Given the weather forecast, the general consensus was that we should have an early lunch in order for everyone to be able to depart for home before the Big Freeze hit us.
Mr B and I, who were hosting this auspicious occasion, could hardly argue with the sheer good sense of this, being as we alone would not be risking a difficult drive home. It was just unfortunate that
I had thought I would have at least another hour to get everything ready before our guests arrived. I would simply have to get my skates on, I informed Mr B, who looked a little alarmed at the thought of me crashing round the house like the ice skater I am
The occasion was the annual Brothers and Sisters Day, when I meet up with my siblings for an afternoon of love, laughter and reminiscences a-plenty. It was
too much to expect our brother in Scotland to make the long journey south, especially as he had joined us only fairly recently so there were just three of us, with our respective partners. As Mr B forecast, with his usual command of the obvious, there was
no danger of our jaws rusting…
I had warned our visitors that they would need to take us as they found us, on account of the fact that the Door Widening
Project has turned our house upside down. I did my best with broom, mop and duster but I’m not sure that my best was good enough. In addition, there has been no point in putting up Christmas decorations until our friendly workmen depart for good and
all - so we are not looking even remotely festive. I did, however, manage to find myself the perfect Christmas jumper with the word “Jolly” on the front. Short for Jolly Girl, I am sure. Moreover this jumper, like dogs, is not just for Christmas
- I will be donning it with pride for the annual Jolly Girls Outing in February.
I was forgetting, of course, that family doesn’t care about a bit
of domestic upheaval or the lack of glittery decorations - the only thing that matters is the company. And, if this were to be a slightly shortened afternoon due to the threat of bad weather - well, we would all simply have to talk twice as fast.
With a lot of helping hands, I manage to present the dinner (meat pie, mashed potatoes and mixed veg - I know you like the details) to the table at exactly 12.45 p.m. Everyone
complimented me on the pie, even though I had experienced some difficulty lifting the pastry over the meat. I used to be so good at that, too, wrapping the pastry over the rolling pin in order to transfer it to the dish it was to cover. Where did that all
go wrong? I had to piece the pastry together, making what could be described as a Patchwork Pie. Mr B - sounding a bit like the judges on Masterchef - said the only thing that mattered was the taste. Hopefully it would be “flavoursome.”
My sister in law, Jean, made the mistake of asserting that she had no time for new technology. My brother in law, Barrie, took this as a personal challenge so that every
time the discussion ventured into anything remotely connected with communications, he would say: “See, Jean, technology!” Could he, I wondered later, have engineered the conversation in the direction of Matters Technological?
So much to talk about, so many stories to tell, especially bringing each other up to date on the lives of our children and grandchildren. It was dark and rainy as our visitors left
for home and I was more than a little relieved when I heard - by phone and by WhatsApp - that both parties were home safe and sound.
Brothers and Sisters.
We share something so very special, something that shaped the people we are today. Something nobody else has been lucky enough to have shared.
Trotting along to the bus stop, I am in full Martin Luther King Mode. “Free at last! Free at last!” I carol.
there is no one around to hear me, apart from the birds that is, and the cuckoo has long flown so I don’t have to listen to his jeering. “Free at last!” I tell the fir tree, spreading its branches across a blue, blue sky. It may be
freezing cold - but it’s a beautiful morning.
As I stand at the bus stop, I see my favourite couple slowly making their way along the road towards me. I
don’t know their names (one day I really must ask them) but we meet up at the bus stop on a regular basis for a chat while we are waiting for the Pulse bus. They live just round the corner, they are both well into their Eighties, but their trip to town
is very important to them. A slow walk round to the bus stop, a trip into town, a visit to them coffee shop of choice, then back home again. On the bus, of course. I admire them so much, that Indomitable Couple.
So, you are asking, why am I enjoying a sense of freedom? What’s occurring? Well, after five days being largely confined to the house, unable to enjoy my usual pleasurable activities - the Birdy
Group, my crafty session, the Singing for Pleasure choir - while work is underway on our Doorway Widening Project, we have a few days free of dust, noise and disruption. I am off to town. Free at last!
Freedom, however, comes at a cost because I have a long list of Christmas presents to be bought. Tomorrow Mr B and I are hosting the annual Brothers and Sisters Day which we always time for around what would have been our
dear Mum’s birthday. She, who used to meet up with her own brothers and sisters in much the same way, would be proud of us, we reckon, keeping up the family tradition.
So far, so good. But this is also the occasion when we traditionally exchange Christmas gifts for our respective families and, what with the lockdown week we have just experienced, I have a lot more presents to buy. I can’t be away from Mr B for
too long so I am going to have to change the habit of a lifetime and become a Decisive Shopper. I can do it! Can’t I?
In the town centre Worthing’s
Rock Choir is singing to raise money for the Rotary Club. They are in exceptionally good voice. Having been amazingly decisive, I am weighed down with bags of shopping and walk right past the sweet woman collecting contributions - then I think better of it,
retrace my steps, plonk my bags down on the pavement and scrabble about in my bag to find my purse. “Thank you so much for stopping!” says the sweet woman with the collection bucket. She gives me a hug and says she hopes I have the very best of
Christmases. My day just gets better and better.
I stop at St Paul’s Centre for a cup of coffee and a (naughty but nice) toasted tea cake. There is a sale
on, aimed at young parents, with stalls selling pre-loved toys, baby clothes and Christmas goodies. A young woman is going from table to table trying to persuade little ones to join her in a sing song session. She is carrying a puppet, dressed in red and green,
who scares the life out of a babe at the table next to me - judging by his screams, I think it unlikely he will be joining in the fun and games. In a bid to make her feel better, I tell her that I would be very happy to join her, being not in the least afraid
of her colourful friend. She laughs nervously and moves on quickly to the next table. She obviously thinks I am a Daft Old Bat.
I travel home by bus with four
heavy bags of shopping and a smile on my face. Freedom is mostly a state of mind - that’s the message in The Shawshank Redemption, one of my favourite films of all time (though obviously there is now Paddington to be reckoned with…)
Next week there will be more disruption to contend with when the decorators arrive.
But, just for the moment, I’m free at last!
I like to think I am the ideal customer as far as workmen are concerned.
I keep them supplied with plentiful cups of tea
and coffee during their working day and try very hard to remember who takes tea, who prefers coffee, who has milk, who likes sugar and who reckons he is sweet enough already. Sometimes I get it wrong - but then I excuse myself on the basis that I am, after
all, Only Human.
I also take an interest in their work which I am sure they appreciate. I now know the difference between an acrow and an architrave, understand
the importance of a lintel and have watched in wonder as Luke the plasterer filled in gaps between walls and doors with expandable foam filler.
touch!” he warns me - but too late as I simply couldn’t resist. I whip my finger away from the foam in double quick time but there is a tell-tale smudge of the Sticky Stuff on it. Luke says it is a devil to remove. I hide my hand in my pocket.
I am, you can tell, In Denial.
You may be wondering what is happening at our house. And so very close to Christmas too. It’s our latest scheme to make life
a little easier for Mr B and me - the Door Widening Project will enable smoother passage between rooms for Mr B’s wheelchair. We are at the end of Week One and I am doing my best to stay positive through all the noise, the dust and the disruption to
anything approaching Normal Life. Mr B alternates between Resigned and Grumpy, depending on (I) whether he can hear Homes Under The Hammer on TV above the noise and (ii) the length of time the front door is open, thus letting cold air sweep through the house.
On Days One and Two, there were times when we had to take ourselves into the kitchen, close the door on the chaos and stay there, imprisoned like birds in a cage, gazing
out of the window at the Outside World. I, Nosey Parker that I am, enjoy gazing out of the window at passers-by rather more than Mr B. I also have a carrier bag full of windfall apples, gifted by friends Ian and Sallie, to be peeled, cooked and frozen which
keeps me busy for a goodly while. Mr B watches the Peeling Of Apples and says he is hankering after apple crumble. His wish, I tell him, is my command. At least, I hastily qualify, in Matters Crumble Related - I don’t want him to harbour Great Expectations.
The workmen cannot be faulted for their care and consideration - every day when they finish work they clear up after themselves and ask me if I am happy with their work so
far. Nevertheless, every day after they have departed I find myself sweeping up, washing the floor, dusting the window sills. It is the only way I feel as if I can regain control of my home. Mr B watches my endeavours and reminds me that there will be more
dust, more noise, the following day. I just keep on dusting.
I now feel strongly that all new homes should be built with doorways wide enough to accommodate a
wheelchair, so future-proofing them for owners who may one day grow old and frail. I am sure somebody, somewhere will come up with a reason why this can’t be done but I’m not prepared to concede the point.
Obviously had our doorways been wheelchair accessible in the first place, I wouldn’t have to deal with dust and disruption.
But, then again, I wouldn’t know the difference between an acrow and an architrave - and life would be so very much, well, poorer.
Tala and Lilia (aka The Twinkles) have spent most of their third birthday doing housework.
You are wondering, I am sure,
how their mother, the Middle of the Darling Daughters, can be so mean as to expect two such tiny ones to rearrange furniture, tidy bedrooms and organise kitchen equipment. Not to mention taking the baby out in his / her pram and making sure Nanni has a well-deserved
lie down on her bed. And on their Birthday, too.
Ah, yes, this is a new World in Miniature - a doll’s house, no less, complete with furniture for every room
and some people to live in it including, as mentioned earlier, a grandmother doll who, from what I could see via FaceTime, wore specs (like me) and her hair in a bun (unlike me.) I am ridiculously gratified that my Doll Persona has a place in the Twinkles’
It set me thinking about Dolls Houses I Have Known. When I was a littl’un, I hankered after a palatial dolls house owned by Margaret
Across The Road. It had electric lights and everything which in 1955 was quite something. Margaret Across The Road was an only child and, while I did indulge in bouts of Dolls House Envy, I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for hers in any way because
I, of course, had a little sister who was worth any number of dolls houses, even ones with candelabra which lit up at the touch of a switch. Our dear Mum was always chiding my sister and me to be kinder to Margaret Across The Road and to include her in our
games - which we dutifully did, albeit most reluctantly because we had each other and didn’t really need anyone else.
My dear Dad, picking up on my desire
for a doll’s house, spent weeks in the run-up to Christmas one long-ago year making me one out of half a barrel. It had two rooms, an upstairs and a downstairs, and a curved roof made out of a piece of some kind of bendy material covered in paper printed
to look like tiles. It goes without saying that it didn’t have lights.
I fear I was nowhere near as grateful as I should have been - and my grown-up
self wishes I could transport myself back in time and show proper appreciation for such a Labour Of Love. Now that I am (mostly) an adult, I can imagine the pangs of disappointment I must have caused my poor Dad.
When the three Darling Daughters were of an age to enjoy a doll’s house, we bought them one made of wooden pieces which slotted together to form four rooms which was twice as many as in my Half a Barrel Dolls House.
We also bought some rather special furniture, some of which I still treasure today even though the dressing table is missing one of its drawers and the cushions on the two armchairs are a trifle ragged. Once its playing days were done, we flat packed the doll’s
house and stored it in the loft - where it somehow managed to disappear, never to be seen again.
Then there was the hand-made doll’s house we bid for at
an auction held at Mr B’s golf club, having taken pity on the poor guy who made it when nobody else put up their hands. I was thinking of my Dad, of course, but also of our new granddaughters who would surely love to play with it. And over the years
indeed they did. An essential part of my preparations for any visit was to tidy all the rooms and rearrange the furniture; though if I forgot, well there was Katie, Hazel and Eleanor to tackle this most enjoyable of tasks.
Granddaughters do grow up, however, and the doll’s house was moved, first into the garage where its chimney fell off, then down to the charity shop where I hoped it would find a new Forever Home
or at least a For A While Home.
It never occurred to me that I might have the pleasure of two more little granddaughters or I would have kept it, chimney-less
as it was. But to be honest, the stately mansion now stationed in the Twins’ bedroom, positioned centrally between the two beds, is rather more splendid than all the other Dolls Houses I Have Known.
I’ve seen the photos and it looks grand. Tala and Lilia, the proud home owners, have taken all the furniture out of every room and crammed it all into one. I can only think they may be planning to turn it into a House
of Multiple Occupation which will, of course, require planning permission but will mean that several more small plastic people will have the luxury of a roof over their heads.
Home sweet home!
I may be only four years old but I am already beginning to discover that Life Is Unfair.
I base this opinion (this is Faris
writing, by the way, and as you know I am noted for having Plenty of Opinions) on the indisputable fact that two members of our Trio of Rampaging Rascals are enjoying birthday celebrations while one of us is not. That’ll be me, then, as Nanni would say.
Yes, Tala and Lilia will be three years old tomorrow and yesterday we were at Nanni and Grandad’s house to make an Early Start on Birthday Shenanigans. The first thing
I asked Nanni, once we had said hello to the Giant Penguin who was out on the doorstep as usual wearing a hat like a birthday cake complete with candles, was whether I could open the Twins’ presents for them. Nanni looked kind of regretful because she
finds it hard to say no to me. She explained that there was a present for me, too, but to be honest, given the size of the other parcels, those intended for my girls, compared with the one with my name on, I can surely be forgiven for feeling a little underwhelmed.
It didn’t help that my present was a book which I have already. Okay so that wasn’t Nanni’s fault and it is true that the book I have at home needs replacement
having been read so much that Mummy says it is pretty dog-eared. I don’t know what dog-eared means exactly but it doesn’t sound too good. I shall try not to let any dogs, especially those with long ears, anywhere near my new book.
Nanni and I had a chat about the general Unfairness of Life and Nanni said that things have a way of turning out well in the end. As proof of this rather rash statement, she pointed
out that in March it will be my birthday and I won’t have to share it with anyone, not being a Twin, you understand. However when I asked if it would be March tomorrow, she had to admit that March is quite a long way away, a quarter of a year in fact.
You see what I mean - Life Is Unfair.
Once we had opened all the presents (I did manage to lend a helping hand through sheer determination and refusal to be thwarted)
we had cake and we honestly had just about as much fun as you can have with a birthday cake. It all started off in the time-honoured way with the cake borne aloft by Nanni, Flaming Candles on top. No, the Flaming Candles weren’t on top of Nanni, don’t
be silly, that would be downright dangerous; they were on the cake. Six candles in all, three for Tala and three for Lilia. You can tell I’m a schoolboy now, on account of my grasp of All Things Mathematical. Anyway, on top of the cake was a picture
of Anna and Elsa from Frozen and writing (in icing, how very appropriate) saying “Happy 3rd Birthday, Tala and Lilia”. No mention of me you will have noticed but we will let that pass.
I don’t quite know what possessed us but first one of The Twins pushed her thumb through Elsa’s face and then the other Twin stuck a candle in Anna’s face - and suddenly we all three had drinking straws in
our hands and were demolishing the picture until all that was left was the cake underneath. Which was truly delicious, if somewhat crumbly. Nanni described the whole episode as Cakegate for reasons which completely escape me. Come next March, when I am five
years old and therefore fully grown-up, I may understand some of Nanni’s stranger sayings. Or, possibly, not.
After Cakegate Mummy and Nanni decided that
we needed to go through what they called “Acclimatisation” for our Christmas Sleepover. This involved clambering into beds, hiding under duvets, trampolining (aka bouncing on the bed) and much Merry Mayhem. All this bodes very well, we three think,
for Christmas Eve though what Mummy and Nanni think I’m not totally sure.
We did, however, demonstrate how perfectly behaved we will be when it comes
to Christmas Dinner, even though Nanni hadn’t made nearly enough roast potatoes to go with our chicken dinner. It was a good thing she had this run-through before the Big Day when it will be important that she gets it right, in all matters Roast Potato
Sadly, Nanni won’t be with us tomorrow which is Tala and Lilia’s actual birthday. It’s going to be another day of coping with the Double
Adorability Of Birthday Twins while trying to hide my disappointment that it isn’t March already.
Life simply isn’t fair. Full stop.
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