Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mrs Mokokoshewa Leaves Home

Soon,  Mr Landilesa Mximwa will drive up in his Backie to take Sarah  Bridges to the village school.  She has been sponsored  by the British Goverment to help Mr Maximwa and his Senior Mangement Team implement their school improvement plan at Lower Kroza Junior Secondary Secondary School, here in the Eastern Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa. It is the most surreal assignment she will ever undertake.  

Sarah is the guest of Mrs Nomtombani Alice Molimbile, for whom she is making tea. Mama Alice is seventy-four years old, and her body is wearying her now, though she still works from dawn to dusk, tending her garden and managing every aspect of this farm that is her home.  Five of her grandchildren are resident too, four have left to take the taxi to ‘The Little Flower’ High School in Qumbu.  Three year old Zenchose clambers up to the table and fixes Sarah with a wide-eyed stare, now more of curiosity than fear.  Sarah Bridges was the first white person Zenchose  had seen, and she  took a lot of getting used to. She is waiting for Sarah to play ‘Round and Round the Garden, Like a Teddy Bear..’ with her. This is their only  means of communication. Sarah carries over the tray.  Mama Alice is gazing at nothing. Her lips are drawn into a line, her breath a succession of sighs.

‘PROPER tea Mama.  Cold pot, three Five Roses tea bags, scalding water, HOT milk...’  Sarah learns, as well as teaches
“Thank you. my daughter.” Mama looks up, looks down, twisting a handkerchief round and round, knotting it in her hands.

‘Mama Mokokoshewa is only going to Bisho. You can take a taxi.  You will be able to visit.’

Gently, as if teaching a child, Mama Alice explains, “will go to my friend, but where will the ancestors stay? “
This is what occupies Mrs Mombilie’s thoughts and brings her grief.

‘Surely Mama, when YOU are an ancestor, YOU’LL stay in a flat?’

Mama snorts. They both know that ancestors attend weddings, funerals and, most lavish of all, the huge celebration that takes place when a Xhosa man comes of age. Ancestors will come and bless the festivities, but will only stay in round houses with thatched roofs.  It’s their way.

She reaches out and pats Sarah’s hand affectionately. 
‘Go now! He is here.’ She waves Sarah away, responding to the school principal’s shrill horn.

 ‘I’ll foot home,’ Sarah calls as she leaves. ‘Expect me at about five o’ clock!’

Zenchose puckers up her face in  disappointment at her departure, for the game denied, and climbs down from the table.  Mama sips her tea.

Close by, Mrs Voko Mokokoshewa sits disconsolately outside her home.  Wearily, her eyes scan the horizon where the village meets the road. She is waiting with a heavy heart for her eldest son,  Sicelo Mokokoshewa, the doctor, to take her to his fine  villa in  Bisho, where the Parliament sits.

This morning, every morning, Mrs Voko Mokokoshewa , has risen with the sun. She has drawn water from the rain-tank that abuts her earth-brown house.  She has washed herself, then yesterday’s clothes, which now hang in the yard above the reach of the goats.  She has swept clean the one room, the one round room that has sheltered her and her children and her few belongings for more than sixty years. She has eaten maize porridge for her breakfast, washed down with Xhosa tea, and for the last time, the very last time she has thrown husks to the chickens and shooed the geese from their pen.

Now she waits, still as a stone, and watches. She presses her hands together, her nails biting into her palms. Her long brown fingers curling and uncurling in her pale worn palms. With a sigh, she rises, moving to straighten her skirt as it falls beneath her knees.  Shivering against the chill July morning, she draws her blanket tightly around her shoulders as she stoops to enter her house.

Light on her feet, she leaves no mark in the dust as she steps over the threshold of her  home.  Everything she is taking away is packed in two cardboard boxes:  her good clothes, three new blankets, a set of glasses, a pretty plate decorated with a transfer of an English cottage garden, and a photograph, framed in black, of her beloved husband.
Mrs Mokokshewa will not take the battered table with its three rickety chairs or the chipped enamel stove.  These with the geese and chickens, bed and bowls, have been sold to her neighbour, and oldest friend, Mrs Nomantombi Molimbile,  who tuts with disapproval whenever she recalls the doctor-son with his wife, who has no tribe, and the flat house, without thatch, in Bisho.

This house, unneeded, unheeded, will dissolve back into the veldt.  It will become a skeleton of shapeless mounds of mud and mouldering thatch, then the ghost of a memory of a laughing man and his beautiful bride, who raised a home and grew a family here.

Dr Sicelo Mokoshewa is not a cruel man. He lowers his voice, reaching towards his wife. He is seeking to reassure her, to calm her. Mrs Pauline Mokokoshewa is shaking. She cannot bring herself  to look at her husband.

‘Momma is old, she is sick, she works too hard, she cannot carry on alone.’

‘And I?  Am I not growing older ? Have you not noticed? What about me? Our boys? What about them?’
Pauline’s voice rises with a passion that Sicelo has not heard before. Her Scots lilt punctuating her sentences, accentuating her anger. He sighs.

‘I am fetching her today.’

‘As soon as she sets foot in this house, I leave it!’

Softly Sicelo whispers, ‘She is my mother, I must do this.’

To his back, Pauline screams, ‘I hate her! I hate YOU!’

These words will pursue him all the way to his tribal home. The weight of them will beat down on him with the sun, but he will not waiver.

‘She is my mother, I must do this.’

‘Tata’, what would YOU do?’  His longing for his father, the Reverend Father Michael Zacomse  Mokokoshewa brings a lump to his throat and tears to his eyes.

Dr Moko’s memory of his father is of a huge man with a heart that held everyone, and a laugh that boomed through his childhood, as insistent as a call to prayer. Sicelo knows his father was a hero of the struggle against apartheid, but is too young to remember the gut-wrenching anxiety and sickening fear endured by his mother during  the four years  the courageous priest spent in prison  for his preaching.  He never spoke of it except to remark, as if joking, ‘I was rescued by Canterbury!’ 

More directly, of course, through the intervention of his own bishop, Desmond Tutu, who worked tirelessly to obtain Fr Mokokeshewa’s release.

Could Dr Moko summon his father’s courage? Will he incarnate the wisdom and compassion he has inherited?

The drive from Bisho to Lower Kroza will occupy five hours of  Dr Moko’s time. He speeds through the farmlands barely noticing the herdsmen or their scattered cattle.  He crawls through bright crowded towns bustling with street vendors, weaving through the people, horn blaring with unaccustomed irritation.

Sicelo reaches for the radio, desperate for something else to think about. 

‘Former President Mandela, recovering from the shock of the death of his granddaughter in a car crash last week, is retiring to his home in Qunu for a period of rest. All his public engagements have been cancelled.
And now, a round-up of the latest World Cup news beginning with a report of  yesterday’s spectacular victory by the Netherlands over Brazil  in the Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein.
An avid soccer fan, Sicelo might have listened eagerly to the sports news, but not today. He flicked off the radio and turned his attention back to the road ahead. 

Some three and a half hours from Bisho, on the N2, lies the town of Qunu.  It is unremarkable in every respect, except as the tribal home of  the location’s  most famous son.  Dr Moko will drive through it in a fifteen minutes time.  He will note the fine terracotta building behind the high wall and he will recall the owners’ insistence on the inclusion in the design of a rondavel in the grounds made of mud bricks and thatched in the traditional manner with grasses from the veldt. Dr Moko will  receive the germ of an idea that will bring the ghost of a smile to his face.
Here is the moment:

“Thank you Tata!” he breathes. He now knows what he must do.

Fifty kilometres from Lower Kroza:  Umtata.  A large, thriving, thrusting town, reasonably safe, if one is vigilant, with shopping malls and traditional markets side by side,  car showrooms and taxi-ranks cheek by jowl.  Dr Moko will not want to stop here, he will drive out to the Ultra City service station in the   University District where he will eat lunch at the Steers Diner and buy flowers for his mother. Then he will make two calls on his cell ‘phone.

Mrs Pauline Mokokoshewa loves her husband. Their marriage has weathered many storms and surmounted many difficulties. Race had never been one of them. The couple had met at medical school in Edinburgh and married  six years ago, within months of graduation.  Their families shared a confidence that these two would make a way through the complexities of  life in the new Republic that was emerging from the old regime.  No one thought it would be easy, just possible.

Pauline did not hate her mother-in-law. They were uneasy with one another, trying to reach out, each in her own way, but neither quite knowing how to find what was love in the other. It was in this discovery, that the essence of reconciliation would be distilled.  Pauline sensed this, but had no idea of how to make it happen.  She wept at the frustration of it all.  With the death of her father-in-law, to whom she had been devoted, the bridge between herself and Mama Voko had been swept away.

‘Tata, what would you have me do?’

The undulating rhythm of the ring- tone dedicated to her husband, broke her train of thought. Her heart leapt as she fumbled for her ‘phone. Apologies poured out of her as she slid it open.

Five minutes later, laughing, a huge weight lifted from her shoulders, Pauline puts the ‘phone down.

‘Thank you, Tata,’ she breathes, knowing what she must do.

Two hundred kilometres away, Sicelo scrolls through his contacts and places a call.

‘Good morning. Mr Mhalangala.’
Briefly. Dr Mokokoshewa explains his dilemma to the Province’s foremost builder; a grateful former patient.

In the traditional style?’
‘Local materials? ‘
‘Seventy-thousand Rand? ‘
‘By Christmas? ‘
Thank you!”
An appointment is made and a site visit arranged.  Snapping his cell shut, Dr Moko switches on the engine, adjusts his seat belt and completes the final leg of his journey, a much happier man.

Forty minutes later, the first Mrs Voko Mokokoshewa knows of her son’s arrival is a swirl of dust as his Mercedes, with minimal effort, breasts the rutted dirt road to her kraal.  Eagle-eyed and watchful, Mrs Molimbile leaves the shade of the ancient silver bean tree that shelters both farms, and draws to her friend’s side.

They have been united since girlhood, these two. Each sang and danced at the other’s wedding, shared the pain and joy of the deliveries of  the eleven children they had borne  between them, and, so recently, wept together at the funeral of Father Michael.  This will be a hard parting.

Yet Mrs Molimbile will refuse the offer Dr Moko is soon to make to her, to join her friend in the new round house that is to be built adjoining his home in Bisho. There are the grandchildren, still at school, to be cared for, and while she has strength, she will continue to grow her mealies and fatten her geese, here, in the village where she had been born.

Dr Sicelo Mokokoshewa has rehearsed his speech all the way from Umtata.  He tumbles out of his car, eager as a boy. He embraces his mother warmly.  He greets Mama Molimbile cordially. Before either of the women could open their mouths, he unfolds his plan.

“Yo! Yo! Yo!” 

Both women clap their hands in delight. A round house?  With a thatched roof? A home where the ancestors will not be ashamed to visit? 

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Dr Sicelo Mokokoshewa holds his mother tightly.  “For you Momma, for Mama Molimbile, for  our ancestors...”

With tears in her eyes Mrs Voko Mokokoshewa pulls away from her son and takes her old friend’s hands in hers.
“Sisi, I may have to stay here, with you, until next summer, but then...”

She pauses and turns her warm brown gaze towards her son,

“I am going home!”


I fixed the shower curtain back up just now.  My nearest 
and dearest frequently remark, just this side of 
admiration, that I don't know when to give up; it is truer 
to say,I believe, that  I do not know HOW to, which is 
sometimes problematical, but I have learned, for my 
sanity, not to look upon defeat as failure.

So this is the third time I have put the shower curtain 
up.  The first time was, with regard to longevity, the 
most successful effort to date. The drill would not 
penetrate,to any great degree, the hardboard that covered 
the ceiling.  I don't know why this should be so, however, 
it wouldn't, but for a fraction of an inch, three times, 
which was enough to screw in three small hooks to hold up 
the cord that held up the shower curtain and this for 
five months until a near and dear one decided to take it 
down to wash.  

The hooks fell out, wouldn't go back in, so that was that.

The second attempt was, and I am not ashamed to admit it, 
genius.  I could tell that what was needed was a rail, and 
such I could have contrived but for the sheer effort 

We are talking about a week ago last Thursday, and I am 
recently returned from camping in a field in a small tent -
 the tent being held up by two extending plastic poles 
made both rigid and flexible at the same time by an 
elastic rope that goes through them like Brighton through a 
stick of rock. Ah-ah!  and Eureka!  I stretchecd 
a tentpole across the space, first before, then after, 
threading the shower curtain through it. Voila!  

The crack and bang that served as a fanfare to the 
collapse of my ingenious artefact was spectacularly loud, 
though fortunately neither the bath nor its occupant 
suffered any permanent damage as the tent pole and shower 
curtain descended into the foam.

Today's effort was rather more prosaic.  If I tell you it 
required 3/4 yard of 60cm wide white sticky-backed plastic, 
53cms of double sided carpet tape and a pair of scissors, I 
shall leave you to work out how I did it.


Mama Alice


August. A winter-light, 
Blue-bright day. 
The first swallows, old friends,
Swoop a greeting over this
Dislocated stranger. 

Mama Alice takes my pale hand
In her careful brown one, and 
We walk. 

Here - the ramshuckle hen-house. 
There - the piecemeal cattle-shed. 
Past the patch where the 
Still-dead mealie stalks 
Lurch in drunken ranks. 
Round the rondavel, where the ancestors live; 
Through the flat houses Where the occasional grandchildren 
Come, and stay, and go. 
The wary dogs wag their tails 
And the geese, the BLOODY GEESE, 
Honk in utter disbelief.

But Mama holds me in her great black embrace, 
Sweeps a hand to the horizon and says: 
Wherever you are, Anywhere in the world, 
THIS is your home.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Because Everyone Has a Soul

When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

When death comes
 like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

 to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
 like the measle-pox

 when death comes
 like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

 I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

 And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

 and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

 and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

 and each body a lion of courage, and something
 precious to the earth.

 When it's over,  I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

 When it's over, I don't want to wonder
 if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

 I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

Mary Contrary (Re-Post)

Keeping Active

“Mary Ellen, You come back here, you little … ! Don’t let me have to chase after you!” I was in trouble; my mother, who loved me to distraction, only called me ‘Mary Ellen’, when I was in trouble. I didn’t care. I let the wind carry her protest away, and left her to do as she pleased.

 I recall this as the first day back at home, back on my feet , after a spell in hospital. I was five years old. I didn’t know that the cerebral hemorrhage I suffered, following a fall, had nearly killed me; I didn’t know the long sleep I had enjoyed had been a coma; I didn’t know the reason I limped, was because my left side had suffered paralysis. I only knew that the sun was on my face, there was grass beneath my feet, and I could RUN!

I have slowed down considerably over the years, due, in part, to a love of flowers. It’s not possible to study plants at speed, so now I potter, meander, ramble , and dart about between clumps of greenery with a field guide and a camera. An activity that barely looks like activity, and drives all my walking companions, but one, to distraction.

 A chocolate box 1950’s childhood, which mine was, was an endless exploration of the capacity of the juvenile human body to walk, run, climb, wade, swim and swing, in and out of trouble. My mother stopped chasing after me when I was about seven. She opened the doors of our council house at the foot at Robinswood Hill, on the outskirts of the City of Gloucester, and let me go: “Look after Adrian mind! And be home for tea!” My brother Adrian, was twenty months younger than me, and like me , a pirate, an astronaut a cowboy and a smuggler.

I recall in particular, a warm day in early May in 1959. I can pinpoint the time, because late primroses and early bluebells were scenting the woods and hedgerows, and, with Queen Anne’s Lace, in a haphazard bouquet I had picked to take home. By now, Adrian and I had explored ‘The Hill’ from base to summit; a gentle ascent of just over 600 feet. We were investigating a disused reservoir that we had recently discovered. It was hidden in plain sight, next to St Katharine’s Church, Matson, and a stone’s throw from Matson Lane.

 The object of our attention had been abandoned many years ago; it was a tangle of hawthorn, bramble and nettle, so overgrown, that it was only our persistence in conquering the rusting defences, that had led to us finding the water at all. The reservoir seemed huge to us, though it was probably less than thirty feet in diameter. The temptation to sail across it was irresistible; we were, after all, pirates.

 This was the day Adrian nearly drowned. Naturally, we told our parents nothing of this. A tale we decided that he had lived NOT to tell, in case our misadventure lead to us both being permanently grounded.

 It seemed that fate was lending a hand in our aquatic enterprise. An old zinc bath lay half-in, half-out , of the water close to the ‘shore’. It wasn’t easy to free it, but, eventually, we pulled it clear. It must have been filthy, but we were too excited to notice, and probably wouldn’t have cared anyway. Adrian, as pirate chief, took to the water first, and paddled confidently to the middle of the reservoir. At the point furthest from safety, the bath began to sink.

I was nine years old, and really didn’t know how to panic. Neither did Adrian. He paddled faster and faster, out-distancing the incoming water by a few feet, sufficient distance to sink the bath in water shallow enough for him to scramble to safety. For many years afterwards, mother recalled with fondness , the afternoon when her two oldest children squelched up the garden path, a rusting zinc bath oozing mud, and smelling of the ditch, roofing their heads. Two pairs of wellington boots protruded from beneath it, propelling it unsteadily forward. The story the mucky pair told to explain the fact that Adrian was soaked from head to foot, came nowhere close to the truth.

 My turn to take to the water came eight years later, when in the Sixth Form at Ribston Hall High School For Girls. I was offered the opportunity to exchange hockey, which I loathed, for rowing, which I was willing to give a go. A short cycle ride to the canal, eight swift strokes forward, and, freedom!

 My sporting achievements at school , up to September 1968, aspired to modest. I specialised in coming third in events that the House Captain couldn't get anyone else to enter, and I was easily persuaded . In 1965, I streaked away in the 100m hurdles shattering a personal best (never having hurdled before in my life). My proudest moment, however, was achieving 3rd in heaving this huge weight down the field; an activity that, to this day, I have to work hard at remembering if it's called 'shotting the put' or 'putting the shot'. Both work for me.

 In 1967, I missed a place in the School Swimming Gala by not paying full attention during the, 'Someone's got to do it', plea and diving in to swim a length in the wrong stroke. I thought at the time, and still do, that my willingness to take part, so vaunted in British sportmanship, should have been rewarded, at the very least, by an, 'Oh, I say, well done!'. But no, I was disqualified.

 I was not always an ‘also-ran’. Indeed, records show, that in July 1969, I was in the shell that beat Stourport in the final heat of 'The Ladies' Coxed Four' at Gloucester Regatta. I was ‘bow’, that is, position number one; rowing backwards at the front of the boat.

Records LIE. Stourport Ladies beat us by a canvas. (If we were horses, that would be ‘by a nose’.) The referee was either biased or blind. One of the Gloucester Men's Eight compounded the deception when he misdirected The Citizen sports reporter. This was almost certainly deliberately, because the Gloucester ladies' captain had chosen to row for Stourport , and there was, in consequence, a general feeling of miff around the boathouse. I have a photograph mother cut from the newspaper. I am leaning on an oar clutching my ill-gotten gain, a Prinknash Potttery tankard. I cherished it for years, until the day I said, “Where’s the pot I won rowing?” and nobody knew.

 I married Ray Francis, a football fan, from choice, and have never regretted it, but I have had to fake 'sportgasms' on numerous occasions since our first date. March, 1970. We were huddled over a tinny transistor radio in Ray's lodgings in Warrington. The blessed Sunderland were playing against the mighty Liverpool. Sunderland scored, probably, as usual, in the last minute , where all this team's games are won or lost. Ray yelled with excitement and leaned over... Our first kiss!

In April 1971, the year Sunderland was demoted to the Second Division, we married. My sympathy for the demoted endures to this day.

 Some time ago, around about the turn of the Millennium, I decided it would be a good idea for Ray and I to share an interest. I quickly realised that flowers would never be his thing, and I was not going to want to spend time checking out the railways. So footie it had to be. I joined a 'Fantasy Football League' and, with some help from experts, and a little studying of form, I managed to pick a squad that sank without trace within minutes of going online.

There is a rider to this story that proves, beyond doubt, that no experience is ever wasted. I was attending a Head Teachers’ Conference in Oxford in 2001, and happened on a table at dinner with four boy heads and one other girl. The topic soon turned from education to football. To my utter amazement I found myself hogging the conversation: “Oh no! Don't talk to me about Babayaro! He's in my Fantasy League team and he's been; on the bench... , sent off … , fouled …, x number of times, in the past month alone!” With a few judicious open-ended questions, and a lot of tut-tutting, I held my own for twenty minutes! I was SO proud. And the boys! Thrilled! One offered to show me a ’ Chelsea’ programme from the previous Saturday, that he happened to have brought with him, and was sitting on his bedside table. An invitation I politely declined.

To spice up my sports-life, I decided, within a year, to ditch Fantasy Football and enter the real world. I became a highly inactive fan of Newcastle United Football Club, then just demoted to the First Division. As a ‘Teaching Head’, I shared responsibility for a Key Stage Two Class at Pauntley Primary School , ten minutes away from where I live, in Newent. My new-found passion for the beautiful game was a big hit with some of my students. Floyd , ten years old and a fellow ‘Magpies’ fan, was keen to know why I supported Newcastle: “ Because,” I smiled, “ Mr Francis supports Sunderland.” Clever boy, he got it at once.

Day in the Life of an OAP

An unusual day.... Jen asked if I would take her to 8 o'clock Holy Communion at the Cathedral - she being an Anglican without a parish, at the moment. As one of the world's leading Anglopentacatholicists, I agreed to the outing, and probably earned another fortnight in purgatory by taking Anglican Communion.

 Oh dear! The list of things that will not pass my lips during confession, grows fashionably longer. I had a very serious chat with Terry at the poetfest last weekend. He teaches English Literature at Arundel, and, like me, adheres to a catholic faith that doesn't have much in common with some of our more liberal tendencies. I can say with a great deal of conviction that having fallen through, or been bounced out of, a significant number of the less batty (umm.. .perhaps...) denominations, that you can pretty much believe what you like and get away with it.

 What is it about us, we mused, that can look logically at this faith-bending fact, yet still kneel, profoundly moved, before the Host? There is no answer to this that makes sense. Must be in the jeans.

Tom couldn't drive me to the homeless today, so I had to get the bus. This is no hardship, especially now that the 32 to Gloucester, via Highnam, departs from outside the Co-op at 0937 instead of 0925 - so I can use my bus pass! The journey takes about 25 minutes, which I pass reading, or before I put it somewhere safe, listening to the audio miscellany on my MP3 player.

 The Catholic Book of the Month selection is, 'Pain:The Gift Nobody Wants' which is the autobiography of the surgeon who discovered that lepers lost bits not because of the disease per se, but because they have no feeling. I thought, ' o no, not again, another book i don't want to read, this isn't the first time, and why in God's name did ANYONE want to read the confessions of st augustin?' BUT NO! I have been rivetted. It even distracted me from a favourite bus-passtime of gazing from the front seat of the top deck over the walls/hedges to admire the intimacies observable through uncurtained glass lean-tos/the proliferation of brassicas and onions around here.

By the way, now that I'm on plants, I have observed a phenomenum in my garden that I have never, ever, seen before. The seeds in the heads of my perennial daisies and of my sweet williams have germinated in situ. So the withered brown seed heads are a profusion of seedlings growing like cress on a flannel.

 The volunteers at the URC church next to Gloucester Park are mostly Salvation Armyites, though three of us are City Missioners one with a Catholic cross-over (me) and two non CM straight Catholics from Cirencester. We have such a laugh! There isn't anything especially witty, or clever about the chat, but it's light-hearted and suffused with such good-humour that it's a treat to be around.

The hunt for the extension lead that we need for the urn, was diverting for a time as the fading memories of we over-sixties proffer less and less likely 'safe places' where it might be located. Tony was sent out to buy another in the end.

 I am now highly proficient in my role. I butter two loaves of bread, cut each slice in half then put the halves together so that each slice can be easily dispensed. I cling-film fifty slices of cake and plate them up, I then make the sandwiches for the volunteers' lunch, which we have at 11:30. Those in need of a meal come in at 12:00. Today, I served tea and coffee. Debbie, the Geordie nurse, takes the opportunity to meet with this community to give flu jabs, ante-natal care, and other medical advice. She is so gentle and cheerful, her presence makes everybody feel special.

 John with the long hair, has started using again and he looks terrible. He'd been clean for months. His friends are really concerned. Fiona, who was Paul, is moving to Cirencester. She has a flat, but no money, and bewails the fact that the energy company are charging her £35 to turn off the electricity. She doesn't think she'll be able to eat this week, so I ask Mike to have a word; he always has emergency supplies to hand out. Matthew says my tea is better than that he got in prison. 'But I bet you can't smoke these tea bags' he says. I say, I doubt it, but then, you never can tell by looking.

Another regular told Mike he'd be back inside for Christmas. 'What for?' Mike enquires, like you do. 'Dunno, I haven't decided yet.' was the reply.

 We served sausages, mash and beans this week. With tea, bread and cake there are enough calories for the street people to get by on. Kathy gets the best deal she can with the money she has - it was pork chops with apple sauce last week. We do take-aways in plastic boxes, and feed the dogs (outside) with the left-overs. The food is served on china with real knives and forks and always looks very palatable. We make an effort to give the best that we can.

 I catch the 1337 bus from the Bus Station, and expect to be home by two-thirty, but stop on the way up the hill to visit Margareta who is not doing too well at the moment. We have tea and pick over the Parish in a fairly unsentimental way. So I'm later than I thought. Jim and Margaret (the other grandparents) are visiting from Preston, to see the new house and do useful things like put up curtains. I'd forgotten they were coming, and that I'm babysitting , now, in fact so that everyone else can go out.

 Abigail sicked over me just the once then fell fast asleep.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Different moods - same face!  Thanks to the Nikon 5000, which does a good self-portrait.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Spring is Sprung

The earth turns and the sun makes her appearance at 06:35am. I awake to birdsong and remember Donald. 1968, a long long time ago. He wrote funny letters that made laugh with quirky little poems ... 'The Spring is sprung the grass is riz...' & etc. With little drawings of Suzy Dougal. A Pelham Puppet. I was at least a hundred years younger. So. D. W. Sharpe, should you ever read this, 'Hi'. That's all, just, ' Hi'.