Be Bop Deluxe: Maid In Heaven

As a diversion from reblogging things found in the depths of my archive, here is some music, together with a memory of a wonderful friend.

I met Billy O’Neill when he joined the London Ambulance Service. A former Catholic Monk, he later became lead guitarist in a touring band. Then he settled down into a quiet life as a librarian in Camden, before deciding to become an EMT. He was a gentle giant of a man, standing over six feet six tall, and wearing size thirteen shoes.

For some years he worked with me as my regular ambulance crewmate and we became great friends, with a shared love of music. When I moved to Camden in 2000, we lived within sight of each other. He went on to better things in that job, first becoming a Training Instructor, then progressing to the second highest role in the London Ambulance Service. He moved to Oxfordshire, married his partner Ian, and I was proud to be a witness at their civil ceremony. Later on, he was a witness when I married Julie, and Ian made the wedding video for us. On my last ever shift as an EMT, he came to work with me for those final eight hours.

Billy was taken from this world far too soon, devastated by bone cancer. I miss him every day, and always will.

This is one of our favourite songs, and it was always played whenever we socialised.

Mood, And Memories

My mood is still very flat, and I seem to also be overwhelmed by memories at the moment. I’m not sure if they are a result of me searching my mind for something better to think about, or if my brain is bombarding me with them to make me ‘wake up’. Such random snippets of a life, arriving like the carriages of a long train emerging from a distant tunnel.

Holding a rabbit. The fur is soft, and the rabbit’s nose is twitching.
(I have no idea how old I am.)

Standing close to the edge of a cliff, looking down at the waves breaking on the rocks. It is raining.
(Might be Cornwall)

Sitting in a caravan, looking out of the window at other caravans nearby. Watching a family setting up folding sunbeds in the narrow gap between them.
(No idea where)

A very old lady is holding my hand. Her knuckles are hard and bony, the skin as thin as tissue paper. Her hand is very cold.
(Probably an Ambulance Service memory)

Sitting on a hot concrete step, smoking a cigarette. Pigeons are walking toward me, hoping I have something to feed them with.
(Definitely in London)

Looking at palm trees, from a hotel room balcony. The sun is setting behind them, and the air is cool.
(Probably Egypt)

Watching a small gekko (or similar lizard) on a white-painted wall. It looks sideways at me, but doesn’t move.
(Might be Crete)

They just keep on coming. Is it any wonder I cannot concentrate?

I hope it stops soon.
(And why has it changed the text to italics? )

Lessons Learned from Dad #MondayMusings #Inspiration

American writer and blogger Abbie remembers her father. A post we can all relate to.

My Corner

A photo of Abbie smiling in front of a white background. Her brown hair is cut short and frames her face. She is wearing a bright red shirt and a dark, flowy scarf swirled with hues of purple, pinks and blues.Today, my father would have been in his mid 80s. I’ve revised and am sharing a post that went live two months before he passed in 2013. Enjoy!


My fondest childhood memories are of Dad and me listening to music together. He loved to play the old standards on those scratchy long-playing records by such artists as Fats Waller and Nat King Cole. These songs taught me lessons that I’m pretty sure he wanted me to learn.

If “The Joint is Jumpin,” you’re going to get in trouble. No man will like you if “Your Feet’s Too Big.” You’d better “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” I also learned to appreciate “”Seafood, Mama” but not until I was an adult.

Dad also tried to teach me the value of money. He thought he’d succeeded until I sold my wheelchair accessible van after…

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Funeral Thoughts

Yesterday, I watched as a line of funeral cars passed slowly over the bridge on Fakenham Road. I stopped walking across with Ollie, and stood respectfully for the thirty seconds or so it took to pass us. That reminded me of funerals in my youth.

Where I lived in the 1950s, in a working-class area south of the Thames in London, the death of a neighbour was a serious event. Even though you might not have known them that well, a local woman would normally offer to attend the house to wash and lay out the body, ready for collection by the undertaker. The rest of the householders in the street would close their curtains, as a mark of respect for the dead person and any bereaved family members. Children were told not to play outside and make a lot of noise, but to go to the park instead, or to a friend’s house in another street.

On the day of the funeral, curtains would be closed again, and when the hearse arrived at the house with the body, anyone on the street would stand still, heads bowed respectfully. Most men at that time wore a hat of some kind, and any men seeing the funeral cars or horse-drawn hearse would remove their hats immediately, until the procession had passed.

Yesterday, someone who had died locally was being taken to their last resting place, whether grave or cremation. I had no idea who that person was, and nobody else passing stopped walking. The cars on the other side didn’t slow down, and no curtains were closed in any house I walked past.

Times change, we all know that. But some traditions are worth keeping.

Nice Times (7)

When I was an EMT, I often had to work New Year’s Eve night duty, one of the busiest shifts of the year for ambulances in London. During one shift, we bought a bottle of champagne in a local shop. When we got into our local casualty department just before midnight, we opened the champagne in the tea room, and poured small measures into paper cups for the nurses and doctors on duty. Just after the clock passed twelve, we carried them out on a tray and passed them around, shouting “Happy New Year” to each nurse or doctor in turn. (We didn’t drink any) Then it was back out into the busy night, but it had been a nice moment indeed.

My mum and I owned a large long-haired German Shepherd dog, Skipper. We had him from a tiny pup, and he grew into a huge dog. When I got married, he stayed with my mum, and almost fifteen years later, he was living with her in a small flat in Peckham. One day, she rang me to tell me he couldn’t stand up, and his back legs did not seem to be working. She couldn’t take him out, and he wouldn’t eat anything, or drink any water. I drove over to see her, and could see that poor Skipper was close to the end. I rang the Vet and asked him to come out to put our dog to sleep. He agreed to do so, if we paid an exhorbitant extra charge, and came just over an hour later. My mum was too upset to stay in the room, but I sat on the floor with Skipper’s head in my lap as the Vet injected him. Our old dog looked up at me as he died, and I stroked his head. As sad as it was, that was nice for me, to be there for Skipper in his final moments.

On the day that I resigned from the London Ambulance Service to work for the police, I had to go into the main station at Fulham and hand my letter over to the Station Officer. She was an experienced Paramedic who had swapped operational duties for being a manager. I had been the union representative for many years, and we had experienced some run-ins and confrontational moments previously. But that morning, she genuinely tried to persuade me to stay on. When I declined, she thanked me for all my service, for being a fair but firm union man, and stood up to shake my hand. We had worked as adversaries, but left the room as friends.

After I had retired and moved to Norfolk, I spent a long time working as a volunteer for the the Fire Service. I would drive around installing smoke alarms, talking to various groups, and attending school fire safety displays. I had to ring the elderly or disabled people who qualified for the free smoke alarms, and arrange my own appointments. One day, I rang an very old lady who lived in a small village about eight miles from Beetley, and she agreed for me to go to her house the next morning at eleven. She was walking using a frame on wheels, and her back was very bent from age and arthritis. I changed her old defunct smoke alarm for a new one, and showed her how it worked. As I was leaving, she presented me with a small Victoria Sponge cake she had made for me, saying “I got up at six this morning to make it fresh for you”. A lovely old lady.

Nice Times (6)

On Holiday in Kenya, 1983. We attended an ‘African Cultural Evening’ staged at the hotel in Mombasa. There were dancers and music, then they produced snakes to be stroked or avoided, depending on your fears. But the best bit for me was when one of the dancers put a live Chameleon on my arm. I have always loved those fascinating creatures, and I watched as it made its way up my shoulder, and eventually sat happily on my head. I can still feel the sensation of it climbing slowly.

I took my mum to one of the most expensive Chinese retaurants in London, the Feng Shang floating Chinese junk, on the Regent’s Canal. My mum always claimed to hate the taste of garlic, yet she devoured garlic prawns and Singapore noodles, before exclaiming they were “Delicious!” The Chinese staff showed great respect for her because of her age, and were very attentive. She had no idea how much that meal cost, but I wouldn’t have cared if it had been ten times more expensive, as she relished the atmosphere for every second she was there.

My last visit to Paris, in the 1990s. We went up a few stages of the Eiffel Tower, took a river trip along The Seine, and we were staying with my dear friend Francoise, who lived in a smart apartment near the centre. When it came time to go home, Francoise had already left for work, and we needed a taxi to take us to get the Eurostar at the Gare Du Nord. I used her phone to call the cab rank, and requested the taxi in very good French. My (second ex) wife looked at me as if I had just split the atom, and said, “You sounded so French”. She was actually surprised when the taxi arrived ten minutes later.

Leaving Ollie at the local Vet when he had just had the tip of his tail bitten off, and needed an operation. The Vet nurse came to get him, and as she led him away on his lead, he stopped and looked round at me. I said, “Good boy, Ollie, you will be okay”, and he trotted off with her, trusting what I had told him. Despite being worried for him, the fact that he had trusted me brought tears to my eyes.

Distant Memories (3)

The early memory flashbacks I wrote about recently have slowed down. However, some came to me late yesterday, as I was settling down to sleep.

A metal spinning top, brightly coloured. It worked by pushing down on a knob at the top, and would spin for a long time if the rachet caught properly. I remember this toy from when I was older, but last night’s memory was perhaps the first time I was given it. Sitting on the floor, my dad kneeling in front of me pushing the top to make it spin. I can feel my mouth wide with a big smile.

Being given a ride on a man’s shoulder’s. Not my dad, probably my uncle, mum’s brother-in-law, judging from his thick black hair that I am holding onto. He runs across the room, and I feel very high up. An old glass lampshade is in front of me, and I can see dead insects inside the large illuminated bowl. He swerves just in time so my head doesn’t hit it.

There is a gold-coloured fire-guard in front of a glowing coal fire. I am either sitting or crawling, and I grab the edge of it. I can feel the heat as it burns the edges of my fingers, then I am swept up, to be carried away somewhere by my mum.

Just fleeting seconds of my life, and all as real as if they happened this morning.

Guest Post: Darlene Foster

I am very happy to present a guest post from the lovely Darlene Foster. Blogger, and published author of the popular ‘Amanda’ series of books, Darlene is from Canada, and lives in Spain.

Babies and Blizzards
By Darlene Foster

I remember when my brother, Timothy, was born. It had been a typical cold and snowy prairie winter with blizzards creating impassable road conditions. Mom expected the third member of our family to arrive in early February. Dad was concerned that the inclement weather might stop him from getting her to the hospital sixty miles away, when the time came. So he took mom and my younger brother, Lorne to stay with our grandparents in the city well before her due date. Since I had school, I stayed with my great-aunt and great-uncle in the small town near our farm.

I was excited about this as I loved Aunt Elsie and Uncle Ed. They treated me well, Aunt Elsie was a great cook and I could walk to school with my older, and therefore much cooler, second cousins.

In their living room stood a cabinet full of amazing books. I would sit in front of it and stare at the titles. Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, A Tale of Two Cities, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. I so wanted to read those books behind the glass doors. I still remember the day when Aunt Elsie said that if I was very careful, I could read one of the books. Believe me, I was extremely careful. Eventually over the years I read every one of those books in that cabinet.

The baby took longer to come than mom thought but finally, on February 10th, she delivered a chubby little boy. Dad drove into the city to see her and reported back that mommy and baby were doing great. She even wrote me a letter and sent it back with dad. Apparently, my other brother was being spoiled by grandma and grandpa. We expected mom, my brother and the new baby to be home in a week.

But, as luck would have it, the day she was released from the hospital, another terrible blizzard blew up and the road to the city was closed to traffic. Grandpa picked mom and baby Timmy up from the hospital and took them back to their place. I was disappointed because Lorne got to see the new baby before I did.

The weather stayed nasty for another week and vehicles were not getting through. Mom had been gone for a month now and I missed her, even though I enjoyed staying in town with my aunt, uncle and cousins. In the city, Mom grew homesick, missing me and dad.

When I returned from school one cold but sunny day, Aunt Elsie told me to keep my coat on and watch for a surprise. Not much later, an old fashioned, covered sleigh pulled by two large draft horses plodded down the road through the glistening snow.

Dad shouted, “Whoa!” The horses stopped in front of my aunt and uncle’s house. Dad let go of the reins, jumped down from the seat in front and with a wide grin, opened the door to the sleigh. Inside sat my mother in a hooded red woollen coat trimmed in rabbit fur, smiling from ear to ear. In her arms, she held a baby bundled up in many blankets.
“In you get,” said dad. “We’re all going home.”

Dad had borrowed the sleigh from a neighbour in order to get his wife back home.

It was a magical moment for a little girl to see her mom and baby brother delivered in a horse-drawn sleigh. Straight from a storybook. It’s one of my fondest memories.

To connect with Darlene and to find out more about her life and her books, please follow these links.



Twitter: Darlene Foster (@supermegawoman) / Twitter


Goodreads: Darlene Foster (Author of Amanda in Arabia) | Goodreads

Distant Memories (2)

Here are some more of these childhood memories from when I was very young. They are still appearing randomly, as brief flashbacks in my mind.

A young woman, or perhaps a girl, is dangling a thick plait or pigtail close to my face. I think I am in a pram, looking up. Her hair is very dark, and this feels like a memory I have had previously. But this time, I reach up and grab the thick hair. I can sense how big it is in my tiny hand, and actually feel the weave of the plait in my fingers.

I am sitting on a floor. It is simple wooden floorboards, painted black. I can see the heads of old nails in the corners of the wood. I move across to a threadbare rug, to retrieve a wooden toy car. As I grab it, it moves further away, and I have to follow it until it is stopped by the leg of a chair.

My dad is watching television. Something happens to make him jump up and shout out loud. That startles me as I am playing, but then I smile because he is happy.
(I think this must have been a football match, but can’t be sure. My dad bought a TV in 1953, when I was one year old.)

Walking awkwardly toward my mum. Her arms are outstreched, as if to catch me. She is kneeling on the floor, and wearing her glasses. I feel myself falling, and then she scoops me up into her arms.

An older female friend or relative arrives in the room. She is wearing a fur coat, and smells very strongly of perfume. She reaches down, picks me up easily, and kisses me. The softness of the fur is the first sensation, then I sneeze because of the perfume, and everyone laughs.

In an unfamiliar bed, and feeling incredibly, unbearably hot. I look to my right and see my mum sitting in a chair next to the bed. Her eyes are red and swollen, and she looks different. She turns to someone I can’t see and says, “He’s awake”.

Distant Memories

Recently, distant memories have started to appear in my mind, like watching an old newsreel clip for the briefest time. They are always childhood memories, mere snapshots of when I was very young, little more than a toddler. As I don’t remember many specifics before I started school at the age of five, those earliest memories fascinate me. They show that memory starts much earlier than I had ever considered.

With the benefit of age, I can now place those memories in their time, in their part of my life. Perhaps growing older and being a reflective person makes them more interesting to me. I don’t know the answer, but I do enjoy those ‘time-travel’ momentary flashbacks.

Sometimes they appear as dreams, and at other times pop into my head as I am driving, or walking around with Ollie. They open a window onto my childhood that I had never previously experienced, and I see them as a blessing.

My dad is trying to light a coal fire on a very cold day. My mum is holding me, having wrapped me in a knitted blanket, and the smoke from the fire refusing to catch is coming out into the room. Dad is holding a newspaper across the fireplace, and my mum gets up to open the window slightly, hoping to let the smoke out of the room.

I am holding a wooden toy. I don’t know what toy it is, but I can feel the wood. My dad enters the room with a towel around his neck and looks down at me, smiling. I hold whatever it is up to him, showing it to him as if he has never seen it before.

Mum is singing to me. I don’t know the song, but I am enjoying listening to it. She is smoking a cigarette, and I am fascinated by the long ash at the end. It grows longer and longer, and I am sure it will fall onto the chair.

A warm day, probably at the seaside on holiday. Mum is holding me as we sit on a small fairground ride. We are astride a wooden animal, perhaps a horse, and the ride is rotating slowly. She tells me to look at my dad, and he has a camera to his face, taking our photo.

I am in the small back garden of my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandfather reaches out to stop me stumbling, taking my hand. He shows me a handful of runner beans he has just picked. I can smell the earth in the garden.

I hope I continue to get many more of these distant memories. I like them a lot.