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Eileen Taylor.

Byline: Eileen Taylor

T'S SO easy to take things for granted as life goes bowling along. To become indifferent. That poet who reminded us about stopping to smell the flowers knew a thing or too. But then every so often something brings us up with a sharp reminder of the things we should really cherish. The death this week of thalidomide victim Janette Cooke at the age of 40 was one of those occasions.

Janette had been born without arms or legs after her mother took the drug to ease morning sickness. She went on to make medical history by becoming the first thalidomide victim (although she hated that word) to have a baby, her daughter Kelli-Anne, after marrying her beloved husband Bob.

Her life was one long story of determination not to let her circumstances defeat her even though she was mocked as a child and fought a battle through her life to be ``normal but different''. When she was about seven, for example, other children near her Manchester home, would dress her up as Guy Fawkes and push her around the streets asking for money. ``I thought they were my mates,'' she said years later. Yet she never lost her sense of humour, even joking about her situation sometimes, with quips like ``At night I say I'm going out legless and I'm coming back legless.''

But for all her bravery, she dreamed about having ``just one day'' with a set of limbs - and how eloquently she described that longing.

``I would love to have legs so that I could wear a miniskirt to show them off. I would love to be able to hold my daughter Kelli-Anne for one day rather than have her cuddle me. I would like just to hold my husband's hand. I would love to know what sand feels like or the waves on your feet. I wish I could wear my wedding ring on my finger instead of round my neck. It's the silly little things,'' this inspiring woman once said.

They are, of course, the sort of things we take for granted every second of every day but perhaps we won't in future now that we have been permitted such a telling insight into how it feels to miss all that. Such a poetic expression of loss should make us all appreciate what we have.

I, for one, will think of her next time I tread the beautiful sand in North Cornwall or take my grand-daughter's perfectly formed little hand in mine - or use my hands to push her high into the air on the swings in the park, still a favoured venue, even with today's toy-showered toddlers.

Unlike some modern grans who say they are too busy working or enjoying themselves to become babyminders again, I admit to relishing every moment with two-and-a-half-year old Charlotte Elizabeth. As with people like Janette, grandchildren put you in touch with yourself again.

While friends have been on expensive cruises this summer, to places some of us can only dream of, one of my most memorable days was visiting the red squirrel reserve at Formby, where a whispering Charlotte waited with huge eyes to see a furry friend, shouting ``I love you squirrel'' when she spotted one. Another perfect day was learning how to build sandcastles again on West Kirby beach, studding them with shells and collecting seagull's feathers to put on the top.

Sandwiches hadn't tasted so good for years as they did on the beach that Indian summer day, even though - like Sir John Betjeman's - they had sand in them.

You can take walking through the park on a beautiful autumn day for granted - unless you do it with a child who takes irrepressible delight in kicking the leaves, who insists on smiling and talking to every passing dog and who shouts with delight when the ducks peck at her bread, gasping in amazement when they take flight from the lake. Then there are the games of hide and seek among the trees - Charlotte thinks that if she covers HER eyes, you can't see her!

Then there are the new friends you make - with other grans like Sylvia, who we meet at the swings with her grandson, Tom, or the young mum with Daniel, whose dog got his head stuck in the playground railings. That was a tale to tell mummy and daddy.

What may have, through time and familiarity, become unnoteworthy, things suddenly take on a new importance when you share them with a child. Someone like Charlotte reminds you that an ice cream cornet is to be savoured lick by lick, slowly and with satisfied smiles. She teaches you that managing to ride your first tricycle, no matter how wobbily, is as exciting as driving a Porsche. That the moon is something to be pointed at and stared at with awe - as are butterflies and birds. And that your aching shoulders and back, from lifting her close or even riding the see-saw with her, are a small price to pay to be in the company of someone who makes you appreciate the things that really matter in life - as Janette Cooke also did so movingly.

l Dorinda McCann will return next week.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 23, 2002
Words:871
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