168. What I did in my summer holidays…

1. This summer, I wittered on a bit…

“I’ve got this clear memory of being at school – it must have been more than 65 years ago – and our teacher said something about Parkinson’s. I went home and asked my mum what it was. She frowned a little, then told me it was a brand of cigarettes. So when the teacher asked the next day what we remembered about Parkinson’s…”

There is a chortle across the room from the thirty-odd Rotarians who are listening to Colin thanking me for my first ‘after-lunch’ speech. They seem an affable bunch of chaps – they are all chaps, so just me and the waitress holding up the distaff side of things. Which is a slightly strange experience, vaguely reminiscent of taking Physics A Level.

I have been speaking on behalf of Parkinson’s UK and it seems to have gone all right, as far as I can tell. No-one heckled or threw bread rolls. No-one went to the toilet – the accepted measure of a successful assembly. There were a few laughs and a sensible question at the end. I am on my very best behaviour, standing for the loyal toast and using my napkin and everything.

Mind you, I do have a secret weapon, which I concealed by stuffing my right hand into my jacket pocket when I wasn’t actually using it. (Using the hand. Not the pocket. I was using the pocket. To put my hand in. Glad we’ve cleared that up.)

So when I started my talk by sharing my personal experience of being diagnosed with PD, I had surprise on my side and could feel the ripple through the audience. A bit cheeky but in a good cause. Commending the work of Parkinson’s UK is easy because they have been a significant factor in getting me from the frightened, newly-diagnosed Jellywoman of three years ago to where I am today. The challenge is in trying to get all I have to say about Parkinson’s down to twenty minutes. This is something I need to work on before next week’s gig.

2. This summer, I Looked for Things: Part One.

In the blurb about Northfields House, they witter on about weddings and conferences but strangely fail to mention the key attraction: it’s a great place to play Sardines.

We’ve holidayed here before, with lots of our family and my sister-in-law’s family bundling in to fill the 28 beds. Last time, Sardines was fairly straightforward: however big a place is, once you’ve got the first half-a-dozen people squashed into a cupboard or behind a curtain, it generally doesn’t take that long for everyone else to find them.

But this year was different. This year we made the mistake of picking the youngest, smallest cousin to go first. And then we couldn’t find him. Wardrobes were opened, beds peered under, duvets pummelled. Twenty people scoured the house: the elderly and the pregnant sat the game out and were treated to the sight of everyone else wandering past them again and again, as if on a manic carousel.

The hunt started in good humour but about an hour in, was gaining an edge of anxiety. We opened wardrobes, half expecting to find some fur coats missing and a flurry of snow amid the shoes. By general consensus, we started to call his name. “You’ve won,” we shouted in basement, attic and corridor. “Come out!”

Relief all round when a dozy, small and somewhat over-heated boy was found, in a box, under a blanket, in an airing cupboard. The next hider was the tallest in the party, making a satisfying bulk behind the curtain.

3. This summer, I Looked for Things: Part Two.

I do realise, of course, that the whole point of geo-caching is to try and find things that are hidden. And that if those things are well signposted, then that defeats the object of the exercise.

It just hadn’t occurred to me that the luminous markers which we were supposed to be following through the dark, dark woods in the dark, dark night; that those markers would be so very very small. A square inch at the most.  Attached to a tree, according to the instructions, about two metres up to show us the way when there was a split in the path. Jolly difficult to see: left to myself, I’d probably still be there.

However, there were a dozen of us in the party, most happy to toddle along with our torches enjoying the novel experience of being in the dark, dark woods in the dark, dark night. It had been raining for most of the day and the scent of the wet bark was superb. Luminous markers eluded me but luminous moths called for attention.

A quest of this kind, however, does lend itself to restrained competitiveness in those who are so inclined. Some were sure the path went one way; others could have told you that was wrong, if only someone had listened to them. Some knew that we’d taken that route before; others had an innate sense of direction which assured them that we hadn’t. When we eventually found the cache, clambering through nettles and brambles which made those of us grateful who were not wearing shorts, it turned out that we were the first people to find it in over a year. Which came as no surprise.

Had the cache been hidden in a box, under a blanket, in an airing cupboard, we’d probably still all be looking.

4. This summer, I thought about the Year to Come…

I still think in academic years. Probably always will now. A year ago, I had just left Thrush Woods and was wondering what to do with the rest of my life; not fancying a thirty year weekend. Teaching had consumed me for decades: without that, I wondered, what was the point of me?

Everyone says how busy retirement is. Everyone is right about that. In fact, retirement doesn’t really seem the right word for this phase of my life: I might come over all politically correct and call myself ‘differently employed’. As well as my new venture as a volunteer speaker for Parkinson’s UK (available for Rotary groups, Church groups and really desperate wedding parties), I’m now on all sorts of parkie-related committees and working groups, and very grateful to be able to contribute.

There’s still teaching related stuff, of course: supply and tutoring and in-service training. I manage a couple of websites. And in between all this, there’s knitting and knattering with friends, and singing with other friends, and doing stuff with the Aged P’s. And the allotment, and the garden and the decorating.

And the blog. Will try harder. New year’s Resolution. See you next week?

Have a good one.

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