23 October 2016

Living alone

There are great debates going on at the moment about caring for the elderly who live alone and the cost of same. I am reminded that in days gone by, especially in winter and at Christmas, the general public was asked to ‘pop in and see if your neighbour needs anything’. Those pleas would come at Christmas when the general public was asked to remember that not everyone had family to provide the Christmas spirit. Joe and I did our bit for the neighbours but that was a long time ago. Once we moved we were among people a lot younger than ourselves so the necessity to keep an eye on the elderly was removed.

Now that I have reached old age I have begun to wish those media reminders would start again. Why? Because from one week’s end to another I seldom see people unless I go out to the shops which, fortunately, I can still do. But for how long?  It’s kind of scary to think things might get worse. Don't misunderstand me, I like my own company, I don't sit and brood, I get on with things, I write, I make plans, go out to lunch with a friend, and there's my monthly involvement with the Women's Institute and Townswomen's Guild.

Recently I ventured to visit my immediate neighbours and was greeted with ‘Hello, Stranger’. Gone are the days, apparently, when people actually cared. 

Okay, I have been told to call in at any time but often ‘any time’ appears to be inconvenient.  I have been greeted with ‘Oh, dear, I’ve just got back from shopping’ or ‘hubby is having a lie down’ or ‘I have an appointment in half an hour’. So the upshot of this is that I don’t go. I am sure they don’t realise the effect their remarks have on me. I am fairly independent and still have outside interests, nevertheless it hurts at those times when I haven’t had a soul to speak except the girl in the shop.

I am not complaining – or am I? However, I do worry about the future and what will happen to me then? Fortunately I have an alarm button I can press in dire emergencies. If that should happen the folk at the other end of the phone can contact – yes, my next door neighbour – in an emergency. I just hope she isn’t out shopping or having a lie down! Looking on the bright side, though, if there is no response police or ambulance services will rush out. That’s some consolation, I can tell you.

Toend this tale of apparent misery (no, not really) I want to explain that the elderly are getting older and many of them live alone. Please do have a look round and see if there is anyone you could say ‘Hi’ to or pay them a visit – especially in winter and at Christmas. A kind word here and there actually makes life worth living for some elderly folk. Remember, it might be you one day!

16 October 2016

I could swear sometimes....

The Internet can be very irritating. Talk about invasiveness! There’s a new feature which I’m sure Google thinks is brilliant. It goes like this: if I buy stuff on line and get confirmation of purchase by email Google makes a list in case I forget. I didn’t ask for it nor do I want it (admittedly it was only once but once is enough). The retailer notifies me of a delivery time so I guess Google is fully aware of that too. Another thing, if I make entries on my iPhone calendar or ’things to remember’ list Google immediately peeks at Cloud, notes the info and reminds me. I thought Cloud was sort-of private which presumably is an incorrect assumption. Can anyone see it if they want to or is it only Google? Silly of me, really, to think it was totally private.

Another grouse I have, concerning Blogger, is to do with comments that are left on a post. Hitherto I could validate and publish comments on all devices but not anymore. Suddenly I can only do it on the iPhone. If I want to do it on the iPad or computer I am required to enter my email address and password EVERY time, for every comment received. So now I read them on the iPad then whip out the phone and post the comments from there. Whatever happened to easy-to-use Safari? Now I click on Safari and get Google with loads of complications. All this is very hard going.

Visiting blogs is the same, in fact anything to do with Blogging has to be authenticated by name and password. Every time! Does everyone have the same inconvenience?

I had a brilliant idea... change to one of my other email providers. So into settings I went and arranged that notification of comments would be made by them. Forget Google, I thought. Flippin’ heck, even that didn’t work. I was notified by both. Well, that was no good. Went back and cancelled the instruction which means I’m back to square one which is heavily laced with frustration.

To get round the above and avoid having to 'sign in' every few minutes I was obliged to 'join the club', meaning I had to give everything about myself barring dress sense. I had to give phone number, date of birth, the lot, just to write a few words on a blog. However, once that was done I had no further problems. It's the cheek of it all that gets me. Who keeps all our information, that's what I want to know.

Is there a book somewhere that enlightens folk like me? How sad, though, when in many ways I’m an expert on the damned computer – or should I say WAS an expert.  

Since writing the above I have been updated, or rather my gadgets have. I am now the not-so-proud possessor of stuff I didn’t ask for nor want, with everything changed round and programmes added that I will never use. I do NOT want to pay for goods using the phone, I am quite happy to take cash from purse and pay that way or use the debit card.

I can understand that modern living demands some of these things and that
there are people who like to use what is now known as convenience methods. Well, my way was convenient and I want to keep it that way. I wouldn’t mind if there was a choice but with iPhone and iPad all I was told was that I needed an update. Presuming the update meant technical changes to normal programmes and the way they worked I accepted it. Now I have an iPad and iPhone that are practically unusable ... maybe not quite unusable but they are extremely complicated. I am seriously thinking of binning the lot and purchasing a normal phone that does what it is supposed to do – answer and receive calls from friends and relatives. As for the iPad, the question must be asked ... do I really need one?

By the way, this isn’t an age thing... I have young friends who don’t understand it either.  Perhaps we should start a revolution, wave the banners and shout ... down with i-thingies. 


As if to punish me for using all those swear words, the old PC gave up the ghost, together with the other one that was sort of spare. I reckon they were in league. ‘Let’s do it together, see how she copes’ sort of thing. Well, they didn’t have to wait long to find out. I believe I screamed my frustration … I’m sure that’s why Charlie the cat rushed out in great haste.

When I calmed down I made a phone call and begged my computer expert to sort things out. Later that afternoon, he arrived and set to work. Only when he had signed the computer death certificate did he suggest that I consider having a new machine. Actually he wouldn’t have done that had he not been aware of my repeated exclamations that only a new machine would be tolerated in this household.

As luck would have it I discovered that I did not HAVE to resort to another Windows 10. No, I could have Windows 7 if I wanted. Can you guess what decided me? You’re right, it was the thought of being able to use a laptop without screaming. Windows 7. God bless you for still being around in my time of need.

09 October 2016


Why is it that since Joe died everything, well it seems like everything, is breaking down, desk, washing machine, toilet, doorbell, computer, and little old me.

When the door bell recently packed up Karen, my son’s partner, arranged for an electrician to fix it. Karen works for a company that fits doors and windows and the electrician is someone they use a lot. This guy came more or less straight away, which pleased me since I don’t like not hearing people at my door.

The bell was unfixable so the guy replaced it with a new one. Brilliant, I could now hear folk when they visit. It didn’t cost too much, £50 which included labour.

It lasted a few weeks.

There was a strange and rather loud noise that I couldn’t identify. I moved round the house to establish where it was coming from, thinking maybe it came from the loft which housed water tanks, wiring and stuff for the central heating, shower unit and lighting, and finally fixed on a spot in the hall which is underneath the loft area. To say I was worried is an understatement. I had visions of things in the loft (which I have never visited) caving in. It took a guy working at next door’s house to identify the cause. It was, of course, the new bell. The guy opened it and we could see wires ‘shorting’. Sparks everywhere. Disconnection was the only way until the bell was replaced or repaired.

I waited weeks, a bit like the wait for the washing machine repair/replacement.

The guy who fixed the bell seemed to have gone into hiding. No reply on his mobile phone, no response to text messages sent by Karen. He rang when I first reported the matter and said he would get in touch. I began to think he’d forgotten! I visualised having to get someone else to look at the situation, and pay for the privilege. Again!

Then I had a phone call to say he had all the ’stuff’ in his van ready to call but because he lived a distance away he hadn’t been able to get here. He said he would come at the weekend when he had nothing else on. I didn’t get excited!

In the meantime, whilst waiting for the electrician, the toilet developed a
strange habit of rocking whenever I flushed it. I found all was well if I held it steady whilst pressing the handle. The trouble was I didn’t tell Hannah (cleaning lady) to do the same and after her last visit I found one tile off the shelf at the back of the cistern ... and huge cracks elsewhere. The only thing I could think of when I discovered it was that Hannah had dropped something on it, something heavyweight – like a brick.  Wrong, it was the fault of the plumber who fixed new innards into the cistern a few weeks before and hadn’t adjusted the height.  Hannah’s husband, a primary school teacher, was called in to try and fix it. And fix it he did, as well as making a great job of replacing the tiles. So much for qualifications, eh?

Electrician came as promised, albeit an hour later than he said but I admit heavy traffic can have an effect on appointment-keeping. The old ‘new’ bell was removed and a new one fitted, but this time the wiring was checked and a fault found in the bell-push itself. Not the bell at all, would you believe. Thankfully I wasn’t charged for a second bell or anything else, for that matter. End of story? Not even in my dreams!


Because it happened again, late evening. I had just had a shower when I heard the noise again. Not as loud as before but definitely frightening. I couldn’t even reach it and wouldn’t touch it if I could. I definitely needed help and soon. I wouldn’t have a wink of sleep with that noise going on. In desperation I rang a neighbour to ask if he knew an electrician who would come out at short notice. He didn’t, but he knew a man who might take a look. That man was another neighbour.

Five minutes later both men arrived at my door. I felt awful, having just washed hair and wearing nightwear. Ooooh! Oh well, they’re both elderly folk and must have seen it all before.

The more practical of the two disconnected the bell and advised me to buy a battery operated doorbell. Great advice! However, since both men were both going abroad on holiday I would have to find someone else to do it. I ignored this, thinking I would be able to do it myself.

So, I bought the bell, read the instructions and gave up. Later that day my iPad wouldn’t open, well it would open but nothing could be seen on screen. This on top of some agonising days when two laptops failed to work and an expert called Marco had to be called in.

Off to the computer shop went I and laboured the tale to the Marco, all the while wondering if he thought he was dealing with a dumb-cluck instead of a grown woman with intelligence to die for (my view!). While he looked at it I told him about the bell and like all gentlemen he said he would call round and fit it for me. He knew the address since he had so recently had to repair two laptops.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I discovered the update to Windows 10 had completely knocked my printer programme haywire. I didn’t realise until I had to scan some papers and found they appeared on screen upside-down with no way to turn them round. It took me ages to sort it and to discover that it now takes twice as long to scan a document simply because it was somehow updated along with Windows 10. I swore it would be easier to buy a new laptop. 

Things on the computer front took a turn for the worst when I was barred from enjoying internet usage altogether. It was time to invest in new equipment, which I have now organised. All I can say at this point is thank goodness for iPads. I started this post with a struggle on the laptop and ended it on the ipad. Hopefully I will be back to normal by next week.

On top of all this the garden fence collapsed which meant calling in an expert fencer. This was nobody's fault but it was my responsibility to put right. Just another thing to add to the list of casualties. 

So, this is the year of loss, breakages and breakdowns, bust appliances and programme failures and I’m thanking the good Lord for allowing all the kind men to take care of my problems, all except bell fixers and those who supply dud washing machines.   

02 October 2016


Do you see things? Of course you do, but do you see things that aren’t there? Perhaps I should have started this with the question ‘do you believe in ghosts’.

Recently, I was sitting at the table when I saw, or thought I saw someone standing beside me, a person wearing a light coloured jacket. Fleeting thought was that it was Joe, but when I turned to look there was nothing and nobody there. The same day, but prior to this ‘sighting’ I found a small square of paper on the kitchen floor which listed all Joe’s medication. It was information I had typed out so that Joe wouldn’t get confused about all the pills he was taking. I had no idea where that tiny piece of paper came from at that particular time. I am a tidy soul and there was no explanation as to how it came to be on the floor.

I don’t deliberately make things up! However, I do believe there is some form of communication with the spirits.

An experience I had many years ago led me to write the following story. It is somewhat dressed up for sake of the reader but the ghostly incidents actually occurred.


Perched on precarious stepladders, Sarah Gamble interrupted the shelf cleaning to sniff the air. She had earlier thought she had imagined it, but it was no fantasy - the ghastly stench of fermenting fruit was back. Without hesitation she jumped to the floor and wrenched open the airing cupboard door, hauling out neatly stacked yellow towels and white diapers. In the flurry of activity she thought how awful it would be if her second child's apparel began to disappear.

When the last item had joined the others on the quarry tiles Sarah examined the cupboard, eyeing the timber board which hid the hot water tank through which not even the flimsiest towelling bib could escape. She began to chew her lower lip as recollections surged of past experiences, strange smells and mysterious losses, toys and clothes finding their way out of the apartment never to be seen again, and Jimmy's stories of someone breathing on his arms. Sarah shuddered at the memory. Leaning against the steps, screwing the yellow duster into a ball, she recalled that first Christmas when the ordeal started.

Sarah and Jacko were delighted with the apartment, Jacko in particular liking the river view beyond the garage. If we had a dog, he'd say, whenever he parked his great bulk in front of the French windows, I could walk him along the river bank. Sarah was thankful they didn't have a dog, or a cat, or a budgie. All her time was taken looking after Jimmy, running the home, and doing a full time job. Tending pets did not figure in her daily programme.

The apartment was on the ground floor of one of those huge converted Victorian dwellings, once the residence of a well-to-do family if the servants' bells were anything to go by. Jacko thought the misshapen rooms were grotesque until he got used to them but Sarah loved the alcoves and crannies that gave the rooms character. Jimmy took to his new quarters with the eagerness of a three-year old on the threshold of discovery.

'Still love the place, Sarah?' asked Jacko, six months after they moved in. They were reclining on the rust-coloured three-seater taking a breather from installing Christmas lights.

Sarah shifted her nude legs to a more comfortable position on Jacko's lap, absently fiddling with her blonde fringe. 'Moving here was the best thing we ever did,' she said. 'It’s great for Jimmy to have a garden to play in.

Jacko reached across to stroke her cheek. 'It's a pity there are no other kids around. He'll get lonely later on.' Playfully he tweaked her nose. 'Unless ....'
Sarah cuffed his arm. 'Don't get ideas, Jacko. I'm not ready for another kid.' She swung her legs to the floor to avoid her husband's nomadic hand, primly straightening her skirt and adjusting the neckline of her hand-knitted pink top. But she didn't object when he seized her face and began to devour her lips … and she cursed when Jimmy called out that he wanted a pee.

Later that evening when Jimmy was asleep, snoring gently and clutching the leg of a majestic brown bear, Sarah pushed a lock of flaxen hair from his brow and rearranged his quilt. The resemblance to his dad was uncanny even at this young age. Both had deep blue eyes and both knew how to use them to good effect. She prayed that when finally she allowed herself to conceive she would produce a daughter with the ability to resist the roguish good looks of Jacko and his son.

Back in the lounge, Sarah settled beside Jacko on the couch. The television was on low, a game show in progress. Two single lamps were reflected in the window. The coals on the fire burned bright orange. When small pieces of charred wood shot onto the hearth Jacko put out a restraining hand to stop her from jumping up. 'Leave them,' he whispered, pulling her close and nuzzling her neck.

But Sarah's ever-alert ears detected a sound. Thinking Jimmy was in the room, she glanced over Jacko's shoulder. One of the lamps had gone out which accounted for the 'phut' sound she'd heard. Bulbs don't last five minutes, she thought, as Jacko probed her ear with his tongue. The next instant, stiffening with alarm, she pushed him away and stared open-mouthed at the opposite wall. Over the stereo an independent shaft of light slowly descended and circled an unopened bottle of Bristol Cream. The beam had no obvious source and maintained its shaft-like shape even as it toured the bottle's curves. Fearfully, Sarah nudged Jacko's chest and pointed.

Without a word Jacko rose and left the room. Sarah heard him unlock the back door and go outside. The shaft continued its orbit … up, across, and down. Jacko passed the window and disappeared into the dark. For a moment Sarah worried in case he didn't come back but he soon reappeared, giving a comical grin as he pulled a silly face and pressed nose and finger-tips against the cold glass … eleven ghostly blobs that somehow had the power to dismiss the light shaft and leave the bottle intact.

On his return, Jacko explained his assumption that a child was responsible for the illusion (angling a mirror at the light was a trick he played on his sister Fran), but he’d found nothing in the garden to confirm his theory. No glass, no kid. He had forgotten that the garden was solidly fenced, the gate locked and bolted, and the residential area devoid of offspring.

On Christmas morning Jacko opened the sherry while Jimmy tore through his presents like a whirlwind, casting aside a new blue coat and a pillowcase of assorted toys in order to play with a sizeable red train, a gift from the paternal grandparents. By mid-morning the apartment looked like a tip, causing Sarah some embarrassment when Mr and Mrs Biggins, the elderly couple next door, came to contribute a colouring book and crayons to Jimmy's acquisitions. They stayed for mince-pies and sherry and listened to the tale of the spooky visitation.

Mr Biggins squatted on the floor to play with Jimmy's toys, a move which for the first time drew Jimmy's concentration away from the train. Mr Biggins leafed through the colouring book but Jimmy showed more interest in a plastic cone that fired balls into the air. One ball, to be exact. Knowing his son's prowess for losing small things Jacko had hidden the other five. 

Mr Biggins showed Jimmy how to fire the ball then catch it in the cone but the youngster's co-ordination was as yet unformed and the second time he tried the ball rolled under a straight-backed dining-chair. Seeing his face crumple Sarah promptly moved the chair to retrieve it. There was no sign of the white celluloid ball.

Leaving his sherry glass on the table Jacko crossed the room and stood at Sarah's side, gawking in disbelief at the place where the ball had disappeared. Mr Biggins wondered if it had bounced behind the radiator - an ineffective one situated three feet from the ground, but their probing was abortive. There was no opening big enough for a ball to get through.
Jimmy was lamenting his loss. While Sarah held him in her arms, as much for her benefit as his, Mr Biggins and Jacko searched the area. They examined the skirting board but nothing could have rolled through a quarter-inch knot-hole in the wood. There was no hiding place on either the chair or the adjacent stereogram. The carpet was firmly fixed to the floor and, unless there was a concealed trap door, the wall was intact. They had literally watched the ball go.

'Hope you don't mind my asking,' said Mrs Biggins, ‘have you lost things before?'
At first Sarah thought the question was an accusation and was about to word a denial when Mrs Biggins spoke again.

'The previous tenants lost things. In fact, he left her because of it. Said he couldn't take her carelessness any longer. They had a dreadful row. We heard it quite distinctly with the windows open.'

'Well, I won't be leaving,' gasped Jacko, breathless from lugging the stereo to its rightful place.

Mr Biggins reinstated the chair in front of the radiator. 'Glad to hear it, lad. Can't abide marriage break-ups. Young 'uns these days don't have enough commitment.'
Sarah was quiet, reflecting on other objects that had gone astray: toys from Jimmy's room, his pants and cotton tops from the airing cupboard. All Jimmy's things! Incredulously, she shook her head as it occurred to her that the airing cupboard was in a corresponding position to the radiator on the other side of the wall. She turned to Mrs Biggins. 'Jimmy's stuff goes missing. Clothes and toys. Did the other couple have children?'

'No, but there was a family here before them who had a daughter, a lovely, curly-headed child. She was five when she died. Drowned in the river.'

'How tragic,' Sarah said, making a mental note never to allow Jimmy near the river alone. Maybe the child's ghost was purloining Jimmy's stuff. She quickly suppressed the idea as ridiculous. Ghosts didn't steal. Neither did they wear clothes

In the New Year Sarah began to notice strange smells around the airing cupboard, inside and out, like over-ripe fruit. Unable to find the cause, she began supervising Jimmy's fruit intake, sitting with him until he finished and personally trashing the core. But the smells persisted, notably when Jimmy was around. Only traces remained when he was at nursery school.

She discussed the matter with Reg Phipps, the guy who lived on the upper floor, a bruiser of man, scaffolder by trade. She mentioned it because of his habit of hovering in the communal yard, nibbling the last remnants of apple before tossing the core in the bin, speculating on the possibility of a link. Considerately, Reg offered to investigate and the following Saturday he arrived at the back door armed with a tool box. Jacko was taken aback, but agreed with Reg that all avenues should be explored to trace the cause of the smell. Between them they completely dismantled the cupboard. They found nothing, neither an apple pip nor a piece of orange peel, yet the fruity fragrance pervaded the kitchen as fresh as if newly released from its skin.

'That's that,' said Jacko as he tightened the final screw. 'There's nothing more we can do. The smell remains a mystery.'

In September Sarah knuckled down to night school studies and on alternate evenings Jacko played darts with Reg. Sometimes Sarah took advantage of Jacko’s absence by studying history in a hot bath, holding her revision book free of lavender-smelling suds. It was the ultimate in luxury for the bath was situated in the warm kitchen with the telephone new to hand.

One Tuesday, during a leisurely soak, the telephone rang. It was Marie, a friend from work. Outside a storm raged. Listening to Marie’s version of an incident at work, Sarah sipped her coffee, then ran the hot tap, slithering down until her shoulders were covered with foam. The blinds shivered at the window, reminding her to get a draught excluder fixed before winter set in. While Marie rattled on about the boss, Sarah heard a noise above the wind. Someone entering the yard. She strained to listen, hearing the dustbin lid scrape open, then clang shut, and the gate forcibly drawn to. She was thunderstruck since Reg was the only other person to use the yard and he was out playing darts.

Swiftly cutting the call she abandoned the phone and climbed out of the bath, donned a cotton robe and hurried to the bedroom window which had to be passed to reach either the road or the front of the house. Seeing no-one, she put it down to the wind playing tricks with her imagination. Yet, as soon as she returned to the kitchen and heard the same noises she knew she was wrong.

Metal on metal, wood on wood.

Once more she raced to the window; again no-one was there. Clutching her robe to her, she checked Jimmy’s room. He was sleeping peacefully, one hand tucked under his chin, his teddy tucked under his neck. As Sarah eased the toy away she glanced through the window. The kitchen light shone through the transom over the door, illuminating the gate. As expected it was closed, bolted at the top as well as half way down. Sarah was suddenly scared. Only a giant could have unbolted and rebolted the gate from the outside. Even Reg wasn’t that big. Her eye alighted on the refuse bin, its black rubber lid secure … and wondered how long it had been since the metal bin with the noisy lid had been replaced by plastic.

A year after the first encounter with the unknown, Reg came up with the idea of calling the spirit’s bluff, believing the whole thing was nothing more than a young spirit wanting to play. Though why a spirit should want to play with Jimmy’s things was beyond Sarah’s comprehension. The stink of seasoned fruit had continued to come and go, dependent upon whether Jimmy was in or out. Parts of his train set had strayed, all but three of his vests had walked, and a lace from one of his trainers simply vanished before her eyes. That’s when Reg prompted her to ask for its return and see what transpired. He’s been discussing the matter with someone at work, someone who knew about psychic matters. Against her better judgement she agreed to give it a go.

She chose an evening when Jacko and Reg were out, taking two glasses of whisky to give her courage, bravely deciding to ask for the return of the original ball and work through the other items if nothing developed. Tremulously, she ventured into the kitchen and stood centre-stage, feet apart, one hand resting on a chair, eyes cast upwards. Please can we have our ball back?’ she said, feeling utterly foolish as the words left her mouth.
Nothing happened, not a rumble nor a groan let alone a promise to stop thieving, but Sarah was sure the smell grew stronger as she spoke. Moving nearer to the airing cupboard she tried again, drawing herself to full height and adopting a masterful approach, threatening the spirit with extinction if the ball wasn’t immediately given back.

Just an incipient citrus smell.

Two days later, outside the greengrocers, Sarah bumped into Mrs Biggins. ‘How’s Jimmy.’ Asked the old lady, stuffing a cabbage in her bag.

‘He’s fine, thanks.’

‘I thought I heard him in the garden the other day but then I realised he’d be at nursery. It did sound like him, though. I was looking after next door’s cat while they were away, feeding it and letting it out to do its functions. When I went to call him the rascal wouldn’t come. I called until I was nearly hoarse. ‘Someone said He’s here, Mrs Biggins. Could’ve sworn it was your Jimmy.’ Mrs Biggins transferred her shopping to the other hand. ‘It was definitely a child’s voice and I naturally assumed….. except, come to think, it sounded more like a girl.’

That afternoon, dressed in jeans and a couple of warm sweaters, Sarah toured the garden planning what vegetables to grow. Daffodil shoots were already an inch out of the ground. A watery sun shone, giving the place a premature springtime feel. She stopped to uproot a tuft of grass from the border, tugging it free of hard soil, and there, nesting in the weeds was a white celluloid ball, grubby but unharmed, still bearing the imprint trade mark of Jimmy’s toy.

Later, returning the last towel to the cupboard, Sarah chastised herself for being over-sensitive. If the child’s spirit was pilfering Jimmy’s things it must mean the poor thing was making him welcome. Jimmy was never hurt so why should she worry?
Lifting her eyes to the ceiling, she cried ‘Okay, little one, choose what you want and I’ll iron it for you.’

Sarah could have sworn she heard a faint chuckle when Jimmy’s little shirt, the one with the comic train, fell from the top of the pile and floated to the table, where it lay in a crumpled heap alongside the iron.