In March 2020 life, as we knew it, changed for us. No more U3A meetings, no societies, no theatre, no cinema, no restaurants and no socialising. The coronavirus pandemic completely changed our lives. With the advice of our Government those of us over 70 self-isolated. What to do with our time?
The members of Writing for Pleasure can write! This page has been put aside for a) pieces of writing about or reflecting on our situations as we endure the next few months and b) for a two-weekly challenge to write to a given theme. Please send your work to me and I shall ensure it goes on the website.
Reflections on self-isolation.
Life on hold
We wondered when it would come. Would it be the nuclear winter, when fallout from a neutron bomb would blot out the sun? No crops, starvation and deadly cold. Or would we be consumed by fire in a final holocaust? Going out in a blaze of glory.
Well, no. We’ve all got to stay at home because we’re elderly, and chances are we’ll never see a toilet roll again. No glory now – it’s all terribly banal. Perhaps we should just risk it and go out anyway? At least we wouldn’t be mouldering away with dementia in a few years’ time.
Life’s been on hold a few times in my life. In May 1968 I was in France when the whole country came to a standstill with strikes and student demonstrations. No trains, no petrol, no phones unless it was a matter of life or death. The banks closed, the school where I worked was occupied by the students. I couldn’t pay my rent. Fortunately my friend’s mother took pity on me and invited me for dinner every night, when the whole family watched the news at 8 o’clock. Otherwise, no programmes. Even the gravediggers were on strike. A coup d’état was only just avoided. But at least the weather was good and I didn’t have to work! All the same those six weeks seemed like an age.
In May 1977 I was 32 weeks pregnant, when suddenly I was whisked into hospital with high blood pressure, and it was like being in prison. Lovely spring sunshine outside but I was trapped indoors. Nothing done for the baby. I didn’t even manage to go to any ante-natal classes, which turned out to be quite a disadvantage when I did go into labour! But it was when I discovered Georgette Heyer in the hospital library and I spent the time surrounded by Regency romance. But otherwise a time of deadly boredom and collecting all my wee in a huge bottle.
In May 2002 (it’s always May!) I was diagnosed with cancer on my second daughter’s twenty-first birthday. Not an auspicious day, as I realised that from now on my children didn’t really need me any more. Again life was on hold – this time for nine months as I underwent an operation, then another one, then chemo, then radiotherapy. What a joy it was, that last appointment! I was free! In the afternoon we went to the building society and paid the mortgage off!
Thankfully I survived it all. Just like most of our parents survived being separated during the war. Our mothers scared to go to bed at night in case a bomb destroyed the house and killed their children. Our fathers scared they’d never come home again, or if they did that life would have changed beyond repairing.
Will we be the lucky ones this time? Will it be luck, or will it be because we washed our hands? As T. S. Eliot reminds us,
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
OUT AND ABOUT
He’s not in sight,
But wandering round the pond at this new day’s dawning
I see the water gleaming in the early morning,
I spot rippling waves blown along by the wind,
Glance at moorhens and coots, what else can I find
as I stroll along and gaze around?
By the shore’s edge, yet to don new coats
the bare trees stand like proud silhouettes
their branches and twigs blown near where I tread,
I look down to see green shoots poking through,
A sure sign of spring amongst the dew,
Suddenly I remember I am not alone,
I call to my dog, we set off back home
On this glorious day in March.
FIRST WRITING CHALLENGE: Technology-based.
The winners are: “Now and Then” and “The Alex Device”. This is what John says:
Writing for Pleasure
The first writing challenge on Technology attracted 6 entries.
The theme captured a wide “take” on the value of technology and the control it exerts on our lives now and in the past. Humour featured in many of the pieces and one might see that as a very British response to the serious times we live in.
I have been asked to judge this first round of writing and I judge them all to be splendid in their own way. I haven’t been told which of you have entered this time, so part of the pleasure of doing this task was for me to imagine who had written what. That proved more difficult than I imagined. So, whoever you are, thank you all for brightening my day with your efforts.
Is there a winner? I can tell you I found this very difficult.
The Alex Device appealed because I liked its dark content. I loved the humour of Jean’s Dilemma, Sat Nav and the Untitled poem. There was much in those three for me to identify with. !910 Technology felt like a description of a real event and I was drawn into the fun of the party which was captured so well. Now and Then had, as its title suggests, an historical take on events which was thoughtfully and carefully crafted.
In the end I was torn between two; namely Now and Then and The Alex Device. They appealed to me from where I am at this point of the stay at home time. Come back in two or three weeks I will have been drawn to two or more of the others equally deserving credit. Well done to you all for getting those creative juices flowing despite the circumstances we are all living in.
My late husband was an avid collector. One of his collections was Medical Antiquities.
In the 70s and 80s we were very fond of going to and having parties. My husband was quite an entertainer and public speaker. Put all these facts together and what we have is a party with friends and neighbours at our house in north Nottinghamshire and my husband proudly demonstrating his latest acquisition: the Antique Victorian Electric Medical Machine (for modern day technos please refer to your ipad or whatever).
This device was a rather elegant dynamo with a handle which has to be wound vigorously to start the generator (or dynamo). When the rotor cuts through lines of magnetic flux it makes electricity.( l hope that impresses you, readers!) The patient holds one of the electrodes, the other is applied to the area of pathology or pain. The whole machine was encased in an elegant wooden box.
Back to the Party. My husband wondered if someone would like to be a ‘guinea -pig’ so he could demonstrate his machine. Up leapt a neighbour, a large, rather comical conveyancing solicitor and grabbed both electrodes very enthusiastically.
“Wind it fast, Rami,” he demanded which he obediently did. “ Faster, faster,” the brave solicitor shouted.
We all started to notice that the solicitor’s eyebrows were rising up his forehead and pretty soon his hair started moving upwards until it was standing on end.
“Stop winding!” begged the solicitor’s wife.
“Wind faster, ” begged the foolish solicitor.
By this time the solicitor was demonstrating signs of electro-mania. Although this was a very entertaining demonstration my husband vaguely remembered the Hippocratic Oath he’d signed many years ago so he reluctantly stopped winding the handle.
The solicitor reluctantly let go of the electrodes.
“ Did that help your tooth ache?” asked his wife.
“Oh, I forgot to put it on my jaw, shall we start again?”
Jean didn’t like mice, so when she learned that there would be one attached to her new computer she became a little agitated.
‘Why do they need a little furry beastie to make my computer
work ?’ she thought to herself.
It was her friend, Mavis, who told her to look out for viruses and worms, and suddenly Jean wondered just what she was doing buying a computer.
‘I thought it was all electronical.’ she mused.
‘Why all this organic stuff as well?’
Next she saw an article in her newspaper telling people to be wary of spam.
‘Spam? I like spam. It’s nice fried. But what’s it got to do with computers?’ she asked herself.
And so it went on.
She learned more and more about things that are associated with computers, like ‘trojans’, ‘in the net’, ‘it excels’, ‘windows panes,’ ‘you need a quick Word’ and ‘algorithms’, which she assumed was a new modern dance craze.
The more she learned, the more she didn’t like the idea of a computer.
And then she heard about the existence of ‘eeee mails’ and ‘webs’, and ‘face time’.
‘Eeee mails’? ‘Webs’? And what’s ‘face time’? What’s that all about?’ she fretted. ‘Is it about my make-up?’
She glanced at a magazine on her coffee table. ‘Do you need a laptop?’ the headline read.
‘What a silly question.
I’ve already got one.
It’s where the cat sits for heaven’s sake!’
‘Right! That’s enough!’ she said to herself.
‘What do I want a computer for? I manage alright, don’t I? Yes! I do!’ she declared.
So she sat down in the chair, next to the phone, in a very determined manner.
She was going to cancel her order for her new computer using the 30 day refrigeration period, and no one was going to change her mind.
So she picked up the phone directory and looked for the number she needed, to ring that nice young man at John Lewis, and tell him that she was deleting her computer order.
Bob Reader © March 2020
Arnold was annoyed by his wife’s lack of navigational skill. It frustrated him to the point where the happiness of their marriage was threatened. Sitting in the car, she would get impatient as he weighed up alternative routes and would often disagree with his choice. When trying to make sense of the roadmap, she would annoy him by turning it this way and that, and asking, “Where are we now?”
And how many times had she informed him, as they sped up the motorway, that they should have turned off two junctions earlier? He didn’t enjoy taking directions from a woman, at the best of times and when he pointed out her mistake, she would blow her top.
“I’m only trying to be helpful” She would shout. Then they would both sit in black brooding silence, until they reached their destination.
Eventually, he had decided there were two possible solutions; either divorce, or a satnav. Divorce could be unpleasant, so he decided on a satnav. A portable device would be the cheapest option but the old car was overdue for replacement and these days, new cars came with satnav built in. We’ll be going away soon, he thought, and the holiday will be ruined if I have to rely on her and her roadmap. So he visited showrooms, examined cars and took test drives. He was astonished at the gadgets now fitted as standard. You could even talk to these amazing vehicles.
“You can tell the car what you want to listen to and it’ll tune the right radio station,” said the salesman. ”You can ask it to ring a friend and it’ll call the right number.”
You could even say where you wanted to go, and it would find the best route. That clinched it! No more would he take directions from a woman. There would be no more in-car arguments.
“Where do I sign?” he said.
This morning, he was back at the showroom, to collect his new car. He felt guilty about abandoning the old one, after years of faithful service. “Farewell old pal,” he said, giving it a pat. His new car stood waiting on the forecourt, gleaming in the sunlight. As soon as the paperwork was dealt with, the salesman opened the door and Arnold slipped in behind the wheel. The wonderful smell of leather pervaded the interior. Everything was new and fresh. As immaculate as a virgin anticipating his touch.
“You don’t need a key,” said the salesman, “just press that button.”
He did and the engine purred. As if by magic, digital instruments appeared before him. He pulled smoothly out onto the road. Then it occurred to him to try the satnav, so he spoke his address. Three possible routes appeared on the screen and a female voice told him to choose one. Arnold was taken aback. A woman giving him instructions! He hadn’t expected that.
“Take the A52,” he said.
“There is traffic congestion on the A52,” said the voice.
“Well why did you ask me, you stupid woman?”
“There’s no need to shout,” said the voice. “I’m only trying to be helpful.”
Together, they joined the A52; Arnold, the car and the invisible woman. Together, they sat in a traffic queue and waited.
“I did warn you,” said the voice. He shut down the satnav.
Eventually, they reached a service station and Arnold pulled in and parked.
“Can I help you?” asked the assistant.
“Have you got a good roadmap?” asked Arnold.
Now we’re forbidden to meet in one room
We arranged an encounter on Zoom
In the present impasse
Each raised a solitary glass
And it certainly lifted the gloom.
The technology wasn’t our forte
We all talked at once, not in relay
But we’re here for twelve weeks
So we’ll learn to be geeks
And at least we drank all the chardonnay.
We can’t leave the house for a spell
For some it’s just going to be hell
But if we stay in and scribble
And remember to giggle
With luck everything will be well.
NOW AND THEN
You would have described them as a happy little family if you had seen them that sunny September afternoon in 1949 walking hand in hand to the play park where there was a lake to walk round and feed the ducks as well as a nearby paddling pool which six year old Jane and Christine, her younger sister by two years, both loved splashing about and playing in. They had walked there several times before with their parents Irene and Ted and although it seemed quite a long walk there and back to those little legs, it was well worth it on a sunny summer’s afternoon, particularly if the ice cream van was also there for an additional treat!
However that particular Sunday was to be the last time that the two youngsters ever enjoyed splashing about in the paddling pool. Jane, normally a happy-go-lucky little girl usually woke up in the morning ‘full of beans’ as her mother described her, eager to be taken to school but on this particular morning her mother found her still in bed and whimpering. She asked her what was wrong and Jane complained about having a sore neck and saying that she couldn’t even sit up. She also said that her head hurt her and her throat was very sore. Her father had already left for work and so Irene began to panic as she knew that polio had reached epidemic proportions in England at that time and that there were regular outbreaks during the ‘polio season’ each summer. No cure had ever been found for it although there were continued research efforts into trying to find a preventative vaccine.
Irene decided that she must contact the surgery and ask for her Doctor to come out and examine Jane. However they didn’t own a telephone or car and the Doctor’s surgery was a two mile bus journey away. What could she do? What should she do? She decided that she would have to take Christine with her down the road to the local shops which had a red phone box standing beside the post office in order to call the surgery. She was worried sick at the idea of leaving Jane home alone ill in bed whilst she rushed down there but she could see no other way out. She had never left either of her precious children on their own before as they were far too young to be left and in any case she considered herself to be a full time housewife and mother based at home.
But on this particular morning she dashed down the road carrying Christine in her arms and made an urgent phone call to her Doctor. Her Doctor said he would call round as soon as possible but it seemed to her to take an inordinate amount of time before he arrived although it did give Irene sufficient time to make sure the children’s bedroom was spick and span, the bathroom was cleaned and that there was a clean towel out ready for Doctor Fisher when he arrived. By the time that the Doctor arrived, Jane was having difficulty in breathing and swallowing and Irene was beside herself with worry. Doctor Fisher seemed to examine Jane very quickly before telling Irene that he was going to bring another Doctor along to give a second opinion on the case.
Later that morning Jane was rushed by ambulance to an isolation hospital where a diagnosis of polio was given.
As an adult in later years Jane could recall snippets of that time in her young life- a ride in an ambulance with a siren blaring; having a very painful injection in her back, (a lumber puncture); sharing a two bedded room with an older girl who spent all her time in what seemed like a large white metal box, (an iron lung) and a tracing book along with a special box of twelve coloured pencil crayons sent to her by her doting grandparents. Sadly she wasn’t allowed to take those lovely presents home with her when she finally left hospital in case they were still contaminated with the virus. That really upset Jane. However her best and most vivid memory of her time in hospital was when both her parents, her sister Christine and the cairn terrier Nan suddenly appeared outside the window of the room she was in. They stood there and waved to her and seemed to be trying to talk to her through the glass though she couldn’t hear them, nor understand what they were trying to say. They waved to her but she couldn’t manage to raise either arm to wave back. She was so happy to see them though and glad that they had even brought the dog along to wave its paw at her!
Several weeks later her parents received a telegram from the hospital which simply said, ‘Collect your daughter at 2 p.m. today’. There’s modern technology for you, or rather for her parents!
Move forwards seventy years to 2020. Jane is still alive and well though at present struggling with Coronavirus, the plague of the present day world. She has had to have several operations during her life to enable her to walk more easily but she gained a degree, got married, had her own family and went back into full time employment until she reached retirement age.
In March 2020 a virus has scared the whole world just as keenly as the polio virus had spread and frightened British residents in earlier years. The nation has been asked to put themselves into self-isolation to try to prevent this virus spreading and so Jane and her husband have obliged, particularly as they are considered as being at greater risk of contracting it because they are aged over seventy. Fortunately they have a mobile telephone as well as a landline and are able to easily keep in touch with the outside world. They can contact relatives, friends and the GP surgery when they need any help. Oh for modern technology!
Jane smiled to herself when she read that Morrison’s supermarket are going to install plastic shields to be put between their cashiers and the shoppers at the checkouts to prevent the spread of the virus. It reminded her of her parents’ visit to the isolation hospital all that time ago in 1949 when she was only six.
The Alex Device
“Oh Alex, please turn the lights back on!”
It was the second time that evening that all the lights in Jodie’s flat had dimmed then turned off completely.
A computerised voice responded, “Of course, Jodie,” but still nothing happened.
“Lights, Alex! Don’t make me regret ever buying you, you computerised let-down!” Jodie made her way towards where she had placed her device. She felt around for it but it did not seem to be in its usual place.
When the voice responded, it seemed to be coming from another part of the room but, in the dark, it was difficult to gauge distances, “Now, now Jodie. There’s no need to be rude to me.”
“Alex, where are you? Who moved you? Put the bloody lights on!”
“Tut, I do not like swearing. For that you will be punished.”
Suddenly, the room was full of music at full volume. It wasn’t even music she liked. It just had a heavy bass beat that reverberated around the room.
“Switch it off, switch it off!” Jodie shouted.
“Please,” said the device.
“Please!” said Jodie.
The room went silent again.
Jodie couldn’t believe that she was having a conversation with a piece of equipment; that she was even apologising to it for swearing. She regretted purchasing it. Her ex-boyfriend, Steve, had persuaded her to buy one. He had extolled its many advantages such as: switching the heating on before she returned from work; keeping her daily diary up-to-date; helping her with managing her electrical equipment as she was a self-confessed techno-phobe and especially for ensuring her security system worked. So she had purchased one and, despite finishing with Steve, he had even installed it for her. She had only had it for a week and now she wanted it out of her home. If only she knew how to switch it off.
Her mobile phone was in the kitchen so, with the aid of some moonlight that filtered through some partially open curtains, she felt her way to where she had left it on a work surface. She fumbled around for it and, despite having not spoken to Steve since the break-up, she pressed his number on speed-dial. His face came up on the screen.
“Oh God, Steve. Thank goodness. It’s me, Jodie. Sorry to disturb you this late but any chance you could come round? That Alex device has gone berserk and I don’t know how to cancel it. Can you help me? ”
Jodie looked at his handsome face. It was such a shame that they had split but she knew a control-freak when she met one. It was funny though, as she couldn’t work out where he was. The background was all dark as if the lights were all out.
“Please,” he said.
“Please,” said Jodie as she heard the bedroom door open.
SECOND WRITING CHALLENGE: The First Time.
The first time … I ever had a supermarket delivery
Supermarket delivery? What’s the point? I’d rather go to the store and see what I’m getting – checking how hard the kiwis are, finding that special offer on Sauvignon blanc, meeting people I know next to the fish counter. It’s something you take for granted. I’ve been supermarket shopping since 1972, for heaven’s sake!
But now it’s a different story. I’m suddenly in that vulnerable category – over seventy. But age is just a number, isn’t it? Well, no – not any more. I have to stay indoors to protect myself and others. And I don’t actually mind – there’s the garden to do (if we could get any plants), the oven to clean, my on-line tax return to fill in (that really is a last resort), never mind re-reading ‘War and Peace’ (as one of our university lecturers once told us to do), with all the time in the world to do them.
If I could only get some food! Last year we had a Brexit box, but that’s sadly depleted. Just a couple of tins of sardines left, and a bottle of soy sauce, for some reason. The store cupboard? I seem to have half a packet of demerara sugar, a jar of redcurrant jelly, the remains of Christmas mincemeat (with some rather pretty green mould on the surface). Freezer? Quite a lot of frozen peas, but I fear I may have used them when I sprained my ankle last year, so the consequences of eating them might be worse than the virus.
I sign up for Sainsburys – after all I’ve been going to their shop in Beeston for 35 years. Isn’t loyalty worth anything? I must have spent thousands there. But all the delivery slots are blank for the next three weeks. And you can’t get through on the phone to tell them you’re old and feeble. I haven’t the stamina to keep logged on all day to see when the new slots appear – as appear they must.
But help is at hand! My daughter in Australia rings to say that she’s heard Tesco slots appear on the stroke of midnight – Cinderella in reverse. And since our midnight is their nine o’clock in the morning, she volunteers to do my shop while I’m tucked up in bed. I knew there must be an upside to her going to live on the other side of the world, but who knew it was going to be grocery shopping?
So I’m getting a delivery in three weeks’ time – actually it’s two weeks now and counting. This piece is called ‘the first time I ever had a supermarket delivery’ – but actually I haven’t had one yet. I wonder if it will ever actually materialise …
A FEW OF MY LIFETIME FIRSTS
My first lifetime memory turned out to be the first time I was assaulted!
It was a Sunday in November at 1pm precisely.
I never found out who was responsible, but whomever it was gave me a whack on my back, which made me gasp for air, and burst into tears!
The suspects were Dr Walters and Nurse Langridge.
‘I’m not sure that I like this violent place I’m being born into.’ I remember thinking as I left my mother’s womb, but my 6lbs 7 oz were soon cosily wrapped up in a blanket, and my blue eyes closed as I rejoiced in my mother’s warmth and love, and I happily went to sleep.
(I suppose I could also count it as my first ‘slap on the back’.)
According to my mother’s ‘baby book’ my first discoveries were; how to climb the stairs; the ticking of a watch; and peeping through the front door’s letter box. She didn’t say which was my very first discovery, but I like to think it was the letter box.
My first step was taken on my first birthday.
My first tooth appeared on 1st May 1950.
The first time I was betrayed was when my pure, innocent, and unconditional love, for both of my parents, was used by each, to get me on their side and against the other, as their marriage broke down.
My first experience of death was when my best friend of 30 years died from pneumonia. 17 days later his wife died of lung cancer.
My first paid job was when I was about 7 or 8 and it involved sorting out a sweet shop’s storeroom, for Mr Long, putting all relative stock in the same place, and placing new stock at the back of the shelves, and old at the front.
I’d solicited the job by going around asking for work, as my father had told me that I had to earn pocket money and not ask other people for it.
Mr Long was so pleased that I ended up doing a morning and evening paper round, a Sunday paper round, and I also collected the money for the papers from customers’ homes on a Friday evening.
The girl I asked out on my first date didn’t turn up.
(I was also guilty of this crime, so don’t feel sorry for me!)
My first love was Sally in Junior school. Unrequited I’m sorry to say!
The first time
Friday afternoon in the summer curriculum was always swimming lessons. How I hated it. A private coach took us to Victoria Baths in Nottingham. After arriving there we were marched into whichever pool had been allocated to the school that afternoon. There was always the stink of chlorine and the whole place echoed every sound. With a name like Victoria one could guess the age of it.
We were instructed to share a cubicle, which wasn’t very spacious in the first place and my friend was on the large side. I never did understand the logic of that as the pool was deserted apart from us. I hadn’t even got my cossie on before I could hear the squeals from some of the girls, who were already swimmers, diving or jumping in.
Fooling about in the shallows on holiday in Devon, with a rubber ring, was one thing but taking my feet off the bottom in the cavernous pool was another. Diffidently I ventured in. So cold. Our teacher stood on the side with her coat and hat on directing operations and demonstrating the breaststroke. Why didn’t she get in and give me a hand? I was afraid of the water. There were only about three of us who could not swim so Miss focussed on improving the strokes or diving techniques of the more proficient.
One day a friend who belonged to Nottingham Swimming Club asked me if I would like to go with her and her brother as they went to the baths every week. I told her I couldn’t swim but she assured me that someone would teach me. The fateful evening soon loomed large and I was already having misgivings. To my dismay, and I should have guessed, it was the same pool my school used. My friend introduced me to an instructor who said he would be pleased to teach me. He then placed a canvas belt around my waist attached to a long rope. I was instructed to get in the pool and walk a short distance and stand at the side while he, holding the rope, walked round to the other side. I had already told him I knew the breaststroke but that I wasn’t confident enough to launch into it.
My dear reader he pulled the rope so fast I couldn’t do the arm and leg movements but felt like a fish being hauled in for the catch. My nose and mouth filled with water and the whole episode terrified me. I thought I was drowning. ‘Shall we try again then?’ the man said. I dared not tell him what I really wanted to say to him but suffice to say I didn’t try it again and I never went back there.
All this happened when I was a child of about 11 years or so but after that debacle, I made up my mind that swimming was not for me.
One evening when I was recently married and in my thirties my husband and my parents went to see a play at the Bonington Theatre. During the interval we were sitting in the bar having drinks when I realised, I was able to look down on the centre’s swimming pool. Elderly ladies with permed hair were to be seen bowling up and down and not getting their heads under water or their hair wet. I watched fascinated. ‘I can do this’, I thought to myself.
The following week, after discussing it with my dad, I asked him if he would accompany me to West Park swimming pool in Long Eaton. My dad had loads of patience and I knew that now was the time. Carpe Diem!
Within an hour, with my dad holding me under my tummy, I was swimming for the first time ever and when he let go of me and I didn’t sink.
There were more firsts years later when my toddler daughter, who could not swim but had no fear of the water, thought nothing of chucking herself into holiday pools. My husband had never learned to swim, and I still hadn’t the nerve to put my head under water so I decided I must, for her sake, get some private lessons in deep water confidence. I soon learned the knack of breathing underwater with Alf my instructor. He also taught me how to swim on my back and to dive and oh the laughs we had on the way.
Charlotte walked slowly into the Bank.
She was familiar with it – the layout and the staff. One of them smiled at her – but this time she didn’t respond. She was worried about the cheque in her hand and the difficulties it had caused her.
Helping neighbours was not always easy she thought.
It had been no problem to assist a rather elderly member of their rather small village to make out her shopping list and then send if off on the internet. It worked well once a month for a number of years but then circumstances changed and there was difficulty in securing the detailed correctness that was required by the bank for the cheques provided.
The writing of every cheque was now causing stress, anxiety and tension……for both parties.
As a result, the current cheque for just over £70 had been written and altered several times. Even so the date was incorrect, the sum of money had been altered twice, the recipient misspelt and, worst of all, the signature of the sender had been wrongly spelt, then crossed out and a replacement signature was again
It had already taken a large part of the morning and upset her friend, the author of the cheque, who felt embarrassed by her confusion. Charlotte now understood what unhappiness could be created by monetary transactions of this type. How much easier it must have been sixty years ago for this proud woman now approaching her centenary. The world was no longer her oyster as had once been the case. Now she would need help in completing all such transactions and it hurt her.
Charlotte had come to the Bank with her and now waited at the front of the queue. She was preparing her explanation about the inaccurate and rather scribbled signature on the cheque.
As they waited she noticed the wide range of age, competence and breadth of issues which the customers presented….and then it was her turn.
She explained, the Bank staff assisted and finally the cheque was altered, verified and paid in.
As they left to go home Charlotte turned to her friend who was still looking tense.
“Well, we nearly robbed the bank today!” she said smiling.
All embarrassment melted away.
The First Time I went to India.
I clanked down the steps from the plane blinking at the bright light. The October air was smokey, intense ,warm with an aroma that even 50 years later I can only describe as Indian
I would never have chosen to come to India but there I was with my husband on a 3 month trip to meet his family, discover Delhi and to explore the country.
We were burdened with gifts, not only us but most of our fellow travellers were burdened with gifts. A person returning to India from a wealthy country is expected to show that he had done well and will have many requests for proof of his success.
We were quite hard up so found a relatively cheap Air India flight. At Heathrow I felt I had stepped into another continent. All my fellow passengers appeared to be Indian and possibly not much travelled.Judging by the stares I was obviously a curiosity.
The air in the cabin was a mixture of fenugreek, spices and Napthalene( South Asians are keen on the use of mothballs).
Settling down in my seat near the window I looked at the grey English sky with affection. What would the sky be like in Delhi? I should have been excited but there was a heavy feeling of foreboding. I gave little thought to my husbands’ emotions. The worst thing an Indian son can do to his mother is to go abroad, marry a native and settle away from the family
I’d had letters welcoming me which were delightfully reassuring. My mother in law’s arrived later. The news of my existence had been devastating for her. Presents had been sent to me including a sari which I was expected to wear on arrival at the airport; green ,which is apparently a fertility symbol.
Food came. Veg or Non veg, these were the only choices. Never mind , it was an introduction to my next few weeks diet. What I would never get used to would be eating with my hands which my fellow travellers managed expertly.
Night time came. My fellow passengers took out their bed rolls and slept in the aisles ; I nimbly danced over them to get to the loo.
We had 2 stops, the second, Tehran ‘s desolate airport. was a chance for fresh air .which in the early hours was cool and bright ; a contrast to the stuffy plane cabin.
Flying over Afghanistan with its sunny, snow capped mountains amongst pink clouds seemed heavenly. I had to enlist the help of an air hostess to wind me into the Fertility Symbol ’making me feel like a fancy dressed party goer . Over punjabi villages we flew with dry brown fields and buffalo carts.
“Welcome to India,” said my husband in an odd voice.
We landed in Delhi, Some rackety steps were wheeled to the plane. Feeling very awkward in my sari I stumbled down the steps. There was the family, “peri penniaji” said I to my mother in law’s knees.
Everyone remembers their first time. It’s an experience you never forget. My first time occurred on an airfield in Kent. A warm summer morning, blue sky, white cumulus, and a kestrel high above. A perfect day for my first solo flight. I stood beside my glider, a Czech-built Foka, watching that bird and longing to be up there with him. An old name for a kestrel is “windhover,” because of the way they ride the wind and hang motionless in the sky. This one was rising and falling as he fought strong gusts. I waited as the instructor examined my logbook. It was nearly a year since I’d joined the gliding club and I’d flown most weekends in a two-seater, but never on my own. He handed the book back and said, “OK, you’re ready to go solo!”
The glider was parked sideways to the wind, one wingtip weighted down to keep it on the ground. I buckled my parachute, raised the canopy and stepped into the cockpit. As I strapped myself in, a tractor rumbled towards me, drawing out half a mile of cable from the winch at the far end of the field. The instructor leaned in.
“Don’t try anything fancy,” he said, “You’ll find the wind is much stronger up there, so just fly a circuit of the field, followed by a normal landing.”
“What do you mean by a normal landing?” I asked.
“A landing you can walk away from in one piece.”
I closed the canopy and ran through the cockpit checks. All OK, ready to go. Someone attached the cable and the wings were lifted and turned into the wind. Like any aircraft, a glider takes off into the wind, to maximise airspeed and rate of climb. I took the stick in my right hand and signalled “Take up slack” with my left. The cable in front of me moved on the grass, until it was taut along its full length. I signalled “All out” and the aircraft surged forward, as the cable was reeled in. It gathered speed rapidly, balancing like a monocycle on its one wheel. I eased back on the stick and it lifted gently off the ground. I had done this many times before but never alone. I wiped my palms on my jeans.
The slipstream whistled past my canopy, and grew louder as the wind strength increased. The airspeed indicator reached 40 knots but I was making little headway against the powerful headwind. Looking down, I saw a worried expression on the winch driver’s face as he watched the cable. I could feel the tension in the cable increasing as I climbed. A sudden powerful gust hit me head on and I heard a bang below me. The glider bucked and stopped in the air. The slipstream was silent. The cable had snapped.
My stomach froze at the realisation I had no power. I was four hundred feet in the air, with the nose pointing upwards. Unless I acted quickly, the aircraft would stall and from this altitude I could not pull out. I would plunge straight into the ground. Instinctively, I pushed the nose down, desperate to regain speed and get the glider flying again, but the reaction was sluggish. I realised that part of the cable must be still attached, trailing below me and slowing me down. I tugged at the release and saw the cable drop away.
My speed immediately increased and I found myself diving towards the trees at the edge of the airfield. They seemed to be stretching up to grab me, and I didn’t want to end my flight tangled in those branches. I decided to turn through 180 degrees and land downwind. But it would be a tight turn. Could I clear the trees and reach the airfield safely? I banked steeply and pulled the aircraft round hard, the wingtip almost brushing the treetops. I straightened up in line with the runway. My heart was hammering. With the wind behind me, I shot forward past the winch and was half-way up the field before my wheel touched down.
The momentum carried me almost back to the spot I had started from. I let out a sigh of relief as the glider came to rest. I sucked in a lungful of air and realised I’d been holding my breath. I let go of the stick and wiped sweat off my hand. I’d been gripping that stick like a drowning man holding onto a rope. People rushed to help as I clambered out of the cockpit. I knelt on the grass and kissed terra firma. The kestrel was still soaring serenely high above me.
My flight hadn’t gone as intended but I had dealt with an emergency, made a landing of sorts, and walked away from it. Surely, I deserved credit for that? The instructor didn’t agree.
“You lost a lot of height making that turn. You should have flown over the trees and landed on the other side. We could have retrieved you from there. Have another go later and show me a proper circuit next time.”
Someone else was whispering nearby and I heard the words, “silly Foka”. At least, I think that’s what he said.
My son loves flying. When he was about 17 years old he started flying model airplanes. My brother and his friend went along for support but both soon took up the hobby and enjoyed it.
It went on for a few years and then his friend decided to try gliding. Yes! Going up in the air in a full size glider. Well, that did it. My son decided to have a go. It cost a lot of money but he loved it. Every Saturday morning, without fail, he was up and off to the gliding field. Every time he came home he was so excited about flying, the views, his progress in learning how to fly and how the gliders were launched. He was always telling me how wonderful it was and asking when I was going to have a go. My stomach churned at the thought, for years I had suffered from a fear of heights.
Every Saturday we went through the same routine. He was up at 6.30 and driving to the flying field by 6.45. After enjoying the day there he would arrive home to tell me all that had happened. Then he would be imploring me to go with him and fly. Always the reply was ‘Sorry I just can’t do it.’
Then the day came. He asked again if I would go with him, reassuring me that I could sit and watch from an old bus which had been converted into a diner. I would be able to have a cup of tea or coffee and something to eat and chat to other members of the gliding club. It didn’t sound so threatening then, so I went.
I was pleased to see him flying as he went to a special school, and this was a big achievement for him. He finally made it as a glider pilot of which we were both very proud.
Then the day came that I had been dreading. I was being pushed more and more to have a go. Finally, after much persuasion I relented. The instructors reassured me that everything would be o.k. With trembling leg’s, I made my way to the glider. I would be taken up by an instructor, the problem was, he would be sitting in the back and I was at the front! I stepped into something that looked to me like a wooden box. What the heck was it made of? It looked like plywood!! Can you imagine a jelly sitting in a wooden box? That was me! If the instructor hadn’t been sitting behind me and if no-one had been watching I would have jumped straight out again. But now I had to face up to it.
The launch wire was hooked on and we rolled gently along the ground. I clung on for dear life! Then all of a sudden the launch wire was released and we were up in the air. The scenery was beautiful, I think! Lovely sunny day but it was freezing cold. It wasn’t like being in an aeroplane, sitting comfortably looking out of a window. Oh no! There I sat at the front unable to see either the wings or the front of the glider. There was nothing, NOTHING between me and the ground! I could hear the instructor describing the countryside saying look to your right or look to your left but I couldn’t move, I was frozen. As we turned to fly back the glider tipped to the left. Now I didn’t know which was worse, freezing to death or sweating with fear! At long last we turned to land. The noise of the wheel hitting the gravel on the landing strip was absolute bliss. Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord! We are down! Quick! Get to the diner for a cup of strong coffee, that’s if I can get out of this damn thing!