What is Christmas really about?

With Christmas now almost upon us, it’s only natural to reminisce of Christmases past. I can always remember when I was a young girl, my mom used to say to me, that as you get older the years will seem like they will go faster, so don’t wish your life away. For me, at the time, it did seem like a very strange saying. However, when you are young and just starting to grow up from a child into a teenager and then into an adult, it is the realization that these are actually true words of wisdom.

As a child, I looked forward to Christmas each year….it was always the sadness that when each Christmas was over, I couldn’t wait until the next one. But as a child, the year between each Christmas seemed to go so slow.

Over the last 30 plus years, it has been more noticeable that it seems that as you get through one Christmas, then the summer, that suddenly Christmas is upon us once again. You start to ask yourself the big question about just where has the last year gone.

The one thing I have noticed over a number of years is how people’s attitude towards Christmas has changed. There is no doubt about it, we are in a generation where new technology, and money has dramatically improved a lot of people’s lives, and so therefore a large percentage of ‘a younger generation/children’  have grown up with the ”I want” attitude.

With each passing year I have noticed an increase in the younger generations becoming more obsessed with wanting to do better each Christmas with their presents. Mobile phones, ipods and ipads, tablets and computers, Xbox and PS4 games and consoles, designer label clothes and so on. Not only this, expensive presents are more readily accessible throughout the year, not just at Christmas time. A new smart phone bought for a teenager this summer, according to them, will be out of date this December, and so will need to be updated to the very latest one this Christmas. Or a pair of designer Nike trainers, worn only half a dozen times, now look scruffy and outdated in their design.

I was born in the mid 1960’s and I grew up in the 70’s, and for those of my readers who are of the same age group as me, I’m sure you will remember that times were difficult, and I mean really difficult. If your parents worked in the car factory industry such as Rover Solihull or Longbridge, which were at the time the biggest employers in the Midlands, then likely as not they would be laid off from work or on strike near Christmas, so money would be extremely tight. In spite of all this I have always remembered my childhood Christmases with such fondness. One of my strongest memories was of my  mom each year singing one particular song to me and my brother, and even now I still play the record every year around this time – The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forget – by Nat King Cole.

The money was not around back then, my parents always tried their hardest to do right for us each Christmas. New clothes, shoes (all non designer) but practical for the year ahead. Games such as Scrabble, Cluedo, Frustration and jigsaw puzzles, then there were vinyl records, audio cassettes. selection boxes and a ‘main present’ such as a portable transistor radio, or a cassette player, or a bicycle which would have to last at least for the next  5 years (depending on how much or how quickly you grow) I remember I had my one and only bike for Christmas when I was about 9 years old, and I had it for over 10 years, and I even took and passed my cycling proficiency test on it when I was about 12 years old. In the end I out grew it and it became battered and rusty, but I was so sorry to see it go, but we had to make room for something else in the garden shed.

But I have to say that our up bringing has made my brother and I more aware of what Christmas was all really about. Traditional values, as every year we had the school Christmas Carol Service, a reminder that without the birth of Christ there is no Christmas. Just before my 3rd birthday my mother passed away, and all I had was my older brother and my dad, but then a year and half later dad remarried and in doing so we became part of a big family.

For me, since I can remember, the special charm of Christmas was always about my entire family, the togetherness, doing the simple thing of putting up the tree and decorations, Sitting around the table for Christmas dinner, and then the big family get together on Christmas night, with my Aunties, Uncles and Cousins. On Boxing day watching some films together on television. Playing the games, doing a jigsaw together that we had as one of our Christmas presents.

It was, and for me still is, the very simple things about Christmas that made it special for me.

In recent years I have often had cause to doubt and challenge my own religious beliefs, and have even doubted on occasions the existence of Christ, and as I have got older and more of my family have passed away, or I have had to face so many major health issues including my depression, some how it has made me return to my faith, because what ever the bad things that have happened to me I have come out of it the other end, and it makes me realize just how much more important this time of year really is. It is not about expensive presents, it is not about what the t.v. adverts want to have you believe. I have been annoyed by companies like Curry’s PC World who advertise the great big up to the minute television screens and say ”that’s what Christmas is all about”. I am also annoyed at Sky TV advertising that Christmas is about the big football matches being seen on their channel, them also saying this what what Christmas is about.  In this day and age it seems to be the thing to tell youngsters it is ok to tell them that this is what Christmas is all about.  It reminds me of two of the the 7 deadly sins, greed and gluttony. If only Christmas was less complicated now as it was back then.

Christmas is a time to remember that it was time of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the journey of the Magi, also known as Three Wise Men who came bearing small but simple gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to celebrate his birth, in a small stable in the town of Bethlehem, and more importantly spreading the message of hope over fear, near and far.

It is important that future generations remember the reason of the existence of Christmas being a Holy celebration. To some it is just a story in a book called The Bible, there are those who doubt the story  ever happened, and there are those who want to believe it is just a lot of nonsense. But for what ever reason that is why Christmas does exist, and for Christianity it is the most important date each year. It may just be a story book to some, but the Bible is the oldest and most fascinating book ever to exist, it has more versions than any other book in publication and has been translated into many languages from the biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. As of September last year, the full Bible has been translated into 636 languages, the New Testament alone into 1442 languages and Bible portions or stories into 1145 other languages, and over 5 billion copies have been sold worldwide.  But whatever the statistics are, it has and always will tell the same story and hopefully continue to give Christmas it’s true meaning.

This Christmas day it will be very difficult again, as it will be the second one without my dad. But at the same time, happy that I can spend it with my brother, sister-in-law, nephews and their girlfriends. It is good to have those happy memories from my childhood and teenage Christmases. I enjoy listening to a few old Christmas Carols, and songs, a couple of drinks to toast my family and friends present and past (fortunately I do not drive) and a couple of days just to relax and unwind from the recent work pressures and recharge my batteries whilst watching a couple of old movies. If the weather is decent, a long walk in my local park with my camera. What more could any one ask for at Christmas time?

This year has been yet another very difficult and tough year, and I have managed to come through it in one piece and that I have not lost any one dear to me. I have had my fair share of up’s and downs, but through it all I am very grateful and thankful to my family, friends including my new friends at work, and of course to God.

It is strange to think, that as I am sitting here writing my blog tonight, it is Saturday night and tomorrow will be Christmas Eve. But with all that in mind, I would like to wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas & Happy, Healthy New Year, and I do hope you can all make some very happy Christmas memories for yourselves this Christmas.

           Christmas Past 

Oh happy days, the snow fell over-night, 
we have a white Christmas in our sight.
Only a few more days and nights, 
Christmas will shine bright of white.

Remember those beautiful Christmas Eves, 
when we gathered round our colorful trees.
Remember when we caroled down the street, 
sang Christmas songs oh so sweet.

Memories are precious let’s not forget, 
don’t do anything you might regret.
Christmas is the time of year to share, 
to treasure family far and near.

This Christmas with the lights shining bright, 
reflecting God’s blanket of white.
Sing sweet songs in memory, 
past Christmas’s history.                                                    

Poem by Melvina Germain

Many thanks for stopping by


The Forgotten Wars.





Last night I sat down and watched some of the BBC ‘s live televised programme of the Royal British Legion Service Festival Of  Remembrance. This is always a very poignant service, and indeed a very poignant time for the entire commonwealth each and every year. Next year 2018 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War 11.11.1918.

It was a programme that my dad always watched without fail, as he did with the Sunday Service at the Cenotaph. In more recent years, we have also come to honor  those in the services who have been killed or injured, or been involved in rescuing & helping those struck down by terrorism.

We have all, been taught at school and read the books, watched films and documentaries over the years of the two World  both here and abroad. Wars and numerous other conflicts, including  Vietnam, in more recent years the war in the Falkland Islands, the war between Iran & Iraq, the IRA and so on.

In the 1950’s there were also several other major conflicts that the British Armed Forces had played their part in, that so many are not still fully aware of, except the older generation. The Korean War, also the war out in the Malayan Jungle and also the build up to the Suez Canal Crisis in Egypt, all of these are known as the ‘forgotten wars’. These are wars our government would rather not talk about.

The 1948 Act  – National Service as peacetime conscription was formulated by the National Service. From 1 January 1949, healthy males 17 to 21 years old were expected to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, and remain on the reserve list for four years.

In short, the British government decided we needed to be prepared to defend us and our allies in case of another outbreak of war ever happened in the future. However, by 1963 National Service, in the UK came to an end. Some say it should be brought back….but that is always going to be an issue with those who believe conscription is wrong.

However, what many hundreds of thousands of people do not realize is that at the time between the early to late 1950’s there were many young men in the National Service, who went out to Korea, Malayasian Jungle and Egypt, along the Suez Canal Zone, and served alongside the regular British Forces in dangerous and life threatening conditions. The sad thing about this was because these young men were conscripted National Service men, they were never really recognized for their actual service, or recognized like the regular armed forces personnel and the Medical Corps, despite the deaths of many conscripted men during that era in the service of their country.

It took our own British government and the MOD over 50 years to recognize officially one of these particular conflicts, and to finally honor all these men with an official General Service Medals for their service in the armed forces as a National Service Conscript. My late father being one of them.

Over the last few years of his life my dad often use to tell my brother, sister-in-law and myself of his time out in Egypt in Shandur and Ismailia. Some of his stories have been imprinted in mind over the years, some good and some not so good, including the time he came across a scorpion in his bed, or when got put on report for getting sun-burnt whilst off duty. How he and his mates would go swimming in the big lakes on weekend leave. When he was told off by a Captain for not saluting a female Major in the Nursing Corp, instead he waved at her across the docks in Egypt…..the Captain didn’t realize that dad and the Major were friends from back home, and they had both worked at the same hospital in Catherine De Barnes she as a Matron and dad as the hospital gardener and he also did orderly duties. Both prior to going over seas.  Just a few years before she had saved my dad’s life when he had become extremely ill on duty at the hospital and had to be rushed into theatre.  The Major told the Captain, she never expected an old friend to salute her and she ended up putting the Captain back in his place.

When my dad passed away in April 2016, it was down to us to sort out his paperwork, belongings etc. In a metal tin tucked safely away we came across dads National Service documents, his joining papers, shipping papers, demob papers and so on a couple of black and white photos, and despite being of very poor quality, I can not part with them. It was quite a little sentimental treasure trove for me to hold on to. I sat down and looked through them all again last night after the service on tv. It seemed therefore very appropriate for me to write this piece on my dad and many thousand of other men who did their National Service.

In 1936 a treaty was signed between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Egypt called the Anglo Egyptian Treaty of 1936.  It stipulated the British pledge to withdraw all their troops from Egypt, except those necessary to protect the Suez Canal and its surroundings. Following World War Two, Egypt denounced the Treaty of 1936, leading to skirmishes with British troops guarding the Canal in 1951. Thus the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.

An estimated 200,000 British troops served in the canal zone during the emergency – which preceded the Suez crisis of 1956 – and more than 300 were killed.

Attacks on the British garrison soon followed and in January 1952 the British government authorised an operation to disarm the Egyptian paramilitary police force in Ismailia which was orchestrating the violence. This was successful, but the violence continued. Riots in Cairo of an unprecedented scale followed, culminating in attacks on Saturday 26 January on British property and the expatriate community, thereafter known as Black Saturday.

British threats to occupy Cairo prompted King Farouk of Egypt to dismiss Nahas Pasha, but in July 1952 Farouk was overthrown in a military coup and General Mohammed Neguib seized power. Rather than insist on Britain’s rights under the 1936 Treaty, Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary tried to negotiate with the new government.

In June 1950 my late father had just undergone his National Service basic training, as a REME at Heathfield Camp in Honiton, Devon, then a brief spell at Aberfield, near Reading, to then be told that he was about to be shipped abroad to the Egypt Canal Zone in the Dec of 1950 to Shandur and stationed with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, where he spent his first Christmas abroad as a REME until Feb 1951, when he was sent over to GHQ 2nd Company in Fayid, Ismailia  For those who are not aware of what a REME is, it a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer. In short these were the men who supported our troops by ensuring any damaged equipment, guns, vehicles were repaired and fit to be used in service both in training and on the front line.

In 1950/51  the trouble was already brewing, and fighting and skirmishes had started, and the Suez became known as the Crisis Zone. My dad among many others  was one of those caught in the middle of it all.

Britain faced the increasingly difficult prospect of maintaining control over the Suez Canal in the face of rising Egyptian opposition and the economic realities of the post-war world. In attempting to exert its authority over the Canal Zone, Britain came up against a guerrilla movement fed both by nationalist and religious sentiment, and facilitated by a weak monarchy and a confrontational opposition government. The 1950-54 battle over the Canal Zone set the stage for the creation of an independent Egypt and the 1956 Suez crisis. Realistically, the British Armed Forces, under the instruction of our British government were trying to protect their rights under the 1936 agreement. There is a great deal of history behind this crisis is makes interesting reading. effectively, it was the start of the Guerrilla Warfare along the Canal Zone that led to the war in 1956.

What many do not know is that the early Liberation Battalions involved ex-Nazis. Several dozen former Wehrmacht and SS officers who served as advisors to the Egyptian Army from 1950. Mr Churchill, was again Prime Minister, and had become somewhat fixated on the prospect of British troops being once again under attack by Nazis, or their protégés.

According to the Foreign Office, the British lost 47 soldiers in the Canal Zone between 16 October 1951 and 1 June 1954 and a further seven were missing and were presumed killed.

British withdrawal from the Canal Zone accelerated, and the last troops left on 13 June 1955. Though the threat to British forces in the Canal Zone was over, Britain’s concerns over the security of the Canal itself were not. The Egyptian President Nasser would nationalize the Suez Canal in July 1956, setting the stage for full-scale war along its banks between Egypt and Israel.

There is a lot to be said for the part our National Service men played out there, and the dangers they had to endure. We were so delighted when my dad finally received his medal a few years ago. Those forgotten men had finally earned their recognition as where those who served out in Korea and the Malayan Jungle. These men should also never be forgotten for carrying out their duties in war torn areas of the world. Lest we forget.

I have managed to photograph some of dads service papers, obviously with their age, (which is older than me) they are not in the best condition. My dad was also a life long supporter of the Royal British Legion, it was thanks to them that he was able to maintain a certain level of independence these last few by way of a Disability Scooter


























Many thanks for stopping by.

Given the circumstances.

Yet again its hard to believe another Christmas is upon us, over the years I have come to accept the fact that as I get older, then so the years appear to go faster. This year has been no exception, the year has fled by, which in some ways is good and in other ways not so good.

Each Christmas time and New Year I take time out to reflect on the year past and the year ahead. This year is no exception. It has certainly been a very mixed one for me, one of personal achievements, some enjoyment, new challenges and one of sadness and sorrow.

Just one year ago this week I was breathing a huge sigh of relief at the fact that although my dad had a major health scare, twice in the space of a little over a week, he was still alive and able to enjoy his Christmas with us all. What none of us realized at that time was the fact it would be his last one. looking back at 12 months ago it was all very scary.

As 2016 unfolded and I started to make plans for the year ahead, I knew it was going to be an uncertain year, more so on the job situation than anything. Not knowing if the lady whose job I was covering was going to come back or not. Only one thing was certain I knew I had another 8 solid months of commitment to my job, one that I loved doing. How many people today can honestly say they love their job I wonder. I  had made some incredible new friendships with the team I had been working with, and we still stay in touch and meet up for a meal and a chat every few weeks.

I was looking forward to a holiday, and actually ended up having two different breaks… a week up in Scotland in August as well as a much-needed long weekend break down in South Devon in early July visiting Paignton, Plymouth & Dartmouth. Then in September I started my all new important permanent job….only to find 5 weeks down the line that I am going to be made redundant in the coming April/May. Having to have more surgery, to sort out the first lot that didn’t work

In the February I was diagnosed with diabetes, which has meant some big life changes over the past few months, but the one really good thing that has come out of this is that it has encouraged me to take a lot more regular walking exercise. As  I love to go out and explore nature, and do some photography, it has encouraged me to visit new places and get much more exercise.

Earlier in the year I drew up a ‘bucket list’ I have had the opportunity of going out and doing different new things, for instance for the first time I have been able to go to Charlecote Hall & Park to see fallow deer and shoot them close up (with a camera that is!) In October I finally got to go to see London Zoo, in July the Monkey Forest nr Stoke On Trent, in October, Warwick Castle where I got to see close up an amazing birds of prey display. Early November I achieved a long time ambition of mine to take an Alpaca for a walk, also in November I got to go to the West Midlands Safari Park and a little over two weeks ago I saw the most amazing colourful display of lanterns at Longleat House and Safari Park. In August I managed to finally make the trip to Liverpool to meet up with a very dear friend.

Overall it has been a very mixed and eventful year, and despite the turmoil in my life it has been a year that I have manged to cope with and stay pretty well on top of and come through the other end of it. I’m not going to kid myself or anyone else for that matter, but the combination of the right medication, positive thinking, photography, keeping busy with the new job and an incredible group of family and close friends is what has kept me going.

This season however doesn’t have the same feeling for me. Like many others they too have lost family and friends throughout the year, and it has felt very strange that as we approach Christmas day I have had to come to terms with the fact that my Dad won’t be with us this time or ever again to celebrate Christmas.

Because of my Dads failing eyesight the last couple of years, it meant my sister-in-law and myself would sit and write Dads cards for him. This year however I have found it an almost impossible task for me to sit down and write my own cards to family and friends. this past couple of weeks or so it has hit me more harder than ever and I have found myself having a little cry every time I think about how much I miss him, and how much I will miss him not being around at Christmas for the first time ever in my life.

My Dad was always very much a man of tradition when it came to Christmas, and this is something I have always embraced, he always used to look forward to his Christmas lunch, he had to have the turkey leg on his plate with the usual mix of sprouts, carrots and roast potatoes and always lemon & thyme stuffing, a pint of bitter and then Christmas pudding and custard to finish (in the old days every year my mom used to make her own for all the family, from scratch and my dad brother and I used to have a hand in the preparation and mixing of the puds) At 3.00 pm we were always ready to sit down to watch the Queens speech and then later on a cup of tea and mince pie.

Every year since I can remember, Dad  always bought himself, my sister-in-law and me a Poinsettia plant for Christmas. Usually after a couple of months they would shrivel up and die, that’s just the way it is with this type of plant.  Dad always had the knack on how to keep his going for several months. When he passed a way earlier this year, his Poinsettia from last Christmas was still sitting on his kitchen windowsill. I decide to take it home with me, not really expecting it to last very long. Dad had given me a tip earlier in the year as to how to best water it, every few days put some warm water, never cold water, at the bottom of the plant pot and sit the plant in it. The plant is thriving, and it is a year old this week, although it doesn’t have the usual big red leaves, it is full of healthy green ones, I’m sure Dad has been helping me to keep an eye on it these past few months.





The year ahead will be another very challenging one for me, come the spring I will have to start the process all over again of looking for another new job. So much uncertainty ahead. Hopefully the chance to go and explore new places and do lots more photography. Health and finances permitting, I am already planning my holiday for next Sept. One of my main ambitions for over 20 years is that I have wanted to go on cruise to see the Norwegian Fjords. I have heard of so many people say what a beautiful and unique experience it was for them, and this is something I feel will be absolutely spectacular to photograph.

At the moment in my thoughts it’s all about trying to remain positive for the year ahead, and getting though my first Christmas without my Dad……and as the poem says, For I know that in my heart you’re here.


To all my family, friends and readers I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year ahead.

Felt by my heart.

The past month has been really tough. In the space of a little over one week my father had gone from sitting with us at his bungalow merrily chatting away to each other about steam trains, birds & animals, his national service days and family and one of his favourite TV shows. We had even been making plans with my brother and sister-in-law to take him to Weston Super Mare for a day trip in June, and then in September to The Severn Valley to see the Flying Scotsman whilst it was on tour and stationed on display there, something we were all very much looking forward to. We were having our usual conversations that we have on a Sunday morning gathering, or on the phone of an evening, and then suddenly a week later my dad was gone.

Although it has been in my eyes more noticeable about how much frailer my dad had become over the last 6 months I had never thought we would lose him. It just seems that you feel that your parents have always been there for you in the past and I suppose you feel a sense that they will always be there for you for ever.  I can remember when I was a child I always though mom & dad will ALWAYS be here for me, they would never leave. As I got older and began to see the truth and the ‘negative’ side of life and existence I then realised my dream of them being alive and with me  for ever and a day was just so unreal. Life can be so cruel.

Part of my depression which started just a little over 15 years ago was caused by a really bad year prior to my moms death on 29th April 2001. I had been very unwell physically after having to deal with 2 lots of serious surgery, and then depressed for several months before hand, without really realising it, but as they say the straw that broke the camels back was when I had to face my moms death, and then a few weeks later I had to face major life saving and life changing surgery, and for the first time ever my mom was not there for me anymore, at least not in the real physical sense. Fortunately, my dad was there for me and has been there for me ever since.

They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Shortly after my mom passed away, I can remember thinking to myself I never want to go through all that again, I hoped and prayed I never would have to. The decision to stop all medication, agree to a DNR and no further intervention was something  my dad, myself, my brother and sister-in-law had to mutually agree to. All moms organs were failing, and to agree to resuscitate her was pointless. We had to agree the same reasoning  for the same nightmare with my dad. I know deep down the horror of all of this will never go away, and having to make that decision again brought back so many bad memories. Despite of all this, over the past couple of weeks it has been good to talk to family, friends and work colleagues about the good times, the good memories and some of the wonderful times we have shared over the years with both my parents.

After Dads funeral service, as we all came out of the church into the area where all the flowers were laid, people came up to us, family members as well as friends of the family, dads club friends, old friends and  neighbours  from many years ago when my brother and I were still kids,  My sister in-laws, sister and her husband  came up to me, we hugged as normal and then Mick said it all in one simple sentence which truly summed up my dad, he said  ”your dad was a really good man, a really great bloke, a proper gentleman”. And I knew how true this was. The same thing has been said by my family members as well as dads bungalow club friends and his neighbours.

Dad has never been a drinker, only on social occasions or the occasional can of stout or bitter at home. He gave up smoking in 1981/82. He never gambled, just the usual couple of quid on the Grand National each year. Over the last 12 or so years he enjoyed his games of bingo, which for him was more a case of having a bit of a social life with his friends and was a way of maintaining his level of independence. When mom passed away, despite the rest of the family being there for him it had left a huge emptiness in his life.  Being part of the ‘bungalow club’ helped him in some ways to rebuild his life without mom.  It  gave him the chance to take some holidays to Weston Super Mare and Weymouth, as well as odd days out for coach trips or meals out with friends from the club. It was his social life outside the family, but first and foremost he was a family man and with that he was a true gentleman.

I have so many wonderful memories of the times spent with my dad. His passion for coarse fishing was passed on to me and my brother. I can still remember the first time I went fishing with dad and the first fish I caught. I don’t know who was more excited,,,,dad or me. Another great passion was his gardening which I have continued to learn from him over the years, and still love doing when I get the chance (although I have to admit the last 16 months have been difficult to maintain it as I have been unable to do the work physically due to recovering from 3 lots of surgery in that time) I only have a small garden area in the yard behind my flat, but have learnt how to get the best from it thanks to my dads knowledge and expertise. There is a certain satisfaction in growing your own runner beans, tomatoes, rhubarb as well as growing several Fuschias from my own cuttings and nurturing 3 or 4 roses.

My knowledge and love of birds, animals, butterflies, fishing, gardening and the countryside have all been down to my dad. Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s dad rented 2 allotments from the local council. Each weekend and in the school holidays my brother and I used to go there with him a lot. The allotments were adjacent to one of our local parks called Jubilee Park, and each time we went down there we always used to have a game of football or cricket in the field before starting to work on the allotment…just the three of us. Then we would cross over the little brook, and see who could get across without getting their feet wet…..being the smallest and youngest I always lost, but as I got a little older, I also got a little wiser and started  taking  my pair of wellies with me 🙂

I can still see dad now in my mind, at the height of each summer season when it was time to reap the benefits of his hard all year round work, pushing his wheelbarrow from home to the park…empty, and then filling it up with sacks of home-grown potatoes, onions, runner beans, carrots, broad beans, garden peas and beetroot.  Bunches of Sweet Williams and Chrysanthemums for mom as well as containers full of homegrown blackberries and raspberries ready for the pies and jam making.  But there was nothing better than eating a few fresh peas, broad beans or berries straight from the garden. At the bottom of the allotment he dug out a small pond and each year we used to watch the frog spawn waiting for them to become tadpoles, then frogs.

As dad got older, then so his health began to give him problems. Late in the 1980’s due to severe arthritis in his ankles and feet he had to give up first one and then the other allotment. But by then my brother and I were both growing up and those days of kicking a ball around down the park with dad had gone. Dad was now content to grow what he wanted to in the garden and greenhouse at home.

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s I became a Special Constable, and despite mom and dad being very proud of me for becoming one, I was always their little girl and I know how difficult it was for them to see me go out on a late night/early morning shift knowing I was on duty at the pubs & clubs emptying times, where even back then there was always an element of danger involved, and always the fear of being assaulted or hurt on duty. Ever the worrying, caring parents.

It’s always important to hold on to all those good memories, and they have helped me get through these past couple of weeks. I have been happy to share my memories with family and friends. I am so going to miss our little chats, and showing dad my photo’s of my latest find in the nature reserve, his stories of the days in national service, his childhood in Knowle, his grandma who bought him up, but I am so glad he has told me so many stories from his past. My father touched my heart like not other person could, and for that I am truly grateful.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt by the heart. Helen Keller


Being Frank about Frank.

This has been one of the worst weeks of my life ever, and to write this particular post is extremely difficult. Trouble is where do I start!

The family tradition on a Sunday morning for over 25 yrs has been for my brother, sister-in-law and myself to meet up at my dads bungalow and spend a few hours with him chatting, laughing, drinking tea, coffee and just generally catching up on the week’s news and goings on.

Instead of going to the bungalow this Sunday for that tradition we have gone there for the first time without Dad being there today, or ever again.

Just a little over a week ago on the Friday, my father had to be rushed into hospital with severe chest pains. This was a similar episode to what he had experienced just prior to Christmas. Unfortunately, this time the problems were far more severe and far more complicated than any of us could imagine, including the teams of doctors who have been looking after my Dad this past week.

The most difficult thing to comprehend was that even up to a few days before he was admitted to hospital last week, he was still a very proud and very independent man, apart from recently having a cold which had gone to his chest, he was still going out on his mobility scooter, going down his local shops, attending the local club to see his many friends every Monday and so on. My father had experienced severe arthritis in his feet and ankles for many years, suffered a heart problem which caused very low blood pressure, was blind in his one eye due to Macular Degeneration and was starting to lose the sight in his other eye, he had other arthritic joints including in his hands, and over the last 5 to 6 years his hearing was not very good. But despite all this he was determined to remain independent for as long as he possibly could, and refused point-blank to have carers to look after him. For an 84-year-old man he had a lot of health problems and disabilities, but was very determined not to let it beat him.

When he was admitted to the hospital a little over a week ago, it was obvious he was quite poorly, but until 3 or 4 days later we were not sure how poorly. To begin with he had developed ‘borderline pneumonia’ which despite aggressive treatment with high doses of iv antibiotics to try to bring it under control, just didn’t work, it basically turned into full pneumonia, which in a matter of hours developed even more complications. I don’t want to go into all the details, but suffice to say one problem lead to another then another, and by Wednesday morning we received a phone call that required us to attend the hospital out of visiting times due to have having now been moved onto one of the High Dependency Unit (HDU) for Cardiac Care (CCU)

When my brother, sister-in-law and I arrived there we were shocked to see Dad all wired up to tubes, leads and connected to several different monitors and numerous drips. Following a meeting with the HDU team and the consultant we had a clearer picture of what was happening. The news was not good, but despite that they were hopeful that having identified yet another bug in his system, that by bombarding it with more antibiotics in the next 12 or so hours they could deal with the problem and hopefully bring it under control. However, we were also told that if this did not happen then it would be the worse case scenario, due to his main organs now starting to go into failure.

The three of us sat with dad at his bedside all through the afternoon, evening into the night, early hours of the morning hoping and praying for some improvement, some sign that the antibiotics were killing the bugs and sepsis in his now very old and frail body. Throughout all this time the HDU nurse constantly monitored him, took blood gas samples and made sure he was comfortable and never in any pain or distress. The HCA’s kept us going with copious amounts of tea, coffee, water, biscuits and toast. This was not the first time I had found myself in this position, I was there for my Mom, and a few months before that I was there for a very dear friend Pat, but even having been down this road before it does not make it any easier when it happens again.

Just before 8.30 am Thursday morning the doctors did their ward rounds and came and took us aside to tell us that the blood tests throughout the night had shown no sign of improvement, and that his main organs were now in failure and the septicemia had gone past the point of being reversed. They were very sorry but there was nothing more they could do for Dad. It was the words every family never wants to hear.

We had to make the agonizing decision of agreeing to unhook him from the all the monitors and discontinue his medications except sedation and pain relief, all this however was to be held off until we had managed to have a think, then go home get freshened up and be back at the hospital by 11.00 am. Once we were back in the unit the much dreaded process of taking away dads medications and tubes was started. We knew all that was left for us to do was sit with Dad, talk to him and place him in Gods hands. He was very peaceful lying there, and we could see that his pain was well under control. We sat with him throughout the rest of Thursday, into the night and into the early hours of Friday morning. It was just before 6.30 am on Friday the 8th April, the day of my 51st birthday that whilst we were holding his hands, dad slipped peacefully away.

It is still very hard to believe he has left us, but knowing he is now at peace and with Mom is very important to me.

I cannot thank the NHS medical staff of Solihull Hospital Ward 17 and the brilliant team on CCU who did everything that was within their power to try to help save Dads life. They never gave up on him until they knew there was a point of no return, and that there was nothing else they could try to do to save him.

In one way we look at it as being a blessing, had he survived all of these complications of liver, kidney damage along with his other health problems we have come to realise this means he would have lost the one thing that had remained very important to him, his independence.

My Father was very kind, loving, considerate man. He had been a wonderful Father, Husband, Grandfather, Uncle and a friend to many who knew him.

Dad was born Francis Henry Westwood (known as Frank) on 6th November 1931, and in the early 1950s he was conscripted to do National Service. He trained as a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer or REME for short, and he was based out  in Egypt during the Suez Canal Zone Crisis. It was not until 2003 that our government finally recognized those in the National Service who were involved in that conflict, and agreed to finally allow them their rightly deserved medals, dad being one of those.

I have some wonderful memories of my Dad. My brother and I have a lot of stories that he has told us over the years. we owe our love of gardening, angling and knowledge of country life to Dad. His passions in life were his family, they always came first, his gardening and fishing.


Death Is Nothing At All – Henry Scott Holland

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.

Rest in peace Dad, now reunited with Mom and all the other family members who had gone before you.


Dad as a very young and handsome man.


With my brother Alan and me. The days when Dad had wavy black hair


With Mom.


A wonderful granddad

Birmingham……. a view of my world!

There is one thought often crosses my mind and I have so wanted to have the opportunity to carry out a long term wish, whilst at a job interview on Monday of this week, I was finally able to fulfill that wish!

Although I was born in and have lived in a town known as the Borough of Solihull, which is on the outskirts of Birmingham, it means that Birmingham  itself has always been a huge part of my life, and has been very important to me throughout various stages of my life. I suppose realistically I have seen it change, grow and develop as I myself have grown, changed and developed over the last 5 decades, and like any major town or city across the world it is a modern Metropolis. I have a huge interest in both of these parts of the West Midlands as my father and his parents, grandparents were born and raised in the District of Knowle in Solihull, and my mom and all the rest of her family were born and raised in Birmingham. Solihull and Birmingham are however joined in many significant ways through its entwined history.

Known as England’s ‘second city’ since around the time of the  First World War, it has over many decades become more and more interesting to me. Birmingham and its surrounding areas known as the Black Country holds a wealth of history, and had adapted itself to modernization without significantly spoiling itself and has still maintained some of its originality, culture and charm. Although I dare to say some might  disagree on that score, and I suppose like any body, which is human nature, they would defend their own heritage knowing and comparing its origins and history to anywhere else. It would be true to see that any one born and raised in London for instance would quite categorically state that London is the best place on earth to live, eat and breathe and therefore could not be beaten. As I could also see and understand that our cousins across the water in the USA might comment on their own state being far better than the next one.

One thing is for sure, Birmingham has evolved into a well-developed modern Metropolis, and yet it has been able to maintain so much of its character, beauty and its originality within the history and design of the City. Its evolution is still going on, and will continue for many more years in to the future. In most areas of  Birmingham you can see new buildings going up that still stay within the designs and architecture of the original existing buildings and its surrounding areas, but at the same time new modern buildings exist that prove Birmingham is not a little undeveloped back street area and that it can’t compete with the likes of rest of the Europe or even the world especially so in the business and financial sector. I was fortunate to have worked in an area of Birmingham for over 20 years in a place called Aston which is less than a mile outside the city, as a result of this I saw Birmingham almost every day and have seen the likes of working in a modern warehouse and office complex, and yet, less than a minutes walk from the door of that building was a little bit of peace and tranquility in the form of the canal network and you can see some wild birds, beautiful flora and scenery.

Presently, central Birmingham is undergoing another major transition by creating a new tram /metro system, which to all intense and purpose will mean better travel,  better for the environment, and better easier transportation for its thousands of  residents and daily workers, shoppers and visitors.

I have often walked through various different areas of the city center and on numerous occasions wondered what a bird’s-eye view would look like of this incredible ever-changing city.  You can move between new and old buildings at the drop of a hat, and also between busy streets and then a quiet corner and a bit of tranquility in a matter of moments. There are some short walks and bus rides that take you within minutes from a busy market and shopping center to a park, recreation ground or nature reserve.

There are so many tall buildings in the area, but they don’t always give the best view across the city and where you can stand on the top floor of one building, the view may be blocked by other tall buildings. Fortunately on Monday however I was finally able to get that long-awaited view across the City of Birmingham and some of its neighbouring towns, from the window of the 26th floor of one of the tallest buildings in Birmingham, oh boy and what a terrific view it was too. Before leaving I asked the interview at the end if she would mind me taking a couple of photos, (luckily I did have my camera on my, which just goes to prove you might never know when an opportunity arises) and she was than happy to let me.


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Whilst I was standing there looking out across at this fair city, my mind suddenly went back to when I was a youngster growing up and a particular poem by sir John Betjeman which has always been at the back of mind because it says a lot about his view of what progress is in the modern world, but somehow I sometimes have to disagree with him. Although, I do  recall someone telling me at the time he was in this particular poem referring to Milton Keynes….. as the concrete jungle. Or I wonder whether just through his eyes he just envisaged what might happen in the future everywhere…..I hope not!! However, I am often reminded that it is important to remember that progress is very important not just for the present, but for the future.




Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we’ll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We’ll know that we are dead.

By Sir John Betjemen.

Many thanks for stopping by.

R.I.P. Sootykins.

Over a number of years I got frustrated with people, namely non pet owners, saying animals are just dumb creatures and that people are more important than animals.

This could never be more untrue. Yes, people are important, of that there is no doubt. But for those of us who have been pet owners, and have had the privilege of keeping a pet, and caring for it, tending to its needs, spending quality time with it then we are the ones who appreciate that they are more like special companions than just dumb creatures. I still very much remember the day my twins Sooty and Sweep were born!!

When I was approaching my 40th birthday in order to mark this special occasion and  after many years of deliberation I decided I was going to have a rabbit. I had wanted one for many years, but several reasons and excuses prevented me from having one. So I finally took the plunge, I bought a beautiful lop eared pure albino and called her Venus. However, after a couple of weeks because I lived on my own  and had to leave her on her own most of the day at home, whilst I was at work, I started to feel little pangs of guilt.

Rabbits are very sociable little creatures, and ideally  do need to be paired up. However, one has to consider the fact that rabbits are rapid breeders. But hey that’s nature. So I decided Venus needed a female companion, and duly went and found a beautiful mixed brown coloured rabbit, similar to those in the wild. Now, what to call ‘her’. I say her because I insisted at the pet shop it had to be another female, after all I didn’t want a population explosion on my hands, and they very confidently told me it was definitely a she.  Straight away I noticed she was into constantly munching her hay….and other bits and pieces quite happily, and so came up with the name Munchkins, and  affectionately called her Munchy.

Fortunately they were both of a similar age and therefore able to get used to each other and get on well rather quickly, in no time at all after a week or two of gradual introductions and play time together, they became best of friends and so I was able to put them together in the hutch as constant companions.

It was after about 4 months I noticed, some ‘funny’ behaviour going on between them, and decided to get this checked out. true to my suspicions, Munchy was not a she but a he. Young rabbits are very difficult to sex, hence the reason the pet shop got it wrong…..oops.

So, a change of plan. I bought a second hutch in order to keep them separated, but allowed them some together time in the play pen, whilst I kept an eye on them and played gooseberry making sure they got up to no hanky panky, this was until Munchy was 6 months old and able to be neutered.

I recall one Friday evening early July, about a week before my appointment at the vets to have Munchy neutered, my phone went off and I went and sat in my bedroom talking to a friend for about 15 to 20 mins, then returned to the lounge to find Venus and Munchy stretched out next to each other  and licking each other. Thinking no more about it I put them back in to their individual hutches for the evening and giving them their usual bit of fussing I let them settle down for the night. This was my usual  routine with them.

It was about a month later, on 8th August 2005 whilst getting ready for work, that I noticed Venus was acting a little out of the ordinary. She was even more affectionate with me than usual, and was pulling some of her fur out from her chest and belly. I had read that this was a sign of nesting, the female prepares a nest of her own fur when she was expecting to give birth, this apparently also happens, I read when there is a pseudo pregnancy. Knowing I had taken necessary precautions to ensure they did not mate I knew this could only be a pseudo pregnancy.

I thought no more about it throughout the day, other than worrying if she was unwell. She had been eating and drinking well on the morning. Getting home from work that evening I had the biggest shock of my life. On seeing Venus that evening, I got worried again, she was stretched out in the litter tray and instead of coming to the front of the hutch to have her usual fuss and treat from me, she just turned her head around to me made a little grunt and then turned away from me. My first instinct was to get her to the vets.

Rabbits are very resilient creatures, but once they are ill they can start to go down hill very fast. I searched around the main part of the hutch for her favourite toy to see if I could interest in playing. I couldn’t find the toy so I had a little feel around the ‘bedroom’ area of the hutch which is sectioned off with a door at the front of the hutch, but has an arch at the back for easy access for the rabbit. Having had a feel around, my hand then touched something very warm and soft and it moved. I quickly pulled my hand away, my very first instinct was there was a rat or a mouse in the hutch, and how the heck had that happened. I sat there in the chair on my balcony for several minutes stunned, and thinking what I should do next. Then it occurred to me, there was no way any other animal could have got in to her hutch. There were no holes or openings big enough for anything to get in or out.

I decided to be brave, and opened the door to her bedroom area, had a good look around and at the back of the hutch I found to my total amazement these two tiny little grey baby rabbits with no fur (known as kits or kittens) under the hay tightly snuggled up to each other. I sat there in shock for well over 20 minutes.

Now of course Venus behaviour all started to make sense, she wasn’t ill at all…..far from it in fact, she had become a mummy and Munchy was a daddy……and I had become a grandmother!

The next couple of weeks I was on tenterhooks wondering if they were both going to survive, I never saw Venus tend to her babies during the day and wondered if she was feeding them, and they were therefor going to survive.  I then learnt that this is normal behaviour for rabbits, and in order to protect their babies they tend to feed them of night-time. And fortunately one of these nights I couldn’t sleep, went on to my balcony and found her feeding her twins. I knew then everything was going to be alright.

It wasn’t long before the twins came out of their bedroom and started to make their appearance in the main part of the hutch, their little eyes started to open and they had started to grow fur. Venus even trusted me by now to handle them. What I hadn’t expected was that it was jet black fur. For me it  was strange that a pure albino lop for a mother, and a sandy golden brown daddy could produce two jet black babies….such a beautiful freak of nature. It turns out that female rabbits are pregnant for only a month. With that timing my mind wandered back to the night I had that phone call and left them alone for about 15/20 mins…..and in that short space of time the deed was done!

Over the coming weeks and months I had to make different arrangements so that they all stayed together as a family, and they became house rabbits.  I had decided I couldn’t part with them and just had to keep them. When thy were old enough to be sexed, I found that one was a buck and the other a dow and hence I come up with the names Sooty and Sweep. As soon as Sooty was old enough I had him neutered.

I lost Venus the same day as Micheal Jackson died, I was too lost in my own personal grief with Venus and didn’t know until the following day about  MJ . I found out that albino breeds of rabbits don’t tend to live long. I lost Munchy about 18 months or so  later and then Sweep about another year later.

For me Sooty especially has been an incredible companion, a very loving and affectionate creature. I have always tried to spend as much time with him as I could and learn as much as possible about the language of Lagomorphs. I know what little quirks he had, what treats he loved the best, and he sensed when I was down, when I stroked his nose he used to purr and shudder out of contentment. we had a very special bond with each other.

It was when I started to write my blog just 3 years ago this very week, that I decided to write as my pen name Sootykins after my beautiful little boy. In his own little way he has inspired me. He has made me smile when I have least expected it. I am going to miss the mornings and evenings when he used to stretch out across my chest and snuggle his little head up to my chin and lick it, he would lie there contentedly for about an hour.  Of a morning, he wouldn’t eat his food pellets until he had a few raisins from me, or some fresh carrot or broccoli, hand fed of course. And of an evening when I was getting him settled down for the night he used to come to the front of the cage begging me for his special rabbit biscuit or yoghurt drops. For people who have never had a pet, of any sort, they really are missing out a lot. Pets bring so much pleasure, they are soothing, calming, friendly and trusting and are wonderful companions. When I have had periods of stress he has helped me to stay calm.

I noticed a couple of days ago he was not himself, and this morning he died in my arms.  I am so going to miss my little Sootykins, he has been a huge part of my life these past 9 years, he has been there for me at my low points, he has been so loving, and I am sure in his own little way understanding. Now at least I know he is with his mum and dad and sister….all together again.

It’s too early to say if I will have another rabbit yet, right now there is a big empty hole in my life, and I am so missing my little companion.



R.I.P my beautiful  Sootykins –  8th August 2005 to 8th November 2014

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Such a wonderful, affectionate trusting friend and companion.

Thanks for stopping by.