Saturday, 30 October 2010

Six Word Saturday

I should be doing other things, cleaning the house, weeding the allotment, but instead I've been blog-browsing.
I stumbled across Show My Face's Six Word Saturday page, so these are my six words, which just about sum it up.
Reading, dreaming, imagining. Trying to write.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Working from home - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Whenever possible, I work from home on a Friday.
In every way a working-from-home day is better than a working-in-the-office day.
Let me count the ways
(with thanks to the very fine Bag Lady for suggesting a 10 things post)
1) I can get dressed in the daylight. This might not seem like a big deal, but some of you who perhaps are increasing in years, might recognise and understand my growing inability to differentiate between purple and brown clothes. This has led me to turning up at work in some interesting colour combinations recently.
2)I do not have to go anywhere near the M25 or the Dartford tunnel. I like to think that me not being there will make someone else's journey just a little bit better.
3) Martin the cat has some interesting contributions to make to my otherwise solitary working-from-home meetings.
4) I get to spend the morning with my grumpy student daughter until she recovers from her hangover.
5) My work mobile has no network coverage where I live, but my personal mobile works just fine.
6) I can work, tweet, read blogs, work, tweet, read blogs, work, tweet, read blogs and still get more done than I do in 9 hours in the office.
7) I get to eat a Pot Noodle for lunch without anyone knowing about it... except all of you now.
8) I can have a bath in the middle of the afternoon.
9)I can respond to e-mails and watch Midsomer Murders at the same time.
10) I get to be at home before Philip, which doesn't ever happen on days I'm in the office. I get to be here, when he comes in all smiley from his regular Friday quick beer after work, and then we get to start the weekend.
Properly. Together.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Missing song - found!

Last night I wrote here about a song my father used to sing. I mentioned that I'd never heard anyone else sing it, and that I hadn't been able to find the lyrics or anything else about it. Then I packed up and went to bed.

While I slept peacefully, halfway round the world in Canada, Liz got to work.(Liz is one of my earliest and very favourite blogging buddies - check her out here - )

And I woke up this morning to a comment from her which took me to a whole debate on the web about my song! The song I've always known as Three Lonely Prisoners, has been known as Two Convicts and The Prisoner. In the discussion, its origins were attributed to either Mississippi, Ireland or the London Music Hall.

My Dad had always sung about three prisoners, and I think he must have invented and inserted his own lyrics in a few places, but the lyrics printed below are definitely the basis of our song. Underneath I've tried to capture the words we knew and grew up with - I've tried and tried but I can't remember the last verse as he sang it - I'm hoping my sisters will jump in here and help me.

I cannot say how grateful I am to Liz for finding this and telling me about it. It means my new grandson Eddie, who will never get to meet his Great -Grandad, will at least get to grow up knowing something about him, his songs and some of our shared history.


Two convicts one day were seated, in a lonely prison cell -
The story of their past lives to each other did tell.
"I was once young and happy," said the elder of the two,
"I had a loving wife and a little baby too."

"One night as I went home, after working hard all day,
I found the fire had gone out and my wife had run away.
It was then I started drinking - for what else could I do?
I mixed with bad companions and became a burglar too."

"One night as I went out, to rob a mansion grand,
The tools were in my pocket, a revolver in my hand.
As I climbed through that window a gentle voice I heard.
I fired a shot, then cried a lot. By God I've shot my child."

Without a friend in all this wide world, not a friend to speak my name,
Praying to God that I might die, praying all in vain,
For after all that I have suffered, no man could ever tell,
With no place to shelter, but this lonely prison cell.


Three lonely prisoners, in a lonely prison cell -
The story of their lifetimes to each other they did tell.
Now the youngest of the three he said, 
"my tale I'll tell to you,
"I had a wife, a loving wife and a bonny baby too."

"As I came home, from working, after working hard all day,
I found my house without a light, my wife had run away.
So I took up to drinking - what else was I to do?
I mixed with bad companions and became a robber too."

"One night 'twas my intention, to rob a mansion grand,
My tools were in my pocket, my revolver in my hand.
As I climbed through the window I heard a voice cry out.
I turned around and fired a shot "Good God I'd shot my child."

"Not a friend in all this wide wide world, 
not a friend to call my own,
With no place to shelter, but this lonely prison cell".

Monday, 25 October 2010

A golden oldie and a missing song

I realise that this post might elicit a response of despair and a shake of the head, so I'll admit upfront that I will be covering both my questionable taste in music and an over-emotional response to a tune on the radio. Then I'll leave it to you to decide whether to read on.

This morning while driving to work I listened, as I do most mornings, to Chris Evans' breakfast show on Radio 2. He has a daily feature, Golden Oldies, introduced by the marvellous Moira Stewart, for which listeners nominate a favourite song which evokes a special memory. Usually it's a tale of a song which sparked a long-ago romance or a tune that accompanied carefree dancing days. Today's was slightly different.

I didn't catch the name of the man who'd written in - for which I'm sorry - but his special memory was the tale of how, as a child, he'd been known by family and friends as the boy with the shining eyes. His mum told him this was due to his Spanish ancestry and so, whenever he was feeling sad and needed cheering up, she would sing him the Al Martino song Blue Spanish Eyes.

As I drove along, listening to the song I found myself crying. It wasn't Al Martino's fault. It couldn't even be blamed on my normal frustrations with the M25. It was just that I had a really clear image of a little dark-haired boy gazing up adoringly at his mother, a woman who could make things better for him just by singing.

I've often thought that the world would be a much better place if everyone would just sing a bit more. Just look at what it did for the Von Trapp children. I don't think it's a coincidence that almost all of the important events in our lives are accompanied by song.

I've written here before about our family love of musicals and our habit of over-loud singing in the car; this morning's Golden Oldie set me thinking, not about our recent song-book, but about the songs I grew up with.

My Dad had a fine repertoire of Music Hall songs, we all learned to sing along to 'Any Old Iron', 'If you were the only girl in the world', and, a real classic, 'Knock 'em in the Old Kent Road'. But there is one song, which so completely reminds me of him, that you'd only have to say the words and he'd be back in the room. It's not a love song, nor a cheery uplifting tune, but it would be my version of the song-that-always-makes-me-feel-better.
Three lonely prisoners, in a lonely prison cell, the story of their lifetimes to each other they did tell...
He sang it to us hundreds of times, he taught it to all of my children, but I've never, ever, heard anyone else sing it. I've tried googling the lyrics, in the hope that someone, with a passion for songs from the early twentieth century, might have stumbled across it and shared their knowledge - but nothing. I've sometimes wondered if it was a 'proper' song at all, or something that Dad had made up. The tune and lyrics never changed - so if he did make it up, he did a pretty good job of it.

I won't be writing in to Chris Evans and Moira Stewart. I know I won't be driving along to work one day hearing it playing on the radio, but that's ok. I can play it on my own internal juke-box any time I like and it will still always make me feel better.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Three quarters of a century

I don't know what the weather was like that day, I don't even know what time of day it was, but 75 years ago, on the 19th of October 1935, Patricia Payne made her first appearance in the world.
Over the years, I've heard snippets about her childhood - how she was evacuated during the war to a manor house in the country, how she spent long periods of time in hospital or convalescing. But generally, my knowledge of Patricia comes from my own memories of her.

In most of these, I'm a child and she's just my mum - doing all the things I didn't think about twice at the time - working her way through a pile of ironing while singing along to Rubber Soul; telling us we couldn't use the toilet because she'd only just cleaned it; avidly watching Wimbledon every year and teaching us how to keep score in a tennis match; or making me stay in bed when I was ill, but bringing me jigsaws to stave off the boredom.

In some of my memories, she's a glamorous princess, in full evening dress with glossy dark hair piled high, kissing me goodnight before going out with my dad. In others, I'm cringing with embarrassment because she's turned up to a school event wearing a hat and gloves.

I suppose the truth is, for most of my life I've only really thought about her as my mum. I've only looked at her with daughter's eyes and I haven't ever stopped to think about how others see her, about who she is when she's not being mum, grandma, or great-grandma.

A few months ago, when she shared with me a file full of letters, copies of the correspondence she's kept over the last twenty years, I learnt for the first time how well she can write. A couple of weeks ago, when she had me aching with laughter as she described a night out with the ancient and decrepit members of the 'Recorded Vocal Arts Society', I was reminded that she can also tell a story.

On Sunday she arranged a lunch with family and friends to celebrate her birthday. When the meal was over, one of her friends got up to speak. Peter has known my mum for forty years, he's been her friend for all that time - and he wanted to share some of his memories. He told us a tale of a holiday in Portugal; of too much Mateus Rose at two-shillings and sixpence a bottle, and of a moonlit walk along the beach, which ended with my mum crawling along on all fours. Of course she denied the crawling, and claimed that all she could remember was singing 'By the light of the silvery moon' as they strolled on the sand. It doesn't really matter which version of the story is true. For a few moments I had a glimpse of mum as a carefree independent young woman. Peter spoke of how gorgeous she was then and still is now. Mum's husband, my step-dad Albert, sat smiling proudly, nodding his agreement.

All these years I've had such a limited view of who my mum is.

I know I've left it a bit late, but in the months and years ahead I'm hoping to get to know those other sides of her a bit more. In the meantime, I hope you'll join me in saying - Happy 75th Birthday Patricia!

Thursday, 14 October 2010


It had already started to get dark as Tess neared home, the colour leaking out of the day, the night closing in around her. Walking through the village, she watched as lights were switched on in front room windows. For a moment or two, as she passed each house, she saw the lives of others lit up as a stage set. A brief moment of illumination, like the brightness when a match is struck. Then the curtains were drawn and she was once again in the dark, on the outside.

It was getting colder too. She wrapped her long knitted jacket more tightly, catching it together under crossed arms. It wouldn't be long before everyone was in coats and scarves, but she didn't want to give in to winter just yet.

Cars were parked up on the pavement all along the narrow street. They had to, or their wing mirrors would end up scattered like confetti by the delivery vans bringing furniture and food to the middle classes. She knew most of the cars, who they belonged to. It wasn't difficult in a village this size, where you got to know most people's business without even trying. But she didn't recognise the black Audi parked outside the bungalows.

There was a man sitting at the steering wheel. She glanced at him as she walked past, trying not to make her curiosity too obvious. She only had time to notice the short dark hair and small round glasses; would she always think of them as John Lennon glasses? He was doing a crossword, a folded up newspaper propped high against the steering wheel to catch the light.

Tess shivered, it was getting cold. She wondered why he was sitting there, it seemed a bit odd, but perhaps he was a taxi driver waiting for his passenger. Maybe he was a guest who'd been invited for supper but arrived too early. She hoped he wasn't some sort of spy, trying to catch out unwitting benefit fraudsters, or a private detective on the trail of an errant spouse.

He'd seemed engrossed in the crossword, hadn't noticed her as she'd walked past. Surely if he was waiting for someone he'd be looking up, checking, every few seconds? She hated it when people kept her waiting.

As she reached the corner, Tess looked back again, for just a little longer than she needed to. As she watched, the man got out. He closed the door gently, almost silently, then leaned forward for a moment against the roof of the car, resting his head on folded arms. It seemed a long while before he lifted his head and slowly straightened up, stretching his shoulders back and down.

Still she stood and watched, as he took off the small round glasses, folded them and put them in the top pocket of his jacket. She was surprisingly annoyed at that, why hadn't he put them in a case? She could almost feel the glass being scratched by the dust and detritus in his pocket. He looked away, down the street, then back at the car. She wasn't close enough to see his lips move, but it was almost as though she could hear him 'Right then...'

With a determined nod of the head he turned towards her. He'd seen her now, there was no point pretending he hadn't, so mirroring the actions she'd watched, she straightened up, nodded her head and walked towards him.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Caretaker

Often, when we arrive back at the village after a trip somewhere, one us will say with a contented sigh, "back in the nice place now".
Shoreham has always been the 'nice place'. It was the village we visited every Friday night for more than a year before we were lucky enough to move here. It's the countryside that we walked through as tourists, glorying in the very best of England's Kentish garden. It's the valley that will break our hearts if we ever have to leave.
Everyone who lives here knows how lucky they are, and that gives us a bond; it makes people talk to each other, it makes us want to join in village events, take part in the things that bring us together.
Before we'd even moved here, we'd seen the posters for the Shoreham Village Players. I've always loved the theatre, the whole idea of people inventing new worlds and new lives, playing their stories out in front of us.  How brilliant to live in a place that actually has its own drama group, and not just any old drama group.
The Players not only have the ambition to stage great productions, they have the talent to deliver.
And that was never clearer than last night when I sat in awe as Harold Pinter's The Caretaker came to life in the village hall.
It's a three act play with only three characters. A tragicomic depiction of working class men, trapped but wanting control; manipulating others while failing to build relationships. For it to work each of the three characters needs to elicit a response of both empathy and dislike from the audience.
Pinter's play is undoubtedly a challenge for its actors. Last night Jim Morse, Mark Hodges and James Wallace more than met that challenge. The small stage of the village hall became a dismal cluttered bedsit, filled with the cast-off objects of others lives - and by the end of the play, that's just what each of the characters seemed to be.
I'm always proud to say I live in Shoreham, today I'm even prouder to say I live in a village where people understand the importance of theatre, where they find and nurture the talent to create an uncommon piece of magic.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Passing the time in Accident & Emergency

Given my haphazard approach to parenting, there are times when I can't help but be amazed, that each of my little treasures has made it all the way to grown-up-hood.

When they were small, it was a relatively common occurrence to find ourselves sitting for hours in the waiting area at A & E. There was the time that Charlie slipped up the stairs and put his teeth through his lip; the day when Ged climbed up and fell off a telephone junction box onto his head, the numerous occasions when Claire had a nose-bleed that simply wouldn't stop.
And there are a few incidents that stay with me more vividly. Like the afternoon when I went into the bedroom to find Charlie tipping back the contents of a Calpol bottle (liquid paracetamol for the uninitiated). My children loved Calpol, particularly in the days when it was still laced with sugar. I loved Calpol, it could reduce a temperature almost immediately. So Calpol was good, but a whole bottle of Calpol, and a potentially damaged liver was definitely not so good.
The nice doctors at A & E took Charlie's bloods and then gave him a hideous thick green liquid to make him sick. Nothing happened. For hours and hours.
'Perhaps you should take him home. Bring him back in another four hours and we'll test his blood again'
I took him home. I waited for him to be sick. Four hours later I took him back to A & E. As I stepped through the door, holding him tight against my shoulder, wondering what on earth I'd do if his blood tests showed something bad, he was gloriously, violently sick - all down my back, down my legs, as far as my shoes. His blood tests showed no worrying signs, his liver was fine, but my self-esteem was seriously damaged.
A few years before that, when Claire was only tiny, we'd been walking together along the road. As we started to cross, a car came careering round the corner. In my panic, I yanked on her hand and tugged her across the road. When we reached the other side, she stood there quietly, her arm hanging limply by her side.
'Oh my god, I've pulled her arm out of its socket'
I picked her up and jumped on a bus (no car in those days) to go to A & E. We waited to be seen. For hours and hours. When eventually it was time for us to see the doctor, my sweet little daughter waved at him. 'It's alright now' she smiled happily. And apparently it was.
The children are all adults now, so I'd assumed, you might think quite reasonably, that my waiting days at A & E were over.
Apparently not.
Last Friday, dearest Megan (that delightful, 21 year old daughter of whom I wrote with such loving pride not so long ago) went out to play with her friends. While out having fun, she decided it would be a good idea to take a piggy-back ride from one of her none-too-sober compatriots.
Philip's got a saying that we're all responsible for the predictable outcomes of our actions. I think it's probably fair to say that Megan could have predicted the outcome of an inebriated piggy-back ride. But even if she'd foreseen that she'd end up in a heap on the floor, I'm not sure she would have pictured the actual damage that  a hard pavement can cause to a soft arm and a gentle face.
A day later, with her face and arm continuing to swell, and her eye getting blacker by the minute, we inevitably found ourselves sitting in A & E. She trying to hide the worst of her injuries behind her hair, me hoping she wasn't about to feature on the front page of the Sunday papers in an article entitled 'Binge-drink Britons'. Several x-rays and some intravenous anti-biotics later, we were all glad to find out that nothing was broken and there'd be no long-term consequences, other than, perhaps some dents to her pride.
And me? Of course I'm glad that there's no lasting damage, and I'm very grateful to the kind, non-judgemental staff who checked her over so carefully at the hospital, but I can't say I've missed the trips to A & E in the last few years, and I can say with no hesitation that I hope it's a long, long time till I'm back there again.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Three o'clock in the morning

She'd fallen from the warm enfolding arms of sleep to the cold empty vault of wakefulness.
Now she sat at the kitchen table, relishing the heat of the tea as it washed away the last vestiges of drowsiness.
Even at three in the morning there was no peace, no silence in the house. He'd lain there oblivious as she slipped out of bed, his slow, steady breath sounding like the white noise of an untuned tv. Downstairs now, the droning hum of the fridge replaced his snoring, accompanied by the rhythmical back beat of the clock on the mantelpiece.
She had a spot on her chin. She could feel it growing, pushing at her skin from inside, like a living creature, a mole seeking to break through the earth's crust. Pointlessly she tried to push it back. Her skin felt taut and stretched, smooth and shiny.
No-one had ever told her she'd still get spots at this age. Every month for more than thirty years, a sign of her body's monthly cycle. Almost the only thing that had stayed with her since her teenage years.
In front of her on the table lay a copy of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov. She'd been reading it earlier in the evening. Perhaps her love of words was another thing that had stayed.
Snippets from the play came back to her. Set in Russia, more than a hundred years ago, it was a different world, a different century.
Chekov had called it a comedy, it was certainly no Aristotleian tragedy, but the sadness showed through.
Moments of absurdity, of arm-waving clumsiness, only seemed to heighten the sense of hopelessness for the characters, passing through life, unable to take or make the decisions that would alter their fate. All they could do was live and love, love and lose, watching the passing years reflected in the ageing faces of those around them.
She shivered; the early morning air seeped around her bare legs, her tea had gone cold. She emptied the dregs down the sink, watched them swirl away.
"Live, love, and carry on" she told herself as she switched off the light and slowly, carefully, inched her way up the stairs and back to bed.