Monthly Archives: March 2013

Commercial sins?

I took my grandsons out for the day yesterday. We went to Maryport Aquarium, my plan being to spend the morning looking at the fishy displays then lunch before going on to an indoor play park. We had the aquarium to ourselves and the displays were excellent although I needed to lift the youngest (age 2) to see inside every tank situated at my eyeline but the oldest (age 4) became frightened by the sound of waves splashing in the big-sea pool so we whizzed round the whole place in less than five minutes.

 

I thought I would pacify him in the café. It’s a good café, not only serving delicious homemade cakes but with an excellent choice of kids meals not based on chips (my boys don’t like chips) and a perfect view of the harbour to keep their interest. I ordered coffee, they wanted ice cream.

 

Outside it was trying to snow, two swans swam around the harbour and men were working on the deck of a fishing trawler docked on the opposite quay. I thought great, lots of interesting things for the boys to watch and I’ll have ten minutes respite to drink my coffee. But nothing is simple with toddlers! They only like vanilla ice cream. The waitress tried to tempt them with ‘Rocky Horror’, ‘Death by Chocolate’, ‘Sweet Strawberry Dreams’ or ‘Paradise Road’. No, it had to be vanilla! The waitress said they had vanilla ice cream in the gift shop but not in the café so I could go to the gift shop for their ice creams. I looked longingly at my coffee and the two boys sitting at the table waiting. I looked at the long path through the gift shop to the ice cream freezer sitting beside the entrance. The gift-shop was virtually as big as the aquarium except the floor was loaded with baskets containing the sort of bright coloured toys kids of two and four years old think of as treasure. I suggested it would be better if the waitress could get the ice creams. Eventually she obliged.

 

When we finished in the café the boys wanted to go to the outside play area being it was themed around a pirate ship. It was bitterly cold and trying to snow but they thought it was wonderful having the whole playground to themselves. If only to warm up we raced through the aquarium a second time, with more success. Obviously the ice cream sustained Oscar’s fear of waves. The rays were still fast asleep, the sharks looked hungry and we followed an escapee through the sunken ship. I’m not sure what the crab made of the boys but they loved copying its unique way of walking.

 

I survived the battle through the gift-shop. We didn’t purchase the fluffy dinosaur or plastic helicopter with fixed blades (daddy can’t fix it). There were no tears either but I wish the people who came up with these money-spinning layouts gave the option to exit without running the gauntlet of toys and sweets placed at toddler level, particularly when the displays we paid to see weren’t.

 Photo shows the view from Maryport across the Solway Firth to southern Scotland.Image

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Life Happens

Apologies, I haven’t written anything for a couple of weeks. Life, as John Lennon once said, has a habit of happening when you’re busy making other plans.

 

A series of incidents halted the whole family in its stride, life changing incidents that take centre stage. My mum had to be rushed into hospital after a major artery to her heart became blocked; emergency paramedics saved her life. Seven days later my husband’s mum died.

 

My mother-in-law May Alice King would have celebrated her ninety-first birthday on 12th April. Although I’ve known her most of my life it seems I’ve never really known her. During the Second World War she served in the Women’s Royal Air Force as a flight engineer. The wartime shortage of men, metals and materials meant aircraft were delivered in kit form from the USA to special hangers on the west coast of Britain where teams of ladies put them together then flew them to active stations. May always said she enjoyed the war, from a very enclosed life growing up on a small farm in Kent she travelled across the country and met people from all over the world.

 

When clearing her bedroom we found RAF manuals under her bed, marked Top Secret. We also found a box of love letters belonging to May, from the man who would become her husband. George King earned the engaging title of Grumpy Grandad from his grandchildren, because his attitude was always so awkward, it hardly seems possible the same man poured out such sentiments as those in his letters.

 

George spent nearly five years as a prisoner of war in Poland. At 20 years old he was sent to France with the East Kent Regiment (Buffs) in June 1940 as part of an allied attempt to hold back the advancing German army. With a unit of four men operating a single Bren gun even this raw recruit realised they didn’t have a chance. While the British Army was being evacuated at Dunkirk George was guarding a bridge in Arles. A Panzer Division smashed through without stopping. George and the two other soldiers still alive after seeing action ‘legged it’. They spent two weeks wandering around northern France trying to find some means of crossing the Channel until they were rounded up by a German patrol and marched off to Poland. Many men died during that march across Europe. Food was scarce and most prisoners had suffered injuries before being captured, George lost both his friends.

When they arrived at their destination (Thorn) they had to build their prison camps. Hardly any wonder that during most of our lifetime he never mentioned the war. The first we knew about his time in Poland was when our son moved there in 2007, by the strangest of coincidences David’s apartment was within site of Stalag XXB where his grandfather had been interred.

 

Finding these letters has been a revelation. George tells in detail what everyday life was like in the prison camp. And he wrote every week, not sad letters, just honest and full of hope. He is surviving when so many lives are being lost, surviving the bitter cold Baltic winters and lack of proper food. There were many comrades to share his troubles.

 

One of the few people left who remembers George’s home-coming said he couldn’t speak for months, they organised a party but George couldn’t face it. And the first words he spoke were to his cousin, ‘Have you got my football boots?’ Before the war George was signed to play professional football and hoped to take up where he left off. He never got the chance because his knees were too badly damaged.

 

We still have lots of boxes left. Who knows what we’ll find? They belonged to a generation who didn’t like to talk about the past and certainly wouldn’t air their emotions, not even to family. And that’s the real sadness. Image

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Book Worm

Why do people read – it isn’t as if it’s compulsory, at least not once you’ve abandoned school for the real world. And yes I do know some people who will do anything to avoid reading and blame it on lack of time. It seems fair to say we are bombarded with information without the need to resort to books. Yet some of us still prefer to read, to actually explore the words as written on a page, and imagine….

 

It isn’t as though reading comes naturally. Cave men began with pictures; language and writing are relatively recent in evolutionary terms. And there are some races who never took to writing, like the Celts, who still blame Anglo Saxons for inventing it as a tool of state. Celtic people embrace the old ways – stories told in company, by a professional storyteller. What’s not to like about gathering around a roaring fire with a beaker of ale (or whisky even) listening to what might have been?

 

But nowadays the medical profession is constantly willing us to exercise more and be couch potatoes less. I say disregard the dangers and read anyway. In the real world you only live once but delve into fiction and you can live a hundred lives.

And if you operate in a time-hungry ethos try reading short stories (particularly flash fiction). You might manage a reading break without feeling guilty? What wealth there is in imaginings.

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