AS well as doing her best to stay physically fit, my dear old mum, who will be 89 in October, is a passionate believer in keeping her mind active.

She still occasionally rides a bike for exercise, does plenty of walking, and works hard to keep her garden looking a picture, including pushing a lawn mower up and down.

She also swears by rubbing olive oil into her knees every morning because “it seeps through to her joints and keeps them supple”.

As for mental agility, she loves the challenge of crosswords, and she has a thick book of “Codebreakers” which she tackles every afternoon over a cup of tea.

“Guess what – I’ve just finished another Codebreaker,” she’ll announce in an out-of-the-blue phone call, with all the pride of someone who might have just cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park during the war.

Her greatest pleasure, however, is when my older brother, John – a retired copper – pays her a visit and she takes him on at Countdown on the telly.

“I beat John again on Countdown today – I’m too clever for him,” she proudly announced when I phoned her for our evening chat one day last week.

It’s become increasingly competitive, with John growing more and more frustrated at not being able to outwit a woman of nearly 90. And when I popped round to visit her at the weekend, she couldn’t wait to tell me how she’d “given him a good stuffing again”.

“I even managed to get the conunderum,” she said, not for a second appreciating the irony of not even being able to pronounce the word, let alone spell it.

She went on to tell me that the “vowels and constenants” pulled out by Rachel Riley were MILLSECHO. The Countdown clock started ticking and the adverts kicked in, with John struggling to get beyond a five-letter “SMILE”.

With seconds to go, my Mum suddenly got to her feet, punched the air, and blurted out: “CHILLSOME!”

John desperately queried whether there was any such word, but programme host, Nick Hewer, revealed that CHILLSOME was indeed the correct solution, while his assistant, Susie Dent, confirmed its meaning: “Uncomfortably or unpleasantly cold.”

It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that there was an uncomfortably cold atmosphere in the room before John made his excuses and left with his T.A.I.L. between his legs.

I suspect it might be a case of ‘The Final Countdown’ if he ever discovers the truth. Despite no one else being in the room, her voice was reduced to a whisper as she let me in on her little secret: “What he doesn’t know is that they’re all repeats at the moment – and I make a note of the answers.”

Now that’s clever.


GRANDDAUGHTER, Chloe, three, was shocked at the revelation that Kitty – my son Jack’s girlfriend – doesn’t eat fruit.

“Daddy, I think I need to give Auntie Kitty a call,” she announced when she got back home.

Her Daddy duly dialled the number and Chloe went on to say: “Kitty, us have a problem – you not eat fruit, you not grow up big strong.”

CHLOE and her Daddy were doing some baking in the kitchen and the biscuits were left in the oven too long.

“Sorry, Chloe, I’ve burned the biscuits,” said her Daddy.

Chloe sighed and replied: “Don’t worry, Daddy – you tried your best.”

A couple from the archives…

I WENT upstairs to see our Max when he was five or six and struggling to get to sleep.

“Dad, is it past midnight?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, even though it wasn’t.

“Does that mean it’s tomorrow?”


“Cool – that means it’s only 44 days to my birthday.”

SHEILA Bishop, a teacher at Newcomen School, in Redcar, was telling her class the Christmas story.

“Who can tell me what a shepherd is?” she asked the children.

There was a sea of blank faces.

“Come on. Who knows what a shepherd does?” she repeated.

Eventually, a little boy called Peter put his hand up: “I don’t remember exactly but I know I’ve had one in a pie.”