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).