Boomers’ Bloomers [again]

Baby boomer:    a person born during a baby boom, especially the one in the US or UK between approximately 1945 and 1965: Ageing baby boomers are creating a greater need for healthcare. baby-boomer. adjective [before noun] › The baby-boomer generation is now hitting retirement age.18 May 2016

We ‘boomers’ are in trouble again. Not content with having had free university education, ‘good’ pensions, having the gall to buy properties and now living long enough to be using up all the healthcare budget we have transgressed further. The offence? We have failed to teach our progeny horticultural skills. There! How appalling! We should have been outside in the garden with our new-borns teaching them the difference between bindweed and broccoli instead of idly dandling them on our knees. We should have set our toddlers to weeding, hoeing and tying in the runner beans rather than reading them stories and letting them splash around in paddling pools.

Having been born and raised in the countryside I did actually learn a great deal about gardening at an early age; though not grand or modernised the properties we inhabited were always surrounded by large pieces of garden which my father tended with gusto-perhaps because he came from a family of market gardeners. The fruit and vegetables he grew were more than a supplement to our diet; together with the hens we kept they almost were our diet. Yet we were not coerced into digging and weeding and were left to our own devices, excavating our own plot behind the shed to find buried treasure and taking stray worms down to the hens’ enclosure or trawling the small stream with jam jars on strings. I do remember being interrogated as to why I’d pulled up a cabbage and explaining that it was to see if it was growing, a reply not received with indulgent approval-nevertheless it had been growing.

But I knew about gardening. I knew that you could graft one type of apple tree on to another, that potatoes needed to be earthed up, that you could make compost from garden and vegetable waste. I knew the names of things-vegetables, fruits, flowers and weeds. I also knew the names of trees and wild flowers. At school, with no danger of a ‘national curriculum’ we went on nature walks-a long crocodile of hand-holding pairs strolling the lanes and scrutinising the banks and hedgerows so that we knew which tree conkers grew on [not a conker tree!] and bringing back specimens for the ‘nature table’. I grew up able to identify common birds from plumage and song and to know a number of wild flowers, plants and trees.

Just as a garden itself cannot be made instantly you can’t ‘teach’ gardening. The skills and knowledge develop over time with trial and error and a little research now and again. The best gardens evolve-like the twenty year old patch I’ve grappled with and am about to leave. How will the next garden grow? I look forward to finding out…

 

 

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Travel or Holiday? What’s the Difference?

We are travelling across The Netherlands, meandering slowly northwards with the aim, having negotiated Germany and Denmark of an eventual stay with a Norwegian friend. The Dutch countryside, though flat as a table-top is scenic in a bucolic way and the villages chocolate box pretty with their thatched, angular, barn-style roofs and manicured gardens. [I suppose the analogy of the chocolate box must be becoming obsolete nowadays-as a child I was used to seeing the array of assorted chocolate boxes ranged along the top shelf of the village shop and all bore images of thatched cottages or streets of half-timbered houses. Heaven knows why…]

All this prettiness is, of course very uplifting. But to enjoy travel [or a holiday-whether the two are the same is a matter for debate] every sight need not be picture-book gorgeous, in fact quite the contrary-some of the ugliest views can provide the best travel experiences.

Take docks. We sailed overnight last night from Harwich in Essex [East coast UK] to Hoek von Holland [The ‘Hook’]. Harwich is a tiny port, occupied almost entirely by the two sailings of one ferry company. The enormous ship dwarfs the quay as lorries crawl up the ramp like swarming insects to be swallowed up by the gaping mouth of the vehicle decks. At last it was our turn to be swallowed, trundling across the metal gantry and shuffling into a narrow space between two caravans. We downed a couple of drinks, chatting to some touring Americans to one side and some touring Australians on the other before tumbling into bed in our cabin.

We woke to the view of Rotterdam, a forest of cranes and pylons all engaged in loading or unloading container ships. How many containers can there be in the world? One per head of the population? You could be forgiven for thinking so. The containers look like children’s bricks as they are plucked from the quayside in giant pincers and placed with meticulous accuracy on to the wide, flat deck of a ship, piled to an impossible height until it seems the vessel might topple sideways-and yet there is one on the horizon, disappearing somewhere with its unwieldy cargo.

We ground to a halt in the berth and descended to the depths to rejoin out vehicles and a long wait for our turn to disembark. Then we were away into the Netherlands and Northwards.

I attempt to make sense of the signs. ‘Slag boom’ says one, or ‘sluiz-droomen’, or broodjes slommen’. The Dutch language seems to consist of faintly abusive and insulting words although they are in fact all innocuous terms for everyday objects. We cross ‘dijks’ and wait for ‘brugs’ to open and allow boats to pass on the countless  waterways that make up the country-once passing underneath an aqueduct bearing sailing ships-an astonishing sight. We cross huge barrages like driving across the sea, where on either side cormorants are gathered, spreading their wings to dry before plunging after another fish, or tall grey herons poised motionless along the roadsides.

So to Germany then-ausfahrts, glottlestops and beer-swilling, thigh-slapping efficiency-ah, but only for one night!

Celebrating a Long and Well Lived Life

There is no other life event that compares to a funeral. You expect weddings to be picture book pretty, baby-naming to be joyful, divorce to be bitter and embattled, but a funeral can be any or all of these things and more besides, depending on your relationship to the deceased.

Last week I went to my cousin, Gordon’s funeral. He’d reached the grand age of 92 and was the son of my eldest uncle. Like many families of the age, my father’s family was and is an enormous, village tribe consisting of so many branches I’ve lost track of who everyone is and how they are related to me. Being the youngest of seven my father was uncle to Gordon at an almost identical age, prompting my grandfather [who died before my birth] to use ‘Uncle’ as his nickname.

Gordon’s funeral was held at the church in the village of my birth, a tiny, country church in a beautiful, picturesque setting, bathed in the glow of the May sunshine. The small building was packed, as it was for my father’s funeral five years before. My brother and I were directed towards the front pews. Would we know anyone? We are from the family that ‘got away’-my father having left the village with us to take up employment in another part of the country, hence contact with the many aunts, uncles and cousins has been sporadic and increasingly rare.

We made our way up the aisle, aware that curious looks were pursuing us. The lack of familiarity was mutual. I stopped by the first pew with some space. The occupants turned their faces to me, the fleeting blankness eclipsed by impulsive wide grins of recognition. These are two of my best remembered cousins; my recollections of them ingrained as glamorous, fifties belles in stiff, circular skirts, heels and beehive hairdos. They stood to hug us as we all exclaimed our pleasure at meeting.

Of my grandfather’s four sons, my father was alone in pursuing a career away from greengrocery, and Gordon had continued the fruit and vegetable business his father [Edgar] ran. His coffin was born past us adorned with a riotous profusion of flowers, fruit and vegetables, including bright bunches of carrots, vibrant spears of broccoli and large, emerald cabbage leaves. What more life-affirming sight could there be than a mountain of freshly picked plants?

I have attended a variety of funerals during my life; some consisting of no more than six attendees, sad affairs that make you glad, at least that the deceased was not present to witness such a poor turnout. Gordon was a gentle, amenable man, affording to everyone he met the same smiling courtesy and kindness and nobody would have been more proud and delighted to have seen the crammed church, the smiles of recognition and the pleasure we all took in re-acquaintance.

Hymns sung and thoughts sent, we all gathered in the village community centre for tea, cake and recollection.

For those closest to Gordon it was of course an unutterably sad event but there must be an element of comfort to be gained from reflecting on what turned out to be a cheerful and celebratory occasion.

Windows

                I’m not sure of the exact meaning of ‘broadening’ the mind, but if it has something to do with stuffing facts, experience, skills and knowledge into it then it must be true that travel does this. But to learn anything by travelling I don’t feel it is necessarily a requirement to trek into the Antarctic, to climb Everest, canoe up the Amazon or swim with dolphins in Florida. While it is desirable to wander far and wide, I think it is entirely possible to broaden the mind with a simple stroll around the block, whether your neighbourhood is a suburban housing estate or the village green. All you need is to be naturally nosy and have voyeuristic tendencies.

                To wander an area on foot, wherever it is, presents a multitude of questions. Who lives here? How do they earn a living? What do they do in the evenings? How do they travel? What kind of tastes do they have? Where did they get their kitchen units? Do they garden? What do they grow? What on earth made them choose to paint the front door cerise? Why do they have net curtains? Why don’t they have net curtains?

                It is helpful to anyone wishing to pry if the subjects have neglected to pull the curtains and left all the lights on. I love this. I especially love the basements of residential London streets, where they may have converted the space into a kitchen or a living area or a playroom, a library or a dungeon.

                We have travelled more ‘on our own doorstep’ here in the UK than in any year I can remember since I was a child. This is in part due to family events, of which there seem to have been many and divers, and also due to the summer weather, the first for many years not to be beset with rain, wind and low temperatures. We have visited all four parts of The British Isles.

                The British countryside is beautiful. The trees, especially are graceful, majestic giants in full leaf and laden with their seeds or fruits.

                We are in the Yorkshire dales in the aftermath of a family gathering; staying on the periphery of a small market town, where many of the homes’ entrances open directly on to the street, their windows allowing plenty of nosing to take place. As we walk I conduct a casual survey of the inhabitants’ attitudes to tourists’ prying eyes. Many have wisely installed blinds or net curtains, but some provide ready-made interest in the form of a display; shelves of antique toys, a beautiful plant, a revolving glass mobile, a partly written love poem in an ancient type writer.

                The spell has broken and it is raining, reverting to summer as we have come to know it. In a couple of weeks school will be in and it will be time to head south in search of warm weather without the hoards. Next month, Southern Europe. Santé!