Tag Archives: life

A Village Trapped in Amber?

I always have a camera close to hand; you never know when you’re going to need one. A case in point is this one…

It’s a screen shot from a TV show that was filmed thirty years ago in the village that, for the last ten years, I have called home. I can still recall crowding around the TV set when it was first aired on the ITV network in 1993, to see how the production company had ‘tarted up’ the conurbation in which my mother lived, and into which I was born…

The tale, itself, wasn’t one of Ms Rendell’s best, particularly because it was stretched out to a three-parter, when two episodes would have sufficed. Having snapped several screen shots, I had the fabulous idea of recreating them – to see how the old place has changed during the intervening decades in which I went from being a young dad, to a grey-haired pensioner. So I grabbed my little Canon compact and went hunting locations. The first was inaccessible – being a thicket of vicious thorns and stinging nettles; but I managed to get very close. Close enough to take this…

Not a lot of change, I think you’ll agree.

Here’s an establishing shot during the titles…

To replicate this I would have needed to access someone’s property, so I just stood outside their gate and took this…

Well someone forgot to take their dustbins in: and I don’t think anyone has milk delivered to their doorstep anymore. Here’s a closer Panaflex shot of the shop at the bottom of the hill…

The TV production company changed the name of the shop. Here it is today, with the original name…

No one bothers with window baskets; not in real life. The production company must have thought it would look nicer with them. Here the central character is seen outside of a Limo-hire establishment…

Inside, the building was decked out very like it had been during my childhood: a car sales garage. The apparent antiques shop was actually a private home, and still is. The modern picture shows the ‘garage’ looking very much as it had for eternity…

…but it is, in fact, now a private dwelling, but some stupid by-law forbids the owners to change the outward appearence: so it still looks like a car showroom, but with blacked-out windows, so passers-by can’t see the occupants watching TV. Dumb. Oh yeah, and someone else forgot to take their dustbin from the street. We’re a forgetful bunch – us carrot-crunchers.

Here we see the back of the central character as she turns into the high street. Note the time on the  church clock. Everyone is out at work: those are production company ‘props’ parked in the road. Also note the red Ford Sierra: it will, as of by magic, swap position. Today’s picture…

…includes an ugly warning sign that suggests that very stupid lorry drivers should refrain from taking their huge vehicles up the tiny, narrow road. Presumably one of the aforementioned once tried it, and wrecked several cars whilst trying to reverse back down the hill. God I hate that sign: it’s a blot on the landscape!

Oh look, it’s that red Sierra again. I had one, myself, in the same shade of red. Very bouncy back end, I recall. Blew a head gasket – just a few weeks before I was due to sell it and move to Spain. The florist closest camera was never such, and until recently was an insurance broker. It’s now empty, and will probably become a private residence: they all do eventually. Opposite is the George Hotel. It was actually one of three public houses in the village (now down to one). Today it is an partment building, but retains it’s original ‘look’…

Here is a scene from inside the building…

…which, for me is rather poignant. It is the place (in 1981)  where I met the woman who would become my wife of thirty-eight years, and the mother of my children. So, in summation, apart from in-fill between existing buildings and the street in which I now live – which was constructed in 2011…

…not a lot has really changed. But that’s the English countryside for you. Glacial. And I would be the last to complain.

 

A Strange Philosophical Juxtaposition

Whilst walking through a local churchyard recently, I chanced upon this scene…

How the dice got there, I have no idea. It has been pretty windy lately, so it might have blown in from an adjacent garden. But, whatever, the significance struck me immediately. Every day we roll the dice. Life, after all, is a gamble. Nothing is certain – except for one thing. Ultimately, in the end, when the big screen of existence reads ‘Game Over’, we’re all winners. For having lived at all; for having become the person we are; and for moving on to something better.

Pongs and Songs and a Virtual Time-Traveller

I recall the celebrant at my wife’s funeral asking me if there was a ‘special’ song that we had shared. I surprised her by saying no and adding that our musical tastes were quite dissimilar. I was glad of the situation because (thought I) it would mean that I could continue to listen to the music I liked without being forced to think of her, and (naturally) becoming upset. What I had failed to consider is the fact that human  memories are often triggered by sounds – particularly music. There have been many cases, since her passing, when I have needed to switch off a song, or take myself away somewhere to be alone until I can recover my emotional equilibrium. But yesterday (13.03.2022) I was caught unawares by my car radio. Flicking impatiently through a multitude of channels, I paused as the opening bars of Clean Bandit’s ‘Rather Be‘ filled the passenger compartment. In an instant I’d travelled back to 2019; aboard an Easyjet Airbus to Spain; my MP3 player earphones buried in my ears – listening to the same song; my wife beside me as she played upon her beloved Apple iPad. It came like a bodyblow. I had to pull over in traffic – unbidden tears welling. In the space of a few seconds it seemed that all the effort I had put into trying to recover from my loss had been for nothing. But, of course, I got over it. I pulled myself together, and resumed my journey to collect our daughter from her day care centre. But I continued in silence. Music is a cruel time machine. It lays in ambush. Then today, some thirty hours later, I decided to ride my freshly-repaired motorcycle in the dark. Once I’d accustomed myself to the remarkable quality of the ride produced by new tyres and clutch, and travelling along an unlit and nondescript country road, the cold air made my nose run, and I sniffed involuntarily. As quickly as the music of the previous day had taken me back in time, so too did the aromas of the English countryside at night. I was momentarily confused. I didn’t know where I was. Then, for the briefest of moments, I thought I was a twenty-something version of myself, riding my bike to visit my new girlfriend’s house. Then, as I recognised the true situation – that I was sixty-five, and that it wasn’t March 1981 – far from being upset, I felt something akin to gratitude. Gratitude for the almost four decades that were to follow on from that year. For a life worth living. Sometimes  time travel can be a happy affair after all. Certainly, from my experience, pongs beat songs every time. 

Fun? What’s That Then?

Recently I was out and about on the…

…Back-Lane Behemoth, when I chanced upon an amateur…

…motocross meeting. It contained an eclectic mix of machines and rider talent levels. The old bikes were loud and not very fast: whereas the newer machines were incredibly quiet, and fairly flew. The vast crowd…

…was…er…vaguely interested: and the riders so cold that some of them wore body warmers, complete with flapping hoods (see above). whilst others pulled their Dad’s old jumpers on over their race kit…

…and looked a bit daft. As you can see, the track was something less than demanding. I could have ridden it fairly quickly – even at my age, and despite the fact that I last rode off-road (at speed anyway) forty-one years ago. Actually I would have jumped at the chance: it certainly looked fun, even if no budding Toni Cairoli’s or Romain Febvre’s made their presence felt. All good, clean fun – and several hikers who passed by on a nearby trail were clearly amused by the (often inept) goings on. But, as I was leaving, this arrived…

…to carry a fallen rider off to hospital. Which just goes to show that anyone can get hurt doing what they most enjoy at any time and anywhere. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my sixty-five years, it’s that Human’s aren’t supposed to have fun: they always have to pay for it, one way or the other. So, instead of giving the Yamaha a huge blast down some country roads, I did the sensible ‘thing’, and went home to create a very nice Chicken Hoi Sin…

Boring, but reasonably safe. Well no one choked on it anyway. And, who knows, maybe it saved me from a nasty accident. I’m well into omens, me.

Two-Wheeled Tooty: Confidence Regained

Once upon a time, five years before he was named Tooty (in 1981), a young country bumpkin was talked into switching from Honda motorcycles to Yamaha. Here he is posing  with his mighty steed – a Yamaha RD125DX…

He and the Yamaha gelled instantly and he would become a life-long fan of the brand. But life being life – that is unknowable and often incomprehensible – in time his situation changed, and motorcycling  became a thing of the past. Then, in 2020 (21 years after quitting bikes), he took the plunge and returned to the fold…

Of course his mount was a Yamaha. A YBR125 to be exact. But it wasn’t the best that ever escaped that manufacturers stable. It wasn’t Japanese for a start! But he didn’t know that when he bought it. And he never really forgave the machine, despite the fact that it was totally reliable and never let him down. But he never felt entirely confident upon it – especially in traffic. Poor suspension: lack lustre brakes: feeble single cylinder engine were its major bug-bears – though Tooty had hoots of fun rushing down gravel-strewn, muddy-as-heck, and cow shit-ridden back lanes on it. Look at the picture above: does that really say “Confident rider”? Nah. What he really needed was something that would give him back the two-wheeled exuberance of his long-lost youth. Something with a bit of oomph. Another Yamaha obviously. But one built in Japan.  Regardez vous por favor…

Ten months later. Yup, I’m back – and on a cult classic too! But I think I might pass on the gravel-strewn, muddy-as-heck, cow shit-ridden back lanes for now. Maybe an off-road bike for those. Might have to get some motocross boots though. Hmm, sounds fun…

Turning a Green Village Yellow

I’m fortunate enough to live in a village which sits within the boundaries of the Southdowns National Park. As you can probably imagine it’s a very green environment. But for 2021, the parish council – which in a more primitive era might have been termed ‘village elders’ – decided it needed ‘greening’ even more. To this effect they gave every household a packet of wild flower seeds and told them to plant them. Well it has been a great success. But the most obvious success has been the proliferation of sunflowers throughout the village and its environs. Here’s just a fraction of a field that one local farmer turned over to the production of myriad wild flowers…

And the churchyard put on quite show too…

I did my bit , of course. Here’s one I planted in a tub in the back garden…

I was very happy to join in. But then, for me, it get’s a little poignant. Here is one of mine that faces the street…

Isn’t it brilliant? But this seed didn’t arrive courtesy of the Parish Council. This grew from a packet of seeds handed to me at my wife’s funeral. It isn’t the largest sunflower in the village: but it is the best. But to pile poignancy upon poignancy, today – inspired by all these sunflowers that have appeared at every turn – I chose to wear a yellow t-shirt. Burrowing through my considerable collection of t-shirts I spotted a seldom-used Marks & Spencers example at the bottom of the lowest drawer. But as I eased it from beneath the stack I made a discovery. Unlike all of my other t-shirts, I didn’t wash, iron, and pack away this one. This one smelt strongly of the over exuberant use of fabric conditioner. This one was ironed properly and folded neatly side to side. In short, the last person to wash, iron, and pack away this t-shirt was my beloved wife. For a moment I was overcome. Then I put it on…

Not sure what I’m going to do when it needs to go in the wash. Already the creases have fallen out, and the smell of the fabric conditioner has faded away. And I can’t get them back. Another link with the past broken.

The Little Marks We Leave

At the time of this post, ten months have passed since my wife died – and there are still (it seems) a million and one ‘things’ of hers that need to be moved on. She liked to collect all manner of ‘things’. Whatever they were, there were (are) always too many of them to fit into our small ‘modern cottage’. Not only were the common areas of the house full-to-bursting, so was the attic too. And only towards the end of her life did she finally stop, sometimes, to ask herself: “Do I really need this?” Or, more often: “Tooty says the loft is full; do I have anywhere to put this?”

I can’t imagine how many items I have passed on to charity since then – but it’s lots. Multiple car-loads. And still it keeps coming. Most of her books are now sitting on complete stranger’s shelves; but a few – the oldest tomes – are still here. This is one of them…

It’s a slim volume that was first published in 1937. This is a later copy from 1949.  At 108 pages it’s hardly exhaustive, and wouldn’t really do as a proper reference book. But the flowers are beautifully drawn and painted, so really it’s an art book. On the inside cover this appears…

Clearly it was gift – from someone I will never meet, to someone else I will never meet (unless in the afterlife). In one of my often melancholy moods this made me feel a little sad. I wondered who these people were, and what happened to them. Then, as I turned the brittle pages – many of which are coming away from the dried-out spine – I found this…

One day, after receiving this gift, the recipient carried this book with (her?) and decided to collect specimens, which (she?) pressed between the relevant pages. Here is a sample of Chicory from rural Britain circa the early 1950s.

And here is some Corn-Cockle…

Lastly comes the Cuckoo Flower…

The absence of any more samples suggests that only one expedition was undertaken. But, perhaps for just one foray into the countryside, this book was precious to it’s owner. Precious enough for it to have survived and pass through any number of hands since that day. It certainly caught my wife’s eye and has survived her. So what do I do with it now? What we leave behind comes in many forms – not all of them with physical properties such as this book. They are little pieces of us: pieces that cannot die. For now I will keep this on my bookshelf. But it (the book) has nothing to do with my wife: she was only ever a custodian. Eventually (through charity shops or auction) I will probably pass it on to someone else that I will never meet: and they will wonder who the two names on the inside cover belonged to, and they will find the pressed flowers. And maybe they will add to them.

Sudden Unbearable Sadness

Like most men (and probably women too) I like to put off the house work until I can’t put it off any longer. Ironing clothes in particular. So when the kitchen table begins to bow beneath the weight of so much laundry I reach for a CD to put in my ancient (1990s) stereo – before I pull the ironing board out from the cupboard beneath the stairs and plug in the iron. Today I selected this CD…

I bought it for my late wife. I don’t know if she ever played it; but I knew I hadn’t. I figured it must be pretty good – Richard Carpenter having re-mixed his original works with new accompanyment from the Royal Philharmonic – especially if the listener likes high production values, wonderful melodies, superb chord progressions, and harmonies to die for. Of course it also included many songs that I’ve been singing along to for the past five decades, so I knew I’d like it. It was a no-brainer choice. What could go wrong? And indeed, for 99% of the CD nothing did go wrong. In fact it  made the chores an absolute delight. Then, after a couple of verses and chorus or two of the final track – ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ – with me singing along with gusto – the words to the song suddenly penetrated into my consciousness. It is a joyous song about two young people starting out their life together. It is a beautiful song with wonderful lyrics. But it was those very lyrics which cut me to the core. At first it was just for me that I felt such sudden and unbearable sadness. Then my thoughts went to all of those millions of other, older people for whom those lyrics can be so painful. To anyone who has lost the most important person in their life  -. especially in these days of Covid 19. My eyes redden and my throat constricts as I write these words. I had been singing along so merrily too. Then “So much of life ahead. We’ll find a place to grow.” And other lines: “Sharing horizons that are new to us.” And: “working together day to day”. I suddenly thought – I’ve done all that. So many of us have. Struggled to raise a family and keep a roof over our heads. Just getting through life together as a not-always-dynamic-duo, doing the best they could. I don’t suppose any of us thought about a time when we wouldn’t be sharing those horizons. That we wouldn’t be working together day to day. How many couples have planned their retirement together? How many have worked a lifetime and now ask for the reward at the end of it – only to be denied when one partner dies? Utimately the answer must be everyone. Those are the lyrics of a young person, for a young person. That beautiful song – and it is beautiful – is now torture for me. Go listen to it: I’m sure you’ll agree. But not if you’re over sixty.

Make of This What You Will

During the weeks since my wife passed over, there have been occaisionally hints that she is still around. The first came on the day of her death. Our dogs…

…had kept a vigil beside her bed until eventually driven out by all the care and health workers who attended to her night and day. They moved to the top of the stairs, where they could keep an eye on her. But upon her passing they returned to their beds in the living room. Then, in the early evening they suddenly galloped up the stairs; rushed into the room; stood upon their back legs, and took turns to study her lifeless face. Apparently satisfied with what they saw, they returned downstairs and have never returned. Both are perfectly happy – which suggests to me that they are aware of her presence in the house and feel no loss. They were  devoted to her – their favourite human – but neither has pined in the least. But, more impressively, on the same day (and half-way into the following day too), my daughter (who has speech and language problems amongst her multifarious woes) abruptly expanded her vocabulary by something in the order of a thousand percent; began speaking clearly and concisely; and eased my burden by giving advice on subjects that hitherto she knew next-to-nothing – including financial. When, a couple of weeks later, I mentioned this to her, she had no memory at all of that time period. Another example came a few days later, at a time when I was feeling desperately low. I was awoken one morning by a kiss upon my forehead. I was alone, so knew exactly who it was, and felt much better for the rest of the day. Then (so I’m told, because I didn’t witness this myself) on the day of her funeral she took another opportunity display her talents.  As my son, daughter and I were about to leave for the crematorium, I felt a sudden need to return to our bedroom and pick up the solar-powered Hula Girl that danced happily in the sunshine during my wife’s  final weeks. ‘She’ looked exactly like this…

Prior to the service, I had the Funeral Director place Hula Girl upon her casket. Thoughtfully he noticed a beam of sunlight striking the casket lid, so placed Hula Girl in it – where she shimmied throughout proceedings. As a cheerfull way to end the service, the Celebrant suggested an up-beat song that reflected Linzi’s chosen profession – a song about a dancer of course. I agreed to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. I’m told that no sooner did the latin beat begin, Hula Girl’s gentle shimmy transformed into a manic dance. “She went crazy.” is how it was described. And those who saw it were left in no doubt who was responsible. If I had seen it myself, I probably wouldn’t have sent Hula Girl into the furnace with the casket. When I learned this, I immediately bought a replacement Hula Girl. She had to be identical. When she arrived in the post I placed her beneath a table lamp, where she began to shimmy. Then, to my Echo Dot I said: “Alexa: play Copacabana by Barry Manilow.” But I took what happened next as an etheral slap on the wrist. As the music struck up, instead of going bananas, Hula Girl stopped abruptly, and refused to move. I understood in a second, and so stopped the music. We, the living, cannot and should not influence those on ‘the other side’.  But it didn’t put her off me. Recently I awoke to the smell of her favourite Ellie Saab perfume. Then this morning (12/Nov/2020) something quite remarkable happened. At around six in the morning I was apparently awoken by her voice as she read something to me – as she often did, even if I wasn’t much interested. When I rolled over and opened my eyes I became aware of two things: daylight entered the room through open curtains: and Linzi was propped up upon her pillows and reading from (I presumed) her iPad. I had to speak her name three times before she heard me and stopped talking. Reason took over. Linzi’s remains were in a small box in the living room: this had to be a dream.  But that didn’t stop me from asking her: “Is this real? Is this real?” As if in reply, I woke up properly. It was six in the morning: it was only half-light – some of which entered the room through a central gap in the curtains, which, for some reason, since her death, I must have. It’s silly, but I get scared without it. But, by that light, I saw her – still seated beside me. She looked directly at me; leaned forward quickly; and kissed me gently upon the lips. Then, as I stared in hope and disbelief, she simply faded away – revealing the curtains that she had obscured only a moment before.  “Damn”. I snapped in frustration. For a moment she had been tangible. She had existed there, beside me. But, for whatever reason, she couldn’t stay. I couldn’t ask or tell her anything. But she knows I love her; and she obviously still loves me. And despite my tears as I write this, I’ve had a wonderful day. And I wonder what her next trick will be. I just hope that wasn’t a swansong.I don’t think so. She’ll be back. Time means nothing over there.

P.S I suppose it’s no surprise that she didn’t look old or haggard in my vision. Age and infirmity clearly have no place over there either. Of course I have no photo that can match what I saw this morning; but this one comes as close as any…

Any thoughts?