Jaqui's Daily Blog

Despite a few grumbles I have heard of late from people who have been feeling an unseasonal chill in the air, I remain constant in my opinion that this has been a Totally Glorious Summer.

 

I measure this by the sheer number of wonderful meals – picnics, lunches, tea parties, dinners – that we have enjoyed in our back garden over the past few months. I couldn’t tell you how many there have been as I have completely lost count, the whole summer being wrapped up in a haze of gastronomic memories.  As one who is (as regular readers know only too well) Always Thinking of My Stomach, it is noticeable that eating in the Great Outdoors is good for the digestion. I do not have any scientific proof of this, you understand, but I believe it to be so.

 

Many of these meals were just Mr B and I sitting companionably over our dinner and debating such important issues as whose sunflower was the tallest (mine) and whose was first to flower (Mr B’s).  Occasionally, especially over the last week, Mr B needs to be convinced that it will remain warm enough into the evening for us to sit outside. I am the Sunny Optimist in our family, while Mr B is (he frequently tells me) a Realist.  A Realist with a Hint of the Pessimist, I would say but Mr B responds, quite reasonably, that at least he can more or less guarantee that he won’t be disappointed if, for example, the sun goes in, the skies cloud over and we have to decamp into the living room and finish our coq au vin at the dining room table.

 

Here’s how the conversation goes:

 

“Eating out today?” I carol merrily. It is what was categorised, in those far-off Latin lessons, as a question expecting the answer “yes”.  This can be verified quite easily by the fact that, even as I pose the question, I am already carrying knives, forks and wine glasses outside. Mr B puts on his Doubtful Face and suggests I take a look at the trees at the bottom of the garden which are swaying in a stiff breeze.  I consider my possible responses which are (i) I am sure it is a warm breeze; (ii) we will be sheltered from it, warm or otherwise, on our patio; or (iii) if it isn’t as warm as I might hope then we can always put our jumpers on if we really need to.  I then carry on laying the table outside and Mr B shrugs his shoulders in a brave, Nobody Ever Listens To Me fashion. We eat outside. It gets a bit breezy. We fetch our jumpers and brave it out until, by mutual and unspoken consent, we move inside to choose a DVD which we both fancy watching. “Shame we have to go inside,” I say, “But otherwise we won’t have time to watch the film before the news comes on...” “Plus we will freeze to death,” mutters Mr B, determined to have the Last Word. I let him have it. The Last Word, that is. What did you think I meant?

 

Among my favourite meals in the garden was the Get Together with my sister and brothers, sipping Prosecco in the sunshine and enjoying childhood memories and Afternoon Tea.  There have also been a couple of truly memorable Sunday Roast Dinners, one on the last day of the Little Welsh Boys’ Worthing Holiday before their parents bore them homewards, the other as a reward for our Son in Law and his friend for clearing a path through the “stuff” in our loft.  (“They are really looking forward to a racist dinner,” the Middle of the Darling Daughters texted me. Don’t you just love predictive text?)

 

The birds, like me, are enjoying their meals out in the back garden.  Mr B says that they are eating us out of house and home, given the number of times I have to refill the feeders, replace the mealworm-filled coconut shells and check out the state of the suet balls. I am glad, indeed, that I don’t have to hover about on fast-fluttering wings trying to grab a few seeds from a feeder before my fellow sparrows push me out of the way or hang upside down from a coconut shell in order to satisfy my stomach. I would do it, if I had to, in the interests of my stomach but it wouldn't be a Pretty Sight.

 

I am not a weather forecaster but I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of this Glorious Summer of 2014. Apart from anything else, my sunflowers haven't burst into flower yet. Keep the faith! I say, Pollyanna that I am.

 

Mr B has gone upstairs. I think he might be looking for a jumper...

I do seem to be wearing rather a lot of different hats these days. Certainly rather more than in my previous life as a Working Gal which feels like a lifetime away but was, in fact, only a little over two years past.

 

A smart hat is in order for when I am required to attend a Board Meeting or a School Governors’ Meeting. This is to go with the few smart clothes I have remaining in my wardrobe, relics from my working life. It would be a foolish waste of money to invest in new clothes that I won’t wear very often, so I find myself turning up at meetings wearing two or three outfits in rotation. Hopefully nobody pays sufficient attention to what I am wearing to notice this; as Young Faris is fond of reminding me on those occasions when he takes over the Daily Blog, I have now reached a Great Age and, in common with others of the same generation (and this is well documented fact), I have become largely invisible.

 

Hats and I do not suit each other, we are mutually incompatible. I have yet to find a hat which really suits me, whether that’s of the over-the-top wedding variety, or the common or garden sun-hat. The largest hat I ever wore was at the Middle of the Darling Daughter’s wedding ten years ago this year.  In order to put this information into context you need to know that she gave me precisely five days’ notice of the date of the wedding, apologising profusely for the fact that this would certainly curtail any Mother Of The Bride shopping trips I might otherwise have enjoyed. She had, however, reckoned without a lovely friend of mine who loaned me the complete outfit she had worn for her own daughter’s wedding – from (slightly too large) shoes to the most amazing hat. I wasn’t sure Merton Register Office was ready for me and The Hat but I felt it only right to wear the outfit in its entirety. The bride was suitably amazed.

 

I do also own what I understand is called a “fascinator” which perches in an ungainly fashion on the top of my head, looking like some exotic Bird of Paradise which has accidentally landed in a strange, foreign land of wayward curls. I am still trying to decide whether to wear it to my lovely niece’s wedding in October or whether I should leave it in the wardrobe for fear it might scare the real birds.

 

When I talk of “hats”, you see, I am not referring to actual head-gear. I am referring to the various roles I have taken on in retirement. Every time I spring out of bed in the mornings (or, alternatively, drag myself out from under the covers) I have to remind myself which hat I will be assuming that day. Along with the more formal roles described above, there is my role as Chief Companion to Mr B which often requires no more than being prepared to “just be” rather than rushing about here, there and everywhere.  A slouch hat, maybe? Then there is my role as a researcher of the family history – in hat terms, a deer-stalker methinks? There are the increasingly rare occasions when I adopt a sporting stance – meriting a baseball cap, don’t you think? – worn back to front in imitation of grandson James.

 

All this talk of hats comes about because yesterday, along with my brother and sister, I was privileged to attend my dear cousin Michael’s funeral. He was a “wearer of many hats”, the charming woman who led the service told us – not least his trade-mark Panama hat which nestled among the family flowers atop the wickerwork coffin prompting mixed tears and smiles from all present.

 

Michael was, first and foremost, a devoted husband to Diane, a loving father to Martin, Duncan and Alistair, and a beloved and attentive grandfather. He was also a gardener, a scientist, an artist, an engineer, a badminton coach – just a few of the many “hats” he wore which earned him love, respect and admiration in equal amounts. I remember him showing me some of the amazing models and toys he had made for various children and grand-children – sadly I never got to see the life-size Dalek he constructed for one of his sons but it received a special Mention in Despatches at his funeral. Whatever became of the Dalek? someone asked at the wake which followed the service. Apparently it was sold to help finance the purchase of a motor bike for the son concerned. Michael would not have minded at all, the pleasure being all in the making for the ace modeller (yep, indeed, yet another of his “hats”.)

 

Michael was always so good to my Mum. After she died, when I came to look through her papers, I was grateful to find lots of letters, post-cards and loving messages “to Auntie Dolly, from Michael.”

 

She will surely have been looking down on us all, quietly pleased that three of her four children (and our spouses) were there at the funeral to celebrate our dear cousin Mick’s many-hatted life. 

It’s the Bowls Club’s Charity Fun Day and we could do with a bit more sunshine.

 

However we have been lucky in that there has only been one brief shower and that was timed beautifully for when Mr B took me to buy a bowl of thick vegetable soup with croutons in the Marine Gardens Cafe. As I have told you on plenty of occasions, Mr B knows how to spoil a girl. No, I am not scoffing (as in either of its definitions): the soup is just what I need, given my lack of taste and difficulties eating on account of my poor, sore mouth. No wonder my stomach is complaining, it doesn’t know what’s up. Have I stopped thinking about it after all these years, it must be wondering? One day soon, I hope to provide it with the reassurance it craves.

 

Over in one corner of the green, WADARS – the animal charity which Captain, Our Captain has chosen as his charity for the year – has set up a bright red gazebo, festooned with festive bunting and graced by a small ball of fluff which turns out to be a dog. If Katie and Eleanor were here they would be in that tent, cuddling the ball of fluff and playing doggy games with it. As it is, they are spending a few days with Young Faris and his mum – so there will be much cuddling and playing of games but with Faris whom nobody could ever mistake for a ball of fluff.

 

It would have been good to have either Katie or her cousin Jack here as in the past both have managed to carry off the prize for the main competition of the day in consecutive years. Today with Katie on Faris Watch and Jack in Barbados, it’s left to me to try to keep up the family honour. What about Mr B, I hear you ask? Well, he has come prepared with his camera slung around his neck to fulfil his duties as Club Photographer. There is no way the Club Photographer can take time off his onerous task to participate in the competition. It’s all down to me.

 

The competition consists of five separate games each requiring variable skill.  I buy my score card (at a cost of £1) which gains me entry into the competition and line up for the first game which requires competitors to putt four golf balls through holes in a wooden edifice half way up the green. I’m not a bad putter (though I say so myself as shouldn’t, as my dear Mum would doubtless gently chide me) so this is the one game in which I might be expected to score. I start so well, too. Straight and true, my ball flies through the middle hole, earning me a sterling five points. I should have stopped right there, while I was on a winning streak. Sadly, all three of my subsequent putts fail to score.

 

I was never going to do too well at the second game, which involved bowling four woods and aiming for the gaps between four strategically placed shuttlecocks. My first three attempts fall well short. “Give it some welly!” the people behind me in the queue urge me, not very helpfully. I hurl the ball towards the row of shuttlecocks and watch as it witters its way towards the target, stopping just a few inches short. The scorer takes pity on me and awards me a quite undeserved 20 points. He probably realises I am unlikely to be challenging the competition leaders and feels I will benefit from some encouragement.

 

In the third game I score an amazing 30 points, managing to lob one ball into a hole some feet away. However, before you applaud my feat, you need you to know that in this particular game it is possible to score anything up to 200 points. In fact the competition, as a whole, is won or lost on this leg.  If I were the type to take this competition seriously, then I would practise this game for a week beforehand till I was sure I could lodge all four of my woods into the “50” hole. But obviously, as you know by now, that’s never going to happen.

 

I score an ignominious “Nil Points” in the final two legs of the competition, ending up with a thoroughly disappointing 35 points. It is a Very Poor Showing. The eventual winner scores 338 points which someone with a mathematical bent might point out is almost ten times my pitiful effort.

 

Still there is more to the Charity Fun Day than the competition. I buy some books from the book stall, including “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” which I’ve been wanting to read for ages and Mr B spends a pound on rhubarb from someone’s garden. We guess (wrongly) the weight of the cake, try (unsuccessfully) to win a bottle of whisky in the raffle and Mr B samples some home-made cheese straws which he pronounces delicious.

 

At the Bowls Club’s Committee Meeting last Monday, the Honorary Secretary remarked that almost all the new members who have joined us this season did so because they had seen our members playing on the green and clearly, unmistakably, thoroughly enjoying themselves. It’s what I have always said – there are few things so contagious as sheer, unadulterated fun.

 

Win or lose.

I’m elbow-deep in soapy water when the unusual sound of clip-clopping hooves makes me look up from the greasy pans and out of the kitchen window.  What a sight to see! Two fine white horses, arrogantly tossing the feathered plumes on their heads and pulling an open carriage which would have satisfied Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. This would have saved Major the horse, Bruno the dog and Cinders’ mousy friends from a great deal of unnecessary trauma and left the pumpkin growing peacefully in its patch until Thanksgiving Day.

 

Inside this handsome vehicle, a beaming bride, a chap who might be either the handsome groom or the proud papa and a couple of sweet bridesmaids, all a picture of happiness. I don’t know if they are coming or going to the wedding but they make a marvellous scene processing so grandly along our suburban road. There isn’t time to grab my camera and make for the front door so I have to make do with waving madly at them from my vantage point at the kitchen sink. This I do completely instinctively but sadly I’m pretty sure they didn’t see me. Coming or going, I wish them a happy married life.

 

I love insights into other people’s lives. Sit me in a railway carriage and I will spend a third of my time with my nose in a book, a third shamelessly eavesdropping on my travelling companions in the hope of some blog-worthy conversations, and a third looking out at the houses we are clattering past and wondering who lives in them, what they do for a living, are they happy? You are probably thinking it’s none of my business and you are, of course, quite right but I’ve been playing this game for as long as I can remember – right back to childhood days when the train was steam-powered and you arrived at your destination all grimy with specks of soot.

 

Then there’s the restaurant game. Have you never played it? You need neither board nor dice, just an over-active imagination. It helps to take a seat in the very centre of the restaurant where you have an unimpeded view of all the surrounding tables. Then, table by table, you try to work out the family relationships, particularly Who “Belongs” To Whom. Some parties are simplicity itself – assisted by the fact that there is a pink balloon with a large 90 on it, attached to the chair of a white-haired great-grandmother surrounded by her loving family.  Mind you, working out which are sons and daughters and which are the in-laws, and which children belong to which parents – well, that can keep me not-very-gainfully occupied through most of my main course if I am lucky.

 

Look at that couple in the corner, ferociously arguing over their coffee cups. Are they married? If so, are they married to each other, or to other people? Is this a major fall-out or did he simply forget to empty the dish-washer again this morning? The people at the adjacent tables are studiously ignoring the unfolding scene while almost certainly ear-wigging for all they are worth but in some ways it is more fun to be out of hearing distance as there is more Room for the Imagination.

 

In certain cases, you might be fortunate enough to have a table which offers sudden glimpses into the kitchen every time a waiter or waitress breezes through with a tray-full of delicious desserts. Is it a happy working atmosphere, in there among the pots and pans? Has my steak supper been prepared with love by a chef who treats his or her work as art or by some grump who thinks he is too good for a seaside cafe and should be cooking at The Ritz? Would it make any difference to the taste? Oh, I’d forgotten, I still have no sense of taste. Tasteless, that’s me.

 

Mr B asks me what I am blogging about today and looks a little puzzled when I tell him. He obviously thinks that when I am playing the Restaurant Game I am hanging on his every word. Why, he asks, am I not telling my readers about the fact that both his sunflowers are now in bloom while mine are still struggling to find their Innner Flower. I could tell you what I replied but I won’t, if you don’t mind.

 

I will leave it to your imagination.

This morning I found myself in the company of a lovely group of people, members of a group called Interim. They had invited me along to give them a talk about the U3A (the University of the Third Age).

 

When I say I “found myself” it gives the impression that I was transported by the Floo Network - Harry Potter style - from my comfortable home, arriving in a surprised heap in the equally comfortable parish centre at Broadwater. In fact an extremely courteous gentleman called Geoff, clad in shorts and tee-shirt, arrived at my door to whisk me to my destination. He apologised in advance for the fact that he would have to leave before I actually started talking as he had a prior engagement. I reassured him that I would not take offence.  

 

No, when I say I “found myself” what I mean is “why me?” I am hardly the World Expert on the subject of the U3A, nor do I have an exalted position as a member of the local branch Committee. What happened was this: a charming woman telephoned me to say that she was the secretary of this group and they were hoping for someone to speak about the U3A at a future meeting. She was phoning me because mine was the only telephone number which seemed to be displayed prominently on our website. Don’t ask me why this is so, but I have checked it out and there’s my number on the front page as the contact for the SUN project (regular readers may or may not remember what this was all about.) Try to find a number for a Committee member and you are right out of luck.  

 

I rashly told the sweet lady that I was sure somebody from U3A would be happy to oblige – but when I reported on this to our Chairman, she merely said it was very good of me to offer. Which is how I “found myself” this morning sharing a coffee with Interim members and hoping my little talk would not send them all to sleep. I’m just the gal who can’t say no...

 

It was great fun researching my talk.  I logged onto the national U3A website and happened across a 13 page document entitled The U3A Story which described how the organisation developed from its earliest days in 1981 to the present when it can boast over a quarter of a million members. I loved hearing how the first national committee consisted of just four people who had their inaugural meeting in a car travelling between Cambridge and London. There was ample evidence, too, of the way we U3A-ers have always been a feisty crowd with tales of controversies throughout the ages, mostly because of concerns about “central control”. Now where have we heard that before? Nor did I know that our very British model of a U3A differs substantially from those in other countries which tend to be affiliated to local universities. The Founding Fathers of the British model felt strongly that our version should be based on self-governing, democratically-run local groups with convenors, rather than teachers, sharing knowledge and expertise on any and every subject. All based on the principle that Learning is for Life. Amen to that, I say.

 

Let me tell you a little bit about Interim. It’s a small group set up to offer help and support for the recently bereaved. It meets once a fortnight, sometimes with a speaker, mostly just gathering for companionship and conversation with other people in similar, life-changing circumstances. As they say in their excellent little leaflet: “ Interim ...is for that ‘in-between’ time, that time between the familiarity of life shared with another and readiness to take up a different life alone. This is a time of change, of maybe the most difficult adjustment of your life....We share memories with each other, support each other with practical ideas to ease the passage into a new way of living. In the most gentle way possible, we draw alongside you to walk together in that ‘in-between’ time.”

 

I am humbled by their inspiring gentleness, compassion and understanding. And I am very glad that I “found myself” in their company today.

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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