Wednesday, 8 June 2016

In, Out, or Stitch-Up?

The twins were deep into BBC’s ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ when I asked if they’d mind pausing the programme for a moment as I had a serious question for them. There followed quizzical stares and semi-impatient fiddling with the remote. After all, what could be more serious than the trials of a man whose task it was to create a bra from scratch?

I hoped I wasn’t patronising them when I posed the choice of being in the EU or out of the EU. In spite of having worked with a European Documentation Centre in an academic setting, and having a strong enough grasp of European Humanities to earn me a 2.2 Hons, breaking the referendum down into understandable form, was not easy. In fact, I had rather been hoping someone would do the same for me, but that’s another story.

So I basically went with the, “going it alone” v “being a part of a bigger family” line. Imogen immediately opted for being independent from other rule-makers and having complete control. Iris thought about it a little longer, before offering this: “Well, I think we should join up with other countries. We should join Australia. Then we wouldn’t need to use a plane, or a train in a tunnel under the sea. We could just drive there.” And suddenly, it was all pins, tucks, and fragile fabric again.

As I posted earlier, on Facebook, I've decided how I'll vote in the referendum. After all that's been said and done, I've reached my own conclusions. It's hard to see beyond the negativity, the scaremongering, the self interests, and the pernicious points of persuasion that dance around the headlines of hate. But see beyond it we must. The only clear fact, either way, is that no one actually knows anything. Politicians have been spinning for so long now, they've lost sight of their principles. Like most people, they've got their fingers crossed. So it's down to us. Take your hopes and wishes to the polling booths on the 23rd, shape them into a X, and imagine you're sealing your dreams of a better future, with a kiss.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Grandad's Birthday Cake!

When I asked my eldest granddaughter how she managed the barrage of tests recently undertaken at her primary school, she answered, "Oh, okay." But then she added, "Apart from spelling. I didn't do so well in that, I just know it. I failed that one." In these situations you always want to come up with one of those 'grandad knows best' or 'listen to your old grandpop' remedies, but kids are smart and they know when you're trying to smooth things over. So I settled for explaining that spelling and grammar will come. These things, I told her, you'll learn along the way. For the time being, try to put all notions of failure to one side. Of course she hadn't failed, and I'm pleased to say that her creative output is as full-on as ever.

Yesterday she was eager to show me her latest short story.

Emily's Grandad was coming round. Emily liked her Grandad very much, and whenever he visited Emily, it was always a special day. But this time it would be even more special because this time it was his birthday.

Emily made a present, and party hats (with the help of her Mum). She even helped her Dad blow up some balloons. But there was just something missing...that something was the cake!

Emily rushed into the kitchen. She had never made a cake before, but everyone else was busy. She had a general idea of how to make one. She'd need a bowl and spoon and an egg. There, she cracked her egg. "Hmm," she thought, "what else? I know, Grandad likes banana and chocolate. She rushed to the fruit bowl and grabbed a banana, and on passing, she snatched a chocolate bar off the shelf. She raced back to the bowl and tipped them in, and stirred. "it didn't look like this when Mummy made it," she thought. 

"Now what else? I know, jam!" She poured the red sticky liquid into the bowl. "One more thing. Sugar." She popped it in, covered the bowl up and put it into the oven. The deed was done.

'Bing' wen the oven. She took it out. She looked at it. It was a jammy, eggy, chocolaty, banana, sticky mess. "Oh dear," she thought. It was still missing candles but Emily wasn't sure whether they'd stay put or sink to the bottom. So she left it.

'Ding dong' went the doorbell. Emily rushed to the front door. There in the doorway was her Grandad. "Hello Emily," he said. "Happy Birthday, Grandad," answered Emily, who was still clutching the bowl, tightly. "What have you got there, Sweetie?" asked Grandad. "Oh nothing, it's just...we forgot to get you a birthday cake, so I made one. It's not very good, though," answered Emily. 

"You don't know that. How about I try it?" "Okay," answered Emily, nervously, as her Grandad took a mouthful. "It's bad, isn't it?" began Emily, tears filling her eyes. "Emily, this is the best birthday cake I've ever had." Emily was shocked. "Yes," continued her Grandad, "I love the banana and the chocolate twist. "You do?" asked Emily. "Yes. So you forgot a few ingredients. I love it all the same."

And he gave her a huge hug.

Illustrated by Primrose (AKA SW)
Written by Primrose (AKA SW)

Monday, 25 April 2016

Care and Commitment

Is too much expected of you as grandparents? is an interesting piece, and it raises some questions about the extent of grandparents' roles in the care of their grandchildren.

Personally, I think, before committing yourself, it makes sense for all parties to understand where their primary responsibilities lie. Talk to your kids before saying yes, and be honest about where the limits are. We have a good arrangement whereby we have committed to 'pick up' duties throughout school time, and we are on standby for 'extras' when our help is needed. This allows our daughter to work, covers childcare for our grandchildren, and allows us space to go about our own business. But if it's a regular undertaking, a routine, talking it through thoroughly is absolutely key if you want it to succeed. There have to be established lines and limits, if feelings of resentment are to be avoided.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Long Way Around

Went for a stroll yesterday morning. It had been our intention to do the circular walk we so often do, in an effort to stir the blood and stretch the muscles. But the sky was so blue and the sun so inviting, we decided to take a longer route. And I have to say, even after 16 years, we're never disappointed with what the 'ridge' has to offer.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Passing and Moving

When we moved here 16 years ago, we were the youngest couple in our small but perfectly formed block. Now only one of our original neighbours is still in situ, and she’s 90 next month. The distance between us becoming the oldest couple here is shrinking and, since the 85 year old gentleman, downstairs, has been forced to take up residence in a nursing home, you could say we’re the not-so-young pretenders to a dubious title.

Currently, it’s an interesting mix. A single mum and two children below us, a young single woman above the soon-to-be nonagenarian. A reclusive couple immediately next door, and an empty flat where Charlie once went about his daily business which, in latter days, consisted mainly of dozing in his recliner, watching TV, and thumbing through his tractor and steam engine magazines. He was an outdoor man, used to having his feet in firm contact with the earth. He worked a three acre field and several greenhouses, producing fruit and veg which he and his late partner sold locally.

It’s always sad to witness a decline in anyone, to see how much can be taken away incrementally by the onset of ill health. Sadder still, when independence is no longer viable. One elderly neighbour, in an adjoining block, was hospitalised following a fall. At 96 he discharged himself and returned home. Unable to face the prospect of a care home, he struggled around his one bedroom world for a couple of months, before he was discovered in a kneeling position by his bed, the life completely gone from him. With that detail in mind, I often wondered if he might have been praying at the time of his demise.

Recently, we were informed about the passing of a woman in the village. She was, apparently, a white witch. She was also married, a fact no one was aware of until a couple of local ladies were called upon to sort clothes for a charity. In a small bedroom, all the husband’s belongings were stored in drawers and hanging in a wardrobe. When someone asked his whereabouts, nobody could say.

My immediate question would have been, “Can a white witch turn a man into a frog?”  

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Wizard Princess

What better surprise on World Book Day, than being presented with a snazzy little book? This one came directly from the author/illustrator, herself. And this time it's SW's young sister, Iris.

 The Wizard Princess - Hermione.
 In a land, far far away, there was a princess called Hermione.
She wanted to be a wizard.

She lived in a castle, but she didn't want to be a princess.
The castle was bright pink. Hermione did not like bright pink.
...her mummy did bright blue on the castle.
"Thank you!" said Hermione. I like bright blue, mummy.
 The End.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


Until the news of his death, a few days ago, Henry Worsley was not a name I knew. I had no idea who he was, much less that he was attempting to cross the Antarctic, solo and unaided. And if I’d have known, it would probably be because I had skim-read a short piece about him in the papers, or caught a snippet on the news. To be honest, my immediate thoughts would have moved between what a hero and what kind of fool undertakes such an expedition? I know for sure that I would have been left with some niggling questions; all of which would distil down neatly to why?

The truth is, explorers themselves might struggle to come up with a definitive answer as to why they risk life and limb to test the limits of their own endurance. People will tell you they are a breed apart from the rest of us, but I don’t buy that. Yes, they are generally well prepared individuals, drilled in key survival techniques and equipped to face all known contingencies. They are super fit and conditioned to the environment where they will literally place their existence on the line. But they are human beings like you and me, and no matter how high one’s confidence and self-belief might be, an explorer is still prone to injury, disease, fear and exhaustion. Someone like Henry Worsley remains tied to his fallibility, and part of the thrill exploration has given us over the years is that human connection, the mapping of our comfortable selves onto someone who wears their courage on the outside.

In the year before I was born, Sir Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. My grandfather spoke of the triumph, with all the excitement of a schoolboy. He even went to the cinema to watch ‘The Conquest of Everest’. There he savoured the event, as it played back in shaky black and white, complete with deafening soundtrack. In his mind, although he never said as much, he could have been a contender.

Sixteen years later I watched, enthralled, as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, where he famously announced the feat as "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." For days I was filled with recurring thoughts of weightlessness, of how it might feel to be so far from home, and what might it be like if the return journey didn't happen.

The planet has now been so meticulously observed, measured, monitored and mapped, that it’s difficult nowadays, for me to see a reason why a person would deliberately place themselves in peril without the prospect of making history, rather than a variation of history already made.

One thing about Worsley, I suppose, is the fact that he dared to go where most of us wouldn’t consider going. And in so doing, he paid the ultimate price, and has now gone to where we must all eventually go, some will say, too soon. Apparently, polar explorer Robert Swan, upon hearing that Worsley had called to be rescued, paraphrased Sir Ernest Shackleton with: “It’s best to be a live donkey than a dead lion.” Even he couldn't have foreseen how the adventure would finally play out.