The dog and I in the Boxer camper, parked up at Barton on Humber, under the great concrete stretch of the Humber Bridge, for a dog walk and memory. When my mother was at school, they were instructed to write an essay on what life would be like with a bridge across the Humber.
How long ago was it built, and did my mother and I use it? These are the jig saw pieces Pat and I struggle to complete, as come the evening, she lights up her cigarette. She’s better today. Naturally I put the transformation down to the chicken soup I made yesterday. I’d walked with the dog along the snickets to Cottingham, found the butchers, boiled 2 chicken thighs up with tops of leak, (Pat does not do onions). The diced breast I’d fried in butter, added bottom of leak, carrot, stock, liquidized and added cream. I felt like a 1950’s housewife, all day on the house chores, no short cuts.
She has accepted the dog. So long as I wipe it’s paws. She’s a cat person. There’s a photo of Cosmo and Pat in her garden beside her chair.
‘It wasn’t a name I chose, you understand. But I could hardly change it. He wasn’t my cat, you see – he belonged to a neighbour up the road. But he used to come to me. Oh he loved me. And I him. I’d feed him and he sat with me all evening. When I took him to the vet I had to pretend he was mine. It was the post man who told me he’d been run over. He knew.’
Along with Cosmo, is a photograph of Claire, under a stylish umbrella. Our connection. Claire my mothers sister, was Pat’s best friend. They’d met when Pat was training to be a teacher.
‘Go into Claire Wrights class, and learn from her’ was her instruction.
‘She was a brilliant teacher. Yes, disciplined, but more than that she held the class with her ability to inspire them’.
Their relationship always intrigued us, who watched from a distance. Oh there were battles, and jealousies, and things had to be just so for Pat. Both teachers, both unmarried, both lovers of art and history, theirs was a strong and lasting friendship.
‘Would you like me to stay the night?’ i ask
‘That’s not necessary. I’ve always lived alone. I am not frightened’, she responds.
Lesley’s husband comes by. Pat relays a message to him: You’ve got to call Joan. A shelf needs fixing.
‘Her husbands as good as a chocolate fire guard’, he explains to me his role.
She calls Dorothy and Geof Bell. He’s just been diagnosed with lung cancer. They exchange gruff inquiry.
‘Not good. And how are you?’
‘Did you know that it was you who found your father dead in the bathroom? I don’t think he was in the bath, unless Claire was keeping something from me.’
I vaguely remember hearing this long ago, but had dismissed it as myth. Pat is the last link to anything approaching real events.
‘You met my father then. What do you remember of him?
Her reply was typical: ‘He wasn’t what I was expecting. I was told he was tall and soldier like. He was only as tall as me.’
I stay with Alyson, my cousin, who I’d met perhaps once before, probably at Ursula’s funeral. She lives with her family – husband Rob, and two of their three girls Catherine and Anne Marie – in Green Wickets, an elegant spacious high ceilinged Georgian town house, ex hall of residence for Hull University, like Holtby House next door, home to Winifred Holtby. It backs on to Cottingham’s Botanical gardens. It is a haven. Forbidden to the public (H&S upkeep too much) the botanical gardens is unofficially open to us who live across the hedge. Practical for dog walking, over grown, rich with a history of plantation, water, bridges, bamboo, exotic trees.
At the back is an Annex, with windows stacked with books, next door to which I parked the camper, and slept the first night there. A hot water bottle was essential, Jack Frost visited that night. The following night I accept the offer a bed in the house. Catherine, cat sitting, generously offered her room. But after that I returned to the Camper. I liked the feeling of being close to the wind and rain and full moon. And dog of course.
We went out Tuesday evening to Rob’s First World War 30 minute theatre, Long Way to the Ice House, based on the Grimsby Chums. Their skeletons were discovered in a field outside Arras, all in a line, arms linked, no sign of bullet holes. The play reveals a possible story – a return of one of them to find his chums all dead by gas, he lines them up out of respect and love. The play opens with two voices, male and female, singing from the back, in clear beautiful voice.
It was longer than expected, (with war poems following), so the evening visit to Pat abandoned, we went drinking in a local Hull pub, the Old White Harte.
Rob, who loves his city, walked me round the Land of Green Ginger (which may be named after a Dutch family with the surname Lindegreen meaning “green lime tree”) which by chance Les (from Suffolk) had just that evening texted me about. Rob drove me round the streets of Hull, round the ‘Island’ of old docks, industrial giants of warehouses, new neon bars. Why did I never visit this city with my mother? I was a reluctant visiter to Hull, too tied up with negotiating family, a grandmother who I did not like, my mother changing into a younger sister, going all fey. Queens Gardens is all I recall, and that as being far too manicured, which as Rob tells me was once an old dock. I do remember bomb sites, with Rose Bay Willow herb growing out of rubble.
Wednesday – protein
It is not protein that holds Pat’s body together, but rather tenacity and a sharp no nonsense mind. Oh so quick to find a weakness.
Where where you last night? I stayed up to mid night, waiting. She chastised. You said 9.30. I was worried. You made me short of breath.
So I found her in bed this morning.
‘Breakfast in bed then?’ I suggested. Her eyes creased up in naughtiness of a child.
Monica and Catherine came visiting in the afternoon. I played Butler, getting out the best china. They know how to talk, these northern lasses. It was a pleasure to relax with Pat sleeping in her wing backed chair afterwards. As Kali, occasionally restless, passes her chair, her hand goes out to find his fur. Today she has allowed him to put his forefeet on the chair and, as he does, gently whisker her ears.
‘You’re beautiful’, she says, with a softness I’ve not heard before.
It was from the cleaner, Deborah, who of course, is more than a cleaner that I got the low down. Pat is not expected to last the winter, and may be will die before Christmas.
‘The world has suddenly got smaller’, Pat says. ‘I don’t expect I’ll be using the car again.’ Slow letting go.
On what has turned out to be daily trip to Cottingham Doctors or Pharmacy (to get the famous DOM, and collect the current medical labels, in the way we collected Green Shield Stamps – for the carers will not administer Pat the medicine unless it is listed on the DOM), I encountered northern friendliness. I park the dog outside shops, only to find the shop owners have invite him in chastising my hard heartedness at abandoning him outside ‘in the cold’.
‘He’s a sheep dog’, I shake my head. They mother him, and he milks it, looking at my as if to say – ‘See, someone cares’.
On the way back along the snickets by the railway tracks dog off lead, a woman approaches and releases her dog from it’s lead. Unusual I think.
‘Your dog is a bohemian!’ she says laughing. ‘Mine is too’. Enjoying her mirth, I take a quick look under as i pass and see evidence of maleness in her dog, so do not dally. But she stays where she is, turning to me.
‘And you’re bohemian, and so am I!’
On our evening walk around the Botanic gardens, a full moon lighting, the dog and I got lost. There’s a joy in getting lost. A reminder of a remainder of wildness, and so close to a town.
Thursday – The Family: Chris & Emma, Monica, Lucy & Jack, family trees
A day off Pat, as I go in search of family. Chris and Emma live on a 6 acre small holding, an attractive sized Yorkshire farm house, outbuildings and barns around, up a track beside paddocks with horses and a field of some few sheep. (‘Good for grass cutting’ says Chris later) Their 3 girls, who i’ve never met, I see for the first time in photographs. Blond, handsome young women. While Emma meets with a client for a homeopathy session, Chris and I chew some cud, and walk his land with our dogs. How long? Perhaps 15 years, since we’d seen each other at Ursula’s funeral. We’d re-connected recently on Facebook, when I bought the woodland last year, and realised woodland was a shared passion. Meanwhile, he’d had a triple by-pass. He looked well, was healthy which no doubt helped with swift recovery. Despite the opening up of the rib cage, the taking of a vein from his leg, he experienced little pain.
He’d always been into birds. I remembered the aviary he’d made in the back garden of his home in Eppleworth road. Now recently retired from a life’s work in nature, including a project in Agro Forestry with Martin Wolf, he now works with young people to catch and ring birds, showing me his nets near the pond and in his 30 year ago planted woodland beside a field. He’d been contacted from all over the world, from Field Fairs he’d ringed.
There are magnificent greens in the veg garden, apple trees for bird food. Emma’s family, it turns out, come from a stones throw from where I live in Suffolk – Cratfield and Orford.
He produced a document – Sarnath letters November 2001 – March 2002. I must have sent it to Pat and it did the rounds. ‘Nothing of course is as it seems. The Chinese monk is not Chinese, or may be he is.’ I read from those Sarnath days, and immediately I was back being 40 again, my life being rocked by India.
‘It was Claire who got me interested in books’, said Chris. ‘And Pat who fought to keep the Cottingham Library open, for which I was always thankful.’ Ah these campaigning women, who introduced us to directions in our lives.
(Monica imitating my mother Barbara walking in a Corpus Christe prossession in St Vincent’s church wearing white and holding an arum Lilly between her hands— and looking very holy. She would have been about thirteen.)
Parking easily in Westfield park, I walked to Monica’s. She’d prepared. Table laid, napkins, cups, all ready, a memory of being up here with my mother. Delicious pumpkins soup and Beverly bread. She got me straight on the family. The trouble starts with George (my grandfather) being one of 8. (Grandma (Harriet Ann Clarke), turns out to be one of 14!) Thank goodness some didn’t marry or have children. Like me. Others certainly made up for it.
A classic photograph, of all the family, gathered for the canonisation of John Fisher. Everyone except Claire – who never wanted to be part of the family. Was she there but not in the photograph? Monica as a child of about 6 in the front row.
‘I’d just been smacked for jumping the fence. See, everyone wears a hat except one? She was Protestant so didn’t have to wear one.
I was always the dunce, (says Monica). That’s how we were all known. Fat Barbara, Silly Monica, Poor Ursula. And everyone liked Joan. Clare used to say the Gerety’s were always made much of. But I don’t think they were. They were Olives children, the only woman of that generation to have children, and she’d married the only professional, Tom Gerety. He was editor of the Hull Daily Mail. The rest were in trade of one sort or another.’
Pat: Oh at last, I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve been so alone all day.
Not so as it turned out. She’d had two carers, and Deborah the cleaner for 2 hours.
‘But she was upstairs most of the time’, Pat acquiesced.
That evening Lucy and Jack arrived at Green Wickets, Lucy being Alyson’s mother, our family link.
‘Is this a selfie?’ asks Jack as I fumble with the technology.
The cooking of the signature dishes for the Bell family that evening, with Sam, not as successful as desired. While multitasking, preparing at Green Wickets, then on to prep Pats evening (Just one more thing Rachel, could you get me a coffee?), I burnt the peppers. Upside down Pear did not exit upside down in perfect form. However Sam did perfect carbonara, and bought delicious Morgan wine. Our table of six discussed the family, uncovering a brother of George caught up and possibly died in the Matabele war, 1893 – 1894, Zimbabwe, after which he was compensated £60. Catherine turned out to be a persistent researcher.
Friday – Lost wallet and chicken soup
Black Friday was an appropriate day to loose my wallet. Will I ever change? Police helpful, but oh so slow. Cottingham slower than Suffolk.
Pat reminded me that it was not for the first time.
‘You always seem to court problems’, she observed. ‘At Ursula’s funeral you’d lost some cash you’d left on the bed. £70 if I recall. I gave you some money to tide you over.’
Cottingham Charity shops offer poor quality, definitely no leather purses, so bought new one for £20, it being Black Friday with 15% off all stuff.
Mrs Rain? asked the Chemist, where I visit daily.
Miss Rain, definitely Miss Rain, I corrected.
5 The Paddocks.
Got the drugs sorted. Collected the Greensheild stamps of names on the DOM. Made chicken soup all afternoon to freeze for next week. Dog ate the bones.
Where’s your shadow? Pat asks. And Kali goes up to her and whiskers in her ear. The Radio Times for the week is sorted.
‘I’ve been coming here since 1987, said Martin, the gardener, who turned up to sweep up the leaves, and entertained the dog for a short 10 minutes.
Cooked Pat liver and spinach, while I drank Cinzano and listened to a very loud TV news on Black Friday shopping in Hull. The carer for the evening was, appropriately, the confessed shop alcoholic.
‘When you get old you don’t expect an awful lot’ (Pat on the phone to a fellow lung cancer sufferer)
Tying up loose ends. Have failed to collect the final green-shield stamp drug on the DOM. Notes for carers written. Soup in freezer labelled.
As I drink a Cinzano with Pat come the early evening, we return to talk of the family, circling. We were both bought up by our mothers, we are only children with no off spring. Am I looking at myself in a wing backed chair, body diminishing, sleeping mostly, silently grateful for someone sorting out the material stuff around.
The Bell family girls and I take some photographs – thanks to Sam, a fellow visitor to their family – before we all venture out for the evening to another of Rob’s WW1 fine creations, poems and words by him and music inspired by the 4 Angels (woomen) each a child’s toy (representing 4 war forces, air, ship, medical serpent, and one i forget) in St Mary’s church yard, Beverely. We had the awesome church of St Mary’s to ourselves to begin, and the public space felt surprisingly intimate. An uplifting violin opened and wove through the readings, 4 backdrops behind on to which images flowed, of men marching off to war, as we debate a new war about to begin (for us) in Syria.
Afterwards to Nelly’s pub. Dark brown walls, pan tiled floor, rooms off rooms, where people at scrubbed wood tables drank pints of Samuel Smiths and chewed cud in northern voice. Timeless. So many aspects could been in a Breugel painting. Sam and I found conversation with Dave, a retired dancer, who sojourned in London working at the ENO and with Derek Jarman in the Tempest before returning homeward.
I left in the morning after walking the dog in the Botanic Gardens – I still find new paths – and then calling in to see Pat. She declined breakfast in bed, and got up for the day in the wing backed chair.
‘Thwait’ said Pat, is actually a “a clearing in the wood”. Of course, Pat was active in the Cottingham Civic Society, the organisation who along others who were active in protecting the Botanic gardens which was finally spotlighted as a Grade 2 Garden of Special Historic Interest, and so protected. Among Pat’s piles of magazines, I find Friends of Thwaite Gardens, the magazine of the organisation formed to consolidate the gardens protection. So it is to her I thank for my morning and evening walks, amongst the exotic trees, and inevitable pampus grass.
I’d enjoyed my time there, quietly resting and reading, in her company. I’m best when I’m on the road, looking out, I said to Pat.
Camper packed, food for the journey from Alison, we motored off, missing Hull, across the Humber Bridge to the flat lands of Lincolnshire, round the Wash and home to Suffolk.