Beating The Covid Blues

When I read a story recently about a bespoke purveyor of sweetmeats closing his doors, it gave me such a jolt that I decided to come out of lockdown and share with you my very own Covid-19 conspiracy theory.

Poor, maligned bats – I am very fond of bats – and those appealing little pangolins have nothing whatsoever to do with this wretched pandemic. The only species involved is, unsurprisingly, homo sapiens and of that kingdom, the orders of dentists, bakers, chocolatiers, vignerons and dieticians are chiefly responsible.

You can see them, can’t you, gathered for drinks somewhere –  my bet is the cellar door of the vigneron – a random gathering where one bright spark (possibly the vigneron herself who used to be a brilliant chemist) comes up with the great idea. What we need is a bit of a pandemic … bad enough to bring on a lockdown! When people will stuff themselves with rubbish and drink too much for weeks on end. The dentist and the dietician were visionary enough to see where this would end and hopped on board.

This, of course, is where the mysterious “lab” comes in. It may have been in Wuhan, it may not. It could have been in the Hunter Valley or Bordeaux or Huddersfield. It matters not.

The catastrophic results were presumably not exactly what the conspirators intended; nevertheless, they were doubtless among the few who got richer while everyone else – those who didn’t die, that is – got poorer and fatter.

They were right about one thing: in the household in which I dwell, somewhat more alcohol and very much more rubbish have been consumed in the last two-and-a-half months than we could possibly have anticipated. And no, we are not looking better for it. But yes, it has helped the time to pass and tempers to remain unfrayed in a most delightful way.

To put you in the picture, we have had five people – three adults, two teenagers – working from home. I include myself because I have been cooking for them all. I have also been in charge of the cellar. (The quality of our wine does not warrant the term sommelier.)

Let us start with the aforementioned confectionery. For most of the lockdown period, something most unusual has occurred: the daily appearance on the kitchen bench of packs of lollies or blocks of chocolate. Or both. Bullets, jubes, jellies, mints, freckles, party mixes with milk bottles and false teeth, sour squirms, strawberries-and-cream, even musk sticks. Someone deemed this necessary and it was found to be good.

I have been baking, of course, when flour and sugar have been available, channeling my mother who made two sorts of biscuits and a cake every Saturday morning for as long as I can remember; things like ginger nuts and jam drops, yo-yos and rock cakes and countless others. So with that upbringing, I felt I should make an effort because I guess it’s nice to have a biscuit or a muffin with your fifth cup of tea. (It doesn’t seem to matter so much with coffee). I don’t drink tea but the others feel the call constantly – much as I get called to the wine cask around 6.00 p.m.

Apart from the biscuits, there are the boxes of donuts (donuts!) which my son-in-law thoughtfully brings home, not to mention the magnificent croissants and bagels and orange cake and the heavenly bread he has managed to find nearby. Who would bother to wrestle with sourdough when that is available? Added to which, my granddaughter has taken to making cupcakes. And pikelets. And pancakes. Oh, the temptations.  My sympathy for Eve has grown daily. All these goodies have been aberrations from our normal eating habits, brought on by the apparently widespread feeling that current circumstances mean we’re entitled to whatever little treats we can find.

This has naturally extended to my job as chef de cuisine. I really enjoy cooking. But how to make the average family meal a little bit more exciting? How to add fun, delight, joy, how to make it special and exciting and even a bit of an adventure for these difficult, dare I say, unprecedented times? No, delete that, I will not say u………..d. Poor word must be exhausted.

I have tried. I have tried very hard, bearing in mind that one of the family doesn’t eat fish, one dislikes lamb, and one would be happiest living on vegetarian noodles. There have been some interesting disasters. Take fusion cooking, for instance. Nice, awful or just plain peculiar. Chilli con carne lasagne falls into the last category. We won’t be having that again. On the other hand ….

Jill Dupleix, you are a gem. I have never before in my life eaten mac and cheese. I have certainly never cooked it. But there was your recipe in The Age. I saw it and giggled a bit and thought how my grandson would really, really like it. Pasta and cheese, a bit of bacon, what’s not to love? There are a lot of bad things about America right now but this didn’t sound like one of them. I made mac and cheese. Everyone smiled and laughed and was happy. So I made it again. Same result.

If anyone has a recipe that will produce the same result, would they be kind enough to share it?  And I’ll send you a box of chocolates and a big bag of snakes.

 

 

All Together Now

I was determined to write a blog without mentioning It, The Thing, the Great Pestilence, the End of the World As We Know It.  I can’t.

It’s everywhere, isn’t it? Seeping into your consciousness, unavoidable. I swear I won’t watch television, won’t read the paper, there’s nothing new to know, I tell myself. But it draws you in, like a bug to a Venus flytrap. The awful stats from Spain and Italy, the crisis in New York, the latest lies from the mouth of the Great Pinocchio, not to mention our own government’s pleas for us all to do the right thing and be good little Australians. Which most of us are attempting to obey, usual idiots excepted.

Remember when there were other things to talk about? Shows we’d seen, books we’d read, trips we’d made, the little Azerbaijani restaurant we’d discovered and how much everyone seemed to have aged at the school reunion. (Those who clearly hadn’t had Had Work Done.) At least we’ll be spared that this year. Now conversation revolves around loo paper and who’s behaving badly.

This too will pass, we tell ourselves, and of course it will, but I do wonder what a Christmas in lockdown would be like. More than a little debauched, I suspect.

I have been away on a trip myself.  Not “away” as in some desirable overseas destination, definitely not Aspen and certainly not on a cruise. I haven’t been on a cruise since the LB and I went to England on a line voyage in 1970. Do line voyages even exist any more? This was just a very short trip before the portcullises came down and the planes trooped home to their hangars for a good old scrub.

I went first to Sydney, staying with my oldest friend (besties for 72 years, can anyone beat that?) and catching up with others, suddenly aware how much they matter, and then on to the central coast of NSW to spend some time with my sister, ten days in all. I would have stayed longer but my son, who works in Canberra and knows things, kept suggesting I get home “while I could” so I kept to my original schedule and scurried back to Melbourne like a rabbit to its burrow. Just as well as things turned out. But I’m really glad I went.

And now it’s come to this: the great lockdown. I thought I would get a lot of writing done because that’s what writers do. Sometimes, if they have a deadline approaching, they prefer to clean the oven, but my days of deadlines are long gone. I thought I’d just write. Fiddle with the abandoned book or something. After all, there’s time to spare and few things I enjoy more than playing around with words. That doesn’t include getting beaten by my daughter at Scrabble which is beyond mortifying.

In these strange times, however, nothing is turning out as expected. I find that writing is near impossible. The world is too distracting. The television sits in the corner, demanding attention. There are friends I must ring, just to say hello, are you okay? There are funny emails and text messages to pass on, because everyone needs a laugh. And of course I had to choose my winter wardrobe.

Online, I went through all the sales at Myer and David Jones and everywhere else. Such gorgeous things, such enormous discounts. Stuff I could wear from the bedroom to the laundry. From the laundry to the living-room. Finally I went to Kathmandu and there it was, the outfit of my dreams. Thermal top and leggings. In the cart and straight to checkout.

I must say it’s a little galling to hear of all the creative work being done by my friends. The knitting and sewing, the painting and re-decorating, the cooking and baking and cleaning, not to mention the hours of online Pilates and the acquisition of new skills like Tai Chi and taxidermy. I keep looking for something that might appeal. I could learn Latin again. I haven’t done Latin since year 7 but I liked it then. Worth a thought. Tomorrow.

I can’t get inspired and go on wasting time. I was put off physical activity by the gardening episode. I needed to move a near-dead callistemon from its pot, where it had been for many years. It had other ideas. A valiant battle took place and I ended up flat on the grass, looking at the sky. My back still hurts like hell and I was castigated by the children. More humiliation. I mean I didn’t even fall, I tumbled backwards. Wrestling with a damn tree! Alright, shrub.

So I am having another crack at writing. By the way, is anyone else finding the constant references to the old and the elderly and how vulnerable we are, just a little bit over the top? I know it’s well-meant, but honestly, we are not made of eggshells. Joe Biden is 77.

Yet in all of this a strange thing has happened. I suffer from chronic depression as some of you may have surmised. Not the terrible, can’t-get-out-bed sort. Not, god-forbid, the I want to end it all kind. Just the not-minding-if-it-did-end kind, which is entirely different. But lately, with this wretched virus everywhere, I have felt the black cloud lifting just a little, while several of my close friends have told me how down they feel. I have no idea why it’s proving different for me.

Perhaps it’s because I keep thinking how damn lucky I am. I have a roof over my head and my family have jobs and I have a pension. It’s a good time to be a pensioner. Then again, you can’t wallow in your own problems when people out there are dying for lack of a ventilator, so many of them in my beloved Italy. (I wonder if the Italians will start paying their taxes after this? If the Lega Nord will be quite so popular?) Or perhaps it’s something very simple, just the feeling that we are all stuck in this peculiar, sad, frustrating moment in time together, all of us players in the game. And with all the sorrow, we do keep hearing about so many acts of kindness and generosity, of sharing and downright selflessness, it makes your heart sing. So how is  COVID-19 treating you?

Happy Easter or Passover or chocolate bingeing or whatever your thing is. I hope you find something to laugh at and don’t catch anything nasty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nags and Rags

Regular readers of my blog may remember a little story about a racehorse called Greg. (Not his real name.) You will undoubtedly be amazed and delighted to know that Greg has Come Good. Or at least appears to be doing so. He had a nice win at Geelong a couple of weeks ago and last Sunday we went to see him race at Fabulous Flemington. He had trouble with the bit and lost by half a nose, he’ll do better next time, we are all quite sure of that. You have to stay positive in the racing game.

Understand that I do not own a hair of this horse and my son-in-law owns barely half a nostril. Nevertheless, we had owners’ tickets so got to all the important places and it was most enjoyable and cheered me up. I love the atmosphere at a racetrack, especially a meeting like this which was a fun, twilight affair between country and metro, no group one events or anything like that, very much a family outing.

But this blog is not about horse-racing. Our tickets allowed us entrance to the members’ enclosure but my son-in-law (who’d not been to Flemington before) was smartly but not acceptably attired. Gentlemen over the age of twelve need a jacket and tie for the members’. Jackets may be removed between November and March. Ladies must be, well, dressed like a lady. Denim is banned for all sexes, no matter who designed it or what it cost. I can’t say it bothered us; we went to the owner’s bar and were given a complimentary drink which was nice because to have paid for it would have left us bankrupt. Anyway, as I said, it was a lot of fun.

However, it did get me thinking about the often antiquated business of dress codes and about dress in general. The VRC gate-keepers were frightfully nice about it all and we, of course, were frightfully polite back, but what, I thought, was the point? How did donning a tie make you a more worthy person? More fit to enter this hallowed stand?  Did it confer superior intellect? Better breeding? I doubt if any of us could have competed with the horses in the breeding game.

I guess at times such codes have their place. You don’t want people turning up at a wedding in fancy dress and outdoing the bride, though that would be nigh on impossible with some of the bridal gear I’ve seen lately. And I do think nudity is out of place in a restaurant unless everyone else is nude too – do they exist, nudist restaurants? A bit off-putting I would have thought, all that pink flesh next to the pulled pork.

It can, I’ll admit, be a help on an invitation; “black tie” lets you know exactly what’s expected and unless you’re a freemason, it generally means a trip to the formal hire shop. On the other hand, “smart casual” is open to so many interpretations, it seems to be of little help at all.

I’m not including uniforms in this discussion. I can see that they have their place in the defence forces, camouflage and dirt resistance being important, and knowing whom to salute or shoot, and of course they are absolutely essential in schools, where their main object is to help keep mothers sane.

The dress codes I really got to thinking about on the way home from Flemington are the ones we go along with because they give us a sense of belonging, sometimes of exclusivity; they make us feel part of the tribe, of some magic inner circle. At least, I suppose that’s why we go along with it. Why else would a man wear a tie on a hot, muggy Melbourne day? Or at any other time if he doesn’t like ties? Why would women wear high heels unless they are actually comfortable in the damn things?  Or dresses, for that matter, which a friend insists were invented by men to keep women in their place. So much harder to run in a dress.

Things do seem to be easing off, thank goodness. While most women cling to an irrational desire to spend a fortune on a white wedding dresses (just who are they kidding?), we no longer see the need to wear black to a funeral or even a hat to church – though you’re taking a risk if you go to the Melbourne Cup without one. And more and more schools are giving girls the choice of pants. Baby steps.

So do clothes maketh the man? Or woman?  You’d think so, the amount of time and money we spend on them. We buy them, far too many of them, in shops and op shops and online, and throw out just as many; we brave sales and drive miles to hunt down that perfect piece in some obscure outlet.  And finally, just when we think we’ve got it all together and feel really good about ourselves, some doorman or bouncer or guardian of the gate says, “No, sorry, you don’t meet our dress code.”  Time they got an honest job.

 

(P.S. Thank you to all those who responded to my last blog, which was quite a cri de coeur. The support and kindness I received was very much appreciated.)

 

 

No Country For Old Women

I’m afraid this blog is going to read like an out-pouring of self-indulgent misery. If you’re not in the mood, if you haven’t taken your anti-depressives, stop reading now. It has been one of those weeks. One of those months, several months. It didn’t start with the fires but they certainly kicked it along, my misery, and I personally didn’t lose anything except sleep.

Then came the impeachment trial, with the fiercely eloquent Adam Schiff casting pearls before swine. How can the American Senate decide that it’s okay for the president to do whatever he like if he thinks it’s best for the good old US of A? Those proceedings did nothing at all to cheer me up, I found them quite terrifying.

And the final little coup de grâce? My hair is falling out once more, great chunks of it all over the bathroom floor, damp with my tears. It’s not in the crowning glory class at the best of times, but I’d rather be in level 8 pain than lose it again. Which other women will understand, though men may not.

Waiting to see my GP recently, I picked up a copy of The Senior, a monthly publication aimed, like this blog, at old people, but far more earnest and worthy. It had a few interesting articles but, overall, did little to lighten my mood. It was full of ads for things like funeral insurance and mobility aids and, of course, “retirement living.” Some of the retirement living looked fine and some of it was clearly a euphemism for “nursing homes,” and anyone who has followed this blog will know what I think of nursing homes. So overall, I don’t think I’ll be taking out a subscription and next time I have to visit my lovely GP, I’ll remember to take my Kindle.

The thing is, it has dawned on me lately that the older I get, the less I want to get old. That is, the less I want to get really old. The thought of celebrating, say, my ninetieth birthday fills me with something approaching, if not horror, well certainly distaste.

I am not ageing gracefully at all and, being a perfectionist, if I can’t do it well, I’d rather not do it at all. I suppose if I were very rich and in very good health, then it might be easier. I could go around distributing funds to good causes and feel I was being useful. I could also travel and spend my money supporting third world economies. (I paused there for a moment to check my Tattslotto ticket and got the usual snide comment, “No Prize Won.” I do feel they could at least add a “Sorry.”)  So the previous scenario does not apply.

I recently had a colonoscopy, a triennial bit of excitement due to the fact that my mum died of bowel cancer. Reading the gastroenterologist’s comments afterwards, I discovered that my colon was “extremely redundant.” Extremely? That was a little confronting. I wondered what other bits of me had suddenly become unnecessary, useless even. My brain, perhaps. While I have no idea what redundancy means, medically speaking, I wasn’t surprised, since I actually feel that all of me is extremely redundant.

I drift around doing very little that seems of any great value. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean that life is without its pleasures. I have family and friends to love, books to read, films to see, Netflix to binge on and cheap wine to cheer me up in the evening.  But none of that is going to make the world a better place. Yes, I could volunteer and I’m trying but there’s a limited market for decrepit old women without a driver’s licence. And anyway, they want you to have a police check.

Seriously though, I would like to feel useful instead of redundant. I’m sure Scotty from Marketing would like it too. Actually, I’ve been wondering lately why the government doesn’t let us old people just die off quietly. We know we’re a terrible drain on the economy. We know there aren’t enough babies being born to grow up and look after us. In fact, come to think of it, maybe the government is trying a form of surreptitious eldercide. After all, they’re encouraging us to work longer and longer. They are making the retirement age higher and higher and giving us less and less to live on. I mean, the diet we are encouraged to eat – things like lean meat, fish, fresh fruit and veg, almonds for heaven’s sake – and the diet most of us can afford, are getting further and further apart. And medical treatment for the elderly is sometimes just plain cruel. Example: A lady I know of, who is 86 and lives with severe chronic pain, was recently denied Targin by her GP on the grounds that she might become addicted. Like it matters at 86?? Targin is an opioid and wonderful for chronic pain; I should know, I’ve been on it for years. My doctors don’t do agony. This lady has no such luck. She lives in the country and can’t just find another GP. She’s expected to suffer in silence until it kills her.

So there you have it – forced labour, instant noodles and torture. Well alright, I’m exaggerating a bit. But it doesn’t make you feel like a valued, needed, wanted member of our great Australian society.

If there is a god (and unfortunately, I’m quite sure there isn’t), she would give me another couple of years at most, throw a lovely party for me and whisk me away.  Yes, yes, I know it doesn’t work like that. But it’s a nice thought.

I met up last week with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen for nearly twenty years. After the tears and hugs and hours of catch-up, we got down to the nitty-gritty. She has just lived through the Mallacoota fires. She didn’t lose her house, though she’s terribly shaken by events. She has a wonderful partner and a large and loving family. And she feels exactly like I do. Like she wouldn’t give a damn if it all ended tomorrow.

I wasn’t going to publish this blog, I thought it was such a downer. However, several women encouraged me to do so because they’re struggling too. So is this malaise confined to the sisterhood? Or are there men out there who are similarly affected? How are you getting on?

 

 

 

 

 

Us Two

They wave goodbye, the door slams, the car pulls out of the drive. They’re gone and it’s just us two: dog and me.

I don’t mind at all. I think it will actually be rather nice, a couple of weeks of peace and quiet, doing exactly as I please. Bliss.

Dog does not agree. Dog is only happy when the whole family is gathered (I am irrelevant in this scenario). Everyone in their place, ready to dance attention on her. Dog, as I may have mentioned in the past, is just a little bit needy. And now here she is, left with me for the duration.  She would as soon have been left with Cruella de Vil. I attempt to make a fuss of her. I promise to love her and feed her and take her for w-a-l-k-s. She looks doubtful, she doesn’t trust me. She rolls on her back so I can rub her tummy, not caring in the least about the pain in my back when I have to bend. I must prove my bona fides.

That evening I feed her. Her diet consists mainly of very expensive dry food prescribed by the vet and little besides. She has an immature digestive system; treats from the table, apart from tiny bits of chicken or salmon, upset it drastically. Generally speaking, she’s a smart dog, but these restrictions are beyond her comprehension. Tonight, she doesn’t want the dry food.

She looks at me with those large brown pools which in other dogs are merely eyes. Can I not see how she is suffering? How lonely and miserable and desperately unhappy she is and how a little piece of my tiny lamb chop, or all of it, might cheer her up a bit?  I’m not buying it. They’ve only been gone about six hours. They always come back.  She should toughen up, she’s not a puppy any more.

She skulks off, giving me pitiful backward glances, and starts a hunger strike. I feel like a monster but know that she’s unlikely to starve herself to death. I mean, the odds on my having to call the kids and inform them of her demise from malnourishment are not high. All the same, it’s a big responsibility. You can’t help worrying.

Later, I watch something on Netflix and she ignores it and me from across the room. Eleven o’clock comes and she slinks off up the stairs, ignoring her expensive bed and her large selection of comforting and educational toys. I decide that she can sleep on my daughter’s bed, or my grandson’s. Just this once. We can’t inflict too much suffering on night one, the trauma might affect her temperament for years. Might turn her into a bundle of neuroses or, worse still, into a little Hound of the Baskervilles. And she normally has such a sweet nature.

She continues to play the princess for the next few days. Even a walk every day, more than she usually gets, does not console her. Of course, it’s just a walk on a lead; I can’t take her to the big park with the off-leash area because that’s a drive away and I don’t drive any more. Once again, I feel I am Letting The Side Down. She is still barely eating. People call in and make a huge fuss of her and threaten to steal her. This is a normal occurrence but now, for the first time, I am tempted to say, “Please! Go ahead!” The wronged woman act is getting me down.

Finally, around Day 4, I give in. Since I am having chicken myself, I throw in an extra tenderloin for her. I cut it into small pieces and plate up, the chicken scattered enticingly over the Royal Canin Digestive Care. She wolfs down the chicken, this is more like it! And even a little of the other stuff. She doesn’t thank me, this is no more than her due. She pesters me for more chicken until I have finished eating. She doesn’t get it. I know the result of an excess too well. She, of course, has forgotten.

We muddle along. She resigns herself to the fact that they won’t be home any time soon. New Year’s Eve comes. We lived in Mallacoota for eleven years. It was a long time ago but we still love the place and have many friends there.

It’s Hogmanay and I’m on my own. I do not open my bottle of bubbles, it doesn’t seem appropriate. I sit glued to the news. Then I’m watching Charlie Pickering, valiantly trying to make the celebrations festive. It’s not working. Not for me, anyway. I turn the telly off. There’s a damp nose nudging my knees and those huge brown eyes looking sadly up at me. I pick Tess up and hold her tight. I realise how smart and sensitive and utterly adorable she is.

I find gravlax in the fridge and give her some. It’s New Year’s Eve, after all. No point in us both being miserable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once More Unto The Breach

 

I feel like an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon but the itch is driving me mad. It doesn’t help that I’m surrounded by old friends, egging me on; friends with names like Fowler and Brewster and Roget and Murray-Smith. Few people under sixty will know my friends but they may be familiar to other ancient writers.

When I said, a few months ago, that I was going to retire, I did really mean it. Well I thought I meant it. I felt I had nothing more to say and that’s still the case.  But the fun of playing with words, of seeing them pop up on the screen in some sort of vaguely pleasing sequence, is irresistible. Addictive, in fact, after sixty or so years.

So one more blog. Or maybe more, I don’t know. We shall see. And thank you to those who actually asked for more, that was nice. I have nothing special to write about as the year and the decade ends. Many journalists have covered 2019 already, some with great style and wit. There have been TV shows (I did love Sammy J’s) and songs have been written, including one little ditty which made me laugh hysterically, even if it is in appalling taste. It’s by a sixteen-year-old called Michael Bourne and you’ll find it on YouTube.

From my observance, it was a year of great loss and little gain for the world as a whole and for this country; natural disasters compounded by stupidity and corruption on a breathtaking scale. One can easily sink into despair but then it’s never all bad, is it? I’m an Anne Frank person: I still believe that people are really good at heart. It just gets a bit harder to keep the faith in a world ruled by lunatics, especially when you remember that some of them were actually voted into power. Jacinda Ardern, I am not thinking of you.

The things that I’ve really hated about 2019 are the same things that everyone I know is complaining about: the general decline in civility everywhere, the lack of patience (exemplified by the awful driving on Melbourne roads), the lack of rational debate – have we lost the art of listening? – and the seeming inability of so many of us to do unto others; to walk in someone else’s shoes. A bit more of that and the homeless might vanish from our streets. (I hear your hollow laughter.)

On a personal level, it has been a year of change and upheaval, which I have mentioned previously, and which is probably an excellent thing for someone of my advanced years. While it has definitely been good to get out of the rut, it has required more adaptability than I expected and it’s gradually dawned on me that I’m nowhere near as willing or able to change my ways as I’d hoped. I thought it would all be so easy; it’s not. I guess that learning to live with other people, no matter how much you love them, is never easy for anyone. But we’re getting there.

So here’s to the new decade, to 2020. May every refugee on Manus and Nauru find a new home. May peace come to Syria. And may rain fall from heaven until the fires are out and drought is over. A very big ask, I know, but since I’m an atheist, these aren’t prayers to an over-taxed god. I’m just wishing on a star.  Happy New Year.

 

 

 

One More Excellent Adventure

You know how, quite suddenly, your life can change completely? Like climbing to the top of the Faraway Tree, there you are in a different world, mentally and physically?

It’s happened to me recently, in a nice way thank goodness; this is not a story of misery and woe, you can read on without the tissues. It is, however, a tale in two parts, so I will attempt to be brief. (Something I find difficult, you may have noticed.)

Part One started several months ago when some people I know and love – actually my daughter and her family – suggested I cease my solitary life and move in with them. We would find a nice big house to share, we would all save money and I would not be lonely any more. Translate: they would not have to worry about me lying dead for days in my unit, and the regular transportation of food from my place to theirs would be simpler. Ditto the ironing.

I pondered on this suggestion long and hard. I wasn’t actually that lonely. But I could see, as the years rolled by and I became more decrepit, that it might happen. And I had this vision, perhaps a little unrealistic, of myself in the role of matriarch; sitting regally in the corner, dispensing pearls of wisdom to two adoring teenagers while their parents plied me with coffee and gin, depending on the time of day.

So we found the house and we all moved in. What have I learnt?

That silence is golden.

That faith can probably move mountains because it can certainly move boxes your own weight (and wreck your back for weeks in the process.)

That smart young removalists do not listen to elderly women. Night one and a search for my toothbrush leads to the back shed, boxes row one, level four, three down.

That silence is golden and your advice is neither sought nor wanted.

That I thought I was a rather messy person but compared to two teenagers I am Marie Kondo.

That when two teenagers tell you “that is sooo 20th century”, you probably sound like Joe Biden.

That two families can collect enough unwanted stuff to require its own landfill site. I will let you know the date of the garage sale.

That some people think alcohol should be taken in moderation. (I agree with this in theory.)

That tolerance is the greatest virtue and my way is not the best or even the only way. Quite a surprise, that one.

That my son-in-law is a damn fine cook. No surprise at all. (And he does not need my helpful suggestions.)

That life as you know it will not end if you miss The Drum.

That silence is golden and sometimes it is best to just walk away (being careful not to flounce.)

And a thousand other things on which I have already discovered that silence is golden.

So the arduous, exhausting, horrid move (aren’t they all?) is complete and we are hoping that three adults, two teenagers and one adored cavoodle will all live happily ever.  I am really busy, which is doubtless good at my advanced age, and I feel useful, which is also pleasant. And through all of this upheaval, I came to another life-changing decision, which segues nicely into …

Part Two. Though I wouldn’t be silly enough to make any wild promises, this will probably be my last blog, my last anything vaguely literary. After well over fifty years as a professional wordsmith, I realised I have nothing left to say and no new words with which to say it. So it’s time to retire. Not the done thing for a writer and I’m not expecting a gold watch or even flowers and morning tea with a few kind platitudes, but I’m going to do it anyway. I have writerly friends even older than I still wrestling with novels which they expect to finish and see published and god help them, I hope they do, but the thought of going through all that angst and sweat again is not for me.

I’ve had a marvellous career, I’ve made so many friends, met so many amazing people and had so much fun doing something I loved that I feel singularly blessed. There were down days, lots of them, but the highs were Himalayan and the memories remain so vivid, there’s enough of those to live on forever. Time to close the laptop and pick up a book – someone else’s book; maybe one written by one of my younger friends who still have a long way to go on this fantastic journey.

So thank you for reading or watching over the decades. I hope we shared both laughter and tears for that’s life.

Now I might go and do a bit of ironing.  Also life.