A post about volunteering to help at the village youth club
This article was written for the May 2014 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News, our local community news magazine
This month I’ll be resuming my role as helper at the village youth group, a role I gave up 13 years ago, having helped found the club in the 1990s.
At that time, I was married to my late husband John Green. If you didn’t know him personally, his name will be familiar if you have ever sat on the red bench in the playpark, bought to commemorate him by the youth group after his premature death from leukaemia just after the turn of the millennium.
I never dreamed in those days that more than a decade later, I’d not only be returning to the youth group, but also taking with me my daughter from my second marriage, who this term hits the important 11th birthday that qualifies children to join.
I wasn’t sure when to tell Laura that I’d been married before, but I was spared the task when, at the age of 6, she came home from a trip to the playpark with her dad and announced contentedly: “I’ve just sat on your dead husband’s bench”.
Reading names on the war memorial and other historic sites around the village, and realising their descendants still flourish in the village, is a great reminder of the circle of life, and a comfort, whatever age you are. I’m looking forward to taking my place further down the line with the Evergreens*, but for now, I’m sticking with the youth group, and telling myself I’ll be forever Young.
*The village club for retired people
This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, May 2014 issue
An update about one of my freelance writing projectsFor the last year or so, I’ve been writing a regular column for a British online parenting magazine calledKideeko (www.kideeko.co.uk). I first became involved with Kideeko when I was still working part-time at the children’s reading charity Read for Good. At first, I was writing exclusively about children’s books and reading, fuelled by the knowledge and experience I’d gained through my work at Read for Good, and these articles provided a valuable opportunity to raise awareness before a family audience of Read for Good’s excellent work. For those of you who don’t already know, Read for Good is a UK national charity which exists to promote reading for pleasure among children. There are two distinct parts to the charity, which is funded entirely by donations (it’s easy to donate online via their websites):
Readathon, which provides schools with free materials to runs sponsored reading schemes in thousands of schools all over the country, at any time
ReadWell, which takes free books and storytellers into children’s hospitals to make life better for young patients, their families and their carers
In the three and a half years that I worked for Read for Good, I learned what I had already known instinctively: that books change lives for the better, in all kinds of ways.
Growing Up With Books
My own life experience endorses that view. I was a lucky child: I was brought up in a house full of books, taken on regular visits to the local public library and had my own bookshelves in my bedroom. Books were valued and reading always encouraged. Whether sharing books with other members of the family, listening to stories on the radio or on vinyl records (no CDs or iPods in those days!), or reading alone, I grew up loving books. It was no surprise to anyone when I chose English Literature for my degree, or when my career revolved around writing, at first under the guise of trade press hack and PR consultant, and latterly as a published author, journalist and blogger. Although Kideeko’s editor has now asked me to address broader parenting topics, the joys of children’s books and reading are never far from my mind whenever I’m writing about children. (I also write for Today’s Child Magazine, available in print and online.) For evidence, you have only to read my article about Mother’s Day in Kideeko‘s March issue, in which I hark back to treasured moments sharing books and stories with my mum. You can read that column here: Making Mother’s Day
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing Mother’s Day with my child, as well as my mum, this Sunday, and I wish a happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.If you’d like to read more about my lovely mum and daughter, here are some past posts about them:The Scent of a Mummy – remembering my grandmothers’ and mother’s perfumesThe Only Certainties in Life: Birthdays and Taxes – celebrating my mum’s 80th birthdayFather’s Day To Follow – my daughter’s take on such celebrations
The first in a series of posts about our half-term trip in our camper van to France, Belgium and the Netherlands
On the first Saturday morning of the half term holiday, Dover-Dunkirk ferry departures are running seriously behind schedule, following a night of Force 10 gales in the English Channel.
Slowly our camper van edges through immigration control, where we learn that the ferry we’re due to catch has been marooned outside the harbour for 10 hours as the sea was too rough for it to dock. In those circumstances, I’m happy to wait the predicted eight hours before we can expect to board.
In the meantime, we have needs which must be attended to. As soon as our camper van reaches its allocated parking space to await departure, my ten-year-old daughter Laura and I nip across to the port’s Food Village to use the loo.
Disappointingly, the enticingly-named Food Village turns out to be exactly like the inside of any British motorway service station. The upside is that we can easily find the Ladies’. Our mission accomplished, I’m just waiting for Laura to finish washing her hands when a wide-eyed lady, aged about 30, dashes in crying “Where can I put my baby down?”
The little girl in her arms is about nine months old. Wearing a plum-coloured hand-knitted jumper and a pink hat shaped like a flower, she looks like an Anne Geddes photo. Someone’s Grandma loves them.
The lady’s eyes become even wider when she realises there’s no playpen or baby seat in which to secure her little flower while Mummy uses the facilities.
“Here, would you like me to take her for you?” I offer, thinking wistfully that it’s been a long time since I’ve held a baby that small.
Without a moment’s hesitation the lady thrusts her baby into my arms and dashes into a cubicle. After a moment, she starts talking loudly to me through the door, and I realise that she’s seeking reassurance that I’m still there. I answer immediately to make it clear that I haven’t fled with her baby and leapt on a ferry to parts unknown.
Her baby, meanwhile, is unperturbed, responding to the unfamiliar setting as if it’s a giant activity centre. She turns her little head towards the source of each new sound, open mouthed with wonder – roaring hand-driers, fizzing taps, sliding door bolts and slamming doors. She is too preoccupied to notice that I’m not her mum.
After a minute or two, the lady emerges from her cubicle at a more relaxed pace than that of her arrival. Then on catching sight of me with the baby, she goes rigid with horror.
“Oh my god, I’ve just realised what I did there!” she gasps. “I just gave my baby to a total stranger! I was that desperate!”
I smile indulgently.
“Don’t worry, we’ve all done things like that,” I tell her, nodding towards Laura to indicate that I’ve been there, done that, and that my baby lived to tell the tale.
But I know very well how her heart must be pounding, as mine did one day when Laura was tiny, and I left her outside a shop in her buggy in the care of her father. When I came out, they were gone, and I fell into a wild panic. Logically I knew that nothing terrible could have happened – they hadn’t really been kidnapped by aliens and there was a rational explanation for the empty space where I’d expected to find them. Even so, I started running tearfully from shop to shop, stopping only when I found Laura safe and sound a few doors down. She was cooing happily in her buggy in a men’s clothes shop, overseen by the shop assistant, while her Daddy was calmly trying on a pair of trousers in the changing room. I was horrified. It was at that moment that I realised the full force of maternal instinct and the power it had to overwhelm reason.
In Dover’s Food Village, the flowery baby, perhaps suddenly realising the enormity of the situation, starts to cry. I’m relieved to return her to the familiarity of her mother’s arms and to lead my own child back to the haven of our camper van.
Coming next: how our lack of forward planning means we end up in Belgium instead of France.
It’s Halloween, and I’m in Disneyland Paris in a queue. No surprises there, as anyone who has ever been to Disneyland Paris will confirm: queuing is inevitable. For anyone with a low tolerance of queues, such as my husband, the best advice is to avoid it.
But we’re old hands, my sister, my daughter, and me. We’ve been coming here once every year or so since Laura was 4 – old enough to appreciate it yet young enough to believe in its magic. (My sister, aged 60, is still at that stage).
Over the years, we’ve become adept at keeping our queuing time to a minimum. But tonight’s queue is different.: I’m not awaiting a turn on a ride, but lining up, early evening, for refreshments in a Disneyland Main Street cafés. Like everyone else around us, we’re exhausted, but hanging on for the end-of-day audio-visual display before we head back to our hotel for the night. Having seen the show the night before, we know it’s worth the wait.
Looking Forward – and Backward – To Fireworks
Thanks to 21st century technology, the end-of-day show is far more sophisticated than when I first went to Disneyland, as a child living in California for a year. In those days, there was only one Disneyland, and we had the good fortune to live close by. Back then, we thought the traditional display behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was spectacular, but it was nothing compared to what we’re about to see. This display uses the Castle as a projection screen for a complex laser show, transforming it into Notre Dame, the Scottish castle in “Brave”, Beauty and the Beast’s palace, and more. Not only fireworks but huge blasts of fire shoot into the air around the castle, warming us all the way down Main Street.
After a day of bright sunshine and clear blue sky, the night air is bitterly cold, and we need internal warming to tide us over until the display begins, and so we’ve hit the café. I’ve parked my sister and my daughter in a cosy, comfortable booth of this Victorian-themed fast-food cafés, and I’m queuing at the self-service counter for tea and cake.
Fast Food It Ain’t
As in all Disneyland Paris’s fast food outlets, the term “fast” is a bit of a misnomer. The French simply do not understand the concept of fast food. If they did, the Park’s profits would surely soar, as they’d serve thousands more meals and snacks every day.
I resign myself to waiting however long it takes to reach the cashier and spend some time inspecting the display of Halloween-themed cakes. Having chosen a fruit tart to share between the three of us, I lean back against the brass rail that runs the length of the self-service counter, channelling the queue towards the till, and I turn my attention to the others in the queue. It’s a good thing that I enjoy people watching: it helps pass the time.
Behind me I observe two American ladies who are just deciding to buy four souvenir plastic cups, adding 20 Euros to their drinks bill. This purchase seems rather coals-to-Newcastle, considering they hail from the land of Disney. I wonder whether they’ve thought how much suitcase space these cups will require on their journey home.
In front of me is a middle-aged French lady whose loaded tray includes two pumpkin-coloured tarts adorned with marshmallow ghosts. I’m just speculating whether they contain real pumpkin when I’m distracted by the appearance of a small olive-skinned child whose curly head is bobbing under the brass railing beside me. Pushing through to the counter, she stands on tiptoe beside the lady with haunted tarts, one of which I assume is destined for her. I’m therefore surprised when the little girl reaches up to the counter to help herself to another one exactly the same. The French woman looks down, startled, without a flicker of recognition of the child. They’re not together.
Although I know that not everyone is as disciplined at queuing as we English, but still I wonder at the child’s cheek. I wonder whether her mother has already reached the till and sent her to collect the cake as an afterthought? A glance at the front of the queue tells me otherwise: a man on his own is carrying off a tray without a glance at the child.
Then, as quickly as she appeared, the little girl vanishes, dashing off down the café among the banquettes, the pastry still in her hand. The French woman and I exchange astonished glances as the child settles down next to two coffee-drinking women.
The Mystery of the Vanishing Cake
Next up at the till, the French woman lays into the cashier indignantly. He and his coffee-making colleague are not perturbed: it seems they’re used to such infringements.
“Ça n’est pa grave,” he assures her, totting up her bill and sealing plastic lids on to her drinks order. “Ça fait rien.”
I know enough French to recognise that the lady thinks it very grave indeed. As she pays, she continues to rail against the child’s action, the body language on both sides of the counter becoming more pronounced as words fail to resolve her disagreement with the cashier. I begin to wonder whether she’s about to make a citizen’s arrest. Finally, she gives up, muttering crossly as she retreats with her tray to her table.
The child’s mother seems even less concerned than the cashier, continuing to drink coffee and chat to her companion, though she must have noticed her child’s petty theft.
Thankful that at last it’s my turn at the till, I order our teas and pay. As I’m waiting for my drinks to be poured, I hear a rustle at my side at waist level. The little girl has returned. Ah, I think, she’s seen the error of her ways and come to apologise, perhaps paying from her own pocket money as a punishment.
She pushes past me without a care and smiles innocently up at the cashier, before saying in fluent French: “Please may I have a spoon with which to eat my cake?”
With a twinkle in his eye, the cashier passes her a spoon. Well, it is Halloween, after all.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like this anecdote about self-catering in France: Always Read The Label
A week today, on World Diabetes Day 2013, I’ll be launching my latest book, a short e-book about how Type 1 Diabetes has affected my family. Its prime purpose is to raise funds for the search for a cure, via Type 1 Diabetes charity JDRF.
As close friends, family and regular readers of this blog will know, my husband and our ten-year-old daughter Laura both have Type 1 Diabetes, a serious incurable condition that requires careful management every day to guard against unacceptable short-term and long-term health risks.
The book started out as a series of occasional blog posts here, addressing different aspects of living with Type 1 Diabetes. It brings together all of these posts in one place, plus extra material written especially for the book.
One of the new additions is an excellent Foreword, kindly provided by the broadcaster Justin Webb, who co-presents BBC Radio 4’s influential Today programme, and who also has a child with Type 1 Diabetes.
Here is an extract:
“For families around Britain and around the world – today and tomorrow and for every day until a cure is found – a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes is a life-altering, life-worsening piece of news…
“For parents, for the children themselves, all is changed. Some cope badly and suffer the awful consequences of complications and added misery. But some people have within them … the strength to fight back…
“This book has been written by someone who is ready and willing and able to fight back, and I commend her for it.
“Debbie Young has written a moving and personal testimony. I hope it inspires people to support the work of JDRF. And to salute the pioneers who first helped Type 1 Diabetics to stay alive, and nowadays helps them to live increasingly normal lives. This is a story that begins with harsh reality but encompasses success as well. It is a story of hope and progress, and one day it must end, in triumph.”
The funds raised by this short e-book will help bring that triumph closer.
The e-book will be available exclusively from Amazon from 14th November. The retail price will be £1.99 in the UK, and the equivalent in all Amazon territories around the world. All profits from every copy sold will go to JDRF, the international charity for Type 1 Diabetes.
The profit will be around 70% of the retail price. because the book has cost nothing but time to produce. Justin Webb and my author and publisher friends have given their services free of charge. Special thanks to SilverWood Books for their beautiful cover design, to novelist Joanne Phillips and poet Shirley Wright for proofreading, and to many other friends for reading the draft copy in advance of publication.
I will also be very grateful to anyone who is willing to post a book review on Amazon, because the more reviews a book has, the more visible it becomes on Amazon, thus increasing sales opportunities.
As the book is relatively short – around 8,000 words – there are currently no plans for a print version, but next year I’m hoping to publish an anthology of essays by other writers whose lives have been affected by Type 1 Diabetes, and I may incorporate this first book as a part of that project. Anyone who would be interested in contributing a piece to the 2014 book is warmly invited to register their interest via the contact form on this website.