Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A Valentine Weekend

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

Not many husbands fly their wives 4000 miles to have a romantic Valentine dinner overlooking the picturesque Torquay Bay in Devon. Well, I assured it was picturesque because it was difficult  to see in the dark. One of the restaurant’s specialties was venison which we both love. We live in Atlanta, Georgia, as regular readers will know, where deer hunting is a very popular sport. But quite bizarrely, venison is rarely served in restaurants in Atlanta and you can’t buy it in the stores. There are meat processing plants which butcher the meat for hunters, but don’t sell the product to the public.

The real reason for our impromptu visit to the UK was to attend my sister-in-law’s funeral who passed away quite suddenly. It is quite weird how a sad event can create other opportunities. I hadn’t seen one of my nieces in approximately 17 years. Neither had I met my brother’s 4 grandchildren. That’s not quite true. I met the eldest who is now 18 years old when she was toddling around in a nappy (diaper if you prefer.)

We awoke from our slumber on Saturday morning to be confronted with Storm Dennis which was pounding the Devon coastline. Winds were whipping up a storm approaching 85 mph accompanied by torrential rain resulting in serious floods. A red amber alert relating to extensive flooding was  posted for South Wales where we were heading the next day for the funeral. The Severn Bridge which is the main route from England to Wales was threatening to close if the wind velocity didn’t subside.

Fortunately Storm Dennis decided to take a breather and we tentatively  began our journey  towards the Land of Our Fathers. The rainfall was incessant, but the wind had subsided. I could deal with heavy rain having previously lived in South Wales for forty plus years.

My son also attended the funeral, and we served as pall bearers, walking side by side of the coffin into the crematorium to the dulcet tones of Abba singing “Dancing Queen.” Neither of us knew whether we should raise our hands and perform a rhythmic wave as Abba fans tend to do, but fortunately discretion was the order of the day.

We then transferred to my brother’s church for a celebration of my sister-in-law’s life. Various people came up   to share their stories of how, where and when they had met my sister-in-law and recalling the impact she had  on their lives. They were interspersed with hymns and arias, and eulogies from my brother and his two daughters. The service ended with a video of Dolly Parton displayed on a giant screen singing a gospel, her ample bosom heaving as she attempted to hit those high notes. I learnt something new again. I had known my late sister-in-law for over 55 years and didn’t know she was a fan of ABBA or Dolly Parton.

We flew home the following Thursday, but the drama was not yet done. We fly standby owing to my wife’s former status as an airline employee. The plane leaving Heathrow for Atlanta was barely full which meant we were assured seats in first class. Not so fast my friend. We were informed that we would be confined to punter’s class (economy) because there were so few passengers who had to be dispersed for weight and balance purposes. Ten hours later we were touching down at Hartsfield Airport and relieved to be home.

Little did we know that the corona virus was hot on our heels. How many rolls of toilet paper do we have love?????

 

My Mum: Part 2

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

I have two stand out memories involving my brother and I with regard to my mum. We both attended Penlan Comprehensive and initially we came home for lunch. Well one Monday lunch time my mum served up bubble and squeak which comprised left overs from Sunday’s roast dinner. My brother and I refused to eat it, and we were sent packing with no food in our bellies. My mum was mortified, but it didn’t dawn on me until later that she had no other food in the house and no money to pay for it.

One summer we were getting on my mum’s nerves. Something was said and she chased us out of the house, but she continued to come after us. Now the prefab was single storey and had a flat roof. It also had a trellis which we used to climb onto the roof to avoid capture, unbeknown to my mum. She continued to make several laps of the prefab until one of the neighbors cried out: “Vi, the boys are on the roof!!!” Thank goodness she saw the funny side of the situation.

I’ve touched a little on her stubborn streak, and the next tale merely emphasizes the point. It was during the Swansea Blitz back in 1941. My mum hated going down to air raid shelters because they were “grimy, smelly and generally full of people.” My mum had recently purchased a new red overcoat, and she was going out for the evening with my Dad. However an air raid siren pierced proceedings  and she decided they would shelter in a door way on the way up the street. Unfortunately the Luftwaffe proceeded to drop a bomb on the other side of the street and my mum’s brand new coat was covered in dust. She screamed out in indignation: “Jack, look at my coat, look at my coat!” My Dad replied: “Never mind your bloody coat, we could have been killed!!!!”

One summer my mum and dad boarded the paddle steamer which left Swansea and headed towards Ilfracombe North Devon for the day. At the end of the day they missed the boat returning to Swansea, and were forced to take the milk train (red eye?) back to Swansea arriving home in the early hours of the morning. We had no telephone and had no idea what happened. I asked my Dad how did they manage to miss the boat and he told me to ask my mum. So I did and she said: “I don’t want to talk about it!!!”

In the last twenty years of her life she showed great courage and resilience in fighting a crippling illness, rheumatoid arthritis, which grew steadily worse over time. This debilitating illness was exacerbated by a nasty ulcer on her leg. She eventually required plastic surgery on her leg which was performed at Chepstow Hospital’s Burns Unit. She never complained, but was worried about my Dad who had succumbed to another dreadful disease, Alzheimer’s.

It was not long after she left hospital that my Dad had to be admitted to Cefn Coed Hospital where he would spend the rest of his days. I believe I only witnessed my mum cry twice, the first time was when my nana passed away in 1960 and secondly when we drove my Dad to hospital. Ironically my Dad was admitted around about their 50th Anniversary, which was a hollow feeling for my mum considering the circumstances. Three months later my mum suffered a heart  attack and passed away. Now this may sound clichéd, but there is no doubt in my mind she died of a broken heart. She couldn’t bear the thought of my dad cooped up in a mental institution, and it was truly the last straw.

She gave me so much support and encouragement during my life particularly when I was going through a nasty divorce. She made a telling comment when I told her not to worry about me because I was a middle aged man capable of looking after myself. She replied: “You are my son and I will always worry about you regardless of your age.” I didn’t  think much of the comment at the time, but she was absolutely right. I find myself worrying about my own kids who are in their late thirties, and I only wish my mum was still around  to ask her advice or seek guidance now and again.

She was cremated and we scattered her ashes at Pennard Castle, and  she had own distinctive way of saying goodbye. I grabbed a handful of ashes and cast them into the wind only for the ashes to blow back into my face. What an exit!!!

Rest in Peace Mum (1920-1992.)

This blog is dedicated to my grand daughter Alice Violet who was given her second name by my son in memory of my mum and his Nana, Vi (Violet.)

 

 

 

 

 

My Mum (Part 1)

Friday, May 17th, 2019

PART ONE

My mum would have been 99 years old tomorrow (18th May.) She passed away 27 years ago, and not a week goes by that I don’t think of her. She was one of the World’s greatest listeners. She actually listened. Instead of waiting for you to stop speaking, which is a signal for most people to begin their various diatribes, she listened to what you had to say. Whenever I have problems with members of my family, issues at work, even my friends, I catch myself wondering what she would have said in various circumstances that I have experienced over the years, what advice she would have offered.

Many times when I had problems in school, work, marriage, and divorce I would sit down and tell her what was worrying me, angering me, depressing me, whatever. Invariably, I would solve the problem or at least understand the issues better by using her as a sounding board. By my mum listening or asking me questions I sometimes came up with solutions. Not all the time, but it did enable me to see the wood through the trees.

She left school at 14 years old, but she had great command of current affairs and was an avid reader. Ironically, my mum and dad attended the same school, Dyfatty, but didn’t know each other then because of the six year age difference. Her brother, Sam, was in the same class as my Dad, and when eventually my dad and mum started courting, he teased my mum unmercifully about dating that skinny boy Jack James from Dyfatty Street.

They met in RTs in Cwmfelin where they both worked. It was a Munitions factory during the war, so my Dad was not called up until 1942. They married in May and he was called up in June of 1942, or somewhere near that month. I have letters written by my Dad to my mum when he was serving in the RAF, and she was being chatted up by American GIs in the Rhyddings Hotel in Brynmill, Swansea. He was bereft from what my mum had written to him about GIs giving her gifts of cigarettes, chocolate and nylons, but in exchange for what favors he demanded to know. My mum’s reply must have tore him off a strip because in his next letter he was apologizing profusely for doubting her fidelity.

My brother was born in 1946, and they settled down for a normal family life and my mum never worked again save for becoming the home maker, disciplinarian, counselor and child psychologist. We lived in a two up, two down Victorian terraced house in Pottery Street. The WC was at the bottom of the garden. This was the house where she delivered me in the passage (pardon the pun, hallway.) She decided she had been pregnant long enough and accelerated proceedings by taking copious amounts of castor oil, and her and new born baby were hospitalized for three weeks. Did I mention she had a stubborn streak which has been inherited by subsequent generations?

We moved to a prefab (prefabricated dwellings were detached single storey units and designed to last 7 years. They were intended as a temporary fix to the housing shortage created by the Blitz and sub-standard Victorian terraced housing which was demolished at the end of the War. We moved out in 1962, so do the maths.) when I was five, and initially I was terrified of the vast open prairies that encircled the  prefab estate. Most of the children attended Brynhyfryd School, a Victorian monolith with Dickensian overtones. My mum was not happy sending her two sons to Brynhyfryd, and arranged an appointment with Mr. Bayton, headmaster of a spanking new school, Gwyrosydd. He agreed to accept us into the new school, and I spent six happy years there. However, there was an incident when I received the cane for slapping a girl’s face in retaliation for her hitting me. Mr. Watson ignored by protestations and delivered a savage blow across my hand. My mum noticed the angry weal across my hand, and demanded to know what happened. She was furious, and threatened to march up  the school and confront Mr. Watson. I pleaded with her not to, and she reluctantly agreed to my wishes.

To be continued:

Happy Birthday Mum, I miss you.XXX

 

 

 

 

 

A Voyage With My Son, Part 2.

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Day 3: It was a normal grey morning for Swansea, and undaunted we drove towards Gower, 64 square miles of beautiful scenery  and designated the first AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty.) I like to think that I contributed in some small way to conserving its natural beauty. But first we paid a visit to Pennard Castle where my parents’ ashes are scattered. How many golf courses have the ruins of a medieval castle within their boundaries, and affording panoramic views of a coastline second to none?

We continued our journey towards Rhossili which  has a magnificent curved beach ideal for sand yachting, if you don’t mind negotiating a difficult access. The scenic gem is Worm’s Head which extends sublimely from the mainland into the English Channel. We decided to have lunch at the Brittania Inn located in the picturesque village of Llanmadoc. It also houses a 12th Century Church where my wife pictured us getting married nearly 25 years ago. Unfortunately, the pastor refused to marry us because we were both divorced, but ignoring the fact that the Church of England was formed because of Henry v111’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon which the Catholic Church refused to acknowledge.

The planning laws in Gower are very strict much to the chagrin of many farmers, but one of my pride and joys was initiating the conversion of redundant barns into living accommodation. I showed my son many examples of barn conversions, and I hope he wasn’t too bored with the reminisces of a retired town planner.

My biggest achievement in town planning of which I am most proud was advising a retired dairy farmer to convert his treasured acres into a golf course. Mr. Jenkins, the farmer, was a bigger than life character, and thought I was crazy suggesting he apply for planning permission for a golf course on his land. Twenty years later the Gower Golf Club is going strong. Sadly, Mr. Jenkins has passed away, but the dream that turned into reality continues under the tutelage of his son and daughter.

We couldn’t leave Swansea without a visit to Underhill Park in Mumbles. I played many a game for Nalgo in the friendly confines of Underhill Park. I was primarily a defender, but I once scored a hatrick there. On another occasion, I was summarily sent off for the only time in my career. Underhill Park contained many happy memories for me which I hopefully shared with my son.

We ended our visit to Swansea with a meal with my friends, Phillip and Marian, at the King Arthur in Reynoldston. King Arthur’s stone is situated about a mile from the pub on Cefn Bryn which was arguably the cornerstone of Camelot. Make of it what you will. I hope this journey down memory lane encourages some of you to visit Gower, but hopefully not too many. I like the remoteness.

A Voyage with My Son, Part 1.

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

I’m not sure how this pilgrimage transpired, but my son and I agreed to spend two or three days travelling around my home town of Swansea visiting various landmarks of my childhood and some dubious haunts that played a role in my formative years. Perhaps it was an opportunity to discover what made his old man tick. He left Swansea when he was nine, but nevertheless he said he was excited to partake in the exploration.

Day 1: Landed at Heathrow Airport around 11.00am. Rented a car from Enterprise, picked my son up from Fleet and drove to Cardiff to stay the night with my brother. On the way we stopped for a snack at a service station and I enjoyed fish and chips courtesy of Harry Ramsden. It cost 6 pounds and change to cross the Severn Bridge into Wales. No wonder Englishmen have a low esteem for the Welsh.

We dined at a Lebanese restaurant which was devoid of alcohol much to the disappointment of my son and I. My lasting memory of the restaurant was  a particularly noisy fruit juice machine which made conversation nearly impossible.

Day 2: The next morning my brother served up a wonderful Welsh breakfast comprising lava bread, cockles, bacon and all the trimmings. Fortified by an exquisite start to the day we bade our farewells and headed for Swansea, home of Dylan Thomas, Katherine Zeta-Jones and Harry Secombe.

We were welcomed by a bleak overcast morning as we hit the outskirts of Swansea, and I was surprised by the number of pubs that were now vacant and boarded up. Ignoring the negative vibes I quickly gave my son a tour of the houses I lived in from about the age of 5, quickly followed by two schools I attended, Gwyrosydd and Penlan Comprehensive, that had a huge impact on making me the old crabby cynic that I am today.

Penlan Comprehensive is no longer with us today, but the building which could easily be mistaken for Stalag 17 now houses a Welsh speaking Secondary School. I believe it rained most of the seven years I spent there, and I recall trudging up the long narrow driveway only to receive a soaking by various teachers’ cars kicking up spray as they sped for safety of the staffroom, and then having to tentatively attempt a crossing of a sea of mud. Happy days!

My friends Phillip and Marian graciously gave us lodgings for two nights, and we fed on a Chinese Takeaway which included my favorite, crispy duck. We washed it down with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, which curiously is championed by the pubs and bars of Swansea, and it just happened to be first day of its arrival in the Principality. I don’t know what all the fuss is about because its a very mediocre wine and very overrated. Earlier, we had lunch at the Westbourne which has considerably ascended up market since my days in the Guildhall. You can’t possibly visit Swansea without having a Joe’s icecream, but I didn’t realize I had to use my weekly allowance to pay for one.

Ah, the Guildhall. I spent 28 years in the corridors of power of local government, initially as a Bob Cratchett impersonator in the Treasurer’s Department, and latterly as a poor man’s Hippodamus or to pay homage to the Garden City movement, Ebenezer Howard. We drove to Pantycelyn Road in Mayhill which gives the visitor a panoramic view of the City and the Bay, and marveled at the mess we planners made of a once “Ugly, Lovely Town (sic Dylan Thomas.)

To be Continued:

 

In Dreams I Walk with You

Friday, October 13th, 2017

I had a recurring dream the other night where somebody kept asking me in which year Lester Piggott won the Derby on Affirmed. Lester Piggott was one of the greatest flat race jockeys in the world, arguably the greatest. He won the Derby an unprecedented nine times, and I kept repeating that Piggott never rode Affirmed. Affirmed was an American horse ridden by an American jockey, Steve Cauthen, who won the triple crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes) on Affirmed in 1977.

My tormenter then challenged me to name the horses that Piggott rode to win the Derby nine times. For the record Steve Cauthen won the Derby twice with Slip Anchor and Reference Point, making him the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby. I could only remember two of the horses that Piggott rode to victory; Nijinsky and Sir Ivor. I tossed and turned for the remainder of the night trying to recall the names of the other horses to no avail.

Mercifully, morning arrived and Google, aided and abetted by Wikipedia, came to my rescue I was able to look up an article  which listed the maestro’s winners and  Lester Piggott commented on his nine wins in the Derby:

1. NEVER SAY DIE (1954, 33-1)
He was a left-handed horse and not nearly so good when he raced right.

2. CREPELLO (1957, 6-4 fav)
One of the two best horses I won the Derby on. He took the 2,000 Guineas but had bad legs and was hard for Sir Noel Murless to keep sound. He broke down when training for the St Leger and never ran again.

3. ST PADDY (1960, 7-1)
He was good and we knew that before he ran at York first time out as a two-year-old. But he ran away with me on the way to the post and had a race before he started. Next time out they put a gag on him and he won the Royal Lodge by five lengths. He was fourth in the Guineas, won the Dante and took the Derby by three lengths.

4. SIR IVOR (1968, 4-5 fav)
He had spent the winter in Italy before winning the Guineas and Derby. He then got beat in his next four races, but ended up winning the Champion Stakes and Washington International. I know he got beaten a few times, but of all my Derby winners he had the most brilliance about him.

5. NIJINSKY (1970, 11-8 fav)
He was the last horse to win the Triple Crown with the Irish Derby and King George thrown in for good measure, but I never thought it was a great year.

6. ROBERTO (1972 3-1 fav)
His win was overshadowed by controversy. Bill Williamson won the Guineas on him but was injured and I got on him. I couldn’t see him being beaten in the Irish Derby next time, but he only beat two home.

7. EMPERY (1976, 10-1)
Probably just a middle-class Derby winner in an average Classic crop.

8. THE MINSTREL (1977, 5-1)
He was pretty good and went on to win the Irish Derby – but it was only a so-so year for three-year-olds.

9. TEENOSO (1983, 9-2)
He was a bit better than people gave him credit for. It rained all day at Epsom, which turned the ground soft. He won very easily and, as my last winner, is one of my best recollections of the race.

I never had much interest in horse racing save for a flutter on the Grand National and the Derby. My late Dad however enjoyed a daily bet. Once he retired, his routine for the day was to study the racing form in the Daily Mirror, select his horses, and walk up to the “bookies” and place his bet which was usually “a Yankee.” He would then return home and watch the races on television in the afternoon.  He never used to bet much, so gambler’s anonymous were never troubled.  My ex father-in-law roughly followed the same ritual as my dad.

His little hobby once embarrassed my ex-wife who I was dating at the time. She was staying the night at a friend’s house on the posh side of Swansea, the Mayals. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet)  in the sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances” could have been based on her friend’s mother. Anyway, during a conversation the mother asks my ex-wife: “Does your father have any hobbies, dear?” She replied: “Yes, horse racing.” “Oh really, how many does he own and where does he stable them?” The mortified girl replied: “He doesn’t own any horses, he bets on them!”

 

Musical Dental Chairs

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

I was contemplating the other day on what topic I could write my next post. Donald Trump sprung to mind, but I’m keeping my powder dry on him until he has completed 100 days in the White House, assuming he survives that long! Atlanta’s worsening traffic congestion has a particular and undesirable impact on my daily life, but I have written about it before, and there’s nothing new to add.

Suddenly it fell into place. A recent visit to the dentist and the farce at the Oscar Ceremony reminded me of my late mum. She loved movies. I remember her telling me that she and my dad queued for hours to see “Gone With The Wind” when it was showing at the Albert Hall in Swansea way back in 1939. My Auntie Winnie was an usherette at the newly opened Plaza Cinema in the Kingsway, and she would give my mum and dad complimentary tickets for the latest blockbuster to emerge from Hollywood.

My mum particularly liked Hollywood musicals, and she would have had a soft spot for “La La Land.” I don’t consider “La La Land”  a great movie, but it’s a musical which is rather a novelty these days and hence its popularity. Hollywood was churning out musicals in the forties and fifties like a sausage factory, and I had the opportunity in the early seventies to watch them (the movies not the sausages) with my mum when BBC2 ran a series showing a Hollywood Musical on a weekly basis for longer than I care to remember.

She was a walking encyclopedia when it came to knowledge of movies of that era. I remember us debating who was the better dancer: Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, who was the better singer: Howard Keel or Gordon McCrae, what was her favorite musical: Singing in The Rain, Showboat, The King and I? It was none of these. It was in fact Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

She also revealed her stubborn streak. In 1965, The Sound of Music was a world wide hit, but she was so irritated with her friends constantly telling her how wonderful it was, that she refused to see it.

Several years later, my mum had just been discharged from a long period in hospital and on a whim I invited her to accompany me to a special preview of  “When Harry Met Sally.” It’s a gentle comedy, but little did I know that Meg Ryan would perform a fake orgasm in a diner leading an older lady to remark: “I’ll have what she’s having!” I slunk down into my seat, but out of the corner of my eye I, furtively glanced over to my mum who to my relief was chuckling to herself.

I have had  a love hate relationship with the dentist’s chair for nigh on sixty years. My first memory of the dentist was my mum dragging me up the hill to Cwmbwrla Children’s Clinic, courtesy of the National Health Service, which was housed in a foreboding, dark, and brooding Victorian behemoth of a building. The black dentist chair was situated in the middle of  a green tiled sterile room smelling heavily of disinfectant. Worse was to come when the mask was placed over my face to administer the dreaded “laughing gas.” I always experienced nightmares when I was “put under,” and I always wondered why it was referred to as “laughing gas” which was the furthest from the truth.

A few years later, I became a patient of Dr. Stares’ Private Practice in Treboeth who coincidentally looked after my mum’s teeth. I never met Dr. Stares because I was assigned to one of his partners who appeared to be obsessed with a revolving door. But one partner, Mr. Phillips, stands out. I was going through a particularly traumatic period in my mid-teens, having to make regular appearances at the dentist for extractions, fillings and more extractions. On one memorable occasion, Mr. Phillips experienced great difficulty in pulling one fat molar from one’s mouth. I was lying prostrate in the chair, white knuckles grasping the arms of the chair, half my face  numbed by a twelve inch syringe when Mr. Phillips placed his knee in my chest and yanked the tooth from my quivering jaw.

Give or take a few fillings and crowns, it’s thanks to my mum’s perseverance that I have my own set of teeth which I can flash whenever I see an old Hollywood musical.

Christmas in Devon

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Two Thousand and Sixteen will probably be most remembered for the surprising BREXIT vote, TRUMP’s stunning victory over Hilary Clinton in the US Presidential Election,  WALES’ magnificent performance in reaching the semi-finals of the European Championships, and Britain’s  best ever haul of medals at the RIO OLYMPICS.

But for me, 2016, has a unique significance. I was able to spend Christmas Day with my son and daughter for the first time in 30 years. I also  had the valuable bonus of four grandchildren contributing to the celebration and entertainment. The reasons for the protracted absence are no longer important. Suffice to say that Christmas 2016 was that much sweeter being surrounded by nearest and dearest.

Before driving to Devon, my wife and I made a detour to Wales to visit old friends in my home town of Swansea, which sadly has taken a decidedly turn for the worse since I left over 20 years ago. Fortunately, the jewel in the crown, the Gower Peninsula has survived relatively unscathed, and Mumbles has an exciting new development on its seafront. We stopped for lunch at the Blue Anchor, a 14th Century  public house in the Vale of Glamorgan. The food, beer and atmosphere are second to none, and we were forced to drag ourselves away.

The following day,we made a nostalgic trip to the Joiner’s Arms in Bishopston on our way back from Gower. I didn’t realize it enjoyed its own brewery situated to the rear of the building, and the local brew is highly recommended. You won’t find the Joiner’s listed on any good pub guide, but it’s nostalgic because I escorted my wife there on her first visit to Wales over 26 years ago. They say nothing  changes, and that can be attributed to the landlord who remains a miserable old sod!!

Anyway I digress once again writing these posts. Leaving “Jacks” country we proceeded east towards the Principality’s capital, Cardiff which has evolved into a glamorous Cinderella at the expense of its nearest rival, Swansea relegated to the role of the ugly sisters. We stayed the night at my brother’s abode, and he made us a fabulous Welsh breakfast of lava bread,cockles, smoky bacon, and fried egg.

We were finally on the road to Devon, and a few hours later were the recipients of a wonderful welcome from two of my grandchildren. The next day we went to see the Christmas Pantomime in Paignton, featuring Cinderella and starring Aiden J. Harvey, Anita Harris (I thought she was dead) and Tom Owen, son of the late Bill Owen who was one of the original actors in “Last of the Summer Wine.”  You can keep your Aladdins, Jacks in the Beanstalk, Robinson Crusoes, Pusses in Boots (?) whatever; Cinderella is my favorite pantomime. “Oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is!”

Christmas Eve arrived, and so did my son with two more grandchildren. The day proved to be the calm before the storm in a delightful way. My wife prepared a delectable lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner and my daughter laid the foundations for Father Christmas’s arrival with four children hanging onto her every word. Surprisingly they went to bed without much fuss, but maybe they were gearing up for the arrival of Santa.

Christmas morning duly arrived, but an early stampede by the children didn’t materialize. In fact, they were very civilized as they calmly made their way down the stairs at 7.00am to be met by a cacophony of gifts that almost smothered the Christmas tree. They soon got to work on tearing the wrapping paper from the multitude of gifts that Father Christmas had delivered. One of the grandchildren exclaimed: “I saw a couple of Santa’s reindeers on the roof last night!”

It was not long before the kids were immersed in reams of wrapping paper; their eyes looked like saucers, wide open with anticipation,delight and amazement, moving swiftly from one gift to another like a plague of locusts devouring a crop. The two younger grandchildren were finally overwhelmed by the occasion and  sought refuge on the couches while the adults surveyed the carnage, but content with a job well done. My younger grandson quickly recovered, however, and ran around in an incredible hulk costume bashing anything and everything in his path.

The adults gratefully accepted bacon butties for breakfast as their reward for endeavors, and happy to take a time out before preparing Christmas lunch. My daughter took charge of the food prep and I was more or less banished from the kitchen. I did earn a recall later in the afternoon to make the turkey gravy, but was quickly asked to leave the dining area for the ladies to set the table. The turkey dinner proved to be a master piece although we could done with a gallon more gravy. I forgot the Brits love gravy much more than their Transatlantic cousins.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed the home made Christmas pudding and Christmas cake with marzipan and icing just the way my late mum used to make. Christmas lunch is not complete without crackers and we weren’t disappointed. I also managed to cram a couple of mince pies in there somewhere, and a  gorgeous pate  served for supper completed an excellent culinary day.

I don’t know about my fellow adults, but I do know  my grandchildren had a whale of a time, and I had an unforgettable and fabulous Christmas experience. Same again next year folks?

 

 

 

Ice And Slice?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

My wife was flying to London on a business trip last week, and I tagged along for the ride to catch up with children and grand children. I kept a diary of events for posterity purposes:

Saturday (April 30:) My wife had an assigned seat in punters’ class, and I was on the standby list, but fortunate to be assigned a seat in business class. The trip was off to a splendid beginning, and fingers were crossed that the good fortune would continue.

Sunday: We touched down at Heathrow 71/2 hours later. I was quite refreshed having managed a few hours shut eye, but my wife resembled a rag doll suffering from sleep deprivation. We were staying at The Aviator Hotel in Farnborough approximately 20 miles from Heathrow. It has a ultra modern design favored by the business elite, but I do dispute the need for subdued lighting, reception located on the first floor and a mundane grey décor. We caught up with my son, grandson and granddaughter a couple of hours later and watched in awe as the Swans put Liverpool Juniors to the sword, winning 3-1. We had lunch at the Wyvern, Aldershot and dinner at an Indian restaurant in Farnham. In between we put our theatrical grandson through his paces as a budding goalkeeper at a local park.

Monday: I said my goodbyes to my wife who was now in business mode. It was such a lovely, sunny day and my son and I entertained my grandchildren at the local park where my grandson negotiated the assault course with great dexterity.  Meanwhile, my granddaughter tripped and fell running back and fore the house causing a bump the size of an egg to appear on her forehead. She recovered relatively quickly following cuddles from her dad.

My son and I headed for Aldershot to watch the Monday Night game between Spurs and Chelsea at a local hostelry, The Green King which was preceded by eating dubious Italian cuisine at” Frankies and Bennies.” I didn’t realize until late in the game that the pub was a Chelsea supporters haven which explained why I was the only one celebrating Spurs’ two goal advantage at half time. The place erupted when Hazard scored Chelsea’s equalizer near the end, and I meekly exited stage right lamenting yet another Spurs capitulation which generously gave the title to Leicester City.

Tuesday: While my wife was waiting for a taxi to transport her and  colleagues to the office for another series of meetings I was on my way to play golf with an old friend at the Manor House Golf Club, Castlecombe nestled in the heart of the exquisite Cotswolds. The weather couldn’t have been better, the shot making was generally a delight, but the scoring was in need of a transplant. We finished off the afternoon’s great entertainment with a beer and sandwich at the Salutation Inn.

Wednesday: My grandson had returned to school (Monday was a Bank Holiday,) and as the weather was on its best behavior,  we decided to have lunch at the Prince of Wales Pub where my granddaughter could attempt to build sand castles and make new friends in the play area. The children were excited to see the hotel room particularly the chiq bathroom. Curiosity got the better of them and my grandson took a brief but involuntary  shower fully clothed creating mayhem while his sister squealed with delight. Dinner was partaken at the Brewers Fayre where we bid farewell to the grand children before embarking on the second leg of our trip. We enjoyed a night cap with my son at the Faulkner Arms, and returned to the Aviator.

Thursday: The fine weather continued unabated. My wife was free of the shackles of Corporate America, and we began the four hour journey in glorious sunshine to Devon along the A30 passing Stonehenge as an added bonus. I was looking forward to a few more relaxing days with family when the grandchild jinx struck again.

We drove down to the seafront for a couple of drinks to enjoy the unusual splendid weather England was enjoying at this time. My son-in-law and I were buying the drinks and my daughter went outside carrying my 3 year old grandson. Unfortunately she tripped on the threshold; falling  to her knees while gallantly  attempting to save my grandson.

My grandson, however, fell flat on his face, followed by earth shattering screams. We rushed outside to find my daughter clutching her son both of whom were covered in blood. It was my grandson’s blood that had been spilled, bleeding profusely from his lip which in instant was so swollen it would have done Mick Jagger proud. With apologies to Charles Dickens, my granddaughter said solemnly: “This is the worst of times.”

My grandson looks like an angel, but is a tough cookie and recovered fairly quickly despite having a graze from head to chin.

Friday: The next morning my granddaughter was dropped off at school, and we drove out to Burry Head which formerly supported a stone fortress built during the Napoleonic Wars. It is now more famous for suicidal locals leaping off the cliff’s edge onto rocks 200 feet below. We enjoyed lunch at the Guard House Café and my wife and I experienced the best clam chowder that’s passed our lips.

Saturday: This was, sadly, travelling day back to London in preparation for our flight home on Sunday. We bid farewell to our family, but not before I enjoyed a breakfast of kippers. Why don’t they sell them in  the USA?  The Heathrow Hilton provided a safe and comfortable haven in readiness for  our 9 hour flight home.

Sunday: I couldn’t be lucky twice, and was allocated a seat in the back in punters’ class, but luckily sitting next to my wife who was already esconsed in her assigned seat. I’m not sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry when I sat next to her. Anyway it proved to be  cool trip despite the mishaps with the grandchildren. They are all healthy and happy, and that’s what really matters.

 

 

 

 

 

Rita Daly, 1917-2016, Rest in Peace

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

My mother-in-law passed away a few days ago after a long and debilitating illness. My wife wrote a fine obituary  in memory of her mother, but her sister deemed it unsuitable to publish in her local newspaper. Consequently I am posting it here:

Mrs. Rita Daly passed away on March 31st, 2016 at age 99, following a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Rita was a loving wife and mother and is survived by: daughters Eileen Curtin of Anniston and Theresa James of Atlanta; grandchildren: Peter, Elizabeth, Susan, Jenny, Maureen, Kathy, Michael and Kenny, and 13 great grandchildren. She is preceded in death by husband Edward A. Daly, son Edward A. Daly Jr. and sibling Arvie Charland. Grateful thanks to her two wonderful caregivers: Kim and Barbara.

Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts of French Canadian immigrants, Rita was a healthy and active woman all of her life up until her 90’s. She grew up  and raised her family in Washington DC. She and her husband retired to Florida in the 1970’s and travelled around the world. One of her memorable trips involved flying one way on  Concorde and returning to the USA on the QE2.

After her husband’s passing in 1989, she became a volunteer for the Catholic Church in Boca Raton, Florida before moving to Anniston in 2004. Rita will be remembered for her adventurous spirit, love of family and devotion to her husband whom she will be buried next to at the Washington National Cemetery on the outskirts of Washington DC.

A few years ago I wrote a little piece about Rita to celebrate her birthday and it is reprised below:

HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY TO MY MOTHER-IN-LAW

I’ve known my mother-in-law for nearly 15 years and we have never had a cross word. Honest! Cross my heart! Several differences of opinion have occurred over a variety of topics, but these were probably the result of our language barrier. It’s also because she has an accent and I don’t.

So anyway (on of her favorite phrases,) I remember conducting her on a guided tour of 12th century castles in my homeland, South Wales, and she kindly pointed out that they had miniature ones in Canada which were much cleaner and far more accessible. It was no contest really.

We then moved onto the Cotswolds which is one of the most picturesque areas in England. It was nearing lunchtime and we headed for a local hostelry to partake in a beverage or two interspersed by questionable English cuisine. Toad-in-the-hole was available on the menu followed by a generous portion of spotted dick. I don’t recall what delicacies my mother-in-law decided upon, but she looked down in the dumps.

I asked her whether she was enjoying herself because she didn’t look very happy. She told me in no uncertain terms that you didn’t have to be hooting and hollering to have a good time. I replied that there was a happy medium for one’s actions, and she gently admonished me by saying that it seemed to be a favorite saying of mine. From that day forward she taught me how to be more tolerant of people, particularly when I was in her company.

When I met her for the first time on home soil, she remarked that her daughter always seemed to marry men who were follicly challenged and I was no exception. Nevertheless she welcomed me into the Daly clan with open arms and I can honestly say that of the two mother-in-laws I have experienced in my married life, she is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best bar none.