Monday, May 14, 2018

Saving the planet, one plastic bottle at a time

You can really get stuck into such projects when you have no other purpose. So here's my product review.

Decided to go commando with shampoo. That is, no plastic bottle. Bought a cake of shampoo soap from The Australian Natural Soap Company that cost double what I pay for my usual litre of shampoo when its on special Tresemme, dont judge.

Solid shampoo soap sales person assured me that using this natural product Id only need to shampoo once a week. Well, thatd be because Id dread washing my hair. It washed effectively, but after rinsing, my hair felt like something youd scrub your pots with and it took a further fifteen minutes to detangle afterwards. Truly, my biceps were throbbing by the time Id finished, and not in a good way.

To ease the process, couple of days later, bought an expensive bar of conditioner: Lush, ‘Sugar-Daddy-o Solid Conditioner Rich, Smooth and Naughty’. Let the buyer beware? It was a palm sized tablet. Purple. $10.95. Expensive, I know, but my pension had just been paid into my account.

Lush sales person couldnt have been more helpful. You wet your hands, she demonstrated in their purpose built sink. How else would one know what to do with a cake of soap, sorry, solid conditioner? Obediently, I followed suit. Apply the product to your hands. Ooh, really? See how they develop a creaminess the longer you rub them together? I stood there nodding, wringing my hands, developing the creaminess. Sorry, have to take my break now. She (other sales assistant) will take of you. I watched her retreating back, hoping the buzz cut shed decided on had nothing to do with the conditioner.

Bought the cake of purple stuff anyway. It was creamy.

Turned out to be mildly effective as a conditioner, but after two goes with it I donated it to our local Good Karma Network where it was snapped up. Who doesnt like a freebie?

I dispensed it with a warning. 'You might like to wear rubber gloves when using this product.' Wouldn't have minded a similar heads up from Lush. That purple conditioner stains like a mother. Despite scrubbing, my hands looked like Id peeled a bucket of unwashed purple potatoes. The staining seemed to intensify overnight. It took over a week for the colour to wear off. Curiously, it didnt affect my hair colour.

I'm still using the solid shampoo. Seems to be lasting, therefore good value. Once Id suffered the detangling process my hair dried beautifully. Yeah, Id buy it again. Pity Lush sales person didnt offer me one of their less permeating solid conditioners. Might have become a loyal customer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes - a review

One of the indulgences of my new gainfully unemployed life has been to read what I want. During one of my sleepless nights I caught the end of Marian Keyes being interviewed in Brisbane in October 2017. This prompted me to read some of her work.

Well, I've just read my eighth of Marian Keyes' books and what a treat. (Yeah, hello. I'm obsessive.)
The literati, the cognoscenti, whoever, are perhaps dismissive of humorous fiction about female protagonists. Keyes' work is categorised as 'chick-lit'; 'light' easy fiction. This irritates me. Seems to me it takes great skill to write a highly absorbing entertaining page turner while at the same time deeply exploring aspects of the human condition, albeit as it applies to young female protagonists.

Rachel's Holiday, published in 1997, is the story of an addict, Rachel Walsh. A woman in her late twenties, she has left her home in Ireland to try to make a living in New York. The story begins with Rachel's 'accidental' overdose. "I was offended by the drug-addict allegation because I was nothing like one" says Rachel. She treats her life as a joke; that in her case, God's having a laugh. "...I felt as if I was on Cosmic Candid Camera. My life was prone to veering out of control...God...was more like a celestial Jeremy Beadle, and my life was the showcase he used to amuse the other Gods." She claims her overdose was just an unfortunate accident. She hadn't intended to kill herself. Her concerned family intervene and return her to Ireland where she takes her 'holiday' at 'The Cloisters', a drug rehabilitation facility. Rachel, desperately searching for positives, thought at least she'd meet rock stars and be treated to massages and saunas. She was in for a shock.

Keyes, with what seems to me to be amazing insight, engagingly explores Rachel's life at The Cloisters. She takes us intimately through Rachel's rehabilitation and through that of other characters; other residents with a range of addictions to drugs, alcohol and food. At the same time the narrative explores Rachel's back story and along with Rachel, we come to understand why she is an addict.

The story is both compassionate and humorous. Rachel is an extremely appealing person, despite how frustrated I was by her denial of her addiction. She sees it in others but it takes a long time for her to join the dots in her own case. A novel is working for me when I really care for the characters, as if they are real. With my own somewhat addictive traits and growing up in the middle of sisters I found loads to identify with in Rachel's Holiday. Rachel is hypersensitive, very susceptible to the cavalier bullying of her sisters and ignorant remarks made by parents who didn't know any better. (Other Walsh sisters tell their own stories in some of Keyes' other novels.}

I loved Keyes' writing style which abounds in hilarious figurative language. Here's just one example: Rachel says "They say the path of true love never runs smooth. Well, Luke and my true love's path didn't run at all, it limped along in new boots that were chafing at its heels. Blistered and cut, red and raw, every hopping, lopsided step, a little slice of agony...The night Luke stormed out of my kitchen - oh yes, even though he'd done it with cold control, he'd stormed nevertheless - the course of our true love stopped running at all and actually came to a complete standstill. It spent over two weeks doing nothing but loitering on a street corner, waiting for dole day, half-heartedly whistling at local girls coming home from their shifts at the factory."

Keyes writes about the lives of women around the thirty age mark. She writes with intelligence, sensitivity, compassion and delicious humour. Her characters are credible. I particularly enjoy Keyes' political incorrectness. She often writes the stuff you might think but would avoid saying. Or maybe that's just me.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Getting a fix

Several rows of handbags are arranged according to colour along a wall. Some are blingy with weighty chains, studs and clasps or magnetised fasteners. Others are fringed or quilted. There's one in straw with embroidered flowers. Browns, blacks, taupes, faux animal skins, occasional leather amidst more common 'pleather'. Unknown 'designers' tag bags. 

Amidst all this a tomatoey-red leather satchel catches her eye. 

Our shopper's heart rate increases, just a tad. She's wary of another customer, over whom she's just tripped. A potential rival, another woman of a certain age. At first she hadn't seen her sitting at the end of a rack of Plus Size Women's After Five on a little stool. The 'competition' is preoccupied by a lemon sling-back with six inch heels. Still, our shopper turns slightly to conceal her 'find'. She's conscious of a frisson, reminiscent of adolescence and smiles inwardly. Her face remains nonchalant as she pops the strap over her shoulder to see how her red leather friend feels. 

Cue non-stop inner monologue. See, she must have a little conversation with herself before proceeding. Capacious, she thinks, good given the load she carries everywhere. Fifteen dollars though? Bit steep for donated goods. Some of these places are getting a bit above themselves, she reckons. Hardly a bargain, is it? Seems new though. And leather. Yeah, but you could get a brand new one at Vic Market for a few bucks more. Oh go on. Splurge. What else do you spend money on? It is for charity, after all. 

Still with bag over shoulder, she heads for bric-a-brac. Almost wets herself over a 1960s Arcopal of France baking dish. Picks it up. Only $6.25! Salivates. Turns dish over in her hands; hugs it to chest having been unable to conceal excitement.  You don't need this, she tells herself sternly. Remember clearing out your mother's house, she warns. You don't want to do that to your own children,  do you? Do you? Well, why not? They'll inherit the whole lot. Why shouldn't they clear out a bit of stuff? They can sell it on Gumtree. Nah, replaces item carefully on shelf.

Meanwhile, she keeps her face impassive as she dawdles amongst shelves groaning under glassware, china, silverware, all of which tells stories of exuberant hopeful homemaking, unwanted wedding gifts, downsizing; relentless consumerism and the inevitable passing of time. So much exquisite pottery, handcrafted, delicately painted, skilfully turned. She went mad over that stuff some time between the late 70s and early 80s, she remembers. Now it's a ticking clock breeding on op shop shelves. 

Her $15 bag sits comfortably on her shoulder. Looks okay, she thinks, checking her reflection in a series of old mirrors in the furniture section. She wends her way through to - heart skips a beat - second hand books. Is there any better value? she considers happily. Well, the public library of course. But then you have to return or renew books by a certain date. Irritating. Unless of course one borrows from one's school library. Now there's something she misses about her previous life: the freedom of the library, albeit a little heavy on the Young Adult fiction. Fair enough, she supposes. It was, after all, a secondary school library. She kept some of those books out for nigh on seventeen years, finally returning them when she quit her job. Smiles to herself; scans the titles. Eyes off the 'light' fiction section; selects an as new old Marian Keyes' page turner. Good for a laugh and a think at the same time. Thrilled with herself, imagining several hours of reading pleasure for $3.95, she strides back to the bag section and frugally replaces the satchel amongst its red fellows. 

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Reduce wins. Hands two two-dollar coins to the man on the cash register. Keep the change, she says, magnanimously.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What the actual #@&, 2017?

Been doing a bit of an inventory of you, 2017. But it's not really you. You're just a year, one of those 365 day cycles during which life happens. But in the absence of anyone else to sound off to, 2017, you'll do. (I'll give husband, Al a rest. He's been living the dream anyway.)

2017, you began well and had me feeling euphoric. I had to remind myself that this was perhaps 'tourist excitement' before the inevitable 'culture shock'. You know that theory? Change can feel good at first, until the rot sets in? Given I'd quit my day job, I was wary of my initial elation, keeping an eye out for signs of ennui.

But, dear January 2017, I allowed myself myself to experience the joy, soaring along the Otago Rail Trail on my rented bike on the south island of New Zealand or remarking, with awe, the snow-capped mountains in Queenstown, the wineries of the Marlborough region. Ah, that trip augured well for more to come. Western Europe in May for a few weeks sounded enticing. Would have to organise someone else to do for mum, of course, but we'd managed in the past.

I aimed for a little structure in my work-free life, just in case. In early February I joined an elementary German class at Melbourne's CAE and a community choir.

I was feeling ecstatic, back then, 2017. Even that night after choir when my car wouldn't start. Remember? I had music in my heart and lungs under a velvety clear star-studded sky. Who cared that I was waiting by the road side for a bit of assistance from the RACV? I was home an hour or so later anyway, bursting with passion for life, amazed that I'd been out alone in the night, managing an inconvenience without swearing once. You know, by 2016, so drained was I from teaching that I rarely ventured out in the evenings except to compulsory school affairs.  Yet there I was on a Thursday night, February 2017, having shrugged off the mental load, soaring.

Worked on Al then. Why should I have all the pleasure? So incredulous was he to witness my transformation, he also packed in his job.

But February 23, before Al had a chance to savour his freedom, you were there in the diary all along, waiting. The end of peace; the start of an agonising story that's not mine to tell. Will just say that Al was not the first of my loved ones to be diagnosed with cancer this year. Quickly found a heavy door in my mind, wrenched it open, shoved my fear inside and with all my strength forced the door shut. There's no lock though. Have to guard that door and keep it secure.

So, 2017, you presented the opportunity to discover how resilient we all are; how brave. We've been up close and personal with the random nature of our lives, two old mums languishing with dementia in nursing homes, well, until my mum died in September;  our daughter's young, vital man battling cancer, Al getting prostate cancer - the 'good' one.

Suppose the rest is chicken shit, Reggie. (Note to absent sister.)

So long and thanks for the memories, 2017. By the way, despite everything I've had a worthwhile year. It turns out both learning a language and choral singing, especially in French, are really mindful pursuits. Hard to think about anything else when you're focused on acquiring a third language; practically impossible to sing in a choir without feeling gleeful when that harmony is produced. As a bonus, they both came with a phalanx of new like-minded friends.

See you tomorrow, 2018  Let's hope we can do better.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Clench. Hold, 2, 3, 4. Release. Repeat.

Here's an update. Al and I no longer work. We quit our day jobs - me at the end of last year; him in March this year - to explore what would happen next. I'd convinced Al to retire as I was having such a good time not slaving away at work. Well, it hasn't quite turned out as expected. 

I've written the following with husband, Al's permission. Hard to have any privacy when you're married to a blogger.

The other day, I was cutting out a paper pattern for a dress for my daughter. Sepia tissue paper off-cuts fell in a loose pile on the floor on my left, Dust motes shone through the afternoon light in my gemütlich kitchen - gemütlich - German word meaning cosy, warm, welcoming and more, according to my German teacher  Do we have an English word that conveys so much? Ed Sheeran's heart-breaking yet uplifting music was playing on Spotify, reminding me of how I felt listening to a young James Taylor back in the early seventies. Seems to me that as young singer-songwriters, both have/had wisdom beyond their years. Ah, makes me wish I was young again. I popped back to about 1972 in my head. When I was a nascent seamstress  I spent many a weekend cutting out paper patterns and making my own clothes while listening to music. It's still a lovely, easy and productive occupation.

Amidst all this, Al came in to stand, as he often does behind the kitchen bench:  cook, thinker, observer. I didn't take much notice of him. Just registered that he was there; hoped Ed with the sound up wasn't bothering him.. I sang a bit of a chorus with Ed, lowered the volume a tad, then offered Al a random thought from my mind-bin.

''You know one thing I regret?'' I asked as I continued my cutting. No response from Al. I looked up at him. He was a soldier behind the bench, standing very still. He's used to me prattling; sharing my inner monologue. Facing me, he had the light behind him, handy at our age. I couldn't see what his face was doing. I noticed the outline of his bald pate, his ears, then resumed my cutting.

''I no longer have a waist,'' I lamented, cutting carefully around a sleeve. Something about making a dress had prompted the thought. ''I know my lips disappeared in the early 1990s; in the Kennett era,'' I said. ''Simply couldn't go out without lipstick from then on in. My waist disappeared more gradually though. In my late forties maybe? Early fifties?''

Thought he'd acknowledge that one, perhaps a brief humph; a little chuckle. Silence, well, apart from the music. I pressed on then, pushing for a reaction. ''I used to look good back in the day, Yeah?" Nothing. "Could have been a model if only I hadn't decided to devote my life to education.'' No comment. ''I didn't have the teeth. Hate my teeth. But I sure had the boobs,'' I was really plastering it on, in case you hadn't realised. Well, maybe not about the teeth and the tits.

Not even a tiny guffaw? What the...? I looked at him again. He hadn't moved. He remained at attention behind the cutting board; stock still. I put my scissors down. Was he all right? I stood and walked slowly around to his left so I could see his face. Sheesh. Was he having some sort of transient ischaemic attack? Do symptoms include apparent paralysis?

Suddenly, I realised what was happening and I was instantly hysterical and perhaps you had to be there, but I was. Bent double - I won't say at the waist - I steadied myself with one hand on the bench under the microwave, tears streaming, and relished the belly laugh. I'll avail myself of any opportunity for healing mirth.

'Glad you're amused,' he muttered quickly like a six foot ventriloquist's dummy, still frozen, trying not to lose count. Clearly he can't move his mouth and count at the same time. 

You see, he was doing his pelvic floor exercises. It's a clench, hold, release thing and he needs to count out a few reps a couple of times a day. 

About five months ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had a prostatectomy. Didn't see that one coming. Turns out we're a cliche; the couple who retire and discover that one of them has a potentially life threatening illness. Well, it was found in time, and, just three months after his major surgery he's made a remarkable recovery and is even back on his bike. For a few weeks after surgery he was frail, but since he's been able to he's religiously done his pelvic floor exercises, albeit without an easily entertained audience. 

Glad we quit work when we did. We had a lucky break. Turns out that had he not retired, had he not felt a bit light-headed after riding up a hill in top gear on our first big post retirement cycle, I wouldn't have forced him to see a doctor to check his haemoglobin. (It's not enough for me to be paranoid about my own health.) He went along with it, pretty much to shut me up. That's when the elevated PSA - Prostate Specific Antigen - was discovered. It all happened really quickly. Cancer diagnosis, major surgery, and happily a bit later, an all clear. Wouldn't mind a dollar for every time someone told me it was a good cancer to get. Didn't feel like it, but in our case they were right, given it was found in time.

So that's what happened when we retired; a bit of bedlam that neither of us imagined. 

What's more, in an awful coincidence, Al had his op two days after my beloved 86 year old mum collapsed, broke her arm and femur and sadly, subsequently, died two weeks later.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cleaning the cupboard. Netheredge, Sheffield, 1956

This is my mother's memory, not mine. Its appeal, for me, is in that little family of three, with me waiting to happen. My father paid for that house and told mum that's where they would be living. She trusted his judgment. Love the whole romance of my young parents, mum 25 and dad 27, taking horse-drawn transport from Ripon, North Yorkshire, to Netheredge, Sheffield, albeit in a blizzard.  Mum would never have called herself a writer. She wrote loads of letters home - back to England - but didn't embrace 'creative' writing until she was in her early sixties and joined a writing group. This is something she wrote:

We'd changed horses at the inn where we had stayed overnight, but after the long ride over the Yorkshire moors this last long incline had almost beaten the willingness from these once fresh beasts as they stamped and sweated, snorting at the entrance to the drive.

We arrived by carrier, together with bits of furniture, at dusk, in a snowstorm in February 1956. The driver, Miles, was so eager to seek out a friendly place to stay overnight he barely paused for a drink after delivering his load, so pressing was his need to depart.

My need, too, was desperate: to investigate inside this huge stone terrace house I had never seen. I was somewhat dismayed at the size of the bare, unwashed windows blinking a reflected firelight of welcome in the gloom.

It was a route march from the brass-kerbed step inside the front porch down the bare wooden floors to the distant kitchen and my first acquaintance with 'the cupboard'. When in haste I opened the door, thinking it was another room, I bumped into smelly shelves. Later we realised how fortunate it was that I had tried the cupboard door first as an almost identical door led to the cellar.

It is another story entirely, that first year in our first home, that mausoleum of a place we never quite converted into a comfort zone. The task was daunting, but we were too young to know that and we were in heaven.

The kitchen cupboard, however, haunted me. Its cleaning was just too big to tackle. But after we discovered that the slightly sulphurous smell, which occasionally permeated all the rooms, emanated from within its depths, I recognised the time had come. No two ways about it.

Meanwhile I had established nodding terms with the woman next door. Her back door faced ours, and I ventured to discuss the job in hand and she offered, on loan, a step ladder to ease the task. On noticing my advanced pregnancy she sent her son round with the ladder and possibly to get him to suss us out.

The ladder was a help. We literally moved mountains.

The cupboard, on investigation, was stacked with all the things the old man, the previous owner who had lived alone, didn't want or couldn't sell. Jars were leaking or smashed and stuck. Packets were opened and moving! The wretched smell was everywhere. The top shelf was stacked with blocks of white Windsor soap, hard as rock, and rusted tins of mustard and pepper powder. There were four shelves, four feet wide and three deep in the top cupboard, and one shelf separated the darkened abyss below.

The cleaning and subsequent sterilization of the cupboard became our project; our raison d'etre. Remember there was no radio or television. What was a threat to our existence in the beginning became a challenge. We worked on it together, my husband and I, in the early evenings when Reggie was in bed. It became our leisure time when we plotted and schemed and made plans for the future after the baby was born. Sometimes we were cross and raised our voices in frustration, angry that anyone could have left all this filth, not just in the cupboard but the whole house, for someone else to move. More importantly, could it be done before the baby was due to be born at home in September?

One time when we were both in the cupboard we heard a voice. We were more than shocked, but stayed close and silent, keeping even the noise of breathing to a minimum. It was a strange sound but definitely a voice; a tinny voice. What was it saying in that Punch and Judy animated fashion? Was it really saying, through clenched teeth 'Doyouwantacupoftealove?' How disappointing, we thought and laughed fit to burst.

We heard the same question over and over. During the day, on my hands and knees, wedged inside the cavern, I took comfort in the closeness of the unexplained voice. As I discarded ancient shoes and smelly slippers of pre-war vintage, some with socks still in situ - I never looked for feet - I never felt alone. The mud, muck and grime of years came forth and was vanquished. Afterwards when the scraping and sanding was over, of course we surmised that our inside cupboard wall was one and the same as the cupboard wall in our neighbours' home, now with visible cracks as we had scraped the paint and mortar away.

We did eventually finish the cupboard cleaning. Of course we did. It was beautiful, painted flat white inside and out, and sterile, oh so sterile. What a boon it proved to be in our less-than-furnished kitchen and dining room. We were left with a dilemma though. Should we make it known we would love a cup of tea?

The happy ending came after Judith was born at home in September. I was out in the back yard when a face appeared over the wall; a smiling face with clenched teeth. I introduced ourselves, the new neighbours from way back. Straight away she invited us to visit, and then and there, in her kitchen, I came face to face with the voice from the cupboard.

Mrs Baker had a budgie in a cage hanging adjacent to her kitchen cupboard door. Much to Reggie's surprise and delight and my almost suppressed mirth, the budgie said with no prompting, in perfect mimicry of Mrs Baker's speech, 'Do you want a cup of tea love?'

We could hardly wait.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Life long impressions: 1962 to 1964

Child years are like dog years. Seems to me that one year in a child's life equals seven, or perhaps more, in an adult's. Brief episodes in my childhood informed the person I became. They have lasted for ages in my memory. Yet my own children's lives, seemed to flash by. 

It's a few days before Christmas, 1962. I am six. Mum has a surprise for us for. It's cold outside and the three of us are in the sitting room in our new house. I'm in the armchair by the pretend fire - an electric heater with black plastic coal and an orange glow from a concealed light. The electric bars at the front of the fire are bright orange and warm the room. A television is angled into the space across the carpet beyond the heater but there's nothing on. Reggie is sitting on the long settee facing the heater. Mum is tempting us with a surprise. 'But if I give it to you now,' she warns, 'you won't have it for Christmas. Are you absolutely sure you want it now?' I'm a little scared of spoiling a Christmas surprise. What if we make the wrong choice? But our excitement wins out; we can't resist temptation. Mum relents as though it wasn't her idea in the first place. We're left in delicious fearful anticipation as she leaves the room before returning with our surprises. There will be no going back. It will be our fault if we've spoiled Christmas Day.

Why was I worried? Our gifts are wonderful. We each receive a small lidded cardboard box. Inside is a painted wooden cotton reel. It has six 'nails' protruding from its top. They're equally spaced. There are also a few small balls of wool and a plastic crochet hook. Mum shows us what to do. You thread a strand of wool down through the top hole until you can hold it underneath the cotton reel. You wind the wool at the top of the reel twice around the outside of the nails, hold the wool in place, then hook the lower strand of wool over the upper strand on each nail. You keep doing this and in no time at all a snake of knitting emerges and grows out of the bottom hole. You can tie on different coloured wool. Make sure the knot is in the middle of the circle of nails and you can have seamless stripes. Once your snake is long enough you can cast off. Mum shows us how to do this. You can make little dolls' hats from your snake by coiling it and sewing the coils together. It is immensely satisfying. I knit for ages and make hats for my dolls.

My dolls already have hand-sewn tops and skirts. We regularly visit my maternal grandmother in Goldthorpe, about a half-hour drive away. Big Nanna, we call her. She has a work basket full of fabric pieces and we make dolls' clothes from these. I cut and wrap oblong pieces of fabric around unyielding plastic bodies to get the fit right. My skirt creations are  pieces of material, tacked with running stitches along a single seam. I join the ends of the fabric and begin to sew with a piece of cotton knotted at the end. You moisten the end of the thread in your mouth to help it through the needle's eye. This takes a while. Then in through the top of the fabric, back up through the bottom. But sometimes I forget and go in through the top again and make a loop over the edge. It doesn't really matter. I just keep going. I finish with back-stitches as Big Nanna has shown me. I try the finished product on the doll. It slides on and fits. The doll's top is a piece of material with a split up the back and a hole cut for her neck. Big Nanna has shown us how to fold and sew the edges of the fabric to neaten them. The top is sewn under the doll's arms on both sides. Can't really sew up the back because I won't be able to get it on and off. It just gets tucked into the skirt. It looks fine. I look at what Reggie is doing. She's very neat and tidy. Her stitches are all straight and even and there aren't any loops around her seams. I don't care. I make more clothes. It is immensely satisfying. I love sitting at Big Nanna's table with my sewing. I sew for ages.

We love Big Nanna. Her kitchen has flagstones and there's a peg bag hanging on the pantry door. It's full of balls. When careless children lose them over Big Nanna's hedge, she collects them and keeps them for us to play with. She gives us fizzy drinks of Dandelion and Burdock. There's a lovely rag rug in her sitting room and on the sideboard, near the picture of my dead grandfather, George, there's a red tin filled with sweets. We're always allowed to eat a few.

When we stay with Big Nanna, Reggie and I sleep with her in her double bed. We giggle at her massive flesh coloured bra and corset as she undresses in front of the mirrored dressing table. It's all right to think she's funny. She likes to make us laugh, often reciting amusing poems and telling stories in her 'broad Yorkshire' dialect.

She lets us choose a book each to keep. They're on a shelf in a light, bare upstairs bedroom. I think it was our uncles' room. I choose The School of Poetry by Alice Meynell. Mum had pencilled her name inside the front cover when she was young.  Robert Louis Stephenson's The Sick Child resonates deeply. It also disturbs me. I love reading Going Downhill on a Bicycle When you read it aloud you have to think about the punctuation. I learn Wordsworth's To Daffodils by heart. (Later, when I'm in grade five, I write out the first verse, thinking I've made it up. I'm pleased with myself and show 'my work' to my teacher, Miss H, the dark-haired pretty but nasty opera singer, who's sitting at her front table. She glances at the piece of paper I hand her, quietly sneers and sends me back to my place. It's not that I've plagiarised. She just doesn't like me.) I treasure this old blue cloth-bound book. (I keep it in a plastic bag now. Its spine has disintegrated, as has old sticky tape that held it together. Its pages are brown. It's still a terrific anthology and I like what it says about the kind of child I was.)

Big Nanna is a frequent visitor in Sheffield. She comes 'through' on the bus. She wears a hat and keeps it on if she's not staying over. On demand, and we always ask, she dances a little jig to Knees Up Mother Brown holding her skirt up at the front. She makes the house smell of warmth, buttered tea cakes and ironing. Big Nanna is smiling, white-haired, tall, round and soft. She wears a pinafore to protect her dresses. It makes her knee slippery. When you sit on her knee you can easily slide off. But it's nice on her knee and she holds onto you. Big Nanna puts warm oil in my ear when I have an earache and strokes my head. The earache goes while I rest my head on her lap.  

When I last see my Big Nanna it's at the front of her Goldthorpe home. Mum is there. And Reggie. We say our goodbyes. Reggie wraps her arms around Big Nanna's waist and sobs hysterically. 'I won't leave you, nanna,' she weeps. Mum has to drag her away. Tears pour down Big Nanna's cheeks. I have never seen her cry. I am determined I will not cry. We drive away. I never see my Big Nanna again. I am eight.

Copyright. Judith Middlemarch, 2017