing to death – arrived with a huge dent and bash in it, so we were delayed getting that sorted out and another one sent. So for quite a time there we went through all sorts of physical hardships.

Well, the great day has come and gone, and we are – mirabile dictu – back in the building again. I must say that as I wandered round it last Thursday I couldn’t see how we possibly could be. Most of the lights were not working. The new doors were resting against little blocks of wood instead of proper stops – just roughly nailed to the frames; half the new woodwork did not seem to have been varnished; the carpet layers had not been near the place all day and had left piles of carpet, underlay and fish and chip papers all over the chapel – and so on – including the fact that we had 500 girls from the college in after lunch to try out the loudspeaker system which appeared to be a total failure! The carpet had ruined the acoustics. They still seemed to me to be a cross between Paddington Station and a public loo of the large sort. So the next day they ripped half the carpet up again!

I eventually managed to get a new Certificate of Fitness for the trailer this week, after a rather blasphemous morning trying to discover why the light wouldn’t work. And then when it come to it, the garage never asked me to turn it on!

We had a funny experience with the car a few weeks ago. The ignition switch and steering lock broke while the car was down town. As the device was attached to the car with snap-off bolts (to prevent theft) I had to co-opt the help of much gear and friends at college. We trooped off down town, plugged our power lead into the nearest house, drilled out the bolts, shorted out the ignition and drove away all under the noses of 2 policemen and passers-by – and no one asked what we were doing! Obviously an easy source of income.

They are mostly small huts called chattel houses built on about 16 inches of dry stone wall which forms the foundations and the rest is wooden with palm or wooden roofs. Sometimes some of the stones fall away and you see the huts balanced on what appears to be about three stones at incredible angles! There is one village where the people are all potters and work with the clay of the hill they live on. When it rains the land is extremely unstable and some of the houses have been I hear rescued from the bottom of the valley two or three times!! and just put back on some more stones.

I’ve at last finished my cardigan. I made it 2 sizes smaller than I’d buy as homespun is supposed to invariably stretch – but it’s 2 sizes smaller than I’d like. Pity. Perhaps it will give in wear. Very cosy.

Did I tell you I’d bought a digital watch to wear round my neck because whatever strap I used brought me out in a rash. To my fury the chain round my neck did the same there – most odd. But I can and do wear it over my shirt now. I can’t think how but I put it in the washing machine about 2 weeks ago and only found it when I took out the wash. V. wet inside and it’s the one thing the guarantee said: ‘It is not waterproof’. I rapidly took off the back and dried it and to my amazement it’s going wonderfully.

I had the most frustrating day yesterday. I decided I’d be all domesticated and make a Melton Mowbray pork pie to take to our bridge tournament tomorrow. I messed round boiling pigs trotters and cutting up meat off a hock, a nasty messy business, failed to make enough hot water pastry and had to start again, then got it half way through cooking, re-glazed it and put it back for an hour, setting the timer, but didn’t hear it over the TV and came to ages later. Don’t know if it’ll be edible. At the same time I made some chicken liver pate. I’d only bought half a pound of livers which made it all the more complicated with the recipe. It tastes gorgeous but I wonder if it was worth the messing about. What with marinating in brandy then adding sherry and cream, I think it might have been cheaper to buy some of the duck and orange pate I saw in the shop I was buying some real pork sausages in in the morning. I left those behind too, it wasn’t my day.

Our poor neighbour has just rung to see if we saw any strange bods about yesterday – he was working on some possum skins Saturday morning and today they’d all been stolen. He told us when we came he’d never locked anything up here – now we’ll have to put locks on the garage and check the door. Oddly enough when X was out the other night for the first time the dog started barking during the evening so I wonder if someone had been doing a little recce.

Must fly, more later – Now it’s before a really good TV production for a change starts, and on our better line, tho’ after swinging our aerial round to almost the opposite direction to that which we had it before, we can get enough of a reception to see anything important on TV 1 too now, well most nights, it depends on the weather!!

The removal people had delivered our stuff some days before. The labels on the boxes merely served to warn them where not to put them. One bedroom had the washing machine and four beds while another was simply piled to ceiling with assorted boxes. We got some beds organised by the first night but it took us 3 days before we excavated the easy chairs!

X gave up our al fresco shower after the first day but I managed to keep it up, even on the rainy nights – though being wrapped up from behind with a clammy cold wet curtain whipped suddenly up by the wind wasn’t a comfortable moment.

I have a notice in my tray of some other meeting next week I think. The meeting is about making this a ‘Year of Renewal’ (which I fear cynically is a euphemism for a year of demanding more money!) So I must make all sorts of good resolutions about not opening my mouth or I shall certainly be in the episcopal dog-house since I think we ought not be demanding more money from the laity in order to stay divided, but telling them to go and mix it with the Presbys etc. as soon as possible. We have 7 churches in a 1 mile radius here of which 5 are within a 1/4 mile radius.

How much does it cost you to ‘dial a gossip’? All our postage and phone calls/line etc. have gone up, and milk’s doubled to 8c a pint (do I hear a hollow laugh from you?)

Tuesday I had to go for my upper colon appointment at the hospital. Appointment at 9.30, which meant leaving at ten to eight to be sure of being on time. I got to the car park by 9.10 and the ward by 9.20. Dr. X arrived at 10.30 by which time he had a fine old queue. We talked, and he poked me in the tum, and said in effect, ‘I don’t know what it was, and it seems to have gone away anyway, so let’s call it a day.’ Which seems to sum up the situation fairly well. Perhaps it was the water, and either I’ve developed the necessary antibodies, or else am drinking less of it unboiled!

Significant other 4

I got rather involved – he took me to see his parents and then said he had fallen in love with me and wanted to marry me. I said it was the wine and that he would feel differently in the morning. However he rushed down in the morning and woke me up to say that his mother had prepared breakfast for me. So I went upstairs and ate a Turkish breakfast and met all the family.

I miss that boy really desperately: in fact I think it’s going to be because of him that I shall be home much sooner than I originally planned. But I’m waiting to have a letter from him, so I’ll see how it works out. Because I have a kind of feeling that with him, this could all be IT! Not that we fell madly in love with each other, but we both felt this very special, calm, really good feeling towards each other. Now I am getting completely paranoid because I just know that he’ll meet somebody else and forget all about me.

And underneath and on top of everything, I was having traumatic times with a man I’d been going with . It’d started off so perfectly, but every day in January things broke up a little more. We finally broke up altogether in February.

He is my age, and works as a social worker. That’s all I’m saying for now about him. I’ll probably tell you more in my next letter, but I’m kind of superstitious about him. Like if I talk too loudly about him perhaps he’ll disappear!

I have come to the conclusion that he is the sort of man that shouldn’t have got married in the first place (although how one tells that beforehand I don’t know) and unless Mrs. has changed incredibly over the years I don’t know how she fell for him in the first place. She is a very well informed, well read and amusing person with a very good brain and he is very stolid, and extremly, almost unbelievably, fastidious, and not interested in reading or any of the arts at all. From dawn till night they talk in a peculiar aggressive way and say some of the most cruel things which I can only suppose from long practice don’t go home at all.

It’s too sad: X – who must be 45 – has come to grief with 4 jobs since we’ve known them. I can’t make it out as he’s the most inoffensive and pleasant man – she’s the fire eater. I wonder if she tries to push him into jobs beyond his ability.

I was amazed at X getting married again – but what a good thing if they’re happy together and have family in common as a background.

We had had some cryptic remark about X having done something awful and had decided that it probably was an unsuitable marriage. It’s the first time for years that his father hasn’t answered our card by return – so either he’s hiding his head in shame, or he’s so deeply snowed in that he neither receives nor can send any mail!

If you got a letter from X you’ve done better than I have in 40 plus years. I’m still waiting for the wedding present she promised me she’d send after we all got married, as then ‘he could pay for it’!!

If she sends you her favourite photograph of X don’t be too put off – I don’t think he’s your type but he’s not as bad as the photo!

Judging by apperances

Someone has fallen in love with me too – which isn’t at all reciprocated!! He’s the Head Chef and although it’s lovely having him provide fillet steaks – or any sort of steak you could mention – and have choccy gateaux by the doz, he isn’t my idea of bliss.

Politics 2

Two politicians

The Party has agreed the OAP taxes will be rethought, but it doesn’t stop there; doctors’ fees, hospital fees, medicines etc are all to be user-pays in a big way. And university students are having to pay big fees. … The two bods who have stirred up most ire are X and the social services woman, who the [politician] rudely described as an ‘overweight farmer’s wife with no qualifications’. X he mildly describes as ‘a funny little woman’!!! and this is his own Party!

 

The news is terrible – every page there are bits that quite shock me – so many stories must give people ideas of something they could try. We’re all going to the devil – I must pray harder.

He set up a replacement of an official commission which was shut down by the Government, because they didn’t like the things he said about the future! He is interesting to talk to – especially if the subject is how bureaucracies and big businessmen don’t like being faced now with problems that won’t arise for fifteen years, but for which the solutions need starting now.

[Rhodesia – 1974] Lots of discussions as you can imagine and I found it very difficult to understand how one can sort this all out. Everyone answers that the present manner of governing in England looks so ghastly from here that why should they dictate how Rhodesia should be governed? Bit difficult to justify our strikes, inflation, shares dropping, £ dropping etc. etc. They are very isolated here and imagine the world situation differently to what one sees in London. Had some interesting discussions (very light-hearted) in Bulawayo as everyone fascinated by present English politics and also agog with Smith’s latest move. I wonder what can happen everywhere. The African people here seem better looked after than what I saw in Kenya but it is so difficult to understand all the ramifications. …    I’ve been shown over the African townships in Salisbury – very interesting. I can’t really sort out the political situation and am just taking it all as it comes. Very difficult to see what else they can do – or what they could have done – great grief that these last negotiations didn’t come to anything but it seems terribly important to sort something out fairly soon. X’s family are right up in the terrorist area and they are moving further south because of 2 small children – but it’s only about 60 miles from Salisbury. Not as bad yet as N. Ireland perhaps.

 

Yes, I think it might be interesting to be on the flats committee for a time; as always, being on the inside is!

 

Saw opening of Parliament yesterday. Such smart African Trumpeters with red fez and dark blue uniforms. Only small mounted police escort for the premier as everyone away on Border Duty. Every day someone seems to be killed – mostly Africans by Africans and some rather horrid intimidating rituals going on. We could see the people in Zambia from both Kariba Dam and Victoria Falls. Looked very inactive just there but 38 African soldiers were killed while sunbathing on a small island only 3 miles upstream. I can’t see what can happen but something must. Ian Smith looked terribly white and exhausted when he left the parliament building. Whether he’s right or wrong it must be a terrific strain.

 

I also found the Hansard in which a question was asked about an attack on him in Ireland, which nearly killed him, not too surprising as there was another report about the military open firing on a rioting demonstration on the same day, in which 3 were killed, I suspect it must have been the same place. It may also be the basis of the odd remarks I’ve heard about him killing someone.

 

I got so fed up with the situation last night that I spent the half an hour before midnight dictating a sixty or seventy word telegram to the deputy prime minister. Heaven knows what it will cost – and unfortunately the telegram department isn’t open at night so they won’t have woken him up to receive it, which would have made it even more worthwhile! To that I have just added a foolscap page of letter which I must get X’s comments on before I actually post it, but it relieved my mind to get some thoughts straight in it. Of course she and I don’t agree about Apartheid entirely, because she dwells on the difficulty of dismantling it, and I think that’s just another reason for getting at White South Africans to make a start and not drag their feet, which their privileged way of life is likely to make them do, until their fears outweigh their greed, by which time it will be too late. (I’m not sure it’s not too late already, unfortunately).

The train was fun: lots of good people and guitar singing and grass. We’d planned to go down to New Orleans from Toronto. New Orleans had a temperature of 75 and it was Mardi Gras week. We were really looking forward to it. However, ’twas not to be. The Americans are extremely obnoxious about letting people into the States from Canada; they’re so paranoid that they imagine everyone is trafficking in dope or a political agitator etc. And if you’re young and not very straight-looking, well, you’re in for a bit of trouble. They didn’t like the look of us, and even though we were perfectly innocent it was only a matter of minutes before we found ourselves being shipped back on the next bus to Toronto! Bastards!

 

Most of the work I do is concerned with either the commercial section which promotes British trade etc. or the Entry Certificate Office where the work is quite interesting and one learns the most scandalous things. I have become much less tolerant since I have been doing this and hearing of the fiddles and evasions and downright fabrications that go on (not helped by the fact that I only do work connected either with direct refusals or references to the Home Office in London and nothing to do with those which are granted). Some of the families, and the conditions to which they are trying to go (reported on by HO officials or police at home), and the perjuries they are prepared to commit to get there, are quite fantastic. Some seem to believe that they are positively insulting you if they tell the truth!

We went to see Gandhi – well over 3 hour film and I just didn’t think of the time. It really is excellent. I came away with pride in being British somewhat diminished.

Did I tell you about my correspondence with the Commissioner of Police on the subject of ‘long batons’? He was on the radio, following a medical report of two protesters who had had the bones of their eye sockets broken by being jabbed with the end of these things – an action which he several times referred to as ‘probing’. I wrote to say what an inappropriate word it was and I got a half a quarto page pointing out that it wasn’t only a medical word (which I had stressed) but used also of investigating crime, testing defences and so on. He ended up, ‘It was therefore in the broader context, untrammelled by pedantry, that I used the term in relation to baton use.’

 

We’ve been very worried about your naarsty riots, it all sounds most unBritish, and the talk of turning out the plastic bullets and hoses horrifies me, but what to do otherwise is something that I’m glad I’m not Maggie Thatcher to conjure up.

 

I often think of you with all these loose bombs floating around, but I suppose you all become quite stoical.

Outings 3

This time it was a film called Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was the most awful tosh, and very violent – but with some clever special effects.

I went last Saturday to a ‘Men’s breakfast’ at 7.30 a.m. where to my amazement they had managed to collect well over 50 men. We were promised bacon and eggs, but in fact supplied with two large and pale sausages floating in gravy, which I abhor with sausages – but the talk was quite interesting.

Two pale sausages

 

It was expensive! but good and the plates not so overloaded that they put you off. I think we shall have to go back again sometime to try some of their more exotic dishes particularly one offered among the sweets ‘whole Camembert cheese, deep fried with tamarillo sauce’. The menu board offered ‘coffee (bottomless cup)’ but I’m glad to say ours did actually hold their liquor quite safely.

Did you see the museum? A most incredible hotchpotch of anything and everything that might be interesting! We also saw a diving museum . Very interesting in parts – amazing the amount they salvage – thousands of gold and silver coins. However I suppose it cost thousands too. A stainless steel sink and plastic comb from the ferry that sank looked a little out of place but I suppose their day of interest will come.

We went to a film called Northern Safari. Very good photography but rather stilted commentary, as they ploughed from Perth via Alice Springs to the Gulf of Carpentaria and back round the edge – a man, his wife and his sister in a 1948 Chevrolet or something of the sort, towing a trailer which carried supplies, tents and an 11 ft plywood boat. He was a brave man (and highly ingenious as for instance when he got stuck in a river he made a winch consisting of a young tree propped across the track behind two tree stumps, with a six foot bough lashed across it with wire fishing line – with which he proceeded to pull the car out single handed while the ladies indulged in admiring photography. And since he hadn’t got an axe with him, to save weight, he shot the tree down with about ten rounds from the hip at a foot’s range!)

A funny thing happened. We went to get our visas and the Consul called us in and said he had something to show us. We all sat down and he ordered tea and coffee and showed the other three some photographs, but not me. Then he showed them to me and they were of a girl very like me. Apparently he had been going to marry her 2 years ago but something had gone wrong. On the strength of this he invited me out to dinner and then said the others could come along to chaperone me. We had a really fabulous evening. He took us to one of the best restaurants and we had drinks at a most unusual bar , then went downstairs to eat and watch the floor show. Then we drove on to the Hilton and went up to the top and looked out and saw the whole of the city spread out beneath us. We danced and drank and had a later supper and watched the floor show and then I collected a marriage proposal.

Strong opinions

I find it hard to share a country with X, more especially when he is the Prime Minister and I am not. I think he has been so inept, and so loudmouthed …[too libellous to repeat!] Comes of being so small physically, perhaps? – in height, at least. He’s not all that small roundways.

Don’t want you large

 

 

I really don’t know if the child will ever survive because she only ever gave it half its feed because she told me she didn’t like large children!

 

 

The first I heard of it was when X phoned me at work and asked me to pop in – said in that voice that implies there’s no hurry as long as you are here yesterday as I have something to say to you.

You are better off as you are so long as you remember who you are.

I’m sure I was telling you once before how involved I’ve become in the whole women’s thing over the last three years. Ever since I read The Female Eunuch in fact, and I have just continued from there, reading a lot of stuff by and about women, getting a very good sense of being a woman, but realising continually how many stereotypes and roles have to be broken down.

If you can locate them ask her if she has had our letters and what’s happening – there’s no use beating about the bush or she’ll push it all in her pending tray again – she’s madly disorganised.

I laughed and laughed and then felt extremely irritated with X’s letter, as you say, a poor attempt at doing her mother! Remember you can be pretty good at a ‘put-down’ too!

Do you know we still haven’t heard about the finalising of X’s estate – I strongly believe the solicitor has put it on a horse.

Well, I hope never to see another day like this! It’s alright, no disasters but the next 5th Sunday in February is due in 2004, and I don’t really fancy remaining in ‘the miseries of this sinful world’ (quote from burial services) to the age of 92.

I’ve just finished reading X’s copy of Papillon – violent, crude and horrifying it may be but a fascinating and sensitive story – I’m not so revolted as X was.

Travel hazards

X has leeches galore I gather – nothing seems to faze her – she loves it all, people and country.

Last stop in view of the volcano who’s been blowing his/her top in a big way and the ski fields are closed and everyone round is losing millions. We came past when it was first starting – mild puffs and black clouds – but later rocks the size of cars and lava streaming down have caused a great mess and the acid from the ash that was thrown up 10,000m has blown far and wide.

We have amazing letters from X. Being a vegetarian must have made her though – the miles she goes through forest and crossing rivers so rough she had to have a man each side to hold her up – and spends all her days covered in mud and sopping and loves it all – up at 3.30 a.m. and in bed by 2.30 p.m. – she’s a wonder at never missing an opportunity.

I arrived with the realisation that I had left the letter with the name of our motel on my desk at home. So I put Avis (‘we try harder’) to the test and they certainly came up trumps. At the fifth telephone call the girl on the desk established where I was booked in, and when I looked helpless and asked how to get there first produced a map and then the offer of a lift when she went to lunch. In fact she got held up and got her boss to take me!

I am housebound. I left asking for a driving test too late – they stopped 18th December and can’t take me until 16th January. As I’m booked in I don’t think the police would mind but I was afraid of the insurance – ‘they’ said if I had an accident and passed my d. test they’d pay up but not if I failed – fair enough but I’d be so jittery I decided not to risk it.

I’m fed up with the travel agency woman who has a horrible nasal voice, and treats me like an imbecile, which annoys me even if I am one.

Please excuse my writing and any mistakes as I am writing in a very dim light, sitting on the floor of a large room, off a typical Persian hotel courtyard. We have broken down yet again, about our 25th breakdown. We have hit 4 cars, 2 lorries and 1 bus so far, it has been a rough trip but adventurous.

The Crash Tally

We broke down for 5 days at Xmas and we had a really swinging time in a small hotel in Turkey. The Turkish hospitality was really overwhelming.

We then took off across the desert, along a camel track. We were warned not to go, and to take a guide – X just laughed! Result, we got bogged down about 12 times and had to dig ourselves out. We got lost many times. We tore off our rear bumper and rear lights and had to tie them on with rope and the lights with sticky tape. We are now 24 days behind schedule because of all the breakdowns..

Without a car of my own it has been a bit restricted as they have quite forbidden me to use the country buses. It is quite a relief really as they are the most crammed vehicles that I have seen and just trucks with sides of boards and board seats inside. There is no gap down the middle for the conductor so he hangs on to the outside on a kind of running board and gets the fares from there and looks in imminent danger of death at every corner.

X is quite terrified of your new motor bike and keeps saying how potty you are, but it must cut own on transport costs tremendously – as long as replacement parts for the pinched bits isn’t more! Did I tell you about our car? Because a part which cost about 40 cents broke and I didn’t take it in the same day another part costing $124.21 broke = total bill $272.50.

If you get a machine do spend a lot on the accompanying ‘gear’. They say that leather is best at avoid painful abrasions if you do have a fall. Don’t ride on ice; it upsets one incredibly quickly once you start sliding – very difficult to correct! Do have your bike fitted with the bars across the front which protect your leg if it falls with you still on it. [Countermanded by instructors as likely to trap your leg and/or break it!!!] Before I had a m/c I spent a lot of my lunch hours reading m/c mags. Their advice was ‘Imagine what might happen and work out what you would do. What, for instance, would you do if your throttle stuck open?’ And when I had a bike it did happen once and with all my forethought I managed not to panic – took the clutch out and turned off the ignition before the engine blew up – and then nearly fell off when I let the clutch in again while still doing about 40, as of course it almost locked the back wheel!

The quote for going to SA or USA en route was staggering, and for both astronomical, so I’ve cut my cloth to the size of my pocket. My only extra frivolity is to book to come back via Tokyo where, if I have any funds left I hope to stay a couple of days. I’ll let you know flight etc. later when I receive the tickets from the Travel Agency. I got so cross, everything they quoted and gave me brochures for, after I’d agonised over them for a day and made up my mind, on going back was told all those prices were now out of date and in one case it was currently 3 times as much.

Characters 3

The original ewe-lamb used to pay no attention when I fed the nuts to the others – but when she had her lamb and promptly abandoned it and went off to feed by herself, we shut them up together for a day in the pen, holding her down while the lamb had her first feed and so on – and to sweeten the cares of motherhood for her I gave her a troughful of pulled grass, with some sheepnuts mixed up in it. She quickly became an addict, and comes at the gallop when I appear with the tin and baas after me in an infuriating way whenever she sees me – even ten minutes after they have finished their morning feed! If I wait for all eight to get within range before putting the day’s ration out, she is so eager that she is liable to trip me up getting to the trough ahead of me!

Eager for sheep nuts

She always has been one for poking her nose through any and every hole in the fence to get the sweeter grass the other side and her lamb is now copying this. In fact over the weekend she got right under the fence to graze on the lawn – though after I had caught her once, by the wool (which I imagine hurts like having your hair pulled) to drop her over the fence, I noticed she was scuttling back under if she saw us at the window looking at her.

One of the most beautiful things this year was Sarah Jenkins being born. Sarah is our baby goat (Gracie is her mother) and she is the most adorable little one: black and white, soft fur, those incredible eyes with oblong rectangles. She’s frisky and independent and affectionate and I love her to bits. The day she was born I was literally ecstatic with love for her and for birth and life. She was so tiny and wobbly, like a little puppy, and we bottle fed her and sat around for days just watching every move she made!

She’s the nicest in-law – I’ve never heard her say an unpleasant thing about anybody and never gossips about other people’s business – when I admire that so much I ought to make greater efforts to do likewise!

An old acquaintance rang up and said he was going to come out and see us about two o’clock. Do you remember the Trained Ear – the man who recommended us to use drainpipes for the loudspeakers? It was him but he didn’t turn up.

She was in shocking form and even X found her cantankerous, but we survived the evening. She has her caravan parked in the yard now (God knows for how long, but I foresee quite a long session).

After death/ News of death 2

X phoned last week to tell us of Y’s death – very sad, but I gather his health was not too good, and as [partner] died last year, perhaps it’s best he should have gone quickly afterwards.

The cow episode was worse than you supposed, the cow had been skinned and beheaded and just all the revolting remains were left behind including head skin and a large amount of blood. X kindly told us to help ourselves to the tripe if we would like it!!!

My friend phoned to tell me it was in the paper that X (the husband of our friend who died) had died . I asked without thinking, ‘Was it suicide?’ – of course it wouldn’t have said – but we think it was. He was v. unbalanced – waste of 2 lives – and leave two young in their 20s – the boy’s as unbalanced as his father too. What a dreary letter.

I find X [widowed] has 2 shelves of medical books which her husband said was his whole life – sadly they’re all out-dated. [Partner’s] papers can keep me company whilst I survive.

The news made X very depressed, he is now taking Prozac.

I heard from a friend at Xmas sending me condolences at the death of my father [dead for many years before this!!!] – she’d seen in the paper. I wrote by return with an s.a.e. to send me more details – fascinating.

[After a brother died.] I heard from X with commiserations, and also from Y who kindly sent me the obituary notice from the Daily Telegraph. But so far no word from the family.

You know I couldn’t remember that name whilst with you – well, it’s X, and in fact he died just when we were trying to think of it. Not surprising – he’s been looking terrible for ages.

X rang us on Saturday morning to ask us to lunch on Sunday and then about an hour later a neighbour rang to ask us to go over. Her husband had gone for a snooze after lunch and died in his sleep. He had angina and a year ago had given us all a nasty shock when we were over there playing bridge and he just passed out in his chair over coffee for about half a minute.

The new vicar took the service very well. We went round to the house after, and met up with old friends which was nice. It’s a pity that funerals are the best chance of a gathering of friends at our age.

Nice funeral tea