A Winter Week in the Country

“Circumstances or people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money and they can take away your health; but no one can ever take away your precious memories.” Judith Baxter 1938 –

I read this blog from 1959duke today and I thought I should like to share another of my memories.

It came upon me very gradually.  I had been on my own for 4 years  following my husband’s sudden death of after 41 years of marriage.  My sister in America, had to cancel her visit to me for health reasons and in all, it seemed that my life was at a standstill.  I was waiting for something to happen.  Then I realized I had to make it happen.

I decided that I would visit my sister in LA for several weeks and then go on to my other sister and father in London.  But there is always a question of money when one goes away for any length of time.

At the time, the New Zealand dollar was so weak that everything became exorbitantly expensive when one was traveling.  Through a friend I had heard of a company in the UK that arranged short-term placements for companion/housekeepers.  So the first move was to get information from that company and once it was established that I did qualify to work for them, other arrangements were made.  The apartment was leased for four months which gave me time to decide what I was going to do and where I was going to live.

Having visited with my sister is LA I went to London to spend Christmas with my father and my other sister and her family.

Just before Christmas I went to the agency that was to arrange a job for me.  They had only one position to offer me.  This was with an elderly (89-year-old widow) who lived alone in a small village outside Chichester.  This is not an area with which I am familiar.  I met the client a couple of days before Christmas and it was decided that we would have a trial period of two weeks, commencing early January.

The day I was to start working in Sussex I woke up to a ‘winter wonderland’.  London totally covered in snow.  All the road and rail travel in chaos.  I took a  taxi to Victoria Station to go to Chichester.

I had a very interesting train ride  during which I met two South African women who had been acting as companion/carers, one for a period of 8 months and the other for 4 months.  Their motivation for doing this was to be able to purchase a property when they returned to Johannesburg. Neither of them was particularly happy in their work and did their best to put me off.

Snow in chichester

Chichester Photo Ashley Stevens

Arriving in Chichester I took a taxi to Highleigh, my destination and part of a very small village some 6 miles out.  Unfortunately the driver didn’t know the way and of course, neither did I.  Luckily I had my mobile phone and we could call the client for directions.

After taking afternoon tea with my client during which we discussed Christmas and how we had spent it; she was in Tenerife at a great nephew’s wedding and I was in London with my sister’s family; I took time to unpack and settle in.


Eggs to be scrambled

Supper was a disaster.  It was decided we would have macaroni cheese.  A very simple dish that even very young children can make. However, the oven’s temperature guide was in Fahrenheit and I am used to Centigrade.  As the resulting macaroni was inedible we settled on scrambled eggs.  Not an auspicious start and particularly as I had been warned by the agency that this was a very demanding woman and nobody had ever managed more than two weeks with her.

Sunday – I woke to find that the oil central heating wasn’t working.  The plumber was in Oxford taking a daughter back to university, so a telephone call to a friend of the house-owner resulted in taking off with the friend to the nearest large hardware store to buy a heater.  We found two old heaters in the house and so were able to manage until the plumber came on Monday.

Monday dawned wet and windy.  The plumber came but the gardener did not.  He decided that he would rather do extra shifts at the local hostelry and so would not come back to do the garden.

Tuesday started very well.  I took the dog in the car and we then had a lovely walk around the harbor.  But when we returned we noticed that the dog was very quiet.

Perhaps she was exhausted from the walk?  Not so.  She was chewing her way through my handbag to get at the chocolate covered raisins.

Victoria sponge cake

Not content with that, and following being severely chastised, she then took the top off the sponge cake I had put out for afternoon tea.  To complete the day, she then made a big puddle in the sitting room.

On Wednesday we went into town to do some shopping.  Unfortunately, my lady  parked the car facing the wrong way in a one-way street – the result an instant thirty pounds sterling fine.

Peugeot car

Mrs M's car

Later we decided that it was time to call the window cleaner.  He hadn’t been seen for months.  His response was that he was about ready to retire being eligible now for the pension.  He thought he would work only part-time for now and would only go to those clients who paid the most.  Blackmail or what?  So add that to the chronicle of disasters for the week.

Thursday it snowed and  the snow caused chaos in parts of the country.  Motorists were stranded on the M11 one of the busiest motorways and on the M25 the motorway that circles London.  Great outcry about the lack of foresight of the various local bodies and those responsible for applying the grit to the road.

Chichester Cathedral via Wikipedia

Friday dawned another freezing cold day.  I went into the town and explored the Cathedral and the quaint shops and lanes.

Well, then Saturday.  We awoke to find that we had no telephone.  The owner of the house was 89 years old and a trifle frail and therefore, very vulnerable.  Luckily I had my trusty mobile phone but when I did get through to British Telecom I was told that there was a fault outside the house and it could be next Friday before anyone could get around to fixing it.

Old phone

They did tag the call priority, but could make no promises as to when the phone would be in working order once again.  The whole morning was spent chasing British Telecom and the Care Line Service that provides assistance to elderly folk in case of emergencies.

Again, Mathilde (the Dandy Dinmont dog) was very quiet.  The breakfast tray cloth was larger than the tray and yes, you’ve guessed it, Mathilde tugged the cloth and the whole tray fell distributing tea, butter, milk, marmalade etc etc everywhere.  Not only did the floor have to be washed but also the kitchen table and the covers on the kitchen chairs.  Oh happy day!  And we were having guests for lunch!


So to Sunday.  A beautiful clear, frosty day dawned.  We decided we would go to Church.  The Church in the village is 12th century and has been used for worship regularly since then.  It is rather simple but very lovely.  After Church we were taken to lunch at the local country club.  Roast beef was on the menu, so following a dry sherry and a conducted tour of the premises, we all tucked in.

On our return to the cottage we heard the dog barking furiously.  The silly, greedy, little thing had been scavenging in the downstairs cloakroom and got her head stuck in the empty bag that had held dog biscuits.  Not quite frothing at the mouth when we arrived.

So you can see that life in an English village is not uneventful. My family was amazed that I didn’t throw my hands up in disgust and return home.

“To live in lives we leave behind is not to die. So don’t forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories everyday.”  Judith Baxter

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19 responses to “A Winter Week in the Country

  1. “To live in lives we leave behind is not to die. So don’t forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories everyday.” Like this words~ Enjoy your life!


  2. Thanks for the comment. Drop by again.


  3. It sounds like an amusing week as you look back, but I imagine you had trouble finding anything funny at the time 🙂


  4. You are so right and it was summer here at home. so that made winter and the dramas all the more difficult to take.
    But it does make a great story and I promise you it is all true.

    Judith 🙂


  5. I really enjoyed the read! Thanks… yes, we must do it for ourselves! Did you manage to get by the 2 week mark? I think you did! 😉


    • I actually managed 3 months for the original time and then went back for two more stints, spending the best part of a year with her altogether.


  6. Oh goodness! I had a good life reading this one… a journey to my old neighborhoods; London, Chicester, Sussex… memories and what a riot of a time you had. Murphy’s Law at work eh? lol! 🙂


  7. : oops : Sorry, that was meant to say I had good laugh reading this post!


    • I spent the best part of a year with this woman – on three separate occasions and I did so enjoy that village.
      I have other memories of the time there and will share them sometime.


  8. Interesting! Did you last out the full time?


  9. What an experience, Judith. Your sure did make something happen. And lived to tell about it, even. Thanks for sharing.


  10. What an experience, Judith. You sure did make something happen. And lived to tell about it, even. Thanks for sharing.


    • The woman was very demanding but we laughed about that week (later) and we eventually became friends. I stayed for 3 months the first time and she called me in NZ and asked me to come back. I did and then went back another time. Have so many memories of life in that little village.


  11. What an interesting experience!


  12. Pingback: Jubilate! A Festival of Music and Flowers | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

  13. Pingback: What will you leave behind? | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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