It’s not at all surprising that the oft-repeated messages from government telling us to stay home, keep our distance from each other, look but don’t touch are making us all look inwards, rather than outwards.
I gather, for example, that the sale of jigsaw puzzles and board games has been, to coin a much-overused word, unprecedented. In the interests of family harmony this may
not necessarily be a good thing. Take my family, for instance, and the annual Ball Family Championship played out every Boxing Day when our Foursome were young. We would work our way through every board game we possessed (or, at least, all those with no pieces
missing), painstakingly recording every score until we had exhausted our supply and a winner was proclaimed. But, oh, the arguments along the way - every year, we vowed never to do it again. Come the next Boxing Day and everyone was clamouring to play out
the Ball Family Championship. We never learnt...
On the whole, however, I am a person who prefers looking outwards, rather than inwards - and never more so in
these trying times. Fortunately I have a kitchen window which looks out onto the road where we live - and it has become my view onto the world outside and vice versa.
It started in the days just before the first Lockdown when the Rascally Trio presented me with the beautiful rainbow they had made, all colourful bobbles stuck onto a sheet of blue card to represent the sky. While other rainbows have gradually disappeared
from people’s windows over the months since then, mine has stayed firmly in place - a promise of better times ahead to anyone who walks by and might happen to spot it still hanging on in there in all its bobble-ness.
Next there was the Bear Hunt. Children on their daily walk / exercise were encouraged to look out for teddy bears in the windows of the houses they passed. Obviously I couldn’t pass up on such
an opportunity to participate so out came Mother Bear to sit expectantly in our front window. I had to prop her up on an old biscuit tin or she wouldn’t have been visible from the road outside. I wasn’t at all sure whether anyone had actually spotted
her, I was half thinking about removing her - until I happened to be washing up at the kitchen sink one morning and witnessed the delight of a littl’un jumping up and down as she pointed out Mother Bear to her parents. Which made me think that one never
knows who will appreciate my efforts to look out, not in.
On Remembrance Day, I fixed a poppy poster, downloaded from the Royal British Legion website. It’s
still on display in the kitchen window because I can’t bring myself to remove it. There it is, along with the rainbow picture, Mother Bear, a selection of orchids in various stages of growth (or dormancy) and a bunch of orange roses chosen for their
cheerfulness. Given my track record, it will probably still be there in the window this time next year.
My latest effort to show the world beyond our garden gate
that we are still alive and happily engaged with life outside is an empty wine bottle filled with multi-coloured flickering lights, a present from my Little Sister and her fella. I have two more flickering bottles cheering up our dinner table every evening
- but it seems selfish to keep the joy all to ourselves so that’s yet another addition to our increasingly cluttered kitchen windowsill.
say anything, it is perfectly true that I can never know if anyone at all is looking in.
All I do know is that, thanks to my cluttered kitchen window sill, my
window to the outside world, I am still looking out...
The Youngest of the Darling Daughters is taking Mr B and me for a walk. We are going round to her sister’s (aka the Middle of the Darling Daughters) home and we are going to share lunch with the Rascally Trio.
Please don’t worry about what sounds like a serious breach of Lockdown rules; Mr B and I are at least seventy miles away and are making our visit courtesy of our youngest
daughter’s mobile phone and the Wonder of WhatsApp.
I often go for an afternoon walk with my youngest daughter. We chat while she is walking through
the fields surrounding the village where she lives and while I am wandering around my kitchen pretending to be tidying up as we natter about anything and everything. Occasionally we lose the signal (I trust I am using the correct terminology) and realise that
we are talking away but there is nobody at the other end of the phone. When this happens, I replace the phone and wait for my daughter to call again, when we can resume our conversation where we left off - though it is possible we may lose a little continuity,
neither of us ever being absolutely certain when our conversation was interrupted. It’s not so much losing the signal as losing the plot...
reached our destination, we switch to WhatsApp and we watch as our daughter knocks on her sister’s door before retreating to a safe distance at the front window. We have, it turns out, interrupted the Trio in a major craft activity which we are not allowed
to inspect as it is Christmas-related and intended for their Grandad and me. Lilia (younger of the twins by one important minute) does almost give the game away, so delighted is she to see us, but her aunt just manages to prevent her from Show and Tell.
The Trio’s mother brings out toasted sandwiches and perches the children on seats at the window, using the windowsill as a makeshift table. For her sister and herself,
there is a steaming beverage in a mug. I kid you not, I could almost smell the coffee. So much so that I had to head out to the kitchen to put the kettle on while Mr B stayed put.
Wouldn’t it have been amazing, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters muses, if there had been such a thing as WhatsApp or Zoom or FaceTime all those years ago when, immediately after graduating from university, she and her friend
Nikki headed off for a year Down Under? What a difference that would have made! Especially for her dad and me, back home and never knowing where she was from one month to the next. I have often thought the same thing; however it must be said that, had email
been invented then, there would have been no weekly letters, sent in hope to various Poste Restante addresses to be picked up whenever the traveller passed that way. She still has 51 letters (only one went missing!) tucked away safely, where emails would have
disappeared into the ether.
Yesterday was a day for virtual gatherings. It being my Little Sister’s significant birthday (as in, one with an 0 at the end)
we managed to bring together a virtual Brothers and Sisters meet-up, the four of us sharing a screen as we once shared a childhood. Every so often one of us would “go missing” from the screen, including the Birthday Girl for a good few minutes.
“Come back, Maggie!” we kept calling - apparently she could hear us even though we couldn’t see or hear her. Lockdown couldn’t spoil her special day as family and friends put their heads together to make sure it was a Birthday to Remember.
Later in the day, we heard, she would be participating in a Family Quiz via Zoom including one round where apparently all the questions would concern facts and figures about her - wife, mother and grandmother that she is.
I just hope she knew the answers. Though, when in doubt, there’s always Google...
The second Lockdown has temporarily drawn a halt to my burgeoning career as one of the Ladies That Lunch. Being me, however, I wasn’t going to let this get in the way of my weekly “me time” when the Lovely
Kay comes in to keep Mr B company while I take myself out and about.
It being Armistice Day, I determined to take myself on a Remembrance Trail around my home
town and while I usually crave company, somehow today solitude seemed appropriate. It meant I concentrated more, rather than chattering away and failing to see what was right under my nose. Yes, it happens.
We watched the TV coverage together, Mr B and I, and I was moved to tears by Cerys Matthews’ reading of a war widow’s lament, so sure that it was her dear husband buried in the Abbey among the “drowsing poets
and dozing saints” of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s poem of the day. Socially distant but emotionally so very close at hand.
So I took myself off
to town, promising to take lots of photos to show Mr B when I returned, already planning my own Remembrance Trail as I drove into a near-empty town centre car park. First stop, the Town Hall bedecked with knitted poppies which also decorate the countless
wooden crosses on the grass verges. I study the adjacent War Memorial to find the name of Arthur Pickering - “Arthur the Artist” whose case study I wrote for the Great War Project - I feel as if I know him personally. I take a photograph to send
to his granddaughter, Jane, so that she will know I haven’t forgotten him. Pupils of local schools and nurseries have added hand-made poppies to the display: “We Remember,” a childish hand has written on the tribute from The Rascals Pre-school.
My next stop is Beach House Park, where I stop by the Memorial to the Warrior Birds who flew back and forth from the fighting fields carrying vital messages which saved lives.
On my way I pick up a take-away coffee from the Palm Pavilion and note that it is still open, serving take away lunches, including sausage or bacon sandwiches. Reluctantly I have to forego the pleasure, as I have a packed lunch with me - but I make a mental
note for the future. It is the least that my stomach of which, as regular readers well know, I Am Always Thinking, would expect of me.
I make sure to walk through
the fallen leaves, kicking them up as I amble along, remembering that this is how my Little Sister always knows that her November birthday is approaching. Just a few more sleeps! Armed with my coffee, I take a seat next to the beautifully imaginative memorial
garden commemorating the soldiers who died in the Battle of Boar’s Head in June 1916 - known, poignantly, as “the day Sussex died.” You will be pleased to hear that I am not alone in my contemplation: a large black crow stands motionless
to one side as if on guard. An even larger sea-gull, taking note of the egg sandwich I am unpacking, hovers around me, expectantly, unaware that it is to be disappointed. Best of all, a friendly squirrel scoots through the garden and perches on one of the
wooden memorials which mark the names of all those who died on that June day.
I just have time for a stroll along the sea-front before heading back to the
car park and home. It’s been a poignant but a very special “time out” remembering those for whom time ran out on distant battlefields, those who never came home.
Lest we forget...
I am making my way home from the local shops, having picked up some essential food items, when I spy a couple of extremely large cooking apples outside the Strand Local.
Strand Local sells all manner of groceries but also a whole variety of fruit and vegetables, many of which I don’t actually recognise. It’s that kind of shop, one that challenges me on so many fronts. I pull on
my mask, gather up the two apples and make my way into the shop. I enquire of the fella behind the counter (who is wearing a lanyard to explain why he isn’t wearing a mask) whether he has any more cooking apples. He apologises for the fact that I have
picked up the last two - and offers me, by way of compensation, some blackberries free of charge. I thank him for his kind thought but explain that my freezer is groaning under bags of frozen blackberries from my back garden. Afterwards I feel cross with myself
for turning down his generous offer which would probably have made him feel good about doing me a good turn. Why didn’t I accept gratefully? These days of Lockdown 2, even small gestures can help get us through each day of Nothing Special Happening.
I’m not alone in feeling this. Several of my friends have commented on it. It seems to me that we all need to invest in the Importance of Small Unexpected Gestures.
My (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys are celebrating the end of their country’s Lockdown. Morgan, youngest of the lads, is excited to tell me that his class has won first
prize in a school competition to collect the most pennies in all manner of bottles, jars and other receptacles. What is the prize? I need to know. Apparently, as their reward for their Excellence in Penny Gathering, his classmates will all be allowed to wear
their pyjamas to school where they will watch a film together.
James tells me that he has a favourite teacher. “You need to ask me why that is,”
he adds, just in case I start wittering on about something else, as is my wont. “Why is that?” I ask obediently. It seems this teacher hands out chocolates to her pupils; James goes into great detail about how the selection of chocolates is conducted
in a Covid-secure fashion. Not so very many months ago, such precautions over a box of chocolates would have seemed way over the top.
Sam tells me about his GCSE
studies and how he managed to forget about his Geography catch-up session. Perhaps his teacher should have invested in a box of chocolates...
Talking to my Welsh
Boys has cheered me up no end. Now I need to pass on the warm, fuzzy feeling to Mr B - by transforming the cooking apples into an apple crumble for our pudding. Food features high among Mr B’s pleasures in life. Though large, the apples are a little
battered-looking but I am not about to quibble as I wouldn’t like it if someone drew attention to my own, slightly battered, appearance. I keep the whole cooking process a secret from Mr B; he is watching Boris on TV while I am peeling, slicing, stewing
and crumbling in the kitchen. No, it’s fine, I survived...
“What’s for pudding?” I knew he would ask me that. I tell him to wait and see
as I bring empty bowls, spoons and a jug of cream to the table.
Ah, his face when he sees my apple crumble! The smile on his face is the broadest I’ve seen
all day. It was so very well worth surprising him. It’s the Importance of Small but Unexpected Gestures, don’t you see? I urge you to try it out for yourself.
If all else fails, then I can recommend an apple crumble...
I have always prided myself on having a good memory. As I grow older, however, I have started to suspect that my memory may be playing tricks on me.
Last weekend, while staying with my Little Sister and her fella, our conversations inevitably moved into reminiscences. This is another thing that happens as we age. It was noticeable, over the course of our days remembering times
gone by, that our memories did not always tally. The general nature of the memory would be the same, but the details didn’t always tally. Take, for example, the momentous event that was my Little Sister’s birth. I recall in great detail (or so
I like to think) our father leading me into the back bedroom of our home in Rush Green, Romford, Essex (oh, yes, alas, we are both Essex girls through and through) where my mum was sitting up in bed cradling my new sister in her arms.
To be fair my Little Sister isn’t qualified to argue with my picture of the happy scene, being only a few hours old. Her main complaint is that I can’t remember what time
all this happened so I am unable to say whether she was born late at night or early in the morning. My elder brother, however, is quick to correct my recollection of events. Our sister was definitely born, he claims, in the front bedroom not the back bedroom.
The fact that he was thirteen at the time and I was only three would seem to favour his version - but I still have the picture, indelibly written, into my memory, never to be erased despite my brother’s certainty.
Then, a few days ago when the Eldest of the Darling Daughters arrived for a visit for a belated birthday celebration, we were talking about Christmas (as you tend to do when Lockdown threatens the
festive season) and my daughter asked if she had ever been in a nativity play at school. Do you know, I couldn’t remember. I was immediately plagued by maternal guilt (yes, it can visit you however old your off-spring may be) - surely I would have remembered
such an important event of her childhood?
I sought reassurance this afternoon during our weekly Family Zoom from the Middle and Youngest Darling Daughters
- did they remember dressing up as a shepherd, or an angel or even Mary herself? The Middle of the Darling Daughters recalled being a tinkling bell in some kind of school performance. I was pleased to confirm that I, too, remembered this - it took a whole
roll of kitchen foil, I seem to recall, to cover a Hilary-sized bell. I also remember her bellowing out the first words of the poem she had to recite: “I am a little tinkling bell!” she yelled.
The Youngest of the Darling Daughters said she remembered getting dressed up for the school Christmas parties and did this count? Granddaughter, Eleanor, remembered her tea towel head-dress slipping off her head during her
starring role as a shepherd in the nursery school nativity and leaving the stage to ask her mother (who was proudly recording the whole performance on her video camera) to fix it. She did progress to the role of Mary at Infant School - indeed, all three of
the oldest granddaughters played Mary in a school nativity. As, indeed, did I when I was six.
I still remember the words I had to recite: “Behold the handmaid
of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy word.” At six years old I think it’s safe to say I didn’t have the faintest idea what this meant but I am proud to say that I was word perfect.
At least, that’s how I remember it.....
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