Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.
One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time.
While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.
Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.
*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.
All sickness is cruel but dementia has got to be one of the cruellest of them all, robbing the victims of their very essence. Sadly, we’ve been rather touched by dementia in recent times. Now my brother-in-law is raising money to help rid us all of this terrible affliction. If you can spare a few coppers for the cause, well you know the drill. Cheers!
In 2010, I handed over a king’s ransom for a set of crowns courtesy of a handsome Turkish dentist called Ufuk (yes, you’ve read it right). And since we ended our Anatolian affair in 2012, I’ve been going to a dentist regularly here in old Naaridge in an effort to preserve my Hollywood smile. It’s a modest surgery above a shop on Timberhill – very different from the swish practice Liam attends where the waiting room looks like a hotel lobby. Ramshackle it may be, but my dentist has all the right equipment and a hands-on approach. Despite my many scale and polishes, I’ve only just recently noticed the statue of a stag on top of the building. I must have passed it a thousand times so that says a lot about my powers of observation. My only defence is that, unlike the monarch of the hill, I don’t keep my head in the clouds. I did a bit of digging and the sculpture was erected in the 1890s by gun maker George Jeffries who once occupied the shop below. Presumably, it was put there to promote his deadly double-barrells, just the ticket for slaughtering these magnificent beasts in the wild. Hardly what I call a fair fight.
Normally at the gym I’m encircled by beefy blokes in tattoos and tight togs getting down and sweaty with weights and pulleys, squats and presses – an orgy of exertion. Only the high-octane musak drowns out the clanging and grunts. This week, though, was different. An elderly couple – in their seventies I guessed – ambled to the row of exercise bikes which are my torture implements of choice. While I watched from a discreet distance, he helped her onto a seat, carefully placed her dainty feet on the pedals, tightened the restraints, pressed the button and selected a mild resistance for her workout. She began cycling while he rested on an adjacent bike, holding her handbag. After about ten minutes, he helped her from the bike and they toddled off together, arm-in-arm. No words were spoken. It was as if they were one. I was incredibly touched by the scene. Let’s hope Liam and I will be the same in years to come.
The world may be going to Hell in a handcart but the Pansies keep on blooming – year in, year out. I keep them fed and watered and I’m grateful to those who pass by to admire the display. As the New Year dawns and more dark clouds lurk on the horizon, it’s a good time to look back at the pansies that perked the most in 2018. Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum, romped home by a mile. Who knew a drag show in a circus tent could strike such a chord?
As for the also-rans, it’s the usual eclectic bunch – as befits my random rants and ramblings from daily life: cowboys, cross-dressers, the curse of modern parlance, movie misses, gym bunnies, Hellenic heaven, and stories old and new from the Land of the Sunrise.
Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum | Can I Get, Like, a Coffee? | My Brokeback Mountain Moment | Heal Thyself | Pretty in Pink | Do You Have a Tale to Tell? | Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy? | A Hard Act to Follow | Old Money, No Money | Postcards from Crete
And what was the most popular post from years past? For the second year running it’s that 2012 camp classic, Gran Canaria, Sex Emporium. It’s the title that won it. Shame on you.
With 2018 all wrapped up, we’re off to the Ivy for some posh nosh and to see in the New Year. Wishing everyone peace and prosperity for 2019.
Liam is mended enough to return to work (at a doctor’s surgery, ironically). Broken ribs are a nasty business and it’ll be months before he’s fully repaired. In the meantime, he’s popping the pills to get him through the day (and particularly the night). It reminds me that, during our midriff years, we need to do what we can to keep ourselves match fit for the future. No one wants poor health to spoil their twilight years. At my annual MOT last year, the quack told me to watch my glucose levels or I’d be on the road to diabetes town. This stark warning spurred me on to move more and eat (and drink) less. Twelve months on, I’ve dropped over a stone and my glucose levels are almost back to within normal range. So it’s a little less sugar and spice and everything nice – except for Christmas, of course, when all bets are off.