Archive for the ‘Family occasions’ Category

Home for Christmas

Twelve years ago today, I sat by a hospital bed, holding my mum’s hand, as my dad passed away. I use the term ‘passed away’ because that’s exactly what he did. He had been unconscious for three days and with his family watching and waiting, he took his last breath and left us.

Dad hadn’t been well for some months, like many men of his age (82) he had problems with his ‘plumbing’ (quite ironic after the week I’ve just had).

For the last few years or so, every six months dad went into hospital for an overnight stay to have his pipes unblocked. He was waiting for his usual hospital appointment to come through. The doctors kept fobbing him off and telling him to be patient.

The appointment he had been waiting for never came.

Mum phoned me on the Saturday to say dad had finally been taken into hospital. For the last few weeks, she had been trying to get him to create a fuss with the doctors to bring his appointment forward, as it was now well overdue. But that wasn’t his style he would ‘sit it out’ and wait. I asked mum if she wanted me to come home. She said there was no need, now he’s in hospital they’ll do what they need to do and he’ll be back home in plenty of time for Christmas.

Sunday night the call came to say it was too late. The doctors couldn’t do anything more, if he had gone in sooner they could have fixed it. Basically, the waste he hadn’t been able to get rid of had slowly poisoned him.

I caught the next train up to Manchester and went straight to the hospital to be with mum. Yes it was my dad who was dying but it was mum who I wanted to be there for.

Dad was 49 when I came along, an unexpected fifth child. Not the menopause after all!

He was a strict Roman Catholic who went to church every Sunday, with his family tagging along. We had no choice. Eventually, in my late teens, I plucked up the courage to say that I wasn’t going to spend another Sunday sitting in a cold building listening to rubbish. I waited for lightning to strike. It never came.

Dad’s parents were strict Catholics and so religion had always been an important part of his life. Often more important than his family. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t go to church. When he retired, aged 65, he went every day. I think this was to give him some kind of routine and structure to his day. But we joked it was an insurance policy to ensure he got the ‘best seat in the house’, when the time came.

Everyday, as long as I can remember, dad wore a shirt and tie, even at weekends and holidays. I can recall a family day out to Blackpool with him sat on the beach, shirt and tie tightly fastened and a flat cap to stop him burning his head.

In his youth, he was tall and slim and I’m told a bit of a ‘looker’. He met mum when they were both in the army, serving King and country. They married in December 1945 and were together for 53 years.

Dad smoked since being a teenager. His fingers were stained the colour of English mustard. He would easily smoke his way through 60 Senior Service a day.

To me, dad was this person who sat in the other room reading the Daily Express or Manchester Evening News, puffing away, while the rest of the family, well, were being a family.

Every night his dinner was ready for him as he walked in the door, even though my mum also worked. I suspect this was how life had been for his father too.

He taught both my brother and I to swim and had us reciting our times tables every night before going to bed. He would get so frustrated with the fact that we both didn’t ‘get’ maths. But most Friday’s he would present us with a bag of sweets from the newsagents where he bought his daily paper. We always looked forward to Fridays. When I smell the scent of parma violets, or chew on a drumstick lolly, I’m 10 again.

Dad never raised his hands to me, or any of us as far as I’m aware. But he also never wrapped them around me. I never heard him swear and he very rarely raised his voice. Although he went out for a drink most nights, I never saw him drunk. I also never saw him let his hair down or have fun. He was from the old school of fatherhood – he provided for us. He wasn’t a coldhearted man, he just found it incredibly difficult to express his feelings. But I know he loved us in his own way.

The last time I saw him was the October before he died. We were visiting in the half term holidays because my mum’s birthday is in November and so it was an early birthday/Christmas visit. I noticed he was quieter and less cantankerous than usual.

By now, dad had given up smoking. After years of living in a pea soup fog, at the ripe old age of 70, he finally gave up the fags. One day he was sucking in 60 a day, the next none. An unopened packet sat on the windowsill for months. This couldn’t have been easy for him. Years after I remember him saying he could still ‘murder for a cigarette’.

For the next 12 years, with more money now spare, my parents enjoyed many holidays in the UK and overseas. They always returned like two lovebirds. However, it was short lived, dad was a jealous man and didn’t like to share mum, even with his children. The childish bickering would soon resume.

Although quite a chunk of money was now spent on holidays, dad also replaced his high tar addiction with sweets, chocolate and cakes. His particular favourite being Turkish Delight, something we bought him every Christmas. And soon his waistline resembled Colonel Mustard!

Too late to worry about his teeth decaying, for every day of the 21 years I lived at home dad’s pearly whites glared at me, from a glass in the bathroom. In fact dad’s teeth played a cameo role on my wedding day.

December 1985, it was once again his turn to ‘give’ a daughter away. Obviously a role he thought he’d never be required to do again. Years later he was called upon again and he saved his best performance to for the last. Just when you thought you knew him, he threw up a surprise or two.

My niece married a few years after her beloved dad tragically died, aged 49, of cancer. Her rather rotund granddad, now known by some as Big Frank, stepped into Kevin’s shoes to proudly walk ‘Ragga’ (Helen) down the aisle to the handsome young marine nervously waiting at the front.

The speech he gave at their wedding breakfast was entertaining and yet incredibly moving. One minute the guests in the room were howling with laughter, the next there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Some mean feat when you consider the majority of the guests were Royal Marines. Dad certainly did his family and Kevin proud.

The speech dad gave at my wedding was entertaining too. But for quite different reasons. As it was a special occasion he decided to wear his ‘best’ dentures. We soon realised why they hadn’t been seen, or heard, before. They were a little too tight and whistled when he spoke. So fortunately for all the speech was short and squeak!

I’m never really sure whether dad was upset or annoyed that I chose to abandon the Catholic Church and take my vows in the opposition’s. He never commented. And that was the problem with dad, I never really knew what he was thinking.

And so, Wednesday 16 December 1998, when the time came, I held my mum’s hand as the man she had spent the last 52 years with took his last breath and left us.

The funeral was held 22 December so in a way Big Frank would indeed be home for Christmas.

This post was written for the Writing Workshop – Remembering over at Sleep is for the Weak. It doesn’t really fit any of the prompts but to read some that do click here.


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I’ve often visited Josie’s site at Sleep is for the Weak and been impressed by many of the Writing Workshops posts. Each time I’ve thought about giving it a go myself but always cried off. But for one reason or another I’m thinking ‘sod it’ what’s the worst that can happen. So before I have chance to change my mind here goes. So please feel free to give feedback.

After looking at the great choices Josie gave I decided to go with No.5 The book of lost things

Over 10 years ago I lost something precious. From time to time, I still feel that loss and so decided to put pen to paper, or should I say finger to keys. The fact that it is the day before Remembrance day seems quite poignant too.

As a child my family and I would regularly make our way up to the frozen north east of England, to visit my mum’s sister Joyce. My favourite mad aunt.

Four years younger than my mum, Joyce was a larger than life character. These two sisters shared a special bond even though they didn’t see each other as often as they would like.

Joyce was tall and lanky, we always joked how she resembled Popeye’s companion, Olive Oyl. She was someone who was always up for a laugh, a rare breed of adult who knew how to have fun and enjoy life. I remember Joyce and my mum dressing up in my sister’s 70s hot pants. And the time when on holiday she climbed out of the water in Scotland pretending to be the Loch Ness monster!

Of course I mainly remember the good times but life was cruel to Joyce. Her gorgeous husband, whom she adored, left her with a young baby, for another woman, after only four year’s of marriage.

Although she only had one child (something she deeply regretted), she had a great rapport with children, the Pied Piper of Hartlepool. Years later her love of children found her working as a dinner lady in a secondary school and she was often asked to go on school trips abroad. I am sure her sense of fun and humour added to the enjoyment of these excursions for the teachers and children alike.

Everyone in the family was given a pet name by Joyce, which she always called you by. Mine was Dido. I’ve no idea where it came from but this was what she called me until the day she died.

Joyce remarried many years later, to a merchant seaman, The only thing I remember about her new husband was that he was a great oaf of a man, who I didn’t take to at all. Unfortunately, this marriage didn’t last long either, I’ve since found out this had more to do with him preferring the sailors!

On our family visits to the northeast, more often than not I had to endure a hair cut from Joyce. Someone in their wisdom had decided that she was a whiz with the scissors. For years my brother and I would return home with matching pudding bowl haircuts!

Years later, when my family moved down south to Hampshire, Joyce would come in the summer and stay with us, along with my mum. I was a stay at home mum then and my children and I enjoyed many great days out with the two sisters.

Joyce loved children, the pleasure she got from just watching them at play was clear for all to see. During these annual visits my children and their friends performed musical shows for a captive audience. She would sit in her special chair (which is still affectionately referred to as Aunty Joyce’s), and shout words of encouragement to the budding actors. As a lover of dancing in her youth, you could sense her frustration when she couldn’t join in with the songs and dances. But what she lacked in participation, she sure made up for in enthusiasm.

Children were drawn to Joyce like a magnet. She was the girl who never grew up. My kids were sent off to the sweet shop for ‘a bag of rubbish’, or a ‘mucky mixture’. She now no longer resembled Popeye’s girlfriend!

Still a colourful character and full of life, but by now confined to a wheelchair, due to arthritis and old age. Most of the time Joyce was in great pain, but this never stopped her from enjoying herself. She never complained or let things get her down. She was a walking drug store, loaded down with medicine and tablets of all shapes and colours. We joked about how she rattled when she moved. But if you asked her how she was her reply would always be the same “champion.”

The familiar scent of Lily of the Valley followed Joyce around, her favourite brand of talc she saved for special occasions. Coming to stay with my family was one such occasion.

I remember sitting in my garden one balmy July night, the barbecue embers burning low, mum and Joyce tipsy from warm red wine, both declaring that of course they don’t normally touch a drop and that I was leading them astray. I answered by saying “Well someone must have led me astray in the first place.”

I sat listening to mum and Joyce reminiscing about their youth. Despite the country being at war and in fact my mum being a corporal in the army, they both claimed it was an exciting time to be young. They could recall tales of borrowing each other’s clothes and shoes, down to the minute detail of colour and style. They laughed about the times they were chastised by their stern father, my grandfather, for sneaking out instead of taking shelter when the sirens sounded. “There’s no way Hitler’s going to stop me having fun”, Joyce would shout. Their voices lowered when they thought of friends and old flames who hadn’t survived to share these memories with their grandchildren. It was fascinating for me to sit and listen to the moving memories of a life I couldn’t possibly relate to.

The fantastic photograph below is of three sisters, the youngest Mavis, the eldest, Mildred (my mum) and Joyce. I love it, don’t you?

Over 10 years ago, I returned to the north east for Joyce’s funeral, an event Joyce herself had painstakingly organised and paid for with her Halifax shares. This made me smile. It was typical of Joyce, her way of saving anyone else the hassle of organising her ‘send off.’ She thought of others right to the end.

The service was held in the same church where she was christened as a young baby and walked down the aisle on the arm of the man who she’d vowed to be with for better for worse, richer for poorer and forsaking all others!

We sang hymns carefully chosen by Joyce herself. It was comforting to know that everything was just how she wanted it to be. The church was full of relatives and friends, some who had travelled long distances to say goodbye. It had been some time before I had returned to the area, there were so many familiar faces all there to celebrate the life of this remarkable woman whose wish was to be remembered for happy memories. And she succeeded. Saying goodbye to her wasn’t a sad day but, 10 years on and especially when I’m sat in her chair in the garden drinking a glass of wine I think fondly back and think she isn’t gone but in another room and hopefully one surrounded by children.

If you enjoyed reading about Joyce , you might want to pop over and read my favourite post about Mil (my mum)

Pop over to Josie’s to read some of the other, much better posts

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Meat & two veg please

Once again, Him up North’s has inspired me to write a post. In ‘Three parts girl, one part boy’ he asks the question…Was Jamie right to express a preference. Moreover was he right to do it so publicly?

Within minutes of Jools Oliver giving birth to their fourth child, husband Jamie had posted a photo of his new born on Twitter. I for one was over the moon to see that the latest addition to the Oliver family had a portion of ‘meat and two veg’ to add to his “… totally oestrogen filled house.”

As I’ve said before in previous posts, I come from a large family mainly dominated by females. My mum’s first grandchild was male, seven granddaughters followed before 25 years later I gave birth to her last, a boy.

Twigman’s family is the opposite with boys dominating. He grew up in an environment which involved playing sport and going to football and rugby games with his dad and brothers.

Before Twigman and I found out we were going to be parents we’d been considering a holiday to one of the Greek islands. Little did we know that less than nine months later we’d struggle to even afford a Greek salad!

We celebrated/commiserated the ‘surprise’ news with a meal out. The topic of conversation over dinner very quickly turned to what ‘brand’ we would like. Twigman expressed his desire for a girl. I hadn’t given it a thought, I was still somewhere between feeling relieved that I now didn’t have to starve myself to squeeze into a bikini in Rhodes and so could opt for the calorie filled chocolate fudge cake with hot chocolate sauce!

Bang on time, 15th May 1986, our beautiful baby girl arrived, all 4lb 14oz of her. Being tiny she needed feeding little and often. She very quickly inherited the nickname MG, short for misery guts. The first few months were incredibly difficult. Twigman and I played at being mummy and daddy. I still remember the day when it sank in that we were responsible for this little screaming machine!

Once we got the hang of it, we both agreed that we didn’t want to have only one child and so, late 1987 I was pregnant once again. We’d moved from our small two up two down into a ‘grown up’ semi-detached with full central heating and double glazing. This made up for the hideous brown wallpaper and stained carpets the previous owner had left behind.

At my 20 week scan we decided to ask the sex of the baby. Whatever the outcome, we knew this baby would complete our family.

Although he tried to hide it, I knew Twigman was slightly disappointed when the nurse said we were having another girl. But within five minutes, well maybe 10, he was relieved that the baby had 10 fingers and 10 toes. From then on ‘it,’ became Katie. And guess who he goes to football matches with?

Skip on a few years, and once again another ‘slip up’. I know, you’d think we’d learnt by now how these things happen. This time we didn’t bother trying to find out the sex. We both naturally assumed it would be another girl.

So, on 3 May 1991, we were both shocked and surprised when after being at the hospital for only 30 minutes, a blonde blue eyed boy popped out, quite literally. Twigman was like the cat that had got the cream. This didn’t mean that he felt any less of our two young daughters excitedly waiting at home with their nana, to meet their new brother. A few weeks later Twigman was booked in for the snip. And so our family was complete. Oh and we eventually made it to Kefalonia as a family in 2001.

Years ago a young couple, who lived opposite us, shared the good news that they were expecting their first child. The husband confidently declared that it would be a boy. Despite the 50/50 odds, he couldn’t or wouldn’t comprehend that the baby might actually turn out to be a girl. When months later I bumped into him he didn’t even try to hide his disappointment that the beautiful baby sleeping contentedly in the pram was a girl. It’s maybe no surprise then that the couple are now no longer together.

It’s quite a coincidence that Him up North’s Jamie related post occurred the same week I started reading my latest bookclub choice, the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex. The protagonist is Cal Stephanides, a hermaphrodite who was raised as a girl until he was a teenager when it was discovered that he was genetically a boy. Now that’s a whole different ball game (excuse the pun). It will be interesting to see how the story pans out.

I don’t see anything wrong in expressing a preference when you’re waiting for ‘B’ day to arrive. It’s how you behave once the baby is born. If Buddy Bear had been another girl I’m sure Jamie Oliver would have been just as pleased that he had a healthy child to add to his beautiful family. I only hope he remembers to duck when he changes Buddy’s nappy!

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If …

This blog was inspired by reading Him up North’s blog, ‘What’s in a Name?’ after hearing David Cameron’s choice for his new baby.

On Friday 22 November 1963, when the news came through of the assassination of JFK, my eldest sister Ann was in a chemist with her boyfriend buying a pregnancy test. My mum being 40 thought she might be on ‘the change’ but no, on 11 January 1964 I was born. I was two months early and a difficult birth resulting in a caesarean section. Maybe this explains why I’ve always been so impatient in life.

I have Ann’s beau Kevin to thank for my name. Coming into the world prematurely mum hadn’t decided on a name to call her fifth baby. Kevin would arrive at visiting time each day with a list of suggestions. Apparently I remained nameless for three days until he came up with one she liked. “Yes that’ll do.” And so Deborah Jane it was.

Thank goodness my dad didn’t name me, my brother Andrew, born two years earlier, was very nearly called Peregrine!

Ann went on to marry Kevin and they started a family themselves a year or so later, first Susan and then a few years later Helen. Before moving to Holcombe Brook near Bury, they lived only about 10 miles away from us, and I have happy memories of playing tea parties in the garden with my two nieces. Of course being the eldest I always got to be mum!

They were the perfect model family. Kevin had a good job and worked his way up the company. He worked hard and played hard. Sport was his passion. As a young man he won medals and trophies for table tennis. But I remember him as a keen golfer and tennis player. Most days he played some kind of sport. He didn’t smoke and hardly ever drank alcohol.

Susan and Helen were encouraged to play competitive sport too. Both girls played tennis to a high level, particularly Susan. Helen excelled at swimming. Something she’s passed on to her 11 year old daughter, Millie.

Ann worked a few hours a week to fit in around her family, as a secretary at the Covent school Susan and Helen attended. Once they were older and at secondary school she decided to train to be a nurse. It was a hard slog to study and work the long hours as well as look after the family but, she did it and eventually went on to became a midwife.

Easter 1990, Kevin was unexpectedly diagnosed with a brain tumour. He’d been ill since Christmas and the doctors had kept fobbing him off with a virus.

Kevin lived to see both girls graduate from University with very respectable Law degrees, Susan from Cambridge, Helen from Leicester. Three weeks after walking his eldest daughter down the aisle he lost his fight with cancer.

Ann and Kevin celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1990, something Twigman and I are looking forward to doing ourselves in four months time.

Kevin was taken from us far too young, he would have been very proud of his daughters and their beautiful families. His five grandchildren all lead very active lives juggling the many sports activities on offer to children these days.

Unlike Kennedy, he doesn’t have an airport named after him but his spirit lives on. One of my last memories of Kevin was the speech he gave at Susan’s first wedding. He was obviously very ill but he gave a very moving father of the bride speech and finished with the words of the poem If by Rudyard Kipling.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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On Sunday the family travelled from all corners of the UK to the stunning Shrigley Hall for Rachel & Paul’s big day. Sunday evening we all gathered for a pre-wedding dinner at The Leigh Arms in Poynton. We arrived there on mass, I felt for the other diners who’d probably thought they were going out for a quiet dinner. How wrong could they be!

The Greene team, along with Mr D (daughter no. 1’s boyfriend) and Andrew (my brother) were up early Monday morning to wish Ben a happy 19th birthday. Typical teenager he refused to get up and sat in bed with a cup of tea and the laptop on his knee.

After a fry up birthday breakfast it was down to a quick card and present opening before we all jumped to it and got scrubbed and polished for church. Ben looked quite the handsome man and Goblet looked stunning in her short blue dress and contrasting red hair. I’d not lost any weight in the last three weeks so as previously warned it was the old distraction technique of t*ts out. And I reckon it worked!

We were all ready to leave in all our finery when Goblet remembered that the car seats were full of fluff and cat hairs. As usual, Twigman was a martyr, err I mean, came to the rescue and gave them both a quick hoover before heading off for the church.

We arrived bang on time with Paul waiting nervously for his bride-to-be to arrive. The poor guy desperately wanted to get the speech and first dance over with and then he could relax. But first there was the small matter of getting married.

The music began and we turned to catch our first glimpse of the bride. She looked absolutely stunning in her champagne dress. Anyone who has read my previous blogs will be thinking, that tiny thing can’t be related to you lot, but yes she is. Rachel is fortunate to be one of the few in the family who take after my mum’s side of the family.

Daughter no.1 followed behind looking beautiful too. As one of the bridesmaids I think she was more nervous than the bride. On Saturday we’d had a manic trip into town to buy waterproof mascara. Dn1 cries at the drop of a hat, I wondered how many times she’d blubbed already. The mascara seemed to be doing the job.

The ceremony was performed by close friend of the family, Fr O’Doherty, or FOD as we all know him. He was slightly nervous and emotional, he was conducting the marriage of the girl he once saw as the daughter he’d never had. Some of the congregation who aren’t used to FOD’s rushed Irish accent may have needed subtitles but I understood most of what he said.

FOD is very special to our family, he’s performed many important family occasions, christenings and funerals. He buried my favourite aunt and my dad. And I hope one day, in many many years from now, he’ll do the same for my mum.

Once the happy coupled exchanged vows and tears were shed (mainly by daughter no. 1) we made our way back to Shrigley Hall for photos and the wedding breakfast.

The wedding breakfast over it was time for the speeches. Ian, Rachel’s dad gave a brief speech followed by Paul, who did a great job thanking the bridesmaids and ushers but, I have to say, sorry Paul, Ian and best man James, the speech of the night goes to my sister Kathryn. Contrary to tradition, Rachel wanted her mum to say a few words. I spoke to Kath earlier in the day and she said she was nervous but there wasn’t any sign of nerves when she stood up, only pride. You did them proud big sis. Well done.

The dance floor was full all night, with even Twigman busting some moves. I couldn’t get him off, despite the fact that we had to be up at 6am the next morning to drop him at Manchester sirport for a flight to Chicago. A great time was had by all.

Birthday boy Ben seemed to enjoy his day too. He was quite the babe magnet, only the beautiful babes Libby and Bea were aged six!

I think Mr D thoroughly enjoyed himself too. It will be sometime before I forget the sight of Dn1’s Sikh boyfriend on the dance floor with my 87 year old mum singing Beyonce’s ‘Single ladies’.

Anyway I could go on forever about the magical day but I guess you had to be there to appreciate it. I love family occasions and all of us spending time together was just PERFECT.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

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Can you go back?

I’ve spent most of the day at home in bed nursing a cold. Feeling sorry for myself and inbetween the coughing and spluttering I logged on to read a few of the amazingly poignant and moving blogs on Josie’s brilliant Writing Workshop. One in particular by ‘It’s a small world after all’ stirred happy memories of family holidays in France with Twigman and our children.

It was bittersweet how we came to discover the gem that became our little piece of paradise for the next four years.

It was May 1994. In a month’s time we were uprooting our young family to Andover from Manchester. I’d lived in Manchester since I was seven, it was where I’d grown up, where most of my family and our friends lived and the same place where in the space of 12 months we’d fallen in love, bought our first house, got married and started a family (not necessarily in that order)!

Before we embarked on this brave move we were booked to go on a long awaited, much needed family holiday to the Italian Lakes. Life was tough with three small demanding children

Then the call came. Out of the blue, my mother in law had suffered a fatal heart attack. In her 70s, she’d suffered years of pain through osteoporosis, but still her death was unexpected and a shock to everyone. Twigman travelled home to be with his dad and brothers. The funeral came and went in a blur.

Having saved all year for the holiday and with three excited youngsters who couldn’t really grasp what had happened, Eurocamp offered to find us somewhere else a few weeks later. With moving and taking on a bigger mortgage we didn’t know when, if ever, we’d be able to afford to go on holiday again. So this is how we came to discover the beautiful Les Grottes de Roffy near the picturesque market town of Sarlat in the Dordogne area of France.

For the next four years, for two weeks in May, we were transported to another life, a life straight out of an Enid Blyton novel.

From the moment we arrived, before the car had time to cool down from the long hot journey, the kids were in their swimsuits and off to the pool. The hardest decision for Twigman and I, was whether to unpack the car or open a bottle of red first. Usually the latter won!

This idyllic family run site is ideal for young families and perfect for us to come to terms with what had happened back home and the brave move south that lay ahead of us.

If you want your children to be entertained by kids clubs, flumes and slides then Roffy’s not the place for you. By day the children spent hours in the pool splashing about with pals they’d made the previous year, catching up on a whole 12 months worth of news.

We went on long walks in the hazy sun stopping by a bridge to play pooh sticks. We climbed high and explored the ruins of Beynac Castle with its magnificent views over the river and countryside. We toured the 16th century walnut, hazelnut and almond mill where the children pulled faces and held their noses at the smell of the oil. Or we sat in the sun for hours reading novels we’d waited months to find the time to read. The only sounds being the thunk thunk from the tennis courts in the distance and the hourly church bells ringing nearby.

On wet rainy days, of which there were a many, we huddled together in the bar watching the French Open while the great Jerome made delicious Perigord soup to warm the spectators. I can’t believe I actually found his recipe online!

Evenings were spent playing cards while listening to the patriarchal owner of the camp, Pierre, passionately perform on his accordion. While the ever present barman Herve, charmed the young girls with his attempts at broken English.

Once a week, there was a BBQ or a disco of sorts, organised by the small band of young student couriers. On our first visit Twigman and I won the Mr & Mrs competition. The deciding question being which one of these songs sums up your husband, ‘It only takes a minute girl’ by Take That, Lionel Ritchie’s ‘All night long’ or Michael Jackson’s, ‘Don’t stop til you get enough’. I’ll leave you to guess which one I chose.

Fifteen years on, we’re still in touch with Phil and Andrea, friends we made at Roffy when life seemed so simple. When we meet we still recall shared memories of sitting outside the caravan together drinking, watching the sun go down while the children played happily together as if they’d known each other all their life. We laugh about the time we were reported for making too much noise. The time Brian didn’t get up for his daily 10 mile early morning jog because he was hungover and couldn’t find his glasses. He never did find them and Linda had to drive all the way home to Leeds.

We laugh about the time we drank a whole bottle of Amaretto with interesting consequences. The following year we hid like children from mad Marcia and her odd son. And the mystery of the stolen bike, which to this day still remains a mystery!

I’ve googled the site and it still looks the same. It’s not run by the same family but I see it hasn’t changed all that much. We always promise we’ll go back. Will we, can you go back?

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Family occasions are always joyous. A chance for everyone from up and down the country to come together.

It’s a beautiful sunny day and the family are all gathered for Max’s first Holy Communion. Max is my eldest sister Ann’s only grandson and the eldest of my mum’s only two male great grandchildren. As I’ve explained before our family is a bit short on men but somehow we get by!

As usual the Greene team arrive at the last minute and have to split up. We catch sight of the rest of the clan dotted around the congregation. There’s lots of waving and swapping places with little ones desperate to sit next to older cousins. After a few tears and tantrums everyone’s settled in their seats and the service gets underway.

Eight year old Max, takes pride of place at the front with the other children ready to receive God for the first time. The girls are proudly wearing their overwhipped meringue dresses, the boys in ties and white shirts with stiff collars that are obviously playing havoc with their freshly scrubbed necks.

Daughter no. 1’s Sikh boyfriend has come along too. It’s his first experience in a Catholic church and I catch sight of his puzzled face. Years of being forced to go to church, I’m used to the ‘stand up, sit down, kneel down, keep moving’ palaver. But the poor lad didn’t have a clue what was happening. He got the shock of his life when the priest started throwing holy water at him!

Watching Max waiting to take communion for the first time took me back to my own first Holy Communion, nearly 40 years ago. After weeks of going to classes and practicing at home, in front of the mirror, sticking my tongue out to receive the host, I remember thinking what a let down God was. He didn’t taste of anything and I spent the rest of the service trying to flick him off the roof of my mouth, whilst still trying to look angelic and virgin-like in my white dress and veil. Not an easy task I can tell you.

After what seemed like an age the deed was done and it was time to head back to the house for a BBQ. Or so we thought. Before we could disappear, we had to share a cup of tea and a few bourbons (my least favourite biscuit) with the priest and the rest of the congregation. What joy!

Eventually we escape and make it back to house for the real celebrations to begin. With everyone’s glass full, Max’s proud dad, Mike raises a toast.

Lieutenant Colonel, Mike Tanner of the Royal Marines is a powerful fighting machine but a gentle giant of a man. A bear hug from Mike is a joy in itself.

Toast out of the way, photos taken and BBQ coals heating up nicely, the kids rush upstairs to change out of their Sunday best into something more suitable for launching themselves on the now assembled bouncy castle.

I looked on in envy as the little ones squeal and shriek as they bounce up and down on the inflatable ocean. But soon I’m easily distracted by the choice of steak, burgers and sausages on offer. But first I need to change out of my dress to make room for the puds. A big part of the appeal of these get togethers is Ann, my sister, always comes up trumps on the pudding front. It would be rude not to give each one a try, wouldn’t it? The familiar phrase “eyes bigger than your belly” springs to my mind.

Several delicious desserts later and full of fizz, there’s a lull in the conversation. I glance over at the bouncy castle and spot my chance. Shall I, no I can’t, can I? Oh sod it. In the words of Obama, “Yes you can”. I literally run across the lawn and jump for JOY!

Look what happens when the kids get involved!

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