Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Audrey Hepburn's Beauty Tips

There is an email going the rounds at the moment containing a series of 'human' beauty tips attributed to Audrey Hepburn. I am not going to repeat them all, since many of you may have come across them already. However, as councils round the UK gear themselves up for ever higher levels of recycling, I find this one particularly relevant, and appropriate for the Christmas season:

even more than things,
have to be restored,
and redeemed;
never throw out anyone.

Monday, December 10, 2007


I tried to use the new Blogger slideshow element in the page layout, as I had created an autobiographical slideshow in Photobucket to celebrate my 80th birthday. It should have appeared in my sidebar, but I couldn't make that work. The instructions are confusing and inadequate and I could find nothing in Blogger Help. In the Help Forum I found lots of other baffled bloggers, and some tips, but still nothing that helped me. So I loaded my biographic in the main column of my autobiographical blog, which was as easy as pie with a 'share' link in Photobucket, and tried something else.

I created a biographical Flickr badge, and after some more puzzling, found that I could load it in my sidebar via the HMTL/Java layout element.

Then finally, after a period of rest and reflection, I went back to Photobucket, discovered something else I could tweak, and lo and behold, at last I was able to get my slideshow in my sidebar, using the new slideshow feature in the layout.
I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but I do persevere! I must add though, that it was thanks to a tip from somebody in the Help Forum; it was not done by following the Blogger instructions.

Last updated 22.12.2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Balloons away!"

Granny J commented on my previous blog: "If the balloon had to go away, it would have been far better had it flown many miles of its own choice." I replied that she had caught my sentiment exactly. And then I thought of these two pictures in my album.

The occasion was the annual gathering of members of Growing Old Disgracefully, the women's network I belong to. (We were at Sneaton Castle in Whitby.) We had set up a massive workshop for 80 people at once, (10 teams of 8), to discuss how we should be running the organisation, and the winning proposal was put on the agenda of the business meeting the following day.

Each team table was decorated with a group of three balloons, and there were labels attached with contact details for the organisation. At the end of the afternoon's hard work we trooped outside with our balloons and released them into the sea breezes of Whitby. You can see how joyfully we did so.

PS ~ I have been hearing recently of people releasing balloons at funerals - an absolutely splendid idea which I propose to copy. It is so good to observe the growing trend towards joyful celebratory events on these occasions.,

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Somebody stole my balloon!

After my birthday lunch last Sunday, I brought home the Happy Birthday banner and the 80th birthday balloon, and put them up in my glass porch. (Nothing like a bit of showing off, eh?)

When I came home from visiting my family in the village this afternoon, the balloon had gone. It would not have floated away if the door was left open, as it had an anchor weight, and there was not enough gas left. So it must have been taken.

I found that I was very upset by this. (Picture it: an 80-year-old grandmother sniffling because someone pinched her balloon!) I did not mind the loss of the balloon so much, as I was about to take the decorations down anyway - a week is enough I think. But it was the thought that someone would be prepared to do that to an old person which upset me. And they not only stole it from me, but also from Sarah Jane, who put so much loving care into decorating the room at the restaurant for me, and who will ask where it is when she comes tomorrow.

So after a week of being a child again at heart, I shall have to go back to being a grown-up, and pull myself together!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nothing under the beds

As the day draws to an end, this seems like a good moment to take stock ~ not of all those years, but of where I am now.

The past 12 months have been difficult and disturbing, in unexpected ways. A year after my husband's death I continue to grieve for the failure of our life together. And although we had lived apart for 20 years, I have been feeling strangely without purpose, now that he is no longer around. I have been surprised at just how much a person becomes part of you when you have been married for 50 years, and have been in, and out, of each other’s lives for 60. But he was, after all, the one I chose, and the only one.

I find I am immersing myself in projects centred on Michael, such as the research I am doing into his family history. I guess this expresses a need in me to both mourn and celebrate him still. I am doing this by putting my research onto a family tree website, with photographs, so that our sons and grandchildren will be able to see who he was, and where he came from.

All of this seems fairly positive, even when it is uncomfortable for me, as it recognises Michael 's value, and the value of the 29 years that we had together with our family; I feel that in some sense it is restoring a balance.

But I am also feeling that I have moved up a place in the queue for “the pearly gates”, that my relatively good health is less reliable, and that I should be putting my affairs in better order, for the sake of my executors. This has prompted me to sort out my business papers into a tidy, up-to-date row of ringbinders, and also to undertake a major programme of house clearance and chucking out.

Possessions and clutter can feel like a heavy burden at times, and I am a lifelong hoarder and collector, not only of objects of interest and appeal, but also of “might-be-usefuls”. But now suddenly I have started to let go of stuff. I seem no longer to have the urge to keep things, just in case, in some unforseeable future, they might serve a new purpose. I can see clearly and cheerfully what I am not likely to need, especially when I have not needed it for the past 20 or 30 years anyway! This is remarkably freeing - I feel lighter every time I throw something away - or better still recycle it.

Hence the title of this blog: my aim is to end up with nothing stored under any of my beds any more. (And no unresolved relationship issues pushed there out of mind either!)

My brain has become frenetically active in the past year, which seems likely to be a counterbalance to this increased sense of my mortality. The genealogical research I am doing is fascinating and compulsive, and gives rise to many ideas for pieces to write. But my mind darts from one idea to the next, embracing the new while longing to pursue what is already under way, but remains unfinished.

So the past year has been sad and reflective, but busy and creative as well, and I think that on balance the positive is winning. And yet ..... I am worried by a growing inclination to stay at home and live life in my head and in my computer, rather than make the effort to go out and socialise. It feels kind of weird. It's almost as though I am not quite the same person that I was two years ago, or not quite in the same world.

Is this the effect of bereavement? Or of ageing? Or simply of being a disgraceful old woman?!!

[The snowdrops were painted by Julie Oakley. You can see more of her work on her website.]

A day that could have started better

My birthday dawns and I am up early to switch on and read all the greetings by email that I am expecting. Then I'm going to post a birthday blog, which I've already drafted. But what happens? I can't access my server. This is outrageous! Even on an ordinary day this would be scarcely bearable, inducing acute traumatic stress. But today of all days.

I slope off back to bed with a cup of tea, and sulk until the window cleaner arrives, and I have to jump out of bed quickly to avoid embarrassment. When he's gone I decide I may as well get up anyway, go into the bathroom for a shower - and find that a large wasp has come to join me. Most unusually I am able to persuade it to leave by the window - I am in generous mood today, despite my frustration, and do not attack it with the fly swatter.

When I get downstairs, there is still no reaching my server, and I am left aimless and deprived until my good friend Keith rings me. He checks out my server's website for me, where the status report is all green for GO; he suggests I just switch off and switch on again. I do, and it works. So here I am.

This afternoon, Sarah Jane is bringing her daughter Chloe to have tea with me, and this evening one of my sons will be visiting, so the day will not end as it began. I also have the promise of a lunch party in a couple of weeks' time, at a venue of my choice here in my own village, when half a dozen or so of my on-line mates will be driving up to take me out. I do so like birthdays that go on an on, don't you?

Later, maybe I shall post the piece I prepared in advance, if it still fits my mood.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bloomin' lovely .....

Now isn't that just the best
possible message to receive
from your family, when you
are hitting the great eight-oh?!

On Sunday I took my family out to lunch to celebrate my imminent transition from the seventies to the eighties (tomorrow).

It was tricky to arrange. One son only has all three children in his care for one weekend a month, and one daughter-in-law, who runs a craft fair at weekends in the run up to Christmas, said she would not be able to get reliable cover for herself that weekend. Then when that had sorted itself, on Saturday night the son tells me the little boy is poorly, and his older brother not too well either, and they might not make it, as it involved a lot of driving to get here and back in the day.

But by the next morning everyone was better and the party was on as planned. I had booked a private room for ten in a favourite Italian restaurant : 3 (out of 4) sons, one (out of 3) daughters-in-law, and 5 out of six grandchildren, and me, of course. One family too far away in Australia to join the party alas.

Sarah Jane, (who is my cleaner-companion-friend), had decided that the best birthday present she could give me was to pop in to the restaurant beforehand and decorate the room for me. There was a Happy Birthday banner, 80th birthday balloons, Happy Birthday confetti (all over the table, the napkins, even on the bottoms of the upturned glasses), and party poppers.

At the end of a fantastic meal I was presented with a birthday cake, with candles in the form of an 8 and an 0, and a third candle which played Happy Birthday! I was so overcome when I walked in that I was reduced to tears - it was as though she had popped up in front of me and given me a great hug. I had to rush outside and telephone her straight away, bless her darling heart.

Proceedings were slightly marred when I endeavoured to pay for the meal with my credit card, and the restaurant's machine would not accept it! So one of my son's had to pay instead. The same thing had happened to me once before in that restaurant, but I have now found out from my bank the reason for it.

It seems that many restaurants, petrol stations and supermarkets continue using their old machines which were designed for use with a card and a signature, not for 'chip and pin'. The machine will try to override the pin entry - hence the problem I had. Credit cards are particularly sensitive to this problem, but bank debit cards will usually work (as my son's did).

So, at the end of the day, I have not lost face!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Talking of fancying a handyman ...

"Remember, when you see an old lady on the street, you simply can’t know what goes on in her knickers."

I had a new visitor to my blog yesterday: Code Name Nora, and when I made a return visit to her new blog, I found this statement in a recent post of hers, which I recommend you to read before going on with mine.

Nora is an octogenarian, (as I shall be in 12 days' time), and she is clearly one like me who likes to tell it like it is. Only I think she is braver and blunter than I am, although she tells me she nearly lost her nerve with this post, as I have sometimes done with mine.

In her post Nora acknowledges that she still burns with desire, which is something I have not managed to say here, although there are plenty of hints here and there, if you read my posts labelled "Missing it". I have just checked though, and found that I had not even had the nerve to include that label in my list of Blogs Topics in the sidebar, so how would anyone find it? I have put that right now. But I wonder if anyone will understand the label, anyway. I was trying to say what I meant without being crude, and I probably fell between two stools.

So Nora, who is burning over there in the States, while I am burning here in the UK, will encourage each other, I hope, to keep the bright flame of elderly honesty and openness alight.

She tells me, by the way, that "We Yanks got 'knickers' from you Brits and it's a great word." I didn't know that. We have a singer-songwriter here in the UK, called Sandra Kerr, who has written a splendid song called "Big Knicker Blues". I wish I knew how to put a sound track on my blog, but failing that, here are the words:

Big Knicker Blues *

Now if like me, you’re a woman of a certain age
You’ll be wearing an article of clothing which is all the rage
They are generous in size, they reach from your waist down to your thighs
I’m singing the wear ‘em thicker, Big Knicker blues.

Big Knickers, you really oughta try ‘em
Big Knickers, I’ll tell you where to buy ‘em
Wear Big Knickers and you can’t go wrong
Especially when winter drawers on.

I don’t want a gusset that’s an inch and pinches underneath
I want a seat that’s more complete than a pocket handkerchief
I want them long and I want them wide, I want them soft and fleecy inside
I’m singing the wear ‘em thicker, Big Knicker blues.

Big Knickers, let’s keep them in proportion
Big Knickers, don’t go into contortions
Wear Big Knickers and you can’t go wrong
Especially when winter drawers on.

I tell you friend, it’s not the end if you wear great big pants
It’s really nice, it adds some spice and fun to your romance
And if you’re not prepared to sin, they’ll stop anybody from getting in,
I’m singing the wear ‘em thicker, Big Knicker blues.

Big Knickers, I love my passion killers
Big Knickers, they make useful stocking fillers
Wear Big Knickers and you can’t go wrong
Especially when winter drawers on.

Later or sooner, every bloomer will have had its day
Instead of white and shining bright, they go all limp and grey
Then cut them up for cleaning rags, use ‘em for shopping as carrier bags
I’m singing the wear ‘em thicker, Big Knicker blues.

Big Knickers, who cares for style and beauty
Big Knickers, just give me heavy duty,
Wear Big Knickers and you can’t go wrong
Especially when winter drawers on.

Big Knickers, you’ve all got ‘em coming to ya
Big Knickers, Be my comfort, alleluya!
Wear Big Knickers and you can’t go wrong
Especially when winter drawers …..
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
Especially when winter drawers on.

* Copyright Sandra Kerr

Friday, November 16, 2007


Tomorrow I have a handyman - rare and valuable species - coming to do a lot of odd jobs for me that me and my young cleaner-companion cannot manage between us. I like to have what you might call a 'tame' handyman in my address book, but I lost my last one a year or two ago, and this is a new one who's just been recommended. Here's what's on my list to be done:

  • Put up a rail on the side of my staircase where there isn't one (for creaking downstairs in the morning.)

  • Put up a blind in my sitting-room window.

  • Assemble a cheapo bedside cabinet I have bought from Argos for storing family papers.

  • Move furniture about in my newly created 'archive room' (converted from a child's bedroom).

  • Fit a new toilet seat.

  • Put up a batten with three prongs on it (made yonks ago by my husband), on which I can hang carrier bags for collecting plastic, tins, and aluminium for recycling.

  • Put up a curtain rail.

  • Put a protective corner piece on an angle of wall which gets regularly bashed by my young woman with the vacuum cleaner.

  • Remove a brown flex clip which is retaining a white aerial, and fit a white one instead.

  • Push my washing machine and tumble drier back against the wall which they have walked away from with the vigour of their spinning.

I wonder if he would cut my toenails for me as well - that's becoming almost impossible too.

But I rather fancy this one.....

Night all ~


It's hard to believe, but ...

Yesterday I received a form from our UK Pensions Service, asking for details about my late husband's foreign pension, which is a small retirement benefit he received for having worked for three years in Belgium, and which I have now inherited.

I had received exactly the same form five months ago, and filled it in as best I could, guessing or approximating where I could not be sure of being accurate. Now they wanted it all again, and I wondered if it was because my previous answers were not adequate. If that was so, they had not taken the trouble to tell me.

So I copied the answers I had given before, until I came to the point of the most blatant guesswork ... when I suddenly remembered something: the previous day I had been going through some of my husband's papers, when I had found a file of correspondence that he himself had had with the Pension Service when he first retired in 1982.

"Could it be?" I asked myself, "Is it possible that 25 years ago he had to fill in the same form?" And do you know, it was!!! There was this form at the back of the file, with the same number on the bottom. It has been redesigned by now of course, enlarged from 4 pages to 10, and dumbed down somewhat. No that is unfair: what I mean is, simplified and clarified.

And he had understood the form, of course, and he knew the answers, which I can now copy into my form. The magic paper had been in my house when I had filled in the form five months ago, but I hadn't got down to the sorting at that point.

Don't you just love it when a happy happenstance happens?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Being a woman

The Growing Old Disgracefully Network to which I belong has a very lively email group, where we exchange jokes and laughs, useful information, deep thoughts about life, and support for each other when needed. One of the members sent a message today which, as a member of the group, I am proud to share:

This is a celebratory message to say thank you to each and every one for the loving energy that is engendered.

The celebration is of what I perceive as the female gifts of being truly grounded but able to dance in the air.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Candles for Archie

My youngest grandson was born with holes in the heart and a faulty valve. He has had to spend two long spells in hospital (with his mother) having the necessary surgery. On the second occasion he caught a version of the MRSA bug, and nearly died. On both occasions I set up a candle 'vigil', keeping a candle burning day and night, except when I left the house. It was a good way of keeping him in my thoughts and prayers while he was most at risk.

I have just found on my computer this list of the actual candles I burned, which I sent to my daughter-in-law for her amusement. I reprint it here to remind me, and to give thanks for the life of a small boy who was so nearly lost to us:

Candles for Archie - I - 2003

1 two inch wide decorative candle
3 aromatherapy candles in tins
2non-smokers' candles
1 crisis candle (for heat and light in power cuts)
3 dinner table candles
6 plain household candles
2 tealights
1 candle stub pinched from Church by my husband
numerous stubs stuck on top of other stubs to finish them up

Candles for Archie - II - 2005

While staying with the older children

Pink aromatic candle in kitchen
One thick candle in a plain whisky glass
Part of two thickish candles with coloured streaks in
Umpteen tealights in various holders
2 Jewish anniversary candles
1 medium church candle

Back home

1 thick red-coated candle
Part of 1 Christmas candle in a glass
3 household candles
Several stubs stuck on top of other stubs
5 aromatic candles in pots
3 Jewish anniversary candles re-dedicated for sustaining life (24 hours)
1 super-thick church candle (80 hours)
1 medium church candle (30 hours)
Uncounted tealights (4 hours)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A piece of research

This is a long story about a very small piece of the research I am doing into my husband's grandfather. I am posting it all at one go, as that is how I think it needs to be read.


My husband's paternal grandfather left behind him a substantial personal scrapbook. This book is presumed to have passed into the hands of his son , and then to his son's daughter, gaining further additions on its way, until it came into my husband's hands on the death of his childless cousin. At his death I took charge of it for the time being.

Tucked into the book were two letters written by Grandfather Taylor to his son in 1893 and 1897, from Glasgow. They were written on the headed notepaper of The Engine Boiler and Employers’ Liability Insurance Company Limited, and one of them bore the name M. Longridge as the Chief Engineer. I knew Longridge House in Manchester to have been the Head Office of the British Engine Insurance Company, for which both my husband and his father had worked, and I saw a possibility that his grandfather had also been working for the company, back in its very early days when it had a different name.

I set about finding out. I searched on the internet for the name of the company on the notepaper, and immediately found a notice published in 2006 by the Royal Sun Alliance Insurance Company, of which British Engine has long been a subsidiary. This confirmed that one of the early names of British Engine had indeed been the name on the letterheads.

Further on-line searches revealed the existence at the British Library of the following publication by Norman Edwards:

“100 years of British Engine: the centenary story of British Engine Insurance Limited, founded in Manchester, England, on 12 November, 1878.”

I enquired about obtaining a photocopy, but the copyright charges on top of the copying costs seemed to make it prohibitive. I could of course go to the Reading Room at St Pancras in London and see the book there, but I preferred to try all other sources first.

I set about trying to obtain possession of, or at least the loan of, a copy. I put in a request at my local lending library, realising that it would probably take a long time for them to come up with a copy, if at all. An on-line search for a second-hand copy produced no result.

I then wrote to British Engine itself at Longridge house, which was the address I had on file. Unsurprisingly my letter was returned to me by the Post Office, as Longridge House had been demolished in 1996 after the IRA bombings in Manchester - a fact which I had overlooked!

I had meanwhile found information on the National Archives website about a collection of records relating to British Engine in a private repository. The scope of the collection was described as: 1855-1985: minutes, share records, accounts, insurance records, staff records, correspondence, etc. “Staff records” looked promising. On enquiry, however, I was only directed to the registered office of the company, which was the same as that for Royal Sun Alliance.

I wrote there - no response. I went to Companies House on line and obtained the name of the Secretary of the Company (on payment of a charge of £1, I think), and wrote to him - no response.

Meanwhile the local library informed me that they had traced copies of the book at The British Library, at Manchester Metropolitan University, and at John Rylands University, but that none of them was prepared to lend their copy.

And then I struck lucky. Still casting about on the web, varying my search terms from time to time, I came across a listing for British Engine on the website of the Greater Manchester County Records Office. It turned out eventually to be the record in a ‘private repository’ which was referred to on the National Archives website - not very private, as it turned out.

I emailed them to enquire about the “100 years of British Engine” book, and about any records they might have showing whether my husband’s grandfather had worked for the company in its early days. I gave details of the names of my husband, his father and his grandfather, and approximate dates. I received an exciting email in response, saying that they had a photocopy of the book, and some staff records that might be of interest to me. Attached was an easily recognisable photograph of my husband's father, which clearly established that they had the records I was looking for.

We agreed that they should do the research on my behalf, and I sent them a cheque for £18, their charge for an hour’s work. On 30th October, within 12 days of my posting the cheque, their Information Officer had sent me a detailed report of her findings, and a considerable package of photocopied documents. These represented, I am sure, a great deal more than an hour’s work. I had begun my search around the beginning of July.

I am disappointed by the discourtesy of the registered office of British Engine / Royal Sun Alliance, from whom I would have expected at the very least a letter to say they were unable to help me. In contrast, the service provided by the Greater Manchester Records Office, and other such offices I have contacted, is not only efficient but apparently enthusiastic and generous as well, and compensates richly for the reluctance of other sources.

There is ample evidence in the papers they sent me to show that my husband, his father and his grandfather, gave between them over a hundred years' of service to the British Engine Insurance Company, grandfather having apparently been closely involved in the formation of the company from around the late 1860s, and my husband having retired in 1981.

They could not send me the book for copyright reasons, but I no longer needed it. However I may still decide to go to the St Pancras Reading Room of the British Library, to see “100 years of British Engine”, as my interest in the early days of the company has been titillated by the extracts of papers which I have been sent. It is an ironic thought, though, that the book having been published in 1978, three years before my husband retired from his management post, he may well have been sent a copy. When we finally get around to sorting his papers and books, I may find myself with a copy in my hands!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Climbing trees ... the suspense is over ...

I have today received a report from the Kendal Records Office, and although they have not had time to answer all my questions, they have confirmed the most important of my findings. So, Avus, it seems that I have not been in a mare's nest up a gum tree, as I had feared I might be.

What has been most intriguing has been to discover that a certain James Taylor, born in 1777, is not only my husband's great grandfather on his father's side, but also his great great grandfather on his mother's side. This is because James had, among many children, a daughter Elizabeth born in 1812, and a son Jones born in 1826, 14 years later. A good many years down the line, Jones's son Harry married Elizabeth's granddaughter Mary, the older sister having managed to give rise to one generation more than her younger brother had done by then. It was only a casual reference, in some inherited papers, to the two families being cousins (of different surnames of course), that gave us the clue to follow this up.

I am particularly chuffed because the researcher said that the work I have been able to do using internet sources is very impressive. That is encouraging. I am afraid there are still a lot of questions I want answering, however, and some new ones, which I think I shall have to go back to Kendal for (and pay for).

Left to right: Jones Taylor; his son Harry; his grandson Michael (my husband).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Climbing trees - still waiting

I wrote here about the research I had been doing into my husband's forbears, and how it had taken such a hold on my imagination. I am still waiting to hear from the Kendal Records Office, whether they have been able to validate my research findings. They told me it would be 12 weeks before their archivist would get round to my request, but that time is now up.

I have been in some sort of suspended animation while I waited; now I am moving into a mood of fidgeting impatience, so great has been my investment of time and interest in this project. There are family members, both old and newly discovered, with whom I shall share the information, but I do not feel I should say a word until I am sure of my ground. Meanwhile I am playing around with it all, creating documents, planning bits of writing, scanning old pictures - knowing that much of it may fall apart if I haven't got things right.

These are my husband's great grandparents on his mother's side, in 1853. We have just inherited them in splendid heavy gold frames. I think they are pencil portraits though they look like photographs. I suppose they could have been photos at that date. If you click on them to enlarge you can see for yourself. The man (who was a surgeon) has a frown between his eyes which makes him human, while the woman looks quite unreal to me. Get that waist - get those shoulders - get that mouth; all idealised, would you say? But the man's mouth is a bit dimply-pouty too, and enlargement reveals that his lips have been tinted red, though his wife's portrait does not appear to have had that advantage.

Poetic fragment

I have recently come across this piece of verse among my husband's papers. I can't recollect seeing it before. As he worked for an engineering insurance firm, he may have written it for the house journal. I think it has a Gilbertian feel about it. He would have delighted in introducing a touch of ridicule to the rather stiff and stuffy world of insurance.

It is not clear to me whether the three lines starting with a dash were alternatives he planned to choose between, or whether he was allowing himself some poetic extravagance. I don't think it matters which.


It is the public’s firm belief
that rates are always found
by methods scientific and
statistically sound

Mathematically based, let’s say
allowing in each £
a modest bit of profit but
statistically sound

The truth is rather different
we use our gifts and flair
to raise a hand aloft and grab
a rate from out thin air

Or else there’s this (no doubt you wish
our mysteries to plumb)
to get the true and perfect rate
one sucks it from one’s thumb

And who shall say that we are wrong
if as each year comes round
we’ve made a bit and paid our way -
there really is no ground
- for saying we have gone to pot
- that rating’s just a lot of rot
- that no-one really cares a jot

In fact we think we’re rather hot
at rating (and we do a lot)
not always scientific but
statistically sound

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our love affair with the Citroen 'Safari' - continued

Our third Safari stayed with us for nine years, I am happy to say, and went with us all over the UK, on holiday to France, and later for a three-year posting to Belgium. But eventually, in 1982, it too had to be retired, too worn out even to drive away. My husband assists sadly at its loading onto the flatbed truck, knowing that he is not likely to be driving a Safari again.

He was right - his next buy was a Citroen GSA Special, and it might even have been a new one. It was not unlike the Safari, and as far as I remember it had the hydraulic suspension which had made the Safaris such fun to watch, at switch-on and stwitch-off, as they rose up or sank down upon their haunches. But the GSA did not have the highly unusual and distinctive front end - (which incidentally made the Safari too big for me to handle comfortably!) And although it was an estate, I don't think it was an eight-seater; but by that time the older boys were leaving home and we no longer travelled en famille.

I don't remember the fate of the GSA, or what came after that, but I had my own car by then anyway - (that is a Simca in the background of the picture above). But I am sure Michael went on driving Citroens, and in 2001 he bought his last one, a Xara. It was quite a small car compared with his first love, and it did not have the hydraulic break system which made the Safaris such an attraction for children, (but which was also the cause of our near disaster on the Motorway in 1969). He drove the Xara until the last few months of his life in 2006, faithful to Citroen until the end.

Michael was a man who liked to be different - which sometimes meant awkward, but more often just unusual or original. This was a personal taste I shared with him readily, and the Citroen Safari Break suited us perfectly in that respect. It was rare to see another on the road in this country, and we all felt pleasingly remarkable during those years when the Safari was our car of choice.

Our love affair with the Citroen 'Safari'

This is a picture from Wikipedia of the Citroen DS Break, also known as the Safari, Familiale or Wagon. They were made, it seems, from 1955 until 1975, and with those initials it is not surprising that people thought of it as a 'déesse' or 'goddess'.

My husband fell in love with the Safari in 1969 when, our family having increased to six with the birth of the youngest in 1967, we began looking for a seriously big estate car. The two main contenders at that time were a Peugeot (506 I think), and a Citroen Safari, both of which had extra seats at the back.

I was favouring the Peugeot, as I had seen it in action with another family of 6, but my husband came home one day and said "I've bought a second-hand Citroen Safari" - and that was it, love at first sight. Nothing I could say, over the next thirteen years, about how the hydraulic suspension aggravated my travel sickness, made a ha'porth of difference: we continued to run a Safari as our family car from 1969 until 1982. Theywere always second-hand, as I suspect they were already becoming collectors' items.

There certainly was a cachet to driving those old Safaris, and we would sometimes acknowledge each other if we met one on the road. I was disappointed of a greeting though, on the occasion when we drove into a supermarket car park in our third, green, Safari, and found an empty slot alongside another green Safari! I scribbled a short note of cheery greeting on a scrap of paper, and stuck it under their windscreen wiper. When we came out with our shopping the other Safari had gone, and - miserable spoilsports - they had not responded by leaving a greeting for us.

But that is jumping ahead. Our first Safari had a disastrously short life with us, and we have no picture of it. On New Year's Eve 1969 we were moving house from Cheshire to Hertfordshire, and as we left the Watford Gap services after a refreshment break, the car caught fire - a leak of the hydraulic break fluid had sparked it off. Imagine us, with No 3 son on the bench seat in front between us, in a makeshift harness, and No 4 son in a little metal-framed car/chair seat with a tray, in the middle of the back seat, with his two eldest brothers on either side of him. The boot area was choc-a-bloc with all our most treasured possessions which I had not wanted to trust to the removal men. In the time it took me to get out and get No 3 out, our eldest (age 11) had unharnessed and lifted the baby out of his 'non-quick-release' chair, and we were all in the road and moving fast away from the burning car. Nobody was hurt, and my husband managed to offload much of our luggage, though not all, but the car was a write-off.

The write-off was soon replaced by this elegant silver-blue one, a later model which had bucket seats in the front. Alas, within three years it received a rear-end shunt while we were stopped for road works on the way back from a holiday. It must have been frightening for the boys sitting on the sideways facing seats in the back, as they watched it coming. Again no-one was hurt, but this one too proved to be not worth repairing, so once more there was a change - to a green one this time.

[To be continued]

Friday, October 12, 2007

Punch magazine

Lee commented on my last post that it was a pity Punch went belly up. I tried to remember just exactly when that was, and I couldn't. But not surprisingly there is a great Punch website with the full history of the publication and a whole gallery of cartoons, which is well worth looking at.

To paraphrase the introductory paragraph on the website: Punch, the magazine of humour and satire with an international reputation for its irreverent take on the world, was started in 1841 and lasted until 2002. It was a very British institution which gave us the cartoon as we know it today. Its political cartoons swayed governments while its social cartoons captured life in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was set up with a capital of £25 and was not an instant success, although eventually it enjoyed more than 100 years of popularity before beginning to decline in the 1980s. It closed down in 1992 but was relaunched in 1996 by Harrods proprietor, Mohamed Al Fayed, only to close again finally in 2002, leaving a legacy of over 160 years of humour and wit unsurpassed in publishing history.

Punch was the only magazine that my husband would read, and when it first closed down it was mourned by both of us. When it was relaunched it had changed its format and style and neither of us enjoyed it any longer, but felt that we had failed to move forward with it.

I am currently giving houseroom to seven bound volumes dating from 1884 to 1890, and several special issues and almanacks. As none of my sons seems to be interested in them, I may be lucky enough to keep them. Cartoon style has changed enormously in all these years - some of the old captions for instance are very long-winded, and the drawing tends to be much more elaborate and detailed. I think attention spans were longer in those days!
Oh yes, and a footnote which might interest Lee .....

The full name of Du Maurier, who drew the cartoon "True Humility" about the curate's egg which was excellent in parts, was George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier. His son was the actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, and his granddaughter Daphne du Maurier wrote best-selling novels. I had never associated the three names until yesterday.
[The cartoons are Punch copyright, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Punch Ltd ]

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More punches

Here is a cartoon drawn by du Maurier in 1888, the same artist who drew the "curate's egg" cartoon , entitled "True Humility", from which Lee took the title of his blog. The caption should be legible if you click and enlarge the picture, but in case you can't read it:

Edwin (suddenly, after a long pause). "Darling!"
Angelina. "Yes, Darling?"
Edwin. "Nothing, Darling. Only Darling, Darling!"
[Bilious Old Gentleman feels quite sick.]

The caption is part of my cultural heritage - I think my parents must have quoted it to each other often in their soppier moments!

This one I love particularly for the charicature of the 1920s styles, and the absurd posturing, both physical and verbal, of the shop assistant.

And how about the 'sugar daddy' in spats in the background, whom one can imagine being called upon to pay for the sorry remains of the obliging animal. I remember my grandmother's generation wearing fox furs - head, legs, tail and all, with glaring glassy eyes - draped around their necks, and there was one in my dressing-up chest for years, until I learned to dislike it and chucked it out.

Drawn by Beauchamp in 1929.

Assistant. "It suits Moddam perfectly. One would think the animal died for Moddam!"

[The cartoons are Punch copyright, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Punch Ltd ]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'Punch' classics

I don't seem able to write at the moment, so here is a Fougasse cartoon published in Punch Magazine in 1931.
The caption reads:
"And what was it you said you were suffering from?"
And a story without words by J W Taylor
from 1951.
[The cartoons are Punch copyright, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Punch Ltd ]

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More blessed to give .....

I wrote here some time ago about the Freecycle organisation, for recycling goods which you no longer want, but which are still serviceable. I have been making good use of it lately. A year of helping my sons to tidy up my husband's possessions has left me convinced that I must do something about my own junk NOW, before I go. And this is not only for their sakes as my executors, but for my own too: with the extra boxes of my husband's stuff which are still cluttering two spare rooms, I have begun to feel seriously burdened by all the clutter around me. So I have made a start on sorting and throwing out ..... and I am on a roll. Having got going I am finding it hard to stop. I lie awake at night thinking of new areas of operation, and restraining myself with difficulty from jumping up there and then to get at them.

But it is not just the satisfaction of clearing out which keeps me at it. It is the much greater reward of finding homes for stuff which other people are really glad to have. Many of them send me emails after collecting something,
to tell me how pleased they are.

One woman who had a pair of red curtains (which I didn't like), sent this email:
Just like to say they bring sunshine type brightness into my room. Thank you very much.

Another said:

Thank-you very much for the wool and paper. My oldest son (who designs cartoon characters) already has a couple of designs ready for me to make into small stuffed 'critters' . The paper has been half snapped up for the children's club, and the other half my youngest son wants to try paper weaving with. Thanks again.

And finally:

I am just writing to say thank you so much for the cot sheets. I am guessing they must be quite old, as it is virtually impossible these days to get such lovely quality linens. The cotton is so soft, it almost feels like velvet - the only other place I’ve ever found sheets like that was in my Nan’s house! They are very much appreciated, and our little boy will get many, many nights of lovely sleep in them. We will pass on the pink ones to our neighbour, who has just had a little girl.

This family sent me a photo of their baby, and when they came back a second time for something else, they brought him with them to show him off to me.

It's a win-win activity, and no mistake.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Taking in, getting rid, and saying goodbye

It's been a hectic time these last two weeks. As soon as I got back from my holiday I had to set to and clear space in my garage to store the last of the boxes of stuff from my late husband's house, until such time as the family can get together to go through it all. Also needing storage is the stuff waiting to be packed and dispatched to my eldest son in Sydney.

The buyers of the house were getting very impatient for a date for vacant possession - you have to wait for probate before the sale can be completed - and when we finally got that it was a mad scramble to settle the matter before they lost interest in buying. By last Saturday the garage was still full of furniture and boxes awaiting collection by No 2 son, but by Sunday that was dealt with, and on Monday we finally handed over the keys of the house. I paid a last visit on Sunday, and said my goodbyes to Michael yet again, almost a year after he left there himself. Stripped though the house was, it was still his place. Here are two pictures of him, aged 16 months and 83.

I have taken advantage of all this house clearance, to get rid of some furniture of my own for which I no longer have a need. When the auctioneers came to collect my husband's unwanted furniture, I said a sad goodbye to this child's cot-bed, which I have sent to the auction house as well. It was bought for my mother in 1902 from Heal's in London - I had the receipt to say so - and I and my children have also slept in it. To my regret, I never got a grandchild here to use it though, and now they are all too big. I wept a little before letting it go. I kept my teddybear however. He is not quite so old as the cot, but almost as old as me.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!

I've been on holiday and forgot to tell you I was going.

I am fit and well and I've had a grand time. Among other things I've been staying in Worcester with Burnie the Hot Bear and his friends Sheila and Stephen, with whom I stayed in their previous home in Pershore, two years ago.

I'll post properly very soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

There is no away ...

Catchy phrase, eh? Or does it puzzle you? Here is the full sentence:




I still had to think about it a bit, though. It was the headline to a magazine advertisement by Shell, offering "real energy solutions for the real world". It went on: "If only we had a magic bin and could throw stuff in and make it disappear for ever. What we can do is find creative ways to recycle." It then specified two ways in which Shell is doing this, but I didn't have time to copy them down - (I was in the hairdresser). Here is its website though

Since reading that ad I have found the phrase "there is no away" echoing in my head, and making me feel ever more conscious of the rubbish that goes into my general household waste, destined only for landfill. One way of being creative is through FREECYCLE.

This is an international recycling group on the internet hosted by Yahoo. I expect many of you have come across it. I think it started in America, but there are local groups in many areas in the UK now. If you have something you no longer need, you offer it to the group by email, and anyone interested gets in touch with you. You then pick one person and arrange for them to collect from you. You can equally post a 'wanted' email for something you need, though the idea is to give more than you ask for. You should be able to get in touch with branches all over the world by clicking here.

Don't be disappointed though if you are still left with some of your junkiest rubbish on your hands to be taken to the local dump. Which makes me think of an interesting experiment: how about offering something really rubbishy on Freecycle, and also for sale on Ebay. What do you think the chances are that a buyer would be found on Ebay, but no takers on Freecycle?

Afterthought :: Back in the 1970s, when I used to read a lot of science fiction, I imagined the worst waste scenario that I could: that for want of any further room on earth, mankind would start firing its rubbish into space, leaving it to circle the globe endlessly, reducing sunlight to the merest glimmer, so that we gradually became a race of pallid, peering, stunted creatures .......... urghh! I don't think I want to imagine any further ..... er, are we nearly there yet?

Is this a first?

In the last eight days I have had two Outpatient appointments at hospital clinics: one for an ultrasound scan of my carotid arteries (looks OK the technician says but a consultant has to interpret it), and one to see a dermatologist.

With both of these I was into the consulting room, seen to, and out again before the clock had quite reached the time of my appointment. Sometimes things go better than you expect!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Climbing trees again

Quite an exciting day today. Stitchwort left me a comment on my last post, in which she told me about the website (free births, marriages and deaths). As she said, they have got most of the General Register Office index transcribed and searchable without charge, and if you click on a "pair of spectacles" symbol you can see the scan of the original GRO page, and enlarge it enough to read the entry.

The entries are all post 1837, so they are a bit late for some of the enquiries I am making, but I was able to find the month and year of birth of my husband's father, which we hadn't known before, and it was quite a moving moment to bring up a photograph of the actual index page with the entry on it. Now I have to decide whether I want to pay for a copy of the birth certificate - probably not!

I found one or two other birth dates as well, but it is much easier where the person has an unusual name. My husband's father was Harry Fisher Taylor, and his brother Herbert Gate Taylor, so there was only one entry for each of them in the right place at the right time. I was not so lucky with the other two siblings, Frederick and Mary Isabel, as there were a number of entries to choose from for each. There's a peck of frustration for only a pinch of success in this game!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Response to comments

There is a fault in my comment section at the moment. The security window keeps popping up repeatedly and getting in the way of the comment box so comments can't be keyed in. This is happening on my own blog, and some of the other's I visit too. So I will have to make the responses I want to make here in a new post.

Climbing Trees (Genealogical research)

Paul ~ Yes, such a tool would be invaluable. On Avus's suggestion I took a look at, and thought it looked very promising. However, as soon as you get past the first page of interesting basic data, you have to sign up for a subscription (around £79.00 for a year), or a free 14 day trial. But even for the free trial you have to give them your card details, so they can charge you the minute the trial is over, if you haven't remembered to cancel. I just am not prepared to play that game.

My brother, who is the serious researcher in my family, tells me:

"There has, over the years, been a lot of criticism of in that they are very ready to take your money and reluctant to allow you to cancel. I don't know if this is still the case, although I suspect they may have pulled their socks up. I know that they are very widely used, however."

Avus ~ As you are happy with, perhaps you would tell us how you get the best value for money out of their system. Do you go for the full year's subscription? Have you tried Pay Per View (£6.95 for 12 views of records over 14 days)? I should be most interested to hear. I think there is an American website too, but I don't know about one for Canada, Paul.

The Sun

Julie ~ Thanks for the link to the cloud website. I agree that coudless blue skies can be quite wearing if the sun is in pitiless mood. I should no doubt be grumbling about heat exhaustion if we were to get that sort of weather to replace this.

Sharon ~ Nice to see you here again. I'm afraid I've been a bit short on inspiration in the last few months.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The sun

The sun is shining this morning. Is that really something worth blogging about? You notice I dare not even say 'today', but only 'this morning'. In this abysmal, dismal summer in which we are drowning this year, here in the UK, waking up to sunshine is certainly something worth noting.

I am a SAD case. Well, I may not actually suffer clinically from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I sometimes think I am not far off it. Another summer like this one, and I could well lose my will to live.

OK - I don't want to depress you all. But I am sure there are few of you who will not resonate to what I am saying, except perhaps those who live in permanently sunny climes. My friends in Australia may not have the same problem, though they may have others.

So I have decided to celebrate the sun today. I searched Google Images for depictions of the sun. I was surprised at how few simple, graphic or cartoon-style images there were. I looked at 20 pages with 18 images on each, and found only 10 out of 360. I am offering you the best of these.

I also looked for poems about the sun. The first to catch my eye was one by Katrina Mathy which speaks directly from and to my heart:

I sit and wait for the sun to come
For the fog to clear
For I wish to leave this deep dark rest

I sit and wait for the sun to come
For the light to come back to my heart
For I wish to leave this barren cell

I sit and wait for the sun to come
For the rain to stop
For the thoughts to depart

I sit and wait for the sun to come
For the tears to stop
For the pain to cease

I sit and wait for the sun to come
For now it is too late
For now I will no longer come

But this is meant to be a celebration, so, a poem by Hafiz
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
"You owe Me"

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky

And finally a quotation from William Empson, which also takes the long, long view:

Gods cool in turn, by the sun long outlasted.