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This year has been….unsatisfactory.  Nothing terrible has happened.  We are in fairly good health, we are comfortable and very fortunate.  But….almost everything we have tried to do this year has not been straightforward.  There have been delays, cancellations and anxieties.  I think the last update I wrote on our affairs (this is after all a diary blog) – apart from our holidays, a couple of outings and a few posts of things I’ve seen – was in the spring.  I seem to have had less time than ever before for getting things done.


We visited Lowestoft on Tuesday this week so that Elinor could attend a podiatry appointment. The weather was cloudy and damp but fairly warm for the time of year. This is Lowestoft South Beach

Richard’s first year of retirement was meant to be a year in which we improved our lot.  Retirement after over 40 years of continuous employment was always going to be a bit of a challenge but he decided he was going to see how the first six months went before making any decisions about what he would do with his time.  He has found that he doesn’t miss the work at all though he does miss the social aspect of going out to work.   Living in the country, some miles from the nearest town means that we don’t see people very often and we have to work hard to get any kind of social life – or go without.  He has come to no decision as to whether he takes up a hobby, does voluntary work or any other activity; he has been too busy with the house and driving Elinor about.  He has been a church warden for many years and is a member of our church’s PCC (Parochial Church Council).  He has recently joined our local Parish Council too so he has employment enough!


Gulls on the breakwater

His retirement began with the death and funeral of his mother, which was not a good start.  He has missed her very much; her support of him, her good sense, her understanding.  Our holiday in the Peak District this year was taken at the anniversary of her passing and those of you who have kindly followed this blog for over a year will remember that we heard of her death last year as we arrived in the Peaks all prepared to go and visit her.


Looking towards Lowestoft docks

Richard has enjoyed working in our large garden and making a few improvements to it and to our house.  We started the year by getting all our windows and doors replaced.  We have a new summerhouse and a new potting shed.  Our next project was to gut the family bathroom upstairs and the downstairs shower room and get new suites for both rooms and then redecorate.  We asked around for suitable plumbers and a couple were recommended.  We selected one and he came to see us and plans were made.  It was decided that we would also have a water-softener fitted which was done as soon as the downstairs shower room was finished.  And this is where things really went wrong.  We hadn’t been happy with the speed at which the work was done.  Days went by when no-one turned up.  There were delays and more delays.  We said that the upstairs bathroom would have to wait until we returned from Germany as we didn’t want anything left half done while we were away.  The plumber failed to return.  He has made no contact with us and has not responded to any of our messages. We had already paid him, at his request, for the work done to the shower room and for the water softener (we ought to have smelt a rat here!) but there are still a few things that need to be finished off properly in the shower room, ‘snagging’ it is called, which now will never be done except by us, in our non-professional way.  We have a garage full of bathroom fittings and tiles and also some of the plumber’s and his men’s tools and equipment which they haven’t collected.  We must find ourselves another plumber but we cannot face the upheaval until some time in the new year.  I hope the work is done at a time when it isn’t too cold!


Off-season seaside resorts are a little sad and quiet

We have just had our gas boiler replaced.  We use propane gas as we aren’t on mains gas here in the country.  It is very expensive but the alternatives, oil or electricity, are not ideal either, both being very expensive too and as we have a gas fire and a gas hob, a gas boiler is the best option for us.  We found a gas fitter who was able to get the work done during the second half of October.  It was to take three days.  In the end it took quite a bit longer as inevitably, problems were found.  The fitter wanted it all done by the end of October as he was going to Las Vegas to celebrate his son’s 21st birthday and he did manage to get his part of the work done by then.  He arranged for an electrician to come and wire the boiler up but the electrician couldn’t come immediately and when he eventually came he had difficulty with the system.  He got it done, so he thought, and we thanked him and sent him on his way but when the boiler switched on the water heated but the pump wouldn’t work.  We called the electrician back and he tried again.  It still didn’t work.  We contacted the fitter when he returned from Las Vegas and he eventually got it going.  It took two and a half weeks to fit the boiler and the weather had been quite chilly!  Fortunately we have an electric immersion heater which meant we still had hot water, a gas fire in the living room and a portable gas fire which we put in the hall at the foot of the stairs.  Elinor got the electric fan heater in her room and the fitter left us another electric fan heater in case of emergency.  We wore lots of layers!


Statue of Triton by John Thomas (1813 – 1862) on the sea front

At the same time as the gas fitter started work Richard began experiencing severe pain in his leg and back.  He saw the doctor who gave him lots of tablets and lots of advice.  He was in agony but manfully struggled on until he found that his leg was becoming numb and it was unable to take any of his weight.  He fell over a couple of times and hurt himself.  We phoned 111 and the medics there passed Richard on to the out-of-hours doctor.  I took Richard to Beccles hospital to see the doctor that evening.  Richard has a partially slipped disc in his back and a trapped sciatic nerve – not full sciatica as he could still feel his foot!  He has still managed to fall over a few times since then – falling down the stairs while I was out with my mother for the day; falling over in the garden while I was out again – but at last the feeling is beginning to return to his leg and the pain has subsided.  The hope is he will gradually be able to do more things and the feeling will come back completely.  He has been told it will take four to six weeks.  At first, he could hardly walk even with a stick and was unable to drive at all.  He can now drive very short distances but the damage is in the leg he uses for the clutch pedal and he doesn’t trust himself to be able to do an emergency stop, to drive in heavy traffic, to drive far.  I am doing all the driving at present.


The sea front with Richard and his walking stick

Elinor’s college course since September this year only asks for her to be at college for two and a half days a week.  Richard is at home most of the time now he is retired.  I must admit I miss my alone time and my routines have had to be changed to accommodate these other domestic changes.  One good thing is that Richard and I now (usually) share the duty of driving Elinor to college and I found a little more time to work in the garden this summer!  I still visit my mother a lot and take her shopping and to her many hospital, doctor’s and optician’s appointments.  She is gradually losing her sight and as each month passes I notice she has less energy and is less interested in doing things.  I take her to church once a fortnight; the intervening week I go with Richard to our church.  I miss going to church in my benefice every week;  I miss the people, the churches, the services and the preaching.  But, my mother needs me and I can’t let her down.  I like my mother’s church and I am so pleased to be able to help her do what she needs and loves to do. There used to be members of her church who collected her and brought her home but not any more.  The people who used to do it have either died or moved away and as her church is some miles from where she lives there is no-one now who could easily collect her.


The sandy beach

Elinor did really well at the end of the course she took last academic year.  She re-took her GCSE Maths and managed to get a ‘C’ grade which is what she was hoping for.  She never has to go to a Maths class ever again!  She also got a distinction in her Art and Design course and everyone was very pleased with her.  She applied for and got a place on the two year Graphic Art course she had wanted to go on the year before.  Despite this achievement she is unhappy that yet again she is the oldest one on her course and cannot find anyone interested in being friends with her.  She is lonely.  She has been extremely anxious and has struggled to attend college during the past few weeks and has found that working at home has been difficult too.  She is frightened of making mistakes and that her work might not be of high enough quality.  So she prevaricates and then avoids doing anything and then panics when she realises she is behindhand. It is impossible to convince a chronically anxious person that their fears are unfounded so life at home has been distressing for us all.  There is no escape from the constant pressure of it.  It is our elephant in the room; except it isn’t an elephant as they are too nice.  It is a troll, a gremlin, a monster, a sickness that is almost palpable and it is ever-present.


A Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) eating the tiny crabapples on our species crabapple tree.  The Fieldfares have just arrived for the winter from where they spend the summer in Scandinavia

There is however, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  We have tried over the years, many different ways to deal with Elinor’s mental health issue.  In our ignorance at first, we attempted the stern attitude.  Well, that failed spectacularly.  We then saw many different therapists who tried countless different methods of finding out why Elinor is as she is and then attempting to help her by getting her to talk about things, them talking to her about things, giving her Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and oh, all sorts of therapies.  Last winter we even resorted to drugs at the insistence of her GP (family doctor).  The side effects were awful and it took until the summer for her to stop getting flashbacks and nightmares.


The Fieldfare again. They are beautiful and fairly shy birds.

A couple of months ago my hairdresser told me that she was seeing an acupuncturist because of depression and anxiety.  The affect on her health and happiness had been astounding and she was feeling better than she had for years.  She had had regular appointments at first but at the time of talking to me about it she was only going back now and again for ‘top-ups’.  This got me wondering if it would be something that Elinor could try.  I carefully spoke to Elinor about it but she refused to contemplate the thought of someone sticking needles in her.  I tried again two weeks ago when Elinor was tearful and desperate for some kind of relief.  She said she might be willing to think about it.  She thought, and ten days ago she thought we might do some research into it.  She then agreed that it was something she would be willing to try… but those  needles..!  On Thursday last week while Elinor was in college for her half day I went to see my hairdresser to ask for the name of her acupuncturist.  By a happy chance this lady was having her hair done at that moment and agreed to talk to me.  I have made an appointment for Elinor to see her next week.  We will see what happens.


A small Common toad (Bufo bufo) hitching a ride in the wheelbarrow

Alice, my elder daughter who lives in Sheffield, has directed her first play.  It was a great success and Alice enjoyed the experience but found it exhausting.  We thought she would need a rest from her drama group for a while but she tells us she ‘accidentally’ auditioned for their next play and got cast!  Can anyone explain how one can accidentally audition for a play?


A Scabious flower from the garden photographed in October

She had become unhappy living in the house she shared with a few other young people – they were fine but the landlady was awful – so she gave a month’s notice and found another house with a room to let and moved in at the beginning of this month.  She has bi-polar disorder and if she gets over-tired or anxious her health deteriorates.  The play and then moving house caused her to be very tired and quite anxious so she did feel under-the-weather for a while.  She applied for another six-month temporary job at a higher grade in the university library department where she works, got an interview last week and has been successful!  She hopes to start the job at the beginning of next month.  Yet again it is only a part-time job and is only for six months but the money is better than what she gets at present and one must never look a gift-horse in the mouth – as they say.


Dog-rose hips (Rosa canina)

There we are.  A resumé of most of the events of the past year with many gripes and groans included.  What I intend doing is to post a few photographic highlights of the past six months (yes, there were a few highlights!) during the next few weeks.  I hope to intersperse these with some current affairs on the approach to Christmas.  Whether I manage any of it, who can tell!


Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna)

I leave you with my music selection which is the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’.  Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft and lived for many years a few miles further south along the coast at Aldeburgh.  I love the music from Peter Grimes and these interludes give a taster of the opera as a whole but without the singing!  The four interludes are entitled ‘Dawn’, ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Storm’ and the playing time is about 17 minutes.

When we moved to Somerset for 18 months twelve years ago I was very homesick and I listened to this music a lot while we were there to remind me of the coast I love.  Looking through the comments on the different recordings on Youtube I find I am not the only person to find this music, especially ‘Dawn’, so evocative of the Suffolk coast and the North Sea.

Thanks for visiting!