Actual Posting Date 10-12-10
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE
TIME TO KICK OUT 2010 AND SQUARE UP TO 2011
This is by way of a summary of our year 2010, so you might have read some of it before. In a nutshell, for the first 6 months our feet didn’t touch the ground. But the last 6 months have been pretty quiet.
For starters, we went to Slovenia in January, with Diz, Dan and the kids. I’ve never been to the Alps before, so that was another box ticked for me. It was a skiing holiday for the bolder folk, which means everyone except me. I’m a little fearty really. Ever since teacher told us about gravity I’ve been terrified of falling over.
Diz’n’Dan were zooming about like Batman and Robin. Charlie, 8, Isobel, 5, and Liz, my beloved, all took skiing lessons. On day one, I had mixed feelings, watching Liz shuffling sideways up a misty mountain with metal bars strapped to her feet, like a crab in a chain-gang. I feared I might never see her again, but she suddenly came screeching out of the clouds like a Stuka dive-bomber. This was before the lesson on stopping and turning. Legend has it, that if it wasn’t for those tables and chairs at the bottom of the slope, she‟d be going still. It all came to a head on day 3 when she went out of control, leaping about like a firecracker while going uphill backwards. That’s when they discovered that she had her boots on the wrong feet.
That same day, Isobel and Charlie went up the conveyor belt unaccompanied, then came hurtling down like the Tell-twins the day they spotted William striding across with an apple and bow in his hands. Isobel forgot to open her eyes and smashed into a mesh-fence at full speed. I wasn’t there, but Liz caught it on video. There’s this almighty collision. Then chaos as Liz runs with an international crowd of rescuers to untangle limbs and scrape organs off the wire, camera swinging all over the place, legs, feet, snow, sky, mesh and skis. Then from out this babble of excited tongues, like a rerun of Pentecost, comes this one calm voice as Isobel announces to the world, ‘I am so all right.’
A major event in the family this year is the fact that Jon and Sylvia produced a song for a Cypriot writer, Nasos. He was so pleased with it that he asked them to form a group and perform it on Cypriot TV in a competition to choose the Cypriot entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. So they formed a group called Jon Lilygreen and the Islanders and won the competition. That was the start of five months gruelling work for them, with radio and TV performances and interviews in
Cyprus, Greece, the UK, Holland and Sylvia’s homeland of Norway – all of which culminated in the EvS Contest itself. That was in Oslo, in May. It’s their story, so I won’t go into here. But, in the event, Liz and I went over to Oslo to watch the actual competition. Being a Brit, I never realised how seriously they take it on the continent. I mean, let’s face it, a lot of it is pure Euro-trash. Once you get south of Calais and east of Germany, pop music deteriorates into something resembling a circus – acrobats, bell-ringers and comic-singers. But there’s a massive following round the world, mainly weirdos. Every hotel in Oslo was booked up. In the end, after trying for 3 weeks, Liz and I managed to get the last 2 beds in a backpacker’s hostel. In the event, that turned out to be perfect, and cheap.
Don’t tell anyone this, but we really enjoyed the competition and, in fact, the whole experience. Our fellow-weirdos in the audience were good entertainment in their own right. Oslo is a beautiful city. They’ve got the traffic tamed perfectly over there. And the transport system is the best I’ve ever come across.
There was something Jon Lilygreen said that I really liked. In a BBC interview, they asked him what he hoped would come out of all this. His reply was, ‘I hope that, when I’m older, I can look back and say, ‘We had a laugh.’ I like his style. There lies the key to happiness. I hope he doesn’t lose it. No mention there of fame or fortune or wanting to escape from a council estate, which is all you ever get of these wannabes on X-factor.
In the midst of all this, Katie, our other granddaughter was in a fencing rally in Sheffield. So we went up there with Penny and David, her mam and dad, to support her. Another bonus on this trip was that Janet and Graham, Liz’s cousin and her husband, live in Macclesfield; and their son, Alexander, is a fencing enthusiast too. So the three of them, and Ellen, another of Liz’s cousins who lives in Macclesfield, were at the rally too. So there was a family get-together on the sidelines.
I know that this is an anomaly, but I love motoring and hate traffic. So, whenever possible, I take the B roads. Everyone else is battling it out on the motorways and dual carriageways while I saunter along the back-tracks. On that trip to Sheffield we had to go up the motorway on the way off because of the time element. That took 3½ hours. But coming back we did my usual opt-out, down through the middle of the White Peak, then across country to Mid Wales, then down through the mountains and Welsh Valleys to Cardiff, no motorway at all. That took 7 hours; not everyone’s cup of tea, mind; but we took a break every 2 hours and had beautiful scenery every inch of the way. It was Bank Holiday Monday and, on the radio, we could hear road reports of traffic jams all over the country, but we hardly saw another car.
David’s still in the navy; that’s 25 years now. At the moment he’s still on a degree course in Marine Engineering. In his spare time he fences for the navy and acts as a judge for the Field-gun events. This year he was actually running in the competition again, on a B team now, so we took a trip down to HMS Collingwood, Gosport, to support him. He finishes his course round about Christmas and after that he’s back in Plymouth. Penny’s doing OK; she’s in management in a hospice. Katie’s a boarder in Plymouth College, and she’s well into fencing and several other sports.
There are some weird people about. A bloke knocks on our door the other day, and says he’s selling garden gnomes. He says he makes three deliveries a year. ‘Eh? Do they escape or something?’ He just looks ordinary to me. I’d expect someone like that to have wild eyes and electric hair.
Sylvia and Jon have this big Old English Sheep Dog, Ulf, 7 stone of boisterous bone and muscle. As part of its exercise or bonding or something, Jon gets down on the floor and fights with it. One day, just after the Eurovision, they’re having this scrap when the dog leaps up in the air and lands on Jon’s inside thigh. I won’t go into details, but he ended up with a bad case of DVT. Then, because of the way things worked out, he was being treated in Cardiff, rather than up the valleys. So, to cut down on travelling, he was based at our house for a couple of weeks. Then one day, for some reason, Liz was looking after Charlie, 8, for a couple of days. And so it came to pass that one evening, Jon, Charlie and I were sat at the table together, 3 men talking men’s talk. In the middle of the conversation, Charlie announces, ‘I hate my sister!’
‘You don’t really hate her,’ I tell him.
‘I do!’ he says.
‘Brothers and sisters talk like that,’ I tell him. ‘When your mother lived here she said she hated me, and she’s my daughter.’
‘She still does!’ he says.
Jon collapses in a hysterical heap of laughter, DVT clots flying all over the place.
‘It’s true!’ yells Charlie, wondering what the joke is.
That’s the story of my life. Mr Nice Guy, and what do I get?
Jon is recovering from the DVT now. He’s back on the mountains and running again. But it was a close call. Mind you big dogs can be a handful. Last year he was playing with it on the beach when it charged at him. He thought it would swerve round him. The dog thought he would jump out of the way. The dog didn’t and he didn’t. Bang! Jon flies up in the air and lands with a crack! It was a broken rib that time.
DVT this time.
Here’s to the next time.
Ageism has been getting steadily worse since I was 40. The other day I found myself in Tesco, buying elixir, when this armchair comic on his perch at the till says, ‘I hope you’re over 21.’ And I retort, ‘closer to 121.’ Then a voice in my head says, ‘you are.’ So I do a quick sum. And I am. So I need this drink.
There’s strange behaviour close at hand too. I get talking to one of the ladies from the wider reaches of the family. She’s in my age group and remembers the World War. Ever since it ended she’s spent her life preparing for the next set-to with Germany. She’s got rooms full of tinned meat and beans and things – to keep her going in the rationing. (Yeah! I‟m talking about you missus.)
I thought it was hilarious and told another lady from the opposite end of the circle. I thought she would roll about laughing, but it turns out that she does the same thing; hoards food for the next war. (You know who you are too; sitting there among your baked beans, blackout curtains drawn, sipping gin and knitting balaclavas for the boys at the front.)
That’s two women in my wider family, waiting for it all to kick-off again, the moment Adolph gets back from Argentina. So, by the law of averages, there must be millions of little old ladies, right across the land, sat in darkened rooms every night, rolling-pins at the ready, waiting to cosh a Kraut. By the same rule, if women do it, men must do it too.
In the dead of night the fields must come alive as rheumy old gits scramble through windows, the moment nurse turns her back; to patrol the hedgerows, 4-iron at the ready, re-living the Home Guard.
In the morning, when I look into the shaving mirror, it’s painfully obvious that I’m well into life’s last chapter. I’ve spent years ticking boxes. Now it’s getting dodgy. The card’s nearly full. I’m reluctant to tick that last box.
But, as if to remind me that the end is nigh, I get a form from the DVLA telling me that my driving licence is due for renewal. They make me renew it every 3 years now, so that when I fall off my perch, I won’t be leaving a valid licence for some scallywag to be driving around with. This time it gives me the option of ‘filling in the form’ or ‘applying online.’
The form itself is a piece of cake – 4 or 5 boxes to tick, that’s all. But it assures me that online is even quicker and easier. So guess what? Yeah, that’s right. I fall for it.
Off upstairs; switch on the computer; wait for it to sort itself out; into Internet Explorer; punch in the web address.
Up comes the web-page, which assures me that this is all for the best. But it’s already taken longer than filling in the form.
Anyway, I start the action and fill in page one. This asks exactly the same questions that the form asks; but, in addition, it wants my driving licence number, which is already printed on the form.
Click NEXT and get page 2; which asks as many questions again, including details about my passport, ‘But I’m not going anywhere.’ But then it assures me that it will do an automatic check with passport-control, by computer, to verify my identity. Good – if that makes someone feel better.
Click NEXT again. Now it wants my date of birth and my mother’s maiden name, ‘She’s dead!’ Now they want my address, which is where they sent the form in the first place. ‘I’ve lived here for the last 30 years. If I didn’t live here I wouldn’t have the form! You also sent a form here 3 years ago. Remember?’
Now I must invent a password which, of course, I will be expected to remember. But which I will forget, because I already have several passwords on account of different sites demanding different combinations, but this site won’t accept any of them. So I invent yet another password – which I make a note of. But I will lose the note anyway.
Now they want my place of birth … which is covered by my passport clearance. ‘So where are we going? My mother’s dead. And my place of birth hasn’t changed since the last time … and probably never will change – unless I become a born again Christian. So what’s this all about?’
But, hey, they haven’t finished with me yet. Now they want me to invent an easily remembered number, so I pump in my date of birth, which is the only number that will stick in my mind. But the thick sods say it’s no good. Of course it’s good. So I give them another number … which they accept and I forget.
Now they want the 12 digit number printed on the back of my licence. They’ve already got my licence number because I’ve keyed it in. But now they must have the number off the back – in addition. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT.
But they reject it. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT.
But they reject it. So I type it in and check it; then click NEXT.
Bang! They stop me in my tracks. They say the number’s wrong so they don’t know who I am. I’m unidentifiable.
‘But,’ I cry, ‘You’ve checked my passport!’
They don’t respond… even when I punch hell out of the keyboard.
‘But,’ I scream, ‘I’ve given you my licence number! And address! And mother’s maiden name! And place of birth! And I invented a new password … which I forget! And a memorable number … which I forget! And the number you have just rejected is the number you invented and stuck on the back of my licence for just such an occasion
as this! But now you reject it! And you reject me! And you tell me I don’t exist …! Bastards! Bastards! Bastards…!’
So I go downstairs and fill in the original form with four flicks of the pen. And now I stride to the post box in the morning sun and fresh air and think … This is the way life was before they invented the computer. But now it’s gone. Gone forever.
I Need a Break …
I’m in self flagellation mode today. So I head for the computer to book coach tickets online. Being of a naïve nature I go to the official website of National Express.
In the appropriate box I click on the window headed ‘Departure Place’ and type in ‘Cardiff.’ A menu immediately appears and asks if I want ‘Cardiff West?’ ‘Cardiff Gate?’ ‘Cardiff University?’ Or ‘Cardiff something else?’
I don’t want any of them. Two are on the motorway and two are inaccessible. So I type in ‘Cardiff Bus Station.’ The website responds, ‘Departure Point Not Known.’
We are talking about the National Coach Company here, and it’s never heard of, ‘Cardiff Bus Station.’
Their main Welsh office happens to be in Cardiff Bus Station, right opposite the bay from which the coaches leave. So I try again and again and again. But it doesn’t recognise Cardiff, or Cardiff Bus Station, or Cardiff Central, or any other bloody Cardiff except the inaccessible points that it keeps on its menu.
So I head for the telephone and phone the National Express booking line. Now I’m through to a computer that wants to know what I want and why I am calling National Express.
Why does it think I’m calling National Express – to buy a bloody banana? But the computer rambles on, do I want this option or that option or any one of ten other options.
When I finally get it to understand that I just want to book a ticket and get on a coach and bugger off somewhere, it tells me that, ‘There will be a surcharge of £2 for booking by telephone. It would be cheaper and simpler to book online.’
‘Uuugh … You fu …’
Now a clerk appears on the line. ‘Where are you departing from?’ he wants to know.
‘Cardiff,’ I sob.
‘So that will be Cardiff Bus Station …’
‘Uuugh … You fu …’
That all happened in the first 6 months. Since then things have quietened down. There was an interesting weekend in West Wales with Jon and Sylvia in August, when we walked over the Mynydd Preseli to the Bluestones – the place where the druids found the Bluestones which they used in Stonehenge. That was another box ticked for me.
Then, in October, Liz, Diz and I flew from Bristol to Inverness, then hired a car and drove up to Wick, for the funeral of Elizabeth’s Uncle Donald. David travelled up separately and met us up there.
Still in October, Liz and I were across in Northern Ireland for a short break. We were at the Giant’s Causeway that time, which was a box ticked for Elizabeth. And Donegal and the Gaeltacht were boxes ticked for me.
So, that was 2010. Let me see… What comes next?
Cheers, and a Merry Christmas to one and all.
These fairy lights have been lying dormant in the loft for 11 months. So how-come they’re so bloody tangled?
The NHS is Getting Worse
My neighbour says he’s just had phone call from the doctor.
The doctor said, ‘I’ve got your wife here and we’ve got a problem.’ My neighbour said, ‘What is it?’
The doctor said, ‘There’s been a mix-up with her test results so we don’t know if she’s got Alzheimer’s or AIDS.’
My neighbour said, ‘Hell! What can I do?’
The doctor said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll put her on the wrong bus. If she finds her way home, don’t sleep with her.
Posted by Welcome
Actual Posting Date 12-12-10
A student, studying history at university, says he doesn’t know the symbolism behind Winston Churchill’s statue.
Same student demands that we pay for his university education, and is then photographed pissing up the statue.
Caption in newspaper,
“Never did so many give so much for so few thanks.”