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Never Say Goodbye

When I left home the last time, it turned out to be that I was also leaving my life, my belongings, my family and friends and the country I had known for most of my life.

I never appreciated the impact that my jolly jaunting and eventual immigration must have had on my parents until I had children of my own.

Off I went on my travels with my trusty straw basket and rather small suitcase, £200 and a yearning to “see stuff”. Back then, no internet, no mobile phones, just the trusty airmail letter which would take anything up to 10 days to arrive. I sent one or two and then headed off to the Isle of Wight for work.

Not being entirely sure where it was, I arrived at Southampton, remembering ironically that 18 years previously, mum had packed her three children onto a boat heading to South Africa for a new life and now here I was, standing on the same dock, waiting for another, somewhat smaller boat.

They came to visit me there, mum and dad. I estimate that we had not seen each other by then for possibly 6 months or so. They found it amusing that I was their waitress in the evenings and we were able to spend a few days together before they headed back. We started an unspoken tradition then: never say goodbye. We always said, “See you soon.”

Over the years, those thin blue letters were the only link I had to my family, attempting to fill in the months since we saw each other last, not like now where I can easily chat to my own children as though they are in the same room.

Dad had a heart complaint and I often wondered how it would be when I received THAT phonecall. By then, I had my own family and my parents had bought a flat nearby so that every year, they would come over for a few months and re-connect with me and the children. Every time I waved them off, we always said, “See you soon.”

Dad and I said that to each other the last time I saw him. Mum would still come over every year after that and stay for a few months in the flat, spending time with us and delighting in watching her grandchildren grow. I would drop her off for the last time and we would say, “See you soon.”

I watched my son queuing to go through departures for his year away in Texas as part of his studies. Head and shoulders above the rest, my eyes picked him out easily until he disappeared from view. He now lives a few hours away so I don’t see him very often.

My daughter has been and gone many times. America, Australia, the Far East. She is currently working her away around lesser-known parts of Europe and I don’t know when I will see her again. I read once, that the Native American Indians always used waving as a way of saying not goodbye but come back soon. So I am here, waiting and waving at my children, to “see them soon”.

Scampi in a basket

You wouldn’t think, would you that the British public would come shopping with a dog? But they do, oh yes they do.

On the front door of the store where I work is a very clear notice explaining that dogs are not allowed in, unless they are assistance dogs. Yet, in they come. All shapes, all breeds. In the interests of commerce and just generally trying to please, a decision was taken much higher up than me that we would allow dogs in, as long as they were small enough to be carried.

To easy to be open for interpretation that one. I am sure, if it suited the situation, a customer would stagger in, his St. Bernard lolling in his arms. If he can be carried, he can be allowed in. Most dogs in the store are pushed around in the trolleys, we cross our fingers and hope that the trolley is not pushed back into the racking system with an extra present lurking in the bottom, waiting to be discovered.

We have seen dogs in their own trolleys, peeping out of wheeled baskets, draped across shoulders and also lurching around at the end of a lead. One would bark at me every time I walked past. So I made sure to do just that every couple of minutes, fixing it with a Very Hard Stare, just like Paddington Bear’s Aunt Lucy.

We have also recently been issued with headsets. These are great fun as we can communicate with the entire staff about how stupid you are and how ridiculous your question and how unrealistic your expectations. We can also call attention to the behaviours of particular shoppers….

“There’s a cat in the store, being wheeled around in a child’s pram”, came the urgent and bewildered message over the headset. This set up a flurry of chinese whispers as the staff couldn’t quite believe this whole new scenario. Were we now going to have to put up a new sign on the door- No Animals in Here- At All, Ever.

One by one and using our lovely headsets, we took it in turns to creep to where the customer was innocently making her way around the store, only to find a staff member suddenly appearing in her aisle and then disappearing again, to be replaced by someone new.

It was indeed a cat. In a child’s pushchair. When I went to look, it had been fenced in by some kind of netting and was sitting up, its large eyes peering forlornly out, not quite believing the situation it had found itself in.

Then there was a flurry of “cat” puns over the headsets- catastrophy, catatonic etc, etc. That kept us going for a while. The customer came to pay. The staff member later relayed that apparently they were all going on holiday and nobody could “cat sit” so the cat had to come along as well. To the shops. In a pram.

Our entertainment was rounded off for the evening when the duty manager announced that as the cat was pretty much in a basket, it’s name had to be…..Scampi.

When the Brambles are Silent

Just outside our kitchen window and running along part of the fence is a huge bay tree- more bush than tree really but it has always offered handy screening from the neighbours’ ridiculous decking, built up to our boundary. One huge branch was once enthusiastically lopped off by my father-in-law. After that, we realised he was never to be left alone in the house again. The branch, however, is slowly growing back and now, entwined amongst the thick covering of bay leaves are huge, aggressive brambles.

We have brambles around most parts of our garden and whilst I swear and struggle with them every Autumn, digging up snaking tendrils that cling on to the poor bullied plants, they always seem to spring up again every, well, spring, in a “two fingers up to you,” kind of attitude.

We do pick the blackberries which are plump and luscious; gleaming gems of deepest purple dangling just out of reach so we have to stretch up on a chair or step ladder to get at them. Trip to A and E potential situation.

This year however, we have been a bit thwarted.

Some months back, we noticed a male blackbird, fluttering around the bay bush, looking anxious, darting in and out again, flying off and returning. We could tell he was sussing out the joint.

He was then joined by a smaller brownish, harried-looking bird who sat on the fence-post and shrieked instructions as he pushed and prodded at the bush. Female blackbird was taking no prisoners. Every time we stepped out onto the deck, yards away from her bush she would fly out and shout and stare at us from the fence-post and of course, getting at the blackberries was a no-go. We would have to wait until she had flown off for the evening to pilates or book club and then quickly sneak over, grab a few berries and hurry back inside.

All summer, the bush rustled and chirped to itself, mother shouting at the magpies. My god, she was feisty. We held our breath. Would we see from the window baby blackbirds, their new feathers looking fragile and rumpled, landing with agonising thumps onto the lawn below, whilst we kept a lookout for the neighbourhood cats?

A few days ago, I was over at the bush, staining my hands as I picked and picked and picked. Then I stopped…..I hadn’t even noticed. There was no rustling, no shouting. The bush was silent. The babies had gone. Mum and dad had gone too.

I hope the parents return next year for another few months of shouting but in the meantime, I do hope the world is kind to those babies as they wing their way around the world.

Fat Bottomed Girl

Both my parents were apparently very keen cyclists in their youth. Mum tells me that as a young girl, she would think nothing of cycling the 20 miles to see her granny and then cycling back. Dad used to boast that he would go on 50-mile cycle rides to Chester and back at the weekends with one of his friends. Odd then, that they never taught any of their three children to ride a bike.

They were also supremely keen tennis players, spending the long summer evenings whacking a ball around a court to each other and were regular tennis champions of their club. It is, in fact, how they met. Dad is supposed to have been pulling faces at Mum as they faced each other in mixed doubles, trying to put her off. He had yet to realise how keenly competitive she was and, at the age of 94, still is. Stand her in front of a ping pong table and you will soon be lunging and gasping as she chuckles, sending the ball flying past you to score another point. Again, odd that they never taught their children hand-eye coordination skills. My children know exactly how to panic me- throw something at me.

Parenting now, is all about the hands-on. Children are coaxed into any number of sports and activities, ferried around, watched over, praised and encouraged. My childhood was generally leave the house at 9am and don’t return until 5. My parents had no idea where we were and never did know, unless we had managed to damage ourselves in some way and staggered back home before the allotted time.

So as well as my hand-eye coordination being rather poor, I also cannot ride a bike.

My brothers, in the way that boys seemed to do, taught themselves to ride by getting on a friend’s bike and shoving off down a hill. They tried that tactic with me and I went into a wall. so not good. I was given though, my lovely pale-blue tricycle.

How I loved it. I would pack all my dolls into it’s shiny blue boot and head off round the roads and back again until one brother took it to the top of the infamous hill to see what would happen. He nimbly jumped off, leaving the bike and the dolls to hit the same wall. It was never the same and I don’t remember ever riding it again (or him being told off.)

I have always felt rather pathetic at not being able to ride, envious of people’s carefree pedalling and tales of heading down to the beach with a bottle of chilled wine in the cute basket at the front. I so desperately wanted it to be me.

When I was 39, a well-meaning friend decided enough was enough, I would learn to ride before turning 40 and took me to the local park to just “man up”. Everyone in their cars who were enjoying a picnic and thermos whilst staring at the sea only yards away but outside so that was a no-go, suddenly all sat up and took notice, watching as I wibbled and wobbled across the grass. As soon as my feet touched the pedals, over I would go.

Eventually, my friend stopped running and shouting and took to gazing at the sky, hoping that might help. It didn’t.

The next time was 14 years later when I was feeling more determined than ever. Different friend, bike and park but still a no-go. I fell over, possibly broke my finger and had most of the park laughing and pointing, as well as dogs snapping at my pedals.

Imagine then, a spin class.

My first time, I whispered to the instructor that I couldn’t ride a bike and he was very kind and told me how to stay on the damn thing and then..WE STOOD UP. I managed one revolution before I had to sit down, thinking, “this ain’t happening!”

Now a year later, I plug in and adjust with all the aplomb of a Tour de France regular. I fly along, sweating and swearing, huffing and puffing, whirling round imaginary corners and heaving up enormous hills. One eye on the clock, 45 mins, you can do this.

Suddenly, it’s all over. You’re done. Sore bum- I am actually quite good at standing up now, just to get the blood flowing back into the old posterior, chest heaving. What a sense of achievement.

And you know what? I don’t mind quite so much that I can’t ride a bike. I sure as hell can give a bolted-to-the-floor one a good workout. Maybe I’ve made peace with lacking that one life-skill. Nobody’s perfect.

A Blog About A Dog (and a couple of cats)

I am not an animal lover. Where I grew up, we were taught, for the most part, leave the wildlife alone. Do not mess. It was liable to bite, scratch, swallow or just generally cause you many complications for the rest of your life. Oh, and the cute one, with the little flappy ears and gappy grin? If you were seriously unlucky and out on a game drive for fun somewhere, that one would heave itself out of its mud bath with unnerving agility and ram your car at 40mph, possibly then taking huge chunks out of you using that gappy grin.

I was brought up in a family who were also not animal lovers. Be that as it may, when the cat next door had kittens and kept carrying them across to our house to escape over-eager attentions of the little girl, we gave up and they moved in.

Fluffy and Twink, brothers. Fluffy was named by the little girl and we felt he had already endured enough so left him as he was. Twink was named after the oldest cat in the Guiness Book Of World Records at that time.

Twink related to me. Only I could pick him up, stroke his long, ginger stripes and hold him for a few minutes until he struggled to be let down. I would call him and he would come running down the garden and together, his tail, a waving plume in the bushes, we would explore the rest of the garden.

Unfortunately, one morning we discovered that the wildlife had done some exploring with him as he was found, with no marks that we could see but as cold and as lifeless as a fur-covered stone. Family theory is that he got feisty with one of the poisonous snakes which used to hang out in the bushes and pop their heads out at us from time to time, just to make sure we were paying attention. He is buried in a corner of that garden.

Fluffy carried on being the soppy, affectionate cat who would sit on you every opportunity he got, gradually becoming less and less fluffy and more and more unappealing as he aged. One day, he was found eternally asleep in the house, aged about 14.

I have forgotten my Zulu now so apologies but we then acquired another cat called Tsotsi which means something like “Little Boy”. He was also ginger and he was ok, annoying the hell out of poor old Fluffy.

The house had a long, unmade road leading up to it and then a sweeping drive and one morning there was a knock at the door. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses were standing there holding a very limp and bloodied Tsotsi. “Hello. Can we leave our magazine with you and we have jut run over your cat.”

No, they could not leave their magazine with us. Not at all.

Life happened, we moved out and suddenly, 30 years had passed and I found myself with a husband and two children who all wanted a dog. I held off, it was unfair, I reasoned when there was no one at home all day, to leave a pack animal without his pack. Then my husband began to work from home . “I get lonely. It will be exercise,”he reasoned. So I gave in.

One condition, the dog had to be a rescue. I was not going to have a puppy chewing, crapping and peeing everywhere so we enrolled with a rescue charity and went to their open day where all the dogs needing home are on their best behaviour. Well, some were.

Our dog ran forward, smiling, whilst his sister snarled and yapped. “Um, do we have to have both?” I asked. No, they wanted them separated as he was so subservient and timid.

I had asked for a short haired dog and as I stroked his silky, long and very furry…..fur I thought, he’s made his mind up and he’s coming home.

It quickly became very clear to me that the only person in the household who had any experience of dogs, had had no experience of training them whatsoever but just used to play with them as a child so I packed the dog and the husband off to training. When I wasn’t working night duty, I would come along too. Most sessions, hubby would return saying “He just wouldn’t stop barking so he had to be put in the lobby”. The sessions were in a church hall.

It also became very clear that here was one hell of a nervous dog. Terrified of everything. Bags, men, buzzy things, loud noises, other dogs, electric gates etc. It also became clear as the house was covered in teeth marks, as well as wee and poo from time to time, that he had never been toileted. He and I spent a few nights standing in the garden admiring the stars together until I just gave in and we went back inside.

The neighbours must have wondered what on earth had happened to me as I read everything I could get on training a dog to walk on a lead like a normal being and then watched me trying to out it in practice.

We walked backwards, stopping every time he pulled. We walked in circles and did the same bit again and again, until he did it without pulling. I dropped the lead and just stared at him, as he stared back. I sang songs as he strained and panted, scaring the life out of other pedestrians, as we loomed out of the dark, the dog sounded like a strangulated steam train.

I would eye the tranquilizers he was put on thinking, “wonder if they work for humans too” as he and I would venture out into the Big Dark together.

He is about 9 and a bit now, we don’t really know and has become a very obedient dog. We can do anything with him, as long as he is getting attention. He comes when called and never goes far ahead of us, he always keeps his flock within sight.

If he ever goes out for the day with someone else, I find myself looking over to his empty basket and wondering when he’ll be back.

So no, I am not an animal lover. I don’t coo over him or let him slobber over me. I don’t buy him ridiculous outfits to wear or special food to eat. He doesn’t sleep on the bed or recline on the couch but he is a very important part of our family and I will miss him terribly when he is no longer with us.

If I, as a human, could be half as loyal, faithful, loving and enthusiastic as he is as a dog, then I would be a very fine person indeed.

A Long, Long Road

We own two static caravans which we rent out at Durdle Door, situated on the Jurassic Coast. This means that during “the season”, I travel 22 miles there and then back again a couple of times a week to clean and prepare for another family’s arrival.

It’s a nice drive. I’ve done it in deep snow, marvelling at wind-sculptured snow drifts and desolate open-sided barns huddled against the hill. Done it as spring slowly but surely creeps its way out of the muddy ground, spreading its soft green fingers across the earth. Done it in the summer, one of many cars crawling slowly along and then again in October, when the woods blaze in autumnal fiery colours.

Today, I was making the trip along with many others who were coming or going. I was on the “going” side of the road. It’s tricky, it’s narrow and because we are in “This ‘ere countryside”, not much in the way of things pedestrians like to have, such as pavements, exist.

We had all stopped at the junction out onto the busy road, just by the railway crossing- thoughtful of South Western Rail. When you are likely to be in a jam, stick a train crossing in the middle of it so you can at least count the carriages as they go by. Must remember to pack a red petticoat in the car so I can wave it out the window at the driver next time.

So there we were. Hanging on to the railway gate for dear life was a very elderly man, nattily dressed in shirt, tie, jumper and suit. Today was maybe 24 degrees centigrade. Tiny and stooped, he swayed around, tentatively placing one foot out onto the road, which he would have to walk on, then pulling it back.

I became anxious and watched him, as he watched the constant traffic, waiting for a gap where one driver at least, had spotted him and had the decency to stop and let the old guy make his way down the road. No one did.

Out he tottered, his stick briefly getting caught in the brambles. I watched, holding my breath. He was coming, one foot then the other. A car came by, slowed and swerved around him. He stopped, confused.

It was my turn to move. Ignoring the other cars behind me, I rolled down the window and called out “Sir! Sir! Are you ok?” He slowly turned his head. Please don’t fall over, I prayed. “Are you ok? Do you need help?”

He smiled at me, a great big gappy grin and waved his stick. “No, m’dear. I’m alright. Just goin’ round corner. God bless ya!” He blew me a kiss.

I hope he got to where he was going and I hope too, that when someone sees a mad ol’ dear tottering along in the road one day, they too stop to ask me if I am ok. I hope I will be.

A Washing Line Fiasco

Thought that the howling winds today would make excellent laundry drying conditions so headed out with basket after basket of washing. To say our washing line is tired, is understating the case. 
It is held, kind of in place by an old gardening trowel which means when it twirls, it twirls in a kind of wonky asymmetrical orbit, each section of washing being given the opportunity for a view over the fence before gently brushing the unmown grass beneath.
it also means that as the arms move through their upward sweep, you have to keep your eyes peeled, otherwise you get smacked in the face as it swirls round, or, for variation during a swift and surprising wind change, clipped smartly on the back of the head.
I am used to dealing with all this so was busily pegging out the laundry when to my dismay, a section of line suddenly decided enough was enough and pinged apart.
I ran frantically round and round, gathering line and washing together and desperately tying the ends off as best I could.
All pegged back on, ends tied, arms swirling asymmetrically. I am keeping a dispirited eye on the damn thing.

The Gin and Tonic Cake

Having a spare 5 mins today, I decided to tackle some baking. Invariably, I am disappointed as it is an exacting science and you need the right stuff and bla bla. That in mind, I scanned the baking section of the cupboard and discarded the baking powder (sell by date of 2015) and set off to the local down the road.
There seemed to be a staff meeting in the very small shop which involved the staff all hitting each other across the back of their heads. Seemed to be some kind of welcome to the new manager. Squeezing past, I was able to get in a few well-aimed shoves with my basket and they gradually realised that yes, there was someone in their shop and yes, she wanted to buy some things.
You’ll all be thrilled to know though, that Kirsty has progressed from baked goods to fresh produce- a distance of about 10 feet. I wish her well.
The recipe called for limes- well the lemons are in the same food group so they should do. You can see a pattern here already.
Back home, out comes the hand-held mixer. We have been together for 29 years now and know each other’s foibles well.
It churned its way through the butter and sugar and I was able to chase the twirling bowl, intent on its own trajectory across the worksurface with ease, whilst wiping off blobs of butter and sugar from the kettle, toaster etc and casually flinging them in.
A word about bowls: WHY do recipes lull you into a false sense of security- get a bowl. This one, the one I do the olives in? Yes, that will be fine. Halfway through, you realise that you actually needed the biggest damn bowl you have as clouds of sifted flour settle on all your kitchen possessions.
Now to the gin…I measured it, I checked it, that was one heck of a lot. Checked it again….turned my measuring jug around and proceeded to measure again in fluid ounces and not the cupfuls. Narrow escape there.
Cake goes into the prepared loaf tin. Greased sides- check. Greaseproof paper- nah I have absolute confidence in my silicone loaf tin.
On to the syrup- MORE gin and caster sugar. I watched in disbelief as the sugar poured nicely from a hole all over my clean worktop.
Ok syrup done. Waiting for the candied lemon to turn translucent somehow.

Here we are, cake baked, lemons on top. Just a small matter of the icing it is supposed to have.

I discovered that I didn’t have a box of icing sugar, just a handy cute shaker thing that you would lightly dust some fairy cakes with and seeing as I couldn’t get the lid off, I thought, “Life’s too short,” poured the rest of the gin over it and am hoping for the best.

Cheers people!

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.