14 July 2019

Reunion

It's fifty years since I left school after taking A-Levels. It seems like yesterday, so how can it be fifty years? My school, at the time I was there, was an Inner London grammar school. It has changed over the years since - first to a Comprehensive, then a Technology College and currently is an Academy. I struggle to understand what this means in real terms, but am comforted to see the history of the place and the ethos is basically the same. A few buildings have been added on, but the Old Victorian ediface I knew is still the hub. One of our "Old Girls" is the newsreader and TV presenter Fiona Bruce.

Every summer, there are Old Girls reunions. I have only ever been to one. That was about 25 years ago when I dragged a 3-year-old Kay along with me for moral support. The date chosen for the reunions (always the middle Saturday in July) usually clashes with Kay's birthday, so I am never able to go. Not that I probably would anyway, as I am half frightened to meet up with old rivals and maybe see they are more successful in their lives. A lot of my very close friends live in other countries or at vast distances in this one, so I would not really meet up with anyone I wanted to spend time with, assuming anyone from my year group was even there. 

But this year seemed different. Kay was celebrating her birthday on the next day for a start and this year was the fiftieth anniversary of leaving school so I thought an immense effort on my part was needed. I couldn't let fifty years go by without celebrating.  So go I must. But what to wear? Supposing my arch rival was there? She went on to be Head Teacher at a school in Devon, so she would no doubt be dolled up to the nines and look down on me.  I tried on dozens of outfits from my wardrobe until I was a fraction happy with what I chose. I have never wanted to have a flash car, but suddenly my 20-year-old Micra wouldn't fit the bill, so I decided to take the bus there - in London that is sensible anyway, as parking and traffic can be a nightmare and I wanted to arrive as cool as a cucumber.

With dry mouth and pounding heart I approached the oh so familiar building I had spent seven teenage years in remembering like yesterday the sweat of exams and heartache of boyfriends, some purloined by my rival! Within two minutes of arriving, I was approached by someone who looked vaguely familiar and, staring at my name badge, she announced who she was. Yes, indeed, my rival. Amazingly, we got on like a house on fire and chatted non-stop for a couple of hours reliving the past fifty years and what we had each done with our lives. All the teenage angst and frustrations had melted into the ether and we got on so well, we swapped emails and promised to stay in touch.  Life can be  so funny at times. Why on earth was I afraid of her back then? She seems so "nice" and the sort of person I would be happy to have as my friend. How fifty years can change your perspective.

Having had a rather difficult tooth extracted a week ago and still in some degree of pain, I managed to negotiate my first true solid food in the form of crustless sandwiches, scones, cream and jam and a fruit meringue with lashings of tea in china cups and saucers, all without it dribbling down my face. I wandered corridors and peeped into classrooms, retracing my steps as an 11-year-old entering the school and as an 18-year-old saying goodbye to our much coveted sixth form attic rooms, the "cool" place to be.  All in all a very satisfying visit to my old school and to quote a line from the cartoon Chicken Run "All my life flashed before my eyes". But it was most definitely not "very boring".

08 July 2019

Under arrest

Image result for cartoon being arrested



If you don't hear from me for a while, it is because I've been locked up in Holloway Prison. No joking! 

I've just had yet another one of those phone calls supposedly from Her Majesty's Tax Office, informing me that I am being charged with fraud for non-payment of taxes. I was then told by a very posh voice to press 1 to speak to an adviser. If I didn't, the voice told me in no pleasant tone that I shall be arrested shortly. To which I shouted down the phone "Oh good, I look forward to seeing you".

Over the last year or so, I have had quite a few of these scam calls on the main landline phone, but today was a first, because the call came into my mobile/cell/handy phone and had the additional threat of arrest. I wonder how many people fall into the trap or how many little old men or women have a heart attack with the shock.  It must pay off. I suppose if one in a thousand hand over their money, the scammer gets a result. 

24 June 2019

Summer at last

The hunt for the perfect television goes on, but meanwhile it was the last choir choir session of the term and an informal choir appearance at a local church fete on Saturday. Many of the choir couldn't make the time or venue, but there were still enough of us to make it sound good. Children were briefly disappointed, as their bouncy castle was deflated, so we could put on a 45-minute performance, which went down well with the adults thankfully.  We sang tunes from the Beach Boys,  Abba, Adele and too many more to mention. The weather, after weeks of unpredictability, was sunny and hot. Beefburgers and sausages sizzled on a nearby BBQ.  Summer is here. Fingers crossed.

This is just a handful of us

Rehearsing last minute at home

05 June 2019

Hectic

The last few weeks have been hectic, so my attempts to follow blogs and write my own has been somewhat lacking. Many apologies.

First I have been trying to arrange a few escapes over the summer. One to celebrate fifty years of friendship with my two closest friends, having met them on university campus as nervous 18-year-olds leaving home for the first time. We plan to have a few days together back in the town where we studied and revisit old haunts, though fifty years on, it might be more sedate!  Another break is to Spain with Kay. Having read The Return by Victoria Hislop, we are both keen to visit Granada and learn more of the history. I have booked flights, hotels and connections all by myself, so research has taken a while and made me go bog-eyed in the process.

I have, in the attempt to do something for the local community, also volunteered to help out at the local food bank. That takes up a whole afternoon once a week and has been a sad insight into the shortcomings of the government towards people with financial or mental difficulties.  Nobody should be begging for food in this day and age.

The main reason for my preoccupations has been the demise of my television. In the last six years, it has failed on three occasions, each time being the backlight giving up the ghost. Twice I have paid for someone to replace a new backlight at the cost of £99 each, but when it went a third time a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was not cost-effective to buy yet another backlight, when I could get a new TV for  three times that cost. Buying a TV should be a simple thing, I thought. Easy peasy. Hmmmm. Not so in reality.

Since I last bought a TV, things have moved on. There's 4k, Smart, HDMI, USB, HD, LED, QLED, sound bars, TVs as big as your house. Having established what size you want, the rest requires a sit down in a cold room with a beer. I decided I wanted a modest 43 inch (remember the days when you were told not to let a TV dominate a room - not these days -  a 43 inch is apparently classified as small). The size was the easy part. I then decided on a Samsung Smart 4k all-singing, all-dancing model. I'd had a Samsung before and the reviews  for the one I chose were fantastic. So far so good. Next step was to order one from Argos. I've set up TVs  many times before for both me and my mother, so didn't need one delivered or set up for me. I lugged said TV home, only to discover, when I had switched it on and entered my wifi password and other details, that  it wouldn't load up any channels other than the four in-built demo ones. I tried various things to load them up but to no avail. I rang Samsung and they talked me through back to factory settings and then forwards again to load channels with the same result - no channels found. "The TV", they said, "must be faulty, so you need to exchange it".

Back I went to Argos to exchange it and lugged the replacement home. When it got to loading the channels, the same thing happened. Yet again I rang Samsung. I could hear them scratching their heads. I ventured that maybe plugging the BT set-top box (which records programmes or pauses/rewinds live ones)  into the TV might be the problem, so, having disconnected that, the channels loaded. Samsung was glad to get that tip off me!  However the picture was so dark and grainy, it looked like all the action was down the bottom of a coal mine. I fiddled with the personal settings until the backlight and brightness settings were off the end of the scale, but still the picture was extremely dark. Samsung was speechless and didn't know what to advise. Needless to say, I put everything back to factory settings, lugged that back to Argos too and got a refund.

Since then I have been out and about grilling TV salesmen, researching Which? reports and other sites online and am more confused than ever which is the best one to get. I am slightly nervous that connecting an HD box set to a 4K TV is part of the problem although the experts tell me it should not be a problem at all. Meanwhile I am watching a tiny 18 inch TV  (which I resurrected from the bedroom) from my armchair across the vast distance in my lounge and my eyes are going in separate directions, so much so that I got a terrible migraine one day last week and took to my bed! The search continues...........


Image result for watching tv carton
courtesy of PinClipart


15 May 2019

Falling Off the Wagon

I was once given the statistic by Alcoholics Anonymous that for every ten alcoholics that try to give up alcohol permanently, either by detox, rehab or their own efforts, only one will continue to stay off alcohol for the rest of their life. This means that nine, yes NINE, will succumb to the demon drink again.  Greg was certainly one of those nine. I suppose, if someone were to tell me to stay off chocolate for the rest of my life, I would forever be thinking of chocolate. It's like when you decide to go on a diet. All you can think of are the yummiest, calorie-rich foods on God's earth and crave them until - to hell with the diet!  Or, if told not to think of a black cat, your mind will more than likely  conjure up a black cat.

I have rarely seen programmes or plays on TV where anyone relapses. Usually the die-hard alcoholic stops drinking and everything in the garden is lovely forever more. Fiction can bend the rules better than fact. But lately there have been some instances on TV where reformed alcoholics have fallen off the wagon and the acting has been very realistic. Phil Mitchell in Eastenders did a very good portrayal a while ago and more recently Peter Barlow in Coronation Street. There's going to be a no doubt harrowing serial start tonight on Channel 4 called The Virtues about a recovering alcoholic who falls spectacularly off the wagon, drinking to numb his pain as his son emigrates to Australia. Won't be easy viewing,  but sadly it will be a case in favour of the statistics.


Image result for The Virtues channel 4
Photo courtesy of Radio Times

29 April 2019

Relatively speaking

I don't have many surviving relatives. (Cue for violins.) I am an only child, a widow, both parents are dead, and I have no aunts or uncles or cousins. Strictly speaking, my daughter Kay is my one and only close living relative. 

My mother was one of three sisters, so technically I did have aunts, but they died under the age of five. My mother had loads of aunts and cousins, so technically I have many great aunts and second cousins, although I can only count about three that I just about stay in Christmas card contact with, the rest having disappeared into the ether many decades ago before I was even born and are now presumed dead.

On my father's side, it is a whole different ball game altogether. Having escaped from Nazi Germany, the family was pretty much fragmented. My father's mother came from dubious Jewish stock. Dubious in that they were not practicing Jews at all, but merely had some strains of it going back generations. Enough for Mr Hitler to want them gone. No matter that my father and his brother  were christened as Protestants and confirmed too. My paternal grandmother had two sisters and five brothers.  The two sisters, my great aunts, although married,  never had children and managed to ride out the war by hiding in Germany. I met them both in the 1960s and 1970s before they died. Two of my grandmother's brothers died before the war, leaving three brothers, whom we believed never made it out of concentration camps.  If you are a little confused by the above account, here is my father's side of my tree.



I am therefore the sole surviving member of that family.....or so I thought.

About 12 years or so ago, I put my family tree on a website called Genes Reunited. The German side looked pretty much like the one above. Very vague, few dates and no other descendants except me. Time went on and I forgot all about that entry on Genes Reunited. About a year ago, I was contacted by a man (Peter) in Hertford who said he thought we might be related on the German side, as my German grandmother's (rare) maiden name was in common with one in his family.  It turned out after some digging, that we weren't related, but he put me in touch with another man called Ed with the same (rare) surname as my grandmother. It turns out Ed and I are related. We are second cousins. Ed's grandfather, Richard, was the brother of my grandmother.  It is true that Richard and his son Alfred had both ended up in a concentration camp. Richard had been killed, but Alfred had survived the war and been liberated by Americans in 1945. Out of gratitude, Alfred emigrated to America and lived there raising a family - Ed and his twin brother also called Richard. 

Ed wrote to me recently and said he and his family were coming to Scotland/England for a holiday and would love to see me briefly in London on their way through back home. I met my second cousin for the first time at the weekend, together with his wife, two grown-up daughters  and Peter who had put us in touch in the first place. We met in an Italian restaurant in central London and the hours just flew by, as we swapped stories of what we knew of our respective grandparents, great aunts or uncles and our own lives. I had brought along many old photographs of ancestors that Ed had never seen, as his family had not had the good luck to keep or pass on photos in the holocaust.

From having nobody surviving on my father's side, I now have a whole unit living in New Jersey as shown by the tree below. Without the internet, this would not have not been possible. If only my father were still alive to tell that he had a cousin he knew nothing about. Bittersweet or Schadenfreude, as the Germans would say.

In other news, today would have been Greg's 70th birthday. Kay and I intend to celebrate in his honour at his favourite local restaurant. To remember the good times and less of the bad.








08 April 2019

My local park

I have written before about the amazing parks that are within walking distance of where I live. One is wild woodland with a stream, but, bizarrely, with a few football pitches tacked on. The other is more cultivated with a big lake and tended rose beds, a children's playground, a cafe and an information centre. I have visited the latter one so many times, when I used to take Kay as a child to the playground, then later to walk the dog on a daily basis and in the last few years to work as a volunteer at the information centre. I also go once a week to help an elderly friend walk her dog, as without me, she is afraid of falling. I have taken many foreign visitors to my local park and many comment on how amazing it is to have so much greenery in the middle of one of the world's largest cities.

The lake is full of all kinds of ducks, swans and geese. The island in the lake contains one of London's largest and most spectacular colonies of breeding herons. Once a year, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds comes along to hold a Heron Watch event and yesterday was that day. The banks of the lake were littered with binoculars on tripods. The trees on the island are littered with grey heron nests and the heron babies are now about 4 weeks old, but to my surprise are almost fully grown, except they are fluffier than the adults. There must have been at least 30 babies.

The weather was not brilliant and I had forgotten to charge my camera, so to my annoyance the battery gave out after only a few photos. Here is the best I can offer...


Heron island. Click on the picture to zoom in and see how many herons you can spot

So many herons living in one tree

A mandarin duck having a nap

An Egyptian goose eyeing me up

19 March 2019

Death of an alcoholic

People are naturally always very sympathetic when they find out I am a widow and more often than not ask in hushed tones what my husband died of. When I tell them he was an alcoholic, their look turns from one of sympathy to complete incomprehension, particularly if they knew him slightly or worked with him. He or more precisely we were very good at masking it.... from friends, from neighbours, even from the immediate family. Denial is not just the prerogative of the alcoholic.

My own reaction to his death was strange. When someone has a terminal illness brought on by no fault of their own (let us say a stroke, heart attack, cancer or any number of the cruel life-taking illnesses there are), it is easier to feel so sorry for the patient, to tend to their every whim, make their dying as comfortable as possible and grieve heavily for them after they have gone. After all, it is not their fault.

In the case of an alcoholic who has brought all of their physical destruction on themselves and more than likely caused untold upset and chaos within the family unit, it is completely different. Mopping their sweat-covered brow with love and devotion just isn't an option, when that person has poured gallons and gallons of alcohol into their system, ranted and raved till the wee small hours of the morning, drunk the housekeeping money or dented the car. You might still end up mopping their brow (if you haven't left them in the meantime), but with a feeling of resentment, anger, wistfulness for what could have been and a great dollop of see-it-through-to-the-end fortitude. When they pass on, it is usually one of relief for those who have lived alongside it for years: relief that you can sleep peacefully and return to a normal existence at last.

When Greg died, I was unable to cry (see here) and still find I am relatively hardened to what  happened. It is difficult to knock those self-preservation barriers down that I erected for all those years he drank. Now, when milestones crop up such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries, I naturally think of my late husband. At first, I was too numb to feel anything. As the years pass (currently nine since his death), I am beginning to mellow and am saddened by what he is missing. As a BBC journalist, he would have been so interested in the international and local events of the last nine years. I wonder what he'd make of Brexit,  ISIS, the demise of the Liberal party to name a few. He has also missed out on our daughter's excellent progress in her career and her love life. Knowing he will never walk her up the aisle is particularly upsetting.  He would have been 70 next month. How and where would we have celebrated, who would we have invited, had he been a normal healthy 70-year-old? He and I have forfeited a long and happy retirement together. Gone are the weekends away somewhere or travel to new parts of the world. (I know a few widows or divorcees who do travel alone, but that's not for me. I would stick out like a sore thumb and would not enjoy it.) There's still, after nine years, an element of anger over the fact that my wings have been clipped as well as his, but I also feel sad that he missed out on so many things that could have been possible but for the kamikaze alcoholic choice he made.

The death of an alcoholic is a funny thing and does not always fit neatly into the stereotypical form of grief normally suffered by the bereaved. Whether my anger or the sadness will get the upper hand, who knows? Only more time will tell. 

06 March 2019

Nine years

Today is the ninth anniversary of Greg's death. Kay and I are going to the crematorium to lay flowers in the chapel. Sometimes it seems more than nine years, at other times barely possible that so much time has lapsed. We talk about him often - keen to keep him with us in the present; to chide him over his stupidity to drink himself to death; to lament his absence. To forget him is nigh-on impossible, despite the passing of time. How can you eradicate 39 years together? Most were happy, although they are unfortunately overshadowed by those last few years which were so full of the drunken nightmare, so that it is THAT which has stuck eternally in our minds. 

He was and always will be Kay's father. I am keen to keep his memory alive for her, the good side of him, the kind side of him, not the bad, drunken side. But with every passing year, I struggle to conjure up the details of his face or his voice. I have photos, of course. Cine film even. Not to mention cassettes of his voice as part of his work as a radio journalist. But the 3-D Greg is difficult to bring to the fore. He is fading away into the mists of the past, but still I feel the need to grasp hold of him and remember.


Last resting place

27 February 2019

Thought for the day 1

A recent news report announces that cockapoos (cocker spaniels mixed with poodles) and labradoodles (labradors mixed with poodles) are now the favourite breed of dog, rendering others such as the West Highland White almost undesirable. There's also peekapoos (half poodle, half Pekingese), jackhuahuas (half Jack Russell, Half Chihuahua) and bullshihtzus (half bulldog and half shih ztu), not to mention many more combinations.

Not being funny, but didn't mixed breeds used to be called mongrels?

11 February 2019

I have survived - part 2

Back in September I had our family bathroom modernised and dragged it into the 21st century. It was high time as it was stuck in a 1960s time warp. I wrote about it here. I find it stressful having workmen in the house, particularly when they behave like Laurel and Hardy, but don't like the idea of leaving the house to give them free rein in it either, so I end up on tenterhooks killing whole days at a time, keeping out of their way, not being able to relax to anything, but serving multiple cups of tea and coffee (Greg always used to say a workmen needs his thirst quenching regularly).

Always a glutton for punishment I decided to repeat the whole exercise, but this time to update my en suite bathroom, also stuck in a 1960s time warp. I employed the same plumber to do the work. He and the young lad he employs as his gofer make an excellent job of the bathroom, but manage to create havoc elsewhere. This time was no exception.

The old bathroom look like this.....




Yep. I told you it was dated. I've had to live with it for 30 years! 

The first problem was that the plumber couldn't start on the date we had agreed months ago, 14 January, but asked if it could be a week later. I always have to make sure Kay isn't working night shifts, when I arrange for workmen, because otherwise any noisy work during the day would render her sleepless. So far, so good, as she was not working nights if we shifted the dates forward by a week.

The next problem arose, when a day or so before the plumber said he couldn't start on the Monday 21st , as his last job had overrun, but would definitely start on Tuesday 22nd. As my job would take at least two weeks to complete, he was unable to complete the job by Friday 1st February as we had agreed, but it would run into a third week. Normally this would not be a problem, but on Friday 1st we were expecting a guest from Germany for the weekend - a young girl from Berlin, whom Kay had met on her travels in South America last year. They had become good friends and the girl wanted to visit us in London. I had hoped it would not be a problem as the bathroom work would be finished by then, but of course now it wouldn't be and the house would be in chaos for our guest's arrival. There was nothing to do but grin and bear it and accept the situation.

The first six days (Tuesday 22nd to Tuesday 29th) saw much banging and crashing. The old bathroom was ripped out and ended up in my front garden, new pipes were laid, plasterboard was sawn and hammered in (the dust from plasterboard is nothing short of several bags of flour being thrown around throughout the entire house despite doors to rooms being shut. I was even breathing it in!) Then came the plastering over the plasterboards, the painting of ceilings and the electrician arriving to do his bit. On the Tuesday afternoon, the young lad hosed down the front garden path, as rain had mixed the plasterboard dust out there into a gloopy mess, looking as if a lorry had dumped a load of porridge on the path. The plumber and his gofer lad then left me for the next three days (Wednesday 30th to Friday 1st) while the tiler came to do his bit.

The tiler got on with the job quietly and was finished by Friday lunchtime.  I was pleased at that because it meant I had the whole afternoon to get the place a bit straight for the German girl's arrival that evening. (I had decamped to the guest room while the en suite bathroom was being done, but it meant I had to vacate the guest room and move back into my room, change bedding etc and move all my stuff out.) Things were going well and I was more or less organised, when I happened to go into the integral garage in the late afternoon to fetch something and that is when I discovered it. 

The floor was sopping wet. We have an old bit of carpet on half of the garage floor (don't ask) and it was soaking up the water like a sponge. And on the carpet are three items of furniture belonging to my late mother which we had kept back for Kay for when she eventually gets a place of her own - one of them an antique bureau. All three pieces had their feet on the wet carpet slowly soaking up the moisture. I looked around and saw water pumping out of the hose. I should explain that the hose I keep in the front garden for watering plants out there is permanently attached to a tap in the garage. When I need the hose I turn the tap on and water the garden. Then I turn the tap off. Three days previously the young lad had used the hose, as I explained above, but had not turned the tap off afterwards. He had screwed the spout end in the garden shut and the water had backed up along the hose and was pouring out of the tap end in the garage. With a few hours to go before the German girl arrived, I managed to contact the plumber who flew over to my rescue, muttering about the lad under his breath. He helped me move the furniture to safety and the wet dustsheets covering said furniture ended up on radiators all round the house, as did our old drenched fabric frame tent which is the size of a small bungalow.  Goodness knows what our German guest really thought, when she arrived and saw the things steaming on the radiators but she smiled a lot and accepted what we told her, probably thinking the English are as mad as a box of frogs.

Come the Monday, the lad was extremely apologetic having been given a right rollicking by the plumber and the final stages of work commenced. By Tuesday evening I was able to wave them a hearty goodbye and regain the house to myself. I'm sure you're dying to see the transformation, so without further ado, here are the after photos.  I feel like a film star now, particularly with that big mirror. It might be another 30 years before I can face another makeover again, but for the time being I'm loving that new bathroom.




28 January 2019

Holocaust

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day - a day dedicated to remembering the six million Jews who died at the hands of Nazis in Germany (as well as in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia). It is well that we remember these events in order to avoid the atrocities recurring in the future, although, sadly, we never seem to learn from our mistakes. However, I was appalled to read that five per cent of UK adults do not believe the Holocaust even took place and one in 12 believes its scale has been exaggerated. Why do they think so many millions of people all around the world would make up these stories?

My own family were victims of the Holocaust. I have mentioned it before. My father came from Germany and was born in 1923.  His father was Catholic, his mother a Jewess, albeit one who had never set foot in a synagogue in her life. I guess marrying a Catholic would have been impossible if she were a strict Jew. But she was no more Jewish than I am an African goatherd (and I'm not by the way). By the mid 1930s with Hitler now in power, it became pretty obvious to the family that things were not looking good for Jews. Even if you were non-practicing, they went back six generations to check your Aryan eligibility, so my father and his brother failed miserably on that score, even though they had been raised as Protestants in the Lutheran church. My Dad and uncle had even been confirmed, but it wasn't enough to save them.

In late 1938, my uncle (then aged 17) was arrested at home and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, presumably because he was not eligible to join the Hitler Youth. My 15-year-old father was thankfully in another town visiting his aunt, otherwise he would have been arrested too. Quite why they didn't take my grandparents at the same time, I do not know, but it was 1938 and things were still not as bad as they later became once the war had started. Also my grandfather had been awarded the Iron Cross in the First World War, so maybe that was enough to spare him at that point.

My uncle witnessed horrible things while in Buchenwald, among them daily hangings which the inmates were forced to watch. I have two photos of him taken just before Buchenwald and just after. He appears much more gaunt in the latter and his eyes look haunted. Thankfully he was only there three months. My grandparents managed with the help of Quakers in England to get both boys over here in March 1939,my grandfather paying the Nazis vast sums to get my uncle out of the camp and promising the family would leave Germany for good. It doesn't bear thinking about what would have happened if they had stayed in Germany. As it was, my grandmother's brothers ended up in concentration camps and we never heard of them again.

From a young child, I saw the tattoos, I heard the stories and I relived their experiences. How anybody could say these things did not happen, when there are so many similar stories from people all over the world that have been told or documented, I cannot fathom. What on earth would be the point in making up such horrid stories on a mass basis?

14 January 2019

Fancy that!

Every Monday I take an elderly friend of mine to the local park to help her walk her dog. We met about fifteen years ago in the park when our dogs started playing with one another. Sadly my dog has since passed on, so has hers, but she has replaced hers with a lovable blind spaniel. In the last few years, my friend has had an unfortunate run of bad experiences, namely a broken hip, a broken arm, breast cancer and the death of her husband all in a matter of a few years. Now in her eighties and lacking confidence after her falls, she can no longer drive and I offer once a week to drive her to the local park so she can meet up with some of the old crowd.  Dog-walkers are a particular breed of person. As animal lovers, they generally tend to be lovely caring people and will stop and talk, swap life histories and put the world to rights. Over the years we have met many and become good friends with some of them. One of them sent me the following by email this morning and I thought I'd share with you the origin of some of our well-known English sayings from the 1500s. I already knew some of them, but others were a surprise. See how many you know.


1. There is an old Hotel/Pub in Marble Arch, London , which used to have gallows adjacent to it. Prisoners were taken to the gallows (after a fair trial of course) to be hung. The horse-drawn dray, carting the prisoner, was accompanied by an armed guard, who would stop the dray outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ''ONE LAST DRINK''.If he said YES, it was referred to as ONE FOR THE ROAD.  If he declined, that prisoner was ON THE WAGON. 
 

2. They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. 
If you had to do this to survive you were "piss poor", but worse than that were the really poor folk, who couldn't even afford to buy a pot, they "Didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low.  

3. Most people got married in June, because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June.  However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. 

4. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!" 

5. Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. 
When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."  

6. There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.  The floor was dirt.. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "dirt poor." 

7. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold. 

8. In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight, then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: ''Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old''.  

9. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over they would hang up their bacon, to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "Bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around talking and ''chew the fat''.  

10. Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.  

11. Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, 
or ''The Upper Crust''. 

12. Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of ''Holding a Wake''. 

13. England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people, so they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. 
So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, thread it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus someone could be, ''Saved by the Bell'' or was considered a ''Dead Ringer''.


Who knew walking a dog could be so educational!

04 January 2019

Happy New Year

Another Christmas and another New Year have passed peacefully. Kay and I managed a lovely day-trip up to the Midlands a few days before Christmas to see Greg's sister and her family in their new home. Then Kay and I spent Christmas itself - just the two of us - eating far too much, drinking a little too much and watching wall-to-wall TV in perfect harmony. On New Year's Eve, I went down to Brighton to spend New Year with my two closest friends, whilst Kay was loved up with her boyfriend somewhere in deepest Kent. As an only child and a widow, I am thankful for having good friends and we had a lovely time together seeing in the new year. Kay and I  are back to the normal routine now and I'm about to dismantle the decorations and put them back in their boxes in the cellar.

A new year begins. Who knows where it will lead me personally or the whole of the UK, as we begin to countdown to Brexit? Meanwhile, I have hung up a new calendar my Brighton friend gave me. Knowing I studied German, she has bought me an hilarious one, taking well-known German sayings and translating them into meaningless English. This month's one is "Das ist Schnee von gestern" meaning "that is old news" or I suppose the exact equivalent would be "that is yesterday's newspapers". Somehow the literal translation below doesn't quite get that meaning over. 


A Happy New Year to you all. May it be happy, healthy and not at all as scary as the newspapers would have us believe. Onwards and Upwards....

19 December 2018

Dancing in the Rain



Christmas is nearly upon us and all is organised in the Alcoholic Daze household. Cards have been sent, food is in the cupboards and freezer, presents have been laid out ready for wrapping and train tickets reserved for a quick pre-Christmas day trip to visit Greg's family. The stairs and tree have been decorated and we are all set to go.




I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas and a great start to the New Year. 

Of course, Christmas is not peaceful for everyone. For some it is not peaceful out of choice. I know many people who prefer a noisy Christmas with lots of relatives, board games, singing reindeer, farting snowmen and so on. The louder, the better. 

For many it is not peaceful  and certainly not of their choosing, as they live with an alcoholic. This time of year can be a minefield, living with an alcoholic, as it is almost expected that alcohol will feature prominently in large doses. Not a problem for most, but for families  living with alcoholics it is purgatory. I therefore offer some solace for those in that situation with a saying I came across recently.

LIFE IS NOT ABOUT SURVIVING THE STORM, BUT LEARNING TO DANCE IN THE RAIN. 


Every so often,  for your own sanity, it not worth the trauma of fighting the alcoholic, but to let things be. Sometimes, approaching the problem with a different mindset can cause you less stress. May you therefore dance in the rain this Christmas. Back in 2019!

08 December 2018

At last

Image result for cartoon choir
courtesy of cartoonstock.com

Our choir actually made it to a concert last night. Actually sang. Without  the wrong kind of snow or the pianist's lurgy cancelling it. It was scheduled for last night and with bated breath, based on previous experience, I was half expecting the cancellation, right up to the moment I stood on stage!

We had rehearsed all term a mix of religious and non-religious Christmassy numbers and a random one thrown in. We had two rehearsals this week to fine-tune everything with microphones and a flautist dragged in from somewhere to create a haunting backdrop. 

Kay wasn't sure she could make it, as she had started a new rotation at the hospital yesterday and, being her first day there, she couldn't just up and off when her shift officially finished, as everything would be new and take her twice as long, but after all that, she did manage to get home in time to accompany me to the venue. So it was all working well.

The first half of the "show" was taken up with songs from a 20-strong barbershop choir who were very good indeed. They were followed by a local primary school with cute fluffy kids singing some complicated songs. Then came the interval and we were on in the second half. The star act!

The random song, the first one of our repertoire, was I wanna dance with somebody and our choirmistress, in her wisdom, had all eighty-odd of us line up at the back of the hall and dance down the aisles through the audience and up onto the stage. That was embarrassing! However, once installed on the stage, I managed to keep my nerves, even though I was centre-stage and with nobody tall standing in front of me, I could see most people in the audience. Gulp. I was on the edge of my group, the sopranos, but standing next to a bass on the edge of his group. He belted out his notes so loudly that it was a job trying to sing my soprano part over him. A right war of the notes. We warbled our way through gospel, religious pieces and then finally stuff like Jingle Bells and White Christmas. I think the audience liked it and even joined in for the Santa Claus is Coming to Town at the end.  

More events are lined up for next week - carols in the high street. I'll be signing autographs afterwards. Bring a pen!