Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Evidence that Fran has been able to read for 52 years now

I saw a news story about an 88 year old woman who had just learned to read for the first time. I wrote this short poem in response and it was published on a poetry website. 

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, all she could do
was drift her hands along each silent spine
or turn hieroglyph pages like a visitor
lost in the streets of a foreign land,
her forehead a frown of lines –
a message of bewilderment she hoped
others could not read.

Then, like whispers, or baby footsteps,
or leaves dropping like scraps of tissue
kissed by an infitesimal breeze,
shapes on pages birthed sounds on her lips -
each day a new one, a tiny gift –
and in her mind, dragons, heroines,
castles, pirates, the sighs of reunited lovers.

Here's the dear lady's story, if you'd like to watch the news clip.

Can you remember anything about when you learned to read? 

My father taught me to read when I was three years old. He wasn't the kind of father who'd lie on the floor and play with a train set or a board game, but was more interested in intellectual activities. 

He walked out on the family when I was eight and was, by all accounts, a bit of a swine, but I'll always be grateful for those hours spent reading 'John has a boat. Look at John's boat. John likes his boat.' 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Gran, by Fran

This is my Gran. 

She was called Kathleen (her grandmother was Irish) and she died just before Christmas 2017 aged 95. We used this picture for the front of the Order of Service at her funeral. She always looked chipper in pink or baby blue. 

She had three children: two girls and a boy. One girl was my mother, who died aged 31 after years tussling with alcoholism and unwise love choices. Another girl was my aunt, hurried into the graveyard at 60 by an impatient cancer. 

Her son, my uncle, has visited Gran daily for years and years, and I suspect his car still noses towards the road where the care home is by instinct. 

Since moving back from London to the Warwick area, where I was born, I've seen Gran once a week or so. When she was still in her own flat, I'd buy haddock and chips on a Saturday, puffing up the hill from the fish shop to her place. Sometimes we'd watch horse racing on TV or I'd pull out a crossword. Once she'd moved to the care home, my regular duty was to trim and paint her nails. 'Warm Peach or Pearly Pink?' I'd say, holding them both up. In the last year, she's barely been able to see the difference, but she still liked to be given the choice.

I wrote this short poem for her funeral service. It's based on objects with which I will always associate Gran, especially during her last years. The 'basket' mentioned in the poem is one of these that hangs on a walking frame. Hers had a Christmas bow on it, still there from when I bought the basket four winters ago. It made it easy to locate her frame among all the others in the care home, if it strayed. 

Pockets and sleeves

The baby-blue cardigan that matched your eyes
and, if it bore a gravy stain,
the tissue you’d dab the mark with until you’d killed it.

The sachets of Hermesetas you’d collect in your frame basket –
your record was twenty-six -
in case there was a world shortage.

The glasses you put on, took off, put on, took off,
and when you’d taken them off,
the television you were sure no one else could see either.

The startling-red nail varnish you were too shy to say no to
in case you offended the carer
even though you said you felt like a loose woman.

The custard cream, lifted from the saucer,
then dunked slowly, once, twice,
as if in a sacred ceremony of biscuit-worship.

The cardigan’s pockets and sleeves
where you stashed the Mansize Kleenex armoury
with which you fought off your anxieties.

The mysterious unaccompanied popsock in the basket,
tangled amongst combs and brushes
and the half packet of Tuc cheese crackers 
you swore weren’t yours. 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Reasons why Fran may soon be forced to live outside

Let's have a conversation about clutter because, please, tell me, it's not just our house ....

Surely other people, too, stand back when opening cupboards in case of avalanches.

Surely others open drawers then ram them shut again, pretending they never looked.

Surely others smugly tell friends they have planned a whole day of de-cluttering only to open one wardrobe door, lose heart within 3.5 seconds at the sight of enough unwanted cloth to dress the whole wide world, shut the door again, and make a Victoria Sponge instead.

How does it happen? Only two of us live in this house. How can two middle-aged people, with no children living at home, still be in danger of being edged out of the living room, down the hall and out of the front door into the street by a invading force of inanimate objects?

Let's talk about linen. I could talk about crockery, or stationery, or unused window blinds, or spare lamps, or books, or books, or books, but I'll talk about linen.

We have bed linen we use all the time - our day-to-day sheets, duvet covers and pillows/pillow cases. Next, we have linen we use some of the time, for the spare beds when guests come. However, we also have linen we use None Of The Time. Here is a list of some of our unused linen items.

a) Children's blankets we've kept for sentimental reasons. I guess if we ever get a rescue dog, which we'd love to, these tiny blankets would be useful for its bed. But any dog worthy of the name dog would probably be embarrassed by the pink/baby blue lacy edges and the bunny patterns. 'Woof, woof, what the heck do you call this? Did the rescue centre SAY I was a cross-dresser?'

b) Some old pillows we've kept even though we've bought new ones. Should one of us need to sleep sitting up - for instance, should we develop lung conditions - extra pillows could prove useful. But these old ones were bought in the 1980s and are so thin they would offer as much support as a chapatti or an OS map (unfolded).

c) Old pillowcases. The only possible reason for keeping these is in case I want to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a domino. I refer you to this recent post if you didn't see it

d) A piece of vibrant yellow-green-orange-blue African cotton a Ghanaian friend gave me in 2001. It's enough for three tablecloths, or a duvet cover, or 23 pillowcases, but it's so bright and colourful that it would stand out as almost rude in our house which is furnished and decorated in beige and muted reds and browns. People would think we'd had Jackson Pollack round. Its only current use is that it's so bright, when we open the airing cupboard where the linen is kept, we don't need to put a light on.

e) And then there are towels: mahoosive round-the-body-twice towels, towels smaller than that, towels smaller than that, towels smaller than that, towels smaller than that, towels smaller than that, and facecloths. Some of these towels are so ancient, you can peer through the thinnest parts of them as you can through ring doughnuts . Also, however much Lenor you glug into the washing machine, our oldest towels still emerge as rough as pork scratchings. As I say to Paul, 'If I wanted to exfoliate myself past my epidermis and down to the dermis, I would fetch a cheese grater.'

Rover was making it clear that he wasn't happy about the Peppa Pig blanket

What is your house stuffed with? Or are you a ruthless, heartless de-clutterer who threw the baby blankets out before the child had even said its first word?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Evidence that some fictional characters should have made different New Year Resolutions

I last posted these 'Characters' New Year Resolutions' a few years ago and they're always popular, so here they are again, new and improved, plus some extras.

Happy New Year!

Gulliver: Don't lie down in other people's countries.

Red Riding Hood: When taking cakes to grandparents, go via the main road.

Pilgrim: Steer clear of Sloughs.

Dr Frankenstein: Use a wider variety of materials for future craft projects.

Dr Jekyll: Learn to live with yourselvesself

The Three Little Pigs: Begin with the bricks.

Holden Caulfield: Revise.

Jay Gatsby: Never let a woman drive.

Lennie Small: Let go of the soft things earlier.

Mr Bennet: Don't bother with sarcasm that no one gets.

Dorian Gray: Keep the portraits in the kitchen.

Juliet: Marry for money.

Three Men in a Boat: Leave dogs at home.

Magwitch: Skype from Australia

Jane Eyre: Ask for a full tour of the house on the first day.

Piggy: Always carry matches.

Macbeth: Never trust women who don't speak in iambic pentameter.

The Emperor: Check in a mirror before leaving for processions.

Mummy Bear: Give them toast.

Any other suggestions?....

Friday, 22 December 2017

Evidence that there is always something to learn even while you are Christmas shopping

1. There is always another supermarket queue shorter than yours. However, should you join it, you'll find the person at the front of it has lost her bank card, has a box of broken eggs that need replacing, and has just remembered that she left a small child in the crisps aisle.

2. Everyone beetling up and down the main street is radiant with Christmas cheer and goodwill, but only on the inside, deep down. On the outside, they look as though they'd like to batter Santa senseless with a box set of Game of Thrones.

3. It is only once you have hurled yourself through the crowds into Baby Gap, up a long flight of stairs with all your shopping, navigated your way through hoodies, pyjamas, teeshirts and pinafore dresses, and asked three people where you'll find the socks, that you will remember you have no idea what size your grandchildren's feet are.

4. It is best not to be honest, so when the lady at the bank says, 'You do realise you could have paid in all these cheques via a machine,' you should say, 'Thank you - I will do that next time' and not 'To be frank, I prefer talking to real people with hair and eyes.' No one appreciates this kind of honesty any more and you can't blame the bank staff for glancing anxiously at you, hoping you've taken your medication or wondering who let you out of the house.

5. If you are only five feet two inches, buy the type of Christmas wrapping paper that comes folded up in a bag. If you buy it in rolls, especially if you've fallen for the 3 for 2 trick and have bought 9, you will be dragging these behind you down the high street like Marley's Ghost drags his chains, or as though you are a lost lumberjack.

I wish all my followers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you from the ...

.... of my heart for following, reading and entertaining me with your funny comments. It is all much appreciated.

Keep reading in 2018! 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Reasons why it's no good inviting Fran to a fancy dress party

When I was about nine, I was invited to a fancy dress party. My mother, with little time or inclination for making or buying costumes, sent me as a domino.


1. Take one naive, unsuspecting small child.
2. Take one old grey-white cotton pillowcase.
3. Take one indelible black pen.
4. Draw a horizontal line half-way down the pillowcase on both sides.
5. Draw large dots in the blank squares.
6. Undo half of the seam at the top of the pillowcase so that it can fit over the child's head.
7. Encase the child in the pillowcase.
8. Say 'Darling, you're bound to impress everyone. Have a super time.'
9. Send child to party.
10. Enjoy a quiet afternoon alone while your child learns that other parents make angel costumes or buy Superman outfits for their children and that sometimes life is the pits.

A quick Google search tells me that, should I wish to repeat the experience forty-six years later, I could.

I won't.

The only other time I've agreed to fancy dress is when I was thirty and our church had a 1970s disco. I dressed as a punk rocker, gelling my hair into spikes, caking my face in alarming Gothic make-up and attaching mahoosive safety pins to a black shirt and trousers.

There is a photo somewhere in the house. It can stay 'somewhere in the house' and will need to be destroyed before I die. I cannot think what possessed me to dress up in such a way and be seen in public. Think a plump version of 'Siouxsie' from 'Siouxsie and the Banshees' crossed with the Bride of Frankenstein crossed with a porcupine crossed with a panda who's been badly beaten up.

I detest dressing to order, particularly if I think I will look ridiculous. At a school sports day five years ago, all the teachers were asked to dress in the house colours. My house colour was bright yellow. Yellow is the one colour I cannot wear. If I wear yellow, my complexion changes hue and I look as though I have liver disease and need to be rushed to hospital.

I got round it by making myself a giant badge which I pinned onto a black teeshirt. It said, 'I am not a badge. I am a yellow teeshirt.'

Hats? I can't wear those either. They feel unnatural, like fancy dress even when they're not. I try hats on in shops and look in the mirror to find that I look as if my head has been visited by an alien craft made of felt.

My domino experience has a lot to answer for.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Reasons why Fran's future career as a supermodel may suffer further delay

My husband bought me one of these for my birthday last April.

Beware. This is the most dangerous piece of kitchen equipment known to man. 

I've written a poem about it.


I fear I am addicted to a substance -
may need a doctor for some quick advice.
This substance is so tempting, I can't help it.
One portion of it just will not suffice.
The minute I indulge I sense euphoria.
I want to tell the world, to raise my voice,
and yell, 'I so love cheese and onion toasties.
I admit it. Toasties are my drug of choice.'

The instant I think, 'Cheese and onion toastie!'
My mind begins to tease and play some tricks.
Whatever I am doing, I must drop it
and get into that kitchen for a fix.
I'm grating cheese so fast, I grate my fingers
but nothing stops me once I'm in the zone.
I'm chopping onion like there's no tomorrow
ignoring email, Twitter, Facebook, phone.

I'm lathering the butter on the slices
as though I'm trying to suffocate the bread.
My heart is going boom-boom-boom, excited,
anticipating toastie bliss ahead.
I'm chanting, 'Toastie! Toastie! You're my saviour.
One bite, one bite, and all my woes are gone.'

Then, just as I near faint with joy, I realise
I haven't turned the toastie maker on.