Some proper writing from G later on, but I get to say my piece first. Only fair.
Been to Asda yet AGAIN as the bargains were too great to ignore. Have bought yet another pair of warm trousers, virtually the same as the previous pair but at £10 a pop had to have them. I am of the mindset that if I don’t double up on a bargain it will never be repeated. I think supermarket music is indoctrinated with words that seep into your brain like “buy two”.
We are using the boot of the car for things like huge packs of toilet rolls and a bargain duvet, plus various tins of stuff which we might have needed over the Xmas period but never did, like tinned chestnuts. We call it “the larder” which sounds most pretentious to anyone listening. WHY did I buy tinned chestnuts, all I did was sage and onion stuffing with a bit of holly on the top. We have also got a jar of pickled walnuts.
I had intended making 4 different stuffings but plans change after spending the morning and part of the afternoon guzzling wine and cake. The hotel visit on Xmas day was a brilliant idea. They had huge fat settees in front of a real fire, drinks and snack type food on offer and lots of hotel guests, some with dogs to look at. The funniest thing was a black lab, who devoured in one gulp a plate of sandwiches, luckily it was his owners. There was a lot of screaming, but having owned a very greedy lab, I think they got away lightly.
After I had a kip, and not started cooking till 4, and only after G suggested we just have a sandwich as he was starving, we sat down to eat at 8 pm. We’d tested the turkey at half time, cut a chunk off and rammed it between 2 slices of frozen bread, microwaved it in case we got salmonella and lavished cranberry sauce on it. Does anybody want the Recipe? We then had 2 cooked sausages and a piece of cake. I was so glad we didn’t have guests as it was not very Christmassy. We still ate a huge plateful of Xmas feast later and I must say, without giving any attention or much thought, food tastes better. It was so late we put all the dirty pots in the washing basket and left it in the shed till the next day. Brilliant suggestion by G.
Boxing Day was spent with friends who were organised, fed us royally, and it was wonderful. They are very well brought up, so their present was the tinned chestnuts and pickled walnuts out of the car boot larder. Xmas is all about re-cycling. I am brill at it.
We both have Fitbits bought in a weak moment on Black Friday, or Monday, whatever. I never wanted one as I thought you had to divulge your weight. G wears his like a Patek Philippe watch, checking his heart, pulse rate and steps. He is on a fitness regime doing circuits at a very fast pace, so we no longer have a leisurely “stroll”, chatting, remarking on superior houses, peoples’ sheds and passing the time of day with neighbours. Now it has become a nightmare with his heart rate being measured up hill and down dale, and me being shouted at “to hurry up” when he can breathe and speak. Of course, this only ever happened once and now we are divorced from enjoyable walking and my Fitbit is back in its box ready to return and join the mountain of others at Amazon.
I racked my brains for 30 seconds for a surprise extra pressie and came up with the idea of a different dark chocolate selection from Asda. They have Peruvian, Madagascar and others. He was thrilled and so was I. Our place was like Hotel Chocolat, with me handing out samples and G had to guess which country they were from. He didn’t get one right. I did but knew in advance, so I won.
My absolute favourite present over Xmas, was a necklace made of zips. It doesn’t measure or track anything it doesn’t even count steps. I love it. We are now getting back to normal after G’s heart scare and are already looking at travel. I don't think about the scare anymore and have stopped poking him in the night to see if he is still breathing, shocking him out of his slumbers with a start, not a good idea. We have practised mouth to mouth resuscitation, but in the circumstances probably not a good idea.
Anyway enough of that, he will be around till he is 100, with all my care and attention. He fares better than the Christmas dinner did anyway.
2019. A New Year. How exciting! Hmm! 2018 has gone and as it marked the year I suffered a heart attack, good riddance to it. Even so, I’m struggling to find much enthusiasm for the latest one. Next year, 2020, may be better as it at least has the virtue of being easier to say. Twenty-Twenty has a certain style about it; Twenty-Nineteen does not and Two Thousand and Nineteen is even worse.
It doesn’t stop others from propagating their relentless positivity, but that’s nothing new. Here’s what Henry Ward Beecher had to say:
‘Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first day of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.’
Edward Payson Powell got in on the act as well:
‘The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!’
All a bit much? It is for me. I’m not a habitual curmudgeon, far from it, but with Brexit, a word that didn’t even exist until very recently still dominating the media and my wretched heart restricting our movements we’re spending the winter months in England for the first time in many, many years.
Dead of winter.
Now is the winter of our discontent.
Left out in the cold.
Just a few seasonal phrases that come to mind. Are there any cheerful expressions invoking winter? Probably not. The weather hasn’t even been particularly bad, but we’re missing blue skies, we’re missing warmth, we’re missing sunshine and it’s all my fault. If I were a car I could cope with a dented bonnet or a loose wiper blade. I couldn’t cope with a major engine malfunction. The automotive version of a heart attack.
A heartbeat, Even though it's necessary, constantly happening, and, hopefully will continue to do so, being as aware of it as I now am can become highly irritating. It gives rise to a condition known as rubatosis, the unsettling awareness of one’s own heartbeat. A condition that often manifests itself at three in the morning. Oh, it’s still working, that’s good. If it were not the case, I would have long since been unaware of the fact, but rational thought does not often flourish in the wee, small hours.
A broken arm, leg, collarbone, you name it I’ve broken it, does not engender nocturnal fretting. You accept your limitations and put up with them. Maybe it’s the underlying uncertainty that makes the difference. Broken bones heal, usually without any long term consequences. My heart attack has been and gone, I’m in drug assisted recovery, just deal with it.
Ah, if only it were that simple. I never expected my heart to cause a problem. Big surprise all round. The aftermath is proving a tad more problematic than I anticipated. I know I can cope pretty well with pain; I’ve had lots of that over the years. Dealing with a heart that isn’t working very well turns out to be much more difficult. Regular exercise, sensible diet, keep taking the tablets, that’s about it.
Easy. Well, not so easy, as it turns out. Brisk walking, raising the heart rate to sensible levels without over exerting the poor old thing: that should be easy enough. I walk, far too quickly for Marigold to even contemplate joining me, along a route involving both uphill and downhill sections. Even on a brumous January morning, I’m out there.
English winters aren’t ideally suited to the recovery process. I’m a heliophile by nature. Bring me sunshine, as Morecambe and Wise used to say. Not very likely, not in England, in January. It’s weather to delight a pluviophile, send sales of wooly hats soaring and those legions of Lycra clad skeletal figures that used to pound pavements a few months ago are conspicuous by their absence.
Even so, I’m out there. Almost every day. Grumbling, cold, wet, miserable, but out there. Doing what needs to be done. A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for – can’t remember who originally said that, but it fits the bill. A dog would be handy and provide a bit of company, but dogs like to stop and sniff and I need to keep pressing on, so that’s no good.
As for human companionship, after the first circuit I don’t have enough breath left to carry on a conversation anyway so my regime is necessarily a solitary one. It’s not even fear of sententious health professionals that sends me out in the wind and the rain. The cardiac staff I’ve come across are unfailingly helpful and supportive. It’s just one more chore that has to be done. Even in January. So I do it.
What’s the use of January anyway? A time for rejoicing? Hardly. Start the New Year dieting, giving up smoking, stop drinking, resolve to be a better person? All very laudable, yet all induce misery in some degree or other.
Anything good about the winter months? Well, the beaches around here are empty just now, gloriously so, for those willing to brave the elements. Most of them are ‘dog friendly’ and in the winter months there’s not the same concern over whether funds set aside to buy lunch will have to be diverted to pay for car parking. We’ve seen more basking seals than we’ve ever seen in England before – ‘basking’ obviously being a relative term for seals – and friends who live near St Ives and Brixham have sent videos of schools of dolphins, knowing we are both pining for the Mediterranean.
On Christmas morning we went to visit friends staying at the legendary Headland Hotel in Newquay. It wasn’t exactly beach weather, but Fistral Beach was far from deserted and a few surfers were out on the water. We wandered around the various lounging areas, exchanged Happy Christmas greetings with strangers – no ‘happy holidays’ here – stroked a few dogs and finally found our friends in the attached conservatory, knocking back cocktails for ‘elevenses.’
After hastily rearranging our judgemental facial expressions ( !) we joined them and ordered coffee. Marigold added a slice of cake to the order on seeing what was being delivered to a neighbouring table. We were directly overlooking the beach and managed to convince the others we had already been for a Christmas Day swim. Many of our friends are extremely gullible, possibly why they have stayed friends for such long periods.
I was fascinated by a conversation between two women, obviously mother and daughter, at the next table and conversation at ‘our’ table died away completely as we all tuned our ears in the direction of the next table.
The older woman, the mother, said ‘did I tell you I’m having a shed?’
‘No,’ replied the daughter, ‘where will you put it?’
‘In the garden.’
The daughter took out her knitting, fiddled around in her bag and produced an unwrapped boiled sweet. She offered it to her mother who shook her head.
‘It’s got fluff all over it.’
‘It’s not too bad, only bits of wool. Natural fibres.’
Her mother pursed her lips.
‘How’s your Jane getting on with the diabetic nurse?’
‘Oh, not very well. She’s very strict, keeps saying Jane eats too many sweets.’
‘She’s only eight, though.’
‘She’s nine, mum.’
‘No, She’s eight. I know how old my own grand daughter is.’
‘Mum, she’s my child and she’s nine. She’s getting better about sweets anyway. Last night, after she’d finished her meal, I asked her if she wanted that bag of palma violets you left for her and she said no.’ ‘That’s good, isn’t it?’ ‘Yeah. She said she was full up, but that doesn’t normally stop her wanting sweets.’
The old woman looked pleased.
‘I’ll bring her something from the pick and mix next time I come over as a reward for being a good girl.’
One conversational Christmas present I shall treasure!
Marigold recounted an account of another overheard conversation from a few days previously, in a different hotel. Two other women, one carrying a clip board, the other with briefcase and bulging leather bags were leaving as we arrived.
The woman with all the bags was saying, ‘would you like to smell anything else before I go?’
The other woman said, ‘No, thank you, that’s plenty’ and they both left.
Our waitress arrived as we were still shaking our heads in bewilderment and said,
‘Glad she’s gone, stinking the place out.’
She explained the ‘bag lady’ had turned up with samples of fragrant oils to be offered for sale in the Spa shop.
In the opinion of the waitress, ‘the downstairs staff toilets smell better and that’s a clothes peg on nose area if there ever was one.’
If my hearing continues to decline I shall soon miss out on these snippets of overheard conversations, but I can rely on Marigold to carry on the work. She misses nothing.
Our coffee arrived, along with a gargantuan slice of cake and surfers, beach walkers, the conversations of others and the company of old friends took second place to the fair division of cake. Our friends had already had breakfast at the hotel so slicing into unequal portions, loosely based on two to one ratio, was easy enough. I throughly enjoyed my sliver of cake.
I’ve chatted to a few postmen lately on my exercise route. Fellow purposeful walkers, seemingly impervious to wind, rain and winter’s chill. I still have to fully master the postman’s cheerful whistling. The whistling isn’t the problem; it’s the presumed jollity I’m struggling with.
The period leading up to Christmas usually brings a few new faces behind the wheel of the Royal Mail Van. Shorts are still in evidence. Our regular postman told me shorts are best in heavy rain as bare legs are easier to get dry than trousers! Makes sense. They’re out there, whatever the weather, delivering our mail. Bless ‘em.
We are still in touch by email with a married couple we met on our US Road Trip, both proud servants of the US Mail – as they put it – and we had very many postal service related conversations. Yes, we did converse on other subjects as well, but we found greater congruence in that area of their expertise than with topics like the most efficient way to skin a deer. You need a sturdy trestle and a well honed blade was the gist of that, if you’re interested, which we weren’t.
The words ‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds’ - while not an official motto of the United States Postal Service - are inscribed on New York's James Farley Post Office, but have no official status.
Our American ‘posties’ didn’t know about that, but thanks to my lifelong compulsion to read everything and anything, I did.
The English Patient, a Hollywood film based on a very fine book by Michael Ondaatje has as its central character a badly injured burns victim who is presumed to be English, hence the title, but who turns out to be Hungarian and Ondaatje gives the character a book as his sole possession. The book is The Histories by Herodotus which I had never read prior to reading The English Patient but has now become one of my established favourites.
The phrase written on that building in New York is taken from Herodotus’ description of the ancient Persian precursors of the Pony Express around 500 BC. The actual quotation, yes of course I had to look it up, is:
‘It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.’
Royal Mail operate at a slightly reduced level from the ancient Persian model, but their staff are still out there, rain or shine, disproving the common assumption that all communication is now screen based. Somebody has to deliver all those online purchases.
I am indebted to the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - surely everyone else out there reads this – for further enlightenment. The splendidly named English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, and their equally splendidly named lead author, Andrew Steptoe, interviewed 7,000 adults aged over 50 to gain insight into ‘teasing out better ways to promote a good life in middle and older age.’
The questioning focussed on peoples’ perception of to what extent they regarded their daily routine as being ‘worthwhile,’ on a scale of 1 to 10. Those rated as 9 or 10 walked, on average, 18% faster than those rating their lives in a less positive fashion.
The smug brigade, my term not that proffered by Mister Steptoe, were claimed to sleep better, be less susceptible to illness, have more friends and (possibly) be far more likely to be invited to the Steptoe household’s next soirée than those with a degree less self worth.
That’s me told, then. No more grumbling, cast aside my recent captious outlook on life, grasp the future with two frail hands and rejoice at the dawn of a New Year. If my lap times don’t drop by 18% as a result, the editor of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences can expect a stern letter of rebuke for propagating ‘duff gen.’
It’s only just 2019 after all. Early doors as the licensed victualler trade would have it. A bifurcated point, maybe, so I will indeed put away gloomy thoughts of the unlamented version gone by and enter the far more convivial glass half full era that awaits. That’s somewhat excessive alcohol related symbolism from the view point of a man who’s had barely a sip of wine since last March, but as with trudging up hills in winter, abstinence is not necessarily a first choice.