Jaqui's Daily Blog

I send a photo to the Youngest of the Darling Daughters: “Guess where I am with the Birdy Group this morning?”


It’s not exactly a Mastermind question, I know very well that my daughter will recognise the spot immediately - beautiful Highdown Gardens at Daffodil Time. It is one of our favourite places at this time of the year, daffodils being this daughter’s favourite flowers. She carried them in her wedding bouquet and had a cake decorated with sugarcrafted daffs. Every windowsill in the parish church wheee she and Dunk’em Dave were married was brightened up by a vase of daffodils.


My daughter comes back quickly with the correct answer. She doesn’t need to tell me that she wishes she was here. It goes without saying.


I am with the other members of the Birdy Group on our monthly amble through woodland, downs or seaside in search of our feathered friends. It is one of my favourite activities every month. Every month I have to decide on Appropriate Footwear. If the weather has been fair and our destination is graced with paths, whether gravel or otherwise, then I might be able to get away with my stout everyday shoes. They are not exactly fashionable but, interestingly, I meet lots of people wearing the same shoes as mine. They appear to be particularly popular among the nurses who visit Mr B. If, however, it has been raining cats and dogs and the terrain is likely to be muddy underfoot then I must rescue my hiking boots from the hall cupboard where they have lurked since my last foray into Mudville.


The trouble with my hiking boots is that they are both heavy and bulky. When I wear them, I clomp. There is no other word for it. What’s more, clambering into the back seat of the Lovely Linda’s car when she comes to collect me proves impossible while wearing my boots so I have to unlace them, remove them and stow them in the boot of the car for the duration of our (short) journey.


Oh, but it is chilly up there on Highdown! It might have been better had I remembered to bring my woolly hat and gloves - but I had left them in the kitchen, while I occupied myself trying to tie the laces up on my boots and forgot to pick them up on my way out to the car. Everybody tells me I should be wearing a hat and gloves, so I have to pretend, airily, that I don’t feel the cold. Nobody believes me, of course. 


Look, two red kites circling above us! See, the skylark winging it upwards! Hark at the crow, cawing away atop its chosen tree! Spot the robins, practising for this year’s Christmas cards! Best of all, a duo of tiny gold crests, hopping from branch to branch as if putting on a display just for us. 


Retracing our steps, having decided to take a detour into the Gardens before stopping off for a restorative cup of something hot at the tea-room to put its new management to the Birdy Group Test, we make the mistake of allowing Bas to lead us. He dives into the undergrowth, drawing us after him along the narrowest of paths, overhung by branches, many of them of the Prickly Variety.  We emerge, somewhat traumatised, onto the fields above our town. We are back where we started. It was a bit of an anti-climax, to be honest. 


In the Gardens we are sheltered from the elements; we gather underneath a flowering cherry for a group photo. Hopefully our Merry Band of Birders will make it into the next U3A newsletter. It would make a fitting advertisement for anyone wanting to join us.


The new owners of the Tea Room appear to be maintaining the previous standards of coffee and cake - but sadly we notice that they have dispensed with the bird feeders outside. It was always one of our pleasures, quaffing coffee while noting down all the birds we hadn’t seen on our amble (presumably because they had been seduced by the titbits on offer outside the Tea Room) and adding to our monthly tally.


No, of course it’s not cheating!    



All day I have been quoting to myself that poem by A A Milne, the first line of which is “Now I am one, I have just begun.” Do you know the one I mean? The last two lines are particularly relevant today: “Now I am six and as clever as clever / I think I’ll stay six now for ever and ever!”


Yes, Faris the Rascal is six years old today. He is celebrating at home, opening what his mother, Middle of the Darling Daughters describes as “a gazillion of presents”, eating birthday cake and enduring a rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung by Mr B and me, across the miles, courtesy of FaceTime, every knowing grandparents’ favourite piece of new technology.


The Rascal is nothing if not direct. “Do you have a present for me?” he demands. I do love the directness of a six year old. I remember lecturing my own Foursome on the importance of not showing disappointment on opening a present that they might have already received from someone else. They understood exactly what I meant: “How lovely!” I still recall (with a slight shudder) the Eldest of the Darling Daughters saying as she opened a present from one of her best friends: “ANOTHER writing set!” 


The Rascal is not deterred by the promise that we have his birthday present here waiting for him when he and his sisters visit us the weekend after next for more Birthday She-Nanni-gans. “Can I see the sofa?” he asks, slyly. He is, I realise, expecting to catch sight of our present, all wrapped up in Dinosaur Related wrapping paper, sitting on the sofa. What he doesn’t know is that his present was only delivered half an hour previously from the Amazon Jungle and is still residing in its (over large) cardboard box in the hallway.


To divert attention from the Rascal’s present, I show the Trio the popcorn maker I have been given by the lovely Kay who helps me keep my house in order - “free to a good home!” she had messaged me and I knew just the home for it. Come the Trio’s next visit, I am reckoning it will add just the right level of Popping Party Spirit.


Talking of parties, what looked like every member of Seahorse Class joined The Rascal for his party on Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t be there in person, of course, but the Youngest of the Darling Daughters, in her role of Official Party Photographer, sent me photo after photo, followed by video after video, to make absolutely sure that I didn’t miss out too much. I had to play the videos in the kitchen because the noise of the party was interrupting Mr B’s enjoyment of the afternoon’s TV.  It looked like tremendous fun. The party, that is, not the afternoon’s television fare.


So now it will be up to me to supply Birthday Part Two in a couple of weeks time. The Rascal will have to share the birthday honours with his auntie as we will also be celebrating the Youngest of the Darling Daughters’ birthday. You know what I am going to say - why celebrate one person’s birthday when you could celebrate two persons’ birthday. Especially when both are numbered among my Best Beloved.


Six is, indeed, a very special age as A A Milne so rightly decreed and as Young Faris would wholeheartedly agree. He won’t, however much I might secretly wish it, stay six “for ever and ever.”


But I rather suspect he will always be Our Rascal. For ever and ever.

As regular readers know, I always need to have something to look forward to. Occasionally, that may be simply today’s dinner but, being one who is Always Thinking of her Stomach, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Generally, however, it’s good to have a Special Event in prospect.


After my Great Escape in York, this week has been steeped in ordinariness which explains why the Daily Blog has stretched out reports of my weekend away over several days, failing anything exciting to write about. There was, to be fair, the fortnightly crafty group where we returned to the ancient art of tea bag folding and I managed to make two greetings cards (each decorated with folded tea bags, one featuring butterflies, the other a stylish fan) in the space of two hours. Plus on Friday it was our Singing for Pleasure choir where we celebrated St David’s Day by singing Loudly Proclaim and All Through the Night. Though the Welsh flavour was more than a little diluted when we followed up with Rose of England and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot...


Another highlight - an envelope on my doormat addressed to me  in granddaughter Eleanor’s handwriting. Inside the envelope, not one but two letters. Why write one letter, you are doubtless thinking, when you could write two? Actually, Eleanor explains apologetically, one of the letters was written back in January when she made a New Year’s Resolution to write more often - then completely forgot to post it. Better late than never, I say, as I eagerly read her latest (and not so latest) news from University. She finishes her second letter: “Can’t wait for the Jolly Girls! See you very soon.”


And there you have it - my next Special Event, much anticipated, eagerly awaited - it’s the annual Jolly Girls Outing! We are off to see Come From Away, the musical which takes an example of the worst of humanity - the Twin Towers tragedy in 2011 - and compares it with a shining example of the best of humanity, the way a local village welcomed into their community thousands of air travellers diverted from New York in the aftermath. We have been sharing news articles, reviews, music and promotional videos with each other for several weeks - anticipation among the nine of us is building up big time.


Nine? I hear you question. Were there not only seven Jolly Girls last time you heard of them? Where did the other two surface from?


See, here’s the thing - buying presents for my large family last Christmas was always going to be more difficult than usual, given the disruption of surgery and the imposition of the Robot Sling. The six Jolly Girls - the three Darling Daughters and the three eldest granddaughters presented (if you’ll excuse the pun) no problem as for many years our Christmas present to them has been the tickets for the Jolly Girls Outing. Would it be such a bad idea, I pondered, if I added Our Boy and the Eldest of the Grandsons to the party ticket? Would they mind being Honorary Jolly Girls?


It seemed that they didn’t - so we will be a party of nine next weekend. At this rate we will soon be taking up a whole row in the Grand Circle on our annual outings. Would it change the dynamics of the Jolly Girls, you may wonder? But then, each time we add a new member to our Jolly Gang - sixteen is the age at which each of the three oldest granddaughters qualified to become Jolly Girls - the dynamic shifts either slightly or seismically and (a source of pleasure to the older ones among us) the average age drops. This year, with the addition of the two Honorary Jolly Girls, our average age will be 38 which will please some of us, if not the others.


Today, in anticipation, I booked my train tickets, found the theatre tickets tucked away in my “Forthcoming Events” drawer, and checked arrangements with the person who is coming in to keep Mr B company while I am out. I have also searched the wardrobe for my Jolly Jumper which I bought for last year’s outing. It has the word “Jolly” written across the front, though some people reckon it reads “Holly.” It being a Christmas jumper, don’t you know?


You can tell I am getting excited. Only a week to go and all my Jolly Girls and Honorary Jolly Girls will “come from away” and meet up in a restaurant in Covent Garden as our Starter for Ten.


We will be SUCH a Jolly Gang! 


I wasn’t the only person visiting the beautiful city of York last weekend.  The city was over-run with Vikings. I knew they were Vikings on account of their strange garb. You don’t see that many people wandering around in blankets with horned helmets on their heads.


I understand - and I am quite disappointed about it, to be honest - that it is very unlikely that the Vikings who descended on York around 866  actually wore those stylish helmets with the horns. Wikipedia tells me, loftily, that “horns tend to be impractical on a combat helmet.” Never having worn a combat helmet or, for that matter, having been caught up in any kind of combat - unless one counts occasional skirmishes with Mr B over Minor Matters of Contention - I am unqualified to comment. What a spoil-sport Wikipedia is. I have, nevertheless, forgiven it on learning that the invasion of York was led by one Ivar the Boneless. You can imagine the sheer fear that the knowledge of the Boneless One’s coming must have struck into the hearts of the inhabitants of York back in the day.


We didn’t rush out into the city on Saturday morning; rather we enjoyed a leisurely time before and over breakfast. I floated around the house in my posh new pyjamas and dressing gown like a glamorous (but unlikely) film star. My fellow grandmother, known to her younger grandchildren as “Da” said she reckoned I could even get away with wearing my PJs out of an evening, presumably should I go clubbing or something. Bearing in mind my only evenings out these days tend to be meetings of the Parochial Church Council, I rather think I shan’t be putting this theory to the test any time soon.


Once we were all showered, dressed and breakfasted, we headed into the city centre, determined to find some walls to walk. I do love a Walled City, don’t you? I have walked many walls in my time, the most special being the walls of Dubrovnik. I will always remember dragging Our Boy all round the walls in the heat of the midday sun; we were about to descend the steps to ground level when all at once every bell, in every church across the city started to chime twelve noon. It was one of those spine-tingling holiday moments which remain in the memory forever. York’s walls don’t go all the way round like Dubrovnik’s, which is a pity, especially as this means climbing up and down more than once, but they do offer splendid views from a number of vantage points. We took (ad)vantage of them all.


When Mr B and I visited York it was before the winding alleyway known as The Shambles became associated with Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter films. I think I probably enjoyed the experience of our Rambles In The Shambles more when it was a wizard-free zone. Still, there was no denying the excitement of the crowds of Potter Fans swarming around The Shop That Must Not Be Named. 


I mistakenly thought that the Printer’s Devil (Mr B was a printer and we delighted in discovering the devil on our first visit to York) was to be found in The Shambles, so leading my family a merry dance up and down the road as we tried to locate it. Eventually we gave up until Da went into a newsagent’s for her Saturday newspaper where we saw a postcard depicting the “Stonegate Devil.” We had to retrace our steps to find Stonegate (it turned out we had missed the devil by a mere few yards first time around) but the Youngest of the Darling Daughters didn’t want me to be disappointed. Her fella, on the other hand, had to say that he was distinctly underwhelmed. He is nothing if not honest.


In one of the city squares we came across an escapologist, strapped around with many a chain, bolt and cuff. We would have moved along but his spiel was engagingly captivating (how appropriate, I hear you say.) He cajoled members of his audience into helping him out - even the most reticent falling for his banter. We watched as he wriggled his way out of his chains to a count of sixty seconds - we all joined in the final countdown. He was free! And on his face an expression I recognised so very well.


My thanks to Carers Support West Sussex who awarded me a wellbeing grant to cover my train fares, accommodation and theatre ticket; thanks, too, to the Baldwin family - Karen, Dave, Hazel and the Really Rather Wonderful “Da” - for being the very best of company; and special thanks to grandson Jack for making me swell with pride watching you on stage in Legally Blonde - for one blissful weekend in York, you all, in your own ways, helped me execute my very own Great Escape.

Picking up from where I left off yesterday, you will remember that I had arrived in York.


That wasn’t actually yesterday, it was Friday, and at this rate I will soon be lapping myself. I won’t know if I am coming or going. What’s new, do I hear you say?


Walking from the station to our accommodation, we passed through the city centre. Roaming through the gloaming, (as my dear Mum who fancied herself as Scottish would say) it was a promise of daylight delights to come.  Chatting all the way to the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and her Darling Daughter, the stresses and strains of a long train journey slipped away without a second thought.


“We’ve given you the best room!” my granddaughter announced, triumphantly when we arrived - and so it was. This is not, of course, how it usually turns out, when the last to arrive has to take whatever room has not already been “nabbed.” But no, my fellow guests had apparently decided, as one (or, to be strictly accurate, as four) that I should have the best room in the house, bless them. It was truly beautiful, tastefully decorated mostly in pristine white, with white shuttered windows opening to reveal a winding canal outside, on which resided ducks and geese which gathered to meet me each morning. I immediately felt my whole body and mind relax. 


In case we forgot where we were, we could see York Minster in the distance from the balcony outside our living room beckoning us. I do love a Sense Of Place.


The Youngest of the Darling Daughters had carefully prepared and cooked a chicken curry - which she then proceeded to leave behind when the family set off on the car journey north. In my new, relaxed frame of mind, I was quick with reassuring murmurs on the lines that at least she wouldn’t have to cook when she got home. Reassurance was made easier because her fella and her fella’s mother were already cooking a delicious Replacement Curry for our dinner. 


The main reason for our visit to the beautiful city of York was to see grandson Jack in a performance of Legally Blonde, presented by the Central Hall Musical Society. I had originally planned to travel up on Saturday, watch the final performance and head home on Sunday, which would be obvious to any sensible person as a Bit of A Challenge. In the end I gifted myself an extra day away which meant (I hope you are keeping up here?) that I could watch Friday night’s performance too. Why watch Legally Blonde once, I always say, when you could watch it twice?


We headed off, the five of us, to walk to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, led by Dunk’em Dave (who was, regular readers will remember, christened thus on account of his exploits on Family Seaside Days.) He took us along a number of dark, narrow, cobbled alleyways (his lovely Mum and I hobbled hopefully along together, in his wake) until by some miracle we arrived on a main road leading to the theatre. 


I have watched my grandson and his sister in so many theatrical productions. Among many other roles, Jack has starred as Joseph (of the technicolour dreamcoat), as the Mayor of Who-ville in Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who (if you only ever read one story to your child, make it this one), and - most appropriately - as Jack (of beanstalk fame.) In Legally Blonde, he took the main male lead role of Emmett and captured the audience with his soaring singing and his engaging acting. 


Mind you, this was a Cast of Many Talents and a show of which cast and production team could be very, very proud. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters wants me to write a review and I always do as the Youngest of the Darling Daughters tells me. It will be the thoroughly biased review of a proud grandmother but totally accurate for all that. You will be able to read it here - once I reach the end of my weekend.


Tomorrow is Saturday. Well, really it is Thursday but as far as this account of my Time Away is concerned, it will be Saturday. All day.


I have just SO much more to tell.... 


Latest comments

21.02 | 22:41


08.02 | 17:40

Agree with the very last line.Enjoyable game and obviously we can discuss this at our next birdie outing x

24.01 | 18:27

So glad you got so many domestic issues sorted. There are days when I wish I had a couple of darling daughters. I have a darling son but he is a long way away

19.11 | 22:40

I'll be thinking of you. Good luck. Love from Pat.xx

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