Friday, March 21, 2014

The Seven Ages of Man: 21st Century Style

Shakespeare was a clever man writing "that each man in his life plays seven lives", but he possibly could not have predicted how it would pan out in the twenty first century.

You see, he is still right, in that we start off as a baby, then we become a school girl or boy, then we have teenage girlfriends and boyfriends and fall in love on a least one occasion. In the next part we have a period of putting the world to rights, walking all over others to gain success, wearing clothes that show status, living a self centred existence and make ourselves the priority (the soldier), before we become more settled, wiser, have our own children and see the world for what it is a little (the justice).

At sixtyish, round about the end of our working lives we start to look a bit old, have grey hair (underneath the colour in a bottle), and accept the fact that we are no longer in the first flush of youth any more. And at home in the evenings we play the part of "the slipper'd pantaloons" guy, by slipping into our jeans and collapsing in front of the telly.

But this is the bit where Shakespeare, for all his wisdom, didn't manage to predict what would have happened when medical science said: "Hey guys, hold on there. No-one is going to die before the age of eighty five. You are going to live long successful lives, with parts pinned together, metal props inside your bodies and a whole battery of pharmaceutical delights to keep your clock ticking on and on."

So, in walks the modern sixty year old who has just retired. The hair colour is perfect. Modern hairdressing has done us proud and no woman or man (ref Elton John) needs to look a day over twenty in the hair department. For the more affluent there are the nips and tucks and botox injections, which if done well will take ten or twenty years off your average silver blonde bombshell surfer.

This is not an easy phase though, because at this point we take a look at what else is going on, and resume the part of "the justice", taking a sensible look at the lives of our now grown up children, and doing our best to make sure that they too can live their lives to the full. We also might take on the role of parent carer and often have as much, if not more, to do in terms of looking after the family than we did when the children were young. We are there for everyone: we still live in our family houses; we bail out and pay out, and are permanently on call for all who need us.

The next bit though is where it gets really interesting. One day, when the children have really flown the nest, when you no longer have elderly relatives to care for, and when it is just you and Hubby or Wifey again, life takes on a new twist.

We once more become self centred and self focused. We book holidays for ourselves, do activities for ourselves, go out for meals with people we want to mix with only, have fun, do whatever we like and put the world to rights. (And this time, we know that after having lived for seventy years or so, we are definitely right in our beliefs and we don't care if no-one agrees with us.) This is the Purple Hat phase. It's the phase when people are only out for themselves and where the purple has replaced the younger soldier's uniform of suits and briefcases.

Round about eighty, those still in the running, and there are now many, take it one step further and go back to teenagehood. Romeo and Juliet, eat your heart out if you think you were doing something really selfish and rebellious. You have nothing on the eighty year old teen lover. This time we are propped up by even more wonderfully clever tricks and tips from the apothecary store and, just like the average teenager, we only care about ourselves and our own lives. We like things being done our own way. We like to eat food prepared the way we have always known it. We like our house to look the same as it did when we were forty, We don't like new things. We don't like modern stuff. And most of all we hate other people interfering in our lives and we go to every possible length to ensure that we remain independent to the end.

But then, sadly we reverse one more step and we start to rely on others for help. We do indeed become the schoolboy again and at this point, when we finally accept that we can no longer be independent, it is sad. We no longer care about our appearance. The nips and tugs have sagged long ago. The hair is now grey and balding, and we are tired. We start to find less things amusing and we sit and wait for the day to come. The medical profession does what it can to help us be comfortable, but, because we are still being propped up by the curious array of "smarties" from days gone by, there is a struggle between being ready to become the infant again and leave our mortal coil, and being kept alive by medical science.

So Mr Shakespeare, it seems as if you were absolutely right, but in our century we play the seven parts and then, because once is never now enough, we play repeats, right up to the end.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Of course, you should never say "never". Writing "The End" to anything is rather like a retirement speech from Frank Sinatra in days of old. The trouble with the words "The End" is that when you decide to make a comeback, you have have to make a comeback.

The truth is, that however infrequent it may be, I think I need a place to write. A place where I can write my thoughts, in my style.

So here I am again. One year and a bit on from the last time.

Those in the know will know that life has changed somewhat in the last year for the Writes household. For one, I no longer foster children. Instead I am back on my old path of seeking my fortune. (Well, just enough to pay off the "still vast" mortgage will do.) Now the thing is, Dick Whittington left Gloucester to seek his fortune in London. We on the other hand left London to seek ours in Gloucestershire. I make an observation only.

Hubby is now working in Hampshire on a daily basis, and makes occasional appearances at the homestead, ED  is in Birmingham doing a postgrad, ESOS is at University in Cardiff and Sensible has left school, is working hard and not often in. This means that our once overfull household (at the peak it was up to thirteen, albeit for a few weeks, and twelve, for over a year) has become considerably quieter. I'd like to say "quiet and serene", but frankly that would simply not be true. There is no-one in the Sally Writes family who is remotely serene. When the world was created, anyone in our own personal gene line missed out on the bit of personality that said "calm", "serene" and "quiet".

Other things have changed too. My brother Barrie has just become a best selling author, as of today. Well, OK. Slight exaggeration. He has written a book through and it is to be published next summer. I've added it to my favourite books list on my profile. Just in case he becomes REALLY famous, I can genuinely say "I read it first." It's very good by the way. It's called a "A Higher Authority", a spy story. Look out for it next summer...

One thing that never changes though is Sally's dealings with customer service centres.

Our current grouse is with an energy supplier. For the sake of their ever respected need for anonymity, let's say they are called "Empower". They have currently, in the last month only, spuriously found an extra £1200, just the £1200, which they have added to our gas bill for no known reason. And now they are sending out seriously stroppy letters, calling us and have even graced us with an agent visit. They nobly have charged us £10.50 for each phone call that we have made to try to rectify the matter, and another £23.50 for the agent visit, who visited, after they billed for him.

I patiently spent an hour on the phone on Saturday, trying to explain that our bill was not as big as they said it was, and that we were paying monthly and were not in arrears. Unfortunately at every turn, the "computer said no" no matter how much I tried to explain that they have made a mistake.

After forty five minutes the conversation was not it seems going anywhere.

"The thing is Miss Writes" said the girl on the other end, "you are £2066 in arrears. So are you going to make that payment today?"

I thought of correcting her view of my marital status, but then decided against that idea. I think that the call centre scripts must only have the words "Miss" and "Mr" written down. Someone really needs to add the word "Mrs" for when it is appropriate.

"I'm really sorry," I said, "but I don't know your name."

"Actually, I did introduce myself at the beginning of the call Miss Writes. It's Stacey."

"Well Stacey, unfortunately, we don't have that sort of money spare in our bank account and our usage from June to the end of October for gas and electricity is only £900, so I really think you have made  a mistake."

"That was summer usage. And besides, you have arrears on the account, and you signed an agreement to say that you would never be more than a certain number of months in arrears.

"But we weren't aware that there were any serious outstanding arrears. A month ago we owed £900 and we paid you £500. In a few days you will receive another £500. We have a standing order of £500 a month set up, which is more than out monthly usage for gas and electricity over the year. We have used £400 of gas and electricity since the start of October. This means that we are paying more than we use on a monthly basis. How can the bill be over £2000? It just doesn't make sense."

"Well Miss Writes, if you refuse to make a payment I have to advise you that we have the right to enter your property and install a pre payment meter. And we can cut off your supply."

At this point I saw red, used a very rude word and suggested that we ended the conversation and that I wrote a letter instead.

That night, hubby and I got out all the bills (having carefully saved the PDF files to the computer, just in case they decide to change the bills after our date of writing), scrutinised every detail carefully, and deduced that they have indeed added £1200 to our bill for no reason. It seems that the outstanding balance, minus what we have paid, plus our usage, comes to £1200 more that the total should read.

Needless to say it makes absolutely no sense.

We wrote a long email, detailing all items and payments, and explained in no uncertain terms, that we weren't over chuffed with the visits, the letters and the phone calls, that we didn't owe them £2000 and that we wanted the matter sorted out "forthwith."

On Monday morning the doorbell rang.

It was an agent from Empower.

Have you read my email? I asked.

"What email? He said.

I firmly, but patiently explained that we had written and that I wanted no further communication from them until they had read the letter properly and rectified the matter.

"You have overcharged us by £1200 I explained. We do not owe you the money that you seem to think we do. And what's more, if you continue to harass us in this manner I may be forced to take legal action."

It is now Wednesday. The silence from Empower is deafening.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The End

It's been a long time since I wrote regularly, and from time to time I have promised, threatened even, to come back to live in Bloggerland.

I miss Bloggerland. Bloggerland brought out of me the academic side that I never even knew was there. It brought out a Sally who read, wrote and who had opinions about matters far and wide. It brought out a Sally that was most particular about a certain writing style, a Sally who was sometimes witty, even funny at times. Not wanting to push my own merits too far you understand.

In Bloggerland we have our own little community. A community where we admire each other's work, on a regular basis, give each other awards, on a very regular basis, laugh at each others jokes and even... write blogs.

It is a very safe community. A community where we feel loved and cherished and where you never feel lonely. There is always someone to share with and to empathise with, There is always someone who can empathise with you.

So if it is that good, why on earth did I give it up?

There are many reasons. I discovered Facebook. I discovered the joy of watching TV on my laptop. I bought a laptop even. a reason usually for more blogging one would think, but not when suddenly one can see the many uses that a laptop can have, besides blogging. In particular I discovered the joys of watching "House". Hubby accused me of going to bed with Hugh Laurie every night, which in one sense I guess I did. Hugh didn't know anything about this of course. I was just one of his millions of fans worldwide who drooled over a guy playing a dysfunctional doctor, who for some bizarre reason managed to keep the masses hooked.

Most importantly though I started fostering children. And this my dear readers is the main reason why my blog has come to a bit of a standstill. Because it is a seriously sensitive subject and not one that you can openly share with the world.

And so, after spending the last four years of nearly but not quite writing, I have decided to write "The End" to Sally Writes. It is a sad moment to finally find the end to a piece of writing that has evolved over six years in total. But then, on the other hand, if this is a book, then all books must come to an end. And if you really love it, you can always start again at the very beginning.

It is a booksworth in total and so,


And thank you, all of you, for being my lovely loyal readers.

But now this really is....


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Plum Jam

It was that time of year again. Well that time of "two years" actually.

We have two plum trees, and every two years they produce prolific amounts of fruit. In years gone by I have eagerly helped to pick and de-stone said plums and then make huge quantities of "Sally Jam", only to give most of it away and be left with maybe a jar for us. The "children" complain bitterly. "Don't give it away Mum. You're too generous with it. You even give it to people we barely know... Grumble grumble grumble..."
But every "other" year it is the same. The joy is in the making and the knowledge that you can, even just for a week every two years be an Earth Mother type and create your own little cottage industry in your kitchen... Or something like that I think, as I run round the kitchen finding old jars, empty them hastily, get as much of the labels off as possible and stuff them into the dishwasher. Not quite Nigella I guess.
This year though it was different. "We must get the plums" said Hubby. "Make the jam." "Yes"
I kept saying. "Soon."
He clearly wasn't convinced by my eager responses. Perhaps he thought that the mere triviality of having five "lively"* foster children aged eight and under, two of my own aged thirteen and eleven, my two big teenagers and twenty one year old and mad collie dog, all living at home, might put me off my stride. As if?
So then he picked two bowlfuls and plonked them on the kitchen table. And, thinking that we didn't have enough, Gymnast, Tinkerbell Mushroom and one of the younger ones went out and picked some more.
"Shall I de-stone them tonight." Said Hubby.
I looked wearily on. "I was thinking of freezing them. I can make jam when everyone has gone back to school." "I'm not sure the fruit would be as nice." Said Hubby. He can drive a hard bargain at times.
So that was how, with two of the youngest at nursery this morning and another at a holiday summer school and the baby in bed having a morning nap and my lovely "Help sent directly from Heaven" cleaning the house, that TM, Gymnast, one of the younger ones and I, sat down to de-stone the plums. That was after of course a mad panic on my part because I had lost the recipe that I always use. Hasty look in all the cookery books for slip of paper that recipe is printed on. No recipe. Quick look on Google to "re-find" it. No recipe. In the end I found a new recipe and adapted it to make it more like my original one.
Then of course the doorbell rang and it was Tesco with an obscenely large amount of food. We do eat it of course. There is very little waste. And there are a great deal of people to feed in our house, so we need it.
But I have to put it away in the cupboards...
And so it was that by the time that I had done that, the plums had been nearly de-stoned. They left a few of the trickier ones for me to do, which I think is probably fair enough really. I had just enough time to throw sugar on them before the afternoon "pick ups" began.
ESOS walked in. "Plum jam?" He said, looking on eagerly. "Don't give it all away this time mum." His two houseguests looked a little disappointed. Sensible, who was busy planning a results party two nights before the results come out (Sensible is awaiting AS level results and ESOS is awaiting A level results) asked me to go to the local supermarket to buy something for the party. (Tescos hadn't delivered enough.) "Why isn't the party on Thursday" I asked. "Because it might be too depressing" said ESOS. "We'll have a pre results party."
Whilst I was at the supermarket Sensible made the kitchen look as sparkling "as you can get for old house in need of renovation, especially of the kitchen with broken drawers and broken other stuff..." And someone helpfully threw away the plum stones which could or could not have formed some of the recipe, but they did very much look like rubbish and I really should know by now how to give clear specific instructions.
One of the children asked when we were going to make it into "actual" jam. Thinking that Social services wouldn't be best pleased if enthusiastic foster child got scalded by being part of some jam manufacture I hastily replied that I would make it when all others were in bed. "But that's not fair" said the little one. "We've done all the work. We should be able to make it." But, as the lion says, "sometimes..."
I finally got it boiling. Once all the younger children were in bed. Once Sensible had had a driving lesson, and once the kitchen was vaguely clear again, following its nightly ordeal of using some of huge amount of food from fridge in the "cooked" version. The concoction needed a while... and some lemons too... which I hadn't bought from Tesco. So Hubby bought some lemons from our local late supermarket and kindly zested them for me and then, with jam boiling merrily, we sat down to watch an episode of "House" on my laptop, in the kitchen, while the jam was cooking. "House" is the de-stresser of the universe. Hugh Laurie, medical drama and pithy wit. What better combination could there be? ESOS got me into it and I'm hooked.
It was a good episode which meant that the jam had even longer to boil, which it appears is the answer to success.
And this time am going to put my new recipe on my blog, lest in future years I yet again forget its whereabouts, and especially as this recipe is really a "Sally's own", it having been adapted and combined with a few.
"Sally Originals" Plum Jam
What's in it:
8 lb/3.5 kg Plums
6 1/2 lb/ 3kg Sugar
2-3 lemons
How to make it:
Split the plums and de-stone them
Place sugar on the top and mix in carefully
Leave for at least ten hours (This allows the fruit to ferment a little and really makes a difference to the taste of the jam).
Put the fruit and sugar in a supersized saucepan, add the juice and zest from the lemons and boil. Keep stirring.
(Optional) Place stones in a muslin bag and boil with the jam. And/or break some of the stones and add the kernel into the mixture.
After fifteen minutes, lower the heat to medium hot and keep stirring from time to time. (It can cook at a relatively high temperature without catching as long as you have a big enough pot to ensure that it doesn't boil over.)
Cook for an hour and a half to two hours. The longer cooking time will allow the jam to develop a lovely mature flavour.
Grab newly sterilised jars from dishwasher.
Put jam into jars being careful not to splash any on the hand. If this does happen grab a leaf of handy Aloe Vera plant to cure burn. (As I did.)
And there it is. "Sally Originals" Plum Jam...
*polite speak for "challenging in the extreme"...