Thursday, 27 December 2012

Boxing Day recipe

Cooking Time : 18 hours

Ingredients : 1 mini i-pad thingy - very thin,small,in a slippery case - needs to slip easily down the cushions of an armchair

1 larger A5 sized I-pad with nice big symbols which either a 3 year old or a 60 something can see/read

1 blackberry with mini head-phones which can blot out any conversation, allowing the wearer to be present in body only - with mind in another universe where communication involves a lot of clicking and buzzing

2 sets of 40 something parents - one set just 2 weeks into their new business which has required all their financial, emotional and physical resources for the last 3 months.

2 sisters aged 7 and 12.

2 brothers aged 3 and 16 plus 1 sister of University/College age

1 over-affectionate cocker spaniel with a keen nose and an eye for an opportunity but with the ability to make his presence felt from time to time in a quiet, anti-social way (illegally consumed sprouts being the cause).

2 home owners each eligible for winter fuel allowance and directly or indirectly related to all the guests (other than the dog - who likes to be related to anyone with the ability to walk)

Half a stuffed 16 lb turkey

A lovingly prepared venison stew which has been so well marinated there is hardly any sense of venison present ( but it is a fact that deer are associated with Christmas, and reindeer, and a famous one was called Bambi....) 

A well-prepared ham

A delicious slice of salmon

Sea food

A choice of 8 cheeses

Every traditional Christmas vegetable 

Christmas cake


Many more deserts

A wide range of alcoholic and slightly less alcoholic drinks

1 consumer who refuses to eat to eat any meat or fish - and cheese, because that has been the standby used for the previous 3 days.

! consumer who is growing so rapidly in his teen-age years he has lost the ability to speak or think and speaks in monosyllables - and also favours crisps or very plain sandwiches rather than anything exciting - like venison, or salmon, or sea food.....

1 highly active 3 year old who can operate i-pads of any size, the tv remote, dvd controls and taps with ease and has no problem in removing baubles from the Christmas tree (in secret pacts with dog, who is under instruction to hide things).

1 guest with the winter vomiting virus.

1 guest who is convinced she has the winter vomiting virus but nevertheless has an adult sized appetite

1 clever 7 year old who moves effortlessly from room to room without being seen, but who needs to be acknowledged - or else.

An unusual period of prolonged rain, creating unprecedented floods on the main access road from the north.

Preparation :

Spend 2 days preparing the range of foods that cannot be prepared in the 8 hours before guests arrive.

Arrange for the flood effect to strike at the end of a long journey - just at the moment when the winter virus vomit urge is strong; children are tired from the 3 hour 80 mph journey and everyone desperately needs the toilet.

Be on hand with alternative car routes.

Have ready
a.clean toilet and

 - for one guest who can move like lightening from car to a. to b. not to be seen then for several hours ( including Christmas Dinner - which for the first time in 10 years he is not preparing himself). Hope there will be an appearance by Boxing Day.

Have stand - by transport available to find and ferry 16 year olds at short notice. (The notion of forward planning is antiquated and boring..)

Ply with drink, feed (with whatever weird combination works) and sit back to see what happens.

Result : an amazingly enjoyable day! Thanks to all involved.

P.S There was just the final incident the morning after when one of the wrinklies attempted to pick up his prescription from the doctor/chemist  whilst taking the dog for his pre-long drive walk. This was supposed to take 20 minutes, not an hour.
 It was the dogs fault. Why he (the dog)  felt the need to slip his new lead; visit the supermarket on his own; involve a shop owner and 3 customers in getting him back to the chemist; bark all the time it took the nervous dog-averse chemist to count the tablets; then relieve himself hugely 3 times along the river bank (so supplying one more helping than the number of bags available for clean-up) and finally find the muddiest path to follow all the way back to the car - I will never know.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Love my phobile moan

I once overheard a conversation from a motorist broken down on the motorway. He was trying to report a vehicle breakdown from a Motorway phone box and clearly under stress.

Operator : "Your location please?"
Driver : "In the roadworks just after junction 12 - there's loads of traffic and it's very close to us.."
Operator :" Be with you soon sir - can you give me a phone number just to keep you informed?"
Driver : " Ah!!!! Can't remember it - Tracey! Tracey!..what's my phobile moan number?.. Oh xxxx"

I use a limited number of functions on my mobile - just calls and slow texts really. That was before I was given a course of tablets to take for the next 6 months, every day at the same time. The trick to remembering tablets  is to use alarms when I'm at home - so I set the small radio signal driven clock for 6.00 pm - repeating every 10 minutes. As a back-up I also decided to set the alarm on my mobile phone using a carefully chosen tone which increased in volume until acknowledged, also repeating every 10 minutes unless switched off.

This has worked very well for me, but has triggered an unusually frantic reaction from my wife - who is often cooking around 6.00 and well within range of both phone and clock.

Things began to go "pear-shaped" when I lost my phone. Several days later I happened to be in a meeting and mentioned the loss. Two members of the choir committee looked at each other and asked for a description of a phone that had been going off repeatedly in church during a choir practice - a phone that had been switched off and left in the safe.

30 seconds before our Sunday concert performance, as we walked to our places I was handed my phone. I checked the credit but saw a message "Sim card failure". "Fine"  I thought, and switched off the phone.

About halfway through our rendition of "Sister Mary had but one child" a mobile phone alarm went off - getting increasingly louder. I looked at my neighbour pointedly and the row of ladies in front began to either glare or giggle. It took a good 10 seconds (or 5 lines of the carol) for the penny to drop - at which point I decided to bluff whilst singing with as straight a face as possible and carefully pressing buttons on the phone in my pocket.

We sat down at the end of the carol. Then I gave the game away. Having realised the alarm would repeat during the next carol - Silent Night - I decided to turn the alarm off completely.

Having switched on the phone I was rewarded by the familiar switch on Nokia theme tune - followed rapidly by a lot of accusing looks, and quite a few moans...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The lost art of letter writing

I have to confess that modern methods of communication have me foxed. There was a time when I could make a phone call to a family member. It was quite a simple system. I would dial the telephone number, the phone would be answered by a human being (often the person I had dialled) and we would have a telephone conversation. It worked the other way as well. People would ring me and I would pick up the phone and answer. Such an easy system. Everyone understood what to do.

When I make a phone call now a machine usually answers. Alternatively I hear a multiple choice option list which requires pressing another number followed by a long pause for repetitive music, and eventually a human voice if I'm lucky. Half the incoming calls are for people who used to live where I now live, or from a machine (which needs an eternity to think what to say) and perfectly timed to coincide with a meal time.

Skype needs all parties to be assembled together and gathered around a well-lit computer screen with a good internet connection. The excitement of a skype call when it works usually results in a close up of the most excitable/assertive small member of the family. Alas, this potentially brilliant system doesn't work for me either.

So - I decided to resort to another tried and tested method of communication dating from the 19th century in England. I wrote a letter to my 6 year old grand-daughter. This was carefully handwritten in large print on one side of A4 paper on the assumption that it could be read by a literate child with a spare 3 minutes. 

I was surprised to get a reply within 2 days. This itself beats replies to e-mails or messages left on ansaphones by a week. And, I can read and re-read the letter lots of times.

It's so good I've decided to share it on the basis that it speaks volumes of what impression I have made on her. I'm assuming that deep down I appear to her to be a very busy person. I could be wrong. Perhaps I'm the closest thing to a slimy sea-creature that she has met on land...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Waste not, want not

In my disorganised garage occasionally I come across tools which I guess date from my grand-dad's time. Trowels, chisels, lump hammers and an implement for pulling thread through leather all feature. It seems to be part of the family tradition not to throw anything away until all possible uses have been explored. So there are obvious ones like the recycling of supermarket plastic bags for holding  the various kitchen waste piles; curtains becoming dust covers when decorating and padded envelopes which criss-cross the country several times.

My father used my school leather satchel for about 40 years as a source of leather for a variety of patches in his recycling projects. Old wellington boots were another source of "raw material" usually being stitched with waxed leather thread to create a replacement slipper sole for example (so inventing his version of outdoor slippers). It didn't surprise me too much when my engineering orientated brother designed and made a wellington stand for his daughter's family:

 Spot the old stair banister rail, poles from a windbreak, bits of pallet ?
 ( Wellies are new)

The downside of this mentality is what my wife describes as junk or clutter arranged in what appear to be random piles in the garage. Where I see raw materials - she sees junk, except for the old bedroom carpet on the garage floor which serves to keep down the dust. Also acceptable are the large flattened cardboard boxes that held the self-assembly furniture which now form good insulating layers underneath garage shelves and readily absorb liquid spills.

Using up portions of unwanted vegetables in my own home-made soup concoctions seems to go down well; and the new upper fence woven out of branches thinned from the willow tree seems to have approval as a view.

If only the vegetable peelings would rot down more quickly without producing the foul smelling black liquid that oozes from the plastic container. What I need is some sort of leak proof container that is easy to pick up and easy to pour from..and that needs little adaptation.

I'm staring at the photograph. No prizes for guessing the solution that is coming to mind...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Whollop whot a picture

A picture is worth a thousand words, apparently. I think I would need more than a thousand words to describe some of the photos seen lately on facebook or photobox. My daughter-in-law was presented with a new camera last Christmas and having fine photographers in her family is clearly an advantage. Some of her recent scenes and family photos are stunning.

I use my digital camera in a different way I think. In an attempt to get a natural pose I tend to fire off shots without warning the subjects, hoping that 1 in 20 photos will be worth keeping. I do get a lot of slightly blurred shots with shadows in the wrong place, red eye, closed eyes, winks, incomplete bodies and an excess of sky or water. But every so often there will be a gem that I will enjoy for several years.

Tiny "exploration" cameras are a whole new world, discovered last week during a visit to the dentist. His examination of the many constructions and restoration works I carry around produced the usual factual word list summarising the present state of decline. Usually I try to pre-empt dental comments with a sorry tale of how sweets and sugar in the 1950's were viewed as treats at the time, rather than the delayed action teeth rot agents they proved to be. Most dentists I see nowadays cannot relate to this and respond with one of those smiles you reserve for stories beyond your experience - I have such a smile for mobile "apps" and "i-phone" users.

So, with dental word list examination complete, x-rays followed then a long and detailed explanation of  the black, grey and white bits - having pointed out which areas of the x-ray were the actual teeth. Then, just for re-inforcement came a series of photos of teeth and gums taken with said exploration camera. Something primeval is going on in my mouth. All the photos appeared on a large computer screen in front of my face - scenes reminiscent of dormant volcanoes sitting in a sea of lava. (Not quite the mid-ocean ridge, but certainly an active seismic region). There were fault lines running across teeth and fillings; bubbling spots of irritation on the gums waiting to erupt; extinct metallic lava flows within teeth; a dark expanse surrounding a fractured root - and more, much more than I can describe no matter how many words I use.

There was quiet satisfaction in the dentist's tone as he finally decided on a treatment plan, and on reading the list I decided a visit to the optician would come next. 

The estimated bill was making my eyes water..

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Drop 'em and Cough

There is often a corporate nervousness when strangers gather for a common purpose. The airport departures lounge is such a place, especially if there is a delay in the departure time. Nervousness shows in different ways. The well-seasoned travellers smile knowingly and reach for the book or playing cards. Travellers with young families react badly as stressed children get a sixth sense of how to pile pressure onto parents by demanding toilet trips/sweets/drinks or the freedom to explore the airport knowing that a parental refusal can be countered by a loud noise.

 Some travellers will move towards the check-out desk demanding explanations - in the naive hopes that they will be told the truth, and that passenger pressure can help. Nine times out of ten the broadcast reason for the delay will be described as a "technical problem" .This seems to be a blanket phrase covering anything from a replacement engine needed (as happened when we tried to fly from Manchester to Cuba), a need for a replacement light bulb (in the emergency floor lighting) to a crew shortage (pilot; or tractor driver to tow the plane out). Eventually passengers will board and the corporate passenger spirit will lift instantly.

Yesterday I arrived at a hospital as an out-patient ready to donate yet another blood sample from one of my bruised arms. The surgery opened at 09.00 so I was surprised to find a small queue at 08.30. Taking the small  paper ticket number 83 to the back row of chairs I settled in for the brief wait. The room rapidly filled (what a lot of blood letting in prospect!). Nine o'clock chimed and there was a corporate expectant hush. Number 80 please! No-one moved. Silence and a lot of sidelong looks. Who on earth was 80? Should 81 make a move? Would a latecomer call everyone's bluff and jump the queue?

A nurse appeared, confirmed that 80 was a leftover from the previous night, and called for 81. "Bingo!" quipped an "old hand" and he was rewarded with a corporate chuckle. On my left an elderly gentleman declared that the wait reminded him of Army medicals." Just one instruction - drop 'em and cough!" was the comment. At that point I queried whether I was in the right queue. I managed to suppress a question about how coughing without any trousers could be used in military action.

82 flashed up, followed rapidly by 83. Looked like the race was on  between the 2 blood nurses to see who could fill the barrel first so I charged into the vampire's lair.

I was out by 09.10, feeling slightly light-headed and bearing yet another rapidly forming bruise on my inner arm - a sort of corporate badge to be shown off for effect and evidence that I had indeed joined the right queue.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Shoots,leaves and eats

We were waiting for a transfer between Bodrum Airport and Bodrum Marina along with a hundred or so other passengers who were lining up behind designated signs such as Jones Taxi; Thomson; and Gallic Flights. Our board never appeared,at least not the board listed in the joining instructions. As darkness gathered we were suddenly aware of a minibus driver carrying a bit of cardboard with the word 'Fiesta' scribbled on it.

A stream of what we assumed was fluent Turkish, plus violent body gestures got across the idea we were to get on his bus - and to finally prove it he showed us a crumpled paper list which included our mis-spelt names. So we were off. The instructions had suggested a 15 minute trip.This turned out to be a spelling mistake on the information sheet, to put alongside alongside the "emergency" telephone contact that was 3 digits short of a full mobile number. 

After what could be called an interesting 45 minute drive, including lifts to random strangers encountered at any red traffic light, we arrived somewhere near the intended drop off point. Had there been much traffic on the road the ride would have been even more interesting, verging on exciting I would guess.

"Where exactly was the boat?", I asked in fluent English ; the common language of all the passengers, but clearly not a language for the driver. (In all fairness no-one could speak any Turkish so it is perhaps churlish to expect every minibus driver to speak English). Another stream of Turkish followed with more body gestures and a very disappointed face when I declined to give a tip.

So ..there we were, stranded at Bodrum's main harbour with only the name of the boating company (Barbaros) as a clue.There were only about a hundred boats in the harbour so it should not have taken too many hours to trail the luggage past each one. By sheer good luck the first Barbaros boat we approached was waiting for 2 passengers so we boarded,relinquished our passports, ate a hearty meal and discussed our good fortune. 

By 8 am the next day the real passengers had arrived; we were invited to leave as promptly as possible and to follow our guide to the correct boat. So much for a good start.

 If only the driver or skipper had been able to speak a little English...

A few days ago I was admitted to hospital with a suspected deep vein thrombosis in my right leg. I listened attentively to a learned doctor who told me about the possible effects of my condition and the dangers of a pulmonary embolism. As he was speaking English I paid attention and tried hard to register my understanding.

 Inside my head I was suddenly back in Turkey listening to a language which I could not understand. The same happens when I try to pin down a car salesman on the price of the car which interests me; or the ways of buying a three piece suite as explained by the clued up sofa expert. Why do people use jargon when clear English would be so much effective? And what do all the strange shorthand text messages on my mobile phpne mean?

The common motto seems to be "shoot first", followed by a "rapid retreat" and a juicy burger or two.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Missing a trick

Once upon a time families would play cards together. Just about everyone we knew could play dominoes using a pack that had double nines, or could play knock-out whist. The great attraction was that age did not necessarily give an advantage. Luck played a huge part, so children could take on adults of any age and show their superiority. Card playing uses many natural talents including memory, logic, the ability to bluff and the ability to interpret the behaviour of others. It's also usually a lot of fun, provided that 'post-mortems' are not allowed. Their major advantage over electronic activities is the social interaction generated. Also it's not vital to have a rapidly moving thumb or finger, so over 60's are not at a disadvantage.

Another historic family pastime that is still possible, thankfully, involves going for walks. In fact walks these days have become quite an industry. We have a local forest area on Cannock Chase which would probably take several years to explore all the walks and tracks available. One Forestry Commission site has the most splendid huge statues and wooden carvings scattered along a 'toddle walk' along with a fairy glen, maze, 'den-building and a set of empty plastic drums which produce a satisfying rumble when hammered with pieces of wood. Refreshingly there is also a playground housing a variety of swings, slides and climbing challenges. Only the car-park needs a cash feed! Bikes, horses, dogs and skegways are all welcome.

Somewhere between these two extremes there is the brilliant team game of Choral Singing , an all-age activity which is best when there is a wide variety of age and experience. Youthful enthusiasm combined with experienced voices make for an exciting noise and a real adrenalin rush especially if a public performance is involved. Hearing your voice bend with others generates a tingling pleasure that is the equal of scoring a goal, a rugby try or taking a wicket.

As winter approaches I look forward to board games and card games. It seems to me that reliance on television, Facebook and electronic gadgets for entertainment is missing a trick or two..

Thursday, 20 September 2012

It was on a Monday morning

My wife decided to alter the focal point of the lounge. All we needed to do was to change a central light fitting, have a redundant side light removed and rearrange the furniture. Oh, and perhaps we needed a new radiator under the window. So after several quotes a plumber was arranged with a fortnight to spare before the job started.

Experience should have warned me that no changes around a house are straightforward. Inevitably the change ball began to roll. It would be a good idea to repaper the wall before the radiator was attached - you know how easy it is to decorate around a fixed radiator. A good look at the ceiling led to the need for the ceiling to be skimmed with new plaster and we had to get a move on to do this in the 2 weeks before the plumber arrived. Suddenly the pressure was on. All the furniture had to be cleared and the floor covered.The plasterer came at very short notice squeezing  our one day job into a weekend window of opportunity. Staring at plaster and willing it to dry quickly so that painting can begin has no effect whatsoever. It will still take a good 3 days, even in warm weather. Meanwhile a new set of concrete posts and panels finally arrived to replace the ageing wooden fence which was putting the Tower of Pisa to shame.

Along came the electrician who had been asked to change the light fitting. Since he was at the house already my wife decided to get a quote  for an outside light and a change of light fittings in the hall. The efficient electrician decided it would be easiest to crack on and do all the jobs while he was there - so the hour I had allowed for the original job became a full day and I was contemplating the problems of midnight paperhanging - at least enough rolls to cover where the radiator was to be fixed. Working around a window, electrical fittings, plugs and telephone connection all added to the fun.

I finished the wall papering last night and am now waiting for the plumber, who is late.I'm looking out at the new garden fence from a near horizontal position on a couch brought on by an inability to move easily at the moment. Retirement wasn't supposed to be this busy. 

It is however amazing just how much can be done in a relatively short time if you don't plan everything out in great detail and you hang on to a sense of humour.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A meeting of minds

The committee meeting this week was a rare one. We met, discussed items on the agenda, made decisions and followed them through. Easy. It was all over in an hour.

Bert would not have enjoyed this. Bert's tactic was to wait until a meeting seemed to be drawing to a close, then decide he had to discuss a few technical difficulties - usually ones that had no clear solution and ones that had been aired before. Sid was no better. Sid would arrive 10 minutes late, then waste another 10 minutes scrounging a copy of the agenda and details of the previous meeting - an unfortunate habit given that he was chairman. There would always be a spell of reminiscence and no attempt to control the content of the meeting, Ethel lived on her own. Consequently the chance to talk to other people was too good to miss; who could not fail to be enthralled with blow by blow accounts of parking problems, hairstyle nightmares and the challenges of telephone calls offering PPI refunds? The classic one however was Clive. Clive was not one for consensus decisions - the only way was "Clive's Way" - and whenever a Choral Society committee decision went a different way you could be sure of  several minutes of high drama to enliven rehearsals.

There do seem to be some unwritten laws about committee meetings.

Whenever the "boss" wants to avoid a decision the number of participants invited increases.
Minutes can be turned into an art form. Indecisive meetings require a delay before production of minutes and may contain references which few can recall (other than the minute writer).
Mobile phone calls/texts must take priority over meeting content.
Water bottles/drinks should be personalised and on full view.
Jargon is absolutely vital and should be thrown into conversations casually, confidently and in such a way that the comments sound plausible.
Commonly used words, such as "issues" and "like" should take on new meanings. 
"No problem"  along with "Don't worry about it" is the standard answer.

I suppose there is a chance that I have lost the plot and am just out of touch with modern ways of thinking. For example,  I was enjoying the closing ceremony of the London Olympics until the music started. In contrast that was the moment when "rapidly approaching teen-age" family members started to get interested.

It's an unnerving experience when, just now and again, meeting agendas work out as expected and minds actually meet. It makes me wonder whether I missed something...

Friday, 17 August 2012

The eyes have it

Lurking in the air somewhere last Sunday was a carrier of conjunctivitis. Somehow it found its way into my right eye and 24 hours later I looked as if I had walked into a tree. Unfortunately my arrival at the local surgery was just too late for an appointment, but I was invited to drive to a nearby village hall for 10 o'clock where open surgery was being held, and I would definitely be seen.

With some effort I made it to said surgery by 9 o'clock and parked in the deserted car park. By 9.30 the next "patient" had arrived and by 10.00 o'clock I was silently willing the computer to respond more quickly to keyboard prompts whilst agreeing with doctor about the problem. Duly supplied with a free prescription I headed home via the dispensing chemist. Unfortunately I was the only one at home so with some difficulty I read the microscopic instructions wrapped around a tube of what looked like good old "golden eye ointment".

Have you ever tried putting ointment into your own eyes, or eye drops for that matter?

"Head back, in front of a mirror, pull out the lower lid with one hand and holding the tube between thumb and forefinger of the other hand  insert about half an inch of ointment into the lower lid. Then blink twice". Hm.The first half inch dribbled down my cheek. The next half inch thickened one eyebrow. The third attempt was definitely much closer to the eyeball which started to water in response to being stabbed by a plastic point - however the opaque sticky mass joining top and bottom eye lid did seem to be evidence of success.

On my annual eye tests there is a moment when a massive howitzer type of machine is wheeled forward ready for the eye pressure test. This involves a puff of air onto an exposed eye ball. If ever Pavlov needed to test his theory about reactions on humans he would have done well to use this test. Just the thought of it is making my eyes damp now. When the moment comes in the eye test my eyes are already watering and the eyelids refusing to stay open now matter how hard I try. It's time for gritted teeth and a real mental effort to stare down the howitzer barrel.

Later applications of eye ointment by my wife started to produce the same reaction. I was reduced to lying on the bed, head pressing backwards as the plastic applicator approached, to a point where I was making a deep impression in the mattress. This does nothing for male ego or self esteem. 

The episode has made me very wary of pollen and dust around trees or shrubs - and very thankful for the national health service. So much so that I will be miking a small donation to a charity working for eye care in Developing countries in order to re-establish a bit of personal dignity.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Man's best friend?

Recently I was persuaded to look after a small cocker spaniel whilst his owners went on holiday. The thought of twice daily short purposeful walks in the local countryside was quite attractive and all his food had been provided so no difficult shopping decisions were involved.

His bag of dried pelleted food was in fact huge. In contrast the scoop for the twice daily ration was rather modest, being around the equivalent of a half pint mug. But what happens to that dehydrated food inside the dog? How is it possible that his internal organs can produce so much waste material - so regularly? Within minutes of feeding the conveyor belt went into action. So it became a race to get the lead on and out of the house within minutes of the last noisy slurp from the water bowl - not forgetting the need for at least two small plastic bags in the pocket. So much for gentle walks with the dog!

In the house he revealed another side to his nature, one of totally loyalty and fascination with my every move - every single move. I discovered the meaning of "dogging my footsteps" with a vengeance. Movements around the kitchen, especially with hot pans, became a challenge. Off to the garage for a screwdriver? I had a friend checking every corner and shelf. Into the greenhouse for tomatoes? Quick scent checks of all the contents seemed to be the order of the day. What about mowing the lawn - surely he would just settle in a corner and watch? No chance. The occasional ball of grass cuttings looked appetising, as did tree branches and other debris on the vegetable patch. I had planned to harvest some potatoes but thought better of it. Pulling out weeds suddenly seemed to be setting a bad example.

In the evening I  had a full and frank discussion about possession of the easy chair and we came to an agreement about not nudging small tables containing food and drink. It was agreed that computer leads could be crossed, with care! In return, Dog was allowed to bark (once)  in welcome of visitors and stretch out either on a dog duvet or in his basket. He was also allowed - in fact encouraged - to sleep contentedly for periods of the day, provided that he also slept at night - a time period that had to last until at least 07.00. because paws on wooden stairs can be deafening and also signify yet another un-successful man-made stair barrier.

So we settled into a mutually acceptable routine.

 He could do as he pleased and I would fit in. I just had no answer to his trump card - a facial expression that knew exactly how to tweak the heartstrings.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Once upon a time

The coal man used to have a horse-drawn cart. Coal delivery one day included a large fresh organic deposit in the road and quick as a flash my father was out there with his spade and wheel barrow to collect the bonus for the vegetable patch. 

Over the past week the banking gurus have decided that the period of "austerity" will be with us for a while. They speak of financial and material austerity. But it's a relative phrase and for those of the "baby boomer" generation there's some way to go before we get back to conditions of our childhood. Sharing was more common and self reliance seemed to be the natural way of things. When the first (black and white) television arrived at a neighbour's house it was exciting to be invited to watch Queen Elizabeth's coronation or a Cup Final. Simple events were fun - like playing games in the park, or going for walks and bike rides. Clothes were mended when torn; shoes repaired when the soles and heels wore out and cardboard boxes featured in many toy creations.

Last week we spent a warm summer day with grand-children doing simple activities. A good hour was spent in a fantasy land of bacon sandwiches, ham salads, cakes and ice cream with cherries dished up from a make-believe kitchen inside a play area hut. An Olympic horse jumping session followed using a springy thingy in the play area itself, then we were off to the river bank for a picnic. Curiosity levels ran high as a large French family settled on a nearby wooden picnic table and the ubiquitous bags of sandwiches, crisps, snack bars and fruit appeared on both tables. On our table it became important to sort out the bread crusts so that ducks and swans could be fed when their turn came. Two grand-daughters (with a combined age of 7)  than decided it was time to paddle in the river - certainly without skirts and tops and definitely with a grandpa and  rolled up trousers.

Next day I called in to see grandson, who greeted me through  the end of a large cardboard box, big enough to form a tunnel . Simple pleasures do still seem to satisfy - even or especially during so-called austerity times.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Stalls, plants and Belly Dancing

Jubilee celebrations in our village were a great success. Held on Bank Holiday following the 2 rainy days which hampered the Thames Pageant, and based on the local playing field we had a variety of parades, activities and stalls. The expected attendance was around 500. On the day, over 3000 "stir crazy" villagers turned up, just happy to be out of the house and looking a a good time on a tight austerity budget. The whole age-range came along.

Three permanent queues formed from the opening around 1 o'clock - at the bar; at the hot dog/burger stall and at the ice-cream van. Only the bar had the facility to re-stock sufficiently to keep going for the evening entertainment of local bands and fireworks. The Mother's Union 200 bottle stall sold out in 2 hours. The Tombola Stall with over 100 prizes managed to last 3 hours. Teas and cakes raised over £1000 for a local Hospice.

And there was definitely a happy "buzz " around.

When Morris Dancers invited audience participation a few onlookers actually joined in. "Belly Dancing" attracted a lot more when the chance came  to wobble with professionals .""Zumba".. well..there almost wasn't room on the display area for all the writhing hands/arms/legs/bodies/heads that made up the enhanced performance. Such was the community "feel-good" factor and  infectious sense of belonging that time passed quickly.

Lots of organisations raise funds through similar events. Primary school staffs backed by well motivated parents swell school funds with an annual event which we were lucky enough to attend this year. The bottle stall "raffle" sold out; the burger/hot dog stall had a permanent queue and the bar was in continuous activity. An "up-market" hog roast (or was it hog-leg roast) seemed to be making a profit. A bouncy castle on free loan for the event raised a tidy sum, as did face painting (though at a slower pace).

But what caught my eye was a plant stall stacked with box after polystyrene box of bedding plants at £1 a box or 3 for £2.50. This was another generous donation from a parent with links to a nursery. I started with 3 boxes - followed by another 3 for daughter-in-law - fully expecting a sell-out within an hour. By tea-time stalls were beginning to pack up but amazingly, not the plant stall staffed by the tired but nevertheless still enthusiastic parent I had bought from earlier. She was clearly desperate to close down - which is how I ended up with 19 boxes, containing around 200 plants and a transport problem.

That infectious feel-good factor again..

Every which way but loose.

Walking up the Wrekin last summer (i.e. March 2012) I came across a delightful signpost offering the choice of "This Way ", "That Way " or " The Other Way". Loved it. Just enough hint that you were on a recognised route, but leaving scope for discoveries, mishaps and surprises. 

Coinciding with recent monsoon rains was our pre-booked caravan holiday in England. In good weather caravan holidays are great. No schedule; fresh air; immediate entertainment for visiting older grand-children (in the shapes of other children) and an excuse to wear comfortable old clothes and look faintly ridiculous. There is just one activity which causes mild anxiety - on a par with a dodgy lock on a toilet door or a parking meter that swallows £5 in coins then deliberates about whether or not to print a parking ticket. I refer of course to awnings.

Once erected caravan awnings are very useful. Once erected. The awning of one nearby caravan was so large it needed a separate hired van for the transport of fabric, poles zip-in extras and building tools plus the labour force. You could host a dinner-dance for 12 people in this awning and just use the anchoring caravan as a changing cubicle.

We put up our awning once a year. It has taken 5 years to evolve a system that works for the two of us. It is "Our Way". My anxiety stems from other caravanners,sitting inside their awnings, watching expectantly for new arrivals who will need their advice.
"If I was you I wouldn't start from there.."
"You're doing it that way when you should be doing it this way.."

One summer the ground was so hard (honest..) I needed a claw hammer to get pegs into the ground."Here; use my rubber hammer, you'll damage the pegs.." came the inevitable comment. So I obligingly hit a peg 20 times with the proffered rubber hammer then paused to make the observation that it was slow going. I then hit a stone. "How would the rubber hammer help in getting the peg out?" I ventured to ask. Still the unwanted help hung around - even when I removed the peg with my claw hammer and repositioned it with 4 hits.

True, we did have a phase over 3 years when an extra pair of hands was needed to hold a corner pole, just for a critical minute to avoid an implosion of poles, fabric  and guy ropes. That was the moment when "help" would arrive. Using "Our Way" G can politely but firmly refuse help. I am always underneath fabric at that moment, shouting muffled instructions for the next pole, dripping with perspiration and hoping small plastic wall brackets will last another year.

I don't offer to help put up awnings, unless asked.Even then I will only do exactly what is asked, with my mouth firmly shut but with the hint of a malicious grin. If anyone needs to know, then I will explain "Our Way".

But I will not help with dining table, chairs and dance floor - nor will I use a rubber hammer.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The World from 90 centimetres

There has been much in the media about London’s new building, The Shard. 

Views from this tallest building in Europe are stunning, say the tv presenters. New aspects of London appear for the tourist and the London skyline itself is changed.

Some weeks ago, whilst multi-tasking the jobs of preparing for a community lunch and looking after grandson, I re-discovered the world from a height of 90 cms. Community lunch is held in a local church - a classic old building full of stained glass windows, pews, stone effigies, curtains and creaky wooden doors. With one eye on Rascal and the other on the collapsible tables that I was putting together I was intrigued by the exploration route he was following.

Up the wooden ramp used to avoid the high step which separates the choir end from the congregation, slowly along the pews, little fingers exploring the feeling of carving and the hard marble tomb that “towered” above his eyes. What was he finding? Needless to say the tables went up at record speed and I ambled over to share in the discoveries. Rascal was about 3 weeks into the art of walking so the world was now his to enjoy. Getting down to his level I found all sorts of small intricately carved features, traceable cracks in the tomb, small finger sized holes in the end of pews, subtle changes of height in the floors and well crafted colourful kneelers that previously I had just not noticed, viewed from a higher eye-line.

Likewise in our garden I have rediscovered the fun of hide and seek amongst the shrubs and tall plants. All the mobile small visitors to our garden love playing hide and seek; an infectious game which draws in adults of all ages and proves equally as popular as the trampoline purchased in a mad moment by Grandma with the plan of keeping up her fitness. 

This week discoveries will involve a caravan, awning, a large field with horses and tractors nearby and other small mobile children with a zest for what's new in life.

 Can’t wait!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Reflections on a summer day

It's very easy to control the rain. You just decide to re-discover 50 year old meccano skills by purchasing a lean-to greenhouse to stand next to the garage. The glass and aluminium structure lean-to  arrives in 5 heavy well-sealed packs and at the bottom of the last pack you find the instruction booklet, clearly written by someone who knows greenhouses. This is an unfortunate decision on the part of the manufacturer. The booklet should be written by someone like me who does not know greenhouse construction and who needs large print, lots of diagrams and an indication of how long each stage should take. 

I had decided to build a 3 sided brick base myself  and derived  a lot of pleasure in recycling bricks from other buildings in the garden, to create the precisely measured horizontal and vertical structure on which the frame would stand.(Spirit levels also need to be in large print with large bubbles). However, at that point the unfortunate rain control skill kicked in. So a job that should have taken about 5 days (grandpa pace) has actually taken 6 weeks. Every time I thought about building a section, the rain would begin.

This also meant that I have actually created the unwanted garden feature of a lake - which formed within my base walls. Fortunately the cement could not survive an attack by masonry drill and drain holes were created to drain away the reservoir, so removing the threat of water finding a way through hairline cracks in the backwall to invade items stored in the garage that do not respond well to damp. 

Yesterday I re-hung the greenhouse door the right way round and moved 5 thriving outdoor tomato plants into their new home. Elsewhere in the garden other vegetables are also thriving thanks to generous water supplies. I am now definitely proposing to build an oudoor rainfed irrigation pond over the next 2 months .. in the hope that we will have the frustration of wall-to-wall sunshine.