Saturday, 7 May 2011

Flora Day

Today was Flora Day – an ancient tradition when the change from Spring to Summer is recognised by the whole town of Helston (where my mother’s nursing home is).

There is, no doubt, some pagan significance to the ritual, but nowadays it is a mix of secular (make as much money as possible by any means possible – mostly real ale), general merriment with a touch of Church and folklore thrown in.

All the gates are festooned with bluebells and rather ambitious arches of fauna that generally wilt by lunchtime. The town band does a magnificent job of playing a medley of the same tune over and over – which can be a bit mind numbing and most certainly lip numbing for the brass and silver sections. The tune would be good for a baby’s ‘go to sleep’ toy.

However, despite this year’s distinct lack of Lilly of The Valley for lapel nosegays (thanks to the royal wedding and Katherine’s desire for authentic English, Spring flowers; my mother had one solitary sprig) the jamboree carried on with gusto.

Tradition still holds as the dancers parade through my mother’s nursing home, Penhellis, and as a resident’s family member I gain the status of privileged person for a day. This involves sitting on a particular side of a piece of red-tape and I gain free access to a buffet table along with Pimms and wine provision.

It is amusing to see the other supposed important people dance pass, including our local MP and the mayor. Ladies make an effort to wear long-length ball gowns with ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ hats.  All the men are in suits and top hats creating a rather sweaty and red-faced scenario. The children dance in white earlier and 'pretend servants' do their bit at tea-time.

My mother in her wheelchair sat like the Queen and waved the town's dignitaries pass, I, her lady in waiting, drank tea and was thankful for a sit-down (knowing that a raised bed of weeds awaited me at home).

It is the perfect opportunity for alcoholics to get drunk by lunchtime and stumble about the lanes of Cornwall. The day is ideal for family picnics and community catch-ups. Inside the nursing home it means all residents’ families can support each other, in a reserved way, as we cope with the reality of dementia, Parkinsons, sight loss and other conditions of old age. One resident is 102.

As I made my way back home, I considered how after all the fuss and bother we all went to, and the effort we made to get a close to the Furry Dance, I still doubt whether my mummy will remember a thing. However, at least I was offered a respite from weeding and a chance to feel like the lady of a country manor for an hour or two.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Bamboo baby rescue

It’s amazing what you can do with a bamboo cane. Of course my village is 'bamboo central', in Cornwall, with three public sub-tropical gardens on my doorstep – each with an array of bamboo clumps. We have our own crop, which subtly hides our neighbours’ modern bungalow and gives the impression, from the kitchen window, that we live in an isolated paradise. Our neighbour is obviously offended by its spreading capacity and seems to be applying some killing chemical on his side; however we still smile and say “hello”; so all is well.

The super hero of my life has been at it again. This time he has prevented a small baby from slowly boiling whilst being trapped in a car.

At first I noticed a rather stunning ‘yummy mummy’, in a particularly arresting red sundress, on the petrol station forecourt. I daresay that most men would leap to her defence if she cried, “I can’t work the air pressure thingy” or “there is a squashed fly on my windscreen”. So at first I didn’t bother as my dearest went to attend to her and her car.

It wasn’t until five minutes later, when he beckoned me over, that I realised I was needed in yet another rural drama.

Picture the scene, we are on the outskirts of Truro, it is a hot, sunny bank-holiday and a tiny baby’s mother has locked her keys into the car along with her child. It wasn’t an emergency so the police said.

The hero of the scene, already well accustomed to panicking females (in fact, he rescued his daughter’s organic pork in the oven, after she locked herself out of her second-floor flat, only a few days ago) took charge and began to master the problem. Incidentally, over the same weekend he also held her up while she fainted at a concert and rescued all her silver bangles and rings, which she took off in a Turkish restaurant in order to play the guitar and sing (as you do) - all another story!

Back to the sun scorched garage, “What we need is a garden cane and a coat-hanger,” he said. Thankfully a nearby gardener had decided to grow Sweet-peas and an already gathering group of concerned onlookers went knocking on doors for metal wire. So armed with a bamboo garden cane, the art of rescue began.

Thankfully the dippy delight dressed in red had left a tiny gap open in the driver’s window. This enabled the hero to slide the cane through the aperture and thus gain access to the stifling car.

The baby was oblivious tot the growing concern outside and I had begun the task of bossing my beloved around (something I have 25 years of experience doing). “Right a bit, left a bit, there press now!” all said in an attempt to press the controls on the inside. Despite two attempts we failed and it became clear that the ‘safety technology’ of the car was far too safe.

By this time several nearby homeowners had turned up with an array of coat-hangers. However, dippy-delight yummy-mummy had left her keys on the passenger seat (for the last time- we hope).  Using the bossy wife and super hero teamwork, along with garden bamboo precision, we managed to tip the keys over. Then locating the precise button super hero pressed down hard and yeehhah the locking mechanism did its bleep and flashing light thing thus releasing the door locks – phew!

At this point the mother leapt into the car saying all sorts of endearments to the oblivious baby.  There was a cheer from the crowd, waving unwanted coat-hangers, and then the mummy leapt out to hug and kiss my husband saying,
Thankyou, oh thankyou!” His cheeks matched her dress and I must admit to joining her in a few tears of relief.

As we drove off I reflected on the fact I had married a useful sort of male, the type to be marooned on a desert island with. In fact if I was to write an article for a leading women’s magazine on ‘how to find a good husband’, I might set up a series of tests:
      What uses can you think of for a garden cane?
      How would you break into a second-floor flat to ensure the pork in the oven doesn’t burn? 


3.  How would you rescue a boiling baby in a car?


Do you grow Sweetpeas?

Four out of four equals marriable.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Pork chop crash

There’s never a dull moment in the village. We were being lazy – hot pot of coffee, reading the news (on Facebook -not weekend papers) when we heard an almighty bang and then subsequent crashing metal noises. My initial thought was that the phantom tractor driver was back to destroy more cars parked in the lane.

My dearest, wearing only boxer shorts, rushed upstairs in search of combats while I considered wearing my spotty pyjamas with green wellies to face the scene; I decided to leave him to deal with the crisis.

He came to report that an old boy had crashed into a parked car and rolled his own over - creating a bit of a mess. By the time ‘the hero of my life’ arrived a few villagers were already standing and staring whilst the old boy sat stunned, airbag inflated and blood pouring from a gash in his head.

It took only a few moments to assess that no-one was actually doing anything so as usual, ever the interventionist, ‘Mr Fix-it’ got stuck in. This involved persuading the rather muddled motorist that it wasn’t going to be a good idea to drive home straightaway, especially without a windscreen, and that maybe a roll of loo paper might be applied to the side of his face.

By this time the Church Warden had started sweeping the road, his wife was calling for emergency services (which we all knew would take at least 15 mins to get through all the lanes) and Mr Garage man came down to generally join in the throng.

‘Mr Fix it – wonder man’ had turned off the engine, put the handbrake on, applied toilet roll and begun piecing together the story. The old boy had just come back from Pool Market with his weekly shop of meat and was worried:
“My wife will kill me,” he fretted. Thus began a pastoral conversation, a soothing chat that whilst wives may be bossy and possibly angry at their husband’s driving techniques it was ever likely she wouldn’t actually be cross but rather concerned.

Of course once the paramedics arrived, after a brief promise to pray for the old boy, my beloved returned to luke-warm coffee. It was a sad moment. We considered how this would most likely be the last drive for the old boy. I was reminded of my own mother’s scrapes with parked wing-mirrors and sides of cars before she finally got so lost around a roundabout that she admitted defeat.

He has probably been pottering about the lanes of Cornwall all his life, and will now have to rely on the pitiful provision of public transport. It was then I considered his weekly shop. “Hadn’t we better put it in our freezer?” I suggested.
“Good idea”, Mr Fix-it said bounding out again.

He thinks the police-officer was rather amused. But for those that are familiar with Pool Market meat wagon – it is hardly Waitrose and probably supplies most pensioners and benefit recipients in West Cornwall.The boot was opened to reveal the largest bag of Pork chops imaginable. After some deliberation it was decided that Mrs Garage owner should look after the butcher’s bounty.

“You are officially the keeper of the Pork chops,” she was told as they were handed over.

Maybe it will be last time this elderly couple will manage to gather their own produce for a Sunday roast. I am slightly comforted by the knowledge that we have one of the last, surviving ‘meals on wheels’ in the country (run by village volunteers) but even so there is a poignancy in witnessing another’s youthful vigour pass into frailty.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Power surge

I’ve succumbed to old-fogey paraphernalia. It started with reading glasses (ugly pair by the bed, sophisticated pair by the patchwork) and has progressed to garden kneeler and finally a ‘hidden extra’ on the bicycle.

In my defence it is discreet; from a distance I look like an old-fashioned midwife. The Somerset-levels wicker is already ensconced on the front and the frame is of classic design. However, sneaking behind the central ‘thingy’ (the bit that the saddle sits on) is this rather super-duper power surging battery. Oh, the freedom!

It is almost like being on a horse but not. I simply power up the hills, arrive sweat-free and don’t pass out in hedges – it is marvellous.  Obviously I am very road aware, but despite this, I have noticed a few admiring glances from traffic queues, as I power up the hills – dressed in my becoming 1980s trackies, found on the beach shades, safety helmet and bright green mac’. They obviously think I’m  a very fit plump lady.

For those familiar with the territory – I nearly made it up to the top of Maenporth hill. It feels like a ‘big daddy’ is pushing you along – he obviously conked-out in Cornwall.

So I shall be venturing out on my new wizzy gadget – ringing my bell and generally whiffing those country smells as I go. I must try hard to avoid swallowing a bee, which I did whilst haring down that mammoth hill at Lacock  (with Sam Godfrey and Claire Lillystone for my Sheldon readers) aged 16.

I am slightly troubled by the fact it is similar, in principle, to one of those power scooters and I am painfully aware that I don’t look like one of those frog-like, lycra-clad Sunday road congestors  - but at least I am as happy as the day I first rode without stabilizers  - which is all that matters.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

You can never tell

They’re digging up the road in the village. I am assuming the ‘they’ is someone official and not some random group of road vandals. The process inevitably involves lots of ‘tractory noise’ and juddering just outside my open windows. Part of the spectacle involved a rounded foreman type, wearing the standard bright green tabard, who sat the entire lunch hour, in the drizzle, on the war memorial. This is about as exciting as it gets in Mawnan Smith.

The village notice board has a few other excitements advertised. Not least is our attempt to celebrate the Royal Wedding with hog roast and beer (no matter the weather). The WI is still going strong, as is the rival ‘Mawnan Wives’ group – goodness only knows what culinary rift precipitated such a public divide.

There is one notice telling me I can go to Pilates on Tuesdays but I have to decide whether I am needing a gentle or for the ‘slightly fit’ class. I will of course be mortified if all the elderly are hyper in the front row and I pass out at the back.

Thinking of being mortified I made the biggest blunder this week. A very important managery sort of person, in a suit and painful high heels, flew down from Newcastle and then hired a car to visit me in my little room for those who hate school. I was able to offer her a canteen sandwich, made by a very cross, red-faced canteen lady who quite frankly terrified me into choosing a smelly egg sandwich. Anyway, after our ‘working lunch’ my motherly nature kicked in and I felt sorry for the poor love as she was apparently six months pregnant, had been up at 5am to catch the plane and was heading ‘up North’ imminently.

My little room not only has Classic FM on most of the time, but I have three comfy chairs (mostly for drug counselling) but I also use them for those 11 and 12 year olds who have started smoking in their break-time and come over all queasy and need to ‘gather themselves’. They lie down and I talk of poison and how a 20 a day habit cost £2,500 a year. They of course don’t listen because they prefer Classic FM and nick all their tobacco anyway. I digress. The dear lady from up North was looking post-lunch sleepy and I, being imaginative, visualise some medical emergency in the clouds above Birmingham. So I said, “I expect you are really tired, I really don’t mind you having a rest for 20 minutes if you need to, being pregnant……”

“I’m not pregnant,” she said!

This is the moment when I wish I was a heartless, cold, not caring a bit about anything person. Of course I grovelled and apologised and said something like,
“Who am I to talk being ‘Mrs Porky’”. My colleague, later, reassured me by saying, “at least you didn’t say, ‘are you sure?’”

I have never seen anyone look so six months that isn’t six months. Oh well you live and learn. At least she didn’t look as pregnant as the road-digger man sat on the village green this lunchtime.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Do you have any strong thoughts on the following?

Today I went for a walk along the Helford Passage as it is a fantastic place to reflect and gain some peace and clarity.

It would be easy to assume that Cornwall is a place of constant idyll, where the only terrible thing to happen is a hard frost or the fox getting into the hen house.

However, this last week or so I have been feeling a little disturbed. I am months behind time, primarily because I don’t read the Daily Mail or Mirror and somehow missed the saga in the West Briton.

Only recently I discovered that an old school colleague of mine, in his 50s, left the school I was teaching at about the same time. He then went on to have a relationship with a 16-year-old pupil (despite being married for the third time already). Apparently they were just within the law because she was 16 and he was no-longer a teacher.

I’m not sure why this has had such a profound effect on me, but I feel like I have seen a very nasty road traffic accident and every so often have flashbacks.

I suppose the difference in the country, as opposed to the city, is this kind of scandal effects so many people as we all know him - or his family or her estranged distraught parents or her cousin’s cousin. I used to sit and watch him eat his sandwiches in the staff room and think someone who loved him very much must have made them, as they looked sumptuous (perhaps he loved himself just a little too much).

I suppose I empathise with the girl’s mother, unable to bring her home, because of the Children’s Act: her will reigns supreme. It is a similar situation as when a young adult become infatuated with a guru and joins a cult. I have two daughters who are young women and I would have been horrified if they had gone to live with a man 30 odd years older.

Believe me I l have nothing against 50 something men, I have many friends who are and much older. I appreciate schoolgirl crushes and the Police’s “Don’t Stand Too Close To Me” was an ‘80s fave. Jane Eyre is my favourite book and the age gap in her eventual marriage was considerable.

I think what distresses me most is that the girl had no opportunity to reflect away from the situation. Let’s face it if a young woman is told repeatedly that she is beautiful, loved, unique bla, bla she will succumb to the intoxication of being adored, especially if she doesn’t hear that kind of affirmation from any other place. She would be vulnerable and susceptible to persuasion.

My opinion for what it is worth is that she should have been taken to a place of safety, away from all influences so she could have some intensive therapy and be totally aware of the life choices she was making. There should be a clause in the Children’s Act to allow a multi-agency decision to be made concerning the well-being of a schoolgirl prior to her taking exams and still in full-time education. Obviously the law, as it stands, didn’t allow any caring adult to step in and protect her from what could be a catastrophic life choice

Now, two years on and she is in a marriage that apparently is totally ‘fulfilling’. Having many married friends and from personal experience I know married life is a battle – ‘for better for worse’. Without the love and support of family this couple are going to walk a rocky road.

I had assumed that in other cultures that this kind of situation might be commonplace, but having carried out a bit of research 18 is the average age for marriage in nearly all countries worldwide. Yet shacking up with someone is perfectly law-abiding as this case shows.

Looking at recent photos of the couple they appear to be in that euphoric first phase of most relationships and they have presented a normalised front to what is extraordinary.

My hope is that the young woman has someone she can turn to in the future when she will inevitably face tough times. Work stress, sickness, money worries hound every marriage.

I know the village she comes from well. I used to horse ride weekly around its lanes and fields. It is the kind of seaside village where everyone greets you – everyone. It just goes to show that the forces in a man’s heart and mind are just as at work in a picturesque rural place as anywhere else.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Old fashioned remedies

I have been ill for several weeks now, which is very boring. It started with the flu and progressed to a chest infection. Now, as I come out of my ‘fug’, I feel as if my ribs have been punched by someone with very sharp knuckles.

I have of course tried a range of remedies, but have discovered that Baileys is the best. I think that the Irish cream marketing team should stop trying to sell it as a sophisticated after dinner treat (as we all know it is the Babycham of liqueurs) and place it on shelves next to cough mixture. I’m convinced they would make lots more money. It should have a similar advert to Calpol but with adults sleeping instead of babies and then running around feeling much better afterwards. The voice-over could say: “Mrs T, a proper rural wife, recommends Baileys for those nasty chesty coughs.”

During my remedy seeking time I recalled some of my late Granny’s. She was born at the turn of the 1900s, came from a family of 12 siblings and was the first married woman teacher in Cheshire (she only had one child herself!)

Apparently if you had an earache then her mother would boil an onion and put it in a sock for one to hold against their head. She washed her teeth with bicarbonate of soda, used lavender for headaches and considered a warm vest to be essential.
“Eeeh, you’ll get crompus on the mar,” she’d say if she caught you without one in winter.

“Feed a cold and starve a fever”, she’d say.

Every morning she ate porridge, every evening she had a bottle of stout (for iron). For those times when she had a ‘funny turn’ she would take a sip from a flask of brandy in her handbag. The handbag was the size of a small suitcase and made long car journeys more pleasurable for me as I was allowed to tidy it. Inside there were:
Hairnets, hair pins, a plastic rain bonnet in a plastic pot, eau-de-cologne, bright red lipstick, face powder in a compact case with mirror, white cotton hankies, diary, leather purse, Parker pen, toffees, silk headscarf , sewing kit, silver brandy flask, horn-rimmed sunglasses and her crochet.

I was allowed to watch her get dressed in the morning, which involved a lot of huffing and puffing. She wore an amazing bra that had about half a dozen hooks at the back and was built like armour. Her thermal vest went over the top. Her French knickers were made out of a similar fabric to airtex and on top she wore a girdle. Attached to this, with metal clips, were her suspenders, which held up support stockings. They simply don’t make underwear like it anymore.
Then came a full-length petticoat and then finally a smart easy-care dress or a two-piece suit, leather brogues and then her jewellery (gold watch and necklace).

Finally, a top tip for those who are on a tight budget after Christmas, she would exfoliate by using a rough towel.

My dearest has a really bad topical remedy for acne – turmeric. It is effective, but stains the skin for a few days and has unfortunately been tried out on one of daughters!!

My favourite remedy of all (for every kind of illness) is a pair of baggy pyjamas along with a duvet, hot Ribenna and the kind of book that you would never tell anyone you had read for fear they would think you half illiterate (these can be found in most supermarkets). I have read the most naff books imaginable over the last few weeks. My granny would be dismayed, no doubt. I have her collection of Dickens and Thomas Hardy but somehow they aren’t quite the balsam for a fevered brain.

So having beaten the bug with Baileys, I am going to attempt my first braising walk in the morning and in memory of my granny I shall wear a vest.