Jaqui's Daily Blog

I am playing table football with the Duracell Bunny. It is an art form in itself. Wayne Rooney, eat your heart out!


I have taught the DB a number of footballing anthems. He can now roar: "Eee, Aye, Adio, we've won the Cup!" and give a spirited "Come on you Bluuuu-es!" I have introduced him to the sanitised version of "Oh, my, what a referee!" and he knows the first line of "Spurs are on their way to Wembley." The fact that he only knows the first line is because that's the only line I know. Well, it has been some time...


Young Morgan is a demon at table football. We are having to play with a small plastic golf ball as the original football has gone missing. Lots of things go missing in the Little Welsh Boys' house. There is a box on one of the kitchen surfaces full of small items which have gone missing from a game or a Lego model or a train layout, all awaiting a reunion with their Box of Origin. A reunion, moreover, which is unlikely ever to arrive. The size of the golf ball means that it is slightly out of proportion to both the goals and the players but this also makes for some interesting flights of the ball when it gets caught between the opposing players' plastic legs and is forced upwards, over all the players' heads and, occasionally, into an open goal mouth. We keep track of our scores on individual score cards but Morgan keeps starting from 1 again which is giving me a slight false advantage.


You may be thinking that I was supposed to be helping out with party preparations, rather than indulging my Inner Football Manager, but the Darling Daughter in Law says I am every bit as much use just playing as I would be packing up the party bags. Especially as she can closet herself away in the front room, with the two older boys and the wherewithal for making up 33 party bags, while Young Morgan keeps me busy in the back room. A fair division of labour, don't you think?


When we arrive at the party venue we are faced with pandemonium as the party before ours is still sitting round the long party table, indulging in crisps, sandwiches, biscuits and other party fare, quite a lot of which has landed on the floor. The Mother of the Party Person (as in the other mother, not our mother) is cutting up a truly enormous birthday cake in the shape of a Minion. Personally I think James's birthday cake, with Pinkachu on top, is far superior because you only have to take one look at it to see the love that went into the making of it.


At three o'clock precisely the doors of the gymnasium open and our 33 party goers, plus assorted parents and the odd grandparent (that'll be Mr B and me, then) surge into an amazing area full of equipment for running, jumping, swinging, bouncing, tumbling, hanging upside down, hanging the right way up. My Boy, father of the Little Welsh Boys, is in his element. He always was a Big Kid. I remember taking him to a soft play area with Young Sam when Sam was not that much older than the Duracell Bunny is now and he was in there in the ball pit, climbing up the slide and jumping about between the swinging pillars like any three year old. Another small child, watching him play, asked Sam seriously: "How old is your brother?" Loved it.


The youngsters run, jump, swing, bounce, tumble, hang upside down and hang right way up for well over an hour, their cheeks growing ever pinker with the effort. I take Mr B and the Duracell Bunny outside for a welcome breath of fresh air half way through. What weaklings we are! I used to be able to survive a two hour party in my own house without flagging. OK, maybe I did flag a bit. Plus I was a whole lot younger in those days. That is one of the blessings in being a grandparent. You can be useful in a multiplicity of different ways without having to take on any of the responsibility.


Tea is served. The Darling Daughter in Law has a helpful list with everyone's names on, together with whether they are having chicken nuggets, sausage, burger or hot dog. All plus chips with lashings of tomato sauce. It is a major undertaking, dispensing the largesse. I trail behind My Boy with jugs full of orange squash and water, filling plastic cups and patting heads. I can't resist patting heads as I pass by, it's an automatic reflex on my part. I think I may need to develop some restraint.

 

The party bags are all set out on a table near the door, waiting for the addition of a slice of birthday cake before James hands them out to the departing guests. First of all, however, my favourite part of any party - the singing of Happy Birthday. What would a party be, without it? In comes the cake, borne aloft by the Darling Daughter in Law aka Masterchef. Everyone starts singing and believe me with forty-odd voices united in song we make a rousing chorus. There are six candles atop the cake and, as it is presented to the Birthday Boy, they illuminate his sweet, bespectacled face in a soft, rosy glow. He looks uncannily like his dad at the same age. I have to stop singing for a bit because the Usher Gene has me in its grip and I am all choked up.

 


Football anthems are all well and good but, as anthems go, really and truly, there's nothing to beat "Happy Birthday".

The Duracell Bunny is on fine form.

 

"Morgan knows everything!" he informs me, within minutes of our arrival chez the Cardiff Ball Family. "Is that so?" I say, playing for time. Young Morgan eyes me speculatively, summing up my capacity for entertainment. As in, me doing the entertaining - though, to be honest, I suspect my Little Welsh Boys will keep me royally entertained all weekend. We have travelled by train, Mr B and I, and we are a trifle travel-weary but nevertheless up for anything. We are, after all, here to help James celebrate his sixth birthday and it's going to be fun all the way. Oh, yes it is!

 


Six years old already! Oh dear, my Little Welsh Boys really aren't so little anymore. The Darling Daughter in Law and I go to meet the two big boys from school (I push the Duracell Bunny on his trike - "Not that way! That way!" he exhorts me regally every so often, from his commanding position up-front) and it is quite clear from the moment they tumble out of the school doors that they have grown even in the month or so since I saw them last.

 

Sam, the eldest of the LWBs, is clutching a small, credit card-sized piece of paper on which is written his user name and password to sign on to something called Mathletics, which is his homework for the weekend. Only when he has completed all the homework will he be able to play the games, he tells me seriously, so we clear a space on the dining room table for the laptop and he sets to work. I am impressed by his concentration to the task, concentration not generally being one of his strongest trait unless the task in hand involves animals or the telling of a story. But this is Maths and he sticks at it gamely until every task is finished and he has totted up 940 points out of a possible 1000. It would have been even more, had he not pressed the "submit" button a bit too hastily on a couple of occasions. In fact the only downside to Mathletics, it seems to me, is that the promise of the games, once he has completed the hard slog of times tables and multiplication, doesn't live up to his high expectations. "They aren't as good as I thought they would be," he says, a little sadly. Possibly because they are mathematically based games. This is Mathletics after all.

 


In the kitchen, the Making of the Birthday Cake is taking up all the Darling Daughter in Law's attention. There will be 33 children at Sunday's party, so the cake must be (I) large enough and (ii) on a par with all the other magnificent cakes she has made in the past. She likes to set herself a challenge, you have to admire her. She has pulled up on the laptop a picture of a Pokemon character called Pikachu (or something similar, I am sadly deficient in Knowledge of All Things Pokemon) and is busily fashioning a fair replica of the person (?) in question out of coloured icing.


As it is his Birthday Weekend, the choice of activity falls to James. We go swimming and I am doing well until yellow lights flash and waves start crashing from one end of the pool to the other. I am, shall we say, taken aback. Mr B, sitting in the adjacent cafe, looks up and waves back at me - did he but know it and I am not waving, but drowning. I've read a poem about that....


I have to be rescued by my two grandsons. Their father is laughing so much that it is a few minutes before he, too, wades to my rescue by which time I apparently resemble the proverbial drowned rat. I believe it is not a good look.


In the afternoon, a less dangerous trip out. We go to a farm shop - with the emphasis on the word "farm". There are donkeys, alpacas, hens, sheep, goats, cows and a really fat pig. It's just like the Darling Buds of May - apart from it being September and there being nobody resembling Pa Larkin around. Nor Catherine Zeta Jones for that matter.

 

The boys are tired out by the end of the day. Morgan falls asleep over his tea and sleeps right through being washed and put to bed. It means we have a peaceful evening, eating delicious home-made curry and playing Nomination Whist.

 

The down-side is that the Duracell Bunny (who, you will remember, knows everything) is likely to be up very, very early in the morning....

Grease! It's electrifying!


Our family has a long association with "Grease". I am talking here of the film about teenage angst in High School starring a snake-hipped John Travolta and a sweet Olivia Newton-John who managed to turn herself into a leather-clad sexy siren in the final scene. You must know the one I mean?


I still remember a particular party to celebrate the Middle of the Darling Daughters' birthday when the hype around the film was at its height. We played the record (yes, dear reader, no CDs or downloading in those days. The only downloading that was done was by fork lift trucks) over and over again and nobody grew tired of it. The other thing I remember about that party was that the Birthday Girl injured herself (I can't quite recall what and how) so we had to call the family doctor in. He successfully manoeuvred himself among the dancers and the sprawled bodies relaxing on the carpet between dances, completely unfazed by it all. He was, of course, a family friend (oh, those were the days!) and had youngsters of his own about the same age as ours, so he was probably used to it at home. He also tended the wounded one and pronounced her fit to groove again.


Over the years, no family party has been complete without the ceremonial playing of the Grease Megamix. This starts with Greased Lightning and finishes up with a soulful rendition of Summer Loving. The gals all line up on one side and the fellas on the other. There are always many more gals than fellas but there are a few stalwarts among the guys whom I like think I can rely upon to sing along and go through all the (occasionally doubtful) actions with My Boy leading the way.

 

My son-in-law, husband to the Youngest of the Darling Daughters, has told me on many occasions that I am "tribal". I take this as a compliment, as meaning that family is everything to me - but it could, just as likely, be the opposite. This particular son-in-law likes to march to his own drum beat - in other words, he enjoys being contrary and can always, but always, come up with an alternative argument to any opinion. He is the same with everyone so I don't take it personally; in fact, should he start treating me with the respect to which some would say a mother-in-law is entitled and I would be seriously worried that our Beautiful Relationship was failing.

 

His ambition is to see the day when everyone at one of our family parties is in the kitchen (aka the bar), while just a few sad souls are in the living room dancing to the Grease Megamix. By "few sad souls" I think he means my sister Maggie and me...

 


At present, though, I think I am winning the Grease battle. At the last family party his own son lined up with the fellas. It might change over time, I suppose, and Jack may yet go over to the dark side with his Dad - but not for a while at least. Certainly not when he and sister Hazel have leading roles in the Limelight Theatre Group's half term production of "Grease". Guess who is Sandy!? If you live anywhere near Basingstoke and fancy a half term treat - Grease is the word!

 

Like our performances of the Grease Megamix at every family party, it's going to be, well, electrifying!

 

One of my favourite poems as a child was Walter de la Mare’s stirring and ghostly “The Listeners.”

 

This includes the lines: “Tell them I came and nobody answered / That I kept my word!” he said. As an eleven year old I took enormous pleasure in rolling these words around my tongue for greater effect. Whether this actually had greater effect, I cannot say. It was, perhaps, a strange choice of poem for an eleven year old’s party piece.

 

Anyway, the words came flying back into my head this afternoon when I turned up for my monthly Church Watch to find that nobody else had turned up to watch with me.  The Church Watch co-ordinator had come along to unlock the door but said he couldn’t stay and nor could he leave me alone in the Church, on account of my vulnerability and Great Age. Well, OK, he didn’t quite put it like that but I took it to be his meaning.  I suggested that we ring my friend, the Wise and Wonderful Eleanor, who would surely be up for ninety minutes nattering with me if she happened to be about. Sadly she wasn’t so that was another good idea down the drain. I’d only just lit the candles to welcome any visitors who might venture into the Church while we were open – but sadly had to blow them out again and return home where Mr B was amazed to see me back so early and therefore about to disturb his peace and quiet.

 

I did have plenty to do, so I couldn’t grumble, even though I had been looking forward to a happy time with my knitting in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of St Andrew’s Church. If anybody had turned up wanting to be shown the famous Mosaics of the twelve apostles, the Victorian font, or the Memorial Window to James Henty (who trotted off to Australia in 1829 and founded the Merino sheep farming industry), then I would, of course, have forsaken my Knit One, Purl One rib and given them the Grand Tour.  Sort of.

 

As it was, I returned home to the task of sorting out the forthcoming Questers visit to Blind Veterans UK. This is turning into a bit of a nightmare due to the fact that it is so very popular. I have now had to arrange a second visit and today’s big job was deciding who should be on which list. Mr B, who is cavalier about such matters, said I should simply select all my favourite people or at least those who would be easy enough to contact, being on email.  I feel honour bound not to follow his advice, especially as some of the people on my list are newbies who might just turn out to be favourite people once I get to know them. Instead I follow the advice of our Group Leaders, write everybody’s names on little bits of paper and carry out a “Lucky Dip.” Mr B watches me with eye-brows raised and says he hopes we won’t be finding pieces of paper with people’s names on for ever after. I say of course we won’t (I have my fingers crossed behind my back as I make my affirmation.)

 

I write two emails, one to those on the first visit, and one to those on the second visit.  At least I should be receiving lots of emails over the next week or so. I will feel quite popular for once. There are four Questers on each list who do not have an email address, so I will have to decide whether to phone them or write to them.  Writing to them will involve stamps or shoe leather, depending on how far away they live – but telephoning can also be tricky because lots of our Questers are – not to labour a point – getting on a bit. The mere thought of explaining all the details of our Jolly Outing over the phone eight times over is more than a little daunting. It is All Getting Too Much For Me so I waltz into the kitchen to peel potatoes, slice onions and prick sausages.  This is one of my classic Delaying Tactics. Another is Clearing Up the Kitchen which can take me hours and hours, on account of the fact that I can combine it with some serious people watching out of the kitchen window, our kitchen being at the front of our house, rather than at the side or the back. I particularly like it now that the schools are back and I can watch the youngsters larking about on their way to and from school, while I stand there at the sink, elbow deep in warm, soapy water. (Yes, I do have a dish washer but I find standing at the sink, elbow-deep in hot, soapy water more therapeutic than loading and unloading dishes.)

 

In order to delay my return to the task in hand, I try to remember the rest of “The Listeners.” Isn’t it amazing how one can remember poems from far off childhood?  The final lines of “The Listeners” are: “And how the silence surged softly backward / When the plunging hooves were gone.”  I dare say the listeners in our Church – I’m sure there are some – would have welcomed the silence surging softly backward once I’d blown out the candles and taken my clackety knitting needles off with me. 

 

 Except - it should have been such a restful afternoon...

Which is easiest, I wonder. Giving a presentation to a room full of strangers? Or to a room full of friends?


That was the question I was asking myself this afternoon as I plugged in projector and laptop and prepared to give my talk on "The Great War Project" to our local branch of the U3A. I reminded myself that I had actually offered to do this, in a characteristically reckless moment, many months ago. What could I have been thinking of? A most helpful man named Philip appears from nowhere and asks me what I need. He isn't talking about a strong gin and slimline tonic - in fact he is the hall caretaker who pulls down a screen, presents me with a choice of microphones (both in working order), finds stands for both projector and laptop and an extension cable of quite industrial proportions. I am indebted to Philip for helping me with the set up, often the most worrying part of making a presentation, I find.


Our Chairman asks me if I have a DVD player on my laptop and, if so, can I please use it to show our audience a short film of the Singing for Pleasure choir at the Celebrating Sussex day (see previous blog)? I ask if this could be after my presentation, rather than before it, just in case something goes wrong with the equipment. I couldn't necessarily count on Philip, Excellent Man For All Seasons which he undoubtedly is, to put it right if anything horrendous happened.


Mr B takes a couple of photographs of me standing in front of the screen showing my title slide. One of our members, taking a seat in the second row back, gets in his way and he makes his displeasure known. I cower, knowing I cannot afford to antagonise any of my audience. At least not before I even start talking. At least I look quite smart, I comfort myself, and I have even unearthed the rather beautiful poppy which Mr B bought me last Remembrance Day. Hopefully I look the part.


We always have a guest speaker at our monthly meetings. We have heard about the South Downs National Park, the work of the local police District Commander and the charity Canine Partners to mention just a few. Now it's my turn and I wonder just what my audience is expecting. Certainly the hall is packed with only a few seats empty at the very front. As I sit at the top table, listening to the Chairman go through her introductory remarks, every face in the audience seems to be smiling encouragement at me.


If I was worried about anything, then it was that inevitably this would not be a laugh-a-minute talk. After all, I would be relating four case studies of soldiers who served in the Great War. Two of them never returned to their homes and families. Would this all be a bit much, even for my friendly crowd?


I'm glad to report that nobody fell asleep. I saw quite a few people surreptitiously wiping their eyes as they listened to the letters sent home by Arthur the Artist, Albert the Gardener and Ernest the Farm Boy. And when I put up a slide showing the collection of dried flowers which Albert posted to his Dearest Mother (remember, you read it here first!) there was an audible intake of breath. It was just the reaction I was hoping for.


So why did I put myself through all that? Not for the sake of any personal fame or glory, I hasten to say - this was the local meeting of the Worthing U3A, remember, not X Factor. No, I saw it as firstly another way of publicising the amazing project which has kept me so busy over the past two years but also of telling again the stories of those brave Men at Arms. If you would like to, you can read my presentation by clicking on the Great War Project page on the left.


I am pleased to report that I did manage to load the DVD onto my laptop, as requested by our Chairman who is not a person one would want to cross if one could help it. Interestingly, for those of you who read yesterday's blog, she doesn't seem to mind being called a "Chairman". But then, nobody in their right mind would dare to sit on our Chairman. Anyway, we managed to lift the spirits of the audience by playing the Singing for Pleasure choir's rousing rendition of Sussex by the Sea. Lots of people joined in the chorus. It was a good way to finish the afternoon.


Many a stand-up comedian would testify to the adrenalin rush from making an audience laugh out loud.


Making people weep at the tragic loss of life which was The Great War by telling, in my own way, the stories of Arthur the Artist, Albert the Gardener, Arthur the War Hero and Ernest the Farm Boy was - believe me - Something Else Altogether.

 

Latest comments

09.07 | 16:37

Jaqui, You have every reason to be proud. Our family were deeply touched and impressed by your portrayal of our relation - 'Arthur the Artist'.

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07.07 | 01:35

I would be interested in the book by your mother about WWII. :)

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04.07 | 11:52

I am not in a dog campaign - my ambivalence is being sorely misused by my daughter in her ongoing 'Dogfermee' marketing. I prefer my dogs hot and in a bun

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22.06 | 20:03

What fantastic news!! Please pass on my congratulations and best wishes to mum and dad to be xxx love Val xxxx

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