Life and Death

After our jaunt to the Peak District, Sue settled back into her U3A routine of activities with the first one being on the 8th of Oct. While we had been away she had missed one that she had very much been looking forward to on metal detecting, however, this one based on Lazer Quest gave her ample scope to vent any latent frustration. She informed me on her return that they had played three games with differing scenarios and during the first, she came 4th in the group, 3rd in the next and 2nd in the last, bitterly disappointed there wasn’t a fourth! Personally, I had a much more relaxed and civilized day, picking red grapes and storing them in the garage in readiness for processing into wine. The white grapes, though now fully formed weren’t ready as the sugar content wasn’t high enough, I gauged that it would be in a couple of weeks or more.

The following day she was off on one of her half-day rambles while I drove to Jamie’s and finished off the work at the front of the house. This time I didn’t call on Peter for help as he was suffering badly with his knees, afterwards, I made my way to Charlotte’s where I took down a willow tree which was threatening to fall into the chicken coop.

On the 11th Joan and Phil arrived for a brief visit. They usually timed their trip to the UK much closer to Christmas, but with Brexit scheduled for Oct. 31st, they were concerned that some of the food items (cheese etc.) that they usually stock up on would not be allowed back into Italy if the UK was out of Europe. As it turned out, our contemptible politicians again contrived to prevaricate and keep the country (and Europe) in aggravated uncertainty until ??????? They did however manage to decide to have a general election, which they assure us will solve the impasse, possibly, maybe, feasibly, er, probably not. Hmmm, we shall see. Joan and Phil are now considering selling their home in Santa Vittoria and moving to Harborough, to avoid likely problems with their UK pensions and eligibility for the Italian Health Service. It was a fleeting visit, with just time for coffee and biscuits and a quick catch-up on relevant news. For once Liverpool FC hardly got a mention other than they are doing well, I think perhaps as ardent fans they didn’t want to jinx the club by a display of overconfidence in what is a very fickle sport. Perhaps the red blood that flows through every scouse’s veins isn’t asound belterof assured success.

On the 12th Charlotte, Suraj, Lucas and Ellis jetted off to Thailand for a couple of weeks’ holiday. They dropped Harry off with us for his doggy R&R before heading down to Heathrow and a late-night flight.

I spent the next fortnight walking the dog; 3-4 hours in the morning, 1-2 hours in the afternoon and 1/2 -1 hour in the evening. The weather was variable, mostly wet but luckily greyhounds are long-legged and therefore require little cleaning other than a gentle hose down of the legs. Harry came with his full wardrobe; raincoat, cold weather fleece and pyjamas, with the raincoat getting the most use. When he wasn’t out walking, Harry slept, often from 7.30pm to 7am the following morning and he proved to be of very little problem. When he was awake we just had to be careful where we placed food as being a big dog, most surfaces are within easy reach of his voracious snout, and given half a chance it would be down his throat. We were successful and he lost weight with us!

The 16th saw Jamie with two of his friends fly off to Spain, leaving Maddie for some rabbit R&R in the (recently cleared) greenhouse. Surprisingly Harry took very little notice of the white bundle of fur and just watched passively as it hopped around its glass warren. Not so when on the 23rd Mia arrived for her Beagle R&R when  Sarah and Lee flew to France for the week. Harry now had company on his walks, but as with Maddie, he took very little notice of his new companion who insisted on ploughing through every muddy stream and pond on the route and sniffing at every grassy tussock.  Harry hates water and I suppose he thought Mia was mad. Mia loves the wet stuff and the muddier the better, I guess she thought Harry was soft.

The day before flying to France Lee and Sarah made a brief surprise visit to inform us that Sarah was pregnant and expecting a baby on the 26th of May. After imparting the good news they then drove up to Nottinghamshire to let Lee’s parents know. Sarah is suffering quite badly from ‘morning sickness and her sense of smell has become so acute that she finds most aromas quite nauseous.

I had an appointment with a specialist concerning my poorly knee and foot on the 21st with the upshot being that a couple of scans are to be scheduled, a physiotherapy regime to be organised and a future meeting to arrange some supportive kit. It is with some irony that after walking a dog for two weeks, the pain felt in the knee and foot has lessened considerably and is now much more tolerable.

By the end of the month, all the family members had returned home and with some reluctance, their pets have been handed back.

I had an email from a friend that I haven’t met up with for quite a few years. He has written a book and invited me to buy a copy, from which any profits would go to charity. I knew Bharat Patel when he shared a house with a couple of rugby-playing friends, at the time he was a reporter with BBC Radio Leicester, before moving onto Central TV. The book is titled ‘Indian Takeaway‘, and is based on his life across three continents. Sue is presently reading it.

Peter, who often helps me with any heavy manual tasks is returning to New Zealand for six months in order to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday and attend a family wedding, however, through no fault of his own, he is in a spot of financial bother. He is mentally and physically disabled after a fall downstairs through a severe head injury and is therefore in receipt of benefits. He is very much reliant on the support given by friends in the village where he lives and those from the Rugby Club. Paperwork is beyond his abilities. At the end of October, he rang me after opening the mail that had lain unopened in his flat for quite a few weeks. The government had originally miscalculated his benefits and now wished to reclaim the amount overpaid. This had been going on for quite a few years and the amount they were demanding was just under £22 000! Understandably he was in quite a panic. It beggars belief that the DWP has been so incompetent for such a long time to permit this situation to arise. As he had not responded to any of the warning letters over the past two months, they had stopped payment of his benefits and threatened the bailiffs, if the debt was not settled. On the 6th of November, he flies to NZ! I accompanied him to the Job Centre and then the Citizens Advice Bureau to try and resolve the situation. It was agreed that the debt could be paid off at £50 a month and stopped from his benefits, yet they have stopped those same benefits. He now has to reapply to be assessed by the new criteria if he is to receive any more. We spent the afternoon filling in the forms and collecting the required information, something that his condition clearly indicates that he is incapable of doing himself. At present, the application has been sent off and Peter has flown back to NZ. He has just enough money saved to pay for his flat over the next six months. If his application fails he will be destitute if he returns. There are undoubtedly lots of issues in play here and opinion as to what should or should not happen is a matter for the individual, but I think it unforgivable that there are not enough regular checks and balances by the authorities to ensure that situations like this, where public money has been wasted, does not ever happen. In this case, through their own incompetence, the DWP will have to largely write this debt off, the alternative is to place the claimant on the streets and starve them. It gives you no confidence that the system will catch any genuine fraudsters.

At the end of October, we learnt that Uncle Stanley (98yrs) had been taken into hospital with pneumonia. We had been keeping in touch through a friend of Stan’s, Hilary Blood (past neighbour) who visited regularly and had been given ‘power of attorney. Stan hated hospitals and over the years he had been a quite difficult patient for the staff. When we discovered that he had refused any more antibiotics and the hospital had released him to a care home on an end-of-life package we arranged to travel and see him.  We quickly booked a hotel, but sadly waking on the morning of departure, Hilary rang to inform us that Stanley had died at 1.40am (3rd Nov.)  After contacting surviving family members and friends we resolved to travel to our hotel, this had already been prepaid and the one loss was enough for now. Stan had the forethought to sort out his affairs and had arranged his funeral many years ago so there was nothing to be gained by attempting to see him, particularly as he had been collected by the funeral home soon after his death. We will have to wait and hear what the arrangements are for his funeral.

Stanley was the youngest of six brothers and was originally from Mile End in London. He moved up to Lancashire where he married and became a postman. He had three children, but we know very little about them or his wife as their separation wasn’t amicable and it appears there was little attempt to stay in touch.  Over the years he had built a small circle of friends in the area, but as time passed, so did all of his close relatives and many of his friends. Deafness and blindness limited his socialising and like many, he became gradually housebound, reliant on neighbours for errands, he steadfastly refused help from social services. A very independent man.  Over the last eighteen months or so, he suffered from ill health, catching pneumonia on a couple of occasions, resulting in hospitalisation and a spell in a care home to recuperate.  He was determined to end his days at home and not under the care of social services in a residential home. It was not to be. He was a generous man, strong-willed, held rigid views and up to the end had a sharp mind that didn’t suffer fools gladly. Up until his health deteriorated Sue and I would visit every six weeks or so, coupling it with visiting relatives in North Wales or walking expeditions to the moors further north. I would ring him weekly, often for as long as an hour, chatting mostly about politics or the latest news, but I enjoyed it the most when he would reminisce on his days in the forces during the war, his time at the post office or days out on the moors. I fully expected that he would reach the grand old age of 100yrs, but as time went by he sadly became more and more cantankerous, on several occasions he professed that he had, had enough and now wanted to go. It is some comfort to think that he was ready and he chose when.

Appropriately (I guess), the accommodation we had chosen was a Christian Guild hotel, the Willersley Castle Hotel, an imposing establishment set on a hillside above the village of Cromford and built for the industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright. It was just less than one and a half hours drive from Harborough, so prior to leaving I plotted a walking route into my GPS so that we could make use of the day.

On arrival, as we booted up and prepared our kit for the coming ramble a large group of people were checking out, we discovered that they had attended a Christian Seminar over the weekend. Later in the day, another large group arrived. It was turning out to be a very pleasant day, as one passing lady remarked, “It always shines on the righteous.

Our route began on the grounds of the castle and followed the course of the River Derwent into the town of Matlock. Autumn leaves were falling as we wound our way down to river level and joined the ancient and quaintly named ‘Lovers walk’. A gorgeous step through the gorge towards the town alongside the Derwent swollen with recent rain. Though it was out of season the sun had persuaded plenty of families and dog walkers to take the air in this picturesque part of Derbyshire. As our route took us to the outskirts of the town centre we passed underneath the cable car that took day trippers up to the top of the Heights of Abraham. We watched awhile as the gondolas smoothly made their way up to the top of Masson Hill, thinking that we would take a ride on it the following day, we later found out that we had missed the opportunity as we were watching the last of the season!






Our route now took us past the cable car base station to the top of High Tor,  a feature dominating Matlock Dale. There are several wooded paths meandering their way up this steep incline, but the ones that follow the edge of the gorge are not for the faint-hearted. Health and safety cannot be a priority with whoever manages this part of Derbyshire, lean too far and you will be joining the angels in no time at all. The views are magnificent, especially today when the air is crisp and clear (for once!) We picnicked at the very top, next to the telecom mast, taking advantage of the ultrafast data connection this afforded. Food consumed, the binoculars were dug out from the bottom of my rucksack and we scanned the scenery, focussing largely on Riber Castle, seemingly set even higher (it seemed) on a promontory to the south of the town. This is known locally as ‘Smedley’s Folly’, built by John Smedley in 1862, which after his death had a very chequered life, it now lies empty, ripe for development, and apparently plagued by misfortune.






The path took us back down to the river and into the centre of the town. Here we walked through a very pretty park, busy with locals and visitors, most seeming to scoff large ice creams, but at £2 for a small scoop, we didn’t join them. A slow amble around the shops, a couple of brief sorties into some charity establishments for that elusive lost Lowry and we continued back on our trail. Up over the top of Pic Tor with its stark war memorial and colourful new age woman sat cross-legged in contemplation/meditation/trance to one side. We passed her psychedelic 60’s campervan parked up appropriately among the gravestones in the churchyard below.

Our return journey was along a quiet country road in diminishing light under a waxing crescent moon towards the welcoming window glow of our castle for the night, and a warming coffee in our room.

Fate eventually found us a wonderful evening meal. Driving into Cromford we searched fruitlessly for the Boat Inn (suggested by Google Maps) before retracing our route of earlier in the afternoon to the village of  Starkholmes and the White Lion. Here we were informed that the meals finished at 7pm and of course, it was that! They suggested that we try the Greyhound in Cromford. Arriving, there was a private party in progress and although the food was being served, not for us. Next, Google suggested a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Matlock, however, we couldn’t find that either. Moving on we parked up at the roadside in the centre of the town. How pretty Matlock looked in the evening I thought, with ribbons of twinkling lights everywhere, it didn’t take much imagination to consider yourself being at a seaside resort. Probably why Sue suddenly fancied fish and chips but noticing that we had parked outside Rose Cottage, I opted to explore inside to be pleasantly surprised that it was a pub and they were serving food! And, what wonderful grub it tuned out to be; steak pie and chilli con carne.  The beer was good too, as was the local company. It had to be fated!

After breakfast and check-out at the hotel, we drove the very short distance to Cromford Mill. We had stayed in Arkwright’s home, so it seemed appropriate that we visited his mill. It was a cold and miserable morning and we weren’t surprised that we were the first visitors of the day. After booking a guided tour at 11am we discovered we were the only ones signed up. Our guide had a pleasant northern manner, and the hour-long journey through the life of Richard Arkwright and the original working of the mill flashed by. We followed up our fill of history with a turn around the museum and another half-hour excellent video presentation from Arkwright himself! Well worth a visit.






Within the mill itself, there are a variety of shops and workshops as well as interactive demonstrations of mill workings. We made our way across the road to see the canal wharf before crossing back to visit the church where Arkwright and his family are buried.

As the day brightened we drove to the National Stone Centre, I place I knew would get Sue’s heart racing. Ever since I have known her she has loved anything to do with stones, minerals, fossils etc. and has her own collection of each, actively encouraging the grandchildren to do likewise. This was her heaven. The Centre is located among limestone quarries near Wirksworth and has the Blue Lagoon café within the grounds, which is where we went first for a brief skip around the small internal museum before ordering snacks and a drink.

Reinvigorated we followed the external geo-trail that wound around the site visiting various stations, where we learnt about Earth Science, Industrial Archaeology and Ecology from the information boards on display. Some 330 million years ago this place was a tropical reef and lagoon (hence the name of the cafe), as we progressed around the trail we could visualise how it must have been from clues pointed to in the landscape around us. Excellent.

The centre also runs courses on dry stone walling and there are dozens of examples of each type from all parts of the country, I didn’t know there was such a variety of methods employed in their construction. I found it fascinating. We finished off our visit with a fossil hunt in one of the quarries, we had no problem finding them, they were everywhere! I could see Sue was in her element as she busied herself making a little pile of good ones. No doubt she would have spent hours looking for them, but hey, I had the car keys, so after a suitable amount of time foraging I set off back to the car and she followed. It gets dark and lonely in a quarry with night coming on!

On our return to Harborough, we called in to see Sarah. It was pleasing to see that she isn’t feeling quite as sick as she was a few days ago, hopefully, her pregnancy will go well from now on. Roll on May! Lee arrived home before we left, he is biding his time at work now, waiting to begin his new job. It is certainly a time of change for both of them.

November the fifth in the past has meant fireworks, bonfire toffee and sparklers and Guy Fawkes, when you get to my age, this year it was crushing the white grapes to make wine and an early night!


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