Chipped, tagged, muzzled or crazed…it’s August!

If we are to believe what we read (and the jury is still out on that one) chip & pin will soon have a whole new meaning. On the local news this week, it was reported that a man has had a chip inserted in his hand that allows him to open doors by waving his hand in front of a sensor, among other things.
I can only wonder what happens if the chip moves. I mean, the vet told me that the chip they put in dogs’ shoulders, often moves around the body and is hard to find when they come to scan it. The next time we see this young man, will he be standing on his head or presenting his foot or another part of his anatomy, to the sensor before the door will open? This could be very inconvenient.
Doubtless the powers that be, have thought of this and the chip will not move – but couldn’t it be subject to a new sort of infection? A new computer virus perhaps? Could a lift of one’s hand induce a totally unexpected outcome? Could it cause mayhem? The mind boggles at the thought.
Apparently, the scientists behind this innovation, do not share my fears. A Wisconsin company is to become the first in the US to microchip employees, according to reports.
Goodness, I have only just got used to Contactless bank cards!
Exciting stuff indeed, if you like that sort of thing. If you prefer to turn a key in the lock then maybe it is not for you…yet.

Apart from taking in local news, I have been busy doing nothing for the past few weeks it seems. A holiday in Portugal, where spirits were refreshed and the body rested, went all too quickly. A weekend of dog and child care while youngest daughter and husband headed off to Rome to attend a wedding, greeted our return. It was good see all the grandchildren again and here are three of them, bathed and ready for bed on a Sunday evening, as they wait for their parents to return and ferry them home.

3 little angels ready for bed


Charlie refused to be nice to the children’s new puppy from Romania, aptly named Beryl, so he had to wear a muzzle for much of the time, much to his disgust. We hope they will become friends eventually.

Play nicely…


Flossie makes everyone welcome of course…

I have walked the dogs, taken grandchildren to the park and resumed my general Grandma duties this week. The weather is changeable, the long hot summer in which we sweltered and said goodbye to quilts and flung open our windows in the hope of attracting the slightest of breezes, has fled for the moment.

The only way is up…

Wickham Festival is here again and last night we could be seen traipsing through the fields in our wellies, our newly acquired camp chairs on our back, identity bracelets on our wrists (no chips here except the deep-fried variety) and as we walked, we slipped, slid and sank into a river of mud and straw. (Glastonbury is not on my list of places to visit). We set down our chairs (comfort essential) on an island of dry straw and for a moment, I had cause to wonder why I was here. KT Tunstall sang melodiously and with gusto, in the background. I had to admit, there was a certain charm as the sun went down…

Twilight


Today, it is sunny and dry. The day is warmer. The hope is that the mud will dry out and festival goers will not risk life and limb as they wander around in the slippery clay. Come to think of it, there was enough of the latter to throw a few pots last night.
I am a fair weather festival fan, it has to be said. Still, we were there for the first evening and we are sure to be there again during the weekend. My companions are more hardy than I and I will doubtless be pulled along by their enthusiasm.
Here we are, Dave and I, me looking slightly crazed, towards the end of the night. Well, it had to be done!

Slightly crazed…

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Who’s wearing the salad dressing?

Due to the lack of photographic evidence, I shall attempt to draw you a picture of the scene when I arrived home from Sainsbury’s with the weekly shop, this morning.
Picture, if you will, sitting amongst those, ‘bags for life,’on the table, 2 cool bags filled with goodies with which to restock the fridge.

First of all, I should say, I am quite aware that the fridge does not need a total restock – it is, after all, still quite full of the weekend’s yet-to-be-eaten bits and bobs. We are low on milk but the milk shelf is still full, containing the two 4 pint bottles of skimmed and semi-skimmed,that are almost empty. The two new ones will need to be put elsewhere for a while.

Now it is time for you to picture what I am wearing. Nothing startling – trousers, T shirt, over-blouse and my favourite pale pink, waterfall cardigan. Got that? Ok.
I reach up to put the large bottle of milk on the top shelf of the fridge where it normally fits, if laid on its side. I give it a slight shove and realise there is an obstacle behind it, stopping it from going all the way in. The obstacle is easily removed, a jar of “something” which I discard as being, “no longer needed.”
The milk now slides into place. Except, as it squeezes into the final inch of space, there is what I can only term, a domino effect amongst the other occupants of the top shelf. I hear a rumble and in slow motion, witness the tiny, unlidded jug of salad dressing (Balsamic vinegar and oil I presume) lose its place and upend itself with a crash.
It is a second or two before I realise what is happening…

On its way to horizontal, the jug ejects its contents as though from a jet sprayer. I feel liquid cascade onto my person, my hair, my pale pink waterfall cardigan, seeping through and splashing onto every item of clothing I am wearing. My face did not escape. I stand there, gaping for a moment. The fridge is covered, from top shelf to bottom in brown, strong smelling, balsamic. It is seeping down the walls, and flowing out of the fridge, across my floor like a brown sludge.
The dogs come to investigate but decide it really isn’t their sort of tasty treat and disappear.
I survey the damage. One arm of my cardigan is now brown and the rest of me must be similarly attired. I discard the cardigan.
The vinegar continues to drip.

I decide there is nothing for it but to go get Steven and see if he can assist. He does. Between us, we manage to empty the fridge and wash the drawers and the shelves and mop the floor. The smell is still strong but I deduce that is down to me. I am a walking salad dressing.

One hour later, I have showered (washed hair too) and changed and am left wondering how that mini disaster ever came to happen in the first place. Who put an uncapped jug on the top shelf of the fridge where I couldn’t see it?
There is some good news. Miraculously, the jug is not broken.

As I said, we didn’t take photographs (shame) but I hope you get the picture!

Debbie 🙂

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A Tale of Tails…

What is this thing on my head?

What is this thing on my head?

Flossie here, I thought I had seen the last of this contraption when I was a mere one-year-old pup! The Boss surely threw it away long ago. Hence, I felt quite safe when we went into the Vet’s waiting room, ready to have my tail looked at.
A sore had appeared and despite my numerous lengthy licks, it had not got any better. I am sure it bothered the Boss more than it bothered me but I went along with her plans to have the Vet look at it anyway. I find it best to humour her.
I got into the car without any trouble. I got out of the car. I saw the door to the Vet’s and something inside me flipped.
I began to walk backwards. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all.
The Boss did not seem to get the hint. She pulled the old trick of promising me a treat and in through the door I went.
Inside, it was not too bad. As long as I could stand near the escape route, I felt fine. There was an old black Labrador lolling on the floor and something in a basket in the area the Boss says is for cats. The lady behind the desk knew me straight away and greeted me in excitement. I was only trying to say hello, matching her excitement with mine. Why did the Boss haul me back? I could have made it up and over the counter, no trouble.
The Boss seemed a little flustered and sat down on a bench. I deemed it best to stay close to her. However, she appeared not to want me on her lap.
After what seemed an age, the nice lady Vet came out and called me into her surgery.
Now, you can’t blame me for being a little cautious can you? Memories stick. Was I going to get drops in my nose? (The Boss swore she would not go through that again – although I thought it entirely reasonable of me to put up a fight. I was a little surprised when we found ourselves in a heap in the corner with the Vet straightening up and admitting defeat.)
Or were they going to try and look in my ears? I had to be sedated for that not so long ago. Well, who wouldn’t be worried if some great, green coated Vet, however kindly, suddenly lifted one ear which was incredibly painful and proceeded to stick something into it?
I waited, a tad nervously, while the Boss related some story about how I had been licking beneath my tail and how it had developed into a sore that would not heal. The Vet lifted my tail slightly but I was too quick and twisted round, my head slipping out of the Halti, and backed myself into the corner.
“I think we’ll have to sedate her again to have a proper look,” The Vet decided, “bring her back tomorrow morning at 8.30am. Off you go now Flossie.”
I didn’t need telling twice. How was I to know that the Boss was not quite ready for an exit? I have to admit, I didn’t know she was so strong.
By the time we finally left, on her terms, I was quite panic stricken of course. I didn’t even consider that I was to come back tomorrow.
I jumped in the car and hoped they would forget all about it by morning. The Boss is always forgetting things. Why not this?
Alas, it was not to be.
Well, maybe she did forget because it was her friend who actually dropped me off at the surgery. That’s what confused me, I did not suspect her friend could be so mean.
This time, I was whisked out to the back and manhandled into a cage. It’s true that my entry would have been a little less traumatic, had I not planted all four feet firmly on the ground and refused to budge, necessitating the Surgery nurse actually getting into the cage with me. I hoped for a tasty treat when I saw her there but no, it was not to be. “Nil by mouth,’ she said.
Apparently, I had a little sleep after that while they took a proper look at my tail. Woozy and wobbly, I was greeted by the boss herself when I woke up and taken home. They had found a lump and needed to operate. Operate? I was not prepared for that but worse was to come. After the op, I emerged with this thing on my head, stitches in my side (they had found yet another lump – both benign it seems) and my beautiful feathery tail was shorn. How shall I ever look my fellow Goldies in the eye again?
Mind you, the sympathy card can be played once more as I bang into doors and chase food around on the floor. Charlie is very wary of me and the little humans run for cover when they see me. (I upended a couple of the smaller ones with my cone, before anyone could stop me, earlier.) It was an accident of course, I only wanted to lick them.
I don’t know how long it will be before my poor tail is back to its glorious self but in the meantime, the lion look is quite fetching don’t you think?…

Not quite the tail I am used to...

Not quite the tail I am used to…

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Mothers, Dogs and Teeth…

The hospital car park is full. It is not just full, cars are double parked at every turn. We crawl round the multi-storey, us and others with the same hope of finding a vacant spot.
As one, we form a shiny metal snake, slithering round the levels. Occasionally, one lucky person spots a vacant space and slides into it as another slides out. This happens perhaps three times in half an hour. The rest of us continue our slow descent to the exit.
There are no spaces in the local roads, just double yellow lines and tantalizing permit bays. Steven and I explore the surrounding area to no avail. Other cars have resorted to piling onto concrete banks, ignoring the double yellows and sitting there, defiant. For forty minutes we trawl the neighbourhood. We try the multi storey one more time and then we spot a space on one of the concrete banks outside the building. If it is good enough for others, it is good enough for us. We slide up the bank and breathe a sigh of relief as we sit there at a 45 degree angle to the road.
We have driven a 130, torturous miles, to visit my mother. Torturous, because the route must include the M25. I need say no more.

Phone calls at 3am seldom bring good news. Maybe they herald a birth, maybe. More usually, we all know the dread that fills our hearts when the shrill ring sounds at that hour. Thus, on that particular Sunday morning, when the phone rang at just such a time, I felt the clammy hand of fear on my heart as I answered.
My mother had had a fall it seemed but had managed to phone my sister who in turn, was phoning for an ambulance. (The pendant mum need only press for assistance, was apparently not used). The paramedics diagnosed imminent Sepsis as her temperature was so high and she was extremely confused and had fallen at the foot of the stairs. I should mention that she has had a very bad cold and cough (The Queen’s cough perhaps?) and at 91, was not very well at all.
Once at the hospital, her temperature was brought down a little and the crisis passed. An IV for fluids (my mother is bad at drinking) and anti-biotics (her own Doctor had only prescribed steroids) and she was on the mend.
Our visit is the following day. Steven has driven me (I will not drive on the M25) and although we are forty minutes later than planned due to difficulty parking, we are in good time for visiting. There sits my mother, frail and sleepy, propped up in a chair. My sister occupies the only other chair in the room. At this point, (Emergency short stay) Mum has her own room with an en-suite.
A nurse is taking her temperature.
“I will get you a couple of chairs,” he promises. The chairs do not materialise. Another nurse laughs when my mother mentions them.
“I’m afraid there are no spare chairs, it is very busy,” she tells us. We stand, lean against the window sill and generally act like hospital visitors the land over, reluctant to leave yet unable to find any comfort standing here while mum nods off to sleep. My son sits on the floor, his tall frame scrunched up against the wall. I lean against the bed, mustn’t sit on it for fear of a rebuke from the nurse but I manage to half sit, ever ready to slide off should a face pop itself round the door. My sister proffers her chair for a short time but she cannot stand for long periods and seeing her bend double over the bed, I vacate it again.
We stay for perhaps two and a half hours before we take our guilty leave.
Mum is discharged a few days later. The over stretched NHS needs her bed.
This week has been dedicated to organising support and care for her at home while she recovers.
(Away, you feelings of guilt, as you see her sitting there, in her dressing gown, eagerly accepting cups of tea and sandwiches which you make because she can’t be bothered, and perhaps hoping, deep down, that you might take her home with you.)
Home again now, she has had to manage this week without official support. My sister, herself not well and at risk of a heart attack following several mini strokes, has taken the brunt of the load this week. I have been in the background, organising ongoing support which will relieve my sister of the need to drive the 15 miles to mum’s each morning, and rush to get back before dark (she hates driving in the dark.)
My visit to Mum this week, courtesy again of my youngest son who took time to drive me there, found her much improved though still lonely and unable to manage some of the simplest of tasks like getting dressed or making a sandwich, (too tired and weak). Again, I am overcome with the need to take her back with me and look after her. Surely, she will recover more quickly in our house.
We meet with the senior team leader who will be caring for her in the coming weeks. A private arrangement, as Social Services are not yet on board. I can go home in the knowledge that mum will see someone, not family, granted, but someone, for a chat and a cup of tea and any help she needs, three times a day. They will heat up her dinner for her – something she is not bothered to do at the moment. They will ensure she is not worried and frightened at night. It is good, it is a start. We can relax for a brief time.
Now we are thinking of the next stage. What will we/she do if she gets worse? What about the promises I made to bring her to live with us, years ago? Clearly, I am older now and her needs may outweigh my skills but they will never outweigh the guilt or my need to look after her. It may yet happen.
Still, we have set the stage, she can carry on living where she is for the moment, with support, and next month, we will bring her down to stay for a few weeks, knowing that when she returns, she will go back to the safety net we are building around her.
I imagine that within a week or two, my mother will be charging up the street again to remonstrate with whoever has dared to park in her parking space…I sincerely hope so.

Meanwhile, Flossie has been in the wars. A lump in her tail that has caused her to sport a rather fetching bandage, is being removed as I write. The biopsy showed it to be benign, whew! I dropped her back at the vets, where we have been regular visitors for the past two weeks, this morning. I am sure her account of events would be different to mine. If you have ever tried dressing a dog’s tail, a dog skittish about personal space at the best of times, you will have some sympathy for me. We have managed, just.

Flossie's tail

Flossie’s Tail

On top of recent events, I have had toothache. A trip to the dentist this week, revealed that another root canal treatment is needed. David Attenborough and I may meet again. Oh to be an Amoeba… not forgetting: David Attenborough – Round Two I think I will request something less traumatic on the overhead screen, this time.
The temporary filling was inserted as I watched “Heir Hunters”. I became so involved with the company’s attempt to find relatives of a lady from Essex (could it be me?) that I completely missed half what the dentist was saying and had to drag myself back into the present.

Until next time…

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Oh Brother…you have to love Tomato Sauce

I saw a video on Facebook today. Cleverly put together by The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, in essence, it is about a family whose son admits, during a barbeque dinner, that he is in fact, a lover of tomato sauce. His Husband sits next to him, looking uncomfortable and nervous. His father is aghast and goes through the motions of looking disappointed, hurt and angry before leaving the table in an apparent rage, only to compose himself, return and hug the son and his husband.
“A simple difference shouldn’t be a big deal, runs the slogan.

I smiled at this video and applauded its deeper meaning before I remembered my own brother’s “coming out,”.
I was already married with children and had long suspected that John was Gay. He just never told me. He was almost five years younger than I, so our lives ran on different paths once I had married, aged 23. He was still finishing college and about to launch himself into the world of work.
Still, we spent a lot of time together whenever he could make his way down to our Gloucestershire home, a hundred and fifty miles from our home town.
Our second daughter was born at the end of 1982, when we had moved to Andover and we asked my brother to be godfather to her. I remember being in the middle of changing her nappy when the letter fell onto the mat. My first born brought it to me. It was written in John’s handwriting. I was puzzled that he should be writing to me, why not phone?
Pulling the folded sheets of paper from the envelope, I read and re-read them three times before sitting back on my heels.
John would love to be Godfather but thought I might think better of it because he had wanted to tell me something about himself for some time now but had lacked the courage. He was gay. I was horrified that he should think I would not understand and worse, would think of not allowing him to be Godfather to our daughter. I phoned him immediately to reassure him. He was relieved but begged me to be the one to tell my sisters and our mother. He did not think my father would like it and it was agreed we would tell our mother first.
Naturally, our mother said she had always known really, but she did not tell my father.
This did not seem odd back then, in 1983. Dad was quite old fashioned and Mum said she would tell him when she thought it a good time. It never was a good time it seems.
How strange that seems now.
In 1984, John and his partner, Eric, moved into a house of their own having lived in their London flat for a few years. My parents visited them but nothing was ever said about John and Eric being a couple. I was sure my father had guessed by now, but he did not seem to want to admit that he knew.
My brother’s move coincided with my father becoming terminally ill. Sadly, lung cancer robbed him of his deep, baritone voice and his speech was reduced to a whisper. It was just after the boys had moved house that he surprised me, by whispering,
“I suppose we should get them a new-house card, they are like a married couple after all, aren’t they?”
I looked at him and heaved a sigh of relief. I understood.
Ironically, my dad died in 1986 and my brother, far too young, died aged 31, in 1993, from AIDS. *The Boy in the Cowboy Hat
This is sad but through the sadness, it makes me feel good that my father knew and that even then, tomato sauce was acceptable.

*The Boy in a Cowboy Hat was published by Memoir, Issue 11, 2012.

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A Right Royal Coup…

All Because of…Princess Tina…

Well, on the scale of things, this bit of news is unimportant but, to me, it is quite remarkable. A while ago, I wrote a post called, ‘All Because of Bunty’, believing that this esteemed comic had been responsible for securing me a Pen Friend in America, when I was eleven years old.
Not so!
Yesterday, my dear pen friend, Kate, with whom I have kept in touch for not quite 50 years, sent me a photograph of a piece of paper her siblings had unearthed in their mother’s house. Clearly, it is the scribbled submission I sent to the comic all those years ago.
Looking at it, I now remember the instructions were to fill in the form provided in the comic, cut it out and include, on a separate sheet of paper, my name, age and my address. It was important to put the name of the publication I had found the advert in, at the top of the page. (I took this literally and it is barely on the page) This piece of paper was then sealed in an envelope with the form and mailed across the sea to an American organisation.
The name of the comic at the top edge of the paper is, ‘Princess Tina’.

Princess Tina

Princess Tina


This was February, 1968. Coincidentally, my eldest sister and I have been discussing that very year, this week. It was one in which we lost a number of elderly relatives. Indeed, five great aunts and one grandfather, died within weeks of one another, between January and April. I spent a large proportion of weekends, sitting in the car outside a hospital, with my brother and sister, while my parents visited sick relatives. To me, it seemed we were there every weekend. It must have been a stressful time for my parents. We were quite a close family.
Listening to Tom Jones bellowing out, “The Green, Green Grass of Home,” we passed the time as best we could. We used the AA road book to amuse ourselves, looking up strange sounding place names.
“Pity Me,” “Nether Wallop,” etc. to name but two.
Princess Tina, was a magazine for girls a little too young for the teen mags but too old for childish pastimes. It had launched the previous year following a merger of Tina and Princess. I remember it mostly for the fake diamond rings it gave away. I soon moved on to Jackie.
However, I remember it providing the perfect refuge from all the doom and gloom around me and spotting the advert inviting me to apply for a pen friend, I was excited.
I would have told my mother but she was probably otherwise engaged and besides, I had a feeling she might tell me I was being silly to think of it. A little embarrassed, I found a piece of writing paper and wrote the missive you see here. (The post code must have been added at a later date as they did not exist in 1968).
Pen friend Request

Finding Kathy

Begging a stamp from my mother, I posted it. Of course, in those days, without an airmail stamp, communication to America could take weeks. I hoped to hear something but I told no one in case it all came to nothing.
Imagine my delight and shock when an airmail letter, written on that flimsy, red and blue edged paper, landed on my doormat. The letter was from Kathy (Kate), an eleven year old girl from Minnesota. The rest, is history.
However, I just had to redress the balance and apologise because clearly, I do not owe it all to Bunty, Princess Tina can take all the credit.
A right Royal coup!

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Just being Grandma…

Sometimes, just being Grandma is great.

Just chatting...

Just chatting…


Wednesday, for instance, is just such a time. 3-year-old Arthur is staying with me for an hour or two while little sister is at nursery and mummy is in a meeting.
On arrival, Arthur informs me that,
“Grandma! I have growed…look!” (I only saw him yesterday.) I act suitably impressed. We establish that he is well on the way to being as tall as daddy.
Once mummy has left, we watch several episodes of Ninja Turtles,
“You have to watch this bit, Grandma, there is an awesome jump in a minute…”
and I have been made to sit on the floor and wheel a bus around while he makes two tiny ninja turtles jump onto it,
“Not like that, Grandma…like this.”
I get it right in the end. Cousin Elliott has given him the turtles apparently. We have had a variety of interesting conversations about turtles and super powers when Arthur decides he needs to visit the loo. This will not be a short trip.
Sitting there, on the kiddy’s toilet seat, the latter being decorated with brightly coloured fish, Arthur reaches out for my hand. I realise this is to prevent me from leaving. This is obviously to be a social occasion.
We spend a short time contemplating life, while he sits there. I think we have covered the origins of the universe and other trivia when he tells me,
“Grandma, I have a Cars seat at home,”
“Do you?”
“Yes, if I don’t have it, I have to hold on, so I won’t fall in,” there is a pause while he considers this fact, “Elliott doesn’t have a Cars seat but he doesn’t hold on either.”
“Doesn’t he?”
“No, and he doesn’t fall in, Elliott is very brave,” he decides gravely.
I smile, “I am sure you can be very brave too,” I tell him.
There is a long pause during which, Arthur sighs and shrugs his shoulders.
“I just don’t know how to be brave yet, Grandma,” he tells me.
“I am sure you will get brave soon,” I insist.
He nods,
“Yes, when I am bigger I will, Grandma, but I just don’t know how to be brave at the moment,”
(It is lucky he is using the kiddy’s toilet seat because his hands are spread wide now as he speaks.)

There is another pause as he eyes the bottle of green soap on the wash basin…
“Grandma, did they put peas in that soap?”
This makes me chuckle,
“I don’t think so, I think they put limes in it, limes are green,” I remark. There are limes on the label after all.
He is not convinced.
“No, Grandma. I think they put peas in it because peas are green,”

About 15 mins later, we make it out of the loo…

Yes, sometimes, just being Grandma is great.

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No More Ribbons

A little piece of nostalgia that resides in my files and was first posted here in June, 2010. Well, another airing won’t hurt and the Christmas bugs that hit us this year mean that I am slow to catch up! I hope you enjoy this sneak into the past…

Debbie 1962 aged 5 yrs

January 1962:  I’m five years old and eager to begin the first day, of the first term, of the rest of my school life. Frost white pavements stretch for miles. My shoes tap out an excited rhythm on their blank pages. A warm gloved hand in mine – mother’s hand.

Nearly there, nearly over the bridge that crosses the railway tracks where today, I do not stand to watch the last of the old steam trains chug through on their way to nowhere.  Today I fly past, wings on my heels.  My breath bursts forth in steamy clouds, my cheeks tingle in the biting January wind.

Nearly to the corner where the lollipop lady stands, in her white coat and coal black peaked cap, hair tightly permed, tendrils escaping from beneath the brim.  ‘Chatty Kathy’ the mothers call her.

“Hello there, first day?”  (Don’t stop Mum, don’t stop and chat, not today … please.)  I squeeze the gloved hand harder, our shoes tap tapping along and round the corner.  Good, we are past Chatty Kathy.

Almost there … two more steps and we’re in through the gate.

We stand for a moment and survey the scene; big sister runs off to greet her friends.  There they are, the children clad in navy mackintoshes just like mine, scratchy gabardine, too big, stiff and uncomfortable.  I wear it proudly.

My school is black and white, built just after the second world war, with timbered walls, a gabled roof, three playgrounds, infants, junior boys and junior girls.  We cross the infants’ playground; I hold tightly still to the gloved hand in mine.  Up the steps and down a corridor – I breathe in the smell of blackboards, chalk and polish – then out into a second playground, across the shiny tarmac, through a group of jostling boys, already mud-washed and unkempt, and up three wooden steps that creak in welcome – we are here!  This is my hut.

I have a yellow butterfly above my coat peg.  A warmth creeps into my limbs as my mac is hung up and mother’s hand smoothes my hair.  Gone are the flowing locks of yesterday, snipped off in a neat round, clipped to one side.

“You’ll be losing all those ribbons – better this way,” says Mother as she snip-snips so that I won’t lose my ribbons, “Done!”

Mother has gone, and teacher and I go into the classroom.  My eyes pick out a little girl with dark brown hair and a bright red cardigan with holes in.

“This is Audrey.  She’ll look after you.”  Audrey, my first school friend, has ribbons that slide down her ponytail and hang in desperation to the last strands before floating, mostly unseen, to the floor.  Audrey’s been here since September; she knows where everything is – the dolls, the bricks, the coloured beads, the thick black pencils and sugar paper and the toilets – but she isn’t any good at finding her ribbons.  I like Audrey.

Another day now, warm and sun splashed. I sport sandaled feet, socks that crumple around my brown ankles, sleeveless dress with flowing skirt that billows in the breeze as we run.

– Run Audrey run! they’re getting closer.  Quick, behind the girls toilets, onto the coal bunker!-

“Home!”

Our hearts beat faster, our hands and knees scrape the concrete bunker so that we can stand triumphant on high and survey the losers –  grinning boys, sandy haired, grubby faced, dancing around us on our granite pedestal.

“Scaredy cats, scaredy cats!  Dare you to run, dare you…”

Audrey and I leap off, landing cat-like on the tarmac, nimble-limbed and rosy-cheeked, and we’re off again – twice round the yard and then …

“…Gotcha!”

“Help, Audrey!”  she turns and flies at them but they get us with their horrible wet tongues before we are free.  Wet kisses on our cheeks, we shriek with laughter as the school bell rings and we are saved. Audrey eyes me sympathetically.  I’ve ripped my dress and bloodied my knee.

“Never mind,” Mrs Jones, the helper, says. She always says that. Mostly I don’t.

I have a new friend now: Jaqueline. Whatever happened to Audrey?  Audrey has gone to another class and is therefore lost  – but Jaqueline and I are good friends.  We watch the little ones begin in reception class.  We are bigger infants now.

Rain darkened pavements shimmer as we drag our feet and our satchels on the ground.

“Can I come home to dinner today mum?”

“Why?”

“No reason,”

-It’s that ginger-haired boy with the silly grin; he waits for me every day at playtimes-

“There she is, there’s your girlfriend!”

“Girlfriend, Eddie’s got a girlfriend!”  Jeering chants remind me he’s there even if I don’t see him. I stand on the top step and wait for my chance.  A breathless chase through the playground, over to the girls’ toilets, ends with me hiding inside until the bell goes.  Eddie’s waiting.

“Ha ha, we know you’re there! Eddie’s bird!”

“Can I just come home for lunch, please mum?”

“Not today dear,”

Audrey wouldn’t have let him pester me like this; Audrey would have seen him off.  Where are you Audrey?  I see you over there with your new friend, skipping and playing ball like we used to. I wish you were still in my class.

Dinnertime is the worst; he’s waiting there for me when I leave the canteen.  He doesn’t do anything; he just stares at me and grins.  Sometimes he grabs my hands; he has sweaty palms and smells of marmite.  I think Eddie is horrible.  The dinner hour passes slowly.

September 1965:  Another year, another term and I am free.  I am a junior now and horrible Eddie is in the boys’ playground.  I laugh at the memory.  I see Audrey sometimes but we have grown apart and don’t play together all that much.  She doesn’t wear ribbons in her hair anymore; her mother uses elastic bands.

“Elastic bands split your hair,” Mother tells me.  Jaqueline and I have secrets we share and jokes that we laugh at. 

Jaqueline and I will be friends forever.

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Time was…

Time was, I was the one assisting people with their computers and IT problems. I was the one, coding, building websites and even building a computer or two. I was as familiar with motherboards and Y connectors as I have ever been with motherhood and Y-fronts.
I may be a bit rusty here and there with the coding, but generally, I still pick up new technology quickly.

So, what has happened to change this?
First, I decide to top up with petrol on my way to the bank. I drive into the petrol station and pull up beside the pump. The first one has a large notice stuck to it, “Out of Use” I have to reverse to the next in line. The pumps seem to be new. Very smart, I think as I pick up the nozzle and prepared to insert it into the tank. I click the lever. Nothing. I click again. Nothing. Is this one out of order too? I check, no, no out of order notice has been attached. There is a touch screen I see, a little belatedly. I press to notify cashier I want to pay at kiosk, I want to use the pump.
“Kiosk waiting to activate…”
Nothing happens. Two cars ahead of me drive away, successfully filled up and paid presumably.
Doubtful of the pump’s ability to activate, I jump in my car and reverse again, driving round to the next line.

This time I go straight to the touch screen. I notify kiosk, I wait for activation. Nothing. I am puzzled to put it mildly. Someone else who arrived after me, drives off, apparently happy. I stare at the screen. I must be missing something. I could attract someone’s attention or go and ask but the cashier is miles away, there are no attendants around.
I decide to start again. I put the nozzle back in its holder and press to activate pump.
“Kiosk waiting to activate” pops up.
I stare at it for a moment before I notice that there is something else to press, something that I had not noticed before. It is now obvious I must press this before anything will happen.
I press the relevant tab.
The pump gurgles into life. I fill up my car.
I am the last car left on the forecourt.

Second, I drive into town having finally filled the car up with petrol, to pay in a cheque at the bank. Now it must be said that with online banking and card payments, I rarely use a cheque these days and rarely receive one. However, my 91 year old mother regularly sends me a cheque for my birthday. It is this I am about to pay in.

I walk up to my bank which looks comfortingly familiar on the outside. Inside, it seems to have undergone a transformation since my last visit (now when was that? A year ago?) I walk over to the machine where you can pay in cheques to save time.
I go through the usual motions. I insert my bank card, I choose to pay in. I look for the part where it asks if you are paying money in by cheque. That option does not appear to exist. I see ‘pay in by card’ does that not mean transfer money from card to account? How confusing. I am loathe to dabble given my recent trauma with the petrol pump. I decide to cut to the chase and ask for help.
I turn and walk to the counter except there is no counter. There are a lot of work stations and a sort of lectern but no counter…no line of cashiers waiting to assist. Luckily, a kind lady banker, waiting in the wings, sees me and asks if she may help.
I smile at her and wave the cheque in her face,
“Just trying to pay in a cheque but I am not sure which option I need to press,” I say reminding myself of some IT illiterate soul.
“Oh, we have changed those, want me to show you how they work?” she asks. I look around at the unfamiliar landscape that was once my bank,
“You could tell me where the rest of the bank has gone, too,” I quip. She laughs. (at me or with me?)
The paying in a cheque thing is simple of course, I should choose pay in by card because there is nothing for cheques. She runs through it and it is pretty painless to be honest but I am totally taken aback by the changes that have happened since I last had to actually go into the bank.
On reflection, I am not sure it is a lack of IT knowledge that is to blame but rather too much knowledge that makes dealing with the simple stuff, offline, so difficult.
As for the banks, they are beginning to look like those alien space ports depicted in science fiction movies. How long before the staff hovering in the wings are replaced with robots? I give it a couple of years…

To step back in time a little, this is the Castle we stayed in for my 60th birthday at the beginning of November.
Situated in the middle of nowhere…no technology to speak of and a Halloween birthday dinner to boot. What more could I want?

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Follow that wasp!

Monday:
“Must be 5,000 if not 10,000 wasps in that tree,” the wasp man tells us.
This does not make us feel any better.
We wait as he gazes up into the branches.
“Can’t see a nest…nothing I can do unless we know where the nest is,”
We look at one another, Lisa and I. Isn’t that why we have called him?
“They’re feeding now,”
“Are they?”
The busy buzzing creatures are not bothering us, it is true, they are far too busy.Wasp
“You need to follow them and see where they go,”
That’s helpful. We see a wasp heading off down the garden, just the one. Eagerly, our man follows. We trail behind.
“Didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular,” he decides.
“No,”
There is a lot of standing around, looking up into the trees again.
“Thousands of ‘em,”
“What can we do?” we have to ask the question.
He shrugs, “Not much I can do without knowing where the nest is,” he tells us.
We are no nearer to a solution than we were half an hour ago.
“Your best bet is to put some lager in a jar and they’ll come to it,”
Well, that’s all very well but ten thousand bees in a jar? Is that even possible? Besides, he tells us that the Queen will just keep on laying.
The sun is beginning to set.
“They’ll go home, wherever that is, soon,” he explains, “You just need to watch where they go…”
(BBC Country File where are you when needed?)
Wasp man leaves and we wait for dusk. Armed with a torch we step out again and look upward, downward, anywhere-ward. It is quiet. The wasps are nowhere to be seen but wait—what is that persistent hum? It is coming from the clump of trees and bushes that we are now directly beneath. Surely, the nest must be in the tree?
We fetch a torch, hurriedly charged, which we point in every direction. No wasps to be seen but the continuous hum persists. The torch loses its battle and we are in darkness.
“Have to try again tomorrow,” we tell ourselves.

Early August
A few weeks ago, we had reason to dismantle the pile of plastic garden chairs that were stacked at the side of the house, for cleaning. As we did so, an angry swarm of wasps buzzed around us. It was clear they had emerged from behind the chairs but closer inspection revealed an airbrick into which they were disappearing every few seconds with others emerging to take their place. Evidently, there was a nest behind the airbrick somewhere, possibly in the walls of the house, eek!
Being sensible, we moved the chairs away to complete the cleaning. Satisfied that there must be a nest which would explain the inordinate number of wasps we have seen in the house this summer, I followed the instructions on the relevant page of the Council’s website, completing an enquiry form and explaining the problem. I did not get a response so I tried phoning but after a fifteen minute wait, an automated voice asked me to call back later as all lines were busy (buzzing perhaps?)
The prolonged hot weather has evidently caused a surge in the numbers of these little beasties of late.
Further research suggested I could deal with the problem myself by squirting anti wasp powder into the airbrick, morning and night, for a few days.
Off to the hardware shop went I.
Returning, armed with powder and a spray (just in case), I waited for dusk and puffed clouds of powder into and around the holes in the airbrick. A few disconcerted wasps guarded the brick. As always, I felt a little guilty for doing this but apparently, if one doesn’t, the wasps just make the nest bigger and bigger and the problem exacerbates. I persevered and within the week wasps had ceased to either emerge or disappear into the brick which now looks like a powder puff.

Powdered airbrick

Powdered airbrick


We enjoyed a few wasp free weeks.
Then – horror of horrors! We noticed that the bushes and trees on one side of the garden, in the same corner, were, literally, alive with wasps.
At first, I believed the mass to be the surviving wasps from the nest I had treated, too knowing to be drawn into my trap. Of course, this is not a wasp’s mentality at all. A wasp will try and save his Queen with his dying breath – quite admirable really. Investigation with the proper authorities revealed that this was the case. These are new wasps.

Tuesday:
So, now we find ourselves waiting for dusk again, ready to set up another evening vigil, with a fully charged torch this time perhaps. The wasp man is coming back this evening to see if he can do anything. Lisa and I are considering attaching radio transmitters to some of the wasps in order to track them. The wasps are being very busy in the bushes and must be taking their ill-gotten gains somewhere, if only we could see where. The wasp man fails to appear.

Wednesday:
A lone vigil. I stand in the garden as the sun goes down, my eyes trained on every wasp that leaves the tree. A few seem to go nowhere in particular, a few double back as though they have forgotten something but others…others are heading for the guttering…up, up into the eaves…and what is that I spy in the apex where the tiles meet the roof? I do believe it could be a nest. Well, it could be…

Is it or isn't it?

Is it or isn’t it?


I have looked up wasps on the National Geographic website and found this surprising piece of information:

“Despite the fear they sometimes evoke, wasps are extremely beneficial to humans. Nearly every pest insect on Earth is preyed upon by a wasp species, either for food or as a host for its parasitic larvae. Wasps are so adept at controlling pest populations that the agriculture industry now regularly deploys them to protect crops.” National Geographic

Apparently, there are more than 30,000 species of wasp, not all of whom sting. The brightly coloured varieties are the more ferocious it seems, wearing their bold livery to warn us away.
None of this makes me feel any easier of course. The variety in our garden is brightly coloured and great in number and will double in number next year if we leave them.
My guilt at destroying their nests is tempered by a natural sense of self preservation.
In short, it’s us or you buzzy wasps!

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