16 May 2017

Slim chance

I've been doing a lot of knitting lately. 

I've also been trying to lose a little bit of weight. Not a lot but a little. About ten pounds to be precise.  My weight had crept up over ten stone and I didn't like being in double figures (number-wise, that is, not shape-wise!) As I have an occasion I want to lose weight for, I decided to go hell for leather for it. I'm going for a combination of an old Rosemary Conley diet which has been successful in the past plus a smidgen of common sense - high fibre, low fat, low sugar and exercise. I've got a mere three pounds to go until I get to my target of 9 stone 7 pounds, but they are proving the hardest to shift.

I manage very well during the day. I have a small breakfast, small lunch and have my main meal in the evening at around 6 or 7pm. I am usually quite occupied during the day and often out of the house all day, so I barely think about food, but, come the evening, after my main meal of the day, I could happily go on snacking until bedtime. That has always been my downfall. Particularly in the wintertime when I hunker down in front of the TV I get bored and, well, peckish. It seems like every ten minutes I am resisting the idea of getting something to nibble. Sometimes I win.  Sometimes I lose. But when you are on a diet, you cannot afford to lose (except lose weight of course).

That's where the knitting comes in. In a desperate attempt to keep busy and keep my mind on something else (and not food), I decided to knit. I can do that AND watch television without the feeling I am wasting my time. It's also difficult to put the knitting aside (especially in the middle of something complicated) to go off to get a snack.

But what to knit? I don't really have anything specific to knit for and prefer small items where I can see the results quickly. In the last few weeks I've knitted 40 beanie hats and matching socks for small babies and sent them off to four London hospitals for their neonatal wards. Stupidly I didn't take pictures of those, but here's some of the blankets I have been knitting for our local animal rescue centre. So far I've done 3 cat-sized blankets and 3 dog-sized ones. Way to go.

At this rate, by the end of the year, I'll have knitted my own furniture and hopefully be stick-thin in the process. Some hope. Mind you, my fingers do seem a lot slimmer.


10 May 2017


There's been a lot of publicity recently about alcoholism.  First the  revelation from Brad Pitt that alcohol was responsible for breaking up his marriage to Angelina Jolie.  Then a report that baby boomers are at risk of developing deadly conditions by regularly binge drinking. Then a feature in ITV's Loose Women in which Nadia Sawahla spoke of her husband's alcohol addiction.

Brad Pitt calls himself a "professional drinker" who has been sober for six months. It dangerous when people are in denial and do not truly recognise their alcoholism and use another term for it, as if "professional drinker" makes it sound more respectable. He's a recovering alcoholic plain and simple. "Professional" sounds like he could like it or leave it, switch to another "profession", if it did not agree with him. The fact is that an alcoholic has an uphill struggle to leave that profession. That Brad Pitt has been sober for six months is good - all credit to him - but it takes even harder work to keep that up. Time will tell whether he succeeds. Meanwhile, it has cost him his marriage and constant contact with his kids, as is so often the case with alcoholism. All too often, it costs you your life.

As for the baby boomers, they are in their sixties. They probably have reasonable pensions, considerable savings stashed away and a lot of time on their hands. Either living it up on the Costa del Something or housebound in grey Blighty, the time on their hands gives them carte blanche to drink, because they can and they're bored. No need to get up for work the next day. If they drink too much they can sleep it off. Nobody is going to rebuke them for being late or not turning up. Sitting in front of the TV with a bottle of wine each evening probably doesn't count either - in their eyes - so they too are in denial. Apparently a quarter of men over 65 and 13% of women drink FIVE days a week. This increases their risk of common cancers (bowel and breast), liver and heart disease. (My hairdresser is one of these... she recently confessed she cannot wait for seven o'clock to come round each evening when she can crack open a bottle of wine to remove the stresses of the day, but sometimes she cannot wait and opens it at five o'clock.  She finds it hard to have an alcohol-free day let alone alcohol-free week.) Figures published last week reveal an estimated 339,000 alcohol-related admissions in 2015/16, up 22 per cent from 2005/6.   Of course these figures will not all be attributable to baby-boomers, as the young too are on a car-crash course with their drinking habits. Thanks to the Labour government who relaxed drinking laws in 2005 because they thought the British public could handle 24-hour drinking. What were they thinking?  Maybe we DID need a Nanny state to stop us all becoming a nation of zombies with medical problems. Governments can be in denial too, although cynically the increased tax revenue they stood to gain on alcohol probably had something to do with their decision.

My heart went out to Nadia Sawahla on Loose Women when she revealed that her husband is a recovering alcoholic. It had nearly cost them their marriage too. Often partners of alcoholics are in denial too and hope it is just a passing phase that their partner will grow out of. However,  Nadia gave him an ultimatum and thankfully he responded by becoming sober - something that has to date lasted 13 years. He is one of the lucky ones. Statistics show that only one in ten manage to pull themselves out of their addiction and of course staying that way takes a lifetime of immense will power. Just one little drink can lead to addiction again.

04 May 2017

When is enough enough?

About fifteen years ago, when Kay was about ten years old, we took a camping trip to France. We used to go camping a lot in those days, as we had our lovely dog Snoopy then and putting him in kennels while we went away was out of the question, as he was terrible at being left. It was no great hardship. We loved camping and could still explore abroad, as we got him fixed up with his own pet passport. We did trips to France frequently and found a good vet in Calais who would do all the necessary checks and paperwork to get us safely back through Dover again. We went to Germany, Denmark and Ireland too and have many memorable photos of us all crouched inside the tent in pouring rain! Seriously, we had some truly fantastic times.

On this particular trip fifteen years ago, when Kay was ten, we had been returning to the UK from a trip to the Loire. After a long motorway drive, we pulled over to a very small parking area on the side of the motorway somewhere in France for a bit of leg-stretching. It was shielded from the motorway by trees, so it was only when we had parked in one of the twenty or so parking bays that we noticed the very small bungalow building was derelict and the "cafe" was most definitely closed and looked as if it had been for some some years. There was only one other car there apart from ours, but nobody in evidence, so goodness knows where they had gone.  No problem for us, though, as we virtually had the kitchen sink and kettle in the back of the car, so we set about boiling some water on a small camping stove on the ground at the back of the car. Kay had got out with the dog on a lead and stood near us.  Engrossed in finding the jar of coffee and the teabags among the huge heap of luggage, dog bed,  tent and camping paraphernalia, I suddenly turned round to find Kay and the dog were not by the car. They weren't in the car. They weren't in front of the car. They weren't even in view. I called her name. There was silence. Greg and I called and called. Nothing but silence.

Sheer panic set in. My heart was beating two thousand to the minute and it seemed as if it would burst through my throat. Where was she and why wasn't she replying? Before Madeleine McCann there had always been threats of child abduction, the most famous one at the time being the James Bulger case. Did the owners of that other car have something to do with it? I felt sick with fear. We were flailing around searching bushes, trees and about to go towards the derelict building, when Kay and the dog emerged from behind the building. I cannot tell you how relieved I was at that sight and when we ran towards her half-angry, half-relieved demanding to know where she had been, she looked totally surprised at our concern, saying she had just decided to take the dog for a walk to stretch his legs. It was all of about ten minutes, but it seemed like ten years.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the day Madeleine McCann went missing. I cannot begin to imagine what Kate and Gerry McCann went through and are still going through. How do you cope with something like that for ten minutes let alone ten years? I admire their tenacity, but they must be putting their life on hold until she is found. At what point do you give up and think enough is enough? 

Image result for madeleine mccann now and then
Madeleine in 2007 and how she might look now

29 April 2017

Happy Birthday

It would have been Greg's 68th birthday today. Happy Birthday up there on the clouds, doing whatever they do up there. Are you allowed any alcohol to celebrate, I wonder?

I cannot picture Greg as 68. He is still the 60-year-old who died just over seven years ago. I suppose that's one thing about dying relatively young. You never age beyond that point. Whereas for the rest of us, you cannot stem the slowly oncoming tide of ailments, poor eyesight, tottering gait, failing this and failing that.   He has escaped the drawbacks of ageing, but has been cut off in his relative prime by the demons of drink. Which is worse?

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

19 April 2017

The thin end of the wedge

"Have you heard the news?" said Mum animatedly yesterday. "Theresa May is calling for a general election."

"I know", I said. "It's quite unexpected, isn't it?" 

"Hmm." she replies. "I can't understand why she's doing it, though.  Errr.  Forgive me for being ignorant, but what does Brexit stand for and what is it all about?"

I feel a sledgehammer hitting me sideways.  How on earth do I answer that? I'm not very good at masking. Lying. Pretending.  So I go for the full-on honest approach. "You are kidding me, mum. There's been little else discussed over the last 12 months. You even voted on it last year in the Referendum. It's a shortened form for British Exit."

There's a pause. "Oh I see." But clearly she doesn't, so I venture "It's the British exit from the European Union. You know, the Common Market."


This is not the first instance that I have felt something is not quite right. There have been a few others. On Easter Sunday, I brought her over to my house to share with Kay and me  in an old-fashioned English meal of roast lamb and Easter Simnel cake. There is just the three of us now. Mum's husband, my father, died in 2001. My husband died in 2010. Kay is an only child, as am I.  So on important occasions it has been just the three of us for the last seven years. The three musketeers. 

Kay helps mum from the lounge to her seat at the dining table. I dish up the meal and put it in front of mum, before I return with the plates for Kay and me.

"Where are the others?" asks Mum. "Are they not coming down for lunch?"

"What others?" I ask, not daring to imagine whom she means.

She looks confused. "Er. Er. I don't know. Er. "

Kay and I exchange glances. "Do you mean Kay's boyfriend?" I suggest as a possible way out, although he is 40 miles away with his parents, as my mother well knows. 

"Yes", she replies, although not with conviction.

I worry if these instances are just a slight wobble or a symptom of something much worse. She is in a lot of pain with her arthritis and the painkillers don't even touch the sides. Even then, she only takes paracetamol and the occasional codeine, as she has done for years, so there is nothing really heavy to cause her mind to behave strangely as it seems to be doing lately. Stronger painkillers make her woozy, so we have experimented with them way back in the past but dismissed them as too dangerous as she lives on her own and could have a fall.

Are these the first signs of dementia? She is approaching 94 after all, but then again her next-door neighbour is going to be 100 next week and is as bright as button. My mother is very interested in the television news and would read more if her poor eyesight did not let her down, so she is not completely gaga and at least knows what year she is in and who the Prime Minister is. 

But I can't help feeling these little instances are worrying and I don't know what the next few months will bring. I am not sure I am prepared for it, whatever "it" is.
Kay made a Simnel Cake for Easter

Isn't she clever?

04 April 2017

Stratford upon Avon

Sorry for my rather long silence, but I've been away.  Last week Kay and I had a mini-break in Stratford-upon Avon. I've been there before but it was over 35 years ago and in the dark. I got an evening coach trip from Leicester (where I was at uni) to see a play, so all I saw of Stratford was in the dark apart from the inside of the theatre! I felt it was high time and long overdue that I visit the town properly.

Kay had a few days off before she changed rotations and wanted to utilise the time wisely, so we hit on the idea of Stratford upon Avon. I've heard of Shakespeare (who hasn't?) and all his plays, but I did not really know anything about the man. In the space of a few days, I got to know him and his family really well. 

Kay had booked us into a lovely self-contained airbnb which was a short walk to the town centre, so we were able to sight-see during the day, walk back to the flat and refresh ourselves, before walking back to the town centre again to choose a restaurant for dinner.

We  saw most of the Shakespeare homes. 

First his birthplace
Front of birth house on Henley Street
Rear of birth house
Young Will had to share this bed with two of his brothers!  

Then on to Anne Hathaway's Cottage  - the home of his wife before they married. I think this place was my favourite of them all.

We also visited Hall Croft, the home of his daughter Susanna. She married a physician and Kay found it very interesting to learn about Tudor medicine. (Thank goodness we did not live in those days, is all I can say.)
Hall Croft

We also popped into Holy Trinity Church  where Shakespeare is buried. I stupidly thought he was buried in Westminster Abbey, but maybe the caption on his grave put people off moving him.

Wandering around the town there were so many beautiful old buildings - I cannot possibly put them all here, but here are a few....

We did not see a play while we were there. My hearing is not what it used to be and I did not fancy sitting through several hours of Julius Caesar, which was on during our stay, without being able to hear what was going on.

Shakespeare was 18 when he married Anne Hathaway. She was 26 and apparently "3-months with child", so they married hastily in November 1582. She probably conceived in August or September - the height of harvest-making on her farm. Say no more.  Their first-born was Susanna (who married Dr Hall,  the physician I mentioned above). Shakespeare and Anne later had twins Judith and Hamnet, but Hamnet died at the age of 11, so the Shakespeare line died out with the two girls. Shakespeare was quite a wealthy man and owned several properties in Stratford as well as in London.  It was amazing to think he left school at 15, died at the age of 52 and yet wrote so prolifically in that short time.

You can tell,  I thoroughly enjoyed my short-break and came back thoroughly refreshed.

14 March 2017

Making savings

Image result for when do £1 coins come out 

At the end of this month the new 12-sided bimetallic £1 coin makes its premiere appearance. The current pound coin was too easy to counterfeit apparently. Apart from being made of two metals and having many sides, the new one will have, among other things, milled or smooth edges on alternate sides and an image like a hologram that changes from a "£" symbol to the number "1" when the coin is seen from different angles.

You are advised to search deep into your sofa cushions, piggy banks, coat pockets, tooth fairy stashes, car compartments and anywhere else where you might horde coins, as the old pound coin will cease to be legal tender after 15 October.  You might be surprised just how much money you could be throwing away, if you don't.  Foreign tourists might also take note and trade them in at their local banks, as they probably still have the odd pound coins lurking in the midst of their travel paraphernalia in the hopes of returning to Britain one day.  I know I still have a motley collection of ancient US dollars, Italian Lira,  East German Marks, Yugoslavian Dinar and goodness knows what else which are now probably worthless. I doubt even as a collector they would be worth that much

Talking of throwing away money, I have just (sickeningly) discovered how much money I could have been throwing away over the last ten years .... enough to buy a new car or an extremely luxurious round-the-world  holiday. Yes, sickening. It would seem I have been paying something like £500 over the odds each year by not having a water meter. I have just been signing over £750 per year to the local Water Board without questioning it. Last week, a newspaper article highlighted the savings to be made by having a water meter and gave a link to check whether a meter could save you money. Living as I do now on my own, I did wonder, so I went online and even with gross exaggeration* of how many showers (14) I could possible take in a week and how many times I used the washing machine (10), flushed the toilet per day (20) or hosed the garden, I still could make savings of about £500 per year. 

*I stress these are gross exaggerations - whoever has 14 showers in a week and flushes the toilet 20 times a day should surely have some serious hygiene and bladder problems!

Image result for water meter thames water I do recall at some murky point in the distant past that the water companies were offering water meters to their customers, but at the time, there were three of us living in the house, hubby was in the throes of his alcoholic meltdown, daughter was a teenager showering a lot and the dog was getting senile and weeing in his bedding every night which meant the washing machine was on at least once if not twice a day. My eye was taken off the ball. I suppose in my cynical frame of mind, I also discounted it as an advertising hype that would no doubt benefit the water companies more than the customers so I ignored it. More fool me. My total idiocy has been rectified: a surveyor came last week to decide where the meter should be located and it will be installed in the next few weeks. 

I feel a luxury holiday coming on......

06 March 2017

Seven years and still counting

It's seven years to the day  and to the hour since Greg died. Or to be even more precise 2,557 days (and nights) without him. Why do I still mark the anniversaries? Does a time ever come when the date arrives and I forget?  Immersed in something else? Or I don't even try to remember the date in the first place?  Someone once commented on this blog saying I'll know you are on the road to coping with Greg's death when you start a new blog, all about you, leaving the old one with its running ticker of days since Greg died to count on quietly by itself.  I've long since removed the ticker counter from the blog, but I still cannot yet remove the anniversaries. Will that ever happen, I wonder?

I  don't particularly want to remember his last five years on this earth, as they were truly horrible, so why do I need to savour that last day and make it stick in my brain in case I should ever forget? Is to punish myself for things not said or not done to stop it? I suspect it is because we had 35 years previously to that which were wonderful and it is THAT which I don't want to dust under the carpet.  He was a good man. Kind and understanding to all he met. He would give the shirt off his back to help someone or defend them if unfairly wronged. A good father. A good husband.  He was not bad, only the alcoholism. I try to remember him as I first met him and not as he was when I said my last goodbye.

For the first time in seven years, Kay is with me (on a week's leave) to mark the occasion. We shall go to the chapel of rest together and lay flowers and look at the book of remembrance. She too still feels the pain of those last years, although our anger has mellowed. Ironically she is now working for two months on the liver ward of a large teaching hospital in London and seeing many cases of, you've guessed it, alcoholic liver damage. She's got past the stage of being upset about it. If anything, she is more understanding than any of the other doctors, because she grew up knowing how hard it is for an alcoholic to give up the alcohol. Alcohol becomes the master and the alcoholic is the slave. If anything, in Greg's case, alcohol was the one who gave him up.  It had no further need of him. He was wasted, done with, of no further use. It took what it wanted from him and then spat him out on an intensive care bed with a flat-line on the monitors. It's knowing he didn't deserve that which drives me on to remember him as he was and to keep on remembering.

27 February 2017

GP Surgery Blues (or Yellows)

Sitting in the GP's surgery is not a barrel of laughs. My local surgery has four doctors and one nurse, so at any one time there is usually at least eight or ten patients (with or without family members) waiting to be seen. Most avoid eye contact and, because they are generally unwell, they have a world-weary look about them that suggests they are on their last. The silence is  only perforated by the ring of the telephones and the two receptionists' whispered comments to the caller.

The only entertainment  is a handful of well-thumbed magazines (vintage 2015) and an electronic wall screen reminding you to switch off your mobile phone, how to recognise the signs of  meningitis, how to treat a loved one with dementia or avoid malaria if going abroad. Like I say, not a barrel of laughs.

Of course, the wall screen has the main function of flashing up the patient's name and directing you to the right consulting room, but in between, the list of dreary reminders about dementia, malaria and meningitis pop up on continuous loop. God knows why, but I always make a point of getting to  the surgery far too early  - about 10 or even 15 minutes before my appointment. I don't like to be late for anything and the wait allows me to compose myself and get my brain into gear. But even once I've seen the adverts, turned off my mobile, taken stock of who I think is ahead of me in the queue, I've still got time to fry an omelette.

Image result for doctors waiting room
courtesy of gponline.com

This morning was different. Entertainment-wise, that is. There was a young woman with a little girl around the age of two or possibly three with an adorable face and her long hair scraped back into two jaunty bunches. They sat down in the row in front of me. The ads continued to flash on the screen. 

"It's my name," said the little girl pointing quite excitedly.

"No," said the mother "it's an advert. That's not your name."

The screen flashed to another ad.

"It's my name now," said the little one again, jumping up and down on her seat and pointing animatedly. 

"No, it's not," said the mother with a world-weary tone.

"It's my name now," shouted the little girl, as the screen changed yet again.

"Look," said the mum, "when the doctor calls you it's black writing on a yellow  background. Look out for the yellow." 

A few people smirked. Just then, a blue and white screen gave advice on how to stop smoking.

"It's my name" said the little girl, pointing vigorously.

By now a few people in the room were trying very hard to smile without moving their face muscles.

"I told you to look for the yellow background with black writing. Is that yellow?"

The little girl looked sternly as if she was trying to visualise yellow.

Then the screen showed the meningitis ad again - on a yellow background.


The whole waiting erupted into giggles. 

I tell you, the surgery ought to employ that little girl. She brought a smile to everyone's face and best of all got every  body talking!

16 February 2017

Branching Out

I rarely make new year's resolutions but this year I was determined to make this the year I stop saying I haven't got time to do things. One of those things is to research the family tree. So in the first week of January, to give me an incentive, I signed up to and paid for two online ancestry websites and started to beaver away into the Alcoholic Daze family history. It has been labour-intensive but fascinating. On at least two whole days for every week since I have been glued to the internet researching.

I have a box full of some rough paperwork I have gathered over the years - jottings of conversations with  close relatives, photos with captions on the back, addresses, letters - all in a muddle and a heap. I systematically started to divide it all up into my side of the family and my husband's side. Then for each side I subdivided material into maternal side and paternal side.

I started with my mother's side. I have a lot of information on this part of the family and still have my mother around to ask any questions, if need be - or so I thought. However my 93-year-old mum now has lapses in her memory, it seems, and cannot even recall the name of the hospital I was born in, so obviously she is no longer a reliable source for anything or anyone even further back in history.

My paternal side will need a bit more thought as those records stem from Germany. Maybe I need to go out there for a holiday to research them. Yes, I shall book a flight some time.

My first realisation is that the material available online is not totally reliable. For example my maternal grandmother was called Elsie but the census online shows her as Elni. I knew I had the right person because all the parents' and sibling details on the census are correct. However, when I compared the original hand-written census where her name was clearly "Elsie" with the later typed-up version, it had become "Elni". Another relative who has the name Armstrong as a middle was clearly shown as Armstrong in the handwritten version but shown in the typed version as Arabella. I am sure HE would not have been happy about that! My daughter reckons they use electronic readers to transpose the handwritten versions into typed versions and the electronics go a bit haywire sometimes. You're not kidding. 

Another problem is finding the correct dates. For relatives I know well, I may know the exact date of their birth but even this is not straightforward. My mother-in-law, for example, was born in late 1925, but her birth was not registered until 1926, so in researching ancestors back in the 1800s, I am not entirely sure I have found the right birth or death dates or even the right person as there can be hundreds of John Smiths and surprisingly as many Edith Hedleys (which you would think much rarer). How to know for sure that you have the right one? It is only recently that mothers' maiden names have been added to the birth certificates, so before that there is no way of being sure you have the right John Smith unless you cough up £10 each time to receive a copy of the actual certificate. It can get quite expensive.

The last few weeks I have concentrated on Greg's side of the family, as I was invited up to my sister-in-law for a special occasion last weekend and wanted to take some f my research to show them. I have found some interesting things and interesting professions on their side of the family.Even two sets of cousins marrying over two generations. I've gone as far back as the late 1700s and am now working out how to go further back still.

I am getting a lot of fun out of this and it will be something to leave the next generation. The sad thing is that when we are young, we don't really give a toss about our ancestors and it is only when living relatives pass away, that we wish we had asked more. I intend to leave plenty of records so that Kay and her cousins can have this information to hand, when they feel ready to ask those questions.

Look up this link to a video clip from BBC's Who Do You Think You Are when actor Danny Dyer (who plays pub landlord in  our long-running soap Eastenders) finds out who his ancestor is. The look on his face is priceless.