Jaqui's Daily Blog

Live and learn, so they say. You are never too old to learn something new.

 

Even at my Great Age, I would add - based on my experience at our regular Sporting Memories meeting this week. We were in the middle of the weekly quiz, which always taxes my brain, given that I don’t have the most extensive sporting knowledge. I have taken, however, to hazarding a wild guess in answer to some questions and, amazingly, this occasionally pays off. Mostly I just sit, nursing my cup of coffee and trying to resist another of Rhona’s home-baked treats, and marvelling at how much sporting information the combined minds of our group members come up with. Rarely is there a question that not even one of them can answer.

 

There was this week, however, one question which stumped (if you’ll excuse the pun) the lot of us. Which day of the year is considered to be the birthday of every race-horse born in the Northern hemisphere? Puzzled faces all round. There was one member of the group who undoubtedly would have known the answer as he owns part of a horse but he was away watching a cricket match on Thursday morning. No, it wasn’t the horse watching the cricket match, it was our absent friend, don’t be silly. As an aside, I’m not sure exactly what part of the horse he owns but I’m sure it must be an essential part - maybe a hoof? 

 

We all had to give up in the end - the answer was January 1st, also known as New Year’s Day. In the Southern Hemisphere, apparently, the given birthday is August 1st. I am, to put it mildly, overwhelmed by the sheer unfairness of it all, being one who believes that a birthday is always, but always, uniquely special and a day to be celebrated. Fancy having to share your birthday with everyone else born in the northern (or southern) hemisphere! 

 

I was still pondering on this the following morning when I joined other members of our Singing for Pleasure group. We were singing Ascot Gavotte, from the musical of My Fair Lady, so I took the opportunity to ask who knew that every race-horse born in the northern hemisphere shared the same birthday? Most people looked as perplexed as I had been but four members waved their hands in the air to signal that this was - at least to them - common knowledge. How, I enquired, admiringly, did they know that? It turned out that they were all avid readers of Dick Francis novels which just goes to show the importance of being widely read. 

 

Apparently setting a standard birthdate for thoroughbred horses makes it simple to determine its acceptability for races based on age. Though it does mean, I might be inclined to argue, that a horse aged 2 years and eleven months could well be racing against another aged 2 years and one month - and where’s the fairness in that? Mind you, the same could be said of school years, I suppose, where a September-born child is in the same class as one born the following August. 

 

When I was about seven years old, my teacher decided to prove a point by telling us all to line up in order of our birth dates. This was enormous fun, as I recall, given that there were fifty of us in my class so the whole exercise - shuffling about, checking each other’s birthday, changing places time and time again - took up most of what would otherwise have been a boring lesson. The teacher then pointed out the difference in size between those born in the Autumn and the summer babes among us. I, born in June, was incensed at what I considered the blatant discrimination, having somehow in my head equated size with brain power. The fact that Philip Brown and Audrey Gates were nine months older than I didn’t occur to me - I was, in my defence, only seven….

 

I’m still worrying about those poor horses, unable to celebrate their actual birthday with a cake and a banner (“Dobbin is three”) Even Her Maj, forced by custom and the weather forecast, to celebrate an Official Birthday, has her own birth date marked.

 

Plus, ( you can see my mind is going into overdrive) what happens when a horse from the northern hemisphere (birthday January 1st) competes in a race in, say,  Australia (my geography has always been sketchy, to say the least, but I’m pretty sure the Land of Oz is in the Southern Hemisphere)?It’s all far too much for me. 

 

Where is Dick Francis when you need him?

Do you ever linger longer than makes sense? I’m a terrible lingerer. That well known song Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way might well have been written for me. I have, in fact, perfected the Ancient Art of Lingering.

 

I think it’s partly the feeling of not wanting something to be over, finished and done with, consigned to the “done that” box forever, or at least until someone decides to open the box one more time, many years later and wonders why it was such a big deal at the time. 

 

The Twins, Tala and Lilia, take this principle much further than I, with their obsession with All Things Christmas. As far as they are concerned, it’s Christmas all year round. I am not (quite) that bad. Promise….

 

And yet, and yet…

 

“Shall I take the bunting in the back garden down for you?” the Lovely Kay (who helps me keep my house in order) asked me, the day after all the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations were over. I thought about it for all of a minute then said, maybe not till after granddaughter Katie, her fella and Nola the dog had visited the following weekend? I implied that my granddaughter, having missed out on our Lovely Jubbly family party would be most put out if she arrived to find the garden stripped of Union Jack bunting. When, in actual fact, it was an example of classic lingering on my part - I just didn’t want it all to be over.

 

I’m the same with birthdays. It’s now eleven days since my birthday, and thirteen days since our anniversary - but the greetings cards are still festooning the sideboard and strung up on lines across the living room walls. So lovely they are, every one a greeting from someone dear to me. Here’s the card from my Little Sister - inside she has written “My second mother. My first friend. That’s my sister.” I need to leave it where I can see it, read it, feel my eyes prickle. Just a little bit longer. 

 

I know the time will come when someone arrives - maybe one of the District Nurses who doesn’t know us very well - and asks “Whose birthday is it?” and I shall have to confess that it was mine, four, five, six weeks ago. That’s when I will feel I must finally pack them all away in my 2022 memories box, recognising (reluctantly) that I have lingered long enough in Birthday Land.

 

Have you heard the joke about the person who had lots of Get Well Soon cards prominently displayed about her house? She reckoned they would serve as a brilliant excuse for not doing any housework, everyone would be far too sympathetic to carp about the crumbs on the carpet, the dusty window-sills, the unpolished mirrors. Well that would be me, then, but without the excellent reasoning behind it. I wouldn’t want to put them away, it’s just too special knowing people are thinking of you and wishing you well. Not that I’ve actually been ill, you understand, but if I had been, and if people had been kind enough to send best wishes - well, those cards would still be out for all to see long after I was up and running like a good’un.

 

Take Christmas. Tala and Lilia would be proud of me. Some folk are quick to take down all their decorations on Boxing Day. “That’s it!” they will say, “Christmas is over for another year…” They don’t actually add “Thank goodness” but you can tell that’s what they’re thinking. Me, I leave my Christmas decorations up to the very last minute -Twelfth Night - sometimes even longer.When Mr B was in hospital / nursing home for two months at the end of 2020 / beginning of 2021, he missed so many Significant Events. There was the anniversary of the day we met, the whole Christmas Festival, New Year’s Eve and Day, plus his own birthday. I vowed not to remove the decorations, the Christmas tree with all its baubles, the candles, the cards until we had celebrated everything he had missed. We were well into March before I finally did the decent thing and consigned Christmas to the loft. The spiders had had a field day, I can assure you.

 

That’s it - that’s the end of today’s Daily Blog. Off you go and find something much more useful and interesting to do.

 

I’ll just sit here and linger a little longer…

 

 

 

 

My dear Mum always impressed upon my Little Sister and me that we should never, ever cheat.

 

She didn’t use that obvious argument - “cheats never prosper” - possibly because, let’s face it, we can all think of people who have done pretty well out of their cheating. No, she cleverly used an argument which was, well, unarguable if you know what I mean. There was no point in cheating, she would tell us, because at the end of the day, even if you were never found out, you would know that you had cheated and would be able to take absolutely no pleasure in it. Point made, dear Mum.

 

As a result, I can honestly say I have never cheated. Not at cards, not at exams, certainly not at love. There you have it: Mother Knows Best.

 

So when I decided that a good way of celebrating the Platinum Jubilee was by making Jemma Melvin’s prize-winning pud, that super-duper lemon and amaretti trifle, I knew that, in the interests of time and sanity, I would have to make a cheat’s version. How could I possibly square that with my dear mum’s admonition? The answer, I decided, was to be absolutely upfront about my cheating, not for a second to pass my pud off as anything other than a Simply Glorious Jubilee Cheat. I mean, I’m pretty sure Her Maj didn’t really take tea with Paddington Bear…

 

So I bought all the ingredients in advance and enrolled my Little Sister in a joint endeavour. She was well up, for it, bless her, I knew she would be. Nor did I have to worry about capturing every cheating move on film, as my Little Sister’s fella was there with his camera, recording every moment as requested. I was a little worried about finding a suitably large receptacle - until I remembered the rather beautiful bowl I was presented with when I retired exactly ten years ago. It seemed appropriate, somehow.

 

First step - the lemon curd Swiss roll. I bought it from Marks and Spencer’s (other food stores could almost certainly oblige.) We carefully cut it into slices and my Little Sister tried to line the sides of the bowl with it. It was a trifle (if you’ll excuse the pun) soft and squidgy and there was (surprise, surprise) one slice left, which we shared between us. Just to make sure it tasted okay, you understand. At this point, my Little Sister consulted the the recipe which said that any slices of Swiss roll left over should be used to cover the bottom of the bowl. Too late now, we mourned, licking our lemony fingers. 

 

We’d already dissolved the jelly cubes in boiling water - I’d bought an orange jelly and a lemon jelly and mixed them together to mimic St Clement’s jelly. I wasn’t sure what a St Clements jelly was made of but based my purchase on that ancient nursery rhyme: “Oranges and lemons / say the bells of St Clements…” It was a slightly strange colour but it tasted okay (yes, we had a sneaky spoonful, just to check..) We had to wait for the jelly to cool down before we poured it over the sponge slices - which is when we had our first disappointment as the Swiss roll kind of disintegrated in the jelly. A major feature of Jemma’s super pud, you may recall, was the artistic swirls of sponge around the base of the bowl. Move on, we told ourselves, no point in crying over sloppy sponge…

 

We knew the jelly would take a long time to set so we, in our turn, set about tempering white chocolate for those impressive shards that topped Jemma’s pudding. I’d bought Green & Black’s chocolate which was probably an extravagance too far but was the only white chocolate I could find at the time. It tasted fine too - my Little Sister and I broke off a piece each before we started tempering. If that is, indeed, what we did. Spreading out the melted chocolate onto greaseproof paper was satisfying - we hadn’t been able to find any mixed peel in the shops so we used hundreds and thousands instead to sprinkle on top. Had we spread it thinly enough? Would it snap into elegant shards? We decided that Time Would Surely Tell and found space for it in the fridge, perching it precariously on top of the jelly and Swiss roll mixture. 

 

It was the next morning before we could return to our culinary efforts - the jelly took that long to set. However we simply flew through the next steps. We couldn’t use amaretti biscuits because one of our guests has a nut allergy so I’d bought ginger nuts which, coincidentally, were the favourite biscuits of my childhood. While my brother-in-law dutifully crunched biscuits with a rolling pin, my Little Sister and I made ourselves a cup of coffee in which to dunk a ginger biscuit (or two) to remind ourselves how very delicious they are. 

 

The next step, according to the recipe, was a “mandarin coulis” - we simply spooned two tins of drained mandarins onto the top of the layer of crumbed ginger biscuits. Two tins of Ambrosia custard followed (my brother-in-law, who hates custard, shuddered at every spoonful) and my sister and I took turns at whipping the cream. We were a bit worried that we might whip it too much, being basically kind people not given to whipping anyone or anything. Over the top of the custard it went - our pudding was nearly finished.

 

At this point it could all have gone horribly wrong. If the chocolate wouldn’t snap into perfectly imperfect shards we would just have an ordinary looking trifle to present to our party.It would probably taste okay - it simply wouldn’t look so, well, magnificent. 

 

I leave you to decide, dear reader, based on the photo above. My Little Sister and I carried our Jubilee Trifle out to our assembled guests to the tune of Sweet Caroline - “so good, so good, SO good,” we carolled, triumphantly. 

 

We may have cheated - but we had SUCH fun in the making of it.

 

And, yes, it tasted SO good! (though I say so myself, as shouldn’t…)

 

Way back in pre-pandemic days (remember those?) I was fully occupied in a loft clearance project as preparation for a major insulation exercise. Regular readers may (or may not) vaguely recall the trials and tribulations I went through.

 

Though to be fair it was the Youngest of the Darling Daughters who bore the brunt of the clearance operation; my main input was to stand on the landing, gazing up into the loft opening and beseeching her to (i) be careful; (ii) not to lift anything too heavy; and (iii) to take a break if it all became too much for her. Oh, the boxes she shifted, the rolls of ancient carpet, the black sacks full of old clothes that I must have thought someone would want to wear one day, the dusty comics from the Foursome’s childhood…

 

“None of this is worth keeping,” she would tell me sternly. “We’re off down the tip again…”

 

There was, however, one box I wouldn’t part with, crammed with leftovers from the Golden Jubilee in 2002. My daughter conceded defeat on this one; sometimes there is no arguing with an Aged Parent intent on salvaging a distant memory…

 

How glad I am that I did! This year it was impossible to buy Jubilee bunting for love or money - but in my Jubilee Box were string upon string of Union Jack bunting, enough to decorate both the front and the back garden fences. Not only that, but enough Union Jack hats (choice of boater or bowler) for all the family visiting on Sunday for what I chose to call our “Lovely Jubbly”; a selection of patriotic plates, napkins and cardboard cups; and some twenty year old red, white and blue balloons which, unbelievably, had mostly retained their elasticity. 

 

Best of all was the large poster on which we had drawn events from 1952 to 2002 - some national or international, others personal. So, for example, Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest and Roger Bannister’s sub-four minute mile rubbed shoulders with lots of family births, marriages and deaths. It was a Lesson in History for those who like to know what was going on in the Olden Days.

 

It also gave me an idea for one of our Sunday activities - another poster, documenting events from 2002 to the current date which, once completed, would join the original poster in my Jubilee Box, to be brought out - well, who knows when? 

 

Oh, what a Lovely Jubbly it was too! Seventeen of us in all, ages ranging from 7 to 78. The weather stayed kind to us, the barbecue lit first time without recourse to a boost from my hair dryer, my Summer Jubilee Pudding (whose story I will recount in a future blog) was voted a triumph, even though my Little Sister and I cheated in the making of it. Faris the Rascal provided a  spectacular crown which he had made at school to place on the heads of each one of us, perching in turn on a make-shift “throne” (made from Mr B’s second wheelchair draped in a Union Jack flag) to have their photos taken and recorded for history. Her Maj, resplendent in lemon yellow wool, joined us and everybody was far too kind to mention the fact that her knitted corgi looked more like a small horse than a dog. She did carry a neat knitted handbag - now, of course, we all know what she keeps inside for emergencies…

 

One Son-in-Law (“Rules is Rules”) proved his mastery of the barbecue once again; another, Dunk’em Dave, managed to wheel Mr B in and out of the house for me as required without dunking him once; the three Darling Daughters coped magnificently in the kitchen producing an unparalleled feast; while my brother-in-law took his job as Official Photographer so seriously that he now has over 300 photos to edit. My Little Sister, quite apart from helping me to create our Summer Jubilee Pudding, produced a magnificent Pavlova and a raspberry bombe which, adorned with candles, served as a birthday cake for Yours Truly. The older grandchildren kept a cousinly eye on the younger ones who appeared to enjoy celebrating their first ever Jubilee. They dutifully filled in quite a lot of white space on our Jubilee poster though it is fair to say that the Twins’ constant absorption with Christmas raised a few puzzled eyebrows: “The Queen is preparing for Christmas” Lilia has written. Well, possibly, I suppose.

 

I wore a yellow daffodil on my red shirt as a silent nod to the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys and their parents, on holiday in Wales and so unable to join us. Eldest granddaughter Katie and her fiancé Nathan were also notable by their absence but will be joining us next Saturday for more celebrations. Nola the dog will be with them - though I note she has already made an appearance on our Jubilee poster.

 

Once all this Jubilee Business is well and truly over, I will pack away the bunting, the hats (bowler and boater), the left over plates, cups and serviettes, and two Posters for Posterity.

 

“There will never be another event like this!” people keep saying.

 

Sometime, somehow, I’m quite sure my fun-loving family will find a reason to hang out the bunting and enjoy another Lovely Jubbly!

 

My brand new passport clattered onto the doormat the other morning. I was delighted to see it. Not that I am actually planning any trips to foreign isles, you understand, but passports are one’s main proof of identity, aren’t they? When it comes to proving who you are, the passport beats your driving licence, utility bill, and senior bus pass (if you are lucky enough to have one) hands down.

 

I was just a little bit disappointed that my passport didn’t look as, well, blue as I had expected. It’s a very dark blue, more like black to be honest. But, hey, it arrived just 26 days after I submitted my on-line application so I have to count myself among the Very Satisfied, should anyone choose to ask.

 

My main issue is with my photograph. It truly is most dreadful. Considering the passport is proof of identity, I’m sure nobody would recognise me. Or, rather, correction: I sincerely hope nobody would recognise me…

 

I had my photo taken in Tesco’s. I hadn’t intended to face the camera on that particular morning, just to ask if they were in the business of passport photographs. When the sales assistant said, yes indeed, and they had been super busy that day so far, it seemed a bit foolish to go away and come back again. Though it might have given me some time to attend to my Crowning Glory (which was looking less than Glorious) and to practise my “look” in the bathroom mirror. I remember ten years ago, it took three attempts to get a photo I was half happy with - ten years on, at £10.99 a time, it was going to have to be One Take Only.

 

 As you know, for the purposes of passports you are not allowed to smile and must remove your specs, if worn. I never think I look like myself without my glasses. Plus a smile changes one’s whole face for the better. Still, law-abiding creature that I am, I did as I was told and faced the camera, spec-less and unsmiling. It couldn’t be that bad, I told myself, as I waited for my photos to slide out from the machine. Oh, dear me, it really, really could…

 

The sales assistant said, kindly, that nobody would see it except for airport border control. Which should have been reassuring except that I couldn’t help imagining the scene where I present my passport to be checked and am asked if I am flying by broom-stick…

 

It is a phenomenon I have reported on before - that there are some fortunate folk who always look as if they are smiling, even when they are not. They have smiley faces, lucky things. Then there are the rest of us.

 

I am, however, somewhat comforted to learn that Her Maj, like me, has a face which looks completely different when she smiles. It’s why she often appears a trifle glum when the camera catches her unawares. As she has been arguably the most photographed woman in the world over nine decades, she has doubtless come to terms with this - just as I must reconcile myself to my new identity, courtesy of my passport.

 

There is one thing I can do for Her Maj. As regular readers may remember, I am knitting her for the Jubilee. She doesn’t know about this, and, if she did, would probably not be bothered. When your face has appeared on billions of coins, stamps and celebratory mugs and tea towels, you aren’t going to stress over much, I would imagine, about a Woolly Representation. Today I had to sew on her nose and stitch her eyes and mouth which was, you can imagine, an enormous responsibility, especially as I am not too good at facial features. 

 

I have therefore stitched an absolutely enormous grin on her woolly face. She looks as if she is observing all the preparations going on across the country to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee with undisguised hilarity. I still have to knit her arms, her hair and her handbag, plus as many corgis as I have time for, but she will be Guest of Honour at our family party on Sunday. 

 

Fortunately everybody there will know me - as Jaqui, or Mum or Nanna or Nanny or Nanni. I answer to almost anything - call me what you like, my dear Mum used to say, as long as it’s not too late for dinner. Nobody will need me to prove my identity by producing my passport.

 

It will be smiles all the way.

Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

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09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

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10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

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07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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