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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Trussell Trust Adlent Calendar


I first met a rep from the indefatigable Trussell Trust when I still shopped at Sainsburys, other supermarkets are available, before my ailing back necessitated home-deliveries. Outside the front entrance a Trussell volunteer asked ‘Would you mind buying one extra tin of food in addition to your usual shop today? And donate it here?’
            ‘Of course. It’s a good idea,’ said I.
            ‘We teach the foodbank users how to budget, how not to run out of food and make the best choices for nutritious, inexpensive meals. We don’t just give them food without some guidance.’
              I didn’t care about this last, as such. If people are hungry a sense of urgency is needed. Food is what they need, and without delay.
            I do know of some, however, who have complained that food bank users have mobile phones and smoke fags. So what? If I had no food to eat and was worn down by a continual lack of funds, reduced benefits, unemployment and poor housing I’d likely find refuge in a smoke.
            The Trussell Trust has produced an excellent Adlent calendar, which starts today, Ash Wednesday.  For people such as I, unsure, sometimes, what to donate, it’s a checklist of 40 items required by food banks in the run up to Easter. It is easy to save one item, such as tinned fruit, every day for the next 40 days over Lent.
In my slipped-disc state a food-shop delivery is essential and I set about an online order on Monday evening. I would incorporate items for the food bank in my list. Easy.
            
           However by 3:00am that night I had already changed the delivery day and time four times. I had gone through the thirty-plus items I wanted to add to my donations box, felt happy with what I’d ordered, then reconsidered. If I were hungry would I really want all my items wrapped in the same packaging from the cheaper ranges? Did I really want my bathroom essentials to be in the same wrapping as rice, biscuits, long life milk and so on? Wouldn’t I want, when my cupboard was bare, to have something prettily-wrapped to look at?
            By 4:00am I had reordered most of the items I was going to donate and found myself feeling mean. Why should the impoverished do with the cheapest range of biscuits and tinned vegetables? Didn’t they need freshly baked bread and fresh fruit? I was, in my over-tired state, trying hard to empathise with folk who can’t afford to put food in their cupboards nor in their fridge. But I found I couldn’t. I didn’t know how I would feel to be handed a bag of ‘basic rice’ rather than something more exciting. If I were hungry how much would it matter?
           By 5:00 am I had taken pain killers for my back, switched off my lap top and had decided to stop worrying about making food donations. The Trussell Trust have made a list for a reason.They know what’s needed.I certainly don’t, it seems.

In my prep for my second novel ‘The Keys to Peace’, which opens in 1939, I have been looking at Holocaust survivor testimonies. I will also be using my father’s war-time diaries and my aunts’ memories of the black-out in the Midlands for the main beats of the novel. A Jewish escapee from Nazism is part of the plot. In addition to the above reading I have watched the film ‘The Relief of Belsen’, as dad was part of the liberating army which witnessed the horrors of the camp,and the typhus,at the end of the war.
As the film ‘Schindler’s List’ closes, the saviour of 1100 Jews breaks down and wonders whether he’d done enough. He felt he should have done more, and saved, maybe, another thousand from the gas chambers. In the ‘Relief of Belsen’consultants said that what made women feel more like human beings, after the ravages of the ghetto, the camps, humiliations, starvation, constant fear and illness had diminished them, was a simple tube of lipstick. Someone gently applying lipstick to their lips and giving them colour was the faltering beginning of recovery for someone who wasn’t already too ill or dying.

Yesterday  I returned to my online food order and stopped worrying whether I should order more chocolate bunnies for children who hadn’t enjoyed chocolate in recent weeks. I stopped worrying about what size nappies to order, whether for new-borns or five month-olds, and bought jars of baby food for a four-month old and an eight-month old. I stopped worrying whether I should order fresh daffodils for the food bank users. Flowers brighten up people’s lives, but it’s not what the Trussell Trust are asking for. I remember a film by, I think, Bill Douglas, where an impoverished woman, his gran, has displayed some grass bank-picked flowers in an old cup. She has nothing. They are her little luxury.She warms her cold hands on a hot cup.There's no tea in it, just hot water for warmth.

            Later today my supermarket delivery will arrive. When my back allows I’ll pack the essentials for donating to our nearest foodbank, and add a box of non-basic chocolates, and wonder whether to include a tube of lipstick, and then wonder what shade. And I know, whatever I donate, I will think I should have done more.

Which is another reason why the Trussell Trust do such a good job.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Segregation and Bullying

My novel, The Keys to Heaven, which covers the lives of Eliza and her family, from 1918-1939, is part one of two. I have laid down five chapters in book two, The Keys to Peace, and, as it opens in 1939, my characters live through the second world war. One character, Daniel, escapes Nazi Germany and manages to travel to a safer life in England, and is cared for by Eliza's sister.  

But his own sister, Janina, avoids the Berlin Gestapo by hiding with Aryan friends in the city. As Daniel's been moving through Switzerland and France to get the last boat to England, with Eliza's sister, she can't get word to him. Eventually, at the end of the war, he discovers, from the Red Cross, that in 1942, she had been sent by train from Güterbahnhof Moabit (freight station in Moabit) fairly close to Berlin city centre. Here, a platform was used that was separated and parallel to the S-Bahn tracks. The S-Bahn was the city's rapid transit system. But her journey from that platform ended in Thereseinstadt. 

The vile crimes against the Jews during the war are well documented. However I am still shocked by the racism against black men and women in Virginia, USA, which took place as late as the 1960s. I didn't get to see the excellently titled Hidden Figures when it was Oscar-nominated last year. I have recently seen it, however, courtesy of Sky Movies. 

Before 1933, in Germany, wealthy, professional Jews, who were teaching, running businesses and living full, mostly unhindered lives, were, in many cases, masters of all they surveyed.
By 1939 they weren't allowed to walk on a pavement nor sit on a park bench. Jews were segregated.

In Virginia the opposite process took place. People of colour had to sit at the back of public buses, the section was labelled coloreds only.  At NASA, both black and white women were employed but they were segregated. They worked in separate buildings. 

In Hidden Figures an extremely gifted black mathematician was allowed to do the number crunching in order to plan the trajectory of a manned space capsule. But she had to walk miles from her desk to get to a coloreds only lavatory for women. That was only one of the humiliations she endured.

Her friend, equally talented, had to go before a county judge to request that she be allowed to study engineering at a whites-only college. Although such segregation had been outlawed by Washington Virginia kept its racist laws. In fact the gifted, black, female engineer persuaded the court to let her study. She was the first black woman to attend a whites-only college.  But that was on the strict ruling that she went there for night school only. So she worked doubly hard: she worked at NASA all day, but had to work and study hard all night. She wasn't given leave to mix with the whites at college in the daytime. 

In other words the women I mention were as clever as their white, male counterparts but the struggle to get their abilities recognised and become promoted was almost as segregationist as the Judenfrei laws of 1930s and 1940s Berlin.

In Virginia segregation prevented progress for the race that was looked down upon. 
In Germany segregation actively removed opportunities for Jews who were used to being fully integrated and unhampered in the sciences, arts, education and commerce.

Is it worse to be denied what others have by right and stay at the bottom of the heap, or is it more awful to have everything you've achieved and enjoyed ripped away from you?  In the first case if you've never known freedom there is always hope that one day the glass ceiling will crack. In the second case annihilation was too often the outcome. 

The loss of hope, I venture, must be worse. Suicides in Berlin after Kristallnacht meant there were fewer Jews for the Nazis to murder.

The blacks in 1960s Virginia were still escaping slavery. The Jews in 1930s Germany and invaded territories were being forced into it.  Enlightenment and respect for others is a precious commodity and is as valuable as gold dust. 

In an increasingly divided West race may not always be the great divider, although the figures show poverty, generally, is worse for blacks. We are becoming more intolerant of those who have very little. So prejudice is against the poor. Gender issues are not going away either. 

At the BBC bias against women presenters and broadcasters is becoming unfortunately a business-as-usual state of affairs. I wonder who suggested John Humphrys et al took a pay cut? And, who needs to earn £600,000 to interrupt politicians daily, at 6:00 am, thereby sending listeners into a depression before their working day as a bus driver, plumber, banker, teacher or any other job not 'worth' £600,000, has even begun?

I would love to see Today run by people who enjoy life, respect others and don't have to harangue the people they are interviewing. It's just another form of bullying. And such bullying behaviour, as endured in 1930s Berlin and 1960s Virginia, should be well behind us. 

When will the human race become civilised? 


For Holocaust Memorial Day 

Pain and a slipped disc

I cannot believe, after only a month into 2018, I am already having to give up my new year resolutions. I was exercising and dieting regularly, enjoying it, even, when suddenly on Sunday evening I felt my back 'go' as I was leaving the house to go swimming. All I'd done was bend down to switch off a radiator.
The pool was quiet and I did my 'regulation' 25-30 minutes swim without a stop - avoiding breast stroke - the enemy of those with back trouble. Back home I knew I'd have to reach for the painkillers and by Monday it was certain that I'd caused no ordinary 'trapped nerve'-type pain, to which I am prone. It was much worse. By Tuesday I was eating painkillers for breakfast and decided to remain house-bound, rather than aggravate my tender back by causing a painful contracting of muscles, due to the cold weather. By Wednesday Richard bought me a pack of OTC co-codamol, with so many health warnings the back pain seemed preferable to the dizziness, constipation and drug dependency which would rain down on me.

It all felt like the beginnings of a slipped disc - which I suffered 10 years ago - and I quickly abandoned all social and self-sprucing activities. I would not be able to move outside my own front door. Inside I could not get comfortable. If I sat for too long I couldn't leave my chair without pain, if I lay down I simply couldn't move out of the prone position and if I walked about, like a zoo-trapped tiger, I became weary. At most I was getting 4 hours' sleep at a stretch and had to take my pain killers an hour before I got up. If I didn't do this I could not leave the bed, the pain was too severe.

The cat is wary of me as I have grown two extra limbs. One, an extra leg, in the form of a walking stick, the other, an extra arm in the form of a litter picker. I simply cannot walk without support and I cannot bend to pick anything up.I am a sexter-dexter. 

 Thursday was my last day on OTC co-codamol. Hellfire and damnation to those who took those meds beyond three days. In preparation for the avoidance of a new hell I practised waking up at 6:00 am to take my painkillers,  getting washed at 7:00 and dressing by 7.15am But why?

At our GP surgery the walk-in-and-wait arrangements start at 8:00am. In my state I wanted not to have to do my pacing up and down in the waiting room, see above for my inability to sit, so had to be early ie first in the queue to see a GP. That meant getting there dead (?) on 8:00 am. I knew that would take me two hours' prep. 

On Friday, with the surgery in mind, I woke at 5.50 am, ate some ready prepared bread and jam to have with my tablets, took them and dozed while I waited for the analgesic effect to work.At 7:00am, a bit like going over the top, I girded my loins. I had to endure certain pain but had to move my damaged carcass. I managed to roll out of bed on my tummy, grab my extra leg, my walking stick,  and got in to the shower. I even coped with pulling on footless tights and a loose top. I pushed my feet into my boots, avoiding the need to bend, and froze because the heating hadn't come on. 

That's when my back reacted to the cold. It started hurting like no other day this week. I made myself a hot water bottle while the central heating came on and tried to get comfortable. When Richard was ready to take me to the surgery - about 7:40 am, I could barely walk and had to give in. I had simply expected too much of myself and I knew I wouldn't be able to cope with the cold outside and having to twist myself to get in the car. My back went into a mild spasm and I had to stay put. I was not going to be able to get to the surgery. Walk-in-and-wait is for those who can walk and can wait. I can do neither. I needed a home visit. 

A jolly GP rang me while I snoozing; I've had so little proper sleep this week I was glad of it. She knew exactly what to prescribe me and within moments Richard had been to collect the meds from the chemist. She said there was no way I could get to the surgery and made an appointment for me for next week instead. By then some of the 225 tablets I have on my table should have started to relax muscles and work on my back pain.

In trying to get to the surgery I had felt more pain than at any time this week. A simple act like walking into colder temperatures and wearing heavy boots has forced the muscles in my back to tense up. That night, feeling good in warm bath water, I undid all my hard work while trying to look after my back, and foolishly moved and bent badly. This sent sciatic
pain shooting up and down both legs. 💥 My whole back felt as if it were being pulled and  strained through a spaghetti ladle. Or I was on the rack.  And I had been on much stronger meds since 10 am that day. They should have made me feel better. 

At midnight I realised I was allowed a third dose of valium, for me its a muscle relaxant, not a cure for mental anguish. Mind you...  
That and another dose of stronger co codamol left me feeling more relaxed, but not sleepy. I hoped to doze off and wake at 6:00 am to take a double dose of naproxen, it's a strong ibuprofen, with codeine and paracetamol, and my ready-to-hand breakfast of bread and jam. 
By 7:00 am Saturday morning I anticipated getting out of bed, pain free. 🙏

My new year's resolution to swim and walk at least four times a week has been obliterated. I can barely walk upstairs. 

The only way I'll lose weight now is by dieting. There's no way I can do any exercise until I'm pain free. Last time I had a slipped disc I was told it would take 6 months to get right. In fact I believe it took a year. Maybe January 2019 is the time for a new year resolution: lose weight and exercise more. I just can't see it happening in 2018. 

And I thought I was trying so hard.


Boo hoo. 😡

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Resolutions? Why it's hard...

I wonder whether, like me, you resolve, this year, to lose weight and exercise more. I have been saying I must lose weight and exercise more for the last ten Januarys at least. I did, in fact, become a thin, healthier person in the mid 90s and kept the weight off for some years. How did I do that? The answer is quite straightforward: I found the time to go swimming at least three times a week. I became the weight I should be for my height and age - around 10 stone 6.

With the glow of success I got lazy. I knew I could lose weight if I wanted to... it was no big deal. But I'd forgotten that it gets harder to stay fit as we age. I didn't factor in that if you lose overall mobility, in my case, in the form of a slipped disc, the body loses less fat. About ten years ago I was flat on my back. When walking I moved awkwardly, was full of painkillers, and found sitting in a car - or even on a plane - most painful. A slipped disc takes between six months to a year to get right. Gradually I could swim again, but, even now, I have to be careful. The disc has repaired itself but I have a permanently trapped nerve. If I go mad at it, usually doing breast stroke, the pain starts.

Long story short: I have put on weight and I need to exercise more. If it means taking paracetamol so be it. The weight has to go.

Since Christmas 2017 I have managed two walks and two swims a week. On top of that I do a brisk walk to local shops once or twice a week and I diet 2 days out of 7 ( ie the 5:2 diet.) This sounds as though I ought to be losing the pounds but it isn't that easy. Last week I was focusing so hard on going out for a swim, preparing myself by putting my chilly-feeling swimsuit on the radiator before I left the house for the pool, that in my rush to get on with my new exercise regime I left my swimming costume at home. Of course I didn't know I had erred until Richard dropped me off outside the pool and was on his merry way to the pub. What was I to do?

a) ring him, knowing full well he was driving and wouldn't answer
b) ring him, leave a message to collect me and head to the hotel bar next to the pool
c) don't ring, just go to the bar
d) ask if they have a spare swimsuit at the desk, thereby sticking to my regime without taking in extra alcoholic calories
e) walk home, thus giving me a burst of exercise, but risk catching my death as I didn't have my winter coat with me
f) wait in the hotel, next to the pool, read the Sunday papers, and have a cup of tea
g) ring the pub where Richard was drinking and leave a message for him?

It didn't take too much effort to decide swimming was still the best option, given my lack of warm winter clothing and the fact Richard would be unlikely to answer my call and his pub might not answer their phone either. At the desk I had to confess my stupidity at leaving my gear at home. Two ladies, who, it has to be said, were more portly than I, were booking facials and exotic treatments and found my predicament hilarious. I was trying hard to stick to my guns...so hard to get in my 25-30 minutes daily exercise, but I was in luck... my spa did have a swimsuit they could sell me for £15. It wasn't my size but hey swimsuits stretch don't they?

After ten minutes in the warm waters I felt immensely holy. I was being very good and exercising like a minor athlete. Then the pain started... Because I was wearing a size 14 swimsuit, the size I should be, the tight straps had irritated my trapped nerve. I kept swimming but stuck to front crawl, minimising the pull on my lower back. I staggered out of the pool like someone drunk and managed to down a painkiller or two.

Tomorrow I had planned to go for a long walk... but the rain is due to pelt it down morning, noon and night. I will swap my Monday regime with Tuesday and do my walk then. Tomorrow I will swim instead. But I will remember my swimming gear. All I have to do now is decide which days I'll diet.Last week I read 'how to keep new year resolutions' in the paper.

thermae spa is for lounging not exercising!


 Easy, the article said, exercising and diet should be as regular a habit as brushing your teeth. Oh really???

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Why do they lament?

30 December
At Christmas and New Year we embrace a few favoured family traditions. We always watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' or 'Scrooge' aka 'A Christmas Carol' on Christmas Eve. Those activities were established by my brother and my mother. I try to follow Kings College carols on the 24th, that's my tradition. We take a post-meal walk but never open presents until the evening on the 25th. Who established those rules? I have no idea but the habit evolved most likely at my brother's where we sit down to eat the festive meal about 4pm. 

At Hogmanay we run round the house like mad things shouting 'Lang may yer lum reek' on the strike of twelve. My father - a MacPherson - handed that craziness on to us.

We also tend to do quizzes rather than bother with what's on the box. This year the only TV programme I watched 'live' over Christmas was 'Call the Midwife'. When I'd digested the storyline and contrasted it with 'A Christmas Carol' it seemed to me that our leaders, especially the ministry of justice - for prisons, the home office - for police and the DWP - for work and pensions - formerly social security, still have a lot to learn. Despite government inactivity regarding the NHS and our most vulnerable citizens both dramas will continue to be viewed in our house during Christmasses yet to come. And we'll still give to charities to help those in need, showing rather more concern than the Tories.

Both 'Midwife' and 'Scrooge' veer towards the sentimental yet have important messages to convey. The former's offering this Christmas showed 1960 society's attitude to Down's Syndrome, the latter the difficulties of being a cripple in the 1840s. The former tells of wife beatings from a domineering man, who was also a sexually abusive father, the latter of folk working for a pittance, barely able to afford a Christmas dinner, yet in full time work. Aspects of life for some in the 1840s and the 1960s are not yet behind us.

With SENDIST legislation - special educational needs and disability - schools and colleges now make provision for Down's and the disabled. In that sense, partly because responsibility for special needs was removed from the department of health to the department of education in the 1970s, Britain is a better place in which to grow if born with syndromes or handicaps. 

However the increasing demonisation of beggars and those on benefits has meant tolerance of the financially needy has all but dissolved - at least in the offices of the parliamentary Conservative party.
    
On Christmas Eve, 1843, Scrooge passes a group of waifs singing - and shivering  - on a snowy pavement for their supper. They were clearly making a nuisance of themselves outside his large home. He says 'Be off with you' in much the same way some of us ignore beggars, cap in hand, on our streets today. I don't always give to beggars. I'm not sure how I manage to walk past, but sometimes I do.

When asked by charity workers if Scrooge would make a donation for the needy 'for it is at Christmas time that want is felt' he merely asks 'Are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?'

The lack of compassion for the poor as we stumble towards 2018 doesn't mean a return to the shame of the workhouse but our prisons are suffering - buildings, inmates and officers are all in need of much greater support than they receive from our government. Are we, the law-abiding electorate, not in danger of looking like the ignorant bystanders in Dickens' novels?

In towns we have food banks for the near destitute and soup kitchens for those sleeping rough. Labour wants to shift power from private landlords to tenants - giving them more chance to avoid eviction - thereby reducing the numbers of homeless. By contrast Finland has all but eradicated homelessness altogether. It can be no coincidence that the numbers sleeping on the streets of Britain has increased 134% since 2010*, when Cameron and the Tories came into power. According to Shelter a
private landlord/lady can make an eviction without giving any reason. If s/he chose to serve notice on 4th December this year a tenant could have been homeless on Christmas Day. If notice had been served on 11th December the recipient tenant could be homeless tomorrow. Not a happy new year for some. Tenants are given 21 days to clear up and move out. 

But to where?

The department for Communities and Local Government knows homelessness is on the increase. Why, as 2017 becomes 2018, do we have such a shameful housing problem in a wealthy country like ours? When social services, housing benefits and other benefits are cut and part-time insecure work becomes the norm for the mainly unskilled worker, where does rent money appear from? When private landlords increase and council or social housing decreases Britain sees its impoverished lying in the gutter. 

The night Marley's ghost visits Scrooge and shows him images of 'mankind' tormented by a lack of accommodation, warmth and food Scrooge asks 'Why do they lament?'implying he has no idea.

As I add up my donations to Crisis, The Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charities I hope the money helps those who are shivering, hungry, ill and homeless and I wonder what has changed since 1843. G K Chesterton's poem 'The House at Christmas' describes the virgin Mary as homeless '... driven forth out of an inn to roam...'

We celebrate the birth of a homeless child, born 2000 years ago, in the comfort of our modern sitting rooms, surrounded by cards, nuts, satsumas, decorations and more mince pies than are good for us. But the continuing increase in homelessness is a disease of modern Tory Britain. The Irish Times supports the idea of unwanted Christmas presents being donated now to be ready for those in b&b accommodation in December 2018. No change there then.

Why do they lament, indeed. 





*Homeless Link figures

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Happy lexicon 2017

This Christmas, following the latest trends, I will be signing cards as Mx Nina MacPherson, to show solidarity with our non-binary friends, our enbies. My gender is none of your business but have a merry yule all the same … is the essential message.

Now that Richard has his art work hanging at Bath’s latest vegan restaurant, Nourish, our food will, for the festive season, be plant-based mermaid dishes, followed by unicorn toasties.

Last Friday we rushed around our local top-end supermarkets searching for gluten-free desserts for our good friend Richard, yes another Richard, and discovered how helpful Marks and Spencer are in this regard. Now that we have been introduced to veganism aquapaba is going to be our new go-to dessert, no need for dashing to supermarkets for the perfect meringue.

Being an oldie, rather than a xennial, I will likely not convert to an avolatte, as I do prefer my drinks in a glass, or a cup. I’ve never got used to drinking cappuccino from a cardboard takeaway cup, a habit we renounced in San Francisco in 1997. Yep it was twenty years ago today and since then cardboard cups litter the place. Strange to tell I prefer to sit and enjoy my coffee rather than supping it on the move, spilling it down my top and giving myself heartburn.

The greed of the banks has been a topic for conversation with friends and family in recent weeks. In order to avoid paying any overdraft charges whatsoever history was made in our household when Richard gave up his current account and joined his funds with mine. After thirty-six years of marriage we have a three-day-old joint account. The shocking rise in bank charges makes me want to bank with Tesco but First Direct may be more up my street. We are not spending shedloads this Christmas. Instead we’ll be at home in a state of lagom. Tonight we are singing Christmas carols enjoying firgun and general bonhomie. The dark nights and dull mornings lead one to sense that hibernation is no bad thing, hygge is easily achieved in our house: drinking cocoa, feet up and watching TV or simply reading a novel is the new party-hard. Lykke is something to relish, I feel.

Next year I will have to stick to my resolution to lose weight and exercise more. This will involve ignoring the manspreading around the swimming pool, careful there. I don’t, however, enjoy the sausage fest in the pool when I’m trying to swim.

These days, when confronted by shopkeepers or tradesmen one stare from me ensures I don’t suffer from mansplaining and as I attend few meetings now I don’t have to endure  hepeating. Thank goodness most of my Headteachers have been women and we didn’t have to put up with over confident men, nor manfants, at school management meetings.

If that foray into new words entering the Oxford dictionary hasn’t given you verbal indigestion all that remains for me is to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas, away from thoughts of Brexit, and political paigonism...watch the spelling.

If it snows reach for the warmest gorpcore, stay safe and snug.

That’s the new way to be.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Stop the Clocks




Mum died a year ago - at 8 pm on November 4, quite suddenly and painlessly, from a stroke. She was 92 and had been in a nursing home for less than two years.
The entry for mum, in the Book of Remembrance at the crematorium, looks dignified and hers is the last on the page for November 4th. I doubt whether that's because no-one else died in her part of the industrial Midlands on the same day. We are talking about a vast urban population. It may have something to do with the huge increase in costs for funerals and memorials.

The bench we ordered when dad died in 1993 was finally refurbished in time for mum's birthday - this August - when she would have been ninety-three. My aunts - her sisters - took a posy there on mum's anniversary. It all looked very fitting.


Since creating 'mum's garden' at our house I have been adding another plant to mum's favourite collection of flowers on significant dates. This November I planted a cream hellebore named 'Christmas Carol'. If mum had still been with us I would have taken her a similar Christmas Rose - she would have approved.

Strangely however, our indoor Christmas cactus has, as last year, flowered early. When my brother rang on November 4, 2016, to say mum had died, the Christmas cactus suddenly bloomed. It was at least seven weeks early. And again, a whole year later, the cactus flowered prematurely, sending spikey pinky-red flowers way up into the air. Again to the day when mum's spirit left the temporal world.

Even more confounding is that two carriage clocks and a kitchen wall clock stopped working - all within 24 hours of each other - as we approached mum's anniversary on November 4th. It was a simple matter of changing the clock batteries but given that one of the clocks is fifty years old, another twenty-five and the newest approximately ten and their batteries were replaced at very different times of the year it is curious that they should all stop ticking on the same day.

Stop the clocks.
We will remember.