Posted in Not Books!, Uncategorized

Keeping in Touch…

ledbury market house
Ledbury Market House: Ledbury is a lovely historic town, but not very modern when it comes to hi-tech communications!

People may have noticed that after a prolonged absence I created a new blog here on WordPress, wrote a couple of posts, and promptly relapsed back into silence. The reason? My mother has been ill, and I  have been with her for weeks and weeks, without access to the internet. Hopefully, she is on the mend, but it made us realise she is ‘no spring chicken’, as she herself reluctantly admits – she is 89 this year, but on good days she insists she feels 19 inside!  I  wish she lived nearer, then I could pop in each day, but she doesn’t, and I can’t, and my brother is even further away, so we now have carers popping in twice a day to lend a hand and check that Mum is OK.

Friends and family have been fantastically supportive, and I was fortunate to get a couple of breaks: on separate occasions my brother and my elder daughter each held the fort so I could return home for a few days. Luckily, my stint as a full-time carer has been short, and I’m picking up the threads of everyday life again, but the experience has left me full of admiration for anyone who cares for a loved one on a long-term basis – they deserve far more help and support than they get, at a far earlier stage.

It was a very worrying time, and dealing with various health and social service authorities became enormously frustrating, but in the end it was the small things that got to me, and the fact that I felt terribly isolated. It sounds very petty to complain, but Mum has no computer, and when it comes to linking in to any kind of modern communications technology the part of Herefordshire where she lives seems to be in something of a black hole. It’s always been a problem when I visit Mum, but it’s more noticeable over a longer period, because there appears to be no reliable ‘hotspot’ that you can link a laptop to, and the mobile phone reception is terrible – there were days when I couldn’t get a signal at all. Even the landline connection is dodgy (though that may be due to Mum’s phone).

Timothy_Peake,_official_portrait
Calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft… Astronaut Tim Peake speaks to Earth from Space more than easily than people do from one part of England to another!

I kept thinking how people living in far-flung corners of the world, miles and miles from centres of civilisation, all have access to computer and mobile phones. And what about astronaut Tim Peake, up above in the Earth in the Space Station? He comes across loud and clear when he sends his messages! If he can do it, why not Herefordshire? On the plus side, it gives me an excuse (not that I really need one) to use a picture of the wonderful Tim Peake, who is one of my heroes.

While I was with Mum, various people I spoke to all moaned about how awful communications are (there is no decent broad apparently), and on my return home I caught a news item which confirmed that the county is one of the worst areas in the country, and is unlikely to improve any time in the near future.

However, it did make me reflect on how much life has changed since my childhood, and how everyone (even technophobes like me) has become reliant on ‘instant’ communication, and the immediacy of accessing information. When I was a child people kept in touch by letter (my mother still does), with the odd phone call when necessary. We were one of the few houses in the street with a phone, and in emergencies other people used to knock on our door and ask if they could ring the doctor or whoever, rather than running to the public phone box round the corner. We had a ‘party line’, which meant we somehow shared it with another house – I’m not sure exactly how this worked, because I think we each had our own number, but it meant we couldn’t use the phone if they were on it, and vice versa. And if they were using their phone you could hear their conversation if you picked up our phone. We used to replace the receiver very quickly, because it would have been very rude to listen in, but we did occasionally hear some very odd snippets of conversation!

Telephone 1950s
Hanging on the telephone… This 1950s Bakelite phone, with the ‘cloth’ covered twisted wire cord is like the one I remember from my childhood.

Remembering that made me think of Gladys Taber’s comments on using a telephone in the Stillmeadow Daybook. I was introduced to this lovely volume by Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm when she followed Gladys over the course of a year, using excerpts from the book to highlight the author’s thoughts on life. And she had very definite thoughts about telephones:

Well, much has been written about the country telephone. Ours rings apparently without reason, and with nobody on the other end. If we try to call anyone, we get five people in odd places who are justly annoyed at being summoned when we do not want to talk to them anyway. If I get called to the phone, I always hear another conversation going on, and I get so bemused listening to that that I never hear my own.

After being on a nine-party line for years, we graduated to a two-party line. We felt elated, but it was a short-time elation. For now we only have a sort of dual conversation with the other party on at the same time. And if I get on, as I rarely do, I always hear this clear clipped voice saying, ‘is this the New York Medical Center?’

Gladys may have been writing about her life in rural America, but it certainly echoes my experiences in a small English town.

Anyway, I came back from Mum’s feeling grateful for all the things I have – family, friends, house and so on. And it seemed to me that somehow, when communications were less frequent, we had more time for each other, and still managed to keep in touch with people when it really mattered, and to show how much we cared. And I thought it would be nice to try and start writing letters on a more regular basis, to my mother, my brother, my daughters, and my friends, just to show I’m thinking of them.

Picture Attribution: Tim Peake, ny NASA/Robert Markowitz https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa2explore/18306699143/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41055142.; Telephone, from Telephone Lines website.; Ledbury Market House, taken by me a couple of years ago.
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Author:

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

3 thoughts on “Keeping in Touch…

  1. It’s great to have you back and I’m really sorry about your mother’s illness. We may as well face it: we can’t live without broadband … those poor people in Herefordshire! I hope you have time for some reading and reviewing now and you’re not too busy catching up.

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    1. Thank you Jane. Mum is much better now, thank goodness. I never think of myself as being very good with modern technology, so I’m always surprised at how much I depend on it, and how much miss it when it’s not there.

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  2. I’m so sorry that your mother has been ill, but how lovely that you were able to spend time with her. I know from experience that dealing with agencies is not easy, and I hope that she will be happy in her own home with the right support. I’d speak to BT about the landline because there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be reliable – we had problems a while ago and in the end we found out that it was because a fax machine in a local hotel had been allocated the same number.

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