The Youngest of the Darling Daughters has compiled a photographic record of her daughter Hazel’s life so far to mark her 21st birthday yesterday. Twenty-one - how did that happen!?
Mr B loves the compilation so much that he insists we play it over and over again, though occasionally when he accidentally presses the “How can I help you?” button on the side of the
IPad, things become a little fraught. “What’s happened?” he cries - or, more often: “What have you done?” Fortunately I am happy enough to watch Hazel’s This is Your Life as often as he is.
Watching our Hazel Bagel (don’t ask - none of us can remember how she came to be called after a Polish bread product) through the years, it is clear to see that she has always, but always, been
a performer. Incidentally (because I always like the Daily Blog to come over all educational every once in a while) you may, or may not, be interested to know that the stirrup-shaped bagel was invented by Polish bakers to honour their victorious horse-riding
king. Which doesn’t get us any further in the mystery of when and why we added Bagel to my granddaughter’s beautiful first name.
But let’s not
digress, especially as the rest of my research into the bagel was incredibly boring, all about fermentation and retardation processes. You really don’t want to know - just eat and enjoy your bagels, that’s all I will say. Anyway, the point I was
making before I veered off course was that our Hazel has been a performer almost since she was born.
You can see it almost from the start, the toddler pulling
faces to make us all laugh; striking poses in the sea (she always was our Water Baby, as befits the off-spring of Dunk’em Dave); sweetness personified in her pink ballet dress; in her Brownie uniform making her promise; in her Heather Rabbit nursery
As is only to be expected, the video celebration also reminds us of the many times she has trodden the boards in school productions or local
amateur dramatic society shows. There are many starring roles: Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in junior school and a heart-stoppingly beautiful Scheherazade. She has played Sandy in Grease, the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Cinderella
in Into the Woods, and a sassy Sour Kangaroo in Seussical the Musical. I remember watching her in a Stagecoach production, many years ago, where she had a bit part sitting at the side of the stage tapping away at a pretend typewriter. Considering she would
never have seen a real-life typewriter, let alone used one, that was quite something. I am biassed, of course, but she entered so whole-heartedly into her part that she transfixed the audience. It’s not about the part, you see, it’s all about
For some inexplicable reason there is no photo of her in her most challenging role - that of a burger bun in pantomime. But let me tell
you, never was a burger bun played more expressively...
Now she is into her second year at Arts Ed, pursuing her dream of one day taking to a West End stage. While
nurturing dreams of a starring role, she has always said she would be happy to play any part, however small - she just wants to be “on that stage.” Among her many 21st birthday presents yesterday was the news of a £1.5 billion boost for the
Arts - Covid 19 has threatened her future along with that of many other young people on the threshold of a life in theatre.
Describing someone as a “performer”,
however, can easily give the wrong impression - is everything just an act? Not where our Hazel is concerned - she doesn’t just light up a stage, she also lights up any room she bounces into. The Boyfriend thinks so too, we are in total agreement about
that. What's more, you can’t act the part of a loving granddaughter for twenty-one years without slipping up. Spending precious free time in Chiswick coffee shops writing me lovely newsy letters on brightly coloured notepaper. Laughing uproariously at
her Grandad’s oft-repeated jokes as if it’s the first time she has heard them. Keeping me company on the worst mornings after my shoulder op last year, bringing me breakfast and coffee and snuggling up on the sofa to watch Disney films with me.
Happy 21st birthday, my dear Hazel Bagel. You are, indeed, the Genuine Article...
When Tala and Lilia were born, more than five years ago now, it was evident right from the start that, twins though they might be, they were not identical. Their proud mamma, Middle of the Darling Daughters, used to say
that they were “the same - but different”. I have always thought it a lovely way of summing up that, while they undoubtedly shared an unbreakable bond of twinship, each had a very different character as well as a distinctive appearance which meant
it was easy to tell one from t’other.
Over the last week, as I have ventured out of Lockdown into the strangeness of what passes for normal these days, I
have been pondering on what is the same and what is different.
Take the local shops, for instance. Each one appears to have its own “Stay Safe” protocol
for the canny shopper to learn and abide by. The butcher’s is operating a strict one in - one out policy; it was an enormous pleasure, after all these many weeks, to be invited in to survey the chops, the sausages, the chicken thighs, the steaks at my
leisure without worrying that someone else in the shop would lay claim to the last carton of home-made chicken Madras curry before I could get my eager hands on it. The butcher said it seemed like only yesterday that I was last at the counter - considering
it’s actually over a hundred days, does this make me instantly forgettable or truly memorable? Please don’t answer that, I need to maintain my self-esteem intact if I am to survive in this brave new world.
Over at the Co-op, there is a sign saying that shoppers must keep their distance and that they reserve the right to limit the number of us traversing the aisles in search of bargains. Other shops
are being more specific, indicating that only five customers are permitted within at any one time. I peer through the door trying to count the shady figures I can see moving about but it’s impossible. I wonder whether, should I be the sixth person
to step through the door, I might disappear in a puff of disapproving smoke. I decide not to experiment, at least not for a day or two. Small steps, didn’t somebody say?
The baker’s is still closed and the three charity shops are advertising shortened hours of opening. Notices in the windows say that they welcome books, games and toys but no clothes, please, and no large items of furniture. The fish and chip shop
is open for takeaways only, the small cafe has rearranged all the tables inside and placed others outside. No newspapers, though, which means that, when I do pluck up the courage to visit, I shall have to forego my customary pleasure of reading all the different
points of view on the same issue.
On Friday afternoon I met up with friends Sue and Eleanor in Sue’s back garden, the first get-together for We Three
( as we call ourselves) since before Lockdown began. It’s the nearest to normal I have felt so far in my sorties out of the house - despite the fact that we have to content ourselves with bumping elbows rather than giving each other the hugs with which
we really, really want to greet each other. The greetings are just as warm, you understand: the same - but different....
I have made an appointment to have my
unruly locks sheared - but I can’t be fitted in till the end of the month, so I won’t be testing out the protocols applying in the hair salon as yet. Nor am I a “pub person” so I am not planning to visit any of the local hostelries,
though I do wish them well.
Today, however, was a Red Letter Day - the day my Church was open for morning service. I’d booked in as required and turned up
on time, having obediently printed off the service sheet beforehand. I was so looking forward to it - but what would it feel like, I wondered?
It was strange,
the congregation being restricted to just thirty people. Strips of black and yellow tape barred the way into all but a few of the pews. There was to be no social contact, no chat, no staying on afterwards for a cuppa and a biscuit. No hymns either, so sad
in a church which prides itself on the excellence of its choir and its musical traditions.
And yet, and yet.... I was so very, very grateful to be back in
my pew, listening to the oh-so-well-known words, responding in the time-honoured way. Just being there.
Different - but the same...
Sixty years ago exactly Mr B stepped out into Wimbledon’s Centre Court, trying to control his nerves and waiting for that first serve to come thundering across the net in his direction.
I know you would love to think that he was England’s answer to Rod Laver - but in fact he was one of the much-heralded team of ball boys who, in those far-off days, were all drawn from Goldings,
the William Baker Technical School run by Dr Barnardo’s. They were, Mr B is proud of telling me, the “best in the world” and, to be fair, I have never heard that view challenged over the years. It’s one of his proudest claims to fame
to have been part of the Wimbledon World.
Mr B made the team in 1958, 1959 and 1960. In his first year he was on the outside courts where the boys not only had
to collect the balls and dispense them to the players but also to keep the scoreboards up to date. Their kit was loaned to them, to be given back at the end of the fortnight and they had to supply their own plimsolls (trainers, in those days, were the people
who, well, trained you.) In 1959 he progressed to court number 8 and dreamed of maybe - just maybe - he might make it to Number One, or Number Two court in his third and final year.
When the names of the chosen team went up on the school notice-board in Spring 1960 he couldn’t see his name on the list and his heart plummeted into his boots. Then a mate slapped him on the back and told him he was a lucky so-and-so. He hadn’t
even looked at the list for Centre Court....
Over the years since his Wimbledon Days, Mr B has often waxed lyrical about his experiences meeting the very best
of the world’s tennis players. He has related, in great detail, to anyone prepared to listen (and, to be fair, most people were) the trials and tribulations of the extensive training he and the rest of the team undertook - when he was younger, indeed,
he liked to demonstrate that vital run across the net, bending down as he ran to push back the net and scoop up the tennis ball in one hand, straightening up as he reached the other side of the court. It has been some years since he was able to do this, but
I remember it well. We often used to wonder whether I, a passionate follower of Wimbledon tennis (when my friends and I weren’t actually watching, we would be out on the local park’s tennis courts pretending to be Maria Bueno) ever saw him performing
Ten years ago the Middle of the Darling Daughters contacted the All England Tennis Club to arrange for a special commemoration of the 50th anniversary
of her Dad’s glory days. We were invited to watch the proceedings from ringside seats on Centre Court where Serena Williams was powering her way through to the Women’s semi-finals. Mr B, of course, was paying more attention to the ball-boys and
girls to see if they passed the test of time. He was fascinated to hear that, unlike in “his day”, the ball-boys and girls didn’t take turns at every position on court but specialised in the net, or the outer court. There was also a rota
system so nobody was on court for longer than an allotted time - in Mr B’s day, you stayed with the game until the very last. He was a tad jealous to learn that the present team of ball-boys and girls are given a full kit of clothes including rather
splendid back-packs to keep.
What stayed in my mind, however, was the conversation Mr B had with the 2010 team, nowadays drawn from local schools in the Wimbledon
area. There he was, chuntering on at considerable length about how they should savour every moment, that they would remember forever their days at Wimbledon - and every one of them listened politely, attentively, with the utmost respect for this aged ball-boy
from Once Upon A Time.
Mr B’s final verdict on their performance: “They are almost as good as we were. World class!”
As compliments go, like the very best of Wimbledon, it can’t be beaten.
If you could be a really tiny creature, what would you choose to be?
This was the quandary faced by grandson James (the Middle
of the Not So Very Little Welsh Boys) and me this morning. After some thought, during which the video connection on FaceTime kept failing, leaving us both waiting impatiently to catch sight of each other again, I chose to be a ladybird and James chose a tadpole.
So far, so good - however our next task was to come up with five advantages of being tiny. Well, we made a right meal out of that...
It’s Wednesday morning and James had messaged me to ask if I would be free for “Bitesize at 10.45”. Unfortunately, not being the kind of person permanently attached to my mobile phone,
I didn’t pick up the message until after 11 and I knew it would take me time to rescue my aged laptop from under the sideboard and crank it up to meet the demands of on-line lessons. Could we make it 11.30, I responded. I didn’t hear back so I
took silence as assent - in my experience, this is usually a better call than assuming the worst.
As regular readers know, one of the unforeseen benefits of Life
in Lockdown has been the opportunities it has presented for connecting with my dear but distant Welsh Boys through the medium of on-line lessons on BBC Bitesize. I have almost certainly seen more of them over the last 100 days than I would have done had they
been at school.
Indeed I had mixed feelings when I heard that pupils in Welsh schools would be returning this week - pleased for the boys (and their parents!)
but rather sorry for myself. Did this development, I asked myself, signal the End of Bitesize for me and my “pupils”? As it turned out, it is a one day a week return to school, hence for the moment at least my services are still required.
To begin with, everything seemed to go wrong today - James and I simply couldn’t coordinate our Shakespeare lessons. He was all ready to listen to excerpts from A Midsummer
Night’s Dream while on my screen, we were all ready to go with Macbeth. It took us half an hour to admit defeat. It was part-comedy, part-tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
We finally accepted defeat and turned to a book called “Charlie Changes into a Chicken” by Simon Copeland which, while not exactly Shakespeare, is apparently very popular. In other books in the same series, Charlie
(a boy of many parts) finds himself turning into a T-Rex and morphing into a mammoth. We stayed with the chicken and James read aloud for me the moment when Charlie became a fowl. There was almost a (Midsummer Night’s) dream quality about it.
The reading was followed by the exercise about the advantages of being tiny. Concentrating on our respective alter egos (me a ladybird, James a tadpole) we did manage to
come up with (i) being able to crawl / swim into small spaces; (ii) being able to hide easily from predators. I contributed the thought that, being tiny I would be able to hide out of sight and eavesdrop on other people’s conversations - a fly on the
wall, if you like. Only with spots. This doesn’t say very much about my character..
Initially I thought the best things about being a ladybird would be (i)
having a nursery rhyme written about you and (ii) the fact that people were generally pleased to see you in their gardens, unlike slugs and snails, for example. Then I remembered the Ladybird Summer of 1976 when the whole country suffered a plague of Swarming
Spotted Ones - and recalled that the nursery rhyme about ladybirds contains the lines “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home / your home is on fire, your children are gone...” I mean, it’s positively Shakespearean in its tragic consequences.
How about the best thing about being a tadpole, I asked my grandson. As matriarch of my own fairly large tribe (albeit not of the Tadpole Variety) I loved, loved, loved his
answer: “You would have a really, really large family,” he said.
That’s my boy!
I had completely forgotten, during the Lockdown, the Delights of Shopping.
No, I haven’t been queueing outside Primark
or battling my way into JD Sports; in fact I have only so far ventured to the shops in The Strand, five minutes from home, except for one short foray to the Giant Tesco’s, which caused me so much confusion that I almost forgot to return my shopping trolley
and reclaim my pound coin.
Over the last 100 days of Splendid Isolation, I have relied on several wonderful people to shop for me. There was the Lovely Kay who,
unable to look after my house for me, took charge of my fridge and larder instead, keeping them well-stocked against almost every eventuality. Then there was Ever Reliable Ian who would phone every few days to ask if I needed him to run any errands. Oh, the
prescriptions he has collected for me, the parcels he has posted for me! The Delightful Donna who helps me look after Mr B, was always willing to bring in a loaf of bread, should I have eaten too much toast over the course of the previous day, or to call in
at Boots when we have run out of something Mr B needs. Nor must I forget the ever-cheerful Ocado delivery driver (other companies will surely deliver equally cheerfully for you) once the initial on-line rush of new customers had subsided.
I have grown accustomed to planning our meals for the week, making lists and accepting the inevitable times when not everything on my list was available on the shelves. I have, indeed,
saved quite a lot of money over the last three months as a result and I will always be truly grateful to my Trusty Shoppers.
Now I am back in the World of
Retail and, as well as growing extremely lazy, I had completely forgotten the pleasures of the shopping experience. It’s not that I am now able to choose my own bananas, or to watch a packet of sultana scones leap, unbidden, into my shopping basket
from the top shelf of the Co-op’s bakery section. No, it’s the random conversations I have so sorely missed.
On my very first foray, here is a selection
of delightful socially distanced Conversations I Have Enjoyed...
1. The shop assistant in the newsagents told me how impressed he was that I had managed to locate
a bag of fruit pastilles. Apparently he had been asked by several customers before me where they could find fruit pastilles and had been unable to help. He had surmised that said sweeties must be out of stock until I turned up at the till with a bag in one
hand and a pound coin in the other. I explained that fruit pastilles are Mr B’s current favourite and I can sniff them out wherever they may be. I think he was impressed with my Sniffer Dog Act.
2. I met an elderly woman who was standing outside a charity shop with several bags of unwanted items, studying the notices in the shop windows for information as to when the shop might re-open. I told her all about the Loft
Clearance Project (it was an abridged version of the tale, I wouldn’t have bored her with every detail) and how the back seat of my car was now completely taken up with books and clothes bound for one of several charity shops I like to support. She told
me all about her poor husband who had “passed” and how she wanted his clothes to go to help someone in need, especially the jumper which she bought him for his last birthday and which he had never had the chance to wear. We had a bit of a weep
together. I rather wished I hadn’t gone on at such length about the Loft Clearance Project, in the circumstances, but she didn’t seem to mind.
had a little bit of trouble socially distancing myself from a small dog trying to avoid being taken into the new vets surgery. His owner managed to pull him / her away from my trouser legs and we exchanged views about the difficulties of getting some pooches
to obey orders. I managed to carry on my side of this conversation pretty well, considering I am not a pet owner myself. However I did have my experiences with Mr B at his most stubborn to call upon and I am pretty sure I got away with it.
So there you have it - the Delights of the Shopping Trip. How I have missed it all. The chat! The randomness of the everyday life of others!
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