Friends

15 December 2017

AWAY FOR CHRISTMAS



The magnolia-painted window-sill in the hotel bedroom was wide enough for Hilary Barnes to sit with her legs drawn to her chest, arms encircling her knees in a pose reminiscent of dreamy childhood days. The room itself possessed a charm that reminded her of the house she grew up in, but the view through the window was as bleak as her state of mind. It was Ted's idea to come away for Christmas, declaring that their house would be lonely and far too depressing. She was equally depressed here, even the virgin snow shrouding the fields and hanging from the branches of an elderly oak did nothing to cheer her. It only served to remind her of Greg's childhood love of coasting down the road on a makeshift sledge, annoying neighbours with his spirited yells of pure joy.
              
‘I'll be home before you know it,’ he said when he rang to break the news.
              
Would he? Or would he be maimed or killed.
              
She stared through the window, looking beyond her own reflection at the white hedgerow where houses now glowed, transformed by fairy lights twinkling in the descending gloom.

Christmas Eve. It wasn't a time for sadness, but how could she not be sad when Greg's regiment was this very day flying to war zones, where God only knew what might transpire. She ran a finger over a slat in the wooden shutter, suddenly driven to check the whole thing for dust as though some sort of action would make things right.

Then, for the first time, anger swelled within her and she pounded the shutter with her fist. How dare they whisk a young man into danger without any regard for his tender age. She sucked her knuckle, grateful for the hurt yet moderately stronger for having released some of her fury. In the corridor, the maid loaded her trolley with discarded glasses; remnants of celebrations. Hilary wiped her hand on her plaid skirt. Maybe tomorrow would be better, by then Greg would be installed in new barracks. However, no matter how long he was to serve there, she would never become accustomed to her teenage son being in the firing line.

The snow fell steadily during the night and by morning the landscape was an unsullied wonderland. Christmas Day. A day of celebration. A day to give thanks for life's blessings.

Hilary contemplated the white world, seeing a young couple trudging arm-in-arm along the lane, heading towards the church, two enthusiastic little girls following behind, slipping and sliding in fur-topped boots, their laughter-lit faces encompassed by red-striped pompom hats, matching scarves taking wing as they scampered in the drifts. As she watched, she had an urge to attend a Christmas service, to sing carols with Ted at her side, to pray for Greg and plead for his safekeeping.
              
Ted needed no persuading. As soon as she mentioned her intention, he opened the wardrobe and took out their coats. 'Let's get there early,' he said as he helped her into the yellow sheepskin. Understanding her need he made no mention of her customary absence of spiritual leanings.
              
Outside the hotel, Ted took her arm, guided her down the drive, circling the frozen fishpond and passing between barricades of newly-cleared snow until they reached the wrought-iron gates. Five minutes later they walked into the ancient parish church. It was alive with the atmosphere of Christmas. The grey stone walls were festooned with holly, an elaborately-carved pulpit decorated with berry-laden foliage. A colossal Christmas tree dominated one corner, adorned with gold and silver baubles, shimmering tinsel, and a gold star at the top. Hilary could smell the pine even from where she stood. To the right of the tree, reverent children viewed a glorious nativity display, quietly uttering ooh's and ah's as each one pointed to something of note.
              
Hilary and Ted slid into a side pew behind the buzzing congregation. Hilary breathed in, enjoying the sting of cool air entering her lungs, for her insides were aglow with the character of her surroundings, and she wondered why her inaugural Christmas Day worship had taken so long to achieve.

During the ceremony she joined in the carols and intently listened to sermons and messages. She prayed with others for compassion, for liberation, and good will, as well as for Greg and his colleagues somewhere in a distant war-torn country.
              
With the closing carol sung, she felt in her pocket for her sheepskin gloves. A few couples rose to depart, but the minister held up his hand and they sat down again.

A small group advanced towards the altar as the minister announced that a christening was to take place; he invited the congregation to attend. Hilary nudged Ted and looked at him enquiringly. He nodded and smiled, and squeezed her hand.
              
The christening was soon over, a quiet service which could barely be heard at the back. After a final hymn, the minister toured the entire church with the child in his arms, her fingers clutching the stole around his neck, her shawl draping the front of his surplice, her residence in his arms making him beam with pride as he introduced her to everyone as Christine Beverley Anne.
              
'How do you do,' Hilary said, when it was her turn to be presented, automatically reaching out to move the dribble-damp shawl from the baby's chin. Christine Beverley Anne transferred her grip to the minister's immaculate surplice and, as the baby gurgled, Hilary began privately to celebrate Christ's birth, as they were glorying in the birth of this baby, as she and Ted did at the christening of their only child. In that instant she knew that Greg would return unharmed. Through this small being Jesus had decreed that it would be so.

Blindly, as the baby was carried away, charged with a sense of supreme well-being Hilary groped for Ted's hand. 'All will be well,' she whispered as a quivering smile crept over her face.
              
Ted put his arm around her shoulders. 'He'll be home soon, like he promised.' And with that he gently hauled her to her feet. 'Lunch calls,' he said. 'Presents to open.'
              
For the first time since Greg's worrying phone call, she felt happy. Not only that, she was suddenly hungry for the Christmas festivities, the repast which the hotel predicted would be the best ever tasted, the Queen's speech, a quiz before tea, and, later on, a fancy-dress ball. Leaning sideways, she kissed Ted's cheek. 'Merry Christmas, my dear. And to Greg, too.'

12 December 2017

RABBITS

Once upon a time I had a beautiful dream. I dreamed of white rabbits … fluffy, cuddly ones with pink eyes. There is an old saying that ‘Friday night’s dream, Saturday told, is bound to come true be it ever so old.’ Well, I didn’t have long to wait ‘cause the dream was on a Friday and I blabbed the next day.

Having already explained the dream to young son over breakfast, we got ready to go out shopping. We had finished the essential part of the expedition and were walking to the bus back home when I suddenly stopped and looked in amazement at the local pet shop. There in the window, frolicking for all the world to see, were two white rabbits with pink eyes. Unbelievable! This, I thought, was definitely an omen. Since the sighting had broken the dream there was nothing for it but to go into the shop and buy a rabbit. Yeah, right!

I never realised I was gullible until that day. Two young rabbits, a hutch and food were purchased when the shopkeeper said they were the last and ‘it would be a shame to part them’. Yeah, right!

Only later did I find out that it’s very difficult to tell a buck from a doe when they’re young.

But gullibility aside, Jon and I began to enjoy our rabbits. I bought books and did a study and discovered that buck and does should be separated before they were old enough to breed. Well that was okay since they were only young rabbits!

I used to like a lie in on a Sunday as that was a no-work day but not long after we’d purchased the little dears I was rudely awakened by young son crying because one of the rabbits was covered in blood. You’ve guessed it, Mommy rabbit had given birth. Heaven help her, she was only a nipper herself!

Remembering the bit in the book about the buck being a cannibal at heart and the added advice to get him away from the doe before he could start eating his youngsters, and definitely get him away from the doe so that further sexual activity could be avoided, I shot out of bed, raced outside, opened the hutch and grabbed the buck by the ears. We shut him in the outside shed and, yeah, you guessed it, we popped out to buy another hutch. But that wasn’t until I’d seen the babies. Aaaaah so cute.

So peace reigned once again in Valerie’s household, that is until I was roused by young son to tell me that Mom had given birth again. Seemed I had not been fast enough getting the male rabbit out of the hutch. He must have performed even as she gave birth. And I always thought jokes about breeding rabbits was an exaggeration. Yeah, right!

Then there was the day the buck escaped from his hutch. I’d only gone there to refresh his food and the minute the door opened he was off after his Missus who was conveniently eating grass on the lawn. It was a long time before I caught him and even then I wasn’t sure if I’d captured the buck or the doe … if only I’d had the foresight to put an identifying collar on the wretched sex-mad animal.

This was, of course, a long time ago and I can’t remember how many young we had altogether, but believe me there were A LOT.
Naturally I had to find homes for the babies … couldn’t possibly keep them all. So I put a notice on the staff notice board at work. X number of Baby Rabbits for Sale, good homes wanted, or words to that effect. Say the number was 12, within the hour someone had multiplied it to 24, and then another bright spark changed the figure to 48 … and so on. It was the joke of the office. Some wise guys offered sexual advice for rabbits and one recommended consulting the Brook Street Bureau. You can imagine, can’t you, the bawdy tones used by the male employees? Ladies were a bit more circumspect but even they bordered on the unthinkable! One thing I will say, though, the entire episode lifted the spirits of the ordinary working man … and woman.

I did sell the baby rabbits; For what seemed like an age I was transporting the damn things all over town but believe me my strength was waning along with my love of rabbits. In the end I was obliged – out of desperation - to sell the randy buck, hutch and all, and was left with just Mommy rabbit who eventually died of old age.

So if ever you dream about rabbits on a Friday night I beg you either to keep the dream to yourself or ensure you stay away from pet shops the following day; as the saying goes ‘Friday night’s dream, Saturday told, is sure to come true be it ever so old.’

10 December 2017

View from the windows

It is years since we had such a snowfall. I'd almost forgotten what snow felt like. 

BACK OF HOUSE

FRONT

And not a wheel mark in sight
Fortunately it is Sunday so most people won't have to go to work, but I pity those who do!

Charlie won't go out and neither will I, but I remember when my labradors couldn't wait to gambol in the snow. They loved it. 

Come on folks, admit it ... when did you last gambol in  fresh snow?


08 December 2017

Walking with assistance!




When Joe and I bought the bungalow, we didn’t consider the fact that it was on a hill. On the contrary, the ability to look over rooftops and see fields was rather appealing and for almost thirty years it has been a joy to live here. However, times they are a’changing. I mean, what’s a hill when able people want to walk up or motorists drive. For motorist – read ME.

Problems started by getting rid of the car. I took everything for granted when I could just hop in the car and drive short or long distances.  However, driving the car was becoming a worry. With all the mad hat drivers on the road these days I felt scared whenever I drove on busy roads. That and the prospect of a load of bills coming through the door after Christmas made me think twice about staying mobile. Insurance was high, road tax was reasonable because my car was diesel driven.

For years diesel was regarded as environmentally friendly and motorists’ car tax bills were drastically reduced. Even so, added to the insurance, AA cover for breakdown assistance, compulsory garage bills, I was looking at some heavy expenditure. Seriously though, if I thought I could carry on driving I would have paid the lot.

It was time to face facts. It is compulsory for me to go out and getting rid of the car meant I could take taxi cabs everywhere. In my opinion it should work out cheaper.

It is time to face the hill. So far I have tried three times and made it but only once did I venture as far as the corner shop, which is quite a distance away for those who have walking difficulties. At this point I must reveal that it’s not a great distance to walk but it does hamper folk like me. Goodness, I remember the days when I walked the hill two or three times a day when taking the dogs out for their walks. How I wish those days were back again.

I have a couple of walking aids, inherited from an aunt and kept as a ‘just in case’. One was a four-wheel shopper 
and the other a three-wheel shopper. 
I like the latter best but it’s not so good on hills and the front wheel finds potholes which means I must haul it out. The one with four wheels just wants to go one way and hates corners. 
Yesterday I ventured out with a single cane and did better. Next door neighbour stopped and offered a lift, but I turned her down on the grounds that if I don’t persevere I will never master the damned hill.

I haven’t been out today because of the snow! Maybe I should buy another car!!!!!

06 December 2017

LOST AND FOUND


…..and the news is that my phone has been found. 

I was informed by Apple on my ex-Yahoo email account, no longer used by me but which is very good at imparting such news. 

My view aside, the news was given by email on phone and computer and I was given the address where it was found and where it now is. It was useful being given the address which is nowhere near where I live, but now that I use taxis it will be easy to find. If the driver gets lost I can always check with Google. 

Everything is so easy these days, don’t you think, and having a phone makes everything easier. I wonder if the lost and found phone (when collected) will be as useful as the one I have in my pocket right now.

You can always rely on Yahoo to accept scam messages. It is one of the reasons I moved to Google. 

04 December 2017

Singing, or whatever its called these days

Hasn’t singing changed. What happened to dulcet and melodious tones? Now it is screeching and unintelligible language. When did the change occur? When did quality singing take a back seat?

It’s not just singing that has changed, I have a hard job understanding people speaking on television, when they speak I have to switch on the subtitles. It’s as though they have a train to catch and if they don’t hurry with their spiel they’ll miss it. Even youngsters go at a rate of knots now.

It’s not just me, either. I thought perhaps my brain had slowed and couldn’t keep up but I’ve been told by much younger friends that they have the same problems. 

Perhaps there’s a race in time … if there is then there’s no hope for me.

I have noticed, though, that some TV channels are better than others. Our main BBC (British Broadcasting Company) seems clearer than others in that people speak a tad slower and with less gabbling. Other stations allow prattling in a way that is difficult to understand, consequently I miss a lot of the programme. Because of this I have resorted to using subtitles which, of course, means I miss some of the action. On reflection, perhaps that’s a good thing.

Normally I don’t watch what I call rubbish which younger generations swoon or rave over. Recently, because there was a person I knew competing in a singing contest I decided to watch it. However, that meant having to put up with all the shrieking and screaming not only from contestants but the whole audience. I gave up when I felt the headache coming on.

Like I said at the start of this post …. whatever happened to dulcet and melodious tones. 

03 December 2017

Goodbye, Neighbour


One of my neighbours died recently, a man aged 102, who lost his wife some years ago. The couple were great friends with my Joe. Bill and his wife Mary would entertain Joe once a week with tales of years gone by. Joe loved those stories and after Mary died he was pleased that Bill continued with the once-weekly story-telling. Bill made doll's houses, elegant ones, unlike those my Dad made for me. They were fabulous but Bill's were very upper class in style, even the furniture had a Regency feel. 

Joe and I attended the funeral and later were invited to join with family and neighbours to hear family tales and memories of past years. It was wonderful to hear those stories about days gone by.

This time there were fewer people attending Bill’s funeral, even some close family members were missing. I was invited to attend but couldn't make it to the church. My car has gone to new owners and, since I can't walk like I used to, I had to decline the invitation. However, I did attend the get-together at the house afterwards. Memories of Mary’s funeral made acceptance easy. That time there was much laughter over recalled memories, but this time there was a different atmosphere. Whereas once the family members made sure guests were comfortable and fed, this time there was little communication with anyone. So disappointing that some gathered together for private chats that, judging by the laughter, included fun memories.

I was warmly welcomed and escorted to an easy chair which was a distance away from other chairs. So, there I sat, knowing no-one and talking to no-one. It was a great relief to see another neighbour come in and the next hour was spent exchanging memories with him. I don’t think he was treated any better by the family. I remembered Mary’s funeral and how there were lots of neighbours in attendance, sadly not so with Bill. Only two neighbours this time whereas before there were about ten. At that time there was much laughter over family tales. So sad that Bill left this world without a few jolly words to send him on his way.

A few days later the funeral service programme was put through my door so I was able to read what occurred at the crematorium. It was a nice touch. 

I wonder if he and Joe will get together ... nice thought!