Pottering.

This could be the dullest article ever. Pottering does not sound like anything at all. You could try putting some form of adjective before it: Dynamic pottering, epic pottering, useful pottering, heroic pottering, Harry pottering; that’s when your pottering is pestering someone into doing something. But pottering is all I have achieved. My flat is a pottering paradise. It is open and accessible. My new chair is marvellous. It whizzes about (dynamically) taking great chunks out of the door frames. It devastates little piles of useful objects, meticulously placed in a previous potter. Then I get to potter even more. And now the pottering is beginning to take over.

The freezer is packed tight because I like to potter in the kitchen. 20160728_125831In the early evening thoughts of creative culinary pottering crawl into my head: “Oh, I’ll just do a healthy bean casserole. I fancy making a chick pea and sweet potato curry. Oh, I’ve got some meat in the freezer, I can something with that.” And so it goes on.

Last night, I created some sun-dried tomatoes. Well, they were dried in the oven so they could possibly be sunbed-dried tomatoes, straight from the tanning studio.20160728_125308 Now I can make a focaccia with chopped chilli and sunbed-dried tomato. Of course, there is nowhere to put it. I’ve just put some freshly baked wholemeal rolls in the freezer, neatly wrapped in re-sealable freezer bags. (very potterish.) 20160728_125555I’ll have to eat it all in one go. I cannot possibly be wasted. What can I do? I could actually make a list of the contents of the freezer and plan a long term menu. (Too organised.) I could take something out and surprise myself, giving me the satisfaction of being a cook of wondrous variety. (Possible) I could send out invitations to everyone I know to come and try my home-grown ready meals. (It’ll end in beers.) Or I could just be patient and stifle my creative urges.

Do you know, I have run out of Tupperware? Last night, I had to put the remaining pork and cannellini bean stew into a Tesco’s plum tomato container. 20160728_125714It was all thin and plastic with clingfilm on the top. It is denying me the satisfaction of a nice chunky click when I close it to be preserved in my arctic oven. Well, that’s it! Pottering is on hold. Now where is the other packet of plum tomatoes to whack into the slow oven?

I blame celebrity Masterchef. I can actually tolerate the laddish over-serious baying of Greg Wallace and John Torode. Watching slightly famous people being put on the spot and using their own culinary expertise is truly interesting. But there was a young lady on the other day. She was a Paralympian. She had been born without a complete right hand but she got herself in that kitchen and competed. She hasn’t made the final and I can’t even remember her name. But it was inspiring.

If you have made it this far, I give you a big thank-you for reading.

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School’s out.

This is not an original title. It’s not even a clever title. But it refers to a very special day in the school year. That is of course, the last day of the summer term. Out of my front window, I can see the hordes of parents and children following their daily path to the local primary school. The mood is generally upbeat. Even in the darkest depths of an overly mild damp grey British winter, children chat happily or zoom about on their silver steel scooters. It’s a cheering sight.

Yet the last day is even more so. The gently ambling, if disorderly line is bedecked with gifts. They are carried proudly by the children smiling widely at the myriad of thoughts racing through their eager minds. “Today I am going to make my teacher smile. Today he or she will be nice to us. We’re going to do a lot of playing today. All the teachers will be smiling. We can talk to them about the things that we like and what we’re going to do in the really long holiday. Then we have the holiday.” Parents secretly quake. They too have a myriad of thoughts. “Child care, summer clubs, boredom, fighting, rainy days, money, travel, airports, early starts and just how am I going to get through the next six weeks?”

These are generalisations however. But the day is special. Each one of my year six classes, all nineteen of them, have helped make the last day quite precious. There were gifts. There were cards and letters. But most precious of all were the kind words. In the build up to that very day, in amongst the sports days and performances, I would make sure that I asked every child about their hopes for the coming years. It was never a great formal interview. It would be very light hearted. the moment could have been instantly forgotten. But for me, it was just a little nudge of encouragement. I was letting them know that I was releasing them into the wild with my good wishes.

On the last day, I always made the effort to go to the gate with the class. It wasn’t always possible. The combination of MS, heat and fatigue sometimes beat me. It was an opportunity to chat to parents about thew coming months. It was a good moment. I could cite many moments of this final farewell but I would be here for ages.

Instead, I will recall one little example. There was a girl in the parallel class who had gone through the entirety of her junior school life friendless and lifeless. She was not a hard worker. In fact, it was widely known that she did not relish coming to school. In addition, her family had done little to endear themselves to the staff or other parents they reluctantly interacted with.

She came to choir. Nobody knew why. She never spoke to anyone, she just sang. Sometimes she would just listen. There was a number of theories as to why she came. She was avoiding the lunchtime playground, she felt safer with a staff member around or even that she hated the cold weather.

Well on her last day, she came from next door to bring me a present and a card. Inside the card her mother had wrote a warm message of thanks for helping her daughter get some enjoyment out of her final two years at the school. She mentioned her child’s love of music and how my enthusiasm for the choir had given her some inspiration. It was touching. I felt honoured. Thank-you for reading.

A smooth weekend?

The weekend was hot. “Hooray,” we all shouted. A proper summer has arrived. I love the heat myself but it is not a two-way affair. For someone like me, it immobilises  the brain. If you can imagine my brain as an electrical circuit, the heat melts the plastic around the wiring. But there are ways and means of combating the dreaded oven effect. Sitting down and doing nothing is a good way. I’ve always been able to do that and now I can do it guilt-free. And that was my Saturday. Good job I like test cricket. but the weekend started on Friday morning.

The glorious summer sun blazed a vision of warm conviviality, inviting me into the amiable comfort of a fine July morning. Sunset-forest-grass-warm-sun_1920x1080As one comes back into the zone of consciousness, the day’s duties and pleasures ripple slowly through the mind. Then a shadow appears. A sense of dread springs into the heart. Bells ring. “Already?”

It was the bringer of great tidings. My indoor wheelchair was being replaced. It was being replaced at eight fifteen in the morning. We all know the blind panic of trying to gather together some semblance of decency in order to answer the front door. I grabbed a t-shirt. But there was no chance for the trousers. That takes an age at any time. It was the draping of my dressing-gown over my lower regions that saved the day.

The delivery man must have been the most polite, reassuring accommodating delivery man I had ever met. He put it together for me and took the old one away. It gives me great hope for the future of humankind to have had the pleasure of dealing with a man like this. He had a kind doctor’s bedside manner.

The chair has extended my powers beyond my imagination. It rises. It’s called Pheonix. 20160716_154430What a brilliant start to the day. In the afternoon I had some extended quality time with Rose. I was able to get into her old bedroom, now playroom and play with her.

The great feel good Friday continued. I built a chicken curry. I was on a roll. (Literally) Now to Saturday. Saturday was hotter. But I was floored. The thing about MS is that if you defy it, it will get you back. Saturday was payback day. I had to go shopping. But I couldn’t move. Now this is what you call a friend: My old mate Steve came back from a day of singing at Westminster Abbey to take me up to Morrisons. It had been a gruelling day but he came straight around and helped me to the supermarket. Just like the enormous favour my mate Pete did for me the week before. I’m a lucky man.

Now for the Sunday. I always feel that I have to earn my first cup of tea of the day. Usually, it’s doing some washing/clearing-up sort of domestic chore. What did I want to do? I wanted to fold up the travelling chair and give it a temporary home behind the little table against the wall. It took two hours but I did it. Man mountain Benny flexed his wasting muscles and kicked ass with the furniture. 20160717_192841I felt renewed energy. So I made a beast of a coleslaw. Carrots, celeriac, beetroot, cabbage, dijon mustard, mayonnaise and lemon juice. I’ve got a lot left. I’ve still got some energy but not for long.

Thank-you for reading.

Devil’s Island.

The Isle of Wight; not really devil’s island but it’s a term of affection used by my mate Peter. On Friday, I manfully made my way to that sceptered isle via Waterloo Station and the Wight-link fast cat. At Portsmouth Harbour there was a delay. No ramps! I had to stand teetering on the edge of the step shouting frantically for anyone who could hear me. Of course, someone did. A nice lady who looked slightly bohemian and well travelled summoned the fat controller. Weekday trains outside the peak times throw up a real variety of travellers. Apart from this helpful woman, there were backpackers, burdened with huge rucksacks and Old-Testament beards. 542198184They would throw their mini citadels across a row of seats, claiming their own little piece of transitory property. From the side pocket of their bag would emerge the familiar cream streak of earplugs and the slender rectangular form of the mobile phone. That would be it. Their eyes would close and their feet would tap. I always wonder: “Where are they going? How have they got here? What is their life like?” I finally emerged onto the windswept plain of Ryde Pier. re_pier_b“I must get I haircut,” I thought, trying not to look like mad John of the city of madness. Now it was time for more old friend therapy. With Peter, there is never any tentative period of just getting used to each other again. He just continues the insults from where he left off five years ago. So far, so good. I sat with his gorgeous family and we chatted about times gone and times to come. Then my chair stopped working. I’d named my wonderful powerful super-folding friend Angel. But then my angel let me down. She became sick. e11f8fbaf6dfdfeba04587b32955137bIt was hello to another night of worry. We tried. I was on the phone to the company. We let Pete’s father-in-law look at it. He’s a qualified electrician with a reputation as a mister fixit. Nothing was working. I even received a call from YuanLang who helped make the chair, all the way from China. That was a good gesture. He tried his best before I thanked him and asked him what the weather was like. I always do that. He said there was a rainstorm. I was currently having a brainstorm. So I had to go round Waitrose in one of those little wheelchair and cart convoys. The shopping was a great success; as was the beef rendang we put together with the help of Pete and his lovely younger daughter Ffion.beef-rengang As for the broken chair, the only answer was to return by car today. The ferry was good. They had a wheelchair all waiting for me. After speeding through grey rainswept roads , we finally arrived. Poor bloke had to drive all the way back. Back in the comfort of my own home, “Shaun the helpful” promised he’d be calling tomorrow to sort out the problem. So much for my great plan. The travelling chair and the domestic chair; yes the domestic chair came on Thursday. I spent the day unpacking the thing and putting it together until I found that a bracket was missing. “We’ll replace it in seven to ten days,” said the girl on the phone. Here I sit looking at two fallen angels. But they will be fixed and I will have my freedom. Thank-you for reading.

The long and winding drain Part two.

Old friends are good friends. You know each other. You know when to joke and chat. Silences illustrate the peace between you. When old friends meet after many many years, there is a period of insecurity. The people you used to share your everyday business with, now know less about you. There is a temptation to say nothing and just study their face for signs of age or mood. The conversation is informative as opposed to casual. We are re-discovering each other. When it’s a group of old friends, it can be more confusing. Little bands of conversation fly randomly. Then someone makes a joke; usually at someone else’s expense . The laughter breaks out and inside we feel a sense of joy and relief. Years haven’t changed us. We may look different, feel different but we still have the qualities which brought us together in the first place.

And there’s always one. Always one, who despite the partying and razzamatazz, looks the same. MTE1ODA0OTcxNjUyNTE1MzQxRichard Harris, Peter O’toole and Richard Burton always complained about Roger Moore, who seemed immune to the signs of cigarettes, whisky and wild wild women. It was George Orwell who mentioned that when a man gets to fifty, he has the face he deserves. My friend Goerge has escaped that particular stigma. I can honestly say that he his history has been as wild as mine. I know. I was there. He may be grouching about a little excess weight but he looks as fit as a butcher’s dog.

It was a good day. I returned to my dad’s to find some ramps in place. But I had forgotten about the little step onto the path. That’s what friends are for. Thank’s to Dave. It was time to watch the football. Dad asked me if I wanted something to eat. After a year of strict dieting, I broke. I asked for a plate of chips. Wow! And the sauce wasn’t even home-made. 8006288488_a9d0256ca5_b

The next day it was time to return. I was wondering if the taxi driver could possibly put the ramps out for me when I heard a clanging from downstairs. My dad had done it. He’s eighty-seven and has his own mobility issues. The old bugger had done it himself. The journey was a very smooth affair.

I was chatting to a woman on the train about teaching and the joy of the English language. I even introduced her to the word persiflage. It’s a wonderful word. Then we had a discussion about elegant variation. And I hadn’t even realised how pretentious my T shirt was.il_570xN.551571421_6u1l

I had promised myself a cold beer, the instant I went through the flat door. Then I saw the carnage from the Friday night. Three hours later, I certainly knew I’d deserved that beer. Tomorrow is more old friend therapy. I’m off to the Isle of Wight. I’m going to have the following weekend at home. Thank-you for reading.

The long and winding drain. Part One.

It had been booked for ages. I was preparing for ages. Feats of such  epic proportions need military like precision. It was the night before and my lift was arriving the next day at 8:15. I’d spent several hours packing my clothes, camera and ticket just so and attached them to the wheelchair. Perfect. What I didn’t count on was falling over in the space between the bed and the wheelchair and it taking me until 6:15 in the morning to get up again. We will investigate emergency call lines. Nevertheless, despite being bloodied and bruised I was at the station for 8:45. The shirt was hanging out, I had no tie and I was in tracksuit bottoms but I was there and that was how I was going to turn up at my brother’s wedding.2016-07-05 16.47.29 Now was this an omen for the journey up there?

The train arrived and I was helped on. It didn’t even get to the next station:
“Southeastern apologise for the delay blah blah.” I had to change at Tonbridge for the slow train to Victoria. Now I’ve been mastering the choreography of the bus ramp shuffle. It’s been going well. But the London cab ramp reflectstaxi-ramp the city itself; steep, precarious and very very curt. Nicer aspects of London are also available. The driver was a hero.

But I missed the train to Liverpool. The girl at the Virgin enquiry desk was also a hero. That would be a great title for a novel. So I was on the later train. Wedding at 3:00, arrival time at 2:21=mad dash across Liverpool and through the tunnel to the church. Mersey_Tunnel

No time to preen oneself in front of a gorgeous mirror taking long cautious minutes to exude the air of je ne sais quoi.

Straight in with five minutes to spare. Straight back into my childhood and formative years. This was Seacombe United Reformed Church. SeacombeURC01It’s not the prettiest of buildings but I used to go to the youth club. It once had an old pipe organ. I used to play Strauss waltzes on it. And then there were the faces. It had been so long. The last two visits to the church were for funerals. But now it was a wedding. I had been waiting for something to lift the spirits or at least pour them into my glass. (Later).

In the bar was a coming together of old friends.IMG_4539 With a lack of sleep and a weary journey I was struggling to put two words together. It was the brain fog. Short term memory and sequencing were throwing their dark cloud over my head. I was longing for a rest; somewhere to lay my aching head and recharge my soul. Was I? Well I couldn’t do that so I accepted my first drink of the day. Thank-you for reading.