We had the most cheerful driver on the Pulse bus this afternoon.
Her hair was dyed a kind of pinky-orangey-red colour and
she greeted us all personally as we boarded her bus. This made a change from the grunt with which some drivers generally greet my merry halloo. So warmed were we by her welcome that it made us all quite forget the fact that we had been waiting rather
a long time for her bus to come along.
By we I mean me and about a dozen other characters of mixed ages and gender – no, Mr B wasn’t with me, he’d
taken the car to Waitrose to do a bit of Clicking and Collecting on behalf of the Middle of the Darling Daughters (Mr B and I like Clicking and Collecting, especially around Christmastime, even when we are clicking and collecting for someone else) and left
me to run a few errands in town and travel back by bus on my lonesome. If you can be lonesome on a busy bus, that is.
Waiting at the bus stop, I managed
to secure a perch on the wooden bench in the bus shelter, which was useful as I was able to sit the Rather Large Christmas Present I had just bought on my lap. I told the woman sitting next to me about the amazing bargain I had just secured. She wasn’t
as impressed as I thought she should have been but this might have been because the Awfully Large Christmas Present was definitely invading her space. The bus information sign said our bus was “due” which was encouraging. However it continued
to be due for the next ten minutes while other buses bound for Places Elsewhere kept trundling up. Hence we might have been a whole lot of grumpy passengers had it not been for the Sweetness and Light emanating from our colourful bus driver as we boarded
The spirit of cooperation continued on board with everyone keen to help each other out. I moved from my seat so that a young mum didn’t have to
fold down her push-chair and the woman I moved next to took the Ginormous Christmas Present onto her own lap for the duration of the journey. She told me such a sad story about how she had taken her nephew into her home when both his parents died and
how she was struggling with his learning difficulties while trying, unsuccessfully, to get him the help he needed. I remembered the report on TV a few days ago which highlighted just how many families were struggling in this way; now I was sitting next
to one of them and couldn’t think of a single thing I could do to help.
At this point in the journey the bus stopped to let on a woman in a wheel-chair.
The driver leapt nimbly from her cab to put down the ramp onto the pavement. “You’ve chosen the very worst bus stop to get on,” she informed the new passenger, cheerfully. The woman manoeuvred her wheelchair skilfully into a vacant
space, the bus driver jumped back into her seat and tried to start the bus. Nothing doing. A skinny gent in a flat cap suggested meekly that maybe she should remove the ramp from the pavement? Cue much laughter on the bus. Our driver took it all in good
spirits, telling us she forgot the ramp all the time and asking the skinny gent if he would like to drive the bus?
I was almost sorry when it was my turn to get off the bus, we were all having so much
fun. I retrieved the Humungous Christmas Present from my neighbour, wished her well and thanked our driver for making our journey such fun.
Mr B was waiting for
me at home. What took me so long? he wanted to know.
Well every reader of the Daily Blog could tell him chapter and verse. But I bet there are a good few of my
Nearest and Dearest wondering just whose present I was struggling home with so valiantly.
Like me at the bus stop, they will just have to wait...
I was mildly appalled to read that over a third of parents still buy their Thirty-Something off-spring an Advent Calendar every year. I mean, when will these Old Kids ever grow up?
Then I started to feel a bit worried on account of the fact that it is perfectly possible my own Foursome feel (i) aggrieved or (ii) unloved or (iii) deprived on account of the fact that I haven’t
bought any of them an Advent Calendar for going on 25 years. Does this make me a Bad Mother?
Even when I was buying Advent Calendars, back in the days when
they were young, we only ever had one between the four of them. Simple arithmetic will tell you that this meant each child only ever opened six windows. Nowadays it seems to be the done thing for each child in a family to have his or her own calendar,
complete with chocolate sweets hidden behind each window. The calendars of my off-spring’s childhood didn’t dispense chocolates, as far as I remember. My poor infants had to be satisfied with the excitement of prising open the cardboard shutters
to discover a picture of a camel, or a donkey or a Christmas cracker inside. The Darling Daughters also never quite forgave me for the fact that their brother, being fourth in line, always managed to open the last window, on 24 December, thus having
the undoubted privilege of disclosing the baby Jesus in the manger. Each year I thought I should perhaps ring the changes so that one of the girls had the pleasure, only to forget all about it by the time the next First of December rolled round.
My really rather wonderful god-daughter, Pip, and her sister always had an Advent calendar each every year. What’s more, they kept them so that, as each Christmas came round, they would put on display every
single calendar they had received over the years. There were always so many Advent calendars decorating their house that they quite put WH Smith to shame. These days their lovely Mum still selects a sample few calendars to mark the month – a sweet
remembrance of Christmases past. It makes me wish I’d kept our calendars – but I think, by the time we reached Christmas each year, they were in no fit state for anything but the bin.
You may have noticed that there is an Advent Candle on the website. I hope you like it. You can watch it slowly burning down when you visit the Daily Blog each day. I did also have snow flakes floating across
the page but then I remembered that the Eldest of the Darling Daughters objected to these last year on the grounds that they made the blog hard to read. Well, I can’t have that, can I? And if the weather forecast is to be believed, there are enough snow
flakes heading our way without me adding to the total, even virtually.
These days Mr B and I also opt for an Advent Candle, rather than a calendar. There is a
rather splendid one, with the numbers 1 – 25 printed along its entire length, sitting on my granite hearth at the moment, burning away with fiery determination. It is 3 December today and it still hasn’t burnt down as far as the number 1,
despite the fact that I have lit it each day at about 6 p.m. and left it burning till we have headed up to bed. It is, as you have probably guessed, an extremely thick candle.
What is worrying me is if, by 25th December, we have only managed to burn the candle down to, say, the 12th of the month.
Will we still be entitled to celebrate Christmas?
We are walking back to our car, lugging our conductor’s wooden platform between us and cheerfully singing “Sussex by the Sea”. We have been asked to return the platform to the community
centre from whence it came. It’s the least we can do for our friend, Terry, who did most of the organising for today’s Choir Concert.
we did it! About thirty of us, all dressed in our red shirts and black trousers or skirts, turned up at the Queen Alexandra’s Home for Retired Ex Service Men and Women (aka Gifford House) this afternoon, prepared to sing our hearts out. We looked like
a Proper Choir. As we make for the entrance, a couple of nurses emerge and look at us in puzzlement. “What’s with all the people turning up?” we distinctly hear one of them ask the other. It seems we are not universally expected.
Mr B and I had spent a fair bit of the morning preparing our red files. Between us we had typed out the words of all the songs we would be singing in a large font and
put them in order in our distinctive red files. We had been through each song carefully, marking the lines which were to be sung by the men, those to be trilled by the women and those where we would join our voices in joyful song. Or something similar.
I had to warn Mr B that our conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, is inclined to change important aspects of the programme in the middle of proceedings. We must be prepared for her to decide we will only sing two verses rather than three of a particular
ditty or even to drop a song altogether. This does not go down too well with Mr B who likes to know where he is, what he’s doing and when he is doing it. I tell him there’s not much I can do about it – Muriel will do what Muriel will
do. She is the conductor, after all, and we are Merely Singers.
The audience is much larger than I remember from last year so the Social Room is quite packed.
Last year, I seem to recall, the choir outnumbered the audience though what the Old Soldiers lacked in numbers, they made up for in appreciation. Hopefully, we tell each other, as we settle into our seats, we will please them again this year.
After a quick Round the World in song, we embark on a medley of songs from Oliver – I’d do Anything, As Long as He Needs Me and Consider Yourself. When
we sing I’d Do Anything, we women ask the questions and the men provide the answers. Muriel has exhorted us to sing this with conviction, turning towards each other as we sing. I would have liked to have put on a performance with Mr B, which would
have been fun, but at the last minute a late-comer sat down between us, rather spoiling the effect. Still, you can’t go wrong with good old Oliver, can you?
best response of all is to our spirited rendition of Sussex by the Sea. I love that song – and even more so since I read the following passage in the Sussex & Surrey Courier of February 1917:
“There must have been something of Sussex tenacity in the battalion that earned the name of “The Iron Regiment” in the Expeditionary Force which crossed the Channel in 1914 and in no regiment did local feeling
run higher. The men sang their song “Sussex by the Sea” in the trenches and moved into action “steady as on parade” through the smoke and haze of that September morning at Loos to the same song:
“For we’re the men from Sussex
Sussex by the Sea
We plough and sow and reap and mow,
And useful men are
And when you go from Sussex,
Whoever you may be
You tell them all that we stand or fall
For Sussex by the Sea.”
The article ends: “Surely the strangest words that have ever carried men into battle.”
The Social Room at Gifford House is warm and cosy. Not a hint of smoke or haze, no sound of gunfire or exploding shells. But the men and women at Gifford House have known the terrors of war and
conflict. They understand, so much more than I do, the simple power of a stirring song to inspire the “useful men” of Sussex and carry them into battle in a foreign land, far from home.
I am singing my heart out for them - and for those brave, shadowy figures of almost a century ago.
Life is full of experiences, don’t you think? Today was no exception.
There we were, travelling along the A24 towards
Woking and the venue for this year’s Brothers and Sisters Day. If you read yesterday’s Daily Blog, you will remember that, because my sister-in-law has been ill, Mr B and I were preparing the food and transporting it up to my brother’s
house. I had packed up our two Union Jack cool bags (patriot that I am) – one containing the apple pie, two pots of custard and one of cream, the other containing Auntie Bessie’s mashed potato, two kinds of vegetables, a bottle
of red wine and a bottle of white wine. Into the car boot with them! This Meals on Wheels business is a piece of cake.
Except that I had reckoned without
the Main Dish – Mr B’s Boeuf Bourguinon – which certainly couldn’t be consigned to the boot, or the back seat or anywhere where there was a risk it might slop all over the place whenever the car turned a corner.
There was nothing else for it. There I sat, in the passenger seat, cradling the Boeuf Bourguignon. It was my job to try to keep the casserole dish on a level through every twist and
turn of our fifty mile journey. Roundabout coming up? Sharp corner? A bit of hard braking to avoid those annoying fellow motorists who think they own the road? Pulling up at traffic lights? At each and every such point in the journey, I had to carefully
tilt the casserole dish in the appropriate direction so that the contents didn’t slop under the lid and run down the sides of the dish. It was a bit like riding pillion on a motorbike, where (if I remember rightly from my youth) you have to lean
into the bends but not so much that you topple over. Unlike riding pillion, however, there was nothing in the least bit exhilarating about riding Pot Passenger. It was tiring in the extreme and stressful with it. I knew Mr B would never forgive
me if, after all his hard work in the kitchen yesterday, I spilt so much as a single drop of his precious Boeuf Bourguignon.
You will be pleased to hear that we
all - including the Boeuf Bourguignon – arrived safely and in no time at all the casserole dish was in the oven heating up splendidly while we enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee and a shortbread biscuit.
My sister and her husband arrived – we were all present and correct. Our other brother had been unable to make it down from his home in Scotland but we all agreed he was doubtless there in spirit. I
managed to get the meal on the table with the minimum of fuss and bother, just as I had planned. Bravo, Aunt Bessie, your microwaved mashed potatoes were excellent and nobody would have known I had cheated except that, being me, I felt obliged to
We all had so much to talk about over dinner that there was (as Mr B would doubtless have said, had he been able to get a word in edgeways) no danger of our jaws rusting.
Yes, we all talked at once, probably as we used to do when we were young’uns. Life must have been noisy in our house when we were youngsters.
There is a kind of shorthand between siblings,
I always think, born of having grown up together. The in-laws – our long-suffering partners – look on and listen patiently as we start telling stories about long ago only to forget to finish them or to
find ourselves diverted onto another fascinating historical tack. It doesn’t matter, of course, because we have related all the stories many times before and we all know how they end. They are the history of our shared childhood. They
are what has made us the people we are today.
Nothing matters more to me than my family. I love the fact that over the years Mr B and I have added precious
branches to our family tree which have, in turn, added more amazing and wonderful branches of their own. We are quite some tree, I like to think.
my brothers and sisters – well, they are the ones who shared my childhood, the ones who have known me longer than anyone else. They will look at me and remember the child I was, just as I remember the big brother I idolised and the little sister
They are my roots.
If it was good enough for Delia, we decided, it was good enough for us.
I’m talking about Delia’s Cheat Boeuf
Bourguignon which, served up with Auntie Bessie’s mashed potato and ready prepared veg would serve us well as we prepared to do Dinner on the Move.
explain. Every year about this time – it would have been our dear Mum’s birthday on Monday – we get together for our annual Brothers and Sisters Day. This year it was to have been our turn to host the happy occasion but my sister-in-law
is still recovering from a spell in hospital and isn’t up to travelling yet. So if she can’t travel to the dinner, well the dinner will simply have to travel to her. We would prepare most of the food in advance, transport it (carefully) to its
destination where we would re-heat it, add a few Quick And Easy Accompaniments, and serve up. Easy peasy.
Delia’s Cheat Boeuf Bourguignon looked simple
enough on the basis that you just threw all the ingredients into a pot, added lashings of red wine and cooked for three hours. However, half way down the list of ingredients and "Houston, We Have a Problem." We need something called borettane onions
in balsamic vinegar, available (allegedly) from Waitrose or Sainsbury’s. OK, some of you are undoubtedly saying: “So, what’s the problem?” but hopefully the rest of you will be as flummoxed as we were. It took us so
many hours to (unsuccessfully) scour the shelves of the two named supermarkets for borettane onions, in or out of balsamic vinegar, that we could have made two non-cheat Bourguignons in the time we wasted.
In the end it hardly mattered. Mr B cooked up a storm while I was out and the resultant meal tasted fantastic. He forgot to use the lardons and the bay leaves and, to be honest, ignored most of Delia’s recipe, resorting
instead to his own Hairy Biker style of cooking. What about the thyme? I asked him. He said it took simply AGES.
I was very grateful to him for stepping
up to the cooker and saving me one of many tasks on my “To Do” list. There are just too many deadlines looming up. Monday is the Choir Concert and I still have to prepare our bright red files with all the words of the songs we will be singing
typed out in large letters. This will enable us to look at our audience from time to time while we are singing, as our conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, constantly exhorts us - rather than peering downwards at our words all the time. Worse still,
I have until December 31st to complete my Great War Project case studies - which would possibly be fine, if we didn’t have Christmas at the end of the month.
Ah, Christmas! There’s a deadline, if ever there was one. It is the Ultimate Deadline - poor, over-worked Santa knows that better than anyone. Me, I am like one of his little elves, beavering away in the Winter Wonderland Workroom.
I always like to make at least a few Christmas presents, it gives me (and hopefully the recipients) considerable pleasure. This year is no exception and I have two more knitting projects to complete, a play to write and the wherewithal for the Manufacture
of Christmas Crowns to prepare.
Most of all, I must – I really, really must – knit a donkey. In past years I have knitted Nativity scenes for three
sets of grandchildren. Two include a donkey. One doesn’t. My Boy was quick to remind me last Christmas that the Little Welsh Boys were still without their donkey. I don’t think I can possibly get away without supplying a donkey this
year. I have the pattern. I have found some spare grey wool. Like the Boeuf Bourguignon, I just need some thyme / time. This is one deadline I can’t afford to miss.
Come hell or high water, I have to deliver the donkey....
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