Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In memoriam

Michael, husband of Judith, 31st October 2006
~~~~~~~~~~~ Gone upon his hour ~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, October 29, 2006


These two acronyms can be very handy for an oldie like me, especially if you have embarrassed yourself as I did today. I met in my village an old acquaintance whom I had not seen for many years except, as I thought, on the previous day in the local town. "Hullo!" I cried jovially, "twice in two days - would you believe it, after all this time?" She gazed at me in astonishment and asked me what I meant. It turned out it had been someone quite different I had seen the day before, but on that occasion I had got away with it, and not revealed that I had thought she was someone else. What I should have done this time was explain that I was suffering from BSF and on that account should be forgiven - and then make a quick exit before she could ask what I was talking about.

If you have not come across the acronym, it stands for Benign Senescent Forgetfulness, and is something that many of you will recognise, I am sure, even if you have not yet done your three score years and ten. MMI stands for Multiple Minor Impairments, another common experience among older people, even if they are generally in good health. I rather fancy popping into my doctor's surgery and saying that I think I have 'an attack' of MMI, and trying to keep a straight face while he tries to decide how to respond. Seriously though, I do like to use correct medical terms if I can, because I love words of all sorts, and I like to learn and retain them if I can, just for the sheer pleasure of knowing.

But about this tiresome BSF: memory loss is an impairment due to age, like failing eyesight and hearing, creaky joints and hair loss, but those who do not suffer from it tend to be impatient with those who do, and what is worse, in some cases to attribute stupidity to them as well. This is painful and humiliating and does nothing to improve our self-confidence. I have examined my own experience carefully over the last year or two, and I am prepared to state that BSI has caused me no accompanying loss of intelligence.

The losses I am aware of are in my short-term memory; my ability to make quick mental connections between related information (such as writing a comprehensive shopping list), and to absorb a lot of information at once (such as scanning the supermarket shelves); my vocabulary and spelling also seem to have suffered, and perhaps to some extent my judgement. And my attention span is getting noriceably shorter.

But I believe that, albeit more slowly than in the past, I am still capable of imaginative and creative thinking; of planning and organising; of determining a critical path of action to be taken, and so on. And I hope that my blog, amongst other things, stands witness to my claim, of an enduring intelligence level at least no worse than I was born with.

[I have borrowed the two cartoons from The Oldie magazine, which I hope they will not object to, as they are just what I needed to illustrate my title for this blog. ]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tongue in cheek

[My tongue-in-cheek emoticon, which I have rotated, does not enlarge too well, because of the diagonals, but I thought it worth a shot.]

Well, that last blog was fun, but I hope you realise I was 'having a laugh' - at my own expense of course! It was written in a moment of reckless abandon, and your comments are already giving me cause to think more carefully about what I said.

First and foremost (as he is in so much, good friend that he is) Stephen has called me on my "electrifying experiments", and I have had to admit that I cannot at present make good on that claim. I cannot recall any experience I could so describe, but perhaps it is yet to come!

Then I said I had no regrets. Well, I think that is probably true in regard to the majority of the men in my life, but certainly not all, and certainly not about every aspect of my life.

And finally I suggested that alliteration was 'vulgar', which upon reflection I wish to withdraw. In excess, yes, it may well be, but I am sure it is considered a legitimate device in effective writing. And Pauline took up the alliterative challenge with relish in the comments!

I think I must remember in future to use my 'cheekicon' to flag up the post, if ever I have any more moments of 'reckless abandon'.

And now, since we are rapidly approaching Halloween, I offer you my Witchicon, devised a couple of years ago to make a Halloween badge. It really works out quite well, I think. Maybe somebody else can make use of it too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The men in my life

How about I write an autobiographical book with this title, and make no bones about it? My recurring memories of old boy friends seem to have had a good reception here, and I'm sure there are plenty more to be dug up.

Of course, to be fair, it would have to start with my father, with perhaps a quick backward look at my grandfathers; and then my younger brother. And at this end of my life there are four sons and four grandsons - (sorry, granddaughters!).

But in between, and outside the family: oh boy! what recollections of romance, what moments of madness, what purple passions, what electrifying experiments, what melancholy mistakes, and what sighs of sadness. (Wasn't that fun? I love alliteration, however vulgar a tool it may be.)

Regrets? No. I'm with Edith Piaf here - me and 'The Little Sparrow', we regret nothing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Timothy grass

Sometimes the tapestry of one’s life's memories seems to conceal too many sharp needles of sorrow, for missed opportunities, for unfinished business, or for useless and heartbreaking tragedies.

The last two days have been extraordinary for me in that respect: I found an old photograph of an American medical student I knew in Geneva, and hardly had I finished writing about it, when I opened an old wallet and out fell this piece of Timothy Grass (Phleum pratense). Now it’s hard to believe, but I really think that this dried and pressed remnant has been with me for some 50 years, since the time when I knew a young man called Timothy, and picked the grass for his sake.

I was staying with my cousin Mirabel in the Clee in Shropshire. She and her husband lived on an old farm, no longer a working farm, but they had a good friend Tim who worked a sheep farm in a neighbouring village. Ever attentive to my welfare, my cousin determined that I should meet this young man, as she was sure we should like each other – and indeed we did. We became quite close for a while and several times I spent a few days on his farm, when visiting my cousin. It was there, in one of his fields, that I picked the piece of grass that bore his name.

Tim was dark haired and good looking, sturdy and tough, but slightly handicapped by a forshortened arm, due to a clumsy forceps delivery at birth which had damaged his shoulder. This did not seem in any way to interfere with his competence as a farmer however, nor did it make him any less attractive in my eyes. But alas, it may have been instrumental in his tragic death at an early age.

We went our separate ways eventually, and each of us got married and had families. It was some years later that I heard from my cousin that his life had been lost, when he swam out to sea to help some people who were in trouble in rough weather. The attempt cost him his own life, and a good, kind, courageous man was gone.

So I shall not throw away my piece of Timothy Grass.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Revisiting old loves

Sometimes a blog opens up an interesting discussion in the comments section, and I wonder how many people get back there to join in, or whether I should bring it into the main blog. So I am going to do that now, and continue here from my previous post.

Pauline asked if I would try and contact Sy, and I replied that I would dearly love to do so, but that I have not found anything to locate his present whereabouts. I followed the clue about the University of California, and the clue that his doctoral thesis was about cancer of the liver, so he may well have become an oncologist. But although I searched an American website for locating doctors by name I didn't find him in San Francisco, and I haven't time to search the whole of the US! Anyway, he's probably retired by now, even if he's still around.

I did once find another old boyfriend on Google, though, as he has become a well-known author in the UK. I sent an email to the college he seemed to be connected with, but nothing came of it, which is probably just as well.

There was another doctor, a surgeon, whom I very nearly married, and with whom I continued to exchange Christmas cards for many years. Thirty years after we had parted, I found myself in the town where I knew him to be working at the general hospital. I surprised him with an unannounced visit, but it was not a rewarding occasion. I was saddened to find that the aspiring young surgeon I had known was now greatly aged, with hands already so badly affected by arthritis that he could no longer operate properly. And inevitably, as we had both married other people, we really had nothing to say to each other.

As Knowleypowley said, "should the past be kept in the past?" I reckon it's just some sort of vanity trip really, to want to revisit old loves, like writing one's memoirs! Indeed, I see that my memoirs are in danger of turning into a history of the men in my life! The pieces I have written which have the most feeling in them – my ‘mood’ pieces as I tend to call them, are all about blokes it seems, and I begin to feel a bit embarrassed about it!

So I’ll write another one for my next blog …………..!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fifty years to say goodbye

I came across a photograph of an old boy friend yesterday, and it reopened a small wound which had left a permanent scar on my heart. Due to an idiotic mistake which was never explained, we parted without saying goodbye, in a way which was not only frustrating but painful, as it left each of us feeling let down by the other. But he was a good guy and would not have done that to me, I am sure, and I would not have had him think that of me for the world either.

It was during my time in Geneva, working for the World Health Organisation. I shared a flat with a girl friend, and across the road from us lived two American medical students. They were Jewish, and had come to the medical school in Geneva because at that time it was difficult for Jews to get places at the schools in the US. The four of us got on well and saw a good deal of each other, and for Sy and me there was soon more than friendship between us.

By the beginning of 1956 however, I was preparing to leave Switzerland and return to the UK, as my two-year contract was up. The man I would eventually marry had stopped off in Geneva to visit me on his way home from India on leave, and I was pretty certain that I was going to say “yes” to him this time. I explained this to Sy, and as we had both known that our relationship would not be long-term, there was no difficulty about agreeing to say a sad but friendly goodbye over dinner, one evening before I left for home. So we set a date and a time, and fixed a place to meet in the centre of the town.

The evening came and off I went to the rendezvous. I was not late – (I rarely am) – and I waited happily for a while... and a longer while ... and an even longer while ... until eventually, in disbelief, I rang the flat and spoke to his flatmate. He said that Sy had gone off to meet me as arranged, and he could not understand that we hadn’t found each other. He would come along to where I was still waiting, though, and take me out to dinner himself.

Sy rang me next day and said he had been where we had arranged, and where was I? I said that I had been there, and where was he? We checked what the arrangement for meeting had been; there seemed to have been no confusion, and we could not understand how we had missed each other. It was too late by then to make another date before I left, and so we never saw each other again – our last contact was that unhappy exchange on the phone, when I could hear the hurt in his voice, as I am sure he heard it in mine. Good mates should not part like that - it still hurts.


A moment ago, just for fun, or sentiment, or curiosity, or whatever, I put Sy’s full name into Google Search, and came up with a listing in the digital library catalogue of the University of California, San Francisco: it was his doctoral thesis written in Geneva (in French) in 1958, two years after we parted there. It has to be him, I cannot believe anything else. I was strangely moved by this, as though we had touched hands again, even managed to say our last goodbye – at last! It was like laying flowers on a grave that one should have visited 50 years ago.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Call for help ..........

Somebody who visited my blog recently and whose blog I visited in return, had slideshows of photographs on her page. I commented, and I think she gave me an URL for a website which would do it for me. But I've lost the information. If you recognise yourself, would you be kind enough to leave the information here for me?

Thanks in advance. xxx

More miniatures

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I have been a compulsive collector over the years, sometimes starting a collection based on something I've inherited, and sometimes beginning with an item which has caught my eye in the antiques and bric-a-brac markets. This is about my collection of miniature items, inspired by a similar collection belonging to my favourite aunt. I did not inherit it, and so determined to start my own collection, as I already had a number of small items which had come from my mother and grandmother. This display case stands about 20" high and is about 20" wide. I bought it when I was living in Belgium and brought it back to the UK when we came home. You can see what a mass of little objects I have accumulated.

And here are pictures of some of the individual items. I have put thimbles in some of the pictures to indicate the size. I had hoped to upload a lot more, but blogger refused to co-operate. Maybe I'll do some more another day.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Leaving school: a mature student's view

When the battle against closure of my son’s secondary school was eventually lost in 1988, I saw a possibility that I might, as Chair of Governors, be asked to make a speech at the final assembly. I began to draft one, but it ended up as something quite different, more like a personal testament. It is true and heartfelt, and definitely part of the story of my life. But I wasn’t asked to make a speech!

I was a student at The School rather longer than most – ten years to be precise. When I entered its doors at the same time as my son in 1978, I little thought that I would, in a manner of speaking, end up as ‘head girl’. Nor could I imagine that, at the height of its success, the school would be earmarked by County Hall for closure.

The School was just a name on a list to me when the youngest of my four sons was due to transfer from primary school. He was unwilling to follow in his brothers' well-trodden footsteps at nearer schools, and said we should look at this one, even though it was away in a neighbouring village. We looked – we were hooked – we signed on, and my son began the normal process of secondary education. As this was the ninth school with which I had been associated over the years, I decided it was high time for me to contribute something , and I offered my services to the Parent Teacher Association.

Thus began a whole new career for me, starting as a simple kitchen assistant at school functions, moving through PTA secretary and parent governor, and ending in the Chair of the governing body as a Local Authority governor. The way took me through fairs, markets and music halls; making Christmas decorations for dances; writing a termly newsletter for parents; drafting a PTA constitution; creating publicity displays; and raising £6,000 in ten months for a new minibus. It also brought me the schizophrenic experience of campaigning vigorously against closure of the The School, while at the same time working closely with another governing body towards creating a new amalgamated school, in case the inevitable happened.

I learned about organisation, administration and planning ahead; about committee procedure and running a meeting; about writing minutes, reports, and letters to the press, and about speaking in public. I learned about tact and diplomacy (I hope), confidentiality, carrying responsibility, and catching the buck when it stops. I learned about the workings of County Hall, and discovered that the ‘faceless bureaucrats’ of the education service are real people, who eat lunch and crack jokes from time to time; and that county councillors have to have tremendous stamina and commitment to carry out the work of the Authority. What I failed to learn, alas, was to delegate, to be brief, and not to worry!

I think I can fairly say that during my years at The School I did as much learning as any of its pupils, and if they had half as much fun, and gained as much benefit, as I did, I am truly thankful. The School was like a second family to me - a family that was happy and successful, because like all happy families there was love and dedication at work there. When The School finally closed, and like the younger students I too had to move on, I hoped that I, as well as they, would find new opportunities to learn, to succeed and to be happy.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I took this picture of myself because I was particularly pleased with the cheeky little flick my hairdresser had given to my white streak in front, and I wanted to have a picture of it to show her, so that she could repeat it. So I set my camera to 'macro', and got a reasonable picture of the flick, and a seriously revealing one of my life and laughter lines, both good and bad! I was surprised at how well it turned out, actually, and decided I would not be shy about sharing it. It was taken in June this year in my 79th year. The one in yesterday's post was taken three years ago.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Where do blogs go ...

... when the owners die?

In My Documents I have a folder called 'My Executors', to which my sons can have access when they need to deal with my estate. From time to time I add what I hope will be helpful bits of information for them, such as my last requests, details about the way I would like my funeral to be, useful facts about my house etc. Yesterday I found myself adding this:

"If you boys want to know who your mother really was in the last years of her life, you should refer to my blog. I feel that it is some sort of memorial for me, a twentyfirst century headstone, as it were, for a burial in cyberspace."

And then I got to wondering. Will our blogs just stay there on the web, living on for ever after we have gone, but static and lonely, with perhaps just the occasional comment from a new reader, but no further input from the creator? How sad! ..... Or maybe the hosts will keep an eye on them, and note how long they have remained static, and eventually give them the chop. Even sadder!! I mean, is cyberspace ever going to be FULL?

And my next thought was that I should write my valedictory blog now, and leave it in the file, with a note that they are to post it for me when I can no longer post for myself. But who knows? Perhaps by then I shall be in another place where I can post telepathically ... wouldn't that be fun?

If I must write my epitaph, I think I'll say: "I had to laugh!"

Monday, October 02, 2006

My life in short bursts

Before the beginning - 2

My parents met after the first World War. Throughout the war my father had been interned in Germany, where he had gone at the age of 19 to improve his knowledge of the language. His prison camp was a converted racing stables at Ruhleben, near Berlin, where the 4000 men and boys from all walks of life slept in the horse-boxes. The prisoners succeeded in developing a complete society there during the four years of the war, including their own postal system, and my brother and I have inherited some interesting memorabilia. Sadly, the experience had a profound effect on my father, and left him shy and retiring and reluctant to undertake new ventures.

My mother had wanted to go to university. Illness prevented this initially, and by the time she was better, my grandfather had apparently decided that such an education was not appropriate for her. The result was that she spent the rest of her life trying to find something to exercise her brain, above and beyond being an excellent wife, housekeeper and mother. Sometimes she found something worthwhile, such as Marriage Guidance Counselling, and sometimes she was less successful. My brother and I have very uncomfortable memories of the period when she was reading books about psychology!

My grandfather, who, I believe had himself had a 7-year engagement, insisted that my parents should not marry until my father was earning enough to keep my mother in the same degree of comfort and respectability in which she had grown up. After three years my parents found this too much to bear, and went off ostensibly to a tennis tournament one afternoon, but came back married! This caused much frostiness in my mother’s home, but all was eventually forgiven. My other grandparents also put pressure on: my parents wanted to emigrate to New Zealand and farm sheep there, but my father’s mother would not accept such a distancing from her only son. (I did not feel able to breathe a whisper of protest when my eldest decided to emigrate to Australia – but it’s a different world now.)

What have I inherited from my forbears? That takes some thinking about. A formidable nose, for one thing, as you can see from the pictures above, of my great great uncle, and of myself at my wedding; a tendency to worry unnecessarily, developing into full-blown hypochondria in late middle age; and heart disease. More positively, a capacity for organisation and attention to detail, which made me a pretty good secretary/PA.

And then on the practical front, there is the investment income which has enabled me to live comfortably and independently for the past 21 years. It was an unlooked for blessing, as most of it came to me through my mother from her aunt. Having lost her only child in the first World War, she had no-one to inherit from her, and so left everything to her three sisters, from one of whom, my grandmother, one portion has now come to me and my brother. I often feel sad that my comfort should have been at such a painful expense for my great aunt.

And of course, coming from a line of manufacturing jewellers, I inherited some beautiful pieces made by my mother’s father. The most important of these was a suite or ‘parure’ made for my grandmother and consisting of brooch, bracelet, pendant and earrings, with green garnets, amethysts and pearls, set in gold with white enamel work. It is in a Rennaissance style, too elaborate for wear in my time, though I did wear the pendant and earrings once or twice. Eventually, rather than leave it unappreciated in a drawer, I decided to part with it and pass on the proceeds to my sons. I was able to sell it to the City of Birmingham Museums, who were glad to add it to their collection relating to the Birmingham jewellery trade.

[Next page]

Recording our memories

I have been lucky enough recently to find myself linked through my blog to a number of women writers, from hopeful beginners like myself to experienced professionals. This is a great pleasure to me, and will, I hope, prove to be a useful resource as well.

Pauline wrote of a book she had been given by her son and daughter-in-law, expressly designed for writing down her own life memories, and then giving back to the donors. In a comment I mentioned this book on the left, which has a similar purpose, and has helped to push me in the direction of writing my own memoirs. Although it only contains prompts, there are 33 chapter headings, with more than 30 different prompts in each chapter. It does not contain space for writing, but the authors suggest that one's record may be created by writing, or by using a tape recorder or video camera.

Mention of the book brought Wenda to my blog, so I am putting up these details for her.
The book was originally published by Doubleday in the United States in March 1993, ISBN No: 0-385-46797-4, and cost $ 15.95. It was brought back from America for me. I have had a look in amazon.co.uk but did not find it there. However, the second hand book market is a different matter, and if you are in the UK you will find copies at abebooks.

"Long lives yield many treasures", to quote from the book's jacket blurb - don't lose them!