A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

4528637898

It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

barry-peckham-keyhaven215-1

Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

david-hughes-lighthouse-at-hurst-castle-keyhaven-hampshire-england-united-kingdom-europe

Advertisements

Animal Perspective – Week 36 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

582825_10151346942174871_2026613059_n

Hola!

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Scooby, I am eight years old and I was born in Valencia, Spain.  I am what is called a ‘random’ dog; you can also use the phrases ‘crossbreed’ or ‘mongrel’ but I prefer random because it suits my personality.  With regard to my parentage, rumour has it that a flat-coated retriever and a German shepherd dog may have been involved but hey – who really knows? Let’s face it – I am one handsome dog.

For the first three years of my life I was a Spanish dog; I poohed over low white walls, had no need of stairs and chased feral cats to my heart’s content.  That’s how we did things over there. My Spanish Mum taught me how to sit, stay, fetch, lie down and use my paw to make requests.  She also made sure that I had a pet passport and all my jabs were up to date.  I believe that she loved me very much.

In 2011 I came to England.  I don’t remember why.  It was cold though and I got into trouble over a neighbour’s cat.  You have to bear in mind that I was used to cats being vermin – like rats and pigeons and squirrels – there are kind people in Spain who try to look after the feral cats but there are so many that most people see them as a nuisance and don’t make a fuss if you remove one or two.

There was most certainly a fuss once I got to England.  I was no longer a bueno perro for doing what came naturally to me. I was the terminator dog. I was in deep trouble. Then I got out again.  Another cat bit the dust. My Spanish Mum could no longer cope with my Spanish ways and she signed me over to the RSPCA.

I was locked up for eighteen months.

My picture was on the website; a nice man did a video of me running around and playing with a ball, and I became very popular with the RSPCA staff and volunteers.  People came to see me and said how handsome I was – especially when I grinned or cocked my head to one side.  But other dogs came and other dogs went; as soon as people knew about my little problem with cats they turned away.  Many of them had cats of their own, or other pets that they thought I might take a fancy to.  I was an unknown quantity and people – quite understandably – were not prepared to take the risk.

There was a boy – well almost a man – who wanted a dog.  He loved animals and grew up in a house full of cats. His Mum promised him that when all the cats had finally made their way to moggy heaven, they would look into having a dog.  She told him to check the RSPCA web pages but not to fall in love too soon because they had to go on holiday first.  She also told him to put his laptop to some good use and do some research on what it meant to be a responsible dog owner instead of playing games where humans killed other humans.

His Mum spotted me on the web pages and pointed me out to the Boy and to his Dad.  His Mum liked my big brown eyes and the way my ears flopped over.  She could see that I had been at the kennels a long time and that I desperately needed a home of my own.  She told the Boy that if I was still there when they came back from holiday, they would come and visit me.

Right from the start the staff were very honest about my cat issues; from the very first phone call the Mum made, she knew what they were taking on but she and the Boy had fallen for my charms already (they had to work on the Dad a bit because he had never owned a dog before).

They came to visit me on the Mum’s birthday and took me for a walk in the wood outside the kennels.  I pulled a bit.  Well quite a lot actually but they persevered and by the time they brought me back to the kennels it was a done deal.  A deposit was paid and before they had even left a yellow sign with ‘Home check’ was put up outside my kennel. Somebody wanted me at last.

They came again the next day; the Boy was in charge because he was to be my new master – aided and abetted by his Mum and Dad.  I recognised them, and as a consequence began to show off my talents a little. I still pulled but they were impressed by the way I responded to basic commands (and the dog treats they bought me).

Each time they visited we got to know each other better and I began to love the Boy.  He hugged me and praised me – well all three of them did – but his actions were the most important.  I stopped barking when I saw them enter the car park and wagged my tail in ecstasy instead. Kind people cared for me and hoped that one day I would find the right family, and they had their fingers crossed.

One of the visits included a walk to a car; the Mum was worried about whether I would be nervous about cars as I’d been in kennels for so long.  Ha!  I jumped up onto the tailgate, sat down on the blanket and gave my famous grin.

‘Take me home now please?’

Unknown to me, the Mum and the Dad were doing things to make their house a safe haven where I couldn’t get out and chase the local cats.  They put trellis on top of the fence panels so I wouldn’t be able to climb over.  They found a dog-owning fence and gate maker who mended their old gate and made a special new one so that I wouldn’t get out of the back garden. They had loved their own cats and didn’t want to put temptation in my way.

They passed the home check and once the gates and trellis had been put up it was agreed that I could come home.

By this time I had my own lead, half-check collar and a harness which the Boy bought with him whenever they came to take me out.  He always had his Mum or his Dad with him when we walked but on this day he took me out alone.

When we got back to the kennels he didn’t hand me back the way he used to.  His Mum and Dad appeared from the office and they were both smiling.  The Boy was smiling.  They lifted up the tailgate and as the Boy strapped my harness to the safety belt, I smiled too.

We went home.  Mi casa.

Adios.

 

img_00000278-2

But now I know the things I know And do the things I do, And if you do not like me so, To hell, my love, with you.” Dorothy Parker

Quotable-Dorothy-Parker-in-Pictures.004

I am fast approaching my Heinz beanz birthday and I can’t help wondering – how old do I have to get before people stop telling me who and what I should like?

I am embarking upon another ranty blog –  so look away quickly if you are easily offended.

No one and nothing on earth will ever make me vote for a political party that targets the poor, the sick and the elderly in order to put money in their own  pockets and those of their already well-off mates. I was brought up as a socialist (thanks to Lovely Mum) and have yet to see anything that will make me change my mind. I will post and share what I like on FaceAche and if you don’t like it – ignore it. No amount of unfriending, blocking or emotional blackmail is going to turn this woman.

Toxic people have no place in my life. If the only way you can be happy is to make others unhappy then I don’t want to know you.

I finally unfriended someone who has irritated the hell out of me over the years with whines, complaints, envy and spite. I helped this person out some years ago when the police were threatening  prosecution over something done in this person’s name. A policeman turned up at my place of work to take a character reference in support of the person. I never even got an acknowledgement from them,  just some snide FaceAche comments accusing me of making a fuss about nothing after I had an accident at work.

This rant was sparked by Biker Boy and I having another of our stimulating conversations about W-O-R-K. He cannot understand how ANYBODY can spend all day in an office in front of a computer. Some of us had no choice.  Before you read this next bit, please let me point out that as per my blog disclaimer ‘All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, live or dead, is purely coincidental.

So ner.

There have been people who I thoroughly enjoyed sharing an office with. I’m still in touch with most of them – so you know who you are and you have my undying admiration for having survived sharing an office with me. There were others possessed of such tunnel vision that they had no awareness of how their behaviour impacted upon others – and probably would have burst into crocodile tears if anyone ever dared challenge them.

  • Miss Trivia – our Boss gave this female a week of undeclared leave when her pet dog died whereas I was told that I had to take annual leave to look after my children when Hub was in hospital with kidney stones. I didn’t bat my baby blue eyes and simper enough obviously. Miss Trivia also became so obsessed with buying a house with her long-suffering boyfriend that every day the office was bombarded with updates on what kind of kitchen scouring pads she had bought, the colour of her washing up bowl and what excellent taste she had. She made such extravagant plans for their impending nuptials that said boyfriend broke off the engagement and moved out until she could be persuaded to scale things down
  • The ‘Not-in-my-Day’ tyrants – older women who would kick up a fuss if anyone in the office with children was allowed time off to deal with a domestic crisis. ‘I was never allowed time off with MY children – it wouldn’t have happened in MY day’. Strangely enough they made no complaint about Miss Trivia’s leave …
  • Smokers – as an extremely ex-smoker myself, I have every sympathy with those who cannot give up the evil weed, but all understanding went out of the window when they hung their smoke-ridden coats on top of mine – leaving me to travel home stinking of stale tobacco
  • Football fans – having a ‘discussion’ with a colleague who doesn’t support the same team as you so loudly that no one else in the office can hear the person they are trying to have a conversation with on the phone. I tried asking them to keep it down once and was told off for being rude
  • Those with ‘ungrateful’ grown up children – who, when they weren’t being berated on the phone during working hours, were the burning topic of endless office diatribes
  • Infinite beverage makers and washers up – one of the most effective ways of avoiding work is to make endless cups of tea and coffee for your colleagues, and ensure that you also do the washing up afterwards. People will think that you are kind and helpful without realising that they are doing all the work while you are swanning off to the kitchen area in your Marigolds
  • Fridge pilferers – they creep into your office in the gap between staff leaving at the end of the day and the cleaners coming in – sometimes they are so brazen that they carry out their dirty doings while the cleaners are there. Tins of biscuits that were half full are  empty the next day. Cans of fizzy drink left in the fridge mysteriously disappear – even foodstuff stored away in your own drawer isn’t safe unless you lock it away. One pilferer was so determined that he had a method of unlocking drawers with a penknife. I left him a very rude note and a piece of ripe Camembert once. The drawer was a bit smelly for a while but it did seem to put him off 🙂

Of course, at the root of all office-based conflict is the manager. I have worked under good managers and bad. I had thought that laissez-faire management was the worst but I had to invent a new category for one manager – flaccid-faire. If the man couldn’t shout you down when you asked him to do a bit of managing, he would shrug his shoulders, put on a wimpish face and bleat ‘Give me a break’.

Senior managers are often a bad joke. They are merely for show, get paid an extortionate amount of money and are classic examples of people who are so adept at avoiding dismissal that they just keep getting promoted up the ladder into jobs with titles that no one really understands. There is usually a very loyal and intelligent administrator lurking in the shadow of such senior managers. This person has to make their dental, doctor and hair appointments, rewrite their badly written reports and lie about their whereabouts to family and colleagues – as in ‘No, he’s not back at his desk yet. I think he had to see someone else on the way back from his meeting.’ Said manager can usually be seen outside the building in smoker’s corner. Lesser mortals have to clock out and back in again when they need a cigarette but not managers.

I made the decision to become self-employed in July 2013. I was somewhat forced into the decision but I only have regrets about it at Christmas time when I don’t get an outing to Wetherspoons for a cheap roast dinner or a Secret Santa present that only goes to show that Santa couldn’t really give a monkey’s about what I might have liked as a present. No one ever bought me a cattle prod or a taser. Even comedy ear muffs might have eased my office-based burden.

There are no arguments over beverage making in my home office. I don’t drink tea and only drink coffee made by the penguin coffee maker that was a present from Hub (Scoob and the boys) on Mother’s Day. Hub and I take it in turns to wash up depending on whether he is at work or not.

No need for smart, sensible office clothes. I am typing this wearing my nightshirt and it has gone midday! Such decadence. Scoob is sitting next to me and providing moral support. My chair is my own and so is my computer. No one from IT moans at me because I mouse left-handed and I don’t have to answer the house phone within three rings because it is usually some dork trying to sell me a boiler, new windows or wanting to run a health check on my pc.

Nob off!

Important calls and texts come in on my mobile, which rarely leaves my side.

The downside is that I haven’t actually earned any money yet, and my intolerance of other people has increased now that I don’t actually have to suffer fools any more.

BB is just as intolerant and even less forgiving than me but he will find his way in life I have no doubt – I managed to get this far without actually killing anyone (in reality anyway).

But hey, haven’t I had enough of being dictated to now? Am I old enough to meet someone – online or off – and decide that I don’t want them in my life? Am I old enough to have my own political and social opinions yet? Am I old enough to wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t go? (Thank you Jenny Joseph.)

You bet I am.

This is the beginning of anything you want…

 

Flying Eagle

Well, I’m back on the blog again.

New beginnings.

I have new lenses in my eyes – replacements for the old ones cluttered with cataracts – and can see like an eagle (can cause issues in the supermarket especially in the raw meat section).

The podiatrists sorted out the right big toe – it looks much prettier than the left big toe but then it hasn’t had a crate dropped on it. Happier toes have had a positive effect on my achy breaky legs and back so that I can walk further (with my Nordik walking poles), sit at the computer, and study with much less pain. Oh, and colouring. Now that it is an acknowledged adult pursuit I no longer need to colour in secret.

I completed NaNoWriMo again this year – my eighth win – and now it is time I finished editing it all that work and found an agent.

Gap Boy – now known as Biker Boy – has finally had his tonsils removed and is better company as a consequence. His ability to mend and remake BB guns has now extended itself into the realms of motorbikes.  Ah well, they cleared out the garage enough to fit their bikes in. Biker Boy now wants to turn the garage into a man cave…any sorcerers need an apprentice?

Uni Boy is now a Young Master of the Chemical Universe, and remains at York University doing a PhD that has something to do with antibiotics and amino acids. Don’t ask me – it still goes way over my head.

Apart from scoffing a potentially lethal amount of chocolate (wrappers included), biscuits and a Lindt bear when we had the temerity to go out for a meal, Scooby remains our faithful hound and my constant source of solace when Hub is at work. The vet bills were pretty horrendous though.

BB’s bad influence caused Hub to find his way back to motorbikes too. He was a biker when I met him and he does look very good in leathers.

A new year and time to put the unpleasant past behind me for good. I stopped blogging last year for a couple of reasons.

  • I knew that some ex-colleagues were watching the page and waiting for me to say something negative so that they could run and tell tales. Sorry to disappoint them but I really can’t be bothered any more
  • I also discovered some that people who I thought were friends had used and abused that friendship for their own ends. Blocked, un-friended for ever and banished
  • There was so much negativity after this that I didn’t particularly want to share it – especially with those people who were mad enough to say that they actually enjoyed my ramblings

I don’t know how often I’ll blog but I’ve forked out for another year so I may as well inflict my money’s worth on anyone who wants to read this. It’s good practice as far as touch typing is concerned – the last three years of enforced lassitude have eroded my administrational skills.

It’s been a quiet Christmas for us – from choice – but we still managed to spend time with many of our nearest and dearest. BB actually ate duck for his Christmas dinner – instead of his usual smelly bacon noodles liberally laced with Tabasco sauce. I cooked roast parsnips (yuck) for Hub and the YM, and had a success with recreating Mutti’s red cabbage – who knew juniper berries would be so hard to source – should have gone to Waitrose I suppose but Sandbach, Northwich or Southport are a bit too far to go just for a berry or six. The Scoob was not offered another enormous knuckle bone this year – the after effects were too horrendous to discuss. I found him some less smelly Christmas chews that kept him reasonably occupied while we were eating.

We had some wonderful Christmas presents – from those who know and love us well. A huge thank you to all those people who make my life happy; my family, my old and new friends. Some of you will have got Christmas cards. Some will have seen Scooby’s card on FaceAche. We were finishing writing them and going out to make deliveries when Scooby stuffed himself, and it threw us out of kilter.

The YM was returned to a very wet York on Boxing Day – the Tang Hall brook was bubbling up through the manhole covers but YM lives on higher ground fortunately and is very nimble on his feet. He smiled and shook his head when I offered to buy him wellies or flip-flops.

Our New Year’s Eve was blissfully quiet too; just me, Hub and the Scoob – once we had finished ferrying the boys to their respective parties. We went to bed around two am.  BB rumbled home and stomped up the stairs at around four am, and YM around six am – my Scooby intruder alarm was triggered but only a few mild wuffs were uttered. YM had warned me that he might not go to bed if he was still wide awake (inebriated) from his celebrations but would pack up quietly and get the train back to York.

There was a message on my mobile when I emerged at ten am – at eight am YM was in Manch and on his way Yorkwards. At least while he was here I fed him and lent him my phone charger and iron (my ironing does not meet his standards any more – oh dear).

Hub has gone back to work today after a happy eight days off together. We saw Star Wars VII – in 3D – on our own. I want to go and see it again, and I want another Star Wars cup.

A word of warning before I sign off. There are some unscrupulous people who make a tidy little sum from selling email addresses to companies who then inundate your inbox with badly spelled beggings for their crap products – at the least – or try to trick you into responding so they can access your account. The person I gave my address to said she wanted it so that she could keep in touch, but she never used it – she then passed it onto one of her simple satellites so I got spammed twice.

My junk mail box is usually quite full these. I don’t need to open or read them before sending them into the black hole where they belong. The spelling and grammar in the subject matter and first line alone is enough to make me giggle.

I’m studying proofreading and copy-editing now that my eyes are mended. Another string to my bow and a fascinating skill to acquire.

BB has just emerged from his upper man cave and  disappeared laden with red pepperoni sticks and shortbread – an interesting mix.

Hub phoned to make sure I was missing him – I was and he knew I would be but in a good way – but he will be back by nine-thirty pm.

Finally, a sad farewell to Terry Pratchett and Lemmy Kilmister – your legacies live on in your words and music long after the rubbish novels and tone-deaf singers have faded into obscurity.

Let’s get on now and make 2016 a good place to be. XXX

‘No Yo Ho Ho! – Not For Another Month at Least, Please?’

54666435

We all love Christmas.

Well, most of us love Christmas.

Erm; a decreasing number of us love Christmas.

I loved Christmas as a child.

I still love it.

I cherish the story that I wrote at infant school about how I got a scooter from Father Christmas – with pictures too.  I can remember the bright blue paint, clean and unsullied. I rode that scooter round the streets until it eventually fell apart and was beyond repair.

I think that may have been the Christmas that I got a Teeny Tiny Tears too – considerably smaller than Tiny Tears but she still had the capacity to cry and wee once you had filled up the water reservoir in the middle of her back.

This could have caused me to grow up with some very strange notions about how babies took on and expelled water but luckily I had baby cousins who dispelled those notions the first time I watched my aunt changing a nappy.

There were rules about Christmas in our house.

We didn’t start it too early – usually around the weekend nearest the tenth of December – the Chinese lanterns and crepe paper streamers were unearthed and strung around the room.

Christmas wasn’t a real Christmas without the tree lights malfunctioning.  A vivid Yuletide memory is of my Dad swearing quietly under his breath as he tried to track down the wayward bulb. We knew instinctively to keep out of the way until  the tree lit up, at which point we would all appear and make noises of glee and approval.

Christmas Eve was special.

We used to go to the house of one of my aunts; it started off in a quiet way with sandwiches and nibbles.  Giggling with our cousins at our great-aunt when she took her false teeth out and flicked fag ash into the peanuts (given a very wide berth by us knowing children but we didn’t tell the adults – cue more giggling).

Over the years, as their family expanded and they moved to a bigger house, my aunt and uncle’s pre-Christmas celebrations grew as well.  My uncle was Polish and introduced much of his heritage to the rest of the family at their parties.

Polish sausage, pickled herring, Bigos (ham and sauerkraut stew) and (shudder) brawn.

The sight of the pig’s head boiling away in the kitchen to make the brawn left me reluctant to even sample a tiny bit.

The peanuts were safe from fag ash now, the great-aunt had smoked her way into another place.

I miss those Christmas Eves; the joy of meeting up with the family and putting presents under the tree, buffet browsing Anglo-Polish style and pinching the odd glass of sherry when no one was looking.

Blessed as I am with a bevy of beautiful and talented cousins, I think that the reason we are so close – despite geographical distances – is because of those Christmas Eve parties.

It was usually Christmas Day by the time we left, tired and giddy and clutching carrier bags of presents that we weren’t allowed to open till the morning with the other presents that Father Christmas would be bringing.

Of all the Christmas Days I enjoyed as a child, the one that sticks in my memory is the Christmas When Every Thing Went Wrong.

The day began with the sprouts (eurgh) melted the plastic colander.

Then it was discovered that my Lovely Mum had forgotten to take the giblets out of the turkey before she cooked it. They were in a plastic bag. Mum invented an early form of shrink wrap.

Dad put too much alcohol on the Christmas pudding and rather than burning with a bright blue flame, it incinerated to a black shrivelled lump.

Needless to say, tempers were frayed.

My Dad shouted.

My Lovely Mum hit him with a rolled up newspaper.

We howled.

The dog, unsure if this was domestic violence or just a playfight, decided that it needed to be stopped.

So he bit Lovely Mum on the arm.

Things went very quiet after that.  The dog went out in the garden very quickly and Mum’s arm went under the tap – bruised but not bloodied.

There was also a strict rule about when the decorations came down.

I know a lot of people take them down as soon as they can – after New Year’s Day usually  – but as Lovely Mum’s birthday was on the 4th January, we left them up for her and had a mad dash to get them down and put away before Twelfth Night. Although Lovely Mum has left us, I still leave my decorations up till after her birthday.

I do like Christmas really.

Christmas carols make me cry; in my semi-religious phase I couldn’t get through Midnight Communion without blubbing – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ gets me every time and ‘Silent Night’ – I’m welling up just thinking about it..

Little school choirs singing in shopping malls turn me to a gibbering wreck .

I never managed to stay dry-eyed during either of my children’s nativity plays and had to make sure that I always wore a large scarf to absorb my tears and hide my quivering lip.

“Oh Mother – you are SO embarrassing!”

So why the grumpy title?

It’s only the 28th October!

Just under two months till Christmas.

So why are the shops full of Christmas stuff?  Poor old Halloween is being shuffled into a side aisle.So unfair to think of skulls, witches and ghouls being ousted by snow-persons, fat robins and Father Christmas.

Shops are beginning to play ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ on an endless loop that drives the salespeople bonkers and does not encourage a festive spirit because we’ve all heard the tunes SO many times before.  Even the starving poor across the world will know that it is Christmas because of that flipping song!

Now this is the bit where I show myself to be a hypocrite. Having moaned about the early incursion of Christmas into the shopping arena – I cashed in on it.

Two years ago we got rid of our huge holly berried and fir-coned false Christmas tree and bought a nice fibre optic 1 metre high tree that needed very little in the way of decoration and took less than ten minutes to put up.

I loved that little tree.

We had to get the decorations down a bit sharpish as, for the first time ever, we were flying off on holiday for the New Year and couldn’t face the idea of unpacking, washing and undecking the halls.

I don’t know what happened to my little tree.

We hunted high and low in the run up to last Christmas but it was nowhere to be found so we went off to the garden centre to get a replacement.

All the nice trees were gone and a real tree was out of the question, as Scooby had come to live with us and we weren’t quite sure if he could differentiate between an outside tree and an inside one.

We continued our search but by this time it was mid-December and they were beginning to set out the Easter egg displays.

We settled for a slightly larger tree that appeared to be fibre optic and looked as if it could stand the vigors of tail lashing and large-male bashing.

It was a hideous monster tree and what I thought were fibre optic lights turned out to be translucent globs on the ends of the branches.

Every branch had to be fluffed out and attached  to one of the three stems that made up the body of the tree. The fake fir was rough on the fingers and I broke two nails trying to insert the branches. When we finally got it upright it was HUGE and very drab, so we had to go out and buy MORE decorations for it.  Of course, by this time there were hardly any decorations left, just a mish mash of broken or ugly coloured baubles. We could have used Easter eggs I suppose.

Bezzie Mate and  went for lunch at my favourite garden centre a couple of weeks ago  and I noticed that they had the mock-Christmas trees on display.  Against my better judgement but fuelled by a decent lunch, we had a rummage in the festive section but they didn’t have the tree I wanted.

Undaunted we drove down the road to the bigger  garden centre (more choice but the cafe is more like a transport cafe and always seems to be full of screaming kids).

My heart leapt; we had barely got in the door when I spied my long-lost tree shimmering amongst its larger (and uglier) fir-y brethren.

BM toddled off for a browse amongst some boots and I combed the centre desperately seeking an assistant.  I found one but he was having an intense conversation about bulbs with a very demanding woman who kept grabbing his forearm.  He didn’t seem to mind though.

I waited.

And waited.

I got bored then and had a competition with myself to find the most tacky Christmas decoration in the store. It was a toss-up between some very ugly opaque white rigid plastic trees of about 6 inches and an array of ‘fibre-optic Christmas tapestries’. Closer inspection revealed them to be printed material pictures with lights in funny places. They were the winners but they were all hideous I couldn’t choose the worst.

My assistant was free!

I took him to my tree and asked if he could find me one that was boxed up.  He took the tag and disappeared.

I went in search of BM who was in the process of falling for some stout walking boots that were half-price.

My assistant returned toting a long white box. He turned it round to look at the picture and check that he had the right one.

He had the wrong one and disappeared again into the bowels of the garden centre.

We carried on browsing but feared the worst when he returned with a furrowed brow.

“I can’t find it.”

“But you have one on display. You can’t have sold out of them yet? “

“No, they’ve only just come in but it wasn’t where it should have been. If you want to reserve one, we could call you when we find it?”

I’ve been caught like this before. I reserved something then turned up to find that another member of staff had sold it because they thought it was a returned item.

“Can I pay for one now? Then I can come in and collect it when you find one.”

“Oh – erm – okay.”

So I bought it and filled in all number of forms with my name, address and telephone number.

By this time, BM and I were exhausted and had to test out a range of conservatory furniture before toddling home for homemade curry.

I got a phone call a couple of days later to say that they had found my tree. Hub and I went to collect it and found that with his (not-very-constant) gardener card, they could knock off a further eight pounds! We also bought BM’s boots and sent them off to him because they weren’t on sale online. They rub one of his ankles.

Bargain.

I admire people who get all their Christmas presents in the January sales – almost as much as I admire those who dash around the store on Christmas Eve snapping up ‘bargains’.

Hub is notoriously hard to buy for. He only really wants paintball bits – although now he and Gap Boy are sharing a motorbike there might be some mileage there. GB has already started demanding his Christmas presents. Uni Boy is home this weekend but I doubt that he will come up with anything helpful.

Ah, but I am blessed with good friends who like silly things, and an adorable bunch of small children and babies who can revitalise my Christmas spirit.

Mine’s a very large sherry please.

Oooops – the road to hell is paved with good intentions….

dilemma

Oh dear – three days in and I have backslid (slided?) already

Not going to manage 1600 words today I’m afraid but I have ……

Done my hair and had a shower – and got dressed and all that

Played ball with Scooby in the garden – he got bored first

Gritted my teeth and smiled when Hub went off to work on Gap Boy’s motorbike – he texted me to say that he had arrived safely and when he was coming home again – phew

Baked some small potatoes and ate some of them – Scooby drooled

Did a huge pile of ironing – then forgot to bring it upstairs

Had several long and interesting phone conversations with Best Mate

Troubleshot (shooted?) an annoying problem for BM and solved it – hurrah

Caught up on the digibox programmes that Hub didn’t want to watch – more room for Jezza programmes – more hurrah!

Managed to watch Pointless Celebs, Strictly and Downton with the subtitles on because Gap Boy wanted to upbraid me about my dishwasher stacking talents

Shame about Tim Wonnacott 😦

Got Gap Boy to bring down his dirty crockery and cutlery so I could fill up the dishwasher (badly apparently)

I will try to be more productive tomorrow but I’m seeing my Phizard (osteopath with magical fingers), going to town with Hub afterwards, making a birthday card and wrapping presents for a lovely little girl who will be two next week, and packing up goodies for her sisters and brother

I lurve being self-employed 🙂

Get your red pen out Christine xx

‘Angels of Amsterdam – gracious tables and falling from grace – part 3’

10347174_10152526515594871_4014498929656737202_n

I managed to do some Tai Chi in the confines of the hotel bedroom when I woke up.

Hub was still asleep so I did my version of a silent disco – earphones in and Tai Chi music playing on my Blackberry – I can hear it but no one else can.

The Pore Ole Leg was still complaining after having to sit still during the canal cruise  the night before, but gentle exercise frees it up a bit and Hub wanted me to see the big square that he had discovered in his ramblings.

When we were talking about going to Amsterdam, we received two stock pieces of advice; ‘you must go to the red light district‘ and ‘you must try one of those cafes – you know – the ones that sell (hushed voice) drugs‘.

You can’t walk around Old Amsterdam without smelling the whiff of cannabis in the air.  The seed cafes are prolific and if we had wanted to – we could have – but Hub didn’t want to and despite reassurance from several sources that a bit of cannabis might do the POL the world of good, my liver was already working overtime trying to cope with my legitimate drug regime – so we sniffed (and occasionally inhaled) but we did not partake.

When we were checking in on the first night, our receptionist gave us a map and circled the places of interest.

One of these was the red light district.

She advised us to go in the daytime and not to take pictures because many of the girls sitting – or standing – behind the plate glass, were students earning money to supplement their grants, and their parents were not aware of what they were doing.

Another receptionist said that many of the girls were Eastern Europeans, lured by the promise of legitimate jobs, who found themselves penniless, with no jobs and nowhere to go. A hard choice – not really a choice at all.

We decided therefore to walk/limp to the big square and into the red light district (and out again).

It was very hot and I didn’t bring a hat.

By the time we got to our destination – now known as Dam Platz – I was melting.

I fully understood what Hub meant by it being the best place to people watch however.

Surrounded by hotels and cafes with outside seating, gift shops,  a huge Madame Tussauds, various monuments and structures, and densely populated by tourists, workers and people dressed as Death; it was busy and bustling and mind-boggling.

Hub hustled me into a gift shop and I bought the least ostentatious baseball cap I could find – black denim with ‘Amsterdam’ in fairly small and discrete lettering.

With my head cooled, we sat on a block of marble and watched the world whizzing past.  I rather liked the girl who was making giant bubbles that floated lazily across the platz.  I also liked the poor soul dressed as a soldier in multicoloured chain mail but both of the Deaths were far behaving in far too flippant and un-Deathlike a manner to be acceptable.

Avoiding almost certain death (and I’m not being flippant this time) under the wheels of mad moped riders, we managed to get onto the correct side of the road to enter the – deh deh dehhhhhh – red light district.  The transition was fairly gradual; fast food shops gave way to sex shops and as we moved into the heart (?) of the district, we began to see full length plate-glass windows with hot pink tinsel streamers.

Neither of us really looked that closely.

We were both thinking of starving students and homeless immigrants.

We saw nothing to titillate or excite, just sadness and exploitation.

Weak and wobbly, we found a cafe by a canal.

Most of the people sitting at the tables outside were elderly and obvious long-time residents who viewed the curious tourists like ourselves with an air of resignation.

The cafe served the world’s best non-alcoholic pina colada smoothie though.

This is the photo we took of the red light district.

10491279_10152526585564871_6242464227118012750_n

When we were on the canal cruise, we were told that the reason for these very tall, thin houses was because people were taxed on the width of their property.  So the canny people of Amsterdam built very narrow houses, often with only one room on each floor.  To compensate they went upwards and the elegant arched windows at the top were often just a facade to make the house owner look as if they had more money.

We liked the thin houses.

Drinks finished with, we made our way back into the bustle of Dam Platz and headed back to the hotel for a mega flop – and – courtesy of the hotel broadcasting Beeb 1 and 2 (as well as Chicken Noodle News) – ‘Flog It’ and ‘Pointless’.

I felt a pang of homesickness when ‘Pointless’ ended.  Scooby knows that the theme music means dinnertime.  I knew that Gap Boy wouldn’t forget to feed him but at that moment I missed Scoob’s doggy grin, over enthusiastic tail and drooling issues SO much.

It may have been the heat, it may have been the walking, it may have been the sadness of the red light district and missing Scoobs, but we both felt the need to stay indoors for dinner that night and be cossetted by the hotel staff.

We were well looked after at breakfast, and when we popped in for happy hour, but that was nothing compared to the gracious behaviour of the staff who waited on us during dinner.

Nothing was too much trouble. In more than impeccable English, the food was described by our waiter so enticingly, that making a choice was very difficult – we went with his recommendations and were not disappointed. The trio of sorbets I had for pudding was an absolute delight.

Amsterdam and the lovely inhabitants had already hooked us, now we were truly wrapped up in bliss  – from the food, the courtesy, the kindness and the attitude of people who made us feel very special.

We were leaving early in the morning and I had decided that although I liked the double-decker trains, a taxi to Schipol would be better.  The concierge booked the taxi and I paid the bill the night before so that we would have less to worry about in the morning – yes, yes – OCD. I don’t deny it.

Back in the room we packed all but the essentials, and full of good food and wine (Hub – not me), the day set on our last full day in Amsterdam.

I had come to the conclusion that it would be churlish to reject the kind assistance offered at the airport and was almost looking forward to being shepherded around the airport in a wheelchair – so was the POL..

In the presence of presents

 1001518_10151613473503101_679923520_n

 

When Gap Boy and Uni Boy were younger, buying presents for Christmas and birthdays was simple.  I could let my imagination run riot in the toy shop – avoiding the pink aisle and the weapons of mass destruction.  We worked through Lego and K’nex whilst Tilly, Tom and Tiny watched from the toy box – we had Rosie and Jim too – as well as a plethora of other character spin offs from whatever children’s programme the Red House book club was flogging that week.

As the boys got older and diversified, all my good intentions about not allowing guns or electronic toys went out of the window; Uni Boy became a Gameboy fanatic (subsequently progressing through a vast range of must-have Nintendo products) and Gap Boy’s latent killer instinct would not be suppressed. The boy would shoot anyone with anything given the opportunity – including his mother  (on Mothering Sunday) with a BB gun.

I thought that Hub was easier to buy for; I bought him things that I was sure he’d like but it took several years of him gratefully accepting my weird purchases before the penny dropped and I noticed that most of his presents were still in a brightly patterned gift bag a year later (he would never give or throw them away for fear of hurting my feelings).

I inherited the tendency to overbuy from my Lovely Mum.  Neither of us ever felt we had given enough and as a consequence we would shower each other (and other people) with shedloads of goodies.  I do miss Mum’s hastily wrapped bags of delight.

Increasing age and a modicum of maturity opened my eyes to the perils of inappropriate present giving and I decided to let Hub have more of a say in what I bought – as in ‘you order the bits you need for paintball and I’ll wrap them up‘. Birthdays and Christmas are less imaginative now but mutually happier and there are fewer festive filled carrier bags hanging around.  UB and GB now request filthy lucre instead of presents, or as in GB’s case, get us to drive to the motorbike shop and pay for his protective gear.

Hub had a big birthday.

Big birthdays call for extreme measures.

A brand spanking new marker for paintball – his first ever because he’s been good and only had second-hand stuff before.

UB announced that he couldn’t get home for his dad’s birthday due to Uni commitments but suggested  that we meet up in Manch for an evening meal.  He then came up with the even brighter idea that we should go to Manch on the train.

Hub loves trains.

As I don’t drive, he spends a lot of time ferrying me about in the car.  He loved my birthday weekend in York because we went on the train and he got to look at the scenery and relax.

We decided to invite Bezzie Mate up for the birthday celebrations as we love his company, he loves trains too and he has become an integral part of our family.  We did ask GB if he wanted to come but the joint perils of using public transport and spending the evening with his older brother proved far too repellent. He said that he would stay home and look after Scooby – who’s minding who?

UB booked the restaurant and as the family train expert, gave me a potted version of the timetable and texyed me a list of his own  commitments. I booked train tickets (not with the cheapest online source according to UB but what the hell) and baby we were ready to go!

BM arrived on Hub’s birthday with a beautifully wrapped box containing marzipan and a Spiderman helicopter  both of which brought a huge grin to Hub’s face.  His marker had arrived in time for me to wrap it and he’d completely forgotten about the melon vodka that UB and I had bought him.

The builders were still busy in the kitchen when BM arrived but he was able to see the glory that was the sparkly granite worktop being fitted before the three of us left to – catch a bus to town!

Hub made a beeline for the back seat; memories of schooldays obviously flooding back.  I prefer the front seats especially if there is a bell to ring nearby and a pole to grab hold of.  BM and I followed Hub but after a few moments of hideous bumping and the full blast of the sun, we all relocated to more comfortable and less sun-drenched seats.

We were travelling to Manch in the rush hour, so needless to say, the train was packed and it was standing room only.  Nearly everyone sitting down on the train had a laptop or tablet of some description on display.  Hub and I managed to get seats at the next stop but BM was so wrapped up in looking at HIS tablet that he preferred to stand.

Manchester Piccadilly station brought back memories of my misspent youth; my Lovely Mum worked for what was then British Rail, and as a consequence I got four free rail tickets per year and quarter-fare the rest of the time. This came in very useful for a homesick eighteen year old who had relocated from the seaside South to a land-locked Birmingham and the delights of drama school. Ticket inspectors often failed to clip my ticket, giving me the opportunity to make more journeys home (and back), usually on the through train but sometimes via Euston and Waterloo.

Large train stations and the Underground held no fear for me in those days as I lugged my hefty sailbag southwards and to home – or reluctantly back to the cold and endlessly damp Midlands and my tiny bedsit.

Thirty-odd years later, laden only with a ladylike Primark rucksack and accompanied by two of my favourite men, Manchester Piccadilly was a delight, even if one of the travelators wasn’t travelling – until nature called.

Thirty pee to pee!

To add insult to injury the toilets stank of other people’s stale pee – and worse.

It took a sit down and a takeaway coffee to restore my equilibrium.  Hub and BM found my ire most amusing. They frequently gang up on me like a pair of naughty schoolboys but I forgive them – usually.

UB phoned as we were drinking coffee and teasing each other on FaceAche.  His meeting had overrun and his train had been cancelled so he would be going straight to the restaurant and could we please stop messing around and get there first in case they let the table go to someone else. Suitably chastised for our levity and wondering how the al-seeing eye of UB knew we were messing about, we packe dup and drank up.

I would have gone for the taxi option, but Hub and BM were excited by trams (and the ticket machine) so we took the Metrolink. As we passed the Manchester Eye I had to kick Hub to shut him up because he started talking about the chap who had occupied the Eye in protest against being recalled to jail for breaking his parole.  You never know who might be listening on a tram, and to my wary eye there were several fellow passengers taking an unhealthy interest in what Hub was saying. He was oblivious to it all. He loves trams.

We got off the tram before the heavies did. Hub had to use his mobile satnav to find the way to the restaurant, which was under the shade of the Beetham Tower and alongside the canal.  Our progress was slow but enjoyable; BM was happy-snapping the surroundings, Hub and I were just happy looking and lapping up the atmosphere of a balmy Manchester evening.

We were on time. Our table was inside rather than out on the crowded terrace.  We ordered cocktails, including one for UB who had texted to say he was on the Metrolink and would like something sweet, fruity and very alcoholic please.

It was a wonderful evening.  The food was great and the cocktails even better. When he found out that it was Hub’s birthday, our lovely waiter Guillaume bought over a surprise brownie pudding complete with candles and a glass of champagne – on the house.  More cocktails with dessert, UB and I were torn between two drinks so we ordered both and took turns slurping through separate straws – that’s my boy.

Despite having return tram tickets, I persuaded my men that a taxi to the station would be a better option given our varying levels of inebriation.  Many cocktails made all three of them very amenable.  UB’s train left shortly after ours so he packed his parents and his funny uncle safely aboard  and waved us off with that curiously old-fashioned look on his face.  He’s always been much older and wiser than us.

The journey home was only marred by a yoof with very cheap earphones broadcasting his boom-boom repetitive dance music to the whole carriage.

Hub rested his eyes.

BM was engrossed in his tablet.

I smiled the happy smile of the slightly intoxicated and tried to work out where the hell we were.

Disembarking was an experience.  The clothing of our female companions was – skimpy – to say the least – and although it was a Thursday, there must have been something exciting going on in the town centre (or cultural quarter as the PR merchants have christened it) as most of the yoof were headed in that direction.

Another taxi and home to a shiny, shiny kitchen, a very happy Scooby, a slightly disapproving GB (aren’t you all a bit old for this?) and much needed sleep.

Just in case you were worried that GB was left out, Hub, BM, GB and I went off to our favourite curry house for dinner the next night.  UB hates curry.

Hub says it was his best birthday ever.  He had more cards, more messages on FaceAche, presents he really wanted and a good meal enjoyed with some of his favourite people, not to mention the bus, trains and tram.

I’ll think he’ll cope with the nifty fifties now.

 

Fooling around in April

Time to get back to work  and flex these fingers. My big PC has moved downstairs so that the Scoob can keep me company whilst I tappety-tap away when the muse moves.

Going to try and write something every day in April if possible; an exercise in self-discipline and looking outside the parameters of my own little world.

Needless to say, any beady eyes looking to cause trouble should check out the disclaimer page first and then look to their own consciences – if they have any.

All fiction has its roots in fact,  and however deep those roots go, I believe that is what makes it readable.