Is this the springtime of my senility……….

….or am I just becoming increasingly confused? If it is the former, then I suppose I can do little about it, except pray for the physical and mental ability to recognise when I have become a burden upon those around me, and seek a discreet solution to what I have realised becomes more and more of a conundrum as we grow older. No, I don’t think I’m losing my marbles just yet, though I often feel that I have lost just about everything else, and it sometimes scares me, often makes me sad, and occasionally makes me very bitter and angry. What to do about it? Well, I thought I’d done enough already – and perhaps that has been my mistake (or one of them!) I “celebrated” my last birthday in West Berkshire, a place I had long felt to be the most alien place I’ve experienced in all my travels around these isles of the increasingly Disunited Kngdom. In my last entry in this blog, I said that we would be moving down here to North Devon, something we had not planned to do quite as early it has happened, but the deletion of my wife’s post in West Berks, during the first round of Local Authority job cuts, left us with little choice but to move when we did.

As with any house-move, this one was not without its share of problems -none of which I would bore anyone else with, but all of which, in their various ways, left me feeling strangely detached, somehow. Explaining these sorts of things are virtually impossible for most of us, and I won’t even attempt an explanation. Suffice to say that I shall be very glad once everything is sorted out and settled, and my new workshop is completed so that I can get on with my woodturning. In the meantime I feel like a man without a focus…… a pianist without a piano …. or a shepherd with no flock to care for. Strange, unsettling feeling – and I hope it disappears soon.

The upside of the move is many faceted. Bideford is the sort of place where a man can wander along the High Street, and chat with all and sundry…… walk into a shop and be greeted like a long-lost friend; where drivers drive, on the whole, with old-fashioned courtesy and consideration and don’t seem hell-bent on cutting one up at every intersection. (Well, there is one fascinating exception to that – concerning a junction at one end of the mediaeval Long Bridge in the town- where the normal rules for getting over a roundabout seem to have been reversed completely!). As an ornithologist, I have already found that the local birdlife is rich and diverse, with a fair smattering of scarce species to add a little extra excitement to scanning the shoreline or the fields for birds of interest. The North Devon psyche seems to be not dissimilar to that of West Berkshire, in that the frequently uttered phrase, “We don’t do it that way in West Berkshire!” applies in equal measure down here – but with one very important difference: North Devonians seem to do things their way because there is no real hurry, whereas in West Berks they seemed to do things their way because they gave the impression that they knew best …. In West Berks, people would look at you with suspicion if you tried to strike up a conversation with them as a stranger whereas down here the opposite would probably apply. Personally, I am delighted that I shall be spending the rest of my life amongst people who value the company of their fellows….and seem to see each encounter as an opportunity for enrichment in whatever small way, rather than a threat to personal space and security.

It would be insensitive of me to detail too much of the contrasts between what I always felt was the true capital of Little Britain (Newbury), and my new home here in North Devon, but I know that there are lots of opportunities to keep my mind and body active for as long as both will operate as I hope my brain will command them. It is good to have quite a large garden again – and to be able to plan ways of enriching our space – be it with planting, or features, or just ways of using that space. One of the features is a pair of very stately Lime trees on one of our boundaries. They rise majestically to a height of some 20 metres, and are quite obviously of some considerable age. They are the sort of tree that every adventurous boy (and quite a few adventurous girls, too) would dream of in days gone by. I often gaze upwards into the crown of those two trees and think how much I would have loved the challenge of climbing all the way up to the Carrion Crow nest at the top of one of them. Without a doubt, as a teenager, I would have done just that – just as I once sailed an open dinghy across the Irish Sea to Wexford. Now that I am, perhaps, in the springtime of my senility, I look at all the twigs and small branches that have fallen off the two Lime trees into our garden, and I come to the conclusion that if the twigs are rotten enough to break off the tree, then the rest of the tree might well be rather rotten also!

You see, even if diesel fuel now costs £1.50 a litre, and a large proportion of the latest vintage of “Youth” seem to have less sense of purpose, more rights, fewer real words, and even less by way of respect for the older people in society, they still really don’t know everything about everything. That may leave us older ones feeling somewhat devalued – even written off as useless, but we can still look up at life’s Lime trees and see the pitfalls in trying to climb them! I may have quoted this old Welsh saying before, but it bears repetition – ” Yr hen a wyr…..a’r ifanc a wyr y blydi lot!” – The old know….. but the youngsters know the bloody lot!

Standing in the garden, or on one of our two verandas (quel grandeur!), I realise that if I can still apply the life skills honed over the years since the days of my arrogant youth, and use them to prevent me from falling out of a rotten Lime tree and ending up burying myself in my own back garden in the process, then maybe – just maybe I’m not going senile after all. :-)

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