A MORNING PERSON

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Emily was a morning person. There was nothing she liked better than the birth of a new day. To watch the vapour trails holiday planes left in the sky…Mug of tea in hand, she opened the door, eager to breathe in the fresh unsullied air while she drank her first cuppa of the day.  She gave a little oomph of dismay when her breath misted in front of her face and her arms rippled with gooselumps.
Steam rose from her mug to fog her glasses.
“Shut that ruddy door,” her father bellowed from the kitchen. “Letting all the hot out. Getting older hasn’t made you wiser, that’s for sure!”
She hurriedly backed into the house and closed the door.
“Sorry, Dad,” she muttered, counting to ten under her breath.
“Are you going to let breakfast go cold, after all the trouble I’ve gone to?” he called.
“Sorry, Dad,” she said again, sidling into the kitchen to take her place at the table.
He humphed in reply, folded the morning paper to the Sports page, propped it on the sauce bottle, and left her to her thoughts…
Which weren’t happy ones. It had been a mistake to ask him to stay with her while her mother was in hospital…a big mistake. Her poor mother had sadly passed away—Emily’s eyes welled with tears, but her father was still here, six months on.
Every day he cooked a full-English breakfast; doing his bit, he called it, pulling his weight.
She called it driving her mad.
Once she had hinted that he should tidy the kitchen after his cooking spree. He’d waved a dismissive hand over the clutter of pans and dishes. ‘That’s your mother’s job,’ he had told her. ‘She likes looking after me…’ He hadn’t appeared to realise that this wasn’t going to happen…
Poor old Dad, Emily thought, clinging to the past…She must be patient. Grief took people different ways…but she hadn’t expected to be treated like a child in her own house, that was for sure. She was sixty-two next week, dammit! Things had got to change—
Grief….Was that why she had developed a thirst for murder mysteries?
Reading book after book after book…
Was she subconsciously seeking a way out?
She stole glance at her father.
A fool-proof way of…disposal—

Copyright © 2018 Betty Woodcock

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Women’s Christmas

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WOMEN’S CHRISTMAS

Today, 6th January, is the Feast of the Epiphany, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The traditional day we take down our Christmas decorations, leaving the house looking bare.  It was also my father’s birthday and to make it special we always took down our decorations the following day.  A family tradition which I’ve carried on and so been out of step with the rest of the world all my life!

However, today I’ve just discovered that 6th January is special in Northern Ireland. Not only does it signal that Christmas is over and done with, but is known as Women’s Christmas.

This is the day when women who, let’s face it, have shouldered the bulk of the preparations for Christmas…the present buying, decorating the tree, the cooking, and giving the house an extra polish to receive visitors, this is the special day they get a chance to relax.

In days gone by, the celebration of Women’s Christmas was very much a country tradition, simple and intimate…the women would get together with female friends and family members to enjoy a glass of wine and a chicken dinner while their men looked the children and did the cooking and cleaning for the day. Sounds very fair to me!

In some parts of the country the day was also known as ‘No Good Christmas’ by their reluctant men. Shame on you!

I understand that in recent years, Women’s Christmas has grown in popularity and become a celebration of sisterhood and friendship. Various cultural events celebrating women writers, artists or musicians take place across the country.

Women of the World, may you enjoy Women’s Christmas.

Best wishes to all, Betty.

Copyright © 2016 Betty Woodcock

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FAMILY TIME…

1934273_10153480266923371_4572531561500688088_nFAMILY TIME.

Hello, Everyone, I thought I’d share my start to the Festive Season with you…My son and family came down from Scotland yesterday to take me out to lunch today…and surprise, surprise, my youngest son and his partner, who live in Spain, were also there. Due to work commitments and distance we seldom manage to get together so I hadn’t seen them for some time. It goes without saying that the Surprise made my day!

But that’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Family. I hope all of you spend happy times with your families and Santa brings all you wish for!

Only two more sleeps and he’ll be here!

Bye for now, Betty.

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A CHRISTMAS GIFT

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A CHRISTMAS GIFT

Richard was ninety-one, come 26th December. As a child, he’d whined about the way Christmas and Birthday gifts were combined into one. One big present, his mother used to say, instead of two minor ones. He’d disagreed, not that he knew what minor meant, except one present instead of two.

His mother had tried to tell him he was Special. Not everyone had the same birthday as Jesus, well, almost the same. He couldn’t have cared less…in his mind he should have two presents, one for Christmas, one for his birthday, just like his friends.

Over the years, his gifts had slid down the scale to socks, initialled hankies, woollen scarves, slippers, cigarettes and an occasional bottle of booze. Not that he was ungrateful, it was the thought that counted, as his mother used to say.

Socks! He shifted in his high-seated easychair, to ease the pain in his hip. He wondered how socks could be called a big present? Besides, he had enough to kit out a centipede. As for initialled hankies? He’d half a drawer full of unopened packs of white cotton hankies, some with a blue border. Everybody used paper tissues nowadays, not proper hankies. Saved on washing. The rest of the drawer was taken up by an assortment of woollen scarves, still in their plastic bags. Slippers, well, he’d a spare pair or two of those, as well, some the wrong size…and as for cigarettes…they were now classed as antisocial, a health hazard.  How could they be that when he’d smoked all of his adult life and was still alive and kicking? Which brought him to the booze. He had enjoyed a tipple now and then, or a pint at the pub with his friends, but that was now a thing of the past. His daughter had put her foot down. ‘No can do, Dad, not with all the tablets you take.’ True, the ‘read this’ instructions in all his packs of pills said ‘No Alcohol.’

Anyone would think that she was the mother and he the child, the way she nagged, went on and on and on, he though irritably. He got up to pour a tot of his favourite Scotch from the bottle hidden behind the cartons of Healthy Eating cereals in the kitchen cupboard. His daughter would never know. Doing something wrong, gave him an adrenaline rush, caused his heart to beat faster.  Which wasn’t a bad thing, was it? He’d heard the phrase ‘exercise your heart…’

The entire family, except for him, were on a Christmas Break in Spain.

He would’ve liked a Christmas Break in the sun too, but his daughter had said travel was bad for him, at his age. He suspected that the Travel Insurance being more than the price of the holiday had something to do with it.

He slid the DVD in the correct slot in his newfangled TV, and felt guilty all over again.

He’d been bad and opened a Christmas present before The Day. He’d been delighted to see that somebody had shown a bit of common sense. Beethoven’s Second. He liked classical music. The cover was a bit odd. A Saint Bernard. He liked dogs, too, but had accepted that he couldn’t have one because it would need exercising and he was a bit past trekking out everyday, rain or shine.

He sat down, took a sip of his illegal whisky and pressed the start button for the DVD.

Transfixed, he watched the antics of a goofy dog called Beethoven.

It was his best Christmas gift ever.

Copyright © 2015 Betty Woodcock

Photo by courtesy of jekki rgbstock.com

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THE PICNIC

mgupIXg field

THE PICNIC

“It’s Saturday,” Lily said.

“Well spotted.” Her husband, slouched on the sofa in front of the TV playing on his Xbox, didn’t even glance her way. “That’s why I’m not at work.”

“We should take the boys out, Alan, while it’s sunny. Being holed up in their rooms forever playing video games, isn’t healthy.”

“Leave them be, they’re enjoying themselves…”

“They should be outside in the fresh air doing things,” Lily insisted. “Just like you did at their age.”

“There wasn’t all this electronic stuff then.”

“Exactly! And you enjoyed yourself, so don’t deny it!”

“Stop your nagging, woman!  Come on,” he said patting the seat beside him. “I bet I can beat you.”

“That’s a dead cert with all the practice you get! I’d rather we went out for the day.”

“Forget it! It’s sunny, so everybody will be heading for the coast. My idea of a day out isn’t being stuck in a traffic jam on the M62!”

“I was thinking of a picnic…the park will do, or how about the place we used to go? The one with a stream at the bottom of the field…”

“Yeah,” Alan said, smiling, remembering. “The kids’ll like that. We’ll take a football to kick around…Okay, you’re on. You make the sandwiches and I’ll do the flasks. Have we still got the Thermos? We’ll take the car and a couple of garden chairs for us old fogies!”

“Spoil sport!” she teased. “Sitting on a blanket’s half the fun!”

Lily was quite proud that, within an hour, they were on the road. She took time from directing the route to glance at her twin sons sitting on the backseat. Both had sulky faces and were bickering about who would reach the next level of Candycrush first.

“You don’t need a computer to enjoy yourselves,” she told them. “We’re going somewhere Daddy and I used to go when we first met. You’ll like it. There’s a stream to paddle in…”

“I don’t believe this!” Alan exploded. “The damn’ place has turned into a housing estate! We’ll have to go further out.”

Lily looked at the neat rows of houses in dismay. There were so many, but finally the road lead between grass verges and into the open countryside.

“Stop!” Lily said. “There, by that field gateway. D’you think the farmer will mind if we picnic in his field? I can’t see any cows, can you? And if we close the gate behind us…”

“Never mind cows and gates,” Alan said. “It’s starting to rain, and that’s one thing I’m not doing. Sitting in a field in the rain.”

“Oh, no,” Lily said. “Not now.”

“We may as well go back home,” hesaid. “Even if it clears up, the grass will be wet.”

“We came on a picnic,” Lily said determinedly. “And a picnic we’re going to have!”

She shared out serviettes and sandwiches, poured hot tea from the Thermos, and opened the window a chink to let fresh air in and stop the windows steaming up..

The picnic in a car, by a field, in the rain, went down in family history.

Copyright 2015 Betty Woodcock

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ALBANIA…

teddy in pink branox

ALBANIA…

Josh had never seen an uglier child. Why had this photo been sent to him? He shook the envelope. No enclosed letter. Turning the photo over he saw “This is your child, Albania.” written neatly on the back.

His mouth dropped open. No way!

He studied the photo, frowning. He couldn’t see a likeness, except for the big nose. He had a big nose. It was a family trait. Lank mousey hair sprouted from a red bow on the crown of her head. Piggy eyes set too close together, wide forehead, narrow chin…he mentally drew an inverted triangle round the girl’s face. Poor kid. Dead ugly. Pity she wasn’t a boy…being ugly wasn’t as bad for a boy.

The child was sitting on grass…grass was grass and could’ve been anywhere, so no clue there. He wasn’t an expert on kids, but this one looked to be around his niece Kylie’s age, coming up to two. As his sister reminded him daily. He couldn’t believe that a two-year old wanted an iPad.  Or even knew they existed!  The teddy sitting on the sofa was much more suitable. A Scottie dog was printed on it’s pink top. Kylie liked teddies and dogs…He suspected the gadget was on his sister’s wish list…

He was trying to recall the girls in his life three years ago when a loud knocking on his door accompanied by the bell buzzing, interrupted his thoughts. His brother burst in like a tornado.

“The wife’s gonna kill me!” Andy said, thrusting an envelope at Josh.

It was the same size envelope as his, same neat handwriting, same smudged postmark and, inside—the same photo of the ugly kid.

“Know who it is?” Josh asked.

“That won’t make no difference! Haven’t you read it? This is your child, it sez. From some weirdo called Albania…”

“Albania could be the child’s name. She could’ve been called after the place she was conceived…”

“I’ve never even been out of the blasted UK!”

“Me neither. Right couple of saddos, aren’t we? Know any Albanian girls?”

“Not that I know of…but there were a few foreign girls in my last year at Uni.” He screwed his face up in attempt to remember. “But not one of ‘em were ugly…”

“Use your brains, Lothario! You were at Uni over six years ago! Did you keep in touch with anyone?”

“Nah. Hey, you finished Uni four years ago. This must be for you!”

“Actually, I was struggling to remember if I’d had a drunken one-night-stand when you burst in,” Josh said, holding out his own photo. “Snap!”

“That let’s me of the hook!” Andy said, visibly relieved “We both can’t be the dad.”

“It isn’t me!” He held the photo at arm’s length, squinting. “Does she remind you of anybody?”

“No. But she’s got the family nose.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing. There must be millions of folk with big noses, but I get the feeling we’re being set up somehow…”

They were both frowning at the photos lined up on the coffee table when doorbell buzzed and their sister Eileen came in, all smiles.

“Must start dropping the latch,” Josh said. “Stop the riff-raff getting in.”

“Pleased to see you, too, brother-mine,” Eileen said gaily. “Hi, Andy, didn’t expect to find you here. Just popped round with samples of my new recipe, no use making a big batch of buns if they’re naff. For your niece’s party, y’know…”

“For goodness sake, Eileen, I’m sick of hearing about it! And you can stop hinting about an iPad, as well. She’s far too young…”

“Why have you got photo’s of Sylvia’s kid?” she asked.

“You know her?” Andy asked sharply.

“Sure, Albania. Odd name. She goes to the same playschool as our Kylie, her mum and me always have a natter. I feel sorry for her, she’s going through a bad time. Up to the eyeballs in debt, but her no-good husband says not to worry, he’s coming into a windfall. Planning to win the Lottery, no doubt!”

“Not quite,” Josh said. “He was hoping to pull a scam. Turn the photos over. It says the same on both.”

This is your child, Albania,” she read incredulously. “What nonsense! The poor girl’s the dead spit of her dad. Maybe she’ll grow out of it.”

Copyright ©2015  Betty Woodcock.

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HAPPY EASTER

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HAPPY EASTER

“Youth is wasted on the young.” Grandma Muriel’s stated in her nasal voice. “Completely wasted!”

Her family turned to look at her, wondering what bee the old girl had in her bonnet this time? She liked to be considered eccentric and was well-known for her provocative views.

Grandma Muriel was a canny old bird and celebrated her birthday twice, like the queen, as she never grew tired of telling anyone who would listen. Today, Easter Monday, was the day of her birth ninety years ago, but as Easter was a moveable date, she also had a party on the numerical date of her birth.

Today’s cake, decorated with a white candle, a spring lamb and yellow Easter chicks was in pride of place on the table next to a basket of chocolate Easter eggs. The second one would have a big red candle. Her age would be picked out in small silver balls, a tradition from her long-ago childhood.

“Wasted? What do you mean, Grandma?” Lucy, her eldest grandchild asked.

“When I was your age, girls weren’t allowed to go out unaccompanied, like you do today. And here you all are, inside, instead of taking advantage of the spring sunshine…”

“We’ve come to your party,” Lucy said defensively. “You wouldn’t have like it if we hadn’t!”

“And when I was your age my skirts were swishing round my ankles, not a frill which barely covered my bottom! And them, what d’y’call’em…leggings, pasted on like a second skin, might as well not be there…”

“Grandma,” Sonia said, sticking up for her sister. “It’s what girls wear nowadays, all the fashion.”

“When I was a girl—” Grandma began again.

“And dinosaurs roamed the earth,” Tony, her teenage grandson said sotto voice.

“I heard that young man! Nothing wrong with my hearing! When I was a girl, young men wore smart suits—not a getup like yours! Them kind of trousers were worn by labourers and the like—”

“Jeans, Grandma, everyone wears them and I’ll have you know these weren’t cheap!”

“Girls wear them, too,” his younger sister piped up. “Mum got me these special for your party!”

“Look good,” her brother said.“When I was a girl, boys wore trousers, girls didn’t,” Grandma Muriel said.

“Aw, come on, Grandma,” Tony said. “We’re only doing what everyone else does. No big deal! You haven’t really told us why youth is wasted on us. Surely not because you think our clothes are what you called was work-wear in your day!”

“Maybe I should have said youth was wasted on me. The world was a different place when I was young. In the thirties it was nothing like it is today with all the freedom to do as you like. No holiday’s abroad, or boyfriends by the dozen, lest we got a bad reputation and brought shame on the family. Heavy clothes which hampered movement. No riding bikes, driving a car, going dancing, going to a public house…”

“Now that does ring a bell,” her daughter, Amy said, coming in from the kitchen with a plate of sandwiches. “Women didn’t go in pubs on their own in my day, and that doesn’t seem so long ago! And I’d to be home by half past nine.”

“And she wasn’t allowed to wear short skirts,” her husband said, following behind her with a big teapot, grinning. “You lot don’t know you’re born!”

“Let’s agree to disagree,” Amy said. “When we’ve eaten our tea, I’m sure Grandma will be happy to tell you about her childhood, won’t you Mother?”

“Oh, to be young again,” Grandma sighed. “I wish I’d been born into the freedom of your world and not the restrictions of mine.”

Copyright © Betty Woodcock 2014

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Vanity…

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VANITY

I must be turning into my mother-in-law, Louise thought, eyeing the flowered silky top, a Christmas gift from her daughter. it would have to go back. It didn’t fit. She’d invented a reason for not wearing it on Christmas Day, and if she hurried she could take it back and exchange it for a larger size to wear that night, New Year’s Eve. Her daughter would be unaware that her gift had been exchanged. There was no receipt, of course, but an ornate swing tag hung from a sleeve. Louise turned it over. Twenty-two pounds! Wow! She felt guilty that her own present to her daughter had cost considerably less.

Louise decided to leave her car at home. She wouldn’t have time to trawl round seeking a parking place, so using the bus was a better option. Besides, it would be good to just sit and relax.

As she gazed out of the bus window, her hands clasped over the shopping bag containing the to-be-returned item, she couldn’t help thinking of her mother-in-law, who must have been the Queen of buy-to-day-take-back-tomorrow!

She never tried clothes on in the shop, just held them up against her. She believed she was a good stone lighter than her actual weight, so nothing ever fitted. After trying to squash her body into something a size too small, back it went to the shop. And it was always the shop’s fault for using foreign manufacturers. She stated with authority that everyone knew that garments made in Taiwan were smaller because the people there were smaller… When the assistants pointed to the label showing different sizes for different countries and the place of manufacture, she’d give a disparaging sniff. It was obvious where they were made, never mind the label. The sizes were smaller. That’s why they didn’t fit.

Louise smiled as she thought of the tact it must have taken to use this belief against her and persuade her to buy a larger size than the one she was convinced she needed.

And it wasn’t just clothes. The assistants at the local mini-market used to bet amongst themselves on how soon she would return something bought by her husband. The saga of the jar of coffee went down in family history. Only ten minutes after he’d made the purchase he’d returned to exchange it for a different brand. Half an hour later, his wife marched in to berate the assistants for selling him the most expensive blend. Louise could only imagine their suppressed amusement as they exchanged the jar for a cheaper one.

Her in-laws had bickered about this episode for weeks. Her father-in-law was unrepentant about his so-called mistake. To him coffee was coffee. He swore he’d never go to the mini-market again. Louise and the family, made soothing noises and tried to change the subject.

Louise got off the bus near the shops and hurried to the store to exchange her top. She quickly checked the rails and, hurrah, found a larger size. She impatiently queued at the changing rooms to try it on. She was running out of time.

“I don’t have a receipt,” she told the assistant at the till. “It was a present from my daughter, but the tag is still attached. I’d like to exchange it for this one, a larger size.”

“No problem,” the assistant said, scanning the tags of both garments. “That will be eleven pounds, please.”

“Eleven pounds? But I’m doing an exchange,” Louise said. “The original top is paid for…”

“The original was a one day half-price offer. See the pasted over bar code? It has now reverted to the original price.”

Louise counted out the money, cursing her vanity. When her daughter had casually asked her dress size she had been reluctant to admit she’d put on weight.

Just like her mother-in-law.

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A FAMILY CHRISTMAS

shoppers in London 20 Dec2014 New York Times

A FAMILY CHRISTMAS

“Did you post the cards?” Mary called from the kitchen.

“Of course I did,” Jim said, channel hopping on the new state-of-the-art TV.

It had been a near thing. He’d carried them round in the car for a week. They’d most likely arrive after Christmas now. But so what? Their friends and relatives would know that they hadn’t been forgotten.

“I don’t know where time goes. It doesn’t seem a year ago that I was preparing last year’s turkey to slow cook in the oven. Do you think there will be enough to go round?”

“It’s the size of a young ostrich!”

“I haven’t enough stuffing. How about popping to the supermarket and I’ve forgotten to get parsnips.”

“I don’t like parsnips.”

“Aunt Clara does. She says they were part of her childhood, parsnips cooking round the roast.”

“Aunt Clara? You’ve not seen for decades.”

“It’s not right that she should be on her own. I enclosed an invite to Christmas dinner in her card. She hasn’t replied no, so I guess that’s a yes. And you’d better get her a box of chocs, and she likes a glass of cherry brandy…”

“It’s Christmas Eve, there’s going to be queues at the tills…”

“I might have known you’d be watching your new TV.” she said, poking her head round the door. “The program’s are just the same you know!”

“Clearer picture. And I got it for you love. Merry Christmas!”

“You got it because it’s bigger than next-door’s!”

“I’ve saved a picture on my laptop to show you…shoppers shoulder to shoulder…”

She crossed to the table. “You’re reading The New York Times? New York isn’t in England…”

“I know that! If you look properly you’ll see the picture was taken in London on Saturday. It looks manic, and take note, that was three days ago, something about foreign money not going as far…”

“For goodness sake! We don’t live in London! I’ll go myself. You can finish preparing the veg and then vac round the house and…”

Jim was glad when the letter box clicked and interrupted her flow of jobs for him to do.

“The card for Aunt Clara’s come back,” he said. “Unknown at this address.”

“What? Does that mean that she’s…dead?”

“She’s had a good innings, Mary,” he said, adding when he noticed her distress. “Probably moved into a Home and forgot to tell you.”

“I thought she’d get on so well with your Aunt Edna and Uncle George.”

“You mean you’ve asked them as well?”

“Christmas is a family time, Jim. A time to share. I’m sure we’ll all have a fabulous time. A Christmas to remember.”

Jim nodded. What he must remember was not to ask Aunt Edna about her health. She listed every sniff and snuffle since the day she was born. As for Uncle George. He had two topics of conversation. Himself and his mangy old dog. He wondered if the dog was invited, as well.

“Yeah, well, I’ll go and get the stuffing,” he said. “Be good to get a breath of fresh air.”

“What does Aunt Edna drink? We mustn’t run out.”

“I’ll get her a bottle of port.”

A fine old Christmas this was going to be!

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