Happy May Day


Chawleigh Primary School maypole dancing. That's me, kneeling, far right.




Happy May Day, everyone. Here's a piece I wrote for my Maid In Devon column for  Devon Life magazine back in 2016. Apologies to my friends from abroad, it's very "English" and you may not have a clue what I'm wittering on about in parts!


The Month of May

MAY is an important month in my family's calendar. I have two older sisters and one brother all with birthdays on May 2 and all born in different years. I don't know what the odds are on this occurring but they must be pretty high.

I have pictures of one of those sisters as May Queen at Chawleigh Primary School in about 1950 and others of my niece who was May Queen at Torrington in the 1970s. Then there is the one of me in all my gap-toothed, permed hair glory, posing with classmates just before dancing around the maypole at Chawleigh when I was seven or eight. The picture is in black and white (see above) but I can clearly remember that yellow nylon dress with the smocking and how much I loved it. It was one of the few items of clothing I had that wasn't a hand-me-down from my sisters or one of my many cousins.

May Day was, of course, originally a pagan festival marking the beginning of summer and hopefully a big improvement in the weather. It has its origins in the Roman festival of Flora, goddess of fruit and flowers. Maypole dancing began when people cut down young trees, planted them in the ground and danced around them to celebrate the end of winter. Nobody at the time could possibly have imagined hordes of children, all with two left feet, getting tangled up in ribbons to the exasperated sighs of a poor teacher, although our primary school performance went seamlessly thanks to the assiduous training of the patient Miss Hillman.

May 1st is also the feast day of English missionary to the Frankish Empire, Saint Walpurga (or Walburga - spellings vary). She too was a maid in Devon. She was born in the county in the 700s and had an impeccable theological pedigree. She was the niece of St Boniface and sister of two more missionaries and saints. She had aristocratic roots, her father being Richard the Pilgrim, one of the underkings of the West Saxons. He too was later made a saint. If having three siblings born on the same day is unlikely, what are the odds on one family having five saints in two generations?

I am surmising that this saintly tribe's stamping ground was Mid Devon as St Boniface was reputedly born in Crediton.  While her father and brothers were converting the Frankish heathens, Walpurga was sent to an abbey in Wimborne where she learned to write and studied Latin, rare training for a woman in her day. In fact, later in life she wrote a biography of her brother Winibald, making her one of England and Germany’s first female authors. In 748 she travelled across the Continent to help St Boniface is his missionary work.

I feel an affinity to St Walpurga and her family. I went to grammar school in Crediton, was confirmed in the town's Church of the Holy Cross which has close connections to St Boniface, and my birthday is on June 5, St Boniface Day. One of my brothers has a birthday on St Walpurga's Feast Day on February 25. Then there is the writing - and, tenuous link, I have Latin O-Level! However, I have none of her saintliness or zeal to convert heathens being a very much "live and let live" type of person.

Legend has it that it was thanks to St Boniface that we put up a Christmas tree each year. He had arrived in Hesse, now a central German state, on his missionary crusade. There he announced he would destroy their pagan gods and felled the sacred giant oak of Geismar which was dedicated to Thor. He chopped down the oak and the branches fell into the shape of a cross. As it fell it crushed all the other trees in the vicinity except for one little fir tree - the origin of the Christmas tree, or so the story goes.

Ironically, since Walpurga had done so much to stamp out pagan rituals, the eve of St Walpurga's Day on May 1st is Walpurgisnacht (Walpurga's Night) also known as Witches' Night when it was believed the sorcerers and witches of Germany gathered for a meeting on Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains to dance with the devil.  We did none of that at Chawleigh Primary School, confining our celebrations to maypole dancing watched by proud parents and followed by sandwiches, cake and lemonade in the classroom.

Incidentally, St Walpurga is the patron saint of hydrophobia (fear of water) and sailors and was the inspiration for the name of Walburga Black, the mother of Sirius Black in J K Rowling's Harry Potter books.  

You can start your May Day celebrations after you have bathed your face in the morning dew at sunrise - a tradition guaranteed to make the plainest girl beautiful. It also, it is said, makes you immune to freckles, sunburn and wrinkles, although I prefer to put my faith in factor 30 sun screen lotion.  If I am miraculously turned into a wrinkle-free beauty, you will know my dunk into the dew has worked. 

There is another tradition that if you roll naked in the dew you will be blessed with "great beauty of person". I might venture out to wash my face but as for baring all, I think it best not to scare the horses.


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Living In Devon



Glorious Devon.


I have new neighbours. Like a lot of people they have upped sticks from the city and retired to God’s own county of Devon where they had previously spent many a happy holiday. 

They know that living here is going to be very different from being on vacation. For a start, they are in a country village, not a bustling coastal town, so it will be much quieter. They will have to cope with the drawbacks of living in a rural area, like the fact that they will have to drive miles for their celeriac unless the don't mind replacing it with turnips or swedes - we have plenty of those in our one and only shop which is part of the service station.



They said they were quite happy about the move - until they made the mistake of visiting an internet forum and asking people's advice about living in Devon. Among all the exhortations to "go for it" were one or two warning them about the insularity of the local people. One person said you had to have "three generations in the churchyard" before you were accepted.

I was surprised at this view and more than a little offended.  I personally know of no local person who gives the cold shoulder to people who have not lived here since the year dot.

In fact, a recent Cambridge University study concluded that Devonshire people were among the friendliest in the country. In my experience, they have a natural reticence which can be misconstrued as being stand-offish but dig deeper and you will find people full of the milk of human kindness. I know, I am a Devonian. I have human kindness milk coming out my ears.

I always welcome new neighbours. I'm not the type to take round a home-baked cake; I don't want to poison them. But I'm very happy to do what I'm good at - offer unsolicited advice! So here are a few tips for becoming part of the community




1. Support local events even if you hate the sound of them. How do you know that you wouldn't like ferret racing or a game at the village fete called "splat the rat" unless you've had a go? You might think you would rather be at home with your feet up watching soaps on TV but the local panto is always hilarious and a good night out. Many participants are surprisingly talented and then there are all those "in" jokes. If you have made the effort to fit in with village life you might even understand one or two of them. The show will probably be within walking distance of your house and in a village hall next to the pub. What's not to like?




2. Learn to love tractors. They will hold up the traffic for miles if you are in a hurry. However, if you have plenty of time, they will immediately pull into a passing place or turn off the road. That's just the way it is. Tractors are a vital part of country life. If you need a bit more persuading, visit a tractor rally (yes, there is such a thing).

3. Buy local. Devonshire produce is the best in the world, from vegetables grown in our rich red soil to beef from our Red Ruby cows grazing on lush green pastures. Obviously Devon makes the best pasties and produces the best clotted cream - eschew those Cornish imposters. 




4. Accept that there will be certain times of the year when the air will be more unsavoury than a London smog in 1952. The smells of the countryside can occasionally be a little ripe.  It’s only good natural dung being spread on fields and silage being made. Offset that with the smell of fresh air during the rest of the year, freshly mown grass, wild flowers and the whiff of cooking pasties wafting in the air. It's a small price to pay.





5. And finally, living here is not necessarily about finding the right people but BEING the right person. Don't expect too many Devonians to pop round to welcome you with open arms, although some will. Try to fit in and you will see just how friendly the natives are. I’d be happy to welcome new neighbours to my house – if they bring a cake with them I’ll be their friend forever. 

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Missing A Gene



I don't know where I was when the practical gene was handed out. Maybe I was hiding under the bed covers reading a book with a torch – I did a lot of that kind of thing in my youth – because it completely passed me by. 

It’s all the more puzzling because each one of my six brothers and sisters was born with practicality oozing from their fingertips. From a young age they could garden, cook, sew and paint pictures. They could turn their hands to building work and decorating. They could ice a cake and plaster a wall or knit a jumper and paint a skirting with an innate sense of the right thing to do. My two sisters are both brilliant artists. 

I can’t turn my hand to anything without extensive research via the internet, reading books on the subject and asking tradesmen for advice. I can buy all the right equipment to go with my new-found knowledge - and it'll still turn out like a project undertaken by a moderately competent six-year-old.

My heart starts to thud in memory of my dire days in Domestic Science at school trying to do battle with flour and butter in a vain bid to produce the perfect shortcrust pastry or Victoria sponge.

I spent hours creaming together butter and sugar until my wrists screamed out for mercy. I rubbed fat into flour using the tips of my fingers trying to make it resemble “fine breadcrumbs” but mine still turned out like builder’s mortar. On reflection, builder’s mortar probably tasted better than any pastry I produced.

The gardening gene is also in hiding, skulking under a patch of goosegrass and nettles.  While brothers and sisters boast of their hoard of perfect beetroot and potatoes, I’m outside with scissors snipping the tops off weedy looking lettuces to put into a salad.

But siblings kindly keep me supplied with lots of veg - probably worried that the better half is in danger of developing scurvy. They tend to look at him pityingly as they carry in the carrots.

They also bring round pots of chutneys and pickles. I tried making chutney once. It resembled vegetable soup rather than chutney and tasted of onion and vinegar and not much else.

At least when it comes to cooking I have perfected one meal. I am, even if I do say so myself, a dab hand at roasts. Sunday is the day of the week when lots of family members come round for a traditional dinner. After years of practice, my roast potatoes are crisp on the outside and floury in the middle and I can cook the meat and veg perfectly. I must admit I have to rely on Aunt Bessie for the Yorkshires.

My sister always brings along pudding. I haven’t yet read enough cookery books or visited enough Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay websites to dare to tackle anything as complicated as a blackberry and apple pie. In any case, who wants pastry that tastes like mortar?




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Red Faces All Round






One of my friends told me about an embarrassing incident when out with her four-year-old daughter. She was in a queue at the supermarket and in front of her was a woman with tattoos on her arms. Her daughter, having been told off for a similar incident only hours before, said loudly: "Look, mummy, that lady's been drawing on herself with felt tips. Tell her she's naughty." My friend suddenly remembered she had to find something at the opposite end of the supermarket!

This got me thinking about embarrassing moments. When I was a trainee reporter on a local newspaper I was given the very important task of telephoning a man who had grown a giant marrow. One of my first comments to him was, "I hear you've got a particularly big one." At the time I was sharing an office with three male reporters who all started laughing so much they had to leave the room.

Another friend recalls the time she was in a posh restaurant having an informal interview with a managing director. She was extremely nervous. In an effort to break the ice, he told a mildly amusing story at which my friend broke out into nervous guffaws of laughter. She had just taken a drink and she laughed so much that wine spurted out of her nose all over the crisp white tablecloth. She didn't get the job.

Then there was the friend who was telling her colleagues all about the woman in reception wearing a hideous trouser suit. She described it in detail as dark grey with red lapels and turn-ups and really, really wide trousers. She was laughing as she described the outfit and - you've guessed it - one of the workmates said, 'That's my wife'. 

Then there was the child whose school was holding a pyjama day in aid of charity. In the morning instead of school uniform, she put on her PJs with the little pictures of Snoopy all over them. But when she got to school she was the only one in PJs because she'd got the wrong day! The teachers felt so sorry for her they had a collection in the staff room and she made nearly £50 for charity - so it wasn't all bad!
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Growing Old Disgracefully





I'M not that fussed about getting old.

Really I'm not.

Really.

I don't live in some image-obsessed city where a wrinkle has to be sand-blasted to oblivion lest anyone thinks you are over 30 but in rural England where we are, on the whole, very much more laid back about looks. I don't worry that where I live designer clothes mean a waxed jacket and wellies with a jaunty design rather than Victoria Beckham and Versace.

But the thing I really hate about getting old is the time it takes to try to show a vaguely presentable face to the world.

I know it's a vanity thing but I don't yet want grey hair. Further down the line I will no doubt decide to grow grey gracefully but for now I cover up those stray grey strands. Being a cheapskate I don't go to some expensive salon to be pampered, I do it myself at home. Do you young whippersnappers out there know how long it takes to colour your hair? By the time I've wet hair, towel dried it, lathered up colour solution, left it on the hair to "take", rinsed it off, conditioned it and dried it, it's another time of day. The sun has already risen over the yard arm and I haven't yet had time to pour myself a whiskey.

Every morning I put on my make-up. It's no longer possible to put a tiny whisper of foundation on dewy skin with a slick of eye shadow and a pout of lipstick. Oh no. I now need "equipment", including a large trowel and repointing tool (not quite, but nearly!), and industrial-strength foundation that doesn't creep insidiously into cracks and stick there like cement in crazy paving. I can spend an age trying to get myself looking half way presentable - and still end up looking like an old bat.

Then there's shopping. You can't just waltz into Top Shop you know, whisk a tiny little top off the rail and buy it. No, you have to approach shopping like a military campaign. Line up all the tops in front of you and bark questions at them. Would you make me look like mutton dressed as lamb or, worse, a member of the Boring Old Duffers Club? Are you too bright, too dull, too young, too old, too "out there" by half? I need clothes that feel comfortable but, like the harvest, make sure all is safely gathered in. By the time I've whittled the contenders down to a manageable number, I've lost interest and have to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a currant bun.

Then there are your beauty routines, set up in a vain attempt to stop everything from expanding, collapsing and plummeting south. I use the word "beauty" loosely, resembling as I do Black Beauty more than Beautiful Girl but, anyway, there are cleansers, toners, face creams, face exercises (oh yes, I have a book about "facercise" and when once in a blue moon I attempt to do them I do a passable impression of Miss England Gurning Champion 1945), body lotion….. deep breath ….. eye cream, hand cream, foot cream, skin tightening cream and cuticle cream when the only cream I'm really interested in is clotted cream and Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

If I did everything I was supposed to I'd start getting ready for bed at lunchtime, aiming to get my head on the pillow by midnight.

So, as I told the dearly beloved, I have made a decision. I have decided to cut my beauty routines to a bare minimum. He stared at me for a full minute before saying, "Is that wise?"

Serve him right when I start to look like Margaret Rutherford on a bad day.

Actress Margaret Rutherford

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Boots Not Made For Walking



These boots are made for walking, Nancy Sinatra told us in the 1960s. But it seems these days, these boots and shoes are made for tottering into a function looking like you’ve already drunk a bottle or three of wine.  The vertiginous heels you see women stumbling about in are certainly not made for walking.

I was watching the celebs stagger into an awards ceremony and only one thing occurred to me: “Why? Dear God, why?”

It pains me. Not the shoes, because  I don’t wear these towering five or six inch heels, having given up fashion for comfort some years ago.

It pains me because of what these shoes represent. Why are women hobbling themselves so they can’t stride out and take their rightful place in the world? Is looking good more important than being strong? In my view it is the equivalent of Chinese foot-binding – designed to keep women in their place.

Let me give you a little history lesson.

You can’t hear me but I’ve got my lecturing voice on – the one that makes my nephews’ and nieces’ eyes roll back into their heads with the expression, “I suppose I’d better look as if I’m listening to the boring old fart.”

Back in the mists of time it became the custom in China to bind tightly young girls’ feet so they couldn’t grow.
It was considered attractive and men liked it – of course they did, for some scholars say foot-binding subjugated women by making them more dependent on men. It restricted their movements and enforced their chastity, since women with bound feet were physically incapable of venturing far from their homes.

Let me tell you this process in detail (turn away now if you are squeamish).


Take a child of between four and seven and soak her feet in warm water or animal blood with herbs. Cut her toenails and give her a foot massage. So far, so good.... except for the animal blood.

But then you have to break all the girl’s toes except the big toes and wrap the feet extremely tightly and painfully in cloth, forcing those broken toes back towards the heel.

Each day, unwrap the feet and rebind them, pushing the toes back under the foot arch which will break under the strain.

This means the feet never get beyond three to four inches (7.5cms to 10cms) in length. If you can’t imagine how small this is, take a look at a ruler or tape measure.



In a euphemism that beggars belief to 20th century ears, this was called turning your feet into three- inch “golden lotuses”.  And these “golden lotuses” were seen as the ultimate erogenous zone, with Qing dynasty pornographic books listing 48 different ways of playing with women’s feet.


Personally I’d rather have huge clown feet which no one except a chiropodist ever touched, but that’s probably just me.

Thankfully, footbinding was banned in 1912, although some of the more rural Chinese villages continued the practice quite late into the 20th century.

Now, however, "hobbling" feet has become a status symbol yet again, although it's something women have done to themselves rather than have it imposed on them by men.  

Women who gasp in horror at any unhealthy junk food passing their lips don't seem to mind the prospect of  bunions, bony growths, hammer toes, foot pain and “pump bumps”, where straps and the rigid backs of pump-style shoes cause a bony enlargement on the heel.

I know, I’m old and boring, and admittedly some of these shoes do look rather stunning. But as my mother used to say to me when I refused to wear my school mac out in the pouring rain: “Pride feels no pain.”




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Partwork Pitfalls



Much as I would love to crochet my own lifesize model of the The Santa Maria ("In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…"), I won't be buying a partwork magazine which teaches me how to assemble it and supplies the wool.

For my readers overseas who might not be familiar with the partwork magazine concept, they are publications on sale each month that usually have a "free gift" towards building a model, learning how to do something or starting a collection.

I'm using the word "free" loosely, as although the gift may be free, the magazines certainly are not. The publishers often sucker you in with a low priced first issue, a reasonably priced second issue and thereafter magazines costing so much you need to take out a mortgage to create a six-inch high model of Kim Kardashian.

Hence there was the magazine which provided parts to build the Mallard locomotive. The first part was a mere 50p but subsequent issues cost £7.99 ($10). There were 130 parts so the cost of completing this model locomotive was a staggering £1,031.21 ($1,300) - and it would take you two and a half years to do it.

Then there was a recent partwork series that taught you how to draw. Free gifts over the series included a pencil, ruler, rubber, paintbrush and paints. Sounds great, doesn't it? Until you realise the magazines were £5 each and the series was 100 issues. How many respected instruction books or actual lessons could you buy for £500 ($640)?

Undeterred you embark on a mission to build the Eiffel Tower and ending up paying out more than the cost of the original structure!

There is always the possibility that things could go horribly wrong. The publishers could go out of business mid series or your local newsagent could stop stocking the magazine. One man spent three years and £350 ($450) on a series of magazines teaching him how to build a model of The Bounty, only for six of the pieces he sent away for to go missing in the post - and no more pieces were available at that time. To say he was not best pleased is an understatement - in fact he mutinied (see what I did there?).

So if the urge ever comes over me to buy a series of magazines teaching me how to build Ironside's van, I will instead get a kit. Think there's no such kit available? Think again!



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Christmas Tips

Think I might open up a few cans of this.
Do you think my family will notice?

Some of you may get a slight feeling of déjà vu reading the below as I posted it last year and possibly something similar the year before! But I thought it was timely and I have had some new readers lately who might not have seen it. (My excuse, sticking to it!)


IT'S that time of year again - the family fights, the tantrums, the crocodile tears and the melodrama. Yes, that’s the EastEnders Christmas special all wrapped up and ready to be broadcast.

If you're anything like me you are staring at a pile of unwritten cards and frozen into immobility by the remembrance that you are hosting the family Christmas day dinner this year.

Still, over the years I have amassed a few tips to help me over the festive period.
  • Be sparing with the red food colouring, otherwise your Christmas nibbles will look like you’ve accidentally sliced open an artery while cooking.
  • Do not blindly follow last year’s Christmas card list. A certain percentage will have died, divorced, had a sex change or moved to Timbuktu, probably to get away from Christmas.
  • Never do those Christmas quizzes which ask for things like your month of birth and the first letter of your name so they can ascertain your ‘Christmas fairy’ name - not unless you want to be called Sparkly Knickers for the rest of your life by your young niece.
  • Always leave your Christmas lights carefully wrapped around cardboard to avoid hours of frustration and rage as you try to untangle them, only to find three hours and a bucket of tears later they don’t work because one of the hundred bulbs has blown.
  • Wrap up a box of chocolates so that if someone you weren’t expecting turns up with a present you can quickly write on the tag and give it to them, as if they were on your mind all the time. Make sure it’s chocolates you particularly like yourself so that if they’re not needed you can eat them after Christmas. Actually, better be on the safe side and wrap up two boxes of chocolates, plus a couple of bottles of red wine and maybe some nice perfume and that scarf you’ve had your eye on for a while.
  • Do not offer to make Christmas decorations with children under the age of 10. By the time you’ve finished with all that glue, glitter and tinsel you will look like Liberace’s twin.
  • Don’t believe parents when they tell you their children are ‘just as happy playing with a cardboard box as the present inside’. I can assure you, you will get some very sideways looks if all you give their child is the old box your Amazon books came in. Don't ask me how I know...
  • Gentlemen, do not buy your wife any kitchen appliance, ‘sexy’ red underwear that’s too risque for a burlesque dancer or a woolly bed jacket that’s too boring for your granny, or a box set of Top Gear DVDs, a car-cleaning kit, any book by a super-model that tells you how they lost two stone in a week, or a Black and Decker drill - not unless she has expressly requested such a gift.
  • Remember, just because that liqueur tastes like melted toffee swooshed around in cream, it still contains alcohol. A few glasses before cooking dinner is not recommended - as I found out to my cost one year.
  • Don’t forget to say well done to ALL the children in the nativity play, even though your nephew, Third Shepherd From The Right (the one with the crooked tea towel on his head kicking the child next to him) was the best by a country mile.
  • Disconnect the front door bell so that if unwanted visitors turn up, you can pretend you haven’t heard them.
  • And finally, sweep the chimney, hang up your stocking and wait for Santa to bring you everything you have ever wished for.

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Annoying Colleagues


LET me say from the start that all the offices I ever worked in were full of paragons of virtue who did not have one vice between them - ahem. I have to say that because some of my former colleagues read these posts.

Not one of them annoyed me. Not ever. And I’m sure they’d say the same about me. Yes they would.
However... according to a recent survey there are several things that colleagues do that drive the rest of us mad.

Those of you who have ever worked in an office will be able to guess most of the items on the list, from the person who blames everyone else for their mistakes to the one who is always off sick for minor ailments.

But, let me tell you, it’s the little things that stretch nerves to breaking point. There’s the tuneless whistling or singing. You get to a point where you want to shout: “If I hear one more verse of Bohemian Rhapsody, I’m going to find that Galileo and get him to do the fandango all over your head.”

Then there’s the person who you know is not listening to a word you are saying. I found the way to deal with them is to drop something totally out of place into the conversation, like in the script of a bad sitcom.

Me: “I’m free on Friday afternoon if you want to have that meeting then.”
Colleague “Hu, huh,” inspects fingernails and stares out of the window.
Me: “Then we can discuss the soup kitchen for the elf coalition.”
Colleague: “What! ”
Me: “We could talk about the supplement for the next edition?”

Works every time.

Then there’s the person from a company office hundreds of miles away who insists on copying everyone in on their mindless emails. So you get an email from the far reaches of the UK: “Has anyone found my notebook with the daisies on the front? ”

No, it’s not dropped on to my office desk via a Kentucky tornado and if you don’t stop emailing me, you’ll be pushing up those daisies.

My other pet workplace hate was the use of jargon. So when people talked to me about blue sky thinking and pushing the envelope my brain switched off.

Food and drink can be a real bone of contention, like those colleagues who never take their turn in making the tea or coffee and the ones  who take other people’s food from the fridge. Although in all my years of working in offices no one ever stole my pepperoni and grape sandwiches – can’t think why.



Here are  a few other bugbears identified on the survey. People who:

  • Suck up to the boss.
  • Take credit for others’ work.
  • Make personal calls. 
  • Criticise everyone behind their back.
  • They hand over complicated work.
  • Have poor personal hygiene.
  • Have earphones plugged in all day.
  • Never chip in for birthday presents.
  • Always call you when you are on holiday.


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Teenage Tokens




Today I was battling through the crowds trying to do some Christmas shopping. It was a bit of a cop-out as I bought gift tokens for the teenage members of my family. But what can you buy a teenager that won’t necessitate a sharp dig in their ribs and a hissed and brittle "say thank you to Auntie” from their mum?

Not that any of the teenagers in my family resemble those monstrous monosyllabic creations you hear people talk about - not with me, at least. They are all perfectly pleasant kids who treat this aunt with bemused tolerance...but their tastes change faster than my dearly beloved can down a pint! .

It seems like only yesterday I was buying building blocks and outfits for Barbie. Now I don't know from one day to the next what's "coo-el" and what isn't. I try to engage them in conversation about a band that yesterday was totally bangin'. Today, any mention of the band's name and eyes roll back into heads as if you had suggested they might quite like to listen to your Andy Williams Greatest Hits CD.

Last month Niece One was into ponies and netball. Last week she was into a spotty teenage boy whose main attraction is that he has his own car. I use the word “car” loosely. It’s a 10-year-old red Ford Fiesta with one grey door, the obligatory rear spoiler and a sticky patch where the L-plate has recently been peeled off. Her parents worry every time she goes out in this contraption but as far as I can see it would struggle to reach 40mph down a steep hill with a following wind. In any case, her unsmiling dad has threatened the boy with dire consequences should he harm one hair of his little girl's head.

So gift tokens it is. I don’t want to be like one aunt in the family who bought Dinky toys for her 15-year-old nephew. I remember wondering how she could do such a thing – now I know. He may be six-foot tall with a six o' clock shadow but in my head he's still that little boy banging nails into a felt-covered pad with a wooden hammer.

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Tea And Sympathy Please




I am feeling rather sorry for myself having contracted the dreaded lurgy which has robbed me of my voice - not necessarily a bad thing, or so say various friends and relatives.

So I have been staying indoors and pampering myself.  I have to pamper myself as I work from home and there is no one else to dispense tea and sympathy along with the paracetamol. Not that I've taken any paracetamol. I never take cold or flu medicine as I believe that if you let the lurgy run its course without impediment, the sooner it disappears. I swear this is true. My colds usually last way under a week while the better half's seem to go on for ever. Well it feels like forever as he's such a bad patient. One sniffle and his usual jolly countenance disappears in a cloud of moaning, sniffing and sighing - and nose-blowing loud enough to wake the dead.

One downside is that everyone has been keeping their distance not wanting to catch my germs. I've only had the cat to talk to and, quite frankly she’s not a great conversationalist although her pained look when she’s hungry and her bowl is empty speaks volumes.

When he is ill the dearly beloved flops about like a marooned sturgeon but I have tried to keep busy to keep my mind off my not-wellness.

I have even been cooking a proper tea every evening. By "proper", I mean something vaguely hot. I'm not Nigella Lawson. Or even Fanny Cradock. Some of my American and younger friends had never heard of Fanny Cradock, one of the first television cooks, so I directed them to a YouTube video where she is wittering on about lubricating a dry bird (oo-er) - you can watch it below.  They’re now fans. Look at the state of that Christmas tree at the beginning and the way she refers to the turkey, native to America, as "the British national bird"! 

Anyway, my voice is getting back to normal now, thank you for asking. It’s still a bit husky which I thought sounded sexy. The dearly beloved, however, says I sound like a raddled 70-year-old emphysemic chain smoker.







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It's A Major Issue




One of my friends told me she had driven too close to a parked car and hit her wing mirror. No great damage done. The other car was fine and hers just needed the cover replacing on the mirror. She said her husband tut-tutted in that superior way men have on the rare occasions they are better at something than we are and rambled on about women having no spatial awareness.

I told her it was nothing to do with spatial awareness. Some women have difficulty judging lengths and distances purely because men have been telling us since they could form whole sentences that the distance between their thumb and forefinger is 12 inches. No wonder we're confused.

In the interests of honesty, I have to say my spatial awareness is very poor, hence the long and deep scrape along the side of my car, acquired when I got too close to a gatepost when exiting my brother's yard. Sadly this was not the first time I had done that. Did I get sympathy from the man who is supposed to support and love me? No I did not. He sighed deeply while shaking his head and then said, "Your next car had better be brick coloured." The man's a fool.

Size and distances are all a matter of scale, of course.

Elder sister can remember when she was five or six our eldest brother, a whole two years older than her and therefore a man of the world, trying to explain the vast scale of London. We lived on a farm and he said it was at least as wide as the distance from our house to the gate down the road - about a quarter of a mile - and she was really impressed that there was a city in the world as big as that.

Then this morning I was listening to a local radio bulletin which described three things as "major". It's a word that leaps out of the mouths of radio and television reporters. It's a word so misused and abused that it's become meaningless. Every fire is a "major" fire - the fact that it destroyed a factory, caused half a million pounds worth of damage and put 200 people out of work had already alerted me to the fact that it was quite big; but it's also a major fire if a rubbish bin has been set alight.

All exhibitions are "major" exhibitions. I shout at the radio, "Compared to WHAT? Compared to the current exhibition on in the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace? Are you sure an exhibition in the village hall consisting of three watercolours of cows and an oil painting of Elsie Smith's grandson constitute a MAJOR exhibition? It's a major incident if there's a siege involving a gunman holding an entire family hostage but it's also a "major" incident if three kids daub some graffiti on a wall.

Listen to the news and spot the "majors". The only time I want to hear that term used is if it's describing Major Smith in the Army.

In fact, I am majorly pissed off about it. So pissed off that I'm going to throw a major tantrum. I hope I don't make the news.




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