Dear Ladies as you sip your tea

and eat your cake with little forks

and wipe your lips

before you talk,

I’d like to send a little letter

to say I’m sorry

for my faux pas.


Dear ladies in your scarlet hats

having fun

and refined chats

I’m sending you this little note

to apologise for what I wrote.

I’ve seen you in your 

purple dresses

with feathered hats and

silver tresses

eating lunch in a pub garden

laughing, joking, having fun

Not drunk, not loud, not even one

of you.


Dear ladies in your pretty purple

with your red hats

I apologise for linking you

with someone who

was not a lady.

And did not wear purple

With a red hat.




Dear Kent Coach Party


Dear Kent Coach Party,

I understand that you were out for your long – awaited trip on the horse drawn barge at Tiverton. I understand that you were excited. I even understand that the cider you drank may have gone to your heads, just a little bit. But there were others of us on that trip who were equally as excited. For me, part of the pleasure of that trip was going to be the quiet. No boat engine, just the water, and the birds, and the gentle sound of the horse’s hooves as he ambled along the canal towpath.

I didn’t expect total silence, of course. People have to talk, to point out bits of scenery, wild flowers, beautiful houses along the way. They have to buy drinks or icecream from the bar, they have to walk along to the toilet.

Was it totally necessary for the round of applause and the cheer every time one of you came out of the toilet? You were all pensioners. Were the cheers because you’d managed to use the toilet and hadn’t needed your incontinence pads?

Was it the first time you’d ever seen a cow? Or ducklings? By your reactions, I think it must have been. And was it necessary for the lady with the duck food to shout out “Out of the way, I’m coming through to feed the ducks. Here you are, duckies, come to Mummy?”

That lady, incidentally, was a pain in the arse. She was the lady in other circumstances who wears purple, with a red hat. She likes to think of herself as a character. She likes to be noticed. Well she was.

The worst part was on the way back. The man telling us about the company, gave us plenty of warning that he was going to ask us for two minutes silence, having told us about a memorial to men who died in a plane crash in 1961. They had saved Tiverton from a potential disaster by coming down in the canal instead of the town. He also said that it would be an opportunity to hear the sounds of the canal, water lapping, birds singing, the wind in the trees, the horse’s hooves.

When he announced the start of the two minutes silence, some of you were still talking, but eventually we were able to experience the peace and quiet, for about a minute. until a dog barked. A single bark. Obviously you are all people who have never heard a dog bark before. That was the signal for raucous laughter followed by shouts and loud talking. Thanks, some of us were enjoying the silence…

Our lovely afternoon which we had looked forward to, was spoiled by a coach party of hooligan pensioners. As a pensioner myself, I felt ashamed be associated with you all. Thanks, though to the boat company staff, especially Dave, and to Bailey, the Irish Cob.



People in a little frame

IMG_0069My cousin Ann has sent me a little brass tree which holds some very precious pictures, of my Nana Ada, and her sisters Ellen and Florence, and her brother Alfred.

These people were all born at the end of the 19th century, and after we have gone, those of us who knew and loved them; there will be nobody to tell the family stories, and they will be literally dead and buried and forgotten.

The problem with family stories is that as they are passed from person to person, they are changed and embellished to suit the purposes of the teller…especially, it seems in our family. We are great story tellers in our family. Many happy hours have been spent reminiscing over pots of tea or the odd glass of whisky. Among my own happy memories of being a small child, a lot are of the comfort of being in bed between my two teenaged aunts, and listening to them talking about friends and boyfriends.

So what of these four people, Ada, Ellen, Florrie and Alf? And the generation of people before them? I have in my head a jumble of bits of stories of a grandfather who took poison because he thought his wife was having an affair with her dance instructor. Of another who died of a broken heart three months after the death of his wife. Who were they? Were the stories true?

These are the stories I’ve been told, but bear in mind there might already be a few embellishments….none of them mine, I might add!

Ellen died when she was 18. I don’t know what she died of, so my presumption (embellishment?!) is that she had TB. She had a group of friends, one of whom she was very close to, and he was Irish. Apparently her father had a hatred of the Irish, but when he realised she was dying, he responded to Ellen’s pleas, and went to look for the boy. He was told by their friends that the boy had gone home to visit his family. When Ellen’s Dad told her that, she said, very sadly, “You didn’t look for him, did you Dad?” he told her he had, and went and got her friends, to prove that he had tried.

My Nana, just a child at the time, described how they stood round Ellen’s bed and sang the Lord’s my Shepherd to her.

Florrie was a formidable woman. A spinster, she had very definite views about how things should be done. She was in service all her life. People in the family were sometimes a bit wary of her, because she had a sharp tongue. The other side of her, the side that she showed to me, was of a very kind person who didn’t suffer fools gladly. She told me once that pears poached in lemonade taste just like tinned pears. 54 years later, and I have still to try her recipe! She was decorating my Nana’s front room, said “I’m going home now, Ada, I’ll be back in the morning to finish it”. She died that night in her sleep. After she died, I found out the the young woman, Florrie Hindle, that Aunt Florrie often had with her,was actually her daughter…. one of three illegitimate children. My mother said the father of one of them was a pilot killed on his way back home at the end of the first world war. Who knows?

Alf was a lovely man, a bachelor all his life. He was a photographer, a poet, a religious man. He travelled round the country a lot, and would ask his boarding house landladies “Where is the nearest place of worship?”. When they asked him which he was looking for, Catholic, Protestant? he would reply “Just the nearest place of worship, church, temple, synagogue…they all serve God.” He had three kittens that he named Shadrach Meeshach and Abednego. We went to visit him once and my dad was horrified to see that Alf’s car was literally rusted through, and the driver’s door was held on with string. This was long before they introduced MOT tests!

Alf had a couple of lady friends that he lodged with, in Poole and in Gosport, one of whom had a little model shop. My brothers thought they were in heaven when we were taken into the shop after closing time.

Ada, my Nana, was fourteen when she was orphaned. They were very poor, but had rich relatives. She said that her aunt said to her at the funeral “Pack your bag, Ada, you can come home with me” Ada said “What about Florrie and Alf?” and when her aunt replied “Oh no, I can’t take them as well”, Ada said “I’ll take my chances with my brother and sister”. She said later, better that than be a skivvy to her aunt all her life.

Ada married when she was 16. I think she was probably pregnant, That baby died when he was about three months old. When she took him to the hospital, the doctor asked where his mother was. Ada replied “I’m his mother, Sir” and the doctor tutted and said “Children having children”.

That baby was the first of Ada’s sixteen children to die. The eldest was Eddie, who died of pneumonia following measles. He was six, and my Grandfather had made him return to school, thinking that Eddie was just enjoying the attention from his mother a bit too much, and was no longer ill. I don’t know if Nana ever really forgave Granddad for that.

Ada was heartbroken. She was about 7 months pregnant. Every morning she would get her children up and drag herself across town to the cemetery, and she’d sob her heart out. One day a grave digger who had watched her distress, came over and told her her bairn wasn’t there, he was in her heart. He said she wasn’t doing herself or her other children any good by going every day.

When she gave birth to her baby, Stephen, he had cerebral palsy. The doctor told her it was caused by her grief over Eddie. Stephen, too, died as an infant.

Ada’s life was hard. Tom’s health wasn’t good and she often struggled to feed her kids. On one occasion she went to ask for help, and had to go before a board. As soon as she walked in, she recognised one of the panel as being her uncle. One of the other board members said “Have you no relatives who could help you?” She looked directly at her uncle as she replied “Oh yes, Sir, I have relatives who COULD help….but they wouldn’t”. Her uncle looked very embarrassed, and said “I think we should give this lady the help she needs”….no doubt hoping she wouldn’t betray him as one of the relatives who could have helped her.

Ada took in washing to help supplement her income. I will never forget the smell of linen boiling, combined with the lamb stew she had cooking on wash days.

As her children grew, Ada found it hard to let go. No man or woman was ever good enough for her children. She’d have had them all living at home forever if she could. I often wonder if that was a reaction to losing her parents so young, and to the deaths of six children. The ten children she did raise would never have made up for the loss of the others. Each one was precious.

So there’s the story of the people in my little brass frame. I’m sure there are lots of other stories to tell, but for now, Ada Ellen Florrie and Alf…I haven’t forgotten you, and if the stories aren’t quite the truth, because of our family embellishments, I’m sure you’ll forgive me, and maybe recognize the family trait of just adding to a story a little bit!



Ruby’s Anniversary.

For my friend Abi, who is suffering the pain of grief.


People use lots of phrases

To help them when words

Don’t come easily or are hard to find.


They want to help

To be a comfort

To empathise

And they know they can’t.


When you say

I understand


Time will heal

You are lying.


But what else can you say?

Perhaps it’s better to not say anything at all

For fear of wounding even more.

Your prayers may not be welcome

Though necessary for you.


Best then, to sit beside,

To hug,

To remember that important date,

To listen, and to care.





They said that you would have problems
They said that you might be slow
To develop
Or to grow

They said it might be months
Before you sat or crawled
Or stood

They said you might not
Learn as easily
As others do,
Because a part of you
Is missing.

They didn’t say
How beautiful you’d be
How your smile would light up
The room.

They didn’t say
That any difficulties you’d have
Would be part of what
Makes you, you.

They didn’t say
That you’d be loved
In spite of any problems you
Might have.

They didn’t say that
You’d be perfect
Because they didn’t know.
And it’s sad that before you were born,
We didn’t know either.

We should have known
That the tears we shed for the baby
We had expected
Were wasted tears.

We welcomed into our family
A baby that they said would have problems
But what we got
Was you.

Our perfect little baby.