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.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

We get the lot

As a spotty teen, I once worked in a supermarket. It was a job, like so many, that was hard to take seriously. At least, only a handful of employees had an eye on career progression. Most of us spent our days stacking shelves and wishing for a speedy end to the working day. But although the job was boring, the customers were entertaining. From couples who regularly entered the store two minutes before closing, every week without fail, to browse casually and deliberately for a full trolley load, to serial complainers and incompetent shoplifters, we had the lot.

Yesterday, as we stood in the queue at a checkout in our local food store, it occurred to me how little had changed. The cashier looked as though she was wishing for a speedy end to her day, the way I used to. Many of the shoppers surrounding us wouldn’t have looked out of place in a supermarket, circa 1970.

As we waited, our goods piled up between two “next customer please” dividers, the young woman immediately in front of us asked the cashier to tell her when the bill reached £50. That was her limit. After a while things came to a halt. “Forty nine and fifteen pence,” advised the woman seated at the till.

The cut-off point came just after a pack of bottled spring water, and just before several jars of various ‘cook-in’ sauces.

We were next. In my head I’d been limbering up like an Olympic athlete in preparation for the high speed packing process. This cashier was in no mood to take prisoners. Then, as I was blowing on my blistered fingertips and fumbling for a debit card, my ears tuned into a conversation the woman behind us was having on her phone. I paid up, and took the receipt just as the woman finished her call. She then shoved her basket of groceries at the cashier (who was in the middle of ‘warming down’). “Can you look after this please? I’ve got to go home. The police are at my house!”

I glanced at the cashier. She lowered the basket to a point somewhere near her feet, before bracing herself for the next customer. Without a trace of a smile she announced, coldly, “We get ‘em all in here.”

Monday, 18 January 2016

Winter Wonderland

There must be something in the cold, damp grey at this time of year, that draws out the oddest thoughts, the most vivid dreams from our innermost being. Once at the forefront of our consciousness, they sit there among the mundane and the familiar, bejewelling our routines and disturbing our concentration, so it even becomes an effort to complain about the weather.

The other night I dreamt I was in a desperate hurry to visit someone in hospital. I didn't know who it was, just that I had to get there. En route, I tried to cash a cheque in a pub, but was informed by the barmaid that it was a toy cheque. When I held it up to the light, there was a clear watermark, the word 'toy' clearly visible.

I then passed a former neighbour who was knocking on doors up and down the street. When I said hi, she let fly at me with a tirade of expletive-laden abuse. "Can't you see I'm f**king debt collecting?" she screamed. I never got to the hospital and I knew it was too late to try.

Back in the real world, whilst sitting in bed drinking my first cuppa of the day, two thoughts struck me. The first was related to the incomprehensible vastness of a star-filled sky. I know, that’s a thought not necessarily exclusive to winter, but it was overwhelming. The outer edge of night seemed to be pressing hard against the window. Perhaps it was a post-Bowie phenomenon.

I turned to Twitter (yes, my relationship with tweeting is more ‘on/off’ than Mr. Miyagi’s waxing technique – currently on), and posted a pun on an article about Cher donating drinking water to the people of Flint, Michigan. “I Got Eau Babe”. I turned my gaze back to the stars, and within seconds I received a Twitter alert. My pun had been ‘liked’ and retweeted by a woman in Texas. I dwelt on that for a while. What time of the year, other than winter, encourages such indulgences? I ask you.