Once Upon a Christmas Eve

I have been talking about this for long enough it seems so, at long last, I have taken the bull by the horns and uploaded my manuscript to Amazon. I hope I have ironed out all the layout problems that could affect it. For better or worse, there it sits.
Once Upon a Christmas Eve The Kindle version is available for download now, the paperback version coming shortly. I am ready to tweak the file over the next few days if necessary but fingers crossed, it should be fine.
I am quite chuffed to have managed to upload it by the beginning of December.

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At the school gate

Forced to rest after having major surgery this month, I have watched every episode of Motherland on television. Have you seen it? This sitcom is so representative of school gate life that I can recognise most of the characters in it as though I were standing next to them yesterday. Yesterday being from 1984-1998 if I have the dates right.
I knew the teachers well, I even took my youngest into the classroom aged eight months, for a study the seven year olds were doing on human development, at their teacher’s request. I helped with crafts and read to the children on special occasions, but only when time permitted. This was not very often. My usual excuse was,
“I’m so sorry, I have the little one you see…”
“Oh, bring him/her,”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly but maybe when he/she is older,”
This was as far as my interaction with school went in truth.
I’d be there with the best of them at after school matches, cheering my boys or girls on. I’d go to every play, every church service (Wednesdays 9-10am) in the term. I’d do my bit.

I hasten to add, to anyone supposing I was one of the ‘in crowd’ that I shunned their overtures for the most part. I was more than happy to go my own way with my ‘millions’ of children. (I exaggerate, I had five with the occasional hangers on to pushchair and car.) I was once asked how many of the five were mine and was I a childminder, oh, and did I have any spaces? I said my womb was full, thank you.
Parents accompanied children on numerous school trips to make up the adult numbers– I went on one or two when forced, under protest, with gritted teeth.
Friends of the Primary School, known as FOSPS, did their bit to raise funds. They were stalwart in their endeavours, they canvassed and heckled and beamed at us in the playground as their children, Marcus and Miranda, invariably ran through the flowerbeds and created havoc. They organised events, they tried to rope us bystanders in and we did our best by offering things to sell, sponsoring and dressing our children in outlandish costumes. Now that’s the bit I actually enjoyed, come to think of it. Not the fund raising part of it but the making of the costumes. Whether for a school project, a fund raiser or a disco, I was there with my scraps of fabric and my children.
I have some photos of the result – how about these? The three girls dressed for Victorian day in one and for a fancy dress competition for book day, in which middle daughter wanted to be the BFG and the youngest, Tom Thumb. Not bad from scraps.

Three Victorian Girls

Three Victorian Girls

The birthday parties which grew more competitive every year, I ignored for the most part. My party bag gifts were often home-made (finger puppets were a hit for the 5 year olds). Parties for the under sixes, are the best. The birthday cake was hit and miss but always greeted with amazement, (The treasure chest was my piece de resistance). Sadly, I cannot find a photo of it. See this photo of the Maypole Princess Tree instead…

and this…
Alex's 2nd birthday

My children just had each other on some occasions and on others, they had friends round for tea and games. Traditional parties held true until they were seven when experience had taught me, to invite twelve boys and girls (twelve was the limit) after the age of seven or even at the age of seven, was ‘bloody’ hard work. The girls, being mini teenagers, questioned everything. They didn’t want to play pass the parcel, they were gossiping about whatever it is 7-year-olds gossip about and doing their hair and squealing a lot. Even back then, they wanted Karaoke not the Okey Kokey. The boys ignored all attempts at discipline and preferred to race round the house doing everything one had spent a lot of time teaching one’s own kids not to do, high on ‘e’ numbers that we didn’t know were there.
Fizzy drinks only came out at birthdays in our house.
Beyond the age of seven, things changed. A birthday child was allowed to bring a friend along to the Zoo, Legoland or the Beach. I insisted on one friend rather than two as two would mean there was always the chance two would gang up on one. My strategy was to divide and conquer!
By the time our eldest reached the age of twelve, things had changed again and we were into sleepover and pyjama parties. From then until they grew tired of the idea, we suffered the indignities of hiding upstairs while our one sitting room was given over to a gaggle of girls or boys with sleeping bags who neither slept nor kept quiet all night. The next day, we would be greeted by bleary eyed thirteen-year-olds.
“Tired?” we’d enquire.
“It was great, thank you Mrs Barker,” the teens would say politely while my own would look on in discomfort. Why was I engaging in conversation? How embarrassing! Grumpy with tiredness now, off they’d trot to their beds for a rest.
Some of these children’s parents would have been on the committees and boards and fundraising teams of the school. I knew them by name, I had the odd conversation with them. Individually, they were fine. En masse, I baulked at their efficient, military-like organisation. (But where would we be without them?)
I walked up to the school, on the days when the car was at the garage or it was just a lovely day for a walk. It was a mile and a half away so a three mile walk for me there and back.
The 4x4s were already appearing in the nineties. They’d park on the zig-zag lines outside the school and deposit Tamsin and Tarquin at the gate and we’d all tut tut as we walked by.
“Coming to the wine testing tonight?” they’d trill, tickets on sale now!” as they closed the car door and sped off up the road to their next appointment.
We’d mumble something about being busy or pretend we’d not heard. You learn how to slide under the radar when you are somewhere for fourteen years, (we, being the group of friends I had made over the years who were kind, thoughtful and not at all overbearing.)
I’d walk home in my jeans and T shirt with my offspring trailing behind me, the eldest way behind,
“I don’t want to be seen with you all,” she’d say, mortified that she had so many brothers and sisters. I should have seen it coming. When I had three girls, she turned to me, then three and a half and said,
“Mummy, you are like the old woman in the shoe, you have so many children, you don’t know what to do!”
If driving, I’d jump into my old Peugeot 505 estate with its eight seats, giving a lift to one or maybe two friends on the way. I borrowed the family car a few times. We had an Espace and later, a Previa. It was the Previa that caused consternation in the car park as I pulled out the pram wheels and assembled my second hand, much cherished pram bought for my unexpected but much loved and wanted, youngest child.
“New car?” someone said, “How do you find driving the Previa?”
“Oh, my husband’s, no not new…” I began.
“Don’t you just love it?”
“It’s ok but I find the turning circle nowhere near as tight my Peugeot. It’s ok for a stand-in,” I confessed.
She looked mortally offended. Her smile became a little more fixed, her eyes a little more glittery.
I grabbed bag and baby and deposited all in the pram and summoned my brood.
She did not walk with me to the school.
I pushed the pram back into the car park, now devoid of bags and children but thankfully, still containing baby, (quite a feat given that dad who wanted to throw him up into the air in the playground every day) My heart missed a beat each time J swung my son round and tossed him skyward. I had to watch him sail through the air, baby laughed, baby loved it.
After the second or third incident, I began strapping baby into the pram instead of carrying him. I protested royally if other dad came near,
“He’s tired, he’s sick, he doesn’t like it,” I lied as he made to pick my child up.
This probably wouldn’t happen today.
I prepared to load the pram back into the boot and was just in time to see my earlier inquisitor reverse her brand new Previa out of the parking bay and sail off up the road without looking at me. Oops!
I was a stay-at-home mum so had ample time for the school run, although I wrote and painted and crafted and kept housework to a minimum. I barely had time for a coffee morning, a wine tasting or an afternoon tea.
In the mid-nineties I was being published and I was extraordinarily busy, helping run an online writer’s club as well, preparing for art exhibitions etc.
I would never have had time for FOSPS, nor for trips to the woods. I was happy being with my friends, popping in for a quick coffee, having lunch at the pub at end of term and just doing my own thing.
There were women who worked back then of course. The odd nanny or Grandparent did the school run. Occasionally, the mothers of those children would make it to the school gate. They’d be wearing designer suits, amazing makeup and perfectly coiffured hair. They’d leave a trail of perfume in their wake.
“What are they talking about?” they’d hiss as a FOSP pushed a fund raising pamphlet into their perfectly manicured hands. The earth mothers disapproved and looked askance at them.
“Ignore it,” I’d advise, pushing my own pamphlet into my bag to be binned later (after I had written a cheque for something or other of course)
I must say that I did my own bit for these harassed mothers who I remembered from the days of yore when we stood in the playground together. I collected their children, gave them their tea, and cleaned them up when they messed up. I did this for a friend who ran the playschool.
Now that was a story.
Young D was a timid child. He and my son were best buddies (I think) aged four. It was my job to collect both my own son (the baby) and D on Thursday afternoon from school. That day I diligently waited for the bell and then walked back to the car with children. As we drove into the drive I realised with a sinking feeling that someone was missing. I had left D in the classroom.
“get back in, no don’t all get out, do up your seatbelts…!” I yelled and sped back to the school where the teacher sat smiling, holding D’s hand.
“Oh I knew you’d be back,” she told me, handing him over. I was not so sure. It was pure chance I had realised he wasn’t with me.
D was scared of our Lurcher. D was scared of everything. Steven donned a scary mask (most unsuitable)and frightened him half to death.
I spent those afternoons, placating and cuddling him and telling him it was ok, no one was going to hurt him. Not sure he believed me.
After a particularly traumatic incident in which he fled up the stairs screaming because the dog had stretched and yawned, I decided I had to call it quits.
My friend understood, I think.
We had a fairly relaxed approach to parenting. When my youngest daughter was eleven, she had a couple of friends round for tea. She and the friends went across to the park afterwards. To get there, they had to cross the main road. The road was not very busy in those days and my older children could all cross it comfortably. I checked with the friends that their parents let them cross roads in broad daylight. They both nodded.
When their parents came to collect them, the girls were discussing their trip to the park.
“You crossed the road?” one traumatised father asked.
“It’s fine, it isn’t busy…” I interjected, sensing trouble.
As they left, I clearly heard one say to the other,
“The trouble with this family is no discipline!”
Well, really. How very rude!

I didn’t go out to work again until my youngest was seven. (Not counting the years in which I helped my husband set up and expand his business) At long last, I became one of the mothers who rush home to make it in time for the pickup. I no longer wore jeans and T shirts, I was smartly dressed and swanned in and out of the playground for a while at 3.30pm until the youngest could make his own way home, with a friend.
We had our ups and downs, my son once jumped out of the car and raced back home in protest only to tell me, after numerous such events in a fortnight, that he had sorted it all out. He had been used to me being at home and hadn’t liked me not being there but he now realised that even if I didn’t pick him up, I would be home soon afterwards. Guilty? Of course, I felt guilty!

My own daughters now stand at the school gates. They all work, one can choose her hours (the designer and University lecturer) one sends her son to afterschool and breakfast club and the other has a Nanny for her three. They all have Grandma’s day care when needed. I am happy collecting, dropping off etc. I recognise the characters I would have encountered back then, even today. It never changes. I can spot the doers, the organisers, the hangers on and the ones who try to fly below the radar, with ease.
I am greeted by everyone with smiles because I am Grandma, I am doing a great thing here. I am not asked to join the committee for this or that or inundated with letters and pamphlets and emails as my daughters are, so I have time to stand back and watch.
Such a rich fabric to observe as the various groups form and my daughters’ friends, some of whom used to come to their parties, rush in with baby in pram and toddler tagging behind and realise they have forgotten to bring the sunflower pot back, or to dress their child in costume.
I can smile and be thankful that my time at the school gate may not truly be ended, but it is different.
Thank you Motherland* for reminding me what a rich tapestry, school life weaves.

*https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05j1k3t/motherland-series-1-episode-1

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Stretching the Truth

Halloween and I have a strange relationship. All Hallow’s Eve falls on the day before my birthday. Last year, on a family get together in a Scottish faux castle, (the brochure had stretched the truth a little in declaring it an old Castle. It is a downsized replica of Warwick Castle, apparently,) my birthday was preceded by a big Halloween party. Who had the energy for another the following night?
Mind you, it was an excellent party though I say so myself.
My adult children had all surpassed themselves with their costumes/decorations and planning. Our grandchildren were only too happy to put on their costumes though the younger ones had little idea why they were dressed so outlandishly.
The suits of armour (the castle was decked out perfectly) provided hours of entertainment and lent themselves well to scary stories about headless Knights. When my eldest son donned one of the helmets, he frightened the life out of the three year olds. I was a little concerned as well – would he ever be able to get it off?
I am just pleased that I had the good sense to stay put and avoid being born on the 31st. I am so much better suited to All Saints Day!

Florence not sure if she likes it or not…

Possibly William…who knows?…

An almost real Scottish Castle

Leon…spookily angelic

We are not sure…

A less scary Uncle opens the door…

A Family meal

Meanwhile, I have been working on my latest novel, Once Upon a Christmas Eve. It has been read, it has been edited and now I am having a cover designed by a professional designer (who happens to be my daughter). I can’t wait to start promoting it as an e-book. Well, why wait?
My book stretches the imagination every bit as much as Halloween. It is a tale of two families whose paths cross in a ghostly fashion, with disastrous results for both. Can a tragedy be undone? That is the question facing Beatrice as her life changes, perhaps for ever.

This one has beaten it to the finish line as other Works in Progress wait in the wings but they are not forgotten. In fact, the release of one will herald my release to work on the others.

This will be the first year in a long while, that I have not joined NaNoWriMo. My reasons are simple. Personal circumstances in November will not allow the dedication to writing that NaNoWriMo demands and deserves. Last year I re-wrote Once Upon a Christmas Eve, from start to finish and have been fine tuning it ever since. I can heartily recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone thinking of trying it. One gets 30 days in which to write 50,000 words but in reality, that 30 days dwindles to almost half when you factor in the unexpected and in my case, elderly mothers coming to stay or childcare responsibilities being thrust upon one. Sometimes, it is hard to find the time to commit words to paper or screen but it is worth it, believe me, if you can. I almost wish I could.

Next year, I may well take up the challenge again but for now, NaNoWriMo is a NoNo. As for the cover design and the ebook – I will keep you posted!

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There is nowt so queer as folk

“What is that child doing?”

This was the question we asked ourselves as we prepared to eat our long-awaited meal.
The child in question was a girl of perhaps eight years of age. Prior to this point, she had been sitting with her large family, at the next table, chatting quite happily.
What happened next was most bizarre.
I should explain that Fowey was incredibly busy on Saturday night. We know one has to book a table if one wants to eat out in the holiday period. We had left it too late. Hence, at 7.30pm, we joined the other, “forgot-to-book” holidaymakers, shuffling along the busy streets in the vain hope of finding somewhere that could fit us in and serve us food. Everywhere we came to was full. Forlorn groups of hungry tourists dragged themselves from restaurant to restaurant. It was looking as though a take-away was our only option.
Our search ended at The Ship Inn. The place was packed. We edged up to the bar and waited to be served. The couple who had come in behind us, took matters into their own hands as we should have done, and nabbed the landlady as she was making her way across the room. They were given the last table in the bar. We waited.
The landlady asked someone to go and check in the other room to see if there was a table free in there. The barman returned saying there was a table right at the back of the room if we wanted it. There was an hour’s wait for food.
The rest of the small room was occupied by a large, rambunctious family. (Large in number that is) We were not overjoyed at the prospect of squeezing in but, needs must, as they say. In we trooped.
It was not ideal by any means. The small circular table sat flush with the window seat. Our chairs barely fitted between a deep leather sofa, piled high with cushions and coats and the table.
We gritted our teeth. I moved some of the cushions that threatened to suffocate us, to the window seat and slid the coats along to the far end, thus creating some space and some air behind us. A pair of child’s wellington boots resided under my chair. I retrieved them and placed them midway between our table and the next.
The large family chattered and laughed as families do. Presently, a German Shepherd joined them with his owners. The enormous dog lay down in the doorway, panting. Its owners divested themselves of their coats (why such big coats? It was neither cold nor raining) and walked towards us, stopping short of our table (were they intending to sit with us?) and throwing their coats onto the sofa behind us. We were now an official cloakroom it seemed.
It was not long before the child, the one who was now causing us such consternation, skipped over to retrieve her wellington boots before disappearing to the loo. She seemed full of energy. She made a noisy return and we continued to wait for food. We waited for over an hour. Lisa made a few trips to other establishments in hopes of finding a better deal, in the meantime but had no luck.
The family received their main course and began to tuck in. They had finished their meal by the time we spotted a waitress bearing three meals that must be destined for our table, should she manage to get through the throng.
Some of the family seemed to have left the table and were lounging against the far wall. The waitress stepped over or around the German Shepherd. It was at this point, that the slightly odd turned to bizarre.
The mother of the group steered her daughter towards the sofa behind us and helped her climb aboard. The sofa cushions were pressed against our chairs so there was no way she could walk in front of it without standing on our laps. (Nothing would have surprised us) The mother picked up a couple of coats … were they leaving?
No, the child, not a small child by any means, lay down and allowed her mother to throw the coats over her. The mother stroked the girl’s head. We felt a little uncomfortable to say the least. The waitress was waiting to put our meals down. The mother stepped back and allowed her to pass.
The meals were lovely it must be said but our appetite had gone with the fidgety child so close behind us. She shuffled and rolled and twisted and turned in an apparent effort to get comfortable. The mother returned to her table. The brother came across and perched on the arm of the sofa. He too began patting the girl and threw another coat on top of her. By now, she had wriggled down the length of the sofa so that her head was literally hanging off the edge and was between our chairs. I looked at Lisa, she looked at me. The child regarded us both with smug eyes.
Dave shrugged. We ate our food with the child lying there, watching. As we swallowed the last mouthful and prepared to leave, the family began pulling on their coats. The girl jumped up and ran across to them, apparently no longer tired and in need of immediate sleep.
We made sure we got to the bar to pay before they did. We needed to get out of here.
Out on the street, we breathed a sigh of relief. Incredulous at the rudeness of the family and only mildly amused by what had just transpired, we made our way down the road towards Treleigh.
“They’re behind us!” Lisa hissed.
Sure enough, the family and the child were following us.
We quickened our step. They seemed to be quickening theirs. Surely they were not going to invade our home? Lisa wondered whether the child would appear in her bed, like some ghoulish creature from a horror film.
It was unfair of us to liken the child to a ghoul. She was just precocious and possibly spoilt rotten, as my mother would say. I blame the mother. What possessed her to send her daughter to our table? I suspect she had earlier told the child she could lie on the sofa if she felt tired and our arrival had threatened to scupper those plans. The child had evidently decided to stake her claim. The family followed us all the way home but we were thankful to climb the steps to our house and hear them continue on their way to the car park.
As my grandmother was want to say, “There’s nowt so queer as folk.”

Other than that bizarre episode, we had a wonderful short break. Here are some photos to prove it!

Fowey River

View from our bedroom window

Large ship approaching…

Tanker bringing in larger ship (as seen from bedroom window)

Coming back on the ferry from Bodinnick

Looking across at our house from Bodinnick

Dave leans over sofa for this photo taken in the Ship Inn

Lisa and Dave with “the Family” behind them

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“Ooh Betty!”

My brother-in-law was a character indeed. When he left this world in November 2007, it became a poorer place without him.
A devout born again Christian, he preached the gospel and prayed every day. Even in his darkest moments, when death beckoned, he believed he would be saved. I sincerely hope he was.
His faith was strong but so was his sense of humour. He had learnt to laugh at himself because there really was no other way.
Anyone who is familiar with Frank Crawford’s Frank Spencer from, “Some mothers do ‘ave em,” can easily imagine what Stuart looked like. He was the image of a young Michael Crawford in his younger years, to the point where he was asked for his autograph when queuing for the theatre where, “The Phantom of the Opera” was being shown.
“Is it him? Is it?” those nearest whispered, before timidly offering their programmes up for an autograph.
(Had Stuart had a raincoat with him and a beret, he would have treated them to his infamous impression of, “Ooh, Betty,”)

“Oh, Stuart! aged 40”


Stuart and Rocky

Stuart with Rocky 1973 – the first of several Old English Sheep Dogs…


Frank Spencer

Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford) as seen on BBC 1973-1978)

Ironically, his character was actually closer to that of the fictional, Frank Spencer, with his good intentions and hilarious outcomes. My long suffering sister, took great delight in relating his tales of woe to us after a holiday or a good deed gone wrong had occurred.
It seems a shame not to bring those tales out now and then so, as both my sister and my brother-in-law have been in my thoughts this week, I thought I’d share a little of the beleaguered life of Stuart.

My sister reckoned he was an accident waiting to happen.
Always the first to lend a helping hand, he offered to help out some friends opening a new chemist shop, by painting the floor one evening. Unfortunately, the hapless Stuart painted himself into a corner and his only form of escape was to climb along the shelves that lined the walls, these tipping at an alarming 45 degrees as he went.
There was the time he decided to shorten a door to fit over the new carpet. He was more than pleased with his efforts, not being known for his DIY skills, and measured carefully before he re-hung the door. Unfortunately, he had sawn off an inch from the top. The door still didn’t shut but there was a handy ventilation slit at the top.

His trips abroad were no less eventful. On an overnight drive to Austria, my sister slept in the passenger seat, only to be woken by Stuart nudging her into semi-consciousness, saying,
“There’s another toll!”
“How much?” my sister asked, blinking tiredly.
“I don’t know, get out the largest note and ask how much it is, we need the change,” Stuart shrugged.
My sister wound down her window and waved the hundred franc note under the official’s nose,
“Combien?” she enquired.

“Out, out!” shouted the official.
Everything was searched, suitcases, car, my sister and husband…This was a customs point and she had just attempted to bribe the border guard. Thankfully, the officials soon waved them on. Obviously, these strange people were harmless English folk.

On yet another trip, while staying in an Austrian motel en route, Stuart decided to be helpful and strip the beds in the morning, against my sister’s loud protestations. Feeling extra helpful, he stepped out onto the landing and seeing a pile of dirty linen by the adjacent door, he placed the sheets on top, muttering that the maids were so busy, it would be good to help them a little.
On returning from their holiday, a fortnight later, they opted to stay at the same hotel. As they walked into the reception, the proprietress became rather agitated and greeted them with,

“Ah, Monsieur and Madam ‘Olliday, the last time you were ‘ere you took ze sheets!” in excited French.
My sister, whose French was a little rusty, struggled to interpret the woman’s excited accusation. It was not until much later, whilst soaking in a warm bath, that she realised what had actually been said,
“Stuart, they think we stole the sheets!” she gasped.
It took much explaining and gesticulation on her part, to let the woman know what had really happened. Like a scene from “Alo Alo” by all accounts, my sister endeavoured to explain,
“My ‘usband…mon mari…’e put, il met, le sheets, les courverts…outside la chambre à coucher,” she stammered.
I am not sure the woman believed them.
The list of Stuart’s mishaps lengthens.
There was the time Stuart brought home a very expensive suit on approval from Gieves & Hawks but wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not so he asked his friend and near neighbour, if he could walk up to his house in it for his opinion. It was slushy and icy outside and needless to say, Stuart slipped over on the ice and put a great hole in the knee of the trousers, returning home with blood pouring from the wound.
“Well, I’ll have to buy it now,” he grimaced, (and it cost another £100 to have it invisibly mended).
We were not immune to Stuart’s hilarious antics. Visiting my sister and her family one weekend, we were there when Stuart decided to cook a full English Breakfast. This was something he did not normally eat and which was regarded as a rare treat.
I should explain that he and his friend and neighbour, enjoyed a friendly rivalry where food and drink was concerned. The previous evening, Pete had appeared at the garden wall with a glass of a particularly fine wine. Stuart was not able to drink at the time.
Having dished up two breakfasts, one for my husband and one for himself, Stuart remarked that Pete would be so jealous, he must show him.
Picking up his plate, he crossed the kitchen and walked over to the fence, calling for Pete to come and see this amazing breakfast he had cooked.
As he raised the plate to show his neighbour, the family dog – an Old English Sheepdog, a larger version of Theo, leapt at him in excitement, eager to participate in whatever it was he was doing. The plate and the breakfast took seconds to hit the deck and it was a much chastened Stuart who returned to the table, empty handed.
When we had all picked ourselves up from the floor and wiped our eyes, Dave spluttered,
“Would you like to share mine?”
I could go on but I think I may have given you enough to gauge what sort of man Stuart was. I won’t go into detail about the time he disappeared Christmas morning to attend a Church Service, promising to be back to help Beverly in the kitchen by ten thirty. (She was cooking for a large family gathering). At eleven o’clock, Stuart burst into the house and demanded we find a fishing net. A child’s fishing rod and net, was found in the shed.
‘There’s a bird in the church and we need to catch it,” he called as he hurtled out of the house.
Beverly sighed and we all offered our services in the kitchen. Stuart returned at 1pm.
Dinner was served up at 1.30pm. Beverly had done us proud. The table looked amazing, Stuart emerged from the shower (bird catching is dirty work) and sat down to eat.
At the end of the meal, he stretched, sat back in his chair and announced,
“Well, Beverly, that was very…” we waited with baited breath. Surely he was about to compliment his wife for serving us such a feast despite his untimely absence…
“…disappointing,” he finished.
Ever heard a pin drop? You’d have been in with a chance at that moment. Had it been me, the gravy boat would have sailed across the table and landed on my brother-in-law’s head. No such outburst came from my sister. A look passed between them. That’s all.

Sometimes, a look is enough.

Do houses have souls?

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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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