Bring it all back home – Days 6, 7 and 8 – Old friends, a place of solace, loving family and heading up North again

Thursday had been designated as recovery day.  We left College Boy in bed and drove the familiar route to Tesco to stock up on essentials and goodies, for Lovely Hub’s oldest friend was visiting at lunchtime with his five-year old daughter.  They were staying with his family for a few days so the timing was good.

CB had announced his intention of staying in bed all day because that London had taken it out of him – and besides – he didn’t like little kids – especially girls.  We were instructed not to disturb him until the house was clear of visitors again.

It was good to see such an old friend; good to see how his daughter had grown into such a bright, happy little girl and what a wonderful dad he had turned into. I was flagging by the time lunch was over but the three of them had boundless energy apparently so with my grateful blessing, they went off to the seashore and I – to my bed. Hub took his camera so I have photographic evidence of what a  good time they had; climbing on the rocks they both knew as children, teenagers and wayward young men.

My afternoon sleep was disturbed by a malfunctioning intruder alarm.  CB never heard a thing. I cooked dinner for Hub and me but CB prepared his own and put way too much hot stuff on it.  His overloaded system rebelled and he went off for another lie down so that when another of my cousins turned up that evening with her eldest son, CB was nowhere to be seen.  It didn’t really matter as he would undoubtedly have become restless.  Listening to us reminiscing and catching up on family news leaves him cold. The eldest of my Auntie P’s daughters, this particular cousin is especially cherished; we spent a great deal of time together when I was younger, she introduced me to volunteer work in a children’s home which ultimately led to my (sometimes) chosen career in social work.  She also introduced me to a man who worked there.  She fancied him but I got him  – although after a year of his grumbling and dissatisfaction, I dumped him on the day before New Year’s Eve by throwing a parcel of cooling chips in his lap and slamming his car door so hard that the window smashed.  During the year we were together we went for a week’s holiday in St Ives.  The high point of the holiday was coming home a day early.  Who would have thought that it was possible to argue from St Ives to Southampton without a break.

Apart from introducing me to the Welsh version of the Grinch and consigning me to a life of having to care about other people too much, my cousin has also been there for me in the most difficult of times; she and her mother drove all day to be there when my Lovely Mum had a stroke and came back two months later to support us at the funeral.  When Ronnie died she was there for us too, driving up in dreadful conditions with her new partner and another of my much-loved cousins.

I had smatterings of information from Facebook about her new partner and he was even better in actuality but my curiosity was piqued and I needed to know more. Like many of the people in my family, my cousin has overcome adversity and emerged phoenix-like from the flames.  In a brave but sensible decision, she and her husband put an end to a marriage that was no longer good for them. They have managed to stay friends and ensure that their children do not suffer from the break up as so many other children do.  She set about rebuilding her life; she ran, got slim and took up sailing, acquiring a whole new lifestyle in the process and much later, a new partner.

I admire her for her courage, for her tenacity and for the fact that she has always been a giver.  She looks extremely good right now, fit, healthy and with a natural tan to die for.  Just as it had on our second night, the talking went on till late, many questions were answered but  there was much laughter too. I managed to stay upright when walking this cousin out to her car. I slept well that night.

Our last full day and one that has a rosy glow of happiness around it.  CB had recovered from his hot stuff overdose of the night before and agreed to accompany us out to the Forest to visit Auntie P and some more of her family, another of my cousins, and the jewel in the crown for me – Exbury Gardens. A place that I go to in my head when everything else turns to mush.  There is something about Exbury that sums up the South of England; driving through the Forest to get there, the lush gardens and the Beaulieu river running through, the sound of the seagulls and tantalising glimpses of the sea and the Island beyond. Hub and I went there long ago, before the boys were born.  The image I hold in my head; sitting on a stone bench warmed by the sun, grass beneath my feet, a slight wind bringing the salty sea tang and the gull voices close by.  I can shut my eyes and be there whenever I need to but even the most vivid memories need refreshing.

Every time we go home for a week I intend to get back to Exbury but this time we managed it. We took Lovely Mum’s box of treasure with us and it was a delight to see Auntie P, her youngest daughter and her granddaughter rummaging through and finding items to enjoy and remember Mum by. CB was mollified by the presence of their dog (too small for him but a dog nevertheless).

We set off in convoy to Exbury; it was wonderful to see the vast stretch of heathland that epitomises the New Forest for me, and for Lovely Hub too.  CB couldn’t remember having seen it before and he’s right; he probably was a lot younger the last time we drove out this way.

Lunch in the tea shop at the Gardens and a very kind lady allowed us to sit in the annexe opposite the main cafe so that the dog could stay with us.  She was so well-behaved – unlike her human counterparts who did much laughing and scoffing of scones and Dorset Apple cake.  We decided that after lunch Auntie P and I – having a dodgy hip and a dodgy knee between us – would embark on the buggy ride round the Gardens, whilst the more active members – including the dog – took a leisurely stroll and met up with us later.

Our buggy driver was excellent; just the three of us on board, she was a wonderful elderly lady with a wealth of knowledge about Exbury and could sling that buggy round corners better than Lewis Hamilton.  We went into hidden nooks and crannies that most people never see.  I found the vista that I’d been longing for and my equilibrium was restored.

We bumped into the rest of the family a couple of times, then ravaged the gift shop for Exbury fudge and gluten-free biscuits to take back to work. Goodbye hugs all round and off for another family visit on the way home.

Just a few miles up the road and the home of my lovely cousin who held the big fat  family wedding of last year.  CB was in his element – another dog and this one was more frisky than the last, egged on by my cousin’s small son and a much-loved squeaky toy.  We were so comfortable that we stayed longer than planned.  The hardest part of this holiday has been the tearing away from people that we love so much and wish we had more time with.

Hamble called however and a visit from my big bruv and sister-in-law; a blissful end to an even better than hoped for week.  Well it would have been but there was an anguished call from UB, who had been off on a jaunt to Manch and managed to lose his door key.  We would normally leave a key with our friends and neighbours but forgot this time.  Very kindly they offered UB a bed for the night and I promised faithfully that we would set off early and get back home as soon as we could. Being the sleep-all-day student that he is, I could foresee a slight problem as our neighbours are often up and out with the lark now that they are retired.

Just before eleven that night I had a phone call from UB – fashion plate that he is – he was wearing skin-tight jeans.  so tight that he didn’t realise his door key had slipped into a hidden pocket, only to be found when he was getting ready for bed.  He said his ‘thank you’s’ nicely (he’s always polite – even when being fluently sarcastic) hopped over the garden wall and tucked himself up in his own bed at last.

Pressure off, packing up the next day was a rather more leisurely business,  and we didn’t leave till late morning, with a slight detour to say goodbye to  Mutti and Farty and check on their appliance wiring  – spaghetti junction in miniature. Lovely Hub sorted things out whilst  CB and I had a nice chat with Mutti, and I managed to leap into the car without have to touch skin with Farty at all.  He had annoyed me by calling me Miranda when I arrived – I am not at all convinced by the air of confusion he contrives. We escaped – la!

Lunch at Burger King and a very fast and uneventful journey home with Hub the only one awake – fortunately.  The horrendous task of unpacking the car and redistributing the piles of belongings around the house began – not to mention  the mountain of washing that had built up courtesy of the poor drying weather.

Family reassured that we are home and safe via phone, text and email; UB awake and bleary-eyed and once all the PCs and laptops are up and running, kebabs ordered and cider poured, we are content again – but oh, how we miss you lot down South xxxxxxx.

Bring it all back home – Day 4 and 5 – Uni Boy departs, more Zorba’s kebabs and that London

So strange; we spent all morning listening to Sylv, Bruce and Jean about the machinations of the despised Doris, but I expected to feel sad or angry or any one of a hundred different emotions, but instead I felt elated and so did Hub.  All the guilt about not having managed to get Ronnie out of the hell ward and into a hospice seemed to fade away because we had found out about his past finally and the last piece of the mystery fell into place.

‘I must tell Mum what I’ve found out’  – but I can’t because she isn’t here to tell anymore – but I know that she knew all about what had happened to Ronnie and that’s why she fought so hard to clear his name.

We talked and smiled all the way back home – which was just as well because Uni Boy had taken FAR too long in the shower and College Boy was champing at the bit to begin his ablutions.  Oil was poured and the troubled waters subsided.  UB went back to his packing; he had already decided when we first planned this trip that a couple of days of family immersion would be enough and bought his own train ticket back home in advance.  He’s become something of a whizz on the train booking system and as well as getting a cheap ticket, he’d also acquired a £7.00 upgrade to First Class on one leg of the journey – free food and WiFi.

His minimalist worldly goods were packed into the car and the four of us hit the shopping mall – which seems to get bigger every time we visit but also has less shops that we are interested in.  Clothes were bought – well, it hadn’t been dry enough to hang out washing and there was no tumble dryer so retail therapy was the only answer – and we hit the Gadget shop so CB could buy silly things for his mates.  UB and I found a bookshop; our intent was to browse but neither of us could resist in the end and several pounds were spent.

Thence to the station to see UB off and to acquire our train tickets for going up to that London the next day.  UB had worked his wonders again and got us a good deal.  Hub was excited just at the prospect of letting the train take the strain all day.  CB was feigning boredom about the whole jaunt but I could tell that he was quite excited too.  Not just at the prospect of seeing London and going on the London Eye, but also having us to himself again – he’s really not good at sharing.

Hub and I need to make wills.  I know things are different these days and I don’t for one moment think that UB is as Machiavellian as dreadful Doris but if we’re leaving everything to the boys we need to ensure that CB doesn’t end up in Ronnie’s situation.  UB and CB don’t like each other much but I can’t see them being so cruel to each other. Or can I?

UB hugged and dispatched; tickets collected and the proximity of Zorbas too hard to resist.  CB also discovered a shop selling American produce and came back with his arms full of Twinkies and Hershey bars.

I usually forget something when we go away and this time it was my walking stick.  I don’t use it that often but after the hammering my poor knee has had over the past couple of weeks, it was something I really should have remembered.  An emergency trip to a camping shop and a choice between Norwegian hiking poles and a hunky bamboo job – we plumped for the latter and went home for the kebabs – which were just as good as they had been on Saturday – wonder if John would consider relocating to the North? CB muttered about the embarassment of my taking a walking stick to London but was roundly ignored.

UB isn’t especially noisy (unlike his younger brother) and I’ve got used to him not being around during term time, but it was a shame that he went back early and missed out on the London trip.  He needs his space though and compared to his Uni chums, we’re probably less good company – especially the loud, immature and sometimes totally obnoxious CB ( I love him really).

Wednesday morning dawns and the weather is dry but unpredictable.  The taxi takes us to Hamble station, unmanned and surrounded by fields.  We wait on the platform; confused by the items lying on the line.  Why are there three different odd shoes?  Are people in the habit of dropping just one shoe when they get off the train?  A Tippex bottle, apples in different stages of decay, soft drinks bottles and what looks like a pair of PE shorts keep the lonely shoes company.

CB (never at his most charming first thing in the morning) suggests that the odd shoes are grisly leftovers of people who’ve been horribly maimed by the third rail.  His father and exchange looks and decide not to go there.

When the little train arrives we get on and find ourselves in the quiet carriage.  This shows how provincial we are; I have read about the quiet carriage on Twitter and Facebook, have heard about people who sit there and get annoyed by other people who still chat loudly on their phones and play music so loud that leeches out of their earphones.  We have never experienced the quiet carriage before because we rarely do trains – buses – but not trains.

CB gets embarassed if Lovely Hub and I talk too loud (as in normal quiet conversation) so the quiet carriage is okay for us.  Hub and I have our own methods of communicating in front of the boys and words are often superfluous.

Unfortunately there is already a young man in the carriage who is shouting into a mobile in a language alien to all of us.  It’s amazing how quicklywe get annoyed at this blatant violation of the rules (but none of us is brave enough to say anything).  The ticket inspector comes along and says nothing – although the young man is on the phone as his ticket is being checked.  CB pulls that ‘Go On Mum, do something about it!’ face, so I quietly mention to the inspector that the young man seems unaware that he is in the quiet carriage.

Reluctantly, he walks back to the young man and shouts at him, gesticulating at the mobile phone with a cross through it sign; ‘Quiet carriage mate.  You aren’t supposed to use your phone in this carriage.  Understand?’  The young man obviously does because the rest of the journey is spent in quite blissful silence interrupted only by CB glowering at me for breathing too loudly and subsequently sniggering at his cross expression.

We have half an hour to kill at Southampton between trains.  UB has written me out a list of train timings in an efficiently quarter-Teutonic manner – his Oma would be very proud of him.  We decide to fuel up from the station cafe and this necessitates lots of stairs or the lift.  CB hates lifts so he stalks ahead and waits gloweringly on the far side platform whilst Hub and I negotiate a lift from platform two to three and then another from three to four.  We are probably far more excited about our day up in that London than he is  – and if he was excited his carefully cultivated adolescent persona would not permit him to show any pleasure anyway (the persona still slips occasionally).

We get drinks, go to the toilet and repeat the lift procedure.  Panic!  There is a train on platform two and the ticket collector indicates that it is bound for London so we jump on with moments to spare and find ourselves in another quiet carriage, but this one is full of people – all silent except for one teenage girl who starts off chattering n her phone but very quickly gets shushed by an elderly woman who sits next to her.  CB is in the seat in front of us this time so Hub and I can indulge in some handholding and hushed conversation.

It’s only when we stop at a station that we aren’t supposed to stop at that we realise that we have ignored UB’s timetable and jumped on the semi fast to Waterloo instead of the fast.  This doesn’t bother Hub and me because we like trains and the opportunity to stop at stations we knew so well as grumpy adolescents (that would be me not Hub) is an added bonus.  We decide not to tell CB about our mistake because it will only be another thing for him to get cross about.

It is lovely to see Waterloo station again after twenty-odd years (I said we were provincial).  I have many memories of  excited arrivals and exhausted departures – especially after going to gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon (as it was then) or the Marquee Club, dallying a little too long and finding that we’d missed the last train home and it was a couple of hours till the milk train would be departing.  Oh nostalgia!

There are several signs for the London Eye and Hub heads for the nearest.  I point out that there is (apt for the first day of the Paralympics) actually an exit for disabled people but that entails doubling back and I can see by the look on CB’s face that the option is not available. It’s quite a trek and involves a huge flight of steps where I hold up other travelers as my sore knee locks and means that I can only do one step at a time.  CB glowers at the foot of the steps; he has moved into ‘Oh God, I hate my embarrassing  parents mode’.

He perks up when we see the Eye however; Hub is busy snapping away with his new camera and once satisfied, goes off to collect our tickets.  CB and I perch on concrete bollards and watch the busy crowd as we wait. Hub returns with tickets for the Eye and the river cruise an hour later.  We join one of those snaking queues where people are separated by silver poles and ropes and you end up taking twenty minutes to move one hundred yards.  This queue is fast-moving however; we get stopped just as we reach the point where we have to cross over to another queue and the young man with the lanyard and walkie-talkie writes ‘FT’ on our tickets and indicates that we need to go to a different queue.  We have been fast-tracked and all because Mum bought a walking stick with her.

The staff we encounter from this point on are all very courteous and we are brought to the front where a young lady states that they can actually stop the Eye for me to get on and off if I want.  I don’t need this however.  I sit on the wooden seat in the middle of our pod happy to look through other people’s legs and arms whilst CB stands and Hub snaps happily with his new toy.

There is a German woman sat next to me, wearing a bulging rucksack .  She has no spacial awareness regarding her rucksack and in turning quickly to bark orders at her male and female companions, hits me with it, not just once but twice.  I slide over to a different position.  She decides to walk round the Eye and kick my sore leg at the same time.  CB wants me to deck her for this transgression but we are in a glass pod high above London and I am too entranced by what I see to care about revenge right now. i don’t evenmention the war.

I loved the Eye.  I could go round and round on it all day and still see new things.  Hub and CB are similarly impressed although CB does his best not to show it.  Reluctantly we climb off and move away from the throng, looking for somewhere to eat because it is just gone twelve and the river cruise is not for another hour yet.

The fine drizzle is upon us so we head into County Hall for shelter and food.  It is busy; we are still in the school holidays and the cafe is heaving.  I suggest we try the Chinese ‘stuff your face for just under seven quid’ cafe; when I see the grim interior I know that I have made a mistake but there is no going back.  We are committed.  The food is not good.  Hub manages to find something he likes, I pick dispiritedly at a bowl of sad-looking noodles and unidentified tempura, CB (who is still on one of his high protein make it up as I go along diets) picks and grumbles too. My outlook is even more influenced by the fact that I have been dipping into Giles Coren’s latest book and I dread to think of what he would make of this horrible place.

I go off in search of a toilet whilst my men are still getting through their seconds.  Not surprisingly, the toilets are down two flights of stairs.  There are two disabled toilets which double up as baby changing rooms.  There is a yellow cleaning cone outside them and they are both  locked.  I need the loo.  My knee is sore from being kicked by Frau Insensitive on the Eye, my lunch was deeply unsatisfactory, it is now raining heavily and I AM NOT A WOMAN TO BE CROSSED AT THIS POINT!

After a couple of false starts I find a member of staff who can unlock the toilets, which had been cleaned over an hour before but another staff member forgot to unlock them and remove the cone.  By this time there is a long queue; several wheelchair users and their helpers and a multitude of young women on mobile phones, chewing gum and accompanied by bright pink buggies and small children.

I wait my turn and come out to hear one such female muttering about having to wait whilst these cripples use the toilets, and how she hopes they don’t leave them dirty as she wants to change her baby’s nappy (I can smell her baby’s nappy.  It isn’t good).  I hurry away biting my tongue but catch the eye of a young girl in a wheelchair who grins at me, shakes her head and shrugs her shoulders in a resigned fashion that makes me even more ashamed of what I’ve heard.

Hub and CB have finished eating and I just want to get out of this horrible place.  We hurry (they hurry, I hobble) through the rain to the jetty and are told we can get on the next boat rather than wait till one o’clock. Another queue and my County Hall depression is deepened by the sound of what I think is a child blowing bubble gum and popping the bubbles loudly.  I won’t be able to bear that for a whole hour.

We get on the boat and find seats at the back, with a window seat for CB.  The bubble popper turns out to be an American male in his late twenties who really is old enough to have grown out of his irritating habit.  I resist the temptation to deck him too and relax as he heads for the front of the boat and out of my earshot.

Despite the rain, the river cruise is well worth the time.  A splendidly witty tour guide gives us a whole new slant on our surroundings, Hub is still happy-snapping and even CB makes the odd comment that indicates he is not totally hating his life at the moment.

Like the Eye, it is over all too soon and we are back out in the rain in not very suitable clothing.  The number of Gamesmakers has increased as the time for the opening ceremony for the Paralympics draws near.  We were going to stay on and have dinner in London but in a rare moment of mutual agreement have decided that we want to go HOOOOOOOME.  CB says he will only come to London again if we can guarantee that there will be no annoying people around.  Looks like he won’t be embarking on a further education course here then.

A pair of Gamesmakers direct us back to Waterloo; they are excited, cheerful and charming despite  the rain and as we trudge back to the safe haven of the station, we find that there is a mere thirty minutes before our train.  Time enough to  find some meat for CB and a reviving mocha for me so thatwhenwe get on the rather busy train, we can cope with the fact that we are in a loud carriage.  I apply my anitidote to stress and doze off, secure in the knowledge that Lovely Hub will prod me if I snore and wake me in good time so that I won’t stumble  off the train bleary-eyed, blinking and confused.

Back in Southampton we find that we have missed out connection and there is another hour to wait before the next train.  CB is looking as if he will explode so I persuade an initially reluctant Hub that a taxi back to Hamble is the only  solution.  We are too tired to wait on the platform for another hour and the bus station is miles away.  He is persuaded thankfully, we have a lovely driver who likes planes and the two of them chat happily about air travel whilst CB and I veg out in the back of the taxi.

We had promised to take CB out for a decent steak and fully intended to accomplish this in that London.  Luckily Southampton had a suitable restaurant and we ended up there later that evening.  CB was happy.  he had real meat.  UB texted me to say that the  house was still standing.  We drove home across the Itchen Bridge, admired the blue lights and snorted at the executive dwellings that are going up on the old Vospers site.  Our  Hamble house felt very welcoming, although the sight of UB’s empty room made me feel slightly choked.  Nevertheless we all survived and had a good day.  So good to be back home again.

Bring it all back home – Day 4 – Named and shamed – Ronnie’s story

Tuesday morning, the boys are in bed, Hub and I are off to the sticks.

My much-missed step-dad Ronnie had a history that I only picked up in small pieces over the years.  I knew that he had an older brother who had done the dirty on him in some way, that he had left Ronnie with debts that my Mum spent two years fighting with tax man over – and won – GO Mum!   I also know that my Mum tracked his relatives to Mallorca and wrote to them asking them to get in contact with Ronnie – not about the money but because they were his family.

She must  have got too close for comfort because they moved to Australia.  Always indomitable, she tracked them down again and wrote to them – again.  Still no response.

Ronnie  married my Mum back in 1972 when he was a hospital porter and she was on the hospital switchboard.  They were great friends with two couples who Ronnie had known for many years.  I heard about them but only met one of the couples and that was a long time ago.  Even after they moved up North, Mum kept in touch and they exchanged Christmas cards.  One couple parted company but that’s Sylvia’s story and not mine to tell.  When Mum died from a stroke in 2009, Jean, one of  the other couple, also had a stroke but she was more fortunate and although she has some paralysis on her left-side and has to use a wheelchair, her faculties are still razor-sharp.

Ronnie  kept in touch with Sylv and got regular updates on Jean and her husband Bruce.  He sent her one of our family Christmas cards every year so although we had never met, she knew what we looked like and what we’d all been up to.

It wasn’t easy summoning up the courage to phone and  tell her that Ronnie had died.  She made it a lot easier for me though.  We talked a great deal about Ronnie and Mum, and I promised that I’d look out some photos of Ronnie and visit her when we went down South in August.  Listening to that real Hampshire burr made me feel even more determined  to fulfill a promise that I made to Ronnie when Mum died – to try to track down his family down one last time.

Sylv was all I’d hoped she would be and was delighted with the photos, but confessed that it was Bruce and Jean who knew more about Ronnie than she did.  So she phoned them and five minutes later the three of us were off into even deeper Hampshire to pick Jean’s brains.

As soon as I saw them the memory of their faces and voices came back.  I still have no idea of when or where  we met but they hardly seemed to have changed.  Compared to Farty’s dithering and Mutti’s deafness, here were three people in their late seventies- early eighties who were very much on the ball and ready to fill in the gaps of Ronnie’s life for me.

So – set this down – Ronnie Milnthorpe was born in Romsey, Hampshire and had an older brother called Derek.  Their mother came from Cleveleys near Blackpool and was said to be a very astute businesswoman.  They owned a greengrocery business  in Commercial Road, Southampton and lived in a big house at the Bassett end of Burgess Road. Their father worked as a draughtsman on Spitfires at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, Southampton.  Ronnie was said to take after his dad, kind-hearted and a bit of a dreamer but always a stickler for payment if you came into the shop and wanted just an apple or something. Bruce used to deliver fruit and veg to the shop  and that’s where his friendship with Ronnie began.

Derek was called up and joined the army; the day after his eighteenth birthday Ronnie was on a train to Warrington to join the RAF. While they were away their mother died – no details known  – but shortly afterwards their father died and some said it was from a broken heart.  Derek – as the older son – was released from the army and came home to run the shop. At that time he was devoted to Ronnie apparently.

Derek met a girl called Doris; no need to name where she came from but Derek was definitely considered a catch in her eyes.  She fell pregnant and they got married; their son was called Raymond and later they had a girl called Sandra – or Sandy.  Doris didn’t like Ronnie.  Whilst he was still in the RAF she got Derek to sell the house that had been left to both sons jointly and used the money to buy a big house in Bullar  Road, Bitterne.  the house has been knocked down now and flats put up in its place.  When Ronnie came home Doris refused to let him live in the house that was half his and he was sent to live on the other side of town in a B&B.  According to my trio of informants, Derek loved his brother but it was Doris who ruled the roost.

They sold the house in Bullar Road and moved to Crawley where Derek opened a betting shop.  The greengrocers was sold to buy more betting shops, and all this happened whilst Ronnie was gravely ill in hospital.

According to Jean, Ronnie was walking past a pub when a fight broke out inside, spilled out onto the pavement and Ronnie was knocked to the floor banging his head against the concrete paving.  He was in a coma and by the time he recovered, his livelihood was gone and all the wordly goods left to the two brother had come into Doris’s scheming hands. Ronnie went from being the owner of his own shop to being a poorly paid porter living in a council flat.  Cheers Doris.

Derek sold his four betting shops to the William Hill chain at a tidy profit; he sold the house in Crawley too and without telling Ronnie where he was going, he packed the money into a suitcase and drove to Newhaven with Doris and the children. They travelled overland avoiding major ports and eventually settled in Mallorca.

I have a postcard of Mallorca from Ronnie’s niece Sandy, dated 22 August 1969.  Ronnie’s birthday.  She says that there are no birthday cards in Mallorca so the postcard will have to do.  She says it is lovely there and that she’ll be sorry to leave. She signs it from Sandy, Mum and Dad – wonder what happened to Raymond?

Years later Mum and Ronnie went to Mallorca – ostensibly for a holiday but Mum wanted to try to  find Ronnie’s family for him.  By that time she had convinced the tax man that Ronnie had played no part in Derek’s fraud and that all the money owed and the proceeds from the sale of the businesses and house had gone out of the country in Derek’s suitcase.

Jean, Bruce and Sylv all blame Doris.  Apparently she and Derek didn’t just do the dirty on Ronnie, there were several other business partners that they left high and dry as well.  As far as we know, Sandy married and stayed in Mallorca, Derek died and Doris went to Australia with Raymond who had been set with an electrical business there.

I want to get in touch with Raymond and Sandy.  To tell them what a lovely man their uncle was and how they have really missed out on not having him in their lives.  He may have lost his blood family but courtesy of my Mum, Ronnie became a much-loved part of our big family.  He made a success of his life and despite being left with nothing because of the conniving Doris, he dabbled in stocks and shares and showed that he had indeed inherited some of his mother’s business acumen.

If my Mum, without the doors that have been opened by the Internet, could track down Ronnie’s family, then I’m sure that I can too.  Too late for his inheritance – that’s long gone – and thanks to his common sense they have no claim on his estate now – that goes to the people who loved him.  To his real family. Here’s to Ronnie – Here’s to us.

Bring it all back home – Day 3 – Ah go on, go on, go on

Bank Holiday  – not as sunny a day as yesterday but not a problem, for today is a day of being inside – for meeting up with Lovely Hub’s family for lunch and playing it all by ear (or hearing aid in some cases).

Choosing a venue for lunch is no mean feat due to the physical restrictions attached to my in-laws.  Mutti –  she is a survivor of the Berlin blockade, has a wickedly Germanic sense of humour and is much-loved by all – has a  top of the range rollater (wheeled zimmer frame with brakes and a storage seat).  Dad – aka Vati (pronounced Farty because he is one) uses a walking stick which must have magic properties because it rarely touches the ground but hovers tantalisingly about three inches up in the air.  They both have hearing aids – which they often forget to switch on so that they have shouty conversations with each other – and anyone else within earshot.   In addition, their appetites are small and they don’t like huge portions – oh boo!

The last time we lunched together – the day after the big-my-family-wedding  in 2011  – my Dad was with us and what should have been a rather jolly family meal turned into a horrendous wait-fest because the waitress forgot to tell the kitchen about half our meals.  So some of those present had rapidly cooling and uneaten roasts due to good manners whilst the others  looked on in what would have been envy if anyone had started eating.  Eventually everyone had some kind of edible food but the meal that should have taken an hour or so extended to three, and as we were wanting to get back and pack because we were driving home that night – the bonhomie rapidly ran out.

No time restrictions on this occasion as we are staying down here all week and have deliberately avoided making any other plans today.  Conversations with my cousins and Hub’s sister have identified a suitable place for lunch.  For me it is a place of mystery called The Lone Barn.  Throughout the aforementioned misspent youth, I visited this place on many occasions but never in a sober state.  Tucked away near Hungerford Bottom (fnar fnar) I knew when I was there because everything smelled of wood fires, and having been roused from a happily semi-conscious stupor in the back seat of someone’s little red MGB GT (hideously cramped – I found the only way to endure a speedy journey under such conditions was to nod off) I’d join my chums in an evening of drinking that would inevitably lead to my climbing back into the car and taken home in an even jollier state.  Hence, I have no idea where The Lone Barn is and only really recognise  it from the car park and the smell of smoke.  Luckily Lovely Hub knew the way.

The plan was that Hub would take me, Uni Boy and College Boy down there first so that we could get in some drinks and identify any potential hazards.  He would then collect Mutti and Farty, meeting up with his sister, her husband, their son and his girlfriend back at the barn (you lot know who you are and although I could make up silly names for you, I won’t  – except for EEEEE – my bruv-in-law and the only person who can get away with calling me Chell – so I get away with calling him EEEEE.  No names in this blog  in order to protect the innocent/dreadfully guilty).

Seating can be an issue.  Mutti likes to talk German with UB – who likes to talk German back.  We also like to stick UB near Farty because he can usually spout sufficient technical stuff to shut Farty up.  I am happy sitting anywhere so long as I am not near Farty because I never know when he comes to the punch line and spend my time with a fixed grin on my face. I don’t see my sister in law, EEEEE and our nephew often enough, have only met his girlfriend once before but know that we will probably spend the evening with them so there will be time to catch up.   CB doesn’t like sitting with anyone except maybe me and his Dad – although Hub’s sister is an exception because she doesn’t hassle him and he likes her (me too).  Hub has to be within shouting distance of his parents.

UB, CB and I identify our table, get drinks and stake a claim to our seats.  I get a text from Hub to say that the eagles are on their way and text him back to warn him that there are a number of steps to negotiate in order to get down to the room we have been placed in.  Judging from the number of reserved tables and disappointed faces as people walk in , look at the notices and slink out again, we are in a prime spot.  CB – in a suitably Northern paranoid state – has decided that EVERYONE is looking at him because he doesn’t have the same accent as the rest of us – our Southern burrs have returned with a vengeance in the past 24 hours.  I point out that Mutti doesn’t have a local accent either but he is not in a mood to be placated.  He’s been eating far too much protein and it makes him even more grouchy.

The Cavalcade arriveth.  Mutti is supported by her son and daughter – the rollater is lifted down the steps and placed for safekeeping with the children’s high chairs.  EEEEE makes some suitably off-colour paedophile comments about the advisability of putting it there.  Luckily Mutti doesn’t hear him – although she’d probably laugh anyway if she did.  Farty follows – equally supported by his son-in-law, nephew and girlfriend, and the hovering walking stick.

We are seated and I am happy because I have Hub on one side, CB on the other, Hub’s sister and UB opposite.  Farty and Mutti can shout from the top of the table and I am close enough to hear the muttered naughtiness that is EEEEE and exchange grins with my nephew and his girlfriend.  Phew!

UB and I go for starters but we are in a minority.  Mutti takes the opportunity to bombard UB with questions auf deutsch.  Being the polite well-brought up young man that he is, he answers every question – usually as his fork is midway between mouth and plate.  As a consequence it takes him a long time to get through his antipasti, until Lovely Hub and EEEEE take pity and manage distract Mutti  long enough for UB to finish.  Good job it was a cold starter.

The main course provides respite and the chance to munch in peace.  The food was good, as was the service and the hardy trenchermen (and women) amongst us make it through to pudding, coffee and the logistics of where we are going next and how we get there.

After lengthy discussions, all are agreed that it is back to ours – so that Mutti and Farty can have a look at where we’re staying and make complimentary (Mutti) and derogatory (Farty) comments about our choice of accommodation.

The kind manager gives us special dispensation to use the fire door rather than manhandling a slightly heavier pair of oldies up the stairs and down to the car park again.  There are a mere three wide stone steps and a kerb to negotiate.  Piece of cake.

Farty and his levitating walking stick go first; son in front of him,son-in-law and grandson on either side, naughty daughter-in-law hovering in the background wanting to give him a damn good push – but I didn’t Your Honour.

Have you ever watched the scene in ‘Father Ted’ where the lovely Mrs Doyle is standing on a chair washing the windows and undergoes a moment or two of indecision about how to get down.  Her foot hovers, wavers, ‘ah go on, go on, go on’ and then like a dropped stone she falls.  Farty’s feet did this – several times – the growing throng behind him becoming impatient; Mutti has her rollater revved up and ready to go but Farty is blocking the exit with his very impressive frail old duffer act.

Reader – we got him down the steps – I don’t know how but I think the firm hands and limited patience of the man I know and love had quite a lot to do with it.  With Farty down on terra firma the attention is fully focused on Mutti and her wheels of fire.  Farty takes his chance and starts to leg it toward the cars.  I call out a reluctant warning about the steepness of the kerb but stand there with my mouth open as he hops down like a five-year old and walks confidently across the gravel to the passenger side of our car (MY seat).

We stand there in amazement; CB, my nephew, myself and EEEEE, slightly gobsmacked by this apparent miracle until we realise that the three people Farty most wants to convince of his frailty are totally oblivious.  Mutti, her daughter and son are still negotiating the steps and have seen nothing. The myth that is Farty continues.

All back to ours and as predicted, everyone else is complimentary whilst Farty makes comments about the amount of white emulsion used on the walls and how he would have decorated in QUITE a different fashion. Hmmm. And when was the last  time you used a paintbrush then?

Professionally speaking I should be more tolerant of his alleged confusion and dithering but after twenty-five years of snide comments made to me when no one else was in earshot and being groped under the pretence of a kiss good-bye or hello, I’ve had enough.

I lend them my Hub for some urgent DIY jobs that no one else can possibly do (yeah right) and manage (with the protective assistance of UB and CB who fully understand why I don’t like getting to close to Farty) I skillfully avoid the parting embrace yet again.

EEEEE and family leave a bit later and we arrange to meet up at theirs for the evening. A no stress situation.

CB goes for a lie down – the strain of sociability is telling on him.  UB departs to his room for some US political therapy – don’t ask – and I sit down to relax with my Kindle till Hub comes home.

The urgent DIY tasks?  Replacing a raised toilet seat and bath bar; I don’t begrudge their borrowing back their boy and I hope that one day someone will have the same attitude when I need to borrow my boys back.  Hub has also taken the opportunity to talk about the future; harrowing stuff like wills and power of attorney and where all the paperwork is kept. Our recent experiences have forewarned us about the importance of knowing where everything is come the end.

The ending always comes at last; endings always come too fast.

Bring it all back home ….Day 2 ….Running in the family

I am blessed with a large family of aunties, uncles and cousins.  I love them whole-heartedly and unconditionally.  I miss being able to see them when I want to because they are all down South and we are up North. We meet up at weddings, funerals, and back in 2009 when we rented a different house in Hamble, an impromptu open house day where everyone brought food, drink, and especially Pimms.  It was a fine day.

My Mum was one of five; the oldest girl.  When we were growing up we met all our cousins at various functions – my Dad was the youngest of thirteen so I had dozens of cousins that I rarely knew – but we had the most to do with the children of my Mum’s two sisters; Auntie R and Auntie P.  Auntie R had three boys of similar ages to me and my sibs, then ten years later beautiful blonde twin girls.  Auntie P had a boy, then three girls, all young enough for me to able to say – on far too many occasions –  ‘Ha! I used to change your nappies when you were little!’

At various stages of my life I have stayed with them and we have played pivotal parts in each others lives.  We are a family of mild eccentrics and largely, we have acquired partners that complement those peculiar quirks that make us who we are.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the celebration of diversity has always meant more to me than the suspicion that you so often encounter with people who can’t cope with change.  I like unusual, original, bizarre – which is just as well really.

Whilst the older generation have whittled down a bit and are no doubt having a celestial garden party at this very moment, my generation has remained blessedly intact.  Things were touch and go when we nearly lost my almost Twin  – my Auntie R’s second oldest .  We were born a month apart and for a long time he found it hard to forgive me for being born first – especially when we were about three or four, bridesmaid and pageboy at Auntie P’s wedding, and I squeezed his hand too tightly as we walked down the aisle.  As an obnoxious almost teenager I used to pull his hair and give him migraines, but always a gentleman he rarely retaliated.  He got swine flu – Christmas 2010 and was very, very ill.  He was in my thoughts daily and the combination of his indomitable strength and the family forcefield pulled him through in the end. A life without him in it would be  unthinkable.

The last time we met en masse was July 2011 for a handfasting and wedding.  It was a beautiful day and my Ronnie loved every minute of it.  There was time to talk and for the next generation to tentatively get to know each other again.  One of the best bits was to see my Twin, high wide and handsome, and almost completely recovered.  The photographer climbed up to a vantage point in the house where the wedding was held,  and managed to take one of those panoramic photos where you can spend hours with a magnifying glass trying to identify everyone and still failing to work out who that was in the fuschia fascinator – assuming that it was a fascinator and not a horrible growth on the side of someone’s face.

In short – my family are brill.

Before leaving home we sent out e-mails, texts and some snail mail to let everyone know that we were visiting down South again and when. Responses trickled in.  Day 2 of our holiday was the designated open house and being a bit better off than three years earlier, we just said bring yourselves and some booze – we’ll feed you.

Bearing in mind that Lovely Hub and I had only seen pictures of the garden here and had arrived in the dark the night before, drawing back the curtains and revealing a sunny conservatory that opened on a not too big but not too small enclosed garden  the next morning – was bliss.  We breakfasted, left the boys in bed and hit Tesco with a vengeance.

By the time we got back the boys were beginning to surface and ablute – much disgust from CB because we only had one bathroom and he had to wait for his older brother to shower first.  Hub and I ignored the whingeing, laid out the food (Hub) and prepared the Pimms (me of course).

There were eighteen of us at one stage; my Twin brought his four boys and there was a commingling of cousins and second cousins that worked harmoniously – apart from me chasing CB round the front garden with a stick – I was smiling therefore it was playfighting.  The sun shone, the drink flowed, the food was consumed.  A semblance of American football was played out in the garden by those with more energy and inclination, CB’s flight simulator kept the small boys (and the big ones) occupied when they weren’t running, eating and drinking. Us olders just ate and drank and talked and laughed; raised a glass to absent friends and in particular to Mum and Ronnie, just as we had three years before about half a mile up the road. My big sis brought back the crate containing Mum’s jewels and bric-a-brac ready for us to tote it around the rest of our relatives to see if anyone else wanted a memento.  It seems a lifetime since I loaded all the little boxes and bubble-wrapped packets into the crate but in reality it was only two months ago.

Our last guest – one of our beautiful twins – left at 2300 hrs – ish.  We put the world to rights and caught up on lost time whilst Hub and the boys tidied up around us  and battened down the hatches for the night – well UB did – CB had retreated to his bedroom with his laptop – the strain of having been sociable all day too much for him.  Hub, UB and I walked our guest  up the rutty unmade road to her car.  A pothole found me and with a definite feeling of deja vu, down I went.  Full force on the knee that had almost recovered from the football boots incident of the week before.

Got up.  Brave face.  Waited till I got back indoors before having a permitted whinge and snivel,  and the application of stinging antiseptic wipes to get rid of the gravel. More than slight feeling of relief that I’d packed some First Aid stuff and that it all seemed to be just surface damage anyway.

From the first guests – including the youngest – our splendid great nephew H at only 9 months – to the last –  it was a great day.  Whatever my sons say the falling over at the end bit was due to pot holes, darkness and my general clumsiness.  Nothing at all to do with the vast quantities of Pimms consumed – Hub was dispatched to the local Co-Op for more supplies during the evening – we didn’t even consider the possibility that the Hamble Co-Op wouldn’t  sell Pimms.

Perish the thought.