Jaqui's Daily Blog

Here I sit, looking back to see what I was doing on January 24th last year. That was, you remember, back when the threat of a pandemic stalking the land hadn’t properly dawned upon us; when awful things were happening on distant shores but hadn’t permeated our consciousness to any great degree. How little we knew! 

 

On January 24th last year, I was enjoying a “Merry Musicals Morning” with my Singing for Pleasure choir. “Such fun!” I have scrawled in my “365 Days of Happiness” journal, a Christmas gift from grandkids Jack and Hazel. What would I have thought if someone had whispered in my ear that a mere year later I would be meeting my fellow singers virtually on screen via something called Zoom that I hadn’t even heard of way back then?

 

Yes, indeed, regular readers may have guessed that I am now on my second year recording happy moments in my small, but precious, journal. As the rule is that only happy moments are captured in its pages, there is no mention of the sad, the challenging, the downright miserable. There will be no mention in recent weeks, for example, of the various domestic mishaps that dog my days - the overflowing pipe from the water tank in the attic, the long search for a replacement shower, the lack of a working hot water tap in the kitchen. Instead, the record will show my delight when my flow valve was replaced (despite my complete ignorance of what a flow valve is or does), when Johnny the Plumber made hot water flow from my kitchen tap once again, when I finally stood underneath my shiny new shower head and luxuriated in my own personal waterfall. The Happiness Journal proves, above all else, that Everything Will Come Alright In The End. 

 

I have decided that, as well as reading each entry from last year, I will try to recreate the moment (government guidelines allowing, of course.) Consequently, on reading that on January 15th last year I went to the cinema with the Youngest of the Darling Daughters to watch Little Women, I didn’t have to think twice about what to watch last night. Okay, it wasn’t the same. No cinema, no Darling Daughter - but I sat in the semi-darkness and pretended. I am always so pleased to have been blessed with a vivid imagination...

 

The entry on Day 20 when I found bunches of daffodils for sale in the florist’s sent me out in search of these harbingers of spring. The previous day in 2020, there were snowdrops flowering in the flower beds along the path into church - so today I made sure to look out for them. There they were, peeping through the ground, ever faithful. So very beautiful.

 

On January 18th last year, I was woken up by grandson Morgan sending me a gif of Nemo waking up his Dad with a hug. Today I have sent it back to him, even though my timing is all wrong. Hopefully he isn’t already in bed, otherwise I am going to be in big trouble with his parents...

 

There are, it is sadly true, events I simply cannot recreate: meetings of our Nomination Whist group, my triumphs (and disasters) at the monthly gathering of Cribbage players, our weekly discussions at Sporting Memories, our rambles with the Birdy Group. I can, however, keep in touch with all the lovely friends I have made through all these activities. There is probably an on-line cribbage game I could join but it wouldn’t be quite the same - we wouldn’t be stopping half-way through for coffee and to select a delicious biscuit (or two) from Delia’s biscuit tin. 

 

It is going to be rather entertaining, I was thinking, over the next eleven and a half months, looking back and looking forward. But then, dear reader, I couldn’t resist it - I looked forward several pages to Day 84, March 24th 2020. I had written: “I put my rainbow in the front window and sorted out the food larder. Day 1 of Lockdown sorted!”

 

Can you hear the note of optimism? The unspoken “We can do this!” My faith in the power - and the promise - of rainbows? The optimism, one year on, is wearing a little thin and I’m trying not to think too much of the things I can’t do. 

 

The home-made rainbow, my Mothering Sunday gift last year from the Rascally Trio is, however,  still in the front window and will stay there, if necessary, throughout 2021.

 

That’s a promise.

A pair of beautiful long-tailed tits are flitting around the bird feeders in our back garden. I do love the long-tailed tit. I love it especially because it is an easily recognisable bird, on account of it having, well, a long tail. I do like a bird that does what it says on the tin...

 

It is for that reason that I particularly love the woodpecker (which pecks wood), the turnstone (which turns stones), the pied wagtail (which wags its tail), the Robin redbreast (for obvious reasons)  and the blackbird (which is black.) Mind you, I do take issue occasionally with the blackbird, as the female of the species is brown, rather than black - but I can’t be cross with them for long because we are lucky enough to have a resident Mr and Mrs Blackbird in our garden. They remind me of Mr B and me, pottering about, doing their own thing, but coming together every so often to check all is well with each other.

 

This issue of bird identification is important to me. I joined my Birdy Group a few years ago now, with the aim of learning to identify more of our feathered friends. I am pleased to report that I now recognise a great many more birds than I did before - though mainly from the informative illustrations in bird books than in the trees, the reeds, the sky above me. Fortunately in those pre-Covid days, I had plenty of help from other, keenly spotting birders in the group, to tell me where to train my binoculars and (always supposing I was training them in the right direction) what I should be able to see through them. I particularly loved places like the Warnham Nature Reserve where even I could easily spot the chaffinch, the goldfinch, the nuthatch greedily attacking the food stations installed at strategic intervals along the way simply because they stayed still long enough. It seems such a long time since we rambled along the banks of the Rife, plodded along the beach in search of sea birds, watched the larks a-rising on the Downs above our home town. I yearn for the day we can meet again...

 

The approach of the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Bird Watch is focussing my mind on All Things Feathered. In years past, I have pulled our two seater settee into place in front of our patio doors, facing out into the garden and persuaded Mr B to join me in recording every bird visiting our garden over the course of an hour. Mr B is not much help. He is always pointing out a non-existent Golden Eagle flying overhead or remarking that he is sure he saw a pink flamingo, standing on one leg in the flower bed. 

 

One of my Birdy Group friends showed me last year (or was it the year before?) the bird count he had submitted to the RSPB. How had he managed it, I wondered, when my own miserable tally amounted to two magpies and a pigeon. It turned out that he simply entered a list of all the birds which visited his garden, not just over the course of an allotted hour but over a whole season. Which was cheating, of course, but on a quite magnificent scale.

 

Tomorrow I am meeting up with granddaughter Eleanor for our daily exercise. Also known to us as “Walk and Talk.” Last week, wandering through the park, I was able to point out robins, blackbirds, magpies, collared doves, all the usual suspects you might say - “You are so good at spotting birds, Nanni!” Eleanor said, admiringly. 

 

It was such a sweet compliment that I accepted it gracefully.

 

Deserved or not.

Time was when a bubble was something I used to blow, through soapy hands, to entertain first my children and later my grandchildren at bath time. I used to be pretty good at blowing bubbles, though I say so myself as shouldn’t (as my dear mum would doubtless chide me.) Fans of West Ham Football Club still like to sing about blowing bubbles - I am sure they have my kind of bubbles in mind.

 

Today, a bubble is something completely different. It has even become a verb, would you believe, as in “I have bubbled up with...” It has also become A Person, in my case the Youngest of the Darling Daughters who arrived on my doorstep a few days ago to rescue me from the depths of despair. No, there wasn’t a soapy hand to be seen...

 

Social bubbles are allowed, under current government guidelines, so that people living alone can have some support from a chosen source to save them from loneliness. In the original guidance, only people living on their own could choose to bubble with someone (see, I have already fallen into the new jargon of our age) but more recently this has been extended to those like me who live with and care for a disabled person. My daughter and I bubbled immediately.

 

What we weren’t so sure about was whether she was allowed to travel from her home to mine in order to, well, bubble. The guidance suggested local was best but didn’t rule out the need to travel. Bubbling was considered, we were furthermore informed by Matt the Hancock, “sacrosanct” so unlikely to be changed any time soon. “I’m coming!” declared my daughter - though she did decide not to attract attention to herself by travelling via the motorways. The thought of being stopped by a Covid Marshall and requested to explain herself didn’t appeal. My daughter, like me, is extremely law-abiding...

 

I did need her company so much. With Mr B now in a nursing home, gaining the strength he will need to come home, I was feeling desperately lonely - and there are few people  quite like the Youngest of the Darling Daughters for dispelling gloom and doom. 

 

For starters, there was the ongoing competition as to which of us could walk the most steps per day, as recorded by our Fitbits. Mine, you may recall, is called Fergie, my daughter hasn’t named hers which seems a quite glaring oversight in my opinion. The main issue was that, because my ageing legs take smaller steps than her younger ones, I managed to record a few hundred more steps, despite the fact that we actually went everywhere together. This was a matter of some concern to the Y of the DD. She was even more concerned when I set out on Sunday to walk to church and back, leaving her at home for some quiet time with her laptop. Reasoning that this would give me a quite unfair head start on the day, she was outside the church waiting for me when I emerged. It’s not easy to pull a fast one (or even, at the speed I walk these days, a slow one) over my youngest daughter.

 

We spent hours talking; Mr B, had he been here, would have mourned that our jaws would not rust. We watched a different film every evening, never once arguing about each other’s choices. We took long walks along the sea-front every day, after hand-delivering my daily letter to Mr B. My daughter took photos of me and socially distanced selfies of the two of us. I look exactly like a garden gnome in all of them but the sea-scape is absolutely spectacular. We joined her Rock Choir on YouTube and laughed together at my unsuccessful attempts to get my tongue around a warm-up tongue twister which went something like: “Chicken tikka, chicken tikka, chicken tikka starter (repeat twice) naan and pilau rice!” Please do try it for yourself - there is a slightly longer version, involving mango chutney and a pint of lager but I don’t want to tie your tongues up too much, too quickly.

 

We did have some serious conversations too. One of them was about the fact that we all have our own People in our lives, those who matter most to us. Everybody needs their own Person or Persons to feel whole. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters, in answering my distress call, had to leave three of her People at home without her - and I love her for it.

 

“But you’re my Person, too!” she was quick to tell me.

 

Lucky, lucky me.

 

 

I feel a bit like Miss Havisham, that memorable character from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” Miss Havisham (for those who need some background) was jilted at the altar by her intended and spent the rest of her life wearing her increasingly tatty wedding dress, living in a ruined mansion surrounded by the grim relics of her wedding feast, complete with crumbling wedding cake and brought up her adopted daughter to wreak revenge on men.

 

Okay, I hear you say, can we just replay, rewind and explain. Unlike Miss Havisham I was not abandoned at the altar by Mr B who, despite admitting that his legs buckled under him as soon as the organist struck up with “Here Comes the Bride” on that Saturday afternoon almost 55 years ago, stuck manfully to his station. Nor am I wearing my old wedding dress though I do still have it, in its original cardboard box from good old C & A, along with my veil and tiara. I rather doubt I could fit into it now so Miss Havisham obviously kept herself in pretty good shape over the passing years. I am wearing my Winter Pandemic-wear of jeans, jumper, socks and slippers plus a navy blue woollen wrap which I bought as an insurance against cold weather either for My Boy’s wedding to the Darling Daughter-in-law (seventeen years ago this year) or that of the Youngest of the Darling Daughters to Dunk’em Dave (sixteen years ago this year.) 

 

My house is neither a mansion, nor ruined though I do have a problem with the supply of hot water from the mixer tap in my kitchen which has meant I have had to boil kettles all over the Christmas and New Year period in order to wash up my pots and pans. This has invoked in me a kind of Blitz spirit despite the fact that I was not born until after the war. Nor have I sought ways to wreak revenge on anybody, male or female, for simply existing - though like most of us, I would suggest, I wouldn’t mind hitting back at the pesky pandemic somehow. 

 

My only resemblance to Miss Havisham, I have to admit, is that while she lived on surrounded by all the paraphernalia of her Wedding That Wasn’t, I am still surrounded by All Things Christmas. The tree is still up in one corner of the living room, its lights glinting in the gloaming of the early evening. Christmas cards are on display, the garlands are still up at the windows, the festive wreath remains pinned to the front door, my shining star light continues to brighten up my kitchen window looking out into the road outside. In short, dear reader, I have told Mr B that I won’t take the decorations down until he comes home - when we will celebrate Christmas all over again. To be strictly honest he probably isn’t too bothered about the greetings cards, the tree, the garlands, the front door wreath or the star in the front window - but he is excited by the fact that the large piece of corner cut topside of beef, which I ordered for our Christmas dinner before I realised that I would be Home Alone, is wrapped up securely in the freezer, pending his arrival home.

 

I am usually very punctual about taking down my Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night but I am assured that it is perfectly fine to leave them up until Candlemas on February 2nd. If Mr B is not home by then, I shall have to think up another deadline...

 

Interestingly, I thought I might be setting a trend by refusing to take down my decorations but now it seems that many, many other people have had the same idea. It seems they are all motivated by a strong feeling that we all need cheering up in these dark days - if we have to stay at home, as Professor Whitty tells us, then we might as well pretend it is Christmas all year round. 

 

So there you are. I am not Miss Havisham, I’m not even a trend-setter. People calling at the door are beginning to look at me strangely.

 

Don’t they know it’s (still) Christmas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are times, given the size of our family, when getting everybody onto the same page is like herding a large number of extremely independently minded cats. When it comes down to something Really Rather Important, however, it is quite amazing how very, well, biddable they can be...

 

We had only just bidden each other a fond farewell on our weekly Family Zoom yesterday when Katie, Eldest of the Tremendous Ten grandchildren, messaged to tell me that she planned to put together a series of short videos featuring every member of the family, to be emailed to the nursing home where her Grandad is a Most Reluctant Resident, to wish him a Happy Birthday today. Given that she was working to a very tight timetable, including at least eight hours of sleep time, it seemed quite a tall order. Would she really achieve compliance in such a short time? 

 

Our family, including our extended family comprising sisters, brothers and Assorted Relatives By Marriage, makes quite a habit of such exercises in compiling Video Greetings En Masse. Usually we are all given a couple of weeks at least to (I) plan our contribution; (ii) compose our offering (especially when of a poetic nature; and (iii) have a few run-throughs to ensure we both sound eloquent and look (for the most part) presentable. Even so, most of us require a timely nudge or several from whoever has taken on the task before we get round to submitting our Magnus Opus. I didn’t envy our Katie her job as self-appointed Producer and Director.

 

I should have known better. This morning she sent over the finished film - complete with no fewer than 23 “appearances” - to the member of staff at the nursing home responsible for activities, with a copy to me. The film starts with the Welsh Contingent and finishes with Yours Truly, managing to repeat myself three times over a thirty second video, despite having deleted four previous attempts as unacceptable. There are several renditions of Happy Birthday, some more tuneful than others but all heartfelt. Hazel Bagel plays back to her Grandad one of his favourite jokes: she had been practising her tap dancing, she tells him, waving her tap shoes at the camera: “But I fell in the sink!” Yes, Mr B’s jokes really are that bad. “Come on, Spurs!” says Young Faris, with the slightly grudging expression of a Chelsea supporter - everyone hopes that Mr B’s team will do the right thing by the Birthday Boy and register a win in today’s FA Cup match. 

 

This morning I took in lots of presents and cards, plus a birthday cake still (as instructed) in its original, unopened packaging. I have to place the bags on the door step, ring the bell and step back like an Amazon delivery driver. I'm not allowed inside - it's a case of so near, yet so far.

 

This afternoon, we had a FaceTime booked and I had great expectations of a lovely, long chat. Unfortunately Mr B appeared to be watching TV and was not exactly as communicative as I had hoped. So long it is since we saw each other - why wasn’t he more pleased to see me, I wondered? 

 

Then suddenly he turned to look at me on screen and said: “It’s amazing, isn’t it, that you’ve been allowed to come in...” and I realised that he actually thought I was sitting, companionably, next to him, chatting away in my customary fashion while he kept watching the footie on TV. 

 

It wasn’t what I had expected but the more I think about it the more comforting it feels. Could anything really be better, I am telling myself, than him thinking I am with him, not a few miles away at home?

 

Happy Birthday, dear, absent Mr B. It’s not what we would have planned, being apart on your birthday for the first time in at least 54 years. I’m glad that, as far as you’re concerned, I was where I’ve always been.

 

Right by your side.

 

Latest comments

28.12 | 07:41

This wonderful blog has summed up the true meaning of A Christmas Day. Once the dread of a restricted day had sunk in, other ways were invented. Thank you

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22.12 | 09:20

So sorry to hear that Brian is in hospital. It would be bad at any time but at present....... It must be true agony for you. You'll both be in my thoughts. xx

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22.08 | 02:02

Karen,

I'll be able to help you with information on the usher's as Thomas Henry Usher is my aunt's ancestor as well can you please email me so we can talk

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22.08 | 02:00

Hi Karen,

I thought I would try again to see if I can get a response from you again please email me so we can talk further. My email is: lol-emma@live.com.au

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