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 Actually I was yearning to write a post I had been considering during my morning shower (and which has been superseded by this) but I suddenly became so enamoured with the notion of “Speech to Text” that I resolved to become au fait with the technology.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.‍

 

 

 

Brad Pitt?

My husband is a bit of an ape. No, he’s not short, hairy or a funny noise maker (well he does sometimes make funny noises), I really mean that Chris is a mimic. Had he been more extroverted and showbiz inclined Chris would have made a good impersonator. He does excellent impressions of Prince Charles, James Mason, Harpo Marx and Stan Laurel (of “Laurel and Hardy” fame), and occasionally he pops into impression mode seemingly without thinking about it; hence I’m apt to say, “Oh, you just sounded like James Mason!” or, “You looked just like Stan Laurel!”

Now Chris does not impersonate Bard Pitt – or even Brad Pitt (thought I’d keep in the typo) – possibly because Brad Pitt is so convincing in many varied roles that there is no particular character that is the definitive Brad; or maybe Chris would find the character of Benjamin Button too challenging.

Image result for images benjamin buttonImage result for images benjamin button

The other day we were parked and about to alight from the car when Chris had one of his Stan Laurel moments – perhaps he was scratching the top of his head and smiling sweetly – and, as usual, I felt impelled to comment (as wives tend to).

“Do you know who you looked like just then?” I asked.

Chris didn’t answer but paused and visibly braced himself, maybe for the Stan Laurel reference. He looked so crestfallen and Stan Laurel-like that I had a sudden change of heart.

“Brad Pitt!” I said.

His eyes widened and his eyebrows went up in surprise. Then he burst into laughter. He knows I admire Brad Pitt’s good looks, but also that he and the actor bear no similarity except for having fair hair and blue eyes, and even those features are quite different. When our laughter subsided he said something that confirmed what I already knew – that I had made the perfect choice of husband nearly twenty years ago:

“You know, Darling, I really don’t mind being likened to Stan Laurel. I’ve read that he was a very nice man.”

 

A Story

Before I go to sleep I’d like to tell you a true story. Actually, I am in bed writing this post on my Kindle. You see I’m staying a couple of nights with James, Jaimy and Penelope Sweet Pea (my four month old baby granddaughter) in Brighton. This afternoon I arrived bearing a few gifts, amongst which there was a lovely big book of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales. Jaimy loved the book for Penny, as did I when I found it on Saturday; like me, Jaimy used to be an avid early reader and lover of fairy tales. The mere mention of fairy tales takes me back to grade two or three. at Manly West Primary School and “Fifty Famous Fairy Tales”.

I can’t remember my teacher’s name but my mind’s eye can still see the book in her hands and the way her red varnished nails and gold rings reflected on the glossy cover as she read to us wonderful stories about a golden goose, spinners of gold and dancing princesses. How I wanted to read all fifty stories at my own faster pace.  So great was my yearning that one day I overcame my terrible shyness and plucked up the courage to ask my teacher if I could borrow her book.

“No,” she said, “you wouldn’t be able to read this at your age. The words are too big for seven year olds!”

What a cheek! I knew I could read it, if only I had it.

Some months passed and still I longed for the impossible. Occasionally our teacher would bring out the treasured book and taunt me with the words she said I couldn’t read.

Then I became sick with bronchitis and had to take time off school. My mum, who always liked to buck us up with tasty morsels and delicacies when we children were sick, asked me if there was anything I fancied. I couldn’t think of food. There was only one thing I fancied….

“Fifty Famous Fairy Tales!”

And despite it not being my birthday, and it undoubtedly being an expensive book (probably too good to lend to seven year olds), Mum made my dreams come true. I read that book so much that the spine became worn and thin in the creases, though the rest of the cover retained its glossy surface.

Then one day, years later, when the book was a cherished memory rather than reading matter, a younger child admired it and I couldn’t deny her the pleasure of owning it herself.

Now, of course, it’s not so much the wonderful stories that come to mind when I think of that book… but the heart of my devoted mother. We had so little and she loved us so much.

 

How is Noel?

“Have you seen Noel recently?” I asked my mother, who was sitting in the back of our car.

Long ago, when I was single and lived at the gallery, Noel was my neighbour; and when I left, and Mum bought the property, he became my mum’s neighbour for a couple of years until he moved into another house that had been left to him by a dear friend. At the time of our friendship Noel had been retired early from his teaching post in Exeter.

He was a clever, witty and good-looking man of around sixty, and he had a soft spot for me. We shared a love of art and books. He had a vast library and helped me with research for my Art History course (well before I had a computer). We went together to art galleries and yacht clubs. Many was the occasion I had dinner with Noel and his bachelor friends, Frank and Walter – both old enough to be my grandfathers (and then some!). He had urged me to go to the town of Bath (Somerset) with him. I didn’t go.

 

“No, I haven’t seen Noel for years,” answered my mum.

“Nor me,” said Chris, “I used to see him around the town… but not for ages. Of course, he never acknowledged me. He just couldn’t accept me. It’s a shame because I would have enjoyed his company – an interesting man.”

“I wonder if he’s alright,” I said, not expecting an answer.

“He was very fond of you – wasn’t he?” Mum observed.

“Yes, and I of him but he was too old for me…”

 

That conversation took place last Sunday, just three days ago.

Yesterday evening Chris and I were driving home after visiting a friend in the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital, and we were discussing food – we were hungry. The car rounded the corner at Cockwood Harbour (one of our favourite places) and we noticed with astonishment that the harbour was full almost to bursting with the high tide.

“We could scrap the idea of fish and chips… and have a bowl of chips at the Anchor?” I suggested.

Chris agreed and took a side road which brought us back to Cockwood. We parked and walked around the harbour – the light is beautiful on summer evenings – and the reflections on the water were wonderful last night. It was too cold to sit outside and eat so we decided to go home for beans on toast instead. I continued to take photos as we dawdled back to our starting place. A man, standing alone by the harbour wall, had his phone camera out also.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he began with a broad smile. “I love it here!”

“So do we!” I enthused.

And that was beginning of a long conversation. Earlier, the jolly stranger with the nice face and smile had been feeling unhappy and decided to lift his mood by going to the harbour and having a beer at “The Anchor”. It transpired that Alex came originally from Norfolk but, quite by accident, one and a half years ago he fell in love with a house he saw for sale in Dawlish and he bought it, although it is his second home. It is a large house with a wonderful garden… along West Cliff Road… The house belonged to Noel, and before that, Walter.

How is Noel?

The new owner didn’t know the circumstances, only that Noel was revered and missed by all his neighbours. To me, Noel will be forever charming, witty, generous and gentlemanly… in loving memory.

.

 

 

 

 

Someone is Sleeping in My Bed…

Is there anything more lovely than lying in bed of an early morning and looking across at the most beautiful creature you could wish to lay eyes upon? You watch her breathing – her little chest going up and down – and if you get close enough you can feel her breath exhaling. You want to kiss her but she might wake up. Instead, you stroke her hair gently and she makes a little noise like a kitten.

Your heart is bursting with love for her. She is not yet eleven weeks old… and she was six and a half weeks premature. Yet her arrival was long awaited. If it weren’t for you and your first real love she would not be here.

My tiny granddaughter, Penelope Sweet Pea Pitstop, came onto my bed after her first bottle of the day and I watched her as the sun gained strength and filled my bedroom.