30 September 2011

The Issue of the Tissue

I don’t like ironing. If there’s anything I can skip, I’ll skip it. At one time I used to iron everything until I learned the error of my ways. These days I only iron the essentials…. like shirts and handkerchiefs. Of course, a lot of materials don't need ironing anyway.

Shirts are obviously necessary, I wouldn’t allow my Guy outside the door in a crumpled one. But why do I consider handkerchiefs to be necessary? Well, the answer is because I like to see people using freshly ironed handkerchiefs instead of tissues. I’m not exactly obsessed with using cotton handkerchiefs but I do like to team them up with whatever outfit I wear. I can hear you giggling! It’s true, honestly, any handkerchief with floral embroidery in the corner gets teamed up with the kit of the day. Call me insane if you like but please allow me my idiosyncrasies.

Seriously though, when did the world’s people become so fanatical about using tissues? Someone has a cold, they use a tissue to blow their germs into, and then what do they do? Do they burn it? Oh no, they chuck the tissue in the nearest bin. Does anyone save them, take them home, and then burn them? Do they pop them into a plastic bag for later disposal? I wouldn’t know. I didn’t when I used them … until I stopped to think about what I was doing.

The health and safety people have a lot to answer for when it comes to wasting money. Remember the old adage ‘coughs spread germs? Well, so do used tissues.

At least with hankies you can wash the germs away.

At least with hankies we’re not causing more havoc for the planet?

At least with hankies we LOOK good when we use them.

World habits have become slovenly as well as costly. Why spend money on tissues when cotton ones last forever. Of course, the issue of the tissue could lead to other money saving and planet saving ideas, if only we’d stop and THINK.

I hear that Wales is going to charge 5p for any plastic and paper bags given to customers in shops and supermarkets. Ireland introduced a similar system a while back and a lot of English shops restrict the amount handed out, but is that the answer? Wouldn’t it be better not to have bags at all? I mean, what did we do before the invention of plastic carriers? We used our own, that’s what we did. Now we have to go back to old habits ... and about time, too. While watching the news programme I frowned on the people who actually complained about the idea. I’m not sure the planet will benefit but the economy certainly will.

Oh well, back to the ironing…… and must remember to switch off the electricity before I finish the shirts.

29 September 2011

Old Books

The above books are the oldest on my bookshelf. I keep thinking I should dispose of them but they have a firm hold on me. It would be like removing memories and that’s a very difficult thing to do. Apart from one book, which was given to me by my father, all of them came from the parents’ bookcase. I’m not sure how I got them but get them I did. There were other books that I would have liked to keep but they didn’t come my way. My guess is my mother gave a lot away before she emigrated to Australia, or maybe they were sold in the final auction on the house.

I remember how much I loved the story about Babar the Elephant (Jean De Brunhoff, 1931) and the books about Widgery Winks and his friends (Rodney Bennett, 1901) kept me enthralled for hours. However, I did get to keep the Karik and Valya book – see below. I had hoped my own children would get to read those that I loved but sadly it wasn’t to be.

These are the ones that will stay on the bookshelf until I visit that huge library in the sky.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel by Mark Twain, was first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. However, my version is dated 1924. Old enough!

Inside is a Notice, which reads:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persona attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

By order of the Author (per G.G., Chief of Ordnance)

The story:

Huck Finn, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, is around thirteen or fourteen years of age. He is being raised by Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, both of whom blindly accept the hypocritical religious and moral nature of their society and try to help Huck understand its codes and customs. They represent an artificial life that Huck wishes to escape. Huck's attempt to help Jim, a runaway slave, reunite with his family makes it difficult for him to understand what is right and wrong. The book follows Huck and Jim's adventures rafting down the Mississippi River, where Huck gradually rejects the values of the dominant society, especially its views on slavery.

Read more:

ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. Published 1929. My reprinted edition, dated 1939, arrived in the family bookcase in 1941.

It is Lewis Carroll’s ‘very own book’ containing stories, poems, and pictures, all his own inventon. When long ago youngsters read Alice in Wonderland it was in the belief that the story was his but the pictures were the invention of his friend, that rare artist, Tenniel. It was not until much later years that the Lewis Carroll Picture Book and the facsimile of the story of Alice, as he wrote it out in his clear handwriting and illustrated it with his own hand, showed what a double magician he was with pen and pencil.

We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland. Don’t we?

THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF KARIK AND VALYA by Yan Larry. Translated from the Russian by John P Manderville.

There is no publishing date inside the book but it is thought it was written in 1944

The book was given to me by my father.

In the first episode a boy name Karik and his siter Valya are in the apartment of professor Ivan Germogenovich Enotov. Without permission they take the ‘delicious’ pills invented by the professor and become so small that on a dragonfly’s back they fly away from the room. The professor also takes the pills and goes to find them. The incredible adventures and amazing discoveries in the world plants and insects are waiting for them.

THE WATER BABIES by Charles Kingsley

Written in 1862. No date in the book but it is so old the pages are yellowing.

The hero is Tom, a young chimney sweep, who falls into a river after encountering an upper-class girl named Ellie and being chased out of her house. There he drowns and is transformed into a "water baby", as he is told by a caddis fly (an insect that sheds its skin) and begins his moral education.

The story is thematically concerned with Christian redemption, though Kingsley also uses the book to argue that England treats its poor badly and to question child labour, among other themes.

Tom embarks on a series of adventures and lessons, and enjoys the community of other water babies once he proves himself a moral creature. The major spiritual leaders in his new world are the fairies Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, and Mother Carey. Weekly, Tom is allowed the company of Ellie, who had fallen into the river after he did.

Grimes, his old master, drowns as well, and in his final adventure Tom travels to the end of the world to attempt to help the man where he is being punished for his misdeeds. Tom helps Grimes to find repentance, and Grimes will be given a second chance if he can successfully perform a final penance. By proving his willingness to do things he does not like, if they are the right things to do, Tom earns himself a return to human form and becomes "a great man of science" who "can plan railways, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth". He and Ellie are united, although the book claims that they never marry.

LONDON BELONGS TO ME written by Norman Collins in 1945

The story begins in 1938 and records the lives of a group of Londoners prior to WW2, though the story is not about the horrors of war. A diverse group of people struggle with daily life, mostly on paltry budgets. They live in the house of a lonely landlady. The group consists of an ageing glamour girl, newly retired Mr Josser, and other characters, all of them fascinating. The book can be likened to a Charles Dickens novel. I really must get round to seeing the film.

BLACK COUNTRY STORIES compiled by T H Gough in 1934.

It is an omnibus edition containing five complete volumes. The Black Country (I’ve mentioned this before) is an industrial area in the West Midlands. The name was derived in the mid-nineteenth century from the smoke from thousands of ironworking foundries and forges and from the abundance of coal and soot in the area.

There is humour in the Black Country. If you could hear a Black Country comedian you would agree. They speak differently to my part of the West Midlands (which is lush with trees and parks and lakes) and some of the stories in the book have to be read with a translator. But they’re good fun once the art of translation is mastered. Here are a few ... my favourite is the last one, Proud Woman:

Did it well, too

A Bishop asked a country Rector why he wore a violet stole. He said: ‘A parson should always be ‘inviolate.’

A warning

‘What was the Vicar asayin’, last Sunday, about Lot’s wife?’ said one girl to another.

‘What did ‘e mean by ‘Remember Lot’s wife?’ ‘What did ‘er dew?’

‘O, ‘er looked back,’ said the other, ‘an’ ‘er was turned into a piller o’ salt, an’ serve ‘er right, the fast madam.’

A Threat

A man was being lowered down a well by the aid of a rope, and shouted to the man who held the rope that he wanted to come up again.

‘What for?’ said the man at the top.

‘Never yo’ mind. If yo’ doe stop lettin’ me down I’ll cut the ------ rope.’

Proud Woman

A woman was persuaded to go to Old Hill Church for the first time in her life. To cover a somewhat shabby dress she put on a white apron which was also very much worn. During the time that they were singing the well known hymn ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ she shouted out, ‘It may be ‘oly but it’s clane.’

28 September 2011

The Hard Slog

Dad! I want to leave home

I’m hard done by here and feel the urge to roam

Hard done by you say! Is that what you think?

My Boy! I would say that your life’s in the pink

So what if your Mum and Dad once in a while

Descend heavy handed to cramp your lifestyle

You have a nice home where we live in the park

There’s absence of traffic; you’re safe in the dark

All right! So our house is bereft of a telly

But never of good grub to fill up your belly

You have a soft bed to sleep in at night

Six brothers and sisters to cuddle you tight

So when it gets cold as the winter takes grip

You’ll value these things when you take your long kip

Now I, On the other hand, have good cause to grouse

Raised on the streets of New York in a house

Where bumper to bumper the traffic ran riot

I swear there was never a time it was quiet

Just crossing the road was a dangerous act

Something my parents found out on impact

I stood on the sidewalk and cried my heart out

Very cold, terrified and too scared to shout

In that instant of time I could tell fate had dealt

All her aces which showed me how loneliness felt

I stayed there for hours not wanting to leave

Unknowing if this was my last chance to grieve

But as the night came; flashing lights lit the place

A gusting cold breeze blew a tear from my face

I perceived it was time to move from Times Square

And headed for Broadway to seek solace there

It was while trudging north that I made them my vow

Swore no matter how long or how hard; I’d somehow

Find a safe place to go where a home I could make

That had green open spaces, tall trees and a lake

All through that winter I walked on Broadway

I travelled by night and holed up through the day

It seemed like a lifetime I’d followed this course

Never sleeping a wink; heart full of remorse

Till the day came along when Nirvana was spied

The place I had pledged them to find when they died

With my long search complete; I could start a new life

Settle down, build a home, then find me a wife

With my bare hands I fashioned this mini mock Tudor

So we could live safely, free from intruder

So son! I would say you have no cause to grumble

For having strict parents in a house which is humble

Oh Father I promise I’ll not leave the nest

Your tale has convinced me that home is the best

To move from this place that you sought in such pain

Will never come up as a subject again

For my mind is made up that its here I must stay

A city that never sleeps is no place

For a hedgehog to stray

Sleep tight Dad see you in the spring


(Please note: I cannot take the credit for this poem, it was written by a friend. However, the picture is one I took outside Central Park)

26 September 2011


Why are you cleaning the taps with your toothbrush, Grandma?'

The child sat at a pine table, busily pouring water into tiny cups, her small hands awkwardly tilting the plastic jug. She wore an apron covered with bears and pots of honey and one of her blonde ringlets was caught in the strap. Her granny stood at the sink scouring the taps. At least I presume she was scouring the taps, I could only see the top half of her slight frame from where I stood, hidden by a burgeoning wisteria, outside the open leaded window.

'Because it's the only small brush I've got,' Jane Goodman said. 'I've no use for it any more.'

She beamed at the youngster and I thought what a shame the smile would soon be wiped clean away. When I was ready, that is. There was no rush. Nothing would be gained by rushing.

'My toothbrush is smaller than yours, Grandma.'

'I know, pet.'

'Shall I fetch it?'

'S'all right, petal, I can manage with this one.'

Maintaining my position behind the wisteria, I continued to gaze into that comfortable kitchen, relishing the aroma of roasting meat, so inviting to a hungry man. Eleven o'clock and I was ravenous. I moved a low-growing blue raceme from my ear and tried to work out how old the child was.

The Goodman family moved to the village around the time my Sammy was born, twenty-five years ago. He courted Belinda, the child's mother, from fifteen to twenty-three, when that vixen Michelle turned his senseless head. Against my advice he married her - and Belinda bounced into an unsuitable marriage of her own. So the little girl would be three. I looked again at young Bethie. It was like looking at a portrait of Sam when he was a nipper, 'cept he never had no ringlets.

I gazed at the yellow envelope in my hand and wondered how Jane would take the news. Would she rant about Sammy's shortcomings like she did when he was a kid? It was too late for recriminations, but I bet she'd have a go. Never did like my lad, she didn't. Leastways, that was the impression I got.

Pushing her blue sleeves up her arms, Jane Goodman walked to the stove and opened the oven door. The meat sizzled louder than ever and the juices ran amok in my mouth. Bethie leaned sideways on her chair and peered around her Gran's back. She licked her lips. Perhaps she hadn't had breakfast, same as me. But Jane wouldn't allow that. For all her faults, she wouldn't neglect her daughter's child.

My granddaughter, and I never knew until the letter came from Spain.

The envelope burned into my palm. Safe in the knowledge that I couldn't be seen I withdrew the letter and skimmed through Sammy's words, though they should have been imprinted on my brain the amount of times I'd read them.

This may come as a surprise, Dad, but I have linked up with Belinda again. We met by chance last week, though Belinda puts it down to fate. And guess what I've discovered. Young Bethie is my daughter - your granddaughter. You always wanted a granddaughter, didn't you, Dad? I can't describe my joy. It was an idiot thing to do, marrying Michelle, but it's not too late to make amends. That's why Belinda and I have decided to wed when I've settled my divorce. You always had a soft spot for her so I know you'll be happy, but I'm not so sure about Mrs G. She doesn't know that I'm Bethie's father, so I wondered if you would break the news. Pave the way for us. Just fancy, in a week's time I'll be seeing my daughter. I can't believe it. See you then, Love Sam

So tomorrow they would be home. No longer could I put off apprising Jane Goodman of the facts. I slid the letter into my back pocket and buttoned my coat so as to look respectable, hastily plucking dog hairs from the sleeve. I wished I'd worn my brown jacket instead of the blue which only now struck me as looking the worse for wear. Too long ago I had a wife who took care of things like that. Far above, a lark sang and I gazed upwards for a minute or two, then, taking a deep breath, I left the sanctuary of the wisteria and advanced along the narrow path to the door. Goodness only knew what I was going to say.

The pain in the gut was acute. Nerves probably, but I didn't give in to it. Instead I rapped the door. I heard Jane say, 'Who on earth can that be.' She sounded a touch irritated and so would I be if people came calling when my dinner was waiting.

The door opened and the widow stood there, drying her hands on a green towel, her greying hair scraped back off her face. There was a smear of grease on her cheek. Her expression was severe until it registered who was visiting, cap in hand and wincing with cramps.

'Good gracious. Desmond Bowers, as I stand here breathing.'

Bethie clutched her Gran's skirt and peeped shyly at me. Seeing those deep blue eyes brought a lump to my throat. Image of Sam she was, but she had Belinda's nose, turned up and cute.

Jane relaxed and took Bethie's hand. 'Come in, Desmond. How are you keeping? And Sam ... how is he?' Her voice wavered as she spoke.

I thought, She's as nervous as me.

Jane drew me into her kitchen and closed the door behind me. She indicated a chair. 'Sit down, Desmond. Can I get you something? Bethie and I were about to have dinner. You're quite welcome to join us. As I remember you were partial to a slice or two of roast beef.'

I mulled the offer over but rejected it, stating that I didn't mind coming back when their meal was done.

Jane laughed. 'Don't be silly. I can tell you're dying to sample my Yorkshire pudding.'

'Has the man got a toothbrush, Grandma?'

Jane ruffled Bethie's hair. 'I imagine he's left it at home, petal.' Then she addressed me. 'We wouldn't mind having company. Gets a shade humdrum with just each other to talk to.'

I looked at the topside and the crisp potatoes on the willow-pattern plate. Wisps of steam rose from a dish of buttered sprouts. The smell was pure heaven. I said, 'You might regret the invitation when you hear what I've come to say.'

'I suspect not,' said Jane, 'but we'll worry about that when you've had your fill.'

The matter which had brought me to Jane's door was finally raised when Bethie took her afternoon nap, but to my astonishment it was Jane who raised it.

She said, 'So, Belinda and Sam have at last sorted themselves out.'

I was bewildered. 'How did you know?'

She took a yellow envelope from the dresser. 'I received this a week ago. You can read it if you like.'

I declined. It didn't do to read other people's mail. 'Did you know -'

'About Bethie?' Jane lifted a framed photograph of her granddaughter lying in a crib. 'I guessed. Even as a baby she looked like Sam, same features and colouring. I didn't question. I knew the truth would emerge in its own time. I was right, Desmond, and I can't tell you how pleased I am.'

I said, 'I always wanted a granddaughter.'

She placed the frame on a small table. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. 'And I wanted a decent son-in-law,' she said. 'A proper family.'

I took her hand in my calloused one. How could I have been so wrong about this woman. We'd got what we dreamed of, her and me. Sam and Belinda too. But Bethie most of all. What a day she'd had if she did but know. Gained a Dad and a Grandad in one fell swoop.' I glanced at the baby picture on the table. The kitchen window was reflected in the glass, framing the tiny face. A frame within a frame. Inside or out the sheets, what the hell. This mite had allied two families, blended them together by the consequence of birth. I looked at Jane Goodman. 'Her family's complete,' I said, 'and so are ours.'

24 September 2011

Sunday Scene

I wish I could remember where this was taken. All I know is that it was on a Mediterranean cruise. I love the scene though ... harbours are so interesting.

23 September 2011

Shakespeare Theatre

The tour of Shakespeare Theatre was quite good but I could have done with going round on my own to assimilate everything. Tour guides are useless if they can't make themselves heard. We were in groups of 20, but 10 would have been better.

I was interested in the bank of computers that did everything on stage. We watched chandeliers being lowered and the stage rising and falling. Even the rows of seats were computer operated. The guide said if they wanted a forest scene all they had to do was download the trees from the store in the ceiling. Everything up there was suspended on ropes.

The first thing I did when I walked into the main theatre (there are two) was look up. I have a thing about ceilings! Well I’ve seen studios with umpteen cameras and lights but I’ve never seen a collection of fixtures and fittings before. It was amazing.

Photography was not allowed during the tour, which was when it was needed. Bah! All I could get was a few shots of the exterior and a few round the gift shop area. I was told later (damn) that everything was on postcards which were on sale in the shop. Now they tell me!

A few of us ambled round the historic town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Most of it is quaint but commercialism has crept in - the big supermarkets filled one of the major roads. Although I have visited Stratford many times there is always something new to discover, alleyways tucked away between buildings, only noticed if you were dawdling and your head was turned in the right direction.

I came across one delightful passageway that was stuffed full of ancient artifacts but there was such a crowd there it was difficult to take pictures. I was thwarted whenever I tried.

Oh well, maybe you’ll get a flavour of the place with these. First are shots of the theatre building.

The little houses on the right are where the players stay
An invitation to go up the tower
The tower from the outside ... the trip up wasn't included in the tour.
The theatre is right in front of the River Avon
The view from the cafe balcony. The cafe was the main entrance to the theatre before refurbishment.
The gift shop
A display of stage costumes
Advertising Macbeth
Another river shot. Swans, goslings and year old swans were there in abundance
From a performance of As You Like It ... a picture on the wall, so high I nearly missed it.
More stage costumes hanging ... just for show
The second theatre is called The Swan ... this is a fountain showing silver swans and beneath is the record of inauguration

Into the town. First, a toy shop.
Isn't he cute?
How much is that doggy in the window? The dog was interested in something moving on the far side of the window... a fly or maybe a mouse! He attracted quite a gathering of people.
Shots of olde worlde buildings

This is the quaint passageway I mentioned. I love these old places.

Put this in for Faye!
Another passageway full of trendy boutiques

Centrally heated umbrellas! I've never seen these before.
Fascinating array of goodies in this shop window
Street scenes

That's it. I hope you enjoyed the tour of Stratford.

22 September 2011

Charity Lunch

A charity lunch was held this week to raise funds for a new Marie Curie Hospice in Solihull, West Midlands. According Liz Cotter, the Solihull Hospice Manager, the new hospice will help them provide more care for terminally ill people across the region.

The new state of the art hospice will reach more local patients and their families and offer them a wider range of care and support. Healthcare professionals across the region will also meet there to share expertise and knowledge. Liz says ‘We currently provide first-rate care, but we are working in an old building that is unsuitable for our plans to expand our services. With an ageing population, and an increasing number of people needing our services, there’s a real need for a new Marie Curie Hospice for the West Midlands.

Hear more from Liz here

My friend Judy and I were delighted to receive free tickets for the lunch but I admit to feeling guilty that I didn’t have to pay. The tickets came our way because Judy’s son printed the menus free of charge and it was the charity’s way of thanking him.

The lunch was well attended by an estimated (mine) figure of 300 women … and what a racket there was in the reception room where we gathered for pre-dinner drinks. None of them were shouting but the buzz of conversation was deafening. I honestly couldn’t hear what my companions were saying.

Eventually we all went into the dining room to find our tables. My pal and I were on Table 13 which was a bit foreboding but it wasn’t until the speeches started that we realised what a bad spot we were in. Not only could we not see but we also couldn’t hear. The sound system didn’t go round corners very well. Of course, that was the fault of the venue not the charity organisers.

The press photographer did a grand job working through the crowds taking pictures.

It was a good event. The food was excellent and the company was good. Table 13 was dedicated as the Marie Curie table so we learned a lot first hand from Liz and her co-workers, a pharmacist, a social worker, a nurse, and others whose jobs I forget.

The speaker was a WI person (I think I mentioned that in an earlier post) none other than Tricia Stewart, the woman responsible for the Calendar Girls idea. I was sorry that I couldn’t hear all she said but since I know the story off by heart it didn’t matter so much. After her talk she went into another room to sell the latest calendars and yes I bought two, one for my guy and one for Frank, my stepdaughter’s guy. Both were autographed by Tricia. I just hope they enjoy a year’s worth of nude pictures.

Scroll through the pictures to see the calendar in question.

The star of the show, Tricia Stewart

The reason we were there!
Some of the Marie Curie professional team
A general shot of the 'noisy' crowd
Next Year's Calendar