Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Norfolk Broads - Friday 29th April 2016

We had to get the house straight for the weekend. Family on the way. This is the start of what should be a very sociable month ahead.

I took all of the sacks to the Sorting Office and then prepared the garage for grandsons to help with the Talking News. They have to earn their pocket money! There are 100 media players to label and pack, plus 200 USB sticks to unwrap. That'll keep them going for an hour or two.

We did a food shop, enough to feed the 5000, and then I cooked tonight. I twisted a recipe I'd seen and the result was actually very tasty, but not elaborate. I made oven chips and boiled sugar snaps. I seared rib eye steak and then made a sauce comprising sweated garlic, a cup of red wine, mushrooms, a drop of water, some soy sauce and butter to thicken. Boil violently to reduce, thicken, and it was very tasty.

The Broads

My first ever trip to Norfolk was around 1970. Robert was a baby and Gerard was a bright faced schoolboy. We didn't have much money so most of the eating was done on the boat we hired, which meant it wasn't much of a holiday for Pauline, so she resisted going back. She gave in two years ago and we went with Helen and the girls and had a great week. I'd certainly do it again.

The Broads were created by digging out the flat land for peat. There are 63 broads in all, 13 of then navigable, and three others that can be sailed on. The rest are land locked. Altogether the 7 rivers and broads together cover a flat region of 117 square miles. Most of the rivers seem more like canals, especially as the vast majority of holiday makers stick to the 4mph maximum speed for their boats.

All of the towns along the rivers are worth a stop off. The fishing is superb and suits the absolute novice who will catch something every time, plus the skilled angler who will make catches unheard of in other British locations. One of the atmospheric sights as you cruise along are the windmills that adorn every skyline. They weren't there for milling, however, but almost all were in place to help with drainage.

If I buy a packet of seeds to grow seedless tomatoes, will the packet be empty?

Friday, 29 April 2016

Cromer - Thursday 28th April 2016

I knew Wilf was missing today, so that would make me a little bit more busy, but I'd forgotten that Peter Fox was on a bender in Spain. The house filled quite early. I fetched Rita, Gill and Paul arrived and Lisa did everybody's hair. Then I re3corded the Stevenage Talking News.

Whilst that was going on, the sun shone beautifully. A quick lunch and then time for the Live at Home Scheme, so naturally the rains came and a strong north wind. I dropped my three ladies and went to the studio. I ran off the Stevenage and got it all in a mailbag, but I couldn't find Scotland and Wales.

Peter O'Brien rang me at 6pm to say he was at the studio with the masters. I went in and had it all ready by the time that Keith arrived and he and Ben helped me get those two sacks full. The rest of the night went very smoothly and we actually finished quite early. It was lashing down outside, so I was happy to go home and find a hot chocolate.


The next few days will see revisits to Norfolk, the perfect holiday county. First there are the impressive, beautiful and so, so peaceful Broads, but today we will look at Cromer.

This town has kept its charm. It feels Victorian, and that's not a criticism. There is a very good beach, old fashioned shops, lots of floral colours, and the feel that the authorities and the locals care about their visitors, and cater for them well. The best was to learn about this is to go there, especially when the sun is shining, and the crabs are active and filling buckets for the youngsters hanging off the pier.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Colourful - Wednesday 27th April 2016

Today was too full-on to make time for retrospection, especially with a Thursday looming. It was another day of sunshine and showers - a bit like April!

First was a meeting at home with John Morgan and Peter Drew, discussing the role and the future of the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance. I don't have John's depth of knowledge on all things NHS and neurological, but I do have a belief that we are making serious progress and I'm hopeful for the short term future. I sincerely hope that I'm right.

As John and Peter left, so did we. Pauline went to collect Gill for a ladies outing to the shops of Burton on Trent, and I went over to Tamworth to collect signatures for another charity account. The sun came out on the trip back and painted the fields of oilseed rape that have suddenly sprung into their full golden colour. There were also bluebells in more abundance. I love a good bluebell wood (evocative of childhood days) and we are lucky to have one just a few miles north of Lichfield.

I collected six sacks of returns from the Sorting Office and it took me three hours to process them. In the garage - too cold on the patio. Then I downloaded all the news for Scotland and South Wales, plus the magazines, wrapped up media players for new listeners (four this week so far) and took everything to the studio.

I bought yeast for my breadmaking on the way back and then watched "The Book Thief". It was poignant and reminiscent of "Two Brothers" by Ben Elton. Completely different stories but bringing home the horrors of Hitler's Germany.

Rape near Whittington

Bluebells at Kings Bromley

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Weir Garden - Tuesday 26th April 2016

Most of the morning was taken up by the minutes from last night's meeting. Then we went round to sort out Rita's new phone. After lunch Pauline set to in the garden and so I had to show willing and have another go at the pond. The sun shone occasionally, the temperature climbed to 5 degrees, and then came rain and sleet.

Pauline said she needed hangers for the laundry and looked in my wardrobe. She said that Robert turns the hangers on everything in his wardrobe at the start of the year and if any have not been turned back by the next year, that item goes out. I haven't got time for that so I just trawled through and filled two sacks. Let's say Pauline won't be short of hangers for quite a long time.

The Weir Garden

The River Wye is a delight. There are a lot of places along its banks where day trippers can take advantage of the interesting but kind river. The Weir Garden is a good day out.

Owned by the National Trust (and therefore within our budget) the garden is one that you can visit throughout the year because of the changing scenery and flora. When the daffodils are out and the willows alongside the river are growing thicker and swaying gracefully, that's a hot spot, but the bluebells also attract and the autumn is also quite a delight.

The Weir Garden, Herefordshire

So Moses wandered the desert for 40 years. Even then men wouldn't just ask for directions.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Eastnor Castle - Monday 25th April 2016

First today was an unpleasant task. The delivery of bad news and then time spent on support and conciliation. Pauline was affected more than me, so I tried to stay close.

There was a Lion's meeting tonight with a few more in attendance than at the last meeting. I'm coming to the end of my tenure as president. I won't be able to make either of the May meetings and I will hand over the reins in June. There was a fair amount of fun tonight, much of it aimed at me because my agenda contained a few inadvertent errors. Mt view was that it showed they'd read the agenda.

Eastnor Castle

This is fairy tale land. Beautifully situated at the foot of the Malvern Hills, surrounded by deer park and close to the gorgeous Cotswolds, Eastnor has got everything for a great day out, be it for a picnic, wildlife, history or a wedding. In my case it was for a n off-road test drive with Land Rover.

The castle wasn't built for defence but for effect, and it worked. Built for the Cocks family between 1812 and 1820 by Robert Smirke  Various contributors made the castle what it is today, but not everyone was impressed. One critic, a certain Mr Charles Locke Eastlake, one hundred years later, said "It is a massive and gloomy-looking building, flanked by watch-towers, and enclosing a keep. To preserve the character at which it aimed, the windows were made exceedingly small and narrow. This must have resulted in much inconvenience within. The building in question might have made a tolerable fort before the invention of gunpowder, but as a residence it was a picturesque mistake."

Everything and everywhere has its critics. My view is approach this place with an open mind and you will certainly not be disappointed.

Eastnor Castle

There is no such thing as a broken escalator. It simply becomes a stairway.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Stories - Sunday 24th April 2016

I think I'm starting to feel my age. After the build up to a Thursday night I'm now finding that I need at least one full day off. Today was that day. We did some last minute tidying of the patio before the rain came and then I sat and finished my story. It's only short and I wrote it in two sessions, and I know that it needs to be rewritten. Don't know when.

I've been writing stories in my head all my life. I've jotted down the scenarios for about thirty quite different stories over the years, planning to get at them when I retired. Well, I retired seven years ago and all I've written is five children's stories (of which I'm quite pleased).

I'm under no illusions about myself. I know that I could never be a writer that could produce best sellers. I lack the powers of description of the good writers. I just want to get the words out and forget to couch them in verbal paintings. I might be better as a script writer, then it's just the words.

I did try scripts, about forty years ago. I came up with an idea for a play, wrote it down and sent it to the BBC. I had been warned not to expect any feedback, but I got a letter. It said they didn't know what I was trying to do. If I wanted this to be a drama, it was too funny in parts. If I wanted it to be a comedy, it was too serious in parts.

They suggested I take a specific section and concentrate on writing comedies. If I could produce four scripts I might be in with a chance. I did what they said. I figured the outline for six episodes and wrote four of them. One came back "You are now on the point of writing a viable script. Make these suggested changes and resubmit."

I did, and sent if off. I heard no more. Not a sausage. Then, about four years later, we were sat as a family watching a popular comedy show and everyone was laughing, except me. When I was asked why I wasn't enjoying it I said it was because I knew where the story was going, and what the punchline would be.

To be fair, although it most certainly was my story, the professionals had done a ten-times better job than me, but it put an end to my script-writing aspirations.

Stories come at me out of the blue. A situation sparks a thought, the thought twists and turns and a story grows in my head. As a young man I sat on a bus going to work. A young lady sat next to me for about two stops. As she got off the bus the thought came. "There couldn't be a finer way for anyone to start the day than waking up lying next to you." By the time I reached work I'd figured out a scenario.

Quite some years ago some short story ideas started to arrive at regular intervals. I decided that I would (when I retired!) pull them all together under the title Lichfield Lives. There Are Tears is the first of them that I've written. There's another story I've been burning to write for about seven years. It's all there in my head. I could make it part of the set, but this one is a little bit surrealistic and I don't know if it would fit.

I might write it anyway. As long as one person reads it, that's OK by me. I'd always considered this one to be a script, but now I might try to pad it out with a bit of description. Just need to learn how.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

There are tears - Saturday 23rd April 2016

I was proper domestic today. Pauline went to the Church Hall and helped with an afternoon party for five hours. I re-grouted the patio and then cooked lamb shanks in rosemary sauce, I also wrote the first three chapters of a story that is burning my brain, so here they are. I know it will all need to be rewritten, but I'd like any feedback, if you feel up to it.

There are tears, and tears

 Some people used to call me precocious. They were wrong. That word implies intelligence and knowledge. The only thing I had in spades was fear. It was a deep rooted fear that governed every day of my first few years. It made me old before my time.
The source of my fear was my father, but if I was scared, my mother was terrified.

Apparently it all started a couple of months before I was born. I’ve had to piece all of this together over quite a few years so some of the facts may be a bit awry. From what I can gather my Mom and father had a pleasant courtship, a happy wedding and a modestly joyous first year.
Then I started to become an influence. As I took shape within my mother’s womb, not everything went right and so my mother abstained from sex for a while. Father didn’t like that too much and, when, after I was born, he was told he would have to wait another couple of months, he hit the roof.

Mother never talked about this, I got most of what I know from my grandmother, but not until she felt I was old enough to handle it.
My father started going out at night and the time came when he didn’t come home until the next morning. He stank of perfume and stale beer and mother questioned him. He went berserk. I’m told that his backhand could send Mom flying across the room. The first time it happened he stood over her and yelled, and yelled, and yelled.

Didn’t she realise that this was her fault? If she was a proper wife, he wouldn’t have to look elsewhere for gratification. A man has needs and it’s the duty of his wife to fulfil them. Fail in that duty and the fault is hers.
Now, of course, I didn’t hear any of this. I was a few months old only, but I have learned since that sometimes abusive partners can be very manipulative. They can argue and harangue and be very convincing in where the blame lies. The strength of my father’s backhand only added weight to his arguments and mother learned to be very wary of his temper.

For the next year or so it, apparently, was not so violent, but the first day came when he hit me. It seems I was being loud! I was even louder when his punch sent me to the hospital.
Of course, he was in the vanguard in the rush to A&E and was very convincing in his explanation about how I had 'fallen' and so badly damaged myself. I became very wary of him, but it didn’t stop a few more beatings over the next few years, to the point that I couldn’t be in the same room as him.

Mom had no choice, and she had a far harder time than I did. The beatings became more regular and occasionally severe. She ran out of excuses for black eyes and started to keep herself away from everyone, my grandparents included.

It all changed when I was seven. It was getting close to Christmas and I was to be in a nativity play at school. Mom was making a costume for me when father came in and demanded his dinner. Mom said she would be finished in a couple of minutes and would do it straight away. He went ballistic. He tore across the room and started to hammer at Mom, mercilessly. I was sure he was going to kill her and I ran next door to Charlie.
Charlie was an elderly man, retired and keeping himself to himself, especially after getting the sharp end of my father’s tongue one day. When I pounded on his door and screamed that father was killing Mom, he dialled 999 and then came round. That was when I first saw that my father was actually a coward. He shouted at Charlie, who tried to get between Mom and my father, and then the police were there and father was taken away.

Mom spent two days in hospital after that. I spent two days with Gran and Granddad, and father spent two months in prison.
My mother, at that point, was a shadow of a person. Gran said enough was enough and divorce proceedings were set in motion. I was eight when the decree nisi absolute came through, and we had a party.

After the split, Mom had had the telephone removed, because father often rang, late at night. We were having the party at Gran’s. It wasn’t a grand affair but it was intended to mark a new direction for Mom and me, one that was free from terror and pain.
Granddad had made their phone a private number after father had been ejected from home. He did that because for the first few days he also received verbal abuse from father, but now he didn’t know their number, so when the phone rang that fateful Friday, Gran answered it without thought.

Father must have put on a posh voice because Gran called Mom and said she thought it was the solicitor. When Mom answered the call you would have thought she had been struck by lightning. She was truly, truly terrified.
“It’s him!” I remember the look of abject fear. “He knows we’re here and he’s coming. He says he’s going to kill me.”

Chapter two

In a very clear state of shock, Mom bundled me out of the house and into her little Polo. She set off from Gran’s for the mile journey back home, where the plan was to barricade the doors and call the police if he came anywhere near. There was a restraining order on him, but apparently he didn’t think that really counted for much.
We live in Kenilworth Drive. To get there from Gran’s you go down the Birmingham Road, turn into Ivanhoe Road and then left into Kenilworth Drive. Anyone who knows Lichfield knows that Ivanhoe Road is a bit tight for two way traffic, but 100 yards into the road you have to go under the railway bridge, and unless you both keep way over to the left it’s one way traffic only.

Mom’s head certainly wasn’t on her driving when she turned off the Birmingham Road, and she clearly didn’t see that green pickup truck that was already coming under the bridge. Mom was too far over to the right and suddenly there was impasse. Both cars came to a halt and the man driving the pickup clearly expected Mom to pull back.
Mom obviously didn’t contemplate that. In fact, she sat gripping the steering wheel and started to shake.

The man got out of the pickup. There was somebody behind him, so he couldn’t back up. He came over to us and spoke through the window. “Lady, you’re way too far over. You’ll have to back up and let us through.”
Mom looked straight ahead and said “Please don’t shout at me.” That was the last thing she said for two days.

The man said “I’m not shouting at you, I’m stating the obvious.”
Then Mom’s head went down. She slumped. She was in another world.

I told the man, very forcefully “Don’t you shout at my Mom, you great big bully!”
He looked at me and I’d never seen so much kindness on a face.

He went back to his pickup and spoke to the driver behind him, who backed up as far as he could. The man then backed his pickup and parked it well over to the left. Then he came back to us.
He opened the car door and said to Mom, “Come on love. Let’s get you out of this.”

He started to pull her out and I screamed at him. “Take your hands off my Mother. Don’t you dare hurt her.”
Then he opened the door by the side of me and gently eased Mother in beside me. I clung to her. The man got in the front and started to drive.

“Where do you live, I’ll take you home.”
I told him and he drove the few hundred yards to the front of our bungalow.

He parked the car, got out and came to help Mom out. I followed and he told me to open the front door. I looked at Mom because she had the key, but she was in a different world. She seemed stunned and oblivious. I opened her handbag, took the keys and opened the front door. The man gently led Mom into the house.
Our bungalow is small and cramped for space. You enter into a hall way in the centre of the house. To the left is the main bedroom. To the right is the kitchen and a small utility room. Through into the lounge that takes up three quarters of the rear, over to the right there is the small second bedroom and the bathroom/toilet.

Not very luxurious, but I had mastered the art of hiding from father in that small second bedroom so the rest of the house had meant very little to me.
Inside the lounge there was a small television over by the main rear window with a settee along the back wall. There was also a table with four chairs, a sideboard, and very little else.

The man pulled a chair from the table and sat Mom in it. Then he took another chair and set it off to one side, but facing the first, like a lovers’ seat. He eased Mom into the chair and then sat facing her, his hands on her shoulders as if he was afraid she would fall over if he let go.
“My name’s Ben.” He offered. I just glared at him.

“And you are called?”
“Jackie.” I don’t know why I told him. He had turned my Mother into a zombie.

“And this lady?”
I glared. I’d perfected a glare that I thought could turn my enemies into stone. It didn’t work on Ben so I said “Mrs Webb.”

He smiled. He was showing a patience that I couldn’t subscribe to. “Her Christian name would help.”
“Mary.” I growled.

He smiled, put his finger to his lips to command silence, and drew Mother to him. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her head to his shoulder, and then just held her. For an hour.
All this time I never moved myself. I didn’t realise that my fists were clenched.

Suddenly there was a terrible hammering at the door. I thought it was going to break down, but we hadn’t locked in and it burst open and my father came in, incandescent with rage.
He pointed at Mother and screamed “You are dead!”

Mother jerked back from her reverie, looked quickly at me (I was fast getting out of the way), and every bit of colour went from her face.
I did my own screaming. I yelled at him and said “Don’t you dare touch her! I’m calling the police.” But of course, we didn’t have a phone and I would have to get past him to get next door to Charlie.

He pointed at me. If his arm had been a lance he would have stabbed me with it. “You do not talk to your daddy like that! You will have to be taught a lesson.”
I was eight years of age. I had seven years of memories of misery and hurt, of terror and torment. I let him have it. “You are not my daddy! A daddy is someone who would love me and cuddle me and comfort me. You are my father and I can’t change that but you will never, ever be my daddy.”

I saw the fury and the hatred in his face and I was very, very scared.
Ben let go of my Mother and stood to face my father.

“You are clearly not welcome here. You had better go.” It was so matter of fact. Just a statement. No threat, no raised voice, just “Go.”
My father was close to slobbering. “And you’re going to make me?”

And Ben said “Yes.”
Ben left Mother, went to my father, grabbed his flailing arms, tensed, and lifted him, straight armed, right off the floor. Then he flung him, like a pillow or a cushion, with no effort and totally uncaring. Father flew back and crashed into the wall. Before he could do anything in reprisal, Ben grabbed him and dragged him outside.

“Is that your car?” he demanded. I followed. I was mesmerised. I wanted to crow with joy. This terrible, terrible bully was getting his comeuppance. Ben dragged my father to the car, opened the front door and pushed him in. Then he did something I could not believe. Still can’t believe.
Ben walked to the front of the car (the heavy end), bent his knees, grasped the bumper – and lifted the front end of the car clean off the ground. Then he slammed it back down so that the car screeched in protest and rocked. Ben opened the door again, put his hand on my father’s shoulder, squeezed and said “You are not welcome here. Do not come back again, ever! Because I will be here waiting for you and I will not be so gentle next time!”

My father was out of our street and out of our lives, and we never saw him again.

We didn’t know, at that moment, that he was gone for good. I was very frightened that he would come back, but I can tell you that he actually left Lichfield within a few weeks, left his mind within a few months, lost his liberty and........

I don’t know if he is alive or dead, and I don’t care.

 Chapter three

 Ben took me back in to the house, put the kettle on, made me a drink, and then sat with Mother the same way as before. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there watching the two of them, for two long hours, until Mother was asleep.

When she was clearly totally relaxed and breathing that deep sleep pattern, Ben crooked his finger at me and I went over, being careful to stay out of arms reach.
“Your Mother needs to go to bed. Go and pull the bedclothes back, there’s a good girl.”

I went to the bedroom and pulled the covers back. Ben followed, carrying Mommy like a baby. He laid her in the bed, fully clothed, gently took her shoes off, drew the covers back over her, closed the curtains and ushered me out.
“Let’s get you fed.” He said as he followed me across to the kitchen. I didn’t want to eat anything, my insides were too churned up, but he insisted. There was no real food so he gave me a bowl of porridge. I was eating it, warily, when he walked to the front door.

“Where are you going?” I sounded very panicky.
“I’m going to get my truck. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in five minutes.”

“But my father...”
“Will never bother you again. I’ll see to that.” And he was gone.

I really thought he was leaving, but five minutes later he was parked next to Mom on the drive and he came in and locked the front door.
I finished my meal. It wasn’t very late but I was drained. I started to shake and he told me to go to bed. I asked what he was going to do and he said he would sleep on the settee. Not to worry. He would still be there in the morning, and he was.

That's it so far. Should I carry on?

Here's the rest of it.

Chapter four

When I woke the next morning, Ben was still there. I went straight to Mommy and she was still fast asleep, exactly as we had left her. I don’t think she’d even got out of bed to have a pee. I spoke to her but she didn’t stir.

In the kitchen, Ben made me some more porridge and then said that this wasn’t good enough. He was going out and would be an hour or so. I thought that would be the last we saw of him.

I went and sat by Mom. I held her hand but she didn’t move. I don’t know how long I was there, it might have been a couple of hours. Then I heard the front door.

I froze. I thought it was my father.

Ben stuck his head round the door and beckoned me out. He had bags of food, a suitcase and a folding camp bed. He told me he lived with his sister whilst he was saving to buy a house and that moving in with us would not be a problem. I didn’t question it.

Over the next two years I learned a lot about Ben. He was a landscape gardener. For eight months of the year he earned a very good living and during the winter months he just did garden maintenance. That gave him the flexibility that was necessary during those early days with us, when he barely left us alone.

Mother slept for the whole of that Saturday. I had to keep checking to make sure she was alive. Ben cleared out the utility room, put up the bed and brought in a suitcase. He lived out of that suitcase for the next two years.

It turned out he was quite a useful cook. He fed me well that day, and the next. Mom came out of the bedroom on the Sunday, seeming very disoriented, but didn’t question that Ben was there. He cooked for us, cleaned the house, but said very little. That was the pattern for the next few weeks.

It seems strange, looking back, that we never questioned that Ben was living with us. He was the rock we needed. He was our safety.

One day, in the summer, he was watching Charlie next door. Charlie would take his chair out into the garden and just sit there, for hours. Ben climbed over the low fence that separated our gardens and squatted down beside Charlie. I’d noticed that about Ben. He was two feet taller than me but always brought his head down to my level when he talked to me. He never talked down to anyone.

He sat on the grass looking in the same direction as Charlie. After a while he said, quietly, “What are we looking at?” Charlie didn’t turn his head, just murmured “Field mice, in the corner.”

Charlie had a wildlife-friendly garden. He had a stack of compost in the one corner and a big pile of twigs and such close by. He encouraged the mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, and every kind of bird. He spent hours in that garden, just sitting there and watching a different kind of life go by.

We didn’t know that at first but once we understood, Charlie ceased to be an eccentric and became ‘that lovely man next door.’ Ben made that happen.

 Those first two years were such a blessing to Mom and me. The fear took quite a while to fade, I still jumped at my own shadow, but once it was clear that my father truly was gone, we started to have a proper life.

Mom was still quite withdrawn, but I found a freedom I had never known. I could have friends at school and even invite them home! I could have books and watch films. All things that I had never had in the first eight years of my life. I didn’t quite realise what we’d never had until we started to have them. That was thanks to Ben.

It was the summer of my tenth year when life changed yet again. It started out quite an innocuous kind of day. It was a Saturday and the sun was shining. Mom had stopped looking scared a year ago but she still didn’t seem quite real. Ben just chugged along, working hard during the day and helping me with my homework and such in the evening.

Mom ran a bath and climbed into it. Ben went outside and started to clean his pickup. I tidied up the kitchen and then went out to watch Ben.

He had a hosepipe to wash the truck down and then started to buff it up with a duster. It was only a work vehicle but he was a tidy person. I don’t know what made me do it, but it changed everything, yet again.

I just kept looking at the hosepipe, and at Ben, and without thinking about it much I picked the hosepipe up, pointed it at Ben, and let him have it. I soaked him, top to toe.

He just looked at me. Then he came for me. I squealed and he reached down, grabbed my ankles and hoisted me upside down. I screamed but he just carried me, very easily, into the house. He marched into the bathroom where my Mother was up to her boobs in the bath. Ben said nothing, he just held me upside down over the bath – and dropped me!

I went head first into the water. Mom pulled her legs out of the way and just looked in amazement. I surfaced, righted myself and bawled at Ben. “Are you a mad man? Daddy, don’t you ever do that again!”

The world stopped.

The realisation of what I had just said sank in. Mom had an amazed look on her face. Ben cried. Silently, but tears just streamed down his face. He turned and left the bathroom.

That was when I realised what had been missing in our life for the past two years. Tears.

I looked at Mom, she looked at me, then she did something I had never known her do.

She laughed.

She laughed until the tears ran down her face too. I laughed as well and then I started to cry. I had never been so happy.

Mom pulled herself together. “Out, young lady. Enough people have seen my boobs today.”

I got out of the bath, stripped off my soaking clothes and wrapped a bath towel around me. I went out and over to my room to get fresh clothes. Ben was staring out of the window. He said nothing.

I pulled some clothes on and went back into the lounge. Mom came out of the bathroom with a dressing gown on. She looked at Ben and said “I think we need to make some changes.”

Ben looked at her quizzically and Mom said “Jackie will be going to King Eddy’s from the autumn. She needs to take her education seriously. I think we need to turn the utility room into a study. You can’t sleep there anymore.”

Ben looked devastated, but simply nodded and went straight to his room. There was only his suitcase and the bed. He pulled the case out and collapsed the bed.

“That will have to go as well.” said Mom.

Ben just nodded and pulled the bed out. The room was now bare. He turned to say something but Mom got in first.

 “Get rid of that bed and put your case in my room. There’s room in there for the both of us.”

The realisation of what she had said sank in. None of us spoke, but the tears started again. I cried, Ben cried and Mom cried.

Ben took the suitcase into the bedroom, Mom followed him in – and closed the door.

I didn’t see them again for two hours.

Chapter Five

The next six years were wonderful. Mom was happy. I had never known her happy. Ben was solid. He was always there to help me understand my schoolwork. He was always there for a cuddle, or a laugh. I took my school life seriously and Ben helped me find the joy of learning. We both learned.

Mom and I both forgot to be scared. We both learned to laugh and I didn’t see another tear in our house until the letter came to say that I had been accepted into Oxford.

Yes, Oxford!

I was going to do history and English Literature. The subjects that Ben had awoken in me.

The tears that day were of joy. They didn’t stream, they glistened in the eyes of all of us. Mom and Ben were so proud. Their daughter was going to Oxford!

Yes, there was no question by now. Ben truly was my daddy.

They took me down to Oxford when it was time. They hugged me goodbye and said this was an experience that would live with me the rest of my life. I was to enjoy it to the full, but never forget I was there to work.

I had been at Oxford just two days when I met Justin. I didn’t tell him straight away, but I knew this was the man I was going to marry.

Justin was great, He was funny and he was serious. He was caring and he became loving. I gave myself to him on his twentieth birthday. I couldn’t think what else to give him.

Mom and Dad knew I had a boyfriend at uni but they’d never met him. I took him home for the first time in the summer of 2010. My parents were still living in the little bungalow, but it wasn’t the house of my childhood. It was a home, lovingly cared for.

I was a bit wary when I led Justin through the front door. Mom just stared at him with total amazement on her face. Ben took his hand and made him feel welcome and at home. Justin came from a well to do family and they had a very smart home, but you’d have to go a long way to find a house with as much love in as our home.

Ben took Justin off for a get to know you chat. Mom tugged me into the kitchen and said “Your boyfriend is a clone of your Dad.”

I hadn’t noticed it. Really I hadn’t, till Mom said that. But it was true. They looked like father and son. I told Mom, “Well, if he’s half as good as the chap you’ve got, I’ve done OK,”

That was palpably true. Those two were two thirds of the most important people in my life.

We didn’t let on that we were sleeping together, but Ben knew straight away, and Mom was only a step behind. They could see the bond that existed between Justin and me. So could his parents when we finally met. It was no surprise to anyone that we were going to marry.

We waited until we had both graduated. We knew we had to be sensible and formulate a solid path for our future. Justin was offered a research job in Leamington and I cast my net and found a post in Warwick, so we moved to Henley in Arden just after we got married.

Yes, we got married, on June 14th 2014. We married in Lichfield and the church was full with the friends we had never had for the first ten years of my life. I stood next to my man at the altar and tears of happiness flowed yet again. Dad stood to make his speech at the reception and tears of happiness flowed yet more.

I thought we were all cried out.

We were heading back to Lichfield from Henley almost two years later, March the 12th 2016. I sat quietly in the car as Justin drove us north. I thought about the tears. The first years of my life when tears meant pain and terror. The next sixteen years when the only tears were of joy.

I’d seen Mom cry from pain and heartache. I’d seen her weep with joy. I’d only ever seen tears from Ben when he was happy or proud. I realised that it was usually me that had brought those tears to his eyes.

I was going to do it again, when we got to Lichfield and I could tell my parents that I was pregnant.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Talon - Friday 22nd April 2016

The sun was threatening another appearance and so we made an early start. I cleared as much paperwork as I could and then took the recording to the Sorting Office. From there I went to see a new listener in Lichfield and introduce her to the joys of the Talking News. She wanted to give me a donation but I told her to wait until she was sure about what she is getting.

I was close by so I called on Rita to set up her new telephone. When she is used to it she will find it more intuitive than her old set.

This afternoon we were able to work outside. Pauline tidied the borders and raked moss of the lawn. I cleaned the patio. The stuff I put down takes a few days and a rain shower to be totally effective, but the rain is forecast just right.

Tonight we were joined by Gill and Paul and then we went off to the Garrick Theatre for an evening's entertainment by Talon, a band that Paul knows personally.

Talon was formed in 1997 as a tribute band to The Eagles. There are seven in the line-up and the drummer apart (and he was excellent) all of the members seemed to be multi talented. They all played several different instruments (mostly guitars or variations of stringed instruments) but each was a different talent. There were two main singers and two others who also had several solos. All in all I found this to be a very competent and entertaining show and I will certainly look for them next year when they tour to mark their 20th anniversary.

Talon - go if you are anywhere near.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Goodrich Castle - Thursday 21st April 2016

I've changed my pattern for a Thursday and it is making things a little easier. I got up a little earlier than normal and downloaded the magazines. Then I updated the records, by which time the Stevenage Comet and the Royston Crow were available on-line. I recorded everything and was finished by 11.15am.

I spent some time with Pauline and then did the Live at Home Scheme run whilst Pauline took Rita for her food shopping. From dropping three ladies off I went to the studio, ran of the Stevenage and produced the masters for Scotland and Wales.

Doing that meant I didn't have to go to the studio until almost 6.30pm. Wilf joined me and helped me duplicate and pack Wales, Keith came at the tail end, and we had fifteen minutes for a chat. A full team of readers and Ben to process the Lichfield returns meant an hour to recuperate. Peter Fox was back, having been unwell last week, and we were all finished and on our way home by 9.30pm.

Goodrich Castle

The first fortifications appeared shortly after the Norman Conquest, but it was another hundred years before serious expansion into the shaping of a castle began. Another hundred years and the castle was deemed important, lying as it does close to the English/Welsh border.

Like many other medieval castles, its demise was due to the English Civil War. Both sides managed to capture it fairly intact, but in 1646 along came one Colonel John Birch equipped with the fearsome Roaring Meg mortars. The assault was devastating and the castle crumbled and conceded defeat.

It may have been left simply to decay, or the stones to be removed for other buildings (as was often the case) but someone realised the ruins were actually pretty to look at, and the castle became a place of interest well before tourism became a pastime of the people. A sunny day with bright blue skies, that's when I should go back.

Goodrich Castle

I went to a gathering of Psychics. They weren't expecting me.

Berrington Hall - Wednesday 20th April 2016

More sunshine. Usually only when I am busy. Wait till the weekend!

I did the garden pool and the fish were very grateful. The pump was so full of silt they must have been swimming in the dark. There was also a rosemary bush that had died over winter and had to be removed. It was very well rooted and took an hour's effort.

I did the minutes from the SNA meeting and then downloaded the news items for Wales and Scotland. I took everything to the studio. Peter had a full team, so that was me off the hook.

Berrington Hall

Berrington Hall was built between 1778 and 1781. The fa├žade is not at all appealing, but the interior is far more welcoming, plus the gardens were designed by Capability Brown (his last design). The ceilings are a major feature, the is part of The Wade Collection, and some very fine furnishing.

The staircase hall is the most eye-catching from the point of view of light and spaciousness, but it is the study where the ceiling dominates. The guided tours are themed and worth tagging on to.

Berrington Hall

Some people say they love to wake in the morning to the sound of waves crashing. I don't, because we live 120 miles from the beach.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Hereford - Tuesday 19th April 2016

At last! The first real sunshine and warm day for what seems like several years. What a difference it makes to attitudes. Pauline was collected by Kath and the girls and then went off for a day at Trentham, celebrating various birthdays.

I got the lawnmower out and gave the lawns their first cut since October. The front lawn was a challenge because the various primroses and primula that suddenly turned up last year have been joined by a couple of grape hyacinth and some wildflowers I haven't yet identified. All told there were 30 plants scattered across the lawn, and I mowed around all of them.

After lunch it was over to Rugeley for the monthly meeting of the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance. John Morgan is getting concerned because he now allocates four days a week to the SNA cause, and he doesn't get the support he deserves. But I can entirely understand. The Talking News used to occupy a Thursday evening, but now takes at least 30 hours a week, sometimes more.


As we move into Herefordshire, we must start with Hereford itself. This is a pleasant town to visit, but the two buildings that caught my eye were the cathedral and the Old House.

The cathedral as we know it today began its life back in 1079. but that was to replace wrecked churches and even older attempts at establishing a religious base in the area. One major attraction for visitors with history firmly in mind is the Mappa Mundi, which shows the world as it was perceived in the 13th century.

On Easter Monday 1786 tragedy struck. The west tower collapsed, causing damage also to the knave. A James Wyatt was called upon to rebuild and effect repairs, but he went well beyond his remit and many were quite disenchanted with the outcome.

More modern changes and repairs have also been controversial. In the past ten years, hundreds of ancient graves and burial plots have been disturbed or even removed, to allow for landscaping. All of the bodies were reburied within the grounds and it's fair to say that no family member has yet complained. Not surprising given that most were from 800 to 600 years old.

Hereford Cathedral

The Old House is Jacobean. It was built in 1621, probably as a butcher's shop. Other shops were built alongside it, but over the years they have all disappeared, except for the Old House. Apart from being a butcher's shop, it has also served the town as an ironmongers and then as a bank, but today it is simply a museum to the Jacobean era.

The Old House

I love Piers Morgan on the TV. As soon as he comes on, I get up. So much more productive.


Wroxeter - Monday 18th April 2016

There was some rain but signs of improving weather. The lawns were too wet to cut today, but I knew it wouldn't be put off much longer. I tackled the paperwork, processed two new listeners and tidied up the garage.

Pauline went to the Knitting Club and I recorded the Lion Magazine for the blind Lions. It takes two and a half hours to read, which is why most Lions will confess to only skimming through the magazine. They miss so much.


There are the remains of a Roman City at Wroxeter. Viroconium Cornoviorum was the fourth largest Roman city in Britain 2000 years ago and was on the same scale as Pompeii. It started as a fortified camp around AD58, designed to keep the Welsh in place. With the Watling Street being a straight line from London to Holyhead, defences and stopping places along the way were important, and Wroxeter grew and blossomed.

Once housing 15,000 inhabitants, the city all but disappeared, being rediscovered as ruins in 1859. Since then the site has been rescued and developed as much as possible and English Heritage now control the operation.


When someone has died they are described as "The Late Mr ....." Which means that everyone is late, at their own funeral. When I'm chasing the clock, I find that strangely comforting.

Ludlow - Sunday 17th April 2016

All the work that Pauline had done in preparing for today paid off. We had a large ham to roast and I got that started whilst Pauline was at church. She had done so much that all I had to do was light lights and turn knobs.

Rita came back for the day and we were joined by Sandra and Graham for our first reunion of the year. They are always gentle, laid back company and we get to catch up on the happenings at Elford. Time was that these get togethers could be a little bit wild. This time around we saw of a bottle of bubbles and a bottle of wine. Not bad between five.


There is a lot of charm about Ludlow. It has an 11th century medieval town centre, a thriving market, and is officially the gourmet centre of England. There is the obligatory castle, beautiful views and more than 500 listed buildings. Most of the eye-catching architecture in Tudor but there is still a lot to see that is medieval.

Apart from its food festival and art shops, Ludlow is proud and protective of its past. So when Tesco came along and wanted to build a supermarket, the resistance was so strong that the only way permission could be obtained was to keep the proposed building in line with the rest of the town.

Would that more towns fought that hard.


Yesterday I felt listless. Today I feel list.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Bridgnorth - Saturday 16th April 2016

It rained - all day. We shopped for the weekend (food!) and I spent some time in the garage cleaning talking news wallets that had been defaced by the Post Office. Pauline was getting closer to normal and spent the afternoon getting ready for tomorrow and I kept out of the way every time I got That Look.


We've made many trips to Bridgnorth over the years, usually to some Lions event or other. They do a spectacular raft race that brings in about £40,000 a year.

The town is a delight to visit, especially on market day. There are two distinct parts to Bridgnorth - the High and the Low Town.

The town was once a busy port and the River Severn was navigable all the way up to Ironbridge. As road transport became more effective the port slowly faded. In the earlier days the population was mostly up on top of the cliff where a castle was supposed to protect them. In the English Civil War it failed big time and it now out-leans Pisa with what is left of it.

Most of the charm is up at the High Town and the steepest funicular railway in Britain will take you up to it. From there you can enjoy the spectacular views of the Severn as it meanders down towards the south west. You can visit the castle, stroll through the market place, or catch the Severn Valley Railway for a steam ride down to Stourport on Severn.

Bridgnorth market place

The leaning castle

Bridgnorth Low Town

Tickets please.

Why are there more questions than answers? Shouldn't someone being doing something about that. Me, I've got answers for which there are no known questions.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Charlie - Friday 15th April 2016

Pauline was showing signs of improvement, although still getting tired very easy. My hands had reached stage 3 at least a week early, so - just another week. I got to the paperwork that builds up whilst I'm doing Talking News, delivered the sacks to the Sorting Office, and we made an effort at food shopping, albeit we forgot a few essentials (like rum & raisin chocolate bars).

Tonight was Burntwood Lions Charter Night at the Beau Desert Gold Club in the trees of Cannock Chase, out at Hazel Slade. Mike and Mary Knight came with us. The food was very good and the service was excellent. There was a lot of fun around the table, especially with Graham Stanyer selecting me as the butt of his jokes. I can take it - there's always Facebook for any surreptitious revenge.


I don't think I ever knew his surname, and I certainly have no photos of the man who had a hand in making me who I became.

Basically, Barry and I grew up without a father. Phil Scrimshire became our step dad, but he made it clear at the outset that he had married our Mom. We weren't really part of the package. That did change over the years, but it took a long time.

I joined the Cubs and then the Scouts. Along came Bob a Job Week and I was determined to do well. It was easy to talk to people in the forties and the fifties because people in Coleshill didn't have cars and television sets, so they either perambulated or sat on chairs outside their front doors and chatted to passers by. That was most prevalent on the High Street.

Charlie lived at the back of the Swan Hotel in what he claimed was the second smallest house in Britain (One and a quarter down and the same up - though I never saw upstairs).  Charlie lived on his own and worked at the power station (as did half the men in the town). He would go home at night, take a chair to the door and sit and play the piano accordion.

We were all told to stay well clear of him.

I was doing well on Bob a Job, but I wanted to raise the most, so when it got to Friday and I saw Charlie sat outside his home,. I asked him "Got a job for a bob, mate?" Yes he had!

His house was badly heated and quite damp. His answer to that was he wanted to put linoleum on the walls instead of wallpaper. (Can't think why people thought he was strange). So in I went and held the lino in place whilst he hammered nails from hob nailed boots in to hold it in place. We he finished a piece and we stood back, I could see the artistry created by his nails. They were pictures. It was incredible.

I threw caution to the winds and began to visit him, usually on my way home from school, almost every day. He tried his level best to teach me to play the accordion, or the piano, even the ocarina (I did alright with that). If he was free on market day he would drop in and buy any instruments that were on offer. First he mastered them himself, then he tried to teach me. Violin? Useless. The only instruments I managed to master (!) apart from the ocarina, were brass. I did passably play the cornet, flugel horn, trumpet and euphonium.

I was fascinated by the gentle, kindly man who never had a bad word to say and explored everything that crossed his path. But the words that impacted most on me were "Always start every day as well as you possibly can - and then try to improve on it."

Charlie, I wish I could do you more credit.

Church Hill. The grammar school at the top and the stocks on the left, outside the room where we learned woodwork.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Reg Dixon - Thursday 14th April 2016

The day was just like any Thursday - busy. I recorded the Stevenage Talkking News as soon as the e-edition of the Comet arrived, which meant I was about two hour54s ahead of myself, so I recorded half of the next Lion Magazine.

I did the Live at Home Scheme, downloaded the magazines, produced all the masters and then met the gang at the studio to record Lichfield. It was all over just after 9pm, because we were short on news.

Reg Dixon

Reg Dixon was born in Coventry in 1914. He should not be confused with Reginald Dixon, who was the famous organist at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Reg was not an educated man, but he was funny. He left school and proceeded to take a new job every month (every week sometimes) and he got sacked by at least thirty companies.

Reg was going nowhere, and then the Second World War came along. He joined the Royal Air Force, but the RAF quickly determined he was not fighting material, so they but him alongside many famous names from the forties and fifties - in the Gang Show. For the duration of the war, Reg and others were charged with keeping the troops entertained. It was wonderful training and served many of the troupe very well.

After the war, Reg became a full time entertainer, mostly as a comedian but famously as a pantomime dame. In 1949 he wrote a song, and it changed his life. Confidentially rose to Number 2 in the charts and was sung by everyone. As his fame and wealth grew, Reg stayed close to home and bought a large farm at Fillongley, half way between Coventry and Coleshill (where I was born).

Reg was a man of the people. My step father was a butcher with shops in Coleshill, Allesley, Kerseley, Fillongley and Coventry. Somewhere along the line, he and Dad became friends and he would often visit Phil Scrimshire at home in Coleshill. My Mom worked in the dress shop next to the butchers and both Phil and Reg tipped their hats in her direction. Mom thought the acting trade was too insecure, and opted to marry the butcher.

This meant that we got to see Reg quite often and he was always friendly. For about five years it was my birthday treat to be taken to Coventry Theatre to see Reg in action. We always sat in the front row and were always invited backstage afterwards. I got to meet many of the big names of the day. Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels in particular, plus the Beverley Sisters, and an emerging Tommy Steele.

I used to write poems and Reg once bought one off me for One Pound (a small fortune in 1952). I remember my last conversation with him. Television was coming along and it was to prove to be the death knell for comedians like Reg. The pattern then was to develop an act and hike it around every theatre in the country for the summer, and then do pantomime in the winter. Reg appeared on TV, was very funny, and used a year's material in one spot.

Reg was philosophical about it. He told me that Confidentially would take care of his retirement. I was surprised because it hadn't been sung for quite some time, but he winked at me and said "I may have warbled it in Coventry, but Tony Bennett had a hit with it in America."

Reg died in 1983.

Reg Dixon

I had a signed copy of this photo. Wish I knew where it went.