Jaqui's Daily Blog

Today I made my first Christmas pudding. I am planning on making at least half a dozen, possibly twice as many again. It all depends if I run out of wool...


Wool? I hear you query. Have I gone completely mad? Well, possibly, but please read on.


Yes, the October half term was traditionally the time for the Making of the Christmas Pudding when the Ball Foursome were mere sprigs on the family tree. The stirring of the great floury, curranty, spicy mess, along with the insertion of silver pieces (health and safety not having been thought of in those far off days) was one of the half term rituals which the whole family thoroughly enjoyed. I did always wonder if perhaps I had made my pudding too early, especially come Christmas Day when I invariably found I had to scrape a layer of something suspiciously like mould from the top of my pudding before consigning it to be steamed to death.


For many years now, however, ever since the entry of the microwave into our kitchen, I have resorted to a shop bought pud with clear instructions for minimum time in said microwave. Gone are the days when I had to keep dashing into the kitchen to check that the saucepan had not boiled dry (it usually had) leaving everyone else to enjoy the opening of Christmas presents. I don't miss that one little bit but I do miss the Stirring of the Pudding.


This year, however, I am spending half term as in days of yore making Christmas puddings - but of the knitted variety. It all started when I went to see my friend David, who runs our Questers group, to pick up the U3A projector which I need for a talk I am giving to the Parkinson's Society tomorrow. As I walked into his living room the first thing I saw was an amazing array of woolly puddings, complete with holly and berries, beautifully knitted by David's wife, the Ever Resourceful Joy. She has made 28 so far and they look, well, almost good enough to eat.


Armed with the pudding pattern, courtesy of Joy, I returned home to regale Mr B with news of my latest project. What a difference my knitted puddings will make to our Christmas Dinner table. Mr B, it has to be said, would probably have been more impressed had they been eatable. I am not the only person in the family who is Always Thinking of My Stomach.


Quite apart from being half term, it is also Hallowe'en which was never celebrated at all when I was a littl'un but has apparently become the second biggest annual event in the calendar, second only to Christmas. As a festival, it must just have penetrated our shores when my Foursome were small because I do remember them raiding the airing cupboard for old (or new) sheets to dress up as ghosts for the school's annual Hallowe'en event. This involved a large bonfire and generous servings of Witches' Brew (tomato soup) and Devil's Teeth (chipolata sausages, courtesy of the local butchers). The scary nature of the assorted ghosts, ghouls, witches and wizards was tempered slightly by the fact that they all wore plastic mugs for their helping of Witches' Brew tied around their necks with string so that they didn't get lost (the mugs, not the children - though it wasn't too easy keeping track of them all in the dark. The children, not the mugs.)


At Choir this morning we had a bit of a discussion about seasonal songs, looking ahead to a short programme of ditties which we will be performing at the community centre's Open Day at the end of November. Our conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, says that is far too early to be singing Christmas carols or thinking about Christmas at all, for that matter. She is prepared to concede that a programme of Songs from the Musicals might be both timely and enjoyable, so we practise Do Re Me and My Favourite Things from the Sound of Music with our customary gusto. The men are invited to perform Edelweiss and give a quite poignant rendition. That'll be sure to be in the programme. Tony, our new member from last week, is notable by his absence. I had a feeling he might not return when his response to my query about how he had found his first session was that it had been "interesting"...Such a non-committal word, interesting.


Unlike the Redoubtable Muriel, I am quite prepared to start getting into the Christmas spirit, early as it is. I have made one Christmas pudding so far and it took me an hour, not counting the time it will take me to decorate it with holly and berries. Mind you, I was watching The Apprentice on TV at the same time, curled up with laughter at the hapless (and hopeless) contestants.

 

It looks great and it won't require steaming for hours on end. What's more, it will never go mouldy, even if I keep it (and all the otters I plan to make) for years and years to come. Which is, as puddings come and go, quite a result.

 

Trick AND Treat!

 

Peter has turned up for our meeting clutching his new tablet. We’re talking IT here, not medication, I’ll have you know. We may have reached a Great Age according to my youngest grandson, but we are not yet THAT old.

 

Three of the four of us look remarkably efficient and tuned into modern technology which is, you have to admit, somewhat impressive. Not quite as impressive as the palatial surroundings of Committee Room 1 in the Town Hall which could accommodate five times as many of us with ease.  We have access to a lap-top on which the Truly Remarkable Natasha has set up a website containing a list of hundreds of consultants set out in something called The Marketplace.  Our task this morning is to amend two project briefs, agree a timetable – and identify a short list of consultants who might be able to deliver our project.  I am nominally in charge and feel a bit like Amanda Redman in New Tricks, trying to keep my Three Musketeers in order – though clearly I am nowhere near as elegant.

 

Three of the four of us are retired but we fall back quickly into work mode, albeit rather more relaxed. We argue amiably over suggested amendments to the project briefs and I scribble away on my copies of the two documents trying to incorporate everyone’s comments. OK, I know what you are going to say – where is my I-Pad and why am I not tapping in the amendments electronically? Good question. No, I don’t have a good answer, except that, despite our proliferation of mobile devices, we have all gravitated towards the paper version with which we feel far more comfortable.  We clearly have a Long Way To Go before we can claim to have embraced the Modern World of Mobile Technology.

 

Before we leave the project briefs we need to insert a timetable which requires us to identify dates when we would be available to interview our short-listed consultants.  I am proud to say that I immediately pulled up my Calendar on my I-Pad, busily swiping through November for free dates while two of the three Musketeers fumbled in their pockets for their diaries and the third admitted, sheepishly, that he had forgotten my prior instructions to come thus armed. I had, to be fair, spent so long this morning updating the calendar with reference to my old-fashioned desk diary that I nearly missed the 9.30 bus to town...

 

The best, however, was yet to come as we pored over the laptop trying to make sense of the Marketplace. There was, some might say, far too much laughter considering the seriousness of the task we were undertaking but, hey, whoever said that hilarity couldn’t be combined with Serious Intent. Malcolm says I am the worst typist he has ever encountered as I endeavour to type names into the search bar but keep hitting the wrong keys.  We try to interpret various consultants’ jargon, each of us freely admitting to our own private biases.  It’s one of the pleasures of being retired that we can be totally ourselves – and I think we bring more to our voluntary positions as a result. One of the Three Musketeers has to leave for another meeting (I bet it wasn’t half as much fun) but the rest of us complete our task, emerging with an initial list of eight consultancies for our Chief Officer to contact for their availability. I give my colleagues homework, in the form of another list of potential consultancies to research in the Marketplace at home. We all agree that it has been a constructive, productive and strangely enjoyable morning.

 

I catch the bus home, phoning Mr B to tell him I am on my way. He says we are going out for lunch to the Sea Lane Cafe where yesterday I sheltered from the pouring rain with the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and her children, aka Team Baldwin. What a difference a day makes! Today it is so warm, so sunny, so very, very mild that we are able to sit at a table outside the cafe. I even take my coat off. It doesn’t seem fair that the one day of the week that the family came to visit we had pouring rain when every other day this week has been quite spectacularly fine.

 

We enjoy a glass of Pinot Grigio with our meal and watch the passers by – including three rather splendid horses and their riders out for a bit of beach-side exercise.  I tell Mr B a bit about my productive morning with the Three Musketeers, he tells me that the missing parts from our new dishwasher have arrived in the post.

 

All’s right with the world.

Grandson Jack and I are inspecting the Christmas gifts display in TK Maxx.


This is not because we are intending to actually buy anything but because his sister Hazel is locked away in a changing room with her mother, aka the Youngest of the Darling Daughters, and a selection of trousers and skirts which she has plucked from the clothes racks. They look, to be honest, rather like lots of other clothes she already has in her wardrobe but Hazel is clinically unable to walk past TK Maxx without another attack on the clothes racks. Jack and I are therefore keeping each other company while we wait for the Fashionista to emerge from the changing room with her choice of skirt / dress / trousers. Jack says he doesn't need any more clothes. This is the difference between the siblings. Mind you, if we were in that shop so appropriately called Game, the roles would be completely reversed.


My eye is drawn to a bookend shaped like a large, green soldier. Neither Jack nor I can imagine anyone would want to find such a present in their Christmas stocking. Nor can we imagine anyone who would want to pay out £19.99 for it. We agree it takes the prize as our Least Wanted Christmas Present out of all those on display. Having decided silently not to invest in the bookend, we find a couple of seats outside the fitting room and Jack shows me how it is possible to play Pointless on a mobile phone. Live and learn, that's what being a grandparent is all about. I am lucky in my ever patient teacher.


The trio arrived at ours late last night, having driven down after their last rehearsal for "Grease" which opens on Friday evening (Jack's hair was appropriately all gelled up - he reminded me of my Dad who always used lashings of Brylcreem to keep his hair plastered to his head.) It must have been midnight before we all made it to bed. This was to be a flying visit incorporating the six-monthly check up with the dentist - which wouldn't be most people's idea of a Half a Term Treat but then, we're not most people. 

 

What's more it's a terrible day. The rain is lashing down and I keep stepping in deep puddles so the bottoms of my trouser legs are completely sodden. If only the weather had been like yesterday, we could have enjoyed a sea-front walk after the dentist - as it is, the best we can manage in the short amount of time at our disposal is a visit to Costa Coffee and lunch at the Sea Lane Cafe.


"I'm sorry it's a bit of a boring day," I tell Jack apologetically as we wait for our coffee to arrive. Jack is generous in his acceptance of the situation and out of the corner of my eye I see that a chap at the next table is smiling at us, as if agreeing that, well, that's life.


At the dentist I make a fool of myself by saying that, if I had a chipped tooth caused by injudicious crunching on a boiled sweet, I would pretend I had done it playing rugby. The dentist, the dental nurse and both grandchildren all find this extremely funny. There are times when I wonder at the daft things that emerge from my mouth. Still, it keeps the grandkids listening to me, for fear of missing the next Little Gem.

 

We have been coming to this dentist for years and years, ever since Hazel was two years old when I remember she clambered into the chair and opened her mouth as wide as it would go before being told. She's a good girl, then and now, even if she can't walk past TK-Maxx. In as far as it is possible, we have always managed to make the six monthly dental check-up an enjoyable experience. We are strange like that.

 

It takes the Youngest of the Darling Daughters three long hours to drive home, due to a collision on the M3 which brings the traffic to a standstill. I rather fear she must have wished she'd never come on this flying visit.

 

Me? I treasured every minute.

 

It is not-so-merry mayhem on the station platform.


The poor chap in the ticket office is desperately trying to deal with London-bound customers who now look as if they won't be London-bound, at least not anytime soon. I am just one of many, struggling to make sense of why the railway companies have chosen today for their engineering work. Did they plan it on purpose, when they knew I would be travelling to Wimbledon for lunch with a couple of Darling Daughters, a couple of grand-children, my old school friend and her Darling Daughter, who is also my lovely god-daughter. I hope you have managed to work out all those relationships, I could draw you a diagram, if you like. On the back of a train ticket, perhaps.


Two trains have already been cancelled and there's no telling whether the 11 a.m. will arrive. The chap in the ticket office, looking increasingly harassed, tells us it is all a bit of a gamble. He lets us into a secret: those signs on the platform announcing arrivals - well, they can't be relied on, whatever they might say, and are subject to change at the very last minute. You don't say! we all marvel. He tells us we could always catch the train to Brighton, from where there are likely to be more trains to London. Or rather, he hastily recants, presumably for fear of retribution, there should be...


One couple, having ranted and railed for a good ten minutes or so, announce to everyone who is interested and a lot of people who aren't, that they are going to catch a train to Barnham, wait there for eighteen minutes, then catch a London train. I silently wish them luck as they set off to climb the steps across the platform. I have taken that journey before, with Mr B in tow, and neither of us would recommend it. Still, they deserve full marks for trying. The chap in the ticket office is clearly pleased to see them go. They were, indeed, very trying.


The Brighton train arrives and I think I might get on it but it is absolutely packed and there's no room for Little Old Me or for a young mum with her three children. We are left on the platform, looking disconsolately after the retreating back of the Brighton train. "Is it always as bad as this, travelling by train?" the young mum asks me. I think of all the trouble-free journeys I have made and reply, loyally, that they're usually OK. It turns out that she never travels by train but thought it would be a treat for her youngest boy. I tell him that we might have fared better if we had travelled by Thomas the Tank Engine, pointing to the picture on the front of his sweatshirt. He looks at me with solemn eyes as if to say what very strange people you do meet on station platforms.


An elderly woman is frantically calling somebody (husband? friend? daughter?) on her mobile phone, asking them if they can check out a rumour she has heard that There May Be Trouble Ahead. At Clapham Junction, too, which is where I will be changing trains. I eavesdrop shamelessly on her conversation but it is inconclusive. I think about asking the man in the ticket office but he really does have enough on his plate. Plus he would doubtless tell me that it will all be a gamble. I reason with myself that I would be catching the train anyway, come what may, and would deal with whatever trouble lay ahead when it (or I) arrived. This approach has landed me in lots of trouble in the past but I never learn.


The young mum and I wonder together whether the London train will be as packed as the Brighton train was. I don't think I can stand all the way to Clapham Junction. We then need to decide which end of the platform to stand for the best chance of an uncrowded carriage. The oldest of the children is trying to persuade his younger sister and brother to give him one of their sweets, claiming to have eaten all of his. I tell them about my sister who always had sweets left after I had greedily scoffed all mine. This time all three of them look at me as if I am totally barmy. The oldest boy, having failed to persuade either of his siblings to part with so much as a single Haribo, produces an unopened packet from his pocket, as in, one he bought earlier. I admire his chutzpah.


The train arrives and Hallelujah! there is plenty of room. I enjoy a pleasant journey to Clapham Junction, passing the time by writing this blog. I do apologise if it is somewhat railway-related but that's the thing about the blog; it reflects what I am doing at any given time. I change trains at Clapham and arrive at my destination only just over half an hour late.


As I enter Bill's, I scan the place for signs of my lunch companions. And there they all are, smiling fit to burst, rising to their feet to greet me with a hug and a kiss. Young Faris holds out his arms in welcome (or perhaps he is after my water bottle, it's hard to say.) I have arrived! It is so, so lovely to see them all.


You see, it is better by far to travel hopefully than not to travel at all.

There is a notice on the side of the swimming pool at the Health Club, carefully positioned by the steps into the water so you feel you really need to read it. In case, you know, it's carrying some kind of health warning. You can't be too careful, can you?


I don't have my specs on, so I have to peer very closely at the notice. My nose is virtually pressed right up against it. It is explaining all about new rules governing visits to the pool with young children. Every rule is accompanied by stick figures, representing adults and children of varying sizes. It's not as simple as one adult per set number of children because there are a number of variables, such as whether the children are wearing buoyancy aids, as well as how old they are. What nobody seems to have considered is the case where the adult is more vulnerable than the children.


When my grandchildren accompany me to the swimming pool, there is little doubt who is looking after whom. When the artificial waves started crashing in on my last trip to a pool with the Little Welsh Boys, it was eight year old Sam and six year old James who rescued me. "We've got you, Nanna!" they yelled above the commotion, holding me tightly until their father arrived to haul me to the poolside.


I am not a good swimmer, much as I love the actual act of swimming. All of my grandchildren are much more confident in the water than I am, right down to Young Faris who isn't two yet but will fling himself off the side of the pool into his Dad's arms without turning a hair on his curly head. If Faris were writing today's blog (don't worry, you Faris fans, I will be letting him loose on the blog again very soon) he'd doubtless be telling you that he isn't quite up to swimming the English Channel as yet but he is sure he will manage it when he is a little bit older, say two years old perhaps?


When Katie and Eleanor were small, we used to have great fun in the pool. They liked to play hairdressers - which involved filling a plastic tea-pot with water and pouring it all over my head. I was a very patient client.


My favourite people to swim with are my sister Maggie and my grandson Jack. Maggie swims with a purpose, just like me but quite a lot faster. Like me, she is perfectly happy to swim up and down, up and down. Others may find it boring but we find it therapeutic, my sister and I. We don't need crashing waves, slides, flumes and other watery excitements. In fact we like our swimming pools long, straight and boring. I think it must be a throw-back to our childhood days and the weekly visit to Romford Swimming Baths where our Dad tried to teach us to swim before treating us to a hot Oxo drink in the cafe and a trip to the park on the way home.


Swimming with Jack is similar in as far as we swim up and down, up and down. He completes several lengths in the time it takes me to manage one - but if you do the maths you will realise that this means every few lengths we will find ourselves at the same end of the pool where we can indulge in a brief conversation before we set off again. Afterwards we meet in the cafe where I treat him to hot chocolate and a toasted tea-cake - which is a step up from the Oxo drink, but every bit as welcome.

 

So, it seems to me that there should be another notice on the side of the pool, setting out the rules for children accompanying grandparents. The symbol denoting the Aged Ones could be the same as the one you see on roadside signs - you know the one I mean, with the little bent couple with walking sticks and hair in a bun? Obviously (I say quickly) I am not little or bent, nor do I carry a walking stick or wear my hair in a bun. But I am prepared to overlook these discrepancies in the interests of clarity.

 

There will be one picture showing the grandparent accompanied by two children with a watering can, with a large red tick showing that this is allowed. Plus another showing the grandparent being rescued from crashing waves by two small people. This too is allowed. Not forgetting another showing the grandparent surrounded by children diving between her legs, hurling themselves off the sides of the pool and being careful not to splash her too much because she doesn't like it. Two ticks for that one.

 

Safety First in the swimming pool. You know it makes sense.

 

 

Latest comments

Today | 11:46

I went to Clapham after my nyc tour. it is a nice place.

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21.10 | 21:55

Beautiful and poignant blog Jaqui. Thanks for sharing your experience. Jan x

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15.10 | 16:23

I have just read your blog, I agree with every word, the memory of this day will be with me for ever xxxx

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03.10 | 20:50

Sewing is far more important than ironing!!!!!

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