Magnetic surfaces.

Whilst I love the London Times newspaper so much this column is scribed in Times New Roman font, I feel they have missed a trick this morning. On the third page they report that decluttering guru and tidying up enthusiast Marie Kondo  has chucked the towel in (and not picked it up again) after the birth of her third child, a son after two daughters, last year.  However it is not until thirteen pages later that they report on Ai Weiwei’s Legofield of bricks donated by the public at the Design Museum.  Call that journalism?

Regular readers (hello, how are you?) will have listened to the keening over the self-building piles of junk which is a regular feature (for regular readers) of this column, frequently stacked with words, some of them less than horizontal, perched on top of other, wonky words, with commas wedged in down the sides, a title, possibly not belonging to this column at all, hurled on the top with some decorative twiddles and words such as ‘to leave a comment’ festering at the bottom, some of which have been there for thirteen years.

The. Full. Stops. And Capitals. Are. All. in Another. Paragraph. Out. In. THE. Hall. (Under a pile of coats.)

I have subscribed to the theory of magnetic surfaces for many years, possibly thirteen or more, but have a feeling deep in my sole (coated with mud, a sticky label and some green thread – green, when did I last sew in green?) this may be learned behaviour.  I learned it at my father’s knee, also his mantelpiece, hall table, writing desk, display cabinet and assorted tables.  He was quite tidy but there was a lot of stuff.  He was a collector.  He conscripted me early in life.  I went in the summer holidays to a building site with him as my treat and on the way home we called in to an antique shop.  In a fit of truth he called them junk shops.  In the junk shop he did the recce, then the deals while I crawled under eighteenth century tables to look at the edges of the hand-sawn veneers.  We left with full hands and it was my job to distract my mother while he smuggled in the paper bags, or larger objects under his coat and put them in a place until they emerged a few weeks later, pretending a seventeenth century jug had always been on the windowsill.  ‘Don’t you remember?  You moved it from the dining room?’

From this I learned to build a fairly respectable brick wall and amass a ton of junk.  Complicit with this early education is Jane’s Theory of Magnetic Surfaces, in association with the Gravitational Pull of the Earth.  I also blame the mediaeval Cup Board up in the Solar.  If only we hadn’t endured and finally embraced the strong acquisitive instincts of our Norman overlords in the matter of wenches, birds of prey and cups –‘Cups!  I hast more cups than thou!  Regard there are so many my many wenches cannot hold them in their hands and have been obliged to request the carpenter to make a board to put them all on, so they can hold up their breasts for it will be anon seven centuries afor Caresse Crosby invents the bra.  Forsooth.’

A cupboard is now a box to accumulate junk, on some legs with stretchers, on which to balance junk, and a top on which to pile junk.  I open any door in the wall of cupboards I designed, standing to the side, because of gravity.  One day I may just take all the gravity affected objects off the floor, put them in half a dozen boxes, or many, many more, and send them to California (where Marie Kondo lives), she’ll never notice, she has three children.

Meanwhile the OH has stopped worrying about the effects of sunlight on his inlaid table.  He went to furniture-making classes and made a coffee table inlaid with a picture of a bird, which I thought was very good but the teacher, sadly, thought had many mistakes.  He listed them, in detail, which is why we only have one table.  The OH, concerned with the sunlight through the window turning his kingfisher into a dove, bought UV repelling plastic and made a top.  Needless to say, regular reader (hello, still OK?), he need not have worried, the top surface of the table remained exposed to sunlight for a day before becoming magnetic and attracting heaps of remote controls, partially completed crosswords, half-eaten sandwiches, dusters (no, me neither, I didn’t know we had any) and sweet wrappers.

The magnetic attraction of flat surfaces for junk is in direct proportion to the Earth’s gravity at any point on the planet’s surface.  Everybody’s instinctive knowledge of this is stronger than the magnetoreception of the average homing pigeon.  This is why posh estate agents publish photographs of empty rooms with huge bare floors, a sofa with nothing on the arms, at all, and one coffee table with a minimalist flower arrangement.  Punters scan it, sweepily, weepily, crying ‘Can we actually live like this?  Is it possible?’

No, don’t be silly, they are selling you a dream.  Buy it and one day you will wake up unable to cross the floor acreage, apparently annexed by Ai Weiwei having a dry hobble, in bare feet. Or sit on the sofa, currently a branch of your favourite Internet clothes store.  Instead of light and space there is a strange smell (the flower arrangement.  Dead, with a light coating of fluffy grey mould.).

My mother, married into junk collecting, had a saying ‘Never go up empty handed.’  This did not refer, at all, at all, to accumulating merit prior to demise by perpetrating good deeds, by stealth, or in any known way, rather to ascending the staircase with armfuls of junk to pop in one of the wardrobes and shut the door.  I cleared the wardrobes out eventually, and learning nothing, designed a walk-in (if you can locate the floor) wardrobe for myself.

I buy storage.  Boxes, trolleys, plastic files, envelopes, craft bags.  I remove the magnetised stuff from the tables and other flat surfaces.  I put the stuff in the storage receptacle.  Suddenly the field, sparked by static magnetricity, increases exponentially, attracting the junk, now in a receptacle, back to the flat surface in a container which can be piled up upon, or, even, if I have gone stackable, stacked on by another container.  The ceiling is the limit. In the craft room I am within a foot of it, and I have just had a massive clear-out.

I didn’t throw anything away, I just bought more storage.

You knew that, didn’t you, regular reader?  I know you knew it.  Here comes the thirteen year old stuff at the bottom.

~~~~~~~~~~ does this look mouldy, to you?~~~~~~~~~

######any better?######

&&&& hmm?&&&

%%can’t shift it now, the column will fall over, anyway, I’m going for a cup of tea, do you want one?%%%%

Posted in The parrot has landed. | Tagged | Leave a comment

When father papered the parlour…

The mistake I made was in looking up.  I looked up in the bathroom.  And there was the ceiling, not very Sistine Chapel, more up above an underpass.

It’s three years since the house was done but my bathroom décor is five years of age.  Happy birthday bathroom paint.  It was done in a rush after at least six years of neglect.  The previous six years all my DIY skills had been turned to maintenance of my mother’s house.  It was her house but she delighted in pointing out minute deficits for me to correct.  I had, however to be ‘respectable at all times’ in case of callers, which is how I ended up gardening in high heels and a pearl necklace.  When I painted the long fence I had to take my overalls off to make the dinner and don my pearls to eat it and wash it up and then get kitted out to paint again, by which time my brush had gone rock hard.

Despite all that I was ready to tart up my own long-neglected domicile when she died but first I broke my arm, then I had cancer, so it was the OH who decorated the bathroom in January.  I had bought the paint and then got the plumbers in, in a rush. I wanted a shower installing as I didn’t think post surgery, I’d be able to step over the bath, into the bath, over which was the shower.  But plumbers being plumbers and shower trays being in short supply and the moon being in the seventh house and Jupiter aligning with Mars and whatnot, it was the OH who painted the ceiling while I was in hospital, for the plumbers, who failed miserably, leaving me to get washed in a bucket for two days when I got home and have plumbers for the rest of the week.  They should write it on the prescription: take two plumbers a day for a week, dragging your recently operated-on body into the kitchen three times a day to make them cups of tea, even though you don’t feel well enough to do it for yourself.  Ideal, really.

The OH is nobody’s painter.  It is not in his skill set.  He can do a number of things but painting in the house is not among them.  When he retired he did briefly go to art classes but he hated the teacher, who was rather rainbow alliance, with a passion, so that was the end of that.  He insisted on painting the garage floor, ‘stretching’ the paint with water.  I may, this summer, empty the garage and do the job properly.  You cannot paint a concrete floor with blue water and expect it to last.  It currently resembles a chameleon having a heart attack.

Quite suddenly, a week ago, I could stand the bathroom no longer.  I am currently waiting to hear from the hospital whether I have to have urgent hernia surgery or not.  I simply couldn’t face recuperating from surgery in an underpass, so I donned my 1980s panty girdle, that I found in the back of a drawer and got busy.

I am so glad I have a lift.  I could not have got a step ladder, three pots of paint, flattened cardboard boxes, a bucket of brushes and assorted other stuff, up the stairs with possible hernias*, in a girdle.

But with a lift you can, so I did.

I loved every minute of it, greatly assisted by the cataract surgery.  It is such a help to be able to see what you are painting, I didn’t need glasses for the skirting boards, either, which means that my short and long sight are better than they were just after surgery, or, more likely, that my brain is getting better at interpreting what my eyes are seeing.

I did the ceiling, walls, skirting and door, twice and then touched up the corridor in apparently a different white, which I’ll judge in a couple of days when it has gone solid.  I thought the painters argued for matt and I argued for silk and they won, but time will tell.

Painting a wall is such a zen activity.  Let your mind wander and you do a run or a dry patch, keep focussed and just go up and down, up and down, up and down, grasshopper, and you can then either stand on one leg and kick box, or just get a cup of tea and admire the lovely wall.  Paint is so permanent, for a little while too.  Unlike vacuuming, or cleaning a sink the effect of which activity lasts a good two minutes.  In the 17th century, housewives who had beaten earth floors, used to decorate them for the weekend with coloured sand sprinkled in patterns, which lasted until someone walked on them.  If you did the parlour, for Sunday, you would test the efficacy of the sermon as soon as the first clog slid across your lovely twiddles.

But painting the bathroom ceiling is a thing of lasting joy for a while, as long as you remember to flush with the lid down and gargle with your gob shut.  Just for a few moments there you are in 1512, knowing why Michelangelo did it.  I bet he shoved the painty rag in the back pocket of his jeans feeling very pleased with himself and then eased his girdle down and had a cup of tea, I know I did.


*My stairs do not have hernias, the lumps at the sides are entirely due to the carpet layers running out of sticky tape for the edges and hoping I would not notice.

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Egrets, I’ve had a few but then again…….

I typed this, in a rush, missing an R.

Of course, Frank Sinatra could have raised small white wading birds, though he would not have had long to do so, at least in the UK. Egrets were seen here in 1989 and Frank died in 1998.  So he would have been starting in his late seventies.  One can imagine him (well this one can, try a bit harder if you are having difficulty) standing in a little shack-like pigeon loft on stilts in the marshes, soggy up to the knees handing out damp breadcrumbs and being prodded repeatedly on the rump by hungry wading birds who had waded off behind him, searching for sticklebacks.

‘Egrets, I’ve had, ouch, gerroff!  Egrets, just wait will you?  Egrets I’ve, oh don’t lay your egg in the water, now it’s gone under…’

None of this happened at all, as far as I’m aware, mainly because I intended to write about regret.

Regret for past hurts perpetrated against you, is a serrated knife blade, shallow buried on a shifting sandbank.  There is no way of picking it up without cutting yourself, not even my way, and yet we do.  Your mind wanders into the maze and there you are circularly amazed, the injustice was staggering, the wound was deep and lasting and before you know it, there you are, hanging on to the cutting edge of imagination, lacerating yourself.

I have a tendency to go egret farming if I am peckish myself.  Currently plenty, as I am hoping shedding a few pounds will help my intestines.  Sometimes I do it if I am tired. Some do it when thwarted in the mental universe of present disappointments, egressing backwards, counting unhatched eggs in the water.

Almost everyone would do it trying to communicate with a demented person who was annoyed.  Especially if everyone else has mickeyed off, leaving you up to your knees in it, on a really bad day, up to your neck, and about to go down into the murk.

The care agency my mother chose to help her at home had many employees.  I met most of them.  One lady in  particular I couldn’t place.  She was a young, very substantial person.  Not just hefty, also quite tall.  She first came for lunch, early in my mother’s illness.  We sat at the dining table, making polite conversation.  I wondered what her speciality was.  She didn’t seem particularly insightful.

We met again some months later, when my mother was throwing a major wobbly.  My mother had hold of her walking stick, raised surprisingly vertically for a woman who often complained of the weight of a teacup.  She was shouting at me: I shall hit you!  I am going to strike you!  I will do it now!

This had been going on for some time when the large young lady was admitted to the house by another carer, strode into the lounge and, saying cheerfully, ‘Hello Jane,’ placed herself between me and my mother and the stick.  She was the bouncer!

For some time a bouncer has been required for SMIL.  Previously the mildest Christian person you could wish to meet, SMIL has had her walking stick removed from her because she was terrifying the other residents with it.  She pointed at everyone in the dining room with the stick, making threats, until several residents were sobbing in their cereal.

You may have read some months ago about a resident in a care home being murdered by another resident.  My mother had been in her care home just about a week when another resident stole her engagement ring and went round telling everyone she had a new silver ring.  It was not, it was a platinum ring with baguette sapphires.  The staff seemed unable to do anything about the theft, the thief was eventually moved to a more secure facility, my mother never got her ring back.  I have fully fledged herons on that incident.

SMIL is now in the more secure wing of her care home.  When I ring I can hear the tumult in the background.  I was advised the day before yesterday that SMIL was on the warpath and that speaking to her was not a good idea.

There is no doubt that the longer a demented person is in the familiar surroundings of home, the less mental agility is required from them and the longer they will remain relatively calm.  Every disease path is different, however.  My mother was difficult to begin with.  Maybe if SMIL had stayed at home longer she would have stayed calm longer.  Add to this the varying speed with which the malady afflicts sufferers.  Also, a pattern, familiar from care of my mother, is emerging with SMIL.  First she sleeps a lot, then she becomes aggressive, then an infection is evidenced.  It appears that the overstretched brain, fighting infection, cannot also control behaviour to socially acceptable levels.

One of the very obvious attributes of a disease that involves loss of memory, is that every day is a new beginning.  What happened yesterday, or, indeed, five minutes ago, to a demented person, is utterly unavailable.

What did you have for lunch yesterday?

Did you take a moment to remember?  Are you still unsure?

Now apply that to the demented brain over the whole of life.  Very frequently repeated memories, such as childhood and family, are paths so well worn through the growing grass of memory loss that they are still visible and revisitable.  What happened for the first time yesterday, such as being in terrible pain but unable to articulate it and instead threating people, or reacting with available aggression, will not make even a dent on the grass that will be there a few hours later.

The outcome for family members is first, not to take an umbrage or raise any egrets on anything at all that the demented family member says.  Doing so is utterly pointless.  Repeating back to the demented person what they have said is futile, it has gone from them completely.  Moreover anything said is the product of a diseased brain, nonsensical.

Secondly, a helpful comsideration is the realisation that the longer the sufferer can remain in familiar surroundings, the less stress there is on them and consequently on anyone they come into contact with.

Thirdly, if transferring the person to a care facility, try to discuss the possibility early enough to involve the sufferer and give them some choice.  Imagine if it were you and you were forcibly transported to a place where murderous people abounded.  How nuts would you go?

And, as always, recognise that, in the lottery of life, it could be you.  The murderous resident could be your family member.

It is beyond amazement that care home staff are often kind and dedicated professionals.  I have met few in the wrong job and very many in exactly the place the universe wants them to be.

I am currently speaking to SMIL when possible, which is if she is not asleep or on the warpath.  I haven’t stopped sending cards, or photos of the grandchildren.  Sometimes when words are a difficulty, a handmade card with a little bar of chocolate in it, says a lot.  If it were you, locked up with people being wary of you for some reason you couldn’t remember, a picture someone had made for you and a mouthful of chocolate, might jog your memory into knowing you were not forgotten.

If you are a family member, you cannot do better than your best.  You have to look after you first to be there throughout the illness of your demented person.  This usually means getting help of some kind.

Once you have done the best you can, feed no egrets at all.  Neither those sent flying in your direction by the demented person, or those you have hatched out yourself.

If bystanders who have never had a demented person in the family send flocks of egrets and other beaked birds in your direction, please refer them to eleven years of Dementia Diaries.  Here the emphasis is on assistance in the form of moral support for the most difficult situation you may ever have to deal with.  Just do it your way and feed no egrets.


This posting may or may not be lobbied outside of the council offices by the local branch of the Stretched Metaphor Society and its popular publication Force Feeding Little Similies for Pleasure and Profiteroles.

Posted in Dementia diaries., The parrot has landed. | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Clear out.

I am having a clear out.

I had a scan last week to determine whether my post-surgery problems are being caused by multiple hernias or the massive return of the adhesions.  The surgeon is hoping for adhesions which have to be postponed as long as possible until nothing works and desperation sets in.  I am hoping for hernias which can be mended soon but will leave me like a one woman landfill site with metal in my arm, plastic in my eyes and mesh in my stomach. All that’s missing is a seagull on my head.

So I am doing waiting for results, a miserable activity.  To distract myself I am having a clear out and hefting heavy boxes full of paper and card, absolutely the ideal activity for the herniated, in support of which I found 1980s shapewear at the back of a drawer, which, happily had not been chucked in a wardrobe clear out.  With my elastic knickers preventing my guts falling through holes I heft with a will.

Why did I buy all this junk?  More specifically, why did I buy all this junk and then complain I have no money?

Shopping telly.  Simultaneously utterly evil and lovely.  Lovely because, in theory you can send it back if you don’t like it.  This is a good thing.  I remember the bad old days of having to face down the evil bag working on the customer returns counter of the department store.  Frequently late middle aged with an iron grey, metal tight perm, a bifurcated moustache, and the rectitude that comes with having donated forty years of your life to rising from junior sales assistant to manageress of the returns department.

The most recent was encountered in a well-known high street store, from which I had purchased clothing for my then house-bound mother to try, on the understanding that it could be returned.  On the returns counter was you-know-who.  Such a fine specimen of the breed that she won effortlessly.

‘This garment has been worn!’

‘My mother tried it on, yes.’

‘And wore it.  There is fluff on the hem.  Look!’

‘I am sorry.’

‘We cannot accept garments that have been worn.’

‘I had to take it home for her to try on.  The other lady…………….’

You can imagine the full half hour.  In the end I dumped both garments in the charity box.  I only went back shopping to our local branch years later for SMIL.

Television shopping came as such a relief, I spend under the mistaken belief that I will remember to send it back, after I have worn it, used it and do not like it.  I recently bought a pair of PIR lights.  They were demonstrated inside wardrobes.  I wanted one for the porch, next to the keyhole on the front door and one for my bathroom.  My bathroom light is twinned with the fan.  At night the fan, next to the OH’s bedroom, is very evident.  So temporary blinding by the sensitive PIR light solves the problem, in theory.  In practice the light goes on for a few seconds then off.  Then on again when you move and then off.  Then on if you walk down the corridor.  It does it all day too, so it needs recharging every few days.  So I now have it permanently off.  We like the light in the porch, I hate the light in my bathroom, part of a two-part set.  The real dilemma is whether to keep the long cardboard box it came in, so it can be sent back, or chuck it into the recycling, because it is clogging up the garage along with numerous other cardboard boxes.

I do use cardboard boxes.  I send stuff to family members and am completely allergic to buying a new one for the purpose.  So I keep the boxes stuff arrives in.

As I do this frequently, you would imagine I would always have a box of the right size for the contents I intend to put in it, wouldn’t you?

Imagine away.  I also know that the suitably sized contents will appear five seconds after I have ripped a box to pieces and stuck it in the recycling.

Of course I am running a lockdown library which involves books from many houses locally being stored in the garage until they are sufficiently quarantined to be put out.  So space is at a premium.

I thought I might tidy my craft room (laugh now) by taking the metal chest of many drawers bought in a 2nd hand office sale years ago, out of the garage and putting it in the craft room to replace the really rubbish plastic chest of drawers that currently houses paints, dyes, moulds, and assorted junk.

In two days of hefting I basically relocated the plastic drawers to the garage and the metal drawers upstairs, managing only to jettison dust and some drawer labels.  Now, when I want some silk paint I’ll have to go downstairs to the garage.  Handy.

I always thought by remaining firmly in the 1960s as far as technology was concerned I’d avoid contributing to appliance landfill.  Then I bought CD’s to print out images to cut out with dies.  The manufacturers moved smoothly on to memory sticks and so did my computer, leaving me with large numbers of CDs I’d saved to enjoy later.  My cousin gave me CDs with family photos on them.  I squint along the grooves, if I’m feeling nostalgic.

In theory shopping telly with its wonderful returns policy circumvented the necessity of knowing thyself.  The anticipated joy of never having to wear clothing that was fine in the changing room but too tight, too scratchy, too riding up every time you breathed, too shrinking in the wash and just no good, in real life, was very beguiling.  I remember some dreadful clothing I was bought as a child.  I had a brown houndstooth check suit with a short sleeved top and a skirt that were edged with a brown trim made of razor blades.  I had red weals round my neck, arms and knees after half an hour.  I had to wear it until I grew out of it.  I grew slowly and still do.  Maybe that’s why I have lumpy knees now.  It’s an allergic reaction.

My basic problem is keeping stuff, in every way.  Clothing arrives, I like it so I do not wear it because it is new.  Crafting supplies arrive.  I like them but I have to wash the kitchen floor before I will allow myself to play with the stuff, then I need to wash the old clothes, then vacuum, then I am too tired to do anything, then it is bedtime.

There’s probably a syndrome for it.  One day I will buy something, use it instantly and enjoy it and then throw the leftovers away. Then I wouldn’t have to have clear-outs.

Dream on.

On the other hand I am currently wearing a jumper I bought in a sale three years ago, for the first time, it is extremely orange, very warm, and the taint of spending money on clothes just for myself appears to have evaporated in the wardrobe.


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The frosty village rides again.

Many recipients of the frosty village chose to make it after Christmas day, in that lull that occurs before we start breaking New Year’s resolutions.

As a result I am still receiving frosty village images, if you have one to send, please do, it’s never to late to enjoy the limited fame that is available here.  In fact it’s absolutely ideal.  You’ll be world famous but don’t have to trash a hotel room, falsify your tax return, or be followed on the street by wishers of any complexion.

Sue village

Here is Sue’s very neat frosty village.  I am unable to adjust the size of this photograph, which was in the body of the email.  I hope your device will do the job.  If you are sending pictorial thingummyjigs and would like them biggerised, please send them as attachments, remembering that my new computer is quite clever but the component located between the chair and the keyboard is the same old same old.

Not only is Sue’s village enviably neat and well organised


so is the sideboard!  This is at Christmas, dear reader.  Observe the lovely counterpoint of the lit twigs in the vase balancing the lights in the village.

This is clearly the counterpoint to a competent Christmas.  I have ambitions to have one of those, but I think it’s unlikely.  I rarely get to make  up or play with my own cards having made them for everyone else, so if you are hoping to see my frosty village, hope away, and this year, after the family left, I found half the food I intended to give them at the back of a high shelf of the fridge.  The holiday round here is spent in a welter of wrapping paper and piles of toys.  Happily this year much of the wrapping paper in the shops was recyclable.  Decorations are the same ones from up in the loft, plus a couple of new wooden ones this year.

Let’s face it, I am never going to be one of those who put a tree up early in November.  I did once do all the buying and packing in October and then wondered what to do with myself in December.  It’s deadline fever, nurtured by so many years of magazine writing, that sometimes found me writing a pantomime in a heatwave.  In fact, that’s why got started.  Artisans I interviewed didn’t get their artwork published until six months after they had sold it and were on to something else.  They asked for some means of instant  pre-show publicity and what they got was me.

So, on to the new year.  Round here we are having a lot of rain.  Is this the rain that was so fervently wished for during the heatwave, slow to arrive because of the transport strikes?

What else did you wish for last year?  How would you feel if you got  a lot of it this year?


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Post holiday blues.

The world to SMIL is currently antagonistic and overwhelming.  She is reacting with aggression, fairly predictably.

I thought I could see it coming.  For a few weeks before Christmas the nursing home was doing its best to make sure the residents did not miss out.  There was a lot of special everything going on.  The close-living family joined in.  For a week before, all over Christmas week and the week after, when I rang daily, either someone was there, or a visitor had just left or a couple were arriving.  Not just for SMIL.  Covid restrictions had been lifted; relatives of all and sundry were there in droves. 

This continued until SMIL lost her rag and bit the visitor of another resident.  She was subsequently moved to the more secure area of the nursing home and can no longer talk on the phone, just screech and gibber.  I hear the staff talking to her very calmly and can hear her reacting inappropriately and with aggression; she is as demented as she has ever been.

I recall the Christmas that I had to cancel for my mother, on doctor’s orders.  ‘Are you going to continue until she kills someone?’ the doctor wanted to know.  The food was in the fridge, the decorations were up, all was arranged.  What I hadn’t counted on was the four hour visit of two family members.  My mother ‘entertained’ and was subsequently so tired she couldn’t sleep and became hysterical.

If a family member had advanced cancer, or had just had a heart attack, no kindly disposed visitor would stay for four hours.  A very kindly disposed visitor might enquire first if the sick person was well enough for the visit at all.

An only child, used to being alone and quiet, having lost a son to suicide, endured a once in a hundred years pandemic, suddenly moved to a strange place and put in a home with many strange others, many of whom are also demented and dangerous, and then inundated with vast numbers of visitors, all keen to make up for the Christmases when visits were rationed because of Covid, this is SMIL.

A person who has lost their words, who cannot remember what happened this morning, or what day it is, who can only communicate physically, who cannot remember where the toilet is, or if they need to go, in a room full of strange people, this is SMIL.

No wonder she became aggressive.  She lacks the words to ask them to all go away and make it quiet.  She cannot communicate her distress at the noise, or the busyness.

Have you ever had very bad flu?  The bit where all you want to do is lie down in a darkened room with a hot drink and a box of tissues?  Now imagine, instead of that, that you are forced to entertain a room full of loud strangers but that you cannot speak and no one would listen anyway but treat you like an idiot.

What would you do?

By my mother’s last Christmas I had learned what to do about Christmas for the demented.  I rote-learned her, wrote notes and letters and repeated the programme of events endlessly.  The deal was that she didn’t have to do anything.  Nothing at all was expected of her.  If it was all getting too much she was to ask for her meals in her room in quiet.  On Christmas day we would arrive in the afternoon.  We being the OH, me, The S&H, his bride, the GDD and the gifts.  My mother had been given an elf to give to the GDD.  Christmas would last an hour until the cakes and tea came round and that was it.  After that bed was suggested, or an evening meal if she could be bothered.

And it went like clockwork.  You can scroll down five years and read all about it.  An hour, which in the end was just over the hour, was enough for a person with advanced dementia to cope with.  As it was there was a fight over the elf, which my mother had taken a shine to.  The GDD, under two at the time was the star turn, being very funny with a Santa hat, taking it on and off and saying: BOO!  This level of interaction my mother could appreciate and cope with splendidly. In retrospect the GDD had all my genes and played to the audience like a good ’un.

If you have a demented person suffering from too much Christmas and you are getting the back-lash, I suggest you accept it as a learning curve and plan the next family event as boringly as possible.  Meanwhile for the overstretched, demented, exhausted sufferer, the very best medicine is quiet and vast amounts of nothing at all happening.  Ideally back to the most routine routine there can be.  Get up, eat, sit, eat, sit, go to bed.  Repeat.

If you are the provider of Christmas for your family, have you recovered from the providing yet?  Have you taken the decorations down?  Are you glad to get back to normal?  Now imagine all that you did if you had to do it unrecoverably ill.

Sometimes less really is more.

I hope a lot of quiet and sleep will help SMIL.  Currently phone calls are very brief, just to reassure her I am still here but it is still upsetting to hear her screeching.  I ask if she is well enough to speak and if I am told she is asleep or unable, I ask the member of staff to give my love at an appropriate moment.

Contact with a distressed demented person can be draining but do not give up.

It could be you.  Be glad of every day that it is not.


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The Frosty village mark 2

Esther kindly sent pictures of her frosty village, here it is:


Isn’t this lovely?  Look, there’s even someone skating on the pond!

Esther improvised when a roof turned up missing, she made a new one by herself.  Very clever, I think, and how nicely she’s coloured in the houses that started off white.


Esther is going to pack the village away carefully, so she can retrieve it next year.  It looks very peaceful and well organised.

We’ll have to see what state the world is in when we get to December 2023; if it turns out to be any more rubbish than it already is, we could do worse than go and live in Esther’s village.


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Happy new erk!

When I was young in hard-drinking Geordie Land, you hoped on January the first, early morning, to still be up and dancing, which, usually I was.  Any adverse effects, it was hoped, could be postponed, or utterly recovered from in sleep, or in the obligatory bracing New Year’s Day dip in the North Sea.  Anything untoward was jolly bad luck.  I have had some of that over the years but…

This year I excelled with a trip to hospital.  Not suffering from the effects of celebration but post-surgical complications, which had been building for a few weeks.

When I vomited last night it was not the effects of drink, or anything I had eaten, because I had not.  I was terrified I had the adhesions back and rang 111, the emergency National Health advisory service.

Yes I rang for help at half past ten, on New Year’s Eve.  Will I never learn?

I have done a bit, perhaps.  Advised that the wait to speak to someone medically qualified could be lengthy, I went to bed.  I was finally rung at eight in the morning and advised, after a chat, to go to A&E within the next hour, in a rush.

Thoroughly alarmed I got there in an hour, showered, washed, dressed, bag packed but left in the bedroom.

Hurry up and wait.  Three hours later I saw a doctor, who had two opinions.  1) It could be the adhesions back again but was more likely to be a hernia or two and 2) It would be wiser to attend the scheduled appointment on Thursday than be admitted today when hospitals have a hung-over, overstretched, skeleton staff, you’d probably be better off if the cleaner (if you can find one) did your hernia.  (That last bit after the comma, is my interpretation of her facial expression – she was very expressive.)

Oh, happy flipping new year, this is so exactly not my idea of a good start to the year.

However, as I have pointed out in the past, it has only been the start to the year since the eighteenth century.  Prior to that the year began much more sensibly in March, when the astrological calendar gets going, the earth is waking up, the little birdies are singing and the lawn is sprouting a healthy crop of dandelions.

So I’m beginning my year then and counting this as a hangover from last year, when, come to think of it, in March, my physical problems really got started.

So Happy New erk, go back to bed (I am.)


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One of the sadnesses at the end of every year is to say our goodbyes to those who will not go into the new year with us.

This year I am sad to say goodbye to two great miniaturists, who died this autumn.

The first was Lawrence St. Ledger, seen at many shows with his wife Angela and so popular at Miniatura my best chance to see what was on his stall was often early in the morning before the visitors arrived.

Lawrence made many exquisite miniatures out of various materials, especially metal, but by far the most popular, the new versions of which were avidly anticipated by collectors, among whom I count myself, were the marvellous miniature automatons.  These, made out of baked bean tins actually worked by means of tiny metal handles on the side.


The skeleton played the piano, the harlequin popped out of the box, Elvis jiggled his hips, Wilson Keppel and Betty did the sand dance and many many more.

For a few months before the Min I used to eat baked beans. Lawrence preferred the small tins, so I duly ate, washed and did not crush the tins and bore them in triumph to the show, so that Lawrence could engineer them and Angela paint them and between them produce minute mechanical marvels.

The second goodbye is to the great Terry Curran.  Here he is at Miniatura setting out his stall with the help of his wife, Kay.


When I call Terry great, this is not just my opinion.  I once visited his house in Sheffield to  buy a kiln from him.  Terry showed me a coffee table book of great British Potters of the 20th century.  Terry was in it and, needless to say, the only potter to be featured working in miniature.  His lidded apothecary jars, which you can see on the shelf below Kay’s hand, were ripped off, so good they were taken to the far East and copied, with the lids stuck on, and sold world wide.  Terry was very annoyed, it’s just the sort of accolade you don’t want but it does prove that anyone could see how perfect his pots were.  He inscribed love notes to his wife with a pin, on the bottom, inside, of every pot.  He laughed and said no one would every know unless they broke the pot.  If you have one of Terry’s pots, don’t break it, you’ll never get another, but I promise you Kay is in there.

If you visit Miniatura, in the spring, keep an eye out for craftsmen and women with world class skills using them to make marvels for collectors in miniature.  If either of these craftsmen had been working in full size, they would, without a shadow of a doubt, be famous and their work in major museums world wide.  Both exceptionally modest people, they just put out their wares at the Min and sold them to collectors for pocket money prices.


This is the essence of the hobby, and why I love it and love the people who make tiny things with consummate skill and great love.


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The in between days.

What do you do on the days between Christmas and new year?

I know what 58 people will be doing, they’ll be doing my Christmas card.

As you know, if you are a regular reader, these have been getting more extravagant over the years.  The lockdown card was a theatre, actors and a play, last year’s was a house to decorate for the holiday, this year’s was a frosty village to build.

I left it a bit late to start producing, though it had been designed in my head for over a year.  The village consisted of houses, cut from the Tim Holtz village dies, in the smaller size, a base, a frosty top, lights to sandwich between the two and poke up into the houses.  Where you put the houses and how you decorated them was entirely individual, and the project just the job for the boring in between days.

I nearly didn’t make them, I had a couple of poorly days at the start, then got RSI and a swollen wrist from sticking 500 houses together but I carried on until the job was done, then, brilliantly, we had the postage strikes, but most recipients got them and were invited to send pictures of their finished villages to be featured here.

First up is Lucy, who sent photos of the work in progress


as you can see she added snow


and did plenty of artwork, and the finished result was


absolute magic!

More pics, if, as and when.


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