Friends

23 September 2017

A MIND OF ITS OWN



THIS IS A TRUE STORY,
ONLY THE NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT THE IDIOTS WHO WENT DOWN THIS ROUTE!

'Cheap to run and easy to maintain,' the salesman told the gathering crowd. 'And so safe you could let your granny ride it. She couldn't come to any harm on a three-wheeler.' He was demonstrating the Ariel 3, a new kind of motorised three-wheel machine, bright orange, with a basket at the front. The man said the contraption was designed with women in mind and, by the interest shown on the onlookers' faces, the ploy was working. Maddy Fox was wide awake by this time, having travelled in by train in a half-conscious state due to the late night she'd had. She didn't remember alighting at New Street or being transported up the escalator, in fact she might have stumbled over the rope barrier had the salesman not shouted a warning. He was a real loudmouth, and he'd made her feel such a fool dragging her across the display area and inviting her to sit on the orange machine until she'd fully recovered.
   
She had to admit the seat was comfortable and her feet easily touched the ground, and she was quite taken with the idea of travelling to work on the cheap, but could she afford it?
   
'Money back in no time,' the man said. 'A gallon of petrol is nothing compared to the cost of travelling by train five days a week, and you'd get the extra benefit at weekends. And think of how nippy it is. No parking problems or waiting in traffic queues. Take my word for it, a whole new world would open up.'
   
A week later Maddy bought one. She had asked several friends what they thought of the new invention and they viewed it as a worthwhile buy. So, since the consensus of opinion was that these machines would become fashionable, she bought one. She had never ridden anything like it before, and before long she knew she would never ride anything like it again.

The Ariel 3 had a mind of its own. It had no problem travelling without a rider, and often did just that, but, when Maddy mounted, the thing refused to budge. She would turn the ignition key and pedal like crazy, but it wouldn't start, then when she climbed off to see what was wrong, the stupid little brake lever would disconnect and the contrivance would take off. As an added exasperation, on the rare occasions she got it going, the spark plugs furred up, yet remained in perfect condition on its solo performance. Nevertheless she persevered, and discovered that if she cleaned the plugs the night before all would be well.
   
Bernice and Margaret, the two girls Maddy worked with, were impressed, and both were brave enough to have a go. Accordingly, at lunchtime, they gathered in Church Street for a trial run, Maddy starting the machine and quickly alighting so that Bernice could hop on. Without fail it took off before she could hoist a leg, careered mutinously down Church Street, and eventually glided to a halt in a vacant parking space. Bernice slapped her thigh and declared it to be the funniest thing she'd ever seen, but Maddy was overcome by embarrassment, feeling she was doomed to be forever making excuses for the machine's devastating conduct.

One wet and windy evening, a month after taking possession of her flashy tormentor, Maddy, with a good deal of trepidation, kick-started the bike and heaved a loud sigh when for once the thing jerked into life. She quickly set off for home, cutting down the side road which led to New Street. She took the corner carefully, giving pedestrians the right of way lest the machine chose that moment to romp, then prepared to take off. Sadly, her trouser-leg caught on the pedal and the bike tipped her onto the road, then shook itself upright and advanced up the congested street amidst buses, cars and taxis, launching itself directly at the traffic lights, where it crashed, unharmed and in complete control of its own destiny, while Maddy viewed the new invention with all the hatred she could muster.

For two days, as if sensing her disapproval, the bike functioned precisely as it should and Maddy was endowed with a confidence hitherto lacking in their relationship, finally consoled that her money had not been wasted. Almost in celebration, she removed the basket from the handlebars and affixed a square case to the back, more in keeping with her role as city traveller and less likely to strew the contents on the ground. Securing the case with colourful spiders, an added precaution since her handbag, knitting, and lunch box were inside, she donned her helmet and journeyed home, exhilarated for the first time to be handling her newfangled, dutiful machine.
    It was Friday and the traffic was bumper to bumper on the steep hill where Maddy lived, but she didn't care. Gleefully she wove slowly in and out, overtaking big cars and small ones, occasionally encouraging the Ariel's progress with a toot on her horn. But half way up the hill, as she was debating the purchase of fish and chips, she heard someone yell, 'Hey, blondie, your bag just fell off.'
   
Over her shoulder, Maddy saw the blue case bounding on its corners down the hill. Hurriedly she parked the bike and ran to retrieve it.
   
The demon machine took off.
   
Maddy's hands flew to her face, watching with horror as it crossed the road and mounted the pavement, then rode the railway station's brick exterior like the wall-of-death, before turning an expert somersault and landing upright on the footpath. But it wasn't over. The impetus drove it back up the wall and sent it spiraling through another somersault before crashing down and narrowly missing a band of teenagers who watched with captivated expressions.

It had to go, and next day it was returned it to the garage from whence it came. Maddy demanded her money back, but was persuaded by the manager to try another machine. She did, and bought a Honda 90. Silver coloured and peaceful-looking.

Her friends, Bernice and Margaret, liked the look of the Ariel so much they each acquired one. Only Bernice had trouble, when her machine drove backwards through the Queensway tunnel - on its own.
   
Maddy wondered ... but it wasn't possible. Her bike was locked in a garage.
   
Wasn't it?

20 September 2017

CONTACT THE ELDERLY

Contact the Elderly

Contact the Elderly (www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk) is an organisation that does just that. I joined last year, thinking it might be an outlet I might find beneficial.
Not long after submitting my application I was visited by two people, the organiser for my area and a driver. No, not the organiser’s personal chauffeur, it was a lady who would become my dedicated driver on the third Sunday of every month when all the members were taken to someone’s house and served with afternoon tea.
It sounded a bit formal but once I got into the swing of things I realised how much these people are doing for us oldies.  
The organiser certainly knows how to organise. Everything seems to run so smoothly, I guess she’s a whiz at sorting problems. We go to a different house every time, the volunteers taking it in turns to feed us. Oooh, you should see some of the food they serve. Dainty (crusts removed) sandwiches with various fillings. After that comes the sausage rolls or pies, celery sticks and tomatoes, and other items too numerous to mention. And then little cakes and big cake appear … with creamy or chocolate fillings and toppings to die for. And while all this is going on the male members of the team keep us amused with stories of their families etc.
We have been on outings; last year I was invited to a Christmas party organised by another charity organisation. Can’t wait to see if more invitations come this year.
With us all being oldies it follows that we lose one or two members, which is sad, but there always seems to be new people joining.
A recent visit was to the home of a young couple where tea was served in a conservatory with a wonderful view of their garden.  Somehow it didn’t matter that it was pouring with rain outside. The display of food was mouth-watering and the cake was divine … given the chance I would have eaten all of it.
I sat next to the man of the house and had a very pleasant chat with him. We had things in common, the internet being one of them, and of course I told him about this blog. Quick as a flash he had his phone out and had opened the blog. He said he might look in again and read some of my posts and stories. If he is reading this I hope he won’t mind this mention of my visit to his lovely home.
I am on my second personal driver now, not sure what happened to the first, but I’m pleased to be driven around by my new one. On occasions she sends texts to check on me and has even invited me to have lunch with her one day.
All in all, the experience is fulfilling. I sometimes wish we could meet more often but then I realise that to do so could kill the enthusiasm of both volunteer and guest. As it is we have something to look forward to and that is worth a ton of gold. 

16 September 2017

BLOG FOLLOWING

I am curious about people who follow blogs yet never make themselves known? I see new photos appearing on my followers list but all they reveal is the person’s name. The fact that their name and photograph appears on my blog means they have decided to follow me. Occasionally I have tried to find their blogs but they don’t seem to have them, so unless they leave a comment I can’t find them. I can find all the other blogs they visit but don’t see their names there either.
If I want to join a blog I am obliged to give name and details. That’s fine. After all the blog owner should know who has joined his or her readers list. Sadly, this information is not for the blog owner, it's for Google!
What I can’t understand is why folk become followers without knowing anything about the one they are following, after all it is not just a blog they are following, it’s a real person who writes and organises it. It would be easier to pop in for a read without bothering to join the ‘followers’ list. A bit like silent stalking, they’re there but we can’t see them.
~~~Waving to anyone who reads this without giving a name~~~
A lot of the ‘new faces’ belong to advertisers; again, I can't see why they bother when we can’t get in touch with them if we want to.
Has anyone else noticed/experienced this?
Once upon a time I had a lot of anonymous visitors, which was even more frustrating, but after one particularly bad experience with someone who preferred to insult and criticise without giving a name, I opted for comment moderation. It worked.
Meanwhile, here's a message for my regular visitors:
I love you all!
 

09 September 2017

'Value for Money' (A Repeat)

Most of the shopping had been put away. Only the packets of instant gravy and cook-in-sauces needed to be filed in date order and the milk cartons stacked so that the boys wouldn't open the last one first. Susan glanced around the kitchen then decided that the last of her purchases, the wooden rolling pin, the blue and white dinner plates, and a bouquet of silk flowers, could wait until she had supped a mug of tea. There was no hurry, so long as all evidence of shopping was cleared away before Henry finished his surgery. He was a stickler for tidiness and, with her head the way it was, she didn't want to incur his displeasure.

It wasn't the crowded supermarket that gave her the headache, it was the casual bumping into Julian, the man of her life twenty years ago. Her stomach eddied at the memory of her storming round the corner of the dog food aisle, her loaded trolley showing a reluctance to conform, veering in the opposite direction and colliding into the conveyance belonging to Julian Binchy. She was sure she had blasphemed before looking up, but Julian made no mention of it. He simply rushed to her side, agog with recognition.

Susan sat in the kitchen rocker to drink her Camomile tea. Nursing Henry's Man.United mug with two hands, she drifted back to the moment of impact when the trolleys locked in a peculiar embrace.

'Sue Fassett,' he exclaimed. 'I don't believe it.'

'It's Weldon now,' she said, reaching for a packet of Kipper's favourite mixer. It wasn't on the list but it was a great way to hide her confusion.

Flashbacks of their courtship assailed her, twenty years shrinking to nothing. It seemed only yesterday that Julian had waltzed off with Sadie, a fashion model with hooks instead of claws. That last day Sadie had been dressed in a skimpy top and bottom-hugging shorts, scarlet-tipped toes protruding from strappy high-heeled sandals. She had clung like a leach to Julian. Her Julian.

'You've got a dog then?'

His words jerked her attention back to her surroundings, replacing Sadie's image with his own dark features, the mole on his chin being the first thing she focused on. In her hand was a can of tripe which Kipper would demolish in two seconds flat. 'Labrador,' she said. 'Kipper, after the theft of same. We'd just got him home from the farm. Six weeks old, with a liking for fish. He didn't go for meat much ....' She stopped, uncomfortably aware that she was babbling.

'We?'

'My husband, Henry.'

'I married Sadie, you know.'

Susan wasn't surprised. Sadie wouldn't have been satisfied until she completely removed Julian from Fassett territory. He wasn't difficult to capture. One wiggle of those curvaceous hips and he was hers, Susan's stalky, flat-chested body immediately forgotten. The wretchedness was acute, but she was freed from her pain by Henry arriving on the scene like a rescuing knight. He was second best, but she married him anyway, liking his attentiveness and the adoration in his eyes.

Julian gave an account of his marriage, interspersed with lukewarm apologies for hindering other shoppers. One balding pensioner gave vent to his anger when attempts to secure dog biscuits were impeded by Julian's trolley. He waved his stick at Julian, almost reducing a pyramid of cans to rubble and robbing Julian of his eyesight at the same time. But it was a thief, armed with perfume and fleeing from a red-faced security guard, that prompted Julian to suggest they transfer to another aisle. Since she was fed-up with being jostled by exasperated customers Susan hinted that a visit to the coffee shop would be better, and she experienced an excited shiver when Julian endowed her with one of his lovable grins.

Julian ordered black coffee and paid for his own. Recollections of going dutch filtered into Susan's head as she tendered the money for a Cappuccino and a packet of five digestives, which Julian helped to consume while continuing the Sadie saga. Sadie had gone off with a doctor, not because she loved him, but because he would give her a good time. 'Sexually.' Julian whispered to avoid the twitching ears of a woman at the adjoining table. 'As if a research chemist doesn't know how to……'

'Shush!' Susan stopped him, fearing he might say something untoward and that she might be tempted to launch into a dialogue of self-pity. She knew about doctors, the extra hours they were forced to work, their tiredness when eventually they got home, and the irritableness. Sadie would have had quite a shock and serve her right.

There were numerous occasions during the twenty years when Susan wished she had married Julian instead of Henry, certain that her first-love would be more tolerant of her clutter and disorganisation. She leaned forward to catch what Julian was saying, deafened by a commotion coming from a nearby table, where three bellowing kids were hell bent on driving their mother insane.

Julian raised his voice. 'She knew I wouldn't cope alone, but not once did she offer to cook me a meal or do a bit of washing. All I ate for months was sandwiches. I lost count of the times I rang to ask for help.'

Fancy not being able to cook, Susan thought, studying her nibbled biscuit. Goodness, Henry could produce a souffle at the drop of a hat and his bread was always done to a turn. In fact, for a whole month after the operation to remove her appendix, he provided the most varied and appetising meals.

'Couldn't get in the sink for crockery,' Julian said. 'I asked Sadie once if I could use her dishwasher, but she refused.'

Henry, of course, wouldn't leave the house if dishes were waiting to be washed. 

'And the laundry just piled up. I got fed up in the end and bought new shirts.'

'Couldn't you have put things to soak while you were at work?' Susan asked.

'How could I, with the sink full of crocks?'

Susan drank the last of her coffee and thought of Henry doing the washing when she was laid up - his, hers and the boys. There wasn't a sock left for her to do when she was mobile again. He was brilliant with the washing machine. He even controlled the programmes to avoid over-spinning which apparently minimised the ironing.

'That's enough about my problems,' said Julian. 'Tell me about yours.'

But Susan hadn't any to relate. In one hour Julian had unknowingly demolished every one. The mind was a funny thing, it played tricks without one knowing, blotting out things like meanness and self-importance. But Julian had lost no time in reminding her and the pedestal had finally collapsed.

'I'm afraid I must dash, Julian. The boys will be home from school and there's Henry's tea to prepare.' Ignoring his forlorn look, she picked up her bag. 'Goodbye. It was very pleasant seeing you again.'

Before he could reply she trotted off to collect her trolley, already planning a change to the evening menu. She would freeze the cod and serve instead an asparagus starter, fillet steak with pepper sauce, green beans and potato salad. Henry's favourite. Long overdue.

When the blue and white china plates were washed and positioned on the dresser, Susan arranged the silk flowers in a terracotta jug. She gathered up the cellophane wrapper, a profusion of rubber bands, and the till receipt. She glanced at the total, the most she had spent in one go for some considerable time. Sixty-nine pounds exactly. The check-out girl had smiled as she said it, then asked if it was more or less what Susan expected. Susan had replied that it was the best day's shopping she had ever done. Real value for money.