30 May 2011

Updating the Kitchen Utensils

It gets boring cooking the same thing over and over again. Even watching Master Chef didn’t inspire me to create more interesting dishes. However, I was impressed by the 15 year old boy who won this year’s Britain’s Best Dish contest, earning high praise from the top chef at the prestigious Savoy Hotel who proclaimed the dish to be faultless; £10,000 cash, and an apprenticeship at the Savoy…. the latter because of the impact made on the Savoy chef in not only cooking but designing the winning dish. This was the dish:

Vanilla friande served with amaretto cream, fromage blanc sorbet and blueberry compote

My trouble is I’ve been out of action in the kitchen for nigh on twelve months. The visit by Arth Ritis played havoc with the joints, very limiting when there’s heavy pots and roasting dishes to handle. Then, when I got back in the swing I couldn’t remember what I used to cook. It’s been sausage and mash, fish and chips, and lots of other easy stuff. So while my Guy was away in Australia I went shopping, not for food but for ridged fry pans and other vessels with which to improve the daily diet.

I’m pleasantly surprised by the fry pan. All of a sudden my meat is succulent and really tender and fish is to die for. No more oven or grill cooking for this little gal. Even the casseroles taste better when done on the hob, although I did manage to do a sausage casserole in the top oven, using a smaller dish that was easier to handle.

I went mad at the garden centre as well. I now have rocket lettuce, basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and apple mint growing in pots on the window sill along with numerous trays of sprouting seeds. Along with hardboiled eggs and the sweetest and tiniest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten the salads are now tasting like a salad should.

Mind you, we still eat the occasional scrumptious meat pie. Having found one we really like it is hard not to buy them occasionally. Okay, okay, once a week isn’t bad, is it?

Having spent money on cooking utensils, I went into overdrive and bought more stuff for the house. Since the country was in the middle of a heat wave I needed something to cool me down during the night. A spate of local burglaries was instrumental in scaring the neighbours so we followed the police recommendation that all windows be kept shut at night. Since the burglar(s) had climbed through open windows I definitely didn’t feel like sleeping with the windows open.

After two nights of profuse sweating, I decided to buy a fan. Not your ordinary little fan, oh no, I went the whole hog and bought a tower. When he arrived home and viewed the acquisition Hubs thought I was mad. I’ll never sleep with that thing on, he said. But he does. Deafness means he doesn’t hear the gentle, repeat gentle, noise and although he hasn’t said as much I think he appreciates the cool breeze that floats like a wave over his hot little body. A good feature is that the fan has a timer so it switches off when we’re in the Land of Nod.

Heehee I bought clothes as well but I used my own cash for those purchases. I didn’t want to incur any wrath, you see. I’d spent enough! The reason for the new clothes? I’d lost so much weight I literally had nothing to wear. Everything looked enormous on my now sylph-like figure (Hmm!) so a shopping spree was essential. Honest! Now I’m having a great time parcelling the oldies ready for the charity shops. I’d better watch it with the cooking or I’ll be putting it all back on. The charity shops are much too far away to fetch back all my gear.

29 May 2011

Monday Mirth

The priest was about to say the name and pour the water in baptism when it occurred to him that this was a very odd name. 'Are you sure that's what you want? Pindonim? I've never heard it before.' Don't be daft,' said the mother. 'We want Albert. Look, it's pinned on 'im with a safety pin.'

Just thought I'd throw that one in for a giggle. Now for the Monday Mirth video.

28 May 2011

My Quiet Time

It’s six o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in the lounge drinking lemon and ginger tea and eating Belvita breakfast biscuits. It’s my quiet time. Everything seems still to be asleep, that is all except the birds. A family of great tits are at the feeder, two parents feeding two babies. Beneath the feeder two woodpigeons wait expectantly for accidental seed droppings. Of the nesting blue tits there is no sight, parents and babies must have flown away at the onset of dawn. A pity that, I would have liked to see them emerge from the box that has been their home for a couple of months.

As I watch a fox wanders into the garden. He walks across the grass towards the opposite side where there is a second feeding station. I am only half awake; it takes several minutes before I remember to take a picture of the animal.

I reach to the coffee table for the camera; try to unzip the carry case. The case has two zips, both meeting in the middle, and they invariably get tangled with the camera’s wrist strap. By this time foxy has disappeared into the bushes at the side of the garden. Silently cursing, I put down the camera and go back to my cup of tea.

Five minutes later foxy re-emerges. I grope once again for the camera. Foxy heads off down the garden while I’m still trying to remove the camera from the case. The more I speed up the more my fingers act like they’re a bunch of thumbs. Finally the camera is extricated and I aim it at the window. I can’t see the fox but I click the button anyway. Too late, I thought. But the picture shows otherwise, I had managed to get his rear end before it disappeared up the steps to another path.

I love these quiet hours. Same time, every day there is silence, a wonderful unbroken calm, so hushed I hold my breath for fear of creating a disturbance. Even the birds are respectful, twittering and wing flapping seemingly not allowed; just soundless movement around the feeders.

Apart from the birds and a random fox there is no infiltration of the all embracing peace, even the breeze is at rest. Time seems to stand still, except that the clock proves otherwise. It doesn’t last long, half an hour at the most, but long enough for me to take stock and thank the Lord for giving me this special time to ponder and prepare and count my blessings without the hindrance of everyday life. I am deeply grateful!

Saturday Special

My Rough Patch

26 May 2011

Tracing the Ancestors

This picture shows my Grandfather, but whatever happened to his father?

Tracing the Ancestors

A few years ago I decided to trace my paternal ancestors. What I didn’t know was that other family members had decided to do the same. That’s the advantage of everyone owning computers.

Following the births, marriages and deaths was interesting but it wasn’t long before we reached an impasse. Let me explain.

The family name terminated with my great grandmother when it was discovered that she never married and thus still bore her maiden name. The family tree shows that she had five children, two boys and three girls. The first was born in 1873, the second in 1874, the third in 1876, the next in 1877, and the last in 1878.

The poor woman must have been worn out.

The children were christened with their father’s surname, assuming it was his real name, but he mysteriously disappeared in the annals of time and the name with him.

Who the heck was he?

My cousins and I searched the genealogical archives to no avail. We were in communication with others bearing the same surname but there were no leads to my great-grandfather. We didn’t know what he did for a living and there was no trace of his birth or his death. We got to fantasising about him and between us we came up with some laughable and horrific ideas. Never let it be said that this generation of cousins have no sense of imagination.

This was my favourite. As I said, there were five children of the liaison with my great-grandmother which suggests that the relationship must have been fairly stable for a good length of time. We knew that great-grandmother was in service so we dreamed up the idea that great-grandfather might have been the son of gentry who had an ongoing illicit affair with the servant girl. If that was the case would he want the world to know? Could they have been given an assumed name. It seems likely since there is no trace of the name before his children arrived on the scene. And yet all the kids had birth certificates to prove who they were.

Great-grandmother must have been a remarkable woman to raise five kids in that era.

If great-grandfather was a single man in a noted family I can imagine his parents wouldn’t want their name besmirched by the presence of one let alone five illegitimate grandchildren. But what if he was married? How would he explain so many absences to the lady of the house? Or was it that he only sneaked out long enough to procreate a few kids before reverting back to his regular domestic life? ‘Excuse me, my love, I’m just popping out to sow a few seeds.’ Five times! In five years!

Yes, that’s definitely my favourite fantasy.

The children grew up, married and had their own children. One of them, my grandfather, sired six: three boys and three girls to carry the name forward. Now only one son and one unmarried daughter are left so the name will soon disappear. My aunt is now 88 years of age. She remembers that it was common knowledge that her grandmother never married. Whilst deploring the situation she confesses to being intrigued by her family background and has often joked that she doesn’t know who she is. I can understand that!

I am reminded of the time I sounded off about the modern generation of single mums, no marriages and babes without dads, that will ultimately be responsible for the lack of family trees with no known roots. Seems it was no better in my great-grandparents day.

Investigations continue but not by me. I’m content to leave things to my vivid imagination … it’s probably more interesting.

(Apologies to my blogging friends for the lack of comments. I sincerely hope Blogger's problems won't last much longer).

25 May 2011

Thursday Oz Shots and an apology

Blogger is having a bad time and so am I. It’s all to do with leaving comments ‘cause in a lot of cases I can’t. So if my good friends don’t hear from me this is the reason. Comment boxes come in various styles… the one causing the problem is the one where you click either Google account or a number of others … like your own URL. It just won’t recognise me as Google, in fact it marks me down as anonymous (!) and even it then won’t place my comment. I tried using the URL but it wasn’t recognised. So what else can I do but apologise? All the other comments boxes are fine and the ones asking for word verification are great – not even a hold-up with that one.

Comment from Blogger Help … We're investigating an issue which is preventing login and comment posting for some users, and hope to have a fix released shortly.

I’ll just have to put this at the start of my posts until it’s sorted.

Okay, now here’s the rest of today’s post!

For a train buff this kookaburra was an extra special sighting

23 May 2011

The Birthday

It was a great Birthday altogether. After the present opening I was taken to lunch at my favourite place, the New Hall.

Lovely venue for a birthday lunch A room with a couple of views!

I managed to take pictures of some of the dishes we had but completely forgot to get shots of the main course
Duck on lambs liver and potato rosti

Scallops on black pudding

Sticky toffee pudding with ice cream

Coconut panna cotta (to die for) followed by

a bottle of Palena

The iPhone was the main present from my Guy, although he spoiled me rotten with lots of little gifts and of course the excellent lunch. Couldn't wait to get Twitter and Facebook installed And these DVDs were selected from my Amazon wish list. The Kings Speech was ordered before the DVD was released and The Tourist was placed on the wish list after blogging friend, Ron, suggested I might enjoy the film. Finally, here's a couple of shots taken as we left the hotel

21 May 2011

Saturday's shopping expedition

I’ll go early I thought, that way I’m bound to get a parking space. I was right, got a decent one right by the shops. Ha, that meant I’d get back home early and could get stuck into the next item on my agenda, blogging.

First stop the opticians to have the new specs adjusted… a spot behind the right ear was really sore with the pressure. They were closed. Damn!

Moved on to the House of Fraser store to spend some loyalty vouchers. £30 I got plus a £5 voucher for my birthday. It was nice of them to remember me! It took twenty minutes to walk to the store. They too were closed. Damnation!

Okay, I didn’t dwell on it. Instead I walked another fifteen minutes to the next shop on my list: a newly opened Waitrose store. It’s an express version of their big store in the next district, something we’re delighted about because their range of food is rather upmarket. You know what? They were closed. Grrr!
I was beginning to wish I’d stayed in bed.

One store WAS open but it wasn’t one I normally patronise. However, thoroughly fed-up and needing to do something for the next three-quarters of an hour I went in for a mooch. Inside, there was just me and a guy in a suit wandering round the ladies section. Everywhere I went he seemed to pop up too. In the end he accosted me. Seeing a clipboard and pen at the ready I tried to avoid him but he was niftier on his feet than me so the suit won. Would I be interested in taking out insurance? Not on your life, I thought, as I tried moving on. The same procedure occurred about three times until in the end I had to be downright rude to get rid of him. It crossed my mind that he was the reason for the empty store! I did eventually get shut of him and made a hasty retreat out the exit door, the one I didn’t use to come in. I now had a much longer walk back to House of Fraser.

By this time all the stores were open. Amazing! Apparently I’d chosen a training day to shop. Hmmm in my youth training was always done before or after official opening hours, not during.

It ended happily though, my loyalty and birthday vouchers bought me two new summer tops, my specs were adjusted, and I bought two lovely pies, not from Waitrose as intended but from another newly opened shop. When I saw the name Piemaster I couldn’t resist the purchase. Piemaster do such a lovely range so when I saw Moo and Blue pies I just had to have them … with chips and salad.

19 May 2011

A Man in my Life (special request)

The room is so quiet that if you stood outside the door you would suppose it to be unoccupied; but there is an abundance of sound: crackling firewood, squealing chair springs, the vibrating window when a plane takes wing, the tap of steel needles, and the expletives when I drop a stitch. You might hear these sounds if you listen hard but you would not see Jeffrey's wicked endeavours to make me lose count, my voice rising with each enumeration as I walk two fingers along the pin, determined to outwit the arm-waving comedian and cursing the misfortune of being saddled with an imbecilic brother. The mantel clock proclaims its own opinion, issuing dull thuds, which are supposed to be reverberating chimes. Two o'clock, and the rest of the day to get through. Even the fire-logs serve to emphasise the hour, a pair of charred timber chunks spilling to the hearth. I toe to safety the smithereens of charcoal and inhale the intoxicating smell of burning wood as I study the flames, remembering my youth, when Jeffrey persistently devised new ways to destroy my concentration and the strife at school when homework was inadequately completed.

The dreadful clacking of Jeffrey's dentures infiltrates the reverie, transporting me to present time like an exploding bomb. First I am ensconced in daydreams, then, suddenly, I encounter reality head-on. Unexpectedly, my brother's grinning countenance brings a swelling to my throat. Family features: grizzled hair, bristly brows and pointed nose, except that Jeffrey now has pendulous jowls, skin dark with liver-spots, and hazel eyes mottled with age. At eighty-five he should be past indulging in puerility, but it is too late for him to change and, anyway, I am fond of his desultory ribbing. Occasionally.

While he gazes at me in his silly fashion, I set the rocking chair in motion, anxious to start the next stage of the complicated pattern yet hesitant in case Jeffrey renews the struggle for power. He looks docile enough, sitting erect like a spectator waiting for the show to begin, but I never know when he will embark on another wild prank. In two minutes I could be despising him; in three, I could be storming to pack his bag and return him to the home from which I delivered him, beseeching the dear Lord to explain why a man in my life is so essential.

My confession might shock you. If you could witness this scene of cosy domesticity you might think I am satisfied with my life, that my days consist of snug tête-à-têtes and happy reminiscences or that the daily woman's duties give me ample time to knit and amuse my brother. But how can I expect her to clean the mess that incontinence affords, or supervise his eating, and encourage him to aim for his mouth instead of his shirt? And yet, on reflection, your assessment could be right. Beneath the grievances, you might detect a glimmer of the affection I feel, for despite intensifying bouts of wrath and irritation I love the old fool to pieces.

Pleased that Jeffrey has settled to read I resume my occupation. Pins clicking furiously, my thoughts roam the years, evoking instances of his outlandish behaviour. Though his impaired mental state drives me to distraction he can be enormously entertaining; like now, as he absorbs the printed word, contorting his lips and nose as if they are moulded from rubber.

In the shadow of a frivolous father and two ebullient brothers, Jeffrey grew vague and bewildered before his time. As a consequence he relied on me for support, seeing me as an island of sanity in the midst of a chaotic existence. That's why I never married. The concept of leaving my guileless brother to fend for himself was inconceivable, though lately I long to be free of obligation. Notwithstanding, the good days outweigh the bad. In fact, until the onset of true dementia, most were agreeable; funny even, if an old man's waywardness can so be called.

As dotage accelerated, Jeffrey became quite adventurous. At seventy, equipped with his pensioner's pass, he toured the county for bargains. But his logic left much to be desired. He once travelled a distance to save twenty-pence on melon, then spent ten times that amount on chocolate. I still remember his gleeful look when he produced the melon and the box of chocolates, and my incredulity.

The fingers are flying now and the rocker's going like a swing as I call to mind that day we waited in Woolworths for our brother to end a discourse with a chum. Thirty minutes trudging round counters, failed attempts to resist Jeffrey's pestering at the photograph booth and the endless wait for obscure pictures. Secretly chuckling, I recall Jeffrey's restlessness and his entreaties for a go on the weighing machine - several times - for the sheer joy of cramming weight cards in his pockets, which on the journey home were distributed among the passengers on the bus, his laughter so infectious that the whole of the upper deck joined in.

My feeble eyes are filling up; it always happens when I reproduce the images of bygone days. A pity they couldn't stay the same.

You should see Jeffrey now, playing peek-a-boo around the Daily Mail. I pretend not to notice his buffoonery. I could curb him but he's been in enough trouble since the episode next door. Unbeknown to me, on the days when I allowed him out alone, he developed the custom of going in the neighbouring gate and walking into Miss Smedley's house demanding tea. Initially she humoured him with biscuits or a cake, but when he burst in and ordered tea and toasted soldiers, with no regard for her undressed state, she ceased to think it amusing. He's now on tight rein lest the woman carries out her threat to call the police.

The room is dimming now that the winter sun has disappeared, and the fire needs banking. The clock thumps its message home. Four o'clock, it says. Time for tea. My daydreaming has taken me to girlhood and back, through teen-years to adulthood. And Jeffrey's cardigan is almost done. If the Almighty is willing I will finish it tomorrow, that is if Jeffrey deigns to let me get on. But then I'd worry. Since silence is an alien characteristic I wouldn't know if he was behaving or indisposed. Oh, if you could see him playing his game, retreating behind the paper like a guilty schoolboy whenever he catches my eye. I cannot help sniggering at his expression, a fooled-you kind of look, the sort meted out when my counting goes completely awry. I am tempted to teach him a lesson and leave his cardigan sleeveless but I cannot succumb to spite. You see, he won't have many more birthday gifts, and I won't have the foolish fun that life with him has brought.

See his face, see the way he peers at me like the simpleton he is. My throat constricts at the sight of him. Dear God, don't take him yet. For my sake, give him a year or two more.

18 May 2011

Thursday Oz Shots

A couple of pictures taken in the Dandenongs area, not far from Melbourne, Australian

Strangest bird I ever saw!

This shot gives a good idea of the height of the trees. I wouldn't want to look up too often, I'd get a worse crick in the neck than the one I've already got.

16 May 2011

Useful Gadgets

Q. Why do I browse through useful gadget catalogues?
A. In the hope that a useful gadget can be found.

Admittedly some of the things are old ideas tarted up, and some are expensive improvements, which is great, but a lot of the newer inventions (newer?) are simply a waste of time and money. Most useful gadgets only replace a cheaper method of achieving the same result. I was brought up in the age of improvisation, often proving that the age old adage ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is perfectly true.

Take the bra strap, for example. Most women have problems with the slipping strap; it’s all to do with poor posture or badly fitting bras or one boob being larger than the other. If you measure the straps of a bra you’ll find they’re both the same length, therefore you must be ever so slightly malformed. I’m not saying which applies to me but years ago I found the answer in micropore tape. A small narrow strip placed crossways on the strap and pressed directly onto the skin achieved miraculous results at little cost. It’s wonderfully light and unseen under the lowest neckline. In the useful gadget brochure there’s a roll of sticky tape that costs the earth. A couple of years ago I saw some of this in our local store and decided to try it. Mistake! To start with, being double sided tape, it was very fiddly and it wasn’t long before the skin on my shoulders developed a hideous itchy rash. Lesson learned!

How about hooks attached to kitchen drawers that allow you to hang plastic bags, open ready for us to deposit our rubbish. Excuse me? Do I really want my rubbish in full sight?

There are magic stones at £7 a throw alleged to keep your grill pan in pristine condition. What’s wrong with good old long-lasting wire wool at a fraction of the price?

How about the staple free stapler that doesn’t secure papers. Yes, I fell for that one.

I’m curious about the comfortable hat designed to cover hair rollers and ensure a comfortable sleep! Fortunately I don’t use rollers in my hair so I don’t need such a luxury.

I read with interest the description of the handle that resembles the handle of a grill pan. It is purported to grip any size hot and full casserole dish so you can chuck out your oven gloves or pot holders. Is there anyone out there who can honestly say they remove a hot and probably heavy dish with one hand? Don’t you need two hands to steady the dish on its outward journey from the oven? Would you trust a single handle on a hot dish full of beef stew, or lamb for that matter. Oh, I forgot to mention the design of this handle; it has a gripper which you have to keep pressed whilst drawing out the hot dish, otherwise the whole lot will go crashing to the floor. If you’re tempted, my advice is don’t chuck away the pot holder … you might need it when you’ve successfully withdrawn the casserole and are about to plate-up, unless of course you can do everything one handed.

Have you come across a sugar dispenser designed to release one teaspoon of sugar at a time. According to the blurb in the useful gadget catalogue this prevents you adding too much or too little to your coffee! What if you only want half a teaspoonful?

Then there’s the musical kitten mug… no not me. I’m talking about a beaker that meows like a cat and is said to ‘gently wake you and give your breakfast more flavour.’

Where can I put my sauce covered spoon? On a spoon rest, of course! That’s sensible but I’m wondering how I managed to cope all these years by just using a pretty saucer. I guess the idea behind this is merely to pretty up the kitchen.

Suction baskets? I’ve yet to find one that actually stays put. Of course, you may know different.

A cat that is unobtrusive and useful? Sounds good! In actual fact it’s a door peg in the shape of a black cat that hangs from the top of a door, on which you can hang your garments or towel. Unobtrusive?

My best find in a useful gadget catalogue was the Essential Kitchen Item, an all-in-one easy grip opener with lots of tricks up its sleeve. With it I can remove freshness seals, pull lids off flip-top tins, open all sized bottles, plastic and metal screw-on container lids, and open pouches. This I had to have. It took exactly six weeks to arrive and the cost of many telephone calls. The parcel, when it came, also included a free gift … a battery operated digital alarm clock with various attributes like showing date and temperature. It can be hung on the wall, which is good because the figures are huge. Unfortunately there are two problems (a) it doesn’t work even on fully charged or new batteries and (b) I don’t want it.

Any ideas?

14 May 2011

Sunday Scene

I love this shot but didn't know I was being watched as well. The picture was taken on a cruise to America and Canada in 2004, so long ago I can't remember which country I was in at the time. Any suggestions?

13 May 2011

I blame it all on Blogger

What have I done today?

Fumed, that’s what I did … amongst other things.

Well, to start off Blogger went on the blink. At first I thought it was my connection but then I saw the notice BLOGGER IS CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE accompanied by information that Blogger was read-only. Well, I didn’t read… what was the point if I couldn’t respond to posts? I can honestly say it threw me. For the first time I recognised my dependence on blogging. Wow, what a shock that was. Maybe I should think about getting a life?

So I went shopping, earlier than normal because of the setback with Blogger. The traffic wasn’t too bad considering the hour, but there were some awful drivers on the road. Why is it that on a dual carriageway some motorists insist on driving in the overtaking lane? Is it because they’re frightened of being overtaken themselves, or because they’re too lazy to turn the wheel and move over, or is it a selfish way of making sure others don’t get there first?

Since I am an excellent driver (koff koff) I have a great many complaints about drivers who don’t follow the highway code, those who don’t know how to make a right turn (or left, depending on where you live) which means cutting across traffic at an appropriate time. Most if not all don’t know how to angle their cars for a correct turn, most if not all happily cutting across a car waiting to come out of that particular road. Many times I’ve wondered how a driver has avoided stripping paint off the wing of my car.

Later on, in order to keep an appointment with my optician (you'll see the funny side of that as you read on) I had to negotiate a particularly awkward traffic roundabout. It’s a right turn all the way round which then merges with a parking lane. The trouble is the traffic coming from the only other road doesn’t realise that although little me is indicating to pull in on the left I am actually (legally) cutting in front of cars to get into the lane. Buses use that road,and what happens is: yes, they acknowledge my right of way but immediately hit my tail to follow me up – as they think – the road. Only, I’m not going up the flippin’ road, I’m pulling in to the left, to a legitimate designated parking area.

One mad bus driver put his foot on the pedal and zoomed after me. Jeez, I thought he was going to hit me. I zoomed into the parking space in front of another parked car and, guess what, I misjudged the angle. Poor guy sitting in the parked car must have wondered what had happened but he soon found out when he got out to check: paint stripped off all along the side of the car (his wife’s car actually) with mine showing barely a scratch. So now we have the insurance to deal with.

Then there’s the pedestrians! My second misfortune was seeing a young mum pushing a baby in a pram through fast moving traffic with no apparent thought for the child’s safety let alone her own. A speeding motorcyclist who was weaving in and out of the traffic just managed to stop when the pram appeared from nowhere. Ye Gods, they could all have been killed.

I didn’t realise it was Friday 13th.

When I got home I got stuck into finishing the six weeks of laundry provided by hubs after his Australian vacation. I’d tried doing it a bit at a time but that just meant the whole operation was hanging on. The promised rain having arrived, the sight of everything hanging round was too much so I thought it was time to get stuck in, so to speak. Thank goodness for drying machines.

In the afternoon I gave some thought to blogging … if ever it returns … and maybe changing my style. Running two blogs is becoming a bit laborious. A Mixed Bag should be what the name implies. The name suggests an assortment of subjects so a combination of stories, articles, and pictures should be more interesting for the reader and certainly for the compiler. My writing is suffering lately, by that I mean I’m running out of ideas. Therefore I must try and get a bit more enthusiasm without the chore of running two blogs.

I tried this once before and although the switch went smoothly I lost some blogging friends in the process. That’s what’s holding me back, really. I’d love to know your views on the idea.

Well, that’s an account of my day so far. It is 3.15 in the afternoon and Blogger is still out of commission. Perhaps I should go and play tiddlywinks with next door’s cat!

03 May 2011

The Bluebell Woods

Picking bluebells is the reason I’m here in the woods. The sun is hot for the time of year but very welcome. The birds are twittering all around, too high up to identify. I really should have learned the different birdsongs. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had the opportunity. I’d spent five years walking my retriever across fields and through the forest, watching him dive-bomb the bushes looking for rabbits or wading into streams looking for fish. I’m sure he knew every blade of grass; I could have learned the birdsongs while he did that if I hadn’t been so lazy.

Bluebells were Dad’s favourite wild flower and each anniversary of his death I take a bunch of them to his grave. I remember him joking about it on his sick bed, saying he wanted to die at the right time so they could be placed on his coffin. So you can understand why I just have to do it.

Dad always maintained he disliked weeds yet when I reminded him that bluebells were weeds and that he’d never planted one in his life he argued, saying bluebells were not weeds. Weeds, he retorted, are simply flowers that nobody wants. Naturally I had a go back but it was only in fun. That’s the sort of relationship we had.

‘Don’t argue with your father, Susan,’ Mom would say, as if I was a five year old. She could never take our baiting as a joke thing. If I was to take situations seriously at that awful time I would have sobbed all over Dad’s clean sheets.

Emphysema is an ugly disease. Heartbreaking, too. Dad tried to keep a smile in place but we could see how hard it was. He’d suffered for a long time and towards the end he hadn’t the strength to get out of bed. Dennis and I went to see him as often as we could although it was quite difficult for my better half to see a once hearty man so frail.

There’s a lot to think about as I walk along the rough path, through the forest of tall trees to the little glade where the bluebells would be widespread. I step over the tiny bubbling stream that meanders through the woods. A few more steps and I’ll reach the lake. I’ve been coming here for ten years now, ten years since Dad died. That was when my sun ceased to shine.

Why him? That’s a question I often ask. And why me? What did I do to warrant losing my very best friend? Oh what memories that statement evokes! Happy days, happy years! We only ever fell out once and that was so awful we vowed we’d never argue over differences again. If it wasn’t for him, though, I’d have left home years before I actually did.

Marriage took me away. Marriage to a man so like my Dad in many ways. Dear Dennis, thoughtful, kind and generous. His happy smile can penetrate my foulest mood. From the start of our relationship he quite skilfully managed to dispel my jaded outlook.

Dennis is the one who discovered the bluebells in the wood. He has an eye for flora and fauna, has Dennis. Just like my Dad. Mom didn’t understand Dennis, but then I don’t think she understood any man. She thought he was toffee-nosed and probably too good for me. How’s that for faith in her daughter’s choice? She had a grumble every time we popped in to see them. My Dad often told her to lighten up, after which she’d go into a lengthy sulk that entailed not speaking to any of us for months.

It wasn’t until Dad died that I discovered Mom was ill. She’d been suffering silently, cancer ridden and determined to hide it for as long as she could. No wonder she was miserable. She vehemently refused chemo and it took Dad’s demise to make me realise her motive.

I don’t put bluebells on Mom’s grave. She gets the red roses that Dad planted in my garden. I remember when the first buds started to form, not too long after the bluebells finished. Dad was doing a spot of weeding. ‘Got to take care of the roses,’ he said, ‘one day they’ll be needed for more than just a pretty scene.’ It was then he told me that Mom’s favourite flower was the rose. I never knew that. It’s amazing what we don’t know about our parents. Anyway, it transpired that when he proposed to Mom he gave her a single red rose, wrapped by the florist and adorned with a huge red ribbon. It was St Valentine’s Day. When she died it was my task to sort out her belongings. That’s when I found the rose, pressed and placed in an old diary, completely devoid of entries except for the words ‘to the brightest star who ignited my world’ in Dad’s distinctive handwriting.

How fabulous is that? I’d never have put either of them down as being romantic. Yes, it’s sad how little we know of our parents.

The sight before me is wondrous. The blanket of flowers between the pine trees just has to be God’s gift to me on this day. Bluebells en masse and a fragrance that never fails to astound me. Whilst listening to the robin’s song I place the basket on a tuft of grass and kneel to collect flowers for my Dad.

The peacefulness of this place encourages memories. I can go for months without reflecting back but here in the wood, surrounded by nature’s offerings, my mind switches back all those years. It’s like washing out the mind, dredging the clutter that modern living brings, rinsing away historic segments like ‘if’ and ‘why’. It’s here that peace settles around me, sweet recall replacing the angst that death creates.

The basket is full of bluebells and some pine cones from last year’s droppings. I have a flask of water ready for when I place the flowers in the urn and there’s a prayer for my Dad playing in my mind. Ten years! In a couple of months I’ll be cutting roses for my Mom. I hope she isn’t plaguing Dad too much in their own private heaven.