Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Here is my greeting to all my blogger friends, courtesy of Jacquie Lawson greeting cards.

Marmite, Vegemite and Natex

Way back in June, Lee posted this picture of the Australian spread Vegemite on his blog A Curate's Egg,
in the section called The Chemist's Cookbook. He also wrote about its history. So I left a comment telling him about Natex, what I believe to be the UK equivalent of Vegemite (which I first heard of many years ago when I first began watching the Australian soap "Neighbours").

If you don't know about Natex, it is a vegetarian yeast extract which is low in salt, contains no saturated fat, and has no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. It is also somewhat less sharp than Marmite, the spread which is best known in the UK, and that suits me. I buy it at my local health foods shop for £3.35 a 250g jar.

I was interested to see that the UK product Natex, which I suspect postdates the Australian one in it's origin, has produced a label with the same colour scheme, which is also similar to the Marmite label. I wouldn't be surprised if they were all made by the same firm these days. As for Marmite, to quote an Australian commentator I found on a website for Vegemite: "...only 'pommies and wankers' ate marmite". Love you too, mate! ;) xxx

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mother's cooking

My son Ric who was staying with me over Christmas was due to go home today, so last night we were again invited to the home of Andrew, who cooked Christmas dinner, this time for the family's traditional "turkey use-up" meal which some of us almost prefer to the roast on Christmas Day. Turkey and ham vol-au-vents began when my sons were still at home, and I no longer remember if it was my own invention, but it became an absolute "must" every year, before the turkey carcase was finally discarded. We serve it with rice and peas, and the meat in the bechamel sauce is slurped liberally all over the pastry cases, not neatly contained as in this picture here which I found on the web.

As a very reluctant cook who barely got by with feeding her children adequately and healthily, I have been gratified to find that certain of my "regulars" have become necessaries to the next generation - although I suppose there is a certain inevitability about it. For instance, our bread sauce always has chopped onion in it, never mind a polite flavouring from a whole one. And I also earned credit for introducing the idea of spaghetti bolognese made with fresh mince - in those days spaghetti mostly came out of a tin, or at best was made with cooked left-over meat. And the great favourite - Mum's crunchy roast potatoes, which are certainly not an original recipe of mine (boiled first to become a bit fluffy round the edges).

Nowadays I don't have to do any of it, for which I am truly thankful - I'd rather be blogging!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Family picture show

I had an unusual success on Christmas Day - well, I think it was success - as the provider of an entertainment which gave rise to unexpected and unprecedented hilarity. The family party consisted of six adults, and 5 children of both sexes, ranging from 5 to 15.

I was giving my son’s family a portable DVD player, and on Christmas morning, before going to have dinner with them, I suddenly decided to put a whole bunch of family photo files onto a CD, so that they could be run as a slideshow. I didn’t bother with checking through the files to put them in order or cut out duplicates. Well that wouldn’t matter, it was only a rough and ready idea anyway. But perhaps I should have checked them for ‘suitability’!

I could not have imagined that simple pictures of family life would have the audience giggling and screaming and jumping and rolling about in such a way. Celebrations of birthdays and festivals, holidays, dressing up, school photos, the arrival of new babies – all seemed pretty run of the mill pictures to me, of life as it is lived, except possibly one or two of their disgraceful granny’s more senile flights of fancy. Well - there were a couple of pregnant nearly-nude shots in there, and one of a newborn babe sleeping on his tummy, snapped from behind with his naked bottom in the air, and his tackle hanging free for all to see.

The teenage girls were the worst, and probably started it, but before long the entire group was treating my slideshow as though it was a rather vulgar piece of pantomime slapstick, or a couple of comics exchanging jokes in dubious taste. I suppose the powerful champagne cocktails before lunch, and wine freely flowing while we ate, would have had something to do with it – but the girls had only been drinking non-alcoholic Schloer!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas eve

I decided at lunch time today that I wanted to go back to the church where we celebrated Michael's funeral, and be among his friends there again. There was a Crib Service with Carols at four o'clock which would be just the thing, as it is a service for the small children, who dress up and make a nativity tableau. Michael so loved the children.

He loved to sing, and had a voice which would easily rise above everyone else's, sometimes quite embarrassingly! I remembered how much it annoyed him when people did not come in strongly on the first note each verse, but lagged behind the organist. So I did my best to hit these notes on his behalf, though I have no voice at all, and could only reach half of them anyway.

I noticed this morning that most unusually, the holly tree in my garden still had berries on it, so I decided to cut some to decorate the house. When I reached the tree with my secateurs and basket I thought: "I'll leave the ones I can see from the house, I'll cut from round the back". Surprise, surprise, there were no berries at all at the back ! A freak of growth, do you suppose, or a kindly gesture of the birds?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

And a retrieval

"That's not how it's going to be" I said to myself eventually - "we can recover something here". After painstakingly removing all the shards of the broken baubles, so that they would cause no injury, I remembered that I had a different kind of ball waiting to be hung. It is a solid blown glass one, a sort of witch's ball, and weighs a good deal more than the broken ones. But I found a way to hang it alongside the remains of the other group, and after contriving some 'special' lighting in my amateurish way, so that they would all shine for the camera, I decided that the newly constituted group was worth photographing.

So here I am sending the seasonal message of renewal and hope, light and celebration, to all my blogging friends. May your lives be full of blessings, and may you recognise them for what they are.

Another bereavement

I had felt that I did not have the heart to decorate this year, but today, my Christmas hairdo done, my presents all wrapped, and my youngest son coming to stay for the holiday, I decided that I would make the effort. The first decoration to go up every year was always this collection of red and silver baubles, which I put together myself, and which was my absolute favourite of all. The big balls, inherited from a much-loved aunt in 1981, were real glass ones, of which the larger measured almost 4” across.

Alas for the shaky hand of age, which made my aim unsure: the arrangement slipped from my fingers and crashed to the floor, with the result that you can imagine. I became transfixed as I waited to see if I could brush aside this new loss and move on, or if it would prove to be just one thing too many to bear. The idea of sharing here a picture from an earlier Christmas, has helped me over the worst, but I am still not sure how it will go.

How vulnerable we are to trivial losses when already weakened by significant ones.

Why ...

... does Google have its header decorated with knitting kangaroos today? I'm sure one of my readers can tell me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thank you !

In his comment on my Bereavement blog, 'M' wrote "I am just a random reader of your blog, so my words may not be that important". I want to say that the words of all my readers are important. You never know who will let a shaft of light into your darkness.

In writing "He let you go, and that is the greatest love of all", 'M' has reminded me of something I knew, but had overlooked for more than 20 years. Thank you. You have helped me to see where I need to go next. Now that I understand better the full extent of Michael's love, I need to forgive him for not being able to communicate that to me; and also myself for not being able to recognise it. Then perhaps we shall indeed have reached the same destination.

I was doubtful about sharing such private pain on my blog, thinking it might discourage people from reading. But enough of you have read and commented to make it meaningful, and it has helped me enormously. I do thank all of you most sincerely. (And it's so much cheaper than going to a counsellor!)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Yesterday I collected my husband’s ashes from the funeral directors. Sarah Jane, the one who is like our granddaughter, drove us in her car. She had been urging me to get them in case they got mislaid, which apparently happens sometimes. I find that I have to consider her sensibilities as well as my own at this time, as she loved Michael so much. I am apt to be a bit practical and breezy about the jobs that need doing.

I am not sure how I feel about ashes. I have no strong sense that they are part of my husband. He is surely long gone beyond the physical sphere by now. Nevertheless I found myself saying “Do you think I should have ‘him’ on my lap?”, as I sensed that SJ was unhappy about putting ‘him’ on the back seat. So I nursed the very heavy box on my knees, as we drove to his house where I had some things to do.

Then I found myself saying “Do you think ‘he’ would like to be in his house one more time?”, and instantly SJ said “Yes”. “Are we being silly?” I asked, and she said “No, it’s nice to have thoughts like that”. So we took ‘him’ inside. We considered leaving ‘him’ there for the time being, but both agreed that it was too cold and miserable.

When we got back to my house I took the urn out of the box. I was surprised and disappointed to find that the ashes were not in an urn-shaped container, but in a sort of screw-topped jar in dark green plastic – something more appropriate to the kitchen. It had no aesthetic appeal and no dignity about it, and I am wondering why, among all the other choices the funeral directors offered us, they did not offer a choice of urn. I have searched the web and there are some wonderful containers to be had.

We shall probably keep the ashes until the next time our eldest son home, so that the family can all go together to scatter them on a hilltop somewhere. So I am seriously considering buying another urn. The metal one I have chosen for my picture would be just right for the practical, no fuss, engineering sort of man that my husband was.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I find myself in a sort of trough out of which I am unable to climb - a place where the spirit seems to have drained out of me, leaving me unable to resume the activities that made up my life before my husband's death. Somehow the blogging kept me going during these past difficult months, but now I am finding it really hard to connect again and write.

I didn't think about bereavement in advance, although I am usually one to think - and worry! - ahead. There was time enough to do so, but caring for Michael was sufficient unto the day, and I was aware only that I would be thankful for him when he was finally at rest, and for myself and the family when the burden of care was lifted from our shoulders. I did not expect to be deeply affected by his going, as we had lived apart for more than twenty years, and I did not think to miss him as I do.

So I have been surprised by this sense of emptyness and aimlessness, and the sudden feeling of being alone when, I now realise, I was not alone before. Of course, after knowing each other for 60 years, the fabric of our lives is inevitably made up of threads that we have woven together, as well as individually, and that will never change. Thankfully, we remained good friends throughout the years, and so, in its own rather unusual way, our marriage remained intact, as I had always hoped it might.

But there has been more than just the final parting, the knowledge that we shall weave no more of the fabric together. While living again in Michael’s world for a time, I have learned things that I had not been aware of before, because he was never able to talk of them to me, and these have had a profound if complex impact.

I learned from the congregation of his church how readily he gave his love, his time and effort, and his possessions for the benefit of others, and how they all loved him.

I learned from children and adults alike how much his hugs had meant to them – hugs which he had never seemed able to give to me in the same spontaneous way.

I learned from his good friend and neighbour how much he missed me after we had separated, although he had made no word of protest at my going. And his pain became my pain, and I felt remorse.

I learned from the young woman who cleaned and cared for him (and who was like a granddaughter to us both), how often, right up to the end, he asked her to “Look after my Judith for me”.

All this has revived old pains from the past. But it has meant too that, through others, I have at last been able to understand the full extent of Michael’s love for me, and in doing so I feel my love for him renewing itself.

But it leaves me with a new pain, as I wonder how two people who loved each other could nevertheless have missed each other somehow, on the road through marriage, and ended up at different destinations.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Christmas wish for my readers !

If that's the case, then I strongly recommend you
to click on this link for

I needed a hug quite badly when I sat down at my computer, and what happened? There was an email from Avus commenting on my blog about Belief. He had come to my website on the recommendation of Herhimnbryn, who has linked my blog to hers as one of her recommended "Christmas presents" - bless her. As is my practice with new readers, I went to Avus's blog to see what he is about, and there I found a reference to a Free Hugs video. By dipping into his archive I found the link to the video on YouTube, and sat watching it, with my eyes filling up and a warm feeling of huggedness creeping all over me. And so we blog around the world, around the clock, and around each others' hearts! Long may we continue.

This is a group hug I have borrowed from The Second Little Book of Hugs by Kathleen Keating, with drawings by Mimi Noland. The author writes "An embrace creates a circle of compassion that promotes growth and healing and feeds our empty hearts".

The animated caterpillar is borrowed from 1001 postcards, a site offering a free greetings service which is worth looking at.

Friday, December 15, 2006

History in a vacuum cleaner

Somehow these pictures got published all on their own, while I was still working on the text. Richard saw them and pretty much got the point, cutting the ground from under my feet with his comment. So I was left with a bunch of mostly superfluous text, which was too long anyway, so what the hell! I can't waste it all though.

In my utility room there is an old dresser, in one drawer of which I keep all the instructions and users' manuals for the household equipment I buy. I have occasion to look through them from time to time to remind myself how to use or care for something. But I never, ever, sort out and throw away any of them. So, there are manuals there dating back to the first home my husband and I had of our own. These include instructions for several heaters, steam irons, food mixers, toasters and kettles, and for no less than six vacuum cleaners! The pictures in some of these seemed to me to show the history of the social concept of the housewife - but do not, as Richard points out, make any concessions to the 'new man'.

My very first cleaner was an Electrolux 65, bought in 1960 when we returned after three years in India to settle down in our own home for the first time. Here the ideal housewife is seen as sweetly pretty, wearing high heels and probably, if I remember rightly, a stiffened petticoat under her skirt.

An upgrade to the Electrolux Automatic 100 must have happened fairly soon, because the minidress appeared in the 1960s, I think, giving more comfort and freedom of movement for the housewife, though still in heels, if somewhat lower.

In 1985 I went for an upright cleaner, still buying Electrolux. Here we no longer see the whole vision of the ideal housewife, but just the “working parts” as one might say. This leaflet also gives detailed diagrams of the inner workings of the cleaner, with instructions for technical troubleshooting involving the use of a screwdriver, no less – something not seen in the two earlier manuals, so perhaps women are becoming more intelligent!

And finally my invaluable home-help persuaded me to buy a Henry. Here are housewives that are thoroughly familiar - I NEVER looked like the first or second ones, though I could identify with the third. But the technical diagrams are now pictures only, with no explanatory text, to allow no doubt for the multi-lingual community we are today...... Having said which, they might have found four different racial types to put into this picture, don't you think, instead of these aryan clones?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Picture gallery - second wind

OK then - I'm going for the triple!!!

When my youngest left school I was on the school's governing body, and continued to be a school governor for many years. I also worked closely with the Local Education Authority in governor support and training. It was very gratifying when in 1993 the County Council created a new non-voting seat on the Education Committee for a representative of school governors, and invited me to be the first one co-opted. This is the photograph on my ID card for County Hall.
In 1996 I joined Growing Old Disgracefully, and embracing the ethos whole-heartedly, created this Christmas card to send to my new friends in the organisation. (This is by no means its first airing on the web!)

In 1997 I won a joyride in a glider at a charity auction, and am here preparing for take-off. By the end of the trip I was looking green and miserable, after being catapulted almost vertically into the air, and feeling as though I was going to black out and lose my stomach contents. It took me a long time to recover.In the year 2000 my husband and I decided to renew our marriage vows. We had been living apart for 15 years, and did not propose to change that arrangement at this time, but wished to acknowledge our continuing commitment to our marriage and family. This picture was taken in the church.
In 2002 I joined an on-line group of people promoting the songs of Jake Thackray, a Yorkshire schoolteacher turned composer and performer, who was on our TV screens mostly in the 70s and 80s. This was taken a year later by Keith Donovan, (who has since become a good mate), when I met up with some of the group for a pub lunch. It makes me feel good every time I look at, and is not new to my blog either.

This is another of the rare nice pictures I have of me in my second childhood! It was taken by David Harris, another Jake Thackray mate, and was taken in 2005 when we went up to Leeds for the launch of a new musical based on Jake's work: "Sister Josephine kicks the habit". You can see more of David's photographic work if you follow the linke to his site in my sidebar.

When the Jake Thackray Project holds its annual get-together to sing and celebrate the work of the composer-songwriter, the stage is almost exclusively held by male performers. The female members need therefore to assert themselves in some other way, and have developed a nice line in "illustrating" one of the songs on each occasion. This was the nearest we were prepared to get to "frantically dancing naked for Beelzebub", as described in The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Picture gallery - growing up

My first photocall in 1927, a picture I love for my mother's fashion style.

A bit fuzzy, this one, but I like it because I reckon it marks a defining moment for my nose, already developing its acquiline prominence at 10 months!

My younger brother has arrived in 1931, and my mother has parted her hair in the middle, while retaining the little bunches on either side of the head. I seem to be wearing a pinny, an indignity I never required of my children!

Fancy dress time. I must admit I don't remember this. It might have been a party, or a village carnival with a parade.

It's 1936 and the tomboy has emerged, the legs are on view, the knees exposing themselves to years of injury (about which there is another whole blog story to be written!)

My cousin - (the one with the naturally wavy hair) - has come to stay, and we are cooling off in the stone basin of the pump, in the garden of a neighbouring cottage.

1941, the war has started, we are now living in the country, and my brother and I are away at boarding school during term time. Holidays include picnics by the local stream, which can be reached on foot. Don't you just love my brother's gray felt sun hat? My Mum never wore trousers - I am so grateful for the change in fashion which made them commonplace for women today.

The car was laid up during the war due to shortage of petrol, and my parents bought a pony and trap for getting to the local town for shopping. The pony was rideable too, but I was always a nervous rider.

I couldn't find any late teenage pictures, so my growing up is temporarily halted at the age of about fourteen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Picture gallery - heyday

Thanks for your birthday greeting Lillie. The actual day (last Wednesday) turned out to be rather miserable, as November days often do, and produced nothing worth writing about. So I have decided to cheer myself up with some of my favourite 'snaps' from the past, which mark the passage of the years.

This was taken standing in a field on my cousins' farm in Clee St Margaret, Shropshire, when I was 24. I think it was around then that I first plucked up courage to wear trousers, and I am quite surprised to realise that we apparently had jeans around in those days. The belt I am wearing is a typical schoolboy's belt - elasticated with and S-shaped snake clasp in front.

Feeding the pigeons in St Mark's Square in Venice in 1954. I had recently gone to live in Switzerland to work for the World Health Organisation, and this was one of the first holidays I took with three friends, travelling by train from Geneva. It was only a long weekend, and I never got to ride in a gondola. I am still hoping to get back there and make that good.

The skis are my friend's, not mine! I was far too frightened of hurting myself to be any good at skiing, and soon gave up. But it was so easy to get to the resorts from Geneva that I went with my friends anyway to enjoy the sun and snow. This was in Oberlech in Austria in 1955.

And this is at one of the lakeside beaches on the edge of Geneva. The Vespa is mine, the first vehicle I ever had, and I loved it. I have never enjoyed driving a car as much as I did buzzing around the place on my two fat wheels - so unstable on the tramlines, especially in wet weather!

I have posted this wedding picture before, but while I'm showing off my legs, I may as well show this one again too. It was taken by a friend whom we commissioned to do the wedding pictures, and she did us proud. My last few moments as a single woman.

My first born is on his way. Every now and then my husband would take a really smashing picture, more by accident than design, I think, and this is one of them.

And this, though nothing special as a picture, represents for me a time of comfortable and satisfying fulfilment. In my 40th year, I had recently given birth to the last of our four sons, and was perfectly happy in my role as a family woman. My three older boys were with me in the garden, and made nice pictures on that occasion, smiling handsomely instead of pulling faces. The little one was probably asleep in his pram under an apple tree.