Senses Cure The Soul

Tomorrow (November 30, 2016) will mark the 116th anniversary of the death of my literary hero, Oscar Wilde. Many is the time that I find myself thinking about his work and his life – enhanced by the fact that I am currently engrossed in, and enthralled by, the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries by Gyles Brandreth. Many is the time, too, that I have quoted some of his most famous lines, phrases and aphorisms, though they do, at times, fall on deaf ears.

One of my favourite Wildean quotes is, “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.” I find myself coming back to this line time and again, especially when I feel as if the weight of life is getting a little too much bear. At those times, I bring Oscar’s words to mind, and, more often than not, will find that my attention is grasped by the sight of a bird on the wing, the scent of a rose in the uplifting breeze, a butterfly spreading its wings in the morning sun, or some other facet of Nature’s beauty that makes me stop, makes me breathe, makes me grounded once more.

This morning was just such a moment. I had slept fitfully and woke up feeling as if my head was stuffed full of cotton wool and that I was on the threshold of coming down with a cold. After feeding all my cats, one of them promptly projectile vomited over his – and several other – food bowls, meaning that they all had to be emptied, washed and refilled. One of the cats then used his litter tray, only bizarrely sat in it the wrong way round and peed over the side and, consequently, over the floor. Cue mopping the floor and emptying the litter tray so that I could clean the bottom of it. All this took up a good 45 minutes, and I hadn’t even properly woken up yet. So when my smiling husband came out of the office after checking his emails and said, in his normal smiling way, “What’s for breakfast?”, I’m afraid I opened my mouth to speak and my mother came out.

“Shit with sugar on!” I said, and, bag of cat litter and cat pee soaked tissues in hand, I flounced outside, determined to throw them as furiously as possible in the main bin!

The air was dry, icy and cold, but taking a huge lungful of it did me the world of good. I looked around at the frost covered ground, and was struck by the sight of a couple of frosted leaves glinting in the light and the sound of the treetops thawing out in the morning sun. The sight of a golden leaf, its edges encrusted with ice crystals, lazily placed amongst the mulch and other frosted leaves at the side of the garden, I found particularly beautiful. I thought I would take a photo to share with you. I hope you find it as beautiful as I do.

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In our modern culture of wanting everything to be done yesterday, of hustling and bustling here, there and everywhere with no time for ourselves, let alone anyone or anything else, we are missing the beauty that is all around us. Mother Nature has a lot to tell us, if only we would stop awhile and listen.

Whenever you feel as if the weight of life is getting too much to bear, remember to stop, close your eyes, and breathe. Remember too, the words of Oscar Wilde, and let your senses cure your soul.

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Nietzsche and Sherlock Holmes

Last night, I went for a walk. I needed some air. It was a clear, cold, moonless night, the stars shimmering like multitudinous specks of glitter on the black velvet sky. I walked to the end of the street, did a left, and cut through onto the canal footpath. Immediately I thought of turning back and taking a different route. There was no light! I could barely see where I was going, and only the fact that I have walked that way many times before, prevented me from making a misstep and ending up either in a ditch, or worse, the canal. Suddenly, the security lights from three houseboats that are permanently moored along that stretch of canal clicked on, lighting up the pathway ahead. Past the houseboats, all was dark once more, but the dim orange light on the lock gates some one hundred meters further on, gave just enough illumination for me to navigate my way. I began to relax a little. Looking around me, I marvelled at the stillness of the black water. It was perfectly calm; no ripples or movement of any kind. I took a step towards the water’s edge and peered in, thinking about all the life going on beneath the surface (the canal feeds into the river Schelde, with fish being seen in the canal as a result). As I looked, I fancied that the black water resembled a scrying mirror, such as witches use, and that perhaps, if I gazed long enough into the void, I could perceive other realms. Then again, I smiled, maybe the blackness was the abyss that Nietzsche spoke about, and if I gazed long enough into it, it would gaze back. Come on Nelly, I said to myself, it’s far too cold for fanciful imaginings. You supposedly came out for a walk, so walk!

Thrusting my hands deep into my coat pocket, I wandered further on towards the lock. As I approached, I saw a solitary goose sitting on the concrete base at the foot of the lock gates. Illuminated as it was by the lock’s dim orange light, it looked somehow ethereal. I said hello (my first instinct when I see any animal is to say “hello”, whereas my first instinct when I see a person is to avoid eye contact and hope it goes away), and then climbed the stone steps up onto the top of the lock gates. Once at the stop, I looked down at the goose. Was it lonely, I wondered? Maybe it was alone, but not lonely. Then again, perhaps it was merely waiting…but for what? There goes your imagination again, Nelly! All the time I stood there, the solitary goose made no movement, no sound. I giggled to myself, thinking that perhaps Sherlock Holmes would not have been taken so seriously if, in “Silver Blaze” he’d said to Detective Gregory of Scotland Yard “the curious incident of the goose in the nighttime”.

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The curious incident of the goose in the nighttime.

I crossed over the lock gates and wandered down onto the opposite side of the canal, heading back home the long way round. About an hour later, and I was walking back up my street towards my house. I felt cold, but refreshed and full of vigor, my walk having taken me along the canal by way of Nietzsche and Sherlock Holmes.

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Anticipation and Disappointment

I am the world’s worst flirt. You would think that as a writer – ruled as I am by words and language – I would be good at it. Oh, I can strike up a conversation with almost anyone, can hold my own on a variety of topics and bluff my way through a great many more; but put me in front of a hot guy and it’s as though the filing cabinet of language in my head has accidentally been locked and no one can find the key. Seriously, when it comes to awkward, Baby’s “I carried a watermelon” line when she first speaks to Johnny in Dirty Dancing, has got nothing on me! So when my sister-in-law asked me for tips on how to flirt with a guy she was going on vacation to Italy with (he was a friend from work, one whom she would have like to be more than a friend), I told her she was asking the wrong woman. “Honestly,” I said, “whereas most women would be like ‘You wanna come to my room for a nightcap’, I’d end up saying he could come to my room because I’ve got a nightcap he can wear. I’d be mortified and he’d think I’ve got a fetish for Ebeneezer Scrooge!”

“Well, hopefully things don’t go that badly” she laughed.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. She’d been on vacation and was calling to tell me how things went. Now, before I continue with this narrative, I should point out a couple of things. One, is that my sister-in-law is rather overweight, has had constant battles to shed the pounds and suffers from a lack of self-confidence as a result. The second thing is that her self-confidence was hardly boosted when her husband left her for someone younger and thinner. Thus, at the time of her Italian vacation, her self-esteem was at rock bottom.

She began by telling me how much she loved Italy. They had apparently gone to Rome and had loved every minute of it. She and her friend (I’ll call him Jack to spare his blushes) had had a ball, doing all the touristy stuff, eating fabulous food, drinking wonderful wine and generally getting on like a house on fire. The weather had been superb all week, except for one evening when there was one hell of a thunderstorm.

“The storm was so bad that we decided not to go out,” she said, “so we ate in the hotel restaurant and then went to the hotel bar for a couple of drinks. Well, as soon as we got sat down, a bus load of Americans turned up and they were so loud, Jack and I couldn’t hear ourselves think!” At this point, I apologise to my dear American readers. I am merely telling the story. Please, do not shoot the messenger!

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“Jack suggested that we get a bottle of wine from the bar and take it to his room.”

“That sounds promising” I said.

“That’s what I thought. So we got the wine and went to his room. We opened the wine and then sat on his bed, drinking and chatting and laughing. Then at one point, there was a huge clap of thunder outside. Honestly, it was so loud that the room rattled and it made me jump. Jack laughed and put his arm around me. He said “You’re not scared of a bit of thunder, are you?” I put my head on his shoulder and said that it had just made me jump, that’s all” She paused.

“And then?” I asked in anticipation.

“And then…” There was another pause. “And then nothing”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean nothing happened. There we were, him with his arm around me, me with my head on his shoulder, both of us a little tipsy, and nothing happened. So what does that say?”

“It says that he’s one of those increasingly rare creatures known as a gentleman” I ventured.

“No, it says that I’m the fattest and ugliest woman in the world”

At that moment, I could have cried for her. I fumbled around for something wouldn’t sound like I was patronising or mollycoddling her, or worse, something that could be misconstrued and end up making her feel worse than she already did.

“Maybe he’s gay” My words were unbidden and blurted out.

“Nice try,” she said with a halfhearted laugh, “but there’s nothing more to read into it other than I’m so unattractive, even a drunk guy won’t bed me”

At this point, I got annoyed with her, because although overweight she certainly is, unattractive she certainly is not, and I told her so in no uncertain terms. Our call ended with me wishing I could do something, to intervene on her behalf, but knowing that, in reality, I could do nothing.

A couple of days later, she called me again. This time she was in a much happier place. The reason? Well, it seems that Jack had sensed her anticipation when he put his arm around her on the bed, and then her disappointment when nothing else happened. He had, therefore, spoken to her at work and confided a secret to her. He was gay. (At this point I nearly leaped off my chair with delight!) Not only that, but she had been so relieved that she had been unable to stop herself saying “So I’m not the fattest and ugliest woman in the world then?”

“Of course you’re not!” he scolded her “Oh my god, is that what you thought? Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry. Honestly, that never entered my head. If I wasn’t batting for the other team, I’d be in there like a shot!”

I know I said at the beginning that I am the world’s worst flirt, but to say “If I wasn’t batting for the other team, I’d be in there like a shot!”…Jack, I hereby hand you my crown!

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Percolate?

I looked at The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt and my heart sank. Percolate. That was the word the invisible elves at The Daily Post had come up with. Percolate. And they expect us hard-working writers to come up with something original, a unique post, using a word that makes everyone who hears it think of one thing and one thing only: Coffee. Occasionally, there will, of course, be an enlightened soul amongst us who thinks outside the box (I hate that phrase. I don’t know why I used it. Maybe I need coffee) and comes up with something along the lines of allowing an idea to percolate. Even then, it can almost be guaranteed that while they’re writing about allowing said idea to percolate, they’ll have a coffee. Giving us writers the word “percolate” is, in psychological terms, the worst word association game ever. The only useful information that anyone will garner from it is that writers like coffee!

OK, Eleanor, come on! You can do this! Think about the word “percolate” and see where your thought process takes you.

Percolate. A verb whose origin lies in the 17th century, stemming from the Latin percolat meaning “strained through” and the verb percolare, which in turn comes from the Latin per meaning through and colare meaning to strain.

We tend to think of Latin as a difficult, obsolete, archaic language. And yet, a great many of the words we use today, have their roots in Latin. We even use Latin in its original form, with phrases such as carpe diem (seize the day) and habeas corpus (literally meaning to have the body but used in a legal sense to denote wrongful imprisonment). Another example is vox nihili. Whereas vox populis means “the voice of the people”, vox nihili literally means “the voice of nothing”. It is used to describe an utterly pointless or meaningless statement, but it can also be used for the kind of spelling mistake or textual error that you get when one word is mistakenly substituted for another – such as happens – and often with hilarious results – when using autocorrect.

So there you have it. From percolate to autocorrect via Latin. Now, who’s got the coffee?

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A Little Prompting

It’s almost 1.15 p.m. I’ve just had lunch and have sat down at my computer, my gorgeous deaf cat Oscar in close attendance. He is perched on my writing pad that lies by my computer keyboard, occasionally patting at my fingers as they tap away at the keys.

So, what to write? I look around for inspiration. Nope. Nothing. I wonder if those lovely folk at The Daily Post have listed today’s prompt yet? Alas, no.

Something about their page does strike me, however. November’s current list of word prompts. Thus far, beginning with yesterday’s word “filthy” and working backwards, their list reads: Filthy. Tart. Fish. Lofty. Flames. Or. Vegetal. Primp. Second Thoughts. Irksome. Relish. Hyperbole. Base. Sincere. Bludgeon. Copycat.

As I writer, I love wordplay. Can I do something with this, I wonder? Let’s give it a try. Here goes!

“You’re nothing but a filthy tart! You strut around, smiling, beguiling, while you fish for compliments. Beware though, my dear. Those lofty ideas you have about yourself will fall victim to the flames of ridicule. Either your egotistical bubble will be cruelly burst, or you will watch as your looks compost down like so much vegetal waste. Oh! You can primp all you want. I still find you ugly. No, on second thoughts, I find you irksome and look forward to bringing you down a peg or two with relish. Even when you speak, your sentences are filled with hyperbole. Your words are base and anything but sincere. You do not caress others with your voice, you bludgeon.” 

I sat back, exhausted, my spleen thoroughly vented. I looked at her, waiting, expecting the inevitable retaliation. She smiled, held my gaze, and then she said simply, “I said exactly the same about you just the other night. So go ahead, throw your insults, but at least I’m original. I’m not a copycat like you!” 

Well folks, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Wes…and the Jimi Hendrix Experience

When I look back at the places that my husband and I have lived in, I find myself shuddering and smiling in equal measure. I suppose it is the same for most new couples. Unless you’re fortunate enough to start out with a lot of money, getting your own place means starting at the bottom and working your way up. And boy! Did we start at the bottom!

Our first place was a bedsit in Bolton, a town in Greater Manchester in the north-west of England. The single room – tucked away in the eaves of the building – was roughly the same size as an average single bedroom, and contained a bed (complete with a well-used mattress, though what exactly it had been used for, I shudder to think), an electric cooker, a sink and an electric bar heater. There was also a door to what passed as a bathroom, one just wide enough to house a shower cubicle and a toilet. The sloping ceiling was painted brown and cast a weird caramel hue onto the magnolia wood-chip wallpaper. It was dark and oppressive, and the strange aroma of damp wood, did nothing to lighten the atmosphere. Still, we were young and in love, marriage was still a dream away, and we were determined to make the best of what we had. As it turned out, we weren’t there for long, on account of the fact that we soon discovered where the smell of damp wood was coming from. It was coming from the bathroom floor, a fact that presented itself with irrefutable proof when my now hubby stepped out of the shower and put his foot right through it!

Our next place was much better. A small apartment, again in Bolton, it nevertheless had a separate kitchen and bathroom, and although the living room and bedroom were all one, the space was easily large enough. It was here that we met Wes.

Wes was an alcoholic and lived in the only ground floor apartment (the other seven apartments were on the first and second floors). He was in his early forties, but life, and alcohol, had given him the face of a man at least ten years older. My first impression of Wes was that he was shambolic. He was skinny, shuffled rather than walked, and his head – encircled with a shock of grey hair – was always held down. His filthy clothes were testament to the fact that doing the laundry was not on his list of priorities…but he was kind. In fact, he was the kindest person who lived in our building.

One day, he helped me carry some heavy shopping bags up to our apartment, and we got to talking, as neighbours generally do. He told me he had family, but that they rarely came to visit because they knew he had problems. His brother sometimes came, and invariably offer to buy him a drink at the local pub. I rolled my eyes inwardly, thinking “he knows you have alcohol issues and so he takes you to the pub”. Other than that, he spent his days alone, only venturing out to buy cider.

As kind as he was, he could also be infuriating, and many is the time that I had to bang on his door to ask him to turn down Jimi Hendrix and his Star Spangled Banner! To Wes – as to a great many people around the world – Hendrix was a god. He adored and idolised him more than anything else in his life. His dream, he said, was to play Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner while hoisting up an American flag. His rheumy eyes told me just how much that dream meant to him.

New Year’s Eve rolled around not long after we’d moved into our apartment. Given that it was our first New Year’s Eve in our new home, we decided to spend it quietly, just the two of us. We got some beers, and a bottle of champagne to open at midnight, and gathered our favourite music cassettes (you can tell how long ago this is now, right?) into our ideal playlist. At around 10 p.m. there was a knock on the door. It was Wes. He had a bunch of candles in his hand. Rather embarrassed, he said that his electricity meter had run out and he didn’t have enough coins to put in. All his lights had gone out and he wondered if we had a lighter he could borrow to light some candles.

“Of course” I said, turning from the door to go and get the lighter. The door had almost swung shut when I doubled back and opened it again. “Wes, who are you celebrating New Year with?” I asked.

“Er…no…no one,” he answered, “just me”

“We’ve room for one more if you want to join us?” I said.

“No, it’s OK. I’ll be OK”

“Like hell you will. I’m not letting you sit downstairs in the dark. Not on New Year’s Eve. Get yourself in here” I demanded, holding the door open.

He smiled. He positively beamed. “I’ve got some cider. I’ll go and get it. You’ve got to bring a bottle when you’re invited somewhere, haven’t you?”

“Absolutely!” I replied “Go and get it then. I’ll leave the door on the latch and you can let yourself in”

A few moments later and he was back, two bottles of cider in hand, plus an electric guitar. He knew from previous conversations that my hubby played guitar, and so he thought they could maybe have a jamming session. My hubby didn’t need asking twice! I prepared the drinks, while Wes and my hubby tuned the guitars and plugged in my hubby’s small amp. We couldn’t help but notice that Wes was holding his guitar upside down. Thinking he hadn’t realised, we told him.

“I know” he said, “I’m left handed. I can’t afford a left handed guitar though, so I play it like this”

And oh boy! Could he play! I kid you not, my dear readers, he could play like Eric Clapton! For near on half an hour, hubby and I sat, mouths agape, listening to him play. This shambolic man, who always walked with his head down, hardly daring to make eye contact; the man who others in our building referred to as “the drunk”; the man who was prepared to sit in semi-darkness because he couldn’t afford to put money in his electricity meter; he could play guitar easily as well as Eric Clapton! What on earth was wrong with the world? He should be on the stage, not wasting away in some bedsit!

That night was one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. We drank, Wes and hubby played, even I joined in on percussion (pots and pans and a couple of chopsticks are worthy of any drumkit!) We talked too. We encouraged Wes to get out and follow his dreams, even though he laughed when we told him he should be performing, either as a solo guitarist or in a band.

My hubby and I had to move not long after. Opportunities came up elsewhere that we couldn’t turn down. On the day we left, Wes shook my hubby warmly by the hand and gave me a hug. He said he’d been thinking about what we said on New Year’s Eve, and he was going to try and get out, give it a go. I told him I believed in him, and then we left. I never saw him again.

I think of Wes often. I wonder whether the drink finally dragged him under, whether his family finally gave a shit about him, or whether he found the strength to kick and to make it out. I hope he did. I hope he got out. I hope he realised his dream and that he’s out there somewhere, hoisting his US flag while Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner blares out in the background. More than anything, I hope he made it.

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Clement Clarke Moore and The Cats Who Saved Christmas

We all know the Christmas poem, “Twas The Night Before Christmas”. What is less known, however, is the author of this verse which makes up a great part of our Christmas traditions and customs – certainly in the UK and the US. The poem – originally entitled “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” – was first published on December 23, 1823 in New York’s “Troy Sentinel”. When it first appeared, no name was attached to it, and it wasn’t until thirteen years later that a professor and poet by the name of Clement Clarke Moore, claimed authorship of the verse. He said that his housekeeper, with neither his knowledge nor permission, had sent the poem that he had written for his children, to the newspaper. In 1844, the family of a man named Henry Livingston Jr. claimed that their father had been reciting the self same poem, “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” to them for fifteen years before it was published. The Livingston family even said they had proof – a dated, handwritten copy of the poem with all the marks and revisions. Unfortunately, the Livingston family house burned down, taking any proof that may or may not have existed, with it. And so, until evidence is provided to prove otherwise, “A Visit From Saint Nicholas”, now ubiquitously known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, is attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. Thus, my poem, “The Cats Who Saved Christmas”, is my attempt at a Christmas verse in the style of Mr. Clement Clarke Moore. 

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‘Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a mouse.

(Well, with a house full of cats

It has to be said

The mice would be daft

To venture from bed!)

 

The twinkling lights

On our tree in the corner,

Lit up the fairy

As if to adorn her.

And our big old cat George,

From his milk bowl did lumber,

As the cats and I

Drifted off into slumber.

 

When all at once I was woken

By the sound of a hoof,

Tapping ever so gently

On the snow covered roof.

“What on earth could that be?”

I said to myself.

When from the roof there came tumbling

A colourful elf.

 

I opened the window

And said, “Are you all right?

Whatever brings you here

On this cold Christmas night?”

He said, “I’ve brought Santa,

His reindeers are fickle.

They won’t pull the sleigh

And he’s in a right pickle.

 

“There’s hundreds and hundreds

Of good girls and boys

Who’ll wake up in the morning

Without any toys”

“You’d better come in then”

Said I to the elf,

And I couldn’t help but giggle

In spite of myself.

 

He picked himself up

And brushed himself off,

Straightened his tunic

And gave a small cough.

Then he jumped up to the window,

But tumbled back on the floor.

I said “Maybe it’s easier

If I just open the door”

 

“You say you’ve brought Santa

But where is he?” said I,

When all of a sudden

I heard a loud cry.

It began in the chimney

And continued apace,

Then into the hearth tumbled Santa

With soot on his face.

 

“You’d think that by now

I’d have the hang of that.”

He said as he shook out

The soot from his hat.

“I’m in a right pickle

My reindeer’s say they are sick”

And he sat there so solemn,

This not-so-jolly Saint Nick.

 

Poor Santa!

He did look ever so sad,

And you could tell that his little

Elf helper felt bad.

Then Santa revealed

Why they’d come all this way.

“Could I borrow your cats

To save Christmas Day?”

 

“Well of course!” I replied

With a startled cry,

“But how on earth are you going

To make my cats fly?”

“With pixie dust” said Santa,

“Though I’m ever so fond

Of a few magic words

And I’m a whizz with a wand”

 

So up on the roof

My cats did assemble,

All excited and happy

And all of a tremble.

Ever so gently

They were hitched to the sleigh,

Santa sprinkled the pixie dust

And they were away!

 

Georgie and Oscar,

And Tigger and Kitty,

Ringo and Dusty

Looking ever so pretty.

There was Monkey and Bertie,

And Big Teddy too!

Bosie, Mikki and Alfie

And that still left a few!

 

Gingie and Snorky

Brought up the rear,

While Bubbles meowed loudly

For the whole world to hear.

Then there was Carino,

The new cat of the house,

Up at the front

With Honey Mouse.

 

Off they all flew

With their cargo of toys,

To deliver to the houses

Of good girls and boys.

All through the night

They flew the world over,

From Timbuktu

To the White Cliffs of Dover.

 

And when at last

Their night’s work was all done,

They returned to my rooftop

Where they’d begun.

“I knew so many cats

Would one day be handy”

Said I to Santa

As I gave him a brandy.

 

Santa said that my cats

Had been most well behaved,

And we all raised a toast

Because Christmas was saved!

Then we hugged one another,

And said our farewells,

As the church in the distance

Began ringing its bells.

 

Soon the whole world

Would be stretching and yawning,

And bidding glad tidings

On Christmas morning.

Back in bed with my cats

I flicked out the light.

“Merry Christmas to all

And to all, a goodnight!”

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A Bowl Of False Teeth

“She’s the only girl I know that can go and play in the coal bunker and come out still as clean as she was when she went in”

This is one of the lines used ubiquitously by my family to describe my eldest sister. Another one is “Marilyn wouldn’t even open the front door unless her socks were even” It’s true. Marilyn was a very neat and tidy little girl, one that could not get dirty even if she tried. It was as if she was fashioned from Teflon. Nothing stuck to her. Unlike me. I only had to step outside for five minutes and I come in looking like I’d been dragged backwards through a muddy field!

So when, upon leaving school, Marilyn announced that she wanted to go into nursing, the family were naturally sceptical. “She won’t last five minutes as a nurse” “Does she know that nurses can’t stop to pull their socks level every five minutes?” “The minute someone throws up on her, she’ll be running for the hills” These were just some of barbs and jibes used by various family members when Marilyn told them what she wanted to do. My Mum and Dad were the exception. Oh, they thought similar things all right, but they kept their thoughts private. Outwardly, they couldn’t have been more supportive, and it was that support – 35 years ago now – that went a long way into making Marilyn the nurse that she is today. Yes! She’s still a nurse!

Marilyn studied and did her nursing training in Preston, where she would stay throughout the week and then come home in the weekends. I remember one weekend – I think it was around 1980/81 – when she came home, my Mum asking her how things were going. By this time she had been placed on a geriatric ward in Preston Royal Infirmary. She said that everything was going really well, but that one of the other trainee nurses had got into trouble with Matron Moody. Naturally we wanted to know more.

“Every evening,” she began, “those patients that have false teeth, they take them out and hand them to one of the nurses. The nurse has several separate bowls, each with the patient’s name written on it, into which she’ll put the teeth. They’re then taken and washed and put into Steradent to soak overnight, and then we give them back to the patients in the morning. Just lately, it’s been me that’s taken care of it, but the other night, I was busy helping Matron Moody with a patient who’d just been admitted, and so another trainee said she’d do. She’s only just been put on our ward, and so she wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of everything yet. I finished with the newly admitted patient and then went to help her wash the teeth and put them into soak. I couldn’t believe it when I got to her. She’d put all the teeth in one bowl! We hadn’t got a clue which set belonged to which patient! When she realised her mistake, the poor thing was nearly in tears and begged me not to tell matron. Of course I wasn’t going to tell matron, but we had to sort this out, and quick!

“There were five patients who wore false teeth. Five lots of false teeth to get back to their rightful owners. We washed the teeth and then went onto the ward, handed a set to each patient, and asked them to try them. Out of the five, one of them fitted, so we put those in the bowl with the corresponding name. We continued as a process of elimination until we had just two sets left. (She pointed out that they were washing them after each patient had tried them, just in case you’re wondering) So far, we had done all this without Matron Moody noticing that anything was amiss. We were almost home and dry. We handed the teeth to the two patients and looked, hopefully, at them. That was our fatal mistake. We shouldn’t have looked. We’d got the teeth the wrong way round, and our poor patients were laying there, one looking like she had just sucked a tart lemon, while the other looked like Liberace! By the time we’d finished laughing, Matron Moody had come to see what all the commotion was about. We tried explaining what had happened, but she didn’t see the funny side. Moody by name, Moody by nature!”

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Gone Fishing!

Given that my last post landed somewhere between downright scary and truly bizarre, I thought I would try and brighten everyone’s day, by telling you about the one and only time I ever went fishing.

As a child, I idolised my brother. He is fourteen years older than me, and growing up, he was my hero. He adored me just as much as I idolised him. I’m not saying this to sound big-headed or gloating, but merely to give you an idea of our relationship. He was my protector, best friend, play buddy…the one person I could get into scrapes with and know that he wouldn’t tell. He joined the navy straight after leaving school at sixteen, but whenever he came home on leave, he would make sure that a large portion of his time was spent with me. I remember one time – I think I must have been around six or seven-years-old – the fair was in town just as he came home.

“Mum, is it OK to take Stinky to the fair tonight?” I remember him asking. (“Stinky” was his pet name for me, had been ever since he was forced to change my nappy while babysitting me once)

“Yes,” Mum replied, “but you don’t let her go on any fast rides and don’t let her eat the burgers. You don’t know what they put it them”

“OK” he said, and winked at me.

Later that night, we came home after he had taken me on every fast ride I asked to go on and buying me two burgers! If my Mum ever happens to read this, I’m sure it will be illuminating to her, because we never told her to this day! (Sorry Mum)

So when, aged around six, I was given the opportunity to go fishing with my brother, I jumped at the chance. I was so excited, helping him pack up all his tackle, pulling a face at all the maggots wriggling around in the plastic bait box, and feeling a bit put out when he laughed at me for saying that he’d “already caught a feather” (well how was I to know it was called a “fly”? I was only six!)

Packed up and wrapped up (it was February and freezing!) we set off. It was a good half hour’s walk to the spot on the canal where we would settle down to see what we could catch. I was told to make sure I kept very quiet, so as not to scare the fish, and to date, I’m convinced that it’s the only time in my life that I have managed to either stay quiet or speak in a whisper for an entire afternoon.

Our catch that day speaks volumes for the kind of area I grew up in. At the end of the afternoon, we packed up all our tackle once more, knowing that our endeavours had netted us: four old boots (none of which matched), three inner tubes for bicycle tyres, two actual bicycle tyres and a shopping trolley! I know that we would have caught something else too, although I have no idea what it was. All I know is that the hook caught on something, and, unable to pull it free, my brother had to cut the line, cursing all the while that he was losing “his best fucking fly!”

Once back home, my Mum asked me whether I’d enjoyed myself. Beaming and giggling, I told her all about our afternoon, all the weird and wonderful things we’d caught, and, I said, “Alan lost his best fucking fly” To this day, I can still see the look that my Mum gave my brother for swearing in front of me. It was a look that only mother’s can give. You all know them. They’re the kind of look that can kill a grown man at twenty paces! My nanna, on the other hand, thought the whole shebang was hilarious! Laughing and giggling almost as much as I was, she sat me on her knee and said, “Fishing teaches you a lot about life, you know”

“Does it?” I asked “How?”

“Well, it teaches you to be patient, to wait for the things that you want. It teaches you to be quiet. And, most importantly, it teaches you that even fish wouldn’t get into trouble if they just kept their mouths shut.”

Thanks nanna!

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No Good Deed…

There is a saying. “No good deed goes unpunished” When I was younger, I never fully understood that saying. “How can you be punished for doing a good deed?” I used to think. Naturally, as I got older, the sentiment behind the saying became all too apparent. Last night was a case in point.

Around 8 p.m. last night, my husband and I decided that, since neither of us felt like cooking anything, we’d have a walk to the local pita house and get a takeaway. It was a cold night – around 1°C when we left the house – but since the pita house is only approximately a 15 minute walk, we thought that the fresh air would do us good.

We walked barely one street from our house (we live semi-rurally and so the streets here are rather small), when we noticed a dog. It was a lovely King Charles Spaniel; a happy, friendly, bouncy little thing that we recognised at once, primarily because on two separate occasions we have found the dog out on the street and taken it back to its owner. The first time we took it back, a couple of our neighbours said they had seen it out overnight (none of them had bothered to try and take it in or get it back home), yet when we returned it, the owner seemed blissfully unaware that his dog was missing. The second time – which was just a few weeks later – the owner apologised, said he realised the dog was missing, and was just about to start looking for her. We told him then that he needed to take more care of the dog. The roads may be small where we live, but that doesn’t stop some people driving too fast along them. We have sadly lost one of our cats on the road here. The dog’s owner said he would take more care.

So, last night, with the lovely happy, bouncy little dog in my arms, we knocked on the owner’s front door. The conversation went like this:

“Excuse me,” my husband said, “but your dog is out again”

“Yes, I know” he replied. He couldn’t have been more blasé if he tried.

“Well, with all due respect, this is the third time that we’ve had to bring your dog back to you”

“Well, if you find it a fourth time you can kill her”

“I beg your pardon?” I said. I was sure I must have misheard him.

“I said if you find her a fourth time you can kill her” He saw my expression and the fact that I was now holding the dog tighter. “I’m joking”

“You shouldn’t make jokes like that. I don’t appreciate someone talking about killing their dog. Not even in jest”

“OK, sorry”

“Why do we keep finding your dog on the street?” my husband asked.

“Why? Because I can’t afford a fence or a gate”

“Well then you need to keep her inside”

“I do keep her inside, but if someone comes in she gets out”

“I’m not trying to have a go at you, but if she’s out on the street she could get hit by a car”

“She’s already been hit by a car once. Her leg was broken. So she’s been warned”

“What do you mean ‘she’s been warned’? She’s a dog! You are responsible for her. Don’t you realise that if she’s out on the street and she gets hit by a car, you could lose her”

“Then she’s gone” he shrugged.

“You don’t care?” I demanded.

At this point, a car pulled into the driveway and a young couple got out. The young guy said he was the dog’s owner’s nephew. Thinking that we may have been getting crossed purposes, we explained to the guy’s nephew and his girlfriend about the dog and he said he understood what we meant and explained to his uncle. As he took the dog from us, my husband said, “We’ll leave it like this, but if we find your dog out again, we’ll get the police to bring it back”

At that point, at the mention of the police, the young guy’s demeanour changed completely. He became very aggressive and threatening, telling us to get off the property (we were leaving and were almost off the driveway). Now on the public street, he got right up in my husband’s face and was yelling and swearing at him. My husband is not a big man, but neither is he easily intimidated, and so he stood his ground. I meanwhile, told the guy that I was now calling the police. I did.

The guy’s girlfriend managed to drag him away and into the house, while we waited on the street for the police to arrive. It’s important to note that at no point did we set foot back on their property. However, five minutes later, he was back out of the house, demanding that we left. I pointed out that we were standing on a public road and so consequently, he could not tell us to leave. In fact, we had every right to stand where we were as we were waiting for the police. His girlfriend now came out of the house again and asked if we had indeed called the police, or if I meant that I was going to. I told her that I had called them and that they were on their way. The look of fear that flashed across her face told me that it was highly likely that either her or her boyfriend were known to the police. Again, she dragged him away, back onto the property. A couple of minutes later and the two of them drove off in the car they had arrived in.

My husband and I waited 45 minutes, in the now freezing cold, for the police to arrive. When I called them back, they said that someone would come, but that they were busy and so it would take a while! When I told them that the guy who was threatening us had driven off, they said – and I quote – “Then it’s better that you go to a police station tomorrow morning and make a complaint there. There’s no point in us coming if he’s not there” So much for Belgian law and order!

With no other choice, we carried on our walk, though neither of us felt hungry any more. We are now debating whether to make a complaint to the police or not. The fact that none of the three people we encountered last night appeared to be completely stable, leaves me fearing that if the police do happen to knock on his door, one of them may end up taking their anger/frustration out on the dog. And then I would never forgive myself.

No good deed goes unpunished…but it won’t stop me doing them.

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