And the old men driving.
I’ve seen them over a longish number of years around the local countryside. They make me wonder.
The first walking man I noticed was tall, thin and angular, in his fifties or thereabouts and strode purposefully down the hill into Thatcham wearing brownish, fawnish trousers and jacket, sometimes checked, which were a little too short for his arms and legs and flapped revealing short socks. Long thinning grey hair wisped across his face in the wind. There was something bony and uncared for about his appearance and I used to wonder where he was going so briskly. Did he really have a hunted expression or did I just imagine it? Since I never saw him walking back up the hill I guessed he might have been going to a pub in town. I wondered, did he walk back? Perhaps more slowly, perhaps wandering a little or maybe with the same ferocious intentness of his journey down. Or did he save enough money from his drinking allowance to catch a bus back?
Then there was the limping man. He also walked fast but with a pronounced lurch, perhaps caused by a short leg or a damaged hip. I always saw him walking along Love Lane in Newbury but now and then, he’d have reached Donnington Road and would be heading down the slope towards the town. He generally wore a white shirt and baggy trousers and his figure was squareish but a little lopsided and jutting at the right hip. His hair, short and neat and parted tidily down one side. I guessed him to be of a similar age to the Thatcham man. For a while, he was accompanied by a black labrador type cross with a greying muzzle but after a while the dog was no longer to be seen with him.
And, just along our road, there was the man who walked steadily up the hill towards Grimsbury Castle and a little later, steadily down again. Short and thin, with unremarkable hair but with beady eyes in a face set into a flinty expression, although I saw him nearly every day, he would never return a smile or acknowledge any recognition. He always wore brown cords and a grey and red checked shirt with braces or a battered leather jacket if it was cold. (There was a rumour that he was the Flasher in the Woods but to be honest, I doubt it. He was altogether too visible and recognisable to have been lurking in the undergrowth and anyway, the woods aren’t, as far as I’ve ever noticed, a place where young women hang around. Nor is it a short cut to anywhere – in fact, if anything it’s a long cut to everywhere.)
Then there were the men in cars. One, very old, perhaps in his eighties, drove his dilapidated, orange Ford Consul along the valley road every day, two or three times a day and occasionally parked in the entrance to the driveway of the completely invisible house behind the big hedge. There he would sit, a little crumpled, in his car, apparently doing nothing. Half an hour later, he’d be gone but could be seen driving very slowly up the hill to Bucklebury. Once, I found him standing by his car because it wouldn’t start. As I had no jump leads, I couldn’t help (not being prepared to attempt push starting him uphill, on a bend, on my own) but flagged down another car and left them to it.
And the saddest one was John the Cowman from next door but four. He would drive his old Peugeot into town and then park on a grass verge near Donnington Park and sit for some hours there before setting off again. When the local landowners got rid of their cattle he worked a while for the Council, cutting grass verges and tidying roundabouts. Eventually this work came to an end and I think, rather than admit that he was unemployed, he left home every morning and then had nothing to do for the rest of the day. When he died, a few years ago, we learned from a neighbour that his wife used to beat him*.
Apart from John, I know nothing about these men except that they walked or drove to some uncertain destination and that they spent a good deal of time doing this, alone.
I am not, by nature, one to accost people who I don’t know and anyway, all these men were only to be seen in passing. I’ve absolutely no idea if the sense of abandonment, endurance and perseverance that I associate with them all is in any way justified. But in my mind, there’s a story in which they’re all, somehow personifications of the ability of humanity to manage to keep heading towards some kind of destination even when the point of departure has been corrupted or broken beyond mending. I wish very much that I was the kind of photographer who could approach strangers and ask them to show me their souls. But I’m not. And now they are nearly all gone gone – only the limping man is still around today.
What has partly brought these men to mind is that we’ve had yet another busy family weekend – Mrs Middle has reached the astonishing age of thirty – I don’t know how she managed this without apparently aging at all and without our noticing but it seems to suit her. So we have been surrounded by laughter and affection and all our outings have been accompanied. The place from which we leave is still a place of more happiness and contentment than not so naturally, I found myself thinking about people who have a different kind of life (or perhaps a life which is a little further on than ours). Not that I am a pessimist – more that I like things to be balanced.
The views from canals are extremely balanced
And speaking of balance, amazingly, I have lost weight. This must be to do with the ‘healthy’ diet, the healthy tablets and even more to do with the recent outbreak of rebellion in my digestive system but it’s the first time in ten or fifteen years that any of these things has actually produced a measurable result. So I find that if I lean forwards to catch a view under some trees I am less inclined to lose my balance and fall flat on my face. And I can pick my way up banks and down small slopes without suddenly getting a good deal too much assistance from gravity. Very satisfactory. So I went exploring and found a pond. At no time did I overbalance, however, while trying to catch a snapshot of a dragonfly I did suddenly find myself sinking into a bog. Not so much weight loss then.
two failed dragonfly shots
And one success, wet feet notwithstanding
The downside of the weight loss is that all my warm woollie trousers are too big. They were already always loose round the waist because of the apparent belief of trouser makers that women have straightsided bodies so mine were all stitched up at the back. Investigation has revealed that you can only take in a waistband so far before the garment begins to look as though it had been worn in bed by an elephant. All those lovely warm winter trousers, lovingly collected from charity shops all over the country, will have to go back from whence they came. The funny thing is that now I’m looking for a size smaller it seems that all the nicest ones are in the size I used to wear. It’s enough to drive you to drink, food and excess of all kinds but I’ll settle for coffee.
I’m off. Got to scour the charity shops. If only I’d known in the Spring (when people are throwing out their Winter clothes) that I was going to need smaller trousers in the Autumn it would have been a much easier task.
*No, not a joke nor even slightly funny. It really happens and if women are met with indifference and callousness in that situation men have to endure mockery and disbelief.
I’ve just finished reading Narrow Dog to Carcasonne and I was going to console myself with Joanna Lumley on the TV but Barney’s out and I don’t know how to change the channels. All those remotes.
Ok. I’ll read the website at http://www.narrowdog.com.*
I bought the book for Barney because he’s a non-fiction reader and I thought he might like it. I think I read a quarter of it while I was buying it in Oxfam and left the shop still laughing and getting funny looks in the street. I shall probably buy it as presents for almost everyone this Christmas. What a lovely book. Maybe I’ll just read it again.
However, Barney and I are now completely agreed that we will not, under any circumstances attempt to cross the English Channel in a narrow boat, ever. And having not done that we will then not hire a boat and attempt to travel down any of the big French waterways. Absolutely not. After our tiny voyage on the tidal Thames last year I’d decided that already. It felt like insanity at the time but now we’ve read Narrow Dog, we realise that there are even more terrifying places to take a narrow boat than the three hour trip on a sunny day with a light breeze from Limehouse to Teddington. 6 foot waves, black 100 ton barges in the middle of the night – Oh no.**
I prefer very shallow ponds and
castles on small hills.
However, I am happy to read more terrifying adventures written by someone so readable and so daring! And it turns out that Terry Darlington and his (extraordinarily brave and loyal) wife and dog have actually made an even more terrifying and improbably voyage. So I ordered the book – Narrow Dog to Indian River – and it’s arrived and now I’m looking forward to more vicarious terror, excitement and hilarity. But first I have to go and kill flies and cook dinner.
**In truth, I am filled with envy and admiration and feel that sneaky desire to play too. However we have only 1/12th of a boat and aren’t ever likely to own a whole one because one of us (hanging her head in shame) isn’t prepared to sell our beloved house and move to a narrow, low, damp little home on the water. Absolutely not. And I said to Barney last year, we can’t cross the channel on a narrow boat because I’m too scared to and you can’t go on your own because I’d have to come with you to make sure you were safe and you wouldn’t be. I’m even scared of rivers – small English ones. I dream about them drowning me whenever we plan a holiday that involves rivers.
We have – does everyone now? – a car with a remote door opening system. It works quite well sometimes but other times not so well. There have been embarrassing occasions when I’ve stood in the car park at Waitrose, walking backwards and forwards round the car, furiously pressing the open sesame button and getting absolutely no response*. More worryingly, this also happens occasionally when I’m out in the wilds taking photos. This is the kind of situation when I really feel the need to be able to get into the car quickly if necessary. One might encounter car park rage, ax-wielding maniacs or rutting deer and I don’t like the idea of chasing round and round the unresponsive car waving a useless key at it if there were any kind of threatening creature within attacking distance. You can use it as a normal key but it then sets off the alarm which may or may not be a good thing. A Muntjak already confused by an attack of seasonal hormones might take it as some kind of challenge.
I took the car and it’s key back to the Charlie, the dealer from whom we bought the car, early on, and he demonstrated that the key was only refusing to work for me. Then Barney noticed a similar lack of effect and at a quiz last week, we mentioned this to Charlie. (Just the sort of thing a car dealer doesn’t want to hear on his night out at the pub : ). We learnt that the key battery is charged when it’s in the ignition and the car is running. Of course we can now see that the apparent randomness of the key’s behaviour is in fact closely related to the mileage we’ve done. (Though I would have thought that the thirty or so miles to Uffington might have been a long enough journey to charge up a little key battery. Surely all it has to do is send a tiny signal a few yards to the receiver?).
Well obviously what’s needed is a charger for those periods when we only do a few miles a day because, as Barney pointed out, it wouldn’t be sensible to go for long drives every time the key starts sulking. I looked up remote key chargers and found not a thing; perhaps most people don’t have this problem Or perhaps the car industry declines to address it. So I suppose I shall just have to endure the embarrassment of not being able to control my own car. Or use a technique suggested at the pub a week or two ago, namely, holding the key next to your ear while you press the button. So it’s embarrassment in any case then. Fine.
Today it’s gloriously sunny (what a nice surprise when I’d resigned myself to Autumnal storms and rain ) so I’m thinking of heading off to Waylands Smithy again. We travelled to the Midlands at the weekend to attend the AGM of our boat sharers so the car key should be full of juice or electricity or something useful like that. After hearing from other shared owners that these occasions can be staggeringly dull we were pleasantly surprised. Carpet tile colours, roof colour and texture and the replacement chair beds were all discussed amicably and agreed upon quite quickly and none of the other business took very long. Most of the other owners seemed like nice, friendly people. Nobody complained about anyone else and nobody mentioned brass polishing although many of them smugly claim, in the boat diary, that they do it regularly. We spent the journey home trying to remember who fills pages and pages of the diary with detailed information about their cruise, in a neat, heavy slanting hand. Perhaps it was the couple with whom we sat at dinner? Or the couple who look like a Yorkshire Farmer and his wife. Definitely not the couple who made a calendar featuring photos by several of the owners and sold it to us all for £8 per copy. (I can’t help feeling that selling us copies of our own photos and then putting the profit into the syndicate fund is a bit weird. As if we were our own charity.)
Wayland’s Smithy in proper daylight
and in colour
This time, on a sunny afternoon, it was heaving with at least six visitors. But we were all very polite and gave each other photo room and agreed that it’s a jolly creepy place at sunset and jolly cold in Winter. Actually it was quite cold already and I wonder if it’s always had a ring of trees round it or if Wayland fired up his Smithy in the barrow with the ghosts. And whether the horses liked going down there. The trees didn’t give a lot of shelter from the keen, ear-scouring wind sweeping along the Ridgeway from the North West so maybe he did anyway.
I hope you’ve all got your winter woolies out.
*And it’s only occasionally because I’m trying to open the doors of someone elses’ car.
I don’t think so.
I was absently considering the old saying (not so old actually – about forty years old?) ‘inside every fat person there’s a thin person trying to get out’. Was this really supposed to be encouraging for fat people? I have to say it sounds slightly alarming to me. That was in the days when the subject of dieting wasn’t quite such an aggressive and obsessive construct of the advertising and self help industries and also, in the days when ‘fat’ usually meant about two or three stone overweight, not anything up to twenty. Myself, I am only about two stone overweight (a big ‘only’ if you imagine carrying a two stone bag around with you everywhere) which is more than enough to be dealing with.
I remembered Susie Orbach’s interesting book, ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue” in which, if I remember rightly, she suggested that women were reluctant to lose weight because extra bulk gave them, subconsciously, a feeling of increased power* and was therefore something positive which they wouldn’t want to discard. Not a completely stupid idea.
Since I have lost weight for various reasons, I can’t help but notice that the face which is emerging is very similar to the one that looks back at me in the hairdresser’s mirror – unsoftened, unframed (I’ve just had a rather excessive haircut too) and rather less feminine and cheerful than the one I keep in my imagination. And it occurs to me that fat is a very effective concealment of the basic facial structure. Also of the boniness underneath the padding. And inevitably, of some of the muscular events that give away the thoughts behind the face. (Fills out the wrinkles too). Thinking on, it affects body language – and I imagine it also affects the way body language is read by others.
So I thought maybe fat is partly about concealment. I’m imagining that little thin person huddling safely inside the fat one and not wanting to come out at all. Maybe one thing that makes it hard for people to lose weight is that they’re not keen to reveal the thin person inside, since not only would they lose all the little rewards that keep them going through the long, tiring, hungry days but might expose some long-buried, unwanted (and possibly hungry) stranger as well. I’m sure this isn’t a new thought but I haven’t read a diet/willpower/change your life/magical-formula-for-making-everything-bad-in-your-life-go-away book for about thirty years so I might have missed it. And it will obviously lead straight on to self-confidence and learning-to-love-the-real-you stuff so I’ll stop there**.
These people spend a lot of time trying to get in (to our garden) and would like to be as fat as butter.
The roe deer had almost certainly been in our garden earlier, feasting on roses and delicate new shoots.
You need to click on the picture to see the bunny having a Watership Down moment – I thought of Fiver the minute I saw him, day dreaming in a last shaft of summer sun.
And this pheasant was on his way from one crop to another, across the road – dinner waiting to be run over.
After the glorious weather of late September and early October it’s gone back to normal here. Sunny spells, sudden rain, long grey days and even longer drizzly days. And the evenings are drawing in. Although this brings a little gloom at the same time it means sunrise and sunset are getting more accessible (to a person who normally does everything a couple of hours later than most***). I may catch the odd sunrise from the upstairs windows. Goodness, I might even get to go out before the sun comes up!
*I’m sure that wasn’t the only thing she said but it’s the only thing that stuck in my head.
**I might actually want to take issue with the whole love thyself creed. I do my best to behave more or less nicely but I’m well aware that I’m not doing that out of total goodness of heart. I don’t want to confuse myself too much by pretending that I’m a totally good chap when I know I’m not.
***Although I go to sleep very late and with difficulty, unlike genuine insomniacs, I always manage to get most of my eight hours in by the simple method of getting up very late too. A while ago, I was googling something about underactive thyroid conditions and this caught my eye. Oops! I thought – that sounds like me!****
****Yes I know you should never read this kind of stuff because you’ll think you have all the symptoms of every known disease but I can assure you I’ve managed to convince myself that I don’t have a huge number of illnesses from cancer to flu, though I definitely have a cold. Anyway, I’m not going to ask my doctor if I’ve got DSPS because I hate acronyms. And syndromes. Give me proper illnesses with names of one word thank you very much.
The other day I answered the phone to an almost impenetrable accent which I understood to be saying it came from Microsoft and was alerting me to viruses present on my computers. “How did you get that sort of information?” I asked, perhaps not in a very friendly way. Impenetrable rang off.
I googled telephone virus scams and found that indeed there was such a scam doing the rounds some time last year and obviously it isn’t going to be stopped any time soon. It still amazes me that there are people who give cold callers information over the phone and in this case, allowed complete strangers to remotely operate their computers and, naturally, while pretending to fix non-existent viruses, to extract personal and financial information. I suppose we all get caught out occasionally. Anyway I was amused by this quote from a support centre manager.
Gupta said he was aware of sites and call centres in Kolkata operating a “support” scam. He said some pretended to call on behalf of onlinepccare.com. “I’d say 80% of the sites are using content stolen from us. They’ve copied spelling errors from us.”
I shall be watching out for spelling errors in future.
Anyway, while trailing around the hills last week, I went to Wayland’s Smithy. It’s up on the Ridgeway about two hills beyond the White Horse at Uffington and I arrived as the sun was getting low. Slightly alarmingly, as it’s a very deserted spot at that time of day, I encountered two blokes who seemed, to say the least, a little weird. However, one of them was a photographer and after a few minutes conversation about cameras and the positive energy of the place (Umm. Yes, well actually I find it a slightly creepy place but that’s part of its appeal.) I concluded that they were a couple. Of sorts. I don’t have any kind of radar about this kind of thing but after a bit I felt that I ought to stop chatting, get my photos and tactfully leave them together.
So I did.
Here are several attempts to get atmospheric shots. I wasn’t altogether satisfied – the light was colourful but not quite bright enough. I’ve looked up google images and found that other people got better results in brighter early afternoon light and in winter when the trees are bare. Oh dear – obviously I will have to go there again.
I was unable to test the ancient tradition that if you left your horse tethered nearby overnight and a silver coin on the capstone you’d find the horse reshod in the morning and your money gone, having neither a horse nor a silver coin to my name. I wondered briefly* what would happen if you could leave a car with a flat tyre up there and um – some sort of coin – probably quite a big one. In fact, probably a note or several in today’s money. Well that can’t be tested either as motor vehicles aren’t allowed on the Ridgeway these days and I feel that your average mythic smith wouldn’t go all the way to the road to look for passing trade.
As I write, the wind is positively lashing the branches of the big oak tree at our gate and the wisteria is frenziedly slapping at the window pane. Lovely. I know that soon it’s going to get cold and probably wet as well but I do find the changing weather exciting.
*Well no, really I didn’t wonder at all but I’m sure the idea could be worked into a story.
After a longish break I’ve resumed Grandbaby minding duties. It’s exhausting but NGB is a very rewarding small person. I suspect she may have inherited gymnastic abilities from her Mum – although not quite walking, she will use any and every structure in the house and garden to further her energetic progress either head or feet first. (That includes grandparent legs and any other parts within reach). I shall try not to wax lyrical about her cleverness, charm and beauty since we all know our own grandchildren are the most beautiful, charming and clever in the known universe. (But she does give me kisses – of a kind- bits of her dinner and hugs. And for an hour or so each afternoon, she sleeps. Could anything be cleverer or more charming?)
Anyway the other day, as we stood in the garden, a bird swooped, a mere ten feet or so over our heads. It seemed to be part of a flock of pigeons but also seemed to have a kind of grey and feathery undercarriage – somewhat pigeon like. As it passed I realised that it was a bird of prey with actual prey dangling fluffily from its talons. Too small for buzzard or kite so I’m guessing it was a sparrowhawk or a kestrel (I’ve never been able to tell them apart). Unfortunately I had a babe in my arms instead of a camera. On the other hand I doubt if I’d have had time to get a photo of it.
“…’At!” said NGB, pointing randomly. She says that a lot. And after it had passed “…er..ooo…”
Moving right along and a little bit backwards, here are photos from the previous weeks journeys. (The journey to Mrs Middle’s house is about forty minutes on a good day, so if I get to leave a little bit early, sometimes I can stop at sunset on the way home)
there’s a convenient car park where the Ridgeway crosses the road with a splendid view of Didcot Power station.
Once or twice I’ve been had to stop on the way there on catching sight of something like this in the rear view mirror
or through the window
It’s a lovely time of year.
So I haven’t been posting much.
I seem to have been busy. I’ve no idea with what, the only change I can identify has been a series of blood tests and doctors’ visits, mostly to see if what they’ve been giving me has had any effect. When I think of all the times I’ve been to them with complaints about knees, ankles and back which really do make life difficult and got not much except ‘you could try these exercises, there’s nothing we can do about that’ I couldn’t help feeling a trifle peeved when the doctor said “so have your symptoms improved at all?”. Because I didn’t even know I had any. And anyway, apparently, because of the risk of side effects they don’t start you off with an effective dose. One of the possible side effects of one of the drugs is mental confusion. As if I’d notice any change there!
For years and years, I’ve taken a single, effective daily tablet for heartburn and once a month, ordered a repeat prescription. Suddenly there are three to be taken and ordered and loads of visits to assorted clinics and doctors (the doctors more assorted than I am accustomed to because most of them have been registrars which seems to mean they only stay in the practice for a few weeks. Does that mean they’re just work experience employees? Um.) Anyway, last week I forgot to collect my faithful, reliable heartburn tablets and had to do something immensely complicated by way of the pharmacy in town and the emergency call service as the surgery was closed and it seems that the bit of paper I get with my pills is not an actual prescription. So, since it looks as though I will be doing this multiple ordering for ever, I’ve co-ordinated my pill-ordering – by ordering the whole lot at once. No objections from the surgery so, while I wonder how good the checking system is if they didn’t notice that I haven’t run out of most of them yet, at least I only have to panic once a month! Still I suppose they don’t think that drug addicts and dope barons will be trying to obtain vast quantities of hormone replacement and cholesterol reducing drugs, using me as a front.
So here I still am, complaining about my knees, back and ankles and presumably acquiring extra quantities of useful hormone and having cholesterol swept out of my system as fast as I eat it (which isn’t very, as I’ve been trying to be slightly moderate about it*). Not that I can tell.
Well I understand that all this isn’t very interesting – except to me – so I’ve kept quiet, hoping that some kind of inspiration would provide me with a subject unrelated to my innards. It didn’t happen until last week, when suddenly we had SUMMER! Gorgeous, warm, sunny days with evenings basking in peachy golden light** So I haven’t been at the computer much except to download far too many photos of expeditions to Sole Pond which I discovered quite by chance and where there be dragons
and Grimsbury, up the road
and Uffington, of the white horse (which is up there somewhere)
and which can just about be seen here – not that you’d know it. It’s one of those things which can only be seen from a great distance – close up, it’s just a few curvy bits of chalk showing through the grass. The curvy bit of chalk just by my feet is not it. It’s those tiny white lines up on the top of the hill – you can see how big it really is by the two very very tiny people on the top. Also, how big the hill is and so you may be impressed by my adventuring up mountains in chase of horses.***
There was also Waylands Smithy, Compton church and East Ilsley and, well, a lot of places. But this will do for now.
*That doesn’t sound very impressive I know, until you realise that my eating habits with regard to saturated fat have always been completely immoderate up to now.
**Thank you Helen for peachy. Perfect peachfulness.
***Ok, I drove to the top and parked there but then I did have to walk halfway down again and back up to the car park so there was a little bit of adventuring.