Jaqui's Daily Blog

I have always been firm in my belief that it is part of a grandmother’s job to be an educator.


Not, I hasten to add, to attempt to take over a teacher’s role, especially as those key early years subjects like English and arithmetic appear to be taught in a completely different way from the way I was taught in the Olden Days. It is important not to confuse my Littl’uns even if, in my heart of hearts, I can’t help thinking my teachers did a really good job teaching me “their way.” Where would I be now, without the help of Mr Smith, who taught us that we couldn’t go too far wrong if we followed the principles of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”? Or lovely Miss Boyle whose inscription in the class prize she awarded me (“The Children of the New Forest” by Captain Frederick Marryat) still makes me swell with childish pride?


 Nor would I presume to take on the role of their parents in teaching their off-spring good manners, the difference between right and wrong, the values of family, friendship and care for others.


No, my main job as educator is centred on teaching my grandchildren the art of Playing Games Properly. I’m not too concerned with the basics, like taking turns, being both a good loser as well as a good winner, and not pretending to have thrown a six when you have actually thrown a two. These tend to be covered along the way, without making too much of a fuss about them. What does matter is the way you play the game.


Most of the games we play are either (i) ancient relics from My Foursome’s childhood; or (ii) hand-me-downs from the Youngest of the Darling Daughters who couldn’t bear to throw her own children’s games away so passed them to me for safe keeping. Knowing, as she did so, that I wouldn't be able to dispose of them, remembering so many games afternoons and evenings at her house or mine when her son (who knew instinctively, even as a young child, how to play games properly), growing louder and louder, noisier and noisier, as each game progressed. A child after my own heart even though he is all grown up now and hasn’t played a game of Coppit with me for ever so long…


Nowadays, I keep my store of games topped up with regular trips to the local Samaritans charity shop which can always be relied upon to supply excellent educational games. Regular readers may recall that a firm favourite for several years has been “My Dog Has Fleas” - a large plastic yellow dog with holes on its back into which, before starting play, it was necessary to affix a large number of coloured plastic fleas. Each player would then take turns to twist the dog’s tail in a clockwise direction, keeping every finger (and toe) crossed that no fleas would fly off the dog over the course of their turn. The player who collected the fewest fleas at the end of the game would then be declared the winner. Obviously if the point of the exercise was to teach children that they should twist their dog’s tail to rid it of fleas, then it would be failing on humanitarian (is there such a word as dogitarian?) terms - but as an education on how to Play Games Properly, that is with exactly the correct degree of hilarity and excitement, it is without parallel.


At least I thought it was until I found the perfect game, one to give “My Dog Has Fleas” a run for its money. In fact, I found it in the nick of time because we seem to have mislaid most of the dog’s colourful fleas, making playing the game a little less exciting. There’s no point, any more, in counting up how many fleas each player has at the end of the game as there aren’t even enough to go round…


The new game is, quite simply, epic. It’s called “Don’t Upset the Llama” and the main component, rather than a plastic dog, is the head of a llama (what else?!) which you fill with water before standing on the table. That is, you don’t need to stand on the table yourself, don’t be silly, you just place the llama head thereon.


You then deal out all the cards which each player places face down in front of them. The simple throw of a dice indicates how many cards - one, two or three - each player must turn over. If one (or more) of the cards depicts either a trumpet or a hiss, then it is up to the person on your right to make the llama spit at you by pressing a conveniently placed button. The game ends when the llama runs out of spit. Obviously. But not before everyone is wet through...


I introduced the game first to the Rascally Trio. Their excited screams could probably be heard for miles around. I have no idea what the neighbours must have made of it. 


Interestingly, when I found the game in the charity shop it looked brand new, as if nobody had ever played with it. Maybe it was a present for somebody but the recipient’s parents didn’t approve of it.


They clearly failed to recognise its anarchic but truly educational qualities when it comes to Playing Games Properly. 


Mr B’s lovely carer, Donna, suggested she come early this morning at eight o’clock. If she came at her usual time, she pointed out sensibly, it would be in the middle of the Queen’s State Funeral - an error of timing which would not go down well with Mr B. She knows him so well…


Thus it was that by just after 9 a.m. we were able to settle down to watch the latest - and last - chapters of the remarkable and memorable saga which has been played out over the last ten days.


I doubt anybody could have watched more hours of TV coverage than we have. It started on the Thursday afternoon when, returning from a SportIng Memories meeting, we caught the first announcement that all was not well. We couldn’t turn off, or turn over (who could watch Pointless when waiting, watching, praying that maybe, just maybe our Queen might miraculously pull through?) so we were still there when the news came through. Stunned isn’t the half of it.


Over the following days we watched it all. We marvelled at the King’s speech (“May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”); congratulated Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales for each, in turn, putting on services, commemorations, acts of condolence which perfectly demonstrated their individual national characters; and wept with members of the Royal family stoically living out their private misery in the glare of publicity.


We wondered at the stout-hearted souls who joined the queue to view the Queen’s Lying-in-State, surviving hours on end on Pringles and doughnuts. Could we have done that? we asked each other - in earlier days, that is, before Mr B’s health failed and my knee gave up? We felt ashamed to admit we probably wouldn’t, though it would have been good to be there. Wouldn’t it? At which point we turned back to the TV screen, appreciating again our close-up view of events as they happened.


Each solemn procession, each Church service, brought the same questions from Mr B who believes me to be the Fount of all Knowledge. If I had a pound for every time he asked me the name of Princess Anne’s husband, I’d be rich indeed. When my Little Sister and her fella came for the day Barrie was able, being ex-military himself, to describe the various uniforms on parade. It was excellent to be able to distinguish correctly our Field Marshals from our Vice-Admirals - and saved me making something up to satisfy my persistent inquisitor.


Today, the State Funeral and, oh, the pageantry! The precision of all involved, each step timed exact to the minute.The assembly of Heads of State amid more ordinary (but extraordinary) folk in the Abbey. The soaring music, the prayers, the lone piper sounding the lament, the notes of the bag-pipes fading slowly into the distance. A part of me did wonder if the family might have liked the kind of funeral where photos of the beloved are flashed onto a screen, Frank Sinatra sings “My Way” and someone reads an eulogy detailing funny stories about eccentric Great Aunt Aggie’s life and times. Perish the thought! It was as magnificently splendid as it needed to be.


It would have been good to be one of the farmers, lining up their tractors to salute the Queen’s passage from Balmoral. Or one of the school children outside splendid Llandaff Cathedral offering the new King Charles home-made cards of sympathy. It would have been good to be one of those lining the Long Walk at Windsor this afternoon. All we did, Mr B and I, was to watch it played out before us, day after day.


Maybe, I have to comfort myself, paraphrasing someone cleverer than I, we also mourn who only sit and watch…


We sang “Rose of England” at our Singing for Pleasure meeting on Friday, voices raised in our own tuneful tribute to Her Maj. “Rose of England, thou shalt fade not here / proud and bright from rolling year to year,” we sang with pride and passion. I’m just hoping my readers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will forgive me - it’s the thought that counts, don’t you know? Please amend as appropriate, if you feel inclined.


Midway through the session, our Esteemed Leader invited us all to contribute our own stories, our memories, maybe, of meeting The Queen, or anecdotes we had heard and appreciated over the past seventy years. There might have been a few of us there too young to have witnessed the Coronation in 1953, but the majority of us are of a Great Age. I say “Esteemed Leader” by the way, because our leader is, indeed, held in great esteem by me, having taken up the reins of leadership gratefully relinquished by my fellow leader and me this term, allowing us to enjoy the singing every week without the worry of planning and leading each session.


The stories came thick and fast, every one had something to share. It made me contemplate on my own brushes with Royalty, such as they are. Never having actually met the Queen, other than at a most respectful distance, I suspect quite a lot of folk will find themselves treasuring, like me, the sense of her always being there, in the background of our lives. But always there.


We weren’t one of the fortunate families to watch the Coronation on a tiny, flickering black and white screen - but the model of the Coronation procession, with its stunning gold coach and high-stepping plumed horses, cantering along the long windowsill in my classroom at Rush Green Infants School filled my five year old heart with wonder. I was somewhat less enchanted by the gift of a very boring book called Royalty in Essex, presented to every pupil by Mr Bellamy, Chairman of the School Governors. Mr B, (that’s my Mr B, not Mr Bellamy) by way of contrast, was given a Coronation mug. However I do still have my book - Mr B managed to drop and break not only his mug, but also his sister’s, on the way home from school. This did not go down well at home…


My dear Mum was an ardent Royalist. I can still see, in my mind’s eyes, the pictures on our sitting room wall, of the Queen and Prince Philip, one either side of the fireplace. No shop-bought, fancy pictures these - my Mum had carefully cut out photographs from magazines and set them in home made frames using a mixture of plaster of paris and water. Made with much love and respect, you might say. There on the wall, part of the background of my early childhood. Rather more splendid were the portraits of the Queen and her husband on the wall above the stage at my Infant School. These made such an impression on my Little Sister that she made sure to mention them when writing her personal message in the Book of Condolences in my church as her first memory of Royalty in 1955.


Ah, yes, my Little Sister. We are convinced that, as we were growing up, our Mum saw us as the two Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. Most of our clothes were home-made and we were always dressed the same - even though I say so myself that shouldn’t, there was a distinct resemblance, looking back at the old films being played out on TV over recent days. It’s possible, I suppose, that my sister was actually named after the Queen’s own Little Sister - all I know, for sure, is that when my sister was born my mother (a strong believer in democracy) allowed her children to choose and vote on the new baby’s name. I am not sure if I was part of this momentous act of decision making but then I was only three and a half at the time so can’t be either blamed or thanked for the outcome.


These are the things I was thinking about as my fellow singers came out with their own reminiscences. What could I possibly share when it came to my turn? Then I remembered…


Back in June, at the time of the Platinum Jubilee regular readers may recall, I had knitted Her Maj - resplendent in bright yellow and carrying a neat grey handbag. At our Family Jubilee Party, I had turned Mr B’s spare wheelchair into a makeshift “throne” using a Union Jack towel and red, white and blue balloons. Every single member of the gang was invited (nay, coerced - I can be very persuasive when I want to be) to sit on the throne and have their photo taken. The Queen, I have to tell you, figured prominently in each and every photograph.


So there you have it - almost my entire family can claim to have had their photo taken with the Queen. 


That’s what you call a brush with Royalty - albeit of the knitted variety....


I’ve been looking forward to it for simply weeks - my “reward for good behaviour.”


At least two months ago, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and I decided we just had to book tickets to witness again the twinkle toes of Charlie Stemp, who we had first seen in Half A Sixpence. He was appearing this summer in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Crazy for You and we were, well, crazy to be there.


At the time, however, the date was looming for me to take my Problem Knee into hospital for major surgery. Would I be recovered sufficiently for a theatre outing before the show ended its run? Time would, of course, tell - but theatre box office booking-on-line will wait for no one. Or no knee. “Let’s book for the very last show,” suggested my daughter, “It will give you the best chance of being up for it.” A Sunday matinée it was - yesterday afternoon, in fact. For the last five and a half weeks I have been working towards it, my reward for good behaviour. 


Obviously I can’t prove I have been good but then fortunately nobody else can prove otherwise. And everybody needs something to keep them going, to look forward to in happy anticipation of the Treat To Come. I’m sure you will agree.


The Youngest of the Darling Daughters arrived on Saturday, slightly frazzled from “back to school” syndrome but eager to check on my progress since she delivered me back home, two weeks after my op. I will freely admit that I did show off quite a bit, demonstrating my latest tricks, such as walking round the house without any sticks or other aids, clambering on and off the bed with ease, and executing knee bends and high squats with barely a squeak of discomfort. Loyal as ever, my daughter was fulsome in her praise. It goes a long way, don’t you know, a dose of Fulsome Praise.


She also helped me bring some semblance of order to the chaos created by four weeks of live-in carers, each with their own original ideas on where to store things, how to arrange the furniture and what unusual food items to secrete in the fridge and freezer. My house is starting to feel more like my house and less like a care home. 


Then it was off to the Main Event - would it live up to our Great Expectations, we asked each other as my daughter drove us the fifteen miles to the theatre. She had our spare wheelchair in the back of the car just in case we had to park miles away though I was secretly determined that there was no way I would give in without a battle. There were lots of tents erected around the car park - I thought it was a circus but it turned out to be a Covid Vaccination Centre. Fortunately parking was not a problem so there was no need for a debate over use or otherwise of the spare wheelchair.


We had left before lunch, intending to eat in the theatre café; the only sandwiches left were quinoa and feta cheese which neither of us fancied - but even as we were deciding to settle for a lunch of coffee and cake, a whole batch of fresh sarnies arrived so we were able to feast on Coronation Chicken with salt and vinegar crisps. We shared a table with a most delightful couple who told us they had been friends for years and years, ever since meeting up at a “Waifs and Strays Party.” Which were you? I asked one of the couple (being me, it was really important to know.) “I was a waif in those days,” she admitted, “Now I’m a stray…” Every word, every gesture, every memory shared between the two of them signalled the warmth of a long, close and enduring friendship.


We found our seats - aisle seats so I didn’t have to struggle to reach my seat - then it was on with the show. And what a show! Critics declare it is bound to transfer to the West End stage and if it does, please don’t miss it if you love a toe-tapping musical with great Gershwin songs that have stood the test of time and so many laugh out loud moments. Charlie Boy was amazing, as always, but so was his co-star, the really rather wonderful Carly Anderson who deserved all the plaudits her performance earned. I staggered to my feet (the Recovering Knee tends to seize up if I sit in one place for too long) and joined in the well-deserved standing ovation (or, in my case, swaying ovation) at the end of the show. 


Back home, we had plenty to recount to Mr B though he was engrossed in watching Dances with Wolves on TV so wasn’t quite as interested in our tales of the tap-dancing extravaganza we had just watched. My daughter made us all dinner then had to leave for the long drive home. How I will miss her, I thought to myself.


Later, I headed up to bed where I found that, unknown to me, she had been busy. The curtains were drawn against the darkness, the bedside lights were turned on, spreading a warm glow over my pillows, my nightgown was neatly folded in two, all ready for me to slip into. It brought me to thankful tears, my oh-so-cosy bedroom.


A classic case of lingering love…






I sat in the very front row, as befitting my indisputable role as Hazel’s Proud Nanna. I was wearing my red slippers, a nod to the production about to take to the stage at Hook Primary School - “The Wizard of Oz” - though I wasn’t completely sure whether my granddaughter would notice, or appreciate, my gesture of solidarity. On stage, Hazel as Dorothy, started off the show: “Somewhere over the rainbow,” she sang in her clear, sweet voice. You know me, emotional as ever, more than one traitorous tear crept down my cheek…


Perhaps a year or so later (time flies when you’re having fun) I was back in the school hall to watch the story of Scheherazade played out on stage, my granddaughter heart-stoppingly beautiful as the heroine of 1001 Arabian Nights. Do you know the story? A Sultan, furious at being cuckolded by his wife, vowed to marry a virgin every day, before having her beheaded the following day. Scheherazade, in a bid to stop the fate of more and more young girls, married the Sultan herself - but evaded death by telling him each night a story so mesmerising that she won a stay of execution for 1001 nights. I wasn’t the only one in the audience sobbing - the woman sitting next to me, unaware of my status as Scheherezade’s Nanna, whispered to me, through her tears: “She can’t die, can she?” Unlikely in a school production, you’d have thought, but that was the Power of Performance. 


Over the years since then, Mr B and I have proudly watched Hazel, often accompanied by brother Jack, in so many roles, from leading parts - such as Cinderella in “Into the Woods” and an energetic narrator in Joseph to minor roles requiring an imaginative interpretation. You really haven’t ever seen such a charismatic burger bun as our Hazel…


Leaving school she could have carved out any number of successful career paths - but she was set on a stage career. Nothing else would do. She knew exactly where she wanted to study, prestigious Arts Ed in London, and nothing else would do. Even when she (inexplicably to me) missed out on a place on the three year degree course after completing a successful Foundation Year, she wouldn’t give up, taking a year out and re-applying the following year. I was so proud of her tenacity, her resilience, her unstoppability. Many would have settled for less but not our Hazel.

Perhaps the setback strengthened her resolve, her vow to realise that dream:


“I can’t help it,” she told me once, “I don’t mind what I do - I just want to be on that stage….”


Now she is. And what a stage! On Monday she starts in rehearsals for the 2022/23 West End production of Les Miserables - arguably the most iconic musical of the last ever-so-many years. I’m crying as I write because nobody deserves this more than my Golden Girl. In my imagination, I’m back in the Hook School Hall, watching the emergence of a shining star.


“Somewhere over the rainbow

Bluebirds fly,

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.”


So they do, dear Hazel, so they do.

Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

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

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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