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...

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...