Saturday, 13 December 2008

A CHRISTMAS TALE

I thoughtI would have a little break from my own story, and give you a Christmas present. Here is a tale written especially for the season. Enjoy XXX



A CHRISTMAS TALE
The old man sat in the corner of the ‘pull-in’ café, his hands wrapped tightly around the mug that had once held strong, brown, steaming hot tea. His eyes held a look that said his thoughts were a hundred miles away, and his fingers had yet to tell his brain that the empty mug was no longer keeping his hands warm.
“Come on Dad, you can’t stay there all night”
The café proprietor pushed a cheese roll that had seen better times across the counter.
“Here, for God’s sake, take this and go find yourself a place to settle for the rest of the night.”
It was Christmas Eve and so, perhaps, unwittingly, the gift of a stale cheese roll really was for God’s sake thought the old man. But he doubted it. However, he rose slowly and unsteadily to his feet, and shambled over to the counter where he picked up the offering and stuffed it into his over-coat pocket.
With a grunt that could have been interpreted as thank you, or sod you, he made his way out into the cold, bleak, night.
The wind cut through his thin coat like shards of ice, even though he’d tied a length of rope around his waist in an effort to keep it out. His feet were wrapped in old newspapers and stuffed into boots that were too large, and did little to keep him warm. Clutching a black plastic bin liner containing all his worldly goods, he shuffled along the street looking for a likely doorway to shelter in.
He must find somewhere soon. He was so tired, and his chest was playing him up again. Each breath he took rasped in his throat and then wheezed out again on a cloud of steam.
He recalled that around the next corner was an old disused entrance to a London Underground station. He’d once shared a bottle of dubious alcohol with an old tramp at that very spot. He wondered where the old fellow was now. How terrible it was, to be a tramp at Christmas time. Of course, he wasn’t a tramp, just a traveller temporarily down on his luck. Still, he knew what it was like to be without a bed or a good meal.
The railway entrance suddenly loomed up from the frosty darkness and thankfully ‘the traveller’ made his way to the back of it and huddled as deeply as he could into the corner. An old newspaper that had blown in on the wind was soon tucked around his legs.
He reached into the depths of his coat pocket and, rummaging for several seconds, finally pulled out the stale, and somewhat fluffy, cheese roll, which he proceeded to devour with much grunting and lip smacking. When the last crumb had been wiped from his lips he gave a long agonising sigh, and rested his head against the wall.
His mind began to wander as he tried to remember when life had been good. Back in his childhood days it had been very good.
Tom, (how long it had been since anyone had called him Tom), and his elder brother Will had lived with their parents Sarah and James, in a stone-built cottage on the Cornish coast. Such happy days! Will had been gone many years now. The war had changed their lives and broken his mother’s heart. But before that time there had been, oh, so many days of wine and roses.
Christmas was the best time of all. There would be a huge wood fire in the open hearth, and the logs would sing and spit as they burned and glowed in the candlelit room. The tree would have been dragged into the cottage on Christmas Eve by his father and, when Tom awoke on Christmas morning, there it would stand in all its glory. Tinsel and candles and chocolate shapes, sticks of striped candy-canes and glass baubles all a gleaming. Tom’s young hands trembled with excitement.
The wind changed direction and came whipping and whistling into the doorway where Tom lay. He was so deep in his dreams that he hardly noticed it. He stretched out his cold trembling hands to warm them at his imaginary fire.
There were many festive traditions in Sarah’s house, but the most important to Tom was the tradition of pulling the first cracker to welcome in the turkey. Each year it would be James’ task as man of the house, to carry the large turkey surrounded with roast potatoes into the dining room, but not before the given signal!
All Christmas morning Tom would eagerly await the removal of the first Christmas cracker from the box that stood on the sideboard. Every year it was the same. His mother would snip the string holding the crackers in place and remove just one.

“Come along Tom, time for you to herald the start of our feast. This is a very important job for a very important lad”.
So saying she would hold out the first cracker of the season and they would pull it together. As the cracker exploded, Tom’s father would strut through the door holding the turkey aloft, and they would all cheer.
In his dreams Tom could feel the soft crepe paper of the cracker in his hand. He looked up into his mother’s beautiful smiling face and knew he could never be this happy again. He pulled on the cracker; saw his father coming towards him. His mother took his other hand in hers as they waited for the joyous Christmas happening.
In the cold crisp light of Christmas morning, Constable Blakely walked his beat. A few homeless souls still snoozed in their cardboard boxes, but most had already made their way to the ‘Sally Army’ hostel to hopefully cadge a Christmas dinner. He spotted Tom still curled up in the corner of the old Underground station doorway.
“Wakey, wakey! Dad, it’s Christmas day.”
Tom didn’t stir. Constable Blakley leaned over him and carefully nudged him with the toe of his shoe.
“Poor devil, he’s dead! What a miserable and cold way to go.”
The newspaper had blown onto Tom’s face during the night, and as PC Blakely gently removed it he was amazed to see a serene smile on the old man’s lips. One of the old man’s hands was stretched out; palm uppermost, and clutched in Tom’s other hand was half of a pulled Christmas cracker.


A very merry Christmas and a truly happy, healthy, and peaceful 2009 to all my blogger friends

Leeta X




Saturday, 6 December 2008

EARLY DAYS OF BRITISH TELEVISION

Four months after our wedding I celebrated my twentieth birthday. I was no longer a teenager and, to mark this great event, Arthur bought me a television set. Not many people owned television sets in the very early fifties, and certainly no one in our entire family had one. It cost us fifty-four pounds and we were so proud of it. It stood like a sentry in the corner of the room. The cabinet was walnut and went solidly right down to the floor, and the screen was the largest that could be bought. Until 1951, televisions had nine-inch screens, but our new Pye model had a tremendous twelve-inch screen! The indoor aerial had to be placed wherever you could get the best picture.
Each evening, we would hurry home from work, have our meal, and settle down excitedly waiting for the transmission signal, to start. Up would come the Oranges and Lemons theme music, heralding about three hours of ‘scintillating’ entertainment.
WILFRED PICKLES

The first programme we ever saw was a game of table tennis played with a commentary by Wilfred Pickles. We sat with our eyes glued to the miniscule ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth on the blue tinged, twelve-inch screen. After that came the news, which was repeated two days running. On Sundays there was no fresh news at all, only a repeat of the entire previous week’s newsreels. Considering that programmes were limited to about three hours a night, we didn’t appreciate having to sit through a whole hour of stale news that we had already seen twice. All drama was repeated twice each week, so that, if you saw George Orwell’s 1984 on a Tuesday, it would be transmitted again on Thursday. Television programmes were transmitted ‘live’, that meant if the transmission staff weren’t ready or if a camera broke down (which they did quite often), one was forced to sit and watch, yet again, the calming (and utterly boring) potter’s wheel turning or the sun moving slowly and relentlessly across fields of corn. There was also an intemission film of a combined harvester at work. In all my years of viewing, I never found out what the potter was making, or saw the field completely harvested. Sometimes these intermission films would go on for ten minutes or more, while frantic television technicians tried to put things to rights.
Often it was quite funny to see things that we weren’t supposed to see. Microphones and booms suddenly appearing in front of a scene or an actor’s face, were not at all an uncommon sight. I’ve seen people crawling about on hands and knees under tables, scenery collapsing, and ‘brick walls’ shaking when touched; all part of the fun of early television. Once, during a quiz game, we heard an off camera voice say in a loud stage whisper: ‘Not so easy with the marks!’


















FANNY CRADDOCK PHILIP HARBEN

During the fifties there were two major television cooks who regularly appeared on TV. One was Fanny Craddock and the other, Philip Harben. Philip Harben was the cookery equivalent of David Bellamy, so full of enthusiasm and fervour that, to see him fry a sausage was like watching the launch of a space shuttle!
He did, however, meet his match on one occasion. For some reason, there were technicians crawling about on their hands and knees beneath the table that was being used for his cookery demonstration. The table rose up and heaved about on the travelling backs of the technicians. Philip Harben leaned heavily on the worktop with both forearms, trying to hold it down, and continued his recipes through clenched teeth, as if nothing was amiss! I think the most spectacular faux pas that I witnessed in those early television days was during a Peter Cushing play about the Abominable Snowman. The scene was set on the cold, blizzard swept Himalayan mountainside, outside the cavernous entrance to the Yetti’s lair. As we sat with baited breath, awaiting our first sighting of the Abominable Snowman, from the depths of the dark cave trundled a television camera on a dolly, being pushed by a cameraman resplendent in earphones! Woudn't have missed it for worlds!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

SETTLING IN

Life in our new flat was a mixed blessing. Once we were behind our door, we were blissfully happy, but things on the other side of the door were a bit wearisome.
For example, having a bath would take up an entire evening. Firstly we had to inform Miss Jones in the room next to ours that we would be using the scullery for that purpose, as she would not have access to running water or the cooker while we were bathing. Next, we had to fill every utensil we could find with water, which we would then boil on the stove and empty into the bath, until it was deep enough to have a reasonable bath. Since there was no heating, we didn’t hang around any longer than we had to, but it was still a very tedious and lengthy business, and one not to be repeated more than once a week!
Another slight fly in the ointment was Laura. We did go up and sit with her every now and then, but it was very hard going. We didn’t know her very well and so had nothing to talk about. We also found out that her age and blindness inhibited small talk. She rarely moved from her bed, and could see nothing, and so had no concept of time. It was not unusual for her to get out of bed in the middle of the night, fumble her way to her piano, which was almost alongside her bed, and give us a tune. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a decent rendition of an old time music hall song played at a reasonable hour, but it was always ‘Abide with Me’ played at about two or three in the morning! Not much fun when you had to get up for work, particularly as we used to get a reedy, vocal version of the hymn at the same time, for good measure.
Arthur and I both disliked Mrs. Bottacelli. Her husband wasn’t bad, but he seemed downtrodden and didn’t have much to say about anything to do with the house or us. She treated us with contempt and made us feel inferior to her and her family.
Each week, we would come up from the bowels of the earth, climb the stairs to her flat, and knock on her lounge door. She would keep us waiting for a while, then open the door, but never invite us over the threshold. It made us feel like tradesmen at the back door of Buckingham Palace. Having taken the rent and the rent book from us, she would make us stand there while she went back into her lounge and entered the rent into the book, before handing it back. There was never any idle chitchat and we would be grateful when it was all over for another week. Sometimes she would have company, which made it even more degrading. We always thought she knew she was on to a good thing as far as Laura was concerned. We assumed that, when Laura died, which couldn’t be far off – the house and any money would be theirs to do with as they liked. We thought that she looked after Laura only half as well as she could have, considering what she was getting out of it.
Miss Jones owned a cat, and we thought it would be nice if we had one too. We bought an adorable, little, black and white kitten, which we fell in love with immediately. Since we lived in the basement and had access to a sunken back yard, we were completely cut off from the rest of the house. This meant that the kitten would not have contact with anyone except Miss Jones and us. However, when Mrs ‘B’ found out about our pet, she said it would have to go, as we weren’t allowed a cat and it would become a nuisance. How I hated that woman, but she was the boss and we needed her room, and so I tearfully gave up my little kitten. In spite of all this, we were so happy just to be together, and married.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

OUR FIRST HOME


We returned home to North London and excitedly made our way to our new address in Archway, Upper Holloway. We knocked on the door and were ushered in by Mrs. Bottacelli who directed us through the door under the stairs, telling us to come up to her flat and collect our rent book, when we were ready. When we entered our room: it was magic. There were our lovely dining room suite and two rust coloured, caterpillar, fire side chairs, the interior sprung mattress, our bedding and our pots and pans. Daddy and Doug had made a lovely job of decorating the room. It was now light and bright and clean. Dad had even laid our linoleum for us. We found the shiny, aluminium, whistling kettle, and carried it through to the scullery, where the air was thick with the smell of boiled fish heads! We didn’t care; we were married at last, in our own home, and it was all real.
Our first teapot was made of white china and was encapsulated in an insulated, chrome ball, with holes for the spout and handle to poke out. This was very modern and was supposed to keep the tea hot for ages. Up to now such household items had been very sparse and basic, and still bore the Government utility mark. But the ‘contemporary’ era was upon us, and we were starting to get a bit of ‘style’ in our lives.
The kettle whistled and we made our first pot of tea. Out came our new, white tea set and we played Mums and Dads.
Soon the job of arranging our new home was well under way. Because we wanted to show off our new dining room furniture and comfy chairs to the best advantage, we decided not to clutter our bed-sitter with the inclusion of an actual bed. Bearing this in mind, we decided to leave the bedroom suite at Arthur’s mum and dad’s house, and only use the mattress.
Our room had a door, a window, a fireplace and a handy floor- to- ceiling cupboard which was not very deep, but high. In this cupboard we planned to keep our mattress and bedding.
Each morning, before we went to work, we would stand the mattress on end, fold it in half, then quickly stuff it into the cupboard and slam the door shut before it could leap out again! I don’t know if you have ever tried to fold a new interior sprung mattress in half. It really needed the joint strength of three all-in-wrestlers to achieve this feat, but there was only the two of us! Once the mattress and bedding were hidden, we had a nice, cosy lounge that looked quite normal and, and we thought, rather smart.
Come bedtime, Arthur would open the cupboard door and let the mattress out. We would then drag it over to the rug in front of the hearth and make up the bed, using all our lovely, new bedding. This was the only space in the room that would accommodate the mattress. It was a bit of a nuisance, but well worth the effort if we wanted to have a respectable lounge that we could entertain in. It did, however, have just one little downside.
One morning when we were late for work, it was very easy to convince each other that it was a good idea to leave the bed down till we returned at teatime. We came home about 6 o/c that evening and, when we opened our door, we couldn’t believe what our eyes ere telling us. Our mattress and the bedding were completely buried under a thick layer of black soot, as indeed was all the furniture.
We just stood transfixed, with a mixture of horror and disbelief. The rest of the evening was spent, cleaning, and sweeping and shaking things. We didn’t have a Hoover, just brooms and brushes. Looking back on it, I can hardly believe it happened, or that we managed to clean it up. But it did, and we did. We never left the bed down again though. Previous to our occupation, the room hadn’t been used for years, and so the chimney hadn’t been swept since sweeps stopped using little boys to do the job!

THE END OF THE HONEYMOON AND START OF REAL LIFE

Cutting the cake

We’d left our honeymoon address with both of our mothers, and received a letter from each. It was the one from my mum that carried the awful news of our wedding cake.
On the Sunday after our wedding, as promised, Mummy started to slice up our cake for distribution to family and friends. We had chosen a three tier, horseshoe-shaped cake, thinking that it would be easy to portion. Mum made the first cut and lifted the slice away from the bulk of the cake. As she bent down to savour the aroma of marzipan and spices, she stopped in horror. There was an aroma, but it came from the green mould growing around the layers of marzipan and cake. All she could think of was the shock and embarrassment we would have suffered, had we cut the cake at the reception, as normal. Mummy hurried back to Hemmings Bakery Shop, one of a large chain of bakers trading in the nineteen-fifties, thanking God that we had forgotten the ritual of the ‘cutting of the wedding cake’ on the big day.
The mangeress of the shop apologised profusely, saying they would bake me a fresh cake, ready for our return from honeymoon. It was thought that we had been given a cake used for display purposes, but who knows?
Nowadays, one would have sued a company that made such an awful blunder, but such thoughts didn’t enter our heads. In fact, we didn’t even get a free wedding cake out of it!
The other bit of Mum’s news from home was that was the state of affairs in our new flat. Dad and Dougie (who was only fifteen years old) were spending every spare minute of their time clearing out, decorating and moving furniture into our magnificent, one-roomed flat. Mummy said they were working very hard and it would all be ready when we returned. What a smashing family I had!
The day before we were due to leave Eastbourne, we were very, very broke. After breakfast, we walked around the shops and along the promenade. As lunchtime approached, our stomachs began to rumble with hunger and we counted out our coppers, which was all the money we had. There wasn’t nearly enough for fish and chips, so we decided to buy the cheapest, but most filling thing we could afford – a loaf of freshly baked bread. We have had many fancy meals since then, but none of them was as notable as that last, honeymoon lunch. I will always hold in great affection, the memory of us sitting on the sea wall, side by side, giggling, as we saw the funny side of the two of us tearing apart and eating a loaf of dry, unbuttered bread. Ours must truly been one of the lowest budget, shoestring honeymoons ever.
That night, after dinner, we packed our clothes, souvenirs and future dreams into our grey, paperboard suitcase, and prepared ourselves for the journey home to Upper Holloway and, we hoped, a long and happy life together.
OUR FIRST HOME
We returned home to North London and excitedly made our way to our new address in Archway, Upper Holloway. We knocked on the door and were ushered in by Mrs. Bottacelli who directed us through the door under the stairs, telling us to come up to her flat and collect our rent book, when we were ready. When we entered our room: it was magic. There were our lovely dining room suite and two rust coloured, caterpillar, fire side chairs, the interior sprung mattress, our bedding and our pots and pans. Daddy and Doug had made a lovely job of decorating the room. It was now light and bright and clean. Dad had even laid our linoleum for us. We found the shiny, aluminium, whistling kettle, and carried it through to the scullery, where the air was thick with the smell of coiled fish heads! We didn’t care; we were married at last, in our own home, and it was all real.
Our first teapot was made of white china and was encapsulated in an insulated, chrome ball, with holes for the spout and handle to poke out. This was very modern and was supposed to keep the tea hot for ages. Up to now such household items had been very sparse and basic, and still bore the Government utility mark. But the ‘contemporary’ era was upon us, and we were starting to get a bit of ‘style’ in our lives.
The kettle whistled and we made our first pot of tea. Out came our new, white tea set and we played Mums and Dads.
Soon the job of arranging our new home was well under way. Because we wanted to show off our new dining room furniture and comfy chairs to the best advantage, we decided not to clutter our bed-sitter with the inclusion of an actual bed. Bearing this in mind, we decided to leave the bedroom suite at Arthur’s mum and dad’s house, and only use the mattress.
Our room had a door, a window, a fireplace and a handy floor- to- ceiling cupboard which was not very deep, but high. In this cupboard we planned to keep our mattress and bedding.
Each morning, before we went to work, we would stand the mattress on end, fold it in half, then quickly stuff it into the cupboard and slam the door shut before it could leap out again! I don’t know if you have ever tried to fold a new interior sprung mattress in half. It really needed the joint strength of three all-in-wrestlers to achieve this feat, but there was only the two of us! Once the mattress and bedding were hidden, we had a nice, cosy lounge that looked quite normal and, and we thought, rather smart.
Come bedtime, Arthur would open the cupboard door and let the mattress out. We would then drag it over to the rug in front of the hearth and make up the bed, using all our lovely, new bedding. This was the only space in the room that would accommodate the mattress. It was a bit of a nuisance, but well worth the effort if we wanted to have a respectable lounge that we could entertain in. It did, however, have just one little downside.
One morning when we were late for work, it was very easy to convince each other that it was a good idea to leave the bed down till we returned at teatime. We came home about 6 o/c that evening and, when we opened our door, we couldn’t believe what our eyes were telling us. Our mattress and the bedding were completely buried under a thick layer of black soot, as indeed was all the furniture.
We just stood transfixed, with a mixture of horror and disbelief. The rest of the evening was spent, cleaning, and sweeping and shaking things. We didn’t have a Hoover, just brooms and brushes. Looking back on it, I can hardly believe it happened, or that we managed to clean it up. But it did, and we did. We never left the bed down again though.
Previous to our occupation, the room hadn’t been used for years, and so the chimney hadn’t been swept since sweeps stopped using little boys to do the job!


COSTA DEL EASTBOURNE


Next morning. A tap on the door awakened us. Into the room came Arthur’s mum, carrying two cups of tea. Because all our new furniture was still stacked up around the room, there was no space for a bedside table, and Mum Chapman stood holding the cups while we sat up to take them from her. It was obvious that I had no nightdress on and I felt so silly. To give her her due, she never batted an eyelid, but I don’t suppose Dad Chapman had ever seen her running around starkers!
After some tea and cornflakes we caught a bus to the railway station, and it was Eastbourne here we come! We soon discovered that we had a lengthy wait for the train, so decided to stand in the street and take in the beautiful sunshine while we killed time. There we stood looking every inch newly weds. Me in my white, flowery hat, silver grey dress and shoes, and long, white gloves, and still wearing a spray of flowers; Arthur so smart in his white shirt and new suit. Even our suitcase was new.
We stood there, observing a ‘spiv’ who looked like a role model for George Cole in his St Trinian films. He was gliding in and out of the crowds, tapping people on the arm, trying to sell them something on the black market: probably, nylon stockings. We were fascinated, as we’d never seen a real spiv at work before.
In due course, we caught our train and arrived at Aunt Beat’s house. She showed us up to our room. We unpacked before going downstairs to the dining room, where tea and sandwiches had been prepared for us. She told us what time dinner would be served, and off we went to explore Eastbourne. As I said earlier, we had very little money to spend, just the remains of our wages, and Dumpy’s cheque (which made up the lions share of our cash).
The weather was wonderful and we spent dreamy days lying on the beach, gazing into each other’s eyes and whispering sweet nothings. We decided that it would save money if we had fish and chips for lunch each day, and so we would sit on the sea wall or in the Botanical Gardens, eating them out of steaming vinegary newspaper. Absolute heaven!
One night after our evening meal, we decided to treat ourselves by booking seats at the theatre. We chose a show called ‘Goodbye Boys, Hello Girls! It was advertised as the show where you could ‘Come and see Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, and Bette Davies in the flesh’. We couldn’t imagine how this was going to be achieved and, intrigued, thought we’d go along and find out. Of course, it turned out to be a drag show! We had never seen anything like this before (drag wasn’t commonplace, as it is now) and we were enthralled. So much so, that we booked seats for later in the week and went a second time!
It was on a hot, sunny day towards the end of our honeymoon, when Arthur said he would take me out on the sea in a rowing boat. Because I didn’t own a watch, and Arthur’s was ‘on loan’ to
raise extra money for our honeymoon, we didn’t know how we were going to keep check on the rental time. We couldn’t afford more than one hour and since we would be out at sea and not
near any clocks, this was a bit of a problem.
Suddenly, Arthur had a brainwave! We hurried back to the digs, where we borrowed Aunt Beat’s alarm clock from our bedroom, smuggling it out of the house and taking it to sea with us. Arthur set it for one hour and carefully placed it in the bottom of the rowingboat. Problem solved.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

THE RECEPTION & FAMILY FUEDS

The reception started off on shaky ground. Grandad Leach and Uncle and Aunty had fallen out years before our wedding, and had vowed never to speak to each other again. We didn’t know what to expect when they saw each other, and it was all very embarrassing for me with Arthur’s family present. Granny and Grandad had attended the wedding service, so were already ensconced in comfortable seats in the corner of the room when Aunty and Uncle arrived. Grandad Leach spotted Uncle immediately and, rising to his full height, hissed at Uncle: ‘Snake in the grass!’
Before any more hostilities could take place, Daddy stepped in and said ‘ Come on now, this is Leeta and Arthur’s wedding day, don’t spoil it for them.’ Eventually, and begrudgingly, they shook hands and a minor war was averted.
Mum and all her helpers had done us proud with the buffet, and Arthur, Dad and Doug had done a good job at tapping the barrels * the previous evening! We fitted fifty people into Mum and Dad’s lounge at Oakfield Road, and a good time was had by all.
I loved Arthur so much that it hurt. One reads of ‘floating on clouds’ and that is perfectly true, I still can remember the feeling that my chest was being grabbed and squeezed by a giant hand, and I did indeed feel as if I was floating on air. Every time I looked at him, my heart stood still. It was an experience that I feel certain could only happen once in a lifetime.

*It was usual when throwing a large party to buy beer by the barrel from the local pub. (Cans hadn’t been invented then). Bungs had to be extracted and taps fitted the night before use, a job enjoyed by the men who insisted it was necessary to keep tasting and testing the contents thereafter, to ensure a good flow! This was called tapping the barrel. When empty, the barrels were returned to the said pub.

The time was getting late. Arthur and I had planned to spend our wedding night in his old room at his Mum and Dad’s house. We were catching a train early the next day to Eastbourne, where we intended to spend a week at Daddy’s Aunt Beat’s B & B, The second week of our honeymoon was to be spent in our new one room flat, getting settled in.
We were so short of cash after the wedding, we were anxiously waiting for Aunty Dumpy to give us the cash she had promised us as a wedding present. Without this, we couldn’t go on our honeymoon. At last she came over to us and slipped the eagerly awaited envelope into Arthur’s hand.
‘Enjoy yourselves tonight, Duck,’ she said, and gave one of her raucous laughs.
We left he wedding party in a taxi with Arthur’s Mum and Dad. After saying goodbye to everyone, and promising to send cards, I kissed Mummy and Daddy goodbye and then I remembered that we hadn’t cut the wedding cake. Mum said that she would do it next day and send it out to all the guests, leaving us the top tier for our anniversary. I thanked her for everything she had done for us, and left home, feeling happy and, at the same time, very sad. I knew that my life would never be quite the same, ever again.



During our courting days, Arthur and I would often spend the evening at my home chatting to Mummy and Daddy over endless cups of tea. These were supported halfway through by one of Mum’s tasty cooked suppers, which Arthur loved. Dad would go to bed first. He always retired early, as he had to get up at about five o’clock in the morning. Mummy would stay up chatting to Arthur and I about anything and everything for a while longer. At about half past eleven, she would bid us good night, and off she would go to bed, leaving the two of us to have and hour or so on our own.
We usually had a kiss and a cuddle and talked about our plans for the future, or sat and sketched with the beautiful set of pencils Arthur had bought for me (one of those sketches still adorns my craft room wall), while we drank several cups of coffee. Later, Arthur would either cycle home to Newington Green, his battered old trilby hat (demob issue) jammed on his head, and trouser bottoms secured by bicycle clips, or he would have to walk, a journey which took well over an hour.
On the other hand, if we spent an evening at Arthur’s place the scenario would be oh so different. At a quarter past nine, Mum Chapman would announce: ‘Time for me to make the coffee, Will’. That statement was the signal that we had to leave very soon, as they wanted to retire for the night. There was absolutely no chance of them ever going to bed until we were well off the premises, and they never stayed up later than nine-thirty. I really couldn’t understand this because we spent every Saturday afternoon on our own at Arthur’s home and Mr. & Mrs. Chapman were well aware of this. Had we been able to spend our first night at my home, I know there would have been no embarrassment, and Mummy would have set us a ‘honeymoon breakfast table, complete with lace cloth and flowers. However, this was the Chapman abode, and I felt very uncomfortable going into Arthur’s bedroom with him and closing the door, bearing in mind that I had never even been allowed to sit in the kitchen with him on his own! To compound my embarrassment, a family friend had machine stitched the bottom of my black, honeymoon nightie together, so that I couldn’t put it on. I frantically tried to unpick the stitches, but she had done a thorough job, and I had to go to bed wearing nothing but my perfume!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

THE GREAT DAY ARRIVES

As the wedding date grew closer, Arthur and I went to see about the church arrangements for music etc. We were shattered when Father Kelly (who was to marry us) said that we couldn’t have an organ playing, as our wedding was on the same day as the church fete and the organist would be busy on the Tombola. I couldn’t believe it! How could I walk up and down the aisle without ‘Here comes the Bride’ or ‘The Wedding March’. I was almost in tears, but the priest was unbending.
I was relating this tale of woe to one of the buyers for C and A’s, and I was touched by his concern. He was one of Canda’s to men, and I hadn’t spoken to him before, apart from putting his calls through to him. He surprised me by saying that he regularly played the church organ at his local village church., and would be honoured to play at my wedding. I was both flattered and overjoyed, and hurried round to tell Father Kelly the good news.
Can you imagine how Arthur and I felt, when Father Bede admitted that ‘the church fete’ as just an excuse, and that the church felt that it was their duty to do all they could to dissuade me from marrying a non-Catholic. Then they pulled yet another trick from their ecclesiastical sleeve and informed me that, should I still want to marry in St. Peter’s, I would not be allowed to marry at the main altar, nor would I walk down the main aisle, either before or after our wedding ceremony.
Far from dissuading me from marrying Arthur, they succeeded in dissuading me from wanting to get married in the Catholic faith at all! Once again, we had to bite our tongues because we knew that Mummy would not allow us to marry in a Church of England church. Arthur already felt that he had been well and truly blackmailed by the Catholic Church, by making him promise to have all issue from our marriage baptised and brought up in the Catholic faith. (In fact, when we later had children, none of them was baptised into the Catholic faith!) And so the wedding took place, in St Peter in Chains church, with me walking to meet my future husband down the side aisle of the church, with all the guests from both families sitting on my left, and a blank wall on my right. There was no triumphant organ music to herald my arrival. Just silence. The wedding service started with the exchange of vows and ended just a few minues later. During the entire event, Father Kelly stood in surplice and Wellington boots, not having bothered to change when he left the church fete. He hadn’t even shaved! We signed the register and silently out of the church.













A measure of the splendour and pomp of our marriage service was although we were booked to be married at 3 o’clock, the next bride (complete with ‘Here comes the Bride’ and ‘The Wedding March’) was due to be married at 3.15pm! It was nearly eight years before I set foot in a Catholic church again.
Yesterday I came across my wedding veil. 57 years old and very yellow with age. My neice Sindie persuaded me to include it on my blog, so here it is looking very like Miss Faversham's veil!!!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

THE WEDDING APPROACHES

There were more notebooks to fill and more lists to be made out. Since Mum and Dad couldn’t afford a wedding, Arthur and I had to save and pay for most of it ourselves. We worked out how many guests we could fit into Mum and Dad’s front room at Oakfield Road, and how much beer the men would drink; what sort of food we would need, and how much of it we could afford.
Of course, there was also my wedding dress and going-away dress, bridesmaid’s dresses, Arthur’s suit, cars, photos, honeymoon, flowers, wedding cake. The list seemed endless and the money short, so a lot of careful planning was necessary. Food was still rationed, and clothing and material could only be bought if one had enough clothing coupon. A considerable task for a nineteen-year-old but, with Mum’s help, I coped.
I decided it would be cheaper if I made my own wedding dress and going away outfit, together with the bridesmaid’s dresses. Mummy would help me with these as there were going to be five of them, plus a chief bridesmaid and a maid of honour. All four of my sisters wanted to be a bridesmaid and Arthur’s niece, Wendy, made five. My best friend from Williams Brothers was to be my chief bridesmaid, and we thought it would be nice to ask Ruby (the one who nearly married Bab’s American Godfather) as well.
She’d never been a bridesmaid, and had been a good friend to us over the years. They both supplied their own dresses, which wouldn’t match but, because things were in such short supply in those days, it didn’t really matter.
I sketched out ideas for the bridesmaid’s dresses, and designed my dress, veil and head-dress. Armed with a large part of our savings, Mum and I went to the West End of London, shopping for material.

Front row L to R: Sandie(weechuff), Tina(Croom), baby sister Gill, Babs(beetle), neice Wendy

I think Gill and Babs must have been having a mood, they don't look very happy!

It was to be turquoise and pink for the little girls, and we purchased yards of satin and net. The next job was to choose the material for my dresses. I even decided to make my own honeymoon hat! Mum and I were very busy for weeks, cutting pinning and sewing. I made all my clothes and Mum was left to get on with making the bridesmaid’s dresses.
I’d set my heart on wearing a long veil that would sweep the floor at the back, but it took ages to scallop the edges of the veil and sew yards of mother-of-pearl sequins all around the border. Having seen the price of headdresses and tiaras, it seemed a good idea to make that as well. Looking back, I must have been a game girl!




Daddy and I

Auntie and Uncle (from Blackpool) said that they would like to buy my bouquet, which was a very welcome suggestion, and Aunty Sissie and Uncle George supplied the gold flower baskets for the bridesmaids. Aunty Dumpy (my Dad’s sister) promised us a cheque for six pounds (quite a sizeable amount then) and we paid for the buttonholes, the cars, the cake, invitation cards etc.
The Catholic Church of Saint Peter in Chains was booked for July 7th 1951 at 3 o’clock. As a non-Catholic it was necessary for Arthur to visit Father Bede every week, to take instruction on how to be married to a Roman Catholic. He wasn’t very happy about this, but since I was only nineteen, under-age and needing parental permission to marry, we didn’t dare rock the boat by refusing.

Monday, 10 November 2008

I GOT AN AWARD !

I was honoured to receive the 'Superior Scribble Award' from Jay of thedeppeffect the other day.



This came as a complete surprise and I was so excited. I didn't realise that anyone other than family and a few friends read my blogs. Thank you Jay for making my day and for thinking I deserved such a lovely award.

Here is the next episode of my story:

OUR HUNT FOR A PLACE TO LIVE

Council housing-lists were a joke. You had to have lived in your area for ‘X’ amount of years to even get on the list, and then you had to earn points by being infirm, crippled, over crowded etc. My parents, with a family of seven children, lived in an upstairs flat, comprising three rooms and kitchen. They had no garden, no hot water and no bathroom, yet didn’t even make it past the first rung of the housing list. If having seven children and living in these conditions was not classed as a priority, what chance did we have?
We scoured all the newspapers and notice boards, listened-in on people’s conversations in the hope of overhearing news of empty rooms. We knocked on doors of houses that looked as if they had uninhabited rooms. Many evenings were spent just going from house to house, knocking and asking if they had any rooms to rent. It was like asking for the moon, and we thought we’d never get married. One week I sat and worked through my lunch hours, typing notices begging people to help us find a home, offering an invitation to the wedding as an incentive. We then walked up and down likely looking areas, posting them through people’s letterboxes. Needless to say, nothing came of this venture.
Arthur’s mother had a very old friend, Laura, who had been blinded years earlier and now spent all her days in one room, confined mostly to her bed. Although she owned the house she lived in, it was given over rent free to the Botacelli family. They were Italian Jews and I believed they owned a club somewhere in the West End of London. Mrs Botacelli looked after Laura and, in return, she let them take over her house. It war rumoured that she had left them the house in her will, for ‘services rendered’. Mum Chapman sweet-talked Laura into letting us have a room there. I don’t think that the Botacelli’s were very keen on us going there, but it was Laura’s prerogative.
In exchange for this accommodation, we had to be prepared, and indeed promise, to periodically sit with Laura in her room and chat with her. She was over eighty years old and completely blind, and we’d never met her before. Because of her blindness, her room was very dark and dingy, the furniture consisting mainly of a large, ancient bed and an old, upright piano. I would be able to cope with this situation quite well now, but it wasn’t an easy or pleasant task for a coupe of very young newly weds. However we were desperate and said ‘Yes, please’.
It turned out that the room that she offered us was a basement room that had been used as a cellar storeroom for years. It was dirty, damp, dark and full of rubbish. The room was reached by going down a flight of steps that were hidden behind a door under the staircase. At the bottom of the stairs were two cellar rooms and scullery of sorts. One room housed an even more ancient old lady called Miss Jones who was an old friend of Laura’s. Miss Jones owned an equally ancient cat, and was always boiling fish heads on an old gas cooker in the scullery. We were to share the scullery and cooker with Miss Jones. God – what a bleak, bare, basement scullery that was! The floor and walls were composed of stone and cement, and the walls were covered in peeling white distemper. In the corner of the room, next to the cooker, stood an old, iron bath tub, and a very old, butler sink. We didn’t grumble, we were just grateful that we had at last got somewhere to live and could set a wedding date: something we had never thought we’d achieve. From now on, it was all systems go for the whole family.

Friday, 7 November 2008

THE BEST IS YET TO COME



One of the first things I did after becoming engaged was to start a ‘bottom drawer’. In days gone by, this was known as a ‘Hope Chest’. Young girls on reaching puberty were given a wooden chest. Into this went various items of fine linen, stitched, embroidered, and trimmed with hand made lace by the young lady in question, in the hope that she would one day marry and use these items in her own home. The modern version of this was the bottom drawer or, for me, a large suitcase.
Each payday, when I received my wages; I would look around the shops and choose something to buy for my bottom drawer. It might be as big as a tea set, or as small as a wooden spoon, whichever caught my fancy or, more likely, whatever I could afford that particular week.
Arthur and I had a notebook, which we’d designed and devised over numerous cups of coffee. Each page was headed with the name of a room, such as lounge, bedroom, kitchen, and beneath each heading, we listed everything we could think of. Firstly, things that we needed and secondly, additionally things we would like to have. As each item was purchased or given to us (we received a lot of engagement presents), we ticked them off in the book and wrote down how much they had cost us. I still have this notebook, and the low prices we paid for household items are really amazing.

I had now been working for Williams Brothers for over a year and had never received a pay rise. We were saving really hard to get married, and I decided to ask my boss for more money. I felt quite nervous; I’d never had to do this before. The boss was a woman not liked by the staff, which did little for my confidence. I stood before this ‘dragon’ and felt about two feet high. She let me have my say, then politely pointed out that, since my switchboard hadn’t and wouldn’t be getting any bigger, there really didn’t seem to be any grounds for giving me more money.
I was deflated, disappointed and angry, and beat it hot foot to the employment bureau, a few doors down the road. When I told them how little I was earning, they were absolutely aghast.
‘We can get you much more than that,’ they said, true to their word, they did.
I went to work operating a double-position switchboard at Canda, a clothing factory in Islington. Canda was the trade name for the manufacturing side of C and A Modes. String the letters C and A together and, hey presto, you have Canda! There was a little more travelling to do, but my wages jumped from three pounds five shillings (£3.25) to five pounds, an amazing and very welcome pay rise.
Our most daunting task as a newly engaged couple was the task of finding somewhere to live. This had to be achieved before we could set a wedding date. There was absolutely no chance of buying a house, the cheapest being two thousand pounds, so that people like us just weren’t in the running. We could only hope for rented accommodation, but that too was virtually unobtainable due to the acute housing shortage that followed the war.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

EATING OUT








We were saving very hard, but every now and then we would allow ourselves a special treat. Eating out was not something that we did very often, but there were affordable bargain meals available, even in the West End of London. For us to have a meal ‘up West’ was a real adventure and something we did perhaps every couple of months.
Our favourite eating-place was Lyon’s Corner House at Marble Arch. There were two fashionable restaurants in the Lyon ‘s complex. One was the egg-and-bacon bar; the other was the salad bowl. We would stand and watch the chefs resplendent in their tall white hats, cooking eggs and gammon bacon on huge griddles set behind plate glass windows. They flipped the eggs over with great panache. However, we never ate in the egg-and-bacon bar, as it was a set meal for a set price.
The salad bowl was a very different matter. There were two set meals one priced at two shillings and sixpence (12 ½ p), the other at three shillings and sixpence (17 ½ p). For the princely sum of half a crown (12½ p) you could help yourself to as much salad as you could pile on to a large plate, together with a roll and butter, and as many cups of coffee as you required. The latter was served by a waiter who appeared at your elbow, white napkin draped over his arm, and poured from a silver coffee pot, For an extra shilling (5p) you were entitled to add to this menu a bowl of soup and your choice from the sweet-trolley. I might add that this was no ordinary salad, but exotic things that I’d never seen anywhere else. Smoked salmon in little pastry boats, roll-mops, olives, things set in aspic. The meal was eaten with silver cutlery in the luxurious setting of deep pile carpet, intimate lighting, and soft music played by a real live pianist sitting at a grand piano! When you are seventeen years old, hard up and in love, what more could you ask for?
We once shared a table at the salad bar with a vicar complete with dog collar. He arrived at the table bearing a plate laden with the biggest salad that we had ever seen. He must have been either very poor or very greedy. His meal was carefully constructed, using little pastry cases filled with salmon as the foundation, and layered with vol-au-vents, roll mops, things set in aspic and every pasta, rice and potato salad available, Carefully woven in to this creation were all the normal salad ingredients such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber etc. The whole concoction stood some eight inches high! We watched, fascinated, as he ploughed through the meal, washing it down with several cups of coffee.
Another café we frequented was in Islington, where we occasionally ate Saturday lunch. It stood opposite the entrance to the Angel tube station. And served the most delicious egg and chips for half a crown, this included bread and butter and a cup of tea. Not as splendiferous as Lyons, but just as delicious.
Sometimes in the summer, we would hop on a bus in Harringay, and for two shillings and sixpence (12 ½ p) we could travel all the way to Southend–on-sea. It was a long ride and we really enjoyed the journey. As long as we could have a cup of tea, a bag of chips and a Rossi’s ice cream when we arrived, we were on cloud nine. We’d stroll along the front and the pier, hand in hand; me in my off the shoulder blouse and white sling back high heeled shoes, and Arthur in his shirt and slacks purchased by him in Italy. We thought we were ‘the goods’
Oh, that I could wave a magic wand and do it all again! Time rushes by so rapidly that you don’t notice that these are precious moments, let alone appreciate and treasure every second, as you should.
Writing these memoirs has enabled me to unlock so many forgotten moments of my life. Not necessary earth shattering moments, but silly. Heart-warming memories that I am so grateful not to have lost for all time.
Like coming out of the cinema as a very young teenager feeling that I was Betty Grable who had just taken her fourth curtain call on opening night, or Jean Crain after she realised that she really did love the studious guy with glasses, and not the cocky heartbreaker her took her to the High School prom.
Like buying my first78 rpm record of Benny Goodman’s ‘Slow Boat to China’, and feeling to important standing in the record booth at HMV. I listened, letting it play right through to the end before saying’ Yes, OK. I’ll take it,’ knowing from the onset that I fully intended to buy it.
Like watching my first-born join the other children on her first day at school, biting my lip to fight back the tears, realising this was the moment she started to be her own person and ceased to be ours alone.
This realisation was bought home to me even more so, some fourteen years later. Lynne had moved out of our house to share a flat with her then boyfriend John G. We received a late night phone call from John, saying that Lynne had been taken into hospital with mystery stomach pains. We dropped everything and rushed to the hospital to be greeted by Lynne, laid out on a hospital trolley, looking quite ill. I rushed to her side, intent on holding her hand and comforting her,
All she said was: Where’s John? I want John.’
That was the moment I knew that she was no longer our little girl, and that she now belonged to someone else. I felt completely devastated.

Friday, 31 October 2008

ANOTHER STORY FOR HALLOWEEN







He had come too far. He realized that as the car spluttered to a halt and the petrol gauge registered on empty.
Cursing, he banged both his hands down on the steering wheel in frustration.
He’d passed a petrol station some thirty miles back along the road, but it had been closed. Hoping to find another garage, he’d driven on through the night. Now this!
He glanced towards the dashboard. Looking firstly at the petrol gauge, and then at the clock glowing with an eerie green light. 1.30am.
Opening the car door he put the handbrake on and then stepped out into a dark country lane, unlit, apart from the headlights of his car.
He’d be damned if he were going to sit here all night waiting for a friendly, passing motorist. He knew he’d have to walk to find some signs of life and obtain assistance.
Reaching into the car, he switched off the lights and fumbled about in the glove compartment for the torch, which he slipped into his jacket pocket. Locking the car he started to walk into the cold October night, which quickly enveloped him like a thick, dark, blanket.
He walked on for what seemed like miles listening to the rhythmic tread of his feet on the rough surface of the road, interspersed with the occasional rustling sounds from the undergrowth. Somewhere in the dark distance came the lonely hooting of a night owl.
James smiled to himself. All he needed now was a storm, and an eerie country house with its lugubrious housekeeper, and he could be right in the middle of a 1930’s black and white horror movie.
James reached a bend in the road, and to his delight, as he rounded it he saw nearby house lights. “Let’s hope they haven’t all gone to bed,” he thought. What he wouldn’t give for a hot drink and a comfortable chair. If he ever fancied “doing” the London Marathon, he’d certainly gone right off the idea now.
As he reached the house, which was indeed a large country residence, he saw that although the curtains were drawn across the windows, there appeared to be someone moving about in the room. Walking up to the front door he lifted the large knocker and let it fall back heavily.
He waited, straining his ears for sounds of life. He wasn’t disappointed; someone was unlocking the heavy wooden entrance door.
It opened slowly, inch by inch. James gasped in horror as his eyes fell upon the apparition waiting there. A white-faced spectre stood before him. Long grey hair tumbling in a tangled mess about its shoulders. From a gaping wound in its throat dripped scarlet blood.
James screamed silently and fell to the floor in a faint.
When he came to he was half sitting, half lying on a settee. Around him were a group of people. Well not exactly people. There were two witches, a monster with a plastic bolt through his neck, two mummies bound in bandages, a skeleton and the spectre from the front door, who was pressing a glass of water to James’ lips.
“Sorry we gave you such a fright mate, we thought you were a belated party guest”.
As he passed out yet again, James’ eyes fell on a poster above the fireplace. It was decorated with spiders and bats, and read “HAPPY HALLOWEEN 2008”
!


Tuesday, 28 October 2008

A SCARY ONE FOR HALLOWEEN

BEDSIDE MANNER
Ruth, her back pressed against the wall and her arms spread-eagled on the wallpaper behind her, slowly and fearfully crept up the stairs. This should have been a tranquil and restful weekend, but it had turned out to be just the opposite.
She’d spotted the weekend cottage as she drove through the village a couple of months ago, and decided then and there that it would be the ideal place to chill out for a couple of days, when her current freelance job came to an end. She duly popped into the local estate agent and, leaving a small deposit, secured the accommodation. And now, here she was. In the afternoon sunlight the exterior of Clematis Cottage (for that was its name) certainly had a rural charm of its own and, once inside, Ruth hugged herself as she felt the comfy feeling of the lounge envelop her. On the red quarry stone floor lay a large, sumptuous rug, and Ruth, kicking off her city shoes, felt her feet sink into the pile. She wriggled her toes sensuously as she gazed around the room. Mounted on the wall above the fireplace, was a bronze shield, crossed with two long swords and, in the alcove next to the fireplace was a goodly-stocked bookcase. The window overlooking the garden had before it a magnificent recessed windowsill, which held a couple of pewter pots, a jug containing freshly picked wild flowers, and a bowl of delicious-looking red apples. This is the life, thought Ruth, as she flopped into the inviting arms of the big soft armchair.
Later that evening, after consuming a tasty supper of crusty bread, French cheese and half a bottle of red wine, Ruth decided to spend her last couple of hours before bedtime skimming through the books on the shelves. She thought she might choose one to take down to the lakeside on an exploratory walk next day. Her eyes rested on a book bound in rich brown leather, bearing the title ‘The History of Clematis Cottage’. She sat in the big armchair, engrossed in what she was reading, not able to tear her eyes from its pages or put the volume down.
The cottage was very old and had been in the Armitage family for generations. Ruth glanced at the shield above the fireplace and back at the book. The same coat of arms! The tome was mostly a reference book. It listed builders and architects, family trees and military records of the Armitage family. Ruth was fascinated and wished that the volume would tell her more about the private lives of the various owners. She closed the cover and reached up to replace the book on the shelf. As she did so, she saw two yellowed newspaper clippings that had obviously slipped from between the pages of the history book.
The first one bore the headline NANNY MURDERS CHILD IN HER CARE. It went on to tell how the nanny to the Armitage son and heir, who was being sent away to boarding school, was unable to bear being parted from her charge. She had gone into his room that night, tucked the blankets around his chin, in her usual manner, then placed a pillow over the child’s face and held it there until he was dead. Filled with remorse, she left a letter of confession and made her way, clutching the boy’s blue dressing gown, to the lake in the grounds, where she drowned herself. Reading the old news clipping was chilling enough, but it was the second cutting that ruined Ruth’s evening!
The other extract was from an article in the local weekly rag. It stated that although Clematis cottage looked like a dream home, it was in fact more like a nightmare home! Several people had reported strange occurrences and none of the local people would set foot in the cottage, let alone live there. There had been sightings of the nanny, and sounds of childish laughter. It was also reported that the child’s mother, unable to face life without her only child, and wracked with grief, had also killed herself.
Ruth’s trembling fingers dropped the pieces of paper on the floor. She suddenly felt very cold and frightened. ‘Pull yourself together’ she thought. ‘It’s only romantic nonsense’. She turned towards the stairs.
It was then that Ruth looked through the window into the night. She felt sure she’d seen a murky shape cross in front of the window. In a state of great panic and fear, she rushed towards the stairs trying to put as much distance as she could, between her and the thing in the garden. She mounted the first two stairs and looked back to check that she was still alone. Turning towards the bottom of the stairs she felt an icy trickle of fear run down her spine. There, draped over the end of the banister rail was a child’s blue dressing gown.
Not knowing which way to go, she edged, slowly and fearfully, up the stairs.
On reaching the bedroom she flung herself fully-clothed onto the bed and pulling up the quilt, closed her eyes tightly. Her heart was pounding so loudly that she heard nothing. She only felt. The quilt was being tucked oh! So gently, around her chin. Her heart stopped beating as she felt the pillow being slowly withdrawn from beneath her head.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

A MOTHER'S DAY POEM FOR DAYS GONE BY

1930

Left-hand small, dainty and feminine, slightly trembling
Thin golden band slowly placed on wedding finger
Strong masculine hand gently lifting smooth white fingers to bridegroom’s lips
There, to softly place a kiss


1940’s

These hands now a little older fingers not as slender
Nails neatly cut, shaped and painted palest pink
Hands that had raised seven children plus two foster babes
Nursed cherished parents, and crumpled tear-sodden hankies at their deaths
Now deftly guiding yards of gingham through sewing machine
Four little girls aged three to eight eagerly awaiting summer dresses
Seven children experienced those cooling fingers gently stroking fevered brows
Felt the bruising pressure of damp hankie rubbing at grime on faces
Hands that scrubbed floors, lit fires, soothed chilblains and changed nappies
Produced melt-in-the-mouth pastries, birthday cakes and Sunday dinners
As well as Christmas decorations, doll’s clothes little treats and most wonderful stories
They carried, held and lifted heavy bags of shopping
They washed and scrubbed at dirty clothes
Lifted scorching flat irons popping with testing spittle
Hands that had a few more lines but still had many miles to go


1980’s

The hands, now resting quietly on sheets that are tidily turned down are once again pale and slender
Fingernails now longer, shapelier, and painted coral pink.
But the years have taken their toll

Knuckles enlarged, lopsided, twisting fingers into obscene shapes
Still proudly feminine and bearing the wedding band placed there over half a century ago
Placed there by the strong, masculine, hand that still holds the aged hand of my mother.

The last time I saw those hands they were finally resting.
Arthritic fingers, nails still coral pink, gently holding a crucifix.
But no doubt, somewhere already, they were busily making, doing, or mending something.







And another in a lighter mood about a cat called 'Harris'


GOING TO PARIS (With apologies to Christopher Robin and Alice!)

I’m changing houses
I’m going to Paris
Me and my home and a cat named Harris

I’ve taking my books and my clothes and CDs
Harris is even taking his fleas
To Paris

I’m learning French
‘cos I’m going to Paris
Rolling my ‘R’s and so is Harris

I only hope I get used to the ‘bogs’
But I know that I’ll never be eating boiled frogs
In Paris

I’ve learned to eat garlic
I’d better in Paris
Can’t say the same for poor old Harris

He’s tried it in chicken, and liver, and fish
And hopes it’s not every cat’s favourite dish
In Paris

I’m changing houses
I’m going to Paris
Me and my home and a cat named Harris










Friday, 24 October 2008

MONOLOGUE BY A VERY SENIOR CITIZEN

Another bit of fiction for you

Can I make you a cup of tea? No? Well I’ll just ‘ave one while I wait. Waitin’, that’s all I seem to do now. Waitin’ for this, waitin’ for that.

Yesterday I waited all day for the man to read the meter. Bring back the good old days, that’s what I always say. Things used to be so easy then. The gas went out when your shilling ran out, and you just put another bob in the meter. Then they gave us electricity. Goodness knows why! I used to do a lovely roast on the range. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned fire range you know. It’d boil your kettle and ‘eat the iron. Saved on the gas too. Anyway, when we got the electric, I ‘ad to keep an oxo tin in the scullery for the meter money. Always ‘ad a few bob and a foreign coin in it. What was the foreign coin for? Well dear, at the end of the week when money was a bit short, a coin in the meter meant another bob in your purse. The meter man would always give it back when he emptied the meter, all ready for next time!

Did you know that I’ve lived through two wars? In the first one we fought the Kaiser, and then the next time round we wiped the floor with Adolph. I ‘ope I don’t live to see another war. Silly innit? All that fighting… I lost me Dad in the first war. A lovely man ‘e was. Blonde curly hair and the bluest eyes. Just like mine they were. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still feel his rough army trousers scratching my legs when I sat on his knee. The second war took my Alf away from me. Left me with little Frank to bring up all alone. Now ‘e’s moved away and I’m alone again. The grandchildren don’t come by either. They promised they would but they don’t. My Grandad used to tell me that promises were like piecrusts – made to be broken. I used to laugh at ‘im, but it’s true…Oh yes, it’s true you know.

All the friends I ‘ad when I first moved in - do you know it must be fifty years ago now? They’ve all gone one way or another. It’s a funny old life. One day there’s all your neighbours and family popping in and out, in and out – didn’t wait to be asked in those days you know, we always left the door on the latch, every one was welcome. Popping in and out… in and out. What was I saying? Oh yes, now they’re all gone.
Alf and I rented this ‘ouse when we was first married, soon after that Frankie came along. A beautiful baby, but ‘e gave me gypp being born. Then our Maureen was born. She was so special. Alf called her ‘is princess. We didn’t ‘ave ‘er very long. First God took her back, and then he took Alf as well. I never wanted another man.

You didn’t in those days. You married your man and ‘ad as many babies as God saw fit to send you, and that was that. Now they don’t even bother to get married and they take pills to stop babies. I ask you! Pills to stop babies. Pills are for stopping ‘eadaches!

The ‘ealth visitor came to see me this morning. She wanted to know ‘ow I was managing. I’m fine, I told ‘er. So long as I’ve got my wireless. Never did take to that television. Frank got me one in the fifties but I couldn’t be doing with it. I used to stand with the aerial in my ‘and, trying to keep the picture still. I said to Frank, I said. Take it back and give it to the girls, I prefer my wireless. I loved listening to Billy Cotton and ITMA. Of course they’ve gone too. What was I saying? My memory isn’t what it used to be either! Oh yes, the ‘ealth visitor. Well, I told ‘er, a bit of a fire, me wireless and me knitting and I’m well away

Do you like this cardigan? I knitted it last winter. See, it matches me ‘at. Knitted that too. The ‘ealth visitor said she could get me a phone wired in for emergencies. What do I want a phone for? Frank and Joan ‘ad one. Frightened me out of me wits when it rang, and then people whisper so quiet that you can’t ‘ear what they’re saying!

I think Frank and Joan would like me to ‘ave the phone so that they can talk to me. Just like them. They don’t ‘ave any trouble lifting up the phone, but travellin’ a few miles by car, oh dear no. That’s too much trouble. Anyway, I’m used to it by now. Still, I would like to see my little princesses now and again. Mind you, they’re not so little nowadays. Look at this photo… I can’t be doing with all this fashion business. ‘ardly any clothes up top, and skirts up to their waist. I told them last time they came. I said, “You’ve never gone out like that. You’ll catch pneumonia, mark my words”… but of course they didn’t. I often wonder what Alf would say if ‘e was still ‘ere. In my day you didn’t even show your knees. Now they think nothing of showing their drawers. I remember the first time Alf saw my smalls. It was the night we got married. I turned the gaslight out, but I couldn’t turn the moonlight off, could I? I was so shy in those days. Still, two babies and a war soon sorted that out.

Now I’m sitting ‘ere just waitin’. What am I waitin’ for? I suppose most of all; I’m waitin’ to join my Alf. I’ve got so much to tell ‘im, ‘e’ll never believe it all. I’ve not ‘ad a bad life. Some ‘as ‘ad it a lot worse than me.

There’s just one more thing I’d like though. I’d like to go out in style. You know… one of them glass carriages with ‘orses pulling it along. Long black feathery plumes on their ‘ead, and their knees ‘igh in the air, and me lying there like a queen with all the neighbours taking off their ‘ats as I go by.
Oh! There’s the doorbell. You’ll ‘ave to excuse me now. You never know, it might be my little princesses.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A CAUTIONARY TALE

Now for something completely different! Nothing true about this one, it's purely a figment of my imagination.


His night with the lads had been great. He’d had a skin full, and didn’t fancy a curry with the rest. He stabbed the front door of number 29 with his key in an effort to locate the keyhole; he had to admit he did feel peckish. He walked unsteadily to the toilet, and swaying back and forth, disposed of the last drops of lager. Suddenly, he thought of chips. Large golden chips, smothered in salt with great dollops of brown sauce.
In a drunkard half-hearted voice he called his wife. “Make some chips woman”. There was no reply, and by the time he reached the kitchen, he’d forgotten he’d called her. Hanging on to the edge of the cooker for support, he lit the gas under the chip pan.
“Bloody fat is hard, she ought to bloody well be in here doing this”.
Still muttering and complaining, he slumped down at the kitchen table, rested his head in his hands, and waited for the lard to melt. Ten minutes later he was fast asleep, all thoughts of chips removed from his inebriated mind.
A blue smoky haze enveloped the pan. Suddenly it ignited in a strangely silent way that belied the ferocity of the blaze that followed. Roy slept on. Unaware of what awaited him.
At number 31, all was dark and still. Jock and Margaret were asleep, as was Dodger their dog.
Jock was dreaming he wore a deerstalker hat and was tracking down the Hound of the Baskervilles. The hound was howling as he awoke, Jock was surprised to find it was still howling and barking as he sat up in bed. It was Dodger who was barking non-stop in the back garden, and Jock knew that he must go down and quieten him before some one complained.
He switched on the kitchen light and padded barefoot across the cold linoleum, noticing that they’d forgotten to put the bread away. He picked up the loaf in passing and dropped it into the earthenware crock as he passed by. The back door was soon unlocked and Dodger pushed his way past Jock’s legs without waiting for the door to be fully opened.
“What’s up Dodge”? He crumpled up the dog’s ear in a rough affectionate way, and decided he’d better take a look, just in case.
Jock didn’t expect the scene before him. Roy and Pauline’s kitchen was glowing with orange flames. Smoke rolled and curled through the top of the window, which was slightly open. The curtains were beginning to burn.
For a moment Jock froze. Attempting to put priorities in order, he decided that he must ring 999, call Margaret, and attempt to raise the next-door neighbours in that order. He ran into the hall calling to Margaret as he went. “Margaret, get up! Next door’s on fire!” He dialled 999 and gave the details of the fire to the operator. Slamming down the receiver, he raced up the stairs to waken his wife. Only then, did he realise that Dodger, thinking all this was a grand game, was running beside him rubber bone in mouth, and tail revolving like helicopter blades.
“Roy and Pauline’s house is on fire Marge, and I’m going to knock them up. I’ve called the Brigade”.
Only stopping to make sure Margaret was awake and Dodger was shut up, he raced down stairs and out into the street.
He was amazed to find that everything in Daniel Street looked so normal. Houses were all in darkness, and a couple were walking arm in arm on the other side of the road, occasionally stopping to kiss. In the distance he heard the sound of cats fighting.
Jock raced up the path leading to Roy’s front door. He put his finger on the bell push, holding it there. It didn’t surprise him that it wasn’t working. He balled up his powerful fists and hammered them in a rapid and heavy tattoo on the door. The window on the first floor flew open and Pauline’s face peered balefully round the curtains. “If that’s you Roy, you can bloody well sleep in the front garden! What time do you call this?”
“ It’s me, Jock from next door. There’s a fire at the back of your house Pauline, in the kitchen. You better get out quickly while you can. Check if the landing and hall are clear enough to make it to the front door. If not, go back to the bedroom, close the door, and come to the window. Don’t worry; we’ll get you out. The fire engines are on the way”.
Pauline disappeared, and a few minutes later reappeared at the front door.
Putting his arm around her, Jock led her back down the path and into Daniel Street.
In a very short time the area had come alive. Windows that were so dark and non-seeing ten minutes ago were now winking and blinking in the light. Crowds were gathering, and the courting couple had returned to stand hand in hand on the other side of the street.
The fire engine turned into Daniel Street with sirens screaming and lights flashing, and halted outside number 29.
Jock couldn’t believe the expertise with which the brigade moved.
Margaret, arms around Pauline, was trying to comfort and reassure her.
“Silly bugger,” said Pauline, in a strangely endearing tone, “he’s probably lying drunk in a gutter somewhere. He’ll be home soon. I know he’ll be home soon”. She was still repeating this when a fireman came through to the front of the house. Leaning heavily on him, coughing and gasping for breath, was a sooty, unsteady, and shamefaced Roy, still somewhat bemused about why a fireman should be in his kitchen, spraying water all over his chip supper.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

SNIPPETS FROM MY SCHOOLDAYS

SNIPPETS FROM MY SCHOOLDAYS

I first attended school sometime before my sixth birthday. It disappoints me that I cannot recall that first momentous day. It’s quite a milestone in one’s life, on a par with falling in love, or receiving your first pay packet; yet it eludes me completely.
My earliest school memories are of a small warm classroom bathed in electric light. The air filled with the sweet smell of almonds that came from the glue we were using to stick scraps of paper together. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the hall and singing at the top of my voice about a green dragon is another early infant recollection. Do you know I still remember that song!
Throughout my entire school life, I never managed to acquire a taste for school milk. After the first mouthful my throat would become slimy and, try as I might, I just couldn’t stomach a second mouthful. The milk was delivered in individual bottles that held a gill of milk, and was, for some reason that I never questioned, consumed in the cloakroom. Each bottle would be sealed with a waxed cardboard disc snapped into the bottleneck. In the centre of the lid was a small circular cut out that could easily be pushed in by a small finger or a straw. Unfortunately, childish fervour during this procedure often resulted in the drinker, and his or her near companions, being showered with milk.
Constant house moving on the part of my parents meant that I went to many, many, different schools. I once totalled up those that I could remember, and reckon that between the ages of six and fourteen I attended at least ten schools. Probably worth an entry in the Guinness book of Records!
In spite of the number of schools I graced with my presence, the only subject that seemed to suffer and give me nightmares was Maths. I could never keep up. Just as I was getting the hang of long division, I would find myself in a new school and a new class who were halfway through learning fractions, and I didn’t stand a chance of understanding what was going on. It didn’t matter, because soon I would be thrown into the depths of decimals or algebra with another teacher, probably on the other side of London. Although I have managed to master the rudiments of arithmetic, it still fills me with dread, and anyone who chooses a career in this subject is an enigma to me.
Many of my teachers’ faces and names are still engraved in my memory. Miss Wright who taught us PE. That poor lady never knew that sitting on the floor, knees bent, arms raised, the entire class could see right up the leg of her shorts, and sometimes her knickers!
Miss Jewell, a neat little lady who seemed always to wear a navy, crepe dress sprinkled with tiny white flowers, and a sparkling white lace collar at her throat. She wore her faded, red hair that was tinged with grey gathered into a tight little bun in the nape of her neck. My mind’s eye can clearly see her standing there before the blackboard, a picture in navy and white: a duster in one hand and a stick of chalk delicately held between the finger and thumb of the other. Her slender delicate fingers were always coated in white chalk dust. Her periwinkle blue eyes shone behind horn-rimmed spectacles containing thick lenses. Sadly, I later heard that she had become blind.
On the other side of the road was the school Tuck Shop where we could buy four sweets for one old penny. A farthing (there were four to a penny) would give us many choices including, a strawberry chew, a liquorice blackjack, sweet cigarettes or a gob stopper. Sherbet dips and lemonade powder were also great favourites and, when the lemonade powder craze was upon us, the school would be full of pupils sporting bright yellow tongues and forefingers. During the war years when sweets were rationed, the tuck shop sold their own homemade crisps. They tasted like wafer thin slices of potatoes baked in the oven until they were as hard as iron, which is probably what they were! They tasted pretty awful, but were better than nothing.
Lastly, as a sign of the times, I give you the following. I passed by our old Tuck shop many years later, when I was a mother myself. The shop was still there, but someone had climbed up and altered the ‘T’ of Tuck into an ‘F’. My poor old headmaster would have turned in his grave.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

"RIGHT SAID FRED!

I thought I'd have a little change from the tales of my youth and fast forward a bit. Although written as fiction, this really did happen to me and mine. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty!


“RIGHT” SAID FRED!

Our home in Islington was a large Victorian house divided into three flats. The ground floor flat housed a husband and wife that we hardly ever met, and a young married couple called Dave and Gemma lived in the flat above us.
The ground floor flat became vacant and so we asked the agents if we could take it over. It was a much larger flat than the one that we rented, and meant we could have a real kitchen at last.
As we weren’t moving house, only moving to the next floor, we decided that, with a little help from family, could move our furniture piecemeal down the stairs ourselves.
This surely would be an easy job. We would move each item straight down into the relevant room, thereby positioning everything roughly where we wanted it. The really heavy stuff such as wardrobes, sideboard etc. my husband James, my Dad and brother Peter could manhandle between them, with me yelling out the appropriate encouragement such as: “Mind what you’re doing!” and “be careful you don’t scratch my table-top!” and, occasionally “I really don’t think that’s a good idea!”
James and I had started moving the smaller things on Friday evening and it was now Saturday morning and time to get heaving with the larger items.
Everything went well for a while, and then it was time for the piano to be shifted. Originally professional piano movers had transported it from my mother-in-law’s house to ours. We had been amazed at the alacrity and ease with which they sped up two flights of stairs; the piano balanced on one man’s back while two others steadied things. Oh how very stupid we were to mistake professional artistry and experience for something that appeared to be the proverbial piece of cake!
We had already stripped the top, front, and lid from the piano to make it easier for them to handle, and all went well from the lounge to the bottom of the first flight of stairs. It was when the men were negotiating the 180-degree bend between the two flights of stairs that the house demolition started.
Somehow, the piano slipped, and one corner began deftly to push out, one by one, the banister rails that blocked its way. Suddenly it stopped. Completely jammed. With much yelling and grabbing, the three men tried to pull the piano out from amongst the banister rails, only to firmly drive the opposite corner of the piano into and through the plaster on the stairway wall.
It was at this point that Dave, Gemma, and their small son descended from the top floor flat. Their path was of course blocked very firmly by three grunting, puffing men, one slightly hysterical me and an upright piano that was wedged, it seemed forever, across the stairs between the wall and the banisters!
Dave, with a look of chagrin said: “We really do need to get down to the front door. Actually, we’re on our way to a wedding”.
It was only then that I realized that Dave was dressed in a smart, navy suit, complete with a floral buttonhole, and that Gemma was wearing a resplendent hat trimmed with an equally resplendent floral arrangement! Oh my God! They really were dressed for, and on their way to, a wedding. Gemma and her little boy retreated a few steps up towards her kitchen door, and Dave, realizing that he really didn’t have any other option, if he was to make the wedding at all, said: “Come on, I’ll give you a hand”
The men in unison, and now numbering four, managed to get the piano back in a straight line pointing down the stairs, but there still was no way they could make it turn the bend, try as they might. By this time, Dave’s beautiful, smart, navy-blue, wedding suit was covered in white plaster dust. His face was sweaty and his hair disheveled. The rest of us were beginning to feel rather embarrassed when James’ face suddenly lit up, as in idea struck him. Had I known the outcome of his idea, I’d have probably struck him too! “Let’s turn the piano upside down,” he said, “so that the wide keyboard area is over the top of the handrail. Then the narrower base will easily make the bend in the landing”
This was hailed by the others as a brilliant, “why didn’t we think of it earlier” idea. With more grunts and shouts of “one, two, three, over”, they turned the instrument, which had been our pride and joy, upside down … and all the keys fell out! With a discordant, clattering sound, they tumbled down the stairwell and into the quarry tiled entrance hall below.
Alas! This was to be the swan song of our beloved pianoforte because, although the keys could have been put back, there was also extensive damage to the hammers.
Dave and Gemma finally made their way, brushed and re-groomed, to their wedding celebrations, and our beautiful piano, that had been handed down from the last generation, was dragged unceremoniously into the back garden. There, sadly, it was hammered, hacked, and chopped into pieces small enough to dispose of. If any of you have ever attended a piano-smashing event at a local garden fete, you will know just how difficult and very, very noisy this act is!


Thursday, 16 October 2008

LIVING AND LOVING

LIVING AND LOVING

During the late forties and early fifties, going to the cinema was a popular way for young people to spend their leisure time. Other common past-times included motor speedway racing and sitting in coffee bars. At least, that was the case in our part of London. Harringay Arena was situated in our area, and it housed not only speedway racing and dog racing, but also the Horse of the Year Show. Opposite the arena was a coffee bar that, apart from being our favourite coffee house, was often visited by the speedway stars in their off-duty moments.
One of the big names of the day was Split Waterman. Such was his fame that he constantly had a stream of girls who ran after him, screaming, or queues of lads just wanting to touch his motorbike and collect his autograph.
As all my family are only too aware, I’m an inveterate organiser and list maker, and it was always so. When I became engaged, I immediately set to, armed with notebooks and pencils.
One day, we were sitting in the coffee bar discussing our ‘lists’ over numerous cups of coffee, when we looked up to see a small group of young lads peering through the plate glass window. They were pointing and staring in at us, their noses pressed against the glass. We smiled, not so much at them, but at the humour of the situation. That was the signal they were waiting for, and they opened the café door and trooped in.
The leader of the gang stood purposefully in front of Arthur and said: ‘Please give us yer autograph, Split.’ Then pleadingly ‘Go on, pleeease’.
Arthur laughed and answered that he wasn’t who they thought he was, but they were not convinced.
‘We know it’s you, Split. Go on, please, give us yer autograph, go on.’
The boy kept thrusting his book at Arthur. The café proprietor behind the counter was highly amused but said nothing to help the situation, and it was obvious that we weren’t going to get away with a refusal. In the end, Arthur said: ‘OK, you win, give me your book.’
Somewhere today in North London there is an elderly man who owns a treasured autograph from Arthur signed: ‘Best wishes, Split Waterman’!


Split Waterman 3rd from L





Arthur






Soon after our engagement, we were roaming around the West End of London, one of our favourite haunts, window-shopping. We often saw beautiful furnishings and household equipment that we would dream of owning one day, when our ship came in. On one such trip, we happened upon Maples. I don’t even know if they are still in existence, but then, they were the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of furniture makers, and were ‘By Royal Appointment’. Featuring in one of their large window displays was the most beautiful bedroom suite we’d ever seen. Very clean cut and modern and made from figured walnut. It was very expensive, and we coveted it! Of course, it was out of the question. We could have easily bought a bedroom and dining room suite for the same amount of money (with a couple of fireside chairs thrown in as well). That bedroom suite became our fantasy and we kept re-visiting it in our minds and imagining how it would look in our new home, the fantasy wouldn’t go away, and we finally succumbed to it.
It cost us £117, which was a great deal of money in those days. However, it lasted until just before we moved to Kent thirty-five years later. Even then, it hadn’t worn out. We had just got tired of it, and it had become very old fashioned.
We decided to buy the suite on hire-purchase. We wouldn’t need it for at least a year and it would be a means of enforced saving. As we weren’t terrifically good at saving, this seemed a good idea, so we went ahead and bought a dining room suite as well. This came from a furniture chain store and it cost us £48. As we settled up these hire-purchase debts, we bought more furniture.

Monday, 6 October 2008

THE KOREAN WAR SCARE

Just about a year before we got married, on June 25th 1950 to be precise, North Korea invaded South Korea. By the next day, President Truman had ordered air and naval forces to go to the aid of South Korea and, by the end of July, our troops were being sent out there.
When Arthur had been demobbed from the army he was put on the ‘Z Reserve’ list. This meant, in effect, that he hadn’t entirely severed his links with His Majesty’s Armed Forces. The Ministry of War could, if they so desired, in times of emergencies and for several years hence, call upon him to go to war and fight. Not a nice thought to have hanging over us as we planned to get married.
Then, out of the blue, Arthur was taken quite ill, the doctor was sent for, and quinsies was diagnosed. This ailment takes the form of abscesses that form in the throat area near the tonsils. Nowadays, it’s a matter of pumping in antibiotics and waiting for it to go away, but nearly sixty years ago the story was a little different.
Arthur ran a very high temperature and, was in great pain. The doctor had said that, if the abscesses became too large, he would have to operate on Arthur’s throat and do some lancing.
Because of the state of his health and, no doubt, the medication he was taking, Arthur started to worry about the prospects of his being sent to Korea to fight in a not very civilised war. We were both very concerned about this as I knew full well that, if need be, the army could indeed recall Arthur to service.
Each evening I would travel directly from work, to sit with him in the dark silence of his bedroom at his parent’s house in Mildmay Park. Arthur complained about the light, so the bedroom curtains were perpetually closed and electric lights were never switched on till he recovered.
I don’t think that most of the time he was even aware that I was there, and certainly never made any comments about my presence each evening. We hardly ever spoke except for his worried mutterings about the war. I would sit and hold his hand or stroke his forehead for about four hours, then catch a late trolley bus back to Harringay. After I alighted from the bus, I still had a fifteen-minute walk alone in the dark to Oakfield Road where I lived.
This was the most awful period of our courtship and lasted for a couple of weeks. Arthur never knew at the time just how ill he was, and was amazed when I told him about my horrendous evenings with him. Incidentally, the army never did call up the ‘Z Reserve’ men and, in fact, the war was still raging long after we got married in July 1951.