Yet again there has been a very long delay between my blog posts: sometimes I wonder whether I’m cut out to be a regular blogger or not, or perhaps I should be a seasonal blogger as in winter – when there’s less to do outside and to distract me – I seem to much more able to keep up with the regular routine. I’m pleased that I am not alone however, as a neighbour who blogs recently posted under the title “Worst Blogger. Ever” about his own difficulty in keeping up to date with his own blogging aspirations.
I had to look back to my last blog post and re-read it just to remind myself what exactly was happening at the time and when exactly I wrote it. So much has happened since then, and by no means all good, both in the world at large and in my life in particular. For a start we had the election and I don’t suppose many people were more surprised than Teresa May appeared to be that the votes did not go the way that she – and frankly I think most of us – expected. Whether or not you are a supporter of “BREXIT”, or Teresa May, or the Conservatives, I suspect that nobody or least very few people imagined that the outcome of the election would be a conservative minority government propped up by the DUP and with a significantly strengthened opposition in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Speaking to my neighbour over the garden fence the day before the election I said, fairly facetiously, “is it a foregone conclusion tomorrow or shall we bother to vote?”. I am usually highly critical of those who do not bother to vote as in my experience these are usually the people who complain most loudly about the outcome of the election or about the actions of the elected government, so I always intended to vote. Although my neighbours have now lived here for almost 10 years, I do not feel that I know them well enough to know whether they would always vote as a matter of principle or not. However Gershon said that yes he would be voting, although he felt he would have to vote tactically as he did not believe that the candidate of his preference stood any chance of being elected in this constituency. Until this election this constituency was known as Nick Clegg’s constituency – or least it has been for quite a while now. When I first came to live here it was John Osborne’s constituency, and in the first General election I was able to vote in it became Irvin Patnick’s Constituency. This constituency has never be anything other than Conservative, Irvin Patnick being the last Conservative MP to hold this seat, until Richard Allen quite surprisingly won the seat from Irvin Patnick in 1997. At the time it was a great shock to imagine that the seat could be anything other than Conservative, and clearly the Liberal Democrats relied upon that and have continued to do so up to and including this most recent election campaign, because in all the time that Richard Allen held the seat and the time since that Nick Clegg held the seat their campaign materials have always stated proudly that “Labour cannot win here” and “the Tories will never get this seat back”. I did protest on one occasion to Nick Clegg about the grossly inaccurate graphs which they used on their material to emphasise these supposed facts and he did have the grace to agree the graphs were indeed completely inaccurate, however they have continue to reprint the same graphs time and time again including this most recent campaign. Somehow I doubt very much that the surprise win by a Labour candidate (Jarad O’Mara) has anything to do with the public realising how wrong the graphs were, however it could well be the case that Nick Clegg finally received the comeuppance he should have had at the previous election after betraying huge numbers of voters – most particularly with his turnabout (or U-turn) regarding student fees – and perhaps also because he went into coalition with David Cameron when a great many Liberal Democrat voters had assumed that it was safe to vote Liberal Democrat on a tactical basis precisely to avoid a Cameron government. Whatever the case it is immaterial: this seat is now changed from Conservative with huge majority – which seemed unshakable – to a significant majority for Labour which, even until earlier this year, seemed completely unimaginable. Whatever your political views we certainly live in surprising times and I don’t think that any voter for any party can afford to sit back complacently and assume that elections will produce the results which once seemed inevitable and predictable. Diane Abbott, speaking on “Any Questions” a week or so before the election, made a comment with which I profoundly agree and think was an incredibly wise comment to make. I forget now the question she was answering, but she responded by saying ‘if you had asked anybody in Britain 12 months ago whether we would’ve voted to leave the E.U., almost certainly they would’ve said “no”: indeed even Nigel Farage – whose life’s work has been campaigning to leave the E.U. said that he did not think that that was the way the vote would go. If you had asked most people in the world whether we would have had a Trump presidency prior to last December very few would’ve said “yes” it was almost unthinkable, indeed nearly laughable, that Donald Trump should win, but he is now well established as president of the USA. And so we can see you that we live in times where politics is no longer predictable and where the electorate is no longer predictable and this is perhaps because we do not listen to them.’ I have of course paraphrased Diane Abbott here as I cannot remember the precise words that she used now, but the point which she made is a very important one and I think altogether far too many people take each other – and presumed facts of life – all for granted. Diane I think was very wise and very forward-thinking in saying that we all need to think carefully and listen to what others are saying. Since the election we have, of course, witnessed a number of other tragedies in this country including the Grenfell Tower disaster and I noted, whilst the fire was still blazing out of control in the early hours of the morning, that news reports were already quoting residents of the area as saying that they had been predicting a disaster for years (if not decades) and that they were fed up of being ignored because they were on low incomes, or immigrant status, and were being completely brushed aside by the wealthier interests of the district. Diane Abbott’s words immediately sprang to mind when I heard this and I thought how very true her prediction had been.
Closer to home I myself had somewhat of a shock (in fact several shocks but I will deal with this one in particular first) within the last few days. Although I have never felt that Sheffield was particularly gay-friendly and indeed the fact that we seem unable to support any gay community, gay pubs or clubs and still less any decent Pride events, does seem to suggest that Sheffield does not celebrate its gay community particularly well. If you follow my Instagram posts you will have noticed that both on there and also on Twitter I quite recently posted remarks about the sense of pleasure I gained from coming out of Sainsbury’s in the city centre one lunch time a few weeks ago, and seeing to gentleman walking hand-in-hand across the road to the University building where I work, down Howard Street and over towards the railway station. I have never seen same-sex couples holding hands in Sheffield before and I am now 49 years old and lived and worked here from my whole life. A few days later I saw the same couple walking past my office window, again holding hands, and I was again very pleased and quite moved by this sight. However last Monday I came out of an office building on Charter Row, crossed the road and walked down Rockingham Street onto The Moor and as I joined The Moor, outside the doorway to Primark, a woman – I decline to call her a lady in the circumstances – exited Primark chuntering quite loudly including a number of homophobic adjectives, deliberately trod on my shoe in an attempt to trip me up as I past her and then shouted very loudly “and thy can get thi’ fu**ing handbag outta my sight an’ all queer” as she marched off. I certainly was not carrying any bag of any kind so this was clearly an unprovoked and perhaps even accidental homophobic attack. When I say accidental I refer to the fact it is well known that there is still casual homophobia around us all day everyday: in other words people use homophobic abuse not because they believe they are speaking to a gay person but because they think that’s an acceptable way to be abusive and offensive to anybody who happens to cross the path. Whatever the case I was quite shocked: although I’ve never thought Sheffield is particularly gay-friendly I was unaware of much open, blatant, homophobia taking place in the street. It made me think as I headed to the hairdresser and on reaching Laundry, my hairdresser, I told Jake (my stylist – click here and scroll down to 4rth row of biographies) about this and he was visibly shocked and horrified. Jake and his girlfriend are currently looking for a house in Sheffield and he said that he much prefers Chesterfield where he’s from, or Leeds where his girlfriend is from, in many ways but as she is studying at Sheffield and he works in Sheffield it seemed logical for them to buy a house in Sheffield despite their feelings. I have not particularly dwelt upon this homophobic incident but I did think about it sufficiently to recollect previous instances of homophobia I have come across and I could not remember any other instances since leaving school other than my assistant manager when I worked in Beatties, who clearly did not intend to cause offence but was of a generation and mindset where making jokes at the expense of gay people was simply normal – and if we think back to the 1970s and 80s (those of us who are old enough to do so) we will remember that jokes at the expense of gay people were indeed the routine material of radio, television and written comedy. The only other homophobia I have knowingly encountered since leaving school was the student services manager when I worked at the sixth form college. That particular woman was an incredibly unpleasant person in lots of ways (in fact it is hard to imagine a less suitable person to be a student services manager) and one of her many negative attributes was her homophobia which she displayed towards me more than once but was careful to do so where there were few or no witnesses. In her case the rest of the staff knew her well enough to know perfectly well what she was like and I didn’t take it personally; perhaps I should’ve done because I simply assumed that this was part of her normal characteristics and that she would treat anybody else in a similar way.
There have been one or two other trials and tribulations recently. The volume of work seems not to have diminished, indeed it is perhaps in some ways increased since teaching ceased for the academic year, and I am still very worried about the progress (or lack of) with my Masters dissertation, however I have made plans how to manage this over the next few weeks and I am hopeful but I might successfully submit on time. I’ve also spoken to the course administrator and to my personal supervisor and was very pleased to find out that they do not know any other staff who’ve taken this qualification and not have a similar panic about managing to meet the deadline. Keep your fingers crossed!
The most distressing event of last few weeks was when I came home from work just two weeks ago and had barely been in the house five minutes when the doorbell rang. It was Alistair from across the road and he’d come to tell me that about 20 minutes earlier he had seen a car knock down Evadne. She had run off towards the back garden and he had been unable to capture her. I searched high and low and called incessantly that evening including going to various neighbours’ houses and asking if I could look round the gardens. One neighbour was perfectly happy to look around the garden with me, but seemed a little reluctant to let me look in their old air raid shelter, which is piled high with disused garden furniture and so on. The following day I printed 75 handbills and put them through all the letterboxes of the houses on this street and the next road on my way home from work. It was disheartening that one or two people quite a long way from here just opened their doors and threw the leaflets back out on to the step: perhaps this is how they deal with all that junk mail. My friend Margaret sensibly suggested, and persuaded me to, print a small number of larger posters which were laminated and fastened to lampposts nearby. Having done this on Tuesday evening, on Wednesday morning I found Evadne. I will not go into great detail but she was in the air raid shelter which I had not been able to look in on Monday night. Margaret helped again and took me to the vet with Evadne, and we were both astonished at how apparently uninjured she looked although she certainly could not walk properly. The vet carried out an extensive and thorough physical examination and also seemed quite surprised at the apparent lack of damage and I came away expecting a bill for about £300 to cover the examination and x-rays.
Early that same afternoon the vet rang me at work and said that the x-rays showed that Evadne had a ruptured diaphragm, a 4 cm tear in the muscle wall of her abdomen, a collapsed lung, and something which I didn’t quite understand about muscle being detached from the end of her spine near where the human coccyx would-be. She also had two hairline fractures to her pelvis. As she was still under anaesthetic for the x-ray they wanted consent the go-ahead for the necessary surgery which I of course gave immediately. Evadne had to stay in the veterinary hospital for four days hand when she came home last Saturday she was supposed to spend the next eight weeks living in a large cage which the vet loaned to me in order to prevent her from jumping or running and therefore allow her fractured pelvis to knit together. However, in the cage she simply climbed the bars and pushed her head against the top of it repeatedly until, presumably through fatigue, she fell away from the bars onto her litter tray or food and water dishes. When she went for her post-op checkup last Wednesday I asked the vet whether this was really the best thing to do and the vet quickly advised that she should be allowed access to the rooms of the house but that if she starts to become very lively or attempts to jump significant heights she should be returned to the cage and we may have to use sedation to get her to rest. Touch wood so far she is spending most of her time sleeping on the bed or soft chairs and does not show many signs of trying to jump. The bill, of course, is now far higher, currently standing at well over £1,000 – thank goodness for M&S Pet Insurance!
At the end of May the garden was open for all three days of the National Gardens scheme festival weekend – this year known as the anniversary weekend. I was quite pleased with the turnout and over the three days more than 110 visitors came to the garden and we sold almost 30 cakes. My new book “Grandma’s Garden” was on sale but very disappointingly only four copies were sold over the weekend. I’m also very disappointed that the National Gardens Scheme have not yet managed to find a way to sell this to their website, which, considering the considerable outlay of cash on my part and the number of books printed, and the efforts to which the publisher, printer and I all went to to make sure it was available in time for the anniversary weekend, is really quite disheartening. On the evening that Evadne had been knocked down I did get an answering machine message from one of the publicity team at the National Gardens Scheme, which said they wanted to speak about how “we can try to publicise your book for you”. I’m not entirely sure whether they fully understand that this book was written and produced specifically to raise funds for the NGS. I shall take this up with Irene and perhaps Peter or Colin before long: we’ve often talked about the fact that NGS head office seem to be somewhat distant from many of the garden openers and I suspect that in all innocence that is what’s happening here.
The visitors to the garden were overwhelmingly positive, many of them stayed for a very long time and all who wrote in the visitors’ book wrote very very positive remarks. By contrast when I opened the garden on the last Sunday of June, which was a beautiful day for weather and therefore should have been a wonderful day for garden visitors, we had a very low turnout raising only just over £40 and selling exactly four cups of tea and six slices of cake all day. I concluded from visitor comments that this was probably because so many other gardens were open on the same date – every single one of the visitors who came had already been to at least two other NGS gardens that day and many were on their way to at least one more after they’d been here. The chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme always sends an e-mail to garden openers a few days before each opening wishing the best of luck. The e-mail he sent just before that opening remarked that this was one of the two busiest weekends of the year with over 500 gardens open. This, I think, explains perfectly what the problem is: too many gardens open on the same day. I commented on this to the county treasurer and also to the regional chairman and I was pleased when Colin replied saying that he had been asking for something to be put in place for many years which would allow garden openers to see who else was proposing to open on any given dates in the local area, not just within each county but also in neighbouring counties, and he said that he would be raising this matter again to see what could be done. I was very pleased to think that it was not just me who perceived large numbers of openings on one day to be a negative attribute rather than the cause of celebration. At the end of July and August I shall again open the garden on the last Sunday of each month, but after this year’s experience I may not adopt such regular dates in future years; indeed I may not open as many times at all. Finding helpers to assist on open days continues to be a problem, not least because North Sheffield Cats’ Protection have usually sent one or two volunteers to serve the teas since they benefit from the money raised from tea and cake sales. However North Sheffield Cats’ Protection themselves are in somewhat of a volunteer crisis at the moment and indeed next week there is to be a meeting of volunteers and supporters to discuss whether or not the branch should merge with the Sheffield Hallam Cats’ Protection in order to be able to continue any protection group in the Sheffield area. Very sadly if cats’ protection cannot find reliable volunteers who are able to commit a long way ahead, to allow me to plan dates within the NGS schedule, I might have to seriously consider giving the tea money to the NGS along with the admission and plant sale money, as that way I could call upon helpers from one of the NGS charities such as Macmillan or Marie Curie to assist. Alternatively, I can beg from more friends, neighbours or relatives to see if they will help but I am very conscious that I am already relying heavily upon the same few people who are interested in helping.
Here’s a few of the cakes I made for the last open day that were wasted:
Despite the ins and outs, ups and downs, and so on of opening the garden, the garden is looking rather good at the moment but everything this year seems to be coming very early, I’ve already got chrysanthemums and hydrangea flowers fully it out and that’s at least one month too early, and I noticed this morning that Montbretia has already got flowers showing colour and I always think of that as being an August into September flower.
Finally for this blog post I’m going to mention my birthday – which I really don’t like celebrating – and a number of close friends. For several weeks prior to Evadne’s accident I have been feeling really very depressed. I use that word with caution because as we all know depressed can be used to mean that you simply feel down or fed up but it can also be used to refer to a significant medical condition. In my case I am using it to refer to feeling fed up, miserable, lonely, and other attributes which may be considered negative, but I am mindful that in fact some of the symptoms I’ve noticed can also be signs of the medical version of depression. I hope they are not but I’m mindful that the word needs to be used carefully. When I found out about Evadne’s accident that was just the final straw. We all know I think how we can cope with really substantial difficulties and problems for a very long period of time but we are doing just that: coping. To paraphrase and mis-quote Teresa May, who speaks quite often about the JAMs – Just About Managing, I think it is important to refer to those people who are more like JACs: Just About Coping. The Prime Minister when she refers to JAM appears to be talking purely in financial terms: she regularly speaks of those whose income and expenditure balance each other out perfectly and so they are just about managing not to fall into debt, but I think coping is a whole other story. One of the factors that was making me feel depressed in the non-medical sense was my age. I shouldn’t use the past tense: it still is and with every passing hour and day it makes me feel less happy. I may or may not to grow old gracefully (or disgracefully!) but I certainly won’t grow old happily or cheerfully. Therefore I was not looking forward to my birthday long before any other issues became problematic for me. I am grateful and touched by the fact that my Instagram posts clearly rang alarm bells for many of my followers as a number of them, including some I know only through Instagram and not in real life, sent most helpful and reassuring messages, signposted me to other sources of help and support, and got in touch just to offer a chat or to call and visit. If you’re one of them, please accept my very sincere thanks. On the positive side (if there is one) of my birthday, Lee and I are going to the spa again tomorrow (or by the time you read this, more like today – Sunday at any rate). We booked this three months ago when we last went and it was by coincidence that it fell at the end of the period of time off work for both of us and also that it fell straight after my birthday. Phil and Paul kindly invited me to join them for an evening meal at a local Italian restaurant on Sunday as well, so on Sunday I shall have the daytime in the spa – including a much needed full back massage – followed by a pleasant evening at the restaurant and all accompanied by people who I feel privileged to number amongst my friends. Other friends have also suggested that we meet for coffee, food, or just chatter in the near future and I’m very much looking forward to all of these including in the near future meeting up for coffee or afternoon tea or some such with Sue and Charly and James. I’m also looking forward to entertaining one or two people for afternoon tea at home hopefully in the garden over the next few weeks, whilst summer is still with us. I had originally planned a bit of a social gathering in the garden for today (Saturday) and in fact the weather has been perfect for such an event but I cancelled this almost 2 weeks ago, partly due to a relatively low number of people being able to come, although I was trying to keep numbers low any way to ensure that if the weather was bad we could go indoors, but largely because I simply didn’t feel like it with everything else that was going on.
Hopefully I can manage another blog post much sooner next time: let’s see how things turn out.
Here are some photographs of some of the things in teh garden that have been doing well since my last blog. I don’t understand why but anything I take a picture of on my iPhone, using the Instagram app, comes out either sideways or upside down when I upload them to WordPress for this blog, but as there are so many of them I regret that I can’t motivate myself to manually rotate each one using a third party tool and then re-upload. If you are reading the blog using an iPad or similar maybe you can get away with rotating the device?!