WHAT YOU'LL FIND ON THIS BLOG

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.

1.

A sign seen in a Tenby shop. 

2.
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.


3

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. 


4. 
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. 


5.

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.

6.

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 ...'  







7. 




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

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Evidence that someone was prepared to allow Fran on a stage

It's World Poetry Day today or, as it's presented on Twitter, #WorldPoetryDay.

I never know whether these things are official. Every day is a special day on Twitter. Who's made the decisions?

WorldPoetryDay sounds like one of the more significant ones, but #WorldSproutDay, #WorldTreasuryTagDay and #WorldEyelashDay won't be far behind.

To celebrate #WorldPoetryDay, here's a video of me performing my poem 'Pickle Aisle Bride' at a comedy club night. It's deep, meaningful and profound.

That last sentence was a lie. 

Do feel free to groan, along with the audience, at the puns. It's all part of the fun.




While you watch this, I'll get busy thinking about what I'll post on #WorldSproutDay.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Reasons why Fran was glad to wake up this morning

This was last night's dream. Any psychoanalysts out there, please feel free to advise me ....


I'm invited to help serve ice cream and ice lollies at a school fair. I'm not sure why. I am hustled to my duty by a woman keen to be elsewhere. She disappears, leaving me to fend for myself in my new role.

The following things go wrong.

The ice creams and ice lollies are not refrigerated, but laid out in the open air. The day is fortunately cloudy and cool. So far.

I am the only one serving. This would be fine, but .....

.... there's not just one stall with the ice cream and lollies. There are five long trestle-type tables, the type you paste wallpaper on. So, when I serve from the furthest table, I can barely see to the other end of my 'shop'. It stretches into the distance like a mirage.

Thus, it takes some time, when I spot customers at the far end, to reach them. By that time, other customers have gathered at the opposite end and are waiting, calling for assistance. I run a lot. Queues lengthen. Small children wail.

There are about fifty varieties of ice cream and lollies on sale, all with names I don't recognise such as Purple Flower and Red Passion. I search in vain for chocolate or vanilla, as do many disgruntled customers.

All the products all have different prices. The prices are guaranteed to make rapid calculating of totals impossible: £14.23 .... £7.49 .... £12.61.  While I do panicked mental maths, there being no calculator available, customers get bored and walk off with their purchases unpaid for.

The prices are, furthermore, extortionate and the products tiny: the size of petit fours. Customers protest and flounce off, the ice creams and lollies cradled in the palms of their hands.

Half-way through the afternoon, with no sign that anyone will come to help me serve, the sun leaps out from behind the clouds, I begin to sweat unattractively, and there can only be one result for the ice creams and lollies.

One lady turns up and I serve her two ice creams, but she takes a long time foraging in her purse for change. I can see plenty in the purse, but she claims to have none. She says, 'I will take the ice creams away and will share on Twitter that I need some change. I know my followers will be supportive.' As she says this, we both look down at the table. Her ice creams have melted into puddles. 'I'll be back,' she says, the threat not at all veiled.

I lose the cash box containing all the money.

Fortunately, Fran woke up from the dream before this could happen. 







Saturday, 3 March 2018

Reasons why Fran needs the snow to melt

I've been leaping around the living room for the last ten minutes trying to copy the moves of Billy Elliott and the character Julie Walters plays as they dance to 'I Love to Boogie' in the film.

Hang on. I'll just get my breath back ...









































Sorry about the wait.


If you haven't seen the Billy Elliot film, that scene alone makes it worth a watch. Here's the Youtube clip. Why not boogie along?



Luckily, our living room is not overlooked by any other houses. I would hate to feature on Instagram or Facebook with the caption, 'Watch my neighbour dancing like a dream having a seizure.'

Still, it got the old bones shaking about and reminded my joints that they're meant to help my limbs flex.

It's about time I moved my body. It's been so snowy and icy for the last week, I haven't done any of my normal walking routines and what with staying indoors, near the fridge, I suspect the scales will tell a sorry story. I usually hop off the bus in the mornings, four stops after my workplace,  and walk back to give myself a regular fifteen minute workout, but I've been avoiding that while the pavements have been more suitable for Torvill and Dean than for a middle-aged woman with an untrustworthy knee and a nervous disposition.

I fell over on ice several years back and injured the knee, landing plum on my kneecap as though I'd suddenly come across the Queen, and my knee hasn't thanked me since. I'm pleased to say no one saw me The fall was witnessed by a traffic jam made up of about twenty drivers, all bored and with nothing to do but watch local residents crash to the ground in a heap and then lose several fights with gravity trying to regain some shred of self-respect.

My husband has been out twice today for walks in the deep snow, booted and trussed up like a polar explorer. He thinks he is the Ernest Shackleton of the West Midlands.   He asks if I want to come with him, but then his long legs don't disappear up to the hips as my titchy ones do. 'It's all right for you,' I tell him. 'You don't end up looking like someone's left a torso and head resting on the snowdrift.'

The snow is melting now so, on Monday, I can hopefully get back to the walking routine before my joints calcify and I am found stiff and unyielding, 'I Love to Boogie' playing impotently in the background.

'It says she wants it played at her funeral. Imagine!'  



Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Evidence that Fran has been able to read for 52 years now


I saw a news story about an 88 year old woman who had just learned to read for the first time. I wrote this short poem in response and it was published on a poetry website. 

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, all she could do
was drift her hands along each silent spine
or turn hieroglyph pages like a visitor
lost in the streets of a foreign land,
her forehead a frown of lines –
a message of bewilderment she hoped
others could not read.

Then, like whispers, or baby footsteps,
or leaves dropping like scraps of tissue
kissed by an infitesimal breeze,
shapes on pages birthed sounds on her lips -
each day a new one, a tiny gift –
and in her mind, dragons, heroines,
castles, pirates, the sighs of reunited lovers.






Here's the dear lady's story, if you'd like to watch the news clip.



Can you remember anything about when you learned to read? 

My father taught me to read when I was three years old. He wasn't the kind of father who'd lie on the floor and play with a train set or a board game, but was more interested in intellectual activities. 

He walked out on the family when I was eight and was, by all accounts, a bit of a swine, but I'll always be grateful for those hours spent reading 'John has a boat. Look at John's boat. John likes his boat.' 



Sunday, 4 February 2018

Gran, by Fran

This is my Gran. 


She was called Kathleen (her grandmother was Irish) and she died just before Christmas 2017 aged 95. We used this picture for the front of the Order of Service at her funeral. She always looked chipper in pink or baby blue. 

She had three children: two girls and a boy. One girl was my mother, who died aged 31 after years tussling with alcoholism and unwise love choices. Another girl was my aunt, hurried into the graveyard at 60 by an impatient cancer. 

Her son, my uncle, has visited Gran daily for years and years, and I suspect his car still noses towards the road where the care home is by instinct. 

Since moving back from London to the Warwick area, where I was born, I've seen Gran once a week or so. When she was still in her own flat, I'd buy haddock and chips on a Saturday, puffing up the hill from the fish shop to her place. Sometimes we'd watch horse racing on TV or I'd pull out a crossword. Once she'd moved to the care home, my regular duty was to trim and paint her nails. 'Warm Peach or Pearly Pink?' I'd say, holding them both up. In the last year, she's barely been able to see the difference, but she still liked to be given the choice.

I wrote this short poem for her funeral service. It's based on objects with which I will always associate Gran, especially during her last years. The 'basket' mentioned in the poem is one of these that hangs on a walking frame. Hers had a Christmas bow on it, still there from when I bought the basket four winters ago. It made it easy to locate her frame among all the others in the care home, if it strayed. 



Pockets and sleeves

The baby-blue cardigan that matched your eyes
and, if it bore a gravy stain,
the tissue you’d dab the mark with until you’d killed it.

The sachets of Hermesetas you’d collect in your frame basket –
your record was twenty-six -
in case there was a world shortage.

The glasses you put on, took off, put on, took off,
and when you’d taken them off,
the television you were sure no one else could see either.

The startling-red nail varnish you were too shy to say no to
in case you offended the carer
even though you said you felt like a loose woman.

The custard cream, lifted from the saucer,
then dunked slowly, once, twice,
as if in a sacred ceremony of biscuit-worship.

The cardigan’s pockets and sleeves
where you stashed the Mansize Kleenex armoury
with which you fought off your anxieties.

The mysterious unaccompanied popsock in the basket,
tangled amongst combs and brushes
and the half packet of Tuc cheese crackers 
you swore weren’t yours.