Posts Tagged ‘Steve’

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – WHAT’S IN A NAME?

March 5, 2012

Over the half term holiday, Steve and I took a short break to London.  We used a hotel at which we have previously stayed, and in the hope that I could sweet talk the manager into finding a room for us to book when we (fortunately) travel up to see the Olympics.

“Mr. Pessimistic” said I had no chance, but worry not, the name Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds is enough to strike fear into the soul of even the most hardened of hotel managers!

So having had a really good Valentine’s meal, not to mention polishing off an appropriate bottle of pink bubbly stuff, I set about my task.

Down to the front desk …. “Allo Madam” … Oh how my heart melted, a Frenchman on Valentine’s day!  I felt fleetingly guilty for leaving Steve to settle the restaurant bill with a rather burly female restaurant manager of Eastern European origin; But, I must confess the emphasis on “fleetingly” as I can’t remember the last time I was in company of a real Frenchman.  With all the charisma that I could muster, I put my chair into riser mode, and inwardly chuckled at the look of amazement on his face, as I appear Goddess-like from the other side of the reception desk.

First things first, I introduced myself.  “Ah Madam” you are of Irish Origin.  “Qui” I replied, and we proceeded to make small talk about how awful it was for so many Irish Rugby fans to have travelled to Paris for the game that never was.

I ascertained that the Manager’s name was Jean-Claude (commonly known, as I discovered during our stay, as “JC”).  I garbled out my request.  I really didn’t think a woman of a certain maturity of age could still be so struck by the French accent, but there you are.  JC reassured me that if I called at the desk in the morning, he would be pleased to help in whatever way he could “Until the morning – Merci” was my reply, and with all the grace of a deflating hot air balloon I returned to ground level, and back to Steve.  Between getting to our room and drifting off to sleep, I had composed a chanson d’amour especially for JC, the lyrics of which will remain firmly in my subconscious!

True to his word, JC did indeed do all he could to help, and managed to persuade the computer system to let him book a room for our Olympic stay.  So, for the time being “Au revoir JC” … Or certainly until our next visit.

The point of the little deviation in this blog is to show just how we react to names.  Would we have taken the Duchess of Cambridge quite so readily to our hearts if she had been called Lilly.  Somehow, “Wills and Lills” doesn’t have quite the same appeal on the tea-towel! What if the Duchess of Cornwall was not Camilla, but rather Cilla … “Charles and Cilla” sounds more like a couple who should occupy one the famous houses on Coronation Street.  But fortunately for our future monarchs the issue of a troublesome name has eluded them.

Most names are capable of change – usually shortened, Ed, Bob, Fred, Andy … the list is endless, and the minute you read those names, you will instantly be able to put a (Thalidomide) face to those names.  Shortening names is OK if you get it right.  For years, I have variously been called Ros, Roz and Rosalind … until I put my foot down – well, in the metaphoric sense.  Now, I am contentedly called Rose or Rosie, or by my correct title of Rosaleen (pronounced Rose-a-leen).  A couple of years ago, Steve had a song written for our wedding anniversary.  From what I can gather, he had more than a little difficulty explaining to the lyricist and the singer how to pronounce my name in the song. Fortunately, in the final product, they got it right, and (as I lean over the bucket!) I can still hear the dulcet tones of the Cornish folk singer telling me how wonderful I am … Ah!

How we are addressed defines who we are.  In a recent report on Dignity in Care for Older People, certain recommendations were made to avoid the use of patronising names for older people. One description which is hoped will be outlawed, is the use of the term “Old Dear”.   I can interject here and tell you that one of my current PA’s used to help an older lady.  She always referred to her as the “old dear” and for the two years that my PA worked for me and this older lady, I never got to find out what her real name was.  I am still trying to educate this particular PA on the use of politically correct language.  Only time will tell if I succeed.  *_*

However, some terms of endearment are can be quite hilarious.  Take for example, the checkout girls at our local supermarket.  I nearly laughed my socks off the other day when, having just bought some petrol, we drove up to the kiosk and the lady behind the glass quaintly referred to Steve as “babe”.  I gather he has a maenad of female followers dotted around the supermarket from the bread section to the flower stall, not to mention the filling station.  All I can say is “Should have gone to SpecSavers”.

Like us, I am sure you have pet names for the members of your household.  I am Oshie (as my sister Denise couldn’t pronounce Rosie, when she was younger); Steve is Tug (a derivative from thug, when he had a short haircut); James is Dopey (need I say more!).  My Dad progressed from plain-old Dad, to Pappy (when he became a Grandfather) and sometimes to Raggy (I think it has something to do with his working clothes!).  My beloved maternal grandmother (to whom I refer in my book) was known as “Queenie” as she never left the house without a string of pearls, rather like the Queen Mother. 

I shan’t even bother you with the pet names that James uses for his Mum and Dad.  Just think cattle – female and male, and you’ll get the drift.  But where those particular terms of endearment came from, I have absolutely no idea.

Names, used in whatever way, can help to form a view of a person or product.  Whenever I venture to have a manicure, I count my lucky stars when I come out the other end with all digits intact.  After all, a book entitled “Three and a Half Fingers and Thirteen Toes” just doesn’t have the same ring as Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes!  Heaven only knows what would happen if I ventured to have a pedicure.  “Four Fingers and 9.75 Toes” would, most definitely fail to ignite the imagination.  Moreover, where would Amazon place it their category list … Maybe under “Contortion Made Simple” or “One Good Reason Not to have a Pedicure”.  Thank goodness I’ll never have to worry about that little problem … I’m not sure if I could cope with a rewrite!

When I googled the meaning of the name Rosaleen, I was surprised to find a conflict between its origins.  I had always thought it had its origins firmly rooted in Irish culture.  Rosaleen is considered as an allegory for the Irish nation communicating a message through a symbolic figure.  It became more widely used following the translation of the Gaelic name Róisín in the James Clarence Mangan poem “Dark Rosaleen”. 

However, a further search shows the name Rosaleen also has a German origin.  How strange therefore, given the whole crux of my story started in Germany, and is inextricably linked to Ireland, that my Mum decided to give me such a unique name.  It was not chosen for any educated or intellectual reasons, but, as my Mum explained to the Doctor who delivered me, she chose it as a “pretty name” – and indeed it is.

Roisin Dubh (pronounced; row sheen dove) means Little Dark Rose or Dark Rosaleen in Gaelic. It’s a traditional Irish poem turned song, that dates back to the 16th century and is one of Ireland’s most famous political songs. In a time where the Irish were not allowed to sing proud songs about their country, many songs arose that seemed to be about women or other subject matters, but were really a pseudonym for Ireland herself.  Thus the name ‘Dark Rosaleen’ is Ireland.

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, only a couple of weeks away, and in honour of my Irish roots and family, here are the words of ‘Dark Rosaleen’.

Dark Rosaleen

By

James Clarence Mangan

O MY Dark Rosaleen,
Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
They march along the deep.
There’s wine from the royal Pope,
Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Over hills, and thro’ dales,
Have I roam’d for your sake;
All yesterday I sail’d with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne, at its highest flood,
I dash’d across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
O, there was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lighten’d thro’ my blood.
My Dark Rosaleen!

All day long, in unrest,
To and fro, do I move.
The very soul within my breast
Is wasted for you, love!
The heart in my bosom faints
To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot, night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
Like to the mournful moon.
But yet will I rear your throne
Again in golden sheen;
‘Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!

My own Rosaleen!
‘Tis you shall have the golden throne,
‘Tis you shall reign, and reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!
Over dews, over sands,
Will I fly, for your weal:
Your holy delicate white hands
Shall girdle me with steel.
At home, in your emerald bowers,
From morning’s dawn till e’en,
You’ll pray for me, my flower of flowers,
My Dark Rosaleen!

This blog has been an interesting voyage, which started as a humorous look at names and how they shape characters.  Ironically, and almost by default, I have discovered that all the attributes which come with my names seem to fit my personality and life story perfectly.

So, whilst I am happy to be called Rosie, Rose, or anything else that might seem appropriate! I am Rosaleen through and through, and can’t thank my Mum enough for giving me my name.  It might not figure in the top 100 list of babies names, but if it is symbolic of triumph over adversity and matches my personality, then I’m happy with that.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – SHORT CIRCUIT

August 25, 2011

How many of you have experienced the “short circuit” syndrome which so often accompanies an annual summer holiday.  In my experience, it can come in many forms – the stress of trying to clear your desk before you leave; the hassle of packing a suitcase with summer holiday gear (most of which will come home unused); organising the security of the house and maintenance of your lovingly tendered plants – which you know will be as dead as a door mat by the time you return – and finally getting the whole family to the airport, ferry-port or other point of departure for that mystical holiday that is supposed to heal all the stresses and strains of the preceding twelve months – Ha!

Regular readers of my blog will remember our abortive Christmas holiday, which we had to postpone to the summer.  And so, the cases were packed, labelled and secured.  The weather forecast had been checked – no ash cloud or unforeseen snow – and the Moriarty-Simmonds family were set and ready to take a huge chunk out of the “Big Apple”.

The trip to Heathrow was bit of a white-knuckle ride.  I must confess minibus travel is not my preferred mode of transport.  Added to this, the driver (who looked like Sterling Moss) drove like Sterling Moss, meant the journey along the M4 sometimes melted into a hazy blur of countryside.

However, a safe arrival at the airport, a gathering of like-minded holiday makers in Terminal 3, a quick stop in the departure lounge, and “whoosh” we were off.  Seven hours later, and with an ever increasing urge to “powder my nose”, we landed.  American Border patrol was an experience.  Left thumb print; right thumb print, and a full complement of eight other digits was required before the official behind the glass screen would even look at you.  So, how were they going to cope with my petite four fingers?  At this juncture please be assured I did not offer my thirteen toes in substitution … My reasoning?  Quite simple.  I would have been carted off to Roswell quicker than the time it takes for Paris Hilton to make a new best friend!

Fortunately, a photograph was sufficient, and we proceeded to find our shuttle bus driver, who had been waiting patiently for us to negotiate the multi culturalism that can be found around the baggage carousels at JFK.

Our journey into Manhattan was interesting.  If you thought the roads in the UK were in a poor state after last winter, then spare a thought for our American cousins.  The Expressway looked as if it had suffered from the most extreme form of acne, which would take more than a strong dose of antibiotics to fix.

Safely installed in our hotel, we decided an early night was in order.  Some things never change, but I did draw the line at Steve ordering milk and cookies just so he could feel really at home.  After all he is a grown man – or at least he likes to think so!

A night out in New York

Before we left home, we had planned an itinerary of everything we wanted to achieve during our time in New York.  My sisters baulked at the idea and some friends (who we were due to be meeting Stateside) recoiled at the “heavy” schedule.  Military was the operation, and armed with all necessary equipment to see us through the day; we met my good friend Paul to start our first day of sightseeing.

First stop was the High Line, West Village.  Cleverly, a park and walkway has been developed from a disused railroad track.  This walk was an interesting deviation from the glitz of uptown Manhattan.  Here you could get a real sense of life in the Big Apple.  In this part of town, there were no glamorous apartment blocks with efficient air conditioning.   Here you got an appreciation of life in those less affluent areas, that most of us give nothing more than a mere second thought to, when we travel by train, and see the outer areas of a city.  Or the areas we try to avoid in our own locality – as it is just a little too far outside our comfort zone.  This was life in the raw, although just a block or two away from the ostentatious images that symbolise New York. 

Enough of being profound.  Steve was on a mission.  He wanted to go to Tea and Sympathy for a Sunday roast.  Tea and Sympathy isn’t an American funeral parlour, but rather a traditional English tea room in the heart of Greenwich Village.  Some months before our holiday, a certain William and Kate had got married.  Royal Wedding fever had hit New York and resulted in a feature in the Sunday Times about this very gentile of British establishments which boasted the finest Sunday roast in America.  We battled through the crowds in Washington Park, and eventually found this haven of “Britishness” where you could buy fish and chips and all things British to satisfy even the most home sick Brit!

Tea and Sympathy was there like an oasis on a hot and sticky Sunday afternoon.  There was but one problem, the tea room was probably no bigger than your Grandmother’s front room and in order to get two wheelchairs into the dining area it would have meant emptying the whole establishment.  Now, although sympathetic (excuse the pun!) to our desire to have a Sunday roast in New York, the hostess, a rather pretty young lady called Eimear, could only offer iced tea on the pavement.  As it was not really what we wanted, we decided to move on. James was smitten with Eimear, and he and Steve fought tooth and nail to claim ownership of the kiss that had been thrown in our direction by this striking Irish lass, as we walked away from the aroma of Sunday roast wafting from the kitchen. 

Undaunted, we pursued our quest to find all things British, and ended up spending the balance of our evening in The White Horse Tavern, which according to local knowledge is the place where that famous welsh poet Dylan Thomas had his last drink, on the night before he died.  It wasn’t quite Tea and Sympathy, but it was an interesting way of seeing the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village whilst working out which bus would take us back to 42nd Street.

Our second day saw us visiting the United Nations.  Although not quite like it appears on TV during international state occasions, it is an imposing building, and well worth a visit.  We were fortunate enough to be given a guided tour of the public areas and exhibitions by a young man who was a dedicated “Torchwood” fan (see the Welsh connection again). 

It is a deeply moving experience to view all the good work which the UN does throughout the world, and to appreciate just how a small amount of money can do so much good in under-developed countries.  One such project is the school and sports kit in a box.  For just a few dollars the UN is able to provide a school environment in a trunk, which includes paper, pens, pencils and all the other small items that school kids these days take for granted.  And for just another couple of dollars, they can provide a sports box that contains bats and balls, together with other items of sports equipment to make the lives of children in war torn and deprived area of the world just a little more bearable.

Rosie & James outside the United Nations – must dash, "the General Assembly were waiting for us!"

Just a few blocks away from the UN we came across a small park that doubled as a viewing platform for the East River.  We saw old and young alike enjoying a small haven of tranquillity in an otherwise bustling area.  Like most parks in any country, I am sure it takes on a different persona at night, but for a short while it was a joy to see two opposite spectrums of New York life coming together, and seemingly without a care in the world.  And so it was that we ended our second full day in New York.

Day three started very much like the others, but was destined to be our short circuit moment.  Having had two days of very touristy stuff, we had designated day three as indulgence day.  James and I were determined to indulge our passion for shopping.  On leaving the hotel, it was warm and sunny.  A short stroll up 42nd Street, took us on to the Mecca of NY shopping – 5th Avenue.

Saks, Abercrombie and Fitch – oh heaven!!

We had a good time in Saks and after Steve got writer’s cramp – I did tell him to perfect a shorter signature – we loaded him up and headed out on the street again.  However by now, it had started raining.  But, the threesome of welsh origin, weren’t going to be daunted by a little bit of rain, and so we bought some umbrellas.  Onward we ploughed, and the rain started to get gradually heavier.  No problem, if Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can travel through water, so can a SunMed F55 Quickie … Wrong!! 

Steve's very poor impersonation of Gene Kelly, just before the torrents of rain and the short circuit!

It began to rain like we have never seen rain before. Torrents and torrents.  Within minutes Steve was sitting in a puddle of rainwater with a realisation that this is what it will be like when he’s seventy plus and he’s forgotten his conti-pads.  James valiantly shielded me with the umbrella he was carrying.  Despite his best efforts he couldn’t protect me from the ravages of the rain, which meant that when I next went to the bathroom; my legs were tattooed with the floral pattern of my dress.  I looked like an auditionee for NY Ink!  At this point we were about 100 yards from my intended destination, a rather fashionable handbag shop when Steve’s chair short circuited.

Soaking from head to toe, and stranded outside one of the world’s most expensive jewellers, what do you do?  Well, the first thing is to try and persuade the security guard that you are not part of an elaborate heist, and you genuinely need shelter from a rain storm that even Noah would have found it hard to cope with. 

Having overcome that small hiccup we were cleared by security, and ushered into a haven of marble and antique furniture, not to mention diamonds and jewels, the like of which even Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (as one of the world’s highest paid celebrities) would have found it difficult to comprehend.

Completely sodden, we were not exactly shining examples of the clientele that would grace the lobby of this establishment, but the staff were wonderful.  James was given a dry T-shirt, and an exclusive bag – in which to take his own soggy T-shirt back to our hotel.  The management quickly liaised with the hotel and arranged a shuttle to collect us, whilst a lady attendant cheerfully mopped the pools of rainwater, that flowed from our chairs like the rivers of Babylon.

However, when the rain stopped for a short while, and it was time for our friends to close the store, we had to leave the safe enclave of diamonds the size of large pebbles, and wait for our shuttle on the pavement.

Steve parked himself on the street corner, and tried not to look like an “extra” from Born on the 4th of July, whilst James and I did what any self respecting wife and son would do … Yes, you guessed it.  We crossed the road to the shop selling those lovely handbags and I finished my shopping!

Two hours after short circuit, a saviour in the form of a Super-Shuttle driver turned up to repatriate three very wet Brits, and one broken wheelchair to the Grand Hyatt.  Now, think Humphrey Bogart – think Casablanca – think that famous quote.  Well, of all the taxi companies in New York, and of all the taxi drivers in the Big Apple, who happened to come to our rescue … None other than the driver, who five years ago brought us to and from JFK on our last sojourn to New York.  Howard, a wonderful driver and an even nicer man made sure we, and our shopping, made it to the sanctuary of the hotel bar.  Well, if we were wet outside, why not do likewise to the inside!

Those of you who use powered wheelchairs will know that if you get your chair wet, you take a hair dryer to it as soon as possible.  However, this chair was way beyond redemption.  Looking rather sad and forlorn, we parked it up in the bedroom and set about hiring a replacement.  It was fortuitous that before leaving we had made arrangements with the company from whom we had hired a shower seat, that if we needed wheelchair repairs, we could call upon them for help.  The following afternoon a hire chair duly arrived.  The first hire chair was a bit like riding a brick, and from what Steve tells me, it’s a good job that we don’t intend to extend our family any more … The second, and more heavy duty replacement, came the next day but was a front wheel drive chair. 

I never have seen anyone make such hash of driving a chair in all my life.  But the new chair was eventually mastered, and at least I can now say that if Steve needs a part-time job, he’ll be OK as a fork-lift truck driver!

We lost about half a day of our planned itinerary, but still managed to do all the things we wanted to do.  We took in a game of baseball at the new Yankee Stadium.  We are fortunate to be able to say that we have seen the New York Yankees play at the old and new Yankee Stadiums.  We dined at the View Restaurant, Times Square, and took in the night-time skyline of those familiar landmarks around Manhattan.  We wandered through Times Square just around midnight – as we had planned to do at Christmas time.  We explored Central Park and marvelled at the peace and tranquillity which is so close to the hustle and bustle of the city.  The 360° view of New York from the Rockefeller Centre is spectacular and we danced in the aisles to ‘Mamma Mia’ on Broadway.  And I never cease to be amazed by that tingly feeling I always get from sitting in Grand Central Station just soaking in the atmosphere and watching the world go by!

We were however, saddened by the number and plight of homeless people.  Their look of anguish and despair will remain with us for a long time to come.

We made friends with some wonderful people at the hotel, who went out their way to help and make our stay such fun, and above all we eventually made our Christmas holiday a reality – even if it was eight months later than planned.

On our last day, Steve and James did a sterling job of getting everything into our suitcases – not to mention my handbags (and yes, from the short circuit day the “handbag” did have a few babies!) for the return journey. 

At JFK we did have a little difficulty in explaining to the airport authorities how to handle a heavy broken powered chair, and the authorities at Heathrow were not much better.  I cannot believe how the definition of “broken” can differ from country to country.

However, when we finally cleared customs in the UK, and the sad sight of Steve’s broken chair could be seen sitting all lonesome in a corner of the baggage hall, we knew we had completed a New York experience of epic proportions.

We got a porter to load the broken chair onto a trolley that is probably more used to carrying Louis Vuitton luggage.  Using my crystal ball, I think that as the good Mrs. Beckham is currently experiencing back trouble, a Louis Vuitton “customised” wheelchair may be required for her transatlantic flights over the next couple of months.  What a precedent we have set – even if our wheelchairs were rather more humble!

Having left the departure lounge, we found that Sterling was waiting to return us along the M4 at breakneck speed.  When we crossed the Severn Bridge, my thoughts turned to what we had managed to achieve in ten very hectic days.

As we turned off the motorway, I was quickly brought back to reality by the most horrendous thought … What if the washing machine short-circuited? How would we manage without the obligatory wash of all things underwear? I have to say the thought of any man without clean underwear, is a prospect that is enough to make even the sanest of us ladies short-circuit in a most spectacular fashion.

I’m glad to say that all was well on planet Zanussi.  The washing machine worked perfectly, and the awful thought of men in congealed “bundies” did not materialise.  Phew!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – RITES OF PASSAGE

May 28, 2011

There are few things that direct the mind to the march of time than the arrival of a new baby. 

I can almost hear the gossip now … “She kept that quiet, and fancy at her age!”

Well, I’m pleased to say it’s not me, but Steve’s niece who gave birth to a healthy baby boy a couple of weeks ago.  Baby Luke heralded the start of a new generation in our family, a mantle that James has been proud to hold for almost as long as he could talk.

When the news came, I suppose I was just a little melancholy at the memory of all those rows of baby clothes that lined the wardrobe, the boxes of disposable nappies that filled the boot of the car on each shopping trip, and the thought of all those lovely little semi-spoonerisms that kids utter with such ease.

Of course like most parents, we wished we had taken the time to write them all down, if only to cause major embarrassment at significant times of teenage and young adolescent life.  But alas, we will have to rely on memory to “eke” just a small amount of fun from those happenings and events that cause such great merriment to those of us now in the middle-age and older generation.

Rites of passage are a funny thing.  They can create great pride, cause mayhem or make you realise how time flies.

At around about the time that young Luke made his entrance to the world, we received a letter advising that – as a pending school leaver – James would need a national insurance number.  OMG (!!) it suddenly dawned on me that my once dependent child was soon to be old enough to start contributing to the household budget that he had single handedly sent through the ozone layer; and this had been achieved by him consuming vast amounts of food, cost us inordinate amounts in sports club subscriptions and polishing off enough trainers to provide an emerging economic nation with sufficient footwear to get them through at least three Olympic games!

My once dependent child!

Whilst sitting at the dinner table that evening, I realised that James’ Saturday afternoons out with mates, were slightly alcohol filled forays into early adolescence and a little extra use of his Dad’s aftershave was designed to impress the opposite sex.  Everything I had done (not using my Dad’s aftershave I hasten to add!) to a greater or lesser extent over ?!!@?!!  years ago, my son was now doing and enjoying every moment.

A few days later, after I had sort of regained my composure over this rite of passage, I was slapped in the face with another.  The last official school day was over, and a triumphant return from full time education was marked with the school polo shirt signed by all manner of friends and acquaintances – and there were even some teacher’s signatures sending wishes of good luck for the future.

Now, I must confess I cried my eyes out when the primary school polo shirt came home in much the same fashion five years ago, but to see “smiley faces” replaced by “Luv U :)” next to the names of kids I could remember on the first day at school was just too much to bear.

So the polo shirt got lovingly parcelled up and placed with all the other childhood memorabilia and then it was onto the next rite of passage … Preparation for the school prom.

Having bawled my eyes out at the signed polo shirt, I can tell you that the Gents outfitters to which we went to acquire the dinner suit resembled the swimming pool at our local leisure centre by the time we left the shop.  The whole experience was made all the more emotional by the sound of the Alison Moyet track “All cried out” blaring from the HMV store next door.

That left me wondering whether I could cope with the next rite of passage in the form of the holiday “with my mates”.  A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation about this very subject with a few of my “girly” friends, and was reassured when told, that “so long as Mum and Dad are paying, the kids will still want to come away with you”.  But hopefully, I will not have to consider this rite for at least another year.

My now very independent child!

 

I could go on and on about these rites which keep cropping up and how I will cope with them, but I won’t.  Instead, I shall take this opportunity to remind Steve that theatre tickets, romantic weekends and meals out will now be the order of the day. 

So I guess that MY rite of passage has been from “tummy” mummy (and yes, you did read it correctly!) to proud Mum and hopefully in the future (and I sincerely hope the more distant future) to “Nana”.

For the time being I shall have to practice at that latter role with young Luke – ranking behind his Grandma and Great-grandma of course… But hey, the attraction of being transported around on the back of a large dodgem car, by his rather eccentric Great Aunty Rosie, will I hope be just as attractive to the newest generation of the family, as it has been to James and all of his friends. 

We are soon off to meet Luke for the first time and I hope that his Mum and Dad have as much fun at parenthood as Steve and I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.  It’s not over by a long way, but I am reminded of a saying that my Mum told me many years ago “Parents hold their children’s hands for a while and their hearts forever.”

How true that is.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – SOLVING STAFFING PROBLEMS

March 3, 2011

Over the last two weeks our news channels have been awash with stories about unemployment and the seemingly endless rise in people finding themselves jobless, in an ever more miserable economy.  I would hazard a guess and say that for the vast majority of the 2.49 million who are recorded as being out of work, they would jump at the chance of doing a worthwhile job.

So, I don’t think I was alone in being more than a little shocked when the media reported that our Deputy Prime Minister had an apparent episode of amnesia over his duties to the country, whilst our PM was in Egypt.    Forgetting your lunch box is one thing, but forgetting that you’ve been put in charge of the country whilst the boss is away is quite another.  So, it was against this background that I mulled over my success or otherwise in the field of employing Personal Assistants.

Anyone who has read my book, or knows a little about me, will know that I employ two Personal Assistants to help me live the full and independent life that I am privileged to enjoy.  In fact, anyone who has the slightest impairment will rely, to a greater or lesser extent, on other people to help do things that are sometimes difficult to manage on your own.

Coming to the conclusion that you need help to live independently is a strange crossroads to navigate.  On the one hand you have a desire for complete independence, but on the other, there is a recognition that a little bit of help can go a long way to making life easier.

I came to that crossroads about 23 years ago, just before I got married, and on the whole reckon I have just about managed to get it right since then. 

When I first started to engage help there was no such thing as Direct Payments, Person Centred Care Plans or user led Independent Living Schemes.  You just had to be content with a home help “carer” who came in and helped you as best they could – Ever mindful that time was pushing and they had another 10 “clients” (as we were called in those days) to get out of bed, do lunch and try and make life as comfortable as possible for the recipients of the service. 

I did manage to get Cardiff City Council Social Services, to agree to me having some control over my care package however.  Thus, the “Helper for Rosie” scheme was set up.  For the first time (in Cardiff anyway) a disabled person (me) sat in on the interviews of the “Helper for Rosie” applicants, and held the final vote in who those ‘lucky’ people were, to become my helpers!

Generally though, this was not the case for the majority of disabled people.  With the introduction of Direct Payments however, all that changed.  This was an opportunity for me to engage Personal Assistants who could help me when I needed help, and not when the timetable allowed.

Becoming an employer is a daunting prospect.  The plethora of forms and procedures that had to be learnt and complied with was phenomenal.  The recruitment process was not for the faint-hearted and   establishing a system of time-keeping was essential.

I was fortunate to have help and support from a number of avenues.  Not least was the Cardiff and Vale Coalition of Disabled People who, through their direct payment advisers, were always on hand with friendly advice, to make the whole thing seem far less arduous.  Also, having been involved in recruiting staff for most of his professional life, Steve had a wealth of knowledge on what to look out for … excellent tea making skills, good telephone manner, and of course to be discreet. 

Now, at first sight, this seems a good basis from which to start.  However, when Steve once employed a receptionist who had a slight hearing impairment – long before the days of disability discrimination legislation, and despite arranging for the amplification on the office telephone system to be increased – he still got messages left on his desk reading “Please could you telephone Mr. Higgins an alien from Porthcawl.” I began to wonder whether his judgement and advice on employing staff could safely be relied upon. 

It would be amiss of me not to explain that Mr. Higgins was not an “alien” at all … but rather a Lion (as in a member of Porthcawl Lions Club) and a good friend.  In fairness to the employee in question, and with a bit of lateral thinking and a large amount of imagination you can see how the mistake was made.  However, I should add, that the young lady to whom I refer did decide a future as a receptionist was not quite for her – I gather she was last seen on the set of the latest Alien movie –“PAUL”.

Back to me – I remember my first month as a PA employer very well.  It was August 1997 and is marked in my memory by the fact that on the very first Sunday I had a weekend PA to help me; it was the day that Diana Princess of Wales died.  Not a great deal was done that day, other than my getting up, and we spent most of the time looking in disbelief at the scenes unfolding on the Television.

After that, I quickly learned that the TV should never be left on when you have a PA working with you. 

I have employed a variety of people over the last 23 years.  Old and young, gay and straight, tall and thin.  Each PA has brought their own unique qualities to the job – some better than others. 

In the preceding 23 years my Psychology degree has come in very handy.  If you took the mailbag of Bel Mooney, Claire Rayner, Victoria Ironside and Marge Proops, to name but a few – you get my drift.  I’ve listened to, and helped sort (I think) a variety of problems. 

If the walls of my bathroom could talk, what a tale they would tell … drink, teenage pregnancies, serious and life threatening illness, failing marriages and family rifts – I’ve heard them all.  I’ve even been able to tell Steve a few things about Coronation Street weeks before the events have unfolded.  Who needs TV Listings Magazines, when you have PA’s who seem to devour the gossip in TV Magazines like the world will end tomorrow!

In general, my PA’s (past and present) have been loyal, caring and have become, in an odd way, an extended member of the family.  But, there are times when I get very frustrated – especially when I think I am being taken advantage of.  One of my biggest bugbears is when my staff sometimes forget the importance of why they are there to help, and decide to take a ‘sickie’ day off for something as simple as a cough or cold.  As far as I’m concerned, no-one ever died of a cold, and a runny nose is not an excuse for failing to turn up for work.  On occasions like that, I have to remind them that one much respected former PA, chose to continue to work during a gruelling course of chemotherapy, and even in the depths of such serious illness, never forgot that the help she gave to me enabled me to lead a fulfilling and independent life.

The job of a PA is an important one, and I always try to emphasis the uniqueness and value of the work they do.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  When it doesn’t, and if all else fails I fall back on the contract of employment that is the benchmark under which my staff work for me.  For example, I have a number of ‘golden rules’ which I expect my PA’s to adhere to.  These are built into the job description and contract of employment.  They are as follows:-

  • Must be Reliable, Trustworthy & Honest – The P.A. is providing me with the support I need to be independent. I need someone I can rely on to turn up and do the job when needed
  • Must be Punctual
  • Have good Communication Skills
  • Must be Discreet & Sensitive
  • Must have a Flexible approach to hours worked and times needed
  • Be able to accept Responsibility but ask if instructions are not clear
  • Be Clean and have no Unhygienic habits
  • Respect my family and our home
  • Must have a ‘good sense of humour’

Whilst I am friendly with my PA’s, ultimately I am their employer, and the employer/employee lines of demarcation have to be observed.  That way, we all know where we are.

When I reflect on being a PA employer, there are a couple of things I think I have learned.  Firstly, you have to have the patience of a saint.  Secondly, don’t put too many “nice” biscuits in the biscuit tin (!!), and thirdly, the shelf life of a good PA is about four years.  After that, interest starts to wane and there is much truth in the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt”.

If I take that last principle, then I think in the not too distant future, I may be looking to a recruit some new PA’s.  When that happens, I shall start to trawl through the CV’s that come with the letters of application.  I’m not averse to considering applications from all gender and religious orientations.  After all I, above all people, who make my living from promoting equality issues, am happy to be an equal opportunities employer … Heaven knows I’ve had enough experience!

There may even be a CV from one Nick Clegg … Previous experience: Deputy Prime Minister … Attributes: Articulate; Personable and with good administrative skills; Reliable and punctual. (I’ll have to footnote this in the reference request to his former employer).

It might be worth calling this candidate for an interview, but then, if he gets through the first hurdle, I just wonder how he will persuade me of his reliability.  After all, if he thinks I’m going to sit in the bathroom waiting for him to hop on a plane back from Klosters, because he’s forgotten it’s a work day, then he has another think coming!

Perhaps after all, I’m better off sticking with idle chit-chat about soaps and family dramas, rather than fiscal policies and the balance of payments. 

I might even be persuaded to open the “fancy” biscuits for the next successful candidate, when I look them straight in the eye over the dining room table and wildly flap one of my four fingers vaguely in their direction, and announce with aplomb that “You’re Hired – Welcome to the mad-house … I’ll see you in the bathroom at 8am sharp.”

Then I’ll just hope, that unlike our Deputy Prime Minister, they don’t forget to turn up for work, and leave me knitting buttons!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – HANDS THAT DO DISHES

January 27, 2011

It’s moving toward the end of January, and 2011 appears to be shaping up to be the year of ageism.  Everything we see or read seems to be age obsessed.  

That great British institution, otherwise known as the BBC, fell foul of an ageism judgement as a result of a truly justified discrimination claim by former TV presenter Miriam O’Reilly.  What appeared to follow was a plethora of programmes fronted by well-respected female presenters of the septuagenarian kind. 

During the same week that the “Beeb” appeared to be back-pedalling big time on ageism, I joined Steve and James for breakfast.   It doesn’t happen very often, but as an honorary member of the Moriarty-Simmonds breakfast club, I observed the glamour effect first hand.  Our BBC regional morning news bulletins are fronted by a number of female presenters, but I caught the two men in my life ogling over a particular female presenter.  They say everyone has a double, and I am hers.  We both have blue eyes, dark hair and got married in the same church.  That, however, is where the similarity ends.  I am probably old enough to be her mother; she is tall and slim; and then there is the small matter of a full complement of fingers and toes.  I shall take this discussion no further; for fear of her receiving a ribbing from some of her BBC Wales news colleagues who I know occasionally read this blog!

Then, later in the day, I read no less than three articles based on age, in our daily newspaper.

It started with an article telling me that those of us of who have now entered their 50’s are entering the age of ‘true happiness’.  Turn over, and what did I see, the fabulous Elle MacPherson looking gorgeous at 47 – and in fact probably even better than she looked when she was 22 – if the comparison photographs are anything to go by.  On reaching the “female” section of the newspaper, I read a very interesting article espousing the virtue of 50 as being more about ‘firmness of character than the firmness of the flesh’! 

The article finished by concluding that although you grow into middle age, and it can be quite rewarding, a sensible pair of shoes and a good concealer does make that transition easier to bear.

Now as you will appreciate, a sensible pair of shoes is of absolutely no use to me, but yes, I can testify to the benefits of a “Macs-Factor” or “Polyfillor” foundation that blends with my own tones and blemishes!

Looking back at the photograph of Elle MacPherson it is clear that she does not subscribe to the sensible shoes philosophy.  Killer heels were the order of the day.  However, the shapely pins aside, the give-away age signs were visible on the hands.  Personal trainers charging astronomical daily rates, and hairdressers twiddling tresses for more than the average food bill, can do nothing to defy the age process on the hands.

I’m really not one to boast, but I have to say there is one major advantage to having four tiny fingers, and that is my hands have defied age.  I am proud to say that my hands have remained as smooth as the day I was born, and not a drop of anti-wrinkle washing up liquid has graced the skin.  On further inspection, I also have feet to die for.  Set aside the small matter of thirteen toes and you have catwalk feet … Dainty, delicate and lily-white.

So with wrinkle free hands and feet without a bunion in sight, why aren’t the model agencies clamouring for my services?  I guess it might well have something to do with what’s in between the fingers and toes.   

I feel a discrimination claim based on Sizeism looming on the horizon. 

Should I lay bare my vital statistics in support of the fuller figure, or should I just spare the world of the prospect of a middle-aged Mum (with the trademark of four fingers and thirteen toes) vying for a page three feature in a tabloid newspaper.

I know that James and Steve would be delighted if I chose the latter option.  As James eloquently pointed out, he was not sure if there would be enough column inches on page three to accommodate my photograph – Now there’s a vote of confidence for you!

I am pleased to tell you that Steve and James will be spared the prospect of me bearing all and, at least for the time being, their mornings will remain safely in the hands of my regional news-reading double. 

However, like all good middle aged women who have aspirations of a future in the media, I shall continue my radio work.  From the darkest depths of the Gwent valleys, that see more than its fair share of rain, I shall be an ABLE woman.  I shall champion the cause of the fuller middle aged woman during my air time.  After all, quality and quantity can go hand in hand.

Who knows, if the fear of this ageism culture continues, I could well be the next BBC Radio One Rock Chick … Now that really would give James something to worry about. 

So, to my lovely son who says I have the perfect face for radio, I say, “Turn off the I-Player, stop listening to Fern Cotton and get on with some homework !!!”

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – SENIOR MOMENTS LOOMING …

November 27, 2010

A funny thing happened the other day … no, nothing staggering to brighten an otherwise very gloomy November day, but there were strange items of post delivered by our friendly postman Dominic.

Like us, you are no doubt well used to the flood of junk mail coming through the letterbox, and Spam tumbling into our inboxes, but when you approach 50, odd things happen to your junk mail.  The “fifty-something’s” junk mail phenomenon has finally struck.

We had tried to prepare for the moment, by registering with mailing and telephone preference services, but alas, there was no escape from the “Funeral Plan” mailing.

Yes, Steve has reached the age where junk or spam no longer invites membership of the local gym club, or online offers for Viagra with such strength it could satisfy the lustiest lothario on the X factor.  No, he is now receiving mail inviting him to join an insurance plan without medical, or a funeral plan that allows him to decide whether he wants a Mercedes Benz or a Transit van to take him to his final resting place!

Granted, he doesn’t resemble the trim man I married over 22 years ago, but come on … give him a break.  He’s only just got used to the fact that, the hair gel in the bathroom hasn’t been used for (well), an awfully long time.  Or that ‘classic fit’ in a shirt really means, these are shirts for men who like to think of themselves as snappy dressers, but they are now past Ralph Lauren, and should be looking for “Roly ol Men”

So, how do you appease the man of your life who realised that life began at 30… about twenty years too late!

Simple.  You organise a party.  A family gathering with an air of sophistication.  For those of you who have read Four Finger and Thirteen Toes, you will remember that we like a good party.  When Steve and I reached the lesser of our significant birthdays – the age of 40 – we did just that.  We had a jolly good knees up (excuse the pun!) and breezed into our fifth decade with optimism.  However, ten years on, there is not quite so much wind in our sails, and optimism has been replaced by a visit to the optician.  Therefore a more refined celebration was called for.

Ha … no fear.  Having broached the subject of a party, Steve declared that he wanted a 60’s themed party.  So far so good.  However, not known for a major amount of “je ne sais quoi”, Steve promptly issued invitations to a Chinese takeaway night, with a request to all guests to bring something from the 1960’s.  Needless to say the acceptances came flooding in – after all who could resist the allure of a Chinese takeaway washed down with one or two; or three, or four glasses of good quality wine.  In my mind, the prospect of drinking copious amounts of wine, just about made up for the thoughts of a takeaway on this special occasion, rather than a sumptuous banquet.  But again I came up against the obstinacy of this grumpy old man, who had very definite ideas on how to celebrate his 50th birthday.  Fine wine was out, in favour of a classic 60’s wine – answers on a post card please – but let’s just say, Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch figure pretty high on the wine list!

And then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the FedEx man turned up again the other day, with a parcel.  Neatly addressed to Mr. Simmonds, both James and I decided we might have to call upon the help of the Psychiatrist who lives opposite, when the parcel was opened to reveal the entertainment for the party – a Karaoke disc of 1960’s music!

Now I must confess, I have great difficulty seeing Steve’s Dad gyrating his hips to “Delilah”, or his Mum doing a rather bad Shirley Bassey impression of “Big Spender”.  But horror of horrors I have this recurring nightmare of my middle sister doing her Lulu impression to “Shout”.  She used to do it very well before she had kids!

But stick by his guns he did, and only yesterday, the strains of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap could be heard coming from the living room, with Cardiff’s answer to Robbie Williams fair murdering a rendition of “Young Girl”.

So, although his birthday was the other day, tonight is the party, and all I can do is wait and hope…   Hope that the guests turn up.  Hope that the dishy delivery man from Chinese takeaway is able to make it through the snow (yes we have lots of snow in Cardiff which brought the place to gridlock yesterday), and that Mr. Gary Puckett doesn’t find himself with a Noise Abatement Order after his karaoke performance.

I’m sure all will be well, but there is just one thing I forgot to tell you.  The post arrived this morning, and guess what … They’ve now caught up with me too.

My first “Plan” letter has arrived, and for replying I get a bunch of Marks and Spencer vouchers.  How can I resist, after all I’ve just been told of a new line in “inco-pants”.  Nifty at Fifty??  More like damp and dreary, but what the heck … Where’s that wine – even if it is Steve’s party … [singing]

“Get this party started on a Saturday night
Everybody’s waiting for me to arrive
Sendin’ out the message to all of my friends
We’ll be looking flashy in my Mercedes Benz
I got lot of style, check my gold diamond rings
I can go for miles if you know what I mean
I’m comin’ up so you better get this party started
I’m comin’ up so you better get this party started”.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – BED BLOGGING – THE ADJUSTABLE WAY

October 28, 2010

Over the last 18 months or so of blogging, I have shared some of my inner-most thoughts and feelings, and this blog will be no exception.

So today, I shall invite you into my bedroom.  Not literally of course, cyber space would never be the same again if I did that, but to tell you about my journey into the world of adjustable beds.

Some years ago, Steve realised he was getting older when he started reading the mobility advertisements at the back of the weekend newspaper, but I had resolutely resisted the temptation to go any further than the weekend horoscope.  It had never crossed my mind to enter the world of colourful advertisements that tell how easy it would be to step out of your bath tub by using a bath with a door; how fabulous it would be to levitate into a standing position with a rising chair; or indeed how much independence you could have with a mobility scooter you throw into the back of your car.

Now, for those of you who know me, you will appreciate that a bath tub with a door is of absolutely no use to me, using a rising chair would require a miracle of evolutionary proportions, and with my Quickie wheelchair, I would beat any racing granny riding her scooter in the local shopping mall.

But when reality dawns on you, that it takes longer to get comfortable in bed than it does for Ty Pennington and his team to build a fabulous new home, it really is time for action.

And so it was, a number of weeks ago that I ventured past the weekend horoscope and into the world of the adjustable bed advertisements.  I never knew you could have such an array of positions in a bed – which reminds me, I must revisit the Karma sutra!!

The thought of double sprung mattresses, memory foam, storage under the divan and all other manner of accessories, made choosing a bed almost as hard as choosing sweets from the sweet counter when you were a kid.

But, my search was not a long one.  And one simple phone call to Adjustamatic would bring Tony to my door.  This was going to be a whole new experience for me.  Previous bed-acquiring encounters had been limited to waking up the in the morning and deciding that the little dip in the middle of the mattress was just not big enough for both Steve and I, and either he moved into the spare room, or went out and got me a new bed.  Needless to say he opted for the latter.  He never did like the dark!!

Tony duly arrived, and having been told we didn’t want a sales pitch all about the history of adjustable beds, he announced he would bring the demonstrator into the living room.  By this time we were intrigued.  Anyone who has previously delivered a bed to our house has either ended up taking a door with them or the very least left dents in the wall that anyone could follow in darkness if they wanted to find the front door.  However, we were to be prepared for an amazing feat.

Tony brought the demonstration bed into the house in two sections.  Firstly in came the base, all neatly folded onto what looked like a railway station luggage trolley.  Then Tony returned to his rather nice-looking BMW estate to bring in the mattress.  You have probably gathered that when a demonstration bed is transported around in a BMW, this is going to be no ordinary demonstration, and you are right.

Off with the jacket.  Tony was ready for action.  Steve retreated to the kitchen to do what he does best in times of panic, and made a cup of tea.  James became decidedly embarrassed at the thought of his mother trying out a bed in the presence of a complete stranger, and promptly left the building.  All I could do was marvel at how my world was about to change with the simple touch of a button.  This foray into the world of adjustamatic technology would, I hoped, send me into deep slumber in less time than it would take to “Move that Bus” – as they say in Extreme Makeover land.

With the bed duly assembled, all that was left to do was, test drive it.  Not being the type of person to spoil anyone’s fun, I generously allowed Steve to have the first go.

With all the grace of Ann Widdicombe on the dance floor, he eased himself onto the bed, and then the fun began.  Like a friendly wizard, Tony wielded the remote control to lift and separate like no self-respecting under-wired bra could ever do.  Steve was hooked.  But the best was yet to come, another press of the remote, and “brrrrrrrr”.  The sound of supersonic style vibration filled the house.  This, we were told was the ultimate in relaxation.  Mind and body would waft into the most relaxed sleep we had enjoyed for years, thanks to the wonder of the Adjustamatic massage system.  After a minute Steve declared himself to be a convert.  How did he describe the experience?  Not quite an encounter with Claudia Schiffer he said, but I doubt he would be brave enough to say so even if it was – He values his life!!

By this time, I couldn’t wait, and not to be outdone by Steve masquerading as Anne Widdicombe, I did my best pantomime cow impersonation, and dutifully climbed onto the bed.  “Zoop” up we went, “zoop” down we went.  “Brrrrr” into vibration mode, and when Tony increased the number of vibrations to maximum … well, lets just say, who needs the Karma sutra – enough said!!

The demonstration over, and the bed was duly packed away.  The pot of tea was cold and stewed, but did I care?  No, the answer to my sleepless nights was just a signature away.  How quickly could it be delivered?  Will it fit the space in the bedroom? Will I ever want to get out of bed in the morning?  All these questions and more were buzzing through my already vibrating mind.  With the calmness of the most professional sales person, and thoughts of his pending commission, Tony reassured me that the bed would be delivered as soon as possible. Yes, it would fit in the space we had available in the bedroom, and yes, his most loyal customers of the Adjustamatic bed, had to get up in the morning, even it was just to visit the bathroom because of the urge to use the loo, brought on by the vibrating bed.

As Tony left, driving into the night with his adjustable bed, I knew the right decision had been made.  All I had to was wait.

True to his word, the bed arrived on the agreed delivery date, and then the fun began.  I must confess the first night was not the overwhelming success that I had hoped for, but when you realise I am the Princess, and if there is the remotest hint of a pea in my bed, then I can’t sleep, there were bound to be hiccups.

Two weeks in, and we are now getting used to our “zoop-zoop” bed, and it’s great.  Vibration in the evening, and vibration in the morning, added to loads of lovely duvet in the form of our newly acquired king size duvet makes for a different type of bedroom experience.

For those readers under the age of forty, you won’t know what I mean, but for those of us who are fast approaching fifty and then some, you will appreciate my sentiment when I say the plumpness of the pillow far outweighs the passion of the padding.

It now takes the same amount of time to get to bed, as it does to blow up the old house ready for the Extreme Makeover.  So now when Steve asks if I am ready for bed there is no hesitation.  My response, in the inimitable words of Mr. Makeover himself is – “Let’s Do It”

And now, you really have to leave my bedroom … Gosh, it’s nearly time for me to get ready for “zoop-zoop” antics.  Sweet dreams … zzzzzzz

—-

As a footnote, if anyone out there is interested in the adjustamatic experience, just let me know, and I’ll pass your details on to Tony.  I promise you, the experience will be just “Brrrrrrrillll”

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – Revise, Revision and Repeat and, Oh yes, the case of the clear pencil case !!

June 2, 2010

Picture the scene, it’s about 9.30pm on a sultry Tuesday evening, and the events unfolding in our house are not uncommon in houses throughout the world at this time of year … Yes it’s exam time.

Slightly frayed tempers, a teenager bordering on brain overload, and the first GCSE examination due to take place the following day, created a rather interesting image of domestic, or perhaps not such domestic bliss in the Moriarty-Simmonds household.

The day had started reasonably well, despite having been told, just before school, that a clear pencil case was required for the next day.  Consequently, chargeable hours worked in the RMS Disability Issues Consultancy went out of the window, in favour of a marathon dash around all stationary outlets in Cardiff, to find something that would pass for a clear pencil case.  The route taken across the city centre in an attempt to find such a receptacle, looked rather like a game of noughts and crosses – Staples to Smiths, Morrisons to the Market, Asda to Argos.  Yes, we visited them all.  At the end of this marathon, Steve arrived home triumphant with a pencil case that had a clear front with a solid black back.  Now, by any stretch of the imagination that is not a clear pencil case.  But as he explained, the whole of the parental population of Cardiff, and the surrounding areas, appeared to have gone into meltdown to find clear pencil cases over the preceding weekend.  Apparently, the rather disinterested shop assistant in Staples, said that was all they had, and they weren’t expecting any more stock in before the beginning of the following week.  I expressed some concern about the colour of the pencil case, but we decided to leave it until James came home, before resorting to “Plan B” being a good old fashioned plastic freezer bag … Recycled of course, in the spirit of the Design and Technology exam that was due to take place the following day !!

And so, after our evening meal the final process of revision commenced.  After a reluctant trudge into the other room, the rustle of papers could be heard for the final slog through the range of topics that formed the basis of the DT syllabus of Resistant Material.  By my reckoning the only resistant material in the other room was the resisting “grey” matter that is supposed to pass for a teenage brain.  However, a couple of hours later, James emerged well pleased that he had managed to reconcile his laminates with his linear lines, his screws to his rivets and more importantly how Ross Lovegrove and James Dyson could be “compared and contrasted” should the need arise.  I have to say, that we are now experts in the field of cyclonic vacuuming and DNA staircases.  However, if I have to listen to one more fact about the bagless cleaner or the ergonomics of plastic seating, then I shall expect an Honorary GCSE in Resistant Materials all to myself !!

Now, the process of revision for the evening should have been finished at that point, when concepts of recycling had moved up a notch, from what goes in our green bin, to how designers consider that using “less is more”.  Remember however, we don’t do thing by half in our house.  Not only did the following day herald James’s first GCSE exam, but it was also the day that I was due to attend a particularly important interview.  So, having given up all hope of watching TV that evening, Steve switched from DT guru, to being an expert on democratic enhancement in Wales – all in the time it took to make a cup of tea.

Foolishly, I had forgotten how important it was to prepare for an interview.  After all, for the last fifteen years, I have been my own boss, and having no-one but myself to answer to.  Granted you have to pitch for work, but somehow that is different.  So I decided that Steve should do a mock interview.  Now, coming from a teaching family, he does like to wield the odd bit of power.  “Please explain to me how you have enhanced democratic engagement through your work?” I paused and then launched into my reply.  Thirty minutes later the mock interview was over.  “You weren’t supposed to make it that hard” I snapped, as the wannabe teacher on the other side of the table, closed my file of papers in that dictatorial manner employed by the teaching profession, which says “I told you so …!!”

I should have realised that just like revision, it is important to stretch your abilities – in whatever you are doing as far as you can.  I did it when I finished my own education, when I learnt to drive, and when I wrote my book.  I guess, like so many others that I know, we will continue to do just that, to show what disabled people are able to do.

And then it was time for bed, for both James and I the next day was a very important one.  But there was spanner lurking in the wings … “Dad have you managed to fix up my work experience?”  Well, we now have a third skylight in the bathroom, the RMS chargeable hours will be down again … but would we change anything?  Not for a million dollars.  And so, my next blog may well be about the aftermath of the interview and exams … Will James Dyson win the battle over Ross Lovegrove in the recycling stakes?  Will I have finally enhanced democracy in Wales?  We will just have to wait and see.