This morning started rather earlier than usual, owing to my husband having to go to Essex for his company, about a three hour drive from here. My usual routine is to get up as soon as he has finished in the bathroom, and although today I could have lain in bed for another hour, I was worried I may go into a deep snooze and oversleep. With the sun shining it wasn't really a hardship to get up, if I am honest, and the result is I achieved much more much sooner!
By 7am I was feeling rather smug that I was not only bathed and dressed....I even had a line of washing out! Is it just me, or does that blue fitted sheet look like a giant pair of underpants?! Could be a good title for a children's book!
Having got the basics of housework out of the way and checked that my recycled teenager next door was up and ok, I dropped my mother in law off to the local hospital for a blood test and then went for my weekly visit to see another of my recycled teenagers.
I can feel a spot of reminiscing coming on, so if time is of the essence I suggest you scroll down to where you see ********************************************** and bypass this!
Its been a year since I started visiting this dear old 92 year old, but we first met back in 1969.
As a six or seven year old I would see my friends walk by our window every Thursday evening, all dressed up in their Brownie uniforms. I admired the badges they had neatly sewn down the arms and in particular the shiny silver trefoil badge that was pinned on the yellow tie. At school I would jealously listen to their tales of Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, the antics they would get up to, but more importantly the various badges that could be earned for craftwork.
I guess its true to say, from an early age I had a yearning to be creative, sadly I was rarely able to be creative at home due to a lack of anything vaguely craft like being in the house. I remember pestering the local shoe shop for empty shoe boxes round about this age. They became dolls houses, with pictures being cut out of "Woman" to decorate the inside with. Matchboxes became pieces of furniture , tissues became curtains and rugs. Basically I would scrounge anything I could lay my hands on and turn it into something. I used to make houses and storage boxes for all the bits and pieces us girls collect at that age and give them to friends as presents, quite what they thought of them I am not sure, I suspect many of them were assigned to the bin, but I derived a lot of pleasure from making them. Eventually the shoe shop man got fed up with me calling in and told me he wasn't giving them away any more. I felt like the a little part of my world had fallen apart!
So, listening to all the stories of what Brownies got up to, I was desperate to join. I imagined how smart I would look in the uniform...I was sad I wouldn't be able to have my hair in plaits, as my friends did, this was due to my mother always ensuring my hair was as short as a boys! I hated that hair cut and as soon as I was old enough to wash my hair and generally take care of it I let it grow. Looking back I wonder if maybe it was to deter headlice ( we all remember the feeling of the nit nurse rummaging in our hair!) rather than having what I felt at the time was a cruel mother!
Having decided I really wanted to join the Brownies I then had to raise the subject with my mum. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, she never felt I ever stuck at anything so I was going to have to prove somehow that I could do it. I pleaded to be allowed to go for 6 times before asking Brown Owl if I could become a proper Brownie. My mum reluctantly agreed and gave me the sixpence subs each week. But each week she would say " you won't stick at it and I am NOT wasting money on a uniform."
I remember the first week vividly. I entered the large church hall, which I was familiar with as I attended Sunday school there each week. But it seemed rather different. For some reason I was a little scared. Every one knew each other, true I knew some of the girls, but not the older ones. Then there was Brown Owl! Oh my! She looked fearsome! She was a large lady in a dark skirt and jacket suit, with a thin belt tied round which only emphasised her size! She had black manly looking "sturdy" laces ups on and walked with a most peculiar gait. I was terrified from the word go.
One of the first activities was to stand behind her in a line, each girl then proceeded to put their hands around her waist so from the front she could view our nails. Oh my!! How could I get out of this one! I was a nail biter from a young age, and ashamed of it. I generally did all I could to hide my nails, now I was expected to show them in all their misery, to this formidable character. I can't tell you the fear within me. But there was nothing for it, I had to join the queue. I was about 7th in line and as I looked at their hands I saw all the other little girls had dainty little nails, gleaming in all their perfectness. As each girl put their hand around Brown Owls waist she gave a sweet " oh they are beautiful dear" comment as she took their right hand and ushered to one side. When it came to me...well.....I don't remember her exact words, but her voice was stern and whatever she said made me feel more ashamed than I had ever felt before. My left wrist was grabbed and I felt like I was hurled over to the other side of her. I felt like a leper, stood there all alone, in my disgrace, whilst the pretty plaited girls with their perfect nails stood looking at me. My dark secret was out...I was a nail biter!
Each week I started to dread Thursdays. I was too proud to tell my mum I didn't like Brownies, so stuck it out for the promised 6 weeks. Brown Owl then approached me and said I needed to buy a uniform. I kind of took this as a command, I didn't really think I could get out of coming any more, so went home and pleaded with mum to buy the uniform, to my surprise she got one the same week.
To say I hated it is an understatement. It had a strange smell about it that never went away even after washing. It wasn't quite the same shade as the other Brownies and I never looked as smart as they did. I wonder now if it was from a jumble sale, hence the odd smell and faded colour!
The next step was to become inaugurated. I had seen this happen to several girls over the 6 weeks and it seemed quite thrilling to be walking round a giant toadstool, holding hands and singing a song. Once this ceremony was complete the girl was then welcomed into the Brownie pack. The week I was due to go through the ceremony I started to become a little anxious. I still had a fear of Big Brown Owl and as the evening went on, the thought of sitting under what seemed like an enormous toadstool, "trapped" by a group of girls walking round, with Brown Owl leading them...chanting away and then I would "turn" into a real Brownie...well the idea terrified me. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to be turned into a Brownie...would I still be the same little girl...would I feel different inside? I knew it held certain expectations and I just wasn't sure I could keep them all, on top of that, could I be sure I would recite the Promise ....what would Brown Owl say if I faltered? It all became too much and minutes before the ceremony was due to start I asked Tawny Owl if I could go to the toilet. "Yes, but be quick" she said. As I walked out of the church hall to the loos I looked at the front door, thinking, beyond that door is freedom...dare I open it and go home...dare I? Well after much thought ( three seconds) I dashed out and ran home! What a relief! Having got home I then wondered what on earth I was going to tell my mum. Dad opened the door ( dad didn't get involved with us much so I knew there was no explaining to do here!) and I said, "is it ok if I go to see nan?" He said that was fine and I then ran round to her house. There I knew I would find comfort and solace. I would be safe in her arms and Brown Owl wouldn't be able to find me here.
After a few tears and a cuddle from nan, I felt strong enough to face the world again. I went back home, never said a word to my mum and to this day don't know if she ever found out. With the uniform bought, I knew there was no choice but to pluck up the courage to go back the following week as if nothing had happened. So, seven days later, after just a slightly sarcastic comment from Brown Owl about me disappearing off the face of the earth the previous week, I sat under the toadstool, looked up at all those legs walking round me, somehow said my Promise and was welcomed into the fold!
Acquiring badges was not quite as easy as I had anticipated. For one, it was expected that materials for any badges were provided from home...well that was a non starter, and secondly, I was not the neatest little girl in the world. No matter how much effort I put into any display or piece of writing I did, it never matched up to the pretty plaited girls in my Sixer. Consequently my work was rejected several times, in particular I recall a weather chart being rejected five times before I guess Brown Owl took pity on me and gave me the badge...for effort no doubt! The badge however never made it on to my Brownie uniform, it was always on my mums " I'll do it later" list and later never came. Eventually I gave up the Brownies...and as you can imagine my mum said "I told you so!" I was riddled with guilt for years about my shortcoming as a budding six year old Brownie who just wasn't up to the job.
Needless to say, when my own daughter was old enough to join the Brownies, I was eager for her to have all she ever needed for any badges. Sadly her Brown Owl was more into playing games than getting the girls to do badges, so she only ever had one the entire time she went.
For years I have recalled my fear of Brown Owl and when I saw Roald Dahls "Matilda" with my children I immediately saw Miss Truncherball as a reincarnation of Brown Owl!! The clothes, the manly appearance, the hurling little girls out of windows...it mirrored exactly my memories of the formidable Brown Owl and on many occasions I recounted my tales of woe on knowing such a character.
To bring us back to the 21st century.....this time last year I saw an article in our local paper about a lady who had been having the paper delivered to her house for over a century. I looked at the smiling frail soul and thought how sweet she looked, but didn't read the article. It was only as I turned the page that I could a glimpse of her surname and the word "Brown Owl." Surely not, I thought to myself!!! I read through the article and true enough...it was her!!! My old Brown Owl. Hardly recognisable from the towering formidable figure I remembered her as! At the end of the article she said she had many photos of Brownies and was happy to share them with anyone.
I was immediately curious to see if she had a picture of me with that boyish hair cut and scruffy uniform. I wrote her a letter, explaining who I was and asking if it might be possible to visit her.
She rang me the next day, talking to me like a long lost friend, and gave me the code to her key lock.
The very next day I went round to see her, and what a different woman she was. She was bedridden, unable to move her neck more than an inch or two, able only to use her left hand slightly....( she was right handed) unable to read or hear very much. Yet despite these restrictions, she was so happy. She talked and talked for almost 2hours non stop. She had got a friend to dig out a Brownie album, but despite seeing many of my friends, I wasn't able to spot myself in any of the pictures. She did however remember me.....oh dear I thought....she had probably never had such a bad nail biter, or scruffy Brownie in her life....but no...it wasn't anything to do with me...it was my name! In all her years of teaching and being a Brown Owl I was the only one with my particular Christian name.
Since then I have visited more or less every week. She is such an interesting lady, well travelled, very humble and very "proper" if you know what I mean. She comes from a world so different to todays and I love hearing her recount stories of her experiences.
Sadly, in the past year I have seen a decline in her mental alertness. There was a time when she would recite poetry to me each week....now she never does. Still, for 92 she is doing extremely well. She has lived alone all her life, never married, had no siblings and lost her parents when she was a young teacher. She was born in the house she now lives in, and I hope she can remain there until her last day. She has carers come in 4 times a day, and despite being all alone, in one room, unable to continue her passion for letter writing and reading, she is remarkably content. My title for today is dedicated to her.
I asked if I could take her photo today... I want to be able to remember her smiling face when I can no longer visit her. I took a second one, preserving her identity for obvious reasons...but you can see here that this little patch on her bed, is now her whole world. She was trying to read when I arrived today, but she cannot manage to hold the magnifying glass and hold the book open at the same time. Such a shame. She is a remarkable lady and I am so blessed to have been reacquainted with her.
She hasn't been able to go into her kitchen for several years now, but as you can see, it hasn't changed since the day it was built! She has never had a washing machine or any of the labour saving gadgets we are now so dependant on. Yet she is a contented lady and we have a lot to learn from her. There are moments when she winces in pain from her various ulcers, but she soon chides herself saying " I mustn't complain, I have a lot to thank the Lord for. I have had a wonderful life."
When I am out and about, buzzing here there and everywhere, or just pottering around the house, I thank the Lord for the freedom and health I have to do this...knowing that poor old Brown Owl is permanently in that same position as you see her in the photo. She cannot move or turn herself over....that is now her life, and yet she is content. An amazing lady.
After my visit to Brown Owl I had to nip into town briefly and as usual, a trip to Poundland meant spending more than a pound!! I hadn't intended to make this particular purchase...but having seen it I decided to treat myself! I was taken with the lovely bright colours and also the simplicity of the design. It's also quite reminiscent of my childhood era as well I guess..but I don't think I chose it for that reason, infact I didn't really choose it, it was the only one there and was actually in the wrong dept...I guess it was meant to be that I bought it!!
When I got it home I realised it was a perfect match for some mugs I had bought in Ikea a couple of weeks ago. At 35p each , they were almost a steal rather than a treat! With my new kitchen predominantly white, I am enjoying picking up the odd thing here and there with some colour in it.
This afternoon I have had the common role of "Mum's Taxi Service" for my daughter. She was 17 last week and as birthday parties are no longer viable ( how sad those days are gone) I suggested she have a mini Spa/Pamper day with a couple of friends. Amazon Local had sent through some offers and we set about choosing a suitable day and package. Sadly, we seemed to hit one obstacle after another. Undeterred, I suggested we visit our local Marriott Hotel and see what they could offer us. It worked out the girls could have unlimited access to the pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna room for a fraction of the price. True there was no massage etc, but they weren't disappointed particularly. So, after their morning lessons at college, I drove them over.
They had a good 3 hours there and when I brought them back, they tucked into a self styled "Char Bar" my daughter and I had come up with. They all enjoyed making their own stir fry and adding various sauces. I lectured them on "no pink meat" and hope they haven't given themselves food poisoning!