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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Your Heart Is Just A Beatbox For The Song Of Your Life

A chance encounter on Twitter reminded me of one of my Turkish road trip stories when we made one of our many sixteen hour journeys from Tinky Town back to Ahmed’s family in Kahramanmaraş

You may remember Ahmed’s reluctance to spend money and subsequently on one overnight trip when our hunger pangs got the better of us we decided to stop for something to eat. Ahmed speedily passed all the brand new roadside inns and pulled up in a tiny remote village alongside a ramshackle building with a corrugated iron roof.

I was less than impressed with Ahmed’s choice of venue but not altogether surprised nevertheless at this point as I was so famished and tired that I grudgingly climbed out of the car, slamming the door behind me to register my displeasure.

On walking through the door the biggest surprise of all was hearing the golden tones of Wynonna Judd coming from a ropey old sound system in the corner of this tatty café where the only customers were two elderly Turks drinking çay, sat amongst the mismatched plastic tables & chairs. Well I thought if it’s good enough for Wynonna it’s good enough for me and if the worse should happen and I should perish from food poisoning then at the very least the last thing I would hear would be a decent tune.

The elderly Turk behind the counter sporting a white apron informed me “very, very good girl” pointing to a very old but treasured picture, taking pride of place on the wall “you know her”?

I assured him not personally but I was the very proud owner of the Judds’ greatest hits CD which I had played to death especially “Grandpa“. How could one not be a fan of Wynonna; she has the voice of an angel, is a fellow animal lover and as a bit of a wordsmith myself who appreciates a great lyric, sings some kick ass songs.

My mood lightened and I relaxed whilst Ahmed placed the order which was swiftly delivered to the table by the elderly waiter. A few minutes later calling to his colleague he turned the volume up for “Mama he’s crazy” and accompanied by the other two customers performed a traditional Turkish dance to the melody. I’ve never laughed quite so much but I’d like to think I was laughing along with them as they hopped up & down waving their white napkins in the air and singing the word “crazee” with abandon.

It occurred to me as they danced that Wynonna had probably never dreamed that when she recorded this track it would be playing in a dusty old café on the other side of the world but I felt sure somehow she’d approve of people united in laughter and music, regardless of race, culture or religion, on one crazy hot summer’s night in Turkey.

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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

Save The Last Dance For Me

My Dad’s allotment has been part of our family folklore for as long as I can remember, inherited from my Grandad who had also lovingly tended the plot for his entire lifetime. My Dad would become so immersed in his labour of love that he’d frequently forget the time so as a youngster I used to cycle at breakneck speed down the lane at the back of our house to drop off a packed lunch for my Dad or remind him that it was time for tea. I’d done the journey so many times that I knew every single bump in the road and even now the scent of wild garlic transports me back to those hedgerows covered in Bluebells and Queen Anne’s Lace. Apart from the time I misjudged a pot-hole, tumbled across the handlebars and ended up in casualty; I still have a slight scar across my eyebrow. In recent years it’s been more of a stroll often accompanied by One Speed Hobo, our elderly rescue cat; who enjoys a good excursion.

I’d help the old fella tidy up but not before we’d have a quick waltz amongst his prize-winning flowers bathed in the rosy hues of the setting sun to Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra which would be blaring out from the old wind up gramophone or more recently a CD player. As a small child we’d do the father and daughter dance where I placed my little feet over the tops of his and he would mark out the steps for me. Then we’d both walk home arm in arm as we had always done, giggling together over some private joke.

During the winters we’d take refuge from a downpour in the shed where we’d lounge in the dusty old armchairs warming ourselves by the small camping stove nursing mugs of hot chocolate in our chilled fingers and in the hot summers we’d have home-made lemonade to quench our thirst. It’s provided us with somewhere to escape from the world and the rain and has been a haven for various wildlife over the years including a feral cat with her kittens and on occasion a traveller during harsher winters. My Dad’s caring endeavours are evident throughout; on the shelves which house his gardening books, the potting bench where he cultivates most of his seedlings and the boxes holding bottles of his home-made Blackberry and Elderflower wines.

It seems however, this golden chapter in our life has now come to an end and it’s time to hand the keys over to someone who’ll nurture our little horticultural paradise as we have done. Since Dad’s stroke we’ve struggled to maintain it but it’s tough watching your much-loved piece of heaven become overgrown and neglected. It’s going to be so hard saying goodbye to such an enchanting place and several lifetimes’ work. You see the thing is, it’s never been just an allotment to us; it’s been a magical kingdom sprinkled in pixie-dust. Somewhere dreams were dreamed and memories made in our fairy-tale castle where dragons were slain by white knights who wore flat caps and made Dandelion wine. I shared my first kiss there, had my first (and last) illicit cigarette and precious encounters with fey wildlife creatures. My journey from childhood into adulthood has been vividly measured there by the coming and going of the seasons; from the planting of the winter flowering bulbs, the shrubs laden with summer fruits to the tender preparation of the dahlias for the village show to re-starting the process all over again for the following year.

Inevitably its going to be harder for the old fella to lock up for the final time but we’ve come to realise that life is a dance which you learn as you go; sometimes you lead and sometimes you just have to follow the music.

For those of you finding yourself in the same situation as my lovely Dad, don’t struggle on alone contact the Stroke Association .

The Old Fella's prize winning dahlias

The Old Fella’s prize winning dahlias

In All Things Of Nature There Is Something Of The Marvellous

As most of you know I have always been an early morning commuter frequently travelling before sunrise but those hideous Monday morning blues have always been made a little more bearable with a lone Heron flying home above me so low in fact, that I can hear the soft beating of wings just like an angel passing by.

Hedgehog Des Res Dyson Abbey Style

Hedgehog Des Res Dyson Abbey Style

In those quiet times as night makes way for the morning an urban fox also used to troop pass me pausing only to sniff the air before hurrying on about her business and squirrels would expertly trapeze in the trees overhead. There’s nothing more magical when in the light of dawn mother nature reveals her secrets just for you alone. Sadly my early morning companions are all gone now as a new housing estate has sprung up almost overnight on the fields that they used to occupy leaving them with a rapidly shrinking environment and nowhere else to go. No doubt, when the new householders take up residence many will complain about the nuisance foxes who rummage through their refuse on what would have been fox territory long before it had ever been theirs. Whenever I’ve been fortunate to have an unexpected encounter with a wild creature I feel that I’ve been blessed with a tiny miracle and it saddens me that our children’s children may never experience the joy of seeing many of our indigenous wildlife within their natural habitat during their lifetimes.

Thinking of renting it out as a summer let!

Thinking of renting it out as a summer let!

Frogs, slow worms, shrews, moles, badgers, weasels were all an integral part of my country upbringing and I realise now that I was indeed fortunate to be raised in a rural community with nature on our doorstep. In fact, much of it was taken for granted and it was always assumed that there would be plenty of horse-chestnut trees during conker season but these too have now been felled to make way for yet more houses wiping out even more wildlife habitat. So how can you help? The hedgehog population has fallen by 37% in the past ten years which in real terms is a faster rate of decline than tigers in the wild. Want to know how you can make your garden hedgehog friendly? Then pop over to Hedgehog Street, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website for some really useful tips on how to help these delightful creatures. Remember, remember the 5th November and please check all bonfires for sleeping hedgehogs before lighting them.

When the last tree has been cut, when the last river has been poisoned, when the last fish has been caught, then we will find out that we can't eat money

When the last tree has been cut, when the last river has been poisoned, when the last fish has been caught, then we will find out that we can’t eat money

Just Relax & Accept The Crazy

Last week I caught the bus home from another weary day at work. I enjoy the ride as the countryside is a leafy green now with most of the trees in blossom and as we do live in a beautiful corner of the world, these are the things you miss as a car driver. I could almost smell the Queen Anne’s lace and wild garlic through the open window of the bus. On a clear day you can see right across the hills to the tors at Dartmoor; Hound of the Baskerville Country. As I sat gazing out of the window minding my own business, a huge giant of a man sat beside me. As the rest of the bus was fairly empty, I was not surprised that he chose to sit next to me, having been handed the Dyson mantle by my father which is an invisible magical cloak attracting all types of mythical creatures like a magnet or as my Grandma would say all “Jesus’ Little Sunbeams”. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had dropped to his knees at my side and in Game of Thrones style whispered “my lady”. Only last week I was serenaded by a homeless gent in the bus stop and waltzed around an allotment by an eccentric pensioner; oh wait, that was my Dad!

As people do, I pretended to carry on gazing out of the window whilst watching this fellow out of the corner of my eye. I would have been blind not to notice that he was holding a full, albeit one-sided, conversation with a rather large monkey hand puppet and at one point even appeared to share a can of soft drink with him. The man clearly enjoyed the attention that the puppet attracted and I’d like to think that there was no more sinister motive. For most of the journey he smiled and chatted away to his monkey and I was disappointed when he alighted before me.

Too often we are too busy or too troubled to appreciate the people who cross our paths if only for a fleeting moment. Make no mistake we live in an unsafe world with our defense mechanisms on high alert but wouldn’t it be a better place if we could occasionally allow ourselves the luxury of sharing an instant of laughter with a complete stranger for no reason other than to accept the smile given.

I do know one thing; our lives would be sadder, duller and a lot less colourful without these moments of mirth. So to all the little sunbeams out there I thank you from the bottom of my heart for adding a little sunshine on so many drab and gloomy days.

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Memories Are Timeless Treasures Of The Heart

Most of our village shops had closed gradually over the years having been undercut and replaced by the more competitive supermarkets springing up on retail parks all around the surrounding area. At one time there had been a furniture shop, optician, cobblers, women’s outfitters and an elderly dapper gentleman called Mr Coles owned the sweet shop. I can still vividly recall the sparkling glass counters, polished wood and even now the smell of beeswax and cough candies will transport me back to that sunny little shop with the old bell over the door to alert him to a new customer. The row upon rows of tantalising sweetie jars full of pear drops, toffees, gobstoppers or winter mixture which were ceremoniously removed from the shelf and the tinkling sound they made as they were carefully measured out into the old-fashioned metal weighing scales. I remember being able to be able to buy two ounces of any sweets wrapped in a small triangular paper bag which accommodated my meagre weekly pocket-money. The more expensive and luxurious cellophane wrapped boxes of chocolates, adorned with floral pictures, were kept on the top shelf and no supermarket box to this day has ever been as desirable or as opulent.

In the days long before Health & Safety became paramount, come rain or shine, a huge fluffy ginger tom cat called Duke spent his days sleeping in a padded wicker basket in the corner of the shop stirring only to greet customers especially the children whose legs he would wrap himself around leaving them giggling with delight. A trip to the sweet shop was never the same for me unless I stopped to tickle him under the chin and listen to him purring like my Dad’s old lawnmower. He seldom left the shop although on occasional sunny days he would lie across the doorstep to ensure that he never missed welcoming a patron.

My mother’s birthday was imminent and it was inevitable that I wanted to give her one of Mr Cole’s boxes of chocolates and I reckoned that if I only bought my sweet rations every second week I could save enough with the rest of my pocket-money to buy a small box of chocolate truffles as a birthday present. So determined was I that I ventured into the shop one afternoon after school, my grubby ten-year old fingers counted out my pennies carefully onto the shop counter but Mr Coles said that unfortunately I hadn’t got enough but he could put the chocolates away for me until I did. We agreed that would be the best thing to do and each week I would call into the shop just to check that he still had my box of chocolates and hadn’t sold it to someone else. Of course, now that I’m all grown up I realise that few people would have indulged a young child with a smile, courtesy and endless patience.

Cycling through the village one afternoon after school with my friends I noticed a dirty orange fluffy mound at the side of the road. I stopped to investigate and was surprised to discover that it was Duke who sat trembling in the kerb, terrified of the passing cars, so I propped my bike up against the wall and scooped him up into my arms. He mewed piteously once he recognised a friendly face “It’s alright old fella, I’m taking you home” I reassured him. Duke allowed me to gently place him in the basket on the front of the handlebars of my bike and I was able to guide us both back to the comfort of the little shop with one hand on the handlebars and one gently restraining Duke.

Poor Mr Coles was beside himself with worry when I eventually arrived at the shop but his relief was all too evident when he realised I was returning his companion and it was worth every second of the cautious walk back to the shop. As I left them to enjoy their emotional reunion, Mr Coles hung the closed sign on the door and locked up for the afternoon overwhelmed to have his chum return home safe and well.

A week later as I’d saved enough to pay for the chocolates and I proudly called in with my pennies jingling in my pocket. Mr Coles smiled a greeting whilst disappearing to the stock room as I was reacquainting myself with Duke. He came back with chocolates beautifully wrapped and as I went to count my money onto the counter, he placed his hand across mine and said “Put that away young lady, your money’s no good here today”. Taking the pencil from behind his ear he wrote across the receipt with a flourish “Paid in full with grateful thanks from your friends”.

Of course, the shop has long ago been replaced with a fish & chip shop but the echoes of that one kind act have remained with me throughout my life and whenever I am given a box of chocolates I think of that little shop and my good friends Mr Coles and Duke.

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Hi-Yo Silver, Away!

One of the most legendary characters in our village is a gentleman by the name of Roger who has lived alone since his wife passed a few years ago. He’s an independent soul despite being fairly disabled and reliant on an electric Mobility scooter but that hasn’t clipped his wings any.village 002 He’s a great friend of my Dad and often pops up the allotment for a glass of Dandelion wine when his mobility scooter can be seen weaving unsteadily across the pavements on the return journey to his bungalow.

However, his greatest achievement is the weekly shopping trip he makes to the local supermarket; a mere ten-mile round trip from our village on his mobility scooter. It is nothing short of a miracle that he safely negotiates the winding country lanes, glorious in the summer less so in the winter, avoiding the thundering juggernauts headed for the same industrial park. These country roads were no doubt, designed for horse-drawn carriages of a bygone age and anyone who has tried negotiating them during the height of the tourist season whilst crawling behind village 010a slowly driven tractor, will no doubt be able to testify as to how treacherous they can be.

He is a regular customer of this supermarket and after an early morning phone call they will always have one of their own scooters available for his use within store and whilst he’s shopping will charge his battery ready for the homeward journey; now how’s that for customer service!

I noticed recently as I passed him en route to the supermarket that some joker had placed a sign on the rear of his scooter which said “The Lone Ranger Rides Again”. As this is one journey that he alone can make, I don’t suppose that burdened with his shopping there’ll be much room for a kemosabe.

From The Cradle To The Grave Underwear Comes First

Last summer the village had its very own crime wave although the local community constable felt it unnecessary to consult with Scotland Yard. There had been a string of petty thefts from many local gardens and always the perpetrator made away with the same booty; knickers.

It would seem that the local lasses had attracted the attention of a criminal mastermind who had taken to trophy hunting. No house or garden was off-limits to this determined & adept individual who’d scale walls to pull off a heist and soon became known as the Phantom Knicker Picker!

I’m ashamed to say that even Dyson Abbey fell prey to this cunning criminal but frankly anyone brave enough to remove my mother’s newly laundered smalls from our washing line must have had a death wish and/or balls of steel. During a daring dawn raid my titanium re-inforced party pants (my deflector shield in my continued fight against the dark side) were also snatched. It would seem our robber baron did not discriminate in his choice of victim or undergarment and clearly had no shame either.

Until the bandit is apprehended Chez Dyson knickers for the time being will remain secured being dried in our utility room courtesy of Mr Zanussi and not gently caressed by a Devon spring breeze.

Should the stolen swag and the culprit ever be discovered it will be interesting to see if all village ladies will be forthcoming in identifying their own belongings or regretting not hanging out the Victoria Secret’s or Janet Reger lingerie.

Sans my mother's newly laundered smalls

Sans my mother’s newly laundered smalls

Sometimes You Will Never Know The Value Of A Moment Until It Becomes A Memory

My Auntie Mary and Uncle Arthur were simple country folk; he worked in the same family furniture shop his entire life whilst giving up his spare time to be a special constable. They had married young but a stroke meant that my beloved aunt would never have the children she yearned for. Her generous heart overflowing with love was instead lavished on my sister and myself along with a constant stream of cats. Who else would always have the time to soothe away a cut knee or understand a child’s desire for the latest must-have toy.

As a youngster, I used to race the length of the lane past the old dairy and through the gate of their backyard where the welcoming fragrances of Dianthus, sweet peas, old English roses and creosote welcomed me after a school day. My Uncle’s runner beans were trained along a row of canes meticulously tied up in a row in military precision alongside rows of carrots and new potatoes. Fruit bushes also lined the wall and butterflies flitted amongst the flowers in his sunny cottage garden.

Their lavatory or “privvie” as my aunt referred to it, was situated outside next to the garden shed and there was no fitted kitchen with appliances such as washing machines and fridge freezers. All her cooking was done on a scrubbed pine table which rested against the old slab stone sink and the food was kept in an old scullery. Many a winter’s evening I would sneak out to the toilet hand in hand with my sister frightened that some unimaginable creature or possibly spider would launch itself at us in the twilight. For some reason food never tasted as good as when my Auntie Mary cooked although my favourite meal was Sunday high tea in their dining room, when my uncle, after sharpening the bread knife, ceremoniously sliced the freshly baked bread and the table would be laid out with homemade preserves, butter and cakes all in cut glass dishes. My uncle once confided in me that the secret to making the very best tea, along with good old-fashioned tea leaves was half a spoonful of sugar added to the warmed pot before letting it brew.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time but these days were the stuff made of fairy tales and as a child I never truly appreciated the generosity of these kind folk but when I often think of them now I realise how very fortunate we were to have them. The smell of creosote and Dianthus will even now transport me back to those halcyon summer days full of picnics and Sunday teas. Sadly, they are long gone now but I hope they knew what a blessing they were to a young child.

Love the people God gave you, because he will need them back one day

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