Friday, June 20, 2008

Reason to Smile

Reprinted here from Karen McVeigh's piece in the Guardian. Cheered me up no end:

The son of an elderly widower who could not find a drinking buddy has provided him with two new companions after advertising the post at a rate of £7 an hour, plus expenses.

When he moved from a flat to a care home 20 miles from his old stomping ground of Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire, Jack Hammond, 88, a radar technician during the second world war, struggled to find someone suitable to have a beer with.

As a last resort his son Mike, 56, put a notice in the post office asking for someone with similar interests or background to accompany his dad, a former charge engineer at a Lancashire power station, to the Compass Inn in Winsor, twice a week for a couple of hours.

He was so inundated with offers - including one from a 16-year-old - that he interviewed candidates by phone before asking a shortlist of three to join him and Jack for a trial drink. The successful pair, Trevor Pugh, 78, a retired kitchen fitter from Southampton with a military background, and Henry Rosenvinge, 58, a former doctor, will now spend several nights a week with Jack chatting about military history and current affairs.

Pugh said: "I like having topical discussions and meeting new people and I'd be happy to take him down the pub and enjoy a chat ... we are both ex-army so we have that in common."

He will accept the £7 an hour to boost his pension, but will not claim the expenses.

Rosenvinge, from Lyndhurst, Hants, will do the job for free. He said: "He has a lot of stories and we are both from Lancashire so we have a lot we can argue about. I'm looking to come once a week for a couple of hours but we will be careful - we know what our limits are with alcohol."

Jack's son Mike, a chef in Brockenhurst, has no regrets. "He would rather have found his own friends, but he is limited in what he can do. It has opened a Pandora's box about what happens when you lose your independence ... care homes offer trips to garden centres but don't really cater for individual needs."

He said his dad was too old-fashioned to consider going to the pub with other residents because all but one were women.

"Ideally, he wanted me to take him out seven nights a week, but as much as I love going for a pint with him I can only manage a couple of nights. He'll now be going several times a week - three with his new friends and twice with me."

When asked if his dad was happy, he said: "As people get older, they don't show their emotions as much. He's not showing he's happy, but before he was showing me he was miserable. He's not doing that any more and to me, that's well worth it."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I'm aware of my breathing, fast and shallow as I recline on the settee. There's a slight but uncomfortable heat where the back of my bare legs are in contact with the warm leather. My head is tilted to one side, the closeness of my ear to the seat-back allowing every tiny movement of my body to be amplified. I can hear my hair rustling, and think how strange that is. It feels like my senses are both heightened and dulled all at the same time.

With my head like this, all I can see, my entire vision, is on the other side of glass. Summer is approaching fast, and countless shades of green ripple gently as everything strains forward for the Sun's attention. A deep parallax of verdancy, from the cropped grass on the ground, through dirty nettles and tight shrubs, to streamlined conifers and taller trees, with the gaps of sky inbetween sometimes being obscured by even more trees behind.The overhang of the taller trees creates a darkened thicket nearer the ground, and it is this shrouded backdrop that highlights the activity in the air. Hundreds of gnats and other insects can be seen going about their business, reflected brightly in the sunshine. Tiny leaves swing to and fro, caught in long-abandoned cobwebs, and ever-nervous birds survey the goings-on from a bough.

If all of this activity has a soundtrack, I am oblivious to it, hearing only the sound of blood rushing in my head, and still the rustling of my hair.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Rest Stop

The fire escape is old, but has been repainted in dull primer, hiding the rust. She steps out of the window onto the metal platform, dressed for the sudden onset of hot weather in a short denim skirt and brown vest. Work is dispatched first, with an array of humdrum washing being arranged carefully on a drying rack. Then comes the reward; five short minutes spent in the warm sunshine. She sits on a step of the metal stairs, attempting to light a cigarette in the gentle breeze with a rhythmic click click of her failing lighter. Eventually the end glows satisfyingly and she pockets the lighter. With the nicotine comfort coursing through her she relaxes further, and sliding down an extra step her feet are now propped against the lip of the platform. A lovely posture. The cigarette is finished and she dreams she were far away from here. Far away from terraced housing and a weed-strewn garden. She tilts her head back and the sun tickles her throat. She wishes it was soft water from an azure sea. A thoughtful smile brightens her hard-working face for just those last few moments. She stands up suddenly and steps back through the window opening. A soft click of the latch, and she is gone.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I'm sitting here, plain T and jeans. Johnny Cash is looking at me in craggy black and white. So is George Harrison, and Kathryn Williams too. A stag party from last year (me included), sits next to a school photo from 20-odd years ago (me included). James Stewart peers at me through binoculars. Dido sits in a taxi wearing a military jacket, whilst Margaret Lockwood, looking cute as a button, enjoys a joke with Alfred Hitchcock. Keith Moon clutches a champagne bottle, and I get to eat beans on toast. With grated cheese.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Condensed from today's Guardian, by Polly Curtis. There's a link to the original piece at the end.

Adults are to blame for a decline in children's happiness because they control a commercial world which "rams celebrity down children's throats", according to the head of an inquiry into primary education.

There is widespread anxiety among adults about a perceived loss of innocence among children, but most children have a more optimistic outlook on their lives, Cambridge university professor of education Robin Alexander told a conference yesterday. Fears about the condition of childhood were being fuelled by adults' own sense of guilt about the social and environmental legacy - as well as the commercial pressures - they had created for their children, he said.

Alexander said people should not be nostalgic for a 1950s idea of childhood and called for less "alarmist talk" about children's lives, which he blamed on the "projection onto children of adult fears and anxieties, not least about the kind of society and world which adults have created". Instead adults should look at their own influence on children's lives, he told the Childhood, Wellbeing and Primary Education conference, hosted by the General Teaching Council.

"It's adults who, via the media and advertising, daily ram celebrity down children's throats; it's adult commercial values which create the junk food which contributes to obesity, and the alcohol ocean which fuels teenage binge drinking; it's adults who vote into power governments whose policies exacerbate rather than reduce inequality; it's adults who take nations into wars in which children are among the most prominent and tragic victims; and I guess - though I've not seen any analysis along these lines - that the carbon footprint of adults is far greater than that of children," he said.

"On this basis, adults may well feel not just anxiety about the society and world in which today's children are growing up, but also a degree of guilt about the social and environmental legacy which today's children have no choice but to inherit."

Original article HERE.