Wendy's life

This blog has been created as a celebration of the life of Wendy Margaret Cronin (born 16 October 1944 and died 10 October 2007). The blog owner (me) is Steve McRobb (aka Macro) - I was Wendy's partner and then husband for almost 30 years. To add comments or a post, you must be an invited friend or family member - email me if you knew Wendy and would like to join.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Is time really the great healer?

This post is a reflection on the nature of loss, the effects of grief and the passage of time.
People who have never suffered what someone (meaning to be kind) once called a "major bereavement" (way back when Wendy was ill, and we knew she would die) often think that grief naturally lessens over time. Maybe this is sometimes true. For those who have lost a parent, for example, especially if that happened a long time ago. I certainly don't grieve any more for my father, who died more than 20 years ago. Nor do I feel frequent or sharp pangs of grief for my mother, who died 10 years ago just yesterday. I often think with fondness, and sometimes with sadness, about memories of their lives, but that's all. However, I can't easily believe that time heals all losses.
For Wendy, I can still feel a grief that is so sharp, so immediate, so real, that she might have just died. When this happens it is hard to believe that it will soon be six years since her last breath. These episodes of vivid grief are certainly not as frequent as they were in the early days after her death. But I don't think they're any less shattering.
One happened just yesterday. Maybe I should explain that we're in the process of moving me and all my stuff to Angela's house (life to live!). Together, we had gone to my house to mow the lawn, collect post and pick up some more of my stuff. We sat on the swing seat in the garden eating a sandwich lunch. I was enjoying the maturity of Wendy's memorial garden - all the hollyhocks in full flower and the little fountain bubbling away in the sunshine, when the phone rang. I went into the kitchen to answer it. A cheerful woman's voice asked "Is Wendy there?" Sudden shock! For a moment, it was as if I was right back in the days when that was a normal event in any day: phone ringing, I'd answer, someone would ask for Wendy, I'd pass her the phone. Or say "I'm sorry, she's not here, can I take a message?" I fumbled, asked who was calling. She explained that she had run a Tai Chi class at Melton College that Wendy attended for a while. She was restarting the class, and calling up former students to see if they were interested. I remember Wendy and Duncan standing in the kitchen talking about Tai Chi, probably about 7 years ago. Not that long before she died. On the phone, I was matter-of-fact about what had happened. But after the call ended I just fell apart in tears for a while.
I know this is not unusual behaviour. It happens to both Angela and me from time to time. She can be overwhelmed by fresh grief for Mike, often triggered by piano music. Six years on, she still cannot bear to listen to some of his favourite pieces, because they unlock memories of him playing that are just too painful.
I don't want to over-dramatise this experience. Neither of us, Angela or me, is entrenched in our grief. We are happy together, most of the time. We are active in a variety of ways, physically and intellectually. We live our lives to the full, as best we can, and we accept the passing of time and the changes that brings to families and to the people within a family. But at the same time, neither of us believes that we will ever really "recover" - whatever that means - from our bereavement.
I think that what people really mean when they talk about time healing a loss is that emotions associated with a painful event are expected to become weakened over time, so that the loss no longer hurts. But wouldn't that mean that our attachment to someone we love is also steadily undone? Pain of loss is just one side of a coin. The other side of the coin is the love for the person. Without the love, there would be little or no pain. So, if grief lessened to the point where it no longer hurt at all, wouldn't that be as if we had never loved the person? Perhaps I'm exaggerating a little: losing my parents no longer hurts. But they were always so much older than me, and I think most of us expect from quite a young age that our parents will die before us. So to some extent we are mentally prepared. However, I think, in our more important relationships, and especially the ones we have chosen (partners, good friends) or have ourselves created the preconditions for (our children), we lay down such deep roots of affection that there is not enough time left in our lives for them to be undone to any degree.
Maybe this works for hatred, too. That would help to explain how ethnic, religious and political tensions are so able to destroy the peace of the world in so many places.
Immediately after Wendy died, I began to keep a diary, originally as a kind of continuation of her diary that she kept for years. A few weeks later I wrote in it: "Bereavement has wounded me deep inside in the place from which everything else springs. If I were ever to cease to miss Wendy in any aspect of my life, if I were ever to cease to honour her memory, then I would have ceased to be true to myself and what I became through our life together."
How would time heal that? And why should it?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Food, weight and greed

The gaps between my posts here are quite long - more than a year since my last. I suppose that's a sign that life does move on in new directions. But it doesn't mean that I have forgotten anything (I was once quite scared that I would) or that a day passes without me thinking about my life with Wendy. There is still quite a lot more I want to add to this blog.

I notice that the content has broadened, so that it seems to have become more than simply a catalogue of her wit and wisdom. More a memoir of her life, maybe. One aspect I've been thinking about is Wendy's relationship with food. All her friends and family will have memories to do with food or meals, because eating together was important for her. Meals at Christmas or family occasions (this photo was taken at Tim's 18th birthday meal), and social meals in each others' houses or restaurants were all important to Wendy.

But this post will focus mainly on her self-confessed greed and ongoing weight problems. Wendy struggled with her weight off and on throughout the years we were together. In good times she was size 12 or even 10. When she reached size 14 she knew there was a problem and she switched to her personal version of the weightwatcher plan. One year, she kept a photo of herself (taken on holiday, in France, as usual, this time standing above the Gorges d’Ardeche) on the fridge door as a constant and powerful motivational tool in her fight to lose weight. In my memory, and usually in reality (e.g. here on a Cornish beach, or here in Venice with Sam) Wendy was slender. But in that fridge-door photo (I can't find it right now, but when it turns up I'll add a link) she was decidedly stout. The difficulty was that she loved her food to the point of greed. Bread was a great weakness, but she especially liked “food you can get your hands in” – so lobster, crab and seafood like shrimps and mussels were also favourites. Once, in a restaurant by Collioure harbour flanked by Moorish hillforts at either end of the little bay, as she tucked into a starter of baby octopus in garlic, she said: “Pinch me so I know I haven’t died and gone to heaven!” Sometimes after a heavy meal she’d promise never to eat again. Certainly greed was in play in a restaurant in St Malo when she overate the night before our ferry home from a holiday in Brittany. When we went back to our hotel she lay on the bed and cried: “Don’t touch me, I’ll explode! I’m like a snake that’s swallowed a buffalo!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Wendy’s take on life, people and cats

This post represents another episode in my continuing reflection on Wendy's life. In particular, how she saw and treated people. Her friends and relations know that generally she was really easy to get on with, and her good humour was a factor in this. Also, that she didn't set herself above anyone, even people she didn't like. She said: “you can get on with everybody on some level, even if it’s just hello when you meet in the street.

At one of the ceremonies after she died, I said that she was a natural teacher. This appears throughout her life as a mum and gran, too. When her boys were small, she told them that she had been an angel when she was little herself. But she knew her Dad would contradict this, and that her boys loved to ask: “Grandpa, what was mummy like when she was a little girl?” A pause, then: “She were a little bugger!” Followed by squeals of laughter. When Wendy was a granny herself, she taught our grandson Sam to use a bread knife. Once he was able to cut a reasonably straight slice of bread, she "awarded" him an NVQ level 0 in bread slicing.

I think she was good at all that partly because she instinctively treated everyone on their own level, from little children to old ladies. She didn’t try to force understanding when it didn’t come naturally. With little children, she stuck to simple words and sentences that they could understand. In France, where her own knowledge of the language was weak, she said that it was a good idea to practice her French on little children, because they were accustomed to not understanding everything a grownup said to them, and also to not being understood all the time. The limitations of Wendy’s French were obvious when we camped on the Île de Ré and our airbed sprang a leak. I coached her in some words we thought she’d need: matelas pneumatique for air mattress, dégonflé for deflated. Wendy went off to the hardware shop in St Martin de Ré to try to get a repair kit. She got some very amused looks when she explained to the man that her matelôt pneumatique – her inflatable sailor!est dégonflé and needed repair. Tim still remembers his Mum waving her hands about to make herself understood in French – trying to substitute gestures for the missing vocabulary, usually without any success. Tim, by the way, had a narrow escape with his own name. When Wendy was little she had a dog called Timmy; so she told her son he was named after that dog – and that he was lucky he wasn’t called Fluffy!

Wendy observed that every old lady she knew (in turn she helped look after her Aunt Milly, Aunt Edith and my Mum) had to suffer a serious fall before she could accept that it was time to make some arrangements for more support, whether that was a residential home or just aids like a bath lift. So she knew not be too pushy about encouraging them to move in this direction. When her own kids were adults, if she thought one of them was making a big mistake about something, she’d say so – just once, quite quietly, then leave it alone. She expected that in a few months or a year, when experience had taught the lesson more forcefully than she could, they’d come to her and say: “you were right, Mum, that was a mistake.” It didn’t always happen, but there was really nothing to be gained by arguing. On the other hand, when her kids were little she knew they’d ignore her until the third time she called. That didn’t make her angry, it was just how little boys’ minds worked so that’s how she had to work too.

When people crossed or hurt her, Wendy would say: “I forgive but I don’t forget.” But actually, she could sometimes bear a grudge for a long time. She never really forgave Maggie Thatcher for what she did to the miners, to our kids employment prospects and to the country at large. It was Wendy's ambition to dance on Maggie's grave (though she knew the security would make it impossible, even if she lived long enough). Her boycotts also illustrate how long she could hold a grudge, with varying degrees of severity.

One of the first boycotts I remember began when we stopped at a Little Chef on the A1 near Wanstead. I think we were rushing home from my parents’ on a Sunday evening. The kids had been at their father’s for the weekend and it always meant trouble if Wendy was late collecting them. She wanted to phone to try to forestall this. But the manager wouldn’t allow us to use the phone because it was “for customers’ use only.” Although we used Little Chefs regularly on long journeys, she wouldn’t listen to our appeals. If we weren’t using the restaurant this time, we weren’t customers. So we hurried on, and decided we would never again be customers at that particular Little Chef. We’d show that manager! For years we laughed as we passed – at how ridiculous her attitude was, at how ineffectual was our attempt to shut it down in retaliation, at how probable it was she had moved on years before. Eventually the place did close and was replaced by another roadside eatery and garage. We joked that our boycott had finally succeeded, it just needed patience. I last passed it a couple of days ago, and the site is now completely derelict. Once a smart 1960s deco-style building with clean geometric lines made of flat roofs, curved white walls and steel windows, and cheerful red signs and poster displays, it now looks thoroughly sad and grubby. The white paint of the walls is peeling, the render is cracked through to grey concrete and the windows are boarded up. Rubbish blows around the deserted car park and forecourt where the petrol pumps stood. It made me think that all quarrels, however principled they might seem at the time, can ultimately look just pointless and tawdry. Easy enough to say in hindsight, though…

For a while we tried to boycott Tesco’s in protest at Dame Shirley Porter’s part in the Westminster vote-rigging scandal. But that proved more difficult because the supermarket’s rivals in Melton just didn’t have as good a range of products. Another quarrel, this one really just a bit of fun, was occasioned by Wendy’s maiden name: Starbuck. When she learned that the Starbucks coffee chain was named after the mate of the Pequod in Moby Dick, and no real Starbuck was connected with the company, she decided they’d stolen her name and had no right to use it. In retaliation she began a long-running boycott that I continue to this day in her memory.

A rather more serious boycott began when she took the car to a local parts shop to replace its failing battery. The manager called his mechanic friend and they tried to fit a new battery. But it was the wrong type and wouldn’t fit so they took it out again. Wendy drove off to look somewhere else, but when she tried to slow down for a traffic light the engine kept racing. She had to knock it out of gear to stop at all, and couldn’t get it to idle. By slipping the clutch she managed to park the car and fetched me from home on foot. I found the “mechanic” had pulled the accelerator cable out of his way and tucked it behind something while he worked on the battery. When he gave up, he left the cable stretched taut so that it couldn’t relax with the accelerator pedal. Furious at this incompetence and frightened at how dangerous it could have been, we went back to the shop. The manager shrugged off our complaint and denied any responsibility. We never went to that shop again.

For most of our life together we kept cats: first Shakti, killed by a car while trying to find her way back to a new and unfamiliar home, then Fritz (named by Tim "after your favourite author, Mummy - F Scott Fritzgerald") and Titty (named by Duncan after the Swallows and Amazons character). Titty also ran away and was never found. Then I brought Tensing into the house and for many years Fritz and Tensing lived together. Wendy treated her cats as people: friends and members of the family, though she never exaggerated either their capabilities or understanding. Both Fritz and Tensing were food thieves, given half a chance. Fritz also liked sleeping on the kitchen table near the boiler. Wendy noted that you can’t train a cat not to get on the kitchen table, you can only train it not to be on the table when a human’s in the room. Apart from that, Fritz was a gentle, neutered ginger tom, affectionate and very tolerant of little children when they pulled his tail or stroked his fur the wrong way. Maybe that’s why he often had an air of wounded dignity. Wendy concluded that in a previous life he had been an over-pompous retired Colonel, and had been reborn as our cat in order to learn humility. Leaving for work in the morning, she looked at the cats settling down for a good day’s sleep and said: “I know which of us has got the best deal.” Notwithstanding the lessons in humility that it might entail, she said when she died she wanted to come back as our cat. However, one of her plans for Fritz when he died was to have him skinned and made into a furry pyjama case. She thought it would be like still having him around.

In a similar vein when the boys were pre-teens she talked about having them made into rugs with their heads and paws still on, like tiger-skin rugs. These could be laid on the living room carpet gazing at the telly and you’d never know the difference. As I write this, the boys are still alive (and now have their own children) but Fritz and Tensing were buried years ago in the garden at their favourite snoozing spots.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Third Time Lucky?

It's taken a year—I didn't expect it to be that long when I wrote the post below, just before Christmas last year—but Wendy's new tree is finally planted by her bench. A lot of the delay was waiting for the lab report on the last tree. When we finally got this, there was no obvious reason for the tree's death, certainly no identifiable oak pathogens. But, while that meant it should be safe to replant on the same spot, it still seemed prudent to try a different species.

So, yesterday (by chance our wedding anniversary) most of the family joined me and with David Penney's help we planted a small-leaved lime, tilia henryana. It's a sturdy specimen with lots of healthy-looking buds, and David assures me that it will have beautiful autumn foliage and in time will grow into a large tree. Big enough to fulfil Wendy's wish that people should be able to sit on her bench beneath her tree.

Later, as it grew dark, we returned to the site and attempted to launch two sky lanterns. But it was too windy to get them lit, so we had to abandon that plan. But we did manage to set off a couple of rockets left over from bonfire night. Wendy would have liked that; she always loved pretty fireworks. She might not have approved quite so much of the way the rockets frightened the dogs, who were tied to her bench, and began barking and howling as the rockets flared. She might also have been a bit concerned that the second rocket startled a flock of geese, that chose exactly the wrong moment to fly across from the woods behind. We saw them too late to abort the launch but as far as I could tell it didn't hit any, and just honked a bit and landed safely on the twilit water.  Just a bit nearer to Normanton than they had originally planned...

This seems an appropriate time to launch a revised 'edition' of my poetry collection Golden Days, Dark Nights. All the original poems and songs are there, with a bit of reformatting. New material includes a full band version of the song Miss You, recorded with Jewellers Eye last March. Health Warning: the recording features Wendy's voice, taken from her last voicemail message to me shortly before she went into hospital for the last time. Perhaps best not to listen when you are feeling fragile. There are also several new poems, one a memory of Wendy called Your Special Talent For Sleeping. The other new poems are various reflections on life and love since her death. I hope you like them – click here for the contents page. Or follow the link at the top of the list on the right.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

More trouble at t' tree

My earlier optimism was sadly misplaced.  The second tree has died, presumably from the same cause as the first.  I've known this for a while, but only just got round to writing this post.

If you visit after New Year 2011, you may find that there is no tree there at all.  That will be because it has been removed for tests and analysis.  Once we know what killed it (currently the leading explanation is honey fungus) we can decide what to do next. The obvious choices are:
  1. a different spot a few metres away; 
  2. a different kind of tree that is immune to the illness.  
I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The memories keep coming

Here are some more that show Wendy's particular genius for life:
  • Everyone in the family laughed at Wendy's car parking; the word "parallel" just didn't come into it.  But she did invent a really useful technique which I still use when the need arises: audio parking.  It's dead easy to learn - move your car ever so gently till you hear a collision with the car in front (or behind).  Then you know you can't go any further.  Simple!
  • Wendy invented the concept of house deterioration.  This was based on her observations from the Leicester outer circle route through New Parks and Braunstone.  (You used to have to go that way to get to the M1 before the new Western Bypass opened).  She noticed that you could tell at a glance which council houses had been sold to their former tenants.  Most new owners immediately got a builder in to make their house worse, e.g. cladding it with bradstone, or putting in fake leaded windows.  It does sound a bit snobbish, but Wendy always hated houses made to look like what they weren't.  She wondered if there were companies that specialised in this kind of work, and how they advertised.  "New Right-To-Buy owner? Give us a call now!  We can deteriorate your house for you!"
  • Wendy did a bit of deteriorating herself, I discovered years later.  We finally refitted the bathroom at Craven Street around 2001, at last getting rid of the 1960s avocado bath suite.  After the work was done, she told me she had been carefully deteriorating the bathroom for years in the hope I would notice it needed renewing.  I can't honestly say I ever noticed she was doing it deliberately.
  • Wendy liked to mark occasions in family life with a proper ceremony.  The opening of the new bathroom was no exception.  When everything was ready she cut the green ribbon she'd tied over the toilet seat and we both toasted the new bathroom and all who... well, bathed in it.  You can see the photos in my Pictures of Wendy gallery here and here.
  • When we moved to our new house in 2005, we suddenly had four toilets after managing with just the one for all those years.  Wendy insisted on a ceremonial four-way flush of all four at once.  She, Duncan, Sam and I all went to wee in a different toilet and on her word of command we flushed together.
  • Just another of Wendy's more prosaic observations, but one I've found to be true many times: "Almost everyone you meet on a mountain or a long-distance footpath is nice."
  • In our garden at Craven Street was a mature holly tree.  Wendy didn't want it to get too big, so every year she got me to climb up on a step ladder and clip it to a roughly globular shape.  She called it the hollypop tree.
I'm sure that's not the end of my remembering.  But that will have to do for now.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Still more wit and wisdom

Even after nearly three years without Wendy, still every now and then I think of more nuggets of her very particular take on life.  I've mentioned in previous posts some of her thoughts about wildlife, but here are a few more.
  • She had various issues with the wildlife about who owned our garden. When the blackbirds and bluetits scolded her for working in the garden while they were trying to feed, she'd say crossly "this is my garden too!" 
  • She complained that you had "to be careful not to get a bluetit in your ear" as you passed their nesting box, when the chicks were getting big and the parents were constantly darting in and out of the box all day long. 
  • She wrote in her diary rather indignantly about "being told off by a thrush for sitting in my own living room" (the thrush was at the water feature just outside the patio doors). 
  • It wasn't only the birds that wouldn't behave. Some plants just wouldn't stay where she put them from one year to the next, they just kept "marching around the garden."
But Wendy could also sympathise with the birds.
  • She said once: "it must be really annoying for pigeons, having to move their heads back and forth like that when they walk."  
  • Watching a nature programme once on TV, there was some footage of a new emperor penguin chick emerging into the depths of the Antartic winter.  Wendy said you could see exactly what it was thinking from the expression on its little face when it first poked out of the broken egg and realised where it had been born. "It's thinking 'Oh no, I'm a penguin! I'm a bloody penguin!' - that's clear proof of reincarnation", she said...
On the other hand, she had no illusions about what life was really like for wild animals.
  • Most nature programmes were just "bonking and biting." 
  • And those beautiful songs of the robins and blackbirds? They could all be rendered simply in English as "I'll pull your feathers out!"   
Following the model of perma-frost, Wendy coined a number of useful terms.
  • Perma-fat describes those deep layers that can never be shifted by dieting or exercise. One reason that perma-fat is so persistent is that in restaurants, as Wendy said, "it's funny how you open your mouth to say 'salad' and the word 'chips' comes out." 
  • Perma-grot refers to all that stuff that stays at the bottom of a woman's handbag and is never used.  
  • Anyone with a desk job probably has perma-work: those bits of paper that represent tasks you never get round to doing. If you have an in-tray, it's probably full of perma-work.  So is your email in-box.
Wendy had some quite unique perceptions about lots of things. A few weeks before she died, she wondered aloud if she would make it to Christmas. Steven the gardener heard this and planted a shrub in the front garden. He said it was a Christmas box, and he hoped she might see it flower. Wendy told me that if she wasn't still around at Christmas, I should cut it to a square box shape and tie it up with red ribbons like a present. I'm still waiting for it to get big enough, but one day I mean to carry out her wish.

On holiday in Corsica one year, we drove over a high pass into a vast deep valley.  Far off on the slopes of the various mountains were little towns and villages wherever there was enough flat ground to build and to farm, some of them quite high above the valley floor.  Wendy said: "I like the way they put their towns on shelves here." Just like ornaments on the mantelpiece...

For 10 years or more after we moved to Craven St, we kept the old, rather ugly, brown carpet the previous owners left in our bedroom.  Eventually we decorated the room and a new carpet was planned.  We decided on a pale off-white.  For weeks before it came, Wendy insisted that all drinks going up to the bedroom had to be carried on a tray to avoid drips on the new carpet.  "Carpet training," she called this.

When we put the Craven St house on the market, Wendy thought little details would help sell it, like fresh flowers in the living room or the smell of fresh coffee or newly baked bread.  She decided to brighten up the rather dark hall with the white durry rug from the bathroom, and bought another identical rug so we could wash them in turn and one would always be clean.  Whenever a prospective buyer was due to view the house, she put the clean rug in the hall.  She called it "the show mat."

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Wendy's second tree: finally bursting with leaves

I had a replacement tree planted - another oak - last winter after it became clear the first tree had died.  I went to visit the tree today, and there is some good news.  It is finally beginning to burst, with new leaves sprouting from many branches. Wendy's wishes are finally beginning to come true: one day we will be able to sit on her bench in the shelter of her tree. 

Wendy and her snail re-homing scheme

I was listening to the radio last week - Material World on Radio 4, 13 May - and heard an item that was right up Wendy's street.  The programme has been running a contest for BBC Amateur Scientist of the Year, and one of the finalists is Ruth Brooks, a retired Special Needs Tutor.  That's already a coincidence, but there's loads more to come.  Ruth's proposed experiment is to find the homing distance of the snails that decimate her plants: "How far away do I have to dump them before they can't find their way back to my garden?"
Many years ago, I helped Wendy with some related research, although it was not conducted on a proper scientific basis. Snails and slugs used to devastate our Craven St garden, especially the hostas by the pond. Wendy tried several ways of getting rid of them. Being a good vegetarian, sympathetic to organic principles, and also just plain kind, she didn't want to kill them. She didn't mind frogs (we had plenty of them, thanks to our wildlife pond) or thrushes eating them, because that was natural. But they just weren't doing enough of a job. So Wendy started teaching snails to fly - over the back wall into the allotments.  One day a snail surprised her by flying straight back. On reflection, she realised other gardeners didn't want her snail flying students. So instead we began re-homing them. This involved first gathering all the snails (and slugs) we could find, usually going into the garden after dark with a torch and searching among the hostas near the pond. We collected them in a half-kilo margarine tub with holes punched in the lid so they could breathe, and usually a few half-eaten hosta leaves for food. For some reason, although this was all Wendy's idea, I seemed to wind up doing most of the night-time gathering. Then, the next time we had to go somewhere that meant driving out of town, we took the box of molluscs and 'liberated' them somewhere we thought they would like to live.  Preferably a long way from our garden.
In the early 90s, the term 're-homing' dropped out of use and we began to call it ethnic cleansing. This became a familiar term as the Bosnian war began to dominate the headlines, but I think the 'ethnic' concept first occurred to us when we noticed slugs and snails don't like to share a tub.  Snails like to clump together, but snails and slugs keep to separate sides of a tub.  After that discovery, we kept two tubs, one per species.
We did this for many years. The furthest I remember taking any was Derby. I had a gig there one night, and I was concerned that some snails had been waiting in their tub for several days. I released them under a hedge near the city centre. It didn't seem like a particularly good place at the time, but then central Derby doesn't have that many snail-friendly locations, and I didn't want to bring them all the way back to Melton.
We often speculated about how far a snail needed to travel before it could not find its way home, but we never did the research to find out. I was pretty sure the Derby ones never got back, but how about the Kirby Lane drops?  That's only about half a mile, and who knows? Maybe now we are finally going to find out, thanks to Ruth Brook's experiment. Wendy would have loved to know.
Latterly I've reverted to teaching snails to fly. Just over my back garden fence is the King Edward wildlife garden.  I don't reckon it will annoy anyone if a few more snails land in the undergrowth.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A perfect Spring evening at Wendy's tree

Last Monday evening, I walked round Hambleton peninsula with Angela.  Towards the end of the walk, we sat for a long while on Wendy's bench.  It was dark by then.  So many things about the evening were perfect, that it made me feel Wendy could not have chosen a better spot.  And it happens that it's a special place for Angela too, because by chance she and her husband Mike used regularly to walk to the place where Wendy's tree is now.

It was a beautiful sunset, with a blood-orange sky to the West and the light of a near-full moon reflecting pale silver off the lake to the East.  There are primroses here and there by the track, and wide swathes of bluebells on the southern side of the peninsula.  One or two early pink campions are out too, and at one spot there is a little colony of wood sorrel showing their delicate little white flowers.

Best of all, the nightingales were singing.  We paused a long time listening to one in the woods near the biggest patch of bluebells.  I tried to spot the bird by silhouetting it against the moon, but without success.  It's the first time I ever have been completely sure I was listening to a nightingale.  There was no doubt at all: so varied, so tuneful, so inventive.  At times a bit like a thrush, other notes reminiscent of a robin, still others like a blackbird, but some phrases and lilting notes that could have been no other bird. By then, the bats were hunting silently through the shadows above our heads.  As we sat on Wendy's bench, another nightingale sang from the trees close behind the bench and the evening star shone over the lake.

Sheep or rabbits are still nibbling the flowers we planted around the tree: two little narcissi were out a couple of weeks ago, but these are gone now.  Wendy's new tree has not yet burst into leaf, but it can't be long.  The buds are swelling, so all seems well with it.  Life to live!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The flowers around Wendy's tree

It's months and months now since I have written in this blog, but no day goes by without me remembering Wendy and missing her just as much as ever. Spring brings mixed emotions, like so much of my life now. It's heartening to see the daffodils in my garden in flower. And my pot of Wendy's cheerfulness is almost ready to burst into colour. But every new bloom also reminds me again that she is not here to see it.

So it seems appropriate that there should be good news and bad about the flowers we planted around Wendy's tree last autumn. If you go there today, there is not much to see but a few bare shoots.

A little over a week ago, I went there with Sam and we found two little irises and several snowdrops in flower. To prove they existed, here's one of the irises and here's a snowdrop. But last Sunday I went again with Marie and Bess to see if their crocuses had come up yet. Sadly, everything was gone except one battered-looking snowdrop.

It seems the sheep have been feasting!

There are of course photos in my 'Wendy's Cheerfulness' gallery to record the brief life of the flowers in her new garden by the lake. There are also more pictures of the stunning sunsets that seem to be so common along that shore.

When I told Tim the sheep had scoffed the flowers, he said "Mum would have quite liked that!" I think he's right.

And anyway, it won't be too long now before the bluebells will be out in the woods nearby.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Memorial Walks

Over the last week, there have been a series of memorial walks for Wendy. Photos from the Scafell Pike walk on 11 October are now on my website. If I can, I'll add photos later from the 'ladies of leisure' walk on 10 October and the 'softies' walk on 19 October (both round the Hambleton peninsula).

Wendy's childhood

I recently found this reminiscence about Wendy's childhood on our computer. I don't yet know when she wrote it, or for what purpose, but it is a bit special and I thought it should be shared. I haven't edited it in any way.
Wendy always said she was a happy child. This helps to make it clear just why that was.

Harby Childhood Memories 1944-63
When I was 7, June Kemp and I went to Woody Butcher’s at lunchtime to have her warts charmed away. Woody looked at the warts and gave us tea and bread and butter and we waited and waited for her to say the magic spells and put her pointed hat on. She didn’t and we were late back to school. She hadn’t done anything! The warts disappeared.
Woody and her brother lived in School Lane opposite the Institute. She had an enormous goitre which greatly enhanced her image as the ‘wise woman’. My mum said she could charm warts and help animals to get better. She was a kindly lady who gave me my first houseplant. It died. I obviously didn’t have her powers.
There were two distinct territories in the village – the Top End and the Bottom End. We Bottom End kids were a bit scared of the Top Enders. Once, when we got chased by Top End boys, they stuffed maggots and a dead starling down our backs. I’ve had a horror of dead birds ever since!
In the summer we children would go haymaking at Furmidge’s Farm next to the church. A bottle of Vimto was essential. We would all ride in the big wooden hay waggon behind the tractor and sing on the way to the hayfield. You had to walk back or (if you were lucky and didn’t mind the teasing) you might get a ride on a boy’s bike crossbar.
Miss Buxton would give you a penny if you ran an errand to the post office for her. She was our infant teacher. We liked her very much. I remember her twin sets and pearls and comforting bosom. Looking back I realise what an excellent teacher she was and how much she loved us kids. A penny at the post office would buy two ha’penny chews, a traffic light gob stopper, 4 liquorice laces, a sherbert sucker, or a quarter of ‘rat turds’ (pronounced ‘tods’). I think they are more delicately called ‘liquorice torpedoes’ now.
Mr Lane the headmaster at Harby School in the fifties. He was a truly inspirational teacher and made going to school interesting. We listened to Schools radio, went on nature walks to the canal, worked out the area of the playground. He let me paint the sky green the same as in the print of Van Gogh’s Caravans which hung in the classroom. We had awful mental arithmetic tests in the afternoons and I was caught cheating.
There was a tennis court in the rectory garden and village people were allowed to use it. The tennis balls were kept in a brick hovel but it was guarded by a flock of rectory geese. If you wanted to play you had to risk the wrath of God’s geese.
We’d go scrumping in Bastick’s orchard and Boyer’s orchard (it was a real orchard then). Someone would yell, ‘Blundy’s coming!’ We’d go pelting down the road, hearts thumping, raining apples. P.c. Blundy was a man of swift and summary justice.
There were two Nelly Starbucks in the village. One was my mum, the other lived by the post office and had a Jack Russell terrier.
Opposite my dad’s garage were the blacksmith’s shop and a tiny white cottage on the opposite side of the junction. Miss Kemp lived there. The grassy corner next to her house was known as Parliament Corner because all the old chaps used to congregate there in the evenings and put the world to rights. There was a large, very distinctive stone on that corner. It seems to have disappeared.
When I was 15 or 16 I was seen kissing a boy from Clawson at the bus stop. Someone told the Rector in the post office. The Rector told my mum. Mum said that if I wasn’t careful I would ‘get a reputation’. A ‘reputation’ was dire indeed in Harby in the Fifties and early Sixties.
I was adopted and it wasn’t a secret, though in the Forties and Fifties it was considered rather shameful. No-one in the village, not even the children, ever said anything unkind to me. I was very lucky to grow up in Harby. My mum and dad, Harry and Nelly Starbuck, were wonderful parents.


Wendy Starbuck (now Cronin)

Monday, 22 September 2008

Pictures of Wendy


Those of you who were at Wendy's thanksgiving ceremony last November will remember the many pictures of her which were shown as a rolling display. I've now posted these online and you can see them here. I still have some to add, and I'd be grateful for contributions if you have any more photos of Wendy. You can also add comments, if you knew her and can tell us anything about the context of any of the photos, or can name any of the other people in them.