Friday, 27 November 2015

Black Friday

I think of myself as an ex-shopper. 
I got caught up in the rampant enjoyment of shopping in the 90s especially as we lived near the new, glitzy and vast Gateshead MetroCentre.
I soon realised that the happiness gained from shopping is at best fleeting, and I stopped. 
But recently my girlfriends were reminiscing about a trip we made to the Cotwolds. 
“I liked Bourton on the Water.”
“Is that where Clare got the cake-icing nozzle?”
“No, that was Stow on the Wold.  Bourton on the Water was where she got that pottery dish.”
“I thought Stow on the Wold was where she got that metal sign to go on her house.”
“No, I can’t remember where that was.”
I listened in silence. Clearly still more of a shopper than I realised then.

And just in case I thought I was cured, along comes Black Friday.
I meant to support “Buy Nothing Friday”.  So much more in tune with my anti-shopping  ideals.
But the notion that I could be in town filling Christmas stockings at a huge discount was having its effect on me.  It was as if the shops were a giant magnet and I was wearing a brace on my teeth.
I whizzed in and bought five carefully-chosen items.  I was nearly back at the car park when I ran into Georgia who looked impressed and said
“Wow – you’ve bought loads.”
Not really, I thought.  But then, when I caught sight of myself in Wilko’s window -  I could see that the two bags I was carrying looked huge.  In fact, it was just two very bulky fleece blankets, not the dazzling stash of dozens of items that it appeared to be.

Oh well, my reputation as a big shopper continues……

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Bird House

For some, coming home to a waggy dog is the perfect end to the day. For others, a cat which entwines itself.
As for me, I’m happy with my own company.
Since the weather got colder I have had a strong urge to put out the bird feeders.
And the birds, previously aloof, have been reminding me too. 
From my desk I see our local flock of starlings eating berries from our yew; the blackbirds from the cotoneaster.
Finally at the weekend, I hung out the birdfeeders.
The first time in our new home.
It took just one day for the birds to discover them.  To robins, blue tits, great tits and coal tits, we are now the local Tescos.
It also took just one day for two squirrels to unhook the squirrel-proof feeder (name on the pack – “the Fortress”), and then carefully unscrew the lid. 
They then scooped out the peanuts with their little hands.
BUT instead of eating them, they began to bury them in various parts of the lawn.
And now I’m sitting here worrying that it is a metaphor for something.
Maybe I should get a dog.

Sunday, 22 November 2015


I had plans for the weekend.
I had to cancel them.
After work next week, I was supposed to be driving to Cornwall for my mum’s birthday.
I’ve had to tell her that I’ve postponed.
By Sunday evening, I have even had to acknowledge that I am not going to manage to get up at crack of dawn and do the 45 minute rush hour drive tomorrow morning. I have rung in sick.

I have a cold.
I haven’t had a bad cold for ages.
I had begun to think I was invulnerable.  Working in a school of over 1,000 boys, I believed I had developed a cast iron immune system.
I was wrong. 
And now I am achey and shivery and sniffly.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Bedside Cabinet

Very conscious that Carenza is now in her third and last year of university, I took the opportunity to visit her.  I had asked her if I should bring anything.  The request was for a bedside table.  I obtained one for a tenner from Emmaus.  It was heavy.
When Carenza was a tiny baby, my friend Jennie asked “Where’d you get this little fairy one?”
It felt a bit like that as I followed Carenza round college.   I could see people wondering what this dark, stumpy woman had to do with Carenza.  I grinned at them in a friendly and witless manner.  But in the end I proved my worth, managing to purchase a sandwich in Hall in spite of a melee of Diwali celebrations and Indian dancing.  Nobody else could have done it.
But we still hadn’t managed to get the bedside cabinet up to her room.
Accompanying Carenza, I discovered the story of her day.  There had been the elections for the new president of the college.  I met the soon-to-be new president.  She was lovely.  Carenza’s time as president was nearly at a close.  And running the elections had been a great deal of work.
Her friend, Chris, told her to get a rest.
I said, “Umm.  There’s this bedside cabinet…”
He got it out of the back of my car and carried it to the lift.  The lift was broken.  He carried it to the third floor.  He even offered to carry with it the bottle of spirits I was clutching (long story).  While carrying the cabinet he also attempted to hold doors for us and was flawlessly polite.

Thank you, Chris.  While there are people like you, the Spirit of Hugh Grant will never die.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


One of my earliest non-dates with Nigel, back in the days when we were just good friends, was to attend a firework display together.  It was fun.  A year and a half later, Nigel and I started going out together around fireworks night (1983).  
We never missed a fireworks night.
Then we had babies.  
People said they would be terrified by the loud explosions and bright flashes.  
But we tried it.  
The twins in their backpacks and Pascoe caught safely by a mittened hand, they loved it, eyes open like saucers.
We used to go to the magnificent display at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, then, when we moved to the South East, to Verulamium Park. 
Then came the teen-age years.  
We had to find pyromaniac grown-up friends to go with as our children wanted to go with their mates.  Twice in the pitch black melee of thousands of people we found ourselves standing right next to an outraged Perran with his pals looking shifty.
Pascoe would still sometimes humour us and come with us, and we would hear through the (to us) impenetrable blackness, other youngsters calling “Hello Pascoe”.
Last night, he was back from Edinburgh and came with us again.  Dan travelled up from London and joined us too.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Stately Home

As becomes a couple of sad old empty nesters, Nigel and I have joined the National Trust
“Look at this one, he says as he peruses the website, “It’s got a knot garden and a Jacobean gallery,”
“But has it got a tea shop?” I ask anxiously.
“…and a corbelled garderobe and gargoyles…”
“What exactly are the opening hours of the cafĂ©?”
Over the last two weeks I have visited five National Trust properties ranging from the woodland of the Ashridge Estate to the splendidly unchanged Chastleton House, used for filming “Wolf Hall”. 
“To think, that lovely Mark Rylance may have stood on this very spot.  I should think that he was as disappointed as I am that there isn’t a tea room!”

But the historic property where I had most fun was not National Trust at all.  It was the Red Lodge Museum in Bristol, where Perran took me.  The fact that there was no tea room there nearly ruined everything, but the day was saved by an unexpected opportunity to play Boogie Woogie harpsichord.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


We have not yet been six months in our new house.  But one of the things we couldn’t fail to notice was the wasps’ nest in the roof.  The other thing we couldn’t fail to notice was that we had a second wasps’ nest in another part of the roof.
In a time when bees are in short supply, wasps are useful pollinators.   Pollinators or not, we didn’t want to get stung.  So bravely I sent Nigel up to investigate.  The nests were within the construction of the roof and not in the loft space, and therefore not a threat.
We decided to leave them to thrive.  
We would plug the holes in the Autumn after they had left.  
And not eat any jam in the garden.  
It would not cause any problems.
However, the wasps were entering the house through a loophole in a window frame.  Quite soon, they died and dropped down without causing any trouble.  
Earlier in the summer, the wasps were tiny and quite cute. No threat at all.
But as the season draws to its close, the beasts have become more substantial with now record-sized wasps zipping about the house in an unpredictable and threatening manner.  
They behave as if they are outraged that mammals have built a nest in THEIR house.

I no longer feel quite so much of a conservationist.  
Now, where’s the Raid?