The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Monday, 12 August 2013

It All Makes Work...

The Husband and The Naval Nephew (who is staying a couple of days druing his summer leave from the Royal Navy) are putting up the new tent in the front garden as a trial run.  No problem, I hear you cry, two strapping chaps, and both technically trained engineers/mechanics.  There are one or two obstacles;

1) The tent was an eBay "bargain" and came without poles or pegs

2) The manufacturer failed to give us the specs for replacements when I e-mailed, but merely answered with a pro forma about suppliers/retailers doing all that sort of thing

3) So we looked at what The Husband calls The Destructions that came with the tent, and also watched (several times) a 5 minute YouTube video showing two people from a major supplier putting up the very same tent in a very neat and orderly fashion

4) Then I did a back-of-an-envelope calculation (actually on the back of an envelope, how good is that?) and ordered replacement kits for the three main poles and the window frame structure, and several guy and tent pegs

which all arrived today, so

5) The men have spread the tent out in the front garden and discovered it's probably bigger than the lawn

6) The lawn is on a slope.  Quite a steep slope

7) The Naval Nephew hasn't had breakfast yet, and he's a lad who values his food

8) I have bribed them with the promise of sausages sarnies as soon as it's up and recognisable as a tent, albeit a tent on a slope

It looks robustly tent-like and quite sensible from this angle, wouldn't you say?

 But go round to the other side and the tribulations of trialling a tent on a slope are all too evident

We may have to wait quite some time for weather warm enough to give us an incentive to leave an actual real house with beds, bathroom etc and instead take up residence in a sky blue lightweight fabric igloo.  Last time we camped, in Anglesey in July, it was during an Azores High with temperatures in the upper 20s or 30s centigrade.  Today it is 17c and cloudy.

Maybe next year...

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Picking Up Threads

It's quite a while since I troubled the ether with my inconsequential tippy-tap-typing, which is usually a sign that there is nothing happening worth setting down, or so much happening I don't have time to gather my thoughts and write.  As ever, it's a bit of both.  When the weather is warm and dry I am outside in it, if it is overcast or raining, I am catching up on the chores that were neglected when the sun shone, and if we have visitors I am too busy nattering to them to natter on th'interweb.

We have also been away again, on a sort of royal progress through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire staying with close family and dear old chums.  Last Thursday we drove the MGB over to Gloucestershire on a very hot and sticky day, and stayed with my nearest-in-age sister.  Her husband was away elsewhere, so it was just the three of us humans, and two dogs, ours and her new granddog, a five-year-old chihuahua. 

He elder daughter has taken this little creature into her life as an urgent re-homing and into the family's hearts, but she was away on holiday so the granddog was with granny.  The little dog has had a troubled and unsettled past so is an anxious creature, and as is often the case with little dogs this anxiety can translate into a huge show of aggression with strangers.  We ignored her yapping and snarling and snapping at our ankles and let her approach, held out the back of our hands to sniff, and - eventually - lick, so that after a time her neurosis abated and she let us fuss her and even pick her up for a cuddle.  Trouble was, every time we left the room she forgot who we were and so the whole rigmarole started up again! 

Thankfully she is fully accepting - but unfortunately a little too protective of - her new female humans, my sister and my niece, but slightly less so of my brother-in-law, who occasionally comes in for the being-kept-at-bay treatment.  But it has only been five weeks, so her confidence that she is somewhere safe and accepting has yet to grow. 

It's lovely to see my sister fussing over a little life as, like with me, there are no grandchildren even on the horizon yet, even though our three daughters are all in their thirties.  She chatters away to the dog very soothingly, so it's easy to see why she is one of the humans the little creature has bonded to and feels protective of, even if the expression of her attachment can be this annoying running up and snapping at ankles.  On the second day I decided to show some irritation with it and barked at her to get in her bed, which she did immediately, somewhat stunned, so that may be the way to go in future!

Our next port of call was the Cotswold market town of Witney, where I lived for two decades whilst in a relationship with and then married to The Daughter's father.  He has moved to France since he retired, renting out the erstwhile family home, so I could relax knowing there could be no annoying bumping into one another on the street.  See some of my earlier postings for why I feel like this!  It's mostly that he goes on and on about himself and shows nothing more than a fleeting perfunctory interest in our doings, The Husband's and mine.  The Young People would say he is a long way up his own arse. 

An excellent expression for extreme self-absorption, don't you think?

We stayed overnight there with old friends of mine I have known for almost thirty years, our daughters were playmates and school contemporaries, we socialised and helped each other out with childcare, all that young parents sort of stuff.  The husband is a recently-retired GP, and the wife is a part-time singing teacher and choir conductor, she and I have done a lot of gigs together over the years, and shared the same singing teachers when younger.  A lot of growing tendrils are intertwined which - although we see each other only annually, at most - means the conversation never wanes when we are together.  There is something so comfortable about conversing with people who need little or no explanation and background-filling.  Picking up the threads and catching up is so easy.

Of course, The Husband has only known them a relatively short time as he isn't from the same area and only knows them through me, but he and the husband of the other couple share a surprisingly large number of interests and get along famously.

The sun shone, we sat at the shaded outdoor table in their pretty walled garden and felt easy and relaxed.  I suppose as one ages one appreciates the friendships that go a bit deeper even more, without actually relying on them.  After all, we all have our families and other friends we see more often to turn to in emergencies, and the like.  The more distant Old Chums aren't for that.  They are for touching base with who we used to be and celebrating who we have become, they are a way of plotting the journey, and sometimes even the struggles, between the two.

So after an enchanting interlude of twenty-four hours with them we moved on to Oxford itself, where The Daughter, Her Husband and Our Grand-dog live.  We had two nights with them, another couple of days of ease and relaxation with nothing intense or jarring about it.  They have been together for seven years now, married two of them, and we have gradually got to know our son-in-law in that time and to see him for the sterling character he is.  Of course, The Daughter wouldn't have chosen him, and married him, had he not been, but it's wonderful to have it confirmed every time we see him.

Their dog, a beautifully bonkers springer spaniel, is also a re-homed animal.  They acquired him two years ago when he was five.  He is affectionate, calm and welcoming to both us, and also to his "uncle" (our Westie), who is a senior statesman next to him, being now eleven to his seven.  There has never been a growl or a snarl between them, they just co-exist alongside one another with perfect equilibrium. 

How different would our lives be if The Daughter had that chihuahua, and not my niece!  EEEK!
  Funny how life pans out for the best...

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Mr Wonderful

This man is - in my admittedly biased opinion - a near saint, a legend, an icon and an undoubted genius.

I shall love him until I die. If he goes before I do, and if I still have an ounce of awareness left in me, when I hear he is gone I shall weep. I do not feel this for anyone else I have never met.

I guess that is what it is to be a fan, then.

In case you were wondering just who inspires me to write thus, please read on

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hotter Than July (Part II)

Yesterday's BBC Regional News in the evening had two interesting Welsh weather statistics for us to chew on whilst we sweltered gently in a post-prandial haze; Wales has been the sunniest (but not hottest) part of the UK in this present bout of serious summer.  Other areas have had higher temperatures, but we have had more hours of sunshine.  Add to which the fact that by yesterday - 17 July - we had already had our average July monthly quota of sunshine, even though we were only just past the half-way mark for the month.

I was suitably impressed.

It will explain why the North Welsh resorts and historic sites we visited in our three-day break away from our mid-Wales country fastness had an exotic continental feel to them.  We sat in pavement cafes and the outdoor seating areas of restaurants, dog under the table grabbing what shade he could find, all of us heavy with heat, soporific with sunshine, our walking pace slowed to an idle saunter, and even that felt a mite rushed at times.

Our View at Lunch in Criccieth on Monday

We ate virtually all our meals out of doors, but for one late-night curry and the breakfast part of the B&B we had booked for our first night away.  The dog was in our bedroom with a deep bowl of cool water and the telly on low while we went out for the first of those, as all the open restaurants with outdoor seating areas in Criccieth were already fully booked, and its being Monday most other eating places were enjoying their night off.  Good old curry houses!  Open until eleven, seven nights a week.  Boy!  Do those Bangladeshi chaps WORK?!  I suppose you were aware that the vast majority of "Indian" restaurants in the UK were run and staffed by Bangladeshis.  If not, please accept this curious fact with my compliments and a liqueur on the house.  We always get given a liqueur on the house after a curry, don't you? 

My Boys at Aberdaron

 Abersoch Bay

Some of the Smaller Houses with Sea Views

The first afternoon away we spent on the very lovely Lleyn Peninsula, spending the afternoon on the beach at Aberdaron where I swam in cool crystal-clear water and emerged exceedingly refreshed.  The Husband and The Dog merely paddled sedately (see above), being boys and therefore frightened stiff of a drop of cold water.  Later we took a walk around the harbour walls at Abersoch, which is like a Celtic St Tropez, lots of yachts and motorised gin palaces moored in the harbour and the bay and socking great detached houses, millionaire nests every one, overlooking the water from the wooded hills above (also see above).  All exceedingly couth and expensive, and in the weather we were having exactly like the French or Italian Riviera, on a smaller scale, and all the prettier for that.

After our night at Criccieth, we headed off to Caernarfon, parked the MGB slap bang next to the castle and set out to explore the grids of streets of brightly painted houses inside the old mediaeval walls.  We drank a pre-lunch drink under a huge umbrella outside a timber-framed pub which was festooned with flowers, people-watching as the streets filled with tourist parties from Spain, and then America, and then the Far East.  Not being schooled in oriental languages I can't be more precise than that.  Once they would have been almost certainly Japanese, now they are more likely to be South Korean or Chinese, I guess.

On the swing bridge at the entrance to Caernarfon harbour

Then, amongst the throng I suddenly spot a familiar face from home!  My choir conductor and her husband are also gadding about spending their Grey Pounds on a couple of nights away from home, we are told.  They joined us at our table and another round of drinks and much hilarity ensued.  The four of us having exchanged local musical gossip and put the world to rights the two couples settled up and went their separate ways in search of lunch.

Mid-afternoon we drove along the Menai Straits to the first road bridge and crossed over to Ynys Mon - aka Anglesey.  We had thrown our tent, bedrolls and sleeping bags in the boot of the MG and the plan was to camp somewhere on the island the second night.  After tootling through the lanes and along the coast to Beaumaris and slightly beyond we decided that our fondness for watching the sun sink into the waves rather dictated we look on the SW side of the island for somewhere to pitch for the night, and so we crossed over the middle of the island and started to look for a billet. 

In the end we settled on Rhosneigr, which is right next door to RAF Valley where Prince William works as a search and rescue helicopter pilot, and it is also the nest for the supersonic fighters we love so much which contour-chase through the part of the Severn Valley where we live.  It would be fun to see them take off and land during working hours (8.30am-5.30pm on days of good clear weather), we thought.  What we hadn't appreciated was that the Sea King helicopters took off, landed and flew very low overhead at night as well, with one roaring thundering flight crossing the sky just above our tent at 2.00am!  That, and the baked-hard ground and our very thin and totally inadequate sponge rubber bedrolls, added up to a fitful night's sleep, and by 9.00am the tent was far too hot to stay in and doze to catch up on zzzs.  We were going to be in for another sweltering day.

Having struck camp and packed up we drove the short distance to Aberffaw, where we had a Full Welsh Breakfast in a delightful cafe, in a rose-filled courtyard, and then we walked to the little rocky bay where can be found The Church in the Sea.  I'd love to show you our photos of that, a small white-washed stone church on an island that can only be reached at low tide, but we haven't got round to uploading the photos off The Husband's smartphone yet. 

We crossed back to mainland Wales at about noon and decided to take the Snowdonia route home, breaking for yet another al fresco lunch in Beddgelert.  Such self-indulgence!  Not for us home-made sandwiches and flasks of tea in a lay-by, I am afraid.  We like to eat out and eat well, in comfort, with bar staff and waiters and loos nearby.  I have got soft in our old age, and The Husband also has a lifelong dislike of picnics, and sandwiches full of sand, or butties full of bugs.

We were back home by late teatime, hot from the journey in an open-topped car in temperatures in the upper 20sC or possible even 30C, and tired after our restless night under canvas (well, two layers of thin nylon, in the interests of accuracy), and glad to be back, to feed the birds, water the plant pots and catch up on some sleep.  Next adventure we aim to head south, to New Quay, and Tenby, and The Gower, and do more camping.  As this weather is set to last at least another week, perhaps even a fortnight, that may happen sooner than you'd think, but not until we've bought an inflatable double mattress and a pump!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Hotter Than July

At last we are booked in for some proper summer weather here in the UK, well most of us are.  After the summer we had in 2012 seeing a row of yellow orbs lined up in the BBC website's five-day forecast is a strangely unfamiliar sight.  Today is Men's Finals day at Wimbledon, and temperatures of up to 30C have been mentioned for that part of London.  Inside the Centre Court is will be sweltering.

So all the best to the finalists in withstanding that heat, as well as four or five hours of gladiatorial combat.  I am not the least bit bnothered who wins, as I know in advance that it will be the best man on the day.  That's juist how tennis works, and no-one ever makes excuses for themselves if they lose, not in public or in interviews anyhow.  That is part of the reason I love watching Wimbledon, that and the ingenious scoring method in tennis which makes it so very exciting to watch.

I am not partisan in nationalist terms.  I find it impossible to support a team or a person just because they come from some part of the UK.  However, I have a sneaking and growing admiration for the Welsh rugby team, and support them (in the sense I am pleased to see them do well) in their televised matches, mostly beacuse I know how much it matters to many of our lovely neighbours.

I must tackle learning the Welsh National Anthem in Welsh.  It's a wonderfully stirring one, on a par with the Marseillaise.  A bloody good sing!

Here in mid-Wales the mercury will hover around 25C-26C at the warmest point of the day, we are told.  That's just nice.  Mid to upper 70sF for those of you who prefer old money.  Any cloud that floats by with be white and fluffy, my very favourite sort of sky.  I know a lot of people love a sky of pure peerless blue, but like an occasional lofty cloud to enable me to fix on it and get some sense of the height of the atmosphere towering above us, miraculously giving us air to breathe and shielding us from excess harmful rays.  When I was a kid I used to love to lie in a field or on the heather, sprawled on my back in total relaxation, watching the billowing clouds float across the sky.  I guess I was a bit of a solitary dreamer, even back then.  I still need a few minutes or hours a day of quiet to think my own thoughts, or I can feel very overstretched and pulled tight.

My love of the sky has given me a great enjoyment of flying (I even feel excited at take off and landing) and enabled me to screw up my nerve and be a passenger in a friend's microlight (which is exactly like flying strapped into camping chair attached to a lawn-mower engine)  a couple of years ago, despite my slight fear of heights.  I loved it but for the fact I could not bring myself to look straight down, to see my own foot dangling 2,500ft above the ground.  Too freaky!  Also, it was jolly cold up there, even on a sunny day in August.  My ankles and neck were freezing despite wearing a borrowed ski suit.

So today is my perfect sort of temperate climatic offering: hot but not sweltering, blue skies with whisps of white cloud, and a do-as-you-please Sunday stretching ahead of us. Sorry if that sounds awfully smug, but it happens too infrequently in the UK for us to feel complacent.  Let us enjoy it while we can !

Saturday, 6 July 2013


 ...we are going to pack up the car with an overnight bag and stay at Gregynog Hall for a night's B&B.

  The Formal Gardens, seen from the terrace

The Main House has a mock Tudor facade, and was built in the mid C19th

The Stable Block has been converted into accommodation and a daytime restaurant

...we are going to pack up the car with an overnight bag and stay at Gregynog Hall for a night's B&B.

This may seem a crazy idea to most people, as this country house is only half an hour away by car, but it is set in 700 acres of formal gardens, grounds and farmland, and there are rooms to be had at a reasonable rate for an overnight stay with breakfast.  We shan't be in the main house.  I suspect that is kept for major block bookings, such as weddings and conferences, when the place can be fully staffed overnight (for security reasons, as it is full of antiques, paintings and valuable books). We shall be staying in the converted stable block, next to the restaurant.  There is no evening meal available, but we can have lunch and afternoon tea, and I shall have a conducted tour of the house whilst The Husband and The Dog avail themselves of the extensive outdoor facilities: Italianate gardens and  rambling shady wooded grounds full of Californian Redwoods and other large conifers, under planted with rhododendrons.and azaleas.

My plan is to pack up our own food and drink and have an evening picnic on the lawn or in our room after sunset. Perhaps then we shall be able to catch up with the men's Final at Wimbledon on the TV, having missed it to spend the afternoon doing something a little out of the ordinary.

Of course, we will fetch up there in the MG with the hood down (as the weather is set fair for the whole weekend and then some) with our case and our picnic things, and then I shall flan about like Lady Muck, just as though I were attending a country house weekend in a novel by PG Wodehouse, or Evelyn Waugh or Agatha Christie. 

Preferably one of the the first two.  Don't much fancy the idea of a body in the library - especially not being the main exhibit!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Family Portraits

 Mrs Pearl Blue, with her human sister's wedding photo in the background

Mr Mervyn Green, with Mrs Blue keeping an eye on him

Other Family Members

I've been blogging for quite a while now, about three years, and I have mentioned a few Dramatis Personae in that time:  Goldenoldenlady (as was) which is Yours Truly, The Husband, The Daughter, The Dog, one or two of my vast stock of sisters (four in all, two who live quite a long way away and I never see these days), The Lodger (long gone), some chums, and latterly Our Ma (now deceased).  But I haven't mentioned the smallest members of the clan - The Birds.

What an oversight!  Especially as where I sit to poot the day away is right next to their little house (aka their cage, but that doesn't sound nearly as pleasant) and one in particular, is very noisy indeed.

We have two budgerigars, had them since 2008, and they have had a suprisingly interesting history for two such tiny creatures.  Now read on...

When The Husband and I were first cohabiting, when he was The Boyfriend, we had at first no pets.  He and his first wife had had cats - four at the same time, at top whack - but she had taken then with her when she left in 1997.  You can imagine how upsetting that must have been.  He has a wife and a feline family, and then they go and he has no-one but himself.  It made him very wary about two things - proposing to me and getting pets.  It took a year for him to concede on both points, and he crumbled on the pet thing just ahead of the betrothal thing.  In 2001 we got a cock budgie, a handsome blue fellow we named Gordon, and the following month we got engaged.  I guess The Husband must have regained his ability to trust.

Gordon was such a character.  He chattered in budgie and human (Good boy, Gordon, handsome, handsome.  I love you, yes I do.  Night night, sleep tight.  Lots of phrases, mostly taught him by The Husband) and flew onto our fingers when called, or landed on our heads or shoulders, a very tame, very happy, little chap.

The following year I left full-time teaching and took up private tutoring instead, which I did in the late afternoon and evenings.  So as The Husband came in from work, I was just going or had already gone, but there was someone at home the vast majority of the time.  And so we got The Dog, or to be more precise, The Puppy, as he was then.

So we had a feathered friend and a hairy toddler and our family was complete, or it was until Gordon died, very suddenly, and without warning, one Saturday evening in February 2008.

I was bereft.  It was crazy how much I missed him and grieved for him. That first week at home without him, when the Husband was at work, the house was deathly quiet, even though The Dog continued to be my faithful little white shadow following me wherever I went around the house.  No cheerful chatter, no amusing acrobatic antics, nothing but silence in the dining room where his cage had stood.  I couldn't stand it.  A week later we were back at the same pet shop, looking for another bird to fill the sad little silent space he'd left.

And so we acquired Archibald Periwinkle, another blue bird, this time with hints of violet in his plumage, as the name might suggest.  He was soon hand tame, but not as chatty as Gordon or any of the other cock budgies we'd both had as children.  He mostly liked to imitate the wild garden birds he could hear when the patio doors were open.  He obdurately refused to pick up any human, and so we resigned ourselves to having chosen a non-talking budgie this time.

Later that same year, when Archie had been with us about six months, we had weekend visitors who were not pet owners and found our decision to have a bird a little puzzling.  They asked a lot of questions, and (their both being doctors) some of them were quite scientific.  Eventually, they asked how do you tell the sex of a budgie.  "Oh it's easy," I decared confidently, "it's in the cere.  You look at the area above the beak where the nostrils are, the colour of it. Here, I'll show you.  A boy is blue a girl is brown or pink." 

I opened the cage door and persuaded Archie onto my finger.  And then I looked at him a little more closely than we had of late.  His cere was no longer pale blue, it was pinky brown and crusty.  This, I knew, was not a sign of illness.  This was a sign of a more mature hen bird coming into potential mating condition.  Archie was a girl!

My, how we laughed.  Suddenly he/she needed a new name.  I decided on Pearl.  Pearl the Girl.  And because we knew nothing of keeping females I did quiet a bit of Internet research that week, and somehow got it into my daft head that girls related less well to humans, hence were less likely to talk, and preferred to have a companion bird.

So, I got her one.  Another beautiful hen, a jade green stunner, which we called Myrtle.  Myrtle and Pearl.   Sisters, room-mates, lifelong companions in the making.

Myrtle was a very difficult little thing to handle.  She pecked and panicked and flapped and fluttered and would not accept a finger to perch on.  After a couple of months of trying to train her I gave up attempts to handle her physically, and relied on psychological training.  She was happy to return to the cage once her sister was back in, so they could both have flying exercise and go back to their little house when we needed them to return to it.

How on earth could we have got it so wrong about Archie/Pearl, though, I hear you query?  Well, the simple explanation is that very young or even juvenile budgies do look awfully similar, the cere is a pale violet or very light blue in both sexes, so is maybe not as reliable an indication of gender as we'd been led to believe.

Really, REALLY unreliable, as we were to discover after a few more weeks, when Myrtle's cere began to change, not to pinky brown, but a deeper brighter much more distinct shade of blue.  Myrtle was a boy.  We had got it wrong again!  Instead of sisters, we had a hen and a cock. Oh Lordy!

Another name-change was necessitated.  Myrtle became Mervyn.  Over time this complication and uncertainty about changing their names confused even us, so for quickness of identification they became Mr (Mervyn) Green and Mrs (Pearl) Blue.  We even started addressing them in a Bronx accent, as their names had come out so very Jewish-sounding.  Moyvyn and Poyl.  But mostly just Mr Green and Mrs Blue. 

Which they have remained to this day, five years later.  The only pair of transgender budgies we have ever heard of - only in the Bulmer household, eh?

Oh, and before you ask, no, no eggs.  Not even unfertilised ones.  We do nothing to encourage breeding, we don't give them a nesting box, or nesting material, we do not change Mrs Blue's diet to get her into breeding condition.  And I have recently read that one needs an aviary of at least six birds, three female and three male as a minimum, to encourage the flock to go into full mating behaviour, as being flock birds that's how they behave in the wild, with cocks challenging one another for the best females.  I have occasionally mused about having an aviary in the sunny back garden here in Wales, but The Husband just blanches and sets his mouth in a firm straight line.

That's one of his three NOs a year.  The other being in answer to my occasional suggestion that we get another dog, and the third kept spare for whatever especially silly scheme I dream up that year.  Three NOs a year, max.  Quite a few unsures, of course, but I usually win him round.  Hey ho!  Happy Days.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Getting Back To Normal...

...or, rather, what passes for normal in our house.  OUR normal.  The easy-going pace of life that we prefer is again possible after the travelling and co-ordination needed for us to attend the very wonderful day The Husband's sister arranged for the family and closest local friends to gather to say goodbye to the matriarch. 

Sleep Tight, Our Ma.

It was colourful, cheerful, and very musical interlude, lots of laughing and smiling through tears during the service, and just laughing, reminiscing, teasing, eating, drinking, hugging and kissing the rest of the time.  It was truly perfect.  How often can one say that about a funeral?

So, we are back in our country fastness now, and a bit reluctant after all the emotions, and the exertions of travel, to stir our stumps beyond the weekly supermarket shop and a spot of light gardening.  As I sit on "my" sofa tapping away on my laptop, The Husband is perusing the screen of his laptop, sitting opposite me on "his" sofa, one either side of the fireplace facing one another.  It's like that glorious vision of quiet domestic contentment that Gabriel Oak has during his first proposal to Bathsheba Everdene: "Either side of the fire we shall sit, and when I look up there shall you be, and when you look up there shall I be."

I have loved those words ever since I first began to read Thomas Hardy in my mid-teens.  And now, forty years later, in our retirement, they have come to pass.  Thank you Our Ma for bringing up your baby boy so wonderfully well he has become a man so cheerful, so calm and comfortable to be around, that I know of no-one who has ever taken a dislike to him.

My Gabriel Oak.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Celebrating a Long Life, Well Lived... not yer average funeral.  Nor was Our Ma yer average woman.  She was bright, bold, brave, cheerful and kind.  And so, in the same way she lived, we will mark her passing.

No lugubrious music and mournful black.  She will come in to Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller, and pass through the crematorium curtains to What A Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong. Those attending have been asked to wear their brightest garb, and if we clash, all the better! 

The five foot long spray ordered by the family to lie along the length of her coffin will have huge colourful lilies, and vibrant strongly-scented freesias, and it will be augmented by several extra-large Chuppa lollies stuck in here and there.  In her latter years, especially when in the home, she often asked visitors for a lollipop (or a stick of rock if we said we were going away for a weekend or a holiday) which were duly brought along on the next visit, greeted with enthusiasm, the popped in her handbang, or a drawer in her room, and then utterly forgotten, and never eaten.  The sister-in-law, when she visited Freddie's room the home last week, found lots of lollies about the place, and so was magically inspired to include them in the main floral tribute.

I guess a stranger, viewing the garb of those attending, or the flowers, will assume it was young person, a child even, who has died.  In a way, and not just because her dementia ushered in a "second childhood" of fragility and high dependence on others, it would be almost appropriate if they thought that as Our Ma never entirely 100% grew up.  It was this fabulous childlike quality (which The Husband has inherited in spades) that made her such a marvellous mother; imaginative, playful, inventive and full of enthusiasm for life.

So it is Girlie (her childhood nickname) we are commemorating, as well as Mrs Winfred Bulmer.  And because she lived to fulfil all her potential, and well beyond the average life span, it has that element of remembering the infant and the younger woman, but no sorrowful sense of a life cut short before it had been fully lived. Her life WAS lived, and THEN some!

All of us there will be thinking, I guess, we should be so lucky.  Her life has shown us the way to squeeze every last drop of delicious juice, extract every minute of joy and fun, from the energy and time one has been granted on this earth.

Her true memorial will be if we all try to remember to do that, if we can, and not grouse or grumble our way into later life feeling bloody sorry for ourselves.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Stick it in the Family Album!

Our Ma's funeral will be at noon on Thursday 27 June. She will have a short service with minimal religious content, followed by a small afternoon wake at a pretty pub in his old home town.

Meanwhile I have been checking out what photos I have stored on this laptop in case my sister-in-law and the granddaughters want to see them next week.  I can arrange a short slide show and have them available to view at the wake.  This is probably my favourite of all, Our Ma with her precious pigeon pair, taken in the autumn of 1956, in the street where the she lived, in the same house, for fifty-five years.  The Bulmers were the first to be given the keys to the suburban new-build semi, as happy young parents in their late thirties, and it wasn't sold until May 2011, when Freddie was 93 and needed to be in residential care.

The Husband refers to himself in this photo as The Inflatable Turnip-Head.  This sight of his slightly grumpy and puzzled infant self always makes him laugh, well usually it does, but maybe not this week, eh?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Our Ma has left this world after 95 and 2/3rds years of remarkable and magnificent residence.

Thank you so much to all who have read my recent posts and left such encouraging and thoughtful, compassionate messages

Winifred "Freddie" Bulmer

1 October 1917 - 18 June 2013

Much loved, much missed, greatly respected and admired


Monday, 17 June 2013

Bidding Adieu...

 Winfred "Freddie" Bulmer, born 1 October 1917, peacefully dying June 2013 Our Ma, whose long and impressive life is inching quite serenely towards its end.

When we saw her yesterday she was in warm, well-appointed and comfortable room on her own, lying propped up on pillows but semi-comatose.  She wasn't able to open her eyes, but she was aware we were in the room and her mouth made little movements in response to some of the things The Husband said as if attempting a smile or an answer, but we may have been imagining that. 

I could see at a glance she was at death's door, waiting patiently to be admitted.  We wept a little, and held her hand and stroked her hair and chatted to her for a while, trying to keep the tears out of our voices.  When we were satisfied that she knew we had been there and that we loved her, and ascertained she had much rather be left alone, we went off in search of some information about the medical side of matters.

Her nurse for the day, a delightful Spanish woman, filled us in on as much detail as she was able.  She says Our Ma has deteriorated rapidly since her (the nurse's) last shift on Friday. Then she had been able to say a few words, but now she is beyond that.  Our Ma's blood pressure had dropped abruptly that morning, which is a sign that her remarkable heart is failing.  She has oxygen to enable her to breathe more easily. 

They will stop administering anything by mouth now as she is so likely to choke it wouldn't be kind, and in any case is as though she is heavily sedated, even though she isn't, so it would be impossible.  They will just keep her lips moist with wipes and her body hydrated with a saline drip.  The nursing team had spent three hours with her on Sunday morning, getting the room to the right temperature for her comfort (35.5C), bathing her and taking care of the skin on her arms which is dry and cracking in places like eczema, so she has been bleeding in odd spots
, perhaps where she has scratched it in her previous restlessness.

The nurses had asked the doctors to stop by and see her as they feared she may be suffering somewhat so they want her to be written up for morphine.  That way, they hope she can slip away quietly with no more pain.  The nurses suspect the discomfort is from internal bleeding.  She really doesn't have long.  Hours rather than days, probably. 

We timed our visit well.

The Husband took it all on the chin like a big boy, but it doesn't matter how old we are when a much loved parent dies we are for a while an orphan in the storm.  He told The Daughter on the phone, when we emerged from the hospital, that he felt "an eighth of an inch from crying". Much later, on our journey back to Wales in the car, I teased him that when Our Ma is gone that will make US the top generation at the head of the family - The Olds!  Did that mean we would finally have to grow all the way UP?

But no, we we have decided we have done all the growing up we are ever going to do. We put the bins out and pay the bills, keep the garden tidy, and drive sensibly.  I have brought a child up to maturity and had jobs doing this and that, and he has done forty years of very conscientious meticulous work as an engineer. 

Soon, he and his sister will be arranging their mother's funeral, and that is plenty grown up enough for one year.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Heading back to Herts and Points South

We will be packing up the Peugeot (I insisted NOT the MGB, The Husband bravely did not meep) later today in readiness for a return to Hertfordshire and a visit to a dear Uni friend who has settled in Surrey. 

Sadly, her husband won't be there as he has to be in Scotland where his father has just underdone surgery to remove a malignancy, so it'll be just the three of us for the weekend. Three of us humans and two dogs, ours and theirs. Theirs is still a puppy, they've only had him about six weeks.  He's a miniature Schnauzer, a divine-looking breed in my view.  I love the Prussian general face fuzz they have, a tremendous moustache of Edwardian grandeur and a very neat beard.  He has yet to acquire his full set, I guess, as he is only fourteen weeks old, but once he is an adult he will be a very distinguished-looking gentleman.

So we humans will need to be on the qui vive to supervise how the two canines get along.  The Dog is an elderly fellow now, at gone eleven, and the young whippersnapper may annoy him or tire him if he wants to play too much.  And it's The Puppy's home turf, so there may be some resentment there as well.  I am expecting some growling, and some reprimanding.  They will need to get their two-man pack in a pecking order, then they should be fine.

On the Sunday afternoon we will be heading to Herts to visit Our Ma, who is again in hospital on an acute admissions ward.  She has been there for a while now, since developing oral thrush and refusing to eat, drink, or take her medication. Her mouth and throat must have been really sore.  She has been re-hydrated on a drip, and had the medication administered in liquid form to try to clear up the thrush, but she still will not take her medication for other conditions. 

As she is 95 years old we believe she is signalling to the rest of the world in the only way she can that she has Had Enough. The ward says she is eating and drinking, but I imagine it will be minuscule amounts under some protest, if I know Our Ma.  As tiny and frail as she is now, she is still a stalwart force to be reckoned with and will NOT be bullied.  If she wants to go, we wish they NHS would just let her, and will say as much when we go to the hospital.  The Husband's sister agrees, so it's just a matter of finding out if the doctors are of a similar opinion, and she will be given palliative care only from now on, with no more interference and interventions.

She is a brave lady, one of that outstanding war generation, and (however much the dementia has reduced her) she deserves to have her wishes respected.  If you are of a praying disposition, please remember her and others in her situation, and ask that they are allowed to go in peace and enjoy that final rest they deserve at the end of their remarkable lives.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Giddy UP!

I am due to have a riding lesson in a little while, my first one for over six months. I have found I can only ride when the weather is warmer, as by the end of my last lesson on a chilly grey day in November my slightly arthritc hips had frozen solid and I could hardly get off, even in the indoor school.   It is under cover, but there is a huge sliding barn door left open with a five-barred gate across it, so if the wind is in the wrong direction it's just as cold as outside.
Pleased to be able to report can still zip up my boots and jodhpurs, so whatever else is going wrong with my body getting even fatter isn't one of them.  I have had a toke on my asthma inhaler and taken an anti-histamine, to help cope with my dust and horse druff allergies, and adjusted and strapped on my hat, so I'm all set to go.  Tally ho!

I shall add to this post when I have got through and out the other side...

...half an hour in the saddle, a quick trip to the supermarket and a decent lunch later, dear readers, and I am STILL IN ONE PIECE AND WALKING QUITE NORMALLY!
Managed mounting from a block without any silly getting stuck halfway, at the end managed to get off without too much hassle by dismounting back onto the block with the right leg flung over the horse's head, didn't even skim his ears.  In between had a good amble in and out of the irons, a bit of a sitting trot, which made my left hip quite sore, sadly, so couldn't do much of that, and ended with some stretches. Not bad for the first time back on a horse for half a year.  Teacher pleased (she's so nice to me) and next lesson booked for 11.00am next Tuesday.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Ghastly Godawful Gove is at it again...

...and this time it is the English GCSE's that have been foully criticised and found wanting, laid waste to and reformed in his own seemingly permanently preening, self-important image.

The BBC has an article here.
Please look on other UK news websites for details and editorial comment.  There are too many articles for me to choose from to give a link to, and I'd be bound to pick one (such as The Guardian or The independent) which shares my left-leaning bias and attitudes.  Suffice to say in English Literature especially (a subject I am qualified to teach at secondary level) it has been a huge case of Rolling Back The Years AND some...

What did Shakepeare ever do to Gove, that he must become a weapon to beat 
teenagers about the head with so they can call themselves properly educated?

All GCSE students in England - yes, ALL students - must study an entire Shakespeare play and be tested on it in exam conditions several months, perhaps even as long as eighteen months, down the line.  There will be no more modular testing and coursework will either be taking a back seat or shown the door.  In all but name only we are back to O-Levels, but the way these proposals are expressed it is likely these courses and exams in Eng Lit will be even tougher than the old O-level.
I did O-levels in 1973, in the top stream of a grammar school, and we didn't do any Shakespeare for our exam.  The last time we looked at a Shakespeare had been Julius Caesar in the Third Form (ie Year Nine) and not to a national test, just for our interest and development. Another class studied Macbeth, but we did Arthur Miller's The Crucible as our play. I covered two Shakespeare plays at A-Level, and the fact that I hadn't done one at O-Level didn't hold me back any, as I did very well in those exams and at university afterwards. I am all for younger students being introduced to pre-C20th ideas and language, even going back to the age of Chaucer, but what IS this obsession Gove and his ilk have with Shakespeare?
I was educated the old-fashioned way, the type of way Gove and his lovers harp on about and hanker after, to the extent that we still had a one-off exam-conditions test at 11+ to decide which type of school would best serve our needs, talents and abilities. At 12+ there was another chance for a handful of kids to pass another similar test to move them from technical to grammar school and do the first year of secondary again at their new school. This was supposed to allow some leeway for "late developers", but what people who came into their own after the age of 13 were meant to do I never knew.
Many people are nostalgic for this system, and some Conservative-led county councils, such as Buckinghamshire, have always retained an 11+ exam and grammar schools. Gove is exceedingly backward-looking and KNOWS he has strong support in a certain age group (50+) who did well through this system and want it back for their grandchildren. But comprehensives prevail now. It's a different ethos. If the same course and testing is to be doled out to students of all abilities of the same age in the same school how can it be anything but horribly divisive and depressing for about half of them when the results are announced?  These are courses many cannot hope to benefit from or pass.  It's ridiculous!

And as for GCSEs with coursework and fewer modular controlled tests, which Gove is effectively outlawing, GIRLS have excelled at this. Girls have gradually outstripped the boys over the past 30 years, and there seems to be no solution to this (does there have to be a solution? No-one panicked much in all the the decades boys outstripped girls...) but to revert to the old way of teaching and testing, which favours memory feats, last-minute cramming and regurgitating, which - it is believed by some - suits masculine brains and learning styles better.

I have a rather masculine brain, even though I am female through-and-through, so that old O-Level system suited me.  I can recall many other very bright people of both genders with exam nerves and less self-confidence who were tied in knots before every exam.  My daughter would have been one of them had she had to endure it.  That's not testing knowledge, skill or understanding.  That is testing for the sake of it, as one huge hurdle to clear in one enormous final effort of fact-retention and against-the-clock struggle before one is allowed to go any further in school or college life.

He'd better not forbid the taking in of texts to the exams (in the 1970s I never had a text in any of my exams, all quotations had to be from memory, including referring to which Act and Scene the quotation is from) or there will be riots in the playgrounds. 

The teachers will riot!

Memorising everything to regurgitate it in an exam maybe as long as two years later.  What employer wants that skill? " I will train you to do something now but you won't be allowed to prove you can do it for several months, maybe even a year or two..." Yeah, like TH
AT ever happens, except for doctors, lawyers, etc...

Gove wants everyone to have a traditional middle-class state education, such as the sort that he thinks didn't do HIM any harm, even if they don't have the aptitude, intelligence, home support, privacy to do homework or even the familial ambition to benefit from it. He has no IDEA of what some students struggle with in life - why does he think truancy is rife in some areas, or serious disruption of classes a daily event?

Does he think the already disaffected are going to be enraptured by THIS?

If he had (as has been seriously mooted by the present government) an optional school leaving age of 14 to sideline up to 30% of lower ability students into "training courses" and/or "work experience" in other separate "colleges" that will lead nowhere but the production line and the factory floor (ahem, what production lines, which factory floors?) he might see an apparent improvement in the achievements of the more academically inclined. 

Without sidelining those students who are unlikely to score any or many passes to a holding pen elsewhere to "study" or "train" for other things, his improvements don't stand a chance in hell
He will exhaust, alienate and most probably lose an entire generation of secondary teachers by asking them to perform yet another a Sisyphian task, just another impossible feat, please, before the bell goes.  After which they collapse sobbing onto one another's shoulders or head off to the pub, or crack open a bottle to share in the stationery cupboard, to try to blot out the memory of yet another particularly horrid day.  I've seen all that and more in my time under the old system.  Nervous breakdowns were ten a penny, even then, and I retired a decade ago.

This is a simplistic view, maybe, but it is my view, based on being a student of English to degree level, a parent of another English graduate (who got a first in her biggest Shakespeare assignment in her BA Hons) and a secondary English teacher who has taught Shakespeare from KS 3 SATS to A Level.

At least the last gives me a bit more of an inkling than Ghastly Godawful GOVE has!  He didn't even go to school in the English system.  He's a Scot, for heaven's sake!  Though you'd be hard pressed to know with his accent.  Even now, his speeches to parliament are stilted and slightly awkward and sound like he's reading out his weekly essay to his Oxford tutor.  Oxford, where even now one's entire degree result rests on one's performance in Finals.  Funny, that...

Friday, 24 May 2013


Even though my first marriage effectively ended when I left in November1997 I have until now still been left asking why I had to live through what I did from 1981-1997. What were its root causes, how could it have been prevented, if it were preventable? This is the first explanation for male-on-female domestic violence I have ever read that 100% fits the scenario that I survived.

Finally, I feel I can relax and think aha! so the seeds were sown long before we ever met, The Daughter's father and I. It was never anything to do with what I did. To be a battered wife, being female and married to a man with a deeply-held erroneous and twisted view of what constitutes "true" masculinity was all it took...

I feel at last that I can breathe properly again. Does that make sense?

Two heavy weights have been lifted from my shoulders.  One being a lingering, haunting sense of shared responsibility for some of the worst aspects of my past, and the other being (I now realise) an utterly unfounded fear of or for the future. 

You see, I have discovered today that there is nothing about ME that is a shit-magnet.

I am not doomed to fall back into that nightmare scenario by unwittingly triggering it in someone else. The man I married ten years ago and love to little mint balls doesn't have this skewed masculinity world-view.  He's just NOT "that way out" as we say Up North. Even in our most argumentative moments - and we have a few, occasionally - it can never slip over or morph into what I have experienced before, in marriage number one.

I am in a place of safety, and damaged though I still am and might always be to some extent, I am safe.  The Husband hasn't an ounce of domineering cruelty in him, not one scintilla.  He has not created a false, deluded construct of what it is and means to be a "proper" man.  He is good through and through, solid, safe, dependable, supportive and loving.  I can stop looking for "the signs".  I can finally let the hypervigilance just GO!

Maybe The Daughter's father has mellowed, as I have been told he has many times since I left him.  Maybe he is no longer the man I was married to, but I see little sign that he has changed much in his general attitudes and opinions on the very few occasions we have met socially since the divorce.  But he lives alone now, has retired abroad alone, his second marriage (also in 2003, the same year I remarried) to a much younger woman having collapsed and ended within a year.  So I guess he can think and feel and believe what he likes, as long as no other woman is suffering or wondering what on earth she is doing wrong, why there is no pleasing the man.  No other woman is going quite literally insane because her life makes no sense, because she is being forced to live out a happy lie in public, and being humiliated, subjugated, terrorised and undermined in private.

Long may that situation continue...

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

I Have Been Wondering...

...if being a passenger in the MG is almost a form of healthy exercise. There is the continual bumping up and down, the fresh air, and quite a few calories being expended on trying to keep warm. It's a theory. DISCUSS.

Short update today as the sun is shining in our back garden.  I have an irrational loathing of the use of electronic devices out of doors, apart from digital cameras.  Well, loathing is a strong word.  Scrub that and replace with aversion to or dislike of, to suit. So I don't take the laptop outside and I don't intend to be indoors for a minute longer than I can help today.

So I will leave you with my nascent theory to discuss amongst yourselves and log back on some time after sunset.  Or the temperature dropping below 12c.  Whichever is the sooner.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Days Out and Jollies

The Husband and I are going to take the Little Green Dragon and the Small White Dog to the seaside today, probably to Barmouth where the little furry fellow can have a proper run on the firm pale sands, and then we can lunch in The Last Inn.  Aberystwyth is a bit pebbly for The Dog's taste, and a the sand is a bit grey for mine, but it has other charms, namely The Glengower Hotel with its wonderful sea views. 

Decisions, decisions. Which resort?  Which pub? Such are the vexing daily concerns of early retirement...

In a little less than a fortnight we have two rooms booked at The Glengower, two rooms with sea views, for the night of 1 June.  This is because our tenth wedding anniversary is 31 May.  So why TWO rooms, then?  That's hardy a second honeymoon, sleeping apart!

Well, originally a couple we know were going to come with us, so the second room was for them.  These are very dear friends of ours who actually met at our wedding and have been virtually inseperable ever since, to the extent that they also got married three years later.  So 31 May is our wedding anniversary (and also my birthday) and the anniversary of their meeting so we have often spent it together doing double-date weekends.

However, there has been a major development in their lives.  The wife retired from the police force in December of last year, and now she can be at home much more the time is finally right for them to have a dog.  Just over two weeks ago they got a puppy, a miniature Schnauzer they have named Erik.  So they are in the throes of new parenthood and very understandably cannot make the weekend after all.

So instead The Daughter is coming over to join us for a few days, and to use the room so's not to waste the booking.  One Friday 31 May we are having dinner out in our local town in what is reputed to be the the best restaurant in the area.  Certainly one has to book a long way in advance, so that is an excellent sign, and its reputation precedes it.  We've wanted to eat there for years, but only just got round to it, with this milestone anniversary as a spur.

Then the next day we are off for a weekend at the seaside, to stroll on beaches, paddle, take the furnicular railway up the cliff and view the camera obscura at the top, have a ride on a narrow gauge railway, eat ice cream, all that trad stuff.
  All of which, I have checked in advance, can include The Dog.

I cannot imagine The Husband will be happy to leave the MGB behind, so he will have the intense pleasure of driving The Daughter over to Aberystwyth, and having a pretty young woman in the passenger seat next to him, living out the stereotypical middle-aged male fantasy, while yours truly devotedly follows behind in the Peugeot with the Dog, the bags, the picnic kit and (woohoo!) the heater, the stereo and the power steering!  I am not blind to the charms of the Peugeot so I think it will pan out that he is my car (it's a definite he) and the MGB is the Husband's.  Seems a fair division of spoils.

I have warned The Daughter to bring trousers and a leather jacket and a scarf or a hat as the sensible clothing options for open-topped motoring.  I fully expect her to come downstairs the morning we set off eye-catchingly accoutred wth huge sunspecs and a (cough cough knock-off) Hermes scarf, a latter day Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn.  She is a bit of a stunner, The Daughter, with a fabulous sense of style.

Here she is in Rome, on the weekend of her 30th Birthday, in 2010.

Well, breeding will out... 

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Other Project: A Progress Report

It would be easy to think, from my proud and pleased updates on the topic, that The New Baby was taking up all our time, energy, interest and - let's face it, these hobbies like classic cars ain't cheap - cash. 

However, at one and the same time my dolly house is coming along very nicely, and I have gone a bit eBay-tastic in the process.

There are more characters.  We now have a nursemaid to help with the baby, and a new cook, who is an older neatly capped and aproned lady who looks more far capable than the original slightly fey kitchen doll, so the latter (directly below) has been demoted to general maid, to her slight chagrin.  Lastly we have a visiting playmate for the older child.  These new dollies are tucked away safely in their boxes until we have done more doing-up of the rooms.

I have also acquired far more furniture, a lot more lights, which The Husband has assiduously fitted as they arrive in the post, and the beginnings of the wallpapering and decorating supplies are arriving with every post. 

 The Kitchen floor will be quarry tiled after a large fireplace has been built 
around the range.  Most of the kitchen equipment is still in boxes.

 There are now chairs in the Drawing Room, so grandma has a seat.
They also enjoy the light of a large chandelier and even candles on the piano

 There armchairs, tall bookcases, two pendant oil lamps
and a large Turkish rug in The Study

I have floor boards and parquet flooring (which come printed on paper) and even some actual genuine terracotta mini quarry tiles for the kitchen (3/4" square) that have to be laid on tile cement like real tiles - well they ARE really tiles, just in miniature -  so that will be my particular labour of love as I really enjoy tiling.

But I also have yet to acquire lengths of 1/12th scale skirting board, dado and picture rails and cornicing for the ceilings.  I already have several moulded plaster ceiling roses, so as each main light goes up in a room, a suitably-sized ceiling rose has to be chosen and fitted (see The Drawing Room, above).

Without a doubt this dolly house will be grander and better appointed than any house I have ever lived in, or even stayed in.

So the dollies had better appreciate the time, trouble, effort and expense we are going to, and not trash the place with wild parties, bizarre amateur science experiments or any  other silly shenanigans, when the house front is closed and we are fast asleep.

Or I will line them all up and scold them severely and put them on short commons for a month.