All I Wanted for Christmas

“What would you like for Christmas?” Chris asked of me.

“Nothing. I have everything I want,” I said, “except… perhaps?”

“Yes?”

“Perhaps you could write me a poem?”

That’s approximately how the conversation went just before our first Christmas together twenty-one years ago. Since then I’ve a poem for every Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day and even those days when nothing was special but I needed a lift. To date I have seventy-five poems from my beloved. Most are humorous, some are romantic and they chart our life together. All show how well Chris knows me.

I wasn’t disappointed this year, either; I had all I wanted for Christmas and more – he wrote me two poems! And here they are below… Hope you’re all enjoying Christmas!

Also see the additions to the family this year, including two day old little Lillibet.

 

BIBI’S BEAUTIFUL BABY   (Bibi is me – Grandma!)

                  Well, nearly my baby!)

 

My sweet baby Penny, she’s top of the tots

with her velvet brown eyes and her freedom from spots

and her giggling laugh in her baby culottes

she’s the cream of the crop, and the queen of the cots!

 

She’s cute and adorable, my baby P.

and I’ve waited so long for her sweetness to see

But now that she’s here I’m as proud as can be

She’s put  joy in my heart, and she’s my cup of tea! 

 

When she beams me a smile I can feel my heart melt

it’s as though all along she would know how I felt

and of all the fine aces that could have been dealt

She’s just so “Pennylicious”, (and that’s not mis-spelt!)

 

She’s a real “fashionista”, all thanks to her Mum

dressed up to the nines, she’s as sweet as a plum

and when she’s all sleepy, to dreams she’ll succumb

while I gently ponder on what she’ll become

 

 

As I gaze in her innocent eyes I can see

all the life and the love that was always to be

and I know that this beautiful child is part-me

she’s so nearly my daughter, this sweet Penny P.

 

So, Lady Penelope, always be sure

that your BiBi will love you, whatever the score

and when you’re grown up and have boyfriends galore

I’ll still be there for you, it’s you I adore!

 

 For Penelope, and Her BiBi Sally, on Christmas Day 2017

     

 

 LEISURE – REVISITED 

A Pastiche,  with apologies to W H Davies

(A Christmas poem for Sally  -December 25th 2017)

 

What is this life if, full of woe,

we have no time to take it slow

 

No time to stop and take our ease

enjoying leisure as we please

 

No time to lose ourselves in song

and feel the music all day long

 

No time to lay amongst the flowers

and make sweet love for hours and hours

 

No time to pause in Life’s mad rush

to seek the peace of gentle hush

 

No time to gaze in wonderment

at Nature’s beauty, heaven-sent

No time to share our happiness

with  all the friends who we possess

 

No time to take our exercise

to shrink our waists, which we despise!

 

No time to spend a day alone

and carry on without the phone

 

No time, even, to write this verse

(which as you see is getting worse!)

 

A poor life this if, full of woes,

we’ve barely time to blow our nose

 

So…please remember, it’s just fine

to take a break at Christmastime!!

 

 

 

The Story of Bluey – the Retired Cattle Dog (an Hilarious Poem From Australia)

 “A great poem – you can’t beat Oz bush poetry”, was all it said on the email I received a couple of days ago from Barry, who was the elder child of Mr and Mrs Conelly, our immediate neighbours at Gumdale where I lived until I was ten year old.

It was bush at Gumdale in those days and Barry’s mum and dad had built their house themselves from the trees on their own land. Nearly everyone up Molle Road had a dog, cats and chickens (and snakes). The Conellys had various farm animals on their smallholding, plus a blind horse called Duke and a pet calf called Bingo – until he was old enough to be meat on the table (I wasn’t hungry the night that June brought over some steak!); and they had a dam on their property, which was a great boon for cultivation before the town water came to our road. We Porches didn’t have a dam and Mum and Dad had to water their strawberry crop by filling buckets from the tank at the back of our house. Just as the strawberries were turning ripe… a mob of kangaroos ate them!

Our families kept in touch over the years (and the oceans) with letters, phone calls and cards at Christmas; there were occasional visits from the Porches remaining in Brisbane and, of course, visits from those of us living in England on our return trips to Australia. Mrs Conelly became “June” as I matured and times changed. June passed away about a year ago. I had been thinking of June when Barry’s email arrived in my in-box. Thank you for the laugh and the memories Barry.

 The Story of Bluey – the retired cattle dog

 

 

Great poem – You can’t beat oz bush poetry. 

 

We pensioned off old Blue 
when old age got him down
We sent him for company
to old Grandma in the town

But while Granny was elated
Blue still craved the great out doors
and he would roam the town exploring
while old granny did the chores

So it was this Sunday morning
Blue was fossicking about
through the paddocks near the township
on his normal daily scout

When a canine gourmet odour
overpowered his sense of smell
though his eyesight had diminished
his old sniffer still worked well

And the sense of his excitement 
was reposed down by the creek
where a sheep had met his maker
for the best part of a week

For its woolly corpse was spreading
and the air was far from fresh
from this rancid flyblown carcass
with its seething greenish flesh

It was a dogs idea of heaven
and old Blue, he rubbed and rolled
till he ponged just like the sheep did
and with ecstasy extolled

Then an idea formed within him
as he gave a gentle tug
and he found the carcass followed
like a matted lumpy rug

He would take it home for later
it should last a week or two
if he stored it in his kennel
he could keep his prize from view

So he gripped the carcass firmly
proudly into town he went
but his load proved fairly heavy
and old Blues energy soon spent

And the only shade on offer
was the building with the bell
and he dragged his prize towards
with its flies and feral smell

Then the dog and sheep both rested
in the front porch of the church
old Blue looked up the gangway
at the parson on his perch

He was revving up the faithful 
to repent to save their worth
and said satan was the culprit
for all the rotten things on earth

And he roared of fire and brimstone
and redemption for the throng
up the aisle came satans presence
in this godforsaken pong

And they all cried “Hallelujah”
and they fell as one to pray
but by now old Blue was rested
and he hadn’t time to stay

He proceeded up the roadway
with the woolly corpse in tow
with a shortcut through the nursing home 
the quickest way to go

Where the matron, in a panic
counted heads in mortal fright
with a smell like that they’d surely lost
a patient through the night

And the members at the bowls club
lowered all their flags half mast
doffed their hats in silence 
for the funeral going past

But old Blue lugged his prize on homewards
travelling past the bowling club
till he took a breather under
the verandah of the pub

There old boozing Bill was resting
sleeping off the night before
to wait the sunday session
when they opened up the door

When the stench awoke his slumber
which was highly on the nose
and he thought his pickled body
had begun to decompose

And he missed the Sunday session
when he ran home to his wife
to proclaim the shock announcement
he was off the booze for life

Meanwhile Blue could see Gran’s gateway
at the far end of the street
so he started up the pavement
with his ripe and tasty treat

But there was movement in the backstreets
as the town dogs sniffed in deep
they broke chains and climbed high fences
for a piece of Blue’s dead sheep

And Blue felt the road vibrating
from the stamp of canine feet
as this pack of thirty mongrels 
came advancing up the street

But he wasn’t into sharing
so he sought a quick escape
and he spied a nearby building
with a door that stood agape

Through this door he sought asylum
but his presence caused a shriek
for he’d chosen the local deli
that was run by Nick the greek

And Blue shot beneath a table
where the sheep and he could hide
but the dog pack was relentless
and they followed him inside

Now the table Blue had chosen
was a double booked mistake
with the law enforcement sergeant
sipping coffee on his break

And the sergeant sat bolt upright
with a dog between his feet
and his eyes began to water
from the dead decaying meat

Then the sarge leapt up in horror
but in his haste he slipped and fell
falling down amongst Blue’s mutton
with it’s all embracing smell

And he lay somewhat bewildered
in the gore, flat on his back
when the mongrel pack descended
in a frenzied dog attack

With first thought self- preservation
from the rows of teeth he faced
the sarge fumbled for his pistol
in it’s holster at his waist

There were muffled bangs and yelping
as random shots rang out
and the whine of bouncing bullets
off the brickwork all about

As he blasted in a panic
from beneath the blood and gore
a front window and the drink fridge
were both added to the score

And the cappuccino maker
copped a mortal wound and died
hissing steam, it levitated
falling frothing on it’s side

And Nick the greek, the owner
grabbed a shotgun in his fright
blasting into the confusion
of the frantic canine fight

At short range it wasn’t pretty
dogs were plastered on the wall
there was laminex in splinters
clouds of dog hair covered all

Then the smoke detector whistled
with the gunsmoke in the air
which set off the sprinkler system
and a siren gave a blare

And the echoes still were ringing
when beneath the dying heap
there emerged old Blue, still dragging
at the remnants of his sheep

It’s head was gone and several legs
but it hadn’t lost it’s smell
in the armistice that followed
Blue decided not to dwell

He leapt the fence at Grandma’s
for his feet had sprouted wings
pure adrenalin propelled him
fleeing dogs and guns and things

Now old Gran had influenza
and had lost her sense of smell
with Blues sheep in the garden 
that was probably just as well

And she looked out from her front fence
at the town in disarray
at the ambulance, police cars
and the rspca as well

Then the fire brigade rushed past her
flashing lights of rosy hue
and she hugged the old dog tightly
he’d protect her would old Blue

You just stay here like a good dog
Grandma told him with a frown
“ ‘cause you’ve no idea the trouble
you can get into in town”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hapless in London – A Tale of One City

It may not have been the best of times but it was certainly almost the worst of times. It was the season of Darkness alright…

But yesterday began well. I awoke in darkness (not so bright but early) in Brighton to the sound of Penelope cooing and laughing. She was soon out of her cot and into my bed for a bit more sleep and cuddles; and when she awoke again my baby granddaughter touched my cheek and smiled. What at darling! Yes it was a good start waking up at Jaimy and James’ place. 

We all kissed goodbye at Brighton Station. I knew I would probably arrive at Australia House on The Strand well before my three-fifteen appointment but I thought it best to leave plenty of time and maybe they would let me in early. Chris’s excellent maps and timetables made for a trouble-free journey into the city and, indeed, I had a couple of hours to kill. First stop Australia House to see if they could fit me in… Buzz. Please? No? But I could enter a half an hour earlier and wait inside; my appointment would be at exactly three-fifteen.

No problem. I’d buy a chocolate milkshake at McDonald and have it for lunch in Trafalgar Square, right down the other end of The Strand; and en route I’d pass the Strand Palace Hotel where I worked for a couple of months as an accounts clerk when I was seventeen; and I’d talk to the doorman. Richard the doorman was rather impressed that I was so interested in the place and he informed me that employees may still have their breakfast, lunch and dinner there if they wish. 

The first sign that all was not going to go to plan was the long wait at McDonald only to find that they were all out of any milkshakes. I took my McDonald “coffee away” down to Trafalgar Square and I took photographs in spite of the grey day. It was nevertheless exciting to be in “town” with the tourists, the city folk, the pigeons and the street performers; the air was alive with the music from a violinist playing electric violin in front of the National Gallery.

I was just standing in the square with my mobile phone camera poised when a handsome man, possibly Egyptian, walked down the steps. He wore a smart navy woollen overcoat and a red scarf. He broke into a beaming smile when he saw me and I smiled back. What a lovely greeting from a stranger! We didn’t speak, though I thought he wanted to (you can tell), and he gestured that he’d take my photograph for me. I waved my “No thanks” and he understood. He walked to the fountain and lingered there a long while, perhaps hoping that I would join him. Instead of joining him I took his photograph when he wasn’t looking. He didn’t look quite as handsome without his winning smile (which didn’t exactly work this time, but only because I’m married). I stayed the other side of the fountain and eventually, I was drawn by the music up to the road. The sun came out while I watched the musician and the crowd, and the man dressed up as a Star Wars creature.

At length the time came for me to wander back leisurely to Australia House.

I was number 84. Numbers 85, 86 and 87 all went before me while I waited. I had a feeling that the Chinese Australian young lady would be my clerk.

“I don’t like these photographs,” she said, looking at the multiple choices from slightly grim to extremely grim. “You appear to be smiling!”

Oh no!

“What about these?” I handed her more.

“I check,” she left and returned. “No, the quality of the paper isn’t good enough and one is slightly blurry, you’ll have to get some more done and be back by four o’clock – we close at four.”

“But it’s half past three nearly…”

As soon as I stepped out of Australia House I was hit by a bucket of rain. It continued to pour in torrents as I raced down The Strand to Charing Cross Underground Station, which is where I had to locate my specified photographer – the closest to Australia House. The pavements ended in puddles that wet my socks and my smart cerise coat was soaked.  I entered the subway from the wrong way and had to ask a couple of hobos if they knew the photo place; they seemed surprised to be asked such a question by a drenched, panting woman. They wanted to help but didn’t know. At last I met a railway man who pointed me in the right direction.

Like a whack in my face, the shop was closed! I had visions of spending the night with my hobo friends and was about to cry when the railway man turned up with the photographer. Hurrah! But could he open up, take my photos, print them and take my eight pounds in less than seven minutes?

Yes, he could. He kindly gave me a tissue to wipe away the streaks of mascara all down cheeks and suggested that I look in the mirror. Wet hair stuck to my head, no makeup and water still shining all over my face. But time was running out! 

“They want me to look ugly,” I said defeated, “they can have me just as I am.”

And the nice photographer took me at my word. A few minutes later I was running through the puddles back up to Australia House; in my pilot case (Chris’s) were six of the ugliest photos I’ve ever seen of myself.

The clock at the end of The Strand chimed four o’clock. It was quite a long chime and I wondered if I could make it to the Passport Department door, like in the films… where they always make it in the nick of time. The chimes ended two seconds before I buzzed. the receptionists were still there.

“Go to the Consulate door around the corner,” the bearded receptionist suggested.

 

“Calm down, Sally,” said the nice older Aussie gentleman who received people into the embassy.

And he gave me a tissue to wipe off the wet black ink that had got onto one of my new photos. And he called the Chinese Australian girl to pick up my gorgeous photos. She pulled a face and so did I. But she accepted them. She had to after all her previous objections… and all I had been through.

I arrived home at eleven-thirty at night. Some trains had been delayed, some were too full to squeeze any more into – there were problems at Waterloo, a very appropriate place for battles of all sorts. Some people were extremely kind and rallied round, as you might expect from people on the same side. Richard the audio man from Chichester was lovely and helpful – he has three brothers, one of whom is an ascetic minister who spends two months a year in a Swedish retreat (so interesting, the things people tell you on trains). And Nigel, the civil servant from near Salisbury, was my constant companion when I needed one most – after the packed train departed the station without me. He was an interesting chap, too; a world traveller who had worked three hundred miles “out west” from Brisbane when he was in a different profession – something to do with gas deposits. My Chris, too, was one of the stalwarts. He picked me up at Exeter St Davids and bought me a chocolate milkshake before driving me home.

My new Australian passport should arrive on Saturday. When I arrive at airport Customs in less than three weeks I guess I shall have to joke about the photograph. I know what to say – it’s what a Customs officer told me many years ago:

“If you look like your passport photograph, you’re not well enough to travel!”

Vis-à-Vis

“Have you got me a visa yet?” I inquired of my better half just last week.

“Oh,” Chris pondered for a second before the look on his face confirmed what I had been thinking, “no!”

My Aussie passport had expired in March and Chris had told me very confidently that I need not worry about applying for a new one until we’re actually in Australia – ” no point in going up to London when it’s so easy to nip into a post office over there” – and I could travel over on a visa, as Chris does. Being an agreeable and dutiful wife, I went along with this idea, even though it rather went against the grain; it’s a bit strange having to obtain a visa to enter one’s own homeland.

It seemed a bit odd, too, when I couldn’t enter my citizenship of Australia on the E-visa application form. My computer didn’t like it either and it played up all the long while that I filled out the form and filled out the form again… several times.

Apparently Chris’s visa had taken only a matter of hours to appear (months ago… when he had applied and forgot about me!). I waited and waited for the good news. In the evening of the second day I received the email – “Terribly sorry but we don’t give our citizens visas; they have to renew their passports.” (Or something like that.)  But I’m supposed to be going in less than three weeks! Or perhaps not?

“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” my beloved asked bringing in our morning cups of tea. 

The look of horror on my face was not to be borne and Chris hurriedly explained. Passport applications normally require up to four weeks to process… Oh no! But it should be alright because they have a priority service. Thank God! Good old Australia house!”

No doubt feeling guilty, Chris had been up for hours ahead of me finding out all the information I needed from the Internet. However, I was still feeling sick to my stomach with anxiety.

“How can I help you?” came the reassuring voice of a middle-aged lady with a familiar sing-song accent.

I must have been the first person to call her; it was one second past nine in the morning.  From that first moment I knew that I was in safe hands and I could breathe more easily.

So tomorrow I shall be off early on the train to Brighton to see my darling Penelope Sweet Pea (now over six months old) and on Wednesday I’ll break the journey home by calling into Australia House on The Strand ( or is it Memory Lane – I used to be an accounts clerk at Strand Palace Hotel when I was seventeen). You have to make an appointment and apply in person. Getting an Australian Passport in England is strictly “Vis-a-vis”! But, hopefully, there will be no unpleasant confrontation. And Chris avoided that by arranging my whole trip beautifully. Bless him!

And here are some photographs of my friend Reuben’s new gallery in Teignmouth where I did a bit of drawing last week…

 

 

Ah, Speech to Text is a Good Idea

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write many blog posts recently – something which I’d like to rectify. Now normally I like to stand at my easel and listen to my favourite psychologist and philosopher Jordan Peterson while I’m painting as I find it quite easy to multi-task when all is going well and I don’t need to concentrate too hard; and if I miss too much over a difficult area I may listen to the lecture again. However, there is no way I could write a blog post whilst painting… unless, of course, I could dictate my post.

“What a good idea!” I thought very loudly yesterday. I was waiting for paint to dry at the time. Actually I was yearning to write a post I had been considering during my morning shower (and which has been superseded by this) but I suddenly became so enamoured with the notion of “Speech to Text” that I resolved to become au fait with the technology.

Cortana, my little used laptop guide, proved to be constant in her ability to be of little use to me and, as usual, I went to Google to find out how to install the programme. Somehow, I managed it (don’t ask me how) after installing a months free trial of Word 2016 (my old one’s no good apparently) but our printer wouldn’t print out the fourteen pages of Windows Speech Recognition commands…until this morning. Chris has just brought them out to me – not much use now.

So I’m in my free trial Word 2016 with a virtual blank sheet of paper and the Speech to Text doo dah  at the top of the screen, and I can’t think of a word to say; the post formulated in my head just a little earlier would not leap into my mind or my mouth. 

“I know,” I said to myself, “I’ll dictate one of Dad’s short stories”. For years my sister Mary and I have been talking about typing out Dad’s many writings and turning them into books; Dad would have loved that when he was alive but over twelve years ago I couldn’t type to save my life or use a computer (although I have a diploma from an office course I took back in 1986!).

I run downstairs, find Dad’s black briefcase and grab the first short story that comes to hand – “The Hunchback and Harold Smith, A short story by Charles Porch”. Great! I’m back at the screen and looking at the virtual paper and “Sleeping” microphone.

“Start listening,” I say, a bit louder than normal because I suspect that the microphone is hard of hearing.

“The Hunchback and Harold Smith,” I say.

“What’s that?” the text part of the microphone device asks. It is deaf, or stupid.

“The Hunchback and Harold Smith!” I enunciate perfectly but with a bit of irritation.

“That hunt back a barrel with”, appears on the page. I delete.

“The,” I say clearly. 

“Tar,” it appears. I delete.

“Theee,” I say loudly.

“Eee,” it writes. It’s scared. I’m getting fed up.

“Tha,” I correct and add a “Bloody hell!” under my breath.

“The body well,” it writes.

“You swine,” I snarl.

“Do we mine,” it responds sarcastically.

 

And so it went on… Slowly and frustratingly… while the paint dried. It wasn’t all misery though. I laughed a bit, both at the original story and some of the hilarious Speech to Text mistakes; e.g. “Warning was 41 years of age nine; a dwarf; and a hunt back.”; or “The circular tin had once contained toffees he hasn’t been a pretty one”; or “Indeed if one ignored the dull rusting interior, it was downhill 2010”.

Tired of “spelling it” again and again I corrected most mistakes manually. I didn’t have the full commands so sometimes the whole text was lost… then found. The Speech to Text gizmo did learn eventually to produce the word ‘hunchback’, and even ‘Harold Smith’ but I fancy I shall make little use of those words when I write my blog posts in future. Besides, these days my typing is about thirty times faster than a lunatic gizmo with a vocabulary of fifty words and learning slowly (that office course must have been lying dormant all the these years!).

For those of you who’d like to read “The Hunchback and Harold Smith” by Charles All Porch I shall paste it below. In case you wonder, my father worked as a male nurse in Devizes Mental Institution in Wiltshire after the War. It is based on real characters and incidents, and this is its first public airing.

 

THE HUNCHBACK AND HAROLD SMITH

A short story by Charles Porch

Wally was forty-one years of age; a dwarf; and a hunchback.  One side of his face was paralyzed and when he laughed the loose skin on the afflicted side sank lower still, and drew his shaggy fair moustache down with it.

He couldn’t remember a life outside of the Institution although sometimes he received vague flashes of memory of how his life had been before his committal.

One is these brief mental pictures that recurred periodically was to do with newspapers.  Large piles of newspapers fresh from the presses.  The hunchback could see them stacked in an orderly row upon a wheeled, wooden table.  Above the table and running the length of it was a wide shelf quite bare except for a lidless tin box that was half-full of coppers.

The circular tin had once contained toffees and had been a pretty one.  Indeed if one ignored the dull rusting interior, it was still a pretty tin.  Around the outside of it fat, pink fairies chased each other through a woodland glade; and the scene was lit by pixies that peeped shyly around the boles of warted trees.  Wally liked the pixies because they wore funny red hats and made him laugh.  He liked to laugh and was oblivious of the sound he made; the low pitched “Aw, Awa-Awa-Aw” that pulled his moustache down and made him dribble.  He didn’t laugh very often, only when the pictures came.  There were the odd occasions when something immediate brought a spontaneous “Aw, Awa-Awa-Aw”.  Like the time when Mr Ted the Staff Nurse lost his temper and hit Harold Smith on the head with a dessert spoon.

Wally didn’t like Harold Smith!  He hadn’t much reason to like him.  Harold Smith’s main activity was following Wally around Ward 3 and waiting for him to laugh.  When Wally laughed Smith would thump him upon his hunched back.  When that occurred the funny pictures left Wally’s mind and wouldn’t come back again.

Harold Smith was a lunatic.  “Old Moses” said so.  Wally liked “Old Moses” because he had a big white beard and was boss of the dinner squad of which Wally was a member.

At twelve o’clock midday on each day of the week except Sunday Wally got a thump on the back from Harold Smith.

At that hour “Old Moses” would stand near the door of Ward 3 and shout at the top of his booming voice “We shall break bread Christ holy!” and Wally’s face would contort and he would articulate perhaps an “Aw”; and if he was lucky an “Awa” too before being cut off short.

The dinner squad, preceded by one of the staff, would leave Ward 3 and go down the long corridor, through a doorway into another corridor; through a doorway into a vast wall; through yet another doorway and emerge finally into a quadrangle.

Wally liked the jingle of the Staff Nurse’s shiny keys as they were thrown deftly into the various locks, but he liked best of all the big kitchen with its huge, shiny cookers and pans, and he was careful to make sure that its lid was snapped down “nice and tight” as directed by the pretty girl who smiled at him and called him “Wally”.  Wednesday was the big day of the week for Wally.  It was the only day on which he was heard to speak.  He received more thumps on his hump on Wednesday than the other days quotas put together because it was his happiest day.

On Wednesdays hot, thick nourishing soup was served midday for dinner and Wally had a great passion for it.  As soon as he had groped his way out of bed on Wednesday morning he would shout at the top of his voice “Zoup today!” and the young male nurses shouted back “Zoup today Wally!”; and Harold Smith was out of bed like a flash of lightning; with his fist raised and looking like a crazy, night-shirted Joe Stalin, he would position himself behind the hunchback.  When the doctor made his round on Wednesdays Wally always took up station near the door of Ward 3 and waited for him.  Hovering in the vicinity would be the relentless Harold Smith.  The doctor would be greeted with “Zoup today! Aw, Awa-Awa, Aw. Zoup today!”.  The hunchback could laugh with impunity only because Harold Smith had beside him Mr Ted who was significantly smacking the palm of his left hand with a dessert spoon.

The doctor would reply and nod smilingly to the trio, “Zoup today gentlemen!”

Nursing staff passing in the course of their duties would greet each other on Wednesdays with “Zoup today” instead of the conventional “Good morning”.  There was “Zoup today” in the laundry, in the kitchen and in the Medical Superintendent’s quarters.  Calendars were found with “Zoup today” instead of Wednesday printed upon them.  Wednesday was a great day for wits and half-wits alike.

The hunchback was always cold.  His hands were like those of a corpse.  When he felt exceptionally miserable he would climb up on a hard settle at the end of Ward 3 and sit dejectedly with his little legs swinging rhythmically.  Beside him, ever watchful, would be his Demon escort.

Harold Smith knew that on these occasions it would only be a matter of time before Wally sat on his hands.

The movement was an involuntary one on the part of the hunchback, and with it there was an involuntary association that gave him one of his happy pictures.  This scene was set on the pavement of a corner of a busy city intersection.  Crowds of people wrapped in warm overcoats passed laughing and talking in front of the news-stand.  Some would stop and buy an evening paper and say “Hello there” and give Wally some coppers.  The happy dwarf liked the pennies that were fished from the big men’s trouser pockets.  They had body warmth and he would nurse them lightly in his little fists for a minute.  Occasionally he’d be given a copper bearing the bearded head of King George.  Wally liked those especially, and he would laugh before putting them carefully into the pretty tin box.

Opposite his table-cum-barrier there was a sweet shop, brightly lit and full of Easter eggs.  Such lovely eggs!  Some of them had big bows of red, blue and yellow ribbon around their fat waists.  Others were chorus lines of portly ladies in sequinned dresses; and there were happy snowmen eggs that the dwarf liked best of all.

The snowmen wore gay bow ties, and black lips on their cotton wool faces, and red-ribboned bands were around their black top hats.

Pockets of warm air eddied around the news-stand as crowds of people waited on the pavement for the lights to change, and the newsboy could smell the men’s tobacco and the perfume of the women.  That was very nice.  When the people moved off they took the warmth with them and replaced it with bitter cold wind gusts and loneliness.

When Wally’s fingers were unbearably cold he would return to his little stall and thrust them deep into an oven of late edition newspapers and revel in the transferred heat.  By the end of each evening the dwarf’s hands would be black and polished with printers ink and look like the hands of the funny snowmen in the sweet shop window across the pavement.

That made the hunchback feel happy and when Wally was happy he laughed; and when Wally laughed he got punched for it.  The punches didn’t hurt him but they drove the happy pictures from his mind.  He hated Harold Smith!  Harold Smith was a lunatic!  Old Moses said so.  Mr Ted the Charge Nurse of No3 Ward had been responsible for Wally for twelve years.  He knew the hunchback well.  He knew all of the patients in his charge and made certain concessions for their wellbeing.

For instance, there was Wally’s old brown jacket.  It was very old, very worn and four sizes too big for him but Wally became upset if it was taken from him.  Therefore Mr Ted saw that Wally was not deprived of it.  When the garment became too evil smelling Mr Ted would confine the hunchback to bed for 24 hours and get the coat washed.

First of all he would empty it.  There were great holes in the sleeve and pocket linings.  From the former he would remove half a bucketful of various treasures – a strip of brown linoleum; two childrens painting books; long twigs and dead leaves; and a piece of waxy rag.  From the pockets would come bird seed; pieces of coloured stone, toffee wrappers, a spoon; Gillette razor blade wrappers with pictures of a bearded man engraved on them; and cut-out pictures of the bearded sailor whose countenance used to grace the front of the old Players cigarette packets.  There was often a handful or two of old boiled potato.

When next Wally wore the coat it would have the piece of lino’ and a fresh painting book in the sleeves. The pockets would contain a new Players cigarette packet, some fresh Gillette wrappers and the case of an old golf ball.

Harold Smith and no coat.  He was clad in a strong canvas overall from neck to toe with brass locks instead of buttons.  He wore boots with brass locks instead of laces.  He was very fond of his canvas suit and spent a lot of his time trying to tear it to pieces with his strong hands.  There was a broad patch across the upper half of the garment where the frayed fibres showed white against the brown material that had succumbed to the frenetic clawings of Harold Smith’s thick nails.

The seat of the overall was a padded cushion of a motley of materials woven into the canvas.  The cushion was a birds nest of paper, rag, straws and twigs. The reluctant weaver of the conglomeration was Wally the hunchback who, under threat, made holes in the seat of the canvas suit and threaded into it whatever materials Harold Smith had to hand. Surreptitiously and painstakingly, Wally had unravelled about two feet of wire from the old bird cage at the end of Ward 3, and this was used as a bodkin to poke holes through the strong canvas. After a weaving session, that usually took place in the lavatories, the wire itself was threaded finally into the padding and hung in a loop like a bucket handle.

The proud owner of this fantastic overall, wholly pleased with himself following a new weaving, would parade around Ward 3 and demand admiration from his fellow inmates. He sometimes got a kick in the cushion instead!

The inner staircase to the dormitory of Ward 3 led up from a lobby adjacent to Mr Ted’s office and pantry. The door into the dormitory from the landing on the top of stairs was kept locked by day.

On Wednesdays Wally used to sit nearly bent double on the third stair from the bottom. He used to take up position at least five minutes before midday, eagerly awaiting Old Moses’ call of “We shall break bread Christ Holy!”, so that he would be first in line when the dinner gang formed up in the lobby.

One Wednesday in July 1950 at a few minutes before noon Wally had one of his dreams. He was sitting on his hands at the foot of the stairs as per usual.

In the dream he found himself in a small shabby room. Daylight struggled valiantly to penetrate the string of washing in the back yard. Undaunted, it assailed the dirty windows and the grubby lace curtains that screened them. The hunchback was sat on a very worn, loose-hair sofa that was angled before a large iron stove. There were hot coals to gaze into. The door of the oven was open and several socks were draped over it drying. Wally could smell the familiar odour, not unpleasant, that rose with the wisps of vapour from the drying articles. Around the hearth was a black iron fender enclosing a black iron poker and a pair of long brass tongs. From the mantel-piece hung a fringe of tasselled cloth. On the mantel shelf were several gay coloured cards that gave a homely touch to the sombre room.

A big red-coated gentleman wearing a funny red hat smiled at Wally from one of the cards. The gentleman had a big white beard and looked like Old Moses.

The dwarf smiled to himself and returned his gaze to the hot coals, at the same time becoming aware of a vague figure; of a hand that began taking the pretty cards from the mantel shelf and throwing them, one by one, into the fire. “Oh no!” The paper flamed for a second or two and then subsided. “Not the funny man in the red coat with a beard!” He could hear himself shouting and then he was crying, as the flames consumed the folded card, and the red coat and hat became a grey etching on the black coals. The hunchback was standing now upon the bumpy old sofa, sobbing and beating with his little fists against the back of the obscure figure.

Wally’s dream was rudely shattered and he was brought quickly back to reality by the blows that were being delivered to his own humped back. He heard rather than felt them. He turned toward his assailant. Harold Smith leaned over the balustrade in the lobby of Ward 3 and gave the dwarf another thump for good luck.

“Sew up my bum!” he commanded, handing him six inches of bright green wool.

The dwarf took the piece of wool and Harold Smith bent down and rammed his cushion against the bannisters. The little man, ever obedient, put his hands through the iron rails and removed the threaded wire. Then he stood up, leaned over and punched his tormentor.

The man in the canvas suit was only half-straightened when the wire caught him around the throat. The little hunchback hauled backwards with all his strength and held on for half a minute before taking the wire ends a couple of turns around the handrail. It served Harold Smith right! He shouldn’t have burned Wally’s funny pictures, especially the one of the man in a red coat, with a beard like Old Moses.

It was Old Moses who saved Harold Smith’s life.

Wally was waiting as usual when Old Moses led the dinner squad into the lobby. And there was Harold Smith with his feet drumming weakly against the bare floorboards…

The hunchback didn’t bring the tea back from the kitchen that Wednesday. He has been removed to another ward since then and has his meals taken to him now. Sometimes even he has a room to himself.

Mr Ted wanders down to see him occasionally and takes him a picture book, passed on from his children; and Wally and he have an “Aw, Awa-Awa, Aw” together.

Harold Smith misses the hunchback more than anyone in Ward 3. His cushion has lost its former splendour because it’s mostly a “Do it yourself” job these days.

I am happy to report however that Wally the hunchback is safe and well. He enjoys his food as much as ever he did. He especially enjoys his dinner on Wednesdays when the hospital reverberates with the cry of “Zoup today!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

 

What is This Life…?

W. H. Davies

Leisure

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Many times through my life I’ve thought of those first two couplets (and the last) from the poem “Leisure” by the Welsh poet W.H.Davies. (The “W.H.” stands for William Henry, the same as my son’s middle names but I didn’t know that at the time – James was named after my brothers.) I think we learnt “Leisure” at primary school, like all little Aussies who had to learn poems by heart in the Sixties, and I daresay I could recite almost every line if prompted by my sister Mary. It’s not a long poem.

Naturally, you must be at your leisure in order to think of “Leisure”, otherwise you’d be too busy to consider it. This year has been exceedingly busy for Chris and me, too busy this summer for cycling to our favourite field near Exeter Canal, where we like to take a picnic and lie “beneath the boughs”, and stare quite long at herds of cows… Too busy to cycle up to the ford of a sunny evening and sit on the wooden bridge, and dangle our hot feet into the running stream “full of stars…” Often too busy “to turn at Beauty’s glance” – this year we didn’t go to Brittany, France… Our car whizzed by many woods and, even when we did stop for a quick walk up to the Obelisk, we saw no squirrels hiding nuts in the grass as we passed. We were so “full of care” we had no time “to stand and stare”.

But earlier this week we – Mary, Henry (my brother from Australia), Chris and I – found some time and went to Cornwall. We stayed in Rosie’s charming holiday cottage set in a pretty garden with a babbling brook. We must have had sea fever for we went “down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky” (even though we live by the sea in Devon). We dallied down at Doc Martin’s Port Wenn (Port Isaac) and had a lingering lunch at The Golden Lion. We perused Padstow Harbour against a background of pink clouds, and windows reflected gold in the calm water as the sun went down; we sauntered across the sand at Mawgan Porth, then danced with joy at the edge of the running tide (“a clear call that may not be denied”). The clouds flew in the wind and the sea sprayed and spumed in a sparkling mist along the shoreline. In the evenings we impostor “vagrant gypsies” had merry yarns beside glowing fires.

And now it’s nice to be home. Back to work.

 

Now We’re Being Told That It’s Immoral to Have Children

For a long time I’ve hated watching the news on television, or even listening to it on the radio; I’m sensitive to the sight of dead bodies and suffering so I “turn off” – in more ways than one – and glean my news of the world from the Internet, newspapers and conversations with others who force themselves to keep up with it regardless of the personal consequences. Lately, even those people have been saying, “The news was so awful I just had to switch it off!”.

For some time now it has been hard even to read the paper without feeling worried or angry. On the same day I read about the campaign to ban the word “fireman” being used in Britain I read also that the toy manufacturer Mattel was overhauling Thomas the Tank Engine to make it become “more gender balanced” (it’s a toy train for God’s sake!); homosexual rights groups (is it alright to use that term?) want doctors to ask every patient over sixteen about his/her/it/zie/zit (or whatever pronoun) sexuality, and male students exploring their gender at Gordon’s School, Surrey, are welcome to wear skirts, use gender-neutral toilets, be known by gender-neutral pronouns, and sleep in a girls’ boarding house. Lucky boys! Surprise, surprise, one person was brave enough to speak out: Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said, “Encouraging children in their delusions is immoral and dangerous.”

In the last few days I’ve heard that we shouldn’t use the term “pregnant women” in case it offends transgender men who have kept their reproductive organs. That transgender issue again!

To cap it off I read this morning that “Having children is not life-affirming: it’s immoral”(David Benatar| Aeon Essays). That was a dreadfully negative read – Professor Benatar, philosopher at Capetown University, must be one of those nihilists that nice Professor Jordan B. Peterson (psychology lecturer,Toronto University) keeps talking about. Nihilists believe that life is meaningless. It seems that there are plenty of them around, trying to break down the values and integrity of the majority… What for? For nothing.

If you don’t agree it’s immoral to have children there’s a good chance that, like me, you believe our hopes for the future of humanity rest with our children but we have to wake up, listen, read and speak up. Some people “turn off”, or turn to drink or drugs, but if we care about the future we are going to leave behind us we must be a little brave. Jordan Peterson is the bravest man I know of. His brilliant lectures are free on YouTube. Follow the link below:

Biblical Series III: God and the Hierarchy of Authority – YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_GPAl_q2QQ
6 Jun 2017 – Uploaded by Jordan B Peterson

Biblical Series III: God and the Hierarchy of Authority. Jordan B Peterson … I didn’t mind, because it is …

Strawberry is hope for the future – my granddaughter!

Autumn Leaves and the Obelisk at Mamhead Forest

Henry has arrived at Heathrow

My brother Henry is over from Australia (that’s us in the photograph above) and, after a week, he’s just about over his jet-lag. So this morning Chris and I thought he might enjoy a walk to the obelisk at Mamhead Forest as it is not a particularly long walk and it’s pretty flat terrain. Best of all, the lookout point has a magnificent panoramic view of all the rolling countryside leading down to the mouth of the River Exe and the sea. Oh, and the trees are beautiful on a sunny autumn day.

None of us realised it had been raining until we stepped outside the house but it didn’t matter because we were togged up in coats and sensible walking shoes. Chris wore his shorts because my better half insists upon wearing them into November, or as long as possible (providing it’s not snowing), and Henry wore his Aussie shorts because I haven’t taken up his new jeans for him yet. I wore long jogging pants because I was going to the gym after our walk (dieting and keeping fit again) and Malachi had on nothing but her black coat – well she is a black Labrador (we picked her up from Rosie’s farm nearby).

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a sunny day, and as we drove “onward and upward” to the forest we noticed that the hilltop was shrouded in cloud. Nevertheless, as you will see from the photographs below, the mist did not detract from the beauty of the autumn leaves; in fact it was very atmospheric.

And in case you’re wondering why I’m on the Cabbage Soup Diet again – well, you can only do it one week at a time…  I lost seven pounds, subsequently put on two (on holiday) and now I’m back on the cabbage soup to lose some more so I can put it on again. Diets are like the seasons – they come and they go, and I end up pretty well the same.

 

 

A Sunny October Day in the Devon Countryside

Yesterday was a perfect day for walking with friends – sunny, warm and with a hint of a breeze to make easier going on the hillsides. I was looking after things at Rosie’s farm – for a day only – and my companions and I could not bear to be inside on such a lovely day. Even Sasha, the old lady, was not content to have just one short walk to the orchard; after lunch she joined we younger ones on a walk to the top of the hillside from where one can see the all the farm and the rolling hills all the way down to the sea. Of course, we were in no rush and took our time, and sometimes we sat down on the grass to enjoy the view at our leisure, and sometimes I carried her… Sasha is a very little old lady. I think she rather liked it when I paused to take her photograph because it gave her (and me) a bit of a breather.

                                                                     Sasha!

 

Shrinking

I was small and the world was big.

 

One morning recently I awoke early after a restless night of feeling hungry and shrinking. Yes shrinking! I was about half way through the “Catherine’s  Cabbage Soup Diet” and I could feel changes (even if nobody else could see them). So I was awake and the first thing that came into my mind made me laugh…

 

Strangely, I was remembering back to a time when I really was small, three years old I guess, and Henry was a baby in the pram; my sister Mary must have just started school because she wasn’t with us as we were walking home down Molle Road. Now I happened to be an excruciatingly shy little girl who wouldn’t speak to strangers; I’d run away or hide, often under Mum’s skirts if there was nowhere else to hide. However, on this occasion I didn’t run away when we met a group of ladies coming out of Mrs Cottrell’s place… and one of them had a pram.

 

I didn’t speak of course but I stood by the pram, just as Mum did, and looked inside at the new baby. Young as I was, I knew what a beautiful baby looked like – my baby brother Henry was soft, round and bonny – so I hadn’t been prepared for the sight of the alien little creature in the pram. The baby was bald and pale with a face and skin so thin that all his veins showed through as blue as his sad watery eyes.

 

“Mum,” I whispered as I tugged on my mother’s gathered skirt to get her attention,”Isn’t that a funny looking baby?”

 

My  mother wouldn’t answer so I tugged again.

 

“Mum,” I whispered slightly louder. “Isn’t that a funny looking baby?”

 

My mother reached down and pushed my hand from her skirt but said nothing. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t seem to hear me.

 

“Mummy!” I shouted whilst pulling at her dress. “Don’t you think it’s a funny looking baby?”

 

Silence. Oh dear! Everybody looked at me. Mum squirmed and I realised I had said the wrong thing. I was too young to make amends so I did the next best thing and disappeared inside Mum’s voluminous gathered skirt where no-one could see me. I knew my mother’s legs quite well in those days… when I small.

 

Nowadays the world doesn’t seem nearly so big and, after a week on “Catherine’s Cabbage Soup Diet”, neither am I. I’ve lost seven pounds. The tricky thing will be to keep it off, especially as we’re on holiday in Spain at this very moment. Actually, I’m hoping to shrink a bit more.‍