The Queen’s Speech

As children when the old fella kissed us goodnight the evening before our birthday he would deliver what became known in our family as the birthday speech, more eagerly anticipated than the Queen’s Christmas Day one. His speech started with the immortal line “now this is the last night you’ll ever be thirteen again because when you wake up in the morning you’ll be fourteen” and this fast became a family tradition

I’m pleased to say that as we got older this particular tradition stopped; think Dad recognised the teenage eye rolling and wisely decided to quit whilst he was ahead. However, it was resumed when my nieces were old enough to appreciate it and woe betide if granddad ever forgot as he would be curtly telephoned before bedtime by the intended recipient to remind him that he was late.

Another part of our family folklore was that as a small child my sister, used as a tactic to delay her bedtime, would always chant “don’t turn the light off, don’t shut the door & talk as you go down the stairs” when my parents went to kiss her goodnight and it comforted me to repeat it to the old fella every evening when I took my leave of him at the care home. So it somehow seemed appropriate when the vicar included that phrase during the service at the funeral reminding us that by leaving the door open he would always be with us.

Family traditions and rituals are the tapestry of our childhood memories and remind us of the love woven into our daily lives. What sometimes appears to be an insignificant word or gesture will frequently become an echo of time past which will often bring a smile or much-needed inspiration on an otherwise rainy day. By treasuring our family customs it enables us to hold on to those we love who are no longer with us but yet still guide and inspire us through turbulent and difficult times. Somehow I know that the old fella would think that that is the best legacy of all.

Are You There God?

Another week of loss & pain, it’s getting harder to believe that any love remains

And in a second someone’s lost their life, another husband of another wife
One more child’s daddy won’t see Xmas this year and everyone else is frozen with fear

The season of goodwill continues with hurt & tears
And through the media the face of terrorism sneers

Our bravest of soldiers fight for these lands
To release us from violence & death from a stranger’s hands

Is this a war we cannot win?
When hate comes knocking will we let it in?

Remain steadfast and together hold strong
For this war will not be short won

But don’t give up for this evil shall not prevail
None shall extinguish our candle because we won’t let our light fail

The beautiful photograph was supplied by Rhonda over at 50 Shades of Gray Hair
candle

Our Last Goodbye Was Never Said

Times had been hard for eight-year old Tammy and her mum since her Dad had died, even more so when her mum had been made redundant from her office job last month. With a sad Christmas looming without her Dad her mother said that they were going to have to be “careful” and asked her not to be too disappointed if Santa didn’t bring all the toys she’d scribbled on her Christmas list.

She was trying so hard to be good and never mentioned to her mum the doll she so badly wanted that walked and talked and was being advertised on the television all the time although she would gaze at it longingly through the toy shop window. Once she’d been brave enough to slip inside the door and finger the silky gauze of the doll’s dress.

They’d had to give the car up when her mum received her last pay cheque so now they walked into town but that wasn’t so bad as they played “I spy” and sang their favourite Christmas songs all the way which made the journey more fun. Mum had explained that she wouldn’t be able to give her any pocket-money for a while until she had found a new job but she didn’t mind as she knew her mummy was clever and would soon get another job.

On her way home from school every day she passed an elderly gentleman smartly dressed with medals on his chest like her daddy used to wear. She noticed he carried a tray of paper poppies and when he noticed her looking at him, he smiled back at her. “What are those for, mister?” she asked and he replied that he was selling the poppies so that people wouldn’t forget all the soldiers who had died. She checked each pocket of her tatty Disney purse which her mum had bought her last Christmas but unfortunately there were no pennies to give the man so she just smiled shyly and carried on walking past.

From then on he’d wave to her every day she walked past on her way to school when he told her that tomorrow was his last day selling poppies so he hoped he’d see her again. Tammy dashed home from school and shook her money-box to see whether she had any coins left. Right at the bottom was a shiny twenty pence piece which she proudly placed in her purse ready to give the old man because she just had to have one of those poppies.

The next day she was up early for the rainy walk into town with her mum on this gloomy autumn day and after carefully checking that she still had the twenty pence piece she made sure she’d put the purse into her pocket. When they reached the old man she stopped opened her purse and took out the coin which slipped out of her fingers and before she could catch it, rolled down a storm drain.

Tammy was distraught and began to cry, big huge racking sobs. In between the tears and howls she managed to breathlessly murmur “It’s really, really important that I buy one. I just gotta have one so my Daddy knows that I haven’t forgotten him”.

The old soldier was deeply moved by this small sobbing child and immediately bent down and looked her in the eye and said “It just so happens I have this special one left and I know that your Daddy would want you to have it”. Pinning it to the lapel of her coat, he stood up and saluted her.

The little girl wiped her nose and stood up straight and saluted the old soldier back just as she had the last time she had seen her daddy before he had been deployed to Afghanistan. For just a moment the sky cleared and a rainbow appeared. Tammy’s tear-stained face gazed up and blowing a kiss she whispered “I’ll never forget you, Daddy”.

Dedicated to all the families of those in the armed forces past and present serving our countries throughout the world; we are and always will be indebted to you for your bravery & sacrifice

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Sew Much Fabric Sew Little Time

The old dear handed me a bag of old photos last week that she had come across whilst having a clear out and I have spent a week in scanning heaven; simple things. I’d asked her to dig out my first school photo so that I could participate in a Twitter anti-bullying campaign. The photo in question shows me as a truculent and sullen four-year old who clearly didn’t (and still doesn’t) enjoy having a photo taken and also bears a strong resemblance to the children from the cult horror classic “Village of the Damned”. Mum still hasn’t been able to locate said picture (probably burned it not wanting a reminder that her child was the Devil’s spawn) but whilst searching she came across some other hidden gems including this one of my sister, Beverley Big Pants modelling one of my hand-made outfits!

Back in the day when I was a hard-up student, I decided to put my dressmaking skills learned at school to good use. As I was so dire in the cookery class my harassed teacher had been relieved to offload me and school chum, Louise onto the dressmaking teacher and rescue my poor family from potential salmonella poisoning when they were constantly forced to eat my latest incinerated culinary offering. To be fair I can follow any dressmaking or crochet pattern to this day and my ability with both smocking and ruffles was the envy of the class, however, none of the above qualified as “high fashion” statements at that time. In my limited and immature view, an abundance of sequins including various other adornments compensated for a lack of cutting edge style.

My mum gave me some old material and lining which she thought might just keep me busy and out of trouble and fortuitously my sister became the recipient of my needlework endeavours. There was just one small problem in that I lacked any talent in design or creativity. However, I clearly thought I was going to be the next Stella McCartney whilst I threaded my mum’s old Singer sewing machine with shirring elastic and frankly in my opinion any missed stitch could be resolved with a shedload of sequins.

Fortunately for Beverley Big Pants, my dressmaking hobby was short-lived as I discovered boys. However, trawling through these pictures I think it might be time to dust off the old Singer as the duvet set I have bought for my sister for Xmas is just sat here begging for some sequin lovin’, in fact if I started now I could have completed the first two letters of her nickname by tea time. Happy Days!

dressmaking

Jealousy Is When You Count Someone Else’s Blessings Instead Of Your Own

When I was at junior school one of my fellow pupils and arch-rivals was a small motherless child called Tanya who was the youngest member of a large noisy family which usually had one or two members detained at her Majesty’s pleasure at any one time. She regularly arrived at school fairly dishevelled in her sisters’ scruffy hand-me-downs and spent most of her time asleep on her desk where for the most part she remained undisturbed by the teachers. We had eyed each other warily on the very first day of term and since then there had been an air of antagonism between us.

I had a severe attack of the green-eyed monster when my mother at the bus stop one afternoon invited her to tea as if she were one of my best friends. I pleaded with her to withdraw the invitation but she was adamant and scolded that if I couldn’t be a gracious host I could remain in my room until it was bath time so begrudgingly I joined in the tea party pulling faces at Tanya whenever the opportunity presented itself and the old dear wasn’t looking. Naturally, I was too young to realise that this unloved child’s animosity was merely a shield against the harsh world in which she lived.

Imagine my disappointment when Tanya became a regular visitor for tea at Dyson Abbey. Despite this she was no less hostile with me even when I was forced to share my toys and meals with her and to add insult to injury she was always given a bag filled with my mother’s homemade baking treats such as butterfly cakes or maids of honour to take home with her.

Of course, what my seven-year old heart couldn’t understand was that my wise old mum knew this poor child was sorely in need of a good meal and it would be unlikely her proud family would accept charity so by inviting her for tea each week she was ensuring that this small neglected youngster would have not only a substantial meal but also for a short while a little compassion which was otherwise lacking in her young life.

Unfortunately, for Tanya her circumstances changed when her wayward father was incarcerated once again but on this occasion social services stepped in and just as fast as they started our shared afternoon teas came to an abrupt end as Tanya was despatched to live with a distant relative a few miles away.

It wasn’t until many years later that whilst queuing up at a supermarket checkout as a young twenty-something the woman in front of me said that she knew me and it took a while for me to realise I was standing in front of my old adversary, Tanya. We exchanged rather formal pleasantries but as she finished her transaction at the till, she made to walk away but then turned around and surprised me by saying “thank your mum for me, I’ve never forgotten her kindness; those tea parties with the delicious cakes and trifles were the only thing I had to look forward to back then”. And just as quickly she was gone from my life for the second time.

I cringed as I walked home reprimanding myself for being so mean-spirited and as I walked past a gift shop window I noticed a hand-painted sign which was part of the pretty shabby chic display. It simply said “Kindness begins with me“. It was inevitable that I bought it and it still hangs in my kitchen as a constant reminder that a simple act of kindness is like your fingerprint on the world and years later you can still hear its echo if you listen very carefully.

Beverley Big Pants, Prince the Pup & Yours Truly

Beverley Big Pants, Prince the Pup & Yours Truly

Never Doubt Your Instinct

Remember those halcyon days of childhood when your mum bought your school uniform a few sizes too big knowing that you would eventually “grow into it”? The fact that you spent the next couple of years rolling up your sweater sleeves because the cuffs came down to your fingertips was completely irrelevant.

That was around the same time that you could play in the street in relative safety or accept sweets from well-intentioned neighbours, postman and family friends all of whom had achieved the benevolent uncle status without the fear of some sinister ulterior motive. Living in a small cosseted village community I doubt whether my parents ever worried about my safety back then as I played hopscotch and rounders at the local park all day rushing home just in time for tea.

Nowadays graphic pictures are broadcast into our homes daily by the media and it’s a knife-edge these days for parents wanting their children to develop confident social skills whilst insisting at the same time that they don’t talk to strangers. During my childhood the press was still heavily censored and adults talked about heinous acts in hushed tones. Times have changed along with the introduction of the internet age and it seems that no image is too explicit to be shared on social media along with sensational tabloid headlines.

Have times changed that much or are we more informed these days. Is a little bit of knowledge a dangerous thing and has it made us less trusting but then again do we need to be? Is the world a sadder sicker place or has there always been less scrupulous souls whom we have been less aware of? Certainly, recent newspaper headlines in the UK would suggest so when formerly esteemed family entertainers have been charged with varying sex crimes which were largely overlooked for some years by people who frankly should have known better.

So I suppose my question is was the world a truly safer place back then or were we just less enlightened and a tad naive?

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Ask Yourself Who You Want To Help Today, Then Put On Your Cape & Do It!

The Flying Fryer, the mobile fish & chip van, has been providing delicious fried foods to our village for the past twenty years long before the arrival of pizza delivery and Chinese takeaway. No Saturday night in could be considered the same without one of their deep-fried treats.

Whilst my mother doesn’t approve of purchasing food bought from a mobile vendor deeming it unhygienic & unsavoury, Dad and I used to sneak out on the nights she was at one of her Women’s Institute meetings for some golden cheesy chips smothered in salt and vinegar and served in the obligatory newspaper. Just for those that don’t know, they most certainly always taste better in newspaper although these days the newspaper has been replaced with a more sanitary wrapping. I usually smuggle them into the house disguised in a supermarket carrier bag so that the neighbours are unable to report our treachery back to my mother.

Harry, who owns the Flying Fryer is a big fella and devoted to his wife Maureen; there is a theory that the longer you are married to someone the more you tend to grow alike & in this case it was irrefutable. They had worked side by side in the small van like a well-oiled machine for as long as I could remember. On the morning in question Dad had strolled up to the local Medical Centre for his weekly appointment with his physiotherapist and bumped into them both in reception. Maureen had broken her wrist and was bemoaning the fact that she wouldn’t be able to help her husband with the lunchtime rush and he wouldn’t be able to cope alone. So naturally unbeknown to us the old fella offered his somewhat limited assistance which was gratefully accepted.

As the afternoon wore on and it started to become dark and numerous phone calls around the village had failed to locate him, I was despatched by Her Maj to ascertain my Dad’s whereabouts. The old dear was convinced he was lying injured in some ditch, I on the other hand, made a beeline for the allotment where I found the dynamic duo of Ernie & Sid, his allotment buddies giggling away tight as ticks laying waste to the last batch of my Dad’s dandelion wine. When I enquired about the whereabouts of my tee-total father they informed me that he was helping out a friend and I’d best check the village car park.

When I eventually tracked him down there he was behind the counter of the Flying Fryer beaming and chatting away with the customers whilst handing out change and taking orders. I stood under the street light watching him for a while. The joy on his face was obvious when he was teasing the children and carefully counting out the cash.

As I strolled over to the van, Harry said “It’s okay Bob, you go on as I think we’re about done for the night. Thanks for your help, you’ve been a right Godsend today. In fact, don’t know what I’d have done without you, mate”

My old Dad’s flushed face lit up like he’d been showered in golden pennies. As we walked home together arm in arm he smiled at me and said “I just wanted to feel useful” and in that moment I realised that our friends and neighbours had given my Dad something which none of his immediate family had been able to: a sense of purpose and for the old fella that had been more precious than treasure.

Back home, not everyone appreciated the local village hero as my mother insisted he sleep in the spare room claiming that she wasn’t sleeping alongside someone who smelt like smoked kippers.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another – Charles Dickens

Old Mother Hubbard's Cottage (from the nursery rhyme) now a Chinese Takeaway

Old Mother Hubbard’s Cottage (from the nursery rhyme) now a Chinese Takeaway

If You Carry Your Childhood With You, You Never Become Older

I met my bestie, Barbs when she was an Executive Housekeeping Manager (or HFH = Housekeeper From Hell as I used to call her) and we both worked in the same chain-owned hotel. We smiled at each other at a morning meeting and somehow we just clicked probably more to do with the fact that she has no filter and will always be the one to tell you how it really is. I never got to meet her lovely mum with her sparkling Lancashire wit, but Barbs frequently used to quote her and some of my favourite gems are “if you can’t fight, wear a big hat”, “go on smile; give your face a joyride” or “have you had a wash or are you just drying a dirty colour”. Barbs decision to pursue a career within the Hotel industry was also enthusiastically endorsed by her mum when she said “you’ve not got much up top but by heavens, you’re a good scrubber”. With that glowing testimonial, Barbs was always going to be destined for a life amongst grubby bed linens and dirty bathrooms.

For her big birthday Barbs decided she was going to mark the occasion by resuming roller skating which was something she had enjoyed as a teenager. So whilst she was visiting us the other week, and taking a rest from being my editor-in-chief, she asked if I would order some online for her. I was strangely drawn to the leopard print ones with the neon purple wheels, Barbs not so much so we opted for the plain white ones. After the order was completed, she rang her father to inform him that they were being delivered to his address just in case he opened the package thinking there were for him and fancied a trial run along Blackpool promenade; which is incidentally where my Dad used to roller skate as a young boy.

Several days later when Barbs returned home, she rang me all excited to say that they had been delivered and revealed she’d been wearing them around the house since she’d opened the box. It was only much later that I had discovered she was so smitten; she’d slept in them which couldn’t have been good for either her black satin sheets or water-bed.

Have a safe & happy weekend my friends and I’ll leave you with a picture of the lovely Barbs in her new skating outfit; frankly I think it could do with a few more sequins.

Does My Bum Look Big In This?

Does My Bum Look Big In This?

Imagination Is The True Magic Carpet

My Uncle Sid was all about magic; from the snowmen he used to bring into the house when I was too sick to go out and play with other children, to the homemade ice-lollies that he used to keep in his fridge.

His long-suffering wife, would smile good-naturedly and humour his unconventional behaviour even when he used to re-paint everyday household items including the toilet seat and on one occasion each spindle of the staircase in a myriad of different colours. Those rainbow stairs became part of family folklore. Always the joker he was an excellent published poet but incredibly modest and would have said that his greatest achievement was his family.

Of course, the eccentricity that irritated adults was what made him special to children. Youngsters and animals alike are always drawn to those with noble hearts and honest voices; my Uncle Sid was no exception. His ready laughter and his ability to speak an enchanted language that so few grown-ups understand made him a particular favourite with children of all ages.

Sadly, my favourite uncle is no longer with us but I do feel blessed to have been handed the keys to a fairy-tale kingdom at a very young age and hope that I have successfully passed the same dream that anything is possible onto my girls; for there will never be enough Uncle Sids and magic in the world.

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

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Finding Nemo

An ear-splitting scream shattered the neighbourhood that morning as the young Swedish au pair who had moved in alongside the young family into the house opposite, came running down the drive bawling. Fearing the worst, both Dad and I hightailed it into their house to be confronted by six-year-old Sophie and her younger sister Emily crying at the top of the stairs. Neither of them appeared to be hurt, however, water had begun to flow down the stairs and it appeared to be coming from the bathroom.

Upon closer inspection after wading through a few inches of water, it seemed that the toilet was blocked. Young Sophie informed me that both mummy and daddy had gone to work leaving them in the safe hands of Camilla, the au pair, who was shrieking at the water pouring through the bathroom floor into the kitchen below.

As my Dad can always be relied on in any crisis; he immediately switched off the power and located the water stopcock before we started investigating any further. Sophie stood forlornly in the bathroom as my Dad ascertained that there was a substantial blockage in the bathroom pipes. I tried to comfort Sophie whilst young Emily told me that they were both upset because their pet guinea pig Mr Giggles had died the night before. I suggested that we all pop across the road to our house for a nice piece of chocolate cake when Sophie started to howl like a banshee whilst telling me that she was pretty sure that her parents were going to ground her.

Puzzled I asked if she had done something to cause the flood and in between sobs, she told me that she had decided to give Mr Giggles a burial at sea just like her mummy had done with their goldfish Nemo when he had died. As she didn’t want Nemo to be on his own anymore, she had despatched Mr Giggles in the same way.

Sadly a professional needed to be called and my Dad had to calmly explain several times over the telephone to the plumber that a portly ginger guinea pig was the cause of the blockage. I secretly thought that the plumber would be dining out on that particular story for sometime to come.

guineapig