THOMAS GREY, THOMAS GREY, LONGEST NIGHT AND SHORTEST DAY
Its 21st December
The old feast day of St. Thomas from the time the church was appropriating all the traditional celebrations and renaming them as saints days.
It's the day when the Sun hangs low in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere, but also the time when the days are just about to lengthen. A time of rebirth, at the turning of the old year and the start of the new. Soon the lengthening of the hours of daylight become obvious and its the time to celebrate the Rebirth of the Unconquered Sun – or as we call it now Christmas. And as for millennia before us we light fires and candles to welcome and encourage the lengthening days
As I write the light is just failing and the 2013 Midwinter Solstice is timed for 5.15pm at Greenwich – and this year is really going to be the start of something new for me.
For the last twenty five or more years I have been living at, and restoring a very lovely country property, but in May of this year I lost my beloved, but aged Mum who had been living with me for many years. I had run an antiques business here for many years, but as I got less fit, and Mum needed more attention I had closed this down and now found myself living in a lovely but vast property, and having done a lot of the improvements when I first moved in, back in the eighties, it was just about time to start again at the beginning for a total update and refurb.
Logically there was just no point in my staying here alone in such a enormous house, surrounded by a huge garden. Sadly I had no children of my own who might have wanted to carry on here when it all got too much for me to cope with. So once I was somewhat over the shock of Mum's death I decided the only sensible thing would be for me to sell up
Where to move to?
Well, in the last few years the family arthritis, which I was convinced would bypass me and miss a generation, decided to kick in with a vengeance, so sensibly I should be looking for retirement accommodation, or at least something smallish and easy maintenance. I like to imagine I have had a reasonably interesting life so the future didn’t look enticing. But when the builder who had been working on the property with me since the beginning said “What you want is just a small bungalow with a bit of lawn to look out over” I have to say I thought – well if that is going to be my life for the next 20 or 30 years - just sitting and worrying how I was going to get the lawn cut and trying to find “hobbies” to fill my days – then why not just cut to the chase and get it all over with now
And in any case even if I did go down that route what were the chances of finding something that I even vaguely liked to fit in exactly with the timing of the sale of my current property. Maybe I could travel a bit and stay at a few hotels or bed and breakfasts?
Now this was a more appealing idea. Over the years I seem to have arranged my life so there was always an excuse not to be able to go on holiday. And I have to say holidays had never that seemed important to me. I enjoyed living where I lived and I loved doing what I did, why did I need to go away to somewhere else, possibly not as nice, and fret about what was going on at home whilst I was gone. But as the last holiday I took was back sometime in the 1980's and I think the early rather than the later part - though it was so many years ago I really can't remember – the idea of a bit of travelling before Bungalow-ville sounded good.
The next thought was to get a winter let on a holiday cottage. That sounded a bit more like it. I have always lived inland and the few occasions I have managed to get to the coast the first sight of the sea was always a moment of high excitement. Yes, that sounded like a much better idea. And once I had somewhere to live for six months or so I could look around and maybe even buy somewhere with a view of the sea. I got back on the internet again and searched from the West Highlands of Scotland, through Pembrokeshire, Cornwall, and even over by Northumbria.
Now, I don't think as yet I have mentioned Phoebe. I love animals and from even a young child I loved good, big, dog-shaped dogs. My parents were more sensible and the closest we had was a terrier/sheepdog cross, followed by a small Labrador cross. Both lovely dogs, but of course, as soon as I had my own place and could choose my own dog guess what – it was a Great Dane. I had gone to a local Dog Show held at the Three Counties – just to have a look round as they say. As I walked in through the entrance to be confronted by masses of yelping, barking, squirming dogs, there in the middle of the showground were a pair of magnificent black Danes. Standing alert but completely still and looking round with the sort of expression which says “Good grief, look at this lot – I really think they should learn the rules of behaviour and some proper manners”
I was smitten and was very soon the proud owner of a little black puppy, and have kept them ever since, and always blacks.
Now taking any pet on holiday severely limits the number of properties you have to choose from, and it doesn’t matter how many of them say pets welcome, - though in fact they more usually say pets allowed - when you phone and mention Great Danes the welcome becomes a little more frosty.
Travelling and holidays should be fun. You want your prospective host to welcome you with broad smiles and throw open the doors, even though from their point of view the welcome may be more professional than personal, but the very few places which seemed suitable and which I contacted just for test purposes seemed pretty hesitant once Phoebe was mentioned. Okay, pet friendly you may be but the thought of a huge Great Dane looming in at the doorway, clumping into your house, and up your stairs is going to test most places to the limit of tolerance. So it looked as though I would have to think again.
I wondered if I could fix her up with a bed in the back of my Volvo estate. She could sleep in the car and I would be in the hotel/farmhouse. But she has always been spoiled and if the start of our travels was to be in the winter months how would I feel being snuggled up in a nice warm bed in a centrally heated farmhouse or hotel when she might be shivering in the car in sub zero temperatures ( Bear in mind this is being written by a woman who once spent the night in a barn sleeping next to cow who wasn’t very well. It was stormy and bitterly cold and masses of blankets were involved, though the vast majority were over the cow) Somehow the whole idea of Phoebe in the car whilst I was inside was too flawed to stand a chance.
Whilst all this was going through my mind I was beginning to take the first steps to get the property on the market, and always when people know you are moving the inevitable question is “Where are you going to be moving to?” So when the very pleasant man who called to do the EPC asked and I told him my plans for a six month rental whilst I looked round for somewhere suitable, he asked why didn't I get a Bongo.
Now I have to admit I had never heard of a Bongo, but apparently is it a sort of van which is converted to give a bit of sleeping space, a bit of a cooker, and then they adapt the roof, slicing it off like the lid of a pie so it can be raised on a hinged end, then filling the gaps with canvas sides to give standing room inside . This sounded good and he said to look on the internet at Bongo Fury so as soon as he had left I was on the internet googling.
At first I thought this was going to be the answer, but then as I looked into it more I worried where would I put my clothes for the trip; how would I manoeuvre round Phoebe when trying to get dressed or make a cup of tea. Plus most of the original Bongo vans are now are around fifteen years or more old, and my technical knowledge of motor vehicles amounts to putting fuel in the correct orifice, and very occasionally, when in extremis, adding water to the windscreen washers and maybe air to the tyres when I see other road users are flashing their lights in warning. So something that elderly was probably not going to be the right tool for the job. But it set my mind off on a different track What about a more suitably adapted campervan / motorhome
Advertised in the local press was the forthcoming Motorhome Exhibition at the Three Counties ( this showground seems to be a marking point at salient moments in my life) so I made a note of it in my calendar and on the due date and accompanied by a trusty and helpful brother off we set
Until this point in time I had never set foot inside a motorhome, and only once in a caravan to admire someone’s recently purchased pride and joy, so this was to be a new and interesting experience. As we approached the showground from the slopes of the Malvern Hills above, the whole area was thronging with a huge multitude of different types of motorhome, of every size shape and description. I was highly impressed, though less so when I realised the vast majority of them were parked up visitors rather than potential sales offerings, but there were at least some to look at.
My brother homed in on the smaller varieties as he was thinking they would be easier for me to handle, but the, by now, several weeks of online looking had convinced me that I needed something of around twenty four or even twenty six feet long, fitted with what they call “a garage” to take the disability scooter which I need if I am to cover much more than fifty or sixty metres at one stretch.
After a quick look inside a couple of the smaller ones he was agreeing with me and we were looking at the slightly larger ones.
On my pre-show internet researches and general chats to visitors someone had mentioned that a site selling race vehicles would be worth looking at. Now bearing in mind that I am in my sixties I googled and found a site called Pistonheads. And on this site I looked at photos of the first RV I had ever seen. RV stand for Recreational Vehicle, and these are large motorhomes made for the American market and American roads, but my goodness was it an eyeopener. I really couldn’t imagine they could actually be like that in reality, and thought they must have used some sort of fish-eye lens to distort the interior and make it look far larger than it actually was. I knew I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in getting one of these, but was just intending to sneer at the cheek of the way they had photographed them to make them look impossibly larger that they actually are so I insisted that we took a look inside one.
I was (not a nice word) gobsmacked when I got into the first one. With its slides out (I had never heard of these either till a week or so before the show) it gave a really a very pleasant living space. But I already knew this wasn’t going to be the way I wanted to go – the smaller European made vehicles were more than adequate for my needs and would be far easier to handle on our British roads.
We looked at the few that were on show and were grudgingly given access by the various somewhat grumpy salesmen – I can only assume that as we were visiting on the Sunday they were by now heartily sick of sightseers opening and closing the cupboard doors etc.
The European motorhomes were well thought out and they had taken up every available inch (or should I say millimetre) of space with cunningly fitted cupboards, chairs that made into beds, and tables that lifted or folded or turned, and I was suitably impressed and went off with a carrier bag of brochures and leaflets.
More internet research and a thorough examination of the plans of these vehicles made me realise that my beloved Phoebe, once inserted into the middle of one of these would be forced to reverse back out, and only after removal of the fitted table would she have been able to do a three point turn in order to escape.
A life of continual reversing and three point turns for her did not seem a good option and I felt I had hit a brick wall as far as my plans for a bit of travel before finding that wretched “bungalow” were concerned