Many (many!) years ago, when I worked in a research lab (think software and cool devices rather than test tubes and petri dishes), we used to head off to the pub every Friday for a long lunch break. We didn’t go to a “nice” pub, we went to one that had great beer, just-about-adequate food, a dart board, and a killer jukebox. At some point in proceedings, it was almost guaranteed that someone would put David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ on. Just recently, this song has been going round and round my head.
Not because we are heading in to Autumn, and the signs of it are all around, but because big changes are coming to our household. Having left so-called “retirement age” behind some time ago, MIL and FIL are finally extricating themselves from the business they have spent the last few decades building up. They both have periods of wondering what the currently large empty space that is their future holds, but are generally excited. Huge change. And at the moment, huge work, as they package up the business to pass on to someone else. They are working 14, 15, even 16 hour days to close files, sort files, bill clients, compile lists… Come Saturday they are in the next phase of their lives, and we as a household are officially starting to work out where we go next.
It’s complicated. When you have a job that is anchored to a specific location, where you live is governed by how far you are willing to travel to get there and back – and how often. When your work is of a type that can be done anywhere, or you no longer have a full time job and aren’t sure what sort of part time job (if any) you might want, it gets a little more difficult. Friends can be a factor, but by this point in our lives we all have friends all over the country. We’d all love to live by the sea. We all want enough outside space that we can wander around it without tripping over one another. A milder climate might be nice for aching joints. Access to grandchildren is a factor, and one that for ages had us assuming we would move “up north”. Then another branch of the family, firmly anchored in Southampton, announced that they would be supplying MIL and FIL with grandchildren too.
Geography being what it is, we cannot be close to both sets of grandchildren. So we’ve begun to talk about moving to somewhere that people will love to visit. Somewhere holiday-ish, but not too distant, not too cut off. Which begs the question, what is too cut off? It had never occurred to me, before this year, to factor in not being able to drive. I have always driven. Ever since it was legal. Having my own car, being able to go where I want, when I want, unconstrained by any fixed timetable, has always represented freedom and independence to me. But it’s been nearly 9 months since I was last fit to drive (which is why I currently resemble a sheep rather over due for shearing, and am contemplating “home hairdressing”, something I remember with dread from my childhood…). Plus MIL and FIL aren’t exactly getting any younger, so the degree of geographical isolation that makes sense might be less that we are otherwise drawn to.
What we need is a kind of “Grand Tour” of places that might be nice, to sniff the air, so to speak. Not something we are going to be able to do until next year now, at least partly due to other complicating factors. There is an office building to lease or sell. A house to tart up ready to market. And a very sick relative in Arizona whose wife is ground down and exhausted by worry and nursing and loneliness. Brain tumours are wicked things, robbing your loved one of personality, teasing you with the possibility of it returning, threatening to banish it permanently. MIL will be spending most of the next few months offering respite and support. At least she will be warm.
I was sitting out in the garden, pondering all these complex uncertainties, feeling the weight of change and the lack of control. I’d just removed the last tomato plants from the greenhouse, so my mood wasn’t exactly cheery anyway. Until I spotted that the self-seeded Californian poppies had decided to put on a late summer show.
Sometimes when I sit out in the garden all I see are the jobs that need doing, the things that aren’t working, the plants that are dying. It can get so stressful that I retreat indoors, raging against my lack of energy. This time, I started noticing all those wonderful seedheads you get at this time of year, as plants get ready for a period of rest before they start up again in Spring with explosions of fresh green growth. Add in the late flowering plants that glow in the low-angled sun, and gradually my stress faded away, replaced by calm contentment.
We are currently aiming to put the house on the market in early Spring. Things being what they are, it could be 6 months before we manage to sell. Or we might get lucky and find ourselves suddenly with much less time that we thought to work out where we want to settle next. So my head is constantly whirling with dilemmas such as “is it worth planting winter onions up at the plot, will we be here in June to harvest them?”, “is it worth moving perennials around the pond border?”, coupled with thoughts like “I wish I’d sown wallflowers this Spring, we are going to be here after all”, and “maybe I should just go ahead and buy the rudbekia I want, I can always take it with me”. My brain is a very unquiet place. But. The cheap aster I bought on impulse last year to brighten up the Autumn patio has survived being cut back hard twice because of mildew and is starting to flower.
And some of my Numex Twilight chillies are starting to change from purple to yellowy-orange. With the warm weather this week, I might even get a couple of red ones.
So, I will carry on working my way through the many, many doors that need to be painted, and reward myself on door-free days (I like the paint to harden well before I re-hang) with time in the garden, greenhouse or allotment. I will carry on gardening as if I will still be here this time next year, because I can’t live in a constant state of saying goodbye to the garden and don’t have the luxury of knowing what our timetable will be. And I will try and remember to seek out those little things that give you a hint of “anything is possible”, like this marigold. It is growing in the greenhouse, in the seed tray that I never got around to releasing it from, a little burst of sunshine. Not as spectacular as Esther’s unexpected tomato crop, but lovely nontheless.