Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More retro fashions

Here are some more body-distorting fashions; these are taken from a souvenir programme for a Grand Church Bazaar held in Birmingham in 1905. This curious body shape, with bust thrust foward and the backside thrust backwards is, I think, what was known as 'the grecian bend'. Ladies accentuated it with high heels, but I doubt if the maids wearing these outfits did so. Can you imagine running up and down several flights of stairs, at the beck and call of your mistress, in a tightly corseted outfit such as this? Of course the advertiser's picture is idealised, and it seems unlikely to me that most hard working maids, or sensible women come to that, would impose this fashion on themselves in it's extreme forms. But it does make you understand why a couple of decades later women were going for the flat, straight look of the picture I posted here.

If you are interested, you can read more about these deformations of the body here on the Victoria and Albert Museum website.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Recipe Book - nearly 200 years old

This has been fascinating to find out about. I had no idea who the Recipe Book belonged to, except that it had come to me via my Mum. The owner had not written her name inside, nor any dates. I was able to discover the approximate age of the book, however, as there were dates on some of the loose sheets inserted into it. The earliest of these, the recipe for Elder Wine at the foot of this post, is dated 1822. But far more exciting than that was finding the page of recipes below written for a child . Not only are they dated 1841 and 1843, but the second one is headed: "For Arthur Faraday 2 3/4 years". This meant that I could trace the child through the genealogy my brother is working on, and it turns out that he is my great great uncle; it seems a fair bet therefore that the book belonged to his mother, or that is, one of my great great grandmothers. What is more, it appears that her brother was a 'druggist' working in the Bull Ring in Birmingham, as his name and address are at the head of some of the loose recipes.

See text below

H.I.A. Letter July 5th 1841

For Baby - 5 mo's old

complaint Diarrhoea

first 2 grs Hydrargé Cretâ


Prepared Chalk

Pow’d Gum Arabic

Pow’d Sugar of each 1 drachm

Water 4 oz

Ess peppermint 20 drops (3 drops of ours)

Laudanum 10 drops mixed

a tea spoonful 3 or 4 times a day

if the bowels be much relaxed – not otherwise -

For Arthur Faraday 2 ¾ years

Worm Powder

Rg Calomel 2 grs

Compound Powder Scammony 4 grs

in a powder – One every third morning in treacle

H I A Nov 7 - 1843

Monday, May 28, 2007

79-year-old fashions

The treasures are beginning to emerge now from the paperwork. Here is an advertisement page torn out of The Tatler on 28th March 1928, when I was four months old - bosoms bound tightly to the chest, by the looks of it, so as to have no discernible bust!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The paper trail of generations

My brother came to see me yesterday - he lives a 40-minute drive away. Each of us had a bunch of family papers which had come down to us, and which we needed to finish sorting and making decisions about: keep; chuck; or send to a museum or records office? We last tackled them five years ago, and it has taken us until now to complete the job. Well, I say complete, but each of us handed over a bunch of papers to the other one to take away, rather than spend all day on the job, so each of us still has some decisions to make.


We have been dealing with:

A file of papers about the sale by our grandfather in 1942 of our great grandfather's jewellery business - [Premises and contents = £209.8s.6d: Goodwill = £100.0s.0d: less Expenses = £260.11s.1d]


Our grandfather's personal papers and souvenirs.

Our mother's and father's personal papers and souvenirs.

Our mother's sister's personal papers and souvenirs.

All these include, according to the talents and interests of each individual: letters; writings; artwork; photographs; theatre programmes; souvenirs of the war and of professional, artistic, literary and political associations; diaries, address books ............ eeeek!


And upstairs in one of my spare rooms are boxes and boxes of my late husband's papers and souvenirs and photographs etc to be sorted through in due course.

And here in my workroom, as you can see from my pictures which take a turn around the room, I am building up my own massive collection of papers to pass on to my heirs.


What folly for my brother and me to have left it until now to deal with our forbears' leavings. The generations march relentlessly on, and we need to keep up or our heirs will be swamped.

Of course, we could just chuck everything away regardless. But my brother has his family genealogy which he is building up on his computer, and needs anything relevant to that. And in addition to keeping stuff I might use in my autobiographical notes, I am just plain sentimental. Throwing away my parents' love letters to each other, for instance, seems somehow like throwing away their love for each other, and for the family they created out of their happiness.

But somehow we must catch up, or we shall live the rest of our lives in the past!!!!!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

About memes

The word 'meme' is new to me, and I am always reluctant to use a word if I do not fully understand it. I looked it up in some sources, and asked my son how he understood it, but then I went a bit wild and entered 'meme' in the Google Image search. One is rarely disappointed - of course there were pictures describing memes; but my eye was caught by a beautiful photograph of a sunset which hardly seemed relevant. I followed the picture to the website of Nandita, and searched her blog for 'meme'. She is involved with a number of memes, but in a slightly different way, that is to say, not by inviting interviews, but by tagging people for them. If you are interested in her blog memes, follow the link I have given you to her website - I think she has some good stuff there. She will have your mouth watering for Indian cuisine, too.

Lillie interviews me

Pauline has started a round of interviews between bloggers. She sent her questions to Lillie, who answered them, and then invited others to be interviewed by her. I was one of those who agreed, and she has now sent me her questions. So here goes…..

1. So far, what decade of life (in general) do you think is the best? Why?

I find it difficult to answer this ‘in general’, as I think it may be so different for each individual. For me, I would say firstly my teens, when I was happy at home and in my co-educational boarding school, conscious of learning and growing physically, emotionally and intellectually, but still without real responsibilities. But then I would say also my 20s, full of experimentation, adventure, drama, falling in and out of love, and eventually getting married. Then my 30s were pretty good, as I produced four beautiful sons one after another. Maybe the 40s and 50s slipped by less remarkably, but my 60s and 70s perked up again as I got my second wind and discovered new roles to fulfil.

So, trying to return to ‘the general’, perhaps I would suggest that the best decade(s) are those in which we feel we have been most ourselves, most interested in and stimulated by life and most achieving - and who can say which decades those will be for any person?

2. What is the favourite thing of each of your senses?

Sound: the sea or running water; morning birdsong;

Sight: green growth; country landscapes;

Smell: it’s a tossup between freshly baked bread and roasting meat;

Taste: halva; anything nutty, but it is halva which gets me eating
compulsively, in the way that I understand many people eat chocolate.

Touch: a man’s naked body against mine – at least I think so, but it’s been a long time!

3. Name five people, fictional or historical, you would like to invite
to a dinner party and tell us why.

Jesus of Nazareth
:: because I would like to hear the Christian story from the source.

Richard Dawkins :: because I would like to hear him argue the case against God with Jesus.

Jane Austen :: to have the benefit of her woman’s observation and wit on the social scene of today.

Rameses II, Egyptian Pharaoh 1304-1237 B.C. :: for insights into a fascinating civilisation from the past. (If I knew who were the principal recorders of those times, I might invite one of them instead.)

And breaking from the prescribed terms for this question, a living person from the UK TV programme “Have I got news for you?” – a satirical quiz on current events:

Paul Merton :: British comedian, for his sharp, off-the-cuff, instantaneous humour.

[PLEASE NOTE: I could offer no guarantees as to the success of the party!]

4. What activity do you wish you had either done or done more of? Explain.

Dancing :: I was embarrassed as a child when asked to ‘perform’ at a children’s party, feeling clumsy and uninspired. As a teenager I began to enjoy ballroom dancing, but had few opportunities as an adult for enjoying it. Then suddenly, in my 50s, after my children had left home, I began attending classes in Ballroom, Latin American, Disco and Scottish Country Dancing, and at the same time began to watch every possible kind of dancing which could be found on TV.

I soon felt a terrible restlessness within me, as though I had all these moves in my body, locked up and trying to beat their way out. I sensed that dancing could free me physically, emotionally and spiritually. But it was already too late to begin any sort of serious training in any of the disciplines, and although I continued to attend classes and gain medals in the beginners’ grades, I had no regular partner, which made the whole exercise rather sad. Maybe I just imagine that “I could have been a dancer”, but my body still yearns when I hear any music with a danceable beat. I even created a workshop for fellow ‘oldies’ called “Dancing Sitting Down”.

5. Of what are you most proud?

I have no higher education qualification or professional training, and the jobs I took after leaving school were marking time until – I hoped – I should marry and start a family. I am proud therefore of the ‘career’ I eventually made for myself over a period of about 10 years in my 50s, based on my voluntary position as a school governor.

I got involved at local and national level in organisations dedicated to governor support and training, and along with governor colleagues, worked closely in these areas with our County Council’s Education Department, implementing new government legislation. Despite, or perhaps because, I maintained a sturdy political independence, I gained the trust and respect of both county councillors and education officers, and was eventually co-opted on to the Education Committee, as the first governor representative to hold this seat, newly-created by our Council for the purpose. I don’t often blow my own trumpet, but a friend once said of me that I was ‘completely straight’, and that is certainly what I always try to be, going for the best outcome with no secondary political or personal agendas.

The story was told about me that on one occasion when the representatives of the political parties at County Hall met with the Education Officer to appoint school governors, my name came forward. The representative of one party asked: “She’s not one of ours is she?” The member for another party replied: “Well, she’s not one of ours”, and the education officer said: “No, she’s not anybody’s”. He didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him, but I reckoned he couldn’t have paid me a better compliment!

Bonus :: What luxury is the very last you’d be willing to give up?

On the assumption that family and friends are not luxuries, my choice would be :: My hairdresser, with my computer coming a close second.

Directions for the Interview Meme:
1. Leave me a comment saying "Interview Me."
2. I will respond by asking you 5 questions. (I get to pick the questions.)
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them 5 questions.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

No recall

I hear voices from the past
Telling me that I was wrong
And I'm listening at last
To the meaning of their song

And I'm feeling so much pain
For the hurt that I caused you
If I had the time again
How much better I could do

But the saddest thing of all
And the hardest pain to bear
Is to know there's no recall
For you are no longer there

Monday, May 14, 2007

Revealing all

Herhimnbryn has commented on my computer skills in producing a banner for my other blog, and I am going to answer her here, as one can never be sure if someone is going to come back again to pick up a comment on a comment.

My impulse to crow about my success with the header was principally powered by astonishment at having any success at all, and it's a bit of a makeshift really. What I really wanted is a picture which fits the banner without being distorted, but I don't know how to do that. Having gone this far, I may as well reveal all, in case it is of any use to anyone.

I Googled on Images for a picture of pouring tea - the title originates in the familiar exchange: "How do you like your tea?" - "Oh, just as it comes, thanks". It has the implication that I have taken my life just as it comes, too. I saved it then put it into the Paint programme. There I could stretch it sideways, and it was pure chance/luck that stretching it to the full width of the Paint page just fitted the template banner - it doesn't fit my Not Dead Yet banner for instance. Also in Paint I was able to add the text, then I saved it as a Jpg so my photo editing programme would accept it, and there I trimmed off the blank page that was left on it from the Paint Programme. I could, alternatively, have added the text in my photo edit programme, but there is only a small choice of fonts there.
I can't tell you how many experimental moves, false starts and repetitions there were in the process. And there is probably a much simpler way of doing it, if I did but know. But I reckon it was as good a mental exercise as crosswords or sudoku, so there you go.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Following through

Another night's sleep, and early morning reflection, and I realised I had not fully explored the possibilities of stre-e-e-tching my picture in the Paint programme.

Here is a somewhat better result for my Just as it comes... header.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My challenge

Well! It's been a busy four days while I set up my new blog. I've been glued to the computer for most of each day, which leaves me rigid and aching by the evening, but what the hell! I've transferred most of the old life story posts, re-edited them, and added new material. Today I have started writing new material about the next stage of my life in Birmingham, aged 8 to 11. Not a huge advance in terms of my accumulated years, but I feel I am over the hump now, and that memories are beginning to flow more convincingly. It is surprising how much more you start to remember once you start.

I've altered the name once - let's hope Google catches up with the fact eventually. The Blogger Help section doesn't suggest that there is any risk attached to changing it.

I often wake about 4 am, but don't usually go down for breakfast till around 7. This morning I spent the time thinking about how I could contrive a picture header for the new blog; then when I came down at 7 and switched on (always the first thing I do), I found I had done one before even eating my bowl of cereal. I am very pleased with myself for being able to put together bits and pieces of computer knowledge to make it work. It's not wholly satisfactory as a finished product, and I may go back to simple words eventually, but it was fun to do. I had to find an image and then stre-e-e-tch and stre-e-e-tch it to make it fill the header box.

I did one for this blog too, but it doesn't fill the space so well, so I'm not going to use it. It's probably impossible to recognise the coffin in it anyway!

So - now I think I'll take a break, and maybe do some washing and ironing tomorrow, collect my new glasses, change my pin numbers, and generally get back to normal life.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

My new blog - a challenge!

Yesterday was big decision day! Back in September I wrote here about the idea of splitting my blog into two, to have all my autobiographical posts together. The opinions of my reader friends were about equally divided, so I let the idea go for the time being. But now I have found a sufficiently compelling reason to make the change.

A couple of nights ago I read in a friend's blog about how she had suffered from depression after her mother died, but how she had been helped by having a
daily challenge to meet. With a blinding flash I realised that that was exactly what was happening to me after the loss of my husband last October. It is why I have been feeling lethargic and apathetic, reluctant to get up in the morning, and quite disinclined to pursue my contacts on line. It took me less than 24 hours to come up with my own challenge, not so demanding as hers, but hopefully enough to pull me up and get me going again.

I am challenging myself to write my autobiographical notes at least once a week; and to make this easier I have separated them into a second blog, which should help me to focus on them, and which will certainly be easier to read than following the complicated arrangement of links I had previously in my sidebar. I have not deleted the original posts in this blog, because here they are presented somewhat differently, and with many more pictures.

I spent the whole of yesterday setting up the new blog and transferring the previous posts, up to the point where I now have to start writing new stuff again. Already I feel revitalised, so here goes for the challenge!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Georges Brassens

Talking of handymen, there is a marvellous song about a handyman by one of my favourite French singer-songwriters, George Brassens. He never sang it himself, as he wrote it for cabaret singer Patachou, who helped him to launch his singing career on stage. I first heard it about 50 years ago, and I like it so much that I recently made a literal translation of it, from which I hoped to move on to a rhyming, singable version – but that has proved too great a challenge for me! You can see the original French lyric here.


During rare moments of pause
When he is not repairing something
He looks for an available corner
Where he can still knock in a nail
(Hammer and nails)

(Hammer and nails)
The nail which he hammers in
In the place of yesterday’s nail
He’ll replace tomorrow with a better one
The same one as the day before yesterday,
what’s more.

My God, what happiness !
My God, what happiness
To have a handyman husband
My God, what happiness !
My God, what happiness
To have a handy husband
(Hammer and nails)(2x)

During one of my pregnancies
I constantly grumbled to him
About the unbelievable cost
Of a baby’s layette.
(Hammer and nails) (2x)
But when the child saw the light of day
I found to my utmost delight
That my husband had somehow managed
To make it for me fully dressed.


At the present moment he is installing
A new electrical system
Which will allow mankind, at last,
To make water out of wine.
(Hammer and nails) (2x)
But in his calculations he makes a mistake
And when we drink at the pump
We find ourselves gulping down
A large glass of electricity.


As he is afraid that the riff-raff
Will covet his planes, and his pliers,
At bedtime he puts them all
In the middle of the marriage bed.
(Hammer and nails) (2x)
And often, at night, I wake up
Dreaming of all sorts of wonders
Suggested by a teasing sensation,
But it’s only a brace and bit !

My God, what a misery
My God, what a misery
To have a handyman husband !
My God, what a misery
My God, what a misery
To have a handy husband !

In praise of handymen

My father was a handyman. He could repair pretty well anything, and would also create all manner of useful and attractive items as well – photo frames, small boxes and containers, props for plays - although I don’t believe that he had any power tools to assist him. I remember too a beautiful lead he made for his dog from plaited leather, and some doll’s beds he contrived out of bits of scrap wood, which could be sold at a charity fete in the village. His skills were particularly valuable during the war when materials were scarce, and the government was exhorting us to “make do and mend”. And I am sure I owe it to my father that when I started to live on my own, I knew how to wire a plug, change a fuse, and tie a safe and secure parcel with brown paper and string that would not come undone.

Small surprise, I suppose, that I married just such another handyman, since girls are supposed to seek husbands like their fathers – though I don’t believe I knew of Michael’s DIY skills at the time of our marriage. Many of the objects seized upon joyfully by my sons during our clearing up operations were things he had designed and made himself. In the picture is an offset ring spanner he remade in a new shape, so that it would do the special job he wanted; and a key ring with a beautifully worked fob made out of string. He was a great lover of knots, something which our son Richard has inherited from him.

One of his best designs was a special lamp for our second son when he occupied the bottom bunk. You will see from the picture [pic] that it has a sturdy wooden frame, with wire mesh over the bulb to protect it from injury by romping boys. It fixed to the wall with a bracket, had a switch at the bottom, and connected to a power socket in the skirting board. And it’s painted a jolly yellow to match the wall paint. You can see it in its place in the photograph at the end of the post. Functional and fit for purpose. As were the shelves, the table and the workbench he has made over the years.

Of an entirely different nature was the beautiful toy otter he carved out of wood, a long, smooth, satisfying shape for a small child to grasp in his hand. Tragically, the otter was lost when our car caught fire on the motorway during our removal from Cheshire to Hertfordshire, as it had slipped down between the back seat squabs and was missed when our luggage was rescued from the burning car by my intrepid husband. The drawing he made before starting the carving remains among his papers however.

He also made a house name for my mother, a house number for me (out of an old ‘lazy Susan’ tray), and a mantelshelf for our first cottage home, with four supporting brackets on each of which he carved the initial of a son’s name, as they came along. This is now a bookshelf in Son No 3’s converted barn.

It was only to be expected that with this inheritance, one of our sons should should take on the mantle, and I have already written here about Richard’s inventive talent, which I enjoy just as much as I have enjoyed his father’s, and my father’s. God bless all handymen!

Rites of passage

Over the past two weeks we have been clearing my late husband’s house so that it can be put on the market. I wondered for a while why I felt it was important to be part of the process, (one which my sons could have carried out perfectly well on their own), and why I felt obliged to cancel a trip away with friends, so that I could be with them while the job was done.

Eventually I realised that this final clearance is like a last rite of passage for my husband: when his house has been sold, and his possessions have been divided up between members of his family, given away, or taken to the dump, then he will really be gone, in as much as there will no longer be a physical place which is ‘his’, and where his presence remains, but only the place he has in our hearts and memories. There is something about showing respect: for Michael, for my children, and for the family we have continued to be, despite our separation.

So of course I had to be part of it; and even though my sons have been doing the really hard physical slog, while I have largely remained on the sidelines, I have still been part of the decision making, and a point of reference for sorting things out. And most importantly I have been able to join in the celebration of our shared lives together as a family, as long-forgotton objects come to light, and the cry goes up “Ohh! that’s so typically Dad, we can’t throw that away!”