Thursday 11 May 2023

I heart you

 I have been pondering 🤔 this week about ❤️. When should we use the icon above a like - when we really ‘love’ a post we add it or when we want to send a special message to show the person we are thinking of them or to reflect our feelings. But then I thought

why is it this shape when it looks nothing like our actual heart and how did the heart become associated with love anyway? 

Evidently it was the Greek philosophers who agreed the heart was linked to our strongest emotions, including love. Aristotle, for instance according to academics, granted it supremacy in all human processes. Passion is not only linked to love, but also temper and obsession. 

One of the earliest representations of the heart shape is on a coin found in an ancient Roman city now in modern day Libya dated 500 years or so BC. It depicted the seed of a large plant part of the fennel family, Silphium, which was thought to be  extinct until last year. Records suggest that it became extinct because it was over cultivated to meet demand owing to its use as a contraceptive 😀 In 2022 however a chap reckons he found it again in Turkey where goats love it and become sneezy and sleepy after eating it! So here endeth today’s history lesson.

Wednesday 10 May 2023

Eulogy - My Ma


It is so wonderful to see all of you here today, you can’t imagine how precious that is to us and would be to mum and thanks to new technology we have friends and relatives from all over the world zooming in to today’s celebration of mums life from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Sri Lanka. New technology was something mum embraced. She always had a great thirst for knowledge. It was thanks to new technology that she linked up again with one of her favourite cousins whom she thought lost forever, Eve in New Zealand and sharing memories about their childhood has brought her great joy in the latter years of her life. When they were young Eve said they dreamed of being the next Margaret Lockwood, who I think was from the same neck of the woods in South London, and going to Hollywood. It was thanks to new technology that through mums efforts we were able to trace my dads great niece Vera in Hawaii. 

But even before new technology it was thanks to mums inquiring mind that we were able to find out so much about my father’s ancestors, the Nicholls of Chester, Ma Hla, our Burmese great grandmother, the Cowells and the Backenburgs in Burma and Madeleine De la Chappell my father’s great greatgrandmother. Her sister, my Aunt Joyce had already set her a good example by finding out so much about their side of the family, the Perretts and the Blessedsetc. Yes we are distantly related to Brian Blessed. No surprise there I hear you say due to the size of our gobs! 

My mother was smart. As with her five brothers and sisters they were all bright but they did not have the benefit of the kind of education we have today. If you wanted to read a book you loaned it from the library. There were no shelves stacked with books at home. These were luxuries. But there was one book which mum did have as a childI think she may have won it as a prize for some work at schoolI don’t know. But it must have been this book that fired her imagination and love of writing stories, poetry and of course bringing characters to life on stage. She kept this book for years. She would read stories from it to us as children in fact it was so well read it began to fall apart and I don’t know what happened to it. But in the last few years mum and I spoke about that book. I said why don’t you see if you can find it on the internet. Indeed she did and here it is! The Young Omnibus with illustrations just as I remembered them. In particular I loved the Snow Queen and the way mum read it to us. In the last few days as I flicked through its pages I realise how much this book contributed to mum’s creative talents. 

Sadlymum was put off school when as a young teenager she entered a poetry competition and the head mistress dismissed it claiming she couldn’t possibly have written it. No one stood up for mum. She would go on to spend her dinner money on a fag and a bun, her words, and left school at 14. She would have loved to have gone to drama school but as she said people from her background just didn’t. However, she may not have followed the likes of Dame Eileen Atkins on to the professional stage, but as we know she went on to bring so much joy for people here through her talents on the local stage. She didn’t make it to Hollywood, although she had the talents and the looks! Instead she ‘made it’ to the Oxmoora world away from the big lights of London Town which she loved so much. She felt like she had been shipwrecked on Robinson Crusoe’s Island, a pantomime she would go on to write, and in the first few years it was difficult but she would fill the hours of home sickness with us her children cutting out and making up scrapbooks, we had children’s encyclopaedias, eye spy books, all sorts to encourage us to read and to inspire and provoke our imaginations. The Oxmoor was what was described then as an overspill estate for people who couldn’t find homes in London. The locals called it The Spill. Mum used to say I haven’t spilt over from anywhere. But mum and Huntingdon grew to love each other over the next 60 years and Mum would ferociously defend the town and was ambitious for its welfare and that of its townsfolk. 

My mother and father created a wonderful home for us, one not blessed with many luxuries but rich in many other ways, and one in which our friends were always made to feel welcome. When she got the opportunity to help out with script writing for a pantomime when I was at Huntingdon County Junior School she jumped at the chance to rekindle her love of performance and with her friend Gladys Meredith another parent she wrote and directed pantos at the school from 1974 to 1987 as well as lots of summer sketch shows raising thousands of pounds for the school, but importantly giving youngsters and families live entertainment that many of them would not have access to otherwise. She went on to grace the boards of Brampton Park Theatre, the Burgess Hall with the Centre Players, Panto 89 at the Commemoration Hall and with Shakespeare at the George. 

We followed in her glorious footsteps, Martin to study Drama and acting at Bretton Hall, myself to study Drama and Directing at Homerton, Cambridge, and Tiffany to study at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama; Patrick plays guitar in a band, Joss is expressing his creative talents through the decks, and Rory and Torin, well they are just natural comedians! Because it was of course comedy that mum loved the best. We will remember her Dames, her Lady Bracknell, her Wicked Witches, her Mistress Overdone, and who could forget her in Arsenic and Old Lace. All roles mum played were adored by us all, but none so much as my father, she was on stage as in life, his darling Pamela. 

In the last few weeks you all have described mum to us as warm, funny, intelligent, strong, witty, and with a great zest for life. She had overcome breast cancer, lung cancer and had lived with leukaemia since 2013. Where did that spirit come from? Perhaps it began when as a five year old she ran down a street near her home alongside her Aunt and baby cousin in a pram escaping the machine gun fire from a plane of the Luftwaffe during WW2. The pilot was so close she can remember seeing him clearly and she showed me during a recent visit back to the area, the wall behind which they hid. 38 children playing in the school playground nearby were not so lucky, and were all killed. There is a memorial to them in Hither Green Cemetery, where my grandparents are buried.

When Covid was diagnosed she was scared and frightenedbut she faced it with the same tenacity determined to do her utmost to fight it. She did not want to become a Covid statistic. In the end it was a battle she could not win. We could only hug her through PPE, and face screens meant we could not kiss her. In the last hours of her life we were able to sing to her and play musicbut we were only allowed to be with her two at a time. 

The memories, the photos we now share will help us to move on from the trauma of those last few days. The wonderful life she shared with us all. For me personally as you know she has been my rock since I lost Andrew, not Just for me but for Rory and Tiffany, and I know how proud she was of the caring, committed hard working young people they have become, as their dad would be. When I almost lost my life in 2012, she and dad were there by my side every day. Because I couldn’t eat or drink my skin was like sandpaper and she would moisturise my legs and arms every day as if I was her little girl again. But mums warmth and kindness extended to you, all her old work colleagues Jean, our school friends, the pals she shared the stage with, and relatives, her sister Audrey, Aunty Eileen, Ann, she was not just an aunt to her many nieces and nephews but one who could be counted as a friend and a best one too. 

A friend who now lives in Australia wrote to us“Your mother was a beacon of kindness and good humour, whose affection and great humanity shone through her every interaction with others. As a young man far away from home, as I was when I first had the good fortune to meet her, she was always so kind and understanding. Years later, when I was to return to Cambridgeshire, much had changed, she, thankfully, had not.”

Another said, “I am so glad that the last time I saw Pam I sat next to her on the wall outside our house waiting for you to get the car…we reminisced about the past…I told her she has always been like a surrogate Mum to me…and that I loved her very much and gave her a big hug…had no idea of course that I wouldn’t see her again…but it has made me realise the importance of telling people you love them when you can!!!

My forever friend, “I Have Such Fond & Happy Memories Spending Most Weekends At Yours.YourMum Was Like A Second Mum To Me In My Teenage Years Always So Welcoming, Full of Fun With A Wonderful Energy Bursting Into Song At The Drop of A Hat x She Also Helped Me To Bed On More Than One Occasion !” 

And another, you know who you are. “Your family have always been an extended family to me. Lots of great memories and both your mother and father were always willing to feed a bunch of drunk teenagers after midnight. Your loss is also a loss to many people.” 

The next song “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” was used by mum a number of times in her pantos. You can imagine mum singing it with the same gusto as Bette Midler. With words written by the great Stephen Sondheim I think it encapsulates mums great and everlasting spirit. Please join in if you can. 

This is mums final bow but the show will go on through all of us! 

Curtain up, light the lights

You got nothing to hit, but the heights 

You'll be swell, you'll be great

I can tell, just you wait

The lucky star I talk about is due

Thursday 28 January 2021

A Barcode on My Bottom

So I awake to find a barcode on my bottom. 

Stumbling still half asleep to the ensuite, I discover a sticky label on my right cheek. I pull it off and find a barcode. 

Where did that come from? Off my jar of night cream perhaps, used the previous evening in the vain hope that in the morning my skin will look 'new and improved'?

Or could it be a sign that 'something wonderful is just around the corner  . . . "?

I later reveal to friends I have found a barcode on my bottom. 

"I did not know you were for sale," says one. "I am to the highest bidder," I reply. He offers me a quid.

Another says: "Where should I swipe my credit card?" 

A third says: "Can you give us a tune? A cracking little cheeky number?" We have been friends since junior school, and still share a childish joy in toilet humour and fart jokes. 

My travelling companion who joined me on a trip to the Canaries last year, quips: "Oh, I am glad you have found it at last. It's been there since Tenerife!"

A lovely cousin is kinder, telling me not to worry as I have some fine A Grade rump for sale. She is waiting for a cataract operation. 

As access to usual haunts for the enjoyment of alcohol is impossible in these lockdown times, another friend suggests the barcode could be for exclusive entry into my favourite wine bar.

Perhaps the numbers on the barcode could be lucky? It's been a few years since I have bought a lottery ticket, but off I go to the supermarket.The assistant has to show me how to fill out the form for a ticket. 

I purchase not just one Lotto ticket, but a 'Set for Life' and a Euro Million’s tickets too. Having downloaded an app i check my bottom barcode numbers at the appropriate time. A message pops up on my mobile phone  'no matches'. Bummer! But the Lotto reveals I have won . . . a free lucky dip. Underwhelmed but ever hopeful, I go back to the supermarket and buy another ticket with the free lucky dip . . . and win  . . . £30! 

I buy more tickets using the same ‘barcode on my bottom numbers’ plus another lucky dip, wine and chocolate. 

Will my bottom grow even wider under lockdown? Will additional sticky barcodes on my bottom strike lucky? You've got to be in it to win it! 

Sunday 19 May 2019

My Dad - A Tribute

The tribute I wrote and read at my father's funeral in April. Some of which includes references to memories in earlier blogs. I shall continue to feature my stories here. 

When Dad took his last breath and slipped out of this world on March 14, being with him became one of the defining moments of my life. As he lay there I did not see the elderly man locked in the fossil of Dementia which had become his prison. I saw the boy running free around the streets of Rangoon, Burma, boxing and wrestling, and swimming in Great Lakes with his friends. A time and a land, with its pythons and tigers and golden Buddhist temples, so very different from our own.

I saw him with his sisters and brothers, and his nieces and nephews, singing along and dancing around a gramophone player. This vivacious family one of many in their mixed community described as the cafe au lait of Burma because of the colour of their skin, prejudices as described by writer H E Bates in the Jacaranda Tree. I feel proud today dear daddy to be one of your offspring and the clan of cafe au lait!

As he lay there I saw him and his niece Diddy, only three years younger than he, as children carrying a pole over their shoulders with a great bag of money dangling from it as they tried to escape with their family when the country became over run by the Japanese. The pole and bag eventually left in the jungle as they become too exhausted to carry it anymore.

I saw the boy watch helplessly after they were captured as his baby niece Clare and then his father died from disease.  The mischievous boy aged 12 who suddenly had to become the man of the household alongside his elderly and frail mother, sister Theresa and nieces Diddy, Ann and Collette.

As he lay there I saw the boy named Taro (brave boy) by the Japanese officer Capt Tomamoto educated in America who befriended Dad, the officer who tried to protect him when he was badly beaten by another after putting a fly down the back of his shirt for a joke.

I saw the boy who become a man when aged about 16 he packed his rucksack and jumped on a lorry to take him to the city to find a job, his nieces weeping at his departure, after he heard during the same evening his doctor brother in law complain to his wife about all the hangers on living with them after the war.

I saw the young man who had by now lost both parents with letters in his wallet from his mother and a book of prayer dated 1948 from his Aunty Kitty, both of which I have here today, arriving at the docks in Tilbury, England. I saw the man he became looking cool and sophisticated in the best clothes his money could buy going to jazz clubs, Maxine’s and the Tahiti Club in London, and then being captivated by our beautiful mother who he met at a new year’s eve party. We still have the love letters he wrote her on the back of Senior Service cigarette packets. 

As we left the former old vicarage looking over green fields where Dad spent his last days and took his last breath, I thought about his very own unique circle of life. The trouble he sometimes had fitting in. If my London-born mother felt like a square peg in a round hole where we grew up as children on a large council housing estate in Cambridgeshrie, you can imagine how he felt. But he and mum made it our home, the home where all the kids on the block were welcome to come and play and did many times, and have a lick of the curry spoon on a Saturday night.

I can hear dad now singing affectionately to me as a small child ‘Little Coquette Why You Keep Foolin, Little Coquette.’ I hear him telling me off in no uncertain terms when I misbehaved and how after he always came to my bedroom, where I had been sent, to sit with me among the sheets and blankets I had pulled off the bed in petulant rage, to talk about why I had been reprimanded. I remembered when as I grew up how Important he said it was for me as a woman to get a good education and a job to always maintain my independence. I recall how he wept and fell down on the bed where he was folding up laundry when I said I was leaving home to set up home with my boyfriend. I knew you would come home and tell me this one day, he said. I recall his joy at my successes and the despair he felt at my personal tragedies.

Dad in the last couple of years as Dementia stripped you of your personality you would sing over and over again the line from this song. 'Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain? As long as I can be with you it’s a lovely day.' I hope now somewhere in the midst of time and space you are eating see byan curry, boudee in the boungee, kow sway, mohinga and sagla chi, spending endless lovely days with your mum and dad, listening to Hoagy Carmichael or Al Bowlby on the gramophone - perhaps you’ve introduced them to the songs of Frank Sinatra or Simon and Garfunkel - in a house on the shores of Inle Lake or the Irrawaddy as the sun sets. Now wouldn’t that be a lovely day.

Saturday 27 January 2018

He's petrifying

He's petrifying my Pa - before our very eyes. He's becoming a fosssil, a fossil that leaks! It's so sad because as he has petrified we have not been able to say goodbye. We lost the man he was during his fossilisation and did not realise until it was too late. This is dementia.


petrifaction or petrification is the process by which organic material becomes a fossil through the replacement of the original material and the filling of the original pore spaces with mineralsPetrified wood typifies this process, but all organisms, from bacteria to vertebrates, can become petrified (although harder, more durable matter such as bone, beaks, and shells survive the process better than softer remains such as muscle tissue, feathers, or skin). Petrification takes place through a combination of two similar processes: permineralization and replacement. These processes create replicas of the original specimen that are similar down to the microscopic level.

My Pa's body has or still is being taken over by the fossilised version of himself. It is difficult to recognise the man he once was. And yet he is all too familiar to anyone who knows someone with dementia because they all begin to look the same. 

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Wonderful wonderful day

Warning. Don’t read this if you are about to eat or have a delicate constitution.

Dementia is shit. I mean sometimes it is simply that, shit. So this morning the upstairs toilet is covered in it. Looks like Dad just didn't get to the loo in time. This is when you regret having textured flooring so that it looks like wood!Cos the shit gets stuck in the grooves. Then it is on the cream carpet outside. Oops another bad design choice. What cleaning product to use on the carpet? I go for a good detergent and the loo brush. Then just when you think the loo is clean you find another load of shit down the side of it. And when you look at the light switch. More shit. There were also treads of a shoe in the shit. Find the shoe. More and more shit. Dementia is shit. But life isn't. We are lucky to have it. Most of what used to be my dad has left him and what he has been left with is shit. But we have to make the best of every day. This morning he does not want to get out of bed. I love you I say come and get up and have breakfast. No he says like a defiant toddler. So I play Wonderful Wonderful Day from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers really loud on my iPhone and leave it outside his room. He starts to get up.  It must be the lyrics I mean how could they fail "Ding dong, ding a ling long, were the steeple bells ever quite as gay".

Wednesday 7 June 2017

It's Easy to Forget

Some of you may have read this before as I wrote it for United Against Dementia Week

When I was little my Dad used to sing to me "my little coquette". He calls me "dear" now. "Thank you dear" he says. Because he can't always remember my name. When dementia takes over a person it's easy to forget the people they once were. My Dad was a tough little boy who didn't have it easy as a youngster. Aged 11 he was in a Japanese internment camp in Burma where a soldier called him Taro which he told me meant Brave Boy. His father died in 1942 and his mother just after the war. 

He came to the UK and was lucky to meet my Ma. He was handsome, debonair and an aircraft fitter, with a voice like Frank Sinatra. He cooked fabulous curries, our friends used to queue up to come round ours on a Saturday night. He was always sentimental and used to cry at movies. One bath night Sing Something Simple was on the radio and a song came on that made him cry. We asked him why he was crying. He said it reminded him of his brother Buster who had died in a diving accident. 

When we were poorly he would go to town and come back with Lucozade and a present to cheer us up. I used to think he was trendy because he liked Simon and Garfunkel and watched Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange at the Hippodrome. He would stay up late at night as he was an insomniac watching Indian films on BBC2. He would carry both my brother and I up the stairs to bed at night. Me on the front and my brother on his back saying "up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire!" I can remember him having chilblains on his feet I guess from working on a cold factory floor. One day when it snowed he went out walking in the snow in the garden to relieve the itching. He did strange things like make a contraption out of hankies to keep his hair flat after he had washed it. 

He was clever with metalwork, made a trolley to help move heavy things, ornate wrought iron work for the stairs, and a tray for the bottom of my little brother's pram. He was always tinkering with cars and even replaced a few clutches in his time with the help of books from the library and mates from work. He had a temper on him and could get really angry with us if we were naughty. But I remember he would sit down with me in my bedroom and "discuss" my bad behaviour and what I could do to in future to put it right. He always wanted me to do well at school because he struggled having no schooling himself between the ages of 11 and 15 due to the war. He also wanted me to have a profession as he felt it was important for a woman to be independent. A very political person, he spent the 1980s shouting at the telly at Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan as they appeared on the news. I remember when I told him I was leaving home to set up home with my boyfriend and he cried. How proud he was of us kids and all our achievements. I remember how much he loved my kids watching Red Dwarf with Rory or Barney the Purple Dinosaur with Tiffany. How proud he was when I received my degree from Cambridge aged 40! How beside himself with grief he was for myself and my children when I lost my husband aged just 48. He remembers none of this now.  
He has always enjoyed a flutter on the horses and can still walk to the bookies and put a bet on. But he does not know what he is betting on and he would walk there in his dressing gown and slippers with his hat on if we did not stop him. He cannot make a cup of tea or dress himself properly.  He will wake up in the middle of the night walk around the house and leave all the lights on, shout out, clap very loudly or sing "We'll Meet Again" very loudly. He'll open the doors to our bedrooms and say "what are you doing?" "We're sleeping Dad/Grandad" we reply. 

He will ask us who we are and what relationship we are to him. And then is upset because he is so sorry that he can't remember. It is difficult for us to remember who our loved ones with dementia once were when you live with the disease every day as it strips them of their personality. We had a lovely day the other Sunday. He sat in the garden with Ma and I asked Alexa to play some Frank Sinatra songs. She obliged as she always does. As I was cooking dinner I could see his feet tapping to the music. There are still traces of the old Jimmy left, Jimmy who took my mum to the Flamingo Club, or Maxine’s and sometimes to Ronnie Scott's to dance the night away in 1950s London. Jimmy who wrote love letters to Ma on the inside of flattened out Senior Service cigarette packs! I hope family and friends will join me united against Dementia for Jimmy and all those like him.

I heart you

 I have been pondering 🤔 this week about ❤️. When should we use the icon above a like - when we really ‘love’ a post we add it or when we w...