Friday 30 April 2010

Nation of dog lovers

Well, isn't that what we're supposed to be? Of course we are; we love love love dogs, here in Britain. They're our best friends, aren't they?

I was in the waiting room of the PDSA Animal Hospital today with Margery and one of her elderly cats. The PDSA is situated on the edge of one of the more challenging housing estates, and Margery had a choice of getting there via two buses, or by expensive taxi, or (as a last, detestable resort) with her horrible brother, who would have berated her continuously for having cats at all, urging her to have them put down. So I took her. We anticipated bad news; sympathy and support would be necessary.

Margery is back on form these days, and cheerful; all those recent unpleasant tests revealed nothing life-threatening, but a straightforward hiatus hernia. She says that oddly, it doesn't seem to affect her when she eats chocolate or other fattening things.

The PDSA waiting room was full to overflowing, with five terribly young-looking vets on duty. You know you're getting old when vets look like fifth-formers.... Margery, the great animal lover, dedicated vegetarian, caring pet rescuer-rehomer, with hardly two pennies to rub together, tutted a little at how many pedigree dogs there were: "You never see a mongrel in here - and these people are supposed to be poor!" There were some huge, beautiful and very expensive animals in there, as well a handful of status-signifier Staffies, and an uncontrollable, barking, growling, leash-straining collie-cross being mismanaged by two unaccompanied children.

One young woman's story caused outrage.

She had brought a very pretty Alsatian puppy, who was doing that funny puppy-melodrama thing when expected to wait patiently for a long time in an unfamiliar and crowded place: audible suffering. She howled and yelped, and wriggled and bounced, and wanted everyone to pay attention to her, and so they did. She was very sweet - sweeter perhaps if she'd had a volume control knob, but sweet nevertheless, with huge ears and paws that needed a good deal of growing in to. It was evident that her owner loved her.

The owner had spotted the puppy advertised on Gumtree: price £450. She had always wanted an Alsatian, but couldn't afford one at that price, and anyway, wasn't quite ready to take on a dog yet.

Until she saw that the puppy hadn't sold, and was now on offer as a swap - for a Playstation 3. So she bought her.

Thank goodness that some people love dogs for themselves.

PS Margery's old Tigger needs dental work, if planned tests show that she can cope with an anaesthetic. During examination, it was found that she was completely blind. Margery and I drove home in a state of mild shock; she hadn't realised.

We go back on May 12th. The wheels of the pressurised PDSA turn very slowly.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Let us plant lettuce....

Off to the allotment today to plant Little Gem lettuces. They are bursting out of their seed tray.  At the end of the street, the trees are greening up nicely, with crab apples in flower.

And little faces in the grass.

Vale House, a pensioners' ghetto, with its new improved windows, has been painted, and looks worse than ever.  Before (blue/grey):

And today (bland sand). The scaffolding is still up, because all the new windows must now be professionally cleaned, being spattered with paint. What project management, I hear you ask?

Nearing the allotment gate, a robin sits on the fence, ignoring the scruffy barbed wire. At the foot of the fence is the smelliest manure ever, donated by the local stables. I've spared you the sight.

The robin is waiting for the dog and I to pass, so he can get on with picking through it.

The allotments are taking shape. Between us, we have the national collection of dandelions.

I just love the ramshackleness of it down here; it resists gentrification and order, yet there are some wonderful gardeners amongst us. I don't include myself in this category.

Chris's little apple tree is in flower.

Alan's three tulips are shining out.

My rhubarb is suddenly bursting with vim and vigour.

I plant the lettuces, cover them with a cloche, feed the roses, dig another bed, wrestling with the tough roots of couch grass, and pull an armful of rhubarb. I have brought a sharp knife from home, as the one in the shed is blunt. And predictably, I cut my finger while trimming and bleed dramatically onto the large leaves.

My back tells me it's time to go home. On the way back to the gate, old Tommy tells me delightedly that he spotted five swallows the other day. Another hopeful sign.

Today's villain sees me looking at him from the kitchen window as I wash rhubarb stems. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

Just a memory....

I'm glad I took a snapshot of these the other day. Humble supermarket tulips, last year's bulbs forgotten in their bucket over the harsh winter; only one lost. They deepened in colour as they opened fully.

Enter Tulipomaniac Cat again.

Tulips, and only tulips, are his passion.

He's in big trouble now.

And so is my fantasy of a future garden with swathes of lovely tulips.

Thinks.... "Swathes" sounds good......

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Getting ready 2

Remember this?

Richie came and repaired.

 I painted.

And the Building Inspector approved.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Getting ready

Viewed from the kitchen sink, the yard is cheering up. It's still in need of a thorough pressure-wash, the fence and the bench need a lick of paint, but it's not as dreary as it was a month ago.

This year's planting will be entirely in buckets and recycling boxes. Why? So that they can move house with me. Amongst the baby bedding plants are clematis(es) and lavenders, herbs, a little oak tree, an ash, and, out of view, a bamboo. The acer and the two very big planters with climbing roses will stay; the rest comes with me.

Like the yard plants, I'm getting ready to go too. The rather peculiar house four doors up, the one with the garden of a million fag ends, was up for sale recently, and two weeks later, a Sold sign appeared. Very encouraging. It's time I got the valuer in, but I'm not quite ready enough. I love my house, and I want it to look loved and cared for when it has viewings. The newly-decorated sitting room floor was painted yesterday (I love painted floors), and the furniture, slightly thinned out, has been moved back in. The cats' climbing frame is back in the bay window, destroying at once any pretence to a sophisticated ambience. They liked it just fine in the kitchen during the decorating; they could watch cooker, cupboards and fridge all at once.

I even tackled the small attic, unlovely depository of books, boxes, stained glass and all its paraphernalia, a table, a large chest of drawers, and a horrible old carpet (the spray-on fluff kind, all we could afford, way back when). I cleared enough space to plant my feet squarely without standing on something. There is still much to do in there before I can paint the grubby scuffed walls, but it's the last major job to be tackled indoors, the last Room of Shame. Ok, so it will be full of boxes, but they will be tidy boxes, closed, labelled and neatly stacked!

Mark the paver called today to view and estimate for the repairs to the front path; if my garden grew healthy plants as rapidly as the broken concrete of the path does, I'd be happy. We think Indian sandstone will go down instead, as it weathers well and doesn't look as bleak as concrete. There will be Before and After photos.

I've stayed pretty much on track with this plan to move, but it's been slow; much better for my stress levels. It's a rather terrifying thing to do, move on your own, and in the teeth of disbelief and opposition. Eventually, though, it's going to be time to go. Dorset? Devon? Somerset? Who knows; not me, not yet. A garden, though, definitely. Those plants would love to be in real soil instead of black plastic. And we would all love to breathe country air.

Best get a move on, then.

Monday 26 April 2010


Homespun lace curtains. A WIP if ever I saw one.

Cobwebs always remind me of Miss Havisham.

I'm sure they weren't here last week.

Time for a quick whisk round with another Object of Terror to little cats.

Safest to rush upstairs and keep watch on the landing.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Pernicious weed?

The gardener's bane....

....or soup opportunity?

Ground elder. Picked young (today, by Roger, from the patch round the rhubarb), and made into a simple soup, it's not pernicious at all.

Dee-licious, in fact.

Friday 23 April 2010

Egg 2

Another gift from Millie. Inspected by all, growled over by Hamish, cleaned up by Scooter.

Shell disposed of by me, with pursed lips.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Procedural matters

I've been worried these last few days about Margery....

She talks readily, cheerfully and in detail about her health, and would tell you all about it herself if she could, so I know she won't mind in the least if I do. This is not a post for the squeamish.

Margery is my cleaner. This is the term she uses, no pretension to being a Housekeeper, although she doesn't mind in the least being called a Treasure, which she undoubtedly is. She has been coming to help me for ever, since the days when the only way I could afford my mortgage single-handedly was to have a couple of lodgers. Usually daft young 'uns, students who (like their parents) preferred a bit of motherly landlady oversight rather than to flat-share with other domestically-challenged young people. While delightful, they didn't have a clue about keeping a shared house in reasonable order. I worked long hours and wasn't prepared to be chief cook and bottle washer, continuously fighting to stem the tide of squalor at home, or being in a perpetual strop about the state of the cooker.

Enter Margery.

She was what used to be called a Home Help, and was glad of some extra private work. She did her White Tornado act on the shared areas once a week, and a house rule was established that things should stay nice for at least half a day after she left. The lodgers tried hard to comply, bless their clueless little student socks. The house rule was resolutely ignored by the cats, but as Margery doted on them, they got away with it; they still do. They have rather more mixed feelings about her, attached as she so often is to that object of terror, the hoover. Margery could hoover competitively for Britain and win.

I'm deeply attached to her.

When my mother moved to this city, Margery became her cleaner too, and they got on famously; being a Home Help meant that Margery understood the needs of the elderly, and would cut toenails, go to the Post Office, sit chatting over tea and biscuits and put the world to rights, sometimes exchanging trenchant (rather right wing) political views that supposedly could not be uttered in my hearing.

A very touching moment occurred after my mother died and the dog came to live with me. She knew and loved Margery as a visitor to my mother's home, but had never seen her at my house. The first time that Margery let herself into the house, the dog, still subdued, anxious and grieving, threw herself in ecstasies of delighted recognition towards her, the first happy moment she had experienced for days. Margery holds not only much of my domestic history, but a wealth of memories of my mother.

Now that I have the house to myself, and am perfectly capable of doing my own housework, I still have Margery to help once a week; she says it's like coming to family, and who am I to argue? I can't imagine her not coming. But she offers much more than cleaning.

Apart from her energetic ways with hoover and mop, she's talkative, lively, opinionated, and a superb story-teller - she often tells me about a film she's watched, always something light-years away from my usual taste, and I find myself listening, rapt, open-mouthed, to her narrative, delivered in a broad Geordie accent, punctuated with sweeping arm movements and, sometimes, a faithful re-enactment requiring full use of the kitchen floorspace. Thrillers, horror films, gruesome and terrifying dramas; all are material for Margery's considerable comedy skills at re-telling. I love those moments.

But there has been a recent cloud. Margery has been finding swallowing difficult, feeling that she had a lump in her throat, with other symptoms that sent her to her GP. Immediately, to our considerable alarm, she was fast-tracked to specialists, and various procedures followed. She would describe them to me later, either by text or in person, and I now know exactly what happens, more vividly than a hospital leaflet or a doctor could convey.

First: The Camera Up Me Nose. Margery was anxious. Having her nose explored came as a surprise, as she had been expecting The Camera Down Me Throat. "There was nothing there. They're sending me to the gastros."

A few days later: 'The Gastros' and the Barium Meal. Margery's partner had experienced this procedure himself, and slyly, he told her that it was a flavoured drink, perhaps strawberry, banana, toffee. Sweet-toothed, she hoped (in vain) for toffee. The vigorous re-enactment of this horrendous experience made me laugh despite the ghastliness of it all.

"Eee, it was just like drinking gloss paint. Glug. Glug. Glug..... and I wasn't allowed to burp, or they'd have to do it all again.... and the Barium San'wich! A triangle of bread dipped in gloss paint!" What did it taste like? "Like chalk. Chalk-flavoured gloss paint."

See what I mean? Could your GP have described this common procedure to you so clearly and honestly?

Yesterday: The Camera Down Me Throat. I haven't seen Margery yet, but she reports that she has a hiatus hernia, and not the dreaded possibilities we had feared. Newcastle has the highest incidence nationally of stomach and gullet cancer. I asked if it had been a horrible day, and she texted back:

it was sprayed me throat which was ok tasted like bananas n this thick tube which they described as thin i was burping n drooling with a thing in me mouth protecting me teeth bt it was over in 5 mins not comfortable at al glad its over x

Later, when I rang her, she said that biopsies had been performed too; she was quite sanguine about her ordeal, and added "It didn't hurt or nowt, like." I'm printing off the diagram below for her; she'll love it.

We await results, hoping for good news; I look forward keenly to the re-enactment she'll carry out for me next week; it's bound to be lively. And educational, in ways I might not have imagined.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

I wish...

...that I could blog-share the scent of this desktop plant with you. As its somewhat insignificant flower opens, its scent becomes more pronounced. Sweet but not sickly, a little like jasmine, the room fills with a subtle perfume in the evening. Lovely.
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