Tuesday 20 December 2016

RIP Lionel Blue

As you probably know, Rabbi Lionel Blue died yesterday. I loved this gentle, humble, funny man as he did his many "thoughts for the day" on BBC Radio 4. Do watch this clip if you have the time.

In the meantime, a very happy, peaceful Christmas to everyone reading this.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Horses (but not me) for courses

Yesterday, I received a phone call from Colin*. Colin works for the agency for which I volunteer, and he does a good job, but he wants me to go on a course. Another course. The same course I did three years ago. The course which ( as far as interest is concerned)  is equal to an afternoon of paint-drying-watching. Colin knows I don't need to go on this course, but it's his job to make sure I do. Poor Colin. He too has to go on courses. We all have to go on courses, don't we? All the time. Hands up anyone who's never had to go on a course?

Once again, I shall have to learn (among other things) about fired extinguishers; that there are four kinds, and you have to pick the right one for the right kind of fire.

Picture the scene, if you will. A burning building, panic, people to be evacuated, 999 to be dialled, and you (or in this case, me) thinking: now, let's see. What kind of fire was this? Oil? Cigarettes? Electrical? Ah, I've got it! Now let's go and fine the right coloured extinguisher ("no, I'm afraid I can't help you jump out of the window. I have to find the blue fire extinguisher"). It just wouldn't happen, would it? Not least because I've only ever seen a red one.

Then there is food hygiene. In vain do I whimper that in all the years I've been cooking, I've never poisoned anyone. That in this job I don't even  have any contact with food. Colin is insistent. As a last resort ( I can see him putting a red warning sticker by my name on his file) Colin suggests I might like meeting some of the other volunteers. Yes. I might. But I don't need to. If I want to meet a bunch of nice strangers, I can trot down the road to the library; even Sainsburys can be interesting.

Colin and I part on good terms, and he agrees that since my time isn't Up until April, he will let me off until then.

Anything can happen by the time April comes. Here's hoping.

*Not his real name

Thursday 8 December 2016

What would you like for Christmas?

A gift, as seen in Gift Guides  or Gift Departments is, almost by definition, something nobody needs and few really want. Those tall bottles of vinegar with what look like small trees growing inside them;  every kind of smelly candle; cute calendars; deadful jokey novelties - in fact, all the things which are the last resort of the desperate shopper. You can spot them a mile away. I imagine even the charity shops dread their annual appearance.

In Saturday's Times, there was even a gift guide for pets. There was a doggy sweeter for £99.50 (I've never even spent that on a human sweater), a Santa's Little Helper doggy hat, catnip sushi ....you get the picture.

But what would you like for Christmas? I'll start the ball rolling: I would like one of those pretty, long pendants my daughter wears, even if it doesn't look as good on me as it does on her. Oh, and the DVD of my youngest son's wedding (he got married in May).

Now it's your turn.

Monday 5 December 2016

Toddler reflections after a weekend of granny-sitting*

1. When having a tantrum, forget the going rigid thing. It's much harder to be picked up if you do the floppy, heavy thing. No one can pick me up then.

2. Granny doesn't believe me when I say the sun has risen at six in the morning. But then, she didn't have her glasses on.

3. Granny doesn't seem to like six in the morning. Odd, that. It's my favourite time.

4. I asked her a simple question - "why is coffee?" And she couldn't answer me.

5. When she does that deep growly voice to make us laugh, she's all husky the next day.

6. If I tell her I love her, she goes all soft and gooey, and I can get away with things.

7. She has a spot on her chin and wasn't pleased when I told her about it. I thought it was rather interesting.

8. She looked quite tired when she left. I can't think why. I'm not at all tired 😃

*Reader, I confess that I was the granny in question. And if anyone knows the answer to "why is coffee?", please do let me know.

Friday 25 November 2016

Talking turkey

My grandson would like a turkey for Christmas. As a pet. Yes, really. Turkeys, he says, make excellent pets (to me, they are hideously unattractive, and in any case, I've been scarred for life after being chased by one when I was about five).

But there would be one advantage. His family could have in the rear window of their car a sign saying: "A turkey is for life. Not just for Christmas". Makes it almost worthwhile. Perhaps I'll get one (they have to be cheaper to keep than a horse....).

Thursday 17 November 2016

Printer rage

We cannot get new toner (ink, I suppose) for our printer. I have had this kind of day, on the phone:

If you want this press 1, that press 2, the other, press ......blah blah blah ....may be  recorded for training purposes ... blah ...blah...blah....horrible tune....long wait....your call is important to us blah...blah...blah....brief fragment of real human voice ....horrible tune... would you like to complete survey after this (NO!)...blah...blah....never neard of that printer.... blah blah...blah....

It would seem that our two year old printer doesn't exist any more, and even if it did, the toner is almost as expensive as a new printer. Although it doesn't exist, the printer sits on my desk looking smug and...existing. It has a square, boxy little face. I want to punch it in its gaping maw. How come one can feel such hatred for an inanimate object?

Including last night, the whole wretched business has taken me several hours, and I have got precisely nowhere.

Reader, we are getting a new printer. I'm off now to take a hammer to the old one. The thought makes me feel cheerful for the first time today  😆

Monday 14 November 2016

The regrets of an Internet shopper

Notes to self:

Because you like the blue one, and it fits, and it was a bargain, it doesn't necessarily mean you will like the pink one. Plus, you hate pink. Remember?

When you've got the garment out of the packaging, and tried it on, ask yourself this simple question: would I buy this if I were in a changing room and didn't have to pack it up and trudge off to the post office if I didn't like it? If the answer to this is no, then SEND IT BACK. Now. The regret you feel now will be as nothing compared to how you will feel six months down the line, when the damned thing is still sitting unworn in your wardrobe.

The same applies to gifts. The recipient won't appreciate that you spent hours choosing that Thing online if they - and you, secretly - know they probably won't like it.

Because something is in the sale, this does not mean it is nicer. In fact it's almost certainly not. That's why it's in the sale. You're tempted. Of course you are. But remember the old mantra: a bargain is not a bargain if it's not something you like or need.

If you see something you really, really like, and it's available in your size, and you can afford it, then BUY IT. Do not wait, and wonder, and brood, and finally decide, only to find it's now available in every size but yours.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

My solution to the American election

I don't fancy Hillary Clinton,
And I don't have much time for D. Trump.
But I do wonder whether
They might work together,
And combine both their names into Clump?

Saturday 5 November 2016

Thursday and a piece of foam

I have in the past had three major back injuries (two horses and a staircase), and a mattress topper helps. The old one wore out; I bought a new one. Simple.

Not simple. The "memory" foam rubber mattress topper arrived on Thursday in a neat box. But on being opened up, it sprang forth like something alive, trebled in size, and lay blocking  the hallway and looking challenging.

It had to go up two flights of stairs. How hard could that be? A bit of foam....easy. Not easy. Not only was it huge, heavy and unwieldy, but it seemed to take on a life of its own. As we struggled up the two staircases - sometimes me on top; sometimes my new friend - I thought we would never get there. It writhed and bounced and threatened to hurl us  both back over the bannisters. I was determined  to win, not least because I didn't  want our hallway to be forever occupied by a mass of foam rubber.

On our journey, we bumped into furniture, swept books off bookshelves, knocked things over and had several  near misses with the stairs. I heaved and stomped and cursed; the foam merely looked smug. But we got there in the end. The memory foam has certainly given me  much to remember.

Advice to anyone thinking of buying any of this stuff:

1. Buy a bungalow first.
2. If no bungalow, whatever you do, DO NOT remove the memory foam from the box before taking it upstairs. You have been warned.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

How the evening got worse (Monday evening part 2)

Phoned brother-in-law. Discovered lovely nephew has separated from wife. Must let him know how sorry I am, but don't have his email or phone number. Have idea. Facebook! Message nephew on Facebook saying I'm thinking of him etc etc. So far, so good.

Five minutes later, frantic phone call from daughter:


Oops. Back to Facebook, and daughter talks me through deleting my message, which wasn't a message but had now morphed into a news bulletin.

Gave thanks that I have a daughter who wastes as much time on Facebook as I do blogging.

Went to bed, where I (probably) couldn't do any more harm.

Monday 31 October 2016

My evening so far. A very boring post.

So here I am, on my own (husband playing bridge. I don't have the brains for bridge), and I think to myself - Christmas presents! I'll start doing my Christmas shopping online.

New daughter-In-law needs news slippers, so I think, there's an idea. Text son for DIL's size. Receive amused text from DIL herself to say I'd texted her by mistake. Bang goes the surprise (if indeed it would have been a surprise). Unhelpful text from son to say what a terrible spy I'd make.

Do a bit more browsing and find nothing (we have a big family and lots of present to buy, but I am desperate to get things people will really like, so it all takes Time). Phone daughter, but she's watching Coronation Street and just want to know whether Nick knows the baby isn't his. I tell her he does (I'll catch up,with CS tomorrow. We're addicts). Daughter is curled up on sofa drinking wine. I am not. Suffer pang of jealousy.

Receive phone  call for Moira. I am not Moira, and nobody called Moira lives here. I tell the caller she's mistaken (I'm very nice about it), and ring off. Then wish I'd said I was Moira, because that might have been interesting; fun, even. Now I'll never know who Moira is, and she'll never know the tiny part she played in my evening. But I hope Moira is having a better time than I am. At least someone wants to talk to her.

Post on my blog for the second time today ( a record).

Think wistfully of wine, but exercise restraint.

Back to the drawing board.

At last - the answer to all my dreams ....

... this email arrived this morning. 
Apply to me if you want details.

"Are you still fat ? 

Are you thinking about your future ?
You have desire to have a nice wife/husband ?

 Same like everybody…
Did you saw cartoon “robot wall-e” , 

do you want to looks like people over there ?
 You like sport but anyway you love to eat alot ? 
You have desire to be strong and fit , 
but too lazy to do anything ?
 We can help you to be fitness ! Don’t worry,
 you will be able to watch your TV 
or eat chocolate …

Take care about your self ! Do not lie to yourself"

I can't account for the weird script. 

Friday 28 October 2016

Happiness is...


The colours this autumn are just amazing. I had a wonderful ride this out morning, and I admired the leaves and the berries while Blue tried them out for flavour. It was one of those mornings when you are perfectly happy for no particular reason (except that I feel so lucky to have this lovely animal, and the beautiful contryside of Wiltshire in which to ride him).  I think you (I) need to be older really to appreciate things and not take them for granted. As child, as I vaulted onto my pony from its rump end and careered about falling off every five minutes, I don't think I stopped to think how lucky I was.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

An experiment in cliches

I thought I'd see how far I'd get writing something using mainly cliches. It's harder than I thought. If anyone would like to continue this sorry tale in the same vein, feel free.

Across the manicured lawn of their house in the leafy suburb of Codminster, a couple sat in companionable silence. Suddenly, they were disturbed by a sickening thud. It was every parent's worst nightmare!

Her parents were devastated.

"She was our beautiful baby girl,' they wept. 'So passionate about everything. She always gave a hundred and ten percent of herself, and now she's gone.'

'I'll go and put the kettle on,' said her mother. 'There's nothing like a nice cup of tea.'

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Limerick competition

With a limerick, try, if you can,
To ensure the appropriate scan.
If you write it like this,
I'm afraid you will miss
The wonderful prize I'm giving for the best Limerick.

I'm puzzled at the number or people who can't write limericks that scan properly (not my erudite readers, naturally), so I'm offering a small mystery prize for the best limerick on the subject of ...writing limericks. Winner to be chosen by the readers.

No rules, no fee. I'm just trying to make sure at least some of you waste some time, too. It'll make me feel better.

Saturday 15 October 2016

The things some people eat

The other day, someone (a son, possibly) mentioned "live frog sushi", and I thought,  surely not. There just cannot be such a thing....can there? Reader, I foolishly googled it.

 I stood it for about five seconds, and then switched off. But I cannot get out of my head the pathetic image of the severed top half of a poor wretched frog, waving its arms and gasping from its all-too-human-looking mouth on a bed of something weird on a serving plate.

I told my brother about this on the phone, but before I'd even said don't google this! he already had. I just hope he's now sleeping better than I am.

Tuesday 11 October 2016


I read this week that the writer Jilly Cooper has said that self-publishing is vanity publishing, and this set me thinking. After all, isn't all publishing vanity publishing, in a way? We write something,  and if we are reasonably happy with what we have written, we (or most of us) would like other people to read it. Does that make us vain?

Well, yes. A bit. If thinking we have created something that others would like to read is vanity, then we could be called vain. But I cannot see that that applies to one route (self-publishing) rather than the other (publishing by a conventional publishing house). I have used both routes, and on reflection, if I'm vain at all, I think being published is more  vanity-inducing than doing it myself. After all, it's lovely to have the imprimatur of a major publishing house, isn't it?

And yet most writers that I know are rather self-effacing and modest*; bad at self-publicity and terrible at book-signings. A paradox, perhaps.

What does anyone else think?

*Jeffrey Archer need not apply

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The best view from the best place

Mine is the one on the right, with the seriously bad hair (he says he likes it that way, and leave it alone; so I shall). .

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Advice to my (much) younger self

Apparently Victoria Beckham has published in Vogue advice to her 18-year-old self. This set me thinking. So here's some advice to my own young self (schooldays to early twenties, growing up in the sixties):

Just because no-one from the boys' grammar school wants to dance with you at the after-school ballroom dancing lessons does not mean that you are finished as a woman. You're not even started yet, (with your 32AA chest). Have faith.

Don't go to university just because you have the grades. (You were right when you said you'd hate it.)

That vein on the back of your leg that you stress endlessly about because you think you'll get varicose veins doesn't necessarily mean it will happen (it didn't).

Do try harder at tennis. Being relegated to the bottom of the playing field with two equally un-gifted friends to throw a discus will do you no good at all. Neither will making daisy chains and talking about boys. Tennis just might.

Getting your pet mice out in Miss B's scripture lesson is neither funny nor clever. You know the poor woman can't keep discipline - that's why you did it - and it isn't  kind.

Being kind is the most important thing of all; even more important than looking good in hot pants and mini-skirts. So: always try to be kind.

Notice old people. They may be more interesting than you think, and they're certainly more interesting than you are.

Ringing up a  boy you fancy to ask if you left your umbrella in his car isn't cool. You know and I know that you don't even own an umbrella.

And talking of  boys (still): when a boy says "see you around", he means just that. He's finished with you. Get over it.

And later on:  when at the end of an evening out a man asks you back for coffee, he does not, repeat not, mean coffee. He probably doesn't even like coffee. He has other things on his mind. If you like his brand of "coffee", then go for it. Otherwise decline politely and go home.

Lastly, be kind (again). Try to be happy and make others happy. Marry the right man (I did. Twice).

What single piece of advice would you give to your younger self? And did you follow it?

Saturday 3 September 2016

Please leave my grammar alone!

For many years I wrote magazine short stories, and I still write the odd one. I'm used to names, punctuation and other things being changed on publication, and I don't mind too much, but in a recent story "I" is printed instead of the accusative "me" ("she hated letting my brother and I...." was in the published version. Horrors!). This is an abuse I really hate. Okay, I'm a pedant. But even pedants must have some rights....haven't we?

Tuesday 16 August 2016

My difficult relationship with poached eggs

Poached eggs and I have a poor relationship. Oh, I can eat them all right - no probem - but I cannot for the life of me make one.

Look at the poached egg in the picture. Lovely, isn't it? The yolk neatly swaddled like a newborn baby in its smooth white blanket. But not mine. Ooooh no. Mine all, and I mean all, turn out to look like ghosts, trailing flimsy strands of ectoplasm (or even "trailing clouds of glory"*) behind them. Half the ectoplasm always remains behind,  drifting forlornly in the saucepan, too decimated to bother with, and then sticks and is impossible to scrub off.

Please don't tell me to:
Use boiling water
Use simmering water
Use off-the-boil-altogether water
Add vinegar
No vinegar
Swirl the water
Don't swirl the water
Use fresh eggs
Use old eggs

For I have tried all these things, and the result, every time, is another ghost.

So I bought an egg poacher; one of those saucepans that have little plastic nests for the eggs. That'll teach them, I thought. They can't jump out of that. But this didn't work, either. They stuck to the nests, and weren't done properly, because how do you know when they're cooked underneath?

So I've decided to give up on the poached eggs. Next time, I shall fry them. You know where you are with a fried egg.


Tuesday 9 August 2016

Why I am not an Olympic athlete

Just imagine doing this: spending your life - and in particular, the last four years - practising (for example) long jump. Every day consisting of run-run-run-run-run....and JUMP....and land in a sandpit. And that's it. Again, and again, and again. It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it. The sheer monotony of it. And the effect on normal life:

'Cup of tea, dear?'
' I'll just do one more jump first.'
'Glass of wine?'
'I can't, because of my diet.'
'Oh, of course, silly me. Then I'll just have one myself, shall I?'

And so on, and so on. For four years.

I'm sure they have to do the whole keep fit thing,  as well (which presumably makes a change). But still.

Then there are the really weird ones, like  putting the shot (what exactly is that for?. And you don't just put it; you have to throw it. A long way.

Running I just about get because running can be useful (think wild bears and missed buses), but most of it just leaves me bewildered.

But never mind. Good luck to them all, bless them. They certainly deserve it.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

A writer's life: waiting

One of the hardest parts of a writer's life is waiting. Waiting for That Important Reply. Waiting for editor/agent/publisher or whoever to get back with a verdict on the last precious (or not so precious) offering.

Today, I have faffed about, checked my emails about a hundred times, faffed about some more, visited some blogs, bought a birthday card, chatted to daughter on the phone ( a favourite waiting activity), done a crossword puzzle,  and ....waited. I'm still waiting. Will that person email after 5.30? Of course not. On the other hand, she may be so carried away by the brilliance of my work that she just has to let me know NOW, even if it's two in the morning. So I'll carry on checking my emails. Just in case....

Tomorrow, we have to go to Bristol to buy a bed. That should take my mind off the waiting, but of course, it won't. Waiting and bed-buying are, sadly, not mutually exclusive. So I shall probably just buy the wrong bed and lie awake on it worrying.

 And waiting....

Friday 29 July 2016

Things I have learnt recently

1. That Phoebe really misses my posts, although she's not a follower (come on, Phoebe. Make me up to 128). So this is for her.

2. That marrying off my youngest son is both wonderful and emotional (I'm not his next of kin any more, although he has a wonderful new wife who has taken over the job. I'm not being a creep here as none of my family read my blog, apart from Phoebe).

3. That applying nail varnish to the eyelashes ( having confused it with eyelash stuff) is an exeptionally bad idea. Think about it.

4. That the best way to find unswept-up fragments of broken glass is to walk about with bare feet, and voila! There they all are!

5. That we need more sticking plaster ( see 4 above).

6. That I haven't got any more things done since cutting down on the blog (so what exactly HAVE I done? ).

7. That there are bee orchids on the downs where I ride. I've seen every other sort, but bee orchids only this year. They are truly beautiful.

8. That my daughter really is a domestic goddess. Sadly, she doesn't get it from me.

9. Something I haven't learned yet: what exactly do those gangly spindly spiders that live in sheds eat? We have lots (of spiders, not sheds), and they just dangle there, waiting. Come on, spiders. Even I can see there are NO FLIES. Ours is a no fly zone. What exactly are you all waiting for? Please go away ( I never kill spiders. I just Hoover up the webs. Making new ones gives them something to do).

Thursday 7 July 2016

Open letter to an optician

Dear Mr. Smithers*

You're probably a busy man, and may even be a little bored, but can I make a few suggestions?

Firstly, you are supposed to put me at my ease, not the other way round. Chat, talk about the weather; anything but that dour professional silence. I'm on your territory, so it's your job to make me feel at home.

Now I know I'm not the most hilariously amusing person you've ever come across, but humour me. When I try to crack a little joke or make some merry quip (I do this to put myself at ease, since you're obviously not going to), at least smile. Come on, now. It wouldn't hurt you,would it? The receptionists laughed heartily when I was filling in that form without my glasses, and said I needed my eyes testing. That wasn't funny, either, but they humoured me. I like your receptionists.

When I ask whether I'm safe to drive, instead of going all po-faced and telling me I'm legal, but you 'can't possibly say that I'm safe', explain yourself. I know you're covering your back, but a little more information would be nice.

Don't puff that thing at my eyeballs. I don't like it. It makes me jump.

And don't turn your nose up at my Amazon off-the-peg glasses. They work just  fine.

Lastly, had you ever though if being, say, a chartered accountant? I think it would suit you better than your present calling.

Your reproachfully etc.etc.

PS Your parting shot was that you'd see me in two years. Well, not if I see you first, you won't. Next time, I'm going to Specsavers.

*Not  your real name. But then, you know that.

Thursday 30 June 2016

A fashion post

While out shopping with my daughter, we found this. Now like the Chinese painted quail, this begs several questions, the main one being, WHY? What are the appendages for, exactly? (Access is from the inside.)

Here are some suggestions:

1. Long, droopy boobs (obviously). Being wool, they would be kept nice and warm, but retain their characteristic droop.

2. To keep a spare pair of socks. One in each pocket.

3. Newborn twins (though they might suffocate).

4. Your packed lunch.

5. Kittens. People like kittens.

6. In fact anything else you want to keep about your person.

So it (they) could be useful. But attractive? Well, judge for yourself. And guess what. It was in the sale, so the buying public do have some sense. Phew.

(Any ideas/suggestions welcome. I really am bewildered.)

Friday 24 June 2016

There's always someone worse off...

This is a Chinese painted quail (you see? You're riveted already; admit it). This bird spends most of its time on the ground, which is just as well, since when it takes off, it flies in a straight line until it bumps into something.

This poses one or two interesting questions, the major one being: if this bird is only capable of flying in a straight line, why is it not obsolete? After all, there are only so many times you can bump into things (while flying) without sustaining fatal injuries. Even the dodo didn't fly into things, and look what happened to that.

There. You've learnt something today, haven't you? And I haven't even mentioned the R word.

 You're welcome.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Totally blown away by...

...Gone with the Wind. I read it many years ago, and forgot it all, so I've come back to it fresh. It is a riveting, astonishing, wonderful marathon of a book. I've lived, breathed and dreamed it since starting it nearly three weeks ago (it's very, very long), and will be bereft when I finish it (soon). If you've never read it (and most people I've spoken to say "I've seen the film, but..."), you have a treat in store. It is one of the most amazing books I have ever read, and I think it must rank as one of the best novels ever written (and yes, I have read War and Peace).

I'm already grieving for it, for the end is in sight. Whatever can I read next that will come anywhere near it?

Tuesday 14 June 2016

This one's for Adrian

Come on, Adrian. You can make one of these...can't you (works better if you look to one side)? As for me, I don't begin to understand it.

Now, back to work.

Sunday 22 May 2016

To a dead badger


I want to see a badger that's not dead;
Not tossed to the roadside by a passing car;
Not flattened by tyres or eaten by carrion crows.
I want to see a badger that's not dead.

I want to see a badger that's not dead.
A badger nosing and snuffling among the leaves;
A badger busy doing badgery things.
I want to see a badger that's not dead.

I want to see a badger that's not dead.
A badger digging with great horny hands;
Upturning stones and rocks and chalk and soil.
I want to see a badger that's not dead.

I want to see a badger that's not dead.
A living  badger, leading its badgerly life;
A badger playing badger games in moonlight.
I want to see a badger that's not dead.

I've never seen a badger that's not dead.

Thursday 21 April 2016

The makings of a responsible father

This  was posted on Facebook by one of my sons last night. He's a lovely daddy, but still learning (like most of us)...

                   Note to self. When getting football out of ditch don't take eyes off the baby

Friday 8 April 2016

Please give me my extra s!

I know I bang on about punctuation, but one of the things that annoy me the most is the way people puctuate the possessive of a word or name ending in s. Thus, anything belonging to me becomes Frances' as oposed to Frances's. I am not the plural of France; I just have a name that ends in s. I would love to have been called Catherine (because I like the name, but also, it doesn't end in an s. And anyone with the name of Catherine is unlikely to be called Sir or offered Russian brides, both of which frequently happen to me). Also, I  don't much care for my own name, but I'm stuck with it. (I'm often Fran, which doesn't end in an s, and is more friendly.)

So please, if it's mine, it's Frances's. Okay? Thank you.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

The ramblings of the subconscious

Although I've decided not to blog so much recently, I just had to make use of the dream I had last night. So here goes.

Picture the scene. The vet was due to visit Blue ( my horse) today, but my subconscious had obviously decided to use this as a plot for a most bizarre dream. Hence, the vet, rather than being  very male Oscar, was a woman unknown to me (although since she called me Fran, we must have know each other). With her she brought an enormous sheep called Gillian, who sported a rather splendid coat. This nameless female vet said the treatment would involve three visits, and this seemed to be because she was still breastfeeding her baby, who I think was called Philip.

That's all.

(In fact Oscar came, and treated Blue - who wasn't at all brave - and all was well. I told Oscar my dream. He looked perplexed. He doesn't have a sheep called Gillian.)

Monday 21 March 2016

Open letter to women's (clothes shop) changing rooms

Dear Changing Rooms,

How do you do it? Why do you do it? I go into the changing room feeling light of heart, filled with optimism, my arms full of clothes and my heart full of hope. I peel off my own clothes, stand under the startlingly bright, unforgiving lights, and turn to face the mirror. And then you do it. You show me the Real Me.

There she stands, usually in just underwear and socks (not attractive, I confess);  this flabby, pale stranger, anxious of face and dimpled of (too much) flesh, everything - and I mean everything - apparently travelling South. I swear that soon, her boobs will be in her socks (while her heart's in her boots), and people will turn from her in pity and disgust.

This happened again yesterday, while looking for (another) Mother of the Bridegroom outfit. My daughter, who doubles as personal shopper, swears I was crying. But I wasn't. I was beyond tears. What she saw was total, utter  despair.

Now, let me give you some advice. It you really want me to buy the clothes, then:

1. Turn down the lights. Make them softly flattering, gentle, kindly.
2. Reduce the number of mirrors to just one. I have no need or desire to see my backside. I know it's too big, and don't need you to rub it in.
3. Make that single mirror very slightly distorted, to accentuate waists and slim the legs, thighs, tummies etc. I know this isn't entirely honest, but I don't NEED you to be honest. I need you to LIE. Okay?

Then, and only then, I just might buy something.

Yours in grief and disappointment etc etc

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Confession of a Facebook Troll

I don't do Facebook; I'm just a Facebook stalker. I spy on people, and admire their photos, and generally use FB to entertain myself when I'm at a loose end. I do correct my daughter's punctuation
(she's  given to this !!! sort of thing, and I have a thing about abuse of exclamation marks), but she's now told me that "it's not funny any more, Mum", so I resist, and she continues on her inaccurate grammatical way, unimpeded by her pedantic parent. I don't Like people's comments, either, because once you start, where does it end? In fact I'm just a troll.

But today, misled by the technology involved, I accidentally posted a recipe for haddock risotto on my (rather empty) Facebook page. This was a mistake (long story). I'm hoping someone will take pity on me and teach me how to remove it, because it looks rather silly (if delicious).

That's all.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Thoughts, please

If anyone reading this post has the time, please would you let me have your thoughts? This is the opening chapter of a novel I'm writing, and have almost finished. Would you want to read on, or would you  just leave it? Honest anwers. please! And if you do reply, thank  you.

                                          JULY 1965


A family was struck by tragedy when their young son drowned while on holiday. Two-year-old Caspar Lewis fell into a lake in full view of his ten-year-old sister, Isabel. He was rushed to hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. Local police said that the death appeared to be a tragic accident. Last night, his parents, Michael and Barbara, were being comforted by relatives.

               It had been so easy to drown Caspar.

She hadn't planned it, for she could never have known that her parents would leave her to “keep an eye on him” for a few minutes. And in any case, drowning wouldn’t have been her preferred method of disposing of her little brother. She had dreamed of strangling him, of placing a pillow over his sleeping face and sitting on it, of perhaps pushing him down the stairs. But drowning had never occurred to her. In any case, until now, she had never really intended to put any of her ideas into practice.

But then suddenly, there it was. The perfect opportunity. She and Caspar, alone on the jetty, watching the boats

'Look, Casp! Look! Fish!”

And he had leaned over, squatting in his pale blue dungarees, his bobbing blond curls (oh, how she had hated those curls!) reflected in the pale surface of the lake.

Such a little push; such a small splash. And he was gone. There was no fuss, no scream, no bobbing back to the surface, no sign of any struggle (afterwards, they had said that his body had become caught in reeds); just a single starfish hand, raised as though in valediction before disappearing altogether in the murky depths of the lake. Caspar's small, perfect life had ended in a small, perfect death. Neat. Unobtrusive. Almost apologetic.

She had waited a few minutes, just to be sure, and then she had run screaming back up the bank.

'Quick! Come quick! Caspar's fallen in the lake!'

It was as simple as that.

Her parents had blamed themselves . They shouldn't have left the two of them together; it hadn't been fair. She was too young to be responsible for so young a child. What could they have been thinking of! Poor Isabel. Poor little Bel. She would carry that terrible memory with her for the rest of her life. They must be strong. They must keep going. For Isabel.

After a while, it was easy to imagine that it really had been an accident; that it had had nothing to do with her at all. Caspar had stumbled and fallen; it had been nobody’s fault. And her guilt had sunk, like Caspar's tiny body, and been submerged in the soothing waters of the myth which had been woven around it.

Why had she hated him so much? She had begged and pleaded for a baby brother or sister, perhaps safe in the certainty that none would be forthcoming, but when he had finally arrived, she had been overwhelmed with jealousy. She grew to hate her perfect little brother with his perfect manners, his blue eyes, his seraphic smile, and those blond curls, Wherever they went, Caspar had turned heads and attracted compliments. He was a clever, child, too. He knew all his colours and could count up to fifty, while in those days, Isabel had struggled at school. He even had more names than she did. Caspar Llewellyn St.John Lewis. That was a name that was going places. Whereas she, plain Isabel Mary, wasn't going anywhere.

Once, she had asked why Caspar had been blessed with all those names, and been told that her mother had “had everything taken away” after his birth, and there would be no more babies. So it seemed that all the names that might have been given to future brothers had been lavished upon Caspar, so that none should be wasted. She had never asked about girls' names. She couldn’t imagine that her parents would ever have wanted another girl.

And so the memory of that afternoon had become clouded, and had finally disappeared. If she thought of it at all (and she tried not to), she had a vague recollection of Caspar running off, of herself shouting after him, getting to the jetty too late to save him. In her own mind, she became as much of a victim as Caspar himself; the older sister who had been the luckless witness, unable to reach her little brother in time. The coroner's verdict had been “accidental death”, so that was what it had been. A tragic accident. It had had nothing to do with Isabel at all.

She wasn't to know that one day - one far-off day - she would be tempted to kill again.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Magpie 308

She held the letter to her lips for a moment, as though reluctant to let it go, wondering whether he would ever receive it. She wasn't even sure where he was at the moment; only that he was fighting for his country, somewhere across the channel, probably cold and afraid and missing her.

But he would be back soon; leave had been mentioned in his last letter, and then they hoped to marry. Childhood sweethearts, they had always meant to marry one day. Why, oh why, had they left it so long? But they'd thought they had time. They hadn't expected this war.

As she dropped the letter into the postbox and turned for home, her head full of thoughts of him and of her love for him, she wasn't to know that at that moment there was a boy on a bicycle making for her house.  A boy holding a yellow telegram....

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the photo)

Tuesday 1 March 2016

My Room 101

For the uninitiated, Room 101 is a place into which you hurl things you don't like/want. And into mine goes......self-assembly.

Now, once upon a time, you could go out and buy something. It would come looking exactly like the thing you wanted. It didn't need legs screwing on or wheels attaching. It was whole. Complete. Usable. It was what you wanted.

But no more. Nowadays,  most things seem to come in bits. With screws. Either too many screws, or just one too few. Too many make you wonder what you haven't screwed. One too few makes things drop off. And then there are the instructions. These come in about fifty languages, with diagrams. And no words (well, one or two, obviously, because of the fifty languages. But not enough to be of any help at all).

Our new vacuum cleaner came in bits. Yesterday. For a start, the picture didn't resemble what we received, and we don't seem to have the "AeroPro Ergo handle", and I'm not sure we have the "AeroPro Perketto nozzle" (these were supposed to be the English instructions). You couldn't make it up, could you? And no. I didn't. I don't have enough imagination for this kind of b****cks. The list of "consumables and accessories" is endless (when did you last comsume a bit of vacuum cleaner? Ha. I thought not). My patience is NOT endless. I hate, hate, hate this vacuum cleaner. Even in its not properly assembled state, I have taken against it. Plus, it wasted most of yesterday evening as I tried to put it together, and the time it's taken to write this rant.

So into my Room 101 goes self-assembly. ALL self-assembly.

What (or who) would you put in your Room 101? No prizes, but a special mention for the one I like best, and a little one-woman round of applause.

Friday 26 February 2016

In just fifteen years...

Last week-end, we celebrated the fifteenth birthday(s) of my first (triplet) grandchildren. How things (people) can change in such a short time! Many, many happy returns to my three special babies: M, P, and H. I owe you all so much. You introduced me to the wonderful hand-them-back joys of being a grandparent, disposable nappies,  the periodic table (M), how to do the splits (P), and sheer off-the-wallness (H). I love you all! xx

Monday 22 February 2016

Nation of animal-lovers?

Last week, I read the following:

New research found that:

    More than 1 in 3 British pet owners celebrate their pets birthday
  • 15% sing Happy Birthday to their pet
  • They spend on average £26 on birthday gifts
  • More than half of pets also have their own social media account

These people also dress their pets up in silly outfits, and send them cards. They also receive them.  The oddest greetings card I ever saw bore the merry caption: HAPPY EASTER FROM THE DOG!

Now, I'm as fond of animals as the next person, but this is anthropomorphism gone mad, isn't it? Discussing this with Blue (my horse), I was relieved to find that he was in complete agreement.

"I can't read, and I'm not musical. Singing to me and sending me cards would be ridiculous," he said

"But what about that chocolate from Olly's* Advent calendar last Christmas?" I reminded him.

"I spat it out," he told me.

"Of course you did. I remember. So you don't want an Advent Calendar of your own next Christmas?"

"Don't be silly. I'm a horse."

"So you are. Silly me."

Blue can be very sensible sometimes.

*Olly is Blue's friend in the stable opposite.

Saturday 6 February 2016

The excitement of old age

Here is a hurtful reminder of the passage of time. Courtesy of same daughter.   Not sure what I've done to deserve all this.

Friday 5 February 2016

The cruelty of daughters (King Lear knew all about it)

My daughter just sent me this She may be good at drawing dogs, but she can be very hurtful sometimes.

(What she doesn't know is that the horse is wearing a rug, and you don't ride a horse in a rug. Got you there, Daisy. You'll have to try harder next time.)

Saturday 30 January 2016

The apple can fall a looooong way from the tree....


                    Mine (to view, tilt head to the left, please. It won't go the right way up).

See what I mean?

Wednesday 27 January 2016

New Years resolutions; progress so far

Nil. Nothing. Niente.

These are the things I have not managed to do:

1. Be be more organised.
2. Waste less time on the Internet.
3. Write every day.
4. Be nicer about X (who is horrible to me, and most other people as well).
5. Make lists and stick to them. Well,  I have made the lists, but I cheat, by writing down things I've already done and then crossing them off. This pleases me. (I'm easily pleased.)
6. Give up The Times "difficult" su doku. I just can't. It's sooooo satisfying (goodness knows why).
7. Take more stuff to Oxfam (I've taken some, but not nearly enough).

Then lovely daughter said, "but Mum - you can't keep resolutions because that means changing yourself!"

And she has a point, even  though it means I'm lazy, disorganised, incapable of sticking to lists etc. etc.......Sigh.

But she seems to love me as I am, so maybe there's hope after all.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Fear of Flying ( hundred word flash fiction)

She'd always managed to avoid flying, and despite the circumstances, she felt ridiculously nervous. Should that wing be trembling like that? And the whole plane seemed to be tilting; were planes supposed to tilt? She turned away from the window, and sipped her glass of champagne. She hadn't had a drink for a long time, but it wouldn't matter now, would it? Nothing really mattered now.

"Have you got the tickets, dear?" She asked.
"Yes, Mum." Her daughter forced a smile."Here's yours. See?"

Her eyes blurred with tears, she showed her mother her ticket. Her one-way ticket to Switzerland...

(Just an experiment)

Saturday 16 January 2016

Horse-related injuries

Graham has kindly (?) mentioned in a recent post my adventures on and off horses. What I suspect he doesn't know is that one of the most painful kinds of horsey injury is what I call "gate leg". Here is what you need to do to acquire one of these (the photo is of my gate leg incident last week):

1. You are on a horse, which is keen to get home. Find a narrow hunting gate.

2. Open the gate. This needs to be the kind that swings back, and is hard to negotiate.

3. Hold the gate open with one hand, and the reins loosely (too loosely. It's important that you have as little control as possible over the horse) in the other.

4. Line the horse up so that one of your legs is directly aimed at the gatepost. The horse, keen to get home  (see above) will shoot through the gateway, secure in the knowledge that he at least will get clear.

5. Your leg slams directly into the gatepost, at speed.

6. Voila! You have a gate leg. Arnica helps, but only time will heal....

Monday 11 January 2016

Magpie 301


"Oh, what can I do with my hair?"
Poor Amelia cried in despair.
"The answer, I s'pose, is
To fill it with roses.
And then, at a push,
They'll just think I'm a bush.
And no-one will know that I'm there."

(With thansk to Tess at Magipe Tales for the picture)

Wednesday 6 January 2016

The insensitivity of today's cold caller

I have several ways of handling cold calls, most of them polite. I've  just used one of my (usually) more successful ones. It didn't work.

Caller: is that Mrs Stott? (She's my alter ego),
Me: I'm afraid she died last week.
Caller: is that Mrs. Stott?
Me: no. I've just told you. She died last week. She's dead. I'm her sister.
Caller: oh. Well. If you're her sister, can I speak to you?
Me (incensed): but I'm grieving! My sister  has just died! You're being very insensitive!

Etc.etc. I was quite upset. This has never happened before. They usually ring off, and, on a good day, I get condolences, too.

I'll have to think of something else for next time (though - some weeks ago - telling the ambulance chaser that I'd lost both legs was quite fun).

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Anyone for a tea towel?

I was approached recently by a small company asking me whether I would be interested in reviewing their tea towels. I was offered a choice of any two - free of charge - to try out.

Intrigued, I replied that yes, I would, but it would be an honest review. Fine, Al (the company's owner) said. He was prepared for me to publish my findings, whatever they might be.

Now, let's be honest; there are few things (to me) less interesting than a tea towel. But, there are few things more essential. We all use them.Personally, I prefer the old, soft, holey ones (and believe me, I have a huge collection of these), but all tea towels start off new and relatively stiff.

My findings:
Firstly, I liked the fact that this is a small company, specialising in  a single product. Al was approachable, replying immediately to my emails, and happy to share personal details about himself and his company. My parcel arrived nicely packaged, and the tea towels are attractive (below is one that I chose). There is a very wide selection of designs, from old masters to humorous to birds and animals.They also have a useful loop for hanging (most tea towels do not). I like this, as I never sew if I can help it, and wouldn't dream of sewing a hanger into a tea towel. They are priced between £5-10, which seems average for a qulity tea towel, and importantly (to me), P&P are free. His comprehensive website can be found here.

I emailed Al to ask him about his company, and why tea towels, rather than anything else, and I'll leave the last word(s) to him:

 I am Al (male), self-employed, and I run the business from a spare bedroom on the edge of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. I have been selling tea towels now for 7 years, and I have a great fondness for their artwork and feel. I personally hand check each tea towel before packing to ensure it is to a pleasing standard that I would be happy to receive. I enjoy sourcing new designs and also enjoy carefully packing orders for customers.

Why tea towels? WhenI was an early teenager, I bought my first tea towel on a day trip to Ayr in Scotland. I was fascinated by the colours and souvenir design, and that started me off. It's nice to go to different places and be able to buy a tea towel memento, and when you use the tea towel in later years or take it out of storage, it reminds you of your day out.

I was looking for something to sell to start the business, and I thought what could be better than designer tea towels. Tea towels that I am into and have a passion for. Usually in bricks and mortar shops, the range of designs are limited, so I thought I would create a website that showcases lots of tea towels from various designers. A growing collection of tea towels that you would not see together in the shops.

Quite a few of my UK customers have purchased to bring on holiday to family and friends (the counties and regions designs being popular for this purpose), and some customers like to purchase and have the tea towel sent directly to the gift recipient with a message enclosed. I write the message onto a gift card, free of charge!

I think that says it all!