Monday, 26 February 2007

Catch-up time

Thank you for all the comments and for the requests for food photos. I do have some tasty food photos but my internet connection right now is so slow and intermittent that I can’t upload them. I hope one day to share them with you. Meanwhile, let’s start with a roundup of what you missed in the last two weeks while I was unable to get my act together to post:

First up, I finally got out of America! Two days after my scheduled departure, the snow cleared enough for planes to leave Vermont and for me to leave the country. I had a fabulous month with some fabulous folk and I was really sorry to leave but on the other hand I was starting to think I’d be there forever without ever seeing another chocolate hobnob so it was kind of a relief. In fact when i saw my plane waiting for me at JFK, i took its picture.

As there were no cheap seats available, Virgin upgraded me to ‘Premium Economy’ – which my sister Rosie has already pointed out is an oxymoron. She asked me to spot the difference and I can now reveal that you basically pay a Premium to fly Economy. There was a bit more leg-room, a free glass of champagne on take-off (which I didn’t want) plus free Baileys after dinner (which I most certainly did). I think this experience costs about twice as much as Economy (can’t be bothered to engage in the booking process online for long enough to check that factoid) but it was worth about twenty quid. Don’t ever pay for it, folks, but if they offer it to you for free, smile and nod.

I went home, slept, put the same suitcase in the car and came to Shropshire. Janie drove me here. She tried not to let me drive at all, but gave in near the end. And I can see her point: having just passed my test, I drive badly in conditions in which I am inexperienced – basically, anywhere other than the mean, crazy, slow-moving streets of north London. Give me a coked-up gun-packin’ lunatic pulling out in front of me in busy traffic any day, over a queue of ten cars trying to overtake me on a winding, hilly, country lane in the rain at dusk with pheasants running in front of the car.

So, here I am, on my writing retreat at Jane T’s cottage, next to her house, in the middle of nowhere. Well, it’s in a village, but as it doesn’t have a shop, pub, post office, or more than six houses, and as all the residents are related to each other (except Jane and a Danish vet), it’s not quite a village in my book. But it has a church and that’s what matters.

Haven’t so much been writing as feeding cats, tending the log fire, scattering my possessions around the cottage and going online to compare prices for spare batteries for my digital camera. Just in case the battery runs out when I’m away from the charger. Which could happen. Maybe. One day.

As I have already told four of my six readers, I destroyed my clutch trying to get up a very steep narrow road the other day. (I was lost on my way to the nearest shop.) Had to get the car rescued and taken to a garage where they have since made it well for a mere £300-ish. Good. I like spending money on the car. It makes me feel grown-up. This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to announce, ‘Clutch is knackered. Gonna cost me.’ Doesn’t that sound grown-up?

So the next day I decided to go to Shrewsbury on the bus. There is one bus a day in each direction. It goes a circuitous route taking nearly an hour and allows the traveller two hours’ shopping in the town before returning. You may think this is the least one could expect in a rural village. You may think that, but not everyone would agree.
As I was waiting at the bus stop, a farmer approached me. I knew he was a farmer because he was wearing wellies, a jacket tied with a piece of rope, a flat cap (rather similar to my flat cap) and a ruddy complexion.

‘You’re not waiting for a bus, are you?’ he asked in the Welsh-borders accent that only some people have here in the borders. Others have that Brummish accent heard on The Archers. (Not that The Archers is my only reference for rural life. That would be really bad. I’ve read Cold Comfort Farm and once I woke up early and listened to Farming Today.)

‘Yes,’ I admit. ‘I’m waiting for the bus. Why? Isn’t it running?’

‘Oh, it’s running all right. I just never saw anyone waiting for it before! Wait till I tell my brother! We always say, no one uses that bus. In our day we walked to the main road if we wanted to catch a bus. Now it comes through the village twice a day with no one on it. And we’re paying for that! With our taxes!’

‘Ah,’ I said. ‘Well, I suppose it’s useful for people who haven’t got a car.’ I tried to think if anyone would really live here without a car. Yes! I would! I can’t drive! Oh, no, wait a minute, I can drive, but my car is in the garage. That’s much more grown-up. ‘I haven’t got the car just now,’ I said. ‘I broke down yesterday and it’s in the garage.’

‘Which garage?’

I could see this was a trick question but I ploughed on. ‘A garage in Shrewsbury. The recovery truck took it there.’

‘Shrewsbury! Should’ve taken it to Bill Llewellyn. He would’ve fixed it for you. Good man. He would’ve come over to you and picked up the car. Now you’re paying town prices – twice as much. See,’ he continued grimly, ‘living in the country all our lives, we like to use local businesses.’

That’s me crushed.

Well, even as I write this, I am aware that I am conforming to the stereotype of clever-clever Londoner visiting those curious yokels in the romantic countryside – as criticised by my old mate Mike Parker in his sharp new book about English attitudes to the Welsh, ‘Neighbours from Hell?’

I must try to be a better person.

Aitch x


Kathleen said...

ha ha - loving your blog, helen.

Maggie Jochild said...

Helen, I'm one of your new readers as a result of your fabulous blogswap with Alison B. (I live in Texas.) I was thrilled to see you mention Hobnobs -- I only just learned what these are, because of a long, confection-obsessed conversation between Brits and Yanks (see, I picked up more terms there) on Alison's blog. A kind blog reader (Kat) in California has written me privately and offered to send me a box of Hobnobs as well as Penguins (she swears I don't know what I've missed) and I'm eagerly awaiting their arrival in the mail.

Glad to hear you made it safely out of Vermont; well, even more, safely out of Alison's vicinity. Sorry to hear your clutch is knackered -- I plan to start using knackered in everyday conversation here now. Along with feckless, another English term. A lover of new tongue tricks, I am. And you spelled ploughed the way I used to see it over the Irish pub in Berkeley, California as the Starry Plough. Which gives us a strong hint as to how it was originally pronounced, eh?

Glad to see you posting again. I've been checking in every couple of days, waiting for you to get back. Adios for now.

Helen Sandler said...

Hello lovely american girls! Kathleen, that was a reassuring comment because i went to bed thinking it was the most boring blog post i had ever made, yet i couldn't go back and edit it because my floundering wireless connection had shut down. And it had posted one and a half times!

Maggie, great to meet you! It shames me a tad (that means a little) to admit that the hobnobs comment was put in there especially for you and Kat and the others who contributed to that thread which i did follow with relish (but not with ketchup or branston pickle - a tasty condiment).

In fact i don't eat biscuits. I was LYING. But i do eat chocolate as i think i may have mentioned once or twice.

I am going to try and post pictures. Wish me luck...

H x

Anonymous said...

Right answer to the garage thing "next time I'll know!" I found out in rural Scotland it was better to be foreign than English, but I didn't know English people had these problems even in their own country! Still, at least the guy was friendly enough to chat & to tell you who was the good mechanic.

Best luck on your writing retreat!