California Dreaming – Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

As we headed south toward Monterey on our Californian road trip, we noticed how the landscape seemed to suddenly change. We were driving across a vast dark, almost menacing plain, which was such a contrast to the colourful pumpkin patch

Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch

rolling hills and vales we had driven through earlier that day. 

Fields around Salinas

Fields around Salinas

Once settled in Monterey we sifted through the leaflets in the motel reception for ideas of what to do in the surrounding area. We thought we would only be staying one night and move on south after visiting Carmel (Phil was convinced we would bump into Clint) but that was not to be. There was so much to do in the area.

I discovered we were not far from where Steinbeck was born and raised and, having recently read Of Mice and Men with my Make Friends with a Book group, I was keen to visit.

We headed back to Salinas, a town surrounded by the dark and never-ending fertile plains we had driven across the day before.IMG_1741

And immediately I understood how this landscape would have influenced Steinbeck’s writing. There were people still toiling in the fields and digging up vegetables by hand just as George and Lennie had. This was a farming system that seemed very labour intensive.

Steinbeck was no stranger to such work himself, he worked on the farms in his summer holidays. I am sure he met people then who would become the basis of some of his characters.

I cannot say I liked Salinas. It was a featureless town built on a grid. The car park was full of big station wagons with number plates like this. IMG_1696It was a gritty place with gritty people. A real contrast after San Francisco with its hills and Bay Area. Yet near to the National Steinbeck Center art was fighting back.

And I discovered that in addition to the gritty novels that he wrote Steinbeck was famous for, he was also a traveller. He had lived in England for a while and had also been on his own road trip of America, documented in the book Travels with Charley. IMG_1710He had a pretty cool vehicle to travel in.

We had lunch in his former home, which I wrote about in this post Lunch with Steinbeck Dinner with Forrest.

The National Steinbeck Center is definitely worth a visit. I just wished I could share the experience with my friends at Bleakhouse Library who I had shared Of Mice and Men with in my Make Friends with a Book group.

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And I definitely agree with this.IMG_1703

Happy birthday John Steinbeck. 112 on February 23rd 2014.

I have just discovered that in two days time it is your birthday, whilst looking up the links for this post. Synchronicity, perhaps?  The Celestine Prophesy, which helped me understand this concept is also about travelling. And it has just occurred to me that I will be looking at camper vans on your birthday. Not planned, only because I have won free tickets to the Caravan and Camping Show. Perhaps it is meant to be? So, that like you, I can go on another road trip. 

Why Shared Reading matters

Five years ago I started a new job with Sandwell Libraries and Information Service. I was the Community Development Manager for the Big lottery Community Libraries Programme.

Two libraries, Smethwick and Bleakhouse were to be refurbished as part of the programme. My remit was to deliver the outcomes of the Community Engagement Plan. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? I don’t do boring, I do creative, I do fun. This was probably the most fun I have ever had at work. I think I may have been a bit of a shock to some people who worked there, and a breath of fresh air to others. 

New community space and new ways of using the libraries, activities to bring the community together, engage with the wider community and improve health and well being. Work with staff to understand how community engagement could change libraries. All part of my remit.

And together we created libraries with vibrant spaces for new and fun things to happen.Vegetable shows, laughter yoga, pizza making, gaming, art groups and shared reading.

Julie Mckirdy, supervisor at Thimblemill Library, really understands how to make a library a creative, vibrant space. She works very closely with her community and constantly looks seeks for opportunities and innovative ways to bring new activities and people to the library. Bearwood Pantry, a local food co-operative use the community room once a week, and Utter Bearwood, in partnership with Black Country Touring celebrate the spoken word with a series of storytelling events.

Yet, while the veggie shows and yoga were fun, my proudest achievement, and what I want to be remembered for was being part of the team that brought shared reading to Sandwell.

I came across the idea of shared reading groups after reading an article about a project led by The Reader Organisation. As soon as I read about it I knew that I had to find a way of weaving this into delivering some of the outcomes of my project. I wasn’t really sure how it would fit in, yet I had a gut instinct that I needed to do this. I always listen to my gut!

A meeting with a fantastic woman from Sandwell PCT, who was already delivering a series of activities in libraries to improve mental health and well-being in libraries further convinced me that this was something I had to make happen. She had read about the impact that shared reading had on people and had been looking for a way to introduce it to her portfolio And then I came along and she found the way to do it. Professionally and personally we clicked, she agreed to fund a ten week pilot and in Autumn 2009 Make Friends with a Book, Sandwell, was launched at Smethwick Library.

The ten week pilot got extended for a year and then a second group was commissioned by the PCT. The impact on people who came to the groups was transformational. Five years on from my first meeting with her there are now five Make Friends with a Book groups in Sandwell Libraries. One other group is in a care home, specifically for those suffering with dementia.

But the future of all these groups is under threat. This is because they all rely on funding to continue.

The groups at Bleakhouse and Smethwick will have to stop in March 2014.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) commission most of the hospital and community NHS services in the local areas for which they are responsible. 

Following the reorganisation from PCTs to CCGs, the responsibility for promoting public mental health has been passed to local authorities. Local authorities who are experiencing substantial cuts in their overall funding.

Interventions have to be evaluated, graphs have to be drawn, numbers need to be crunched. Evaluated. And services cut.

And that makes me sad. I know that funding is tight, I know that tough decisions have to be made, but how do you explain this to people in the groups? That the NHS would rather prescribe you happy pills than fund an activity that gets you out of the house meeting new people. Take away the weekly session reading poetry to people with dementia, and offer them bingo instead? How do you explain that the woman who reads to you isn’t coming any more, even though you asked her to read Daffodils by Wordsworth, a poem you remember reading at school?

How do you explain that the groups will stop to people who before coming to the groups would normally spend Monday morning alone watching day time telly and Thursday morning with Jeremy Kyle?

The groups have enjoyed theatre visits at the RSC and Birmingham Rep, watched films together, read Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and George Elliot. And having come to the library for one group, Make Friends with a Book, they subsequently have become actively involved in other activities in their library, including volunteering to look after the garden, creative writing, IT and painting and drawing.

Looking at the data, Sandwell is not doing very well to ensure people live longer lives. Of cause a lot to do with this is that there are pockets (big ones) of high deprivation. And yes money needs to be spent on working with people at risk of life threatening and preventable illness.

I am not saying that shared reading cures cancer or helps people to stop smoking. I do know that it makes people feel better. Just read these testimonials to see how shared reading makes a difference.

Good health is more than having a heathy body. Shared reading improves mental health and well being. I see evidence of this every time I go to a group. I don’t need statistics or produce pretty graphs to know this. If you came to a group you would see the difference it makes to people’s lives.

Good mental health can lead to improved physical well being. Just by getting out of bed, and dressed and getting on a bus to the library once a week can make a big difference to a person who otherwise would see no one all day. To someone like Gordon or Edith or Sylvia who I wrote about in All the Lonely People.

It makes a difference to the person who lives alone, to carers, to the bereaved. To those suffering a terminal illness.

It makes a difference to someone who has been made redundant, to someone who is job seeking.

It makes a difference to someone who likes listening to other people read, to someone who has loved literature all their life. And to someone who has never read a novel before.

It makes a difference to someone like me who is still grieving after losing someone close to them. To someone who is sometimes so sad that she cannot get out of her bed or remember to eat. Make Friends with a Book is my time to nurture and look after me. And to meet up with people who knew and loved my mom.

It made a difference to my mother, who had been diagnosed with an incurable disease, with a unknown life expectancy. A woman for whom getting out and seeing the world, meeting people and reading were her main pleasures. Those and a mixed grill.

Mom had lost her appetite, her sight and her mobility. Yet at Make Friends with a Book, Sylvia, a former actress, had a new audience. She met new people who were interested in her life on stage and the stars she had met. She had another fifteen minutes of fame.

When I sat in that PCT office five years ago, making the case for funding this project; talking about the impact it would have; who the beneficiaries would be; how it would achieve shared outcomes; all the things you have to do when justifying funding a project, I didn’t know that two of the ‘beneficiaries’ would be me and my mom.

And it was her new audience, who were there at her funeral, dressed up in bright colours. They made the last few months of her life a bit more bearable. And she would never had met them if it wasn’t for Make Friends with a Book.

Now, go evaluate that.

Refelections on hearing ‘The Trees’ by Philip Larkin

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?


I first noticed Gordon standing on the steps of Winchester Library. It was hard to tell his age, older, well dressed, wearing a Trilby. He wore the hat confidently. I was sitting in the Black White Red café opposite, which was filling up with families with young children on this very wet and windy Sunday morning. He glanced at his watch a few times as if not sure about what to do. The library was not yet open and perhaps he thought of returning home as the weather was so dreadful. I was willing him to come to the café and not be alone.

He crossed the road and came into the café. There were just two tables left and he chose the one next to mine. Once he had settled, I asked him if he was waiting for the library to open. It was by then only 10am and the…

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All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

I first noticed Gordon standing on the steps of Winchester Library. It was hard to tell his age, older, well dressed, wearing a Trilby. He wore the hat confidently. I was sitting in the Black White Red café opposite, which was filling up with families with young children on this very wet and windy Sunday morning. He glanced at his watch a few times as if not sure about what to do. The library was not yet open and perhaps he thought of returning home as the weather was so dreadful. I was willing him to come to the café and not be alone.

He crossed the road and came into the café. There were just two tables left and he chose the one next to mine. Once he had settled, I asked him if he was waiting for the library to open. It was by then only 10am and the library did not open until 11 he informed me. We chatted, about how few libraries opened on a Sunday and how being in a warm café was preferable to waiting in the cold and wet. It was his first time in this café. My brunch arrived, he said he had already had breakfast. I suggested that maybe this could be his new Sunday routine, brunch before the library, he thought it could be.

The café was busy, dripping umbrellas, soggy Barbours and wellie clad children whose parents in Hunter’s with Cath Kidson changing bags were busy juggling babies with lattes and pancakes and catching up with friends. I was probably the only one who had noticed him standing on the steps earlier. We were at separate tables, Gordon and I chatting with little eye contact as we were next to each other. Always a good way to start a conversation, I find, sitting next to one another, like on a bus. Or when the unexpected question that children ask in the car while you are driving. Lack of eye contact helps the conversation along. 

Silence fell as I ate and he warmed himself with his coffee. Yet we knew this was just a lull in conversation. He had just moved to central Winchester as a stroke just over two years ago meant he could no longer drive. Now everything he needed was within walking distance. He never thought he would move, not after losing his wife to cancer six years ago. He wells up with tears, as so mine. As I am now. A few days back it was the first anniversary of my mother dying and I am reminded of this, as he sits and remembers his wife. We share our grief in silence. I say I am sorry, how sad, it is clear he misses her so very much.

He told me she had been a nurse, but after they lost their second child, she decided to change career as she found it too much to continue to work in a hospital. How dreadful to lose a child and now he has lost his wife I thought. He was a teacher too. I told him that my mom had taught and that it was the anniversary of her death. He knew. He knew.

Somehow the conversation switches to other things, to cheer ourselves up, and I find out he has grandchildren. I talk about my children. We don’t mention names.  Mine had had to do chores from early on and do their own washing from age 15 while his grandchildren still get it all done for them.

I tell him how we left the youngest to cope for 5 months when I went around the world with my husband, back packing. His eyes lit up, what an adventure, he said, they had travelled a lot he said in Europe and in 5 star resorts. His wife liked more luxurious holidays you see, as she reckoned they both worked hard so needed the rest. I said we had just been to Marrakesh. He tells me that they had had to cancel a holiday to Morocco when they found out she was ill. I got the impression that he had not been on holiday for a while. Four years after she had died he had had a stroke. Maybe he goes with his daughter now. He didn’t say.

Yet he was making the best of his new life. Living in a smaller and more manageable house by the river, involving himself with activities in the library and concerts at the cathedral. I told him that he was brave and wise to make the move to the city, and asked if he had made new friends. He had but seemed to be meeting people younger he felt he was like a father figure. Yes I thought. You are the father I wish I had had instead of the one I never had.

He had taught English, oh, I said,  was so lucky to have had inspirational English teachers. I told him what I had studied. I told him about how my last proper day out with my mother was to Stratford to see The Tempest with Make Friends with a Book. I showed him the photos of us all, on my iPad. He had not heard of shared reading groups. I told him what a difference it had made to my mom in her last few months, stories of how it had changed people’s lives. How sad I was that they were under threat due to withdrawal of funding. He read through the website, listened to what we had read. As an English teacher he understood the impact that great literature can have on people. 

I gave him my email details and we said our goodbyes. And I realised that there was so much more he could have shared with me. I was guilty of using the worrds I and me too much, of not listening.

And then I recalled a post I had read a few days ago. About Edith and how TV was her best friend. This is the paragraph that stood out for me.

And be interested in our lives … I may be confined to a chair now but I used to own three motorbikes, you know. Let me share some of my stories – not just so I can talk but so you can get to know who I really am. I know that takes time but all relationships do.

How many older, and younger people live like that? Only seeing carers or not even that, just a neighbour who gets your shopping once a week. Alone in their chair with only Corrie for company.

Like Edith they may have ridden motorbikes when young, what is certain they all have a past. We all do.

I have shoe boxes of photographs and letters that my mother kept, but no one now to ask ‘who is this and when was this?’ Mom had a story to tell, and I have snippets of her life as an usherette, and actress, my dad, and how Michael Caine bought me an ice cream. Yet I don’t know her story, not really. I asked her to start writing it down years ago, she never did. Perhaps I could have had Tuesdays with Sylvia and got her to talk to me about those days and recorded it. Perhaps I needed to listen more. Perhaps we all need to listen more. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I took it for granted that she would always be around to share her life story. That there would be another day to listen to them. Today is that day to listen to Edith, or Gordon or to your mom.

And I reflected that one of the great things about a shared reading group is that they give people like Gordon, Edith and Sylvia a safe place to share their stories. Talk about who ‘they used to be’ before they got old and invisible, blind and in a wheelchair.

On Monday we read a short story called Powder by Tobias Wolff. It is a story about an young boy and his father on a ski trip. A dad who is a risk-taker. 

Just before Christmas my father took me skiing at Mount Baker. He’d had to fight for the privilege of my company, because my mother was still angry with him for sneaking me into a nightclub during his last visit, to see Thelonius Monk.

One person in the group said how it reminded her of her husband, who was a confident driver and who had a love for motorcycling. She was in the moment, when her husband was young, seeing him as he was then. Like Gordon had recalled his wife, eyes shining with happiness. He husband  had recently passed after a long illness and she had nursed him, like Gordon looked after his wife, but as she listened to that story all she could remember was the young man she had fell in love with.

And that was what I had told Gordon about, that Make Friends with a Book is that safe place, to share memories and anecdotes, happy and sad. Shared reading is powerful like that.

It reminded me of my father who was an unreliable risk taker. A wall of death cyclist. Who never made me feel safe. I think Gordon made his children and his wife feel safe.

And when the group closes after four and a bit years, where will those people go to share their thoughts and memories, over tea and a good book? Many will go back to their lonely cold houses with the telly as their best friend.

And that makes me sad.

So if you met a Gordon, and Edith or a Sylvia, talk to them. And listen too.

Edith, Gordon and Sylvia, we know some of you are lonely, so talk to us, and share your memories. Don’t close the door and cast your bitterness and your regrets for what may have been, your if onlys over us. Don’t be an Eleanor Rigby who ‘Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door’.

And you, yes you, before you become Edith, and can still see, and hear and walk and talk and travel, and build a life of memories to share, do it. Notice what is around you, gasp at the rainbow and smell those spices and breath that sea air. Paint that picture.  And share it with us.

The last gifts I gave my mother were some audio books. On clearing her stuff I discovered she had listened to only one. Tuesdays with Morrie. I had debated whether to give it to her as it is about the time a man spends with his much admired terminally ill professor. And he puts his life on hold, and gains so much insight to his own life by listening.

Just what Edith, Gordon need and what Sylvia wanted.

We have one mouth and two ears for a reason. To listen twice as much as we talk.

I probably will never meet Gordon again. I was meant to meet him that day, that I know. As it says in The Celestine Prophecy:

“I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason”…”

If I lived in Winchester I would spend every Sunday with Gordon. And listen more.

Is there someone you need to spend more time with? Go visit them while you can.

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford (again)

Yes, we liked it so much we did it again!

English: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of th...

English: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last October I took my mom to see The Tempest with the lovely Make Friends with a Book people. I wrote about it here.

Make Friends with a Book at Stratford upon Avon

On September 21 a whole bunch of us took another trip from Sandwell to go and see All’s Well that Ends Well at the RSC.


Some of us met on the train at Snow Hill Station.

I timed my journey so that I could enjoy a bit of sightseeing and tea before the theatre.

Mom loved Stratford, and had fond memories of a trip she took with her old friend when they were teenagers. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to make it one of her last days out. And as per her wishes I left a little bit of her there, on this visit, by the river in the shade of the theatre she loved so much.


The people from the group that meet at Bleakhouse Library had been very important in her life for the last year of her life and I knew that they were looking after her while I was away on my travels.

Who knew that a group that I helped to establish four years ago was going to have a significant impact at the end of her life? Not me.  They were her final audience and gave her the opportunity to share her stories from the theatre once again. She got lots of curtain calls.

And the play? Thoroughly enjoyed by all, amazing production, and the sun came out for Make Friends with a Book again.

Our next theatre visit is closer to home, at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to see A Christmas Carol. Guess what we will be reading in December?

The Library of Birmingham

DSCN5934I was very lucky to have a sneak preview of The Library of Birmingham before it opens its doors to the public on 3 September 2013.

I was a guest at one of a series of soft testing. Members of the public were there to test the knowledge of the staff, some of the services on offer and generally feed back on the building.

Today the photo embargo was lifted and I can now share my photos and thoughts about my visit.

The press have also released their reports, it seems The Guardian hates the library and Birmingham, and the council. The Independent is kinder.

This is my personal feedback, based on what I experienced on the day.

What I hope they have got right by the time of opening is:

The temperature. It was too warm, everywhere. It was a warm day, after a particularly hot few days. The studio theatre we met in was stuffy.

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The Shakespeare Memorial Room was sauna like. The rest of the building was certainly warmer than needed. Time will tell if this is a snag or a major issue.

The wi-fi. This was patchy and non existent on either of the terraces.

The lifts. They were so slow, I wasted valuable time waiting for one to arrive.

My other thoughts are:

The Children’s Library is on the Lower Ground yet the Buggy Park is on the Ground Floor. This does not seem very practical or secure to me. Buggies are very expensive and I cannot see parents wanting to leave them unattended. Or take toddlers down two escalators.

The change from escalators to a travelator in the main body of the library was a bit disconcerting, especially coming down. I can’t say why exactly but it confused me a bit. I wear varifocals and sometimes I have issues with stairs and escalators, so perhaps it is just me.

I think there are some accessibility issues. My mom, as her sight deteriorated would have found it very difficult to navigate around the rotunda and on the escalators. The light would not have been adequate for her. For me, as the person who took her out and about in her wheelchair, I would have found it difficult to manoeuvre around the building. And mom would have got fed up of waiting for the lifts. As I am not a wheelchair user nor was with someone who is on the day, I couldn’t test this, I did however ask someone who was there with a wheelchair user. They thought there were some issues too. Again, time will tell how major a problem this is.

So onto the good bits.


The Rotunda of Books is stunning.

DSCN5940Every member of staff I spoke to was enthusiastic and excited about opening to the public and were well informed. They will have a lot of changes to get used to and I think they are up to the job.

DSCN5946The Secret Garden on the 7th floor is lovely and will be a good place to relax. The views are amazing.


I also liked the Discovery Terrace on the 3rd floor. DSCN5961

More amazing views of Birmingham.

I will be visiting the library when it opens and hope that I can organise a special visit behind the scenes for Make Friends with a Book, the shared reading group I helped establish in Sandwell.

In the future I will be trying out the cafe and may even write a blog post from there. So watch this space.


Valued Volunteer Award for Make Friends with a Book

Volunteers’ Week takes place every year from 1 to 7 June, and for the past few years, The Volunteer Centre Sandwell has hosted an award ceremony at The Public in West Bromwich to recognise the contribution volunteers make across the borough.

This year, Make Friends with a Book was one of the projects nominated. I was so thrilled that this group had been invited to the awards ceremony because this was a group I had worked closely with between 2009 and 2011 when I was a Community Development Manager working on the Big Lottery Community Libraries Programme in Sandwell.

Part of my remit in this role was to recruit volunteers to support activities in the lovely new community rooms at Smethwick Library and the very first volunteer I took on supported Make Friends with a Book at Smethwick Library. She later went on to become a BUDS volunteer (who were also nominated for an award last week). When Make Friends with a Book started at Bleakhouse Library, I recruited two regular members of the group to become volunteers for that group too.

Make Friends with a Book facilitators are trained by The Reader Organisation who started the Get Into Reading Project in Liverpool. Novels, short stories and poems are read aloud, with breaks so the group can reflect on what they have heard.

The amazing thing about the Bleakhouse Library volunteers is this. Before becoming volunteers they visited the library, borrowed a book and then went home. After they started volunteering they began to think of other activities they would like to have at their library and got involved in making the decisions about what went on in their library. The initial volunteers recruited more volunteers. The designing and planning of the reading garden was all done by volunteers. Another volunteer runs a self help group for people suffering with arthritis. The Art Group is all volunteer led. Volunteering went viral.

Picture this. We are all chatting over a cuppa before we settle down to listen to Gina read this week’s short story, in comes Gill in gardening gloves with a trowel in her hand. She had been tidying up her raised bed. All the gardening volunteers have their own bed which they look after, as do children from the local school.

Now picture this. Make Friends with a Book hits Stratford! Group members,  family and friends, including the lovely volunteers from two Sandwell Libraries are pictured here, after enjoying The Tempest performed by the RSC at Stratford upon Avon in October 2012.

Make Friends with a Book at Stratford upon Avon

The volunteers who support Make Friends with a Book got the recognision they deserved on Friday, and carried away a Valued Volunteer award. I will admit to shedding a little tear of happiness that day. I was so proud of them, and proud be part of the team that brought shared reading to Sandwell.

Go travelling. While you can.

DSCF2609I have been putting off writing this for days, weeks even as every time  I think about it I find myself getting tearful. Yet I need to do it. While I can.

Last year I made a major decision to go travelling. I have wanted to visit New Zealand for longer than I can remember. I had an old uni friend in Melbourne who I wanted to visit and wanted to see some kangaroos and koalas and Sydney Harbour.  My husband has always wanted to visit California and drive the Big Sur and slowly we built  a bucket list  round the world itinerary.

And we knew we had to do it sooner than later as we both had 79 year old moms who had had a few health scares. It was agreed that our children would update their grandmothers on our progress as we intended only to keep in touch on line. No phone calls. No post cards.

Despite having failing eyesight my mom was at the time relatively digitally engaged. She was on Facebook and used email regularly to keep in touch with friends she had made around the world on her own travels. So that she could still use her computer she had invested in all sorts of gadgets and software.

The mom in law, on the other hand thinks computers are the work of the devil. She also thought going off round the world at our age was a teeny bit selfish. It wasn’t. It was very selfish of us. That was the point. After 30 years of doing jobs that sometimes we loved, often hated, a combination of at least 7 redundancies between us (we stopped counting) living below the line when on benefits and bringing up two children, we decided that it was time to do something just for us. While we can.

So here’s the thing. If we had put off travelling when we did, because of all the excuses we had made for the past 26 years we may never have gone. So many travel bloggers say don’t put it off, because you have kids, you have a house, you have a good job, you don’t have a job, you are scared, you have a boy or girl friend who doesn’t want you to go, it’s not the right time, and they are right, none of these are good enough reasons not to go.

In July 2011 I was offered another 6 to 9 months contract in my job. If I had accepted I would have been unhappier than I could imagine, doing a job I no longer loved. I had achieved everything I had set out to do and needed a new challenge. I begged to be made redundant. I told my stunned boss that there was a plane ticket with my name on it and now was the time to use it.

The day I accepted my severance package everything else fell into place. The Melbourne visit became a house sit for 6 weeks, we found perfect tenants for the house, and the airfares were exactly the same amount as the enhanced part of my redundancy pay. So we booked our flights and did it, while we could.

Mom was delighted when I told her we were going. And actually she is the only person who, on our return, was genuinely interested in where we had been and what we had done.

In the past 3 months my mom has become more or less housebound as she has to have oxygen 24/7, can barely walk across a room without becoming breathless, has to have  a carer come in to get her out of bed and wash her and has had a stair lift installed. I could not go off on a 5 month round the world trip now as I want to be near to my mom. Having a mom who is blind and wheelchair bound, is a reason not to go. Mom doesn’t want to be a virtual prisoner in her home she wants to be boarding a plane to go somewhere warm to escape the cold and rain in England. She wants to be in Luxor or Bangkok or Singapore or… well anywhere but home.  But that is unlikely to happen. So what she talks of now is a short stay in Switzerland.

So do it while you can.

This is my mom. As I know her. Not the frail woman I hardly recognise. Thank you mom for giving me the travel bug.

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Living Below the Line, a literary perspective

This quote is from Small Island, a book I am currently enjoying as part of a Read Aloud group called Make Friends with a Book. Reading it made me think of the dilemma people on the Live Below the Line challenge would go through when faced with the temptation of free food. Did you surrender, like Gilbert?

I swear I could still feel the fingertip touch of Queenie’s hand on my arm from that afternoon when we first met. Sitting at the table in her mother’s kitchen she had served me with a cup of milky tea. I had gratefully taken it from her hand but declined to add the sugar she offered even though, as everyone is aware, tea is disgusting without it. She had then presented me with a large delicious-looking hunk of crusty pork pie. Despite my mouth watering so that my drooling was visible as a dog before a bone, I refused this repast. Why? Because of Sergeant Baxter. It was this man who taught me, and all his colony troops, that owing to shortages and rationing in Britain if invited for food into someone’s home the polite response was to say no, thank you — perhaps with the excuse that you had eaten already. ‘They can’t go giving the likes of you all their precious food,’ this sergeant reasoned. ‘So act like you don’t need it.’ ‘No, thank you. I have already eaten,’ I had said. ‘Are you sure?’ Queenie asked me. ‘

Homemade traditional English pork pie

Homemade traditional English pork pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tell me of pork pie?’I then asked. ‘Is it an English delicacy?’ There came that laugh from nowhere — an alarming sound, which suddenly filled every corner of the dull and dour room with dazzle. ‘Well, I think we’re the only ones daft enough to eat it, if that’s what you mean?’ I hoped my envious eyes were not protruding too obviously as I watched her take the first mouthful of her slice. But as she chewed, this pretty woman began to smile. It was then that she had gently laid her hand on my arm. Looking mischievous wide blue eyes into mine, she’d said, A word of advice, Airman Gilbert. Never be polite in a butcher’s house. You eat as much as you like.’ Oh, she was so charming that afternoon. With Sergeant Baxter ignored, I just had to surrender.