Friday, April 18, 2014



It's Good Friday and I have committed myself to making some hot cross buns to take to Wine Circle tonight. "Use your bread-maker!" cried my niece, "Buy some and pretend!" said my daughter. "No, indeed, I shall do things properly", I replied with dignity.

The dough is now rising in the airing cupboard.

In My Day

There are times when I can't quite comprehend how I used to cope. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was working full-time, had two children, took in foreign students, made most of my and the girl's clothes, cooked fresh food daily, did a little extra sewing to make ends meet.

In addition to all that, walking the dog and doing the housework, I also used to make bread regularly, about twice a week. Before going to bed at night, I'd measure out the ingredients, make and knead the dough. I bunged it in a bowl, covered with a wet cloth, protected by plastic, put the lot in the airing cupboard and went to bed.

The next day, before getting the children dressed or going to work, I'd get the dough, which would by now be huge and spongy, knock it back and bake the loaf. Mostly the bread was pretty good, too. But I must have got up at about five am to do it and can't now imagine how I did it. 

I think bread-making was abandoned when I took the COP training job as I was now travelling all over the south-east.

I must say I found the hand-kneading of the dough rather therapeutic and am looking forward to the results. Although I doubt whether they'll be a good as the ones Paul's cousin Roger made, a picture of which was proudly posted on Facebook.

Monday, March 31, 2014



One of my friends on Facebook posted one of those statuses that ask, among other things. where you first met. Easy for me on this one: "Jackdaws!" I replied.

In My Day

Jackdaws is a musical education trust situated in Great Elm near Frome. It grew out of the Great Elm Music Festival which was started by Maureen Lehane Wishart and my brother Chris back in 1992. It expanded rapidly, there being much music talent in the area and Maureen, herself a renowned Mezzo-soprano began offering courses at her home, Jackdaws.

At first, they were open to a wide range of abilities. Later with grant money and patronage from Dame Joan Sutherland, it expanded in size and offered courses to a very high standard. They also offered extremely good food.

I myself attended several course, before deciding that my skills were too far behind that of the other students. I went to a madrigal course given by Evelyn Tubb and her husband who played the theorbo. They were both Tai Chi practitioners and every morning saw us barefoot on the lawn aligning our bodies with the Earth's natural rhythms and generally loosening up. Evelyn had refreshing take on madrigals and I found myself in one group singing "Strike up the Tabor" by Thomas Weelkes in broad Zummerzet while attempting to Morris dance.

Another course I remember well was devoted to Lute song. It was runs by the late Robert Spencer and included both lutenists and singers. His theory was that the words are everything and that vocal quality can be sacrificed to them. We all sang the Earl of Essex's Galliard, learning the reproachful story behind it and I sang some beautiful Thomas Campion songs. I met some very interesting people, some of whom with met up with on our visit to Verona later that summer.

The last course I attended was also run by Evelyn Tubb (see blog 16 Oct 2010) and was a study on Elizabethan and Baroque song. I learnt a great deal from her. What I also learnt that I was out of my league among singers who sang with passion, flare and a high degree of skill; beyond what I could hope to achieve.. I met my friend Cath there, although it was some years later before we regularly met up at Laetare events, and I was and remain dazzled by her commitment to song and ability to communicate.

Maureen Lehane died in 2010 but she lives on in this wonderful legacy. I feel privileged to have participated in even a small way.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fly Away Home


Mother's Day and the sun is shining; what better than to spend a few hours doing a little garden tidying up? As I worked my way around the shrubs and tubs I met hundreds of ladybirds.

This is an image of ladybirds
 in 1976 in The Wirral
In My Day

There are still some of us who remember the great hot summer of 1976. It was not just hot; it was dry and long-drawn-out, following a dry and warm winter. We were living at Rowan Avenue and it soon became apparent that the weather suited ladybirds. They were everywhere, flying almost in swarms. 

To begin with this was fairly charming. The children loved to catch them; my friend's child Frannie caught a whole boxful which she presented to me! I persuaded her to put them onto her Daddy's roses which she did, one by one. I made a cake for Lizzie's birthday in the shape of a ladybird. We sang nursery rhymes about ladybirds and enjoyed the sunshine. What was there not to like?

After all, they weren't locusts, were they? And they are the gardener's friend, gobbling up aphids. But a few charming red and black spotted beetles are one thing. When they are flying in your face and into the bedrooms at night, clinging to net curtains and devilishly hard to remove it's something else. Our tolerance of the creatures came to an end when the moisture-starved insects started to bite. The first couple of times I thought that I was mistaken but it was true. Ladybird bites were reported everywhere and we had to caution the children about picking them up.

Somehow, though, we were still reluctant to swat or spray the insects - they are too firmly lodged in our childhood memories - and were delighted when Autumn brought deluges that more or less wiped them out.

But the roses that year were the best we'd had for years.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014



Work is progressing in fits and starts on the conversion into apartments of the brewery opposite Spencer House. 

Paul is inclined to grumble about the back and forth arrival of large trucks, the vans parked in the road and the dust. "It's only temporary," I tell him "it would be much worse if it was still a brewery - there would be big trucks leaving in the small hours, constant noise and a terrible smell!"
Fuggles hops, before drying

In My Day

When we first joined the wine circle, Paul decided to try his hand at making beer. No kit-buying for him; he bought a large pan to mash the hops, sacks of dried hops and huge jars of malted barley (I'm very glad he didn't take to mashing his own malt).

He was retired by this time and on unpredictable days would be seized by beer-making frenzy. He'd browse through recipe books and get going. I could always tell before I reached home; the smell of hops would waft up the Close, and entry to the steaming, yeast-scented house required an act of courage.

After dealing with the issues arising from over-conditioning the bottles (One of our friends had a stain on her ceiling for years after the contents of one bottle flew skywards when opened), Paul became quite skilled at this particular art. He made all sorts of beers. His light wheat beer was very successful and much enjoyed by one of my nieces, although Paul was very affronted when another relative said "It almost tastes like real beer." ("It is real beer!" hissed Paul under his breath).

His stout was horrible, apparently, and found its way into the sewers bypassing the usual stage of being drunk.

The problem was actually drinking the beer. All the recipes tended to produce large quantities and home-made real ale doesn't keep very long. Paul, who constantly struggles to maintain a decent weight, found himself drinking more and more beer, just to use it up.

His swan-song was also his finest hour. It was the Queen's Golden jubilee and in accordance with tradition, there was a party in the Close. Paul laboured to produce a five-gallon barrel of "Jubilee Ale". As the residents gathered on the green he offered the beer. Most people were doubtful about home-brew, but neighbour Pete was game. "This is great!" he enthused "Got any more?" His enthusiasm spread and soon there was a queue of men at our kitchen door wanting to try the Jubilee Ale. Now this was no 3% fizz; it was the full 6.5% or so, not a drink to be taken lightly. This didn't stop our neighbours who between them emptied the barrel. The party went with a swing. Not so the next morning which saw a succession of head-clutching males trying to get on with their morning chores. Most still managed to croak "Great beer, Paul!" before dashing indoors for a little lie-down.

Paul doesn't make beer any more, preferring to select from the great range of real ales available in the shops, but does like to recall his finest hour. I, on the other hand, find the large pan very useful and am glad not to have the house filled with malty steam at random intervals. Although I must confess I'll also be happy when the builders have all gone home.

Saturday, February 22, 2014



My Niece posted a delightful video on Facebook today showing her children David and Dorothy running hand in hand up the street together. Apparently Dorothy calls David "Super Dave" and has decided that he is her hero.

In My Day
David and I as Yum-Yum and
Nanki-poo in the Mikado

I hadn't thought that Dorothy takes much after her great-aunt Julia but here is suddenly something we have in common. I don't quite know how old I was when I decided that my brother David was my "hero" (superheroes are a more modern invention), probably when I was about ten, certainly older than Dorothy. David was absent at boarding school most of the time so we didn't have the usual sibling sparring relationship which probably gave the glamour needed to create an idol.

We had much in common (except, maybe, an interest in buses) and I looked forward eagerly to the holidays and occasional Sunday get-togethers. He generally had an even temper and could do cool things, such as play the piano and compose music.

I wasn't at all inhibited about calling him my hero and wonder now what the rest of the family thought. Maybe it was an innocent way of having a crush on someone and David didn't disappoint. In our childhood and teenage time together we sang, rode bikes everywhere (I think it was David who taught me to love reading maps), and he was my protector at the Proms. We went Youth Hostelling together in Exmoor and enjoyed concerts and theatre visits in London. We collaborated on various crazy '60's projects, such as selling ties to Carnaby Street and attending weird John Cage and Cornelius Cardew musical "happenings". 

 As we have grown older our relationship has evolved into a normal, loving sibling closeness. I still have a residual feeling of admiration, but feel that it's more grounded in a real understanding of his talents.

What I must not forget is that my other siblings have also been  my heroes in many ways over the years and maybe I have been theirs too, on occasions. 

Your brother is pretty super, Dorothy, but so are you and I hope your brother never forgets it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014



There's been a distressing spate of stories recently concerning pet dogs involved in killing babies or children. It makes one pause and think about the way we handle dogs as "pets" and how, when we seem to be more protective of our children than ever, that this happens so tragically often. Some say that the dogs are stimulated to aggression by baby's cries or hands flapping about; who knows? - and it's not really the point.

Walking up the lane this morning I greeted a man who was attempting to walk his tiny dog. "I'd like to say 'hello'", I said to the animal "But I don't like being jumped up at." "He's only six months old", explained the owner, pulling the puppy away from me. "It took ages to teach my dog not to jump up", I remarked consolingly.

In My Day

Caspian the dog came into our lives in 1984. He was about two years old and was exuberantly delighted to have found a new home and family. The first time we came home having left him behind, he greeted us with joy, bouncing up to each of us in turn. Six year-old Becky was rather frightened by this and screamed and jumped back.

It did, indeed take us a long and tedious time to train Cas out of jumping up at us, but Becky had a different perspective on this habit. After we'd had Caspian for a couple of weeks, she rather dolefully said to me one day "Cas doesn't like me as much as the he does the rest of you". "Sure he does", I replied "What makes you think that he doesn't?" "Well, he never jumps up at me when we come home", was the reply.

"That's because you screamed the first time and he knew you didn't like it." In fact Caspian never, after that first scream, jumped up at any small child; he was perfectly aware that it signalled distress and that he shouldn't do it. 

In the fifteen years we owned Cas I never once saw him snap or display irritation at small children, no matter how much they cried or accidentally slapped him in the face.

We do need to think about exactly why people feel the need to acquire enormous animals which are often confined in small houses and under-trained and exercised. That doesn't stop me from feeling saddened for the children who lost their lives and for families who had to learn the lesson in such a hard way.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Solid Advice


We have now reached the exciting stage of offering Carmen solid food. It seems that there are fads and fancies in when and how to wean as there are in most things. The current fashion is for infant-led weaning in which, it seems to me, you plonk food in front of baby and see what happens next. Those in the know say that you have to be prepared to food-proof your entire kitchen during this phase. Thankfully, Carmen is being offered the more normal range of puréed fruit and veg and shows a preference for sweet potato and pears.

In My day

When Becky was a baby, breast-feeding and I parted company at about five weeks old and she transferred happily to SMA. She might have been an ill baby for much of the time, but this didn't dull her appetite! By the time she was three months she'd down a full twelve floz of milk and reach out for more. When I told the midwife how much milk she was taking she was horrified. "You can't give her more than twelve oz at a feed," she insisted. "But Becky's hungry; should I put her on solids?" I asked. That, it appeared, was an even worse crime against my baby's health and medical orthodoxy. It seemed that I was damned either way.

I took stock. Becky was hungry and needed more nourishment than SMA could give her. So I took the matter into my own hands and started preparing puréed carrots, parsnips, swede and fruit. She gobbled up just about all I could give her (except banana which she was unable to swallow and which she dislikes to this day). I filled ice-cube trays with the purée and froze them, fishing out the appropriate number daily.

Despite all the dire warnings, Becky thrived on this diet, moved quite effortlessly to more adult food as she grew older and learnt to feed herself without the need for protective clothing other than a bib.

There is a lot more science behind the advice that we are given today, but we mustn't forget that our children are differing individuals and that for millions of years babies have been successfully weaned in a variety of ways and at a  variety of times.

What is new is the much larger range of foods in the shops that can be offered to Carmen which makes it very exciting.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sleepy Head


Carmen is six months old and her parents are finding it hard to persuade her to settle into good night-time habits. It's all very exhausting and having her in their bed is not the easy solution it might once have seemed.

But it's very difficult to make wise decisions when all you can really think about is getting enough sleep.

In My Day

Lizzie was an all-night sleeper from early on, but with Becky it was a different story. She was not a well baby and suffered from frequent respiratory infections which kept her awake at night. We moved her bed into the adjacent room because her snuffling prevented me from sleeping at all, but the walls of the house were thin and I would awake at her first cry.

Infection followed infection; by the age of nine months she had whooping cough (she was never well enough to tolerate her vaccinations) and chicken pox and German measles added to the trials of the "hundred-day cough". I would be up time and time again, clearing her little lungs of sticky phlegm, settling her down again. Paul was ever ready to take his share, but there hardly seemed any point in waking him up as I was already awake.

By the time Becky was two, night-time waking was a matter of habit. When Mark, Beatrice and Nick were living with us, the girls moved into our room, top-and-tailed into a zed-bed. Sometimes Becky would start crying in her sleep and it became apparent that she was suffering from night terrors. This time it wasn't enough just to soothe her; I had to wake her up fully, after which she would be quite calm and go back to sleep.

I'll never understand why no-one else in our tiny house ever heard these episodes. I'd sit, first on the bed, and then on the landing, trying to persuade Becky to stop crying. On really desperate occasions I would be practically crying myself: "Oh Becky, please stop crying", I'd plead. Which was very helpful. And through all of this I was doing a full-time job.

By the time she was four Becky grew out of it, becoming a rather deep sleeper who was hard to awake. Here is a picture of her, aged about one; I think you can see how tired she is.

We are constantly told that we need seven to eight hours' sleep to function properly. While I'm sure that would be very nice, I think it simply can't be true when I think of the number of new parents who hold down jobs, care for their children and conduct social lives all on about three hours' broken sleep.

Monday, January 27, 2014



Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the decades go by this becomes more and more important  as fewer and fewer people are alive to remember it directly, and there are those who say that it never happened.

In My Day

I don't suppose that when my Grandfather Paul Bondy married Eva Freitag in the early part of the 20th century, they had any idea of the shape of their future. I guess there might have been a few family questions asked about his Jewishness and her Christian faith, but I assume they just built the difference into their life. They were both Germans, weren't they?

My Grandfather was a reasonably well-off man - a corn broker, my mother used to tell me. Well-off enough to bring up four children in a handsome house not far from Hamburg.

The children were brought up as Lutherans and celebrated all the traditional Christian Festivals. I think that Paul Bondy absented himself on these occasions and I also think that there was an estrangement which meant that in later years he didn't live with the family.

I don't know what he must have thought when Hitler came to power; certainly Mamma was well aware of the implications, insisting on her right to a private ballot. And she immediately, as a half-Jew, lost her right to a formal education or well-paid jobs.

What I have seen is the paperwork that assigned Paul Bondy to Auschwitz. How he responded to the summons I don't know, but history tells us that most Jews were pretty obedient, not realising or fooling themselves about the implications.  Family opinion is divided about whether he went to the gas chambers or was shot or died on the journey there. I do know that he died as part of the "Final Solution" and that this had a lifelong effect on his family.

I don't think  genocide is a thing of the past; it is going on somewhere in the world as I write. But, remembering our own recent history may help us to be generous to peoples of differing faiths or outlooks on life and to understand that tolerating intolerance debases us all.

We must never forget our common humanity.

Saturday, January 25, 2014



This morning my great niece, having gone out on a girlie night for the first time since her baby was was born, complained about her hangover. She blamed the Sambucas, as well she might.

In My Day

Not so long ago this one, but relevant. It was Becky's 30th birthday and we decided to hold a party in Brighton. We started the evening with champagne in the Kemptown Enclosures, then went up to the Kemptown Brasserie which provided a marvellous buffet and a band to dance to. Various relations and friends of Becky's appeared and the wine flowed freely.

The more sober members of the family peeled off at various times, leaving the hardcore party-lovers still dancing and drinking.

I'm not sure now what prompted Nick, the owner, to offer Lizzie a flaming Sambuca. Maybe he thought she wasn't drinking hard enough and he wanted to see her dance. Anyway, one Sambuca led to more and soon others were clamouring for them. This even included Paul who hates Aniseed drinks in any form.  

I didn't join in, preferring to stick to Prosecco. This is just as well, otherwise we might never have been able to find our way home. Becky had rashly offered sofa space to cousin George and her university friend, Andrew.

Arms linked, we gaily set off back to the flat. We needed to link arms to stay upright. As Andrew told me repeatedly and tearfully how much he loved me, no, really, really loved me, I reminded him of the art of walking: "First the right foot; no forward, then the left......." and steered him up the steps into the flat where he collapsed onto the breakfast room sofa. George collapsed somewhere else and was that the night that Becky sprained her ankle getting down the three steps into the breakfast room and nobody heard her shouting?

They were a sorry bunch the next day, especially Paul who, as well as having the usual symptoms, was puzzling as to why he'd drunk the Sambucas at all, given his dislike of aniseed.

Ah well, plus ca change, and all that. There's nothing like a baby needing her morning bottle to help you get over a hangover.....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pregnant Pause


During my singing weekend at Halsway, we sang a few sections of Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame which made me very happy.

For many this was dipping a toe into the uncharted waters of the 14th century but I was greeting an old friend.

In My Day

I was interested in early music from my teens and, probably bought my first recording of the Machaut about forty-five years ago. 

However I didn't sing it until Cantilena performed it in December 1994. Tony, our music director, had coupled it with Palestrina's Missa Papa Marcelli, making this a most challenging concert for choir and audience alike.

During the term we learnt how to sustain a single vowel sound through several pages; we learnt how to hocket; passing the melody from one line to another. 

While we were struggling with this, Tony's wife, Alice, struggled with what was, I think. her fourth or fifth pregnancy. She gamely turned up each week to rehearsals.The baby was due in late December and we all watched anxiously as Alice's girth grew.

On the night of the concert we were all well into some wonderful hocketting when Alice simply turned and walked out into the vestry. Tony continued to wave his baton about but completely lost eye contact with the choir, looking uncertainly after Alice. Was she having the baby all alone in the vestry? Should he simply stop the concert and go after her? Or should the show go on, regardless? While Tony vacillated and we gamely sang on, another soprano followed Alice, and he relaxed and we finished the concert.

In fact, it was simply a case of too much standing and David wasn't born until Christmas Eve. But listening to the Music inevitably conjures up that uncertain, tense moment.

I wouldn't mind a proper chance to sing it again, preferably without a pregnant dramatic interlude.

Friday, January 10, 2014



Anxious about whether my throat  would be equal to the demands of the weekend at Halsway, I tried a few notes out this morning in bed. "You've made me lose my place!" complained Paul. "What?" I demanded "You were only saying "doo-be-doo"." "I was singing Saint-Seans Symphony number 3", he replied with dignity "didn't you recognise it?"

"Well, I know that we can all expect there to be similarities between our husband and our father," I said "but a tendency to drone classical symphonies tunelessly wasn't wasn't on the list."

In My Day

Given Daddy's rocky start in life, it's amazing that he had such developed tastes in classical music. He always said that he learnt about music in the evening classes given by the Society of Friends which is where he spent his evenings during his late teens.

But a general liking for popular classics is one thing and not uncommon, but Daddy knew enough to start up and run the Henry Wood Gramophone Circle, preparing, with Mamma's help, challenging and interesting programmes. He loved opera and we had many opportunities to see them.

His love for music ran very deep and I think that he always went about with a tune in his head. Sometimes he just had to share. "This has been in my head all morning!" he's say, excitedly "Guess what it is?" He would launch into a tuneless mixture of las, doo-be-doos and other noises. "Hmm," we'd say, trying to take him seriously "a bit more? Nope! We give up!" "It's the Beethoven 6th, second movement," he'd cry triumphantly, as though he'd caught us out in a gross piece of musical ignorance. I'm not sure if any of us had the courage to tell him how different the tune in his head was from the tune on his lips.

Sometimes he loved the music so much that his droning was accompanied with a gush of tears, which didn't help us to recognise Scheherazade....

When he sang music hall songs to us, the tunes were much more recognisable, maybe because they were simpler.

On reflection, I think it's better to go about with a beautiful tune in your head and heart, even if you can't sing, than to have no music in your spirit. I just wish the Society of Friends had taught him to sing!

Saturday, January 04, 2014



In time-honoured fashion we hailed the new year by walking up the lane in hazy sunshine. I felt very warm in my duffle coat. I bought this one at Quill's in Glengarriff and it's made of Donegal tweed.

In My Day

I was never a fan of school uniforms and hated my c-cup bosoms being stuffed into a shapeless gymslip when I was thirteen and having to wear a crazy velour or straw hat. Pile on top of the gymslip a cardigan and gaberdine raincoat and you have a walking fashion disaster. 

I managed to damage my gymslip sufficiently while in a chemistry class to gain permission to go straight to the (slightly) more acceptable middle and senior school blouse and skirt option.

By the time I was in the lower sixth I wished to align myself with artists everywhere. And that meant wearing a duffle coat, as all the Beatniks did (or so I imagined). It was hard enough persuading Daddy to spend money on clothes at all without expecting him to fork out on what must have seemed to him a frivolous fashion item. However, Mamma worked her magic and we sallied out to buy me this essential garment. 

I was so pleased to have it; now I would be really hip when cruising around Upper Norwood and Croydon. What I had failed to mention to Mamma that there was an outright ban on wearing these items with ones school uniform. There was no way Mamma and Daddy could afford two coats. In the end I confessed and Mamma wrote a crawling (and lying) letter to the Headmistress Miss Harley-Mason, saying that she had bought the coat before the ban.

Miss H-M grumpily agreed; she already thought that I was a lost cause, destined for arty rebellion and this was just one more manifestation. I was jubilant and, I must say, wore the garment to death.

While I really like my duffle coat because of its warmth and nice snuggly hood, I wouldn't say today that it's stylish at any level!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Surprisingly Secret


As the family grows larger, it becomes more challenging to keep up with the demands of Christmas present giving. For some it's an expensive as well as time-consuming challenge. So nieces Helena and Ruth came up with the idea of a "Secret Santa" for this year where names were randomly allocated across the extended family. Paul and I received tickets to the theatre from James and Helena which is very exciting.

The event was deemed a success, worthy of a repeat, although we may change its name to "Surprise Santa" as secrecy didn't at any time seem to be the issue here.

In My Day

I first encountered the "Secret Santa" idea at Flare. A price limit (to begin with £5.00) was set and names were literally picked out of a hat. 

I have a feeling that one of the points of the event was to mildly tease the recipient, making sure that their well-known personal foibles were reflected in the gift. I drew the name of very quiet member of my team who loved her herbal teas, I didn't just buy her teabags; I made an enormous teabag and filled it with a selection. Of course, you can't legislate for lack of judgement, sense of humour or imagination and I have received the full range in my time, from rude knickers (don't people just love it when the boss opens something like this in public!) to dull soap. And people vary very much in their ability to take being teased. There was a lot of guessing as to the identity of givers with some people  obviously longing to tell while others kept tightly buttoned.

We did start circulating a list on which people described their own foibles which was illuminating, although staff always knew they couldn't go wrong if they gave me wine. Eventually these events died out because they became so unwieldy and because of their high embarrassment potential or were limited to teams within the company. 

Do you know, I just Googled "Secret Santa and found that you can download a secret Santa generator!

Sunday, December 29, 2013



While  browsing round the local toy shop, wondering if I needed to buy any more activities for the visiting children at yesterday's party, I noticed some "Knitting Dolly" kits hanging up.

That was what we used to call French Knitting.

In My Day

To start French knitting you first needed a large used cotton reel. Cotton reels were made of wood, not plastic as they are today.

You then drove four strong nails into the top. evenly spaced around the hole in the reel. About one and a half inches remained exposed.

Next you needed some wool and something like a crochet hook or knitting needle. You tied the wool in loops to each nail and then, using the crochet hook, you hooked one loop over another. Gradually. a long tubular snake of knitted wool emerged from the underside of the cotton reel. You could add other colours by simply knotting it to the leading end of wool. There were dramatic moments when you accidentally pulled a loop entirely off the reel and frantically tried to re-hook it without the whole construction becoming unravelled. 

Eventually you ran out of wool or out of interest and unhooked each loop, carefully tying it all off.

Then there arose the question of what to do with the snake. Children's magazines were full of suggestions; there most common being that you coiled up the snake and stitched it across to make a placemat or coaster. Because of the snake's tendency to be a bit lumpy and one's own equally lumpy stitching techniques, these coasters tended to upset any cups that were placed upon them. 

Actually, it looks quite like fun; maybe I'll teach Carmen how to do it in a few years' time. I don't know where I'll find wooden cotton reels, tho'.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hang up your Stocking


Christmas is almost here again and I'm looking forward to seeing my niece from Stowmarket who is joining us for the celebrations.

It's lovely to feel that I have the space to welcome her and I wonder whether she remembers early Christmases spent with us.

In My Day

When we lived at Rowan Avenue, back in 1975, we didn't care so much about having space. For several years we shared Christmas with my brother Keir and his family of four children without even a blush for the lack of room. The children were "top and tailed" in the bunk beds and Lizzie had the tiny room. Keir and Jenny slept in the sitting room on a double airbed  which had to be heaved upstairs each morning so that we could use the dining table.

On Christmas Eve the children would hang stockings on the banisters (there being not even a pretence of a chimney at Rowan Avenue) and we'd tuck them in bed. They'd settle down pretty quickly and Jenny and I would check food preparations, touch up the tree and dance to Christmas music while the men would put the world to rights over a few pints.

Actually, not all the children settled. Little Chris, at that time aged about five, would come out of his room again and again. "Can I have a glass of water, Auntie Julia?" "My tummy hurts, Auntie Julia" "When's Father Christmas coming, Auntie Julie?" - "Not until after you're asleep!!" I fervently hoped that would occur sometime before four a.m. as I struggled to keep awake until each child was properly asleep before I did stocking duty.

I vividly remember the first time they came. Lizzie was three and had never had a stocking before and was very excited. In the morning I groaned into wakefulness to hear all the children chattering and laughing together. I went onto the landing. There were all the stockings, untouched. "Happy Christmas, darlings!" I said brightly going into their room. "Merry Christmas, Auntie Julia!" they replied "May we open our stocking now, please?" "Of course you may!" I was touched by their patience, manners and discipline and ever since we have waited until we can all open our stockings together.

We had huge fun; everything was appreciated, despite our having no money and being crammed into the house, sardine-style.

While I don't think that this Christmas will be a replica of 1975, I hope that we will all share the same fun, laughter and feeling of privilege that we are able to celebrate together. Merry Christmas, Claire! 

Friday, December 13, 2013



On Facebook today, my friend Cath told of her 92 year old mother, who can barely talk these days, joining in lustily with carols at the local service. "The Power of Music!" she proclaimed. .

In My Day

Paul's Mum always liked to sing, although I would never have described her as a "singer". When Christmas approached it was my job to drive, usually alone, to Eastbourne to pick her up. The weather was often dreadful. I'd arrive at her flat, make sure she'd packed essentials. Then we'd whisk around to relatives and friends to say "Happy Christmas" and drop off pressies.

So, by the time we got going again, it was often past 8.00 pm. I used to dread the long drive home in the murky, mizzley weather, wondering how I was going to keep my eyes open.

I had a tape of Christmas carols sung by the London Bach Choir with full orchestral backing. It had cost me all of a fiver and there were about forty carols on this glorious recording. I'd whack this into the player, hoping that it would keep me alert for the next three hours. As it launched into "Once in Royal", Mum would lift up her voice, quavery at first, then getting stronger. I'd join in as well, giving the descants, and we would  sing our way home, hearts full of joy and cheer.

The journey seemed so much shorter and we would arrive home to a fire, wine, tea, looking forward to the next few days together.

The power of music indeed; long may we feel it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013



Today my nephew reported a contretemps involving some cows that had wandered into his back garden. He described them as very large, although admitted that that might be because they were in his garden and he had to deal with them. This he did, by constructing movable barriers consisting of his kitchen furniture, to herd them out. Beatrice commented that cows are scary things.

In My Day

This is one of those stories, often told, that loses nothing in the re-telling.

The year is 1984 and we were living at Westham. near Eastbourne. We had just acquired Caspian the dog and were novices in the management of dogs generally, let alone this feisty animal. One day I decided that nice walk to Pevensey Bay would be just the ticket. Becky was six and Lizzie eleven. 

We walked through the churchyard and castle grounds sedately enough. Now, the way to get to beach was over the railway line. Not just any railway line but the main London-Hasting line with electrified third rail. There was a little pedestrian level crossing over this line, accessed at each end via a stile. 

No sign or sound of trains. I  got everyone over the stile, including Caspian. We went to the beach and had a lovely romp.

On the way back, when we got into the field that adjoined the line, I noticed a herd of bullocks at the far end. "They're very far away," I reasoned "no need to put the dog on the lead." Big mistake. Caspian tore off in the direction of the bullocks, ignoring my shouts. The bullocks, far from being scared by Cas, turned to chase him.

Cas raced towards me. This wasn't what he'd intended; there was no fun in this! He looked very scared with his ears streaming out behind him as he raced towards his protector (me). Twenty-five or so Bullocks charged after him.

I was pretty scared too and, grabbing Becky's hand, rushed towards the stile. Stopping only to fasten the dog's lead, I scrambled over the stile with the dog and Becky, just as the bullocks cantered up to the fence and stood glowering at us all. Lizzie, however, had not kept up and was now separated from me by twenty five irritable bovines. "What do I do, Mummy? What do I do?" she called frantically.

I was standing on the wooden level crossing with a six year old and an ill-controlled dog; with express trains and the electric rail behind me I couldn't leave them to get Lizzie. I crossed my fingers. "Just walk through them, Lizzie" I said in as reassuring a voice as I could muster. "They're used to moving aside for humans."

Liz stopped panicking and did as she was told. The bullocks parted like the Red Sea and Liz (like the old woman in the story) got over the stile and we got home that night.

The only benefit (apart from having a very funny story to tell) was that Caspian never again attempted to chase livestock of any kind.

But scary? Well, Beatrice, that depends on where you happen to be standing.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Needs Must


Carmen is eleven weeks old and today Becky went off to work for a refresher day which her firm organises for staff on maternity leave so that they are not too far behind when they go back.

Becky emailed me "I haven't reached the station yet - I'm finding this very hard..." I advised her to try and put Carmen-thoughts into a box for the day. "It's what I had to do when I went back to work so early".

In My Day

With Lizzie's birth date being so far beyond the expected date, I had to return to work when she was barely seven weeks old. Without my earnings we couldn't even pay the rent as there was no maternity pay beyond the Civil Service's two months and a lump sum maternity allowance (which I'd spent on a spin dryer). 

So I deposited her with a child-minder  whom I hardly knew and caught the train from Brighton into work at Worthing. My work was in the Enforcement Office of the Inland Revenue and I didn't need a refresher day; nothing had changed, except maybe the files had accumulated a little more dust.

How strange it all felt. I was still partly breast-feeding Lizzie and at intervals throughout the day I trotted off to the ladies with my pump and bottles all full of sterilising solution. I don't think I told anyone what I was doing and didn't think to ask whether I could use the rather more salubrious and private sick room. I did learn to put Lizzie-thoughts aside during the day and work-thoughts aside at evenings and weekends; if I hadn't I'd have gone potty.

What fascinates me when I look back at that time was the almost total lack of support. I know that going back to work for me had a great deal of the "needs must where the devil drives" about it, although I also felt it was right on principle. I think I knew that support might be lacking because of the level of criticism I received. "I can't see why you have a baby if you're going to farm her out!" said one woman tartly to me. I was ill-equipped to explain my situation or the fact that I wasn't "Farming" her out; I was merely finding someone to care for her while I earned enough money to keep a roof over our heads.

I think I kept my head down and ploughed on, hoping for the best. And I suppose the best was what I got, with a child-minder who turned out to be a treasure, an ability to maintain my financial independence throughout my life, and beautiful, loving daughters who have brought me much joy.

I have confidence in Becky's ability to manage all these things with a great deal more aplomb than I did, although I bet she's enjoying being reunited with Carmen right now!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013



Last night my poor rotator cuff was complaining and felt very cold. The night was mild - not a nightie-wearing night, but I made a hotwater bottle and hugged it to my shoulder to try to warm it up. 

"I remember that Mamma used to have a bed jacket to keep her shoulders warm," I remarked to Paul

In My Day

Mamma did indeed have a bed jacket, to be worn when sitting up in bed to keep the shoulders warm. They seemed to come either in pink or blue and were fluffy & frilly.

Thinking about this I realised that there are a number of clothing items that were commonplace when I was a child that are never seen today, or only rarely or for recreational purposes.

Boned corsets, normal wear in the '50's, are mainly used for recreational purposes these days, (athough I suspect that quite a few stars on the red carpet are boned into place) and the main remnant in everyday use is in bra underwiring. Their place has been mainly superseded by Spandex.

We females almost always all wore dresses or skirts in those days and not to wear a petticoat was rather vulgar. They were either full-length or waist "slips". They were made in silk or nylon or cotton and were de rigeur. Of course you can buy them today in M&S and many women will have one tucked away to wear with some dress that is see-through or sticks to their tights, but that's a far cry from the everyday lace-trimmed range that would have been a substantial part of every woman's wardrobe.

My father used to wear shirts that had detachable collars. The collars were changed daily, starched to death and held onto the shirt with collar studs, which could be found anywhere in the house. Pictures of working men from the time often show them with shirts without collars; presumably they only added collars for high days and holidays.

As children we wore the Liberty Bodice (mentioned in my blog dated May 9 2009) which certainly kept out the cold, while restricting movement. Did I wear it while attempting to do sports and gym? No wonder I wasn't very good at it! It had suspenders which attached to very scratchy stockings.

Then there were pinafores - we didn't wear them very much as children but they still existed; their function being to save the dress underneath from dirt. The pinafore would be made in a lightweight fabric that could wash and dry easily.

Hats! In the '50s everybody wore hats. Not beanies or baseball caps, but proper hats. My father always wore either a Trilby or a flat cap (for high days and holidays) and Mamma wore a hat on all formal occasions. I remember her mortification when I went to church bare-headed. Daddy would raise his hat to a lady (where did that little piece of manners come from?) and Mamma commented in one of her diaries the pleasure of looking at all the hats on the delegates to the Townswomen's Guild AGM at the Albert Hall. 

Of course this is balanced by clothes that we wear today that were unknown 60 years ago. Trainers, Birkenstocks and flip-flops, Spandex, baseball caps, fleeces, jogging bottoms, anoraks, T-shirts and the rise of jersey fabrics and stretch denim. 

And who's to say whether we are better or worse for that?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013



Last Sunday my siblings and I celebrated the date of my mother's 100th birthday. We flossied ourselves up and went along to the Homewood Park Hotel & Restaurant and spent a happy few hours with champagne, food. reminiscences and friendly chat. I wore Mamma's favourite silver violet necklace, David brought a tablecloth that Mamma had embroidered and persuaded the waiting staff to put it on the table, and Beatrice read from Mamma's diary.

It didn't resemble much the birthday parties Mamma used to give but we felt it was important to mark the occasion.

In My Day

Mamma, as has been said elsewhere, loved to party. This is a description of her last birthday party in 1981. By this time Mamma was very ill with lung cancer and had been receiving chemotherapy at the hospital in Dorking. As her birthday approached I called the hospital and asked if we could take Mamma out for a day in order to celebrate.. The hospital ummed and ahhed and said they'd have to ask higher authorities. 

I conferred with my siblings. "Don't tell Mamma what we're planning just yet", I said "It'll be so much better when the whole arrangements are made." So I didn't write to Mamma as I usually would, waiting to tell her the good news and I believe that my siblings kept quiet too.

One morning a letter from Mamma dropped on my doormat. "I always said that I didn't want to be a burden on my children," she wrote "but I never thought that I'd be eating my words." Mamma, not having heard from us, thought she had been abandoned to die alone. I called the hospital. "Look, " I said forcefully "you're not going to be able to cure her. Anyway the best medicine right now would be to see her family." They agreed that we could borrow a wheelchair for the afternoon and all was set. I wrote to Mamma, explaining my silence and told her the plan.

On her 68th birthday we gathered at the house in Dorking. All the siblings with their children were there. I found a half cake in the freezer and dolled it up with frills and candles. Chris and Paul went to collect Mamma and she sat facing the window overlooking the garden and pond at Ribblesdale and opened her cards and presents. I can't remember a great deal more about the event, although I do remember Mamma commenting on demure and patient 4-year old Becky waiting to see the gifts opened.

Mamma died a couple of weeks later and was certainly not abandoned to die alone, I am very glad that we were able to show her our love and care in that way, and I'm also glad that we felt that her part in our lives was important enough for last Sunday's celebration.

What I do hope is that I will be able to go in person to my own 100th birthday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013



This morning Becky mentioned that she was taking Carmen to an osteopath. I asked her if this was cranial osteopathy, but she said no.

"In my experience", I said "osteopaths are charlatans".

In My Day

So where did this sweeping opinion come from? When I worked for the Inland Revenue, much of my day was spent sitting at a desk and I found that my neck and upper back could become very stiff and sore. Somebody told me that the Civil Service encouraged staff to use osteopaths by having some on an approved list who carried out the treatment at reduced rates for civil servants

I found one in Eastbourne and trotted along. The therapist was a dour middle-aged man who said hardly anything during the sessions, didn't describe what he was doing and gave me no advice as to follow-up, posture, exercise and so on.

My sessions were twice-weekly and consisted of what appeared as brutal attacks on my skeleton. One of the few things he said, after an especially bone-crunching moment was that he had re-aligned some vertebrae.

I left his sessions in considerable pain which would take a couple of days to clear up. Eventually, when the pain hadn't ceased by the time I went to the next session, I stopped going. This was worse than the stiffness!

A couple of weeks later I did what I should have done in the first place: I went to see my doctor. I confessed to what I'd been doing and he wasn't particularly complimentary. He told me to strip my top half and he examined my back. "Well", he said "I can see that there are a couple of  misaligned vertebrae....." He gave me some advice about posture and the best sleeping positions and packed me off to a physiotherapist who was very helpful indeed.

I found some facts about osteopaths which suggest that what they offer is rooted in philosophy, not science.

But many people swear by their osteopaths, claiming that it's only through their help that they can stand upright, and whom am I to say they're wrong?

Friday, September 20, 2013



Following the birth of Carmen, Becky has been watching her own weight decrease. Many of her clothes are now much too large and we were talking about the need for some interim clothing.

"I remember the excitement of buying normal-sized clothes when you were about 6 months old" I said.

In My Day

When I had Becky, back in 1977, I was working at the Inland Revenue. The Civil Service maternity arrangements were far ahead of their time and the deal was that I could have three months fully paid maternity leave, but they withheld the third months' pay until I had been back full time for at least three months.

The effect of this was that I received a whole extra month's pay just when Becky and I needed a new set of clothes - hers larger, mine a lot smaller.

I popped to the shops, very happy with my new size 14 figure, and bought skinny tops, dresses and fabric to make hip-hugging skirts. I was so glad to ditch those maternity and baggy clothes and waltzed into work in tight jeans and t-shirts. My anorexic friend Hazel rather tactlessly said to people (in my hearing) "you remember my fat friend Julia? Well, this is my slim friend Julia!" I guess she meant well.

Shortly afterwards, Paul and I were invited to a party. I enjoyed dancing and a good deal of male attention. This was a massive boost to my sense of personal attractiveness and I remember lapping it up!

Birth and early motherhood are very physical experiences with the emphasis on bodily functions. Getting ones figure back, however partially, is a wonderful way of reclaiming ones balance. It also makes you feel less, well, waddly which has to be a good thing.

Monday, August 26, 2013



My nephew Jacob posted a picture on Facebook today showing a supermarket offer on faggots. He seemed to be very cheerful about this which I thought surprising, in view of the following story.

In My Day

It must have been late 1984 or early 1985 and Beatrice and Jacob (who was then about three) were coming to lunch. Knowing that they ate meat I'd bought some faggots.

I served these up all hot with gravy and vegetables. Jacob took one look and refused to eat them,  throwing a fairly huge tantrum to make his point clear. "Well, " I said, when I could make myself heard, "I haven't anything else, but if you don't want them I'll give them to the dog." Caspian the dog was cruising hopefully around the table in case anything fell on the floor.

Jacob screamed a bit more to ensure that we hadn't misunderstood him first time around. "OK" I put the plate on the floor and called Cas, who clearly thought that Christmas had come early, since he was never fed from the table. The faggots disappeared without touching the sides and Jacob watched his dinner vanish.

Now it was pudding time, Jacob would eat any pud, so long as it was oranges and I'd laid in a stock of really nice, juicy ones. "No dinner,  no pudding," said Beatrice firmly, so Jacob had to watch while we all tucked in to his favourite dessert. He tried sucking up to me with poorly disguised attempts to wheedle a orange - even a segment of orange out of me, but I was obdurate and he had to go hungry.

I have no idea whether this made any improvement in his manners, eating habits or moral understanding (I seem to remember a later episode over some fish & chips, so maybe not) nor whether Jacob now has a rooted aversion to or passionate liking for faggots. But he doesn't seem to bear me any sort of a grudge, for which I'm grateful.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bright Lights


I have just returned from a few days spent with Becky in London. On the last day we met at The Crusting Pipe in Covent Garden for lunch. There was a charming Cypriot waitress and we chatted about this and that. I told her that I was a Londoner by birth and she asked me whether I missed London.

Well, there's a question; I do and I don't.

In My Day

Being brought up in London would be meaningless if all it meant was knowing the few streets around your home and I suspect that has always been the case for many people. But, even as children, our London life included many of the amazing cultural, educational and entertainment opportunities.

We went to London Zoo, Battersea Park and Funfair. We visited all the museums in the Brompton Road many times (my especial favourite was the natural history museum) as well as the British Museum, Horniman's and, once, the National Maritime Museum. We had tea on the roof garden at Derry and Toms and at Lyon's Corner House on the Strand.

We were taken to shows, films, the theatre, operas and concerts. We went to Madame Tussaud's, the Planetarium, The Tower of London, the Monument, Trafalgar Square. I remember once going on an open-topped tour bus where a genial Cockney guide sent Daddy into uncontrollable guffaws with his commentary about St Martin-in-the Fields - "Coming up in the middle of the road..." as though the church were a giant Wurlitzer. We visited the parks, commons and gardens. St Paul's Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament were almost natural habitats.

This ease and familiarity with London spilled over into adulthood. By the age of twelve I was a regular Promenader and was spending my Saturdays and paper round money going to West End matinees. I used to visit all the art galleries., both public, such as the Tate, and private ones in Bond Street with my friend Lynda. With a youthful certainty about our cultural superiority we used to call such excursions "gallery crawls". David and I bought "Red Rover" tickets and travelled randomly on buses to more obscure corners of the city.

I bought student standing-room only tickets for the Old Vic and joined the Aldwych student group, going to see all that the Royal Shakespeare company could offer as well as the astonishing World Theatre seasons. I saw Shakespeare in the open at Regent's Park and at the George in Southwark. I haunted the V&A and grew fond of the Science Museum where I would draw the great Victorian beam engines and other machinery.

This was in addition to familiarity with all the great stores and the amazing specialist shops. There was less of a cafe and club culture than there is today, so there wasn't much of that and, anyway, we probably couldn't afford it.

So, do I miss it? Clearly, even with all of that, there was much I didn't experience. But you could live all your life in London and not see it all. And there are many other aspects to life. I have lived in the suburbs, by the sea and in a small country village and have learnt about what drives life in these places.

When I am in London, I feel energised by the bustle and the sheer variety of the place, but I think that a rounded life is one where there has been a breadth of experience and, right now, I love my wooded garden in a quiet village with woodland walks on my doorstep.

So the answer is, not really, not now.