A Step Out of Time…

I have just spent the last couple of hours sitting in a little taverna, ‘ταβέρνα’ in Greek, by the side of what passes for a roundabout, here in the little village of Pastida on the island of Rhodes.

Watching the everyday lives of the locals as they pass back and forth across my line of vision is both relaxing and informative; I find it a great way to discover the nature of the people on this beautiful island. A wonderful simplistic way to pass several leisurely hours under the hot summer sun, enjoying a visual spectacle of shimmering ballet, of tranquil living, enviable in its simplicity. A reminder of those lost but more important and innocent times from my childhood, when the world was slower, more simplistic and carefree. A bygone age when motor cars were a rarity and streets were pristine clean and places of social interaction for all generations.

The lives of the locals here appear so much less complicated and stressful than those of our friends and neighbours back home; nobody seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere fast and each person appears to take pleasure from the slower pace of life. Almost everyone spends quality time together, greeting and sharing news with each other; a symphony of communication that nothing and nobody can halt. Age is irrelevant as excited chatter crosses all generations, both young and old greet each other to share and exchange news. No-one is rushing off to catch buses, or racing about like a mad person on a supermarket shopping spree; nobody is living their lives at breakneck speed, just a community living in harmony with each other. Everybody seemingly has a myriad of things to share with each other, and afford themselves the time to enjoy the moment seemingly with neither cares nor distraction. The subdued chatter coming from all directions does little more than slightly disturb the air in the heat of the midday sun, adding to the relaxed atmosphere. The atmosphere around the square is both electric and active, yet overlying it all is a tangible serene calmness; a contradiction of terms, an anomaly of time. Hard to describe and difficult to understand.

Unlike numerous other destinations across Europe where I’ve had the pleasure of spending my holiday time, here in Pasteda nobody is out to sell me anything, nobody is calling out to inform me their goods are cheaper than Asda nor trying to convince me I need another piece of cheap tat to cart back home. Those types of establishments don’t exist on these quaint homely street. The nearby cool bakery, a wonderful visual display of creative culinary delights, needs no aggressive spiel, no persuasion to buy. The delights in the welcoming window speaks silently for itself. Further along a couple of headscarved women clutching their wicker baskets, wait patiently in the queue at the butcher’s shop. Their amused laughter drifts out into the heat of the day, slowly melting and joining the cacophony of sounds already swirling around me. There are no cross-words, no raised voices, just friendly banter, friendly chatter.

Approaching another taverna on our walk across the street, we are greeted like long-lost friends, welcome to sit awhile in the shade out of the heat. No pressure on us to purchase anything, just the offer of a seat, a place to rest in the heat of the day, with the option to call on the owner if drink or food is needed.

I am fascinated by the laid-back attitude of the vehicle drivers who pass-by, each of them intent on undertaking their little adventures and journeys, slowly but surely reaching their destinations for the day. Various vehicles pass effortlessly around each other in what can only be described as a carefully choreographed fairy-tale ballet, the noise of the traffic background music, ensuring the effortlessly movement of the vehicles. Little heed is paid to the blue arrows on what proudly passes for a roundabout, primarily ordering vehicles to drive to the right, but passed unseen or regarded as unimportant as the flow of cars is reversed to assist the passage of large vehicles. The cars, vans and wagons, and a variety of other vehicles stop ad-hoc and greetings and handshakes are shared with pedestrians. A scooter gracefully glides across the junction in the wrong direction. But nobody pays any attention, nobody gets upset or raises a voice.

No complains or comments: Everyone is too relaxed to criticise anyone else. They just take things as they come. Children sit proudly and without fear on the knees of elder relatives on aged scooters, or in the front seats of cars without thought for seat belts or over-crowding.

I am intrigued by the odd behaviour of an elderly man who has been loitering for a good twenty minutes in the centre of the road. He occasionally leaning on the wrought iron railings that wrap around the metal barrel that passes for a roundabout, presumably to ease the strain of standing so long. Cars continue to glide past, waving to him as they cross his path. At one point I think to myself, maybe he is the traffic warden, if such people exist in this island that time forgot. But that premise is proven false as I see him wandering leisurely across to the taverna opposite. He chats with the owner of the establishment for a couple of minutes before again taking up his post in the centre of the village square. Eventually, an old but serviceable car pulls up to a stop on the roundabout, next to the man who then climbs into the passenger seat of the vehicle before he, and it, motor off along the road.

Patience is definitely the order of the day. During the time I have been sitting here watching I have only once heard the beeping of a horn and that was when a huge coach blocked the narrow road it was attempting to enter. All the other vehicles had to reverse and pull into wherever space they could find to allow the bus access across the
square. The solitary beep came from a lady, not in anger or frustration, but as a warning to oncoming traffic approaching the town square was there was a blockage round the corner. Incredibly, the traffic jam didn’t completely halt progress, bikes, scooters and motorbikes continued to weave in and out of the stationary vehicles carrying smiling drivers on the their way.

Despite what appears to be the haphazard attitude of the drivers, there is no element of danger apparent; no officials attempting to direct their seemingly carefree lives. Everyone appears to be taking responsibility for their own actions, apologising when they get to close when passing each other.

Slowly the gender of the people of the square change. There are virtually no women left to be seen, to be replaced by much older men, presumably grandparents, riding their Vespas across the square from all directions before disappearing down a side street: only to return shortly afterwards with young school aged children perched precariously on the knees of the scooter drivers. Older children both male and female walk arm in arm on their way to destinations unknown; no squabbling, pushing or shoving, no cross words shared just innocent camaraderie.

A sudden influx of traffic fills the square, in what appears to be a uniformed raid on the town. Car after car travels the street opposite where I am sitting, vehicles filled and driven by men in uniforms. Policemen or army personnel changing shifts at what I presume is a nearby base. But the invasion is short-lived. As fast as it started the onslaught ends and order is once again restored.

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Sodden Saturday

Sally stood for ten minutes in the rain, searching out someone who could swap her loose pennies for a ten pence piece. She did not like the new slot trollies but she had no option but to use them if she wanted to buy her groceries from the glossy newly built supermarket. The trollies were heavy and difficult to control. The bruises on her ankles, caused by shoppers trying to keep control of their trollies, were evidence of previous sojourns into this consumer madness they called progress.

The smaller independent shops near her home had closed down so she no longer had any choice but to shop in this giant store. It wasn’t ideal but it was necessary if Sally was to feed her family. It was a situation Sally told herself she would get used to, she had to move with the times. She had to remind herself, yes, this was progress.

But try as she night, Sally hated the new shops, they were too big, too impersonal. There were too many people and the quality of some goods, especially fresh produce was a far cry from that offered by the greengrocer where she’d previously shopped. Gone was the individual attention from the shopkeepers, the friendly chatter whilst waiting for purchases to be handed over in little brown paper bags. Gone was the familiarity, the banter experienced by the children who loved chatting with the shopkeeper.

Eventually, the silver coin slipped into the slot releasing the iron monster: Sally was once again ready to do battle. Ready to make her way up and down the narrow alleyways looking for the items she had carefully written on her shopping list. Being such a big shop, being unfamiliar with the layout which changed regularly anyway it was so easy for Sally, and others like her, to end up buying things she didn’t really want in her search for the things she really needed. So the list, written with great intentions, soon became a forgotten spark of sanity.

Gaining access to the supermarket on a Saturday was a nightmare. Sally had to fight her way through hordes of noisy school aged children pestering the departing customers, asking if they could return their trolleys for them. Often people with cars would abandon their trolleys near where they had parked, left to be grabbed by keen-eyed youngsters who were eager to retrieve the abandoned deposit. For many this was a profitable pastime and worth suffering the wind and rain for a rewarding pocket full of ten pence pieces.

Struggling through the hordes could be quite threatening, as the youngsters jostled with each other almost crashing into the customers trying to get past them. It was difficult not to run into them as the automatic doors opened and closed willy nilly causing trolleys to be hastily withdrawn and rapidly thrust forward. There was no easy way of getting in and out of the shop and it appeared to be worsening by the week.

The two back wheels of the trolley had barely passed through the narrow turnstile when the customary wobble started up. Sally couldn’t fathom how all the trolleys in the bays could be so defective after such a short time in situ. It was only a month or so since they were introduced, four weeks or so since she was lugging two great heavy baskets around the shop. The new trolleys were meant to alleviate all the stress and strain of doing a big weekly shop, making it easier to carry more goods, spend more money, probably buy more than was needed. But they were heavy to push, impossible to manoeuvre and barely fitted down the narrow alleyways.

Passing by the towering racks of sad-looking vegetables the dull thud of her headache beat in time to the never-ending background music. The pounding caused Sally’s brow to crinkle up in a frown of pain and tiredness, furrows embedding themselves permanently beneath her frizzled hairline.

The supermarket was crowded with people of all size and ages, all attempting to manoeuvring cumbersome vehicles piled high with tins and boxes. Battling to reach the cheaper tins of beans which Sally hoped her children would grow to like, Sally’s sleeve caught and toppled several tins of ravioli which cluttered to the ground adding to the tumultuous noise surrounding her. Frustration swept over her as she knelt on one knee to retrieve the spilled cans, disinterested shoppers impatiently stepping over her leg. Their rude tutting, clearly echoing around her head as she attempted to replace the cans on the shelf served to only heighten Sally’s dark mood.

How she hated shopping.

Turning the corner after leaving the bacon counter, Sally narrowly missed running down a young child who jumped out in front of her, growling at her like an aggressive brown bear on the rampage. Her nerve ends already frayed to breaking point, Sally mumbled to herself, “little monster, he should be packed away in a deep freezer’, the passion in her voice revealing her level of anxiety and frustration.

Seemly on his own, the child went off to terrorise other unwary shoppers. Neither supervised nor chastised Sally became angry as she watching other children running amok amongst the shelves. A teenaged roller skater chose that exact moment to crashing into her trolley knocking it off course. Sally struggled to gain control and straighten it as it flew past the tall mountain of coloured toilet rolls that loomed in front of her. Just where were their mothers? Her nerves were frayed and her temper at breaking point. Would she survive much longer?

The final leg of her journey was made harder by the now laden trolley deciding to assert its stubbornness to the full as it suddenly started veering sharply to the left. Despite all the force Sally could muster, the metal contraption refused to obey her as she pulled and pushed it into a position where she could complete her expedition in this nightmarish world.

The queues at the tills were long, and extremely noisy as usual. Saturday was not a good day to replenish the kitchen cupboards, but sally had no other choice. Her husband didn’t come home with his pay until late on Friday evening, too late to shop as the supermarket closed at five o’clock.

Children pushed and shoved each other, banging into near-by trollies. Cries of wanting this or that, followed by the screams of mothers saying no, grated on Sally’s fragile ears. The noise reached a crescendo when one child was grabbed by the arm after ignoring her irate mother’s pleas for her to be settled down and be quiet. The girl suddenly threw herself to the ground kicking and screaming for attention, much to the embarrassment of her mother who appeared unsure what she could do to stop this display of childish temper. Other people turned away embarrassed for the plight of this mother.

Sally was finally out on the street, free from the confines of the building. The gentle swishing of the cars as they drove past through the puddles began to soothe Sally’s nerves as she stood enjoying the relative quiet after the last hour of torture. She joined similar laden ladies waiting to cross the road, lugging behind them wheeled shopping trolleys or bulging bags.

Although the bus stop was only a short distance away, the weight of the tins and bottles nestled in her bags placed tremendous strain on her arms and shoulders as she staggered forward. The few yards seemed like miles as acute tiredness enveloped Sally’s short frame.

Relieved, she watched the yellow bus come trundling up the hill to where she stood. But relief soon turned to frustration Sally as the bus kept on going without stopping. The tired faces of people silhouetted in the lighted bus windows, showed no sympathy for the plight of those still standing on the pavement as they passed by.

The next bus wasn’t due for another half an hour. Sally considered her options. Stay there braving the cold and wet for thirty minutes or start walking. She would get very wet but At least if she was on the move, she would be warmer. And so it was that dark wet day that Sally set off along the road to home.

Sally was just approaching the turn off to her house when the next bus finally came along pausing at the bus stop just long enough to disgorge its weary passengers onto flooded pavements.

By the time Sally turned the key in her front door and deposited her bags on the kitchen table her arms were numb, her shoulders were on fire and the headache that she had woken with this morning now resembled a mechanical pile-driver threatening to split her skull wide open. Too tired to remove her sodden coat. Too tired to do anything, Sally flopped her bottom onto the kitchen chair. Her head atop one of the bags, grateful for the softness of the pack of toilet rolls that cushioned her thumping head, Sally’s eyes slowly closed and she breathed a huge sigh of relief. Oblivious of the voices calling to ask what was for lunch, Sally slipped away on a sea of dreams, thankful that Saturday was over for another week.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

This morning one of my daughters tagged me in a photo on Facebook, asking, “Remember this?”

Wow, that was a blast from the past. I not only remember the Christmas stockings in the photographs, I’d made them with two of my children, and even though it was a long time ago, I still remember that Christmas extremely well. How things have changed since then.

The year was 1975 or 1976, and my husband and I had moved to a new house with our two young children. My husband had just recently started working; it was a poorly paid job and we didn’t have a lot of money. I was doing my bit by doing a few hours in a pub, behind the bar, and we struggled to keep our heads above water.

We were managing day-to-day, but the extra bills were very worrying. The old coin meter in our previous home had been robbed when some kids had broken into our flat. We were responsible for the meter so we had to pay the missing money back to the gas board, on top of our regular bill and so the debt came with us. Despite constantly asking for a gas meter reading and subsequently, the bill we were still waiting nearly a year later and each quarter that passed hiked the worry up another notch. I had tried putting some money away for when the gas bill finally materialised, but growing children have needs, shoes, coats, food, just the basics of life. And the children came first.

Finally, a couple of weeks before Christmas the bill turned up on our mat, demanding payment for the year’s supply of gas and the amount owing from our flat. It was a lot of money, money we just didn’t have.

I contacted the company and frankly, they didn’t want to know. We owed this money, they wanted it, and it had to be paid before 23rd of December. End of discussion.

My husband was on two weeks holiday over the Christmas period, and had received his pay for the entire month. So it was with a very heavy heart we went on the bus to the city centre Gas Board shop and paid over every penny we had. There hadn’t been quite enough so I had put the family allowance I’d been trying to save, towards paying the bill.

It was two weeks before Christmas and we were penniless. We had two children to feed and luckily I had bought a little extra food for the holidays. It just meant come Christmas we would have very little if anything left. And more importantly, we couldn’t buy any presents for our children. Nothing, and we no way to provide them with anything.

Clothing for them were fairly easy. I had an old treadle sewing machine sitting in the back bedroom. I could make them something new for Christmas but it would have to be from whatever I had round the house.

I found a piece of crimplene fabric in my basket, rough and scratchy but blue, suitable for trousers for my son. So, using his outgrown pair of pants as a pattern, I tapered the flared legs a little so it fitted on the material and still left a little to make him a little waistcoat and bow tie. I hadn’t been able to make him a shirt so I cut the sleeves off a one which he’d out-grown and made them short so he could still wear it. The bow tie was a sort of a success, but it hung badly as the only elastic I could find for it was old and worn; it had as much stretch left in it as a piece of old grey string.

The waistcoat would have benefitted from a bit of lining but I has nothing suitable that I could use. But fastened with the two old brass buttons out of my treasure box it looked quite snazzy. My treasure box was my button tin, filled to brimming with beautiful vintage fastenings and buttons of every conceivable size and shape. Inherited from my Nanna and added to from jumble sale items it was a great source of fun for the children. Sorting, counting, making different noises. The huge old coat buttons from the forties and fifties are great for making whizzers*. ( I’ll add instructions at the end so you can try it too.)

For my daughter I made a dress from a small piece of floral cotton fabric that I had that was just sufficient for her size. I added some lace that I had taken off my slip, sewn around the neck and the sleeves and a prettier dress you couldn’t have found anywhere. She tried it on and told me she was like a princess as she spun round and round to make the skirt lift up into the air. There was enough lace to sew around the top of her ankle socks, and a tiny ribbon bow also taken off my slip was added to finish them off.

I didn’t have time to knit her a new cardigan, I’m a very slow and often reluctant knitter. It’s was not my favourite hobby. So my daughter had to make do with one of her old ones.

That was the clothes sorted, but what to do about the rest of Christmas? At the bottom of my wardrobe I found an orange corduroy skirt that I’d made for myself the previous year. I had only worn it a couple of times because it was rather bright and gaudy, but it was ideal for two Christmas stockings. The children helped me to decorate the sewn up socks, using scraps from my fabric box. A piece of blue from the pants I’d made, a scrap of the floral material I’d used for my daughters dress, a little remnant from a suit I’d made myself. And finally the inside of the hem of my dressing gown, which was a lovely shiny fabric that my daughter admired. It was easy to cut the piece without damaging the dressing gown too much.

The brown cotton trimming that went round the top came from an old cushion that was going to be thrown out, but it fit the purpose well. The kids helped with pinning and sewing the stockings and were pleased as punch to be making things together.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough orange corduroy for the stocking for our dog Tipsy, but I found a small piece of felt that I embroidered her name onto. I later called into our butchers and asked for a bone for her, so that was another present sorted. We didn’t want Tipsy to feel left out, that would have upset the kids.

Another day and another job. We spent a couple of hours, cutting newspaper into strips to make into paper chains. How dirty were our hands? We couldn’t resist rubbing the printing ink on each other till we ended up looking like little black elves. We rolled about on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, tears running down our filthy faces leaving long thin streaks where the pink of our shiny cheeks shone through.

After a break for tea and toast, we hung the chains around the room, brightened up with three or four balloons left over from a birthday party. Then we set to again, making spirals to hang on our old tinselly tree. I’d been given it by my mother for our first Christmas together. It was definitely past it’s prime, shedding bits of dusty tinsel all over the floor.

We needed an angel, ours was broken. The elastic bands holding her arms on had perished and I couldn’t find another to replace it. I tried mending her using thread but her poor arms hung limply by her side, making her look so disheveled. So we made another celestial being, using wool I had scavenged from an old knitted baby cardigan, a piece of the cornflake box and some silver foil. And not just a new angel but several little people made from scraps of left over wool were soon adorning our tree. Santa, snowman, soldier, a boy, a girl. We soon had enough beautiful decorations to decorate out tree. With its string of lights twinkling in the darkness it looked magnificent, worthy of any home.

We scavenged in the cupboards, looking for things to wrap up to hang on the tree with our homemade crackers. The Oxo box, soap powder box, a tennis ball, a bar of soap, they all made ideal ‘presents’. Before long we had a decent pile ready, along with homemade gift tags. We had fun writing out the tags to the dog, my son’s pet spider, the vicar. The list of recipients was longer than the number of ‘presents’ we had but it didn’t matter. The kids were having such fun, they took to wrapping up socks, a scarf, till everybody had something.

The children went to bed that night very tired but happy. So I got to work making them a present. The double doll I made for my daughter was the easiest. Two old socks from her dad’s drawer soon transformed into Cinderella, wearing rags at one end and her dress for a party at the other. Her yellow wool hair was sewn up into a curly bun for the ball. A tiny crown fashioned out of silver foil sat upon her head, a truly beautiful princess.

The garage for my son was the hardest to make. I had some pieces of ply wood and long pieces of wood in the garden. I was not the most proficient with a saw but after drawing up a plan, and working out the measurements, I finally managed to cut up what I needed without losing any of my fingers or toes. I had helped my dad with woodwork in the past, and had the scars to prove it. He’d shown me how to make a plan, but hadn’t shown me how to make joints. But I got round my lack of knowledge by looking at how my wall units were made and adapt it to my garage using a similar technique.

It took me a couple of evenings to put the garage together before I painted it using some white gloss I had left after decorating. I wasn’t sure if it would work but I wrote my son’s name across the front, and marked out spaces for his cars to park with an old red felt pen I found in the toy box. I’d tried the little blocks of paints we had for colouring in but they just rubbed off. Anyway, the pen worked and I was quite pleased with the result.

Things were looking a lot more positive, Christmas wasn’t going to be too bad at all.

The only thing left now was some food for Christmas Day. I had bought a huge sack of potatoes, so we could have them. There was very little left in the fridge, a piece of dried up cheese and a carrot, but I was sure I could rustle up some sort of meal for us. I had a tin of corned beef which I mashed with the boiled potatoes, sprinkled it with cheese and made a pie. Luckily, I always had flour in the cupboard as I baked most weekend, so I managed a few scones, and some fairy buns, without the icing sugar. But the scraping of jam spread on top of the buns looked just as good.

But then we had a wonderful surprise. I’d mentioned to one of my neighbours about the bill we had to pay. She’d had a word with a couple of other people, then turned up on our doorstep on Christmas Eve with a cooked chicken, enough vegetables for a couple of meals and a strawberry jelly and a tin of fruit.

We’d just returned from the Christingle service at our church clutching the golden oranges I was planning on making into a pudding for our Christmas dinner when our neighbour turned up on the doorstep with the basket filled with goodies. She’d even put in biscuits for our dog and a selection box for the two kids. She wouldn’t come in when I invited her, just wished us all a very happy Christmas and left.

And I cried.

Cried because I was ashamed: ashamed that I could not provide for my children.

Cried because of the kindness of people I barely knew; because of the goodness of people, some of them strangers.

Cried because despite everything it was going to be a good Christmas after all.

I cried even more the next morning when my son and daughter woke up and found the bits and pieces in their stockings, when they ooh’d and ahhh’d over the meagre presents I’d made. Cried when they went to bed that night, with happy memories of a day filled with laughter, silly games, and family time spent together.

Those stockings lasted a long time, year after year they were hung for Santa.

I never knew what had happened to those stockings till the other day, when my daughter asked, “remember this?”
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How could I ever forget? The kindness of others can be overwhelming sometimes. The spirit of Christmas, the love, peace and sharing we witnessed that year will always stay with me. I always try to repay that huge act of kindness that made Christmas so special for us. So each year I quietly give thanks for everything we have and try to do some small act of kindness for others.

I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas time and ask that you give a little thought to someone less fortunate than yourselves.

 

If only…..

Are all children like mine? Asleep, like sweet cherubs, their rosy cheeks shining in the light of dawn. But as soon as they awake, the opening of their bleary eyes act as a trigger to launch their mouths. Mouths that start up like rusty machines, newly oiled and coiled, ready to burst into life. Bickering and fighting, squawking and squabbling, turning the bedrooms into a no-man’s, a bloody battlefield of petty altercations.

Shrieks of……

“where did you put my woodwork apron that you borrowed the other day?”

“That’s my blouse, get it off, I wanted to wear that today!”

“Mam, where my football boots?”

“Tell her Mam, she’s doing it again. Tell her stop looking at me”

…. float down the stairs to mingle with the clanking of the old washing machine that has already started its daily routine. Clinks and clangs, bumps and bangs as shoes and bags are moved around on the bedroom floors as they scrabble to find missing objects.

“Mam, tell him to get off, he’s pulling my hair”, follows the bloodcurdling screams that vie for my attention and struggle to compete with the three different tunes floating on the air, a cacophony of aural bombardment guaranteed to wake up even the deadest of door nails.

if only….

they could agree on one tune in the morning, or wear earphones.

If only….

they would get dressed quietly then eat their breakfast like civilised beings. Or are such mortals a myth invented by people who would never admit their children were also morning monsters?  Appalling aliens?

But no, they fight over the bathroom space; about the towels, of which there are many;  over their own tiny portion of the mirror.  Why do girls need five feet of personal space each before they feel they can brush their hair to some degree of tidiness? Why do boys need such a huge amount of elbow room to brush their teeth.

If only….

they were more tolerant of each of other.

If only….

they could see they all have needs and weaknesses. Every morning, seven days a week, 365 days a year without pause, as regular as clockwork they never fail to perform the alien invasion of the ‘war of the worlds’. Orson Welles would applauded their production, and revel in the originality of their histrionics.

Eventually, seated silently at the kitchen table they eye each other with all the warmth of a cobra poised to strike at the first opportunity. But the silence is short lived, the cease-fire shorter, than a  70’s mini skirt, over too soon, and battle is resumed. Everyone wants the same cereal, but the amount in the box is insufficient to satisfy them all.

If only…..

manufacturers could squeeze just a bit more into the box, then there’d be ample for everyone and there wouldn’t be a problem. Life would be easier, quieter, more civilised.

There should have been more than plenty milk for the morning meal, and there was till one of the girls decided to drink it by the glassfull. No milk, no cornflakes, no problem. If only…..

If only…..

they had not been raised to communicate with each other at meal times.

If only….

they been taught not to talk at the table.

If only….

Eventually, the front door closes and peace reigns, and I sit savouring the stillness in the air. A huge intake of breath and it’s time to tackle the rest of the day. As I stand and move toward the kitchen to empty the now silent washing machine I glance out of the window to see a group of children I barely recognise, as they make their way up the garden path.

Having walked over the pristine step at the front door, through the magical portal that turns monsters into laughing happy children, the siblings were revelling in each other’s company, united as one to the outside world.

If only….

A home within a Home

Although rather small the living room is the nucleus of our family home, a place essential for the congregating of all the family. One entire wall is occupied with units, one large shelf of which belongs to the children. A place where a jumble of multi coloured books, records, crayons and plasticine sculptures brighten up the lower level of the unit. Printed volumes, some worn with age and constant use stand like tired veterans on parade. A “First Aid” book rubs shoulders with a Holy Bible, and Pears Cyclopedia. Whilst the entire library of Agatha Christie mysteries and Readers Digest hard backed books nestle between others by John Wyndham and Charles Dickens. Another shelf groans under the weight of cherished and much-loved ornaments, and knick knacks of little value to anyone but the owner; but greatly loved nevertheless. image

An old green pottery dog presented to the eldest child when a baby by his great Nanna, stands guard over a plastic tub of jaded artificial daisies. A Mother’s Day present made by the youngest daughter of the household with all the care and creativity her little fingers could manage when placing the tiny white flowers in the discarded margarine tub. Standing proudly in the centre of the unit is a fabulous crystal fruit dish, a wide shallow bowl held aloft by a tall trumpet-shaped stem, a fabulous example of cut crystal from an earlier era. Above the fruit dish a row of crystal bells lie concealed amongst a sea of colourful birthday cards, portraying fluffy animals and young boys fishing, testament to the celebration of the eldest and youngest family members whose birthdays follow each other. Cool, green foliage creates a miniature garden along the entire length of the top of the teak shelving, partially masking the rows of books and china figurines underneath. A large asparagus fern spreads its feathery fronds like a protective guardian over a host of training greenery, wandering jew Almost hidden by the plants lurks a black gentleman. Fashioned from a small bottle this male figure sports a Pink bulbous nose and black beady eyes on his otherwise smooth visage. One of his homemade papier mâché limbs hangs limply by his side, whilst the other points stiffly to the ceiling. His On a nearby corner table the polished leaves so a mermaid vine grow in harmony with the sturdy majestic leaves of a mature rubber plant. The rubber plant close-by is healthy but highly unusual in that although it is strong and thriving none of its leaves carry the distinctive cut-out patterns, characteristic to its genus. Sturdy and robust it threatens to engulf the corner as it grows towards the huge sunlit eye to the outside world. The wallpaper behind the plants is hidden underneath a sea of silent faces seen through dusty glass. Uniformed children, smart in school ties and neat haircuts share the space with celebratory couples dressed in all their wedding finery, huge smiles inviting the observer to share in their joy. Hanging above the fire-place is a treasured watercolour, depicting an old derelict mill house. The wheel broken and still, no longer driving the water from the passing stream.  Long since painted it never loses its pristine freshness, a permanent reminder of a close friendship forged several years before with the artist. On top of the now silent television sits a small brass carriage clock loudly ticking off second after second of each and every day. The glare of a beige pottery lamp, gleams off the polished brass and spread like a veil over the darkness of the corner in the night. A white and tan Jack Russell lies curled up in the corner of the dark brown velvet seats which curve gracefully around the room. The small triangular glassed top units fitted between the seats accommodate even more plants. The bushy red and green leaves of a prayer plant, and the stark white and satiny green of the leopard lily provide a bold splash of colour in an otherwise dull corner. Colours reflected in the glass are remarkably like strange aquatic beings, and made even more vibrant by the nearby lamp light, but trapped in a stationary state beneath the surface. In comparison the beings in the aquarium by the door experience the space and fluidity of the water gently carrying them back and forth across the tank. Water bubbling around their golden fins as they pass to and fro amongst the swaying weeds, pop up to the placid surface like tiny pearls escaping their shells. The gentle hum of the filter harmonises with the silent movements of the fishes mouths so they appear to be singing to their trapped companions. Rainbows created by the overhead light shines back from the mirrored sides revealing an underwater kingdom, a home not dissimilar to the home in which it stands, but a place where no human can set foot.

Six weeks in six paragraphs.

It has been quite an eventful summer for me, softened by the beautiful but unusually hot north east weather. I can’t remember the last time we had so much sunshine, over such a long period of time. I have loved every minute of it. Armed with my factor 50 sun cream, I have wallowed in the glorious heat trapped in our south-facing garden.

But the unexpected can be relied upon to jump up and bite us on the bum just when we least expect it. The beginning of the six weeks school holidays should have passed unnoticed by me, now that I am no longer tied to council timetables, but it just wasn’t to be. The first day into the holidays brought us a pair of house guests, in the form of two grandchildren. They may be little but by gum they make their presence felt, and our roomy home quickly diminished in size as the two boys settled into what was to become their home for the next six weeks.

How could I have forgotten the amount of space needed by two growing young boys? Just the physical space needed for their clothes, shoes, and coats can prove overwhelming to someone who is accustomed to having a neat and tidy living space. Add the toys, electrical and computerised equipment into the equation and the building, once more than adequate for our needs, shrank daily. Our dining room table groaned under the weight of laptops and Lego, Meccano and monster trucks. Bikes and scooters lay strewn both in the utility room and down the summer house till the house seemed fit to bursting. Luckily the sunny days allowed us to dining in the garden in the shade, away from the searing heat. Picnics became the norm every lunch time as we fought for space to breath.

Probably the hardest things for me were the meals. My husband and I are rather lacksidaisy when it comes to eating. We don’t have set meal times. We have breakfast when we get up, which is normally 7ish for my hubby, and about 9 for me but depending on how much sleep I have been able to get the night before. Tonight, for example we came upstairs about 9.45 because we were both tired and were nodding off downstairs.My husband is snoring gently besides me as I write, oblivious of the words being quietly typed.

Lunch is a very hitty missy event inasmuch as it doesn’t really exist here in our house. It has no set or regular time because we eat later some days, depending on how tired I am. And that leaves dinner. For six weeks whilst the boys were here, it meant a take away from either the fish and chip shop or our local Chinese. Unlike my own children who are virtually anything I cooked these two young fellows are so particular about food, I was tearing my hair out day after day finding food they would eat. So take-aways have been the best way of ensuring they had had something nourishing to satisfy them.

Yes, life can be very unexpected, not everything goes as planned, but we are usually up to the challenge. We enjoyed the lively company of two growing boys and my hubby and I benefitted from all the extra exercise we got running around from Dawn to dusk.

….shame you can’t bottle it!

This afternoon I have been teaching my grandson Collin how to sew mini owl key rings. His Aunty cut out the shapes and explained about adding the features. And together they came up with several unique owlets. You could almost grasp the patience emanating from the two of them, as they helped each other to with useful advice. I think Collin made a great job of them for his first attempt at sewing. And he is so enthusiastic, you can’t teach or buy that so I’ll be encouraging him to try other things over the weekend.

From the look on his face when he was sitting at the table,  my sewing machine in front of him, I could see in his face the desire to have a try at using it.  Maybe one day next week when I have the time needed to talk him through the mechanics of using the machine. But until then he will have to be content to use the old needle and thread.

And content he was.  He is a very able learner and after being shown just once how to do something he had the confidence to carry out the instructions correctly.  I must admit I was surprised at how quickly he picked up the different techniques, but there again I have found some of the more able children I have worked have tended to be of the male sex when it comes to crafts and needlework.

And Collin wasn’t no different, but I couldn’t get him to leave it till later and go up to bed.  “I’ll just sew this side Grandma”, he said, his little fingers flying back and forth as he worked his way round the miniature felt shapes. So keen was he, it was hard to be firm and insist it was too late to still be sewing. If only I could bottle all that enthusiasm, he would make his Grandma a very rich woman.

Not a battery in sight, no TV, no technology, and no moaning or complaining he was bored, just overwhelming eagerness. And the look on his face when I took a photo of the finished product, was a testament to the level of enjoyment he’d gained from our time together

During the time we were discussing how successful the outcome, I asked what he wanted to do with these little critters.  He asked could he give his mum one as a present.  Of course I said that would be fine, I’m sure mum will be very pleased with the finished product and will proudly show it off to her friends.   Then I suggested he carry on making key rings and he can sell them to make himself a bit pocket-money. I’m sure people would happily give a pound or so for his little owls.

I am so proud of my grandson, he reminds me so much of my late Dad who was also very clever with his hands.  When he wasn’t building a new cupboard or a bookcase, you’d find my Dad removing screws, and nuts and bolts all  in the name of ‘repairing’ some household appliance or other.  And it was never fixed properly if there wasn’t at least one screw left over., or so I was told.

My dad had a knitting machine on which he knitted our jumpers. He was a competent needleworker  having been raised in a family where the talents of all, boys and girls were valued and encouraged.  His stint doing national Service ensured he honed his repair skills using a needle and thread.  He taught me how to darn his socks when I was about nine years old.  I still have his old mushroom should the fashion for  darning  socks return I’ll be more than prepared to take up where I left off.

The thing my dad made that had the greatest effect on me was the Valentines cake he made for my mother.  Three layers high, it was decorated with pink marzipan and icing sugar hearts.  I remember coming home from school to find it sitting in the middle of the dining room table like a little pink palace of loveliness.  I was so envious, I wanted to learn how to do the same, but had to wait a couple of days for him to teach me how to make the cake, minus the pink hearts.

There wasn’t much my dad couldn’t accomplish, and he passed his abilities to me.   He taught me so much, he was always encouraging me to try different things to stretch my abilities.  I tried to pass on what I know to my children and in turn those of my grandchildren who have shown an interest.

I am looking forward to introducing Collin to other areas of creativity that I suspect he’ll thoroughly enjoy.

WARNING……..

WARNING…… There have been numerous reports of zombie outbreaks throughout the country,  the magnitude of which has never before been seen in the United Kingdom. Members of the public have been advised for their own safety to remain in their homes and avoid quick bites to eat as this could prove extremely detrimental to their health. Three course meals are recommended though care should be taken to follow a balanced diet. “A crisis is NO excuse for reckless diets and over eating”, warns the department of health. This statement has been confirmed and endorsed by WHO (World Health Organisation), on advisement of the Prime Minister. 
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Large groups of zombies have been observed wandering our car parks and supermarkets, in particular those giant food chains who offer BOGOF, two for the price of one and half price offers.  Attracted to the huge amount of free food that no sane person could possibly hope to devour on a weekly basis, the walking dead have been observed relentlessly following supermarket trollies in the pursuit of tasty morsels to satisfy their outrageous demands for sustenance.

It would appear that the zombies prefer the late evenings and early mornings  to prowl,  though this is still to be officially confirmed.  A spokesperson for the government declined the opportunity to make a statement when contacted this morning at 9.00 GMT.  There have also been several unconfirmed reports that the older zombies have been found sleeping in the afternoons, presumably early morning escapades necessitate the need for regular ‘granny naps’.  Any solitary zombie found sleeping after lunch is regarded as fair game and should be captured and imprisoned at any employment office, after the appropriate paperwork has been completed in triplicate.

If you should come across zombie hoards, you are advised NOT to try to capture or outrun the creatures.  Do not be fooled by the slow ambling gait evident in the majority of the creatures, it is simply an illusion perpetrated by them in an attempt to fool the living population, lulling them into a false sense of security.  In reality the zombies can move at the speed of light, and in the blink of an eye they will overcome the strongest member of the public, sucking their brains out through their ears and feasting on their own toe nails.  Please heed these warnings and to ensure the survival of the human race pass this message onto your family and friends.  image image

As a citizen of Great Britain you also have a moral obligation to take responsibility for your older neighbours who will require assistance on a daily basis.  The government cannot provide extra funds or safety measures to protect our more vulnerable members of society, that’s where you come in. Visit your neighbours regularly, be observant;  How long has the milk sat on the step?  Is  the mail piling up? Have those curtains been opened this week? All of these observations can indicate if something untoward is happening in your neighbourhood and may highlight when an elderly person may be at risk.

What to do if you bump into one of these incredible creatures on your visit to the Supermarkets you ask.  Whatever you do, DON’T, I repeat DON’T look into their eyes. This can prove fatal.  In the event you succumb to the zombie influence the only way to break free of the impact of their deadly stare  is by rubbing the back of their necks with burgundy boot polish.  Though it should be noted that there have been unconfirmed reports that this method of disabling the zombies  has failed numerous times.  It is thought a more effective method of disabling the marauding  undead would be to spray them with Bird’s ready-made custard, aiming for their hair.  This won’t kill them, but they will be incensed that you have messed up their hair, they will sit down on the nearest pavement and cry buckets till they have pulled out and eaten all the yellow goo.

Should you look into their eyes they probably won’t physically harm you but it is thought they will follow you home and take up residence in your home.  During their waking periods they will eat all the food you have in your cupboards and fridge, they’ll  drink all your beer and drain your tap dry leaving you thirsty and starving,  and craving flesh!! Should this happen,  without delay, visit you nearest butcher who will happily slaughter you a pound of horse meat sausages.  Eat one a day for three weeks and hopefully the zombie effect will be eliminated.

The government has also expressed grave concerns over the large numbers applying to the registrar for licenses of matrimony throughout the zombie world. It is feared this increase will result in the birth of new and more complex life forms hitherto unseen by man. There is no telling what the results of these outrageous unions will be and how they will adapt to our way of life.  Should you receive an invitation to such a wedding you have been advised the government will frown badly on your attendance and may have you arrested and placed in custody in the nearest bingo hall for a period of up to ten months. It is thought the monotonous banality of the pastime provided will wipe all thought of marriage from even the clearest of minds.

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You have been warned!!

No zombies or retired members of our society have been hurt or eaten during the writing of this report. All photographs were taken with permission and individual consent was given for them to be publish in the internet.

Zombies can be purchased from the author, prices and details of individual zombies are available on request.

Please feel free to comment

 

A Major New Parliment Forms in North East.

After a very busy and tiring week I finally found a little time to sit down at my sewing machine. I have been sewing for many months now but not selling anything so the crafts are piling up in the corner of the dining room. I have given away quite a few things but have made little impact on the pile. I’ve been persuaded to have a table at a craft fair next month to see if I can sell some of the things I make so I keep on making in the hope something will eventually sell.

It can be very difficult to decide what to sew. It is something I need to do, it’s helping me to focus so much, it gives me a form of escape from the negative thoughts and nasty memories that I sometimes experience. Sewing also helps me to focus on now and helps to keep my stress levels down. Too much stress for me equals anxiety, anxiety equals panic, panic equals an inability to function with something close to normality. Sewing has always been a therapeutic pastime for me, a good stress reliever and anger outlet. Perhaps instead of dispensing pills and tonics, fabric and thread should be made available on the national health to everybody.

And so yesterday I needed to get down to some sewing again. After discussing it with my sister I decided to try making a an owl doorstop. As with most things I make I draw up my own patterns. A pen a piece of paper and hey presto a pattern for something or other, a few adjustments and Bob’s your Uncle. Only this time the door stop changed into a stuffed owl pretty enough to sit in any teenager’s bedroom.

Then one owl turned into two, then three. My sister happily sat opposite me at what was once regarded as our dining room table, cutting up sheet after sheet of felt, little eyes, little wings, pretty bows whilst I whizzed away on my trusty machine.

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And so was born a ‘Parliament of Owls’. It really tickled me when I realised I’d learned at school many, many years ago that a group of owls was known as a ‘parliament’, and never once in my life had I had a reason to use the word till now. Who says you don’t learn anything useful at school!!

I put some photos of the owls on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/WishLadsQuiltsandCrafts and suddenly everyone wants an owl. Well, not everyone, that’s an exaggeration, but two people contacted me with orders. It might not seem a lot but it’s the start I need; it tells me that what I produce is alright, and my designing and sewing skills are fine, it’s just that I have not found the right things to interest people yet. But it’s so easy to allow self-doubt creep in, to allow negativity to overcome positivity.

Not being a seller, it’s difficult to price things too. I don’t want to rob anyone, but it would be nice to make enough money to replace the fabrics I have use.  Then I can carry on making  and others will gain pleasure from what I do.

I suppose just like children we all need the affirmation that what we do is good enough, that it is liked and appreciated, that we’ve done a good job.   I suspect that is also part of why I do what I do. And as long as it doesn’t harm anyone and sewing continues to have a positive effect on me and how I cope with life  then  it’s a very good thing.   Maybe we could all benefit from our own Parliament  of Owls to provide us with the affirmation  people need to live a productive and satisfying life.

A summer’s day…

Being July in Britain, especially here in the north east the weather is very mixed.  But our summers would not be proper British summers without the cold wet days, the dark stormy overcast weekends and our traditional waterlogged bank holidays.

This year we have been spoiled,  the hot sunny days, have outnumbered the cold rainy ones so there have been ample opportunities to spend quality time lazing in the garden.

And I just  love sitting in the sun, reading a book on my Kindle ( much easier on my poor old eyes)  or finishing off the odd bits of hand sewing I need to do. And that is what I’ve been able to do these past two weeks.  I’m sure the heat from the sun helps my stiff fingers move easier, and it certainly makes the time go faster.  The pleasure I get from watching a variety of birds popping for a meal is priceless; such calm and beautiful afternoons away from all the madness of the outside world.  It’s incredible how peaceful my garden is, so difficult to believe we are only a few hundred yards away from two busy main roads and a nearby motorway bustling with vehicles of all description.

Once farm land the houses were apparently built around the then existing trees, so I’m surrounded by a copper beech, several oak trees, numerous apple and plums trees.  But sadly for the first time in over a hundred years there is a space where our elm tree grew until last summer.  Finally succumbing to disease,  sadly the sturdy old tree had to be removed. It was like losing an old friend. Watching it’s demise I had several flecks of sawdust blow into my eyes causing them to water profusely, much to the amusement of the male members of my family.

Last week I looked after my grandson who was poorly.  He’s a little dear who can always make me laugh, as he makes the most silly but often honest comments and observations.  Last week he informed me that I’m not old, aw bless him I thought.  Then he added, ” you’re just very, very old”.

He is always fascinated when I’m sewing and he asked if he could make something. So out came the felt and the thread and my large dressing making shears,  we proceeded to cut out a little felt car.  We both struggled to thread the needle, I couldn’t see and he couldn’t hit the eye of the needle.  A sad pair we turned out to be. But eventually after several attempts we were finally ready to start sewing.

I explained to him about tacking, how it would keep the fabric secure until we had finished sewing the car together. After demonstrating how to tack, he finished off very quickly. And then we started. I thought over-sewing would be most appropriate for him to start with, it’s quick and uncomplicated and is easily unstitched if it goes wrong.

And so we sat together side be side in the sunshine surrounded by nature, the young and not so young sharing quality time together.

Being his first attempt at sewing I expected him to need quite a bit of help. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He handled the needle like a professional, holding it and manoeuvring it exactly as I had shown him. And before I had time to thread my own needle he had reached the corner of his work and was asking for help to move on. Not once did he ask for his sewing to be undo, nor did he complain he had done it wrong, he sat silently, his whole attention and concentration focused on the job at hand.

I reminded him to leave an opening for the stuffing. He started to push the stuffing inside but he struggled for quite a while, refusing help when I offered. Then I realised I’d forgotten to instruct him to remove the tacking stitches. Oops. Nevertheless, he never gave up. His little index finger worked like magic and all the stuffing was eventually inside the little car.

He was so proud of what he had achieved, his little face beamed. The wheels were added quickly so he could go off to play with the car, after we had taken a photo to show his mum. image

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Now there was no stopping this creative little man. Out came the sewing kits for animal puppets his Aunty had bought. Apart from threading the needle and starting him off he managed all the sewing himself. Then together we glued on the features and I had one extremely delighted little grandson.

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