“You probably won’t believe this,” I told the kind-faced woman behind the counter in the local stationers, “but you have made my day!”
She looked at me quizzically and who could blame her, clutching as I was a single green biro and 50p? I explained (as an explanation seemed to be called for) that I had been looking everywhere for a single green biro, but
all I had been able to find were packs of four pens of different colours, blue, black, red and green. It seemed such a waste of money, to have to pay out for three pens I didn’t need just in order to buy the one I did need. Especially as at home I have
beakers full of pens, many with interesting inscriptions reminding me of my Past Life as a corporate person - “Arun Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership” reads one, “British Red Cross” says another, while a third asks, nosily: “Concerned
about alcohol use?” and provides a number of an organisation called ACALT to ring for help. Not one of them, it goes without saying, being a green pen.
woman behind the counter knew exactly what I meant, she said, and it would have made her day too, had she been me. Which, of course, she wasn’t and is never likely to be - but we clearly were kindred spirits, bonding over a 50p biro. It also said something
about the value of small local shops, compared to chains like W.H.Smith (other chains almost certainly sell packs of four different coloured pens, should you need them) and why I like to lend them my custom. Okay, it was only fifty pence, but still...
I needed the green pen for the latest Grandparents Journal I am writing - the third so far (only seven more to go if I manage to live that long.) Unlike the first two books
I have completed, this one has space for both the grandmother’s story and that of the grandfather so I have decided that mine will be written in black pen and Mr B’s in green. It will be an extremely colourful journal.
Because Mr B struggles to write more than his name these days, it falls to me to write his story as well as my own, quizzing him about his family background, his childhood and his earliest memories.
This is proving to be excellent therapy, as between us we try to draw out his answers to the questions posed on every page. We are only on the first section of the Journal and already we have had conversations about his father’s large family (he was
the youngest of eleven children) and his memories of our wedding day (he was watching the Test Match between England and the West Indies all morning so wasn’t the least bit nervous until he was standing at the altar, listening to “Here Comes The
Bride” and feeling his legs buckle beneath him.)
One of the questions asks about any family heirlooms we possess. I, as self-appointed family historian,
have my Dad’s World War II medals but Mr B couldn’t immediately think of anything. Then we remembered two items which surely count as heirlooms - the first of these, the gold watch his father was given when he retired from Bowaters Paper Mill.
He always referred to it, proudly, as his “gold watch” and we rather doubted it was really gold - until we had it repaired and valued. Mr B was so pleased to know just how much his father was valued by his employer. The watch was passed onto Our
Boy on his wedding day and hopefully will be passed down to his eldest son when the time is right.
The second “family heirloom” Mr B suddenly remembered
is an old black tin, round in shape. It doesn’t look like anything special at all - but it is the tin in which his father kept his sailor’s hat from his Navy days during the war. No sign of the hat, unfortunately, but that old battered tin goes
well with the photo we have in a silver frame of “Sailor Frank”, one of the few photographs we possess of Mr B’s lovely Dad as a young man.
yes, my new green pen is coming into its own. Mr B’s memories, as told to me and faithfully recorded by me in the Grandparents Journal, will be Forever Green.
I have decided to come clean: I am addicted to my phone...
No, not THAT phone, not the mobile phone which snuggles
in the depth of my handbag where I can never hear it ringing, the one on which if I were so inclined (and, more importantly, had the time) I could play games like Candy Crush and Fortnite, the one for which I pay £15 a month and which rebukes me, week
on week, on account of how little air time I have been using.
I’m talking about the “real” phone, the one which sits on its perch on the
hall table and keeps me in touch with family and friends. What would I do without it?
There are, to be fair, a few problems. We signed up some months ago for a
call blocker, worn out as we were by constant callers telling us that we had had an accident in our car (we hadn’t) or that our computer had been invaded by aliens (it hadn’t) or that we were entitled to an enormous payout on missold PPI (I’ve
already investigated that and, sadly, we aren’t due a windfall any time soon. Or later.) The call blocker has worked wonders, we haven’t had a nuisance call since it was installed. Unfortunately we are finding that some of the calls which have
been blocked are actually from people we would like to talk to. So far, I haven’t been able to work out a way around this.
Mostly, however, the phone is
the main means by which I can chat away to my heart’s content to my Nearest and Dearest. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters usually messages me first: “Time for a chat?” she enquires. Reader, such is my addiction to the phone, I never
say no. Not even when The Repair Shop is on and I really want to watch the Truly Wonderful Will restore an old desk to its former glory, or the Teddy Bear Ladies bring a sad-looking bear back to life, tying a bright blue ribbon round its neck after all their
washing, stitching, and stuffing. The opportunity to chat to one of my Best Beloved trumps all.
Take this afternoon. First I have a long conversation with the
Youngest of the Darling Daughters, covering all the news from her own darling daughter who is out Down Under at the moment. Apparently in the six weeks or so since she has been in the Land of Oz, she has broken no fewer than three pairs of sunglasses. I mean,
how did she manage that? Though, when you come to think of it, why break one pair of sunglasses, when you could break three? Plus, I wouldn’t have known anything about the Breaking of the Sunglasses, were it not for the telephone.
Because I have been chatting on the telephone, I haven’t got around to peeling the potatoes or putting our dinner in the oven - but, as I have explained, the telephone
is King in our house. I tell Mr B that today’s dinner will be a little later than usual but that he is not to worry as Everything Is In Hand. Mr B doesn’t seem too worried, so long as he does actually get fed.
I start preparing the potatoes, turn the oven on to 170 degrees - and the phone rings. It is the Eldest of the Darling Daughters ringing to make arrangements for a visit on her younger daughter’s
birthday at the end of July. You are thinking that I could have asked her to call me back but that would go right against the grain. The phone has rung, I have answered it. Dinner will just have to be delayed a little longer....
When I was working as a journalist, many years ago, the phone was the main instrument by which I made initial contact with the people I needed to interview. I am sure my addiction to the phone dates
back to those days. Thanks to a most enlightened employer, I was able to work from home, somehow balancing work and home life in a way which I suspect wouldn’t be allowed today. I still remember the phone call I made to the Mother Superior in a local
convent which had been hit by fire.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” she enquired, sweetly but just faintly censoriously, “but
are you ringing from a - public house?” The critical emphasis on the words “public house” came loud and clear over the phone line.
know what would be worst - to say I was in a pub or to admit the truth: that was no raucous crowd of beer-swillers she could hear in the background - it was my family....
Even before I rose from my bed this morning, I had decided I was going to have a quiet day.
have been wishful thinking on my part, of course, but I reasoned that I had a head start on my usual Friday mornings because there was no need for my usual panicky rush around to be ready for our weekly Singing for Pleasure choir session. The community centre
where we meet to sing our little hearts out was closed today while preparations were underway for a Summer Fair tomorrow. I knew I would miss it - so it seemed sensible to make plans for what to do instead. Which is when I came up with the idea of a quiet
When I say “quiet day”, I don’t mean an idle day, oh, dear me, no. But as well as there being no choir, I also reckoned I could probably
get through the whole day (including meals) without having to trot to the shops. There was plenty of meat left over from the roast leg of lamb I served up for our American friends on Wednesday, certainly enough for a tasty lamb stew and dumplings. I could
lay my hands on enough potatoes, vegetables and yoghurts for pudding while there was surely a good choice of food in fridge or larder for a healthy lunch. Wasn’t there?
This could have been the fly in the quiet day ointment as Mr B is inclined to come out with surprising requests for lunch. For example, “I feel like a pork pie,” he will proclaim. It always makes me giggle - except for the fact that it will
mean an extra trip to the shops because I don’t tend to keep pork pies in, just in case. And even if I did, that would be the day he felt like a Cornish pasty. Or whatever.
Today this was not a problem as Mr B managed to sleep through most of the day which would have made it an even quieter day than I’d planned except for the fact that England was playing cricket against Sri Lanka on the TV. You may think this means
I could just have turned the television off but you don’t know Mr B - as soon as I did he would snap awake, just like that. Only to slip into slumber once again as soon as I had returned the cricket to the box.
So what did I do with my quiet day, I know you want to know. Or possibly you are not that bothered, but as you have read this far, you may as well carry on while I explain. The thing is, I have a number of “projects”
which are in need of completing but, being a Past Master of Procrastination, I have signally failed to give them the time they deserve / need. Today, I promise myself, I will try to make some real headway towards completion.
First project for my attention is the Little Yellow Duck Project . If you haven’t heard of it, it involves knitting yellow ducks to a pattern produced by one Alan Dart, then affixing a label
to each duck and leaving it somewhere - anywhere - to be found by Someone Unknown. The purpose of the project is to raise awareness of blood, bone marrow and organ donation. I enrolled the Trio of Rampaging Rascals into the venture, promising that I would
produce a yellow duck apiece for them to hide. Since then, I have knitted just one solitary duck. Each time the Rascally Trio come, they ask if I have finished the other two ducks and I have to admit, shamefacedly, that I haven’t, not yet. The Trio never
utter one word of complaint or disappointment. Even at their young age, they know the importance of forgiving and being forgiven.
I spent part of the day,
therefore, fashioning the second duck. It really didn’t take too long, leaving me wondering why I have been putting it off for so long. Tomorrow, quiet day or not, I will make a third duck and finish the job. The Trio will be so very pleased with me.
The other pleasant task I set myself was some overdue scrapbooking and when I say overdue, I mean overdue by around 13 years. I told you I was the Past Master of Procrastination,
didn’t I? For background, it only took me eighteen months (or so) to capture the events of our 2016 Golden Wedding in a scrapbook; so pleased was I with my efforts that I decided I needed to go Back in Time and create a similar memory of our Ruby Wedding.
I already had a beautiful album, perfect for the task, and had printed off at Tesco’s dozens of photographs of the big occasion - but that’s where I came to a halt. Until today. It’s always difficult to get started, I find, but once underway,
well, there’s no stopping me. Today I completed three pages of my Ruby Wedding scrapbook as well as sorting out all the photographs into sections labelled “Party Preparations”, “Family Meal”, “Party”, “Day After
the Party” and “Roman Holiday.” Perhaps this will give you an idea how complicated this scrapbooking business is. At least, in my hands.
third project I embarked upon today was my third Grandparents Book. I have a year and two weeks to complete it, which sounds plenty of time till I tell you that there are no fewer than 138 pages to be filled with memories. Six down, and 132 to go...
I am actually feeling rather triumphant with my progress today. I have started and I will finish (as somebody once said.)
All I need is a few more Quiet Days In.
I am sitting in my car outside Durrington on Sea railway station waiting for the 11.43 train from London Victoria. I have arrived early, as is my wont, to make sure I can park right outside the station so I have almost
ten minutes to wait. I therefore decide to clear the small compartment just in front of the gear stick as part of my current de-cluttering craze. So far this has been confined to the house and garage but I see no reason why I shouldn’t branch out into
my car while I have the time and the opportunity.
The first piece of paper is an ages old email from my older brother providing directions to the house he doesn’t
live in anymore. I decide that this can go. It isn’t too difficult a decision. Next I find a map of Woking with my brother’s former house marked with a circle in blue pen. As my brother and his wife still live in Woking, I reckon this might come
in useful (provided I can find their new house on the map) so I place it on the passenger seat as the first item in my “keep pile.”
Then I pull
out several post it notes, some yellow, some pink, some blue, all with telephone numbers written on them though, unfortunately, not accompanied by names. Reluctantly I consign them to the “rubbish pile”, next to the “keep pile.” Finally
I have reached the last item - and what a lovely, sentimental find it is. It is a slip of card, decorated with a red rose, giving instructions to guests invited to the wedding of My Boy and the Darling Daughter in Law, nearly fifteen years ago. This
find proves two things: (i) that my car, the Grand Old Lady as I call her, is very old; and (ii) that I have probably never, ever, emptied out this particular compartment. Before I can contemplate what this tells me about myself, I hear the 11.43 trundle
into the station, bang on time. I push everything back into the compartment (one of our visitors will need to travel in the passenger seat so can’t be expected to sit on my rubbish / valuable finds) and jump out of the car. Okay, I don’t exactly
jump but I do wriggle myself free as quickly as possible.
As the train pulls out of the station, I can see our visitors making their way long the opposite platform.
“Hiya!” I yell, gesticulating wildly towards the steps over the railway line, to make sure they know where they are going. It doesn’t occur to me that, having spent the last nine weeks travelling around Europe and presumably successfully
finding their way wherever they wanted to go, they probably won’t have too much trouble sussing out the best way to exit Durrington on Sea railway station. They turn and wave at me, broad smiles spread across their faces as they see who it is yelling
at them. Hopefully there can be no doubt about the warmth of my welcome.
Our dear friends hail from Across The Pond. We have known them for close on twenty years,
since the year 2000 when I took part in a Business Exchange and relocated myself to California for three amazing weeks. We have kept in touch ever since and they always count us into their itinerary when they are travelling on their European holidays. To Salzburg
to visit Mozart’s birthplace - tick. To Barcelona to ramble along Las Ramblas - tick. To Worthing to catch up on all the news with Mr B and me - tick, tick, tick.
In conversation, it takes me a little while to remember that our downstairs cloakroom is “the rest room” and that our back garden is “the yard” - but that aside there is no danger of our jaws rusting. As well as sharing all our
family news (our friends have a second grandchild on the way which is most exciting ) we delve into politics, eager to ascertain each other’s views on The Donald, the Brexit Business and the marriage of Meghan and Harry. We have a fascinating discussion
on whether, had George 111 taken a different, less high-handed tack way back in the day, America might not have struck out for independence. I love those “sliding doors” conversations, all those “what if” and “just suppose”
I take them to visit my church and Field Place, one of Worthing’s hidden gems and the venue for two of the happiest occasions of my life - the
wedding of the Eldest of the Darling Daughters and our Ruby Wedding. We finish off with a roast lamb dinner and, just before I drive them to the station, a photograph in the back garden. Sorry, yard!
That was yesterday; today our friends visited Windsor Castle and counted themselves lucky indeed to see Her Maj and Co setting off for Royal Ascot. Another day, yet another (right Royal) welcome.
Until the next time!
Our lovely friend Avril brings us a large bag of gooseberries, fresh from her garden. Mr B is beyond ecstatic, already salivating at the thought of a home-made gooseberry crumble. I am, it goes without saying , happy to
oblige on account of the fact that a happy Mr B makes for an easier life all round.
It’s a strange thing about gooseberries, don’t you think - they
are such an old-fashioned fruit. Or is that just me? No one talks about gooseberries in the way they lavish praises on the health-enhancing properties of blueberries, for example. It’s not easy to find them in the shops, either. Or perhaps I haven’t
been looking closely enough...
In handing over our Berry Bounty, Avril explains that, love us as she does, she doesn’t quite love us enough to have topped
and tailed the gooseberries for us. That, I say, would definitely be over and above the call of duty. I don’t say that I will really enjoy standing over a cutting board doing the topping and tailing because that really would be taking it too far - but
actually it’s not too arduous a task, especially when I can anticipate Mr B’s delight at dinner time.
Avril’s gooseberries are smooth to the
touch which gets me thinking: weren’t they hairy, once upon a time? I seem to remember that it was the sheer hairiness of them that put me right off gooseberries when I was a littl’un. I take to the Internet to check this out, where I discover
a perfect description of the gooseberry. It is (according to the Independent and never let it be said that I would argue with that esteemed publication - at least not on the subject of gooseberries) “tart, colourful and quintessentially British, this
fierce little fruit is thoroughly misunderstood.” I think I am falling in love...
When I was small, our next door neighbour grew gooseberries and I think
it was that association which turned me off the “fierce little fruit.” Ah, yes, I surely misunderstood the humble gooseberry. My brothers, sister and I all fervently believed that our next door neighbour was a witch. We mostly based this opinion
on the fact that if ever one of our balls accidentally flew over the fence into her garden, she would scoop it up and store it in her shed until she had enough to burn on a bonfire. Now, as an adult of Great Age, I am wondering if I made this up. Did I ever
actually watch her build a bonfire and dance around it chanting spells to the smell of burning tennis balls? It is probably more likely that my brother told me this, knowing I would believe him implicitly. He once told me that a very beautiful house we passed
on our way to the local park was made of cardboard and I saw no reason to disbelieve him. Ah, yes, dear reader, Gullible is my middle name.
One particular encounter
with our Witchy Neighbour remains indelibly fixed in my memory. I have told you the story before, I think, but not with the emphasis on gooseberries which is why I feel it warrants repetition. Once again, one of our balls had whizzed off my brother’s
cricket bat and landed in our neighbour’s garden where, unless we could rescue it, it would meet the fate of so many before it. My brother decided to take matters into his own hands and sent me round to knock on our neighbour’s door with stern
instructions that I was to keep her talking while he nipped over the fence to retrieve the ball. Unfortunately, coming face to face with the Witchy One, I completely lost my nerve, standing on her doorstep with gaping mouth, like a fish out of water - at which
point she twigged what was happening, flew through the house (I didn’t see a broomstick, but I wouldn’t have put it past her) and caught my brother - in the gooseberry bush. For years afterwards, gooseberries were indelibly linked in my mind with
the fear at being found out and the agony of my brother’s deep disappointment in me.
All that was such a long time ago. It is high time I forgave the gooseberry
for the part it played. Besides, I am reliably informed that gooseberries are full of nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, manganese and dietary fibre. They are fat and cholesterol free and low in calories - just 44 calories per 100 grams.
I relate all this Nutrition Related information to Mr B and he is pleased to hear that gooseberries have even been known to help reverse diabetes - though he does, of course,
have a special request which may just negate all the positives:
Don’t forget the crumble...
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