Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

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End of the Month Blog: November ends

Unbelievably, we have reached the end of another month, and here to celebrate (commiserate??) is Nell Peters with her final round up of 2019!

Over to you Nell…

Well shiver me timbers – it’s the last day of November, and now that I’m writing the blog bi-monthly it means this is my last for 2019! How crazy is that? So, better make it a half-decent read, I suppose.

Quite a bit of family stuff suggests itself – excellent, as that involves absolutely no research, just some excavation of the memory bank. I’m so lazy!

Returning to the beginning of October (which seems an awfully long time ago now), we toddled off to the Corn Exchange in town to watch GDII perform in her first dance show – she’s been going to classes on Saturday mornings for about six months now and loves it. Apart from the routines, I was most impressed by the organisation of a large number of small children, including quite a few boys, by half a dozen teachers and chaperones – I had enough problems with four!

The nippers mostly performed according to age and we waited with bated breath for our little star to take to the stage with other six year-olds. She made her entrance in a turquoise tutu, with gossamer wings attached to her back – the latter being an emergency replacement pair after the first were delivered battered and bent into a very unfairly-like shape. GD remembered all her steps but added her own artistic interpretation, when she lifted her skirt to hitch up her tights – I’m afraid she gets her lack of poise and elegance gene from yours truly, other granny being far more refined. OH (no Fred Astaire himself) has suggested she might like to swap the dance lessons for instruction in Sumo wrestling, or similar.

On the work front, confusion reigns. The small, independent publisher I had two books with was taken over/merged with one of the big five – good news you might think? Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath – having been under-published by the original lot (that’s a euphemism for abandoned at launch) it’s not boding well so far as it seems (from the sparse info available) that they will be concentrating on books already in the publication pipeline. Absolutely fair enough as a priority, but they are not taking submissions of new work until 2021(!) – and no real word as yet re the already published books they have taken under their wing. I was not alone in not knowing I had been sold until an email was received out of the blue, welcoming me to the new company. That was the last communication I received. Mm… Watch this space, or not.

A little late, but I managed to finally get some dates out of the OH as to when he could take time out for a holiday – he could only spare a week, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth! We decided to return to a rather nice hotel in Majorca that we went to a couple of years ago – the week we booked was half term for most, but as it’s not a particularly child friendly place, we decided to risk it.

Before we left I needed to take a trip to Twickenham to see my mum, as I hadn’t visited for a while and guilt was beginning to bite. I was planning to do just a day trip, but #3 intervened and booked overnight accommodation for me at the Marriott Hotel, which forms part of Twickenham Rugby Ground. He stays in Marriotts for work in Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangkok and so collects a ridiculous number of loyalty points (he’s at the Jaipur hotel for an average of 150 nights a year, for example), some of which he generously donated to my stay. On checking in, I found I didn’t have any old room, but a suite – top floor, with a lounge, bedroom, two bathrooms and a whole array of luxurious touches, overlooking the pitch. How the other half live! Too bad I was on my own…

That evening, I met up with the lady who had been my parents’ primary career, plus #2 son who lives locally for drinks, and the next morning, #3 flew in from Jaipur. He arrived at the hotel (in shorts!) and ordered a pint of Guinness at eight o’clock in the morning, his excuse being he was still on Indian time and anyway, Guinness is not available there so he had some catching up to do. When #2 turned up, we had breakfast – the hotel staff are no doubt currently reconsidering the concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet. In case you were wondering, I had two small pieces of GF bread with strawberry jam, leaving the gannet impressions to the sons, especially #3, who obviously hadn’t eaten for a month or more.

We went to see my mum, armed with loads of flowers and bite-sized snack bits – her appetite for regular meals isn’t great, but she does love her junk food. The conversation was at best random, at worst completely and incomprehensibly off the wall, but frankly I don’t suppose we can hope for much better at this notch on the dementia spectrum. My sons have strict instructions to shoot me, if ever I am similarly afflicted. From the care home, we drove a few miles to the cemetery where my dad and other relatives are buried – I have an arrangement with my cousin, Keith, that whoever visits sorts out not only my dad’s stone, but also those of our grandparents and his parents who are there, only a few plots away. That day, the gorgeous cream roses we’d bought proved a bit of a challenge to arrange in strong, gusty winds – we did our best, but half of them had probably blown away before the car nosed out of the cemetery gates.

That being a Friday, it was all back to Norfolk for a family invasion weekend, so we had an early Halloween dinner and sparklers, as we thought that was the last time we’d all be together for a while (we have these gatherings every fortnight with varying numbers) – the OH had pronounced that he would be in Berlin for the next one, but had in fact got his dates wrong. I’m not saying a word!

#3 had come home to take GDI (aged eleven) to New York over half term, as a reward for doing well in the SATS exams she sat (see what I did there?) before she moved to senior school in September. They were initially keen on going to Hong Kong, but decided against it, as the riots worsened. How very lucky she is – I have three degrees and I don’t think anyone even took me out to dinner as a ‘well done you’ for passing any of them. Sniff. Grizzle. Pout.

They were away at the same time we were in Majorca, sending us copious numbers of pics of them posing at all the usual suspects, like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State, sitting in an off-Broadway theatre about to watch Chicago etc etc, while I reclined on my four-poster sun bed, trying not to appear too jealous. I did enter into the spirit of things to a small extent, when I sent a video of the most awesome thunder/lightning storm I’ve ever seen, taken from our second floor balcony on our first night. After that, the weather was brilliant. The only fly in the ointment/there goes the neighbourhood moment was when James Argent checked in with a couple of burly mates (this was just after he’d been banned from EasyJet for some ridiculous antic on the tarmac), as he was doing a gig in nearby Palma – he’s a singer, apparently. I was waiting for the OH in Reception when they arrived and I don’t think he could have announced his name any louder – sadly wasted on the guy behind the desk, who very obviously didn’t know him from Adam. Insistence on having the best rooms similarly fell on deaf ears. Can I just explain here that I have never seen TOWIE, but I sometimes read the Mail online (don’t judge me, it doesn’t have a pay wall!) and in their sidebars there are often snippets about Gemma Collins, who I understand is his on/off girlfriend. Nevertheless, the OH was truly horrified that I knew who this person was! JA looks pretty big in pics and he certainly is – in height as well as weight. I’m 5’9” and he dwarfed me.

The rugby semi-finals were shown on TV in the lounge of our hotel, and I took my maternal duties seriously, WhatsApping a running commentary to #3 while he tried to find the game on TV Stateside, where it was four o’clock in the morning. Having been raised in Twickenham, I’ve really had enough of rugby to last me a lifetime – rerouted bumper to bumper traffic jams on match days, no chance whatsoever of getting on any form of public transport, ditto entering a pub if you are that way inclined. The more enterprising locals set up fast food stalls in their gardens, or rent out their driveways for parking, while the majority simply grit their teeth and hibernate until it’s all over.

And all over it was for England’s hopes of lifting the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Males of the clan crammed themselves into the playroom (biggest TV) for the final, played on the next of our invasion weekends, with not everyone present knowing who to support. The OH was born in the UK, but spent his formative years in SA and #3 (enjoying the last couple of days of his holiday en famille) spent part of his gap year there, returning whenever he can. One of my sisters in law told me she has an even greater dilemma when watching international sporting fixtures – she cheers for 1) SA, 2) England and 3) Australia, where she now lives. How confusing!


In 1976 on this day, rugby union player Josh Lewsey was born. He shares his birthday with Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and political pamphleteer, born in Dublin in 1667 (died 1745); Chrissy Teigen, American model, born in Delta, Utah in 1985; Chanel Iman, American supermodel, born in Atlanta in 1989 – on the same day as Margaret Nales Wilson, Filipino model. Obviously a good day for models – the latter two were born on the day that Deutsche Bank CEO and board member, Alfred Herrhausen was killed by a Red Army Faction terrorist bomb. Not such a good day for him.

I mentioned Marriott Hotels earlier – they are a multinational with many subsidiaries, including Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, Ritz-Carlton, Autograph Collection, Gaylord Hotels and Le Méridien, plus a whole lot more, and 25% of shares are still owned by the Marriott family. Lucky them. Not so lucky for their client base on 30th November 2018 however, when 500 million accounts were jeopardised by a massive data breach during one of the world’s largest ever company hacks.

Think I’d be pretty hacked off too. So sorry!

On that dodgy note, I will leave you.

Merry Christmas (General Election permitting – it will be such a relief not to have others’ strident opinions shoved down my neck like I’m some sort of half-wit!) and a Happy New Year to y’all.

Toodles. NP


Huge thanks to Nell as ever.

Have a fabulous festive season!

Jenny xx





















End of the Month Blog: Day 151…

Hang on a minute- wasn’t it February just now? 

I’m delighted to welcome Nell Peters back with her regular (now bi-monthly) blog round up of the last 31 days.

Over to you Anne…

By ‘eck! Time flies, doesn’t it? Here we are at the end of May already – the one hundred and fifty-first day of the year, no less. That means there’s just another two hundred and fourteen to go until the end of 2019.

Irish actor, Colin James Farrell, was born in Castleknock, Dublin forty-three years ago today. His father, Eamon, ran a health food shop and played footie for the delightfully named, Shamrock Rovers FC – as did his uncle, Tommy. While he was still at senior school – Gormanston College in County Meath – Colin unsuccessfully auditioned for the group, Boyzone, after which he enrolled in Drama College, inspired by Henry Thomas’ performance as Elliot in the movie ET.

When #4 son was born on Christmas Eve, 1992, we hadn’t decided upon a name for either girl or boy, but we had a short list for both, including Elliot for a boy (obviously!) On Christmas morning, I declined the invitation to venture downstairs to take part in the traditional TV broadcast of carols from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, London, as I eagerly awaited our carriage – or beaten up BMW, if I remember correctly – to whisk us to Twickenham, where everyone and their dog was gathered at my parents’ house. Nothing to do with the new baby just the normal extended family Christmas bash.

One of the questions everyone asks when checking out a new arrival is what they are to be called – and lo, the after-dinner entertainment that year became I Can Name That Child in Eighty-Five Ghastly Suggestions. Fortunately, the more seasonal offerings like Gabriel (with apologies to any Gabriel/Gabrielles who may be lurking hereabouts), found little favour amongst those gathered – and when someone said that the baby’s wrinkly neck looked like ET’s, I mentioned that Elliot was on our list, which immediately got the thumbs up all round. So, we called #4 John – just kidding!

Where was I? Oh yes, Colin Farrell was studying drama – he didn’t stay the course, however, as he was offered the part of Danny Byrne in the BBC series, Ballykissangel in 1996, aged nineteen.

He was pretty lucky to have the opportunity, after being arrested for attempted murder in Sydney, Australia the previous year. The police sketch of their suspect looked uncannily like him and he had admitted to remembering nothing of the evening in question – but fortunately for him, his friend had kept a journal which crucially described the two of them partying across town that night, taking MDMA (Ecstasy). Who remembers enough to keep a journal of when they are high as a kite?

Despite an impressive award-winning career, not everything has run smoothly for the poor chap. In December 2005, Farrell checked into rehab for addiction to recreational drugs and painkillers. He later described the effects of the drugs thus; ‘An energy that was created, a character that was created, that no doubt benefited me. And then there was a stage where it all began to crumble around me.’ He also picked up a stalker along the way and an ex-girlfriend threatened to publicise a sex tape unless he paid her $5M. Yikes. Let’s hope his birthday passes without incident.

Since I was last here, there has been a lot of family stuff going on, starting 2nd April, which would have been my dad’s ninety-fourth birthday. He shared his date of birth (1925) with George MacDonald Fraser, British poet, author (Flashman) and scriptwriter (Octopussy, The Four Musketeers), who was born in Carlisle, UK, as well as Hard Boiled Haggerty (whose rather more boring real name was Don Stansauk), American professional wrestler and actor (The Incredible Hulk), who filled his first diaper in Los Angeles, California.

They died in 2008 and 2004 respectively, while my dad made it to 2017 and can therefore claim the prize for longevity. 2nd April 1925 was also the day upon which lawyer and future Nazi war criminal/Hitler’s personal legal advisor, Hans Frank, aged twenty-four, married secretary, Brigitte Herbst, aged twenty-nine, in Munich, Germany. In 2019, it was the day of my ex-husband’s funeral – he dropped dead from cardiac arrest in March, a few days after his sixtieth birthday.

Nipping forward, there were the Easter hols and the traditional Easter Egg Hunt for the Grands in our garden. A little different to most years, however, as the loot had to be placed in shaded areas so that chocolate didn’t melt in the heat – and the children were running around in their swimming cosies, diving in the pool to cool off. Bizarre, but brilliant.

We don’t like to give the children too much chocolate, and so the hunt typically includes toys and craft stuff plus this time, named dinosaur t-shirts for the younger ones. At eleven, I didn’t think the oldest GD would appreciate a dinosaur splashed across her chest and so got her an apron, as worn by sleb contestants on the Stand up to Cancer Bake Off programme – I’ve never seen it but she’s a big fan and loves to cook, especially cakes. She so doesn’t take after me! The (pretty hideous) pinny was designed by Ted Baker (who else?)

It was a lot cooler just one week later, when our middle GD celebrated her 6th birthday with a ten pin bowling party – an action replay of last year – joined by a host of school friends, including one little boy who wasn’t even invited! Being terribly British, none of the adults said a word, or even batted an eyelid. Everything was well organised by the venue staff, who supervised the little dears, did the catering and even cut up the cake provided by the parents.

Then it was back to our house for present opening and a Harry Potter-themed dinner, overseen by a huge unicorn balloon, which had nearly launched me into outer space the previous (very windy) day when I was carrying it through town. GD cannot decide between unicorns and Harry P, so we hedged our bets.

On the day she was born (26 April 2013), thirty people were killed when a bus crashed following a Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan. Over in the good ol’ US of A, country musician, George Jones aged eighty-one, (Golden Rings, Oh Lonesome Me), died from hypoxic respiratory failure. That’s when the usual exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs fails and as a result, not enough oxygen can reach the heart, brain, etc. Curtains. Sharing his date of death aged eighty-two, was film, stage and TV actress, Jacqueline Brookes. Amongst many other roles, she played Beatrice Gordon in US TV soap, Another World – although not for the entirety of its thirty-five year run.

This was also the day upon which my friend, Simon – fellow uni student when I read for my last degree – finally made an honest woman of his beautiful, long-suffering partner, Lydia. She got a smattering of revenge by leaving him waiting at the altar for almost an hour (it was a Friday, so presumably not too many happy couples lining up to tie the knot), during which time he was ‘bricking it’, to use his quaint expression.

Returning to the other side of the pond, Canadian actor and musician, Cory Monteith (Glee), emerged from a drug rehabilitation facility on that day, no doubt full of hope for the future. Tragically, he died of an overdose just weeks later in Vancouver on 13th July – the day upon which both Jenny and I get to blow out our birthday candles.

A dear friend was sixty at the beginning of May and her husband/family arranged a surprise party for her. On the day she was born – 1st May 1959 – West Germany introduced a five day working week and Floyd Patterson scored an eleventh round KO of Englishman Brian London in Indianapolis. This was the fourth time Floyd had successfully defended his World Heavyweight Boxing title.

Back to the party – the birthday girl had been told she was going to someone else’s party and so was somewhat surprised to see the OH and I scrape through the door of the venue just ahead of them (our taxi was late), as we don’t know that other person. It was a fab night and lovely to catch up with some people we hadn’t seen for far too long. Of course, a party meant I had to smarten up from my usual tramp gear of skinny jeans and hoodie – it was from the very shallow pocket of a jacket that my phone plunged into the loo, after we got home. Pre-use of the facilities, I hasten to add.

#2 son was staying and immediately tried resuscitation via the rice trick, but after a good few hours it became obvious that the situation was terminal. Damn; it was but a few months old. I am obviously a slow learner, as this was the same jacket I wore to my dad’s funeral, when another phone tried to swim. We were about to leave the house and so I was closing windows, including the upstairs loo – reached over the bowl … join own dots. #3 son was drying it with a hairdryer, as everyone else piled into cars on the drive. On that occasion, the phone lived to ring another day.

The day my new phone arrived, so did #3 from Bangkok – he hadn’t been back for five months. He spent a day sorting out his Thai work visa and then six of us flew to Dublin for a couple of nights to celebrate his thirtieth birthday, a few days early.

#4 son and his OH had never been to Dublin – or indeed anywhere in Ireland – and so we did the touristy things like boarding an open-topped bus to be blown to bits and buying a drink in the Temple Bar pub in Temple Bar, for which you need to take out a second mortgage. I also scoured the many souvenir shops for sparkly shamrock head boppers, as seen being worn by several hen parties about town.

Mission not accomplished, I gave up and decided to order from Amazon when home. While the rest of us returned to the humdrum of everyday routine, #3 flew off to Antigua for ten days to spend his birthday proper in style, lucky thing. I can’t actually remember what I did for my thirtieth, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t compare too favourably with his jolly.

OK, this is 31st May, so let me stop rambling and we’ll have a look at what has happened historically on this day. The Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the last major battle fought mainly by battleships and the most important naval battle of World War I, with the British navy blockading the German fleet in the North Sea off Denmark. Over the course of the battle, thousands of lives and many ships were lost, but despite British losses far outnumbering those of the Germans, their commander, Reinhard Scheer realised their fleet had been contained. Drat. The Germans never put to sea in ships again during WWI and turned instead to submarine warfare – one of the primary reasons that the United States entered the war in April 1917.

So, what do we think of the name given to their son by the D&D of Sussex? Unlike when #4 was born, I suspect they didn’t have all their relatives and friends sitting around making dodgy suggestions. My lips are sealed, except to mention that on this day in 1943, the comic strip, Archie, was first broadcast on radio in the US.

The character Archibald ‘Archie’ Andrews was originally created as a syndicated comic strip in 1941 by publisher John L Goldwater and artist Bob Montana, in collaboration with writer Vic Bloom. He was the main character featured in the Archie Comics franchise, which evolved to include the long-running radio series.

Finally, who remembers what substance Colin Farrell and his mate were taking in Sydney? A sticky bun for anyone who answered MDMA, or to give it its proper handle, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (no wonder it’s known as Ecstasy for short!) On this day in 1985 the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) declared an emergency ban on MDMA, placing it on the list of Schedule I drugs – substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. MDMA has remained a Schedule I substance since then, with the exception of a brief period between 1987 and 1988. Bad Colin.

Now I’m out of here. Thanks to Jenny for having me over and to anyone else who has taken the time to read this – appreciated.




Huge thanks to Nell as ever for another fabulous blog!

See you in July, Nell!

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny xx





End of the Month: Cheerio June with Nell Peters

June seems to be all but over? Anyone notice that happen? Nope? Nor me..I was probably in a dark corner somewhere writing a book…

Everyone ready? Got coffee, tea and cake? Great, let’s hand over to Nell. 

Morning all – I trust this finds you in fine fettle?

If it’s OK with Jenny, we’ll dive straight in shall we?

Two American professional wrestlers were born on this day in 1891. Frank Simmons Leavitt was born in New York City to parents, John McKenney and Henrietta (née Decker) Leavitt. He tried out various wrestling names for size: Soldier Leavitt (when he was on active duty both at the Mexican border and in France), Hell’s Kitchen Bill-Bill and Stone Mountain, before adopting Man Mountain Dean after meeting his wife, Doris Dean. I don’t know about mountainous, but at 5’11” and 310lbs, he wasn’t a small guy… As well as his wrestling career, he worked as a stunt double, appeared as himself in five films and studied journalism at the University of Georgia. He died of a heart attack, aged sixty-one.

Sharing his date of birth was Robert Herman Julius Friedrich, born in Wisconsin. Friedrich began wrestling at the age of fourteen using the ring name Ed Lewis but was subsequently known as the rather more sinister Ed Strangler Lewis after a match in France where he applied a sleeper hold, and the French, who were unfamiliar with the manoeuvre, thought he was strangling his opponent. Call me picky, but that doesn’t sound very sporting. A four-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, he semi-retired in 1935 but returned to the ring seven years later, despite being legally blind from trachoma. It was another five years before he fully retired from the professional circuit aged fifty-seven, and he died destitute in New York in 1966. Ah bless.

Two more American wrestlers were born on June 30th – in 1985 Cody Garrett Runnels (now known as Cody Rhodes, or The American Nightmare) checked into Marietta, Georgia. He followed in his father – Virgil Riley Runnels Junior, better known as The American Dream (I see what they did there!) or Dusty Rhodes – and his older half-brother Goldust’s footsteps, into the professional ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE). Cody’s godfather, Terry Wayne Allan is a retired pro wrestler who fought under the name of Magnum TA – so, it seems an aptitude for the sport and coming up with creative ring names are family traits.

Incidentally, Cody is also an ‘occasional’ actor (whatever that means – maybe he appears annually as the Easter Bunny, the Grim Reaper on Halloween, or even Poldark’s shirt?) and this wrestling/acting combination, with a bit of modelling thrown in, has also been embraced by one Victoria Elizabeth Crawford (ring name Alicia Fox), born on this day in 1986 in Florida. She is the longest tenured WWE female performer, having been with the company since 2006.

Step into the ring – the boxing type this time – heavyweight fighter, ‘The Greatest’ Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior, which he denounced as his slave name) who defeated Joe Bugner in Malaysia on 30th June 1975. Presumably he floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee?

Clay’s name change came about when he converted to Islam, as did Michael Gerard Tyson, who will need fifty-two candles for his cake today. He’s of course better known as Mike Tyson, alias ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’. (By coincidence, I am known en famille as ‘The Baddest Cook on the Planet.’) One of his several dubious claims to fame was when he was disqualified during a World Boxing Association championship rematch in 1997, for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear – now that’s definitely not sporting! He has a bit of a dodgy history in his personal life too, but we won’t go into that here, as it’s a family show. It was during one of his banged-up spells that he converted to Islam – that’s OK then.

Another sportsman who has spent time on the Very Naughty Step is former National Football League running back, OJ (Orenthal James) Simpson, whose pre-trial hearing for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman began this day in 1994. Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the last twenty-odd years, you will know that Simpson was found Not Guilty by a criminal trial jury, but was subsequently deemed responsible for both deaths by a unanimous jury deliberating a civil lawsuit, filed by the Brown and Goldman families in 1997. They were awarded compensatory and punitive damages totalling $33.5 million (not far short of $52 million now), but have received only a tiny percentage of that.

OJ did go to jail, however; in 2007, he was convicted of multiple felonies, including use of a deadly weapon to commit kidnapping, burglary and armed robbery. Yikes! He was sentenced to a minimum nine, maximum thirty-three years (how does that work?) in Lovelock Correctional Centre, Nevada and was released on parole on 1st October 2017.

Who keeps up with the Kardashians? The late patriarch Robert K was part of his friend OJ’s defence team during the 90s murder trial. Although he had let his licence to practice law lapse before the case came to court to concentrate on business interests, he reactivated it to sit in as a volunteer assistant on the legal ‘dream team’. I’ve never seen the reality programme (I’m more of a Come Dine with Me fan tbh – love the voiceover) so had to research it (though I drew the line at actually watching!) – there’s a cast of thousands!

There appear to be six offspring – some are Ks and some are Jenners, on account of mum Kris’s two marriages, the first to Robert and the second to Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner. All five daughters have names beginning with K like their mum (or mom) and the only son, Rob was obviously named after his dad – lucky escape, as he could have ended up as a Kayne … oh wait, they have one of those by marriage. The show apparently focuses on the personal and professional lives of the Kardashian–Jenner ‘blended’ family, though what any of them actually do I’ve no idea and frankly don’t care. For me, the most surprising thing is that the programme has run for nearly eleven years. Seriously?

Enough of tinsel town. In 1971 Ohio became the 38th US state to approve the lowering of the voting age to eighteen (1970 in the UK), thus ratifying the 26th amendment. (I will refrain from mentioning here that the prefrontal cortex, which amongst other things assesses and judges consequences of decisions made, is nowhere near mature at eighteen, being the last area of the brain to fully develop.)

This was on the same day that the crew of Russian space mission Soyuz 11 were found dead upon their return to Earth – the only people to die in space.  In the early hours, the Soviet Union prepared to welcome its three latest cosmonaut heroes after a record-breaking mission; Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev had spent more than twenty-three days in orbit, and also occupied the world’s first space station.

The parachute of Soyuz 11’s descent module was spotted and helicopters touched down for would-be rescuers to make their way to the spacecraft, still superheated and charred from re-entry. Nikolai Kamanin, commander of the cosmonaut team, and veteran cosmonaut Alexei Yeliseyev, waited more than an hour for news of a successful recovery, only to hear three numbers: 1-1-1, which translated as the entire crew being dead. The subsequent investigation determined that an air vent had been jerked open during the separation of the orbital and descent modules and that all three men had been dead for some time from suffocation. How dreadfully sad.

Happily, safety in space travel has much improved and UK astronaut, Tim Peake became the first Briton to join a European Space Agency mission in December 2015, when he blasted into orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS) and during that time the 44-year-old former helicopter test pilot took part in more than two hundred and fifty experiments. He also ran the London Marathon on a treadmill and engaged more than a million schoolchildren with educational activities – I thought he was brilliant. One of the highlights of Peake’s time in space was a space walk with Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra. While their repair work on the outside of the station was a success, mission controllers cut the walk short after Kopra noticed water leaking into his helmet. Peake will return for another stint on the space station, probably in 2019.

At the beginning of this month, the latest successful ISS mission was completed when a Soyuz capsule carrying Russian Anton Shkaplerov, American Scott Tingle and Japanese Norishige Kanai floated down to Earth after more than five months, landing in Kazakhstan. Footage from within the ISS had shown Shkaplerov practicing with a football, which he was reportedly going to take back to Moscow for the opening game of the World Cup.

Back on terra firma, on the last day of June 1984, Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott (known as Pierre) Trudeau officially stepped down as Liberal (15th) Prime Minister of Canada after serving two separate terms for a total of fifteen years. He was a charismatic personality described as a ‘swinging young bachelor’ when first elected in 1968 – even though he was almost forty-nine – and dated Barbra Streisand. However, he married much younger TV presenter Margaret Sinclair in March 1971 and they had three sons, the oldest being Justin, current PM. He and middle son, Alexandre (aka Sacha) were both born on Christmas Day, in 1971 and 1973 respectively, poor things – as #4 son (born on Christmas Eve) says, you have to wait all year and everything comes at once. The third Trudeau son, Michel was born in October 1975, but was tragically killed aged only twenty-three in a skiing accident. His body was never found.

Nothing to do with June 30th, but Michel Trudeau’s lost-forever body reminded me of Harold Edward Holt, ditto. I came across him a few years ago when I was researching for a book, never having heard of him beforehand. Harold was Liberal (17th) Prime Minister of Australia from January 1966 until his disappearance in December 1967 when he got caught in a rip current, swimming at Cheviot Beach, Victoria.

Although he was a strong swimmer, he had injured his shoulder at the time, but that didn’t stop the conspiracy theorists coming up with such gems as he was abducted by aliens, faked his own death to run off with his mistress, was assassinated by the CIA or (my favourite!) had been whisked away by a Chinese submarine so that he could defect. Holt was big pals with the US President at the time, Democrat Lyndon B Johnson (in contrast to his frosty relationship with UK Labour PM Harold Wilson, whose widow, Mary died earlier this month aged 102!) and supported the American presence in Vietnam, pledging ‘All the way with LBJ’. It wasn’t until 2005 that an inquest ruled Holt’s death as accidental drowning.

Staying Down Under, I’ll just mention here that Olivia Newton John married  businessman, John Easterling on this day in 2008 in Florida – that’s exactly thirty-three years after Cher married singer-songwriter Gregg Allman, having divorced Sonny Bono four days earlier. And the beat goes on…




Another epic end of the month blog! Thanks so much Nell.

See you next time for our mutual birthday month!!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

End of the month: January’s End

I don’t know about you, but I am very glad to see January coming to an end. It seems to have been a very long, dark, wet, dismal month. What better way to cheer us up than to read Nell Peter’s end of the month round up?

Time for a cuppa and five minutes with m feet up I think.

Over to you Nell…

Hello! How’s it going, old fruits? Broken all those New Year resolutions yet? That’s the bulldog clip spirit.

A fair bit of that there spirit was required on NYE for anyone attending the London Eye fireworks. As I mentioned in my Dec 31st blog, the OH and I met up with three sons and a GF (#3 made it from Bangkok/Heathrow in good time!) to watch the display and stay over in Docklands. Next year, we will just do the hotel thing and watch the fireworks on TV – much safer!

We knew something was definitely amiss as we walked toward our entry point and met masses of people who were determinedly heading in the other direction. Never a good sign … They had the right idea, because very soon we hit the huge tailback to the entrance bottleneck, where people were waiting for literally hours to make it through security and ticket verification. A zillion crushed bodies were being pushed in whatever direction those behind chose. Felt sorry for the GF, who is only 5’3” and spent rather too long with her nose stuck in the back of whoever was in front of her – and none of us could see kerbs up or down, or the various Road Closed signs strategically placed in order to inflict maximum injury. Then there were the lethal baby buggies, despite the web site clearly stating that the event was unsuitable for children.

We made it through to our allotted area on Embankment with just a few minutes to spare before the whizzes and bangs started, and in no time had to rejoin the crush to make it out again, herded by marshals who had closed off a ridiculous number of exit roads, apparently on a whim. One hundred thousand tickets were sold at a tenner each, so that’s £1M – I think a few quid of that could be spared for better organisation? We used to take the boys before it became a ticketed event and it was all very civilised and secure, with a much better and relaxed atmosphere. #4 son was particularly disillusioned, because he so fondly remembered our visits when he was a young’un and wanted to recapture the experience.

Been chilly enough for you? Yours truly’s timbers have most definitely been shivering. I feel the cold really badly – in summer I always wear several layers more than everyone else, and from September through to May I do a pretty nifty impression of Michelin Man, even indoors.

Readers as ancient as me will remember the infamous winter of 1962-3, aka the Big Freeze. The beginning of that December was very foggy, with London encased in its last real smog before the Clean Air Act (1956) and the decline in coal fires had a real impact. These were the pea-soupers that Hollywood directors still appear to think are a typical and atmospheric part of London living, especially if Jack the Ripper happens to be lurking around the corner.

Snow fell over the UK on 12/13th December 1962, and an anticyclone formed over Scandinavia on 22nd, drawing cold continental winds from Russia. Over the Christmas period, although the Scandinavian high collapsed, a new one formed near Iceland, bringing northerly winds and significant snowfall to southern England late on 26 December and into 27th. I remember my elderly maternal grandparents were staying and wisely made no attempt to return home to Wimbledon (from Twickenham); in fact, they were still with us several weeks later, as the treacherous conditions were extended by further heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures until March 6th.


But elsewhere, the bulldog clip spirit was snapping very much into action – the beginning of January meant a return to school, a bus trip or one stop on the train for me. We’d never heard of Snow Days – as declared nowadays at the drop of a regulation brown velour school hat; perish the thought!

No wellies allowed, we slipped and slid our way hither and thither in regulation outdoor shoes – dreadful clumpy brown lace-ups with leather soles that held no purchase whatsoever, our spindly legs encased only in white knee length socks. Brrrr! PE and Games carried on as normal – we gels jogging up and down the frozen hockey pitch in ridiculously thin culottes, trying to restore blood flow to our extremities, whilst the games mistress stood on the sidelines, barking orders and blowing her whistle, clad in a huge sheepskin coat and fur-lined boots. ‘Tis a wonder any of us survived – no ChildLine then to come to our rescue.

Incidentally, the hideous brown-on-brown uniform didn’t improve much during the summer months, when gymslips were replaced by cotton dresses in a luminous flame colour so bright it was guaranteed to sear the retina, and could be easily spotted from outer space. And don’t get me started on the straw boaters …

On this day in 1597, John Francis Regis, French priest and saint was born – interesting occupation to have listed in your passport, if that were still a requirement (hasn’t been since 1982). John F died in 1640, thirty three years before another French priest and saint was born on 31st Jan – Louis de Montfort (died 1716). Say what you like, the French seem to have cornered the priest/saint market.

Having run out of French deities, let’s nip forward in time to the births of some people we may actually have heard of, starting with American Constance (Connie) Booth, writer, actress, comedienne and since she gave up acting in 1995, psychotherapist. Born in 1944, she has seventy-four candles on her cake today.

Connie was married to John Cleese for a decade from 1968 – she appeared in various Monty Python productions and both co-wrote and played the part of Polly the waitress/chambermaid in Fawlty Towers. Away from comedy, she starred in the title role of The Story of Ruth (1981), portraying the schizophrenic daughter of an abusive father – a performance for which she received critical acclaim. Maybe that sparked her interest in psychotherapy … maybe not.

Actor Anthony LaPaglia was born in 1959, although not as you might expect in the US, but Adelaide, South Australia – the inverse of Mel Gibson, who was born in New York, but sounds Australian, after his family relocated there when he was twelve … or is that just me?

Back to Anthony – a keen amateur goalie (Association Football), to earn a crust he has been in many series, including Murder One and Without a Trace, but was unable to take up the role of Tony Soprano due to other commitments. His younger brother, Jonathan, did appear in an episode of the Sopranos however as Michael the Cleaver – possibly not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley. Jonathan followed his brother to the US and into acting, because he felt ‘restricted’ as an emergency room doctor. Go figure.

A year after Justin Timberlake was born on 31st January 1981, 1982 produced a bumper crop of bonny babies who all have one thing in common – I’ve never heard of any of them. In no particular order, they are Maret Ani, Estonian tennis player; Yuniesky Betancourt, Cuban baseball player; Jānis Sprukts, Latvian ice hockey player; Yukimi Nagano, Swedish singer-songwriter; Brad Thompson, American baseball player; and a trio of footballers, Andreas Görlitz (Germany), Salvatore Masiello (Italy), and Allan McGregor (Scotland). Phew!

Moving along, broadcaster Terry Wogan died two years ago today, four years after the magnificently-named Tristram Potter Coffin, who didn’t quite make it to his ninetieth birthday on 13th February. His older sister was called Trelsie Coffin Buffum Lucas (1918–1987) – you don’t get many of those to the pound, I’m guessing. Through his father, TPC was a direct descendant of the Tristram Coffyn who was one of the original permanent settlers on Nantucket Island in 1660. Arriving in Massachusetts from Brixham, Devon, in 1659, he led a group of investors who bought Nantucket from Thomas Mayhew for thirty pounds and two beaver hats. Brilliant! He became a prominent citizen in the settlement and a number of his descendants established their importance in North American society, even without inheriting those all-important furry hats.

For example, Sir Isaac Coffin (1759–1839) served during the American Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and became an admiral in the British Royal Navy. Descendant Charles A Coffin (1844–1926) was co-founder and first President of the General Electric Corporation, and then a member of the ninth generation, one Robert P T Coffin (1892–1955), was an American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for his book of collected works, called Strange Holiness. Quite a dynasty. And the Coffin I started off with was no slacker – he was a folklorist and leading scholar of ballad texts in the 20th century. He spent much of his career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a professor of English and a co-founder of the Folklore Department. He published twenty books as well as more than a hundred scholarly articles and reviews. Way da go, Tris!

This day in 2000, GP Dr Harold Shipman was found guilty of murdering fifteen of his patients, making him Britain’s most prolific convicted serial killer – in reality, he is thought to have killed somewhere around two hundred and fifty people (the majority women) aged between forty-one and ninety-three, over a period of twenty-four years. Born the middle child of a working class family in 1946, Harold was known by his middle name Fred(erick), and was the favourite child of a domineering mother, Vera. She instilled in him a sense of superiority that tainted most of his later relationships, leaving him an isolated adolescent with few friends.

When his mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he willingly oversaw her care as she declined, fascinated by the positive effect that the administration of morphine had on her suffering – in terms of his future method of dispatch, the die was cast. Mum succumbed to her illness in June 1963 (just after the Big Freeze thawed!) Devastated by her death, he was determined to go to medical school, and was admitted to Leeds University for training two years later, having failed his entrance exams at the first attempt.

By 1974 Harold had joined a practice in Todmorden, Yorkshire, where he initially thrived as a family practitioner, before becoming addicted to the painkiller Pethidine. He forged prescriptions for large amounts of the drug, and was forced to leave the practice and enter a drug rehab programme, when caught out by his colleagues a year later. An inquiry led to a fine and a conviction for forgery, but he wasn’t struck off by the General Medical Council – they merely wrapped his knuckles in a stiff warning letter. Big mistake.

I imagine Connie Booth would agree that in many ways Shipman is an analyst’s dream – middle child syndrome; overbearing mother; egocentric; lack of compassion for his victims; lack of conscience etc. etc. He obviously thought he was invincible, as he worked his way through his mostly elderly case list, eventually coming to grief only when the lawyer daughter of one of his victims smelled a big fat juicy rat because a second will emerged, leaving everything to Shipman. She had always handled her wealthy mother’s affairs, so alerted authorities and the investigative ball was set in motion.

The doctor hung himself in his cell on the eve of his fifty-eighth birthday, ensuring that his wife Primrose (who had quite possibly parachuted into the domineering female role vacated by his mother) received the maximum pension payout, since he died before he was sixty. Morally questionable? I couldn’t possibly comment.

As Franklin D Roosevelt’s Vice President, another Harold – well Harry, actually, as in Harry S Truman, (OK, a bit of a stretch there!) had been inaugurated into the post of chief banana when FDR died suddenly. This day in 1950, as 33rd (Democrat) President of the US he publicly announced support for the development of a hydrogen bomb. Scary. But perhaps he’d been consulting his crystal ball, as in June that year, the North Korean army under Kim Il-sung (are they all called Kim?) invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War; plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


With that stunning demonstration of linguistic ability, I’ll bid you adios, amigo.

Thanks for having me, Jen!




Thanks Nell! So glad to have this month ticked off the list! Let’s hope February gives us the chance to warm up and put the umbrella’s away for a while!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

End of the month- and year- blog from Nell Peters

Once again- and for the last time in 2017- I welcome the fantastic Nell Peters to my blog to give us a monthly roundup of events.

So grab a cuppa, settle down, and have a read.

Over to you Nell…

Hi, everyone! Take a break from eating the leftover turkey sandwiches for a mo and step inside – don’t panic, that’s as far as my Cilla Black impression goes … chook.

New Years Eve is always a time for reflection and resolution, past times and planning – plus any other alliteration you care to come up with. What have I learned this year? More than anything to Carpe the jolly old Diem, since none of us knows what might be lurking just around the corner to lob a spanner in the works. The fickle finger of fate may well interfere to ensure you don’t actually get to do those things you are putting off until it’s more convenient/you can better afford it/there’s an R in the month. Just do it!

Other sage pieces of advice from me to me include, in no particular order;

  • Don’t bother ordering a gluten free meal in BA Business Class in future (assuming you ever get to fly at the front of the plane again) – you know they are rubbish and you are better off chewing the plastic tray, or staying hungry while you enjoy the ‘free’ drinks.
  • You shared a childhood with your cousins, Keith and Barbara – keep in touch! This after I met them again at my dad’s funeral after 22 and 8 years respectively.
  • Try to remember Carey Mulligan is an actress, not a singer – you have even seen Suffragette! Barbara mentioned that her daughter is now married to CM’s brother – thought the name rang a vague bell, just picked the wrong option … Duh! And no, the tenuous connection that she is married to Marcus Mumford of the band, Mumford and Sons does not get you off the squirmy hook.

  • Don’t go anywhere with the OH’s colleague, Richard. He survived being badly stabbed and beaten on London Bridge in June only because a) he’s super fit and b) an off-duty soldier lay on top of him to stop the bleeding and save his life. Richard then emerged unscathed from the shootings in Las Vegas – there for a charity swim. Things happen in threes.
  • Remember James (Jim) Angel as the huge personality he was when you cavorted around California with him decades ago, not the shell he became through dementia. He flies high now – so should you.
  • No matter what your mother drummed into you repeatedly, you do not have to keep a stiff upper lip at all times.
  • There are many, many fantastic people around and you know a lot of them, either in person or on line. Perhaps consider that since they associate with you, you are not totally bad yourself?
  • Remember the AA Milne quote, ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’ You gave each of the GDs a locket with that engraving, so maybe take it on board yourself?

  • Even though you live in a draughty old house that costs a small fortune to heat, turn the boiler on!
  • You need to majorly improve your work/life balance.
  • Having said that, you also need to get back to some serious writing – there’s the third part of a trilogy to finish and two other WIPs wanting attention, plus so much more. You have been faffing around for many months doing dutiful daughter stuff. Enough! Oh, and while you’re at it, get a decent publisher.
  • You have skinny legs – so what? They’ve held you up for decades, haven’t they?

I think that’s enough of that, don’t you? As you are reading this (and assuming all goes to plan) we will be travelling to London for the New Years Eve celebrations and meeting up with three sons and partners. We used to go every year before the boys fled the nest and stay over, but we haven’t done so for a few years. You have to buy tickets now and take up your position in the zone you’re allocated – we are all A, which is just as well, as there is no hopping around wherever you fancy. In a truly insane moment, I said I’d treat everyone to their hotel rooms – NYE has always been premium rate, but now the cost is astronomical and my debit card is weeping buckets. Note to self: look up prices before opening stupid mouth. I didn’t take up the breakfast option … Speaking of buckets, I hope there will be large numbers of handy Portaloos.

#3 will typically be cutting it fine, as his plane lands at Heathrow around 5.30 pm – he’s not home for Christmas as he has a previous engagement, sailing around the Philippines on a luxury yacht for a week and then a week in Phuket. How very stressful for him. As I type, I’m not clear where he’s flying from, but I hope he turns up! And when he does, I’ll bet he still hasn’t got a suntan – he’s never been a sun worshipper, but how anyone can spend all that time in really hot climates and remain whiter than the whitest maggot, is quite beyond me. His brothers have christened him ‘Insipid of India’. His is a flying visit – back to Mumbai on 3rd January.

Once we are into January, it will no doubt be impossible to avoid being bombarded with stuff about the royal wedding – snore. I see it is to be held in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which is where I was almost christened. Let me explain; Unc – my great uncle Keith, more formally known as The Reverend Canon Keith Harman – lived in Bermuda and within his island parish (or whatever it would be called) were both a military base and a leper colony. He was married to and divorced from a famous American concert pianist, though if I ever knew her name it’s now forgotten. I don’t know if the disgrace of divorce was the cause, but Unc was sent to Windsor for a year on some sort of exchange programme.

Not much of a punishment though, because as a keen photographer he was given the run of the castle and permission to take pics of the royal nippers. He was regularly invited to lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip and somewhere in Windsor there is the Harman Clock, presented to him as a token of thanks. His big sister – my paternal grandmother – must have dined out on that for years. I was a baby during Unc’s Windsor sortie and said grandmother arranged every detail of my christening at St George’s Chapel, unfortunately neglecting to consult my mother – a battle of control freaks ensued and my mother won. Incidentally, I don’t know if it’s in the genes or name, but my aforementioned cuz Keith is a pro snapper of some renown.

Quite a few musical events have happened over the years on NYE – starting with the premier performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera, The Pirates of Penzance in New York City, 1879. A mere eighty-two years later (1961), the Beach Boys gigged together for the first time using that band name. In the original line-up were brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis (drummer, and the only one in the group who actually surfed) Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine.

In the summer of 1968, when everything was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, Dennis took under his wing an unknown and strange long-haired rocker called Charlie, who sang in a random way and talked of mystical things.

The Beach Boys – along with the Beatles and others, were already disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of transcendental meditation, so perhaps the mystical bit appealed. Peace, man. Not much peace and love the following year, though, when Charlie – better known as Charles Manson, who died in November – incited his ‘family’ to commit brutal and ritualistic murder.

On NYE 1963, a young Jerry Garcia and an even younger Bob Weir played together for the first time – but not at a gig. Weir (16) was wandering the back alleys of Palo Alto (San Francisco Bay area), with another underage friend, looking for a club that would admit them, when they heard banjo music. They followed the sound to Dana Morgan’s Music Store, where Jerry (having forgotten the significance of the date) was waiting for his students to arrive. Weir and Garcia spent the night playing music together and then decided to form a band – take a bow, the Grateful Dead via a couple of other names.

In 1966, the Monkees’ I’m a Believer made it to the number one spot and hung on there for a further seven weeks. Paul McCartney chose NYE 1970 to file a lawsuit to dissolve The Beatles. 1st January did not become a bank holiday until 1974 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – that was the year Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac. Two years later The Cars played their first gig.

Rick Allen became Def Leppard’s drummer aged fifteen in 1978, just before the band signed their recording contract. Result! He lost his left arm in a car accident 31/12/84, but ignored medical predictions that he would never play again, and re-joined the band less than two years later to perform with the help of a semi-electronic drum kit. His live performance comeback was an emotional event, and Rick admits to shedding a tear – quickly followed by the fear that he’d be electrocuted if the tears hit his metal pedals.

Barbra Streisand seems to enjoy warbling on New Years Eve – in 1993 she gave her first live public concert in twenty-seven years at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, when ticket prices ranged from $50 to $1500. That made her the highest paid concert performer in history. Six years later in 1999, Streisand returned to the concert stage, tickets selling out in the first few hours, eight months before the show. At the end of the millennium, she was the number one female singer in the US, with at least two #1 albums in each decade since she began performing. Not too shabby.

Who has a NYE birthday? #4 son was expected on 31st December, but feared he might be missing out on presents and so brought things forward to Christmas Eve – the only one who was early. Our beautiful niece, Francesca, was far better behaved and turned up on her due date – she’s twenty-seven today. Way da go, Fran! French modernist artist and sculptor Henri Matisse would be blowing out a lot of candles on his cake today, if he hadn’t died in 1954 (aged eighty-four.) He began painting at twenty while recovering from an appendectomy and his style was influenced by (amongst others) Vincent Van Gogh – although he quickly developed his own unique approach to colour and form. Matisse was arguably one of the most influential painters of the twentieth century.

North of the border, we have some Hogmanay birthdays, starting with Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1720, who was born in Rome to exiled Stuart King James VII (Scotland) and II (England and Ireland) – the last Roman Catholic monarch.

Bonnie Prince Charlie spent just a year in Scotland, in his attempt to rally support and battle his way to London to claim the English throne for his father from George II. His was a win some, lose more campaign, and following a decisive defeat at Culloden Moor, he spent months on the run, disguised first as a ship-wrecked merchant, Mr Sinclair, and then as a woman, Betty Burke. Aided by wee Flora MacDonald, he eventually escaped to France.

The not so bonnie Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond checked into Linlithgow, Scotland in 1954. The Former First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party was originally an economist and worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland – enough said. Following the referendum result in September 2014, he resigned both positions and left us to the mercy of Nicola Sturgeon, keeping up the fishy surname theme.

Next up is (Paul) Dominik Diamond born in Arbroath in 1969, a television and radio presenter and newspaper columnist (Daily Star – that’s a newspaper?) who spreads (get it?) himself around the UK and Canada. I’ve never heard of the guy – who studied drama at Bristol Uni with David Walliams – but apparently he is best known as the original presenter of Channel 4’s video gaming programme, GamesMaster from 1992-8. This was the first ever UK TV show dedicated to computer and video games and featured star man Sir Patrick Moore in pre-recorded inserts as the ‘Games Master’ – with or without monocle, I wonder?

Last but not least, vocalist, songwriter and musician Malcolm Bruce Middleton (any relation, I wonder?) rocked up in Dumfries on the last day of 1973, which was a Monday. It was also the day that as a result of coal shortages caused by industrial action in the UK, the Three Day Week electricity consumption reduction rules came into force. Oh happy days – I wonder if the first-footer-bearing-coal Hogmanay tradition was affected by the shortage? I doubt little Malcolm cared. Before teaming up with Aidan Moffat to form Arab Strap (a post-folk indie band) in 1995, he played bass, guitar and sang in several bands in the early 1990s, including Purple Bass Plectrum, Rabid Lettuce (I so love that!), Pigtube and The Laughing Stock.

So, Happy Birthday to all those mentioned who are still breathing, and Happy 2018 to everyone else.

Thanks for having me, Jenny – see you next year!




A huge thank you Nell – another wonderful blog. 

I can’t thank you enough for all the laughs you have given myself and my fellow blog readers this year. You’re wonderful.

Have a fantastic – and less stressful – 2018!!

Happy reading everyone

Jenny xx


End of the month blog with Nell Peters: Goodbye November

As we speed with way too much haste towards the end of 2017, I’m delighted to hand my blog over once again to the brilliant Nell Peters. I wonder what she has found out for us this month…

Over to you Nell…

Thanks for having me again, Jenny! Happy St Andrew’s Day, everyone – and to all NaNoWriMo participants, take a break! Your job is almost done.

November didn’t start brilliantly chez moi. The Saturday before we came home from our brilliant-but-too-short hols, #2 son supervised installation of a (ludicrously expensive!) high-rise, disabled-friendly upstairs loo at my mother’s house. The old one was low-ish and being a bit wonky on her feet now, she sometimes had difficulty sitting down on it, despite the grab handles each side. Super Plumber did a grand job, as always, but mentioned in passing that he didn’t have absolute confidence in the flushing mechanism.

How right he was – I had hardly made it down the aircraft steps at London City, when I had a text from the early carer telling me that the new toilet had stopped flushing. Since I’m four hours away, quite what she expected me to do about it, wasn’t clear. The rest of the day passed with me tearing my hair out in clumps, trying to get the damned thing fixed at such time when a carer (any carer!) would be at the house to give access. No joy – eventually #2 ended up driving two hours from Cambridge after work, to meet Super Plumber at the house at 8.30 pm. We also booked SP to replace the faulty unit asap. Two days after Flushgate, I got a call from another carer to say the washing machine had broken …

The stressing didn’t stop there – I didn’t see the OH for over two weeks because his colleague’s son was rushed to hospital with suspected (later confirmed) meningitis and so OH was working insane hours down at their London base, holding the fort. I’m pleased and relieved to report that the little boy responded very well to treatment and made a full recovery. Kudos to the parents who didn‘t hang around and got him immediate treatment as soon as they realised something was wrong. Not such a happy ending for #4 son’s much-admired boss, though – he died soon after being diagnosed with cancer and #4 was heartbroken, especially after losing his beloved grandfather a short while before.

But let’s move on. Hands up who has a birthday today – I mentioned Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Gary Lineker, David Nicholls and John Bishop last year, so best not repeat myself or Jen will give me the sack. The first fist I see waving madly in the air belongs to William Michael Albert Broad (one of the Norfolk Broads, I hear you ask?) who is better known to most as Billy Idol – he’s sixty-two, so perhaps a little long in the tooth to still be described as a punk rocker. You decide. The stage name Idol evolved from a school teacher accusing him of being idle, but not wanting to be confused with Monty Python’s Eric Idle (as if!) Billy opted for the alternative spelling – so perhaps not the huge ego trip that calling oneself Idol suggests.

Next up, we have journalist and TV presenter, the ubiquitous Lorraine Kelly, who is fifty-eight today. I’ve never watched any of her programmes but I have seen her prancing around the screen advertising frocks and fripperies – just don’t ask me the brand name.

In a survey, Kelly was voted the celebrity from whom most people would like to buy a car – an honour of sorts, but not really comparable to receiving an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Dundee (2008), being made an Honorary Colonel in the Black Watch Cadets (2009), and receiving an OBE in the 2012 New Year Honours List.

American Criminal Minds actor and singer, Mandel Bruce (Mandy) Patinkin is sixty-five today. Born in Chicago, Illinois he got the smell of the greasepaint as a young teen, singing in synagogues, before training at the Julliard School performing arts conservatory in NYC. One of his contemporaries there was Kelsey Grammer (Cheers!) and other alumni include Robin Williams, Kelly McGillis, Kevin Spacey (can I still mention him?), Val Kilmer and Linda Kozlowski – better known as the ex-Mrs Crocodile Dundee. Keeping his tonsils exercised, Mandy P sings a rather lovely version of Younger than Springtime from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific here; In our local cemetery, a baby girl’s tiny teddy bear gravestone is touchingly engraved with the song title.

What has happened historically on this day, I hear you ask? Well … way, way back when, there were a few Pope-related shenanigans, starting when St Marcellus I began his reign as Catholic chief banana, in the year 306. Skip forward a little over four centuries and Pope Gregory II declared Boniface (previously known as Winfred – not sure which is worse) as a missionary bishop to Germany (722.) Not sure what that is, but I assume Boniface was a happy bunny.

Pope Innocent III was perhaps inappropriately named – I couldn’t possibly comment – being a little big for his papal boots. He even looks a bit shifty in his portrait *cowers, awaiting well-aimed boulder to land on head*. Surrounded by intrigue from the moment the white smoke billowed forth to gas everyone and signal his election – on the very day in 1198 that his predecessor, Celestine III expired – the Pontiff previously known as Lotario de’ Conti, became ever more autocratic.

Papal power was already based on far more than scriptures – previous popes had acquired large amounts of land, so that bishops and clergy were, in effect, agents of Vatican business. Pope Innocent III’s increased involvement in elections escalated when he formed the Fourth Lateran Council and summoned approximately twelve hundred bishops, abbots and nobles from around Europe to assist in amending current laws and creating new ones – thus further influencing the masses (religion being their opium) to support the Pope as the universal authority of the Empire. Rocking a bit of a superiority/God complex there … Innocent (wonder if he liked smoothies? Sorry!) shut up the FLC shop on this day in 1215.


In 1406 Angelo Correr was elected Pope Gregory XII, exactly one hundred and forty-eight years before England reconciled with Pope Julius III in 1554. That was less than nine months after Nine Day Queen, Lady Jane Grey was executed for treason aged just sixteen. Thought I’d throw in that random fact for general consumption, to check if you are still awake. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labour) was published – or that’s what it says on the site that I frequently consult. However, when I went on to do further research, more than one other web site gave the publication date as 15th May 1891 – I shall write to my MP and complain.

Meanwhile, back in the real-ish world, Rerum Novarum examines the history of Catholic social thought, establishing the RC position on issues surrounding the relationship between capital and labour (sound familiar?) – a hypothesis that emphasizes the duties and obligations that bind owners of capital and workers to each other.

Leo articulates the dignity of labour and labourer, renouncing both radical socialism and unrestrained capitalism – call me picky, but that’s a bit rich coming from the leader of a regime that owns much land, and enjoys massive wealth and obscene privilege, while the peasants bow, scrape and starve. The work defends both private property (cue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and others spinning in their graves) and the right of workers to form unions.

Now, I invite you all to hop aboard the Tardis and fly with me to 2015, when the current incumbent, 266th Pope and ex-nightclub bouncer, Francis, urged peace while visiting a controversial mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic on 30th November – a champion of inter-faith dialogue, it perhaps wouldn’t have hurt to mention his previous career to any would-be agitators. As popes go, Jorge Mario Bergoglio – who took his nom-de-Pontiff in homage to St Francis of Assisi (a contemporary of ol’ Innocent III) – does seem like an OK guy.

He is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas (born in Buenos Aires), the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from outside Europe for many centuries. Plus, of course, he’s the first to ascend the throne after his predecessor did a bunk while still breathing – though in Benedict XVI’s case he presumably didn’t use the well-worn excuse that he wanted to spend more time with his family. Francis favours a less formal approach to office, championing the poor and preferring to live in a boarding house rather than Vatican magnificence – even his vestments are less opulent than those who poped before, although he still walks around in a dress.

Someone else who wore a dress, albeit fashioned from a bed sheet, was Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, who is getting a mention for the second month running – he can pay me later in wine. The eponymous film, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley and John Gielgud (all Sirs, I believe) premiered in New Delhi on this day in 1982. At the 1983 Oscars, it walked away with the gold painted statuette for Best Picture.

Any one for tennis? On 30/11/1986 Ivan Lendl became the first player to earn over $10 million in his lifetime – a massive amount of money now, even more so thirty years ago … Surprisingly, and although he won zillions of titles worldwide, the one that eluded him was Wimbledon (where I was born!) On-off coach to Andy Murray – I never could warm to him – Ivan must be a brave man to take on Judy Murray’s little boy, though not quite as brave as Kim Sears who now calls her ma-in-law. Scary woman.

You know there’s always a most-popular name for children of every era, sometimes influenced by slebs, sometimes not? When I was weeny, there were wall-to-wall Susans – but my mother had decided from a very young age that should she ever have a daughter, she would be called Anne. This was after she read Anne of Green Gables, by Canadian author Lucy Maud (LM) Montgomery, who was born on the last day of November in 1874. Like Lorraine Kelly, LM was awarded an OBE (in 1935.)

Princess Anne arrived a month after me and threw a spanner in the moniker works – the world was suddenly swamped with girls called Anne, which must have wiped the smug look from my mother’s face in record time. She called my sister Gillian – not, as far as I know, after any fictional character – and Gill/Gilli/never Gillian has hated it for every second of her sixty years. Oh, in case you were wondering, Nell Peters is a pen name, pinched from my parents’ Christian names because my real surname is an awfully big mouthful.

#3 son came back from India/Thailand on 15/11 for a couple of weeks and hasn’t stopped complaining about the cold since he landed. I’m just waiting for him to mention that his accommodation isn’t a patch on the rather swish apartments he now has in Mumbai and Bangkok – however, our house is free, which may make it a little more attractive. He’s flying out again on 4/12, and we’ll see him again on NYE when most of us are meeting up in London for the celebrations.

Over Christmas, he’s sailing around the Philippines on what looks like rather a flash yacht – just to compete, I may ask for a ride around The Wash on one of our neighbour’s fishing fleet … His wife appeared on the doorstep recently, asking if the OH (who is very big on fish – eating them, that is) would like a few spares for the freezer. Transferring from her plate to mine, one of the corpses did a Lazarus and leapt onto the path in a bid for freedom – cue embarrassingly girly squeals from both of us. She assured me it was definitely deceased, but once in my kitchen it did another death defying leap from draining board to floor and flip-flopped around, making itself at home. Enter the ‘fisher of men’ to sort, while I averted my eyes, and along with its shoal buddies, it’s been reclining in the freezer for a few days now – no more flying fish acrobatics.

And now I too must fly – away on my broomstick to wrong rights.

See you NYE?




We certainly want to see you In the New Year…if you can face it! In the meantime…go and have a rest. No ones watching- go on…sneak five minutes before life strikes again!

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx


End of the Month Blog: Nell’s Gone Aussie!

Is it me, or are the months just rushing by? 

Believe it or not, it’s that time again…Over to Nell!!!

G’day, cobbers. Nice of you to drop by – I’ll just throw another shrimp on the barbie and grab some tinnies from the fridge … OK, I’m feeling so much better now I’ve got that bit of blatant stereotyping out of my system. To be fair, despite my late father-in-law being born and bred in Australia, I’m pretty sure I never heard him say ‘cobber’, ‘barbie’ or ‘tinnies’. Not even a random ‘g’day’ …

Staying with the antipodeans for a mo, and jumping on the bandwagon of all the WWI hundredth anniversaries being celebrated (if that’s the right word?) between 2014 and 2018, on this 243rd day of the year in 1918, the Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin began. This was a successful assault by the Australian Corps during the Hundred Days Offensive, aka a rapid series of Allied victories starting with the Battle of Amiens. Defences were weakened by continual Aussie raids, the troops employing a process called ‘peaceful penetration’, which forced the German retreat from France to beyond the Hindenburg Line. Thereafter an armistice was declared. Call me picky, but a sentence that includes ‘raids’, ‘penetration’ and ‘retreat’ doesn’t immediately convey to me a particularly ‘peaceful’ option.

Former Melbourne lawyer Robert Menzies (which he pronounced Ming) and his funny eyebrows didn’t serve in WWI, even though he was of age, but he did authorise Australia’s entry into World War II in September 1939, when he was leader of the United Australian Party (UAP).

However, in 1941 he spent four months in England contributing to Churchill’s War Cabinet powwows, and upon his return found he had lost the party’s support – how very fickle of them. Ming resigned as Prime Minister and in time helped form the Australian Liberal Party, being elected as its inaugural leader on this day in 1945. He again took office as PM in December 1949 and stayed put until 26th January 1966 (Australia Day), when he resigned.

Born in 1940, multi-award winning Australian actor Jack Thompson celebrates his seventy-seventh birthday today. That wasn’t his name at birth, though – step forward baby John Hadley Pain. The poor little chap was just four when his mother died, leaving his merchant seaman father unable to care for him and his brother, David. He was sent to an orphanage by his aunt and from there was adopted by John and Pat Thompson – hence the change of surname. Film reviewer Peter Thompson (also my dad’s name) is his adoptive brother – I’ve never heard of him either.

The Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are? featured the actor in its first episode in 2008, discovering that his great-grandfather was Captain Thomas Pain, and his great-great uncle Alfred Lee, a prominent figure in Sydney society. Philanthropist Alfred donated the journal of Sir Joseph Banks, British naturalist and explorer, documenting Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia in the 1770s to the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Bonza!

Other actors sharing this birthday are; Richard Gere (loved Pretty Woman! 1949), Roy Castle (1932), James Coburn (1928), Buddy Hackett (1924) and Richard Basehart (1914). Although a pianist rather than actor, American Big Tiny Little (1930) earns his place on the list simply by virtue of his odd name. Using that criterion, let’s throw in Roman Emperors Caligula (scary chap! 12) and the outright winner, Commodus (161).


People born under the Virgo sign are typically analytical, kind, hardworking and practical. They tend to worry, are shy and don’t like to be the centre of attention, as they are modest, faithful, and quiet folk. With a tendency to be persuasive, they have a good memory* and sense of reasoning and are skilled at detailed work. Virgos are also known for their intellect and usually embrace art, literature, science, or mathematics.

Shall we plant our tootsies firmly back on British soil? In my August 2016 blog I mentioned that it was the OH’s birthday on the 31st – funnily enough, it is again this year. At least he’s consistent. (*Can I just mention here that he has a memory like a leaking sieve and is persuasive only because he is like a dog with a bone and doesn’t give up, so that others eventually lose the will to live and capitulate?) Again, it’s the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, twenty years ago now – a twentieth wedding anniversary is china, but I’m not entirely sure how that would translate to the anniversary of a death. Quite possibly in no way at all, although I’d hazard a wild guess some wannabe entrepreneur somewhere has mass-manufactured a tacky commemorative mug. Was it really two decades ago that the accident happened, opening the floodgates for conspiracy theorists everywhere – not to mention making lots of florists rich when the public en masse bought bouquets, only to leave them rotting outside Kensington Palace in a public display of grief?

I didn’t watch Diana’s funeral on TV, although I have seen various clips of it over the years, most poignantly her two young sons following her coffin under the gaze of a worldwide audience. In contrast to all the pomp and ceremony that accompanied Diana’s day, I have recently organised a funeral on the other end of the scale – an occasion as low key as possible, to minimise my mother’s confusion when we buried my father; the aforementioned Peter Thompson. My mother has vascular dementia (as did my father) and is basically away with the fairies. Lucky her.

Because he had no religious conviction whatsoever, we opted for a graveside ceremony only in order to shorten proceedings. Overcoming pronounced differences in height, my sons and niece were pallbearers of a coffin decorated with Spitfires – although Peter wasn’t a pilot, his father was during WWI (not flying Spitfires, obvs – Sopwith Camels, I believe) and it was most likely his influence that fired an interest in vintage aircraft in his youngest son, who had quite an impressive collection of dust-attracting models. On the coffin lid sat a single red rose (donations to charity in lieu of flowers) and a battered old trilby that my father insisted on wearing to annoy the grandchildren, having a whole shelf of much newer/smarter hats in his wardrobe.

Instead of a priest or celebrant, we used the services of the Conductor; he was part of the funeral director’s staff, in charge of the proceedings and making sure everything ran smoothly. It was him who read out a short eulogy and tributes written by the grandchildren – he didn’t look at all like Mr Conductor of Thomas the Tank Engine fame. Well, not much. When it was over, we all adjourned to a local hotel for some much-needed alcoholic refreshment and buffet food – not a stale sausage roll to be seen – and in a final act of symbolism, each grandchild launched a black star helium balloon skyward from the car park. This may have given pilots taking off from Heathrow one or two worrying moments.

I was talking over the garden fence to neighbour David recently – his mother died a few weeks before my father, and he so rightly observed that there’s nothing like a death/funeral to bring out the very worst in people. No horror story I could relate beats the behaviour of his step-father, who refused to let David and his sister into their family home, after his wife died. He also arranged an alternative, rival wake to David’s, following the funeral that David organised and paid for, and – most bizarre of all – ordered from the florist an ostentatious wreath spelling out HUSBAND, to ride along with the coffin! Huh?

That should surely be termed a grave offence – so sorry! Nowt so strange as folk, as they say. Those shenanigans are pretty hard to top, so I won’t try and I’ll say toodles, until we meet again.


Huge thanks as ever hun. Fun, thought provoking, moving and- as an added bonus- a history lesson. Love it.

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


Nell Peters: End of the Month Blog. Caretaking for Jenny in July

Hello! It’s just us this month as Jenny has been foolish enough to go on holiday and leave me in charge for a day – so come on in; the world is our bucket of jellied eels. Urgh. Talking about eels, I recently had a slightly bizarre conversation with someone who told me that eels really mess up fishing tackle if they are caught on a rod and line – their slime gloops all over the place as they struggle to get free and it royally gums up the works. With that unsavoury image lurking, let’s move on, shall we?

July is the seventh month of the year (Wiki very helpfully qualifies this as falling between June and August for the benefit of any Martians who happen to be swotting up on earth months) in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and the fourth month to have thirty-one days. The Roman Senate renamed Quintilis as July in honour of their general, Gaius Julius Caesar, it being his birth month. I wonder if that was before or after the unfortunate ‘Et tu, Brute?’ incident on the Ides of March, when JC should have worn his Kevlar toga? But all you really need to know is that the most important day in July falls on the thirteenth, when Jenny and I celebrate our birthdays. You forgot again, didn’t you? Tsk.

This is on average the warmest month in most of the northern hemisphere (coldest in the south), kicking off the second half of the year after the longest day in June. ‘Dog Days’, or the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer, begin early on when the hot, sultry weather starts – in theory, at least. Spring lambs, born in late winter or early spring, are usually sold before July 1st.

July is also traditionally known as ‘fence month’ or the closed season for deer in England. Trinity Term (sitting of the English High Court of Justice), ends on the 31st, and the elections of the Japanese House of Councillors, replacing half its seats, are held every three years – the latest in 2016. In Ancient Rome the festival of Poplifugia was celebrated on July 5th, and Ludi Apollinares began on July 13th, lasting for several days, although these dates do not correspond to the modern Gregorian calendar. Don’t really know why I mentioned them then…

I mentioned the High Court a few lines back; last July – Friday 9th, I believe – #3 son and I went to the funeral of an old neighbour in Chiswick, a brilliant man called Dr John Anthony Roberts CBE QC DCL FCI.Arb, a High Court Judge, whose biography is quite fascinating.

We met one Sunday morning when I was teaching #3 son (it’s always him, isn’t it?) – aged about two – to ride his tricycle down the pavement of our quiet road, because the gardens were tiny and he kept riding into walls. I’m pleased to report his spatial awareness has improved with age and (to my knowledge) he’s never driven any of the flash cars he’s so fond of into a wall, or anything else.

Unfortunately, that day the little chap got a bit carried away with his peddling and crashed into the wheel of Dr Roberts’ parked Rolls Royce, which he was cleaning – trees lining the road bore huge purple berries which the birds gobbled greedily, and when nature took its course, all the cars got covered with toxic purple poo, which was the devil to get off without destroying the paint job. No damage was done to the Roller *breathes huge sigh of relief and cancels remortgage application* and there began an unusual friendship between the two of them that lasted more than a quarter of a century.

John’s great grandfather, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and became the first President of Liberia. His grandfather, John Anthony Roberts (Snr.), born in Liberia, was a cable engineer who worked in Brazil, America and England, between 1891 and 1892. John was born in Sierra Leone in May 1928 to John Anthony Roberts (Jnr. – this is starting to get confusing)), a Brazilian – his mother (whose name I can’t find) was born in Sierra Leone, a descendant of liberated Africans who chose to return after the Slave Trade was abolished. That’s some heritage.

He came to the law relatively late – he was a civil servant in Sierra Leone before coming to the UK to join the RAF, where he qualified as an accountant before joining aircrew, and then returned to Sierra Leone to work in Air Traffic Control (at the invitation of the PM!) Back to the UK with a wife (Eulette, a midwife at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, where #3 was born) and son (Anthony John Roberts, thank goodness!) in tow. It was while he was again working as a Civil Servant here between 1964 and 1969 that he studied law part-time and got his degree. But if you want to practice as a barrister you need to join Chambers as a pupil for a year as general dogsbody earning a pittance to earn your wig, so to speak. After an unsuccessful search for a place, he was told he stood no chance whatsoever, because he was a) black and b) almost twice as old as the average pupil – so what did he do when he hit one of #3’s brick walls? He set up his own Chambers and over the years took on barristers and pupils of all colours and creeds. Oh, and women, who at that time would have found it even harder to gain a place than an older black man.

#3 did his work experience at those Chambers as a mini-Pupil and rather liked the life – especially when two of the younger barristers took him to the West Country for a day trip in an E-type Jag to collect some court papers. Have they never heard of the post or couriers? In the end, he didn’t read law, even though he had a place waiting for him post degree in Chambers. His choice and he now leads a rather enviable life flying around the world.

Before I move on, let me list just a few of Dr John Anthony Roberts’ achievements:

  • The first known person of African ancestry to be the Head of his Chambers in England and Wales.
  • The first person of African ancestry to be made a QC in England and Wales.
  • The first person of African ancestry to be made a Recorder of the Crown Court in England and Wales.
  • The first person of African ancestry to be appointed by the British Government to dependent territories as a High Court Judge of the Supreme Courts of the British Virgin Islands, and Anguilla, British West Indies.
  • The first Head of Chambers to accept seven female barristers at one time in 1975. A record during that era.

Phew! Lovely man with a huge personality and a huge laugh.

This was as far as I got with Jenny’s July blog before my father died unexpectedly.

Normal service will be resumed in August. Allegedly.







End of the month blog: June bustin’ out all over

It’s that time again! Let’s buckle up for another dip into Nell Peter’s end of the month reminisces… 

Hi Jen – and everyone else!

As the month totters to a close, was it a case of June bustin’ out all over? What does that even mean? When I was weeny, hearing the Rogers and Hammerstein song from Carousel on the radio, my lurid imagination pictured a rather buxom woman wearing a too-small blouse that strained at the seams to cover her modesty. Think Donald McGill postcards, or Beryl Cook-type painted ladies. In reality, of course, the lyrics refer to an exploding renewal of life for flowers and trees, plus all other things summery. Because I’m so easily amused, I’ll stick with my childish version.

June 2017 was not exactly a fun-filled thirty days. There was the General Election, rocking up on the 8th – as someone who typically shies away from making political comment, thereafter for me it came as a huge relief not to be bombarded with so many posts from others, championing their own particular favourite in the most blinkered, patronising and dogmatic fashion. Did they really think no one else capable of cogent reasoning, to weigh up pros and cons and sensibly make up their minds how best to vote? How very dare they? I’ll have them know I’m (thankfully) not as stupid as I look.

And the spats on social media if someone had the nerve to disagree! Some exchanges were simply amusing to those munching popcorn whilst indulging in a spot of spectator sport, others downright nasty. My lovely late brother-in-law used to vote Monster Raving Loony, because he couldn’t be doing with any of the other parties – he may have had a point. And at the end of the day, it’s probably fair to say nobody got the result they wanted, except perhaps the DUP, who must have thought all their birthdays came at once. That Arlene Foster looks a bit scary!

Before all the carnage at the Polls, #3 son made a brief, last minute trip home on June 1st to attend a friend’s wedding. Sadly, the date had to be massively brought forward because the bride’s father was given a short time to live. Son landed at Heathrow from Bangkok around 6 pm, got through customs and picked up a hire car to drive to Norfolk, stopping off at #4’s en route. To repay his brother’s hospitality, he broke the toilet seat in the downstairs loo before heading on here, arriving at gone midnight – the day of the wedding.

Up bright and early (well early, anyway) he sped off for a haircut and to buy a suit, shirt, tie and shoes to wear to the nuptials (he lives rather well on expenses and has grown out of the suits hanging in his wardrobe, playing hide and seek with the moths) – oh and a new toilet seat. As ever falling on his feet, Next had clobber packages on offer so he got himself sorted in record time, then back here, 2nd shower (can tell he’s been living in a hot climate), dressed, paraded for ‘does my bum look big in this?’ scrutiny, scribbled in a card and shoved in some money – all the friends did that to fund a honeymoon. Then he was gone, to pick up mate Charlie (also home for the occasion, but only from London – amateur!), leaving detritus and much dirty washing in his wake. Oh, and the huge open suitcase obstacle in the hall, guaranteed to cripple anyone entering the front door. By ten the next day he had returned from the venue, grabbed his stuff (including clean clothes) and left for Heathrow, to fly to Bangkok-Mumbai-Jaipur – rather him than me.

The first leg was a thirteen hour flight and #3 would have been roughly halfway through when Richard, a colleague of the OH, started walking across London Bridge with his brother-in-law (his wife being abroad on business.) They were minding their own business after dinner and drinks when a white van crashed and Richard ran toward it to help – I imagine when three men wielding very serious weapons leapt out he realised he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and decided to make himself scarce. He can’t remember; possibly not a bad thing.

He does vaguely recall sitting on the pavement, thinking he’d been punched and wondering where all the blood that was pooling underneath him was coming from – and why he couldn’t breathe. When he heard shots, he thought his end had come, but a soldier on leave had other ideas, pushed him down and lay on top of him to stop profuse bleeding from stab wounds that had penetrated spleen, diaphragm and lung; interesting but effective technique that they don’t actually teach at med school. And because of that soldier’s quick thinking, and the fact that he is super-fit, Richard will make a full recovery – physically at least.

Two days after that, I heard that my long-ago American friend James (Jim) Angel had died from Lewy Body dementia, a multisystem disease which, like all forms of dementia, cruelly turns the sufferer into an empty shell, a shadow of their former self. I knew that he had been diagnosed and was receiving treatment in a specialist care facility in Portland, Oregon – last Christmas a mutual friend sent me a photo of a frail, grey-haired old man looking blankly at Santa. He wasn’t much older than me. But let me tell you about the Jim I knew and adored (in a purely platonic way!):

He was a peace-loving draft dodger (Vietnam – can’t argue with him there), living in London with his first wife (also American and a trainee nurse), working at BA Heathrow as an aeronautical scientist.

About my height (5’ 9”), he wasn’t much less around his girth and had a Brian Blessed-type voice and laugh, though cuter because of the accent – especially when he called everyone ‘shit bag’ as a term of affection. Bearded with a mass of dark, curly long hair and always dressed like a scruffy hippy, his larger than life personality belied a pretty grim childhood; his father was an alcoholic and aged eleven, Jim discovered his mum’s body in the garage of their home after she’d shot herself. One can only imagine …

We didn’t share a taste in music – he Captain Beefheart, me far more prosaic stuff, but we did go to a lot of gigs, including Pink Floyd and Elton John, which he cringed all the way through. After his wife left him, he returned to the US and while I was living in Montreal, I flew to California and spent most of one summer there. It was a brilliant time – he bought a rust bucket car for touring and we camped in forests and on beaches (so cold, even in CA!), watching seals in the Pacific Ocean and collecting beautiful driftwood, which he thought he might turn into ‘something real neat’ when he got time. We also went skinny-dipping in creeks – my first and last time, as it’s me that creeks now!

The Chinese Exhibition was on in San Francisco and we queued for hours from dawn to see it – passing the time shivering and watching the mist roll from the hills to engulf the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, listening to eerie foghorns. When the time came for my return flight, I didn’t know I’d never see him in the flesh again, although we did communicate in other ways, but not for some years now. Fly high, Jim Angel – you are free.

After living with it at close-ish quarters for more than a decade, dementia has touched me (actually, more like hit me over the head with an iron bar!) more than usual during June, after my mother was taken to hospital following an early morning fall – although couldn’t remember what happened because she, like my father, suffers from the vascular form. So, off I went to sit on trains for four hours in order to imitate Florrie Nightingale on her less impressive days. Neither of my parents have any short term memory whatsoever and refuse to leave the house – they have a team of visiting carers to ensure they are fed, watered, clean and safe, most of whom are very good, a few not so much. Lately, my father spends all his time in bed and when he’s not sleeping, he’s barking orders through the house – he seems to have regressed to childhood, when the household retained several servants. Fortunately, the OH was able to base himself in Twickenham for the nine, very long, days that I spent chez folks, disappearing to Starbucks or the library to use the internet when required. Don’t tell him, but without his company and the very late dinners we shared in the garden when all was quiet, I would have quickly overtaken certifiably insane. My ears are worn out from conversations with medics and bods from all manner of agencies, many of whom contradict the others. Mum is home and all is quiet on the western front again – for how long, your guess is as good as mine.

In 2012, along with over three thousand other hopefuls, I submitted a radio drama script to the BBC Writers’ Room hoping to have it accepted for production.

My masterpiece made it through three weedings and made the final thirty, before it fell flat on its face at the final hurdle. I’ll leave you with an excerpt – Jack and Joyce are an elderly couple with dementia, and Glenda their long-suffering daughter.








JOYCE:                                           (REGISTERING) What on earth…? (LOUDER)

What are you doing out there, Jack? I’m making tea.

JACK:                                                   (OFF, MUFFLED THROUGH GLASS) I seem to have locked myself out, Majesty.

JOYCE:                                                You old fool. (HUFFING) Well where are the keys?

JACK:                                                   (OFF) I don’t know.

JOYCE:                                                Have you tried your dressing gown pocket?

JACK:                                                   (OFF) Erm…I’m not sure, I don’t remember.

JOYCE:                                                Well, have a look!

                                                                SFX: KEYS RATTLING THROUGH GLASS. THEN A KEY TURNING IN THE LOCK AND A DOOR OPENING.

JACK:                                                   I found them (LAUGHS) they were in my pocket all the time.

JOYCE:                                                What were you doing out in the garden anyway – you’ll catch a cold.

JACK:                                                   I went out to do something, but now I can’t remember what. Can I have a naughty, to warm me up? I don’t feel very well.

JOYCE:                                                I think I put the kettle on to make tea.

JACK:                                                   (LITTLE BOY SNIGGER) I’d rather have a naughty.

JOYCE:                                                Or did I make a pot of tea?

JACK:                                                   Is it Thursday today, Joyce?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know – have a look at the paper.

JACK:                                                   Where is it?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know. Shall I make tea?

JACK:                                                   Good idea, Majesty.

                                                                SFX: JOYCE OPENS THE FRIDGE. GLASS MILK BOTTLES CHINK.

JOYCE:                                                Oh dear; we do seem to have a lot of milk. Perhaps I should write a note for the milkman.

JACK:                                                   Why?

JOYCE:                                                No, you’re right – we’ll use it up, I expect. Or I’ll end up throwing it away…maybe I’ll put a note out next week.

JACK:                                                   What day is it today, Majesty?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know – is it Friday? I’m not sure… No, it can’t be Friday because the dustmen haven’t been. Or at least I didn’t hear them.

JACK:                                                   Do the dustmen usually come on Friday?

JOYCE:                                                Yes, except over Christmas and Easter – then you never know when they’ll turn up. (TUTS) Disgraceful, when we pay so much in rates, or whatever they call them now.

JACK:                                                   Did we put the rubbish out?

JOYCE:                                                Oh yes, I expect so. That doesn’t mean to say they’ll collect it though. They don’t always – probably because you didn’t give them a big tip at Christmas.

JACK:                                                   Is it time for a naughty yet? It’s for medicinal purposes; I don’t feel very well at all. I think maybe I should have stayed in bed.

JOYCE:                                                I wonder if the dustmen have been…or if we’ll have to wait until next week…

                                                                PAUSE FOR A MOMENT.

JACK:                                                   Do you remember my friend Ralph Windsor?

JOYCE:                                                Of course I do, Jack – he was your Best Man… and he had that nice wife from Scotland.

JACK:                                                   Scotland? I don’t remember that. Have we had breakfast yet?

JOYCE:                                                I’m not sure. Would you like some toast? I think we’ve got some bread left.

JACK:                                                   I fancy fish and chips…could we have fish and chips? Do you fancy fish and chips, Majesty?

JOYCE:                                                Someone has to go out and buy fish and chips and we’re not dressed. Anyway, I’m not sure if they’re open yet; shall I do some toast?

JACK:                                                   Okay, yes please. With marmalade…no, make it honey. I like honey, don’t you? And if I could have a naughty with it, that would be very nice.

JOYCE:                                                Now, did I make the tea? Or have we drunk it already?

                                                                PAUSE FOR A MOMENT.

JACK:                                                   My friend Ralph Windsor was a jolly nice chap…very clever. Is he dead, Joyce?

JOYCE:                                                I think so. Shall I put the kettle on?

JACK:                                                   Why did he die?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know.

JACK:                                                   Very clever boy, old Ralphie. I met him when we were seven – he’d dug a hole in the woods and when he went home for lunch I played in it. He came back and we started fighting over whose hole it was. (LAUGHS) Is he dead, now?

JOYCE:                                                Probably – I don’t think we’ve seen him for quite a while. Wasn’t his wife from Scotland?

JACK:                                                   Was she? Is she dead now? Do you know, I must be getting old because I can’t remember.

JOYCE:                                                I think she went back to Scotland…his wife. I forget her name.

                                                                SFX: TELEPHONE RINGS OFF IN THE HALLWAY, CONTINUING.

JACK:                                                   Is that someone at the door, Joyce?

JOYCE:                                                No, of course not – it’s the phone.

JACK:                                                   Who is it?

JOYCE:                                                How do I know?


JACK:                                                   Aren’t you going to answer it, Joyce – I don’t feel at all well. I may have to go back to bed.

JOYCE:                                                (SIGHS) Looks like I’ll have to – I wonder who it is.

JACK:                                                   Poor old Ralphie…such a nice chap – and clever with it too. He had a very important job in the war – I remember he was on several convoys that were attacked by U-boats… (BEAT) Ralph’s father was a Regimental Sergeant Major, then a Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower – he looked magnificent when he was all dressed up in his uniform. A real gentleman…

                                                                THE PHONE STOPS RINGING.

JOYCE:                                                They’ve hung up! They didn’t wait very long…no patience at all some people…Never mind – if it’s important they’ll ring back next week.

JACK:                                                   That’s what my dear old mum used to say. I think it was her, anyway.

JOYCE:                                                There was nothing ‘dear’ about your mother – she didn’t think I was good enough to marry into her precious family…Huh! Would you like a cup of tea? I could put the kettle on.

JACK:                                                   Yes please, Majesty – unless I could have a naughty instead? I feel a bit rough – I think I should go back to bed.

JOYCE:                                                Well go back to bed, if you really think you should. I’ll make tea.

JACK:                                                   I remember meeting Ralph’s dad on the station once – he was all dressed up in his regalia. Magnificent – I felt I should salute him. Pucker gentleman, he was.

JOYCE:                                                What did you have for breakfast?

JACK:                                                   Damned if I can remember. (BEAT) Is it Monday today?

JOYCE:                                                I expect so. (BEAT) What do you fancy for lunch? (BEAT) I really must get my hair cut – I’ll make an appointment next week. (BEAT) I think I’ll get a shower now.



JOYCE:                                                (FROSTILY) Oh hello; it’s you, Glenda. I wasn’t expecting you – is it Saturday today?

GLENDA:                                            Yes, it’s Saturday. I tried ringing earlier – but there was no reply.

JOYCE:                                                Oh, I was probably out shopping.

GLENDA:                                            (VO) Pull the other one – you haven’t been out shopping since Elvis was breathing. (TO JOYCE) Never mind, I’m here now – shall I put the kettle on?

JOYCE:                                                What a good idea, I fancy a cup of tea. So, how are the girls? We haven’t seen them for a very long while.

GLENDA:                                            (TO JOYCE) Chloe was here in the week, Mum. She made you a nice chicken casserole. (VO) Stop wasting your breath. (TO JOYCE) They are all fine, thanks, except Claire’s a bit worried about these ‘A’ level exams she’s got coming up. If she doesn’t get the grades, she won’t get into her first choice of university so she’s panicking a bit.

JOYCE:                                                That’s nice dear – just hang your jacket on the banister and we’ll go on through to the kitchen.


JOYCE:                                                Ooh – is that something for me?

GLENDA:                                            I picked up a few bits and pieces on my way here – we’ll make up a proper shopping list in a minute, while we’re having tea. Where’s Dad?

JOYCE:                                                Oh…um…he’s around somewhere. Or maybe he went shopping.

JACK:                                                   (OFF) Is that you Glennie? I’m just up here getting dressed. I haven’t been feeling too well…


Another corking blog. Thanks Nell- especially for taking the time to write this wonderful piece when you’ve had such a testing month!

Great script!! You should resubmit it.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx

End of the Month Round Up: May Madness

YEAH!!! A whole year of end of month blogs from the brilliant Nell Peters – and she hasn’t run away to hide yet!

Go grab a cuppa and come and see what Nell has found out for us this month.

Over to you Nell…

Hello! Thanks Jenny, and Happy First Anniversary! That’s paper in marriage terms, so appropriate-ish I guess.

A whole year ago, I wrote my inaugural last-day-of-the-month guest blog for Jenny and so I thought I’d better take a look to check what I was waffling on about, so as not to repeat myself and betray creeping senility. This was my opening paragraph:

‘Hi everyone; I’m thrilled that Jenny has asked me to do a regular (monthly) spot on her illustrious blog – though I can’t help thinking she has me confused with someone else … Case of mistaken identity notwithstanding, this is my opening shot and I will try my best not to get the sack on my first day.’ Guess what? Jen still hasn’t sussed and I’m still here! *Sniggers like over-acting pantomime baddie into sweaty palm*

My subject matter for May ’16 was almost exclusively Pavlova the chicken – aah, dear Pavlova. I still miss her and her antics, when I’m wandering round the garden. That was, of course, before Svetlana arrived on the scene in July, courtesy #4 son. Funnily enough, Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015 (the year before … erm … Bob Dylan), and after whom my second chicken was named, was born on this day in 1948.

Svet the fowl was totally different to Pav (not nearly so bossy and a very friendly chook) but was with us just two weeks before they were both killed – we think by Killer Kat. I still have chickens in the garden, but Vladimir (OK, he’s a cockerel – well spotted) and Raisa, given to me by various sons, are sculpted in metal and as such are impervious to feline (or any other) attack.

OK, let’s get this show on the road. Today, the oldest GS is eight, bringing to an end a month bursting with both family and friends’ birthdays. Phew! To wildly paraphrase the song lyrics written by George Harrison, my bank balance not-so-gently weeps – it’s gone through two dozen boxes of tissues during the last few weeks.

George Harrison

Sharing celebrations on the 151st day of the year (only 214 to go, folks – did I mention I’m a mathematical genius?) are a large number of sports personalities, most of whom I don’t know from Adam or Eve. They are Gemini, ruled by Uranus, which provides these folk with intelligence and a vivid imagination. They like to give the impression that they have a badass streak, but this is mostly an act and generally they follow a conventional lifestyle.

May 31st-ers live life in the present, giving little thought to the past or future – they will make life-altering decisions without considering the consequences, but are fortunately adaptable and will easily work through any problems encountered. Not quite sure how that fits with a sporting lifestyle, but #2 son’s birthday was two days ago and that profile sums him up pretty accurately. #3 was born on 14th May so he’s Taurus, and shares his actual date of birth with an American football player, Rob Gronkowski and Belarusian hurdler, Alina Talay – seems May generally spawns sporty folk.

Who else have we got? There’s actor Clint Eastwood, who was mentioned here a couple of months ago for getting married on 31st March (needs the publicity, poor lamb) – he was born 31st May 1930 and other actors followed his lead (!); Colin Farrell (1976), Brooke Shields (1965), Israeli, Yael Grobglas (1984) and German, Sebastian Koch (1962).

Brooke Shields

Sharing a date of birth with aforementioned Svetlana Alexievich, was John Bonham, drummer in the Led Zeppelin rock band, who died in 1980 aged thirty-two and (hopefully) climbed his own Stairway to Heaven. So sorry! Bonham reportedly imbibed forty (yes, four-zero) shots of vodka, vomited and asphyxiated whilst asleep. Thereafter, surviving band members Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant pulled the plug on the group, although they have since collaborated sporadically in reunion performances – in 2007, Jason Bonham took his father’s place, wielding the drum sticks. Coincidentally, on this day in 1915, there was an air raid on London by an LZ-38 Zeppelin.

Sticking with the musical theme for a bit longer, in 1969, Stevie (no longer little) Wonder released My Cherie Amour on the same day that John Lennon and Yoko (Japanese for Ocean Child) Ono recorded Give Peace a Chance, a couple of months after they married in Gibraltar. Lennon was either her third or fourth husband, depending how you look at it – she married her second, American film producer and art promoter Anthony Cox, in 1962 and the marriage was annulled in 1963. However, they remarried the same year – the annulment was necessary because she had neglected to finalise her divorce from husband number one, as you do – and remained so until she and Lennon got hitched. Ono’s profile gives her occupation as peace activist, singer, feminist (that’s an occupation?), songwriter and conceptual artist – Ono (sorry again!), there isn’t another phrase in the English language that can send icy shivers roller skating down my spine quite so quickly as ‘conceptual art/artist’! Any emperors out there need new clothes?

Other historic events on this day include Sir Francis Bacon being locked up in the Tower of London for one night (1621) – he probably decamped for a Holiday Inn, hoping the beds would be more comfy; Samuel Pepys hung up his quill pen after making the final entry in his eponymous diary, because his eyesight was failing (1669) – I’m going to refrain from making a bad joke about his peepers. In 1879, Madison Square Gardens in New York opened, named after 4th President, James Madison; British troops occupied Johannesburg (1900) and exactly two years later the Boer War ended. In Belfast, 1911, RMS Titanic was launched and hailed as unsinkable – try telling that to the passengers on her maiden voyage less than a year later, when the ship argued with an iceberg and lost.

Think the public transport system is grim now? In 1955, Great Britain declared a state of emergency due to a national rail strike. I’m guessing car ownership wasn’t universal then and people were left without many alternatives (only so many passengers can board a number 99 bus at one time, after all), unless they emulated Norman Tebbit’s dad and got on their bikes.

Six years later, the Union of South Africa became a republic and left the ever-depleting Commonwealth – this was a little over a year before Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. I wonder what scary Winnie is doing now … One of the best placards I’ve ever seen read, ‘Free Nelson Mandela! Jail Winnie!’ Amused me, anyway.

Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Talking about prisoners (howzat!), the film of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released to a cinema near you in 2004, four years before Usain Bolt, erm, bolted for all he was worth and claimed the world record for the 100m sprint. This was prior to his supplementary career, popping up all over our TV screens advertising the likes of Virgin and Quorn. Finally, who remembers that loony Psy’s Gangnam Style? It became the first video to clock up two billion views on YouTube in 2014 and was replicated countless times – my favourite being a gang (get it?) of Eton pupils and their tutors, who did an excellent job, if a little tongue-in-cheek.

I had a (completely mad) lecturer who used to award an extra mark if you could include a certain word in essay assignments – once it was ‘birthday’, the due date being his birthday, and worst of all, ‘trombone’. As I recall, I included the spurious information that Karl Marx shared a birthday (May 5th) with philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and for trombone I gave a presentation on Women and Crime, based on the hypothesis that Jack the Ripper was in fact a woman – and when she was a young girl, the family were so impoverished they couldn’t afford her trombone lessons. Seriously! I got away with it and was awarded the extra mark, but goodness knows what the second markers at Cambridge thought! ‘Beagle’ was another challenge and I managed that by somehow mentioning Charles Darwin sailing off into the wide blue yonder on the ship of that name, completely out of context. Which brings us nicely (if by a slightly convoluted route) to the fact that way back in 1836, HMS Beagle anchored in Simons Bay, Cape of Good Hope on May 31st.

Naturalist Charles survival-of-the-fittest Darwin was born in 1809, in Shrewsbury, the second youngest of six children. The family were wealthy – his father a medical doctor, his grandfather a renowned botanist. In 1825, he enrolled at Edinburgh University and two years later, became a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge. It was expected that Charles would follow his father into medicine but an inconvenient aversion to the sight of blood rather put paid to that idea. As an alternative, his father suggested he study to become a parson (irony lives!), but Darwin was more inclined toward natural history.

Whilst he was at Christ’s, botany professor John Stevens Henslow became Darwin’s mentor and folloing graduation in 1831, he recommended his protégé for a naturalist’s post aboard HMS Beagle on a five year survey trip around the world. That’s a long time to suffer from seasickness – which he did. The voyage was the opportunity of a lifetime for a keen young environmentalist to study the principles of botany, geology and zoology and collect natural specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. The Pacific Islands, Galapagos Archipelago and South America were of particular interest to Darwin. Through experimentation and observation he concluded that species survived through a process of natural selection, where those that successfully adapted to meet the changing environment of their natural habitat thrived, whereas those that failed to evolve and reproduce died off.

In 1858, after years of further scientific investigation, Darwin publically introduced his revolutionary theory of evolution in a letter read at a meeting of the Linnean Society, dedicated to the study and dissemination of information concerning natural history and taxonomy (classification). The following year he published a detailed explanation of his beliefs in his best-known work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Keeping it in the family, in 1883 Sir Francis Galton (although then still plain Mr), a respected British scholar and cousin of Darwin, first used the term eugenics, meaning well-born. Galton felt the human race could help direct its future by selectively breeding individuals who had ‘desired’ traits, based on his study of upper class Britain (I’m guessing he missed out on meeting members of the Bullingdon Club?) Galton posited that an elite position in society was due to a good genetic makeup – all immensely scary stuff and very much open to sickening abuse, as more recent history demonstrates.

Francis Galton

Surprisingly for someone so heavily into genetics, Darwin himself married another cousin, Emma Wedgwood (at least they would never be short of plates) after deducing from the pros-cons of marriage list he made, that a wife would be ‘better than a dog’ – what a silver-tongued smoothie! Nevertheless, they had ten children, only seven of whom survived to adulthood.

Emma Wedgewood

I wonder what Darwin and Galton would have made of the likes of Lily Savage and Danny la Rue? Whilst Lily looks a whole lot more like Paul O’Grady nowadays presenting animal programmes, Daniel Patrick Carroll swapped his diamante frocks for a pair of wings, when he died on this day in 2009, aged eighty-one.

Danny la Rue

Just one last piece of trivia (groan!) In 2010, Chris Haney – Canadian journo (worked on the Montreal Gazette; dreadful rag) and co-creator (with Scott Abbott) of the board game, Trivial Pursuit, followed suit (groan again) and died, aged fifty-nine. The photo I saw of him reminded me quite a lot of singer-turned-politician, husband-of-four-including-Cher, Sonny Bono – also deceased after a skiing accident at the appropriately-named Heavenly Ski Resort in 1998. Bono’s epitaph reads, And The Beat Goes On. Not sure if I’d have been able to resist the mega bad-taste alternative, I Got Yew, Babe, since he collided with a tree.

Right – I’m done! Don’t all cheer at once!




Many thanks once again Nell. I can’t believe a whole year has passed. Seems only yesterday you were introducing us to the star struck Pavlova.

Roll on next month.

Jenny x

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