In the golden olden days …

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Dale Hall, Liverpool, December 1959

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I was very sad to read in 2014 that Liverpool University’s Dale Hall of Residence was to be closed, and even sadder at the news that it had become derelict and succumbed to a fierce fire (believed to be arson) in December 2017. It has now been demolished and is being replaced by private homes, no doubt much needed, and probably very desirable residences. But there’s yet another milestone in my life that has disappeared.

Dale Hall fire damage

I was one of the very first to live there, and it was my home-from-home from October 1959 to July 1962, the place where I made some really important friendships. It holds many cherished memories for me.

I came up to Liverpool to read French as an immature eighteen-year-old in October 1959. University policy was,  as far as possible, to accommodate in Hall those female undergraduates unable to live at home. Few students had their own transport in those days and in general, buses were our only means of getting about. We would catch the number 80 bus at 8. 45 in order to get to lectures at 9.30, and then again around 5.30 in the evening to ensure we were back for dinner. Most of my lectures were in the Victoria Building, which was handy for the Students’ Union and the Cohen Library, so apart from the odd foray down Brownlow Hill and across Lime Street to Lewis’s and the City Library, I didn’t see much of Liverpool and led a very cloistered existence compared to today’s students.

Dale Hall was a brand new hall of residence generally known as the Virgins’ Retreat, stuck out in the rather posh suburbs of Mossley Hill, with very little in the way of temptation to lead a dissolute student life, or opportunity to indulge whatever temptation there was. My social life tended to be enacted in Hall, where it was easier to stay in our “prison” than to go out. There was a pub in Mossley Hill, where it might have been possible to meet people, especially male students, with the men’s hall only a mile or so away, but that cost money and we were very hard up.

I made friends in Hall in the first few weeks, as we ate our meals at tables of 9 that formed the nucleus of a number of cliques. Our group was quite lively, and although Hall regulations and lack of funds prevented us from going out often, we spent many hours in one another’s rooms putting the world to rights until the early hours of the morning.

We were the very first intake of students to inhabit Dale Hall, and we felt very privileged when we compared our living conditions to those of the other halls of residence, which were mostly converted Victorian villas where 2, 3 or even 4 girls had to share a room and there were battles for the bathroom.

Everything was brand new, clean, fresh, and contemporary in style. We had centrally-heated, brightly decorated individual study bedrooms, with a bathroom between 2, containing lavatory, hand basin and bath plus a tin of Gumption to clean it with (but no shower), and there was a shared kitchen with 2 gas rings and a grill at the end of each corridor. There was also a laundry room next to the kitchen, where you could wash out clothes by hand and spread them to dry on wooden racks, together with an iron and ironing board. In a room at the far end of a ground-floor corridor was a manual sewing machine that anyone could use. Electrical appliances had to be approved, so although there were a few hairdryers allowed, no radios, record players or tape recorders disturbed the hallowed silence.

Breakfast and evening meal were provided, and in addition we had weekly and monthly rations: ¼ lb of tea or instant coffee and ¼ lb of sugar per month plus 2 oz of butter per week, and we could help ourselves to 2 slices of bread daily from the couple of loaves provided in the kitchen – it was a matter of honour not to take more, as you would be depriving someone else if you did, but we would sneak down to the kitchen in the late evening and take any extra slices left over, for toast, which we made on the electric fires in our rooms, a practice forbidden and a bit risky.

Breakfast was served from a hatch in the dining room and was available from 7.30 to 9 am. There was always something hot, though it may have been simply one lone sausage, or a fried egg with one rasher of bacon, and as much cereal, tea, coffee, toast, butter and marmalade as we could stuff into ourselves. Dinner at 6.30 pm was formal except on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, as was Sunday lunch. This meant wearing our well-ironed undergraduate gowns over a respectable afternoon dress (definitely not trousers), and a prompt start all together as the Warden and her entourage swept in to take their places at High Table, with grace sung in Latin before and after the meal. There may have been wine at High Table, but we undergraduates had to be content with plain tap water.

Woe betide anyone who arrived late for formal dinner: you then stood just inside the door until you caught the Warden’s eye, whereupon she eventually nodded majestically as permission to enter and take your seat. If you needed to leave during dinner, there was a similar procedure: you stood and waited until she graciously nodded to you. During my second year, I was afflicted with frequent nosebleeds, which were triggered sometimes by the steam rising from the soup in my bowl. Clutching a blood-soaked hanky to my face, I would stand for several long seconds before she noticed me and allowed me to leave, and of course, as I wasn’t going to face the humiliating process of going back into the dining hall, I thus missed my dinner.

The Warden, Miss Leese, was an ex-WREN and a formidable character, trailed everywhere except to formal dinner by her pet pug dog Toby. We were in awe of her, but she really had a very kind heart and if a girl genuinely needed support, she could be relied on to give good sensible advice and make things happen. She and her staff were in loco parentis, since we didn’t come of age until we were 21, which accounts for the strictness of the system. A room at the end of each corridor was occupied by a spinster lecturer, who was our Hall Tutor. I’m not sure exactly what her brief was, but she would invite us for coffee now and then. She certainly didn’t interfere in our lives in any way. Perhaps some girls went to her for advice.

We were always addressed by the Warden and staff as “Miss + Surname”. If there were two or more girls with the same surname, the first name would be added, thus my two friends named Smith were Miss Elaine Smith and Miss Gwen Smith. I was Miss Catherine Williams to distinguish me from Miss Eirlys Williams.

Miss Leese’s aim was to make young ladies out of us, so she would invite 2 or 3 girls to High Table at each formal dinner, to act as hostess to visiting lecturers who, we thought, came under duress or just to get a free dinner. The invitation to High Table included mandatory attendance at a 15-minute sherry party beforehand, where we learnt to sip our sherry (it was considered rather sophisticated to ask for dry sherry, which nobody really liked) and balance canapés, peanuts and twiglets or a cigarette in the other hand while making small talk to people with strings of degrees who overawed us immensely. After dinner, each girl had to take her assigned guest back to her room for coffee (Nescafé), which meant assembling as many of your friends as possible for moral support during the ordeal of continuing the small talk.

My assigned guest was Dr Faithfull, head of the Italian department and father of Marianne, who was still a schoolgirl at that time. He looked like a tramp, had no small talk, and nobody I knew was reading Italian, so conversation was very hard and it was really quite a relief to all concerned when he drained his Nescafe and left. Maybe other girls were more adept at this game, or had more sympathetic and cooperative guests, but I think Dr Faithfull felt just as awkward as we did and was possibly a shy man.

At that time, mixed halls of residence were unheard of, and the draconian rules imposed on us were fiercely enforced as far as it was possible to do so. There was a very hypocritical attitude towards the sex life of female students at that time, at the dawn of the swinging sixties. The official word was “lock up your daughters” (and locked up we were from 10 pm to 7 am), and although in general we all acted as if butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths, blind eyes were turned so long as our behaviour wasn’t too openly provocative. But the sexual revolution had begun, and was quietly making inroads. Thus, one 18-year-old girl who arrived with us in October 1959 from a strict girls’ boarding school, wearing white ankle socks and accompanied by a bodyguard of beefy brothers, was boasting by the end of her first year that she had managed to sleep with over 30 different men. None of us were quite sure how she had managed this feat, but nobody doubted its veracity, and she reaped grudging respect for brazenly admitting it. She was studying Physics, which was unusual for a girl at that time, so had plenty of opportunity for meeting potential partners. But on the whole, we tended to keep quiet about what went on in our intimate relationships and few admitted openly to having lost their virginity.

We had to sign in every evening after dinner on a register at the Portress’s Lodge, and failure to do so by 10 pm would result in the night porter flinging open your door and switching on the light at around midnight (assuming you were in bed by then). I think he hoped to catch someone in a compromising situation or a state of undress, but doubt if he ever did, and we complained about this behaviour. He was subsequently removed from his post and we had quiet, undisturbed nights.

If you wanted to go out in the evening, you had to apply to the Warden in person for late leave before breakfast, giving your reasons and saying when you would be back. She was usually agreeable as long as you didn’t stay out too many evenings in the week, and it was OK to go to the University hops on a Saturday night, provided you were back by midnight. As Christmas approached, she also relaxed a little in giving permission to go to Christmas parties. Another queue in the morning outside the Warden’s office was to obtain permission for weekend home leave, and she insisted on our having a valid reason. The drawback to this system from our point of view was that the Warden only allocated about 15 minutes for this, so it was a matter of first come, first served. If you weren’t among the first dozen or so girls outside her door, there was no point in waiting. From the Warden’s point of view, of course, it meant she didn’t have to worry too much about us gadding off!

Men were not allowed beyond the Junior Common Room, just inside the main entrance, except on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 4, and Saturdays from 2 to 6. These “men hours” were extended to 10 pm for senior students in their third year, who were usually 21 and thus no longer minors to be protected. In our first year we were issued with keys to our rooms, and on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons many rooms were seen to have their curtains drawn and the doors locked. In our second year, the keys were no longer issued to us, but it was just as easy to jam a magazine under the door if you really didn’t want to be disturbed.

The speciousness of this system was revealed by the case of a girl who smuggled her boyfriend in all night one Saturday. He would have gone unnoticed except that he left his motorbike parked outside. Only one girl in Hall had a car at this time, so the motorbike was highly conspicuous in the otherwise empty car park. The girl who had blatantly violated the rules was severely reprimanded and sent down for the remainder of the term. We all felt sorry for her – there but for the grace of God go I – but on the other hand we felt the boyfriend had been a bit stupid about the motorbike!

How times have changed! Dale Hall was extended to accommodate over 250 students, both male and female, and as they were all of age there was no need for a “dragon” to guard their moral welfare. Now it is no more, and probably many of its earliest inhabitants have gone the way of all flesh, but thankfully I can still treasure my memories. Gaudeamus, igniter, iuvenes dum sumus!

October Stroll Along The Alpine Rhine

The River Rhine is flowing at a record low level following this year’s hot dry summer and autumn. Here, where I live, it isn’t yet the mighty Father Rhine that flows through Germany and the Netherlands, but a feisty adolescent racing impatiently towards Lake Constance. Normally, that is.

This year, lack of rain has turned it into a weakling. I took myself for a walk yesterday afternoon to see with my own eyes how low the level is – I had the feeling I could have waded across, if I had wanted to.

However, I was struck yet again by the beauty of the area that I have made my home, and a stroll that should have taken me no more than thirty minutes at the most lasted more than an hour simply because I just had to keep stopping to admire things, and trying to capture them on my phone. Sorry, but the quality of my pictures is far inferior to reality,

We have two rivers in Bad Ragaz, not only the Rhine but also the Tamina that rises from hot springs and continues to bubble and babble, bouncing over rocks and through a narrow gorge before it gallops through the village and flings itself with wild abandon into the Rhine.

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But at the moment, it’s hardly more than a trickle, though still bubbling and babbling: IMG_2948

 

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This house seems to be smiling and I was gratified to find that it is actually a holiday let. I hope the inside matches the outside and keeps its promises of comfort and cosiness.

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I resisted the urge to take the path less travelled, and continued along the Tamina until I reached the confluence. A naked red woman standing there is part of the triennial Arts Festival, and probably has some symbolic significance for the sculptor.

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I didn’t read up on her as I have my own fantasies, and I like to think of her as the spirit of Tamina, inspiring lovers at this romantic spot. In fact, the last little bridge spanning the Tamina is decorated with dozens of padlocks, mostly inscribed with the names of couples and their special dates, fastened there as love tokens.

There is definitely some sort of magic in the air just here, and the sun on the bark of the silver birches against the gold of the dying leaves and the deep blue sky is almost painfully beautiful.

I walked along the Rhine dyke for a while, then turned into the forest – no, not really a forest, it’s a park, but it has such a vast variety of magnificent trees and shrubs, and such a fairy tale atmosphere that Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf must be lurking here somewhere.

IMG_2995However, after only a few metres, the woodland opens onto a camping and caravan site with an impressive open-air swimming pool complex and children’s playground, plus a neat little restaurant and café. I couldn’t resist the attraction, and spent a pleasant quarter of an hour drinking hot chocolate and eating a slice of cappuccino cake as I watched the kids having fun.

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Next to the playground and car park, some shaggy cattle were grazing, including a sweet little black bull calf and a flock of blue (fibreglass) sheep (more Art).

The sun was getting low in the sky by this time, so I turned towards home, passing the park pool with a few more sculptures and some artistically minded mandarin ducks which posed for me on a log. Sorry, my photo is a bit blurry. Art?

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Someone in the neighbourhood whom I don’t know has an English telephone kiosk in their garden: why? Maybe one day I’ll find out. Perhaps an expat Brit, or simply an Anglophile?

Anyway, autumn is definitely here, mellow fruitfulness galore.

Not only are the geraniums still magnificent on this grandmother’s balcony, but it’s hard to believe that this cotoneaster is real.

And finally, as the sun sank behind the mountains, home.

More reflections on painting “The Sea” — Norman Perryman: A Life Painting Music

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Once again, I’m pointing you in the direction of the one genius personally known to me, who is truly capable – in that hackneyed phrase – of affording us a glimpse of eternity. Timelessness, anyway. And from the height of his 85 years, a true inspiration for anyone worried that advancing age is an excuse for slowing down! I last wrote about Norman here, with links to two previous blog posts. I’m sorry I can’t get to this next concert but look forward to a youtube version.

 

I’m now hard at work choreographing a continuous painting, to be memorised and performed live in concert to the symphonic poem The Sea (1907) by the Lithuanian M.K. Čiurlionis. This masterpiece offers me perhaps the supreme opportunity to tap into the vast reservoir of Nature with my watercolour brushes, using my own…

via More reflections on painting “The Sea” — Norman Perryman: A Life Painting Music

Grief is the price … 

Geneviève was born in Paris, and always emphasised that she was a Parisienne, notwithstanding her blatantly Breton surname. She met her husband, Guy, at a wedding. One of the girls in her office was getting married, so the colleagues put together to buy the bride a bouquet and Geneviève was delegated to deliver it at the reception. As soon as she entered the room, this pretty little blonde caught Guy’s eye. He was a cousin of the bride, feeling bored among his family members, and – as he later told the story – “suddenly the room lit up”.

Immediately he asked his cousin, the bride, who she was and begged that she be invited to stay at the reception. Of course, Geneviève noticed the smart young man in naval officer’s uniform, but as he was surrounded by a gaggle of pretty young women (“like the rooster in a henhouse” she later recalled), she dismissed him as a charming heart-breaker. Everyone knows that sailors have a wife in every port!

However, several dances later, when she had discovered that his harem consisted entirely of cousins and he really was serious and single, she dropped her guard, agreed to a date, and the rest is 60 years of history, with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For about thirty of those years, Guy was at sea. On his retirement in his early fifties, he swore never to set foot on deck again, and to make up for his many absences by never ever leaving his wife alone. I have rarely known such a devoted couple. I first met them in 1991 when we bought our little house in Brittany, as they were one of the few people who lived there all the year round. We became firm friends, and my first outing on arrival there was always to take them some Swiss chocolates, share a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and exchange our latest news.

Over the last few years, especially while I was looking after my mother, I wasn’t able to make my regular visits to Brittany and so I didn’t see my friends for a long time. In October of last year, I was able to catch up at last and was sorry to hear that Geneviève’s health had deteriorated badly. When I arrived in August this year, I learnt that Geneviève had been in hospital for some time, and Guy was spending his days at her bedside, so I was unable to have any contact with them. Our entire cul-de-sac was following her progress anxiously, and with very heavy hearts. On 4 September, the day before we left for Switzerland, we heard the sad news that Geneviève had died.

Neighbourhood grapevines, even when they spread over several countries, tend to be most efficient when the news is bad. Some of our neighbours in Brittany live in Germany, others in England, and we are in Switzerland, but e-mail gives us instant contact so the devastating news travelled fast. Ten days after losing his only reason for living, Guy took his own life. Whatever we think or feel about that decision, he ended his agony on his own terms. All the same, I can’t imagine the pain their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going through. I hope that they can gain some comfort and solace from their memories and the knowledge that Guy and Geneviève’s long relationship was so happy and fulfilling for them.

An old superstition claims that deaths occur in threes. I’m not superstitious, but on 10 September came the dreadful news that the 18-year-old daughter of some friends here in Switzerland had died in an accident. I have known this young lady all her life: a beautiful, cheerful, lively girl, a loving big sister to her three younger siblings and the joy of her parents’ heart. She was on the verge of her adult life, looking forward to a happy, exciting future, when the tractor she was driving overturned on her, killing her outright.

How do you cope with that as a parent? It is a grief beyond words, beyond the sobs and howls of deepest pain and sorrow, beyond any expression. Time may quieten the crying and weeping, but the wound of such an amputation remains raw. I can think of no anguish greater than losing your child, and have written about it before.  This is a deeply Christian family, now facing a profound test of their faith. They are also surrounded by a very solid network of family and friends, several hundred of whom attended the funeral. This is no time for platitudes. I have no answers, but I pray that they will all stand the test and by the grace of God come through, together and individually, even stronger.

Three deaths. And three different aspects of grief for those left behind. We can’t measure or compare them. An elderly lady who had a good long life is released from her suffering. A broken-hearted man who can’t face a lonely old age without the love of his life takes his fate into his own hands. A happy teenager with her life ahead of her is torn violently away from her family and friends without warning.

Queen Elizabeth reminded us that grief is the price we pay for love. She was quoting from this:

“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”
Dr Colin Murray Parkes (Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life) 

Kenavo, Breizh!

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It’s our last day here in Brittany. Tomorrow morning, we’ll close up the house, have a last look at the view, and wave goodbye till next time. Kenavo, Breizh! (which is Breton for au revoir, Bretagne!)

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The summer is officially over. The air was filled with shrill tweetings and twitterings as the swallows began assembling on the cables on Saturday, 1 September, having received the annual signal by whatever mysterious manner it’s conveyed to them, and are now clearly well on their way south.

Children, presumably also tweeting and twittering, returned to school this week, so the still sunny beaches are also now much quieter and calmer, as families are replaced by middle-aged ramblers, some of whom are following a section of St James’ Way to Santiago di Compostela which passes through here. IMG_2879.jpg

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The sky is still blue, the air mild, the sun bright. This is one region of Europe that has remained green during this year’s scorching summer, and although the hydrangea flowers are now fading and turning brown, they have been magnificent.

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Unable to resist the desire to record the ineffable beauty of the sun sinking into the sea, I have added many more photos to my already vast collection of marine sunsets (I bored you with some of these last October in my posts La Mer … Ar Mor and More of Ar Mor).

We’ve been busy, but have also had time to visit a very nice little Wool Fair in an inland village, that was worth the trip in itself,

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and my daughter has stripped the armchairs belonging to my father and mother down to their wooden skeletons, all ready to re-upholster sometime during her next visit,

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And I also managed to crochet a lap rug/shawl in soft blue wool that is perfect when the evenings grow chill. That is, of course, nothing in comparison with my daughter’s enormous pile of cardigans and sweaters that seems to increase overnight!

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IMG_2885Already subdued by the thought of departure, our mood is made more sombre by the sad news of the death of one of our neighbours, a kind and gentle lady who has struggled with ill health for a number of years, and recently seemed to be winning. Alas, she lost. And will be greatly missed. She and her husband have lived here for a very long time, and are very much a part of the fabric of the place. It’s a devastating blow for him; they have been a truly devoted couple.

Almost three decades ago, when we first came here, most of the houses in our little cul-de-sac were occupied by couples, some with children, others with grandchildren of much the same age, who banded together during the long French summer vacations for games on the beach or gatherings in each other’s houses. These children are now all adults, with their own families, and rarely meet up nowadays, taking their vacations elsewhere.

Those of us left, one by one, are all being defeated by advancing age. Widows and widowers where there were once happy marriages, their children or strangers taking over houses left empty. Our house, too, is following this trend, but in a cheerful, positive way: it now belongs to my daughter and continues to resound to the laughter and cries of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all equally attached to their Breton holiday home. Some of them will be here in the October half-tem break, as they were last year.

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But for my daughter and me, our summer holiday is over. The last load of washing is dry, rooms vacuumed, dusted and tidied, the outdoor furniture put away in the garage, and the car packed. Tomorrow, like the swallows, we will “fly” south. And hopefully return in the spring.

Done And Dusted

I didn’t become an alligator’s breakfast, and in spite of minor hiccups, got home safe and sound. I apologise for my long silence, but I have been quite busy and several posts are brewing in my head, which I hope will get written.

My main preoccupation throughout the months of April, May and June was the sale of my mother’s house. Aha, you thought that had gone through at Easter, didn’t you? My fault for misleading you, sorry. No, the poor house stood closed up, empty and steaming with damp while my buyer’s solicitor appeared to twiddle his thumbs. Not good for the woodwork.

The evident aim was to get the price down even lower than the amount my insurance claim covered, and in that the ploy was successful, but they shot themselves in the foot because it meant that mould and mildew set in. In the end, in spite of the haggling, the buyer will have had to spend just as much on repairs as if he had paid me the price originally agreed. But at least they didn’t back out, and the sale was finally closed, albeit very late.

It was a war of nerves, and being on the other side of the world dependent on e-mails for news of progress – or lack of progress and galloping deterioration – didn’t help. Thank goodness I had plenty to distract me there, including the alligators, and could count my blessings as well as my frustrations.

There were stupid mistakes made – for instance, the insurance company paid the compensation to my Swiss sterling bank account in euros instead of in British pounds, obviously unaware that in Switzerland we use Swiss francs. There was a shortfall of a few hundred pounds. Vigorous protestation on my part, defiance on theirs, threats from me, then eventually the final payment arrived on my birthday, 20 June, exactly 3 months after the deal was supposed to have been completed.

And there were minor issues such as the fact that my signature needed to be witnessed on the final contract. By this time, it was June and I was back in Switzerland, where the idea of witnessing a signature is totally alien. I wanted to get the documents posted back that same day, but who could I ask to witness my signature? My neighbours were all out, my friends in different towns.

I had the bright idea of going to the bank and asking the bank clerk to sign. Oh dear no, no, no – that’s a legal document as well as being FOREIGN, in English! Go to the Town Hall and get it done there. The Town Hall will notarise a signature and affix an official stamp, but that wasn’t what I needed and anyway they said I would need an appointment and it cost a small fee.

I was getting frustrated and irritated by this time, and in desperation went to the Post Office where I managed to persuade the young lady at the counter that she wouldn’t be compromising herself by watching me sign my name and then signing herself below my signature that she had seen me sign personally. Young and straightforward she was, and I blessed her for her good faith as she took the envelope with the precious document and added it to the pile of mail to be sent.

A week later came a request for the address of my witness. I didn’t even know her name, but in a flash of inspiration simply gave the post office address, which was accepted.

Completion date was set for 15 June, a Friday, and I spent most of the day trotting around in circles, checking my e-mails, eyeing the bottle of Prosecco promised for the celebration, reluctant to leave the house in case …. Until I got a message to say that the buyer’s solicitor hadn’t transferred the funds in time, and it was all postponed till Monday. If my hair hadn’t been grey to start with, it would have been by then! My reaction on THE DAY was a mixture of relief that it was finally all over, and grief. I felt a bit sick, a bit weepy, and was glad I was alone. Two days later, on my birthday, I was ready to celebrate. And did!

My former neighbour is a friendly chap and has clearly been showing an interest in the work in progress and chatting to the new owners, so this week I received a series of photos of the poor house gutted and stripped to its bare bones, minus plaster and all fixtures. Looks as if they are making a very thorough job of it, and it will be fine once they have finished, and it’s resurrected.  As England is having a heatwave, the house has probably also now dried out completely.  IMG_0957.jpg

The garden is a jungle, and I can imagine that, too, will be ruthlessly rotivated and all long established plants removed, including Mom’s beloved roses. That’s the only thing that is still giving me a pang of pain: as for the house, which has now lost all its character and quaint charm, my ties with it are now severed. I feel detached. I am glad to know it will be well restored. I really hope they do make a decent job of it and will be very happy in their new home. Maybe sometime next year I’ll be able to see what they have done.

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One of the little features that gave the house character and charm, now gone.

 

Sleeping With An Alligator

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My “I-Spy-Wildlife” list is getting longer, with the addition this week of a firefly and an iguana. The firefly was gleaming like a misplaced Christmas light in a bushy palm tree one dark evening. Wondering who on earth would have put a fluorescent green LED there, I was on my way to investigate when it took flight and vanished into the night. Beautiful, miraculous, amazing! Ogden Nash’s verses on The Firefly occurred to me:

The firefly’s flame
Is something for which science has no name 

I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person’s posterior. 

The iguana appeared before me on the bike path, popped into the undergrowth and reappeared a minute or two later as I rounded the corner. I didn’t get a proper look at it, so was very gratified when another one (or was it the same one stalking me?) showed up a quarter of an hour later on another bike path in no apparent hurry. An incredible looking creature, wearing emerald-green enamel plating on its body and bright flaming orange and red scales around its head and neck.  Sadly, I didn’t have time to get a photo. I know dinosaurs are usually depicted in muddy colours, but I can’t help trying to visualise Tyrannosaurus Rex in iguana hues. What a feast for the eyes!

My stay in Paradise is drawing to a close. Most of the snowbirds have flown home, and the rainy season is upon us. Being British, I don’t mind rain. In fact, I’m enjoying these showers and deluges with intermittent bursts of sunshine. The temperature is still in the 80’s F (around 30°C) so even if I get soaked as I ride my trike through the raindrops, it’s no hardship. It was certainly needed, and the earth is soaking it all up. The ibis, pelicans, egrets, crows and anhingas don’t seem bothered by it, nor do the rabbits.  I suppose they all have waterproof outer coverings. And the woodpecker is still pecking away loudly.  IMG_2460

An anhinga (also called a snake bird) got into trouble at the edge of the lake a few days ago. We could see its wings flailing and a lot of splashing and squawking, but couldn’t quite see what the problem was. Had the alligator got it by the toe? Was it fighting a fish? A large white heron fluttered across to its side, probably curious, and half a dozen crows started wheeling around cawing menacingly above it. Were they simply waiting like vultures, or would they actually dive and give the victim the coup de grâce, validating the phrase “a murder of crows”?

We were on the point of going out to see what was the matter when a young couple in a golf cart drew up alongside and hurried to the rescue. The bird had caught its foot in some netting that is presumably intended to retain the muddy bank. The man tried to free it using his golf club, but that wasn’t enough so my friend offered him some scissors. He eventually managed to cut away the mesh trapping the anhinga, which was not only exhausted but probably also in shock by this time, as it made no effort to fly away at first. Our neighbours also came out to see what was going on and offer assistance if needed, but the bird then decided it had a large enough human audience, rose gracefully into the air and disappeared on the other side of the lake. That one, at least, lived to tell the tale.  IMG_2430

The anhinga is a very beautiful bird. Its alternative name of snake bird comes from its appearance in the water, as not being very buoyant most of its body is underwater when it swims, and only its long neck and head can be seen, resembling a snake about to strike. It is much like the cormorant in that its feathers aren’t completely waterproof. That has the advantage that the bird can stay underwater longer when it dives for fish, but the disadvantage that when it emerges from the water its wings are waterlogged and it has to sit a while with wings outspread to dry.

Right from my first night here, I have been aware of some slow heavy breathing as I lie quietly in my bed. I made sure that there was nobody else in my room with me, and dismissed the thought that maybe I had a ghostly bedfellow sharing my king-size. The window was open, so the sound was coming in from outside, and I rapidly deduced that something must be slumbering among the mangroves in the swampy nature preserve a few metres away across the road. INNN-hale …. EXXXXhale …. INNNhale … EXXXhale. I needed only to listen to it for a few seconds, and I was instantly in dreamland. I described this to a visiting friend who confirmed my suspicions. “Yep, that’s an alligator.”

Life will seem very dull when I get back home,

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