Tuesday, 19 January 2010


A blank page, guaranteed to stop inspiration in its tracks, sits accusingly before me.
‘So, you imagine you’re a writer? What’s stopping you?’ it sneers.

Good question. The freedom of choice as to subject matter and style are completely in my hands. No restriction, no rules, other than those I set for myself. So why the tongue tied, word blindness that screams at me to leave the pristine white page unsullied by typeface, words, ideas in embryo? Instead of tumbling and jostling ‘Write me! Pick me first!’, the words back up upon themselves, a dam of jumbled letters, dyslexic heap of detritus, blocking the flow of cohesive thought.

The more Logical Brain rebels, the more Creative Brain baulks at being assaulted in this way; digs deeper holes for words to be buried in as ideas are cremated and crumble to dust.

Who’d have thought I’d be tempted to wax lyrical about a dose of good old writer’s block?! I wonder what all of you do to purge the demon from your systems? All suggestions gratefully accepted, but humorous ones will go to the head of the queue…

Monday, 18 January 2010

And the title is...

It has to be 'The Uninvited' as suggested by this very clever lady, who sees much through her windows, and opens doors to some unexpected places.

It's Monday, so here's a quick rhyme.
THANK YOU, all who dropped by at some time
with a name for my pome (!)
while I languished at home
and rested my brain, by design!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Take Two

Being a stubborn sort, I was determined to salvage something from yesterday's goof, so as soon as the porridge had fortified my inner woman, I sat down this morning to let the muse return, if possible. Below is the resultant offering, for which I'd like your suggestions for a title, if you please?

Untitled - but living in hopes...

Meltwater droplets drip on frozen ground.
Air temperatures relax, relinquish hold
on pristine snow that fell from Winter’s hand.
They unlock the vice-like grip of biting cold.

Now, drab and brown, our countryside returns;
no more disguised as one amorphous mound
beneath a cloak whose icy fire burns
while bush and branch, defenceless, hunker down.

The snowbound world held still its frost-rimed breath
as Silence danced light-footed through the land -
leaving in her wake a peace like death,
she forbade the merest whisper; it was banned.

A trespasser is how she made me feel,
in her soulless universe of cold forged steel.

And, because it's Friday, here's one of those slightly annoying, 55 word stories to whet your appetite, whistle, or whatever, as dreamed up by this gentleman.

A gunshot echoed amongst the trees. Birds raucous alarm calls shattered the air in tandem with wing beats, which created swirling eddies in overhead foliage. The sudden brouhaha ceased, as wildlife realized no danger lurked. Only a slight aroma of gunpowder remained to mark the scene where,in surrounding leaf mould, a body lay bleeding.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Gas Man Cometh Again

I was hoping to post much earlier today. On Tuesday, Mr BritGas said he would have to get a new part for the water heating side of my boiler and that he'd arrive today, Thursday to fit it. 'Good', thought I. 'Then I can blog the concluding part of the saga'. Hmm - might have known he'd not be here at the crack of dawn, and indeed, it was just after 3pm when his blue van drew up outside my door.

It took him roughly half an hour to take everything apart, reassemble and test it, and I heaved a sigh of relief when it was all systems go, as opposed to only the warm air section that he'd sorted on his first visit, for I used the word 'roughly' advisedly. He was one of those bombastic workers who went at everything like a bull at a gate, while I cringed on the sidelines, praying he'd not end up doing more damage than good!

Anyhow, the day was looking brighter; snow was melting and Asda had delivered a mound of long-awaited groceries, at last. After closing the front door on the retreating form of Mr BritGas, I felt a poem coming on - like you do. For once I didn't reach for the back of an envelope and a pencil to scribble on madly, but sat before the screen and typed, slowly and neatly. Some considerable time later, I had twelve lines of carefully crafted iambic pentameter finished to my satisfaction. 'Right, time to copy and paste', I thought to myself. Then BOOM - I somehow managed to lose all but one line. Off it went to the great junkyard in the sky, and I lost heart, and walked away from the screen in disgust.

If it had been typical jinksy doggerel, I'd probably have been able to repeat it verbatim, but iambic pentameter is a different kettle of fish, especially to a Piscean like me.

It may, or may not, resurrect in some form eventually, but for today, enough is enough.
A dejected, thwarted poet I bid you all good night.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Waiting For The Gas Man

Getting up a 7am in order to be with it enough to welcome the (possibly) expected engineer, was not the best start to another icy day. Needless to say, he did not appear at the earliest time of 8am, and indeed, I await him still.

As I explained to some of my concerned followers yesterday, by dint of schmoosing a local taxi firm, I have been fairly toasty, after all. First, I made sure my local Curry's store had a convector heater for a reasonable price, and after only a modicum of friendly persuasion - or do I mean coercion? - a wonderful taxi driver bought one and delivered it to my door within about fifteen minutes, for just a nominal charge. If that's not service, I don't know what is! Thank goodness, I had some money in my purse, for these days I normally use a debit card all the time. Anyhow the rest of the day was far cosier than the evening before, and I could even shed the poncho, hat and gloves before too long.

Just as my lunch time soup was ready, a large van drew up outside my door. Mr BritGas? No.
But something possibly even more welcome - a parcel containing a pair of Wellington boots.You think that's not exciting? Well, it is, when it means it's a key to my door - from the inside, to out! As though losing the heat on Sunday wasn't enough, the trip switch in my meter cupboard, tripped, which meant I had no lights in the hall or kitchen when it got dark. With no shoes capable of braving the outdoor conditions, my wonderful neighbour it was, who waded through the snow in his wellies, to flip the switch for me. Now if that had happened today, I could have put my new boots on and done it myself. Sod's law in action.

Ode To My Wellie Boots

Oh, Wellie Boots, oh, Wellie Boots
with lovely, rubber smell!
They've been delivered to me -
and they fit, as well!
For many years my wardrobe
has lacked a pair of these -
my feet could not get round the bend,
not even with a squeeze,
into the cheaper models
on offer in a store -
you, know, psychedelic coloured ones
not like any seen before?
But a lovely pair of Hunter's
I found displayed on line,
which,ordered for a princely sum,
I can at last call mine!
They're plain and black and boring,
just like Wellies used to be,
but none the less, I'm certain,
they'll be like gold to me!

Hoorah! Mr BritGas has just 'phoned and told me he'll be here in about 15 minutes... Just as well I've finished this post.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Now It's Your Turn

 ...to complete the following ditty. You may find it easier than you think, especially those amongst you who say you don't 'do' poetry.

It's hard to type with gloves on.
I never thought before;
but now I'm learning daily,
since my heat has gone.
I sit here bundled like a loon
thank goodness Tuesday
will come soon!
The Gas Man's booked
'twixt eight and six;
not sure when he'll come.
Hopefully an easy fix
will warm my chilly .......?

Answers on a postcard will only be considered if accompanied by an adult, as rude answers are expected to arise. 

Sunday, 10 January 2010

What, Twice In One Day?

Whatever next? After this mornings effort, I thought you'd not be seeing any more of me for a while, but this is too good not to share...

When I came downstairs at eight o'clock-ish this morning, I turned the thermostat up from the lowly number four I have it set on overnight, to a slight more friendly five and promptly forgot all about it, as I rattled away on the keyboard after breakfast. One poem, two loads of washing and one lunch time later, I became increasingly aware that something was amiss on the heating front.

Now, I pay what seems like exorbitant amounts to British Gas each month, for them to come and service my boiler once a year to keep it happy, and the engineer completed this task only last week. Not exactly reassuring when something goes to pot a few days later. I have my suspicions it may be the thermostat, as the boiler seems to be heating water, just not doing the warm air part.

Luckily, I have a gas cooker, so have turned the oven on to provide warmth in the kitchen, and there are gas wall heaters in two of the bedrooms. But here at my computer in the living room, it's a different story, and I'm not sure whether I wish you could see me or no...It's not a pretty sight. Over my all cotton T-shirt, and all synthetic fleece(!) I have now added my all wool crocheted poncho, and, obeying keep-warm-instructions-for-old-wrinklies, have now place my all wool, felt fedora on my all white, sparsely haired head.

Eccentric? Moi? What ever gives you that idea...

The 365 day, 24 hour cover British Gas Home Care people, when I eventually got to speak to a human being, have booked me in for an engineer's visit on Tuesday, between 8 am and 6pm. What's the betting he arrives at 5.55 ?

Good job I'll have your love to keep me warm.

A Sobering Sunday Soliloquy

A Sorry Tale

I'm feeling like old Mother Hubbard
the longer the snow is in place;
I keep peering into my cupboard,
a pensive look stuck on my face.

How long will I manage to feed me
and keep the old wolf from the door?
No delivery vans have come lately,
replenishing stuff like before.

The roads all resemble an ice-rink;
night temperatures were all to blame.
They plummeted steadily during the week.
We've all had enough of this game!

So seldom do we see a snowstorm
that covers the whole of the land,
for us, it is certainly far from the norm,
but can't be dismissed out of hand.

We're told future years will repeat it,
as the climate see-saws in between
the summertime highs and wintery lows,
which scientist's minds had foreseen.

They say it's excess Global Warming
we've all heard so much about,
and the longer we ignore their warning,
then the more our poor world will lose out.

Friday, 8 January 2010

More Wintry Thoughts

'S No Joke

This snow is glistening brightly;
the back door's iced-up, tightly.
The front door opens very wide -
but icy blasts will creep inside
each time I peep into the street
to study all the prints of feet
of wary walkers who pass by
and trample bits of fallen sky -
for isn't this what snowflakes are?
A cloud that came here from afar?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Winter And Weather

All Change

Stark Winter landscape,
suddenly softened by snow,
needs no make-over.

Such beauty enchants
all who witness the change
from black to pure white.

Tree branches combine
light and dark in tandem;
a snow tree is born.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

No News Is Good News

This well worn phrase may be taken in more ways than one. But there was no mistaking BBC Radio 4 as they gave details in this morning's bulletin, of the first British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan this year. He was still in his teens.

What a waste of a life in 2010.

While sorting through a box file yesterday, I came across an envelope in which I have carefully stored a letter dated February 18th 1918, sent to my Gran. It is typed on a flimsy, foolscap sheet of very thin, translucent paper. There were several spelling mistakes and no paragraph breaks, so I've edited it, to make it a little easier to read. This is is what it says:-

Dear Mrs Flew,

A letter written by L.Stokes from Portsmouth, on the 15th of January 1918, reached me February17th, Sunday last. I feel grateful that the opportunity is given me of writing to express my sincere and heartfelt sympathy with you, in the great loss you have suffered by the death of your gallant son.

Your boy fell in action on December 17th 1917, his death being instantaneous and unaccompanied by any pain or suffering. He fell in an attack on a hill called Hill 2450. It was a day of heroic deeds, performed under very difficult and trying conditions. Your son was second to none in the gallantry which he displayed, serving his Lewis gun faithfully right up to the end.

The Hill is in Palestine, 7 miles north-east of Jerusalem, and it was on this hill we laid him to rest after the battle was over, besides those of his comrades who fought and fell with him on that day. The site of the grave has been reported to the graves regulation unit at Alexandria and we have marked it with a little wooden cross, as a token of our respect. The exact position will be carefully preserved in the records of the committee appointed to take care of soldier's graves.

One of our officers has taken a photograph of the grave and I will do my best to obtain a copy and send it to you. It is rather difficult to get photographs developed in conditions under which we are now living. All your boy's belongings were sent to the base, to be forwarded on to you through proper channels, but I am afraid they will take some time before they can reach you.

I feel deeply for your sorrow, all the more so, as I know how my own widowed Mother would feel if anything were to happen to me out here. May He who comforted the Widow of Nain, comfort you also in your sorrow, by the reassurance that He holds your brave son in His keeping.

His Company Commander speaks very highly of him, and wrote you in early January last. I hope you will have received his letter by now. If there is any further information that you require or anything else I can do, please write and let me know. The same address as before will always find me.

Yours in sympathy,

W. J. Jones. C.F.

What a waste of a life in 1917.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Party Season Passes

And all over Blogland are happy pics of party goers, or tales of terrific gatherings. Don't get me wrong - I'm not knocking any of that. But having told Janine I'd be ramming another spoon of already-posted poetic medicine down her delicate throat, I thought today would be a good time to do just that.

I've actually popped this poem in with my comments on one or two blogs, when it's seemed appropriate to do so, but readership must have been relatively limited, so for those amongst you who have never had the temerity or desire to exhume any of my previous ramblings, nor spotted these words elsewhere, here's the reprise. Definite apologies to Friko, for I'm certain I've regaled her with this before; but for the rest of you, open wide for your daily dose from Nurse Jinksy. Who was it who said laughter is the best medicine? Even tongue in cheek...

A Hostess' Farewell

Did you enjoy the party?
We hoped it would go with a swing,
but next time
we'll make sure the neighbours are out
before we let everyone sing...

Did you enjoy the party?
I'm sorry it got out of hand,
but possibly,
once all the noise has died down
the majority will understand?

Did you enjoy the party-
the food and the drink and the fun?
You must have,
because you're the last one to leave...
I'm so glad you decided to come!

PS For a truly hearwarming winter photo pop over here. It was so beautiful, I've had to write a haiku on the spot.

Winter fire warms.
Dancing flames' molten red gold
gilds burning logs.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Even A Fairy Can Live In Hope

A Salutary Tale

I'm a forlorn Christmas Fairy,
tied to the top of a tree.
I've been here already for over a week
but nobody notices me.

Below my skirts tiny lights twinkle
and pretty things hang all around
but the needles keep pricking
my poor fairy feet -
I wish I had both on the ground!

I flutter my wings with excitement.
It does me no good, you'll agree
for they tethered me fast
with a thread round my waist.
Oh, how I long to be free!

I know all too soon
the Twelve Days will be past,
and the tree will be carried away.
I shall be bundled into a big box,
to wait until next Christmas day.

It's really no life for a fairy,
just waiting or hanging around.
I might give a wave of my magical wand -
Why, yes! What and idea I've found!
I'll wish that next year they'll forget about me,
and stick up a star on the top of their tree!

Then I'll fly off to Fairyland on Christmas Eve
when toys everywhere spring into life,
and who knows, I may even surprise myself
and make some Christmas elf a good wife!

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.


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 should tempt your 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!


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.

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.