The Last Furlong

Comments on the race of life.


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New fashion sheet

Mr Furlong has not been well. He had a tooth out. It has bled at night and ‘lost the clot’ since last week. We have now discovered why. Mr Furlong is on anti coagulants. He takes a pill in the evening and sure as anything, within an hour or so, the clot which he is carefully trying to preserve has gone! He bleeds instead. We know his anti coagulants work. They do not ‘allow’ clots.

So on one of the bad nights for Mr Furlong , I woke up terribly hot. I was cooking as they say. I knew a sheet would be nicer than my summer duvet. But the linen is stored in Mr Furlong’s room. I did not want to disturb him.

I lay and thought of possible alternatives. What was large enough, thin enough, and light enough to use as a sheet that was stored in a place I could get to without waking Mr Furlong (or the dog).

Ah! The English Flag! It was stored in a drawer in the lounge (‘living room’ as they strangely say here in the UK). But when I examined it, it felt polyestery and hot. God knows where we got an English Flag the size of a bed sheet, but we have one.

And then the solution came to me. We downsized from a large house with a large dining room table in the dining room. We owned table cloths stored in a chest of drawers next to the kitchen.

I found the perfect twenty year old many times laundered pink cotton damask table cloth in the drawer there where it has lain since we moved here.

I slept well under it and dreamed of many very happy times.


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Katie Fluxman in Palestine. What happened to you after 1938?

In 1938 my mother was in England, in London, at university. She shared lodgings with her friend Katie Fluxman. She wrote a lot about her adventures with Katie when, later, my mother became a writer.

But in 1938 there were rumblings and rumours of war. My mother decided to return home, to Africa. But Katie and Katie’s partner were completely over the moon because they had decided to settle in Palestine (as it then was). They were Jewish. Palestine was their ultimate dream. They would be building a new country, for the Jewish people and make a nation.

So the two friends separated, one, agnostic to return ‘home’ and the other, to make a new ‘home’ for her people.

I know the story of my mother, but I have always wondered how Katie Fluxman fared. She married her man and they arrived in Palestine to build a new country in about 1938.

They are all dead now, but, once, the fire of youth burned bright; young people setting out to change the world.

Where are the children of Katie Fluxman? You will be about my age. What happened to Katie?

It would be nice to know.

PS. I have accidently ‘found’ two sets of people through this blog in the past. Maybe it could happen again.


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Funerals

This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve always found it strange that someone would arrange their own funeral.

I was under the impression that a funeral was something your friends and relatives put on for themselves, to remenber you with. Or a wake to have a party.

Why plan your own funeral?

It puts a huge responsibility on other people to organise the readings, the music, the vicar, the venue, the guests, the seating, the tea party, or whatever YOU thought appropriate for yourself.

It’s something the family and friends ( if you have any) give to you, not something you give to them.

Someone in our family has planned their own funeral down to the last tiny detail. I hope to snuff it first so I don’t have to follow all the instructions!

The Furlongs in general follow no religion. There were never any instructions to us from those who have gone before. As our predecesors passed over to the next dimension, we had a good party after their cremations, and played the music that reminded US of THEM. We scattered their ashes in natural places we thought befitting, like the sea, or a mountain. And thanked them for sharing their lives with us.

I have ‘planned’ my own funeral in the same traditional way. The instructions say ” Have a party. My favourite music is in my library on Spottify. Do not grieve. We had the best adventure! We shall meet again.”

There is no death, only transition of consciousness. The idea that death is the end is the biggest hoax of all time.

Attending your own funeral as you might, then, would be far more delightful if you watched what other people were offering you spontaneously with love, than watching what you offered them under instruction from yourself bound by your own ego!


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A question of colour

Mrs Furlong’s father (that’s my father) was a redhead.

Mr Furlong’s mother was a redhead.

According to legend, Mrs Furlong (me) had red hair when she was born. But it fell out and was replaced by thin blonder-than-blonde hair that no sane human would desire. She got stuck with it her whole life. As a child, she looked like a sucked mango pip, bleached white, with match-stick legs and arms.

Mrs Furlong’s redhead father was a very smart man, a scientist. A very sharp scientist who was sent to America for a year to find out and bring back to darkest Africa knowledge regarding milk and milk products for his laborotary. But unfortunately Mrs Furlong’s father preferred alcohol as his tipple, a fact that shortened his life considerably.

Mr Furlong’s redhead mother was a sharp cookie too. And gifted. She had a gift of piano playing from ear, any composition, any tune, any key. She was found to be essential as an accompaniest to the soloists in pantomimes and performances by singers who wandered in and out of keys during productions of musicals in the community because she could play on simply by spontaneously transposing to a different key. She entertained us for hours on the piano after meals and at parties. As a tiny child, the piano teacher refused to teach her because “she never followed the music”. She never had another lesson after that.

She was a smashing cook!

Mr Furlong’s father, ex navy officer after the war,  entertained himself by blotting out memories of the atomic bomb flash which he witnessed from his ship, by remaining mostly addled, but very entertaining in bars and pubs and parties for the rest of his life.

As parents, we had much discussion about who might inherit what aspect of intelligence, alcoholism, and hair that was so clear in our genetic heritage.

It was the subject of every conversation each time a new baby was due. And there was much talk about gender. Everyone contemplated the genetic chances of this or that, family, friends, and strangers too.

Girl? Boy? Who knew? It was always a surprise. Red, blonde, brunette. Dimples, nose, ears. All was discussed. Constantly.

At birth, it was all about the hair.

Red?

Blonde?

Yes?

No?

Now, in case no one knows, people with red hair often have a very unfortunate skin colour that haunts them all their lives. They are cursed with WHITE, delicate skin that keeps them out of the sun, that turns blotchy very easily, blushes, and produces freckles, bullying and derision in school.

In favour of red-heads is they are supposed to be more intelligent than the rest of us.

I produced three blonds, one brunette and one red-head. All of them are sharp cookies. They are now middle aged. None have turned into alcoholics. Nor musicians.

All have children themselves. And, guess what?

Yes!

The red-heads are there! (and,of course, the skin.)

I was thinking about the dreadful racism Meghan has suffered when someone asked her about the colour baby Archie might be. It was her first baby. I think she didn’t know that people would wonder. I wondered myself.

Bless her, poor thing. She had no family of her own to endlessly cogitate what qualities would appear in the next family baby like we did. Times have changed.

But, I wonder, is Archie a redhead?

Or is that racist?


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Truly rare

The Furlongs have owned many birds over the years. They were never caged, but lived free. Most of them were wild birds reared by hand. All of them have stories, but the one I thought about this morning was a Jackdaw I had.

I reared it. I knew nothing about Jackdaws having lived in the UK for only a few years by that time. I did not know how prized they were as caged pets, especially because they talk. I simply found a little fledgling fallen out of a nest, so I took it home and looked after it. Eventually, I discovered it was a Jackdaw.

It became my shadow.

Wherever I went he/she came too. Outdoors, he would take off and return to my shoulder. I knew, from experience, that one day he would go for ever as all my other wild birds had done when the desire to find a mate overcame them. It was to be expected and it was right. It always sadly pleased me.

At the time I had the Jackdaw, I injured my right wrist. It was bandaged for several weeks. On our walks, when the Jackdaw took off for a quickie flight, I would simply raise my right hand and he would swoop down and settle on it should I want him to come back.

As I write this, I think I might have told this story here before.

But anyway, if I entered a building, the Jackdaw simply waited outside calling for me, until I came out again, and would alight on my shoulder or upheld bandaged wrist.

One day I had to attend a meeting in a room upstairs in a building next to the church. The Jackdaw sat in a tree in the churchyard and made a right nuisance of himself at the level of the upstairs meeting room open window. I had to excuse myself. I needed to sort ‘the problem’ out.

In the churchyard was a group of tourists newly alighted from a tourist bus. I raced in, embarrassed by the whoohaa my bird was causing. I raised my right whitely bandaged hand, and the Jackdaw magically appeared from the tree and swooped down to greet me with great love and attention.

The tourist guide and the group looked at me with open astonished mouths. I could just hear them thinking about witches, witchcraft, ravens, and evil.

We had no garden in that residence, being in the very centre of town, but behind us there was a tiny courtyard off a ginnel used as a shortcut through to the street behind. If it was lovely and sunny, I used to pop the Jackdaw in a small cage where he would luxuriate in the warmth while I was busy inside.

One day, when I came to fetch him in, the cage and the Jackdaw had gone.

A local said “What did you expect? Everyone has envied you with such a precious thing, someone knicked it!”

I still feel sad that a free animal, must have ended its life as a caged creature.

But the most, most precious gift my Jackdaw gave me, was that I heard him sing. In his private moments, he sang! He sang in the most melodious, liquid, melifulous, glorious sounds one could ever imagine. Heavenly music. Jackdaws are songbirds. Hearing a Jackdaw sing is a profound, rare thing. Not many people will have heard it.

I have been blessed.


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Better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick

The internet tells me that “Better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick” is an Australian saying. How it got into use by the Furlong family, I have no idea. The Furlongs only ever had a vague connection with Australia.

But we used it nevertheless. Any complaint by the kids and here it would come. “Well it’s better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick”

Kids seem to understand that quickly don’t you think?

Other sayings which mean the same thing are –

“It’s better than a slap in the face with a wet fish.”

Or

“It’s better than a kick up the arse with a frozen foot.”

Or

” It’s better than a slap on the belly with a wet lettuce.”

Or

“Its better than sleeping with a dead policeman.”

Wet fishes, frozen feet, lettuces and dead policemen were not part of our children’s life experiences, but poking was something warned about regularly. Poking is dangerous. Poking happens when you run around holding a sharp thing, or you run INTO your brother or sister holding a sharp thing, or you simply jab yourself with a sharp thing.

The idea that a burnt stick might leave a crumble of ash stuck in your eye after the event is clear too. All our kids got something in the eye at one time or another. So they knew how it felt.

Everyone nowadays seems to be complaining about something or other. Covid has brought out whiners and moaners. They are everywhere. If you said to them “it’s better than getting Covid”, they would still complain.

But

If you said “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick”, they might understand. Even a kid can understand that!

Just about everything is better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick – everything.


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I was never Mother Mary, Mr Furlong was never Joseph

Our Nativity careers at school were pretty crummy.

Only the appealing children got the best parts!

Mr Furlong vaguely remembers possibly being a shepherd once, but never Joseph, or even a King offering myrrh and frankincense to baby Jesus lying in the manger.

I was a scrawny, gangly creature with knobbly knees, pale white blond. Everyone knows Mary had long dark hair and was pretty. And her knees were perfect. I was never Mary.

One would have thought with my white blond looks I could at least have been the Angel Gabriel?

Mr Furlong was lucky to be a shepherd (once) (he thinks). My role was mostly well covered – something to do with the back end of the donkey, or a large chicken with knobbly knees.

I am only remembering this because we are watching the ridiculous movie called ‘Nativity’ on BBC 2. It proves that the Nativity was, contrary to tradition, a heck of a lot of fun.

Mr Furlong and I didn’t know that. It wasn’t fun like that in our day. I think the real Mary and Joseph missed out too. For us, annually, it was a time of disappointment, mortification and humiliation.

I’m glad things seem to be changed.

The best role in the Nativity is to be Baby Jesus. He’s never hurt, disappointed, stage frightened, nor otherwise emotionally blighted for life.

He’s just a plastic doll.


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Why you can’t be anything you want.

In the old days, very old days, people knew their place.

Dick Whittington might have gone off to seek his fortune and become a mayor, but that was a rare thing – very rare – so rare that it became a legend.

We do a cruel thing nowadays to my mind. We tell our children they can do, and be anything they want – to dream the impossible dream.

We lie.

Let me tell you, that as a disabled person (though I have never thought of myself as such), I know there are things I cannot do. Tough shit for me. I don’t expect the rest of the world to accomodate me because it is my ‘right’.

Many years ago, I taught in Africa. I taught adults in factories, high school kids trying to get matriculation, and also a group of teenagers from the township nearby who wanted to improve their matriculation English.

They were a mottley bunch of boys, those kids. One Saturday morning, as we all sat around the table, we were discussing dreams of the future. Most of the boys had modest, achievable dreams. They wanted to be soccer stars, or train in IT, or become teachers.

In that group, there was one boy who stood out. He was very slow, mentally. He had no humour when there were jokes. He wore the thickest coke bottle bottom glasses I have ever seen and was sight disabled. But he was neatly dressed and wore an expensive watch so he must have presumably come from a good home.

When the question came round to him of what he wanted to be when he left school, he said

“I am going to become a surgeon.”

No ifs or buts, no limitations.

“I am going to become a surgeon”

“Why are you inspired to become a surgeon?” I asked noticing the boys were not sniggering, but looking at him with serious attention. The chap was deadly serious.

“My parents say I can do it. I can be anything I want. I’m going to medical school, university, to become a surgeon”

At that moment, I realised what parental cruelty is. It is telling your child that they can achieve something impossible.

What happened to that lad? I don’t know.

But I fear he was wounded emotionally by deep disappointment.

You can be anything you want to become in life, according to your life circumstances. Assessing those things is a really important step in discovering happiness.

I think.


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Frost and frogs

In Africa, the Furlong family lived in a large house on a smallholding next to virgin bush. Looking back, the Furlong children had the most nutritious upbringing there. I say nutritious because they grew up with the experiences of freedom, animals, adventure and nature. The house was 1910 Freestyle architecture, delapidated but beautiful. The people who built it must have had money, for it had a swimming pool and it originally had a garage for a tiny Ford.

At the pool, were two large cement frogs circa 1910, keeping guard. I brought the frogs to the UK. I have always liked frogs. In Africa, after rain, the frogs sang us to sleep and woke us in the morning. There are plenty of frogs in Africa. There was never frost where we lived.

This morning, here, in Cumbria, we have had our first frost. The large African frogs still guard our garden. They are covered with mosses and lichen now. And frost – probably.

Over the years, we have had ornamental plastic frogs too. In the summer, one of them used to move around the garden all by itself. It was a mystery that was solved when the dog Bass came bounding into the house with it in his mouth one day and proceeded to gnaw off the green plastic eyebrow on our cream sofa.

That frog now lives on a shelf in the shed.

The cement frogs will survive the winter as they have now for over twenty years. In twenty years I have only seen one real live frog in our last garden. It was an ‘event’ of great magnitude!

Our African frogs are very reliable. They never move about. They have developed camouflage that makes them even more beautiful to my eyes and they will survive the frost.

And I might find one in the undergrowth of dying weeds that have taken over the Furlong garden when I get round to attending to the mess.


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It’s my birthday

Today is my birthday.

I have turned 76.

I’m never in a celebrationary mood for my birthday.

I’m more Pagan. Pagans believed a few evil spirits lurked around you at that time of aging a year. That’s why we wish each other a “happy” day – a transmogrification of bad to good!

Why else should a day, where I did nothing but get born seventy six years ago, be such an extra “happy” day?

Birthdays should be congratulationary to the mother not the child, don’t you think?

My mother and I had the same birthday day. The 27th of September. My birthday used to be more fun when we both did it together.

So today, I am wishing my mother happy birthday in memorium.

I thank her for giving me life and for keeping evil spirits away on the many birthdays we did together. Double birthdays are more fun.

And much cheaper!