Saturday, 15 November 2014

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older -Tom Stoppard

I'm struggling to get to grips with the whole business of Christmas shopping this year. It seems that time has gone on fast forward since our holiday in Norfolk August and suddenly it's mid November. I have managed to do a little bit of Christmas Shopping because we went to see my brother in law and his family in Plymouth at the end of October and I took the opportunity to deliver the presents for my niece and nephew. I love going to see them, but we don't manage to get there as often as I would like, it's a long way to drive for a weekend and it's expensive to travel by train. We planned this trip to fit into Robbie's schedule, he is very busy with work at the moment and most weekends seem to be booked up in advance with an assortment of commitments. Robbie was very kind to me, he booked our tickets and reserved our seats making sure that we were booked to travel on a Voyager rather than an HST for both journeys. I can see the attraction of HSTs but in terms of comfort I prefer Voyagers because I'm not very tall and I find the seats more comfortable. I know the vestibules are a bit smelly but we usually get a good journey on a voyager and recent experience with Cross Country suggest that we get better service on a Voyager than on an HST. 

My favourite part of the journey is stretch Just south Exeter which follows the River Exe to Starcross and onward to Dawlish Warren and the sea. It then skirts the coast to Dawlish and on towards Teignmouth where it turns inland again and snakes along the edge of the River Teign towards Newton Abbott. It's a beautiful route and I always stop what I'm doing to look out of the window and soak up the view. In the winter it can be a bit alarming when the waves pelt the train along the sea wall at Dawlish. This area of track was badly damaged in the storms last winter, it is in use again now but there must be a question about it's long term viability.

My favourite part of the visit to Plymouth, apart from the obvious pleasure of spending time with family, was our Sunday morning walk to the Barbican. What could possibly be better than breakfast at Cap'n Jaspers on a sunny autumn morning. No trip to Plymouth is complete without a visit to Cap'n Jaspers. 

Early morning in Plymouth
My son came home from uni for a few days last week, it was nice to have him back but I didn't see much of him because he had things to do and he wanted to catch up with his friends. I took on my old familiar role of his 'taxi' driver - I had forgotten how many extra journeys one nineteen year old could create! When I picked him up from his friends house on the other side of town he was chatting to me about his friend's odd perception of age. Apparently they had been discussing a local news story and his friend described a 38 year old man as elderly. I was briefly reassured when Will told me that he'd explained to his friend that thirty eight is not elderly, but then he went on to say that it is probably more accurate to describe it as late middle age!! I wondered out loud how on earth someone so bright could have such an odd perception of reality! He looked at me with a grin on his face and informed me that as he's nearly 20 he is due for his 'quarter life crisis' so that he can get some practice in before his mid life crisis. I love his sense of humour, but he makes me feel very old.

Last Monday I drove Will back to Cheltenham. There are two possible routes but I prefer the one through the Cotswolds, it takes about the same amount of time as the other route but it is a much more interesting drive with beautiful views of the countryside. Will disapproves of my iTunes playlist, he is not a fan of Woman's Hour and I can't tolerate the overspill noise from his headphones so we had to resort to that quaint old fashioned pastime - conversation. Chatting with Will is fraught with difficulty, if I seem too interested he claims that I'm interrogating him, if I say too little I'm variously accused of disinterest or disapproval. So I take my lead from him, sometimes he is very chatty, but often when we travel together he is less talkative and we lapse into comfortable silence. It was like that on Monday, he had chatted happily about his university course for the first few minutes of our journey but by the time we reached Banbury we were both lost in our own thoughts. 

As we drove through the town I pointed out a rather ornate monument ahead of us and said "I wonder if that is Banbury Cross?". Will looked at me as if I was speaking in a foreign language and I explained that I was referring to the nursery rhyme Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross. To my surprise he told me that he had never heard the rhyme before and I couldn't convince him otherwise. It seems that I neglected  my duty as a parent to pass on the rich assortment of nursery rhymes which have been passed down the generations, so rather belatedly I recited the nursery rhyme to him. With a look of horror he begged me to stop, he knows me too well and  he was afraid that if I got started I would progress from nursery rhymes to poems and we would still be ploughing through the Pied Piper of Hamelin when we reached Cheltenham. My maternal grandmother could recite the entire poem from memory and thanks to her frequent renditions I can still manage to recite most of the poem without prompting. Will hastily changed the subject to the more pressing matter of lunch and we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at Wetherspoons when we got to Chetenham.

After lunch Will took me to see his flat, I hadn't been inside since the day he moved in. To my surprise his room and his adjoining bathroom are neat and tidy. I sat on his bed I glanced around at the unaccustomed sense of order and I noticed a row of bottles of alcohol arranged in height order along the top of his bookcase. As my eye travelled along the line of bottles I noticed with some concern that all were less than half full, then I noticed the smallest bottle at the end of the row, it was Gaviscon! I couldn't help laughing. 

Will and I walked into the centre of Cheltenham to have a look at the Shops. He showed me his favourite book shop and we had a look at a slightly quirky clothes shop. He pointed out various garments on his wish list, but having already bought him a lava lamp I didn't grant any further wishes that day. His birthday and Christmas are almost upon us so I expect some of his wishes will come true in the near future. We visited Tiger, one of my favourite shops, we don't have one locally so I enjoyed browsing and by the time I reached the tills I had a full basket and I had ticked off a few more items on my Christmas shopping list. Then it was time for me to head home, alone with my thoughts and leave Will to his new found independence.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funnybone - Reba McEntire

A couple of weeks ago when I was chatting to my older daughter Emily she stopped in mid conversation and looked at my hands. She said "mum look at your hands, they've turned into Grandma's hands" and she took my hand in hers and looked at it closely. I can always rely on one or other of my offspring to tell me the uncomfortable truth. Some months ago my son had a word with me about my hairstyle, he warned me not to have my hair cut any shorter or I would be in danger of looking like a lesbian. I couldn't help laughing, I may have cared what people thought once, but not these days people can think what they like. 

I understood exactly what my daughter meant about my hands. You can try all sorts of lotions and potions to make your face look younger but your hands tell the truth, you can't stop your hands ageing. Several weeks ago my son asked me to buy him make up and a special sort of liquid to create scars ready for Halloween. I wasn't impressed, I don't approve of the Americanisation of our customs and traditions; as far as I'm concerned trick or treating is worse than begging because there is an element of threat. I managed to stop myself before my thoughts became words. Will knows my thoughts on Halloween and I knew he wouldn't be going trick or treating so there was no harm in him dressing up to go to a party. He has had a passion for dressing up ever since he was a little boy and in recent years he has become very creative with stage make up. It crossed my mind that if I'm not careful I will be like my grandma - she managed to turn disapproval into a performance art! When I was little it seemed as if she disapproved of everything that I found enjoyable and I don't want to be like that, so Will got his items for Halloween and he promised to send me some photos.

I used to enjoy bonfire night when I was a child but it seems to have got a bit out of control now. When I was growing up we just had a few fireworks in the back garden, Catherine wheels, Roman candles, screeches, traffic lights, jumping jacks, a couple of small rockets and some sparklers. It was all carefully supervised by my mum to make sure we stayed safe, and when our little display was over we would go back into the house and eat jacket potatoes to warm us up after standing out in the cold. Fireworks seem bigger and louder now (and much more expensive) and we are bothered by the sound of fireworks for days before and after bonfire night. It is very upsetting for the animals, so many dogs and other animals are terrified by the sound of fireworks. I think perhaps we need tighter regulation about when fireworks can be set off. I can remember my grandma saying that fireworks were a wicked waste, she said it was like burning money and I have to admit that she had a point. I haven't bought fireworks for over twenty years, but I think it would be a shame to see the custom die out completely.

The weather is finally getting a bit colder, not perhaps as cold as I would expect it to be in November but cold enough to make me want to wear a coat sometimes. At last I've packed away my summer clothes, dusted off some of my autumn and winter clothes, taken a big bag of stuff to the recycling bank and a few bits and bobs that weren't good enough for recycling were given a decent burial. I'm not usually very good at parting with clothes so I decided to reward myself with a couple of new items. I fell in love with a needle cord skirt which had a subtle rose pattern, but it was a little bit tight and much too long. I wasn't going to let a little thing like that put me off, I bought it anyway and made plans to alter it. It took a fair bit of planning and measuring, I unpicked the waistband, took out the zip, lining and part of the side seems, shortened it from the top then repositioned the zip, lining, side seems and waistband. It only took me a few hours and it was worth the effort because it fits perfectly and I like it. I guess the ability to sew is a very useful skill that both my mum and my grandma passed on to me, I'm grateful for that and I'm grateful for the example of my mum's determination and ability to cope with all the challenges that came her way. She has always told me that a woman can do anything that a man can do and we can do most things better because we take time to plan and we read the instructions! 

It was raining last Friday when I went to stay with my friend Clare but when I drove back on Saturday afternoon I was able to enjoy the beautiful Warwickshire and Northamptonshire landscape. As I left the A5 and joined the A428 at Crick the sun was sinking towards the horizon with a breathtaking display of deep fiery red colours. Ahead of me were deep, dark storm clouds but looking through the rear view mirror I could see clear skies, it was the sort of day when amid all the confusion you would expect to see a rainbow. On this occasion I only saw a faint one after I had driven away from the storm clouds, but it reminded me that I saw a very bright rainbow on another recent journey home from Clare's and when I was at her house in September we saw a double rainbow. I know it is only a natural phenomenon but I don't think it's possible to see a rainbow without feeling a glimmer of hope.

When I got home on Saturday the cats tried to lie to me, I knew that my daughter had fed them but they acted as if they were starving so I gave them some extra food and then went to sit down with a cup of tea. When I went back into the kitchen Dave the cat had vanished, I found him in a little den that he had created between the fridge freezer and the radiator. It is a fairly narrow space, I have several narrow storage boxes stacked there with brushes and mops standing behind. On top of the storage boxes I have a bag of reusable shopping bags and another bag full of carrier bags, Dave had made himself a cat nest in the bag of carrier bags. He has several cat beds, igloos, blankets etc, but he was a stray for a long time, old habits die hard and he likes to find his own comforts. I couldn't resist taking a photo of him with his 'poor pathetic me' face. I wouldn't let him stay on his nest of carrier bags, but maybe I will buy him a radiator bed instead.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

'....... A rare and gentle thing'

I started writing this on Saturday, so it relates to the last days of October.

It's been a strange week, the clocks went back last weekend and it has taken me most of the week to adjust my body clock. The weather  has been surprisingly warm and pleasant for the start of November so the darker evenings seem strangely out of place. The autumn has always been my least favourite time of the year, and the dark evenings with their reminder of the long winter months ahead have left me feeling a bit out of sorts. Robbie is working away at the moment so I only see him at the weekends, it's an arrangement that works well for both of us, but I miss him - there's a limit to the conversation skills of a cat, even an extremely eloquent one like Dave. Our family has a huge black cloud hanging over us at the moment, something which I don't feel able to discuss in detail on the blog but it makes thinking ahead very difficult. I have plenty of work and other responsibilities to keep me busy and usually I am quite good at living in the present, but the dark evenings and the challenges of this week have got the better of me. 

It may not mean much to anyone else but something happened on Wednesday morning which felt like a sign of hope. When I woke up I became aware of a slight fluttering which was odd as I hadn't left the bedroom window open. I realised that there was a butterfly in the bedroom and it had settled on Robbie's bedside table. It stayed there for a while and then it settled on the net curtain so I opened the window for it to go out when it was ready. I got on with my morning routine and didn't go back into the bedroom for an hour or so, I expected that the butterfly would have gone on its way but I was surprised to see that were now two butterflies on the window. I don't remember having a butterfly in my bedroom before and I'm certain that there have never been two. In fact I don't recall seeing a butterfly so late in the year. I managed to get a photo of the first one, I think it's a Small Tortoiseshell, the photo quality is not very good but it was nice to be able to see it close up, it was beautiful, so fragile with the delicate colouring of a watercolour painting.
“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you” - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thursday, 30 October 2014

A cats got her own opinion of human beings. She don't say much, but you can tell enough to make you anxious not to hear the whole of it --Jerome K. Jerome

If there was such a thing as a Krypton Factor for cats Dave would be a champion. A few nights ago there was a commotion in the kitchen at around 2am but thankfully it was not burglars, it was Dave attacking the cat proof food recycling bin. I put the bin safely out of his way and trudged back to bed. The next morning I came down to find an open food recycling bin and an work of abstract art made from tea bags and crusts set out on the kitchen floor. Dave gave me a penetrating look and I was left in no doubt that he disapproves of cat proof containers. He doesn't eat tea bags and he's not fond of crusts, he was just proving that as far as he is concerned nothing is cat proof. Cats are such wonderful communicators, it only requires a look or an almost imperceptible flick of the tail for Dave to convey absolute contempt. 

As I picked up the debris and then cleaned the kitchen floor I realised how much of my time is taken up attending to the needs of an assortment of animals. We only have three cats, but my mum and stepfather are both frail so I help them with their animals too. Their elderly cat Jessica is beautiful, but she's as wild and unpredictable a tiger and it takes nerves of steel (and protective clothing) to get her into the cat basket when she needs to go to the vet. Shopping for the cat takes far longer than anyone would believe possible because because mum has to examine every flavour and brand of cat food to decide whether Jessica would like it. Then after lots of deliberation she buys the same combination of brands that she always buys!

Lucy is my favourite of mum's three dogs, when she came from Wood Green Animal Shelter she was pathetically thin and afraid of her own shadow, but now she is healthy and happy. One of her parents was a Shih Tzu and the other a Border Collie - an improbable liaison which probably involved a step ladder! She combines the intelligence and behaviour of a (rather neurotic) Border Collie with the build and colouring of a Shih Tzu and despite her difficult past she has a lovely friendly nature. She seems to be especially attached to me, she follows me like a shadow, sits next to me whenever I sit down and when I stop stroking her she nudges my arm with her nose to get my attention - which often results in spilt tea and a disgraced dog! 

Bobby and Misty the other two Shih Tzus are a little younger than Lucy, and completely bonkers. They are brother and sister but Bobby is twice the size of Misty, he is gentle and friendly but Misty is a little spitfire and what she lacks in height she makes up for in attitude. Taking them to the groomers is a nightmare, it's like having chimps in the car, Bobby cries because he has left my mum behind and Misty spends the entire journey telling other road users to go away! She also objects to the car radio, if I turn it on she barks frantically and searches for the people hiding in the car. Needless to say, I prefer not to take them out in the car more often than absolutely necessary! 

Shopping for their food is a nightmare, Bobby is a solid little chap and despite being reassured by the vet that he is the correct weight for his size my mum worries that he doesn't eat. Getting him to eat seems to have become an obsession for my mum, so we loiter endlessly in the dog food section looking for new possibilities to tempt him to eat. Lucy eats reasonably well (as long as no one looks at her) and she is the easiest of the three dogs to shop for. It probably only takes about 15 minutes for my mum to consider every option and then decide to buy her regular brand of dog food! 

The other member of the household is Fred the tortoise who has been part of the family since my childhood. He is probably the most pampered tortoise in the county and there are times when I envy his lifestyle! In October he retires to his winter quarters and sleeps until the spring when the days become warmer again. His summer quarters, an open fronted hutch in a large pen has to be moved around the lawn so that he can enjoy fresh grass and plenty of dandelions (his favourite). Throughout the spring and summer he munches his way through a monumental amount of salad and such like. Mum insists on having a bird net over the pen to stop them from stealing his food and every time it rains my mum covers his run with a tarpaulin so that he will not get wet, then when the sun comes out she adjusts the tarpaulin so that he has plenty of shade. So as you can see one small tortoise manages to dominate the daily routine of the household!

A couple of years ago we made the mistake of buying a multi hanger bird feeder for my stepfather so that he could enjoy watching the birds through the window. It was a success, in fact it was too successful, feeding the birds seems to dominate their lives! They get through unbelievable quantities of seed, sunflower seeds, fat balls and assorted pellets and every couple of weeks I'm dispatched to the pet superstore to buy a trolley load of supplies for the birds! Judging by the amount of food they eat it is a wonder that any of the local birds can still fly! 

I wouldn't be without my pets, but they are not quite as pampered as my mums. If the people who believe in reincarnation are proved right I hope that I will come back as a tortoise because Fred seems to have a happy and untroubled life!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!

Some of you may remember that when my son was about nine or ten he wrote a description of Robbie. That was a long time ago, he is nineteen now and a couple of years ago he wrote an updated description of Robbie. I'm grateful to him to him for giving me permission to use his writing on the blog, he is very brave! I think Robbie is brilliant to see the funny side and to allow me to share it on the blog. I should explain that both men are Aspie, they get on well and they are great allies when it comes to making jokes at my expense, but each likes to imagine that the other is seriously weird! In reality both are rather unique and awesome individuals and I wouldn't change either of them (except to make them both a bit more tidy!)

                          Robbie by Will

Of all the words in the English Language, there is one I would make a  tremendous effort to avoid when describing my step dad: evolved. There are brief moments when I feel as if I'm watching a mountain Gorilla without David Attenborough's riveting commentary, or even a Baboon displaying it's behind as it forages in the deepest crevices of it's rucksack. When we drive over a brand new road surface he emits a series of primal hoots which increase in volume and pitch as his excitement builds. Who else in this world derives excitement from a new road surface? Such sounds would not be out of place at Twycross zoo, but even the great apes have grasped the concept of volume. Never in my life, have I heard an animal eat with such ferocity, humming approval to himself with every breath. 

I'll admit, I have exaggerated his level of evolution, there are some notable attributes that spare primates from close comparison. Firstly, Primates have the knowledge of self preservation. Whereas a normal person would sit still in a car, a sign of respect to their driver, my step dad decides instead to direct everyone's attention to the train, bus, or Eddy Stobart truck that he has spotted by flailing his arms and yelping with excitement in a way that one can only compared to an epileptic puppy waiting for it's ball to be thrown. Aside from the fear for ones life that is felt by every passenger in the car, I fear for his life, as he now has to face the wrath of the driver; my mother. Yet still he does it!

It has been noted that Apes have an inquisitive personality, and are aware of the smallest changes to their environment, but on the whole they adapt to this change. Adaptation is one thing he struggles to cope with. The strops that occur because the bottle shape of the tomato ketchup has changed could be described as biblical. If he notices the slightest of changes to his anally retentive form of feng shui, or if he decided that the colour of a product label isn't of the correct hue, he huffs, and he puffs, and he blows his composure down.

On the matter of his inquisitive nature, my step dad has an extraordinary intelligence and the ability to retain vast quantities of detailed information but unfortunately he obsessively applies this ability to his two main fields of interest - trains and Lego! Somewhat ironic. Every so often, an observer is treated to the sight of him opening a new Lego figure, or the sight of him witnessing a certain train. It is on these occasions that he will let out a grunt of approval and enjoyment. This sound is somewhat reminiscent of Louis Armstrong trying to move a wardrobe.

Finally, one minor differentiation between these two is the use of tools. Research has shown that chimps are able to adapt and use objects as tools. I myself have never seen an Ape using a hedge trimmer in the wild, but I'm sure that it would avoid cutting the trimmer's ORANGE cable amongst the GREEN hedgerow? The irony being that all apes are colour blind. Furthermore, I have never heard of a chimpanzee wiring a switch, but even if it had, I'm sure it would understand the basic consequences of leaving the mains power on!

Maybe I'm just finding fault with a member of my family, or maybe I have finally found a missing link - that's for you to decide. But I don't know of any being, human or animal, with the ability to crunch sodden Weetabix!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm - Winston Churchill

Last week didn't start very well. I'm not the greatest fan of Mondays, this particular Monday started far too early and it went down hill from there. It was one of those mornings that felt like one step forward and two steps back but I plodded on with my paperwork with the occasional cup of tea to keep me going. Eventually I decided that it was time for a lunch break and I went to put the kettle on. Our fridge-freezer is taller than me with the fridge at the top. I opened the door to reach for the milk, I had been to the fridge several times during the morning with no problem but this time two bottles from the top shelf launched themselves towards me. A bottle of water gave me a glancing blow on the head and a full bottle of diet Pepsi flew out like a torpedo and hit me on the calf! I cried out, hopped, danced and fell over a cat! I missed out on lunch, I was too busy dealing with a badly bruised leg and a very indignant cat!

Glasgow Central - photo by kilnburn
Tuesday evening went a bit pear shaped, Euston had one of its increasingly frequent periods of inertia which I believe was due to signal failure somewhere or other. Eventually Robbie gave up and took himself to St Pancras, bought another ticket and caught a train to Kettering, and I headed to Kettering Station to pick him up. I got there early but I didn't mind waiting, it's a nice little station and I like the old buildings. Considering the earlier disruption a surprisingly cheerful Robbie emerged from the station. He told me that there had been news reports suggesting that Abellio would be awarded the ScotRail franchise. It was still just rumour, but an announcement was expected the following morning and he dared to hope that the rumours might be true. Robbie made a very early start the next morning and he was in London before the formal announcement was made. The rumours were true, the ScotRail contract had been won by Abellio. Robbie was delighted, he and the rest of the bid team had spent months in Glasgow working on the bid and now their efforts had been rewarded.

I loved Glasgow when I first went there many years ago but it had been a long time since I'd been to Scotland and Robbie working in Scotland gave me an opportunity to  fall in love with Glasgow all over again. In the autumn of 2013 Robbie arranged to take me to Malmaison in Glasgow as a birthday treat. It was a bit of a joke on his part, but great fun, he had booked the Big Yin suite which is inspired by Billy Connolly who is a favourite of mine. It has a four poster bed, a very nice double bathroom and a roll top bath in the living room. 

Robbie knows how much I enjoy a nice long bath so this was his way of teasing me, but I have to admit that it was fun. I enjoyed the bath, I wasn't so struck on the four poster bed, it was very solid and a bit scary, but it was reasonably comfortable.  
I don't think I would go back to Malmaison because the food was horrible, the service was poor and the room was a bit tired, but as a one off experience the suite was interesting.

Work for the ScotRail bid began in ernest in January and Glasgow became Robbies second home. He caught the Sleeper to Glasgow on a Sunday evening and he returned home late on Friday evening. During the week he stayed in the Premier Inn in George Street. It is an interesting building just a short walk from the centre of Glasgow and very close to the Merchant City area with beautiful buildings and lots of nice places to eat. Unfortunately Robbie didn't get to see much of Glasgow, he was far too busy with the bid to have time for sightseeing, but he enjoyed his walk to and from work each day. Often when he was finished for the night he would call in at Queen Street Station to watch the trains and to experience the hustle and bustle of the station.  

I was able to spend time with Robbie occasionally when he was in Glasgow. I didn't really spend much time actually with Robbie except when we had our evening meal but having so much time to myself worked out rather well. I was still working on my book at the time of my first visit, so having the room to myself gave me plenty of peace and quiet to get my writing done. I would write until lunch time, then I would allow myself an hour or two to walk into the city centre to visit the shops, look at the wonderful building and discover more of Glasgow. Then I would go back and do more writing until about 9pm when we would go out for dinner. Glasgow was even more beautiful in the dark. 
A building nr George Square, Glasgow

By the time I returned to Glasgow the book had been submitted to the publisher and I had more freedom to explore, I loved it. One of my favourite walks took me past Buchanan Galleries, past the Doc Shop and along Sauchiehall Street. There is something special about Sauchiehall Street, it isn't the grandest street in the city, in fact parts of it are quite shabby but it has character. It seems to be a favourite spot for street entertainers, some of them are very good. It seems to attract some interesting characters too, I met some interesting people on my walks, and most seemed happy to stop and chat. I'm looking forward to Robbie having some free time so that we can go back and explore Glasgow together.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Every path hath a puddle - George Herbert

When I was thinking of a title for this blog post the quotation above seemed to to be a perfect fit, not least because this week began with a wet and miserable Monday. The cold wet morning came as quite a surprise after an unusually warm September and a surprisingly mild and sunny start to October. It was our ninth wedding anniversary on Saturday and we spent the weekend in Exeter. The choice of destination was a compromise, I had suggested a number of possible places to visit, but Robbie found fault with each one. At first I thought he was just being difficult but it didn't take me long to work out that Baldrick Burgess had a cunning plan to fit in a journey on an HST and he was going to veto every destination until I chose a place that suited his plan. I didn't mind too much, I'm not a fan of HSTs but it's not too much of a hardship and it gives Robbie a lot of pleasure. I didn't appreciate having to get up before the birds, but time together is precious and we were determined to enjoy the weekend to the full.

Robbie at our anniversary meal in Exeter
I like train journeys for many reasons, but perhaps more than anything else I value the thinking time and conversation. It is rare for either of us to sit still for so long with no demands on our time, and it is nice to be still and enjoy having time to chat. As it was our anniversary it is hardly surprising that we were in reflective mood. In a way marrying Robbie was an act of madness, we are a bit of an odd couple and I think a few of our friends doubted our sanity. For me the biggest commitment had been made a year earlier, exactly a year earlier in fact, in the first days of October ten years ago. Robbie and I had been together for just a few months when circumstances took a sudden and surprising turn. He rang me one morning in a state of great agitation, he had just been informed that he needed to take responsibility for his children on a full time basis starting that day. He had a one bedroom flat, which was large enough for his children to stay overnight with him once or twice a week, but it would have proved too cramped and ill equipped for a longer stay and it looked as if the children would be with him for several months. I didn't hesitate, the obvious solution was for them to come to me and so by that evening our three children each had become a blended family of six children. 

There were problems of course, but remarkably few, the children got on well and the Burgess children made the transition to a new school with little difficulty. Coping with six children was a very exhausting experience for me (and for Robbie) but I found it extremely rewarding. At the time my step children were 13, 9 and 5, each one was different but very like Robbie in their various ways. His son often asked to come with me in the car when I went to pick up my daughters from their music lessons or band practice. He was a gentle, thoughtful lad with a lovely nature; he loved to chat and like Robbie he was interested in a vast array of subjects. He shared my keen interest in history and like Robbie he had a passion for films and an eclectic taste in music. We had some fascinating conversations and he enjoyed listening to my music CDs. Robbie's older daughter was a clever and determined nine year old, who seemed older than her years. Like her older step sisters she enjoyed clothes and accessories and she had very firm opinions about what she should wear, in fact she had strong opinions about almost everything. She could be quite outspoken at times, and like Robbie tact wasn't her strong point - her disapproval when we were not having one of her favourite meals was expressed eloquently with just a look and a sigh. Even at age nine it was clear that she had the potential to do well in whatever she chose to do with her life. 

The five year old girl was like a miniature version of Robbie in every way, she looked even more like him than her brother (her sister is much more like her mum) and she had Robbie's ready smile and wicked sense of humour. There was a certain quirkiness about the little girl, she wasn't going to be like everyone else, even at five she had the confidence to be herself whether people liked it or not. I remember taking her to see my elderly aunt one day, my aunt had always enjoyed the company of children and it didn't surprise me that the two of them were soon engrossed in conversation. I popped into the kitchen to put the kettle on and I returned to hear the little girl ask my aunt why she used a walking stick. My aunt explained that she had a poorly hip and she needed the stick to keep her steady. The five year old gave her a thoughtful look and then she asked "couldn't you just try harder?". Clearly she had inherited Robbie's tendency to be a little too direct at times. She had also inherited his strong will and stubbornness, but I had a feeling that these would be a strength rather than a weakness. I already cared deeply about Robbie, and it didn't take long for me to become attached to these bright, lively children who were so like him in their different ways. The months that followed were exhausting and at times noisy and chaotic, but they were happy and all the children thrived. 

So by the following year when Robbie and I married we had already been through an eventful and at times challenging year. It was still a big decision to get married, but we knew that we were strong and that we could cope with the ups and downs of life. We were different in so many ways which made some people think that we were a very odd couple. Perhaps they were right, we’re unconventional certainly, but it works! It hasn't always been easy, we have encountered plenty of challenges over the years, but together we have coped and it has made us stronger. Our lives are still very busy, and Robbie often has to stay away from home on business, so we take time to have fun and to enjoy life whenever we can. We had a lovely trip to Exeter, we stayed in a very nice hotel just a stones throw from the station and it was mild enough for me to have the window open to listen to the sounds of the railway throughout our stay - perfect! 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there - Lewis Carroll

I'm fairly used to the quirks and idiosyncrasies of my fellow humans - I have to be, life with Robbie is full of surprises. However I was startled when a rather odd looking man rushed out in front of my car as I drove down the road yesterday. I came to an abrupt halt and the man stood in the road in front of me, turned face the car and saluted! He then engaged in a series of repetitive hand movements as if he was conducting an invisible orchestra, but something about the movements reminded me of the mechanical movements of the figures on the Trumpton clock. Then the man stopped conducting his orchestra, saluted again and marched back to the side of the road enabling me to continue on my way totally bemused by the experience. 

As I drove away I wondered why seemingly insignificant childhood memories such as the Trumpton clock remain vivid in my mind so many years later. My daughter Emily introduced me to Pinterest a while ago and I have to confess I'm addicted to it, I've been creating a album (known as a board) of childhood memories. Pinterest enables you to create and share as many boards and add as many images as you like.  The comics and television programmes of my childhood took up so much space on my childhood memories board that they had to be moved to create boards of their own. Comics played an important part of my life when I was growing up and I looked forward to the arrival of my comics each week with a sense of anticipation which the children of today wouldn't understand. Every issue was read from cover to cover and then saved to be read again another day. Creating that board of all my old comic favourites brought so many memories flooding back.

One of my early favourites was a comic called Treasure which included a beautifully illustrated comic strip about Wizard Weasel who created all sorts of trouble in Princess Marigold Land. I have recently bought a few old copies of Treasure and I realise how wonderful the artwork was, no wonder that it could keep me occupied for hours. As soon as I could read independently I discovered the joys of Beezer, Topper, Sparky, Cor, Beano and Dandy. Cor was my favourite, but I had favourite characters in each of the comics so I read as many comics as I could each week. I liked Keyhole Kate, Beryl the Peril, Desperate Dan, The Bash Street Kids, Mini the Minx, Pop, Dick and Harry and Ivor Lott and Tony Broke to name but a few. I wasn't the sort of little girl who read the Bunty, my comic heroes were all rebels and none of them would be considered politically correct in this day and age. 

One of the characters who has stood the test of time is Minnie the Minx, she looks a bit like a female version of Dennis the Menace but to me she always seemed a bit cleverer and more rebellious than Dennis. I enjoyed her antics but it never occurred to me to copy them, I was a bit of a tomboy but I was a well behaved child and I knew the difference fiction and real life. I think what appealed to me about Minnie the Minx (and some of my other favourite characters) was that she lived life her way, being a girl didn't stop her doing anything. Jim Petrie the artist who drew Minnie the Minx for over forty years (from the beginning of the 1960's to 2001) died at the end of August 2014 and when I read his obituary I realised that I owe a debt of gratitude to the many comic artists and illustrators, whose work entertained us and helped to develop a lifelong habit of reading. The heyday of comics is long gone, times have changed, but Minnie the Minx is still going strong, she was 60 last year - she even has her own statue in Dundee.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet - Aristotle

My son, who for the purposes of the blog wishes to be known as Will, went off to university a few weeks ago. He seemed concerned that there would be a tearful parting when we left him to settle in to his new halls, but I'm an old hand at this now, his older sisters thrived at university and I am sure that Will will do the same. He seemed a little disappointed when I reassured him that there would be no tears, just a hug and pleasant thoughts of a tidier house! 

The week before he went to university was busy uneventful - at at least that was the case until the Wednesday evening. We'd had a very nice family meal at the Chinese restaurant, to say goodbye to Will. I ate too much and by the time we got home I was starting to regret it but it had been a lovely evening and I felt happy and contented when we got home. 

I should have known it was too good to be true! Will vanished soon after we got home from the meal, he said goodnight, took his things and went upstairs leaving Robbie and me in the lounge. I thought no more about it until later on when I decided to go to bed. I'd been putting off going to the the loo until that point so I needed to go quite badly. I went upstairs with some degree of urgency and straight into the bathroom without putting the light on. As soon as I sat down I realised that the seat was sticky and I jumped up wondering what on earth it could be. When I turned on the light I saw what looked like the aftermath of a bad case of dysentery! On closer inspection I saw the tell tale signs that Will had dyed his hair, box sticking out of bin, container still on sink and dark brown marks everywhere! The white toilet seat was marked with abstract streaks reminiscent of zebra stripes and to my horror I realised that a mirror image of the design was imprinted on my rear end!! I tried my best to restore my skin to its usual colour but without success (it looked like a henna tattoo but it vanished after about a week) vanish very soon. I got Will out of bed to restore order in the bathroom. He had the good sense to be very apologetic so I managed not to harm him but it was a close call!

Will spent a large chunk of the next morning in the bathroom scrubbing, the marks clung stubbornly to the toilet seat, floor, walls and door. I had to deal with it myself, but it did me good to see Will scrubbing the floor!

Apparently these were essential supplies for uni! 
The remainder of the week passed in a blur. I ironed 13 shirts, 14 pairs of chinos, and countless t-shirts and sundry items. I replaced missing buttons, altered jeans, sewed decorative patches on his onesie, collected his suit and coats from the dry cleaners and folded and sorted all his clothes ready for packing. By the time the car was packed with food, cleaning stuff, iron, assorted gadgets and their chargers, books, stationary, bedding, clothes and random clutter I was exhausted. There were no tears as we drove away from the halls just a huge sigh of relief and a feeling that like Will, Robbie and I are also starting on a new chapter of our lives. 

“Neither can the wave that has passed by be recalled, nor the hour which has passed return again.” Ovid

It is just over a year since I last wrote anything for the blog. I made a conscious decision to stop writing the blog because there were a number of other demands on my time and it became necessary to be a little more discreet than usual. Robbie started a new contract last September, working on a bid team. It was a new experience for him and quite a steep learning curve, but he loves a challenge - he's on his third bid now! I have had to make some important adjustments too, I gave up my job to work with Robbie, taking charge of the business admin, driving and the various other tasks necessary to keep Robbie 'on track'. I continued with my writing work and my time was taken up with writing, proof reading and selecting photos for my book. It was such a relief when everything had been delivered to the publisher! The book was published in May and I had the pleasure of seeing my book on the shelves of Waterstones and W.H. Smiths. 

I didn't intended to return to the blog. Several of my friends urged me to start writing again, but I wasn't convinced and oddly it was a book that changed my mind. I have been reading The Diary of Samuel Pepys, and I find it fascinating because it deals with the so many of the ordinary aspects of life. It may be almost 350 years since Samuel Pepys wrote his diary but he and Robbie seem to have a lot in common - perhaps men haven't changed greatly over the years! My children, who are now all adults do not approve of the blog, or to be more accurate they would prefer to remain anonymous. So in future they will not write about them as much and when their names crop up I will come up with aliases for them.

tomorrow will be our ninth wedding anniversary and we are looking forward to a weekend away. Yesterday a friend asked me if I would change Robbie if I could, I enjoyed thinking about it for a minute or two but my answer was no, I wouldn't change him. He is a good man with a big heart and a passion for life, why on earth would I want to change him? Not so long ago my son asked me if Robbie had been my mid life crisis, his question made me laugh but I have to admit that we are an unlikely couple. The important thing is that we are happy; we have been through a lot together over the years and it has brought us closer and made us stronger than ever. 

Don't smother each other. No one can grow in shade - Leo Buscaglia