Sunday 30 January 2011

My Big Garden Birdwatch

I’ve spotted a Goldcrest

This is the weekend of the UK Big Garden Birdwatch organised by the RSPB. I didn’t sign up. I haven’t got the time to do it properly this year, what with visiting Mum in hospital and having Rod laid up with a dose of the flu, but I couldn’t resist making a small contribution.

I decided to take 15 minutes our of this morning's busy schedule. I went out into the garden and I waited. Sure enough there were the regulars; Blackbirds, Sparrows, Dunnocks, a couple of Blue Tits, a Coal Tit and three stroppy Pigeons... but I could hear something different. It was the thin reedy sound of a Goldcrest. It’s visited our garden before but it’s not easy to spot. It’s even smaller than a Wren. It pecks around the inner branches of our Yew Tree and is much easier to hear than to see. I tried to photograph its gold stripe on its head but it’s a shy little thing and it wouldn’t look at me. This is the best I could manage.

Next year hopefully I’ll be able to spare more time and take part in the survey properly but for now I’m happy to know that the Goldcrest has survived this harsh winter. Good on you, Goldie.

Thursday 27 January 2011

You’re a Pink Toothbrush

An alternative ‘Best Song of All Time’ list

I missed the chance to join other bloggers with my favourite top ten songs of all time. It was a Blogfest organised by Alex J. Cavanaugh. I’ve already signed up to his next one, an A to Z challenge in April, so any bloggers who fancy taking part, go and visit Alex’s blog.

Since reading his and Jemi’s lists I keep thinking about a certain song. It’s not an obvious ‘best song of all time’. It’s a real nostalgia trip from the days of Children’s Favourites which used to be on the BBC Light Programme many years ago. It’s about a pink toothbrush meeting a blue toothbrush at the bathroom door and I’m going to put it at No. 1 on my alternative best song list...

No. 1
You're a pink toothbrush, I'm a blue toothbrush 

...and sticking with this theme I’ve chosen the following nine songs to complete my top 10. I'm not sure of their titles so I've typed out the first few lines instead:

No. 2
I tawt I taw a puddy tat a cweeping up on me
I did I taw a puddy tat as plain as he could be

No. 3
Me and my teddy bear, got no worries, got no cares
Cause me and my teddy bear, just play and play all day

No. 4
Thumbalina, Thumbalina tiny little thing
Thumbalina dance, Thumbalina sing

No. 5
I know a fat old policeman 
He's always on our street 
A fat and jolly red-faced man 
He really is a treat 

No. 6
I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track
And as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.

No. 7
The railroad comes through the middle of the house
It comes and goes through the middle of the house

No. 8
Que sera, sera,
Whatever will be, will be

No. 9
Nellie the elephant packed her trunk 
and said goodbye to the circus 

Last but certainly not least is:

No. 10
In a tiny house, by a tiny stream,
Lived a lovely lass, with a lovely dream.
And her dream came true, quite unexpectedly in
Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer Katsenellenbogen-by-the-see-ee-ee-ee-ea.

I really enjoyed remembering those songs. Apologies to people from other countries who have never heard of these songs but I’d love to know what your childhood songs were about.

Sunday 23 January 2011

A time to rhyme

There’s something satisfying about reading an old, familiar poem, even (especially) if you almost know it by heart.

What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare...
(Leisure by W. H. Davies)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you...
(If... by Rudyard Kipling)

Poetry can be a great comfort when times are hard. Mum is very ill. It’s cancer of the oesophagus. My life has returned to the routine of daily hospital visits and bags of washing.

At times like this I can’t concentrate on novels so I thought I’d revisit Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled in which he explains the processes of poetry writing. I love reading Stephen Fry. He writes as he talks and it’s like having him sitting next to me but this book has beaten me. I never knew that poetry could be SO complicated with its anapaest, dactyl, molasses... It makes my attempts at poetry writing look embarrassingly naive. [My Little Nut Tree]

But does that matter? I enjoy it so I’m issuing a warning! I’m going to carry on writing it however naive it may be.

Our love of rhythm and rhyme is nurtured from when we’re very young through nursery rhymes and simple songs. My favourite picture books are the rhyming ones which brings me to a major gripe. I understand:
  • that publishers need to watch the pennies
  • that picture books are expensive to produce.
  • that they need to get foreign rights to cover the cost
  • that rhyming texts make translation more difficult

 ...but I can’t be the only person who loves rhyming picture books. If we all love them and the children all love them, isn’t it a shame that most publishers state quite clearly in their submission guidelines ‘No rhyming texts’. Come on publishers. Give us more of what we want!

What’s your favourite ‘almost recite by heart’ poem?


Monday 17 January 2011

A Weekend of Fantasy

I thought it was a good time to book a weekend away at Warner’s Thorseby Hall. Rod’s resistance is returning after his stem cell transplant, but life has smacked us yet again. Mum is seriously ill in hospital. Should we cancel? The family, even Mum, said, ‘No!’ so, with a promise from my friend to visit Mum and report back daily, we went.

Thoresby Hall looks like a fantasy castle. In fact, the whole weekend had a bit of a fantasy feel to it.

[This photograph was taken on an earlier visit when the sun was shining.]

The Thoresby Players entertained us with a series of amusing vignettes about life in this once great Manor House on the edge of Sherwood Forest. In the library is a carving of Sherwood’s Great Oak and, in keeping with my fantasy theme, Robin Hood was there.

On Saturday evening we were treated to a different kind of fantasy. Thanks to the Barron Knights, we were taken back to the nostalgia of the 1960s. We laughed at their risqué versions of 1960s songs and were soon singing and clapping along to all our favourite oldies... and there was an almost fantasy view from our bedroom. It was good to see Rod smiling again.


Monday 10 January 2011

Two thief alerts

But only one is for real.

I was running late and shouldn’t really have gone to the shops to treat myself to new body cream, perfume and make-up but I went anyway. Unfortunately the lady behind the counter must have been having a stressful day too. She left the security tag on the perfume and body cream set. As I left the shop I heard an alarm but was sure it couldn’t have been me because I’d paid for everything. The security people who instantly surrounded me weren’t so sure, neither were all the shoppers who gawped at me as my bags and pockets were thoroughly searched. The incident has a good outcome. I had receipts for everything. I am not a thief...

...which is more than can be said for the boys who broke into a neighbour’s house last week. Our neighbour disturbed them which meant they didn’t get much but she was scared out of her wits. They had knives. What sort of people do this to innocent homeowners? What makes them think they can take what we’ve all worked hard to buy?

During the afternoon workmen had been in the house. A friend was there to keep an eye on them but these workmen asked a few too many questions. They wanted to know what sort of hours the homeowners worked and where the lights were for different rooms. (They weren’t electricians.) They went into rooms that had nothing to do with the job they were supposed to be doing. They could be perfectly innocent but the information they gleaned would have been very helpful to the thieves so...

...if any Leicester people are reading this blog, don’t tell workmen anything, don’t let them wander where they shouldn’t and if workmen start asking questions call the police.

I’m getting a bit serious of late. Note to self: must lighten up!

Friday 7 January 2011

Do hospitals care?

I tried to write about something light-hearted this week but my head is too full of serious matters. I have to let off steam! Mum has been ill all Christmas and a few days ago she collapsed. The housekeeper at her home called an ambulance and she was taken to the Emergency Medical Unit at the Leicester General Hospital.

Regular readers of this blog will know that my Other Half spent over seven weeks in hospital last year and so I’m no stranger to hospital visiting. He was in the Bone Marrow Unit at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and, although he was seriously ill, the care was first class.

In comparison, Mum is having a third class experience. She is in a bed with no buzzer. Her first night there was spent hooked up to a drip. She was unable to reach her stick and had no way of even telling a nurse when she needed to go to the toilet. The inevitable outcome was degrading and inhumane. Next morning she managed to get to a toilet but was given only a couple of sheets of toilet paper – a small point when typed on this screen but a major one when it’s happening to you!

After she had been in the ward for 24 hours I asked the nurse in charge what was being done for her. The nurse didn’t know who I was talking about. She pulled a sheet of paper from her pocket and, sure enough, there was Mum’s name, halfway down an unbelievably long list. The nurse still didn’t know who Mum was or why she was there and I’m not really surprised. How can any one person be expected to care for so many people?

I overheard someone say that the unit should have been closed down before Christmas but had been kept open because of the high number of emergency admissions. This explains the buzzer and maybe even the toilet paper but it doesn’t help Mum. She still has no buzzer but she does have a large, soft, white toilet roll in a bag with her name written on it!

Why can’t hospital administrators see that there are more important things than target fixing and form filling? Nurses need time and resources. They need to be allowed to care. I only hope those administrators never have to experience the same indignities... or maybe they pay the extra and go to a different hospital.

Mum had an endoscopy yesterday afternoon. She has an ulcer. We still don’t know what they’re planning or what that means but at least they’re doing something.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Five Little Firsts

There’s something special about firsts and a new year means lots of firsts. This is my first blog post of 2011. I’ve just made the first entry into my crisp-paged 2011 diary. I’m about to write my first 2011 cheque... carefully! (It’s when you stop thinking about it that you get the year wrong.) And my first manuscript of the year will be submitted just as soon as the post office reopens.

I decided to do a ‘firsts brain-storm’. I scribbled firsts onto a sheet of A4 without stopping to think about it. When I read it back I was surprised to see that my list didn’t include any of the really big events in my life. They were all little firsts, so here are my top five little firsts:

1.  My first lipstick: The colour was baby pink. It was a soft lipstick and I suspect I put it on much too thickly.

2.  My first miniskirt: It was yellow and white striped and had a black patent belt. The belt was almost as wide as the skirt. *sigh* Those were the days!

3.  My first pop concert: I saw Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas billed with Gene Pitney at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. I wore a trouser suit made of brown suede. I screamed a lot and thought I was really classy.

4.  My first car: An Austin A40 Farina with the registration DOL. I called her Dolly and loved her dearly.

5.  My first published story: Waiting to be Rescued was about a lady stuck on a high-up window ledge. It was published by Best Magazine in 1999. You can read the story on my website here.

I could have included major events like marriage, child birth, my first book, but I didn’t. I suspect that it’s the small things in life that really shape who we are... I loved that lipstick!

What's your favourite little first?