Category Archives: General

General comments on life as I see it

It’s the school holidays so…

So I have time to blog, write, paint and generally catch up on domestic responsibilities. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. What has actually happened is that the time is, mainly enjoyably, slipping through my fingers. Nevertheless, here I am writing at last.

My dear uncle, mentioned in the previous post, departed this life recently. This was a devastating event, especially for his children, my cousins, and his older sister, my mum, who hobbled to the lectern and spoke very movingly at his funeral. Afterwards I was able, in his memory, to break my diet at the wake, on sandwiches, and a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I gained half a pound when weighing in at  Slimming World on only my second week.

Death is not funny, but it is inevitable and over the years I, somewhat morbidly, have collected anecdotes about the interesting and sometimes amusing circumstances relating to it. This preoccupation might explain why I write books about people dying. Take a look here to read the first (so far the only, and I should be working on its sequel now – not blogging).

It is one of the characteristics of Brits, that we make a joke about the most terrible events – perhaps it is because we are not so good at putting our feelings into words. To many this tendency will seem horrible and insensitive, but you have to believe that we have the feelings, it’s just one of the ways we face the world with them.

Wood engraving by P. May, 1901. Published in Punch

My first story came from Woman’s hour,  years ago, and I believe the theme was that you can bury your loved ones in any way you choose. Something like that. The interviewee was a lady, let’s call her Imelda, I hope this wasn’t her real name, I don’t remember anything about her apart from what she did.

Imelda’s mother died after a long and disabling illness that kept her house-bound. Prior to her decline, Mum had been active and had many friends, but the friends had become equally disabled by age and so were unable to visit her before she died.

Upon her mother’s demise, Imelda decided not to leave her with the funeral directors and instead brought her and her coffin home, so that she could chat to mum and say her goodbye’s thoroughly. I’m not sure how long this took but having satisfied this desire, Imelda popped the coffin into the back of the car and took her mother to visit all her decrepit friends, so that they could bid her farewell, too. One can’t help wondering how the friends felt about this but clearly they were polite and offered tea and biscuits – to Imelda of course, this isn’t a Monty Python sketch.

Having done this, Imelda took her parent to her favourite spot, for a last look at  the view before she was returned to the funeral director’s for her final exit.

The second story is more a situation that tickled me, about a woman whose husband dropped dead while they were away on holiday in their caravan. He fell straight down the middle of the ‘van  so that she had to step over his body each time she made a cup of tea for the paramedics (we used to call those, ambulance men, I don’t think there were any ambulance women then, but now there are, it does seem more appropriate to give them a generic name). This picture has stuck in my head for years – I told you I was morbid.

More recently, the mother of a neighbour’s son-in-law died. The funeral was sad but went according to plan and the wake was held in the deceased lady’s beautiful garden.

The guests stood under the trees in the rolling lawns, sipping wine and nibbling on canapees when there was a gasp, and one of the older members of the group dropped down dead.

An ambulance was called and while the crew attempted, unsuccessfully, to revive the poor guest, the son of the lady whose funeral it actually was, had to make polite conversation with the remaining guests. Ghastly.

Finally, this week, here in Pebbleditch, a death with a hopefully happy ending:

I have changed the names and written this from my imagination as I was not actually present. Apologies if I got anything wrong.

Our village has been lucky enough to have a new football pavilion and the opening ceremony – albit some months after it started to be used – was held last Sunday. The celebration was also to induct local people in the use of the new defibrillator, installed on the wall of the building.

An expert in heart disease explained the symptoms that might indicate that a person was about to have a heart attack.

Raymond, the Vice Chair of the Parish Council, was sitting on a bench next to a somewhat generously proportioned gentleman.

‘The first sign might be profuse sweating,’ The instructor informed the audience.

Raymond looked at the man, who was sweating profusely.

‘Next the patient may become pale…’

The colour drained from the man’s face.

‘The victim may also become short of breath.’

At this point, the fat guy panted for a bit then dropped to the ground with a coronary thromboses. His heart stopped working and he had in fact, died.

You may be surprised to read that there were a number of paramedics on the scene and a defibrillator. He is now in a specialist hospital making his recovery.

I don’t know how to finish this post except with a joke, borrowed from my brother’s play, Losing Louis:

An old lady was very upset as her husband William had just passed away.  When she visited the undertakers to have a final look at her dear hubby she became distraught. Through her tears she explained to the undertaker that she was heartbroken to see her dearest William wearing a black suit, when it had been his wish to be buried in a blue one. The undertake apologised profusely, explaining that they always put bodies in a black suit, but he would see what he could arrange.

The dear lady returned the next day to have one last moment with William and when the undertaker pulled back the curtain, she smiled through her tears because William was smartly clad in a blue suit. ‘That’s wonderful,’ the lady cried, ‘but where did you get that beautiful suit?’

‘Well,’ explained the Undertaker, ‘Yesterday afternoon after you left, a man about your husband’s size was brought in and he was wearing a blue suit. His wife was quite upset because she wanted him buried in the traditional black suit.’

William’s wife smiled at the undertaker. ‘That’s such good luck. So you swapped the suits over.’

‘Oh no,’  the undertaker replied…

‘We just swapped the heads.’

Boom boom!

She who must not be named

Our life, as you may have gathered from your avid reading of these posts, is a confusing mix of technology and creativity, fitted around a number of domestic and canine responsibilities.

The last fortnight has been further complicated by an uncle with cancer, currently at the mercy of a caring but overstretched NHS,  parents celebrating a 65th Wedding anniversary, and a letter emphasising a financial obligation we have been trying to ignore.

The upshot of this is that I have been cooking for England (very enjoyable and creative), obtaining quotes from builders and zooming off to the hospital on my days off.

Time has become tight, and this fact stimulated a conversation about how technology could benefit my life (in the humble opinion of my husband). We are talking about his other woman again, she who must not be named (in case she buts in to our conversation to tell us a joke, or apologise for not being able to answer a question we never asked her in the chuffing first place).

Up until today, I have been delighted to be able, vocally, to add items to my shopping list, while, with an erratic record of success, Alexa has inserted some of that list into my on-line Tesco shopping cart, with no intervention from me.  As a system, it is not that reliable, sometimes the thing she adds to the list is so far removed from the thing I intended that I have difficulty remembering what it should have been. On other occasions, I get the right thing but in the wrong form, so I might say, ‘Alexa, add sweetcorn to my shopping list,’ and get the frozen stuff when I always buy ‘Ho ho ho Green Giant‘.

I don’t mind this complication too much, because the very fact of being able to add something to the shopping list while my hands are plunged into the washing up water, or covered in flour and pastry, is the greater part of the benefit for me. Of course Whizz was straight to the rescue anyway. The shopping would be better served, not with Tesco, who apparently pull the data from Alexa, but with Ocado, who push it. I think that’s right. What I mean is that instead of me adding an item to my list then Tesco fetching it, I tell Alexa to ask Ocado to put an item into my trolly. In this way, stocks and options are checked by Ocado before the request is processed.

Alexa gets quite chatty during the process. ‘How does this sound.’ she asks, ‘Green Giant sweetcorn four pack?’

I can ask for alternatives and she will offer them, and when I have the item I want I say, ‘Yes’, and she asks if I want to add anything else, and so it continues. She gets a little belligerent if, as I did when I couldn’t get the words out, or the options she was offering were not suitable, I simply said ‘Stop’

‘OK,’ she spat, ‘Goodbye,’

The next time, I tried being more polite and said, ‘Thank you,’ when she got an item right.

She asked ‘Did you say thank you?’

‘Yes’ I replied to which she said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t find an item called thank you.’

It’s all about the language, you see. She needs to be asked using exactly the right terminology, without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Attempting to order Splenda Minis (artificial sweetener tablets) I said ‘Splenda Millie…’ then corrected to ‘Minnies’,

‘Sorry, she replied, ‘I can’t find Splenda Millie-Minnies.’ Whizz and I got the giggles, which confused her even further. From this day forth those tablets will be known in our family as Millie-Minnies.

And  another saying enters our (for some) already baffling family vocabulary.

Guest Jest 1

We hear a lot of funny stories from (not about) our guests so I have decided that in addition to Child Stories I should have this new series called Guest Jest. The first of these, the flippy floppy hat, has already been posted as the third funny thing,  under a different title in a previous article.

I somehow think that most of these stories are destined to come from one, special guest, The Engineer. The Engineer has been staying with us once a week since 8th September 2015, so we know him quite well. We are acquainted, directly or indirectly, with his family and friends too, in fact it’s true to say that he is a ‘Paying Friend’. The Engineer brings beer and (usually) fixes broken things, so we like him a lot.

This week, The Engineer has had an eventful time both domestically and socially.

At home, some impending visitors caused his wife to insist that he fix the defective flush mechanism on their loo.

The toilet was prone to flush continuously unless the button was prodded and thumped.  On investigation, he decided that a new mechanism was required so he removed the cistern and replaced the flush mechanism, returned the cistern to its place again and flushed. Sadly, water began dribbling from its connection with the pipe. It didn’t take a genius to conclude that there was a leak where before there had been none.

It being difficult to detect exactly what was leaking, The Engineer removed the cistern and enlisted his wife to help find it (the leak). He half filled it (the cistern) with water and sat in the conservatory with it resting on his parted knees while Wifey knelt below, trying to see what had gone wrong. The underside of the tank was wet so she got some kitchen roll and began to dry the area.

This was the point at which things went wrong. It seems that the workings of the newly fitted flush mechanism were nearby, and quite by accident the poor lady set it off. The result was a face full of water for her and filled shoes for him – and a lot of mopping up.

I was trying to find a funny image of a woman with a wet face when I remembered this. It’s me after an unexpected downpour while walking the dog.

Toilet fixed, The engineer set off for his weekly commute from Surrey, bunking at various places, including ours. On this particular evening we were to be deprived of his company; he was to dine with some colleagues. Lucky him, he was being driven to the restaurant.  After a brief chat with us he set out to walk towards his workplace, intending to meet his chauffeur en route. He wasn’t sure what car the guy drove but was relieved when a red Ford Focus, driving towards him, indicated and pulled across the road, stopping a little behind him.

He swung round and opened the rear door. There was a large rucksack on the rear seat, right where he wanted to sit so he grabbed it to move it to the other side of the car. Suddenly a hand shot out from the driver’s side and gripped his wrist. He looked up, into the eyes of a compete stranger. Wrong car!

This puts me in mind of another story, also hear-say but I have no reason to disbelieve it:

Many years ago LH and I had some friends with the strangely normal names, Michael and Karen. These friends were responsible for introducing us to a load of Hooray Henries who called one another ‘Chap’.  From M and K we also learned where in Kinsale, Ireland, we could go for a drink, in every one of the 24 hours that made up an average day, and how to lose at Poker. They owned a bulldog called Horace that was partial to a Vindaloo curry – that’s not relevant but adds to the somewhat eccentric nature of the people concerned.

The couple (Karen eventually ran off with the plumber) lived in a house in the Midlands, a quaint place with oak beams. Their drinks  cabinet – this is relevant – was an old pine corner cupboard, mounted on the wall in the sitting room.

The Hooray Henries treated Michael and Karen’s house like home. They would often wander in for a drink when they were passing. Eventually, M and K moved to a larger house but may have failed to mention this to one or two of their more irritating acquaintances. As a result, one afternoon, a particularly gormless ‘chap’ wandered into the house and proceeded to help himself to a drink from the pine cupboard.

He heard footsteps coming down the wooden stairs and turned to raise his glass to Karen. The person who met his gaze was neither Karen, nor was he delighted to meet him.

The only moral I can think of is: Never call anyone ‘Chap’ as in ‘Hello Chap, how are you?’ I apologise to all public school persons who don’t do this – never would I describe you as Hooray Henries, even if you happen to be Members of Parliament.

Winnie the Pooh

I was a dreamy child. By that I don’t mean I was a dream, more I was IN a dream. I bumbled through life only vaguely aware of what went on around me, more interested in books and art. I moved little, in fact my grandfather was once heard to observe, while watching me at the swimming pool, ‘She even dives slowly.’

In my spare time, influenced in no small way by the above grandfather, I consumed every book available, starting with the books on my shelves, Peter Rabbit and friends, The Secret Seven, Famous Five, Naughtiest Girl, Chalet School, Black Beauty (so sad) and others. I read my brother’s Billy Bunter, Just William and Jungle Books then began on books my mother had read and before her, my grandmother and in some cases my great grandmother: Eric or Little By Little, Little Women, Tom Brown’s SchoolDays and I can’t remember what else.

The stories from childhood that I remember most fondly, the magical, funny stories that were read to me by my mum or dad at bed time, and later read to myself, were A.A. Milne’s: Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and his poems in Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young – Aah, Alexander Beetle and They’re Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace.

I was always puzzled by the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, entitled, ‘In which we are introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and some bees and the stories begin’. The first line is, ‘Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs…’

No real clarification followed although Christopher Robin gives a child-like and inexplicable explanation of why he is Winnie, that being a girl’s name. There is no reference, after that first sentence, to the name Edward.

So when Whizz pointed me at a very modern version of the transmitted word, a podcast, about that very subject I was interested.

I suppose it is fairly common knowledge that Christopher Robin was the son of A.A. Milne and that the stories in the books are based on his toys, but who knew that Winnie the Pooh was named after a real bear?

It started in Canada.

In 1914 Harry Colebourne  of the Canadian Cavalry was en route to report to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps (CAVC), when he spotted a bear cub on White River, Ontario Station, and bought her for $20. Winnie is short for Winnipeg, Harry’s home city.

Winnie with Colebourn. (Thanks to Wikipedia)

Harry kept Winnie throughout his service on the Canadian Western Front, and eventually she travelled  with him to England  as his pet and a mascot for the CAVC. Some time later Colebourne had to go to France, and he left Winnie at London Zoo.

It was at London Zoo that the child,  Christopher Robin, was to encounter Winnie. Because she had been a pet, she was gentle and could be stroked, and fed Honey. Christopher loved feeding Winnie and apparently returned with his father several times do do just that. He became so fond of the bear that he renamed his teddy from Edward to Winnie.

Well, you learn something new every day.

I would like to credit Futility Closet for the information in this blog.  https://www.futilitycloset.com/2017/11/06/podcast-episode-176-bear-inspired-winnie-pooh/ and also Wikipedia. Follow the link to hear the whole episode and to see some amazing pictures of Winnie, her owner and also Christopher Robin feeding Winnie with HUNNY.

Child Quote 14

My Mum reminded me of this.

When I lived in Sheep country I bought myself a fabulous coffee table – well I thought it was fabulous. I was proud of it because it represented my independence in a new single life, after a rocky marriage.

You can see copies of my table all over the place now, but when I found it, it was in a small, independent shop and the owner told me that they would not be able to get many more because it had been manufactured from floorboards, taken from the homes of those who made their fortunes in India during the days of the Raj (Indian for rule). Those homes had now been stripped bare so the supply of floorboards was drying up.

I love my table. Sadly it is now too large for the lounge, but I resist getting rid of it because to me it is more than just a table.

As you see, it is a little more rustic than more modern versions

Anyhow, my marvellous parents were visiting Sheep Country from ‘daahn saaath’. They used to pop up quite regularly to look after Horace, while I was at work or away for a weekend. They had a key, and would walk through the front door, go to my drinks cupboard, which usually contained the remains of the Scotch they had brought last visit and, very generously, fill it with this time’s supplies. Then, while I was at work, they would sit and drink half of my month’s supply of wine (one wine box), which we would later empty during the evening.

During these visits Mum and Dad got to know a number of Horace’s school friends, and on this particular occasion the little girl from next door was in the house. We were all sitting in my living room admiring the new table.

‘It’s an old Indian table’, I explained

‘Oh,’ piped up the little girl, ‘I wonder what happened to the old Indian.’

Boom boom

Picture from the BBC ‘Day in pictures’ 12.12.2010

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo