Monday, 9 July 2018

Reasons why Fran likes her Mondays off work

Most Mondays, my day off work, I go to fetch my grandson Elijah from school. He's six now, having had a birthday last Thursday, and he's got to that leggy stage when they change from small child to boy and suddenly their trainers take up more of the hallway and their appetites take up everything in the fridge.

Here we are, in Zizzis, celebrating his sixness. He's wearing his birthday shirt. I look as though I'm wearing a large garden, I now realise.

Back in the winter, the pick-up-from-school routine went like this:

Welcome Elijah out of school at 3.15 in Arctic playground and persuade him into his coat, gloves and hat.

He says, 'Can I go and play on the swings just behind the school?'

I say, 'It's really cold. Let's go to a cafe instead and I'll buy you cake and hot chocolate.' (This is called bribery generosity)

Walk him up the hill towards a cosy, warm cafe. If he has his scooter at school, run after him up the hill. Puff and pant.

Get into the cafe and sit him at usual table while I queue up. Pick up his scooter from where he's laid it mid-aisle. Discuss scooter etiquette.

Buy him a cake and a giant hot chocolate ('Don't put cold milk in it, Grandma. I want a grown-up one.')

Watch him acquire a chocolate smile and a cake-crumbed school jumper.

Hear him read his reading book. Help him with difficult words. Feel conflicted: am I Grandma here, or English teacher?

Take him to the toilet and cover his ears for him while he dries his hands under a hand dryer that sounds like a jumbo jet.

Race for the bus and stamp our feet and shiver while the bus decides whether to arrive or whether to pootle around Warwickshire just having a nice time.

Sit on bus, making portholes in steamed-up windows so car-enthused Elijah can scan the roads for Aston Martins and Mercedes and BMWs.

Deliver him home, all caked and hot-chocolated and grandmothered.

Now it's summer and the UK weather is all hot and bothered, thinking itself on holiday in the tropics, the routine is very different. Also, the family has moved house. No bus needed.

Today's itinerary, for example ....

Wait in scorching playground to collect Elijah from school. Have in my bag a banana and a bottle of fridge-cold orange juice.

Persuade him into his sunhat. Lather him in suncream until he's as slippery as a hot fish. Collect his scooter from the rack.

He says, 'Can we go and play on the swings just behind the school?'

I say, 'I would much rather Wouldn't you rather go home and stay in the cool shade of the garden?'

He looks at me as if to say, 'Why would I want to do that? I'm a boy, not a pack of butter.'

'Five minutes then,' I concede.

He says, knowingly, 'Is there a banana in your bag and a drink of orange juice, Grandma?'

I say, 'Yes, do you want it now?'

He considers, and says, 'No, I'll keep it for when I have no energy after the park. I will need vitamins then.'

Trudge to the park while he scoots ahead, his curls bobbing. Stand under a tree for shade, guarding the scooter, while he climbs poles, swings 'as high as the clouds', takes risks on the roundabout and yells to his classmates also approaching the park ('Hey, Josie! Look how high I am!').

See his grin when Josie asks him to play hide and seek with her. Watch his puzzlement when I say, 'Make sure I can still see you when you're hiding.' Observe their hilarious attempts to hide behind ladders and poles.

Overhear conversation between him and Josie. (Elijah: Let's pretend we're going to Spain. Josie: Let's pretend we're going to Turkey. Children aren't allowed in Spain because of all the drunk people.)

Give him a five minute warning.

Five minutes later, give another five minute warning.

Five minutes later, note how much fun he's having, showing off his monkey skills on the overhead bars while Josie admires him, and give another five minute warning.


Call, 'Time's up. Come and get your banana and drink. Don't even think about complaining.'

He yells, 'Bye, Josie!' and slowly walks towards me, exhausted and spent bolts across the park towards me, cheeks flushed and shirt hanging out unevenly from his school shorts. Tie askew.

Walk home with him devouring a banana and sloshing back orange juice like a beer drinker on a bender.

I say, 'How was your day?'

He says, 'My friend tripped me up so I kicked him in the peanuts.'

We stop for an ice cream at the shop. He licks it into shapes as we walk home. 'Now it's a hat.' 'Now it's a mountain.'

He says he visited Warwick Castle last week with school and tells me what he knows about moats, portcullises and knights.

'Do you know about jousting?' I say.

'What's jousting?'

We reach home and borrow his father's laptop to look up jousting. Youtube doesn't disappoint in terms of jousting shows and medieval re-enactment societies and Elijah's eyes are as wide as plates.

He wants me to look up 'the real fighting the knights did when they lived at Warwick Castle' and we have a discussion about when Youtube and cameras were invented.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

More evidence that Fran isn't the one doing the shopping

Further to this recent post about odd-coloured food I have more to report.

My husband brought THIS home.

Here is the conversation we had about it.

Me: What be this abomination, my master? Please remove it from my scullery or I will cave in your head with my chopping block.

Him: It be charcoal bread, my love.

Me: It can be charcoal, my master. Or it can be bread. It cannot be both of those things, or I am not a wench.

Him: Would your pretty mouth like a taste of it, my love? I will tear you off a piece and layer it with fresh butter from our dairy cow.

Me: I would like nothing less, master. In fact, I would rather eat my own ear wax than consider it.

Him: Then I will have to feast on it myself which I am pleased to do.

Me: From whence did you purchase it and how many pennies did it cost thee?

Him: It cost three hundred and fifty pennies, my dearest.

Me: THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY? Have you been eating of the mushrooms underneath the old elm, my master? Or quaffing from the secret hoard kept in the barrels in the barn?

Him: I have not, my love.

Me: Or perhaps, to have that much coin in thy belt, a-betting on the cockfights held by moonlight that you men think we wenches are ignorant of? Do we have coin left enough for meat? And for the baby to come that lays within my womb*, unaware that he or she will be born into a house of extravagance and to a father whose lust for strange and wonderful foodstuffs leads him into the devil's work?

Him: My love, I fear you protest too much. It is only a loaf of bread. Black as the night, I grant, but to me the taste is worth each penny.

Me: It has come between us, my master. The loaf has become a wedge between us, a barrier to our love, a boundary you have leapt across that hath spoiled our passion. I cannot live with a master who carries home such bread, touched by demons themselves until it is as black as sin. I think these are our last moments together. I will fold some clothing in a cloth bag and leave our cottage within the hour. I will set off across the lonely moors and -

Him: I also bought the strong cheese you love and feast on with joy. And warm buns with cinnamon and cloves and brown sugar. And clotted cream for the strawberries growing in the meadow.


Me: - across the lonely moors and over the - over the - Lead me to the buns.  

* Don't panic, anyone. Just my imagination running away with itself.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Evidence that cleaning out your fridge can teach you stuff

1. If a jar of chutney's best-by date is so faded you can't read it, don't use the chutney for the cheese sandwiches of anyone you'd like to keep alive.

2. If you were a cucumber and had been left unattended for three weeks, you too would weep onto other vegetables. 

3. Mayonnaise fit for human consumption should not require slicing. 

4a. Tomatoes which have attached themselves to other tomatoes with what looks like Astroturf are past their best. 

4b. No, not even in a curry.

5. For 'within 3 days' on pre-prepared salads, read 'within 26.5 seconds' or get used to festered rocket.

6. No one needs fourteen types of pickle. 

7. Just because it has vinegar and sugar in it does not mean a jar of mint sauce priced at three shillings can be fed to loved ones. 

8. Only Stilton cheese is allowed to be that green. 

9. If you've had to use a fish slice to get it off your fridge walls, tonight's pasta dish will be better without it. 

10. If you had lost your shape and form in the same way as that carrot has lost its shape and form, you too would not deserve to keep your name. 

11. Bread, the earth, and scabs are allowed thick crusts. Yogurt, less so. 

12. There's finding fridge-clearing tedious and there's over-reaction. 

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Reasons why Fran wishes her husband could wear slippers

I'm so sorry I haven't posted for a while. Here are some reasons.

Reason 1. I was very busy buying my outfit and hat in which to attend the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan. Then I had to shop for the wedding present, and travel to London especially for the event. All this took time in itself, but to top it all, I then had to spend a few nights in a police cell after being denied entrance to St George's Chapel and charged with affray on its front steps, a totally unreasonable accusation bearing in mind I only gave the police officer one little push when he said I couldn't get in without an invitation.

Reason 2. I've also been busy writing my novel. It's amazing how many different ways you can write it. Here are some.

My novel (large font)

My novel (italics)

My novel. (in red)

My novel. (in a different font)

Another way to write my novel would be to sit at my desk and add more words to a manuscript but it's much less scary just playing with font sizes, colours and typefaces.

Reason 3. I've been doing housework, and because my husband wears white sports socks around the house which shed tiny specks of fluff everywhere he places his feet, the hoovering takes up a disproportionate amount of my time. It's not his fault; he can't wear slippers because of foot problems. But it means I can stand in the hall for weeks, watching the seasons go by, while pushing the vacuum cleaner back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, just for one piece of white fluff that clings to the carpet as though masquerading as a limpet or a fluffy white leech.

Worse, the hall carpet is blue. Imagine how that shows up the white specks. People come into our house and wonder why we have had snow in our hall while everywhere else in the UK is having a late spring.

Reason 4.  I have been busy teaching my little English teacher heart out. I teach most of the day in a learning centre for teenagers who are excluded from school and then I come home and tutor private pupils in my front room. The nearer we have edged towards exam season (which is Now) the more lessons the private pupils have booked. Their lessons are usually an hour, but five minutes of that hour is taken up while they enter the front door and negotiate the thick layer of sock fluff in the hall (I sometimes lend out skis or snowboots) in order to access the front room.

I hope this has adequately explained my temporary absence. I will try to do better, fluff-allowing.

Fran's blue hall carpet 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Reasons why Fran might do more of the shopping herself

Is it just me? Is anyone else affected by the colours of food?

I've just made an omelette for my lunch. On my days off (Mondays and Wednesdays) lunch is usually an omelette. I'm trying to avoid bread. We have fallen out, bread and I. I can eat most anything else and not put on weight. I have one thin slice of bread: suddenly I'm the size of a Juggernaut and can't get through normal doors.

Two or three slices of bread, and people pass me saying, 'Look at that hot air balloon, out walking.'

I reached into the cupboard for eggs for my omelette, pulling out a box of eggs that looked different from those we usually buy. My husband bought them - they're called 'Burford Browns' and there's a message - I call it a warning - on the box: 'With deep brown coloured shells'.

The chicken at the top is looking the other way for good reason

Fine. Deep brown coloured shells I can cope with. Who cares about the shells? They go in the recycling, to shell heaven.

But when you crack these eggs for an omelette, inside there's a variety of orange that I have only seen previously on people who have been on sunbeds too long, or are trying to cover up acne with an inch-thick coating of 'Desert Sand' foundation, or it's the kind of orange I've seen on .... oranges.

I can't be doing with it. I had to add more than the usual amount of milk when I whipped up the eggs, and even then I needed to avert my eyes when I ate the omelette, as one does when there's too much sun in the room or a gathering of alien invaders is hovering outside your front window, shining extra-terrestrial light into your home.

A friend of ours admits that when he was young and at university, one of the favourite tricks played by him and his friends was to cook food in garish colours. So, they would add dye to a pan of spaghetti, making it blue, or to a piece of fish, turning it pink.

'You didn't eat it, did you?' I asked him.

'Of course,' he said. 'Why not?'

'Did you wear blindfolds?' I said.

'Why would we?'

'Did you turn out the light?'


'Did you gag?'


'Are you human?' I asked him. ''Were you born of woman?'

My husband is also more adventurous than I. He will happily bring home purple potatoes or black carrots from his allotment and eat them, thinking himself avant garde. Those nights, I have cheese and crackers. Yellow cheese. Light brown crackers. I feel safe. The world is as it should be. My intestines are not going to mutiny as the food descends, wondering why I have eaten a kaleidoscope.

The furthest I'll go is Battenberg cake, and even then, I'm happier if the pink bits are muted, reflecting a sparing use of artificial colouring. 'What's the point of that?' my husband will say. 'You can hardly tell the pink from the yellow.'

'Cake was never meant to be pink,' I'll say. 'If cake was meant to be pink, God would have made flour pink. There would be fields and fields of bright pink wheat, waiting to be harvested and made into flour the colour of a carnation. Being sensible, and sensitive to birds flying overhead who deserve not to be blinded, God made wheat easy on the eye.'

Back to my omelette. I'll be having words with my husband about where he bought the eggs, and whether he thinks it reasonable that I should have to wear sunglasses while cooking.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Evidence that Fran's husband may need to ask her for a more specific Christmas list

A crossword book travels with me everywhere now. It's a hobby that's developed into an addiction over the past couple of years. If I'm stuck at a bus stop, waiting - a daily occurrence, and sometimes twice or thrice-daily - I'll whip my crossword book out, turn to a new puzzle, and while the time away filling in the clues.

I've nearly missed my bus many times. Buses sneak up on people with their heads buried in books, then hurtle past to punish you for not staying alert. There are some bus drivers around here who probably keep a joyful tally of the number of people they've outwitted this way.

Never mind missing buses, though. My bigger problem, currently, is that the book I'm carrying around is filled with general knowledge crosswords. My husband bought me this for Christmas, forgetting that I do not possess General Knowledge.

I possess only Generally Forgotten Knowledge and it's so far down, at the very ends of my brain neurons, or wherever knowledge resides, that I would need major surgery to retrieve any of it. It may even be in my pancreas, having slipped down my body through neglect. Some may be in my little toe. It may ALL be in my little toe. I stubbed my little toe on a door jamb last week, so even the knowledge I do have may all be dead now.

The least I can do is to keep my knowledge warm

I am good at crosswords which ask questions about words and meanings and synonyms and metaphors. This is just as well. I get paid a monthly salary for knowing about these things and teaching them to others.

So, I enjoy clues such as 'Very angry (7)' and happily write in 'furious'.

I can do 'Very angry (6)' - 'raging'.

I can even do 'Very angry (12) - 'incandescent'.

But, at the moment, my crossword daily experience is causing me serious anguish.

The bus is late. I open the book to a new crossword, and frown for a while over 3 Down 'Small spiny fish (12)'

Not having taken much notice of nature for 55 years now, this question is not in my skill set.

My eyes shift to 40 Down 'Province of South Africa (9)'.

Having been thrown out of most of my Geography lessons at school, I pick another. 51 Down 'Malayan dagger (4)'.

I didn't pay attention in 'Foreign Weaponry' either, so I try again. 47 Across 'Author of Ode to Joy (8)'.

I think Ode to Joy is a musical piece but the word 'author' confuses me. I leave that one for the time being. I might ask my musician husband later ... if I can humble myself that far down.

It's a good thing it's a book of jumbo crosswords. I still have about 70 more chances in this crossword for the knowledge that isn't dead in my little toe to make its way back up. 

Here goes. Surely I can do 'Edicts of tsars (6)'. 

Maybe 'Container for melting metals (8)'

I'll try 'Relating to Greek political union (11)'.

Or perhaps I won't.

'One of the Furies (7)?'

'Roman name for York (8)?'

'Seraglio (5)?'

'Former football field position (7,4)?'

'State capital of Georgia (7)?'

By now, I feel like one of those poor people on Mastermind whose mind goes into whiteout and who keeps saying 'Pass', 'Pass', 'Pass', 'Pass' to every question, knowing that the watching public feels sorry for them on the one hand and spectacularly entertained by their tragic fall on the other.

The number of times each of them wanted to die during questioning

I go back to 'Seraglio (5)'.  Is it a type of pasta? A dance? A disease? A type of adhesive? A Spanish form of greeting?

There are 60 jumbo puzzles in the book, each with 100 or so clues. 

I have a lot of serious anguish still to come.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Reasons why Fran will never be taken on as a traditional travel writer

We are on holiday in Tenby, Wales. Paul and I come here most years, renting the same house each time because it has an original version of Monopoly with the metal tokens such as the top hat, boot and iron. We also like the pretty duvet covers on the beds. And there's a sea view, which is also nice.

It's a bit quiet this year - usually we bring some of our offspring with us. We are missing them. In part, this is because our she-was-on-Masterchef-once older daughter always does the cooking. We've been sitting around waiting for dinner to arrive before remembering she's not here and leaping to our feet to run to Tesco.

I'd like to share some of my holiday pictures with you. Fear not. My holiday snaps tend not to feature panoramic views or cathedrals.


A sign seen in a Tenby shop. 

Meet Colin and Caroline, in their usual place just outside our seaside house window. We named them about six years ago when we first came to stay here and each time we arrive, they visit. Any one of you thinking, 'How do you know they are the same birds?' is reading the wrong blog.


We're not sure whether the culprit is Colin or Caroline. Whichever it is, he/she enjoys having a little laugh at our expense as we arrive at our 'sea view' holiday home. 

There's an Easter tradition that I injure my right leg while on holiday. Two years ago in Oxford, I fell over a doorway and punctured my shin, resulting in three weeks off work with cellulitis. Regular readers may remember. This year's injury was sustained five minutes after we arrived when I catapulted myself over a post in the garden. 


Two years ago when we were here, there was a classic white toilet seat, but it was off its hinges and going to the toilet meant taking your life in your hands. This year we find it's been replaced by this. It's nice to feel more secure but having the most kitsch toilet seat ever underneath your buttocks is still unnerving.


One never likes to receive alarming news on holiday. Long-time followers of my blog will have come across Rat and his adventures*. Currently, he resides with my younger daughter and, while in a coffee shop in Tenby this morning, we got the news that he was having surgery. He sustained an injury years ago after being hidden inside a light fitting, setting him on fire. His previous blue-checked-patch surgery was coming adrift, so further treatment was needed.

We then received a picture of Rat during his operation.

I sent this picture to our daughter to show her how anxious her father was about Rat's progress.

But the news was good and Rat's operation went well although Rat is probably as happy about his bandaging as we are about the kitsch toilet seat in our holiday home. 

This is post-op and relieved Rat, although his look says 'If you'd known the difference between a wall ornament and a light fitting, none of this would have been necessary ...'  


All right, then. Here's a more traditional holiday picture of Tenby, taken when we arrived on Saturday,
before the skies went completely grey and the rain began to lash down, giving us this view (below) from our holiday house. But who cares? We have the Monopoly. We have the kitschest toilet seat in Christendom. And Rat is safe and well. 

* Anyone who wants to know more about Rat and his life story, you can read all about it in this 2009 blog post