I pull in to a farm track at the edge of the village, and set off up the hill in pursuit of Dusty. It’s so utterly still today, as if the air and landscape are frozen in time. I stop and imagine all that Mistle Hill has lived through. My breath rises like vapour from a lake. There’s a faint scent of woodsmoke on the air. I feel an overwhelming sense of beauty tinged with sadness. How are the mighty fallen! Not that I was ever mighty per se, but my life was a lot more on the mighty side when I was living in Asia. Junk trips, island-hopping, dining out practically every night, dinner parties at the drop of a hat. People, people everywhere. Life. Colour. Action. Staff! And now? The country. Pigs. Mud. Solitude. I love my walks with Dusty, but is this it? 50, next stop the graveyard?
I’m fumbling with the key. Why will it never go straight into the keyhole? I cross my legs and squeeze my pelvic floor. And I’ve only given birth to one child, not five like Cass. Mind you, Cass says she and all her friends with three or more children have got prolapsed vaginas.
I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. The beanie hat has ridden up so I look like a Smurf. Oh well. Who cares, in the country?
I throw open the kitchen cupboard doors. I need a little something to go with my coffee. Aha. Mince pies. Best before: 17 January 2011. Today is… oh yes, my birthday! 3 March. Should be fine. I pop one in the Rayburn. Aagh! Sal’s and my birthday tea! I promised to bring the cake. But I forgot to buy eggs. Now I’ll have to go to the village shop. Oh well, I’ll do it after lunch.
Now, let’s clear some of this mess. Oh. I’d better go and collect my post before it turns to papier mâché. Any normal rented house has its own postbox, even if said house is only size of shoebox. Not mine, though. I have to walk up to the Big House and practically doff my Smurf hat to the lady of the house before extracting my post from a tin chest with a rusted hole in the bottom.
Right, open up the chest. Ooh! Birthday cards from Rose, Franny and Sophia. That’s nice. Gosh, one from Dan too. That’s a turn up for the books. Oh God! So embarrassing. My first Saga magazine! I glance up. Sure enough, there’s Prue looking at me through the window. She jiggles the catch and flings the window open.
‘Good morning, Eliza. Like the Smurf look!’
‘Hi Prue. How are you?’
She smiles benignly, but I’m not fooled. Under that helmet of grey candy floss reside the beadiest eyes in the village.
‘What’s that you’re hiding? That’s not Saga magazine, is it? What are you doing with that?’
‘This?’ I say, looking down and feigning surprise. ‘Oh, this! Well, my mother was given a lifetime subscription as a Christening present and…’
‘The thing is,’ I say breezily, ‘she turned to Christianity later in life…’
‘Ah.’ Prue is looking at me intently.
‘So anyway, when she died, I thought it would be a waste to stop the subscription altogether, so I had it diverted to my address.’
Prue is still scrutinising me. She leans out of the window and pushes her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose. ‘I’m only saying this to save you the embarrassment later, Eliza, but you’ve got some breakfast on your chin.’
I wipe my hand across my chin. Banana. How does that happen? It’s not as if I’m using botox or have had a stroke or recent dental appointment. But I see it all around me now. Greying friends harbouring crumbs of homemade bread or daubs of mayonnaise at the corners of their mouths. We’re losing our finer senses. A moment ago we were yummy mummies in our forties. Now we are 50, fast-tracking into dribbling old ladies.
I turn the door handle to my cottage. What’s that smell? Argh! The mince pie! I open the Rayburn door. Black. Best before: burning. Right, that goes in the bin. Back to the cupboard. Goody. One more left. I pop it in the Rayburn.
Now, my cards. Let’s see what witticism Dan has found. ‘Don’t worry about being 40,’ it says on the outside. Ha ha. I open it up. ‘In 10 years time you’ll be 50!’ Ha ha again. He’s written, ‘Happy 43rd birthday, Lize!’ Excellent, especially if any of the neighbours drop round. Franny is playing it safe with a pretty still life of teacups. Rose’s card features a terrier careering down a hill with the caption, ‘Still nifty at fifty’. Had better hide that one. Hmmm, wonder if the ‘over the hill’ or ‘all downhill from here’ subtext is intentional? Sophia has sent a Lost Consonants card of a Dustyish dog in a pinnie with a tray of jam tarts and the caption, ‘Every time the doorbell rang, the dog started baking.’
Aah. That’s nice.
I’ll just have a quick look at Saga magazine before I get on. Tena Pants. Why are the Pants in italics? What are Tena Pants, anyway? Cass is always joking about them. At least I think she’s joking. Hang on, let’s get this straight. They’re not just Tena Pants. They’re TENA Pants Discreet.
TENA Pants Discreet are a pad and pant in one.
Oh my God. They’re nappypants for the Over 50s. I slap the magazine shut in disgust. Surely it hasn’t come to this? Mind you, could be jolly useful for long car journeys. Or even short ones, like this morning.
Oh! The mince pie. Yes! Not burnt. My wits are now honed like a … what’s a very sharp, wittled kind of object?
I open up Saga again. Leaflets cascade from the pages like a propaganda drop. Caring Solutions. Products to make life easier. easylife lifestyle solutions. Honestly, what are they thinking of? We’re Over 50s! Brought up on Capital Letters for proper nouns and headlines. I bet the designers of these things are Under 50s. Like the designers of business cards who use microscopic fonts that you need +3 glasses to read. Enough Saga already!
Check emails. Aah. Adorable Chudleigh labrador animated greeting from Cousin Claude.
Oh, update from french-property.com. I’ll just have a quick look. Search, all France, under 100,000 Euros. It’s amazing what you can get for your money over there. Well, a wreck with no amenities. But nice stonework.
Oh my God! I can’t believe I’ve just spent practically an hour surfing French properties. I wasn’t even looking for one. It’s property porn. Enticing, addictive, ultimately dissatisfying.
Just want to find one I like before I get on. It’s the difference between a job well done and an hour wasted.
25,500 Euros (approx. £21,936)
Stone and tiled barn (135 sqm), situated in a reional natural parland area, with a land area of 502 sqm. which is not attacked to the property. Pigsty opposite. No water and electricity but close, no septic tank, renovation needed for the roof, earth floor.
No! Step away from the French properties. Click on the red box. Click on the red box! Honestly, these websites are worse than the Bermuda Triangle.