Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A BRIDGE TOO FAR

It was a wonder that I ever took up bridge. My mother was a ‘golf widow’ and she seemingly hated the game and resented every minute that she was left alone while my father walked the links. They did however share the pleasure of playing bridge though there were some occasions when a ‘falling out’ meant that they had to partner a guest and play against each other to avoid total acrimony. I remember countless times as a child watching, or more often hearing, my parents playing this card game which seemed to be punctuated with bitter arguments the severity of which depended on how well Mum and Dad knew their opponents.


Thankfully at that time I had not heard of the famous ‘Bennett’ murder which took place in 1931 in America when a furious wife, incensed at her husband’s bidding and play at bridge, pulled out a revolver and shot him dead. If I had I would have no doubt have intervened to preserve the peace. Yet despite this unfortunate introduction to the game, I later took it up and like thousands of others find it hard to get through a week without a bridge ‘fix’.


I have played the game in kitchens, in gardens, in ballrooms, on boats, on my computer and of course in bridge clubs. My partners’ ages must have ranged between 9 and 90 as does the membership of my local bridge club. Despite the best endeavours of my parents, it is a very sociable game which is why I made the change from chess to bridge. I much prefer the bustle of the bridge club with the banter between hands to the library-like silence of the chess club broken only by the ticking of the many chess clocks.


I well remember my first ever visit to the local bridge club and wondering what to expect as I approached. With a few hundred yards left to walk, I suddenly froze. What if everyone wears black tie? But I need not have worried. I soon discovered that the game is very cosmopolitan and not at all stuffy.


Listening to my parents those fifty or so years ago, I learned that the worst bridge player they knew was ‘Gladys’. During one game my Dad’s play apparently went a bridge too far. My mother rounded on him venomously ‘I hope that when you die, you find yourself playing an endless game of bridge with Gladys as your partner!’ My father replied ‘As long as we are playing in the clubhouse at the golf club and I can see you eternally playing the 18th hole I will be content!’

Sunday, 27 December 2009

ALL PRESENT & CORRECT

The family are all gathered together. The tree is festooned with tinsel, lights and decorations and underneath it lie a great number of wrapped presents destined for the people in the room. But how do you proceed from there?

In Christmases past I have 'persuaded' my family to adopt the method which I first encountered when I was in the bosom of my first wife's family - who were Italian. Firstly, the youngest members retrieve the gifts from below the tree, read the labels and then bestow them accordingly. This means that each of us start to amass a pile of presents and in my case, the pile is usually the smallest *sob. Then the oldest person present gets to open their gifts and then the next oldest etc. The system has its pros and cons.

The good things about this method are that:
1. The youngest get to witness the ceremony - for once they have opened their presents they are lost in reverie.
2. The kids get reading practice. (Admittedly not so important if they are in their 30's).
3. I get to open my stuff first.

The bad things about the method are that:
1. It always leads to the debate 'why do we do it this way?'
2. There is no doubt who is the oldest.
3. The kids get petulant waiting.

More recently, I have been over-ruled and now we each open one thing then repeat. This means I always drop out first. Both systems have their merits - how is it done in your household?


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

HAS HE BEEN YET?

Not that I'm playing for sympathy or anything but I thought I would share with you that I have never had a Christmas stocking full of presents. Not even as a child.

Before you shed a tear at my plight let me explain why my life has been so blighted. My mother, bless her, decided that she couldn't get enough stuff in a stocking so from day 1 my brother and I had Christmas pillow cases. Result!

Recently, I have been reminiscing about those exciting times when I tried so hard to sleep with one eye open so that I would catch a glimpse of Father Christmas. For some reason, all I ever remember catching a glimpse of, was one of my parents peering in to see whether I was asleep or not. Funny that.

I confess that I have no idea what childrens' Christmas stockings contain nowadays but in my day, the best items included the following. My comic annuals - 'Beano' and 'Dandy' - were eagerly awaited each year and there were usually several surprise toys. Then there were the stalwarts - those items without which my Christmas pillow case just would not be complete. Firstly, the chocolate money. I never buy it for myself nowadays but as a child they were just divine! Many children received sugar mice in their stockings but in our case we had sugar pigs - much bigger and did a much better job of ruining your teeth! Finally, there were the inevitable satsumas or tangerines which I still love today. You can see why we had to have pillow cases!

What used to be in your Christmas stocking?



Sunday, 20 December 2009

CHRISTMAS HISTORY LESSON

If you already know the origins of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' then let me not detain you further. However, if this information has previously escaped your attention then allow me to enlighten you.

Popular legend has it that it contains a coded message within having been written during the period when thanks originally to the efforts of Henry VIII, Catholics were suppressed (1558-1829) and were not allowed to openly practice their religion.

The items in each verse had religious significance and were intended to help Catholic children to remember the key features of their faith. 'My true love' (God) actually gave the following:

12 drummers drumming = the twelve points of the Apostle's creed.

11 pipers piping = the eleven disciples (not counting Judas).

10 lords a-leaping = the ten commandments.

9 ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

8 maids a-milking = the eight beatitudes (Christ's blessings from the sermon on the mount).

7 swans a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy spirit (prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership and mercy).

6 geese a-laying = the six days of creation.

5 gold rings = the Torah or law (the first five books of the Old Testament).

4 Colley birds = the four gospels. Note not 'calling' birds. Colley birds were blackbirds.

3 French hens = faith, hope and love.

2 turtle doves = the Old and New Testaments.

The partridge in the pear tree being Jesus himself.

Now I'm off to examine Rudolph. I suspect that his red-nose could be a subversive ploy by Alcoholics Anonymous!


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

I'LL PASS ON THE PUMPERNICKEL

I was under the impression that we (The Allies) won the second world war. I was told that we beat the Germans who were trying to take over the world. The story goes that we would have been subject to German rule and forced to drive Volkswagens and wear short leather trousers.

More recently, of course, we have been told that all those nasty Germans have gone and only nice ones are left. In my personal experience though, I must say that the Germans I meet on holiday still have plenty of territorial ambitions when it comes to the sun loungers round the pool.

So if we won the war and thereby saved ourselves from becoming some sort of Bavarian holiday isle, how come I keep seeing most of our cities proudly displaying posters advertising that they are hosting 'Traditional German Christmas markets'?

I don't want Saint Nicholas entombed in a glass case. I don't want a knitted hat which makes me look like I have pigtails.

Gl├╝hwein? I don't want my wine tasting of glue, nor do I want it spiced or hot.

Stollen? Then give it back at once!

Wurst? I don't want the worst I want the best.

Apparently German gingerbread is called Pfefferkuchen which means 'peppercake' - what have pepper and cake got to do with each other pray tell?

I'm betting that they don't have a 'traditional British Christmas market' in downtown Dusseldorf.

Sorry but as far as 'traditional' German Christmas markets are concerned, all I have to say is "Bah! Humbug!' or for the benefit of my German friends 'Bah! Betrug!'


Sunday, 13 December 2009

EARLY CHECKOUT

My dear departed mother had a morbid terror of being cremated alive. It was such a concern to her, that she made me promise to stick a pin in her on her deathbed to check that she didn't flinch. I tried to persuade her that since she would be laid out for several days, there was every likelihood that a passing undertaker would notice her tapping out S.O.S. in morse with her finger but she would have none of it. So yes, I pricked her finger.

She is in good company. George Washington no less, was so terrified of the idea of being buried alive that he made his servants promise to wait for 2 days after his death before burying him.

Fear of being buried alive, the medical term for which is 'Taphephobia', was so common in the 18th and 19th centuries that the 'safety coffin' was invented. This was a coffin with a cord inside attached to a bell above ground so that anyone who might awaken to find themselves in a small, dark, confined space could feel around for the rope and set the bell ringing. It seems to have escaped people's attention, that a bell ringing from a churchyard is a fairly commonplace event.

Of course, this fear of premature burial is completely irrational especially nowadays with modern medicine being so advanced. By the way, while I think of it, when it comes to my turn, I'd be obliged if I could be buried with my mobile phone - only because I am so fond of it. Oh, and if you could just make sure that it is charged up I'd be most obliged.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

MY COLOURFUL LIFE

Along with my shiny new computer, I have acquired it's electronic diary. I have used electronic diaries before but this one is different from my previous ones. The difference is that I can now categorise the events in my life and then colour code them.

For example, I have a category called 'Dining out' (my favourite) which I chose to colour yellow. 'Birthdays' are green, 'Recreation' is purple, 'Appointments' are red......well you get the idea.

I can then view any one category on it's own so for instance I can select just 'Birthdays' so that I can check whether I have cards to buy in the near future. Alternatively, I can view all of the categories together which makes for a very colourful display.

I feel things are going well when I find 3 or more colours on the same day. It shows that I have variety in my life. It also shows a degree of balance so that if I have a morning session of purple tennis I can see that I will be able to regain any weight I lose when I have my yellow dining event in the evening.

So now I lead a much more colourful life than I used to but I have a confession to make. I find that more and more, I especially enjoy the days which are just plain white!



Sunday, 6 December 2009

HOME THOUGHTS FROM A FRAUD

The first inkling I had of what retirement would be like was when I found myself buying a pair of bright yellow 'Marigolds'. For the unititiated, these are rubber household gloves used when washing dishes or for other domestic chores. Naturally I only wear them when no-one can see me. Except of course for Dearly Beloved who no doubt derives some perverse pleasure in witnessing my indignity.

I jest.

I have no problem with helping out at home and anyway, I was forewarned. I attended not one but two pre-retirement courses (not that I was eager to stop work or anything you understand!) and the first thing I learned there proved to be very true. We were told that in cases where our wives were still working when we retired, we would be left lists. Each morning there would be a verbal or written list of tasks to be completed before our spouses arrived home - and so it came to pass.

I have become intimately acquainted with the dishwasher and with the hoover. You can stop thinking your smutty thought right now! I have my own apron. I also took a crash course in how to put up the ironing board which thankfully I am rarely called upon to use.

However, I have a confession to make. I'm a bit of a fraud. My apparent inability to fathom the workings of the washing machine are shall we say, a trifle embellished. I trust you dear reader to keep this secret to yourself and on no account let it reach the ears of my dear wife.