Mr B and I spend a lot of time wandering along Memory Lane. It is one of the pleasurable benefits of living to a Great Age - there is so much to look back on with gratitude. So many times a TV programme will jog us back
in time to a long-off holiday when Our Foursome were littl’uns, or to a Jolly Jaunt, just the two of us, after they all flew the nest and started off on their own Life’s Adventures.
Sometimes it’s not a TV programme, or a photo album that sends us off on our reminiscences - sometimes it’s a piece of music. Sometimes it’s a bit of both, as in the other evening when we found ourselves
watching a programme about the story behind the making of that famous LP (that’s short for Long Playing record for the Millennials among my readers) “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. It topped the charts for many weeks
in 1970 and was one of my most played records while tackling an endless pile of ironing in my early married years.
Watching the programme Mr B reminded me
that we still had the original LP, dated 1970, somewhere in a cupboard in an upstairs bedroom. I promised him that I would search for it and we would play it all the way through the next day on our record player (yes, we still have one - of which more later.)
I knew exactly where to look - a good few years back when we had some fitted cupboards installed in the front, guest bedroom, Mr B nabbed one of the bottom cupboards for
his collection of LPs. I couldn’t exactly protest because I similarly laid claim to a cupboard for my family history files. My files have now overflowed into another, larger cupboard but the record collection has remained in its Forever Home ever since.
Alongside the neatly stacked records I found a useful card index, listing every one of the records under the names of its performers. Bridge Over Troubled
Water, I ascertained, was number 27a. I thought this would make finding the record extremely easy but someone must have been removing records, playing them and then failing to put them back in their correct order. That’ll be me then…
I had to look through the whole collection before finding Bridge Over Troubled Water, filed in completely the wrong place between an LP by Fivepenny Piece and a Christmas
Collection of well known carols squeaked in their own inimitable fashion by Pinky and Perky. It would, I told myself, be worth the search.
Now before you say anything,
I could indeed have looked out our CD of the same name or downloaded the album from the Great On-Line Record Shop - but I foolishly felt that we needed to have the whole 1970 Experience if we were to ramble along this particular Memory Lane. Unfortunately
I hadn’t reckoned on the fact that the sound quality on our record player leaves much to be desired. What’s more, that the mere sound of the scratchy stylus on the well-worn record would have Mr B loudly lamenting What Used To Be.
You see, we used to own a rather grand music centre, complete with extremely large speakers which took up most of one wall in our living room. When we came to decorate our living
room, shortly before I waltzed off the corporate carousel and into retirement, most of the family (apart from Mr B) decided that it had to go. It took up so much room, we virtually never played it, new methods of musical entertainment were readily available.
Mr B has never quite forgiven me. In a bid to appease him, we bought ourselves (as a joint Christmas present one year) one of those neat music centres with radio, cassette player, CD player and - importantly - a turntable for records.
On the plus side, it doesn’t take up too much room; on the minus side (and, in Mr B’s view it is a Massive Minus) it just can’t hold a candle, sound-wise, to its
illustrious predecessor. In vain did I try to sing my way through “Cecilia” and “Frank Lloyd Wright” in a bid to cover up for the tinny sound - I think I may just have made matters worse. It was certainly a mistake to muse on how good
“The Boxer” sounded on the CD player in the car.
Sadly our trip along this particular Memory Lane came stuck (like the stylus in our aged LP)
in a bit of a rut. Life happens…
PS The first line in the third verse of Bridge Over Troubled Water reads “Sail on, silver girl” and was apparently
a reference to Paul Simon’s wife on her noticing her first grey hairs. As one who took advantage of the pesky pandemic to abandon hair dye and embrace my silvery locks, I shall from henceforth take it as my new mantra….
My grandson Sam has asked for my help preparing a speech for his English homework. To be honest, I am thinking that I am more of a hindrance than a help…
The trouble is, I just get far too interested in his homework and find myself heading off in different directions, none of them likely to find their way into his five minute exploration of how jobs have either disappeared
or evolved into something completely different over the years. Fascinating, don’t you agree?
I was never so taken up with my own homework, in those distant
days when I was Sam’s age. I recall, with something approaching distress, the Tyranny of the Homework Diary. Did you have one of those when you were at school? Mine was a small notebook in which every task set for home study was carefully written, together
with the date of issue and the date by which it had to be handed in. At particularly stressful times, outstanding assignments might take up two or three pages of the Homework Diary - just reading them through was enough to induce mild (or not so mild) panic.
The only good thing about the Homework Diary was the feeling of elation when I was able to cross through an entry to signify “job done!” The worst thing was that for every entry crossed through, another two would inevitably appear below it. That’s
what I mean by Tyranny.
Talking to Sam about his homework was so much more fun. If only I could have stuck to the point, I’m sure I could have been helpful.
I shouldn’t have kept straying off into pastures new. Take, for example, our discussion about lamp-lighters - those helpful fellas who toured the streets in Victorian times, bringing light to the darkness by lighting the lamps as dusk fell. Off I went,
Googling the words of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem about Learie the Lamplighter and then insisting on reading the verses over the phone to my listening grandson. After which I had to tell him the story of how I bought a book of Robert Louis Stevenson’s
poetry (including the Learie Story) for my little Sister when she came out of hospital after a long stay during which I wasn’t allowed to see her. Except for the one occasion when my dear Dad lifted me up to the window of her hospital ward so that I
could at least see and wave at her. You see what I mean? This was a completely unnecessary diversion and not the least bit helpful as potential material for The Speech.
We then moved onto Town Criers - Sam had gathered some interesting facts and figures about the decline in numbers of these once-all-important announcers of the news since their hey-day (such a very appropriate word, given their role, don’t you
agree?) Off I went at a tangent, telling him about my friend Bob who, after a year as Worthing’s First Citizen, exchanged his Mayoral robes for a splendid Town Crier’s outfit, so becoming the first person on the invite list for every local charity
event. “I’ll send you a photograph of him in his robes!” I promised. Poor Sam was far too kind to point out that, interesting (or not) though this might be, it wouldn’t help him fill those important five minutes on the evolution of
once everyday occupations.
Long after we finished our phone call, I was still thinking about my own ancestors and their occupations of old. My great, great grandmother
was a “widow’s cope maker” in Victorian times but there isn’t much call for so-called “widow’s weeds” these days. My great grandfather was a brush finisher - I always wondered why he described himself thus, rather
than as a common or garden brush-maker till I learnt that the finishing of brushes was the most skilled part of his trade. Mr B would understand - he will always tell you that he was a “compositor” not a printer even though for most of us they
would be one and the same. His job is a prime example of an occupation which has evolved over the years from the days when every letter, in every word, in every sentence, paragraph and page of a newspaper was individually set. Today a computer does the job.
Mr B retrained three times as his job evolved over time. I remember him once describing his job, after he moved on from dealing in metal type to be a paste-up artist, making
up the newspaper pages by pasting sections of typed paper into place. “We do that at play-group,” the Middle of the Darling Daughters told him, seriously, “We call it stickings…”
It’s evolution, Jim (or even, Sam) - but not as we know it…
I’m a sucker for a compliment, I am. It doesn’t matter if it’s intended or accidental, I will accept it with grace and gratitude - I am shallow like that.
Take the time when I was at the theatre - or maybe the cinema, I can’t quite recall which - and was asked to stand up to let someone move by me at the start of the interval. “Thank you, my lovely,” the fella
said, in a warm Irish brogue which completely charmed me. So much so that I stayed in my seat throughout the interval, waiting for his return when he would thank me for excusing him once again. You will be pleased to hear that I wasn’t disappointed.
Obviously I don’t imagine for a moment that he actually thought I was a Marvel of Loveliness - this was an example of an unintended compliment - but I savoured it nevertheless.
In my defence, I am not taken in by every stray compliment that comes my way, even the few which are (sort of) intended. I still remember as a child of about six years old, the day a rosy-cheeked gypsy traveller woman arrived on our doorstep, beseeching
my mother to buy a sprig of lucky heather. Bending down to my eye level, she stroked my cheek and told me I was beautiful.
I don’t recall whether my dear
mum parted with any spare coins in order to purchase the sprig of lucky heather (I’m not sure we had much cash to splash in those far-off days, even in the hope of having good fortune befall us) but I do remember my mother closing the door on our visitor
and telling me, very seriously, that I should never, ever believe anyone who told me I was beautiful. She was, I realise now, warning me against being taken in by false compliments - but it was a little hard to take at six years old.
I freely admit that I am not without my share of natural vanity. When various family members come together and we all pose for the obligatory “selfie”, I always endeavour
not to be seated at the very front of the group where all my double chins will be on show in the resultant photos. I definitely look better from a distance. Maybe not “lovely” exactly but at least presentable.
Thursday mornings are always a bit of a rush, getting both of us up, washed, dressed and breakfasted before the Dial-a-Ride bus arrives to transport Mr B and me to Sporting Memories. It’s our
weekly gathering at the Worthing Football Club, when we meet up with other sports fanatics and chat about anything and everything. It’s Mr B’s favourite morning - but being all ready to go at 9.30 a.m. can be a trifle stressful.
When our lovely driver arrived this week, ten minutes early, Mr B was not in the best of moods - and it was all my fault. He would, I knew, cheer up the moment he was wheeled through
the open gates of the football club, but all he could think about was that I had been in altogether far too much of a hurry. What made things worse was my complete lack of skill in getting his wheelchair through the living room door and into the hall backwards.
I’ve never been the best at reversing in the car; I’m even worse at reversing while pushing or pulling a large wheelchair, especially with a Precious Person on board. I kid you not, I had to execute the equivalent of four three point turns in order
to make it into the hallway without damage to either the paintwork or (more importantly) Mr B’s feet.
Could he help? the Dial-a-Ride driver asked,
kindly. Mr B told him that I was, in his opinion, beyond help.
“Ah, no,” said the driver, generously: “She’s a legend, she is!”
A legend, no less! Nobody has ever called me legendary before. Mr B looked first at me, then back at our driver, with doubtful eyes. He clearly didn’t believe a word
Me? Well, I’ll take it in the spirit in which it was meant. Legend or not…
I like, if at all possible, to keep Mr B in touch with real life. As in, real life beyond the four walls of our house in which he is largely confined, apart from the weekly trip out to his beloved Sporting Memories, with
the invaluable assistance of the wheelchair-accessible Dial-a-Ride service. The trouble these days is that real life has become so very, well, surreal…
B watches TV avidly, paying great attention to the news. For my part, I endeavour to explain how our daily life is being impacted by what he is seeing played out on the screen. Most of the time I fear that he thinks I am making it up.
Take the fuel crisis hitting our local garages. I describe to him how the local Pulse bus was forced to take an alternative route the other day to avoid horrendous queues blocking the route to the
Co-op garage which had just had a visitation from a fuel tanker. I knew about the bus because for several hours it was being driven past our house and I knew about the tanker because I happened to be passing the garage (on foot) on my way to the shops when
it arrived. Mr B says he doesn’t understand what I am twittering on about.
Doesn’t he remember, I ask, me telling him how I was caught in a massive
traffic jam on my way home from choir last week and thought there had been a nasty accident until I realised the cause of the problem? And how I had to leave early for my lunch date with my friend Avril on Wednesday because Lovely Kay, who was going to keep
him company while I was out, had arrived with a warning about the difficulties I might face on the road leading to the North Star? I shouldn’t have mentioned the North Star - it was bound to confuse, introducing inter-galactic travel into the discussion.
Then there is the issue of empty shelves in the shops, another topic which has been explored extensively by newsreaders over recent weeks. It is my custom and practice, when
heading out to the local shops, to enquire of Mr B whether there is anything he would like me to buy for him. It seems only fair, given that it is some years since he last went shopping for himself. When I make the enquiry, I am thinking of something fairly
easy to pick up - a bar of chocolate, maybe, or a packet of biscuits. Mr B likes to set me more of a challenge, I never know what his next request will be but it will almost certainly be something I cannot guarantee to find on the increasingly empty shelves.
One day he will request rhubarb, another it will be beetroot. When I say I will do my best, he looks at me with disbelieving eyes, silently accusing me of not trying hard enough. This is hardly fair, bearing in mind that I am, as we often agree, extremely
I explain, once more for good measure, about the fuel crisis, the lack of HGV drivers, the threat to Christmas. The government, I tell him, is even looking
to employ more drivers in the poultry business so that Christmas isn’t spoiled through a Turkey Shortage. Mr B reminds me that he hates turkey and won’t have it for our Christmas dinner so that is one thing I don’t have to worry about. He
doesn’t exactly say: “We’re Alright Jack,” but it’s a near thing…
When my search for Mr B’s latest request ends in failure,
I try to source an appropriate substitution. Well, it works for on-line supermarket deliveries, doesn’t it? Except that my carefully considered substitutions generally disappoint. I can’t blame him - I still remember how let down I felt when Mr
Ocado Man substituted Duck a l’Orange for the braised lamb shanks I was looking forward to.
This is reality, I keep telling him. It’s not only happening
on the TV screen, it’s happening in real life, in a garage or a supermarket near us.
We had our weekly get-together via Family Zoom on Saturday where we
were joined by - wait for it - a puffin. Named Penny. She is one of the two class mascots of Puffin Class at Hook Infants School and has been entrusted to the tender, loving care of Tala (Eldest of the Twins by one important minute) as a reward for her good
work. That is, Tala’s good work, not Penny’s - I have no idea how good a student Penny is but being a puffin must present considerable challenges where reading, writing and arithmetic are concerned. I had suggested that Penny should join
us, given that the teacher of Puffin Class will be expecting a detailed diary, with photographs, of the various activities partaken by Penny over the course of the weekend.
“What’s that?” Mr B whispered, asTala, encouraged by her mamma, the Middle of the Darling Daughters, proudly displayed the treasured mascot to the rest of we Family Zoomers.
“It’s a puffin,” I told him. “Called Penny” (just in case she needed further introduction.) “She’s joining us for Family Zoom….”
Now who’s losing her grip on reality?
In those rather-too-far-off days when I was studying business management, I spent a lot of time on Critical Path Analysis. This is (if I remember rightly) a project management technique that involves mapping out every
task necessary to complete a particular project, with particular attention needed for the dependencies of any one task on others. My favourite example (as in, to be strictly honest, the only one I actually remember) is that it is no use boiling the kettle
until you have filled it with water. You know it makes sense. Except that I almost always have some water left in the kettle from the last time I made us both a cup of coffee - but that, in business management terms, is Beside The Point.
Be that as it may, when I cantered off the corporate carousel just over nine years ago (can it really, truly be that long?) I rather thought that the theories of Critical Path Analysis
would be of little use to me in retirement. Instead I have adopted the mantra “One thought at a time, one task at a time, one day at a time.” Many is the occasion that reciting this useful advice has sent me back to sleep when I have lain awake
with a hundred thoughts about a dozen tasks, any one of which would take days to complete, circulating inside my weary head. And so it has (mostly) proved until my Waterfall Experience of recent days.
Even while the water was cascading through my ceiling, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and her fella, Dunk’em Dave, were urging me to contact my insurance company immediately. Being (for the most part) the obedient
type, I did as I was told. Which was how it came about that I had a surveyor on my door-step last Thursday, here to assess the damage wrought by my Watery Emergency.
I had been treated to several scare stories about insurance assessors and the hoops through which they demanded their victims / clients to jump so it was with a certain trepidation that I invited the surveyor into my home. I shouldn’t have worried
- he was kindness personified. Perhaps he was blown over my interest in his tools of the trade - in particular his damp meter. I always think professionals like the uninitiated to treat such essential equipment with respect. Hence I followed the poor fella
around the house, demonstrating my endless fascination with the way the damp meter assessed the damage to my bathroom, hall, stairs and landing.
damp meter, the surveyor and I) were doing really well at first - the bathroom floor, landing carpet and laminate flooring were all registering a healthy green light indicating there was no presence of serious damp. My stalwart efforts to air the house by
opening every door and window had obviously paid off, despite my incurring the wrath of Mr B (not something to be recommended) for allowing draughts to circulate around him and causing serious discomfort of the Chilly Nature.
When it came to the walls and ceiling of the hall, however, it was a very different situation - red alert, screamed the damp meter. The friendly surveyor gave his verdict - a complete redecoration
of hall, stairs and landing would be required. He proceeded to reel off a list of forms to be completed, decisions to be taken, actions to be, well, actioned. I felt quite dizzy at the enormity of the task ahead. So much for “One thought at a time, one
task at a time, one day at a time”…
The Eldest of the Darling Daughters messaged me, urging me to “Be positive!” It was the addition of
the exclamation mark that brought me to my senses - here was my chance to have a complete makeover of our hall, stairs and landing. Surely I could apply my knowledge of project management to the task at hand. I didn’t need Laurence Llewelyn Bowen to
advise me, now did I?
I put the kettle on. First things first. You know it makes sense…
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