Wednesday, 10 October 2012


For a while, when I was about twenty years old, we lived in St Mary’s vicarage in Bishophill, just near Micklegate within the city walls in York (you can just see it - red brick house attached to the church, here).  We had a garden there, walled - one of the walls was the church.  We (my children’s father – though they were not yet born – and I) had the downstairs: three large rooms, a toilet, a long passage and  a kitchen.   We used the kitchen to fetch water, but we used all our grant money for the term (we were students, I an undergraduate reading English, he a graduate student teacher) to buy a woodstove with an oven, the flue of which we fixed into the fireplace.  Best thing we ever did, because it snowed and froze and froze hard and snowed white and whirling that winter, and every time I went out I had to wear all the clothes I had and a thick Nordic shawl wound round my head and shoulders.  But because we had the woodstove we were warm as toast indoors, and even had to have the door standing open to cool us down a bit!

We had our bed in the same room, and a zinc bath to wash in; and in the corner, sectioned off by bales of hay we got from the farm out at Acaster Selby, where we’d lived in our caravan through the summer, our puppies were born.  I learned how to give birth by watching our little cross-bred bitch ride those waves and let the energy surge through her as child by child she brought those little ones through: Havoc (after the Shakespeare – “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”), Badger, Tiffany, Mary, and Harley Granville Barker II (the first was a Shakespeare critic).  I thought there were six.  Maybe I’m forgetting someone.

Anyway, they grew up in that room until we found them homes, sleeping in a box under the stove in that hard winter.  We kept Mary, and she was our family dog while our own children came to birth and grew.

When she grew old, Mary knew life was drawing to a close.  The summer she died, she savoured everything.  Every smell on every slow evening walk we had to stop for her to really appreciate, really enjoy.  I saw by how she really relished life that she would not be with us long.  We went camping in the country, and she came with us.  I never really knew a dog could have a holiday – but Mary did.  She delighted in the trees, the grass, the hedgerow, the sunshine and the open air.  She had a lovely time.  On our return we had to go elsewhere for a few days – I can’t remember where, but probably a Bible camp somewhere – and when we got back, we saw Mary was failing.  She had stayed with my children’s grandparents, and on our return we saw it was too late to move her; she was tired and old.  She stayed on a blanket in the glass lean-to on the back of their house, where the breeze could come to her over the heather that grew outside the door.  My father-in-law was with her when she died.  She had been lying quite still, unmoving for some hours.  Then she lifted her head to him, and licked his hand, wagged her tail one time, and she was gone.  Way to go, Mary.  She was a good dog.  :0)  Like Blue.

But why I am thinking of her today, is I remember as she was growing older, that she got stout, and the vet said I must put her on a diet to keep her slim.  I remember at the time thinking (but not saying, of course) “She’s not fat, she’s old!”  

I didn’t put her on a diet.  Life was happening to her, and getting stout was part of life is all.

We had a cat for a while – I’ll tell you about him too, some day, but this could go on forever, so not today!  Bart.  He was a psychic cat, and he came from nowhere to take care of us through the time our lives fell apart.  He was sent.  When he came to us he was lean and hungry.  With us he got very plump.  When I married Bernard (who was thin) and we went to live in his cottage on the edge of Flatropers Wood, Bernard thought Bart should go on a diet.  So we restricted his food.  Up until then, Bart had been a good mouser, but every mouse he caught, he brought in alive, carrying them with the utmost care to release in my tiny apartment (inconvenient).  But after he was put on a diet, Bart turned to carnage.  He killed mouse after mouse – shrews, voles, all of them.  He flung them in the air and terrified them.  I found – I shall never ever forget it – an arc of loose mouse shit along the front of our chest of drawers where the mouse had evacuated its bowels in sheer terror as Bart tortured it and killed it.  In his last act of carnage he took out an entire family of bluetits, and that upset Bernard, so Bart went back to live in the city, where he looked after my new son-in-law freshly imported from the southern states of America, and became his first English friend (apart from my daughter obviously). 

So I have observed that dieting is a mistake.  I have been on many a diet, and there is no need to add the word “yo-yo” because in my experience all diets are yo-yo diets.  Every time – every time – I take off weight (easily), feel triumphant, get new clothes, then put it all back on again with a few extra pounds to go with it.

Last year some time I lost some weight – can’t quite remember when – maybe a year or so back.  I remember I’d got quite thin around the time they killed Troy Davis, because despair seeps into my bones so easy and stays there so stubbornly when I’ve been dieting.  I exercised and ate diet food and exercised and fasted and got mighty slim.  All my flattened fat cells filled with triumph and my bones filled with despair but I was SLIM.  I told my doctor I was going to make it down to ten stones (from the original thirteen and a half.  Ha ha.) And then of course as time went by I put it all back on again.  I remember I lost loads of weight looking after Bernard when he was dying, too.  I got down to about ten and a half stones (without eating any bluetits at all), and I told him because he’d be pleased, and he said, “Well don’t go putting it all back on again!!”  But I did.

I have no idea how much I weigh now.  The bathroom scales are on Day 148 of my 365 chuck-out.   But I sense something different in my body now.  It’s getting fatter because it’s getting older.  It wants to be stout.  I take after my granny, and she was stout.  I feel well, I feel peaceful.  I am a bit astonished by the size of the cushion of fat on my belly and the circumference of my thighs, but hey. 

I try not to overeat, but I’m through with dieting.  Carbs make me feel contented.  Sweet food keeps me cheerful, and keeps the despair out of my bones.  This is not to say that I will eat unhealthy food.  Vegetables and pulses and fruit and whole grains are the way to go.  Delicious.  They should be the main thing, with everything else as an afterthought.  But I have no plans for dieting, and if my body is ageing into the form of a badger or an African bush pig, well, life is always interesting, innit?

I have no idea why I’m telling you this.  It was just passing through my mind.

Oh – if you’re bored and want something to pray for, I do so desperately need a new kick-start of inspiration to get my present book project done.  Editor waiting patiently . . .

365 366 Day 284 – Wednesday October 10th 
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here) 

Blue cardigan from East.  Ooh – that was pretty.  Perhaps I should have kept it!  Never mind. It was a bit crunchy, and I do have other cardis, also blue.

365 366 Day 283 – Tuesday October 9th  

Elegant linen jacket donated into my life by my beautiful mama, who is a lot smaller than I am.

365 366 Day 282 – Monday October 8th  

Glamorous cardi.  Soft.  Beautiful.  Furry collar.  I am not a glamorous woman, really – just sometimes in clothes shops I get bamboozled for a mo.

365 366 Day 281 – Sunday October 7th  

I usually like Rumer Godden but found this one a bit hard work.

365 366 Day 280 – Saturday October 6th  

Yet another light fitting.  This one wasn’t even straight.

365 366 Day 279 – Friday October 5th

A scarf.

365 366 Day 278 – Thursday October 4th   

Well this was a very beautiful salt crystal lamp that kinda went to the Dark Side.  It began to absorb all the damp in our old house, and left it in weepy puddles wherever it was hanging out until the effect became depressing.  Binned it.


Buzzfloyd said...

Women are supposed to put on about a stone (14pounds, for Americans) for every decade of their lives, starting from their average weight at about 21, which is the age at which you stop growing.

When I tell women this, they tend to do a sort of sad laugh and seem to think I mean, "It's documented that women usually put on this much." But what I actually mean is, "It is necessary for a woman's health to put on this much weight through her life."

Women naturally lay down fat through their lives to protect their bones in old age. This is particularly necessary for women rather than men because of our years of menstruation, childbearing and breastfeeding.

It is unnatural and bad for your health to weigh the same at fifty as you did at twenty! So I'm glad you're accepting stoutness. Samwise Gamgee was a stout companion. :-) I think being one kind of stout helped him to be the other kind too.

Pen Wilcock said...

I would be proud to be as stout as Samwise Gangee :0)

Pen Wilcock said...

Whoops. Gamgee. I was thinking of Mohandas Gangee...

Bean said...

Ah dogs. We had our german shepherd mix, Tasha, with us for fifteen years. My husband brought Tasha home one cold wet November day, she was the runt of the litter, and he had simply felt sorry for her. Such a tiny puppy, at first I though he had a kitten, but no it was Tasha. She thrived, grew into a great dog, was part of our lives for fifteen years, loved by us all. As she aged her hips got bad, she could no longer take walks, and one day she simply could not get her back half up off of the ground. It was time, my daughter and I carried her to the car, drove her to vet, carried her in, and were with her to the end. I hugged Tasha with all of me as they gave her the drugs to end her life, and I suddenly burst into tears and just sobbed uncontrollably, it was an extremely devastating moment in my life. I have missed that old girl a lot, she was a good dog.

I too agree with your thoughts about weight, society tries to tell us to NOT look old, be thin, be glamorous. I say what is wrong with aging naturally, embrace the changes in your physical appearance as they come, eat healthy food, take some exercise, and keep your mind active. There is nothing wrong with getting old! I find that at 48 I have more confidence than I have ever had in my life, I eat lots of veggies/fruits/whole grains, I walk most days, I rarely feel tired, in fact I FEEL GOOD! (think James Brown sound behind that). And I do indulge in the occasionally sweet treat, because life is for living and enjoying.

Blessings to you,


Pen Wilcock said...

:0) This is developing into the most feel-good thread ever . . .

DaisyAnon said...

I thought you were going to be talking about the drink. Rather relieved to find that is not the case.

I used to like Guinness...I still do but have had to accept that I have drunk my lifetimes supply.

My maternal grandmother was a tiny woman and when a small child was fed a bottle of stout every morning by an aunt to fatten her up.

Those were the days my friend.

DaisyAnon said...

PS Forgot to say, that is a lovely photo of you on this post.

I would feel more like going gently into the good night if I looked like that! :)

Pen Wilcock said...

It was O'Raffety's Motorcar, wasn't it, that with a gallon of stout in the petrol tank did 90 miles an hour?

Pen Wilcock said...

And then there's this though I think it's whisky . . .

Julie B. said...

This post was a lovely way to start the morning. It made me yearn as I read about Mary and Bart.

And I think Buzz is my new best friend. :) Such wisdom and common sense and comfort in your words, dear Buzz.

Thank you for making me smile, and be a little easier on myself today, Ember. xxoo

Sandra Ann said...

I love your take on life!

Praying for an upsurge in enthusiasm to meet the writing deadline.


Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Julie xx

Amen, San! x

Rebecca said...

"Shucks"(as we say in my house). I wish I had been with you on the day you rid yourself of that sweater with the faux collar (well, I assume it was faux...).

At age 63, I can't bring myself to settle for stoutness just yet - even though it's been my condition off and on (my way of saying "yo-yo") most of my life.

(I JUST did pray re. your writing project. It was a rather selfish prayer as I look forward to reading your books.)

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, my friend - well, your prayers were answered because I got back to work on that book this afternoon. x

Unknown said...

What Fun this has been Ember. I'm glad you brought this up.And BuzzyFloyd, I appreciate your sensible approach. Until menopause, I was built like a stick boy--itty bitty buns and teeny tiny boobs. Now I have all of it going on and then some--quite like Solomon's lover whom he praised by saying "Your belly is like a HEAP of wheat!" Indeed, my belly looks like the biggest bagel in the world...ah, stout. I find myself in glamorous company today.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Julie G - lovely to see you here :0) Waving from England! x

Rapunzel said...

What delight Ember! I don't know why you wrote about this, but I'm pleased that you did.
Buzzfloyd has got me doing math before I've even had lunch. Transporting myself back and forth between Brit and Yankee weights I find that for my age (56 in either country) I turn out to be 1.5 stone underweight!!!
This is the sort of revelation that truly, truly brightens a girl's outlook.

Anonymous said...

I prefer "stocky," which I currently am!

Pen Wilcock said...


Rapunzel - I am full of admiration and wish I could say the same of myself!!!

DMW - Yes, nice to find the word that feels comfortable :0)

Unknown said...

My GOODNESS, Rapunzel! I find I am fully 12 pounds underweight, after doing the math! I'd better get busy. This news DOES brighten a girl's outlook.

Buzzfloyd said...

LOL, ladies!

Ember, I see you managed to find 'Old Blue' on Youtube. The version we used to have in our family was Cisco Houston's, which you can listen to here:

Apparently it's a cover of a Jim Jackson original from 1928, which I'm about to go hunting for now.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hurrah - that's the one I was looking for!! x

Pen Wilcock said...

I'll change the link in the post so it goes to the one you found Buzz - I just love that version of the song :0)

Hawthorne said...

I'm thinking of getting a t-shirt with "I'm a little teapot" written on it, since I am both short and stout! By Buzz's reckoning I'm still 2 stone overweight. Have been getting a bit down about this recently, but I suspect the S.A.D. is rearing its head again, now the equinox has passed....

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. I have scrutinised the photos on your blog of you in your nightie and in your 1940s pinny, and you look like a normal woman to me. Just comfortable :0) x

Buzzfloyd said...

Don't forget these four things, Hawthorne:

1) The figure I gave above is an average;
2) You may have been underweight when you were young;
3) Muscle is heavier than fat;
4) I'm pretty sure God doesn't actually care whether we're thin or fat, just like when you look at your own children and see their radiant beauty and total amazingness.

Pen Wilcock said...


Hawthorne said...

Thank you Ember and Buzz - you don't know how much your words mean to me today x x

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Waving! x

Pilgrim said...

Maybe reading some poetry would inspire you to write. I just read Ferguson's bio of George Mackay Brown, the poet from the Orkney Islands, and found it fascinating. Have you read any of his writing? Don't you all live pretty close to each other over there? :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Well, we do; but the problem space is significant. Thank you so much for this recommendation, I do not know this man's work. I have got re-started on my book and am going quite well now.

Anonymous said...


Oh me, Mary's story had me tearing up; as the human half of a guide dog team (on my fourth dog), I know how amazing our animal companions are. To read of the old girl's delight as she knew her end was nearing was beautiful. Though I have never been with any of my retired GD companions at their end, I know the pain of parting - if one does not have enough space to keep one's ageing guide dog when retirmement age hits, the association takes them back and re-homes them (either as therapy dogs or as pets to a long waiting list only too happy to give these loyal friends a good life in their autumn years). I last went through this process in March 2010 and dreamt of my old girl for months afterwards (usually dreams that she was in distress) once we sign custody back over the association, we lose all rights to them (visiting, contact etc). I simply know i won't be able to retire my guide dog Aaron when his time comes - if I cannot keep him, I shall give him as a pet to our local Monastery as a companion dog to the priests, brothers and permanent deacons, or to the convent two suburbs away).

God has blessed us with these dear creatures; I believe we shall be re-united with them in the Kingdom - re Gen 9: 5. My reading of this is that, as we shall be called to account, so shall god's other creatures, acording to their kind.

As for stoutness; I think, given Buz's formula, I still need to shed around 17kg for my age...



Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Sarah - guide dogs and all therapy dogs are a blessing of gentleness in our society. How could heaven be heaven without them?

As for being overweight - any doctor would take one glance at my upper arms, thighs and tummy and tell me i am living dangerously - but hey. I will try not to put on any more, and for now that'll have to do.