Category Archives: Farm life

The Old Bat becomes a Great Grandmother

I Have not written for a while, I just could not get into the right mood, mainly because all my plans had gone wrong. I had expected to move into a different flat, one that was well suited to my situation. It had no steps at all, with a front door opening straight on to the pavement. This would have enabled me to get outside for the first time since January. Plans had been laid to move on my birthday, my family were coming down from Oxford to do the work.The day before the move I was told that the present tenant was not moving, even though he had given written notice to our joint landlord. The reason was because the house he was buying might have Japanese knot weed. I was devastated. When I recovered, I decided to make the best of it as my family were coming anyway and it was my birthday. I organized a party for the friends that have helped me during the last six months. It was going to be a ‘No trouble party’.Having asked around which ‘takeaways’ were the most popular I settled on an  Indian takeaway. As some of the guests had different dietary needs I chose dishes from a Vegetarian takeaway and others from an Indian takeaway that had meat dishes. A very good friend made a beautiful lemon drizzle cake for desert.

The party was a resounding success. The food arrived on time, it was hot, and  was pronounced of very good quality. I could not tell because Indian food is too spicy hot for me. The evening then became very lively as we all sang to music played by three of the guests, two playing guitars and one playing a balaphone, a West African instrument, We had a great time and as one guest remarked ‘not quite the party one would expect for an eighty two year old.’

Sept 8th.
I have not written for a while because I was so disappointed about the non move. It has been a beautiful summer and I have not been outside at all, so I have not seen my garden. However, yesterday while being carried to and fro from the ambulance on the way to a pre assessment appointment at the hospital, I saw my garden and its’s plants. On the whole I was disappointed because both the fuchsias and the hydrangeas had grown a lot of foliage but had not yet flowered, perhaps they will in the Autumn.

The visit to the hospital went well, a lot of paperwork, and a few tests which I passed well. All of my ailments are kept under control by various medications. As a result , I was given November30th as the date for the operation on my spine and told that I should be in hospital for between 5 and 10 days.It is good to have a defiant date.

My big news is the birth of my great grand child, Frankie, who weighed in at 6lb 13oz. She is very beautiful with straight back hair, with the look of both her parents. It is wonderful to have a baby in the family again.

November 11th.

I have got my mojo back again. I have settled back again in my flat where I am visited by my good friends often bringing food. One pair often bring their evening meal, with a portion for me so that we can eat together at my dining table. How kind and thoughtful.
Having had two very minor falls I came to the conclusion that I needed a bit of help. So with help of a care allowance from the Dept of Work and Pensions I have a very nice carer who helps me wash and get dressed two mornings a week.It is great that the same woman comes at a time to suit me, not too early.

I have had many letters and cards from friends that I met at work. Thank you very much, they really cheered me up.I can assure you all that I am not ill just badly disabled which is going to be made a bit better on Nov 30th.

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Decision Time for one Old Bat.

It is very difficult for some people to admit that they are getting old and need help. I admit that I am one of them. I have lived on my own for sixteen years and so far, I have managed reasonably well, but not now. In previous blogs I have written about the injuries I sustained as a young woman when I helped train race horses  for my father, who was an international horseman. These injuries have now got to the stage that I cannot walk very far, and I certainly cannot cope with steps. Living in a ground floor flat is good, but unfortunately the front door is eight steps up from the pavement, so it is getting more and more painful  to leave the building.  In fact, I have not left the flat for nearly three weeks, so I have to make a decision about my future.

It is not an easy decision. If I move I will not be able to see my wonderful doctor. I learned this morning that boundaries have been moved and I am not actually in the area served by my surgery. I was only allowed to stay here because I had been with them before the  change to the boundaries.

During the time that I have lived in my flat, I have made  many good friends and I am extremely reluctant to move away from them. They all make sure that I am not lonely. Loneliness is the scourge of old age,  and the company of really good friends makes life worth living.

Yesterday, I had a visit from a representative from Disability Wales, an organisation that helps people stay in their homes. Unfortunately, they could not help me.  The suggestion of replacing the outside steps with a ramp instead of the steps is not possible, because the gradient is too high and the distance  too long. A big disappointment, as I thought that this was the answer to my problem.

Days later

In the mean time, I have been in touch with the Housing Dept in order to put my name down on the waiting list for ‘sheltered’ accommodation’. It is almost impossible to get a flat in this district but I have to be on the list to be considered in the future. I am also going to get in touch with the local estate agents to see if they have a suitable flat.

The estate agents say that there are no suitable flats available.

Many days later

I was woken up this morning by a telephone call from the Surgical Unit at the hospital, offering me an appointment with the Spinal Surgeon next Tuesday morning at 7.30. They had a cancellation so I was very pleased to say that I would gladly take it. Such good news, I will let you all know how I get on. I am not expecting miracles, but a little less pain would be wonderful.

Tuesday January 30th

This morning, I had an appointment with Mr Chopra, the surgeon at Llandhough Hospital, to discuss my pain problem. Mr Chopra explained that as I had not had any relief from the spinal injections, the only step left was to have surgery. He put the MRI scan picture on his screen, and explained to me that it showed my spinal cord being  crushed by the bone of a damaged vertebra. The only hope of pain relief was to remove the bone, and replace it with metal and screws. This would mean quite a stay in hospital. There was no 100 per cent guarantee that this would work. If I did not have the operation my condition would continue to deteriorate until I would not be able to walk at all. He told me that after another MRI scan, he would operate in April.

Now, I can postpone all decisions until after the operation, and recovery time.  When, with a big bit of luck, I will be able to walk and navigate stairs. This will  enable me to remain in my present flat and on my doctor’s list. This is all thanks to our wonderful National Health Service, which is free. If things do not go to plan, I will have to face up to the situation of having to be looked after by professionals, and make arrangements accordingly.

The Old Bat looks back at Christmases past and present

I am writing this the week before Christmas Day 2017.  This has prompted memories of Christmases gone by.

I was born in 1936 on a farm in West Wales. At that time we had no electricity – just oil lamps and candles.  So no Christmas lights.  My earliest memory is of a warm happy  home decorated with lots of berried holly branches stuck behind every picture frame and sprigs of mistletoe hanging over every door ready for all those kisses. We had a homegrown branch of a fir tree to go with our log fires. The branch was decorated with tinsel and coloured baubles. We were all raised as Christians, and I attended a convent school, so the religious aspect of Christmas was a constant background to our celebrations, but not dominant. At this time in West Wales, carol singers came to our doors on New Years Eve.

At four or five years old I definitely believed in Father Christmas, so my brother and I sent many messages up the chimney. On Christmas Eve we hung at the end of our beds the largest stockings we could find. As we waited, hoping to catch sight of him, we were sure that we could hear the reindeers coming nearer and nearer. We could  even hear  the tinkle of their bells. We never actually saw him, of course, but we were always pleased by the gifts we received in our stockings next morning. In those days presents were small, usually a toy for my brother and a small doll for me, also some chocolates or sweets and always a tangerine in the toe of the stocking.

Life on the farm was always busy, even on Christmas Day.  We had a large herd of cows to be milked, calves to feed, sheep to be seen and checked on. In the farm kitchen  a large Christmas dinner was being cooked: a very large goose reared on the farm, huge joints of home cured ham, also potatoes, carrots, parsnips and cabbage, all home produced. There was also a large homemade Christmas pudding. This feast was not just for the family but also for the cowman and the other workers who lived with us in the farmhouse.  We had  beer, home-brewed specially for the occasion. After dinner, it was back to work for the adults, while my brother and I played with our presents, more having been brought by friends and relatives. Note, that I describe the midday meal as ‘dinner,’ and  will call the evening meal ‘supper’.  Supper, eaten once all the outside work was finished,  consisted of all the leftover cold meats from dinner, with bubble and squeak made from the leftover vegetables and the wonderful gravy: my favourite meal.

The evening was spent listening to the battery powered radio, playing parlour games or, if we could persuade her, singing around the piano played by my Grandmother. We went to bed very tired and happy.

We spent many years having these innocent  Christmas days, but  this changed when our village had electricity, which brought with it television and advertising.  Christmas became commercial and it became difficult for our children not to want what they saw advertised.  I remember when my own children were about twelve, my mother asked them what they would like as a gift for Christmas. Seduced by the wonderful portrayal of a game on the television called Mouse Trap, they asked their Grandmother if she would get it for them. My mother searched the toy shops near and far until she found it. There was great excitement before opening the box on Christmas Day. What a disappointment, it was just a bit of moulded brightly coloured plastic which had been staged by the film on TV to look wonderful.  I was so disappointed for my mother. We all learned  a valuable lesson. As the years have gone by, Christmas has become more and more commercial, with advertising starting in September. This really upsets me, I worry about all those families who have to struggle with Christmas debt for the foreseeable future.

New Year’s Day

Enough of this moaning. I will tell you about the lovely things that have made this Christmas wonderful for me. Over the holiday I have seen all my children and most of my grand children with their lovely friends. I had phone calls and visits from friends who knew that I was stuck in my flat. Among many cards, I had a lovely hand made card addressed to ‘his lovely cousin’s Grandma.’ Another card came from an old friend of my daughter’s. We have not been in touch since they all left for university. During the last few years I have followed the lives of his young sons on Facebook. I did not think that he would recognise my present name, so I was delighted to receive a card designed by one of the boys. I also want to thank all the friends that I have made during the many years at work for giving me such thoughtful cards and gifts. I realise now that the heart of Christmas still lives, we all try to show our friends and relations how much we love and appreciate them.

I wish a happy and healthy 2018 to everyone.

 

 

 

 

The Old Bat recalls the 1948 Olympics and her father’s international show jumping career with his horse NIGHTBIRD

During the summer holiday of 1948, having spent my first year at senior school, I was looking forward to attending a very special event, the Olympics at Wembley.
I had spent most of the holiday in the world of horses, riding every day and competing in junior show jumping events. My father, a farmer, was also a well known horseman who competed in show jumping events all over the U.K. 1948 was the year of the first Olympic Games after the war. It was held at Wembley Stadium in London. My father had lent our only horse, Nightbird, to the British team for this global event. He was a thorough bred brown gelding, who could gallop fast and jump very high and wide. They had won many point-to-point races in 1946. My father, an excellent equestrian, was getting too old for that dangerous sport so they turned to show jumping. The pair was extremely successful, winning many first prizes at premier agricultural shows held all over England and Wales.

The world’s champion show jumpers were coming to compete against each other at the Olympics in August. The riders in the British Team were all Army cavalry officers. Nightbird’s chosen rider was Col. Scott. Our horse spent the whole summer of 1948 being trained for the Games, so was not available to compete with my father to earn some extra money for the farm – an unselfish and patriotic gesture. At that time all events at the Games were amateur, as were all international events for years to come.

The show jumping, the Prix Des Nations, was held on Saturday August 14th, the last day of the Games. Because Nightbird was in the British Team, our family had tickets for that day. It was very exciting. Mexico won the gold medal, Spain won the silver medal, the British Team won the bronze. Nightbird came back home at last. Not long after the Olympics, the Great British International Show was held at the White City Stadium in London. The champion international horses stayed on after the Games to compete. The Grand Prix, the Daily Mail Cup, was the last event and championship of the show. Only winners at the other events at the show could compete. Nightbird had already won the Selby Cup, so qualified to compete against the very best in the world at that time. The Daily Mail Cup was won by the Olympic gold medallist from Mexico, H.Mariles Cortes riding Arrete; second came Chevalier J.F.M. d’Orgeix, riding Sucre de Pomme; Nightbird was third, having jumped three clear rounds over massively high fences, the audience roaring him on. The winner and the second horses jumped the rounds just seconds faster. I now think that this was his best ever performance. International teams, including the Swedish one, tried to buy him, offering large sums of money. He was not for sale.

For the next 5 years, my father and his horse competed all over Europe as members of the now civilian British Team, winning in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Dublin. Later, the horse was again lent to a younger British team winning in both the USA and Canada. One of the very many high points of this trip was a prestigious first prize at the famous Madison Square Gardens in New York, Nightbird having been ridden by Peter Robeson.

As I became older I was able to ride our now famous horse at local shows, sometimes just cantering around the show ring to show him off. We had to do this because he would not try over smaller jumps, he would knock them down, not good for a famous horse. The truth was that he only performed well when the fences were large, the event prestigious with a great atmosphere. He was a bit of a ‘diva’. He lived in retirement until he was 30 years old, and was buried at his home farm, a wonderful horse. He enabled my father, an ordinary, but talented Pembrokeshire farmer, to see and enjoy many parts of Europe. This was unheard of in the 1950s.

The Old Bat’s early life

I was born in July 1936 at the hospital in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in West Wales. My parents were William and Kathleen , who had a dairy farm nearby. I wish I could say that I was exactly what they hoped for, in fact I was a great disappointment. They badly wanted a boy to carry on the farm and be a wonderful horseman like my father. Not only was I the wrong sex, I did not seem to have a proper nose either, just a little hole in the middle of my face. However, they took me home and grew to love me, a very small nose eventually appeared.

The next year my brother arrived with a very large nose. My mother was heard to exclaim to my father ’look what you have done’ this time.

Growing up on a farm was healthy, plenty of space to run around, puppies and kittens to play with and orphan lambs to feed. When I was about 4 years old my brother and I went to a nursery school in Haverfordwest, just for the mornings session. Father used to drop us at the train station at the same time that he was loading churns of milk on to another train, taking the milk to the schools in the Welsh valleys. We were put ‘in charge of the guard’ who would let us out at the next station, Haverfordwest. We would walk ‘hand in hand’ to the cinema where the little school was held. We returned the same way by train. If we were lucky, someone would meet us with a car, tractor or may be a horse and cart. Otherwise we would walk the two miles home, often sleeping in the hedgerow until some one arrived. In those days there was no traffic, Father had the only car in the parish, so it was quite safe. I do not recall much about that little school but much later in life I was reminded that I had promised a fellow pupil that when we grew up, we would live in a tree with an Aga Cooker.

This happy life soon changed. One sunny morning when I was six years old, my mother took me for a very long car journey. We travelled up to the Gower coast to little seaside village called Horton. I got out of the car and ran a little distance from my mother who was looking down at the beautiful sandy beach. When I turned around to ask her if I could go down the steps to play on the sand, she was not there. Instead there was a lady dressed in black heavy robes from head to toe. I had met one these ladies previously. She was a nun of the Ursuline Order, they had been evacuated from their convent in Dover to the mansion house in our village. I had met one of the sisters before, so I was not afraid. The sister explained to me that my mother had gone back home, and that I was going to live with them in this new house, which was a boarding school. She told me kindly that I would go home to the farm for the school holidays.

I spent 6 years at the convent, even moving with them to Dover when the war ended. I was not unhappy, but I was never a fully paid up member of my own family again, I was always ‘a visitor’. I had to learn to be self reliant, often truculent, according to one school report. I now think that this very early departure from home had a big effect on my whole life. I do not blame my parents who thought that this was the best education for me. I could not walk to the nearest village school, it was 4 miles away, I was quite a delicate child having had ‘Whooping cough’ when I was eight weeks old and had been lucky to survive. It was wartime, petrol was rationed, so they could not drive me to school every day. I never found out how my brother got there. I do not think that I ever asked, perhaps I did not want to know and be hurt.

The beach at Horton was used by the Allied Army to practice their landings for D Day, I still remember the large crafts coming in and all the soldiers rushing out on to the beach.

When I became a mother, I realized how difficult it must have been for my mother the day she left me behind at that school, I was so very young. We never ever talked about it.

I remained at that school until I was twelve years old, the last few years at their convent in Dover. I travelled by train, by myself, from Pembrokeshire on the West coast of Wales to the East coast of England, To do this, I had to cross London from Paddington station to Cannon St, station, quite an achievement at nine years of age. I heard the news that the war was over while playing with friends on a tennis court at Dover. I was just 9 years old and hundreds of miles from home.

I stayed at the convent in Dover for the next two years, going back home for the longer of the school holidays, always crossing London to do it. At 11 years of age I passed the entrance examination to a boarding school in Bristol.That will be the next story.

 

Memories, a tribute to Rowina

This morning I received an envelope from an old friend containing photographs taken at least 55 years ago. She had found them when she cleared her Mother’s flat, after she passed away. I showed them to my Grandson, he thought that they were pictures of his Mother.

I did not recognize myself immediately. I did not remember the ‘evening’ dress I was wearing either. It looked very modern, not my usual style. The picture shows a group of people of mixed ages, sitting around a table at a ‘ Dance’, or some similar event. Everyone in the picture is wearing ‘evening’ dress. All look as if they are enjoying themselves, lots of bottles of beer, plus one large bottle of wine on the table. Soft drinks must have been provided, because I did not touch any alcohol until a lot later in life, even then, very little. I am sitting happily on my husband’s knee. We look so young and carefree, oblivious of all the ‘ups and downs’ to come in the future.

The second picture shows me dancing ‘The Gay Gordons, a Scottish reel. It is the best photograph that I have ever seen of myself. I am laughing, obviously having fun dancing with a friend’s father.

I think that looking at the rest of the company in the photograph, this must have been a fund raising event for the St Vincent de Paul charity in Haverfordwest, organized by the wonderful Father Paul Satori, whose work became the inspiration for the local cancer Foundation, set up in his memory..

The photograph appears to be taken either at the church hall, or a school dining room.. There are metal and canvas chairs set around the table.

My grandfather was a Church of Wales Vicar, while I spent 6 years at a Catholic school.. As a result, I supported both churches. My lifelong friend Rowina, and her husband John Dillon are also in this photograph. I know that they were lifelong Catholics. This is the only picture of them together that I have ever had, I am so pleased to have it.

Rowina was one of my greatest friends. We first met when I returned from my first term at boarding school aged 6. During my time away, Rowina had come to live with my family to help my Mother cope with providing meals for all the men working on our farm, normally eight workers, plus four family. Rowina was a lovely young girl with beautiful blonde hair and a strong cheerful personality.

At that time, there was no electricity or ‘Mains’ water. There were no ‘fridges, no electric light, no washing machines and no handy kitchen appliances, everything cooked on a solid fuel stove, by the light of paraffin lamps at night.

Rowina told me years later that her first sight of me was of a tiny little girl with very skinny legs getting out of the car, wearing an extremely large brown school hat. We soon became the best of friends.

Rowina was the most amazing cook. My Father thought that she was the best cook in the world. Her Victoria sponges had no equal.

She helped my Mother until she got married to a handsome Irish man called John Dillon. The couple found a pretty cottage nearby, and in the fullness of time had 3 lovely children, Pat, Jean and Michael.

When they were teenagers, both girls helped me in various little schemes to make a little extra money, farming was not doing too well at this time. First of all, I had a little Market stall in the local town. Every Saturday, Jean helped me cook thousands of Welsh cakes, yeast buns, cakes and pies, all to order. We did not make our fortune, but it was a good experience for both of us.

Our next Enterprise was to have a ‘Dog clipping’, business, no fortune there either. Just lots of hassle trying to beautify pet poodles whose coats had gotten into a solid mat of wool. After this, Jean trained to be a top class hairdresser who looked after my hair for many years. Jean later married Maurice and moved to Southhampton. Pat married Conrad and lived in Fishguard. Rowina and John settled down in Haverfordwest very near to where I lived at the time, we stayed close until I moved to France.

Rowina and I helped each other through two tragic events. I lost a baby boy, Robert at nine months old, a’Cot death’, while Rowina lost her grown up son Michael in freak accident. Terrible times which we helped each other through.

Other pictures in the envelope I could recall. Jean, the sender of the photos, sitting in a wheelbarrow cuddling my two year old daughter. They are quite recognisable 55 years later.Thank you very much for taking the trouble to send these photos to .me. They remind of all the good times we shared all those years ago. I am now going into my kitchen to try and make a Victoria Sponge in memory of Rowina. I know that it will not be as good. She had the Magic touch. .