Friday, May 13, 2016


Gladys Owen, my daughter's new mother-in-law, is 96, a small, round woman. She has arthritis severe enough to make it almost impossible for her to walk without help. Tom, the oldest of her six children, a retired bricklayer, spends most of his time helping her with the normal tasks of everyday life. There is not even a whiff of self-pity about either of them, no sense from Tom that he is burdened with his mother's care, no sense from Gladys that she resents being dependent and in pain.

They are warm, hospitable people who made me feel welcome with cups of tea and gentle curiosity about who I am and what my life here is like. They speak with musical accents that are probably a stew of Shropshire and Wales, easily understandable to me and echoing a bit of Ireland through long-ago Celtic roots. I shudder to think what my flat American accent sounded like to them.

In Gladys' front room, there are two green recliners. Gladys sat in one, and I took the other. "That one you're in was mine," she told me, "and this one where I'm sitting was Bill's (her husband of 64 years). I got sad looking at his after he died, so I moved over here so I wouldn't have to look at it."

Gladys has had both knees replaced and recently had the second of two cataract surgeries. She's got six or seven books of popular fiction piled up beside her recliner awaiting the arrival of her new glasses.

Gladys' routine: after she wakes up and has breakfast, she takes her "tablets", 11 or 12 prescription pills, which "knock her out" for most of the rest of the morning, after which she stays up sitting in the green recliner until mid-evening visiting with Tom and others of her children who drop by, watching TV or looking out her window into the back yard. Just beyond the window is a young tree that grew from a "stick" she took from a flower arrangement and stuck into the ground. Neither she nor Tom knows what the tree is, but both are delighted that it grew from a random decorative "stick" into a substantial and healthy young tree.

In her younger years, Gladys was "in service", working as a cook in the home of a local aristocrat. (Yes, just like "Downton Abbey".) Then World War II came, and she went to work in a munitions factory mixing ingredients for explosives. "We were lucky," she told me. "When the Germans flew over to bomb us, they dropped their bombs a mile or so away."

A few years back, Tom realized that Gladys was becoming more and more confused. After some investigation, he realized that the medications left in the bottles didn't match the days they were supposed to cover. "I had let her count out her own pills because I wanted to leave her as much independence as I could," he said, "but I didn't realize how bad her eyesight was getting. 'Can you see the pills?' I asked her. 'Not real well, I just guess the best I can,' she said."

The last time I saw her, after Tom had driven me around north Wales so I could see the countryside, she gave me some parting gifts: three little scented soaps about the size of small eggs and three embroidered handkerchiefs. As Tom drove me to the airport the next day, he said he had seen some tears on her cheek because of my departure.

after-travel hangover

I got home Wednesday evening, slept well last night, have no unavoidable demands on my energies today or tomorrow. But I am definitely feeling the after-effects of the trip.

My brain keeps going into loops. For a while there, it was playing big band dance tunes from the 40s sung by smarmy, anonymous crooners.

In the Seattle airport, I had to ride the inter-terminal shuttle around its loop twice because, although I knew I wanted the C terminal, I kept "aiming" for the B terminal. And I kept confusing "being home (in my home country)" with "being home (in Portland)", thinking the Seattle airport was the Portland airport and trying to orient myself to the layout at PDX.

My IQ is definitely down today around 50 points, as thoughts meander in and out of focus like butterflies. I've started a checklist of tasks to be done, but I keep forgetting which one I'm supposed to be doing at any given moment. Establishing priority ordering is completely beyond me. I tried meditating, and I suppose any effort in that direction has its benefits, but my attention swooped in and out of dream sequences, probably due to sleep deprivation.

I'm writing this in hopes of exorcizing all this disorientation.

It isn't working.

OK, let's just write off Thursday and hope for improved clarity on Friday or Saturday. There are at least three blog posts about the time in England that I've got started in my head. Such as it is.

Monday, May 9, 2016

British humor

I just saw this in this morning's Daily Mail.

George Osborne, the current Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent of Secretary of the Treasury): "We look forward to working with the next US President, whoever she may be."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Saturday morning in downtown Oswestry

So here I sit in downtown Oswestry at a three-way intersection with cars on two arms and a pedestrian mall on the third, lots of folks doing their shopping. The bench looks toward a small, aged, dry fountain of worn stone. On the steps at the base of the fountain stands a middle-aged man with a not awfully loud portable microphone singing Christian songs in a high, clear, pleasant voice. No hat at his feet for contributions. No signs to warn sinners to repent. Just the music, much of which I recognize. Passers by greet him with occasional smiles and handshakes. Now he's singing "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning!" from "Oklahoma".

I would prefer to sit here listening, but it's started sprinkling and I don't want to tempt fate.

Friday, May 6, 2016


Last night I slept in the Stratford Inn in downtown Stratford-on-Avon in England. My son-in-law Elwyn says he thinks it was remodeled from an old hospital. "Old" means something different here, but I could see the lines of a Dickensian Victorian hospital behind the garrets along the roofline of the third story (second floor over here because they count the ground floor as zero). But it was a clean, light, airy place with smiling staff who responded "Not a problem!" or "Of course you can!" to every request. It had a big yard out front (patient exercise area maybe?) with tables and chairs under the big deciduous trees. Parking was a bit idiosyncratic, but parking in a town that was laid out long enough ago for Shakespeare to have been born there is going to be a challenge at the best of times. (Not that I was driving, of course, which is a topic for another blog entry.)

Tonight, I will be sleeping in the Wynnstay, a hotel in Oswestry, Shropshire, where El's 96-year-old mother lives. Meeting her is the main purpose of my trip, about which I'm sure there will be yet another post. The Wynnstay started out in the early 1700s as an inn for people traveling by horse and carriage. Historical material on my desk lists owners' names back to 1727. There is a building behind the main hotel that used to be the stables and has been remodeled into a spa and beauty suite for hotel guests. The Wynnstay is not as cheerful as the Stratford was. The receptionist who checked me in seemed tense, her carefully middle-upper class pronunciations feeling like she was desperate not to err. She was unable to be of much help when it turned out that my room overlooks the outdoor tables of the pub next door and will provide music and pub chatter for most of the evening. "We gave you our best single room," she kept saying, and "We're booked full for the weekend." My room is probably where the humblest of staff slept in 1750 -- tiny, airless when the windows are closed, and reachable only by a flight and a half of stairs up and then half a flight down (the Wynnstay is a "listed" building and cannot be altered to install an elevator.) My suspicion is that this really is the last room they had. 

I could move to another hotel, but I can't find one with available rooms, plus today is when I meet El's Mom and attend the dinner celebrating El and Anne's marriage. So I guess I will buy some earplugs and settle. And think about all those 18th century barmaids and stable boys with whom I'm sharing historical space.