Jaqui's Daily Blog

“What’s the good of a birthday,” my dear Dad used to say, “if you can’t do what you like...?”

 

Hence yesterday, which was my birthday, I suggested to Mr B that I would like to watch “Mary Poppins Returns” to mark the occasion. Mr B wasn’t all that keen (there was cricket on TV) but conceded that, as it was my Big Day, I was entitled to watch what I wanted.

 

It was clear that Miss Practically Perfect In Every Way wouldn’t have been Mr B’s choice. I added the DVD to my shopping basket while picking up a few essential at the garage way back around Easter time, carrying it home and declaring, happily, that I had bought us an Easter present. Mr B’s response was classic: “What other films could you have bought?” he asked, just a trifle grumpily. Since then, Miss Poppins has sat, sad and discarded, atop the DVD player while I waited for this very moment.

 

Mr B does occasionally take against a film for no apparent reason. He reserves particular opprobrium for the children’s film called “Stuart Little” - a favourite of granddaughter Eleanor over many childhood holidays with us - even though Eleanor and I are doubtful that he has ever watched it all the way through. Stuart Little, for those who don’t know, is a delightfully kind and gentle mouse who is adopted by a couple who fall in love with him when they visit an orphanage to find a brother or sister or their small son. I am quite sure that Mr B would enjoy the story of Stuart Little if he could only bring himself to watch it from beginning to end, it being all about the importance of family and unconditional love - the basis for our life together over all these ever so many years.

 

Still, I digress. Mary Poppins returned to our television screen in honour of my birthday and I settled down to enjoy my treat. I had already had a quite splendid birthday. Cards, phone calls and birthday greetings a-plenty, made me feel much-loved. Even Lloyd the Postman carolled “Happy Birthday!” as he walked down our garden path. How did he know? I thought - until he handed over all the cards he was carrying. At precisely noon, driver Tony arrived in the Dial-a-Ride minibus to transport Mr B and me to one of our favourite local restaurants called Food. You know me, I do like a restaurant that does what it says in the tin. What better way to celebrate a birthday for One Who Is Always Thinking of her Stomach than enjoy a birthday lunch with good friends? 

 

The other two members of our Meals and Wheels Club, friends Ian and Sallie, arrived at the restaurant at almost exactly the same time as we did. Sallie was bearing an extremely large, pink box containing a Birthday Balloon - let’s start the celebrations as we mean to go on, she hardly had to say. Then, as we enjoyed cups of coffee at the end of a delicious meal, a member of staff carried a cake over to our table, candles alight, and what felt like everyone in the restaurant sang Happy Birthday to me. It took me by complete surprise, as captured by the photos of the moment when I twigged what was happening - and that it was All For Me.

 

Have you seen Mary Poppins Returns? If not, I won’t spoil it for you but one of the things I noted (and remember well from reading the books aloud to my Little Sister when we were young) is the idea that while children remember all the magical events that happen around them, grown-ups have forgotten them by the following day. I seem to recall in PL Travers original books, that babies had a particular capacity to understand where they had come from and what was going on around them - a gift they slowly lost as they approached their first birthday. 

 

On the one hand, I like to think that childhood is a time of magic, with or without a Mary Poppins in your life. On the other, having reached an even Greater Age yesterday, I really don’t want to lose the Power of the Magical. 

 

Not even when I’m really, really old...

 

I sat down with Mr B this morning to watch the D Day commemorations from Portsmouth. 

 

It’s not often I spend time in front of the television of a morning - Mr B would like me to do it far more often as he says watching TV in company is much more fun than watching alone. I must state, here and now, that I am not making derogatory comments about daytime television in general as so many people like to do. I happen to think that many of the truly excellent programmes televised during the day - think The Repair Shop for one - would more than hold their own with some of the less-than-scintillating evening fare. No, my problem is that I am ever aware that my dear Mum would frown if I succumbed to what might pass as laziness, quoting that saying about the devil finding mischief for idle hands to do. 

 

Not that we had a TV until I was ten years old. We never, as a family, watched the Queen’s Coronation on a pocket handkerchief-sized telly; my memories of that historic occasion, back in June 1953, was that Mr Bellamy, Chairman of the Governors, came to school and gave us all a mind-blowingly boring book called “Royalty in Essex.” More impressive was the model of the Coronation procession, complete with gold coach and horses, that paraded across the windowsill in my classroom.

 

At least I have some memories, albeit childish ones, of the Coronation. The events of D Day happened exactly - to the day - three years before I was born. I didn’t realise until I was almost grown-up, just how soon I had been born after the War, and how much the proximity to the War years influenced my childhood. My father’s determination to build a brave new world for his family; my mother’s insistence on saving every scrap of food left over from our meals and neatly cutting sheets of horrid scratchy toilet paper in half before use.

 

I am, as regular readers know, far too sentimental for my own good. Granddaughters Katie and Eleanor still like to remind me that I am the only person ever known to shed tears during a film called “Hotel For Dogs” and as for the end of International Velvet: “You never got to keep your medal....” Oh, for heaven’s sake, I’m not welling up again, am I!?

 

Yet I make no apologies for my unbidden tears this morning watching those D Day heroes proudly but modestly accepting the applause of an audience led by Her Maj and The Donald. To mention but two. 

 

More than anything it was the true life stories of ordinary men and women that moved me most, the letters and diary entries read by a cast that numbered the President of France and the Prime Ministers of Britain and Canada. Captain Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps, tried to set down on paper all the things he had wanted to say to his wife, Gladys, had he been able to get home before he was sent into action. The letter, read by Theresa May, was moving enough but then, up on the massive screen behind her we could read and hear the words of the telegram Gladys received to inform her that her husband was among those fatally injured. He died with his loving letter still in his pocket. 

 

I’m not a military historian but I have found myself involved in two major research projects in the years since I retired - the Great War Project and Military Voices. I had to work hard to learn about the battles, military strategy, the language of war. Listening to the voices of those who served, however, researching their lives, writing their case studies was the greatest privilege and a most humbling experience. At least two of the people I interviewed - the inspiring Vera Bartram who worked at Bletchley Park and down to earth Albert Markwick who served in Burma - have died since. The youngest of the D Day veterans participating in today’s and tomorrow’s commemorations is ninety-one, the oldest 101. Soon, inevitably, the curtains will be drawn on yesterday’s battles unless we find ways to keep alive the memories of those who served.

 

My hands may have been idle this morning but I am very glad I sat, watched and wondered at the bravery of ordinary - nay, extraordinary - men and women.

There is no doubt that my Rascally Trio have quite amazing memories.

 

This isn’t the boast of a Proud Grandmother, though I realise it may seem so. No, it is a matter of fact. I rue the day I ever let them know where to find the biscuit tin, for example. Like a trio of the very sweetest of small elephants, they Never Forget.

 

I am wondering if they owe their ability to remember anything and everything they have ever seen, heard or handled to their father (“Rules is Rules!”) who not long after the birth of Faris, the oldest of the Rascals, passed the phenomenally difficult Knowledge Test to become a London cabbie. I read once that the average London cabbie develops considerably more gray matter in the hippocampus, the area of the brain which controls spatial and navigational skills. What hasn’t been tested, as far as I am aware, is whether this can be passed on to the off-spring of a cab driver - though my own informal investigation suggests it is eminently possible. The navigational skills of all three Rascals on entering our house and immediately zooming in on All Their Favourite Things are, quite simply, exceptional. 

 

Some memories are invoked by photographs. I often wonder if I do really remember riding on an elephant at London Zoo when I was little or whether it’s just because I’ve seen the photo. Also taken at the zoo, possibly at a different time, is a photograph of me with my sister and two brothers posing with a caged tiger. My sister and I are perched precariously on a wooden bar outside the cage, with our brothers placed protectively either side of us. My one memory of the occasion is a sense of paralysing fear that the beautiful, but thoroughly scary, animal might break out of its cage. Both my brothers are wearing their school uniform - how much more formal we were in the Olden Days. 

 

The Rascals were too little to remember our Golden Wedding Anniversary three years ago today - but they know they were there. On every visit, the Twins ( demonstrating their spatial and navigational skills) make a beeline for the photograph on the landing windowsill of the two of them in their sunflower yellow dresses and pink sandals taken on the Big Day. “That’s us,” they tell me, unnecessarily, every time they come, “When we were little...” 

 

Mr B and I, of course, remember every minute of that Golden Day. When we were making plans, I remember reading a Gransnet message board (no, I don’t know why, either) where all the people posting were most disparaging of the idea of renewing one’s wedding vows. The general consensus seemed to be that this was something a couple only did when one or both had been unfaithful and so needed to start anew. How very sad. Happily married couples, everyone agreed, should just have a big party and / or go on a cruise.

 

Mr B and I already knew, three years ago, that life was not about to get any easier for us, that with Mr B’s health deteriorating, we were, as one lovely doctor told us: “in it for the long haul.” What better time to remind ourselves of the promises we made once upon a very long time ago, and to make them all over again; to reinforce them at a time when promising “For better, for worse. In sickness and in health” mattered more than ever before. Mr B was still able to walk the short distance from the door of the church to the altar (though he did almost manage to fall over on his way into the church - some people do like to draw attention to themselves...)

 

I wore my gold shoes, reflecting my favourite lines in Spread a Little Happiness, which remains one of my favourite songs: “Surely you’ll be wise to make the best of every blues day / Don’t you realise you’ll find next Monday or next Tuesday/ Your golden shoes day?” June 4th 2016 will always be my “Golden Shoes Day.”

 

Memories are made of this. Happy 53rd anniversary, dear Mr B. Still standing after all these years...

This year’s birthday celebrations have started early - though I’m not complaining. Why have one birthday celebration, I always say, when you could have several?

 

Had I been in any doubt that today’s visit by the Middle of the Darling Daughters and the Trio of Rampaging Rascals might be Birthday Related, it didn’t take too long for the littlun’s to let me into the “Big Secret.” There was a lot of chat from the moment they swept through the door and into the house about cup cakes and candles, plenty enough for me to get the message however much I tried to close my ears. What made the day extra special was the presence of my eldest grandson Jack, home for the weekend from uni, Finals under his belt and looking forward to a summer free of work and worry. 

 

Mr B (aka Grandad) hasn’t been too well so instead of the beach it was a Garden Day for us today. There was, however, plenty to keep the Trio occupied. Never have my plants been so lavishly (and lovingly) watered. At least not since the last time the Trio came to visit. Once the water butt was completely empty, they turned their attention to the plastic table and chairs which I’d set out on the lawn for them and demanded soap, spray and paper towels so that they could give them a good spring clean. It seems they have all suddenly become enormously house proud, ever since their father (“Rules is Rules!”) bought them each a small dustpan and brush and set them the challenge of helping to keep their home clean and tidy. I am Beyond Impressed.

 

I don’t know why I worry that a visit to their Grandad and me may not be quite as much fun as it used to be - resourceful children make their own fun. We may not have been able to go crabbing - but Young Faris found the fishing line, the crab bucket and the net in the garage and caught a whole bucket-full of imaginary crabs once I showed him how. The latest jigsaw from the charity shop proved a hit - the box was a bit battered but the picture of Winnie, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet was admired by all. And you can’t really beat fish fingers and waffles for lunch (eaten at an extremely clean table!) for lunch. We adults ate fish finger sandwiches in the sunshine and agreed that it’s hard to beat them for a tasty, easy, lunchtime treat. 

 

My daughter and grandson disappear into the kitchen. “In a minute,” Faris tells me, “You need to go indoors, sit down, shut your eyes and hold your hands out like this,” (he stretches his hands out like a humble supplicant) - before adding, pleadingly: “Can I blow out your candles?” Candles? What candles? I am tempted to ask.

 

My early birthday has a sunflower theme - so very appropriate, given all my sunflower plants in the back garden already reaching skywards. Three of the four home-made birthday cards I open depict sunflowers on the front; the fourth, drawn by Lilia (Youngest of the Twins by one important minute) is apparently a portrait of Auntie Kazza (known to you as the Youngest of the Darling Daughters.) Faris, whose own card is a truly masterful composition, whispers to me that his sister’s is “just scribble” but I respond, loyally, that it is art. Which is, as everybody knows, like beauty - in the Eye of the Beholder. My birthday cake is a circle of cup cakes, each one lovingly baked by the Trio, with some help from their mother and cousin, and decorated as a sunflower, with yellow icing and a centre of chocolate strands. Each one, it goes without saying, delicious. 

 

“What a lovely day! Thank you so much for coming!” I message my daughter when I reckon she will be back home. I would never underestimate what it takes to make a three hour return journey by car with a trio of Rascals just to bring me a sunflower cake and sing Happy Birthday to me. I know what she will say, in response, because it’s what she always says, and it never ceases to make me misty-eyed:

 

“We will always come...”

 

Wednesdays in our house, as regular readers will know, have been dubbed “Piccadilly Circus Days” on account of the relentless comings and goings over the course of the day. 

 

It starts around 9 a.m. when Donna, Mr B’s lovely carer arrives, and the two of them have their customary morning conversation over whether she is wearing her ripped jeans or what Mr B likes to call her “normal” (as in, intact) trousers. “Are you alright?” she will ask him, to which he will quip, in response: “Only down one side...” When will she ever learn? I ask her.

 

Half an hour later, we hear the sound of a lawn mower out in the front garden. Ken the Gardener has arrived. I greet him with the offer of a cup of coffee (I do like to keep people happy, as you know) and we have a discussion about (i) the amazing way the ceoanthus is flourishing, when just a year ago we were worrying about it; (ii) the fact that the first flower has appeared on the geum which my Little Sister gave me; and (iii) whether valerian is a weed or a flower. We agree that we will count it as a flower because I think it’s rather beautiful and, anyway, it seems to have adopted us so who am I to turn it away? I tell him about a survey I heard about on the TV about cuckoo spit but he hasn’t heard about it. We inspect the lavish amounts of cuckoo spit on my lavender and Ken says it’s the same in his garden. I say I will google the survey and let him know more.

 

Our next visitor will be the Lovely Kay who helps me keep my house in order - she isn’t expected for another hour but there’s no peace for the wicked because the engineer from the firm which supplies our house alarm phones to say he is just five minutes away, and is all ready, willing and able to replace equipment which was found to be faulty on its recent routine inspection. The more the merrier, that’s what I say. Presumably he won’t be here too long? 

 

That’s what I thought, anyway, but Ron the Engineer tells me he will be here for at least two hours. Three hours later and he is still In The Building and we have had an interesting conversation about his step ladder which is a Seriously Sturdy Piece of Equipment, with holes in the top step for the handy placement of tools, like screwdrivers and the like. Ron thinks that, however much I may admire his step ladder, it will in all probability be too heavy for me. Reluctantly, I have to agree.

 

Ron makes a lot of noise while installing the new equipment. There is a lot of bleeping going on as he programmes the alarm and every so often he has to sound the alarm which is very, well, alarming. Mr B keeps forgetting Ron is here, so at every bleep he calls out to alert me that something is amiss. “It’s only Ron!” I keep reassuring him. I do hope Ron doesn’t take this as an insult, suggesting he is not an Engineer Par Excellence, what with his step ladder and all...

 

Kay and I chat away while she is cleaning. We talk about the plants in the garden of her new house, her son’s sleepover with friends (how do you know when / whether to check if he is okay, or assume all is well unless you hear otherwise? There were no such things as sleepovers when my Foursome were littl’uns so I have no idea) and the cleansing properties of vinegar. I love chatting to Kay. I tell her she is a bit like another daughter to me. She doesn’t look too appalled at the thought.

 

By 1.15 everyone has departed - but, hey, at 2 p.m. the members of our Nomination Whist Group will arrive for an afternoon of tricks and treats, of laughter and loud complaints about the despicable behaviour of those who trump other people’s aces.

 

Piccadilly Circus Day. Secretly, I love it...

Latest comments

21.05 | 10:09

I'm needing to find information about the usher family tree for my aunty, her great grandparent where Thomas and Phoebe Usher would I've been researching

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21.05 | 10:03

Hi Karen,
I'm helping my aunt with her family tree her maiden name was usher. do you have any other information or found anything about the usher family

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18.04 | 17:19

Oh that's such a good read Jaqui! It's great to see it through your eyes, and you capture it beautifully... and you will indeed look like real athletes too!

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21.02 | 22:41

Wonderful!😁

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