Jaqui's Daily Blog

I am given to understand that Orville, friend of the late, lamented ventriloquist Keith Harris, is about to go under the auctioneer’s hammer. It is widely expected that The Duck will be sold for between £8000 and £10,000. Which is a hell of a lot of duck food.


I fear I am not in a position to make a bid for Orville but I do have some very personal memories of him. I have doubtless shared these before on the Daily Blog but, in the interests of newer readers (and those with failing memories), I would like to repeat them here.


Some years ago, when I was working in the Public Relations department of a major County Council, I was given the task of organising the publicity for the opening of a new building at a local special school. The powers that be would like to have engaged the services of the local MP or - at the very least - an important County Councillor. The head teacher, however, stuck to his guns and said it was imperative that the opening ceremony be performed by someone the pupils would know and be excited by. I really admired him for that. So - enter Keith Harris and Orville.


An early task of mine was to gain agreement to the wording on a commemorative plaque to mark the historic occasion. Back and forth I went between the head teacher, education officers and the design unit. The “High Ups” wanted: “This building was opened by Keith Harris” ( considering, I think, that this was the best of a bad job); the head teacher felt the plaque should indicate that Orville had done the honours. The Design Unit, in desperation, after several attempts to reach a concensus, sent me what they described as their very last effort: “This building was opened by Keith Harris and his Bloody Duck.” I wish I had had the courage to sign off on it there and then - but I needed that job...


Come the Big Day and Keith Harris and Orville are on the stage, before an audience of invited guests and over-excited pupils. The head teacher, called away on presumably urgent business, attempts to leave the stage without drawing too much notice to himself. Cue Orville, in the loudest of stage whispers: “I expect he needs a wee....” The dignitaries in the front row sit in po-faced horror, their worst fears having materialised. The children howl with unrestrained laughter. I loved Keith Harris and Orville at that moment.


I loved them even more a little later as they visited the children in their classrooms. Not once did Keith Harris slip Orville off his arm for even a minute; it was important, essential even, that the littl’uns never saw a lifeless puppet but always Orville in all his glorious tomfoolery.


In the room where the most seriously disabled children lay on mats, where dedicated teachers were helping them to follow with their eyes the lights on the ceiling above them, Keith Harris refused to allow any cameras, any publicity, as he bent down beside each of the children and let Orville rest alongside them. 


Dear Orville, I love you but I can’t afford you. You are just too pricey for me.


My memories, on the other hand, are - quite simply - priceless...

Considering how few preparations I have made so far for Christmas, you may be surprised to hear  just how much wandering I am doing in a Winter Wonderland. 


 When I think how worried I get when I have to drive in wintry weather (“I really, really wish I could still drive...” complains Mr B who used to take a snowy road as a personal challenge) why on earth am I dreaming of a White Christmas and invoking the weather forecast to let it snow?


Why am I, who doesn’t even like nuts, verbally salivating over chestnuts roasting on an open fire and castigating reindeer for their unfair treatment of the Red Nosed One?  This, in my view, is tantamount to bullying and should lead, if not to exclusion, then at the very least to a ban on the Partaking of Carrots.


It’s all down to the fact that our Singing for Pleasure choir has been booked (loosely speaking) for three Christmas events and it has fallen to me to (i) draw up the programme; (ii) liaise with those who have asked us to sing; (iii) time our performance to ensure we sing for long enough, but not too long; and (iv) create a PowerPoint presentation to assist in a sing-along-a-carols at a Christmas party. I have taken an executive decision not to refer to these as “concerts”, instead calling them “appearances.” As in, now you see us, now you don’t? as somebody asked.


Our first “appearance” is in the communal lounge at a block of flats where one of our members lives. Apparently there will be mince pies and sherry. My stomach, of which, as you well know, I Am Always Thinking, was not at all happy to learn that I will not actually be present on this occasion as I will have disappeared for a long weekend with the Youngest of the Darling Daughters. I am confident the choir will not miss my vocal efforts.


The following day, our choir will be singing at the Heene Community Centre’s Christmas Fair. We will be first on, after the Mayor has declared the event officially open. We will wear our uniform of red tops and black shirts or trousers - at choir yesterday morning, I struggled with untwisting my tongue and announced we would be wearing red tops and black shorts, thereby provoking hoots of derision from the male section. I know, from experience, that we are not required so much to perform as to provide a pleasant Christmassy atmosphere in the background as people swarm around the stalls set out around the hall, laden with festive fare. We will also be competing with the sound of excited littl’uns queueing up to visit Father Christmas in his grotto. When I say “we”, I am not being strictly accurate as, once again, I will be notable by my absence (see above for my excuse / reason.)


I will, however, be with the choir for our third “appearance” at the Worthing U3A Christmas Party where, once again, we will be kicking off proceedings by leading a festive sing-a-long. As we will be singing for our supper, we have all been given free tickets, thereby saving us £2 each. Every little helps, they say. 


We are under strict instructions not to sing for longer than twenty minutes in order to make time for all the other excitements on the afternoon agenda, including quizzes and (note-worthy as far as My Stomach is concerned) food. Hence at yesterday’s choir session, while everyone else was warbling merrily (on high) I was timing the songs on my mobile phone. On our first run through we were a little short, so it was decided that we should sing the first four songs through twice. There was a resounding cheer at the end when I announced that our amended programme had lasted 17 minutes and 46.04 seconds. 


 The PowerPoint presentation was, I have to admit, my idea. What on Earth was I thinking about? It’s a good few years since I prepared such a presentation and, to make matters worse, I’m not sure where I will find the program on my aged laptop which I tend not to use these days since Mr B bought our first Us Pad. Amazingly, it all came back to me but I am now left hoping that there will be somebody Technologically Expert on the scene to click through the slides so that I can, at least, sing. In my fashion, in my way.


I am receiving daily emails from choir members querying dates and times, saying they don’t have the words to Rudolph, and does it matter if they wear a deep pink top instead of red. Morag, our lovely pianist, says she is sure I will be glad when it is all over. 


And yet - well, it’s my first taste of Christmas 2019. I need to make the most of it and not worry about anything. What will be, will be. It will be alright on the night. Please feel free to add your own cliché as preferred.


Me? I’ll just keep on wandering in my Winter Wonderland...

This time last week the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and I were sitting in a local café where she was treating me to a latte and a toasted tea cake. You can tell it was a Real Treat because we were having a whole toasted tea cake each. Usually, in the interests of feeling virtuous, we share our tea cake. Or our scone or, occasionally, a slice of flapjack. This is Just What We Do. 


We take a seat in the window, because my daughter knows that I like to look out at people passing by. This is called People Watching. Or, perhaps more accurately, Being Nosey. A window seat is the ideal place for both. 


Unfortunately there is an issue with the door. In order to close it against the elements, the person or persons either entering or exiting needs to give the door a good push until it gives a satisfying click which indicates that it won’t swing open again. Quite a few of the people coming in, or going out don’t seem to understand this basis piece of engineering. Every time someone leaves the door open, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters jumps up to slam it shut again. “This might not have been the best place to sit,” she comments, mildly. 


We do have a Support Act. A very kind fella, sitting somewhere behind us, takes turns with my daughter in closing the door. We exchange smiles to indicate our mutual desire to keep the heat in and the cold out. We are Comrades in Arms against the Elements.


My daughter and I play a game in which we try to decide which of the people entering, and which of them exiting will close the door behind them or leave it swinging open. We are right about 50% of the time. It turns what might have been a rather annoying time into a cause for laughter. This is what I like about spending time with this daughter - it’s not about what we do, exactly, but how we are able to turn just about anything to our advantage. 


Later that evening we drive to the Chichester Festival Theatre where we have tickets for the musical of “Calendar Girls” , the latest of our “theatre dates.” It is a pretty horrid journey, travelling through the wind and rain and I feel bad that my daughter, having driven seventy miles to see us, is at the wheel. She says, stoutly, that she wouldn’t have it any other way. Outside the theatre, we try to take the traditional selfie outside, against the backdrop of a Calendar Girls billboard but it’s too dark and we end up with a photo of two black shadows. They don’t even look like us.


Coincidentally it is a year this week since the Youngest of the Darling Daughters accompanied me on a rather different “theatre date” to the operating theatre at St Richard’s Hospital where my Problem Shoulder was going under the knife (such a very theatrical expression, I’m sure you would agree.) There can be no doubt that the Youngest of the Darling Daughters isn’t selective about the times she spends with me.


In three weeks time, I am heading to her house for a long weekend while the Really Rather Wonderful Rosalie lives in to take care of Mr B in my absence. Apart from attending the Twins’ fifth birthday party (oh, what fun that will be!) we will do what comes naturally. I will stay late in bed of a morning, take my time in the shower, spend happily aimless hours sitting in her conservatory drinking coffee and chatting. I expect we will visit a coffee shop or two where we may - or may not - sit by the window and growl at people who leave the door open when they enter or exit. 


I am SO looking forward to doing absolutely nothing much at all. It will be SUCH fun!

We had formed a kind of production line at long tables set up all along the church aisle and manufacture was in full swing. I hadn’t known, when I set off for church as usual on Sunday morning, that I would find myself sitting at a trestle table, juggling small wooden figures, paper bags, sellotape and small chocolate figures of You Know Who. 


We were a captive audience as, if we chose to stay for a cup of coffee and a biscuit after the morning service (and, obviously, as one who is Always Thinking About Her Stomach I would always be one of the first in the queue at the coffee machine) we were honour bound to drink it (or, in the case of the biscuit, munch it) while sitting at a table as part of the Nativity Production Line.


As part of a forthcoming Festival of Nativities, the plan is to make every child visiting the church a gift of a wooden nativity scene. They will have to assemble the nativity themselves so inside the gift bag they will find (i) a base; (ii) a manger; (iii) a Joseph; (iv) a Mary; and (v) a donkey. Hence my job, and that of my fellows, was to take a pack containing the wherewithal for three nativity scenes, and divide the wooden pieces into three sets before filling gift bags and sealing them with sellotape. Always remembering to include a small chocolate Santa figure in each bag. 


All along the table could be heard calls for help:


“Does anybody have a spare donkey?”


“This packet only has two mangers, I’m one short!” And my favourite:


“I seem to have two Josephs and only one Mary!”


One of the issues is that it is extremely difficult to differentiate between Joseph and Mary except that Joseph is very slightly taller. Though even that is not easy to see, considering both wooden figures are kneeling down...


I don’t have too much time to play with as I have promised Mr B he can expect me back by 11.45 a.m. I have, moreover, written it on his whiteboard and, as regular readers know, there is no arguing with a whiteboard. Had I known in advance that I would be required on Important Nativity Related Business, then I would have stretched my projected absence to 12 noon but, as it was, I was on Borrowed Time.


How many gift bags could I fill, I wondered, in the twenty minutes at my disposal? Compared with the rest of my family, I am not in the least competitive - but present me with a challenge, as in how many bags can I fill with donkeys, mangers, Josephs and Marys, and I am On Fire. Not literally, obviously, but you should have seen my fingers flying. I was fortunate in having a helper who took on the fiddly task of sealing all the bags with sellotape. Had I had to apply the Sticky Stuff, I reckon my productivity would have dipped alarmingly.


I felt quite guilty quitting the production line at a little before 11.45 a.m. especially when my Sellotape Helper accused me of “chickening out” but I did feel as if, in the time allowed, I had done my level best.


On the way home my thoughts turned to my dear friend Steph who organised several Nativity Festivals, the last of them only months before she died, far too early, far too young, still so much missed. Her favourite exhibit was a miniature nativity scene carved inside a real walnut. It was so very beautiful, so detailed, so, well, tiny...


Now that would have been a real Sunday Morning Challenge.


It’s the Middle of the Darling Daughters’ birthday today - and she is feeling Proper Poorly. Which is extremely unfair as I am sure everyone who has ever had to take to his / her bed with a hot water bottle on their birthday, instead of partying till the early hours, will surely agree.


She phoned me this afternoon to tell me not to phone her, as she would still be in bed, hopefully asleep. I was at my monthly cribbage group (though we were taking a short break for coffee and some of Delia’s delicious biscuits so I didn’t have to interrupt play. Like rain.) It was pure luck that I actually heard my mobile phone ringing from the depths of my handbag. Mr B complains that I never answer my phone, especially when he is calling me. I tend to respond by asking him how that can be when these days he never, ever phones me. He says he has given up phoning me because I never, ever answer. This is one of those arguments which goes on and on, round and round, never reaching a satisfactory conclusion.


When I hear that it is the Birthday Girl on the the other end of the phone, I ask my cribbage buddies to join me in singing Happy Birthday which, bless them, they do with gusto. If you are thinking that it was quite rash of me to make such a request, you have to remember that otherwise I would have had to sing all on my own, with everyone round the table gazing at me, mystified. My daughter seemed pleased with our rousing chorus, saying it was the first rendition of Happy Birthday to which she had been treated all day. 


The Rascally Trio, in case you are wondering, were all downstairs in Daddydaycare and almost certainly being so well behaved that you, my regular readers, wouldn’t recognise them. Daddydaycare believes that Rules Is Rules. Yes, I know, it’s ungrammatical in the extreme, but Rules Are Rules, while grammatically correct, doesn’t have the same ring of authenticity about it.


The Trio are always extremely well-behaved when their father is in charge. There is no Rampaging of the type that occurs when they visit their Grandad and me. I suspect this is because while there is (loosely speaking) such a thing as Nanni’s Rules, all three Rascals know that Nanni’s Rules are breakable and that the miscreants will always be loved and forgiven in the usual way. Nevertheless when you are in bed, feeling Perfectly Horrid, it is doubtless much better to know that peace and quiet reigns downstairs.


I still remember one particular birthday when I, like my daughter today, was Proper Poorly. We were out in Florida, staying in a place called Pleasure Island on the Gulf of Mexico and some Americans we had met at our hotel had recommended for my birthday lunch a restaurant famous for its fish dishes. My dish of mussels was delicious, indeed - but I ended up with a bad case of food poisoning and spent the rest of my birthday feeling thoroughly miserable and wanting to go home. Not a single mussel has passed my lips since that fateful day...


I am just glad that we were able to provide the Birthday Girl with an early celebration on Saturday. When she looks back on this year’s anniversary, hopefully that is what she will remember.


That and the Cribbage Chorus, of course. 


Latest comments

13.11 | 09:24

As I rapidly approach retirement I'm glad I just read this. Sound words!

25.09 | 13:00


25.09 | 12:59

Not helpful at all was trying to teach my daughter how to do it and was dreadful

12.08 | 09:53

Very nice, really i appreciate....well done.

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