“I NEED A REAL WOMAN!”

It occurred to me, in my hairdressing salon the other day, as my lovely stylist came at me with the (plastic) comb and (plastic) hairdryer, wearing her (plastic) face shield and putting a (plastic) overall on me (clean overalls for all customers are stored in plastic sleeves, which are then thrown out after just one use; most likely into a plastic bin), that plastic has switched from being the number one enemy to being our friend and saviour. Where would we have been, during lockdown, without plastic hand sanitiser dispensers, gloves, masks, visors, screens and so much more besides? And what about those large lumps of plastic we’ve all been depending on for ordering our home deliveries, keeping up our connections, not to mention our sanity, with friends, family, work, evening classes, etc?  Computers and their accompaniments, mobile phones, radios, headphones, televisions… Oh yes, and all those gas-guzzling, environment-polluting vans and lorries, delivering (more plastic-wrapped) necessities to homes, shops and businesses countrywide… Just saying!

I had turned up slightly early for my appointment, which threw everyone into a bit of a tizz. They’re only allowed one client per stylist in at a time.  I did offer to walk around the block and come back later, but they allowed me to stay. I sat and stared into space for ten minutes, not having the usual pile of magazines to glance through. All removed. 

I’d already been ticked off at Waterloo station, for missing the (not very clearly signposted) “correct” entrance to the loos, and about to dive in via the exit. After that, I fancied a recce in Foyles, but the stern-looking member of staff standing guard at the door put me off. Perhaps they don’t want any customers touching their nice, shiny new books.

This reminds me of the time when, as a pony-mad youngster, dressed in my jodhpurs and riding boots, having come straight from a riding lesson, I was idly looking through a book in our local WH Smiths, when an officious assistant beetled up to me and told me to keep my grubby little hands away from the books. I was mortified and scuttled off immediately – even though my little hands were clean, not grubby. You didn’t answer back to the grown-ups in those far-off days. 

Shopping holds no fears for me now, as a so-called grown-up myself, though I did question the wisdom of some of my local shops, putting up Halloween displays in their windows. I mean, I passed a shop selling Halloween toys and knick-knacks and so-called scary outfits, but I think they’re going to be a bit wasted on us all this year. I’d say our collective scarometer is sky-high already, wouldn’t you? And, tell me, exactly how is trick or treat going to work this year?  Are we to stand on our doorsteps, wearing scary masks of a different kind, and lob any sweets out into the darkness and general direction of the children’s voices? I know I will miss seeing them all dressed up in their costumes, anyway.

As for Bonfire night: in my area, anyone who dares to let any fireworks off is slated and berated on social media and, with so few people allowed to mingle, any get-togethers are likely to be a bit of a damp squib (sorry).

The OH has a theory that some shop assistants might be quite glad of a tough-looking (plastic) screen between them and their customers. He commented on this the other evening, as we passed a group of distinctly dodgy-looking people who were hanging around our local garage. He may well have a point.

Every town has its local eccentric speakers, for want of a better word. We have our fair share of those who like to stand by the church wall (it always seems to be there; not sure why, unless it’s because they know they have a captive audience sitting waiting for buses at the nearby stops). Although, what did they all do during lockdown, with no (or very little) captive audience?  I note, too, that the bussed-in beggars are back…

Usually, the speakers’ rhetoric has a religious slant, but not the one I passed, with ever-quickening steps, the other day: ”If I don’t get married soon, I’ll go insane,” he yelled. I tried not to catch his eye as I galloped past. ”I need a real woman,” he bellowed, as I scurried to a safe distance. I didn’t catch exactly what he meant by that, though I had a pretty good idea. I wanted to shout back: “You don’t have to be married for that!” But then he might have taken it as a bit of a come-on, I had both hands full at the time – with heavy shopping – and it could have turned ugly. John Lewis was nearby and I could have waited in there until the coast was clear but, given you still have to queue to get in, and there is only one way in and one out, and they’re terribly strict about it, it could all have got horribly complicated. In the end, I chickened out of waiting for a bus and got a taxi home instead.

On another day, turning up to the opticians for my annual eye check, I had to wait for them to open the locked door and sit on a socially-distanced chair once inside, having used the hand sanitiser first, of course. There was a slight fracas when I spotted the notice on the door that said their toilets weren’t currently available for customers. My appointment is very thorough, it lasts for over an hour, and me being me and always slightly nervous about these things, I usually need the loo at least twice during that time. I’m afraid I got out of my pram. It doesn’t happen very often (not often enough, actually), but it usually gets results. I said I absolutely had to use it, or cancel my appointment.  Failing that, could they direct me to the nearest public loo – in which case, I would then be late for my appointment? To shut me up, because they could see I meant it, they allowed me to use their loo, so I made sure I used it twice, just to show them.  

Nearby, a woman was standing with her young daughter, who was in school uniform. (I should add she was also wearing glasses.) The mother was saying: “When you get married, you don’t want to be walking up the aisle wearing glasses, do you?”  The very sensible and together daughter insisted she didn’t want to try contact lenses and I really, really wanted to butt in and tell her there was nothing wrong with wearing glasses on your wedding day – many do – and how dare her mother try to give her a complex at such an early age? Never mind (and don’t get me started) on the very weighty assumption that she will get married one day. Perhaps she won’t! (I hope she won’t, now, just to spite her.) As one who isn’t married and has never wanted to be, I found her mother’s attitude extremely outdated and very annoying. It was probably just as well my appointment was called at that point, otherwise I’d have had to get out of my pram again and it all gets rather tiring.

I hated having to wear glasses at 13 and couldn’t wait to start earning my own money, at 19, so I could afford contact lenses. It was the first thing I did with my newly-minted salary. That awful, antiquated saying used to haunt me: “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” So, on evenings out with friends, I would stumble about, falling up kerbs and down steps (and once, right in front of a boy I fancied, skidding over on a dance floor; though I blame my long pinafore for that, not the fact I couldn’t see where the hell I was going, in the dimness of the City Hall disco), rather than wear the damn things. I always felt ugly in them. I still do. It’s all down to inner confidence, though – I can think of at least two glasses-wearing friends who have never had any problems on the man-attracting front. I may not have wanted to marry any of them, but it was important I was still attractive to them!

We’re trying to get out and about as much as we can, at the moment, making up for so much time lost, this year, so pub lunches and trips to garden centres and the like are a must. Last weekend, at a garden centre, we had to sit outside, under a canopy – unheated – and the weather was awful – cold and wet. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes, ha ha ha,” we trilled merrily, as, shivering, we hugged our bowls of rapidly-cooling soup.

In another garden centre café this weekend (indoors, this time), the assistant pushed a (plastic) trolley laden with our food order towards our table, announcing brightly: “There you are!” before beetling off again. 

In that same café, another assistant told us the place had been flooded that morning.  As I was about to commiserate (we’d had some heavy rain earlier), he added: “From the moment we opened, it’s been hectic. Every table full, and people waiting.” I wondered if it was because everyone is trying to make the most of things before any further clampdowns from the government. I fear that, if any new restrictions are too severe, many businesses won’t be able to come back. One of only two pubs in a nearby large village has permanently closed and we spotted a notice outside another at the weekend, announcing its forthcoming quiz night, adding: The first round of drinks is on us! 

Meanwhile, on the motorway, the old sign is back: 

STAY ALERT

CONTROL THE VIRUS

SAVE LIVES.

BRING ME MY CHEESEBOARD!

Have you ever wondered how many photographs you must have appeared in, over the years? I don’t mean those taken by friends and family – I mean total strangers’ photographs. After all, a great many have had walk-on parts in mine. I often wonder this when I see old postcards or newspaper pictures of events/places I remember attending/visiting. One day, I’m going to see myself staring back, or at least someone I recognise – I just know it! 

In the meantime, I feel sorry for the man whose photos I accidentally photobummed last weekend. Yes, that’s what I said. I was leaning right over, taking close-up pictures of flowers, as I like to do, at one of our favourite places – Loseley Park, in Surrey – prior to it closing for the year.  Seems only a couple of weeks since it was able to reopen, but hey.  It’ll be Christmas soon enough. The OH made some feeble joke about eclipses, but I was embarrassed to spot the poor man nearby, politely waiting until my gigantic bum had finished fannying about in the shrubbery, so that he could finally take some cute and endearing (and huge-bum-free) pictures of his very sweet toddler son.

Talking of the C-word, my neighbour has just told me her family are having a very early Polish Christmas dinner (her husband is Polish). Usually, of course, there are many more family members involved and invited, but not this year. 

Last year, we finally did something we’d been talking about for years. We volunteered to help out at a local church’s Christmas lunch for people who would otherwise be on their own that day. Such a lovely idea!  We were particularly impressed with the organisation involved, the time and effort (and money) people were so willing to give, the cooks who did a fantastic job and, in particular, the services of one couple, who were ferrying people back and forth to and from their homes all afternoon. We had an excellent meal, a sing-along around the piano, crackers, presents and chocolates on all the tables.

We were hoping to do it again this year but, of course, it may not be happening now.  I feel for all those people at home alone and hope they can get through it somehow. It’s really tough to be on your own when you know (or imagine) everyone else is having a great time, even if you firmly tell yourself it’s often far from the case.    

Mind you, some people don’t even try to find a little bit of the Christmas spirit and join in. I sat next to a man who loved the sound of his own voice but didn’t once ask anything about me. When it eventually came to the cracker-pulling, he waved a hand and said, “I’m not a cracker person.”  I replied, sharply, “Well, I am!” and shoved the offending article in his face, leaving him no choice but to pull it with me. I sniffed the end after the “bang”. Of course! Doesn’t everyone?I’ve done this since childhood. I love that smell. (My sister still does it, as well.)

A friend of mine who regularly attends his local church with his family was amused to be told by their vicar that some of the congregation are not as well behaved as one might expect.  When the church first re-opened, certain people were most put out not to be able to sit where they always have done, wailing and pointing to their favourite seats: “But I ALWAYS sit there!” “Not any more, you don’t,” the vicar responded crisply. “Don’t you know there’s a virus going around? You’re sitting over THERE.” Apparently, they now have to book their seats, too, favourites or not, and there’s a strict rota in place so that nobody misses out.

At a different kind of church, our local spiritualist church, very well attended for its first big gig after lockdown, we weren’t able to sing, so, sitting suitably spaced apart, we hummed along to Morning Has Broken instead, followed by The Lord’s Prayer, which we were allowed to speak. Unusually, the OH didn’t join in with the humming and when I asked him why, he said he was too choked up, as it was the song his father had requested for his funeral. 

I breezed into my local bank the other day, not wearing my mask, then stopped in my tracks, apologising profusely. The woman behind the counter said not to worry, we’ve all done it.  She told me of a customer from the day before, who had come in, used the hand sanitiser, worn gloves and wiped the counter pen before and after using it, yet he wasn’t wearing a mask. When the Lloyds lady questioned this, he said: “It’s not the law, is it?!” 

I read about an American couple who contracted the virus (he survived, she died), believing all the conspiracy theory nonsense on social media. If they had followed the basic rules, she might still be alive today. The numbers of people tested positive for the virus in our area have risen sharply recently and large parts of the country have gone back into lockdown. 

In Waitrose last week, I noticed that the tinned fish supplies were well down on what they have been, reminding me that this was one of the commodities in very short supply during the first lockdown. This is how it starts, but I didn’t panic-buy before (though I did get a bit nervous at times) and I’m not going to do so now (I always buy two of everything, in any case).  Hopefully, if it does happen, the shops will be able to handle things a lot better than they did back then, when it was all frighteningly new to everyone.

I really felt for the exasperated woman who was in there with her husband.  With barely suppressed fury, she told him he was driving her nuts, slowing her down and putting things into the trolley that weren’t on her list. “We already have these things at home!” she hissed at one point. “Just let me get on with it!” I don’t know why he was there, really. Far better just to have parked him in a café somewhere, the in-store one still not open at present, so that she could whizz round unimpeded.  It’s always worked for me.  However, it could just have been that she was as scared as the rest of us, wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible.  For her, any pleasure she may have once taken in shopping had long gone, and her aggravating husband wasn’t helping.

For everyone who feels slightly panicky, breathless and sweaty when wearing a mask (holds hand up), there’s someone who has completely forgotten to observe the distance rules (the woman in the checkout queue in Waitrose, who, ignoring the clearly signposted distancing spots on the floor, stood very close to the woman in front, who really should have said something to her). The joy of shopping has deserted some people altogether, and many of us just don’t feel like browsing at all.  

The OH hates going into our local large shopping centre, where nobody appears to be social distancing, especially outside the more popular cafes. I enjoy being among people again, and getting out and about a bit more, myself, but I’m not enjoying wearing my mask indoors and I don’t like people coming too close. I don’t linger in shops, either – even my beloved bookshops. The shops are bound to see all this reflected in their sales – although there’s always online, of course. Online shopping was already noticeably killing the high street and the virus has taken up the mantle.

A friend tells me that, when her local branch of  “The Works” re-opened, it had a wall of drawings of their regular customers, welcoming them all back, and she spotted herself on it. You wouldn’t get that online, now, would you?

In my nearest garden centre, I noticed you are expected to hand-sanitise your own trolley, now. Is it that dreaded word, again? LOS(S)? Otherwise known as “Lack Of Staff?” Nobody wins that one! In other places, they are still doing it for you.

We met up with a couple of friends for a meal out, last week.  We haven’t seen them since March.  Working from home has suited them both very well and he is continuing to do so; although, being a teacher, she is now back at work.  He certainly doesn’t miss the early-morning commute, and neither does the OH. We had a good catch-up and a good laugh and it perked us up no end. When ordering the drinks, I excused myself, saying I rarely drink, not enjoying the taste that much, with the odd exception. I added that, if someone told me I could never drink alcohol again, I’d say, fine, no problem with that, BUT, if they said the same about cheese or chocolate, I’d be in deep despair. Our friend agreed, until her partner reminded her that he’d never heard her say: “I need a cheeseboard, and I need it NOW!” as she collapsed through the door after a particularly heavy day at work. 

While the restaurants and cafes seem to be thriving, it’s sad to see how so many pubs are struggling for survival, with some having to close their doors forever. We passed one the other day, bravely trying its hand at running a farm shop inside, as well. Good luck to them. 

The pub we visited for lunch last Sunday is another I frequented in my youth, when a gang of friends and I traipsed around the county, following a local band.  The pub is still doing live music (hooray) but, when I enquired, they told me, with some regret, “Not this year.”  As with another youthful haunt I revisited on my recent birthday, I was hoping to get a rush of memories and emotions – but remembered and felt nothing. 

The lane which runs behind the pub was beckoning us to walk along it afterwards, and I tried to remember the times I walked our dogs and rode friends’ ponies along there but, again, nothing clicked.  Still, it was a very nice walk and we have already booked ourselves in for another excellent lunch (the best we’ve tried anywhere, so far).  A large notice outside declared it to be fully booked that day, despite the briefest of menus, and there were plenty of happy locals sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine.

Although, one or two still seem confused by the latest Government rules. I know I am! One anxious-looking customer quizzed a member of staff about the number of people allowed in. “How are you going to survive,” he asked her earnestly, “if you can only have six in at a time?” Patiently, she explained that it wasn’t quite like that, adding how happy she was to be back working again. 

The new rules state that pubs and restaurants are now having to close at ten pm. I think we could all have predicted something along these lines.  Encourage people to get out and eat out, start opening up businesses and venues again, etc, and what the hell do they expect?! As it is, under the new rules, New Year’s Eve is going to be a bit of a damp squib this year, for many. Those of us with FOMO (fear of missing out) and FONN (fear of noisy neighbours) will be relieved, though!

Two women sitting behind us in the pub were making quite a bit of fuss about where to sit at their table. They were friends, not family. Should they sit opposite each other, or side by side? The waitress patiently waited for their drinks order, while they fussed, fidgeted and clucked over the safest way of sitting together, but apart.

They would probably have felt far happier eating out at a brand-new restaurant, specifically built and designed for social distancing. Part of a hotel, it’s the UK’s first, apparently. The drawback – for them, anyway – is that it’s down in Cornwall.  But it’s a start…

Eat out to help out has, not surprisingly, been a huge success, with disappointed diners being turned away from some fully-booked places. Also not surprisingly, the most expensive dishes on the menus were the ones to sell out first. It’s been so good for some places, they have decided to extend the deal.

Meanwhile, closer to home, a local pub has a sign outside, informing us all that Santa’s elves are gearing up for the festive season, so hurry up and book your table now. Yes, hurry up, for goodness’ sake, before the rules are changed yet again and the entire festive season is cancelled…

Three years on and still available for lunch!

It’s been three years this month since I reluctantly and unhappily left my beloved job. I wrote about how I felt a year after it happened, so I thought I’d do an update. (Those who have heard more than enough from me on the subject, feel free to look away now.)

Of course, we’ve all had much more sinister and frightening things to cope with, this year, and it’s not over yet. While being well aware lockdown has not been a picnic for many, I’ve found that it has suited me in some ways (chiefly the company of the OH as he’s been working from home throughout) but not so much in others (constant neighbour noise). My FOMO (always a problem for me) has receded to almost nothing, as we’ve all been in the same boat. And, being mildly agoraphobic, having fewer people and cars around has been a huge bonus, though the all-day-and-all-night noisy van deliveries have got on my nerves somewhat.

Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would be retiring from work at barely two weeks into turning 58. I always thought they would be taking me out feet first. I used to say to people: “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still want to come into work.” They clearly thought I was mad. But I meant it. Even the wealthy must find something useful and productive to fill their days with, or what else is there?  Hang around waiting for death? I’ve had to start drawing on my very small company pension, to have something coming in every month, and not just everything going out. Of course, at this stage of my life, I wish I’d started both savings and pension a heck of a lot sooner, but I had my reasons why not, so there you go. I’m starting to feel resigned to never working again, though, which fills me with sadness, depression, anger, frustration, despair and panic in equal measure. None of this is helped by people (including my mother, every time we speak) asking me: “Have you retired now?” I don’t know! Have I?

In my old job in magazine fiction, I always said being so specialised worked for us and also against us. As long as we were there, it worked for us, of course, but now we have left, it is working against us. Friends can’t understand how I haven’t been snapped up by some publication somewhere and, I have to admit, the same hopeful thought had crossed my mind. I have written off to several magazines I would like to have worked for but have only had the courtesy of two replies – of the “thanks but no thanks” variety, but so much better than just nothing at all.  I mean, did the others even receive my letter and CV in the first place? Guess I’ll never know! I realise I’m not nearly pushy enough; I never have been and also, of course, I haven’t had to be for nearly 40 years of working in total. So, it’s been really hard for me to put myself out there. I feel very “exposed.”

Our writers used to thank me profusely for responding so promptly to their emails, which always puzzled me. Why wouldn’t I? It was in both our interests, after all. However, now I’m on the receiving end of long silences and unanswered emails myself, I can understand their reaction a lot better.

To add insult to injury, every single magazine and book I open these days is riven with errors. I feel sorry for the novelists, especially, as their work is out there, mistakes and all, for far longer. We all know the reason why: not enough staff to check everything. I could scream!

I’ve not been idle.  Far from it. I am thankful to be involved in an ongoing online magazine project since lockdown, which has kept my skills up, kept me sane, provided a focus to my days and given me back some much-needed self-esteem. I’ve written pieces for them and guest-edited an issue, too. I have also been involved in competition judging, preliminary reading and assessing manuscripts for a high-prestige writing award, written pieces for websites and published magazines, blogged (a lot), spoken on a panel at a literary festival on how to get published, joined a freelance group and run a workshop, ditto (and will be contributing to another, later on this year), helped writer friends with stories they’ve been struggling with and continued with my regular online editing sessions, as already mentioned.

I have had countless good advice from people. Everybody says to me: “Now it’s your time to be doing what you’ve always wanted to do.” My response to which has to be: “I was doing that already.” Jobs like my old one are few and far between and there are massive cutbacks in my industry, same as everywhere else. Every day, I am sent jobs information from various recruitment agencies and am always horrified when I look at the requirements. Basically, it’s four people’s full-time work for the (often very low) price of one! It’s a damn cheek.

More advice: Start a blog, join Twitter and Instagram (I was already on FaceBook and Linkedin) and see what happens. I’ll tell you: a big fat zero. I’m still waiting to be discovered!  Meanwhile, I enjoy writing my blog and look on it as an outlet for my thoughts and I love Instagram – it’s my favourite social media platform. (Join me at clareatclarelou if you like pictures of flowers, puddle reflections, old signs and quirky architectural details, alongside random other stuff.)

I have made some lovely new friends and seen more of the ones I already had.  I value them all and enjoy their company. I have a plan B for those days when no one is available to come out to play and I have run out of ideas of what to do with myself.  I must stress here that I am not a wimp (I know people see me as a strong person) and am perfectly capable of entertaining myself – up to a point. I have learned that too much time on my own is emphatically NOT a good thing!  But there are still days when I lack a purpose, or goal, and that’s when I wobble. Badly, in some instances. At the beginning of this year, before lockdown, I had the biggest wobble I have had for a great many years. I couldn’t leave the house. And I really do need to leave the house, every single day, if only for a short while.

It was triggered by two comments from total strangers. First, at a magazine planning meeting I attended, for a freelance job. A woman there said I had a sad energy and she wanted to give me a hug. Slightly bemused, I obliged. Then, two days later, a man on the checkout at my local supermarket said I seemed very sad that day. (He had never spoken to me before.) I laughed it off and promised to come in more cheerful next time but, inwardly, I was horrified. I hadn’t been feeling particularly sad that day and had, in fact, planned on catching a bus into my local shopping centre afterwards. Instead, I scuttled straight home, convinced I was transparent to the world. I felt embarrassed and ashamed at my obvious inability to put on a good front.

The following day, I found I couldn’t even leave the bottom of our drive. I tried! I craved company but also knew the first friendly/kind comment from someone would completely floor me and that wouldn’t be ideal for anybody. Safest to stay indoors and wait for it to pass. My poor OH had to bear the brunt of it when he came home, much later, instead.

The day after that, after a stiff talking-to in the mirror, I forced myself to go out – only to trip on a lumpy bit of pavement up the road and go flying through the air. I felt such a twit. A lovely lady helped me to the bus stop. I was determined not to have to cancel my plans again. It was no fun, limping around the shops, though. I had cuts and bruises and swellings everywhere and had to go home early.  Maybe someone was trying to tell me something?!

A friend I spoke to on the phone after a gap of a few months said: “You must be tearing your hair out, Clare.” She seemed genuinely shocked I’m still not working. And someone else said, without any prompting from me, that it was clearly still very raw and that three years isn’t long enough to grieve for a job which took up almost half my life.

I’ve cried more in the last three years than at any other time in my entire life – even when people died and relationships ended. I cried every day for the first year. Sometimes, even now, my face is fixed in a tight grimace at the effort of not crying in public, though I have cried on (off-peak) trains in relative privacy. I can at least talk about things more dispassionately than before. Time and distance, I suppose. I dream a lot about going back into the office, though they are not at all happy dreams, interestingly and, of course, in reality it’s not what it was and never will be again.

I’ve tried anti-depressants from the doctor, which just made me feel sick and even more unable to leave the house, so that was the end of those.  And, having tried various therapies in the past (I’m not going to go into the reasons why on here!), none of which worked well enough for me, I am reluctant to go down that route again. So, for now, I am back on the CBD oil.  A close friend reckons she can tell when I’m on or off it, but I don’t feel hugely different in myself.  I’m taking it for my nerves and to help me sleep. (Yes, I do still have those three am “What the hell am I going to do now and for the rest of my life?” moments.)

Watch this space and, in the meantime, I will carry on doing what I can safely do without the help of any CV: lunch!  Care to join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Momentous Decision

Another day, another lunch with a friend in my nearby town and the cafes appeared as crowded as they were before lockdown. People were supposed to be wearing masks inside the indoor shopping centre, but I saw several who weren’t.  To be fair, I couldn’t see any notices saying we should be doing this.

In Boots, I was very pleased to see the nice man I used to chat to regularly. When I said it was good to see him again, he said he had been working throughout, apart from a brief break for a “staycation”. Apparently, they hadn’t been allowed to put a notice up outside the centre, letting people know they were open, so they were taking just five per cent of their normal daily takings throughout. It must have been extremely boring for them. He added that people weren’t taking any of the rules seriously, and one lady in there last week pulled her mask down in order to give a very loud and messy sneeze, before shoving it back up her face again!

There’s a lady in Smiths I sometimes chat to and it was good to see her again, as well. She said she had been very bored at home and was glad to be back working, though she was worried about the talk of forcing the over-fifties to stay at home. I was surprised when she said she was 54, and said I thought she was in her thirties. I might have made a new friend for life.

I told her that, after a great many years of not writing a daily diary, I had made the momentous decision to start one again this year.  Oops…

Everywhere you look, people seem very happy to be out and about again. My friend said being in the house so much was driving her mad.  She still feels nervous about travelling on buses, preferring to get the train to meet me. I haven’t yet been on a bus, either. The OH had dropped me off earlier and I made the snap decision to grab a taxi home, as I had to be back by a certain time and the buses appeared to be running late. I doubt all the people waiting would have been allowed on, either.

The taxi driver said he had been bored after a couple of weeks and had got himself a van-driving job in the interim. He was glad to see things returning to normal, though he, as with so many others I’ve spoken to, is expecting a second wave within the next couple of months. His wife is a dental nurse and can’t get back to work just yet.

In the church café, another regular haunt, I popped in to say hello and welcome back. The lady working there said it had been very quiet since they re-opened.  She was also predicting a second wave in the autumn. She was singing the praises of Boris, saying what a fine Mayor of London he’d been, and how none of us would have known what to do for the best in the present circumstances. She said she was in the nearby Waitrose the other day, where a very well-dressed, well-spoken, middle-aged lady was refusing to wear a mask and insisting on her “citizen’s rights” – whatever they may be. What about the rights of everyone else around her, though?! No wonder Boris is so often pictured with his head in his hands…

Meanwhile, back in our regular Waitrose, I noticed they have started putting hand sanitiser on every checkout, next to the free weekly paper. Talking of which, have you ever seen it? It’s brilliant. I would probably pay for it but, shush, don’t tell them!

However, you do wonder why these places bother.  As we were waiting in the checkout queue, two women who clearly hadn’t seen each other in ages embraced delightedly in full view of us all. Beam me up, someone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EATING OUT MORE

I’ve been hearing that many think lockdown is over. It isn’t, of course, and in fact there has even been a recent increase in cases (and deaths) in this country. Talk of a second wave is rife. Some people just aren’t taking it seriously enough, though. Back in our favourite local restaurant last week, we watched in disbelief as a customer threw her arms around our waiter and hugged him, squealing with excitement. Rather taken aback, he half-hugged her in return. I think she must have been as pleased as we were to see them up and running again, but even so!

Restaurants and pubs are doing their best to abide by the regulations, but it’s us lot, the wonderful general public, who are making things difficult for them: from hugging waiters to exiting through the entrance, and vice-versa. And don’t get me started on wearing masks indoors (or not) – though, obviously, not while you’re trying to eat…

Our waiter was astonished we haven’t been down to the river towpath during the whole of lockdown. We explained it was because of the reported hordes of non-social-distancing people and cyclists down there.  He flew home to Poland, to be with his family throughout. He said he was feeling very unfit and his legs were aching. A waitress there once told us she regularly did 20,000 steps on her shift and if, by the time she had finished, she hadn’t quite reached her goal, she would walk around the block near her home until she had.

Another waiter, who comes from Brazil, told us his entire street back home has been infected with the virus.

Closer to home, there are mutterings about the pubs and restaurants closing again later this year. I fear, if this happens, it will be the end for many of them. It’s desperately sad, unfair and horribly worrying for all concerned.

The other local restaurants we passed all looked busy, especially a newly-opened Turkish place. That particular building has changed hands numerous times, so I hope they can make a success of it this time. The owner of a popular Lebanese restaurant down the road has very astutely opened up a hut by the river, selling takeaway food, and is apparently doing a roaring trade there. Good for him.

Everywhere we’ve eaten out so far, our cutlery is brought to the table on trays and all the menus are throwaway, with limited choice. We have to sign a contact form for “track and trace” each time. In some places, hand sanitiser is on every table.

Most pubs have set up marquees in their gardens, where possible, and the OH and I liked the look of one we passed the other day, which had several small wooden huts outside for couples or families to socially isolate in.

On Saturday, we visited an airfield museum and café. We’ve been meaning to visit for ages, though it’s only just re-opened, but this time it was for lunch only, as you have to pre-book for the museum itself. An elderly man, clearly a local regular, shared a table (from a distance) with two women and, when they got up to leave, he thanked them for their chat and added: “You will most probably be the only people I will speak to today.” I felt a pang of sympathy and recognition. Loneliness is the vilest thing and, for me, the feeling has never really left me, even though my life is very different now to how it once was. I battled with it for years and, to some extent, I think I will always be wrestling with the feeling, which can still sometimes overwhelm me.

On Sunday, we tried another pub lunch – a different pub, this time (see my last blog).  I wondered why the man behind the bar kept throwing me rather gimlet, unsmiling looks.  After we left, I considered he may have assumed I was a “mystery diner” because I was taking notes for this blog.  At least I didn’t take a picture of my food, which was very good, thanks. We overheard the owner say to one of the waitresses: “Try and sell the cherry clafoutis to them (another customer).  We only have one left. Then we can go on to the pavlova.” I had the pavlova, without the threatened sales pitch for the cherry clafoutis, and it was also very good.

Between every table, there was a high, gauze-like curtain, and Miss Havisham sprang to mind.  Not an image you want to dwell on while eating, really…

Later that week, I met one of my friends – a proper “mystery diner” – for lunch in a nearby pub, which was a bit of a disaster.  When we arrived, the music was very loud –obviously for the staff’s benefit – and we had to ask them to turn it down. I put in a request for “Silence Is Golden” but, as they were all about 25, if that, I received blank looks in return. (See a previous blog of mine on how I feel about loud music in cafes and restaurants. If you like that sort of thing yourself, though, please don’t bother. We’ll never agree and we’d only fall out over it, which would be a pity.)

The drinks and the food had to be sent back, for various reasons and the staff clearly would rather have been anywhere else. Not for them the joy of getting back to work (see my last blog). There appeared to be more bored-looking staff than customers, but not one of them thought to check around outside –we spotted several items of rubbish lying around the entrance. Not a great first impression!  Again, the menu was limited, with no option for the carvery, which has always been a very popular fixture there, whatever day of the week.

No  “Miss Havisham” curtains in this place, but each table had a  “I am clean” notice on it, and I spotted our waitress busily wiping down our table and both chairs as we left.

On the entrance to the loos, there was a helpful sign which you had to change yourself, from “Vacant” to “Engaged” before you went in. I completely forgot to change it back over when I’d finished in there, though. I do hope someone eventually checked…

It was my birthday this last Sunday. When I rang to book up yet another roast in yet another pub (we’re cramming in as many as we can), I heard myself telling the very young-sounding woman about how I last visited their pub when I was 17. I didn’t add that a gang of us used to pile into as many cars as were available and go bombing off down the country lanes. I also didn’t tell her that, in the days before compulsory seatbelts, a gaggle of excitable girls would be crammed in the backs of said cars, shrieking our heads off as the drivers whipped around the bends on two tyres, our heads banging on the roofs of the cars. It was crazy, but thrilling. Just as well there were far fewer cars on the roads back then. I did, however, mention that I recalled a shove-halfpenny board behind the bar and she said she’d only been polishing it the other day. My grandparents had one of those and I’ve always regretted not keeping it.

On our arrival, I was very disappointed not to remember a single thing about the place. I stared around carefully, and even went on a little exploratory stroll. Nothing. The aforementioned games board was hidden away somewhere, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask to see it. It might have triggered too much.

There was a jolly blackboard notice next to the bar, which read: “Barter Board.  Please bring in your fish, game and home-grown produce.  If we can use it, we will give you credit at the bar.” Great idea!

We had a lovely lunch and watched, rather bemusedly, as the bartender hugged and kissed all the regulars as they came in – with not a local accent to any of them, we noted wryly.  All wore an air of comfortable affluence, with some talking about the dilemma of keeping two homes running and others casually announcing they would pop in on their way down to their place in Cornwall the following weekend, while someone else was heard bleating that they needed a large lunch to sustain them on their long journey down to Devon that afternoon. The poor loves. Better get down there quick, then, before that second wave…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Out More

Things are starting to return to some sort of “normal” for me. I met a friend for lunch at her house last week and another for lunch at her house this week. It was lovely to see them both again and we had plenty to catch up on, of course. I also finally had an appointment with my chiropodist, who came to my house. He says he has been taking on new clients, because they don’t want to have to go out to get their feet looked at and would prefer someone to come to their home instead.

At a garden centre last weekend, I was impressed to see a very well-known scented candle company are now also producing a nice little sideline of hand sanitisers and wipes, etc. How very astute of them!

The young man in the café there said he’d been bored at home and was glad to be back at work. Elsewhere, a young woman in another cafe said much the same thing. She added that she loved her job and there was a limit to how many days she could loaf around in her pjs without going loopy. However, some of the staff there are apparently too scared to return to work just yet.

In a village shop we popped into over the weekend, there’s a clear notice on the door stating there should be no more than four people in the shop at a time and that masks should be worn at all times. While we were there, with four of us in the queue, two men came in with their children and friends, bringing the total of customers up to 12; the OH and I being the only ones wearing masks. The woman behind the till should have said something, of course, but didn’t.

On the day it was made official for everybody to wear a mask indoors, I was the only person wearing one in the cafe where we pick up our regular Friday night takeaway – including the staff.

Meanwhile, in Sainsbury’s a few days after the new rule, one man wasn’t wearing a mask. He didn’t have one around his neck, either. It seems that, for some people, even a hefty fine isn’t enough to make them kowtow, let alone catching the virus itself. I have to confess, though, that I had completely forgotten to put mine in my bag, but thankfully the OH had his and I was able to use that. I read somewhere that hospitals are bracing themselves for a second wave as early as August. Meanwhile, some people on social media are posting their half-baked conspiracy theories. Me, I’m starting to build up my stock of “essentials”again…

I blew it in Boots, though. I marched in with my mask down by my chin, just as I had been wearing it in the street, then realised what I’d done as I was leaving the shop (the assistant hadn’t mentioned it) and promptly pushed it up my face, before realising I didn’t have to do this, as I was now back outside again. Oh dear.

At the cheese counter in Waitrose, there was a sticky moment when I was proffered a sliver of cheese to try (at my request) and I wasn’t sure whether to lift my mask up or down, so I could taste it.

I’m hearing the words: “Cash or card?” more in shops, now, whereas, of course, it’s been card only for many months. I’ve become used to not having any cash on me at all and it feels strange to be using it again. I didn’t even need to find change for car parks, during lockdown, since the ones we were using had suspended charging.

We always ask the Big Issue seller outside Waitrose if we can get her anything while we’re doing our weekly shop. She usually asks for water, but we bought her chocolate as well, this time, as I thought she looked in need of some energy. Not surprising, as she is pregnant with her fourth child. She travels to Cobham from Welling, every day! That’s a mighty long way, and not an easy journey. I hope it’s worth her while.

The OH knows one of the sellers quite well. He has a regular pitch in town and says competition for a decent pitch is high, and can even descend into fisticuffs at times, if another seller tries to muscle in. Not to mention the abuse they often receive from the charmingly-mannered general public. Lovely. The OH suggested the people who organise the pitches for the sellers may have considered our Waitrose seller to be safer there. Certainly, while we were talking to her, there was a very accomplished violinist busking nearby. How frightfully civilised!

On Friday night, I was kept awake until the early hours by various noises in our road. It’s a small but very busy road. We’ve had the sound of late-night delivery vans throughout lockdown, of course, and they are still continuing to deliver, day and night. I just wish it wasn’t quite so late! Now that more places are starting to open up in the evenings, we have people coming back from wherever they’ve been, as well; not bothering to lower their voices at all.

We visited a garden show on Saturday. I am so hungry for all the shows I am missing. My diary has been empty for months. There were not as many plant stalls as I was hoping to see, however. More food, craft, hats, clothes, wood-carving and that type of thing. One stallholder told me it had been a very last-minute, getting the go-ahead, for the organiser – right up until the morning itself, apparently. The stallholders just had to turn up and hope for the best. Everywhere you looked, there were bored-looking young staff armed with hand sanitisers. I watched as a group of friends delightedly greeted each other and “elbow-bumped” and thought how crazy it looked – and surely not that much safer?!

The OH and I had our egos massaged a little, when paying to go in to the show. We paid full price for our tickets, then I spotted the sign that said concessions and a slightly cheaper entry price. “Oh,” I said to him, “I guess we both qualify for that, now. I keep forgetting!” The lady looked surprised and said, “I wouldn’t have known. You don’t look it, either of you.” I said, “It’s worth paying the extra just to hear you say that. Keep it!”

A vintage dealer friend we were chatting to said he’d made more in a day at the previous weekend’s salvage fair (held in the same place) than in a month of teaching (his old day job). I said it didn’t say much for teachers’ salaries, then, did it?

On Sunday, we tried our first pub lunch in almost exactly four months (I checked in my diary). You needed to pre-book, as space was limited – it was outside only, under gazebos – and there was a one-way in-and-out system operating. Our cutlery and napkins appeared at our table in slim brown paper envelopes and it was Sunday roasts or nothing on the menu, with no starters, though there were a few puds available.

The landlady seemed very nervous, jumping out of our way whenever we ventured too close. We had to sign a register book on entering. The room was bare of any furniture and it was odd not to see the usual posse of cheery locals gathered around the bar, eyeing us beadily and muttering into their pints: “Not from round ’ere, are ’ee?”

On Monday, I had my first trip up to town, also in four months, for a much-needed and long-overdue haircut. I kept startling myself every time I looked in a mirror, and small children were bursting into tears when they saw me; their parents making the sign of the cross as they passed me by from a distance much greater than a mere couple of metres.

The train and tube were very quiet. I was travelling off-peak, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the tube so quiet in all the years I’ve been using it. I was tempted to get a taxi, to find out how they had been managing during lockdown, but resisted. Maybe next time.

I panicked slightly on the train, getting used to wearing my mask, so got off a couple of stops up the line and changed on to a faster, air-conditioned train and sat near the toilet. This instantly made me feel calmer, with the addition of listening to music through my player. (Fleetwood Mac, the older stuff, as Peter Green has just died. I prefer his songs.)

I was glad of the cooler, wetter day. The mask feels hot and clammy on my face. Thank goodness most shops are air-conditioned these days. However, more and more people I know are talking about not bothering to go out shopping at all.

Waterloo concourse was also blissfully quiet. Foyles wasn’t open but the ever-vital toilets were, thank goodness. A man was standing nearby with hand sanitiser, so I allowed him to spray my hands. He offered to spray my phone as well, but I declined. Notices everywhere exhort us all to keep our distance, wear a mask, wash our hands. Makes a change from notices about staff abuse and thieves.

At Leicester Square, it was one way in and one way out. Now, despite using this station a great many times over the years, for both my hairdresser and my favourite bookshop, I have always struggled to remember which exit I need, only finally getting the hang of it embarrassingly recently. On Monday, it was back to walking round the block in all directions, until I found where I actually needed to be.

It was very quiet in Covent Garden, where my hairdresser is based. I loved it, being mildly agoraphobic (all my life). I’m really not good with crowds of people and lots of traffic and am prone to dizzy spells and panic attacks at times. (Strangely, wearing a mask covering half my face seemed to help me feel less exposed. Maybe also because everyone else was doing the same thing.)

Some of the shops look as though they have closed for good, while others are still temporarily closed. My hairdresser told me the area gets a little busier at weekends but during the week it’s really quiet. I have never seen Neal’s Yard so empty! In the salon, where my hairdresser greeted me wearing a plastic visor and top-to-toe plastic overall, they are allowed just one customer per stylist at a time, but it was still fairly busy in there.

I guessed the regular Monday antiques market wouldn’t be there, but didn’t bother to check, as I wanted to visit my favourite bookshop on the Charing Cross Road, in the opposite direction – again, for the first time in four months. I bought three books. I would have preferred it to be four (or two, or six), due to my OCD and always preferring to buy things in even numbers, within reason (it can get expensive). Weirdly, as I stepped outside, I was confronted by a passing four-by-four with an “OCD” number plate. Now I just need to see another one…

“Exterminate!”

HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE

On a recent trip out, we spotted Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys dangling from the back of a campervan on the motorway. No doubt “To infinity and beyond!” was the joyful cry of so many, as soon as lockdown rules eased.

The services were fully open again; the car park fully crowded to prove it and, sadly, the road kill numbers had increased dramatically from our last trip out, with dead baby deer, badgers and foxes around every corner, it seemed.

We noted a flower, fruit and vegetable stall had changed to a burger and fries shack, which was proving to be a lot more popular. Another place was trying to cover most eventualities, by offering: Fresh eggs, potatoes, face masks.

One of our local stalwart cafes, who have been supplying us all with basic foodstuffs and even delivering them if needed, have now stopped providing fruit and veg boxes, as other places are slowly opening up again and, of course, there’s always Kingston market just down the road, which has kept trading throughout lockdown. Farmers’ markets are starting to open up again, as well.

More and more local restaurants and cafes are opening up again, although we are probably going to continue to stick to our “new normal” of a Friday night “date night” takeaway for a while longer, until things settle down.

Outside a local farm shop, two middle-aged men were using the hand sanitiser provided before they were allowed in. “We don’t even have to do this in Waitrose,” one of them joked.

Smell is so evocative, isn’t it? I mean, some hand sanitisers smell delightful, while others smell really strange to me.  The OH likes the hit of alcohol he gets with some, while I hate that particular smell. Ah well. I’m bracing myself for the new rule of wearing masks everywhere, from this week, and have already seen stern notices outside some shops: Not wearing a mask? Bugger off, then! Or something like that.

Talking of evocative smells, a greengrocer shop was doing a brisk trade in a nearby village as we passed it the other day. I didn’t need anything but I stuck my head in the door and inhaled. It’s such a poignant, nostalgic smell for me. My godparents ran a greengrocer shop in my home town of Henley for many years. One whiff and I’m right back there.

On passing the job centre window, I wondered how many of the jobs advertised would still be relevant…

BACK TO KINGSTON

On notices in shop windows everywhere: Welcome back, Kingston! We’ve missed you. Judging by the long queues outside T K Maxx, Vodafone and the Apple Store, we’ve missed Kingston, too.

It was good to see my favourite two cafes back in action, albeit with reduced numbers of tables and chairs. I bought lunch in one and our supper in another, to show my support. My third favourite café, in the church, was due to open the week after, so I will be making a beeline for that one first, next time.

Hoorah, the loos are open again in the Bentall Centre! As are most of the shops, though I was saddened to see one I used quite a lot, run by a lovely helpful couple, has vanished forever.

In Smiths, the assistant informed me he used to order in 70 magazines but has been told to order in just 40 from now on. That’s a BIG difference! I wonder what the unlucky 30 titles are? I’m worried for them all: the free Tesco magazine was painfully thin this month and Sainsbury’s (paid) magazine decided to have a joint July and August issue instead of its usual two separate ones. The Waitrose food magazine has produced an illustrated edition this month.  What will they do next month, though? I’m wondering which titles will survive and what they are all going to look like, if still around, a few months from now.

I couldn’t wait to get into Waterstones – my first foray into a bookshop since lockdown began. I have a long list of titles I want to buy but was so overwhelmed, I bought just the one – Jack Monroe’s latest, if you’re interested.  Very good, as all of her books are. The rule is to put any books you handle but don’t buy into a designated trolley. In my excitement, though, I’m afraid I forgot to do this (I only handled one or two).  I hope it’s not on CCTV and I’m banned from there forever. That would be too cruel. Their café isn’t open yet. I hope it’s soon – I’m rather partial to their cheese straws and am hankering for them again after so long.

Waitrose had a very strict system: in one way and out another, with staff checking you in and out at either end.

Some poor soul had painstakingly painted large “social distancing” dots on the pavements around town, although nobody appeared to be taking any notice of them. Interestingly, though, people were giving the tone-deaf busker quite a wide berth…

Talking of social distancing, I went into a clothes shop and out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing close by, so thought I’d better social distance from him. I waited –and waited – before eventually realising it was a mannequin. I do hope that’s not on CCTV, either…

In Sainsbury’s, I stood behind middle-aged twins at the till.  One was born three and a half (the all-important half!) minutes before the other. “Once she was out, I had to follow,” the (barely) younger woman joked. “She’s so bossy, she ordered me to!”

I’ve always wanted to be a twin. It would be wonderful to feel that someone is on your side and will always be there for you.  At least, I’m assuming that’s how it works. Do let me know if it isn’t! In any case, if you were identical, think of the fun and pranks you could play on people. Life would never be boring with another “you” around. Though God help everyone else.

We paid our last visit to The Medicine Garden in Cobham.  It closes forever next Wednesday.  You’ve still got time! The shop owners are on the lookout for what they call a “destination” place where they can all continue trading under one roof. One of them must be feeling very optimistic, as I heard her telling a customer she was starting to order in her winter stock. I wish them all lots of luck and am thankful I got to experience such a special, unique place for a few years, at least.

Finally, an alert for all those Dr Who lovers out there: a much-loved vintage shop in Penzance is closing its doors for good – another sad victim of the Coronavirus.  A Dalek has resided in its window for as long as we can remember, with a Not For Sale tag attached. Steady on and form an orderly queue, folks (drum roll): it IS now for sale! Can we dare hope that, once released from the confines of the window, it can help us “exterminate” the virus for good? Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A bit of a corker!”

I have a friend who often gets her words and phrases muddled.  She refers to “poodling” about instead of “pootling” and people who have been “furlonged” not “furloughed” during the current crisis.  Her latest one, though, is a bit of a corker: she explained how she had bought a “scratchcock” chicken from her local supermarket. I said it was only too clear where her mind was at the time. It should, of course, be “spatchcock” though I am surprised by how few people have heard of it (look it up). Spatchcock, scratchcock, or whatever, one lady in particular was overjoyed to see the hot chicken counter up and running again, so to speak, in Waitrose.

A woman in front of me at the till was practising what looked like ballet barre moves to me. It was the same woman who had been doing these movements while waiting in a very long outside queue the other week. I’d love to be so unselfconscious!

Chatting to the girl on the till about her forthcoming end-of-year exams revealed she wasn’t confident about the results. She’s doing her A-levels next year and said, due to there being no open days at any of the universities at the moment, it was hard to choose the one she favoured. I helpfully told her how upset I was, the other day, on re-reading my old school reports. But I’m not going to go into all that now. That’s for another blog…

It was lovely to see the Big Issue seller outside, again. We know she has a family but we don’t know where she lives. She said lockdown had been really hard for her. I wanted to hug her. I miss hugging people – though they might be relieved!

I wanted to visit the big Sainsbury’s just down the road, afterwards.  As we queued outside, a large notice prominently displayed reminded us that lockdown has not been a bundle of laughs and a nice rest for many, giving numbers to call for victims of domestic abuse or bullying at home.

Inside, a woman was wearing a sweatshirt that read: REALITY CONTINUES TO RUIN MY LIFE. Meanwhile, the staff were all wearing “social distancing” T-shirts.

A sign outside Esher cinema is announcing: We’re back!  Don’t  ‘mask’ your feelings. You’re going to (g)love it.

Meanwhile, an Esher householder has come up with an ingenious idea: they’ve cut their house number into the very tall hedge by their drive. No delivery driver is going to be able to miss that…

We noticed a betting shop was open. Wonder if it’s been open throughout lockdown? My heart is sinking at each further relaxation of lockdown rules, for personal reasons, and I have very mixed feelings about it. Many can’t wait to rush back to their old lives as quickly as they can, it would appear – even if they have been virtuously (and hyper-anxiously, in some cases) following lockdown rules to the letter and beyond for the past few months – but, equally, hundreds of people are still dying from the virus every day around the world and in this country, and many people I know are in no hurry to start socialising and shopping again. As for the hordes who headed for the beaches in the recent hot weather: did any of them stop to think that others might have had the same idea? Did they even care? And would anyone on here care to gamble on there being a ‘second wave’ (excuse the seaside-related pun) very soon?

 

 

 

TOASTED CRUMPET OR BAKEWELL TART?

Thoughts of moving house are becoming more pressing, for various reasons I won’t be sharing on here – for the moment, at least. It’s constantly on our minds. What we can afford, what we will need to compromise on and, most importantly of all, where we are going to end up…

We socially-distanced met a very nice man the other day. He and his wife recently moved to a detached bungalow set in three acres on the outskirts of a pretty town in Kent. They can walk one way into town (with the all-important good transport links) and walk straight out into deep countryside the other – it sounds like bliss to me. They also have three dogs. All in good time, Cooper, all in good time…

Anyway. Their land backs on to a popular path which leads from town to country and, during lockdown, they saw just a small handful of walkers a day.  The first day  restrictions were lifted, they counted nearer 200! I guess you can’t have everything and, although I know I wouldn’t like that many people trooping past my home, at least, in this case, there is some distance between their bungalow and the public path. Perhaps a nice screen of fast-growing trees is in order…

Now, all my life, pretty much, I have lived in places other people like to visit (we will draw a veil over Tooting, where I lived in a student hostel while studying at what used to be known as the London College Of Printing (now Communications) in the Elephant and Castle).  I was born in Henley on Thames and also lived in Salisbury. I now live in Hampton Court.

Perhaps it’s my age, but, suddenly, I have grown rather sick of living somewhere that’s always so damn busy!  Doesn’t matter what time of year it is. Or is it that, since lockdown began, I have come to appreciate the quieter roads and fewer people, while out and about? (Of course, they’re all coming back, more’s the pity.) Now, I’m yearning to live in the sort of place where people nod and smile and say hello, whether they know you or not (they’re not like that around here, with the odd exception, despite a load of talk online about community spirit, blah blah blah). The sort of place where it’s only other locals you will see tramping around the streets or fields or woods, or wherever.

We have always said we’d love to live near the sea but we’ve been re-thinking that one, recently, as well. Our favourite places, in Devon and Cornwall, are hoaching with tourists year-round. OK, it makes for a “lively” scene and is great for the local economy, of course, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to share my precious personal space any more.

During lockdown, for our daily exercise walk, we’ve been avoiding the main towpath down to the river nearby, but even our newly-discovered local walk alongside a different, not-quite-so-busy part of the river is no longer the peaceful haven it was. The other day, on our brief foray out during the OH’s lunch-break, we encountered plenty of naked flesh – ie, sunbathers – lying broiling in the direct sunshine. Our joint idea of hell. I jokingly mentioned something along the lines of toasting crumpet, but the OH came up with something much better: “Bakewell tart.” Bake-well. Geddit??

Moving swiftly on, we returned home via a small local cafe, where we ordered takeaway coffee for the OH and two paninis for our lunch. The owner has very kindly been giving us free food with our orders – one day, it was small custard tarts and on another, it was a chocolate wafer biscuit each. Very kind – and very good for business! We will continue to support them, in any case; free treats or not. Next door, the Indian restaurant’s menu in the window proudly boasts: Lamb cooked in a way as you have never seen before (sic).

In the meantime, our quest for a fairly local, uncrowded and relatively peaceful oasis to get away from it all for an hour or so, often takes us to The Medicine Garden, in nearby Cobham. Once part of the estate belonging to a huge old house across the road, it’s a very large, walled garden, with outbuildings occupied by a number of small independent businesses and a couple of cafes. The garden borders themselves are full of inspiration. Alas, the place has now been sold, although you can still go there for the time being to have a look around, grab a takeaway coffee and cake and maybe buy one or two of the many artefacts currently being sold off.

The owners of the small businesses are sad to be leaving, and all are keen to stay together in some capacity, so they are looking for alternative accommodation: a barn or some other building large enough to take them all, preferably not a million miles from where they are now. If anyone reading this can help them, do let me know!

Apparently, instead of the housing estate full of “luxury executive” homes I was dreading, it’s going to be turned into a day spa for the WAGS of the many rich footballers who live in the area. Sigh.

You have until the end of July, when it closes to the likes of the rest of us forever, to see why I love it so much. On your marks…

 

PLANTS AND BOOKS AND ROCK AND ROLL…

Oops. I’ve finally realised where most of my money goes: plants. Since the garden centres re-opened, we’ve visited several and the borders are looking crammed, just as I like them to, and all but two of my pots are full – unlike my current bank balance.

Yes, we’ve had to queue, but it’s been worth it.  We’ve also stocked up on bird food, and good job we did, as, when we returned a week later, the shelves had been cleared.  I’m gagging to get back to Wisley, but the queue for the plant centre was so long when we swung by recently to check it out, we didn’t even bother stopping the car. This was on a weekday, too. You can visit the gardens again, hooray, but only if you pre-book and the same goes for a nearby local beauty spot – Claremont, between Esher and Cobham – another favourite of ours.

A little bit further afield, the first garden centre we revisited after they opened up again was one we haven’t been near for over six months (long story) and I felt surprisingly emotional to be back there. The speed with which the staff were busily re-stocking the shelves from their plant-laden trollies was impressive and I managed to catch a passing agapanthus as it flew from trolley to shelf. It just fell into my hands, guvnor, honest…

As mentioned in a previous blog, I also love buying books.  Even though, bizarrely, I’ve been unable to look at one, fiction or non-fiction, since lockdown began.  (I tell a lie: I attempted to read some Winnie-the-Pooh recently, for comfort, but it made me cry instead.) I’ve even struggled to read my beloved magazines. Make of that what you will.

Despite this, I have been compiling a list of must-buys as soon as I can get to a decent bookshop.  Or an indecent one. I’m not fussy. Yes, I know I could have ordered these online, but I much prefer to walk into a well-stocked bookshop and inhale and, as far as I know, they haven’t invented “scratch’n’sniff” online ordering just yet. My favourite bookshop has re-opened, in town, but I’m in no hurry to get back up there, what with the compulsory wearing of masks and the lack of loos.

We don’t need anything else. We’re stocked up with all the essential stuff we’ve needed over the past few months (thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to Boots, Superdrug, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the occasional farm shop).  Neither of us needs any new clothes or shoes.  A friend said how much she wanted to buy new clothes but didn’t want to go back into the shops just yet and didn’t like ordering online, either. Even though lockdown rules have been relaxed, a great many people I know aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  There is still a lot of fear out there.

Last week, we visited Kingston again, just before the majority of shops re-opened.  We will be going back there again soon, but hopefully avoiding those shops with the longest queues. I noticed that one of the shops still had its Easter display in the window. The car parks are charging again. They were busy, too.

I needed to go to the bank, for the first time since the day before lockdown, when I cried (I cried in Waterstones, as well. I’m sure they thought I was mad). The same woman served me.  We had a lovely chat and I said how much I was enjoying their choice of background music (lightweight disco) and would she care to join me for a bop around the counter?  I was getting funny looks from another customer nearby, and after she left, the assistant said I seemed like a bubbly, lively, upbeat, happy sort of person, while the other woman looked sour and old! I am pretty much all of those things, most of the time; just not very much right now, so I silently congratulated myself on keeping up appearances, despite everything.

The flower stand at the market was open again and it was lovely to see all the cheery colours, though I didn’t buy anything this time.

We paid a visit to my favourite Italian café, where the owner is hoping he will become a lot busier once the shops have re-opened. We bought pasta and takeaway coffee, and I was pleased to see another couple waiting to come into the shop as we left. We also bought cakes from my other favourite café, again. It’s got to be done!

It will be interesting to see what else will be open when we make our next trip there.

PS: I made the rock ’n’ roll bit up. I’m desperately missing the live gigs I love so much, but goodness only knows when those venues will be able to re-open and, while I’ve always preferred to have a bit of space around me when dancing, I’m not sure the venue owners/promoters will agree. Though I’ve just heard the pubs might be opening up again next month. Not entirely sure how that’s going to work, either. Oops…