When I was young 3

He turned up himself, and spent a whole afternoon hand digging 3 ft deep, starting at the road frontage, and on and on to the link up with the sewage pit, commenting the while that he must have been drunk when he put it in as it was so crooked, and when he was at school his father told him he had to keep at his lessons or he’d end up digging holes all day, and now at 35, having done just that and got University Entrance, here he was, digging holes!

Wednesday 27th. Now there is actually going to be a post out today, the first since last Friday, (things are not what they were in my young days, when the postman used to struggle to our door on his bike, two or three miles from the post office with another two or three to go beyond us on his round, on Christmas morning!) so I must really get this finished at this session!

I thought I would type this morning to show off my nice new nylon ribbon. Of course, having fitted it last night, I noticed that the faint one I was replacing appeared to have been used one way only, and should really have been rewound upsidedown – so I put it back on the spare spool and put it away in my desk drawer – where I then discovered another half-length, which had never been used. So I now have about a year’s supply. I haven’t been able to get a ribbon on the right spool for this typewriter, which is made in Sweden and now 25 years old and always have to rewind the new ones onto the same old spools, which have both had replacement lugs added by me with Araldite to make the reversing apparatus work! Sometimes the ribbons I buy seem longer, and overflow my spools – hence having a half-length one put by.

It sounds a very go-ahead school. Last month they laid on a Victorian day ending with a ‘swep up’ [=grand!] tea at the house of one of parent’s parents – with all the family silver out and some of the parents dressed as maids in frilly hats and aprons. I was able to find some old pictures of my Great-grandmother with the maids in the garden of her house when she first moved into it, new. The kitchen up the back stairs was then the conservatory, and the maids lived and cooked in the back basement. Pretty horrifying really.

Your 2 people who nearly died having been in hosp. goes back to the days the babies had at hospitals died – until it was found the doctors went straight from working on dead bods to producing babies without washing.

Just had a call from the library saying they have ‘A man called Intrepid’ in for me, have you read it? I gather it has references to the set-up I was working for at Woburn Abbey. I can hardly believe I’ve been involved in so many exciting things. I really do mean to write some articles entitled ‘It’s funny I’m so boring’!

Listening to secondhand gramophone records was one of my standard ways of spending Saturday afternoon in my first two years in London – only the place to do it in those days was at Foyle’s in the Charing Cross Road. I can’t remember what they cost – of course they were all 78s and I think you could buy a new 10” for half a crown (remember what that was?!) so I suppose you could get a 10” for a shilling and a 12” for two, or thereabouts.

It is one of the memories connected with Christmas which I have, that there used to arrive a parcel of crystallized fruit every year, sent by Dad’s brother. The ones we were least fond of were the pears, and the firm favourites were the apricots. But if you got more than one of those a year you were definitely cheating!

we don’t like the pears

Stocking the larder/ self-sufficiency 3

On balance I think we have done better on the vegetable front, here, than we left, there. They must have beans coming out of their ears, as I had planted a lot and they all seemed to be doing enormously well when we left. But there really wasn’t a great variety of stuff, whereas we have come into a large fortune of carrots, onions, sweet corn, beetroot, and spinach beet. Then there is a vine with a singular and small bunch of grapes, and two or three pumpkins big enough for coaches, and a queer thing called an apple cucumber, which has the taste but not the indigestion, and the tomatoes which at present are producing about 5 pounds a day.

Beans coming out of their ears

In a mad moment I bought a 35 lb box of runner beans in the market. After a day and a half stringing them and putting them through the slicer I felt I had beans coming out of my ears and sold the last 8 lbs to my grocer – then I heard the family were coming over and I had to go and buy them back and he obviously has now put me down as a nutcase! The next day I bottled 20 lbs of plums – again forgetting to keep any for current use and had to dig out some deep freeze rasps. I was more cunning today and put an 18 lb box of apricots in the d.f. (at least 13 separate bags of stoned and sugared ones) and did remember some for dinner – v. good they were too – I still want to do 20 lbs peaches and 20 lbs nectarines but fear I’m almost too late. Oh, and soon the tomatoes will be here.

Our neighbours gave us a huge bowl of strawberries for dinner when X took over a surplus cabbage to them. Lovely exchange of goodies – our eccentric neighbour appeared at the back clutching a large grapefruit and could she have the handful of beans X offered the other day but she hadn’t finished the cabbage then, so she picked those and I gave her some of the huge pile of strawberries too. Seldom a day passes I don’t have a lemon, a posy or something sitting in my letterbox.

Another diversion was the arrival of Christmas Dinner. C.D. is a lamb which belonged to a family we knew. C.D. was their only venture so far into livestock apart from a few hens. However X couldn’t face the idea of their ewe lamb going into their deep freeze so she was presented to me – and one day I’ll have to make a return offering (which tactfully had better be a large ham rather than a side of lamb, I suppose!) So far she has cost me about $10 in wood and a hard morning’s work knocking up a cage to go in the trailer to bring her here, and $6 for a pair of shears to clean her up a bit as the poor animal couldn’t see out of its eyes and was equally untidy at the other end. The going price of a lamb is $15! – still no doubt the cage and the shears will have other uses.

[And by the end of the month…]

You have not heard that I now have a flock of sheep – having collected 6 wether lambs to join the one ewe. I drove by a third-hand appointment to a shearing shed hidden away in the hills and proceeded to wait for half an hour or more. Eventually I found an extension telephone and got on to the farm for the son of the house, who was the man I was expecting to meet. In about another quarter hour he, three men, 5 dogs, a farm bike and 2 utilities had assembled to serve me. The sheep were still half a mile away in a field. But one of the dogs was sent to fetch them, and nearly succeeded with the aid of various whistles – but he didn’t round up all of them, so one of the boys went on the bike for the rest with his dog while the rest ushered them into the yard as they arrived and soon had sorted out six wethers from the rest with the aid of a neat switching gate. They then picked them up bodily and flung or stuffed them into the 3×4 foot box I have built on my trailer. I had expected to make two trips but they got all six in with not more than 2 or 3 legs left hooked up over the backs of others, poor things.


I must be a sore trial to the doctors, I think, as my symptoms always seem to disappear when they come on the scene. I had this pain in the side of my chest last week, which was very inconvenient, as it hurt to cough, and often when moving, or even lying down in some attitudes. Eventually on Wednesday evening, X insisted that I should get a doctor, which we did about nine thirty. She didn’t confess until afterwards that she was being largely influenced by a doctor drama going on on TV which revolved around a man having a heart attack!

X has had a nasty ear do – she complained of deafness – we put it down to swimming but took her to the Dr. after a few days and he said it was only wax and syringed them both and all seemed well and she heard beautifully but 2 days later got awful pain in and behind the ear so of course it was Saturday again and we had to go to yet a different partner who said there was some ‘infection and it was a mastoid process’ – whatever that means – but mastoid anything frightens me. He put her on gigantic doses of antibiotic which has improved it but she finishes them today and it still hurts. I’m not sure she shouldn’t go to a specialist willy-nilly.

I actually got around to the ‘barium meal’ x-ray he ordered months ago. ‘Where is the pain?’ said the operator and I couldn’t remember!! The ‘meal’ was revolting – the result quite negative, d.g.

Having boasted the day after we got home of our freedom from all bugs and tummy upsets I developed one the next day, which failed to respond to my usual white pills. So eventually I went to a young man who was standing in last week for our doctor who didn’t seem a bit perturbed and told me much the best thing was to let the bug ‘burn itself out’, and that the last time he went to H-K it took him 3 weeks. Mine, I am glad to say is d.v. now burnt!

People were fantastic during X’s comings and goings [to hospital]. Apart from having us to meals and looking after kids, we were given biscuits, pies, fruit enough for an army and masses of people visited X. Even an old dear of 85 insisted on having us to tea and providing us with fruit and biscuits – and then phoned me up 2 days later at 7.10 a.m. and told me to send one of the kids round to collect some warm scones for our lunch!

We had some rather shocking news of her yesterday. She was due to have an operation on Thursday and her husband rang yesterday to say that the Surgeon had started but not been able to do anything as she has a cancer which has spread and is now inoperable and he gave her a few weeks only to live.

After 3 weeks of the 2 months, X discharged herself from hospital not upsetting the Dr. or nurses by so doing as she’d been so bad tempered she’d upset everyone! I’ve had 3 v. lengthy letters since she returned and she sounds as tho’ she’s in full flight again – she really is remarkable.

I can now actually see the cards at bridge as I’ve had my old black glasses reglazed (?) with the reading prescription of my bifocals and if I sit well up to the table and ‘bosom’ my cards I can keep all in focus.

I have put on all I lost and more. The doctor’s jolly hormone pills seem to have made me swell up round the middle but he swears it’s just because I’m so much better!!

We had difficulty in getting a doctor to come (you know how they expect you to rise from the dead to go to the surgery here…)

He’s also had to have some atomic isotype something to do with the brain – which the brain man says he’s almost sure will be negative – I asked what it meant if it was positive and X said it meant he was mad!! Oh dear, oh dear.

I’m not sure if I’m glad for X or not – it must be awful for her and all the family if it’s just a matter of lying in pain and waiting poor dear.

We heard from X who seems to have completely forgotten not only that she had told us of her accident but also that we had exchanged more letters and sent her some flowers.

I think we’re both a bit tensed up. It’s too depressing the number of people who regale us with tales of how they’d planned a trip abroad when they’d retired and one of them died at the crucial moment – not good for one’s morale!

I’ve just put my hand on the stove to see if it was working – it was – HELL.

The cooker IS on!

Characters 2

V. good-looking American tall and dark in a jeans suit – he’d missed his boat as got involved in a party and got so drunk time went by! Sad really as although he said he was the cook it was a partnership set-up in which he’d expected to make $10000 over 6 months. I s’pose he broke contract but he still hoped and was phoning to try and catch them at another port – I didn’t find till late in the day that he’d in fact trained for 4 or 5 years as a chef but had difficulties as he’d got all his diplomas by 21 but his understaff kicked at being organised by him as he swore he only looked about 12! So after a while retrained as a hairdresser under Vidal Sassoon and later ran a trucking co. with another man which fell to bits with the petrol business. He was v. well read and quick in the uptake and a definite leavener to old X.

She stamps and screams and ‘after all I’ve done’ or ‘given’ and so on – she’s another who’s misguidedly KIND – I know they think I’m a cow about her but I’ve heard her telling everyone how much she does for them all and she certainly can’t afford any more grandchildren – and insists they stay and then goes round telling people how awful it’s been. I fear she’s really round the bend.

[Doing home visits collecting radio listener info] I met some real odd bods – one rather large man got out of his bath and came to the door dripping and with a minute towel which was so inadequate I said I wouldn’t hold him up but come back – I did in the evening and he was covered with embarrassment! Another elderly dame drew herself up and said ‘Jesus is my Lord and Saviour and I wouldn’t have a radio in the house’. I did wonder if her imagination of what came over the radio was perhaps more danger to her soul than what in fact was recorded. Outside was her sister who couldn’t have been less than 75-80 mowing the lawn with a nylon stocking tied over her spectacles – I almost expected to meet a third with a gag in her mouth.

Large man – small towel

I know I terrify you and can’t think why when I’m so moderate!

[But if the motion was passed]  I think he would be sadly perplexed to know what to say, since he combines tremendous conservatism with a horror of causing offence (or so it seems to me, but then we don’t really ‘take tea’).

The two girls have started ballet lessons, they look sweet in their leotards. The lady who takes them is most odd – she’s about 60, fairly overweight with straight black hair that is streaked with grey. She speaks with a guttural Dutch accent, however the kids understand her – I’m not sure that the parents do!

We had X to a meal yesterday evening – she is staying out here for a week or two trying to decide whether it is the place for her to retire to in a year or so. It’s doubtful whether she will be happy in retirement anywhere. Nothing but grievances and what she said to so-and-so to ‘put them in their place’: not exactly an endearing habit.

One of our computer buffs is trying to fix a computer that works off his wife’s voice, as she can’t type. I think it verges on being bogey, and it’s only a matter of time before the machines take over and run the world, the mess we’re making of it at present it wouldn’t be too difficult to do better. The voice coming in print is amazing.

Celebrations 5

We shared lunch with some friends yesterday. We produced turkey, stuffing, bread sauce and brandy butter and they did the vegetables and pudding and supplied the house; very pleasant it was. The day was so ‘busy’ that we didn’t finish lunch till 4 p.m. and the last present was opened amid yawns at 9 p.m.! Today, recovery is distinctly slow. We were invited to neighbours for a coffee at 10 a.m. – so we had to miss breakfast to get there in time! Since then we’ve been playing with toys and generally mooching about.

Praise be our rush of entertaining is over. Actually it went v. well. One evening this week we had two couples and it went like a dream. Everyone chatted madly – about intelligent things – and we both (and I hope they) enjoyed it. I cooked a deeelicious dinner – fillet steak (a whole fillet) in madeira sauce and mushrooms baked in flaky pastry. It cost $7 + for the fillet here – can’t think what it would have been in the UK.

We went for Saturday to celebrate X’s birthday. It must all be very exhausting for poor Y, as he has a children’s outing and tea on the day and then has the other grandparents and us on separate days because it embarrasses her for us that they give such much bigger presents than we do!!!!!!

So far we have only one Christmas party in the offing. We had the Bridge club closing do on Tuesday, and I’m glad to say that they had some much more discreet arrangements about the drinks this year, so no one got roaring tight as the President did last year. Quite a pleasant evening of chat, except that the noise level was so high that it was hard both to chat and be chatted.

We are having an Old Year’s Night party – there are 32 and only 5 men including mine host who is ‘the Director’ and is the most charmless man I’ve ever come across. He’s so nasty to his Bridge partners who are not up to his playing.   Much to our surprise mine host actually entertained us all to champagne at midnight. Of course several of them couldn’t say no and by the time we left were getting v. red in the face!

Midnight champagne

I loved your birthday card you sent me, a special thank you – could it be coincidence that all 5 cards I got had either caterpillars or butterflies on them?! One day I found a box of chocolates, a spray of orchids and a packet of T-bone steak on the doorstep (bet you’ve never had that on your doorstep!) It was from our neighbouring farmer whose sheep come in the next paddock.

We didn’t go out for X’s birthday this year (a dinner for the family absorbed more than this month’s budget for that item, for one thing!) – but I bought some pate, and pork chops, and we did very nicely (with a bit of a pause after the pate to cook the rest of it! I didn’t dare leave it in the pan). Then on Friday Y had prepared a nice birthday lunch for us, so X had a second go of presents.

She was superb, and went through the whole day with never a squeak, in spite of two yards of baptism dress (how well I remember your fury at not being able to kick in yours!) and in spite of being handed round to everybody to hold, and be photoed, and so on, with only a short snatch of sleep while we all had lunch. The baptism party which had started at 10, finally broke up about four thirty, and I was much too exhausted to finish this after we got home!

We went to X’s 21st birthday, which was a magnificent dinner for about twenty held in the preschool place next door. The first time I have worn my dinner jacket for years. (It is fifty-nine years old I see from the date in the pocket and still fits reasonably well, except that I seem to have shrunk in the legs, as the trousers hung round my ankles in swathes).

Bureaucracy 2

She offered the receipts etc. but was told he’d take her word for it – took off 2/3 of the price and charged 25% on remainder which came to $6!!! X said when I phoned it was all a toss up and depended on the man on the spot. Someone else told me it was left fairly loose so the types who were trying to pay for their holiday by calling here could be charged the whole 110% as it was becoming such a racket.

I don’t understand why you have a Trust to manage the finances of your job, but it doesn’t sound as though they are making a very good job it. How much I agree with your remark about having fewer managers and more people to actually do some work. It happens all the time with our Health service now, and all they can manage it seems is to cut down the services provided when they haven’t enough left over after paying themselves.


Our latest effort at service for the public is a threat by bank clerks to strike from the Friday before Christmas right through until after the New Year (and you can imagine the fun the thieves will have – there are reports of crowds of them booking flights!!).

Thieves travelling

Having spent 2 weeks since last writing being without a driving licence my news is limited. I quite enjoyed it actually and it was v. economical not being tempted with inessentials! Friends drove me down on ‘the day’ – at the end of a run round a square he said I had broken the law 3 times! All the things I’ve done for 60 years – but I didn’t push this and thanked him for putting me right – and I got my licence! – I am mellowing!

Certainly your bureaucrats sound very trying – but do not be mystified. They work on certain principles by which their actions and reactions can usually be explained e.g. ‘Never on any account admit that you have made an error – whether of fact or of judgement.’  Secondly, ‘Do not accept any other person’s actions or requests at their face value, especially when they are apparently philanthropic or economical.’ They are obviously seeking some hidden advantage for themselves or trying in some obscure way to discredit the bureaucrat. The one must of course be frustrated as wholeheartedly as the other. Thirdly ‘Never act without precedent or make an exception to a rule.’ Such initiative might be called in question and it is worth much labour even to the extent of letting one’s tea get cold or STAYING LATE to argue oneself out of the necessity. I dare say there are others but that threefold cord is not easily broken without adding other strands!

It is a pity that X’s claim to fame was to do with such shady episodes as the Profumo affair, and the subsequent choice of Lord Home as prime minister after Macmillan, which of course also proved fairly disastrous for all concerned. He was much too nice a man to make a successful P.M.

Hopefully we shall get a letter tomorrow – no, not tomorrow as it is Labour Day when like the gasmen we do no work at all; and probably not Tuesday either, because that will be like a Monday and we hardly ever get any letters on Monday – but say Wednesday! On the whole our post has got much worse since it ceased being a Government service, and quite often it seems as though they are saving up such miserable brown envelopes as they are prepared to bring us at all for two or more days of the week. The Post Office were horrified when we told them and couldn’t understand it at all. That sort of thing is definitely fifty years out of date.

He was filling in a form about her and asked ‘Have you any convictions?’ to which she replied, ‘Yes – I’m a Christian.’ Fortunately when she realised what he meant they both had a good giggle!

I am continually amazed at how like our bureaucracy is to yours – they must send representatives back and forth to learn from each other, I think. Our Ministry of Education is constantly making cuts in funds until the schools have to cut services in one way or another, and then sending commissions of enquiry to examine the school’s methods and to complain, just like your department having to cut the services to special schools and then being told off for having done so. It is difficult to imagine any more effective way of lowering morale and encouraging frustration!

Music/theatre/art 2

I went to the most extraordinary concert last night – two very solemn German gentlemen playing, so we understood, guitars. And so they did for the first half of the programme – 8 string and 6 string and a little tiny descant guitar and two people to one guitar and all sorts. Anyway, after the guitar pieces they put their guitars away and one of them got out a sort of African drum thing and the other one a range of foreign sorts of instruments starting with a bamboo piece which I think had strings which he played with a decrepit bow and produced a moaning whining sort of noise. Anyway they set to work with some rather nice rhythm and a few voice effects and this scrape-y sound which gave way to various horns and things – all very odd! After the interval it got even stranger The chap actually smiled for the first time as he told us about it and said we were allowed to laugh but it wasn’t really ridiculous at all. Well, I’m not too sure – it certainly did seem funny to watch them solemnly and with the utmost concentration saw away at a long bit of dowelling held between the teeth with a bow, drop pebbles in water, turn sirens on, throw sticks in a box, play a violin with paperclips on the strings and do various other weird and wonderful things. It was quite effective tho’, producing all sorts of eerie and sad noises – not what I’d call music though myself.

The play was G.B. Shaw – ‘Heartbreak House’, which I don’t remember ever having read. It was very well done – though as it is described as an Extravaganza in the Russian manner, or something of the sort, I felt it might have been even more amusing if I had known enough about Russian plays to realise when Shaw was poking fun at them. But it was very witty in its own right, and we enjoyed it.

I think my next endeavour might be to see if I could make penny whistles out of bamboo. I have got quite intrigued with trying to play my two (I have one in C major and one in D, and have to think very hard all the time which one it is I’m playing as of course any particular fingering produces either an A or a B depending which I’m using). The easiest change of key is to flatten the seventh note of the scale – so the C pipe will also play in one flat, and the D pipe will also play in one sharp. Now I need a pipe set in three flats, I think (whatever key that is, I never know) and then I could play most of the tunes in the hymn book! I’m not so good at the jiggy things in my special whistle book as at the hymns!

I am enjoying, for the time being, our rehearsals for the Messiah, which we have been doing with X (who is a name to conjure with in this part of the world, even if you have never heard of him!). He works us terribly hard, for a couple of hours, with only five minutes break in the middle, and I arrive home exhausted. We have only one more week or maybe two before the performance.

I’ve enrolled for a folk guitar class for next term at the High School. It’s a ‘pressure cooker’ course for ten lessons, one weekly, and I’m expected to do an hour’s practice a day, so I’d better spend the next few weeks dipping my fingers in meths to harden them so they don’t fall off!

Hardening the fingertips

X’s ex-piano teacher phoned me yesterday to tell me with amazement she had passed her exams with 112% [??] and how pleased she was. As I’ve always said, she said she has no coordination with mind and hands although ‘she is very musical’. She was particularly surprised at the examiner’s remarks on her sight reading ‘a remarkable effort’ – isn’t that ambiguously blissful!!!

Watched the BBC’s Twelfth Night which was enjoyable – though I find the comic relief a bit tedious some of the time – at least until the actual plot against Malvolio develops. Of course the main plot hangs upon a near impossibility. (Or is it absolute? Can there be identical twins of different sexes?)

X’s show (La Pericole, Offenbach) was excellent in all ways, except I thought, the leading lady. She had a voice to shatter glass which she used to the full in the tiny little theatre, and all the time she sang she frowned.

We went to see Stephanie Cole. She was due, according to the programme to be doing a monologue by Alan Bennett and then talking about her life in the second part. We had to be there at 1.15 and got there in time – only to find a man playing the Wurlitzer organ, which he proceeded to do until 1.40. X hates that machine anyway, and he admitted to being an amateur. ‘Soldiering On’ started about five to two, and finished at 2.40. It was a lovely performance. We settled back in our seats to wait for the interval to be over, when a man appeared on the stage to announce, ‘That’s all. You can go home now’! The fact that only about a dozen people had left their seats for the interval before he appeared showed that this was news to everybody. But being so surprised, and basically elderly, we did not boo as we should have done, but just left feeling done down.

We went to the opening for exhibitors of the Easter show. There were some lovely watercolours done by a guest artist, and unusually I did not see any erotic figures by X, our dentist. Y said he has some big commission on at present, which may explain it. The big sculpture which he was organising for the Red Square in the village was eventually finished, and it’s not so odd as it threatened – except that the water tends to get a bit green and turgid.

Do you find your new guitar a great improvement? It must be like my using such expensive paper to learn to paint, I feel there isn’t room to have handicaps, and I try and leave as much lovely paper bare as I can. With some of the modern tunes I feel you could leave quite long pauses between notes, vibrating with beautiful mellow tones!!!

Money 2

Much flak about the Public Service Investment Society (as its name suggests a public servants’ investment co-op) went into receivership last Friday. Luckily I withdrew all my savings and borrowed $300 only last week, so I don’t stand to lose much! I always have been altruistic like that!

I’ve just had some photos done for the modelling I’m venturing on, I’m hoping to make lots of lovely lolly (I probably won’t but hope springs eternal and all that!) Anyway posing lying on a bean bag with a magazine and a large whisky all morning is a change from housework!!

Photos for the portfolio

And we are right behind you here it seems with our devaluation last weekend. They do a lot of talk about how it will help the farmers and how the increased price of imports won’t work through to the public for 18 months – but yesterday the news was that car dealers have never been busier and all the prices will be going up within a month or so! And I expect that’s how it will be all round. The country has been borrowing vast sums abroad for the last two years, and some time soon we shall have to stop doing that and cut imports accordingly – and then there’s going to be a big mess, with a lot of unemployment, I fear.

And why do you have to go on to temp work if you are given an Easter holiday? It all sounds mysterious and foreboding – especially taken with odd snippets that we get over the radio about your cost of living such as the new price of the Times – and now your rather horrifying budget. Is it becoming very difficult to exist and enjoy life in a small way in London?

X starts his new job here on Monday week and swears that when the house sells he is going up to do the packing and moving. But of all the crazy times to change jobs and house and then arrange to spend a month’s rent on a party as he is going to tomorrow night – it’s a pity I haven’t been rendered quite as speechless as you might expect because he’s a bit fed up with my comments on the situation, I fear! The job is better paid than the last – but he will need it all by the time he’s mortgaged himself to the hilt to buy a house in the bits of the city he considers suitable for a young business executive!

The warnings about everything being so expensive in Japan were quite true – a cup of coffee and doughnut in a milk bar type of place were equivalent to 72p and 25p – both very good admittedly. [Those were the days…]

Yes, the man who bought the Fiat seemed sweet – if rather lean and hungry looking. He told X how he’d started with a v. dashing car – and as he married and acquired more and more family the cars got smaller and older and now he was down to 3 children and a Fiat!

We got a solitary – I mean one-man-on-his-own builder up here yesterday to look at the plans and the house itself, and he promised us an estimate for labour only, maybe tomorrow. He said the best way was for us to ‘shop around’ and buy the materials ourselves – apparently it’s worth driving 20 miles for timber even paying for delivery compared to the local timber-yard. He also said that one could get up to 30% off normal price for cash on delivery – which reflects how badly off the building industry is at present – because no one can get a mortgage anywhere to build with: though he must surely be exaggerating. I hope his figure looks reasonable as he seemed a pleasant straightforward man, though I suspect his suggestion was mainly because he hasn’t any working capital himself!

Gardening 7

My vegetable garden is really looking quite creditable now though it would be better still if the wind hadn’t broken off or down the tops of some of my potatoes. I’ve got 3 sorts of them, a row of peas just podding, a row of celery, carrots, parsnips and a couple of pumpkins all under way, a few tomatoes and at about the fourth attempt some French and runner beans – though I think they are going to be very behind and may get drought struck – or else will be ready for picking while we’re on holiday!

We stopped to show her the garden of our old house – sad, sad – I didn’t know weeds could grow so much in 3 months

I’ve laid another 50sq m of garden in lawn; slowly but surely the barren waste is coming under control- my fastidious (and retired) neighbour even smiled at me the other day so I must be doing well!

Congratulations on your vegetables. I have put some garlic in (a month late I fear). I had some little Brussels sprouts growing which hadn’t any stalks but otherwise looked healthy at one time, but now they been eaten almost to the bone by something and can’t possibly do any good, I fear.

I hope the orange tree is more successful at going on growing fruit than our lemon which has produced endless beginnings and no reasonable continuations.

We bought some new plants and a copper beech tree and a bush X has always wanted which has all its new leaves a deep red. We put them in one afternoon and that night the damn sheep got in and removed all the red leaves!

Sheep eating all the red leaves

The story of your garden almost brought tears to my eyes. It seems that for exterior exhibition you’ll have to stick to cockle shells and silver bells (though they wouldn’t last long in these inflationary and criminal days).

Apart from occasional sudden cold days, spring is here: blossom on the apples, strawberries and boysenberries, buds on the roses with one or two out, and so on. Enough grass has grown to hide most of the black patches on the lawn where I tried to kill the moss with iron sulphate, but I don’t think any of the expensive grass seed I sowed has taken root. But a few of my veggies are looking quite good, and we had some more of the broad beans from over the winter for lunch.

We are having a three day summer, (today is the third) and I ought to be out hosing the beans, and weeding the veg plot which has remained scandalously empty so far, apart from one crop of carrots and a few parsnips, plus lots of self-down parsley. Unfortunately the pumpkins which used to appear of their own accord in some numbers have given up. Alas, no soup! And the entire plum crop this year year has been picked – four plums! The blossom all got blown away when it was much too cold for bees. I suppose I ought to go round with a rabbit’s foot another year. I must enquire into the technique. But the apples are looking good so hopefully we can fill the deep freeze with them.

My runner beans have suddenly sprung halfway up the strings and the broad beans five feet high, but a lot of things are not doing so well – beetroot stuck at two inches, carrots refusing to appear at all, tomato plants tuck at a foot high, and the broccoli bursting into yellow bloom when they ought to be forming nice green heads. (I always find that particularly irritating!).

Ageing 8

I’ve been doing all the things we’d done before X died, fixing the funeral and putting down money for it and writing a new Will, all of which has made me feel ‘proper poorly’!!! But it will be a load off my mind when I’ve tidied it all up.

There’s virtually no flower beds but all grass and trees, there’s 5 acres practically flat with a stream running through it, milking shed for both cows!, a good sleep out which would take two bunks, and I can see X sitting on a mowing machine and being able to cope indefinitely, and each year we could let the sheep graze nearer and nearer the house as we got more and more senile.

[searching for a word before the days of Google] ‘Ponentially’ is a nice word but I don’t actually recognise it. Opponentially, perhaps, or potentially? … [and added as a PS] I woke up this morning at 5.58 saying to myself ‘The word is exponential’ – and there is such a word, but does it mean anything?   [and indeed it did – just the word to describe the growth in the number of plants I had achieved and hadn’t been able to describe because I couldn’t find the word for the previous letter.]

I’m quite worried about X – I haven’t had a letter for some 3 months and the briefest signed X card. Her daughter wrote on hers that X had been v. taken aback about her sister-in-law’s death – they never got on – but X didn’t expect to outlive anyone. She’s incredible – 70 and 3 big cancer ops since she was 34 plus endless other complications.

The last 2 days I’ve been worrying I have Alzeimers (?) decease [sic]  – I had to see a solicitor about putting the house in my name… I remembered the man asking if I had a safe place to keep something or should he keep it for me. I was a bit high hat about it but couldn’t remember what it was we’d been talking about. I must have wasted hours hunting for a new strange bit of paper – to no avail, so I phoned this morning and admitted I couldn’t find it – BUT actually he hadn’t given it to me – I felt more than silly!

The trouble about the big retirement village is that while you are more or less sure of nursing provision for any sort of demise, it is liable to cost you dearly. First you buy a house, which costs you all your present house, though much smaller. Then when you need an apartment, with meals provided in a restaurant you have to swap that for the house, and finally, when all you need is a bed where they look after you, that costs you your apartment. This business of getting old is very trying!

Retirement village death cycle!

X has a great clean-up urge on at the moment so I spend my time rushing between the lawyers and the funeral home checking on the preparations for casting off this mortal coil, and getting them up to date – when I’m not busy with our Income Tax for the year.

Of course it’s that darned memory again! Which reminds me that your comments about the Banville made me go and have another look at it – we read it in my group some months ago – and I looked in disbelief – had I really read this? I barely recognised it at first, tho’ bits did start coming back, but not enough to make any intelligent remarks. As you say, Hey Ho. … I now write down everything I read or else I can’t remember. Fortunately a recent radio prog I heard on the subject made me think I am maybe not that abnormal!

We then have exercises (very gentle but made to cover every muscle in your body) – I must get back to my 10 minute daily ones – I’m so bent over it depresses me I know I must be looking 90 as so many people try to help me and ask if I’m still driving!!

X only sits in the TV room all day and goes up and down. We have one medium dog who keeps him company. He is incontinent now, so senile at times too, walks very slowly and often needs help to get up from chair to dress and wash etc. … I hope they don’t hear me shouting at X too often, he can be so frustrating! I will be away 3 weeks and I really do need it.

It was a super surprise to see you but I do apologise for the number of clothes all over the floor and the general confusion which greeted you – how could I be so senile not to have put the date in my diary? Your flowers give me enormous pleasure – I took them downstairs to show them off – even the dotty residents loved them.

Yes, I think (and worry a bit) about how I am going to die. What will happen after that I can’t imagine but am optimistic that it will be enjoyable, though I hope I shall have time (and inclination) to appeal to Our Lord for the help I shall need to come to Him.

It is a bore getting old! In that connection, I was moving the power plus by a yard last week because X wanted to move her furniture round, and found it very exhausting kneeling on the floor to do it! And made a very clumsy job of it in consequence. I felt stiff for the next two mornings as a result, which I suppose means that next time I should get the man next door to do such jobs for me. But it’s a comedown for a self-respecting do-it-yourselfer!

We were a bit late leaving. I said I’d follow her down in my car; we set off with me in pursuit, it struck me she was going a very odd way, and then she disappeared, I hadn’t a clue where I was and tiptoed through two wet gardens knocking on doors for directions, to find I was in an unknown bit of X: I had been following the wrong car! It was now 15 minutes after the meeting was due to start, so you can imagine the trauma. I just can’t see in the dark especially when it’s raining and the car headlights coming at me; however I eventually got there, and spent 5 minutes trying to get in, by which time she had rung home and her husband was out looking for me! Anyway they were all very nice about it.       

She really should give up, her back has packed up again, this crumbling business, and has to have another op.  

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