Monday, 14 December 2015

The Perfect Christmas ( fictional obviously )

I like to read and listen again and again to my favourite Christmas Day scene and it comes Anthony Trollope's beautiful novel, Can You Forgive Her. I know it's a crap title, there's hope for all our titles.
It's set in Cumbria which is one of my favourite places, being as wild and untamed in parts as my beloved Weardale when Alice and Kate, who are cousins, go to stay at Vavasor Hall where their grandfather is the local squire.
This is mid nineteenth century and as unlike our Christmases now ( I blame Charles Dickens in part and Marks and Spencer for the rest ) as it could possibly be.
Alice receives a letter on Christmas morning - can you imagine that happening now, and this in the middle of nowhere  - which is from her cousin George in London, Kate's brother.
They have breakfast with their lovely grumpy old grandfather and then they go to Church.  The Hall is not far from Penrith and within an energetic person's walking distance from Shap. After church, with a big piece of fruitcake each to take with them, they set off on a long walk, promising their grandfather they will be home in time for dinner which is promptly at five o'clock.
Off they set in one of the loveliest places on earth and the day is fine and they are very close. And Trollope knows his Cumbria so well. He describes the lovely walk and their conversation and eventually Alice tells Kate that she has received a proposal of marriage from George.
They get back and their grandfather scolds them because the beef is almost on the table and they rush upstairs to dress for dinner. After that I imagine them sitting over a huge fire because that's the end of the scene.  In order to find out whether Alice marries George you should read the book or if you're idle like me download the audio which is read by Timothy West and is superb.  Trollope's women characters are the best in fiction.  His young men tend to be either dull or complete bounders. George isn't dull.  George, in Trollope's language, is a scoundrel.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Where is my Ark?

I heard on television news last night that the water authorities in Cumbria are saying that the people who have had to abandon their homes because of flooding won't have to pay their water rates until they are back into their houses. Was it meant to be funny?  Perhaps, having just come back from a very wet Kendal, I have lost my sense of humour.
In October when I had to abandon my beloved caravan for the winter my daughter suggested that I should plan ahead and spend a couple of days each month at a Premier Inn. So I paid up my £32 a night and duly booked Newcastle, Kendal and Ashington.
Last month in Newcastle I stayed at the wonderful waterfront listed building on the quayside and had meals looking at the Tyne bridge. The only criticism I have of it is that the wireless internet was absolute crap. The rest of it was so perfect I hesitated about coming home!
This month was to be Kendal. Unfortunately the awful flooding in Cumbria put me off rather but I went anyway. The River Kent had gone down but there are dozens of homes and businesses which people have had to leave. Outside on the pavements all their furniture, but the thing that really got me was that a lot of them couldn't get through to their insurance brokers and were advised to go online. The electricity has been off in Carlisle and other places so what were they to do. For some of them this is the second flood in six years. How heartbreaking. I know what it's like, I have been flooded. I remember my perfectly sanded and varnished maple floor disappearing beneath inches of water which had been through the sewage station first I think.  I tried to carry out the deep fat fryer, slipped and after that kept falling in again and again with oil on top of sewage.
My husband, being brighter than a lot of people, went off and bought a pump . He didn't want the rescue people anywhere near our pale pink carpets which were also brand new. We pumped the damned water out ourselves and me, at thirty six, and full of pluck,stood and cooked dinner in my wellies in six inches of water. Wow. Just call me Noah.
The Premier Inn in Kendal has perfect beds and if the lovely staff thought the strange older lady who lost her rag all too quickly over small matters was completely nuts I don't have the patience that I had at thirty six.
Less than a year after my beautiful maple floor was ruined my husband died and my life was ruined. It never got back to where it had been or maybe I should say that it never moved on in certain ways. I am forever banging my head against some bloody ceiling beyond which my happiness once was.
I feel as though my capacity to recover is at full stretch and so must those poor people in Cumbria must feel. You get to the point where if your internet doesn't work as mine doesn't on my phone now that the stupid Premier Inn internet knocked something about it, and the wine you are drinking too much of is rubbish, you lose it.
Your cafe is underwater, all the Christmas plans you made are horribly defunct and once again life is shitting on you from a great height. After I reached Kendal I discovered that they had just pulled some poor bloke dead out of the river. I have a very close relationship with rivers, since my husband drowned and some canoeists found my daughter unconscious.
So, with my friend Leah Fleming, I did what I could. I went to Kendal, I spent lots of money, I laughed and talked and ate and drank and wrote with my laptop on my little table in the Premier Inn's dining room. But please, if anybody from there should ever read this, talk to however provides the wine list there. It really is bloody awful and you can take it from me because I drink an awful lot of wine. It tops me shrieking from the rooftops when stupid things go wrong.