Monday, 27 June 2016

The 40 year old rubber plant

I inherited a small rubber plant from a cousin about 10 years ago. It was in a strange 60s/70s pot that looked vaguely familiar, but I gave it no real thought, and just started caring, in my haphazard way, for my new plant.

A few months after it came into my possession, I was looking through some old photos and found one showing the plant, in its 60s/70s pot, in my parents' front room.

It seemed that my cousin had " inherited" the rubber plant from my mother.... who died over 30 years ago.

It was pot bound, still in its original pot, and had clearly belonged to my mother.

Suddenly this plant took on greater significance. It's survival became paramount ! I could no longer fail to water it. I had to organise a neighbour to look after it if I went away. I had to re pot it..... and actually look after it. I have done that for 10 years. 

Earlier this year I decided the responsibility of keeping mum's plant alive was too much. No one else in the family was prepared to take on the responsibility. So, I decided.... This plant need to have children of its own.

It had grown huge, it reached the ceiling. So, having read various articles about taking cuttings, I took 5 cuttings.

The mother plant became more manageable and I kept my fingers crossed that at least one of the children would survive.

I potted one of the cuttings in my mother's original 60s/70s pot.

Just before I came to France this year, I gave one thriving baby plant to my step daughter in law, Sarah Jane, one to Mark's ex wife, Carole,  one was promised to daughter Jess, and one to step daughter Jodie. 

I have brought the child plant potted in the original pot to France.
It is thriving. It has 4 new leaves, and clearly loves the warmth and the sunshine of Caunes Minervois.

So...  a neighbour is caring for mum's original plant while I'm away, and I am the proud owner of a second generation/ back in the original pot/ child of my mother's plant . 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

From Kinsale to Skibbereen

I recently spent a few days in County Cork and Tipperary, as a planned trip to see my brother and his family. However, as often happens with plans.....things didn’t quite work out as we thought. My brother is a film editor and goes where the work takes him. It took him to Amsterdam for the week we had planned our Irish trip.

We decided to go anyway, see my sister-in-law and my 2 nephews, and have a couple of days just wandering around, knowing how enjoyable such wandering can be in Ireland.

Seeing the family...even without my lovely brother, was great. It is 4 years since we have seen each other, and surprise surprise....the nephews have grown up !   21 year old Michael has turned into a gorgeous, gentle, interesting young man, about to move to Amsterdam ( where he was born), with his delightful girlfriend Kaylee, for some adventures. 13 year old Thomas has become a polite, sensible, hard working, musically talented teenager. It was lovely to spend some time with them.

We always used to joke about how sitting around sister-in-law Catherine’s kitchen table involved a never ending pot of tea and a revolving kitchen door, through which various brothers/sisters/cousin/neighbours would stream.

No sooner had Mark and I sat down at the kitchen table, with Catherine and the boys and Michael’s girlfriend,  that Catherine’s eldest brother arrived. It was good to see that despite us not being visitors for over 4 years, the open door policy continues.

Anyway, after spending time with family, we wandered off on our own.

We followed the Wild Atlantic route from Kinsale to Skibbereen. It was stunning.

The colours of Kinsale will live with me for years. The early morning sunlight made everything glisten. It was one of those mornings when somethings seems almost too bright to look at.
 We found a lovely cafe for breakfast, drank some fabulous coffee and wandered on.

We had to keep stopping for castles,

 fabulous views across bays,

 incredible bird sightings

 and walks along various beaches.

 We were reminded how long journeys in Ireland take.

 Winding narrow roads, driving behind slow farm vehicles, and stopping frequently to take photos...and just to look, takes its time.

Skibbereen was our target, and we arrived in time for lunch. It was a truly fascinating town.

By the mid 1800s, Skibbereen was quite densely populated, with about 400 people to the square mile. The potato was the staple diet for more than half the population of Ireland, particularly the poor. Apparently, with the addition of buttermilk or fish, it provided all the requirements for a healthy diet, although to do this, it required a man to eat up to 14lbs of potatoes a day !

Anyway....when the potato blight ( phytophthora infestans ) hit.....people died. It was a fungal infection which arrived from north America in the autumn of 1845. It spread rapidly and by 1846 there was a 90% loss of the potato harvest in the Skibbereen area.

In the cold winter of 1846 many thousands died of starvation, some in the totally inadequate work houses, but many, just on the sides of the roads, or hidden away in their tiny mud cottages. There were a few public works schemes that were supposed to provide work, and therefore money, for the poor. Thousands involved in the schemes died as they were so malnourished and sick  that they were unable to earn enough to stay alive.

By 1847, Skibbereen was being referred to as the centre of the famine.

Disease was rife, “famine fever” covered a range of diseases, including typhus, relapsing fever or yellow fever, dysentery, and what became a pandemic of cholera in 1848-9. No one knows how many died. Bodies were piled into mass graves, relatives too weak to bury, mourn or to organise funeral ceremonies, died themselves, and were added to the piles of bodies.

The population of the area covered by the Skibbereen Union fell by 37,000 between the census years 1841 and 1851.

It is thought that at least a million people died in those few years, and within 10 years another 2 million had emigrated. Few from Skibbereen were able to flee though. People in the poorer areas did not have the means to emigrate.

Many of those who were able to escape went to America, but first had to leave Ireland to get to England. Thousands flocked to Liverpool, where most of the trans Atlantic crossings began. The Illustrated London News reported that the treatment of the Irish by Liverpool parish officers was worse than that given to cattle. It is estimated that 100,000 Irish famine migrants died in Britain.

At one stage, famine emigrants who were destitute on arrival in England were classed as vagrants and deported back to Ireland.  Some parishes offered rewards for information leading to the discovery of” illegal immigrants”. Nothing changes !

My great great grandparents, William and Mary Whelan, appear on the 1851 census, in Liverpool. Their birthplace is listed as “ Ireland”, and their eldest child was born in Ireland in the mid 1840s. I don’t know where in Ireland they came from, but they were clearly part of the movement, escaping the famine. Their son, my great grandfather, was born in Birkenhead. His son, was my grandfather, for those of you that know a bit about my family....the bigamist grandfather. 

Our bit of the Whelan family had escaped, and survived. Due to the fact that William and Mary Whelan survived, our family has spread to England, Australia and New Zealand..... and maybe Michael will re settle in Holland, who knows ? Jessie, my daughter, lives in Liverpool, not far from where William and Mary settled and where my grandfather spent part of his youth.

Our trip to Ireland was wonderful. We caught up with family, we visited beautiful places, but the horror of what happened there, not so very long ago was haunting.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

45 years between trips

Janice and Mark, South Africa, 2016
As a child, one of our family rituals at Christmas, was opening the crate of South African peaches my great aunt Muriel sent us each year. Muriel had emigrated to South Africa after the war, and always sent the peaches to arrive just as we were settling into our British winter. The smell as well disturbed the straw in which the peaches were packed still lives with me today. The taste is also a memory that I can conjure up was beautiful.

"Do I dare to eat a peach ?"
Alice, my grandmother, auntie Muriel's sister-in-law, spent her superannuation retirement lump sum ( the first person in our family to receive a work related pension !... Alice was a school dinner lady ) on a 6 month trip to South Africa in 1971.

I remember talking to Alice about her trip. I saw her photos, and enjoyed hearing about her adventures. I was 16 when she went on her trip, and was just becoming aware of some of the political issues that she witnessed when she was there. I don't think Alice had much idea about apartheid, and apart from a few not very pc remarks, her diary of the trip shows little awareness of what was going on at the time.

Alice, South Africa 1971

One of her diary excerpts describes an excursion in Cape Town.

Her trip was made on The Edinburgh Castle....note her reference to "natives" unloading luggage. Anyway, she clearly enjoyed her trip around Cape Town and loved the views from Signal I did.

Mark at Signal Hill

Table Mountain, from in front of Signal Hill....just as my grandmother Alice saw it 45 years ago.

I still have the photos that Alice took on her trip....with her little Kodak instamatic.

It is strange to think of her taking these photos in the Kruger Park, and having her roll of 24 snaps developed. I think she must have been pleased with the way these turned out. 

Alice's giraffe photo

Alice's lion photo

I, of course, took hundreds of photos in Kruger Park. I could check them each day, delete the poor quality ones, and enhance the best ones with some light tweaking or shadow tweaking.

Here are a couple of mine ....similar subjects !

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

District 6

Like many people my age, I marched against apartheid. I boycotted Barclays and  I wore my Free Mandela T-shirt.  I was delighted when 2 students in my tutor group, back in about 1980, spent a lunchtime loading a supermarket trolley with South African tinned goods, and dumped it by the checkout, shouting " Boycott South African goods", as they ran out. This occurred after we had been discussing apartheid in a tutor group session.

Steve Biko work within the Langa township did I not know about District 6 ?

My recent trip to South Africa has been an incredible experience. I'm sure I will be blogging about cricket, flora and fauna, animals and spectacular scenery in the next few weeks. However, today, I want to record some thoughts and images related to the political background to what I have now, personally witnessed. It has been a humbling experience.

"District 6" was the 6th Municipal district of Cape Town, established in 1867. It was a racially mixed suburb of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. It was a vibrant and close knit community where tolerance and freedom were central. 

Photo from the District 6 Museum, showing the area before it was bulldozed flat.

This became more and more undesirable to the apartheid government, so there was a plan to demolish all the buildings in the area and declare it a whites only district.

This is what District 6 looks like now......flattened, but empty....the planned white suburb never happened.

Between 1966 and 1982, the entire area was bull dozed. More than 60,000 people were forcibly removed, to areas like the Langa and Nyanga townships.

A scene from Langa, one of the Cape Town townships. The irony of the billboard was particularly haunting.

Incredibly enough, once the place was one was prepared to move in. What was a vibrant and thriving community remains a patch of derelict wasteland today. The feeling now is that it should remain as such, as a reminder of the forcible removal of all those people. There is now a museum which is documenting what happened and is a place for those people whose homes were destroyed and lives wrecked, to record their thoughts about what happened.

District 6 now.

One of the most haunting museum exhibits I have ever seen is the " namecloth".

It started as a narrow strip of calico, that ex residents of District 6 were invited to write on, recording something of their District 6 memories. Pens were provided, and hundreds of people started writing their thoughts on the sheet. Some women then had the idea of embroidering over the writing, and the namecloth began. It now measures over a kilometre long, and contains thousands of inscriptions.

Since 1999 women inmates from Pollsmoor Prison have been involved, along with other sewing groups, ensuring that the inscriptions are recorded permanently.

"I remember District 6 with fondness.. "

" My very best years was in District 6 "

" A completed piece to my own personal jigsaw of life"

"I would like to come back"
I am still asking myself why I didn't know about all of this ?

Learning about District 6, visiting Langa, and talking to people about the changes, and the slow rate of those changes, since Democracy, has been a very moving and powerful experience. 

The beauty of this country, the animals, the birds, the plants, the scenery....the cricket.....have all been seen with us recognising the dreadful history of what people in this country have been through......and it is not over yet. 

A Langa resident, today.......explaining how she burns the fur from sheeps heads, the cheapest meat she can buy.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Cake, according to Alice ( and Mary)

I have just put my Christmas cake in the oven. Usually, I manage to make it during the last week of October, but life has been busy since we got back to Hebden Bridge, and I missed my normal deadline.

Alice, one of the Overgate Hospice shop volunteers made this apron......the fabric is exactly the same as a duvet cover I had when I was a student ( bought from Stockport market in 1974 ). As Christmas cake making evokes so many memories for me, it seems appropriate to wear this when baking )

Since we returned from France, I have been working at the Hospice shop for 3 days a week, and have enjoyed seeing how the new Furniture and Vintage shop has been developing. It has been lovely to see staff, volunteers and some of my favourite customers again. 

Not a very good photo due to reflections....but this is Rita, a brilliant Overgate volunteer, with a dolls house....that sold very quickly after being put in the window.

What with working, seeing children and grandchildren, a few reflexology sessions, an attempt to declutter our crazily overstuffed Hebden Bridge house, a couple of concerts and some cinema trips.....well, the cake sort of got forgotten.

a quick phone snap of me with 3 of the munchkins is now 40 minutes into its 4 hours 45 minute cook, so fingers are crossed all will be well.

Whenever I make my Christmas cake I am transported back to my first ever attempt. I was 39, Jess was 3, and Jodie was 13, and asked if she could help me make it. I panicked. I had never made one before, I wanted to please Jodie, but I was anxious not to upset my grandmother, Alice, who had always made my cake before. How would she take to being told her cake making skills were not required ?

I am sure I have posted about this before, but as I go through these memories on an annual basis, I have decided to post anyway.

Our compromise was that I remained on the phone to grandmother Alice throughout the whole cake making process. Each step was spoken to me over the phone, from north London, to Huddersfield. Even after it went in the oven, we had frequent checking phone calls.....and then the final removal from the oven was undertaken only when Alice was convinced my cake tester had gone into the cake and had come out again, completely clean.

Alice later admitted that she had been really relieved not to have been required to make the cake....she was 85, and had been concerned that it would have been a little too much effort and responsibility that particular year.

The cake was great, Alice helped eat it as she visited us over Christmas....and I have been in charge of Christmas cakes ever since.

However, since Alice died......another grand lady has helped me. This year, as has happened for about the last 5 or 6, Mary Berry has accompanied me through the process.

( I always wonder, if I left out that one tablespoonful of black treacle....would the cake be a disaster ? It seems so crazy, to buy a tin each year, just for that one spoonful. I always forget it's in the cupboard when I make other fruit cakes, and never remember from one Christmas to the next, where I put last year's tin )

Jodie is 35 next year...Jess will be 25.....I wonder when I will hand over the reigns.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Hanging the washing out

We all used to do it. Now, maybe not so many of us do.

My grandmother had a stunning double decker washing line, with a pulley system that required strength and skill to operate. My job was to follow her down the garden and help position the two clothes props.

I am sure I have mentioned that hanging the washing out is special here, in past posts, but I don't think have properly recorded my wash day musings before .....until today. 

Years ago, when our family rented a house in  Provence, I realised I loved hanging out the washing.

The reasons being: 

we were on holiday, and there was never much washing, as it was always too hot to wear many clothes, so it was never a chore;

I never hung anything out " at home"...too wet, too cold, too busy working ridiculous hours during the day, so washing had to be done at night etc. etc;


the view from the washing line at the rented holiday house, was stunning.

So, when we bought our house in France, I was thrilled to find that the huge monstrosity of a 4 wired washing line, behind the house, offered stunning views over the village and to the distant Pyrenees. I have refused all offers to replace my old fashioned washing wires with one of those new fangled whirly things.

The novelty value of hanging washing out has long gone. However, I rarely hang it out without thinking of my grandmother's highly engineered set up, and I always marvel at the beautiful view. 

In the summer, when it is really hot, it is possible to hang out sheets, and take them off the line as soon as you have finished hanging them. Sometimes it is too hot to hang things out and I might seek a volunteer to do it, or wait until it is cooler.

Hanging the washing out in the autumn is just lovely. I have just put a couple of machine loads on the lines, and decided the time was right to blog about it !

As I leave the house by the back door, I look up to the washing line, and the forest behind the house.

I walk up a set of steps and turn to my right and admire the view. 

The virginia creeper is turning red against the ivy covered wall below me.

I step on a carpet of wild thyme, that  sends wafts of beautiful herby scent upwards.

The story book  pine forest is to my right as I peg out the clothes, the terrace where we sit and watch the grandchildren play boules is in front of me.

The pegs are carefully stored in a now, fading peg bag, made for me by Sharon who I used to work with at the hospital in Halifax. So I always give her a thought too, and then I wander back into the house......job done, and with such pleasure.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Examen normal

I need to start this post with stating that I cannot envisage life with out our amazing NHS.

The NHS saved my life 3 years ago, and continues to keeps its careful eyes on me. I have been lucky enough to experience the NHS at its very best, where it leaps into action, saving lives, providing absolutely, the best treatment and care, and doing it brilliantly.

I will always defend it, always wanting the concept of equality of service, available to everyone, free at the point of delivery....always, always.

In this post I want to describe how I have recently experienced the health system in France.

On Tuesday this week, I visited a local GP in our village. I had been experiencing some pain in my side as it hadn't disappeared after a few days of ibuprofen/paracetamol treatment. I am very anxious about pain, after my cancer experience, and had started to lose sleep, imagining the worst. My cancer was an aggressive strain, and I know I am lucky to be alive. The thought of its return is never too far from my mind.

So, at 5.15pm on Tuesday, I saw the GP. I did have to wait in her no appointments surgery for quite a while, but I saw her, on the day I decided I needed to see a Dr.

I spent half an hour with her, talking, being listened to, being examined and then discussing with her, what it might be. As far as she was concerned there was no question that I needed blood tests, an X ray and a scan to check things out, due to my cancer history.

The next morning, a local nurse came to my house, before breakfast, to take the blood. I was informed that I would get the results the following morning, by priority mail. I did, and they indicated there was no problem.

I had to telephone the hospital to arrange the X ray and scan, which I was able to do for the following day.

At 5.00pm, 48 hours after seeing the GP, I was called into the X ray dept, 15 minutes later I was led into the scan department by the Dr who discussed the X ray results with me, as she set up the scanning equipment. 20 minutes later, I left the scan department having been told there was no problem. No cancer, no unexplained masses.......a bit of ageing of the bones possibly, but most importantly, the scan had showed up nothing of any significance.

I left the hospital an hour after arriving, 49 hours after having first seen the GP, holding a copy of my X ray, a copy of my scan and a copy of the Consultant's report on the scan.

I have to add that I also carried with me the receipt for the bill I had just paid. I have an interesting collection of receipts and bills now..... 23 euros for the GP consultation, 8 euros for the nurse's visit, 38 euros for the lab work on the blood tests and 176 euros for the X ray, the scan and the Consultant's time.

The stack of bills

I can claim most of that back through the European Health card system, but to be honest, it feels like the best 200+ euros I've ever spent. Within 48 hours, any panic I had felt, was gone.

The pain.....probably nerve damage from my surgery and from chemo...possibly some scar tissue......all of which can be coped with, and medicated for if required.

The outcome would have been the same in the UK. I do not have cancer.....but it would have taken considerably longer to calm my nerves. I actually haven't had a scan in the UK since I ended my chemotherapy, two and a half years ago. When I have questioned this, the response has always been that there is no need, if there seems to be no problem. Reassurance scans are not something that our beloved NHS is fond of. 

So....panic over, normal sleep patterns resumed. 

I am not saying this is better than the NHS. It is different, and I do not know how it works. I know that there are schemes to ensure that people who earn less do not have to pay, and that those who earn more, pay for "top up " insurance. They do not hand over piles of cash when they received their bills from each stage of the process. They hand over their insurance details.

What I cannot fathom, is how it works so efficiently.

How can I get a Drs appointment on the evening that I decide I want one ? How can I have a nurse come to my house 15 hours after it is determined I need a blood test ? How can I get a scan appointment within 24 hours ? How can I be called for my scan appointment at exactly the time I booked ? How can I get the results immediately, and take away the hard copy evidence of my " examen normal " ?

This was a good experience. I can go to my next NHS check up armed with  a scan, a report and a stack of blood test results indicating "all is well ".

I really don't know how I feel about all of this. I want the values of the NHS, the principles of the NHS, the quality of the care provided by the NHS.......but I also want the speed and efficiency that I have experienced here in France.