Scrubbed Doorsteps and the Smell of Carbolic


As today is a Saturday …a day of football and rugby on the ‘tele’ …. I thought I would reblog this piece.  Food for thought, perhaps …… 




Photo by’ Vintage Everyday’



I can see them now, the narrow rows of terraced houses. One row backed onto another. The tiny, single fronted, two up, two down cottages in grey, grimy streets.

One street looked identical to the next, the white net curtains hiding the sparsely furnished rooms inside.  The front steps scrubbed to within an inch of their existence by the women, who took such pride in their humble homes.

Oh, how those doorsteps gleamed, like a shining badge of honour, displaying a stubborn unwillingness to be beaten by life.  Yes, they scrubbed those steps … scrubbed the pavements too, right up to the gutter … the aroma of cheap carbolic floating in the air and mixing with the smell of sulphur drifting from the nearby Steel Works.

Those women washed everything in sight … window sills … door frames … swilling the streets with buckets of boiling water.  Fighting a constant battle against grime and poverty.  They may be poor but that was no excuse for filth and squalour.


Ah,  and now I see them standing on their front steps, arms folded, hair in curlers beneath turban scarfs … ‘Woodbines‘ dangling from their thin lips.  Lined faces, old before their time.  Faded, crossover aprons covering well worn cotton dresses …  wrinkled, darned lisle stockings on their weary legs.

There are the children too.  Playing while their mothers gossip.  Games of hopscotch, chalked squares on the road …laughing and shouting as others kick an old football the length and breadth of the street.  Some of them are balanced precariously on a ricketty set of pram wheels, a home-made chariot being pushed at breakneck speed along the pavements.  A scrawny young lad squealing because he has been bullied by the older ones; has told his mother and received a thick ear for his trouble. This is the school of hard knocks … a kid soon learns not to complain.  Life is hard, just lump it !!

These kids will grow up … if they are lucky … to work in the Steel Works or at the Docks down the road. The girls will go into factories or shops or maybe, sadly, join the ranks of the over-painted, vinegar faced doxies that ply their trade outside the Seaman’s Mission.

Not for them the luxury of ice-cream sundaes on a paved patio, surrounded by sweet smelling roses.  No …  they have probably never seen a rose.  Nothing grows in this down trodden, decaying landscape. These tiny homes have no gardens, just a concrete back yard which contains the outside lavatory, the coal-house and washing on a line.
They all know each other by name. Popping in and out of each other’s houses … no need to lock doors.  No call for any ‘Neighbourhood Watch Scheme’ … the neighbours constantly watch and give any misbehaving child a cuff behind the ear.

Yes, there was Community spirit and everyone helped each other.  Women rushed to sick beds or to deliver babies and sometimes, sadly, to lay out the dead. Menfolk helped paint windows or repair a bicycle, they had next to nothing , but they would share what they had.
Hundreds lived in these grey streets, were born, married and died without ever leaving these few square miles. Generation upon generation of poor, hardworking folk, scraping a living … making do …getting by. Helping to shape the world we see today.

I’m thinking of all of these things, picturing them in my mind as I walk along the road between the back to back terraces, smiling at the tired women, gossiping on their steps  Those gleaming steps amid so much poverty………………………..


Then the picture fades and I am no longer in the past, but back in the present. The terraced rows have long gone, pulled down … demolished …reduced to rubble.

In their place are wide avenues.  Trees growing tall in grassy parkland.  Riotous flower beds outside ‘chi-chi’ executive apartments.  Fifty homes where once a thousand lived.  Retail parks full of ubiquitous High Street chain stores.

And the huge throng of people all around me walk on, chattering eagerly.  Rushing by …  their colours round their necks.  Never sparing a thought for the history beneath their feet !

It will soon be 3pm ……………..  Rush, rush, rush ………past the shiny  Porches,  Ferraris and Bentleys  of the spoilt princes of football………. on through the turnstiles and into the brand new Stadium.




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Sun Hats in the Isis

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Bit of a busy day, so I have reblogged an old story.  Sorry about that !



It was a melancholy task for a sultry summer’s day and I felt a pang of nostalgia as I walked up the garden path in the glare of the sun. The lavender bushes on either side releasing their soft scent as they brushed against my bare legs.
I still hadn’t fully digested the fact that she was gone. That vibrant, wonderful lady, so full of life, who had opened her heart and her home to two orphaned girls. We had spent every school holiday with her and during term time she had travelled up to our boarding school and taken my sister Katy and me out for the day, returning us, tired and late and full of cake, laughing at the nun’s disapproval.

But gone she was and here was I, about to clear her home and pack away her belongings. A skip was waiting at the roadside for all the discarded detritus of my dear Aunt’s life, the bric-a-brac collected throughout the last fifty years.

I entered the cottage and climbed the narrow stairs up to the attic……….. Start at the top and work down, that was my plan.  The sunlight filtered through the dusty windows of the shadowy room and lay in rainbow pools on the worn oak floor.

I glanced round at the steamer trunks and battered tea-chests, each one containing memories of childhood, of happy times. I rummaged and rooted and, as I did, the past came flooding back.

Oh, there were the pair of bronzes that had once graced the hall. They were always perched on marble stands and I remembered being chided when I had sent one flying down the tiled passageway during a particularly boisterous game of  ‘tag’  with Katy.  The stand had been badly damaged and the statues really didn’t look quite the same on the sideboard in the dining room, hence their exile to the attic ………awaiting some new location, but long forgotten.
Sighing, I opened a huge wicker hamper and smiled as I lifted out a beautiful, wide brimmed sunhat, decorated with faded silk poppies.  Aunt Sophia had worn it that day on the river at Oxford, the day I had graduated.  A slight breeze had floated up the Isis and lifted the hat from her golden curls, depositing it in the water, where it lay like a giant lily pad.

Aunt had been distraught, her limpid green eyes welling with tears until a passing oarsman, seeing her distress, had risked life and limb, swinging from an overhanging branch and grabbing it before it was lost forever, crushed beneath an approaching punt. He was rewarded with one of my aunt’s smiles and a husky “Thank you” and away he rowed, with a beaming face and, I’m sure, a captured heart.

People always rushed to her aid, she had an air of delicate vulnerability and frailty about her and her radiant smile was reward enough for even the hardest heart.
But this was getting nothing done ! I couldn’t sit here all day, wallowing in memories.

I walked across the room and opened a mahogany wardrobe and , oh yes, there was the voluminous winter coat she always wore !  It was made from some luxurious type of beavers skin , way back in the days when such garments were acceptable. I believe it had been her Mother’s……. my Grandmother…..and was far too big for her tiny frame.  But she wore it whenever there was the slightest chill and even wore it in the house on particularly cold days. She couldn’t always afford to heat every room and so the three of us would huddle around the meagre fire in the drawing room, Aunt in her beaver coat and Katy and I wrapped in woolen shawls, toasting crumpets and teacakes and giggling as we ate them and the butter ran down our chins.

She read to us, usually Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde and gave me my love for Literature. She had us memorise whole speeches, a frown creasing her brow if we dared to misquote Portia’s speech or forget to say ,  ” In a handbag ?” in a suitable tone.
I held the soft coat against my cheek and its musty smell mingled with the faint aroma of Aunt Sophia’s special perfume. I was going to miss her dreadfully.

Oh, but I must get on, I only had a few days to sort out all Aunt’s things and then her house would be handed over to the Estate Agent and sold.
A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought of dear Aunt Sophia on that last day. She lay on the chaise longue in the drawing room and had reached out a pale hand and held my arm,

” When I’m gone , take whatever you want and throw the rest away, sweetie. You and Katy are my only living relatives so sort it out between yourselves. The house will be sold and you can share the proceeds. I won’t need it where I am going !

No indeed she won’t, bless her. The ten million pounds she won on the lottery will see to that.

Off she has gone to live in South America and according to her last text message , sent from Buenos Aires airport, the Argentinian tango dancer she met on the flight will ensure she isn’t lonely !



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A Right Knit-Wit



Do grandmas still knit sweaters and such for their grandchildren ?

Well, this one does ………………….

(This will be a sweater for my new grandson, Samuel…… though its taking a while because of my damned carpal tunnel syndrome.) 



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The Post Office

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This morning I visited this little Post Office. I regularly send packages and letters to various friends and family and recently I have been posting books to my grandson, Gabriel. He is 9 yrs old and a keen reader; something I like to encourage by sending a regular supply of books, which I usually buy from the local charity shops, thus helping the charity and delighting Gabe with his own ‘post‘ …. which makes him feel very grown-up and special.

This lovely little Post Office is 3 miles away, in the village of Little Weighton. The village in which I live has neither a shop nor a Post Office, the best we have to offer is a single village pub. So Little Weighton Post Office serves quite a large area and is always busy.

As you can see, it is also a general store, selling a plethora of groceries, fresh bread, wines and spirits, newspapers and magazines, sweets and chocolate,  handbags, scarves, trinkets and gifts, cards for all occasions and even sacks of logs for wood-burning stoves and open fires. The windows and notice board are full of cards offering various services  ( no ….. not THAT !!)  Items for sale, upcoming events, childminders, dog walkers and mobile hairdressers……in fact practically anything you can think of … ( hmmm, yes, probably even THAT !)


And so the Post Office is the hub of the village. A place where people gather and chat.

Of course, you don’t have to be in much of a hurry as the friendly postmaster takes his time to help the older folk with everything.  He smiles at the babies and is patient with the old gent who can’t remember his PIN number. He always has a cheery word for me, too and takes an interest in the various children’s books that I send off to Gabriel,  even though he must be bored rigid with my chatter. His wife looks after the ‘shop’ and serves everyone with a smile and a cheery word. And there is always plenty of time for gossip …… who is having a baby …. or a new car …or a new man !!

In a world where everything is ‘rush, rush, rush, ‘ its so nice to pause a while and take a breath, acknowledge your neighbours and laugh a little.  I often think that some of the customers actually only visit the Post Office for the craic.  Many old folk, and young ones too, live alone. I’m sure that many of them  don’t speak to another soul all day, so this little store is a lifeline for them. loneliness is a dreadful thing.

And yet, Post Offices like this are being closed all over the country.  What will people do ?  They don’t all have vehicles and some can’t even manage to get on a bus.

And who will they chat to, then ………. ?



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Spring Resolutions



I don’t make New Year Resolutions. Of course, I used to, back in the days when I was innocent and naive enough to believe that I would keep them. When the world was a much simpler place and everything was ‘sunshine and lollipops’.  But now I am older and wiser …… well maybe not very much wiser …. but certainly wise enough to realise that a promise made during the optimism and gaiety of a sparkling New Year, is just begging to be broken once the Christmas lights are dimmed, we all go back to work and the harsh reality of a grey and dismal January kicks in.

However, we are now into the third month of the year and spring is peeping through the dark clouds. The days seem brighter, the sun is shining and the flowers are appearing in every garden. Birds are singing and people are no longer wrapped up in huge coats and gumboots.  And I really feel that I ought to kick myself up the backside and snap out of the doldrums, where I have been hiding for the past couple of months.

I have neglected everything, recently.  I have just been ‘going through the motions’  , on autopilot , not really  living my life. Do you know what I mean ?

So, today, I have given myself a damn good taking to and have resolved to do better. To try and shake myself up a little and get back into the world. Oh yes, there are reasons for some of my feelings of ennui; my health is not great and the medication doesn’t help. ( I shall write more about my health issues in later posts)   But that’s no flipping excuse ….. there are thousands of folk who are far worse.

And so I have decided that this blog is going to be a large part of my new resolutions. My SPRING resolutions !

I am going to try and write a little something each day; though I am certainly not going to promise that I will manage to write EVERYDAY ….. but I will try.  Baby steps.

Some days it may only be a photo or a few scrappy words.  Other days it may be a long, boring story or a bit of a rant. But whatever ends up on these pages, at least I will be getting into the swing again.  So, lets see what happens …….





Today is my dear old Dad’s 96th birthday. Doesn’t he look great ?

Happy birthday Dad, I love and admire you very much. I hope you have a fantastic day ! xxx


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Happy Birthday, Grandad !!



I have been neglecting my blog so much, recently, that you must surely think I have forgotten about it altogether. I guess life and a general feeling of ennui and also illness, has got in the way and I find that my poor old blog has ended up at the bottom of my  ‘to do’  list.   And, of course, we all know that  ‘to do’  lists are rarely completed…….

So, I thought that I would have a look at last year’s post, just to see if it offered any inspiration ……. and I found this ….

I had already mentally wished a  “Happy Birthday”  to dear old Grandpa but I thought it may be a good idea to reblog this ……



Today would have been my Grandad’s birthday ……

Oh but please don’t worry,  its not a day for great sadness…….

No, no, not at all.  He died over 36 years ago and now I am able to smile nostalgically and bask in happy memories.

You never forget a loved one, but, eventually, I find that you pass into a calmer, more reflective stage, where you remember the warm glow of having loved and been loved by them; rather than feeling the sharp pain of loss.

I realise that this may not always be the case ….perhaps if one has lost a child or someone has been taken far too early… But, in my dear Grandad’s case, I look back on a life well lived….full of joyful memories and amusing anecdotes.

I remember his kindness ….. taking on 5 grand-children that were, in fact, not his  REAL  grand-children at all.  And yet he loved us every bit as much as if we had been blood relations.  He indulged us and ensured that we had all we needed.

He was a great source of fun too.  He came from a much gentler, innocent age.  The workings of the  ‘modern‘  world were often a mystery to him.

For instance …. He had a series of old cars. ……  ‘old bangers’  really !  They were all rather delapidated and his driving left a lot to be desired.  He learnt to drive on farm-land ….long before a driving test was required ….and he drove on  public roads in exactly the same way as he drove his tractor across a ploughed field !

One old Morris Minor had a faulty door handle, so …… for as long as I can remember …..the offending door was tied shut with bright orange baler-twine, which was untied and then tied up again for each passenger.

He dipped his  head-lights by turning them off, completely, for a few seconds ….thus plunging the road ahead into darkness ….. and totally confusing on-coming traffic.

And the manual choke was always pulled out …. well, it was somewhere for my Nana to hang her handbag, wasn’t it ?

He had so many quirky ways …..I still picture him, in his shirt-sleeves, with the collar unbuttoned and his warm, buttoned-at-the-neck, flannel vest on show ….standing at the sink in the little scullery ….peeling  ‘spuds’  with his old pen-knife.  My Nana used to say that she could have done the potatoes in half the time, but he insisted that it was  “his job”.

And so, today and every day,  I remember my beloved Grandad with a great deal of affection and more than a little amusement.  I feel very privileged to have know him and am proud to have been a part of his family.

“Happy Birthday Grandad”

And here is a little story about him that I wrote some time ago ……some of my memories of a special man …………a little bit of nostalgic reminiscence ………..



My Grandad was not my  ‘real’   Grandad …….. not my   ‘birth’  relation, as they say nowadays.  My Nana was married twice and her second husband was much resented by my Mother.  But that is not for now,  that is for another day.

To me he was my Grandad,  the only one I had ever known and I loved and respected him and mourned him when he passed away.

He was one of four children,  born to a relatively wealthy farming family in North Yorkshire.  Apparently,  when he was 8 yrs old,  he had fallen from a cart and broken his arm in a few places.  It was set hastily and inexpertly by the local doctor.  Infection set in and he almost lost the arm. He was sent every fortnight, at great expense, on his own across the country to Liverpool for treatment and although this saved the limb it was left twisted and his right hand was turned inwards in a sort of immobile  ‘claw’  shape. The fingers were set in one position and could not be moved.

Of course,  nowadays, he would be registered as disabled and eligible for all sorts of help and benefits,  but way back in the early 1900s there was no NHS,  no Benefit schemes.  You just had to get on with it !

Every brother was given farming land by the parents and my Grandad’s farm was located where Wilton I.C.I  now stands.  It extended from Lazenby to what was known as the  ‘Trunk Road’  between Grangetown and Redcar.

It was a dairy farm and after the cows were milked, the milk was put into huge churns and taken down the lane by horse and cart.  There it was left,  to be picked up by a truck from Northern Dairies.  Next day it was returned; bottled and in heavy metal crates; to be delivered to households round the town by my Grandad and the same horse and cart.

I.C.I Wilton,  which had started off in a small field, was expanding rapidly and office buildings and processing plants seemed to pop up overnight and creep ever nearer to the edge of the farm.

Grandad had sold I.C.I quite a few fields, but eventually they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse,  the  whole farm was sold  and my Grandparents bought a large Victorian semi in Grangetown.

Now,  at the time,  this was a prosperous town,  full of life with plenty of work for the menfolk at the thriving Dorman Long Steel Works.   Now I’m remembering the mid 1950s when I often used to visit my Grandparents for the weekend.  At night I would look out of the window and see the big red glow of the furnaces way in the distance and see shards of light and sparks fly up into the night sky when the workers were tapping the furnaces and the molten liquid was meeting the cold  ‘pig’  moulds.

Although the farm was sold,  my Grandad was still the Milkman.  The only differences being that the horse and cart were kept at a nearby farm on the edge of town and the milk was no longer produced by  our  cows !

It was now delivered, very early in the morning,  to the rear of the house and kept in a purpose-built dairy in the back yard.  I can remember laying in bed,  blankets up to my ears;  hearing the clatter and rattle of the crates and the chatter of the men as they unloaded the days supplies.  Meanwhile,  Grandad would have left the house even earlier to go up to the field and ‘catch’  the horse and harness it to the cart. Then, a while later,  I would hear the  ‘clip clop’  of hooves on the cobbled back alley and,  once again, the clatter of crates being loaded.  This time by my Grandad with his crooked arm.

I have no idea how he managed,  I guess he had got used to the situation and, to my shame, as a youngster it never crossed my mind.  It was something I was used to and I never thought of the impact it must have had on his life.  He always coped and I never heard him complain.

He was not a sentimental man.  I suppose farmers can’t always allow themselves that luxury.  So,  although he cared for and ….I believe loved …….his horse,  he had no time for fancy names and every horse he ever owned was called  PETER !

Well, the Peter I knew was a marvel.  He knew every inch of the huge milk-round and could have walked the route on his own.  He knew when to stop and when to start off again and would wait at each place for the designated time.  However,  this meant that if a customer chatted for too long or needed an extra pint fetching Grandad had to hurry or Peter would just trot off again and be halfway down the street at the next stop.

During the school holidays,  my sister Gill and I would often go out  ‘on the round’  too.  We would jump on and off the cart at the stops  and run up and down paths with pints of  ‘gold top‘  and bottles of orange juice and Peter would trot off to the next stop with us gaily skipping after calling  ” Whoa , whoa “……….  which of course he ignored.

A couple of customers always made Grandad a cup of tea and,  if we were with him, we went into the cosy homes and were made a fuss of and plied with cocoa and biscuits.

Peter was used to these longer stops and stayed in one place merrily munching the garden hedge till we came out.  These generous households could easily be recognised by their half-eaten hedges, which were much shorter and sparser than their neighbour’s neat,   uneaten ones !

People loved Peter.  They came out with apples and sugar cubes and little children giggled as his soft nose nuzzled their palms to carefully take the crusts of bread they offered.

People loved my Grandad too.  They gave him cakes and puddings in muslin cloths and sent magazines to my Nana. She, in turn , used Grandad as a courier to deliver a jar of strawberry jam to the lady at number 6 or take a lovingly knitted matinee coat to Mrs. Brown’s new baby.  Births, marriages and deaths were discussed at length and news was carried,  along with the odd letter and parcel,  from one street to another.

Milk needed to be delivered in all weather.  Pouring rain;  scorching sun;  sleet and snow and howling gales;  there would be my Grandad and his trusty Peter.

Grandad,  at the crack of dawn;  huffing and puffing;  lifting heavy crates with his  ‘gammy’ arm.

Grandad, trudging up and down garden paths;  his weather beaten,  furrowed brow  like leather and the creases and wrinkles of his berry brown face deep set in a smile.

When the snow and ice was too dangerous for Peter,  Grandad did the round in short spells using a two wheeled handcart that carried 6 crates at a time. This meant that he had to return home many times to reload,  but he always managed, never missed a day !

Gill and I would sometimes help him , dressed in stout boots and layers of clothes , like two rosy cheeked Inuits.  When the round was finished he would let us sit on the empty crates and he would push us back home in the handcart.  I realise now that what had been great fun for us must have been hard work for him.  But it made us squeal with laughter and that pleased him.

When Gill and I got older we used to help him at weekends by doing what was called the  ‘bottom round’  using the two wheeled handcart.  He would load it with 6 crates and the two of us set off to deliver the daily pintas to 4 or 5 streets of houses that all had excessively long garden paths  !!  We had great fun doing this even though it was very physical work.  Kids nowadays wouldn’t do it I suppose …… and Health and Safety would have something to say about it anyway;  especially as I always let Gill sit on the empty crates while I pushed her home ………….well…… was tradition !

My dear Grandad worked on,  way past retirement age as he didn’t want to  ” let anyone down.”    But,  eventually,  he had to give way to the modern world.  It was no longer viable to deliver milk with a horse and cart.  Northern Dairies had moved into the modern age and now had a fleet of fancy milk floats and a team of white coated,  fresh-faced young milkmen.

Grandad was a relic of the past and everything was  ” rush rush “.   There was no time to linger over a cuppa or let young kiddies feed crusts to the milkman’s horse .

My Grandparents sold up and retired to the country and there are many more stories to tell.  But I think part of him always remained on that milk-round. Peter also retired, to spend the rest of his life in lush fields,  but, for a while,  part of him remained on the round too,  in the half eaten hedges dotted here and there .

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No More Goodbyes


This was a ten minute writing exercise, so don’t expect Shakespeare …….


He stood inside the church …….. the vast coolness of the building making  him shiver slightly. His friend stood beside him and,  noticing the shiver, placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
Soft light shone through the beautiful stained glass windows, leaving pools of iridescent colour on the worn stone floor.  The heady scent of roses, violets and lilies-of-the-valley filled the air, overwhelming his senses and making him dizzy.

His friend guided him to the nearest pew and they sat.

Soft music filled the air.  She had chosen the tune and planned the whole day. She was always organising his life and he knew she had left nothing to chance; nothing he need worry about.  All he had to do was be there. Everything would be perfect, that was her way.
People began to fill the church;  murmuring to each other; looking over at him; nodding and smiling in his direction. He caught their glances out of the corner of his eyes and swayed a little under the close scrutiny.  Would he ever become used to being recognised ?
He was almost in a trance now…….. he had never thought this day would arrive.

After today they would never have to say  ” Goodbye ” again.
His mind drifted, filled with memories. It seemed that, over the years,  they were always saying  ” Goodbye “.
Goodbye”   when she had urged him to spread his wings; write his wonderful music and  travel the world for inspiration.  He had not wanted to go but she had been right to encourage him, set him free.

He had become successful and she revelled in his fame ……… pushed him into the limelight while she stayed out of the public glare.
” Goodbye “,  when he went to the premieres and awards events ………..where he was photographed with young starlets and celebrities.  She had watched him on TV and glowed with pride …….. thrilled that his talent was being celebrated.

She had always had faith in him and knew he would return whenever he could. Return to her and walk through meadows of wildflowers, stroll beside  sparkling streams.  Meet in woods carpeted with bluebells; lay amongst the fragrant blooms and forget about the world. A safe haven, where he could relax and be himself.
Goodbye “,  when he moved to New York,  to join the prestigious orchestra and she was, once again, left behind.

They were victims of their circumstances; living in separate worlds; having to bow to convention.  Back then, people would not have understood about their relationship. ….the  age  thing ……. the differences between them…………Back then every phone call was filled with longing and always ended with that hated word   ” Goodbye “
The vicar slowly approached and gently spoke to him.  He came out of his reverie, back to reality, back to today. He stood up as the beautiful music soared and filled the church and he thought he would faint…………. He knew she was here.
The coffin was slowly carried to the sacred place in front of the altar. It was covered in the flowers she had loved .

Roses, violets and lily-of-the-valley.
This was their final  ” Goodbye “.


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A Story for Christmas




Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without one of my silly stories ……well that’s what my friend says. So, here we go with an extremely silly tale ……… 

Merry Christmas everyone !


The coffee was hot and very strong and the Inspecteur de Police sipped it gratefully.

It was early morning on Christmas Eve and all around, in the hustle and bustle of the hotel kitchen, toasters were popping out bagels,  croissants were being baked and breakfast was being prepared for the well-heeled guests. Sous-chefs calmly prepared expensively exotic fruits and other foods, while lowly minions and humble kitchen staff emptied bins or carried huge steaming pans and pots of aromatic coffee and tisanes.
The Inspecteur sighed, steeling himself for the task ahead. Normally he would never be able to afford to cross the threshold of such an exclusive establishment. The five-star hotel sat high in the snow-covered mountains and, at this time of year, was filled with wealthy guests, all expecting to celebrate the Festive Season in ultimate comfort and luxury, waited on by attentive, deferentially polite staff.

These guests demanded the highest standards and the strictest privacy. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with their lives; cushioned, as they were, by vast wealth. In fact, the Inspecteur noted, money seemed to saturate the atmosphere; he could almost taste it. And now, one of the guests …. these hallowed beings …. had gone missing !
The alarm had been raised at 6.30 by a chamber-maid, who was taking an early-morning cup of Earl Grey tea to the woman; named Miss Nagle, in room 205. The maid had knocked and entered; as she had done every morning since the guest had arrived, five days ago. But the dear lady was nowhere to be found. A quick search of the hotel proved fruitless and so a call had been made to the  Gendarmerie.
A room was set up next to the foyer. A sort of “head-quarters” for the Police and the hotel Manager flapped about, trying to keep the Gendarmes as inconspicuous as possible.
” I’m afraid everyone will have to be questioned ”  Inspecteur Renard said, then, noting the Manager’s agonised face, he added,

” But we will try to keep it as informal as possible. I’m sure there will be an explanation. No doubt the lady will turn up unharmed “
The Hotel was thoroughly searched again and enquiries continued all day, but the missing guest was not found and no satisfactory explanation emerged for her sudden disappearance.

A patrol had been dispatched, to search the tiny village and surrounding area, but, so far, they had had no success.
Inspecteur Renard wearily surveyed the files on the table before him; they revealed a strange case.

It became clear that the wealthy guests could barely remember Miss Nagle. The only recurring description was that she had been a quiet lady, who always sat alone. In fact, most could not recall ever seeing her; although she had been among them for five days and had, according to the waiters, taken all her meals in the dining room and attended the dances each evening.
However, the lowliest of the hotel staff; the boot-boys, the cleaners and the laundry workers, could all remember her in great detail. They had all liked her, would have gone through hoops to please her, but she was never demanding. They described her kind face and gentle grey eyes. Her slender frame and modest height. Her flowing, almost ethereal clothes. They all told of how she talked to them and listened to their stories about their lives and families. Most of them had travelled to France from abroad, leaving behind children or infirm relatives. They did menial tasks and were treated like dirt by the “front of house” staff, but they suffered these indignities so that they could send a few precious Euros home to their desperately poor families in Croatia, Algeria and India.

Miss Nagle had been kind and hugged them when they felt particularly homesick or lonely. She had given a warm shawl to one young lass, who found the Alpine winter such a contrast to winter in the slums of Mumbai.

She had bought cough medicine for the boot-boy’s croaky throat.

They had all loved her.
Renard stretched and looked at his watch;  22.30 !  He gathered his files, shaking his head slowly.

Outside, in the darkness, the snow was falling steadily; huge flakes that turned everything into a winter wonderland and covered the hotel grounds like a sparkling, white blanket. Across the foyer, in the Ballroom, a Christmas party was in full swing, fairy lights twinkling on the huge Christmas tree and glasses of Champagne clinking; the sound mingling with tinkling laughter and festive music. Downstairs, in the kitchens, the staff washed endless dishes and laundered dozens of linen napkins.
He may as well go home, no more could be done tonight and, as tomorrow was Christmas Day, he supposed nothing would be done to further the investigation until next week. It was as though Miss Nagle had never existed.
Christmas Day dawned and in various homes in Croatia, Algeria and the slums of Mumbai, people were waking up. People whose relatives were far away, working in a grand hotel in France. But these humble individuals were waking to a surprise. Each and everyone found a brightly coloured stocking next to their meagre beds and each and every stocking was stuffed full of money.

It was as though they had been visited by an Angel ………………………………


It only remains for me to wish you all Happy Holidays ! May you all find happiness, peace and love over this Festive Season.


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My Christmas Message





I wanted to share my thoughts about this time of year and so I revisited my posts from past years, for some inspiration and found this.

It was originally posted on my old blog “Tilting at Windmills“, however, I make no apology for posting it here. I feel it is still relevant; indeed, I have been trying my best to  “keep Christmas in my heart”  all year.  I hope I have succeeded.



What does Christmas mean to you,  in this multi-cultural country?   This internet led, celebrity obsessed , twittering, face booking, commercial, attention seeking society ?

Does it still have the same wonder and magic of your childhood ? The same warmth and love and religious meaning ?

Or is it just a time to indulge oneself ?   To eat far too much and drink far too much and rack up the debt on the credit card, buying gifts no-one needs and toys for children who already own more than an average  Toys ‘ R ‘ Us ?

I was brought up in the Christian faith.  A Protestant, Church of England, whatever you wish to call it, until I was around 12yrs old.  Then my parents told me about other religions and faiths and pretty much left me alone to come to my own conclusions.

I will always be grateful for their openness and honesty and I believe that helped to give me the open mind I now possess.

I went through the usual transitions and idealistic beliefs.  The ‘child of the Universe‘  and  hippiness of the  1960s and  the complete denial of anything greater than myself in the selfish , teenage years.

I finally came to the conclusion that I was an Atheist, but extremely tolerant of other peoples beliefs. ‘ Each to their own‘  has always been my motto !

However, throughout all the changes, the one constant was  Christmas and I have always loved this time of year.

So, why, when I no longer believe in the  ‘Virgin birth‘;  the trip to  Bethlehem and the over-booked inns. The wondering shepherds and the wandering  Magi.  Why do I love this time of year so much ?

Could it be that it reminds me of my childhood ?

Those happy years in the bosom of my family, when everything was simple and no-one had ever heard of   “The X Factor”  and Amazon was a river in South America.

When we spent weeks making paper decorations and Christmas cards. The fun of the school nativity play with tea-towels round our heads and  ‘Mary‘  dropping the  ‘baby Jesus ‘  and breaking off one of  his legs.

Wrapping up warmly;  muffled in scarves and hats and wellington boots and carol singing in the snow. In those days we sang the whole carol too, not like today, where you are as likely to get a note or two of the latest Lady GaGa hit and then a loud rattle of the letterbox or elbow on the doorbell.

Could it be the memory of waking in the early hours and crawling to the foot of the bed and feeling, in the darkness, for the stocking you had hung up at bedtime , which was now filled with crayons and  ‘jacks’ ; golden coins in nets and the ubiquitous tangerine?

Then the excitement of unwrapping our main present;   yes, ‘children of today’, we only received ONE present each !

We would then produce our gifts for our parents . This was my favourite part, I loved to watch them unwrapping the little trinkets, so lovingly bought with pocket money and carefully wrapped in thin paper and tied with one of my hair-ribbons.

Time passes so quickly in my mind and I now recall Christmas in my teenage years. Shopping for gifts for family and special friends.  Running back and forth between the stores, trying to decide on the perfect present.

Parties and fun with groups of friends, all laughing and happy. Walking through frosty streets in mini skirts and  ‘fun-fur ‘ coats with paper party hats on our heads and a song in our hearts.  Arm in arm in a long line across the pavement and calling out to chums across the road. Then falling into bed as the day dawned and rising late to enjoy Christmas dinner with the family; then ‘ Morecambe and Wise’  on TV.   I would sit there,  pretending I was far too  ‘cool’ for such things,  but secretly loving every minute. Pulling crackers with my younger siblings and playing  ‘Charades‘ and  ‘Twister‘ and laughing at Grandad’s jokes.

Then, when I married and eventually had  a family of my own the whole thing turned full circle and there was the excitement of the preparations once again.

The striving to make everything perfect for my loved ones so that their memories would be as happy as mine,

Searching for the special gifts. Making sure everyone was warm and well-fed and content. The joy on the faces of the little ones, on Christmas morning as they peeped around the door and asked,

Has Santa Claus been ?

The arrival of family and friends, all eager to share this special day. Presents just an afterthought as we hugged and laughed and caught up with the latest news.  All together, safe and loved.

And now I think I get it !

I think I know why I love Christmas so much.

It is because of the happiness that seems to overshadow all the troubles of the year. The feeling of love and togetherness. For some it is a religious celebration and I respect this, but for me it is an expression of love and caring.  The one day when rivalries and differences should be forgotten.

In this cold, impersonal world, with family and friends flung far and wide around the globe;  when no-one knows their neighbour and doors are locked all day. When people live in fear and loneliness;  Christmas gives us an excuse to hug.  To say  “Merry Christmas”  to complete strangers.  To take a box of chocolates or biscuits to the old lady down the road.  To laugh and be silly and to visit family and friends we never usually see.

I have always been a ‘hugger‘, a spontaneous chatterer who will talk to anyone, anywhere. Isn’t it a pity so many people need Christmas as the excuse to be the same ?

And so, dear friends, shall we all endeavour to be more like Scrooge in  ‘A Christmas Carol’ ?

WHAT?”  I hear you say , but no, not the  ‘Bah humbug’  Scrooge !!

Oh no, I mean the Scrooge that emerged after he had been visited by those three spirits,  The kindly Scrooge who  ‘knew how to keep Christmas well’  and keep it in our hearts all year long.

And so, I wish you all a Wonderful Christmas time. Happy Holidays, regardless of whatever God you worship or belief you have,

Bless us, everyone !


Since I wrote this, I have lost family members and some dear friends and their loss leaves a huge void in my heart. I also realise that this time of year is not a warm, fuzzy melee of hugs and love for everyone.  Many find this time of year a struggle. There is enormous pressure from the media and other sources to make this a season of  “Magic and Sparkle” … emulate the cosy scenes we see on our TVs. Many cannot cope with the extra demands put on an already well-stretched budget. Although Christmas shouldn’t be about  ‘commercialism’…… we are bombarded from all sides with conspicuous consumerism and we feel guilty if we are unable to fill  ‘Santa’s list’.

Some people prefer to retreat into their private worlds and  “cancel Christmas” ……… I respect this.

 And many people do not celebrate this season at all ………….. we are, as I said, a multi-cultural society. 

But, however you choose to spend the next few days……whether it be in the bosom of your family;  or alone, by choice; maybe you are at work; or halfway up a mountain…..I wish you peace and happiness ……………..everyone should have that.

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Lucy’s Christmas Stories


Way back in December 2011, I wrote a couple of Christmas stories for my dear friend Lucy. I reblog them here, along with the story behind them, in the hope that you will enjoy them.  Okay, they are silly and were written just for fun ….but isn’t that part of the festive season ?  ….Well, it is for me, anyway ………..




LUCY’S CHRISTMAS STORIES         ( Dec 2011 )

Last night my dear friend Lucy Greenfield and I were emailing and BBMing our usual rubbish and silliness and we lamented the absence of our weekly Countdown word game.

So, Lucy  laughingly decided to challenge me to write a Christmas story without using any of the accepted Christmas words such as …..Christmas; mistletoe; fairy lights; tree ;presents; carols; tinsel; etc., etc.,

Well,  we laughed about it and said we seriously needed to get a life and no more was said about the matter.

However, today I have thought about it and, never one to shy away from a challenge, I thought I would give it a go. In fact, I have come up with two stories in the hope that at least one of them will please my friend.

So, dear reader, here we go …….. I have only used the word Christmas in the titles……………………………



Marie pulled her ragged shawl tighter round her thin shoulders and shivered against the bitter wind.

Her flimsy, well worn boots were full of holes and wet snow seeped between her toes and melted into icy drops around her tiny feet.

She was about a hundred yards from her small wooden shack and she had found hardly any kindling or logs for her meagre fire.  The snow had fallen steadily for hours now and everything was covered in a thick blanket of icy white, that glittered in the fading light.

Down in the valley, Marie could see sparkling,  coloured lights and the sound of beautiful music drifted up the pine clad hill.

She peered and strained to see what was happening and in the distance she saw people scurrying hither and thither, grasping hands,  exchanging packages and embracing everyone they met.

Horses gaily pulled carriages of happy people and they all seemed to be heading towards the church in the square.

No-one in the valley gave a thought for the poor disfigured girl up on the hill.

Orphaned at birth, shunted around to various cruel foster homes,she had finally been cast out of the community. Stoned and threatened.  Her wizened and twisted features deemed to be too hideous to be seen in the town, where she may frighten small children.

Marie sighed and wondered what was happening down there, it was obviously some sort of celebration, but one to which she was most definitely not invited.

She turned away from the happy scenes and stumbled, fell and dropped her basket, spilling the few sticks she had managed to gather. Her ragged clothes were now wet with snow and she was even colder than before.

The snow was very heavy now and Marie lay on the freezing ground and wondered if it was worth the effort anymore. All she had to go home to was a cold dark shack, a meal of berries and her own, ugly self for company.

No-one ever came and she couldn’t blame them;  she had caught a glimpse of her face once, reflected in a pool ……she was, indeed, hideously ugly.

Marie knew the fire would have died long ago and surely she would never live through the night, so bitter was the air. Should she just lie here and gaze at the sky and go to sleep ?

Wearily, Marie  lifted her head one last time and gazed towards her humble home and, as she did, a bright light illuminated the clearing and a pathway cleared of snow ……. a pathway leading to her door !

Startled, she picked herself up and shook her clothes , then she proceeded warily along the narrow, grassy path.

Afraid and excited the poor girl could hardly believe what was happening.

A bright star hovered above her cabin and her windows were filled with a golden glow.  Slowly she pushed open the ricketty door and what a sight greeted her.

The fire was burning brightly and a stack of logs sat by the hearth. Her old rocking chair was covered with a thick warm blanket and new clothes were folded on top of her little cupboard and , oh, could that really be new boots placed neatly by the fire ?

Her table groaned with the most enormous feast of venison;  bowls of steaming hot vegetables and fresh, plump fruits. An enormous pudding, finest wine and delicious chocolates completed the picture and all were served on silver platters which glinted and shone in the light of dozens of creamy candles in ornate silver candlesticks.

Marie couldn’t believe her eyes and touched everything gingerly to make sure it wasn’t a dream.  But, no, it was all real, it was a miracle !

She picked up a silver goblet  and marveled at its decoration.

In the candlelight, her reflection shone back at her and as she gazed at her face she saw the most wonderful miracle of all.

She was beautiful.




Rosie sat in the hairdressers chair and smiled at her reflection in the  huge mirror.

The casual chatter of the stylist faded into the background as she thought of her family, all safely at home. She was determined that this year would be different, this year it would all be her choices for a change, her decisions, her treat !

Her husband and all the rest of her family expected the usual two weeks of togetherness, two weeks of being pampered and pandered to.

In reality, for Rosie,  this meant two weeks of bickering in over-heated rooms. Two weeks of cooking and clearing away dirty dishes, of breaking up quarrels and drying tears. Of endlessly finding more batteries and mending broken things and playing stupid parlour games and watching TV till her eyes ached .

Two weeks of,  “Mum, where’s the ……………. ?

Mum, can you ………………?”

” Rosie, why haven’t you………?

Two weeks of alcohol-fueled bodies, sprawled, snoring, on the sofa. Two weeks of being taken for granted.

Ah, yes, that went on all year, actually.  Being ignored and criticised and taken for granted.

But, no more !!

How she had changed these last few months.  She almost didn’t recognise herself.

This year she had not shopped in the chain stores of her local shopping mall.  She had come to London on the train and pushed her way through the packed streets, scouring the stores for the perfect objects.

This had proved difficult,  as all the shops seemed to have the same bright red items, many trimmed  with cheap white faux fur.  No , not what she was looking for at all !

Finally, tucked away in a little road just off Bond Street, she had found a lovely little boutique and now the expensive coffee and cream lingerie and the white, Brussels lace underwear; the slinky jersey and silk dresses and cashmere sweaters were all nestling in her suitcase.

This year she had arranged her own treat !

The stylist put down the scissors and comb and Rosie came out of her reverie. She swished her newly trimmed, long blonde hair approvingly and paid the bill. Then she smoothed her new dress down over her hips, slipped on her coat, picked up her suitcase and strode happily out onto the street.

A short taxi drive and then…………. there he was waiting at the railway station, bag beside him on the pavement, a huge smile on his face.

After a long embrace they gathered up their belongings and headed towards the trains and without so much as a backward glance, Rosie and her lover boarded the Eurostar.

Yes, this year was going to be different……….. !



Well, I think I avoided the use of any of the forbidden words ………………… perhaps you would like to take up the challenge ?

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