Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Is Second Time Twice As Nice?

Because the ensuing verses appeared a year ago, do I need to apologise for the repeat? Only two brave bloggers (Lee and Fletch) came to call, so now there's a chance more of you will get the picture. I could start from scratch, and churn out another little ditty on the same subject, but why waste a ready made poem which only needs a bit of dust blowing away before it looks as good as new?

In fact, it makes me giggle a bit, as I feel like Nurse administering a dose of unpleasant medicine. ('Open wide! Yes, you will swallow it this time!', as she clamps the jaws closed...) Only in my case, I'm attacking your eyeballs, before they become too bloodshot from an overindulgence at the New Year's Eve shindig you may be contemplating attending. ('Yes, you will read my words as I hold them under your nose for the second time.' Hehehe...)

Of course, there may be some who get no further than the word 'verses'; they may flee in haste to cower in a darkened room, muttering 'Oh,no!Not more versification!' as they hold their hands over their eyes before they get mesmerised into reading further against their will. In that case, I believe the relevant phrase is 'tough titty'.

I know we've only reached 30th December here at the moment, but as Blogland works on its own peculiar time scale, I think it's close enough to New Year's Eve to get this out of my system today, in more ways than one, if you follow my drift? If not, you'll only put it down to my oddball thinking, and won't worry as to what I meant. I know what I meant, and that's the main thing, no? No? Okay...I shan't argue. Here it is then, for the second time around.

New For Old

Seasons roll forward,
Earth spins onward
in its elliptical round.

Old Year to New Year,
time’s cogs change gear.
Bells herald it with their sound.

Flaunting its drab gown,
Old Year winds down,
greeting the year that’s to come.

Wipe all the slates clean,
then dream a new dream.
Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, 28 December 2009

That's It For Another Year Then, Folks!

Back To Reality

Santa's bells have all stopped jingling. Once again he's far away
unharnessing his trusty reindeer, brushing out his empty sleigh.
He can relax and put his feet up - for a little while, at least -
and tuck into his very late, but welcome, Christmas feast.

Soon, the busy tills start ringing, totting up the sales,
as shoppers grab at tempting bargains - often fighting tooth and nail -
to spend their hoarded Christmas money while the going's good
and all expensive, luxury items cost only half of what they should.

Scrooge would have been delighted to watch this money flow
into the merchant's coffers. But outside in the snow
are many folks who're destined for another sleepless night
upon the cold and icy streets, without a warm fire's light.

Still opulence and poverty go walking hand in hand;
an odd, double relationship that's hard to understand.
Each Christmas serves to highlight how the two stand side by side,
those who have, or have not, a happy Christmastide.

A quick, late, Tuesday post script - anybody reading the comments now on this post, might be puzzled by A Woman of No Importance; she it talking about the no-card card I emailed to many Blogpals for whom I have actual email addresses. If you are one of those still hiding behind noreply-comment @blogger.com, you can click here and see what you missed! She has cleverly posted the picture on her sidebar.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Not Quite Christmas Day In The Workhouse

Firstly, because at the moment it's only Christmas Eve, and secondly, Christmas Day In The Workhouse was the title of a poem written by George Sims, 1847-1922, that you may read at http://www.christmas-time.com/cp-work.html - providing you have stamina enough to wade through it's many verses.

I believe I encapsulated a more up to date view of the festive season, in this short offering I put before Blogland for the first time last December.

Noel, noel...

Festive wreaths all spiked with holly,
mistletoe and robins (jolly):
wassail cup all spiked with gin:
crackers with no bangers in:
smelly soap and stripy socks:
same old programmes on the box:
nuts and sweets and drinks free-flowing:
paper hats, balloons for blowing.
Tempers (short) and children (tired):
evening suits and dresses (hired):
office parties, too much drink:
Father Christmas on the brink
of chimney pots with central heating:
Christmas takes a lot of beating!

I leave my readers to ponder over the differing views of George Sims and jinksy, set as they are a whole lifetime apart. How times have changed; but for good or ill, I wonder...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy...

Isn't everybody? I've certainly not had time to post anything for a bit, as the emails sparked off by all the recent commenters have kept me typing merrily away, with nothing to show for it on the Blogpage! PLUS - the Christmas card-making bug bit me at last on Sunday, and I turned into a mini production line. There are still a few paper offcuts at my feet to prove it - the ones small enough to fall through the holes of my woven waste paper basket.

Now I've assuaged that overpowering creative urge, I have time to play with you all again. It's coming up to the first anniversary of my moving to Blogland, and I think I may do a slight action replay of my first tentative steps into this wonderful world. How funny does this Boxing Day 2008 offering sound, now?

Having finally managed to set myself up as an OAP Blogger yesterday morning, I was then called to the kitchen by the knowledge that Christmas dinner needed to be prepared if I was to feed the inner man/woman even as the blog called me to feed the mind by learning something new...
At this point, the day took over and ran away with me, so it was not until this morning that I settled down to actually 'post' something. There is so much jargon to learn. I would have said simply 'to write something', but no, I have to get used to 'posting' sans paper, pen, envelope or stamp. It's only taken me about two hours to actually find where and how this very first post may be committed to screen...
All who read, pity me - it will come to you to eventually - the feeling of being overtaken by technology.
Undaunted, I shall plod on.

And plod on I have, ever since! I apologise in advance to my far flung family, who were the only ones who read and commented on this initial post, but old people are renowned for repeating themselves, so why should I break the habit?!

And it seems like the right time to include this in the mix, too, for sadly it is just as pertinent today as when I wrote it initially.

Celebration

Evening dark enfolds the waiting city.
Children dream, perhaps of Santa Claus,
while juke-box music churns its tuneless ditties
into the streets where nobody gives pause
to think of Christmas.

The midnight hour solemnly approaches;
a small group congregates in vacant pews,
their measured footsteps rhythmically encroaching
upon a silence echoing with the news
of that first Christmas.

Around the crib the candlelight is flickering,
but muted organ notes cannot compete
with raucous sound of angry voices bickering
from drunken revellers outside in the street.
Can this be Christmas?

Expectant landscape waits for welcome silence,
as moon and stars continue on their way
around a world beset with wars and violence
which needs the gift of Peace as much today
as that first Christmas.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Christmas Trees Past And Present

They have sprouted all over Blogland, all kinds, all shapes, all sizes. I started to reminisce. To my surprise, I had no memory of Christmas trees being around, until I was about eleven. Before that, we'd lived in the top flat of a three storey building which was simply a large house - not purpose built apartments.
The landlord and his wife lived in the flat below, and I can imagine they'd not have been too happy if great trees had been lugged up all the stairs - not that I can even remember trees on offer in the shops. In that department, my mind is a complete blank...Perhaps it was simply because, in a town like Portsmouth, trees had not arrived commercially. There certainly weren't any growing outside our doors, waiting to be dug up!

So, in the 1950's, when we'd moved to a larger flat with more room and even higher ceilings, tall Christmas trees became a yearly event to look forward to. The Aged P's, who back in those days were relatively young forty-somethings, did all the choosing, decorating and clearing up of the pine needles when the whole festive thing was over.

Through my teens, as I became more and more dubbed 'the arty one', I gradually evolved into decorator in chief. Then came the year when our large, extended family was scattered to the four winds; one cousin and family in Tunbridge Wells, the other cousin and hers, far away in Gibraltar.

Mum decreed there'd be 'No tree this year!'. She had a tendency to side with the 'Bah Humbug' brigade on the commercialised Christmas question. Many years later, after she'd died, I found the possible explanation as to why. I found a letter from an Army Officer to Ada, (Gran) informing her of the death of her son, Arthur Charles. The letter was dated 21st December 1918.
He was the brother closest in age to my Mum.

Be that as it may, my brother and I , after a whispered conversation about the state of our pocket money coffers, decided a tree was essential. Saturday morning, off we trotted to a local shop and for the princely sum of eight shillings, bought a six foot specimen; as pine scented, prickly needled, and bushy as could be. That Christmas, at least, was still going to have all the trimmings, if we had anything to do with it.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Last Minute Preparation Has Its Place, Too...

At least in my world. When it came to Christmas Pudding, Gran continued an old English tradition where the mixing of The Pud was a yearly ritual for every member of the family, and when I say every, I mean every. No matter how long it took to waylay both grown ups and small fry to stir the mix three times and make a wish, The Pud sat and patiently waited until all had taken their turn.
By the time a hand written version of her recipe came to me, it had been honed by the years, and the cooks of the family, into a pretty good pud-producing list of ingredients. Except for one. Beef suet. As family butchers morphed into impersonal supermarket meat operatives (!) it became harder to find chunks of this strange looking, slightly stringy stuff, and did we want to eat it, anyway? It used to take for ever to grate it into tiny flakes - I know, because it was often my job and it used to try my patience as a small girl.
Thanks to Atora, this chore faded in the mists of time, and even better, they began to produce something they laughingly call 'Vegetable Suet'. Be that as it may, it works fine, so my Puds have been vegetarian ever since.

One year I discovered Escoffier's recipe for Christmas Pudding, and was both amazed, and chuffed, to see how closely it resembled my Gran's. I think the only major differences were the amount of breadcrumbs he used in relation to the other ingredients, and the addition of allspice, which is quite different from the mixed spice found in Gran's.

But I seldom get to make The Pud until Christmas is nearly upon us, and the aroma of one steaming away on the stove has become as much a necessary Christmas smell as the pine needles I spoke of the other day. Those among you who lack either the interest or the culinary skill to produce your own, have been missing one of life's treats! Maybe this will spur you on...

Christmas Pud

Some people buy their Pudding,
but for true old fashioned feel,
I like to mix and steam my own;
that has the most appeal.

I used to use a recipe
that first came from my Gran.
But then I found Escoffier's
and Gran's an also ran.

His is light and airy
with a special touch of spice,
but not so much it spoils the taste -
it's really uber nice.

If this tempts anybody's taste buds,
then email me today -
and I'll pass on all my secrets
for That Pud served Christmas Day.

P.S. I have details that can accommodate different quantities, from a single portion to a mammoth family feast, so nobody need miss out on this culinary delight!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Preparation Is Everything!

With the festive season approaching with alarming speed, my thoughts have been centering around the subject of decoration, especially of The Tree. I used to adore the aroma of pine trees (Pinus Sylvestris) of my childhood; it scented the room with resinous anticipation that spelled Christmas.

Now, they've been replaced by other less fragrant varieties not so prone to dropping their needles at an alarming rate, but which deny the senses their yearly wallowing in the spirit of Christmas Past, for time was spruce trees were unheard of, and the Scots or Scotch Pine ruled supreme.

Because of their needle dropping propensity, though, my Mum, and later my Hubby, banned their entry into the house until, almost literally, the eleventh hour on Christmas Eve. I can remember my Dad, surrounded by at least two, and sometimes three, strings of lights, desperately trying to achieve one complete working set, when it was finally time to deck the tree, if not the halls! These days, cheap lights are almost two-a-penny, but back then lights were a considered purchase, and not to be relegated to the scrap heap at the flicker of a bulb. They were wired up in series ( I think I have the correct term, but maybe not - it might have been parallel) so that if one bulb blew, they all went out together, making finding the one dud bulb an absolute nightmare.

So it was with these happy thoughts in mind that I picked up pad and pencil this morning, and waited for the muse to strike. This was the result.

Oh, Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum...

It's time to get the tinsel out and check the Christmas lights,
the fairy and the baubles - all the seasonal delights.

The tinsel's looking tarnished. May be time to get some more?
And what about the holly wreath to hang upon the door?

It's only artificial, so should be fit to use…
Not so sure about the lights…I think they've blown a fuse.

I test them with a gadget which tells me they are good.
I only need replace a bulb - I rather thought I would;

there's always one that lets you down! Now, where did I put the spares?
I think they're in an old shoe box I've tucked away upstairs

inside the back room cupboard, near the plastic Christmas tree.
That'll need a lot of sprucing up - Ha! I said 'spruce' you see?

A crafty way to compensate for its not being real,
but merely pseudo needles in wire twists as tough as steel.

But once you've bent 'em back in shape, dressed branches one and all,
the tree will look a picture, when Old Santa comes to call!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Surprise, Surprise!

Even though it's heading towards my bedtime, I'm so excited, I had to do a 'mini blog'! I've just noticed, all your pretty pictures are back beside each comment, instead of only the first five lucky comers! Has Blogger seen the error of his ways, or has he decided to be kind to jinksy? It's a bit late in the day for me to begin dashing around visiting to see if you've been similarly blessed, but here's hoping, when I do, that the pretty pics will adorn each and every Bloggy Pal's Posts, as in days of old...
Let's hope it's more than a mere flash in the pan, and that you'll all still be in situ in the morning.

Oh, and while I'm here, I'd like to bring something else to everybody's notice:-

Very helpful advice that Braja kindly put in one of her blogcomments, which applies to so many of you whose comments arrive in our inboxes with the annoying 'noreply-comment@blogger.com' showing as the sender:-

"noreply-comment@blogger.com is the address that your comments are sent from. You haven't designated an email address so that anyone can reply. It blocks communication.
Go to your profile. Click on Edit profile, and then choose the third box down, Show My Email. Simple."

Your email address doesn't actually show on your blog, so you're not giving any secrets away, but it does allow an instant reply to comments you leave around Blogland. Here's to many more days of Blogland Fun & Frolic, folks...sleep tight - or sober, come to think of it...

A Very Late, Explanatory PS, following Crystal Jigsaw's comment:-

Well, if , like me, you ask to be notified when a comment is left on any of your posts, then you get an email showing it to you; you don't need to go back to your blog to read it. But if, also like me, you like to send answers back to the one who commented, that's where the problems begin. With some people (the ones who haven't ticked the box), when you check the 'Properties ' on the drop down 'File' list, you see the email came from 'noreply-comment@blogger.com'. If you click 'Reply', in the mistaken idea you'll be 'talking' to your Blogpal who left the comment - Wrong! Your reply will only be going into the wide blue nowhere! Once the box Braja mentioned is ticked, your replies actually get sent back to your Blogpal. I suppose it's only annoying to people like me, who always like to carry on a chat 'behind the scenes' when the comment is one I'm dying to answer, either with a funny quip, or a sympathetic sentence, or sometimes an answer to a relevant query. Hope this explains it better?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

When Does Autumn Officially Become Winter?

I'd be surprised if anybody could answer the question with any degree of certainty. Here, I definitely think Winter flexed its muscles yesterday, for a cold and frosty morning turned the grass into a crunchy surface, as I dragged the Wheelie Bin across to the pavement, ready to be emptied. But today, it's back to wet and relatively warm, so it would seem Winter changed its mind after all.

As I've not inflicted any poems on you for a while, I thought I'd share one today - one I'm never likely to forget, as I got paid the princely sum of £5 when it was printed in a magazine. I hastened to photocopy the cheque as everlasting proof, for I doubt I shall ever reach such rumunerative heights again - especially since that particular magazine is no longer in existence. I think I'm safe in saying the Tax Man will not be knocking on my door any time soon as a result of my earnings...

End Of Autumn

The white-disc moon of daylight hours
hides briefly behind clouds whose showers
sprinkle drops of silver rain that glint
as sunshine slants again
across the land.

Through spiders' webs of crystal laces
peep holly’s bright red, berry faces.
Their glossy leaves sharp-pointed splinters
prod days of autumn into winter’s
frosty hand.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

If You Want To Get Ahead, Get A Hat...

This is a play on words. It was an advertising slogan in the UK in the 1940s, when most men still wore hats - caps, trilbies or bowlers - by Dunn & Co, hat makers. It implied that, in order to advance in life, you needed a hat to help you on your way.

So runs the explanation on that wonderful site The Phrase Finder, http://www.phrases.org.uk/ which can so often plug a gap in our knowledge, once we start exploring the world of the vernacular.

Now, Gentlemen have no difficulty when it comes to buying headgear. The have a huge range of styles to choose from - look at this long list from one online company, for example, which I found in the twinkling of an eye:-

* Men’s Flat Caps
* Men’s Fedora Hats
* Men’s Cowboy Hats
(did they think Cow Girls would have their own kind?)
* Men’s Beanies
(a male or female beanie? I ask you!)
* Men’s Trilby Hats
* Top Hats
(obviously women have been excluded out of hand with this one)
* Men’s Trapper Hats
(no lady trappers?)
* Crushable Wool Hats
(no lady would ever crush her hat)
* Indiana Jones Hats
(too sexist for words)
* Men’s Pork Pie Hats
* Men’s Rain Hats
* Men’s Wool & Fur Felt Hats
* Baseball Caps & Trucker Hats
(ladies presumably allowed by kind permission to share?)
* Fez Hats (ditto)
* Berets (ditto)
* Bucket Hats (ditto)
* Leather Hats (ditto)
* Outdoor Hats (ditto)
* Men’s Straw Hats
* Men’s Sun Hats
* Viking Helmets (ditto)
* Army Hats (ditto)
* Fisherman Caps (ditto)
* Panama Hats (ditto)
* Pith Helmets (ditto)
* Golf Hats & Caps (ditto)

Leaving aside their gender specific tendencies, all this headgear comes in a variety of sizes, from simple S, M, L, XL to the more complicated 'six and five eights', or 'seven and three quarters' type of sizing, but all giving a wide range to fit all kinds of heads. No 'One Size Fits All'; which sorry state of affairs seems to be the case as soon as we begin talking about Ladies hats.

Sadly, I don't come into the 'All' category. I admit, I have a big head - for a lady - size L, 7 3/8'' or 59 cm, according to which measuring system is used. So a Hat and I have never been the best of friends. In the sixties, I bought what may only be described as a bonnet (then fashionable !). Made from pitch black, Mongolian Lamb Skin (very short and curly fleece), lined and slightly padded, it covered all but the very front of my hair, and wrapped around to fasten under my chin with a large hook and eye contraption. It must have looked like I had a soft and silky Afro when viewed from the rear.

It had two draw backs. ONE, it instantly turned you deaf, and to hold a conversation, you had to hook one ear free of it, if you didn't want to keep saying 'Sorry, pardon?' every two seconds. and TWO, when it rained hard, it turned your neck and collar a delicate shade of purple-black.
I do still have it, but only wear it in the iciest of weather conditions.

Next in my hat wardrobe came a crocheted cap, in an orangey-red and brown wool, with a large pompom on top. Big, floppy and adaptable, it served me well for years, and was especially good for collecting conkers in, when they littered the pavement outside the kids school one blustery autumn. I still have this hat, too, but unfortunately, it's in one of those 'safe places' I can't quite put my finger on at present...

Eventually, I resorted to buying a large, pure wool felt, tan coloured, mans hat which looks like a cross between a fedora and an Indiana Jones. Its 23 1/4'' size fits perfectly, and it's much better than an umbrella in wet weather when the wind makes such items non-viable.

As my hair becomes ever more sparse, thanks to inherited genes from my Ma, I suspect, a hat or cap becomes a growing necessity, and I've been trawling the net for a likely addition to my hat-box. I was after a blue-grey colour, just so's I could ring the changes a little. For about ten pounds, I found a very jaunty check number ( I think they called it a fisherman's cap) which looks fine - until you notice it was made in China, and has an inner band which feels as though it was manufactured in one of their steel works. But I may use it to construct a pattern, since I gave up on the idea of unpicking it to remove the offending band, due to the tiny stitches and triple rows of machining with which it was sewn. The Chinese didn't mean for it to fall apart, that's for sure.

So my life long search for the ultimate hat goes on. I wonder how many other ladies out there have similar problems? Or am I the last of the Big Heads? Not that I'm bigheaded, of course...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Late Nights Or Early Mornings?

No1 Daughter and family will be flying off to New Zealand on 5th December, to spend a month with far flung rellies. So I was not too surprised when, about a week ago, said daughter 'phoned with this rather odd suggestion:-
'Mum, I've promised to babysit for Hubby's eldest sister next Saturday evening. Could I drive down to deliver Christmas Prezzies as soon as the revellers get home? The roads will be much easier then - (think Daytime Roadworks Nightmare) - and they should get back around midnight. It'd only take me about an hour to get to you, and I could let myself in and crawl into bed without too much noise, if that's alright?'
Not your normal arrangements for visit, but who'd expect normalcy from either me or mine?
'No problem', says I.' I'll probably still be awake then, anyhow.'
'Okay, I'll text you when I set out, shall I?' replied daughter.
And that was how the matter was left.

Yesterday evening it was getting close to midnight anyway, before I climbed into bed and snuggled down to watch the X Factor show I'd missed earlier in the evening. The mobile sat hopefully beside my bed, awaiting the all important text message; X Factor would run from 11.55pm to 1.10pm.

The mobile remained silent.

Eventually, by a quarter to one, I decided to be the one to text, to see what the hold up had been. As I was squinting at the buttons, composing my message, Daughter got in first, and my phone rang! She was at last about to leave.
Hence it was closer to two in the morning, not one, that we finally settled down for the night. Well, daughter settled down, and I spent a further hour waiting to be lulled to dreamland by my radio's World Service.

Come the morning, eight o'clock saw me up and about, as I'm long past the days of extended lie-ins. Daughter, however excelled herself, and didn't surface for coffee until mid-day. She was delighted at the chance to sleep undisturbed for such a long time, as her kiddy-winks would have scuppered that if she'd been at home!

'It comes to something, Ma', said she,'when I have to babysit till after midnight, then drive an hour through the pouring rain just to catch up on a bit of beauty sleep!'
Bless her little cotton socks - er, correction - pink, leopard print, furry bootees!

Friday, 20 November 2009

How Long Is A Piece Of String?

I, and possibly many others, have a liking for this phrase. It is a great non-sequitur. When people ask 'How long will the job take?' and the one being questioned chooses not to be tied to an exact answer, it is guaranteed to bring the conversation to an abrupt halt when used as a reply.

But this week, BBC's Horizon decided to produce an entire programme on this very subject, and sent off Alan Davies to find a definitive answer. ( For those of you puzzled by the name - he is an actor, comedian and well loved panellist on Steven Fry's QI (Question of Intelligence) quiz.)

Alan went to an ironmonger's shop, and persuaded them to sell him a random length of string, which he cut from their enormous roll. It measured 32cm when stretched against their counter's inbuilt rule.

This could have been the shortest programme the BBC ever broadcast.

However, once the scientists got involved, the result was an hour's worth of fascinating television. It soon became clear, accuracy depends on the method being used - so therefore, does the answer! A Professor got Alan to measure a length of coastline on a map, first with a straight rule, then with his piece of string, finally with a map-measuring device. Three methods each giving a different answer. We were soon into the realm of fractals, as Alan and the Professor drew triangles, in ever decreasing size but ever increasing in number, on the damp sand of a Cornish beach.

From here on the programme took on a science fiction aura, as viewers were shown examples of various standard weights and measures. They started with ancient cubits, then moved all the way through the centuries to an extremely expensive, one metre bar of platinum and iridium. This is kept at a constant temperature to ensure its length remains stable, thus providing a perfect standard metre to use as a comparison.

But there are now far more sophisticated ways of measuring length - by using lasers. A metal marker was held in turn at each end of Alan's string, as a robotic sensor marked these points, before giving an extremely accurate reading. It was marginally short of the 32cm, as the string had by now begun to fray, and Alan had held the markers slightly in from the end as a result! Finally, we saw the most accurate and up to date equipment of all, which uses the speed of light to determine length. According to this, Alan's piece of string equalled three billionths of a second…

From speed of light, we were next embroiled in the mind blowing field of quantum mechanics, where objects are theoretically said to be in several places at once. The length of Alan's string was becoming ever more complex to ascertain. By the end of the programme, as far as my overloaded brain circuitry could understand, it ended in a black hole with a length which stretched to infinity. I think I'll stick with the thirty two centimetre version, thank you, or maybe simply keep to the original question, 'How long is a piece of string?'.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

No Skating OnThin Ice

It's that time of year again. What time? Why, time to get the recipe book out. Are we talking food today then? Nope. I'd say guess again, but it might take you a month of Sundays to arrive at the correct answer. Here, I'll give you the recipe, then you'll understand:-

Recipe for an Ice Rink.

1 team of ice rink people.

1 team of electrical people.

1 large space.

3 rented chillers.

2 weeks of rough weather, just to make it extra special!


Method.

Mark out site or rink.

Lay large electrical cable to chiller site.

Lay a false floor (so's not to kill the grass underneath it)

Roll out strips of tubing rather like the grill on the back of a fridge.

Connect all tubing to the main chiller pipes.

Turn on chillers and pump the very cold liquid through all pipes.

Spray whole ice rink (just tubes at this point) with a water hose once every hour for about a week!

When Ice is about 6-8 inches thick, drive the little tractor all over it, to smooth the surface to a glass like finish.

Top with happy skaters and Bob is very much your mother's brother!


Not what you were expecting? No. I thought not; let me explain.
Last year, No. 1 Son helped some of his buddies to set up an outdoor skating rink, and they co-opted him for a repeat performance this year. So when I emailed him yesterday, asking just exactly what the whole process entailed, he sent me the above recipe.

Now, I know many Bloggers live in parts of the world where ice regularly comes unasked at certain times of year, but dear old England is not so obliging. Hence the man-made variety being arranged as a special Christmas Holiday Season treat.

Sadly, it seems the gods had been keeping their weather eyes open for this action replay, too. Wind and rain besieged the workers last year, and blow me down, if the same elements haven't been gearing up to behave in exactly the same way during this year's assembly proceedings. Son did tell me they had rigged up some kind of marquee for shelter this year, and a good job too, if the latest BBC forecasts are anything to go by. For the next two weeks the teams will be working hard, no matter what the weather throws at them. Perhaps you could all beam calming thoughts towards the South of England for the next fortnight?!

And in case you were wondering, to take it out they just set the chillers on Heat and pump hot fluid through the pipes to melt the ice which, depending on the weather, takes about a week, too. Last year the cables had to be dug out from underneath a pile of 'snow' that was 7ft deep - this was created by the little tractor and its smoothing trips over the 4 weeks the Rink was in action. This year, the cables have been run well away from the tractor tipping point so there won't be need for any digging!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Is This The Past Coming To Haunt Me?

Picture this, people; at some time in its life, the door to my living room was converted to a sliding one. Fine, no problem. It saves space, for an ordinary opening door requires an arc through which it may swing, whereas a slider is contained in a narrow strip either to the left or right of the doorway.

Still with me? Now I need you to be a little more imaginative, as I attempt to explain the layout of my home a little further. Walk with me down my relatively narrow hallway, with living room facing us at the end. The door slides to the right, and this is where it becomes a little tricky, for at a ninety degree angle to its frame is another, narrower door which allows entry to my under-stairs cupboard. Admittedly, if I choose to open the cupboard door, access to the living room is temporarily impossible, but this isn't a major disadvantage, in the great scheme of things.

The problems begin once you understand just how much accumulated dross I have manged to stow away in this cupboard since I first moved in. Although I have occasionally taken almost everything out, almost everything has been hastily returned at once, theoretically until I have enough time to deal with it properly. You begin to get the picture? I have currently wedged an elephant sized drawing board across the entrance, to stop an avalanche of plastic bags and boxes spreading over my feet, as soon as I open the door. Please note, I am not implying the board is actually the size of a pachyderm, merely that it fits the paper size 'Elephant' by which it would have been known in the days before metrication.

It has provided a stirling service, since I first had the brainwave to use it in this unorthodox manner. The only snag is, there is no such Heath Robinson contraption in place to prevent sideways expansion of my 'stuff'. Unfortunately, this often means it slides like a slag heap, and permanently fixes my sliding, living room door in the open position.

During warm summer days, this is fine, but once winter chills begin creeping around the place, it is quite nice to be able to cocoon one's self in a room with a firmly closed door. At last, we have arrived at the nub of the matter which prompted this post. I removed several plastic bags and contents from the cupboard, in order to keep the heat in my living room by closing that dratted door.

Shall I let you into the secret of the bag contents I dealt with this morning? 99% consisted of paper-based letters awaiting shredding (security minded me!), but I hate to admit, the dates of the bank statements, official correspondence etc., were between 2000 - 2001. I hang my head in shame. In my defence, I only acquired a paper shredder about a year ago, but that is no excuse for having ignored the bag for over eight years. Can any of you admit to such disgraceful, useless hoarding? Probably not...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, Remember The Fifth Of November

Thanks to Google, here follows a potted version of a bit of English History to give you all another chance to add to your store of pretty useless facts, and to save me from writing a post myself! :-)

In 1605, thirteen young men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Among them was Guy Fawkes, Britain's most notorious traitor.

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James did not turn out to be more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men, 13 to be exact, decided that violent action was the answer.

A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or terrorists.

To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.

But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th. Was the letter real?

The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.

Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed.

It's unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know for certain.

Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.

On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Some of the English have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, whether they are celebrating Fawkes' execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government.

For 400 years, bonfires have burned on November 5th to mark the failed Gunpowder Plot.

The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires actually began the very same year as the failed coup. The Plot was foiled in the night between the 4th and 5th of November 1605. Already on the 5th, agitated Londoners who knew little more than that their King had been saved, joyfully lit bonfires in thanksgiving. As years progressed, however, the ritual became more elaborate.
bonfire

Soon, people began placing effigies onto bonfires, and fireworks were added to the celebrations. Effigies of Guy Fawkes, and sometimes those of the Pope, graced the pyres. Still today, some communities throw dummies of both Guy Fawkes and the Pope on the bonfire (and even those of a contemporary politician or two), although the gesture is seen by most as a quirky tradition, rather than an expression of hostility towards the Pope.

Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations include making a dummy of Guy Fawkes, which is called "the Guy". Some children even keep up an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying "the Guy" they have just made, and beg passersby for "a penny for the Guy." The kids use the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities.

On the night itself, Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.

The extent of the celebrations and the size of the bonfire varies from one community to the next. Lewes, in the South East of England, is famous for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of people each year to participate.

Bonfire Night is not only celebrated in Britain. The tradition crossed the oceans and established itself in the British colonies during the centuries. It was actively celebrated in New England as "Pope Day" as late as the 18th century. Today, November 5th bonfires still light up in far out places like New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sting And Soul Cake

On BBC TV this morning, Sting mentioned an old custom which sparked his latest 'Soul Cake' song. He said, way back, in the homes of wealthier peasants, so called 'Soul Cakes' were baked to honour the dead on the eve of All Saints' Day, and the poor of the neighbourhood would go round the village and volunteer to do the scary bit of passing these offerings over to the spirits - a perfect excuse to get a free feed while being 'good' - and so began the Halloween (All Hallows Eve) tradition of treats.

I'd never heard of these cakes before, so after lunch I did a bit of Googling and found this:-

Soul Cakes are an echo of the sacrificial foods of the Celtic festival of Samhain held in early autumn. These little cakes were traditionally set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows Eve (31st October) for the souls of the dead. On All Saints' Day (1st November) children would go "souling" calling out "Soul, Soul, for a Soul Cake: pray you good mistress, a soul cake".

It seems I was wrong in my supposition that Trick or Treat was a totally American idea. It now appears that all the Americans did, was to jazz up the proceedings somewhat. I suppose in a land as old as Britain, it's no surprise to discover there's nothing new under the sun, when it comes to ancient customs.

Shrinky had already told me as much in her comment, and in a behind-the-scenes-email, she gave me a link to explain more about the Hop-tu-naa poem she mentioned. I'm pretty sure this will send Weaver, RWP, Friko, Carolina, Suldog and goodness knows how many others of an inquisitive bent, rushing to expand their already considerable store of odd info. I wonder how many bloggers there are around, who can actually read the original Manx words?

I rather enjoyed discovering Mama Lisa's World She's from the Isle of Man, and wrote a post on her blog about The Day Of The Dead (1-2 November) in Mexico, which is just another variation of All Saints' Day here. One never knows where Blogging will lead, eh? Personally, I just follow my nose and hope for the best...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Trick Or Treat?

Halloween this year would pass with no little monsters battering my front door and grabbing goodies as though their life depended on it; I would make sure of that, I decided. On my last trundle round the supermarket I eyed the shelves of pumpkins askance, and determined to ignore the whole thing, on the grounds that this totally American import of Trick or Treat was one we British could do without.

Having taken this grouchy decision, as darkness fell last night, I betook me to a secluded room, hunched over my cauldron, donned my pointy hat and prepared my potions. Drips and drops of gaudy liquids were added to my selection of gruesome, ground up ingredients. My marble pestle and mortar worked overtime and the toughest bone was reduced to the finest powder in the twinkling of a bat's eye.

Secret incantations left my lips, as one by one, the ingredients added their noxious elements to my witch's brew. By the time the moon began to light the dimmest corners of my hidey-hole, the work was complete. An eerie, luminous steam rose from the cauldron's mouth as I carried it to the open window and placed it on the sill. Slowly, slowly it drifted out and up, up over the neighbouring houses and gardens, billowing, ballooning, growing, until eventually it had infiltrated everywhere.

And what, you may ask, was the end result of this wizardry? I am exceedingly happy to report, not even the tiniest ghoul dared darken my doorstep with its outstretched hand begging for treats. None of the houses round about were bothered by begging bowls, either, so I climbed upon my broomstick for one last tour of inspection before bed, well pleased with my evenings work... I'd have to remember to use the same spell next October the thirty first.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Curiouser And Curiouser

Alice In Wonderland may have been the book which made this phrase famous, but Blogger has certainly taken it to heart and is apparently attempting to provide its own variations on a theme. Of a sudden, instead of producing tiny portraits or symbols alongside each and every comment, it's changed the rules, at least on my blog. The first five replies are honoured with illustrations, but from there on, only blank squares accompany the comments. Has anyone else noticed this phenomena, or am I alone in being rationed? Perhaps Blogger is only disgruntled with me... I shall start quaking in my shoes for fear I've upset him.

On quite a different tack, Poet In Residence will lead you to the poem Sleepless in Limbo, which follows on beautifully from my last subject. If your curiosity has become curiouser, now I've given you a link to indulge your version of Alice's affliction. Thanks, PIR, for today's interesting detour into the past - 18 February this year, to be exact...

You will see today what a grasshopper mind I have. No sooner did I read '18 February', than it flipped a switch that said 'NJT's birthday' - but not in 2009. Far from it. I was a mere seven year old when this particular cousin put in her appearance for the first time. But my train of thought, once started trundling down this track of time, continued to choo-choo its way through the years.

It finally stopped at the station in 1954. NJT was then a bubbly kid, who loved to to play with my brother and I - especially early in the morning. But our patience wore a trifle thin occasionally, due to her penchant for singing in a high pitched, piercing voice, the following refrain, 'This is a proper woman's v o i c e.' It was sung all on the same note until the last word, which soared to painful, long drawn out heights of ear splitting volume and frightening vibrato. Where, or why, the words originated, we had no idea, but believe me, after the umpteenth repetition close to your Saturday-morning-pillowed- head, it loses it's attraction. That is if it had any to begin with!

Aren't you glad you don't have to suffer my grasshopper mind too often? I hasten to add, NJT improved with age, and as there is no chance she will ever read this blog, I feel quite safe with sharing this snippet. We love her really.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Rewind One Hour

That's what we had to remember to do with all our clocks and /or watches this morning - a kind of countrywide Time Warp. Why the witching hour of 2am was chosen for this this event, I have no idea. Can you imagine, everyone, in theory, sitting waiting for the hour to arrive simply in order to move the clock hands to the one o'clock position? Ludicrous!

I would bet my bottom dollar that, this morning, there will be a fair number of people still living their life an hour in advance of the rest of us, in blissful ignorance until either TV or radio reminds them to change this theoretical hour of the day. Trouble is, body clocks have their own schedule, and it was no use telling mine last night that it had to re-adjust itself at 2am. When it decided I should wake up, that's what I did, despite the fact that my self-regulating clock radio had made the magical switch-over at 2am, and was insisting it was only five in the morning, my internal clock was telling me it was six, and I'd had enough sleep for the time being...

I shall spend the whole day living under the delusion that I've 'gained' an extra hour - a bonus gift from the scientifically minded souls who decreed time should be measured, and managed, in this bewildering manner.

In reality, all I've gained is a strange, not-quit-belonging-to-now sensation, where my body will be expecting meal times as usual, but my clocks will be saying 'Wait! You can't have a meal yet - it's far too early!'

Monday, 19 October 2009

Turn Around, Bright Eyes...

So now you want to see things from the opposite direction? Shall we start from the exit at Waitrose, where two rows of wire framed shopping trolleys stand in interlocked ranks, making the most of being empty?
You can almost hear them groan to one another...
'Did you see what that last shopper managed to cram into my poor insides? I thought I would buckle at the wheels!'
'Huh! You think you had problems? I had one of those awful toddlers fidgeting and complaining in my little seat, kicking at me and screaming into my handle when he couldn't get his own way as we passed the sweetie shelf!'
As each shopper returns their trolley to tuck it on the end of a row, the clatter-chatter noise echoes along the line, a metallic shudder making them sound in unison. A nondescript, hairy mongrel is hitched to the bar that stops the trolleys rolling onto the paving, and he looks bewildered, turning his head left at the clanking noise, but almost as swiftly turning right, as another pair of feet pound past him on the pavement. He remains stoically silent. Been here, done this before.
My personal, trusty Sholley, obediently skirts round the poor animal, under my direction, and together we retrace the route home.

Perhaps I should let you 'see' this Sholley; its two back wheels are fixed, but the front two may be set to swivel like those on a baby's modern stroller. It's basically a metal framed, wide-mesh box on wheels, with a blue and brown checked fabric bag fitted to ensure the shopping is safe, and a firm lid that serves as a great platform on which to balance a small shopping basket. No need for me to use one of the monster sized, Wairose ones for my modest purchases today.

Okay. The road turns sharp left, and here's the pavement with the pigeon droppings and feathers. But we can cross to the other side, and spend a moment or two admiring the latest selection of wares in Tallulah's tiny corner boutique. Colourful clothing is displayed temptingly in the shallow, hip-height window; tops, skirts, trousers, accessories, all with a distinctly Indian flavour, plus overtones of Hippie. The narrow door, which straddles the corner, is open and a lovely aroma of Nag Champa incense sets my nose twitching appreciatively.

For this part of the walk, I have to make certain the Sholley's front wheels are in the fixed position, otherwise it takes on a life of its own and progress resembles a drunken stagger each time there's a slope towards the gutter. There's been a lot of new building along this terrace, but wherever there are undeveloped sections, the down slopes increase in number; hence the fixed wheels. It's only a short street and in next to no time, we're at the Bear Hotel car park entrance, directly opposite the seat-round-the-tree corner we saw on the way to Waitrose's.

On our right, Pallant House, the home of the Nursery School, has children's art work hanging in each of it's windows. Cut out witches zoom around, in honour of Halloween, with a black cat or two and a good supply of pumpkin faces. The road carries on curving to the right, and here's the old brick wall that made me wax lyrical in the previous post. Almost at the end of it, a slatted wood seat, placed in memory of a long dead Havant worthy, invites us to rest a while, so come on, what are you waiting for? Let's sit and have a good look round.

It's a great place for pondering. Overhead, a green canopy of large, palmate shaped leaves stir occasionally in the light breeze. The tree stands near the edge of the pavement, in front of me, close enough for its canopy to spread over this spot like a living umbrella. I'm not sure of the species, but the dappled, camouflage patterns on the bark make me think it's a plane tree of some kind. A plethora of irregular, random shapes in shades of grey-green, khaki, beige and cream, with occasional, tiny patches of light orange, draw the attention to its bark. It looks for all the world like a soldier in camouflage uniform. The trunk is not more than about ten inches in diameter, and doesn't branch until it's over eight feet high, where two big, black knot hole eyes stare down, before the smaller limbs divide, then divide again to look like dreadlocks attached to its forehead.

Across another road away to the right, once I stop admiring this tree, I'm intrigued by three houses in my view that have been standing there for at least a century. They're large, double fronted buildings, the first two with steeply pitched gables, outlined in white. One has flint stone walls, so the pattern is jumbled over its surface, but it's neighbour has had a different building method used, which leaves short, interlocked horizontal lines on its surface, ( imagine you are looking side-on to the pages of a thick-leaved book) so the contrast in texture is extremely pleasing.
The third house is a perfect example of an Englishman thinking his home is his castle. It's a dingy, mid grey, and instead of a pointed one, the roof line is horizontal and crenelated. There were obviously few building regulations in the days when it was first constructed.

A couple of passers by say good morning and smile at me, bring me back to the present. My reverie, and thus yours too, kind reader, is at an end. Upwards and onwards is the order of the day. Do hope you have a good one...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Do You See What I See?

Silly question, really; of course you don't. But maybe, if I try very hard, I will be able to give you an inkling of things I noticed Monday morning, on my way to Waitrose. There are several routes I can take. One winds through little alleyways, in and out. Another follows the slightly wider side roads, lined with fairly imposing detached properties, while a third, after crossing the main Havant road with its rushing cars and occasional bicycle or bus, veers to the left and passes St Faith's Church Hall, before a final sharp right brings you to the welcoming arms of Waitrose with its shelves full of groceries. This was the way I chose.

It's the old, brick wall boundary of the Church Hall that catches my attention. It stands well above head height and its rounded top sports a few tufts of various mosses, like an old man might sprout a last few hairs before baldness claims him. The bricks are pitted, even crumbling in places, and display a wide range of glowing colours, appropriately enough at present, in Autumn shades : warm russet: pinkish, brick-red: red-gold amber and lastly, occasional deeper tints and tones of maroon to black. In the light of a sunny morning, the wall glows, despite being in shade.

I walk slowly by, drinking in the colours, but then, I notice how out of kilter its perpendicular lines are, as it gradually curves round the car park area of the hall. At the start, its top tilts slightly to the left, but further along it straightens, then eventually, tilts a little to the right. Somehow, it gives the impression as I move past, that it's slowly changing position to ease it's weary bones, like an arthritic person putting their weight first on one foot, then the other. Several of the double width columns that strengthen it at intervals, have sturdy pieces of wood bolted to the top two and a half feet of the brickwork. The bolts are rusty round their circumferences, and the wooden buttresses are weathered to a light silvery grey. Perpendicular ruts and runnels texture their surfaces, give an indication of their age.

Over to the right, once the Church Hall and it's adjacent building which houses a Nursery School have been negotiated, are a group of small cottages. They have Georgian looking, small paned windows, two of which have white, ornamental shutters on either side, and their pointed roofs add to their fairy tale look. On the pavement before them, a wrought iron seat, painted green, encircles a small tree. The effect is only spoiled by a tall, road sign pole, totally out of character in the chocolate box picture made by the cottages.

Three roads form a Y shape in front of the picturesque seat-round-the-tree, and I have to take care I'm not daydreaming as I trundle my shopping trolley on the last part of my route, which takes me by more tiny, elegant, listed buildings, before the modern walls and grilles of Waitrose's underground car park blast fumes across the pavement. A pavement liberally dotted with pigeon droppings, I see, plus a plethora of tiny, fluffy feathers produced by the morning preening session on Waitrose's rooftop.

So I arrive a my destination, and need to concentrate on my shopping list. I may decide to ask you to walk home with me, eventually, to allow you to see the view from the other direction. On the other hand, I may leave you all shopping in Waitrose. At least you won't go hungry!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Food For Thought Finale

You can stop wondering, reader, about how long I'll make you wait for the end of the tale. I'll be very kind and, although I've got out of the habit of posting every day, I shall, on this occasion revert to my original daily dose.

Please bear in mind, this was merely a homework assignment, nothing more, nothing less. I've never been bitten by the short story bug, and if quizzed on the subject, would deny that I'm destined to write them. The shutters inside my mind have slammed together with a bang, whether through fear, or lack of confidence. I cannot envision an inexhaustable supply of basic plots. Maybe, if I'd been an adventurous, travel-the-world-on-a-shoestring type of youngster, I'd have accumulated a store of ideas by now, that, as a retired lady of leisure, I could send as grist to my mill.

I'd love to hear from those of you amongst my readers who are tellers of tales by nature. Do ideas bubble up all the time? Do you have to go digging for them, like a fisherman digging for his bait before his next trip? Are short stories all you want to write, or do you secretly yearn to give birth to a novel? Come on people - tell Aunty Jinksy!

Meantime, here's the promised continuation of Food For Thought...

..."I think I'm losing my mind!..."

The words sounded ominous to her even as she spoke them, clearly and deliberately, in a steady voice that belied her inner turmoil. The command with which she uttered them allowed Dan no alternative but to focus on the unimposing spectacle before him, Mary; short, slightly overweight, her round face framed by a halo of wayward hair which, although tinged with grey, managed nevertheless to make her appear younger than she was.
“What are you supposed to mean by that?”
Already Dan’s light blue eyes had the closed expression she recognised so well. It always appeared when she encroached upon his invisible ‘emotion screen’.
“Precisely what I say. I think I’m going crazy. Something is happening I don’t understand.”
Mary sat down at last, but made no attempt to eat, simply rested her arms lightly on the edge of the table.
“You know yesterday evening you went to play darts with Joe and Peter?”
Dan nodded assent.
“ The children were in their rooms, so I thought I’d make good use of the quiet time and organise my writing desk. I’d been meaning to tidy it for days, but I can’t concentrate on a job like that when there are other people clattering around. Eventually I got it into some semblance of order and was about to close it, when I notice a small bundle of what looked like notes held together by a rubber band. I couldn’t remember seeing them before, so I pulled out one and unfolded it. It was a perfectly ordinary sheet of writing paper, dated at the top. In the centre of the page was written ‘ Today, the car won’t start’…”
“So what?” said Dan. “Someone must have started to write a letter and then forgotten it.“
“But it wasn’t a letter. That’s all it said. ‘Today, the car won’t start’, printed in capital letters. And I’d certainly not seen it, nor read it before, much less tucked it into a rubber band.”
“Still doesn’t sound like a forerunner of insanity to me”, said Dan in a bored voice, as he reached for another slice of toast and cheese.
“But I haven’t finished telling you.”
Mary carried on talking, pushing her plate away. She couldn’t make herself eat anything. Perhaps a sip of tea would make her feel better. She raised the cup to her lips, but as the scent of the tea wafted into her nostrils, she felt her stomach heave in revulsion and she put the cup back on the saucer without drinking.
“There were four notes altogether. I opened out the next two and they both consisted of a date and a single line of print.. After I’d read them, I realised both dates were recent and I could check my diary to see if any of the messages coincided with things that had happened on those days.”
“And did they?” asked Dan, still sounding bored.
“Yes, they were all true. The first was dated three Friday’s ago. I’d had a lunch date with Susan and I’d had to catch a train into town because the car wouldn’t start. It made me half an hour later than we'd arranged. The waiter had begun to give her annoyed looks because she’d sat there all that time without ordering.”
Mary could hear herself wandering from the point and quickly reorganised her thoughts before continuing.
“The second was the following Sunday’s date and it said ‘Burn and be damned’. Remember that awful Sunday dinner that was burnt to a crisp when we got back from our walk? I thought I’d set the oven timer incorrectly, but when I read that note, well…! The third was just as bad - ”
Dan interrupted her in mid sentence - “Pity it didn’t say ‘You’ve won a fortune’, there might be some sense in that.”
“Be serious, Dan. I’m really worried. The third, dated yesterday, said ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells, soon have Mary down in hell’. The 'phone had been a torment all day through. I must have had at least two dozen calls that cut off as soon as I lifted the receiver. I'd reported it as a fault after the third, but the 'phone engineers checked the line and couldn’t find anything wrong.”
“I still don’t see why you're so up-tight” said Dan, refolding his newspaper with a good shake, as though he’d decided he'd listened enough and preferred written to spoken words.
“Oh, please don’t ignore me! Let me finish.” Mary was finding it increasingly difficult to remain calm and unflustered. “Before I could look at the last note, the children came stamping downstairs and I quickly closed the desk again.”
“You never told us about it when we got back from the club.” Dan seemed to be implying it must have been of little importance if it hadn't warranted mentioning earlier.
Mary gave a wry smile. ”Hmm, the state you were all in, I could have said anything and it would have gone straight in one ear and drowned before it came out the other!”
“Well, our team won. We had to celebrate, didn’t we?” muttered Dan peevishly.
“I wish you'd stop interrupting and let me finish.”
“Point, taken I’ll be quiet.”
Mary stood up and moved a few steps away with her back to the table, then hesitated and returned to nervously perch on the edge of her chair, hands tightly clasped.
“This morning, when I opened the last note, I saw tomorrow’s date at the top, then the words ‘Whose blood, Mary?’ I’ve been trying to put them out of my mind, but I can’t. I shall go crazy. How did the notes get there? Was it you or the children? I can’t believe that. But if it wasn’t, it means somebody else has been in the house. I feel as though I’m being watched all the time.”
“Let me have a look, ” said Dan, his tone making her even more convinced she must be on the brink of insanity.
“Alright.” Jerkily, she got up and opened the writing desk, which gave its customary ear-piercing squeak as hinges protested.
“Dan! They’re not here! I left them in the front pigeonhole this morning, I know I did!” Panic in her voice was easy to discern.
“Oh, come on, Mary! I’m beginning to agree with you, you are mad! You can’t expect me to listen to such nonsense. I’m going out. I suggest you take a sleeping pill and go to bed. You might be more normal after a good night’s sleep!” As he was speaking, Dan stalked angrily from the room and a few moments later, Mary heard the bang of the front door being shut with force.
Left alone, and by now very close to the tears she had so wished to avoid, Mary tried more deep breathing exercises. She began to clear away the uneaten remains of their meal. Perhaps she was imagining more into the situation than facts justified. She knew women of her age could suffer from weird complaints. She would make an appointment to see a doctor first thing Monday morning. Comforted by such a logical, normal decision, Mary dutifully swallowed a sleeping pill and got ready for bed.
Some hours later, Dan came quietly into the kitchen by the back door. In his hand, a defrosted packet of liver oozed slimy blood through the small snip he’d made in the corner of the vacuum pack. Luckily, it had been warm today, otherwise it might not have thawed properly since he’d bought on his way home from work on Friday. That would have ruined everything.

Slowly, he left a trail of red blobs across the scrupulously clean kitchen floor, trickled some up the front of the sink unit and smeared a large, gory patch on the worktop. That should do it! By the time he had finished with her, Mary would be begging to be let into the nearest asylum. Insane! What did she know about being insane? He could have told her.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Now For The Adults

Having been revelling in the childish side of life, I decided this morning to do a sharp about turn, and stick to an adult theme. I shall regale you with the beginning of a story I wrote as homework, for a creative writing class I once attended. It was the first I'd ever produced, and I found it hard going, to tell you the truth. What on earth could I write about? Eventually, I decided I might embroider on a few true-to-life facts, then see where they took me. So this is mere fantasy, dotted with occasional reality. I called it
Food For Thought

The smell of toasted cheese filled the kitchen, gradually overspilt through the hatchway to the lounge-diner. As her hands worked at the mundane Saturday task of preparing tea, Mary’s brain worked overtime, trying to organise unsaid words into coherent, logical sentences.
She tried to visualise them typed. That way, when she began speaking to Dan in a moment, she hoped to remain calm and unemotional, in outward appearance at least. Where was emotion in a page of typescript? Certainly not as near the surface as when flying words could trip the tongue and dissolve into a torrent of tears. If she had learned little else, she knew crying would only make Dan walk away and leave her with words and tears falling in the silence of an empty room.
For years, Mary had resigned herself to operating as a virtual one-parent family. Dan had been there, certainly, but as a remote figure, not part of the small ups and downs of family life. She had tried desperately to involve him with the children, but without success. He remained aloof, behind an armour plated, emotional barrier. She had never been able to decide whether he had erected it himself, or whether it had grown unasked, an insidious creeper invading its host plant.
Today he'd have to take notice of what she was going to say.
She placed crockery and cutlery enough for their snack meal onto a tray, and, glad to leave the harsh reality of the kitchen's strip lighting, she carried everything through to the lounge, where wall lights glowed softly, designed to soothe shattered nerves at each hectic day's end.
Dan, as usual, was sprawling in front of the television, leisurely glancing through last Sunday’s paper. There were so many sections and supplements, it was like having a whole week’s supply of papers pushed through the letter box at once.
The plateful of hot cheese on toast Mary had placed on the hatchway, gave off an appetising aroma. Dan’s nose twitched appreciatively, not as a conscious action, but with a dreamlike quality inherent in the twitching whiskers of a sleeping cat. His mind was fully occupied with the mixture of half-watched television images flickering alternately with pages of newsprint.
“Do move your feet, Dan. I can’t get past to put this tray on the table.” Mary’s words brought him, for a moment, into the real world.
“Oh, is it that time already? Where are the children? Have they had their tea?”
Mary tried to stifle her annoyance, but failed.
“I told you this morning, they were both going to Karen’s for the weekend. Don’t you ever listen to a word I say?”
This was how so many of their arguments started. Alarm bells rang in Mary’s brain. Where were her resolutions? Hastily she pulled herself back onto the path of calmness by taking several long, deep, breaths, at the same time letting her hands perform the automatic actions of arranging the tray's contents on the dining table and pouring the tea.
She watched Dan gather his long length together, levering himself out of the armchair still clutching the newspaper. Sitting at the table, he twisted sideways, managing to sprawl even on the straight primness of a dining chair. She could see the paper still held his attention whilst, one handed, he helped himself to food and drink.
“Dan, do put the paper down and concentrate on what I’m saying.” Mary resisted the urge to mutter ”for once” under her breath.
“Hmm, what did you say?” came the infuriating rejoinder as her husband eventually looked up from the article he was reading.
Mary pulled her chair from where it nestled by the table, but then stood behind it, grasping its curved back as if for moral as well as physical support.
“I said, please will you concentrate on what I’m saying?” She paused momentarily, as if waiting for courage to continue. “ I think I’m losing my mind.”

to be continued...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

What You Heard, Is Not What I Meant?

I'm sure there will be a lot of you who have come across similar gems to this phrase; I remember one that went something like this:-

I know you think you know
what you thought I said.
What I'm not sure of,
is that what you thought you heard
is not exactly what I meant.

Or words to that effect.

The reason I had to blog about this today, was really down to Sissy, who, from her blog title one might assume, lives permanently up the creek - a daunting prospect! But wait - perhaps beside a creek would be more accurate? Anyhow, Up or Beside, she had occasion to ask my permission to print a little something of mine, on the subject of communication. Sissy further underlined the vagaries of the written, let alone spoken word, by referring to my blog title as Notable Notes. A somewhat kinder interpretation of the Nipple Notes that Gumbo Writer alias the delectable Angie, chose to bless me with instead of the rather more refined napple notes I chose myself.
Our human brains have a disconcerting habit of leading us astray when interpreting words.

Sometimes, as in the case of a comedian's deliberate Double Entendre jokes, this can, indeed cause a smile. On other occasions, it simply means we are left a little mystified as to what went wrong. There was a beautiful example of this from MSJW (I'm pretty sure by now, you can fill in the proper words), in her delightful poem entitled:-

Fiddlesticks!

I've been an' hung my stockin' up,
an' Grandma's too,
and writ and tole old Santa Claus
jus' what to do.

I asked my Grandma what she'd have;
she shook her head,
put on her specs, and 'Fiddlesticks!'
was all she said.

I wonder what she wants them for?
She didn't say...
She hasn't got a fiddle,
an' she couldn't play.

Do words often leave you feeling you've missed something, but can't tell quite what? And how many times do you need to rush to a dictionary, to make sure you've got the right word anyway?
Maybe you sail through life with nary a ponder on what are, when all is said and done, pretty imponderable questions. Can't wait to hear your thoughts...

P.S. Sissy and Angie - hope you don't mind my taking your names in vain with my gentle teasing!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Marion St John Webb - on a grey day?


Nobody Wants Me


Nobody wants me - not jus' now -
ev'ry one's busy to-day somehow;
Daddy is writing, Mother is out,
Emily Jane isn't nowhere about.
Toby is sleeping on the mat,
an' Jane keeps tellin' me 'Dont do that!'
She's scrubbin' the sink an' the saucepan shelf.
Nobody wants me - asceptin' myself.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Still In The Good Old Days?

It's all your fault, Blogpals. You've entertained me with so many offshoot tales as a result of those old poems, I'm tempted to repeat the recipe today. Trouble is, once I start reading my dear old book, I can't put it down! Then I end up wanting to share it with you from cover to cover; blame it on my second childhood if you like, but I can't help but think there are many deeper meanings among the verses it contains.

I imagine there must be others who share this view, otherwise, when I searched Amazon.Co.UK over the weekend, why did I discover a whole sheaf of volumes by this author, which were demanding silly money? Some of the earliest volumes of Marion St John Webb were listed for £200 - £300 pounds. Was this due to interest from antiquarian book addicts, who value books simply for their age, or are there a few oldies like me, who simply love what they contain? Maybe the prices were the result of greedy sellers, jumping on the band wagon when they spotted some of her books for sale, and couldn't wait to make a profit on a copy of their own that was stashed at the back of their bookcase.

Be that as it may, I've chosen to share with you in this post, at no cost, a delightful view of home help in the days when this was more than a mere 'lady who does' for you occasionally. I am, of course , referring to the gracious times when live-in servants were found in the grand houses of the well to do classes. I hasten to add, if I'd been around in those days, I'd have definitely been one of the servants : scullery maid : nursery maid : cook : seamstress, even, if I was extremely lucky.

From the illustrations accompanying the poem I've chosen, it's easy to tell, Jane is the Nanny, while Emily Jane is possibly a nursery maid, but more likely, a maid-of-all-work. The hierarchy of hired help had strict rules. Nanny would have been queen of the nursery, the maid a lowly subject...

Very Pertikerler

Jane says she's most pertikerler
about the clothes she buys,
an' all her things is plain but good,
'cos cheap things isn't wise.

But Emily Jane, she laughs an' says
'I like things gay and bright,
and I don't care how cheap they are,
they'll do for me all right.'

Jane says she's most pertikerler
about the things she eats.
She won't have drefful foreign stuff,
but on'y English meats.

But Emily Jane she laughs an' says
'My! What a taste you've got!
I'm not a bit pertikerler,
so long as there's a lot!'

Jane says she's most pertikerler
about what child'en do,
an' thinks they should be nice an' quiet,
an' have a clean face too.

But Emily Jane she laughs an' says,
'A bit of noise don't hurt,
and if the kid's a happy face,
well - what's a bit of dirt?!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Royal Mail

Doesn't that have a wonderful ring to it? Shades of old fashioned coaches thundering over roads frequented by highway men, closely followed by more modern pictures of railways, chugging along the tracks , trundling through the night to deliver mail to the other end of England by the next morning.

Move a little faster through time, and what do you get? Strikes. It's become complicated here in UK now. Once upon a time, Royal Mail and Post Office were part and parcel (pardon the pun) of the same outfit. Now, I'm never sure who does what. Are sorting offices and the moving of mail under separate management from the local postman who pops letters through our front doors? I don't have a clue. What is becoming more and more obvious, is that home delivery is likely to become a thing of the past, if the downward trend continues. We've already gone from two daily deliveries to one, and this solitary remnant of former glory is happening later and later in the day. Are postmen facing the same fate as cobblers?

As so many of you seemed to enjoy Marion St John Webb's poetry, I thought you might like some some more today. It's easy to see a similarity to A A Milne in her writing, but her book, The Littlest One, was first published in 1914, whereas Milne's When We Were Very Young, was published in 1924. I wonder if he knew of her, or indeed, knew her in person? Be that as it may, here is her take on the postal service of yesteryear.

The Postman Calls Me Tuppenny

The postman calls me 'Tupenny''
or 'Hullo, Half-past-four !'
or somethin' diff'rent ev'ry time
he comes up to our door.

I wist he wouldn't do it,
'cos he knows the name's not right,
but when I tell him this he on'y
shuts one eye up tight.

An' next time when he comes he says,
'I've got a parcel here
addressed to Master Tuppenny -
Now, where's it gone? Dear, dear!'

He feels about inside his bag.
'Whatever shall I do?
I must have lost it . . . Still, of course
it can't have been for you -

You say your name's not Tuppenny!'
An' he laughs an' goes away. . .
I wist he hadn't done it -
now I don't know what to say

if he should find the parcel, 'cos
I feel I ought to see
in case - although it's not my name -
the parcel's meant for me!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Time For Another Body Part

No, I'm not endorsing major surgery with these words, wonderful though that might be at times, simply focusing my attention on somewhere other than teeth. The wonderful array of comments on dental delights has covered those less than perfect adjuncts to the full in my previous post, methinks.

Let's look at the other extreme - feet- and by association, shoes. It was such a glorious morning yesterday that, though I was in theory shopping, I took time out to park myself on a seat near to where the flower lady had her pitch set up. Saturday in Havant is known locally as market day, although that's a slight mis-nomer if you're expecting livestock and home grown produce to be on offer.

So I sat and studied feet. It was not long after nine; shoppers hadn't yet arrived in droves, but the few who were about, seemed to amble leisurely before me, left to right, right to left across the part of the precinct in my view. Trainers seemed to be favourite choice of both male and female shoppers of all ages, closely followed by flip flops; granted, the ladies had slightly jazzier and often sparklier versions of these.

Many of the trainers adorned spindly, ancient legs of grandpa types , emerging bizarrely from three quarter length shorts. Who'd have thought the older generation would have cottoned on to this fairly modern trend? Young men too, had the same long shorts, but tended to opt for the flip flops to finish their ensemble.

Among the ladies, I only saw one pair of 'sensible' lace up shoes and one pair of wedge heeled sandals (on a rather short lady who obvious felt they gave her added stature !) Otherwise, flat, ballerina pumps appeared the favourite choice. The flower lady's were gold and sparkly, I recall.
Nobody was daft enough to be wearing high heels, I was glad to see. Fashion statements they may be, but uncomfortable they certainly are - I defy anybody to question this fact.

I only realised how quiet the passing feet were, when a little girl about eight or nine clattered past scuffily in a pair of shiny black shoes of what appeared to be hard plastic, even down to the soles. They underlined the lack of sound produced by everybody else.

Perhaps the one thing all this footwear highlighted, was the fact that none of it was the kind which could be repaired by a cobbler. Our throw away society must have almost rendered them obsolete... As a tribute to an earlier age, here's a poem by Marion St John Webb, entitled

The Boot-Mender

You open the door
and the bell gives a 'Ting'
but it's dark in the shop
an' they don't hear the ring,
'cos it's all full of noise
an' a tapper-tap-tapping,
an' old Mr Glissen's
hammer is rapping.

He's terrible old;
in a little black cap,
an' his head gives a nod
as his hammer goes tap.
An' he looks up an' says
'A fine day for wet weather!
Ah-ha! but the rain
cannot get through my leather!'

He's bendy and brown
an' his eye's twinkly blue;
he holds nails in his mouth
while he hammers my shoe.
Then he gets off his stool
an' around he comes hobberlin'.
I'm frikened to look -
he looks so like a goberlin'.

I b'lieve that he puts
magic nails in, you know,
when he's mendin' my shoes,
so I jus' have to go
where my shoes want to walk!
An' I get in such muddles,
'cos one likes it dry
an' the other likes puddles.

An' sometimes the shoes
make me run down the lane,
an' won't come back quick
when they're told to by Jane.
I esplain it's not me,
but it's 'cos Mr Glissen
has put magic nails in -
but Jane never listens.