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

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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.

 

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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.

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Another Place – Week 38 of the 52 week short story challenge

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We are the Iron Men.

Cast in the image of our creator and set in the sand to watch the sea as the tide comes in and out without fail.

My ninety-nine brothers and I see a world passing us by every day.

We do not stand in a line; we are scattered along the beach and some of us spend much of our time under the sea, others are half-buried in the drift of the sand.

Dog visit us and their walkers watch as we are sniffed and anointed; it doesn’t matter because the salt sea water washes everything away. Dogs on leads and dogs running free; large dogs that bark and gambol, small dogs that yap and chase their own tails, dogs in collars and harnesses, dogs wearing pink tutus and sparkling jackets. We do not think that they choose their own outfits.

People come and go; old people arm in arm, or holding hands and walking sticks, families building sandcastles and collecting shells, fishermen in green waterproofs, young lovers, joggers and cyclists, photographers capturing us from every conceivable angle and those who are alone and choose to immerse themselves in the spirit of this place.

We see the changes; wind farms rise out of the sea, ferries and container ships pass us by, irritated young men on jet skis learn to avoid us, the coastguard makes regular passes on a quad bike to ensure that all is well.

We weren’t supposed to stay here.

There were who people wanted us to be taken away; they said that we were a hazard to small craft and to tourists who got stuck in the soft sand at our feet. Some conservationists were concerned about the bird population being affected by our presence but other conservationists were fascinated by the barnacles and other forms of life that grew on our bodies.

They moved some of  my brothers in order to satisfy the critics; away from the bird breeding area and the small boats.

The people wanted us to stay – and the people won.

We stayed.

Because the people wanted us to become a permanent part of their landscape and their lives.

Students dressed us in outrageous garb, rescuing their adornments before the tide came in. Some of my brothers have been given sunglasses, another has had a bikini painted on him.

We stand and we watch.

The seasons pass over us and we are sentinels in the rain, the sun and as the wind whips the sand up into hillocks by our feet or causes the sea to lash against us and bury us under the waves.

This is Another Place.

We are the music-makers,

  And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
  And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
  On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
  Of the world for ever, it seems.

Ode – Arthur O’Shaughnessy – 1844–1881

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Dead or Undead – Week 22 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Another list.

A shorter one but one which tugged at her heart strings.

You blame FaceAche of course. In the days before social media people would tell each other how they felt – face to face, or on the phone – but people thought about what they were saying – usually.

Social media made it all so simple.

Snappy, ill-thought out comments typed on a computer, a tablet or a phone.

Press the send button and move on.

Blame it on auto correct or a typo if people take offence.

Shrug it off if you don’t care.

Time and experience had led you to an understanding of depression and unhappiness. You empathise with those who felt the pain and were in awe of those who fought against their demons on a daily basis.

Some survived the sadness.

Some didn’t, and she mourned the loss of them and that they could see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Then there were the people on the list.

People you knew and cared for.

People who you had listened to and did your best to support.

People whose unhappiness was rooted in the past, long before you knew them or was in a position to have any impact on their lives.

So why were they laying the blame at your door now?

Sitting on your shoulders, the pensive and impulsive angels watch as you scan the list.

‘Get rid of them.’ said Impulsive. ‘You don’t need people like that in your life. It’s only social media and if you block and unfriend them you can’t see what they have to say about you anyway.”

‘So sad.’ said Pensive. ‘These are people that you care about. Why do you want them out of your life?’

Does someone care about you when they send you hateful messages because you won’t do as you’re told?

Surely if people care about you they will accept you as you are – regardless of your political beliefs or whether you choose not to like the people that they like?

‘Be yourself.’ said Impulsive. ‘You don’t need people like that. They’ll sap your energies and make you feel guilty for things that aren’t your fault. Surely you should be allowed to choose your own friends and hold your own opinions without being told that you have to change to make other people happy.’

‘Yes.’ said Pensive. ‘But these are people who have been supportive to you. Friends who you trusted. Do you really want them out of your life. Do you want them to disappear?’

If they are going to blame you for their unhappiness, then yes.

Spotting phonies and parasites has always been so easy – except that spotting them long before anyone else does can cause issues. You find yourself wary and unable to trust them when everyone else is singing their praises.

Then the person concerned realises that you have seen through their facade; that you pose a risk to their life and slowly, they begin to spread the poison about you whilst proving themselves to be such a good and valuable friend to everyone.

‘I know the type.’ said Impulsive. ‘If your other friends are so blind then they can’t be worth much anyway.’

‘But they are.’ said Pensive. ‘It isn’t their fault that they are more trusting and gullible than you are. It isn’t a reason to cut them out of your life is it?’

In some cases, yes. The constant nagging to get you to change your mind wears you down. The pleading on behalf of a person who took money from you, told lies about you and put you in this unhappy situation. The hateful messages blaming you for everything that has ever gone wrong. You want them gone. You want them dead to you.

Pensive sighed, as was her way. Impulsive grinned, knowing that she had won this particular battle. They watched as the pen scratched through the first three names on the list.

‘What about these two?’ said Pensive. ‘What makes them different from the others?’

‘If they are making you unhappy, strike them off too.’ said Impulsive.

These are harder to get rid of. These two are people whose demons tell them that anyone who doesn’t think the same as them is against them. These two are people who either cut you out of their life, or who are not content to let you have your own beliefs and be true to yourself.

Before social media it didn’t matter.

Before social media you could think what you wanted about politics and it was your own business and no one else’s.

But now, you see a post that you believe in and you want to share it with your friends.

You work on the basis that if you see a post from a friend and you don’t like it, then you move on and ignore it.

These two people don’t see it that way.

One wants you to stop expressing your opinions on social media because they feel that you are wrong.

The other feels that you can only post your opinions provided you post the opposite opinion as well. This person feels that you need to provide more balance. This person insists on putting unpleasant comments on your page. Comments that upset you and your friends.

So you delete them.

The person repeats the comments and refuses to stop.

So you delete them again.

You send a message politely requesting that the person just ignore comments that they don’t like or keep their comments on their own page.

The person says they are trying to put balance on your page.

Both people blame you for their unhappiness and insist that it is you who must change to make them happy.

But that will make you unhappy.

‘You aren’t to blame for their sadness.’ said Pensive.

‘Even if you did what they asked you to do, something else would inevitably cause them distress and you would have compromised for nothing.’ said Impulsive.

That’s why they have to go.

That’s why they are on the list.

They will be missed but time will heal as it does with any mourning.

The pen strikes out the last two names.

The sun is shining through clouds.

‘Fresh air.’ said Impulsive. ‘Let’s go to the seaside and eat ice cream.’

‘Yes.’ said Pensive. ‘Time to move away from FaceAche and think more positive thoughts.’

Dead but not dead.

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Inside a car – Week 13 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

I woke up when he drew back the curtains and the bright shaft of sunlight hit my eyes.

He turned to me and grinned.

‘Let’s go to the seaside. It’s gorgeous out there.’

I never need to be told twice.

It took him slightly longer to get ready than me but then he has to take his paraphernalia with him; wet suit, surfboard, shoes, towel, shorts. I travel a lot lighter.

Outside the sun is even stronger and after we are seated, he opens the car window for me, knowing how much I like to feel a breeze in my hair.

We live about half a mile from the beach; he has surfed at better places but on a day like this we don’t want to be driving for hours. I can see how happy he is at the thought of being in the water again, and although I’d rather stay dry, I can appreciate his eagerness to get in the sea on such a lovely day.

It’s still early and there are no other cars in the car park when we arrive. Aware of the fact that the fine for not paying the car park fee is pretty steep, he nips out of the car, buys a ticket and displays it on the dashboard.

I sit tight whilst he unloads his kit; I know better than to get in his way.

Making sure that he has everything he needs, he comes back into the car and sits beside me, ruffling my hair and smiling.

‘I won’t be long. See you soon.’

And he is gone.

The window is open a couple of inches, and at first the fresh breeze that blows through it takes the edge off the sweltering sun but as the sun moves up in the sky and the breeze changes direction I start to feel uncomfortable. I wriggle down in my seat in order to avoid the heat but it doesn’t help.

Looking over my shoulder I see that the back seat is still in the shade. It means moving away from my window but he said he wouldn’t be long. I clamber between the two front seats; it’s a tight fit but eventually I am on the back seat and it is much cooler.

Time for a doze. I was up early this morning after all.

I don’t know how long I was asleep but a knocking on the window wakes me and I sit up with a start. It’s really hot in the car now and the sun has moved again so that I am directly in its glare. The front seats are just as bad and I am so thirsty.

I hear the knocking again and look up to see a woman peering in at me, shading her eyes against the strong sun. I don’t make a sound though because I know he will be back very soon and all will be well.

The woman stops knocking but I hear her talking into her phone. The words are indistinct. I squeeze myself into the tiniest patch of shade left in the very back of the car where he usually keeps his surfing gear.

There is a bag of food and drink there and I sort through it looking for anything to slake my thirst. I know that I shouldn’t be doing this but I’m beginning to feel desperate. He isn’t usually gone this long. Something must be wrong.

The woman comes back and she has some other people with her. I look for his face in the crowd but it isn’t there.

There is a woman in a uniform outside the car now. She taps on the window trying to attract my attention but I sit very still and do as I have been told.

A car draws up beside her.

It is a police car. I know this because he has told me all about them when we are out driving. He always drives more slowly when he sees one of these cars.

I can hear the people talking outside the car again.

The man from the police car moves to the passenger window and I shrink back as he smashes his metal stick into it. The glass goes all over the seat and I hope that I won’t be blamed for the mess.

He opens the passenger door and reaches through to open the rear door. I am torn between fright and the relief that I feel from the rush of air that fills the car.

The woman in the uniform climbs into the back seat and sits down. She is smiling so I think that perhaps I may not be in trouble after all.

‘Come here sweetheart. Come and get some fresh air and a drink.’

I am so hot and thirsty that I do as she says. I climb over the back seat and sit beside her. She strokes my hair and helps me down out of the car.

I don’t make a sound; not even when she slips a collar over my head and attaches a lead.

‘Good girl,’ she says, and I follow her to a shady spot where a bowl of water is waiting for me.

I lap at it and wait anxiously while she refills the bowl from a plastic bottle.

The policeman is looking at the parking ticket. He does not look happy.

‘I’ve checked the temperature out here – 27 degrees – according to this ticket she’s been in the car for nearly three hours. ‘

The woman in uniform shakes her head in disgust. The policeman has already asked the people in the crowd if they know who owns the car, but they all came to the car park after us so they wouldn’t have seen him go off with his surfboard.

Then I see him.

He is limping and a man in red shorts is supporting him and carrying the surfboard.

He tries to break into a run when he sees the crowd around the car but he falls over and the policeman rushes to help pick him up.

‘Is she okay? I didn’t mean to be away so long. I twisted my ankle and had to wait for some help.’

The policeman and the woman in uniform still look very stern.

‘She was very hot and thirsty. Have you any idea how hot it was in the car? You parked it in full sunshine. We had to break your window to get her out. Another half an hour and she would probably have been dead.’

‘I’m so sorry. I only meant to have a quick surf before taking her for a walk along the beach.’

The woman in uniform shakes her head again.

‘You should never leave your dog unattended in a car at all. How would you like it if someone put you in a thick fur coat and locked you in a car with little fresh air and nothing to drink?’

He is sitting on the edge of the driver’s seat now with me in his lap.

I lick his face.

It is salty but not the kind that comes from the sea.

The man in the red shorts has strapped up the twisted ankle and although I can see the pain on his face, my man says that he can manage to drive us home.

The policeman takes his details and says that he might be taken to court for animal cruelty.

The woman in the uniform is looking less stern. She has been watching me as I settle happily against him, my paw on his arm. He is mine and he is tethered and safe.

She strokes my head and I smile my doggy smile.

‘She’s had some water. I think we caught her in time.’ She turns to the policeman and shakes her head but this time she is smiling.

‘Do you live far away?’

‘About ten minutes drive.’  I have never seen my man this unhappy and I lick his cheek again. He buries his face in my hair and holds me very tight.

‘Go on. Go home and get some ice on that foot. RICE! Rest, ice, compression and elevation. I can see a little dog who will be very happy to make sure that you keep off that foot.’

The lady in the uniform is still smiling as we drive away. I am in the back seat because of all the glass where I usually sit.

We drive home slowly and he keeps telling me how sorry he is and how he will never do it again.

I know that he won’t and I am happy.

‘Pandora – Memories of a free spirit’

 

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Our Lovely Friend and I were talking about the old times yesterday; about people who had touched our lives and left a mark before moving away.

Some of the memories we shared are best pushed aside, for the feelings they evoked were not conducive to happiness and harmony – but anger and an awareness that there are some people who will never be satisfied with what they have.

It is my opinion – and mine only – that they should just do one and stop whingeing about their self-centred and self-imposed lot.

There was one person however, that we both remembered with huge fondness, a person who touched our lives briefly like some marvellous multicoloured bird, who flitted in, wove some magic in our lives and then disappeared again leaving us with only rumours of what had happened to her.

Let’s call her Pandora – for she opened a box of new experiences and ideas that surprised and delighted some of us but irritated and created envy and resentment in others.

At the time we knew her, Pandora was married and had five children, the youngest two from her husband, one of his and two of hers from other relationships.

She was flamboyant.  Tattooed and pierced but not in a way that made you think she was doing it to gain attention or punish herself. They were just a part of Pandora.   Her dress sense outraged the mothers at the school gate but she smiled throughout and rarely expressed negativity about their attitude, nor about those in our little group who did not exactly seek her company.

Like Hub and I, she had lost babies and it was a piece of common ground that we shared almost immediately when we started to talk.  Under the trappings, Pandora was warm. kind and understanding; I think that LF and I warmed to her right from the beginning and were pleased that she wanted to become a part of our ever-extending circle. Our children were of a similar age and we shared the delights of parent and toddler group, and playschool as well as coffee mornings, lazy lunches and girls’ nights in.

Over time,  even some of those who had been put off by Pandora’s style  began to realise that although she was different, she maintained the same core values as the rest of us.  She loved her children and would do anything for them, affectionate and always interested but defensive as a she-lion should anything or anyone threaten to harm her brood.

Pandora was a natural and very funny raconteur.  Her life hadn’t always been a happy one and I think that we knew that although she laughed about her past, events had left their mark on her and there were some issues that she could never fully open up about.

Uni Boy and Pandora’s youngest son went to playschool together.  The two of them flooded the boys toilets by blocking up the urinal outlet ‘to see what would happen’.  They both had enquiring minds and given UB’s subsequent leaning towards scientific research, this early exploration is unsurprising.

Playschool staff tried to put the blame on Pandora’s son – he was a few months older and besides, she was a tattooed biker chick and I was conventional by comparison.  UB could stay but his partner in crime had to leave.

Pandora defended him admirably and once I’d got the explanation from UB, I was able to point out that it had been UB’s idea and that Pandora’s son had just been an admiring audience.  The threat to expel one child and not the other disappeared at this point.  I lost my respectable reputation at that point though and had to washing up and cleaning tables in reparation.

At the end of term Pandora and I were allowed to take our sons on the playschool summer trip to an adventure farm  – but only if we promised to supervise them constantly.  In the end it was Pandora and myself that were badly behaved as we giggled and snorted at the tackiness of the run down farm. The trailer ride round the farm was smelly and bumpy; perched on damp hay bales you either laughed or cried.  The trip through the trees had us both in hysterics as our straight-faced fellow mummies failed to see why we found the pieces of female torso posed artistically in the branches so amusing.  Well, you had to be there.

I’ve been back since and the trailer ride hasn’t changed, the hay still smells and the tree decorations remain the same. Hub found it highly amusing too.

At one girly night in, Pandora had me convinced (she didn’t have to work too hard) that Glayva (whisky liqueur)  would be very good for my ropey chest.

I had previously avoided whisky-related products since an unfortunate New Year celebration with one of my uncles.  Bad idea to try and match him drink for drink anyway but we were drinking whisky.

I didn’t eat for three days.

On the fourth day I could just about cope with tomato juice and worcester sauce – no vodka either thanks.

But Glayva tasted of honey and slipped own SO easily.

I vaguely remember being transported home in a minibus taxi at the end of the night, and being the last one to be dropped off.

I was very, very drunk but after Hub had helped me indoors and held back my hair as I hurled, my chest did indeed feel better.

My stomach did not,

Pandora was very apologetic and kept the Glayva locked away in the cupboard after that.

I tried to practice moderation in all things after that.

During the summer, Pandora and her family went off to the seaside in a caravan for six weeks.

It was idyllic for the children as their father only came down on the weekends  this lovely gregarious soul was starved of adult company during the week.

Hub and I took the boys down to visit for the day.  They were in their element and soon borne off to the beach by Pandora’s tanned and agile brood.

She was obviously pleased to see us and a good time was had by all but Hub and I both felt that there was a sadness in her that we’d never witnessed before. She clung to me as we left and I wish I had been less distracted by my own children’s bickering.  I wish that I had stayed a little longer and asked her how she really felt.

Other friends went down to visit and expressed their concerns at the effect the isolation was having on her.

They came back at summer’s end.

Pandora had changed.

She was always interested in alternatives, and this curiosity was probably another aspect of her appeal.

When she came returned to us, her talk was of paganism and witchcraft.  She’d become friendly with a group of people on the caravan site who were seriously into wicca.  There was little of the Pandora that we knew and loved left and the two younger children seemed clingy and no longer carefree.

Within a month,  Pandora and her husband had separated.  He moved out of the house and Pandora stated that she was in a relationship with one of her pagan friends, and that she would be moving away with the two youngest children to join them soon.

She left without telling anyone in the end; we were never sure if we had ceased to matter to her or whether it was because she couldn’t bear to say goodbye.

We hoped it was the latter.

There were lots of rumours and who is to say what was true and what wasn’t?

It was said that Pandora’s new partner was involved with drugs.

It was said that he went to jail for a brief spell but that due to the information he passed on to the police he was let out early.

It was said that Pandora and her children became a part of the witness protection scheme as a consequence of her partner’s information, and had to change their identities.

It was said that Pandora had another baby.

Pandora’s boy would be 21 now and her girl would  be 19 – the same ages roughly as our own boys.

I often wonder where they are and what they are doing.

Where is Pandora and is she happy?

Does she ever think of us and does she realise how much of a warm glow she spread through our little community all those years ago?

 

 

 

 

 

‘Clicketty-Click: Confessions of a really bad Bingo caller’

During a summer many years ago, I found myself working under  the job description of ‘Events Organiser (Elderly Persons).  This was a very grand title for one of a handful of people who went round the lunch clubs held at different homes for the elderly.  This was long before any swingeing governmental cuts;  in the days when most homes had at least one large lounge where the residents and day centre attendees could cluster and hopefully be entertained. The lounge would inevitably smell of disinfectant and the stale urine that lingered in the crevices of the institutional high-backed vinyl-covered chairs regimented in a semi-circle.  Faded silk flower displays cluttered the surfaces in a failed attempt to cheer up  the pale green or blue painted walls, dark spill-proof carpets and curtains that were never closed unless there was a funeral.

There was always a gentle rivalry between the residents and those who were brought to the home in the minibus from their own homes. Residents tended to be frail and confused whereas the day centre people were judged to be more self-caring but in many cases they were just hanging on to independence by their fingertips.  The day centres gave them the opportunity to go somewhere warm where they were guaranteed morning and afternoon coffee and biscuits, as well as a hot lunch and some form of ‘entertainment’.  I use that word very loosely.

I spent most of my time in the early part of that summer doing the washing up.   There was always a great deal of it and it was the ideal opportunity to escape from the scariness of old age and confusion.  No matter how hard I tried, I always left someone out on the coffee round, or failed to order enough lunches.  This kind of catastrophe resulted in a hurried reloading of plates by the kindly but gently disapproving volunteers who had been helping out at lunch clubs for years and were vaguely condescending to us paid employees.

As the summer wore on, I found myself participating and then eventually organising the activities for groups of twenty to thirty elderly people who weren’t always sure where they were or why. We had quizzes and memory games, local entertainers would come with a Bontempi organ, small amplifier and a microphone to sing wartime songs and send the odd hearing aid haywire .  There would be outings in the minibus; to garden centres, museums and sometimes the beach.  Long trips entailed the organisation of lunch somewhere, usually in a pub which could be guaranteed not to lose patience with our haphazard ordering and the probability that at least half of our charges would have forgotten what they had ordered beforehand anyway.

We couldn’t take everyone on these trips and it was always sad to see the faces of those left behind peering out from behind the ever-open curtains like disappointed children.

The mainstay of the lunch club entertainment was Bingo.  Every home had a box containing photocopied Bingo blanks, half-sized ball pens that had been pilfered from Argos or Littlewoods, a set of numbered balls in a black cloth bag, and the number chart and counters so that the caller could blank off the numbered ball  once it had been called.

Some homes were more sophisticated; they had invested in proper Bingo (or Lotto) sets with a see-through circular ball into which the numbered balls were loaded and dispensed randomly, defeating any allegations of cheating. I always got stuck with the black cloth bag.

The Bingo prizes were donated by the lunch club attendees and had to be closely vetted.  I remember one packet of coconut mallow biscuits that turned up at nearly every lunch club, donated by the person who won it last time.  The mallow had dried out, the biscuits were soft and the coconut had gathered in a pile at the bottom of the cellophane packet.  The sell-by date had been worn off by the many pairs of old, dry hands that had clutched the packet triumphantly.  I took an executive decision one day and binned them, together with out of date tins of baked beans, tomato soup and snails – probably an unwanted present from someone’s daughter-in-law after a family trip to France.

I replaced them with nicer, newer food from my own larder and was gently but firmly reprimanded by one of the older volunteers who felt that I shouldn’t be wasting my money. I was never quite sure why this lady volunteered.  She was always the first to snatch away half-drunk cups of coffee, half-eaten lunch plates and was hustling the day centre attendees into their coats long before the bus had arrived.  Every activity was accompanied by a long-suffering sigh and she spent even more time washing up than I did.

I will never forget the first time I was asked to do the Bingo.  I though it would be easy.  After all, I had spent many sessions observing and helping (badly) to cross off numbers once they were called.

Part of the job was remembering the names for the numbers; two fat ladies, Kelly’s eye, key to the door and my nemesis, clicketty-click. I was so bad at remembering the names that one of the old ladies very kindly wrote them down for me but her writing was so tiny and cramped that the stress of pulling the balls out of the bag rendered my list unreadable.

It seemed that whenever I did the Bingo there were no early winners, just a cluster of elderly people  fighting over tins and biscuits at the very end.  It got to the point where my ineptitude was so legendary that they would ask for me to do the Bingo just so they could have a good laugh. To this day I don’t know what I was doing wrong but Bingo is a game I avoid at all costs.  I tremble at the sight of halls full of people with their multiple cards and brightly coloured dabbers for marking off the numbers. Far more efficient than our badly photocopied blanks and tiny pens.

For my last day at the lunch clubs, before moving on to bigger and more challenging things, I was allowed to organise a day trip, and to bring my husband along – such a very supportive man.  I arranged for us all to have lunch in a pub that we knew would be particularly sympathetic, was wheelchair accessible, had disabled toilet facilities ( a rarity in those days) and wasn’t far from our afternoon excursion to the beach at Mudeford.

Lunch went off with only one wrong order – and that was the bus driver.  We loaded our satiated charges back onto the bus and headed for the sea.  It was sunny but one of those pleasantly balmy afternoons where you can happily sit for a while and bask without burning.

There were no mishaps at the beach either; Dame Fortune smiled on me that day but was probably smiling at the sight of two dozen elderly people paddling in the sea or sitting in the wheelchairs on the sea wall clutching their 99 ice creams in the sunshine.

It was truly a grand day out.