Cotswold memories & 100 years later

When Dave and I first married, in November 1979, (not 100 years ago) we lived an idyllic life in the Cotswolds, in a two up, two down, cottage. We had no car, no TV and no furniture to speak of bar a bed, two dining chairs and an old, formica topped kitchen table. Nor did we have any form of heating except an open fire. One carpet remnant furnished the living room, cut offs were laid around the upstairs landing and two bedrooms providing a pathway on cold wooden boards. The cottage nestled near the end of a terrace on an unmade track. There were no street lights. At night you could not see your hand in front of your face.

Dave had been relocated to this country village by his firm when he graduated and he walked across the fields to work every day. I found a temporary job in the finance office of a local factory. I had to be up and out long before him, to walk to the bus stop, to catch the bus that took me within a mile of the factory.

We headed back to our home town for Christmas that year. The centrally heated homes of our parents, felt stifling. The light that penetrated the curtains at night, blinding. We had heard that the weather where we lived had worsened. We jokingly said we hoped our cottage had not been flooded.

We returned home to find a flood warning in place. Our terraced cottage, one up from the end of seven, was a mere twenty feet from the river. We were advised to take all valuables upstairs with any furniture we could shift. If the sluice gates could not be opened, we were sure to be flooded as the river was rising by the hour. Why could they not be opened now? The person with the key was nowhere to be found, according to the policeman who knocked on our door.

Another resident of the terrace, some houses along, and our friend and advisor, explained all this to our innocent ears as he handed us some sandbags. It had happened many times before apparently.

“What are you going to do?” we asked.

“Me? Put the sandbags down and go down the pub!” retorted Ron, “I advise you to do the same.”

Thus, we waited that night out. Our living room now boasted a three piece suite, curtesy  of money I had saved before our marriage. This was piled up in one corner to minimise any potential damage. We checked the water levels  hourly. Dave shone his torch across the ink-black night. The water continued to rise.

When morning broke and we peered out of the bedroom window at the field beyond our little cottage, we were met by ducks swimming across the field which had transformed into a giant pond.

Water lapped at the top of the garden wall, where sandbags lay sodden by the rising tide. By some miracle, the water had not risen over the precipice. Our elderly neighbours’ garden was swimming, however, and their greenhouse was floating down the river even as we watched. Mrs R was attempting to grab it, still clad in her nightie, as the metal frame sailed past. Looking back, it was much like me trying to grab a suitcase from the carousel at an airport. Despite her best efforts, the wretched greenhouse got away from her. Her husband had no better luck.

Naturally, Dave ran over to assist. The greenhouse was rescued though a little worse for wear. The low wall to the front of our cottage, capped with sandbags, had saved us. Thank you Ron.

The following Christmas, I had just given birth to our first daughter. There were no flood warnings but we were pretty cold. Baby Elizabeth went to bed sporting a bonnet and woolly cardigan. Our breath hung in the air as we moved from room to room. Noses froze if they poked above the blankets, toes turned blue. We had graduated to having a two bar electric fire in the kitchen, making washing up a little less of an ordeal.

It was the following winter that the snow hit. Great drifts blocked the roads,  electric cables stretched between pylons in the field in front of our cottage, sagged under the weight, eventually snapping and arcing in a great aerial display of lightning. The lights flickered and went out.

Snow filtered through the thinly glazed window frames overnight, forming mini snowdrifts on the inside sill. We had to dig our way out of the kitchen – the world was white.

Dave took what were probably, some amazing photographs with his state of the art camera with its prized wide angled lens (an engagement present from me as I recall). We trudged miles with our daughter who could not stand in the snow, it was so deep. Magnificent hills stood clothed in white, snow drifted twelve feet deep in places. It was a landscape changed as Britain went through its coldest winter for decades.

Alas, when opening the camera door to remove the treasured film some months later, Dave realised it had not wound on. I, who had once set up my own development studio in the spare room, would have closed the camera door and hoped for the best by re-winding the film, hoping to save at least some of the images. Dave decided all was lost and before I could protest, had pulled the entire film out and unravelled it before throwing it in the bin. We will never know what was lost.

We lived in that idyllic corner of the world for three amazing years so it is no wonder that we return often to the Cotswolds, normally around my birthday, and love to visit some of our favourite places. This year was no exception and we have just returned from a pre-birthday weekend away.

The weather turned colder just for us, winter coats and woolly hats were donned. It didn’t snow though there was some sleet in the air, I am sure. 

Here we are, enjoying the beautiful village of Great Rissington. 

Poignantly, this village was home to the Souls family, who lost five of their six sons in the first World War. We visited the 12th century, St. John the Baptist Church, where all the soldiers lost from that village are commemorated. The Souls brothers’ story is perhaps the most poignant of all.

On this, the 100thanniversary of the conclusion of the Great War, it seems fitting to end with a mention of those brave young men and to insert a photograph of my Grandfather, Victor Gordon Faulder. He was in the Royal Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery) throughout the war.

Victor Gordon Faulder
Victor Gordon Faulder. He was in the Royal Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery)

We children found it a romantic notion that he rode a horse and pulled the great guns. What horrors he saw, on the Somme, at the Marne, I can only guess at but he did survive, though deafened from shell shock. He was one of those who vividly recalled the Christmas Day truce in Ypres, in 1914, when soldiers on both sides, lay down their weapons in their trenches and sang Christmas carols while swapping beer and stories with the enemy in no man’s land. Recreated more recently, in the guise of a Christmas Advert, this was a story he re-told many times to my eldest sister. To realise it really happened and was not an idealised fabrication, was amazing.

To think of him there, makes me both proud and humble, feelings we all share, I am sure, when we remember all those who fought.

My Grandfather survived the war, my very existence owing itself to that fact but sadly, my Great Uncle Donald, in the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, was killed in action in November 1917, in Egypt, aged 32, leaving his widow with their toddler son. She never remarried.

100 years later, we remember them all and as the blood red poppies are worn proudly and the aluminium silhouettes of soldiers, stand, pensive, at memorial sites across the country, bringing an emotional lump to the throat, we can only say, Thank you and Bless them all. 

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We saw a dog…

We saw a dog…

Not a major event in most people’s lives but in Charlie’s? Well, put it this way, for the past few months, Charlie Brown has been undergoing intensive training to rid him of the panic he gets into when another dog approaches him while he is out on the lead.

He has been getting progressively more anxious ever since he was set upon by three dogs, in the woods, when he was a pup. Well, could that be the reason? Maybe.

Anyway, on a walk back in the Spring, we chanced to come face to face with two large dogs. Charlie immediately went into defence mode although neither dog was remotely interested in him, as far as I could see.  Hackles were up, a low growl emanating from his throat that fast became a yelp, culminating in a frantic yapping and snarling. He sprang into action.

Having Flossie to one side of me, I pulled hard on his lead whereupon he turned, presumably to bite at the lead but caught Flossie’s chest instead, knocking her off balance.

As Flossie slid down the embankment into the ditch in surprise, I naturally reached out to haul her back up. In the meantime, this action pulled Charlie towards me and as he spun round in a frenzy,  his teeth caught my calf. Thankfully, no blood was drawn. (It was painful though).

As the two dogs walked by, Charlie calmed down and we walked home, me muttering that his number was up. I was at the point of declaring defeat and handing him over to someone who could cope since this was the second time he had caught me with his teeth on a walk.

However, good sense prevailed and we engaged  a wonderful dog trainer, K9Whisperer, Paul, who witnessed Charlie’s escalating panic for himself.

Convinced we can reverse his behaviour, we have been given strict instructions on how to walk with Charlie who is under the impression he must be the leader on our walks and therefore defend when he is nothing of the kind.  I must teach him that I am the leader.

Right. Simple.

Having been given the techniques needed to help Charlie, I have been taking Floss and him out separately. Charlie goes out wearing a slip-lead which gives me control of his head (we hope). It has been my mission to convince him that I am the leader, so gentle tugs on the slip-lead to bring him back to my side if he strays, have resulted in me being able to walk along with him on a very loose lead at my side. I was advised to take him out at a time when  I was less likely to see other dogs, until this behaviour was embedded.

This initial improvement was accomplished quite quickly. Now it was time to meet other dogs.

All through the summer months, I have been taking Charlie out first and then coming back for Flossie or the other way round. On Charlie’s walk we have not come face to face with any dogs. When I take Flossie out however, we normally meet at least one if not more. It is extraordinary. I have varied the times, I swapped which dog I take first…either the dogs hear Charlie coming and decide to stay away or they just like Flossie better.

Determined to continue with the intensive training, I slipped Charlie’s lead on him yesterday and headed down the road. As we walked I saw a man coming over the brow of the hill. Wait, was that a dog he had with him? Surely not! 

To say I was not a little apprehensive would be wrong. I tried not to let this show of course. First rule: keep calm.

Charlie spotted the little white terrier and his ears pricked up.

I jerked the lead and tapped his rear end to distract him.

Charlie let out a low whine. He attempted rearing up on his hind legs to bark but he nearly strangled himself so thought better of it and obeyed the pull of the lead. I continued to walk, small sounds emanating from Charlie but no yapping, no snarling. The little dog walked by on the other side of the lane, not six feet from us and although I know, it was not perfect, Charlie still has issues, I was so relieved to be able to say,

“We-saw-a-dog and we-are-in-one-piece!”

Better the dog you know…Charlie happily plays with house-guest, Tommy

Flossie in close up
Flossie – everybody’s friend

Flossie and Charlie
Butter wouldn’t melt…

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An English Holiday

Need I mention the heat? Nope. I think not.
We had respite from the worst of it for ten days when we went to Fowey, in Cornwall, where temperatures were a few degrees cooler.
(Who goes on holiday dreaming of rain? Are we never satisfied?)
I won’t mention the heat though.
Rain – I will mention the rain. Such cool, refreshing and thirst quenching rain it was that met us as we set off on the ferry from Fowey to Polruan, a mere 5 minute trip.

Of course, the trip itself was not without incident. There we three were, alone on the quayside, the only ones in the queue. Presently, others joined us, including a large party of German walkers. The Mevagissey Ferry arrived first and many departed on that. We were at the front of the queue, still waiting for the Polruan ferry.
Behind us, there was some murmuring. The party of walkers appeared to be muttering amongst themselves. I heard one ask if the people in front were waiting for the next Mevagissey ferry. They were. The party of walkers edged down the slipway and stood a little way behind us.
A cute French Bulldog, overweight and hot, rolled on the glistening slipway and amused us with his antics. His owners were also waiting for the Polruan ferry.
The small ferry arrived.
We waited politely, while its passengers disembarked, stepping back to allow them to pass.
The group of walkers were becoming agitated and before we knew it, had pummelled their way, elbows out, through the queue. They did not ask us which ferry we wanted. Merging with the incoming passengers, they were determined to board. It is a wonder no one ended up in the water.
Pushing us to the side, they launched themselves onto the boat, heedless of our fate or that of the couple with the French bulldog.
“That’s it, no more, can only take 12,” the Captain informed us all. Several of their party begged to be allowed on but ‘rules is rules’ and the boat is insured for 12 passengers.
It sailed off and the disgruntled walkers huffed and puffed.
We looked at one another and shook our heads. How had that happened?
The ferry was back within ten minutes.
We were better organised this time and managed to be first on board. The remaining panicked walkers elbowed their way onto the boat. We forgave them. They were guests in our country after all.
Half way across, the strangest thing happened, drops of rain began landing on our heads. We pulled on our waterproofs just as the skies opened.
Thus, we stepped onto Polruan soil.
We planned to walk the three miles to Bodinnick and take the Bodinnick ferry back to our house.
The cloudburst was torrential. We shrugged, well, in for a penny!
Off we set across cliff and through woodland and creek. We admired the cool, green waters of Pont Pill, far below us and the rain could not deter us. Indeed, the sights and smells were enhanced by it. By the time we were two miles in, we had seen no one but here we were able to discard raincoats and sit down for the picnic Dave had packed, on a handy bench, breathing in the sweet aroma of recent summer rain. People began emerging from the opposite direction. They had evidently waited for the rain to stop. They had missed a treat.

That was the only rain we experienced. Worth a mention though! We even took photographs.

A little bedraggled but isn’t it great?

Love that rain!


A welcome respite

Looking down from Lanteglos

Blue skies return

Before we had even got to the ferry that day, there was great excitement in Fowey because HRH Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall were due to visit the Town Quay on their annual trip to Cornwall. We made an unscheduled stop by the Quay as their arrival was imminent.
The photos were no better than those taken when we saw Prince William in a Right Royal Occasion. A Royal Watcher, I could not be. Still, I saw Camilla in the car…I do like that lady…and we were there.

They must be near…

Here they come!

Well…there they were…


Other highlights of our stay included a trip to Penzance – stopping at Castle Pendennis on the way. We arrived at 12pm just as the Castle closed for an hour due to a wedding taking place within its walls. Not to worry. We walked around the grounds and saw some big guns and cannons before heading off to Penzance for two nights.

The temperature was a little cooler and fresher than Fowey. Not many braved the outside pool which was not heated though Lisa did think about it. Looks like Portugal in the photos!

Penzance or Portugal?

An evening drink on the terrace

A trip to Porthcurno was amazing and informative. I had not realised the part this little port played in the history of cable and wireless.

Back in Fowey, (we call it home now, especially having abandoned it for a couple of nights) we re-discovered our secret garden on the cliffside behind us. After a rather precarious climb, up and up we went with sixty rocky steps to negotiate, some of which were little more than loose slates, we edged our way along the path. We found the way blocked by jungle growth. Dave spent another few hours clearing the brambles and next day, we actually made it to our small garden, at the very top of the cliff. The views across the Fowey river were well worth the effort.

Dave cleared the way

Good place to stand

Look at that view…through the yet to be cut down shrubs

One way in


We didn’t want to leave. The sun shone, the breeze blew and, at times, we felt we were basking on some sunny Mediterranean coast.

It was an English Holiday at its best…


Beautiful Treleigh


Beautiful Fowey Harbour


How we love Fowey!

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Who are we to judge?

‘Follow me, through these doors – I think it’s already started but you’ll be fine…’ beams the enthusiastic woman who has just met us. Thrusting a sheaf of papers into Zoe’s hand, she ushers us away from the brightly lit foyer, through two sets of double doors, into the extraordinarily loud, darkness, leaving us without further instruction.
The three of us stand there for a moment, taking in our unknown surroundings. Students are already striding along the catwalk to the vibrant blast of a well chosen House instrumental. (I am not an expert but it is loud).
Spectators sit in rows on both sides of the catwalk, their attention on the garments being displayed, our entrance barely registering (we hope). We stand, a little uncertainly in the wings, jostled from side to side by an officious marshal.
‘Excuse me, can you move over there…you are in the way I am afraid…’
‘They need chairs!’ someone else hisses.
‘Oh, just a minute, chairs needed here!’ asserts a woman to our left, having conferred with someone and realising we are ‘official’.
Two chairs are set down in the front row. This time, heads do turn as we are ushered into them. Well, two of us sit. Lisa is somehow side lined and that’s the last we see of her for a while, apart from a brief reappearance when she creeps up behind us and hands Zoe the free glass of Prosecco that the latter accepted in the Foyer before we were abducted.
Zoe puts the glass on the floor between us and leafs through the score sheets she has been given.
I keep an eye on the Prosecco, lest it be knocked over.

The invitation to attend the end of year show at a local design college, was sent to Zoe, she of the Fashion/textile/design world. The invitation asked her to bring as many people from the design industry with her as she liked. Hence, Lisa and I are there. (Bona fide, design business owners).
It is a warm evening, the event is scheduled to take place between 6 and 8pm. Lisa and I looked forward to a leisurely browse through the students’ artwork. Zoe expected to have a quick chat with her contact about design in business.
We arrived at about 6.45pm.
We had walked the length of a corridor, admiring the displays, before Zoe found her contact. The excitable woman, clutching a clipboard, was clearly delighted to see we had made it and immediately handed us over to her enthusiastic colleague in the foyer. Enthusiastic colleague beamed at Zoe,
‘Ah, of course, I recognise you, the one with the lovely designs! You will need a Judge’s pack… I’ll get one, I think they’ve started but you’ll be fine…’ and she hurries off.
‘Judging?’ we all said it at the same time, who has started?
The woman returned and thrust the papers into Zoe’s hand,
‘Oh, she didn’t tell you, about the judging? Not to worry, I’ll take you there,’ she beamed.
We felt bound to follow as she ushered all three of us through the series of swing doors.

So, here we are, seated in the front row of the catwalk – I am not officially judging but while Zoe tries to make sense of the paperwork she has been given to mark, I watch as the surreal and wonderful march down the catwalk.
Together, we nod and agree the most talented, the most relevant, the most creative and marks are duly awarded. Zoe uses the short interval to frantically scan her notes and score each person appropriately. I don’t know how she manages to do it. Luckily, we did catch up and have seen all the entrants, despite our initial confusion.
As the show prepares to close, we exchange glances, nod, and make our escape.
We find Lisa outside, only a little peeved to have been left standing.
The excitable woman is engaged in conversation with someone else, clipboard clutched to her bosom. Seeing us, she pauses long enough to take the score sheets from Zoe and thank her profusely. Job done.
We take our leave before we can be asked to present the prizes – or make a closing speech – or wash up.
Everyone was a winner in my eyes.
As I said, who are we to judge?

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A very different battle…

In the town of Battle, Sussex – April 2018

Thanks to the hand-held electronic guide that I carried that day, I now know far more about the Battle of Hastings than I did previously. Despite having learnt about it in history lessons (the very act of learning about it now confined to history itself, of course) my knowledge was scant. i.e. On 14th October 1066 – William, Duke of Normandy, beat the English Saxon King, Harold who took an arrow in the eye. That was the sum of my knowledge on the subject.
Now, thanks to the excited commentary that accompanied my walk around the ancient battlefield, I have a better feel for the entire event.
As we walked, Dave was listening to his own device and indifferent to my gasps as my guide set off on her moment by moment account of one of the bloodiest and longest battles in English history. While the lady in my ear, reported and described everything in detail, as though she was commentating a football match, (a Cup Final at that) growing ever more excited by the second, Dave remained calm and contemplative.
After one particularly grizzly and breathless description, I commented that, well, whew! That was a bit over the top wasn’t it? Dave failed to respond. The sound track was a little too realistic for my liking. Well, hey ho, here I was.
The weather was very warm and sunny. We walked for an hour and a half, passing landmarks where soldiers stood, sculpted from wood, caught in the act of combat, looking oddly vulnerable in the now empty fields.
Soldiers in the Battle 1066
My guide grew breathless with excitement,
“The battle is beginning, no, yes, it is, it must be, this must be it…”
(Well was it or wasn’t it? It is now 2018, surely they have established when the battle started by now?)
We trod along boarded pathways and made our way across open grass between the strategically placed information plaques. Wooden figures, Norman and Saxon soldiers, stood mid pose, amongst the bluebells, one on his horse, another poised with shield and sword to face his foe.

Knight on horseback

Knight on Horseback


In our ears, well, in mine at least, the battle began to heat up. I almost flinched as my guide screeched that there were soldiers with axes to my right and blood all around. She was sure now that the battle was on.
“The stench of torn flesh and fear envelops us. Horses rear up and riders fall…the English lunge with their weapons – it is mayhem!”
The battle had been raging for half an hour apparently, (that was a quick half hour although I was quite exhausted with the woman’s exclamations and gory descriptions it must be said). William’s army were outnumbered if not outwitted.
“There must be thousands of soldiers on either side…the noise is deafening as horse and armies converge, I can barely see through the dust.”
I felt and heard the battle raging around me as I walked.
“They are saying the English King is dead!” my guide shrieked at one point, “Harold has fallen! But wait, no, they are wrong, he is not dead, he’s alive, the King is alive!” Whew! Well, thank goodness for that.
We trudged on to the next plaque.
“The English are being joined by their countrymen from far and wide, wielding their terrible two handed axes, their most feared weapon. The French have only the men they came with…but they have arrows, the English do not. The English stand fast. Can William get his archers within bowshot of the English? There are soldiers all around no – oh no! It is impossible to see who is who. It’s carnage…here on this hill, surely the French cannot win, Just listen to that noise!”
Yes, I could hear the noise, in fact it almost deafened me.
“They cannot go on much longer…”
(A done deal presumably?)
“But the French are moving back – what’s happening? William, William is dead, they are saying the French leader is dead – there is confusion!”
As she continued to describe troops in disarray I trudged on, following Dave who was listening to goodness knows what. Shouts of agony echoed in my head. Blood curdling screams rent the air. All around me the bloody battle raged, raucous and quite frightening to be honest.
“Look, look! William is alive – he has had to take off his visor to show his troops it is him…” cue William shouting above the tumult, “It is I, I am alive, fight on!” (Didn’t sound very French to me).
Things really began to get going now. As we rounded the bend and started moving up the hill, we were accompanied by a thousand knights on horseback and a random Frenchman who had been thrown off his horse and having no other had decided to leave the battle and join my roving reporter/football commentator. I now had his version of events to contend with too.
On we go...

On we go…


Behind me, the English were roaring, fierce and bloodied, sure of victory. Ahead, William was preparing for the final assault. He had lost hundreds of men and appeared to be in retreat.
“The French are on the run! They are retreating, yes, it is won! It must be won!” shrieked my guide, her voice heavy with emotion. Around us the sun almost blazed down, a warm Spring day in a Sussex Field. The Battle raged in October – with the vagaries of the English weather, it could have been just such a day as this.
I waited for the inevitable.
“It is a trick! The English are surging forward but the French are not retreating at all, they are now surrounding the English…it is carnage…Ooh, the blood, the screams…where is Harold? Where is the English King? Three men are upon him, now a fourth, arrows are flying…” Crucially, the guide went quiet at this point, leaving us to trudge up the hill to the next information point. We pressed the corresponding button on our respective machines.
“Harold is dead…it is true…the English are retreating, bloodied and cowed. William is victorious. After nine hours, the Battle is finally won. The hill runs with the blood of the English. Our country will never be the same again, everything will change…”
I am exhausted. I blink up at Dave who is looking quite chilled.
“She was a bit excitable,” I comment.
“Who? Oh, I didn’t have the same commentary as you then…I had a man speaking, telling me what happened.”
What had I been listening to for the last hour and a half – or was it 9 hours?
As we handed in our electronic guides at the tourist desk, I wondered who would get mine next. I still didn’t know what Dave heard as he walked round the battle field. I only knew that I had just witnessed the bloodiest of battles and been dragged through the proverbial wringer, emotionally.
Good luck to the next person to pick up my guide…or was it just meant for me?

Long live England!

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There is hope…

When my younger brother, John, was three years old, I remember our grandfather bending down to kiss him goodbye.
Three-year-old John took a step back and frowned,
“Mens don’t kiss mens,” he informed Grandfather.

Photo of John

My baby brother 1961


John and Eric

John (left) and Eric (right) relaxing in their garden, 1989


Everyone laughed and Grandfather dutifully gave him his hand to shake, which John did with some aplomb.
I was reminded of John’s innocent statement recently, when reading an article in The Times by Alice Thomson, about the ongoing struggle for gay equality. It beggars belief that we should still have a need for this discussion but we do.
As readers of, “The Boy in the Cowboy Hat,” may remember, my brother John, was gay and died of AIDs in 1993 aged 31. Even he laughed at the irony of the words spoken by his three-year-old self in later years. However, he had merely been putting into words, the presumptions and beliefs of the time, back in 1964. I had thought we had come a long way from that time but perhaps not.
When my own children were young, it was considered ok to be gay but gay marriage was still not possible. My brother would have liked to marry his partner had it been allowed and he never did rule out having children. Sadly, Fate decreed he and his partner die young, long before the law changed to allow either ambition. They were always accepted by family and friends but they still faced religious disapproval and social prejudice from the wider world.
That things have improved legally, cannot be argued. That more change is needed in attitudes and retained prejudice, is certain.
Tom Daley has been in the news recently for wanting a family with his husband and for arranging for a surrogate mother to bear their child. He has received some very hurtful and unwarranted criticism it seems. More horrifying, is the fact that there are so many places in the world where homosexuality is still illegal. It seems that religion and power have much to answer for.
Despite the long road still to be travelled and the prejudices and misconceptions still to be overcome, there is a beacon burning at the end of the tunnel. I see this in the children of today, In particular, I see it in my grandchildren.
My grandchildren are the ones who will grow up wondering what all the fuss was about, much as we grew up wondering why women hadn’t always had the vote. This was brought home to me last year, when one of my grandsons came home from infant school and during a conversation with his equally young cousin, was heard to declare,
“Boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls…” it was said in such a matter of fact way that my heart almost burst. They will grow up without prejudice given the chance.
Although we still have a way to go, that statement alone, shows just how far we have come from that, not so long-ago time, when John declared,
“Mens don’t kiss mens.”
We’ll get there!

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Misplaced Guilt…

Do you suffer from misplaced guilt?

The smallest thing can cause this condition to appear, such as wondering if you have said the right thing or if your actions have been misunderstood—the latter is a big one for me. I am working on it though. I give myself a good talking to if unwarranted guilt threatens. That said, it is always there, biding its time, ready to pounce at any given moment. It can seem as though someone is standing at my side demanding, “Explain yourself!”
Today there were two occasions when misplaced guilt raised its ugly head.
The first was as I left the supermarket and headed back to my car with a full trolley. The Car Wash folk were out in the rain. (I had felt guilty ignoring them so had asked for a ten pound car wash). I could see they had finished mine so fished in my bag for a ten pound note.
Proffering it with a smile I was astonished when it was handed back to me by the East European car washer, with an apologetic smile. (Sorry Lady, this is not legal tender,)
I was taken aback, not legal tender?
‘It isn’t plastic,’ he showed me a note he already had in his possession. I immediately realised my mistake.
Let’s be fair here. I obtained the ten pound note in question, from my elderly mother who had been saving it for me, with several others, in payment for her shopping. I did not think to check the notes she handed me. I doubt she is aware that she may have a stash of obsolete notes now. Still, as the Car Washer sadly declined the ten pounds, I felt extremely guilty for having offered it to him in the first place. I did not of course, explain why I was in possession of an obsolete paper note (they went out of circulation on March 1st) even though I wanted to. I took back the illegal tender and offered him a twenty pound note which he exchanged for the ‘good’ plastic ten pounds. My feelings of guilt were misplaced by anyone’s standard. Funnily enough, he looked as though he felt guilty too, at having to tell me he couldn’t accept it.
Having sorted that out, I threw my shopping into the car boot and pushed my trolley into the nearest bay.

Still smarting from that first bout of misplaced guilt I little knew another lay in store.
Checking the aisle behind me, into which I needed to reverse to exit the car park, I saw that to my right, the car wash men and their trolleys and some pedestrians, were blocking the way. I would have to reverse in the opposite direction. This I did, with due care and attention.
As I prepared to drive on, I saw another driver heading towards me, a frown on his face. As he drew level, he fixed me with a steely eyed stare. It clicked, this was a one-way aisle and I was now facing the wrong way. I affected the surprise that I genuinely felt and with an exaggerated “oops!” clapped my hand to my mouth. He grinned and nodded before driving on. I was forgiven.
I had not given in to the urge to explain my actions, I preferred to make him smile instead. This is the basis of my “banish the guilt” strategy.
I should also say that I then turned the car round and drove the correct way out of the aisle. Even though the exit onto the main route out was a mere twenty yards away and clear, I could not bring myself to drive out of here, the wrong way, once I had realised my mistake.

Now, couple this with the ‘basket only’ escapade of the other week and I really will begin to think I should not be let loose in a supermarket ever again. Ironically, when I pushed my full trolley towards the nearest checkout today, three people ahead of me were unloading their baskets onto the conveyor belt. Naturally, I checked for any signs telling me that this was a basket only checkout. Not seeing a sign, but not fully trusting myself to have noticed any either, I asked the chap ahead of me,
“Is this a basket only aisle?”
“No, that isn’t open yet,” he explained, a tad defensively, I thought.
I nodded. It only occurred to me afterwards that maybe he thought I was accusing him of being in the wrong aisle. We won’t go into that, I have had quite enough feelings of misplaced guilt for one day.

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Mother’s Day Mayhem

“Aha! You are the ones who are in the Gods!”
The lady who met us at the hotel reception seemed triumphant. We were bemused. The last time I recall being, “in the Gods,” was the time I went to Her Majesty’s Theatre, to see Phantom of the Opera, starring Michael Crawford. Our seats were so high up on the vertical incline of seats, that one had to hang onto the rail in front to avoid being sucked down into the abyss below us.

The hotel we now found ourselves in, bore no true resemblance to her Majesty’s Theatre although it was Olde Worlde with a plentiful supply of oak beams and old-fashioned furnishings.
We were not in London now, we were in Burnham On Crouch.
The lady standing before us noticed our puzzled looks and waved her hands dismissively,
“If you need to speak to the boss she will be in at 6.30pm,” she informed us, adding, as though we were going to be thrilled by the news,
“All your rooms have a river view,”
Dave had specifically requested a river view when booking three ‘Superior’ double rooms as shown on the website. Lisa and her mother had accompanied us to Essex for this Mother’s Day get together. It was Jane’s first trip to Essex.

I suppose we should have been forewarned of what was to come when the hotel manager phoned us the previous night and asked if we were on our way.
“No, we are booked in for tomorrow night,” corrected Dave.
The line fell silent for a bit. Dave flicked through his emails and uncovered the one confirming our booking made some time ago.
“Ah, my mother must have taken that booking, there’s been a mix up but don’t worry, we will sort,” the manager said brightly, “leave it with me,” if there was panic in her voice, she hid it well.
We had no option really.
A phone call made later that evening confirmed that we did have three rooms booked, we were not to worry.
A subsequent phone call from my mother, told us that her toilet was not flushing properly, maybe Dave could fix it. Dave assured her he would bring his tool box though he is not a plumber.
I wondered if someone was trying to tell us we should not go. Our rooms had been double booked and now mother’s only toilet was broken and we were eating lunch there both days. We laughed it off. What else could go wrong?

The following day, we headed to my mother’s house to have lunch with her. In case the toilet was not in use, we had stopped at the local supermarket first to make use of their facilities. After a two and a half hour drive, we were all in need of a comfort break.
The toilet seemed to be working, just. Dave could not fix it. We phoned a plumber. Monday would be the soonest he could pop round.
It was a very pleasant afternoon, it has to be said, consisting of a light lunch followed by Six Nations Rugby on television, a good catch up with my sister and the promise of a leisurely drive back to the hotel, stopping off to say hello to Dave’s Mum and sister on the way before meeting up with them at our hotel, for dinner in the evening. It was a good plan and so far, double booking and broken toilet not withstanding, was going well.

Six Nations – (Ireland v Scotland) “Go Scotland!”

Now, standing in the hotel reception, we watched as the receptionist produced a set of keys.
“One room is on the first floor and the other two are on the second,” she told us, daring us to comment.
We followed her up the first staircase.
The first room was one of three we had booked. It boasted a good-sized en suite bathroom, with a bath, and the bedroom overlooked the River Crouch. We agreed that Jane should have this one, being our guest and the oldest of us all. We trekked onwards and upwards.
The next flight of stairs was very steep and split at the top as you can see in the photograph.

Lethal staircase

One side had no landing, the bedroom door opened onto the step. There was a landing on the other side leading to the bedroom Lisa was given. It had a small square bay window with a window seat, from which there was a bird’s eye view of the river.
Dave and I left her there and looked across at the dubious room on the step. Yep, that was to be our room.
The receptionist trod nimbly along the narrow ledge above the stairs. We took the safer path, down two steps and up two and unlocked the door to our room. Our hostess mumbled her excuses before making a speedy departure. To say the room was interesting would be kind. It did have a river view, if you could get to the small, single dormer window in the corner of the room to see out. We opened the door to the en-suite, set in the eaves. I should call it a cupboard really.
I have seen small bathrooms but the nearest to this would be found in a caravan.
Beyond the door was a small space, maybe two foot square, with a toilet and basin either side and a small shower in front. The best I can say about it is that the water was hot and the toilet flushed. It was neither comfortable nor appealing in any way.
At 6.30pm, the hotel manager spoke to us. She was lovely. She was most apologetic. They had had to give us different rooms after an error made by her mother who took the booking it seems. Apparently, they had had to move people around to get us these rooms. (We wondered who had resided in them before and where they were now.)
“My mother isn’t here now, I have sent her to Malta,” she explained.
Was this a punishment? It seemed not, it was a Mother’s Day gift. It made the box of chocolates and bunch of flowers I was giving my mum, look very mean.
“We understand but we are very disappointed…” we told her.
“But your rooms do all have river views,” she pointed out. I couldn’t argue with that but I’d rather have had a proper bathroom.
“A 5% discount on the rooms and a bottle of wine,” comprised her goodwill offer. I had to remark that I don’t drink but we accepted her apology and her offer of a conciliatory discount. There was nothing else to be done.
Glossing over the other drawbacks of the room, the lack of a duvet, the ancient blankets and the lethal stairway, we met Dave’s family for dinner in the restaurant.
The evening passed in a haze of good food and wine (no wine for me) although it was wise to keep sober in any case so we could negotiate the lethal staircase when we retired for the night.
Here is a photo of Dave negotiating the stairs the next morning as we crossed the landing to Lisa’s room which boasted the same tiny cupboard for a bathroom as ours but lacked the sloping ceilings.

Dave on the lethal staircase

Over breakfast, I wondered what Jane was thinking of her first visit to Essex but she said her room was comfortable and she had enjoyed a wonderful view of the river beyond.
The manager apologised once more for the mix up and hoped it would not put us off returning another time.
“Oh no,” we smiled, “Can’t be helped,” so British of us! In truth, I don’t think any of us have the slightest inclination to stay there again but never say never.
We were thankful to climb into the car and make our way to my mother’s house with its dodgy loo, for our official mother’s Day lunch. What else could possible go wrong?

A warning light that says, “Reduced Power,” denotes a problem with a car. When the manual says simply, “Consult your local dealer’s workshop,” one does not know how serious reduced power is. When the car motors along with less oomph than normal, it is worrying, especially with the prospect of a 130 mile journey to be made later in the afternoon.
We made it to my mother’s without mishap but I think we all knew how this was going to end. Dave made some phone calls but what garage would be open on a Sunday – Mother’s Day at that? We resigned ourselves to the inevitable, we cooked the pre-prepared lunch and Dave called the RAC.

Mum with Jane on Mother’s Day


Thus, just after 3pm, we climbed aboard the RAC breakdown Truck, our own car riding on the trailer. A photograph is obligatory.

The first Breakdown truck

Half an hour later we had to abandon this vehicle and transfer to a second, slightly smaller vehicle as the first driver had come to the limit of his day’s driving hours.
Another photo obligatory. Even with the change over at Brentwood Services, we were home by 6pm.
So ended Jane’s first trip to Essex. Not sure she will want to come again!

P.S. The plumber turned up on Monday and said something had become unhooked, easily fixed.
The car is still at the garage waiting for a part.
My mother says she had a lovely weekend and really enjoyed spending time with us all.
Well, it was all worth it then!

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Basket only…

The checkout operator had paused to alert a supervisor of a problem with her till. The lady in front of me had just loaded her shopping onto the conveyor belt and the customer being served was waiting to pay, I presume.
I was happy to wait and was rather enjoying the time to stand and observe those around me. (Those conversational gems might crop up, one never knows).
It was a busy Monday morning. Several tills were unmanned, clearly something the hovering supervisor was not happy with. He signalled for a young lad to man the till next to me. It was of no use to me of course, it displayed a, “baskets only” sign. My trolley was rather full.
No one joined the young lad at the basket checkout.
“Excuse me Madam, would you like to go to that one?” the supervisor appeared before me. I glanced uncertainly at the checkout next to us,
“That’s baskets only,” I reminded him.
“It doesn’t matter, you’ll be ages here, otherwise,” he told me, “go ahead, use that one,”
I was dubious about this instruction but far be it from me to question a supervisor. I trundled my trolley to the basket checkout and grinned at the young lad who stared at me blankly,
“I have been instructed to come here,” I smiled, nodding towards the supervisor who gave me the thumbs up.
The lad looked around. I was the only one near. He shrugged and waited as I began unloading my trolley. I had a lot of shopping.
That’s when the bearded man with the basket of several small items, joined the queue. I was aware that he had plonked the divider half way along the conveyor belt. I was still loading my shopping. How rude. I piled as much as I could into the now limited space and left the rest in the trolley as the lad had not yet begun ringing items through.
“I don’t have room to load it all, you had better start,” I instructed.
Without changing his expression, which was one of complete indifference, he began passing the goods through and I began throwing them into whatever bags I could grab from my half full trolley. It was a slow process as, in my attempt to fit everything I could on the conveyor belt, my normal neatly categorised items had spilled over into the wrong sections. To make matters worse, I am still not meant to carry heavy bags so had to use twice the usual number to make sure they were light enough for me to transport. The boy did not offer to help pack.
A female supervisor caught my attention to my left, as she called out sharply, more sharply than I thought necessary,
“Were you told to use this checkout? Only it is basket only.”
Bearded man looked smug and I thought he glared at me a little.
“Yes, I was told to use this one,” I confirmed.
“Oh, well,” she said, darting an accusing glance at both me and the other supervisor as though we were in cahoots.
By now, others with baskets had joined the queue. I continued to load the conveyor belt with the rest of the items in my trolly, having to slip them in before the bearded chap’s shopping took over.
“Oh dear,” I muttered to the bearded chap as the task became ever more difficult. He had the grace to smile but could not move his shopping back to allow me more room as his fellow basketeers had claimed the space by now.
I could feel several pairs of eyes boring into me and had to fight a sudden urge to laugh. The checkout lad displayed no such problem and continued to scan my mismatched items without so much as a smirk.
As the last items landed in my shopping bags which were now sitting, a little haphazardly, in the empty trolley, I prepared to pay.
As I pushed my bank card into the machine and punched in my pin, I smiled at the young lad serving,
“Now you are going to have to explain to all those people that I was sent here, and that’s why they’ve all been kept waiting,” I told him and you know what? He grinned.
If you were one of those people standing in the Sainsbury’s checkout this morning, with your bag of apples, sandwich and a bottle of milk or whatever else fits into a basket, I can only apologise but it wasn’t my fault – I was sent!

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The mind boggles…

It seems that having launched my debut Christmas novel on an unsuspecting world, sending it into the wide blue yonder – perhaps never to be seen again, I have been slow to rekindle the fire of the written word. It isn’t that I have not wanted to, nor that I have not tried. I have begun editing the final chapters of my next novel and it lies begging for attention.

I have read and enjoyed a couple of excellent novels and can feel the muse bubbling up inside me. Yet, housework, family demands and life in general, have thwarted any real progress these past few weeks. So, it was with a determined and hopeful heart that I began trawling through those gems I write down occasionally. You will know the sort: An idea, a snippet of overheard conversation…(the latter having already been discussed in ‘The Things People Say…”) all are things that can send the imagination into overdrive.

I found several exciting and interesting snippets as it happens. I found an entire post written on the differences between girls and boys, another about the proliferation of bad news in the media…I must have had a bee in my bonnet when I wrote that. (I said bee and not wasp which I covered in, “Follow that wasp,”) However, there is one snippet that really caught my imagination. I remember writing this, surely-too-good-to-forget gem, in note form, as we sat in the pub garden of the Old Ferry Inn, in Bodinnick, Cornwall, a year or so ago. It has languished, forgotten, on my computer’s hard drive ever since.

I shall give you this snippet of conversation just as I heard it but first, picture the scene if you will. The pub garden is built on several terraces, each terrace is accessed by a flight of stone steps and retained by a low stone wall. Each provides a lovely space in which to sit and take in the beautiful views of the river beyond.

View of river

View across the river from The Old Ferry Inn


A harassed dad has been sitting by the low wall, watching his two young sons play while mum relaxes round the corner, in the shade. As the baby makes yet another attempt to scale the wall, below which lies a steep drop to the stone steps, his dad grabs him and sends him back to his mother.
“I think it’s time to go,” he calls to his other son, we guess to be aged about four, although we cannot see him at this point.
As the father and younger child cross the terrace to where the mother sits, a small disembodied voice exclaims,
“Wow, that’s the nearest to death I have ever come in my life!”

The mind boggles! I may just use it…

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