Jaqui's Daily Blog

Regular readers may recall (or, possibly, may not - but I won’t hold that against them) - that I make a habit of getting together with my siblings for Brothers and Sisters Days.  We spend a lot of time eating, chatting, laughing, sharing childhood reminiscences and interjecting with reminders when one or other of us suffers an inevitable Memory Failure.

 

Over the many years since our very first Brothers and Sisters Day, around 1996, Mr B has been a constant supporting act. When it was our turn to host, he would take over the kitchen and turn out fabulous roast dinners, exhorting me to stay and chat to our visitors while he cooked. It was, if you like, his present to me. When it was our turn to visit, he would inevitably drive us both to our destination so that I could enjoy a convivial glass of wine over our meal. He would sit and listen to our endless chat and, apart from occasionally commenting that our jaws were in no danger of rusting, never tried to steer the conversation onto topics on which he would feel better qualified to contribute. Like sport, for example.

 

This weekend I finally had the opportunity to pay him back when his sister came for a weekend visit. It was my avowed intent, as the pilgrim would say, to ensure that she had the very happiest of weekends, full of all the best that a Brother and Sister Weekend could present.

 

I did consult Mr B over my meal plans which were based on serving up the most nutritious food I was able, given that I am not, nor do I have any pretensions to be, the Divine Delia. I particularly didn’t want to be spending all my time in the kitchen so pre-preparation was the Name of the Game. I wanted my culinary efforts to appear effortless which, you must agree, was a Tall Order. There are, I know, those who like their visitors to be impressed by the sheer effort which has gone into their food, like those contestants on Masterchef who every so often have to indulge in a minor breakdown requiring the kinder of the judges to take them on one side to wipe their sweaty brow and to urge them to take “time out” if necessary. If you ever watch Masterchef, you will know that it is often the hapless one, on the verge of a complete breakdown, who finishes triumphant in the end. It all makes for Watchable TV.

 

 I shared my meal plans with granddaughter Hazel Bagel who reassured me that my idea of meat pie on Saturday and roast lamb on Sunday sounded “delicious.” I had messaged her to find out how she and her brother Jack were getting on at home in the absence of their parents and was pleased to hear that they had looked after each other pretty well. Moreover, she added: “We’ve managed to keep everything tidy, we haven’t broken anything and we haven’t killed the kittens.” That’s a relief all round.

 

Mr B’s sister turned out to be exactly what she promised: the Ideal Guest. She slept like a baby in our guest bed which she declared to be super comfortable; she avowed that everything I served up was her absolute favourite food; she asked what time we went to bed and what time we arose and made sure she fitted in; and she sat without fuss and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the garden on the occasions I was attending to Mr B.

 

We watched The Eye in the Sky on TV and shivered together at the taut storyline. She and I took a long walk together on Saturday afternoon along the coastal path to the Bluebird Café where she insisted on buying my coffee and didn’t grumble at all at the length of the queue at the counter. We were going to have another little outing on Sunday morning but she knew without being told that it might be better not to leave Mr B this morning, so cleverly removing any worry I might have about possibly disappointing her.

 

Mr B and his sister didn’t grow up together, so they don’t have the shared childhood memories that keep my brothers and sisters occupied in recounting. They do, however, have something equally precious - the time and the inclination to conjure up pictures of their past to share with each other in a thoughtful way, reflecting on their different childhood experiences from the perspective of time.

 

One day, I said, we will have to get together with their brother too. I can imagine the three of them nattering away and enjoying each other’s company as at every good Brothers and Sisters Day.

 

I will make meat pie and be, oh, so pleased, to play my part in making the Siblings Day special as Mr B has so often done for me.

So what would you do, if informed that the sales assistant in the chemists couldn’t sell you what you requested for another 25 minutes until the pharmacist was back from lunch? I decided I would fill in the time looking for egg cups. You’d never have guessed, now would you?

 

I am a great fan of the boiled egg, with or without soldiers. It is difficult to think of anything else which is quite so perfectly packaged.  I remember the days when we were all encouraged to “look for the little lion” stamped on the side to prove its provenance, and exhorted to “go to work on an egg.” I have been doing as I was told ever since. Mr B says if you believe that, you will believe anything...

 

In the early days of marriage, my mother in law quickly cottoned on to my love of the boiled egg. Every morning, when we stayed with her, there would be a breakfast egg waiting for me. Unfortunately it would invariably be so under-cooked that the egg white was still translucent and, being too polite to complain, I would have to force it down - only to be presented, immediately, with a second egg. The smile on my mother in law’s face at the thought that she had given me such a pleasant surprise stays with me. 

 

We once went on holiday to Bournemouth as a family, staying in a hotel where the manager actually asked if we wanted “adult sized eggs” or “child sized eggs” for breakfast. We have dined out on that story ever since. Or should that be breakfasted out?

 

It is only in recent days, however, that I have determined to collect egg cups of the Novelty Variety. Egg cups are small in size, so my collection won’t take up too much room (space being at a premium in our house.) Moreover they will be useful to hold my breakfast or lunchtime chookie egg taking it in turns to grace my dining table. 

 

My dear friend Eleanor has an amazing collection of mugs, many of which were gifted her by pupils grateful for her endeavours at teaching them All They Needed To Know. When friends visit her for coffee she takes them into her kitchen and tells them “First, choose your mug!” Honestly, visitors are spoilt for choice, it adds a whole new dimension to tea or coffee making. Drawing on Eleanor’s mug collection for inspiration, I am hoping to be able to do the same with my egg cups. Choose your egg cup! I will tell my Tremendous Ten grandchildren when they come to stay. The fact that I can’t actually remember any of them ever requesting a boiled egg for breakfast is Neither Here Nor There.

 

Anyway, with twenty-five minutes to waste this afternoon, I decided to prowl around the charity shops (of which there were a great many) in search of suitably eggcentric egg cups for my collection. The first two shops yielded nothing remotely egg-worthy but in the Mind charity shop I struck egg cup gold - a whimsical duckling egg cup which was completely irresistible to one such as I. How could anyone have given him up, I wonder? I parted willingly with my £1.50 and watched appreciatively as the fella behind the counter carefully wrapped up my precious purchase in an old copy of the Daily Express. So now I have three egg cups in my collection. Don’t knock it, we all have to start somewhere. 

 

Incidentally, my dear Dad had possibly the best Egg Related Story. There were two eggs in a pan, he used to say. One egg turned to the other and complained: “Phew! It’s boiling hot in here!” To which the second egg replied “That’s nothing. When you get out, someone will bash your head in...”

 

It’s a mark of how much we loved him that this much-repeated joke always - but always - made us laugh...

I had a small, but perfectly formed, companion on the Summer Reading Challenge Desk at Worthing Library yesterday.

 

No, for once I am not referring to the Small Fry, arriving at the desk in increasing numbers to tell me about the latest Rainbow Magic book they have read (kill me now!); to claim their certificate and gold medal for completing the challenge to read six books over the course of the summer holiday; or to whisper the magic password in my ear so that I know their parents have registered them for the challenge. Once I have the password, I can start them off on their journey with a black and red wristband (as in, Dennis The Menace colours) and a Treasure Hunt sheet.

 

Occasionally one of the little ones asks for an extra clue to help them find the Treasure Hunt characters. Fortunately I have a crib sheet secreted in the back of a helpful folder of hints and tips for volunteers so I can advise them to, maybe, check the door of the Toy Library or wherever. Every time they bring their completed Treasure Hunt sheets back to be posted in the Mischief Makers Box (one lucky person will win a goody bag if their sheet is drawn out at the end of the Challenge) I ask if they found the Hunt easy or difficult. Most say it was easy - those who have completed the Reading Challenge in previous years point out that many of the hiding places remain unchanged from year to year. Children have such long memories.

  

My Small Companion, standing proudly next to the Mischief Makers Box, is, in fact, a toy in the shape of Minnie the Minx, the naughty girl so beloved of readers of the esteemed Beano comic. Someone, I suppose, must have brought her along to the desk and left her here to be enjoyed by All Comers. Including me. On her back there is a round button which, when pressed, makes Minnie poke out a small, pink tongue. She is quite exquisitely rude.

 

Being me, I find it impossible not to demonstrate Minnie’s Tongue Trick to the youngsters who come to the desk. She turns out to be an excellent ice-breaker where some of the shyer children are concerned, helping them to lose their inhibitions at being faced with being quizzed by such as I.  I do notice, however, that while it makes all the young’uns laugh, not all the parents seem to appreciate it quite so much. It is, I suspect, a sign of the times. Not only is Minnie rather rude but she also has friends called Fatty Fudge and Soppy Susan - which wouldn’t be allowed these days, now would it? But then Our Minnie harks back to the time when Billy Bunter was an unlikely hero, when Desperate Dan tucked into cow pie, when the Bash Street Kids took as their sole reason for being to make their teachers’ lives a misery. It was, indeed, say the rosy-spectacled among us, a more innocent, gentler age...

 

The library staff are carrying out a consultation exercise to gather ideas about ways to create a community hub within the town centre building. An Ideas Zone has been set up, just behind the desk where I sit. Staff armed with leaflets try to catch people on their way in and out of the building to entice them into the zone. I think maybe they need a few added attractions. Like Minnie, for example.

 

It seems possible that my Minnie was one of a number of characters from the Beano produced as free toys in McDonalds Happy Meals way back in the year 2000. That makes her 18 years old and still in perfect condition, still poking her tongue out at anyone and everyone who pushes her button. I check her out on eBay when I get home, just in the interests of research, you understand, because I wonder if she might be valuable but you could probably buy a set of three - Minnie, Dennis himself and Wilfred for around a tenner.  

 

 Don’t worry, she isn’t for sale. She is far, far too valuable for that. 

 

Let’s face it, anything that makes a little one giggle has to be priceless.

I am standing on the pavement outside Guild Care, where Mr B goes for his weekly pampering session, waiting for him and his wheelchair to be decanted from the Dial-a-Ride minibus by the ever patient Malcolm. All at once my eye is taken by Something Rather Strange.

 

There is nothing unusual in that. As you know, I am always on the look-out for the strange, the weird, the unusual, the beautiful, the bizarre. How else would I manage to find subject matter for the Daily Blog, almost every day? You, my readers, have come to expect it and everyone knows one should never, ever, shatter expectations.

 

Here is what I see: a woman has emerged from Guild Care, carrying in her arms - a guinea pig. I mean, why?

 

I pose this imponderable question to granddaughter Eleanor when she contacts me via FaceTime this afternoon. Eleanor has decided that we need to talk to each other more often via the telephone or FaceTime.  This, you can imagine, is a Perfectly Splendid Idea as far as I am concerned. Eleanor doesn’t believe in just phoning out of the blue; today’s call was pre-arranged so that she and her friend Nathan could provide me with their verdicts on the film Coco, the DVD of which I loaned her last week. (My intrepid film reviewers think the film started slowly but improved as it went on and enjoyed it a great deal. Both guessed the scenes which had brought tears to my eyes but assured me neither of them were so afflicted.) My next phone call is to be on Friday when the two of them are walking twelve and a half miles around Bewl Reservoir. They will call half-way round when they stop for lunch - as one who is, as you well know, Always Thinking About My Stomach, I am pleased to hear they will be refreshed by more than my conversation.

 

Back to the guinea-pig - you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? But no, on further reflection I am wondering if it might possibly have been part of a Pets for Therapy session? I do know that dogs, for example, have been found to bring comfort to the elderly and the lonely - maybe the clients at Guild Care have been energised (terrorised?) by the scampering feet of a guinea pig scooting about the room and tripping people up, sending several right over the top of their walking frames as they try to avoid the Furry One.

 

I once interviewed a lovely young woman who took her own dog into care homes to meet the residents. It made me wonder whether Mr B would enjoy the attentions of a canine companion. Not instead of me, you understand, but in addition. It would be able to sit on his foot and drape its furry body against his legs, like my favourite labradoodle Annie did to me when I visited her at her home some time ago. I have rarely felt so comforted. When I raise this suggestion with Mr B, however, he says something like “Over my dead body!” from which I surmise that he probably isn’t that keen. Mr B isn’t really what might be called a Dog Man.

 

There was one dog which completely won his affections. He met him while on what was called a “Ride Along” with police officers in a city in California where I was on a business exchange. The police dog, an Alsatian called Vater, sat with Mr B in the back of the police van and kept tucking his head under Mr B’s arm affectionately. Nevertheless, when called to action, that beautiful dog was swift, brave and totally fearless. Mr B will never forget him. 

 

We once went to the headquarters of Canine Partners, an organisation which provides amazing dogs to transform the lives of people living with disabilities. When I say “amazing” it is no exaggeration - these dogs can load washing machines, help with supermarket shopping, tuck their “partner” up in bed and get him or her up again in the morning. Such a dog would, indeed, threaten to make me redundant. 

 

Perhaps, after all, a guinea pig would do?

I have always prided myself on being my close family’s Champion Builder of Sandcastles. 

 

This is not to say that I am unaware of the sterling sandcastle building qualities of other relatives. My brother-in-law (Mr B’s Little Bruv - they are like peas in a pod) fashions fairy castles crouching down where sea meets sand and letting wet sand drip through his fingers as he builds each magical turret and tower. My own Little Sister, like me, cannot venture onto a sandy beach without immediately setting to and constructing yet another Sandy Edifice.

 

To my own immediate family, however, I am the Expert, having indoctrinated them into believing this since the very first time they tipped a full bucket of sand upside down on the beach, patting it three times with a spade, for luck, before lifting the bucket to view the results of their earnest endeavours. Yes, my dears, I would tell them, you are getting the idea - now let’s build the Biggest Sandcastle in the World. 

 

Why, I was the person who spent my 60th birthday building a perfectly shaped castle on an almost deserted beach in Northern France and had the pleasure of hearing a passing French couple remark upon my “chateau.” 

 

It now seems, judging by the holiday photographs I have been receiving, that I have been toppled from my Sandcastle Eminence, usurped in my absence by Another. It is a sobering thought.

 

Every one of My Foursome has either been on holiday or is currently on holiday - and it is fascinating to see the difference in the subject matter of their holiday snaps. The Eldest of the Darling Daughters and her family have clearly enjoyed an action packed holiday as usual. If they have visited the odd beach, then that hasn’t made it into the cut when the decision about which photos to send me was taken. But here they are on a boat, astride horses, on cycle rides. The more adventurous, the better for that family. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters sends lots of scenic snaps of beautiful beaches, a sunset or two, and pictures of her fella and their grown-up kids fooling about in the swimming pool or the blue, blue sea. I gain an impression of a relaxing, mooching about type of holiday. Though, yes, they take a boat too.. 

 

My Boy and his family have only sent a few photos as yet but I can guarantee that their snaps will be mostly beach-based. There is bound to be a boat, too, but it will be built of sand near the edge of an incoming sea so that, once constructed, my three (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys will be able to attempt, in vain, to hold back the tide before seeing their boat succumb to the waves. They never seem to get upset about the forces of nature, knowing as they do, that - holidays being what they are - there will almost certainly be another boat-building exercise tomorrow.

 

It is the pictorial record from the Middle of the Darling Daughters that gives me cause for concern that my long reign as Castle Building Supremo is coming to an end. My Algerian son-in-law, father  of the Trio of Rampaging Rascals, appears to be producing a spectacular new castle every single day. Today it was a Jurassic World Kingdom for Faris; tomorrow he has promised Elsa’s Castle for Lilia. You have to admit he is quite remarkably ambitious. I can’t hold a red, plastic spade, let alone a candle, to him when it comes to the Building of Sandcastles.

 

One thing does puzzle me: by what magical means does he stop the Rampaging Rascals, well, rampaging all over his creations when they are but half-built? The sandcastles, I mean, not the Trio, don’t be silly. I am remembering our recent Family Beach Day when, even with the stalwart help of grandson Jack, we couldn’t complete our Big Build. I am also thinking back to the far-off days, before My Boy was born, when my eldest two daughters set out every day on our seaside holidays to build “a hundred sandcastles” only to find their baby sister following behind them flattening each and every castle as soon as it was built, with a well-aimed swish of he spade.

 

“He’s Daddy!” the M of the DDs reminds me, “He just says ‘Don’t go near!’ and they don’t.” Oh, to have such power! 

 

I can’t wait to see a picture of Elsa’s Castle tomorrow - but, in order to keep up with the other three families, I challenge the Usurper to build a boat next. Why do I have a feeling that, if he accepts the challenge, he will be producing a sandy version of the Queen Mary?

 

I bow before his excellence with bucket and spade. I know when I’m beaten...

Latest comments

13.07 | 21:36

Thanks for responding: see helmsdaleblog.wordpress.com ,a tentative start

Brian

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13.07 | 17:17

Good to hear from you, Brian! Blogging is great fun, I can definitely recommend it. I hope all is well with you. Jaqui

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12.07 | 11:59

My daughter, Ruth Eyles, passed your link on to me because I am about to tentatively begin a Blog and I have just read your latest and been encouraged.

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22.06 | 19:40

Or, just maybe, the perpetrator will be permanently stained by the pollen 😲😉😱

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