Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Eh? What?

Stumpen: that's Norwegian for... well, Stumpy, I suppose.

We had a cat called Stumpen, y'see. He got the name because where a cat would normally have a long tail, all he had was a tiny stump. And no, he wasn't a Manx.

Stumpen was born perfectly normal. He was one of our Cinder's kittens. She had them in the bottom of a small cupboard in the living room and whenever she felt it was time to feed them, she'd call them all to come back in there.

Obviously, the cupboard door was left open so that the cats could go in and out as they pleased, but one day Paul decided to shut it. And poor little Stumpen just happened to have his tail hanging over the edge at the time.

Ouch! It looked painful but it was a clean cut. Yes, shutting the door had cut off his tiny tail.

I phoned the vet to ask what I should do but was told to leave it, that the mother cat would take care of it. And she did. She kept it clean and within a week it had healed. I suppose you could say he was docked.

The little black cat with no tail became quite a feature in our neighbourhood. Everybody knew where he belonged and most had a soft spot for him. And being a clever cat, he knew exactly how to make the most of his situation. Oh yes... love me because I'm tailless, why don't you?

As for Paul... let's just say there comes a point when you realise that some children and pets simply don't mix. Think rabbit and budgie!


Sunday, June 25, 2006

And The Rain Came Tumbling Down

Linn Marie's going camping with a friend in August so yesterday we got the tent out to check that nothing was missing. Just as well we did! The thing was full of mildew and very smelly!

Why? Well let me explain.

When we first decided to move to England, we came over with the tents and camped here and there while we looked for places we liked and houses to let. For the first week, everything went fine.

Then we arrived at Eastbourne. We found a camping site just outside of town and pitched out tents; two of them, one for Bjørn, Paul and me and one for Lise and Linn Marie. That's the way we always camped. The girls liked to have a tent of their own.

Our first night there was mostly spent in A&E with Paul. He had a dreadful tummy ache but the wait was so long it had passed before we even saw a doctor so off went trotted back to our tents. Well, we drove, actually.

The second night we settled down to what we hoped would be uninterupted sleep. We were all tired after the previous night, after all. I don't think we realised just how tired we were, though.

The heavens opened that night. Rain lashed down!

But did we notice? No! Not until we were woken by the girls in the morning, complaining that everything in their tent was wet.

We sat up, rubbed the sleep from our eyes, stretched and looked around. Sure enough, rain was seeping in through the tent and it was anything but dry.

We crawled out, grabbed our stuff and hung it over the car, our camping chairs, trees, and whatever else we could find that might be used as a drying implement. Then we had a look in the girls' tent.

Things were even worse.

Their clothes were floating! Their air-beds were floating! Their sleeping bags were floating! The rain had come through in torrents, and they'd slept right through it.

There was no way we could spend another night in the soaked tents so we just packed them up quickly and went down to town to find alternative accommodation. The tents were left in the back of the car and forgotten.

Judging by the state of the tent we put up yesterday, it's obvious we'd also forgotten to dry them off and/or clean them when we got home. The tent had been in its bag for about 10 years! No wonder it wasn't a pretty sight!

Still, the girls are getting a new one. A floral one! I just hope Richard doesn't decide to take his son camping because I've a feeling they're going to look pretty silly sitting outside a floral tent!


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Borstal Boys Forbidden!!

I used to have a friend called John. Due to the nature of this post, I won't mention his surname but I'm sure that if he ever stumbles across this, he'll recognise himself. Certain other readers of this blog will recognise him, too.

John was a bit of a tea-leaf. Cars were his thing. He just couldn't keep his mitts off 'em.

God only knows how many cars John stole during his youth, but I can assure you it wasn't just a few. Twenty? Thirty? Probably far more.

Now considering the law of averages, the chances of his getting caught increased with every car he stole. But the fact that he'd often park his stolen vehicles in the car-park opposite his house hardly helped, especially as he'd already been done a few times and was known to the police.

But either John wasn't very bright back then, or he liked to live on the edge. My guess is that the answer lies somewhere between the two.

Eventually John got caught for the umpteenth time and sent to borstal. Gaynes Hall in Cambridgeshire, to be exact. I think I was about 17 by this time, and if my recollection's correct, John must have been 16 as I believe he was a year younger than me. If anybody out there knows different, feel free to correct me.

Because we were pretty close back then, John would write to me from his 'home in the country' as he'd put it. I thought that was quite nice of him and used to look forward to his letters arriving in their plain grey, pretty much non-descript envelopes.

But father thought otherwise. He was convinced that any postman knew that those particular envelopes originated at establishments run by her majesty, and that, as such, our postman would spread the word around the neighbourhood that his daughter had some connection with said establishments. Eh?

Because of father's conviction that we'd be the talk of the street, I was banned from receiving letters from John.

"I don't want everybody thinking you have friends in prison," he said.

Err... but Dad, the truth is, I do have friends in prison. Well, one friend in a kind of prison... one designed for youths.

No amount of arguing changed his stance. John's letters were well and truly banned and from that day onwards had to be sent to me via a friend. I guess it didn't matter what her postman thought!


Sunday, June 18, 2006

When Inger Lise Came To The World

It's Lise's twentieth birthday today so as a way of celebrating I thought I'd share the story of her birth with you.

She was expected to arrive on 26th May but in what we'd later learn to be typical Lise fashion, she hung around for about three weeks longer than she should have done before she eventually decided to appear.

By that time I was getting very tired of being pregnant. Norway was in the throws of a heatwave and I was stuck in hospital—in Buskerud Sentral Sykehus—fed-up and wanting the baby out.

One afternoon, during his visit, Dr. Jordheim—the doctor in charge of obstetrics back in the 90s—found me crying.

"What's the matter?" he asked, as they do.

"I'm fed-up," I replied. "I'm totally hopeless. I can't even give birth to a baby properly. I've been put on drips, given pills to put under my tongue, followed every old housewives' tale going and I'm still pregnant."

Dr. Jordheim sat on the bed and took my hand. "Mrs Jacobsen," he said. "I've been a doctor here for a long, long time and believe me, I've yet to hear of a baby that didn't come up sooner or later. Yours just happens to be later."

Somehow, those words cheered me up. The fact that he also promised that if nothing had happened by morning, I'd be taken down for a c-section helped a lot, too.

That night, after Svend (Lise's father and my ex-husband) had left at about eleven o'clock, I went out on the balcony to sit with some of the other expectant mothers. I can't have been out there more than ten minutes when I felt something happening. It wasn't like the Braxton Hicks' I'd been having - this was different.

In I trotted, found a midwife and asked to be examined.

"No, you've ages to go yet. You're still only on one centimetre." I'd been there for over a week so things didn't sound optimistic.

But the discomfort continued and I was sure something was happening. In I went again and grabbed another midwife. Would she examine me?

"But you've just been—"

"I know, but I want to be examined again. I'm sure something's happening."

Up on the bed, legs apart, midwife has a feel.

"Blimey! You're eight centimetres already. We'd better get you into a delivery room."

Svend was called, he rushed back up, and by the time they'd got me into the delivery room I was fully dilated and pushing. Now it's all well and good for midwives to say "don't push" but when you're body's pushing a baby out, trying to hold back is like trying to hold a tsunami back with a sack of sand! Get real - this baby's coming!

The delivery bed and the bed I'd been on had somehow become hooked together. The midwife and a nurse were shaking them, trying to move the bed away so that midwife could get into position, and suddenly my waters broke. Splash! They went everywhere.

"Don't you ever come near me again," I scream at Svend. "It's your bloody fault I'm in this pain."

"I'm sorry," he's saying, wanting to do something to ease things for me but knowing there's nothing he can do. If he touches me I'll get angry. That's the last thing I want when I hurt.

"You need pethadine," the midwife said.

"No I don't," I argued. We'd agreed that I wouldn't have anything at all. I wanted a completely natural childbirth.

Suddenly she's leaning over the bed with a syringe, sticking a needle in my thigh. I'm frustrated and angry... I punch her! Smack! She topples backwards and lands against the wall.

The baby's still coming. I can feel her head. I tell the nurse. Svend gives the bed one last pull and it comes free. The midwife dashes round, positions herself at the end of the delivery bed and plop! A baby lands in her hands.

It's five past midnight and I feel serene. The most beautiful child I've ever seen is placed on my breast, and she looks up at me with big blue eyes. I fall in love and Svend cries.

The wait and the pain's forgotten.

There's absolutely nothing in this world that can measure against the feeling of seeing your newborn baby for the first time. It's a moment I'll never forget.

This one's for you, Lise. I love you.


Friday, June 16, 2006

There's A Bomb In My Bag!

Today it's my mum's 70th birthday. Needless to say, there are lots of memories involving Mum but the one that sticks out most right now is the one involving the bomb.

There was a period during the 70s when the IRA were sending letter bombs to English addresses. I can't remember exactly what we were told to look out for but one day, a small parcel dropped through our letterbox and Mum was convinced it was a letter bomb. The writing was similar to the writing they'd shown on the news and with Clancey being an Irish name, she thought we'd be a prime target. I'm not quite sure what he logic was there but, there you go, that's my mum.

If you think you're in possession of a bomb, the sensible thing to do would be to contact the police. And that's exactly what she did. Only she didn't go out to a phone box to call them, she put the bomb in her shopping bag and went off to the bus-stop so that she could take the bomb to the police station.

The bag was held at arm's length in front of her and when she got on the bus, she placed it carefully on the seat next to her and told the conductor not to touch it "because there's a bomb in there." Talk about the nutter on the bus!

The bus Mum was on stops right opposite the police station. Handy, wouldn't you think? But did Mum get off there? No. She took the bus two stops further before she got off. Why? Because she wanted to take the bomb to her own mother's house first.

"I've got a bomb, Mum," she said, on arriving there.

"Well what the bleedin' hell do you want me to do wiv it?" Nan asked. "Don't bring it in here. Take it to the police station."

"But I've just been passed the police station."

"Then you'll just have to go back."

Off she poodled again, back to the police station, bag still held at arm's length.

The policeman on duty was very kind and after putting the parcel in a bucket of sand, told her she'd done the right thing. He obviously didn't know she'd been on a roundabout tour first.

Later that day a policeman knocked at our door.

"It's about the parcel you brought to us," he said. "We had bomb specialists come down and open it. It's a lighter. A Ronson lighter."

Dad had sent his lighter away to be repaired but hadn't told Mum. Why would he? Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't be interested.

All's well that ends well, as they say, but it's a story Mum has never been able to live down, bless her. But every family has to have its stories and let's face it, without them this blog wouldn't exist.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stung Bum

All this talk of bare bottoms has brought back another memory. Yes, another time where I wasn't wearing the necessary under garments.

This time I wasn't more than about five. Why I wasn't wearing knickers is a mystery because Mum was always very strict about that - I can only assume that I took them off when she wasn't looking.

Across the road from us was a corner shop. One of the old-fashioned ones that you don't see in London anymore; a shop that sold everything from one egg to a dishcloth. The couple who owned the shop had a son, Timothy.

I used to play with Timothy a lot, and this particular day he'd brought a bunch of empty boxes out of the shop and had lined them up on the pavement out front. He sat in the first box—the engine of the train—and I sat in a carriage further along. He tooted and whistled and the train chugged along. It was all good fun.

But then everything went wrong.

I decided to change carriages. Out I got, walked to the back and climbed into a new box. I sat down and.... arrrggghhhhhh! The most horrendous burning sensation went through my bum!

I ran across the road to my Mum (luckily there wasn't much traffic in our street back in the 60s), clutching my backside and crying like a banshee.

A quick look at the damage told Mum what had happened. I'd sat on a wasp! To make sure she wasn't mistaken, she went over and had a look in the boxes and sure enough, there in the last box was a dead wasp.

Now I don't know about you but I can think of better ways of killing a wasp than by sitting on it, especially with a bare backside. It'd obviously stung me during its death throws, determined to get its own back on me.

Needless to say, sitting down comfortably wasn't an option for several days following that particular event but it did teach me to always look at what's inside before getting into a cardboard box. And after all, that's a piece of wisdom you just never know when you might need, isn't it?

PS: The boy's full name was Timothy Lyons. If you're out there, Timothy, and you recognise this story, do get it touch.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some People Never Learn

You'd have thought that the rounders incident would have taught me a thing or two about wearing knickers, would you? But no, at 16 I was still walking about knickerless and getting into trouble because of it.

This particular incident happened while I was staying with my cousin Tina for a week. She lives just outside Great Yarmouth so it stands to reason that we spent a few evenings wandering along the front, chatting up lads and generally having a good time.

One evening I decided to wear a dirndl skirt (for those who don't know, it's a full circle skirt a la those worn during the 50s). Because it was long—calf length—I thought it'd be ok if I went without any knickers on. I mean, it's nice to feel free of restricting undergarments at times, isn't it?

Anyway, off we went, caught the bus to town and arrived on the promenade ready for some fun.

What I hadn't reckoned with was the breeze that was coming off the sea. As we walked along, it was lifting the satin fabric of my skirt and swishing it around my legs. I quite liked the sensation and thought it probably looked quite flirty, too. But then came a gush that lifted the skirt right over my head. And with so much fabric, try as I might, I couldn't get the damned thing down! I was showing everything I had - white arse and... well, my front bottom, too!

Tina thought it was hilarious. Instead of helping, she stood laughing herself silly while I battled with yards of bottle green satin.

Then came the wolf whistles. A gang of lads on the beach side of the road were enjoying the show!

Oh, the shame!

Needless to say, I didn't particularly enjoy that evening in Great Yarmouth!

Did I learn to keep my knickers on? Who knows!


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Keep Your Knickers On!

I was about eight and it was PE day. Not the best day to be at school without knickers on. But then I don't suppose for one moment I stopped to think about that when I waltzed off to school that morning.

I had a habit of going knickerless at that age. It would drive Mum barmy. "People will think I don't buy you any," she'd say. Or "You'll catch your death with the wind blowing up your skirt." As it happened, I rather liked the wind blowing up my skirt. Tut tut.

Anyway, this particular day the PE teacher decided we'd play rounders in the playground. The boy's playground. We were segregated back then. Just as well considering my penchant for going knickerless, I suppose.

We didn't have PE kits - everybody just played in whatever they were wearing but most would come suitably clad, knowing it was PE day. Apart from me, that is. Where most of the other girls were wearing shorts, I was wearing a skirt.

You're starting to get the picture now, aren't you?

Eventually it was my turn to bat. The ball came at me, I swung the bat and wallop! The ball thundered across the playground, hit the tree and ricocheted across to the boy's toilets. All this gave me plenty of time to get a 'rounder', so off I went, feet moving as fast as they could carry me. First base....second base....third base....smack! I felt flat on my face, skirt round my waist and doing a moony.

I got up, ran out of the gates and didn't stop until I was home.

Oh, the shame! Everybody had seen my bare bum! Even the boys!

It was several days before I dared go back to school, and then only because a group of my class mates came to my house to tell me that nobody gave a shoot about my bum and that if it was upsetting me that much, they'd all show their bums too.

How's that for solidarity?


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Death of A Bird

Yesterday I told you about the rabbit who had an automatic wash. The rabbit was lucky. The budgie we had wasn't.

Before I start, I really do have to reiterate that Paul would never hurt anything willingly. The things he did when he was younger were purely because he didn't understand the consequences. There was no malice and certainly none of the wickedness I've often witnessed amongst some so-called 'normal' children.

Ok, on with the story.

We had a budgie. Once again, it's name escapes me but I remember it was blue. A beautiful pale blue with white flecks to its feathers.

The budgie was very tame so when I put my hand in the cage, it would happily come onto my finger to be brought out for some free flying and time spent pulling my hair. This particular day, Paul asked if he could try to get the budgie out. Maybe it was foolish of me to say yes, but nevertheless I did.

Paul opened the cage door as gently as he was able, put his hand in and waited patiently. Because the bird wasn't used to going onto Paul's finger (even though it would happily land on him once outside the cage), he just sat there, watching; possibly debating, if birds are capable of such things.

Paul's patience wasn't too good when he was younger so after a few minutes, he took it upon himself to grab the budgie in order to get it out. As soon as I saw and heard what was happening -- the squawking and flying feathers gave it away -- I jumped up shouting for him to stop. But it was too late. Paul had grabbed the budgie by the neck and pulled him out of the cage.

The result? One very dead bird.

Paul was devastated. He sobbed until there were no more tears left. He understood that dead meant the budgie would have to be buried and would never again sit in his cage chattering away, or fly around the room, or annoy his mum by pulling at her hair. He understood that while we all die one day, it isn't a good thing to cause another creature to die.

While he's forgotten a lot of the incidents that happened during his childhood, he does remember strangling the budgie. But we don't talk about it because on the occasions it has been mentioned, he's cried again and there's really no point upsetting him over something that can't be undone.

Although the rest of us can look back and make light of it, Paul can't. And maybe he shouldn't, either.

I know it sounds awful that we can make light of it at all. It isn't nice but sometimes that's the only way that families who have had to deal with more than their share of traumatic events can deal with things. They make light of the less traumatic ones. It's some weird kind of psychology but as long as it works, why knock it?


Monday, June 05, 2006

The Rabbit and The Washing Machine

Writing about washing machines yesterday made me think about another washing machine incident that happened when Paul was about 14, although bearing in mind his profound learning difficulties, his mental age probably wasn't more than about 3.

We had a rabbit. I can't remember its name but that doesn't really matter. He was brown, had floppy ears and was--as rabbits generally are--kind of cute.

Paul was the kind of child who had to be watched every minute of the day. Now I know that probably sounds like an exaggeration but believe me, it isn't. Blink and he'd be up to something! But watching somebody the whole time isn't easy and as I'm only human, there were times when my attention would be elsewhere and Paul would get up to things that, at best would cause me a lot of extra work, and at worse could be damn right dangerous (see this post).

I don't recall why I'd been distracted -- maybe I went to the loo; perhaps the phone rang; possibly there had been somebody at the door -- but whatever it was, during the time my attention had been elsewhere, Paul had started up the washing machine. Ok, so that's not so bad. A waste of water and electricity but no harm done. Or was there?

On closer inspection I saw something brown going round in the drum. Yes, you guessed it. He'd put the rabbit in the washing machine!

I quickly turned it off and unless you've had reason to desperately want to get the washing machine door open, you have no idea just how slowly 30 seconds can take to pass. When I finally heard the click and got the rabbit out, I could hardly believe that he still appeared to be alive and well. He shook himself a few times before hopping off in search of food!

I took him to the vet for a check up and no harm had been done. Thankfully, Paul had put the machine on a rinse rather than a hot wash. I dread to think what the result might have been if it had been the other way round.

One thing that's important to understand is that Paul was never cruel. He wouldn't have deliberately hurt any creature. He'd seen me put his teddies and other stuffed toys in the washing machine and had thought he could do the same with the rabbit. He simply hadn't understood what the consequences could have been.

He was terribly upset once it was explained to him but all's well that ends well.

Rabbits, I concluded, must be incredibly resilient creatures.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sausages and The Washing Machine

In 1997 I took a week away from my family in Norway to visit my family in England. It was the first time I'd been 'home' in 7 years. At this point Paul was 19 but with a mental age of about 4, Inger Lise was 11 and Linn Marie was just 9.

Bjørn, my partner at the time, drove me to Gardemoen (what was then Oslo's second airport but is now the International airport) and the children came along to see me off.

As we'd arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, we went upstairs to the café, found a seat by the big windows that overlooked the aircraft bays and enjoyed a slice of cake or two together.

I'd noticed that Linn Marie was unusually quiet but thought it was probably that she was already missing her mum, knowing I'd be away for a whole week. And let's face it, at that age a week can feel like an eternity, can't it?

When Bjørn left the table for a quick visit to the loo, Linn Marie moved closer to me and said "Mum, I'm really worried, y'know".

Bless her, I thought. She's concerned that the plane might crash or something equally as awful. "What's the matter, babe?" I asked.

"I'm worried about what we're going to eat and whether I'll have any clean clothes for school. You see, Dad only knows how to make hotdogs and I don't think he knows how to use the washing machine."

I couldn't help but smile. The things that go through the minds of little 'uns, eh?

I assured her that she could survive on hotdogs for a week, although I was sure he'd be able to make a few other things, too. I knew for a fact he could make pizza and boil potatoes - it's just that with me around, he'd never had to so she'd never seen him do anything other than heat up the odd pan of hotdogs for supper now and then if I happened to be out. As for the washing machine, she did have a point, but I'd made sure the wardrobes and drawers were full of enough clean clothes to keep them going for the week.

When I came back, I was met at the airport by a smiling child who assured me that everything had been fine. Sure, they'd eaten a good few hotdogs, but they'd also had burgers and mash, meatballs and potatoes and a couple of rice dishes out of a packet.

"From now on, Mum," she said. "If you're not worried about something, I'm not going to worry about it, either."

How's that for trust?