Saturday, 8 April 2017

All Alone with Mickey









"Look at this!" said Granddaughter on Skype. She was in a tent on the lawn and Little Brother was bouncing about in front of her.
"What is it?" I said. "I can't see it properly."
She waved it more vigorously. "It's the Pre-School Bear," she said. "I've got it for the weekend, and it's got a book with it and we have to write down everything the bear does and we have to give him lots of adventures and lovely food."
"That will be interesting," I said.
"Oh yes," said my son darkly. I could tell his heart wasn't really in it.
"But," shouted Granddaughter, remembering something important. "But this is a new bear. It's a different bear because someone....SOMEONE took the old bear to Disneyland, and they LEFT him there. They LOST him. He's still in DISNEYLAND."
"It's a lot of responsibility," said my son.
"What a pity it's not next weekend," I said. "He could have come here with you and had an Easter egg hunt in the garden."
"I think it's got to be even more exciting than that," said my son.
Little Brother continued to bounce. He didn't care.

So what will it be this weekend for an indulged Pre-School Bear and his diary, out to impress Pre-School staff as well as all the other parents with access to the record?
Parents who may have visualised a few hours of rest and relaxation, or a weekend putting up shelves and doing a big shop will need to get the bear to some sort of centre of excellence, a museum, a stately home, a zoo, a river trip, a concert, a theatre, a hot air balloon ride.
How much warning is given about this bear's visit?
Perhaps just about time to get a Ryan Air flight to somewhere like Disneyland, but will anyone dare
to go there again?
Maybe there's time for a last minute cottage booking in Cornwall.
And then there's the food.
Recorded in detail.
Wholesome, organic, home-cooked food.

"In no time at all," I said to my son, "It'll be the school gerbils. Then you're talking about
real responsibility. You'll have to send the cats away for the weekend."
"Oh, don't!" he said.


P.S. That is not the Pre-school Bear pictured above, old or new. It's one from my own collection. No bear of mine is going to Disneyland.


Friday, 17 March 2017

Dubious Performances






Not being disparaging about Shirley Temple, of course, but interested in the era (my long ago childhood era) when children, even the most lacking in talent, were expected to have something to contribute to a social gathering. A party piece. A performance to make Mummy and Daddy proud. A miniscule demonstration of some sort of skill or even talent to impress visitors.

I was reminded of this by a friend's recollection. At the age of two and a half he was trained to spell Czechoslovakia. Then I remembered that I was told I could say 'Antidisestablishmentarianism' while I was still in nappies.
Why?
Why on earth were such achievements considered desirable, useful, attractive or anything other than dotty?
As a parent my priority would certainly have been on house-training rather than antidisestablishmentarianism, but I suppose I can still say it, and he can still spell Czechoslovakia, so the training must have done something to our respective infant brains, even if it wasn't terribly useful in the following seventy plus years.

The party piece was often a poem or a song, a hesitant tinkling on the piano or, even worse, the latest practice piece on a stringed instrument. The party wasn't a party at all, but a gathering of adults, sitting around, as uncomfortable as the performing child. An ordeal for all concerned, and a great sense of relief when it was over.
 All this happened in the days before television, of course. The days when adults also sang and played musical instruments at home in the evenings. Everyone had some sort of party piece, even if it was only an uncle who could make his finger-joints crack like castanets.
There were expectations of all of us

Then I remember the emphasis on learning by heart throughout the education system in those distant years. Multiplication tables, hymns and psalms, poems and, at grammar school, great chunks of Keats and Milton and Shakespeare. And I can still do lots of those, too.
And much of the imprinted poetry remains with me, safely in my head, and comes to life at times of stress, sadness and happiness. Great words remain for life, and  I think they are not Czechoslovakia and antidisestablismentarianism.

But then I realise, oh.....actually, they are!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Team Spirit in Ambridge.





                                          Strong Archer women in the kitchen....why not on the pitch?






At last....after the months of doom, gloom, fear and threats, bloodshed, personality disorders and legal complications The Archers get back to life's real issues, catering, extra-martial affairs and the inclusion of women in the village cricket team.
It's so good to see that there are places for the more mature ladies of this busy community in the areas of catering and extra-marital affairs, but it seems sad that apparently only the very young are being considered for cricket. Think how active Lilian is, in so many ways. Wouldn't she make a great wicket-keeper? Pat, with all her nervous energy, could be darting about all over the place, and Linda....well. Linda could do anything, any time, any where. What a loss of potential talent, and how the team could be revitalised, reorganised, reborn.

But perhaps this is all part of the great plan, and the many over-30 year old females of the cast will emerge in glory to save not only the day, but the weekends and the midweek practice sessions as well? And the men can take a turn at putting the kettle on and making the sandwiches.

I write as one who is not unfamiliar with cricket. At my all-girls' school, long, long ago, we padded up and waddled around the stumps with the best of them, and I spent many peaceful hours skulking near the boundary, watching the gentle play of light on the grass, only very occasionally being woken from my reverie by the yells of class-mates as a red leather ball hurtled past me into the shrubbery.
A peaceful time, unless one had the misfortune to be put in to bat. But then it was usually over very quickly.

Peaceful, but in the hands of skilled script-writers the sort of scenario that could become as fraught with tension and perils as any of the other Archer situations. Perhaps we have it coming? I do hope so, for as Miranda said to Justin last week: "The whole area's so barren. There's a dearth of restaurants, bars, cultures. What do people do all day?"

Play cricket....and watch the play of light on grass? It worked for me.


6th April: I'm glad I got that one right!




Saturday, 11 February 2017

Nearly a Year Later........,






The heavy-duty extra-insulated vacuum flask I gave to my elder son the Christmas before last is still working well high in the mountains of Kazakhstan. My younger son, his wife and my two grandchildren are leading a busy life in South West England, and I am still here, appreciating my wood-stove and many other things in Middle England.

I'm not sure what happened a year ago, the point at which a very new grandchild was confirmed to be on his way, but it seemed appropriate to stop blogging and wait to see what happened next. It felt as if things would change for all of us, as indeed they have done.

Grandson was obliging from the start. He was on his way just at the point when I had finished baking for a planned visit to his home the next morning. I was to be there for his birth and luckily I was able to load hot cakes, pies and casserole into the car and set off down the motorway in a warm and fragrant cloud.
"It would be really good if you can come now," said my son. "I don't think we can leave it until morning."
He was so right.

Granddaughter and I had a mostly happy time while we were waiting for her brother, but it took another night and morning before he came home. Not-so-Little E dressed herself with care that morning. She said, "I want to look beautiful, so that Little Brother will like me." She chose football shorts, a tutu as a petticoat, a dress to top it all, and a flowery headband. I thought he would love her from the start.
Things changed, of course .The camper-van has been exchanged for a five-seater family car with a great big luggage space. The music studio has become a nursery. There's a baby gym on the floor again, a pram in the hall, a mountain of washing to be dried, and two cats who realise that just when they thought it was all over.......well, it isn't yet.

Good things, very good things happen, and sometimes it feels as if I'm on a calm(ish) plateau, looking back over my 77 years, and forward into the lives of my sons and grandchildren. Then I find that someone, somehow has hacked into my gas and electrical supplies and tried to change my suppliers.. Oh, how perilous the serenity.

So it's been nearly a year of much significance, of small events, irritations and happiness, and to anyone who revisits here I say thank you, and I've missed you (but I've been reading all the time).

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Letter to a New Grandchild.





                                         Big Sister and Daddy, making a splash.



Dear Very Small Grandchild,
Well, you're on your way, a tiny person with fingernails and elbows and knees that can move.
You have a lot of growing to do, and we need you to stay put, warm and safe and fed for another five and a bit months.
We will wait for you through the Spring and Summer, and then, by late Summer you will be ready to see sunshine and changing leaves. You will be ready to meet your family, although you will know their voices already. You will be familiar with your sister's voice because she uses it all the time, and she will want to talk to you and sing to you and teach you so many things. I think she will be a wonderful big sister for you, a great source of entertainment as well as a loving, caring person.
She is already gearing up for the role. In fact she was the person who gave me the official news. An evening phone call; "Annie, Annie - I'm going to be a big sister. The baby is very small, really small, so I have to wait. You have to wait, and Daddy...we all have to wait......but I'm going to be a BIG SISTER!"

In no time at all you will be joining in, crawling, walking, paddling in the sea, like your big sister before you in the photo. I realise anew how fleeting babyhood seems, and how precious is the time to enjoy it as a grandparent. Sometimes (or more than sometimes) as a parent, the days and nights are tough, exhausting, seemingly endless, but for a grandparent it's just plain wonderful.

But we will all have to wait.

You are already a very fortunate little baby. You will be born into a family that wants to give you so much. So much of everything, of life's experiences, of music, of books and friendships and fun.....and most of all of love.
See you later,
Love from Granny.

P.S. Grandson was born on 09.09.16 in one of the new NHS Birthing Centres, where he and his parents had two nights in a large room with double bed and birthing pool. Thank you, NHS midwives for impressive care throughout.
Everyone is well and very happy.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

End of The Line







This charming clock has ticked its way through so many of my memories, and then, yesterday, I brought it home to continue its steady ticking on my desk. Now it represents the end of a chapter of family life, and for me the realisation that I am the last of that particular line of the family. The old family name has gone.

When I first knew the clock it was in my uncle and aunt's home, a place of so many entertaining evenings, a place of great hospitality and warm glowing fires. In my early years I began to realise that a few glasses of beautiful coloured liquid brought about a change in adult behaviour. My father became entertaining as he and his brother ad libbed variations on the psalms, and after a while my mother stopped being disapproving and joined in the laughter. Even better, my musically gifted uncle would scoot around the room, playing a variety of key-board instruments, square piano, piano, dulcitone while singing from his collection of Victorian sheet music.

Now that my parents are dead I can confess that, as a young child, I used to fantasise that this aunt and uncle were my real parents. They had no children of their own. They went all over the place on a motorbike. They went off to France and wandered around where the fancy took them. I used to imagine that one day they might buy a small side-car and take me too.
As it was, my parents acquired a small side-car and attached it to their tandem (this was 1940s England with no petrol, but also with hardly any traffic). But the tandem never held the same sort of glamour as a motor bike, especially after my parents took a gateway at the wrong angle and sheared me off in my little side-car. I was left sitting there at the side of the road for what seemed like quite a time before they realised. Later I also realised that if I'd been attached to the motorbike neither I nor the side-car would have lived to tell the tale.

My uncle and aunt represented fun and freedom and great joy in life. My mother used to say, darkly, " Of course they can be like that. They haven't any children."
Later, too much later, I knew them as real people rather than iconic figures, and realised that not having children came at a cost of regret.

With the clock came a collection of family documents, going back several generations. I have to think carefully.....do I want to know? I have known enough about.some aspects of my parents' families to think it is better to leave well alone. But yesterday I was given names and dates on yellowing paper, accounts of hostility over financial matters, disputes about legacies, births and deaths and marriages, second marriages for great-grandparents - and who is this Clarissa who keeps cropping up?
My inclination is to let it go, and if my sons want to find out more, then it is too perilously easy to do so.

Surprisingly, the clock sat down on my desk and started ticking away the moment I put its pendulum back. I had expected to have to spend  some time fiddling about with coins under its marble feet to get the 'tick' and the 'tock ' thoroughly even.
Even more surprising and gratifying its glass dome also travelled safely.




Sunday, 7 February 2016

Book Club









A few years ago - five? six? or probably more? we started a Book Club for people who live in our small road on the edge of our small town. The idea was to restrict it geographically so that no one had to drive and we could have the occasional bottle of wine if we felt like it.
Initially fourteen people wanted to be part of it, but over time and for various reasons the numbers declined and for several years now we have remained at a steady ten. We are all women. We didn't intend that sort of restriction on membership, but it has just happened that way. Perhaps men are not so interested to be part of such a group? It would probably be daunting for any man to join in now, which is not what we intended. We meet monthly, and people volunteer to host.

We read. Of course we read lots of books that we suggest to each other, or that are suggested by other people, other sources. The reading triggers some animated discussion and personal responses. Sometimes there are uncomfortable thoughts. Always there is a wide range of responses, through which we learn a lot about each other and even more about ourselves.

I'm not going to supply our reading list, only to say that it's very diverse and very democratically selected.
At first we got books from our local library which supplied a list of books with multiple copies so that we could order well ahead. As a group we went through the lists and made our selections, and then I often had to make multiple visits to the library to try and collect the right number of books at the right time. Books were on loan throughout the County and were often not returned on their due dates or had generally gone walk-about.

So then we decided to buy copies, enough for us to share around, on-line or from charity shops, and to spread out the reading time we organised a DVD session every other month. Where possible the DVDs are linked to the reading. We put a pound in a pot each time and the idea is for the host to use that money to fund drinks and biscuits. But often there is a fair amount in the pot, so we save up and have a bit of a party.

Those are the sort-of bones of the group, but it has become so much more than that.
We are mostly close neighbours who used to smile at one another and say, 'Good morning', and now there is the most supportive  web of friendship. We don't see one another for days on end, but we have the knowledge that in the background there is always someone to help, always a listening ear, always someone with the kettle just about to boil.
For people who live alone, and quite a few of us do, this sort of support  is invaluable. I cannot tell you how much this group supported me through tough times, and how much that means to me now.

We do other things.
We exchange plants, give each other fruits and vegetables, make each other go for walks, admire each other's gardens, have days out and laugh a lot.

Not everyone reads all the books, and the reasons why people find a book difficult are just as interesting as the reasons for enjoying it. (I can't get into fantasy or the Watership Down sort of anthropomorphic writing, while others in the group love it.)  Sometimes people simply don't have time to read, but they come along anyway and just enjoy the friendship and the herbal teas.

Book Groups, even one as informal as ours, make you read and think about things that you might not do otherwise. They can be challenging in several ways, but as a means of getting to know your neighbours I don't think they can be beaten.