"Can I ring the bell? Can I ring the bell? Can I ring the bell? Can I....."
The young lad sitting at the front of the bus kept up this incessant chant as his poor mum
endeavoured to manoeuvre a push-chair into the allocated space. I exchanged a sympathetic glance with the woman sitting next to me, three rows back from the action. We have been there ourselves, we agreed silently.
I was on my way back home after a busy day, which started at the library where, type-written list in hand, I ticked off the ten members of our Questers group who had signed up to see the Old Maps of Worthing. So popular has this topic been that I have
had to arrange no fewer than four visits to accommodate everyone who has expressed a wish to pore over an ancient map or two. Or more. This is no great hardship for me but a considerable undertaking for the librarian in charge of the local studies section,
who is due an enormous vote of thanks.
While I was meeting and greeting, Mr B sat himself down at a table in the library foyer, completely failing to recognise the fact that he was sitting right underneath
a pull-up display advertising today's Give Up Smoking drop-in clinic. In no time at all, a member of staff descended upon him, sure he was another recruit. He managed to escape her clutches but it was a near thing. I suspect he may have fibbed a bit about
his tobacco habit but I have no proof of this so must give him the benefit of the doubt. Which is, as anyone who has been afforded such luxury will know, a Wondrous Thing.
Oh, the old maps were so fascinating
- and the older they were, the more ornately decorated. A beautiful leather bound book carried reproductions of county maps dating back to 1575. A worthy gent by the name of Rich Budgen in 1724 introduced his work as "An actual survey of the County of Sussex
divided into Rapes, Hundreds and Deaneryes in which the exact Longitude and Latitude of all the Remarkable Places are determined from observation. Also an Accurate Deliniation by admeasurement of the sea coast, roads and rivers as far as navigable." My imagination
had Our Rich travelling the county on horseback, on foot and by boat, scribing as he travelled. Obviously if a river turned out not to be navigable in his trusty vessel then it couldn't be mapped. I just loved his description of "Remarkable Places" even while
logic told me that his 1724 definition of the word remarkable was rather more prosaic than my 2015 interpretation.
How about this? In 1852 one Captain W.D. Gossett of the Ordnance Survey department produced
a public health map identifying every wash house, privy and "sanitary facility" in Worthing town centre. It was a tough job but someone had to do it and Captain Gossett was that man. I applaud his thoroughness and attention to hygienic detail.
The most recent map we were shown was of shops in the town as of 1988. By that date, Mr B and I were living here so we are part of history - but times have changed even in our years of residence. We all oohed and aahed over
the stores we remembered but which are no more, the venerable Woolworth's leading the way. Or should I say, the Way Out?
Afterwards Mr B and I repaired to The Happy Teapot over the road. No, it didn't appear
on any of the maps we studied but it is, nevertheless, what Rich Budgen would have called "A Remarkable Place". Every wall is adorned by witty phrases and sayings. I particularly liked the list of Kitchen Rules - no complaining, no late arrivals, no special
orders - but ending with: "Anyone breaking these rules will be loved and forgiven in the usual manner." Which pretty much sums up my approach to grandparenting in general. And not just in the kitchen.
afternoon a group of fellow Trustees from Voluntary Action Worthing, an organisation I am proud to chair, huddled round a table in the Town Hall. Our task: to consider which of several projects recommended to us we should pursue in the interests of our community
and the hundreds of voluntary groups who exist to help the excluded, the financially stretched, the young, the elderly, the ill, the troubled.
These groups won't appear in any map of the type Captain Gossett
produced back in 1852, but they are, in Rich Budgen's memorable words, what makes the town of Worthing such a truly Remarkable Place.
This morning we were in for a Special Treat. A Performance, no less.
The three performers were my three great-nephews, Daniel, Jay and Ben, all aged between 6 and 8. There
was great anticipation at the breakfast table as we considered the exciting possibilities ahead of us. Apparently The Performance was to be loosely based on X Factor, with Jay playing the part of Simon Cowell. "Who is playing Cheryl Cole?" enquired Daniel's
Mum, artlessly. None of the young performers seemed inclined to provide her with an answer. I find that selective hearing is often employed by small fry. Almost as much as by Mr B.
We gathered in the front
room, squeezing up as necessary on the sofa. You couldn't argue with the level of our support. Daniel's mum, Paula, even dragged herself away from the 1000 piece jigsaw which she is endeavouring to complete by tomorrow morning in order to win a bet with her
fella. I had been lending limited assistance last night, which resulted in me going to bed dreaming of giant puzzle pieces which wouldn't fit. This morning I found a stray piece on the carpet by my bed, where presumably it had been transported on the sole
of my slipper. Unless Mr B had been plotting to sabotage Paula's efforts. I wouldn't totally put it past him.
Still, for the next ten to fifteen minutes, the jigsaw (subject: "The Station") was left unattended,
trains without their funnels, passengers missing legs or arms, at least one platform still to be located from within the box of unplaced puzzle pieces, while we watched the proceedings. It was, shall we say, a Most Energetic Performance. X Factor (on my admittedly
limited acquaintance) appears quite lack-lustre in comparison.
There was a lot of jumping, spinning, acrobatics, forward rolls and backward flips. It was both exhilarating and a trifle dangerous in a rather
exciting way. I was somewhat at a disadvantage as I didn't recognise any of the latest hit songs which provided the musical accompaniment. My current pop knowledge is Sadly Lacking. I need to decide if this is something I should remedy or whether I can live
without knowing the latest hits and the people who warble them. I did recognise Gangnam Style, having once been to a Christmas party with the Little Welsh Boys where this was played from the start to the finish. "Oh, no!" groaned Daniel's Grandad (who also
happens to be my brother.) I gather he always says that when this particular song is announced.
I was impressed by the fact that the boys had downloaded all the music for their Performance onto a tablet. I
couldn't help recalling that, when the Little Welsh Boys put on their famous Puppet Show last summer, the musical accompaniment had been provided by my musical box, playing a slightly scratchy version of Return to Sorrento. It would never have done for this
At the end of our very own X Factor show, Jay (aka Simon Cowell, you remember - do keep up, won't you?) came forward with the "scores on the doors" and announced that Daniel was the
winner, by dint of having executed several acrobatic movements more cleanly than Ben. I was very relieved that we hadn't had to vote on it.
The Performance was just one of the highlights of a very special
weekend with my two brothers and sister. Our "Brothers and Sisters Day" is an annual event - but this year was extra one special, being joined by members of the next generation - and the next. At one time our party numbered four grandads and three grandmothers
(all going by various names, in my case answering to several) with an assortment of children and grandchildren. It's all about continuity, the Brothers and Sisters Day.
We enjoyed delicious meals, courtesy
of my sister and her fella, played "Tommy" and "Coin in a Bottle" (I, alone, didn't manage to drop even one five pence coin into the empty Gordon's Gin bottle, it was Somewhat Shameful), and chatted. And chatted. And chatted. As Mr B likes to say, there was
No Danger Of Our Jaws Rusting.
Our dear Mum would be so pleased with us, keeping up a family tradition which she started many years ago with her own brothers and sisters. I lost count of the number of her
famous sayings which were trotted out by one or other of us over the course of the weekend. Mind you, our memories played tricks with us - on more than one occasion one of us would come out with a story, only to be told that it never happened that way at all.
Daniel, Jay and Ben have hardly seen each other before - and there they were on X Factor! Next time they meet, they may stage a repeat performance in the interests of, yes indeed, continuity. They might even allow Ben
to be Simon Cowell next time around.
Before we left for home this morning, I wrote out a family tree of the direct Usher line for young Daniel - starting with his five times great grandfather, born around
the 1790s. Who was also named Daniel. Coincidence? Or continuity?
Family - there's nothing quite like it.
Our esteemed church warden says it is just like riding a bike. Once mastered, never forgotten.
The dozen of us sat around two trestle tables in the church aisle look back
at her with doubt in our eyes. We are here to make palm crosses for tomorrow's Palm Sunday service. How many do we need to make? someone has the temerity to enquire. Apparently the answer is three hundred but we aren't going to dwell on it. It's only a number
after all. Albeit a pretty big number...
My friend Eleanor is a little cross (if you will excuse the pun) because I didn't read the text she sent me at 8.05 this morning, reminding me to bring a pair of scissors
with me. I shouldn't really have needed the reminder, bearing in mind that this is my third year running on the Palm Cross Production Line. Unfortunately in my hurry to get to church in time (not that I was getting married in the morning or anything, you understand)
that it was as much as I could do to get myself out of the door, let alone scrabble in the kitchen drawers for a pair of scissors.
It does take a while to remember the way to make a palm cross. The secret
is in the central knot. Get that right and you can't go wrong. However, even for those with a certain experience to call upon, it takes a while to get back in the groove; after half an hour, we have made just forty crosses and our esteemed church warden is
talking about having to finish off the task at home. At this thought, I, for one, redouble my efforts. I can't bear the thought of her sitting alone at her dining room table struggling away, palm branches strewn about her.
Half an hour later and we have made 125 crosses, we are almost half way there. To help us on our way, cups of tea and coffee appear plus a plate of hot cross buns. Just what the doctor ordered for One Who Is Always Thinking Of Her Stomach. The next
batch of Palm crosses are slightly sticky and have the distinct smell of cinnamon.
Eleanor is making tiny crosses out of the remnants of the palm branches. Our esteemed church warden says maybe the children
would like the crosses which Elspeth is making. Elspeth? Who is Elspeth? Eleanor shrugs and smiles. Like my lovely mum, she doesn't mind what she is called. So long as it is not too late for dinner.
recalled the knack, I am now motoring. Our previous Rector, now retired, had very specific criteria which had to be met before a palm cross could be considered fit for purpose. The new order is less picky but I still feel the need to meet the exacting standards
I recall from my first experience of cross making. Eleanor warns me that I am in danger of poking someone's eye out, such is my cavalier flourishing of palms. Should somebody have carried out a Risk Assessment beforehand? I wonder.
Amazingly, by 11.30, the final tally is 300. We have reached our target. All we need to do now is to sweep up the bits of palm branches littering the trestle tables and the floor of the aisle. I have half an hour to hot-foot it to
the Old Palace where my friend Sue is presiding over a coffee morning in aid of the Children's Society. She is so pleased to see me that I am really glad I came. She makes sure I have a cup of coffee and a cupcake with a miniature Easter egg on top. I buy
raffle tickets. I don't win but I don't care. It's been a lovely morning.
Tomorrow, provided it doesn't pour down with rain, the congregation will process to church, waving palms and singing Ride On,
Ride On in Majesty as they enter the church. I won't be there, because I will be driving to my sister's house for our Brothers and Sisters Day. Both my brothers and my sister will be there, together with one brother's daughter and grandson. The latter is interested
in his family history so I will be bringing along my Usher family file. Mr B has printed off a photograph to give the lad - a photo of his great-great-grandad and his great-great-great grandad. It will be a lovely day of family reminiscences.
It means I won't be in the church procession of course. But I will be there in spirit. And in my coat pocket, one of Eleanor's tiny palm crosses.
Perfect in every detail.
Some people love nothing better than a good argument. I am not one of them.
Mr B, it must be said, has been known to relish a good honest confrontation, mentally
rolling his sleeves up as he prepares to do battle with the Powers That Be. Me? I am of the Peaceable Variety.
My children, though all grown-up now, would probably agree that I was a relatively Mild
Mannered Mamma. They will, however, doubtless remember the time I ranted and raved at the bus driver who castigated my Foursome for drumming their heels on the floor when sitting in the front seat of the top deck (the ideal position for pretending you are
the driver). My unexpected temper was not because he told them off (the drumming of heels above his head must have been rather annoying) but because he swore at them. Nobody, but nobody, could be allowed to get away with that in my book.
The fact that they may well remember the incident, so many years on, shows it was out of the ordinary to see me lose my temper so completely. "You were shaking and your voice was all quivery," the Youngest of the Darling Daughters
reminded me once, in an admiring tone of voice. She couldn't, of course, recall what had prompted the bus driver's rebuke and my uncharacteristic reaction.
What I really hate about losing my temper
- and why I do my best to avoid it at all costs - is how it makes me feel afterwards. I never feel self-satisfied, just cross with myself for succumbing to my baser instincts which is, of course, yet another reason for feeling cross with whoever it was who
stoked my fire.
Talking of fires, and conflagrations of the hot-tempered variety, this afternoon saw the latest instalment in the Sorry Saga of British Gas and Our New Boiler. It will never win the
Man Booker Prize. Just to recap, regular readers will (possibly, or, equally possibly not) remember that Mr B and I were persuaded by the British Gas engineer who came to service our gas fire and boiler, that it would be in our very best interests to replace
our boiler which, though a Trusty Servant of Long Standing was now considered more or less obsolete, so that it was no longer possible to obtain spare parts if something went wrong. Just think if we found ourselves without heating in the middle of the winter?
It didn't bear thinking about, we agreed.
Except that since our new boiler has been fitted it has stopped working at least once a day, sometimes twice. We have been re-setting it, having been shown
how to do this by the engineer who came out to us the first time it happened but the last straw was returning home from a weekend away to an Ice House. Enough was enough, we told ourselves, so this morning I phoned British Gas and booked a callout for tomorrow
morning. The woman on the other end of the telephone was matter of fact and not particularly sympathetic to our plight but she did book us in so I decided not to take it personally. It must become so very wearing after a week of taking calls from dissatisfied
customers. Thank goodness it's Friday, I expect she was thinking. Or words to that effect.
Then this afternoon, another call from British Gas. Could he book in a service for our gas fire? the over
cheerful chappie on the other end of the line asked me. And the boiler? I asked him, explaining briefly what had been happening. After consulting his records, he informed me that there was no mention of a boiler. Had I forgotten to inform them that we had
changed our boiler, he said combatively. I stayed as calm as I could, as I pointed out that British Gas had installed our new boiler so should, presumably, know all about it. Mr British Gas, in an irritatingly patronising tone, suggested I ring Customer Services
to discuss this peculiar situation with them.
The heat was rising, especially given that Mr B was, by this time, bellowing instructions at me on the way I should handle our caller. By wringing
his neck, metaphorically speaking, as far as I could tell. Couldn't he ask Customer Services to ring us instead, I suggested, bearing in mind that it appeared the mistake was at their end? After a conflab with a colleague, my caller said he would be willing
to transfer me - but I would be in a long queue and would probably have to wait to be answered for a quarter of an hour or more. Life is too short, I wanted to tell him.
After all that, it turned out
that he had jumped the gun somewhat as far as our servicing needs were concerned. Our fire won't need attention until June. Perhaps I would like to book on-line, our caller suggested optimistically. I guess he didn't want to have to be the one to call us again.
As for the boiler, well, as it didn't exist according to his records, it couldn't be serviced but it was still under guarantee so that was alright, wasn't it?
I think my reply may have been a bit shrill,
possibly unreasonably so. Was I wrong to feel so cross? Was our caller simply unlucky to have phoned us today? Was he, perhaps, in the wrong place at the wrong time? How would you have behaved?
sure you have a really good weekend now!" he signed off, insincerely. It was The Last Straw.
I had to resort to the comfort of my knitting to calm myself down. It wasn't until I had knitted my way through
two sets of rabbit's ears (strange, but true) that I felt myself relaxing.
Oh, British Gas, you have such a lot to answer for! I pity the poor engineer who is booked to call on us between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
tomorrow. I will do my very, very best to keep cool, calm and collected but, just in case, I hope he has been warned...
The friendly couple at the table next to ours in the tapas restaurant had been to see Sunny Afternoon the previous day. We were in for a treat, they told us. In fact, they had enjoyed the show so much that they were already
contemplating booking up again. You can't have a better recommendation than that, now can you?
When first arriving at any restaurant and discovering how close together the tables are, first thoughts are often
that a little more space would be welcome. I have found, however, that close proximity to neighbouring tables often results in excellent conversation and an even more convivial atmosphere. Thus it was yesterday in the tapas restaurant, two doors along from
the Harold Pinter Theatre where seats K13 and 14 had been booked in our name.
I had planned our Day Out with military precision - unusually for one who generally just "goes with the flow." However, our theatre
trip with the Bowls Club to see Miss Saigon a few weeks ago, had involved a three hour coach journey each way through the London traffic and a slightly fraught search for somewhere to eat after the show. When Mr B declared that he had set his sights on another
theatre trip, I decided to think about all the steps I could take to ensure that this would be a more pleasurable overall experience.
I even mapped it all out in phases, if only in my head. You wouldn't have
seen me consulting a type-written itinerary - though I did have a yellow post-it note in my handbag detailing directions from Piccadilly Circus underground station to the theatre. In the event, I still had to consult a friendly policeman to point out which
road was Haymarket. Just as well I did, otherwise I might have dragged poor Mr B along completely the wrong road, looking for a Panton Street which just wouldn't materialise.
Mr B believes implicitly in the
Power of the Post-It Note. On his sixtieth birthday, I had a model made of him by a very talented local artist. In order to inform the Making of the Model, I had to supply the artist with various photographs of the subject (that is, Mr B) taken from all angles
and a list of notable items to be included. In the interests of a truly rounded characterisation, I sought the help of all four of our off-spring and the four grandchildren then alive. Every single consultee mentioned the post-it notes.
Mr B sticks post-it notes here, there and everywhere. There is almost always one stuck on his tobacco tin (or "Poor Man's Filofax" as Mr B terms it.) This particular note generally summarises what Mr B reckons we need to buy at the
shops that day and invariably starts with "newspaper." Yes, Mr B would lost without his newspaper. Even on foreign holidays, he must have the latest news from our Homeland. "Someone famous might die while we're away," he explains, "and we would never know
until the end of the year when they report on That Was the Year That Was."
He also likes to stick post-it notes on the banister where they can be seen as soon as anyone steps in the front door. "Photos for
Doreen", one might read, or, intriguingly: "Boiler." Heaven help the person who removes a post-it note in the belief that it has served its purpose. That'll be me, then.
I don't necessarily need a
post-it note to capture Life's Essential Memos. I write on whatever comes to hand when I burrow through my handbag. You will find cryptic messages written on the back of old receipts, on fliers I have picked up in the doctor's surgery while waiting for an
appointment, in the back of my (hardly ever used these days) cheque book, or in the little bit of white space at the top of the church weekly newsletter. Once consigned back into my handbag, these important memory joggers never see the light of day again.
Maybe, after all, the post-it note has much to offer. Stickability, for one thing.
Oh and, yes indeed, Sunny Afternoon, the story of The Kinks, was fabulous, especially if you remember the Sixties, the clothes
we used to wear, the music we used to dance to, the eternal optimism of being young and believing that every afternoon would be a sunny one.
When booking our seats, I could only trust to luck that we would
have a good view and that the tallest man in the theatre, or the woman with the bushiest hair-do wouldn't take the seats right in front of Mr B. I have to say that seats K13 and 14 are to be highly recommended. If you think you might want to see the show yourselves,
then you might want to jot down the seat numbers.
Preferably on a post-it note.
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