Goodbye 2017…

So how was 2017 for you? Did you achieve goals, fulfil your resolutions, make a fortune and experience satisfactory or heart-warming life events? Or were you mired in failure, misery and crashes and burns?
Most years, of course are a mixture of these experiences, both in our personal lives and out in the wider world.
In our own little bubble 2017 was mostly a great year. We had adventures, travelling first to Mexico [underwhelming], later to Italy in an extensive and audacious camper-van journey involving numerous ferries and taking in a number of different countries en route; we made our familiar late summer trip to South West France.
Then our family was expanded by a new member, an event that few could consider anything but joyous.
The negative aspects of 2017 consist mainly of those health issues which come to be such a feature of ageing and which [of we are not careful] become the mainstay of discussions between ourselves and friends of a similar age. Even Husband, who, in his typical male way likes to brush ill-health under a proverbial rug has succumbed to medical intervention. Matters of corporal dysfunction must be accepted, acted upon and then shrugged off.
In 2017 events in the world arena were disquieting. Despite progress against extremists the world became a more brooding, xenophobic and intolerant planet as global threats, hatred and prejudice jostled with polluted atmospheres, floating ocean debris and catastrophic weather events.
World problems often seem too huge to contemplate. We re-post information about beach clean-ups and re-using plastic bottles. We add our digital signatures to campaigns about famines. We make contributions to crisis funds like homelessness. And yet the problems persist, reminding us of how insignificant we all are, how helpless.
But it is always best to look forward and to be optimistic. I’ve long ago given up making resolutions, although I am determined to complete a project I began two years ago and to get it out into the public domain in some respect. I’ve high hopes for a return to my gym regime once a certain foot issue has been resolved and in the meantime we are busy planning 2018’s round of expeditions, the first of which takes place next week. We’ll be without access to internet for a couple of weeks, conditions which will certainly do us a power of good!
The next two blog posts will consist of a brand new two-part story. This is my new year gift to you, readers. If you enjoy it, please let me know in the comments [and share it with others]. If you don’t, please let me know that, too-and why. After that we will have returned and hopefully with more traveller tales! Happy New Year to all my readers, old and new!

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Safely Delivered

Moving home is very much like having a baby. You wouldn’t entertain the idea of doing it again until the memory has faded into a distant smudge and is embellished with a liberal dollop of nostalgia. However stressful the build-up [the labour] has been it is as nothing compared to the climax, which is either a smooth, trouble-free relief or a frantic, screeching panic.

We moved one week ago, which means that the pain and the panic are fading but it’s best to remember that in the scale of life’s most stressful events moving house is up there in the top three along with bereavement and divorce.

The day began well, with a removal van turning up at 8.30am prompt and we were ready, everything boxed, everything labelled, everything [almost] cleaned and spruced up for the new occupants. The lorry looked too small but we were assured by the two movers that our belongings would disappear into it and they set to, rejecting offers of tea and biscuits, fitting tables, chairs, beds and mattresses together into the space like some sort of domestic 3D jigsaw.

Then they were gone, with a cheerful ‘call us when you’ve got the keys to the new house’, off for a much deserved full English breakfast somewhere while the van full of our life’s effects languished unloved outside the depot.

We waited, we hoovered, we looked at our phones, we checked that the land line was operating. We had a coffee. I wandered out to the garden to pluck out some stray weeds and tuck in some wayward strands of creeper. We checked again. We ate a sandwich, had another coffee. The phone rang and I jumped in a febrile lather of excitement. It was the removal chap. ‘Had we heard anything?’

I went across to say goodbye to some neighbours, returning to find a car in the driveway. The new occupants had arrived. ‘Come in!’ we told them. But now we were becoming spare parts in our own house-which was still our house until the solicitor deemed it acceptable for us to access our new property. The money was wending its way along the eight-house chain but had yet to reach the top. I rang the solicitor to be told she was having lunch. We stood by our bags of final bits and chatted to the buyers of our house. They were beside themselves with exhilaration as their removal lorry arrived. ‘Get your stuff in!’ we told them and as we stood our space began to fill with their belongings, compounding our feelings of being interlopers.

At last we could stand it no more. We got into the car with our pitiable bits and pieces and made our way to the new house. If nothing else we could sit outside it and anticipate. The day was wearing on [by now it was mid-afternoon].

But all was well, of course. Upon rounding the bend we were greeted with the sight of our lovely removal men, busily heaving our furniture into our new home. The doors, it seemed had been left open. We cast caution to the wind and entered, eventually receiving a call from the estate agent to pick up some keys.

And did we cry bitter tears for our old home? Did we wander the rooms of the new house under a pall of homesickness? Aha! You will have to wait and see…

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.

Accept the Inevitable…

Chez nous is in a state of flux at the moment. A period in which both Husband and I were bogged down with health annoyances has prompted a rethink of our housing situation. Up until the present, when one of us has succumbed to a complaint the other, being the more fit, has taken on the nursing. Husband undertook a memorable mercy dash home from South West France when I was felled by a bout of septicaemia [although we were ignorant as to my condition at the time]. The return took nine hours of driving sans navigator or co-driver [me], as I slumped in a near comatose state in the passenger seat.

Another time, on a particular, milestone birthday, Husband became welded to the bed due to a debilitating burst of labyrinthitis- an unpleasant condition causing nausea, vomiting and drunken-like staggering and which takes weeks to overcome using religious observance of an exercise regime. This has recurred, at a time when I am crippled by my [previously explained] foot problem.

The result is that we have begun to consider our property, our house and garden somewhat larger than it was before. The garden [my responsibility] seems to be growing in size as it also burgeons forth with spring growth. The house stretches into seeming endless rooms filled with cobwebs, dust and worse-scuffed paint and dingy carpets.

This is an age old dilemma. No one wants to leave the home they have nurtured and loved for so many years. Once you have lavished care, thought, elbow grease and vast amounts of money on a house it becomes part of the fabric of your life, your history and your family. You think of all the life events it has supported, both the crises and the celebrations. You think of all the meals prepared and consumed, the comfortable nights of sleep, the books read curled up on a snug sofa, the work undertaken, the visitors entertained, the barbecues enjoyed, winter evenings by the wood burner. You wonder how on earth it will be possible to re-create such a congenial environment anywhere else at all.

But above all it makes you face the stark nature of ageing and allows you an unnerving view of the future. In his nineties my father fought with every frail bone in his body to maintain his independence and stay in his own home, despite his failing health, but nothing could prevent his having to go to a care home, the very place he feared and hated.

As yet we are far from this state. But the strange phenomenon of time accelerating as you grow older makes me realise it could be better to make changes sooner rather than later. What a dilemma!