Jaqui's Daily Blog

Mr B often complains that I have A Mind Of My Own. I generally retort by saying something in the lines of "Look who's talking!" The assumption being that there really isn't anything wrong with having a mind of one's own. Unless, that is, one happens to be an awning...

I have you puzzled, I can tell. You are wondering if the Daily Blog has been hit by the Curse of Predictive Text. But no, you read it correctly. We do have an Awning With A Mind Of Its Own.

I was delighted when we moved into our house thirty years ago this year to discover that over patio doors was a green and white striped awning, presumably installed for the purposes of shading the living room from the sun which blazed down in our south facing garden. How wonderfully decadent! I thought. "An awning!"

Over the years the awning grew more and more tattered and the fixtures and fittings started to come away from the wall. It became increasingly more dangerous than decadent. Hence a few years ago Mr B and I enlisted the help of our friend Tan to source and fit a new awning. We each had our own particular requirements, Mr B and I - this is what comes of having A Mind Of Your Own. My request was that the new awning, like the one it was replacing, should be green and white striped, on account of this being a restful combination. Mr B, for his part, specified that, unlike its predecessor, it should be operated by remote control.

Regular readers, of course, know all about Mr B's fixation with remote controls. The television, the DVD player, the gas fire - you name it, he remotely controls it. If I didn't have A Mind Of My Own, I am pretty certain he would have me on remote control. There is only one remote control in our entire household to which I have laid claim and that is the one which lifts and lowers the ramp on our car to enable Mr B's mobility scooter to be driven on and off by Yours Truly. Mr B has occasionally indulged in a Longing Look when he sees me with my remote control but so far I have managed to keep hold of it, possession being, as everyone knows, nine tenths of the law.

I tried to find out via Google what happened to the other one-tenth of the law but became hopelessly entrenched in a story about a legal feud involving a pig so in the end I decided to move on. You are doubtless wishing I would move on, or at least get to the point. I shall do my best to oblige.

The other night, in bed and enjoying that delicious moment when sleep is just about to overtake one's person, I became aware of whirring noises, accompanied by the odd "clunk" coming from outside my window. Could it be the awning, making some kind of protest? Though what against I couldn't imagine. I trailed downstairs in my dressing gown where Mr B, sleeping downstairs, was mildly surprised to see me. Outside the awning looked to be in place and not a sound was to be heard. I returned to my bed - but not to sleep. Twice more I heard the whirring and clunking, twice more I took myself downstairs to check it out, twice more I disturbed Mr B from his slumbers.

Finally, worn out with it all, I fell into a fitful sleep - only to be woken at four in the morning by the distinctive sound of the awning unfolding itself. Yes, indeed, all by itself.It was as if the whirring and clunking had been by way of practice but now it had finally got its act together. Mr B was asleep, I was asleep, the remote control was resting idly on the windowsill untouched by human hand. Spooky or what?

In the morning Mr B wanted to know why I had apparently come downstairs in the middle of the light and let the awning down. I'm not sure he totally believed me when I told him what had happened. But it's the honest truth, believe me, M'Lord.

Now here I am, sitting in the garden, writing today's Daily Blog. I am protected from the sun's fierce rays by the green and white striped awning which looks much as it always does. Innocent. If an awning can be said to be innocent. If I didn't know better, I would think I imagined it all. It worries me that nobody will believe me.

Does anyone else own an Awning With A Mind Of Its Own?

My Military Voices project partner collects me from home at 9.45 a.m. and we set off in his car bound for Somewhere in Bognor Regis.

We are in somewhat reflective mood for today may mark the last of the interviews we have conducted with veterans of various conflicts from World War 2 onwards. We will miss our Jolly Jaunts to Places Unknown, accepting cups of tea or coffee offered by our interviewees while we struggle to find a good place to set up our audio recorder and a convenient perch for the tablet on which we will film our victim. Sorry, subject.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a comfy sitting room which looks ideal for helping our veteran feel at ease - until one of us notices the grandfather clock standing stately in a corner where it will interrupt our recording with a booming chime on each and every quarter of an hour. Other times our quiet surroundings are suddenly interrupted by a lawnmower starting up in the back garden or a lorry chuntering past the house on the road outside.

Some of those we interview have a wife, a daughter, or carer living with them. Most of these will absent themselves while we are recording our interview, others like to sit in on proceedings, butting in every so often to exhort: "Tell them about...." Even those who busy themselves in the kitchen while we are at work have a habit of vacuuming the carpet in the hall (sending vibrations through our audio recorder) or popping a curious head round the door,misled way through, to ask if we'd like a biscuit to go with the cup of coffee we have still not managed to drink.

If I sound as if I'm complaining, I'm really not. I love the insights we gain into the lives of these amazing men and women who served their country in all manner of theatres of war and survived, not just to tell the tale - quite literally - but to enjoy happy, fulfilled lives. If that happy, fulfilled life includes the regular booming of a grandfather clock, then that is just fine by me.

Today we are interviewing a former officer in the Indian Army. His wife wants to know if Peter and I are a couple. Peter's reaction of mild horror at the very thought is a little sobering. I thought we rubbed along so well, too. He recovers his equanimity sufficiently to add that I am "very patient." Which sounds less than a fulsome compliment, I fear.

When we were paired up, Peter and I, at our first project training session, we were told that if we didn't "get on" we could always ask for a change of partner. We were pretty sure that would not be necessary as we felt we would get along like a house on fire.

And so it has proved to be. We are unfailingly courteous about ensuring that we take turns in (i) interviewing and (ii) Tackling The Technicals. We never take it for granted that one of us will do the time consuming follow-up work of summarising each recorded interview but enquire solicitously after each other's current circumstances before agreeing who will do what. We agree on important matters such as not arriving too early, or late, for our appointments and, being grateful for Peter's willingness to drive us here, there and everywhere, I never comment on the way he almost always takes the longest route to our destination, regardless of the pleas from his satnav.

I rather think we may be our project manager Emma's Star Volunteers because she is always asking us if we could handle "just one more" interview. Let's face it, we must be doing something right, don't you think?

In the beginning we were told that we would probably be asked to undertake two interviews, giving each of us a chance to play at being the Questioner. Over the last several months we have been charged with no fewer than eight interviews between us though one, sadly, was a "no show" as our veteran had been taken into hospital.

That's the thing, you see. Several of those we have interviewed are in their nineties. They are, to a man or woman, articulate, clear-minded, inspiring people - but they won't be around forever. Their stories really must be collected before the curtain falls on living memories.

Today's interviewee said he had never sat down with his son to tell him about his military career. It''s a common cry. Indeed, how I bewail the fact that I never took the time to interview my dear Dad about his desert war as a member of the Eighth Army. What a story he would have told!

All our interviewees will receive a CD on which their interview has been recorded. They will be able to play it for their children and grandchildren who will be able to listen to their voices for years to come. I rather think the sound of a loved one's voice telling a story of derring do years before the listener was born will be even more powerful than the written word.

With - for added effect, don't you know? - the regular chiming of a grandfather's clock marking the hours of a Life Well Lived.

Granddaughter Elle says that textiles lessons never really grabbed her imagination at school. She is as honest as the day itself and not about to pretend otherwise. She is, however, excited at the prospect of our "holiday project" - to produce two strings of bunting for The Twinkles' bedroom in their new home. This is Textiles With A Purpose, we agree.

I tell her how I never enjoyed needlework lessons when I was at school. This was mostly because the only garment I remember making was a ghastly dirndl skirt in hideous yellow flowered material which my dear Mum picked up at a bargain price from Romford Market. The chances of me ever wearing the skirt when finished were precisely nil.

Yet how strange, we agree, that I must have learnt enough from my needlework lessons to be able to run up most of my Foursome's clothes until they were of an age to stage a mutiny, declaring that never again would they don a garment of my making. Similarly, while Elle is prepared to assert that she didn't learn a single thing in textile lessons, somehow she remembers not only how to wind the bobbin and thread the needle on my sewing machine but also manages to fix a faulty foot on the machine which has come adrift. She tackles these tasks expertly as if to the manner born. We conclude that you never know what you are actually learning - and how you will one day use what you have learnt - even from the direst of lessons.

Elle is the very best of company, not least on account of the conversations in which she engages me. She was the same as a four year old when she used to come to stay for a few days every Christmas and summer holidays while her mother (the Eldest of the Darling Daughters) was at work. Nowadays, however, the conversations are much more grown up.

We watch the Olympics and Elle, who studies P.E. (both theory and practice) explains the various factors which make for a gold medal performance. Who'd have thought it? I watch the winners and the losers with far greater insight into what makes an athlete tick, thanks to Elle's commentary.

We talk about her amazing work experience at a local doctor's surgery including a visit to a nursing home where she met several very frail elderly people. Did it upset her, seeing people very close to death? Elle gives my question the consideration she obviously feels it deserves before replying thoughtfully: "No - it just made me want to help them." No wonder the surgery has offered her more work experience once she has turned seventeen and can sit in on patient consultations.

We talk about my idea that every elderly person in a hospital bed, care home or nursing home should have on their bedside table a photograph of themselves as a young, active man or woman in the prime of life so those who care for them, and those who visit, can see the way they were, the way they still are despite their frailty. Elle thinks she would like to find a way to make that happen. I wouldn't put it past her.

We go shopping for her belated birthday present. We are trying to find a dress suitable for the Sixth Form which she will enter in September. It's much harder than you might think due to the strict dress code at her school. No sleeveless dresses or tops, for example. We think we have found the perfect dress in the first shop we visit but Elle thinks it might be a tad see through. At least I know the style we are looking for. Every shop we enter, Elle says: "I have a really good vibe about this shop..."

We are running out of shops before we find the "perfect" dress. "I'm SO happy!" cries Elle ecstatically as she twists and turns in front of the full length mirror in Dotty Ps. So, it must be said, am I.

We pack so much into our short time together. We visit the putting green where Elle would have almost beaten the highest score of the week had she not blown it completely on the eighteenth hole. I'm sure the experience could have been explained away through application of her PE theory lessons. We take photographs of each other sitting in "Sunny Worthing" deckchairs, enjoy ice creams on the pier and check out how the plants in the Waterwise Garden on the seafront have flourished since our last visit. We spend a happy evening out with her Grandad at Shafique's restaurant, venue for so many happy family meals over the years. "It's tradition!" carols Elle. At every opportunity. 

On our final day, before I drive her home, we start to run out of time. We decide to do our baking at Elle's house which means we just have the bunting to finish. Elle makes me promise to FaceTime her so that she can watch her auntie, mother of The Twinkles, when she opens her surprise.


Today, a week since we said our goodbyes, a lovely thank you card arrives. "I loved spending time with both of you and I will always want to come and stay with you, no matter how old I get," she writes.

"Don't forget that I love you!" I always tell my grandchildren when they have to leave. Last week four year old Morgan, on his way out of the front door, responded sweetly but emphatically: "I always remember that!" making me both laugh and cry.  Elle obviously heard him for in closing she has written:

"And remember, as Morgan would say, I will always remember that..."


Lilia is walking around the house like a Little Lost Soul.

This is nothing at all to do with the fact that she and the rest of her family have just moved into a new home - and everything to do with the fact that her twin, Tala, exhausted by the previous day's excitements, has taken it upon herself to have an extended nap upstairs in her cot. Lilia is lost without her.

Not to fear, help is near - I am ready, willing and able to entertain my youngest grandchild in her sister's absence. After all, didn't I always hanker after being a twin myself? Despite the three and a half years age difference between my Little Sister and me, I constantly endeavoured to present myself as her twin. I vividly remember snuggling down beside her in her pram, pulling the pram blanket up to my chin and beaming at everyone who gazed in at us. It seems unlikely that anybody was taken in by my pretence but I wasn't to know that.

The Middle of the Darling Daughters needs to go shopping for essentials such as voile curtains, a cutlery tray, a kitchen bin, rawl plugs and cable clips. She needs her sister to accompany her because she (her sister) knows where the shops are while the M of the DDs is a New Kid on the Block. They will take The Rascal with them, they say, and there's no reason why I shouldn't come too, bearing in mind that the Trio's father will be home, waiting in for various kitchen appliances to be delivered and lots of odd jobs to do into the bargain.

I look at Lilia, she looks at me. I decide I will stay. It will be an opportunity for perhaps an hour of undivided attention you understand. And I don't often have the chance of someone's undivided attention, all for me.

Lilia is still in her pyjamas because we can't get into her bedroom to find her clothes without waking up the Sleeping Beauty. Still, I put on her socks and shoes and we go out into the garden on an exploration. Lilia's father is busy putting together the slide, the playhouse and the sand and water table. He has found a convenient branch on which to hang the family's pet canary who is singing away at the top of her voice, full of the joys of the fresh air. In the branches of an oak tree in next door's garden, goldfinches gather to ponder on this newcomer to the area.

We explore every corner of the new garden, Lilia and I. It's quite a bit bigger than the garden at her old house and it's going to represent a new kind of freedom for The Trio. At which point it starts to rain, so Lilia, her father, the canary and I all take shelter indoors again.

We find some books to read, in one of the packing cases that has already been opened. Lilia chooses "That's Not My Puppy", followed by "That's Not My Tiger", followed by "That's Not My Bear." I can sense a theme here. We look for the little mouse on every page and I make appropriate squeaking noises. Lilia looks at me in concern; she seems to think I may be in pain. She cups her tiny hands around my face and her big brown eyes gaze into mine. For a long moment, we consider each other - before a deep, throaty chuckle breaks the spell.

Outside I can see the car belonging to the next door neighbour negotiating the drive. I carry Lilia to the open window and we look out to say "hello". I always think it is a good thing to connect with your neighbours as soon as you are able. Lilia proves a past master at the Art of Neighbourliness. She bestows her most beaming smiles upon the little lass with Angel hair who is accompanying her mother home from a shopping trip. Believe me, nobody - child or adult - can hold a candle to Lilia's beaming face. I exchange a few pleasantries with my daughter's new neighbour which mostly concern the going rates of the Tooth Fairy these days. The Tooth Fairy, it seems, will be paying a visit next door before the day is out.

My Son In Law raises his eyes heavenwards. I am at it again, he accuses me. It's just like our holiday last year in Alicante when I managed to acquaint myself with everybody living on the complex by the time the week was out. What is it about me? he wants to know. Am I just plain nosey or what? (He relates the whole episode to my daughter on her return which leads to an interesting debate on who should make the first move when new neighbours arrive - should you introduce yourselves or wait for a call?)

Lilia seats herself astride a chair, takes my hands and makes rowing actions. We sing "Row, row, row the boat" four times, followed up by a selection of my favourite nursery rhymes. The Son In Law suggests I toast a slice of garlic bread for his daughter. I'm not sure if this is because she may be hungry or because he would rather I stopped singing and left any Future Warbling to the canary.

A lorry arrives outside, delivering the new kitchen appliances. The Darling Daughters and The Rascal arrive home about the same time. Not long afterwards, the thud of a milk bottle being thrown out of a cot upstairs signals that Tala, the older of The Twinkles, is finally awake.

The Twins are Reunited. Lilia is pleased, indeed, to see her sister and Companion in Crime. My services as Stand In Twin are no longer needed.

Just an Hour With Lilia. How very, very precious sixty minutes can be.

It is undoubtedly true that Young Faris's excellent account of his family's moving experience (see yesterday's Daily Blog) tells a good story.

There are, however, a few additions I feel moved (please excuse the pun) to make in order to ensure that the day's events are also viewed from my perspective. This is important because the Daily Blog is my on-line diary and when I come to look back on yesterday a year, two years, three years from now, I will expect a Full Picture to emerge.

Firstly, yes - the Middle of the Darling Daughters and her husband decided to move themselves. Had I been the type to proffer advice where none is looked for I might have mentioned the one and only time Mr B and I moved ourselves - from the flat where we started out on our married life together fifty years ago to the very first home we owned. We didn't think we had many possessions at the time - but they looked a sorry pile indeed, out in the front garden, soaked by incessant rain as we waited for the hired van to turn up. "Never again!" said Mr B and I wasn't about to argue with him.

The Middle of the Darling Daughters believes in a minimalist approach to furniture, fixtures and fittings so she probably felt confident in her capacity - and that of her super-strong fella who comes equipped with a useful HGV licence - to handle All Things Moveable. This sunny optimism completely failed to recognise the fact that no household can ever be truly minimalist when it includes a trio of littl'uns under the age of four. It took almost five hours to load the hired lorry with all the family's minimal possessions.

Meanwhile the Trio - Faris and The Twinkles - had been collected by their auntie, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters, and transported to her house. Out of Harm's Way, as Young Faris memorably explained. By the time I arrived, her house was in a state of chaotic disorder and The Trio were reigning supreme. The floor was strewn with a strange mixture of multi-coloured dinosaurs and half-eaten fish fingers. My youngest daughter was gratifyingly pleased to see me, though I'm not sure how very helpful I was, apart from projecting my own special brand of encouragement into any stressful situation.

Granddaughter Hazel, her boyfriend Harry and friend Zoë decided to take the Trio to the park for what was euphemistically called "a breath of fresh air." The Youngest of the Darling Daughters and I waved them off ecstatically in anticipation of a bit of a rest and a chance to chat. Our reprieve was short-lived: the Trio and their team of carers were back in no time at all, chased out of the park by a threatening shower. We had hardly had a chance to boil the kettle...

As helpers go, I am not sure anybody would place me top of the list. There was no way I could help unload the lorry while my skills as a cleaner fall far short of the Middle of the Darling Daughter's exacting standards, especially given the dire and dirty state of her new abode. Hence, while the Strong Armed Brigade - grandson Jack and Harry, supplemented by the Youngest of the Darling Daughters who doesn't have strong arms but is possessed of a determinedly helpful heart - went to help out, I was left (kind of) in charge of persuading the Trio to eat their dinner, have a bath and get dressed in their pyjamas. In these pleasant tasks, I was assisted by Hazel and Zoë, meaning we could each give one to one attention to "our" child.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that it was "my" child - the Lovely Lilia - who tipped her spaghetti bolognese over herself, the high chair tray and the floor beneath it, while the other two ate like little angels. And I it was who ended up at bath time soaked through so that I had to change into a pair of my daughter's checked pyjama bottoms. The bathroom floor, to be fair, was even wetter than I was.

The Youngest of the Darling Daughters, returning to collect us all, took pity on me and found me a pair of more appropriate trousers to wear before off we went to introduce The Trio to their new home. Here I need to explain that the Middle of the Darling Daughter's new house is exactly the same as her sister's house before it gained an extension and a conservatory. This meant that Faris and The Twinkles felt immediately at home, knowing exactly where everything was with no need for an introductory tour.

In the Twinkles' bedroom a collection of soft toys decorated the windowsill, in Faris's room, a parade of enormous dinosaurs. The Rascal selected a book for me to read before he went to sleep. Appropriately, perhaps, it was all about Christmas. The season of gifts and merriment.

Downstairs while the littl'uns slept, we ordered a takeaway curry and toasted the family's new life in Prosecco supped from polystyrene cups. The Middle of the Darling Daughters said she felt like a student again. It was almost midnight before her sister and I, plus Jack and Hazel, wended our way back to the Youngest of the Darling Daughter's house. It had been a long, long day.

Ah, yes, in case you hadn't quite twigged it - two of my Darling Daughters now live in the same village, within a ten minute walk of each other. They have always been each other's biggest supporters but now they will be geographically close as well as emotionally. When the Empty Nest Syndrome strikes at one sister's heart, she will be ale to hug her tiny nieces and nephew and revisit old times. When coping with a Trio of Rampaging Rascals has the other sister tearing her hair out, there will be a sisterly Rescue Remedy just down the road.

Me? I rather fear I'm not as much help to either daughter as I used to be. I'm so very glad that from now on - rather like The Twinkles - they will Always Have Each Other.

Latest comments

10.07 | 20:20

Fantastic blog! Xx

08.07 | 00:24

Phew - not a mention

13.05 | 23:05

What a lovely day and all sly story

16.03 | 22:49

Of course they will and remember the photo on the side board that will be there for ever to remind you of the wonderful day & THAT special outfit !

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