Thursday, 20 December 2018

January, the gateway to a brand new year

January brings the snow
Makes our feet and fingers grow.
From The Months by Sara Coleridge (1802-1852)

January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is represented with two faces looking in opposite directions, as retrospective to the past, and prospective to, the coming year.

When I was eight Father Christmas brought me my first bike. It was pale blue and had a bell. It was beautiful. It was a hard Winter and we had a lot of snow. Of course that brought great excitement and delight and I spent a lot of time building snowmen, having snow ball fights. I especially liked looking out of the window at dusk. safe indoors with a roaring fire and the countryside turning to pale blue, like my bike. I'd think about all the little animals and birds hurrying home and watch for their footprints in the snow next morning. I loved the snow, but it meant that I couldn't learn to ride my bike. As it was brand new and the wheels were clean we kept it on show in the kitchen until I could be persuaded to put it in the garage. My mum always did things gently and in stages. So eventually she probably said something along the lines of maybe my bike could make friends with my brother's bike or the roller skates.
That Winter I learedn to put out bacon rind for the Bluetits, make sure the water for the birds wasn't frozen over and o put out crumbs of bread early in day for the birds.

We have had lots of snow this year too and it is cold enough to stop it melting. It's a beautiful sight at sunset, but wrap up warm. Thanks to thermal underwear and microfiber suitable clothes are easily found.  Baden-Powell. the founder of the scout movement  said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. So make some hearty soup or my Snowy day stew and go out in your colourful clothing in the snow.

Here is my poem for the day from the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser  (1552 - 1599) you remember ' The allegory of Tudor England '

' Then came old January, wrapped well
In many weeds to keep the cold away
Yet - did he quake and quiver like to quell
And blew his nayles to warm them if he may;
For they were numbed with holding all the day;
An hatchet keene, with which he felled wood
And from the trees did lop the needlesse spray.

January sayings

Janiveer, freeze the pot upon the fire

A wet January
a wet Spring

The blackest month of all the year
Is the month of Janiveer

If the grass does grow in Janiveer
It grow the worse for it, all the year

It was April before I learnt to ride my bike.

January sunset

January walk

January Fairy in the snow

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Stories to warm the cockles of your heart, Garage friends

The garage seemed so quiet once the Christmas decorations had been taken away.
No more rustling as the tinsel tried to untangle itself and settle in a comfortable position.
No more happy chatter from the baubles as they admired each others reflection.
 No more squeals from the Angel as she struggled to reach the top of the box.
No more joyful tunes from the Father Christmas and the Fairy or merry twinkling from the lights. Everyone felt rather lonely.
The Christmas decorations had promised them all a party on their return and were going to share the chocolates that had been left on the tree. They were all looking forward to this, it had become an annual event.

The Pram moved nearer the High Chair and the Cot. 
The Bicycles leaned against each other and the Skis slid closer to the sledge.
The  silence was broken by the Keyboard who played a few notes from Jingle Bells. The Doll swayed in time to the music.

'My favourite song,' she sighed, 'It's the one that was playing when I was taken out of my box. Oh how lovely that was. I was held up and swung around and admired. Then I was cuddled and put in a soft blanket. I sat in pride of place on a little pink chair. i was carried around everywhere. You wouldn't believe the places I've been. Oh what a pity it all had to end. Shelley didn't want me anymore. She grew up.'

 Her voice broke then and a tear slid down her cheek. The Teddy put his arm round her.

'Don't worry Doll you've got me, we'll be fine.'

The Pram spoke up.

'Yes you'll be fine, we all will. On my travels I often heard tales about  new homes for toys, where you'll be loved and looked after.  High Chair, Cot and me have been to lots of  homes already. We are always made so welcome.'

Everyone looked at the Pram.  His travels were famous. He told them all such stories,  They never knew whether to believe him or not. He was the only one that had been on adventures. The Cot and the High Chair always stayed behind.  The Bicycles rang their bells. They were new and no-one knew what to make of them.

'We've been on lots of adventures too. We can tell you lots of stories. '

Just then the garage door opened and knocked one of the wheels of the Pram.
There was a lot of noise of puffing and panting  as though something very heavy was being dragged along the floor.

'I don't remember leaving the pram there. By the way Shelley says she'd be glad of the pram, the high chair and the cot for the new baby. She might like her old doll and the teddy  too.  There they are . They're both in good nick, Shelley always looked after her toys so nicely.

'I can't wait to go out on our new bikes, as soon as we come back from skiing we'll go on a bike ride with the girls.'

'Hey dad, there's my old keyboard. I'll give little Phil lessons shall I? It's perfect for beginners. Now where shall we put these encyclopedias?'

'Over there near that old trunk. After Christmas I'm going to clear that out. I don't even know what's in it.  Grandpa's things from the war.'

There was more shuffling and then the door slammed shut.

A cheer broke out  and there was lots of excited chatter.

'We're going to a new home. There's a new baby. we'll be all together. Shelley wants us back.'

'We're going on an adventure.'

'We're going skiing,'

'Now everybody remember your manners,' the Pram took charge.
'Let's welcome the newcomers, the encyclo whatsits.'

There was a long silence. Then a deep low voice rang out.

'We are Encyclopedias. We have never been put in a garage before. It is most humiliating for us.  There are forty of us and in our volumes there is contained all that it is necessary to know. Every one of our pages is precious and useful. We know everything.'

'OOh,' cried the Doll. 'Maybe you can tell us what's in the trunk. We opened it up once but the things in it didn't want to come out.'

'Of course we can. Let's have a look.'

'Wait a minute,' shouted the Pram. 'if you know everything and are so important why have they put you here with us?'

'I know.' the Keyboard interrupted. 'It's those computers isn't it?  The same thing happened to me. They're real show-offs. Always going on about how sleek and smart they are and how no-one can manage without them. They play music all by themselves and know everything.'

'No they don't. We do  We know everything. We do we do.' The encyclopedias sounded angry.

The Pram, sensing a difficult situation, rolled towards the trunk.

'Come on please tell us what these things are.'

They all peered inside.

'Oh this is so easy,' said the O to  S volume.
 ' That's an oil lamp to show the way when it's dark.. Next to it that's a sword, a ceremonial sword to wear in a parade. That's a pistol and that's a revolver.'

The A to C volume took over. 'There's a bayonet and a cutlass.'

The L to  N volume  called out, 'There's a musket and a lance, and some medals.'

The Doll started to cry.

'I'm frightened, I don't like these things.'

The Teddy walked towards the Encyclopedias. He drew himself up to his full height. The red satin heart embroidered on his chest gleamed in the darkness.

'Ok we get the picture. You know everything. I'm sure you know lots of nice things.  Maybe you could tell us something else, like a nice Bedtime story now.'

'I'm good at that.' called out Volume  A to C. 'I like Bedtime stories.  Once upon a time ...'

 There was a sudden crash and the door opened again.

the two boys came back in.

'I told you we shouldn't have brought the encyclopedias down. Grandpa only believes them. He doesn't trust computers. Every Christmas it's the same. He wants to play all those general Knowledge board games and quizzes and only he knows the answers. Did you see his face when Mum said that a musket was a Sicilian wine and a bayonet a French dessert? '

' By the way he told me to donate the contents of that old trunk to the museum. I wonder what's in it. Just a lot of junk if you ask me. Things to do with the war he's always going on about.'

' Now what was it that he wanted to look up?  He always wins everything, every Christmas. I think they taught things differently when he was at school. He's eighty-eight can you believe it? He knows more than any of us.'

The garage fell quiet once the encyclopedias had been dragged out. The Teddy broke the silence.

'There you are, we're all still useful. We'll be loved again.'

The Doll put her hand on his arm and gazed at him, an adoring look on her face.'

'You know more than all those encyclopedias put together.'

The Pram, the Cot and the Highchair broke out in a cheer.

'Merry Christmas everyone.'

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Stories to warm the cockles of your heart, Colin's quiz

Now here's a thought.'
 Colin  cut a  neat square from his steak, speared it with his fork and held it up to admire it before popping it in his mouth. A blissful expression came over his face.

'Oh That's better, just what I needed.  A Vegetarian Christmas isn't for me.'

Adam grinned at him.
 'Go on Dad, you were tucking into that Nut roast , I saw you having second helpings. Anyway what were you going to say?'

'I was thinking about the Ozone layer and Climate change and if it's true that cows cause a lot of the problem, because if that's the case maybe we should be eating more of them. These vegetarians might be barking up the wrong tree.'

Adam took a sip of his beer and sat back in his chair. He always loved listening to his dad, he always had something to say, a proper opinion on everything. He wasn't always conventional and got himself into arguments with his often quite outrageous views but he was guaranteed to liven up any conversation.

'I've organized a great quiz for the party this evening. Really tough questions.'

Colin  loved preparing quizzes and had been organizing the quizzes for the local pub ever since Adam was a boy.  They would often go together and Adam would watch in awe as his dad reeled off the questions with the confidence  of an Oxford don.

Colin pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket.

'Look at this Adam, you know how I used to love going to bingo with your mum. It seems you're not allowed to say two fat ladies anymore. You have to say two alternatively shaped people..'

Adam spluttered into his beer,

'You're having me on dad. What about 'legs eleven' seventy seven'? That's probably two daring. Should be alright with all the ducks though.'

Colin threw his head back and laughed. Adam looked at him, his heart bursting with love.

'Well dad, thanks for coming to us for Christmas. It means a lot to Holly and me. Mum said she might come by for the party. Is that alright with you?'.

Colin broke off a piece of bread and wiped his plate clean. He picked up his beer and raised his glass to Adam..

' If it's what you want son, I'll be on my best behaviour. Maybe I can throw in some questions that she might like.'

They ordered their coffees and sat in companionable silence.  Adam saw his next door neighbour at the bar and called him over.

'Hi Fergie this is my dad, he's staying with us for Christmas.'

Fergie put out his hand.

'Nice to meet you. I'm organizing a special New Year pub quiz. I had no idea it would be so difficult to compile questions for everybody. Would you like to put your names down.'?'

'Yeah sure,' Adam smiled.' Put down Colin and Adam, we'll enter as a team. My dad's great at preparing pub quizzes if you want any help.'

'I might just take you up on the offer , thanks.'

Fergus patted Colin on the shoulder and  went back to the bar.

While Adam went to pay the bill Colin pulled out his quiz sheet to go over his questions for the party.
 He had always had a thirst for knowledge and prided himself on being kept up- to- date with current affairs, music, art, cinema, sport, General Knowledge, World affairs. He saw it as a personal challenge. Colin had left school with no qualifications at all.

Looking back, he could see that all his energy had gone into coping with his home life. First his mother had died, he couldn't even remember her. Then his father had re-married when Colin was six.  His step-mother was cold and strict and when his brother Ian was born the contrast between her attitudes to the two boys was painfully evident. Colin felt like a character in a Dickens novel.

Colin's father pretended not to notice. He was just grateful to have a hot meal in the evening. Colin was soon in with the wrong crowd at school, the ones that were considered difficult and the wilder he got the more cruel his step mother became. His little brother adored him though and he was the only bright spot in a bleak existence.

When Colin met Elaine he asked her to marry him after one month. He was working for the Gas board, laying down pipes and had enough money to put a deposit on a house. Elaine came from a troubled family, one of her brothers had been in prison and her father had a heavy hand. Elaine and her mother often had bruises on their arms. Colin  and  Elaine had clung to each other like two shipwrecked castaways.

When Adam was born they had lavished love and affection on him determined he would never suffer like they had.  Adam was an easy-going affable child right from the start, popular at school and with a love of theatre. He had made a career building stage sets and working with the big tour companies.

Adam came back to the table with their coats.

'I think we'd better be getting back dad, Holly needs me to help with the drinks.'

'Thanks Adam that was a real treat. You're a good son, the best. Your mum and I have always been proud of you.'

Adam held out Colin's coat.

'You were always great parents too . Aww aren't we just a soppy pair. Come on.'

The car was covered in ice and they sat with the heater on waiting for the windows to clear.

'You know dad, I've learned a lot from Holly. Her dad Joe ran off when she was eight. Her mum was heartbroken but she never said a bad word about him to Holly. She said that if you love your children then you love their mum or dad. She told Holly a few years ago that she realized that she had neglected Joe and had practically pushed him into the other woman's arms. She had always preferred sitting at home watching television and it was her who  told him to take her friend Julie to the cinema or the pub. There's always two sides to every story.'

'I don't think I've got anything to blame myself for. I've always tried so hard to provide for you and your mum. It's not my fault I lost my job, it's all these cuts.'

'Yes dad and you did us proud. What I'm trying to say is that love and forgiveness are all that matters. We all make mistakes, we all get things wrong, but we all need love and forgiveness.'

There was a silence. Adam was about to say that maybe his dad had let himself go a bit, not getting up till the afternoon, not shaving and walking around in his underwear, then he decided it might be too hurtful and anyway thanks to Holly his dad looked a lot smarter these days.

Adam turned to his dad. Holly had cut his dad's hair and trimmed his beard specially for Christmas. She had told him that she needed the practise for the theatre where she worked as a make-up artist. She had bought him some new aftershave and a blue jumper that she said matched his eyes. He looked quite handsome and distinguished with his greying hair and the jumper hid his slight paunch.

'I know the last few years have been tough for you dad, losing your job and then mum having the affair, and then moving into a bedsit now the house is being sold, but look at all the good things. Your brother adores you and so do I and so does Holly. Everyone in your local pub brightens up when you walk in, you're warm - hearted and caring and funny.'

'Hey stop it, you'll have me in tears, a grown man like me. Anyway isn't it me that should being saying those things to you?'

Colin had been an amateur boxer in his twenties and had had the bone removed from his nose. He pulled out a tissue and dabbed at his eyes.

'Thanks son, let's get to the party, who's gonna be there anyway?'

'There will be Holly's mum with her new partner, a Polish plumber called Malek, Holly's dad with his third wife Sheila and her son Tommy from her first husband, then Holly's brother Mikey and his girlfriend Ana from Romania, then two friends of Ana that have come over for the holidays. They're all bringing something that's traditional from their country, should be fun.'

Colin smiled at his son,

 'You know, I'm beginning to feel excited, can't remember when I last felt like this.'

As they parked in front of the house, Adam felt a warm glow at the thought of Holly waiting for him inside. They had been living together for almost a year and this was their first Christmas. He had been designing stage sets at the theatre where she worked. By the time he had finished they were inseparable.

 He could see the lights on the tree and the glow of the fire, Christmas music was playing and he made a wish that life could always be like this for them. He opened the car door for his father. Trying to keep his voice steady and neutral he whispered in his father's ear.

'By the way dad, Mum told me that it's over between her and that doctor. He's gone back to Australia. He asked her to go with him but she didn't want to go.'

Colin stopped abruptly. Adam could hear his sharp intake of breath. He felt a surge of hope. If only his dad could just bring himself to forgive and let his mum know how much he loved her still.

The party was a huge success. Holly and  Adam looked round at all their guests. They  were all  so relaxed and happy.  Everyone had been chatting and laughing and joining in all the games as though they had been  friends for years. The Romanian Christmas cake had all been eaten and the recipe passed round. Holly stood up and handed everyone a piece of paper and a pencil.

'Now we're going to have Colin's special Christmas quiz.'

Colin cleared his throat.

'This has been an eventful year for most of us, but then all years are I suppose. Sometimes major events occur, weddings, divorces, moving house, changing jobs, moving to another country and they all are a challenge. Sometimes nothing much seems to happen but we all know how much effort is involved in just keeping the status quo.'

Malek yawned and Ana giggled. Elaine gave them a stern look. She put her hand on Colin's arm and when she spoke her voice was full of care.

'Go on Colin that's a lovely speech.''

Adam handed him a glass of wine,

'Yeah da, but on with the questions  we're all longing to hear what you've got up your sleeve.'

Colin took a sip of the wine.

'Ok pencils ready everyone.

number one, 'What is the capital of Romania'
number two' 'What is the  name of the river that runs through Warsaw.''

number three' Who won X Factor?'
number four' 'Who won the World cup in Russia?
number five  'What is the name of the last Romanian king?'

Adam felt tears come to his eyes and went to the kitchen to make some tea.
His father had such a kind heart. He knew this wasn't the quiz that had been prepared. His dad always delighted on stumping everyone, but today he must have instinctively felt there was a need for some light relief.

Adam went back in to see everyone furiously scribbling away, so happy to know all the answers. Colin was looking at Elaine.

'And here is the last question, for someone special, What was the name of Bryan Adams' 1993 hit?'

Elaine giggled, jumped up and clapped her hands. She grabbed a candy umbrella from the tree and held it like a microphone.

'Please forgive me - she sang, then, looking straight at Colin she continued - I can't stop loving you'.

She threw her arms around  Colin. Everyone clapped. Holly put on the Cd that Colin had given her. Ana and her friends joined in with the chorus. They said Bryan Adams was their favourite singer.

After they had all counted their scores and decided that really there was no clear winner and they could start watching the Christmas DVD that Holly had ready, Adam took Colin aside.

'You can keep your quiz for the next evening at the pub dad. You've worked wonders. Mum looks about twenty, look at  her. She really does love you. Make sure you don't mess it up this time. It won't always be easy. You'll still hurt and feel resentful sometimes but remember, love and forgiveness.'


I hope you like this story and maybe it will make you want to prepare your own quiz for your family and friends.
Here are the answers to Colin's quiz.

1.    Bucharest
2     Vistula

4     France
5      King Michael


Monday, 17 December 2018

Various thoughts

We were with a friend today who makes me feel safe, you can talk about anything, never having to measure words or weigh thoughts. You go away just feeling happy having been together and liked for exactly the way you are. It reminded me of a quote I like by Sir Thomas More.

A merry tale with a friend refresheth a man much, and without any harm lighteth his mind and amendeth his courage, so that it seemeth but well done to take such recreation. And St.Thomas saith that proper pleasant talking is a good virtue, serving to refresh the mind and make it quick and lusty to study again, where continual fatigation would make it dull and deadly.

After that lovely long chat, I do feel stimulated and refreshed.

I even made up a poem, here it is.

One day there will be happiness in the acceptance
Of the way things turned out.
The years of pain and sorrow
Will start to heal
Only happy memories will come to the surface
Little buoys bobbing
On the surface of the sea
Shining in the sunlight
Guiding us to safe waters.

On a lighter note, here is a joke that came into my head.
It was Bob-a-job week, and Johnny the boy scout went knocking on doors to see what he could do. One man said he could paint his porch and just to help himself to the paint that was in the garage.
After awhile, Johnny knocked on the door again and told the man he had finished. He said he'd used two coats of paint. The man paid him and praised him for being so quick.
As Johnny was walking away he called back, "By the way, it's not a Porch, it's a Ferrari."
Bob-a-job week, meant that boy scouts got paid a bob, or a shilling, which is 5 p for doing a job.
It might have been thinking about my Uncle Bob, because of the Scottish vote. He came from Ayrshire.
Italy is full of evergreen trees, so even in the depths of winter the parks are green. I miss the stark skyline caused by the deciduous trees, especially at sunset. Yet there is a great pleasure to be find in strolling through an olive grove on a sunny February day. The olive tree is a symbol of peace offering and friendships healed. 

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Stories to warm the cockles of your heart. Listening to Ken

It was such a pleasure to have someone wanting to hear what he had to say. Someone completely focused on him, gazing at him as though he was the most fascinating man in the world.
 Sally was giving him all her attention. She looked rapt, eager, totally enthralled.
 He noticed how her beautiful green eyes were speckled with gold. She was looking at him with such  kindness he felt a shiver go down his spine.
Sally took hold of his hand. Her voice was low and full of care when she spoke,

‘It’s wonderful to be with you on your birthday Ken. I can’t believe you’re eighty- eight. You must have been a real heartbreaker. Believe me you’ve still got what it takes.’

Ken gulped. He felt himself redden. He wasn’t used to compliments and he’d never been a talker. Always kept himself to himself.

 Ken had always been the listener in the family.

 'Oh Ken is such a good listener, you can always rely on him to listen to you.'

Marjorie was very fond of telling her friends this.

 Right from the beginning of their marriage they had chosen their roles, Marjorie was the talker and Ken was the listener.

Often though Ken wasn't listening at all. He heard Marjorie ask him if she looked better in the green skirt or the black trousers and would say they both looked nice. Then he would hear her talk about the W.I and the old man who fell over in the car park and the man with his bonfire that made her friend Barbara's washing smell of smoke. She’d natter away about the price of things in the supermarket and who she’d seen in the hairdressers and he would smile at her, happy to hear her voice.He heard everything she said  but he wasn't listening, he was thinking and worrying about his job or his health or the bills, and lately he was thinking a lot about their daughter Jessie.

He realized that Sally was still looking at him and smiling.

 'Ken you look so handsome today, your blue tie matches your eyes perfectly.'

Ken felt himself blush again and hoped she hadn’t  noticed.

Jessie had blue eyes just  like him, and dark curly hair like Marjorie. People used to stop and admire Jessie when they pushed her around in her pram as a baby. She had grown up into such a beautiful young woman, apart from her colouring taking after neither of her parents. People often remarked how incredible it was that Ken and Marjorie had got such a beautiful, bright daughter. Ken and Marjorie were too proud of Jessie to ever take offence. Jessie was the sunshine in their lives. What might have been quite a dull and ordinary marriage blossomed with their love for their daughter.

Then in the Spring Jessie had announced that she was going to Australia for a year with a scholarship from the university where she worked. Ken and Marjorie stared at each other in dismay, anxiety all over their faces. What would they do without the weekly visits, the phone calls and the Sunday lunches.
What if she met someone there and settled all the way on the other side of the world?

Sally was handing him a cup of tea and held his hand. He realized that a tear was falling from his eye. He must give Sally his full attention.

Ken and Marjorie had taken Jessie to the airport and waved until she disappeared, neither daring to look at the other in case they broke down. It felt like a light had been switched off in their lives.
They tried to learn to use the Skype and the Facebook and all the other gadgets that Jessie had left them. It helped, but it wasn't the same. They both longed to hear her key in the door, her cheerful 'It's me, I'm home, ' that had been music to their ears all these years.

Then in the Summer she told them that she'd met someone, a doctor working on her research team. He was Australian and she felt like he was the one. She'd bring him with her in the Spring when she came back for a short holiday. Ken and Marjorie's friends thought this was very exciting and told them they should organize a holiday to Australia, it wasn't far away really, lots of people went to live there, it was nothing. It didn't feel like nothing to Ken and Marjorie.

Ken became aware that Sally was stroking his arm, looking at him with pleading eyes.

'Come on Ken, tell me something, something I'd like to hear. It's nearly Christmas. It's your birthday.'

Ken took a deep breath, then his words came out in a rush. A tumbling of hard to distinguish sounds, at first incoherent and then crystal clear ringing out around the room.

'My daughter's coming home for Christmas.'

Everyone in the room clapped and beamed at Ken. Sally stood up and cheered.
They all knew what an effort that was. The speech therapy sessions for stroke victims was the best place for Ken to make his announcement.