No fish left, just a still, dark, empty pond. There is a huge gulp in my throat every time I look at it. Down at the bottom, I can see a few pale corpses held fast by the weed, drifting silently as the wind wafts the water.
I was musing this morning (as one does) about the various men I'd had in my life ('had' not being the operative word here, if you know what I mean. That's a topic for another day!), and wondering what it was that had drawn me to them. And quite apart from the way they looked, there was one quality that stuck out from all the rest: playfulness.
My ex-husband (who bore the same first name as Mr Grumpy), although a lying, thieving, unfaithful SOB, nevertheless had a great and lively sense of humour and between the two of us we built up a fantasy world of creatures and vocabulary that we had created. There was Fifi La Flouzelle, a stylish French cat flea that lived on Petal, our tiny calico cat. Ex-Hub was a very good cartoonist and would draw pictures of Petal in aviator jacket and flying goggles, being towed behind the car on the M1 on a go-kart, whiskers and tail streaming in the wind, and behind her would be a tinier go-kart with Fifi on it. We had our own language of love, with words too embarrassing to repeat, though I will admit that one of them was 'wuvvle'.
There is such delight in finding a partner, or even a good friend, who has a creative sense of humour. One reason I miss my friend Louise, who died 18 months ago, so much is that she, being a fantasy writer, could create whole universes in which I could join her on an adventure.
Mr G is also playful and funny. We also have our own little world populated by characters such as Arnie Schwartzerpigeon and The Fearsome Jock McWibble (if you're on Facebook, Lemmy the Lemur will soon be having an encounter with him!), and we also have words which we have invented, which are only ever used between us as anyone else would think we were mad!
All families have their inventions and rituals. My mum used to make up little songs about everything, some of which, like her song about TCP, would have made great advertising jingles. Every morning, my dad used to do a little song and dance routine on the doormat before leaving for work. The song was a Scouse version of the Disney Dwarves' 'Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go' and ended with the words, 'grapes with hairs on, goosegogs', a 'goosegog' being Northern slang for a gooseberry.
When parents and siblings die or a relationship ends, all these poignant, lively, touching creations stop evolving. But in my mind Petal and Fifi are still flying down the M1 and Dad's little song is still playing, so they are never truly gone, even if Arnie is no more and I never, thank God, have to say 'wuvvle' any more.
A terrible tragedy has struck the pond. I have known and loved these fish for 14 years. They only began spawning last year when Mr Grumpy bought a filter kit and an air stone to clean and oxygenate the pond.
I went out and bought a PH testing kit two days ago and it proclaimed the water perfect, but most of the baby fish had floated to the top dead. This morning, this was what greeted us. The biggest, healthiest of our piscine friends had simply keeled over.
In despair, I hit the search engine and discovered that the problem had been caused by the sudden changes in temperature from deep freeze to warm-up, to cold, and back to warm. This stresses fish and lowers their immune systems so they are prone to disease. When Mr G examined the corpses, he found traces of fungal disease. He went to the pet store and got some anti-fungal treatment which has turned the pond water bright green. (Wonder what the frogs make of it? Can they catch fungal diseases too?)
If none survive, Mr G says that's it, no more fish. But in that case, he'll either be left with a pond full of stagnant water which will turn into a mosquito breeding factory, or, if he drains it, a five foot deep hole. Just deep enough to bury me in if I keel over!
Now, why did I say that? Earlier today, I watched a funeral procession passing down our road, led by a beautifully polished black coach and horses (also polished to a glossy sheen). That's the sort of send-off I'd like, thought I. Then I remembered the big, fat, gypsy funeral I passed on the bus last week - the road lined with battered pick-ups and lorries all festooned with flowers. What kind of send-off are the poor fish getting? According to Mr G, he's slinging them down the bottom of the garden for the fox. Sad. Very, very sad.
I am the sort of person who inevitably puts her finger through the bog roll of life and doesn't come up smelling of roses. Many years ago, I invented a word - orapedology, from the Latin words for foot and mouth - to describe the act of opening one's mouth and putting one's foot in it.
My worst faux-pas still live with me. Every so often I re-examine them and am drenched in shame all over again. The time I introduced somebody's very nice second wife by the name of the universally hated first one, after telling myself over and over again, 'Whatever you do, don't call her Julie'. The time back in the Sixties, when there was a vogue for using the word 'spastic' to describe something bad; "That joke was so spastic!" I declaimed loudly in the university refectory, only to turn round and discover, sitting right behind me, our greatly admired Poetry lecturer who suffered from cerebral palsy. The time when, aged 17 and on a school trip to Paris, I got lost and, showing off my mastery of the French language, confidently informed a gendarme that I had lost, not my bearings, but my virginity, whereupon he abandoned his traffic-directing, placed a fatherly arm around my shoulders and took my bewildered teenage self for a coffee. (Yes, I did eventually find my way back to the Lycee Henri-Quatre.)
But there is one thing that is even worse than being an accidental orapedologist and that is doing it deliberately, in the style of Dynasty's Alexis (good old Joan!). A friend of mine still burns with the injustice of the way she was greeted by the mother of a schoolfriend, who she hadn't seen for 20-odd years. First, there was a squint down a pair of invisible pince-nez, followed by a vague shake of the head, as if to recover a distant memory, and finally, the devastating put-down: "Margaret? Hmm... Oh yes, Margaret. Of course! You used to be the pretty one."
Mothers can be the worst of all, though, when it comes to putting down members of their family. When I was in my early 40s, I decided to get my ginger locks dyed the same shade of vibrant red they had been in my childhood. I even took the hairdresser a lock of hair I had saved since I had my pre-uni hair-cut at 18, so he could match it up. I was in a good job at the time, and had bought myself a super-trendy designer jacket and was looking forward to impressing Mum and showing her I had smartened up my image from the denim-clad hippie she was used to.
Mum said nothing when I arrived, but bustled around making tea, as mums do. She saved up her master-stroke for three days, until I was leaving. As I stood on the doorstep with Dad, who was accompanying me to the station, she spoke these words which have stayed with me ever since: "When you arrived, I didn't recognise you. I saw you coming and thought, 'Who's the fat, middle-aged woman with dyed hair and a shrunken jacket, who's coming over the railway bridge with Dad?'"
The jacket went into the charity shop bag as soon as I got home, and I let the colour fade out. Next time I went home, it was in jeans and a sweatshirt, and she never said another word about my image, ever again. Maybe she wanted to think of me as the eternal guitar-strumming teenager rather than the middle-aged daughter I had grown into. I have tried to find a reason and a way of forgiving her, but no; I can't and I won't. That wasn't orapedology, it was... well, is there a word for it? Maybe it's time to invent another.
I wrote two posts, re-read them, decided they were too gloomy and self-obsessed, and so I deleted them, especially in the light of what has happened since.
This morning, I felt rejected and dejected because Mr G had told me to take away the cards and gift I had given him as it wasn't Valentine's Day yet, despite the fact that the TV ads have been telling us for days that this is Valentine's Weekend (a new one on me!). I gave them to him today as I shall be out all day tomorrow, so I wanted to spend a little more time and linger in the romantic mood (despite the fact that he reduced me to tears again yesterday with one of his sudden, cruel, uncalled-for jibes).
So I sadly put away my Valentine offerings, feeling rather like a bower bird on a David Attenborough programme when the would-be mate rejects its offerings of leaves and flowers, and its feathers droop and it wanders sadly off, dropping its gifts on the ground.
Mr G said he was going off to the DIY shop, so I wasted an hour on the computer. When I came down on his return, what did I find on the table but a small box and two cards in bright red envelopes. 'Huh!' I thought. 'Shall I just ignore them? After all, I've been told it isn't Valentine's Day yet.'
But he urged me to open them. One was a very funny card, supposedly from Flad to me, and the other a romantic one addressed to his 'special person', with teddy bears rubbing noses on it. "Will you open yours now?" I asked him and rushed to get them. My card showing an elderly couple sitting on either end of a bench and holding hands at arms' length, with a caption about how we would still love each other when we're old and smell of wee, didn't quite match up to the soppy teddies. My other one looked boring until you opened it, whereupon pop-ups of flowers and hearts sprang out.
I gave him his gift box of Dolce and Gabbana smellies. Then I opened the box he had given me. Inside was a beautifully crafted, asymmetrical silver heart, with wiggly bits on, all studded in glittering stones. He told me he had had it specially made and it was for my birthday as well (March 17th). Does that mean they are real diamonds? I felt so guilty that my gift wasn't as special as his. We have never bothered with Valentine gifts before. Buying him something was an impulse on my part. I think he probably bought the necklace for my birthday but decided to give it to me now.
He asked me to put it on. I am wearing grotty sweats and a furry gilet because it's so cold. The necklace wouldn't show beneath the layers. So I told him I shall wear it tomorrow for my writers' lunch at the Groucho Club. I've never been there before so I'm looking forward to it.
So what I thought was his rejection of my gifts wasn't that at all. His trip to town wasn't to the DIY store, it was to buy cards. It was just a matter of timing. He couldn't open mine until he could give me his. The bower birds had to have their beaks full at the same time. I shall never understand men!
Sorry I haven't posted for a few days but I've been getting my knickers in a twist again about another house I viewed. Right area, heaps of room, but lousy view, overlooked by other houses and with a tiny, north-facing garden that I couldn't have bird-watched in at all. I know I've been spoiled by living at Mr G's place, big and detached with its huge garden. Now I want it all, and have gallon-sized requirements on a pint-sized budget.
The agent has just rung and I said no, I didn't want the house. He sounded completely taken aback. An identical one is for sale in the next street for £50,000 more. Maybe I AM mad, but if I bought this one, it would be on the market again within a year... Or would it buy me some time to sort out my belongings, get my social life back and think... ? Lottery win, I really need you right now!!!
There are the remains of some very old woodland at the end of the road. Once, trees must have covered the entire area - in fact our street was one big orchard and apple trees still remain in many of the gardens.
Now, the wood has shrunk is there's only about a mile of it before you come out into a large recreation area with football fields and a small petting zoo. But the woods still retain some of their ancient magic. I can definitely see the face of some kind of wood spirit in the tree stump. As for whoever sleeps in that nest, crow, magpie or squirrel, I'm sure they must get seasick in high winds like we have had for the last few days!
As for the catkins... a sign of spring? I'd like to think so.
I have a writing buddy. I asked him to nag me at the start of Feb, and he has done so. I made a vow to have a chapter of a book written by the end of March but I haven't written a single word. It's cold, grey, windy, I have fallen out with a really good friend as we had a loose arrangement to meet on Wednesday (two hours there, two hours back, just to have lunch, I was dead tired and didn't feel up to the journey) and I feel depressed and uninspired.
Yesterday we had lovely sunshine and what a difference that made. I donned my new Gortex walking boots and went out to test them. They hurt. That could mean £47 (reduced from £70) down the drain as the part that hurts is the metal eyelets for the laces, that press against my instep and dig in. That sunshine made all the difference to my mood, though. I could feel some warmth despite the wind and I felt energised. Maybe I suffer from SAD.
I've just come back from viewing a lovely cottage in the back of beyond (if you don't drive, which I don't). It belonged to a guy in a band and was full of guitars but a helluva trek to town and the station. Mr G was really keen on it but I think he just wants to get rid of me. I feel so stuck, so bleak, and this afternoon I have to go to see none other than the doctor who did my unsuccessful pile operation. If he suggests doing it again, I know what my answer will be and it will probably turn the air blue!