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.

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.