Jaqui's Daily Blog

It’s the first day of the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch - and things aren’t going too well for Yours Truly. 


Despite stocking up with fresh bird food, suet balls, half a coconut stuffed with good things and a plastic container full of meal-worms, the feathered friends which normally frequent our garden have once more deserted us. I kid you not, it happens every year without fail. The only positive I have been able to draw from this sorry state of affairs is that, while replenishing the bird feeders, I also took some time out to remove lots of dead foliage from the borders, in the process uncovering dozens of daffodil shoots which had been valiantly trying to fight their way through. 


My friend and leader of our Birdy Group, the Lovely Linda, posts a most impressive tally of Birds Spotted on Facebook. Goldfinches, chaffinches, greenfinch, sparrows, blackbirds, Robin, starlings and four different types of tit, along with the usual pigeons, magpies and seagulls. I can only surmise that all my FF have hot-tailed it along to her garden where greater treats doubtless awaited them.


When we first started participating in the annual Bird Watch, some time ago now, Mr B used to join me. I would push the two seater settee up to the patio doors where we would sit in Sweet Companionship nursing mugs of coffee for a pleasant hour, recording our birdy visitors. Such as they were. The RSPB used to have an on-line timer, to help the exercise along, posing questions on the Life of Birds every ten minutes or so. They don’t seem to do that anymore, unless I am missing something, which is a great shame as it kept Mr B and me entertained in the absence of birds in the garden.


Today he declines to join me, saying he will keep a beady eye out from his armchair - but given that he is watching footie on the TV I can’t see he is going to be much help. I do, however, have a rather splendid set of binoculars, on loan from my friend Eleanor, so I feel well equipped if nothing else. 


I think back to last year’s (similarly unsuccessful Watch) and the advice given by two of my Birdy Group friends. One explained that he never bothered to record sightings over the space of an allotted hour but simply sent in a tally of all the birds that usually frequented his garden. This didn’t seem to be quite the object of the exercise but I couldn’t help admiring his way of thinking out of the (bird) box.


Another Birdy companion said she waited until several birds had arrived in her garden for their customary meal (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner or supper) and started counting the hour down from that moment, thus ensuring at least a reasonable list to send in to the Royal Society of Powers that Be. I am thinking I might just adopt this idea though I’m slightly concerned that the greedy ones might flock to my feeders just at the moment when I have to go out.


It’s getting quite gloomy out in the back garden so I think I will have to call it a day and regroup for Plan B tomorrow. I go upstairs to sort out today’s laundry, taking a last look out of the bedroom window as I do.


I still can’t see any birds but I can hear plenty of twittering.


Could they - possibly - be laughing at me?

I have always been a staunch believer in democracy. 


Many years ago, when I was Brown Owl to the 3rd Staplehurst Brownie Pack (the dads, as I think I may have told you, called me Brown Ale) I ran the pack on strictly democratic lines. One of my favourite parts of any pack meeting was the “pow-wow” when we all sat, cross-legged, in a close-knit circle to debate all the most important decisions. I can’t actually imagine I sat cross-legged along with the young’uns, never having been particularly bendy, don’t you know, but I am pretty sure I sat on the floor with all my assistant leaders (variously named after owls, birds and small furry animals - but I will get onto that in a minute...)


Did we need a theme for our carnival float? Where should we go for our Pack Outing? Who was in favour of supporting the village’s bid for success in the Best Kept Village competition? Which species of tree should we plant at the front of the school where we held our meetings? Ideas and opinions would be tossed about then solemnly voted upon. 


Ah, yes, the voting. In the interests of democracy, we made a set of voting paddles out of lollipop sticks and beer mats painted red and green. I can’t recall how I laid my hands on so many beer mats but presumably it wasn’t too difficult for one nicknamed Brown Ale. Sitting in the pow-wow ring, every child clutched their paddle, ready to vote red for “no” and green for “yes.” I like to think (though it might be presumptuous of me) that it might have been my Brownies’ first taste of true democracy.


It did mean that we came to some unusual decisions. The tree the pack decided to plant, back in 1978, was somewhat out of the ordinary - a tulip tree, no less. A year or so ago I went back to Staplehurst with the Eldest of the Darling Daughters (or “Rabbit” to the Brownies when she became their Pack Leader) and her two daughters and the tree is still there, magnificently tall in all its glory. I am sure, however, that being invested in the decision-making meant the whole Pack would get behind any initiative. Why, did Staplehurst not win the large village category in the Best Kept Village competition? I was working as a journalist on the local paper in those days and remember writing (lyrically, I thought) about our success, finishing my report with the shamelessly partisan comment that “Staplehurst has proved that big can be beautiful too.”


On occasions it was necessary to apply some common-sense and never more so than when it came to choosing names for new helpers. One Brownie, I remember, always suggested that “Cow” would be the perfect monicker, protesting that cows were lovely, kind creatures, thus embodying all the characteristics one would look for in a Helper. My answer to this situation was to say that the Pack could agree on a certain number of names (I think it was three but I may be wrong) but it would be up to the newbie to choose the name by which she would be known. That’s how my eldest daughter came to be known as “Rabbit” and a dear friend who cooked for us on Pack Holidays opted to be called “Squirrel.” Leading a holiday for another Pack one year, I chose “Kes” as my name - I have always been prone to flights of fancy.


I guess I inherited my belief in democracy from my mother who apparently, when expecting the birth of my Little Sister, had a family vote on what her name should be. Funnily enough, my sister has never really liked her name - but having heard about the family vote, she has somewhat warmed to it.


I can’t remember whether I had a vote or not, being only three years old at the time - but, true to form, when I was expecting my fourth child, I did invite the three Darling Daughters to suggest names. Most of their suggestions, it has to be said, bore witness to their love of current children’s TV programmes. Fresh from watching one of these which went by the name of “Crystal Tipps and Alistair”, they surrounded me in the kitchen and declared they had all decided on the perfect name for The Unborn - “If the baby is a girl, we want to call her Crystal,” they informed me, stoutly. “It’s such a lovely name - Crystal Ball!”


Such a very good thing that The Unborn was a boy...

Wednesdays, as regular readers well know, is Piccadilly Circus Day in our house. Yesterday, it has to be said, was Piccadilly Circus Plus.


Not only did we welcome the usual regular callers - the Delightful Donna who entertains Mr B in the mornings while getting him washed and dressed, and Ever Helpful Kay who helps me keep my house in order - but also, after much aggravation, the Gasman Cometh. Plus there was an unexpected call from the chemist, bringing fresh supplies for the box of Medical Stuff stored in the cupboard under the stairs - and, not to be forgotten, the Nomination Whist Gang, turning up at 2 p.m. for an afternoon of cards and General Jollity.


I had been worrying - needlessly as it turned out - about everyone arriving at exactly the same time putting me in the unwelcome position of having to prioritise one over the t’other. This kept me awake last night and featured rather too heavily in my restless dreams. I need to remind myself not to worry about anything until it actually happens. It’s a good way to be - what you worry about may never happen and if it doesn’t, in fact, happen then you have saved yourself a great deal of stress. If, on the other hand, it does happen - well, it would have happened anyway but at least you haven’t lost any sleep over it. Unfortunately my over-active mind has not been easily persuaded. 


As it happened, I couldn’t have planned the arrival of each and every one of our visitors better had I drawn up a detailed spreadsheet. Not that I would ever do such a thing, you understand, but just saying. It is also important to point out that my grievances have all been with British Gas itself (other energy providers are doubtless equally annoying at times) and not with the engineer himself who was sweetness personified. I liked the fact that he telephoned me beforehand to remind me to turn the heating off before his arrival (I imagine I should have thought of this for myself, but being me, I didn’t); that he covered his boots with plastic slippers on entering our house; and that he wore a woolly hat throughout his visit. I also liked the way he photographed the distribution of coals on our gas fire to make sure he replaced them all in the correct order at the end of his inspection - even going so far as to resort to the Internet for a final check. This is what I call Going the Extra Mile. 


My favourite part of the gas engineer’s annual visit is, however, always the same. It’s the moment when he places a flame in the hearth and heads outside to make sure there is smoke coming out of the chimney. I had to trot out into the kitchen to fetch my outdoor shoes before following him out into the back garden to gaze heavenward. It’s a bit like watching for the election of a new Pope, heralded by white smoke wafting from the Papal chimney - but with far less portentous significance. The gas engineer couldn’t quite understand my excitement, shrugging his shoulders with a “whatever turns you on” expression on his face.


There were six of us around the table for Nomination Whist. We got quite carried away over the refreshments midway through our afternoon session with a discussion about the world today. So carried away, in fact, that I feared Delia and Maree might miss their bus home. I told them that if the worst came to the worst, I could run them both home - but they set off along the road and didn’t return to take me at my word...


Probably just as well because within minutes of everyone leaving, I was ensconced in the recliner chair (bought for Mr B but discarded in favour of a more splendid throne) and almost nodding off.


Piccadilly Circus Day. It’s a regular whirl...

They say, don’t they, that little things please little minds?


I’m not sure exactly how little my mind is. In the early hours of the morning, when I can’t get back to sleep after tending to Mr B’s needs, my mind seems to expand to take on board all the troubles of the world. If not the universe. In my over-active mind, I am a combination of David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg with a liberal lacing of Doctor Who, as portrayed by Jodie Whatsername. Unlike The Doctor, I never manage to arrive at world changing solutions. I wake, still tired, and my mind immediately focuses on - yes, you are there before me, little things...


Today I became quite ridiculously excited over finding a set of coloured whiteboard markers - one each in black, red, green and blue. My whiteboard drawings keeping Mr B informed as to where I am and what I am doing when I am away from the house are going to be so much more, well, colourful in future.


For several months I have been limited to just one black marker which has been growing ever fainter from over use. I have even had to cut down my messages to the strictly necessary for fear of my marker running out altogether. Now I am back in full Flights of Whiteboard Fancy.


So, this morning, before I headed off to the GP surgery for my ten weekly B12 injection, I drew a stick figure picture of myself (in blue) being attacked by an over-sized green syringe. From my mouth emerged the single written word “ouch!” and from my arm a few drops of red blood. This was poetic (or artistic?) licence as I knew from experience that no significant amount of blood would be shed as a result of the phlebotomist’s tender attentions to my arm. Plus I never, ever, say “ouch!” as the needle goes in as I prefer to be thought of as something of a stoic.


Tomorrow afternoon, I have a date with a cribbage board and a group of card players so I will be able to draw the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Diamonds on the whiteboard in all their red-ness. What’s more, I will be able to draw colourful trees and flowers to illustrate my daily walk to the shops. Mr B, to be fair, isn’t that bothered with my artistic efforts - his main concern is that I write the day of the week and the date in capital letters at the top of the whiteboard. He couldn’t care less if this Information is written in black, blue, green or red which just goes to show that one person’s “little thing” is somebody else’s Matter of Great Importance. 


Grandson Morgan, Youngest of the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys has discovered the joys of messaging. Oh, what fun! Early in the morning, he sends me a gif (I hope everyone is impressed with my command of the lingo?) of Nemo the clown fish jumping on his poor father to wake him up. “Wake up! Wake up!” is the message. It’s a lovely reminder, I tell him by way of reply, of all the times we have shared a bedroom - including at our house as well as at exotic locations such as Center Parcs. Such a little thing, a gif, but it means a lot. 


On the way home from the shops, I spy daffodils in the flower shop. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for daffodils in the local shops, without success, ever since New Year’s Day. I like to keep our home supplied with daffs to keep my little mind concentrating on the fact that, cold as it may be, spring is coming. There’s only one small bunch (£1.25) left in the flower bucket outside the shop which tells me that I’m not the only one who likes to introduce some cheery spring sunshine to the kitchen windowsill. 


Little things don’t only please little minds, you know - they can mean such a lot...

I am scuttling along, head bent against the driving rain, feeling cross with myself for having decided to come shopping at this particular time of day. Not only because of the sudden downpour, you understand, but because it also happens to be school turning out time, so the roads and pavements are chock-a-bloc with cars, recklessly ridden bicycles and demob happy youngsters full of the joys of a weekend ahead. What a miserable curmudgeon I am, to be sure.


Because I am not looking where I am going, I bump into a group of people, all of whom are standing perfectly still, training their mobile phones on something behind and above me. I turn to see what they are looking at, raise my face heavenwards - to see the most perfectly splendid double rainbow, glorious in its definition. All of a sudden, I am so very grateful for the rain...


This reminds me that things aren’t always what they seem - and good can arise from apparently difficult circumstances. Which brings me (in a roundabout way - but then this is the Daily Blog which has a habit of going round and round in circles before hopefully reaching a sensible conclusion) to yesterday morning’s meeting of the Singing for Pleasure choir. 


Our lively new conductor is trying to get to grips with our enormous repertoire of over 300 songs, many of them as old as the hills. Encased in our red folders you would find (if you were able to get hold of a folder, that is) songs that you sang in the school hall when you were a young’un, patriotic tunes from the World Wars, poignant spirituals from the days of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, folk songs captured for posterity by some travelling musician, and many a merry song from the musicals. What our new conductor wants to know is - which ones do we keep and which ones do we dismiss, never to be sung again, at least by us? She is working through every song, from A -Z (though I’m not sure we have any songs beginning with z..)


Which presents me with a problem because I can never, ever throw anything away - least of all a song. As other choir members give the thumbs down to indicate their displeasure with yet another song, I shrivel inside. Oh, no, it seems we are to lose poor Jock o’ Hazeldean who won the heart of that bold lassie who couldn’t be wooed by riches but left her intended (a laird, no less) at the altar to skip “o’er the border and away with Jock o’ Hazeldean”. Nobody wants to keep “I know it is springtime” either, which means I will never again hear the sound of the cuckoo cleverly picked out on the piano. Even Danny Boy is only hanging on by the tips of his fingers...


My friend and choir co-leader Sue and I present a spirited defence of “Lil Liza Jane” but to be honest I fear she is on borrowed time. Liza Jane, that is, not Sue. We are pretty sure, too, that everyone will give a thumbs down to “My love’s an arbutus” which was the song on which our friendship was originally founded, on account of its, well, randomness. I will miss it if / when it goes...


I hope we won’t lose all the “old songs” which we have been proudly helping to keep alive through our singing. It is true, though, that there are so many songs we could be learning in their place. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters, who belongs to Rock Choir, plays me some of their performances which are radically different from ours. Maybe we do need to start rocking a bit?


In another week or so, we will be evaluating the songs beginning with S - including one of my favourites, “Spread a Little Happiness” which always reminds me of our Golden Wedding celebration when I chose my footwear especially in honour of my own “golden shoes day.”   I wonder whether I should organise some hustings to lobby for its inclusion? 


I look up at the rainbow, suddenly struck by the realisation that “Somewhere over the Rainbow” will also be up for consideration. Surely that must be a keeper?


What would we do without rainbows in the rain?

Latest comments

01.01 | 01:17

Penguins forever.

23.12 | 08:22

Wonderful as usual.
Happy Xmas Health and happiness for the new year Cx

15.12 | 21:35

We really did have the most splendidly perfect pre-Christmas weekend!! What date did you say it will be next year?! 🤗😍😘

13.11 | 09:24

As I rapidly approach retirement I'm glad I just read this. Sound words!

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