Thursday, 29 January 2015

Over The Hedge

I told a little of the place of my childhood in this post a few days ago.  About the people and the place in which I grew up.  I spoke of the third part of the village, 'the path to a hidden treasure'.

Bigbury has something very special that I would like to share with you:

At the very bottom of the garden hidden away behind the chicken house there was a gap in the fuchsia hedge. If you scrambled up the slippery moss covered bank and pushed the branches aside it was possible to jump down into the field below.

In the early autumn there is a magical moment just as the sun rises when a mist steals up from the sea and rolls across the field like waves breaking on the shore.

As the sun grows in strength the mist shimmers and evaporates.

Autumn is the season for mushroom picking. Overnight delicate white capped field mushrooms with velvety brown pleated underside spring up on the brow of the hill that leads to the valley

Beyond the brow of the hill a swathe of green sweeps down towards the sea.

From a very young age I would take off across this field and head for the beach.  Many of the beaches on the South Devon coast are linked by cliff paths and so I would beach hop between the two closest to where we lived.

Challaborough, the smaller of the two beaches is set in a deep rift at the bottom of the valley a patchwork of fields dotted with sheep stretching high above.  Challaborough also boasted a Caravan park.  

The caravans when I was young were mostly small and a little dingy but for me the place held the thrall of the holiday maker!  People from all over the country, from towns and cities, people with different accents, some from different countries.

It was exciting, vibrant, different and for a couple of months each year I would savour that difference. 

These were people who didn’t know my name.  People who didn’t know I wasn’t one of them. People who weren’t one of us.

There was little to do in Challaborough other than sit on the sand or swim in the sea but there was a small café, The Dolphin and as I grew older the influx of summer workers to the area became part of the lure.  

Summer meant new faces. Summer meant boys!  Teenagers working through the summer, Boys to practise newly acquired flirting skills on and, sometimes, to share an illicit, innocent kiss.

Along the steep, sandy cliff path bordered by rocks lay the next cove.  

This was the third part of the village I've spoken of before, Bigbury on Sea.

By the carpark  was a large café  where I spent the summer after my 14th birthday working.  A few gift shops set in the rock beside the steep stone steps that led to the sands and, to one side lay the Tom Crocker, a restaurant at the end of an indoor walkway in which a village scene had been fabricated.  Little cottages with roses around the door but, if you looked through the windows all that could be seen was the blank wall of the walkway behind.  

On the outside, a holiday makers village idyll, on the inside, bare brick.

When the tide was out the sand stretched in a wide golden band across to the jewel in the crown of our little seaside village.  

Burgh Island is approximately 2 miles square.  It boasts the most beautiful 1920’s Art Deco hotel.  The Pilchard, a quaint stone built pub and, at that time a small gift shop come café.

There is a path running past all of this and it winds it way around the island to a ruined chapel at the top which was at one time part of a Monastery.

Burgh Island is deserving of a post of it's own.  It's history is fascinating.  It's been visited by the rich and the famous from The Beatles to Churchill (who it is said met Eisenhower there in the run up to the D- Day invasion) Edward and Mrs Simpson, Noel Coward and many more as well as being the location for many films and drama series.

When the tide is out you can walk the half mile across the sand to the island and, when the tide is in, you take the sea tractor!  The sea tractor is a mighty beast with steps up to the open platform, just a couple of railings to stop you falling the 15 feet into the sea below.

When I was very young the Island was owned by my best friend Lucy's parents.  The hotel was a very different place to the beautifully restored, very exclusive 1030's retreat it is now but it had a certain shabby charm and was a part of the community in a way that sadly seems to have been lost.

Many of the things from my childhood have disappeared.  The scramble of eclectic gift shops no longer line the stone steps.  The Tom Crocker and village street are long gone, converted into exclusive and very expensive holiday apartments.  The hotel on the island is surrounded by security fencing and no longer accessible to the curious holiday maker but the sea tractor remains and, if you look past the modernisation and 'improvement' you can still see the Bigbury of my childhood.  The rocks around the island where we used to take out a boat to fish for mackerel and sea bass, the rock pools teaming with sea life, the golden sands remain unchanged and the tide still sweeps in from both sides of the island twice a day.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Where Are You From

When I’m asked this question I pause, where am I from?

I have lived in many places but only really felt I belonged in one.

"I first wrote this post almost four years ago but events of the past few days have had me yearning for some kind of comfort and a return to the days where everything felt complete, the unthinkable couldn't happen and everyone I cared about was safe."

 My formative years were spent in a variety of places from Scotland to Australia but if home really is where the heart is, then I am from South Devon.

I spent much of my childhood on and off in a small seaside village in South Devon. This is the village where my Grandparents lived, the village in which my Mother grew up.

It was our base, our security. When everything else fell apart around us (as it frequently did) this is where we would run.  Sometimes it was in between moves (My Father was in the Navy), sometimes for holidays and when I was 9 and my parents marriage broke up we moved back there to live.

The village  is split into 3 parts.  The start of the village is called St Anns Chapel, I'm not sure why.  Maybe there was a chapel there at some point but if so, it's long gone. There is a Pub, the Pickwick Inn although I believe the name has been changed in recent years, a  shop where you could buy just about everything and a small group of houses.  There used to be a small gift shop selling little ornaments with 'A Gift from Devon' stamped on them and sticks of Rock with Devon right through the center.

 A little further down the road, before you get to the village proper was the small group of mismatched houses where we lived.

My Grandparents had  built a long low bungalow on a large plot of land  they bought when they first married.

The bungalow was split into two  parts. The main house from which my Grandmother ran their Bed and Breakfast business during the Summer months and a small annex with one bedroom.  This annex they used to rent out to a gentleman, Mr Price, I never did know his story.  He was always smartly dressed and very proper. He used to buy us liquorice stick sometimes, not the black sticky commercial kind but real twigs that when you chewed them had a strong liquorice taste.

There were 4 houses on our side of the road.  Next door lived an elderly lady, Mrs Warren who used to be the village midwife. Her son reputedly lived with her but in all the years I lived there I never saw him.  She was very much a loaner but sometimes she used to stop and talk to me  and once she gave me a painted wooden train that had belonged to her son.  In return I picked her a bunch of Sweet William from my Grandmothers garden and left them on her doorstep.

Across the road  in the old police house lived Uncle Max and Auntie Mary. The police house was a large imposing building with a beautiful garden.  They weren’t really our Aunt and Uncle but as in the familiar way of country life we had many ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncles’ in the village.

They were an extremely dashing pair. The epitome of 1940’s chic, an era they had obviously decided so suited them that they chose not to leave it.  Auntie Mary wore beautifully tailored linen slacks and crisp blouses and a scarf tied around her head and wrapped around her slender throat Grace Kelly style.  Uncle Max smoothed his abundant jet black hair back with Bay Rum Pomade and belted around the country lanes in his little red sports car with his golf clubs in the back.  they always seemed so happy, so in love, so full of fun and life.

A little further down the road was the church.  You could get  to get to it, either by road, or take the shortcut through the kissing gates and across the cornfield.  The corn of my youth was so much taller than today.  I may have been a lot smaller then but the corn reached my shoulders, waving its golden ears gently in the breeze alive with butterflies and ladybirds.

I spent a lot of time at and around the church as a child.  Granddad was a bell ringer and sometimes used to take me up to the bell tower, this was reached by a narrow staircase up the side of the building, he would let me pull on the ropes and laugh when I couldn't elicit a sound from them.

Every Sunday after Church he would go to the other pub in the village, The Royal Oak, for two halves of mild and a game of domino's. .  I don’t know why he never drank pints but it was always two halves

My Grandmother  the driving force in their marriage as so many women of her era were was a stickler for tradition.  Sunday lunch was served at one pm, never mind that Granddad was never home on a Sunday until 1:15.  One o’clock was lunchtime every other day of the week and so it was on a Sunday too. We would sit there waiting while our food cooled until Granddad, on the dot of the quarter hour made his appearance.

Granddad  also sometimes filled in for the local gravedigger (excuse the pun).  I would sit on a nearby grave and watch him first carefully remove the layer of grass exposing the rich soil underneath and then digging down, the earth in a neat pile beside him. I was fascinated by the way he seeming disappeared into the earth, almost as though he were being absorbed until only his flat cap was visible.

My Grandmother was in the privileged position of having a church window of her own.  This was a much coveted honour.  Every Harvest Festival, Christmas and Easter the church was decorated.  There was an unspoken rivalry between the ladies of the village to have the most spectacular window display.  Great boughs of holly and Ivy would be gathered at Christmas, offerings of  giant pumpkins, russet apples and sheaves of corn at harvest time.  Delicate bunches of primroses and daffodils filled the deep stone sills at Easter filling the dusty air with their perfume.

Next to the church was a house that always stood empty.  It was a three stories high, made of dark grey brick and stood in its own grounds.  At one time it had been a very grand manor  house but now it was neglected, empty and rather run down.  It had its own little stone stairway up to the church.  At the top of the stairway tucked under the hedge grew Violets, purple and white, tiny delicate flowers with a sweet, sweet scent.  But the best thing of all was hidden from view.  There was secret garden!  At one time it must have been magnificent but now it was overgrown and had fallen into decay. But to us it was a wonderland of small stone walls and bushes to play hide and seek.

Behind the garden was an orchard where, despite not having been tended for many years the small gnarled trees still bore an abundance of sweet rosy apples in the Autumn and we used to fill our pockets with them as fuel when we went exploring.

The second part of the village boasted the another pub, this was where Granddad would sup his ale on a Sunday after church.  There was also the local village shop and Post Office where they weighed out sweets by the ounce and broke up toffee with a hammer.  There was a garage attached to the shop where self service had never been heard of and Mr Bardons clad in his oily overalls would fill up your tank for you while discussing the weather or the price of fish or just about anything else you wanted to chat about.

The prettiest houses were in this part of the village. Proper chocolate box houses with thatched roofs and roses around the door.

Here, down a small winding lane lived Miss Pierce and Miss Burrows, the founders of the BCC, Bigbury Cheery Christians.  This was in the days before computers, games consoles or even morning television. When children were encouraged to be out all day everyday. They were well travelled ladies and their house was crammed with memorabilia from all over the world.  At Christmas the postman was laden with cards with exotic stamps from every corner of the globe.

These ladies drove around in a Morris Minor Woodie. This set them apart from the bread baking, flower arranging WI women of the village as most ladies of their age didn't drive.

The BCC was designed to encourage children to think of others. They told us tales of their travels, about the hunger and difficulties faces by many children in other countries.  They showed us how to be grateful for the things we took for granted. We used to go Primrose picking in the Spring and then deliver the bunches of flowers around the village.  To the elderly, the ill, new mothers, whoever these lovely ladies felt could do with a bit of cheering up or joy in their lives.

They used to provide our little mixed band of half a dozen children with squash and biscuits and devise treasure hunts in their garden which was full of little streams and waterfalls with winding pebble paths.

Our parents trusted us with these ladies and were no doubt, in part, grateful for the free babysitting service.  The ladies had an air of peace and contentment, a happiness that comes of a life well lived and no regrets.  They didn’t participate in the mainstream of village life, they were ‘different’ maybe slightly exotic although they were English to the core.  They had been to places and seen things which set them aside from the average villager but they were well liked and very much respected.

The third part of the village was about two miles further on down a long road with a very steep hill.

The path to a hidden treasure
This part of the village has a story of its very own which I will share in its own post another time.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Freda's Story - School Days

This is the third part of Freda's story and it focuses on her School Days.  The School she refers to is just around the corner from where I live and backs on to Victoria Park.

All of my children have attended this school.  Big D's father also went to Priory school which, in the 70's ,was an all boys school.  The school has in recent years been renamed St James Church School and extensively extended but the original school buildings where Freda was taught remain.

School Days.

I do remember that I couldn’t get to school fast enough. I can just remember Mother taking me on the first day to our local school, Priory School (now Arch Bishop Cranmer).

I stood on the playground some time ago and it has changed quite a lot. Standing there, I realised that Priory School was my world and growing up, everything revolved around it. I found the spot where the railing used to be to separate the boy’s playground from the girls, although we were a mixed school. Boys always sat at one side of the classroom, girls the other.

I noticed that the hopscotch bed was painted in red and circles to jump in and out of were there. I stood near the spot where we had drawn in thick chalk hopscotch beds, a half circle was drawn at the top and inside the circle it said ‘These beds belong to Freda Dawe and Margaret Walbutton’ . No others dare use them and around the playground many such beds were drawn with other names in but it worked. To be able to get a shiny tile for a hopscotch, was really something. As I stood there that evening I was aware of times sliding the hopscotch to the appointed square and then hopping to it. Simple games, but in those days, very challenging.

 One of the things I was not too fond of, was as beginners we were made to put down a little rush pad and then lay down to rest after the lunch break. I was always a fidget but dare not move as our teacher Miss Howlet would soon be looking down on you and harsh words would soon make you pretend to be sleeping.

Junior school was fun. Our Head Mistress was a Miss Wilson. I can still remember her fresh open face framed with curly hair, gentle and kind and always ready to take your hand.

The recreation ground, Victoria Park, was a useful sports ground with a ready made oval running track and grass. Sack races and lemonade made with lemon crystals and ginger biscuits, was quite a treat. Sports Days were always quite something. I’m afraid I never did well in sports but never shirked the challenge.

The senior school was great. The head master was Mr Fisher, a tall rugged man with a full round face with a deep cleft in it. I suspect he had had an abscess at some time.

Mr Fisher was a head master in a million. The seniors always referred to him as Dadda Fisher. If he found someone who had to be reprimanded he was very fair and hands were caned but never the girls, they were given words or essays at these times. He was called Father Fisher nevertheless he was highly respected. Every morning he took the assembly.

We all marched into the school hall with teacher Mrs Davis at the piano who always used the March of the Toreadors . Whenever I hear that piece of music I can still hear marching feet, as we used to form into lines ready to sing’ Brightly gleams our Banner’. Mr Fisher’s talk was always good, not too long, but always interesting. Someone was chosen to read from the Bible. They were told to read it with feeling. I still remember those words when ever the Bible reading is read in Church on a Sunday morning. We closed the Assembly with ‘Father, lead me day by day’ and marched out to our various classrooms once again to the ‘March of the Toreadors’.

Mrs Cunningham was my teacher in Standard 7. I think I owe such a lot to her teaching. She kept you on your toes. Before she called the register, she would say ‘Calm down girls, we will have five minutes mental arithmetic’. Not my best point, I always got the answer right but never quickly enough. I well remember Nora, who always got the answers quick as a flash. She had a mathematical mind. I have met her on several occasions now we are both older and she has told me the numbers game on Count Down is never a problem. And I understand she works the answers out as quickly as Carol Vorderman.

On some mornings Mrs Cunningham would change the format and would ask the class had we read anything special in the morning papers before coming to school. I am pleased to say I was much better at that and looked for interesting snippets in the press as well as political and worldly ones. I must say it did everyone good and kept us in touch with the news; a clever teacher was Mrs Cunningham.

Empire Day May 24th to be patriotic. My mother would make sure she grew red, white and blue flowers so that I could wear a button hole for Empire Day. We stood in the playground and the head boy would raise the union Jack and we all saluted and sang ‘I vow to thee my country’ and of course ‘Jerusalem’. This was followed by a pageant Mrs Cunningham wrote, one called Famous English women. I was chosen to be Mrs Pankhurst and carried a banner ‘Votes for Women.’ Wanting to do the part I studied the said Mrs Pankhurst and I vowed at the time if and when it was time to vote, I would always use it. I had quite a thing about Mrs Pankhurst and I can truly say in my adult life I always use my vote. Ah well I was an impressionable girl growing up. Well done Mrs Pankhurst.

As I have said maths were never my strong subject but I always did well in history and geography, maps and historical writing still appeal to me these days.

The school was always used for any Elections. My father being a staunch Liberal, would give a yellow rosette pinned proudly on my gymslip. Many of us would stand outside the school gates on Election day and sing ‘Vote,vote,vote for Mr Simpson’ the liberal candidate. I can’t remember if our efforts made him an MP. Mrs Cunningham wanted us to know how a General Election worked, and decided to have an Election in school. Candidates were chosen (not me I’m afraid) but I was chosen as the agent for one of the candidates, Vida Stance. I’m sad to say I can’t remember the subject for our election but nevertheless I had to arrange all the hustings and spent the most of my playtimes getting girls to come. I must say Vida was a great candidate, her speeches were well written and at least easy to understand.

As the agent, I had to see to the posters. Art is not my thing but I was lucky in finding among my friends one who came up trumps. As you no doubt realise, television was not invented in those days but nevertheless I did manage to get the two Candidates for a ‘head to head’.

The boys were for Vida who was quite an attractive girl so the boys took a shine to her, no matter whose side she spoke for. The election was a great success and it taught us such a lot in those days and I might add Elections have always been special to me.

I liked compositions and was always pleased when I was called upon to read what I had written and it was through that that I decided to write a play !! Mrs Cunningham read it and thought we ought to produce it. I was over the moon. It was not a great effort, as I remember, it was about a boarding school and a theft, nevertheless the girls formed a committee and decided to also arrange some other acts and charge 2 pence for entry and for it to take place after school at 4 o’clock. To add variety we did some monologues, solo piano playing and singing. A girl called Edna said she wanted to be Burlington Bertie.

A lot of us were doubtful but on the day she turned up with a top hat and a stick and Burlington Bertie was a great success and the tune could be heard throughout the school  was always quite something.

What are you going to do with the money we were asked. After consultation we decided on a new First Aid Box and Margaret and I were duly sent to Boots to purchase one . It was put in the First Aid place. There was a twist to the story. I was given a book to take to Mr Fisher. There was a veranda that went along one side and it was a blowy day. The veranda door was open and slammed just as I put my right hand out to save it. My hand went right through the pane of glass and blood gushed out freely. The first aid box (the new one), was fetched and every bandage in the box was used on my wrist and it was over to East Reach Hospital . The new First Aid box was empty! The cut was very severe and I still have the scar to prove it. Who said school days were dull days?

Poetry was one of Mrs Cunningham’s fortes and she always liked to support the local drama festival.

Margaret Wallbutton and myself were chosen to be the ones to represent the school at the festival. There was a special poem that was a must, and one chosen for yourself and I remember Mrs Cunningham giving me a book called the ‘Ring of Words’ to choose my poem from. I kept that book for as long as I could to read the poem written down. I chose for my choice John Masefield’s ‘I must go down the sea again to the lonely sea and the sky’. The one that was allocated was Walter De La Mare’s ‘Is there anybody there, said the traveller knocking at he moonlit door’. We practised this poem over and over,

Mrs Cunningham making sure we put the right emphasis on the various lines. I remember the points I got the very first festival was 85 which I thought was quite good. Needless to say Margaret got 87 and all the festivals we were entered in, Margaret always beat me by one or two points. I put it down to my Somerset accent and toned down over the years, but folk, even in my later years, can always hear the Somerset twang, but that’s just me; the dialect never leaves you.

I think back on those years and it left me always liking drama and I have since taken part in many plays and monologues. Ah well, it takes all sorts!

School trips were quite an event. I think the farthest we went was Glastonbury. Climbing up to the Tor seemed an adventure and of course the Abbey ruins were very special. I remember touching the broken arches, just the feel of it was quite something to me and even now I can only gaze in wonder at those glorious arches all built by manual labour, no cranes or mechanical devises in those days. We were taken once to the Sewage Works which was only a few minutes away from school. Mr Arnold was the man in charge. His daughter Cissy was a friend of mine. He would explain in every detail how the sewage department worked and always finished his tour by drinking a glass of water from tanks that had been treated, to prove how clean the water had become.

Compared to the trips, school arranges in these modern days, it doesn’t seem much but to us it was an outing that got us out of school.

The school library was one of my favourite places. The van would come from our public library and bring an assortment of books and we were allowed to borrow them. All this encourages you to join the public Library and it cost 1 penny per year. The system was quite strange, you entered the library but saw no books. You had to look in a catalogue book for the number of the book you required. On a very large board, if the book you had chosen was in red, the book was out. However if it was in blue, it was in and was duly issued.

 It was a peculiar way to get a book. I can only think it was a way of protecting the books from being stolen. I have always liked books and spent a lot of time just looking and taking time to sort one out. I just like the feel of them.

 Our Head Master, Mr Fisher, always encouraged us to read. He set me a project in my last year at school to study boats through the ages. I started with the coracle and read numerous books about boats. Although I liked History I didn’t find this particular project very exciting but Mr Fisher thought it was OK.

 July 1932 it was time to leave school. All I knew was that I didn’t want to leave but 14 was the age you left and so be it. I only know I cried and cried saying goodbye to Mrs Cunningham and Mr Fisher and my Mother, bless her, understood my feelings. I know my contemporaries thought I was a softy as most of them were quite happy to leave.

 As I wasn’t 14 until the end of August I wasn’t allowed to go to work. My Aunt and Uncle who always had a holiday with us took me back with them to spend the August month with them. In these days it would be a ‘gap’ month. I had over the years spent quite a few holidays in London and my cousin John would take me to well known places.

My Uncle and Aunt lived in North London in a flat in Manchester Mansions in Surryset Road. Running along the top of the road was Hornsey Rise which led out to the top of Archway Road.I got to know the area very well especially when I made friends with other girls in the
flats. Ethel Gilbert was a bit special and we would walk to Waterloo Park at the top of the Archway Road. Just outside the gate was a big Catholic Church, St Joseph Retreat.

It was immense inside and we would creep into the church wide eyed, tiptoeing down the aisle and look in amazement at the highly ornate alter and being scared when we saw a nun coming out of the confessional box. We started giggling and felt a tap on our backs; a nun with a long stick was the culprit. We soon got out of the church.

On a Saturday I would catch the number 14 bus outside a pub called The Favourite and it would take me to Tottenham Court Road. The stop was the Dominion Picture House or Theatre. From there I would walk to Bedford Square where my cousin’s office was and wait for him to leave work. Then we would have a snack somewhere and go off to some exciting visit. When I think back to how confident I was, to do this little journey was amazing. Today, parents would be afraid to let a young girl experience such a trip. I think the young folk miss out a lot of learning to be independent.

In those times, John took me to the Kensington Museum, The Tower of London, the Zoo, the Palace, all of which gave me much pleasure and the memories are still with me.

My Uncle worked for Sir John Benson whose premises were in New Bond Street. In his time he had cleaned and polished many of the royal tiaras and was locked in a basement room when such jewels were being handled. Sometimes I would take the bus again and get off in Oxford Street and make my way to New Bond Street and wait outside the Benson shop. I was always fascinated by the rooms above the shop as it was the Elizabeth Arden beautician shop and whilst waiting for uncle I would see many ladies come and go. I only saw one famous one whose name I have forgotten.

Uncle was a tall man and had been quite handsome in his day but still looked very distinguished in his homberg hat. I would take his hand and we would take the bus, I believe it was to Clerkenwell, anyway it was the centre of the diamond business. Uncle would have hundreds of pounds worth of diamonds in his pocket to deliver. I never knew this at the time. Many years after I was told this, the object being, no one suspected a gentleman with a little girl holding onto his hand would be carrying such precious stones.

I wonder if the ploy would work today.

Looking back those times spent in London was quite an education and no doubt stood me in good stead in my adult years.

The first two parts of Freda's story can be found here:

The Early Days and

My Parents

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Because Sh*t Happens

Today The Lounge is being hosted by Musings of the Misguided and this week it's all about school.

I have a few school related post lurking in the archives so I had a bit of a trawl through them and came across this.

It pretty much sums up my relationship with my children's schools and, as Miss Mac is now in year 11 and school days will soon be at an end in this house, it fills me with a certain amount of wistful nostalgia ...


'I brought this in for Miss Mac' I said sliding the bag across the reception desk.

The school receptionist looked at me, I looked at her and then, for a few moments, we both silently contemplated the bag of gently steaming dog shit on the desk in front of us.

'Tough morning?' she enquired sympathetically?

'Oh like you WOULDN'T believe' I burst out so incredibly grateful for a listening ear.

'First of all there was the accident with the potato farl which was entirely Big D's fault for stealing half my breakfast but then, who knew drop kicking a potato farl could inflict that kind of injury? I mean I know it was frozen and all that but SO much blood'.

'Then, on the way here, Gus (my Border Collie NOT one of my children!)  decided to take a crap in the open driveway of a house where the family had  (up until that point) appeared to be enjoying a late breakfast and I had to stand there grinning inanely like the Cheshire bloody cat waving poo bags to indicate my willingness to clean up after my disgusting animal while he grunted and groaned tottering about leaving a line of little turds in his wake' .

'And of course, I didn't slept well last night because I couldn't get the vision of that evil goat out of my head and then when I did doze off ....'

I trailed off realising I'd mistaken weary resignation for sympathy.

'Well umm, I'll just take this then shall I and ummm .... leave?' I said and, with enormous dignity I picked up my warm bag of shit and made my way to the door.

'Oh Mrs Mac' she called sweetly, 'aren't you forgetting something?'

Ah ...

I walked back to the desk and replaced the bag of dog shit with the bag I was still clutching in my other hand containing a clean shirt and underwear for Miss Mac (chocolate milkshake related incident at break time).

I like to think I generally have a fairly GOOD relationship with my children's school (quickly skipping over both the Pimms episode which was entirely NOT my fault, I mean, who offers vodka laced Pimms at the BEGINNING of a long meeting and then expresses surprise when you get up and wander off half way through and try to vault over the wall in the garden and I SO nearly made it ...  or time I declared I was dying in a field of daffodils!) and it's beyond me why my children feel the need to constantly stand out from the crowd!

School assemblies, nativities and open evenings seem to be the times when they shine the most.

More than 20 years later the wailing of Big D can still echos in the corridors completely drowning out Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer as he bawled, 'Don't wanna be a reindeer in tights - wanna wear trousers like a BIG boy!!!'

I've always suspected my children may have hidden musical ability so, when Miss Mac expressed an interest in leaning the guitar one was purchased and lessons were signed up for.

A few weeks later she proudly announced that she and a friend would be taking part in a sharing assembly.

'Umm, ok, but haven't you only had a couple of lessons?' I asked.

'We've been practising LOADS' she smiled.

Clearly she was a child prodigy (something I had long suspected!).

I took my place in the very centre of the front row.

Plink, plink, plink, plink ....

I looked around proudly as they warmed up.

Plink, plink, plink plink, plunk!

Plink, plink, plink plink, plunk!

Plink, plink, plink plink, plunk!

This went on for some time....

I looked around encouragingly at the other parents.

plink, plink, plunk, plink.

plink, plink, plunk, plink.

I bit the inside of my cheek and dug my nails into my leg.

My eyes started to water.

 I gulped really hard and then ....

I snorted like a pig!!!

plink, plink, plinkety, plunk ...

Would this NEVER end???

Three of the LONGEST hours later (ok, it was probably only about 4 minutes in reality but it FELT like three hours!) they paused and the teacher, god bless her soul, rushed over to the girls and congratulated them totally straight faced on a wonderful performance whilst fortunately the over enthusiastic clapping of the crowd drowned out this proud mothers howls of hysterical mirth.

Unfortunately all this praise went slightly to the head of the other little girl who eagerly announced.

'We know another song!'

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Freda's Story part two - 'My Parents'

Last week I published the first part of Freda's story 'The Early Days'.

Today I am sharing the second part where Freda tells about her parents.  Clearly Freda had a very happy home life where, although things weren't always easy, there was always plenty of love.

My Parents

My mother was born in London and was in service when she met my father who was

working in The Strand Hotel where he had joined his uncle. Mother was a lovely lady and

was called Christina Alice Mary Floyd. Her father gave her a nick name when she was

quite small, it was Chummy. He said it was because she was always chummy to everyone.

From that time on she was always called Chum by her brothers and sister, to the nieces

and nephews it was always Aunt Chum. I really think she would have answered to Alice,

but the name was never used at any time in her life. I must add it really suited her,

everyone was welcomed with open arms; her home was a haven for anyone who needed

help and her brothers and sisters loved her very much.

I consider myself very lucky to have so much love lavished on me. I do know that

sometimes I didn’t deserve it and was duly reprimanded at such times.

Mum and Dad fell on hard times in London with two children to support and dad was out

of a job. My sister Eva, who was very small, developed rickets and was in Great Ormond

Street Hospital for many weeks. They were told she would only live for a few weeks or

if lucky a few years. However she duped them and lived until she was 86. With all this


trauma coming at once, mum and dad decided to come back to Taunton. This was a big

move for Mother who, as a little girl, had been sent to Watchet to live with her uncle

Nicol but she was never happy there and never wanted to leave London after that.

I was always pleased to hear Mother tell of her time in Watchet. She told of the

time when she took her uncle’s lunch box to him. He was the driver of the old Mineral

Line train and he would let her on the footplate as far as Washford and then she would

walk back along the line. On Sunday Uncle Nicol was a Methodist Local preacher and his

wife, Mother’s Aunt Jane would take her along to the chapel. Mother had always been

deaf and used to fidget in the pew not knowing what was happening and Aunt Jane would

pinch her to make her sit still. It put poor Mother off going to church for many years.

Running errands all the time while her cousins were at home, made her feel very isolated

and she could not wait to get back to London. Now she was off to Taunton, never having

met any of father’s family. But they came and managed to get a little cottage in the Brick

Yard in South Street. Unfortunately, being deaf, conversation was very limited and she

was not accepted very well and added to that, she was a Cockney!!! The family settled

down and father found a job at McFisheries the fishmongers in the High Street, wages

10 shilling a week plus food.

 Mother was left with the 10s to pay rent, feed herself and Marjory and Eva who

were growing fast and had to be clothed too. I have heard Mother say that very often by

mid-week the money had run out but she always managed to feed the girls, but often for

herself she would have to make do with a slice of bread spread with lard and there were

times when father would keep a shilling or two for his glass of ale.

They struggled on and although Father knew nothing of the fish trade, he caught

on quickly and a year or two later McFisheries opened a shop in North Street. Father

applied for a job and as he had some experience, was offered the job of head salesman

and that resulted in a higher wage. It was then that the house in St Augustine Street

came up for rent and Mother went for it and we have lived there ever since. Furniture

could not be afforded, just the basic table and chairs. The front room (now a lounge) only

had a palm stand in the window with an aspidistra in it, so that the room looked furnished

from the outside. After about three or four years I was born.

When it was time for me to go to school Mother looked for work. Taunton was a

good town for work as there were two or three factories making shirt collars for men etc

and although mother had always been in service she managed to get a job at the Pool Wall

factory which stood at the top of High Street and made Radial shirts which were very

well known throughout the country at that time. She had to be trained never having

worked a machine in her life but soon became a ‘button holer’ and was quite good at it.

She was a good worker and she worked on piece work and became very efficient and

found friends there too. I was taken to school and then it was off to work, quite a step.

She would rush home lunch time to get our meal and then back again until she left at six.

It was a long day but from then on there was

always food on the table and gradually the house became furnished.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

I Am A Work Of Art (although slightly abstract ...)

I suddenly remembered that I'd done a follow up to this post (re-posted a couple of days ago) last year to chart how my work in progress was coming along so it only seems right that I re-post this one too so you can see the huge improvement and changes that can be wrought in just a few days!

I'm sure you will be impressed ...

I Am A Work Of Art (although slightly abstract ...)

Well, it's the 14th of January so I thought I'd do a brief recap on my previous post and see how I'm getting on so far.

It seems I am, to be honest, still a bit crap at most things …

I am though making more effort to remove my make up at night and have invested in various elixir of youth in an attempt to stop my face collapsing into folds and creases but I haven't yet started to plait my hair before bed so Brian May lives on (have also avoided hair net and bed socks so far).

Have not had my sincerity tested yet but have spent some considerable time avoiding situations where it might be put into question which is almost the same thing isn't it?

Have not held any dinner parties impromptu or otherwise.

Have not called round to see neighbour who has/had tin foil as would then have to confess to having lost huge bunch of keys.

Have not (inexplicably) been invited to any dinner parties semi formal or otherwise, worn a dress, exposed my tits or drunk dessert wine.

Have checked out Joe Brown catalogue and considered buying thing that chops eggs into neat slices before remembering that have a strong aversion to hard boiled eggs and might perhaps do better investing in a jacquard waistcoat.

Have not worn a dress at all as too bloody cold/wet at the moment and so have not bought flesh coloured slip to languish at back of underwear drawer as token, never to be worn, decency item of underwear and have spent Christmas M&S voucher on gourmet chocolates and cycling shorts. (to be worn whilst actually cycling rather than as supplementary underwear for too short dresses)

Eaten all the strawberry and orange creams (as well as the caramels) from the secret box of Roses hidden in the cupboard under the stairs …

Have dressed appropriately on almost every occasion so far this year i.e. waders, muffler and balaclava.

Have not bought cardigan or given away chocolates or plucked eyebrows or cleaned carpets …

In addition I HAVE/WILL:

Spent a frantic half hour searching house and shed for bike before remembering I'd left it chained up outside Sainsburys the night before. (Also still pace the bike racks of town trying to identify my bike when I've remembered I've cycled in. Have not, as yet, invested in colourful scrunchie (as suggested by K) to slip over handle bar for easy identification.)

Developed an aversion to the automatic doors in Debenhams which have a slight delay and wait until the moment that I can't stand the indecision any more and reach out to push them before opening outwards towards me and smacking me in the face.

Decided to teach 14 (almost 15) year old daughter responsible dressing rather than responsible drinking as seems more age appropriate and responsible parenting - obviously having considered hair net, flesh coloured slip and a cardigan I am now fairly confident in my expertise in this area.

Observe that 14 year old daughter is almost without fail always appropriately dressed and realise that have apparently already taught her this valuable lesson perhaps by osmosis or something and feel slightly smug.

Wonder if others (like that man who stood in front of me rocking back and forth as I drank my coffee the other day) are also attempting to absorb my wisdom by process of osmosis AND if in fact this DEPLETES my wisdom or is it infinite? (in which case of course I'm happy to share but in fact suspect that they are STEALING it which might explains why I am so crap at most things or would at least absolves me of some responsibility for being so crap).

Thanked SD profusely for rehanging my bathroom door as the pin in one hinge had broken and it rubbed on the floor without pointing out that it now rubs on the top of the frame and is not exactly FIXED but is at least different as remembered from dog training book that one must always give praise for effort.

Remember to go online to book appointments for parents evening at end of month with Miss Mac's teachers and attempt to be slightly less smug in the fact that Miss Mac obtained 14 A's (and 2 predicted A*) in her report and an achievement award for excellence (attempted smuglessness … failed dismally ...) as this is possibly in spite of rather than because of positive parenting efforts and, after futile search of wardrobe for suitable, responsible parent outfit to wear to parents evening consider asking if I can borrow monks robe (or similar) from disapproving wife of over privileged wanker.

Stop reading Helen Fielding as have clearly (presumably also by osmosis) picked up Bridget Jones diary style format of blog posting (although as pointed out by the delectable Feisty Cat am sexier, funnier and a much better hostess!) but will attempt to revert to more 'Fudge' style in future. (am also slightly disillusioned with latest offering from Fielding as she inexplicably jumped almost 20 years, killed off Mark Darcy and turned Daniel Cleaver into a pathetically caricatured shadow of his former self which, should I continue to absorb, could lead to similar in own life).

Become a better person.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Legacy

Today The Lounge is being hosted by Robo and the theme is people - treasures, horrors and anyone in between.

I am also going to link this post up with Ann from 'Help!! I'm Stuck!!' for things I know this week because I know that I was very lucky to know and have Freda in my life and I'd like to share her story with as many people as possible.

Also, having just discovered the Six Little Hearts weekend linkup through Ann I'm also going to share this post there too.

This is an easy one for me (although I know a few horrors too!).  I've been wanting to tell Freda's story for a while now and this is the perfect place to start.


Many years ago when I was in my early 20's we moved into this house in which I now sit.

Myself, my young son (now big D), his father, my partner and lifelong friend, The Demon.

I remember being terrified.  The first of my friends to make such a huge commitment.  While most of them were still out clubbing, having fun, travelling, spending all their money on make up and good times here I was settling down with a child and a mortgage and I really didn't know if I was grown up enough for the job.

We moved into a house which needed lots of work doing to it (and it still does!).  We had very little in the way of furniture but what we did have was enthusiasm, hope and love.

We also had something else, something that I wasn't expecting, something that for many years was a constant source of comfort, advice, dependability and joy.

After a long morning carrying furniture and boxes, cleaning and sorting there was a knock at the door.

I opened it to find a tiny elderly lady standing on the path bearing a beautifully laid tray complete with cups, saucers, a jug of milk, a plate of biscuits and a steaming teapot.

'Welcome to our neighbourhood, my name's Freda and I live at number 13'.

I can't begin to tell you how much Freda came to mean to me.  A lady of such compassion, kindness and faith.   A lady who knew everyone and everyone loved and I was lucky enough to call her my neighbour and dear friend for many years.

There is so much I could tell you about Freda, so many happy memories and so much sadness that she isn't still here.

Freda's life was fascinating, she thought herself very ordinary but she was extraordinary in so many way.

Her story is best told in her own words and it's my privilege to share the first part of Freda's story with you:

Freda’s Book

So many people have said to me, have you ever written down your life story? No, I
have replied. What is there to write about? I have always thought of my life as normal,
uninteresting, in fact, mundane, but at last I have decided to write about my life and
times. So be it. You, who care to read it, must make up your own minds!!

Early days

I was born in St Augustine Street No. 7, (later it became 13 when the council decided
to make our side of the street odd numbers). I might add that my mother, who was
very suspicious of lucky numbers, was horrified that our number 7 had been changed to
number 13 and even went as far as to approach the council to see if it could be changed
to 11a!! But to no avail.

However, in the following months, a rep from Blue Cross matches called at number
13 and asked if Mother could produce a box of Blue Cross matches, which she readily did
and was awarded 10 shillings (50p), a lot of money in those days. She was delighted and
from that day on No 13 was a lucky house.

When I was born my Mother was aged 38 at the time. I had two sisters Marjory and Eva
who were 14 and 13 respectively and were out at work when I arrived on the scene. In
those days you left school at 13 and were thrown in right at the deep end, working full
hours every week. Eva was employed by the Somerset Manufacturing Co. owned by a Mr
Harold White. She became a very capable employee and was highly respected by her boss.
Nurses’ hats and collars were fashioned by her and she worked for the company for 60

As you can well imagine, I was thoroughly spoilt, having a doting mother and father
and two teenage sisters. My sister Eva always made my dresses, one I remember being
made of lavender material, trimmed with swansdown around the neck and sleeves, very
fetching. I still have the photo taken by Montague Cooper, a first class photographer,
wearing the said dress sitting on a country stile, very posh!

Marjory was the sister who looked after me.

Freda's 'book' is written in chapters detailing her life from the early days, through her childhood, her working life where she helped to twist and throw the twine used to make the nets for the 1966 World Cup and where she was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) for services to industry.  Stories of her travels with her great friend Daphne exploring  the Dolomite's, the Holy Land, Vienna and so much more. Her work and love for the Tempest Methodist Church especially her time teaching Sunday School. Freda never married but she did love and in the later chapters she talks about Bill who she describes as 'a very ordinary chap' Bill had chronic asthma, was a keen gardener and was, as Freda says, 'the love of my life'.

It's almost 4 years since Freda died.  Her house was sold by the church and extensively renovated by a builder before being sold.

Gone is the jaunty yellow paintwork, the tubs of flowers outside the door, the tinkling wind chime that swung from her greenhouse and that at times I swear I can still hear.

Replacing the original drafty sash windows are white UPVC double glazed units and the whole house has been spruced up and blends in with the others all in a row.

Living in it are a young couple.  They don't have children but they do have a small (slightly yappy) terrier.  They are nice people.  They always stop to say hello and last year they helped as we, as a community, cleared the back lanes (or ginnels as Freda would have called them) that run behind our houses and are often the recipient of garden waste and builders rubble.

I think Freda would have approved of them, I think she would have approved of the changes made to her house.  Freda didn't live in the past, she had too much to look forward to.

Freda's story is too big and too important for me to keep it to myself so I plan on sharing it one chapter at a time here on my blog so that others can read the story of my friend Freda and that will be my legacy to her.

Monday, 12 January 2015

I Am A Work In Progress

I actually started to write a post about de-cluttering but I got bored so I thought I'd take a look and see what I'd been bogging about this time last year.

To be honest, not much has changed so I thought I'd give this post another airing while I debate exactly HOW many pairs of jeans I really need (I'm thinking 16 IS a reasonable amount ...).
Hello, it's me …

Remember me … ??


Well, you are forgiven. It's been a while and I barely remember myself so here's a quick reminder (I was going to give it fancy Latin label but didn't want to be accused of being intellectual snob and also can't remember fancy Latin label … )

So, without any further ado:

'My name is Sarah and I am ( to be honest) a bit crap at most things ….'

I feel I should start with a confession (but I've already admitted to being a bit crap) ...

Or some resolutions for the new year …

Or maybe I'll just carry on regardless and hope you didn't notice I'd been gone (did you notice …??).

Fuckit I'll just combine the whole lot in the manner of someone creating a new recipe.

Who knows, maybe Fudge will become the new bread or sponge cake or Boeuf Bourguignon or, (as is more likely) a complicated knitting pattern.

Anyway, while I ponder that thought here are a few things I've been considering over the past weeks.

I will/will not/possibly should (but probably won't):
  1. Take off make-up after a night out so that do not wake up with scary black caverns in place of eyes in pale face in manner of Edvard Munch scream painting but with additional mad Brian May hair and may even start plaiting hair before bed to avoid mad Brian May look the morning after (although slightly concerned that this might just be a short hop to wearing a hair net and bed-socks ….).

  2. Will always (in the manner of Garfield) be sincere whether I mean it or not.

  3. Will ascertain how drunk SD really is on Christmas Eve an hour after leaving him unattended and semi sober in the pub BEFORE replying to his drunken friends who say – 'I hear you are cooking chicken – can I come to dinner' in case he really HAS invited them!

  4. Will not send joky text in reply to SD's drunken friends who ask – 'I hear you are cooking chicken for SD and Jon – can I come round too?' but will ignore them in dignified manner rather than say – 'of COURSE, the more the merrier!'

  5. Will not panic when get text saying – 'Cool – me, Mark, Ray, Eddy, Neil, Rick, Sam and Luke are on the way' and start frantically counting the legs on the chicken muttering 'why the fuck do they only have two???' or send back text saying 'bring your own chairs'.

  6. Will not run out of house (still wearing too short for casual day wear but  possibly ok for Christmas Eve in the pub dress ) and bang on neighbour round the corners door to borrow tin foil (and enquire about possible spare chicken legs) and return bearing tin foil, large roll of carpet, home-made chutney and a huge bunch of keys as clearly, other than home made chutney, cannot serve any of these to possible impending guests.

  7. Will not at semi formal dinner party (obviously NOT mine ...) refer to or even think of fellow guest as an over privileged wanker.

  8. Wear a dress that inexplicably rides DOWN revealing tits in manner of porn star.

  9. Lean over table in porn star dress to reach desert wine (or spit disgusting dessert wine back into glass).

  10. Wonder why very plain and disapproving looking wife of over privileged wanker appears to be wearing a monks robe in fetching plum colour presumably obtained from Joe Brown catalogue where they sell such things along with jacquard waistcoats and things that chop hard boiled eggs into neat slices but remember that have just flashed tits at her husband so no doubt she has reason to look disapproving regardless of what she's wearing.

  11. Wear any dress that requires cycling shorts to be worn underneath and/or is see through ( but perhaps buy flesh coloured slip along with hairnet and bed socks with M&S Christmas voucher rather than gourmet chocolates and wine).

  12. Remember to top up tin of Roses chocolate from secret box hidden in cupboard under the stairs so that no one knows I have eaten all the strawberry and orange creams (as well as the caramels …).
  1. Teach daughter responsible drinking habits before next News Years Eve party.

  2. Debate with self possibility that teaching daughter responsible drinking habits before next News Years Eve party is in fact irresponsible parenting as should obviously be condemning demon drink to impressionable 14 (although almost 15) year old.

  3. Do not consider saying daughter is nearly 15 makes irresponsibly parenting somehow less irresponsible.

  4. Dress appropriately at all times but in particular when attending school events and NOT wear t-shirt with slogan 'Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?' to academic tutoring thingy in lecture theatre where, while waiting to see scary Scottish form tutor, am forced to sit in front row facing sea of teachers sitting round desks discussing children's progress with appropriately dressed parents (or alternatively take cardigan which buttons up to neck to hide t-shirt).

  5. Buy cardigan.

  6. Give unopened tin of Quality Street to deserving cause as Jan 6th is probably a reasonable time to stop eating chocolate for breakfast.

  7. Aide Memoire (I knew it would come to me!!!).

  8. Spend more time on personal grooming i.e. have eyebrows waxed on regular basis rather than just growing fringe to cover forehead and allowing eyebrows to run hither and thither across face like a lamb gambolling through a daisy strewn field in the Spring (although do not have actual daisies growing on forehead to my knowledge).

  9. Remember that if I have to ask myself (or others) if it's a long top or a short dress then it's probably a long top!

  10. Spend more time cleaning carpets and generally being a better person.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Things I Know This Week

Today I'm going to link up with Ann from Help!!  I'm Stuck!! for Things I Know.

I've learned a few things this week.

To be honest, I learn things on a daily basis, I'm a bit like a sponge absorbing all kinds of new and interesting things all the time.

Unfortunately, also like a sponge, I tend to dry out and all those interesting and useful things just evaporate.  I sometimes text things to myself in an attempt to retain some of the wise or funny things I've heard and learnt but I often forget or think that I will remember (I never do) so I spend a lot of my time kicking myself at the lost blog fodder.

But some things do stick and here are a few from the past week:

1) Cats are VERY absorbent!  I know this to be true as I observed Miss Mac hugging Squishy (the cat who has no name because we aren't keeping her as I have consistently been telling SD for the last 8 months!)  and, as she rubbed her face in the cats fur, she sneezed particularly explosively right into her and yet neither of them apparently needed a tissue!

2)  There will always be several rogue Christmas baubles somewhere in my living room despite my pulling out both sofas and the TV unit.  Also, keeping them company, will be a couple of escaped mini eggs from last Easter and an unidentified object brought in by the cat.

3) Ratchet spanners are FUN!  They have a little switch that makes them change direction so you can undo or do stuff up and apparently, when you are helping people, you are supposed to know way which is which!

4)  It is very important to ensure your neighbour rehangs his net curtain BEFORE you help him dismantle his Christmas tree - this avoids unnecessary and embarrassing situations where others see you straddling 8ft fibre optic firs and draw their own wildly inaccurate assumptions!

5) The delivery guy you have been waiting to bring Miss Mac new coat for the last 3 days will always call when you have been hanging washing in the garden in a vest top with no bra on, old, cropped bobbly joggers and Ugg boots with mad bed hair because you didn't expect anyone to call at 7:55 in the  bloody morning and he will also be very young and TOTALLY gorgeous and will smirk at your feeble attempts to cover your braless modesty as you grapple with a sodding great package and a stupid electronic thingy that you have to scribble on.

6) When you sneakily borrow your teenage daughters curling tongs in an attempt to give your totally out of control mad hair luscious flowing curls you will only succeed in giving you fringe a corrugated 70's style crimping which hair straighteners and even washing the damn thing can't get rid of! (as a side note - don't even THINK about borrowing her heated eyelash curlers - trust me - just DON'T!).

I expect I learned a lot of other things too this week but unfortunately I didn't text any of to myself but, rather than looking at this as lost blog fodder I have resolved to see it as an opportunity to learn it all again in the next week.

More things I know (assuming I remember them) soon ...

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Helpful (Oh, yes I AM!)

I think my cat's confused.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised seeing as she isn't officially my cat nor does she officially live here. (obviously if she WERE my cat and she DID live here she would be perfectly well balanced just like the rest of us!).

Squishy (the cat with no name because we are NOT keeping her) thinks she's a dog.  She's driving me nuts at the moment constantly wanting to play fetch.

She's got a little pink mouse and she wants me to throw it for her, when I do she runs after it and brings it back for me to throw again.  If I don't throw it she tosses it off the sofa herself and jumps down to get it and shouts at me lots!

I've just been on my hands and knees to retrieve it from under the sofa to shut her up and there seems to be roughly 20 baubles from the Christmas tree under there too which probably means that I'm going to have to pull the sofas out again to get them (and I DID pull them out just before Christmas to vacuum under them so I am not amused at this extra unwarranted housework she is creating!).

I've spent quite a bit of the past few days on my knees with my bum in the air to be honest and I'm not sure how much more they can take.

On Sunday I was helping SD, you KNOW how helpful and useful I like to be (if you are unclear you can read all about it in this post WTF Are You DOING Sarah).  We were moving the rear seats in the new van forward to give us enough space to put a deck in the back for sleeping in when we go away so SD was under the van and I was in the back (on my hands and knees with my bum in the air) as we tried to line the seat bolts up with the new holes in the floor.

I was quite happy, ratchet spanner and lump hammer in hand, 80's show on the radio, a little bit of The Clash and then we struck gold with Dead Or Alive - You Spin Me Right Round.  I was like a pig in muck, bum wiggling from side to side as I randomly ratcheted (which IS a verb ...) those screws in time to the music.  The other really good thing was that I couldn't hear a word SD was saying to me, it was just me and the music with undertones of muffled shouting and the occasional thumping from under the van.

As ever, SD was VERY impressed with my helpfulness, so much so that after about half an hour he said I'd really EARNED my break and should go inside and let him finish up by himself and it only took him another hour and a half so I undoubtedly saved him LOADS of time!

Yesterday I was helping AGAIN.

I KNOW, I'm like a very tall girl guide (except I refuse to wear yellow ...).

D my neighbour requested my help de-Christmassing.  It's all a little too much for him and he hasn't been well the last year but he still puts on the best Christmas display that people come from all over town to look at.  Obviously I didn't get a photo of his tree because I'm crap like that and the only one I can find on his FB is also pretty crap but here it is anyway:

Now you can't really tell from this photo but this tree is a MONSTER!!!

It's 8ft tall and it's got over a 1000 ornaments on it collected from over 60 years and all over the world, many are glass and very fragile.  It also had 5 sets of bloody light on it and lets not even TALK about the window decorations!!!

It looks stunning when it's done and it takes a full day to decorate.

Anyway, between us we stripped that MoFo in a couple of hours and carefully wrapped all the decorations ready for next year.


This tree came from a hotel originally and it doesn't come apart in sections to pack away because that would be too easy ...

D went off to get the stepladder ...

We decided that despite being a good 25 years older than me and slightly infirm that it was probably best if D went up the ladder bearing in mind my tendency to whimper like a stuck kitten and cling to the sides on anything higher than the second rung.

Having selected the first bit of 40 year old string traditionally used to tie the tree up D went up the ladder.

'Throw it round to me and I'll catch it and pass it around to you to tie' I said.

He threw it, it hooked up, he pulled it wobbling the ladder in a very worrying way.  He chucked it again and I caught it.

'D, why is the string WET!!!'

'I needed both hands to climb the ladder so I had the string in my mouth ....'


We repeated this process a couple of times, did I mention that the string was 40 years old?  Did I say that it was all knotted from 40 years of use?  Did I happen to tell you that this string was very thin (and cuts into your hands) and wasn't up to the job of taming that bloody monster tree even when it was new??

D also managed to use up all the long bits of string at the top which meant that by the time we were half way down the pieces left weren't long enough to go around it.

Eventually I suggested that maybe we should use some NEW string ...

After much head scratching, fumbling around in drawers and muttering I suggested that I should go home and get my garden string from the shed which (thanks to SD being a super borganiser - he really is, read this!) was on the shelf with the gardening tools.

I was also busting for the loo and I'm a little weird about using other peoples ...  So off I trotted.

String in hand and bladder relieved I returned triumphantly only to find that D had found his own string while I was gone.

Eventually we got that beast under control and the next step was to wrap it in a fitted sheet to keep the dust off before it was stored in the attic.

I laid the sheet out on the floor, we carefully lowered the tree on to it and wrapped the sheet around.

Now all we had to do was tie it in place.

D lifted the top of the tree a few inches while I attempted to lasso the bloody thing - bear in mind that it was really heavy and about 3ft wide.  The first couple of ties were fairly straight forward and I worked my way up the tree.

By the middle section I was straddling the tree while attempting to throw the string under it and catch it the other side, it wasn't going well ...

My foot slipped ...

I lost my balance ...

I ended up flat on my face, legs splayed, hugging that 8ft bastard which despite the layer of sheet was blood prickly while D just looked at me wondering how and if he should offer some assistance.

Did I mention that I was in full view of the uncurtained window that looked directly out on to the street?

There was a tap on the window.

Painfully I turned my head to see R (he of the mismatched crocs and Baaarb (the mysterious mumbler) peering in the window in slack jawed amazement at me apparently  humping a large clump of artificial foliage as D watched on clutching a ball of string ...

So far I'd say 2015 is pretty much going to plan and, as I've seen so many people choose a word that they wish to define the coming year then I have chosen HELPFUL as mine.

It seems to be working for me so far don't you think ... ?