Friday, 5 April 2013


Back in the Before, I rarely worried about anything. What will be, will be. That truly was what I believed.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

I don’t know whether this was the arrogance of Youth, or simply the confidence of a person who had not yet experienced any life-shaking events. But, of course, one day the worst thing did happen, and it shook that little belief system to its foundations.

Since then I appear to have become a world class worrier.
It would be nice if worrying actually resulted in something in terms of action. But no. I simply freeze and become overcome with inertia.

It also doesn’t help having just married a man who does this sort of thing on a regular basis.

Note the high-tech safety Birkenstocks, invisible head protection and Kevlar walking shorts...
It did nothing for my blood pressure to look out of the window one afternoon and find him doing that.
Nursing the two broken ribs that resulted helped even less. Thinking about what could have happened if he hadn’t managed to throw the chainsaw out of the danger zone before the ladder fell makes me feel physically sick.

And yes, we have had words about it!

I rarely worry about myself physically though, other than a vague concern about what the long-term future might hold. Seeing my Mum struggle with the slow onset of Alzheimer’s, I worry about losing my marbles and my dignity, but hardly ever about physical illnesses or problems.

So when my 50th birthday coincided with my first ever invitation for a mammogram, it provided a whole new opportunity for worry. I have seen the awful and devastating effects of breast cancer at close hand among my friends, but since there has been no incidence in my family as far as I am aware, it had previously escaped my worry radar.

Older friends also had no hesitation in telling me horror stories about squashed and painful boobs during screening, which didn’t help at all either. I am a complete wuss about this sort of thing, and I’m not afraid to admit it!

I did find it completely surreal that the screening would be done in the back of a lorry on Tesco’s car park. But in the event, the lorry proved to be something of a Tardis, and I was welcomed in by a kindly and efficient lady who bore a very striking resemblance to Claire Rayner, thus increasing the surrealism quotient severalfold.

And of course waiting for the results was equally fraught with worry, despite the fact I had given the issue barely a moment’s thought for the previous n years. Three weeks later, however, I am very happy to report that my lovely postman arrived this morning to deliver the all-clear letter. So that’s that then. I can stop worrying about that.

At least until 3 years’ time when I am invited for screening again.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The demolition stage

Work has now started on the big kitchen.

We decided to go away for a few days around my birthday, largely to avoid being jollied into arranging a party as I have never had much enthusiasm for those. And – as you do – the last thing we did before going away was to demolish the much-hated arch that used to divide the room in two.

It put up a surprisingly good fight, but we won in the end.
Just that single act seemed to make the room double in size, and greatly increased the natural light reaching the previously dingy work areas.

While we were away, the window was enlarged to make a doorway to the outside and most of the old, damp plaster was removed. We came home to a freezing-cold house, a pile of rubble and a layer of dust about an inch thick.

Today the electrics and plumbing are going in and more holes are being made in the two-foot thick stone walls. Yesterday’s sunshine has metamorphosed into damp, bone-chilling Welsh fog, so I am huddling by the woodburner with my laptop, trying to work while ignoring all the drilling and banging in the next room and the arctic gale blowing in under the door. Internet access has been reduced to ten-minute bursts between power outages.

And when the noise stops, I shall emerge to clean up another inch-thick layer of dust and ascertain whether we yet have a working cooker. Tomorrow there will be another carload of plasterboard to take to the tip.

Am I downhearted?

No. Not in the least. I have been waiting ten years for this, and it will be worth every last bag of dust and crap I sweep up.

The end result may not quite live up to the megalomanic, magazine-worthy image that I held in my head for so many years, but that’s OK too. The budget has been significantly reduced for a start. Slashed, in fact. So no Welsh slate floor or handmade freestanding kitchen units. The finished room will be light and cheerful though, and it will look clean when I clean it. And, most importantly, the big table can now go right in the heart of the room, in the place where it has never fitted, but has always belonged.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

I'm still standing

When I was in my late teens, early twenties, I remember looking forward to the Year 2000. That’s what it was called then – none of this Millennium business. Back then I remember thinking that I would be like THIRTY-SEVEN when it happened. My life would be over. I would be an Old Person who couldn’t truly appreciate such a momentous event.

Actually it turned out to be something of a damp squib.

R was working in IT for an insurance company, and had been bribed with a seriously large amount of money to come into work on January 1 2000 to do the Millennium Bug testing. So I spent the evening backing up my computer in anticipation of the chaos that would ensue the next morning, then we went outside to watch the fireworks with the neighbours, drank a couple of glasses of fizz and went to bed shortly afterwards rather than partying all night.

Last week I turned 50.

That 37 year-old seems to be a whole different person, almost from another country. So young, so full of ambitions and plans. With a whole life left to live, with a house move and complete change of lifestyle still to come. That was, of course, in the Before.

The 50 year-old face that looks back at me in the mirror doesn’t look all that different on the outside. Sure there are a lot more lines, and the jaw line is starting to sag a little. There’s rather more grey in the hair than I really want to see. The body is starting to slow down more than I like to admit, and I seem to spend a lot of time searching for my glasses. But on the whole it is pretty much the same as it was 13 years ago.

Inside, though. That’s a whole different matter. There are lumps and bumps. Tender spots. Scars. Closed-off doors to rooms that aren’t visited any more. Emotional muscles that are only just coming back into use.  But it is healing. Slowly. Even though some of the tender spots will be there forever.

The 50 year-old me doesn’t have many ambitions any more. She just wants to live and enjoy living for as long as possible.  Having experienced at close quarters the sheer crappy randomness of the whole life and death thing, it really is enough just to be here. To walk out in the glorious crisp, cold sunshine on a day like today and feel its warmth on my skin. To live in the present and make the most out of every moment.

50 not out. It’s not a bad score.

I wonder what the next half-century holds.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

New shoes

Because I shall turn 50 next week and have never owned such a frivolous pair of shoes in my life. So it's about time I did.

Because I like the way he looks at my legs when I'm wearing them.

Because every girl needs a pair of ruby slippers.

Just because!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


The start of a new relationship is such an exciting time. Full of spontaneity and passion. Everything is bright, shiny new and the possibilities are infinite. Two people dance around one another, experimenting with different tempos and steps.

But the familiar is good too.

When you walk side by side with someone for a quarter of a mile or so, you inevitably fall into step with them. The faster walker slows down or the slowcoach speeds up until a steady rhythm is reached.

For all the excitement of the new, it can be equally enthralling to look at a person and to know – know what they are thinking or intend to do. And there is a wonderful satisfaction from developing little rituals. Practised behaviours that you both fall into without deliberate thought.

Rituals cannot be rushed, however. Or created intentionally. They simply develop over time and then one day you realise that they are an integral part of your life.

Take coffee, for example.

For as long as I can remember I have had a bad coffee habit. Sitting at my desk, I would drink 6, 7 or 8 cups a day without thinking. Normally, dare I say it, instant as drinking that much freshly ground coffee would give me the shakes by mid-afternoon.

One day, about the time it became apparent that Robert’s car was spending more time outside my house than his, he turned up with an espresso machine under his arm. It was not, I am a little ashamed to say, welcomed with a great deal of grace – I had spent the previous couple of years attempting to declutter the house, and I rather liked my kitchen worktops to be empty. A space was made, however, and I agreed to give it a fair chance before relegating it to the Outer Darkness where I believed such gadgets belonged.

The first attempts were disastrous. The coffee pack may proudly state that it is “Suitable for all machines”, but a filter coffee grind simply will not make espresso – the water just goes straight through taking with it all the flavour of dishwater.

So a coffee grinder was needed. One that would grind the beans finely enough to make espresso. Teeth were firmly gritted as it took up residence beside the coffee machine.

The coffee-making learning curve progressed, but not 100% satisfactorily. Cappuccinos became drinkable, but still too foamy. Espressos or Americanos were fine but still nothing special. Despair was setting in with the owner of the coffee machine, as he knew its days were finite.

Then, one day, we discovered the flat white – and a whole new world opened up. Microfoams, cremas, patterns drawn on top of the cup. U-Tube videos were watched by the dozen. We suddenly understood how whole college courses can be devoted to coffee-making. The coffee painting became competitive, and we jostled for position in front of the Gaggia, arguing over whose turn it was to make the breakfast cup.
In the end, I admitted defeat. He can do the foaming thing better than I can. And paint the pictures. 

Somewhere along the line, the breakfast coffee became the only one that mattered – we sit and savour it, watching the birds on the feeders. Now it is almost impossible to imagine starting the day without my breakfast milky coffee – and I rarely have another one, unless after a big meal.

Rituals definitely take you by surprise, but they become an essential part of life.

And as for that cup in the picture – I bought it when I was still alone to use as a tea cup. It never really took off as such. 
As I said. You can’t force a ritual.

Friday, 1 February 2013

What I Learned Today

That there really isn't a good time for your barn to fall down.

But if it does decide to fall down, it is a heck of a lot easier ferrying stuff back and forth with two people.

And that it really is an ill wind that does nobody any good.
All the stuff that was stored in the barn had to go into the stable which has been housing a pile of junk that my neighbour had brought round "temporarily" while his garage was being built. That was nearly four years ago and, despite numerous requests and reminders, he has studiously neglected to remove it.

It was rather satisfying leaving the message on his answering machine to the effect that "all your belongings are now outside in the rain".
Amazingly, he was around within a couple of hours to pick it all up!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

You wait ten years for a new kitchen....

... and then two come along at once!

The tale of my house renovations is one of stop, start, stop, start. I realise that it is nearly 3 years since I proudly unveiled the work that my brother-in-law had done for me in the granny flat. It was a cool, calm breath of fresh air in the otherwise cluttered chaos of my house.

Unfortunately I ran out of money and work downstairs came to a standstill. Then when I had the funds, Tim was busy working on other projects and never came back, as builders are wont to do. So the back kitchen has remained in this state ever since.

Enter Robert.

He does this sort of stuff standing on his head. But he managed to remain very quiet and tactful about the general state of dilapidation, and besides there were other projects to keep him busy. Of which more in another post.

Just before Christmas, however, he asked whether I would like him to put the washbasin back on the wall in the downstairs loo. (Doesn’t everyone keep a washbasin on the floor?). And it sort of snowballed from there.

We excavated the flat-pack kitchen units from my Room of Doom, I bought some new doors, he called his carpenter and plasterer, and work started.

The plan was simply to get the annexe finished, then regroup to plan what to do with the rest of the house.

Well that was the plan.

On the Friday morning two weeks ago, I asked Robert whether he would replace the nasty, stained sink in the main kitchen with the stainless steel one I had bought five years ago. (Sigh).

No problem.

Unfortunately it didn’t fit. The discrepancy was only a millimetre or so, but the hole in the worktop was simply too big. So we considered whether to buy new worktop to replace the old one, which was looking distinctly tatty in any case. But the old cabinets were falling apart too. Why not rip those out while we were at it. And take down the horrible 1970s archway that I have hated since the moment I first walked into the house and that makes the room so dark. And pull up the ugly parquet flooring that was laid so badly.

Heck. Why not just redo the entire kitchen?

Well, apart from the fact that I had nothing to replace it with, why not?

Not a problem either, apparently. Two hours searching on EBay later, Robert had found someone near Bristol who was having a new kitchen fitted and selling their (pristine, as far as I could see) old one.

Saturday lunchtime we set off with the car and trailer, and arrived at our destination about 4 pm. Only to find the homeowners sitting in their lovely old kitchen, surrounded by cardboard boxes, with all the kitchen units still firmly attached to their respective walls!

“When were you thinking of collecting it?”, asked the gentleman of the house, fondly imagining that we had just come to check it out.

“Now.” said Robert, taking out his toolkit.

And so we did. Three hours later, all the kitchen units plus large cooker were quite miraculously packed on our 7’ x 4’ trailer and off home we set. It was like the opening credits to The Beverly Hillbillies!

Sunday morning we unpacked it all into the lean-to for closer inspection: for £500 and a road trip to Bristol, we appear to have acquired a large solid beech kitchen and a beautiful racing green cooking range with the cleanest oven I have ever seen. It is difficult to believe it was ever used. Result!

OK, so there is a bit of work still to go, but compared to the previous rate of progress this is lightening speed. And as soon as the electrics for the back kitchen are signed off, we can move into there and start work on the main house. I really can’t wait to attack that archway with a crowbar!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Couch potato

That photograph was taken just over a year ago.

I had just run my first 10k (for the record in 57:58 – not bad for an old bird!) and was feeling rather pleased with myself.
Flushed with that success I planned to work up to a half marathon by the end of 2012.

Ah well.
Pride goeth before destruction and all that.
I ran two more 10ks during the summer, then the niggly cartilage in my left knee started to nag. And then to hurt after a couple of miles. So I stopped running and started cycling. Slightly different muscles, but good exercise and it was something Robert and I could do together.

I had just got to the stage of thinking about looking for a “proper” bike to replace my old jalopy when the next disaster struck.
In early October, I spent an afternoon digging over the veg garden to get it ready for the winter. A short bout of mortal combat with a particularly well dug-in cabbage stalk resulted in a torn rotator cuff; an injury I would not wish on my worst enemy.

Not a stabby sort of pain, but what I would describe as impossibly severe discomfort. It got to the stage where I could not stand, sit, lie or walk in any position for more than a few minutes at a time. For a couple of weeks, all I could do was half-lie, half-sit in bed, propped up with pillows like some crotchety dowager duchess. I am not a good patient!

But I am fortunate in having a wonderful chiropractor.
He pulled and prodded, wiggled and jiggled until he was pretty certain where the problem lay.
Then the solution amounted to rest, ice and massage. Robert could provide the last two. The first was down to me.

So essentially I spent from the end of October until Christmas sitting by the woodburner, slumped on the sofa and doped up with ibuprofen, either typing or obsessively knitting – the only two activities that didn’t hurt. Most of my family received scarves as gifts!

It took until the first few days of this new year to realise that the pain had largely dissipated.
In the meantime, all my muscle appears to have turned to blancmange. I don’t appear to have put on any weight, so it must be true what they say about muscle weighing more than fat, but there is a definite squidginess about the mid-section that really has to go.

As last year’s hubris appears to have courted disaster, I am reluctant to put forward any sort of plan. But my walking boots are by the door and the constant rain of the last two months seems to have metamorphosed into light snow and frost, so there is every possibility that the next few days might result in some sort of exercise.
At last.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Living in the Real World

It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that the Internet saved my life. But back in the darkest days of my grief, I’m not so sure that it didn’t save my sanity.

Through the Internet I have made some wonderful friends. Some live just a few miles away, others I probably will never meet in person. And all stops in-between. The common feature is that they have all given totally non-judgmental support when I needed it.

It is also where Robert and I found one another. I think it came as a surprise to both of us that we did, or at least so quickly, but it would be rather churlish to complain about that!

And it is a constant feature in my work. For research, for moving files around, for working on servers half a country away. I fondly remember the days when assignments turned up in brown envelopes through the door and research necessitated a bus trip to Manchester Central Library. When deadlines were measured in weeks, not days. That sort of timescale would be unimaginable now.

Lately I have found myself drawing away from it though. My life seems more and more to be firmly rooted in the Real World. I am doing less paid work, and we are working more on house renovations. Not having animals in the field means we can lock the doors and simply leave home behind for a few days without having to organise people to dole out feed and water and put the poultry to bed at night.

Over Christmas I went on a complete Internet fast. Simply turned it off. Pulled the plug and hid my laptop out of sight for nearly a fortnight.

It was an unexpected pleasure. More time for reading, hand-sewing and knitting. More time to sit in front of the woodburner with a garden plan and seed catalogues in hand. More time to simply chat and laugh and plan and eat and share a bottle of wine. What could be better?

In all this cutting down, however, one thing I have really missed has been this blog, and having a place to record the passing of the days.

2012 was an incredible year for me.
Not just getting married. But relearning how to be truly happy. How to share my life again.

There were difficult parts too. Robert had to go into hospital for a small surgery under general anaesthetic. I was almost paralysed with terror. Hospital for me was still a place where people go to die, not to get better. It is an irrational fear, I know, and on this occasion was unfounded, I am happy to report.

There has also been some bad, bad stuff with his ex. It is still ongoing, but there is an end in sight now, and working through it all has been very good for us as a couple.

And I lost my precious friend Moose in the Autumn.
His back legs had become very wobbly, but he was happy pottering around at home. He still enjoyed his food and barking at the postman. Then one day he had a sort-of-stroke. It left him with severe vertigo and he was unable to stand up. All he could do was look at me with such confusion in his eyes. It was heart-breaking to see, and the time had come to say goodbye.
I still miss him every day that passes.

But mostly the year has been fast-moving and fun, full of passion and movement and change. I regret not having recorded it all on these pages. So the beginning of a new year seems like a good time to kick-start this blog again. I seem to remember writing something very similar at this time last year, but perhaps I may be able to make more time for it in 2013.