Friday, 29 April 2011

Z is for Zoril

I'm ending this blogging marathon with an interesting little carnivore; a kind of cross between a weasel and a skunk, which may well be the reason most people haven't heard of it. I mean, it's not the kind of think you'd want to keep as a pet, is it, and while it may be edible, I doubt whether many have tried eating it.

It has (and I quote): "several means of avoiding predators - including the ability to emit foul-smelling secretions from its anal glands, playing dead and climbing trees. The animal is...... typically 60 centimeters long including a 20-centimeter tail. It lives for up to 13 years."

There. Don't let anyone tell you this blog isn't informative. I may even have introduced Scrabble-lovers to a useful new word (scoring 14 points, even if you don't land on any doubles or trebles).

And that's the end of my A to Z blogging challenge. Thanks to all visitors for their comments; they've made the whole exercise worthwhile and helped me keep going. I've enjoyed doing it, but am not sure that I'll do it again!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Y is for Yay...

...for the royal wedding! Even now, there are people grumbling about the expense, the fact that we're stuck in the dark ages, that it's all silly, a waste of time etc etc. But I think that anything that cheers (lots of ) people up, brings us together, boosts tourism, makes (some of) us feel patriotic, gives us a chance to wheel out the coaches and the soldiers and the fly-pasts (ts ts - all that wasted fuel) has to be good. Devizes has sold out of canapes, and also red white and blue flowers, and there are flags hanging from windows. My mad daughter has gone completely overboard with enough bunting to cloak an entire village, union jack plates, a quiz (what's so-and-so going to be wearing. That kind of thing), and we're going to join her.

So here's to a wonderful day. And for those who really aren't interested, there's some very dull-looking daytime TV. Or you can always go for a walk.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

X is for X

Don't you just love algebra? (I've found a nice example* for anyone who wants a challenge). You know the kind of thing. You start with "let x equal the number of butchers' dogs/fleas in the fleapit/guests at the royal wedding" or whatever, and then - oh then, dear readers - the fun begins. In comes y (to represent numbers of butchers' cats, for instance) and even sometimes z, and you have to work out what it all means.

As I said to my non-mathematical, panic-stricken granddaughter last week, algebra doesn't matter. Unless you are going to be a scientist (she isn't), you will never need x. Trust me. I have never for one minute required x (or y, or z) although it was all drilled into me by the hapless, humourless Miss Rowland, whose mantra (to me) was always 'Frances, you should have learnt that in the first form'. She refused to explain further, having apparently done it all before, so I remained ignorant. And do I regret it? Not a jot. I can see that if you're good at this kind of thing it might have a certain fascination, but speaking for myself, it most certainly had not. All I have ever needed maths-wise is simple addition and subtraction, and the times tables.

That's all.

*Solve the following equation. 2(2x +1) - 3(x - 1) = 8 (I'm afraid there aren't any prizes, as I've no idea what the anwer is.)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

W is for Wings (flash fiction)

He was always my boy. My beautiful boy. With his blond hair, his blue eyes and his petal-soft, peachy complexion.

'He'll never walk,' they told me. 'He'll never talk; never understand.'

'I know,' I said.

The fits were terrifying, twisting his tiny body, causing him agony.

'How do you know he feels anything?' they asked me.

'I'm his mother,' I told them. 'I know.'

He grew, my beautiful boy. One birthday, two, three. We had a cake with candles. But he never blew out his candles; never tasted his cake. We fed him through a tube.

'I think he smiled,' someone said.

'My boy doesn't smile,' I told her. 'He can't smile.'

Besides, what is there to smile about?

Today, he's going to look his best. I have dressed him in a white linen shirt and blue dungarees, with little patent shoes to match. My beautiful boy will never walk in those shoes, for he will never walk, but every child should have a first pair of shoes.

'This is a special day for you,' I tell him, 'A special day for both of us.'

We drive together to our favourite spot, with its view of sky and rocks and the churning ocean below.

'This is the place,' I tell him. 'Our place.'

I stand on the edge of the cliff, holding my boy close in my arms, and I jump.

My boy. My beautiful boy. Together we jump. And fly...

Monday, 25 April 2011

V is for Vegetarians

I respect vegetarians. I respect what they do, and if they are concerned about animal welfare, I understand why they do it. My best friend is a vegetarian.

Having said that, I don't understand those who eat fish, wear leather or use milk and cheese. For instance, if you don't believe in eating veal (ie those calves for whom the milk - and indirectly, the cheese - were intended), then surely you shouldn't be endorsing the killing of calves by drinking their milk. Either you do the whole thing properly (apart from eating eggs. Chickens seem to like laying eggs, though why anyone would want to go through the equivalent of childbirth every day, defeats me), or maybe you shouldn't bother at all.

And one last plea to any vegetarian who visits me. Please, please tell me before you arrive that that's what you are. Because there are few things more annoying than the guest who announces his chosen lifestyle just as you are putting a plate of roast beef in front of him. And no. "Just give me the vegetables" simply won't do. Martyrdom at the dinner table does not make for a cosy occasion.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

U is for Unicycle

A unicycle, as everyone knows, is a bicycle with one wheel. You can buy one very cheaply (presumably because you're only paying for one wheel), and beginners' unicycles are apparently freely available, often made in Taiwan.

This is great news for some (although I suspect rather a few), but I for one cannot for the life of me see the point. A bicycle has two wheels, and when you have mastered it, it's fairly easy to ride. A unicycle has only one wheel, and is not (easy to ride). A bike is a useful mode of transport. A unicycle is not. Why would anyone want to own, never mind ride one? Yes, it's quite clever. But so (as someone once said) is farting 'Annie Laurie' through a keyhole. Clever, but not particularly useful.

So I, for one, shall not be buying one.

Friday, 22 April 2011

T is for Too much

There are things I can have too much of:
Alcohol (sad, but true)
People who don't say thank you when you hold doors open or stop for them at zebra crossings
Blogging (but only after the strain of thinking up things for the A to Z challenge)
Being told jokes I don't understand (or find funny)
Exclamation marks
Traffic wardens

And things I can't have too much of:
Love (soppy, but true)
Friends and family (ditto)
Babies (I wanted lots, but husband drew the line at four)
Bach (the composer, not the Rescue Remedy)
Diving off a boat into clear, deep sea under a blazing sun
Jokes I do find funny
Woods full of bluebells, preferably beneath canopies of pale new beech leaves
Blackbirds singing
Writing a best-seller (this hasn't happened yet, or you would have heard of me)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

S is for Shoe

This morning, on my way to the market, I saw a shoe in the gutter. It was a respectable brown leather man's shoe, in good condition.

I then met a friend, who also saw the shoe, and he told me the following story (which is meant to be true).

A man was walking through the woods when he met another man, dishevelled and dirty, wearing a single shoe.

'Have you lost a shoe?' the first man inquired.
'No,' beamed the other. 'I just found one!'

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

R is for Rhinoplasty

...or as it is better known, nose job.

Now, I know that there are many people who really do need and benefit from nose jobs and other cosmetic surgery. Noses are highly visible, sometimes ugly, and if your nose bothers you so much that you can't live with it any more, then maybe having it altered will be of benefit to you. There are also people - burns victims, people born with disfigurements - who really do need cosmetic surgery to make their lives endurable. But for those others, I worry on two counts. Firstly, that it may be what's going on inside their heads rather than on the outside that is the real problem (self-esteem, depression, the search for the unattainable: perfection). Secondly, what are trained, trusted doctors doing messing about with the face of someone like, for example, poor troubled Michael Jackson? How could anyone with any sense of moral responsibility disfigure another human being in the name of medical care in the way that he was disfigured? Shouldn't people like him be helped in other, gentler, more ethical ways?

I recently saw on TV a girl whose ambition it is to have the biggest boobs in Britain(or is it in the world? I can't remember). She goes on regular trips to Spain to have her colossal breasts enlarged yet again (her mother proudly accompanies her. What is SHE thinking of?). Her breasts can't be done all in one go, presumably because the skin needs to stretch each time. She already looks grotesque.

But never mind. Eventually she will achieve what she wants, and can (and almost certianly will, because this is a slippery slope) move on to the next part of ber anatomy that needs rearranging. And her surgeon will be able to buy another Porshe.

So that's all right.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Q is for Queen

Nowadays, it seems to be the norm to moan about the royal family; to grumble at how much they cost, now rich they are, what privileged lives they lead. In short, to be curmugeonly republicans.

But I like the Queen. I think she's a good woman who works hard at a job she never chose and which she has to do until the day she dies. She seems to hold things together, especially at a time like the present, when "divide and rule" has taken on a whole new meaning under our coalition government.

Mind you, I don't think she's always right. I am appalled at the way the royal family have treated poor old Fergie, who has bounced in and (mainly) out of royal life like a cross between a large puppy and a bull in a china shop. Whatever she's done, does she really deserve to spend every Christmas on her own, and not be invited to the coming nuptials?

But while on the whole I approve of royalty, I am not sentimental about it, and I thought the outpouring of "grief" over the death of Princess Diana was sickly in the extreme. As my (then teenage) son said at the time: "Those people are not crying for Diana. They are crying for themselves". Having lost his father, he knew what grief was, and this most certainly wasn't it.

But the Diana-fest was not the Queen's fault, and I am happy for her to carry on for as long as she can. As for That Wedding, I shall certainly be watching it, and enjoying the frocks and the coaches and the horses (especially the horses), with my mad daughter and her family. (Daughter is exultant that, even after triplets, she can still squeeze into her wedding dress, and is determined to wear it on April 29. As you do.)

Monday, 18 April 2011

P is for Patients

I have come to dread being a patient in hospital. So awful are the scare stories (and the experiences of family and friends), that I know a lot of people, like me, would do a great deal not to be admitted to hospital.

This post was going to be a jolly one about potty-training (well, at least it usually begins with a pee), but something has happened to make me so FURIOUS, that I'm writing about this instead.

My sister, in her sixties, handicapped and wheelchair-bound (but amazingly positive and up-beat), has been admitted to hospital with a broken ankle. So far so good. But now for the bad bit. Because of her physical problems, it has been decided to keep her in for a couple of days. Fine. But now here's where common sense and caring go out of the window. Because she's in an observation ward, not a proper ward, she doesn't really exist as an in-patient, and so she doesn't get proper meals. They feed her on sandwiches, because, you see, she's not really there. Geddit? So really I suppose she's lucky to be fed at all. But two days of nothing but sandwiches isn't really much good for a shocked paient in pain, especially someone like her.

So what I want to know is, what the f*** is the sister in charge doing? Where is her duty to the well-being of her patients? When I was a sister back in the dark ages, when nurses were nurses, it was my JOB to make sure that my patients were properly fed and watered, comfortable and not in pain. What exactly are these nurses DOING? Isn't adequte nutriton covered in their new, all-graduate training?

I know this is one small instant, but she is my sister, and I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man (or woman) to phone the hospital caterers and ask for a hot meal or two.

So if you're fond of sandwiches and feel you would benefit from a spot of (un)healthy negelect, hospital may be the place for you. Otherwise, for goodness' sake stay away. For modern healthcare can seriously damage your, well, health.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

O is for Old Age

It's only since I've reached the hinterlands of old age that I've realised just how dismissively we/they are treated.

For a start, there are the jokes. Zimmer frames*, deafness, confusion - you name it, it's ok to joke about it. Not gays, not ethnic minorities, not the handicapped. Oh no. You mock them at your peril. But the old are fair game. Apart from anything else, they're unlikely to fight back.

In our society, the old become invisible; the wallpaper against which the lives of younger people are played out. In Japan, on the other hand, the old are considered to be society's treasures. They are valued and appreciated. But not here. Here, they are sidelined, ignored; considered at best an inconvenience, and at worst a nuisance.

But we (they) can fight back. Dye our hair, paint our toenails (if we can still reach them), refuse to conform to the sterotype. Ride a horse, join your grandchildren on the trampoline (I do both, notwithstanding my splendid new hip joint). Don't let the buggers wear you down.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to book a one-way ticket to Japan.

*The picture is of an inflatable zimmer frame. How hillarious is that?

Friday, 15 April 2011

N is for Naturists

I have to say, I don't really get naturism. Naturists would no doubt say it's natural. Well, so is peeing in the street and not cutting your toenails and hugging attractive strangers. That's presumably natural, too, but we tend not to do these things. I've always thought that ever since we began to wear clothes and lost our fur (presumably we once had fur), wearing clothes has been more "natural" than not wearing them.

I have no objection at all to people who do like to have naked holidays. I just don't want to join them (or look at them). We once holidayed with people who were into naturism, and since they were our hosts, we gamely took off our clothes and joined in. But believe me, sitting on your bare bottom on a rock eating your sandwiches is not at all comfortable, and I found the whole experience was something I'd rather not repeat. Swimming naked is different; that is wonderful. But getting sand... well... everywhere, is not wonderful, and even though I was younger at the time, four children had taken their toll, and I was not proud of all my droopy bits.

So to any naturists who might come across this, do go ahead and enjoy yourselves. But please excuse me if I keep my clothes on.

Limericks (2)

Thanks do much to those who entered. The standard was amazing. In the end I decided on two winners - Joaanna and Keith - as their entries were witty, neat and they scanned beautifully. There were some very funny ones (I loved Lynne's), and John especially iked Suzy's. Fran's last line was inspired, as was Bernadette's. Martin's was very neat, too.

Could you let me have your addresses, Keith and Joanna, and let me know what you would ike (if anything) written in your copies, and I will send out the books. My email is:

Thursday, 14 April 2011

M is for Monopoly

Of all games, I hate Monoploy the most. This is not only mind-numbingly long and tedious (oh, the indecision when your boot lands on Old Kent Road. Do you really want to buy such a dismal property?), but it brings out the very worst in small children.

It is my experience (of my own children and grandchildren)that at the age of about 7, children discover Monopoly,and are instantly hooked. It ticks all their most unpleasant boxes; it is fiercely comeptitive, fosters reckless greed, and encourages them to take unfair advantage of anyone who is nicer or kinder than they are.My eldest son adored the game, and would bribe his sister (who, it has to be said, didn't give a hoot) to let him have Park Lane and Mayfair, whereupon, unmindful of any gratitude that might be owing, he would proceed to build houses and hotels for her (and the rest of us )to land on, and eventually claim a thoroughly dishonourable victory. Woe betide anyone who beat him, for he would throw the most appalling tantrums, and make our lives unbearable. So he usually won (anything for a quiet life).

Years after we had all grown up, my mother confessed that she always ensured that she went to Gaol, remaining there for the rest of the game. No-on noticed. We were all far to busy accumulating property and wrangling over fines.

I have heard it said that you can tell what kind of person someone is going to grow into by the way they played Monopoly as a child.

I do hope not.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

L is for Limericks

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

This is not my own, but it tells it how it is. Edward Lear, supposedly the king of limericks, wrote limericks that were very clean and not at all funny, not least because the last line was always the same as the firs; rather like bginning as well as ending a joke with the punchline.

The reason we live in Devizes is all about limericks.We wanted to live somewhere in Wiltshire, and we went to look at Devizes because I'd heard all those rude limericks, and was curious to see what the actual place was like. Look away now if you are of a delicate disposition.

There was a young man of Devizes
Whose balls were of different sizes.
His tool, when at ease,
Hung down to his knees,
But oh! What a joy when it rises!

See what I mean? (Devizes, incidentally, is wonderful).

Having said that, my favourite limerick of all time is this. Goodness knows why. You probably won't like it at all. Humour, even in limericks, is very subjective.

There was a young man of St. Bees
Who was terribly stung by a wasp.
When they asked "does it hurt?"
He replied, "yes, it does.
It's a good job it wasn't a hornet."

And now for a competition. Post a limerick, any kind, and there will be a prize for the best. I'm afraid the prize will be a copy of one of my books, but you can always give it away if you don't want it!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

K is for Knickers

I have posted before about the joy of a pack of smooth, new, white knickers, so I won't revisit that subject. No. Today I want to talk about a particular pair of knckers; the knickers I shall never forget.

At my grammar school, we had to wear navy knickers for PE (with white "knicker linings" underneath, although I've never worked out how anyone could enforce this bizarre rule in a girls' day school). The navy knickers were the kind with elasticated legs and waist. Safe knickers, if you're running about or hanging upside down from the wall bars.

But my mother, a stranger fo convention, bought me bright, royal blue knickers*.

How I hated those knickers. Quite apart from the fact that they were Not Allowed, they showed me up. While everyone else was leaping about in regulation navy knickers, I was cringing on the sidelines in my royal blue ones. Apart from anything else, how on earth did my mother find them? I have never, before or since, seen royal blue knickers. School knickers were, bottle green, grey, possibly maroon - but royal blue?

Eventually, my mother bought me navy ones, but they weren't the right kind. They were brief, revealing, not the kind you want to wear for doing handstands (I've no idea where she found those, either). I never did have the right knickers, and the memory of the Wrong Knickers has remained with me all my life. While I have worn many pairs of knickers during my life, those royal blue ones (and their little navy successors) are the only ones I can remember.

Mum, how COULD you?

*Those knickers feature in my novel The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets, so they were of some use in the end.

J is for Jokes

I am very, very bad at jokes. For a start, I can rarely remember them (the only one I have always remembered is so rude that there are few people I can tell it to), and I invariably spoil those jokes I can remember by telling them back to front (punchline first. Not funny).

John, on the other hand, loves telling jokes, and is good at it. But we disagree you don't find it funny, then you are not obliged to show more than minimal amusement. After all, the listener probably didn't ask for the joke, and the joker is sticking his neck out (and we all know what happens to people who do that). John, on the other hand, thinks that listeners are under some kind of obligation to laugh, because it's polite. To be fair, he does stick to his rule, for I have heard him laugh uproariousy at jokes which I know for a fact he has heard umpteen times before.

John has a stock of jokes, from the woman in the train (very funny**), the Lufthansa plane (mildly ammuusing), the bacon slicer joke (cringe) and the pot of paint joke, which has caused puzzlement to many of our friends, but which he thinks is hilarious, and persists in telling, despite my imploring him not to.

As I write this, the only jokes I can call to mind are very short and childish (grandchildren provide most of them).

Here's the latest from ten-year-old Harriet*:

Q Where do you find a tortoise with no legs?
A Where you left it.

And a contribution from my sister:

Q What do you call a boomerang that won't come back?
A A stick.

You see? I told you I was no good at telling jokes.

*She also told me a much funnier one, but I've already forgotten it.
** Just my opinion.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

I is for Interpretation

No. I'm not a linguist. Poor schoolgirl French and a smattering of German are all I can manage. What I'm talking about is the interpretation of what we say to each other, and how poorly we often communicate.

Take this example: a typical argument between a warring man and woman.

He: What's the matter?
She: There's nothing the matter.
He: Yes there is. Tell me what's wrong.
She: No. I'm fine.
He: Come on. You can tell me. What's the matter?
She: Nothing. There's nothing the matter!

He, taking her at her word, goes off to read the paper, watch the footie or whatever. She, however, is furious, because he shouldn't have taken her at her word. That wasn't her intention at all. Couldn't he see that something was wrong (he could, but she denied it)? How could he just walk off like that when she was so upset? How COULD he? He was supposed to go on and on questioning her until she finally decided to tell him what was wrong (or perhaps until hell froze over).

This is an occasion where someone hears not only what is literally said, but also what he wants to hear. Sometimes, it helps to use a bit of imagination (and past experience) in order to hear what is really being said. For instance, someone may say that they don't want a birthday present. "Don't bother with a present," they say. "I don't need anything."

But often on these occasions, you fail to buy this person a present at your peril, for this is, very likely, a person who really does want a present. Interpretation is all.

Why, when we have one of the richest languages in the world, do we sometimes communicate so poorly, and interpret so inaccurately? After years (especially as a Relate cousellor, and also simply as a human being) I don't have the answer, except to say that if you think your interpretation may be faulty, then check with the speaker to make sure you've got it right. And if you're the speaker, for goodness' sake, say what you mean! If you know you want a big and beautiful birthday present, then ask for one!*

My favourite misinterpretation of all time is the following, which I overheard when I was a staff nurse on a busy medical ward. A young and inexperienced doctor was interviewing a deaf, elderly female patient. Having asked about her heart, breathing, stability etc, he finally arrived at her more intimate functions. The dialogue went thus:

Doctor: Do you have any trouble with your front passage?
Patient: What?
Doctor: Do you have an problems with your front passage?
Patient: What ? I can't hear you!

There followed a lengthy, thoughtful pause. Then:

Patient: Only when my neigbour parks his bicycle in it.

*Reading this through it looks a bit bossy and know-it-all. So I'll just add that in all these examples, I can be just as bad as anyone!

Friday, 8 April 2011

H is for Hamster

Hamsters are small, cheap, cute and furry. They don't seem to mind living alone, and they make ideal pets.

Or do they?

If you want to introduce your child to the concept of accidents, heartbreak and bereavement, you could do a lot worse than buy him a hamster. Because for some reason, hamsters (and other small furry animals, but especially hamsters) tend to come to sticky ends (they also get literally sticky ends in the form of a disgusting hamsters-only disease called wet tail, which is always fatal).

I have known many hamsters, and they invariably die before their time*. My brother contrived to cook his by putting it too near a stove, and my sister starved one by forgetting to feed it. My own children had hamsters, and in a garden in Staffordshire, there is a flower bed full of tiny unmarked graves. There was the hamster that escaped and hid up the chimmney until it eventually got bored, came down and met the cat; the hamster that escaped and came downstairs, and met the cat (cats tend to play an important role in these tragedies); the dreaded wet tail...I could go on, but will spare the feeligns of any passing animal-lovers.

We had many funerals (which is probably why animal funerals, strangely, feature in all my novels). One hamster was buried in a shoebox together with this heartbreaking little note from its owner:

"Dear Wilfrid. I love you and I miss you very much. I hop you have a nis time in heven".

Eldest son played his part gallantly (they weren't his hamsters), carrying the shoebox on his shoulder and marching solemnly down the garden to the graveside as the bereaved owner wept (eldest son may have been doing his brother a kindness, but he wasn't taking the occasion as seriously as might have been expected).

Then there were Russian hamsters (or were they Chinese? We had both at some time or other) which leapt up and attached themselves to our fingers with needle-sharp teeth. They looked particularly cute, but cute they certainly were not. I can't remember what happened to them (probably just as well).

So, my conclusion? Avoid hamsters like the plague. If you must do something small and furry, get guinea pigs, which have the most gorgeous babies (born with hair, eyes open, perfect miniatures of their parents).

Or, if you can afford it, a horse.

*Actually, I don't remember my first hamster, Victoria, coming to a bad end. But she did shred the new dining-room curtains and make them into a trendy green-and-white striped nest.

G is for Games

I am very, very bad at all sport. If I see a ball coming towards me, there's a(probably primitive) part of my brain that says "missile! duck!" and that's what I more or less do.

Of course, with a vicious game like hockey, when a blow on the ankle is something to be reckoned with, this is actually quite sensible. Not duck, exactly, but at the very least, run away. But if you want to succeed at sport, you must go for the ball, embrace the opportunity, love it, even; and hit it/catch it/kick it.

At my school, if you were bad at sport, that was it. No-one bothered to help you to improve. You were a failure; a person of no value; and (worst of all) that common humilation for the school child: Last To Be Picked for a Team.

In the end (and I now I've referred to this before), I was relegated to the corner of a large sports field, together with two equally useless friends, where we were equipped with a javelin and a discus and told to get on with it. Can you imagine? Three giggly teenagers, armed with potentially lethal weapons, left on our own to "practise". Oh, Health and Safety, where were you when I really needed you?

Safety issues apart, to this day, I cannot see what possible use the ability to throw a discus can be in the life of a young - or, come to that, any - woman. Certainly, I have never found it to be useful. In any case, I was as hopless at discus-throwing as I was at any other sport. So the three of us (mercifully, we were close friends) lay in the grass and made daisy chains and gossiped about boys.

My small grandson (and he is very small for his age) asked me the other day to guess what he worried about when he couldn't get to sleep at night.

"I don't know," I said. "Tell me."

"Rugby," said poor Max, who is regularly battered on the rugby field.

Oh, poor Max. I think that in that respect at least, you take after your grandmother.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

F is for Flying

...and Fear. I don't like flying. Its unnatural (so are antibiotics and bicycles, but they're different). Every fibre of my being cries out to be on the ground. I'm not meant to be up here, thousands of feet up in the sky, with people wheeling trolleys and drinking gin (yes, please. Make mine a big one) and serving plastic meals and going to the loo and generally being normal. Flying is not normal.

To which people always reply that it's much safer than travelling by car. This is true, but if a car goes wrong, you can stop and get out. In an aeroplane...well, you can't. That's all. And boats are fine, because I can swim (if the worst comes to the worst). And trains...well, at least they're on the ground.

I have a son who's an aerodynamicist. I asked him whether knowing what he now knows (ie how aeroplanes actually stay up) has made him more or less afraid of flying. The answer I wanted was "less". The answer I actually got was "more". This is one occasion when I wish one of my children had lied to me.

(Strangely, as I was writing this I received a text from youngest son: "Landed safely in Melbourne". Phew.)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

E is for Easter (flash fiction)


She knew he had a mission, this child of hers. From the moment she first held him in her arms, she felt that he was different; that his life was part of a great plan, fulfilling a God-given purpose. But what that purpose was, she didn't know.

The child grew and flowered into manhood. He left her, as is the way with sons, to be with a group of other young men; decent young men from respectable families. And yet she felt uneasy. For she knew her son had that mission to accomplish, and she wondered and she waited.

Three years had passed, when they brought her word.
“We have heard terrible news. Your son is dead. He is hanging from a tree."
“Where? Where is he?”
“We do not know.”

Shocked and distraught, she went searching for him, and found that he was not so very far away after all. Just two days had passed when she discovered him; hanging, as she had been told, from a tree.

And in her grief, she thought, was there to he no mission after all? Was her son's life in vain? For what purpose had she borne this child, and for what
purpose had he died? And she fell and sobbed at the foot of the tree, her arms around its trunk, her cheek pressed against its rough bark.

“Oh, my son! My son! What has happened to you?”she wept. “ What has happened to you, my Judas?”

D is for Death Penalty

Anyone who follows this blog may already be aware of my feelings about the death penalty. Ever since childhood (yes. I'm that old) when the death penalty was still used in England, I have had a total abhorrence of any form of judicial killing. As a little girl, I used to watch the hands of the clock as they crawled towards 9am (I think it was 9) when the hanging would take place, feeling full of dread. After the appointed hour, I would feel relief. At least it was all over; for the prisoner, his family and his friends (because of course, this of all punishments punishes many more than the prisoner himself). So many of those who were hanged during my childhood have since been "pardoned" (such an odd word to use), including poor, mentally challenged Derek Bentley, whose crime was to say to his accomplice "let him have it". To this day, no-one knows whether he meant it metaphorically (ie shoot the policeman who was challenging them ) or give him the gun. Bentley didn't even carry out the murder himself. The actual killer was too young to face the death penalty.

As I have mentioned before I correspond with a prisoner on Death Row in a US state. He is also a D. I have grown fond of him over the years we have been writing to each other (and having read about his court case, I think he may well be innocent). He is poor, comes from a very large family, and (probably; his letters are heavily censored) unable to pay for the services of a good lawyer. Two of his friends have recently had their sentences commuted to life after 30 - yes THIRTY - years on death row. Another, who had become a close friend, was executed a year ago, and D is still trying to come to terms with that. They are a close-knit bunch, as they are not allowed to mix with the other prisoners. D has a daughter although I don't think he sees her. He said in his last letter "I miss her every day. I try to keep my mind numb and try not to think about home all the time, but it is hard not to."

I'll bet it is.

(I'd better add that it goes without saying the murder is a wicked crime, and that life should often mean just that. We are sometimes too lenient in the UK. But I have never felt that the death penalty solves anything, and I strongly believe that everyone should be offered the opportunity for redemption.)

Monday, 4 April 2011

C is for Cofferdam

A cofferdam is a watertight chamber allowing construction workers to carry out building work underwater.

Why am I telling you this? Well, today is the day for the letter C, and today I fell over (the two are not connected, incidentally). I was looking for my car (we have to park in the street, and there are a lot of streets and a lot of cars, and I often forget where I've put mine). Having discovered that it wasn't where I thought it was, I was hurrying off in the other direction (bad idea), and I tripped. I had a few bumps and bruises, nothing serious, but being of a certain age (I'v never discovered quite what "a certain age" is, but I have a feeling that it's almost certainly me) I felt a bit shaken. So I cheated, found "cofferdam" in the dictionary, and decided to use that.

To anyone reading, this, I know it's boring. On the other had, you may well have learnt a new word.

PS I never did find the car. (Which, now I come to think of it, also begins with C.)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

B is for Beer

B is for beer. And Best. And Bitter. My favourite drink. In a pub, I wouldn't dream of having anything else (unless I'm driving). It has to be bitter, it has to be a pint, in a jug, with a handle. No poncey glass, and certainly not one of those half-pint specially-shaped ones they reserve for women. Sorry; for ladies.

My father taught me to drink beer. At the time, I was going through a Babycham phase. Can you imagine? Babycham. With a cherry on a stick. Oh dear.

Well, my father obviously thought oh dear too, and he didn't want to be seen with anyone drinking such a silly, amateurish drink, so he introduced me to beer. I'd like to say it was love at first taste, but it wasn't (is it ever, with the things that really matter?). But I grew increasingly fond of it, and it was a lot cheaper than Babycham, so boyfriends approved, too.

Tomorrow is Sunday. At mid-day on Sundays, a bunch of us fetch up at The Lamb (a proper, no-nonsense pub). I shall have a pint of beer. With pork scratchings.


(The photo is of the horse-drawn dray that still delivers Wadworths beer around Devizes. Beer and Horses. What better combination?)

Friday, 1 April 2011

A - the first post

A is Antonia, my beloved mum. Her father just knew she was going to be a boy, so he chose the name Anthony, and bought his unborn child a cricket bat. When she was born, he sat on the stairs clutching the bat and weeping with disappointment.

My mum had a very difficult life. An unsettled childhood, awful time at boarding school, an unsatisfactory marriage, a handicapped child, never any money, and then in her forties she was crippled with terrible arthritis. I have rarely seen anyone in so much pain. In the end, her neck collapsed, and she could only move one arm.

But she was brave and funny and ecentric, and when she was dying (so early; she was only 67), people were queueing up to see her, not to listen but to talk. My mum was an amazing listener. At the end of her life she was composing an opera by means of singing bits of it into a tape recorder by her bed. My sister still has what she wrote, but none of us can bear to listen to it.

Of course I remember so many things about her, but one particularly poignant moment, especially at this time of year: my litte mum, fresh out of hospital (again) standing in a bluebell wood in her dressing gown (we had brought her in the car), looking at the dying flowers.
"Oh!" It was a cry from the heart. "I've missed another spring!"

If only we could have brought those bluebells back to life, just for one day.

If only.

A to Z Blogging Challenge

I happened upon this, and thought it looked quite fun, and a good way of spending all the time I don't (or oughtn't) really have. The idea is to post something beginning with each letter of the alphabet on each day of April, excluding Sundays; 26 days, 26 posts. Can be anything - poems, anecdotes, pictures. I have very little staying power, so it will be good for me. I hope.

First post to come later.