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.

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.