Life in Chard is terribly hard
I am alone with my two dogs walking in the rain as usual around the circumference of Snowdon Park in Chard. They trot with claws clicking on the path, blinking as rain hits them. This is a lovely open space which is much used and well loved. The asphalt paths sway through a once tilled field, now a football field and recreation ground. On Sunday mornings single fathers escape church and play with their children on the swings. The other days see toddlers, lead straining dogs, mothers on mobiles, teens kicking fences and the solitary looking for space. Three sides of the park back onto beautiful fields rising up towards the Blackdown Hills.
In one field a disused rusty barn with hungry empty sides fights the tall corn and screeching seagulls from the coast have found harvest plenty here. On the fourth side the much needed but overcrowded housing estates of Chard nestle onto a boundary of nettles and unkempt grass. These houses are small, holding secrets and peak stuff and home to the thirteen thousand of what my sister calls the rural poor.
The young dream of leaving, the old are resigned to cheap food and cheaper clothes. The half way in age who had little chance to do anything much find their hopes and satisfaction in care wards and the elderly homes. In one of those homes of smells and memories lives my uncle surrounded by his whole life with nothing thrown. Each book is thumbed and populated by yellowing news cuttings. His pictures hang out of line and are fragile and they have been viewed so many times that they are faded by interrogation. There are twelve mugs with Nelson portraits and three unopened bottles of whiskey on his side table. The desk, a relic from the large family house stands open like a dissected body in a morgue spilling papers, pens, clips, bills, stamps, curios, tins, biscuits, broken statues and the remains of a life spent reading towards the floor.
The care home was a hotel once and still looks very Crossroads.
Bath time is once a fortnight and sherry is served on Sundays.
Not far from him, my mother is sitting on a sofa as she has she has for many months. Dementia is killing her softly and fast, leaving behind her anger and jealousy. Daytime TV once a staple of a life spent without interests and exercise is long forgotten. Her diet is biscuits and Swiss Roll, that anyway is mostly fed to the dog who is a sacrifice to her insanity as it gets more and more obese in direct correlation to my mother getting thinner.
Determined to keep up with her dulled memories she flicks through Tatler and shows her entry in Debretts to the cleaning woman who gasps that such people exist.
“I thought it was only on Downton” she exclaims as she brushes around her.
The High Street slopes down towards a Dominos Pizza which was a car showroom. Food packaging and other litter misses the bins and gathers on the small channel in the bleak guttering on the road side. No one looks up as they shuffle past on their way to Pound Stretcher, Lidl and the vape shops. At least four Chinese takeaways jostle with the kebab man. On the jet black road outside the house when my mother lives the storm drain cover is bent so each time a car goes past it sounds out click clack. This is keeping her awake during the night. The council promises to repair but nothing has been done for months.
The pubs in Chard serve warm beer in plastic glasses as there is always the risk of a Friday fight night in prospect.
I dig deep into the beauty and personalities of the Chard people who help and do what we will not as I walk past the the net curtained houses that hide the silent sofas and care homes.
In the park a carer with her charges, smiles and walks slowly herding her forgotten. She stops to talk about my dogs, they hustle around mine, snuffling and nipping tennis balls. Hers too are rescues and like her clutch realise that love is being shared. Now there is nothing but giggles, questions and enthusiasm.
In Sainsbury the checkout women just grin, help and talk and tell me fragments of their lives. They don’t feel resentful or having missed out but I am sure they dream the dreams of the ballet schools they forgot or the boyfriends who promised much.
In the care home the nurse who spent her life in Iran refuses to wear uniform so that it seems more like home.
They may be as my sister calls them ‘the rural poor’ but I would always be happy to be among them.