One of Elaine’s greatest triumphs was her Vintage at the Village Hall fairs. They started with the idea of inviting regular buyers to our home, but in typical Elaine fashion, the idea grew and grew.
The fairs were a success right from the start and they soon out-grew our local village hall, so Elaine found a bigger venue in the Corn Exchange building in the centre of Blandford, the next large town along from us.
This was a much bigger hall to fill, but she had a list of stallholders in waiting so it became just a matter of getting more of the public through the doors on the given Monday morning.
Elaine spent freely on flyers and advertising ETC, but for the earlier fairs we did just a few road signs in the local vicinity which worked ok for the village hall, but the new venue being much larger, she wanted more publicity to get the buyers in.
She was adamant that a big sign was needed for the main roundabout on the outskirts of Blandford and that there should be signage on all the roads leading into town, at least two weeks prior to the fair.
Now I knew this meant a lot more work for me and I was, I admit, a bit of a dissenting voice here. I thought that ad’s in the local papers plus flyers and social media coverage would suffice, with a few signs to direct people on the day.
My wife would have none of it, and after her usual ‘joke’ of, “If you ever want sex again…” I set-to hastily making a stack of signs to put out including a bigger one for the roundabout.
Two weeks before the fair we spent a morning setting them all up and I took time to check them every few days to be certain they had not been nicked or shoved over (both regular occurrences later on).
On the day, Elaine decided to hold a survey. As people arrived they were asked how or where they had heard about the fair.
Only a handful had seen it in the local press, a few more from the flyers and about the same on social media. We had over 870 people through the door for that fair, and over two thirds of them knew about it due to the road signs.
So I was left with a certain amount of egg across my face, but to her credit Elaine didn’t scramble it too much.
For the next fair bigger and better signs were made including a two section one for the roundabout that required two full sized wooden posts to hold it up- and the crowds kept coming.
Thursday 14th January 2021.
I hear the cat before I see it: “Mmurroow.”
I have just returned to the car and opened the door after visiting the body of my wife, for the first and only time. She is lying at the Woodland Burial site near Christchurch before coming back to Wimborne for her funeral in five days’ time.
Walking back around the car, I look in the direction of the catty voice, and coming across the front of the building I’ve just left is the biggest domestic cat I have ever seen.
Now despite my being allergic to anything with four legs and fur, I love cats and they in turn generally love me.
When Elaine left her first husband she took her two cats with her. She went initially to live with Sonia, her then sister-in-law, but the cats came to me and despite my primary reactions we got on great. Since then Elaine and I have always had one or two cats.
She loved big cats a favourite phrase being: “There’s nothing like a big fuck-off cat” and now walking straight towards me is a whopper!
It comes right up and I crouch down to greet it.
“What d’ya want?”
It rubs itself around me as I stroke and scratch it, it damn near pushes me over. This is a BIG cat. An exotic mid-brown coat with darker tabby-like markings and light and dark spots all over. It sports a collar with a large tag displaying a phone number, but this animal is not lost its’ perfectly at ease in its environment.
I continue fussing it, then puss moves quickly over to the car and jumps in through the open door.
It then proceeds to jump around inside the car avoiding my attempts to catch it and leaving muddy paw prints everywhere. It finally settles in the back on Elaine’s old Puffa jacket which is still there.
Laughing, I open up the back door and it complains loudly as I brace myself and lift it out. It’s a heavy sod and, I’m hoping no one sees me as this animal looks to be expensive and I don’t want to be accused of trying to pinch the bugger.
After being displaced from the comfort of the car, puss heads off in the direction from which I had recently come, still complaining loudly. I watch it out of curiosity.
It goes along the path to the side gate and with hardly any hesitation it leaps onto the gate and looks around. Then it jumps down and moves away in the direction of my wife.
I say semi aloud: “Did you send that to try and cheer me up?”
The wind dances gently around me, but no voice replies.
The drive home doesn’t take long and this afternoon I’ve got a search to conduct in that very same home.
Elaine left a request that I give her friend, and dental hygienist Vicky Hargreaves, her pink pashmina and her pink handbag, both of which I had bought her. The pashmina was easily found but not so the bag.
A few cursory searches failed to turn it up so a more thorough attempt is called for. This is not a large house but I turn out every cupboard, every draw, nothing. Her workroom and all the gear in it, nothing. In the loft! Nothing. The sheds, nothing. By now I’m getting really pissed, I’m gonna find that bloody bag if it kills me.
Again and again I look everywhere, even in the truck and car and places where I know it couldn’t possibly be, nothing. I now also realise that other bags are missing too. Did she sell them? Give them away? Unlikely, but where the hell else is there?
On our landing is a large wooden toy lorry. Elaine bought it many years ago and could not part with it. On it sits a metal deed box with the name K.Winny Austin painted on it, something else she bought at a boot sale that she wanted to keep. On the box sits the elephant watering can that I bought and she saw and wanted for Christmas.
Now Elaine always said that she would let me know somehow that she was OK in the event of her death, some sort of sign that she was still around and alright. She just never said what.
I got it in my mind that the ‘sign’ would be this elephant can being turned in the night so as to be facing the bedroom door when I get up in the morning. Of course it never moved.
Don’t think me mad, drowning men really do clutch at straws. Believe in that if nothing else.
I search the lorry and move it the box and the elephant can several times to examine the hall cupboard behind- still nothing. I end up going to bed bemused and annoyed.
Next morning I get up and go onto the landing, the elephant is holding its usual position.
I’m still annoyed and say out loud; “Elaine, what have you done with those fucking bags!”
I go in the bathroom and emerge shortly saying; “I’ve looked everywhere in this bloody house-except-(and my eyes move to it) in that metal box.”
Sitting down awkwardly in the chair beside it and hastily lifting off the watering can I quickly open the lid of K. Winny Austin, and there gazing serenely at me is the pink bag and underneath it the others that are missing.
Why I didn’t open it before I don’t know. Elaine never told me she had put anything in it, I assumed it to be empty.
Then I glance down at the elephant.
In my haste and being on the wrong side to it I had turned it as I lifted it clear and put it down-facing the bedroom door.
I sit and stare and stare at it, its trunk held high just as I was hoping to see it one morning.
Then I laugh out loud, ”You lazy cow you had to get me to do it, didn’t you.”
Saturday 16th January.
Elaine and I were about as close as any couple could be and since she died, especially at night, I have wondered will I hear or see something. As I said earlier, she wanted to let me know she was alright after death, but the incidents with the cat and the elephant set me thinking. Perhaps I’m not going to see a ghostly Elaine, bathed in a glowing light, standing by the bed; or hear her calling my name when I wake in darkness one night.
Maybe it’s a lot more subtle than that.
In my dealings with all the official stuff that goes hand in hand with a person’s death, luck has been on my side. All this sort of thing is a complete anathema to me, something my wife knew only too well.
Yet I’ve rung at just the right time to reach the right person to speak to. Phone numbers, addresses and other info’ is at hand the moment I need it, and ideas have come to mind out of nowhere bringing most useful financial aid. I could go on but I expect you are getting the picture.
I feel her hand in this and I know now that if she were going to help me in any way and let me know that she’s still about, this would be it.
Perhaps I’m still clutching at straws but I don’t think I am, there is something else going on here.
I have already met with Jane Arnold, who is to be our funeral celebrant on the day. Jane lives on the outskirts of Salisbury, a city I love and know well.
Her small Victorian terraced house is a visual delight of quirky vintage and personal items, I love it, and Elaine would have too.
Sitting in Jane’s home by the log fire drinking coffee and talking of my wife, is an experience etched onto my memory that I will treasure.
We have organised the funeral arrangements as Elaine had requested with minimum adjustments which are unavoidable. I have written some words which Jane will read on my behalf. There’s no sense in me trying to do it, I know my limitations here.
I started this writing during the quiet hours at the hospice, when faint hope still lived but had no real voice.
When it was completed I had to take an axe to it as it resembled a biography of Elaine and myself and would have taken Jane a day to read out.
I’m pleased enough with the final version as to be quite honest I’ve never written more than a postcard in years and Jane likes it too, which gives me a real boost.
Now I’m sat here at home by my own fire, I’ve had a drink or two, and a mad idea keeps presenting itself to me.
When Julie a I were talking in the week, she suggested that I might write down how I was feeling in the form of a letter, perhaps one to Elaine, and then place it on the fire to ‘let go’.
The thing that’s come to my mind is-what if I wrote it on the blog?
Elaine simply loved the blog. She was so proud of it, setting it up herself and then gaining her followers it meant so much to her. But she left no instructions about it in the event of her death.
I don’t believe for a moment that she would have just wanted it to die with her, especially in an ‘unfinished’ state, but I doubt that she could see any way for it to continue, even for a while, after she was gone.
I’ve written the piece for the funeral, but, can I write over several months about us and bring her story up to date?
At first I convince myself I can. Then just as quickly convince myself the opposite.
Saturday night turns to Sunday morning, and still this nagging voice: “Write it on the blog.”
Is this you Elaine? Another subtle sign? Subtle, yet insistent: “Write the blog, you can do it, finish the story.”
There is only one person to ask, Anna Blake in America. I’ve met Anna when she had been over the previous two years, and one thing I do know is that from her I’ll get a straight and honest opinion.
You’d better start your influence on her Elaine if you want this to happen.
To be continued…