Thursday, 12 September 2019

Pirates in the Kitchen (also Mermaids).

(A bedtime story for grandchildren who are now three, about to be seven, and  getting ready to be born next year.)

Far away where the mermaids sing the pirates sailed their raft. It was made of clear glass, and it was round.
The pirates, three of them, shouted a lot and waved their weapons about and pushed each other and nearly fell off their little glass raft. They made a great deal of noise and fuss.
And deeper under the raft the mermaids saw an awful lot of agitation and heaving about and wafted themselves over to see what was happening. Mermaids swim slowly, wafting their tails up and down. They are not built for speed, like a shark, and they usually carry their hairdressing stuff and a small mirror so that they can be sure they are looking lovely all the time.  

When they (there were seven of them) got near to the churning whiteness and heard all the shouting  they said, 'Oh dear. Pirates again!' and they flopped themselves up on to the glass raft. They took out their combs and brushes and little mirrors from their vanity cases and sat there, combing their hair.

The pirates were shocked into silence, mostly because their raft was tilting heavily to one side, with all the mermaids sitting there.
Ivo, the pirate with the silver sword  cleared his throat.
"Ahem, ladies," he said. "Would you mind spreading out a bit? You're making our raft tilt, and we don't want to fall off ."
"Can't you swim?" said one mermaid. She had long fair hair, just as mermaids should.
"That's not important," Ivo said, and all the mermaids laughed. All seven of them.
"Not important?" said the  blonde mermaid. "Not important?  Not important? Are you mad? Fooling about on a little glass raft, pushing each other, shouting and fighting - and you can't swim?"
And all the mermaids combed their hair and tossed it about and laughed and laughed.

Now there's something that pirates really don't like, and that is being laughed at. Mermaids don't like it either. Well, no one does really.
"Swimming is not important," said Ivo. "What is important is not falling off the raft, because if you fall off....."
But he didn't have the chance to finish, because all the mermaids hooted with laughter and shouted, "You'll drown, you'll drown! The fish will eat you!"
"How can you drown on the kitchen work-top?" said Ivo, and this time all the pirates hooted and laughed. Peg-Leg the politically incorrect pirate laughed so much he lost his balance, fell off the raft and slid down the back of the storage jar on the kitchen work-top.
The mermaids.put down their combs and mirrors and looked around.
"Oh!" they said, all of them. "Oh, oh and oh! We didn't see this one coming!"
"It's ok" shouted Peg-Leg from behind the storage jar. "We're all going to a birthday tea. Two birthday teas actually. One for pirates, one for mermaids. It'll be fine."

Just then Granny came into the kitchen. "I'm sure I had three pirates for the top of the cake", she said. "Who's messing about now?"

And early next year there will be another birthday, a day of birth, and the eaters of this year's birthday cakes will have a new little cousin to join the celebrations, someone to teach about dinosaurs and stars and beetles, never mind pirates and mermaids.
Such a lot to look forward to, for all of us.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Letter to a Grandson

Dear Grandson,
You last appeared in this blog sitting in your high chair, waving a piece of asparagus around before eating it. You're still likely to be doing that, because the exploration of food in all its forms is one of your favourite activities. But you've done so many other things, of course, during the past two years. The rate at which you're racing along you'll soon be able to read this for yourself, so here's something for you. 
We had breakfast together yesterday, while your parents and big sister caught up on some sleep. You gave me your suggestions, "Hoops and milk, and strawberries? Yes, strawberries. On the Peter Rabbit plate. Yes. And milk in my cup. Yes?"
I said, "I haven't got Hoops. I've got other cereals, look".
You looked in the cupboard and said, "That one, and that one - oh, and that one".
"Choose just one", I said, so you chose with an air of disappointment, and scooted across to the fridge.
"Cheese!" you said, opening it. "Just a small snack. Cheese!"
We settled on cereal, strawberries, milk in a cup, with toast and marmalade for me.
"Granny, the same as Paddington Bear!" you said, while slurping cereal. "Ha, ha, ha. That's funny!"

Things are indeed funny, and often cause robust, hooting mirth. You throw back your head and roar, ROAR with laughter. My ears ring with it. While we eat we attempt to watch the infant sparrows being fed by their parents on the bird table. When you see them land you shout, "BIRDS - out there!" and laugh as they take off. The infant sparrows have a meagre breakfast.

Other members of the family appear, and you shout to tell them what you're eating, what you might eat next, what you might do next. When you've finished the second and third courses of your breakfast you climb on your stool next to the sink for me to  more-or-less hose you down. I wash your tummy and your back for good measure. This is hilarious and you nearly fall off the stool. This is so funny, so uproariously funny that you can hardly stay upright.

You go off into another room, where the toys your sister played houses and families with are now marshalled into an army. The little people and even the dogs ride motor-bikes with enormously vocal engines. They are packed into the cars and boats that your sister used to take them for holidays, but now they are roaring around the floor, colliding and tipping.
Your sister joins you and makes a pet show on the roof of one of the houses, carefully arranging animals in size order. But the army helicopter takes off, one low swerve sending the animals spinning away. There are screams and tears and adult intervention.

Recently there was a dispute about whose Granny I am. You shouted, "MY Granny", and she said, "Actually, she's my Granny first because I was born first." "I'M first!" you said, and the argument went on for some time until I intervened and eventually we all went out into the garden.
Your relationship with your sister is wonderful for you both, although it may not always seem that way to you.  She encourages you in the sort of behaviour she finds hilarious, she teaches you so much, she occasionally puts boundaries in place for you, and of course, there are real disputes at times. You always want to know where she is, what she's doing, and are concerned if she's not available. It's mutual. You teach her how to share, how to understand differences, how to make allowances, how to weather the storms.

Luckily you love books and music almost as much as you love food. You can curl up with a good book by yourself, and you love to be read to, knowing many of your favourite books and joining in the key phrases. You know how to relax, and you love a dose of comfort. You spread yourself across my big bed, sinking into a pile of pillows, hands behind your head, legs crossed at the ankles. "Aaaah, comfy." you say. 
Your whole family does yoga.

So here you are in my garden, on top of Flower Mountain. Flowers are not really your sort of thing unless they have big fat bumble bees in them. Another bit of the garden that you call 'The Jungle' is your sort of place. It has been made like a jungle specially for you and your sister. There are tall bamboos and tropical looking plants and a tractor tyre which was going to be a sandpit, but you have decided it's a boat. Yesterday you rowed the boat in the jungle and told me you found monkeys and parrots and elephants and tigers. 

What a great world you inhabit, Small Grandson.
Enjoy it all,
With love from your AND your sister's Granny.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Not Always on the 25th.

We flouted convention yet again this year.
Christmas celebrations happened here at the weekend, with turkey (and vegetarian options) stuffings and sauces and sprouts, lots of puddings with brandy cream, smart crackers  (the sort you pull) full of good jokes and gold hats and really useful things like teeny screwdrivers and measuring spoons.  There were flashing lights and tinsel, clementines and good cheeses, mince pies, pigs-in-blankets and there is a Christmas cake that I had completely forgotten, still sitting there.

Father Christmas managed to deliver during the afternoon via the very small Victorian fireplace in my bedroom. The smaller members of the family had some great gifts, including a very surprising  toy lobster.  Older members played with the new toys, read the new books and  built a spectacular marble run.

In the evening half the family went back to their new home, having moved into it last week and needing to unpack a few dozen more big boxes. The other half, who had travelled huge distances to be here, stayed on, built an even bigger marble run and also ran themselves up the Malvern Hills. They left after another couple of days to help hose down elephants in Thailand - among other wonderful things.

My husband would not have been happy with this flouting of church routine. His life was largely controlled by such concerns and we all supported him in this. But this is another change in my life since his death that I totally accept. Life in widowhood presents so many changes, and my family members lead very different lives. I have also experienced different Christmas celebrations at different times, including a Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 6th. I try to stay flexible in every way.

So I am here, home largely alone, while so many others are panic-buying in the retail park. It's a warm and comforting feeling that I've done my best  for the family and if I fancy a cheese sandwich for Christmas dinner I can have exactly that.

Very happy, peaceful Christmas to you all, where ever and when ever you celebrate.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Janet Meets Another Generation.

This is Janet. She and I slept together for many years, until I was about seven, I think. Before that I believe she slept with my father, and possibly she was a boy at that time. A boy called Ted.
 She's been around a bit, has Janet, and she's looking distinctly the worse for wear. That's why she's fully dressed. I'm afraid that if her clothes came off quite a bit of her body would come off as well.
She must be knocking on more than a century.

But, undeterred by minor difficulties Janet came with me to visit Granddaughter's class who are investigating old toys and reading The Velveteen Rabbit.
I also took along Louise, who is even older. She is beautiful when clothed  (in silk vest, flannel petticoat, embroidered petticoat, embroidered dress, flannel coat, woollen cape and very pretty bonnet which luckily hides her real hair because someone, possibly my grandmother, chopped it short many, many decades ago).
But when her clothes are off Louise is not a pretty sight. She has a hard pink composition body . From it dangle fully articulated limbs, suspended by strings. The contrast with her beautiful porcelain face is somewhat stark.

Even older were two other small toys, a mounted cavalry man and a penguin with a suitcase, both made of lead. I also took several teddy bears the same age as me and, just to round things off, an articulated nightdress case in the form of a dog.

Grandparents had been invited into school to talk about toys 'in the olden days'. My granddaughter is very proud of me because she tells me I'm the oldest granny anyone has got in the whole school (probably including the staff). So I'm proudly representing the good old days, when toys were passed down the generations or were hand-made; when toys were potentially dangerous, fragile and inflammable and plastic hadn't been invented.

My old teddy bears (including Janet) crunch when handled. Some children suggested that they were filled with Rice Krispies, but others thought they were too heavy for that and decided, rightly, that they had straw and wood shavings inside. 
Metal toys they thought were dangerous because they could cut people. The idea that they could poison was shocking (and a bit exciting) so it was made very clear that there are no toys made of lead now, and those I showed them were not to be touched.
Louise was 'yuck' although a better word was agreed to be 'weird'. It was thought strange that all my old toys were variously hard, crunchy, stiff, heavy and prickly. There was nothing soft and cuddly.
As for nightdress or pyjama cases......well, who would think about folding their p.j.s to fit into a zipped mohair dog, just to keep the bedroom tidy?

Mohair, hair and skin generally, which features large on and in many pre-plastic toys is another thought which I didn't want to spend too much time on with six-year-olds.
Several of my old teddy bears are made of sheep skin, but luckily a bright little boy in the front row assured me and the rest of the class that it doesn't hurt the sheep in the least, so that's all right.

 I didn't tell them about one of my earliest memories of a wonderful soft toy I found in about 1945 when a visitor came to see my mother. In the kitchen she left a most beautiful large, soft, furry toy rabbit. Magic! A toy such as I had never seen. or felt or imagined. It must be a gift for me.
While she and my mother were talking I took this superb toy upstairs, dressed it in a doll's dress and tucked it into my bed ready for night-time. But when I went up to bed my beautiful new cuddly toy had vanished. Such a mystery! My mother told me years later that it was actually a dead rabbit, ready to be prepared for the visitor's dinner.

Thus ended my only real experience of a cuddly toy at bed-time. But Janet stuck by me, almost literally.

Friday, 14 September 2018


 Here are my two house guests, spending time with me until their new home is found. Charming, both of them, although one is much noisier than the other. One likes long, active walks, the other likes to have a very short potter with plenty of standing still and gazing into space time. They have apparently been together for all of their eight years, but they have different personalities, while retaining their breed characteristics.
They are in a long-term male partnership, and possibly, probably would not cope with separation in late middle-age.

They are both overweight, and like so many in the senior age group, are on the waiting list for surgery. As I'm doing the catering I'm following medical advice and serving very small meals just twice a day. This is not appreciated. and if they were in an hotel there would be a litany of complaint.
There is a sort of shocked disbelief from both of them that meals can be so small, but no complaint as such, just a lot of searching for any scraps that might be left lying around.
 Life can seem a bit tough.
But probably nothing like as tough as it has been over the last few years of their lives. They  were taken into the local Animal Rescue Shelter, here because their previous owner could no longer look after them. Sadly they had not been looked after for some time, to the detriment of their general health and well-being.

It's not good for dogs when they become fashionable, and even worse when they are thought to be 'cute'. I believe there was a pug in a popular soap - perhaps East-Enders - who was carried  everywhere and spent a lot of time in a pub. As a result the demand for pug puppies became great, and they were produced in large and expensive quantities.
There is still a popular demand for them, but not everyone likes their snoring, and so they are crossed with several other breeds, especially Jack Russell terriers when they are known as 'Jugs'. So the mixture can be a bit chaotic, with the best bits of both breeds missing, or incompatibly together.

Pugs are not for everyone.
They were for my family when my children were younger because pugs and children have a very special affinity. Pugs were bred to be companions. They like the same things as small children; pottering about looking at interesting things, then having a snooze somewhere warm and comfy. They like to be included in everything that's going on. They like to know what is in cupboards, what's in the garden, who's in the house, who might be coming to the house. Pugs and pre-schoolers can have a really interesting time together. Pugs can have a calming effect on older children too. They will lean or sit on a child for as long as it takes. I realise the memories of pug friendships last into adulthood - one son has a lovely pug tee-shirt and I'm sure his children appreciate it.

Pugs and adults can have a good time together as well. This pair has been with me for less than four days. They have explored the garden and then sat in the sunshine to watch what I'm doing. They come over to check occasionally, and if it's interesting they will make companionable noises and join in. If it's not so interesting they will go back to their warm patch for another little rest.
Because they have very little experience of outside life one of them will bark at new noises. He has to learn that this is not acceptable. It may take a water pistol to learn this lesson, but he's bright, and he's better today. After one short lesson the water pistol will probably just be a brief visual reminder. Pugs are clever dogs.
They have met a selection of friends and neighbours with great enthusiasm. They have watched a television programme about vets and have managed not to shout too much. They are learning a lot.
They are doing well although they are a bit clingy. If I move, they move. They want to be sure that I'm sticking around for a while, which I will be while the Rescue Shelter finds a new home for them.
We might all lose weight.

What pugs won't do is retrieve a ball (why bother?), chase things (except for once in a blue moon when they feel like it) do what they're told (unless they were going to do it anyway). They are stubborn, determined little characters.
I don't think I  trained my own pugs (and there were three of them over the years) apart from things like lead-walking, recall and being clean in the house. Two of them wanted to go for walks on leads and be clean, one of them refused, absolutely, to walk once her harness and lead were on. She came to us in her old age. Luckily we had a large, secure garden, because I felt undignified towing round a small dog, resolutely on its back with its legs in the air. Undignified for both of us.
Our succession of pugs might have trained me, but I think we just watched each other and reached a compatible life style. Pugs like to do things their way, and luckily their way is often very sensible.

Pugs do not do well in Kennels. It's tough on most dogs, and the care and attention given in this Rescue Shelter is wonderful. But it's not the same as being at home, even if it's a very new and temporary home. So I'm fostering this pair until the right new owners are found.

Update: by day 5 one of them has learned how to open the fridge. Clever boy! Now he'll have to work out how to untie knots. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Friends Indeed

Dog and Cat, hanging out together in the hot sunshine after a quick ride in the washing machine. But not just any old cat and dog.
Cat has been with Granddaughter E for at least five and a half years. They were inseparable for a long time and shared many adventures. He accompanied her in sickness and in health and was quite often in the washing machine as a result. He went to Nursery with E three days a week and did everything she did. He actually had a secret twin because E could not/would not sleep without him and his loss would have been a catastrophe. (No pun intended.)

Dog has not been part of  E's family for quite as long, but both he and Cat have slept with her for more than four years. I was entrusted with Dog at E's first public performance last December; the school Nativity play, where she was an excellent camel. Dog sat on my lap and was held up to applaud like mad. If I had been the only Granny doing this sort of thing I would have felt a bit foolish, but the school hall had many such stuffed things, waving and clapping.

A few months later and my son and daughter-in-law are having a maxi clear-out. During the process they left a couple of bags full of things for charity here. I went through them, as one does, and to my concern found Cat and Dog.
I am not sentimental, of course I'm not, but I was quite unable to leave them in the bag. So they went into the washing machine, out on the line and then will be tucked away in the top of my wardrobe. If E ever wants them back they will be here for her.

Of course I am not sentimental. The Teddy bears in the top of my wardrobe are actually investments, as are the beautifully embroidered silk dresses I wore as a baby.  There are the two tiny Babygos that my infant sons wore for their homecoming - they are of historic significance now.The little glass boxes of baby hair are for my sons, so that they can see their silky blond and auburn curls (so long departed). One of these days I expect they'll be really interested to see those! But I won't mention the baby teeth because even I think that's going too far. (Why on earth have I kept them, but how can I get rid of them now?). There's my wedding bouquet preserved to a variety of shades of beige. Perhaps E would like it for her dressing up box? Perhaps?
There is one special Teddy bear who was blue and is now mostly grey, and is female and full of sadness and is at least 78 years old. She is not an investment.  I told her all my secrets. She is irreplaceable. Just like Cat and Dog.

Anyone who has read The_Velveteen_Rabbit will know exactly what I mean.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Oh Dear, has it Really Been Six Months?

..........and here we are in the garden again, in the heatwave, on the crunchy, crispy grass. Not the best day for Granddaughter to want to be carried like a back-pack (or a front-pack) while Little Brother requests the same treatment from his father, but another happy garden day all the same.

I do not intend to have these big breaks from blogging, but I find that my life seems settled into a succession of mostly enjoyable and always interesting routines. During my years of supporting elderly parents I loathed routine. Really loathed it.
 I struggled against being trapped in my father's requests to be taken shopping on certain days at certain times, his insistence on completing The Times crossword before he could leave the house, his addiction to certain radio programmes and, worst of all. his desire to come to us every Sunday for a full roast lunch with gravy. The gravy really got me down. After his death I promised myself I would never have to cook gravy again, and I didn't do so for several years.

Now, in my mostly solitary life I wake with the dawn and watch the sunrise from my bed. A few weeks ago I was also able to listen to the dawn chorus, but now the birds are fairly quiet. They have done their duties, mating, nesting, rearing young and now they are keeping out of sight while they moult. Very like me, actually, but I'm not about to grow new plumage.
Eventually I come downstairs and have a very simple breakfast with three big mugs of tea. Nothing tastes quite as good as the first mug of tea in the morning. I have the same bitter marmalade, the same number of bits of toast every day. Even before I am dressed I have slipped into the most comfortable rut.

And guess what? I love it. Ruts are very good places to be.
I climb out quite often, and other people climb in with me, but I realise every day the huge joy of contentment.
I am limited now in what I can do, in where I can go, and even more so in what I want to do and where I want to go. I am fortunate in that I've done and seen quite a lot during my 78 years. I have a great library of memories of all sorts, good and bad, funny and not-so-funny, acutely embarrassing and actually very affirming. Oh yes, all sorts, so I can sit in my rut and enjoy them all. There are things I'd like to put right, harsh comments I wish I hadn't made, and there's a certain level of regret.
 I wish I'd been more kind.

A great friend telephoned from Paris yesterday evening. He has lost his sight, almost completely. This is someone who has spent his life reading, studying, but now he can distinguish light from darkness and that is almost it. Then he surprised me by saying he can still go and do the shopping locally. He takes his white stick and goes on to the Paris Metro. He said, "When I was fully-sighted I had never realised how kind people can be. I have never been without help from strangers."

If I could leave one simple message for my grandchildren to remember it would be just that.

Be kind.

Sorry, Papa, if I had a tantrum about gravy in 25 degrees of heat.