Monday, June 28, 2010

The Aftermath

Dear Diary, I suppose we can be appeased with cakes, but surely for only so long? Niece had a tasty array on the bench, cooling on their wire racks, icing decorating the mud cake. Decadence! Phil had a head start on me; he didn't wash his hands; hygiene is important to me!

Expecting to see a plate of goodies on the table, or the bench, I was surprised the wire trays were the only signs of the baking marathon. Wasn't it only a few minutes previous Hester had called us in? Knowing, as we did, she had spent much of the morning baking, was it abnormal for us to expect a small sample?

Instead Phil stood near his wife, a look of helplessness across his features. Glancing towards him I opened my mouth to enquire what was wrong when suddenly I noticed tears rolling down Niece's cheeks, running into a rivulet on her chin, and dripping onto the bodice of her dress. No sound erupted from her; just the tears which showed no sign of abating. Phil shrugged his shoulders inferring he had no idea what the problem was, and indicating he didn't know what to do. Men! So often they abdicate the real emotions of life. It was plain to me. Niece had a particularly emotional week or two, culminating with the showdown at Mrs Over-the-Street's afternoon tea soiree. I could have informed him that women can hold themselves together in times of family crisis; often it is a matter of having to! Once the dust settles the 'little woman' allows herself to relax, and it is at that stage the happenings of the recent past flood the mind and tears are needed to wash the hurt away. But I didn't tell him. He wouldn't have understood.

Instead I flicked the electric kettle on, suggested Phil find cups and coffee, or tea, and perhaps put a couple of those delicious gingernuts on a plate and take the lot into the dining room. We would sit at a table; we would work through this situation. Phil realising he was roped in to an emotional moment, abdicated faster than a greyhound at the final post. He grabbed his cup, placed two biscuits on the saucer, and headed out to his shed; his escape.

Oh well, Dear Diary, it seemed that this morning was one for the girls. I steered Niece into the dining room, placed the biscuits in the centre of the table, moving the crystal bowl full of apples and oranges and bananas to the far edge, returned to the kitchen for a tray with milk and sugar, the tea pot and two good cup from the tea set. This morning was not going to degenerate into a slap-up cuppa.

Niece pulled herself together, as I knew she would. She played mother, pouring the tea with aplomb, and smilingly passed a cup and saucer to me that I accepted with thanks. There are occasions, Dear Diary, when a display of culture over-rides the most painful of life's experiences. Why tea and biscuits falls high in that category I have no idea.

Niece sipped on the tea, nibbled on the biscuit. "Go on Hester," I said, "dunk it!"

She looked shocked! Dunking gingernuts had not become commonplace in this household! It was funny Dear Diary, but Niece dunked those biscuits like an old hand! To my mind it appeared she was an old hand at dunking! Each day brings a new discovery!

Later, completely recovered, Niece haltingly tried to explain her tears. I halted her explanation, assuring her that recent days would make anyone weepy. She reached over the table and clasped my hand ... there was no need for further words.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Household Chores

Dear Diary, While Niece has not mentioned yesterday's afternoon tea party, my mind is still swirling at the injustices those women tried to heap upon her shoulders. As I tossed and turned during the night, sleep evading me until after midnight, I composed pithy speeches in retaliation to those nosey questions. Slowly sleep crept over me, and upon waking this morning I realised the best action was no action. To throw hasty words around willy-nilly only adds to the situation. Best we let them wonder and in their wondering, perhaps they might come to the conclusion that we had acted as reasonable women, when we could have shown a nasty side.

We pottered around tidying up. I contemplated taking out the tricycle, but the wind was cool, and really my heart was not in an outing; I have no wish to come across those women today!

Niece decided she would fill the cake tins. No doubt the lack of a proper afternoon tea prompted that decision? She had read a recipe for Mini Banoffee Pies that promise to add inches to the waistline. I did think a few taken over the street might be nice, but Niece considered my comment facetious! Hester has a few of her wonderful gingernuts in the biscuit barrel; these would form the base for the mini Banoffee pies. As shortbread is my weakness she added that to the list, and thought perhaps a mud cake; surely enough to last a few days.

Two women in the baking kitchen is one too many!

Knowing the garden needed tidying; those gum leaves continue to fall distracting from the petunia flowers that have come into their own since two minor rainfalls. Grabbing the rake I moved many of the leaves. The petunias are glorious! Never had I attempted to grow petunias before, thinking them too delicate. How wrong I was! Before I planted seedlings I did mix, in the wheelbarrow, a bag of compost and half a bag of cow manure, and spread it all over the flower gardens, and roughly dug them in. The results were worth the effort.

Not realising how quickly the time flew, it seemed only moments before Niece was calling Phil and I in for a cuppa ... I wonder which treat she will serve us?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Tea Party

Dear Diary, Niece and I arrived the customary ten minutes after the official starting time for the afternoon tea. We were last! There was a silence as we walked into the room of Mrs Over-the-street's living room.

Women, of the mature generation, sat around in oversized chairs, small occasional tables scattered around and pens and paper in an organised pile in the centre of the room. I am not a fan of off-white shag pile carpet. This room had off-white shag pile carpet. A large red rug under the larger table made a blood red blotch to the decor! Chairs were upholstered in apricot chintz, which it must be said, clashed terribly with the red rug. Later I managed a sneak peep under that rug. This house must have had someone with a dreadful flu as I am positive the orange stain, covered carefully by the rug, was vomit that disdained all attempts at eradication.

Niece and I looked around, smiled our welcome, and were directed to a small two-seater couch that stood forlorn under the window. We did as bid, sat down on what was a saggy sofa bed! Obviously the other guests had been there before!

A plate of hors d'oeuvre was passed around. Hester looked at me in surprise. We anticipated afternoon tea with scrummy sandwiches and cream cakes, perhaps a centre piece of mud-cake. Tiny glasses of some alcoholic beverage, we guessed, were to wash the angels on horseback down. We nibbled and sipped.

Conversation, so voluble as we entered the house, was stilted. Dear Diary it felt like a false calm before a terrible storm. I am not physic, but that room had a 'presence'; a presence that did not impress me one little bit.

Not being one to arrive at a destination for a particular reason only to find no evidence of the occasion does not feature in either Niece or my book. In another quiet moment, of which there were several where no one appeared to engage in conversation, I enquired of Mrs Over-the-Street which charity she intended to support.

"My dear," she gushed, "no decision has been made yet. That is up for discussion."

"Really!" Hester interrupted as if astounded. "Then I suggest the local school committee."

A peal of laughter echoed around the room. Hester flushed. She had not intended to be the object of such laughter.

"Oh Hester, we don't support schools!"

At least that outburst loosened tongues. A babble of voices vied with each other for attention. Quite frankly Dear Diary, some of their suggestions were hardly charities! I had no idea that women in our neighbourhood were such snobs.

Miss Smythe-Jones, who lives around the corner pushed her horn-rimmed spectacles up her nose, and in a confidential way queried Niece as to whom her visitor was earlier in the week.

"Such a striking girl! She does so resemble you Hester, but we all know that you and Phil, that is your husband's name isn't it, have no children."

I opened my mouth to reply, guessing at how embarrassed Niece must feel. This afternoon tea party was an inquisition! The nosey old women! How dare they interfere with other people's business!

Before my dumbfounded brain had time to assemble a suitable retort, Niece stood up, picked up her handbag and tugged me to my feet.

"Aunt", she intoned in a hurt voice, "we are going home."

I was not arguing Dear Diary! This afternoon tea was rigged!

Hester continued, "I wish to inform you ladies, though why I use the title lady I cannot imagine, because you are definitely not, the young girl of whom you are so curious is my daughter. She is a wonderful young lass. We may not have had much contact over the years, but blood is blood. Who her father is does not concern you. Now I wish you all a good day, and am sorry that this meeting was convened for the wrong reasons."

Dear Diary we never did find out what the pens and paper were for! Perhaps theyintended playing beetles?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Telephone Invitation

Dear Diary, Breakfast was hardly finished when the telephone rang. Niece, the closest, picked up the receiver and intoned, with quite a posh accent, "Goodmorning, You are speaking with Hester". When did she change her mode of replying on the telephone? I had never heard her say anything different than, "Hello", which I think tells the listener nothing. Did they reach the right number, had they misdialed? However, this new greeting did have a certain ring about it!

A smile crossed her face. Obviously the call was good news. I knew she was slightly anxious whether Karen and Jake reached home alright, but as I had informed her, rather shortly I guess, but that girl does worry so, that no news was good news. Young folks today don't think to phone home, and Karen had not been in the habit of letting Niece know her whereabouts. Not that I added that little piece of information! I do have some grey matter under my hair. More words were exchanged with smiles and nods at this end.

There is one thing about the telephone Dear Diary. Unless one is engaged in the conversation, or has one of those phones with a speaker attached [new fangled inventions!] then a listener has no idea who is speaking about, or of whom. I had to wait for enlightenment.

Niece finally replaced the receiver, and announced with glee, that we were going out for afternoon tea. I looked surprised. It wasn't often we gallivanted around. I couldn't recollect anyone to whom a returns visit was in the offing.

"Where to?" I enquired.

"Over the street wants us to pop over for a cuppa mid-afternoon," she replied. "She is hoping to start a charity afternoon tea, and has invited ladies of the neighbourhood to the inaugural meet in the hope of forming a group. With winter being upon us, she thought it would be a charitable idea if several in the area hosted an afternoon tea, those attending contributing a gold coin to be donated to a charity, to be decided upon, at the end of the winter."

I thought the suggestion excellent, though I had reservations as to how the money would be collected and where it would reside until the conclusion of the colder months. Not wishing to put a damper on our outing, I kept my thoughts to myself. The small print could be hammered out later in the day!

The morning disappeared in a flurry of excitement. What to wear? Should be go casual, or dress up a little? Personally I plumped for treating it like an occasion, and after gentle persuasion Niece agreed. Just popping across the street for afternoon tea dressed in housework slacks and a T-shirt would make the occasion ho-hum. Paying gold coins for a ho-hum excursion didn't fit with the idea of an afternoon tea for charity.

The Morning After

Dear Diary, Peace reigns throughout! Bliss! Pure bliss!

Once the household settled down Niece and I tidied the spare room, stripped the bed and washed the bed linen. The morning was warm with a slight breeze; the sheets soon dried, were folded and put away in the linen cupboard. We sat at the bench for a quick coffee discussing the past days. While Niece was overjoyed to meet her long lost daughter, she admitted the experience was quite traumatic.

"Aunt Alice", she confided. " That baby never truly left my thoughts, but when she was born there were no alternatives but adoption. Today young mothers-to-be have so many options. I actually feel envious of their choices; they don't need to experience the heartbreak in losing a child. It is how I imagine a still-birth might feel. There is a baby; then there isn't. Every year, on the date of her birthday I would go to a quiet place, often in the park, where I would wonder where she was, what she looked like, did she know her birth mother, did she ever think of her; you can imagine what raced through my thoughts Aunt. That was the only day of the year I allowed myself to wallow a little. Otherwise I kept my mind occupied with things; keeping a home, and just moving from day to day."

I felt small Dear Diary. In all the years I had lived with Hester and Phil I never guessed her secret. A sudden rush of emotion surged through me; spontaneously I reached out and hugged her. Poor Niece!

She smiled tremulously, opened the biscuit barrel and offered me one of her home-made gingernuts, which are 100% tastier than the purchased ones. Taking my cue from her, I suggested we have a second cup. We decided, in the interests of our susceptibility to caffeine addiction, to have a small half cup.

The day had hours of sunshine on offer; too lovely a day to spend indoors and especially today when maudlin feelings were on the surface. I suggested a trip to the shops. We didn't need any groceries, we didn't need anything much, but an outing seemed sensible.

Quickly sprucing ourselves up we headed down the path, deciding a walk would be beneficial. We had two free hours; lunch was on the cards, and perhaps a look around the new shop that recently opened at the far end of town. By all accounts a new couple to town had opened a bazaar type shop. Items from far-flung places were set out in a large white space. Oriental rugs, baskets full of English lavender, cotton clothes from India, and an array of scented articles whose perfume wafted throughout. The white walls allowed the stock to be displayed to full advantage.

I ran my fingers over some Egyptian cotton bed linen, admiring its pure feel. Nudging Niece I commented that polyester is but a poor relation to cotton. She smiled in agreement. Small posies of dried flowers scattered on the shelves added to the ambience, while clear glass bowls holding either interesting shapes of pastel coloured soaps, or delicate sea shells made the place equal to a wander around the park.

The time moved on quickly Dear Diary. We were delighted to find a small area at the rear of the shop opening onto a courtyard where tea and sandwiches were served. There seemed no sense in looking for another eatery; this place was restful, the coffee aroma drifted invitingly; we accepted its invitation.

I do believe, Dear Diary, that this quiet little outing provided the correct antidote to Hester's hectic past weeks.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Au revoir

Dear Diary, This morning I woke to the sound of people clattering around, the banging of car doors, and voices. It sounded as though it were Karen and Jake! What was happening?

I dressed hurriedly, and on my way into the kitchen almost ran into Karen as she bounced into the room they occupied.

"Morning Karen," I greeted.

"Hi Aunt Alice", she warbled back.

Honestly Dear Diary, she is becoming more like her mother every day. Perhaps as she ages she will develop Niece's figure as well? What is the old wives tale? Look at the mother when choosing a wife. Never a truer statement! I remember a skinny young girl whose mother was buxom. I always imagined the girl would grow up to look like her father, a morose, skinny, and not possessing a sunny character, unlike the mother. In fact they were a couple so unalike that one had a tough job imaging how they met. Anyway, I met the daughter many years later at her mother's funeral, and there she stood; a photo image of her mother! I was astounded Dear Diary. Do you think I should whisper in Jake's ear a small word as to the future? No. Perhaps not. After all Niece is similar in body shape to most women of her age.

"You're up early Karen!"

"Oh Aunt, didn't you know? Jake and I are heading off shortly. But we will be back in time for the wedding, when we set a date. I have Mother's wedding dress and hope to find a suitable dress for an attendant in a similar style. It shouldn't be too difficult? And I need shoes and headgear to keep the style of the era. You know Aunt, this will be a lot of fun sorting out exactly what is right!"

I must have looked as blank as I felt. Only the other day there was no talk of departure. When I gave the matter a little thought I realised that Karen and Jake were doing the wisest thing. This house had enough excitement to last for weeks, or even months. Niece did need time to settle down; to become used to having a daughter; and most of all time to think through the wedding preparations, and how she could best help without being over-powering and a hindrance.

"Karen, I have so enjoyed meeting you and Jake, and your company. I look forward to your return!"

I was magnanimous in my short speech. Not for me the ruffling of the family pond.

Stretching up I hugged Karen's tall frame, planted a gentle kiss on her cheek, and as Jake entered the hallway at that moment, I extended my hand to him, and wished them both well.

Dear Diary, a respite from the endless merry-go-round that life had become.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome Home

Dear Diary, Turning into our street my eyes opened wide; I almost lost my balance, and thanked my lucky stars I was riding a three-wheeler, as a two-wheeler would surely have turned me onto my tail. The street was a hive of activity. Mrs Over-the-street, wearing a quirky apron with apples appliqu├ęd along the bottom their leaves forming a hem [I bet that took a lot of work], and an apple shape for the pocket, hurried from Niece's home, her face red from exertion, or was it embarrassment or anger? Not hearing any foul language I hoped it was only from her fast running gait, which was abnormal as Mrs Over-the-street usually ambled along in complete oblivion of cars that may drive faster than the speed limit along our quiet street.

The window cleaner chap who lives at the end of the street had his ladder perched up the jacaranda tree that grows just inside Niece's gate; the tree that I simply adore when it is in full bloom with its unusual shade of blue flowers, and the tree that Niece's man detests as he insists it drops leaves onto the lawn clogging up the lawnmower. Men are not content to admire an object for its beauty; they must bring some boring practical side-line into the equation. Niece stood inside the gate her distressed features staring into the tree. Karen and Jake were not in sight.

Dear Diary, perhaps Karen had climbed the tree in an effort to find a little peace and quietness away from Jake's perpetual complaining. He wasn't the first man I had seen with a pulled leg muscle, but I am positive no others ever moaned like he did. I feel certain he is angling for an Oscar!

This place was where I live, and I had every right to turn into the driveway! Ignoring stares from those who didn't recognise me on my new machine, I nonchalantly strolled over to Niece.

"What's going on?" I enquired.

"Aunt Alice," she gasped. "I am so pleased you are back. I do hope you won't be angry!"

Angry? What was she speaking of?

"Why should I be angry?" I replied.

"Aunt," she began, "I don't know how to tell you. But the neighbour's cat [that pesky cat that forever sneaks into the house when our backs are turned] jumped into your room through the partially open window, pranced onto the table where those goldfish are [obviously Niece has forgotten those goldfish have names ... Greensmith and Redshaw ... but I let that slip by. Who was I to stop her in the middle of an explanation?], put its paws into the water and in the process of trying to take those fish out of their tank, knocked the aquarium over, spilling water all over the carpet."

"What happened to Greensmith and Redshaw," I asked, in a rather shaky voice. This little tale was not boding well for my pets.

"That's part of the problem," Niece mumbled, suddenly realising she was to be the bearer of bad news. "That cat ate them both! I heard the commotion, ran up the hallway, but the cat scuttled past me out the back door and ran up the tree, and now it can't get down."

In a calm voice I asked where was Phil's gun! There was only one outcome of this fiasco; the cat had to be shot before it caused any more problems.

Niece looked horrified. "Aunt, you wouldn't ... would you?"

I would! Commonsense took over. We live in a built-up area. Guns are forbidden unless one has a licence, and had I thought for more than half a second about it, I would have remembered that Phil did not own a gun.

"Is that why the window cleaner is up his ladder?" I asked.

Niece looked embarrassed. Oh no Dear Diary. Hester in a rush of sudden silliness had called the only person she knew with a long ladder, the window cleaner from the end of the street, to rescue a cat that had killed and eaten my pets!

I marched over to the base of the tree.

"Window cleaner!" I bellowed. "Come down instantly! That cat can stay there until it dies of starvation, or it can find it's own way down."

The window cleaner, give him his due, looked baffled, his shifty eyes sliding from Niece to myself. Niece had shrunk in size under my commanding tone.

He knew who was calling the tune now, and hurriedly began his descent. The cat was high in the leafy canopy, but edging its way towards the fence through which it had arrived. There was no doubt about its intentions; to evade captivity, and what fate I might dream up, in haste.

Dear Diary, I was not happy. Had I not put the deposit on a new aquarium for my dearest fish? I suppose there is only one solution, though whether I dare suggest it to Niece, remains a quandary ... I would phone the Pet Shop, cancel the order, and enquire as to the availability of a puppy, one that would be trained to chase cats!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Ride Home

Dear Diary, As I was cycling home the warm aroma of coffee drifted towards me, and tempted me to stop. Almost forgetting to signal, at the last moment I stuck my hand out, whizzed into a space directly outside the coffee shop, parked my bike and fastened it to a pole before taking off the helmet that encased my unflattering hair do. Helmets are essential especially for the young who are nowhere as experienced as 'us oldies'. But we must, if only to show an example. Hopefully the coffee shop has a bathroom with a decent mirror where I can tidy myself up.

The coffee shop is all new to me. Quite tiny, but carefully lit, creating an intimate atmosphere. At every table I looked couples sat, except for a lone man in the far corner. The establishment had its own bakery testified by the warmth of fresh baking wafting out into the eatery. Mmmm, perhaps I should try one cake? After placing my order and taking a seat near the window I gazed around.

One of the most fascinating views in life is the antics and actions of other people. I am a people watcher from way back! Some of the sights I have witnessed were eye opening. Glancing carefully around the room, trying not to arouse suspicions of belonging to the genus of perverts, I wondered who all these strangers were. Weaving stories about their existence is almost as interesting as watching.

Without warning a large lady in a bright citrus dress, orange and yellow on a lime background, made her stand out, even to one not looking. She barged her way to the counter, ordered a long black in a voice that carried across the breadth and width of the room, and stared around, looking it appeared for a particular person. That person had not arrived. I was the only solo diner. She marched, her high-heeled white sandals incongruous on this coolish day, though not out of place with her chiffon frock that I noticed as she came closer that was tightly stretched across her ample bosom.

Was she waiting for her son or daughter? Or perhaps she was meeting with an old schoolfriend, one whom she hadn't seen in the last thirty years? Oh yes, Dear Diary, I will admit, I was curious. Suddenly she noticed the lone man in the distance, and made a beeline for the table. She was meeting a male friend. At this stage my coffee and vanilla slice arrived and I busied myself eating the delectable cake, though several small pieces of pastry and icing did slip onto my new track suit. As I wiped them up with the napkin supplied with the cake a man approached my table and asked if I minded if he could sit down.

Mind Dear Diary! Why should I mind? He was a gorgeous specimen of manhood, nothing at all in appearance of Harold. I smiled a welcome. One must remember their manners; after all a small conversation would give me more to think about than aquariums and gold fish, weddings and families. It's funny how the weather becomes the main topic of conversation when meeting a new acquaintance.

We introduced ourselves; I, Alice, and he, James. A strong sounding name for a strong looking man! I launched into a long description of my new tricycle, informing James that it had opened the outdoors wide open for me. He hadn't ridden a bicycle since his schooldays, though professed to wish he had time for such a simple pleasure.

A loud voice echoed across the room. It was the woman in the ghastly citrus frock. James looked at me quizzically, a surprised look crossing his face at the strength of her lungs. She wouldn't need a megaphone if she were an auctioneer! Her voice would have resounded across the largest of paddocks with a line-up of old vehicles up for sale. We had no option but to listen; the whole room had no option but to listen!

Dear Diary, it was what she said that startled me. She took the gentleman with whom she was sitting to task. She, she informed the room, had come to meet James, and he wasn't James. His small voice replied that he was Kenny, but his second name was James. No, she was positive she was meeting James. They continued to converse, quieter once they realised everyone was all ears. A few minutes later a gale of laughter swept across the room; the woman in the citrus dress leaned over the table planting a red-lipped kiss on Kenny's cheek, and patting him boldly [I thought] on his knee, commented that this was her lucky day. They left shortly after, arm in arm.

James wore a relieved expression, and looking at me, decided he should explain. It seems that James and Gloria, the loud woman in the tight citrus coloured dress had chatted on-line through a dating agency, and had arranged to meet in the coffee shop. Dear Diary, my laughter was as raucous as Gloria's! James was a lovely gentleman; I am sure he would have no problems in finding a lovely lady without resorting to on-line dating. We parted company, both having enjoyed the coffee, and he relieved to have missed out on a date that may not have been suitable.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cycling to the Shops

Dear Diary, Today is another day. Jake is bored with his enforced inactivity, Karen's wedding plans are on the back boiler. Phil has no bikes to fix, and Niece is cooking, which is her way of avoiding conflict. Because the air is thick with angst today.

Greensmith and Redshaw have grown taking up too much space in the aquarium. The Pet Shop has a display of aquariums in their window, and I am in two minds to inquire the price of a larger model. Greensmith and Redshaw provide an oasis of peace in my small world as they swim around and around their home, long fronds of pond plants hiding them from view for seconds on end. Sometimes, when I stand and watch these two gold fish, I wonder if they are playing peek-a-boo with me. I know Dear Diary that skeptics imagine fish have no idea of games, but from my observation they are capable of playing.

With an atmosphere pervading the house today would be the day to go shopping at the Pet Shop. Not wishing to attract the attention of the others, I sneaked out the side door, trundled my tricycle down the side lane and out onto the street.

It was another wonderful day; ownership of this tricycle has added another dimension to my existence. I no longer rely on others if I wish to 'travel'. I consider myself to be of an age when I can choose what I do, and when.

I was not quite so happy with the raucous laughter of a group of schoolboys hanging around the shopping centre. They were obviously wagging school; and the packet they suspiciously hid when I came into view did look very much like a cigarette packet. I suppose their parents know they are not at school? It wasn't the fact that these boys were avoiding attaining an education; that is their business. I was not amused when the larger of the trio let out a cat call, followed by the comment, "Granny, I can see your knobby knees!"

I am not their Granny! Dear Diary, have the young of today no respect for the older generation?

Knobby knees? My knees were once one of my greatest assets, set as they are in the middle of a well-shaped ankle and slinky thighs. Often, whilst swimming at the local pool, admittedly several years ago, the male contingent that congregated near the diving board greatly admired my knees. That petty comment distressed me! Cycling in a skirt, even one with several gores, is not the easiest of skill to manage. The skirt tends to creep up, upsetting my balance when I pluck it down again. There is nothing for it, Dear Diary, I am buying a pair of trousers. Niece will have a fit! She is firmly against a lady of my years wearing trousers, which she insists are uncouth.

The Sports Shop has a huge array of cycling gear, but after a quick perusal I decided against lycra bike shorts, even though they do come in lime green, which would make me resemble Shrek. In a corner, and on a rack marked 'Special ~ Half Price today only' I noticed a pair of soft-blue, cotton track pants, the bottom of the legs pulled in with a darker blue band, and a matching three-quarter sleeve top. I tried them on. Yes! Dear Diary, they were made for me. Not wishing those boys to call unkind comments again, I had the young shop assistant place my skirt and blouse in their labelled plastic bag, which I pushed well into the basket on the tricycle.

Next stop was the Pet Shop. I am rather taken with the substantial oblong aquarium that will give Greensmith and Redshaw plenty of room to grow. Perhaps a few coloured pebbles for the bottom? Not wishing to carry them home, and not actually having the space to carry them home, I paid a deposit, promising to return to pick the aquarium up, and finalising the account.

Dear Diary, I wonder if the air has cleared at home?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Up in the Trees

Dear Diary, As the sun shone brightly on a glorious day, and as Karen had risen early to help her mother prepare it was decided, whether I liked it or not, that we 'go exploring' directly after breakfast.

We rode onto the street in single file, cycle helmets perched perkily on our heads, and a selection of sandwiches and fruit in the basket on the front of my tricycle, which I have christened Esmeralda. Every tricycle deserves a name, especially a brilliant lime-green tricycle. We carried a water bottle each, a wide brimmed hat providing shade for the upper part of our bodies, and a liberal coating of sun block on exposed parts.

Cycling with a casual air we skirted the industrial edge of town, taking a wide country lane where trees grew leafy and green almost forming an arch, making the expedition a pleasure. This lane was gravelled; in places pieces of broken branches made it necessary to ride carefully, and the pot holes needed avoiding. Otherwise the path enchanted us. Fresh air, blue skies, and a feeling of unadulterated freedom lightened our spirits. Karen forgot to wonder how Jake was faring at home; after all prepared food had been left in the fridge, and the football was expected to keep him fully engaged for the duration of our absence.

Niece burst into song, warbling slightly off key a rendition of "Home on the Range"; her natural exuberance at the unexpected release from household chores. Karen shot a quick glance to me, her eyebrows raised in surprise, but I felt that this expedition provided an ideal opportunity for her to come to terms with the many shocks of the past weeks. As I had some experience in singing, in the school choir more years ago than I care to remember, I could see no harm in joining in the chorus. Karen knew the tune, and hummed along. Dear Diary we were a happy little group as we explored the outdoors.

The warmth of the sun made us thirsty. We stopped where a low log sprawled parallel with the pathway, passed the sandwiches around, and drank deeply from our water bottles. Karen, crunching on a crisp apple, threw her lightweight jacket on the ground and sat, as she said, to rest her legs. My legs were tired from the journey, but I assumed part of the problem was the tricycle ramble of the other day. Perhaps it was not!

Suddenly Karen let forth a strangled noise. Niece, ever vigilant, assumed she had thrown her jacket on an ant's nest. But no! Karen pointed skywards. There in the branches of the spreading gum tree we noticed two tawny frogmouths. They did not appear to have noticed us as they perched in the shelter of low-lying branches. We were spell bound Dear Diary.

These night birds sleep during the day, but are known to nest and raise their young in areas where people live. For once Niece carried her camera. Quietly she clicked a series of photos in quick succession; a record was made for future reference. We vowed to visit this spot frequently to check whether these birds used this tree all the time, or whether this was nothing more than a quick stopover.

Karen pulled from her jacket a small sketch book and with lightning strokes, made a pencil drawing of the tree, and its situation, to enable easy identification in the future.

Dear Diary, we rode home, admittedly with a degree of pain in our thighs and calves, determining to explore more of the countryside more often. The experiment proved to be one that bound our family ties tighter.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Contagious Excitement

Dear Diary, I wonder about the sanity of this household!

Jake lounges around, his leg awkward, his tight jeans exchanged for an old pair of track pants that make him look as though he should be in practice for the marathon.

I rose late this morning; still weary from the exertion yesterday, but the excitement lingers. A relaxing warm bath with a dash of bath salts helped restore the feeling in my lower body that, I must admit, ached from unaccustomed cycling. The breakfast table looked bright; Niece had placed a lovely vase of stocks in the centre, their delightful musky perfume overpowered the aroma of toast and marmalade. There was an air of excitement that encompassed the kitchen; an air that I could not immediately place. My curiosity was soon rewarded. One thing about Niece, and I have noticed a similar reaction from Karen, which I guess does show that blood ties are strong, is the fact they can not keep their excitement to themselves. Instead of letting me settle down quietly and eat my breakfast they bustled around, making sure I didn't want another cup of coffee, and asking if I felt like another slice of toast. Dear Diary, they know full well I am a two slice toast person and one cup of coffee with breakfast, and another half an hour later. By that time I am ready to face the day.

Their excitement was contagious. Curiosity overcame me and I blurted out, "Come on, fill me in with the details! I know you two are scheming something!"

For a moment I considered the prospect of a wedding as soon as Jake's leg healed. But Jake was not in this equation. The moment the last sip of my first cup of coffee left the cup Niece and Karen enticed me outdoors to the shed, where Niece's man was messing with two ramshackle bikes. I recall Niece riding the blue one when she was a schoolgirl, but the other, a maroon model was new to me; but definitely not new to the world. Where had they acquired it? Information was forthcoming. In excited bursts of conversation the whole story emerged.

After I retired last night to fall into bed exhausted, [well almost exhausted ... I must be truthful Dear Diary], Niece and Karen had sneaked my tricycle out again, and taken it for a quick ride around the yard. They were entranced! I wondered if it was the colour? After all, no one had ever seen a lime-green tricycle before. In fact, neither had seen an adult tricycle before. They came indoors and over a quiet wine made plans. Niece's man, Phil, remembered the bike in the shed, reckoned he could repair it with no trouble; phoned a mate of his whom he knew housed an ancient bike in his back shed, coerced him into selling it for a few dollars, and this morning set about bringing them both into a suitable riding state. Karen and Hester were going for a ride the following afternoon ... not far, but far enough that they need take a lunch. The highlight, Dear Diary, was their invitation for me to accompany them.

I hope Phil manages to fix those bikes today, and find new tyres for them. I did notice the tyres were perished. Tomorrow the girls go for a ride!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Day in the Country

Dear Diary, It must be partly due to my maturity, but all the excitement of the past week has caught up with me.

I did put in an appearance at breakfast; no one else had surfaced. I guess everyone is recuperating. The sun shone from a brilliant blue sky; a gentle breeze ruffled the trees and the air was warm, perhaps a hint of a change tomorrow?

Not wishing to moulder away in my room I packed a light lunch; cheese and pickle sandwiches, a bottle of water and a slice of the cake that Niece had, inadvertently I wonder, left in a cake tin on the table. Surely she must have known that Cake Fairies love such donations! There is plenty left for the invalid! The cake turned out wonderfully ... a banana cake with lemon flavoured icing. I did taste a tiny slice, mainly to check that it was suitable for a picnic lunch. It was. The slice in my little lunch box is larger than I would have taken had it been cut on a plate, but then again what I intend undertaking today requires sustained energy.

I happened to read a notice in the corner shop advertising a new activity in town. Dear Diary, it sounds fun, and one that is new to my experience. I have a purchase to make before the adventure begins; I intend buying a tricycle. These bikes are not for small children, but stable cycles for those among us who wish to keep up cycling even though our balance might not be as good as it was when we were fifty. The Sports Shop has a range of tricycles, and one, a cheery lime green with brakes and a light, and a basket attached to the handlebars will suit my requirements exactly.

I did have a practice ride Dear Diary; found myself wobbling a little, but soon regained full balance, and off I went, lunch and water in the basket. There were nine others outside the meeting spot. As we all were novices at this new sport, and as we all hadn't ridden a bicycle for more years than we cared to remember, we chose a relatively short run. The nearest town has a delightful back road, seldom used by heavy traffic, with delightful scenery to occupy our senses. We rode sedately; the morning warmed and the breeze ruffled our hair. Dear Diary, after five kilometres my legs began to feel like jelly, a half-set jelly. Joan, a newcomer to our area, rode alongside me, and we engaged in conversation. She too confessed to jelly-like legs. We stopped for a break alongside a rustic cattle yard.

I ate my cake and the team leader produced a flask of tea, hidden in the depths of a huge knapsack carried on his back ... tea and cake revived me. After half an hour we proclaimed we were fit enough to continue; it was only another two or three kilometres.

Dear Diary, this tricycle journey may be the beginning of a new activity, and one where I have already met some lovely new friends.

The day was successful; we, The Cyclists, have decided to make these trips bi-monthly; all voting the day one of the best. Dear Diary, I will confess that my reception upon reaching home was less successful, but I did some swift talking and after Niece did a turn around the block on the tricycle, my attack of silliness was declared 'tops'!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Square Dancing

Dear Diary, I should have popped you into my handbag to keep up to date with the action.

The Square dancing was an experience; one which left me gasping with exertion. It did cross my mind that dancing so energetically could be more worthwhile than going to the gym, or aerobics. Not that I indulge in either! Shopping is strenuous enough.

Many people of diverse ages gathered in the hall. The regulars were easily picked out; the girls wore swirling skirts, and the guys all wore a bright coloured waistcoat. I hadn't realised there was a uniform for such an occasion. In spite of not wearing the correct dress I had a fabulous time. And the supper Dear Diary! Sandwiches, savouries and home made cakes; one in particular a three-layered sponge filled with strawberries and cream was irresistible. [I had two pieces Dear Diary ... what an admission!]

Shortly after supper, which fell in the second-third of the evening, Jake had an accident. He was promenading with Karen when he slipped, on what we later found out was a small piece of ham dropped from those delicious ham, cream cheese and pineapple sandwiches. There was no warning. One moment he was moving on the floor, and the next he was sitting on the floor with a surprised look on his face. I smothered my mirth ... well it was funny! There was Jake in his skin-tight jeans, a T-shirt with a silly slogan across his chest, his hair dishevelled from the exertion, sitting on the floor with his feet towards the sky. His look of surprise changed to one of agony as he tried to stand up. His foot gave out. For one moment it appeared he had broken a leg. There was a rush of dancers to help him to his feet, and half-held him up to take him to one of the hard wooden seats scattered around the edge of the hall. Jake grimaced, rolled up his jeans with the greatest of difficulty, to expose a leg rapidly beginning to swell.

I think it was the shock of it all that made me call out, "Is there a doctor in the house?" When everyone stared at me I knew I had made a boo-boo. Dear Diary, why does my tongue run away with me in times like this? There was one advantage ... a few laughed, lightening the mood. However, it became obvious that Jake did need medical treatment.

Niece and her man, aided by Karen, and supervised by myself, helped Jake into the car before hurrying to the local medical centre. After X-rays, and a long wait, it emerged that Jake had not broken a bone. Thank goodness Dear Diary. He did have serious bruising and had pulled a muscle, which will heal if he doesn't use that leg too much.

We are all home again. Karen is fussing over Jake, Niece is baking a cake to help build him up, and I ... I am staying in my room recovering from a huge night out.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Peace Pact

Dear Diary, All is well! As Niece walked down the path she heard the sound of chatter and laughter. It was with a light heart that she bounced into the lounge, guessing that the crisis was over. Karen rushed to her mother, hugged her, apologised profusely, and announced she would be honoured to wear the wedding dress.

Surreptitious signs were made which Niece accepted and taking the hint hugged Karen and said she would be proud to have her daughter wearing her wedding dress. The part that astounded me, Dear Diary, was the small addition to that statement; Niece in offering to help Karen in any way Karen wished, made it plain that she would have to be asked. Before my eyes the relationship, precarious a few hours ago, made significant steps towards consolidation. I was proud of them both. Dear Diary, I couldn't help the small tear that came to my eyes; this was a beautiful moment.

What happened next was unbelievable had I not been a witness. Niece suggested a small drink to mark the occasion. Dear Diary, it is still morning! Karen offered to get them, and when Niece said the sherry was in the corner of the china cabinet I noticed a look cross Karen's face. Sherry is so old hat to the young of today; but commonsense prevailed. She smiled, poured the drinks, and we toasted each other to a successful day.

It was a day of surprises. Later Karen and Jake, after a whispering session on the couch, announced we were all welcome to go to the Square dancing with them after the evening meal. Another unknown side of Karen and Jake was emerging. Neither Niece nor I had any idea these young folks were interested in Square dancing, which can be difficult to learn, but fun once the steps are mastered. So Dear Diary, later we are off to the local hall and will dosados and promenade until we drop from exhaustion. I hate to contemplate how many years since I Square danced!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Manipulation?

Dear Diary, With a little gentle persuasion, and a suggestion that Karen didn't mean what she said, slowly Niece calmed. Dimly I recalled the wedding dress in question; it had been the talk of the town with its designer appeal. I enquired as to the exact whereabouts of the said wedding dress. Niece smiled, reminiscing about how wonderful her wedding had been with aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who had gathered to join in the happy occasion. Dear Diary I felt I had achieved something; even it was only a settled Niece.

Later in the morning Niece had regained enough composure to bring the wedding dress out of its wrappings. It was as glorious as I remembered ... Chantilly lace and satin in a classic, never to date style, with a tiny coronet that set the dress of exactly with its circle of pearls and artificial flowers. Apart from one tiny stain the dress was as good as new.

An idea glimmered in my mind. I suggested Niece do her grocery shopping ... I had other plans.

Niece shut the door not as quietly as normal, and safe in the knowledge that it was safe to come into the kitchen, and have breakfast, though by now the meal should have been called brunch, Karen and Jake, sheepishly, padded in and proceeded to cook toast. I could have cooked them bacon and eggs, except that such an action could have been taken as manipulation. Dear Diary, I did have manipulation on my mind; subtle manipulation. So subtle that Karen would not realise the path along which I was heading.

Once Karen and Jake had eaten we washed up. Karen hadn't asked where her mother was, and I never volunteered, though I did murmur something about this might be just the right time to have a little chat. Immediately Karen visibly closed; her eyes became far away as if she was silently saying that she wasn't interested in what I might say. Too bad! Jake, sensing a serious situation was developing headed out into the garden. He had plans, he said, of tidying the garden. That was an excuse! Niece kept a wonderful garden, and apart from a small patch near the shed, the garden resembled an entry in the Chelsea Flower Show.

"Jake," I said. "I wish to speak to you both; in the lounge if you don't mind."

They looked at each other. I had spoken forcefully. They could see there was no escape.

Settled in the lounge I casually fingered Niece's wedding dress, which at this stage was carefully folded into a white bundle.

"Karen, have a feel of this fabric", I said.

In a spell of belligerency Karen scowled. I reminded her of the old adage my Mother had instilled in my childhood brain, 'Screw up your face and you will get wrinkles.' It worked. Karen didn't want to have wedding photos taken with wrinkles in her face!

With a little more persuasion she reached forward to touch the satin. I watched her face as the cool smoothness of the wedding dress captured her attention.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Just your Mother's wedding dress," I replied. "You called it an old rag, I was told."

Karen had the grace to blush as she mumbled that she hadn't meant what she said. She hadn't expected Niece to take over her wedding. A fair statement I thought, and told her so.

"Karen, would you like to look at this dress? You don't have to wear it, but don't you think you should actually see what is on offer? And think of how much money you will save if you like it, and of course if it fits you. Your mother was very dainty at your age."

At this stage I looked coy, hoping Karen would take the implication on board that her mother may have been smaller than she at the same age. Throughout my life I deduced that no-one likes the implication that their mother was better than them, be it size or looks.

Begrudgingly Karen revealed the wedding dress. She gasped!

"Aunt Alice!" she cried. "This is a gorgeous dress!"

I nodded, smiling smugly, and asked if perhaps she would like to try it on for size. Not that she was expected to wear it of course.

Five minutes late, after I had shooed Jake from the room [after all Dear Diary the prospective groom should not the his bride-to-be in her wedding dress until the big day], Karen entered the lounge. She looked beautiful Dear Diary, and it was clear her mind was made up.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Around the Table

Dear Diary; The coach arrived on time; Niece met me at the bus station. She looked ill; with worry I presumed. Few words were spoken on the journey home; a meal was ready; we ate all sitting quietly with absolutely no conversation. Surely if a row had erupted someone would be speaking!

Tentatively I inquired how everyone was, only to be met with stony stares around the table. Did they ask how I enjoyed my holiday with Anne? No! Not a squeak! At one stage I attempted joviality and started to regale them with the highlights. Not an eye blinked in interest. I gave up Dear Diary ... I seriously wonder why I bothered to come back!

This morning a hush still hovered around the house. I am not one to indulge in the sulks, which is what Niece, her man who did have the sense to get himself out of the way early ... wise man; Karen and Jake didn't appear for breakfast, but I could hear them talking loudly [arguing?] in their room As Niece and I sat at the table, which incidentally was grubby; most unlike Niece who normally is a stickler for hygiene, and amazed I watched tears trickle down her cheeks. She was upset!

Previous thoughts of 'Hollywooding' in the household flew out the window. Obviously circumstances had altered in my absence. There I was enjoying the seaside, catching up with an old friend, and all the time mayhem may have been happening at home. Poor Niece! Poor Karen and Jake. My calming influence is sorely needed to bring some sense of reasonableness to the whole affair. My sympathy, for the moment, rests with Niece. I hate to see folk distressed, especially when that distress is brought on by their own actions.

Within seconds I hugged Niece, whispering that all would come out in the wash, which for some strange reason sent her into another fit of tears. Comforting her as best I could I determined to find out exactly what had occurred in my absence.

"Hester?" I enquired, " what went so sadly wrong? When I departed you were all so happy to have met and had so much to catch up on. What happened dear?"

Sniffing with tears that were slowly abating, Niece filled me in the some of the details, though as the story unfolded I resolved to have a conversation with Karen and Jake. Two sides of this story may be different.

"Aunt Alice," Niece began. "I truly wasn't trying to take over the wedding arrangements. I didn't know I was a mother, and suddenly not only am I a mother, but also the prospective mother of the bride. It is so exciting! When I suggested to Karen she might like to wear my wedding dress, and veil, which you may recall are stored safely in the top of the wardrobe, and last time I looked, were in pristine condition. Karen was horrified Aunt! I couldn't believe how nasty she was. She snorted, and said she wanted a modern wedding, and not wear some old outdated rag."

At this stage the tears streamed again. I waited. There was nothing I could do.

Gradually she regained her composure, and looking sadly at me, asked what she should do.

Dear Diary, one must tread very carefully on what could be extremely dangerous ground. I made a pot of tea, put two more slices of toast in the toaster and sat her down. Food was what was required! Talking could wait.