I’m sure many of you will have experienced the stress leading up to a major event for which you are responsible - knowing there will be just the one chance of getting it right. That’s how my friend Sue
and I had been feeling as yesterday morning approached. We kept reassuring each other, more in hope than expectation, that it would be “alright on the night”. The Great Occasion, in case you hadn’t remembered, was a Farewell and Thank You
to the conductor of our Singing for Pleasure choir on the occasion of her retirement (at the Grand Old Age of 95) and after twelve years of leading us in Joyous Song.
Our present - a personalised cushion - was wrapped in appropriately musical gift wrap, finished off with a stylish maroon ribbon, while the beautiful hand-made greetings card (no, not handmade by me, don’t be silly, it was far, far too beautiful
for that) had been signed by every member of the choir. What’s more, when I walked into the hall at the Heene Community Centre where we meet every Friday morning, there wasn’t a spare seat in the house. Almost everyone, it seemed, had responded
to my emailed request for a “splendid turnout.”
Our erstwhile conductor, known to regular readers as The Redoubtable Muriel, was due to arrive at 11
a.m. giving us time to have a bit of a sing-song but, most importantly, to rehearse our special greeting. It was decided that at a signal from someone stationed near the door to say she had arrived, we would all rise to our feet as one and welcome her with
a resounding rendition of that popular ABBA song: “Thank you for the music.” The lyrics couldn’t be more meaningful for such an auspicious occasion: “Thank you for the music, the songs we’re singing / thank you for the joy they’re
bringing...” We would sing the chorus twice through, we all agreed, and our rehearsal proved we were in excellent voice. Sue and I sat ourselves in the front row of the soprano section (we never sit there normally, preferring to bury ourselves second
row back in the alto section) so that we could spot our Most Honoured Guest immediately she stepped through the outer doors.
Eleven came and went. Muriel failed
to arrive. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes passed. Sue and I bewailed the fact that neither of us had thought to phone the evening before to make sure she had remembered. What to do? When did “late” turn into a “Did
Not Arrive”? I was building myself up to make an announcement to an increasingly restive choir when Sue and I caught sight of the familiar figure in the corridor. We were all on our feet in a trice, ABBA on our lips. “Thank you for the music!”
we sang, lustily, as the Redoubtable Muriel entered. To say we took her by surprise is something of an understatement.
The cushion we gave her was decorated
on one side with the words of our choir theme song “Viva La Musica” together with her name and “Singing for Pleasure.” On the back: “To dear Muriel. Thank you for the music, from your Worthing Singing for Pleasure Choir.”
Muriel hugged the cushion to her and asked us to sing for her all over again. We were, of course, more than happy to oblige...
Always (as you know) the over-emotional
type, I was on the verge of treacherous tears as Muriel told us she would remember the day for as long as she lived. And they spilled over completely as she conducted us, for the very last time, in Viva La Musica. Tears turned to laughter a little later when
she smoothed out the musical gift wrap, sat down at the piano and proceeded to play the wrapping paper. Once a pianist, always a pianist. It was another precious moment.
The gathering in the community centre café afterwards was joyful indeed, with Muriel at the very heart of it all. Which was just as it should be.
I waited outside with Sue for her lift to arrive and we quietly congratulated each other that, all things considered, it had all gone very alright on the night...
Our Dial-a-Ride driver turns up early to transport us to this morning’s Sporting Memories club. It’s fortunate that we are more or less ready - portable ramps in place at the front door, Mr B already dressed
for whatever the elements throw at us in his coat and woolly hat, my rucksack packed with essentials including Mr B’s reading glasses. The thing is, we may be ready for Sporting Memories - but is Sporting Memories ready for us?
Our ever-obliging driver tells me that if the doors to the clubhouse are still locked when we get there, then we can wait in the bus till they open. On arrival it doesn’t look
too promising as there is no sign of the large banner which always hangs across the gate announcing that “Sporting Memories is here today”. I leave Mr B in the bus while I trot off on a recce. We are the first to arrive but the clubhouse is open,
the table and chairs have been set out, and there is a kindly face behind the bar who says she will make us a cup of coffee once the coffee machine has heated up. I trot back to the Dial-a-Ride bus to inform Mr B that All Is Well.
It’s not long before others start to arrive, a few new faces among the familiar ones. The fella who started off this Worthing based club has turned up, putting the pressure
on our leader, Tim, who is at pains to make it clear that we are a “very, very informal” gathering. Just in case something more, well, structured is expected of him. I add my own two-pennyworth by explaining, loyally, that we like it that way.
Good heavens, I think to myself, this is only our fourth meeting and I am already feeling a fierce loyalty to our little tribe of sports-minded types.
can see that look on your face - am I really, truly describing myself as “sports-minded”? My old school friends would be amazed. They would be querying what on earth has happened to that girl who used to consider that a hockey game in which that
nasty, hard ball never came anywhere near her was a “great” game. But that was then and this is now - and I am now a fan of Sporting Memories. I am learning more and more every week.
I am, nevertheless, at a slight disadvantage. I have never heard, for example, of the infamous Eight Minute Match between Somerset and Worcestershire in a Benson & Hedges cricket match in May 1979 - though I can hold my
own in the ensuing discussion about what’s fair in love, war and cricket. When it comes to the picture cards of former footballing legends, passed around among us, I have to admit that the only two I recognise are Bobby Moore (the World Cup he was holding
was a bit of a giveaway) and Kevin Keegan, he of the curly hair. You can imagine, therefore, that coming up with my own personal contribution to the discussion is a bit of a challenge...
Faced with that challenge, I turn (as in many times past as a child) to my Dad who loved two things above all - his family and football. In particular I have his own account, in his own handwriting, of the very first football match
he played in for his school, The Davenant, against Tower Hill school away. I’ve told the story here before - how when invited to turn out for the team which was one player short, he noticed that the captain was wearing ordinary boots while he had a pair
of second hand boots bought for him by his father. So he loaned the captain his right boot and they both played the game wearing one football boot and one ordinary boot. “I played a blinder (so I thought)” my Dad wrote. The gang at Sporting Memories
loved my Dad’s story and I earned a round of applause.
I like to think it wasn’t for me but for the memory of the little lad who gave up one of his
boots to his captain, stuck like glue to his opponent, played “a blinder” - and wore his team colours (a white shirt with a red diamond on the front and back) with so much pride.
Now that’s a true Sporting Memory.
Granddaughter Eleanor refuses to allow me to pay for our fish and chips lunch - after all, she reasons, I have had to pay out on the train fare to Brighton to visit her. I point out that the fare only cost me £4.80
return with my Senior Card and that by travelling on the train I found out quite a lot about life in the Orkneys from a friendly young woman returning briefly from her island life to visit family.
Apparently island life is a different kind of busy from life on the mainland - many islanders hold down several jobs at once in order to survive but almost everyone is also involved in volunteering and community action because
that’s what makes an island tick. It isn’t as cold as you might imagine either as, thanks to the Gulf Stream, there is very little difference in temperatures between winter and summer. This means mild winters and cool summers - but also that it
is necessary to mow the grass all year round. This is the kind of detail I love to hear despite the fact that the chances of me ever setting foot on the Orkney Islands are negligible. With or without a lawn mower.
Eleanor doesn’t live on an island but I am so excited to see her student accommodation. Not because I am nosy (though, of course, I am) but because I always love to imagine my Nearest and Dearest in their surroundings,
whether home or away. Next time my granddaughter messages me to tell me she is studying hard for her next exam I will be able to picture her at her desk, with the large and colourful poster depicting the Muscles in the Human Body pinned carefully on the noticeboard
above it. This is her Work Noticeboard, she tells me, while a slightly larger noticeboard over her bed is her Family Noticeboard, on which a wide selection of photos of friends and family are displayed (yes, I am pleased to spot myself there), along with the
string of bunting I made her when she first went off the university just over a year ago.
We sit at the breakfast bar in the kitchen area of her apartment
(where Eleanor has already set out plates and cutlery in readiness) and chat about anything and everything while we enjoy our fish and chip lunch. If Mr B could hear us he would doubtless nod his head, sagely, and comment that our jaws will not rust. Proving
that she has thought of everything, my granddaughter produces a jar containing a small amount of coffee specially provided by her mother so that I can have my caffeine fix before it is time to leave to get back to the station.
There is no time for a wander along the pier, or for a visit to a museum (Eleanor and I, you may remember, specialise in OMO - Obscure Museums Outings) or some not-very-serious window shopping. This
is because I have had to leave Mr B home alone and so can’t stay out for too long. Strange to say, it didn’t really matter - without the pressure to be somewhere, we could “just be”, enjoying each other’s company. Before we leave,
my granddaughter presents me with a cutting from a grapevine which she had been given by a lovely gent she met at a meeting with stroke patients. She reckons that it will stand more chance of surviving at my hands than at hers. I’m tempted to ask “who’s
the medical student here?” but nevertheless I accept the challenge and clutch the cutting in my hand all the way to the station.
It’s not far
to the station but to get there it is necessary to negotiate lots and lots of steps. Eleanor tells me to let her know if I need to take a rest on our Upwards Journey but, to be honest. I’m so out of breath I rather doubt I can get the words out. Besides
I feel somewhat triumphant when we reach our destination with six minutes to spare before my train is due to leave.
It’s been a Flying Visit, to be sure.
Short - but, like my lovely granddaughter, very, very sweet...
I send the Youngest of the Darling Daughters a photo of the two top cupboards in my wardrobe in all their splendid emptiness. Then I send her another photo of the former contents of said cupboards, sprawled all over my
bed and the bedroom floor. Why is it that, where decluttering is concerned, everything gets a whole lot worse before there is any apparent improvement? I really, really need to know.
The Youngest of the Darling Daughters advises, by return, that I form three piles - (I) to keep; (ii) to send to the tip and (iii) to take to the charity shop. She also suggests that I should stagger this task over the course of a couple of weeks. Which
is fair enough but obviously I do have to sleep in my bed at night and at the moment that would seem to be impossible unless I am prepared to share my space with several large photo frames, my Eternal Beau tea set (only kept for company), my wedding hats,
three large files of family history research dating back to 1997, an old Sony Walkman, an ancient TENS machine (relic of a Painful Past), and a few shoe boxes containing treasures which I haven’t yet ventured to sort. I decide to go out into the garden
to plant a few more spring bulbs. Unlike my clutter, bulbs can be easily hidden and will live to bloom again. The same can’t be said for my wedding hats, for example, which are looking a trifle battered.
It was the Youngest of the Darling Daughters’ idea that I should sort out my storage. She is convinced that I have far more storage in my house than I think I have - my problem is that I am not using it effectively.
She doesn’t exactly say this, you understand, being far too kind - but there is a certain “you know it makes sense” behind her message.
am therefore trying to think through what purpose I should put each cleared cupboard to, now it is empty of “stuff”. That is, instead of my usual habit of just finding somewhere, anywhere, to stow my memory boxes (one each year since around 2000),
my spare knitting wool (I could establish a wool shop but I guess there’s not much call for the remnants from my many knitting projects) and numerous photograph albums dating back to 1966. That is, I am sure you will agree, A Fair Bit of Clutter.
The trouble is, amongst the clutter are certain objects which carry memories - some happy, some amusing, some poignant. Can I really bring myself to dispose of them, just
because they are battered, broken or of no earthly use to anybody?
The Sony Walkman, for instance. Mr B and I bought it for his father when he was in a hospice
at the very end of his life. We inserted a CD of his favourite music - by an Irish Group called The Fureys and Davy Arthur. One of the lovely nurses at the hospice told us that on one occasion they all rushed to his bedside because it sounded as if he was
in severe pain - only to find that he was warbling, tunelessly but happily, along to “Oh, how we danced on the night that we wed...” Such a precious memory of the darkest of times.
Talking weddings - that wedding headgear reminds me of the fact that we had three family weddings in less than six months, two of them within a week of each other just fifteen years ago. You know what I am about to say, why
have one family wedding when you could have three? There are only two, not three, wedding hats in my wardrobe because the Middle of the Darling Daughters organised her wedding in a little over a week which left me somewhat challenged on the Mother of the Bride
Front. Fortunately a very dear friend loaned me her complete outfit from her own daughter’s wedding, including shoes and the most enormous hat. I gave it all back afterwards (still glowing with pride at the astonishment on my daughter’s face when
she saw me in all my Borrowed Glory); I wonder where my friend has stored that ginormous hat? Must have lots of storage in her house...
I have relocated the Eternal
Beau tea set in one of the kitchen cupboards which is probably where it should have been all along. I have had to squeeze the gravy boat, three assorted serving bowls and two casserole dishes onto another shelf to make room but - being blessed with the Usher
Gene which, among other things, enables its possessor to find space in the smallest of cupboards - I managed it. I have also re-homed all the games from the top cupboard into another cupboard, nearer ground level, in the room where the grandchildren sleep
when they come to visit. This means that I won’t have to get out the step ladder to fetch down the games when the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys remind me that we always have to play “two games before breakfast.” I can’t remember when
I came up with that idea but it wasn’t me at my most sensible.
My cupboards may be empty - but the memories are all safely stored away...
My friend Anne, who is in her nineties and as sharp as a tack, tells me that I have a “lively mind.”
you regular readers know, I always take anything somebody says about me as a compliment. Always Assume Positive Intent - that’s a pretty good motto in my opinion. Mr B would possibly disagree, commenting that it is on account of my lively mind that I
keep veering off at a tangent from whatever subject we are currently discussing. This is, he would point out, (i) extremely annoying and (ii) does nothing for his understanding of my argument / point of view. When it comes to Random Ramblings, my lively mind
drives him to distraction.
My lively mind also gets me into trouble in conversations with friends when something really important / interesting / loosely
on the subject pops into my head and I find myself interrupting them and consequently breaking their train of thought. This is a very bad habit which I can only excuse by blaming my lively mind which knows it will forget what it wanted to say unless I blurt
it out. Immediately. It is fortunate that I have any number of Forgiving Friends.
There are, however, significant advantages to a lively mind especially for a
full-time unpaid carer whose main role in life is to keep another person happy. Especially when that person is Mr B who loves All Things Sporting and TV programmes - including a good many about cooking meals which we will almost certainly never get round to
cooking. It might be a decidedly boring existence were it not for my lively mind.
Let’s start with the sport. As I tell the fellow members of the Sporting
Memories club which we have taken to attending every Thursday morning, I am the least sporty of people. Nevertheless, over fifty-three years of marriage I have absorbed, merely from living with Mr B, an amazing amount of sporting information. It’s called
osmosis, I understand, and requires no energy at all from the person acquiring the knowledge, which is probably just as well as, my mind may be lively but my body is often less so. It means, however, that I can generally enter into the group’s conversation
without appearing a complete nitwit. Nobody would complain, I dare say, if, like other carers who bring their charges, I sat quietly in a corner consulting my phone while Mr B was enjoying the chat - but what an opportunity for my lively mind to find a way
of contributing. And guess what? the sessions are so much more enjoyable than I ever thought they would be. And the biscuits cooked by the Really Rather Wonderful Rhona are, well, legendary - so there’s food for the body as well as for the mind.
Faris the Rascal certainly has a lively mind though, as he informed me on his last visit, when he returned to school after the long summer holiday he did have to cope with
what he called his “rusty brain.” How I love that boy! I can imagine him explaining the situation to his teacher - who seems to have decided that the best way to oil rusty brains is to set maths homework for the pupils of Flamingo Class. Look lively,
Just as I am congratulating myself on my own lively mind and the fact that my brain isn’t too rusty, all things considered, I find myself
with Mr B watching a TV programme called Money for Nothing. In this programme, other people’s rubbish is whisked from a local recycling site (with official permission, as the voice-over fella keeps reminding us) and turned into amazingly ingenious items
of furniture or fashion which then sell for quite outstanding amounts of money. On this afternoon’s programme, for example, one clever chap turned an old garden trampoline into a kind of fancy lounger, while yesterday and equally clever recycler extraordinaire
took some old deckchairs and made them into cool bags. Which were, indeed, cool by name and cool by nature. I am All Admiration. I can’t imagine myself looking at an old sewing machine and saying: “Coffee table!”
When it comes to lively minds, well, I have to admit it - I am most definitely an also ran...
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