Thursday, 22 March 2007

Mastiff Man (or The Brigadier)

Bill is doing rather better on the meeting-the-neighbours front than I am. Dogs are a great resource, of course. People will stop to nod and smile at a dog, where they will scarcely spare a second glance, for a human. Bill seems to have collected quite a little coterie around him out there on the common with the other dog-owners, at any rate. Most of his new friends tend to have names like “Poodle Woman”, or "Labrador Man”, it’s true (nothing sexist there, Bill says: it’s just the way things are); and to have prompted little more comment from him than the fact that there they are each day, and that they generally exchange a word or two with him whilst throwing their sticks, or exhorting their dogs to come to heel. One man only has excited anything like vehemence on Bill’s part, and that’s the one he calls Mastiff Man. “An old codger in plus fours and carrying a shooting stick”, is Bill’s description of him. “With a great grumbling brute of a muzzled mastiff on an extended lead.” He’s a retired army officer, apparently. An old brigadier, resident in these parts for many years. Loud, bluff, opinionated - a species of male dowager if ever Bill saw one. And wanting nothing so much as to discuss the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Bill.

“ Fellow wants to talk strategy, for God’ sake!” was Bill’s expostulation on returning from his walk this morning. “Seems to think that everything would be all right out there, if only the people on the ground would listen to him, and take his advice.”

This is in fact red rag territory, for Bill. He’d hoped to pass unrecognised here, but people do have a tendency to think they know him, from having seen him standing tall against turbulent backgrounds on the television so often, shouting his reports from war zones. His usual response to being accosted on the street is to say that he has no opinions in the matter. Or none, at least, that he’s prepared to go to the stake for. Opinions are the first thing to go, he always says, in his line of work. He has learnt, the rough way, that an opinion expressed today has a way of rearing up to shoot one in the foot, tomorrow; and that to put one’s head above the parapet in any cause is most of all to risk getting it blown off…. It doesn’t seem to have gone down very well with the brigadier, however. “Positively sloped off… “ Bill observed, of Mastiff Man's departure from the scene this morning. “Just the sort to take aim and shoot the messenger, if there’s no-one else within range….”.

I confess I can’t think of any way of helping Bill out of this one. Save perhaps suggesting that he take a different route when going out with Monty in the mornings? With people of the brigadier’s sort, avoidance is usually the only possible course. I’m thinking of getting a dog myself, however – it seems to be the most effective way of getting to know people, round here.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Here be dowagers

19 March 2007
Here be dowagers

I’ve had my first comment! Discounting those from Bill of course, which tend to be verbal only, and are directed mostly at what he calls my extreme verbosity - which itself falls so very far short, he says, of that altogether shorter, sharper, more staccato kind of thing that is generally thought to be the defining characteristic of a blog…. I respond by telling him that he’s under no obligation whatever to read my entries. And in any case, when was it, precisely, that he became an arbiter of what does, or does not constitute a blog? It’s entirely likely of course that he has been blogging clandestinely himself, for months. What could be more natural after all than that, given his present state of health, and trapped in domesticity as he has lately been reduced to become…. he should have taken to haranguing the politicians, or the MOD, or the Foreign Office (or even the Prince of Wales), with vituperative daily or bi-weekly blogs? I shall have to institute what I think is called a profile search, to see if I can locate him…

My online correspondent was altogether more generous. (It’s absurd, really, the degree of pleasure one can derive, simply from knowing that one person at least has visited one’s site! Is it a question of “by the numbers of your comments shall ye be judged”, I wonder? Or is there some other criterion by which a blog’s success is measured? Time will tell, I expect: that, as everything else). My commenter calls herself Ali, anyway ( I’m taking her to be a woman, largely by virtue of her apparent familiarity with sausages..). And she seems to have been interested most of all in what my butcher has had to tell me about local affairs. I do hope he tells me more; since, quite apart from any curiosity of my own, I should like to be able to please and satisfy Ali. Unfortunately, she left no profile footprint, so I am unable to thank her personally. Or better still, to make a link with her site, if she has one…. But, thank you Ali, wherever you are – you have saved me from nil points ignominy, and made my day.

Nothing much else has happened since yesterday – save that Bill did return rather disgruntled from his walk this morning; complaining that picture-postcard-pretty though the district undoubtedly is, and as Pooh-bear as I will ….. he still finds it lacking in some essential ingredient (tanks, probably; or what I think are now more properly called armoured vehicles); and that what he most foresees in prospect for us here is not so much dragons, as deadly dowagers! The place is fairly heaving with them, he said. He counted a dozen of them on the high street, and another six at least, out on the common with their distinctly dowagerial dogs. He seemed genuinely out of humour over it. And cast a wary eye inside my sitting room as he passed, I noticed; as if he quite expected to see it bristling already, with dowagers drinking tea.

It did occur to me to suggest that he might denounce the local women as much as he liked, yet have had the decency to leave the dogs out of it! I was quite on the point of asking him what he thought there could be, about a dog, that could possibly be construed as dowagerial? But I thought better of it. He’s still a bit morose, as I said. His view of everything and its dog is on the jaundiced side, just now. Restored to his customary good spirits he’ll be the first to acknowledge, I’m sure of it, that what he currently sees as a deadly dowager, is in reality nothing worse than a blameless matron going about her usual business on the streets. Much like me, in fact…

Sunday, 18 March 2007

I Beatrice

18 March 2007
Day Two: A road runs through it

I’ve been ‘out there’ almost twelve hours now, and so far, nobody has commented. I daresay I ought to have expected as much, and should be patient. But then, suppose nobody were to comment? Not one person. Not ever. It would be very disgraceful, wouldn’t it? The blog equivalent, so to speak, of nil points in the Eurovision Song Contest! Still, nil desperandum and all that: the only thing seems to be blithely to go on, as if one thought that someone, somewhere must be listening……

To return to the story so far, therefore, and tell you that what the road of the title actually runs through is our house, my brother Bill’s and mine. Though strictly speaking it isn’t so much a road, as a little public footpath. It was once one of the approach avenues to the local stately home: a great, gaunt Jacobean mansion that stands in splendid isolation on the river bank, about a hundred metres from here. The house looks abandoned now, for all the world as if it were peopled only by unfriendly ghosts – though I’m told by my friendly butcher (he being the one person who has so far addressed more than three words to me) that a very old lady and her daughter still live there. The same old lady, the butcher tells me, around whom some ancient scandal was enacted, years ago in my remote girlhood. It seems an unlikely story. That particular old lady would be about a hundred by now! It would be rather like suddenly discovering that Wallis Simpson was still alive. Or Nell Gwynne, or Queen Victoria. It has excited my curiosity however, and I look forward to learning more. Just as soon as I have met someone other than the butcher, whom I might ask.

I began by explaining that the road isn’t so much a road, as a little footpath. And I ought to explain too, that the house isn’t so much a house, as a pair of tiny gatehouses; each one quite complete and separate in itself, but joined to the other at the top by an ornamental superstructure, that conceals the common attic and bestrides the road. It seemed just the thing for Bill and me; we could hardly believe our luck. We had been looking for something that was divisible down the middle in some way, but had hardly expected to be separated by anything quite so emphatic as a little road. Here, we would be able to lead our perfectly separate, independent lives – yet to meet, had only to pop out of our respective little doors like the man and woman in the Swiss weather clocks…….

We make odd housemates, Bill and I. Everybody says so, and none with a more genuine astonishment than we ourselves. It just happened that we found ourselves washed up on the shores of approaching old age alone, and more or less simultaneously (I widowed, he divorced) - so that the sensible thing seemed to be to pool resources, and look for a house to share. I can see it’s not going to be easy though. Brother and sister we may be, but we have never been close, and our lives could hardly have been more different. I have spent the last decade caring for our elderly parents, and then for my first grandchild - whilst Bill has been racketing about the world, as he puts it, in his capacity as foreign correspondent for one of the television channels. He’s not used to sitting about, and certainly not in cottages. He has been accustomed to live his life out of suitcases, always ready at a moment’s notice to fly out of what he calls the danger of the domestic front, into the comparative safety of a war zone. He says that’s why his marriage failed, and his children no longer seem to want to speak to him…..

He’s home from hospital now, settled to some extent in his side of the cottage – though finding all sorts of fault with my arrangements. He has his doubts about the cottage’s perfect capacity to contain him, for a start. He’s a big man, inclined to lounge; he says his legs have a way of coming up against solid objects, no matter in which direction he tries to extend them. His head is in constant contact with the ceilings, besides – I hear his bellowed imprecations, and wonder how long it will be before he learns to duck. He’s rather morose just now for Bill, in fact; I’m told it’s a part of the recovery process. He goes out each day for longish walks of course, but only with his dog. His old Monty has seen it all, he says - is a regular old dog-at-arms himself, and the only possible companion. (I ought to explain at this point that Bill’s imagery always tends to have something of the battlefield about it. It’s only to be expected, I suppose, from one of his experience. Though it can be just a little un-nerving; and I do wonder how well it will go down in so obviously peaceable a district? Or indeed in blogland?).

All these things will settle down in time, I expect. Bill will find some way of extending his legs, and defending his head – and some person just congenial enough, it’s to be hoped, with whom to drink his daily pint in one of the local pubs. And I - well, sooner or later I must begin to meet people, and make friends. Everything will turn out to have been all for the best in the end, I’m sure. It will have to, since what with stamp duty and everything else, there’s not the smallest possibility of our moving yet again…