Saturday, February 25, 2023

I should quit - or should I?

 I should quit.

It’s going nowhere.

It’s a useless activity.

These were my thoughts after I joined the church mice writing group. 

Or should I say that I was actually quite ambivalent about it, my husband was the dissenter. We both continued taking part, however, meeting in our church at first, then at our house, until Covid drove us to the Zoom Room where we remain in touch. 

We are a group of five. Over a period of 2 years we have gained 3 members, lost 2 and kept one, and we all enjoy writing, listening to each other’s scribblings and the companionship that goes with this activity.

From reluctance, my husband progressed to be an aspiring writer, enthusiastically outpouring and submitting virtually everything he writes to our leader, all the while improving and extending his repertoire.

It is worth mentioning that our five members have 5 different styles and some of us have discovered skills that we were previously unaware of. Listening to each other is entertainment par excellence, much better than TV shows where the current trend seems to be to cram half a dozen ‘celebrities’ onto a couple of settees, where they have to out-shout, outwit, out-laugh and show off to each other until I cannot bear the racket and switch channels or switch off the telly. 

No, our writing group is not 'going nowhere'. I have written a book! One of our group members has also written an excellent book, and I would be very pleased with myself if I could persuade my husband to follow suit.

Far from being a useless activity, writing has allowed me to examine, process and deal with aspects of my life that needed closure.

So no, I am not going to quit!

Jean Taylor

Photo by Alison Mott

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The positives - and otherwise - of lockdown

Unprecedented – perhaps the most used word of 2020/21.

The Covid 19 news each day spewed out figures and statistics of the daily deaths, dying and hospitalised. Clarification of the rules on what we could and could not do were delivered by Boris and his ‘experts’ on the evening news.

TV images showed packed hospital wards. Students unable to leave their rooms appeared at their flat windows with placards spelling out ‘HELP’. People were filmed walking their dogs in the open space of the peak district. Here they were socially distanced in the fresh air, the conditions being encouraged, but were ridiculed and fined for unnecessary travel.

We washed our hands until they were sore along to two recitals of “Happy Birthday to you.” We used antibacterial sprays, if you could buy any, on our door handles, shopping bags and anything exposed to the outside.

For me as a retiree, lockdown was actually no hardship. The daily dog walk was not restricted and allowed to continue as long as I did not speak to anyone else, or at least only from shouting distance. 

Prior to covid, reduced mobility had correspondingly restricted our social life. It now consisted mainly of a ‘run out’ in the car. Such trips are enhanced by a stop off at a quaint cafĂ© or one of the many garden centre facilities designed to serve coffee and cake to the inflated grey population and separate us from our valuable silver pounds.  

Never, historically, has there been such a top-heavy population - created by the explosion of babies at the end of the second world war, of which I am one such baby boomer. Nice as these trips are, it inevitably adds another type of pound to what used to be a waistline.

So ... I joined Weight Watchers online. This proved to be the ideal portion control. Our diet could only consist of what had been the planned weekly meals on the shopping list. Shopping was limited to the one day where pensioners had exclusive priority for the first couple of hours of the working day. Only one person could shop. As I no longer drive I could not accompany my husband, and thus unable to toss biscuits, cake, or other desirables into the moving trolley.

Tuesdays suddenly became exciting as weighing day. Entering the loss each week was shown with a running total and provided a focus as the weeks mounted. At waking, I leapt out of bed (I wish) to jump on the scales before even a sip of tea had passed my lips and wearing as little as possible - not an image to behold.

As the weeks rolled by, I could envisage myself leaving the confines of these four walls a few stones lighter, wearing summer dresses that had not seen the light of day for many a year.  A chrysalis emerging as a butterfly. Thanks to lockdown this almost became a reality if that is a little rose coloured.

Another positive of the time were the classes organised to keep us occupied. Zoom classes and quizzes meant we did not have to get dressed or made-up to visit. Our hair grew to lengths previously not seen with grey roots for some of us, also never so clearly defined. It did not seem to matter too much as we had nowhere to go. The car only moved once a week and everyone else was in the same boat.

From my laptop on the kitchen table, I could access all manner of classes that provided projects to keep me busy for the entire week.  

Although it seemed that the situation would never end, it gradually tailed away. Life returned to normal-ish and the businesses that had suffered so badly for almost two years needed their customers back.

By the end of the pandemic, I found we had actually missed the cappuccinos’ too, along with the people watching, human interaction and browsing around the shops. Being separated from family was tortuous. Video calls could not replace this. A new great granddaughter who was 3 months old before we could hold her had been born into a world with just the two faces of her parents.

For a time, we scanned 2D barcodes at each venue with our mobile phones, hoping not to get pinged about a contact with the ‘infection.’ The greatest fear was of unknown contact and innocently passing covid onto our loved ones. Screens or pods appeared to separate us from the next table. We used disposable cutlery, food served in take-away boxes rather than plates.

Eventually, the heat of the epidemic subsided. Unfortunately, so did the diet. No more getting on the scales as I did not want to see the evidence. Favourite dresses are again moth-balled in the section of wardrobe designated to the ‘too small.’

Oh well, we know what to do if there is a repeat and it can no longer be excused as unprecedented.

Carolyn Wheatley

Photo by BRUNO on Unsplash

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sunday Dinner 1974

Tyne Brand steak and mushroom pie filling – tinned – and woe betide Mum if she'd bought steak and kidney by mistake as I detested steak and kidney to the point of retching. Loved steak and mushroom, though, though the mushrooms were so unplentiful, finding one in your pie-slice was as lucky as finding the king in a Galette des Rois or the sixpence in a Christmas pudding.
We weren’t royalty for the day if we found one, however. I’d like to say that role went to Dad, it being his name and what have you, but he spent much of his precious time off work cleaning our red-brick council house and walking the legs off us children to get us out of Mum’s way, which I can hardly imagine Prince Phillip having to do on a Sunday.
Two tins of pie filling, not one. With a household of eight of us, half of them active, hungry males, Mum made two pies on a Sunday, though as I got older – 11 or 12 - I took on the job. ‘You’re rather a messy cook, aren’t you?’ Mum once said, surveying the light dusting of flour all around the kitchen, but she always praised my ‘lovely’ pastry. Said it had a light touch her own didn't have, though I'm pretty sure she just said that to trick me into cooking.
Thick, plain flour pastry, edges pressed with a fork and brushed over with milk, not egg, each pie decorated with a couple of pastry leaves we’d all hope would be part of our slice. A stab of the knife through the crust to let the air out – hitting the bottom of the enamel pie dish with a clink – and then cooked in the gas oven on high.
Then served up with roast potatoes, crisped edges caught to the point of burning and cooked in lard which dripped out as liquid as you bit into them. Mashed spuds – Dad’s job to mash them within an inch of their lives - and for me (since finding a boiled caterpillar on my dinner), no cabbage and just Co-op tinned peas or carrots alone.
Topped with the Yorkie puds of my father’s childhood and not the London batters of my mother’s, liberally covered in thick Bisto gravy, ‘one slice or two?’ the longstanding joke my brother reprised at Mum’s funeral.
And no sign of the Daddy’s tomato sauce bottle – ‘Not on a Sunday!’, our dad had declared, which was a shame as it was delicious mixed into the mash.
I wouldn’t taste a roast beef Sunday dinner till almost an adult, and even then I ate it elsewhere. But I loved those childhood Sunday dinners, and homemade short crust pastry remains the thing I miss most about my enforced gluten free life.

Alison Mott

Image in the public domain on Youtube here.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Seasonally Affected

I wish that I could hibernate.
I wish I could wrap myself in thick blankets
or better still cocoon in the high-tog sleeping
bag from last summer’s festival
watch black and white movies on TV

Showboat or Carousel, Singing in the Rain
or even It's a Wonderful Life, though
I only watched it three weeks ago at Christmas
wrapped in aforementioned sleeping bag
with fairy lights twinkling around the room.

I don't want to be a grown up or even human
to be honest, don't want to get out of bed
or dress, drive to work in the rain, come back
immediately again to pick up everything I forgot
the first time. Don't want to make decisions

answer questions respond to emails. Don't want
to work full stop - prefer the idea of hiding
here where no one can see me, a return to those
COVID days when we were told to stay in, make do
and mend - a privileged existence I know, not

one required to keep things ticking over
whilst the rest of us hid. Not an existence to
return to forever but just for a while, just
for these cold January days and a little way
into Feb, whilst the sun still has its face

turned away and its power diluted whenever
it does decide to shine. Until the first green shoots
appear on the hawthorne bush by the front window
and looking out one day I see them open quickly
phthalo green against the dark wood of its thorns.

Then I would unzip the sleeping bag. Then I would
step from it, stretch tall towards the ceiling
yawn long and loud and hungrily and
tiptoe out like a waking bear heading
for the woods.

Alison Mott

Photo by Rehina Sultanova on Unsplash

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Battle of Hastings - a bonus!

1066 The Battle of Hastings.
A regular ‘schoolboy go to’ favourite battle.
One in the eye for Harold, I remember.
1066 ‘odds on favourite’ as a pin number for
eople with limited imagination!

David Taylor

The death of Harold as depicted on the Bayeaux Tapestry. Image in the public domain on 

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Happy Again?

Once again we have been through the Christmas 2022 season and returned to what passes for normality.

Having gained another layer of dust the tree and its decorations, have been banished into the loft.

Like most people I find that shopping for food after Christmas (we all have to face it) is a bit of a ‘pain in the neck.’ At home, little bits of ‘this and that’ are still lurking in the fridge, and strange post-festive concoctions are becoming the order of the day.

I suppose that we must be thankful to Mr Pattak for his exotic range of curry sauces, enabling us to dispose of the turkey remnants with some degree of dignity.

I also feel sure that half a pork pie was also in the fridge, but as yet, I have been unable to find it.

The big question is surely 'what has found its way into the deep freezer and is just waiting to be discovered, sometime around mid June?'

Even worse, it might turn up again at Christmas 2023!

Happy New Year!

David Taylor

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Friday, December 23, 2022

While Shepherds washed their frocks by night ...

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink - not the proper colour for a shepherd, but when I gave my mother the note from my infant teacher asking parents to support the class’s production of the Nativity by providing costumes for their child, Mum had looked at the overflowing basket of dirty laundry, calculated the time it would take to pull out the twin tub and run through a couple of batches of washing then get it dry before tomorrow’s dress rehearsal (it already being teatime and a week since the teacher had given me the letter), she’d decided a ‘make do with what you have to hand’ approach was the only way to go.

Which is why, next day, I stood by the manger with my fellow shepherds in a bright pink breast cancer awareness t-shirt - inside out to hide the lettering – and a Guinness beer towel clasped on my head with a bungee cord from dad’s tool box. Classic.


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I should quit - or should I?

 I should quit. It’s going nowhere. It’s a useless activity. These were my thoughts after I joined the church mice writing group.  Or should...