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I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Monday 28 May 2012

Moving stories

When was the last time you moved house?

With the property market still reeling from the recession; you might be quite happy keeping your feet under the table, thanks very much, and ignoring the des res pages in the local paper.
But even when you`ve got no desire to up sticks; sometimes, you end up surrounded by packing cases anyway, helping someone else.

That`s happening this week. And it`s bound to be a moving kind of  moving.

It seems only months ago that we were helping our eldest daughter into her university hall of residence in London. It was a manic day, in many ways. We`d been warned there was `no parking`. So, on double yellows,with wardens watching; we belted up and down three flights of stairs, dozens of times, with a hundred and one boxes,leaving them piled high in the tiniest student room for Juliet to `sort out later`.

Then suddenly, we were on the pavement ; ready to leave. I`d prepared for that moment for 18 years. But when it came to speak, no sound emerged. I could only hug her, try a brave smile, and climb back in the car. Then we were gone; blowing noses noisily up most of the M1.

In fact it was three years ago, and for a while now, `student life` has revolved around an impressive four storey town house in East London (with her own balcony and a view of the Thames. No, I don`t know, either.) She`s had a complete ball,and is heading for a summer`s work at Camp America. So this week, way more stuff than she ever started with, has got to be squashed back in the car and whizzed home to Shropshire for three months. Until she returns to London in September (hopefully with a van driving boyfriend ).

The day`s going to mean seven hours of motorway driving; a huge amout of lifting and shifting, a sizeable pub lunch and more fond, and emotional farewells for the summer (Go away, Brian Hyland, not NOW). But it`s another landmark, isn`t it? And I`m so chuffed that she`s independent and confident enough to head across the pond; negotiate a promotion; and then organise an eight day trip round California after that, solo. Go girl!

Anyway, all this got me thinking about how exciting...aswell as traumatic...moving days can be.
My sister and I were only four and six when we left our London flat for a brand new life, and a brand new house in Kent. I can still remember touching and smelling the just dried paint, opening and shutting the kitchen cupboards and drawers  that I could reach. We hammered up the stairs to bounce on the beds in our new rooms, and belted back down again and out of the door into our first garden, stepping  gingerly on the still spongey squares of turf , then running to the end to discover our very own conker tree. 

Fast forward twenty years. Several houses later, dad sold up and prepared to move out of suburbia deeper into the Kent countryside, into something smaller. He`d smugly told us he`d barely have to lift a finger, because he`d paid extra for the `wrap n` pack` service.
Nevertheless, my sister and I took the day off work and breezed round to make sure the move was progressing well, armed with a selection of chocolate biscuits, as you do.

Instead of the bustling hive of industry we expected; everything looked frozen. Someone had pressed pause. 

Here`s why.

Outside dad`s, blocking the small cul de sac where he lived, was the sizeable removal van he`d booked. With three brown overcoated men in the driveway, hands on hips. One was shaking his head at us; lost for words.

At the end of the road, that`d be just about twenty metres away, then, engine running, was another, huge removal van--different firm--containing the goods and chattels of the family of four who`d bought dad`s house. He`d assured them that the `wrap n` pack` deal would speed things up, so had advised them when to show up.

Huge miscalculation.

Inside the house....was dad, also with hands on hips, looking perplexed. My sister and I looked around in horror. There, at the kitchen table, was his still steaming mug of tea.Beside it, a fairly full ashtray; one fag still burning bravely on. And; to underline his apparent nonchalance, an open copy of `Police Review`. Beside the table,on the kitchen counter, a not very neat pile of `Police Reviews`; going back five or six years, we reckoned. And a fairly random assortment of mail. You know...bills, flyers; invitations to answer. Further down, on the draining board, a couple of plates and dishes from breakfast, and `one or two` items in the washing up bowl. Upstairs, the damp towels from his morning shower lay draped over the bath, and his dressing gown was hanging on the bathroom door. Beds? Yep; pillows and duvets all still in place.

He`d taken the `wrap n` packers` at their word, and had made virtually no preparation. And with the engine of the van belonging to family 2 still running outside, admitted to us that.... well hadn`t really factored in any cleaning time at all.

It was a complete disaster in the making. 

And it took some nifty sprinting between van A and van B , sharp negotiating and mediation skills, several trays of tea , and our entire consignment of biccies before we managed to placate the removal teams and get Dad out; the house cleaned, and family 2 in, before nightfall.

I`m hoping this week`s move will be a little easier on all of us. Even though we`ll have a car boot load (now there`s a thought...trestle table, anyone?) of stuff to `accommodate` when we crawl back home late on Wednesday.

Everyone needs to know their assigned tasks. And after years of perfecting my skill at this; I will avoid all heavy loads....and appoint myself head of beverages and biscuits. And Kleenex.

Wish us luck.

Monday 21 May 2012

Precious time; precious people.

There`s nothing like a `health scare` to make you really appreciate the time you have, and how you spend it.

And because mine was exactly a year ago this week, I`ve been thinking hard about what would have happened if the outcome of my operation had been different. If the high grade but still pre cancerous area they found...had been more advanced. If it hadn`t been so easy to `zap it` with three weeks of radiotherapy.

People get bad news about cancer every day. News that can knock them for six; make them re-evaluate what, and who, is important to them.It`s happened to plenty of my loved ones and I was pretty damn sure it was happening to me this time last year.

And so today I`ve been reflecting on that. Taking my time.Choosing who to spend that time with, and how.

Family`s a good place to start.Our eldest daughter`s finished her university finals, and so last week we decided to spend time together in a little French cottage in the Normandy countryside. Reading, shopping, cooking...eating... OK, we threw in a day trip to Paris but there were plenty of opportunities even there to stop and watch the world go by. We avoided the sights, the big glitzy stores and the museums and galleries and pottered round the Latin quarter, and its smaller, independent shops. It was like a colourful but quiet oasis, offering us respite while the rest of the buzzing, throbbing city carried on in the fast lane, just blocks away.

Sometimes it`s just the simple stuff which can make your time with someone feel really precious. Just days before at the cottage, we`d decided on a recipe, and scoured the market stalls in a place called Conde Sur Noireau, to find vegetables we`d need to cook our meal that night.

The food cost just pennies, but the pleasure we got, taking our time to select our produce and hold brief conversations in French with the market traders, was immense.

Today was another gem. A simple lunch out with a former colleague; who`s become a friend. A fantastic couple of hours catching up on news we`d missed. Precious time. And another reminder that it`s not just time, but people who are precious.

In my extended family, there`s a band of 20 first cousins who, if put in a room together right now, would be a party all by themselves. Funny, loving, lovely and there for each other. And now the next generation of cousins are proving to be just as much fun. You can`t choose your family...but this is the one I`d choose.

Like the friend I met today, if I don`t see them for months, or even years, you can just pick up the pieces. People like that shine on your life like diamonds; offering you genuine friendship and above all, loyalty. Others might attract you...shimmer a little....draw you forward...but you find they`re fake; not what they seem and they end up, like the words of the song `just somebody that I used to know`. Sometimes it takes years to work out who you really shouldn`t waste your time on.

So that`s my conclusion on this contemplative day. If there`s someone in your life who you know, in your heart of hearts, would race you to the lifeboat, rather than help you into it...don`t waste your time on them.

But if there`s someone who sticks by your side and makes you smile, and will be there for you come rain or shine; treasure them.

Here endeth the thoughtful stuff.

Oh...and back in that Normandy`s our fab tea that Juliet cooked in that cottage in Normandy. She`s quite a diamond actually....

Thursday 10 May 2012

Kick ass? Don`t mind if I do....

Life`s good.

But sometimes; don`t you just want to put a rocket up someone`s arse?

Here are today`s nominations. Feel free to add yours:

1) Hospital sends me an appointment. Call them to say I`m away; can`t make it. OK, they say, we`ll send you another one in the post. Hang on, I tell them. I`m on the phone, now, with my diary. Shall we do it right now...*just in case* the next date you send me is a bit dodgy, too? Can`t do that, they say. The diary`s in the other department. Give me the dates you`re free and we`ll call you back.

I wait a week.

No call.

I call again today. They`ve allocated me a date, which... I can`t make. I suggest, with open diary, that we try again for the following week? Can`t do that, she says.I`ve got the diary here, but `they` haven`t written in any of the appointments for those days yet.

They`ll call me.


Moral of that story? Don`t ever say you`ll ring me, then don`t. It`s not professional. And it`s not nice.

2) It`s 11.50, at a riverside eaterie in London. View of Tower Bridge, Gherkin; etc.

I haven`t eaten, so would like one of their breakfasts. No gherkins, though, ta. Available till 12, see. But daughter`s ready for lunch. Served *from* 12. Slightly different menu. I order my scrambled eggs on toast, with juice, and coffee. (It`s now 11.53).

Daughter attempts to order snack from lunch menu. We`re told she `can`t do that`...because it`s not 12 o` clock yet. Ah yes, we observe. But it will be, in six minutes. Lady behind bar shakes her head, and asks us to pop back at 12.We should`ve legged it. But hungry, and short of time, and loving the view, we do it. Bonkers.

Moral of that story? Don`t be so sodding stupid. Bend your rules. Be welcoming. Nothing bad will happen.

3) Later that day.....standing in Trafalgar Square, in the sunshine: remembering the time, aged four, I had my picture taken with pigeons on my head, because my mum had bought me a tin of bird food from the pigeon man; and that`s what you did. Pose, quickly, before *anything happened* But it`s London 2012, early evening. Get approached by three lovely students from Westminster University. Hello, we`re doing something about the Olympics, and can we please film a little chat, they ask, about your thoughts?

Fabulous.I know what it`s like to be `out on a vox pop`...I have time to kill, lots of thoughts about the Olympics, and am happy to help. They start setting up their tripod thing and suddenly....three officious, uniformed security men approach them, and tell them they can`t film in the square. They explain it`s a Uni project, that they`ve already done some filming, and just need one more interview.They`re told that they don`t have the  right kind of permission,and so will have to leave.

Moral of that story? It would have taken four minutes.They weren`t in anyone`s way. It wasn`t going on Sky, ITV or the BBC. It was a *University Project* . Get that? Turn a blind eye. Go and watch the world go by. If you treat local students like that, how welcoming are you going to be to this summer`s army of tourists? And ps. Hope a pigeon poops on your peaked cap. All three of you. Just saying.

There. Sorry about that but it`s off my chest now.

Have a nice day.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Teach...your children well....

......remember the song? OK, if you`re too young, you might have seen it on the BBC`s `70s series. Appropriate really, as there`s been a fair bit in the press about what makes a good teacher,and about getting more students to become one. Even encouraging more sixth formers to go into schools, and see what it`s like on the other side of the desk.

I guess you`d be more inclined to consider it as a career if you`ve got happy memories about the staff in your school. Happiest days of your life? Well they can be. But a `bad` teacher can knock your confidence for life, too, can`t they?

Years ago Dad used to talk about getting the `strap` across his hand for misdemeanours as a young pupil in Musselburgh. He could still recall the sting of the leather across his outstretched palm. That`s what you did with `unruly` pupils in those days.

In my first term at infants` school in Ealing, I remember being made to stand in a corner for half an hour with my back to the class. The heinous crime that I`d committed was `swishing my hands across the desk`, and then trying to make my best friend Rosalyn do the same. I was four, but even then, I knew it was a fair cop, and served my time with not even a glance over my shoulder.

I might have hated Mrs Jeffries for life after that, but she made me Mary in the school nativity that year, and I got to ride on a push along donkey with a cushion up my dress.

Years later in Kent, I can remember English teachers in my secondary school inspiring me with their encouraging words in the margins of my exercise books. That always felt good. I loved English, and have Miss Rhys-Jones to thank for my pronounced pedantry over punctuation. (And alliteration; clearly.)

But I loathed my art teacher when she kept me back after class one day `for a word`. She studied me, from top to toe (yeah..I was pretty sure she didn`t want to paint me....)...taking in my unruly blonde hair, brightened only that weekend with a hefty application of Sun-In, the thick clumps of black mascara, and the glistening layer of roll on lip gloss (mint flavour). Down went her the standard issue green elasticated belt, hiding a waistband rolled over several times until the bottle green box pleats covered my arse but were way, way above my the chocolate brown platforms, exactly the same as my friend Carol`s (Freeman, Hardy, Willis) and defiantly three inches higher than school rules permitted.

`I suppose you think you`re rather glamorous` she hissed.`But you`re in the fifth year.Not a fashion parade.`

 The thing was... I did feel fairly glamorous. We all did.We were fifteen, and spent at least half an hour plastering that stuff on before school. And it was an all girls`school too.

But another part of being a glamorous fifteen year old then, was smoking. At least we thought so.You couldn`t do it at home. It was tricky on the bus, in case your mum`s friend saw you. You could sometimes get away with it down at the Wimpy. But if you tried it in the school grounds, it meant immediate, non negotiable expulsion.

I hated tennis, so I took the risk, and happily signed up to the practice of `whacking the buggers as hard as you can into the woods`. Only a select few knew about this. And once enough tennis balls had been `whacked into the woods`...someone had to go and retrieve them. And because it was the `woods` and no-one apart from us knew what might be lurking there, we were allowed to take a friend. And she usually dragged a friend along too. (Safety in numbers).

What was lurking there ...stuffed in a Woolworth`s carrier bag, at the end of a large log, deep in the undergrowth, and worth the nettle stings and bramble scratches to reach them, was one glorious packet of More Menthol, and a box of matches. And their presence meant that at least four of us, in the course of double tennis, got to have a smoke. We chose menthol to hide the nicotine smell, of course, but I`m sure Miss P knew what we were up to. If she`d reported us, we`d have been marched off the premises. I always assumed even to this day, that she took pity on us because she smoked like a trooper herself .

But I`ve just realised she probably let us go because we were so completely crap at tennis.

Anyway. No detentions. No expulsions. Thanks, Miss.