Imagine…

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On a recent walk we came across a community garden.

The latter stages of the route, near to the shopping centre took us through a housing estate which, in the past, had a reputation for being somewhat ‘rough’, resulting in school numbers dropping and so on. The housing is mixed-blocks of flats, terraced homes, semis and detached, much ex-council and now presumably housing association. The estate is not pretty but neither is it hideous since there is a great deal of green space, trees, open areas. And in the midst of one, large, open space was an enclosure laid out with raised beds, a neat row of compost bins and a shed.

A father and small daughter were working in one of the raised beds, planting and tidying. It was all shared, the dad explained and the produce from one bed could be harvested by anyone for their needs. Fresh, home grown fruit and vegetables!

To work in a garden is one of life’s pleasures. You are outside in the air, serenaded by birdsong, creating, nurturing, coaxing, often accompanied by a cheeky robin and some industrious bumble bees. It can be frustrating when plants refuse to thrive or are consumed by pests but this is more than offset by the satisfaction of seeing flowers or vegetables flourish from your ministrations. Gardening also exercises a lot of muscles you didn’t know you had!

Walking along past the community garden I allowed my mind to wander. One day I may not be able to tend my own garden. But there are long waiting lists for allotments and in our squidgy, little country space is becoming squeezed by the need for housing-new homes’ gardens becoming smaller.

What if elderly and disabled people who wanted to stay in their own homes but were unable to garden were paired with those who wanted allotments but perhaps couldn’t afford one or didn’t want the long wait? There would be a shed-full of tools. The results of the labours could be shared-as could the expertise of the person who used to tend the garden.

The garden owner would get visits-perhaps even someone to keep an eye on their wellbeing. The gardener may get a cup of tea!

I read of a scheme in the Netherlands [where ideas to help the elderly and disabled seem to abound] where a student could receive accommodation free in the home of an elderly person who might need a little help with housework etc. Of course I can think of many students who it wouldn’t suit at all-and many elderly would be horrified at the thought of a stranger in their house-but still there must be a lot more who’d be happy to share if it meant they could stay at home.

For now, though it’s back to mulching for me-backache or not…

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Bajan Escape

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The elderly [even to us] occupants 0f the rooms either side of ours are happy enough with the hotel, modest though it is. Mike and Linda [to the left on our ground floor terrace] are heavy smokers-a surprise given that they are liberal, forward thinking Canadians-as are most of the residents. Mike, squat, chunky and clad in long shorts and vest, cups his cigarette angled towards his palm and almost hidden behind his back in apologetic discomforture.

They are all enthusiastic advice givers and we the [relatively] younger newcomers. On our right, Tom and Francine express shock at our nine-hour flight.

By morning the rigours and frustrations of the long flight have dissipated, erased by solid sleep uninterrupted even by the Canadians’ loud, evening conversations and coughing. The walls are thin though and when I wake during the hours of darkness I’m treated to all manner of sounds; the vibrant chirping of miniscule tree frogs that punctuates Bajan nights, trickling water from surrounding rooms, vague traffic hum and exuberant taxi horns.

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We wake to sun, cloud, a garden view of palms and flowers. Either the room smells less musty or we’ve grown used to it already. The steady breeze blows warm as we sit on the tiny patio to drink the coffee that Husband has managed to coax from a machine in our tiny kitchenette. We are equipped with the basics, [though not a kettle] giving us options to concoct, re-heat, eat out or get take-out.

Since our arrival in the early evening we’ve found 3 ATM machines, 2 supermarkets, an express shop, several bars and the nearest beach, which held an alluring promise in the warm, balmy darkness-a small, palm-fringed bay overlooking moored fishing boats and dotted with pastel bungalows, bars and modest apartments. There is nothing high-rise here in Worthing-no gargantuan piles of corporate resorts.

We set off to the larger supermarket, Massy’s, where Waitrose products at inflated prices nestle smugly amongst the local stock. We are spoilt for choice and select chicken and salad for our evening meal, corned beef in a tin with a key! [a throwback to my childhood] and ‘Banks’ beers. The corned beef is welcome after the lacklustre hotel breakfast offering-a couple of pieces of watermelon plus 2 miniature slices of toast and some rough coffee.

Later we wander along to the beach with towels and books to while away a few hours beneath a palm tree while Henny-Penny and her two small chicks scratch in the sand around and beneath the sun loungers.

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A cockney middle-aged couple manhandle a wheelchair across the white sand, its passenger a very elderly woman, in all likelihood an aged parent. They settle next to a geriatric gent carrying a portable oxygen tank from which a tube leads to his nostrils. Nevertheless he gamely sets up his towel and prepares for some sun. Maybe Husband and I are not so infirm after all…

Francine’s brother, Bruce has a room a few doors along from ours. He is a small, neat, dapper man in pristine shirt and gabardine shorts-slow to smile or respond, unlike brother-in-law Tom, whose large, blousy exterior matches his expansive personality. Tom tells us his brother-in-law was widowed only a year ago and has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease. A flimsy bamboo screen separates our tiny patio from theirs, making eavesdropping inevitable. Tom asks Bruce what arrangements he’s made for his funeral; ‘where does he want to be interred?’

‘They can do what they want with me!’ Bruce spits back. ‘Throw me in the lake!’ The reply is inaudible. Later, as I lie waiting for sleep I hear Francine making placatory noises as Bruce’s voice is raised, ‘I worked hard all my life-gave it 100%!’ His sister murmurs, ‘Shut up Bruce, shut up’…

Bajan escape continues next week.

The Haves and Have-nots of Old Age

Prince Philip [for the unaware or hermits, Prince Philip is the husband of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, queen of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland] who is ninety-six years old, is going into hospital for a hip operation.
You have to assume that the Prince will not have been hobbling around in agony for about two years. He has not had to first visit his GP [local doctor], waiting a couple of weeks to get an appointment, having had to convince the receptionist that he is in great discomfort. He has had some difficulty for ‘about a month’. He will not have had to get himself to a hospital for an appointment, pay to park, sit around in various waiting rooms and corridors, wait for scans, x-rays and investigations. He will not have had to return home with the vague promise of an operation, his name having been placed upon a waiting list.
No-the Prince will have attended a private hospital. He will have been given a prompt appointment, been chauffeur-driven to a luxurious venue akin to a top-class hotel, sat on a plush sofa to drink tea and nibble pastries while his personal consultant explains how they will fix his hip.
This extraordinary treatment will all have been paid for, reader, by we, the tax-payers.
I’m finding it difficult not to relate this my father’s death, at ninety-one in his local hospital’s men’s geriatric ward, in a bed with curtains drawn around it. I sat next to the bed as he wheezed and stared uncomprehending, while visiting times came and went, greetings sounding from outside the curtains and sometimes a chair pushed back into our tiny space by visitors to the adjacent bed’s occupant. Occasionally a staff member would come to tell me my father was dying and administer to him another dose of morphine.
The Queen Mother, I learned, had two hip operations in her nineties. Surgeons have to be confident that the very elderly are fit enough and well enough nourished for a general anaesthetic to be administered. Not much chance of the royals being under-nourished, is there? And Prince Philip has enjoyed the benefits of plenty of fresh air and exercise over the years, on royal estates and various jaunts.
Of course, in a democratic society we allow privilege and the way that life is for the [increasing numbers of] elderly is under debate. Some will always be able to afford any kind of care they would like, for as long as they like. Others must fend for themselves. For most, financial circumstances will play the largest part. While it’s as well to be prepared it is also a blessing that we don’t know what’s in store for us as we age. We can try to stay fit, eat sensibly, follow the rules, ensure that pension provision is adequate. But how many of us, if we achieve the age of ninety-six, would get a hip replacement operation within a month?

The Loneliness of the Self-Scanner

Been to a supermarket lately? Noticed anything?

Those of us in the UK who don’t have our groceries delivered [and I have penned a blog post about this in the past: Wandering Around in the Bagging Area] and who frequent supermarkets are being subjected to an offensive regarding the way we gather our comestibles etc.

It goes like this: A number of members of staff are allocated to diverting we unwary shoppers into the self-checkout tills, or worse, into the scan-as-you-go system.

From the shop’s point of view, I suppose the aim is ultimately to cut out manned check-outs altogether, chopping their wages bills and perhaps maximising shop floor space.

A quick glance around the store tells me I’m not alone in being unenthusiastic about the automisation of the shopping experience. For a start, it’s not like I haven’t tried it; it’s just that they are never fully automated, are they? Something always goes wrong. A number of people have to be employed simply to sort the glitches which renders the machines pointless-

Then there’s the term ‘self-check-out’. It’s a little too uncomfortable for those in later life. Myself, I’m not ready to ‘check-out’ yet.

Scan-as-you-go may well be the answer to the supermarkets’ prayers but it has no appeal for me.  We have grown used to weighing and labelling our fruit and vegetables in French supermarchés, however I’ve no desire to scan each and every thing I want to toss into my trolley. I want a carefree wander among the aisles, browsing and speculating.

Our nearest grocer is an upmarket, dearer one and dominated by older, retiree shoppers. Some of them are very elderly, shuffling around in slippers and comfort clothing, dependent on the trolley for support. In my younger, more ignorant, more impatient, time-poor days I’d castigate the elderly shoppers, fumbling for their purses, dropping things, peering with rheumy eyes at the card reader, but as one whose hands are no longer entirely at their owner’s bidding I have more sympathy for the slow, muddled, dithering old folks as they dawdle up and down deliberating at the freezers and pondering over the bread.

For a number of the lonely elderly a chat with a checkout operator may well be the only small piece of human contact they’ll get that day. If the human interaction element of the shopping experience is denied them they’ll be deprived of an essential bit of contact. I too want this minute bit of engagement. I want to be greeted, to be asked how I am, to have a snippet of conversation about the loaf I’ve selected or how beautiful the apples look. Maybe when I worked all day [talking] and only wanted to lie down in a dark room when I got home I’d have relished the thought of completing the shopping quickly and in solitary silence but I’m not sure that becoming fully automated is such an advantageous initiative.

There are already threads in the media over our screen use; how we choose to peer at tiny screens instead of conversing, how we’d prefer to play solitary screen games rather than engage with other humans. What effect is all this solitary behaviour going to have on us in the future? Answers on a virtual postcard…

Good News, Bad News

January is a bleak month in the northern hemisphere, even in the most optimistic of times. But add in the various crises and daily, grim news bulletins and it becomes a cold drizzle of misery. The good news is that, like all time, it passes. ‘Tomorrow is another day’ and similar clichés are reminders.

Remember that old game, ‘The Good News, The Bad News’? Well here it is:

The Bad News

Inflation is rising faster than we in the UK imagined, everyone is going to have to work until they’re eighty six and the pound is floundering against just about every currency except Malawi. This is due to a misguided belief by tabloid readers and fans of the ghastly Michael Gove and Boris Johnson that we have somehow ‘reclaimed’ our sceptred isle.

The Good News

                Holidays in the UK might be better value than exotic climes. If you enjoy British cuisine, wet, windswept seaside resorts, austere B&Bs and gift shops selling red telephone box fridge magnets you’ll be laughing.

The Bad News

                A corrupt, racist, misogynistic sex abuser has been chosen to be the most powerful leader in the world.

The Good News

                The possibilities for the arts are endless. Satirical comedy, music, cartoon and parody can know no bounds. The only drawback is that now, before January has ended and the ‘president elect’ has barely been sworn in most of us are sick to the back teeth of hearing about him.

The Bad News

                Here in the UK our treasured National Health Service is beginning to cave in under the pressure of lack of funds and personnel and weight of sick people. The NHS could function SO much better without all the sick people. Most of them are elderly. The population of elderly is growing, further compounding the NHS difficulties.

The Good News

                Most sick, old people turning up at hospitals right now are lining the corridors on trolleys. There are many benefits to this. For one thing, there are enough of them to form little communities, thus solving the problem of old-age loneliness. They’ll no doubt be enjoying a rousing sing-song even as I write and forming lasting [albeit short-lived] friendships. Another benefit is that some of them, whilst either waiting for attention or having heart attacks from all the community singing will croak, conveniently freeing up a trolley space for another old bid.

The Bad News

                Owing to unseasonable, inclement weather in the southerly parts of Europe courgettes are in short supply. Spain, which is a major supplier of these vegetables is experiencing freezing temperatures and snow, affecting their development. It’s terrible news for the ‘clean eating’ brigade and those who seek to replace pasta with courgette ribbons. What on earth will they do?

The Good News

                Courgettes are useless, tasteless, pointless little objects and only palatable when sautéed in butter as an accompaniment to fish. I recommend replacing them with lovely, creamy pasta or incorporating them into something in which the other components have some flavour. Save yourself the trouble of searching for them!

Roll on February!

               

               

               

Ageing-The Truths you’d Rather not Know

I have kept quite well to my promise not to produce a continuous blog documenting the woes of ageing-an unceasing fountain spurting hypochondria; but I realise I may have gained some kind of watershed where age is concerned-one that may never be drawn back from.

Since I entered the grand decade that is my sixties significant and not altogether beneficial changes have begun to manifest, which I feel are relevant to Anecdotage and the Views from the Descent. For, from here it really does begin to feel like a descent.

Google ‘ageing’ and you will be bombarded with information and opinion. Often, in publications such as Sunday supplements there will be interviews with older celebrities- in any sphere. It interests me that the overwhelming majority of ageing ‘celebs’ are anxious to stress the positive aspects of growing older-how much more experienced they are, how much happier than when young, how grounded, how advantageous it all is. Reader, I am more than suspicious of these people. To me they are missing one overriding, enormous elephant of a fact. However blessed, fortunate, experienced and ecstatic they feel, the spectre of death has not only appeared on the horizon but grows larger as it approaches.

Of course as we all know-it is best to ignore the scythe-bearing one and concentrate on living life to the best of our frailties, but still-aspects of one’s demise will keep popping their heads over the balcony, such as:

Things Hurt More than they Used to

Joints hurt. Old injuries hurt. Vague unidentifiable bits hurt. In an ironic twist [the reaper having a laugh?] many of the hurty bits have been caused in younger incarnations by enthusiastic bouts of fitness.

The Hurty Bits Take Longer to Stop Hurting

Related to above; whereas a familiar, old hip/back tweak used to come and stay for a few days, now it overstays by weeks. An intermittent back injury overstays. Wrists that used to be a little sore are aggravated by carrying anything heavier than a sheet of paper. It becomes tricky finding a comfortable position to sleep, sit or be.

Knowing you are Turning into Your Parents does not Stop you Turning into Them

All the traps you have sworn not to fall into are impossible to avoid-repeating yourself, telling hackneyed stories, being curmudgeonly et al.

Those you have Known begin to Shuffle off the Mortal Coil

Once he became elderly my father began every visit with a tale of who had died that week. In his absence we smiled about it. Now that the clogs of people in my own life are popping it no longer carries the comic appeal it once did. No doubt my offspring are benefitting as I did.

The Recession of Middle Age

Remember all that ’40 is the new 30’ thing? We like to stretch our age back into youth as far as possible. I considered I was ‘middle-aged’ up until I was 60. Then it became far-fetched. Maybe someone could invent a term for between middle-aged and elderly, like ‘milderly’? Except it sounds like mildew-which is actually quite appropriate.

These are just a few aspects of ageing. Perhaps you harbour some more? Add them in the comments and I’ll compile a ‘bottom 10’-you have to laugh-what else can you do?

Fiction Month -Week 2

Part 1 of this story can be found in last week’s post.

The Woman from the Baker’s [part 2]
“What did he want then, Frank?’”
“Oh, he was just asking what you might like for your birthday”. Taking a moment to absorb this he shook his head.
“Frank knows what I like. Dunno why he’d need to be asking you!” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Shall I put one of your Dad’s Army’s on? You like those.’”He grunted in the affirmative and was soon engrossed in his favourite DVD, part of a box set Frank had bought him for Christmas.
Settling down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and the latest ‘Hercules Tours’ brochure I ran my fingers over the glossy cover where a photo of the Taj Mahal at sunset called to me like a siren to a sailor.

At work next morning we were sorting out the delivery, stacking the shelves, lining up the pasties under the counter when the door opened and Hot Rod walked in. That isn’t his real name, not the ‘hot’ part anyway; just what Pam and Vi call him. He’s working on the shop conversion next door. Vi nudged me, an ostentatious wink distorting her round, pink face.
“Customer, Margaret!”
I put Rod’s custard Danish into a bag and gave him his change, waiting for him to leave before turning to look at the girls, who were leaning against the loaf slicer, undiscarded tears of laughter welling up and about to flood the shop.
“Tell you what”, declared Pam, “If I was single there’d be no stopping me. You could do a lot worse Margaret, couldn’t she Vi?”
Vi nodded, adding an ambiguous “Or even if she wasn’t single”. Vi never made a secret of her unhappy marriage to Den, whose unsavoury exploits she’d frequently described.
“Have you thought any more about the quiz night on Friday, Margaret, up at the snooker club? We could do with you on our team, with you knowing so much about countries, capitals and all that. Do you good to get out, too. Your dad can cope for a couple of hours, can’t he? My Kevin will come and pick you up. “
These two women have invited me out more times than I’ve made ham sandwiches and I’d always declined, citing my father as a reason, but for once I felt a bubble of rebellion growing inside and heard myself say, “Alright. Why not” to the flabbergasted looks of my friends.
At home I scrutinised the contents of my narrow wardrobe, hoping to discover some forgotten item that might be suitable for an evening out, but the occupants of the hangers retained a resolute familiarity in their service as work clothes. I could not recall the last time I’d been to a social gathering, still less the outfit I’d have worn. Perhaps I should buy something new, although I was forced to acknowledge that dressing for Friday’s outing was the least of my problems.
I waited until Thursday evening to broach the subject. I made sure I was home before six, made his favourite liver and bacon for supper, agreed that Frank had done very well for himself and was the best son anyone could have. Once this eulogy had subsided I took a breath.
“I’m going out tomorrow night, Dad. Pam from work’s invited me to a quiz. She and her partner are picking me up at seven.”
Although I’d taken pains not to blurt it out in a rush, my announcement rang with triumphant accomplishment as if I’d entered into high society, like Eliza Doolittle going to the races. I felt myself redden as he turned to look at me, something he rarely does, a small, perplexed frown knotting his brow.
“Pam from work?”
Keeping my resolve, I maintained the cheerful smile I didn’t feel, nevertheless I began to bluster in an attempt to mitigate the awful consequences my absence would bring about.