Category Archives: Other thoughts

Thoughts outside retirement

So long and yet like yesterday

Today I received an email from an old school friend.  Our families had lived a few streets away from each other when we were little and we started school at the same time in the infants at Crowland Road, in Tottenham.  We went right through until we left at age eighteen from Skinners’ Company’s School for Girls.  Seven of us actually went on to secondary school together but I am only still in touch with three others.

The email contained a photo.  It is of our two mums sitting on a beach – almost certainly Westgate-on-Sea, in Kent! – and they look so happy it brought tears to my eyes.

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They were such very good friends and that showed on both their faces.

I have vivid memories of the close friends my mother had.  Some were from way back, when she was a slip of a girl, and others more recent.  It is inevitable that there will be some friendships made at the school gate but she had only two firm ones and, of those two, this was the closest.  It was rare that mum wasn’t at home at lunchtime or when I arrived back from school in the afternoon but, if that was the case, this lovely lady was one of the people I was most likely to go to until I was picked up.

My grateful thanks to someone who thought to send me this photo.  It has stirred up memories that had lain dormant – happy memories, that I am now glad to relive.

It’s what makes me who I am

During a conversation with Hubby this morning, I realised  something extraordinary.  My family is quite diverse, starting with my kids, who are polymaths.  Regardless of what they turn their hand to, they put everything into it and, generally, succeed.  They also do not suffer fools, or injustice, gladly and will be as vocal as necessary if they think it will make a difference.  However, they both have a gift when it comes to talking to people and I often think of the Churchill (Winston, not the dog!) quote -“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”  My daughter even decided that she wanted to learn how to make jewellery, so she did.  Thank you, by the way, for all the times you have fixed my earrings and pendants!  My son, on the other hand, knows multiple languages to one degree or another.

Going back up the family tree, Hubby and I were lucky enough to go to grammar school.  We both gained O and A levels and I went on to train as a teacher.  He discovered computers (at that time, each one was the size of a room) and that was the end of sanity.  We both had music as a major factor in our lives – as youngsters, he played the guitar and I played the guitar and sang.  I was even part of a charity group, for a while, who did gigs for institutions such as children’s homes, day centres and homes for the mentally disadvantaged (or whatever the PC term is now).  Some of these gigs were with my sister and, occasionally, my dad.

Looking at other members of the family and the root of some of this behaviour becomes clear.  My sister has a beautiful voice and nearly went into opera.  Circumstances got in the way, but she still sings her heart out at every opportunity!  At one time she was taking lessons from her headmaster at primary school, who just happened to be the brother of Christopher Gable.  My mother, paternal aunt, paternal grandmother and some of my paternal great-aunts were all exceptional seamstresses and dressmakers, which I would describe as an art as well as a skill.  My paternal uncle, and later his wife, both played the guitar and sang.  My aunt sang with her sister, her sister’s husband and his brother.  Later (or possibly at the same time) uncle and aunt danced with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS).  I remember going to see them at the Royal Albert Hall, where my uncle danced the Schuh Plattler.  He is not in this clip!  Some time after my uncle died – far too young – my aunt married the fourth member of their folk group, who is still going today and is also a sought-after extra on television.

My own dad had taken up the drums – quite by accident – whilst doing his bit in the Air Force during the war.  He ended up in the air base dance band and enjoyed himself so much that, on demob, he formed his own four piece combo.  They played for the usual family gatherings – weddings, engagements, bar mitzvahs – and some Masonic events.  It was rare that he did not work on a Saturday and sometimes on a Sunday as well.  When he didn’t want to run his own band any longer, he joined another and went on for many years.  Dad’s voice was like a slightly more tuneful Frank Sinatra – Ol’ Blue Eyes could sing but Dad could sing better.  Even at the age of 94, he can still (mostly) keep a tune and has not lost his all-important timing!

He was also an exceptional ballroom dancer, like many of his uncles and aunts.  This vast collection of relatives – twelve brothers and sisters in all – gained cups between them for ballroom competitions.  Many of them could also play an instrument, mainly the piano, and they were very good at it.  I remember one engagement party in a hall when a great-uncle and aunt were playing a piano together, my dad swapped out playing the drums with a cousin and, at some point, I played the drums with a cousin of my own age.  We weren’t as co-ordinated, so I did the hand thing and he played the pedals.  Dad and others sang.  Always occasions to remember, our family gatherings.

When I think about how much music there was in my family, and what forms it took, as well as the general creativity, I realise that I have had a charmed life.  There is nothing in the world as wonderful as creating something that gives pleasure to yourself and others.  I hope to be able to continue to do so for a long time to come and encourage anyone – and everyone – to do the same.

Mini rant – please indulge me

Yesterday we took the underground home from London.  We were ‘lucky’ enough to be on a new piece of rolling stock.  For one thing, the seats are deeper, meaning you are not constantly readjusting in order not to fall off, but there is a distinct disadvantage.  As the carriages cannot be magically widened, due to the lack of progress on the TARDIS effect, extra seating depth means a narrower aisle.  This, in turn, leaves less room for people to move down the carriage.  A fact highlighted in the woman sitting diagonally across from me who was deep into whatever was on her mobile phone screen.  She was completely unaware of anything that was going on around her, which showed on three separate occasions.  She had very long legs and was sitting with them crossed.  This meant that, with the narrower walking space, she was, effectively, blocking the aisle with her legs.  Two people left their seats and headed to a door via her position, only to have to negotiate her foot, literally stepping over it.  The foot did not twitch, leading me to believe that she was oblivious to the inconvenience she was causing.  The third passenger actually nearly tripped whilst trying to step over the offending foot and all that this engendered was a minute movement (which could have been caused by the collision).  No recognition showed on her face and she stayed glued to her screen.  Not one of these people actually said ‘Excuse me’ in an attempt to pass more safely.  Perhaps they were just suffering from the British Disease, where it’s impolite to disturb someone so that you can pass in safety.  I don’t know.  I was on the verge of getting up and doing just that, even though I didn’t actually want to leave the train, when she left instead.

I cannot understand how some people can be so self-absorbed and selfish as to ignore three people who need to pass them, when they are obstructing passage.  You must be a special kind of moron.

Rant over.

Living with nature

Our garden is a disaster area!  From the neat, well looked after patch that we inherited when we bought the house, it has disintegrated into a haven for wildlife and a place I am afraid to traverse.  I took my life in my hands to go and collect apples from the dwarf tree at the other end but you wouldn’t have caught me delving into the long grass to gather fallers – you never know what you might encounter!  That was the Man of the House’s job.

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Ditto for the tomatoes in the ‘greenhouse’.  I use single inverted commas because said greenhouse is one of the plastic variety; perfectly serviceable but not designed to make it through more than one season, once the wind gets up.  Still, from the plants our neighbour gave us plus some others we bought ourselves, we managed to enjoy a few pounds of fruit (yes they are mini-mini ones!), which were absolutely delicious, by the way.

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As the garden is in such a state of ‘naturalness’, it is hardly surprising that there are many varieties of birds that visit throughout the seasons.  The overgrown grape vine – which does produce grapes, but I’m too scared of the plant to go near them – provides a haven and a buffet for several species.  We have seen pigeons, starlings and sparrows in there, to name but a few.  Make a noise and, at any time, you can see a flock just propel itself out from under the leaves and into the air, only to return as soon as the perceived danger has passed.

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A few years ago we had a vixen that came regularly into the garden.  We started to give her scrap, as she looked bedraggled and poorly.  Eventually, she would come onto the patio and sit, patiently, outside the door until we gave her something.  She was very calm and very sweet.

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After a while, we stopped seeing her and wondered if she had met the fate of so many urban foxes.  Soon, we forgot about her, until one day when she showed up again – with her boyfriend – a big, beefy dog fox – in tow!  After that, she really did disappear – I think she was just telling us that she was settled and not to worry.

The other day, a new fox, this time a dog, started to come in to the garden.  We first saw him playing with something on the meadow (I won’t call it a lawn!) and we eventually realised it was a shoe of some sort, either a slipper or a trainer.  I think it has now been buried by the bay bush.  Can’t wait to see what comes up next year!

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We know that it’s not a great idea to feed urban foxes and we won’t be encouraging this one.  Besides anything else, he looks too healthy to need our help.  We will, however, spend as much time as we can watching his antics and taking pleasure from his happiness.

Prisoners’ voting ‘rights’

In the news today another swipe at the smooth(ish) running of the British judicial system – “UK prisoners ‘could challenge blanket ban on voting’ “

Is it just me or have those people in prison (setting aside any potential miscarriages of justice, which are few in the great scheme of things) not foregone any rights as soon as they committed a crime?  Even before they had been caught, tried and convicted, the very moment that they swindled, assaulted, set fire to, abandoned, defrauded, extorted, forged, harassed, stole, maimed, abused or murdered was the one in which they lost any say over – well – anything.

“Convicted [French]  murderer Thierry Delvigne claimed a ban on him voting in European Parliament elections violated his civil and political rights.”

I truly do not comprehend.  For someone who has committed such a crime to bleat on about his civil and political rights just brings up the hackle on the back of my neck.

It seems that the EU ban on prisoners voting only applies to sentences of five years or more.  The English ban – for any crime which has put you in prison, can be contested under EU law.  I leave you to make up your own mind.

From a foreigner’s point of view – facts correct at the time of writing

In the news again, a mass shooting in an American school.  Nine (ten?) dead at time of writing and seven injured, although reports are conflicting.  The police are not confirming the name of the gunman but his ‘not confirmed’ father has said he was “just as shocked as everybody”.  The ‘not confirmed’ gunman is also said to have “warned of his intentions on social media”.  The BBC reported this with the headline “Oregon college shooting: Nine dead in Roseburg attack”;  CNN had “Oregon shooting: Gunman dead after college rampage”; NBC ran with “Oregon Shooting: Umpqua Community College Gunman Talked Religion” and USA Today with “Ten killed in shooting at Ore. community college”.  Clearly, the BBC were behind the times with their numbers but the essence is the same.

I see five main aspects to this event, although I’m sure others will see many others.

  1.  A young man in his twenties shot a lot of people in a school.
  2. Reports state that he had multiple weapons (numbers differing in each case) – we have yet to hear where they came from.
  3. Some reports state that he was asking who were the Christians and only shooting them.
  4. The sheriff is refusing to name the gunman, saying that he will not give him the recognition he obviously craved.
  5. Ten people lost their lives – that’s ten families left to grieve.

I put the last one in that position quite deliberately and will come to it in due course.

As I write this, there is no information about how this man came to have the weapons in the first place.  It could have been from a number of sources; home, where they were either locked away or easy to access – he is, after all, an adult and there would be no reason to hide them from him, we suppose; a shop, and I am fuzzy about the laws regarding buying guns but I assume you have to fulfil some criteria in order to buy a firearm; from a home invasion; from a ‘private source’  There are probably others but the list would become tedious.  In a number of articles I read, it was stated that there are 1500 more gun shops in the US than grocery stores.  Over the whole of the country that is not really a significant figure, but it shows a trend.  Put in its simplest (and frankly – I admit it – most ridiculous terms) people seem to be more interested in shooting something than eating.

It has yet to be confirmed that he was asking who were the Christians.  Why would he do that?  If his ‘not confirmed’ father is anything to go by, the gunman was not ‘not Christian’ – I hesitate to speculate on which faith he was following but that won’t stop others which will, possibly, lead to more bloodshed.

I am with the sheriff all the way when he refuses to name the gunman and with his reasons for doing so.  However, his ‘not confirmed’ name is already being splashed across the world and no amount of good intentions by the local officer of the law will prevent it.  Can’t wait for the raft of people being interviewed who tell the world’s press that they would never have thought of him doing such a thing/such a quiet young man/mowed my lawn every Saturday.  On the other side of the room, of course, will be the ones who were certain that he ‘wasn’t right’ and someone should have seen this coming.  His father will feel guilty and everyone will blame everyone else for what happened.

My own take on this situation is simple.  He had multiple guns and was able to kill several people rather quickly.  Someone remarked on social media (thankfully not an actual friend of mine) that even though England does not have the gun crime that the US suffers, it just means that people use other means to kill their fellow man.  In a similar situation to the one in Oregon, it would be quite hard to kill nine or ten people from one position with a knife.  They tend to try to get out of range quite quickly and usually succeed.  The same would be true of a large piece of wood, lead piping or any other weapon designed to inflict blunt force trauma.  Knives are regulated in the UK – you have to be a certain age to buy one – but, of course it wouldn’t make a difference if someone was intent on using them as weapons.  The mere fact that they are close quarter or one use (if throwing) weapons, makes one of them less likely to cause multiple deaths.

Now for Point 5.  If I was a parent – or even a teacher or co-pupil – of one of the students shot, I would be furious.  I wouldn’t care if the guns were legally obtained or licensed, or if they had been stolen from a legal owner.  All I would know would be that my child was now dead.  It would give me no comfort to know that the gunman was also dead because I would know that there was always someone in the wings waiting to do the same somewhere else, to someone else’s son or daughter.  How, in a country of over 300 million people, can anyone think that allowing anyone – with documented exceptions – to own a firearm will not lead to some problems.  The larger the population, the greater the likelihood that someone will abuse the law.

From what I can see, regulating gun ownership means just that.  It does not mean taking guns away from people who have them for quite legitimate reasons; it does not mean the State deciding who has a firearm based on criteria that they keep in a cupboard under lock and key; it does not mean telling Joe (or Josephine) America how to defend themselves.  It means – to me – making it harder for people like the Oregon shooter and many like him to have access to weapons that can kill lots of people in one event.  Not impossible, as we all know that to be a non-starter, but harder and surely the parents of those who died this week, and in the other mass shootings this year and previously, would be the first to stand for greater control.  I know I would.  I would not see it as taking away the rights of one section of society but, rather, helping to preserve the rights of another, who are no longer in a position to defend themselves.

Gardens are hard work

I love a well laid garden.  I love the variety of colour, the imaginative creativity, the assault on the senses.  I love the idea of cocktails on the patio and barbecuing every night.  I love the smell of freshly mown grass and the sight of fruit ripening.  I love all these things, as long as I’m not expected to work for it.

If I were to win the lottery, I would employ a gardener.  Even if I didn’t upgrade my house, I would still have someone come in, organise the garden to my instructions and return weekly (or whatever) to keep it under control.  I adore scented flowers, revelling in the cloud of perfume they produce – especially in the evening.  I want a bee and butterfly corner, fruit trees and a vegetable patch.  But please don’t ask me to actually work in the garden.

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It’s not that I wouldn’t want to.  In spite of the bees, worms, SPIDERS and other creepies that live in the environment, I used to thoroughly enjoy the rush of seeing a cleared patch of land, plant it with carefully chosen examples of flora and watch, as they grew and flourished.  Some producing flowers, some comestibles.  Mother nature at her finest.

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However, Mother Nature has also had a hidden agenda for some years now.  She has gradually whittled away my ability to actually do anything in the garden, however much I want to.  I can’t kneel and my hands are no longer strong,  complaining after too much use.  I know I should at least do some work and stop when my bones have had enough, but I never know how far I will get and that puts me off starting.  It’s a rubbish excuse, I know, and I feel myself talking myself out of the prevailing situation.  Perhaps I should find another way to garden – boxes, pots, raised beds – ways round not being able to kneel.  I could use the gardener money for something else.  Oh, yes – I know!  I could use it to pay for a gardener to set up the garden the way I want it!

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