Trunky Want A Bun?

A peculiar email from our old nosy neighbours snooping Susan and deflated Dick landed in my inbox today.

Our favourite curtain twitchers (details here) may have moved out six months ago but it’s reassuring/ slightly frightening to know that they’re still keeping tabs on the comings and goings of our apartment block – from their new abode several miles away!

Hi Katy,

Thought I would send best wishes for 2015, particularly for happy relationships with your neighbours.

I had a brief phone conversation with Bea (Apt 2) recently, who told me about the party in our old apartment: held by son of new owners, with police being called, she thought. She also thought the police had been back looking for the previous woman tenant of no. 4, but she was a bit vague about it.

Here in new apartment: all quiet, reliable and pleasant neighbours, all owner-occupiers with one exception – and that tenant sleeps here during the week only, and we have never seen him since our arrival in July!

Best wishes,

Susan and Dick

I re-read the email and am still completely baffled as to its purpose.

Is it that they merely want to boast about the serenity of their new domicile?

Do they want me to tell them how hellish it is living here, in order to justify their move?

Or are they simply hoping I will provide them with insider information about their erstwhile neighbours – to feed their insatiable appetite for gossip?

Answers on a postcard please…

* Trunky want a bun? – possibly my favourite-ever phrase to describe a nosy person (trunky being an elephant sniffing out a bun).

Getting Shady With The Ladies

It’s Saturday morning and the perfect chance to catch up with Peter, my weepy 70-year-old coffee shop pal who’s looking for love.

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Peter’s love life is now so complicated that even I’m struggling to keep up. Despite claiming to be a one-woman man (he was devoted to beloved Brenda for 50 years), he seems to have at least five women now on the go. That’s a lot of irons in the fire.

Here’s our Graham with a quick reminder: there’s ‘Gates’ – a woman who lives near by (who opens her gates as a signal that he’s allowed in for a bottle of Lidl Prosecco), there’s a nurse he’s got his eye on in Nero (she has nice legs, old Pete doesn’t miss a trick), a council woman he tried to ask out but rebuffed him (he won’t ask again!); another widower with an interest in ballroom dancing (‘work in progress’).

But the woman who has really stolen his heart is a local business woman, who is so affectionate she practically ‘mauls’ him. Problem is, this business woman already has a partner. Peter’s head tells him to ‘get out now’, but his heart’s telling him otherwise.

I’m worried this won’t end well for emotionally-fragile Pete.

To further complicate matters, it turns out Peter has a love rival: Shady Kevin. Shady Kevin is another fixture on the Nero scene: a perma-tanned, grizzle-haired property developer with an eye for the ladies. He might be generously described as a silver fox but I think he looks shifty – and Peter agrees.

‘I may be in the kindergarten when it comes to women but when it comes to men I’m all there,’ said Peter. ‘There’s a saying we had in the car business: ‘no-one can lift my leg’.

‘I don’t trust Shady Kevin one bit. He sits in the corner watching my every move.’

‘If he was a horse, I wouldn’t ride him and if he was a dog, I’d have him muzzled!’

Malcolm, on the other hand, seems to be getting a bit bothersome in his old age. A hand-written letter arrived from him at my workplace, thanking me for the olive oil I bought him in Mallorca back in August. I’m a little alarmed by this, as I don’t recall telling him where I worked.

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Luckily, the heat’s off because Peter tells me that Malcolm’s developed a small fixation with a woman called Bridget (stern-looking school m’am with bobbed hair; takes no prisoners). However, Bridget has a crush on ‘Colin Firth’ (a married father-of-two with Hollywood looks, who makes her heart ‘beat furiously’). Introduce Shady Kevin into this mix, who apparently fancies Bridget…  and poor Malcolm doesn’t stand a chance.

And if this wasn’t enough characters to add to this ever-evolving soap opera, let me introduce you to one more: Leery Len.

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Leery Len is part of the late afternoon Nero crew (a whole new group of oddities, separate to the morning pensioner parade we’ve come to love and know). Leery Len is one of those highly-irritating people, who talks in a really loud voice so that every conversation is like one big stage show for those unfortunate enough to be around him.

This boombastic bozo meets with his friend religiously at 5pm every evening and spends a lot of time complaining bitterly about his perpetually-complicated love life, namely ‘idiotic’ women who don’t return his calls.

He also makes loud, border-line misogynist comments about women in his vicinity such as, ‘My oh my, she’s stunning and look at her legs!’

Occasionally, he bellows silly statements across to me such as, ‘I don’t know how you cope with that machine (my laptop) – I once signed up to email and got hundreds of the blasted things!’ and, ‘Do you think I should join Facebook? What’s the difference between Facebook and Twitter?’

Have you ever tried to explain the difference between Facebook and Twitter to a technologically-challenged buffoon? It’s harder than you think.

One final new Nero character who deserves a mention is Note Woman. Note Woman apparently delivers hand-written notes to people sat drinking their coffee. The notes are all steeped in paranoia, saying things like, ‘Do not trust the man you are talking to.’

I haven’t actually met Note Woman yet; she might even be an urban myth.

But I’m already looking forward to the day a crazed-looking pensioner sidles over and drops a note in my lap saying: ‘Do not trust that shifty man in the corner with the grey hair and suspicious tan….

‘Get him MUZZLED.’

My Mother… Bosses The Students

Now that my blog star mother is on the road to recovery after her soap opera-style stint in hospital, I thought I would share some previously unseen footage of her doing what she does best: namely bossing students around.

As landlady of a house she rents out to students, my mother is convinced that all of them are utterly simple (see previous blog here) and so every year they get her Simpletons’ Guide To Independent Living.

Back in September, she gave one poor, beleaguered student the full house induction, including (in no particular order): which cupboard they should store their tinned beans in, which washing machine cycle to wash their togs on, how not to set the house alarm (whatever you do, don’t press ‘yes’!) and – bizarrely – where to find a starter motor for the fluorescent tube light in the kitchen.

Here she is at her most brilliant, bonkers best.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/113854597″>My Mother… And The Students</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What’s Up, Doc?

My mum has escaped from hospital. I say ‘escaped’ because it turns out getting discharged from hospital isn’t too dissimilar to applying for parole from prison.

First, you have to be assessed by a team of various people to check that you are fit to leave. Then you have to pass… The Stair Test.

The Stair Test is probably the biggest hurdle between being a hospital inmate and getting dispatched back into the big wide world. It involves two physiotherapists assisting you to a flight of stairs and then cutting you loose. If you can make it to the top unaided, you walk free; if you don’t, it’s back to bed with cold custard for one.

Luckily, my mother was already braced for this Krypton Factor-style physical challenge. The poor Scottish woman in the bed opposite (the one who was left stuck in the shower last week despite her cries for help) failed The Stair Test miserably and returned back to the ward with her tail between her legs. She also made the mistake of telling the nurses that she only had a bathroom upstairs. Schoolboy error!

My mother was so determined to get out of hospital, and away from Mad Margaret (another patient who had imaginary telephone conversations using the handheld device that moves the bed up and down), that she mustered up every ounce of her strength to reach that top step.

Now that she is convalescing on the sofa at home, she looks back on her hospital stay as ‘being to hell and back’.

Still, I think the nurses might miss my mum a bit. Each time I visited, she seemed to be living a real-life episode of Holby City. She was able to give a detailed explanation of all the other patients’ various woes and life stories. She was on first name terms with the doctors, nurses waved at her as they passed, cleaners chuckled.

As she was exiting the hospital, someone bore down on my mother clutching a questionnaire asking whether she would recommend the hospital to friends and family.

‘I was speechless,’ said my mother. ‘I told them I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy!’

‘It is a bit weird that they’re asking you to rate the hospital like a hotel,’ I said. ‘No-one goes into hospital by choice. Next, they’ll be on Tripadvisor!’

My father now seems to be occupying his days roaming around supermarkets, looking for things to cook for my mum, who is on a very strict diet.

He has also identified that B&Q have mobility scooters, should she fancy a day out when she’s feeling a bit stronger. Given that my parents are on B&Q Preston’s top 100 customers list, this is a distinct possibility.

My father was despatched to buy a white loaf (white bread for her no-fibre diet) from Booths.

Booths, if you haven’t heard of it, is like the Waitrose of Lancashire. Started in Blackpool in 1847, they have stores dotted around the county and have even reached as far as Ilkley in Yorkshire. It’s generally full of slow-moving, silver-haired trolley pushers who base their whole day around one supermarket visit.

Anyway, my father did manage to procure the white loaf. But unfortunately he somehow missed the huge label emblazoned across it that read, ‘now with all the fibre of wholemeal bread’ – much to my mum’s dismay.

In the midst of all this activity, it emerged that my parents’ rabbit of 8 years was taking its last breaths in the garage.

My father was so flustered about the rabbit’s imminent passing that he decided to drive 10 miles to a garden centre that he knew had cardboard boxes – to buy one to bury her in.

I offered to go to Booths and rectify the bread situation.

When I got back, the whole family – sister included – were assembled in the lounge, dabbing moist eyes with tissues. It was very sad.

‘What’s happened?’ I said.

‘Your dad thinks the rabbit’s dead but he’s only 95 per cent sure,’ said my mother wearily.

‘We’re all waiting for you to go and check on it,’ she added.

‘I’m not checking,’ I said. ‘I can’t cope with dead or dying animals.’

My sister and father weren’t keen on re-entering the garage either.

‘Shall I phone Mr Cummings from next door? He could come and have a look,’ suggested my sister.

‘I’ve heard of some odd things but phoning your next door neighbour to come and write a death certificate for your pet rabbit is pretty weird,’ I said.

‘I am sure the rabbit’s dead,’ said my father. ‘She felt stiff and cold. And I’m certain she had stopped breathing.’

‘Well, you need to get her in the box before rigor mortis sets in,’ said my mother. ‘Otherwise, she won’t fit in the box; her legs will be sticking out!’

My father disappeared for while. When he returned the rabbit was now in the box and he was now ’99 per cent sure’ she was dead.

I peeped in the garage. I could see a box with some white fluff sticking out, surrounded by 200 cooking apples. It didn’t appear to be moving.

‘Let’s leave her in state for now,’ said my father, who I suspect would do anything to put off having to spend the afternoon digging a grave. ‘We’ll bury her tomorrow.’

‘You’d better phone Uncle Stephen and tell him to come to the funeral,’ said my mother, gravely.

‘Will Uncle Stephen even be bothered about the rabbit?’ I said.

‘I think so,’ she said. ‘He used to bring the tops of his Brussel sprouts. The rabbit loved them.’

‘Maybe Stephen could say a few words about the rabbit and his sprouts at the eulogy,’ pondered my father.

‘Tell him to bring a spade too.’

Hospital Dramas

There’s something strangely reassuring that while my mum is holed up in Critical Care following a seven-hour operation, my father remains insistent on avoiding hospital parking fees by parking on a remote residential street at least half a mile away – simply because it is free.

My father never believes in paying for parking anywhere: a habit so firmly entrenched that even though my mother is lost somewhere in the cavernous corridors of Preston Royal Infirmary, he refuses to part with a few pounds for the convenience of the car park.

Lost in the hospital might sound a little dramatic but after an anxious wait all day, I phoned to see whether my mum had come out of theatre. There was a long pause and a bit of tapping on a keyboard. It seemed that she had left the admissions ward at 7am that morning but had yet to arrive in Critical Care, according to the computer. She was currently unaccounted for.

An hour later, I phoned back only to be told that the computer still said ‘no’.

At 7pm, with my father pacing around the lounge and fielding calls from feeble Great Uncle Keith, I phoned again and she was STILL lost in hospital No Man’s Land.

‘We don’t even need to come and see her,’ I told the nurse a little desperately. ‘I just want to know if she’s had the operation and if she’s STILL ALIVE.’

At 8pm, my father and I decided to go down in person. After parking in father’s aforementioned free parking spot, we set off on foot to the Critical Care visitor waiting room, swiftly renamed The Waiting Room of Doom. It was packed to the gills with desperate relatives but not a single member of staff in sight.

I had begun to imagine my mother languishing on a bed in a corridor somewhere, or stuffed in a store cupboard having to drink water from a vase. I was already penning my letter to the Daily Mail.

After what seemed like hours, someone eventually arrived and confirmed that my mum had finally arrived at the Critical Care ward, following a bed shortage. Relieved, we followed the nurse down the corridor.

We had been told that she might look terrible and would be covered in tubes. But as we rounded the corner, she was propped up in bed and looked remarkably well, all considering.

‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a double-decker bus,’ she croaked.

‘Everyone keeps telling my how well I look but I feel terrible. The nurses said I look like I’ve just stepped out of a hair salon!’

‘I have to laugh otherwise I’d cry.’

I took a closer look at her hair. It did – incredibly – look like she had just stepped out of a hair salon.

A doctor came over, ‘What is your date of birth and full address?’ he asked.

‘Ah,’ said my mother. ‘You’re doing this to check whether I’m compos mentis.’

She rattled off her particulars and for added effect said, ‘The current Prime Minister is David Cameron.’

‘What are your dislikes?’ said the doctor.

There was a long pause while both my parents pondered this.

‘She doesn’t like tinned tomatoes,’ said my father eventually. ‘And she doesn’t like going out to sea in the boat.’

My mother nodded in agreement.

Inevitably, now that my mum has been moved onto a ward, she has been put next to the most delirious woman in the whole hospital.

Mad Margaret doesn’t actually believe she is a patient; she thinks she’s a visitor. This means that she refuses to stay in her bed but wanders round ‘visiting’ other patients, including my poor mother. At one point she tried to climb on top of her. She is also perpetually preoccupied by when everyone’s birthday is.

‘She’s completely doolally,’ whispered my mother. ‘The best thing to do is keep smiling and be firm with her.’

Another patient – across from my mother – had a terrible experience in the shower this morning. Apparently, she was helped to the shower by a nurse who plonked her on the shower seat and then abandoned her.

Despite her cries for help and pulling the emergency cord, she was stuck in the shower for up to an hour! She’s still in a state of shock.

‘I’m just going to have a shower when I get home,’ whispered my mother, who is currently too poorly to move from her bed. ‘It’s just not worth the risk; I might never make it out.’

‘I couldn’t make it even to the door,’ she went on. ‘Just getting into the chair feels like I’ve climbed Mount Everest and run a marathon.’

So far, my mother’s visitors have been restricted to immediate family but now that Uncle Stephen is back from Benidorm, he’s planning a visit on Monday. Uncle Stephen, I’m reliably informed, absolutely loves hospital visiting.

My mum’s friend Valerie might also come but she can only turn left in her car so she would have to map out an anti-clockwise route if she were ever to make it.

In the meantime, I’ve been staying with my father which has been an enlightening experience in itself. In the garage, I found literally hundreds of cooking apples, which my father is insistent he is planning on eating, despite my incredulity.

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There’s also several boxes of onions from Uncle Stephen, who has taken to growing them again, now that his pyromaniac neighbour has finally been wheeled off by the men in white coats and can no longer set fire to his vegetables.

As a treat, the husband and I took my Dad to Nando’s which he rather liked although he insists on mistakenly calling it Nachos. We also had a coffee in Starbucks.

When we got to the hospital, my mother said: ‘How was Stardrops and Nachos?’

My father was about to answer, when his mobile rang shrilly. A look of horror crossed both my parents’ faces.

‘You can’t bring mobiles in here,’ cried my mother. ‘They’ll interfere with the machinery!’

My mother went on to say that the doctor had been round that morning and asked if she wanted any morphine.

‘Morphine?!” said my mother, horrified. ‘No thank you. That’s what drug addicts have!’

‘I definitely don’t want morphine,’ she recounted to us after. ‘I might get hooked on it.’

‘I don’t think you can get addicted,’ said my father, in all seriousness. ‘You haven’t got a dealer.’

Herbaceous And Voracious

Ever heard of Giant Hogweed? It’s a voracious plant that grows on river banks and one touch could turn you blind.

In the 80s – when Giant Hogweed was at its most prevalent – my father started this bizarre competition with our relatives Jack and Jill in Scotland, over who could spot the biggest Giant Hogweed. They started posting pictures (in the old-fashioned Royal Mail sense) of the vicious weed – to see who could out-do each other. Some weeds were up to 15 feet tall!

This obsession meant that my father would march the family up and down the banks of the River Ribble in Preston looking for the tallest batch of Hogweed he could find. He would then plonk my sister and I next to it as height markers and snap away.

I wish I could find photographic proof of this but, after scouring old photo albums, I fear all the pictures ended up in the hands of our Scottish relatives. So you’ll have to make do with me dressed as a giant carrot instead.

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My mother always warned us never to get too close to the Hogweed as contact with skin could lead to a terrible rash.

As a result, I became utterly terrified of Giant Hogweed, convinced that a bit of it might touch my skin and turn me into an extra from Gremlins.

(This fear was only usurped by my mother telling me that pretty much all dogs in France might have rabies which, during our car tour of France one year, left me absolutely terrified that I might be savaged by a foaming-mouthed mutt.)

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I was recently sat wondering whether there was any truth to the perils of this perennial (my mother is prone to bouts of extreme exaggeration).

But a quick Wiki search revealed: ‘Giant Hogweed can cause severe skin inflammations when the skin is exposed to sunlight or to ultraviolet rays. Initially, the skin colours red and starts itching. Then, blisters form as it burns within 48 hours. They form black or purplish scars that can last several years. Hospitalisation may be necessary.

‘Presence of minute amounts of sap in the eyes can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness.’

Jeez. Mother was not wrong.

I’d completely forgotten about my ingrained fear of Hogweed until quite by chance, I came across its evil cousin: Japanese Knotweed.

When we were in the process of buying our apartment, our solicitor Jackie – nicknamed The Rottweiler for her aggressive approach to conveyancing – uncovered the existence of Japanese Knotweed lurking in the valley below. Untreated, this rampant weed, which actually EATS through concrete and STRANGLES brickwork, could bring the whole apartment block tumbling down like a stack of cards.

For weeks, emails were to-ing and fro-ing on how to treat this problem. I think a specialist was drafted in – and we were eventually give the green light to go ahead with the purchase.

And in that strange way when you’re just thinking about a subject and it crops up some time soon after, The Times ran an article all about indestructible Japanese Knotweed. Tag line: It eats asphalt for breakfast.

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‘In summer it grows 10 centimetres a day,’ wrote the journalist. ‘If you watch it closely enough, you can almost see it growing.’

He continued: ‘In 2012, mortgage lenders stopped mortgages if Japanese Knotweed was spotted on a property.’

I actually have no idea what happened to the deadly Japanese Knotweed at the bottom of the valley. Apparently, if chopped down, it simply grows back twice as quick; it’s the Hydra of the weed world!

The irony is, that for all their grumbles and complaints, our twitchy neighbours Susan and Dick never so much as uttered the words ‘Japanese Knotweed’. They’ve now moved out but I wished I had emailed them before they left with my concerns that The Knotweed Is Back: one final moan bone for them to gnaw on.

But if skin-singing Hogweed and concrete-chomping Knotweed were bad enough, there’s a new contender to the throne of Most Invasive Weed: Himalayan Balsam. If left unfettered, this beast will wipe out all other species across river banks.

Himalayan Balsam only hit my radar when I received an email from Friends of the Park last month. I thought I’d better join Friends of the Park (details here) given that out house is on the border of the park and I might need to garner sympathy for our much-maligned house extension.

The email contained an invitation to ‘A Big Balsam Bash’!

For those of you not aware, a new invasive species strategy has been devised for Leeds to tackle the main culprits: Himalayan balsam, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed,’ it said (cripes – the deadly trio, no less!).

As part of this strategy we hope to eradicate Himalayan Balsam from the tributaries of the River Aire.

Join in if you can – all you need is a pair of gloves, in case you grab a nettle by mistake!

I wonder how many takers there were for the Big Balsam Bash? No matter how you dress it up, the concept of throwing a party to spend the day clearing weeds from a river doesn’t exactly have the guests flooding in (no pun intended).

I might forward the invite to my father. I’m sure he’ll be interested.

Space Rage

Just when I thought things had settled down at our apartment block, I’ve found myself in a Cold War over parking with Slovenly Sonia, the lazy new tenant at Apartment 8.

There’s an unofficial parking space by the side of our apartment and while it’s always been offered up on a ‘first come, first served basis’ the husband and I have been getting first dibs on it for the last few years (bar the occasional wrangle with Belligerent Bill from Apt 2).

We parked there so often, in fact, that we had begun to think of it as our own private parking spot.

This was before Sonia and her cream Mini arrived. She descended on our apartments a couple of months ago and now hogs the space ALL of the time. This is largely because a. she doesn’t appear to ever be at work and b. she never seems to leave her apartment.

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Another resident apparently asked Sonia if she could please park in her allocated spot down the hill and leave the spare spaces for those who had two cars. Slovenly Son refused, muttering something about the car park ‘being a mess’.

After a few weeks of seeing her cream Mini parked there, I began to get rather resentful. Sometimes, when I walked past, I had an irrational urge to kick the car – or in wilder moments I imagined beating it with a tree branch (a la mad Basil Fawlty in the opening episode of Fawlty Towers).

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Then one evening, on sighting the cream Mini smugly nestled in its usual spot, I decided enough was enough.

I grabbed a Post-it note, scribbled, ‘Why can’t you just park in your own space and stop hogging this one?’, hared back out and slapped it on her windscreen.

The next day there was an ‘all residents’ email from Sonia herself.

‘Hi, whoever put the post it note on my car … Could you have the decency to contact me direct …. Tenant or owner we all have the same rights ….the space is directly at the side of my apartment and it is an unallocated space and I was informed it is whoever gets there first? If I am in that spot and my space is empty I don’t have a problem with anyone parking in my spot… But I have plantar fascititus so find it easier on my foot to park at the top.

Thank you and kind regard.’

Plantar fascitius?? I hastily Googled this condition and discovered that it’s basically a sore foot usually suffered by people who wear poorly-fitting shoes or lead a sedentary lifestyle.

‘Sounds about right,’ I huffed to the husband.

Plantar fascitius is quite similar to Policeman’s Heel, which I rather like the sound of (the name, not the condition).

Later that week, I actually saw slipshod Sonia heading out on foot. I gave her a cheery wave: the kind of cheery neighbourly wave that I hoped said, ‘Hello friendly neighbour; it wasn’t me that put a passive aggressive Post-It note on your window!’.

It didn’t escape my notice that she was wearing a pair of high heels and appeared to be clopping along at ease. Surely a true plantar fascititus sufferer should be in a sensible pair of Clarks brogues? Policeman’s Heel, my ass!

The next day, I returned home to find the much-maligned space vacant and cream Mini nowhere to be seen.

I was then caught in a dilemma. Do I make the most of Slovenly Sonia’s absence and snap the space up while I can? Or, in taking the space, am I effectively advertising, ‘I’m the person who put the Post-It note on your car. I’m the friendly neighbour who’s not so friendly after all!’

I spent so long dilly-dallying that wranglesome Sonia arrived home and zoomed straight in. I’d lost out again!

A week has now passed since the Post-It note and I’m determined to reclaim the space. It’s simply a matter of lying in wait for her next trip out.

Once I’ve secured the spot, it’s going to be difficult to give it up again. I might have to leave my car in situ and take public transport for a few days.

‘You can spout all the fancy foot conditions you like at me, Sonia,’ I thought, grimly.

But one thing’s for sure, I’m going to reclaim that space. I’m in this for the long run.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

The over-60s social scene at Caffè Nero continues to provide hours of entertainment and guess who’s in the thick of it…

Former regular Porridge-Loving Pensioner, once part of the fixtures and fittings, is now long gone, last seen shuffling off towards the local boozer.

Following ‘flowersgate‘ (in which he threw a bunch of flowers at Legs for refusing to take him to the hospital), there was another awkward showdown over some suits and shirts Malcolm had brought in for him (apparently Malcolm wanted some money for them but PLP kept making excuses). He hasn’t been sighted since.

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And Legs (scantily-clad nemesis vying for the attentions of Peter, Malcolm et al.) is STILL wearing shorts despite an average autumn temperature of 8 degrees.
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But coffee-shop staple Linda, formerly lampooned as a miserly retiree, is now my NBF!

Peter told me that Linda is a very shrewd antique dealer, who doesn’t take any prisoners. From what I’ve seen, I’d be inclined to agree. She used to regard me with suspicion as I chewed the fat with Peter and Malcolm.

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Then one day, I ended up in a three-way conversation with Linda and Peter and she seemed to grudgingly accept me.

Later, Peter told me that po-faced Linda is a naturally suspicious person but he said that now I’d cracked the ice, I’d be accepted.

‘Her bark is worse than he bite,’ he said.

He wasn’t wrong. The next day, Linda came charging over to me in a harried fashion, muttering something about her new iPad not working. I’m not sure what she wanted me to do so I smiled sympathetically as she patted me arm before charging off.

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The following week a most extraordinary offer from the former miserly: she quite randomly offered me a pair of shoes!

Apparently, she had bought some beautiful brogues many years ago that she couldn’t wear due to a problem with her foot and wondered if I’d like them.

I had to break the news to her that I have freakishly large feet (details here) so I wouldn’t be able to shoehorn my trotters into them. On news of this, she simply patted me on the arm again and charged off.

After his intense interest in our trip to Mallorca this summer, Malcolm went a bit quiet for a while. Peter told me that someone had insinuated to poor Malcolm that he was a bit of a pest. He had naturally upset him and he’d been sipping his cappuccino in solitude.

That all changed this week when Malcolm shuffled over in his fedora and asked if he could sit with me. We had a bit of a chat about his days in the Air Force in Egypt.

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Malcolm has a wife who is virtually house-bound. His trip to Caffè Nero is his only trip out of the house all day.

‘If I didn’t have this, I might go potty,’ he said.

‘There was a woman with grey hair who I used to see every day heading to the Co-Op,’ he mused.

‘She told me that she only reasons she went shopping every day was that it was the only human contact she would have.

‘It’s not much fun getting old,’ he added, gazing contemplatively out of the window.

Fellow oldie Peter continues to regale me with tales of grief from deceased wife Brenda (there was a bit more sobbing the other day) while juggling the complexities of dating. The old devil has a potential three women on the go!

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According to Peter, the dating rules aren’t much different for the over-60s than they are for teenagers. There’s a lot of text games going on.

One woman, I’ve nicknamed ‘Gates’,  is game-playing to the extreme. Peter has to drive past her house in the evening and if the gates are open, he’s allowed in. If the gates are shut, it’s a Marks and Spencer’s meal for one back at home.

Peter keeps assuring me that he doesn’t want a replacement for Brenda, just some company. ‘Il companionata‘, as they say.

‘Linda says when it comes to dating, I’m not even in the junior school; I’m still in kindergarten,’ he said, wistfully.

But it seems Gates locked Peter out too many times because he’s now interested in someone else altogether – who he met right here in Caffè Nero.

‘My heart’s now elsewhere,’ said Peter, who only appears to converse in metaphors. ‘I never imagined anything after Brenda but lightning has struck and it’s like a bolt.

‘It’s a very complicated situation,’ he went on. ‘You’d think it would get easier in my twilight years but there’s a lot of emotional baggage.’

‘Don’t get in too deep,’ I said sagely.

‘It’s too late,’ lamented Peter. ‘My nostrils are only just out of the water.’

My Mother… and The British Gas Debacle Part II

It seems that my mother has become an unwitting video star after waxing lyrical about her fiasco with her British Gas bill (here) and chewing the fat with my uncle Stephen over his pyromaniac neighbour (here).

So here’s an update on my mother’s British Gas saga (amongst other trivialities!):

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/109387621″>My Mother… And The British Gas Debacle Part II</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Park Life

It’s 8.37pm and I am sitting in a freezing cold church hall with 12 pensioners, discussing the best way to plant daffodil bulbs and how to tackle a voracious weed that goes by the name of Himalayan Balsam.

How I came to be here is another story but right now two things are going through my head: 1. The husband is going to want feeding and he has no idea where I am. 2. When on earth is this meeting going to end?!

In hindsight, pitching up unannounced at a committee meeting of Friends of The Park was a very foolish manoeuvre indeed. The rationale behind this madness was that as the house-that-we-bought-but-have-yet-to-move-into is on the edge of the park, it would probably be prudent to actually become a Friend of the Park.

So when I received a generic email inviting all Friends of the Park to their quarterly meeting at 7pm on Wednesday, in the spirit of neighbourliness I thought I’d bob along.

I imagined scores of friendly locals filling the hall, discussing local matters – such as the new bar down the road – over coffee and biscuits.

But as I walked through the door and took in the scene that greeted me – namely a cavernous and chilly church hall with a handful of silver-haired octogenarians shuffling in the shadows, I realised that I’d made a terrible mistake: I’d unwittingly stumbled across a real life episode of the Vicar of Dibley.

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To be fair, I couldn’t have been given a warmer welcome. After the initial shock of someone at least thirty years younger suddenly appearing at one of their meetings, the Friends of the Park flocked round me like bees to a pot of honey.

‘As you can see we’re not the most sprightly of groups,’ said a kindly woman called Sue. ‘It’s great to see someone young here.’

I perched at the edge of the table trying to look as inconspicuous as possible as chairman David gave his round-up of what Friends of the Park had been up to.

He started with litter picking, before moving on to tackling rampant weeds, malfunctioning drainage systems, slippery stepping stones, budget-busting building work… On and on he went, in his strangely soothing drone.

As I glanced around the table, I noticed one grizzled attendee had fallen asleep; another had a coughing fit, disappeared into the darkness and never re-appeared.

‘…. it was only once my initial indignation had abated that I decided to respond to the claims that I should have ordered 6,000 daffodil bulbs and not 3,000… ‘ David was saying.

And off he went again.

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Just as I was snatching a quick glance at my phone under the table and considering what sort of excuse I could give to GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, there was a break in David’s monotone.

I looked up to find 12 sets of hooded eyes staring eagerly at me.

‘David was just saying we REALLY need someone to help with the website – someone youthful with a better handle on media stuff,’ said the woman called Sue.

In my experience of these meetings, Rule Number One is never to agree to help with anything. As my mother would say, once you’ve GOT INVOLVED, you’ll never be able to escape.

‘I’m afraid I’m utterly hopeless at anything related to ICT,’ I stuttered. ‘I’m just not the person for the job.’

Sue looked so crestfallen that I felt the need to offer a consolation prize.

‘I could take a look at the website though,’ I offered. ‘A fresh pair of eyes to make some suggestions?’

Sue seemed happy with this but David peered at me over his spectacles suspiciously.

‘I think we should get a designer to help us,’ he said. ‘We’re frightened of spending money but this is one thing that we really should spend money on.’

‘Perhaps we should have a meeting to decide on the content and look of the website first,’ I suggested. ‘And then we could find a designer to put it altogether?’

‘But a good designer would do that for us,’ argued David.

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘But it’s probably better to approach them with an idea of the content we want first.’

David merely scowled at me.

At 9pm, the meeting finally began to draw to an end. I picked up my bag and shuffled to the edge of my chair in a manner that I hoped indicated that I was ready to leave.

My phone flashed with a text from the husband, no doubt racked with hunger: WHERE ARE YOU?

‘Is there any other business?’ asked monotone David.

‘Well,’ said kindly Sue. ‘As many of you can probably see, we have a new member here tonight…

‘Katy, would you like to properly introduce yourself?’

As I glanced in desperation at the door, the Friends of the Park settled back in their chairs and smiled at me expectantly.