Thursday, 21 June 2007

Goodbye and hello



I have both sad and happy news to impart today. I had better get the sad bit over with. My Uncle Ben died this afternoon ‘down under’ in Perth, Australia. He was in his nineties and had a stroke on Monday. Once in hospital they found he had pneumonia and from then on it was just administer morphine and wait until the inevitable happened.

My uncle was one of the original ‘Poms’ who moved with his family to Australia in the 1960s. He visited us in the UK every two years or so and I remember long childhood summer holidays when Uncle Ben and Auntie Vi visited and took my sister and I everywhere with them while Mum and Dad were at work.

His last visit was a few years ago when he was in his late eighties. He was fit and vigorous, a regular golf player, who loved walking his beloved boxer dog. We marvelled at photographs of his garden, complete with lemon trees and flocks of budgerigars. When he left he hugged me hard. We both knew that it was probably the last time we would see each other and I was very choked at the time.

I never found the time or money or courage to fly that far, so I never visited him in Australia. As Mum said when she came in with the news of her brother’s death, “It feels like the end of an era”. But, oddly, nothing will change really. He is no more distant, wherever he is now, than he was when he was ‘down under’. I just have to remember not to send his birthday and Christmas cards now, which is sad.

The happy news is the arrival of our six little ducklings. They are tucked up safe and warm in the old chicken coop while the duck quarters are rebuilt. They spent their first day out in the chicken run, but when dusk fell the little blighters nipped out through a hole in the side of the pen and went to roost in a pile of old sticks. The sticks are waist deep in nettles, so muggins had to wade in, getting stung to billy-o.

I yelped for help and Mum came heroically to the rescue and immediately caught four of them. Luckily they don’t struggle when captured; once you have got so much as a baby feather, you’ve got the whole duckling. The other two were much further jammed into the sticks and dusk was falling, so Mum went off to fetch Marigold gloves and a torch.

Meanwhile I remained peering through the thicket of nettles into the sticks, bending over with my hands resting on the floor. The next thing I knew one of the two remaining fugitives backed quietly out of the sticks and into my hands. Number six was unearthed moments later by torchlight and put to bed. With chickens this exercise would have been noisy with cackling, screeching and swearing from all parties. With ducklings it was just fun. They don’t struggle, they don’t screech, they haven’t learned to quack yet, so there was much gentle “peeping”, and once you’ve got them they don’t flap or peck. They are pure delight.

Yesterday they had a spell in a much stronger pen, but Brian found he couldn’t reach in to get them out at night, so the little duckies were deftly, but rather unceremoniously, netted with a crab fishing net and popped into bed.

Last Saturday’s garden open day was reasonably successful. The sun shone and we had a steady stream of visitors. Our hosts were able to play Lord and Lady of the Manor and greet the visitors and guide them around their lovely garden. I remained in the kitchen (my rightful place!) with the chairman of the Cylch serving tea and Welsh cakes. We made a grand total of £281.50 which is not bad for an afternoon’s work.

Last night we had book club, but only three were able to attend. A month ago we had a rush of blood to the head and plumped for “How to Look Good Naked” by Gok Wan. Not the most literary of choices, but sometimes a bit of light relief is what is needed. It certainly made for some lively discussion! This month we’re going to read “Diary of an Ordinary Woman” by Margaret Forster. Now, I wonder where I got the idea for that one from...?

Friday, 15 June 2007

We're all of a flutter

There has just been great excitement here. We have just had a baby sparrow hawk in the garden. It appeared suddenly on the handle of the girls’ trampoline and sat, all sharp beak, yellow talons and fluffy feathers long enough for us to rush around finding binoculars, bird books and the bird ID DVD. Sadly we don’t have a camera with enough guts to take a picture at that distance, through a window and across the garden, but it was very exciting to see it.

There are many birds in the garden at the moment, of course, lots of blue tits, great tits, coal tits, marsh/willow tits, blackbirds, thrushes, woodpeckers (the ones with the red heads) and nuthatches. We then get a couple of collared doves, magpies, and flocks of jays. The latter two I have mixed feelings about because of their nest-robbing activities, but they are handsome, if noisy birds to watch. The swallows have all raised their first broods now too, so the sky is full of zooming hirundines.

The red kites are still about too, but they are so often up there with the buzzards that we are becoming a little blasĂ© about them! But only a little, we still jump up and down and shriek ‘Kite! Kite!’ when we see one of them. This has proved a little confusing for Rosie, 3. While I was shouting: ‘Look! Kite!” She was looking for a different sort of kite. And since she is Queen of Questions at the moment, we were then grilled for half an hour on who was flying the kite, where and why!

The rain has brought with it a new green lushness in the garden, although it has battered the petals off the peonies and the aquilegias, which is a shame, but opens up a bit of space for something else.

Tomorrow we have a garden open day in aid of Cylch Meithrin at the Old Coach House, Rosebush, and have fingers, toes and everything else crossed for a bit of sunshine between 1pm and 4pm. The garden overlooks the reservoir, which is a stunningly beautiful setting. We have got some terrific raffle prizes too and I hope that enough people turn up to buy tickets, particularly since selling those tickets is to be my job!

Gobeithio bod y haul yn gwennu ac yn disgleirio yfory.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Notes from a wall flower

I wanted to write about being shy, because I mentioned it in my seven facts about myself and several others said “me too”.
Being shy, for me, feels a total, complete and utter waste of time. And I can say that with confidence as a lifelong shy person.

But what is the point of it? Why has Mother Nature, in her wisdom, decreed that some of us are painfully shy why others (and how I dearly wish to be one of those others) are brave and bold and lovely and loud? I read somewhere that the bold ones are those who rush off after the wildebeest with a spear, while the shy ones hang back and think of tactics.

And painfully shy is so true. It is a pain being shy. Physical “ow! It hurts!” pain and a squirming, wriggling, cowardly kind of pain that holds you back when you should be at the front. It sticks you to the wall, flower-like or means that, perhaps you do not go out at all, finding ways to avoid, excuses not too. It makes the school run twice daily hell; just to manage to squeeze out the word “hello” to someone you have known for decades. It makes some people just plain out of bounds to speak to because they give you a vibe that freezes your vocal chords and renders you a speechless gibbering loon.

Then, other days, you’ll be fine. Quite normal in fact, and quietly confident, able to speak to anyone, even very good looking people.

So why is this? Why am I shy Jekyll on some days and quietly confident Hyde on other (very few) days?

It feels like a mental defect.

Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., in his book, “Shyness, A Bold New Approach” (Harper Perennial) says: “Shyness is not a mental defect, a personality flaw, a neurosis, or an emotional disorder.”

Maybe not, I say, but it certainly feels that way and probably looks it too.

Apparently almost 50% of the population say they are shy, 89% of which say they have been shy all their lives. Only 11% claim they are not and never have been shy.

Odd, then, that television programmes don’t show shy people (they don’t show fat or ugly ones, either, but that’s another story). Perhaps you might come across the occasional bit of costume drama demureness; downcast eyes, bosom plimming over low cut, empire line dress, but not on Eastenders or Corrie.

I am one of the 89% who say they have always been shy. But I am not shy all the time, and apparently that is quite common too.

Carducci also talks about ‘inappropriate boldness’ as a coping mechanism for shy people. So if you see someone being hostile, doing silly outrageous things or forcing themselves to be extrovert, they are pretending not to be shy. Shy people are told to get out more, join clubs, and go to evening classes. But, Carducci says, this is useless without first having set in place appropriate strategies for coping with such situations.

His research identified several types of shyness: the publicly shy (finding it easiest to be inconspicuous); the chronically shy (shy at most social encounters); the privately shy (occasionally shy, when you have had a bad day or just in a shy mood); the transitionally shy (shy during certain periods of life, such as starting a new job) and the successfully shy (aware of being shy, but it doesn’t hold them back in life).

My aim is to move from the publicly and chronically shy end of the scale to the successfully shy other end of the scale. Or, as Carducci describes it, from unhappily shy to happily shy.

He suggests keeping a shy life journal to describe how you follow his techniques on the journey from unhappily to happily shy. His strategies include stopping avoiding whatever it is that makes you shy, learning new behaviours and acting on them, expanding your comfort zone and befriending your anxiety.

Interestingly Carducci warns about using technology to assist the avoidance part of shyness. You can order things over the internet, chat to people all over the world in chat rooms (ahem!) all without actually having to make contact with another human being.

He says: “It is easy to hide behind the internet and use it as an excuse to avoid meeting people,” and warns that technology limits contact with others. “The obvious solution,” he says, “is to log off the computer.” Hmmm. He continues: “Staying in surfing the internet or watching TV are passive endeavours that can interfere with social contact.” Uh oh.

But, Carducci asserts, being shy is not the same as being a failure. Apparently some of the world’s most famous, richest, smartest and bravest people are shy.

Okay, so it’s not so bad after all. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much or cause rows when I have an acute attack of shyness before going out anywhere.

I'm completely nuts and here's the proof...

Here are the seven things about myself, as previously posted on the CCW bit.

  1. I am pathologically shy. This means I either come across as aloof and unapproachable or I overcompensate by being loud and saying a lot of total rubbish (then spending the next ten days beating myself up for having spoken in the first place). It was a huge pain in the bum when I was working as a journalist and if there was a pill to cure shyness I’d take it.
  2. I used to breed guinea pigs and show them at my local show.
  3. I once ate a slug by mistake. At first bite it was delicious; the second bite was really horrid and slimy. Yuk! (Followed by much scrubbing out of mouth).
  4. I’m not really a grown-up yet. My husband says my inner child is too much of an outer child. He bought me a Pirates of the Caribbean chocolate egg in a mug for Easter. I rest my case.
  5. When I was little I wanted to be a famous author, but my mum said you had to be dead to be a famous author. I was really shocked the first time I met a real writer in the flesh!
  6. I tell my children that bees make honey and earwigs make chutney. They’re not convinced.
  7. My first memory is of being hauled out of bed to watch a crackly black and white TV picture of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

Monday, 4 June 2007

It's half term! Bring on the Calpol...

So we had half term. In which we had glue ear.

Well it was three-year-old Rosie who had glue ear, but the effect was widespread.

Earache is horrid, as I well remember from childhood. One of my earliest memories is of crying with such terrible earache that my poor mother shut me in the living room (presumably for my own safety while she soothed her frayed nerves out of earshot). I leaned onto the rocking chair and rocked myself while I cried and cried and my ears throbbed. We got to know our family doctor very well and on each visit, while I would climb onto his lap, he would ask: “Which ear is it this time then?”

Rosie started with intermittent earache on Tuesday. It seemed to get better on Wednesday, but by Thursday evening she was cuddled on my lap crying “ow, ow, ow!” until the Calpol wore on.
Friday saw us in the surgery where the wonderfully named Dr Cadbury (I also once met a Dr Fudge – if they had met and married they would have been the Drs Cadbury-Fudge) peered into the patient’s ears. She found fluid in one side, pus in the other and prescribed antibiotics and eardrops.

The patient, meanwhile, asked if she could go onto CBeebies on the doctor’s computer and grumpily complained throughout: “Mummy! I can’t hear your voice,” in large decibels, even though I was bellowing right next to her poor beleaguered ear.

“I don’t think she can hear much,” I informed Dr Cadbury.

“From what I’ve just seen, I don’t think she can,” Dr Choc replied.

Rosie went happily home clutching her prescription after a short wait in the pharmacy.

“WHY ARE WE IN HERE MUMMY?” she yelled.

“To get your medicine,” Mummy replied.

“MUMMY, I CAN’T HEAR YOUR VOICE!” responded the ‘im’ patient. Mummy counted to ten and used a primitive form of sign language to say “sit still, behave and I’ll get you an ice cream later”.

Fortunately the deafness was just Friday’s treat and Rosie’s hearing was back to normal by the evening.

During the glue ear spell my sister Jackie, her husband Phil and their two children Tom and Ellie invaded us. They had been camping at Hay on Wye in glorious Bank Holiday Monday “sunshine” – in other words it started raining on Saturday at 8pm and was still raining on Monday. So they arrived a day earlier than expected, cold, wet and muddy, before I had been shopping for useful things like food and before Brian had finished putting the new kitchen cupboards in.

So they went straight into the Granny Annexe and made themselves at home, meanwhile the usual incumbent of the annexe immediately made alternative arrangements and moved out to a friend’s house.

Jackie’s visits are always fun – to begin with. Then the differences begin to show. We like to be with our children, playing with them. J and P tend to leave theirs to their own devices – even if it might include damage to persons and property.

Having Phil around is just like having any normal teenage boy around – except he’s 39. At night he slept in his little tent at the top of one of our fields, surfacing mid morning to consume last night’s curry for ‘breakfast’ then retired to bed for the rest of the day, only emerging in the early evening in search of a beer.

One of my friends from school, Jane, unfortunately chose this week for a visit arriving on Wednesday evening with her husband David and their daughter Sophie, who is the same age as Hannah. It was lovely to see them, but they are quietly sophisticated to Jax and Phil’s louder, more boorish, behaviour. Coupled with this was the fact that, with the differences in life approach simmering to the surface, we were all becoming a little catty.

Mum helpfully told Phil how much more handsome and clever his older brother was (known as Dr Luscious, Phil’s brother is a tall, dark and handsome consultant, pilot and fledgling novelist. Phil isn’t.) It wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances to catch up with old friends.
By Thursday morning Jax and Phil had packed and were leaving.

“Clear orf, clear orf,” I joked, meaning it. They went.

The rest of Thursday was spent relocating various toys and books that had been distributed around the house and the annexe, piling empty beer cans and wine bottles into boxes for recycling, washing a heap of soggy towels and unblocking the loo.

We ended the week quietly with a visit to Colby Woodland Gardens (above left, a favourite of ours) on Friday afternoon to cheer Rosie up (and get her the promised ice cream) then on Saturday we drove up to Llanerchaeron, a National Trust property near Aberaeron.

This used to be the property of a gentleman farmer and was bequeathed to the Trust in 1989 in a dire, but untouched state. It has a working organic farm, fabulous walled garden (below left) and John Nash-designed house.
The estate was entirely self-sufficient and the Trust has beautifully restored it to be a wonderful snap shot on how life used to be. The girls loved exploring the farm and walled garden and quite enjoyed peeking into all the little rooms. It’s a fascinating place.