Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tree cosy

Cockermouth has a lovely wide Georgian main street lined with an avenue of pollarded elms. These trees are stark in winter but come the spring ... ah spring! It's hard to imagine at the moment with the cold and frost and ice... they will sprout new lush green and give us all hope of better things to come.
But what is this I see? One of the trees is all wrapped up in a neatly fitted patchwork quilt. That's novel. It's outside our newly located health food shop. I went inside it's newly refurbished interior to find out more.
Ah, now I see. It is a year since the disastrous floods hit the town. The force of the water stoved in the window of the wool shop and distributed the contents of the shop all over the place. It unravelled everywhere. Wherever you looked there was wool. It defied the laws of physics that a little shop could contain so much wool.
Now, as a celebration of our recovery, Cathy Newbury has made it into a novel project. She has gathered in every bit left when the water subsided and has given a whole new meaning to recycling. She has used it as a community project teaching people to knit. And knit they have! Squares and multi-coloured squares have been sewn together round the tree outside the old wool shop and on the other one outside the premised to which they have relocated. The tree cosy wraps the tree to the height the flood water came as a grim reminder giving us all a reason to rejoice in the miraculous regeneration of our town which is looking so good this Christmas.
It gives a whole new meaning to tree hugging.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


There were about fifty of them dumped outside the auction house. They weren't in the catalogue. if they had been I might have thought twice before entering the danger zone. There were square ones, battered ones, some with dried up plants and soil in them as well as those toadstool like things that prop up barns, a couple of bald eagles and a line of corinthian columns in case you had delusions of grandeur. M in B's eyes lit up. He has a trough obsession. Our garden is full of them of all varieties. They are good to look at but how many troughs can a man have? We'd come to look at paintings of course - big mistake! Auctions are dangerous places.
Clutching a hastily typed list swiftly obtained from the desk he was out there eagerly evaluating.
'Hey, nobody knows about these,' he said. They're late entries; not illustrated, not listed, a snip.
I cast my eye down the estimated prices – they were in the low hundreds. Christmas was a-coming and I hadn't a clue what to get the man who has everything as usual so I rashly said I would buy him the trough of his choice. Problem solved and it would keep him occupied for some time – an extra bonus. I went off to look at the paintngs and sneak a quiet cup of coffee.
An hour later and he was still out there drooling over the largest one – a pig trough. It was big and round, more than a metre in diameter and weighed several tons.
'I've chosen. This is the one,' he said, eyes shining.
I rang Mac the Mover – Workington's miracle man. He can move anything. He'd moved M in B's trough collection from the High Pennine ten years ago. He knew what he was up against. I didn't ask about his hernia. Tact is my middle name – not!
'What do you reckon it weighs?' Mac asked cautiously.
I told him and heard the intake of breath, the sucking of teeth.
'How are you going to get it on and off my wagon?'
Life is never simple is it?
Back at the desk they told me the whole collection had come on a big lorry. It was the lifetime's collection of one man. The contractor on the industrial estate next door had lifted them off with a crane when they arrived and placed them on the forecourt. We had a word with him. He'd do 'our' one for £20. Our neighbour would lift it off with his tractor at the other end. Sorted.
'How far can I go?' M in B asked as we made our way to the sale next day.
'Go as far as you want,' I said indulgently. Well they weren't going to fetch much because nobody knew about them did they?
People were drifting off when they got to the troughs at the end of the sale, just a few stragglers followed the auctioneer outside while he quickly worked his way down the lot numbers purging to get off home for his tea. They were fetching low hundreds as predicted on the now dirty crumpled extra sheet in Michel's hand. At last; lot number 741 – 'our' stone pig trough came up. I wasn't paying much attention – just tagging on at the back. Bidding started at £200 and went up quickly by increments to £1000. What? I was stupified. I pushed in closer. M in B still kept nodding, not meeting my eye. I was going to have to mortgage the cat or take in lodgers or something. I was in panic.
'Any advance on £1500?' the auctioneer asked staring intensely at M in B. 'Do I hear £1800 sir?'
To my relief he shook his head. He had his sad face on.
£1800 then came from the back quickly followed by a telephone bid and it became a duel for possession again. The hammer went down at £3700.
There was a stunned silence.
'And then there's the commission and everything on top. It'll be well over £4000' I whispered doing the calculations. I'd had a narrow escape
M in B had to admit it was the most expensive pig trough on the planet.
'There'll be other troughs ' I said consolingly, 'and you've got a lot haven't you?'
'It was unique,' he said ruefully.
He's got socks and chocolates for Christmas. Anyway - the gift wrap would have been a pig!

Monday, 6 December 2010

on the buses

I've discovered buses like some people discover god. It's all this ice and snow. The car is firmly in the garage and I find I can get anywhere - well nearly anywhere - by public transport despite living a mile away from the main road half way up a mountain.(slight exageration). The one mile brisk walk does me good and I arrive glowing and pink - eat your heart out L'oreal! I've become a bus evangelist.

Went to the gallery on the X4 on Saturday to find main street closed and cars and prone bodies in street. Black ice had claimed them and police had closed road. I minced to PO with parcels ofbook and xmas card orders with the help of shoe chains and walking poles - wonderful invention. ignoring all the fallovers - police dealing with them efficiently.
The buses started running again with arrival of salt from those well known Cumbrian salt mines.
Walzed out at 16.51 for my bus home which arrived spot on time - got on and found it had cancelled my route. How dare it!'I can drop you off at The pheasant' he said cheerfully. Is it far from there? Other road's too bad.'
'Yes it s****** is - just 6 miles in the dark'
I got off at the next stop and walked back to gallery fuming and rang M to say I was staying the night there with hot water bottle.
Sylvie my Saturday girl rang mobile to see if I'm on bus OK. (she's my beloved granddaughter as well and cares). I tell her where I am and she forces her pa - my son to turn back for me. He says he'll take me to St Bees to stay with them. It's on the coast so not as icy. (hey - I used to live at Castlegate House all on my ownio I could have quiet night in with good book and electric blanket). They'll be watching get me out of here and football. Help!
Ring M to say staying at St Bees. He says (glibly) he's been invited out to supper with lovely neighbours over the field.
Peter gets back and I pile into car. He asks how I'll get home Sunday.
Train and then bus.
No trains stop in St Bees on Sunday. He's taking me 20 miles further away from gallery and even further from home which had occurred to me already.
He turns round. He'll take me to the bottom of our hill instead (no vehicle has passed uppi there for a long time. It is pristine snow.)
I ring M to say I'm on my way home - he sounds disappointed. which is not good for ones self respect.
I set off for my one minute mile with bag with milk (4 litres) and bread(2 loaves no fishes) and computer (bloody heavy), feeble torch and walking poles. Now tell me how many hands you need for that??? At least 4- correct. I get 10 yards - Pete's headlights are long gone. It is total black when mobile goes. Help I need yet another hand now, It is M just checking I haven't changed my mind AGAIN. I assure him I'm on my way up the lane. I then spy a funny flashing light low and meandering ahead.
'Stay on the line' he says.
'I haven't got enough hands - I'll fall over' 'put it in your pocket switched on' he says'it could be a mass murderer!'
Gee thanks bud. That makes me feel better. He must be a dwarf though.
I march towards the mass murderer which turns out to be small dog with flashing collar doing a bit of rabbiting. His owner follows and we peer at each other through the fog. It is a man who was at the theatre launch Monday. He wishes to have a conversation about it at minus 11 degrees!! M is listening to this unintelligble conversation from my pocket! I take my leave after exchanging inane pleasantries..
'What the hell was all that about?' says my pocket/
Just a man and a flashing dog. wanting to know about the LitFest.
He doesn't believe any of it obviously. Thinks I've flipped. I switch him off.
I fight the 6 smelly rams who are waiting hopefully at the gate fuelled by testosterone -it's that time of year. They are hopefully waiting for sex or food - typical males.
M has soup and red wine awaiting my arrival and the fog suddenly clears and the sky is full of stars.It's good to be back.