Just popped upstairs to get another layer of clothing before I begin.  I am freezing!  Once again, tantalized by the master – nay, mistress – Mother Nature.  A promise of Spring, momentarily, only to be snatched from us as if in jest.  These little green men must be utterly bamboozled by this planet, our climate and our habits.  I’m with them!
Only this morning, my friend, Emily, and I were bemoaning the mundane repetitiveness (try saying that after a glass of wine!) of our lives which, in turn, makes Groundhog Day sound truly exhilarating.  I had caught the tailend of Chris Evans and his commenting on the modern-day gym addiction, ironically, a foil for the obesity culture derived from the lifestyle of computer zombies.  He is so right.  I witnessed the very same myself when I sampled that Body Combat class a few weeks ago:  a car park already full at 6.45pm; through the windows of the gym, nothing but people/zombies dressed in lycra ‘plugged in’ on the running machines or the cross-trainers; and the same, queuing outside the doors for a class in which someone shouts instructions over a mindless beat … and they all obey.  Office to gym.  Same mindset; different venue.  No life.  I found myself recalling a very popular advert in the seventies – ‘For Mash Get Smash’ – in which a bunch of aliens are observing Earth and watching a ‘typical’ household making mashed potatoes.  They fall about laughing at the ignorance of man, oblivious to the concept of instant Smash.  Half a century on and one can only imagine the hilarity enjoyed by these extra-terrestial beings observing humans, once more, squandering the gifts of intelligence and freedom of choice.  We live in a world of sheep; a world more comfortable sinking to the lowest denominator in a quest to make everyone equal rather than striving to make everyone better.  We have got it so wrong.
Moving to this suburb in Edinburgh 25 years ago, it would never have been my first choice.  I had grown up in an old Victorian sandstone house of character and could never have envisaged living in a 1960s modern box!  Four bedrooms?  Four cupboards, more like, and as for storage?  Who needs clothes?!  I shall never forget one of my friends dropping me off, for the first time, saying ‘Tricia!  How long are you going to stick this?  ‘A year’, I replied.
I grew to appreciate the area, though, and the countryside environs just a stone’s throw away; I got used to the prying neighbours feigning consideration as a cover for nosiness and I thrived in a community which placed equal importance on one’s dog!  In time, it became home but people grow older and change is inevitable.  We lost our dear neighbour opposite – Norman, a former Headmaster who loved gardening in his luminous orange shorts and, more than anything, his wine!  He used to order it by the case and encouraged us to do the same insisting there was no need to settle up until the end of the month.  By the end of the month, however, our wine was long gone and we were forever catching up! 
From time to time, the doorbell would ring of an evening and there would be Norman, tweed jacket on and hair coiffeured to within an inch of its life.  No need for an invitation, we would welcome him in, offer him a seat – or stool, in this case – and a glass of wine content in the knowledge that all he wanted was company and the chance to be part of a family for an hour or so.  Our kitchen, at the time, was tiny but we fed the children – and Wilbur – and they got on with their homework before bath and bed while Norman immersed himself in domesticity.  One such occasion, however, has become infamous for its comedy, the players involved deserving of commendation for their nonchalance …
Picture the scene: tiny kitchen; 3 adults, 2 children and large dog; fold-out table and stools not forgetting ancient cooker with no knobs requiring pliers for operation.  Scene set.  Enter Norman, stage left!  Welcomed, sits down on stool at table and engages in conversation with children whilst partaking of glass of wine.  Meanwhile, whilst continuing with jobs of great importance – and partaking of glass of wine – I notice that Norman seems to be having difficulty speaking.  New teeth?  Confirmation forthcoming when I hear something drop on the floor.  Wilbur there first!  Norman continues talking – and partaking of wine – whilst I, successfully, muffle my panic and attempt retrieval of teeth from large Clumber Spaniel.  Mission accomplished with hand intact, I retreat to sink, wash said teeth under the tap and hand them back to Norman without comment.  Seemingly without pause, he continues to talk to said children whilst slipping teeth back into position.  Children with impeccable manners demonstrate remarkable restraint and do not collapse in hysterical laughter; large Clumber Spaniel retreats to his bed and I continue with chores of great necessity, behind them all, shaking with repressed giggling.  One couldn’t write it …
‘Another pleasant valley Sunday
 Here in status symbol land … ‘
Pleasant Valley Sunday, The Monkees
Before I come to the point, I must mention that I saw The Monkees in concert at the Playhouse, Edinburgh in 1989.  I still find it hard to believe.  Mike Nesmith was not with them but, for an hour and a half, Davey Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork transported us back to the 60s and our childhood singing Daydream Believer, I wanna be free and all the hits.  They even did their iconic walk.  It was absolutely magical; a night I shall forever cherish and my only regret is that I do not have a programme nor can I find my ticket stub.  Still got the memories, though …
Now for the point; the reason for the reminiscing about this house and the area.  As I said, nothing lasts forever.  Norman shuffled off this mortal coil as, one by one, did all our old favourites.  Stupidly, we built our beautiful kitchen extension whilst, around us, the neighbourhood was changing beyond recognition.  The old characters were gone and, in their place, were ‘products’ of today; those depicted in the song; those at home in status symbol land; some of whom I refer to as ‘lottery winners’!  Norman is no more.  His old driveway is mono-blocked for the ‘flash’ cars which are hoovered and polished every week – sometimes with a hankie!  He has every household gadget known to man from chain saw to power hose to leaf blower – all used on a Sunday morning – but it is the bins which finish me!  Each is painted, boldly, with the house number.  It’s like wearing a name badge!  Who is going to steal a bin – and, quite frankly, who cares?!  Regardless, these precious bins appear, religiously, on the pavement – always the right colour, thankfully  – seemingly days in advance and it never fails to make me gasp for air!!  Yes, I looooove my conservatory kitchen but it’s time to go in search of intelligent life once more …
I bumped into an old friend at the hairdressers this afternoon.  Our lives have taken us down very different paths despite sharing some happy memories.  Our conversation was stilted and awkward but it led me to ask her how many houses they had now?  Slight pause before she replied, “Three” – then added that “It’s bloody hard work!”.
I have learned so much over the past six years and gained invaluable perspective.  For that, I am truly grateful.
‘If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years, how man would marvel and adore.’    Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is Trish, signing off.