Memories are made of this…

We were only away for a few days when a fire destroyed a listed thatched cottage in our village. 8 fire engines fought it for 5 hours. The access road is tiny. It must have been awful.

I read the article and e mailed a friend who lives in the lane to say I hoped she wasn’t affected by it, only to later find out it was her home that was gutted. Thankfully everyone was safe, and they managed to save many of their possessions. Their house, which we always describe as Little Grey Rabbit’s House will be rebuilt as before with clay lump and brick, tile and thatch. It will take until December 2018.

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The plume of smoke from their chimney will be visible over the field and the little upstairs light we can always see when we drive home at night will glow in the dark again. The memory of it all will live far longer with the family.

The fundamental nature of losing your home really hit me. When we visited she was in shock, surrounded by the thatch which was torn off by the firefighters, with no electricity or water. Trying to piece together the normality of life while waiting for the loss adjusters to assess the damage. They are showering at a neighbours and cooking on a one ring camping stove.Their teenage daughter lost all her coursework. The only thing we could do was say how sorry, and try to empathise, and offer to make a shepherds pie. Well, it had peas, carrots and gravy, and was the most normal, plain and comforting thing I could think of.

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The customary talk of what you’d gather up in the event of a fire happened round our kitchen table. I was amazed how hard I found it to identify any one thing. The girls both thought of all the things on their computers which would sum up their favourite things. So opted to grab their portable hard drives, oh and a childhood toy.   Photos are the worst, all of your life in image. The prompts for our reminiscences. Dad used to use them and his notebooks and journals to remind him of significant events, throughout his life. The place, the time, the mileage, the cost. At the time I thought it pedantic. Now not so.

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What would I grab? I don’t know. Apart from my family. What would I miss? What could I not live without? Too many things to analyse, collected over decades of marriage and family life. With much of it commemorated on, yes a portable hard drive. My mother’s handwriting..I’d like an example of that.  Letters from Nick from far off places.  I’d like those.

The habit of not calling a place a place, but describing it instead is a habit we’ve got into, and I suspect everyone does it. Notcutts Garden Centre is not called that here, we refer to it as “The Garden Centre where Peter Purvess got bitten by the dog”Unknown-1.jpeg Pubs are rarely described by their name rather “that place where all those expensive cruisers were moored with people drinking champagne in blazers” or “the one by the river with the car park round the back between the new houses”. House numbers never known are replaced by “The House with the Butterflies on the outside” or “just down from the ‘Unhappy Shopper’ (village shop, long closed).

Then there are places that never even existed. My mother always used to say, when being pestered about where something was would say in exasperation “Up in Annie’s behind the clock” I have absolutely no idea why. But I had a tin clock with nursery rhymes on it and I always imagined it was there.

Nick has a photographic memory. He can locate a place we once visited almost by sense of smell I reckon. An obscure bit of river where he swam once in Spain, a farmhouse we once had a holiday in when H was a baby. A place I can only describe as “that place where we bought those climbing plants, you know, the ones with the white flowers, there was a big old dog”. He’ll find it.

Needless to say the use of satellite navigation systems to him, when not at sea, is for the faint hearted.

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We sometimes get lost.  So great is his memory for irrelevant things when he’s telling me all the bits he can remember, and I can’t  I resort to “oh yes, there was a little girl and an old man and a donkey in a straw hat standing by a gate?” A friends mother developed Alzheimer’s, and she worried that the people who cared for her mother wouldn’t know anything about the life she had led or anything about her. She made a memories book, with photos and reminders and little things they could talk about with her. I’d like one of those if I forget. Now, what would be in it ……?

It’s that time of year again

Its that time of year again…..to look back and see what you’ve achieved, and what the year has brought you. My reflection is not what I expected to see at a time when my husband has retired, we’ve settled in a new place and planned to change pace. I’ve become a political activist. Political with a small p because the whole process bemuses and infuriates me in equal measure and i’ve always avoided it as much as possible. The p may be small but its effects are considerable.

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The world of WASPI has completely consumed me this year. My strong sense of social injustice has finally burst its banks and I’m going downstream quickly on a raft with a hole in it.  Following in the shadows of the Suffragettes, the Women’s Libbers, Greenham Common, The Ford Women, The Miner’s Wives and countless other groups Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) have stood up and said “This isn’t right”

For those of you who don’t know the issue it concerns the arbitrary raising of the State Pension Age for women born in the 50s, and now the money is running out and we’re “all living longer” (although not necessarily fitter) successive Governments have sanctioned a steep rise in the pension age creating an inequality while claiming equality with men’s pension age.

The fundamental argument is that women weren’t told. The Government waited 14 years before they started telling anyone, and then only some, and then they stopped, and then they accelerated the age rise. I won’t bore you with any more details, but they consume my waking hours.

In this process I’ve met some amazing women. Made new friends and joined a Campaign. There’s Banners, protests, standing in the rain, travel, fliers, badges and even a Theresa May Guy for November 5th.”The lady’s not for burning”.  MP’s good and not so good. Twitter and Facebook where the Trolls live.

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Now at my favourite time of year I look back on this blog I started because there was nothing out there for Sixty Something Me, and women like me.Never have I found that truer than now. We’re a generation who raised the children, kept the house, worked, part time in many cases (with no access to private pension) were paid less than male counterparts, cared for our parents, battled ill health, and now we’re fighting for the bit of security we all thought we’d get at 60. You can believe me when I tell you that some women are needing it very desperately indeed. Although as someone put it to me recently a robbery is still a robbery, no matter who its stolen from.

But, out of the boxes of Christmas Decorations I drag my sense of joy at the things we’ve put away year after year, the little treasures, the daft mementoes. I’ve put them up, and once again there’ll be Christmas, with our girls.

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Love unconditional. We’ll have a roast, mince pies, and a glass or two. Friends and neighbours. I’ll count my blessings.

Next year, I’ll pick up my banner and do my bit to right this injustice. And if I make it through the festive season without a man saying “You wanted equality, now put up with it” it truly will be the miracle of Christmas.

Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year

MSM BLACKOUT: The four clues pointing to May’s State Pension objective: ABOLITION

The Slog.

methink1There are four easily discernible behaviours – in contemporary Government responses to the SPA injustice – that suggest a future agenda on State Pensions: one of abolition, not nurture. The WASPI campaign needs to raise awareness of the broader rights at stake.


Yesterday, Dame Joan Bakewell asked the Government in the House of Lords when they were going to confront the disgraceful – and utterly mendacious – handling of the State Pension Reform that began in 1995. The ‘reform’ process was about as informed and fair as the British media’s coverage of the ongoing rape of Greece. Except that in this, the case of Dame Joan’s query, our media chose to ignore it completely.

I’m sorry, that’s a little unfair. BBC Parliament covered the event live, because that’s what they do. Googling today, I’d say not many people were tuned in*: they’d turned off and dropped out:

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Those…

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The Girl on the Train

On a recent London Underground journey i sat opposite a pretty girl who kept me entertained with a full application of make up, achieved in the reflection of a tiny handbag mirror.  It began with a spongy applicator of blobs of foundation, blended with enormous attention to detail.

bebl0001f_2_l.jpgBlusher and highlighter followed applied with huge fat brushes, then the eyebrows, brushed and powdered-in with a chiselled brush.  But the real expertise was saved for her eyelashes.  They took about six stops on the tube. Unaffected by the lurch and rattle of the carriage there was a liberal application of mascara all over – two layers, then minute attention to detail on each individual lash, top and bottom.  She finished off with a lip line and a flourish of lipstick, applied with a brush. I was transfixed.

Yes, she looked lovely, but she was beautiful without any of it.

I reflected on my own preparation that morning which was a lick of foundation administered by my fingers, eyebrows 1-2, eyeliner dab-dab, blusher stick stroke-stroke, a slick of lipstick and some styling goo in my hair.  That I’m afraid dear reader, was that.  I suppose it shows.

Later that day I read the story of Sylvia Jones-David, who wrote that her husband has never seen her without her make up on…i share it with you.  Perhaps you’ll read it with the same open mouthed amazement as me, or maybe you’ll secretly identify with her?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/beauty/face/my-husband-has-never-seen-me-without-make-up/

Sylvia is 72 and she and her husband have only been married for seven years.  What does this say about Sylvia, what does it say about me?

I like make up.  I can remember the first time ever wearing any, aged about 12 to go to a party.  I was amazed and felt so grown up.  It was my mothers, and I’m sure a powder compact will have been involved and some ‘rouge’.  The make up revolution came with Mary Quant and it was – a revolution.  Packaging no longer looked like your Mum’s things, they made you feel ‘with it’ and ‘groovy’.

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 There were crayons.

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And then along came BIBA, and our socks were truly blown off.

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Those eye shadows were mulberry, purple, ochre, brown and sooty,  The lipsticks were cranberry, conker and plum.  Velvet and brocade, paisley and art deco.  We loved it.  It was great to be young.

Now as I slap on the, well … slap,  there isn’t that same sense of fun, just necessity.  And I don’t care how steady a hand you have, you wouldn’t be able to paint individual Mary Quant daisies on your upper eye like we did,  sitting on the Piccadilly Line.

Thank you Mary – for the hell of it xx

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Are gooseberries evil?

Before we rush on to the mists and mellow fruitfulness a time of year i love, we have to handle the glut of Summer fruit and veg, which all come at once and have to be ‘dealt with’.  Whether eaten, prepared and frozen or frozen straightway they all require some sort of attention.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love the things we grow, and try to only grow things we’ll actually eat but sometimes you can feel under siege with the crop.

It starts with the gooseberries.  Plump green and so heavy the branches bow under the weight.  BUT, gauntlets are required to pick them, their needle sharp thorns stab at the slightest opportunity, and grab your clothes as you pass.  This year we picked 34lb (in old money). No-one needs that many.  So we give them away and inevitably freeze them whole or as puree.  Yesterday’s gooseberry crumble involved frostbite as I topped and tailed the frozen berries, which when cooked slumped down to just enough to cover the bottom of the pie dish and produced half a litre of sweetened gooseberry juice.  I think the answer is yes…they are evil.  But i did make a decent jam with ginger.

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Bob Flowerdew of Gardeners Question Time fame gave an interesting talk recently about making the most of your harvest and a lot of it made complete sense.  He said:

Eat the best of the crop yourself.  Eat it Fresh.  Don’t give it away to friends who take it home and then let it slowly waste away in the fridge!

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Net your soft fruit against birds, and garnish your garden with scary objects – toys, painted hosepipe, old fur hats that look like cats etc.

Make ice lollies

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When making jam use more fruit and less sugar.

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Try new recipes – kohl rhabi slaw?  Now I don’t grow this knobbly bundle of joy but on the basis of this delicious recipe I may have a go.  Mix together 1/3 of a cup of mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons groundnut or similar light oil, 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons grainy mustard, 3/4 teaspoon sugar, salt to taste,  coarsley ground black pepper, 1 kilo shredded kohlrabi peeled and coarsely shredded, 1 cup shredded green cabbage,  2 sticks celery sliced thinly.  Chill and enjoy.   Makes – a lot.

Fruit leather? Simmer the fruit with it’s own weight (or more) of chopped apples, then pass it through a sieve to produce a pulped puree. Pour this on to an oiled tray and dry thoroughly in an airing cupboard, warm open oven or over a range. The drying process will concentrate the fruit acids and sugars and intensify the flavour. Once dry, peel the sheet off, dust with caster sugar and cut into strips.

My pulse does quicken at the courgette and runner bean harvest, and this year we determined to eat them small and sweet.

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All the ingredients for ratatouille assembled in front of me, red peppers, courgettes, onions, garlic and tomatoes.  Chopped, sautéed  in olive oil and garlic and the chopped (or tinned) tomatoes and juice and cooked down to a fudgy consistency is the way we like it.  My sister makes hobbit ratatouille with great big chunks of still crisp vegetables like a big garden stew.  Whatever takes your fancy.  In the freezer for the long cold evenings.

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And if you only have a patio or a window box…here’s what children did with a baked bean can.  Happy harvesting everyone.

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Get out the Basildon Bond….

With the recent publication of letters sent by  WWI soldiers at the front to their loved ones back home, it brought into focus for me the importance of the personal letter as a vital part of social history.  The heart breaking snippets of a life we can’t really imagine were such a part of the commemoration.

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An envelope, addressed to you.  These days so often a bill, a bank statement or a bit of junk mail renders mail undesirable.  But a hand written letter is a different matter and a thing worthy of greater merit.

Sometimes when I look through old papers I come across something written to me in the handwriting of my mother, and it brings me up short.  Her huge, artistic, loopy writing.  So distinctive, and so much a part of her.  My father’s by contrast was minute and spidery, and often he will have written it out first in rough to make sure that his exact sentiments were being expressed.  He always knew when to write, and people remembered his letters. He used to talk about “the power of the pen”.  No-one remembers an e mail.  My grandmother’s writing was beautifully neat and expressive, and usually came with pocket money.

When I was first married Nick was at sea and we spent many months at a time apart.  In the days before satellite phones, or e mail.  So a letter took on great significance.   Even written letter exchange was tortuous and unpredictable.  Sometimes I’d wait for weeks for a letter and then three would come at once.  In his characteristic and often illegible scrawl, usually in fat blue Rotring ink, on tissue thin paper with stamps from exotic places.

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There’s the tale of the day the man in charge of mail in the shipping company office left unexpectedly and his desk was full to the brim of un-forwarded letters.  Stories and news never exchanged, cards and photos unopened.

Recently I joined a hand written letter exchange with a stranger.  I wasn’t optimistic, having taken part in a gift box exchange and not received mine in return.  Much to my delight I was matched with Amy in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Trust me when I tell you Amy really knows how to write a letter.  She burst out with a hand water coloured postcard from an exotic holiday destination and a little later a hand written letter, on the thickest paper torn from her sketch book.

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The envelope stuffed full of little pictures, stickers and photos of her life, which is nothing like mine.  In my British way I have responded with stories of life here in England, photos of my garden and my City, stories of where we live, how we live and of course we’ve discussed the weather.  My pen pal is creativity in spades.  She paints, embroiders, gives classes, is musical and mystical.  By comparison I am pretty staid, and my life is quieter.  But we can exchange mental pictures of our lives.  I must become more interesting!

The sitting down and thinking ‘what to say’ is a discipline and a pleasure.  The slow scratch scratch of pen on paper concentrates the mind on how to express things.  The joy of a clean sheet of paper and a crisp envelope.

Have you ever struggled with a letter?  A letter of resignation, the Dear John ending a relationship,  the one to a bereaved friend.  I only know with the latter that anything is better than nothing, and a letter to be read later when the reality sinks in is worth the effort you take to find the right words.

More importantly take the time to write a letter to the people you love most.  Tell them you love them, in your own best handwriting.  Even if they’re hard to love tell them something you admire about them.  Everyone wants to be valued. Everyone wants a memory to treasure – for when its too late.

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Bartering in the 21st Century

We’re a nation of shopkeepers in Britain so we’re told.  The corner shop missed by so many in rural areas presented a huge opportunity for immigrants to establish a thriving business with the whole family piling in to keep the shelves stocked and the shop open late into the night.  How we’ve all benefited.

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My, how the shopping landscape has changed.  We have no village shop – it closed years ago, no post office here.  Nothing.  A car ride to the local town for all supplies on a daily basis is a reality for us.  A change from living with a supermarket at the end of the road for 30 years.  It didn’t matter if I forgot to buy milk or ran out of eggs. And unlike the corner shop no-one in the supermarket knows who I am or anything about me.  Just a face with a store card of info about my shopping habits recorded, and I get a free coffee.

Online shopping has become the norm for many.  In fact we go out looking for something specific in the knowledge that if the shop doesn’t have it we’ll “look online for it”.  Today, rather depressingly I soaped my hands and managed to struggle my wedding ring over my gnarled arthritic-ey finger and found myself looking for an”expanding wedding ring”.  Do you know such a thing does exist?  I thought I might have to resort to an elastic band. Its not very attractive and i don’t think I’ll bother. But whatever you want is out there…somewhere.

There’s a new way of shopping too which involves being savvy, and spending time scouring websites for the best deals even for fundamental items like a mobile phone contract and car insurance.  There used to be an insurance broker who reassured you he’d done the legwork for you and was offering you the best deal.  Nowadays, almost routinely every year I go through the tiresome exercise of the insurance policy trade off.   I receive the policy renewal which, surprise surprise has increased due to so many people making fraudulent claims apparently.  I check two different online price comparison sites, reading the small print in an effort to compare apples and apples and not apples and kiwi fruit.

Having done that several more minutes of my time are wasted listening to someone at Tadah’s Motor Policies Ltd reading from a script, where he/she or I don’t really communicate, or care but I answer all the questions as honestly as I can and reach a compromise on price by pointing out I now live in a rural area, my car does not have low profile rims, and no, i’ve not added an airhorn.

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Oh and my penalty period for my speeding offence expired a year ago.  Wouldn’t it be great if they just gave me their best price to start with?

In the same vein of ‘buyer beware’ is my friend whose just found out that although the crude oil prices were slashed this year it wasn’t reflected in the price she paid for heating oil.  So she’s been paying well over the odds because she didn’t realise it was a bartering exercise.  Apparently the game is they tell you a price, you laugh and walk away, they offer it cheaper.  They say it was quite legitimate because she “accepted the price”.  Apparently there’s no obligation for them to mention that the price went down or offer you the best deal.  You’re gullible, we’ll con you.

I wonder how many over 60’s in the UK, who aren’t computer literate get ripped off because they don’t use the web to check prices and find the best bargains.  I gather getting your SKY subscription reduced is as easy as taking candy from a baby.  I’m off to try it. I’ve honed my skills and I’m partial to a lolly.

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Well its true….got our SKY subscription reduced from £99 per month to £66 by changing our package, removing stuff we don’t need and by telling them I’m old and I understand people are getting reduced tariffs left right and centre and we’ve never asked for anything.  I get to re-negotiate it again in October.  Downwards…

In the new dawn of 21st century bartering Martin Lewis is my new best friend. He of moneysavingexpert.com who has a brain like a micro processor, and a rate of delivery to match it, has opened my eyes to endless possibilities. He is a superhero. Currently his beef is parking fines, but in the past he’s saved us money on currency exchange rates when on holiday, tax benefits for married people,  how to get the best price for car insurance and for daughter number one a rebate of £400 by mentioning the mis-selling of Sentinel Gold Insurance. Oh and I’m positively salivating at the prospect of renegotiating my tariff with Vodafone…”do your homework, threaten to leave”.

You can follow his nuggets of wisdom quietly and calmly on his website, and I guarantee you’ll find something you can use to your advantage.  So armed with my newly found bartering skills I’ll find the courage at the next car boot sale to try some hard core bartering…”will you take 50p?”  Sorted.