Jaqui's Daily Blog

Way back in February, before the Pesky Pandemic took over our lives, you may remember I was much engaged in the Clearing the Loft project. I can already hear you groaning that you thought that was all behind us, never to be spoken of again. Except...

 

One of the Treasures from the Past that emerged from the loft was our much-battered Christmas Roundabout. This was a present to the family from my dear mum and dad, fifty-four years ago this December on our eldest daughter’s first birthday. For many a year, it took pride of place on our windowsill every Christmas without fail where our Foursome took great pleasure in continually winding it up and watching Santa’s sleigh and eight plastic reindeer slowly turn on its base to the tune of Silent Night.  Sadly it is now difficult to coax a recognisable tune out of the roundabout. It still rotates, after a fashion, lurching along drunkenly, spilling several of the reindeer out onto the table as it goes. Its previously glittery sheen is dull and dusty. In other words, it is well past its sell-by date.

 

The Youngest of the Darling Daughters certainly thought so, even while recognising the sentimental value of this family sort-of-heirloom. Wouldn’t it be the best idea, she asked me kindly, to take a photograph of the roundabout, for memory’s sake, then consign it to the growing pile of Items To Be Disposed Of. It was an extremely sensible suggestion - so sensible, in fact, that the moment her back was turned, I rescued the roundabout from the Disposable Items pile and stowed it away at the back of a cupboard. I did much the same thing, now I recall it, with an Easter present of a painted cardboard egg box, complete with tiny pieces of real egg-shells and a few fluffy-but-tatty toy chicks - a present from two of my grandchildren many years ago. No photograph, I decided, would do either item justice.

 

My act of rebellion seemed justified the other day when at the end of my favourite TV programme, The Repair Shop, a request went out for Christmas related items which could be restored by the resident experts for a seasonal programme later this year. Mr B looked at me, I looked at Mr B - we had the same instant thought. How about our Christmas roundabout? It couldn’t be more Christmassy, with its fir tree, sleigh, presents and reindeer. It was undoubtedly in need of repair. There was nothing to lose by submitting an application form, we agreed.

 

Except that it was such a very detailed application form requiring lots of details of size, construction, manufacturer’s marks. I couldn’t even decide, from the drop-down menu supplied, into which of the named categories our roundabout would fall. I was giving up the will to live when I came to a paragraph that suggested applicants might be able to fast track their submissions by sending in a short video lasting no more than 3 - 4 minutes in length. 

 

It seemed like such a good idea - except that there was no way I could be both photographer and presenter. I needed the camera to zoom in on idiosyncrasies - like the fact that all the reindeer on the inner ring have their antlers intact, whereas all those in the outer ring have lost either one or both their antlers. This is testimony to the way the Foursome, when littl’uns, like to lovingly stroke the poor beasts as they trotted gamely around the Christmas tree centrepiece. Or the piece of scrappy silver tinsel, glued onto the top of the carousel when its more splendid topper came a cropper.

 

I tentatively suggest that maybe Mr B might invoke his inner David Bailey, though filming from his wheelchair means I may have to crouch down to be visible on screen. Mr B says only if the whole pantomime can be consigned to film in just one take. This seems like a tall order, given the complexities of the assignment. I try a DIY approach but it is hopeless; I sound as if I am whispering sweet nothings into the camera rather than showing off my treasure from the past.

 

I take a dispassionate look at my Christmas carousel trying to see it from the perspective of the TV programme’s researchers. It certainly isn’t an antique. It doesn’t have any historical value whatsoever. It really isn’t the least bit precious, or special.

 

Except to me...

When your day to day life is not, shall we say, amazingly exciting, then even a small drama can turn into great entertainment.

 

This morning we had an emergency appointment for poor Mr B with the special care dentist. He had been suffering for three days with an increasingly painful mouth which was keeping us both up at nights and making daytimes somewhat fraught. I didn’t hold out too much hope that the dentist could wave a magic wand but at least yesterday I had been able to book the Dial-a-Ride wheelchair accessible bus to transport us both to the clinic and home again. I know, I know, what’s so difficult about that, you query, but somehow it seemed so to me - especially as I wasn’t even sure the transport office hadn’t closed for the day when I phoned. I was triumphant when (i) I wasn’t greeted by the answerphone; and (ii) I booked us in for the next day with a minimum of fuss and bother.

 

Come today, my triumphant feelings had faded overnight. Would our transport turn up on time? Would the dentist be able to sort out Mr B? In the nicest possible way, you understand. Most of all, how unfair it was that my longed-for visit by the Youngest of the Darling Daughters had been hi-jacked by a Toothy Emergency. My daughter reassured me that it was when the stress was at its highest that her presence was the most helpful. I couldn’t argue with that...

 

So far, so well and good, you are thinking - but hadn’t I promised a bit of drama? Patience is a virtue, my dear mum used to say. Listen up!

 

The Dial-a-Ride driver turned up right on time. He was driving a rather splendid new bus, emblazoned with the logo of a different organisation but I recognised him as one of our regulars in those pre-Covid days when we actually enjoyed weekly outings. As he was launching Mr B in his wheelchair down the doorstep ramps, along the garden path, through the gate and up into the bus, he regaled us with a long story about the floor of his usual bus which had developed some humps and bumps. Unfortunately (or possibly not) I didn’t hear the whole sorry tale as I was busy making sure that the Youngest of the Darling Daughters (who was shopping for us while we were away) had a shopping list and the keys to the door. 

 

Mr B’s wheelchair was anchored in place and I was fiddling with my seat belt, when a figure dressed in the Dial-a-Ride polo shirt appeared in the doorway. What the hell, he enquired, was going on?

 

Driver 1 asked why Driver 2 needed to know and what he was doing there anyway. Driver 2 said he had been booked to transport us to and from the dentist. Driver 1 said same here (or words to that effect.) Driver 2 asked Driver 1 if he had our details listed on his booking sheet. Driver 1 admitted he didn’t have a booking sheet but that he had been contacted by Her In The Office and asked to attend our house. Driver 2 said he had been asked the previous day to fulfil the booking and he had the sheet to prove it. Driver 1 said (and personally I felt that this was the clincher) that as Mr B and I were already in situ and ready to roll (quite literally, the bus does tend to take corners with a certain enthusiasm) it seemed sensible that he should proceed to transport us, rather than unload us only to load us up in Driver 2’s bus. So it was, with Driver 1 and Driver 2 eventually agreeing that, when it came down to it, the blame lay firmly at the door of Her In The Office. I wouldn’t be in her shoes when they came to report back. 

 

After all that excitement, everything went surprisingly well. The dentist investigated Mr B’s poorly mouth and said she could see exactly what the problem was. After treatment we were despatched with a prescription for antibiotics and some mouth-wash which she conceded tasted foul but might help soothe the sore mouth while it healed. I’m not generally in favour of Pills for Everything but after a few sleepless nights it was a great comfort to leave the dental surgery clutching a prescription. 

 

Driver 1 took us home (Driver 2 was nowhere to be seen, possibly nursing his wounded pride and sulking over his booking sheet) where the Youngest of the Darling Daughters was waiting to carry me off for a delicious lunch out while the Lovely Kay kept Mr B company for an hour or so. My weekly “me-time” was saved! All was well that ended well. Mr B’s poorly mouth is hopefully on the mend, my daughter and I chatted non-stop over our leek and potato soup - and Kay found time to clean the upstairs windows and descale the kettle in between keeping Mr B supplied with glasses of “nice, cold milk.” Driver 1 is doubtless pleased that he helped us in our hour of need.

 

I have no idea what Driver 2 would have to say about it...

Yesterday my dear brother Tony and his wife, the lovely Jean, celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary. That’s sixty years - and counting. They deserve all the congratulations and best wishes heading their way. I was particularly pleased that Her Maj obliged with a splendid greetings card.

 

Boris’s “Rule of Six” meant that the happy couple had to bring forward their family gathering by a week but last Sunday they celebrated with a garden party for their nearest and dearest, incorporating a barbecue (for all) and table tennis on the lawn (for the fittest.) Tony looked every inch the dapper gent in his Panama hat and Jean as beautifully elegant as always. There was a celebration cake, there were flowers, a beautiful watercolour painting of their house by granddaughter Charlotte - and a cushion each, embroidered with the words “Mr & Mrs Usher, sharing the sofa since 1960.” How absolutely perfect in every way!

 

The local paper carried a splendid tribute to a “community minded couple” who had given a great deal to the community of Woking for nearly thirty years. I even had a mention in despatches as one of the three bridesmaids on the Big Day. I wore a lilac dress with puffed sleeves which I adored. The dress had a second outing a few months later when I wore it with a tartan sash for a school production of Macbeth in which I played Lady Macbeth - it was almost certainly too pretty a costume for that black-hearted woman but there was no telling me.

 

One of my memories of that big day, sixty years ago today, was my visit to the hairdresser on the wedding morning which left my self-centred, thirteen year old self in the depths of despair because I absolutely hated my hair do. “I wanted to look so lovely on your wedding day!” I wailed to my poor brother, the bridegroom. I can imagine the last thing the poor man needed on his wedding day was a hysterical younger sister, but he was, as always, the perfect Big Brother, comforting, reassuring and saying exactly the right thing to soothe my hurt feelings.

 

Tony and Jean met when Jean, who was Akela to the local Cubs, called on Tony who was assistant scoutmaster to the local Scout Troop to ask him if he would organise a camp fire for her Cubs. “I knew straightaway that I couldn’t let that beautiful girl get away,” he reminisced at the couple’s Golden Wedding celebration. That was ten whole years ago but I still remember, with a lump in my throat, the heart-warming simplicity of that loving statement of purpose. The newspaper article relates how he used to break off from his accountancy studies at his desk in his bedroom to wave to Jean every Monday evening at 7.30 p.m. as she cycled past his house on her way home from Cubs. Thus are the bonds of coupledom forged....

 

Coincidentally, we had another happy couple visiting us yesterday - granddaughter Katie and her Nathan who moved into their first home together literally days before Lockdown. The clampdown on normal life meant that they spent their first few months having to pin sheets up at the windows because the blinds they had ordered could not be delivered and watching TV sitting on a couple  of camping chairs, in the absence of the sofa which was similarly stuck in a warehouse somewhere awaiting its release from custody. 

 

Katie and Nathan are at the beginning of their life together, just working out what “coupledom” is all about. I think it’s fair to say that Tony and Jean, after 60 glorious years, have it sussed. 

 

 

 

Last night, I crawled into bed, turned out the light, heaved a sigh of relief to be abed at last and reached out for my bedtime chum. No, sadly not Mr B, who insists on sleeping downstairs in his riser / recliner chair but Hop, my nightly comforter, my furry friend, my reminder of the power of hope and love and light...

 

Regular readers may remember that, back when Lockdown had just begun and I was feeling particularly isolated, the Rascally Trio sent me a loving present in the shape of their own Jellycat bunny rabbit. He arrived with a poem, carefully written out three times over, promising me that any time I was feeling sad or lonely an instant remedy was at hand. After a thorough wash, they had hugged said bunny and so filled him with good wishes; all I needed to do was to hug him really tight myself in order to feel all the hope and love and light, whether “morning, noon or night.”

 

I don’t remember ever having a comfort toy when I was a child. This may well have been because my Little Sister and I shared a single bed, sleeping head to toe like fidgety sardines. I used to tell her bedtime stories in a bid to keep her awake so that I didn’t have to turn over and face the night terrors alone. Bless her, she tried valiantly to stay awake for me but invariably gave in, however exciting (or otherwise) my tall tales. The Darling Daughters, on the other hand, took comfort to extremes by inviting so many toys, of various descriptions, into their beds that it was often quite difficult to find a human head on each pillow to kiss goodnight. Our Boy, even at an early age, was clearly too cool for teddy bears and insisted on going to bed with both arms lovingly wrapped around his Martin Chivers Super Football. Each to his own, that’s what I say...

 

Despite my lack of childhood experiences of the comfort factor offered by a cuddly toy, I have become extremely attached to Hop. I have taken to sleeping with him tucked under my chin, while holding and gently stroking one of his long, floppy ears. Sleep comes more easily with Hop close by.

 

Imagine, therefore, my distress at being unable to find him last night. I pushed back all the bedclothes, threw the spare pillows across the room, searched under the bed - without success. Hop had, well, hopped off who knows where. I slept a trifle fitfully and dreamed of Hop, loping about a forest reminiscent of the one in the tale of the Gruffalo, searching for home. 

 

In the light of the morning, I conducted a more thorough search but Hop was nowhere to be found. How can a small, fluffy rabbit just vanish into thin air? Was it my fault for not taking greater care of him? Had I, perhaps, grown a little casual in my regard for him? Had he hopped off in search of a more deserving recipient for his hope and love and light?

 

It being Wednesday, I had arranged to have lunch out with the Lovely Linda while dear Kay kept Mr B company. She would give him lunch (cheese and onion sandwiches as requested), Kay said, as well as cleaning the inside of the downstairs windows and hanging the laundry out on the line once the washing machine had completed its wash cycle. Everybody needs a Kay in their lives.

 

I returned at 2 p.m. refreshed and sun-kissed from sitting outside the Highdown Café with a tuna and cucumber sandwich, a rather large latte and - most importantly - the Lovely Linda. Kay was hauling sheets and pillow cases out of the washing machine ready to hang out on the line when she made an exciting discovery. “Look what I’ve found!” she said. It was like the “Daddy moment” in the film of the “Railway Children” - “It’s Hop!” I cried, “It’s my Hop!” Oh, you’d have had a tear in your eye, believe me. You think not? How very hard-hearted of you...

 

Poor Hop looked bedraggled and more than a little woebegone. He had obviously become tangled up with the sheets when the bedclothes were changed and ended up in a 60 degree white wash, when his label clearly stated he was “hand wash only.” Fortunately he didn’t appear to be damaged by his adventure; I hung him out to dry on the washing line, pegging him up by his long ears which did seem somewhat undignified but what else could I do? I’m going to bring him in shortly and allow him a cosy sojourn in the airing cupboard, after which I am hoping he will be dry enough to join me in bed tonight.

 

I’m sure he must have missed me as much as I missed him. Hope and love and light - we all need some of that these days, now don’t we?

When granddaughter Eleanor, fourth eldest of the Tremendous Ten grandchildren, returned to University last week she had a surprise awaiting her. There in the letter box was a letter from me. Not that a letter in itself was unusual as I write every week to the grandkids away from home - but this letter was dated early March and was sent before the world turned crazy and Coronavirus stalked the land. 

 

It was strange, Eleanor reported, to read my cheerful assertions that All Would Surely Be Well. How was I to know that something unprecedented (what a much overused word that is) was about to befall us? I had to look back through my copies of correspondence to find out what I was  writing about in what was to be the last of the Normal Times, had I but known it.

 

Way back then, we were celebrating the Youngest of the Darling Daughters special birthday ( as in, one with an 0 at the end), the first of several events planned to mark the occasion. I was hoping that nothing would prevent my short respite break at her house the following weekend, including a theatre trip to see grandson Jack playing Freddie in a local production of My Fair Lady. 

 

I was, I told Eleanor in my epistle, reassuring members of the Singing for Pleasure choir that we would “carry on meeting until and unless we are told to stop” but reckoned our numbers might drop a little in the coming weeks if people felt unsure about attending. I wrote about the goings on at that week’s meeting of the Sporting Memories group where I had regaled the members with the tale of how I had made a mistake putting an on-line bet to win on a horse for Mr B when he wanted an each way bet. I had done the only thing I could think of to remedy matters by placing another bet, this time each way, on the same horse. Fortunately all ended well when the horse romped home the winner, leaving us £40 better off than before. 

 

I was still sorting out boxes as part of the on-going Clearing the Loft Project and hoping Eleanor’s mother would enjoy looking through all the mementoes in the treasure chests I had filled with her possessions. I was also excited about Eleanor’s sister, Katie, moving into her first house with her boyfriend and looking forward to visiting them once they had settled in.

 

Hardly any of this turned out as expected. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters had to cancel lots of her planned birthday celebrations and, though I did get to enjoy my little break at hers (a week later and it would have been impossible), the production of My Fair Lady was pulled on first night at the very last minute so sadly I never got to see Jack pining after Eliza and singing “On the Street Where You Live.” Katie and her Fella just managed to move into their new home before house moves were put on hold - but the chances of a visit are remote. I have, however, had a virtual tour of their new abode and they are coming to visit us this week when I will be presenting them with a lily plant from our garden. I may not be able to visit but my lily - a direct descendant of the flowers which decorated the church at our wedding over fifty years ago - will take my place. Lily will be a rather more silent visitor than I would have been but at least she will be there.

 

We never did meet again as a choir. We never gathered together with our Sporting Memories gang again after that memorable meeting - I have a distinct memory of one of the carers from a local rest home accompanying one of our older members, telling us of her fears for the spread of the virus in care homes. I wish I’d taken her concerns more seriously.

 

Maybe I need to be approaching this from a different perspective. Had I still be writing every week to Eleanor I would surely have been emphasising the plus side of Lockdown. For a starter, I had so much more time on my hands to complete the Clearing the Loft Project. The choir still sings virtually on Zoom every Friday morning and the lovely Rhona sends us the weekly quiz which we would have puzzled over at Sporting Memories. Unable to visit the shops in those early shielding months, I started making my own greetings cards - 80 at the last count - which seem to be going down rather well with the recipients. I have sorted all the boxes of family photographs, some daring back to the 1920s. No, I didn’t appear in any of them, you cheeky thing! 

 

We can’t go back to early March when I wrote that last letter, without a clue as to what was to come. 

 

I’m rather glad I didn’t know what was heading our way... 

 

Latest comments

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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08.08 | 22:28

Hello Najla
Your daughter’s already loved toys are being loved all over again by my trio. It’s destiny, indeed... xx

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08.08 | 15:07

Hi Najla, how lovely to hear from you. I can assure you and your daughter that the princesses and the poo have gone to a very good home!

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