Thursday 30 August 2012

Chocolate slugshake, anyone?

Sick of slugs?  Then I’m sorry, but you’ve come to the wrong place.  Sun Dried Sparrows is full of 'em.  Here are some more.

I got this great little paperback when I was in my twenties, on a trip to London, from one of those bookshops where nothing seemed to be in any order, just jumbled up for you to rummage through, piled up on tables and underneath them too so you had to get on your hands and knees and have a good old grope around.  So there I was on all fours when, quite fittingly perhaps, I found this.  It's one of the few books I've kept for all that time.

I’ve gathered it’s a bit of a classic - although out of print now, I think.
Those who know me will know that I can get a little tired of doing ‘cute’.  It helps to pay the bills but my darker inner self longs to fill pages with the weird, the wild and the ugly: bats, rats, mammoths, boars and manatees, perhaps.   I can't find anyone who'll take that risk with me...

Slugs would be just fine, wouldn't they? 

 But I couldn’t compete with these.

And just so you know…

If you do treat your slugs badly,
- like this, perhaps...

 or this…

 This is what happens to you.

Think on.

('Slugs' was written by David Greenberg and illustrated by Victoria Chessman.  Published by Pepper Press, 1983)

Sunday 26 August 2012

Please Mr Postman

From the exotic Netherlands.... Shocking Blue

The other day I received a beautiful handwritten – handwritten! – letter from an old friend.  She’d embellished the edges of the notepaper with decorative squirls and even the little PTO in the bottom right corner was executed in a fancy script.  It took me right back just to see her handwriting again.  Just about the only handwriting I see, or do myself, is on shopping lists, post-it notes and cheques: unimaginative and functional reminders of  life’s most boring bits.  Whereas, letters… letters can be so much more.

As a child I was a keen letter-writer.  I never wrote to Father Christmas, though, because I figured that if he was smart enough to get into our house which had a wall-mounted gas fire and no chimney, then he probably had sufficient magical powers to know what I wanted without me having to spell it out.   However, the first letter I ever wrote was soon after he’d made his superhuman entrance, when I sent a little note to my Nan and Granddad thanking them for my present.  (Proof if any were needed that Father Christmas did have the miraculous ability to get it from them to the pillowcase at the end of my bed, even if it meant secreting himself in through a gas pipe.)  Nan wrote lovely letters back on small sheets of  blue Basildon Bond, in her traditional old-fashioned fountain pen handwriting, where all the characters were very even and modest. Somehow, her sweet letters felt like virtual hugs.

Around the age of eleven, I got into penfriends.  Being a precocious little twat I only wanted foreign penfriends and the more exotic the country, the better.  For a while I exchanged letters with a Swede, a New Zealand Maori and the daughter of the Jamaican Ambassador for Haiti - see what I mean?!  However, my favourite penpal for a couple of years was Mandeep.  Mandeep was a Kenyan Indian Sikh and, best of all, a boy.

Mandeep wrote the most beautiful letters.  He was articulate and imaginative, and even his handwriting looked intelligent, somehow – slightly sharp edges made it appear confident, while the characters with descendents had large flamboyant curls… passionate curls.  When those folded blue aerogrammes with his handwriting on came through my letterbox I felt new things.  Letters from Mandeep made my heart skip and my head rush in ways I’d never known before, nor really understood. 

The eleven-year old me fell a little bit in love with Mandeep, or at least with the idea of him, and it seemed to be mutual.  Gradually we began to write quite romantically… paying compliments in the most touching of ways, hinting at something between us that we didn’t quite comprehend and allowing each other to read between the lines.  He had a poetic turn of phrase and was never boring.  By the age of twelve, in my imagined future, I was going to marry this exotic, dark-skinned boy and have his babies, and all because of the way he wrote.  I hadn’t even seen his picture.

Of course the dream was shattered when we eventually met.  He came to the UK to stay with some cousins and incorporated a side trip to see me.  It felt like a huge event, and it was perhaps inevitable that it would be a let-down, as well as one of the most awkward, cringe-worthy days of my life.  We were both embarrassed, inhibited and painfully shy.  He was nothing like I’d imagined; it was as if the skinny adolescent boy sitting there on my sofa nibbling on a Barmouth biscuit and struggling for words was an entirely different person to the hero of my romantic fantasy who wrote those thoughtful, exciting letters, and I know my disappointment was reciprocated.   After that, our exchanges immediately lost their magic and stopped soon after.

Perhaps letters are best used as an extension of a friendship or connection you’ve already made?  Or when you meet someone occasionally but not often enough, and writing can keep the bond strong.  Up until email took the place of letters, I was still using pen and paper to write long, rambling missives to distant friends, enjoying the very craft of expression through the written word.  The actual, physical written word.  Likewise I’d still get that extra special pleasure from a handwritten reply, the sight of an individual’s distinctive script, even just the knowledge that their pen had touched the paper and their hand had held the pen gave it more of a connection.  I love email for all the obvious reasons, and a lot of the time I couldn’t be doing with all that tiresome scribing any more when I can type quickly instead, but a bit of me misses that extra something that you give – and get - with a handwritten letter.  If it wasn’t for the cost of stamps and the threat of an aching wrist I might send more.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Dancing through dark times

At an age when my friends and I should have been enjoying the most hedonistic time of our lives, there was something dark and ominous looming over us like a monstrous headmaster ready to dish out discipline at the merest hint of any mischief: the threat of nuclear war. 

For me - and maybe for you too?  - the early '80s were schizophrenic in the extreme.  On the one hand there were 'Protect and Survive' pamphlets dropping through our letterboxes and, a little later, visions of a post nuclear apocalypse would be beamed into our living rooms via programmes like 'Threads'.

Even the children’s author and illustrator Raymond Briggs, best known for his wonderful books ‘The Snowman’ and ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’, stepped into this terrifying territory and haunted us with ‘When The Wind Blows’.   And ‘Only Fools And Horses’ parodied our deepest fears of imminent nuclear conflict with an episode entitled ‘The Russians Are Coming’ in which the hapless Trotters build a fallout shelter at the top of a tower block.  This was not so far from reality – anyone could buy DIY shelter kits through the Sunday supplements, which carried adverts for them as if getting one was on a par with purchasing a new shed.   With one of these safe havens in your back garden you could relax in the knowledge that when World War III kicked off (which it was definitely going to at any moment) you’d be protected against radiation by a few layers of lead, dirt and concrete and some strategically placed cushions.

On the other hand - perhaps as a direct response to the above - there were a lot of bright  and creative things going on behind the scenes.  However, the mainstream took colourful frivolity to an extreme, and seemed dominated by a culture (if you can call it that) of bubble perms and padded shoulders.   Frothy bands like Bucks Fizz (pun intended) topped the charts – their name, their look and their songs all summed up this strange, frilly party atmosphere.  They may as well have been singing, “Let’s all fiddle while Rome burns!”  On the surface it was all primary colourrs and lipgloss, and I can’t blame anyone for wanting that escapism.  If I’d been into plastic pop and not into punk – or at least the ‘anarcho’ element which one area of it had evolved into -  maybe I could have remained ostrich-like too, and emerged from the sand a few years later, blinking incredulously while asking, “Did I miss anything important?” 

It wasn’t just about nuclear war.  There were dozens of other political issues to worry about and to rail against.  (Life was ever thus.)   For a short time I was right in the thick of it, immersed in a scene in which fanzine writers interviewed bands less about their musical influences and more about their stance on fascism and veganism.  Record sleeve artwork no longer exposed us merely to horrific fashion crimes, but instead to the horrors of crimes against animals and the inhabitants of third world countries.  Although… speaking of fashion, the faded black shapeless uniform of protagonists and followers did suggest an almost criminal lack of imagination. (With the exception of Rubella Ballet, who brought a much needed splash of dayglo to those murky days.)  

Around ’81/’82, when I was most involved with this particular musical movement, I was at art college and, not surprisingly, many of my illustrations reflected the burning issues.  My portfolio at the time included collages of mushroom clouds, strange drawings of women bound by bandages and barbed wire, and a lot of black and red.  I was even commissioned to do a picture of balaclava-wearing activists carrying puppies and guinea pigs for an Animal Liberation Front flyer.  One of my favourite artists of the time was Sue Coewhose uncompromising and often brutal, bloody imagery made my spine tingle.

Of course, I still had some fun; skiving off college and travelling halfway round the country in the back of a hired Sherpa Van with my boyfriend’s anarcho punk band was not without its lighter moments.  There were nice people around and good gigs and sometimes a very genuine sense of connection, especially in the face of this cold-hearted world we were kicking against.  And the causes were very real; I cared deeply about both human and animal rights, the divisive effects of the Thatcher government, the miners’ strike, police oppression, poverty, sexism, racism, etc.   It’s easy to feel downhearted about the notion that we didn’t make any difference – but in a small way I think we did, and maybe I’ll write more about that another day.

Meanwhile, it seems strange now to think that I actually spent some time in my late teens giving serious consideration to what I’d do when the four minute warning was sounded (eat chocolate? - snog the first person I saw? - slash my wrists?) whilst at the same time Top Of The Pops gave us fluffy pink-clad dancers flashing vacuous grins to four minute pop songs.

And here’s a song which, to me, absolutely sums up the feeling of the time with both its dramatic arrangement and poignant lyrics:

The Passage: Dark Times

Sunday 19 August 2012

In a roundabout way

Every Summer there’s a steam and traction engine rally event just down the road.  It’s quite a sight as they trundle by, even though our windows rattle worryingly and the walls creak with the vibrations.  The other day one on its own clattered past – painted in red and gold and looking very fancy.  The words on it caught my eye the most:


I had a vision of a fantastic race in which riderless silver stallions with thick, swishing tails compete against giant peacocks, perhaps with jockeys perched high on their backs shaking multicoloured reins.  A quick check on Google dismissed this far-fetched concept (sadly) although I still liked what I found out and maybe it wasn’t so distant from what I’d imagined. 

From his humble roots making farm machinery in the late 1800s, Norfolk-born Frederick Savage went on to develop traction engines and then used his flair and expertise to revolutionise and manufacture fairground equipment.  This included steam-powered galloping horses - and yes, racing peacocks - for carousels.  He didn’t stop there; he also manufactured Jumping Cats, Flying Pigs and Giant Cockerels and Ostriches.  All of these variations were known simply as ‘Gallopers’.  (Ah, I want to change my profession!   I wonder how easy it would be to make and paint fantastical creatures for merry-go-rounds…)

On another note, they may not be racing around on a merry-go-round but I've also been delighted to see peacocks of a different kind in the garden at last.  Peacock butterflies have made a welcome appearance again after what seems to have been a dearth of flying beings this Summer.  Along with the now abundant Red Admirals, their hues and patterns are as rich and vivid as any roundabout models.  It's not difficult to imagine tiny passengers on their furry backs, clinging on as these colourfully winged creatures take them on heart-stopping flights that would far exceed the thrills of any fairground ride.  Although... I do rather like the thought of riding on a steam-powered Flying Pig.

The Hollies: On A Carousel
(and what a nice quality clip for this great song)

Thursday 16 August 2012

It's not about the money...

I was working part-time in my village library, eight or so years ago, just one day a week to help pay the bills.  It was in a tiny room adjoining a church hall, with a roof that leaked when it rained heavily and old-fashioned wooden bookshelves that took all my strength to wheel out from the yellowing walls and into position in readiness for opening time.  Being such a small establishment meant it only needed one member of staff there at a time.  It could be a lonely job, but I did get to look at a lot of lovely books.

Visitors were few so I made sure everyone got a warm greeting; a bit of chit-chat helped my day go faster.  When one elderly and very well turned out gent came in one afternoon I gave him my sweetest smile and we soon got into conversation.  He asked a lot of questions, but that was ok.  I somehow ended up telling him about the part-time course for which I was making the long journey down to Chelsea School of Art each week, and what I was doing to try and earn a bit of money here and there.  He liked that I was doing something artistic.  “Perhaps you could draw a picture of my house one day?” he enquired.  I said yes, that would be great, I’d done some work like that before and would be happy to discuss it further. 

The next time he came in I noticed his thick, shiny white hair looked even neater than before – as if he’d just combed it in the hallway – and his clothes were even more dapper.  Perhaps he’d been somewhere special before coming here – the strong scent of his aftershave suggested that too.  We had another pleasant chat, about the weather and keeping chickens, and his son who was a pilot, and so on.  He told me he was 86, had lost his wife some years ago and was new to the area.  Ah, seems like a nice chap, I thought.

I felt a bit uneasy accepting the box of chocolates he brought with him on his next library visit but he insisted. I took it as just his way of saying how much he appreciated some conversation and company.  They were very tasty, by the way – Belgian.

“Do you like poetry, my dear?” was his opening line the following week. Before I had chance to answer he went on, “I’d love to read some to you one day!”  How sweet, I thought.  What a sweet, romantic old man.  I feigned a vague interest – well it seemed rude not to – although to be honest my knowledge doesn’t go much beyond Spike Milligan’s 'Silly Verse For Kids'.

Looking back I think it must have been him I saw sitting in a car right outside the library when I came out at the end of work on one occasion, but whoever it was had their nose buried deep in a book. I had come out unusually early that week, though, and they didn’t notice me as I walked past.

On his next visit he reminded me about the picture he wanted drawn of his home.  He described it  – a charming thatched house with lots of rooms, a rambling garden and a private courtyard.  “The courtyard is wonderful - great for sunbathing in,” he informed me, “so if you ever want to just relax somewhere on a hot day, let me know”.  I laughed and made some joke about how easily I get sunburnt and turn red, blushing as if to prove the point as I did.  I was quite looking forward to drawing the house, though.

A week later he suggested going for a coffee to dicuss the finer details of the picture commission.  Great idea, I thought, easier than trying to discuss it here at work.  “Your husband won’t mind, will he?” the sweet gentleman asked. I assured him that my husband was very laid-back about that kind of thing and so we arranged to meet down at The Boar’s Head that Wednesday at noon.

I thought it was a bit strange that he took me into one of the little lounges off from the bar as soon as I got there but then he said he had a proposition for me: “I’m going to buy you lunch today,” he announced, “and you mustn’t say no!”  I laughed, and felt embarrassed, but it would’ve been rude not to accept.  “And that’s not all…” he continued, patting my knee.  With his other hand he reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope.    “I want to help you,” he said.  He thrust the packet into my hand, his gnarly fingers lingering against mine for a moment.  A moment that felt too long.  “Open it…”

I was starting to feel rather uncomfortable now.  “OPEN IT!” the old man insisted, his eyes darkening.  He suddenly seemed larger and stronger than his physical presence suggested.  I did as he said.  The envelope was stuffed full of £20 notes.  £800 worth of £20 notes.

The explanation followed – calculated and confident: “This is just the first payment to start you off” he said, “and after that I’ll give you £200 each month.”  I was, naturally, speechless.  “It’ll help pay your train fare to college, I want to help you get through your course” he smiled, but there was something not entirely altruistic about it.  He went on “and….I want something in return.”  I still couldn’t find any words, but a slight knot was forming in my stomach.

“I want you to be my, erm, my companion.  Come with me to art galleries and the theatre and trips into London.  Spend time with me.  You know, just two or three times a month.  Cinema trips and restaurants. You'll come to my house.  I have a beautiful bedroom, you must see it.   I’ll buy you jewellery too – you like silver, don’t you?  And we can travel…I know a great hotel in Greece…”  He pulled up even closer, and started to stroke my knee.

I didn’t know what to do.  I’m not one for big, dramatic gestures or conflicts, especially in public, so I wasn’t about to make a scene in the middle of The Boar’s Head.  I moved away from his groping hand and said, trying to keep as cool as possible, “No, I can’t take it… no…”  But he was insistent.  “Think about it. Take it for now and think about it.”  Not knowing quite how to tackle the situation I shrugged weakly. I guess it was the wrong thing to do but I was in shock, so, playing for time, I assured him reluctantly that I would at least have a think, and unwillingly put the envelope in my bag, a million thoughts jostling around in my head.

Lunch was a complete embarrassment.  My companion carried on as if everything was normal, like nothing was odd about the proposal he’d just made to me, while I found it hard to swallow the smallest morsel, let alone speak.  I longed for this to be over and to get home.

Of course I didn’t keep the £800 or enter into a paid, ahem, ‘companionship’ arrangement (in spite of my husband thinking purely of the financial benefits and saying, “Take it!”…)   Instead I sat down and wrote a carefully worded letter to the ageing lothario, refusing his offer as diplomatically as possible.  The next time I was at the library I took it with me along with the envelope of money and waited for him to come in.

The smell of his liberally applied aftershave signalled his arrival… then in he walked, beaming a big smile, came right round behind my desk, put his arm tightly around me and said, “I assume one may give the librarian a kiss?”   I recoiled and shook my head,  “No…no…I’ve explained it here,” I replied nervously, trying to look kind and handing him the letter with his envelope of cash.  He could tell from my face what it said.  His expression changed dramatically – once again his presence suddenly seemed larger, stronger, darker – as he snatched it from me.  Then the unpleasant accusations came – I can’t even remember what he said now, but I know it was bad and unfair.  I felt a bit sick.  Finally he stormed out of the library, slamming the door behind him.  Immediately any doubts I’d had about his intentions were confirmed by this angry reaction alone.  I exhaled and shuffled some books around, longing for another customer to come in and for some normality to be restored.

Some months later I saw him in town, looking small and unassuming, neatly turned out, just as he had before.   Just a sweet old man, eh...?

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Partners in slime

If you read my last post you may appreciate what these two are: Leopard Slugs.

Maybe this is the very pair responsible for the suggestive pictures on my fence?  I found them this morning hiding under the bird bath. They may be legless and slimy, and I know I'm warped and twisted, but I do think there is a certain natural beauty in these artistic lovers.

Sunday 12 August 2012

But is it art? II

Any idea what this is on my garden fence?  The drunken daubings of a novice graffiti artist, perhaps?  Amazingly, and I hope you won't feel repulsed at this (I'm having a nature-geek moment), but it's the trail of dried slime left there by some slugs who have clearly been getting frisky during the night.  I know... the words 'frisky' and 'slug' don't really go together, perhaps I should have said 'horny'? - but that doesn't sound quite right either...

The great grey/leopard slug (Limax Maximus) has quite a spectacular and complex mating ritual which involves much, well, I suppose you'd call it foreplay, as these humble but apparently very well-endowed hermaphrodites slowly circle and lick eachother for hours before doing the deed, closely entwined and suspended from a trail of slime (I wish there was a better word for that).

Catching the light in the way you can perhaps see it here, this evidence of their nocturnal dance is full of beautiful rainbow colours, like the surface of a pool of oil.  In fact, now dry and completely unslimy, it resembles a fine layer of mother-of-pearl.   They might have made a mess of the fence but I can't help but see pictures in it and appropriately enough, perhaps, they seem a bit saucy to me.  I bet you'll never look at a slug in quite the same way again.

Saturday 11 August 2012

A nice pear?

I rather like the expression ‘pear shaped’.   It’s not in my tatty old dictionary, but then I’ve never completely trusted this particular tome because it excludes the word ‘feisty’.  (The measure of a good dictionary must be the inclusion of ‘feisty’ and it will be the first word I search for when buying a replacement – after the rude ones, of course.)  But I’m curious to know when ‘pear shaped’ came into common usage, at least as a way of saying that things have gone awry, rather than describing a particular body type where your jeans are a Size 18 and your blouse a Size 10.  (Actually, I think dress sizes should be done by shape as I’m sure it would make life a lot easier for top-heavy or bottom-heavy women, but I have a feeling that if you labelled even the loveliest party frock ‘pear shaped’ it wouldn’t sell too well…)

Anyway, at the moment it feels like my life is wearing a Size 22 skirt, complete with  muffin top spilling over the elasticated waistband, and a Size Zero skinny Tee.  Things have gone well and truly pear shaped this week.

Of course, it could be a lot worse but, as somebody once memorably announced, “There’s no sore arse like your own sore arse”.  And whilst I’m relieved to assure you that I haven’t got a red hot poker up mine at the moment, it’d still be fair to say that my arse is – metaphorically – a little sore.  Maybe it’s got so wide that even those Size 22  knickers are cutting in just a bit.

Work contracts and commissions I’d been promised haven’t transpired and I need to start out again.  It feels like I’ve spent the last ten years playing a game of Snakes and Ladders, with many rounds of ‘two steps forward, one step back’, but had gradually made progress and seen improvement, and then I went and landed on a snake and slipped right back down the board.  The recession, just like that vicious snake, is biting hard…

So it’s time to regroup, as common parlance has it and, for a start, we’re paring back our already frugal existence to cope with these changes -  in case you need them too I’ll pass on any tips we discover that might be useful!   Hopefully, in time, this pear shape will morph into a nice head of broccoli.  But, if nothing else, I'll be eating plenty of greens. (Tip 1: you can buy a whole broccoli for 11p if you shop at my local supermarket on a Friday night...)

Saturday 4 August 2012

Nylons for the young and gay

Coincidentally I'd just been looking at some 1950s illustration as inspiration for working in a different style - trying out flat colour and using shapes without lines - when this fabulous box turned up in a local charity shop.  99p.  No seamless stockings inside it, unfortunately! - but don't you just love the stylish and simplistic graphic design?

Wednesday 1 August 2012

School dinners

I expect my primary school had the best of intentions when it came to feeding its pupils at lunchtime, it being late 1960s/early 1970s Britain, a time and place where meat, potatoes and two veg were the school dinner staple, and fast food hadn’t yet made its entrance as a daily diet option.  There were certainly no cold choices, nor cheese strings, burgers and crisps on the menu.

The canteen with its wobbly-legged tables covered in sheets of blue PVC, and little chairs (colour coded for size with a red, green or blue spot), was a noisy place between 12 and 1pm as 200 children aged between five and ten were herded in to get our plates of lumpy Shepherd’s Pie and bowls of gooey Rhubarb Crumble.  We drank lukewarm tap water from lightweight, slightly dented beakers, possibly made from titanium, in not-quite-shiny gold, silver and – if you were lucky – pink.  There were far fewer pink ones than gold and silver and so they took on some kind of special status, making the water in them taste just that little bit better.

Dishing out the servings from behind the hatch and taking away our empty plates (as well as supervising at playtime) were the Dinner Ladies.  Some were surly and authoritative, others kind and maternal.  We soon knew which ones to turn to and which ones to avoid.  Mrs Bird was one of the ones who’d give you a cuddle if you fell over and got those little bits of playground grit embedded in your freshly grazed knees.  I can still remember every detail of how she looked: tall and slender, she had dyed hair the colour of copper piping which she backcombed up in an elaborate and outdated beehive, wore a gold letter M around her neck and the shortest skirts I’d ever seen on anyone not on TV.  We loved Mrs Bird.  Whereas Mrs Cann...I can see her hard, lined face now, her sallow complexion and her pencilled-on eyebrows resembling wasp antennae, several dozen shades darker than her hair... no, Mrs Cann was not the kind of woman you'd get - or want - a cuddle from.

Unfortunately Mrs Cann frequently made my dinner times a source of great stress.  She was a stickler when it came to checking that we’d consumed everything on our plates.  “You mustn’t waste it” was the motto.  Under her watchful eye we felt forced to swallow every last crumb.  However, we also learned that there were cunning ways to make it look as if you’d eaten more than you had.  The easiest way was to smear your leftover bits of hard mashed potato and bullet-like peas around the perimeter of your plate, making sure to leave a nice, clean space in the middle.  There was quite an art to it.  Or you could make little piles out of the mushy sprouts and watery carrot slices and hide them skilfully under your strategically placed knife and fork.  Alternatively, you could just be a messy eater and  drop half the contents of your spoon onto the table or floor.  But I had an additional problem.  It wasn't just a few last mouthfuls of boiled cabbage or a burnt pastry crust I wanted to leave - I didn’t want to eat any meat.  This wasn't something that was ever taken into account at my school back then.  The feeling was that everybody had to eat meat; in fact, didn't everyone want to eat meat?  There was no saying "no" to it.  I spent most of the morning dreading dinner time, and most of the afternoon recovering from it.  Occasionally I’d be relieved to find there was Macaroni Cheese or Egg & Chips on offer and lunchtime would be a breeze.  But most of the time there were meaty things – flabby, greasy sausages, grey slabs of lamb, unidentifiable brown chewy lumps in brown slimey sauce.  I’d ask for the smallest portion I could get, then spend the entire mealtime finding ways to avoid having to swallow it.  If the smearing round plate, hiding under cutlery or dropping onto table ruse didn’t work, I'd put it in my mouth and then conveniently ‘cough’ it into a hanky which I’d shove back in my pocket.  It would stay there leaking gravy or fat into my pleated skirt until playtime, when I'd drop it nervously into one of the deep wire bins, dreading that one day I'd get caught.  I don't know what I thought would happen if I did, but in my head it would be a punishment just too awful to contemplate.

Only the lovely Mrs Bird was sympathetic.  If she was on duty I could always ask her if it was okay to leave some food on my plate, and without fail she would nod kindly, and maybe wink one of her pastel blue-shadowed eyes, as she discreetly took the gristly remains of my dinner and scraped them into the slops bin.  To this day I don't think I've experienced a more reassuring sight than that of the long-legged, beehived Mrs Bird in her mini-skirt, walking away from me with my plate of uneaten liver and kidneys.

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