Category Archives: Family Life

Some funny things have happened at last, involving Christmas

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.

By the author

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.







Simon Drew picked up a pencil. Simon Drew.

Life is for Learning

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:

  1. Write 4 novels
  2. Get an Art degree
  3. Read The Iliad and The Odyssey
  4. Volunteer at a homeless shelter
  5. Go to Australia
  6. Go to New Zealand
  7. Go to the Galapagos Islands
  8. Go on safari
  9. Find my inner Buddha
  10. Run 2 miles without getting out of breath
  11. Eat at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at the Savoy (This is a no-no as it has closed.)
  12. Lose 1 stone (chanting to change my eating and drinking karma for these three)
  13. Lose another stone
  14. Lose a third stone
  15. Get an article published in a magazine
  16. Get a story published in a magazine
  17. Run a writing course
  18. Sell my books in hard copy
  19. Visit all the houses I’ve ever lived in
  20. Illustrate my books
  21. 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.

Number 17








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.

‘A fish?’

‘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.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

For Horace

Here at the home of the Girth Mother, age rears it’s head even higher. My first daughter, Horace(Ontal),  is to be married in May. I will be Mother of the Bride, and also, to the consternation of Kerching, a Mother-in Law.

I have mentioned before, my quantity of experience negotiating the mountain pass of marriage. I know some the many challenges a married couple must overcome to achieve that distant goal, the Diamond Wedding. I will never make that enviable state although I do hope to make it to my Silver Wedding Anniversary in 2025, when I will be 70.

I have listed a few things here for Horace that I would never have thought about as I launched with supreme optimism into my first couple of relationships. Starting off with the right person is clearly the most important thing but after that…

THE INLAWS/PARENTS: That tricky relationship with the each other’s parents, and being/having a spouse who doesn’t quite match up to their expectations.

difficult mother in law

ADAPTING: The realisation that simply because you love someone, does not mean that they will behave the way you expect. How you deal with this depends largely on communication skills – yeah, yeah, we all know about those but do we think ours are the only valid ones or do we listen and speak out in the knowledge that we are  both entitled to a point of view, and that someone will have to back down? Sometimes it is hard to recognise your shortcomings. Just know that you have them.

TEMPTATION: Many of us have vices or obsessions. It is important to make a life for yourself, but not at the expense of your other half. Interests such as sports, can leave a ‘widow/er’ at home. Flirtations that may seem harmless can lead to damaging extra-marital involvements. Social drinking can lead to dangerous habits, likewise gambling, computer chat rooms, social media, on-line gaming. There are many things that can hurt your partner if they take over your thoughts.

Photo by Schuyler S

BOREDOM: After many years, marriage can become routine, communication sporadic and interests divergent.

photo by RFMIIPhotogrphy

CAREER: Being on the ladder and having to make choices between job and family. Being too tired or preoccupied to give proper attention to your spouse. Getting irritable, working late, not making time for a home life.


MONEY: Apparently the number one reason for conflict.

By Gktech716uk london

Then there is the biggy: CHILDREN: Nobody can be prepared for the impact of those: squirming bundles, determined toddlers, belligerent adolescents and ungrateful and untidy teens. The changing roles of parents and the way they share duties can be game changers. On the other hand, there are the pressures of not having children, whether by choice or otherwise.

By BCantrall

So I say to my first-born, very special and much loved daughter, I hope and pray that you have a wonderful marriage and that you and your lovely husband are strong enough to face the inevitable challenges that come your way. You seem to know what you want now, but in my experience, what you want can change several times in a lifetime, and changing together, that is the tricky bit.

Be happy, be lucky and know that I am here.

Image result for pink parakeet

With love,

Mum xxx

Garden Ornaments

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.

An evening of two halves

‘Cheers’ said Whizz as we clinked together our champagne flutes to welcome in 2015.

‘Here’s to a hospital free year’ I rejoined.

We almost made it!

Yesterday, late afternoon, turned out to be a bit frantic. I worked a bit of overtime at work, the car fuel-gauge was so low that the needle did not even move when the car was on a hill, the dog needed walking, a repeat prescription that should have been delivered to Pebbleditch, remained in Tinkle Town to be collected urgently, and it was Community Film night, which meant that Whizz needed dinner by 6pm in order to be at the village hall, erecting the big screen and setting up equipment at 6.30. At lunch time there had been a lot of talk about Christmas and I was painfully aware that I had done absolutely nothing towards the festive preparations, despite the fact that I am hosting my beloved family for several days.

Dog needs walking however busy one is
Whatever needs doing must make way for the dog walk.

I decided I should load the dog into the car, head to the petrol station first, then on to the doctor, after which I would walk, in the dark, around Tinkle Park.

I will digress a bit here and admit to something very personal. I am trying (I won’t say I am, one yet) to become a Buddhist. To many this may seem completely bonkers but I am deadly serious. I didn’t like the person I was becoming and felt the  need to make a change. Nichiren Buddhism is a branch of the ‘religeon’ that places responsibility on the individual. Instead of asking a deity to help achieve something, the emphasis is firmly on the person, to examine their heart and change their own karma, thus enabling their Buddahood to emerge.

I am completely happy with the self examination and improvement aspect of Buddhism, but I have some issue with the idea that a person can chant to get the things they want. I am assured by the people who attend the sessions that there are millionaires who have achieved their wealth through chanting ‘Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō’.

Having set the scene I will continue. Grabbing my dog vest (a fishing vest that contains all the accouterments needed for a walk: treats, ball, poo bags, torch, curry comb etc) and my muddy walking boots, I loaded them, and the dog into the back of the car. With some trepidation I ignited the engine and reversed into the road, looking at the fuel gauge and hoping for the best. I kept the revs low to reduce consumption and as I neared Tinkle, had the awful premonition that the petrol station may be accepting a fuel delivery and be closed.

The idea of chanting for what you want, entered my mind, and to the concern of the dog I began to chant, really convincing myself that the garage would be open and I would get petrol.

As I rounded the corner, there it was, open and with pumps available so I pulled up in a vacant spot. It was then I realised that of all the things I had remembered, money was not among them.

petrol pump nozzle
Thanks to the Daily Mirror for this image.

‘Bugger’ I announced to the dog. He cocked his head on one side, no doubt wondering if that was code for ‘Time for a walk’.

I probably wouldn’t make the return journey without fuel so I crossed the forecourt and stood just inside the doorway of the shoppy thing, where a lady customer was completing her transaction.

The guy behind the counter met my eyes.

‘I’ve come here on a very empty tank and found that I have forgotten my purse.’ I explained with some discomfort, ‘Is there any way you could let me squirt a bit of petrol into the tank, enough to go home and fetch my purse?’

‘The guy appraised me. ‘Where have you come from?’


I think he would have granted my request but at that moment, the woman at the counter pulled out her purse and thrust two ten pound notes at me.

‘Here,’ she said, ‘take this.’

I was horrified.

‘I couldn’t possibly take that,’ I insisted,

‘Come on,’ the lady responded. ‘Take it, quickly. I’ve got a baby in the car.’

Still not quite believing what had happened, I clutched two crisp ten pound notes and watched the lady leave, tears of gratitude in my eyes.

As I went back towards my car, the lovely lady was still sitting in the driver’s seat of her own vehicle, and it dawned on me that I would not need twenty pounds to get home, so I knocked on her windscreen and passed back one of the notes through her lowered side window, effusing my gratitude once more. Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō.

I continued with my mission, to the doctor’s, the pharmacy and, wisely avoiding the park, decided that the chalk meadow was a safer bet to walk the dog. He received a shorter walk than usual as the dinner still needed to be cooked, and time was marching on. The idea of fish and chips sprang to mind on the way home. I was pretty hungry as I had not had any lunch, and I knew my family would be delighted, nay disbelieving, at their luck. Junk food, and it was Mum’s idea? Never.

After dropping the dog home I set off back to Tinkle. It was the night of the Victorian Market and the car park was already filling up, but I managed to find a slot, and even remembered to buy a parking ticket.

Filled with the wonder of life, I strode towards the centre of town and my eye was caught by a closing down sale. Aware of my shortcomings in the area of Christmas shopping, I looked with interest at the window display.

It is not good practice to walk in one direction while looking in another and as my toe hit the curbstone I found my body launched towards the wet pavement, bag clutched to my chest. There was no saving myself, my centre of gravity was at about my knees, and as I landed on my bag, my body see sawed over it and my face hit the pavement. Grit filled my mouth as I heard the concerned voices of two ladies, whose feet soon appeared in my field of vision

‘Are you alright?’ Asked an anxious voice.

‘I think so.’ I replied from my undignified position.

‘Sue!’ Announced another voice and I turned my head a little to observe a friend.

‘Hi Bess.’ I struggled to my knees. Everything seemed intact, in fact nothing hurt.

‘We must have coffee some time,’ the friend murmured as she kissed me goodbye.

‘Yes.’ I promised, feeling shaken and surreal.

I rubbed the dirt from my face and having bought two cod and one haddock, all with chips, I sped home, where all was warm, normal and hungry. I told Whizz and Mavis what had happened but I played it down a bit because no harm had been done.

Of course when I woke up the next morning I had a headache and was very stiff in the shoulders and knees. The headache worried me and thoughts of hemorrhages and detached retinas floated before me. Whizz was still asleep so I got up, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to nip down to A&E. Just to be on the safe side.

I woke Whizz and as we set of for the hospital, Sounds of the 60s began playing Poetry in Motion. Whizz and I began to giggle, years of marriage has placed us both firmly on the same basic level of humour.

‘Falling tree in motion’ sang Whizz.

‘Launching by my side,’ I sang back.

Our visit to A&E was much briefer than we expected. We were sent to the Urgent Care department and were seen in about 15 minutes. Brilliant NHS.

I had whiplash and a bashed TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint), the cause of the pain.

Apparently I need to talk less to rest it!