Friends

30 July 2015

Thinking on your feet

A man in London walked into the produce section of his local Tesco's supermarket and asked to buy half a head of lettuce. The boy working in that department told him that they only sold whole heads of lettuce. The man was insistent that the boy ask the manager about the matter.

Walking into the back room, the boy said to the manager, 

"Some old fool wants to buy a half a head of lettuce."

As he finished his sentence, he turned around to find that the man was standing right behind him, so he quickly added, "and this gentleman kindly offered to buy the other half."

The manager approved the deal and the man went on his way.

Later, the manager said to the boy, "I was impressed with the way you got yourself out of that situation earlier, we like people who can think on their feet here. Where are you from son?"

"New Zealand, sir," the boy replied.

"Why did you leave New Zealand?" the manager asked.

The boy said, "Sir, there's nothing but prostitutes and rugby players there."

"Is that right?" replied the manager," My wife is from New Zealand!"

"Really?" replied the boy, "Who did she play for?"

29 July 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

Close your eyes and dim the lights!
Whenever I hear this I am transported back to those hectic nights at the dance hall 
when I danced myself silly to the songs of Billy Ocean. 
Couldn't do it now but I can still enjoy the music.

27 July 2015

AND STILL IT GOES ON.......


With all the worries of on-line grooming I thought it appropriate to post this again. It was first posted in July 2010 but internet grooming has grown into an even larger problem so here it is again. 

Shannon could hear the footsteps behind her as she walked home. The thought of being followed made her heart beat faster. ‘You’re being silly,’ she told herself, ‘no-one is following you.’

To be safe she began to walk faster, but the footsteps kept up with her pace. She was afraid to look back and was glad she was almost home.

Shannon said a quick prayer, ‘Please, God, get me home safe.’ Inside the house the porch light burned bright. She leaned against the door for a moment, shivering with relief that she was in the safety of her home.

She glanced out the window to see if anyone was there.

The sidewalk was empty.
After tossing her books on the sofa, she decided to grab a snack and go on line. Logging on under her screen name ByAngel213 and checked her buddy list. GoTo123 was on line. She sent him an instant message, ‘Hi, I’m glad you’re on! I thought someone was following me home today. It was really weird!

GoTo123: LOL. You watch too much TV. Why would someone be following you? Don’t you live in a safe neighborhood?

ByAngel213: Of course I do. LOL. I guess it was my imagination cuz I didn’t see anybody when I looked out.

GoTo123: Unless you gave your name out on line. You haven’t done that have you?

ByAngel213: Course not. I’m not stupid you know.

GoTo123: Did you have softball game after school today?

ByAngel213: Yes, and we won!

GoTo123: That’s great! Who did you play?

ByAngel213: We played the Hornets. Their uniforms are so gross. They look like bees.

GoTo123: LOL. What’s your team called?

ByAngel213: We’re the Canton Cats. We have tiger paws on our uniforms. They’re really cool.

GoTo123: Did you pitch?

ByAngel213: No, I play second base. I gotta go. My homework has to be done before my parents get home. I don’t want them mad at me.

GoTo123: Catch you later. Bye!

Meanwhile….

GoTo123 went to the member menu and began to search for her profile. When it came up, he highlighted it and printed it out. He took out a pen and began to write down what he knew about Angel so far.  

Her name was Shannon.
Birthday: Jan 3 1985: 13
State where she lived: North Carolina
Hobbies: softball, chorus, skating, going to the Mall.

Besides this information, he knew she lived in Canton because she’d just told him.

He knew she stayed by herself until 6.30 every afternoon until her parents came home from work.

He knew she played softball on Thursday afternoons on the school team and the team was named the Canton Cats.

Her favourite number 7 was printed on her jersey.

He knew she was in seventh grade at Canton Junior High School.

She had told him all this in conversations they had on line.

He had enough information to find her now.

Shannon didn’t tell her parents about the incident on the way home from the ball park that day. She didn’t want them to make a scene and stop her from walking home from the softball games. Parents were always overreacting and hers were the worst. It made her wish she was not an only child. Maybe if she had brothers and sisters her parents wouldn’t be so overprotective.

By Thursday, Shannon had forgotten about the footsteps following her. Her game was in full swing when suddenly she felt someone staring at her; it was then that the memory flooded back. She glanced up from her second base position to see a man watching her closely. He was leaning against the fence behind first base and he smiled when she looked at him. He didn’t look scary and she quickly dismissed the fear she had felt.

After the game, he sat on a bleacher while she talked to the coach. She noticed his smile once again as she walked passed him. He nodded and she smiled back. He noticed her name on the back of her shirt. He knew he had found her. Quietly, he walked a safe distance behind. It was only a few blocks to Shannon’s home and once he saw where she lived he quickly returned to the park to get his car. He decided to get a bite to eat until the time came to go to Shannon’s house.

He drove to a fast food restaurant and sat there until it was time to make his move.

Shannon was in her room later that evening when she heard voices in the living room.

Shannon, come here,’ her father called. He sounded upset and she couldn’t imagine why. She went into the room and saw the man from the ballpark sitting on the sofa. ‘Sit down,’ her father began, ‘this man has just told us a most interesting story about you.’

Shannon sat back. How could he tell her parents anything? She had never seen him before today.

‘Do you know who I am, Shannon?’ the man asked.

‘No,’ replied Shannon.

‘I am a police officer and your online friend, GoTo123.’

Shannon was stunned. ‘That’s impossible, GoTo is a kid my age. He’s 14 and he lives in Michigan.’

The man smiled. ‘I know I told you all that but it wasn’t true. You see, Shannon, there are people on line who pretend to be kids; I was one of them. But while others do it to find kids and hurt them, I belong to a group of parents who do it to protect kids from predators. I came here to find you, to tell you how dangerous it is to give out too much information to people on line. You told me enough about yourself to make it easy for me to find you. Your name, the school you went to, the name of your ball team, and the position you played. The number and name on your jersey just made finding you a breeze.’

Shannon was stunned. ‘You mean you don’t live in Michigan?’

He laughed. No, I live in Raleigh. It made you feel safe to think I was so far away, didn’t it?’

She nodded.

‘I had a friend whose daughter was like you. Only she wasn’t as lucky. The guy found her and murdered her while she was home alone. Kids are taught not to tell anyone when they are alone, yet they do it all the time on line. The wrong people trick you into giving out information, a little here and there. Before you know it, you’ve told them enough for them to find you without even realizing you’ve done it. I hope you’ve learned a lesson from this and won’t do it again. ‘Tell others about it so they will be safe too.

‘It’s a promise,’ Shannon said.


The above is a copy of a warning circulated on AOL message boards in January 2002.  It was written by a guy called Chris who felt great concern for the kids who innocently told all when they were on line. He wrote:

This tale may be an Urban Myth but the warning is valid. Myth or not, AOL (and other service providers) should consider adding a link to such a warning on its profile and message board links. I think we’ve all at some time received IMs from quite young users. It’s often easy to tell even from the opening words. I (Chris) always make a point of telling them my age and advise them about the possible risks of contacting anyone online. The same applies to even older users.’


With the amount of  ‘grooming’ that goes on these days you can see that the message contained in this ‘myth’ still applies.  

25 July 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

Liven up your weekend with Ricky Martin
Come on, get those feet tapping... Ooh!

20 July 2015

BOOKS

Do you save books or do you discard them the minute they're read?  I used to save all my books but limited space in the bungalow forced me to dispose of quite a lot. These days the arthritic fingers refuse to hold a hardback so I bought paperbacks instead. And a Kindle. I have read all the books on the Kindle so today I searched the bookshelf for something else to lose myself in. Nothing, except books already read.

I’m one of those silly people who doesn’t read books twice. I guess it’s because I like something new, something different, and ‘used’ books don’t fulfil that preference. Thankfully, since starting to write this post I have acquired three novels picked up at a charity shop. I love charity shops for that reason, and I always return the books to them so they can make more money.

My WI has just started a book borrowing scheme which is going well. If there’s a book I fancy I can borrow it for just a few pence which all helps the financial situation of the institute.  

I have my treasures, though, that I will never get rid of, I have blogged about them before. However, there are some who won’t have seen it so I’m tempted to repost. Oh, what the heck, I WILL repost. Read on, my friends, and see what treasures I have.

Inside the book The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, there is an inscription that I don’t believe I mentioned before. It reads thus:

To My Youngest Son GRENVILLE ARTHUR and to all other good little boys.
Come , read me my riddle, each good little man, if YOU cannot read it, no grown-up can.

This is what I found on Wikipedia:

The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby is a children's novel by the Reverend Charles Kingsley. Written in 1862–63 as a serial for Macmillan's Magazine it was first published in its entirety in 1863. It was written as part satire in support of Charles Darwin;s The Origin of Species. The book was extremely popular in England, and was a mainstay of British children's literature for many decades, but eventually fell out of favour in part due to its prejudices (common at the time) against Irish, Jews, Americans, and the poor.

Chapter 1 starts with this short poem
I heard a thousand blended notes
While in a grove I sat reclined
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
(Wordsworth)

Maybe one day I will read it again.

Of course, I have posted about my books before, in 2011 to be exact. Dare I repost it, I wonder, or should I merely provide a link to the page? Okay, I've decided... a repost it is - as follows.



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.


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.’

17 July 2015

DARE TO BE SCARED (repeat)



The room was cold. The fire, now no more than dying embers, made the fireplace look like a cavernous hole surrounded by a black marble mantelpiece. The unfinished drapes hung at the window awaiting final measurement. In the swelling silence Ellie Peterson was thankful that she couldn’t see outside.

An hour ago the sound of footsteps had unnerved her. Petrified she had waited for the door to open but nothing happened and the footsteps died away. Now, except for the creaking stair, the house was eerily quiet. She sat on the hard wooden settle, her body taut against the high back, feeling the terror in her spine. Dare she move? Would the spirits know of her presence if she did?

She wanted to believe the occupants had returned but they knew she was there so they surely would have called out. Her mind switched. Maybe it had been a burglar. If it was he was being terribly quiet. There were no other noises to indicate that drawers were being searched or cupboards ransacked.

The New Year’s Eve party seemed so long ago. The usual gang had turned up at Lacey’s Wine Bar with one extra, a boy called Ram who told stories about ghosts. While they drank in abundance someone mentioned the big house on the hill, saying it was haunted.

Ellie was taken aback for that house was where she would soon be working. The owner had commissioned her to replace the drapes in the dining room while the family was away in Tobago. In a mildly drunken state, she had scoffed at the suggestion of the place being haunted, saying it was all nonsense and bragging that she wasn’t in the least scared of ghosts. She didn’t mention that as a child she was scared to walk past the turreted property in case the ghost came out to get her.

It was Tom who dared her to spend the night there. Ellie had laughed and joked that she wouldn’t mind spending several nights there. And so she was dared so to do.

She had telephoned Jacqueline McCleary the next day, asking for permission to stay until her work was completed. It would be so much better, she’d said, if she could devote all her time to the task and not have the inconvenience of travelling to and fro. Mrs McCleary was delighted, saying it would be useful to have someone in attendance during her absence. She would make up a bed in the west wing.

Ellie remembered trembling with the excitement of spending nights alone in a supposedly haunted house. Now she trembled with fear in the icy room.

The musty smelling room was lit by a dim lamp on the antique bureau, out of reach from where she sat.  She couldn’t remember putting it on but she did recall switching on the central chandelier before lighting the fire, then switching it off because the light was too harsh. Although she didn’t doubt her action she looked up, seeing only flickering firelight reflected in the clear glass. But the fire was dead and she half wondered if she was too. 

She twisted round to check the door, wondering if she had the courage to go into the huge, cold hall that led to the west wing. She decided against it. It would be better to stay where she was, maybe close her eyes and try to sleep. The hard settle didn’t encourage sleep but she was too afraid to move to the comfort of an easy chair.  Folding her legs beneath her, she eased the tartan blanket over her arms and prayed for daylight to come, wishing she’d ignored Tom’s stupid dare.

~~~~~

Outside the wind howled and rain lashed against the glass. The chandelier shook and the new drapes swayed in the half light. In a room in the west wing a shadowy figure rose from a winged armchair. Her skirts floated behind her as she noiselessly glided through a heavy wooden door that led to an imposing staircase. At the top she paused and listened as the first musical notes filtered through the air.

~~~~~

Ellie stirred, shifted her position on the settle. In the distance she heard faint music. It took her straight back to her childhood, when she’d been so afraid. Straining to listen she became aware of an indistinct soprano voice intoning the words of The Londonderry Air.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

Ellie shivered as the eerie singing grew louder, swallowed to suppress a ripening scream. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought that spirits didn’t like screams and anyway, wasn’t she a grown up, sensible person who wasn’t afraid of ghosts? Hadn’t she said so repeatedly before… before coming here?

~~~~~

The crash completely unnerved her. It sounded like something smashing against the far door. Hardly daring to breathe, Ellie pulled the blanket round her shoulders and slid from the settle, grabbing the wooden arm to keep from falling. Against her better judgement she felt she had to investigate? Fearfully, she tiptoed across the polished floor and eased the door open.

On the floor was the oil painting that had been hanging in the hall, to the right of the door. Its heavy gold frame was broken, the glass lay in smithereens, but the picture seemed unmarked. Inches away lay the picture hook complete with fixtures, the screw ends coated with plaster. Ellie stooped to examine the painting, a naval officer. His stiff posture and stern expression was a little forbidding as he sat on a long wooden bench. The name at the foot of the painting indicated that this was Daniel McCleary, presumably a family ancestor Behind him, one hand on his shoulder, stood an attractive lady dressed in grey. Ellie stretched out an arm to touch her solemn face. The eyes seemed moist as if tears were falling. So sad, she thought, as she made to wipe them away. Ellie shook herself, reprimanding her foolish imagination.

Unsure about how to cope with the picture at that late hour and reluctant to delve further into the mysteries of the house she returned to the room where she had briefly slept. In the morning she would clear up the mess.

Sitting again on the settle she let her mind drift back to the picture, remembering the story of the young diva being killed, stabbed by her lover. So much for respectability, she thought.

~~~~~

Light was beginning to penetrate the room, making the shadows seem less creepy. Soon she would hear the dawn chorus; only then would she be able to relax. Ellie thought about the picture; knowing she would have to explain to Mrs McCleary filled her with trepidation. 

As more light seeped in Ellie found the courage to move about. Throwing aside the blanket she went to draw the curtains. She had to admit they looked good; the burgundy velvet went really well in the room. Since taking the commission she had worked hard, sewing well into the night on some occasions. Now all she had to do was measure and complete the hems. She would start early, after a drink and maybe some cereal. The need to move on with the work and leave the house couldn’t be ignored. But first she must clear up the mess in the hall. 

Ellie stretched and yawned and tried to suppress a sudden desire to sleep, a long sleep in her own bed, in her own apartment. A cup of tea would revive her, she thought as she moved towards the door, reminding herself to tread carefully to avoid the broken glass.

Somewhere in the distance she heard a tinkling laugh that seemed to echo through her head, a young voice. Braver now the gloom had dispersed, Ellie flung open the door, stepped into the hall, prepared to see an expanse of broken glass on the floor. But there was not one sliver to be seen. Looking up, she saw the picture on the wall. Intact. Except that the man now had streaks of blood on his face and at his side the young lady smiled.

Completely disregarding the waiting drapes Ellie Peterson fled to the sanctuary of the outside world.

13 July 2015

RECYCLING


Now that we have wheelie bins for everything I am actually enjoying the new recycling system. I happily tear up cardboard boxes so they fit into the paper-pod. Yes, I know I’m odd. It’s just that I was brought up to believe that you can’t successfully fit a square peg into a round hole and in that regard the new wheelie bins are extremely challenging.  I’m the same with the dishwasher, placing crockery in the right places means I get more in. As with the cardboard ... even if they fitted it’s no good stuffing whole boxes in because that limits the available, somewhat inadequate space. The section for paper is tiny compared to the rest of the bin which doesn’t even get a quarter full. Obviously, designers are not what they were!


The centre bin has a small paper-pod at the top
Paper-pod 
Here’s a thought that came to me whilst dismantling an empty box: now that we have to do so much recycling, wouldn’t it be a good idea if box manufacturers simplified designs, used less staples and/or glue. The other day I came across one that was cleverly designed ... not a speck of adhesive anywhere. The design was in the cutting, with strong cardboard flaps that slotted into each other. I didn’t need scissors or brute strength to get that one ready for recycling. Perhaps I should suggest it. Perhaps it would earn me a few pennies for ingenuity. Perhaps not, since someone else already thought of it. What I need to do is lambast all the firms who make cardboard boxes, and I would – if I could be bothered.

What amuses me most are cartons that are made from waxed card. It’s not the cartons themselves that make me smile, it’s the tiny plastic pourer and screw cap. Small enough to be missed yet, apparently, extremely valuable. It’s a bit like finding a gem in a haystack, don’t you think? Unfortunately the time hasn’t come when waxed card can be recycled but the plastic cap can so consistently I peel it off the box. What a privilege for such a tiny object to share a bin with all the other plastic, metals and glass that households gather with such abundance. 
So, after flattening the carton and disposing of the pourer/cap we throw the carton in the ordinary refuse bin. While all this recycling is going on the refuse bin is almost empty while the others could be spilling over, or would be if we hadn’t been warned about THAT!

Plastic carrier bags are handed over to the man who delivers the groceries;
apparently the supermarket does its own recycling. As already stated paper goes separately and we do our fair share in that department.... literally throwing into the bin all the unwanted and unsolicited free newspapers, brochures, and advertising leaflets. And thereby hangs another moan. Whoever designed the wheelie bins obviously had a warped sense of humour or he missed out on the heaps of reading matter thrust through his door. That’s why I spend so much time ripping up boxes and folding paper so that it will all fit in that too-small space.  I mean, we have to allow for newspapers, don’t we? It would take far too long to shred them before recycling!

11 July 2015

Songs and Sounds on Saturday

A tribute to
Val Doonican, a popular Irish singer who died this week, aged 88.
Val was well known for his fancy jumpers and his rocking chair as well as his singing.

I hunted for a visual of Val Doonican singing but couldn't find one.
Instead I found this short film which is quite pleasant. The object, though, is to listen to the voice while being entertained by wildlife. 

Val was a great singer of serious and light-hearted songs. 

06 July 2015

100 years ... and counting

The Womens Institute is 100 years old this year and lots of events have been planned to celebrate its centenary. The main event was the official Annual General Meeting held at the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen, the Princess Royal, and the Duchess of Wessex, all of whom are WI members. Sadly I was unable to go this year because, in case you don’t know, the Albert Hall is a circular building and there are rather a lot of steps to the seating areas. I’ve done it many times but this year I felt unable to tackle the up and down climb. Not to worry though, I was able to watch the event on the internet – a live broadcast seen via YouTube. 
Royal Albert Hall
Inside the Albert Hall
Here's a video clip of the singing of Jerusalem, which is the WI's 'anthem'. Don't worry, it's only the singing, not the whole programme! Singing in the Albert Hall with so many women is an emotional experience and I always got a bit dewy eyed when I was there. The first person you see is Janice Langley, WI's current National Chairman. You can see the three royals joining in. In the middle of the video is a picture of members singing in their own institute, the institute being the first one to start in this country - all those years ago. One of the members from that institute and one from a brand new institute were detailed to perform a particular task... you can imagine how thrilled they were, especially the new girl. 


Another event was a garden party held at Buckingham Palace the day before. The Duchess of Cornwall presided. One member from each WI (making thousands) was invited to attend but no-one from my institute wanted to go. Understandable when you think of the unearthly hour the journey had to start, all the travelling, then arriving home at some ridiculous hour later the same day. Or, as some did, go to the garden party one day, stay overnight somewhere, and move on to the AGM the following day. A lot of us are past making such efforts – even for the Queen. Or WI!
Duchess of Cornwall greeting those famous WI members who starred in The Calendar Girls 
Pretty crowded, eh!
There was an amusing incident which occurred a few weeks prior to the garden party. I received an email from someone called Joanne who worked at the local Hotter Shoes shop. She had heard about the event and was offering our, what she called, lucky lady a free pair of shoes to wear on the day. Damnation, and me NOT GOING. I guess I could have pretended but I don’t wear Hotter Shoes anymore.

Enquiries were made and I discovered a colleague from a local institute would be attending the garden party. I gave her a call. Needless to say she was delighted, although her husband was a somewhat hesitant about what he thought was a catch. We all know that people don’t offer anything for nothing unless there’s something in it for them. Anyway, it transpired that all they required was a photograph for advertising, one taken on the day. I don’t know the outcome of that but I did hear that my colleague wore the shoes all day and was VERY pleased with them. She had even bought a handbag to match. That’ll teach me not to attend these things! 

01 July 2015

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT (repeat)


I sit alone, breathing in the silence of early morning. Outside the dawn is beginning to break. From where I sit, huddled against the cold, I can just make out the awakening light through the trees. Soon there will be bird noises. The tiny creatures will need to fluff their feathers to keep warm. They’re lucky it didn’t snow in the night although it would make a nice scene for me to look at. All my nights are spent in this chair because a recurring dream dictates that I do not go to bed. Did I say recurring? The word should be used loosely because each one has a difference.

Have you ever had a nightmare, one so scary you dare not shut your eyes again? Did you experienced the cold sweat of relief when you realised it was just a dream? That’s how it used to be with me but now… now there is no reprieve. I am doomed to spend my days and nights in fear.

It started a year ago, after the office dinner-dance. I had been dancing with the handsomest man in the party, presumed to be an invited guest from another branch of the firm. Yes, I fancied him.  And why not?  We were free agents. Newly freed, both divorced from our partners, both childless and living alone.

His name was Nick. Friends laughingly referred to him as Old Nick because he was older than most of us by about twenty years. With his dark looks, age didn’t matter. That evening I fell for the smouldering eyes and the way he held his head to one side when he spoke. You may think there was nothing remarkable about that, but you can’t see what I did. The gesture seemed inviting and I was determined to find out to what I was being invited.

I wore black that night, a strappy, slinky number that suggested more than it showed. I know he liked it by the way he fingered the straps as we danced. I’d only ever danced inches away from a partner but with Nick I was held close to his body, the way I’ve seen in films. We moved in unison, swaying, his body moulded to mine. I didn’t know I was that lithe, to be honest. 

It was like that all the way through the evening. I had the greatest time and as the night wore on I began to think about what might happen at the end. Would he want to take me home? Would I invite him in? Of course, I would. He’d got me rearing to go and I was determined to see it through. 

You can imagine my frustration when he left me after the last waltz. ‘Catch you later,’ was all he said before disappearing through the double doors to face the moonlit night alone.

~~~

It’s a man thing, I realised, as I lay in bed and went over the evening events. Even so, ‘catch you later’ was very off-putting. A girl didn’t know whether he meant it or if it was merely an opt-out. Later on that night I was to find out.

Nick came to me as I slept. In a dreamy state I welcomed him in my arms. It was him, yet he looked different, older. The handsome face was, well, odd. If I told you it was distorted you’d think, yeah, that’s how dreams are. I tried to recall how he looked at the dance but those striking features eluded me. Now all I could see was pockmarked skin and bloodshot eyes.

Although his suggestion that we go on a train journey was met with surprise, I agreed. How we got there is a mystery but, yeah, that’s how dreams are. We were comfortably seated in a compartment, the only two people there, when he suddenly got to his feet, dragging me up as well. The next thing I remember was being hustled along the corridor. I dropped my bag and began to fret about losing the valuables, credit card and cash, but Nick wouldn’t stop. Instead he dragged me further along until we
reached the door. The train was rocking with speed as he pushed it open and tried to throw me out.

I woke up screaming. My face and throat were wet with sweat. The duvet was on the floor, pillows strewn on top. It took a long time to regain my calm and grasp that it was only a dream.

Normally I forget dreams the minute I wake, but this one lingered.  It haunted me through the tea and toast, it bothered me while I dressed, and worried me even more when I was ready to go and couldn’t find my bag. Had I left it at the hotel? Still somewhat taken aback by Nick’s sudden disappearance I’d walked home, trying to analyse the whole thing. There was no need for money and my house key was hidden under the pot in the garden. I never took it with me when I went dancing.

~~~

The first thing I did when I arrived at the office was to ring the hotel. No, Madam, no
lost property was handed in. I went round the staff, asking questions. No, Maria, they
said, they hadn’t seen anything lying around. Perhaps you didn’t take it to the dance,
suggested my closest working companion. I was pretty sure I did.

So I reported the loss to the hotel, the office administrator, and the police.
It bothered me that I should lose a bag in a dream and then find it really was lost. 
After doing the important things like notifying the bank, I settled down to work. In
fact I worked extra hard in the hope that the awful day would end quickly. 

~~~

There wasn’t much of interest on television but I carried on watching until my eyes began to blur. A hot shower and an early night would be good, I thought, and then bed. I climbed in, hugged the comforting duvet to me and tugged the pillow into position, then went straight to sleep. For once my overactive thoughts left me in peace.

~~~

He came again that night, his presence announced by repeatedly uttering my name. Ma-reee-ya, Ma-reee-ya. It made me shiver. He was dressed in black with a white silk scarf knotted at the neck. Facial growth covered his chin, dark whiskers that made him look older than his years. His distorted features were now quite grotesque, sunken cheeks, a lopsided nose, swollen lips, one eye open, the other closed. He was friendlier than before, although his grip on my hand was vice-like as he invited me to accompany him for a walk.

Because the evening was on the cool side, I slipped a shawl round my shoulders. Agift from a friend, beige coloured, embroidered with peacocks and my initials MD in the middle.  We took the path that led to the lake, pausing now and again to kiss, and for me to suffer the rising nausea each time he pressed his lips against mine. I had no choice but to surrender since his hold on me was like steel. I remember it so well. I also remember his hysterical laughter as he pushed me into the lake.
Struggling to keep my head above the murky water, I screeched and screeched that I couldn't swim.

Then I woke, still shaking with fear, horrified to feel so drenched. My rose patterned nightdress was soaked with perspiration, the duvet wrapped so tight I sweated with the heat.

And so it goes on. Every night he tries to kill me, each attempt different to the last. His face is skeletal now and the more gruesome he gets the worse the torture.  The fear is so great I am afraid to sleep lest he should succeed.

~~~

The man called Nick, whom I met at the dance, rang me not so long back. He
apologised for leaving me so hurriedly and suggested we meet up for a night out. I
turned him down. I could no longer be sure if he and my ‘dream’ man were one and
the same.

The psychiatrist had lots of explanations about my state of mind, none of which I understood. I mean, I was normal before all this started. Wasn’t I? Anyway, the psychiatrist reckons that dreams are figments of imagination. You know, I would believe that if it wasn’t for the fact that my handbag was found beside a railway line some 90 miles from where I live. I suppose someone, somewhere, is wearing my lovely shawl since it is nowhere in the house and I am not careless enough to mislay
things without knowing.

So I sit here breathing in the silence of early morning. Outside the dawn settles in. From where I sit, huddled against the cold, I can see sunlight filtering through the trees. Soon there will be bird calls. They are lucky it didn’t snow in the night. It doesn’t matter to me; I’m too tired to go out these days. Since sleep is something to dread I sit here, alone with my thoughts, and wonder how much longer I must exist in this dream, doing nothing else but link figments of imagination until they resemble
life as it was.

If I could differentiate between fantasy and reality things would be different. Maybe I should turn the tables, take the lead, form a plan; a successful one. My best friend thinks I am incapable of rational thought; she may be right but it would be good to try and prove her wrong.

Elusive thoughts often flutter through my head, ideas on how to bring an end to this mental incarceration. Perhaps I should not have turned Nick down after all. Maybe a daytime rendezvous would help me see things more clearly. What’s that old adage? Do unto others as they do unto you? Ah yes, now we’re talking!

It’s quite light outside now. The birds are fighting each other for food. A woodpigeon lands on a slender bough in the cherry tree, seesaws until the branch settles A feral cat lurks behind the hydrangea; watching, waiting; food for a week. I too am watching … and waiting. A chance is all I need, I think, as I turn to gaze at the phone. 

‘Hello, Nick,’ I’ll say. ‘How’re you doing?’