A Right Royal Coup…

All Because of…Princess Tina…

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

Princess Tina

Princess Tina


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

Finding Kathy

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

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Just being Grandma…

Sometimes, just being Grandma is great.

Just chatting...

Just chatting…


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

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

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

Yes, sometimes, just being Grandma is great.

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No More Ribbons

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

Debbie 1962 aged 5 yrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Home!”

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

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

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

“…Gotcha!”

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

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

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

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

“Can I come home to dinner today mum?”

“Why?”

“No reason,”

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

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

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

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

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

“Not today dear,”

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

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

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

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

Jaqueline and I will be friends forever.

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Time was…

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3657

img_3704

img_3708

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Follow that wasp!

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

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

Powdered airbrick

Powdered airbrick


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

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

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

Is it or isn't it?

Is it or isn’t it?


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

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

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

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One sugar or two?

We are having some building work done at our house. This work has taken the form of an orangery, which is being attached to the kitchen and is to be followed by the fitting of an entirely new kitchen. Exciting stuff if you can stand it.
The work has of course, been a tad disruptive. An exterior wall being knocked down, a patio dug up, nothing has been quiet nor without its share of rubble and dust. My kitchen has been dismantled, My routine shattered. My tactic is to remain calm and carry on.

a calming walk around Bishops Waltham Palace Ruins

A calming walk around Bishops Waltham Palace Ruins


We have taken to visiting local places of interest.
Porchester Castle in the summer rain.

Porchester Castle in the summer rain.


At this juncture, I should say that I was not wholly in favour of this project at the start but have grown to appreciate it, if a little reluctantly.
It is my late sister’s fault of course. She and her husband once bought a ridiculously large, antique table that saw them through many a dinner party over the years. The table is just short of 5’ wide and at its shortest is 8’ long. At its longest, with an additional three leaves inserted, it stretches to more than 15 feet. A beast of a table indeed.
Needless to say, we inherited the table on her untimely death, along with the entire contents of her house and not forgetting, her lovely son, he who has Asperger’s, and who has opened our eyes to another world in more ways than one. (That is an entirely different story of course and one that deserves to be told when I have the strength).
For the past few years, the table has languished in storage. I knew Dave would love to have it in the house but our house was just not large enough.
Ever since the other Christmas, when we brought it back and put it in our living room so that we could seat 20 guests, he has insisted we need it, with our ever growing family.
In the end, we decided to keep it in the kitchen at its shortest length and extend the kitchen by adding an orangery so that we can extend the table when necessary.
Is this the first time anyone has extended their house to accommodate a table? It would have been easier and cheaper to get a smaller table, it is true but now that it is nearing completion, I have to say, it was a good idea.

With such a large project on the go, there have been a succession of workmen arriving since late July. Each arrives with their own peculiar beverage requirements. Hence, I have become accustomed to brewing tea with, tea without, tea with two sugars, tea with one, tea with none, coffee with one and coffee with none…etc. etc. The permutations are now ingrained on my brain along with their names.
Not being particularly keen on providing refreshments for all and sundry, as a rule, I have found myself duty bound to do just that in this case. My kitchen is unrecognisable of course with the old fixtures having been dismantled. The table is covered in protective cloths and the dust hangs heavy in the air.
It is 11.30am. The dogs have been fed. They have had to be kept away from the kitchen area today, while the orangery floor is being screeded. A playpen/room divider, bought for use with the grandchildren, provides an excellent barrier as you can see.

Keep out

Keep out


The dogs have been kept in the house all morning, I will have to let them out in a minute. I check what is happening beyond the kitchen. The screeders have finished and are loading up their large lorry with wheelbarrow and boards. The rear doors are flung wide. Seeing the screeders are leaving, I go outside via the living room patio doors and push the orangery doors to. That’ll keep the dogs off the wet floor.
I then do something most uncharacteristic of me, I do not check the position of the side gate, I open the side door and let the dogs out. Realising my error immediately, I call Flossie back but she has spotted her chance. Charlie hovers uncertainly by my ankles, Flossie tears through the open side gate and heads for the front drive where the lorry has begun a slow roll towards the open gate. Flossie sees the open gate.
“Flossie, No! Stop!” I shriek and with a sprint worthy of a 100 metre professional, I race across the garden in time to see her nip round the corner, heedless of the lorry’s wheels which grind to a halt, and out of sight. One of the young men jumps out of the lorry and asks if he can help.
I tell him I can manage but am amazed to see that Flossie has stopped in the lane to sniff the opposite ditch and most uncharacteristically, allows me to walk right up and grab her collar. I grab said collar and ignoring Charlie who has followed me and is relieving himself on the grassy bank, I march her back into the garden. Thanking the young man who offered to help and pleased that it ended so well, I shut both dogs in the house.
I cannot believe that I did not check that gate. After all these weeks in which we have had builders and electricians, coming and going, I have never once lost a dog. Well, I suppose I didn’t lose one today really but it could have ended in tears that’s for sure.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, is that one sugar or two?

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Over the hedge

Five-year-old William had done the unthinkable and hurled his younger brother’s sunglasses up into the air and over the hedge.
You may remember me doing something similar in a fit of jealousy, with my sister’s silk knickers? Could this be a family trait? I shan’t admit such a thing.
The first I knew of the incident was when William came running in from the garden calling out,
“Grandma, Grandma, you’ve got to help me!”
Of course, I dropped whatever I was doing and followed him down the garden.
Three-year-old Elliott stood with a sorrowful expression, by the hedge.
“William,” (pronounced, Wi’yam) “threw my sunglasses into the hedge,” he told me, in his gruff little voice.
“I didn’t mean to! I just threw them up and they went up, up and into the hedge…” William protested, re-enacting the scene by waving his arms about.
Leaving aside the question of why he had the glasses in the first place and why he had thrown them up and over the hedge, I turned my attention to the problem in hand.
“Can you get them, Grandma?”
This last came from Elliott, looking at me with all the confidence a three-year-old can muster in his grandma.
The Laurel hedge is very thick. It is not quite as thick and as prickly as the hedge in which Flossie became incarcerated recently, but it is thick.
As Elliott was standing by a section of the hedge, I had to assume the glasses had somehow landed in the vicinity.
I peered through the branches. Of course, I couldn’t see much except leaves and thick branches. Maybe the glasses had landed on top of the hedge.
This hedge is an interior hedge that is meant to be kept at a height of three or four feet. However, Laurel grows quickly as any gardener will attest and right now, it was nearing 5 feet high. Reaching over, I swept the upper reaches of the hedge with my hand, receiving a few scrapes and scratches for my trouble. I worked my way along, peering through the branches, to no avail. Are sure you threw the glasses in the hedge?” I asked, as I emerged from a particularly dense patch.
William demonstrated exactly what had happened. Since he was standing some way from the hedge, I was doubtful that the glasses had in fact made it that far.
William assured me they had, though he did not seem able to point to the exact area.
Finally, I stood back and admitted defeat.
‘Please don’t tell my mummy, grandma!”
I studied his earnest little face. Memories of those silk knickers and nightie came back to me. Alas, my own mother had seen exactly what had occurred. No good would come of trying to keep this from Laura of course.
“Well, William,” I said, in my most grandmotherly voice, “Your mummy will have to know or she will wonder where Elliott’s sunglasses are, won’t she? But I think it would be better if you tell her, that would be the best way,”
William looked horrified at the thought but his expression of pure terror soon cleared and he grinned in triumph,
“I know, Grandma, I have a really good idea. I will go and get some shoes on,” (I noticed he was barefoot, Huckleberry Finn style), “I will go into the hedge, find the sunglasses and then it will be all right won’t it?”
He was so certain his plan would work that I hadn’t the heart to dissuade him.
Racing up to the house, he reappeared wearing his shoes a few seconds later and began looking for ways into the hedge. After some little time he had to give up.
His mother, realising something was going on, had appeared in the meantime and was of course, not best pleased, not least because she had just issued both boys with their sunglasses in preparation for going on holiday. Fraught after a day of packing, cleaning and preparing, Laura gathered her brood up and headed for home, with a tearful William in tow.
I did feel for him. I could well remember how one impulsive act can have such devastating consequences for a child.

I am sure there will be other incidents such as this and one day in the future, perhaps when I have finally had enough of this hedge taking up half the garden, I may uproot it and find a small pair of blue framed sunglasses, sitting on a gnarled old branch.

Mind you, if it is anything like the time I buried the shed key beneath the blackcurrant bushes in a game of “hunt the key,” when I was four years old, it could be a good few years before those sunglasses see the light of day again.

No one can be cross for long with such little imps though..

Mischief makers

Mischief makers

The school holidays mean that my house has become a playground again for boundless imagination. Here are two boys flying through space in turbo charged chairs…

Flying through space...

Flying through space…

IMG_3141
While one little girl gives Flossie a haircut…
"How much would you like taken off today?"

“How much would you like taken off today?”


…and another little girl sorts her brothers out on the last day of school…
Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths!

Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths!

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Are you being served?

“Let’s nip out for a coffee,”
The phrase is bandied about at weekends here. It can cover a multitude of things. We could be suggesting going somewhere to discuss a new plan, share some exciting news. The coffee might turn out to be tea, the venue might become a pub but generally, we end up sitting in a quaint little café or tea room or at a ‘Costa Coffee’, to get away from it all for half an hour.
The experience is normally relaxing, often insightful and in most cases, refreshing.
Occasionally, the trip will include lunch but either way, it is one of life’s little treats in the busy world we inhabit.

Just the other weekend, Dave suggested we “nip out for lunch”. Driving round the local countryside, he and I ended up at a pub we had never frequented before. The Tichbourne Arms, tucked away in the countryside, with its thatched roof and delightful garden, was quite idyllic. The landlady welcomed us and we ordered a “Cheese and Ham Ploughman’s” and sat in the sun, just listening to the birdsong and the lack of traffic noise. We both agreed the food and the venue were ‘spot on’.

The Tichbourne Arms

Delightful country pub

Remembering this delightful experience, today, a Saturday when the odd shower does nothing to detract from the general warmth and positive vibes of the day, Dave utters those immortal words again,
“Let’s nip out somewhere for a coffee,”
He has a place in mind. He has seen a sign for a café on his way to somewhere, recently and wants to try it out.
We drive to a delightful village only a few miles from us. We follow the sign to the café. The café is in a shop it appears – oh, it is at the back of the shop to be precise. The girl at the shop counter steps back and ushers us through a doorway,
“Yes, just walk through – it’s out the back,” she smiles but does not follow.
We edge our way past the counter and through a narrow passage to the very back of the shop. We enter a room divided in two. To our left, is a kitchen area where there appears to be a lot of frying going on. To our right are three small tables wearing chequered cloths. We hesitate, where should we sit? Beyond the room there appears to be a small garden but it is hard to see.
An assortment of pretty crafts and hand-made items adorn the shelves and bunting hangs from the ceiling.
A young girl brushes past us and addresses the person doing the frying who we can just see above the screen that divides us. Neither seem to see us.
They look busy. We decide to sit ourselves down although the smell of frying is quite off putting. I joke that someone we know well, who shall remain nameless, would not like this at all. I am already filing the episode in that pot labelled, ‘strange experiences’.
Having found ourselves a couple of chairs at the back of the room which really is not very far from the front of the room, we smile at the girl who is carrying a tray of bacon and eggs into the garden. She does not appear to notice. She cannot have failed to see us. We are the only people in the room.
“Do they want brown or white toast?” calls out the woman who is frying and presumably, now toasting.
The girl returns.
“Danny wants brown toast but the other guy with his son doesn’t want any,” she reports.
“Ok, now take this bread out please,” the toasting woman orders. The girl passes us with a board full to bursting with bread and butter. We can only see three heads in the garden. Who is eating all this food?
We are patient. She will notice us in a moment and perhaps apologise for the wait or maybe even ask us what we would like to drink. We wait.
The girl returns. The woman behind the screen tells her what else she must do. The girl stands there and nods. Perhaps she is new, we tell ourselves. We talk between ourselves for a bit.
The toasting woman seems to have finished toasting and frying and is now busy doing something else. The girl reappears and awaits instruction. She appears to be doing nothing now. Our hopes rise. The phone rings.
“If that is for me, I am not available unless it is Brian or John,” instructs the woman behind the screen, “I’m far too busy for anyone else,”
The girl answers the phone.
“Hello? Yes, we are open from 10am until 6pm. Yes, we do breakfast. Um, I’m not sure…let me read out the entire menu to you…”
She doesn’t actually say that last bit, she just reads the entire menu out to whoever has phoned up, at the speed of a snail.
Maybe that’s what we need to do – phone up! I consider it as an option.
We have sat here quite a long time without anyone acknowledging us – twenty minutes at least, surely not half an hour? Since the girl does not appear to be getting rid of the caller any time soon, we look at one another and make the decision to leave. I’ve a feeling that no one will notice.
We stand up, pushing our chairs in so that they are bound to hear and make our way to the front of the room. Being polite, despite the way we have been treated, or not treated, depending on how you look at it, we smile at the screen and call out,
“Thank you,” as we leave.
In unison, the pair turn and call out breezily,
“Thank you very much, Goodbye!”

We have to laugh. It is so absurd!
Needless to say, we end up in Costa Coffee and agree that today is one to put down to experience.

Fancy a coffee?

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Nights in Pink Satin

As I reached across the gas hob to retrieve a wooden spoon, I felt the heat rush up my arm. Husband had left the gas ring on, ‘simmer’. I hastily withdrew my arm before the flimsy material of my blouse could catch alight.
That single act brought another image to mind, an image of another item of clothing that did not escape the flames and indeed, that can still cause me to squirm and die a little of shame, each time I remember it.
I was 3 years old. The year was 1960.
It should be said that sibling jealousy played a big part in what was about to happen.
It had all started on Christmas morning 1959. My middle sister and I were both handed similarly sized, squashy presents, wrapped in identical Christmas paper.
My 5-year-old sister must have unwrapped her gift first. As the sheet of paper tore apart, a torrent of beautiful, pink satin silk, cascaded onto the floor, landing in soft ripples at my feet. Scooping the garments up, my sister exclaimed over her new satin knickers and nightie. I, watching longingly, coveted them from that moment.
“Open yours,” she urged me. I couldn’t wait. I ripped open my present, expecting the same pink satin garments to drop from its folds. I pulled out the crisp, flowered cotton apron and held it before me.
“What a lovely apron Auntie Jules has given you,” exclaimed my mother, or words to that effect.
I stared at the apron, disappointment clouding my vision. I looked at my sister’s pink silk nightwear and put the apron down. I don’t suppose I actually said I was disappointed. Perhaps they knew as much by my face but nothing was said. Of course, I liked the apron. However, its coarse cotton fibres could never match the delicate fronds that made up the silk knickers.
Every time my sister wore the garments I must have felt that stab of jealousy. More than once I begged to be allowed to wear them for a while, though they would not have fitted me. I was never allowed.
Living in a house bereft of any heating save for the coal fire, burning in the grate, it was inevitable that when laundry had to be dried indoors, the airer was erected close to the fire.
On this particular evening, some time early in 1960, the pink satin knickers and the pink satin slip, had been draped over the wooden clothes horse along side my Winceyette nightie.
My mother was brushing my sister’s newly washed hair. We must have both just had a bath because I was wrapped in a towel.
The fire guard had been moved while my mother poked at the coals to rekindle the flames. Satisfied, she had sat back to resume the brushing.
I reached out, intending to touch the pink satin.
“Don’t touch my things!” blurted my sister.
Now what possessed me, who can say? I really do not know but I remember it clearly. Perhaps her words goaded me, before I knew what was happening, I was reaching out and grabbing the knickers in defiance, while she screamed at me and my mother blinked in amazement. Quick as wink, I had flung the gorgeous pink satin knickers onto the fire.
To my mother’s credit, she reacted quickly and tonged the knickers out again, before they disintegrated in the flames. Alas, she was too late to prevent the scorched hole from appearing in the seat of those pants. They would not be worn again.
My sister squealed and I, almost as shocked by my actions as she was, burst into tears. The smack I received and the reprimand, were nothing in comparison with the feeling of horror I experienced when I saw what I had done.
It was a tough lesson to learn for a three-year-old, “jealousy is a destructive emotion and what is done cannot be undone”.
So, here I am, 56 years later and that moment is etched in my memory still, brought to mind this week, by a gas ring left burning. My sister kept the pink satin nightie until she grew out of it, by which time it was quite washed out and far less appealing. Its whereabouts after that are a mystery, probably delegated to the rag-bag.
Ironically, I still have the cotton apron that Auntie Joules bought me, all those years ago and treasure it beyond any silk or satin.

On the beach

Sisters – pink satin horror forgotten

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Biscuits and kind words …

The waiting room at the Veterinary surgery, is empty. Flossie and I cross the threshold together. Except we don’t. Flossie takes a backward step and I have to give her a gentle tug to coax her into the room.
She twists round on her lead and makes the whole procedure somewhat difficult but, we are in, eventually.
Why are we here? Simple really. If you have read A twist in the Tail, you will know that Flossie recently had a traumatic experience involving a hedge in which she got firmly entangled. Having emerged, apparently unscathed, it transpired that, unbeknown to us, she had sustained a scratch below her ear.
Charlie, being a caring chap, has been licking this scratch for her. I discovered this, this morning and it has now created a sore patch requiring the Vet’s timely intervention.
So, here we are, standing in the waiting room, waiting to see the vet.
“Take a seat,” smiles the receptionist. I cross the floor to the bench under the window but before I can sit down, Flossie has leapt up onto the leather seat, wet muddy paws and all, and is panting wildly at the window.
I haul her down and reprimand her. Can’t she read? The notice clearly states, no animals on the seats please. Flossie doesn’t think she is an animal of course. I take a tissue from my pocket and wipe the paw marks only to find that she has twisted round and leapt right back onto the seat. She is clearly worried.
Having cleaned the seat a second time, I decide to go and wait by the door. Flossie is happier here. She can see through the glass pane and into the street. Apparently, she is happy if she can see an escape route. This makes me wonder, briefly, if she suffers from claustrophobia. This would explain her sudden determination to get out of confined spaces.
I consider the notion but dismiss it. I think she just remembers previous visits to the vet and is anxious to be gone.
We are booked in for 9.50am. At 10 o’clock, we are called.
“Barker,” says an unfamiliar, soft Irish brogue.
I look up and smile, the very good-looking, young Irish Vet beckoning us, smiles.
“Barker?” he asks.
“Well, I am Mrs Barker, this is Flossie,” I explain. Common mistake.
He laughs and makes a fuss of Floss, who is so grateful to be moving, she fairly flies into the surgery.
She is not so happy to have her face looked at.
“Wet eczema,” proclaims kind, Irish vet, “I’ll just shave the area a little to make it easier to treat,”
You will, will you?
Flossie is thinking the same thing.
My mind, and possibly hers, flits back to the last time our usual Vet tried to give her the kennel cough vaccine which is given in the form of nasal drops. Without going into detail, let me say that the entire endeavour ended with me having Floss in a stranglehold in the corner of the room while the vet, squished in with us, tried to squirt the vaccine into her nose as Flossie manfully struggled backwards and careered across the room in a blind panic.
Our usual Vet declined to give her the vaccine this year.
I convey some of this experience to new, young and kindly, Irish Vet.
He nods and smiles and suggests I hold Flossie while he uses the clippers.
I tempt her with biscuits and kind words but she is wise to what’s going on and refuses to sit still. It is at times like this that I think Floss and I are a little mismatched, she so big and me so small.
The Vet steps back and scratches his head, metaphorically speaking.
“I think I’ll take her out of her comfort zone and into the back room. I find dogs are often better away from their owners when doing this kind of thing,” he decides.
I will try anything rather than end up, bruised and battered, in the corner again.
Floss disappears into the nether regions of the practice. I am left waiting. I can hear voices. I can hear laughter but I can’t hear the sound of the clippers buzzing. I wait. I wait some more.
I hear footsteps.
Nice young Irish Vet opens the rear door and pops his head round, his expression rueful, “Had to use the scissors,” he smiles, “just putting the ointment on…and giving her an antibiotic jab, won’t be long,”
He disappears. I wait.
“All done!” a very relieved Vet reappears, with Flossie, obediently following behind.
“If you need her to have the kennel cough vaccine in future, just bring her in and we’ll take her out the back and administer it there,” he says with confidence.
I am not quite as confident as he appears to be but I will be willing to try. I smile and thank him and we make our exit with far less fuss than we entered with.
Flossie, walking sedately along the path to the car, could well be planning her next escape, however, she’ll have a job, we have had the back garden re-fenced since her last attempt.
Watch this space…

All secure!

All secure!

New fencing

New fencing will scupper Flossie’s escape attempts!

A wry look at life

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