In the presence of presents



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.


‘Pandora – Memories of a free spirit’



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?






‘Stop Press! Monday Moan turns into a Happy Monday’

Today marks the seventh day of trying to write something fresh every day of April.

Until today I had a good idea each night of what I wanted to write the next day and duly jotted notes in the little book given to me by a thoughtful friend for just such a purpose.

Last night. Nothing. This morning. Nothing.

I turned to my Hub for inspiration having been deserted by my muse.  Hub reminded me of Jon Richardson’s experience of not being able to write  – so he wrote about not being able to write and turned into a very funny and successful part of his stand up act. Love Jon Richardson. Love Hub.

It occurred to me that perhaps the reason why I couldn’t write anything was because I’m having too good a time of it.

In fact, this weekend we’ve all been having a good time of it really and it looks as if the fun isn’t going to stop there.

Saturday was a day of comings and goings, of a front room further obstacle-coursed by camouflaged clothing, bags of armoury, the giant paintball suitcase and a confused dog. I admit that the floor is already cluttered by my boxes of stuff and piles of paper but that is the normal status of the room.

The delayed but extremely welcome arrival of Bezzie Mate led to a very late night chatting and chortling over ”The Big Bang Theory‘.  So good to have friends who laugh at the same things as you do.

Three hours sleep later and I am up with Hub, who is taking two friends off to a scrapyard paintball game in Doncaster.  Hub is waved off at 0615, the Scoob has watered the Hebe bush and I am free to blog till 0700 when I have to wake Gap Boy so he can gather up his guns, boots and flak jacket for a day of shooting people with BBs. His lift is late and I have to spend three-quarters of an hour mollifying him and fending off his anxiety insults.  BM was warned to stay in his room until I texted him to sound the all clear.  An anxious GB does not make for good company.

By 0900 Scoobs and I are dozing on the sofa.  I put ‘Mythbusters‘ on to distract GB whilst he was waiting then fell asleep when he left.

BM emerges from his room and we celebrate the day with a breakfast of Marmite toast and experiments with my Pingu coffeemaker – not as leisurely as the cafetière but the pods provide an enormous variety and frothy milk.  As always we chat and chat and the morning passes before we know it.  I managed to get tickets for the three of us to see Rich Hall next month whilst we were chilling though.
We go shopping together, have a lovely shared lunch, do more silly shopping then hurry home in the rain  to await the weary warriors – and Uni Boy who has travelled to Doncaster to meet his dad and come home for the night.

GB bursts through the patio doors – his camo gear unsullied and his gorgeous hairdo barely ruffled.

“I shot loads of people.  A couple in the face and one in the b*****s.  They shouldn’t have got in the way!”

BM, Scoob and I exchange covert grins.  We listen attentively to GB’s shoutiness, knowing that  he will quieten down soon.  Supplied with fizzy drink and crackers, he stomps off to his room to shout at his computer.

An hour later the battle-scarred paintballer returns with a happy but tired UB.  Hub has a post-paintball unwinding routine of putting things away and washing the mucky stuff. GB subscribes to the ‘dump it on the floor where people will trip over it.  They can move it if they are annoyed by it and I can get annoyed with them if it isn’t where I left it next time I need it‘ school of thought (Does he actually think?). Love him, squeeze him, throttle him.

Takeaway time – curry for four of us and Chinese for UB who doesn’t do curry (Sorry Dad).  BM and I volunteer to be the hunter-gatherers as Hub is flagging and home delivery takes hours.  Our local shopping square is peaceful and almost pretty in the red light of the setting sun.  From the Spar shop to the Chinese chippy and finally the Indian takeaway, we return with our spoils.  UB retires to his room to eat and GB to his, leaving BM, Hub and me to eat, talk and enjoy each other’s company.  Scoob waits expectantly and is eventually rewarded with the leftover pappadum bits.  Happy dog.  Happy me. I have four of my favourite people (and Scoob) back in my nest.

The end of the night sees us all outside waving BM off on his journey home after much hugging and manly handshakes.  Scoob pees against the gate and sniffs the night air for cats. They are sensibly indoors.

GB decides to go out for a blat on his bike now that the roads are quieter and darker.  Being the worrywart that I am, I sit up until he is home safely and so is BM. Although BM has a longer journey, his is less eventful than GB’s.  My boy bursts in through the patio doors again, blathering about the idiots on the road and how his mirrors keep turning round.

I am so ready for my bed.


So, my moaning about a lack of inspiration has been turned into the happiness engendered by my nearest and dearest.  We are taking UB back to York today; a leisurely road  trip, mammoth supermarket shop and dinner out  at the wonderful . before Hub and I complete the day with a companionable drive home singing along loudly to the radio.

Next weekend Hub and I are going back home to the seaside for a big birthday party; to see family, visit old haunts and enjoy hotel breakfasting together.  GB and UB are dog sitting and partying (not in our house I hasten to add!).

We have a good seven days ahead of us. Happy Monday!