Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day 2 In which Robin Hood looks suspiciously like Errol Flynn

The Swan along the Hadrian's Wall Path
I will digress for a short history lesson. The Wall was built and repaired over four centuries, probably starting around 122AD and in use until the Roman legions left. The main purpose was to stop the raids from the Scots and the Picts who came down from the north. It was built when that part of Britain was still wild and woolly. Some parts, the Crags, for instance, still are. It was originally built of roughly quarried stone and rose to a height of twenty feet in some places. A deep ditch called the Vallum ran alongside. As the centuries passed, the stones of the Wall were taken and used to build monasteries, houses, and other stone walls. Sometimes so little remains that its very hard to see where it was and in some places... the Military Road, the B6318... the Wall was paved over. We began to see brief signs of the Wall in the area we were walking today.

It was a relief to get out of the urban areas and out into the country side. The only downside was this was one of the parts that got paved over, so we ended up walking alongside a narrow and VERY busy highway with cars passing by at a very fast clip. And on the left. I almost got clipped myself crossing a road. I looked right, left, right as I was taught, not even thinking about it. I started across when... wham... a truck (OK, lorry) came shooting around the curve. Note to self... it's left, right, left in this country.

When we were in Newcastle, we met two girls, well, actually women, who were walking the Wall. This group, the Wall Walkers, is a dead give-away to spot. They are the ones wearing day packs, hiking boots, maps and guide books; everybody else has on business clothes or suburban casual. The "Girls" were friendly. Distant cousins;  they were walking the Wall on their vacation. They were also thirty years younger and faster than we were, but we kept meeting up with them along the way. At one point they had taken a turn that led them three miles astray and STILL they were ahead of us!

If you look carefully, you can see that the path is mown. We met one of the mowers... that's all he does... he mows a section of the Path. When he is done, he takes his mower and starts over... all season long. This mown path is very handy, as it keeps you moving in the right direction. It's no fun getting lost when you're tired and all you've got to depend on are your two legs!

The Girls...

We found a pub along the way and had a sandwich. I found the more I walked, the less I wanted to eat, especially during the day. My body just didn't want to carry all that weight around, I guess.
 I was struck by how agricultural this part of England was. We were mostly walking through fields and pasture, with acres of wheat and some other crops (millet?) growing and being harvested. But get out of the way of those tractors. These men needed to work and get the harvest in. They meant business. Get out of the way you feckless Wall Walkers!
At around 3:00 p.m. we got to a landmark... the Robin Hood Inn. The slightly dilapidated sign outside showed Errol Flynn in his Robin Hood guise, c. 1938.

And who should be there enjoying a cup of tea, but the Girls. They didn't stay long... they were headed off to a B & B five miles down the road. We knew from our Celtic Trail guide that our B & B, Matfen High House, (1735) was a mile off the trail. So we said,
"Hey! Let's have a pint of bitter!"
 Big mistake! The body starts to relax; it says, "OK, I'm done!"
But I had to tell it... "Oh, no... you've got to schlep another mile."
And it wasn't happy. "Do I have to?" it whined.
We walked down a weed choked path... and got lost! We could SEE the damn place... or where we thought was it but couldn't get over the fences... so we backtracked a half mile... groused... grumped... recriminations flying... and called the B & B. "Oh, everyone knows to take the path through the wood," our hostess said. Hah! It doesn't SAY "Take the path!" But a hot shower and a bit of lie-down helped and in a little bit, we were taken back to the Robin Hood for dinner.

Matfen High House...

The Robin Hood had recently changed hands. I mean RECENTLY. They didn't know what they were doing. We had an edible meal... barely... and a new waitress who was so new to the job that she didn't know how to take a credit card. Frank had to show her. And this is probably as good a time as any to talk about the North Country accent. Tonight's hostess, Mrs. Struan of Matfen High House fame spoke what she proudly called "BBC English." This also set her apart from the locals.  Mrs. Struan was one of the horsey set and my guess was most of the proceeds from the B & B  went to the upkeep of those expensive nags.
Anyway, there is a Northumbrian accent called "Geordie" derived from the early Anglian (not "Anglican"... Anglian!) settlers in the region. At it's thickest, it is unintelligible to the American ear. Our waitress had a thick one.
"What? Could you say that again?"
We finally figured out what she was saying. And it's funny. She could understand US much better than we could understand her.  The influence of American TV and movies? Probably.
Mrs. Struan picked us up and and took us back to the B & B for a GOOD night's rest. Finally!
The following morning started off with a "full English Breakfast," something we became very familiar with in the course of our trek:  eggs, "bacon" (more like pieces of Canadian bacon) grilled tomatoes, mushrooms (yum!) and some nasty sausage, especially the stuff called "black pudding" which was made from blood and sage. Bleh! The other guests that morning were interesting... an elderly Danish couple, very formally dressed who had spent some time in Boston (he was a banker) and a photographer for the National Geographic on assignment to photograph Vindolanda, the remains of a Roman fort.
Then we were off for the day... rested, refreshed and rairin' to go.

Next stop... Hallbarns in Simonburn and we meet Margaret!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I was going to write about retirement and my trip to England, but retirement sort of took over. It's not what you think it is. You reach a point in your life when you're just plain tired. Tired of the commute, tired of the conflict, tired of fighting the same battles you've fought for thirty years. The kids are too unruly; the parents too disinterested; the faculty meetings are too brain-numbingly boring.  You've lost your zip; your dewy freshness. As much as you hate to admit it, doggone it,
you're Tired!

You just plain want to hang it up.

The last year of work, you start to slip away mentally. You try not to, because you want to go out with your reputation intact, but you need to plan, and that means your thoughts begin to move away from the job and toward the future. You get as much of the financial picture in place as you can, see if it's feasible, and then set the date. Oh, the longed for date of retirement! Freedom! Every night is Friday night when it comes.

But after a while, Friday night gets old, especially without the rest of the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. there to give it some savor.

Now what? You've got to fill the time. Not just aimlessly but with something productive; something worthwhile.

Ay, there's the rub, my friends. There's the rub.

That's the question I'm exploring. I'm a Baby Boomer. I'm the generation that doesn't expect to age... which makes it all the harder when we do.

I don't have any answers yet... just questions. Bill Clinton (my age) seems to be at a loss as what to do. He's persona non grata politically... well, maybe not with the North Koreans. But look at him... still has all his hair. What a 63 year old to do?
President Numb-Nuts (John Stewart's term) seems to be happy jest a sittin'. Hilary's busy, and probably very good at what she does. Her worries will come later, if at all. I think she's in the Jimmy Carter mold. Hilary will always find something useful to do.
And Al Gore's got the environment.

We've all got the environment, frankly... that's something we all need to pay attention to.

But how to fill the time wisely?  With what? With whom?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday down; Wednesday back...

Yesterday was my usual trip down to West Newbury, MA to prepare for and conduct the rehearsal for the Merrimack Valley Concert Band. I used to live in West Newbury and taught music for several years in Salisbury, Hampton, NH and Rowley, so I know the territory. It's like I never left. The trip usually takes around 3 hours. II usually listen to audio books on the trips down and back. I've done it for 5 years now. I can't believe I've stuck with it for so long... but I really love the band and the people. I get frustrated sometimes with the players, but mostly I get frustrated with myself. Last night was one of those nights. When I look at the scores, it seems so easy in my head but it turns out to be such a challenge to do. A lot of it is a see-saw between how hard to push and how picky to be and my worry about who's feelings I may be hurting. My friend, Sue, says you honor people to ask the best from them but getting people to first listen and then to comprehend and finally to actually DO what they're asked are different things. Their abilities are all over the map and yet somehow we've got to come together and play in tune and with right notes and especially the right feeling in five more rehearsals.

And I'm not Pollyanna.
But it will be OK, I think.

                           I thought this mouse was adorable. I hope Gunnar will love him.

Friday I fly from Portland down to NYC to see Gunnar Franson, my two month old grandson for the first time. I'm so excited! but I'm also worried about all the germs and viruses I may be exposing him to.
But I want to see him so much! I'll wash my hands like crazy.
I went a really nice store in Newburyport... Lively Kids... and bought the mouse, a 100% organic cotton sleeper and a kyoot little "kid lid." I almost bought one with a monster's eyes and teeth but I wasn't sure what his mother might think, so I played it safe and went for the monkey.

You wouldn't believe how much this stuff costs!
Anyway, yesterday I got a check from the IRS! A refund for an overpayment, so I was feeling flush. Of course, today we learn that the treasurer at my husbands part-time work has embezzled from several accounts and all that's left in the kitty is $5K with debts (which they thought had been paid) for $75K.

So we're poor again.

But, what... me worry? Something will come up.

So I'm home, safe and sound. Frank is off at a meeting. The cats are all in.

Not so bad, right?

Here's a picture to end... the "boys" in their little bed. They love each other so!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Furry Fellah

November 08

I took this photo in October near where we live in Rockport, Maine… it was taken on the next mountain over from where we live, Ragged Mountain, where my husband, Frank and I were hiking in October. We promptly got lost after I took picture and ended up turning a two hour walk into a three hour one. But I really like this picture, so I thought I’d add it. Plus the extra exercise was good for us, right? But, come on. Don’t you secretly worry that you’ll get REALLY lost and no one will ever find you? I do. I was glad when we finally walked to a place I recognized and I knew I didn’t have to worry that only my whitened bones would be found.

Months after.

Where they find only my glasses and identify me from my fillings.

But back to the title… I AM usually covered or at least decorated in one way with fur… I’ve had cats and dogs all my life; I fall in love with them both equally, although, right now, we have three cats… each with a distinct personality. They are Tina, Eddie and Jack. I’ll probably talk more about them as time goes by. I‘ve also loved Jim Henson’s Muppets and have been a fan for forty years. This is the 40th anniversary of Sesame St… so there you go. I admit I haven’t watched it for the last fifteen years. Now that I have a grandson, Gunnar Franson, age 3 months, I hope to watch it with him. It was because his father, my son, Bjorn (and my daughter, Britta) watched the show and because we had a lot of cassette tapes, that I remember one of the Monsters singing, “Fur… I’m covered with fur… from my snoot to my spur… I’m a furry fellah.” It had a kind of 20’s ragtime feel, and stayed stuck in my brain all these years.

Furry Fellah.

I love animals but I’m not going to preach. It’s just to let the reader in on the fact that this is something I do… and try to have fun with. I like animals. I try to help them. My mother was always rescuing cats and dogs; my brother, too, so I come by it naturally.
I’m going to end now… I can’t find Eddie “the stripy guy” so I need to go outside and call him. There are plenty of critters outside… coyotes, foxes, raccoons… that would like to call Eddie “dinner,” so I need to call him in.
Oh… there’s Eddie. Seems he’s caught a mouse. Well, he gets to eat it out side! But, hey! Like any good hunter, he doesn’t waste his kill. I just hope he doesn’t ask me to join him!

Catch you later!

Photos...Ragged Mountain, top cat... Jack, Jack and Eddie and Tina (bottom)