Deb's Digest
Debbie Atkinson’s family life column, as featured in the Southport Visiter.

Monday, 23 July 2012


I had my 30th letter published by the Times on Saturday. This time about something that drives me (literally I think) mad!

Sir, I can’t see any reason to single out the Fylde coast when it comes to missing apostrophes. St Albans, St Andrews and St Helens all deserve similar treatment, not to mention Earls Court, Harrods, Queens Park Rangers, Reuters and Crufts.
None of them makes me “grrr” but when I saw a supermarket advertising the local paper with a sign “new’s and view’s” I exploded (although not “literally”).
Deb Atkinson
Southport, Merseyside

A couple of months ago we set aside a week which we would keep free from commitments so that we could jet off somewhere hot if the weather here was still dismal. The weather was still dismal but somehow we managed to talk ourselves out of jetting off to warmer climes and opted instead for a two day break in Derbyshire and one day in North Wales!

We visited Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House while in Derbyshire as well as the pudding shop.

Hardwick Hall

I'd wanted to see Chatsworth after watching the television series, and it more than lived up to expectations. The trouble was there was just far too much to look at - paintings and tapestries covering every wall, painted ceilings in almost every room, fantastic four-posters, gorgeous dining tables, libraries and books galore. Well before we'd finished our tour I was just keeping my eyes straight ahead, because if I looked right, left or upwards I would get caught up in more beautiful objects that I'd want to know all about - and there just WASN'T TIME! 

We stayed at Hassop Hall, which was a treat in itself.

We were told when we arrived that breakfast would be served in our room. After asking a few questions later on, we discovered that most guests looked on this as a treat! Not me! Too much like a nursing home treat for my liking, so we asked if we could have our breakfast in the dining room. We must be decidedly odd because we were the only guests to opt for that. In the morning, while waiting for breakfast, we sat by the log fire in the magnificent hallway reading complimentary papers and were offered a pot of freshly brewed coffee. Then we were led through to a fantastically cosy dining room, full of polished panelling and antiques. Our table, next to the window,  was set with starched white linen, a jug of fresh orange juice and a vase of shocking pink roses. We overlooked the magnificent grounds while we enjoyed crispy warm croissants, local bacon and sausages. How can that compare to breakfast in a bedroom with an unmade bed and suitcases?

Our day in North Wales was made up of a visit to Bodnant Gardens and Swallow Falls. We love Bodnant but have always been in April/May. This visit was a bit of a disappointment because the vibrant colours of spring and early summer have been replaced by mainly green! Although the blue hydrangeas were a picture. And quite a novelty for us because our Southport soil/sand turns ours pink.

Swallow Falls never fails to capture my imagination. There's something very thought-cleansing and refreshing about waterfalls and I could have stood and watched the water for hours. It is a constant source of wonder and mystery to me where all this water comes from - millions of gallons of the stuff day in day out - never stopping. Our younger son even asked the question of a Cambridge professor for me and brought me the answer but it still doesn't make sense to me.

Oscar and Hugo have now broken up for their summer holidays so on one of our last days with them we went to Windmill Farm, where children can mingle with the animals. Actually, we needn't have paid the entry fee because Oscar was more than happy just to mingle with Boots, the giant Newfoundland who was wandering the car park.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


'Daddy I've been werry good. I sorted out the toys I don't want so I can give them to charity. Look they're in that bag'

Monday, 25 June 2012


Although we enjoyed The Jersey Boys, we were quite disappointed that most of the songs we knew and loved were abbreviated to fit them into the show. So when I saw that the real thing - Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons - were coming to this country, there was no question about it, we were going to see them. And see them we did on Saturday in a never-to-be-forgotten concert in the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace. One of the best live acts we've ever witnessed. Hit after hit after hit and unlike Bob Dylan, whose voice has deteriorated beyond recognition, Frankie Valli's was every bit as good as it was all those years ago. "Dawn" "Oh What A Night" "Sherry" "Beggin" "Walk Like A Man" - and scores of others were belted out and by the end bof the evening, even though the heavens had opened and everyone was soaked to the skin, we were all on our feet for a dance.

The more hardy enjoyed summer picnics with champagne under the cover of some magnificent trees on the lawns leading down to the river.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


As long as The Times sees fit to publish them, I'll keep sending them in........


British Bouquet

Although good to see wheat included in the Olympic bouquets, it would have represented the British countryside more to use oilseed rape

Sir, Although I am pleased to see that Jane Packer is including wheat in the 4,400 bouquets to be presented to winning Olympics competitors (“Winning numbers”, Daily Universal Register, June 22), might not oilseed rape flowers have better represented the British countryside?
Deb Atkinson
Southport, Merseyside

Friday, 22 June 2012


We wanted to squeeze in another visit to Borrowby Mill in the Yorkshire Dales, before it appears on Channel Four's "Three in a Bed" programme this summer, by which time the world and his wife will want to stay there. It didn't disappoint and for £60 a night we were treated to the most beautiful bedroom overlooking fantastic countryside and cottage flowers, a breakfast of fresh strawberries served on a silver salver, home-made marmalade in a crystal jar and locally produced sausages, bacon and eggs.

We were only there for a couple of days but managed to visit a couple of lovely National Trust properties - Beningborough Hall with its delightful grounds

and Fountains Abbey which was a bit of a hike with a gammy knee, but well worth the pain....

We had a delicious lunch (I think - see below!) of hot pork and apple sandwiches  sitting by the river in the grounds of the Dawnay Arms

and feasted our eyes on the floral decorations that seem so healthy in this part of the world

It was a lovely, sunny couple of days that did us both good. But I won't be truly happy until I can sniff a rose and smell something, or distinguish between a bowl of curry and a grilled plaice! For two weeks I have had no sense of taste or smell whatsoever and when, last Sunday, I could hear sizzling from a pan, I was amazed to see that the vegetables had boiled dry and were completely burnt. Even standing over the pan I couldn't smell the acrid smoke. So that, together with an ear abcess which I can only hear through by almost touching the floor with my head (while my embarrassed husband walks quickly on)  has made me feel a bit sorry for myself. I'll certainly appreciate good health when (or if) it returns!

Oscar has a real little friend in his baby brother, Hugo. Oscar was having a bit of a tantrum this week and 13 month-old-Hugo went over and hugged him - and wouldn't stop hugging him until he'd stopped crying! Long may it last.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


We're still on a high after the younger son's wedding last weekend. I'd had two, no three, major worries beforehand. a) the weather; b) the speeches and c) Oscar!

The weather couldn't have been better - after weeks of rain and wintery weather, the sun shone and we were able to mingle on the terraces of Brocket Hall's golf club. The speeches were funny and within the bounds of decency (just) and Oscar performed his page boy duties with aplomb and the help of a few jelly beans.
The bride was an absolute picture and we were very proud parents, grandparents and in-laws throughout the day.

Oscar collected the confetti

and Hugo had a great time too

and at the end of the night some of the more flexible among us enjoyed a limbo

Sunday, 13 May 2012


The head of an all girls' school had a letter in last week's Times, extolling the virtues of single sex education. I wholeheartedly agreed with everything she said until she added that she was trying to get a ps on the school motto stating "I did not emerge from the womb holding a duster." What feminist clap-trap. My career as a journalist might not have been on Fleet Street, but a career I did have and I can honestly say that nothing I achieved in the office could compare to the feeling of satisfaction I got when I flopped into a comfy chair with a cup of coffee after having cleaned the house from top to bottom using my trusty yellow duster.
Raising children, cleaning, baking and taking a pride in the home are jobs that should not be demeaned and to my mind are every bit as important as moving up a rung on the career ladder.

Instead of a stick to kill people with, Oscar took a spanner into Sunday School today. I wasn't sure how he would weave it into the Bible story and I even found myself thinking up reasons that we could give, if questioned. As luck would have it, he found a drum more interesting and I was able to slip the spanner into my bag. Half way through the service he piped up in a loud voice "when are we getting the bread and wine grandma?" Sticks, spanners, cups of wine........ I can see we're going to be viewed as partners in crime.

My mother spent a couple of days in hospital last week. So for reassurance I got her a big red mobile phone with large numbers to keep in her bedroom  in case she ever felt too unwell to get to her phone in the kitchen. I instructed her never to turn it off and to leave it on the table next to the bed. When I called on her today I saw that the phone was not on the table next to the bed. "No," she said, "It's in its box in my wardrobe so that it doesn't get dusty."

Saturday, 28 April 2012


Today I received a certificate showing that I have passed my first Latin exam. I really should now go on to level two but with a wedding coming up in three weeks and with serious sunbathing to do, I'm delaying it until the autumn. I know this is a stupid thing to do because if Latin is anything like the two-year German course I did, I'll have forgotten every single word, to say nothing of the nominative and accusative by the time I re-enrol.

Oscar started Sunday School last week and I did wonder how it might go when he picked up a stick in his garden on the way and announced that it was to "kill people with". I managed to persuade him to leave it outside the church door until we left and once inside he entered into the spirit of the occasion wholeheartedly, banging a tabourine throughout the hymns. Picking out the word that interested him most from the "wicker's" sermon - "died" , he got right to the nub of the whole of Christianity and asked me how Jesus came to life after he had died. I think I'll ask the Sunday School teacher to explain that one.

Our older son is at the Glasgow International Art Fair this weekend and apparently he's had trouble making himself understood due to an accent he didn't know he had. He booked into a b&b near the venue after reading some positive reviews. Last night he sent us a picture of his room's walls:

I rather think the picture says a thousand words that reviewers have left out.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


My husband used to be a whizz at tennis, winning every local trophy possible, but it's a number of years since he played. Oscar seemed to be showing an interest the other day, while playing in the garden so I left him and grandad to it while I prepared the lunch.
By the time lunch was ready, Oscar was doing full serves and batting every ball back that was thrown to him. I couldn't believe it, I'll have to leave them alone together more often. I think my husband has found his forte.

Oscar is to be a pageboy at his uncle's wedding next month (shyness and tantrums permitting)  and has tried on his very smart suit. His uncle rang on Monday while Oscar was with us and they spoke. Oscar said that he liked his new suit because it made him look like Batman. Apparently, that night he told his daddy that he thought he might wear his skeleton suit to the wedding, adding: "That would be a nice idea, wouldn't it?"


On Mondays we're lucky, because we look after three-and-a-half year old Oscar and his baby brother Hugo - our grandsons. This Monday, after dropping Oscar off at his little pre-school group, I brought Hugo to our house as usual, put the front door key in the lock and it refused to turn. Hugo took a seat on the porch floor while I continued to grapple. No luck. I got on all fours and peered into the keyhole - a piece of the  lock had parked itself right across the middle of the hole. What to do. My husband was out at golf and turns his phone off, and even if he came home, what could he do? Nightmare. I called my friend and neighbour who fortunately was at home and then I went over and got a scewer from her kitchen drawer. Every time I managed to move the bit that was blocking the centre of the hole, it jumped back again. By this time Hugo was fed up and my back and knees were aching. My friend ran over bearing a sharp knife. It seemed to work and with trembling fingers I pushed the key into the lock - it took a couple of hard turns but then something wonderful happened and I could open my own front door - what a relief.
The following day I spent the morning shopping in town, for five birthdays. Gift cards were purchased, boxes, cards, wrapping paper etc etc. I limped back to the car, worn out and put the shopping in the boot. But wait. Where was the bag from Boots with the gift cards, the much-needed vitamins, supplements, pain killers and cosmetics? One thing was certain, it wasn't in my hand or in the boot. My stomach was churning. I had been to so many shops that I didn't know where to begin. I was too tired to retrace my steps and the car park fee would jump another £6 if I didn't get moving.
I got home and made light of the situation to my husband who was demanding to know just how much money I had lost that morning. I sprinted up to the bedroom and rang three of the shops I'd visited. Not there. Someone was obviously having a field day, spending my gift vouchers, taking my supplements and using my make-up. Then I rang Clinton Cards. It was there, waiting for me behind the counter! Joy of joys! I've been lucky twice in two days. I don't think I'll be pushing my luck again, any time soon.

I managed to get another letter in the Times today:

Beyond the cringe
For those readers from Merseyside, Ladies’ Day at Ascot has just as many faults as the equivalent at Aintree
Sir, I can reassure Robert Crampton (Times Modern, Apr 17) that, here on Merseyside, our cringes when watching coverage of Ladies’ Day at Ascot almost equal the number of times we hide behind the settee during the same event at Aintree.
Deb Atkinson
Southport, Merseyside

Monday, 26 March 2012


Just back from a lovely weekend in the Yorkshire Dales. This is one of my favourite places anyway but combine it with 72 degree wall-to-wall sunshine, and you have perfection. Even the sheep were smiling.
We found a really lovely place to stay - the 16th century,  Borrowby Mill - set in the middle of hilly woodland, with rabbits running past the front door and spring flowers everywhere, this really was a find. The friendly owners told us that they were in the middle of filming for Channel 4's Four in a Bed, a programme where four sets of b&b owners visit each other's properties and try to find fault. The series is to be screened in August and I can't wait to see it, because there truly is not a fault to be found. Tea and cakes on arrival, a most beautiful bedroom overlooking hills and dales and an Aga-cooked breakfast on starched white linen with silverware and crystal.

We're going to book again pretty sharpish because I'm pretty sure that once the programme has been screened, there won't be a vacancy for months - if not years!

Oscar and Hugo have been enjoying the warm weather too

Oscar's daddy told me that while we were away he took Oscar to Halford's to get a pair of wiper blades. Oscar led the way and told his daddy that he'd find the man to ask. Apparently he went running off and found "the man" . "Excuse me," he said, "have you got a pair of errrm......."  ".......curtains?" well, wiper blades are pretty difficult words to remember at three!

Thursday, 22 March 2012


When Oscar comes to play, the first thing he does is check that no-one has touched his den. It is under the stairs and contains a number of items which give him his super powers. My husband and I are allowed in from time to time, as long as we get every inch of our bodies - right down to our toes - inside the den. I always make sure I take a couple of Neurofen before his visits.

I had another letter in The Times today.

Mother knows best
A reader suggests that if you want to know what your skin will be like you should look at your mother’s

Sir, While grateful for Sarah Vine’s suggestion that Clarins HydraQuench Intensive Serum Bi-Phase might give me skin like the Queen’s, I won’t be splashing out on a jar (times modern, Mar 21).
Over the years I have followed the often expensive advice of numerous beauty experts and have come to the conclusion that it’s all in the genes, not the serum. If you want to know what your skin will be like — look at your mother’s.
Deb Atkinson
Southport, Merseyside

Monday, 12 March 2012


Oscar's pre-school group has a dinosaur bin with a "danger keep out" sign on it, underneath,  the sign adds "experts only". Oscar must have thought long and hard about this because today another line was tagged on proclaiming "Oscar is an expert", which is possibly why he's in the bin.

Sunday, 11 March 2012


There is nothing quite like a mum. For the past ten days I have been suffering from a variety of symptoms including sore throat, cold, catarrh, rash, sickness, lack of energy and loss of appetite (try keying that into symptom checker). I  shared a selection of those symptoms with my 81-year-old mother but despite that she managed, on a freezing cold day, to get on the train and then walk up a hill to our house, leaving a plant in the porch for me before doing an about turn and retracing her steps. Unfortunately she then realised she'd locked herself out of her flat and tried to ring me for help. I was out!

Just  as I held the camera up to take that photograph our new neighbours walked past the window and looked in as the flash went off. I almost rushed out to explain that I wasn't taking a picture of them, but I thought I might come across as a bit Basil Fawltyish. I wonder what they're thinking ......

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Yesterday we had a pleasant day out in Chester. Over lunch we heard someone talking about a big TKMaxx at a nearby retail park. On the way home I keyed the road name into the sat nav and we drove there. I could see the store tantalisingly close as we flew past first one entrance to the retail park and then another. I gave plenty of notice before the next well-signed entrance and my husband managed to swing the car a la Stirling Moss onto the correct road. But then "we" managed to take the wrong exit at the roundabout. The correct exit would have led us straight to TKMaxx's car park. Lo and behold, we were on the same road again - outside the retail park. We did another circuit of Chester's ring road and tried again, and missed again. "Right, it's had its chance"  shouted my husband as we zoomed away, following signs to the motorway and home.

Friday, 10 February 2012


I often do bits of work as a mystery shopper / diner and I enjoy it. I'm so glad that my views will be used to - hopefully - improve poor service. There have been so many occasions when we've walked into a pub hoping to find a roaring fire and decent food but end up leaving having encountered neither.
Recently on the way to Harrogate we called into a pub that had been taken over. It looked ok from the outside and we were in need of sustenance and warmth. We parked up and walked in. It was dark, it was cold, there was a smell of disinfectant and the chairs were caked in grime and dust. I wanted a non-alcoholic beer which wasn't stocked. Ok then, a tomato juice but not a chilled one. Sorry, only chilled. We left. We were so disappointed that I put a long comment on Trip Advisor. I've just had a reply from the owner. He says he's worked through my list and now has roaring fires all day, stocks non-alcoholic beer and has taken on two cleaners. I began to feel really sorry about my comments but no, I've decided that I may have helped him on the long road to success - I really hope so and I've told him we'll call again next time we're out that way.
Today we went out for lunch to a lovely pub in the country.  But again, it was spoilt by being freezing cold. There was a candle on every table but not one was lit. I couldn't even bear to take my gloves off to hold the menu, so yet again, we left. We returned to an old favourite where there was a roaring log fire and decent food - it was packed, which just goes to show that good management will bring in the money.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


I was delighted this morning to see that The Times had used my letter - and bottom right too (prime position!). I actually knew last night that it would be in because I checked online. There are always a few "smart" comments made by the same people underneath the online letters and as usual there were some accompanying my offering. However, one comment made me smile. It was from someone called "A. S." who had gone to the trouble of working out that this was my 20th published letter, adding: "well done indeed". Very nice of A.S to keep track but I'm pretty sure that's wrong because my tally gets it to 26. Now I'm going to have to check.

Hopping and bopping

Sir, My vinyl copy of Crocodile Rock gave me more for my money than any of the digital versions (letters, Feb 6-8). However, I only realised recently (now aged 60) that the extra verse I had got used to singing along with was the result of a scratch, probably inflicted during my 21st birthday celebrations.
Deb Atkinson
Southport, Merseyside

Monday, 30 January 2012


Twice in the last week I've seen the space station glide across the dark, morning sky behind our house. A magical experience. I haven't even bothered to train the telescope on it for fear of missing the experience of seeing it with my own eyes. I've just about mastered viewing the moon through the telescoipe - and Jupiter at a pinch,

but I must be doing something wrong because, although I can see other planets through the viewfinder, I find it frustratingly impossible to get them into view when using the eye piece. Any minute movement of the telescope and the target completely disappears. I might have to resort to binoculars.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


I've written before about Oscar and the super-powers that he keeps up his sleeve. Generally they are used to blast baddies and from my observations any new child who crosses his horizon is a baddie until proved otherwise. However, with the help of a Spiderman tattoo, the super powers came into their own when we visited Giggles Gym on Friday. I was settling myself into a comfy sofa with a coffee when Oscar came belting across the room, cheeks flushed and curls flying. "A little girl needs help," he shouted, before belting back, up and over a Krypton-Factor-style assault course, to reassure the girl in question. I've seen Oscar proffer help to toddlers before and it's not always welcomed or gentle so I kept an eye on things. Within seconds he was back: "the little girl is stuck and she wants her nanny" he panted and then was off once again to see if he could rescue her. When he next returned, I managed to grab him before he could race back and together we went in search of the nanny. We located her, reading a magazine and totally oblivious to the drama that had been unfolding. "Oh yes, that's Ellie," she said, adding "I can't get her I've got a bad back." Oscar now had a name and shot back to Ellie yelling it and then demonstrating how she could get down from the high ledge, but Ellie wasn't budging. There was nothing else for it, I spun round on the spot, changed into superwoman and was led by Oscar over a climbing wall and up a tower to where Ellie was cowering and whimpering. She seemed to think I was a child abductress and the whimpering turned to real tears. So Oscar grabbed hold of her legs and tugged. It worked, and although the fall was not very elegant, Ellie was now in a position to get down to her nanny, while holding Oscar's hand. He was the hero of Giggles Gym and there was just one brave act left for him to do. He clambered all the way back up to rescue his grandma.

Yesterday we were visited by a little dragon bearing gifts. Oscar had made two big bowls of apple crumble and wanted to share it while it was still warm. One bowl for us and one for his great grandma who normally shares her sweeties with him.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Our Christmas present from our London-based son was a voucher to be spent at The Inn at Whitewell near the Trough of Bowland. This is one of our favourite areas and is only an hour's drive from home, so I don't know why we don't go there more often. The Lancashire scenery is beautiful and quite different to that in Yorkshire - I was trying to decide what made it feel different as we drove down the country lanes, past banks of snowdrops. I think it's cosier than the Yorkshire Dales - as if all the beauty is crammed into a small space - waterfalls, fast-flowing rivers, old stiles, little villages, hills and lambs. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in front of a log fire, had a walk round Whalley and then visited Boundary Mill, where I managed to pick up a £197 skirt for a tenner and a top marked down from £97 to £5. A good day all round.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


When we visited my aunt and uncle in Kent I admired their citrus trees - each one was bending under the weight of magnificent fruits. Never did I think that within a few weeks I would be the owner of four fantastic specimens. Together with my cousin, they sent them as a 60th birthday present and I now have a new hobby - talking to the trees! They have become an obsession. I study them, water them and feed them as though they were children and I even have a citrus app on my new ipad. My uncle rang to ask how they were doing and wanted to know what names I had given them - no, really?