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

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

Sometimes The Most Important Lessons Are Those We Learn The Hard Way

As we celebrated the old fella’s birthday this weekend I can vividly recall the morning, one year ago when my Dad woke up complaining that he’d pulled a muscle in his arm but it was obvious to us all that something was seriously wrong. After a visit to the local doctor’s surgery he was despatched to the bus stop to make the thirty mile roundtrip to the hospital on a very stormy day lashed by gale force winds and torrential rain. When I returned from work I found my Dad soaked right through explaining that he’d had to ask the bus driver to retrieve his bus pass from his pocket as he was unable to and that was the first time of many that I was to cry tears of frustration that year. It’s hard not to when your old Dad who has always been so strong and self-sufficient struggles to even feed himself. Other times you laugh at your own incompetence such as when I accidentally locked him in the house with a lunch of bananas and sausage rolls completely forgetting that he would be unable to open them. I am forever trying to find ways to shave minutes off my day often falling into bed exhausted and I discovered pretty quickly that I’m not superwoman or a juggler so some things have had to change. Inevitably, it’s the things you enjoy doing the most that get sacrificed when you are under pressure.

It’s been a real journey of discovery and I have learned the hard way who my real friends are. Whilst many of my contemporaries are wrapped up in weddings, new houses and new families my life starts at five am when I’m awake for work and the rest revolves around hospital appointments, shopping, cleaning and repeating the whole process again the next day. You no longer have shared interests because you have very different priorities. They struggle to identify with your commitments as a carer and you constantly explain why you can’t just jet off with them on a much-needed holiday. Concerned friends soon stop asking when they realise you can’t fix a stroke with a couple of aspirins. Your hopes and dreams are parked and the life you imagined yourself having fades into the distance; this situation quickly becomes the new normal. Do I ever get resentful? Well of course, I’m only human after all and sometimes it’s hard surrendering your independence for dreary routine. There are no quick fixes here, no magic wands to restore mobility and recovery has been painstakingly slow but this is a marathon not a sprint.

There is help out there for those that are prepared to fight the system or are fortunate enough to have someone who is able to do that for them; for those that don’t no doubt they fall under the radar of our social services and struggle on alone unaided. In addition, gadgets enabling an easier life for those afflicted are ridiculously overpriced again taking advantage of the most vulnerable.

For those finding themselves in a similar situation if I could I’d gently take your hand and assure you that you’re not alone and that there is life after a debilitating family illness. Is it going to be harder than you imagined? Most probably! Will you have some really bleak days? Without a doubt you’ll feel incredibly overwhelmed, bone-tired and isolated but your sense of always finding the funny will get you all through. Will it get better? Definitely. It’ll be a big learning curve for everyone with both uplifting positive and desolate negative moments. You’ll lose friends but you’ll meet better ones worth keeping. For every hard-hearted dismissive jobsworth you encounter you will stumble across people who are like bottled sunshine. The old fella has made tremendous progress but we’ve learned to celebrate the little simple triumphs like seeing him pick up a knife. So why then don’t I just quit my job, buy a ticket and run away to Turkey? Because quite simply, he’s my Dad.

H.O.P.E. = Hold On Pain Ends

H.O.P.E. = Hold On Pain Ends

Not the best picture but this little one-footed fella dodges all the bigger birds every day to sneak a crumb when I’m feeding the rest and he reminds me that you can overcome anything.

For those facing the same struggles as our family if you haven’t already please try contacting the Stroke Association who are just amazing and helped us when no one else would.

The Great Escape (Part One)

Most of our neighbours have lived alongside us for several years in relative harmony where we’ve seen their children raised and move away from home to make their own way in the world. We’ve shared in their family celebrations and tragedies as they have in ours. So it is always sad to wave goodbye to family you’ve grown with but always nice to welcome new friends both young and old into the area. That is until Turbo moved in!

For some time now I have become increasingly irritated by our neighbour’s bad habit of borrowing items from us and never returning them. As a single long-distance lorry driver and aptly named (as he manoeuvres even slower than one speed Hobo) he moved into the house next door about three years ago and has regularly “borrowed” everything and anything from tools, tin groceries, portable heaters, garden and power tools none of which are ever returned. He assembled a shed about a year ago and asked us to lend him the necessary equipment which none of us have ever seen again. My Dad’s garden spades, forks and rakes, which had been lovingly cleaned and oiled over the years, have all been thoughtlessly abandoned in the rain once borrowed and when we request their return he tells us he is unable to locate them. One morning at 5.30am he rang the doorbell to borrow clingfilm and whilst I was already awake for work, the rest of the household were less than impressed.

Another source of constant irritation since wearing out the batteries on the doorbell is that he now bellows across the fence should he wish to catch our attention which is frankly going to drive the old dear to drink. I truly believe that if he heard we had nits the kleptomaniac next door would want to borrow them.

The final straw for me was when I was doing a spot of weeding during Barb’s visit. I was enthusiastically attacking the nettles whilst the lazy trollop was lounging in a deck chair supervising my endeavours. Turbo looked over the fence and asked whether he could “borrow” my gardening gauntlets after I finished as he had an urgent gardening project. Over the next two days I watched the lack of activity in the garden next-door and fumed when I realised that I again been duped. I decided there and then that I was going to carry out a midnight raid (think Expendables style but with less dynamite) ably assisted by my right-hand (wo)man and take back what was ours!

And if you want to know whether Turbo gets his comeuppance you can catch Part Two here 

I'm going in!

I’m going in!

There Is A Voice That Doesn’t Use Words. Listen

Frequently random strangers confide in me the most personal and sometimes shocking or distressing details of their lives in often the most unusual circumstances. Regularly someone will strike up a conversation with me at a bus stop or as a fellow passenger on a train and before long they are disclosing some of their most intimate secrets. Which makes me wonder if confession really is good for the soul and are complete strangers less judgemental than their own nearest and dearest? What courage it must take to confide in an outsider and what prevents them from having the same earnest conversation with their own kin?

Whilst I like to think I’m a good listener the truth of the matter is for my own loved ones I’m probably not as good as I should be. I was born a nurturer with a warrior’s spirit for injustice and as such I just want to help them by putting things right and easing their hurt. I have that Sagittarian outspokenness which seldom means I say the right thing at the right time but in an emergency situation as a “doer” I can be counted on to provide more practical help.

It’s taken me a very long time to learn this but people seldom want my rational kind of help they just want the sympathy of a compassionate and understanding soul for their troubled hearts. So the very next time someone divulges a secret, I’m going to switch my phone off, put the kettle on, sit on my hands and do the hardest thing in the world; shut up and really listen.

Burgh Island, Devon

Burgh Island, Devon

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?

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Supermarket

Before the ink was dry on my holiday request form my Dad had already planned how I was going to spend my precious five vacation days. One of the most important errands he had lined up for me was finding him a new garden bench and as my Dad is a canny Yorkshireman I knew that this would not be a “one stop shop” event. Obviously I had other more relaxing plans, which involved a deck chair and several glasses of wine, earmarked for my leave other than spending it as a bench test technician.

As the supermarket run was the first item on the agenda, I was despatched by the old fella with strict instructions to fill the tank up with petrol on his old jalopy and to check the tyre pressure and oil en route. Feeling somewhat aggrieved, I called into the village garage and proceeded to get the tyre pressure check out-of-the-way as I finished a car pulled alongside me and a cheery senior citizen got out to enquire whether the machine was easy to use and if the beeping sound that indicated the tyres were filled, loud enough to hear. As the garage was situated on the main road into the city, I offered to assist the gentleman with the task in hand. Once completed he confided in me that he was ninety and had reached that grand old age by avoiding hard liquor and wild women; I felt duty bound to point out that he was currently in the company of one who was becoming wilder by the minute owing to my Dad’s ever increasing demands.

Once at the supermarket, as instructed I purchased the roll on gel weed killer that the old fella had requested in his war against the Snakeshead which grew in abundance within our garden; think he was a bit worried in case my mother was tempted to make some jam with the poisonous berries and put it in one of his sandwiches! As the checkout operator packed it with the rest of my shopping I asked if she would wrap it separately, not wanting to it to contaminate any food purchases, as I was too young to be orphaned and besides after the garden bench debacle and all the complaining I had done I would probably be the main suspect should either of my parents expire prematurely in suspicious circumstances.

On the return journey I called into a new Beauty Salon that I had noticed on the way home from work one night so thought I’d call in for a brochure as I felt that a little pampering would not go amiss. Once inside, the interior reminded me of the Turkish salons I had visited and I soon realised I was the only customer. An immaculate lady with a heavily middle eastern accent introduced herself to me as the owner, Hami. I booked an appointment for the following weekend for a facial. She placed her hand on my shoulder and remarked that I seemed stressed – no kidding! She guided me towards a chair and said as she wasn’t busy she’d give me a free Indian Head Massage which would help me sleep. We chatted as she efficiently massaged my aching head and when I asked how she came to be living in the UK, she confided in me that when she was a small child her family had fled Iran during the conflict in the middle of night when they were lucky to escape with their lives after their home was bombed and she and her siblings received horrendous chemical burns. The medical treatment they received was at best inadequate as is often the case in war-torn situations but her parents were determined to give their children a better life so they all escaped into Turkey where they spent a few weeks living rough. She recalled sleeping shivering on the ground during a thunderstorm when the rain and cold soaked their clothes.

Suddenly my increasing list of grievances seemed petty and trivial. I remembered my Grandma frequently saying to me “stop focusing on how stressed you are and instead remember how blessed you are” when I whined about some minor childhood injustice. Funny how it took a complete stranger to remind me how very lucky I am.

Needless to say I returned home remorseful and determined to be less impatient.

Arum maculatum aka Jack In The Pulpit, Snakeshead, Adder's Root, Devils & Angels

Arum maculatum aka Jack In The Pulpit, Snakeshead, Adder’s Root, Devils & Angels

At First I Was Afraid, I Was Petrified

After a sumptuous home cooked late Sunday lunch followed by a glass of wine or two, my friend Barbs & I decided to enjoy one of my Dad’s favourite strolls through our churchyard armed with a flask of hot chocolate freshly made by his own fair hand; after all what woman could fail to be impressed by a stroll amongst the dead followed by a cheap non alcoholic beverage. No doubt, it was these generous & small romantic gestures that had helped capture my mother’s heart!

This particular chilly winter’s afternoon we walked through the historic graveyard reading the inscriptions on all the old headstones. As we sauntered back to the main gate we were alarmed to realise that because it was Sunday, the churchyard had closed early and a fastened padlock hung around the gate which had been secured by the warden sometime earlier whilst we were otherwise occupied. Ironically Barbs, the original “horror flick chick” went into panic mode whilst the evening twilight started to draw in and as the image of the Michael Jackson Thriller video popped into my head, I had to suppress a fit of the giggles. My “I see Dead People” impersonation also failed to impress either. Both of us were regretting the decision not to bring our mobile phones with us and neither were we looking forward to unintentionally participating in our own episode of “Most Haunted”. We quickly established that all three entrance gates had been padlocked and we were well and truly imprisoned. As I had a dodgy knee I offered to hoist Barbs over the wall but as it was fairly high, it was unlikely that we would be able to climb our way to freedom so we settled down preparing ourselves for a rather chilly night amongst the headstones

Suddenly someone appropriately whistling “I will Survive” alerted us to the fact that we were no longer alone and on further investigation we realised that someone was stumbling home from the pub having taken a shortcut through the lane that ran alongside the cemetery. In desperation we tried to attract their attention before realising that it was Ernie the Turbo, one of my Dad’s allotment buddies, tight as a tick having consumed several lunchtime shandies in the Rose & Crown. As we tried to catch his attention over the wall, Ernie stopped whistling momentarily. We continued to call him but all to no avail and we realised that extreme measures were called for if we didn’t want to spend the rest of the night in the graveyard so I unsteadily hoisted Barbs a few feet in the air in order that he could see us. However, a terrified Ernie took off as if he was being pursued by the Living Dead when Barb’s pale face & torso slowly levitated over the top of the wall whilst chanting his name and looking no doubt like a supernatural apparition.

As luck would have it, our intrepid “hero” hightailed it to my parents’ house for alcoholic fortification whilst incoherently ranting that his dead mother’s ghost had manifested in the graveyard having promised on her deathbed to come back to haunt him should he ever become romantically involved with Maureen, the farmer’s widow; whom she considered most unsuitable owing to the fact that she always wore her trademark red lipstick. His late mother was somewhat of a harridan who had haunted in him life so it was no surprise to either of my parents that he thought that she would now come back to haunt him in death.

My Dad sensing that something was awry decided to take an evening stroll up to the churchyard himself and was able to alert the warden who was laughing so hard when he eventually liberated Zombie Girl and I from our ghostly confines, he could barely get the key in the padlock.

saturday 038

Named & Shamed

Some of you may know that I am at the querying stage with agents and publishers alike in the attempt to achieve Crazy Train to Tinky Town worldwide domination. Despite having the use of Microsoft spellcheck, there’s always something which I still manage to overlook. I also happen to think that editing your own work is a bit like chewing your own tongue and then gargling with vinegar.

So as one of my besties, Barbara Cheapskate Walshaw, was staying with us, I enrolled her in the unenviable task of proofreading my query. I also asked her whether if after reading this tagline on the back of a paperback in an airport concession, would she buy the book.

Without missing a heartbeat she replied “Depends how much it is”

And that’s why I should have kept all my imaginary friends!

My Former Friend Barbara "Bargain Bucket" Walshaw

My Former Friend Barbara “Bargain Bucket” Walshaw