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XX Notes: Far From the Madding Crowd

Published on: 24 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 27 Oct, 2020

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

Despite my predictions of doom in last fortnight’s XX Notes, our corner of Surrey has not been pushed up the coronavirus tiers, so off to Cornwall I went.

With the wonders of modern technology and the restrictions of Covid, wfh (working from home) has taken on a new meaning. When someone first thought up the initialism, I doubt they meant it to stand for: working from holiday home.

Three victims of Ernie’s chewing.

Although my immediate family are not joining me until half-term, I’ve not escaped alone. Sydney and Ernie, no strangers to this column, have accompanied me. My husband waved me off at the door, with barely disguised glee.

When I call him at the end of a busy day, fending off puppy kisses and recounting the carnage young Ernie has wrecked on everything from long-suffering Sydney’s bed to my down jacket, he can’t help but mention how lovely it is to take his shoes off in front of the TV without worrying they are going to be used as a teether.

And the damage? So far the puppy has chewed through three dog beds, one water bottle, a travel cup, a doorstop, three stuffed animals, a flip flop and the wall(!). He has left six puddles on the (thankfully vinyl) floor.

Visiting the village pet shop to buy a tough toy that would last longer than 24 hours, I asked the assistant for advice. His solution: freeze a damp tea towel, allow the frost to melt then let the puppy chew that to soothe his gums.

Ernie says: “If it tastes good – chew it!”

It’s a bit weird having tea towels in the freezer but less gruesome than the frozen pig hearts the vet gives Sydney as a treat.

The pace of life is slower down in the South-west, leaving more time to think. Walking the dogs on the beach, my mind wanders to literary figures. Winston Graham, author of Poldark used to live around here and, striding across the cliffs with the wind in my hair, I imagine I am Demelza, off to the Truro assizes to defend Ross from his latest argument with the Warleggans.

Shopping in town, I am Bathsheba* Everdene, independent heroine of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Surfing in the Atlantic, I am Wilma Johnson, the Surf Mama who left Ireland to catch the perfect wave in Biarritz.

A tourist-free Cornish beach.

It might not be the same ocean but I bet the wetsuits are thinner in the south of France. Use the “Leave a reply” feature below to tell us about your literary hero.

While we’re on books, as an English graduate and former English teacher, you’d expect me to be an avid reader. Usually, I read a couple of books a month but my rate has slowed recently.

Way back in July, I started Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the third book in the trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I read on a Kindle so I’m not usually aware of how long a story is, although sometimes I do look at the library page and the number of dots (Kindle readers will understand) gives it away.

Only when a friend complained about the weight of the hardback edition she’d borrowed from the library did I realise why it was taking me so long. At 883 pages, it may not be War and Peace, but it’s certainly denser than the Jojo Moyes book that’s waiting patiently in the queue.

Cornwall may be far removed from coronavirus headlines but I’m still following the national press where an article in The Guardian caught my attention this week. It seems women in the 50 to 60 age bracket are most susceptible to the debilitating “long Covid”.

Sharing this information with my friends via WhatsApp, one said she’d been suffering for the past five years. “Gastrointestinal problems, skin rashes, nerve problems and brain fog”, sounds just like the menopause to me. Check your HRT, ladies.

*I was reminded of Bathsheba from O-level studies because there is a surf shop called this in the village, although my friend tells me it is actually the name of a surfing beach in Barbados.

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