I suppose, really, that Mavis should no longer be called a child, now that she is 18, however she is still my child and this is my blog so I’m continuing the Child Quote theme.
We are in the Easter holidays; both of us at home. This is a rare opportunity for me to have some quality time with Mavis – when she gets up, and doesn’t have her nose pressed to her phone. Today we went out for lunch and then to see The Greatest Showman. The film was not my favourite, but it entertained me enough to keep me awake, and Mavis enjoyed it, which is enough for me.
It was while dining that conversation led to my proposal that, as there was a bit of time, perhaps we could browse around a couple of clothes shops. ‘I feel like a change of look. Give myself a bit of style,’ I said.
‘You already have a style,’ Mavis replied. Aah, was this daughter of mine about to pay me a compliment?
‘Yeah, Batty Old Teacher style.’
I paused, thinking that I rather liked the idea of looking a bit batty. ‘I don’t mind looking like a batty teacher,’ I said. ‘Like Mrs Slopes?
‘No,’ Mavis corrected, ‘A batty old teacher. Mrs Slopes looked like a batty teacher, but you look like the kind of teacher that makes the kids wonder if you’re a witch.’
I know it’s a bit late for a Christmas theme but this post has been rumbling round in my head since that time. Thanks to a watery, chesty virus keeping me from work, I have the opportunity to put finger to keyboard. It’s a ill wind and all that.
This Christmas was a weird one for my family. We all spent it in ways never experienced before. My sister went to her ‘in laws’, my brother went to his, the only ones he has ever had, as he was married for the first time this summer.
My esteemed parents stayed home alone and indulged, allegedly cheerfully, in roast beef and alcohol.
Their aloneness (I think I have made up this word) made me a little uneasy.
Someone else who added to my unease was Mavis, who was contracted to work on Boxing Day. This would not have been such a bad thing had Whizz and I not agreed to go to Horace’s, in Canalshire (work it out), for the festive season.
During the run up to Christmas, we all hoped that the Pharmaceutical chain for whom Mavis works, let’s call them ‘Wellies’, would be able to swing it so she could have the Boxing Day off, but at the last minute, several people who were also working the same shift, handed in their notices and that was that. Mavis was home alone too.
Henny how, on to some post-Christmas entertainment.
First: I was recruited by my school to take on the task of being Santa for the littlies (another made up word). I was presented with a beautiful and thankfully elasticated, scarlet velour outfit, and a wig and beard of the bristly, curly variety. I adopted a voice that Whizz, when I tried it out on him, said sounded more like Winston Churchill than Santa, but since I don’t think he has ever conversed with the latter, I took the remark as approbation, and assumed it in my role.
I was led by the head (duh, not my head, the head teacher), to the Foundation class, where I was introduced, amid childish gasps, to about 50 wee ones. I then settled into a side room and the children were called, one at a time 50 of them – to come and tell me what they would like me to bring them on my sleigh. A teacher attended to take photos.
Wow, did I get into role. I was magnificent with my, ‘Hello little boy and ‘Have you been good?’ and ‘Make sure you leave me a mince pie.’
Unfortunately the combination of Churchill’s voice and a tickly beard became too much for my throat after the thirtieth child. I began to cough. My eyes watered and my nose ran into the pristine moustache, until a teacher had to intervene and suggest I took a comfort break. Poor little kids looked really worried but none seemed to notice that on my return, my voice had become less Churchillian and more Barbara Woodhouse.
Second: At the same time as I was dressed as F.C., Mavis was bemoaning the fact that she was expected to dress as a Pixie for her work as a sales assistant in ‘Wellies’ (No, she didn’t wear wellies, that is the name of the shop. I did tell you before).
On the few days before the big day, she went on the bus – in normal clothes, refusing to draw attention to herself, even though she would be wearing a coat.
During the course of one day, a small but articulate child accosted her.
‘Why aren’t you in the North Pole helping Santa?’ she demanded, clutching her father’s hand.
‘Well,’ replied Mavis, ‘I’m doing a bit of shopping for him.’
‘The child looked puzzled. ‘But you make all the presents…’
‘Ah,’ replied Mavis with lightning wit, ‘He has to buy some because of copyright.’
The father collapsed into guffaws.
I was rather proud of Mavis for this quick thinking.
Third: Nothing to do with my Christmas, but one of our bed and breakfast guests shared this experience over a beer one evening.
He had tickets for the World Darts Championship – the semi-finals I think. It seems that it is de rigueur to dress up for these occasions and so he wore his faithful Santa hat. This was no ordinary hat, it was remote controlled. At the touch of a button, the top wagged from side to side in time to a Christmas tune. Over the years the tune had worn a bit thin so he had disconnected the sound, but the hat still flopped to left and right at his ‘digital’ command.
It seems that he and his son, took up a position near to a speaker. Every time the commentator yelled, ‘One hundred and eighteeee’, the vibration set off his hat so that it wagged from side to side in excitement. This guy is an engineer, not given to excitable outbursts, but clearly his alter-ego hat had other ideas.
Ooh, here’s the other funny thing: I received a tea towel from my brother and sister in law. I know, not that exciting but it’s very funny. If you don’t think it’s funny you are either too young or you should not be here.
You might think that there’s not much left to learn by the time you reach your 60s. Think again. My last couple of years have probably been the most life-changing of all. I suppose that becoming a Nichirin Buddhist has affected that in many ways but this is not intended to be about the benefits of Buddhism. The Buddhism contributes to the self-awareness and thence to happiness and fulfilment and because of that, this post is about creativity and me.
As you know, I am a writer – well, I write, but I also teach children with special educational needs, and run a Bed and Breakfast business on Airbnb, so my writing time is limited.
Our bed and breakfast guests are diverse. Many are inspiring but some, we are pleased to wave goodbye to, and one or two become friends. More about the friends later.
It was our lodger (call him Roger – of course) who started it. He longs for an idyllic life, running a tea room by the sea and selling his paintings to tourists. He and I talk a lot about painting.
Before he started staying with us, I had suppressed my urge to paint, telling myself I didn’t have time for anything else in my life. With Roger’s presence in the house, I have changed my mind. All that talk of landscape and portrait. When I spotted and an advert in a local magazine for lessons with the inspirational teacher, Lorna Moore, I decided to sign up. What an amazing decision it turned out to be.
I’m not about to be the next Hockney, but I am improving all the time.
The way I have found the extra opportunity in my day, has been to stop watching television. I have also knocked some minor domestic things on the head. I no longer make our bed in the morning – nobody sees it anyway. I run the dishwasher more often and employed a lad to do some gardening for a while at the beginning of the summer. We also pay a dog walker (runner) once a week.
In December I read an article by Jon Westonberg encouraging readers to make a life plan – duh. How had it taken me this long to recognise the wisdom of his words. Make a list he suggested, and avoid anything that distracts you from it.
I think Jon may be a little younger than I because his list contains 100 items. I’m not saying I’m old but (call me negative …) I don’t believe I have enough years left for 100 things . Here follows my list. It is pinned on my kitchen wall – well, attached by a magnet to a paella pan as a matter of fact. I reckon I have 20 years if I’m lucky assuming I still have all my marbles, which is in the balance as this blog will testify:
Write 4 novels
Get an Art degree
Read The Iliad and The Odyssey
Volunteer at a homeless shelter
Go to Australia
Go to New Zealand
Go to the Galapagos Islands
Go on safari
Find my inner Buddha
Run 2 miles without getting out of breath
Eat at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at the Savoy (This is a no-no as it has closed.)
Lose 1 stone (chanting to change my eating and drinking karma for these three)
Lose another stone
Lose a third stone
Get an article published in a magazine
Get a story published in a magazine
Run a writing course
Sell my books in hard copy
Visit all the houses I’ve ever lived in
Illustrate my books
Work with words
The list – thanks to Jon, and my positive mental attitude – thanks to Nichirin (and me), are the reason for my life-changing couple of years.
Note on my list points 18 – 20.:
20 is ticked for book 1
18 and 19 are in progress
I have regained control over Be Careful What You Wish For, re-edited the content and painted a new cover, inspired by Lorna Moore. This is now uploaded as an eBook (see picture, above, and the paperback version is at the printer’s. Exciting times.
I have decided to enrol on an art degree in 2020, when Mavis has finished her first year at university. Wait? How sensible of me – a sign I am weening myself off knee-jerk decisions. If I’m honest I’m a bit nervous about uni, but I’m gonna do it anyway.
Notes 12 – 14: I’ve lost lots of weight – and regained it. Hmm, keep chanting Lil.
I am living number eight, vicariously through Horace at the moment, who is honeymooning in South Africa.
A full course is planned for the autumn.
So, lookout world, here I come, limping but determined. Ooh, I nearly forgot the obligatory funny story, Well I thought this was funny anyway:
One of our guests (call him Boatman), who has become a friend, was at the breakfast table and I was telling him about Mavis’s wedding, and the fact that over the course of the weekend I had found 2 raffle tickets in the turn-up of my jeans. I had kept them for a while, mistakenly wondering if they were a sign of impending fortune.
‘The strangest thing I found in my turn-up was a fish,’ he said.
‘Yes. Years ago I was tottering home from the pub and I had to use some stepping stones to cross a stream. I missed my footing and stepped into the water. When I got home there was a Stickleback in my turn-up.’
I don’t know why, but I found this very funny. It’s so random, and the word Stickleback was perfectly placed in the story. I’m giggling as I write. Hope you giggle, too.
Once upon a time I thought garden gnomes were to be disdained.
As I grow older, however, and less judgmental, I discover that I rather like them. A house near ours has a tiny and immaculate front lawn with a number of garden ornaments, including a gnome pushing a barrow, a couple of less than cuddly animals, and a spinning windmill. This little plot, delights passing children in the same way that gaudy Christmas lights might. I’d like to hail all those gardeners across the land who entertain us with their cheeky Big Ears lookalikes.
The subject of gnomes brings to mind an old college ‘professor’ of mine called Banable Lecture. He was my friend at college, and we still keep up a sporadic correspondence. Banable taught programming and program design, but considering the technical nature of his career, it is notable that he prefers to put pen to paper for his annual letter to me, rendering it practically illegible. Mine to him on the other hand, is ‘MSWorded’ with appropriate illustrations, as I was taught in college.
Banable is a man with a boyish sense of humour (what man is not, I hear you say) and he once made a surprise visit to his brother (or it could have been his sister). To make the occasion more meaningful, Banable and his wife, Sparethe, rose before daybreak, and carrying with them various bits of equipment such as a washing up bowl, some sticks and string and some eccentric headgear, arrived outside the sibling’s house. The curtains were still blocking the first, pale infiltration of sunshine as the two crept onto the front lawn and set up their surprise. Then they waited, hoping the family would not lie in until midday.
Sure enough, after not too long the upstairs drapes parted and a sleepy figure glanced out, then stilled, then a face was thrust close to the glass before breaking into roars of laughter.
Outside, with the grass chilling their toes, Banable and Sparethe, sat facing one another on low stools. On the ground between them was a blue sheet of plastic, cut in a closed curve, and on top of this, a washing up bowl containing water and a plastic fish. Both figures held fishing rods made from the sticks and string, and both were dressed as garden gnomes.
If only I could read Banable’s writing, I might have a fund of other anecdotes. As it is, there is one story that can be linked to the above without too much meandering. It concerns my time with LH.
LH is a classic car enthusiast, and over the years I was the vicarious owner of a number of old sports cars, while he had a sensible saloon car (and an Austin Healey Frog Eyed Sprite in the garage). I have driven M.G.s and Austin Healeys, some quite nice but most with resounding rear end flatulence and/or water, leaking through the soft top.
On one occasion, LH was on the phone giving directions using his favourite landmarks. ‘Go past the Griffin,’ said he, ‘Take the next left and our house is the one with the midget in the garden’. Our visitor could have been forgiven for thinking we lived in Narnia rather than a residential estate in North Sheep Country.
When Mavis was about 4 she had a beloved friend, Peter. The two were inseparable, so much so that when they both went to school, the dinner ladies called them the little married couple.
Sadly for Mavis, Peter moved away leaving her distraught. For years afterwards she struggled to make friends, but it seemed that the girl groups had already formed, and Mavis had developed a preference for the company of boys.
One day before Peter left, when he was very much in Mavis’s life, Whizz, Mavis and I took a trip to Woburn Safari Park. You know, the place with the monkeys that rip off your windscreen wipers. Whizz and I sat in the front of the car and Mavis, in her child seat, perched behind us on the rear seat.
We peered through the widows at lions and giraffes, and soon arrived at the ape enclosure. In a line of cars we crawled along roads between trees, where the little blighters, Barbary Apes I believe, were soon landing from the trees onto our car and gnawing at the trim and peeing on the windscreen. Mavis was delighted to watch them being sprayed with the windscreen washers.
We rounded a corner and looked back to see an ape making off with part of a car further back down the queue and then Whizz and I turned back, whereupon our eyes were drawn to a huge ape, squatting in a sort of hut, directly ahead of us. He was observing the mayhem like the King of the Swingers. We knew he was a male because unlike the Disney character, he had an enormous erection. We stared in silence wondering if our little girl would notice. As we watched, the penis of the King of the Swingers, swung. Well actually it bobbed, up and down in apparent response to the desirability of the various crumpet options around the woodland. ‘Oh yes, there’s a good’un,’ up with the erection, ‘Maybe there’s a better one over there though.’ slight droop, and so on.
Mavis had clearly spotted the ape and its seemingly athletic part, and after a few seconds her little voice came from the back,