Monday, 27 May 2013


Addendum to Zebra

I realised that I am old enough to go through the alphabet and have a story for every letter!

So here’s my life condensed into
26 chapters.

No animals were injured during the writing of these stories.

Nonny James

PS  When you get to the end of the page click Older Entries to continue!
PPS  Would really welcome comments/critisisms

A is for Addendum

A is for Addendum

I only put that as a heading to show off!  I’d love to learn Latin and British Sign Language before I die, but the chances of the former are unlikely.  Well, to be honest, to say ‘unlikely’ is somewhat unrealistic.  My ageing brain really isn’t up to it.  I’ve got to that stage in life when I have trouble recalling English words. Anyway.  Bear with me.  You have to read the boring bit first.  To set the scene, some results from my research :-

The Appendix:

Location:  Attached to the first part of your large intestine. 
Description: A narrow, muscular, worm-like pouch, usually around nine centimetres long. 
Function: Unknown.
     Evidence suggests that our evolutionary ancestors used their appendixes to digest tough food like tree bark, but we don’t use ours in digestion now. Some scientists believe that the appendix will disappear from the human body.
     The appendix is rich in infection-fighting lymphoid cells, suggesting that it might play a role in the immune system.  Whether the appendix has a function or not, it can be removed without any ill effects.

My comments on the above:-
1. How long is nine centimetres?
2. If the function is unknown then why have we got one?
3. I’m not that bothered about eating tree bark.
4. So it may disappear from the human body? Well I do wonder whether legs will disappear from the human body when you look at today’s children.  They don’t seem to walk anywhere.
5. I do worry about the infection-fighting lymphoid cells bit as I would appear to not have anything to fight them with now?  But I am re-assured with the bit that says it can be removed without any ill effects.

And so to the story.

I was 13 and the end of term exams were looming.  I just didn’t fancy it, so I came up with the idea of having a ‘sickie’ – just for a few crucial days.  For my project to succeed, I embarked upon some serious research that would assure a believable and semi-serious ailment.
     My grandfather lived with us and he had this weighty tome in his lounge called something like ‘The Doctor’s Book’.  Marvellous.  In a rare ‘home alone’ moment I opened the pages at ‘A’.   I flirted with the idea of having Amnesia but decided that Appendicitis would be easier to pull off.  My genetic credentials were perfect - Father a Research Scientist - Mother a thespian of note.
     My performance was awesome and, as it turned out, rather too believable.
     The doctor was called and I described my well-rehearsed symptoms.  My mother and the doctor left my bedroom and I could hear them chatting in hushed tones outside.  The next bit went rather quickly and resulted in mixed feelings.  I was pleased with my performance and really chuffed that I had succeeded in being diagnosed as ‘poorly’ (far too poorly for end of term exams. Result!)  However, I somehow ended up in hospital awaiting an operation to remove my perfectly healthy appendix.  I remember clutching the nurse who came to give me my pre-med and blurting out the truth.  She ignored me and put my panic down to being nervous about the operation.  She didn’t believe me!  How ironic!  Think about it.
     So that’s how I became Sans Addendum.  Yes I know that’s French and Latin in the same sentence, thank you very much.

     I just hope I never develop a taste for tree bark.

B is for Bacchus and Bread

B is for Bacchus

He’s the God of Wine.  I need say no more!

B is for Bread

It sums up my life wonderfully – the whole comedy and tragedy thing.  You know – the two masks.
     Listen to most comedians/funny people/those who make people laugh/stand-ups/etc., and the majority have a dark side. These days, a lot of them are classified as bi-polar.  Oh the wonders of modern science. There are generations of people who thought they were thick, and had been labelled as such. Then someone discovered dyslexia. Manic depressives are, I guess, still manic depressives.  I don’t think I am.  I am just extremely mercurial.  I fantasise about being bi-polar, but deep down in my heart I know that I’m just not clever enough!    People like Stephen Fry are bi-polar.  I rest my case.
     Anyway.  The Bread Incident.  I was about 11 years old.  We used to have the most wonderful bread from a baker in the local village.  One of my favourites was a cottage loaf.  It looked like the head of an elderly, well-bred woman  - her hair brushed up, and then a wholesome bun on the top.  The smell of the fresh bread was intoxicating.  I remember one day succumbing to the aroma and I pulled off a small section of the crust on the ‘bun’ bit and ate it.  A few hours later, my Jekyll and Hyde father (who was being the bad one at the time) summoned me to the kitchen.  I could tell he was being the bad one from the tone and timbre of his voice, and the fact that he just shouted ‘Rosalind’.  He only ever called me Rosalind when he was in a bad mood and I was going to be punished.  I’ve been called by my nickname, Nonny, since birth.
     “Rosalind – have you STOLEN some of this bread?”
     He had an issue about things being STOLEN and people telling LIES.  Gosh, anyone would have thought I had committed a heinous crime.  We’re talking about a minute piece of irresistible crust here!  Heaven knows what made me say it, but I said “No”.
     The inquisition started.  There was always an inquisition when he was in a bad mood – a sort of court case where he was the flamboyant and frightening lawyer who always got the defendant in the dock in such a state that they pleaded guilty whether they were guilty or not.  I came up with ridiculous things like “It must have been a mouse”.
     There was no way I was going to win.  I didn’t.  I was found guilty of this dreadful crime and sent to my room.  He followed me up and sat on my bed.  I knew what was coming.  I had to pull my knickers down and lie across his lap whilst he beat my buttocks with his hand.  He only once used a belt, but he didn’t need to really.  His hand hurt a LOT and I could never sit down for a couple of days.
     Beatings were always the same.  If I told the truth, then I would only get one beating.  If I told a lie, then I’d get two.  Looking back on it, I think this is why, to this day, I have trouble with lying.  I am just incapable of doing it and have a passionate dislike of people who do tell lies.
     So, I had told a lie and I was up for two beatings.  But this time it was different.  Something inside me decided that this was the day when he wasn’t going to win.  He always stopped when I cried and screamed a lot.  Today I was not going to scream or cry.  The pain of the first beating was bad.
     “That’s for stealing the crust,” he said, “And this is for telling a lie,” and the second beating started.  I remember biting my lip so hard that it broke the skin.  I could taste the blood in my mouth.  I have a scar on my upper lip to this day as evidence of that event from decades ago.  It seemed to go on and on and on but I didn’t make a sound.
     He appeared to go through a period of frustration at my silence and then even he knew that what he was doing was wrong – and he stopped.  He threw me a cruel glance and just walked out of the room and back downstairs.

     My bottom really hurt but, bloody hell, the feeling of victory was absolutely wonderful!

C is for Caesarean and Clown

C is for Caesarean Support

The strength of The Pill in the 70s was enough to stop a full-grown elephant from conceiving.  I think a lot of women probably found it hard to get pregnant after a few years on it.  I certainly did.  I remember the excitement of coming off it and thinking ‘right then – this is it – I’m going to make a baby’.  I didn’t the first month, or the second month.  After three months of this it became a paranoid painfulness.
     During my five years of unfruitful baby making, I always seemed to be walking past Mothercare, or bumping into random pregnant women, or listening to the excitement of friends who were pregnant. 
     I met my daughter’s father in January 1983.  We married in March 1983.  I was pregnant in April 1983.  Maybe the Divine Head of Baby Making disapproved of me becoming pregnant with my previous live-in boyfriend!  Who knows?
     I had a perfect pregnancy until the very end – and the very end was anything but perfect.  To cut a boring story short, I had wanted a natural birth.  I had two ‘due’ dates for 1984.  One was 2 January and the other was 5 January.  I’d had enough by 11 January.  I was absolutely enormous.  I got so fed up with the inevitable question ‘What are you hoping for?' that I started telling people that I was hoping for a digital piano but that I had a horrible feeling it was a baby – or possibly three, by the size of me.  Anyway, the hospital suggested that maybe I should be induced!
     An appointment was made for the 13th.  As this was a Friday, I declined and said I’d hang on a bit longer. I went in on Monday 16th.  I was attached to a drip (there has to be a joke here about my ex-husband) to beat my womb into submission. Nearly worked - but not quite.  ‘It’ - as I had been calling her for the past nine months, was eventually forcibly removed by caesarean section on Wednesday 18th, after two days of painful and non-productive contractions, and a fortnight later than her due date.  Her father was always late for everything.  No escaping the genes I guess!
     I was glad it was a girl.  I wanted a girl.  Well, to be honest, I would have preferred a digital piano, but a girl came a close second.  She was perfect and I felt so sorry for all the other mothers on the ward with their ugly babies that looked like recently skinned rabbits.  I almost felt guilty that I was the only Mother on the ward who had a beautiful baby!
     Now then.  Enter Fenella Fielding into the story.  Well not ACTUALLY Fenella Fielding, of course, but the likeness was amazing.  I’d had an operation to remove the eight and a half pound foetus so baths, showers and, more importantly, hair washing were all out of the question.  I had longish hair then and it hadn’t been washed for what seemed like an eternity.  It was lank and greasy. In fact, as maternity wards are so hot, and with the level of grease in my hair, I could have cracked an egg on the top of my head and produced a fried one in about five minutes.
     So there I am, looking greasy and tired with no make-up and clad in an appalling nightie that I had bought very quickly before my incarceration (I hadn’t possessed one until then) and Fenella Fielding arrives on the ward.
     I heard the sound of her high heels first, on the lino.  Black shiny shoes.  They matched her black shiny stockings and her black power dressing suit and her black Gucci handbag and her black, shiny and immaculate hair in a bob and her long, possibly false, black eyelashes.  Her bright red, shiny lipstick was like a beacon on a dark and damp autumnal evening.
     She seemed to be approaching my bed.  I was terrified and horrified at the same time. She was approaching my bed.  She arrived and sat on my bed.
     “Hello” she said, in a husky Fenella Fielding voice, “I’m from Caesarean Support.”
      If that wasn’t bad enough, she then leaned forward and nearly had one of my eyes out with her long eyelashes as she fluttered them. Her beautifully manicured hand with (yes you’ve guessed it) bright red fingernails, placed a Caesarean Support leaflet on my lap.
     I don’t like people I don’t know touching me -  so it wasn’t a good start for her really.  She then went on to refer to me as ‘A Mum.’  You lose your name, identity and status once you give birth, you know.  You just become ‘A Mum.’  She told me that a lot of ‘Mums’ feel inadequate when they haven’t been able to give birth PROPERLY.  I could feel those beginnings of lockjaw that set in when you are so annoyed that your jaw literally locks.  I didn’t say anything for a while.  I was too shocked. I think it was when she touched my leg and invaded my space AGAIN and told me that they were all ‘there for me’ that I told her, through painfully clenched teeth, that after what I’d been through for the past week, I couldn’t have cared which orifice my baby had come out of and that I had never, and would never, ever feel inadequate.  And my parting sentence, just for good measure, and against my inner good self’s wishes, was,
     “So why don’t you piss off and go and patronise someone else?”
     The staccato beat of her retreating stilettos seemed faster to me than their arrival.
     I never did contact Caesarean Support.

C is for Clown

And talking of giving birth, I don’t really write poetry, but this one forced its way out and took me surprise.

Fresh and alive
Once more
The encore
Of love’s performance
The romance
And all it brings
The flutter of heart
The pain of being apart
The stage is set
The truth I forget
For a while each day
And yet
When the curtain
Is down
The clown
Remains on the stage

D is for Dysfunctional

D is for Dysfunctional and Daddy

D is also for divorce!  And DNA.  And depression.  Oh I’m on a roll now!  Anyway, I would appear to have a somewhat dysfunctional lineage.  My maternal grandfather was divorced.  My mother was divorced.  My father divorced twice.  And me?  Well I seem to have managed three divorces!  I have one half-sister, three half-brothers, and a step-sister.  There are three suicides and two attempted suicides in my pedigree too!.
You’ve already read about my father in ‘The Bread Incident’, but here are the lyrics for a blues (appropriate) song I wrote about him.

I’m the daughter of a bad seed
From an evil man
I try to forget him
Whenever I can

The sins of generations
Have fallen on me
I’ve spent a lifetime searching
For some tranquillity

One day I’ll climb above
Feeling bad about me
One day I’ll find I’ve climbed
To the top of the tree

Then I will be the golden one
Then I will hear
Hey Girl – well done

I’m the black sheep
Of the family
Never got round to doing
What was expected of me

I’ve read about generations
‘Bout sins passed on an’ such
Then I think about my Daddy

And that don’t please me too much

E is for Enniskillen

E is for Enniskillen

People often think you are clever and talented if you’re a songwriter.  But that’s not the case.  I think songs have already been written and are just floating around in the ether, waiting for someone to pluck them from the sky.  And when something just blows your mind, or seriously affects you, the songs come very quickly and easily.  I remember the ‘Poppy Day’ bombing in 1987.  The things that really struck me were the final words of one of the victims, Marie, and the amazing heart of her father who was able to forgive.  The other thing was the poignancy of the fact that 11 people died at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  This song came very quickly indeed.

Cold November, the sky is touched with grey
Enniskillen on her Remembrance Day
The dawn seems so peaceful
In this land scarred by war
The soldiers in the graveyard
Cry ‘what did we die for?’
So what did they die for?

A breeze gently touches the street
Where later a village will meet – to remember
Oh, Enniskillen, the world cries with you

Footsteps echo in the chilly Irish air
The sounds of morning are waking everywhere
The children are laughing, together in their play
For them it’s just another pleasant day
Another Sunday

A broom sweeps the conflict aside
Today wear your poppy with pride.  Lest we forget.
Oh, Enniskillen, the world cries with you.

They were almost ready, a crowd had gathered there
Then, with no warning, an explosion pierced the air
And the soldiers cried ‘Why?’
As the dust choked the sky
‘Two wars of death and pain’
‘Did we all die in vain?’
Did they all die in vain?

‘Marie, are you alright’ her Father cries
‘Oh Daddy, I love you’ she sighs, as she fades away
Oh, Enniskillen, the world cries with you.

The eleventh hour.  The eleventh day.

The eleventh month. The eleventh life slips away.

F is for Feedback

F is for Feedback

It is a delight, and means so much to me, when clients take the trouble to say thank you.  Being old fashioned, I particularly enjoy hand written letters or cards!  The latest comment came via Twitter, but it made my day.  It was from the daughter of one of the people at a village hall gig.

‘Mum said you made people laugh that she had never heard laugh before, so thank you!’

I’m really not one to blow my own trumpet, but I’m very proud of the lovely client comments on my website (  Here are some favourites:-

‘Nonny James is an excellent all-round entertainer, raconteur, singer and musician’
Redditch Group of WI's

‘Hi Nonny, I don't normally do this but felt I should thank you so much for your entertainment. I had loads of people saying how much they enjoyed your time with us and nice comments about how friendly you are - even off stage! Many thanks again’
Audrey, Worcester

‘Dear Nonny, Just wanted to say thank you for such an excellent show you put on for us. There was something for everyone.  Always nice to see a professional at work – you got the audience eating out of your hand! Thanks again. You did us proud. God Bless You"
Rev'd Nick Wright, Inkberrow

And my absolute favourite…

‘She made me wet my knickers’
Lady in toilets at a gig in Cheshire

F is for Flowers

I don’t like cut flowers.  I like flowers growing in gardens or in hedgerows.  Just saying!

G is for Gigs

G is for Gigs

Most of them are brilliant. Like this one in Tuscany:-

I have sung at many, many weddings before – but this has to be a once in a lifetime experience!  I sang in the setting sun in the gardens of a hilltop villa in Tuscany, with rolling vineyards and olive trees as a backdrop.  A massive achievement for me.  More details under ‘T’ is for Titan and Tuscany!

Then there are the funny gigs:-

It was a comedy and music gig (stand-up comedy and sit down music).  Great audience.  Evening going really well.  Fortunately I was standing up and talking, and not sitting down and singing/playing piano. 
     I heard a little ‘pop’ and then my microphone died and I noticed that the lights on my stage piano had gone out.  My bloke, who was operating the PA desk, and I exchanged a ‘rabbit in headlights’ glance.  I was about to finish the observational humour story I was doing at the time, and then approach the piano for a silly song.
     This was obviously not going to happen.  So I did some more spoken comedy to ‘fill’.  Fortunately it was a village hall and my voice is capable of being heard without amplification.
     Meanwhile, after a bit of looking at gear and leads and checking things and thinking, my bloke assumed that our power distribution board had blown a fuse.  No problem.  We carry spares of everything – and (don’t be rude) verbal fluency has never been a problem for me!
     So I was, thankfully, still making people chuckle.  Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of someone from the village hall having a quick chat with my chap, and then scuttling off ‘back stage’.
     So the power came back on and I was able to approach the piano, do some singing, and do some more ‘stand up’ and then finish the gig with a rendition of Victoria Wood’s ‘Let’s Do It’.
     I was then able to find out what went on when I was ‘filling’:-

John: Frantically replacing power supply and changing our extension lead.
Village Hall Person:  ‘Um. I’ll check the meter’.
John: ‘The meter?’
Village Hall Person: ‘The slot meter for electrics. I think it needs another 50p’

Oh you gotta laugh.  Rock n’ Roll eh?

And then there are the Gigs From Hell.  Memorable but, fortunately, rare:-

Had a typical ‘musicians – oh we hadn’t thought about them’ type gig with the comedy trio.
     A marquee – deep joy!  Admittedly it was a fundraising evening but they kept selling more and more tickets.  This meant they created more and more tables.  This meant that with each extra table for ten, our stage area got smaller.  We ended up with a tiny stage area, with the bit where I would normally put my piano stool completely missing!  Very scary evening for me and a big test of my 'available space' improvisation skills.
     Anyway, as part of our contract we request food, and somewhere to change, and three chairs backstage where we can sit when not on stage.  Backstage was actually outside the marquee behind the flap that was behind the – um – stage.  The changing area was a recently mucked out horse trailer parked behind (i.e. outside) the marquee and the three chairs were outside the horse trailer which was, of course, outside the marquee. Funnily enough, it was freezing cold and it was raining.
     We were ‘after dinner’ which would be 9pm.  We already knew that that wouldn’t happen (we’ve all done after dinner gigs haven’t we?!)  We went on at 10pm.  They had an auction of promises and had enlisted the services of a professional auctioneer.  He’d brought his own mini P.A system but, of course, there was nowhere to put it (because the stage had shrunk so much!).  Could he use our P.A? (oh deja flipping vu).
     The auction was after we had finished.  Say no more, apart from the fact that there were 16 items to auction in a marquee crammed full of 300 plus wealthy people with bank balances that allowed a certain degree of one-upmanship!
     Occasionally, very occasionally, I fantasise about getting a job filling shelves in a supermarket.  This was one of them.

Second One:-

So I was booked for a one hour after dinner cabaret.  As I had done a similar gig for the guy that booked me for this gig (for his village hall) for £120, and assuming that it was a one hour cabaret after dinner, I naturally quoted the same price.
     Turns out it is a black tie (wasn’t told that) fundraising evening for the Rotarians.
     It’s in a marquee (wasn’t told that either – and I’m getting too old for marquee gigs in November).
     It’s 7pm for 7.30pm – so we’ve obviously got to arrive, set up and sound check, before any guests arrive (they don’t get that one, do they?)
     Left home at 5pm (having loaded the car first – they don’t get that either!).  Longish drive to Cotswolds gig.  Set up and sound check before guests arrive at 7pm.  Discovered during the sound check (fortunately) that the turbo charged heater for the marquee kept blowing my music off my stand.  This is why musicians carry clothes pegs in their ‘other stuff’ gig bag!
     Then jolly posh head-of-everything in penguin suit asked if he could use our P.A. system for speeches (wasn’t told about speeches!).  This proved more complicated than it sounds.  Can they just use our on stage microphone as well for speeches?  Yeah – no problem.  Well it seems that one of the speeches comes with a video presentation.  The screen is not close to the stage.  So we have to move one of our speakers close to the screen – and a mic stand and mic – oh and an extension lead for the mic. Sorted. No – not sorted.  One of the presentations (the one that needs the screen) has her presentation on a laptop.  She had assumed that there would be a P.A. system that she could play her laptop through.  You must realise where this is going?
     Fortunately, as I do speaking, and also singing at the piano (for comedy cabaret gigs), I have two mic stands.  So in addition to the mic and mic stand that’s already in place (not near my stage), there is now my other mic (with another extension lead) ready to point at the laptop for the presentation.
     Dinner was running late, of course (performers will understand the irony and deja vu feeling) BUT we were going to be properly fed – and this is good.  What clients don’t always realise is that we would really rather be in a dingy corner on our own eating our dinner.  Not so on this occasion.  We were at the ‘top table’ and had to endure the most boring people possible for a very long time.
     Then came the two TWO (hadn’t been told that) long speeches and powerpoint presentations by the recipients of the money from the fund raising year.
     Then we had to re-assemble our equipment so that I can do my after dinner entertainment.  As everything was running late (what a surprise) and they still had the raffle (aaaaaaargh) to go – and the Casino thing – could I just do 45 mins instead of an hour?.  This is good news.  The bad news is that I had to be funny, and half the audience (and me) had lost the will to live.
     Then it’s de-rigging the gear and loading the car (slightly hampered by semi pissed audience).  Then long drive home.  Midnight 30 when we got home.  So that’s almost an 8 hour shift.  £120 for 8 hours.  You work out the maths!

     And one of the penquins asked me what my ‘proper’ job was.  Grrrrr.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

H is for How The Other Half Live

H is for How the other half live

What a fabulous gig.  Very posh venue.  Hampton Manor, Hampton in Arden, near Solihull.  I was the after dinner entertainment for a Supper Club.  I’d already noticed lots of personalised number plates on very posh cars and 4x4s in the car park.  I thought ‘ah yes, this is the Beverly Hills of Birmingham’. Panicked a bit when I walked into reception and saw loads of black ties and ball gowns.  I was smartly dressed – but not for a black tie ‘do’.  A charming man opened the door for me and said ‘Are you here for the Marie Curie fundraising dinner?’  Relief!  I told him that I was entertaining the Lapworth Supper Group.  He indicated the location of the private dining room.  This involved going through the main reception area.  As I turned the corner, I came face to face with Torvill and Dean. Bloody Torvill and Dean!!  I resisted the temptation to be a sad git and managed a restrained (well not that restrained) ‘Oh Gosh!’ – and kept going!
     Dinner was one of those arty farty meals with drizzles of this and that in a small artistic pile in the middle of a fancy shaped large white plate.  It WAS delicious, but I couldn’t help thinking that I might need a couple of crumpets with marmite and cheese when I got home.
     As I’m not into puddings, I nipped out for a quick cig during the arrival of the small but beautifully formed Crème Brulee. Parked right in front of the entrance (and blocking quite a few relatively normal vehicles) was the biggest, most beautiful, most silver, Rolls Royce.  I do love cars and was frightened that I might dribble on it during my intimate perusal.
     Gig was lovely. Audience great fun.  I thought they might be one of those ‘too posh to laugh’ types.  They weren’t! 
     By the time I was loading up the car, four chauffeur-driven vehicles had arrived. A Daimler, two Bentleys, and another Rolls Royce.  Before I left, I couldn’t resist approaching the chauffeur of the black Daimler – parked nearest to my car.  He wound down the window (did you know that Daimler windows wind down with absolutely no noise at all?!) and a very well-spoken man (yes he had a chauffeur hat on) said ‘Oh I’m sorry, have I blocked you in?’  I said ‘No, not at all.  I just wanted to apologise for the fact that my Peugeot 406 estate is making your car look a little tatty’.  We both laughed.

Oh how the other half live!
Was I jealous? 
Honestly, hand on heart, I say ‘No’.

I is for Irony

I is for I Feel The Earth Move

If you’re of my vintage then I bet you’ve got that Carole King classic in your head right now.
     Every now and then, when I boot up the computer in the morning, AVG pops up and says ‘Did you feel that?’.  It’s usually on a morning after the night before – an overindulged night on the fruit juice.  As I never recall ‘feeling that’ I do wonder whether I left the bottle of wine unattended and it got spiked.  If something had happened, then I would really rather (at my age) have felt it.
     I was going to say something else which I can’t remember because (see previous paragraph!).

I is for Irony

It’s Tuesday today.  The bin men couldn’t make it up the drive yesterday to collect our rubbish.  Although the drive is sometimes impassable in the winter, it is actually fine at the moment.  The postman made it today.  He delivered our council tax bill.  I find it amusing (I have to otherwise I’d stab my eyeballs with a blunt knife) that the council manage to get my bill delivered but couldn’t manage to collect my rubbish – one of the things I pay my council tax for.  Just saying!!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

J is for Just

J is for Just

If you’re of my vintage, then you will remember that you were either Cliff or Elvis, either Stones or Beatles, and in a similar vein you are either dog or cat.  I was Cliff and Beatles, and am definitely dog!  So I’m particularly proud of this poem.  When I had my horse training business, one of my clients bred foreign shorthair cats.  She had 25 of them.  They never went outside and there were litter trays everywhere in the house!  She asked me to write a poem about the stud cat. They called him Tut (short for Tutankhamen).


He arrives
All talk ends
Honoured by his presence
We greet him with our silence

He stops
Long ears listen – green eyes glisten
And hypnotise
We are speechless.  No one moves

His head held high
He greets us one by one
In his own way – no delay –
A glance
His tall body arches – he moves
One- two- three- four-  such grace
Such elegance.  His face - alert, proud, King of this house
Ruler of all animals – his subjects know their place

His young son leaps from the chair.
For a moment he plays
For a moment a child himself

Pounce, ponder, pause – long pause
A thought in his mind
A moment to think
Then slink
To Her

She speaks to US
He is MAD
A great purr, roll, scratch
Catch attention

It works

She bends down to stroke him
His green eyes disappear

His young son leaps again
Playtime, he thinks
One final purr – then quick – no play
The King is back

The lounge is his jungle
The chairs his trees
What wild fantasies
Such rhythm and grace
What lovelier face
Independent, aloof.  The beauty of youth
Is his forever.

He stops
That look again to us all
Then one- two- three- four
He reaches the door – too soon.

The King has left us.

We silently play with fingers and thumbs
He is still in our minds

Gradually – very gradually – our conversation continues.

K is for Knowledge and Kale

K is for Kupfernickel

Yes, I thought that would get your attention and make you realise that I am a woman of importance and knowledge (yes, coming up next).  Anyway, I was temporarily stuck with K so I resorted to the dictionary for inspiration.  I did find another two Ks of which I can write from experience, but I couldn’t resist the wonderful Kupfernickel. Don’t bother googling because it’s very boring – but that’s not the point.  The point is

K is for Knowledge

I love Mastermind and University Challenge.  I manage a good score when the specialist subjects are something of which I have specialist knowledge (classical music, non-classical music, or something thespian),  and when the general knowledge questions include random things of which I also have specialist knowledge (dogs, horses, and, well, random things). You gather a lot of random knowledge over the years and you often think that these nuggets are a waste of brain cells, but when participating in Mastermind they come to the fore and you are SO glad when you can recall them.  When I used to watch Mastermind with my horribly intelligent daughter, it was one of the only times I could feel superior - unless, of course, the specialist subject or general knowledge questions were about something horribly intelligent. However, young people have hardly any random knowledge.  They also have acne and hormonal issues.

K is for Kale

Someone down the lane has rented a little plot of land from the farmer, and he’s turned it into a veg plot.  Took the dog for a stroll the other day and saw him tilling away.  Stopped for a chat over the gate to admire the results of his hard work and he dug up/chopped down some samples.  I staggered back up the lane looking like an opera singer with an end of performance bouquet. I had some curly kale (scrumptious), some carrots (oh the smell took me back to my childhood when vegetables actually smelt of something), and some beetroot.  Decided to boil some beetroot and serve as a veg.  Wonderful.  But I did look like I’d been up to no good with an offensive weapon.  Was due to go to the bank the following morning, but decided against it.  I already get ‘looks’ when I pop in with brown fingernails after a session in the garden.

L is for Letheridge

L is for Letheridge

Actually, this is my first and only bit of poetic licence.  You’ll read about an old teacher, Mrs Holl, under ‘R’ (you’ll see why when you get there).  Mrs Holl was her real name.  But although this is a true story, the surname here is fictional. 
     Mrs Letheridge was an awesome and frightening woman who taught Geography at my school.  It seemed to me, young though I was, that she had had a complete personality and sense of humour bypass.  She was extremely accurate with one of those blackboard rubbers that had half a tree’s worth of wood to support whatever it was that actually wiped the blackboard.  She terrified me.                            
     When my daughter was at Primary School in Great Malvern, I was horrified one day to see Mrs Letheridge striding manfully into the school.  I had assumed her to be long dead, as teachers always seem ancient, don’t they?   
     When she was my Geography teacher, I thought that she had to be at least fifty years old. She was probably in her early 30s.  Anyway, thinking that I had imagined it, or seen the Ghost of School Past, I let it go.  But, following several sightings, I realised that this was no ghost.
     I pointed her out (from a safe distance, of course) to my five year old daughter, and asked her who she was.
     “Oh that’s Mrs Letheridge,” she said, “She teaches us French.”
     I must mention here that, at the time, I was a mother in her late thirties and yet the sight of Mrs Letheridge had brought me out in palpitations and flash back anxiety syndrome.  I managed to avoid her for several months until she spotted me one day when I was dropping my daughter off at school
     “Ah.  Nonny Leetham,” she cried. (Leetham was my maiden name).  “Fancy that.  And now I am teaching your daughter!”  She smiled hugely.
     I froze. I was, literally, struck dumb.  Well not quite dumb.  I managed a few stutterings that made no sense whatsoever.  Eventually I managed,  “Oh, oh, um, Mrs Letheridge!”   I gushed. She laughed. Well sort of cackled.
     “Oh, my dear, you must call me Beryl.”. 
     I remember telling her, extremely politely of course, that I could NEVER call her Beryl, if that was OK, and that she’d always be Mrs Letheridge to me.
     I pushed my daughter violently towards the pupils’ door and rushed to the car and drove off before she could give me a detention or throw a heavy board rubber at me – or both!

M is for Missed and Motivated

M is for Missed Chances

I received this from my friend who is bravely and most humorously fighting cancer.  

You have to be grateful for all life’s missed chances

the chance to sleep outside when it’s bitterly cold
the chance to make newspaper your only blanket
the chance to queue two hours for one cup of hot soup
the chance never to wallow in a deep, hot bath
the chance to be afraid of violence every day you exist
the chance to weep over a lost child’s grave
All those missed chances

How lucky am I?

M is for Motivated

I’m probably showing my age here (am I bothered?) but I was thinking about that rather amusing character ‘Mr Motivator’.  Remember him?  He had a jolly smiley face and a jolly positive attitude and a jolly colourful Lycra outfit complete with a jolly revealing bulge.  Anyway, I used to find him a tad nauseating and a bit too jolly for the morning BUT where is he now when I really needed him?
I am writing this because I am meant to be at a Literary Festival this morning – and I’m not.  Why?  I’m not going to swear on this blog, but when I opened the bedroom curtains this morning, I noticed that the skies had dumped a load of the white stuff overnight and I said ‘****###**’.     
     The problem with our remote but delightful cottage is that even though the roads are ‘ok’ or ‘passable with care’, we can’t actually GET down the lane that leads to the road.
     So.  I’m cold again.  I’m snowed in again. I’m broke again.  The garden looks very sad again.  I fear for the lives of my daffodils again.  My knees and hands are purple again.

     I really would forgive Mr Motivator and his jolliness right now. I need motivating. Or do I? Actually I don’t think I can be bothered to get motivated.

N is for Nineteen Sixty-Eight

N is for Nineteen Sixty-Eight

The sun shone bright and warm and huge and yellow in the summer of ’68.  The pavements were hot.  I know they were hot because I went everywhere with my bohemian bare feet.  Occasionally flip-flops, but usually bare feet.  I wore long cotton skirts that always had a couple of inches of congealed mud on the hem.  My hair was long and blonde. My skin was brown. My muscles were toned and my stomach was slim and flat.
     I was seventeen. He was nineteen - and the most beautiful boy in the world.  He was a musician and I think I fell in love with him when I saw him playing in his band at the local Winter Gardens.  His hair was shoulder length and he wore Ben Sherman shirts and flared jeans and trendy boots.  We spent the summer walking, holding hands, kissing in the park, talking, and laughing.  We spent hours lying naked and unashamed on the miniscule single bed in my bed-sit.  We made love but didn’t have sex.  I was a virgin and wanted to remain so.  I was waiting for ‘the right man’.  Most girls did in those days. But in the most innocent way, it really was ‘The Summer of Love’ for both of us.
     These were the days before the internet and mobile phones, of course.  Being nineteen, he was so much older than me - the naïve seventeen year old.  My adult life was only just beginning, and his had already begun.
     He wanted to go to London and pursue a career in the music recording business. We never split up. We just drifted apart with none of today’s technology to keep us in touch.  But I never forgot him.
     By the time I was nineteen, I, too, had joined a band.  I sang and played keyboards.  This was later to become a full-time career.  Meanwhile, back in London, my beautiful boyfriend was getting a name for himself as a recording engineer and music producer.
     The music world is quite an incestuous one, so over the years our paths nearly crossed several times.  I would meet people who knew him.  I would arrive at a studio to record some backing vocals for a band that he was working with.  I’d discover that he’d been working in the same studio only a couple of weeks before.
     And then I had a job at the BBC as a specialist music producer/presenter.  Sometimes I would be reviewing a new album and find his name in the credits as the producer and/or engineer.  And the memories of that sunny summer of ’68 would come flooding back. And I would smile.
     In the years following the Summer of Love, I had been married and divorced and had a daughter and he had been married and divorced and had a daughter and two sons.
     In 2001, I was reviewing an album by a songwriter.  As he was fairly local, I got in touch to arrange an interview with him for my show.  Emails were exchanged and my beautiful boy’s name cropped up.  Our paths crossing again!  He had recorded and co-produced the album, of course.  The artist suggested that I should contact him.  Apparently he often spoke of me! HE OFTEN SPOKE OF ME?  GOSH AND BLOODY HELL!! 
     The songwriter gave me my beautiful boy’s mobile phone number.  I called.  We spoke.  We arranged to meet for a coffee.  The gorgeous blonde girl had a slightly wrinkled face.  The hair was still naturally blonde, but thinner.  The flat stomach was still fairly flat but ravaged by the stretch marks from giving birth.
     His clothes were not at all trendy.  He, too, had facial wrinkles.  And his shoulder length locks were thinner.  Oh, and there was a bald patch on the top of his head.  And yet…Our eyes met and we hugged, and whatever ‘It’ was (the chemistry that was so strong all those years before) was still there.  What’s that expression about beauty being only skin deep?  We were still hopelessly in love and still fancied the pants off each other!  (I hope our kids never get to read this book!  Yuk!)
     It’s 2013 now.  Nearly twelve years of absolute bliss together. Soul mates. We still hold hands and laugh and walk and talk and cuddle and kiss and laugh.

     Pass the sick bag!

O is for Outdoors

O is for Outdoors

So I stood in for half a term at a school - teaching music, speech and drama - and was still there five years later!
     It was a private (mostly boarding) school for children and young adults from 3-18 years.  I did the 3-11 yr olds.
     What struck me when I started was the inability of nearly all the children to have an original thought, and theatrical improvisation was a non-starter.  What depressed me more was the low self-esteem of my 7-11 year olds. If you want to know more, then may I suggest that you don’t ask me!  I can talk passionately and for a very long time about this subject so close to my heart.
     You’ll read about how J.D. Salinger made a profound effect on my life under ‘S’ later on.  But another author who changed my life was Richard Bach.  His book ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ should be read by every child – or rather, it should be read to every child by someone who understands the deeper meaning and nuances of the story.
     Before my 11 year olds left me to go to the senior part of the school, I used to do a couple of end of term lessons where I would get them (often with difficulty) to celebrate what they were good at.  So many of them (particularly the non-sporty or non-academic ones) didn’t realise or recognise that ‘being a good listener’ or ‘being kind and honest’ or ‘being a good friend’ were great and special gifts.
     I also read all my 11 year olds ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ – pausing often to ask things like ‘what do you think that means?’ and encouraging them to interrupt if they wanted to comment, or ask a question.
     As these ‘end of term’ sessions were always in the summer, and as the school had the most beautiful grounds, we would assemble outside and they would form a semi-circle around me – glued to every word.  I was reprimanded on more than one occasion.  The headmaster wanted all lessons to be in the classroom.  He thought that children got distracted (yes, my kids in rapt attention) if they were out of the classroom.
     I just did what my heart was telling me was right.  I think I spent more time in the headmaster’s study being told off than the children did.  Gave me loads of brownie points though!  I still remember all my lovely children.  I hope I made a small difference to their lives.

O is for Outside World

I’ve been out today!  I was seriously concerned (no, really) that I had become an agoraphobic recluse.  Then I thought about it rationally (exhausting) and then I realised that I’m not frightened to go out of the house – I just can’t be arsed coz of the weather.  Then I realised that I’d be rubbish at being a recluse because I love people and chatting to them.  
     So I went OUT – you know, OUTSIDE and into town.  Gales and rain and cold.  I’m back home now and thinking that maybe being an agoraphobic recluse is not so bad after all!

P is for Patio

P is for Patio

It’s also for Pensioner!  But that’s just too depressing to have as a title, isn’t it?  But they’re sort of related. So…some ‘Tales From The Patio’ (quick plug for my first book!  See my website for details!)
     Yes, we do love our patio, and our garden, but the patio is our favourite.  As soon as the sunshine arrives, I get charged with energy and start preparing the patio tubs for planting.  I remember a particularly energetic couple of days when I decided that I wanted to disinfect the tubs.  ‘The houseboy’, as I affectionately refer to him, was most excited because it gave him an excuse to try out his Christmas present – a pressure washer!  Having blasted the tubs to within an inch of their lives, it was time for the Jeyes fluid.  We both love the smell!  So I started rinsing and preparing the tubs for new soil and plants or bulbs.  Meanwhile, activated houseboy decides to tackle the garden shed with creosote.
     We were winding down and relaxing on the patio after activities and enjoying the wafts of evening creosote and Jeyes fluid (we have a problem with certain smells!) and I said ‘I suppose this is glue sniffing for pensioners’.  We did have a chuckle.  Rock and Roll.
     A few months later, houseboy had been tackling the patio furniture with Danish oil again.  It smells lovely.  We’ve added it to the ‘glue sniffing for pensioners’ list.  And talking of smells and the houseboy (oh dear, that came out wrong), he came back from the local hardware shop the other day with a tub of putty for our knackered window frames. Oooooh lovely!  It’s on the list. My favourite patio story, though, is this:-

     We love each other’s company.  We do old fashioned things like talking (!).  We’d had a gig together and got home at midnight.  It was a brilliant gig.  Performers will know that gigs can go two ways.  Brilliant or horrendous.  Whatever the outcome, you have to have a period of coming down from the high, or drowning yourself in sorrow after a low.  This was a high.  It was the most beautiful evening.  We were struck by the balmy temperature and the amazing peace and calm of the night air.  So we decided to have a cig and some wine on the patio.  So we smoked, drank, and chatted.  After what felt like a short time, I noticed that the sky had changed colour.  The lower bit had gone a fairly light blue.  Wondering what the time was, I went indoors to look at the clock.  FOUR A.M.  We’d been chatting for four hours.  Speaks volumes!

Q is for Queen

Q is for Queen

The band and the Monarch!  A story about the band first.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw them.  Live Aid in 1985.  I sat in front of the TV with my mouth wide open for the whole set.  It’s been described as ‘the greatest twenty minutes in the history of rock n’ roll’ and ‘arguably Queen’s greatest single live performance’.  They really did steal the show.  Freddie Mercury – the ultimate showman.  A rare talent.
     I was working for the BBC and producing and presenting my weekly specialist music programme ‘Fretwork’ in the ‘90s.  When he died in ’91, I didn’t want to do a long tribute – they’d all been done by the time my show went out.  I did, however, play one of my favourite Queen tracks and just said ‘Freddie Mercury  - such a waste of a special talent’.  As it was an evening show on local radio, I answered my own phones (oh, and operated all the equipment!).  During the track I answered a call (off air).  An unpleasant and very shouty man screamed down the phone ‘I can’t believe that you’re hailing this a****** as a hero.  He was a f****** q**** and deserves to be dead’.
     Heaven knows how I kept my calm, but I just politely pointed out that I was not ‘hailing him as a hero’ and that I was just playing one track and had only said that I was saddened at the waste of such talent.  He shouted some more abuse at me and also informed me that Mercury and Queen were c**p anyway.  I bit my lip and just put the phone down.  Some people are so cruel, bigoted, and bitter.  I weep for them, I really do.
     And, as I’m in Q, it reminds me of a great quote – attributed to Mahatma Gandhi…
‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’

And the Queen.  I love her.  What an amazing woman.  I need say no more, need I?