Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas in Cranford

Deer at Dunham Massey

I went to Cheshire for Christmas. You can tell how hard the recession is biting in Knutsford, one of the two Rolls Royce garages has closed. In the posh little shops shoes are in the sale at a hundred pounds and most places were closed for four days, something unheard of where I live in Durham.

Knutsford, the Moor. All the poor ducks, swans and geese were sitting on the frozen ice

I can remember walking down Oxford Street years ago and being astonished that nothing was open on a Sunday. In Durham we live to shop. Conspicuous consumption is everything. Not that you don't get that in Knutsford. As you wander up the two main streets, King Street and Princess Street, the narrow road is full of enormous black cars which would look okay in a funeral procession, four by fours which have never seen a muddy country track and sports cars which would give my old Mazda a serious self confidence trauma if I had taken it with me.

No, no, I went on cross country trains.  Pause here for horror and shock.
The Monday before Christmas I ventured forth. I'm a nervous traveller, I don't like other people driving, I don't care that it's an aeroplane or a train, I don't trust anybody else, I'm not in control.
I dropped and momentarily lost my ticket, I dropped two of my three suitcases before I got on the train, the ticket guy looked sympathetically at me, obviously recognising that I was already a wreck and let me through the barrier. The suitcases were not full of gorgeous clothes, they were filled with the blessed Christmas presents which seem to get bigger and heavier every year.

The standard class was crowded and of course there were three first class carriages almost empty. I could moan on about this but it's enough to state it. That and my frustration.

Everywhere I go enormous people sit next to me. I'm the woman who attracts men of eighteen stone with backpacks. You could be killed when somebody turns around in the tiny space of a standard carriage. There was no food of course, just before I got off two hours later in Manchester Piccadilly a trolley reached me. It doesn't really matter, I don't eat any more on trains I sit there and worry my way across country.

The tickets, which you had to go through a barrier with before you got on were checked twice more on the train. There was nowhere to put one suitcase, never mind three. The only good thing about my suitcases is that they are a rather delicate shade of pink,can be seen at half a mile and I can't see why anybody would want to steal one.I did see a woman once getting off with what looked like my suitcase and I panicked but the poor soul just had the same awful taste as me.

The change at Manchester wasn't too bad, only fifteen minutes wait. It was bitterly cold but I got to Knutsford on time only to discover that my daughter who was picking me up from the station was caught in a traffic jam on the M6 and would be at least an hour. I struggled over the blasted bridge, stairs at both sides and eventually reached the ticket office and begged the man for a warm waiting room or a hot drink. Alas, there was neither but he must have caught the look in my eyes because he provided hot tea and biscuits and the heater from his office for me and another woman who had spent two hours in an unheated train getting the few miles from Chester.

So this week's Hero Award goes to the station master at Knutsford whose name I do not know. I hope he had a good Christmas.

Knutsford has a Booth's.  Booth's is like a better Waitrose, a small family company based in the north west and almost a good enough reason to move. Booth's is just that little bit posh, in a sort of apologetic way, as though it means to be down to earth but can't quite help being slightly up its own backside. One of its joys is that the staff are proper north western people and call a spade a spade, not quite like in Durham where we usually call it a bloody shovel.

The streets are filled with old ladies who wear Barbour clothes and expensive walking boots and gentlemen who wear brogues, and the park, actually its called the Moor for some reason, is filled with lots of other old people walking recognisable dogs like spaniels and Scotties.

In the bank some man thought I was from Workington. I'm not sure whether it's a compliment or not but different than usual where people think I'm Irish. The girls in the bank were dead chuffed as Barclays had awarded them four days off. Almost a holiday. The library was closed as well and while I don't begrudge the librarians time off I did miss the library being open. I feel rather lost without it as here it's open on Sundays.

Dunham Massey

My daughter works in retail so she didn't get much time off for Christmas. Up to Christmas Eve she was selling turkeys, sprouts and lots of chocolate desserts. Two days after Christmas she went into sale so that people who had been buying presents for their loved ones were now trampling such like underfoot. I thought nobody had any money. It doesn't show. Me, I'm worried about my gas bill since the heating has been on constantly for six weeks. My first letter on coming home was from the electric people to tell me that they are putting up the bills by over 5%.  Happy New Year to you too, you greedy  bastards.

This time next year, not being able to afford heat or light, I will be sitting by a candle eating my gruel. I can see where Scrooge got it from now, so many people with their hands outstretched towards my meagre income. I won't be able to afford Christmas, so there.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

In The Bleak Mid Winter Lizzie Gill may moan

Christmas has hit the city in a big way. The university orchestra is playing In the Bleak Mid Winter. Don't they know it makes me cry?  It reminds me of being a little kid and we had the most wonderful Christmases. The Salvation Army used to come and they would play my very favourite carol and we would stand while they played in the porch at the side door on Christmas morning and when it snowed as it usually did on Christmas Eve ( I'm not exaggerating, this was the Durham fells ) I used to go outside with my little brother and sister and dance in the porchlight.
I want to be eight again when my mother made broth and we had big fires and my dad put lights all around the enormous window in the lounge and we would run down the garden to see how good the effect was and Christmas Day was a haze of presents and turkey and seeing my cousins up the dale and getting everything I wanted. I was indeed a very lucky little girl.

Santa. Only an hour from the border he plays the bagpipes for the solider's charity.My friends, Joan and John Gray,were working at the Victorian Fair up at the cathedral. They run a jewellery business, Sterling Crafts. I've known them for fifteen years, one of the kindest couples I've ever met.
The green man
The lady who runs Entropy Glass in her gorgeous hat.Little donkey, little donkey ...

When you're sixty Christmas is more a case of wondering whether you have enough champagne to see you past the films on television, all of which you have seen before, making sure the vegetarians get their nut roast, avoiding the cathedral so that I won't have a fog around me when they sing the inevitable Bleak Mid Winter carol ( last year they outdid me by having it two weeks early from a Canadian choir and slipped it in to confuse me, I just hoped the woman standing next to me thought I had a seriously bad cold ).

 My lovely kid works in retail and the last damned thing she wants to see on Christmas Day is anything which needs a pan or an oven so we go out along with her lovely man who thank God is a meat eater. She has fish, we have beef and everybody is happy. Somebody else does the washing up and hopefully we will retire to the fire in their new two hundred year old cottage and all I have to get through after that is new year.

Don't start me on about new year, open sore of the single, unfavourite time of the widowed. The people next door to me used to go away and their kids would party.

I loved Boxing Day best of all, when I was married. We would go to the seaside, take the dogs and have a picnic. It's such a long time ago now but somehow I never get used to being alone.  I miss Richard. I miss the dogs and the cats and the house in the country where we were happy and the little girl my daughter was. So I don't do In the Bleak Mid Winter, not very well that is.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Marian's Mother

The little statue in my back garden

I've had one of those weeks. It doesn't matter that when I turn on the news everything is falling apart, it's me falling apart that I care about.  When I was young, well, about thirty four or five, married with a small child and feeling like the world belonged to me I had this friend called Marian and her mother lived just up the street from her as people very often do around here and sometimes I would go with Marian to see her mother.
Marian's mother was quite old - or was she?  she seemed old to me at the time. Marian's mother never went out, hardly ever moved from her chair and sat in front of the television with the kind of devotion which I would accord a C.J.Sansom book ( have you read the latest - brilliant. Five hundred glorious pages which I woofed down as other people do expensive chocolates ). The poor man writes a book a year and I just wish he would work faster so that I could gobble up the stories about the brilliant lawyer and his sidekick, Jack. When are they going to put it on the telly??

Anyway, Marian's mother.  I thought it was pathetic, there she was probably with several years in front of her lapping up daytime television. Now as things get harder as I get older I'm beginning to understand it. I think what I will probably do is to buy lots of computer games and spend the last ten years of my life zapping people into kingdom come. In fact I might start doing it now.

An old lady in Workington died overnight this week, apparently going to her outside toilet. AN OUTSIDE TOILET  ARE THEY SURE ?  Are there still such things?  And nobody found her. She lay in the back garden and died.

 There they are on the news telling old people to stay indoors. That's probably why Marian's mother lasted so long. She held the boredom at bay with cookery programmes and those dreadful celebrities talking about themselves and their projects, gardening programmes and other dross. I love to read gardening books and cookery books. I don't garden and I don't cook, perhaps it's just me gloating inside that I don't have to do yet another bloody thing. When you live on your own you get to do everything unless you pay for somebody else to do it. Howard looks after the garden and Marks and Spencer look after the food.

This week my world is falling apart. The libraries aren't buying my books, the librarians are losing their jobs,  my kids are fighting and I'm in danger of turning into Marian's Mother.

It won't do.  I have to turn into Auntie Mabel.  I go out with a friend on Friday nights sometimes to have a meal and discuss life and like everybody else we have good times and awful times and when we are having awful times we think of Auntie Mabel. Auntie Mabel when through more bad times than anybody else I know and lived to be ninety and always looked on the bright side.

 Auntie Mabel was a vegetarian, didn't drink and was kind to everybody and  my sister says If she had to give up beef and red wine she wouldn't want to live to be ninety so there you go. Auntie Mabel was quite happy with it but for the rest of us it has to be steak and shiraz and dark chocolate and watching Laurence Fox every night this week as the coolest man on television in Lewis.
So I won't give up just yet but I might go into town and have hot chocolate and see what's on telly tonight because I have two foot of snow in my front garden. Yes, that's my car.