A blur of exotic dancing


Ann Blagdon at WI

Ann Blagdon at WI

When I saw that the prompt for the weekly photo challenge was the word ‘blur’, I was instantly transported back to a dance festival I attended in Russia some years ago.  It was the most amazing experience and included traditional dance from various ethnic groups which have settled in Russia over the centuries.  There was Greek dancing as well as Armenian, and both were wonderful.  But the most memorable was the cossak dancing.  With their boots, blousy shirts and billowing trousers, the dashing cossaks perform a truly acrobatic dance full of jumps, kicks and bends.  They really are a blur and photos are hard to take.  However, I have some super photos of a dancer that I watched closer to home.  Her name is Ann, and she gave up her day job to pursue the art of Egyptian Belly Dancing.

Ann came to our WI and gave a fascinating talk about the history, myths, legends and meanings associated with this type of dance.  She also told us about the costumes and how “Belly Dancing” got its name.  Her fascination with the dance started when her Lebanese friends in London inspired her to find a teacher.  She was learning classical Indian dance at the time. Over the last twenty years Ann has perfected her craft and she is now a very talented dancer as well as an inspirational teacher.  When Ann dances it is spellbinding, beautiful, graceful and charming. Every movement is significant and tells a story.

Her costumes were ravishing, colourful and exotic.  To cover up she wears the traditional Egyptian Galabeya.  She buys her costumes when she attends the Soukh or market at the Egyptian Hafla or party.  Most of her costumes are made in Thailand or Turkey.  According to Ann, Egypt is considered the birthplace of belly dancing, but there are variations in different regions.  She certainly takes her dance seriously.  In order to get to know and feel the spirit of the dance, she spent time living in a Bedouin tent in the Sinai desert!

She is an amazing woman and a beautiful dancer so I have picked her to illustrate this week’s post.


Am I the ‘lunatic fringe’?

Alex Polizzi says I belong to the “Lunatic Fringe”.  Little old me?  Really?

I’ve been called many things in my time, drama queen and nervous wreck spring to mind and I hold my hands up to both.  But this week I fell into a whole new category ~ the Lunatic Fringe!

Now if you know me, or think you do from reading my blog, this may come as a bit of a surprise, so let me explain.

I watch very little television as a rule, although I have to say currently I am spoilt for choice.  I could not miss Wolf Hall, Broadchurch or Mr Selfridge!  I am also tempted to watch anything with George Clarke, the restoration man in, as his beautiful Sunderland accent reminds me of my Geordie roots.  Another presenter I admire is Alex Polizzi.  She is the sort of feisty, intelligent, successful, call a spade a spade businesswoman/celebrity, I enjoy watching.  On her programme she goes into failing businesses, be they hotels, cafés, shops, or entertainment venues, and gives practical help and advice on how to turn them around.  It makes for fascinating TV.

This week Alex visited a children’s play barn.  These are the sort of places I frequent with my grandchildren when it is too wet for the park! Of course these businesses are not so popular in the summer when children can play for free out of doors.  I have to say Alex did not suggest the improvements which to me were blindingly obvious.  I would install air conditioning to make it inviting on hot summer days and dedicate an area to sand and water play with a whippy ice cream maker nearby!  It would be like going to the seaside but without the sunburn and crowded motorways.

Alex’s suggestions of course were practical, doable and great ~ new space-themed murals and paintwork, a much needed deep clean, and more nutritious, appealing and varied menu options.  I did think that with the owner’s love of baking he could have been a bit more adventurous.  My daughter makes wonderful little cupcakes for her son with grated vegetables or fruit in as well as mini tortillas packed with goodness.  They are so cheap to make yet much healthier than the sugary cakes and biscuits the owner was lovingly preparing.

It was then that Alex explained that ‘normal’ customers who are dissatisfied don’t complain, they just never return!  She said only the ‘lunatic fringe’ bothers to complain.  What?  Is this true? If so I am definitely a paid up member of the ‘Lunatic Fringe’.  Who knew?  Well just maybe Pets at Home, Greene King Inns, Gloucester Royal Hospital, the County Council and our local MP did.  These have all been the recipients of complaints from me over the last few years.  And, I have to say my complaints all achieved positive outcomes.

I could tell you about the explicit posters that were displayed outside our local pub advertising a ‘ladies night’ with male striptease.  My complaint was that children on their way to school would see these posters, which I think is inappropriate.  I also felt that a local pub was not the place for male strippers!  My complaint succeeded because the landlords did not have a license for this type of entertainment so the posters were removed and the event cancelled.

I could tell you about my rather embarrassing but successful run in with the council over their attempt to site a hideous green bus shelter right outside my front window. (Does that make me a NIMFY?)  I won’t go into detail about all of my complaints but if you read my blogpost Bus Stop Brenda you will get my drift.

If something is wrong in my opinion, I will usually write a letter of complaint in the hope that the person, company or service will put it right.  I am polite, I use nice cards or paper, and I often search the internet for the name of the person at the top who makes the decisions.  Is that lunatic?

My current grumble is with Sainsbury’s.  I dread to think how much of my hard earned cash has passed through their tills over the years.  I don’t have time to shop around, I never did, and so Sainsbury’s has fed my family and kept my household going for as long as I can remember.  But they are risking all this loyalty for points worth pennies, and vouchers which drive me insane.

I have a Nectar card with Sainsbury’s and for every pound you spend you get points ~ so far so simple.  You save up the points which equate to cash off your shopping.  But recently the value of the points has been halved.   You now need to jump through all sorts of hoops to get ‘bonus’ points or double points.  This just takes you back to where you would have been originally but they pretend it’s a great deal for the customer.  Next there are the confounded vouchers which come through the post or pour out of the till.  They are not just simple money off vouchers, they are date restricted, product linked or just for fuel.

I also get vouchers from Pets at Home, Waitrose and M&S, sometimes for food, or clothing, pet stuff, or for household goods.   It’s a nightmare trying to use them.

Nowadays, no-one calls me a domestic goddess, organised I am not.  I used to be.  When I was younger and working full time, a parent of 4 children with a dog and a cat to consider, I could manage to work efficiently for 60 hours a week, ferry my children to their various activities, attend to most of the domestic chores and provide nutritious food on a regular basis as well as keeping the animals happy, fed and exercised.  But since I retired my organisational skills have dwindled to the point where cutting out and collecting the relevant vouchers and actually taking them in my purse to the right shop for the specified items between the appropriate dates is totally beyond me.

Bemoaning this to a couple of friends who still qualify as domestic goddesses they advised me to:

  1. a) sort out vouchers into date order
  2. b) buy a plastic zippy pouch to keep vouchers in
  3. c) keep the zippy pouch with your purse in the reusable shopping bags
  4. d) take the bags, purse and pouch to the shops
  5. e) go through the vouchers at the checkout and present the relevant vouchers

So I tried this last week and failed miserably.  Going shopping with a 2 teenagers, a small child and a baby in a pushchair may have been difficult but it was a doddle compared to going shopping with a 6 foot hubby currently in a wheelchair, which goes something like this:~

  1. Convince hubby that shopping needs to be done
  2. Explain to hubby that he needs to get out of the house
  3. Find his shoes, coat, scarf, hat, wallet, hanky, drinks bottle in case he gets thirsty, sweets in case he gets dry throat
  4. prise hubby out of comfy rise and recline chair
  5. help him on with previously mentioned items
  6. use indoor, 4 wheeled mobility aid to get to front door
  7. use outdoor, 3 wheeled, foldable mobility aid to get to car
  8. help hubby into car
  9. put outdoor walker in garage
  10. get wheelchair out of garage
  11. fold up wheelchair and lift into boot
  12. drive to Sainsbury’s
  13. dodge the car washers who want to charge me £8 to put wax on my driver’s window with a dirty rag so that I can’t see out of it
  14. get wheelchair out of boot
  15. help hubby into wheelchair
  16. ask staff to unlock store’s mobility scooter
  17. help hubby into mobility scooter
  18. take wheelchair back to car, fold and lift into boot
  19. do the shopping, carefully adding a bit extra because we have vouchers
  20. find a checkout wide enough for mobility scooter
  21. unload all shopping onto conveyor belt
  22. look for reusable bags, purse and zippy pouch bursting with vouchers worth £12 and hundreds of nectar points
  23. Realise they are still at home on the indoor mobility aid
  24. Ask hubby for his wallet
  25. Pay for shopping
  26. Replay 1 to 18 in reverse order
  27. Go home and have a little cry

Now the end to this tale of woe is that I kept my receipt and went in the next day with the voucher for £12 off having fulfilled all the criteria, but the computerised till would not accept the voucher because it ran out at close of business the night before.  My complaint is that my shopping was done within the specified time so the voucher should be honoured.  What would Alex Polizzi say?  Would the shareholders of Sainsbury’s rather I acted like a ‘normal’ customer and just voted with my feet or would they prefer to get a letter giving them the opportunity to honour my voucher and keep my custom?

Answers on a postcard please …


It’s Automatic!

Skoda Roomster

Skoda Roomster

I’ve just realised that I am a control freak.

This fact, which is probably blindingly obvious to my family, is a total surprise to me.  It was revealed yesterday when I changed my car.

I have been driving for well over 40 years.  While I was at college in Newbold Revel in the 60s we had the chance to learn in the gorgeous country lanes and villages of Warwickshire.  We occasionally drove into Rugby or the outskirts of Coventry, but these roads were not so busy then.  There was no A45 for a start!  We just tootled along the ‘B roads’ through sleepy little villages like Brinklow.  I had no nerves in those days and my instructor said I was a natural.  Lessons cost us 17shilling and 6pence (17s6d) in pre-decimal money, which is about 87p now.  It sounds really cheap but of course a pound was a lot of money then.

When I left college I moved to the Cotswolds with my room-mate and dear friend Pat, whom I have written about before.  Pat already had a car while we were at college.  She used to work at riding stables in Somerset during her holidays so had learned to drive early.  We made quite a stir wherever we turned up in her car because she used to take the back seats out of it to transport her tiny Shetland pony, Rupert.  Did I mention that Pat was a ‘one off’?   In her prime she rode the iconic London to Brighton Cycle Race, but Pat did it on a unicycle.   She certainly lived life to the full and squeezed every ounce of fun she could out of it.  Later on in life she became a really serious cyclist, what is known as a ‘hard rider’.  She did time trials, road racing, cross country mountain biking and hill climbs, which were her favourite.   She won lots of titles including National Ladies’ Veteran and Bog-snorkelling Champion!  What makes this all the more amazing is that she did it all with a metal frame supporting her spine after she fell from a tree and broke her back many years ago while picking fruit.  She was a great friend and I miss her.

Anyway, by the time I got round to needing a car I was married and had a baby.  I actually passed my test with the baby in his carry cot on the back seat!  There was no law about child seats in those days; there weren’t even seat belts in the back seats of most cars!

Since then I have had several cars of different marques.  I loved my little red Fiat but hated the VW Beetle.  I once had a brand new silver Mazda which was my favourite car, but usually I had whatever my dad was replacing, as they were free!  By the time I had 4 children I had a blue escort estate which my dad had used for work.  This would be early 1980s and because he travelled so much for work he had a very early mobile phone.  The phone itself was huge by today’s standards but the battery was ridiculous.  It was the size of a small suitcase and was fitted under the driver’s seat.

Following that I had little metros and lastly a Renault Clio.  This car was ideal until this summer when my husband had a couple of bad falls.  He has peripheral neuropathy among other things and since the fall he has hardly been able to walk let alone drive.  So I have been taking a wheelchair with us whenever we go out.  The boot on the Clio is quite small and quite high so lifting, folding and stowing the wheelchair has been really hard for me.  Hence, the need for a change of car.  Unfortunately due to his age mainly, we don’t qualify for the wonderful ‘Motability Scheme’, but we were told that when people with disabilities return their adapted cars, they are forwarded to dealers and sold ~ the cars that is, not the person with disabilities!  So we started a search of dealers in our area.  I took some advice from an expert, Zog Zeigler, who writes brilliant car reviews for TV, newspapers and various magazines, and eventually found just the car for us.  It is a Skoda Roomster.  The lady who had it from new had returned it after only 6 months, so we really got a bargain.

It has a huge low boot which is easy to get a wheelchair in even unfolded.  It has parking sensors front and back.  It has hand controls for braking and accelerating.  It has a huge glass roof so my grandson can watch the ‘cloudbabies’.  And, it has 4 doors which open wide so the other grandchildren can get in easily loaded up with schoolbags, football kit and musical instruments!  BUT, and it’s a big but, it is AUTOMATIC.

I have never driven an automatic car before so it was probably not the best decision to pick it up while my hubby was in hospital, in the rush hour, and drive it home along one of the narrowest roads in Gloucestershire while the factory workers were racing home on bikes, scooters, motorbikes, cars, lorries and buses.  It was the most hair-raising drive I have ever undertaken ~ and I’ve travelled in cars in Africa and Russia so that’s saying something!

Just getting out of the showroom carpark was a challenge.  Apparently the ‘selector lever’, which replaces the gear stick, will not budge unless you have your foot on the brake.   Who knew?  Everyone apparently, except me!  This threw me to the extent that I blocked the main road causing a huge traffic jam of tired workers on their way home.  Not a good start.  I could see the driver in the lorry at the front of the queue was not happy so I had to resort to going back into the showroom to ask for help.  So my pride and joy at having a shiny newish car was quickly replaced by humiliation as I did a good impression of a pathetic female.

I did get home eventually although every bend, junction, passing vehicle and set of traffic lights was a source of fear.  What do you do with your left hand and foot when they are not needed for gear changing?  I just feel that with a manual car I am in control, but with an automatic some hidden bit of electronic wizardry is in control.  And I DON’T LIKE IT!

Pat and the dangers of Cycling http://wp.me/p2gGsd-t7

My Friend Pat on her bike

My Friend Pat on her bike


Miss Margaret’s New House

When I was a student in the 1960’s I started collecting nursery rhymes and poetry which I could use once I started teaching.  I built up quite a collection in a folder.  I also got into the habit of cutting poems out of the daily newspaper if they appealed to me.  One poem impressed me so much I have treasured it for the last 50 years.  I still have the original cutting.  Brown with age, I’ve now laminated it so that it doesn’t get damaged.  It is called Miss Margaret’s New House and it chimed with me really strongly.

As regular readers of my blog will know, my much loved mum died in 2012.  She lived just a couple of doors away from me, which was really handy when I was caring for her.  But once she had died, the house being so close was a constant source of sadness which I could not escape.

The house was empty and forlorn for months but now new people have bought the house to ‘do up’ and live in.  It seems to me that there will be nothing left of the original house soon.  It now has a huge extension on the back, the lovely hardwood window frames have been replaced with white plastic and the leaded lights are gone.  The kitchen has been ripped out and a new one built in the extension.  The wall between the bathroom and toilet has been knocked through and all the fittings have been replaced.  The climbing roses have been cut down and the rambling hedgerow tamed and trimmed.  All the carpets are gone and modern wooden flooring installed and the walls have all be painted in neutral tones.

I’m sure it will all be lovely by the time they move in, but no longer will it be ‘my mum’s house’.  This is a blessing in a way as I will no longer feel those pangs of sadness as I pass by on my walks with the dog or my grandson.  Every trace of my mum’s taste and personality has gone from the house now, along with her fixtures and fittings, into the skip.

Her style was plain and simple.  She loved the soft pink on the walls, pale green on the floors ~ always Wilton, always 80/20 wool.  She loved roses in the garden, flowers in the house, and dark oak Ercol furniture.  She loved soft cushions and silver ornaments.  Her door, like her heart, was always open to visitors, especially her family.  She never forgot a birthday and was generous to a fault.  Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

Now to get back to the poem!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


 She never liked The Firs.  She said

‘Give me simplicity.

Pretentious roofs and leaded panes…

Lord, how they sicken me!


I’ll have an honest house one day.

Clean-shaped outside and in.

Where need shall take its dues, and oust

The merely finikin.


A downright house, a compact house;

A small house – I am small;

The lone pea in its vasty pod

Is not my role at all.


Nor yet for me pert painted doors,

Flame yellow, scarlet bright;

A low house with white window sills,

And trees to left and right.


A quiet house, a peaceful house…

Cool in the August heat,

But snug and safe when parching winds

Drive brown leaves down the street…


This will I have’, she said and let

It cost me what it may

I shall not grudge that dwelling’s price…

She moved in yesterday.


It took the sum of all she had,

But well content she seemed;

She has them all-the sheltering trees,

The quiet that she dreamed;


The low pitched roof, the straight bare walls-

All hers, and perfect, save

For the white window sills.  There are

No windows in a grave.

By Ana Jackson

Miss Margaret's House? No, its mine!

My mum painting in Painswick Rococo Gardens

My mum painting in Painswick Rococo Gardens

Family ~ Weekly Photo Challenge

Many years ago, it seems like another lifetime, I was a busy single mum to 4 wonderful children. I had a full time job that I loved, a nice home that was all my own work, an adorable miniature wire haired dachshund and a stray cat who turned up one day and stayed for 17 years. Over the years I progressed from teacher to deputy head and then Headteacher of a great primary school at the heart of an estate in my adopted home town. Luckily my profession fitted in perfectly with being a single parent as I was usually around in school holidays and always at weekends. But if ever there was a crisis due to illness or something I had the backup of my mum who lived nearby and was always delighted to look after the children or pets!

My school and parish was my community and together with my family, was the source of all the joy, friendship and social life I needed. Although I knew my immediate neighbours, my life was much too busy to get involved in the local community or the people in the wider neighbourhood.

And so life went on and my children became adults and gradually left home. I had always encouraged them to follow their dreams and take any opportunity they could to travel and sample other ways of life and other cultures. I was lucky enough to travel extensively through my job, working with schools in Russia and Africa. I also took great holidays in America, Canada and many parts of Europe. So I think I probably went a bit too far with this advice as now 3 of my children live and work abroad!

As my children grew more independent I filled my spare time travelling to Lourdes at every available opportunity as a volunteer/helper with the sick or disabled whom we called VIPs. This was one of the most rewarding 10 years of my life. It also indirectly brought me my wonderful second husband who was also a volunteer.

I knew that I was very lucky in every way and I worked very hard to try and improve the life chances of the children in my school. But of course life has a way of turning your world upside down sometimes. For me several events occurred to produce the perfect storm that would shatter my well ordered life. I buried my feelings and worked harder and harder until my body refused to do any more and I had to retire.

There then followed 5 very gruelling years which felt like 50 years. I was caring for my mum who was disabled after a heart attack. I only ever went out of the house to shop or for their hospital appointments. I became reclusive, antisocial and anxious. By 2009 my life and social circle was as limited as it could possibly be.

Then in that Autumn my youngest daughter said some women wanted to start a WI in our area. She said she thought it would be good for me so she would go with me to the inaugural meeting. It took all my courage to turn up that night and fortunately there were only a handful of women there. In fact there were so few that almost everyone there ended up on the committee by default! My daughter said I was good on computers so could be the secretary.

Now, almost 4 years on, I know that joining the WI was the best thing I could have done. At first I forced myself to go to all the meetings as I had to take notes. Gradually it became a pleasure to attend the meetings and I looked forward to them. I joined the Book Club and started reading again. I started putting my name down for trips and events. To give me the courage to turn up for them I took my camera to hide behind and became our unofficial photographer. I ventured out to concerts and big events like the AGM in Cardiff. It still takes quite a lot of courage for me to attend these things but I know that if I am struggling I will not be alone. The friendship and support WI members offer each other is very special. I even joined the Public Affairs Committee at our Federation.

Usually I find that the speakers at meetings are so interesting that I completely forget to worry or panic and just enjoy myself!

Now the WI is my community and my family. Through joining, I have rediscovered my creative side, writing a blog at http://www.heavenhappens.wordpress.com I have become outgoing and physically active again and renewed my interest in campaigning.

Best of all, when I walk anywhere in my local area now I seem to know everyone and they all stop for a chat. I feel that I am part of a vibrant and supportive community.

The WI offers all kinds of opportunities to all kinds of women. I would advise any woman of any age to join and get involved to whatever extent you feel able.

The WI is all about inspiring women. It is a rich source of experiences, knowledge and skills passed down through generation ~ and updated every day!

WI even enriches my now rare holidays, as I try to pop in to a local meeting while I am away. It is fascinating to see how different WIs conduct their meetings. But I can honestly say that whichever WI I go to, I know a warm welcome is guaranteed.

I am so happy with my life now and I thank God every day for my wonderful family, friends and community.

Creative writing from the bottom of my memory

I am quite excited today because this evening I am going to the inaugural meeting of our new Creative Writing Group. A couple of months ago I was asked to come along to an Artists Way meeting to chat about my blog and how I got it started.
I was a little daunted but very pleased to be asked as I still consider myself a learner in the blogosphere. In fact, the more I delve into it and the more wonderful bloggers I discover, the humbler I get!
But I went along and found the group to be made up of lovely, enthusiastic and creative people. All of them have a story they want to tell and they were full of stimulating questions. I tried my best to encourage a lively discussion but the evening went far too quickly. So, we agreed that what we need is a writing group. There are some well established groups in our area but they didn’t fit our bill. So we decided to start our own. There is no leader or teacher, just a group of us who will hopefully be encouraging while reading, writing and discussing each others work.

Now if any of my blogging community can give me guidelines or tips that I can pass on I would be very grateful. Perhaps you have been part of a group and found a particular session really useful, I would love to know.

Of course one of the things I had to do before meeting the group is decide what makes my blog tick. I have my lovely quote from Tom Stoppard after my header and I truly believe that. However
the essence of my blog can be expressed in a quote from The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier,

“I dropped this wonderful moment into the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again. The bedrock of existence is not made up of the family, or work, or what others say and think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love.”

This is how and why I write, I treasure memories and moments when I felt like heaven happens. I will again reblog something I wrote right at the start when not many people were reading my blog. You have to read right to the end for the little bit of transcendent power though!!
I hope you enjoy it.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Street Life

pothole protestjpeg

pothole protest2jpeg
I woke up very early one morning to the sound of a pickaxe pounding the pavement opposite my house. Being naturally curious as well as a member of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme I got up to see what was going on. And there they were, two men, one ‘little’ and one ‘large’, digging holes in the pavement right opposite my front window! On the back of their white flatbed truck they had an assortment of tools and what looked suspiciously like a bus shelter. Since no-one had contacted us to inform us that this might be happening I rushed out in my pyjamas to find out what authority they had for the work. They told me that we should have been contacted, but their orders were to put up a bus shelter right there.

Now as you can just see from the photo my house is right opposite a lovely park with a stream and a small wood which is a delight throughout the year. I simply could not allow an ugly bus shelter to block my view. Yes I am a NIMBY!

‘Large’, who clearly underestimated the power of a woman in pyjamas, said there was nothing I could do about it as they had their orders. I said well you can’t carry your orders out if I am sitting in the hole, which I promptly did ~ yes …. in my pyjamas. At this point ‘little’ got into the van to have a smoke and ‘large’ very gallantly offered me his fluorescent yellow jacket as it was starting to rain.

Knowing me well and realising I would not be backing down any time soon my long suffering husband brought me out a cup of tea and a telephone to ring the council. Pah! The same council who had not even bothered to inform, never mind consult, the residents, I would not be wasting my time phoning them – anyway it was far too early. I would phone my MP direct. Fortunately I had his number as this is not the first protest I have been involved in. Poor ‘large’ was completely thrown when my call was put straight through to the MP’s mobile as he was at the House …. of Commons that is!

By now ‘little’ had started to get edgy and asked how long I was planning on sitting in the hole. I informed him that I could stay there as long as it took to get the decision reversed, so he called his boss. At this point passers by on their way to work had started to notice and one even took photos. I began to realise I was causing a bit of a stir – and so did ‘little’ and ‘large’. They reported this to their boss along with the fact that I was on the phone to my MP. ’The Boss’ immediately ordered them to fill in the hole and abandon the site.

Quite bewildered but in very good humour the two men did as told and tarmacked over the holes. They never did come back and to this day there is no bus stop opposite the house, just beautiful views.

As a postscript to this I will just say that the next day I was taking my elderly mother to the cemetery to put flowers on dad’s grave when we passed the local newsagents. Mum looked at the display of newspapers in the window and said – “you’re in the papers!” To my horror on the front page was the not very fetching photo of me sitting in a hole wearing my pj’s and a yellow fluorescent jacket!

The world and his brother have seen it and that is how I came to be known as “bus stop brenda”.

To read more about life in my street do read my post about ‘Comings and Goings’ at http://wp.me/p2gGsd-191