Week Three

It turns out to be true. Week Three of chemotherapy you feel back to normal. Perhaps even halfway through Week Two; watering the garden and a little light dead heading turned into a pile of branches in the middle of the lawn grass as I attacked the buddleia ( common or garden variety, well known for colonising railway banks and derelict buildings ) that was taking over the garden.

Even going over to the letter box seemed an adventure, then a walk round the block to confirm I was back in the land of the living…walk to a friend’s house and by Wednesday it was time for a proper walk across the River Stour to meet some writer friends for coffee then back by ferry… 6Km circular walk according to my phone. The weather has been hot and sunny so come along

We missed the Tuesday bargain…

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Stranger Danger

In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.

Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’

It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.

You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.

The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.

For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?

Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’

I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.

Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.

But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.

We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.

We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.

Friday Flash Fiction – 700 – Solo

Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…

Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…

Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.

Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.

Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself.  Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on  a different circuit.

Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?

Poole sailor Pip Hare delighted with Vendee Globe finish | Swanage and Wareham Voice

Silly Saturday -November – Know or No

What are the pros and cons of going on holiday in November – in the Northern Hemisphere? If you plan to trek to the North Pole there are no pros, you had better wait till summer which won’t be much better… but for elsewhere?

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Pros

There are not too many people around, you don’t have to queue or worry you won’t find a parking spot.

You won’t have to book accommodation well in advance.

You can take advantage of last minute cheap deals.

You won’t have to book on line well in advance for places of interest.

Packing is easy, just your winter clothes.

You can work up a good appetite with the chilly weather.

You can enjoy sitting in front of a log fire.

There are plenty of hours to enjoy the night sky.

You will not get too hot when going walking or climbing.

It is invigorating walking by the sea or on a hill top.

It’s not the school holidays.

The autumn trees are a beautiful colour.

You can start Christmas shopping.

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Cons

It’s too quiet, there aren’t many people around.

Your hotel is empty and depressing, the staff bored.

That last minute bargain deal is not a bargain, the hotel was cheap because it’s awful.

The places you were glad you didn’t have to queue up for are closed for the winter.

Lots of places are closed for the winter.

The places that aren’t closed, close early, usually just before you get there.

Packing is hard as you have to fit in gloves, scarves, thick socks, hats and lots of everything in case you get soaked in the rain.

You can’t have picnics.

It’s hard to find somewhere open to eat.

It’s even harder to find somewhere open in the evening to eat.

The days are too short.

If you go walking out in the country you will probably slip in the mud or fall into a fast flowing stream.

If you go to the seaside to  photograph winter waves you may be swept away by a freak wave.

Children are at school, you’re surrounded by pensioners on holiday.

The trees are bare and depressing.

The shops have started Christmas too early.

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sunshine-blogger

 

 

Friday Flash Fiction -Triumph of Contradiction

 ‘Good morning Marjorie.’

‘Good heavens Sally, what are you doing out on the common?’

Her question was soon answered when a young Springer Spaniel came bounding up.

‘I’m stepping outside my comfort zone, as Harrison would say, puppy sitting for my neighbour; there’s a triumph of contradiction for you, this canine delinquent is going to be the spearhead of counter terrorism.’

Marjorie laughed, their homework for Harrison Tenby’s U3A Philosophy class was an essay entitled ‘The Triumph of Contradiction’; his pupils were even more confused than usual.

‘Greetings Brian, how’s Jack today… oh what happened to your finger?’

‘Just a little bite.’

‘So Jack’s bitten the hand that feeds him’ said Sally.

Brian fostered dogs for Waggy Tails charity, tales of his charges made light relief during the coffee break at their philosophy class. The other dogs had found good homes, but Jack, a bad tempered mix of the worst characteristics of several breeds, had not yet been successfully placed; every few weeks he would say I’ve got Jack back.

Brian ignored her remark. ‘What brings you out in the wilds Sally?’

‘Next door neighbour’s doing jury service, she told them she was puppy walking for the police, but that doesn’t count as an excuse; I hope it won’t turn into one of those cases that goes on for months.’ As she spoke she realised Barney the Springer Spaniel was nowhere to be seen.

‘Don’t panic,’ said Brian getting out his mobile phone ‘we’ll alert Dog Watch.’

‘Seek’ barked Marjorie, sending her well behaved Labrador off into a nearby copse.

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At last, when muddy paws landed on Sally’s knees, she was so glad to see her charge back again she didn’t worry about her trousers.

‘Time for a rest,’ said Brian ‘I’ll buy the first round.’

‘Oh, are we off to the pub?’ said Sally.

‘No, hot chocolate, Bob’s van by the education centre and toilets, we always stop there. We can talk about our homework.’

With the dogs safely tied up the three humans relaxed on the splintery wooden seats.

‘Dogs,’ said Marjorie ‘how can an article about dogs be philosophical?’

Sally put her case. ‘Thousands of years ago a few wolves, probably the runts of the litter, not the leaders of the pack, made a lifestyle decision to throw in their lot with humans. A supply of scraps and the warmth of the campfire in exchange for being on 24 hour alert for sabre tooth tigers and woolly rhinoceri. Thus started a uniquely complex and contradictory relationship of trust and betrayal. Now our so called best friend expects us to feed and cosset him, while disdainfully leaving his mess for us to pick up and occasionally eating our children.’ She smiled as her friends rose to the bait.

‘Far more people harm dogs than the other way round’ bristled Marjorie.

‘Yes and we abuse them in a variety of ways, messing around with their breeding to amuse ourselves, so a huge mountain dog picks up a ridiculous ball of fluff, not even knowing it’s a fellow dog. But they bear us no grudge and happily put their lives in danger, like Barney’s going to do, sniffing out explosives.’

‘Or those assistance dogs who put on the washing machine and answer e-mails’ said Marjorie.

‘I think they tell you when the phone or door bell’s ringing if you’re deaf,’ said Brian ‘I don’t think they’re on line yet.’

‘But the principal’s the same,’ said Sally ‘they do it altruistically, no days off, no holidays, no time for their own interests. What stops them leaving, walking out the door?’

‘Guide dogs and sheep dogs,’ added Marjorie ‘so clever, pity Jack hasn’t found a career to keep him out of mischief.’ She bent down to bravely hug the mongrel straining at his lead. ‘Who’s a big useless lump then?’

The dog wagged his tail and Sally shuddered, but she was determined to get in a last word. ‘So if dogs are so intelligent, how come they haven’t learned to use toilets?’

‘Nor have some humans’ said Brian. ‘Anyway, I’m off, see you on Thursday, hope I don’t get told off for not doing my homework.’

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But Brian wasn’t at the class on Thursday, Marjorie relayed the news to the rest of the class with relish.

‘He’s okay, just smoke inhalation, he thinks he must have fallen asleep doing his essay late and then his angle poise lamp tipped over on a pile of papers. The smoke alarm wasn’t working, Brian took the battery out, because the noise sent Jack into a frenzy if he burnt the toast, if Brian burnt the toast I mean. Anyway, if it wasn’t for Jack barking who knows what might have happened, he bit the hand of the fireman, but they wear gloves and Jack was only trying to protect Brian.’

After the excitement settled down, it turned out only Sally had done the homework.

Read more tiny tails here, look inside to read Blind Date, when Bella the guide dog goes along on a date.

Friday Flash Fiction 636 – Fur Babies

‘Pompom’ called a shrill voice.

When did real dogs turn to toys wondered Vince as he trudged through the mud, conspicuous as the only human without a dog. The dogs skittering around two women did not match the environment, what happened to Labradors and Rottweilers? As if in answer, a large muddy dog, originally yellow, bounced playfully out of the bushes only to find itself attacked by a tiny ball of white cotton wool.

‘Pompom, naughty boy, heel.’

The Labrador’s owner laughed, so did Vince until the ball of fluff veered towards him, jumping up growling to snap at his ankle.

‘If he was an American Pit Bull,’ said Vince gruffly ‘you’d be in trouble with the police.’

The owner scooped up Pompom and marched away as if he had incited the attack.

The walking business, to avoid blood pressure tablets and type two diabetes, was proving to be worse than going to the gym. Vince’s life of crime had not involved exercise, he had had other people to do that for him. But he hated hospitals, so he had no alternative but alternative therapy.

He paused to avoid a large puddle and looked up to see a young man pushing a three wheeler cross country pram. Inside it was a miserable looking baby, but slung under the man’s arm was a baby sling with a fluffy white face poking cheerfully out.

‘It’s even muddier further along’ said Vince, imagining with relish the pram getting stuck and baby falling out.

‘I know,’ said the man cheerfully ‘we must be mad. Oh, you haven’t got a dog… this one’s getting on a bit so he can’t walk far.’

That was when Vince had his idea. Fluffy toys didn’t attack Vince the Mincer and get away with it.

 

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On the internet that evening he looked up breeds of dogs, it turned out the mini monster cotton wool ball was actually a valuable breed. Vince looked up battery operated toys and ordered some ‘Fur Babies’ – barking, bouncing, battery operated toy dogs that looked remarkably realistic.

His daily two mile walks had a purpose now. Among the many mutant miniature wolves he encountered, Pompom was a regular, his owner had a strict routine, returning to the car park at the same time each day.

At the dog parlour he bought a National Trust green puppy sling.

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Vince hid in the bushes, hoping no one would think he was a flasher. Did blokes do that any more, he wondered, or was it all on the internet? In five minutes Pompom should pass that way, trying to avoid having the lead attached to his diamond studded collar. For Pompom was a real dog at heart, who preferred puddles and fresh air to the pink Kar with its sticker ‘Precious Pet on board’.

Some ancestral lupine instinct stirred in little Pompom as Vince waved the dripping fresh raw meat. Within seconds he was in the bushes, within seconds he was bound in the puppy sling and Vince was switching on the battery operated Pompom doppelganger.

‘Pompom, here Pompom, Mummy’s got a treat for you.’

Vince remained motionless, one large hand clamped round Pompom’s tiny muzzle. He remained just long enough to see the toy dog trot obediently out of the bushes and the owner bend down to pick up him up. Her scream attracted the attention of other dog walkers and Vince slipped away.

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At home, Pompom was in an old rabbit cage and Vince was wondering if he should put the dog on EBay or if a ransom demand would yield more money, or perhaps he could do both.

That night he taped a notice on the window of the little coffee kiosk in the car park.

FOUND – ADORABLE WHITE MINIATURE DOG.

IF YOU ARE THE FRANTIC OWNER

PLEASE PHONE THIS NUMBER…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

‘How was your Christmas?’

As you go back to work, or your classes, clubs and groups resume, that is the question you can’t avoid. Mother Nature is no respecter of Christmas or New Year, nor is Lady Luck. Volcanoes blow up, oceans swell and man made disasters occur, so making a drama of your turkey exploding ( yes that did happen to a friend’s family ) is rather pathetic, but everyone has Christmas and New Year tales to tell.

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We had our Christmas early; Christmas is a date where nothing happens in your home unless you make it. Ours was great fun and the participants could disperse for another Christmas and more presents. But out in the further reaches of the family universe another Christmas has gone by with a rift unhealed, though thanks to technology most of the family are always connected…

A year ago our joint present to ourselves was an ipad so we could abandon Skype and do Facetime; everyone else was already ‘on Apple’. I Facetimed with my mother and sister in Australia and the connection kept unconnecting and reconnecting. Considering what a technical marvel it is in the first place it doesn’t take us long to get frustrated when it doesn’t work. We Facetimed Canada and they were upside down and so were we. On Saturday three of us Facetimed Australia and talked to four people and two dogs, picture and sound were perfect.

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Presents: Secret Santa for seven adults was a success; it had been decided to use a website that secretly allotted the anonymous givers and receivers. My parcel included a stuff your own teddy, complete with birth certificate and heart – age 8 plus. We make photo books every Christmas for the pre-readers. Three year old’s was ‘Choclate Moose Comes to Stay’, but it was his thirty three year old uncle who was more engrossed in the book. You are never too old for Lego it seems, Lego caters for big boys and girls with Creator Expert and a red double decker bus and camper van were among the creations in progress that appeared on Family Facebook.

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Traditions: There are many treats to choose from over the season. At our local garden centre you can visit two live reindeer for free; they look a bit bored in their pen, probably missing the rest of the herd grazing on the pastures of Dorset. You can also book in advance and pay a lot to visit Father Christmas’s grotto, passing giant singing penguins on the way.

Baby and three year old went to their local ‘country house’ to visit the magic elf forest. This involved getting on the elf train ( a decorated truck ) and visiting Father Christmas at the top of a tower. They were the last ones to visit him and when they came back down, the elf train had left, they could have been lost in the magic elf forest forever!  But that was not their only meeting with Santa. We were astonished when pictures came through the ether on Christmas Eve afternoon of Real Father Christmas sitting in their living room… An older tradition is the pantomime; the little ones were taken to their town’s lovely old theatre on Boxing Day to see Jack And The Beanstalk, the three year old was mesmerised.

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With Christmas being done and dusted in our house I was able to indulge in that Christmas Eve tradition, watching Carols from Kings on television. Even if people don’t go to church themselves they expect the real meaning of Christmas to still be celebrated in wonderful cathedrals with angelic choir boys. Later in the evening we watched a year inside Saint Paul’s Cathedral with lots of quirky adults and dear little choir boys in their boarding school.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bwdbq7

Walks: on Christmas morning we went down to the beach, along with many others, but were surprised to see some stripping down for a dip in the sea, they didn’t stay in long, but the solitary surfer in shorts, no wetsuit, stayed in a good while.

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Yesterday, on New Years Day, the sun at last came out and the beach was as packed as a summer’s day for the final tradition of the festive season – a walk. A brisk walk was difficult on the crowded promenade and there were long queues for the cafes, but that’s all part of the tradition.