Jaqui's Daily Blog

“Where are you?” Mr B wants to know. It’s the kind of conversation we often have when I have rung him on my mobile from the Pulse bus travelling home from town. But whereas I could always reassure him that I was on my way, that I’d be home shortly, that I’d not forgotten whatever he’d asked me to buy for him - now I am at home and he seems so very far away, in his hospital bed. He must be wondering why I am not there to (I) drive him crazy with my endless chatter and (ii) keep him supplied with endless glasses of “nice, cold milk.” (“He does drink a lot of milk,” his nurse tells me, “Is that normal for him?”)

 

The hospital is only a few miles away but it could as well be the other side of the world as I am not allowed to see him at all. We are like Saturn and Mars, the Great Conjunction supposedly visible in the night sky today. It’s the closest they have been since 1226. We look as if we are joined together but, like the planets, we are nearly 500 million miles apart. Or at least that’s the way it feels.

 

Also like Saturn and Jupiter we are surrounded by our many moons who circle us with endless love, phone calls, Zoom sessions, thoughtful gifts and cards. Life would be pretty desperate without them. Saturn has  82 moons while Jupiter has 79. We probably don’t have quite that many but at least all of our moons have names, unlike those of both planets.

 

Telephoning Mr B is an exquisite torture; most of the time he is too drowsy to speak, more than once he has fallen asleep to the sound of my voice. It would be sweet to think that hearing my voice has reassured him and sent him into blissful slumber; I suspect it’s more likely that I am just boring him into dreamland. With the help of my Little Sister and her fella, who stayed to keep me company over the early days, I purchased what was described as “the very simplest of mobile phones”. I left it for him on hospital reception with a letter explaining its functions which I hoped somebody might read for him. I even marked with a heart shaped sticker the button he needs to press to get straight through to me on my mobile. I had a choice between a black phone and a red one. Personally I’d have opted for red but then I remembered that when I bought him a smart red wheelchair he complained bitterly that it was “Arsenal colours.” A Spurs supporter through and through, that’s Mr B (but please don’t hold it against him, remember he is Proper Poorly!)

 

Most days I have taken something in for him without ever actually knowing if they are reaching their destination.  A letter and his glasses on one day, the mobile phone on another. This morning’s delivery was rather special.

 

Today, you see, was the anniversary of the Day We Met, fifty-seven years ago, outside Woolworths in Sittingbourne High Street. Last night I made him one of my hand-crafted cards with five photographs on the front, pictures of the two of us, stretching across the years. I’m hoping if he can have it standing on his bedside cabinet (always presuming he has one) it will help him to feel I am close by. When I spoke to him on the phone today I reminded him it was our Day We Met anniversary and asked him if he could remember how many years ago we had first set eyes in each other. I think his muttered response was on the lines of “a b****y long time ago.” There’s no arguing with that - and it was a peculiarly reassuring response.

 

I keep looking out for the Great Conjunction in the sky but I am probably looking in the wrong direction. I like the idea of those two great planets, in all their apparent togetherness, shining bright on our anniversary. I decided not even to try to tell Mr B about this timely and appropriate phenomenon - he would doubtless have told me I was being fanciful. Though not in those exact words, you understand...

 

Woolworths is no more, of course. Saturn and Jupiter will move apart and won’t get together again until 2080. Mr B and I - he in his hospital bed, me at home - are still together after all these years. As I wrote in my card: “Look how far we’ve come together!”

 

The Great Conjunction, you might almost say...

Serendipity. It’s one of my favourite words.

 

It’s the very opposite, you see, of having everything planned to the last minute. It’s about just going with the flow and unexpected delights arising as a result. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters and I both believe fervently in serendipity.

 

Take our journey to the funeral of a dear family friend last Thursday. Apart from knowing the time we had to arrive at the church, we felt we were heading into the unknown. As in Tier Three Country with all the restrictions that implied. Would we find a loo when we needed one? Being blessed with the Usher Gene, we knew we would need one, sometime, somewhere. Would we find somewhere for a takeaway coffee? My addiction to the coffee bean has been well documented in the Daily Blog so regular readers will understand the importance of this question. Would we, moreover, come to regret our decision not to make ourselves a packed lunch before leaving home? Would my Stomach (of which, as you know, I Am Always Thinking) ever forgive me for this failure in our preparations?

 

We set off at 10.30 a.m. leaving the Really Rather Wonderful Rosalie in charge of Mr B. Google Maps informed us that the journey would take us around 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on traffic. I told my daughter, confidently, that I knew the journey well, having had to make it every weekend when I started a new job in West Sussex, taking me away from my family during the week. In fact, the journey would be much easier today, I continued, as road improvements meant we wouldn’t have to negotiate Brighton town centre. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters, in the driving seat in more ways than one, refrained from reminding me that it was over thirty years since I was making that journey every weekend and that I might just have forgotten the way.

 

Travelling to a funeral was never going to be a merry business - but it was a blessing to have time to chat about anything and everything on the way. Even while keeping an ear peeled for the annoying voice on Google Maps bossily telling us which way to go, there was no danger of our jaws rusting...

 

“I think we are going the wrong way,” I said. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters pointed out that she was only doing what Google Maps was telling her. Should she turn round and head back in the other direction, trusting in my failing memory? No, she didn’t actually say that about my failing memory - that was me, doubting myself. Carry on, MacDuff, I told her (it’s sort-of Shakespearean, didn’t you know?)

 

A little while afterwards we found ourselves in Lamberhurst where, miracle upon miracles, my daughter spotted a sign declaring “WC.” It might, of course, be closed, we warned ourselves against disappointment but we parked up anyway and headed across the road towards the sign. All I can say is, what a relief! 

 

What’s more, we had parked almost directly outside a tea shop called “Tiese and Coffee” which positively beckoned us inside, so welcoming was it, an archway of balloons adding to the sense of excitement. Did they sell sandwiches? I asked the sweet woman behind a shop counter laden with takeaway goodies of a mouth-watering nature. My stomach was literally growling with pleasurable anticipation. The answer was apologetic - sadly, they didn’t sell sandwiches. They could, however, make us each a bacon bap? A bacon bap!? What could possibly be better on a cold morning, on a sad journey, in the middle of a pandemic which had closed off most of the eateries in the county? 

 

I love to support local businesses, especially those whose owners are trying so, so hard in the most difficult of circumstances, to make ends meet. “Tiese and Coffee” (so named because it is situated near the banks of the River Tiese) was marking its second anniversary on the day we dropped in. If you’re ever in Lamberhurst, pay it a visit and say hello from me. 

 

We couldn’t eat in, restrictions being what they are - so we sat in the car, supping coffee and munching on some of the best bacon baps I’ve ever sampled. So full we were, that we saved our Danish pastries for later. What a good thing we had taken the wrong route, I said, or we would never have had such a delicious lunch purchased from such delightful surroundings.

 

We went home by the alternative route, the one I would have taken. It seemed to take quite a lot longer than the way there though I blamed the traffic. The Youngest of the Darling Daughters forebore to argue, though she could have pointed out that it was Google Maps that had taken us the way of Lamberhurst and the Tasty Stop which brought some welcome and unexpected cheer to our sad journey.

 

I prefer to think it was serendipity...

 

 

I am sitting here, regarding my 2020 Christmas tree in all its, well, overflowing-ness. Is there even such a word? if not I have just invented it. Feel free to use it over the Christmas period. 

 

The Youngest of the Darling Daughters arrived yesterday, in preparation for a long trip into Deepest Kent for a funeral today (of which more later.) I am, indeed, fortunate that in a late (and somewhat hidden in the small print) addition to the government rules on “support bubbles” lone carers like me, who care for a disabled person in their own home, are now allowed to form a supportive bubble with another household, something that’s only been allowed in the past for singles. I immediately invited the Youngest of the Darling Daughters into our “bubble”. I’m not sure how long she had to think about accepting my invitation, knowing, as I do, that I am quite a responsibility...

 

Yesterday afternoon we (she) clambered up into the loft to fetch down the Christmas tree and decorations so that we could spend a happy time assembling them and introducing even more of a festive spirit into our home. It is always so, so much more fun decorating a Christmas tree in company. It would have been even merrier had we been able to play Christmas music while we worked, but Mr B was watching TV so we decked the halls to the accompaniment of “Pointless”. It would have been, well, pointless to complain..

 

Now I have had time to sit down and inspect the tree, I can see that in my eagerness to cherish every single ornament, every bauble, every decoration passed down from Christmas Past to Christmas Present, I have front-loaded the Christmas tree. Viewed from the front, it is a riot of colour - almost every bauble a memory of someone or something. Here is the reminder of Faris the Rascal’s first Christmas, decorated with his foot prints. Here are the wooden souvenirs from Bethlehem. Here is the beautiful glass fox, made by god-daughter Pip in 2016. And atop the tree the cardboard reindeer, designed and created by my eldest grandson Jack, way back in 2007. 

 

There is also an angel and a bell, made out of pastry by Jack and sister Hazel when they were little which, after surviving intact since 2006, have emerged from the loft decidedly soggy. I am trying to harden them up on the radiator but their chances of survival are not great. Oh, for goodness sake, I am talking about the decorations, not Jack and Hazel...

 

The trouble is, viewed from the sides, or the back, my Christmas tree is almost bare of decoration.  It is, quite simply, front-loaded...

 

Then today it was the funeral of a dear, dear friend of almost fifty years. It was a long two hours drive there, and another two hours back but we were so glad we went, my daughter and I. For not only was he a dear friend but Barrie was a man who front-loaded his life with the same vigour and enthusiasm that I front-loaded my Christmas tree. As his son, Spencer, read the heart-felt eulogy he had written, he reminded us of everything his father had contributed over the 91 years of his life. The hard-working businessman; the loving husband and father; the man who retired not for a leisurely life but to dedicate his time and ceaseless efforts to the service of others. A volunteer par excellence. A constant advocate for those who couldn’t argue their own case for help. A man who cared passionately about the village community where he took his lovely wife Lorna to live on their marriage so many years ago.

 

In any other year, the church would have been full to bursting with people remembering what he meant to them. We were so honoured to be among the thirty guests invited and touched when the celebrant mentioned Mr B as a dear friend who would have definitely been there had he been able. 

 

Visiting the village centre earlier, we had found Friendship Benches which hadn’t been there when we lived in the village. One of the many inspiring quotations on the benches read: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

 

 It seemed such an apt observation for our dear friend Barrie who never stopped finding ways to help others right up to the end of his long, front-loaded life.

I am never quite sure, when I welcome the Trio to our home, exactly who will turn up. Today, for example, there were a couple of heart-stoppingly beautiful unicorns tripping along the alleyway at the side of our house and into the back garden. Their brother, to be fair, looked more or less, well, normal...

 

It was the Day After The Day Before. Or Birthday Two. Or, a Chilly Back Garden Birthday. Take your pick. Yesterday was the Twins’ sixth birthday, a most happy occasion lovingly planned and executed by their proud mamma, the Middle of the Darling Daughters. Activities included much application of make-up and nail varnish (a favourite among their presents) and the baking of gingerbread. Today it was my turn to magic up an appropriately celebratory occasion.

 

I was more than a little worried about the fact that, Tier Two restrictions being what they are, our visitors would be forbidden entry to the warmth of the living room, being confined to the garden, chilly though that might be. I also felt sorry for my youngest granddaughters that they weren’t allowed to invite lots of friends round to party with them. Though, it suddenly occurred to me, there was nothing to stop me issuing a few invitations of my own...

 

Hence, when the Birthday Unicorns and their brother entered the back garden (having paused briefly to admire the Giant Penguin, dressed up as a shepherd for the Penguin Nativity Play) they found their special guests already seated around the party table - the three Flowerpot People who have been sitting out in the garden ever since the Trio made them, just waiting for an opportunity to take centre stage at such a momentous event.

 

Of course, when you are six years old it’s All About The Presents - and there were several to open, including this year’s Christmas tree decorations and presents from my Little Sister and her fella. The main event (as far as I was concerned) was the unveiling of our gifts, two flying fairies - one pink, one purple. This was a present with a story, I explained to the girls. When I was about their age, or maybe a little bit younger, my dear Dad always brought me home a magazine called Tiny Tots every Friday. (My sister also had a magazine; hers was called Chick’s Own. It’s hard to imagine today’s littl’uns being much impressed by either title.) My favourite story was about a little girl who possessed a fairy doll which (as fairy dolls are wont to do) came to life every night at bedtime. My lovely parents bought me my own fairy doll one Christmas but she was a great disappointment as she never so much as shook a wing in flight. Tala, eldest of the Twins by one important minute, listened carefully to my sad tale, sympathy in her bright eyes.

 

We decided it would be better not to try to fly the fairies in the garden in case they flew away - so they will have their maiden flight when the girls return home. I have been promised a short video recording the happy scene which will surely make up somewhat for my childhood disappointment...

 

The park on the beach beckoned - a chance for the Trio to run, jump, climb, swing and enjoy the winter sunshine. The sea was stunningly beautiful, calm and silvery smooth against a sky of scudding clouds, grey and white on blue. This is why I love living here - seeing the sea in all its  manifestations, ever-changing with the seasons. We played Hide and Seek among the rocks and I disgraced myself belieivng myself to be successfully hidden behind a large outcrop but failing to realise that the top of my pink bobble hat was still visible to the seekers....

 

Back to the garden for fish fingers and chips followed by the traditional birthday cake (with twelve candles - six each.) We sang Happy Birthday twice, one for each twin, because I think every Birthday Person is entitled to their own rousing rendition. I stood just inside the door as I presented the girls with their cake so that the candles wouldn’t be blown out by the breeze. Not that they lasted that long when the Twins started blowing.

 

I wonder why I worried that everything would be less than perfect?

 

I should have trusted in the Magic of Unicorns....

 

I think it is fair to say that Mr B has completely failed to grasp the principle behind a chocolate Advent Calendar. What I am talking about, of course, is not an Advent Calendar made of chocolate (don’t be silly) but one with 24 windows, with a small piece of chocolate concealed behind each window.

 

Our Advent Calendars were the first gifts we discovered when we opened our “Nanni and Grandad’s Advent Box 2020”, put together with much love by the Rascally Trio and their mother. The small piece of chocolate behind the first window carried a picture of a reindeer on it. Mr B wasn’t too bothered about the decoration and consumed the chocolate in one gulp - then suggested we should immediately go about opening all the rest of the windows in the interests of gaining more of a Chocolate Fix. 

 

I protested that this was not the idea of an Advent Calendar which was to mark the passing of the days until Christmas Day. Mr B harrumphed that Christmas Day always arrived on 25th December, always had done as long as he could remember, and why did he need to mark the passing days when he had me, dashing about like a maniac and forever lamenting the fact that there weren’t enough days left in December to complete all the preparations? (He used an even less complimentary saying to describe my antics.)

 

I chose to ignore his arguments. You are probably thinking that it is his Advent Calendar and, should he choose to open all the windows on December 1st then so be it. Except that I know very well should he follow his instincts, he will almost certainly expect to be allowed to share my chocolate treats over the next twenty-odd days. You know it makes sense.  

 

When our Foursome were littl’uns we only ever invested in one Advent Calendar between the four of them and they took turns to open the windows each day. Moreover in those days there were no pieces of chocolate inscribed with pictures of reindeer, Santa, elves and other Christmas-related objects to be discovered. Instead each window revealed a colourful picture of, yes indeed, a reindeer, or Santa, or an elf, culminating on 24th December with the Nativity scene. I am belatedly lamenting the fact that my children may have had a Deprived Childhood...

 

Fortunately on the second day of Christmas we opened an envelope which bore the warning “Don’t ‘spend’ them all at once” and contained a small bag of silver coins of the milk chocolate variety. Mr B started spending almost immediately, for all the world like somebody emerging from Lockdown 2 and hitting the shops like there is no tomorrow. 

 

No chocolate on Day 3 - but three beautiful Christmas cards designed and created by the Rascally Trio, possibly the most colourful cards ever. The Middle of the Darling Daughters explains that the Twins, in particular, see it as a challenge not to leave the slightest glimpse of white card uncovered with their composition. As subject matter, Christmas is hard to beat, what with fir trees,  decorations, Santa, and of course the reindeer (recognisable from what appear to be television aerials sprouting from their heads.) Usually I display all my Christmas cards on lines strung across the walls between doors and window frames - but this simply wouldn’t show off the Trio’s masterpieces so they are on show on the sideboard where everyone can see them.

 

Incidentally, our Advent Box appears to be giving pleasure to others beside Mr B and me. Every day I receive messages asking me what our latest gift might be. I’m touched by people’s interest which is totally unselfish.

 

Unlike Mr B, they’re not in it for the chocolate....

 

Latest comments

28.12 | 07:41

This wonderful blog has summed up the true meaning of A Christmas Day. Once the dread of a restricted day had sunk in, other ways were invented. Thank you

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22.12 | 09:20

So sorry to hear that Brian is in hospital. It would be bad at any time but at present....... It must be true agony for you. You'll both be in my thoughts. xx

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22.08 | 02:02

Karen,

I'll be able to help you with information on the usher's as Thomas Henry Usher is my aunt's ancestor as well can you please email me so we can talk

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22.08 | 02:00

Hi Karen,

I thought I would try again to see if I can get a response from you again please email me so we can talk further. My email is: lol-emma@live.com.au

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