“Vera”

Based on books by Ann Cleeves, the British television series “Vera” has seven seasons so far (a discovery that helped a lot with pneumonia evenings). It features Vera Stanhope as a Detective Chief Inspector working in the far northeast of England. Probably everything written about “Vera” mentions the detective’s unlikely appearance and demeanor. Paddington Bear comes to mind.

She’s a sturdy and not young woman who wears a squashed hat like the bear’s, Wellies or sensible shoes, and a “mac” as much a trademark as Colombo’s was in the day. She drives a beat-up jeep, and addresses people as “pet” or “luv” with empathy or sarcasm, depending on the exchange. British slang words like “skint” and “scarper” sprinkle the show’s dialogue – complicated by thick northern accents.

You rarely see the murder, but each episode’s opening scene finds a corpse discovered in the landscape – beaches, moors, river canyons – or in a lonely farmhouse, stately home or Newcastle street. Under investigation the new case (and they are remarkably varied) can lead to a tangled web of family secrets and lies, and sometimes require the reopening of a closed case.

The actress Brenda Blethyn plays Vera. Her mobile face conveys both barely concealed fury and impatience with lying, or a smile of sympathy or satisfaction at a solution. She’s smart, intuitive, often sharp with associates, and in the middle of the case pulls her crumpled hat off and on in frustration. She is really, really good at her job.

It helps that she knows a lot – because of her odd childhood with a poacher father, she has experience and understanding of animals and plants inhabiting seacoast and moor. Some episodes reveal tiny bits of Vera’s past, and we get to know her staff.

Through the seasons the actors change, but her closest associate is always a Detective Sergeant, young, male, handsome, and sweet – a family guy who cares about Vera in spite of her quirks. Pathologists play a prominent role, there have been three so far, and a longtime Detective Constable who knows the criminal characters of countryside and city.

Vera cares about children and their often difficult lives, but part of her appeal is the satisfaction of watching her bark orders to her staff – and seeing them jump to.

I’m fond of the scenes back at the headquarters: the victim’s photo slapped on a magnetic board along with other bits of information, and Vera, wearing her “under the mac” almost housedress outfit with ubiquitous stringy scarf circling her neck, paces in front of the board and demands of her gathered staff “Well, what do we know?”

Maybe not much at that moment – but a lot by the end of the evening.

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Bye-Bye Buffalito

When an AAA tow truck driver named Geno came here last spring to charge a car battery, I asked him if he thought we could transport the Buffalito on a flatbed tow truck. (Our cabinet builder friend built the Buffalito in 2008, and I wrote about how it came to be here). Geno kicked the tires, looked underneath at the truck chassis, and said yes.

So, on a Saturday evening in early September, Geno came with a regular tow truck and pulled the Buffalito out the driveway to the main road. Early the next morning we walked down to watch him carefully position the Buffalito by the huge flatbed, slowly winch it up, and attach it securely with chains.

It was a sweet sight – early on a quiet Sunday morning – that small yellow caravan up high on the no-nonsense tow truck, heading down the road to a new home.

I had such bittersweet feelings – I loved the process of creating the Buffalito with our cabinet builder and have enjoyed the sight of it every day by a garden along our driveway. But times change, and it’s gone to a really happy home – a sunny spot at our young friend and her parents’ house on Bainbridge. They welcomed it by washing and ironing the curtains and giving it a thorough vacuuming.

Positioned just near the deck off their living room – someone reading or sleeping on the Buffalito’s bed or working at its little table could easily nip into the house. My young friend’s mom said it cheered her to see it from inside, adding “it will be used,” and that Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, and Baby Brother have anytime visiting privileges.

It’s an ongoing miracle to me that my young friend and her family live now on Bainbridge. She’s in Scotland studying languages at St. Andrews University, but will be back for the holidays.

And in the winter darkness, maybe a lamp will glow through the Buffalito’s windows to welcome her home.

Sweet Baby Explores The Bluff

A week ago Sweet Baby and her family came to visit from Saturday to the next Sunday – a luxury of time. As she came in the door from the Buffalo each morning, we heard a hearty: “Hi Granny Katee, Hi Papa Jim!”

She switches readily between Thai and English depending on her interlocutor – and uses some endearing turns of phrase, “thank you my dada” being one of my favorites. Seated next to me during a discussion about hair color, “my daddy has brown hair, my mommy’s is black,” she then patted my head and said: “cloud.”

Recently a person unknown drove into the fence at the head of our driveway and knocked two posts and the boards asunder. Having lately helped her dad build a pergola in their California backyard, Sweet Baby carried a mallet and trowel and put them to use in the repair. One day we talked to a contractor friend at a building site, and she piped up, communicating urgency with hand gestures while holding a tape measure, saying: “I need a ladder to measure up high.”

The weather was changeable, but we walked many short loops through the nearby woods, where Sweet Baby climbed over mossy windfalls, negotiated tree roots, and initiated game after game of slightly confusing hide-and-seek, “I count, you hide-and-seek!”

Low, low tides meant great beach walking on hard sand. Sweet Baby filled her yogurt container bucket with stones and shells. She slowly overcame her reluctance to touch the giant snakes of kelp her dad waved, and began to carry along a short stub – with bulbous head and topknot fringe of roots – named “Kelpy.”

At Wilderbee Farm we walked a trail behind its cultivated acres, wild roses gone to rose hips, dry mown grass underfoot, and hiding places aplenty. Sweet Baby fed the sheep and, happy to find a friendly animal after the bad attitude of our Frances, petted the huge sheep dog.

She was excited when deer wandered by our windows, and she crouched over slugs to locate their tiny horns. Rabbits, camouflaged against our brindled lawn, froze long enough for Sweet Baby to see their noses and whiskers twitch. From the house I watched her stop with her dad and gently tap the green plastic watering can on the garden steps, to glimpse a frog’s head emerge from the spout.

The final Sunday, a warm and blue-sky day, we spent on Bainbridge Island, walking the trail at Bloedel, eating lunch outside at the bakery, and playing at the Tot Lot. Then, too soon, we headed for the ferry.

Rain returned the next day, and the house seemed quiet and scattered with lonely stuffed animals and toys – but I’m grateful for a grand week!

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Summer Into Fall – Checking Back In

At the very end of August, during that season of national natural disasters, we added a family plague outbreak to the litany. We arrived in Anchorage just as Mrs. Hughes fell to what the pediatrician (two days later when both children had succumbed) declared to be H1N1, Swine Flu.

But in the early days, we had fine grandchildren time – we ate muffins and played tabletop hide-and-seek with the plastic animals at the bakery, and we visited the familiar playground, where Lady Baby tripped across the wiggly bridge and walked the balance beam with utter confidence – activities that once gave her pause.

A week from his first birthday, Baby Brother slithered – that’s really the best word for it – a locomotion also described as a “military crawl” – all elbows, arms, and wiggling bottom and legs. Technically not crawling, a kneeless move, he’s speedy nonetheless – circles the house, investigates, and gets in the middle of elaborate Papa Jim and Lady Baby adventure guy set-ups on the floor. His babble intones like proper sentences, and he says little words like woof, dada, mama. (I wonder what he will call Lady Baby.)

That Monday should have been the first day of kindergarten for Lady Baby. Kindergarten! But it wasn’t to be (maybe saddest for her mom to miss that official day). By Friday a photo showed Lady Baby ready – a missing top tooth and a big smile as she joined her friends at her new school. She’s serious about school – told me she would learn things there.

We brought the flu home, and then I, yet again, managed to morph it into pneumonia. Lost days of reading and avoiding forest fire smoke, with murky air and the sun a red ball sunrise and sunset.

Thank you for all the cheerful comments about the blue and white vase series during the summer break. The gallery has asked for 24 little drawings for December, so there might be a few more. They want more blue and whites, the armchairs, and “whatever suits your fancy” – a wonderful thing for a gallery to request.

And I’m ready to work. Welcome rain left clear days, crisp with chill in the mornings, and sunny warm in the day. Autumn in the Northwest is here.

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