Reasons to be cheerful – part three


You know Agatha, I was just looking into all the various vaccinations one needs for travelling around Asia, and it got me to thinking how lucky we are to be able to prevent some of those dreadful diseases in the western world.  I was thinking about polio for example.  What a terrible thing, and still prevalent in some countries.  But it affected many people before the vaccine was introduced here in the 1950s.  

Indeed my dear, and even some beyond the 1950’s.  Don’t you remember the lovely Christopher Longden, such a wonderful boy and spent so much of his time in calipers.  

Goodness yes Agatha, but he was so incredibly plucky and then of course there is the dear departed Ian Dury,  not that his disability stopped him from achieving great things.

By jingo Mary, yes.  What a revolutionary chap he was.  Do you remember when we danced like lunatics to his tunes?  I do think it’s fair to say that we got a better reaction than when we Charlestoned for the first time at Charlie Fairweathers!  Of course, that was back in the day when we were young enough to fling our bodies about with gay abandon?

Well speak for yourself darling, I seem to remember that there was a certain amount of gay abandon at the belly dancing show at Christmas.  But of course my flexibility is not what it was.  Gone are the days when we could touch our toes dear.

Ah yes, the 1970s.  The decade that fashion forgot, but the music was certainly life changing.  And, doesn’t it seem as if things were much simpler in those days?  We just had a few too many ciders and danced with our friends.  Nowadays there is not so much dancing.  


I’m afraid you’re quite right Agatha.  But of course in our day the evening started much earlier and with just a couple of strong ciders!

Quite so dear one.  It seems that today the youngsters don’t even go out until midnight, which could explain why they seem to be obsessed with taking photographs of themselves and putting them on social media.  It really makes one wonder if they actually know how to let themselves go?

Or even talk to one another!  Goodness me, the debates and larks we’d have.  Of course, we were as they say ‘living the moment’ rather than taking a snapshot of it. I do believe that makes all the difference.

Yes, one does wonder dear.  And if they don’t know how to enjoy the moment, as you say, then how do they manage to make real friendships?  It’s all incredibly distressing.  If everything they do is through the lens, nothing is actually real.

Quite dear, mobile devices and the internet are all well and good for keeping in touch, but when they control your behaviour, well, that’s quite another thing entirely.

No wonder society is going down the jolly old drain.  But what can one do dear?

Well I do hope that on our spiffingly exciting travels we’ll be able to encourage people to enjoy each other’s company.  Talk about their lives, good and bad, spend a whole evening chatting about music, books, films, politics – what is going on in the world, rather than just taking pictures, modifying them with apps and posting them up on social media to count how many likes they have in order to make yourself feel good.

Gosh dear, you seem quite incensed by this!

Well confound it Agatha, I do believe I am.  And it’s because I have been alive long enough to know what really makes one happy.

Aren’t we getting a bit philosophical dear?  But, please, do tell… Is it cake, gin that type of thing?

Well of course those things certainly help.  But I have concluded that friends are the thing.

It goes without saying dear one.  Good friends are absolutely vital to a long and happy life.  Whoever you are.  They get you through the ups and downs of life.

Yes, and given that we are currently in a bit of a gloomy dip, I count you and my other dear friends as the reasons I stay cheerful despite what the politicians and the media want us to feel.



Guacamole has always struck me as rather a gloomy dip.  I mean, it starts off all green and lush, but quickly turns brown and unpleasant.

Yes dear.  Not quite what I meant, but you have a point of course.

Being rather silly, and porridge oats.

I think you need a large gin Agatha.

I always need a large gin, Mary dear, but in this case I was simply recalling one of my favourite lines from Reasons to be cheerful part three.  Ian Dury and the Blockheads, a fine song and full of rather wonderful lines.

Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty, going on 40.

Oh yes.  Shall we put it on the stereo and have a listen.  It will take us back to our younger years.

The hair and makeup – do you remember?

I try to forget Agatha dear.  But I do have plenty of happy memories of that time.  Do you remember when we spent the summer at your cousin Isabel’s olive farm in Italy?

Oh yes indeed I do.  I particularly remember the scrapes we got ourselves into.  Gianni comes to mind.  Isabel’s top picker.  I do recall one sultry night when he ‘picked’ you out. We’d became quite frantic about you when you hadn’t returned by the small hours.  

Oh really Agatha, I thought the days of you reminding me of that had long passed.  You know perfectly well that Gianni was not entirely responsible for my dress getting entangled in the olive nets.  It was merely an accident owing, I believe, to rather a luscious supply of Chianti and Gianni’s Italian charm.  As you well know I was merely trying to understand what he was saying.  I think he was explaining the finer points of harvesting the fruits, it all seemed terribly romantic of course.

Did the Count ever find out?

Well, nothing really happened of course, but he did punch Gianni in the nose later that year.  He told me at the time it was all over some silly argument about the offside rule…. (both ladies look blank)…. but I think he was really protecting my reputation.

Oh but the jolly capers and scrapes we got into, they are the glue that cements a friendship, don’t you think?  

Of course, that and learning how to belly dance together.

And helping each other.  You were totally spiffing in Egypt last year.  I don’t believe I would have managed to get over that rotter Binky without your help and counsel.  I’d have probably gone into a total funk after he tried to pinch my jewels.  

You would do the same for me dear.  Let’s have some of that delicious Black Forest Gateau Mabel has constructed.  That will also take us back to the 1970s dear one.

How absolutely marvellous dear.  Cheers, and here’s to fabulous friendships!

Indeed.  To friendships!


3 Little Buttons



Reasons to be cheerful – part two


Agatha dear, do come in.  I’ve got some rather spiffing news.

Oh what a thrill Mary dear.  One can always do with a little light entertainment to brighten the day.  Now, don’t tell me. Has the Count finally won the annual Little-Snetherton Ping Pong Championships?

Oh good gracious, no unfortunately not dear.  This news is far more exciting.

Well Mary, if that is indeed the case I feel that I may need some of Martha’s sterling bread pudding to steady the nerves.

Agatha dear, I feel we can do a tad better than that….Angus has found a rather topping bottle of the Bolly ’27.

Goodness!  Isn’t that a little excessive for elevenses?

Nonsense Agatha it’s in perfect keeping.  Now, do sit down before I burst!  Here (passes Agatha a glass of the aforementioned Bolly)…. The Count and I are going travelling.

I’m sorry dear, did you say that you AND THE COUNT are going travelling?  Are you feeling quite well?  I know that we found our sojourn to Egypt quite invigorating, but surely you realise that you are not spring chickens any more.  The thought of you struggling across windswept plains with a large knapksack strapped to your back, or staying in a hostel and smoking unusual plants makes me feel quite peculiar.


Don’t fret my dear friend.  I have decided that it’s a corking plan.  Just what is needed at our time of life and I feel quite exhilarated by the whole idea.  I must say that the very thought of it has quite taken 10 years off of me and The Count is skipping about like a youthful seventy year old.

Mary dear, I think that may just simply be a side effect of the champagne.  But that said, you do seem to be quite fixed on the notion.

Agatha, indeed we are, but I must confess that there is a part of me that is a trifle concerned about leaving you behind.  Particularly as poor Binkie is no longer around to look after you.

Oh please don’t fret about me, my dear.  Binkie is reaping his just desserts and although I will always be fond of him, he will simply never change his conniving ways, even though I am the most determined woman there is nothing to be done.  Besides, Snetter manages the house very well and dear Algie is always on hand to guide me through any mishap.

Of course dear one.  How is Algie after his rather belated ‘coming out’?  I understand that it was quite a shock in some circles.

Mary dear, he is quite the changed man.  It’s as though the weight of the past years has been lifted and he is in a perpetual Disney movie, bursting into song when ever he gets the opportunity.  Of course the government pardoning so many gay gentlemen for their so-called crimes, has made a huge difference.  But, I do believe that Daniel has certainly played a part in his new-found happiness.

That wouldn’t be Daniel of the Blyth-Williamsons by any chance?  He’s a total charmer my dear, comes from a delightful family and all so well connected.  I believe they own quite a substantial amount of Shropshire.  Maud Clevington-Simms knows the whole crowd.

Yes, quite right Mary dear.  I must admit – he’s quite the scoop!  But goodness me, how is Maud?  I haven’t seen her since Fenella Hart-Worthy put mustard powder in her lingerie drawer when we were in the 4th form at St Margaret for the Pure of Heart.  Poor gal was in the infirmary for weeks and then when she recovered from the itching and embarrassment, her family packed her off to a finishing school in Switzerland.  I have only heard vague rumours about her rather unusual life from Fenella.  She never married, I heard.

No, but she had liaisons in several countries, and five children.  Made a bundle on those self help meditation books she wrote after her years out East.  But she looks chipper.  She keeps rabbits now, apparently her house is teeming with the little blighters, but she seems happy.  We met for tea at Claridges on Tuesday and she mentioned that she has friends out in Bangkok.  In fact she has put me in touch with a couple of chaps who may be able to help us find some accommodation.

Bangkok!  Are you sure dear?  I understand the city is a tad different to the rolling hills and leafy lanes of Sussex.  In fact, last year, before I discovered his true nature, Binky took me to a show in Brighton.  I thought it was going to be a rather splendid  Oscar Wilde type of thing.  But the Bangkok Lady Boys were quite a revelation.  I needed several stiff gins afterwards at the hotel to calm my nerves.

Don’t worry dear.  The Count is quite broad minded as you know.  And I am just looking forward to being immersed in something totally new, however risque.  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, the plan is to learn about other cultures and different ways of life.


You know what Mary dear?  I do believe you’re onto something – wider understanding, wider horizons etc.  What with all this bally business of Brexit and Trump, perhaps your rather wild idea seems quite sensible.  Who knows, I may come out and join you.   When I was Head of Jam at the WI I worked with a charming chap.  He was Malaysian.  There’s a remote possibility that he’d still be alive I think.

Dear one, you can’t be serious!  Surely Che Cheng would be over a hundred by now?

Quite possibly Mary, quite possibly.  There’s always a chance though don’t you think?

Absolutely Agatha.  Now how about some more bubbly and a slice of that delicious bread pudding?


Life Love and Dirty Dishes

Reasons to be cheerful – part One.

happyAh Mary dear  do come in and take a pew.  I’ve had some ideas on how to tackle those pesky winter doldrums.

That sounds fabulous darling.  We certainly need something to cheer ourselves in these dark and chilly days.


I beg your pardon dear one?

Snetter set a bonfire at the weekend.  And I must say it rather bought the child out in me.  I was dashing about the garden, looking for sticks and poking it with the rake.  Such delightful fun!

I did think I could smell something smoky about your person when you embraced me just now.  And your hair has taken on a certain life of it’s own this morning.

Oh yes, well it did get a little out of hand, the odd spark flying about and igniting the lashings of hairspray I normally use on a Sunday.  Still, Snetter managed to quash the flames with a swift swipe of the garden broom.  Left me reeling a little dear, but nothing a stiff gin couldn’t fix.


Anyway, as I say, it warmed me up, got me moving about and prevented that terrible Sunday feeling one gets of impending doom, well at least until tea time when there’s always blancmange and jelly.

Yes, I do know that feeling dear heart. The Count has been unusually down recently.  All this talk of leaving Europe has set his moustaches quite a quiver, he is plotting something and I do hope it’s not dangerous.  You remember he has quite a penchant for explosives. Indeed, as you know, one of the reasons he married me was my lineage and my relationship to Guy Fawkes.

You don’t think he’s plotting to overthrow the Government?

I certainly hope not, although what he’ll do when Trump gets here I wouldn’t like to say. Let’s hope he’s not too rash.  But I know he is very upset, particularly at the possibility that this Brexit situation could tear us apart.  I mean, he may be forced to return permanently to Italy and one wonders if I would be welcome there.  It’s all rather depressing.

Don’t worry Mary dear.  I’m sure it won’t come to that.  We must sort out some charity work soon, that always cheers one’s heart.

Yes, lovely idea.  Although one wouldn’t want to expose oneself just now.

What do you mean?

Belly dancing.  Not until I have shed my Christmas poundage dear.

But dear one, don’t you feel that it sort of adds to the wobble factor?  I know that once I get going my flesh does seem to have a mind completely of it’s own.

Agatha dear, while you may enjoy liberating your upper regions,  my cleavage has quite blossomed over the festive period.  Hence, the lingerie that I purchased from Rigby & Peller last year is somewhat snug, so the excess just has to go dear.  So I was thinking that we could perhaps do a sponsored weight loss, or fitness whatnot.  Raise some cash for charity in the process.

Do you mean one of those videos where the young and gorgeous dash about in Lycra?

Well ….

But Mary dear, it’s a long time since I’ve seen Bruno Tonioli cutting a dash, but I think I still have his contact details.  Snetter would be able to find them I’m sure.

Agatha, I don’t mean that we ask someone to do a video, but that we do one ourselves.

Mary dear that sounds spiffing, but I think it’s more likely that people would pay not to watch us leaping about in leotards.  Perhaps, instead, we could press our friends to join in with a plan to lose weight and sponsor us at the same time.

Oh yes, I do like that idea.  What kind of things could we do then?

Well, eating less cake might be one.

Heaven forbid, no, I simply cannot do without my cake.

Well, perhaps less gin.

Have you gone quite mad Agatha?

What about more exercise then.


I know.  Our dear friend Gussie Twot-Wickham has just started doing that Park Run.  She walks it of course, running is so undignified when you have a large frontage like mine, but she is certainly looking trimmer.

Well,  I think that is a splendid idea.  And all our friends can join in too.

By jingo, how delightful!  Can you imagine darling Miriam Shufflepuff joining in?

Oh Agatha dear, don’t make me laugh when I’m just about to swallow some delicious Assam….She would have to take two strides for our one, but I’m not sure it’s really her thing, you know.  She’s more of a talker than a walker.

Well, perhaps we could ask her to gather all our friends and do some organising then.

So, how much does one have to pay to join in with a Park Run?

Gussie tells me that it’s free, dear heart.

Well, how is that possible?  What about the organisers and people who are helping out on the day?

They are all volunteers.  So every Saturday a huge number of people give up their lie-ins to stand in a chilly open space to help.  It’s quite amazing when you think about it.

Indeed it is Mary.  It quite gladdens the heart to know that there are still people out there who will help others, complete strangers, for the common good.  Do you think if we went back to Egypt we could participate there?  I was thinking of going to see Binkie again, just to see him one very last time (wiping away a tear)

Agatha dear, I think anything is possible.


I completely agree Mary dear.  

And just imagine all that lovely fresh air, striding out in our local park surrounded by like minded fitness enthusiasts.  It sounds terribly invigorating.  Perhaps I should ask The Count to join us.  He would benefit from some fresh air, it might help him out of his fug of frustration.

Good idea Mary.  Now, let me call Ethel.  She has prepared a delicious chocolate cake for us today.  All that talk about exercise has quite piqued my appetite.

BBC Food Website (19th March 2012)

Rhyming with Wine