Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A lot to be thankful for

This morning our postman brought me a letter. After being snowed-in for over a week, this was a pleasant reminder of re-connection to the outside world, but otherwise just a small part of the daily routine. The letter itself was merely a printed form, asking me to ring our local cottage hospital to make an outpatients appointment.

This I duly did and next Monday I will see a consultant ophthalmic surgeon about my rapidly worsening cataracts.  Of course there’s nothing at all out of the ordinary about this in twenty-first century Britain, but I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my good fortune in living in this place and at this time.

I think back to my mother who had to forgo her chance of secondary education because of the need to pay medical costs for her invalid mother. Before the days of universal affordable health insurance and the National Health Service, treatment of both acute and chronic ill-health could eat up family income to a terrifying extent, as it still does in so many parts of the world, if indeed treatment is even available.

I've been lucky enough to live under the care of the NHS ever since it was set up in 1948 and to have received potentially life-saving treatment free of charge at the point of use on several occasions, both as a child and as an adult. Yes, the NHS has its faults, sometimes big ones. What very large organisation doesn't? Nevertheless I have grown up knowing that when I really need it, it will be there for me. This security has been one of the foundation stones of my life and one which, like most people, I've taken almost entirely for granted.

So I will go to my appointment next Monday morning feeling grateful to be seeing a surgeon who will be able to give me back the clarity of vision I have been losing for years. More importantly I will be grateful for the even clearer vision of those who in the darkest days of World War 2 made plans for a National Health Service for all and in the war’s aftermath made those plans a reality. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Image via Google

Monday, January 21, 2013

When icicles hang by the wall

    And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
    And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
    To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doe blow,
    And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
    And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
    To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare  Love's Labour’s Lost, Act V. Sc. II

Four centuries on from Shakespeare’s description of winter’s impact on human life, it doesn't seem as though much has changed. From red noses to chilly fingers, from the need to keep warm to the plight of birds in a snow-covered world, from coughs and colds to roads and paths difficult to negotiate, Shakespeare’s world and ours are closer than we might have thought and I find that rather reassuring.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy and laughter always helps to ease us through the ups and downs of life, so here is a twenty-first century glimpse of the comic side of winter.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A wonderful excuse

After yesterday’s snowfall DH and I find ourselves confined to barracks for the next few days. The drifts in our lane aren't deep, but we have no pressing appointments and thus feel no urgent need to dig ourselves out. Instead we’re using our enforced isolation to catch up with things or simply indulge ourselves with our favourite occupations.

This afternoon, while DH has been watching snooker on TV, I've revelled in the humour and humanity of the Call The Midwife Christmas special which DS downloaded onto my laptop during our Christmas visit. The new series starts tomorrow evening and I have to be up-to-date, don’t I? In addition I've almost finished the first of the new pair of socks for DH, but most of all I've been reading, and not just blogs either.

For Christmas Santa bought me three books and I've been reading them alongside each other ever since. The first is The Grand Designer by Rosemary Hannah, a fascinating and beautifully illustrated biography of the immensely rich Third Marquis of Bute, who was one of the most lavish patrons of the arts in nineteenth-century Britain. The second is the hugely enjoyable Letters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier, edited by Christopher Fifield, which reveals this wonderful singer’s warm and engaging personality and her acute and often wicked sense of humour. In complete contrast the third is Simon’s Cat by Simon Tofield,  a great collection of cartoons, perfect to dip into whenever I want a quick chuckle.

But, I hear you all cry, none of these is fiction and we all know Perpetua reads a lot of fiction. Indeed I do, but I borrow most of it from our local county library service or otherwise the Transit household would soon be stony broke. At the moment there are two very different  authors I’m thoroughly enjoying. 

The first is Barbara Nadel and I am indebted to Ayak for my introduction to this splendid writer of crime fiction. I have written before of my liking for the Venice mysteries  of Donna Leon and her wonderful creation, Commissario Guido Brunetti. In the same vein, but with the even more exotic setting of Istanbul, are Barbara Nadel’s deeply humane novels about her unlikely hero, Inspector Çetin İkmen. Sympathetically characterised and beautifully written, I find each grips me from the first page to the last and I’m left wanting more.

In complete contrast are the light, frothy, but very enjoyable Daisy Dalrymple mysteries by Carola DunnSet in the Britain of the early 1920’s, these novels are pure escapism and none the worse for that. Well-plotted, fast-moving and often funny, they are the literary equivalent of a foaming cappuccino, complete with chocolate sprinkles, rather than the strong, dark, Turkish coffee of Barbara Nadel’s books.

With companions like these to keep me entertained, you can understand why I’m in no great hurry to see the snow disappear.....

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The world in black and white….

….with just a hint of green and brown. We had our first snow of the winter overnight on Monday and the drab and sodden landscape in my previous post has been transformed.  The low temperatures mean that this covering is still with us and is being gently augmented by the light snow which has been falling all day in a desultory fashion.

However the forecaster are warning that light snow will change to heavy snow overnight, so DH and I are hunkering down to wait out whatever Nature decides to throw at us. Oh, the joy of being retired and able to stay safely at home when the roads are bad and travelling is difficult. If you aren't lucky enough to be able to do this, take care and stay safe.

From the shelter and (comparative) warmth of the house, these were the views this morning on all four sides of our Welsh home. 

The view to the north (or rather north-west)....

....and to the south

Shelter from the Wild Wood to the east.....

and our beloved ash tree view to the west

Friday, January 11, 2013

A breath of fresh air

A sudden rush of busyness this week has meant blogging has had to take a back seat for a bit. The busyness was due partly to the inevitable backlog of chores after our lovely Christmas break and partly to the sudden need to think about and research the purchase of a new car after our trusty, almost sixteen-year-old workhorse comprehensively failed its MOT test (UK annual roadworthiness check) last week. Add to this the fact that our local vicar is off sick and I’m taking her services on Sunday, and life has become unusually hectic at the moment.

So when the rain finally eased off earlier in the week, it was good to get out for a couple of pleasant, if somewhat soggy walks on succeeding afternoons, and I even remembered to take my ageing camera with me. I make no apologies for the light levels, as it had been quite extraordinarily overcast and murky for days. Still, this is Wales and cloud features quite prominently in our weather at almost any time of the year. Luckily I love cloud as well as sunshine, and the big skies that are a feature of any view from up here are a source of constant satisfaction.

The old homestead

Enough to ruin any car's suspension?

Big sky, big view......

As I squelched along the edge of the field below the house, I became fascinated by the gnarled and twisted shapes of the hedgerow bushes that border the field. The hedge is old and neglected, but at some point in its life it had been properly laid, and its mixture of horizontal and vertical branches, shaped by wind and weather in this exposed spot,  caught and held my interest as I walked. I hope my pictures do it justice…..

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Christmas kaleidoscope

Safely home again after a lovely stay, with first DS, then DD, and their respective families, and life is falling back into its normal sedate winter pattern here on our Welsh hillside. The rain has finally stopped and the weather is still, mild and mainly overcast – long may that continue!

In the intervals of sorting and tidying and doing mounds of laundry (how can two people have worn so many clothes in less than a fortnight?) I find snapshots of our Christmas visits popping randomly into my mind.

The grandsons all growing up before our eyes and the shock of looking directly into the eyes of Grandson#1 who is now, at 13, as tall as his Grandma, and I’m not exactly small! Where is that little toddler I helped to look after for a year, while his mother finished her teaching contract?

Then - aged 18 months
Now - a teenager exploring on his own

The sheer fun of being in the same houses as three lively and talented boys with their thirst for music and games, with Grandson#3 (who turns 9 tomorrow) demonstrating yet again his extraordinary skill at charades and his two older cousins introducing me as always to their latest board games – this year Forbidden Island, rather than Killer Bunnies.

The luxury of having someone else deciding what we will eat and mostly making it unaided by me. Oh, we probably ate too much as usual, but not far too much, and my first attempt at Christmas gingerbread was much appreciated by Grandson#3, while DS’s first attempt at making a Christmas cake to my old recipe was an undoubted success.

Next time I'll practice the icing better.......

The pleasure of unwrapping gifts I know I will enjoy throughout the year – in my case, books, CDs and DVDs to which I will return again and again. The fun of finding my traditional chocolate orange treat on my bedside table on my return from Midnight Mass, courtesy of DS who knows his mother’s tastes, as well as having DD extend my chocolate experience (did I say I love dark chocolate?) by introducing me to the delights of Fairtrade Ginger Thins.

Trying to go for a walk in Port Meadow in Oxford, only to find our way barred by floodwater, but succeeding in a lovely woodland walk in Yorkshire when the sun finally graced us with its presence on New Year’s Day.

Port Meadow December 2012        Image via Google
A family walk  on New Year's Day

Above all the joy of catching up for a few days with our very busy son and daughter, with time to sit and talk or just be together quietly, reading, knitting or simply relaxing. Who could ask for more?

Christmas socks - by me and for me J