I have to confess that for the last couple of weeks I have been keeping a secret from Mr B.
We don't usually keep secrets from each other, mostly because secrets are for
sharing with your Best Beloved. But just once upon a sometime you find yourself harbouring a Deep, Dark Secret which, if told, will undoubtedly lead to untold and unnecessary recriminations.
So, here it is.
I have to confide in somebody so I will let you all, my regular readers, into my secret in the sure and certain knowledge that, wonderful people that you are, I will be forgiven. To cut a long story short: I have lost the Christmas card list.
Please don't laugh, this is really, really serious. Yes, I do have last year's list on the computer somewhere, probably filed in an improbable folder titled "Lists" just to fool me, because I, of course, will be looking for
a folder titled "Christmas." However, over the course of the last twelve months, I have been marking down changes, as necessary, on my paper version. Change of addresses, newly marrieds, people adding brand new babes to their family units. Plus, sadly, a few
who have died. I hate, hate, hate crossing their names off the list.
About this time each year, I take last year's list with all its many amendments and update the definitive list on the computer. This task
is complicated by the fact that I can't always read my own scribble. Did they really call their baby Mouldy? Is there actually a town called Flipping Norton? You probably get the general idea.
This year, however,
the Christmas Card List has disappeared altogether. It has vanished into that Dark Hole which I have told you about before, the one where my camera has hidden itself and my binoculars have vanished without trace.
Except - hey, this is the good news! I have found my binoculars! You will never guess where they were. No, I mean it, you really will never guess. It was last week, the day of the Middle of the Darling Daughters' birthday, so I'd rescued the Giant Penguin
from his sojourn on the spare bed in the study, ready to place him on the front doorstep to welcome Young Faris and The Twinkles. He was still dressed up from his last doorstep outing in one of Mr B's Gillingham Football Club tee-shirts, with a rakish straw
hat on his head, a ruck-sack on his back and - to add, I can only think, a touch of realism - my binoculars strung about his neck. You can doubtless imagine how I felt at my unexpected discovery. Joy Unbounded.
B had blamed Young Faris for the disappearance of the binoculars. Had he not warned me, he lectured me every time I bewailed their loss, not to entrust them to the care of a two year old? But, as I am pretty sure I have told you before, I love watching my
littlest grandson peering through the wrong end of my binoculars and trying to make sense of the world as seen through their lenses.
I thought Mr B would be as excited as I was by the re-emergence of my binoculars
but for some reason it only made him remember my Disappearing Camera. You can understand, I am sure, why I didn't want to let him into the secret of the Lost List unless and until it proved absolutely necessary.
I am delighted to tell you that I have now been able to Confess All, having just found the list. I was rummaging around in a cupboard for bubble wrap, when I came across a basket full of odds and ends which I had stowed there, out of sight and out of
mind, the last time I "tidied up" when preparing for imminent visitors. Could it be? Could it be? Could it possibly be - the Christmas card list? Yes, yes, yes!
Mr B is pleased to hear my news but not as thrilled
as all that because, after all, he hasn't been worrying in the least, on account of not knowing that Houston had a Problem in the first place. It has made him think, though. When am I planning to start writing our cards, he wants to know. It is, after all,
almost the end of November.
I'm almost wishing the list had Stayed Lost - just for a little bit longer...
I was thinking maybe I should issue an Alternative Autumn Statement. If George can issue an Autumn Statement, despite the fact that, being so near the end of November, it's more of a Winter Statement, then so can I.
I should, of course, have leaked a few juicy details to the press in advance but to be honest I only thought about the whole Statement idea a few minutes ago. I expect George spent quite a long time over his Statement
but mine has just kind of evolved over the course of, well, at least a quarter of an hour.
Timing is everything and today is one month away from Christmas. As a result, given the combination of Christmas,
the Twinkles' first birthday and Our Jack's Coming of Age, the household economy is suffering from a Run on the Bank. Hopefully we will avoid heading into deficit and it is anticipated that the New Year may see a slight recovery, only hampered by the sheer
number of January birthdays in the diary.
At the time of writing, it is hoped to reduce cuts to a minimum especially as Mr B suffers from the shivers whenever I am foolhardy enough to turn the heating down.
Certain other budgets will also be protected, in particular the Christmas card budget and the knitting wool budget (toys for the making of) though I am prepared to out-source the latter to the charity shop down the road, so effecting a savings of around 30%.
Mr B made a stand in the Upper House on maintaining the cigarettes and whiskey budgets intact, using his bargaining power to agree that he would forego the temptation of "wild, wild women." It seemed wise, given the strength of the opposition, to execute a
swift U turn though obviously I am not describing it as such. Having recalculated the amount of money saved on car parking by using our free bus passes, a concession in the Interests of Contentment can now be afforded.
On the housing front, I am delighted to report that we have contributed to the relief of the national housing shortage by welcoming new neighbours on both sides. Both houses were actually sold several months ago but nobody moved in, giving us cause
to wonder whether it was anything to do with us. Occupation has now been effected and I have posted Welcome to Your New Home cards to both houses. This is a small investment towards future Good Neighbourly Relations, an Invest to Save Initiative which is expected
to reap rewards over time.
My other major Invest to Save initiative is in coffee shop loyalty cards of which I possess so many that it is impossible to shut my purse properly. This leads to frequent spillages
of coins into the depths of my handbag which is is A Good Thing as it means there is usually a Hidden Fund which can be pillaged in difficult circumstances. As in affording a decaffeinated skinny latte in the M &S cafe when I haven't totted up enough cuppas
to qualify for a freebie.
Education remains a priority, being pursued via the venerable University of the Third Age which has life-long learning as one of its core tenets. My table of four at our Nomination
Whist group this afternoon proved that we still have a lot to learn, our Scores on the Doors being so painfully low that Avril suggested we should accidentally on purpose spill coffee over the score sheets before the other table (on which Mr B was reigning
supreme) asked to see them.
We did, however, find time to discuss Elderly Welfare at some length, enabling Pat to identify exactly what she is looking for in a male companion. Namely (i) height - over six
foot for preference; (ii) a full head of hair (grey or silver no obstacle) and (iii) intelligent conversation. There is no doubt that Elderly Welfare, on this showing, may remain a considerable challenge.
On the Environment, we continue to carry extra Bags for Life in the boot of our car for unexpected trips to the shops. The cupboard under the stairs is so crammed with Bags for Life that it is impossible to find the vacuum cleaner without turning everything
out onto the hall floor. It is unlikely, given my Great Age, that I will live long enough to wear them all out. However in Economy Related Matters one should always consider the value of Future Proofing.
for Climate Change, well, Mr B and I remain extremely concerned about it. I mean, it's suddenly got really, really cold outside, don't you think?
There can be no better way to end an Autumn Statement than
with an uplifting message so I will turn to Little Orphan Annie: "The sun will come out tomorrow.... Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow. You're only a day away."
When it comes to making a statement, somebody
should tell George that there's nobody to beat Annie. Whatever the season.
I have always believed that the little things matter because, when all is said and done, the little things added together make up the Big Picture.
I ruminated on this
when Mr B and I joined thirty-eight fellow members of our Merry Band of Questers for a behind the scenes tour at Chichester Festival Theatre. We arrived in plenty of time for a restorative cup of coffee in the cafe, delighted to have been able to use our Blue
Badge in the adjacent car park. Every time we use our badge, I think with gratitude of Paul, the kind man who carried out the assessment to determine whether we qualified for this privilege. We are, indeed, indebted to him. It may seem a small thing, but it
really is a Big Deal. See what I mean?
We had been divided beforehand into four groups, Mr B and I being in Group 1 which was the only group with access to the lifts. Everyone had been given a ticket by our
organiser which led to numerous queries because we all had the same start time of 10.30 a.m. Nobody seemed to grasp the fact that each of the four groups would set off, and finish, at the same time, avoiding bumping into each other through careful planning
and the use of separate guides. Our organiser, patiently explaining this over and over again, was starting to look a trifle frazzled. I was glad for her when we were all called into our groups and All Became Clear.
The sweet young lass who led Group 1 would not have been born when the theatre opened in 1962. She shepherded us expertly from back stage to sub stage, from hexagonal auditorium to dressing rooms, from the wig room to the wardrobe room to the Green
Room. Along the way she recounted the history of this, the first Thrust theatre in England, the philosophy of its founder, Leslie Evershed-Martin, the principles of its architects Powell and Moya, and the scope of the 2012 Renew renovation project.
"See the concrete pillars," our guide commanded us. We all gazed at the concrete pillars. Had we noticed that they were unadorned - plain concrete, just as it was made? That was one of the architects' guiding principles,
we were told, that materials used in the building of the theatre should be undisguised by cladding or other decoration.
In the auditorium we looked down on the set for the current production of The
Mousetrap which, amazingly, Mr B and I have never seen. Our friend Paula said she had never understood the appeal of this most long-running of whodunnits which she had seen at another local theatre and considered an afternoon wasted. Fortunately our guide
was out of hearing as she was busy leading us through the production room where the Deputy Stage Manager controls all that is happening, or not happening, on-stage. Talking hexagons, she suggested we take a look at the tiled floors of the loos should we need
to take advantage of the facilities (I did, of course, being the biddable type. The tiles were hexagon-shaped. See what I mean about the little things?)
I couldn't help comparing the modern and spacious dressing
rooms with the cramped space allocated to Jean Valjean, star of Les Miserables, at the Queen's Theatre, London. You can't necessarily tell a star by his or her dressing room, I decided. The Wig Room might have been a revelation but, being the winter season,
the room was as follically challenged as Mr B - we did hear, however, that every wig cost at least £2000 and was made of real hair on account of the fact that synthetic hair might melt under the footlights. Fancy that! Whoever knew acting could be such
a potentially dangerous profession?
In the wardrobe room, costumes have to be washed every day. Every day?! queried one of our number, only to be reminded of just how sweaty and smelly clothes would become
after each performance. Touring companies often bring their own washing machines with them, in case the theatre they are visiting isn't so equipped. There was one in the wardrobe room, housed in a wooden crate, decorated with postcards from the towns the touring
company had visited. "Greetings from Rhyl" read one.
In the Green Room, where cast, crew and general staff gather for rest and refreshment during their time off, our guide drew our attention to the wooden
floor. Made of Canadian maple, it had been a gift from the theatre in Ontario, Canada which had been Evershed-Martin's inspiration. This was once the stage floor, but when this was replaced as part of the recent renovation project, the original flooring was
preserved in the Green Room. A precious piece of Canada in an English theatre.
Coincidentally when we arrived home after our trip, we found our very first Christmas card of 2015 on the door-mat - from Canada.
Our Canadian cousin Bob had obviously posted early as he was travelling south to escape the harshness of winter. "Though the distance and busy schedules keep us from talking as often as we'd like, it doesn't keep me from thinking about you, caring about you,
or wishing you a very Merry Christmas" was the greeting inside.
A theatrical inspiration, a wooden floor, a Christmas card, a warm greeting.
There is much to be said for eating one's main meal at lunchtime. Particularly when the meal is shared with good friends.
"What time did you tell them to get here?" Mr
B wants to know. It is a sensible question but I am in the middle of peeling the spuds so my response is, shall we say, non-committal. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters can't bear to watch me peeling potatoes; she says nobody she knows hacks away at this
most humble of root vegetables in such a cavalier fashion. She keeps urging me to use a scraper-type tool but I simply can't get the hang of it. So I continue to hack away, wasting precious potato, removed and discarded with the peelings.
Once I have hidden my guilty secret (aka the potato peelings) in the bin, I consult the diary, only to discover that I have apparently invited our friends to arrive at 12 noon. It is now twenty to twelve and I haven't made
the pastry for my meat pie or prepared the strawberries for our pudding. What is more, I need to pay a flying visit to the shop to buy some soft drinks in case our guests forego the pleasure of vino. Mr B says I should have known better. It's difficult to
I rustle up the pastry. I am quite good at pastry, though I say so myself as shouldn't (as my dear Mum would chide me). I rather think, however, that this is because I always find myself mixing
the ingredients together at the last minute - pastry should never, but never, be over-worked. In my hands, there's no chance of that.
Next, the strawberries - but, hey, there is only one punnet in the fridge.
I could swear I bought two. Mr B says don't look at him, he hasn't touched them. It's not the most helpful of comments but for some reason it gives me the idea of checking the car boot, just in case they fell out of the shopping bag on their journey home from
Sainsbury's. Success! There they are, nestling in the company of the car rug, the red emergency triangle, a discarded cardboard coffee cup and Young James's Superman car seat. One day I will tidy my boot.
you ever noticed, by the way, the amazing transformation that occurs when a girl who could never find anything, even something right under her nose, becomes a mother. Suddenly she develops an uncanny ability to remember where her littl'uns left their hockey
stick, their English homework, their socks, their mobile phone charger. It is, indeed, one of the Mysteries of Life.
I tell Mr B that I am relying on him to make our friends welcome if they happen to arrive
while I am out buying J2Os. The lad behind the till at the garage shop tells me that he had forgotten how delicious J2Os are and that perhaps he will buy some for himself when he finishes work. They're a bargain at half-price, I inform him - maybe we should
change places and I should be working the till?
Phew! I reach home before our guests arrive. They have obviously decided that I really couldn't have been serious when I suggested a twelve o'clock arrival...
Lunch is lovely. I'm not talking about the food here (though Mr B says it passed muster) but our friends Bob and Val are the best company and we haven't seen them for ages, so there is a lot to catch up on. Neither of
them accepts the offer of a J2O but my sister is coming next weekend so it was worth buying them. Especially at half-price.
Now, much later, I am sitting comfortably and enjoying the fact that I don't need
to think about cooking dinner because we've already eaten like kings at lunchtime. Maybe something on toast a bit later - but we might not even need that. As I said, there's much to be said for having one's main meal at....
My friend Avril, Esteemed Chairman of the Worthing branch of the U3A (University of the Third Age) has asked me to go along to a New Members' Meeting to tell them all about being a convenor of an interest group. In my
case, our Nomination Whist group which meets at our house once a fortnight on a Wednesday afternoon.
Avril says she will ask me to speak first as I am good at talking. This might, or might not, be a compliment
but, as regular readers know by now, I make a point of assuming I am being paid a compliment unless the contra-indications are such as to make self-deception impossible. I might have been thinking better of my willing acceptance of Avril's invitation were
it not for Roland and Shirley who said they would be out bright and early buying Danish pastries for the new members' delectation. I do so love a Danish pastry.
I had checked time and venue with Our Esteemed
Chairman the day before and turned up at the Ferring Village Hall exactly a quarter of an hour before the meeting was due to start. A quarter of an hour early is just about the perfect timing in my book. It's not so early that there's nowhere to sit because
people are still setting out chairs and tables - nor is it so late that Her In Charge is worrying that you might have forgotten to turn up.
I'd had to park quite a long way up the road but there I was, only
slightly out of breath and congratulating myself on having arrived in such good time, given that I had only rolled out of bed an hour beforehand. Unfortunately, as I was soon to discover, pride comes before a fall.
In the Main Hall, a Christmas Fair was in full swing. It was clear to me that this was not the New Members' Meeting. Promising myself to pay a visit to the Christmas Fair once I had fulfilled my duty, I set off along the corridor for the small hall.
Tables and chairs had been arranged in friendly fashion while an array of cakes was set out, along with cups and saucers, on a long trestle table. I didn't recognise the woman who came to meet me but then I don't know everyone. "Is this the New Members' Meeting?"
I enquired, politely. No, it wasn't, I was informed. "This is the Pop-Up Cafe."
Now, you know me. I love nothing more than a cafe, whether it be the Pop-up or any other variety. But it had dawned on me that
I was in the Wrong Place completely. It was now just ten minutes to go before the start of the meeting and I didn't know where I was supposed to be.
I am quite proud of the fact that I managed to think clearly
enough to convince myself that there was probably only one other possible venue - the hall where we hold our monthly meetings. I scooted to the car, executed a quite remarkable three point turn in the road and set off in (hopefully) the right direction.
It was such a relief to see Avril at the door as I arrived at a minute to ten. And Shirley in the kitchen dispensing welcome cups of coffee. Not to mention plates of delicious Danish pastries on every table. I felt as
if I had come home.
My little talk went down well, I think, though nobody put up their hands when Avril asked if any of the new members thought they would like to convene a group of their own so I can't have
been that convincing. I did raise a laugh, however, when I told them of the time when our meeting coincided with a visit from the gasman to fit our new boiler. As he watched the steady procession of people making their way along our garden path to join us
at the card tables set out in our living room, I swear he thought he had stumbled on an illegal gambling den.
Now, here's the thing. Was it my fault I went to the wrong place? I was so sure I'd checked on
the venue beforehand.
I discussed this with my friend Norma who sat next to me in Church this morning. She reminded me that last week when the microphone went wrong so that nobody could hear the first reading
she had been convinced that it was her fault because she she hadn't adjusted her hearing aid properly.
Why do we immediately think it must be our fault when something goes wrong, we asked each other. I haven't
known Norma for very long but on this showing I feel we are destined to become Kindred Spirits.
For once, I don't think I'm wrong.
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