The driver waves to us as he steams past, on his way to pull the train from the other end.
Me getting windblown!
Claire, not at all windblown.
This engine is called Mad Bess, after Mad Bess Woods, which you can see in the background.
After a chilly grey Saturday, Sunday was bright and sunny and my oldest friend Claire, who I met on my first day at primary school in Liverpool when we were five, was here for the weekend. We chose to go to Ruislip Lido in Middlesex, and after doing the two-mile walk around the lake, we took a trip on the little steam train. It was wonderful, full of families having fun. At the end of one circuit, the driver gets out so that the engine can be turned, then it chugs along a parallel track and is reattached at the other end of the train, so it can be pulled back to the station. It was one of those perfect days, and we also saw lots of interesting wildlife - damsel flies, baby moorhens and a very hairy caterpillar!
Don't know what was ih the dope that they shot me up with in the hospital, but it wiped out my memory to the extent that I rang a friend in the evening to tell her all about how I got on, and she went a bit quiet, then said, "We've already had this conversation. Don't you remember?"
I felt embarrassed, confused, as if I'd just developed Alzheimer's. Apparently she had rung me an hour after I got back from the hospital and I could remember nothing about it at all. Still can't! My brain was totally addled. Anyone else had this experience? I fell bruised, battered and wobbly today, and still a bit fuzzy in the head. No wonder they tell you not to drive for 24 hours!
As far as uncomfortable procedures go, this one was brilliant. I'd had a bad night, waking around 3.30 am with gut cramps and a multitude of violent squit attacks! In fact, they were still happening when I should have been leaving to go to the hospital, so I rang them for advice and was told, "Don't worry, it happens to lots of people, just pad yourself up well," so I arrived with half a roll of kitchen towel wadded inside my knickers!
The staff were so friendly and nice, the Chinese doctor was lovely and the worst part of it was getting the canula inserted into my vein. One they got the periscope up, it was a bit uncomfortable but nothing like the severe pain I suffered eight years ago when I last had one. They found three polyps and removed them, and then I was wheeled into the recovery room where we were all vastly entertained by a bright, twinkly lady of almost 90 who talked about the war and Anderson shelters! Maybe she was still mentally living in 1942. Hope I'm that feisty when I'm 90. They gave me a cup of coffee and some biscuits - free tea and biccies on the NHS! - and rang Mr G to get him to pick me up.
I feel fine now, apart from wind pains from them inflating the bowel to have a good look. Last time, I went to Turkey 3 days after and had what felt like severe period pains the whole time, which ruined the holiday. I feel much better this time, though I'm no closer to finding out what causes my IBS. The nice Chinese doc said, "I wouldn't mind betting it's caused by stress." Well, I certainly have enough of that.
Someone wrote a book called A Year on the Loo. Well, today I had to take the first doze of laxatives, pre colonoscopy. The instructions said, 'Take at 5 pm. They take between 8 and 12 hours to work.' So I can expect to be rushing to the bathroom betwen 1 am and 3 am. How very uncivilised. Then at 8 am tomorrow, I have to take a sachet of Picolax, which is a very violent laxative, followed by another at 2 pm. Then no food till the procedure is over. My appointment is for 9.30 am on Wednesday. There'll be nothing left of me by then, just a skeleton wrapped in toilet paper!!!
For the first time in ages, I have no work on, though last week I wrote a 1000-word article on The Cougar Cult, did my horoscope column and edited eight chapters of somebody's book. How glorious, to be able to relax in this wonderful weather.
On Friday I went into North London and looked at four flats in my ideal area, but they were all ghastly. One was a so-called 'retirement flat' for the over 55's. The moment I entered the door, sniffed the frowsty air, vaguely cabbage scented, noted a pair of crutches propped against a wall and a doddery old soul being shepherded down a corridor, my panic button was pressed. "I know I'm over 55, but please, let's get out of here," I begged the estate agent.
He smirked, being a mere 20-something - though he'd spent the drive there complaining about his knee and skin problems, just like an OAP! (Oops, sorry, it's Senior Citizens or Silver surfers now, not Old Age Pensioners.) Nevertheless, he insisted on shoving me into the lift and taking me up to the flat, which, though large and modern, was extremely gloomy owing to the small windows. (Why do so many local authority blocks and new modern blocks have such small windows? What are they economising on? Window frames? Glass? I think it's a false economy, as it makes the flats so unattractive to live in.) Well, I peeped into the bathroom and remarked on the extra wide doorway and said, "I suppose it's for getting a wheelchair into." And then I started giggling and didn't stop till we were safely outside again, when I remarked to the agent, "I may be old, but I'm certainly not that old!"
Onward to the next, which was a huge ground floor flat next to a park. As we approached the door, I noticed decaying window frames. "I bet that's the flat," I said. We went in the main door and number 3 was on the right. It was the one with the decaying frames. On the carpet right by the door was a nasty stain. The whole hallway smelled of incontinent dog or cat (or maybe even human). I started to giggle again. We got inside and when I saw the broken chairs and cracked double glazing, my laughter almost reached hysteria proportions. Coming out, I saw more nasty stains in the communal hallway. Who would want to live in such a revolting, uncared-for place? With a price tag of £320,000, too! That's North London for you.
Next stop was an ex-rental property. It wasn't revolting, just... depressing, with a garden full of weeds and cupboard doors hanging off. I had done my 'I'm an author, I want somewhere inspiring' bit. The agent hadn't a clue.
Last on the list was my main hope. As I'd waited in the agent's office, a talkative young man had come in and given them his flat to sell. Knowing how anything half decent vanishes immediately, as soon as someone already in the area can get there the moment the property comes onto the market, I announced, "Let me see it." At last, I would be first in the queue.
It was an upstairs flat with two double bedrooms and a study, and stairs from the kitchen to its own garden. The outside of the house looked good. Each of the two flats in it had its own front door. Great! At least my post wouldn't be stolen. I was full of optimism as I climbed the stairs. The study was... a cupboard, not more than four feet across. A small desk and a bookcase were crammed into it. Gulp! The lounge was... blue. Bright, deep turquoise. It was like stepping into a swimming pool. Still, that could be changed. There was a big crack next to the window. My heart began to sink. The first 'double' bedroom had room for a single wardrobe only. The window looked onto a vile, grotty extension next door, set into which were a variety of decaying, unpainted window frames. Inspiring? Not! The next 'double' did have a double bed in it, but you couldn't open the door properly as the bed took up too much room. Kitchen... less said, the better. The owner had lived there for 14 years and had not cleaned the cooker in all that time. The garden was a six foot wide strip of weeds and broken fence panels, the view was over an ugly block of flats. The price? £320,000.
My hopes of moving back to North London, my beloved home from 1967 till when I met Mr Grumpy are fast diminishing. Where is that lottery win when I need it? I'm not asking for a million. A mere £100,000 will do!!!
Yesterday, Mr G drove me to a farmer's market in Iver, where he was soon burdened by his friends' two small children (the ones we catch all our colds and tummy bugs from), which left me to cruise the stalls in peace. In no time, I'd bought some goats' cheese with nettles, a cauliflower, some strawberries, a loaf of soda bread, two cakes and six tomato plants. Result!
Today, Mr G is making a trestle table to put a Gro-bag onto, so I can plant my tomato seedlings well out of the reach of slugs, though I'm going to put some copper strips round the legs, just in case. Copper gives slugs an electric shock when they slime over it, as it reacts with whatever is in their slime. Knowing my luck though, my plants will be eaten by the one kinky slug who gets his kicks out of electric shocks. Vibrators for slugs? Whatever next!
Had the ultrasound last week, but all they found was that the tube from my right kidney is enlarged but they couldn't see any kidney stones, which is the usual cause, and another tube somewhere else is narrower than it should be. Next week is the colonoscopy, involving two days of staying home taking laxatives. Good job we've got three loos!
The first birthday present my daughter bought me after we had found each other was a lapis lazuli pendulum for dowsing. I felt I had a gift for dowsing water (well, I am a Pisces!), but I'd never dowsed for answers to anything. Last year, I used it to help me with my property hunt and it said no to everything.
This morning, with half an hour left before I was due to drop off my cheque and ID at the conveyancing solicitors, I dowsed the property details, asking whether I should buy it. The answer was no. I tried several times, always with the same result. Then I asked if I should start looking in North London again and it said yes. So, was my mind influencing my hand to move the pendulum? I don't know. As far as I was aware, my hand was completely still and the yes-no movements are so very different that I couldn't confuse them. Has anyone reading this ever dowsed, and if so, do you have any wisdom to add?
I have done the unspeakable and pulled out of the buying the house. I feel TERRIBLE about letting down those poor people who said I was their only hope of buying their dream cottage in the country.
Here's why I arrived at this decision. Shortly after I met Mr Grumpy, I sold my wonderful flat near Hampstead Heath and bought a house round the corner to him, having realised how much more you could get for your money out in Uxbridge/Hillingdon. Well, was I miserable! I hated it. I was lonely as hell, I cried every day, my creativity dried up and I spent the time I would normally have spent meeting a friend for a lunchtime coffee or going for a walk on the Heath, staring at blank walls and going up the wall.
After a year, I sold it for the same price I paid for it, losing thousands in purchase and sales fees. I moved 'temporarily' into Mr G's and stuck my stuff in his workshop. Which leaked. All my paintings, some of the originals, all my prints, some of them signed and numbered, an art collection I'd been building up for 30 years, got ruined. I was heartbroken. I didn't even know where they were as he had stacked them behind a big mirror, and that's where the damp seeped in. He blamed me, saying 'You knew they were in there.' But I didn't. I thought he'd stuck them in one of his cupboards in the house.
I found a flat back in North London, but had to have a major operation and pulled out as I was too sick and weak to bother with all the form-filling etc. It was only a few weeks down the line but the vendor, who was a doctor, rang me and shrieked, "I hope you catch something nasty and die!" I've never forgotten her viciousness. Bitch!
A year later, I bought an ex-council house in Muswell Hill, N. London, but had the worst neighbours, with drugs and knife-fights occurring next door and across the garden fence. I felt threatened, and it was at the foot of a very steep hill which did in a ligament in my ankle so I had a year in support bandages. Mr G had a major brain haemorrhage at this time, which took him a while to recover from, so I was to-ing and fro-ing on public transport between Muswell Hill and Hillingdon. It takes ages, believe me. Two hours on bad days. More than my wonky bladder could stand and I began to dread the journey and develop an almost phobia about it, especially after one horrendous occasion when I was dying for the loo and we got stuck underground for almost an hour due to a signal failure.
I sold that eventually and bought another ex-council house in Highgate with a very nice neighbour. Too nice. He started getting lecherous and I hardly dared go into the garden. Then work dropped off, I owed some money and needed to pay it back, so I sold it. Big mistake in hindsight as it's now worth £550,000. I can't afford to buy back any of my old houses.
After that, I rented a flat in Highgate (my favourite part of London) for three years, dropping around £40,000 in rent down the drain. Finally, I bought another ex-council property in East Finchley, N2. Lovely house, but Mr G offered to do it up for me and it took him 18 months, during which time I was still corralled in his house in Hillingdon (which is 3 miles from Uxbridge and 3 miles from a tube station). By now we are up to 1997. Some of my stuff was put into storage in 2003 and has been there ever since! After 18 months of NOT living in my house, I had gone off it. I'd found out the things I didn't like about the street, the nosy neighbours, the tearway kids, the old, broken TV aerial which bashed against the chimney every time the wind blew (I rang loads of firms and couldn't find anybody who was willing to take it down).
Then Mr G had his double stroke. I sold the place and have now been in Hillingdon and away from my friends for five whole years. Five years of doing nothing but sit in front of the TV at night. Five years of wandering into Uxbridge and buying clothes I don't need, out of sheer boredom. I have been going crazy. I joined a gym, tried a few classes, but didn't meet anyone even vaguely sympatico. You may be wondering why none of my friends have been out here to visit me; truth is, they all know what a ghastly journey it is, and, all being ladies of a certain age, we all hate travelling on public transport at night, and they've all got animals they have to get back to. Few of my friends have a car because in London, you hardly need one. Out of five, only one has wheels.
When I found the house, I honestly thought I'd be able to hack it; get my stuff out of storage, stay for a year, regain a bit of independence, visit Mr G and Flad and do lots of writing. But... did I write last time I had my own house in Hillingdon/Uxbridge? No, I did not. I was too lonely and unhappy. It made me think, what did I need a house in this area for when Mr G already had one?
The clincher came yesterday. I went all the way to Nunhead in South London to see a friend's photography exhibition. Coming back, the heavens opened, the bus didn't come, I had to walk miles, missed a train and had to wait half an hour, and finally got to Victoria station with a sign of relief, to find the roof leaking and a waterfall pouring through! It was most dramatic. But then I had to face the next stage of my journey, i.e. getting back to Hillingdon. I walked through the torrents and missed the first coach (the Oxford Tube). Got the next, and it was such a trawl through London and onto the A40 (loads of crawling traffic). Couldn't face the wait for a bus, then the long walk up Mr G's road so I rang and begged him to come and get me, which I did.
Today, I realised that going to that exhibition had been like finding an oasis in the desert. It was wonderful, refreshing, inspiring. I actually spoke with like-minded people. Met a middle-aged man who plays in a folk group, just like I used to do. I want more, more, more. I need to mix in creative circles and there are none in Hillingdon, and believe me, I've looked. Most of all, I need to socialise with my friends. I've almost forgotten what it is to enjoy myself. So... the house in Uxbridge isn't the answer. I am sick of being far away and lonely, and it's not like I haven't given Uxbridge a chance. It's going to have to be a flat in town, to which I can get taxis home at night.
It's 5.30 am. Raging earache woke me - the Otosporin antibiotic ear drops have been making my eczema inside my ear worse, not better - so I decided to get up. I have fed Flad, Mr G is still in bed (he's a very early riser normally) and, just for a moment, if I ignore the pain, I can see dawn painting the sky in apricot flame and hear the birds - blackbirds, sparrows, blue tits, wood pigeons - and feel the breeze on my ankles from the open door. It's lovely, restful, and the green vista of lawn and trees in front of me is balm to my eyes. Green is one thing I will miss in the new house, as the garden is gravelled and paved. But I could always plant a little lawn. Though there is nowhere you can sit and look out onto the garden as the only window at the back of the house looks down the passageway between the side of the house and the fence. I will have to build a summerhouse, I think, where I can sit and have my breakfast.
Anyone know any cures for earache? I have used hypoallergenic shampoo and conditioner but still, every time I wash my hair, the eczema on and in my ears flares up again. Is there anything I can do? I've gone half deaf, with the sticky Otosporin clogging up my ear.
I'm watching a blackbird and a sparrow eating the bread I just threw out. It's lovely to hear sparrows cheeping. A merry sound I remember from my childhood, when flocks of sparrows abounded, before people ripped out their privet hedges because privet was unfashionable, and swopped iron gutters for plastic ones, thus robbing the sparrows of two favourite nesting sites. The new house has a sparrows' nest and lots of nesting boxes, though the blackbird has built her nest on the roof of one, rather than inside it. I think the older you get, the more you appreciate birds because you have witnessed the rapid decline in their numbers and their beauty is now all the more poignant. Ooh! A woodpecker on the peanuts! Must dash for the camera.
I have an article to write. Nothing grand or important, just a fun 600 word feature which requires a little research and a modicum of thought, and needs to be fact-filled and entertaining.
Unlike a work of fiction, I find with a feature that I cannot rush to the computer and start writing. Writing non-fiction is an entirely different process. I find I have to mull it over and let it take shape in my head. I need to decide on my starting point and the place where I am going to end it, which must pack some sort of punch.
I generally think of the end of a work of fiction too, before I start. With a full-length novel, I need to write myself a tentative synopsis and have a vague idea of where my characters are heading. With a short story, I need to be able to sum it up in a few words, e.g. couple are on holiday and guy gets killed in a para-gliding accident, but did someone tamper with his kit?
An article, though, needs to be far more precise. I need to have the whole form of it in my head before I can start to write. I have to have created the substance, the point, the flow, the argument. So I have spent today photographing clothes I'm getting rid of for eBay whilst mulling over my feature. I'm still not quite there but by tomorrow it should have taken shape and this would be the ideal day to write it, while it's fresh and hot, but unfortunately - wouldn't you know it? - I've got to go out for the day. Monday is interrupted by a painful trip to the chiropractor, so no typing on Monday. Tuesday will have to be the day. I'll just have to hope Mr G's friends with all the children don't decide to come round. Roll on my own house where I can work undisturbed (I hope!).
Well, it's official. I'm buying a house (that's it above). I've had a long chat with the lovely lady who owns the house in Uxbridge and she said I was the answer to their prayers, because without me having come along, they would have lost the house in the country that they want to buy. So I have to go through with it now 'cos she's so nice that I couldn't bear to let her down. She loves horse-riding and hubby flies micro-lights and they are moving to a place with a livery stable next door and an airfield up the road where he can do his flying from.
The garden of the new house has a sparrows' nest and blackbirds' next, and feeders everywhere. Some of her lovely paintings were on the wall and the house has a very nice feel to it. It's also got something I have always wanted, a bedroom with no neighbours on either side. So I am going ahead, but oh, how wish I could pick it up and move it to North London - where it would probably cost £750,000!
Here is a pic of the garden. It faces north but still seems to get a lot of sun.
My oldest friend Claire - we met on our first day at primary school - went to the crematorium on my behalf today and photographed the book of remembrance. The flowers were out in all their glory, as if paying homage to Dad too!
Mum and Dad on a bench in Calderstones Park, Liverpool, in about 1982. Dad never went anywhere without a knapsack and his camera. Now I'm the same!
Mum and Dad met through the Cyclists' Touring Club and their honeymoon was a wet week cycling in the Isle of Skye. That was probably Mum's thumb over the camera lens. Dad's sense of humour is certainly obvious here.
Mum, Dad and a cycling friend in Scotland. Love the plus fours that they all wore for cycling. It was still quite daring for ladies to wear trousers then. This was the 1930s.
My dad was born on 21st November 1905. He died on May 11th, 1992 aged 86. His birthday this year would have been his 105th!
The Book of Remembrance will be open at Springwood Crematorium today, showing his page with the gilded lettering and the few words my sister and I wrote to remember him by. We intended to go but, as it happened, it was not to be. (By the way, my friend's son's house is being mopped up and sorted out as we speak. The damage wasn't too bad.)
It was sad the way my dad went. My mother had been acting mysteriously. Usually so keen to have me visit, she had put me off for two or three months, not even wanting me to come up to Liverpool for my birthday. She cited various excuses; the house was a mess, Dad had a cold, Dad had an upset stomach. My sister was in the middle of one of her divorces, or house moves, or treks in the Pamir mountains or something, so she hadn't visited much. But, had we known it, something far more sinister was going on.
What neither of us realised was that Mum was developing senile dementia and that Dad had undiagnosed lung cancer. Then one day Mum rang and told me that Dad appeared to have had a stroke because he couldn't move his arm. For some reason she hadn't rung a doctor or an ambulance. I got there as soon as I could, though it took several hours, and found Dad in bed, unable to remove either arm, but his legs and his speech were fine. I asked Mum how long this had been going on and she replied that it had been a few days and she, a slightly built woman of 82, had been trying to haul him out of bed each time he needed the loo - which was often, as Dad's side of the family all suffered from weak bladders, and I have unfortunately inherited the gene.
I realised from his symptoms that it wasn't a stroke, but I rang the family doctor, who came round, hummed and hah-ed and said he'd get Dad admitted to hospital for 'respite care', to give Mum a break.
Now, I had a demanding job as an editor, struggling with a minimal staff, due to cut-backs, responsible for reading as many as 70 short story manuscripts a week that came in from would-be contributors and also, due to the same cut-backs, having to write all the features myself. I couldn't remain up there for long, but it was a desperate situation. The magazine would have to try and muddle along without me.
I'll never forget Mum and I heaving poor Dad to the side of the bed and trying to get him into clean pyjamas. He was weak and bewildered and Mum seemed equally bemused. The ambulance came and took him to the Royal Liverpool and we went in it with him. It was dreadful having to leave him there. On the bus going home, Mum admitted that when Dad had had his stomach upset weeks earlier, she'd called the doctor and a locum had come round, decided it must be one of his pills that was upsetting him and had taken him off them all. From ten pills a day for blood pressure (including Warfarin), rheumatism, kidneys, heaven knows what else, he was suddenly taking none and it seemed as if the sudden withdrawal from them all had been too much for his body.
The next day they did scans and that's when it was discovered that Dad had a massive lung tumour and it was this, pressing on nerves, that was paralysing his arms. While we were there he asked us to call for a bedpan and this dreadful kerfuffle with hoists and commodes began, in the middle of which poor Dad couldn't hold on. He was dangling up in the air on the hoist and he was sobbing with the humiliation of it. We left so they could clean him up.
By now my sister was back from wherever, so I went back to London. I rang every day, to be told there was 'no change'. I went up once more over a weekend and saw Dad and I can remember our last conversation. He asked me to cut his fingernails for him - Dad was always very proud of his nails, which were well-shaped and always neatly trimmed - and he said, "You realise you'll have to take care of your mother now. You have to keep an eye on her all the time, to make sure she turns the oven off, and things like that." It turned out he had been 'keeping an eye on her' for some time, as her memory had started to fail. Tragically, he kept asking when he could go home. I wonder if he could read the lie in my eyes as I said, "Any day now."
In the middle of all this I was told by my dippy landlady that when she rented the house to me, she'd forgotten she had a party of academics coming over from the states so I had to get out for month. I moved into a friend's back room. It was Easter Saturday when I had a desperate urge, like something tugging at me, to go to Liverpool and see Dad. But that very day my friend announced that I had to leave because his girlfriend, who he'd been trying to persuade to come and live with him for months, had suddenly said yes. He was scared that having me and all my bags in the back room would put her off (she was a bit super-nervous, like a deer, always wanting to dart away) and I had to get out right there, right then. Imagine the state I was in.
Where was I going to go on Easter Saturday, with all my bags and boxes, torn in two by this desperate feeling of wanting to be with my father? In the end, I rang a phone number in the local paper and found a flat to rent in a decaying 1930s mansion block in Crouch End called Monkridge. It was full of old ladies, it smelt of cabbage, it was on a main road and the windows wouldn't close properly, so sleep was near impossible. By the time I'd moved myself in, it was too late to go to Liverpool. I found out next day that I'd missed my last chance to talk to my dad because that evening he'd slipped into a coma from which he never regained consciousness.
But one day I awoke with the most terrible tugging feeling again and, I knew beyond any doubt, that Dad was going to die that day. But my horrible boss, a whip thin, vicious tongued, hard as nails cow, wouldn't let me drop work and go. She stood over me while I called the hospital. They said again there was 'no change', though I felt in my bones that they were wrong.
That night at just before ten, I had a weird feeling of something pushing me hard in the back. I was propelled out of the house, down to the off-licence, bought a bottle of wine and went round to my friend (the one who'd kicked me out, but had since apologised and been very sympathetic) and his girlfriend. I arrived at their door at 10.10 pm. "I don't know what I'm doing here," I said, but please humour me. I went to get drunk and talk about my dad."
It must have been 11.30 when I had a call from my sister to say they they'd visited Dad that night and had just got back when they had a call to come back to the hospital urgently as his condition had taken that dreaded 'turn for the worse'. They were too late. Dad had died at 10.10.
That night I stayed in my friend's back room again as I was in no state to go anywhere, and didn't want to be alone. And I had the strangest dream. There is some background to this dream which I must explain. It concerns a famous UK folk group called Fairport Convention whose lead singer was Sandy Denny. Lovely girl, fabulous voice, but died very tragically of a brain haemorrhage in April 1978, the result of a bang on the head when she'd fallen down the stairs four days earlier. In my dream, I was in a room and it was full of musicians. Jimmy Hendrix was there, Beethoven, others who I now forget, and Sandy Denny. I looked around and said in surprise, "But you're all dead!" and Sandy laughed, took my hand and led me over to a huge, floor to ceiling plate-glass window.
I looked through and saw my dad flanked by two huge ancient Egyptians in ceremonial garb who were ushering him into the base of a big pyramid. Dad looked proud and somehow exalted, the way he had looked when I'd visited him in the funeral home. "We were all here to help him," Sandy said. Now, Dad, like all our family, was very musical. He could play anything by ear on the piano, vamping a left hand accompaniment, as can I. So it made sense that he should have musical spirit guides.
This story has a postscript. Some months later, I mentioned my dream to a friend whose sister had once dated a drummer who had worked on some of the band's albums. He had told of a spooky experience he had had about a year after Sandy Denny died. He was sitting on the top deck of a bus when Sandy came up the stairs and sat next to him. They started chatting quite naturally, till he suddenly remembered she was dead. She laughed and told him she was a spirit guide, helping the souls of musicians through to the other side. Then her image just faded and vanished. He was shaken up for months by the experience.
It was comforting to know that Dad had help. It was great to see him having such a ceremonial send-off. I am in tears now, writing this. Miss you, Dad. Miss your awful puns, your little poems, the sing-songs we'd have at Christmas, the way you'd whistle The Keel Row and tap your foot up and down while our ginger cat, Sandy, would put his front paws on your foot and bob up and down and 'have a ride' on your toe. Mum would have her sighs and tempers and tears, but you were always so cheerful. My sister nicknamed you 'the happy chappy'.
I miss the holidays in Wales, Scotland, the Lake District. It was always raining, you always managed to park the car by either a reeking dustbin or an enormous, lake-size puddle. The sandwiches would get soggy, your 'short cuts' would lead us through muddy farmyards and fields of terrifying cattle at which Mum would have hysterics and vow, as she always did, that this was the last time she was going to let you map-read.
You and my sister tended to team up, as did Mum and I - the two practical ones versus the two artistic ones (wrong: my sister is much more artistically talented than I am!), yet despite the bad press about you which I got from Mum, the sighs about her having married the wrong man, the obvious tensions and discords between you, I never stopped loving you. God bless you, Dad! God bless you, Lawrence. Thank you for being my father.
Me (left) and my pretty little curly-haired sis, circa 1950. I'm sure this is how Dad always thought of us!
Fate has stepped in and I'm not now going to Liverpool as my friend's son has had a serious flood in his house, so she is going over there to help out, as they have a small baby and no hot water or electricity. She will probably have to look after her granddaughter for a couple of days, so we couldn't have done all the things we were going to do. This gives me a breathing space to make all the house-related phone calls.
She is doing her best to talk me into buying the flat next door to her, which is going for around £120,000 for a spacious 2-bed flat, which makes London prices look stupid. (Which they are, of course.) But every time I go back there, I get swamped by emotion, as she lives in a street which I often walked down with my family when I was a child, and the house I was brought up in, which my parents bought in 1949 and which they stayed in till Mum died in 1996, is just up the road. Too nostalgic. I don't think I could live amongst my old haunts again. I'd feel like a ghost of myself.
Had three hours' sleep, then woke and the house dilemma hit me with a wham-bang and then I was tossing and turning, seeing 3.30 am, 4.am go by, and finally I got up at a quarter to five. I was glad I did, because the beastly bully cat had escaped from next door again and was halfway through the cat flap, and poor Flad was cowering beneath the coffee table, terrified. I shudder to think of the cat fight that would have taken place in the house if I hadn't got up just then. I must be Flad's guardian angel!
Probably because of all my house worries, plus a major ding-dong with Mr G when I asked for some advice and help in making a decision, I have got a terribly upset tum and have been to the loo five times so far. I tried to explain how difficult it was to be in a relationship but never take any decisions together, because he has always insisted on separate lives, and never allowed me to live with him 'officially' in 'his' house. He has never let it become 'our' house so, as well as being politically disenfranchised, I feel disenfranchised relationship-wise, too.
The cottage is the only one in my price range and roughly in the right area that I have found in hours and hours (at least two hours a day) of trawling the property websites. I don't like it much but I can't go on waiting for perfection forever. I think I'll have to go for it. Just the thought of leaving the relative security of Mr G's is making my tummy roil again. I don't feel at all like going away tomorrow, especially with estate agents to face and solicitors to ring. I shall be fretting all the time. Perhaps I had better postpone my trip till things are a bit more settled...
(Ten minutes later: make that six trips to the loo.)
I am in a dilemma. Do I stretch myself to the limit, leaving myself with precious little cash in reserve, and buy the house in Uxbridge (miles from friends but near Mr G), or do I buy the much cheaper cottage in North London (near friends but an hour and a half from Mr G - and Flad) that I saw ages ago and has just come back on the market? It also needs a certain amount of work.
I have to make a decision this weekend but on Monday morning first thing, I shall be on a train to Liverpool and shan't be back till Wednesday, and on Thursday the survey is being done on the house in Uxbridge and I've been unable to get the surveyor on the phone today.
It won't be a peaceful weekend, I won't sleep and I shan't be able to relax in Liverpool. In fact, I am cursing the fact that it's now, rather than some other time. Isn't it always the way? I've just received a£200 bill for yet another month of storage. I've forgotten what I've got in the unit! I know all my books are in there, but what else? My chest of drawers that the last set of removers broke the leg off... six collapsible chairs that I use for parties... washing machine... stuff from my parents' house that I haven't gone through yet... two filing cabinets... a collection of art deco pottery that I accumulated in the mid '80s when I was earning pots of money... wine glasses... cuddly toys... (no, actually, I've got those with me now)... paintings... erghhhhh!
This is the second election I have been unable to vote in. The reason is the same: each time I have been living at Mr Grumpy's and he hasn't allowed me to register myself as officially living here. I am furious. Yet another reason why I must leave. I mean, it's my RIGHT to have a vote. I suppose he thinks it might affect his council tax or something. Imagine if my one tiny vote would make all the difference as to who got in. Imagine if my one vote would have prevented a hung parliament. It makes me feel a non-person, as if I'd just arrived at Heathrow, not someone who has lived here all my life.
Right. Rant over. Now to some pretty piccies of bluebells in the front garden.
Around 7 pm there was a ring at the bell and there was a guy with a large box. Crammed into it was my 20 kilo bag of birdseed. The box had been opened, even though it was addressed to me. The guy explained that my parcel had gone to the next street by mistake and he had picked it up and delivered it on his way home.
I am most suspicious. For a start, in the direction he waved in to indicate 'next street', there is only a field. I live at No. 76. None of the streets round about have a No. 76, they're all much shorter. Anyway, who would sign for a parcel not in their name, not even in a name they'd ever heard of? The courier firm's website firmly said that the parcel had been delivered at 4.18 pm and had been signed for by 'Mr L Read'. Another 'hmmm'.
I can't help thinking someone thought, 'Ooh, this might be valuable. I wonder what's in it?' (I'm not suggesting who the someone might be, of course!), and when they opened it and found it was only birdseed, they decided to bring it round.
The last 20 kilo bag of birdseed I bought lasted from December to late March and cost a mere £9.99, much more economical than buying those tiddly little bags you get in Sainsburys or the pet shop. I worked out the birds would cost me no more than £50 a year, counting the odd supplement of fat balls and niger seed.
Wrong! The second bag lasted a mere five weeks. It ran out today. Last week, I went on line to order another bag and lo and behold, the price has gone up to £12.99. This is still the cheapest I can find for such a huge bag. They sent me an email to say it would be delivered on May 4th - today - and someone had to be in to sign for it. At ten this morning, I had another email giving me an ETA of between 3.49 and 4.49 (a rather strange time).
It's now 6.04 and I am still waiting. So are the birds.
Mr G often wakes very early and, being unable to get back to sleep again, gets up, goes down, feeds the cat, makes himself a mug of tea and, according to whether it's 5 am or 6 am, either sits in the kitchen listening to LBC, or lies on the sofa and pulls a blanket over himself.
The other day was one of the 5 am's. There was Mr G, reclining under his Slanket, when all of a sudden he hears a muffled, distant voice going, "Hello, hello." Thinking he must have dropped off and been dreaming, he ignores it at first, but the voice is still going, "Hello?"
Mr G raises himself and takes a look around. On the pouffe at his side is fat, furry, recently fed Flad. The disembodied voice seems to be coming from Flad's backside. A prickly chill runs through Mr G's body. 'Oh my God, the cat's talking,' he thinks. His next thought was even worse. 'Oh no, it's his bottom that's talking. The cat's bottom has learned to speak!'
At that point, Flad shifts slightly and Mr G glimpses his mobile phone. Then he recognises the voice. It's his friend Terry. Mr G has him on speed dial and Flad's bum has pressed the button. Terry still doesn't believe that the cat dialled him. I wish I'd been there, though!