Lost and found…

I do like coming across quirky stories in the press. My eye was caught this week by a story that said more than 300,000 items of lost property were handed into Transport for London in 2015. “So what?”, you may think…

It was the next paragraph that made me laugh. Apart from the items you’d expect, like keys and umbrellas and wallets… lost items also included a prosthetic leg, a full drum kit and a large fitted carpet! I mean, how could you possibly forget or lose such things? I have left a carrier bag on a bus (many, many years ago!) and lost the odd key… but a fitted carpet? I think I’d notice that.

In another life, a job in a lost property office might be rather interesting, there would certainly be lots of material for a novel. The percentage of items restored to their rightful owners is only just over 20%, so that’s an awful lot of items that go unclaimed.

After three months, all the unclaimed items have any personal data removed before they are either donated to charities including The Salvation Army and the British Red Cross, or recycled, or sold at auction… and the income received from selling unclaimed property last year was a whopping £257,176.16!

I have visions of an enormous cupboard tucked away in some Dickensian back alley near one of the main train stations in London with shelf upon shelf stacked with weird and wonderful items. I don’t suppose it’s anything like that at all, but it sounds fascinating.

Tracking down something you have lost at an airport or on an aeroplane however is, by the sound of it, a much more hi-tech process. There is a website where passengers sadly parted from their goods and chattels can post the details, or ‘claim’ for the missing item. The list for just London Heathrow is extensive, as you can imagine, and ranges from some poor soul who has lost a Jo Malone candle, to a stuffed animal (not just a stuffed toy, which worried me a bit!) and loads and loads of mobiles, laptops and pieces of clothing.

The internet has also come into its own when it comes to lost pets. I see so many posts online (many of them heart-breaking) detailing where the family pet dog was last seen… Years ago, all you could do was put up ‘lost’ posters on lampposts and ask all your neighbours to keep their eyes peeled. Now, the chances of finding your beloved pet are much higher as you can so quickly pass on the details to so many people. I often follow posts through just to be see if there is a happy ending… and very often, there is.

I’m still worried about that person who got home and found they’d mislaid their lounge carpet though…

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Happy Christmas!

Joanna, right, with her sister Kate, left with Father Christmas.Can I wish each and every one of you the happiest of Christmas Days – happy times around the festive period and just plain happy times!

Memories are precious jewels to be collected and treasured. Then they can be brought out to look at and remember fondly when you need them most. I have had a tough year with all my family, and I’ve no doubt they would agree that the family has been tested in 2015. However the upside of this is that my brothers and sister and I are closer than we were a year ago, and that is something to celebrate.

It’s hard when sad times overwrite the happy memories of the past, and I think it’s really important to try and get past the sad memories and hang on to all the happiness that has been around you over the years.

I am planning a super happy day today with my much loved daughters and little two year old Grace who has a collection of Play-doh coming her way and a cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh so maybe we can make some Play-doh food for the bear – who knows. That’s the fun of being two – anything can happen and her innocence and naiveté sum up what matters about the Christmas message. Love, happiness and trust in the future.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christmas past…

I was having a pleasant wallow on social media and came across… annuals! Do you know, I had completely forgotten about them and yet they used to be such an important part of my Christmas, right up there alongside the advent calendar and what was hidden in the toe of my Christmas stocking.

I used to be so excited at the prospect of receiving a ‘Bunty’ annual every Christmas. In my childhood, these were big, hardback books with comic-strip stories, none of the trendy ‘photo strips’ that came later. Bunty was full of hearty girls who played hockey or were generally just ‘jolly good sorts’ – so innocent! I had to really work hard to ration myself to only reading one story at a time and not race through the entire annual in one sitting.

Another very popular present for me was ‘The Guinness Book of Records’. I used to pore over it, fascinated by the more extreme records and would even go and dig out the previous year’s to check what had changed. Ah, the simple pleasures of life pre-internet, when we actually had to look things up in books.

Something else we have lost is the big Christmas TV attraction. I can remember when Morecambe and Wise used to get 24 million viewers for their Christmas special, yet last year no TV shown on Christmas day got more than 10 million viewers. Oh, I did love Morecambe and Wise, in fact the re-runs still make me laugh now! It was strange, but when so many people had seen the same programme it created a wonderful sort of camaraderie and I can remember overhearing people discussing sketches that had particularly amused them, or what they’d thought of Shirley Bassey’s dress or Penelope Keith’s dance routine, such fun!

So what else did we have in Christmas past and no longer have, or rarely see, today?

Angel Hair
That dreadful white spun stuff that we used to drape over the Christmas tree and get fibre glass splinters everywhere – who ever came up with that idea? And why?

Paper chains
Do people still make paper chains? I haven’t seen any for ages, but I clearly remember making yards of them at school and thinking my tongue would be permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth!

Christmas drinks
Oh, how I used to aspire to a Babycham! I loved the adverts with the sweet little deer… but I remember it being something of a disappointment when I finally tried it, rather sweet and sickly! And who remembers a Snowball? Advocaat and lemonade, usually with a cherry on the top, the height of sophistication in the 1960s.

Woolworths
Goodness, many a last minute present was bought in Woolies! I can remember clutching a few old pennies in my mittened hands and trying to find something suitable for an aunt, cousin or school friend.

January sales
Cheating really as they were after Christmas – but in my youth, the January sales began in January (not Boxing Day as now) and it was a huge source of excitement! I can remember as a teenager, fighting my way past a huge crowd to grab a green polo neck angora jumper that they had been advertising in the window for the week before the sale –  £20.00 down to £2 – I loved that jumper for years!

So, what are your memories of Christmas past? What do you miss? Or what do you enjoy now that makes it so much better? Do share!

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The traditions of Christmas, or not…!

I was thinking about Christmas stockings for my family and started wondering about how this slightly strange practice came to be, and then I thought – aha, perhaps that’s an idea for a blog. I checked back and saw that I wrote about some of the origins of what we think of as ‘traditional’ Christmas practices THREE years ago! My goodness, I’ve written a lot of blogs and articles since then! Anyway, here are some interesting facts that I didn’t cover last time…

Christmas Stockings

As with so many of these traditions, I have come across various explanations as to how the practice of stocking-stuffing came about and it owes more to myth than fact. We know, thanks to the poem ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’, that hanging stockings by the chimney with care dates back at least to the poem’s 1823 publication. But the story of how stockings came to be hung by the fire is a hazy one. Legend says the original Saint Nicholas, who travelled around bringing gifts and cheer to the poor, came upon a small village one year and heard of a family in need. An impoverished widower could not afford to provide a dowry for his three daughters. St. Nick knew the man was too proud to accept money, so he simply dropped some gold coins down the chimney, which landed in the girl’s stockings, hung by the fireplace to dry, so the tale goes. And so, the modern tradition was born.

Gift giving

Christmas’s gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings’ offerings to the infant Jesus. Romans traded gifts during Saturnalia, and 13th century French nuns distributed presents to the poor on St. Nicholas’ Eve. However, gift-giving did not become the central Christmas tradition it is today until our friends the Victorians got to grips with it! Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who also gave us the Christmas tree, also popularised the whole present giving ritual.

The X in Xmas

I know a lot of people don’t like to see Christmas abbreviated to Xmas, seeing it as rather disrespectful, but the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. I was amazed to discover that the term X-mas has been used since the 16th century, and became widely used in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the modern world, X has been taken to be used as an abbreviation for any word with the “krys” sound in it. Chrysanthemum, for example, is sometime shortened to “xant” on florist’s signs, and crystal has sometimes been abbreviated as “xtal”. Hmmm…

I’ve got a few more thoughts on our Christmas traditions that I’ll share with you later in the month…

 

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Danger’s Last Resort

 Finally, here it is! Launching in the next week or so, the first of my solo novels entitled ‘Danger’s Last Resort’. I will send out more details as soon as we have the paperbacks here and the Kindle version is listed on Amazon – but I thought you might like to read a sneak preview. You can see the cover finally making it through the printing process here and I can’t wait to be sent the finished book!

I have put my heart and soul into writing this book and it has acted as a wonderful escape from my complicated family life at the moment, so I hope you will all find it as uplifting to read as I did to write.

The story…
Stuck in a junior manager’s job in a dreary English hotel, Rose dreams of exotic travel. Then, astonishingly, that dream comes true when she inherits property right on the beach in tropical Barbados.

It’s not the cosy seashore cottage she expects but a once grandly genteel destination where Princess Margaret used to stay – but it’s now threadbare and overgrown. Still, the hotel oozes charm and possibility. Can Rose see her future here, recreating the dignified, welcoming oasis it used to be?

Then the death threats start and both Rose and her family are in danger. Unsettling things, threatening things. Barbados turns out to be the opposite of paradise. Its gorgeous turquoise waters are infested with particularly treacherous sharks: cutthroat people who want Rose’s beachfront property and will stop at nothing to get it!

Well, I hope that whets your appetites – oh, and there’s a little romance thrown in along the way! Happy reading…

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