Wednesday, January 31, 2007

One's real life...

"One's real life is often the life that one does not lead"
Oscar Wilde

I was sitting in the hairdresser's reading The Week - (the magazine that summarizes all the news in 35 pages, and, so they claim, can be read in an hour) - and I came across this quotation. I don't know the circumstances in which Wilde said originally this, but one can readily imagine that he was referring to the fact that, though by nature a homosexual, he had married and had children, so giving himself an acceptable public image and social status.

I began to think about what the words might mean for me, and the kind of circumstances in which it would be appropriate to use them. I came up with five possibilities:
  • We might find ourselves being prevented from living our 'real life' by circumstances, or others' expectations of us, or our own weaknesses.
  • We might choose deliberately to lead a different life from that which we believe to be the right one, though I have not been able to think of an example as yet.
  • Or, to mitigate the dullness of an unsatisfactory lifestyle, we might create a fantasy or ideal life which we try to believe is real.
  • It might be that the opportunity does not present itself for us to fulfil our true and proper role, or what one might call God's, or nature's purpose for us.
  • And we might find ourselves contemplating our lives, from our approaching end, and regretting things we have never done, and that know we could, or more importantly, should have done.

I can associate myself with several of these. Most particularly, the second last. I am inclined to believe that whatever the Creative Principle of the Universe may be, it will often present us with opportunities to take up a role which is right for us, and also serves those around us; it may be a short-term or a long-term role, but it is one in which we will be at our best and most effective, and we shall learn and grow as a result of playing it. I consider that I have been lucky in having had three such opportunities in my life, all of them occurring after I had turned 60, and the role I played is one I would loosely describe as "troubleshooter". But more of that another time .....

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The golden cow

I wrote here a short while ago about my collection of cows, and how I still needed to find a gold one and a glass one for my collection. My good friend Pam pointed out that almost anything can be bought on eBay, and I am now the proud owner of a gold cow. It is absolutely tiny, only 18mm from nose to tail. I think it is really a charm for a bracelet, but as I don't wear bracelets I shall put her on my gold neck chain - perhaps alone, perhaps with my gold 'rape' whistle, as I like to call it! But the whistle is all of 3 cm long, so maybe it is too big to go with the cow.

Thank you Pam. Now I am watching eBay for a glass one, but all the ones there at the moment are cute or kitch or otherwise not to my taste, which is more for the realistic. But perhaps I shall be lucky again.

What turns me on? - continued

Commenting on my post yesterday, Lillie said: "It seems we've found that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder". She is right, but I would add that it is also in the mind of the observer. After thinking about it some more, I have come up with some criteria for attractive partners.

As I said before, I am attracted by talent: in drama, writing, music, comedy, dance - if a man can not only dance well, but can take me round a dance floor and lead me so that I don't falter, he is a winner.

I am attracted to someone from whom I can learn, and who is prepared to teach me.

I am attracted to someone who expects a lot from me and challenges me to extend my own boundaries.

I am attracted to someone with a sense of the ridiculous, of fantasy and of romance.

And - borrowed from Lillie - I am attracted to someone who is verbal and articulate and expressive.

Any one of these would do.......

What turns me on?

This is a picture of singer-songwriter Jake Thackray. I don't even know if I'm supposed to have it, and I don't know who to acknowledge for it. If someone can tell me I will gladly give them credit. It's a scan of a blown up photo, so is not very sharp, but the charm is still there for me.

So what does turn me on? After reading Lee's blog on Boundaries, and Lillie’s response, I have been trying to work it out. I don’t think pictures, as pictures, do anything for me generally: not nudity, over-developed muscles, sexual organs, hair, tattoos, bum fissures, fancy pouches and unnatural poses. I think Lillie put her finger on it when she found a picture to post, only because she had seen the man move and knew his work as an actor.

The picture I have posted appeals to me because I have seen Jake on TV and film and I too know his work pretty well. His talent turns me on. Also his unaccustomed smile here, as most pictures show him to have been a man with a long lugubrious face with hooded eyes - a beau laid as the French say, or ugly in an attractive way. I also have a great weakness for men in white rollneck sweaters. I just ache to get my arms round them!

In the flesh, the ugly can have an irresistible charm, and I am also drawn to tall men, large noses, and long dancer’s legs. But for the quick clench of the stomach and the indrawn breath I think one needs the totally unexpected, as in this diary entry I made in July 2001, when my house was being rewired during a heatwave:

- The 30-year-old electrician stripped to his waist yesterday, it was so hot. His trousers, pockets loaded with tools, sat low on his hips, and his torso was bare to beneath the navel, taught and smooth, an even all-over brown from the sun. Ahh! so beautiful! Why are we able to give ourselves permission only when we are too old to act upon it? God! that stomach – I could have buried my face in it. I hope he couldn’t see the yearning in my eyes, fleeting as it was. It makes me weep as I write……

Friday, January 19, 2007

Addendum to Hats, bonnets and caps

I have found a cute picture of myself in my sunbonnet in 1931, a bonnet which I still have in my dressing up drawer, and have worn as a grown-up to a fancy-dress party.

And here is still another generation: my son in his woolly bonnet in Spring 1963, and in his sunhat in summer 1963.

[This post was edited on 4th February 2007]

Hats, bonnets and caps

Left: My great great great grandmother circa 1830.
Right: My great great grandmother circa 1880.

Left: My great great aunt late 1800s.
Right: My great grandmother late 1800s.

Left: My great aunt early 1900s.
Right: My mother in 1904.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Corner House

Our garden at Henley-in-Arden was detached. We had to cross the back lane, walk through the garage yard, and down alongside the repair shop, and there it was – a charming walled garden with a pond, and also a stream running at the bottom. [The pictures were taken in the garden.] The land rose gently from the stream up to the house and across the high street and up to some high ground known as The Mount. I think there may have been a stream at a higher level too, because I dimly remember a year of great rains when floods came down the hill, and the stream in our garden flooded too and rose up, so the two met in the middle and the whole high street was flooded.

During my earliest years at The Corner House we had two live-in maids, who sometimes wore white caps and aprons. Dorothy and Jenny were sisters, and rather silly and giggly if I remember aright. I recall screams from the kitchen when one of them discovered a mouse floating in a pan of milk, set to separate on the slate slab in our walk-in larder. But I should not be unkind, for they doted on me and enjoyed nothing better than a romp. They used to rouse me to such a pitch of hysteria by tickling my tummy and ribs that my mother was forced to intervene, with all the severity of which she was capable.

One of my favourite memories of my early years is of running along the landing and leaping into my father’s arms as he sat at the top of the stairs. Later when I was older he taught me to ride a bike in the lane at the back of the houses. He would run along behind me holding the saddle to steady me. I remember the day that I managed the whole length of the lane without coming off. I turned to him to share my pleasure, and found that he was still standing at the other end of the lane where I had started. I could ride – and without help too

There was a back staircase from the landing which led down into the shop, and it was an exciting treat for me to be allowed to go down those rather creepy seeming stairs occasionally. I imagine the door to it was kept bolted most of the time.

An annual event in Henley was the mop or fair (descendant of the old hiring fairs). This took place in the market square in front of our house, and was a source of great excitement for me. My father allowed them to run a cable through a window into the house to supply power, and in bed at night I could lie awake delightfully, listening to the raucous music from the roundabout. There was an old lady who had a stall selling brandysnaps just outside the house, and I can remember my eagerness to spend my pennies with her.

In 1935 there was great excitement for the celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee. I remember the souvenir mugs all the children were given, and the bonfire after dark on The Mount, the hill behind the village. I also remember running down the hill on the way home afterwards, and falling into a bed of nettles. I spent an uncomfortable night that night!

In January 1936 the King died, and my parents came to take me home from my primary school in the middle of the day, though I am not sure why. That same year we had to leave The Corner House. One of my father’s business associates had made off with all our money and we were in dire straights. Some time that year we went to live with my maternal grandfather in Handsworth in Birmingham.

Monday, January 15, 2007

An addition to my page

I have added links in my sidebar for my autobiographical posts, so that they can be read more like a single continuous piece of writing.

The narrative posts listed are a quick canter through my life in a chronological sequence. Within the texts I hope to put links to other autobiographical posts that have been written as stand-alone pieces. They are generally more carefully written, and tend to be pieces of special interest, humour or feeling.

I am also planning to put at the foot of each post a link to the next page. This will mean you will not need to return to the sidebar list as long as you continue reading, but only to find your place if you have stopped, and wish to start again.

This is an attempt to make things easier for my readers, and also to organise my material a bit better, and see whether it might justify having a separate blog of its own, or even, eventually, if it might expand into a book. Comments on this experiment will be greatly appreciated. Let’s hope it works!

Late news :: With the new blogger, it is now also possible to gather all my autobiographical postings together on the page, by clicking on the label 'life story' where it appears at the bottom of a post. They will not however appear in chronological order by this route.

My life begins

I left my narrative with my parents in July 1925, when they went out to a tennis match and got married instead, much to the surprise of their families. My father had wanted to emigrate to New Zealand and farm sheep, but his family opposed the idea, and in fact with hindsight I doubt if it would have suited my mother. My father therefore had to find himself some work to do. He had no formal training for anything, having lost the years from 19 to 23 interned as a civil prisoner in Germany, during the first world war.

So they took over a garage business in Henley-in-Arden, near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. There was a corner shop selling spare parts and accessories, with the house over it - known at The Corner House. There were petrol pumps out front, and then across the lane running down the back of the house was a big yard and motor repair shed. My dad loved cars, though he was not much of a business man, sad to say. However, he did show himself in the succeeding years to be an excellent mechanic and handyman, with skills which I believe he developed during his years in prison camp. And as he was happiest when working with his hands, this suited him well.

By early 1927 they were expecting their first child, and I recently came across a beautiful love letter which my mother wrote to my father one night, when she was already in bed, and he was still in the bathroom. What she was writing about was their joyful anticipation of my arrival, though of course they did not know it was ME at that stage. On 29th November I was born, in a nursing home in Birmingham. When she returned home, my mother had what was known as a “monthly nurse” : a live-in nurse to look after the baby, allowing the mother a nice long rest and recuperation period in bed! I believe it was the nurse who imposed the rather rigid babycare discipline of the renowned specialist Dr Truby King, but despite its rigours I seem to have grown up healthy and conscious of being loved.

My memories do not go back to a very early age. Probably my first one is the arrival of my brother when I was three and a half. I remember my father taking me to visit him and my mother in the nursing home, and I decided that the proper thing to take to a new brother was some of my farm animals. My father said he thought we should take some flowers as well and bought a bunch of daffodils

I remember sleeping with my brother in the very large nursery we enjoyed in our first house, and even when I had a room of my own, I used to move back into the nursery with him over Christmas. This had obvious advantages for Father Christmas! Of course we used to wake up much too early, and our parents would come in and take our stockings away from us and tell us to go back to sleep for a while.

I also remember occasions in the nursery when our parents would creep in late at night to check on us, after they had been at some party. How wonderful they looked in their evening dress! They were such a handsome couple, and I think even small children know and appreciate when their parents are looking good. Sometimes – oh delight of delights - they would bring us back balloons and other party favours!

The nursery was the scene of my first lessons too, and you can read about my early learning experience here and here.

[Next page]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Connections, collections and celebrations

One of the delights of blogging for me is the opportunity it gives for seeing connections and making links, as a way of celebrating what interests or pleases me. Let me tell you what has been going on while I drank a cup of tea in bed after breakfast:

I was thinking about a wonderful blog I found recently which has reanimated my interest in antiques and bric-a-brac. I recommend a visit to
Corey's website if you share this interest. She has a wonderful eye for the visual impact of detail, and brings imagination to her pictures to create a story behind them. Looking through her section on French Antiques, I thought what a fabulous coffee table book it would make; or equally, in paperback, one to take into hospital and dip into, during those short-attention hours spent recovering from major surgery.

Inspired, I got up and began searching for some old photos which I knew I had taken of my collection of cows. This is only some of a collection I began in my 20s, starting with Staffordshire pottery cow creamers, but moving on to any cow figure (not bulls!) in any material. The collection includes cows in pottery, brass, pewter, silver, clay, wood, soapstone, animal skin, papier mache, and even candle wax. But I have never been able to find either a gold or a glass one.

In the same album was a picture taken by my brother at my aunt's house in 1981, after she died, just before we began to clear the house. This brought me full circle back to Corey's website and one of her entries in her French Antiques section - collections of small items gathered safely together in large glass apothecary's jars. My aunt's collection was housed in an old dentist's instrument cabinet, which gave a marvellous all-round view of her items, like the big jars do. If you visit Corey's jars you will see the similarities in their display. My aunt's collection inspired me to make a similar one, about which I have written here before.

And so, after a day of musing, remembering, searching, scanning, editing, writing, composing and uploading, here is my celebration: of my own continuing interest in antiques; of my beloved aunt’s artistic eye and her love of small and beautiful items both collected and 'found'; and of Corey’s website with which I have fallen in love. What a day of blessings, not the least of which is, that I have the time to do all this when the spirit moves me!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Vanity count

What, you may be asking yourselves, is this all about? The picture comes to you courtesy of the BBC GCSE Bitesize website, which I found by doing a Google Images search on the word 'counter'. "Counter circuits record the number of times an event takes place" it tells us, and "[this] is a pin-out diagram showing the arrangement of pins in a 4017 counter chip, and a guide to what each pin does". (Go there if you want to know more.)

Whether this has anything to do with the hits counter I have on my blog, I don't know, but I do know that my counter passed the 6000 mark overnight, which is very gratifying. In my first year of blogging I scored 3000 hits. My next 3000 has taken only just over four months.
I have made 140 posts, and have uploaded goodness knows how many pictures. I reckon I had about 18 hits overnight, and there were 4 comments waiting for me this morning, so I must have some silent readers. I suppose I average 4-5 comments a day - depending of course on keeping up my output: no blog, no comments. And in the 17 months since I started I have had comments from about 60 different people, some of them only once, some of them very regularly.

So what about my silent readers? I have to wonder: what interests them in my blog? do I ever shock them? are they too shy to comment? Some will not be interested of course, but perhaps there are others who come regularly but simply do not wish to comment. I wonder what we are missing by not getting to know each other. But they are very welcome to continue their silent visits, and perhaps one day I shall provoke, or entice them into words.

My blog is so many things to me:

A playground - where I lark about, relax, and have fun.

A stage - where I perform, show off and can play many parts.

A schoolroom - where I learn new things and widen my horizons.

A party - where I meet people, talk a lot, and maybe flirt a little.

A workshop - where I am creative linguistically, visually, conceptually.

It is the breath of life to me now.

Drawing of a pre-techno-age 'counter' , borrowed from

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A wish for the new year

Only a week late, this has come to me from a Sri Lankan friend of a friend of mine, and I thought it was too good not to pass on. I have put it in a fancy script to dress it up a bit. The font is called 'Augsberger Initialen'.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hairstyles from the family archives

Left to right:

Two pictures of my mother: as a school girl in 1918, and a year or two later, with different ways of wearing a big flashy bow.

My mother in her early twenties

My mother in 1928, and in 1931. Her hair has come down over her ears, not such pretty styles in my opinion. The one on the left is probably a 'shingle', or even a 'bingle', which was a cross between a bob and a shingle!

Two rather prim styles from the 1920-30s: my mother's sister with rather intriguing little curls in front of the ears. And a friend of the family with 'earphones' - or plaits at the side, wound round to cover the ears.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Identity theft from the deceased

Identity theft is something we are becoming increasingly aware of, but here is an aspect of it which had not entered my mind until I read a magazine article this morning. I am going to reproduce it here because it sounds sensible to me.

You can help protect a deceased relative or friend’s identity by taking some simple precautions:

[1] If you place an obituary notice in a newspaper don’t include details such as age, date of birth, maiden name or address. These can provide criminals with the initial information they need to commit the fraud.

[2] Ensure that all relevant organisations are informed of the death.

[3] Contact the Royal Mail to have mail redirected to you or another responsible person. Also check with the Royal Mail that a redirection has not already been put in place, another favourite of fraudsters when trying to obtain the deceased’s information.

[4] If you take clothing or other belongings to charity shops ensure that all personal documents are removed from pockets, wallets or handbags.

[5] If you use a house clearance company also ensure that any documents are removed. Check drawers, wardrobes and any other areas where documents may have been stored.

[6] Any correspondence which is not required and which contains any personal details should be shredded or burned and not placed intact in refuse bins. This not only applies to bank statements or official communications but to all personally addressed mail. A simple personalised gift catalogue (eg with your personal account number on it), for example, could provide sufficient information for a fraudster.

[7] If the deceased’s home is left unoccupied make sure that the house is checked regularly and that all mail is removed.

[8] If the house is put on to the property market, ask the estate agent not to include ‘vacant possession’ in advertising literature and ensure that all viewings are accompanied.

[9] Register the deceased’s details with the Deceased Preference Service:
[0800 068 44 33 or . This is a completely free consumer service which allows relatives or friends to register the details of a deceased person online, by freephone or freepost. The details are passed on to reputable organisations who use the information to stop unsolicited mail and for fraud prevention purposes. The data is also used by the major credit reference agencies to ensure that any credit applications made in the name of a deceased person are detected and prevented. Both recent deaths and those which occurred in the past may be registered.
[Active Life Magazine - January/February 2007]

[10] Be sure to remove the deceased relative's name from all joint accounts. Finally, contact the credit reporting agencies and request a 'deceased alert'
. This places a notice on the deceased's credit report, telling companies that the person has died and cannot be issued credit. [From the web]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The urn's turn

I wrote here about collecting my husband's ashes from the funeral directors, and wanting to buy a nice urn to keep them in. After discussing it with my son, we decided to order this one on Ebay, even though it has to come from the American manufacturer, because it is just so right for my Michael. The shipping costs are almost as great as the cost of the item, but it still works out cheaper than the only posh urn the funeral directors could offer us.

Since placing the order I have enjoyed an exchange with the supplier which has taught me something about the value of the emoticon in emails. Following confirmation of my order the supplier sent me two advertising emails, simply drawing my attention to his catalogue. This irritated me, as I had only ordered one, and it seemed obvious to me that I would not have a regular need to buy cremation urns. Here is the rest of our exchange::

From me: Please stop sending me these notices. I have purchased one cremation urn from you, and am unlikely to need another until I am put in an urn myself.

From supplier: I'm very sorry--I took you off the list--------Paul

[At which point I thought I had been a bit terse, so ...]

From me: Thanks ~ I'll make a note of your name for my Executors! ;-)

From supplier: Happy New Year !! Paul

Now I am feeling good, and so will put Paul's link here and feel even better. [NB - his site appears to be under construction at the moment.]