Jaqui's Daily Blog

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.

The Rascally Trio were “desperate” to see me.


That’s why they were pounding at their auntie’s door at nine o’clock in the morning and taking the stairs two at a time to reach my bedroom where I was enjoying a bowl of muesli and my second cup of coffee of the morning. After hugs and kisses (“Please, please, please be careful of Nanni’s knee,” their mother kept imploring them) they took a cursory look at said knee. I think they are all a little disappointed, after I had shown them vivid pictures on the Internet, that the rather impressive knee replacement is covered up and can’t be seen in all its metallic glory. I imagine what a sight to behold I would be, were I to be visibly bionic, what with shoulder, hip and now knee.


The Rascals almost immediately turned their attention to other excitements; these included searching for the cats, Willow and Trixie, who had made a strategic escape as soon as they saw the Trio approaching; and the robot vacuum cleaner which dutifully sets itself off at a particular time every morning and roams about downstairs doing what robot vacuum cleaners do best.


“So who’s the main attraction here?” I demanded, trying to bring their attention back to me. Faris didn’t have to give the matter a moment’s thought: “The Hoover!” he declared.


When all is said and done - I know my place…


After three nights in hospital, I have been ensconced in love at the Youngest of the Darling Daughters house for rest and recuperation. Pure indulgence! I sleep in her bedroom which she has nobly given up to make it easier for me to totter to the bathroom in the middle of the night and every morning we sit together in bed, caressing our first drinks of the day and discussing the day ahead. It is one of my favourite times of the day as we consider Important Matters such as how many pain killers I might need, what clothes I should wear (she has even loaned me a couple of dresses as I packed all the wrong things for my “holiday”) and my progress in getting myself in and out of bed. She is the very best of nurses, the most compassionate of carers, the most entertaining of companions. 


We spent lovely mornings in the back garden, under the shade of a giant parasol, reading, chatting, enjoying the sunshine. We took a trip to the local park to meet up with the Trio, with Son in Law (Dunk’em Dave) giving me a thrill ride in the spare wheelchair we’d managed to bring with us. I hadn’t realised just how fast wheelchair travel seems to the person being pushed, with every bump in the pathway a major hazard. I will be far more sympathetic to Mr B in future.


We watched the final episodes of Neighbours, wondering at how much people had aged over the last thirty years since the Aussie soap was our guilty lunchtime pleasure and I binge-watched the second series of Bridgerton. We completed not one, but two jigsaw puzzles and it was noticeable the way my brain slowly cleared over the days so that I could concentrate on fixing puzzle pieces in place. On occasions my grandson Jack took charge of me, introducing me to his own favourite Netflix programmes in the interests of hauling me up to date. It’s so long since we’ve spent so much time together, this eldest grandson and I - and every moment was precious. Despite the fact that he grows more like his father every day, the two of them always threatening to place hurdles in my way to make my painful progress round the house more “interesting.” We take photos and videos to mark my progress; I’m not sure how fascinating anyone other than my immediate family will find pictures of my truly spectacular bruising, my painful toddles round the house, and my adventures climbing up and down the stairs.  


So yesterday my convalescence came to an end. My daughter packed me into her car, along with two suitcases, my armchair and bathroom perching chair from home, and an accumulation of paperwork, explanatory leaflets and other possibly important information given me on my discharge from hospital. She was to stay overnight to settle me in.


Mr B was oh, so pleased to see me back home after what must have been a long, long two weeks for him while I was being indulged elsewhere. Everyone keeps remarking that I look a lot younger as a result of my rest and relaxation. Perhaps I should have another knee operation sometime in order to cut another ten years off my age? Or, possibly, not…


Today Mr B keeps glancing over at me to make sure I’m still sitting here, in my familiar armchair, same as ever.


I know my place.


The last week, watching the candidates for the position of Prime Minister being steadily whittled down to two, has been remarkably disappointing viewing. Where is Alan Sugar when we need him?


How much more fun (not to mention enlightening) it would have been to put all the candidates through The Apprentice -  billed by SurAlan as the “toughest recruitment process ever.” Having floated this idea to my Facebook friends to general agreement, I decided to try it out on members at last week’s meeting of Sporting Memories. It went down extremely well with suggestions flying in from all present. 


Rather less successful was the news imparted by our leaders that they had been asked to introduce more active sport into our weekly meetings. Mostly, regular readers may remember, we choose to exercise our tongues in constant, lively chatter - plus we do saunter to the bar area halfway through our session to collect coffee / tea / hot chocolate / herbal tea according to preference. Rhona pretended not to hear the protests as she unrolled a kind of mini putting green, positioning three golf balls at one end and holding out a putter by way of invitation. It seemed rude not to accept the challenge - especially as nobody else seemed inclined to do so. 


However I digress (a common feature of the Daily Blog) - I was talking about The Apprentice and the race to Prime Minister. Wouldn’t it be excellent, I suggested, if all the candidates had to be put up for the duration in a country house - Chequers might do nicely - and be woken at Silly o’clock each morning by SurAlan’s secretary advising them that the cars would be outside in twenty minutes to take them to some unknown destination. Which candidate would they leave to sleep on in innocence while the remainder applied make-up, blow-dried their curly locks and (if female) donned killer heels?


The Sporting Memories crowd was definitely up for the challenge. Everyone had a suggestion to make, the more outlandish the better. There would have to be a cooking round, where candidates had to invent, cook and serve up a dish - humble pie would seem appropriate. Plus a round to test their ability at selling goods which nobody wanted while dressed up as a lobster or something similarly fishy. One of the Gang suggested that when it came to sending them all abroad, Rwanda would be the Destination of Choice, where each of them would have to purchase items on a prescribed shopping list for the least amount. Sitting round a table at La Cabana, the least successful in each round would lick their wounds and blame each other for their own deficiencies. 


Best of all would be the round where the final four or five have to present their Business Plans and be quizzed mercilessly by SurAlan’s trusted confidantes, who would doubtless uncover every flaw in their CV, probe every extravagant claim, and insist on a stringent financial examination of their costings. 


The final two would then go head to head organising a party (beer, curry, champagne, sandwiches, birthday cake etc) which should be the very essence of fun while being both work-related and in line with all Covid rules as per 2020/ 2021. 


Apart from anything else, wouldn’t it be so much better not to have to listen to Graham Brady telling us when each candidate has been “eliminated” - he can’t help it, bless him, but he is a bit, well, boring in a 1922 Committee kind of way. Instead we would have SurAlan pointing an accusing finger at first one, then another, and proclaiming “You’re fired!” Or, if he were minded to be a little kinder on occasion: “It is with regret - you’re fired!”


It’s not going to happen, of course, so I’d better dream on. Which reminds me - I actually potted two out of three of Rhona’s golf balls, finding the centre of three holes. If I hadn’t been so overcome by my own success after the first two found the hole then I might have made it three. 


There’s a lesson there for all of us…

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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