Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Wander Round Winkworth

“Fall colors are funny. They’re so bright and intense and beautiful. It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary.”
Siobhan Vivian, Same Difference

It was about time for another meet-up with the girls and so, with Autumn colours calling, the highly organised Helen Reeley with her ageing, apricot poodlette Obi,  Lazy Trollop and myself set off for a wander around Winkworth Arboretum.

The day was not obviously conducive for warmth and well being, the first of the winter cold having set in with a penetrating grey mizzle but after a fortifying coffee (or in Helen's case a huge mug of chocolate with cream and marshmallows plus a slab of cake!) we set out into the gloom.

And this was time for first mishap of the day.  I've been a National Trust member for years and remained so despite having rarely used my card, so sod's law dictated that I would not have it with me on the one day we visit an NT property.  As Lazy Trollop had two cards (one for Mr. B her husband) I demanded that she give me that so I didn't have to pay to get in. I duly flashed this card at the bloke on the entrance which he perused with an ever darkening expression of suspicion.  "Hmmm... this card says Mr. B!!" he growled.  At this point obviously I should have said "It's a fair cop guv" or "That'll be the sex change op" but instead I grinned disarmingly and said "Yes, that's me!".  How totally unimpressed can someone be? "Look, I do have a card but I don't have it with me - I've been a member for years" I said unabashed holding back my "and I've left money to the National Trust in my will" trump for the moment.  He drummed his fingers on the desk and said sternly "What's your name and address?" I gave it, fully expecting a police van to screech up and throw me in the back whilst everyone in the queue pointed and screamed "She's the perp!".  Fortunately he just phoned the membership office who confirmed I was indeed a member.  The look on his face told me how disappointing he found this news - like someone had really pissed on his chips!  There was something of a reluctance to hand back Lazy Trollop's husband's card but I did finally wrestle it off him accompanied by a little lecture about my wickedness.

The incident was soon forgotten and even the slight rain couldn't spoil the magnificent vibrance of the colours.  It was mainly acers that provided the display, most other trees were still in full leaf but only gradually turning a soggy brown.

The second mishap were my home-made cheese scones.  They would have been fine if they had risen more, been warm straight from the oven and smothered in melting butter.  As it was they were really only good for duck food.  Next time I will take a flask of warming whisky as my contribution!  Our luck was in though, Lazy Trollop had prepared a goody bag of cookies and granola bars for us and what with that and my pressie of a scented candle from Helen I did pretty well out of the day.

Spot the film reference

 I'm afraid that after my moans about 'nobody knowing the value of silence' on another blog, we shattered the peace and quiet of Winkworth with our squawking laughter and magpie chatter luckily there weren't too many other people around to disturb.

A lovely place Winkworth is well worth an autumnal visit and is also noted for its Spring bluebell walks and bluebells - definitely a place to return to next year assuming I'm not blacklisted by the man on the gate!

Obi, Helen and Lazy Trollop


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

When will my time ever come?


I approach visits to OldmaSock in my birth home Swansea, with a strange mixture of melancholy, nostalgia, and trepidation. This begins to set in as I cross the Severn Bridge into Wales and increases to a throat constricting angst as I drive behind the smoking steel works of Port Talbot and into the curve of Swansea Bay.  This was once my home, a glorious outdoor childhood of magical beaches, mystical coves, swimming, surfing and a freedom to roam out of parental sight and jurisdiction as long as we kept ourselves out of trouble and our troubles to ourselves. But what  followed was years of teenage angst and alienation unable or unwilling to fit in to the required Welsh norm. My parents, proud of their roots, having escaped the '50s gloom of Northern England had created their own little island of Yorkshire in Wales and created in me, a weird hybrid of Welsh passion and temper fired with Yorkshire traits of forthrightness and bloodymindedness. With all the support they needed from each other my parents never felt the need to engage or empathise too much with friends or even family and encouraged us to be independent from an early age.  This proved a double edged sword, whilst instilling in us the wherewithal to do what we pleased they undermined the confidence necessary to do it.

Woodland at Clyne Castle Gardens

As the youngest child I was always wrong, at the bottom of the pile of family bullying that was constructed of my father at the top, always being right, my mother always thinking she was right, my brother being, at the very least, more right than I was, and myself always wrong. The youngest, the smallest, the most sensitive and most pushed around I learned to defend myself against everyone but my own family where I could never win.  When would my time ever come?

Nearly forty years since I escaped from Wales I am still pondering this question and have decided that the only way for me to deal with the madness of OldmaSock is for me to emulate her bossy control of any situation. I have made a plan for the day - trip to Sainsburys in the morning to fill up OldmaSock's bare cupboards and freezer and in the afternoon  a wander around Clyne Castle Garden's one of my favourite childhood haunts.  I'm hoping to do Sainsbury's on my own but OldmaSock already has her bobble hat and shabby coat on ready for the jaunt. "If you come with me you have to behave sensibly" I tell her "I don't want you messing around and querying the price of everything whilst I'm trying to shop!".

She denies this will happen but I know that this is at least the third lie of the morning along with the second lie about taking her pills (she doesn't as attested by the ten weeks of prescription pills, delivered and packaged for easy identification and daily consumption, which are all stacked in the store cupboard where her food should be).  What can I do? The first lie was that she was allowed to eat her daily grapefruit with the pills despite having been told a thousand times that the instructions say no grapefruit with pills.  And what does it matter as she isn't taking them anyway.  I can't force feed them to her and as OldmaSock is enviably and invariably fitter than anyone else in the family she seems to do well enough without them.

The fourth lie comes as she realises we are driving out of town to the large Sainsbury's instead of her favoured supermarket.  "Oooh - we should go to Tesco's, you have to drive miles down the dual carriageway to come back because you can't turn into Sainsbury's!".  She has been thinking of any excuse as to why we should go to Tesco's since we got in the car and in my new bossy controlling role with her I smugly turn right directly into Sainsbury's. Once in the shop I have a constant battle - as soon as I turn my back the decent ready meals I have put in the trolley disappear as OldmaSock swaps them for something cheaper and nastier. "Ooh that's expensive" she frets "ooh that's cheaper at Tescos" ... "Oooh we should have gone to Tesco's", "I wanted to go to Tesco's" she whines "I COULD HAVE GOT POINTS AT TESCOS" full blown tantrum. "Well I wanted to shop at Sainsbury's and I collect points at Sainsburys, and Sainsbury's do a brand match with Tesco's which means that if their product costs less, Sainsbury's will give me a voucher for the difference!!!!" I snap.

OldMaSock is by now genuinely upset and my victory over where we will shop seems more than a little hollow particularly when at the till I am handed a voucher for £10.60 off my next Sainsbury's shop as it was that much more than I would have paid at Tesco's.  This only going to prove that OldmaSock was right and we might as well have shopped there in the first place!

At least OldmaSock cheers up when we get home and fill up her empty booze cabinet with sherry, gin, Bailey's and for some reason best known to herself "that yellow stuff" Advocaat.  BroSock is a bit perturbed by the amount of alcohol I have bought for her but she enjoys the occasional tipple or two and who am I to deny her that?

In the afternoon with frayed tempers soothed we head off for Clyne Castle Gardens. Oldmasock would rather walk around Langland bay but we always do that and I am doing the bossing this time. It's a lovely wander up through the wooded slopes by the meandering stream and ponds where as children we used to play hide and seek under the enormous gunnera - a plant I have loved ever since but will probably never have the right conditions to grow.

The 'enchanted tower' now seems tiny

Past the "enchanted tower" which years ago grew up through the rhododendron canopy  it's parapet emerging out into the light above.  The Chinese bridge where I once posed for the photo below in the days of my misunderstood teenage melodramas.



And then out onto top of the park with its fabulous views (top picture) down the grassed slopes and the wide open expanse across Swansea Bay to the distant smoking steel works of Port Talbot.

As we walk across the grass sodden from an earlier deluge, I am worried that OldmaSock will slip and fall on the mud - perhaps we should have gone for her paved walk around the coast instead.  But it is I whose feet disappear from under me as my bottom crashes down painfully onto the soggy, muddy, grass, the damp soaking uncomfortably through my jeans.  "Ha ha ha" chortles OldmaSock "at least you managed to save the camera!".

When will my time ever come?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Grassed Up!

OldmaSock has had her car confiscated.  Not by the police, although that has been a worry - not so much that her driving skills have gone down the drain (even in spite of her being a tad demented), no, it was the tipple or two she takes at her lunch clubs before driving home that was horrifying me! Luckily BroSock has easily persuaded her that the tiny amount of driving she does isn't worth the expense of maintaining and insuring the car.  Because she is a miser this has easily swayed the argument although pleas that she use the money saved to get taxis when needed will have fallen on deaf ears.  OldmaSock has never liked spending money and it is now an OCD.

When I phone her prior to my visit she tells me that the main problem of having no car is she can no longer make her regular trips to the dump.  Another of OldmaSock's many obsessions is taking stuff to the dump, amongst other things clearing the attic of all my stored childhood memories, toys, annuals, my collection of dolls dressed in the national costumes of countries we visited, but the main thing now is the endless bags of garden waste. For another of OldmaSock's obsessions is pruning - there is nothing she loves more than a good prune! An example is this beautiful acer ruined by having the side which was hanging over the path hacked off.  The row of trees and shrubs at the back of the garden sawn and lopped where possible after she has climbed up onto the wall to have a go at them.  She has been told countless times not to go climbing on the wall at her age but like the wilful child she has become, she doesn't take a blind bit of notice of what anyone else says and actually never has done!

Hacked Acer

So what is OldmaSock doing with all this garden waste? "Oh" she tells me over the phone "I am taking it in my wheelbarrow to that bit of waste ground down the road." "What 'bit of wasteground?" I ask, puzzled "there is no bit of wasteground".  Then suddenly it dawns on me.  Many years ago, when the Sock family moved to what was then a new build house, we were on the edge of the countryside - over the back wall and into fields, ponds, woods, valleys, streams a childhood paradise.  And then heartbreakingly the dumpers and trucks moved in and bulldozed the beautiful trees down. Where the ponds had been full of newts, tadpoles, minnows, they were filled in with soil.  Posh houses sprang up and people moved onto the land once inhabited by the hedgehogs, mice and moles we used to find so fascinating. The builders did leave some small areas of grass, trees, and a few shrubs - green spaces of parkland between the houses, maintained by the council for the community. This is where OldmaSock has been dumping her garden rubbish.  I tell her this is very naughty and she mustn't do it, in the full knowledge that she is not listening to me and is already constructing a tale of lies and evasions which will justify her doing exactly what she wants.  Old people can be extremely wiley.

The "bit of wasteground" Oldma has been tipping on

I phone BroSock "Did you know about OldMa's flytipping?". "OH GOD!" he replies as I prepare myself for his twenty minute rant about how he has told her TIME AND TIME again not to do this, has instructed her a MILLION TIMES about the special bags provided by the council for garden waste collection.... I don't know why he can't see the funny side.. I have an image of OldmaSock in her bobble hat and shabby coat,  like a garden baglady pushing her wheelbarrow full of rubbish around the pavement of this very 'nice' neighbourhood with said neighbours twitching at their curtains and shrieking "Look! She's at it AGAIN!"

The brown piles under the trees are ALL OldmaSock's garden waste!

When I arrive at OldmaSock's I enquire as to how the fly tipping is going.  "Oooh - I've had someone round from the council to tell me off.." she says quite happily.  "And what did you say to them?" I ask.  "I told them I was eighty-three and that I couldn't go to the dump because I no longer have a car. So they left it at that." "OK - well one of the neighbours has unsurprisingly grassed you up" I warn her "and next time they will probably put you in prison which will be a relief to us all as it will keep you out of mischief. And actually you are eighty-five although that doesn't make the fly tipping any more excusable". Oldma finds this all very amusing and laughs a lot - I am not confident that she is taking this at all seriously.

BroSock later also comes to stay - I update him on the saga and suggest we all go to take a look at exactly what Oldma has been up to.  "I'm not going out with her in tow" he says "the neighbours will probably lynch us!".  "Don't worry, if anyone asks we can just pretend we are social workers" I reassure him.

During my stay I give OldmaSock several more lectures and explanations about what to do with her garden rubbish and strict instructions about not clambering around on the wall at her age. I have a strong suspicion that although it is true that her short term memory is shot to pieces, she has no intention of remembering anyway!  One day we walk to the nearest shops taking the cutting through a different community woodland next to the nearby school.  "This is where I am bringing my garden waste now" she announces proudly, as if she is doing something very clever.  "And where exactly are you putting it?" I ask.  "Under that signpost there..".  Sure enough under the signpost that says 'No Tipping' there is a pile of OldmaSock's garden cuttings.