Tuesday, July 25, 2006

School days - 2

Later, in 1936, after the death of King George V, we moved to Birmingham to live with my grandfather in Handsworth. This was because my father's accountant had decamped with all the money from our garage business, leaving us in dire straights! So I now went to a school run by an elderly cousin of my mother's.

And once again the process of learning which I went through proved not to be memorable, with one important exception: my little book of 'times tables'. This played a daily part in my life, and I believe I owe my lasting ability for basic mental arithmetic to the emphasis that was put upon it. It was about 3 inches square, in a shiny red cover, and I seem to remember that the tables were beautifully written out by my teacher. No doubt I had to copy and learn, copy and learn, to the point of absolute saturation. I certainly remember sitting at the little desk in my bedroom and poring endlessly over my little red book.

The second school I went to in Brum was a posh one - the Edgbaston High School for Girls. Here for the first time I had to wear a uniform, a gym slip and tie. I wonder how many of you remember the gym slip. I also recall navy blue serge knickers** with elastic round the leg, and a liberty bodice in winter - a sort of long cotton vest with rubber buttons on, to which you could attach suspenders to hold up your beige lysle stockings. Oh joy! Oh glamour! I don't think!

Here too I gathered a memory of misery. I spent my last two terms there in the boarding house, instead of making a daily bus journey, because my parents were in the process of house hunting from London. During one half term I caught mumps and could not go home for the break. I was so unhappy that I poured out all my misery in a letter to my parents. Letters home were, of course, monitored by the Matron - (would this be allowed today, I wonder?) - and I subsequently found myself in the awful presence of both the Matron and the Head Mistress, who harangued me together about being selfish, and upsetting my parents, and they couldn't let me send such a letter could they? Whether I wrote another one or just gave up I don't recall, but I have never forgiven that betrayal.

** Talking of navy blue serge knickers, they feature in one of my favourite rebel memories: In that last summer before the war, when I was 11, we had a visit from a great aunt whom we saw very rarely. I stood beside her at the table to show her something, and she put her arm around my knees. Suddenly, to my intense surprise, her hand crept up under my skirt. I was wearing my knickers with the elasticated legs pushed up as high as they would go – I hated any form of physical constraint – and my aunt was firmly pulling them down again to just above the knee. I was outraged, and made good my escape as soon as I could! How dare she?!

To be concluded ...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Judgment day is today

Interviewed on BBC London Regional News tonight, the Bishop of London was urging people to avoid sin by considering the impact on the environment of such things as air travel and 4x4s. He maintained that care for the environment is a moral issue, because we are all linked, to each other, to the environment, and to God, and we should all therefore take responsibility for our impact on the environment. If we do not, he said, Judgment Day may be nearer than we think.

I believe he is right in what he says. It is a moral issue to act responsibly in this context, whether or not we believe in God. We may reject or deny God. We cannot reject or deny our dependence on our environment. In fact, where all moral issues are concerned, we should act as though our judgment day is today, and every day.

Great ideal! My level of achievement is pretty moderate, but I am conscious of my responsibility at least.

School days - 1

My first school was in Solihull, within driving distance of Henley-in-Arden where we lived at the time. I have no recollection of the lessons learned there, except the hard lessons of life.

There was a disagreeable discipline to mealtimes: no drinks of any sort were given, but we were expected to clean up our plates regardless of likes and dislikes, and of the quality of the food. In my early days there I disliked vegetables, and had a particularly sensitive gorge to fat and gristle – who doesn’t, indeed? With nothing to wash down an offensive mouthful, I had on more than one occasion to get down from my chair and make a dash for the kitchen, hoping to keep my lips closed until a kindly cook gave me a drink to help it on its way.

I was also bullied, and have a lasting memory of being pushed into a clump of stinging nettles – (why was there such a thing in the school playground?) – and feeling outraged to see members of staff observing the scene through the french windows of the classroom, without apparently seeing any need to intervene.

As it happens, I was nettled again before long. In 1935, on the night of the Silver Jubilee of King George V, there was a bonfire on the hill behind the village, and running down the hill on the way home I managed to trip and fall into a seriously big bed of nettles. I remember a much longer-lasting agony this time, and my father attempting to sooth it with dock leaves gathered for the purpose. They are usually to be found growing not far from stinging nettles.

My only other clear memory of that school is of my parents turning up in the middle of a class to take me home, because the King had died, in January 1936. Why it was thought necessary for me to be at home I don’t know, but of course I was delighted! Maybe what they really wanted was for me to start packing, as they must by then have been planning to leave Henley-in-Arden.

To be continued ...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Magazines for oldies

..... or wrinklies, or seniors, or pensioners, or young-at-hearts, or grey power, or however we are classified.

I must put in a word here for my favourite, indeed, my only magazine. Over recent years I have subscribed to a number of magazines for the retired and those who are “getting on”. The only one which has a balance of editorial and advertising matter which I find bearable, which has an intelligence and interest level which holds my attention, and which for me justifies a regular annual subscription, is The Oldie, edited by Richard Ingrams, previously of Private Eye. There are those who take issue with its politics from time to time, but I think this just adds to the interest, and gives rise to stimulating correspondence. It’s website is at www.theoldie.co.uk.

I tried to upload a scan of one of my favourite covers, and a couple of cover pictures I found on the web, but none of them would upload. Maybe they carry some sort of inbuilt copyright protection. I am sorry not to be able to use one for my promotional blog.

More about blogging

On Friday BBC London did a feature on ‘blogging’ on the 6.30 pm regional news. The presenter was talking to one of the writers for The Oldie magazine, whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch. She was suggesting that blogs are just filling up cyberspace with boring rubbish. I wouldn't be here if I shared that view, but I did agree with her that if blogs are not about something of real interest, they should at least be entertaining, and I do work hard at that.

Some good points in favour of blogging were made by other speakers too: that blogs enable people to try their hands at writing without need of a publisher; and that people form communities through blogs and their regular followers. Both of these apply in my case, and as I get older and more sedentary, I find that the second of these advantages becomes more and more significant for me. I know I have some regular readers and some of them leave comments on my blogs from time to time, which is great.

But I found myself decidedly piqued at the end of the interview when the presenter asked “Is blogging all done by young people, then?”, and the answer from a corporate blogger was: “Oh no! We have a team blogging for us ranging from 18 to about 30”! Well! Having got to 78 myself I do not think much of his concept of 'not young'. If I thought that all the 30-somethings out there considered themselves to be no longer young, I should feel extremely sorry for them. Please tell me they don't!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Early learning - 2

I have belatedly remembered another valued companion of my early learning experiences - Mickey Mouse! Mickey was 'born' the year after me, in 1928, (created as we all know by Walt Disney), and so we grew up together. The Mickey Mouse comic came out in 1936 and ran for 920 issues until 1955. It was, so my researches tell me, the first comic to be printed in full colour photogravure. It cost 2d or 2 pence which is .80p, ie less than 1p today.

My mother began buying the comic for me from the very first issue, and I can remember how, on returning from the shops, she would throw it through the open window to me, so that I wouldn't have to wait those extra few moments while she walked round the corner of the house to the door!

I have been lucky enough to find a picture of the cover of that first issue, and so that you can assess its value as an instrument of learning, I have transcribed here the words in the speech 'bubble' underneath Mickey and Minnie in the cetral star:


Monday, July 17, 2006

The house where I was born ...

Not strictly true, as I was born in a nursing home in Birmingham, but this is the house I was brought home to as a new-born infant in 1927. It was known then as The Corner House, in Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire. By the time I was born it had been converted into a garage and repair shop, The Newcombe Garage, and my father was running it as a business. I inherited a number of postcards, photos and artists' impressions of the house and the village, and I recently acquired some more, thanks to my sharp-eyed friend Pam Archer scanning the offers on eBay.

This picture was taken prior to 1907, and is the earliest I have. Its arrival brought to light an interesting discovery. Note the position of the first floor windows over the grocer's shop, and the appearance of the front of the building. Then compare with the next picture.

In this picture taken in 1925, when my parents were living there, the upstairs windows have moved together, and there is a lot of timbering that was not visible before. I reckon some restoration work must have been done, perhaps stripping off some plaster work to reveal the timberwork. But I wonder if the 'new' windows were really restored, or were a modern addition.

A big leap forward here to the 1960s. We were forced to leave the house in 1936, when my father's accountant made off with all our money, so we moved to Birmingham to live with my mother's father. Many years later I was astonished to see this picture in a magazine, showing that my old home had become a branch of Lloyd's Bank.

In the 1980s I found myself driving through Henley and decided to stop and visit. The bank staff welcomed me most kindly and gave me a tour of the house. Always a mixed pleasure visiting an old home which has been converted, and there was little left of the bedrooms upstairs which were now offices. The original staircase was still there however, and I was able to recall how, as a small girl, I would run along the landing and leap into my father's arms as he sat on the top step.

Below is a much-faded picture of my father outside the house and shop with three of his staff. He was a tall man, over 6', but I am surprised how small the mechanics are.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The computer's swallowed Grandma

I am posting this poem, although it is not mine, as a tribute to all the Grandmas who have been fearless and learned to use the computer....

I have come across it in two slightly different versions, and neither of them was attributed to a named author, so I am unable to acknowledge its origin.

The computer’s swallowed grandma.
Yes, honestly its true.
She pressed 'Control' and 'Enter'
And disappeared from view.

It’s devoured her completely,
The thought just makes me squirm.
She must have caught a ‘virus’
Or been eaten by a 'worm’.

I've searched through the recycle bin
And files of every kind;
I've even used the internet,
But nothing did I find.

In desperation, I asked Jeeves
My searches to refine.
The reply from him was negative,
Not a thing was found 'on line'.

So, if inside your 'Inbox',
'My Grandma you should see,
Please 'Copy', 'Scan' and 'Paste' her
And send her back to me!

Footnote:: When I first got my own computer seven years ago, I gave myself the title 'CyberGran' for the purposes of family correspondence by email.

NB:: It really bugs me the way I print some of my text in blue, and it still comes up black when I publish. Everything except the poem itself was entered in blue here. ~#:[

Friday, July 14, 2006

Early learning

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things: ....."

I was going to write about my boarding school, where I was so happy, but I decided to start at the beginning. My earliest memory of formal learning is sitting at a small table in my nursery with my mother, with the coloured wooden letters and numbers which my father had made for me - the very same as those I have inexpertly photographed for you. About the actual lesson I remember little, but I have still on my taste buds the memory of the bread and dripping with which we used to refresh ourselves during the morning, brought upstairs by one of our two maids. Was this the beginning of the primrose path which led to heart surgery and medication with statins for the rest of my life?

It's difficult to believe that we had two live-in maids at that time - Dorothy and Jenny. I can't quite remember if they wore uniforms - probably, on formal occasions. I think they must have been the last of our live-ins, until after the war, when my mother took to offering a live-in post as 'help' to an unmarried mother and child - not an entirely satisfactory arrangement from her point of view, but it certainly helped out a number of unhappy young women.

This is a real old school slate, with the scratchy 'pencil' used to write on it. I don't believe that I actually used it in school, but I may have used it at home, and I certainly remember my mother writing our milk order on it, and leaving it on the doorstep. When we moved to the country in 1939 and found ourselves living next to a farm, our milk used to arrive still warm from the cow - also with black floaters of who knows what origin - urrgh! (No pasteurisation in those days.) We left a jug outside with the slate, and the milk was dipped out of a churn and tipped into our jug. But that was some years later on.

This is one of my most treasured books, named from "The Walrus and the Carpenter". It is described on the fly-leaf as Book IV in the Reading for Action series - "A Book of True Fact and True Fancy in Prose and Verse". It was published by Nelson, presumably in the mid 1930s, although there is no publisher's print date. (When did a publishing date become regular practice, I wonder - I am so often infuriated by not being able to date old books in this way!)

Although it is hard to see from my scans *, both the cover and the endpapers are illustrations of all the items mentioned in the verse of Lewis Carroll's poem:

"..... Of shoes - and ships - and sealing-wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings."

The book is a wonderful mix of "Nature Wonders", and myths and fables, bible stories, fairy stories, and poems, all liberally illustrated in black and white and colour, to fire the imagination. In addition to Lewis Carroll, the list of contents includes such names as Walter de la Mare, Eleanor Farjeon, H.W. Longfellow, Endid Blyton, Hans Andersen, William Wordsworth, A.A. Milne, S.T. Coleridge and the Bible. If I learned from it, I am sure it didn't feel like learning at the time. But by the time I was reading it, I must have been at school, and that is another blog.

* NB :: I have recently discovered that you can double left click on a picture in a blog and see an enlarged version of it. Then click on Back in the toolbar to return to the blog.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I can't believe I did that!

A few years ago I won a voucher at a charity auction for a free glider flight, and having long ago had a most pleasurable joyride, towed gently into the air by a small plane, I decided to go for it. Full of self-confidence I gathered my supporters around me and set off for the airfield, determined to earn my family’s respect. Alas! Nothing in past experience, or current expectations, had prepared me for the trauma I was to undergo.

On arrival at the field we saw gliders rising almost vertically into the air, but this rang no alarm bells. I was not aware of the difference between a tow launch and a winch launch. It was very windy, and my instructor told me we should get a good lift. I was first buckled into a parachute, then strapped into my seat. Immobilised by harnesses, I knew the moment had come. The cockpit covers were closed, and as the tow line taughtened we began to move slowly forward.

Suddenly we were moving incredibly fast. As we were effectively catapulted into the air, I was tipped onto my back and pinned against the seat by the force of the acceleration. Everything went black and consciousness was reduced to the sensations in my chest and head. I began to wonder if my less-than-perfect heart would stand the strain! Mercifully we levelled out after a few seconds, but although still alive, I was by now desperately trying to hold my stomach down.

Somehow I found the courage to stay up for 8 minutes. I felt too dreadful to read the instruments, but I did take the controls for a few moments to move the nose up and down. I also managed to take two photographs of the ground below, to convince any doubters in the future. Then I begged the instructor to take me down!

The descent and landing were smooth and undramatic, but to my dismay I was not allowed to escape immediately. I had to help balance the glider by holding one wingtip, while it was towed back by tractor to the launch area. My very cold and windblown fan club was waiting for me and called out: “How was it?” “B***** awful!” I replied and made a dash for privacy.

My son opened the back of the Volvo, where I sat heaving and honking until I felt well enough to face the ride home. As we got into the car my son handed me a plastic carrier bag “for emergencies”. To my embarrassment, I had to ask for another one to sit on! Back home I lay flat on my back, absolutely motionless, for two hours. Four months later I still felt queasy when I relived the experience.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pissed .....

At the age of twentythree I was single and fancy free, and inclined to accept invitations to go out from all comers. On one occasion I was to have dinner with a somewhat older man who worked in the same place as I did, and we agreed to meet when we left our offices at 5.30 and go straight to a restaurant for an early meal.

The first sign of anything odd was when, after calling a taxi, he looked at me a bit vaguely and asked me to choose where we should go – not very usual for a mature bloke taking a girl out on a first date. By the time we got to a restaurant, sat down and began to look at the menus, it was clear that he was not at his best, as he seemed incapable of making a choice. Indeed, I think I had to order for him in the end. Then just as the food arrived he excused himself and made a dash for the door.

When he failed to return after more than enough time to have had a pee, I called the waiter over and asked if he could find out where my escort was. He came back to tell me that my companion was outside on the curb, throwing up his guts. At this point it dawned on me that this sad creature had started the evening at 5.30 pm already pissed. I decided to cut and run.

I paid the bill, and asked the waiter to call me a taxi. Being an opportunist he then made a pass at me himself, but eventually did as I asked. Alas! as I thankfully climbed in to the taxi, thinking I had made good my escape, my wretched escort recovered enough to jump in behind me, declaring that he must see me home safely!

I was unable to persuade him to take the taxi on to his home after dropping me, and by this time I was afraid to open my front door in case he pushed in after me. So began an endless session sitting on the doorstop, with my dinner date bewailing his miseries as a misunderstood husband, and begging me to take pity on him. My landlord and lady came home and discreetly let themselves in, without intruding on my ‘privacy’. Why oh why did I not throw myself on their mercy and beg them to get me safely inside? A last vestige of pride I expect.

When I eventually did make it inside on my own – did he fall asleep on the step? I can’t remember now - I swore to make better choices in future, and never to put up with drunkenness again!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Getting rid ...

I always try to put something in charity collection bags when they are left on my doorstep. The other day I threw out no less than 28 scarves which I had no further use for.

Then I counted the ones I had kept
......... 45 of them !!!!!!!!!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Vespalgia 2001

I began this five years ago, caught in a moment of yearning and loss by a TV programme ~ I think it belongs with my post on Cartoons & Romance.

I watched a short film about the Vespa scooter this morning – English made in 1999, but with much lyrical and evocative comment by Italians. Oh! the clutch of nostalgia – for the machine, for my youth, for high old times in Geneva in the 1950s. I hardly realised until this moment how much I loved my Vespa, the mobility and freedom it gave me, the jaunts with my flat-mate, the sheer mechanical pleasure of driving, so much greater than I felt later in a car.

Looking back on my two years in Switzerland, working with the World Health Organisation, it seems that that was the real me – the me that my therapist tells me is still trying to get out of the woman I am now in my 70s. I ‘had a ball’ there, a fling, the time of my life. It was magic, imagination, romance, excitement and adventure. It was being liberated and fancy free, sexy and attractive.

It was a lot of men, too - a girl had to keep her head in the international community out there. So many of the fellas who acted as though they were single were actually on postings away from home and family, and it was not a group in which to find reliable husband material. And most of the Swiss boys were put off by the enormous salaries we earned. So I came home after two years to get married to an old sweetheart, but there is still a small unassailable corner of my heart reserved for Alex, son of Russian emigres but adopted by Swiss parents, who worked like me with the World Health Organisation.

I met him at a Hogmanay party and asked him to dance. He was bear-like and almost ugly, but there was something about him..... There was an initial misunderstanding, involving a struggle in a dark room, in the course of which I kicked over a drum kit waiting to be played by the back-up band. But I managed to make my point, and it wasn't long before we negotiated terms.
He was a man who wrote me poems, drew cartoons on paper tablecloths, told me dirty jokes, and had some very dubious friends. A man who was deeply moved when I first called him ‘cheri’; who scoffed when I told him that I wanted to make love to the sound of Scheherazade, the music of his fellow countryman, but agreed eventually that I was right. His wooing was so varied, so scurrilous, so romantic, so full wit, of soul and of angst, that I was captivated. We could never have lived together, but he is the only man of whom I can say that his spirit soared with mine.

Friday, July 07, 2006


"If you write things down, however compromising ………., then life is redeemed from the squalor of insignificance." Lorna Sage in "Bad Blood"

You know, it is astonishing what you can find on Google Images. I always like to start my blogs with a pic, and this time I just keyed in 'blog'. I didn't want a run-of-the-mill picture of or from someone's blog, I wanted a blog symbol or concept - something which would represent blogging in an interesting way. I found this intriguing picture of taped bundles of spaghetti, and liked it at once, but I had to find out what it was.

Well, it's fairly obvious it's something to do with computers. Following the link back to its source I found the blog page of a company called DreamHost, which apparently provides web hosting services to over 200,000 domains. This picture was captioned: "Our two core routers swim amid a sea of kelp (cat5e) patch cables". That probably means more to techie types than it does to me, but I guess it is part of the networking equipment necessary for me to scatter abroad, via my blog, the seeds of my wisdom and experience.

Well, that's by way of being an introduction. Going back to my heading, I think it expresses what I myself am about here in my blog. Much as I would like to believe it, I do not feel that my autobiography would be of great interest to the rest of the world. There have been no great events in my life, I have met no particularly interesting people (except to me), and anyway, I don't think I could sustain the effort required to produce a whole book. But the episodic approach of a diary, journal or blog comes much more easily, and is well suited to my capacity, and my inclination, for writing about myself and what I am thinking and feeling.

And every time I get a comment on my blog, I feel a modest growth of significance in this vast and daunting universe. But beware! Pay attention to those two little words "however compromising". I find it altogether too easy to let it all hang out in this deceptively intimate little Compose box, and sometimes I have hit Publish before considering whether I really want my words to travel along all those taped bundles of spaghetti, to every computer owner in the world.

There was one blog recently which I published, then withdrew, then published again, then withdrew again. It is still there in my drafts, and I'm still not sure what to do with it. My code is that I am true to my own name and to who I am or perceive myself to be. But don't I have any secrets? I am still asking myself. To quote again from Lorna Sage's "Bad Blood" - (where she was writing about her grandfather's rather scandalous diaries):

"His secrets are like the secrets of a character delivering a stage soliloquy who doesn’t know he has an audience."