Friday, 9 December 2011

The wrong time

We hear a lot about a person dying at the wrong time. "She was so young/had so much to live for/at this time of year" etc. And, of course, all are often true. But I would like to add to that list.

Because it turns out that 3.30 on a Monday afternoon is also the wrong time to die.

I always thought death came in the middle of the night. An urgent phone call that brings the recipient from sleep to startled in an instant. Tears in the dark, unsure whether to wake others or sit with the news until a civilised hour. Having been on alert nightly for months for such a call, I didn't imagine it would come as I listened to Steve Wright bantering while I finished my online Tesco order. I hadn't braced myself as I did when I went to sleep each night, phones by the bed ready.

Someone told me that waiting for a terminally ill person to die is like waiting to be punched. Though you know it's coming, it doesn't hurt or shock any less when it finally arrives.We were just coming to terms with the news that she now had only months left. With her typical humour, she was excited about her 'Last Supper' as she was calling the family Christmas celebrations we had planned. She'd ordered gaudy decorations and 'posh' silver crackers. Turns out her worn out little body had somewhere else to be.

So, Merry Christmas, Mum. I'm sure they celebrate in style where you are. Then rest in peace, my darling.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Christmas cake therapy

The few weeks since I last blogged have been a game of two halves (bugger, I've accidentally picked up a footballing term by osmosis). On one hand, I'm steaming ahead with my novel and have started researching agents (eek). On the other, there have been a number of times this month when I've had to make a stand for a variety of reasons. Now, I can see off a cold caller in less than five seconds and will rip the head off anyone who hurts my kids, yet if someone close upsets me I have an annoying habit of just absorbing it rather than telling them (yeah, no wonder I comfort eat...). But the worm has turned. It's quite liberating, though I'm a little intrigued as to what's changed suddenly.

Anyway, because I won't blog about things that involve others, and to take my mind off it all, let's talk Christmas cake. For some it's too early to think about Christmas, but I love the run up more than the day so it can't start soon enough for me. And as the cake needs to mature, like some of the people in my life, I usually make it around now.

We've all got our favourite recipe. I've used the same one for the last 20 years (thanks, Delia) and I thoroughly enjoy the whole process: soaking fruit overnight in a vat of brandy, weighing out the ingredients, Blue Peter-esque cutting of the greaseproof paper liner, chopping nuts and glace cherries, zesting oranges and lemons, beating, sifting and leveling. It's all so soothing.

Here are some pics (with apologies for the darkness - my kitchen is a black hole and I don't have a flash on my phone).

I took one very old, very loved and very sticky recipe...
..and some very old and very loved accompaniment... 
...I mixed this lot...
...with this lot...
...and ended up with this...
...then I put a little hat on to protect it...
...and shoved it in the oven before tackling the devastation...

No picture of it in the oven as it needs cleaning. *blush*

While it cooks, the house is full of what I thought until yesterday was the essence of Christmas. Apparently I was wrong. DD1 and I were in Tesco and she tried on a scarf. She snuggled into it and inhaled deeply. "Wow!" she said, "this smells just like Christmas!"
I sniffed it. "It smells like dust."
"Exactly. Our stockings always smell of dust".
So, there we have it. Never mind the cake, the mince pies or pine scented pot pourri, all I need do to give my girls a perfect Christmas is not clean for a month.

*Drums fingers impatiently for cake to finish and looks around for new distraction*  
Hark, the herald oven timer sings.
Ta daaaaa....

Take a bow, little cake.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bathtime made for two

The kids have been back at school for a couple of weeks now - hooray - and the novel editing and re-writing is in full flow. I am so completely in the zone now that I found myself typing with the cookie monster's hands late one night this week. My fingers were indistinguishable from each other, falling over themselves like flapping mackerel on the keyboard and I had to lift them gently and put them away until the morning. My goal is to have finished the re-write by October half term. It's a great vicarious life I'm living. A wise friend told me that the Universe cannot differentiate between the imagined and the real. All I can say is, I want what my protagonist is getting. Because real life has been a little less exciting.

My flappy hands have been made worse by the fact that I decided to tackle an enormously overgrown hedge of climbing roses, honeysuckle and clematis, at the weekend. It had rained overnight so I sensibly, yet disappointingly, decided against the power tool (insert pouty face) and set about the overhang, plunging my hands into the stems that were threatening to pull my fence down, armed with a pair of secateurs. Simples, as the meercats say. Five hours, one brimming wheelie bin and six overflow sacks later, my arms looked like a map of the underground, my hair was full of twigs and my right hand had seized up. I rewarded myself with a hot bubble bath. As I sat back, ice cold glass of wine in hand, proudly examining my war wounds, I suddenly realised I had company. Sitting atop of my very own Islands in the Stream (go, Dolly!) was a baby caterpillar. Lord only knows how long it had nested in my bra. I once found a blue Smartie in there after a party. I don't even remember eating Smarties that day.

Animal lovers, fret not: A  happy ever after ensued for the caterpillar. And I made a mental note to wear polo necks or scarves as wildlife filters when I tackle the rest of the garden. On second thoughts, I think I'll stick to the imaginary world. That way I get to decide who shares my bath water.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Man about the house

Last night I drank wine with a boy. In my house. Though he hardly qualifies as a 'boy' at three years older than me, I think he'll be flattered all the same. What was notable about his visit was that most of my booze quaffing (and indeed, tea drinking) mates are girls these days. My best boy bud lives in London so we run up our phone bills keeping in touch and other male mates tend to be friends' partners and I see them out socially. Consequently, this house has become a bit of a male-free zone. Not deliberately, of course. Talking last night, I realised there are lots of bloke things which don't blip on our girlie radar. My friend was describing someones strange hair cut and likened it to a certain - apparently well known - footballer. I looked at him blankly. Not a clue. I have NO IDEA when the football season starts, finishes or when 'important' games are on. Ditto cricket, rugby, Grand Prix... you get the idea. Nor do I ever have beers in the fridge. Even though I quite like the odd shandy (classy) I never think to buy beer. And then we have the toilet seat. Never, ever in this house have the DDs or I got up in the night for a sleepy wee only to awaken suddenly when bum cheeks meet cold porcelain.

Now despite my drill wielding and DIY capabilities, occasionally there are jobs which require either a bit of brute force or are *shudder* technical. At times like this, I pity the poor boys who do make it over the threshold. A young friend of mine (hark at me sounding like a maiden aunt) regularly visits, sometimes bringing her fiance. He's strong and works in IT. You can only imagine the excitement when he appears if we need a heavy suitcase lumped out of the loft (or my enormous boxes of Christmas decorations last year), or if iPods aren't synching etc. With barely concealed glee we make with the pleasantries as the kettle goes on, and the girls nudge me while I mutter "sssh, in a minute". Water goes into the pot, then I go in for the kill. "Oooh, I just had a thought! While the tea is brewing, would you be a daaaarling, and just have a look at the computer, it's doing something weird...." Flash big smile. Poke the DDs. They grin and do puppy dog eyes.  Three hours later the poor bugger is clawing to escape our clutches despite the offering of chocolate hobnobs to accompany the fifth cup of tea.

Yes, I really have no idea why blokes don't visit us very often.

Friday, 5 August 2011

A mad, bad and sad week.

 It's been a week of discovery in my house. So far, I've learnt:

1. Going out to work every day and leaving the DDs with someone else is 100 times easier than trying to work while they are at home.
2. You can have a lot of revenge changing the lyrics of a Dolly Parton song. 
3. School uniform for a tall 13 year old has 20% VAT added - even if it's covered in the school logo, bought from the school uniform shop and can't possibly be used for any other purpose than school wear.
4. Baking apple turnovers on the hottest day of the year makes a person really crabby.
5. Having one evening off a week from 24/7 single parent child-rearing is apparently equivalent to another person having them for one evening a week in terms of opportunity for a social life.
6. Loading my own CDs to iTunes is illegal.
7. If you get a gut-instinct to call someone, follow it through - chances are they need you.
8. If the fridge/freezer is going to pack up, the middle of the school summer holiday is probably not the most convenient time.
9. I do having a breaking point.
10. I can get 17 Maltesers into my mouth at the same time before my gag reflex kicks in.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A reason, a season or a lifetime.

'tis a sad day. After only a year next door to our lovely neighbours, they are packing up to move to a new house in the next town.

We've always been very lucky with neighbours and this time was no exception. I already knew Anna when we moved in last June - she had been head of the school PA when I was on the committee (joint Catering Officer, responsible for e-numbers and caffeine) - but you never quite know a person until you've seen them in their pyjamas putting the rubbish out. Our youngest daughters became friends, walking to school together and in each others' houses and gardens most days.

Once, during the snow in winter, I came home from work and nearly slipped A over T on the compacted icy pavement outside my house. Feeling really grumpy, I grabbed my shovel and started to clear it. It was going to be a long job. Anna returned shortly after, offered words of encouragement and disappeared indoors. 10 minutes later she re-appeared with two hot cups of tea, and started sweeping my broken up chunks of ice into the gutter. We then swapped tools and cleared her pathway, chatting as we worked. It turned a horrible job into a nice memory.

Similarly, we had great fun in the summer with my neglected and overgrown bush (ahem) which borders our properties. I'm not a fan of ladders so when Anna found me standing on tip-toes brandishing a borrowed chainsaw at the hedge top (much to the horror of the elderly gent the other side, who almost had a heart attack at a woman loose with a power tool), she got up the ladder to finish off, then we shovelled and swept again.

As for the new neighbours, well the DDs had their usual list of requirements for any new people entering their lives, number one being they should have kids their ages. Oh, and a tortoise, a house rabbit and a dog. I was hoping for either a hot single dad or another woman my age to share shovelling duties. Well, we are awaiting the arrival of 'a middle-aged couple, no kids, moving from London to be near the sea'. The jury is still out on whether they will bring livestock, but I'm sure they will be lovely. I believe that you get what you expect in life.

I also firmly believe the adage that we come into each others' lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Sadly, as the children will be at different schools I'm not sure our paths will cross again, other than by chance. I think Anna and her family were there for a reason: to provide familiarity and help ease us into our new home when we were all reeling from newness and change. I'm not sure what our purpose was to them. Maybe my loud, bad singing made them finally make that move they'd talked about for years. Either way, we'll miss them a lot. And yet our former elderly neighbour is definitely in the lifetime category: We still see her all the time, and she has an uncanny knack of calling me out of the blue and saying things like "How's your headache, dear?" and "What's wrong?" at exactly the right moment.

So I have a card and welcome gift ready for the new people, and I'm looking forward to finding out whether they are reason, season or lifetime people. And whether I manage to scare them off with my singing too.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A novel is born

Something very exciting has happened. I say this as though it was unexpected, and in a way it was. I've dreamed of this moment for the last 20 years and after several false starts there were days when I didn't think I would get to this point. So forgive me for wanting to scream it from the blogtops:

I have just finished writing my novel.

Of course, it's a first draft and in a condition that only a mother could love, but it's mine. I've typed 'The End'.

I don't profess to have the writing knowledge that many bloggers offer. I am learning as I go. But if any other writers are struggling to finish their first draft, let me share the one piece of advice that changed the way this novice writes and helped deliver my first victory. It is this: Momentum is key. It's so important, I'll say it again: Momentum is key. Don't stop to make it perfect. Keep going even if you think it's crap. Some of it will be. Much of mine undoubtedly is. But now my task is to nurture my baby through to adolescence before sending it out into the big wide world with love and optimism. And a big fat prayer that it won't land back on my doorstep too many times before it finally flees the nest.

Monday, 4 July 2011

5 things I want to do this summer - Listography

The Reluctant House Dad is hosting Kate Takes 5 listography for this week, '5 THINGS YOU WANT TO DO THIS SUMMER'. So, here are mine:

For the past 13 years, my job has been to plan the whole 6 weeks of activities like a military operation, in consultation with other Entertainment Captains and the Met Office, and with the aid of the equivalent of the national debt of Greece. September would find me spent in more ways than one. So this year, I'm hanging up my hat: the DDs are going to amuse themselves the old fashioned way. We had a taster of it at half term. After outgrowing her previous bike, DD1 refused several offers of a new one on the grounds that it was 'so lame', then she acquired one by accident (thanks, Aunty H!) and I couldn't get her off it. She was gone for hours each day, punctuated just once by a teary phone call that she'd fallen into some nettles and knocked her chain off the gear mechanism miles away from home (mum's Emergency Services and her big car boot came in handy that day.) The eureka moment came for me when she took DD2 with her. Deep breath from overprotective mummy and off they went off like a couple of Enid Blyton characters with lashings of ginger b... ok, water bottles, cycled for hours, stopped off at the park and the library, and returned home sweaty, scuffed and grinning. And very proud of themselves. All for zero expense. Priceless. It's time.

No, not tanning.  But when my kids make a pit stop from their adventures with a pile of equally ravenous friends, I will make sure I always have a home baked cake or biscuits to hand (as well as the ubiquitous freezer full of ice pops). That way, I get the therapy, and I can guarantee they will make it home at some point.

By the beginning of the school holidays I will have finished my first draft - I know where it's going and how to get there and it's currently hitting the page in all its messy glory before the really hard work starts: editing. So while the intrepid explorers are out and about in the sun, I will get my new baby into a form fit for human consumption.

Like many, we can't afford a holiday this year so are thankful we live five minutes from the beach, with woods, farms and castles all within a ten minute strike. And, we are doubly thankful for the lovely friend who has invited us to her holiday cottage in Suffolk. Last time, we went crabbing at Walberswick, prom strolling in Southwold and toy boat sailing in Aldeburgh. And the now legendary 'Strawbelly Jam', as the kids labelled it, was made after an afternoon picking our own weight in strawberries. I'm thankful for old fashioned, low-cost, lazy summer days.

The DDs will be spending the first and last weeks of the holidays with their dad. In the two previous years, I have dreaded them going, hated the silence and spent the week thoroughly miserable. This year will be different. As they grow in independence, so must I. I already have a party invitation, a promise of a bottle of wine with a friend, and our annual grown-up girls weekend at my friend's house in Suffolk. We'll go for walks, wander around antique centres and silly gift shops, make regular cuppa and cake stops, and in the evenings the odd bottle of alcohol may even get a look in. Ok, so we previously discovered that Cava and popping candy in the same mouthful make your nose run, and how, by rigging straws through the face hole in a massage table, you can enjoy several hands-free Pina Coladas whilst being pummelled (ahem, massaged...) On reflection, perhaps I already get the hang of this grown up thing.

Happy summer, people!

For more '5 THINGS YOU WANT TO DO THIS SUMMER' see The Reluctant House Dad's blog.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Beyoncé Factor

I was completely blown away by Beyoncé's amazing performance at Glastonbury at the weekend. She looked incredible of course, strutting her bronze, womanly curves in gold sequins and teeny tiny little shorts.  And her voice was astounding. But it was more than that. At the top of her game, she exuded talent, confidence, energy and fun. Her songs are about strong women, not afraid to give and take love, but sure enough 'ain't gonna put up with his shit if he treats her bad, girlfriend'. She was thoroughly entertaining.

Then it hit me: blimey, she and I are the same species. We have all the same base equipment. And other than her talent for singing, we were born with the same potential. Yet I have never felt so different to another woman in my life. It's easy to say, oh it's OK for her, she's a superstar, but she didn't get there without self-belief, determination, hard work and stepping out of her comfort zone time and time again.

She made me think about my own potential. I'm proud of many of the choices I've made and I know I'm good-enough at lots of things, but this woman is in a league of her own. Am I pushing myself enough? Could I reach similar dizzying heights of my own in my chosen field with more effort? Could I have thighs that could crack a walnut?

Well, I think the answers are no, yes and only if I give up cake. But I will take a leaf out of my new role model's book and set my bar higher. I'll have more self-belief, determination and courage. And more fun. Yes, definitely more fun. In fact, I pledge here and now that before my next big birthday, I will learn the whole 'Single Lady' dance routine and perform it at my party. I just need a couple of willing volunteers. Anyone.....?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Light days and dark days.

It's been a strange couple of weeks since I last blogged and I feel unusually reflective.

My darling daughter celebrated her 13th birthday last weekend. I have to confess to feeling a double sense of pride: firstly at the smart, hilarious, loving, feisty beauty she has become, and secondly that I managed to get her to this age alive. We had a rocky start - my own mum said I was the most difficult baby she'd ever known (cheers, mum!) and that DD1 was even worse. She cried day and night for a year. Looking back, I think it was frustration. She has always been more capable than her years and I think she was a toddler trapped in a baby's body. But we made it and she's amazing. She makes me feel ancient when she tells me to stop bopping to music in shops "Oh, my god, what are you doing,  mum?", yet she keeps me young by making sure I'm up to date with all the jargon when I ask, "So, sweetie, what exactly does 'it's reem, innit' mean?"
Last week I felt like a complete grown up when I realised that, after three fun years, I'd outgrown Facebook. Whilst once it had been a constant daily companion keeping me in touch with friends and providing entertainment on lonely evenings, I now found status updates annoying when they consisted of insensitive boasting from those still with cash to flash, endless links to music that I dislike or have never heard of and the most irritating of all: 'Dave is checking in at Tesco' announcements. I realised this kind of humourless brain clutter is like empty calories: lacking nourishment and sophistication but hard to resist. The final straw came when I received a link from one of my usually intelligent friends asking a quiz question: "Do you keep your ketchup in the fridge? Y/N?"  It had to go.

I've been struggling to find the motivation to write too, not least of all as my mum is very ill. We thought she'd beaten this evil disease but it's returned. My best friend's beautiful sister, just a year older than me, is also struggling with the same disease. As a freelancer, I don't have the luxury to wait for the motivation to return so I sit in front of the keyboard and write crap, delete and repeat. At least I'm trying, I justify.

This all boils down to mortality: some are at the beginning of their journey, others are battling for it not to end prematurely. I'm sitting in between both camps right now, giving help when it's needed and trying to make sense of it all without being able to change outcomes. For someone who is a natural born 'fixer', it's a difficult place to live.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A single mum's special day.

I'll let you into a little secret: it's my birthday this weekend. Regular readers may remember what a big kid I am at Christmas yet birthdays are a different story, mixing feelings of mild excitement - we are still talking presents, after all - and minor dread. Dread that, as with most of us, my actual age - the one facing me in the mirror - in no way matches the one in my head. I know ageing is all part of the natural process, and better than the alternative, blah, blah, but birthdays force focus on the numerics like no other day. And, birthdays highlight another issue too.

As all single parents will know, any event or occasion is down to us to organise, even our own birthdays. It breaks my heart when I recall mine just a month after I split with the DD's father. It was the least of my concerns that year, yet when I put them to bed the night before, DD1 looked up at me anxiously, and said "Mummy, it's your birthday tomorrow, what do we do?" Unknown to me, they had presents but didn't know the 'drill' for a birthday, as the adults had always led the charge. To their credit they are (almost!) as happy to celebrate my special day as they are their own. They just need me to tell them what we are doing, what we are eating, who we are seeing, should they buy a cake or can they make one, where do I keep the candles etc. All the stuff they're used to me sorting for theirs. Oh, to have time off from being the grown up, to be able to sit and be the carefree teenager I am in my head for this one day whilst someone else picks up the slack! (Just for one day, mind...)

But I'm not complaining. It's an overused, yet apt, sentiment that to estimate ones worth we should look at how much is left if we take away everything money can buy. With my kids, friends and family, I am stinking rich and very lucky.

So I will stop feeling sorry for my ageing bones, greying hair and the fact that this birthday finds me wearing reading glasses for the first time ever *stifled sob*.  On Saturday morning, I will be woken by giggling outside my bedroom door and loud 'sssshs', designed to do the exact opposite, and a half-spilt cup of tea will appear (which I will discreetly 'Vanish' from the beige stairs carpet later). Homemade cards, painted stones, pictures and collages, bundles of carefully chosen gorgeous things and donated precious items wrapped in pretty paper with mismatched ribbon will plop onto my duvet. My darling girls will pile into bed next to me, argue over what I should open first, then give a running commentary on who chose what and why. Later, friends will pop in, my lovely mum will sing 'happy birthday' down the phone, we will eat cake, and I will feel loved and special.

Sunday will find me a year older and starting preparations for the fast approaching DD1's birthday, the wish list for which I have already received because it's an extra special one this year. So, actually I should just get over myself, stopping focusing on the wrinkles, and face up to the fact that theirs are the only birthdays that really count anyway.

Monday, 2 May 2011

I've got a crush and I'm not afraid to admit it

Hands up who had a crush on Donny Osmond or the Bay City Rollers? Maybe David Cassidy was more your thing? My own obscure crush was the curly blonde bombshell that was Peter Frampton after I saw him in the Sgt Pepper film with the Bee Gees and it was instant love. I can still remember the delicious certainty that the song lyrics were written and sung just for me, about how my love for my victim, oops, object of my affection, would never die. Bedroom walls were bedecked with posters and snogging was practised on album covers – much firmer I found as the posters used to go soggy after a while. And during Top of the Pops if my little brother so much as murmured during “Baby I love your way” I'd have gouged his eyes out with a teaspoon.

Now I am a fully fledged grown up - I have the gravy jug to prove it - and my love for Jon Bon Jovi is no secret to regular readers. But in my more lucid moments, I have to accept he is unattainable. He's married with kids and is never in one place for very long. Not really the best start to a proper relationship. No, Jon is up there on his pedestal keeping Rob Lowe, Gerard Butler and Patrick Dempsey company. I happen to think though that my boys are some of the least embarrassing people to have crushes on. I mean, have you looked at them lately? Like fine wine, so much better with age.

But I know two grown women who have huge, gallumping crushes on… I can barely type it… Michael Ball. In fact, one of these women has the following in her workplace: a calendar, mug, framed portrait, an embroidered silk cushion, and various pictures all paying homage to Mr Ball. She has even been known to wear a shirt with Michael’s name embroidered on the breast pocket.

Another friend has seriously saucy dreams about Will Young (the fact that he’s gay means nothing to her), another lusts after Richard Hammond (only since the  crash - eh?) and yet another bought a life size photo of Vigo Mortesan  from Lord of the Rings and hung it over her bed. Her husband left shortly after. 

Perhaps crushes are our way of maintaining that lighthearted, fluttering emotion we experience at the beginning of a relationship before real life takes over and we are trawling around Halfords on a Saturday afternoon looking for roof boxes with our men. Who wouldn't prefer an emotionally attuned god of rock ?  Or god of stage and cross-dressing? And I guess it's only fair that the boys get Angelina or Jennifer to counter-balance all those hours spent pretending to care whether those cushion covers match the sofa.

Though I am not as prone to developing crushes as you might think, I have recently developed a new little one which is embarrassing for an entirely different reason. Because to admit the new object of my affection I have to admit to doing something which I haven't even confessed to my best friends: Micky Norcross - 'The Only Way is Essex'- you have been warned!


Monday, 18 April 2011

Memories are made of this.

My Great-Aunty Glad was 4ft 9in, Welsh, single and lived in a one bedroom flat in Kings Cross, London until she passed away at 84. She worked well past retirement age in the post room of a store called 'Knobs and Knockers' (I jest not), had a passion for frogs and all things green, smoked two cigarettes every day: one after the other at 6pm along with her daily whisky, was good friends with a wonderfully eccentric gay couple long before it was widely 'acceptable' and was the most selfless lady you would ever meet. She was once briefly married, but always managed to avoid answering our questions about him.

Aunty Glad with me, rocking my shades!

My sister, brother and I frequently stayed with her for weekends, squishing into her flat and sleeping top and tale on the z-bed while the favoured one (we took it in turns) got to share her small double.  She would take us to see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace declaring that we had seen it so many times we could change them ourselves: grey coats in winter, red the rest of the time, "march, left, right, left, right,  'ttenshun". We would copy them all the way back up the Mall to feed the ducks in St James's Park. Later she would take us on the 14-stop tube journey to Osterly to visit my lovely nan (her sister) where we said, without fail at every stop, "How many stops noooooow?". How annoying we must have been for other passengers, but Aunty Glad was always calm and smiling. What I later realised was that this tiny lady was regularly taking three small children for the weekend to give my parents breathing space and this was her way to wear us out and keep us out of her tiny flat for as long as possible.

Her flat was so small that the rolltop bath tub was under her kitchen worktop and she had a sign on the back of the loo door declaring it 'The smallest Ty Bach in London' (Welsh for toilet). When we arrived we would cannon in through the front door to be met by the overwhelmingly welcoming scent of what I now know was Channel No 5. Aunty Glad had a china cabinet bursting with the most amazing finds from her travels. She would let us play with our favourite things: mine was a beautiful miniature set of Limoges furniture from France which I loved to endlessly arrange into room settings. I was horrified when I accidentally chipped one of the chairs when a large stone dog fell on it while I was getting it out.

But the thing I remember the most was her biscuit tin full of buttons which she kept under her bed. I would spend hours sitting on her bedroom floor tipping them out, making patterns, sorting them into colours, just running them through my fingers; touching them.

We were adults when she passed on and were asked what we would like as a memory of Aunty Glad. Please, just the buttons, I said. But they had gone. In the weeks prior to her death Aunty Glad started distributing her possessions. Her sad friends would leave with arms laden so she knew 'things had gone to the right place'. To larger items still in use, such as her rocking chair, she sellotaped notes: "Lorna", or her standard lamp: "Barry". I can only hope the precious button tin made its way to somebody with equally special memories. I was lucky enough to receive the precious Parisian furniture. And her favourite bug-eyed stuffed frog, Ferdinand.

When I started my own family I decided we too needed a button tin. Over the years I've added to it, snipping the spare on new clothes and those beyond the charity shop are de-buttoned before sending out for recycling. And even though none of Aunty Glad's buttons ever made it into my tin, I am convinced when I open it there is a waft of Channel No. 5. Because precious belongings and experiences that touch all our senses nestle in our minds as memories to launch themselves at us when we least expect it. I love that many of the joys my own children are living are storing up in their little brains as memories to relay to their future offspring, and perhaps for blogs they may one day share about their childhood.