THERE was a bit of a hoo-ha recently when a care home in Harrogate was criticised by inspectors for allowing its staff to address residents with terms of endearment.

“Good morning, my love,” and “How are you, my darling?” were not appropriate ways of speaking to elderly charges, the po-faced inspectors decreed.

I’ve often overhead my mother’s carers speaking to her in exactly those terms, and it makes me really happy. I like the fact that they express their affection for her in this entirely natural way. I don’t consider it disrespectful. Frankly, someone using the endearment “my love” is not likely to be cruelly digging their fingers into a delicate, easily bruised arm, and that’s a priceless reassurance in the caring environment.

However, away from that scenario, I find myself increasingly grinding my teeth over the growing use of terms of address that go just that bit too far with their so-cool cheery matiness.

Let’s get this straight, all you snappy, trendy, try-hard baristas and waiting staff out there: I am not a “guy”. Greeting me and my friends with a loud “Hi guys, what are you having today?” does not put us at our ease. It makes us cringe.

Guys are male people with youth on their side, not a collective term for women, especially women who, sad to say, patently have no trace of youth on their side.

My friend Kate and I, both of us grannies, are firmly in that category yet last week were repeatedly and enthusiastically addressed as guys by the staff where we were having lunch.

In another place in the same town, I often take my mother where the very same thing happens. We are greeted as guys and the term sticks for the duration of our visit. If Mum’s hearing aids ever worked and she picked up the word I know she’d be highly amused but, like me, quite baffled.

I’m not sure how those of us who are not guys are meant to feel about this labelling, this verbal reassignment of our gender. True, it is a tad better than “ladies”, which, while accurate, is too cloying and obsequious and sets me off tooth-grinding all over again.

I ask my daughter how she tolerates being part of a group of “guys” and she says she cannot bear it either. Sensibly, she suggests we don’t need to be addressed as anything. We don’t have to be verbally embraced and made to feel we are the most special guy-shaped customers on the planet when what we would so much rather be treated to is a friendly greeting, such as “Good morning, what may I get you?” It really needs no embellishment and it is never in danger of veering into that dangerous territory of patronising the patrons.

You can be certain that the staff who have decreed we are all “guys” will be the ones who come along later, put plates of food on the table, and exhort us to “Enjoy!”

Kind of you, I want to say, but who’s giving the orders around here? I’ll certainly enjoy it if it’s good, but what if it is like the salad that Kate and I shared which had been so drowned in dressing it needed wringing out?

Difficult to “enjoy” when you’re disappointed, but naturally, when the waitress returned a few minutes later to do that irritating interruption along the lines of “Is everything all right for you guys?” we lied an enthusiastic “Yes, thank you,” and mopped our chins when she wasn’t looking.

I guess that’s how good guys behave.

I USED to be a dedicated follower of rugby, enjoying the heroic physicality of the game as much as its gentlemanly observance of the rules.

The statistics appealed to me as well, and I would study the points for and against, as well as the home and away records, to weigh up the chances of our local lads finally coming good in their obscure minor league in wild and woolly Cornwall.

They rarely did. I would consider this mediocrity to be deeply bad luck, failing to grasp the blindingly obvious fact that success was never likely to be easily won by 15 gasping chaps whose idea of a healthy lifestyle was to refrain from downing a beer for the duration of the match.

My interest in the game diminished when my rugby-playing boyfriend of the time went to work abroad (I don’t think it was entirely because of me) and so I was no longer required to cheer him on from the touchline. Not that my feeble cries could be heard from inside the 20 layers of foul-weather gear necessary to prevent me from being drenched or frozen – or more often both.

The legacy of those youthful days is a repertoire of songs, not one of which could ever be reprised in decent company. Sometimes the odd line springs into my mind and I have to kick it into touch lest it pops out and I get odd looks. It is an ongoing regret that I can recall the rugby players’ version of The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck while I consistently fail to dredge up any useful detail of the English literature that I have drip-fed into my brain over the intervening years.

My enjoyment of the game has never really left me, but has been reignited to the highest level from time to time through such tournaments as the Six Nations and, of course, the World Cup.

Thus it was that last Friday I took my seat on the sofa with Geoff to watch the opening game of the World Cup between England and Fiji at Twickenham, full of eager expectation and ridiculous nerves.

The occasion was made extra special for us as we have recently found we are related to one of the England players. Well, perhaps not exactly related, but pretty close: Mum’s chiropodist is the mother of Mike Brown, double-try scoring hero and man of the match. We have spent the week basking in the reflected glory – and long may it last. Understandably, we thought it wise to practise our autographs.

Now that we are hooked, Geoff and I are no longer governed by the Gregorian calendar but are operating entirely on Tournament Time, with a re-scheduling of our lives to fit in with as many of the televised matches as possible. At least, that is the theory. In practice, we don’t seem to be all that well organised and we have already fallen into a habit of either forgetting there’s a match on or nodding off at the crucial switching-on time.

We have a pact now that as long as we watch the England games, anything else is a bonus. There was a huge panic when we realised we were going out for the day this Saturday, the day of England’s next match. Please don’t let them be playing in the afternoon . . . they’re not. It’s an 8pm kick-off. We’ll be back by then. What a relief.

We couldn’t forgive ourselves if we missed Mike, our new best friend, in action.

THE riveting debate about men and what they wear and how they wear it chug-chugged away into a siding after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. There was nothing more to be said in the argument about scruffy casual versus a tailored suit. The man and his revolutionary choice of clothing had simply told us all to get lost. Sartorial elegance? That’s for wimps.

It takes one back to Michael Foot and donkey jacketgate in 1981. (In fact, to set the record straight, it was not a donkey jacket at all but a short overcoat that his wife apparently bought for him at Harrods.) We’ll be agog to check out Corbyn on Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph this year but I think we can be confident he won’t be modelling anything from Harrods.

For some of Corbyn’s voters perhaps the very reason they inked a cross by his name was because they too hold a brief for the shabby-cheek style of dress: the sort of apparel that cocks a snook at convention and a smart cuff. They collectively turned their backs on the slippery suits that smack of spin and insincerity and went with the man whose rebellious streak chimes with their own. At least with Corbyn, with his studied indifference to grooming and fashion trends, they reckon they’re getting the genuine, unreconstructed, unspun article, whatever else it comes with.

If Corbyn and his chequered history of less-than on-trend clothing choices helped fill too many column inches during the leadership campaign, sometimes threatening to make one think there were no issues more important (policies, principles, beliefs, anyone?) it certainly set tongues wagging here at Hill Towers. Geoff and I devoted at least two minutes to the topic. It was when the metaphorical door of the male wardrobe opened on Geoff’s own that I found I was in a conversation on my own. He’d slunk off, hands over his ears.

Men just don’t seem to get clothes, do they? Or my man certainly doesn’t. If it is still holding together and vaguely respectable, it’ll do – and that applies to himself, too. I cannot persuade him to show any interest at all in renewing shirts, jumpers, trousers, suits, even shoes, that had their better days even before The Blair Years.

Unless something is actually unravelling and flapping and clearly beyond repair, Geoff shoves it back in a drawer and reassigns its status as gardening clothing. That’s a reasonable ploy, or would be if he actually changed into any of these items when he hits the garden. Of course he doesn’t, and that explains why more and more of his clothes acquire that dishevelled Corbyn-esque look, quite often decorated with brambles and sprinklings of compost.

Occasionally, he has his bluff called and his attendance at an event demands he digs out something smart from his wardrobe of woe. The clothes brush, a damp cloth, the iron and a vivid imagination usually help do the trick, along with shoe polish and a haircut.

He always protests and says it reminds him of being a schoolboy. Yes, I say, and photographic evidence shows that those were your glory days sartorially, so don’t knock ‘em.

Perhaps that’s the problem with men and their clothes: they’re lost without a uniform.

LIFE is quietening down in the garden with the approach of autumn. There is still frequent madcap activity in and around the bird bath, but we do miss the early-summer comic sights and sounds that accompany the sparrow family’s flying lessons or the blackbirds’ doomed attempts to get fledgling Kevin to conform and not disgrace his anxious parents.

There’s always a Kevin-bird around at that time of year, when parts of the garden are turned into aviation classrooms with runways along the walls and branches and emergency drop-zones among the fragile lettuces.

No offence meant over the name, but it is possible to identify in the young bird so many of the slack-jawed, droop-shouldered habits of Harry Enfield’s superb TV impersonation of Kevin the Teenager.

Our Kevins in the garden of Hill Towers consistently trip, fall over, get left behind, forget what they’re meant to be doing and flap their wings ineffectually and in a wholly panic-stricken way. You just know they’re going to be trouble, attract trouble, and let down the family in future. Their siblings must find them so embarrassing, just as TV-Kevin declared his parents to be.

It’s a wonder the Kevins ever graduate, but they presumably do as we never find any of their feathery little corpses. No honours or double-firsts for them, just a hard-won modicum of competence in the areas of lift-off and landing. Goodness knows what they get up to in between, when they are actually in flight. I bet they wobble a lot and don’t get far, perhaps even fly dopily into things. In fact, I bet they’ll be the sort who skulk around corners pulling on a crafty fag, too distracted to get on with the proper business of life as a bird.

The Kevins provide great garden entertainment each year, as do the many other visitors – the finches of all types and colour, the perky robins and wrens, the thrushes, the goldcrests, the wagtails and all manner of other loveliness.

The same cannot be said, though, of the great lumpen, bossy pigeons which flap around and behave in a disturbingly coarse way. They set such a bad example to the little ones, not least in their frequent and noisy procreational antics. I think they need counselling – it simply cannot be necessary to spend so long doing that each day.

When they’re not flapping about engaged in such ungainly antics, they take over the bird bath and push aside anything else that’s trying to get a wash or take a quick slurp.

I’ve never been tempted to aim a gun at anything, but I am sometimes minded to sympathise with those who see pigeons as fair game. They really are the giddy limit.

I shared my opinion with friend Sue, she whose husband brooks no nonsense from anything that invades his territory. Yes, he is ex-army and yes, he does play golf and wear red trousers. He also owns an air rifle.

Sue reported to me last week that the Major, seeing his old enemy the pigeon on a wall in the garden, had fired at it, scoring a perfect shot first go. Feeling chuffed, he went to retrieve and dispose of it.

He was bemused to find that what he had struck with his bull’s-eye shot was not in fact a pigeon but one of his trainers that he had washed earlier and left out to dry.

Trainer pie was had for supper that night.

I IMAGINE that one of the best places to go if you want to pick up a good rampant germ and lay yourself low for a few days must be a doctor’s waiting room.

I was at my GP surgery the other day for what I hoped would be a quick in and out – in several senses – for a jab from one of the practice nurses. No such luck: I had to wait 40 minutes to be seen, the delay caused by ‘an incident’, which was never explained.

To help pass the time, there are some well-thumbed magazines spilling off a table, but improving my golf swing or learning about the indiscretions of Z-list celebrities really don’t qualify as worthwhile ways to use one of my remaining brain cells. In any case, aren’t old magazines, especially in a waiting room, said to be jam-packed with germs?

I resort to staring into space, trying not to look too vacant. I am disturbed to see so many posters advising me of the warning signs of various diseases, and of support groups for those who have fallen victim to them. I try to memorise the symptoms while I furtively tweak bits of my body to make sure they’re in working order.

There’s a lot of coughing going on near the main surgery door. I wince as the cough draws closer and its owner sits down within droplet-spraying distance of me. I should have worn a mask.

I’ve chosen this seat because I have learnt from embarrassing experience that it is one of the few that doesn’t emit a disturbing sigh of air as you lower yourself into it. Children find it hilarious, as do I, naturally.

By now the waiting room appears full to bursting as the tide of patients flows more than it ebbs. I should have been jabbed and dealt with ages ago, released back into the fresh air and out of this germ-ridden atmosphere. Names are called and people disappear through doors. I note that many of them are recent arrivals and I wonder if I’ve been forgotten.

The cough hacks into our self-conscious so-British silence. We send pitying looks at the owner. Mine is mixed with a heartfelt wish he’d move further away.

There’s a squeaky door hinge somewhere that is starting to get through to me. As well as a mask next time, I must bring a can of WD40.

Children run amok, squabbling over toys, writhing on the floor, while most adults are staring into their mobile phones, some even making and answering calls. I marvel at their lack of consideration or need for privacy. I feel my intolerance rising, adding to my state of tension. I inch forward in my seat, ready to leap up when (if?) my name is called.

A door opens and a nurse says something that sounds like my name. I spring up and almost collide with another woman. “It was my name she called!” the woman fixes me with a fierce look. I melt back into my seat and replay the nurse’s voice in my head. Yes, I did mishear. It was almost my name but not quite.

At last I’m called, and it really is me this time. I get my jab, rush out and hurry home. Later, when I am confident I haven’t acquired a sore throat or any other ailment from my 40 minutes in the room of doom, I start negotiations with my grandson to borrow his Darth Vader mask, just to be on the safe side next time.

I AM awaiting delivery of a new computer monitor. This is an exciting event, honestly, since the ancient one I am peering at is far too small and, like other things that reach a certain age, it has developed eccentric habits that are hard to live with.

So a new one is on its way and it’s going to be big. This means it will require more space than the old one which in turn means I must de-clutter my desk to accommodate it.

Each time super-tidy Geoff looks into my eyes and reminds me of this and points at the heaps I go shaky and whimper a bit. As the state of Hill Towers testifies, I hate throwing anything out.

I know William Morris said we should have nothing in our homes that we do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful, and I couldn’t agree more.

I fix Geoff with a firm look and repeat this to him, explaining that I could classify all my clutter in one or other of those categories. Why, the old iPhone that I dropped into a basin of water may one day come back to life and be really useful, so I ought to keep it right here, slightly in the way, close enough for me to hear if it should start spluttering and gasping for breath.

Also in the way are a pebble covered in strands of felt (I know, you would have thought life was a bit short) that a friend of my daughter’s gave me in 2002, four empty glasses cases, two pairs of glasses circa 1999, something that looks like desiccated rabbit droppings but is in fact an ancient sprig of mimosa from Italy, a packet of passport photos of someone who looks certifiable and might be me, a bottle of glue, a brooch, three and a half blunt pencils, a wooden light pull, a nail file, four drink mats, a 40-page booklet of instructions in 10 languages that came with my now not-so-new cycle helmet, two notebooks, several plugs and leads, diaries for this year and the previous two years, three notebooks, two Christmas tree light bulbs, a slew of out-of-date plastic membership cards that might come in handy for scraping ice off the car windscreen if I should ever remember I have them and a large pair of headphones for Skype conversations.

If only the collection of clutter really did only consist of those items. In fact they form just the top layer. Underneath are piles of letters, sheets of paper, notes, postcards, old invitations – ephemera that I’d readily agree with William Morris is not beautiful but could be classed as useful because it might be needed for reference.

Geoff points to an old key and asks why I’m keeping it if we don’t know what it fits or even where it came from. As I explain that it would be unwise to throw away a key because you never know how useful it could be, I suddenly notice that it’s sitting on a pocket magnifying glass that I’ve been trying to find for ages.

This is one of the problems of clutter. Things sort of blend into their setting so I become oblivious to them.

I ought to stop writing now because this has really only been displacement activity to delay the inevitable.

Before I roll up my sleeves I wonder if I dare tell Geoff that I might just keep the new monitor in its box. It would save such a lot of bother and my useful, beautiful heaps could remain intact.

ONE of my childhood memories is of hours spent killing time in a museum while I waited for my father to come out of meetings in an upstairs room.

As with all such memories, time has warped them, so that what I now think was a regular occurrence probably only happened a handful of times. And what I think of as ages being at large in the cool, unpeopled rooms, would not have been very long at all.

I think Dad and I must have had an arrangement that I would walk to the museum at the end of my school day and wait for him to come and find me after his meeting before driving me home.

It was all a bit dullsville, but anything that spared me the bus journey of well over an hour was worth it, even if it meant I was in a fusty, musty world that held little appeal for a 12-year-old.

I couldn’t touch, only look, so that the rooms of natural history, a subject I loved, yielded nothing in what we would now call a ’visitor experience’.

No fossils could be held and minutely inspected, no lifelike fox stroked or birdsong listened to. In other words, not the slightest hint of interaction in that department or anywhere else in the building. I usually ended up in the interlinked rooms full of gilt-framed paintings, aimlessly searching out the horsey subjects.

Things hadn’t moved on much by the time I had my own children, so that any suggestion of a visit to a museum, art gallery or historic house usually met with an underwhelmed raising of the eyebrows and an “Oh Mum, do we have to?” There was precious little to excite young minds.

Nowadays, the concept of visitors being treated to an interactive experience is as much a part of a day out as a cup of tea and cake. It is also one that sends unreasonable shivers down my spine when I’m with Geoff, although when we’re out with the family it is an entirely different matter.

“How lovely,” I say in my Joyce Grenfell voice to the grandsons, “they’ve got a have-a-go archery session starting at 3pm. We’ve just got time to finish the nature trail and see the birds of prey demonstration before we head down to the archery field.”

We experienced all that at a National Trust property at the weekend. It was the same place we’d visited a few weeks ago, when the boys made their own coiled pots from wet, messy clay – to their absolute joy – and took part in an archaeological dig.

The six-year-old, silent with concentration and sheer wonder, unearthed a coin during the dig. He announced at bedtime that he’d switched his career ambition from ’a police’ to an archaeologist, which was entirely understandable.

Inside the beautiful old house, we followed clues to make fascinating discoveries, touched wood panelling that had been on the walls for centuries – yes, even before grandma and grandpa were born – and climbed a tower from where the enemy could be spied upon and, if necessary, repelled in any number of satisfyingly gruesome ways.

The smaller grandson tried his hand at archery and, to everyone’s amazement, kept hitting the target. What this could lead to as far as his career ambitions are concerned we would rather not speculate upon, but I think we need to make sure he isn’t left alone with a bow and arrows for several years. That would be taking the interactive experience a little too far.


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