Saturday, September 30, 2006

My life in short bursts

Before the beginning - 1

It's time to launch the first instalment of my memoirs and see how they read on line. I have no way of knowing if they will be interesting or not - we'll just have to see.

[This is my grandfather sitting outside the family jewellers' stand at an exhibition in Birmingham.]

Where should I start my autobiographical memoir? The obvious answer seems to be with the moment of my birth, but I feel that I owe at least something to my forbears, without whom … etc. Besides, in recent years I have spent a good deal of time with them, among photographs and inherited mementos, and recollections shared with my brother, and there are some interesting things to be said about some of them.

My brother’s early retirment plan was to start a major family genealogy on the computer, to which he has now (at 75) devoted thousands of hours of research and recording, and in which he has entered thousands of names, together with pictures where he has them. (My poor sister-in-law is a genealogy widow!) He says it is now worth donating a copy of it to the Society of Genealogists. It is a splendid resource. I myself was tickled pink recently to discover on the web a great great grandmother who had up to then been missing from my brother’s records. The last time he had looked she had not been there.

So I have a lot of information available to me, and I reckon I will go back two or three generations to explain the sort of families I have come from. Both my parents belonged to Birmingham families, solid middle class civically minded citizens of the manufacturing classes. My mother’s family lived in Handsworth and my father’s in Edgbaston. My mother’s father was a master jeweller working for the family firm, as his father and grandfather had done before him. My mother’s mother’s father was a watchmaker, who was the son of a manufacturing jeweller.

There was glass manufacturing on both sides of the family, and also steel buckle makers, silk manufacturers, a cooper, a rope maker, a sword maker, and a ship insurance broker. (My husband was in engineering insurance and inspected many a ship’s boilers). Further back there were also merchants, clothiers, haberdashers, and grocers and still further there are yeomen, gentlemen and knights. Of course we only have information for very few of the names out of the thousands in the record, and most people probably have the same sort of mix in their ancestry.

Back in the early 18th century there was an “Unorthodox churchman” who was one of my 4th great grandparents, and about fifty years later one of my 3rd great grandparents is named as a “Minister of the New Church”, or to give it its full name “The Church of the New Jerusalem”. This was a religious body founded by the followers of Emanuel Swedenborg, who was a Swedish scientist, religious teacher and mystic. Both my parents’ families were still following a tradition of non-conformism when I was christened, my father’s as Unitarians, and my mother’s as members of the New Church, into which I was baptised. I too am 'unorthodox', to the point of being agnostic, with perhaps some humanist leanings on the more positive side.

As seems to be so often the case, I have gleaned more information about my mother’s family than my father’s; on the whole women seem to derive more pleasure from researching such matters, (my brother excepted of course), and we have inherited large quantities of family photographs going back four or five generations and forming a fascinating record. I have from time to time posted some of these in my online photo blog. Look here if you are interested.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


No time to write just now, so here's a selection of shots from my recent visit to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. The town enjoys both a river and a canal running through it.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Here's something you can have fun with. Strip Generator enables you to create your own strip cartoon. But don't ask me to explain how it works - I've already forgotten since I did this one!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Old Women's Project

"The word 'old' is a statement of fact, not a matter of shame. We claim it, believing that as long as it is humiliating to be called old, it will be humiliating to be old."

This is a direct quote from the website of The Old Women's Project, whose views about ageism and sexism are closely parallel to ours in Growing Old Disgracefully. They are not a membership organisation however, but a group of three women in San Diego in the United States, who are committed to campaigning on social and community issues which affect old women. I found much on their website which made me think, and if you are interested in this particular topic - (which you should be, regardless of age or sex) - I recommend you to have a look, particularly at their page on Examples of ageist comments and how to respond to them, and Guide from OWP language police.

I emailed them to say I had found and enjoyed their website, and gave them the link to G.O.D. One of them emailed back to say she had visited our website and "was energized by it. I love the look of you women--you look smart and engaged with life, as though you have the same mix of seriousness and real humor that I like to think we have."

Thankyou to my reader Herhimnbryn who put me on to the OWP website. Her blog Secret Hill is worth a visit too.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hat dressing

I am not much of a one for handicrafts – I am more at home with words than materials – but every so often my life has called for an unusual hat, and I have thoroughly enjoyed creating something for the occasion.

The first of these was in 1969 when I was playing the part of an elderly lady (which I now am) for the local amateur dramatics group. I was Miss Bourne, a teetotal spinster with a parrot, in a play set in the 1920s called The Ghost Train. I bought a plain black toque from a charity shop and added lots of net, a pheasant feather, and all the artificial trimmings I could buy at Woolworth's. They had no fruit so it had to be radishes! I think you will agree that the effect is pretty sensational! The narcissus was not fixed, and the cheeky young man character used to lift it out when I wasn’t paying attention and stick it in his buttonhole - a nice piece of business which he and I invented.

This was dressed for a Victorian music hall, a form of entertainment which seems to feature largely in my life. I bought the boater in Luton, Bedfordshire, where they are made, and again added net, and a very pretty feather hat trimming already made up, which I had inherited. I had a purple skirt which exactly matched the purple feather, and a genuine old lace blouse.

A holiday in a Butlin's hotel in Brighton found me needing another music hall hat for Fancy Dress Night I had some appropriate clothes, fortunately, but no hat. So in the hotel shop I bought a cheap straw and lots of crepe paper, and with a packet of pins fixed it up with rosettes and ribbons. I remember I won second prize and got a cuddle from the Redcoat!

Now this was far more serious. After my heart surgery in 1993
I signed up for a 3-mile sponsored walk, organised jointly by the British Heart Foundation and the local footpaths association, which had just reopened the riverside right-of-way we walked along. This time I bought a glazed straw from a charity shop, and drew and cut out the emblems and the cards myself. Only two other people on the walk took up the hat challenge, so we all got a prize. Oh, and I also wore a sweatshirt with the legend : Middle-aged Mutant Ninja Mum!

And so to my last creation, for my son's wedding, which was a Mad Hatters' wedding with everyone wearing fancy creations, some of them highly inventive and comical. This was a real class hat in black velvet in the first place, worn once to the opening of an exhibition by Princess Anne. It already had the black flower on it. I found a lovely piece of real old lace, some ribbon, a blue artificial flower and a pink chiffon scarf, which all together matched my dress. I felt a million dollars wearing it and feel it deserves a second picture from a different angle.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chess game

"Stupefied and lethargic in the heat, I sat and watched a sort of closely choreographed, three-dimensional chess game, in which the pieces on the board were children and grandparents, food and drinks, chairs and laundry, toys and the telephone - but only one player, my son, moving pieces in all directions with both hands and feet, in a continuous play of astonishing intricacy and virtuosity."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Crones and Cronies

The main reason for my holiday last week was to attend the Annual Gathering of Growing Old Disgracefully, where I go to meet with the crones and cronies who are members of this organisation for women. I don’t think it is amiss to give it an annual plug here on my blog. Who knows, I might attract a new member or two - we do have them in many different parts of the world.

But first I should say something about the word "crone". I used to accept the common dictionary definition of "an ugly, frightening, witchlike old woman". But l have since become aware of a quite different meaning and culture attaching to the word, which I find much more acceptable. This can perhaps briefly be expressed as a crone being a woman in her third age who is to be honoured for her long life, her strength and her wisdom. And in our case, as I once wrote about our members, "women who are colourful, interesting, vibrant and full of panache"!

Our annual get-together, organised each year in a different venue by one of our local groups, has grown over the years from a one-night to a three-night event. The programme comprises one full day of workshops, with a choice of three or four offered by members, in each of three sessions. Subjects include such things as writing, drawing and painting, music, singing and dance, various kinds of massage and other therapies, and more serious subjects such as How to Be Happy, Roaring Through the Glass Ceiling, The Generation Gap, Living Well With Less, and Ideas and Inventions.

On the second full day we have our Business Meeting in the morning, and the option in the afternoon of a coach trip to see the local sights, or free time to spend as we will. On all three evenings we are offered some form of entertainment, frequently participative, and we fill in all the gaps with meeting and talking to old friends, making new ones, and laughing a great deal. It is always very hard to say goodbye on the last morning and tear ourselves away, exhausted, but stimulated and refreshed.

You are never too young to start growing old disgracefully ….. in fact, I would say you need to start young, just as you need to develop good eating habits early on, in order to live a healthy, happy life in old age. You can find out more about our aims and ethos, and also how to join, on our website here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

More inventions

Last week I spent a couple of days with my youngest son Ric, the street performer. He lives near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, a lovely little town which I had not visited before. I gave my camera a good workout, and if you are interested you can see my pictures here. Whenever I stay with him I find something interesting to photograph. A year ago it was spare legs, and he was so pleased with the picture I took that he framed it and hung it in his workroom where the legs are also hanging on the wall. I was well chuffed!

What intrigued me this time was his hands-free Ikea dustbin. I had been trying to open it with my right foot on the pedal to drop a teabag into it, but this got me all of a twist, until I realised it would be much easier if I used my left foot, which would leave me still standing square in front of the bin! When I questioned the arrangement, he explained that he had been fed up with having to use one hand to open it, leaving only one hand for scraping plates etc, so he worked out this rig. It's hard to believe, but when you press the pedal, the lid actually lifts at the front, and Bob's your uncle, as they used to say.

The pedal came from a 'hi-hat' cymbal stand from a drum kit, and if you don't know what that is, which I didn't, I have found a picture for you.

Yesterday afternoon one of my grandsons had his eighth birthday party, and Ric (who is his godfather) entertained them with an outdoor game which he has invented and constructed called "Card Sharp Capers". This involves guessing the values of giant playing cards, with wrong guesses incurring penalties of buckets of water tipped over their heads! Two children play at a time, and can enjoy the fun of pulling the handle to douse each other.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Word fancies

Travelling home with my son Ric yesterday, I was intrigued by this message on the back of a car park ticket he had picked up while at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and left sticking on his windscreen.

"What on earth is a 'zomph area' ?" I asked him innocently.

I leave it to my readers to come up with some imaginative definitions!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

One blog or two?

Just time before I go tomorrow to leave you with a question.

Now that I have begun to write autobiographical pieces, such as those about my childhood and schooldays, I am toying with the idea of putting them in a second blog, so that it reads more like a continuous life story. I have noticed that quite a lot of people have two or more blogs, but I am afraid I might lose some of my readers if I diversify!

So, if anyone cares to tell me if they think they would read two blogs by me, or if it is more interesting all packed in together, I shall be very grateful for your comments.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Creepy crawlies

This is the caterpillar of the Sycamore Moth

This is the caterpillar of the Elephant Head Hawk Moth

It's caterpillar time round my way. I will leave them to speak for themselves while I go on holiday for a week. I'll be back in my blogging chair again by Monday 11th September. Hope you'll miss me.