The Kitchen Inspectors.

I had been warned about the visit but despite the notice, I had a sense of trepidation. In previous visits, they had certainly put the kitchen through its paces. I say in previous visits but I must warn you that such visits were carried out on an individual basis. The kitchen had never seen them both at one time. What could I do? The afternoons building up to this day were spent scratching my head. Recipe books were scoured, the internet was desperately scrutinised and possibilities were considered.

This was not a time to go for safe options. Of course, they would have been quite acceptable and well appreciated but I wanted to impress. I wanted unctuous layers of rich delicious memorable flavours. I wanted layers of flavour. It had to be complex.

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That’s not me by the way.

It started the week before. I thought about my favourite flavours. They had to be bold.They had to be imposing. But most of all, they needed to get on. This was not going to be a dish of dispute and confrontation. Like an angry orchestra, they had to play together with fire in their belly. It was to be Mozart’s twenty-fifth, not his twenty-ninth.

Meat. Meat was needed. I lurked around the supermarket with both cunning and stealth. I quietly went about the onerous task of ingredient selection. One by one the items built up in my basket. The request for three pounds of meat was met with a combination of delight and surprise: “Do you want it diced?” “I would like it diced approximately one-centimeter square.” My instruction was unwavering. “Do you need to do any more shopping?” asked the smiling assistant, sharpening her knife with relish. Kari-Underly-cleaver1“I’d like to wait,” I replied. Silence ensued as she expertly sliced up the said hunks into perfect dice.

The journey home was slow and deliberate. Usually, I’d be whizzing along the road at an eye-watering eight miles-per-hour. But I wanted to bask in it. I was enjoying the slow deliberation of my selection. The cooking and preparation also started well before the event.

Hours of intense meticulous preparation were accompanied by methodical systematic clearances. My kitchen needed to be organised. I could not possibly function with chef’s detritus swimming all around me.

Kitchen-messOn the day, the final preparations were made. It was still a heavy task. There was no rest for the military-like precision. The final piece was the creation of the seeded naan breads. Stash and Ian arrived. More old friend therapy. It was like we had met the day before. They ate all the meat. One kilo of tandoori chicken wings, a beef korma and a massive beef rendang were totally demolished by my hungry friends. In the balmy evening, as the light faded, we sat outside my front door chatting about times past. What a night. What a pair of appetites.  Ian and Stash: legendary diners.

IMG_4578   IMG_4577

Thank-you for reading.

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Whatever happened to Roger?

Roger was my mate. His dad was a butcher. At school ,we were great friends. We had a deal going. He swapped me a bar six for half my sandwiches. Good business I thought, until lunchtime that is. But I loved my early morning sweet hit. In 1972, Roger left school and went to work for a bank. The following term, I did the same. I didn’t last the six-month probation while Roger went on to have a successful career. Then we just drifted apart. We met again six years later when I was working behind the bar of a local pub. Then, I realised our paths had gone in totally different directions. But we still had a great chat.

By this time, I had other mates. Some were crazy and some were safe. My mate Peter was mad. We had some very hair-raising moments. He married early. His wife Jean is delightful and equally mad. (In a lovely way.) We spent new year’s day of 1994 emptying the Victoria Hotel of Laphroaig whisky. Between the three of us, we had two bottles. The second bottle was on the house. So where would we be without good friends?

I’ve been lucky with friends. All over facebook we can find declarations about the value and nature of friendship. We don’t have to meet every day. We don’t have to talk all the time. We can just sit there in silence and still be friends. They are all true. Just sitting there with a beer or two is real therapy.

My father had no shortage of friends. He would go out for a pint every Friday night to meet them in a local club. Then one evening after I returned home from work, he was still indoors. I asked him why he hadn’t gone out. He sighed stoically and replied that the last of his friends had finally died.

It was very sad to learn that one of my best drinking pals died way too early. Bob was the purveyor of many quick quips. Every Christmas he would say “condiments of the season.” It still amuses me. We miss him. On Saturday he came round to my flat to help me brew the Young’s Bitter recipe. It was an entertaining morning. Of course, because he was a Yorkshire man, only he knew the way to do it and I was completely useless. That was fine because he gave me a lot of time. The trouble was that my parents were staying with me for a week. After I dropped them off at Victoria Coach Station. I drove back dreaming of a leisurely afternoon drinking my lovely beer. No. My father had finished it.

Since I moved to Sussex, I have made some very lovely friends. But why did I move here? Well in September of 1975 at University College Chester, I met a rather tall, outrageously bearded person called Steve. We hit it off. We used to do things like change the engine on my car, replace the rear springs on a Frog-eyed Sprite. That took two days to undo four very rusty bolts. We loved cars but we also loved music. We travelled around to concerts and shared holidays.

Once in France, in a beautiful village called Lagrasse, we found a cave co-op that served red wine from a petrol pub. We became concerned about our purple teeth. There is a lot of water under our bridge. Most of it has been brewed or distilled. But this giant of a man not only puts himself out to give me lifts and share fine whiskys. At five o’clock last Sunday morning, he turned at my window to help me up after a fall. I missed the spectacle of him climbing through the window because of my prostrate position. But he turned up and lifted me up. Now that is loyalty.

It’s not like the people in my arts class. I cannot criticise their intentions but it was almost competitive in who could help me the most. I was in a manual chair and they liked to push me. But if you are a wheelchair user you will know about people leaning on your chair. I didn’t have the heart to complain about it so I stopped going. I’m cool though.

Tomorrow, my mates Stash and Ian arrive for old friend therapy. Then there was my brother’s wedding when I met many old friends. This weekend, I’m back on Devil’s Island to see another old friend called Peter. He’s a bit mad too. And so are his beautiful family. Friends are good for the soul. Thank-you for reading.

Eastbourne.

I used to live near a seaside resort. New Brighton is tucked away on the top right corner of the Wirral coast. It has a rich past. In its day, thousands of day-trippers would head for the long stretches of golden sand and the jolly funfairs. Once it had a tower. It was taller than Blackpool Tower.

One of the saddest parts of my life was watching the untimely demise of this once popular part of town. It didn’t happen overnight. With an air of inevitability, as though some unseen evil force was driving its destruction, I saw the gradual but vital closures of New Brighton’s key attractions. The outdoor fair, the Tower Ballroom, the pier and the ferry just seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. BathsNBstorm15KThen the year I moved away from Wallasey, New Brighton baths was savaged by the raging sea.

I remember sitting on the doorstep of my Auntie Edie’s doorstep in Egerton Street. It was the first week of the summer holidays and I was staring at the entrance to the fair. It was always busy and it was never disappointing. It was a real moment of excitement.

Today there has been a renaissance of sorts. A collection of national retail outlets and a programme of rebuilding has brought back some life to the old place. I can’t knock that. There are jobs and there is a focal point for the area so I’m not going to start a rant about modernist architecture and the uniformity of large chain attractions. I don’t really know enough about it to make any reasoned valid judgements but it seems that there is a variety of opinions about the re-birth of New Brighton.

Last weekend I went to Eastbourne. My latter home is now in East Sussex. I went with old friends. We arrived early, had no problem parking and the weather was glorious. It was the final day of the airshow. For a couple of hours, we sat by the beach and watched the world go by.

My, what a world we have. an army of seaside troopers of every shape and size filed past with their own quirky little cabaret. There was a lot of body on display. Large tattoos strutted past, bare-chested with arms held out. I saw the full tanning spectrum from pink to dark. These were silent soldiers. They looked straight ahead, frowning seriously whilst clutching their plastic beer glasses.

Then there was the mobile division. Prams, scooters and bicycles sailed past with their own soundtracks of discontented children and overheating exasperated parents.

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you get the idea?

There was ice-cream everywhere. Like me, some people were in wheelchairs. I chatted happily to some of them while we queued for the disabled toilet.

In amongst the passing throngs, some examples of dignity and elegance floated past; or at least they were those who cared about their appearance. From greying men with white jackets and old school ties to younger, more glamorous specimens, they punctuated the human mess.

Most memorable were the full fold-over stomachs. They were bare-chested, the bottom of their enormous bellies wobbled shamelessly over their abdomens and they didn’t care.

There were two outstanding moments of this day. Firstly, I sighed at the pier. I thought about the loss of New Brighton pier.

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It was an empty feeling.

Then there was the man of the match. The Lancaster bomber roared slowly through the air like some predatory bird, absurdly stark and menacing. 1409330967568_wps_55_lancaster_bomber_http_wwwThat Airfix model I’d made many times on the kitchen table was now above me. It was the first time I’d seen it in the flesh. I felt humble and proud at the same time. It represented a time of great human suffering. For many of its former crew members, there must have been a mixture of excitement and fear. It left me quite spellbound.

I’m sure that New Brighton has its fair share of troopers in all their glorious variety, chipping away in that familiar old accent. But sadly, it no longer has a pier. I can no longer steal a bit of the river to look back at the friendly old coast. It still has some significance however. Every pilot I’ve ever spoken to knows about New Brighton. From the air, it is a significant marker for orientation and navigation. It was an excellent day. It fired so many memories and experiences.

Thank-you for reading.

Where do the children play?

This is the title of an old Cat Stevens song. Today he is known as Yusuf Islam. The conversion to Islam happened decades ago but he is still very much a humanitarian and purveyor of peace. The song itself is the first track on “Tea for the Tillerman.” cat-stevens-tea-for-the-tillerman-frontIt relates to the urbanisation of the world and alludes to man’s obsession with “progress”; a bit sixties hey man, brown rice no socks, peace and love where’s the drugs etc. If you read the lyrics,

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/catstevens/wheredothechildrenplay.html

you can see where it’s coming from. Naturally, some of the subject matter relates a lot to issues of today. One could also argue that the power of the nimby (in this country anyway) has been significant enough to prevent

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us from being overrun by the encroaching concrete jungle.

Then if you look beyond the UK, there are endless issues concerning pollution and deforestation. And it’s all in the name of giving the customer what they want. We want fast communication, every latest phone or pad. We want nice comfortable cars, centrally heated houses, massive televisions, cheap food and high street take-aways with all their packaging.150803598_3106090b

Then there is ordering online; out of sight, fresh air strangling diesel fired vans and lorries are blocking our roads just to get our whim purchases to our doorsteps. white-van-delivery-vehicle-containing-wrapped-pallet-boxes-double-apprbnWe also want the right to have the choice of our children’s schools, thus creating the great school run and all the well-publicised jams around our great institutions twice a day.

Whilst visiting a nearby school, I once expressed my surprise at the number of children turning up in cars. Access was narrow; it was little more than footpath across the village green. The head smiled and said:

“You want to see it on a rainy day!”

So where do the children play? Where can they go if their parents are reluctant to let them out of their sight for fear of falling prey to the countless number of paedophiles and axe-wielding madmen constantly roaming the wild savage streets?

Do they go up to their bedrooms with their social media and x boxes turning pale and weak from the lack of vitiman D? 2445AB0500000578-0-image-a-56_1419633550287Are they taking constant selfies and showing them off to their friends and the millions of strangers who may also have access to all their pictures? Maybe I could send this suggestion to Mr Islam as an answer to his early seventies conundrum.

But when I went to the park the other day, there were lots of children around. Many were toddlers playing on the swings with their parents, enjoying a picnic in the warm summer sun. playgroundThere were older children posing between themselves, multi-tasking between discussing their latest crush and telling everyone else about it on their phones. And yes, there was a park. In fact, there are many parks all over the country. They are all full of children. So is the countryside.

What’s the problem then? Is there a problem? The problem may be the rate of how we change. The Industrial Revolution was mind blowing in its day. The shift from agriculture to industry affected the majority of the population. Villages turned into towns and towns into cities. Great big ugly factory beasts rose up and filled our green and pleasant land.halifaxmillchimneys It happened across two or three generations. It was rapid progress.

But now? The current rate of progress makes the Industrial Revolution seem like a snails’ parade. We live in rapidly changing times. Because of the rate of change, these times are controversial.

Not everyone likes change. Can’t we go back to the days when the children played out making mud-pies until it was dark? Does progress dictate that it will never be the sam again? Shall I start a playing out movement where I secretly recruit children to go and play football in a cul-de-sac.

CHILDREN PLAYING FOOTBALL IN THE STREET

(I can be the ref! I have been CBR checked.)  Or shall I just say that change is showing no sign of slowing down. What do I want in the future?

A cure for MS would be a start. So remember your history but hang onto your hats. The future is an incessant tornado. Thank-you for reading.

Shopachronics.

I’ve just invented that word. I’ll send it to the Oxford English Dictionary people before receiving a rejection in eight months time. It will say: “Thank-you for your suggestion but we think you made it up. Now go and acquire a meaningful existence.”

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This is not me by the way

For me however, it has a valid meaning. A shopachronic is someone who tries to shop normally but is blighted by the limitations of their chronic condition. For example, I can happily tootle around the supermarket in my scooter but items on the top shelves or buried at the back of a chiller are inaccessible.hqdefault (1) So, I’ve developed a way of getting them. Firstly, I try leaning towards the desired object, accompanied by a few little grunts and groans. Then, I employ the hook of my walking stick to entice the obnoxious little item into my reach. By the time I reach the final part of my routine; making an attempt to stand pathetically, some very kind person comes to my aid. It could be anyone; a helpful rugby type, a busy mum burdened with several lively children, someone with a walking stick, proudly showing off their mobility prowess despite needing the stick, an old dear (they always like a nice little chat) or eve8123445-man-dancing-with-walking-stick-on-whiten one of the staff. The staff are good because if I can inject enough pathos into my performance, they will happily race around the store and complete my purchases for me. That’s not exactly true; I don’t put it on but I can’t resist some poetic licence. I am deeply heartened by this. Yet I am a little saddened. What is happening to my independence? Why can’t I do everything on my own? Now, this article can go one of two ways; I can launch into some form of depressive lament about the evil toll of the great beast I live with or I can stop and think. How many times do we say: “Think of the positives.”? (I’m not quite sure where the question mark goes in that statement.) To get to the shop in the first place required a quite stunning choreography of preparation and dynamic action. And this is a complete solo act. It can be a long act. The MS brain fog makes sequencing difficult so I will forget bits and pieces and need to waddle and wheel back and forth between the driveway and the flat. (Give me strength.) Then it is the pleasant trundle up the road to the supermarket.

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Yes this is my road.

Yes, I know I can shop online and I do but sometimes I need to break out of my four walls and taste the real world.

Now, I get called posh for shopping in Waitrose. But it’s the nearest one and I know where everything is. Of course, there are many people who float about the place wearing the great smugness of “I’m here because I can afford it” as they make loud remarks about organic this, organic that and caring about the future of the planet. business-man-with-many-shopping-bags-arms-folded-looking-happy-smug-c1yc73That last one is actually worthy but we don’t have to crow about one’s dedication to it. In fact, I have taken to Tesco’s for my online shop. Waitrose is my top-up shop. Because I’m a “savvy shopper” (Don’t you just hate that phrase?), I don’t spend too much on buying just to look good. I say not too much but I do like their inner cellar wine collection. Well, sometimes I think I deserve a good bottle of a sumptuous red. Most of my shopping is for basic fruit and veg and ingredients. Why? Because, and here is a massive positive, I like to cook for myself. In fact, my flat is now finely tuned to allow me to sail between cooker, cutting board and most importantly, the dishwasher. l_21295591I tend to get my meat from a local farm. In addition, I have been to other supermarkets and everyone has been exceptionally helpful. Another positive. Maybe shopachronic is not the right term after all. I think it should be shopahelpful. It’s not an ordeal, it’s a pleasure and I am grateful for being able to do it. Thank-you for reading.

The old school.

The playground was a wonderful place. There was always something entertaining.. On hot days in the summer, a few of us would perch upon the kitchen wall and watch the various games and things being played. Why all these boys would run about after a ball in the afternoon sun was a complete mystery to me. It seemed as though they were programmed to follow this old ball around, running as fast as they could to catch up with it and hoof it somewhere else. Inevitably the ball would disappear into the rabble of wiggling feet and legs moving towards the sacred goal like some crude circular river dance. Then without warning the ball would be fired out of the mess into another space. The mob would follow (someone would always fall, shouting “foul”) and the whole thing would start again. Ludicrous if you ask me!

There would often be an argument about the “goals” or who was taking the free kick. Frequently the same hot headed idiots would lose their rag and start kicking out at anything that moved. The worst thing was that after all the passion and fervour of this frantic pointless kicking, a lot of these over-boiled sweating, grunting, boys would be sitting by us in the classroom for the rest of the day. Then the teacher would rant about the disgraceful lack of attention, and Billy Tindall’s “attitude problem”, thus turning the afternoon lesson into a tedious and somewhat odorous affair. I learnt that word from Mr Collins or Mr Big as we called him-he was always proud of his command of the English language, especially his use of big words. I always knew when he was going to use a big word. His speech would slow a little, he would wobble his head, then pause slightly before declare his extra long word as though it was some form of announcement. This would be followed by a shrinking of his already truncated (thank you Mr Big) neck and a final flourish of head wobbles. I digress. Back to the playground……….

The playground itself sloped down to a small wall with one of those rather unstable wobbly mesh fences. This is where the football would take place. Many times we would watch the younger children run down this slope pretending they could not stop. They would finally throw themselves at the mesh before laughing hysterically. Hours of endless fun. Well it made them laugh anyway. As for the football, there were many occasions when some over enthusiastic, usually overweight boy would kick the ball over the fence into the main road. This was never a mystery to me as it was to the teachers on duty. You see the football was always dominated by a few of those sporty boys, far too skilled and wrapped up in their own imaginary superstar status to pass this ridiculous object to anyone else. Therefore on the odd occasion when a less agile or skilled boy had a chance to kick this greatly revered sphere of delight, he would perform a kick to end all kicks. They would think that by launching the ball speeding like a bullet towards the goal, they too could be seen as a “real footballer”. Needless to say, such power with such a notable absence of skill would merely launch the ball over the fence into the street. What would follow was always entertaining.

All the boys would line up with their runnning sweaty little noses pressed into the wire fence as they shouted for someone in the street to return the ball. Tension would mount. Would someone throw it back? Would someone kick it back? (Successful return by kicking was always accompanied by a “wow aren’t you skillful” type of noise.) Would a car run over the ball? Would Billy Tindall swear at a passer-by who ignored this sad deflated little lump, lying pitifully in the gutter appearing far too grubby to even pick up? Would one boy be brave enough to quickly nip out the gate to retrieve it himself?

Well on one occasion a boy called Terry-never knew his surname-raced to the gate, slipped his skinny little frame through a minuscule gap and burst out into the outside world. Now just as he was throwing the ball back over-I say just even though he had made several attempts to do this to a chorus of groans, moans and the inevitable swearword from Billy, Miss Grant, the teacher on duty (also the deputy head) actually spotted Terry out in the big wide “dangerous” world. Now when Miss Grant spoke it was very much the sound of a mother hen with odd bits of shrill clucking combined with the sort of muttering gobbledy gobbledy you might expect in a henhouse-but on this occasion she reached a new level of beast.

Seeing the rather substantial form of your deputy head sprinting down a sloping playground accelerating towards the “edge”, was a real joy to behold. Whistle round neck, bangles round wrists and pony tail going into overdrive, she began to run down the slope. At first this was very much a controlled affair; with arms by her side, the old hen stared fixedly as she moved swiftly with purpose and determination. I don’t know what really set her off however-was it the traffic, the steepness of the slope or one of Billy Tindall’s examples of extended expressive English? Nevertheless the arms began to wave in a wild random motion as her usual clucking transformed into a sort of semi pig semi hyena howling. It was almost musical as her pulsating shrieks matched the rhythm of her galloping stride. Every so often an accented yelp gave the whole piece a feel of four-in-the-bar. After a couple of these it seemed exactly the same sort of “Encouraging” tones that would be screamed at little infants who desperately tried to beat their drums and whack their triangles in time to her erratic piano thumping.

I would see the plump arms and chubby face grow scarlet as she struggled with the slope. She was obviously unbalanced by both her size and the way everything wobbled. What a sight-a bit like the runaway train, complete with hooting whistle. Ironically by the time she had reached the wall, Terry had sneaked back in and everyone was playing football again. On the other side of the fence however, distracted by the shrill aria of the pink, exhausted, furious teacher, quite an audience had gathered to watch this impromptu performance. Some shook their heads, some grinned whilst others gaped open mouthed in disbelief at the panting, heaving Miss Grant.

Then within seconds she had shook herself down, stared back at the general public outside and watched some poor souls wither from her steely gaze before she calmly sauntered back to the middle of the playground to continue the conversation with her assistant Mrs Williams.

Big Brother.

George Orwell’s iconic book 1984 is a tremendous yet frightening read. In the early days of television, one of my uncles told me that the TV was directly connected to someone who could see into our own house. I didn’t believe him but it was a fascinating concept. In the sixties, I watched The Thunderbirds. They had two-way televisual communications. 79The idea seemed outrageous. Then there was Burke’s Law. Burke was a millionaire self-styled trouble shooter; a bit like The Saint. But Burke had a phone in his Rolls Royce. It was cool. There he was in the back of his luxury limmo, puffing on a fine havana, talking on his white car phone. barry1Fast-forward to today. Nowadays we actually expect to use our phone in a car. We can even set up a hands free facility with our car’s sound system. Almost every form of transport can offer a wifi connection. The miasma of cyberspace is all around us. It encircles our heads, passes through our walls and follows us wherever we go. Of course, it goes hand in hand with hacking and listening in. The control of cyberspace can bring true power. Does this make the futuristic concept of 1984 seem quaint? Does it even seem ridiculous that a camera can see into the living room of Winston Smith? (Just like the CCTV dotted on every corner or on every shop doorway in every town in the UK.)

CCTV camera
CCTV camera

But 1984 doesn’t just deal in technology. Here is an extract from Smith’s diary:

“April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. One very good one of a ship full of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused by shots of a great huge fat man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him, first you saw him wallowing along in the water like a porpoise, then you saw him through the helicopters gunsights, then he was full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as though the holes had let in the water, audience shouting with laughter when he sank.” 

Hardly quaint is it? 1984 was first published in 1949. Just the very mention of “ship full of refugees” confirms the chilling nature of the book. It is certainly worth a read. In amongst the eloquent, almost vivacious prose of Orwell lies a deep sinister message of the power of the powers. I often used the opening paragraphs for my year six class as an example of the beautiful art of sentence construction and its selection of well-picked conjunctions. Naturally, there are many other examples of accurate prophecies lurking amongst the artistic output of previous generations. Cat Stevens’ words, “switch on summer from a slot machine” comes to mind every time I see a tanning salon. AmbitioncBut it is the sheer menace of 1984 which gives it such power. They knew Winston Sith had a fear of rats, in the same way that Amazon and many others know all about our shopping preferences. Can you imagine being dragged into room 101 to be force fed fennel and radish salad with anchovy dressing because your online grocery shop has shown these to be items you have never purchased? 427babe024a3086707eb6690d52676a1Or worse still, that silly little survey you did on Facebook last week shows your aversion to the music of Cliff Richard. Can you imagine? “Tell us who you work for Mr McChrystal or we give you the full video of Power to all our Friends.” (If you’ve seen Britain’s 1973 Eurovision entry you will know what I mean.) hqdefaultThink of the human rights issues. So much is known about us. Look at your Marks and Spencer or John Lewis browsing history. Go on to any public information site and look at the specific adverts relating to such histories. There is a body of thought which concludes that if you have done nothing wrong then why worry? But why should we have to endure such predatory marketing? Why should our emails, texts and even our locations come under such scrutiny? Before getting too involved in the rights and wrongs of modern surveillance, I must remember the original point of writing this article. It’s big brother. (Or big sister.) My mind was drawn to the 1984 idea because I have recently had Lifeline installed in the flat. Now this is a helpful big brother. I wear a pendant which actually detects when I have a fall. It connects to a box in the room which speaks to me. 20160729_112807If I’m in trouble, they will send some form of help. How cool is that? Hopefully, I will never need it but there have been two recent incidences when I have been on the floor for a very long time. Finally, I have discovered that one of my old year six pupils works as a call monitor. This brings me to the end of a rather rambling blog. My big brother is going to be very reassuring. In three days, it has been activated accidently twice. What did the person in the box say? Don’t worry, we don’t mind false alarms. I am smiling. Thank-you for reading.