Many years ago, when Mr B was a young man (albeit a young man with a growing family to feed) he volunteered to coach one of the village's youth football teams.
a good many of similar volunteer dads, he did not do this with the sole purpose of ensuring that our own son was always picked for the team - in fact, Our Boy was a member of one of the other teams. I always felt he would have done even better than he did,
had he been in his Dad's team, not because of any favouritism that would have been bestowed upon him but because he would have been coached by a man who combined an abiding love of football with a keen strategic mind.
Yes, Mr B would be the first to admit that, as coaches go, he didn't necessarily possess the full armoury of expert footballing skills to pass on to his young charges. However he did know exactly where the left back should be at any critical moment
of the game, how to catch an opposing player wrong-footed, how to inspire a team with confidence in their own ability to win the game. If not this week, then it would certainly be next week, lads.
you an example of what I mean: the son of some neighbours of ours was a big lad, head and shoulders above others of his age. He loved his football and wanted, most of all to be the one who shoots at the goal. (You will all have to forgive any inaccuracies
in terms of footballing lingo in today's blog. I am doing my best.) The coach of the youngster's team thought otherwise and placed him in goal where the poor lad spent many an unhappy Saturday morning before giving up the game altogether. Mr B thought this
was a ridiculous tactic on the part of his fellow coach. He would have put Young Goliath at centre forward. "Can you imagine the fear he would strike into any defender's heart as he bore down on him on his way to a certain goal?" Mr B thinks outside the box
(I think that can count as a footballing term, can't it?)
One of the boys in his team was a renowned tearaway. Always in trouble, never out of a scrape, always the ring-leader when mischief was being brewed.
Not everyone felt he should be allowed to be a member of the Club. He did, however, love football. So how did Mr B deal with this reprobate, this Troublesome One? Why, he made him Captain, of course. Chest swelling with pride, the lad never put a boot wrong
after that - at least not on the football field.
Mind you, on a French exchange trip to beautiful Montreuil sur Mer, Mr B had to deal with a serious report that the rascally rogue had been seen smoking a sneaky
cigarette. As a long time smoker himself, it was hard for Mr B to read the riot act. Instead he took his protege to one side and told him how he had himself started smoking at the age of twelve and now heartily wished he had never set out on the slippery slope.
I don't know for sure if the lad gave up the Woeful Weed for ever - but he never puffed another cigarette for the duration of the trip.
This Christmas, as every Christmas, we received a Christmas card from
the erstwhile Captain, now all grown up with a wife and two children, one of whom has followed in his father's boot-steps as far as a love of the Beautiful Game is concerned. He's doing pretty well, too: "Keep an eye out, you never know, he may play for England!"
boasts the proud dad.
At the end of his message he writes: "I often talk about what you did for me when I was young and loved football. Thank you so much." To say Mr B was touched would be a massive understatement.
Today it is the anniversary of the day we met, 51 years ago, outside Woolworth's in Sittingbourne High Street. Not exactly the most romantic of settings, but we all have to meet somewhere and we can't necessarily engineer
the setting sun, the violins playing, the choir singing. After all, it's what happens next that matters.
We do occasionally annoy each other. Mr B gets mad when I sneeze so loudly, without first warning him
of the explosion ahead. I wish he didn't always insist on re-arranging the sheet over the top of the duvet when he gets into bed - especially when I have just started to feel all toasty-warm and am personally perfectly happy with the Arrangement of Bedclothes.
He is, however, still the same person who offered a lad a chance when nobody else would give him so much as the time of day. He is still the man who doesn't give up on anything or anyone. However loudly they sneeze.
Like my dear Dad, he still loves his football and his family, though not necessarily in that order.
Today he is cooking me a Barnsley chop with roast potatoes. He has already opened a bottle of Chateauneuf
du Pape, to allow it plenty of time to breathe. He couldn't find any red roses at Tesco's so he has bought me beautiful, long-stemmed orangey-red ones. Aren't I the lucky one?
Happy Meeting Day Anniversary,
my dear Mr B. Here we are the Two of Us, always close, always together, come what may. Still standing after all these years.
Unlike poor old Woolworth's.
We definitely caught the right bus today.
Not in terms of the right number or the correct route, you understand - but can you guess who was driving our bus? Father Christmas,
that's who. He was in his full regalia, too, complete with curly white beard which stretched right down to the steering wheel. Instead of saying "More fares, please!" he trumpeted a cheery "Ho, Ho, Ho!" Everyone climbing onto the bus, however heavy laden with
Christmas shopping, couldn't help but grin.
One small lassie, about five years old, could be heard telling him that, whatever he might understand to the contrary, she had been really, really good this year.
"I guess I'll be heading over your way on Christmas Eve then," said Santa - and the littl'un trotted off to find a seat on the bus with the hugest of smiles on her face, stopping only to accept a small bag of Haribos from one of Santa's elves.
Ah, yes, the Elves. There were two of them, one wearing a Christmas jumper with jingling bells hanging from his belt, the other rather more stylishly clad in a green silky dress with a silver cardigan. Along with the red sack
containing the Haribos, they held a green collecting bucket with the logo of the local hospice plastered on the front. They didn't wave it about or ask for donations, however, just sat there in the hope that the Christmas cheer they were generating would lead
at least some passengers to make a donation.
In fact, when I came to take a proper look round, I realised that the whole bus had been decorated. Glittery chains had been fastened between every post and garlands
of cotton wool snow hung from the windows. It was as if we had, all unwittingly, stepped onto a Magical Bus. At first I thought that maybe Stagecoach had been overtaken by Christmas spirit and had sent out a Company Directive that all staff were to be festive
and merry but, peering out of the window at other passing buses, none of them had been decorated, none of them were transporting elves and - most telling of all - none of them were being driven by Father Christmas.
Well, of course they couldn't be, could they? There is, after all, only one Father Christmas and he was driving the Pulse bus this afternoon, from Lancing to Tesco's in Durrington. What I am struggling with is - why? After all, it must be one of his
busiest days in the lead up to the Long Journey. Shouldn't he, at the very least, be hosting a thank you lunch for all his Little Helpers who have been working their pointy socks off for the best part of the last year? Or poring over the Overtime List and
making sure that every shift will be covered, despite the number of elves phoning in sick after eating and drinking too much at their Staff Dinner on Friday evening at their hostelry of choice, the Sleigh and Jingle Bells.
Possibly Mrs Claus, that wise and wonderful woman, had decided that he needed to get out from under her feet for the afternoon so that she could spring-clean the sleigh, retune the jingling bells and take Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer through
a quick Elf and Safety Check (with particular attention to sloping roofs, smoking chimneys and the dangers of eating too many carrots in a single night.) "Just go and do something useful!" she told him, crossly, as she led Prancer and Dancer off to have their
hooves checked. Like what? Santa had retorted, equally crossly. "Oh, for goodness' sake just go and - drive a bus or something!" Which is how the Great Man came to be on our bus this afternoon. You know it makes sense.
There is nothing quite like meeting Santa to put a smile on your face. You don't have to be five years old - though the Elf in the shiny green dress obviously judged Mr B and I too old for a bag of Haribos. We alighted the bus with broad grins on our
faces and they haven't slipped yet. I sang "Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat," all the way home and, such was the Magic of Santa, that Mr B didn't tell me to desist. Not once.
At home, a bit
more Christmas present wrapping. Several of you have been kind enough to ask about the Missing Sellotape and I am happy to report that it has turned up in a place I am absolutely sure I looked when I first found it gone. It waited until I had paid out the
princely sum of 99p for a new roll of the sticky stuff before allowing me to find it again.
It's probably the same for Mrs Claus. When she told Santa to go drive a bus, she never imagined he actually would.
All she can do now is wait till, like my Sellotape, he turns up when she least expects him.
Unless, of course, he decides that it's far, far easier driving the Pulse bus than a one horse open sleigh.
Not to mention keeping those pesky reindeer in order...
Christmas post - I just love it!
I love coming home from wherever we have been, unlocking the door and stepping onto a door mat covered with Christmas cards. Oh, the anticipation!
The tearing open of envelopes, the inspection of the card within (snowmen or Santa, Christmas tree or figgy pudding, a Baby in a manger or the travelling kings on their camels - every one a delight for which I am grateful). The perusal of occasional newsletters
accompanying the festive greetings. I do understand why some people choose not to send cards - but, oh, the missed chance to make somebody's day!
Our postie is retiring on Christmas Eve. She left us a sweet
card, bearing a photograph of herself on the front, delivering in the snow. OK, the cynics among you will be saying, she was hoping for a special Christmas box. Why not? I respond. She has given us plenty of pleasure over the last twenty years, she knows where
to leave parcels in a safe place if we are not home, she always has a grin for visiting grandkids when they clamour at the door to collect the mail. She will be a Hard Act to Follow. Her name is Wendy, not Pat, and I have no idea whether she has a cat, black
and white or tabby coloured - but she has served us very well.
Today our post was particularly exciting. Not one but two newsletters to read; a sweet card with a photo of some friends' twins, one dressed as
Santa, the other as an elf; plus two very special cards from my Little Welsh Boys. Sam's clever drawing of Father Christmas swooping across the sky above the roof-tops was chosen by his school as one of their official school Christmas cards. Well done, Sam,
we will treasure it not just this Christmas but in Christmasses to come. Also tucked in the envelope, a card hand-made by two year old Morgan, depicting a Christmas tree so dripping with "jewels" that not all of them have remained affixed to the card but are
to be found at the bottom of the envelope. I remove them all carefully and, with the help of a handy glue stick, replace them on the card. Inside the greeting reads: "Dear Nanna and Grandad. I have made this card especially for you." Both cards will take pride
of place on our mantelpiece.
Mr B and I have been watching a programme entitled Meet the Street which is about loneliness. The presenter, James Martin, with the help of various celebrity friends, has been
visiting different communities to uncover hidden loneliness. Not just among elderly people, but among young mothers, people with disabilities which make it difficult for them to leave their homes. The concept is a simple one - bring the lonely ones to meet
neighbours who can help them, whether that means discovering groups like the amazing Men in Sheds, finding comfort in an animal sanctuary or meeting up with other young mothers, all feeling the same way about coping with the early days of motherhood.
Mr B wants to know if I felt lonely in my early days of motherhood, all those years ago - and the answer is yes, especially in the earliest days with two babies with just thirteen months between them. I think
what saved me was the love and company of my little daughters who kept me endlessly amused. I've never been one to bewail the boredom of a life with babies - my girls were the very best of company.
I tell Mr B, the TV programme has an important message so I suggest that whenever we see a person on their own we should exchange a few friendly words, just in case we are the only people they have spoken to all day. We try it out in Harry Ramsden's where
we are enjoying a Sixties Special (you have to be 60 or over to take advantage of this offer) where a sweet old lady seems very happy to chat.
Of course I know what will happen. I will have taken refuge in
Marks and Spencer 's cafe to rest my weary, shopping feet, claimed my free cup of coffee by redeeming my loyalty card, and settling down to send a few texts to my Nearest and Dearest just to check out what they are all up to. Then, just as I am starting to
enjoy myself, a really, really annoying person on the next table will start to chunter on with somewhat forced jollity about the changing weather, the trials of Christmas shopping, the crowds in the cafe and whether I will be at home for Christmas. I will
sigh as I replace my mobile phone in my handbag and enter into the conversation.
It will suddenly dawn upon me that my neighbour thinks I am probably a sad and lonely person who needs a dose of James Martin's
community medicine. I will listen a little more carefully to her conversation and will realise that it is more or less the same chat we enjoyed with the little old lady in Harry Ramsden's.
James Martin, you
have a lot to answer for. But keep up the good work!
Does anyone else, I wonder, have a "Christmas Room"?
I expect you are thinking that a Christmas Room would be somewhere magical, festooned with glittery garlands, a Christmas
tree maybe, a groaning table laden with festive goodies. No, that's not what I mean at all. My Christmas Room is the spare bedroom, where nobody could possibly sleep because the bed is literally covered with unwrapped presents, rolls of gift wrap, boxes of
Christmas crackers (one with only half its contents remaining after our Nomination Whist party yesterday), brown paper for the wrapping of parcels to be sent by post (I know, I know, I'm late again) and a selection of gift tags for every age of recipient from
Father Christmas ones for the Small Fry to tasteful red and silver stars for the Grown Ups. Festive it may be, but tidy - not a bit of it.
Little by little, the bed will be cleared. The carrier bags of presents
destined for my sister and her family will eventually be delivered, hopefully before Christmas, just as soon as we can decide on an appropriate rendezvous, half way between her house and ours. And preferably not a motorway service station because we will doubtless
be spending too much time in these as we travel between houses over Christmas and the New Year. I think I might have found a friendly looking Garden Centre where we could even have lunch with Santa Claus. What do you mean, that's only for the littl'uns? Where
in the small print does it say that?
All presents which haven't yet been wrapped, will be wrapped. I shall be rapt, myself, when I have finished the job. Mind you, I have to find the Sellotape first. I did
have it, when I wrapped up Young Sam's present, then I turned away to write the gift label (a Santa one - I ran out of space on the back, so had to put the kisses on his spindly legs) - when I looked back for the Sticky Stuff to affix the label, the Sellotape
had disappeared from view, never to be seen again. Or at least, not so far. I dare say it will resurface after Christmas when I don't need it any more. I am too mean to simply trot down to the local newsagents to purchase another roll so I am wandering about
the spare room (it's not that large, so wandering is probably a step too far, no pun intended) in a Vain Quest to locate it.
Christmas preparations are fraught with such problems, don't you think? Take our
Festive Red Berry Lights. No, please don't, because Mr B won't probably let me buy anymore, should I mislay these. They are battery operated which we thought was such a good idea until Mr B came to try to insert the batteries and found he needed a screwdriver
of minuscule proportions to open up the battery pack. It was quite a search to find one - but he finally did. Our Christmas tree now sparkles with festive red berries. It is a Sight to See. Even if Mr B is right - and he usually is - when he says these lights
are so flimsy that he doubts they will last more than one Christmas.
So pleased was I with our tree that, when we went out shopping after lunch, I set myself on Christmas Tree Inspection. My task: to investigate
how well the various shops had taken on the business of imparting the right amount of seasonal cheer to their customers by decorating their windows with Christmas trees.
The hairdresser's - sorry, it is now
called a Hair Spa, whatever that might be - has a rather crisp and cool silvery tree with a minimalist number of coloured baubles artistically set at strategic intervals among its glittery branches. The chemist's boasts a green cardboard tree which looks as
if it came as a flat-pack to be put together in three easy stages. The decorations are all printed on the cardboard so it won't have taken too much time and trouble to set it up. Still it's the thought that counts, as they say.
I am still struggling with the thought behind the tree in the barber's shop which is hanging upside down in the window. Why? I ask myself. Is there some significance to an upside down tree which, like
the Sellotape, is escaping me? Another shop has gone for one of those stylish trees like a branch from a tree with a few twigs, coloured silver and lit with sharp white lights. I quite like these though they are a million miles, design-wise, from our tree
at home, all red and green and assorted baubles gathered over the years.
My favourite shop, in terms of Christmassy window displays has to be the florist's. To be fair, there is no Christmas tree - instead
there is a beautiful fire-place, with glowing fire, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece and assorted stuffed toys and indoor plants decorating the hearth. It looks so cosy and welcoming - you feel that if you stood there long enough, looking in, Santa himself
would extricate himself from the chimney, shake the soot from his jacket and mutter "Ho, Ho, Ho!" before setting about his Important Business.
In our house, and in the shopping parade, it is beginning to look
a lot like Christmas. The Season of a Good Cheer.
If I could just find the Sellotape, everything would be just hunky-dory...
Every so often, a person has to face peril - and it is the way in which he or she faces up to such a challenge that demonstrates the character of the person challenged. It might be a sky dive, wing walking, climbing Everest,
white water rafting...
Or, in our case, venturing into the lift to retrieve the Christmas decorations. I had offered to undertake this perilous journey but Mr B was adamant that he was the Man for the Job.
Hence, on our return from our happy afternoon at Delia's playing cribbage, we decided that there was no time like the present and - as every wing-walker or mountaineer we have ever known would doubtless advise us - the fear of fear is greater than the fear
itself. Actually, we don't know any wing-walkers or mountaineers but I seem to remember that mantra about fear was a tenet of the Natural Childbirth classes I attended forty plus years ago.
The other reason
for the urgency was that we have a Christmas party for our Nomination Whist crowd tomorrow afternoon and I wanted us to look appropriately Christmassy. Mr B, knowing how much this mattered to me, was prepared to risk life and limb clambering up into the very
heights of our house. I can only salute him for his bravery.
You are probably wondering why this year was any different from other years, but a few months ago, at the time when the Gas Board was coming to
install a new boiler, one of our Sons in Law and his best friend came over to clear a path in our loft to ease the gasman's access. We knew they had done this - what we didn't know was where the Christmas decorations now resided in our re-organised loft space.
So we pulled down the loft ladder in a state of apprehension and Mr B clambered up, turned on the light and relayed a situation report to me, standing at the bottom of the ladder awaiting instructions from above. We
are not talking The Almighty here, though Mr B would possibly beg to differ. It turned out that the Christmas tree, the wreath for the front door and the box of assorted treasures were all easily accessible. So far, so good. Unfortunately the rather beautiful
decoration which graces our mantelpiece in the festive season had become separated from everything else and was now at the far end of the loft space. What's more, its three candles were no longer with it but wedged in an impossible to reach cavity. I made
an executive decision and instructed Mr B to leave the candles, on the basis that I could always buy some more.
I have to say that I was extremely relieved when Mr B made it down the loft ladder in one piece
as well as being overwhelmed with gratitude that I had not had to make the Perilous Ascent myself.
I then spent the best part of the evening assembling the Christmas tree and affixing all the baubles we have
accumulated over the years. Unpacking the treasure chest is always one of the delights of Christmas preparations. Here are the decorations brought back from the Holy Land by the Middle of the Darling Daughters. Here are the bells made out of dough by Jack
and Hazel when they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Here are the tree decorations given to us by the Swift Girls - "because you always buy us a tree decoration every year, so we thought you should have one in return..." Here is the bauble decorated with Faris's
hand and foot prints, to remember his First Christmas last year.
When the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and her family decorate their tree (we were there to help them with this pleasant task last weekend)
she always plays Christmas music as an appropriate accompaniment. I would like to have done likewise this evening - but Mr B was watching Pointless. It wasn't quite the same.
The finishing touch to our tree
is always the cardboard reindeer, designed and created by Young Jack in Christmas 2007 when he was ten years old. I know it was 2007 because that's the date written on the back of the reindeer. Coincidentally today is also Jack's 17th birthday and Mr B and
I have been thinking of him all day and hoping he was having the best of birthdays. "Do you remember what's on the top of our Christmas tree?" I asked him, when we telephoned to wish him many happy returns of the day and sing the age-old birthday anthem, complete
with harmonies. Jack said he thought he remembered but wasn't going to say, in case he was wrong. "It's your reindeer!" I told him, so sure I was that he would be pleased to hear this piece of information.
was only after I had said goodbye that I wondered if someone who has reached the Grand Age of seventeen would really want to be reminded of his youthful artistic efforts. Was it, perhaps, a trifle embarrassing?
I reassured myself - this was Jack, after all. The kindest and most caring of boys where his Nan and Grandad are concerned. Deep down he will be pleased that we still set his reindeer atop our Christmas tree - and, just supposing he isn't, he will never let
Happy 17th Birthday, Our Jack. You are, indeed, very, very special to your Grandad and me.
As is your reindeer.
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