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.


31 January 2017

Changing Passwords

We are still not quite into the finger-tip tantalisingly close season of Spring, so need a bit of cheering up to cope with the grey skies and gloom, not to mention endless reports about Brexit and Trump.  A friend sent me the following which apparently won Best Joke in a competition. I'm sure we've all experienced this......

WINDOWS: Please enter your new password.
USER: cabbage
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must be more than 8 characters.
USER:  boiled cabbage
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must contain 1 numerical character.

USER: 1 boiled cabbage
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot have blank spaces.
USER:  50bloodyboiledcabbages
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password must contain at least one uppercase character.
USER: 50BLOODYboiledcabbages
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot use more than one uppercase character consecutively.
USER:   50BloodyBoiledCabbagesYouStupidIdiotGiveMeAccessNow!
WINDOWS: Sorry, the password cannot contain punctuation.
USER :  IWillHuntYouDown50BloodyBoiled CabbagesYouStupidIdiotGiveMeAccessNow
WINDOWS: Sorry, that password is already in use. 


23 January 2017

On the wild side

It's been quite chilly in London for the last few weeks. It's noteworthy because our winters here have been a lot milder over the last decade or so, with only the occasional flurry of snow. Other countries can run quite efficiently with snow reaching depths of several feet and even to the North of Britain, deep snow is quite the norm, but at the sight of the first snowflake we southern wimps go into panic mode and despair. Roads are gritted with mine-fulls of salt to cope with the half-dozen flakes that settle on the ground and commuter trains grind to a halt unable to cope with the wrong sort of snow. Is there a right sort?

That said, this winter it has been unusually frosty since Christmas and I have been leaving the heating on 24-hours (reducing temperature at night) in case the water pipes decide to freeze and spring a leak when they thaw. Each morning I wake to dazzling white frosty roads, white grass and cars looking like they have been dusted with icing sugar. We have also been blessed with clear blue skies and by mid-morning the sun has melted any ice to give the plants in the garden a chance to rally round.

However I have been feeling sorry for the wild life. I love the squirrels that now visit my garden. I could never encourage them before when I had a dog and a cat as both hated squirrels with a passion and the dog would hurl himself at the patio window in an attempt to get at them, forgetting there was glass between them. The cat would hide incognito among the shrubs in wait for them, so any decent squirrel who wanted to see another day became used to avoiding our garden. Now my dog and cat have passed over the rainbow bridge, I recently decided to buy bags of peanuts for the squirrels to fatten them up over this cold spell. I painstakingly hide the nuts between the garden tubs on the patio, so the birds cannot get at them. Each day at breakfast time, I often come down to the kitchen to find at least one if not five squirrels waiting patiently for me to throw the nuts out for them. They sit on their haunches munching away until they are full, then take the remainder to bury for another time.  Some are now so tame, they no longer scamper away when I throw out more nuts for them. We are slowly getting to know one another. I study them while I sit inches away  on the other side of the patio door and have my breakfast.

But now I have also started feeling sorry for the birds. Not wanting to deprive the squirrels of their peanuts, I  have added bird seed to my weekly shopping list. I watch while the pigeons, blackbirds, thrushes, jays, magpies, parakeets, crows and two robins peck hungrily away at the spread on the ground, while the squirrels weave back and forth between them. Word is spreading as more birds seem to arrive each day. There's a good cafe five gardens to the right of the big chestnut tree. Plenty of seed and plenty of nuts. Come and join us. I like to think I'm doing my bit to keep their tummies full and survive the harsh winter. (OK, well, harsh by London standards!)

Apologies for the quality of the photos but they were taken through the patio window glass on zoom lest I scared them all away.....
Where's breakfast?

Oh, there it is

brown pigeons

One of two robins that usually come together


Two of the five squirrels have turned up. I cannot photo them all in the same place as they are so skittish, duck and dive all over the place, and run off to hide their finds.

Nom, this nut is so tasty

Hi. Any chance of some more?

I need both paws to hold this one.

Image result for jay
of course the jay did not turn up as I was taking photos, so  you will just have to believe me, but here's one I grabbed from the internet, courtesy of mbaker.co.uk