Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Reasons why the old should not be kept apart from the young

Have you seen the recent TV programmes and news items about young children being taken into care homes to cheer up the residents? What a fabulous idea. I wish my gran had had the benefit of this before she died last year. She loved the regular visits of the therapy dogs - great slobbery Labradors she loved to stroke and pat. She'd have relished visits from singing toddlers. On the couple of occasions I took in my grandchildren to see her, she grinned from ear to ear, round her head, and back again. 

I wrote a poem about it. 


Most stretched afternoons we are sat
(don’t judge my grammar erroneous
because I mean someone sits us)
in front of Flog It, Homes under the Hammer,
and, particularly cruel for those of us
with months, not years, Countdown.

Tepid tea is served from a trolley
forgotten in a corridor while Elsie Brown
is rescued, trembling, from the lift.
A woman with a headmistress bark
speeds us through Bingo and crosswords
as though afraid she left her iron on.

Today, Prudence says, ‘Is that a baby’s cry?’
and the headmistress is left with 3 Down,
14 Across, and an ego like crushed fruit.
Double buggies arrive as if cavalry.
Dennis sings Old Macdonald to a toddler
in a rich bass unused since he buried Eileen.

I hope you liked my poem. Here's the news story link that inspired it. 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Reasons why Fran avoids being pampered

I had my first pedicure recently. I went with my daughter-in-law as I'd bought her a salon voucher for her birthday and she said it would be more fun if we went together.

I wasn't sure about it. I'm not fussed about being pampered and handled. For instance, I'm in and out of hairdressers as quick as I can be. If I can get away with a dry trim and just enough time to say hello, goodbye and 'You want HOW much?' I will. I'm not at my happiest sitting in front of a mirror, gawping at my own image for an hour. It distorts my perspective of myself.

It's like when you write out the same sentence many times, as if doing lines at school. Write it once: 'I must not run in school corridors.' It looks normal the first time. By the time you've written it fifty times, the words seem surreal, unfamiliar. 'Are they real words? Is corridors really spelled that way?'

In the same way, if I stare at my own face for longer than necessary, what started off vaguely acceptable ends up like a hall-of-mirrors image and me wondering if my parents were first cousins.

I prefer to scurry past mirrors quickly. Blur is the menopausal woman's best friend, as is a steamed-up bathroom cabinet.

Or one of the mirrors they had in medieval times - just a piece of shiny steel hung on a nail that reflects nothing whatsoever and leaves you ignorant of the clutch of spots that has erupted on your chin, pulsating and throbbing like billy-oh and measuring 6 on the Richter scale as you shop at the market for turnips and beetroot.

I like the mirror that's in our hall. My husband, eight inches taller than I am, hung it on the wall by the front door when we first moved here without asking me to check the height. Consequently, all I can see in it is my forehead and the top of my hair. If I want to see any more, I have to stand on the stairs.

I don't, though, want to see any more.

Back to the pedicure. I sat with my feet in warm, bubbly water for twenty minutes: a slightly unusual feeling, as though one's toes are continually breaking wind in the bath. I can't believe people voluntarily sit in hot tubs having their whole bodies simmered in this way AND accompanied by other people, as though in a human stew.

Then the nail-trimming. As the pedicurist reached for a dainty pair of nail clippers that were surely for newborns, I realised I should have mentioned that some of my nails are affected by psoriasis. The young woman was a third my age and a third my size, and I doubt she'd encountered nails like mine before - so thick and tough I'm the envy of every rhino in town. Elegant and flawless, she was, but wrestling with my toenails as though fighting off an attacker made the veins in her neck bulge and I swear I saw a blood vessel burst in her eye.

I explained about the psoriasis. 'I'm so sorry,' I said.

'It's fine,' she said, which is pedicurist for 'I need a pair of industrial pliers and a new career.'

Fortunately, Fran's hall mirror was placed too high for her to see her feet every morning

My piece de resistance was having arrived for the pedicure in socks and winter shoes. My daughter-in-law, not a pedicure virgin like me, had sensibly worn open-toed sandals.

This meant that I could only have one coat of nail varnish, otherwise it was never going to dry in time for me to re-sock. I would have had to sit bare-foot on one of the salon's sofas before I could leave, working my way through fourteen copies of Hello magazine from 2012 about the weddings of celebrities who have since divorced and remarried other unsuitable people.

There was no way I was staying in that salon any longer than necessary, having dislocated the shoulder and elbow joints of an unsuspecting pedicurist.

I agreed I'd settle for the one coat of varnish and a quick exit. I did consider asking for a discount, as I'd only had one coat.

But I opted for good will. Her emergency physio wouldn't be cheap.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Reasons to prepare yourself before engaging young children in conversation

'How many years after the Great Fire of London were you born, Grandpa?' our 6 year old grandson asked my husband on Monday when we went round to their house for Grandpa's birthday meal.

The Great Fire of London is one of Elijah's 'markers'. He learned about it at school and knows the date: 1666. So, why not use it to try and get his head around time? Logical.

But when my husband told him, 'About 300,' he was flummoxed. 300 years? Is that even a THING?

'When were you a baby, Grandma?' 4 year old Phoebe then asked me at the dinner table, looking up at my face as if to say, 'Was this ever possible?'

It reminded me of when I tried to tell a little girl in a shop who was buying a Mars Bar that, when I'd been a child, Mars Bars had been four pence. She stared at me as one might gaze at the Acropolis and said, 'Were Mars Bars even invented then?'

I love this stage, though, when they're not quite sure about time and how it works. It leads to the most entertaining questions.

I've already told you in this blog post about when Elijah wanted me to find real footage on Youtube of medieval knights fighting at Warwick Castle. He was most disappointed to find that no one was around at the time filming them on a smartphone.

It must be a strange world inside a child's head until they learn to navigate days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries.

They measure time in 'sleeps', meanwhile. 'How many sleeps until George's party?' 'How many sleeps until the weekend?' This helps them to estimate how long a wait they have.

It can feel mean, giving them the bald truth sometimes. 'How many sleeps until Christmas, Grandma?'

'A hundred and thirteen.'

'A HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN?' *wobbly lip*

One may as well have set fire to a sparkly pile of Christmas presents or put a Marmite sandwich in front of the child for Christmas dinner.

'Got bad news for you, Teddy. You know I told you it would soon be Christmas?....'

The difficulty with time - and with age - continues into later childhood. I have a very clear memory of sitting on the edge of my bed in 1976, at the age of 14, working out how old I would be at the millennium. I totted it up and realised I'd be 38. I couldn't process it. Thirty-eight sounded like someone teetering on the edge of the grave. I dismissed the idea. It couldn't happen.

Also, I was recently surprised to discover that a teacher who had taught me English at school - Mr Jackson - was still alive. How did I find out? Did I meet him? No. I met a man at a literary event who had been Mr Jackson's teacher when Mr Jackson was Junior Jackson and at school himself! It was on the tip of my tongue to say to this man, 'You look incredible for someone who must be two hundred and six! Can I have your plastic surgeon's number?'

Poor Mr Jackson. I'd thought of him, and all my teachers, as octogenarians at least, surprised to see them turn up day after day instead of being admitted to nursing homes or dropping dead at the school gate. But in the mid 1970s, he was probably only in his 30s. Now, he's in his 70s, and the man I met, who taught him, was a sprightly chap in his 90s.

These days, I'm on the other side of the desk: a teacher. And when I said to a student yesterday who'd come across an unfamiliar word, 'Why don't you go and look up the definition in a dictionary?' he looked at me pityingly, although kindly, and said, 'I think that's just an old person thing now.'

This was on the first day of term as teaching began again after my six week summer holiday.

Hm .... How long have I got until the next summer holiday?


Thursday, 23 August 2018

Reasons why Fran feels self-conscious today (more than usual ..)

I picked up my new glasses this morning. Here's a Before and After comparison for you, whether you wanted it or not.



You have no idea how long that's taken me, to post those Before and After pictures. Every time I posted the After one, it hopped up the page and decided to appear before the Before. 'No,' I told it. 'I need you after the Before. If you go before the Before, people will think the Before is the After and the After is the Before.'

'And who will care?' the After photo said to me. 'Why do you think anyone's bothered about your new glasses anyway?'

I ignored its cheek and dragged it back down again. This time, it stayed. 

It's true. Maybe no one is bothered. But it seems a dramatic change to me, and I felt very self-conscious, stepping out of the opticians into Leamington's main high street. What if I saw someone I knew? Would they do that is-it-isn't-it thing and decide not to speak to me? What if they hate the new look? Will they pretend they haven't seen me, and hope I think they didn't recognise me? 

What if they think I am my own doppelganger and stop me to say, 'We know someone who looks just like you, but she's a weird old bird and best avoided. Don't say we didn't warn you.'

As it was, I had enough to concentrate on without angst about people. Adjusting to new varifocal glasses gives you the same feeling as when you've just stepped off a boat. Is that a step? Where's the kerb? Why do I feel as though I'm having to put my feet down really carefully as though I might be on quicksand? Do I look like John Cleese? 

Not just that, but I have, for the first time, had my glasses made light-sensitive, so they go dark in bright sunlight or light. Instant sunglasses, except that, from behind them, I don't know if they're dark or not. It's disconcerting.

I did in fact meet a friend as I neared home. 'I've got new glasses,' I said. She was too polite to reply, 'Really? You don't say!'

'Are they all dark?' I said. 'Can you see my eyes? I feel unnerved if I'm talking to people in sunglasses and can't see their expression. Do you? Do you feel unnerved?'

She probably did, by then. 

The two photos above: it's strange. I now notice that in the Before, I'm not properly smiling, and my hair is disarranged. In the After, taken seconds later, I'm smiling properly and my hair looks tidy. 

Boy, these new glasses have magic powers! I'm going off to weigh myself just in case they have that power, too ....

With these glasses, you get a free stick of celery to wear between your teeth. I think I'll settle for the ones I've got. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Reasons why Fran was glad to get off a train

Many of us look like this in bed (bless our cotton socks).

The mouth hanging open. The complete oblivion to the fact that the mouth is open. And, perhaps, the string of dribble ...

But, it's not exactly a PUBLIC face, is it?

Nevertheless, after two long train journeys in the last week I've realised that sleeping with one's mouth hanging open is only one of the things we're prepared to do on public transport that we probably wouldn't do elsewhere.

I always get on the train determined not to sleep, especially if I'm travelling alone. But after three hours on a hot train, eyes too tired to read, and hundreds of miles of the field-field-field-field-field-one-bored-sheep variety, my eyelids droop. Half an hour later, I'm jolted awake, hoping I didn't snore like a drain, have my mouth hanging open like a dead fish, or drool.

I also hope I haven't talked in my sleep about ginger biscuits, something I was once accused of doing when I stayed with a friend.

Here are some other things I did on trains this week which I rarely do elsewhere -

I invited anyone who fancied it to steal my luggage. I stashed my bag, containing a week's clothes and essentials, near a door where someone could take it and run if they so desired. Or, someone in a mad rush could grab it by mistake, thinking it theirs. I then left the bag and sat where I couldn't see it, the train being too busy to give me any other choice, and hoped it would still be there three hours later.

It was. Or maybe the thief checked the contents, decided he didn't need three pairs of Marks and Spencers big knickers and a selection of cardigans, and filched someone else's bag.

I sat so close to a strange man that our thighs touched. I was sitting in the window seat and he next to me in the aisle seat. He kept falling asleep and edging nearer but if I'd wedged myself any nearer the wall of the train, I'd have concertinaed all my inner organs.

I interlocked legs with another strange man. If I get someone opposite me at a table seat and they have short legs like mine, we can both cope, apart from the odd knee-touch and avoided eye contact. But his were like Californian Redwood tree trunks, so to sit opposite meant we had to organise our legs around each other's delicately, like one of those little wooden puzzles you get in a Christmas cracker. Then we had to stay as still as we could. Fortunately, a kind of rigormortis set in after an hour which made the job easier.

I went to the toilet very publicly. It was one of those toilets with the curved sliding doors. Immediately outside it were five people, sitting on the floor in the corridor because the train was crammed. I had to step over their legs before I could open the door and go in. I then pressed Close (slow .. slow .. slow closing so that I disappeared from view in stages). Then I pressed Lock three times just to make sure. Then I weed, knowing that five people were within touching distance, had there not been a thin toilet wall. Then I flushed the toilet, washed my hands, and dried them on the hand-dryer, fully aware that they could track my every movement move.

I then pressed the button for the door to open (slow ... slow ... slow opening so that I reappeared in stages). I stepped out into their assortment of legs, refused to meet any of their eyes, pretended I still had dignity, and picked my way back to the carriage.

I wasn't bold enough to re-emerge from the toilet, pause for effect, and say 'Thank you, thank you, everybody' like a performer arriving on the stage.

'I'll be back later for a repeat performance in an hour or so. No extra charge. Do feel free to applaud.'

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Evidence that you need to know one Albert from another

I'm going to Cornwall tomorrow. I've booked my taxi to Leamington Station.

'What's the address?' the taxi office said when I rang.

'Albert Street. Leamington,' I said.

'Okay.' I could hear him scribbling.

'Not Albert Street, Warwick.'

'Ah,' he said. I think he knew why I was making sure.

Warwick is the town closest to Leamington and there being two Albert Streets can cause confusion. Albert Street, Warwick, sometimes gets our takeaways, and we get theirs. 'Pizza for 8?' says the delivery driver.

'Sure,' I say. 'We'll take it. Please tell the people in Albert Street, Warwick, that we're very grateful. We've just eaten shepherds pie and broccoli but we're bound to be peckish later.'

That's when they get suspicious and clutch the pizza boxes to their chests.

We've had taxis turn up to collect people from Albert Street, Warwick.

'Where were they going?' I ask. 'If it's Morocco or a world cruise, I'll get in anyway. Let me just get my bag and toothbrush.'

About a year ago, a woman with a clipboard knocked on my front door.

'Hello,' she said. 'I'm from the council.'


'Here about the extension in your back garden.'

'You are?'

'I presume you know that your landlord has applied to build an extension on the house into your garden?'

'He HAS?'

She took exception to my surprise. 'It's all documented here.' She pointed to her clipboard and tapped it.

'In OUR back garden?'

She tapped it again.

'If you want,' I said, 'you can come and look at the back garden. I'm not saying it's small, but at the moment there's an ant in it and a bee and they're battling for space. I'm even going to Slimming World so I can sit in the back garden without my thighs against the fencing on either side.'

She looked down at her paperwork and frowned.

I peered over at it and spotted the address on the form.

'Albert Street in Warwick,' I said. 'Not Leamington.'

She flushed a shade I haven't seen since I last ate pickled beetroot.

'I'm so sorry,' she said.

'So am I,' I said. 'We could do with a downstairs loo and somewhere to put a broom. I got hopeful.'

She turned and ran to her car.

'While you're there,' I shouted after her. 'Tell them we like more pepperoni.'

It's my ambition to move to Albert Street, Warwick. I'd like to have lived in both Albert Streets.

What's more, Albert Street in Warwick has a church in it, and that's the church in which I married the spouse in 1982. So it would all have come full circle if I ever achieve my ambition.

And, if the woman with the clipboard is anything to go by, we're more likely to get somewhere to put the broom.

I'm back from Cornwall on Friday and will be saying to the taxi driver then, 'Albert Street, please. The Leamington one.'

He'll understand why.

Hopefully, the people at Albert Street, Warwick, would never get to see the contents of Fran's fridge

STOP PRESS: [The next day] Hey, everyone. GUESS what happened with my taxi to the station this morning ....  Yup. It went to Albert Street, Warwick. And I only just made my train ...

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.