How about this for a job description?
Once every evening in Summer and twice in Winter, to climb all 54 steps leading up to the very top of a lighthouse. Once there, manually
to haul up a 28 pound weight which, once released, will travel slowly downwards, thereby rotating the lighthouse lamps for the benefit of unwary sailors out at sea. As Mr B would say: blow that for a game of soldiers.
We are spending the morning at the oldest house in Southwick, the 500 year old Manor Cottage. The building houses all manner of historical treasures - like the rotating light from the old Shoreham Lighthouse - and we are here with our Merry Band of
Questers for a "behind the scenes" tour. The Vice Chairman of the Southwick Heritage Association says he has never heard of a Quester before but that it seems like a Very Good Idea. He is struck by just how many of us have turned up - 27 in all - and supposes
that, unlike the school-children who regularly come on such visits, we won't want to sit on the floor, cross-legged, while he takes us through the historical background. There is a lot of shaking of heads, indicating that he supposes correctly.
In an upstairs room, an exhibition devoted to the old schools of Southwick - all eight of them. Two beautiful old desks, complete with china ink-wells. I remember the shocking responsibility of being Ink Monitor, with
its attendant dangers of inky fingers and ink-scattered clothes which would make even my mild-mannered mother throw up her hands in horror. An exercise book with page after page of beautifully written mathematical equations. A school tunic on a dressmaker's
dummy. Lots of charming black and white photos of school children from a past age engaged in sports days, school assemblies and May Day celebrations. I wonder what today's children make of them?
again and I'm in the World War Two kitchen, complete with tin bath secured on a wall above the built in copper. A poster on the wall exhorts us to: "Save Our Sixpences" for the war effort. Look after the pennies, my Mum used to say, and the pounds will take
care of themselves. There's a sewing machine not unlike the one lurking in our under-the-stairs cupboard, a toasting fork hanging up by the fire. There are rag rugs on the floors and tins of Ronux floor polish and Cardinal tile polish on a shelf above the
In a hundred years, the Questers of 2015 will gather at our house to experience for themselves what it was like to live in the Dark Ages. In the kitchen they will marvel at the strange domestic appliances
we needed. Did the folk of 2015 really boil water in kettles? Fancy having to wash clothes in the quaintly named washing machine - disposable clothes were a Thing of the Future.
There will be photographs on
the walls of the living room, depicting Mr B and me in our prime. Look at the clothes they are wearing! the Questers of the Future will exclaim. Look at their hair-dos! The TV will come in for particular scrutiny. Only 42 inches, how teeny tiny compared with
the 360 degree screens commonplace in the homes of 2115. And don't you just love the ancient car outside - people used to have to drive them themselves, don't you know? That's what that driving wheel was for and the old-fashioned engine under the bonnet. However
did they manage to travel such distances without the aid of computers? No wonder they had so many accidents in The Olden Days.
Look at the computers they used to use! They actually had machines which
they had to plug in and turn on. Would you believe they had to use their fingers to type words or touch the screen? What would those poor technologically challenged folk of 2015 make of Thought Transference and computers inserted under the skin?
Oh, dear me, I am scaring myself. I think I feel more comfortable in the Second World War kitchen than in the unknown home of the future.
Next month's Questers'
visits include two trips to the local library to pore over the maps of Old Worthing. I have already organised two such trips but Sweet Sue in the Local Studies section says she will be happy to welcome another two groups of Inquisitive Questers. We will delve
into the past and wonder over How Things Have Changed.
Much as I love exploring the past and speculating on the future, there's nothing quite so satisfyingly familiar as the here and now. Today is, indeed,
That's why they call it The Present.
Mr B and I were watching University Challenge on TV last night and - let's face it - not faring too well. There were, we agreed, far too many questions about mathematics, physics and the like and we were getting a bit
fed up with Jeremy Paxman pretending that, of course he would have known all the answers, even without them being written on his crib sheet.
Then, just as we were starting to feel uncomfortably challenged
(though it should be remembered that challenge is the name of this particular game) the very next starter for ten question posed to both teams was - which year is Bill Bryson writing about in his book "One Summer"? Neither Mr B nor I could contain our excitement:
"1927!" we chorused in happy unison. Not one of the contestants, learned as they undoubtedly were in Matters Mathematical, knew the answer.
We knew the answer because by happy coincidence, "One Summer" is
the latest book we are reading together. It is a most enlightening read. We are only a third of the way through and we already know more than we ever did about Prohibition, the Mississippi floods, Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic and the legendary
Babe Ruth - all related with good old Bill's delightful sense of the absurd.
The chapters on baseball are like a foreign language to me, though because of the way Bill tells the tale of home runs and stealing
second bases, it's rather like listening to a conversation in French. I may not understand a word, but I just love the accent. I have been to two baseball games in my life, one in San Francisco watching the Giants play in the most splendid of surroundings
and one in Canada. It is fair to say that my most lasting memory of both games is the Seventh Innings Stretch - introduced to the game, inadvertently, by President William Howard Taft who apparently stood up to stretch his poor, cramped legs only to find everyone
in the ball-park doing the same out of respect. There are, to be fair, other suggestions of the origin of the custom but I like this one best. "Take me out to the ball-game!" everyone sings while stretching arms, legs and anything else stretchable. I learnt
every word so that I could sing along.
Bill doesn't shy away from unpalatable truths. He plays back to us all the detail of the newspaper reports recording the exact number of deaths of chickens (1, 276,570),
cattle (50,490), horses (25,325) and hogs (148,110) in the floods that wreaked havoc in Mississipi. Shockingly a closer count was kept of livestock losses than human ones no doubt because, Bill tells us, in a stark reminder of the times, that most of those
who tragically lost their lives were poor and black.
Did you know that the inventor of the hot dog, that most quintessentially American fast food delicacy, was British? Or that when Lindbergh, days after his
historic flight, met King George V, our esteemed monarch was totally obsessed with how the master aviator had managed the most basic of bodily functions while in flight? These, and many more, priceless nuggets of information have enchanted us over the last
seven days - and we still have another 296 pages to read.
The year 1927 seems such a very long time ago. What would Lindbergh, challenging himself to fly across the Atlantic non-stop, make of the fact that
today there is talk of a one way manned flight to Mars? It's difficult to comprehend how much has changed from then to now. It's another age, beyond our ken...
And yet, and yet...Yesterday I received the sad
news that the oldest of our Nomination Whist group, the Indomitable May, has died, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in the nursing home where she spent her last few weeks. We will miss her earthy humour and her matter of fact take on life. Today, as
I was thinking of her long life, it struck me that, at 94, she would have been born in 1921. She would have been six years old at the time of the events Bill Bryson relates in "One Summer." How much she has lived through!
At our next gathering, tomorrow week, we will toast Our May in sherry and reminisce. I will tell about her sitting outside our house in her car, painstakingly refreshing her make-up, before making her way up the garden path to the front door. All of
us will remember her groaning " I hate No Trumps!" at strategic moments through our every game. And who could forget her haranguing the hapless Lib Dem candidate in a local election who had the misfortune to encounter her outside our house on one of his leaflet
deliveries. Nothing to do with his politics, she told him, all politicians were as bad as each other. "That was good fun!" she gloated, as she joined the rest of our Merry Gang, "He won't forget me in a hurry!"
nor, dear May, will we.
Mr B and I do possess, I must admit, a strong streak of curiosity. Or, to put it another way, we are just Plain Nosey.
I think I have explained this before, but our kitchen
window is at the front of our house, looking out onto the street where we live. It is quite the best set up for Nosey Parkers like us. I have become more of a Nosey Parker since I retired. When every morning was a dash about, getting showered and dressed,
gulping down a bit of breakfast and heading out to the car, the commute and, at the end of the morning trail, the office - there wasn't a lot of time to spend gazing out at the world just beyond the garden wall. Mr B, already retired some years before me,
did seek to enliven our conversations over our evening meal with details of the goings-on he had witnessed but it wasn't quite the same. Now, however, it is a whole new Ball Game.
Yesterday was a Splendid
Day for the Long-nosed. Across the road to us, Something Was Definitely Going On. A banner bearing the single word "WELCOME" had been strung across the front door and at least ten motor cars, mostly swish types with extremely loud engines, were engaged in
driving up and down the road outside at the highest speed possible, given the road bumps which decorate the length of our street. The fact that one of the cars was a stretch limo, festooned with white ribbon, gave us a clue that this was a wedding party. That's
the thing about being nosey, you know, you become quite extraordinarily perceptive, though I say it myself as shouldn't.
Being a romantic, I was a trifle disappointed not to see the bride. The wedding party
across the road was totally male. They all, indeed, looked super smart but I do like the sight of a bridal gown - or even a bridesmaid or two. Still, there was plenty to see from our kitchen window. I spent a lot of time washing up, so as to be sure not to
Among the party were two photographers with what appeared to be quite a bit of professional kit, including cameras on wheels, all the better to catch action shots of the cars revving up, speeding
over the speed bumps, and swerving wildly as they braked on their return along the road. Yes, that's right, the whole emphasis was on capturing the sleekness of the cars, their getaway speed, their startling acceleration and their screeching brakes. A good
hour was spent lining up three of the cars at a time for their photo call.
Now correct me if I am wrong but I suspect the bride may have something to say when she and her beloved come to view their wedding
photographs. I can imagine the scene: bride and groom, recently returned from their honeymoon, meet in a photographer's studio somewhere and sit before a screen to see a filmshow of their wedding pics. The first 500 depict cars speeding up and down our road.
If the Happy Couple look very carefully they will catch a glimpse of Mr B, staring out balefully from our porch and me, framed in the kitchen window with my hands in the wash basin. I cannot imagine Mrs New Wife will be all that pleased.
It wouldn't be the first time that I inadvertently found myself in someone else's wedding photos. Some years ago, Mr B and I were on holiday in a really rather lovely hotel in Sorrento.
It was my holiday habit (and one which stays with me to this day) to spend time every day in the hotel pool, swimming painfully slowly up and down until I had completed the number of lengths I had previously set myself (this prescribed number has decreased
over the years though the time I spend in the pool miraculously remains about the same which says a lot about my declining speed through the water.)
On this particular occasion I was swimming up and down,
in a World Of My Own, when I became aware that a beautiful bride and her charming groom were parading along the edge of the pool, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. On the opposite side of the pool, a wedding photographer, recording the happy scene. In
the midst of all this, there was me, a drowned rat slowly traversing the pool. A blot on the Happy Landscape.
Somewhere in June this year a couple will be celebrating their wedding anniversary and revisiting
their wedding photo album. "Who IS that woman in the pool?" they will be asking each other, as they have done every year since they were first married. I can only apologise.
I promise them it was simply a
A Nosey Parker? Not me...
There are times when my life just couldn't get more exciting.
Take today, for instance, when I decided to sort out all my assorted knitting needles into matching pairs.
Bet you didn't guess that.
I was motivated by the fact that one of the stall holders at the Table Top Sale in the Heene Community Centre yesterday morning was selling off pairs of knitting needles at 10p a
pair. Before embarking on a Knitting Needle Fest - and having assured myself that I will not miss the boat if I come back for more next week - I took it upon myself to sort out my needles in order to ascertain which sizes I was missing and needed to buy.
I explained to Mr B that, on our shopping trip to town, I would need to purchase a pack of elastic bands (for the securing of pairs of needles.) He acquiesced with alacrity. I guess I am what might be considered a Low
Maintenance Wife, given that I would be satisfied with a purchase costing just £1.99. I often think that Mr B doesn't know how lucky he is. Though it is fair to say that he does have other peculiarities on my part to contend with.
Our trip to town was a trifle stressful which had nothing at all to do with my purchase of elastic bands and everything to do with a certain lack of common sense on the part of the new, remodelled, refurbished cafe in Marks and Sparks
which failed to deliver the lasagne which Mr B had ordered and was looking forward to. We did receive a free cup of coffee to compensate for our inconvenience which, for a coffee lover such as I and one who is, moreover, Always Thinking of My Stomach, was
After our lunch, we repaired to the Food Hall where Mr B bought himself a lasagne for his dinner. Mr B is a man who always gets what he wants, though sometimes not exactly as first envisaged.
If he couldn't have lasagne for lunch then he sure as nine pence would have it for dinner. I can only admire his single-mindedness in the Face of Adversity.
We spend part of our evening (after Mr B has eaten
his lasagne) watching Ant and Dec's Takeaway. The cameras suddenly turn on some poor, unwitting victim, eating pizza at home with a group of friends. Surprise surprise! I wonder, not for the first time, about her friends' part in this. Did they make sure she
was wearing something attractive, rather than her zebra onesie which she would usually change into before settling down for an evening in front of the TV? Did they have a quick tidy-up before they sat down to their pizza, knowing that otherwise the cameras
would zoom in on dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and an ironing board creaking under the weight of creased clothes awaiting the magic touch of the smoothing iron?
It's not quite the same thing but I am reminded
of one of Mr B's birthdays when I had been made aware that the local Boys Football Club, of which he was one of the Team Managers, had written in with a request for a particular record to be played for him.
Foursome and I had the radio already tuned in when Mr B returned from his long night at work. His first action was to turn the radio off. I am ashamed to say that we all yelled at him to turn it back on. It wasn't quite the warm reception which the Birthday
Boy had been expecting. All was well that ended well. The request was played with greetings from the young footballers and Mr B was quite overcome with such an unexpected and thoughtful birthday present. I think he forgave us.
You will doubtless be pleased to hear that, having sorted through my knitting needles, I have culled no fewer than twenty singular needles while another twenty smug twosomes are presently inhabiting a decorative tin which used to house
a bottle of Malibu. Unfortunately some of the needles are too long so I can't replace the lid of the tin, which is not exactly tidy but you can't have everything you want in this life. I have written on one of Mr B's yellow post it notes the missing sizes
- 1, 5 and 13. It is more than likely that by the time I return to the Table Top Sale I will have (i) mislaid the post it note and (ii) forgotten which size needles I need.
I am, nevertheless, pleased with
myself. No longer will I have to hunt for a matching pair of needles each time I embark on a new knitting project. Mr B is pleased because, despite the best efforts of the M & S cafe, they have not been able to come between a Man and His Lasagne. Ant and
Dec are pleased because they have escaped the Celebrity Jungle and are back on Saturday night TV where they will continue to surprise unsuspecting victims in their homes over the weeks to come.
Life is, indeed,
about small victories. Exciting, isn't it?
Our choir conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, tells us (a trifle wistfully, it seems to me) that she is feeling her age on account of the fact that the obituaries in the local papers seem to feature quite a lot of people
by the name of - Muriel. A sign of the times, she says.
Terry, in the back row of the men's section, comments, sotto voce, that at least she is still alive to read other Muriels' obituaries. Which is, of course,
true but is out of sync with Muriel's forebodings. Anyway at this point Muriel pulls herself together and announces that we are going to take a trip around the world, but without the need for passports or tiring air travel - we will travel tunefully, in song.
Bill and Eric, who sit at the other end of the back row from Terry, are engaged in conversation. From where I sit, in the Alto section (along with all the other Failed Sopranos) I can't exactly hear what they are talking
about. The Redoubtable Muriel doesn't care what they are talking about, what she objects to is that people are talking when she is talking. She sits down, folds her arms and waits for us all to fall silent.
is hard to argue with her, we are a talkative lot. Muriel reckons that somehow or other our fingers are connected to our tongues. Hence, when she asks us to find a particular song in our red files, we seem unable to resist chatting as we flick through the
pages of songs. What, she asks, do we find to chat about? You can tell that she really wants to know. She suggests that maybe I, with my Way With Words (an alternative to Berners Lee's www) could come up with a song about our gossiping habits. I have accepted
the challenge and will put my mind to it over the next couple of weeks. I am contemplating something to the tune of Coconut Calypso. Well, I may as well set myself a proper challenge, don't you think?
say, don't they, that you can often tell a person's age by their name. I wonder when and why Muriel was a popular monicker? When the Youngest of the Darling Daughters was born we called her Karen. Cool, smart, of Scandinavian origin - so very unusual. Or so
I, the proud new mother, thought. It turned out that it was one of the Top Ten girls names of the Seventies. Such a pity that nobody told me.
Did you hear about the horse named Brian? The powers that be apparently
decided it wasn't a sufficiently heroic name for a horse and re-christened it Hercules. Mr B's name is Brian and it is fair to say he has struggled with it at times, especially when people spell it wrongly as "Brain". Then there was Brian the Snail of Magic
Roundabout fame - though let's face it, the Magic Roundabout was something of a cult. However that was followed by a TV advert where a small girl on a swing volunteered the information that "You know EVERYTHING Brian!" Poor Mr B was haunted by that advert
for years. It must have been a popular name in its time because we know lots of Brians. Presumably they all know, well, EVERYTHING.
My eldest grandson, Jack, was named after me. What greater compliment can
there be, than to have a child named after you? I count it as an honour and a privilege. What Jack thinks about it is another matter; being named after your Nan may not seem such a great deal. Except that I was named after my Uncle Jack, who was an amazing
man, an entrepreneur, an inventor and a man of vision. So Young Jack can, indeed, be proud of being named after such a great man, albeit once removed.
The old names are coming back into fashion in any case.
I am still waiting, however, for the return of Mildred, Maud and, yes, Muriel.
As for my name, Jacqueline, it doesn't ever seem to have been either in fashion or out of fashion. Though there is Jacqueline Wilson,who
is about the same Great Age as I am. I think it may have floated into nominal consciousness again in the Jacqueline Kennedy era but then it, just as quickly, floated out again.
In sixty, seventy years time
the obituary columns will be full of Kylies and Kais and the like, while in nurseries across the land, mothers will be cuddling baby Muriels. What goes round, comes round.
Like Brian the Snail on the Magic Roundabout.
Make your own website like I did.
It's easy, and absolutely free.