She stands at the entrance to the driveway.Something unusual, unexpected is happening on the immaculate gravel drive of the square boxy executive house. She remembers when it was an orchard, not really that long ago, before the village began to spead, loose its clear definition, the demarcation between it and the country.
There are three developments in the village now, they lurk on the outskirts, gated, fenced, quiet except for the daily exodus and return of the commuting executives.
They remind Sybil of an awkward teenager at her first adult party, gawky, not quite belonging, but hanging on, wanting to be with the grown ups. Actually, the developments remind Sybil of herself at 18 or 19, never quite part of anything, always at the fringes, waiting to be accepted, allowed to be at the centre of everything.
Sybil shakes her head, she is drifting again, wool gathering Dennis would call it, but he would smile when he said it, softening the criticism and she would smile too and they would go about their quiet daily business.
She looks into the garden again, needs to make sure that she isn’t imagining whats happening there, she almost wants to rub her eyes, cartoon like, an exaggerated response to something very slightly impossible, but no, the scene is exactly the same.
There is a man, stocky, well actually fat, his head is shaved and he is wearing a t-shirt with writing on and those huge ugly boots that so many of the young men wear nowadays. There is a young man, well really a boy, with a strange, complicated hair do and they are both sitting on a sofa, lounging really and they are both laughing, laughing out loud. It is the first loud noise that she has ever heard coming from this house and its infectious, this laughing and Sybil cannot help herself, she smiles and the two men notice her and smile back and there is a pause, a moment of happiness and then the older man beckons her, pats the sofa, smiles directly at her.
She can hear Dennis’ voice, firm, slightly formal, correct – “don’t get involved, walk by, its nothing to do with us”, but the men are exuding harmlessness and Sybil feels an urge to be naughty, to transcend the rules of what is right, what is the proper thing to do and almost before she knows it, she has stepped onto the gravel, has walked onto a property where she does not know the householder and has certainly not been invited and is walking towards the sofa and the two laughing men.
And then she is sitting, well perching really between them. The sofa is bright, its fabric some sort of patchwork design, it reminds her of bedrooms from her own childhood, in the days before duvets and central heating and its very, very comfortable, almost luxurious and she cannot resist, she leans back, feels the soft and probably very expensive fabric on the back of her neck.
She thinks about the sofa at home, with the matching armchairs, its a sensible, serviceable tweedy brown, bought to last, to fit in with the neat cream and brown colour scheme. Dennis choose it, bought it, paid for it, she has simply hoovered under it, plumped the cushions and occasionally swept in between them, but has never really noticed it.
This sofa, partly because of its vivid colours, but mostly of course because its on the middle of the lawn is completely overpoweringly noticeable and Sybil, just for a minute, relaxes, lets the moment be exactly what it is – a tiny bit of madness on a cool, grey February late morning.
But then of course, sanity re-emerges and she comes back from wherever she has been, sits upright, turn to the older man and nods and proffers her hand, there is a pause and then he carefully takes it and to her complete surprise lifts it gently to his lips and kisses it, so lightly that she can only just feel it through her fleecy glove.
She can hear Dennis’ voice again – “drugs, it must be drugs, don’t make eye contact, cross the road, keep moving”, but she is charmed by the whole ridiculous moment, so smiles again and stands up, suddenly mindful of the days’ tasks and incidentally of the twinge in her left hip – this sofa is far too low for a woman of her vintage – and with a real sense of regret walks down the drive. She stops at the gateway and looks back, she is not sure if the men have really noticed her leaving, but she waves anyway and starts her daily walk to the village shop.
The daily walks started when Dennis retired, he worried that, with the loss of his workbased day, his structure, that things might slip, so a new routine started and part of that was the walk, a minimum of 45 minutes at a reasonable pace. The pace slowed as the years went on, but the walks continued and even after his death, Sybil found it impossible to alter the routine, so the walks continued, although she allowed herself days off when the weather was really dreadful.
There’s strong scientific evidence that people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia.
What doesn’t count?
Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework don’t count towards your 150 minutes because the effort isn’t hard enough to increase your heart rate.
If you want to stay pain-free, reduce your risk of mental illness, and be able to go out and stay independent well into old age, you need to keep moving.
It’s that simple. There are lots of ways you can get active, and it’s not just about exercising.
“As people get older and their bodies decline in function, physical activity helps to slow that decline,” says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant. “It’s important they remain active or even increase their activity as they get older.”
Most people as they get older want to keep in touch with society – their community, friends and neighbours – and being active is a way to ensure that they can keep doing that.
The village shop is not the only business dotted amongst the houses that circle the green, but it is the only one that Sybil can see any use for, she is genuinely perplexed by the cluster of bridal shops,the two pubs which offer shockingly expensive coffee and pricey lunches, hairdressers, web designers [ Sybil is not so old, so out of touch with the world that she does not have some idea as to what this might mean] and a life coaching consultancy. She guesses that they meet some need of the in-comers, the day trippers. Dennis didn’t approve, bemoaned the loss of the butcher and the greengrocer, shops he had never actually set foot in, but somehow liked the idea of, fitting with his idea of what a proper village should look like. Sybil, who, car-less and brought up to shop daily, saw them for what they actually were, expensive, under stocked and uninspiring, was secretly rather pleased when they closed and Dennis was forced to drive her to the enormous supermarket each week. She delighted in the huge choice, the cleanliness and if she was being completely honest, the fact that Dennis was forced to take part in at least one domestic task each week.
But, the village shop has its uses and gives a direction, a meaning to her almost daily walk. She collects the newspaper and a carton of fat free milk – Dennis worried about his cholesterol levels and walks home. She has to walk past The Copse again, the furniture van has vanished, but the sofa is still where it was, looking somehow quite right in the middle of the lawn, she cannot help smiling again and the smile lasts the remainder of her walk.
The house, their house is solid, Victorian, neat, well built – “made to last” said Dennis when they bought it. The garden is slipping a bit, but she comforts herself by thinking that all gardens look shabby at this time of the year. There is a routine, a schedule for the care of the plants, the maintenance of the lawn. Sybil stands for a moment at the garden gate – oiled in June and October – the road is deserted at this time of the day,the commute and the school run over. The whoosh of a fast moving cycle shocks her out of her reverie. It is the man from the life-coaching business, he is encased in Lycra, his face fixed in concentration as he approaches the steep hill at the edge of the village. For a moment, Sybil wonders why he looks so angry, perhaps life-coaching is a more stressful occupation than his fliers on the village green noticeboard would give you to believe.
The hallway is warm, the heating making a soft purring noise. Sybil has taken to leaving the heating on for much of the day, even when the house is empty and luxuriates in the comfort of being toasty. Dennis worried about the bills, set the timer of the central heating, snapped about the diminishing returns on their savings if she complained about being cold.
Soaring energy bills are pushing more and more pensioners into fuel poverty, forcing them to choose between heating and eating. One industry analyst, uSwitch, estimates that eight in ten households are already rationing their energy use and have called for a cut in VAT on power bills.
The row over energy prices is poised to be reignited later this month when the ‘big six’ energy companies reveal their latest profit figures.
Campaign groups said yesterday it was ‘scandalous’ that pensioners in modern Britain could be suffering from hypothermia.
Michelle Mitchell of Age UK urged the Government to take more action to protect those at risk of freezing to death.
‘We like to think of ourselves as a civilised society which protects the most vulnerable,’ she said. ‘The fact that there are still older people who are suffering and dying of hypothermia is deeply shocking.’
A survey carried out by Age UK last month found that half of pensioners have turned their heating down to save money even when they are not warm enough.
Many more are so cold they go to bed when they are not tired or move into one room to keep energy bills down.
Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 35C (95F) from its normal 37C (98.6F). Symptoms can include violent shivering, confusion, delirium and unconsciousness.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2100232/Frozen-death-fuel-bills-soar-Hypothermia-cases-elderly-double-years.html#ixzz2Buf24TYC
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Sybil puts the kettle on, takes a mug off the mug tree, Dennis didn’t like mugs, said they were common, he preferred a proper cup and saucer, but she has found that she doesn’t care, a mug saves on washing up and the coffee tastes the same. She puts two heaped spoons of sugar in the drink, takes one biscuit out of the tin and then takes another. Dennis liked her to watch her weight, she knows she has gained weight in the last two years, but she actually finds it comforting, the soft flesh at her middle, a general slipping of shape, of definition.
She picks up the yellow folder from the dining room table. It is clearly labelled WINTER MAINTENANCE PROGRAMME. There is also a blue one, currently standing neatly on the bookshelf in the lounge labelled SUMMER MAINTENANCE PROGRAMME and a green one which has a smaller label – MISCELLANEOUS.
When Dennis knew that he was finally dying, he started the folders, listing all the things, the routines that he had put in place over the years, he typed them, amended them, took her through each routine again and again. She understood his fear, his panic that things would fall apart when he was gone, so she was patient, allowed him to do it and somewhat to her own surprise, she has kept to the strictures, followed his instructions,fulfilled the same role of obedient wife as she had when he was alive.
Today, the main task, the big one is “Winter maintenance -the car- part 2”. The car lives in the garage, once a week, according to the MISCELLANEOUS folder, she starts the engine and runs its for a few minutes.
She sips her coffee and with a sinking feeling, reads, not for the first time, the list of instructions.
Winter car maintenance check
Autumn is a good time of year to schedule your annual full major service. This will ensure your vehicle is in the best shape possible to cope with the winter. Here’s a checklist to help reduce the chances of problems and increase safety.
Air filter: Inspect the filter for dirt and tears in the paper and replace if necessary. Typically, it’s a good idea to do this twice a year.
Anti-freeze: In the winter anti-freeze prevents freezing, which would overheat the engine as it would stop the flow of the coolant. Make sure you use the correct concentration.
Check your battery: Check your battery for corrosion and make sure the terminals are clean and dry. Keep the battery fully charged.
Inspect your brakes: Check your brakes and brake fluid twice a year to make sure everything is in order. If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS) keep an eye on your dashboard indicator.
Check your headlights: Make sure they are free from damage and they are clean.
Check your engine oil: You can check your oil level and condition by removing the dipstick. If the oil looks black then it is time to do an oil change.
Screenwash checks: Always ensure your washer container is topped up to the specified amount with windscreen washer fluid in winter.
Inspect your tyres: With the hazards of black ice, snow and poor visibility in winter, it’s essential to make sure your tyres are in good condition. Remember to check the spare too. See Tyre Checks for more information.
Check your windscreen: If you have any chips or cracks, it’s essential that you have these repaired straight away. See Windscreen cracks and chips for more information.
Windshield wipers: Wipers are essential in clearing the view through your windscreen, particularly in winter when grit and salt is thrown from the road onto your windscreen. Check for cracks or splitting and replace if required.
Sybil sighs and stands up to start the chore and then sits down again, she is suddenly transported to the morning encounter,the men, the smiling and the sofa. She remembers that moment of complete happiness, the madness of the break from routine, an unplanned and un-planneable encounter.
She puts the folder back on the table, walks back into the kitchen and puts the kettle on and eats two biscuits straight from the tin.
When her drink is made, she sits down again and starts to make another list, she stops for a moment and stands up, gets a blank folder from the sideboard, she labels it, carefully – THINGS I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO – and on the first sheet of paper she writes
“Number 1 – sell the bloody car”
She wonders how many sheets of paper she will need to list all the things she wants to do.