Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Archive for March, 2011

Debarking up the wrong tree

For years I’ve been hard put to decide whether I’m more of a cat or dog person. In the end I’ve decided that I don’t need to make a choice. If forced to make a decision, Kimberley is a cat person. We have both been owned by cats, manipulated by them and trained by them. In the case of Tug, Kimberley moaned, resisted, grumbled, and did what Tug required anyway. He was known to the neighbourhood dogs as ‘Sir’ for good reason.

Following in the footsteps of such a strong-minded free-thinker was never going to be easy and in Kirby we couldn’t have asked for a greater contrast. Both were ginger males (neutered – I’m divorced, remember). That is the full sum of their similarities. Where Tug was the feline puppet master, Kirby isn’t convinced that he is a cat. Where Tug would have surveyed and instructed dogs, Kirby joins in their revelries. Tug was a Friskies man ; Kirby is a diehard Whiskas fan. Tug liked meat-flavoured cat food ; Kirby likes meat, and poultry, and fish. Tug would eat any respectable leftovers ; Kirby views them with undying suspicion and rarely eats any.

It’s been a joy to watch Kirby developing. He was two years old when he came to live with us. The SPCA had been told his previous owner handed him in because he was scared of dogs. Whatever the real problem may have been, he is as scared of dogs as I am – somewhere near not at all. But he had not a flea’s worth of an idea of what cats do or how they think. Either he was separated from his mother at birth or she just abdicated her responsibilities. Despite the long line of cats in my history, I’ve never before felt obliged to teach one to be a cat.

He still stands on his head to clean under his arms and tummy and lays his limbs out in such complex manoeuvres that it’s a wonder we haven’t had to take him to the vet to be unknotted. The thought of bringing the appendage to his face to be cleaned doesn’t occur to him and he takes his head to whichever body part is facing ablution.

Kimberley had been devastated by Tug’s premature death and we tried to incorporate his memory into everyday life. It became a bit of a family joke that he had left post-its for Kirby explaining what would be required of him.

Anyway at some stage, whether he read the relevant post-it or not, it was borne on Kirby that birds and cats should not mix. They should not even share the same gardens. His lips started twitching when he watched them and I was afraid that I’d have to discourage him from catching birds as I’d had to do with other cats in the past. Then a little birdie showed me the true state of affairs ; actually it was a whole flock of them.

The cat started practising how to stalk. At first he didn’t realise he wasn’t supposed to be visible so he’d duck his head down and march along, bottom high in the air, to the bemusement of the assorted birdlife. After a while he became a bit more refined and would hide behind grass stalks before progressing to small bushes. This was complicated by his dislike of walking on grass, so he two-stepped between the blades as he progressed.

Rather than flying away, the birds actually started flying in to watch the matinees. I’m seriously considering the need for a supplement to Roberts’ bird books ; there was more bird laughter heard in our garden than has ever been recorded in one location. I’ve never had to deter him because it’s a bit like a rhino stalking a butterfly. When it’s not his own lack of instinct working against his endeavours, circumstances contrive to mess the plot. A few days ago he had a dove in his sights and was happily stalking it in the driveway near the gates. He had got within about a metre and a half and I was wondering if at last the time for intervention had come when Storm, our self-donated Jack Russel who actually belongs to the neighbour, heard someone in the road. This he always takes as a personal affront and took off like a missile. Both the cat and bird screamed as they scattered and Storm still has no idea what he did to jeopardise the friendship.

Not so long ago, Kirby was spotted leering up on one of numerous hadedahs to frequent our garden. I’m not sure if it’s the hoarse one that sounds like an old-fashioned pull-rope lawnmower being started, but the poor thing had a mangled left foot and could only hobble. As Kirby got closer it turned around and surveyed him with an unamused eyeball. By this time he was only a metre away and had realised that it was bigger close up than expected. On this occasion the laughter was all human as he tried to chum up to it and explain that he was just in the neighbourhood before rather uncomfortably moving away to look at the adjacent hedge as if that had been his objective all along.

In some ways, his stalking methods remind me of Wallace, a half-Siamese character of note. Wally is deserving of numerous blog posts all to himself but one incident is very relevant to this post. The difference is that Wally was only a few months old and busy developing his feline skills as fast as he could. Early one morning something in the front garden attracted my attention and it took a while to work out what he was doing. Once again the subject was a hadedah but Wally had already passed the Need for Invisibility lesson and resolved this problem by approaching it backwards, looking over his should to keep on course. Nothing looks down its nose like a disbelieving hadedah. The fact that it could have turned him into a sosatie with one flick of its beak didn’t deter him at all.

One area in which we have taken a clear hand is teaching Kirby to climb trees. Doesn’t matter what the neighbours thought because we don’t live there anymore. Until we took this decision his theory was that he should run like the wind straight at the tree and something would happen at Ground Zero to convert his progress by 90 degrees. Surprisingly, these attempts haven’t left him looking like something between a Boxer and a Shar Pei. We would hold him up against a Fiddlewood tree, parallel to the trunk about a metre from the ground, slowly loosening our grip and hoping he would discover a use for his claws other than sharpening the stump we kept for his entertainment on the verandah. This had no affect at all so after our move we started the next seimester using an Erythrina tree. The method was modified by placing him at head height in a fork in the branches and stepping back. He had to go up or down and either would be significant progress. This seriously affronted him but he had little choice. Then, about a month ago, we were sitting outside one evening enjoying the cool part of the day when he suddenly got the wind in his fur and took off across the garden and up the tree all by himself. His devoted companion, the Jack Russel, took off after him in order not to miss any action and was rewarded for his efforts a short while later by being used as a landing mat when the cat rather inelegantly descended. It matters not, he climbed a tree by himself.

One of his funniest quirks is his distrust of mattresses. He has accepted the benign nature of mine and occasionally entrusts his wellbeing to it. Kimberley’s bed too. But he hates the spare bed and walks on it as if it’s going to swallow him. He will perform all types of manoeuvres to stay on the narrow headboard rather than shortcut across the bedcover.

He is one of the most affectionate animals I’ve known and it will be rather sad if he does ever become The Compleat Catt.

What you see, and what you get

Today my colleagues and I received notification to attend a meeting next week to discuss the “Attire Policy”. The juxtaposition of this notice with a few other recent events has caused me to coagulate into words another thread in my life which doesn’t generally warrant much conscious attention.

My parents belong to a generation that dressed up to go to movies, eat out, and even to visit friends. It’s understandable as going to the movies or out for a meal before the rise of supermarkets and suburban shopping-centres entailed a trip ‘into town’. Also, being part of a post-war generation, either would have been a rarer event than they are today. I clearly remember numerous lamentations as fewer people dressed formally to go out socially.

Growing up in a rural environment, the clothing of choice in my formative years involved whatever we wore before t-shirts were invented and comfortable pants, generally shorts unless the season dictated long pants. At that age ironing of clothes didn’t cross my mind and I should be somewhat ashamed that I bitch about it in our day and age. Around age six I was given a pale blue, unspeakably frilly dress by someone who lived near Kearsney College : the memory cells are obstinately blank on particular identity but I remember their house which must have been within a few houses of where I now know Alan Paton lived. The dress is just as firmly etched in my mind. Blue was my favourite colour and I have never outgrown that particular preference. However I think I must have been born with an innate dislike of frills, although I’m not aware of anyone in the family known to detest them so presumably it’s not hereditary. (Reading this, Kimberley thinks it may be genetic as she also has a profound dislike of them). More practically, it could have had something to do with my tendency at the time to nick through barbed wire fences wherever my fancy took me. Maybe I converted some of my normal clothes into frills and never recovered from the consequences . . . I really don’t know but remain a committed frillophobe.

Equally I remember the first of only two outings on stage for dramatic purposes. In Class Two we put on a production involving fairies and a garden. The details are immersed in a pale yellow cloud of tulle. This resembles almost exactly the tutu I had to wear. So great is the mental scar, I clearly remember that at some point I had to step forward, bend down to pick up a couple of flowers and say “oh look at these beautiful flowers”. The stress and resulting flashbacks would not have happened if I’d been a Denim Fairy or a Green Toad instead of The Frighteningly Frilly Fairy introduced to the audience as The Yellow Fairy.

As an adult I’ve addressed a number of conferences and audiences from local to international in nature and find it a lot less daunting appearing in front of large numbers of people who are hopefully more interested in what’s coming out of my head than what I’m wearing.

When I think of the speakers who’ve made an impression on me it is impossible to recall what any of them were wearing on any given occasion : Clem Sunter, Albie Sachs, Kate O’Regan . . . They held audiences in their palms, I can even recall facial expressions, but don’t ask me about their choice of clothing. Haven’t a clue.

My daughter is much more of a girl than me ; half an hour to get ready to go anywhere, even the supermarket. At the moment her boyfriend still finds it amusing. Fast forward five years . . . But on the other hand, we only unpacked the box our combined cosmetic collections travelled in during our recent move about two weeks ago. We moved three and a half months earlier. Kimberley doesn’t need make-up to look stunning. I don’t mind wearing make-up, I just usually forget when I have other things on my mind. Among the items we unpacked, I unearthed the first cosmetic item I ever purchased : a very very green eyeshadow from the mid-Seventies. This shocked even Kimberley who pronounced that it smells like wax crayon. I have absolutely no intention of using it on anything but don’t want to part with a personal relic. Who else do you know who still has their first item of make-up? Anyway, if I threw it away now I’d probably have HazMat on my heels in milliseconds.

Back on the work front. As I approached my first winter in the formal employment sector, I asked the Chief Librarian at the time whether I was allowed to wear jeans to work. Her answer has remained with me as clear as a bell. “You don’t have to wear anything if you don’t want to. We just appreciate it if you do”, accompanied by a peal of laughter.

This policy has shaped my approach to dressing ever since. I am never seen in public without a stitch on. I tend to dress primarily with comfort in mind, love natural fibres – that’s related, isn’t it? – and don’t often notice what others are wearing.

There is another principle that I’d have sworn was burned into my DNA, but apparently not. In Standard Five the boys’ and girls’ changing rooms were adjacent to each other, we then formed parallel lines before going in to swim at opposite ends of the school pool. On this occasion, being in a hurry to get to the business part of the lesson, I leapt out of my clothes, into my costume seemingly without touching ground, and out into the queue. Thank heavens one of the girls noticed first that my costume was on back to front. If they’d been timing me I’d still hold the land speed record back to the change room. After thirty something years without a glitch that I can recall, about a month ago I arrived at work very early one (dark) morning to chuckles from one of the very few other people in the building. My top was on inside out.

Dressing super-formally for work has backfired on me. Without being too specific, some years ago I was called on to attend a fairly high profile function. I was travelling with and attending in the company of an eminent person and made quite a lot more effort with my appearance than usual. My personality flaws are no secret and the inability to resist a dare lead to my wearing a pair of those panty-free pantihose, the stockings with lace edges that stay up like magic (in the ads). As my dress and jacket more than covered everything to just above my knees I had no concern in the world. Until I was halfway across the lounge and felt one stocking jump over the widest part of my thigh and enthusiastically start winding itself downwards. Fortunately a group of friends was not far off so I could pause without drawing undue attention. As can be expected of most of my friends, they were seized with hilarity that I didn’t share. The function was about to start at any minute and obviously I couldn’t stay in the middle of the floor so I made like Donald Duck in the direction of the ladies’ room. Somehow I made it with my honour intact and slightly above my hemline. I just didn’t walk around much for the rest of the evening. I won the dare but have not worn those stockings since.

At about the same time (possibly still deliriously light-headed after getting the divorce behind me) I wore the same dress but with a different jacket and high-heeled boots to work on a day that I needed to visit the Surveyor-General’s Office. I’d visited quite regularly and still have a number of friends down there. None of them had been treated to the sight of me in formal dress. That dress hasn’t been worn since then either, come to think of it. What I hadn’t bargained on until I was halfway down one of Pietermaritzburg’s main streets is the static from the stockings that made my dress misbehave and think itself a blouse. The trip down escapes my recall but there was plenty of time to realise I wouldn’t be able to leave the vertical. The first two men braved the vision but my sense of humour overcame me when the third came into the room and spluttered before taking a bite out of his coffee mug. The return trip was a nightmare. Halfway up the block I noticed someone of my acquaintance coming in my direction. I rather rudely managed to duck behind a lamppost and thought I’d got away with it. A good couple of months later he phoned me at work and said “I *thought* I’d recognised you in Pietermaritz Street not so long ago”. The lesson was learned and now I dress in clothes that can be subdued. Comfortable clothes rarely think for themselves.

My footwear has also been moderated since I wore a pair of killer stilettos to work just for the hell of it. Getting caught abseiling along the passage wall by an attorney could have been worse. Next time I might slip right off my heels.

In my defence, I don’t remember going to the supermarket in a tracksuit ; I don’t own a pair of Crocs ; and I don’t walk around outside in my pyjamas – not in broad daylight anyway, but that’s another story. Conversely, my wardrobe is spilling over with t-shirts and denims ; I could live in slops and rejoiced when ‘stokies’ came back on the market.

And I’m happy like that. Free as a bee.

Cramped style

Nothing in my life brings me to the conclusion that people are meant to live on top of each other. Fortunately my own experience of communal and sectional title living are not extensive, but the exposure I have had indicates over and over again that it doesn’t generally bring out the best in human nature.

Once my parents and I moved from Oribi Gorge, we lived in a series of flats in Durban for a couple of years : my dad was a member of the Durban Philharmonic Orchestra and Port Shepstone was a much longer trip away than it is on today’s N2. By the time the farm was sold, my brother had been born and we all moved to Botha’s Hill. This is where my first memories are based so I can’t comment on lifestyles that affected me prior to four or five years of age.

From then right through until I married in 1982, apart from my dad’s parents living sometimes in a wing of the same house, occasionally in their own house on the same property, for a short while independently of us, we always lived in free-standing homes a comfortable distance away from the neighbouring families. Of course, three generations living under one roof came with its own set of problems, but that isn’t the subject of this particular set of observations.

For the first eleven months of our marriage we lived in a small block of flats in central Pietermaritzburg next to Oxenham’s bakery, the site that now houses McDonald’s Burgers – famously in Burger Street. There were about fifteen flats in the building and we had very little to do with most of our neighbours as almost everyone had fulltime day jobs. With two exceptions, whether we liked it or not. On one side lived a young nurse who brought home what seemed a never ending string of overnight visitors. This was more information than I needed even at the time, but she was obviously a sharing kind of person and we were given frequent updates on the status of her living arrangements. The other neighbour is the one of whom I have fond memories. Mrs Templeton was already in her eighties and lived with her adult blind daughter. We used to exchange frequent brief chats but it never occurred to me how much Mrs Templeton knew of our lifestyle. Then one day during our daily exchange in the communal corridor I was lamenting an uncommon cold when I was surprised by our neighbour suggesting that maybe it was because I went to bed so late at night. This was actually far from the way it was on our side of the shared brick wall – but I had apparently washed dishes after visitors left two evenings earlier, leading to the suggestion I would benefit from some earlier nights. That was the first time I realised what grand expectations of privacy we have from fifteen centimetres of clay and plaster. We also had a close encounter with the caretaker when we acquired a kitten a month before we moved out. She had direct access to the garden and I don’t think either of us considered that her presence could cause ructions, especially as there were a couple of other residential cats who all rumbled along famously together. It was a relief to move into our own home in its own garden with neighbours a respectable, and mutually respectful, distance away.

This property had a sectional title development on one side and one of the original Scottsville houses formed a pan-handle behind us. The house had apparently been condemned by the local municipality and was in use as a digs until the owner was compelled to sell. This he did to developers who subsequently built another sectional title development on the land. Our little house still stands, I understand as a unit of the greater plan, but it appears to all intents and purposes to be independent. We were not willing to sell at first and I suspect the delay until we were offered a price that made it silly to resist resulted in the building going ahead without the demolition of our two-bedroomed home. However, back to things as they were when we moved in. Considering that we were quite far from either development, their lifestyles did impact on us to quite a degree.

The development below us consisted of eight units but they were situated further up the property with the postboxes immediately outside our bedroom window. This wasn’t as disruptive as it sounds and it was the spouse of the owner of the first unit who disturbed the peace from time to time. They were an elderly couple and, rather unsurprisingly, it appeared that the husband could have been mute. I think he made himself deaf too. There were a few interactions between the bored wife and ourselves but I don’t remember most of them, with one exception. Just in case she has lived to be one hundred and fifty, I will refer to her as Mrs P. It is likely that the husband has been deceased for some years in self-defence.

Our kitten had grown up to be a free-thinking cat and had been seen digging and performing bodily functions in Mrs P’s garden. The problem must have been conveyed to me directly over the boundary wall because I clearly remember saying to Mrs P that no amount of counselling on my part would impress the cat and it would be best if she threw water at the culprit while engaged in her dastardly hobby. Not even two weeks later the whole neighbourhood was pale and faint because of an unbearable reek that permeated everything. Having a vantage point, my spouse soon identified the source of the smell as Mrs P’s garden which was covered inches thick in compost. He was quite pithy in his description, opining that it had come directly from the municipal sewage works. There are not many memories of marriage that make me laugh openly but this led to one. My husband placed a note in the owner’s postbox the same evening. It merely said : “Mrs P, you complained about my cat!”

Working on campus at the time, I had a lot to do with students and generally enjoyed them. However, it was soon brought to bear on me that living next to them is quite another matter. It is quite likely they will appear in other blog posts but on this occasion it is the digs parties that occupy the space. We had had cars driving right up our driveway and parking both in it and on our lawn, blocking the driveway by parking across it in the street, had the postbox torn from its mounting, cars damaged in the road, dah dah dah. So when we got wind of the next party we resigned ourselves to sitting up and protecting our turf. Our verandah faced onto the front garden and the students’ house was at the end of a very long driveway behind us. Despite this, the smell of alcohol from our verandah was still gut-wrenching (we are both partakers so this wasn’t an overreaction). Come our usual bedtime, we switched off the lights and settled down on the verandah, prepared to repel invaders on the front home front. There are many times in life I have been very grateful for my sense of humour and this evening provided a whole cluster of them. There was one highlight in particular. We finally went to bed at four in the morning ; about an hour earlier a seriously plastered guy and a couple of girls swayed down the road and paused in our driveway. At full volume the guy said to his companions, “hold on, I’m going to pee” and lurched onto our lawn. The other moment of marriage that makes me laugh (ok, I’m being mean – there must be more but I’ll have to think). With only a second’s pause my husband said loudly “no, you’re not”. Governed partly by our lack of visibility and partly by the state of the would-be-reliever-of-himself, there was a think-pause as this apparently divine instruction was absorbed and then the latter said in a rather puzzled way “oh, no I’m not” and staggered back to the group.

What brought me to brooding on how people’s behaviour affects others when our proximity to each other is less than desirable are a few events since we moved to our new home three and a half months ago. Although we have a lot of space and freedom, the only settlement between us and the end of Pietermaritzburg is *another* sectional title development. Fortunately the two homes parallel to our boundary are occupied by very quiet families ; I haven’t yet got to meet them. However, there are apparently a few residents who aren’t particularly concerned about the wellbeing of their hapless co-residents.

Our home was originally built as farm outbuildings and has recently been converted, making us the first people to occupy it. About a month after we moved in, I discovered that a couple of drug dealers had been using our verge as a meeting point and saw no reason to be inconvenienced by our arrival. This meant, sometimes three times a week, they and their clients would park off behind our garage and drink, smoke, whatever else, with no consideration for the fact that all of us in the vicinity have young families. Talking to others, I discovered that the Narcotics Squad, Dog Squad and Public Order Policing unit were all aware of their activities and had their own plans for dealing with the matter. This was all well and good but didn’t solve my immediate problem. Disregarding the advice of a couple of people, I decided to make it obvious to them that our property is now occupied and no longer a shelter for that type of activity. I already spend a lot of time in the garden, so I just upped the ante some notches. Whenever they started driving up and parking off on our verge, I’d do even more gardening and make sure I was visible. I was being a pain in the ear but quite deliberately so and hoped they would get the message and move off. It took weeks and weeks but we have now had about seven weeks of peace.

Up until today. Shortly after one o’clock this afternoon, a group of about eight male residents from the units next door decided to sprawl along our verge and have a drinking party. Due to the current extreme heat, I’d got up a lot earlier than I usually do on a Sunday in order to finish some varnishing around the house. As a result I had a midday nap which is generally a luxury I do without. The group outside made such a noise they woke me up. One of the neighbours contacted me and suggested I call the police. That is not my first choice of response, especially as my daughter and at least one elderly neighbour are at home on occasion during the week and I don’t want to alienate neighbours who could, for all I know, take it out on them – just as I’d had to consider with the drug dealers. After a bit of cogitation I opted for the direct approach and pottered up the hill, greeting them pleasantly and asking them to make sure they took all their bottles with them when they left. After eyeing my approach with large eyeballs, they opted to take the same tack, apologising for the noise and agreeing that the bottles would leave with them. They were true to their word. While I would have preferred them to party on their own premises, a compromise seems to have been a successful first step and I’ll take those one by one.

The litter matter is currently a sore point. Due to the location of the development at the end of a cul de sac, their weekly refuse is stacked on the top end of our verge awaiting collection. There is little I can do about it and it hasn’t generally been a problem. However, this week the municipal truck broke down (a frequent problem on the other side of town) and our refuse was not collected. Most of us left it out anticipating a late night catch-up which only happened today – six days later. By this time only one home in the street still had refuse waiting outside.

None of this would have been worthy of note – except that on Wednesday morning our small pile of rubbish had escalated by three hefty black bags. The truck didn’t come on Thursday and by Friday morning dogs had torn the ‘donated’ bags wide open exposing used nappies and worse. I only saw this on my way to work and had no time to do anything immediately. On my return, our neighbour on the other side was waiting for me and wanted to know how big my baby is and if that is all my rubbish. My ‘baby’ is eighteen and that definitely wasn’t all our rubbish. She had thought as much and was furious as it had spread between both our verges. It even included used sanitary wear and we had to pick it all up and pack it into new bags. She brought her wheelbarrow and we moved it all to the other end of our verge where the communal rubbish is collected. The next morning it was back along with a couple of extra bags. What annoyed me most is that it was done under cover of darkness so the person was well aware that what they were doing is not acceptable. Not one of the eight houses at this end of the road has a child young enough to be in nappies ; most of us have either adult or young adult offspring. The neighbour has spoken to the chairperson of the body corporate and I shall be launching a missive at the same hapless person in the next few days. Apart from the loaded and lethal nappies and towels, there were beer bottles, a broken dummy, a doll – and a business card. It’s no exaggeration to say that refuse could pose an identity risk. In this particular case, it’s just made it easier for the chairperson to approach the culprit and issue a couple of lessons in civilised neighbourly behaviour.

All in all, as much as I am generally very much a people kind of person, we rumble along together a lot more smoothly with a little bit of breathing room all round.

Filling my Glass

Life happens. Thankfully my glass is almost inevitably half full. There have been times when it’s felt and looked more like an urn than a glass : heavy, burdensome and opaque. I think I can count those times on four fingers. Less than one for each decade of my life.

The loss of my paternal grandfather in my Matric year was by far the biggest blow I had experienced up until then. He had lived on the same property for almost my entire life. My earliest memories are of getting up before the rest of my immediate family and joining him in the dairy, watching as he churned and shaped pats of butter. To this day there is no butter that matches my childhood memories.

I think we were alike in temperament too. He rarely became angry but the rarity of witnessing his occasional and brief sorties into the absence of geniality made them all the more memorable. Having said that, I don’t think I can recall even three of these. Admittedly my lid has popped a bit more than that but the expressions of disbelief on the faces around me at the time lead me to believe I’m also not considered to spend much time annoyed.

I sometimes wonder if Pa also shared my battle to keep a straight face when surrounded by the incredulous architects of his annoyance. This tendency has spoilt almost every hissy fit to come my way, terminating them soon after birth. Of one thing I am in no doubt : we both took a lot of goading to get even close to that point. However, we shared plenty of positive memories and I was in no way expecting his sudden death days before starting Matric trials.

The following year I faced the first serious romantic break-up of a few. In retrospect it was my pride that took the hiding but for a few months my glass was distinctly unshiny. Once again my appalling sense of humour saved the day. Bearing in mind that this was right at the end of the 70s and even discussion of sexual orientation was still pretty much taboo in our community, five months after ending our relationship my erstwhile boyfriend became the chairperson of the local gay association. This should have been an indication of my abilities with the other sex.

Of course the prelude to, process and aftermath of getting divorced also messed with the state of my glassware. Because I can sometimes be a total idiot, I jumped from the wreckage of one relationship right into another. The difference was that my former husband and I had known each other less than seven months when we married ; my rebound relationship was with someone I had known for thirty years. It didn’t turn out as risk-free as I had anticipated.

The long and the short (bigger and smaller / upper and lower) of it was that two days after I baked our wedding cakes the guy decided he was too traumatised from his divorce twelve years earlier to go ahead. Coming on top of the rejection that led to my own divorce, the double whammy heralded the darkest period of my life. For two and a half years I survived rather than lived. Then one day I woke up and the world was the right way up again.

This summary is in no way self-pitying. I must be one of the few people in the universe who has a card saying “thank you for your wedding cakes”. Really. I gave them to a young couple whose marriage was brought forward by the bride’s parents’ refusal to accept a cross-cultural union. The sunshine was already starting to peep through although it took a lot longer before I recognised it.

There is no bright edge to having lost my grandfather but each of the other events has taught me invaluable lessons that I can never wish undone. Undoubtedly future blog posts will make reference to these but I have found a serenity and abiding joy in life I could not have foreseen, a clarity in distinguishing qualities and possessions that are worthwhile from the transient ones.

A minor event two days ago has reinforced this peace of mind. After having no contact for about ten years, the person who walked out weeks before our planned wedding phoned me at work hoping I would use my job or contacts to do him a favour. I felt not the least interest : in where he is, what he is doing or anything else to do with him. He sounded put out that I wasn’t even surprised to hear from him. Why should I be? Hours later I realised his phone call had come on what could have been our thirteenth wedding anniversary. Out of three and a half thousand days. Now that tickled me.

The life I share with my daughter is good. I have genuinely valuable friendships. We love our new home, our pets are fully integrated family members, I recognise opportunities and details that I wouldn’t have a few years ago. My laughter once again comes from the soul, just deeper, with more feeling.