A mad pensioner

There once was a mad pensioner from Brecon
Who sat at her desk and said: “I reckon
I am not a he
Whatever they decree.”
So said that mad pensioner from Brecon.

The writer of the booklet I reviewed in a publication I edit (unpaid voluntary work) with some others wrote a reply correcting some errors I had made. However, the paragraph she wrote in defense of the language which I had called sexist in a brief note at the end of my review, was longer than anything else in the letter. The booklet is written totally in the language of he/man. The only “she” to be found between the covers of the booklet is the author. In the letter the author states that the original meaning of the word “man” is “a human”. She thinks it is absurd to try and change the language and that she wants us to return to the sanity of the old meaning.

The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/N...

Image via Wikipedia

The letter got me thinking and reading. I found out that indeed the word “man” (or “mann” as it was also spelt) meant “a human” in Old English before 1066. The word “wer” or “waepman” was used for a male human and the word “wyf” or “wifman” for a female human. So how was this kind of equal presence in the language lost to women? Lost to the extent that in 1971 Richard Gilman can observe “that our language employs the words man and mankind as terms for the whole human race demonstrates that male dominance, the IDEA of masculine superiority is perennial, institutional, and rooted at the deepest level of our historical experience.” (quoted in Man Made language by Dale Spender). As Dale Spender put it “I saw it as a convenient means of making women invisible, for blanketing them under a male term.”

The Norman Conquest brought the Norman French to the fore and the Old English remained the language of commoners. Over the years Old English disappeared and although traces of it can be seen in our Modern English it is a different language altogether. Later on what was to be known as Middle English became the language of the country although French retained its  importance for some time. The Middle English developed further into our Modern English and even the Middle English can be understood by present English speakers if some words were translated for them. Like the lines

First I pronounce whennes that I come,                                             And thanne my bulles shewe I, alle and some.

This means: First I declare where I come from, and then I show my official documents, each and every one. (The Pardoner’s Prologue, Chaucer.)

In the Middle English, in which Chaucer wrote, the noun “man” means both a human and a human male. There does not seem to be any trace of “wer” left, but the word “wif” means a wife and “wives” and “wommen” mean women. So already there is a shift to making a man to be a norm and hiding a female under the man. Dale Spender relates the progression of how this was achieved in her book Man Made Language. In 1553 Thomas Wilson “insisted that it was more natural to place the man before the woman, as for example in male and female, husband and wife, brother and sister, son and daughter.”  Next came Joshua Poole who in 1646 put forward that “it was not only natural that the male should take ‘pride of place’ it was also proper because, in his line of reasoning, the male gender was the worthier gender.” This was taken even further by John Kirby in 1746 when he  “formulated his ‘Eighty Eight Grammatical Rules’ … Rule Number Twenty One stated that the male gender  was more comprehensive than the female.” Thus the male grammarians had come to the decision that the correct pronoun to use when the gender is not clear is  “he” and not “they” which had been in general use in these instances. But even the 1850 Act of Parliament which made this legal could not totally get rid of the usage of “they” when the gender is not clear.

It seems after all this that it is impossible to return to the use of “man” as meaning only “a human” and not also a male human. However, there have been changes since Dale Spender’s book was published. Women have been clamouring to get noticed. They have been telling that they do not feel included in that terminology. They do not really want to be included in the word “man” or in the pronoun “he”. It is quite common nowadays to see the word “humankind” instead of “mankind” and more people are using two third person singular pronouns instead of just “he” when they write about people. All good and well. Just as it should be. Perhaps we should even invent a third person singular pronoun which can mean both she and he when we do not know the gender of a person. Marge Piercy in her book Woman on the Edge of Time used “per” for both she and he. Perhaps we can adopt this usage and forget she and he altogether.


Rape is not a joke

Yesterday I came across a phrase in Facebook that really made me feel very uneasy. Someone commented someone else’s status being a “Facebook rape” as it obviously involved one person having got access to someone else’s page and adding a status there. In this case the status and the comments after were all made in a jokey kind of way. I understood the humour of the status as did the person whose page it was added to, but we both wished the commentators would have used other words to make fun of it.

The phrase has been churning in my mind since reading the comment, refusing to go away. My just having finished a novel by Karin Slaughter did not help matters. Normally reading a crime/mystery novel where the crime is a rape does not produce this kind of turmoil in me. It is the way it is referred to and written about, that makes the difference. When it happens in a well written and well researched novel, with well developed characters, although I feel for the characters and get really involved in the story, it does not cause the same turmoil as the joking about rape does. (A badly written or a badly researched novel just makes me angry or annoyed. You Can’t Hide by Karen Rose is one of those. In that novel a psychopath is presented as a schizophrenic – really bad research mudding the waters about schizophrenia.)

Rape and any kind of sexual abuse is still very common in our society. Karin Slaughter writes at the end of the novel Triptych (the one I just finished) that: “In the United States of America, it is estimated that every minute, 1.3 women are raped.” The havoc these kinds of attacks on people cause to an individual and to the whole family often lasts a lifetime. My own experiences have somehow fallen into the murky waters of my memory only occasionally surfacing causing varied amounts of pain, humiliation and shaking of hands. The earlier one happening over 45 years ago is the more painful one, the one that I find it difficult to write about even now. The marital rape happening regularly over the five or so years I remained in the marriage is much easier to write about. The amount of actual physical violence or the threat of it was very present in my marriage and not really at all in the childhood event. The marital rape was and feels even now a kind of mundane event as it happened regularly every other night regardless of how I felt physically or emotionally. It was bad and it still feels bad, but it was one of those things that I had to learn to accept as a married woman, I thought. I did not even know that it could have been classified as rape until after I had left my ex husband. I now know it was rape because I submitted to it out of fear; if I did not, violence followed. (And just an aside – I never knew what an orgasm was until long after I had left my ex husband, never having experienced it before then, never even having heard the word.)

The havoc caused by rape is very individual. Some people get over it easier than others. It does not mean that they would not feel violated in the same way, they just can cope with these events easier (they might find something else really difficult). I think I have on the whole been able to deal with my experiences and continue my life and enjoy my life fairly well. My first born daughter, on the other hand, slowly fell to pieces and for some years our lives were full of pain and suffering.

My daughter had moved away from home when the first rape happened and the second one happened when she was visiting her father’s family in their country. Both happened in very similar circumstances a couple of years apart. In both cases she woke up at night with a man on top of her not being able to push them off and neither of them accepting no as an answer when she woke up. Although my daughter was never quite her old self after the first rape her mental health deteriorated faster after the second one. She started experimenting with some drugs, never actually becoming a heavy user. As far as I know she used ecstacy and LSD when attending some raves or music events. She managed to finish her university studies achieving an upper second class degree.

I knew she was not really coping with life and paid for her to have counselling. Eventually she moved back to live with me and my youngest daughter, who was only ten then, and that was when I finally saw how bad things were. Her mind was full of violence and rape. She saw all people around us as rapists. She asked her little sister one morning if I had had “penetrative sex with her at night”? The little one did not understand what it meant and asked me. She reported rapes and murders she heard being committed in the houses and flats around our house to the police either by telephone or by person at the police station. I got telephone calls from the police asking me to go and take her home.

I tried to get help from my doctor who told me that as she was an adult she had to go and register at the surgery and then they can help us. I could not persuade my daughter to do it. Finally a friend who visited and realised what was going on told me about a mental health helpline. She said I could call them without having to go through my doctor. I did that after my daughter told me that she wished I was dead. She wanted to kill me and would dance on my grave. The call resulted in a visit from three doctors to come and assess my daughter. Although I had told the helpline (like I had told my doctor) what had been going on, my daughter managed to behave quite reasonably and she was only assessed as having a thought disorder.  So nothing was done and things continued as before at home. After three more assessment, one bungled attempt to take her to a hospital, and another with the help from the police, she was taken to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and put on medication. After six months she came home and we had a social worker coming to see her initially once a week and then once a month and eventually stopping altogether.

I moved with my youngest daughter here six years ago. My oldest daughter was by then doing well on medication. She rented her own flat and got a job in a garden centre. She is studying horticulture by correspondence while working part time in that same garden centre. Her medication was slowly reduced and a few months ago it was stopped altogether. And she is now pregnant. I am going to be a grandmother in a few months time. My daughter does not remember all the horrible things she did and said when she was really ill and I like it that way. However, I keep wondering sometimes where it all came from. How could she love me so much when she is well and hate me so much when she was ill? And all the time I keep watching and listening to see that she stays really well and trying not show anyone that I do so. And sometimes I am scared by the violent thoughts I have about those men who raped my beautiful daughter.

Getting cleaned and refreshed: sauna v. Jesus

The last week and a half have been quite busy here. Looking after my friend’s internet business while he is on holiday has taken three or four days so far. Then my youngest daughter came over and we managed to get through a few episodes of Ballykissangel and a couple of episodes of dharma & greg which my friend lent me. My son and his girlfriend came for a weekend and I watched more dharma & greg with them. Late Saturday afternoon we went to sauna (I had built one in my cellar – in the room which was the original kitchen of this 150 year old house) and on Sunday morning my son’s girlfriend gave me a massage. After they left I read some blogs here trying to see how others do these things. On Monday I did the business again and yesterday I had a punk rock band recording their album in the big room in my cellar. In between all that there was shopping (never my favourite pastime), cooking, eating, drinking, chatting and generally making merry.  And now, finally, I have time to spend on my blog to write about something that has been exercising my mind for the past couple of days.

On my trawl through the blogs I stumbled upon a blog post titled “Jesus doesn’t want me to shave my legs. And I hope there’s “Sex and the City” in hell.” Well, it was not so much a stumble as seeing it on the Freshly Pressed and finding the title interesting – the only one interesting enough for me to click and read. Any irreverent mention of Jesus is bound to draw my attention. To couple it with Sex and the City – what can I say – I had to read it and what a fun read it was. Even though I do not shave my legs. Never have done so. I have shaved my head in the past – it feels like a very distant past now, another lifetime. You see my head is the only place on my body where the hair grows in abundance. So it has been the only place I could have done any hairy experiments.

The comments came after the post. And there were comments. I feel like adding a few more esses at the end of that word: commentssssss. It seems like a quite a few people were drawn by the title. There were fun comments and there were comments from Jesus folks, some of them funny too. I liked the word “charismaniac” in one of the comments as I felt it fitted me too years and years ago – in one of my other lifetimes. However, I did not clung to a belief in christ nor in his grace, whatever that is. Some of the hymns and religious sayings of my mother occasionally pop into my head, but I religiously avoid repeating them to anyone around me. My mother used to say good night to us with a religious rhyme which has been the most persistent popper into my head. So far I have managed to avoid burdening my kids (now adults) with it or any other similar saying or rhyme. “Avoid burdening” is the right phrase here as I did not become an atheist until my two older kids were almost teenagers. So they did get some of the religious stuff poured into their ears and minds before I saw the light. Fortunately, it did no permanent damage as neither of them grew up religious.

There were an inordinate amount of religiousity in the comments. And quotes from the bible galore. Fires of hell were promised to those not believing in hell. Scary! Christians were told that they must not find the post funny. There was preaching and correcting and some really strange claims like the one that the bible is “one of the most rich scientific manuals to the world.” My own take on the bible, which I have read a few times from cover to cover in two different languages and some parts in the original language while a student in a theological college, is this: It is the most horrendously violent book I have ever read. It is true it has some beautiful poetic passages also, but violence is the overriding theme particularly in the old testament. Long before I rejected god as a non-existent human-created being I remember being confused by one verse in the bible. It is “For many are called, but few are chosen” in Matthew 22:14. To me this really contradicted the idea of free will. Surely if god allowed people free will then it should be up to them to decide whether they wanted to be chosen or not. If god decided to reject some then they had no free will. I talked about this with a friend who told me not to question god.

It took me many years and much reading and pondering and watching life unfold before my eyes to finally come to the conclusion that to get really clean inside and out and to feel good and refreshed I needed to reject one thing from my upbringing and embrace another. So I built a sauna in my cellar and use it normally once a week.

In Finland most people have a sauna in their house or as a separate building. In blocks of flats there usually is a sauna which tenants can book to use. And some people have a sauna by a lake like in this picture which I scanned from a book Päijänteen Ympäri (Around the lake Päijänne). Our sauna was not near a lake, but I have experienced going to a sauna by a lake and jumping in the lake from the sauna. With or without a lake the sauna is a refreshing way to get clean. I heartily recommend it to all.

Creeping quietly or raging against the dying of the light?

The word decrepit has been on my mind yesterday evening and this morning. Last night and this morning I felt that it applied to me, but to make sure I checked it in some internet dictionaries and this is what I found out: Things the word describes are “worn and broken down by hard or long use” and when it refers to people they are “weakened, worn out, impaired, or broken down by old age, illness” or “lacking bodily or muscular strength or vitality”. The Latin word it comes from is crepare and its meaning is given as “to make a noise, rattle” or “to burst, crack” or “to creak” (three different dictionaries). And yet the one that says it means “to make a noise, rattle” also says that the Latin “decrepitus, perhaps orig. [meant] noised out, noiseless, applied to old people, who creep about quietly”.

I like the idea of being “noised out”. It gives the impression that I have made a lot of noise about something and now am finished with it. I do not like the idea that I would “creep about quietly” when I am old (61 is not old!). I think we should do what Dylan Thomas told his father to do

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Yeats, also, would not accept “creeping quietly” in old age but protested against such an idea:
You think it horrible that lust and rage
Should dance attention upon my old age;
They were not such a plague when I was young;
What else have I to spur me into song?

I did feel old and decrepit last night and this morning. However, I felt it more in the way the things are said to be “worn and broken down by hard or long use”. The use in this case was not so long but certainly felt hard to me. It was the treck home with the heavy load in the rain that did it for me.

A friend of mine has gone on holiday and asked me to look after his business while he was away. His business is selling things, mainly books, on the internet. I am to go to his place twice a week to check the orders and send them off. It is supposed to take only a couple of hours. Yesterday there were more orders than there were when he showed me how to do things. It took me a while to locate everything in his storeroom. I got everything done ready to fill in the order for the mailing part of the work. That is when his computer decided not to work so well. The end result was that I could not make the connection with the person who collected the mail from the mail box down the road. And when I still had not managed to fill in the internet form for the payment of the mail by the time the later post collection was happening I gave up trying to do it with his computer. I packed all the books and other stuff and everything else I needed and came home. I walked in the rain with those heavy bags to catch a bus and then at this end walked some more in the rain. When I got home I just dumped the bags in the living room, heated some soup my youngest had left me before going to the music festival, ate and went to bed.

This morning I was still aching from the previous night’s struggles. But I was at the post office here soon after it opened handing in one big and heavy sack of mail having walked another fifteen minutes in rain – again. I did not have many bags to carry as I managed to fit most of the packets in my suitcase with wheels. In the post office I put them all in the mail sack.

I am going to do the whole business from my home from now on. I shall check the orders here, print the labels and go with them to my friends place. I shall collect the things to mail out and pull them home in my suitcase with wheels. Then I shall finish the business here and take them to the post office here. Unless his computer works better next time. I shall give it a try, but will not wait if it is not fast enough.

Memories are made of these

Memory is a funny thing. It is possible to have two people remember the same incident totally differently. A memory of something in the past is always coloured by the present and all that has gone in between. And no two people experiencing that one instant have all the same experiences after that shared one. And even coming to that shared moment nothing else is the same; everything is unique to each of them – even that shared moment. Whatever I shall write about my past – when I really get down to it instead of this meandering from one thing to another – is written here and now with here and now memory and interpretation of what I remember. There have been times when one or other of my children has corrected my recollection of something or other. On one or two occasions the recollections have been so different that I could but wonder whether we were talking of the same incident.

I have read and heard people talking about their lives when they were very very young, babies in fact. Some even talk about remembering their own birth sliding through the birth canal. I must say that I read and listen to those stories with scepticism. Yet, I do not want to deny them. Who am I to say what others can remember.

I have been trying to work out what my earliest actual memory is. I have been told things about me when I was a baby, but I do not remember any of them actually happening. My earliest hazy memories are about the primary school. In Finland, where I was born, children start school when they are seven years old, but I do not remember the first day as such. I do not know if my first memory is of that day or of some other day. I have a memory of standing in the school yard and being aware of my underpants, which were made by my mother and not your standard shop bought issue. I was ashamed of them and afraid that somehow other kids would find out about them.  I have other flashes of memory about the years in the primary school. None of these early memories could be related as a continous story; most of this time is just a blur in my mind.

We used to play baseball in the school yard during recess and in physical education lessons in spring and autumn. As the school was a small village school with just a handful of pupils all years played together. In the winter we did skiing. We had competitions between other primary schools in the area. I remember becoming the third once and getting a spoon as a trophy. A girl from my year was jealous thinking that she should have got it saying something to that effect to me. An older boy told her off. I think that was when I was about ten.

Some of my most pleasant memories about this school were times spent in the school kitchen. It was a big room with a big farmhouse table able to seat ten or twelve of us children. We had breakfast at school made by the cook. It was the best porridge I had ever had. Another thing happening around that table was a story club. A few of us children attended it and our teacher read us stories or novels. I remember her reading Little House on the Prairie and eagerly waiting for each session.

The school library was a treasure trove to me. The children’s library was a bookcase about one metre by one and a half metres in size situated in one of the two classrooms. The adult library was perhaps slightly bigger bookcase in the school hallway open one evening a week to the whole village. In the four years I spent in that school I read all the book in the children’s library and when I was allowed access to the adult library I read many if not all books from there too.

There is one very sweet memory from those early years – my first love. I suppose it could be called that although I do not remember much about my feelings at the time. I just know that thinking about it now gives me a pleasant feeling. I think it must have been at the beginning of my last year in the primary school when I was ten. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. We (don’t ask me who – I cannot remember) were walking home from school. A neighbouring farm boy told me that they had really good apples and he would give me some if I walked with him to their farm. So I went with him leaving others to continue on the main road. He went on ahead to make sure their dog could not get to the orchard as I was afraid of it. It had a fierce bark if nothing else and ran after us if we rode the bike past their house. (I usually speeded up before the house and put my legs up on handlebar for the stretch past the house.) He then came back to me lead me to their orchard. We lay on the grass eating apples and looking at the blue sky with a few cumulus clouds appearing here and there. We looked for shapes in the clouds, but apart from that did not talk much. I was late for dinner that day. Everyone else was sitting at the table when I got in. As usual I did not get much attention on coming in.

I keep thinking that I should have some earlier memories than the ones from the primary school and after. However much I strain my brain no memory comes from my early childhood. I wonder why and I wonder how common it is not to remember. All the people whom I have heard talk about their early memories have them from much earlier than me. I have some theories based on what I have been told and what my experiences of my home life were from the time I remember anything. However, they have to wait for another day.

Dreams of country kitchens, pea wine, vegan banana cake

Yesterday’s post got me thinking of food and cooking. I used to do more cooking. With children it is a necessary part of life if the children are to thrive. When I was a child my mother did all the cooking. The only way we children helped was pick some vegetables from our garden or wash and peel potatoes. I do not remember ever cooking anything when I was living at home with my parents. Not even when I was an adult visiting my parents.

The food at my childhood home was very simple. Potatoes and bread were the staples at every meal. Perhaps not always – sometimes we had a macaroni dish baked in the oven or a main soup made with macaroni and vegetables. When those were served we did not have potatoes. But bread was always on the table. My mother baked really good bread. We had always rye bread (I think it might be what is called sour bread, although any sour bread I have had here is nowhere near as good) and either mixed flour bread (oat, wheat, barley) or bread made with just wheat or mainly wheat. At least two kinds of bread were always at any meal table.

Meat was never the main dish, it was more like a garnish. Well, that is not the right word. A side dish – perhaps. Some meat could be added to the gravy or we could have some sliced meat to put on bread. Even the roast pork I mentioned in the last post was not the main thing of the dinner. With the roast pork we would have a potato casserole, a carrot casserole, a cauliflower casserole, a turnip (rutabaga) casserole, bread and pickles. And lets not forget the fish dish that I never liked.

I never learnt cooking as a child. I sort of picked it up later on following recipes – more or less. I have always been more of an experimental cook. I might follow a recipe once, but next time change it a little or not bother measuring ingredients exactly. It all depended what I happened to have available. So one time a dish might be really good and the next time not so good or really horrible. One thing I became an expert on was pancakes. When I moved away from home to my own rented room with a little cooking corner I lived on pancakes during the week and went home for weekends to eat other food. I might have cooked something else occasionally, but the main thing I remember cooking and eating was pancakes and more pancakes and yet more pancakes. And I still like pancakes (vegan pancakes made with soy milk) although I do not make them much at all nowadays.

The reason I have not done much cooking in my present home is that the cooking facilities have been somewhat limited. When I bought this house there was a working kitchen and I discovered the original unusable kitchen in the cellar with rusted iron things inside the big hole in the thick wall. Neither of those was what I wanted (if the original had been in working order it might have been – I now have a sauna there).  The working kitchen was really badly designed and really badly put together. The units were coming apart, never having been properly done. I got rid of that kitchen giving the gas hob and the oven to a friend and burning the units (could not do anything else with them). That room is now a kind of store room with the new toilet taking a corner of it.

My new kitchen is inside the main house now. I had a stove company build a wood burning stove and a wood burning stove/room heater going through the wall and heating the room next to it too. Unfortunately, the company doing it was not up to scratch. I commissioned them for two reasons: I read about them in an environmental magazine and they were the only company in this country installing the sort of stoves I wanted. The magazine gave me the impression that they were doing good work building and installing good environmentally friendly products. The literature of the company claimed to build and install the sort of stoves that were and still are very common in my country of origin. Lesson No 1: Do not trust environmental magazines to have checked the products of people and companies they have information for. Lesson No 2: Do not trust what companies say of themselves even when they claim to be for the sort of ideals you hold dear.

The company has been back once to correct something in the stoves. Still not working as well as they should. And the company refuses to come and correct anything else unless I agree that the biggest problem with them is not their fault and I would have to pay to put it right. The biggest problem is the water heating element in the cooking stove. It is not correctly positioned. In all the boilers that I know of the cold water comes from lower down than the pipe taking the hot water up. In this one they are level. The result is that the water being heated goes up both ways and then at some point tries to adjust, I assume, and makes horrible bangs doing it. The noise is truly scary. It is slightly less now that the pipes are better attached to the wall. I had to correct that as the company left them a little loose. They had forgotten their better drill they told me and could not work the screws properly on the wall because of that.

I do not use the cooking stove very much. The oven/room heater stove I use every day in the winter and not at all in the summer. The oven in that is not as good as I had expected. I have not really tried many dishes in it as the ones I have tried have not worked as well as they should have. The cooking facilities I have here that I use all the time are: a kettle, a toaster, a sandwich toaster, a microwave oven I bought a few months ago, a two ring electric hotplate I bought a couple of months ago. I almost forgot, a friend gave me an electric slow cooker recently. I have ideas of how to improve the stoves I have but no money for it at the moment.

I had such dreams about my new kitchen. I thought I would have a proper country kitchen – an environmentally friendly country kitchen. I even dreamt of doing proper cooking more than once a year. I thought once the house was finished I’ll cook (if I cannot have someone else to do it for me), I’ll bake cakes as I used to (I did more of them – my vegan banana cake was delicious), I’ll learn to do the rye bread and other breads my mum made, I’ll make wine again (pea wine, apple wine, berry wine – all soooo good).  There is a tiny, little spark of hope of that still in me. Maybe …. one day.

Food, Glorious Food with Good Friends and Music

My social life has got much busier lately. For the whole of last winter it seemed that I only saw my children when they came over (my youngest still lived here officially, but stayed at her boyfriend’s three or four nights a week) and my neighbours if I happened to go outside on the road at the same time as they did. Most days I did not go out at all. My outings were mainly once a week to the town for errands and once every six weeks to a meeting of the wholefood co-op I belong to and order food from. The meeting usually lasts about thirty minutes and then I get a lift home from another member. I also belong to a social group which meets once a month. However, I had not attended any of these social gathering for a very long time. In fact I only attended a first couple of them when we moved here. The main reason for that was that public transport here has at times been very infrequent in the evenings and for a period was non existent. In spite of non-attendance I was kept on the mailing list for events and so was always aware of what was happening.

A couple of years ago the organising was taken over by another person and the nature of the gatherings changed from meetings with speakers and discussions to a more social events.  For the past couple of years they have been potluck picnics on a beach; walks with potluck picnics or visits to some member’s home with potluck lunch. The one aspect of all these that has put me off has been this potluck eating – taking some food with me just is not my thing. Just thinking about it blanks my mind totally.  Food – I like it. I enjoy eating good vegan food, but please, could someone else cook it for me. I make an effort and cook really good meals at one time of the year, and that one time only: 24th of December I cook a meal based on what we had when I was a child (I have adjusted everything to be vegan and instead of roast pork I have taken another recipe and made it into a special thing for that evening) and 25th of December I cook a really wonderful nutroast with roast potatoes and vegetables. My mouth is watering now just thinking of these feasts.

Back to my social life – I suppose the change started around May this year. I got a newsletter about an event planned for a Saturday for the whole day. It involved visiting a forest garden of a friend (one of the people we knew before moving here) on the outskirts of a little town an hour’s walk from here (ten minutes in a bus). And as the day involved doing some work in the garden the food was provided. There was no need to think of what to take. My poor brain was ok with that.

The day arrived with bright and warm sunshine. Until then I had not been able to decide if I could face going there. But on that Saturday morning I felt a real need to get out and see someone – anyone. It was now or never: I had to break my isolation and face the world. I had not informed (as was requested) the organiser of my attendance as I had not known of it until that morning. I set off catching a bus and walking from the bus stop to the friend’s place. When I was almost there a car stopped next to me. It was the friend whose place I was going to. The event had been cancelled as only one person had shown interest in it. My friend invited me to go on an errand with him and then go and have lunch which he had prepared just in case someone came. I got in the car and duly burst out crying. I wanted to be out of there – anywhere else. Well, not just anywhere, but anywhere at my home where no one could see me crying. My friends was really nice which just got me crying more. But all things come to an end and so did my crying. We ended up having a really lovely time eating and talking when we got back to his place.

My next outing was this same friend’s birthday party which was organised by his mother and was supposed to be a surprise. Only someone had let it slip and my friend had told me that he knew about it and asked me to come asking me not to tell anyone that he knew. Until then I had thought of not going. One of the problems being transport – again. The party was held in a hall a little further away on a Sunday when there were no buses. I and my youngest got a lift from another friend and so we attended. I got through the party mostly sitting on the side and waiting for people to come and talk to me, which quite a few of them did. I think I managed to hide my awkwardness quite well.

Another episode of crying – in the bus this time – led to another social occasion. And later on to an arrangement with a friend, who plays both a guitar and a violin and also sings, to meet at my house weekly for dinner and music practice. She had not played or sang for about 30 years, but wanted to get into it again.  I do not do music; I provide the space and listen very appreciatively.  This music practice led to her finding and joining a folk club which practices weekly and  has a monthly public event in a pub. The first of these monthly events for us was last Sunday. As the place is about an hour’s drive from this village my friend asked another friend with a car to come along.

We had early dinner at my house first. This musical friend is also a good cook. She used to cook in a co-operatively owned and run cafe years ago. She does all the cooking for our weekly meetings and did a cooking for our dinner on Sunday. After dinner we drove through beautiful countryside in the bright evening sun to this distant village pub. There were eight members of the folk club present and three of their guests (including two of us) plus the public in the pub. At first the club members played some music. Then they each took a turn to sing a song others joining in the chorus. They did a few rounds like that. People in pub joined in the singing when they knew the words, quite quickly catching onto to the choruses. It was a most enjoyable evening. I look forward to the next monthly event.