31 August 2011


Or... put it another way

It is said that there are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice and the statement has been around for many years so I guess it must be true. Having so many canals makes it a place of interest.

Although Birmingham is the second city it was at one time looked down on, understandably considering the poor architecture that was around at the time. It was stated to be uninteresting and dirty and outsiders likened it to the industrial area known as the Black Country. Unfortunately people still deride the place without knowing that it has grown into a wonderful city. They should visit sometime. It would be so good to hear them change their opinion.

The Black Country dialect is very broad and nothing like the (described) Welsh waters lilt of Birmingham folk. Yet people think we’re all the same. I feel quite wounded when someone refers to Black Country people as a Birmingham born. But that’s the snob in me, I guess.

Birmingham and the West Midlands is a mosaic of urban and green spaces. There are more acres of parks and open space in Birmingham than any other UK city, there are eleven Nature Reserves and British Waterways promotes Birmingham as Britain's Canal City.

There are great educational opportunities at our wonderful universities and the artistic strengths of Birmingham and the surrounding area are unrivalled. We have the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Birmingham Royal Ballet. There are fantastic galleries too - the Barber Institute, the Ikon Gallery, the New Art Gallery, and impressive venues that include the world acclaimed Symphony Hall, the Hippodrome Theatre and The Drum. The region was once home to William Shakespeare, George Eliot, J R R Tolkien, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I love my birthplace. I love the fact that I can be in glorious countryside in minutes. I have fields and parkland and farms and mills all around my area. I can birdwatch and walk along lanes or saunter by rivers to my hearts content; when I visit our great city I can appreciate the fine architecture that has replaced the old. It’s a mixture of ancient and modern but the two complement each other.

Have a look at some of our canals, a mere handful compared with the total quantity.

Central Birmingham

Brindley Place to the Mailbox

The Bullring

29 August 2011

More about Packaging

Usually when I reach the end of a product I check to make sure the tube or bottle is absolutely empty before chucking it away. If I’m uncertain about what’s left I go on a money saving kick by cutting the ends off tubes to remove every centimetre of cream. Today was one of those days. I’d struggled to get the last of the skin enhancer out of the tube, squeezing and rolling the end up in the time honoured way, but absolutely no more would come out. So it was off with its head tail and in with a spatula.

You would not believe the amount that remained. The tube was about a quarter full. Clinging to the sides was roughly two month’s supply of cream, if not more. It filled a Clarins jar (I save jars like they’re going out of fashion) and considering I only use a dab of cream a day I reckon I won’t need to use another tube until nigh on Christmas. I had bought a replacement thinking the product was running out and now I find it was an unnecessary purchase. Of course it won’t be wasted, I will eventually get through the large residue.

Some tubes are easy to empty, even the plastic un-rollable ones will roll given enough pressure but this one wouldn’t budge. Jars could be used in all cases but that would put the price up and anyway aren’t we supposed to be utilising environmentally friendly containers? It wouldn’t surprised me to learn that manufacturers deliberately use tubes that won’t empty out properly as a way of making a fast profit. At our expense! Of course, I could be wrong.

If any ladies or gentlemen out there want to get the most out of their products … any products, household as well as cosmetic … try cutting the tubes in half. You might be in for a surprise.

27 August 2011

26 August 2011

Speaking with Confidence

If the advertisement could be believed, Helga's troubles were over. If the claims were true, nerves could be conquered and audiences addressed with ease. Before she could change her mind, she applied for a place on the two-day course. Even then, just signing on the dotted line, anxiety reigned supreme.

Language was not the problem. Helga's English was very good. In normal circumstances she could almost be judged as being more fluent than her colleagues. The real problem was dealing with the ocean of faces turned expectantly towards her at every general meeting. On those occasions she longed to leave the British shores and return to Hamburg.

She told no-one about the course. She could not admit that narrating to a crowd filled her with such dire dread that no amount of Imodium could be expected to work.

The first day was a revelation. Seated in the community hall, behind outwardly self-assured students, Helga concentrated on the instructor. Dressed in gaudily striped leggings and a baggy shirt, she danced before her pupils learning their names, pouncing occasionally when one eluded her remarkable memory. Helga marvelled at the display of athletic confidence.

The tutor's name was Rose Bush, which got the class giggling from the start, but she insisted they call her Rosy and went on to encourage individual introductions. She had the knack of drawing people out, relaxing them with clever accolades while urging them firmly into role-play situations.

One of Helga's roles was to express appreciation to a fictitious after-dinner speaker, talking on the ethics of art-dealing. Surreptitiously doing the recommended exercises, six quick inhalations through the mouth, she mumbled something about how interesting and enlightening he had been, briefly touching on the only segment she could remember: security in galleries. As instructed, she kept it brief. In truth, with her mouth as dry as desert sand, she could not have spoken any longer.

Helga progressed satisfactorily in the months that followed. She became quite skilled at gulping air and she knew how to position herself when giving a vote of thanks. Speaking publicly still didn't come easy, so she consistently referred to hand-held notes and kept it short. After all, she told her friends, she wouldn't want to be accused of having the gift of the gab.

25 August 2011

Countryside and Music

The thing about the WIs Denman College is that it's not only a good environment (Marcham, Nr Abingdon) in which to learn a few things but it also brings out the best in its pupils. It’s a remarkable place that members can’t wait to revisit.

The course I went on was entitled Countryside and Music which I imagined was one of those sit down and listen courses rather than something that required the students to take an active part. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was actually required to sing.

I did sing in my younger days, in fact I was a member of the Town Hall choir. In that capacity I took part in a choral concert at the Royal Albert Hall. What an experience that was. Unfortunately, being one of those stupid teenagers that feel it necessary to keep up with the gang, I took up smoking. And. Promptly. Ruined. My. Voice. It took a while, but ruin it I did.

Perhaps you can understand the horror I felt when many years later I received the news that I was expected to sing, not just once but every conceivable hour for the duration of the course … a full three days with breaks for meals.

There were about twenty on the course and every time we got together I tried hiding at the back, picking the tallest woman and standing behind her. However, the tutor must have been wise to the wiles of WI members because she always found me.

The ultimate task for each course was to show off what the members had learned, which meant that those on the music course had to give a short concert. We were to sing one song, so naturally it was well rehearsed.

I got through it somehow and oh boy was I glad when it was all over. The applause was encouraging but nobody could have known that I did a lot of mouth movements without sound. Or did they?

By the time I got home the well rehearsed song was firmly etched on my mind, so much so that my Guy began to tire of listening to it. Being the nice man that he is, he refrained from giving his opinion of my renderings. He didn’t need to speak, I could read his mind.

There is a custom in the WI that we always write to the tutors to show our appreciation. This is the one I wrote:


"I've given up trying to convince myself that hubby's scowling countenance has more to do with disapproval of my cooking than my newly discovered dulcet tones, finally accepting that my continual rendering is shattering his nerves.

The blame for the current spate of warbling must be laid squarely at the feet of the Christine, the Denman tutor who had the temerity to credit me with an ability to sing. I said at the outset I had no voice. Somewhat shamefully, I confessed the inability of my vocal chords to shin up the scales or slither down to sonorous notes, but Christine ignored the pleas to be excused and soldiered on with forming her students into a choir. Quietly persuasive, quelling doubts with her delightful giggle, secure in the knowledge that one of her happy grins would make even a dolt like me submit to her instruction. I'm certain she could coax lemonade up a straw with one compelling wave of her elegant hand.

Ever since I returned from Denman, the song we so thoroughly rehearsed has monopolised my senses, its melody suffusing the crevices of my brain so that I am incapable of humming anything else. I am fired with it on waking, even as I fight the apathy of early consciousness, as if the tune had hunted through the night for a means of escape. And at breakfast, every move I make seems to be a signal for words to spring from my mouth without behest, emerging like an explosion of previously repressed melodious intonation. Yet, instead of being irritated by the incursion of lilting phrases, I love it. It's such a genial number, and it's so tempting to fill my lungs and let the lyrics rip.

Skylark, have you anything to say to me ...

Thank you, Christine"


The letter was posted on the blog in 2009 and published in various newsletters hitherto.


Christine responded with a note, saying ….

Dear Val

Just a little note to say thank you for the marvelous testimonial you sent me. I shall keep it always and have already shown it to the new Principal of Denman College. It will go in the Denman archives.

Keep singing,


24 August 2011


This is me posing with a troll in Norway. It was cold enough for a coat.
The following is a much better picture. See how I’ve changed?

The red hair is so me, don’t you think? I was prompted by Nikki to show these pictures, Nikki being the pet troll of blogging friend, Ron, who can adapt appearances for day or night. Nikki, that is, not Ron.

I have to say, though, that I like this story of trolls and who better to tell it than officials in Norway. Read on and enjoy.


The Norwegian trolls have very distinct features. They have long crooked noses, only four fingers and toes on each limb, and most of them have a long bushy tail. Some trolls are giants, others are small. There are stories of two-headed as well as three-headed trolls, and even a few with only one eye in the middle of their wrinkled foreheads. Others have trees and rough moss-like growth all over their heads and noses. The trolls come out after sunset. The sun would cause them to crack, turn into stone and burst. They have supernatural powers, and do usually bring good luck.

Trolls have a special place in Norwegian fairy tales. They live in the forests and mountains, are enormously large, ugly and stupid, but can smell Christian blood from a long distance. They like princesses and keep them prisoner in the mountains if they have the chance.

Trolls cannot tolerate the sound of church bells and burst or turn to stone if they are exposed to sunlight. They are vanquished by the poor, inventive, good-hearted Askeladden, who finally wins the captive princess and half the kingdom.


This explains why I don’t like too much heat!

22 August 2011

Malta in November

Several years ago hubby and I decided that as Christmas was approaching we should get some sun in foreign parts. We chose Marsascala in Malta and got there just in time for a heat wave.

The hotel was in the sea, well not exactly IN the sea but on what appeared to be a peninsula. Apart from having brown drinking water the hotel was very nice, the accommodation was spacious and the food was good. There was just one thing wrong … there were too many hit men with guns sprawled out in the lounge.

It transpired that Colonel Gaddafi owned the hotel. His private apartment was actually what we call the basement. We didn’t see him the whole time we were there. We weren’t even sure if he was in residence but with an armed male mob we took no chances. Guy said ‘Keep walking, don’t breathe a word, don’t even look at them when we pass.’ As if I would, those guns terrified me and I didn’t much care for the men’s fierce facial expressions.

Several times, as if on a given cue, the gang would leave their couches and stand in menacing positions, legs wide, hands on guns ready to fire. We thought Gaddafi must have shown up but we were wrong. Perhaps the men were performing some kind of drill to put the fear of god into the holidaymakers. Or perhaps they were merely bored! We’ll never know!

The nearest I got to being injured was when I took a bath in that awful water. I decided that whilst there I would wash my hair because the only hair spraying implement was attached to the bath. But OMG I really squealed when something pierced me in the eye. I sat there nursing the eye and wishing the terrible stinging would go away. After what seemed an eternity the pain disappeared. Although the eye felt terribly sore I was able to get out of the bath and get ready for dinner.

It was when I got home that I noticed the blister forming on the eyeball. The local optician treated it and subsequent blisters which he said were caused by something in the Maltese water. It took a couple of years for the problem to clear up.

So now whenever we think of Malta we think of the hotel in Marsascala that stuck out in the sea where men toted guns and eyes got shot.

We’d found the hotel in the holiday brochures but shortly after our visit it was taken out and never heard of again. I wonder if Col. Gaddafi wishes he was there now.

20 August 2011

Sunday Scene

Saw this troll in Norway, where else! I have a better picture of one if only I could find it

19 August 2011

Yesterday's Lunch

Home cooked pork sausages seasoned with herb, leak and spring onion, served on a bed of peas and creamy mashed potato. We'll be eating out today ... I can't slave over the stove on a Saturday!

18 August 2011

And as for Facebook…

I really do love technology but sometimes I think it has gone too far and become too interfering. There should be rules, there should be questions asked, there should be consultation with and protection for its followers. Anonymity no longer exists in the world of technology. And it should!

Take Yahoo for instance. It has installed the ‘Like’ button on web pages so that our activities can be revealed to friends and followers and vice versa. I imagine the same applies to other sources that use the ‘Like’ button. I particularly ‘liked’ one article in Yahoo News and, stupidly thinking it merely gave my approval for what was written, I clicked the button. Pretty soon I found that by clicking ‘Like’ I had authorised Facebook to inform me if any of my friends liked not only the item in question but others too.

Facebook is guilty of the same thing. Recently I was dismayed to learn that it gathers information and puts it in our 'accounts' whether we want it or not. I wouldn’t have known but for the thoughtful person who posted this: ALL THE PHONE NUMBERS from your phone are now on Facebook!

This was followed by instructions on how to cancel it out.

Go to the top right of the screen, go to ACCOUNT, go to EDIT FRIENDS, left side click CONTACTS. you will see all you're phone numbers (FB friends or not) are published that you have stored in your mobile phone. TO REMOVE, go to the right column, click on "this page." And then click "Remove" Please repost this on your status, so your friends can remove their numbers and thus prevent abuse if they do not want them published.

As advised, I checked my Facebook account and found both landline and cell phone numbers were listed of Facebook friends in America. Yet all I had done was respond to their comments from my iPhone. Hitherto I didn’t know their numbers. In case you’re wondering, those numbers were immediately removed from the account. On the plus side, none of my Facebook friends numbers were listed on MY account but that doesn’t mean they weren’t listed on someone else’s.

It may seem quite a harmless thing but let’s think seriously about this. The advice was to copy and paste the information so that all our Facebook friends would see it and hopefully take action. However, we don’t know if they did take action. In fact, we don’t even know the people very well. We like what we see but I could be the biggest crook out and who would know? Yet our numbers are paraded around and we can do what we like with them without the other party knowing. The majority of people are trustworthy, but there’s always that one who isn’t. So does Facebook know best?

Keep checking, there is no privacy in this world!

17 August 2011

Looking After The Neighbours

A few weeks ago I saw something that positively enraged me. Whilst working at the computer I spotted the folk across the road leaving their house. They’re an elderly couple, a man of 94 and his wife who is 91. They were being picked up by the daughter-in-law so I knew they would be away for several hours.

During their absence a pair of window cleaners arrived. What a shame, I thought, they won’t get their back windows done.


Even as I thought it one of the men walked back to the van and fetched out a pair of stepladders and a long rod. These he positioned in front of the neighbour’s side gate. Grabbing the rod he climbed up, reached over the gate, and started hacking at the inside bolt.

I shot out of my house yelling ‘What on earth do you think you’re doing?’

The second guy asked what was wrong so I told him that people didn’t hack their way into other people’s property. ‘Well if we don’t,’ the second man said, ‘they don’t get their windows cleaned.’

‘What the hell do you think the bolt is for,’ I asked.

‘To protect their house,’ he said.

I asked the question again.

He looked quizzical.


While the discourse was going on the first guy went through the now open gate to get on with the task of cleaning the back windows. I was back home by the time he'd finished. I returned to my desk by the window and noticed that the neighbour's gate was locked by the same method it was opened … hacking at it with the long rod.

Cutting a long story short, after the event the neighbours were informed. They were furious. Apparently it had happened once before although they didn’t know how the men had got in. Consequently they cancelled their business with the cleaners and hired another chap.

As I said, this happened a few weeks ago. Today, while I was out, the old lady phoned and left a message. She said they were going away for three days and if I saw anything amiss at their house I was to ring the police and NOT challenge anyone whom I thought shouldn’t be there. She ended the message with ‘You must be careful, it’s dangerous to intervene.’

She’s right, of course, and I understand her reasoning. Isn’t it a shame that we can no longer stick up for friends and neighbours for fear that something will happen if we do. What sort of world are we living in these days?

15 August 2011

Letter written by 86 year old woman

86-year Old Lady's Letter to Bank

(The material for this post is not entirely mine, nor did I add bits and pieces to beef it up, but someone did so I’m giving that person the recognition. The photo wasn’t my idea but I changed it anyway, neither did I write the following paragraph which came with the letter. It was probably penned or typed by the unknown person who added the bits and pieces. That’s the trouble with copy and paste, by the time it’s circulated the web no-one knows who wrote what. However, I leave it in because it really does provide a good build-up.)


We have all experienced frustrations at the hands of banks but apart from a brief illustration in an Adrian Mole book I have never found anything that made me laugh quite so much concerning the nonsense we have in the banking world today. These banks have been greedy at our expense for so long they deserve a left hook from this wonderful lady.

Shown below, is an actual letter (plus a few additions from me) which was sent to a bank by an 86 year old woman. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times. Wonder if he put his bonus on the line!

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and letters, --- when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an offence under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof. In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

1. To make an appointment to see me.

2. To query a missing payment.

3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.

4 To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping

5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.

6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.

7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated to you at a later date to that Authorized Contact mentioned earlier.
8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.

9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

10. This is a second reminder to press* for English. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

Whilst writing, I wonder if you are the same bank manager wearing a glass eye whom my son mentioned recently when he visited your bank to apply for a loan. During his conversation with you he remembered well your refusal to grant the loan but in particular he remembers you asking him why he was looking into your glass eye as you conversed with him. His reply was he considered that to be the only eye you possessed showing any semblance of humanity!

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year?

Your Humble Client.


Remember: This was written by an 86 year old woman -'YA JUST GOTTA LOVE " US SENIORS" !!!!! )

And remember, you banks: Don't make old People mad. We don't like being old in the first place, so it doesn't take much to set us off.

14 August 2011

Monday Mirth


Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it
(according to Will Rogers, US Comedian and Actor)


13 August 2011

Sunday Scene

Inside the Playwright Tavern, Times Square

My Hobby

The leaves shown here are roughly 25 years old. They were preserved in glycerine. The procedure removed the green and gave the leaves a lovely natural colour. Periodically I rearrange them with Honesty seed pads and sprigs of wheat or corn. This year I've peeled a lot of Honesty and scattered hundreds of seeds, some for the birds and some to grow on next year in the rough patch.

This is a small arrangement of Honesty seed pads and dried teasels. I quite like the autumn look.

11 August 2011

Yesterday's Lunch

Had a fantastic and unusual lunch yesterday. My friend decided straight away that she wanted the curry but I'd seen the above on the menu and couldn't resist. It was called the Pie Collection and consisted of four mini pies (they look bigger in the picture), one cottage pie, one steak and ale, one chicken and mushroom, and one spiced steak and kidney, all in pastry that melted in the mouth. The pies came with a dish of scalding hot creamed potato, a dish of mushy peas, and a jug of delicious gravy. It's a pity the camera didn't capture the wooden platter which had ornate carving on the ends. I ate like a king and could hardly move afterwards .... ooooh but it was worth it. The wine was a new one called Divine ... it was too!

10 August 2011


I wasn’t going to write about the troubles in England but I’m really fired up now. I’m so angry with the way my country is going. Every day this week there have been riots up and down the land, riots that would better be described as demonstrations of thuggery and criminality by kids who seem to think the world and its people owe them a living. What right have they to assume that what belongs to others should be theirs? When I was a kid I wouldn’t dare say boo to a policeman for fear that I would get in trouble by him and by my parents but nowadays youngsters don’t give a toss for their superiors.

I suppose someone somewhere will blame the situation on the fact that there’s no work for the young and nothing for them to do. So what did we do when we were young, where did we go? There was no television, no mobile phones, nowhere to go except the local park except the local picture house or a youth club, yet strange as it may seem we didn’t go out in gangs to smash up the town and ransack the shops.

One television programme showed a girl being interviewed by a reporter. She was asked what she thought of the police and her vehement reply was ‘they don’t appreciate us so why should we appreciate them’ … have you ever heard such a load of garbage coming out of a young mouth?

The latest news in my area was that three young people were deliberately mown down and killed by the driver of a stolen van as they tried to protect their homes and businesses.

And what about the poor kid who was robbed even as he was helped to stand up? The young man, with blood on his face and a pool of blood on the floor, was encircled by a group of youths, one of whom helped him to his feet. As he stood another a man searched the boy's backpack and snatched what looked like a mobile phone. The video for that has travelled the internet and thank God everyone can see what ‘feral rats’ they are. That wasn’t my expression but I liked it so I pinched it because it is such an apt description.

Seeing the picture of young people pitching in to restore our streets has helped me to remember that the vermin are in the minority.

Must go now and find something to do!

08 August 2011


What struck me most when I joined the Probation Service was the difference in atmosphere compared to the police force and ICI. By its very nature ICI was businesslike whereas police officers adopted a more laissez-faire attitude to office work … no doubt as a means of relaxing from the extreme pressure of their job. First impression of probation officers was that they seemed stressed, as if everyone was trying hard to impress their superiors. Only the chiefs were relaxed. The reason became obvious when I discovered that most were still under inspection and one wrong foot could generate a supervisor’s wrath.

Case loads were high covering marital problems, divorces, care orders (shared with Social Services), offenders and associated ex-offenders, in the community and in prison, community service and a whole host of other crime related tasks like looking after prisoners’ families whilst the clients were incarcerated, prison visits, home visits, and on top of that running courses for volunteers, one of which I became.

Secretarial work was excessive. Non-stop typing from 9 to 5, with harassed officers leaning over our shoulders waiting for work to be finished. Actually we did have coffee breaks and we deserved them too. We would go into the rest room (‘rest’ being the operative word) in order to get away from our desks. It was there that we met up with the officers who prolonged their coffee breaks in order to get away from their desks.

They were a good crowd even though, to my mind, a little misguided. It wasn’t their fault, they were only following guidelines, but the longer I worked there the more cynical I became about the true worth of probation.

There were some funny incidents. One had a tragic start but a comical ending to someone, like me, with a warped mind. Quite often the secretary would have to collect a client from Reception and take him or her to see the probation officer. Thus, we got to know the regulars.

One man in particular was a drug addict with a false leg. The unfortunate man used to be a football star until a serious road accident robbed him of his leg and his future. The severe pain drove him to drugs. I liked him. He was friendly and not a bit like the usual sort of client. The office staff always tried to chat with him before his appointment was due.

One week his date with the officer was missed and it took many phone calls to establish his whereabouts. He had been arrested for stealing prescription pads from the doctor and trying to get them filled by the chemist. At the police station he was subjected to a personal search when a variety of drugs was found in his false leg. It transpired that he was supplying them to the inmates of the local psychiatric hospital without anything being detected on an ordinary body search. Very enterprising, don’t you think?

Office doors were never locked. Why would they be? However one day my purse was stolen from my bag which was ‘hidden’ in my desk. It so happened that three secretaries left the office at the same time, giving the thief an ideal opportunity for a easy snatch and a quick getaway right out the back door. Because he shouldn’t have been using that door (which was locked from the outside only) he was quickly detained by two officers on their way in. In that case crime didn’t pay.

With young son at school and time on my hands I took an interest in the volunteer side of the job. It all started when I donated a coat to one of the clients. I was asked to deliver it to the girl’s house and so began long years of volunteering.

Under the guidance of the probation officer I started visiting prisoners’ wives. First I was accompanied by the PO concerned and then I was left to my own devices. I would visit, assess, and help where I could, and then write up a report for the officer. As the years went by I was trusted enough to deal with a lot more than mere visiting, always answerable to the officer i/c.

Clients varied. As well as looking after prisoners’ families I had clients who had been arrested for shoplifting or credit card fraud; some were seen at a women’s group, others when I visited their homes. I helped women with children who couldn’t make ends meet, advising on budgeting and helping them to contact companies and banks as well as guiding them to stand on their own feet. I visited families of drug addicts to ensure their kids were safe, and checked on an elderly child molester to make sure there were no kids popping in. I befriended a schizophrenic and listened to the ramblings of an alcoholic, and I sat in on stressful case conferences where decisions were made to remove kids from the home, and agonised in case those decisions were wrong.

I had ‘favourite’ cases and here’s two of them.

First was that of an armed robber who was doing time while his wife and two children coped alone. The children were delightful and their mother was really nice. I would take them out for days to give them a break from the home which, incidentally, was nicely furnished with cream leather furniture, plush carpets, and modern gadgets in the kitchen. No doubt the proceeds of the armed robbery, although mother denied having any knowledge of it. I took everything with a pinch of salt. The oldest child made a pincushion for me. It was heart shaped and had my name embroidered on it. I still have it and it’s still in use.

Another ‘favourite’ was a family of seven. Mom and Dad, referred to here as

Brenda and Kenny and their five children. Brenda had five babies before she was twenty-one. Kenny was a sad case: his father had hung himself and Kenny was the one who found him. It turned his mind and every anniversary of his dad’s death Kenny went out and committed crime. Nothing major, but crime nevertheless.

I was involved with the family for several years, checking that the children were fed and clothed, befriending Brenda during bouts of depression, helping Kenny with his finances (not an easy task) and accompanying him to court. One of the charges he faced was that of self neglect which I’d never heard of, but that was before my involvement with the family.

Because of a heavy cold I cancelled one of my visits, deciding I was better off not spreading germs to a family whose problems were more than enough. But surprise, surprise, I had a visitor. Brenda arrived at my house with a cooked meal, still hot, that she’d carried on a bus journey for poor old little me. It wasn’t policy to give out our addresses but apparently she had seen me a couple of times going into my house when she passed by on the bus. I felt deeply humble that she had benefited from my company and felt she wanted to give something back.

Their eldest daughter, Linda, took a shine to me. I think I was the only friend she had. She suffered with serious alopecia (hair loss) … an awful thing for a teenager to cope with. She was of nervous disposition and, not surprisingly, the hair loss made her even more anxious. Someone in the medical profession suggested that she would be better off in a special boarding school. It worked, getting away from her Dad was a good thing.

She came home at weekends and I arranged my visits so that I could see her. At that time she was trying to grow her hair and I advised her to comb the longer bits over the bald patch. When she tried it she was thrilled with her appearance.

On my next visit there was no sign of Linda and I was told she hadn’t come home from school. There was a definite atmosphere in the house so I decided not to stay too long. I felt quite dejected that I hadn’t seen Linda.

I walked down the front path and turned to close the gate behind me just in time to see Linda at an upstairs window. I returned to the house, asked to see her. One of the children called her down and I almost wished she hadn’t … my reaction on seeing Linda was total shock. The poor girl hadn’t a hair on her head and, you know what, Kenny had shaved it all off. It couldn’t be proved but the probation team believed he did it to spite me for giving more attention to Linda than to him.

Case conference decided it was time to pull out.

After that I changed direction, choosing instead to help train other volunteers. Frequently I used the case of Kenny and his family as an example of the varying facets that make up the human mind.

I stayed with Probation until my second marriage and continued to do volunteer work for several years after I left the office.

However, around this time there was a noticeable change in the calibre of the Service and the way it handled the clients. A nursemaid attitude took over which I didn’t like. Helping clients was one thing, but doing it all for them was another. How could they ever keep their self respect if responsibility was taken away? More to the point, how could I respect them knowing that I wasn’t encouraging self-sufficiency within their own environment.

It was time to go.

07 August 2011

Monday Mirth


When it comes to age we're all in the same boat, only some of us have been aboard a little longer

Old Age is not so bad when you think of the alternative

Old age is like flying through a storm. Once you're aboard there's nothing you can do

After that, maybe the two Ronnies can cheer you up!

06 August 2011

Sunday Scene

From the safety of a cruise liner I watched the boat speed over the water and imagined it to be an exhilarating experience

05 August 2011


Come on, own up, who built that house in my garden?

The house is, of course, my next door neighbour's abode and the vision brick wall is what separates us. The reflection is great but I prefer it not to obliterate most of the old Beech and all of the Silver Birch tree.

04 August 2011

Packaging, love it or hate it

It’s black as night here. That’s not the reason I bought a Yankee Candle diffusing thingy but I did need cheering up. I’d already bought one for one of my rooms but I wanted to extend the pleasant smell to others. Mercifully, I arrived back home before the rains came.

After a quick cuppa I set about unpacking my pretty purchase. I had at the ready scissors, a craft knife, and my trusted gripper that will undo anything except a Yankee Candle diffusing thingy. It wasn’t until I’d actually bought one that I found out how difficult it is to get into the package. First I had to remove a fancy bit of card that (I thought) was holding together a package of stiff cellophane (if that’s the right word) … sounds simple but I promise you it was a major task. Quite literally you have to fight your way in.

Next, having found no obvious opening, I jabbed the cellophane with the scissors thus creating a hole through which the blades could enter and take over. I literally had to cut off panels of the so-called cellophane before reaching bits of cardboard that held the bottle straight. That wasn’t so bad, I’m used to cutting cardboard. In fact, I’m used to cutting anything that’s cut’able since I became dedicated to making the un-recyclable waste as small as possible. I now have only half a black bag of trash to leave out for the bin men instead of several overfull bags.

Anyway, with great glee I pulled out the bottle of smelly liquid and attempted to undo the stopper. I had forgotten it was sealed with a lesser thickness of cellophane. It did have a mark though to indicate the point at which I should start this mammoth task. The craft knife dealt with that, slitting down the dotted line like it’s been doing it all its life. Using a short fingernail I managed to get some leverage and Wowee the seal unwound itself from the stopper.

Then came the really difficult part, as if the aforementioned procedure wasn’t bad enough, of prising stopper from bottle. Yes, I know I’m weak but I’m not usually that bad. I tried the gripper but it was too wide for the stopper. I wrapped the stopper in a piece of felt that I happened to have lying around, then tried the gripper again. Aha, I detected movement. I persevered, yanking the gripper left, right and upwards until in the end the stopper came out.

Here endeth the tale of unwrapping hell. No wonder the world is hard up if it has to use so much stuff to pack a simple bottle. Packaging? I hate it! But the worst aspect of the whole situation is that I don’t like the smell of the diffusing thingy and I can hardly take it back to the shop without its packaging. Can I?

03 August 2011

A shopping day to remember

Supermarket shopping is best done early in the day while it’s peaceful. It’s a time when check-out girls are at their quietest, preparing themselves for a hectic day while their first customers read labels and decipher instructions written in several languages. It’s browsing time, without the rush.

So you can imagine how I felt when a burly black woman with a cell phone glued to her ear moved to stand beside me. Dressed in black, with wild woolly black hair that seemed to lift off when she moved, she was a big woman with a big voice. Most people hold private phone conversations in hushed voices but not this one. Oh dear me no. She bellowed hers to all who couldn’t escape from listening. I’d dearly love to know who was at the other end.

Anyway, the gist of the conversation showed her disgust with someone who seemingly had ill treated another mysterious person, thereby raising the wrath of my fellow shopper. I use the word ‘fellow’ loosely even though she was built like an Amazon warrior and probably had muscles to match.

I moved away but I could still hear her booming diatribe several aisles away.

We met up again by the fish counter and that was where fish wife came to mind. By now she was describing how she would get her own back on the person in question, who seemed to have a name beginning with F, as did all the things she was going to do to the perpetrator of this terrible crime. There were other expletives but the F word seemed to be favourite. I guess I should have been grateful for small mercies.

So it went on, and on, until eventually we arrived at the check-out. I must have been in the store a good three-quarters of an hour … it’s what I call a deafening experience.

She joined a short line next to mine. I had chosen a smiling check-out girl to assist me while the Queen Boudicca look-alike opted for a male. These people obviously knew her because when she told the guy to ‘shut his gob’ while he served her he merely smiled. Not once did she move the cell from her ear. Whoever was at the other end must have been privy to all the goings-on at the check-out.

She actually got served before me… I guess me and my gal were too interested in what might happen next. An elderly woman behind me was overwrought by the bad language. Honestly, she was so distressed her face nearly matched her salmon coloured coat. She vowed never to go to the supermarket again on a Wednesday. Me neither, I thought. After Boudicca waltzed away from her section, still yapping loudly on the phone, I asked my cashier if she’d seen her before. The answer was yes, but it was the first time the cell phone had been in use. Indeed, she said the staff looked forward to their little bit of entertainment on Wednesdays.

So remember when you next walk into a quiet supermarket … all may not be as it seems.

01 August 2011

Working at ICI

I left the police force when I became pregnant and took a year out of work to enjoy motherhood. My life, though, hadn’t worked out as planned, a marriage break-up coming in the first months of the pregnancy. Life and finances were suddenly hard and it became necessary to get another job as soon after the birth as possible. I settled young son in a nursery and started job hunting. It actually took a whole year.

The next ten years were spent in the employ of Imperial Chemical Industries, a job that was entirely different to my former years with the police. It was well paid and my only concern was the welfare of my son. At school age he became wild. Because I had to work I never felt at ease during after-school hours I imposed a strict routine about using the phone to keep me informed of his whereabouts. It wasn’t enough. Continual worry forced me to take steps to ensure his safety. (** see below)

A friend of mine suggested boarding school could be the answer to my problem so I followed it up. I was lucky enough to get a foundation place for my lad which meant we could both face a more satisfying the future. He would be safe, he’d get a good education, and I would be relieved of the daily worry over safety. The school was two buses and a train journey away from our home but without fail I went to see him every weekend and extensive school holidays were a godsend.

So I had all the time in the world to concentrate on working hard and saving money.

Working in the typing pool, later known as Typing Services when the company made the decision to go in for fancy departmental names, I had to learn how to type chemical formulae and difficult pharmaceutical names; I gained knowledge of leather treatment, paint products, and weed killers, amongst other things. All so different from the human element of the previous job. I didn’t like it much but it was work so I knuckled down to try and make enjoyable. I made friends and took pleasure in their company during and out of working hours.

There was a recession around this time and I remember all the staff being instructed on the merits of Time and Motion under the heading Staff Development. It helped me no end, I used to weigh up the best ways of doing everything to save time … and motion … and it’s still with me today. At home I worked to the rule ‘never leave a room empty handed’ and still do. If something that needs relocating I do it there and then. Saves the poor old legs from overworking.

Speed typing was my thing. I could sail through the work in half the time my colleagues took. The office was equipped with old typewriters which were marvellous for venting our feelings. How I enjoyed slinging back the carriage if I was in a mood! Eventually I was asked to undertake a speed typing test and came out of it quite well with 127 wpm and one mistake. That one mistake cost me a point so I was marked down as having a speed of 126 wpm! A yearly assessment calculated that I was doing the same work as one and a half people and I was rewarded for it.

Because of the recession wage freezes were rife. Consequently I couldn’t have a rise. Management decided to present me with an electric typewriter that was no longer in use in the top secretarial office, the crème de la crème. After pounding on a manual machine for years, using an electric one was dire. It was so slow I thought I’d die waiting! No longer could I sling back the carriage, no longer could I hammer the keys, instead I had to wait while the carriage slowly returned, drumming fingers on the desk while I waited and swearing like a trooper at the injustice of having to use such a time consuming stupid piece of equipment. I could have typed a foolscap page (remember that) in the time it took for the new fangled contraption to get anywhere. Still I suppose it was good practice for future computers. In case you ask, I can still go a pace on the flat computer keyboard. Thank goodness they stuck to QWERTYUIOP.

The day I was promoted to supervisor was the day I lost half my friends. Isn’t it odd the way that happens? One minute I was one of the girls and the next I was in charge and out of it. I tried to maintain former friendliness but I could sense their wariness. I had to check all the work and return anything that was incorrect, spelling mistakes for example. You’d think I was organising the death sentence when I sent work back.

Like any job there were good times as well as bad. The new status entitled me to join the Social Committee where I helped organise some great dinner dances but the thing that served me well was getting permission to start a netball team, all players being girls from Typing Services. They played, I organised. It was great. Because I fought to get the kit they wanted, went to every game, got them into a league, and reported on every match in the newsletter and local press, I found myself back in favour with my old friends.

Eventually the company decentralised which is an excellent way of getting rid of half the staff. I could have stayed if I’d been willing to relocate a million miles away, which I wasn’t, so instead I took redundancy pay. It was the best thing I ever did. I soon found another secretarial position with the next best thing to the police force … the Probation Service. And I loved it almost as much.

** For those who didn’t read the amusing incident entitled Don’t Open The Door To Strangers, here it is again

My son and I lived in a very large house, divided into two flats. Our flat was on the ground floor, accessible by front and side doors. The side entrance was reached via an alleyway between houses, and through a gate that led to the yard.

As a single Mum I had to work. Arrangements were made for Jon before and after a school day but there were times when he was alone in the house. He was very young when this episode took place. In those days it wasn’t illegal to leave a child alone, nevertheless I made sure people knew he was there and to look out for him, including the neighbour upstairs.

‘Never open the door to strangers.’ I warned. ‘Always ring me at the office to check it out.’

One day, the dreaded call was received.

Two men had entered the side gate and were knocking on the door.

Scared boy rang his Mum.

‘Okay,’ I said, trying for his sake to keep calm. ‘So what are they doing now?’

‘They’ve gone down the garden,’ said young son.

The garden also provided access to the French doors in my lounge.


‘Don’t open the door,’ I said, trying not to scare my boy.

Leaving him holding on the phone, I went to the switchboard and rang the police on a different line. Told them a young child was alone in the house and two men were trying to get in.

On our way, they said, after taking details of son’s name and age.

Went back to talk to the boy … and learned that the police had already arrived. Yes, as quick as that. I could hear them calling to him through the door, telling him not to be afraid. I grabbed my coat and ran while switchboard colleague rang the neighbour.

Two men apprehended.


I didn’t have a milkman!

They had entered my property to use the toilet.

How did they know it was there?

On arriving home, elderly neighbour in the upstairs flat told me she had seen the men enter the outside toilet, situated further down the yard. She had a perfect view from her window. Apparently, the police arrived as they were coming out.

When things were settled I wrote to the General Manager of the Dairy to complain about his men taking liberties in my toilet (I think I worded it differently!). Had a nice letter back, was assured that steps had been taken to reprimand the culprits but that their excuse was taken as legitimate and they would not lose their jobs.


Mystery solved.

I learned that my cousin’s husband had taken a job as a milkman in my area.

'Oooh,' I said. 'I must tell you an odd story about a couple of milkmen.'

Thought he looked sheepish!

I went on to explain ... and he owned up that he was one of the two men.

This is what happened:

Near to my house, his colleague broke a bottle milk, skidded on the milk and fell onto the broken glass.

Gashed his thigh!

In order to see to the wound my relative called at my house for help. and, since no-one opened the door, they went to the outside toilet.

‘Well,’ said cousin’s husband, ‘he could hardly drop his trousers in the road.’

When I asked why he didn’t tell me about it, he said he felt such a fool. After the interview with the boss he couldn’t face my wrath as well.

So here’s the point of relating this tale:

Our police didn’t waste time then and they don’t waste time now. No matter what people say, when we need help they never let us down.