Friday, October 15, 2021

I have cheated on my spouse ...

Church Mice writers had the choice of two prompts this week - a story of cooking with 'corned beef' as a signature dish or the (fictional!) sentence starter 'I have cheated on my spouse - and it's not the first time.'  Some of us chose to combine the two!

“I do like a bit of corned beef,” Duncan said, biting into the thick slices of Hovis the aforementioned corned beef was encased in, an oozy splodge of peppery brown sauce squeezing onto his thumb as he did so. He licked it off with a breadcrumby tongue. Sally watched him in wonderment at his lack of basic table manners or hygiene - the thumb was still covered in engine grease -  but said nothing. Duncan seemed not to notice.

“She'll never make ‘em,” he sneered, waving the sandwiched-hand to the left as if his wife were standing beside him rather than back in her own kitchen some miles away. “If it weren't for you, Sal, I'd get nowt.”

“Not nowt, Duncan,” Sally said, wiping the Formica top clear of crumbs that had sprayed from his cement mixer of a mouth. “I thought you said she made you a snap box?”

“Snap box, I ask you!” Duncan guffawed, pebble-dashing the front of Sally's apron. “A few bloody salad leaves and a boiled egg! How's a chap to do a full day's work on bloody salad leaves and a boiled egg?”

“Healthier for you, though,” Sally smiled politely, glancing at Duncan's ample stomach as she turned away towards the counter. “And much fewer crumbs too,” she muttered wisely to herself.


Alison Mott

Thursday, October 7, 2021

A bench in the park during Autumn

What is so fascinating about a well-made bench? Truth be known, I probably rarely noticed them for the first two thirds of my life as I rushed by. Lately, however, it is a very welcome sight when out walking the dog and breath becomes short. As you inhale the fresh air you can read a book, sit in the sunshine, soak up the rays or shelter under a tree for some welcome cooling shade. Simply watching other people is a grand pastime, maybe exchange a greeting, or make small talk about the weather whilst marveling at the surroundings - this makes a bench a valuable social asset.

I particularly welcome a bench that contains a brass plate commemorating a life. My favourite bench is in the centre of Bradgate Park, way up high on a slope surrounded by crag and bracken. Though my favourite months are spring and summer, the bench is at its most splendid in autumn, when rust, red and golden tones frame it. There is a magnificent view of Old John, and a dry-stone wall shelters the bench from behind. Beyond the wall, the reservoir ripples as it mirrors the surrounding woodland, a feast for the eyes and the senses.

Anyone passing is introduced to a gentleman and his two dogs who once wandered the acres of open countryside. I ought to remember his name and that of his two Labradors, but no matter, I absorb the atmosphere and visualise the lively rambles relished by this trio.

My local park bench commemorates Sylvia, an old school friend. In recent years she had moved to the same village. Sixty years had passed since our childhood encounters. We spent time together walking our dogs on the park. She announced her devastating news on such a walk, she was suffering from terminal cancer. On dry days I can sit with her memory for a while. When it is raining, I simply call out “Hello Sylv,” as I pass by the wet seat. Damp trousers are not a good look at this age.

As summer fades, the leaves are starting to litter the ground. They are pale and insipid shades of green and yellow and have yet to take on the brilliant pallet of Autumn.

It will soon be time to collect conkers. My sister believes that they keep spiders away from the house. A fresh crop is collected each year. The lower branches of the horse chestnut tree have already been stripped by children, the tree branches showing signs of missile attacks from wooden and steel bars aimed to dislodge the spikey nuts.  I will await the larger ones high up in the tree that will be blown off on a gusting windy day when very few people are out.

Bird boxes are another nice way to be remembered. Sheet Hedges Wood in Groby has many of these boxes, each a tribute to someone’s life. In spring, one can find a host of bird species collecting nesting materials to raise a brood. What better way to be remembered, than playing host to a family of chicks? 

Do not bother with a gravestone for me, just pick a nice spot for people to take in the living views for a while and possibly glance my name.

Carolyn Wheatley

Monday, October 4, 2021

Shopping 2021-style

In my opinion, Loughborough has become a useless dump as far as shopping is concerned.

All I wanted was a small bedside lamp, to replace the one that I had recently broken.

Unable to find fuel for my car without sitting for an hour in a queue on Epinal Way, I decided to take a bus into town.

I tried to find a suitable lamp in Wilko’s, but they only had tall flimsy looking things and nothing suitable for my bedside location.

I went looking for the Argos store, only to discover that the building was now abandoned and empty.  An old friend happened to be passing by, and she was kind enough to advise me that I had to make my way up the Ashby Road, where a much smaller version of Argos could be found in Sainsbury’s.

On balance I decided against the walk.

I stood and looked at the town wondering where else I might try, and could I pick up a couple of other items that I needed?  Well, if I had needed a haircut or a coffee, no problem, but that is just about all, unless you include estate agents, bookmakers and funeral directors!

I decided to go home, and waited in a growing queue for the No 11 bus from Swan Street.  After about ten minutes it turned up, shedding first its few passengers and then its driver.

The driver announced to all those waiting “It’s now out of service, no driver replacement available, sorry.” He returned to his seat and drove away.  That now left the No 12 as my next option, and another ten-minute wait.

Eventually the 12 arrived and most of us embarked to the sound of another driver moaning that he was fed up with everything and today would probably be his final turn as a bus driver.

I am reviewing my need for a bedside light and am considering the use of a candle (circa 1750).  I think that this might well befit a town that is rapidly returning to that era of time.


David Taylor

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Paddling Pools in the 1950s - Gallons of Fun!

Water has always been a fascination to our whole family.  Myself and my two sisters have never been afraid of it. That’s not to say we like the marine wildlife - the sight of a jelly fish could see us scramble for the beach at a rate of knots. I had no swimming lessons at school but have swum regularly throughout life.  My style may not textbook, but I like to think it could get me out of trouble.

I was eight years of age when we first went to Great Yarmouth in a caravan for two weeks. Dad took us all into the sea, rain or shine, there were no swimming pools. We would throw a ball and were happy to rely on our buoyancy or doggy paddle if we ventured out of our depth.

At home, Western Park was local and our daily playground.  We lived a hundred yards from the ‘First Field’ where we would sit with neighbourhood friends making daisy chains. On hot sunny Sundays, the whole family would de-camp to Western Park. A ten- minute walk took us to the playground. A blanket was spread on the grass. Mam had prepared the sweaty cheese and tomato sandwiches (there were no fridges) packed in a greaseproof ‘Frears & Blacks’ bread wrapper. We children drank from the stainless-steel water fountain, around which the lips of every other child on the park had been wrapped, whilst mam and dad had a flask of tea. There was no sun-tan lotion, nothing fancy, perhaps just a ball and a bucket and spade recovered from the shed, the remnant of a previous holiday. Squeals of delight came from the pool all day long as we played with our neighbours’ children who were also enjoying the free day out. We ran between the swings, the witch’s hat, the slide that had a solid concrete base to land upon and the rocking horse that was loaded with six to eight children doing their utmost to jolt it from its rocker mechanism. The only cost of the day may be a cornet from the visiting ice-cream van - one scoop of ice-cream with ‘ras’, no option for a chocolate flake, double cone or chopped nuts in those days. The driver resorted to playing his ‘Greensleeves’ jingle whenever the queue dissipated and his sales dropped.

At the end of the afternoon we made our way home, all carrying something - either the blanket, empty food bag, flask or wet towels and swimsuits, the youngest took the ball or bucket and spade. A whole day out, no travel cost, no entry fee, just a thru’penny ice-cream each and a good day was had by all.

We were lucky that Forest Lodge Infant School had a sandpit and a large concrete paddling pool. Each class would be allocated a morning when it was their turn to spend the morning in the pool. Aged five, Miss Christian forewarned us that tomorrow would be our turn to go into the pool. I was up early and dressed wearing my swimsuit underneath my red gingham dress. A towel was rolled up and carried to school in great anticipation of a morning of fun. It was not until I was getting dry that I realised I had bought no underwear with me. I confessed to the teacher, who told me to walk home to get some knickers on. Luckily, mam was at home and I was able to remedy the problem. By then it was dinner time, I had missed my school dinner, so mam gave me a sandwich and I returned to school a couple of hours later with the security of a pair of pants.

Wicksteed Park had by far the best of paddling pools. Not just grey concrete, but a luminous turquoise blue tiled surround.  There were two pools, one for infants and toddlers, the other about four feet deep for older children. I was around seven when I graduated to the deeper pool and the water came up to my neck. We had no flotation aids and never witnessed any mishaps - or perhaps just the one? Dad invited our neighbours to come with us, they had no car. It was a tight squeeze in the car with nine passengers, but our Citreon had two extra seats that pulled up out of the floor. It was the same model as the one the Von-Trappe family escaped in on the Sound of Music. We headed straight for the paddling pools and our parents sat around the edge of the pools on the benches provided. The neighbour’s daughter whispered to her mum that she wanted to go to the toilet. These were situated quite some distance from the pool area and her mother whispered back for her to “go in the water”. Unfortunately, she did not want to pee, and the pool cleared very quickly.

Our swimsuits progressed from mum’s woollen knitted ones to the then fashionable bubble ones. Being the eldest, I got them new, and they were passed down until Gill got them third hand. The reaction in the water of both was similar. The wool soaked up the water, got heavy and stretched. The bubbles stored the water in the pockets that stretched down to your knees as you emerged.

So much fun was had in the paddling pools during the long summer holidays. The infant school pool and sandpit are now long gone. The paddling pool on Western Park was filled in during my teenage years when vandals thought if funny to throw broken glass into it. I often pass the pool in Abbey Park, another pool we frequented and enjoyed greatly; it lies desolate and empty for the same reason. Braunstone Park had a wonderful pool, a recurring story of a resource lost. Perhaps the people who thought this was funny are now sorry that their own children have no access to the same fun and games enjoyed by thousands of children over a summer?

Carolyn Wheatley

Thursday, September 30, 2021

A childhood walk in Western Park

Sunday mornings hold special memories of time spent walking with my father. We were a family of five, I was the eldest daughter and had two younger sisters. For Dad, the family was not complete without a pet dog. Our black and tan Alsatian was very low maintenance, his bed a blanket on the kitchen floor. Each morning he was simply let out to wonder at will, returning home when tired or hungry – pretty much like us ‘free range’ children. On Sundays, Rex was privileged to be taken out for a walk. The offer to go with dad on the long walk was open to all, but invariably it was just Dad, Rex and myself that ventured out.

Our house was on a large newly built, post war council estate. At the bottom of the road was the extensive Western Park, our main childhood playground. The objective of the Sunday walk was to collect chickweed to feed the canaries and budgerigars in dad’s aviary. The walk took us over open fields that would later become more housing and industry on the Braunstone Frith area of the estate.

From Frolesworth Road, we turned right and headed along Sacheverel Road. My friend Jean lived along here, she and I played Snobs for hours at a time, sitting on the pavement outside her house. Just over Liberty Road we turned left past the newly built Braunstone Frith Junior School, which I attended. We continued past the school into Elsworthy Walk. There were only six houses on one side.  Another friend, Ann, lived along there. Her house was unique in the area as it had a plaque on the wall stating that her mother was the District Nurse. Ann’s home was the ‘go to’ area for people with all manner of cuts, bruises and minor ailments - just as the Police houses were the port of call for the very few criminal incidents.

At the end of Elsworthy Walk, we had to cross a stile.  Rex, who was never on a lead, went ahead of us here and jumped the stile into the old aerodrome fields. It took me rather longer to negotiate the stile to try to avoid stinging my bare legs on the invading nettles and brambles. Of course, if unsuccessful, I knew - thanks to Dad - to find a dock leaf to rub onto my tingling skin.

On the other side was the old aerodrome. Mum later worked in one of the aircraft hangars as a wages clerk. Another of the hangars had been used for the Queen’s Coronation celebrations in 1953.  Paper ribbon trimmings and bunting in red, white, and blue decked the enormous space, an exciting experience for a six-year-old after the confines of war.  Long tables with white cloths were laden with food, most of which had been previously unavailable, and much of it still on ration. We each received a free Coronation mug, a gesture much appreciated and so much nicer to drink from than the tin mugs that mum and dad had retained from their army days.

Dad loved birds and wildlife and I learned much from him on these adventures. Our walks lasted for a couple of hours, crossed several stiles, and continued onto the Golf Links. When we reached the Airman’s Rest pub on Ratby Lane, I knew we would then be making our way back.

Upon our return, the gathered chickweed was thrown into the aviary and we removed our wellies to enter the kitchen through the back door. The smell of the Sunday roast was most welcome. If cooking apples were in season, there would be the tandem aromas of roasting meat and sweet apple pie baking in the oven or cooling on the cardinal-tiled kitchen windowsill. If no apples, then we saved our Yorkshire pudding to eat for afters with jam or golden syrup. 

Every ring on the gas cooker had a bubbling saucepan. Every window in the house was obliterated with steam. Our vegetables were boiled to death, and it is doubtful a single vitamin survived in the insipid looking pale mush that had been greens. Dad told us that eating our greens would make our hair curl; this seemed of little consequence to three girls with thick mops of curly tresses.

The wireless was always playing at the weekends - day and night - as we had no television. Family Favourites was a Sunday morning request show for the serving armed forces, most addresses were BFPO followed by an area number. Following that, and usually as we ate dinner, came the Billy Cotton Band Show. Billy started his show by bellowing, ‘Wakey, Wakey!’ at full volume.

We all sat around the table in the ‘Breakfast Room’ and ate together. Sometimes, if finances allowed, we children were sent to the local off-licence to buy a bottle of fizzy pop, carrying the last empty bottle to claim the return 3d deposit. The flavours alternated between Tizer, Dandelion and Burdock or Raspberry Cream Soda, depending on whose turn it was to choose.

Carolyn Wheatley

'This is a very nosy boy!'

Chas and I were both at Garendon Secondary Modern School Loughborough in 1956.  We were not in the same class, but we were in the same year, and as such we did a lot of hanging around together.

Teachers in the school were normally given nick names, and one I came to regret was ‘Old Stones’.

Chas and I had been patrolling the streets of the town one evening when we chanced on the sight of ‘Old Stones’ through the window of The Gate Inn - a notable public house on Nottingham Road.

We gleefully speculated on the length of time it might take for ‘Old Stones’ to down a few pints and come staggering out.  What we failed to understand was that ‘Old Stones’ had looked out of the window and spotted a pair of inquisitive young boys!

At least two weeks later, while standing in line with the rest of my class, I noted that ‘Old Stones’ was to be in charge of our next lesson.  Suddenly spotting me, I was extracted from the line by my right ear and subjected to the comment, “Here is one of the boys that I have been looking for!”

While the remainder of the class stood wondering what it was that I might have done, ‘Old Stones’ delivered a swift clip to the back of my head.

"This is a very nosy boy,” (a pause for reflection). “What teachers do in their own time is none of your business!” (second clip delivered).

Chas never said anything about the event, or whether he was found and admonished.

Today I might expect to be called before the school head and advised that my behaviour was “not appropriate” (whatever that means exactly)

Have a pint on me ‘Old Stones!’

Monday, September 13, 2021

Old Faces

I like old faces.

Gazing at the tell-tale wrinkles, the seams and the puckers, the hollows and undulations, arranged on a palette of flesh and blush.

A fascinating countenance.

How did you get that line?
Was that time spent perplexed, or are you a ponderer?

Those crows’ feet?
Did you squint into the sun? Or is that merriment written in the creases?

Those ruddy cheeks?
Did the wind kiss your face often, or did you reach for a snifter of an evening?

Can I still detect a twinkle in those rheumy eyes? What joys have they seen? What beauty, what horrors?

The shaky lip? I hope that’s not sadness or pain. It would be too much to bear. Now I have explored your visage, I know you a little bit.

Catch my eye so I can share a smile with you. 

Amanda H

I have cheated on my spouse ...

Church Mice writers had the choice of two prompts this week - a story of cooking with 'corned beef' as a signature dish or the (fict...