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.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Letter to a Granddaughter - Keys to the Future.

Dear Granddaughter,
Last weekend, for the first time, I showed you part of my blog - some of the part that was written for you, and has been written for you from before your birth. The time is coming when you will be able to read the Letters to a Granddaughter for yourself, and I want you to know that they are here.
I read this as a bed-time story, and you laughed and laughed, helpless with mirth at the glimpse of yourself nearly three years ago.
"Read it again, Granny, that is so funny! Read it again....."
So here, in the hope of delighting you in the future, is a glimpse of yourself at five-and-a-bit, during a weekend at my house.

"Can I use those keys?" you asked.
"They're part of your Granddad's collection of old church keys," I said. "They don't actually work on anything here."
"I know," you said. "I need them to sort out my future. It might be saving the planet or working in a church. You put them on the table, like this. Big ones first, then the little ones, and that one's really little.......and that one's a bit funny, but it should work all right. You line them up, like this...... Then you say 'Eeny meeny miney mo, catch a tiger by his toe, if he shouts, let him go, eeny, meeny, miney mo.' And oh look, it comes out as working in a church. I guessed it might be that. Or saving the planet. It's interesting though, isn't it?"
"It is," I said.

"It's nearly time for the Animal Ball," you said, sorting through the box of model animals. "These animals have been in their cages far too long, It's time they came out for a party. We'll put the food over here so they won't all get it at once, and just in case they start eating each other we'll have the little ones under the table. Like this. We'll put them in groups, so the carnivores are further away. And the vegetarians.....have we got any vegetarians? There are some dinosaurs in here, some of them are vegetarians. Oh, we'll need a special space for the nocturnals, I hadn't thought of that! Do we have a night party or a day party? And  what about the aquarium creatures? Oh. This is going to be a problem. I know, I'll put them back in their cages and give them their food and they can stay there and listen to music. That will be good for them, won't it?"
"They'll probably be happy with that", I said.
"It's not easy, being a zoo keeper," you said. "I think I'll go and check on things in the garden now."

"I can do amazing things on this swing," you said. "I can do a balancing act like this with my head nearly on the ground. Look at me........just look at me!"
"I'm looking," I said," But maybe dragging your hair in the mud isn't the best idea."
"It's a lovely feeling," you said. "Really lovely when you see things upside down. Everything looks good upside down, but I'm going to play shops next. I've got real money in that tin. Ow, ow! Can you get this stuff out of my hair? Ow - it's pulling a bit now."

"This money came out of my archaeology dig," you said. (The archaeology dig has been going on for some time under the hedge. Odd coins appear at times, as do bits of 'Roman' blue and white pottery.) "I think I've got at least a hundred pounds now, or probably just a few pounds, but it doesn't matter because things in my shop are really cheap, and anyway I get them free. Would you like an ice-cream?"
"It's a bit cold for ice-cream," I said. "I'd quite like a toasted cheese sandwich."
"Well," you said. "I don't think I have cheese or a toaster or even a sandwich. I'm planning a shop with games to play and ice-cream, so what game would you like to play next? I've got skittles and tennis balls and a skipping rope and bean-bags to balance on your head. ....and oh look! I've got these bats with velcro sticky pads -  so come on, come on -  we'll play with these next!."
"Oh, goodie," I said.
So we did.

Thank you for another magical weekend, for including me in your games and giving me another great view of the world.

With love from Granny.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Greetings from Berlin

Happy Christmas to anyone kind enough to be checking up on me here.
Happy New Year, too.

Here we are in Berlin for an early family Christmas get-together, very kindly hosted by elder son and his partner. I am staying in a beautiful, cutting-edged, stainless steel and polished concrete apartment where my son's partner spends some of her time. She works in Berlin and can cycle to work through one of the many attractive parks. Younger son, his wife and two children are staying in a rather more family-friendly apartment a few minutes walk away through the same park. By family-friendly I mean without a mezzanine kitchen with almost irresistible (to a 15 month old climber) metal balcony and open-tread metal staircase.

I am surprised by how much I appreciate polished concrete and stainless steel. I know I appreciate German efficiency and design, things that work, trains that run on time, and I'm drawn to the relaxed atmosphere of this major city,  criss-crossed by so many cyclists and runners.
Children are transported in splendid side-cars attached to the bikes, or in padded boxes over the front wheel. People are keen to be healthy, to remain active. The trains have generous accommodation for cycles (and for wheel-chairs, I must admit). When I was here earlier in the year I was suitably impressed by the nude-bathing in the local lakes. One felt rather stand-offish, keeping one's clothes on, when everyone else - babies, grannies, the lot - had the most complete all-over sun-tans.

There are excellent playgrounds all around. When so many families live in low-rise apartments such as these the playgrounds are essential. They are much appreciated by granddaughter and grandson, who is now walking and keen to have a go on anything, especially if it involves climbing. In fact we spend much of our time admiring the playgrounds and what various people can do in them. Some of the climbing frames are adult-sized, so sons can alarm me was well as grandchildren: "Be careful up there - you're only 35 and you haven't got your gloves on...."

Then we return to the warmth of the heated floors, and uncle and niece can teach each other how to build a Lego space-ship - a special moment of togetherness for a far-flung family.

Seasons greetings to you all, and may all your family times be as valued.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Letter to a Granddaughter.

Dear Granddaughter,
It's nearly five years since you entered my life, changing it for ever in ways that are entirely good.
I remember thinking at the time of your birth how amazing it was that such a tiny person could have such a profound effect and,'s gone on.
I try to think why the whole experience of being a grandmother is so different from that of being a mother, and in my case I think it's because I have time to reflect. As a parent there is not a lot of that going on.
I don't see you and your little brother so frequently, but after one of your weekend visits, while I'm gardening, walking, pottering around I think of you and remember what you've told me, how you've responded to me, and all the many questions you've asked and observations you've made.
(Little Brother isn't talking just yet, apart from 'cat, Daddy, banana', but we can build a meaningful exchange with that.)

Last weekend you and I talked about magic, and whether there is real magic or not. I confessed to writing the tiny fairy notes.
You said, "Yes, I thought it was you, but it's a good game, isn't it?"
Yes. It's a good game, but a better one followed when I taught you a couple of 'magic' tricks and you gave us all a conjuring show. The magic part of the magic is to keep the patter going and not to give away your secrets.
A good lesson for life? Aw heck, what have I taught you now?

You are concerned for me, living alone.
You asked me, "Do you talk to people when I'm not here? Not on the telephone, real people, I mean?" I told you I have friends, people come to see me, I go to see them, but I'm also happy on my own. A better lesson for life, hopefully.
Then you said, "Granny, I've had such a good idea. You could have a baby!"
I explained that old ladies can't have babies because they are meant to be grannies, not mothers. Old ladies can't do all the energetic things that mothers can do, but you fixed me with a steely glare and said, "Well, I think any baby in the world would be happy to live here!"
When you're a lot older you will realise what that remark meant to an arthritic old lady.

But next week you will be in school full-time.
How can that be, this incredible growth and development when it seems only a few weeks ago that you were learning to walk, just like Little Brother now?
And he too will race away, over the hills and vales of life, learning new skills every hour of every day.

Be safe and happy, both of you, on your feet, on your bikes, with your friends, in your classrooms.
And Granddaughter, thank you for  nearly five years of all the right sort of magic.

With love from Granny.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Darth Vader meets the Fairies

A busy weekend in my garden, so much more activity than I appreciated because it's going on all the time apparently,  right under my insensitive nose.
A happy, hot family weekend with Granddaughter E who, unbelievably, will be starting school in September, and little brother who equally unbelievably will be one year old at the same time. And their parents. Of course, their parents, looking tanned and happy but a bit jaded, hoping for lots of home-cooking ('Five puddings on Sunday. Only five!') and a bit of a respite.
Where has this year gone?

The garden has been such a success for everyone, especially in the warmth. So much so that the fairies have moved in on a large scale, except that I'm told they have always been here, it's just that I'm not a fairy expert, unlike E. who clearly is.

My sons were not experts in their childhood, either. They noticed lots of things, insects, stones, sticks, mud, stinging nettles, poisonous potentials,  amphibians, but not fairies.  They were never aware a single one, not a gnome, nor a pixie.
I wonder if Grandson will be an expert, and how much his big sister will influence him. At the moment he's concentrating on standing, jigging, crawling, eating and mostly smiling and laughing with the odd burst of singing and chatting (he's in a choir, after all).

Granddaughter knows all about fairies, their haunts and habitats and habits, and they have been fairly demanding this weekend. She has had to keep them supplied with tiny meals of specially dainty and flavoursome items. They like the several special herbs in the garden, notably the fruit-flavoured sages and mints. When they don't have anyone to wait on them they have to go and pick them for themselves, which is why E. explained they were tired and needed a rest from foraging, so Granny could do it for them.
In return they play music at night, and they leave small post-it notes around the place. Sometimes the writing looks like mine, but it's a lot smaller. I have to be careful not to tread on them in the garden. It's perilously easy and sometimes almost tempting to do so, but during the weekdays they have to go to school in the Hedgehog House at the bottom of the garden. (Sadly lacking hedgehogs for years now - but I digress). So we all have to be understanding. They will be working hard in school, and need to be well looked after at weekends.

Oh, what lovely not-so-subtle messages come through. Luckily the fairies will love going to school, they will love their new uniforms, they are going to be with their friends. It's just that they need to make sure that everything is going to be just right at home as well, that the attention and care is unchanged, that everything is safe and happy. That if they need tiny delicate meals someone will provide them as quickly as possible. Or even large meals with extra cheese, come to that.

Darth Vader is another matter. He is likely to be in the lavatory upstairs, which makes it difficult for a rising 5 year old to go up there on her own, especially along the long corridor in this house. A Granny  waiting at the bottom step will do as protection, but it needs that extra adult vigilance. Darth Vader might even have his light-shaver up there. We are all very sure that he wouldn't dare to go into a school though.

How good it is when we can recognise our own Darth Vaders and talk about them and find the right levels of protection and support. We all have them in there somewhere, just as we have good and happy influences flitting around, playing beautiful music that no one else can hear.