New blog


It’s been ages since I last wrote a post for this blog, yet still I see people are viewing it each day. Thank you!

I feel I have moved on, although this is very much part of my life, I have settled a little and am learning to adapt to Dorset life.

To mark this change I began a new blog. I am not really sure of its format yet: a mix of my explorations around Dorset, learning about its villages and attractions and recording the beauty of nature through photos.

If you would like to join me on this new blog, here is the link

Currently called “A Londoner in Dorset”, I would be very interested to hear how best to ‘spice up’ a blog on country life and living quietly in retirement. Those of you who have read this blog regularly, followed me for a while or know me will know that “living quietly” has never been something I have been good at.

I hope you find time to drop by this new blog and leave a comment. I intend to keep this blog live but will not add posts for the foreseeable future. If you would like to continue to follow me, please use the new blog.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Thanks to everyone who has followed this one.

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Beautiful New World


I am feeling my way into a new world. Gently nudging the edges so they grow, unfolding like petals. First, my house begins to feel like home. I find myself settling down for the evening,like my cats, rather than roaming round restlessly. I begin to potter in the garden, someone else’s garden true, but huge and in desparate need of care and attention. I pull out brambles, prune back unruly bushes, we cut the beech hedge in the front of the house and in doing so begin to feel a pride.
My tendrils reach to new experiences: popping to new neighbours for a cuppa, bearing a slice of cake. I am proud of the cake too; my first from the Aga!
Life has the texture of a holiday.
Visiting new villages, new towns most days. Walks, markets, new shops, even supermarkets tempt me to difference, to change habits of a lifetime.
How many times have you walked the isles of your local supermarket, cursing that they have changed the shelving layout? It takes longer to shop, but you see more. We are trying lots of new shops, market stalls for fresh vegetables, the Sherborne Pannier Market for fresh fish and bread, supermarkets in several different towns.

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Today, as I was driving back from a perfectly normal supermarket experience, I looked… Really looked! Rolling hills, a soaring buzzard, wide skies, a patchwork of creams, browns blending together over the farmland, describing the stages of harvest in their hues.
Pull in, stop and wonder a while!
Really! This is special! It’s beautiful and I live here!

Dorset County Show


Moving house must be traumatic! For the past few weeks, I have concentrated on my feelings, the progress we are making, the packing and unpacking.

With the advent of the end of summer, the countryside explodes with shows and events. In early September, Dorset sets up for its greatest show…The Dorset County Show!

We had seen the tents, the toilets, the parking spaces being pegged out, put up and pulled in on the exhibition ground just outside of Dorchester. Clearly it would be big, but we had no idea how big!

My daughters came down for the weekend with Keoni. This seemed a great way for us all to experience this new way of life. So we piled into our cars and set off. There is a one way diversion around the show ground, but parking is very easy and free. As we drive onto the parking lot, I gasp at the size!

Fields and fields of neatly arranged cars span the horizon. It is well organised with plenty of efficient marshals and we are soon parked up and ready to roll.

As Keoni has fallen asleep in the car, we are able to push him round the first sections and gain an impression quickly. It brings back several experiences to me.
– a small show in Lincolnshire which my aunt took me to: I remember the men washing, combing and smoothing their cattle just prior to the show
– the village fete we attended the other day in Piddletrenthide, where people took their time to admire and discuss
– the ‘Grand Designs’ exhibition in Excel Centre, London (or indeed the Education Show in Birmingham) where you see more exhibitors of things related to the theme of the show than you could ever have imagined existed!
Country crafts, fine artisan cheese, life sized model horses demonstrating bridles, honey bees, log choppers, ploughs, combine harvesters, tractors, hens, sheep, country clothing, more food stalls than anyone could manage…the list just goes on and on.

We did not get round a quarter of it!

Keoni woke and loved it. He adores any large machinery, tractors in particular, and here he could climb on them, touch them and see them in every direction. He must have walked miles. Having taken in the first impression of tractors, he was drawn to the central ring where stunt drivers completed their show, followed by lovingly restored vintage tractors, a tractor dressed up as a police car (including siren) and finally the prize winning sheep, goats and cows paraded.

Cows! Some of the bulls were enormous! Beautiful sleek animals, whose coats gleamed in the sun and whose muscles rippled with pride as they walked their lap of honour.
Sheep! Their wool was such a variety of colour, so clean and their feet so trim.
Goats! They gained a dignity which the word does not usually imply!

There were pitches for local independent schools, for faster broadband connectivity, for artificial grass and straw logs.

As a way of learning about our new domaine, I would say it was excellent.
As a day out for the family: exhausting but great value.

The Village Fete


When you live in London, it is hard to take the concept of ‘Lord of the Manor’ seriously! When we heard the local fete was to be held at Manor House, we thought no more than, “Great, we get to see a big house!”

Dorset has a special style to it. There is an air of private school, of landed gentry, of breeding. This may be the beautiful cows and sheep that abound in the fields, but breeding nevertheless.

School have fetes and fairs at least twice a year. Summer and Christmas, the stalls, the sideshows entertain and raise money for much needed equipment. These build a sense of community, past pupils come back to see their old school, neighbours pop in to support: it is a great event.

Villages do the same thing. Each parish organises a fete and it seemed a good idea to attend ours.
The Manor House is indeed grand. Beautiful grounds and a proud confident building. Amid the usual book stalls and bricabrac we see our new friends who run a plant nursery and a retired couple enjoying tea in the marquis.

Suddenly I feel at home. These are friends we have made over the last few days and they greet us warmly. We pay our due to lift the paper cups covering dozens of green bottles. Will they be unopened bottles of wine or filled with water? We cannot resist the books, or the home made marmalade. There is a very leisurely feel about the place, I am in no hurry to leave.

We drink tea, enjoy a burger from the barbecue and sit on the grass enjoying the views, quietly people watching. The dog show is a highlight for me. Mutts and hounds, scruff bags and pedigrees walk round the small ring. Some classes only had one dog enter, to nobody’s surprise they win first prize. Most animals seem to win something but it’s judged with care, informed by years of performing this role.

The competition is compared by the Lord of the Manor, and a grand job he does too. A sense of family pervades the arena, dogs and their owners are cajoled to enter. I love the fusion of serious and jovial.

It is our first taste of village life beyond the local pub: a mix of gentility and function.
I like it.

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Travelling cats


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Bob mewed every 6 seconds for the first hour in the car. He panted and climbed mercilessly over his sister, sitting on her, aware only of his own distress. Gizmo sat in silence for the most part hoping it would all go away soon!
On arrival they were locked in the downstairs cloakroom while the removal men unloaded our home. Eventually the cats graduated to the run of the kitchen, where Bob explored every cupboard and Gizmo grabbed some well earned sleep.
Gradually Bob seemed to settle but unusually he chose to sleep tucked closely next to Gizmo!
By day three Bob was scratching in his litter tray every few minutes. The litter tray remained dry. Bob was in trouble.
We made enquiries of our lovely new neighbours and took him to a wonderful vet in Puddletown. The name seemed very appropriate!
David showed great care, explained that distressed cats cannot produce the hormone which protects the bladder from urine, thus causing cystitis. He gave Bob an injection, which he hardly noticed, prescribed some pills, looked Giz over and pronounced her fine. In contrast to vets I have visited in London, David took his time, gave me loads of information and had a great way of relaxing both cats.
Within a few days Bob was clearly better and back to his confident self.
Gizmo assures me that this is a better kitchen than the one in London because there is more space, an indoor toilet and an Aga.
Bob is busy persuading me he is ready to face the big outdoors. We will see, Bob!

Never Ending Boxes


How strange things look when out of context!
As we unpack the essentials and the oddments from our life, I get the strangest sensations of disbelief!
Sometimes I pick up the most familiar of objects in wonder. Suddenly, here in this new house they seem quite bizarre. On occasion they take on a new elegance I have never seen before. Other times, well loved objects seem dowdy or ugly.
There seems no logic in this. It is just seeing thing with new eyes. Now they are out of the house I have known for 24 years, they take on a new shape or meaning.
This is perhaps what I have been longing for. The chance to truly gain a fresh perspective. Another way to consider my values now I am retired.
The dimensions of each new room are different to our old home. The front of the house is quite grand with square rooms and tall ceilings. The back is older and as a consequence is more cramped and has an unexpected wave to the floor. If you unpack a box in the front of the house things either seem to take on the mantle of grandeur or shrink from this elegance. The same things unpacked in the back of the house may well match the cosy quirkiness or seems oversized!
Well, to be honest there are things I look at and simply throw out, no matter which part of the house I am in!
Box after box is opened. Some everyday things don’t reappear for ages. Where are the tea towels? I’m sure we had some shampoo! Sometimes we open a box and caress the contents because we haven’t seen it for a while. The professional packers did a great job but they mix your things about, which can be confusing.
Slowly some kind of order emerges. First priority is the kitchen: there is a need for food but it is more than that, it seems the heart of the home. The Aga is constantly alight and fills the room with dense heat which is overpowering during this warm weather. I HAVE to ask a neighbour how to turn it down!
Our bedroom and the bathroom also come high on my priority.
There are moments when I can’t bear to unwrap another thing. Empty boxes swamp us and clean wrapping paper smothers the floor.
Thank goodness there is a great pub nearly opposite which has a takeout service with pizza!

Moving House


 

After a hectic day of packing the day before, all our belongings are stowed onto the two trucks.  Our moving team are incredibly efficient and we arrive in the small village of Piddletrenthide, Dorset by about two o’clock.  The next few hours fly by.  The house owner, Kim, has just finished painting the dining room to hide the damp.  She greets us warmly.  Clearly this is her family house, but due to illness she needs to live with relatives for a while.  She loves it and hopes to return soon.  That is why the house has such a lovely feel to it, unlike many buy to lets.

John is occupied by the estate agent and her twenty page list of notches and marks throughout the house.  What do people expect from a house which is two hundred years old?  The removal team ask for a two minute debrief on what might go where and they use their initiative to place the furniture and the sixty boxes.

We are here!  The next stage of our retirement project!

There is such a mix of emotion.  Exhaustion! Exhilaration! Bewilderment!

We have no mobile signal in the valley: no landline so no phone calls are possible until we discover that we can walk up the hill almost a mile off!  There is no internet set up.  We suddenly feel very cut off from friends and family.

Once everyone has gone, we walk happily up the garden hill in the hope of getting a signal.  We clutch a bottle of champagne and a plate of food.    We climb over the style at the end of our grass area and enter the wooded section.I had no idea the hill would be so steep.  I end up grasping roots and pulling myself up.  There is the remains of a tree house to the right.  Ivy clings to the trees, making it darker.  Soon we reach the opening and a path which runs along the ridge behind everyone’s garden.  Disappointed there is no where to sit we descend again a little way and perch on a fallen tree trunk.  Here we sip champagne and wonder at the beauty and difference!

The view over the valley beyond, the farmland, the rooftops is wonderful.  I think I will be happy to call this home for the next six months or so.

 

Packed and waiting


That’s it then!
We’ve done it!
Around ten o’clock this morning, whilst we had five men and two vans packing us away, we heard that the exchange had taken place and the completion on the house deal will be Friday!

Woohoo!

It all worked out after all!
We move tomorrow.

There may be radio silence for a while. The new place has no broadband, no 3G signal and no mobile phone signal. So if you don’t hear from us for a short while- don’t worry. We made it to Dorset.

I promise photos and news as soon as possible.
Thanks to everyone who sent their support and messages of hope. You have all been wonderful.

Oh! I am so excited!

Pre-packing


Tomorrow, we are going to take our furniture on holiday!
Six men are coming to pack it all in boxes, with loving care, we hope, and plenty of bubble wrap. Our cats are going to be confined in a room, which they will not appreciate.
There will be nothing to do and there is everything to do.

It feels like a holiday because we are only staying in this new house for six or seven months, so we cannot get rooted in it. It feels like a holiday because we still have not exchanged contracts with the buyers, although everyone tell us this will happen tomorrow. As I have been hearing this for over a week, I am a little dubious.

On Friday, John and I sat down for a crisis management talk.
What if it all falls through?

After copious lists of possibilities and calculations on how much money we might lose over this, we made several phone calls to check our facts. The probability of it all working out as planned rose as a consequence to the phone calls. It reminded me of my role as head teacher. “If someone does not do something to resolve this situation, heads will roll!” Someone did something.

If all is not going to go well, we have plan B and C. They are, loosely, renting out out current home or returning home with the furniture after a short holiday.

The pre-packing continues with increased frenzy. The washing machine is disconnected: this proves more difficult that it sounds. Assorted wood is pulled from dark corners in the attic where John has been storing it, in case he ever wanted to make something. Now, wood is something that I remember from my last move 24 years ago. So that must have made quite an impression! For years after the last move John bemoaned the loss of a specific piece of wood that would have been perfect for whatever job was in hand. So I am keeping out of the woodpile.

There’s cleaning, and gathering things we will need over the moving days, along with packing or gathering the myriad of small things we have no use for but cannot throw away. Oh! So that is how junk is born!

At one point I can stand it no more and grab my bike for a tour of our lovely local park. That’s where my elder daughter lost her Wellington boot in mud: over there our kite got stuck in the tree about 20 years ago: here is the playground where both daughters loved to play and recently Keoni enjoyed. The list of loved places grew as I pedalled.

But I do not want to go back. Much as I love it. I want new adventures, new friends to join old ones, new decorations and styles to try out in new houses. A life full of visitors and fun and friendship.

I am hot, exhausted, unable to rest, fiddling with things which do not belong together and refuse to find their way into the rubbish bin.

What am I doing?
I am taking my furniture on holiday tomorrow!

Age difference


My wedding anniversary, yesterday, brought me to pondering how my dad must have felt.

My father was born in 1901. A different era to ours. He remembered the first cars, which had men carrying a flag to warn the pedestrians it was coming. He did not have to pass the driving test, none had been invented! Early planes: the First World War; telephones with live telephonists to handle your call and phone numbers which named your town and a simple two or three digit number.

He was a gent of a peculiar kind. He had slight difficulty saying a breathy ‘h’, but was well spoken. He always wore a suit, usually with a waistcoat, even when sitting on the sands at Scarborough, where we went on our annual holiday.

He rarely played with us as children, read stories with no expression at all and we knocked to enter his bedroom. I remember asking for a raise in pocket money about 10 years old.
“Why do you need it?” he asked quietly.
“I’d like to buy a weekly magazine and this will mean I can.”
Having explained my need there was no question about the raise!

A gentle formality! Lovingly remote!

Dad was a publican in London, mostly around the East End. He did not marry until he was in his forties. My mum was only in her twenties. What must people have thought?

I had never realised the age gap until I was a young teen and he had his seventieth birthday. I knew other friends had parents in their fifties and I was horrified! He did not look that old!

I never considered the age gap of twenty years anything other than normal. They seemed perfectly matched.
“Age is a quality of Mind,” he declared, quoting the title of a poem by an unknown poet.
If you left your dreams behind,
If hope is lost. If you no longer look ahead,
If your ambitious fires are dead –
Then you are old.
But if from life you take the best
And if in life you keep the jest,
If love you hold –
No matter how the years go by,
No matter how the birthdays fly,
You are not old!

All the family plans led to him dying before my mother. So it was inconceivable that she should die first- but she did!

My dad was a sentimental man, with such love for her. A shrewd businessman with a head for figures. Whilst a product of his age, he seemed happy to be in a world with younger people. I wonder how much he coloured my own attitude to age?