Rain, wind, cold yesterday, like an October day with more daylight. Today it drizzled. It brightened a little so I went out in to the garden to check the damage. The place looks like a herd of wildebeest had galloped through - flowers now broken petals and any tall plants without trunks knocked sideways.
I rescued a half drowned bee from out of a rose and sat it on the edge of the coal bunker, which has been converted into a planter. It spent a long time drying itself with its front legs and adjusting its wings. It walked along the edge of the bunker and then climbed onto a white plastic basket that was sitting there - I don't know whether it was because it was a totally dry surface or that the brightness of the white suggested sunshine. The bee wasn't dry enough to risk flying - its yellow stripes still looked matted. Then the rain started to pelt down again and I put the basket in the shed. The bee had gone when I next returned.
A couple of field mice were running among the herbs, picking up dropped bird food. They are prettier than house mice, with a tawny tinge to their coats. I' glad to have them there, as long as they don't move inside. I want the garden to be messy and overgrown to supply them with cover, and for nesting materials for the birds.
I wouldn't have rescued a wasp, I would have been annoyed to see house mice hanging around so near the house. On my holidays I stopped to look at a thirteenth century chapel next to a farm, with a hen run through the fence and got a kick out of seeing a weasel chasing a rat two and a half times its size. As long as an animal isn't an old enemy of humankind, I'm pleased to see it. (Yes, if I was a subsistence farmer, I wouldn't welcome field mice, and the farmer wouldn't want a weasel so near his hens).
Other creatures leading a separate life that sometimes crosses yours- that is the pleasure of seeing small wild beasts. D H Lawrence felt honoured that a snake had come to drink out of his water-trough. I'm happy with the sparrows on the feeder.
Here's a theme for a short story writer on domestic life - someone like Sylvia Townsend Warner or Elizabeth Taylor.
Mrs W. has a sixty year anniversary to celebrate. She is mother of the nation, and her family are going to make her celebrate to an inch of her life.
"What would mother like to do to mark this diamond anniversary?"
Mrs W. would like a leisurely breakfast while listening to the radio, an hour with the Daily Telegraph crossword, a short stroll in the garden with the dogs, a nap after lunch and in the evening a couple of hours watching Coronation Street and Midsomer Murders, though Coronation Street is not what it was since its early days featuring Ena Sharples - the one fictional woman that Mrs W empathises with. Mrs W. is eighty-six, and this programme seems reasonable to her, and could be peppered with a short visit from one of her grandchildren.
However Mrs W. knows that to voice her wants is to offend. So she nods when the programme is laid out for her - a day at the races, a day in a boat on the Thames, a church service, a dinner party (oh, for a quiet snack of scrambled eggs), a drive, a round of visits.
She recounts the programme to Mr W. He groans. "The bloody Thames. I suppose it will rain."
"Perhaps you can get out of some of this, dear. You are ninety, after all."
"Ninety is the new seventy," growls Mr W. "No, sausage, if you're going to be put through this, I'll be with you."
I don't need to go through every step of this domestic short story. The sun shines brightly in the days before the proposed treat, but then the early summer turns British and cloudy. Mrs W. sighs inwardly at the races - she is fond of horses, but can happily watch them on television these days, now they have one of those high definition screens in the smallest reception room. And then the day on the Thames. . -- cold, windy, "at least it's only a drizzle and not bucketing down," people say, and then it does bucket down. She has dressed for show rather than warmth and her bones feel it. As for Mr W., he is as grey as the sky. "Are you all right, dear?" she manages to whisper.
"I think, I'll get through, "he says, but that evening he is grimacing. "A bit of discomfort in the old waterworks, old girl. I need the medicine man."
He is bundled off to hospital. Along with her worry - he is a tough old fellow but he is nearly ninety-one after all - Mrs W. has some sense of guilty relief. Surely with her husband ill, she will be relieved of the burden of these celebrations.
The next morning she waits for the phone call. "Come on Mum. Concert tonight," says one of the children.
"Concert?" Of course. Not Gilbert and Sullivan or Noel Coward she would enjoy for old times sake, or even some Handel for uplift, but modern music by people she has barely heard of.
"Yes, of course, Mum. Dad wouldn't want you to be disappointed."
Mrs W. has read of people her age being horribly mistreated in care homes - left unfed, unwashed, thirsty. She has pitied them and known that she would never suffer such neglect and cruelty. But, well, sometimes one is bullied, isn't one?
"I'm a little anxious about Dad. Could I skip the concert? I'd rather be at his bedside."
"Now, come on Mum. This is your celebration and your treat. You're not going to let us down, are you?"
"No dear," said Mrs W. and goes to change into a thin, sparkly dress.
one more heartening aspect of this dispiriting story is the fact that many men marched in solidarity with the women:
I have been on holiday in south-east England - London, Suffolk, Essex - for the last ten days. They were having a party, and hung the place with bunting, and decorated it in combinations of red, white and blue, some ingenious. The Union Flag appeared everywhere.
Fabric shop, Colchester
Hi fi shop, Saffron Walden
Fashion shop, Saffron Walden
China shop, Saffron Walden
Butcher's, Saffron Walden
The prize went to a chap who had union flag covers on his wing mirrors. No doubt it rose and sank on condoms. The impression to a foreigner was of a country in cheerful, celebratory mood - not over-weeningly nationalistic but happily patriotic and pleased to join in with what fun was going. Every pub was promising live music.
On the day of the flotilla I was in Saffron Walden, and it was chucking with rain. We went to a pub to watch the Thames procession on the television. The sound was muted, so I couldn't be outraged by the shallowness of the BBC coverage, which people are complaining about. The patrons at the pub were fairly disrespectful about Phil the Greek, but I bet there wasn't a republican among them. "Abolish the House of Lords, but keep the monarchy," said one.
I enjoyed drinking a good pint and eating Stilton and grape flavoured crisps under the exposed beams of a comfortable English pub.