Sunday, October 19, 2014

Westward Ho

Today

My niece has been staying with us for a few days. Just before leaving she set up her satnav for home. "Turn east onto the High Street", intoned the satnav man. "Not that would help me", said Andie "I don't know my east from my west or the north from the south." 

In My Day

At one point, during our time living at Stoke St Michael, we were on the village hall committee. One of the regular fund-raisers was a "car hunt". To do this you devised a set of clues, leading from place to place. Contestants paid a sum for the clue sheet and filled in the relevant answers; these could vary from  a signpost, ornament on a house, landmark etc. The prize, donated by a local garage, was a tankful of petrol. In the meantime the committee made a tidy little sum, especially as the event usually ended with a buffet and drinks etc in the village hall.

One year, with about four days' notice, Paul and I were asked to create the clues for the hunt. We rose to challenge magnificently, producing cryptic clues in rhyming couplets. This was such a raging success that we did it for several years.

The clues had to incorporate both directions and hints as to the actual item that was the answer. The total run would be about twenty miles and was expected to take a couple of hours. Just before the day Paul and I would do the circuit, checking accuracy and making sure that nothing had changed. Sometimes we had to trim away brambles and other vegetation that was threatening to obscure some vital clue.

The first clue, of course, had to set people off in the right direction. One year the first clue incorporated something along the lines of "go in the direction of the setting sun.." We watched, mesmerised, while a bunch of local yokels stood outside, scratching their heads at this. They turned to another local who was sauntering by. "Which direction is the setting sun?" they asked. "Well.......," came the reply "that depends on what time of day it is...." 

Was this a serious reply or a wind-up? We had no idea, and watched while the lads set off in a southerly direction, not to be seen again (at least not that night). 

Not exactly wandering off into the sunset.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Memory Board

Today

As I chopped vegetables and grated cheese tonight, I found myself thinking of my sister Carol.

In My Day

I think it was in 1988 that Carol and her grandson Tyler came over to visit. We had planned a visit to Fowberry Moor in wildest Northumberland and Paul and I, Becky and cousin Izzie, Tricia, Carol and Tyler drove in two cars the long journey up the A1.

We had a lovely time and when we all got back to Stoke St Michael, Carol had enjoyed herself so much that she wanted to buy me a present. 

She had noticed me using a chopping board that had belonged to Mamma. Actually, it was half a chopping board as years of soaking in in water had eventually split the wood lengthways. "Let me buy you a new one," begged Carol. We went into the posh kitchen shop in Bath where I selected a very large, plain wooden board.

Carol was rather disappointed with my very practical choice and tried hard to persuade me to buy a fancy round breadboard carved with little ears of wheat. "It's so cute!" she protested. But I was adamant and the plain board was bought.

I don't know whether a cute round board would have lasted as long; it certainly wouldn't have been so useful.

The large plain board is in daily use after twenty-six years; thank you so much, Carol. And I never soak it in water.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Triple Decker

Today

My nephew Jacob was singing the praises of peanut butter this week. "if someone had told me peanut butter was this good, I'd have started eating it before last week" he enthused.

In My Day

Peanut butter was certainly not part of my life as a child. If I'd heard of it at all, it was as an inescapably American foodstuff, like molasses or bagels.

At the end of 1979 my Canadian nephew Mark came to live with us for a few months. In order to fund the rest of his travel plans, it became essential that he get a job. He talked his way into a manager position at Unigate Dairies in Eastbourne. The day started early and ended in time for him to collect Lizzie from school.

Breakfast at five-thirty was not an option for Mark. He scrambled himself off to work with nothing but a gulp of coffee inside him and ate nothing till he returned home. He discovered that he could buy peanut butter at the supermarket and his daily breakfast/lunch, eaten at about three pm, was a triple-decker sandwich constructed thus:

white bread, butter, peanut butter, jam, 
white bread,  butter, peanut butter, jam, 
white bread. 

I guess it looked something like this picture, but I seem to remember it as a toppling pile that took Mark quite an effort to get his teeth around.

He always said that butter was an essential ingredient as it stopped the peanut butter sticking to the roof of his mouth. I can't remember what his favourite jam was. Personally, I thought it looked dreadful and wondered about its nutritional and calorie value. And, even now, I don't much like peanut butter, although I have used it to make biscuits.

But no doubt it's part of what has made Mark the man he is today!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Genetic Mutation

Today

A silly thread on Facebook yesterday included my indignant assertion that Lizzie is a trekkie owing to my influence and that the tendency might be genetic.

In My Day

Mamma used to enjoy the original series and had rather a fancy for Captain James T Kirk. Over the years we watched Star Trek in any form we can -  the Original Series (even in its digitally remastered form), The Next Generation, Deep Space 9 , Voyager and Enterprise. I think we have succeeded in seeing all of the feature-length films, including the new prequels Star Trek and Into Darkness, some of them several times.

In 1984 or thereabouts the concept that you could download the entire set of Star Trek films, order pizza and settle down for a trek-athon from the comfort of your rarely left sofa was non-existent. To have a Trek-athon you had to go to the pictures.

Which is what we did. The local cinema in Eastbourne advertised that it was showing all three Star Trek films consecutively, Clearly not an event to be missed. We packed up the girls and trundled off to the cinema. There was already a long queue.

The screening started at about 7.30. We bought our tickets and found seats in the crowded theatre. Along with everybody else, we had coffee flasks, sandwiches and blankets. At this time Lizzie would have been eleven and Becky six or seven. We all hunkered down and watched, riveted. I think that Becky fell asleep and woke up several times and ended the evening fast asleep, being carried to the car. But Lizzie stayed glued to the screen. Cinematic effects were nowhere near as convincing then as they are today but they were magical enough for us.

The whole event ended at about two AM and we. along with many other families, staggered out under the stars, clutching sleeping children and went home dazed by the wonder of it all.

Somehow, Star-Trek has an enduring fascination that sets it apart from other sci-fi. I understand that Star Trek III is coming out soon - I shall heading for the 3d cinema as soon as it's released, probably in the company of Lizzie.


Friday, September 19, 2014

All Mapped Out

Today

What with postcodes, satnav, and our very obvious position opposite the old brewery, you'd think we'd be easy to find. Not so. Yet again today, a van driver called us on his mobile to get us to talk him in. 

These days it seems that people not only can't read maps, they've also entirely lost their sense of direction.

In My Day

I've always loved reading maps and somehow always assumed that other people could read them. This is not only not true, but people also don't like to admit it. They will gamely offer to navigate, holding the map upside down on the wrong page, while the driver struggles to deal with roundabouts and traffic with absolutely no idea of where they are.

I think it must have been about 1989. Paul's mum was visiting us. One day we thought it might be fun to do the Bath "Ghost Walk" - one of those city tours which tell you a lot about the city while trying to spook you with various creepy tales. We were both working and it seemed like a good idea for Mum to have a day in Bath before we had our evening jaunt.

Mum and I arrived in Bath. I took her up to the Flare offices, which were pretty central, got her a cup of tea and discussed the day. We agreed to meet for lunch. I gave her a street map of Bath, marked our location, mentioned some good places to visit and turned her loose.

I got on with my day's work, hoping that Mum was having a good time. There's plenty to see in Bath, sights are well-signposted and there are also lots of nice shops to browse. About half-an-hour before we were due to be reunited, a call was put through to me from the police. Apparently Mum had wandered round, completely unable to read her map or work out which way was up. Either she accidentally stumbled on the police station or a policeman and asked for help.

There was nothing for it; I cancelled my afternoon's appointments, collected the panicking Tricia and spent the afternoon calming her down preparatory for the evening walk, which she much enjoyed. What did become obvious, without much probing, was that she had no idea how to read a map; I could have given her a map of Timbuktu without her knowing the difference, but she was ashamed to admit it.

I am rather sorry now for my presumption, as well as forgetting that Mum was seventy-six, so unlikely to be able to learn new tricks.

What I have just done is ask the council to add a road sign saying "Manor Place", which is officially the bit of the High Street where we live, in an attempt to help panicking van delivery staff in the future.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Murder on the High C's

Today

At choir we are performing the Kodaly Missa Brevis. "how are your top C's, Julia?" asked the music director. Well, for the first rehearsal of term, a bit wobbly, to be honest. Nothing that a bit of practice won't sort out.

In My Day

When I sang with The Byrdian Society and the St Matthew's Choir, back in 1965 or so, I was routinely assigned the top line. I didn't have any training, but it seemed that I could open my mouth and out would come the high notes.

For most of the choir repertoire a top b flat is about the maximum, but there is one famous piece that goes further.

Our music director, Colin, was rather prone to putting on under-advertised and over-ambitious concerts, mostly, although not always, involving polyphony. On one occasion, combining the forces of both groups (giving us about fifteen singers), he put on a concert which included the famous Allegri Miserere. I think we had an audience of about fifteen.

There are two choirs for this ideally; singing alternating verses. In every other verse there is the famous top C. There I was, expected to deliver it solo. And deliver it I did. In fact, the main problem was controlling my descent to the lower notes as I had no proper breath control training, so that the final top G was often quite wobbly from lack of breath!

A friend of mine, with whom I sang in those days, commented recently that he still thinks of me whenever he hears the work, which is sweet.

What I have discovered as I get older it that what comes naturally at eighteen, requires a lot more training and technique at sixty-six. But it's getting better, with a choir member describing my efforts this week at "ethereal". And no wobbling, either.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

H'aspiration

Today

My nephew had a little rant this week about people who say "haitch" when they should say "aitch". He said that it was to do with delusions of grandeur, but I'm not so sure, I think it's more ignorance and confusion about the fact that the letter aitch is aspirated in actual use while the word to describe it isn't.

In My Day

When Paul was in the ambulance service in Sussex, back in the late '70s, his daily work was delivered via the radio by an officer working in central control. Training standards were not high in those days and I sometimes suspected that otherwise incompetent officers were shunted into control because they weren't safe on the roads.

He's had control officers who couldn't pronounce place names "I've a call to an address in War-Cester villas" "Don't you mean Worcester?" (Pronouncing it correctly) "It says 'ere "War-Cester".

Then there was the time they were sent to an accident "At the roundabout in Lewes". "There are three roundabouts in Lewes, Control, do you know which one?" "I dunno - you'd better try them all". Which might explain why ambulances sometimes took longer than they should to arrive at their destination.

The ambulances all had an alphabetical call sign, relating to the location; thus, Lewes was "L" or "Lima". Paul much enjoyed this communication to a vehicle operating out of Hove:

"'otel one, 'otel one, please h'attend a h'accident at h'acres the bakers in 'Assocks for an 'ead h'injury".

Who knows what that particular control officer's aspirations were?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Talk-talk

Today

It's always fascinating when children learn to talk. They approach the problem in such a variety of ways and at very different ages, too. Carmen has a few words now and she definitely uses them to communicate directly, rather than merely repetitively. Ask her where her rocking horse is and she'll point and say "there!" in triumphant tones. She'll point to her duck unprompted and say "duck!" as though she's never noticed it before. and tell you "no" if she doesn't want to be moved or eat more food.

In My Day

When Lizzie was a baby, I'm not sure that I had any expectations as to how and when she would learn to speak. Few of my friends had children the same age and Lizzie was the oldest of her cousins.

I don't know how she learnt the significance of the phrase "what's that?" but when she was about sixteen months she would point at an object and say "wassat?" We would give her the answer, e.g "dog".  She would carefully copy it then move on to the next thing that caught her eye - "Wassat?" "butterfly." That was a bit of a poser, so she would ask again "wassat?" to make sure she'd heard us correctly. This would continue until she'd mastered the word and could carry on to the next and so on.

I don't think I've ever seen a child make such a determined effort to amass a vocabulary. It was as though her brain had suddenly realised that, if you can talk, the world is your oyster. Somewhere I have a letter from Daddy after a visit to Dorking, in which he describes his delight in observing how Lizzie hoovered up words. In a very short time she had a vocabulary of several hundred words and it was then a short step to putting them together to form sentences. I also remember how hard she worked to try to say the word "Ambulance" when Paul joined the service in 1977.

And, of course, she was right; with all those words at her command she could ask for things, engage in conversations, enjoy bedtime stories at a new level and be understood.  She is still a vivid talker with a large vocabulary and can make her point verbally with emphasis.

I feel sure that Carmen who is observant and has good powers of concentration will soon make that leap into proper conversation. I can't wait!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Liberal Studies

Today

This morning my nephew was grumbling at the prospect of giving a training course to a group of reluctant students. "A good trainer," I sanctimoniously told him "Should be able to make almost anything interesting to almost anybody".

In My Day

When I worked for the Inland Revenue, back in 1983, I was asked by my boss if I would carry out some training requested by the local sixth form college. The idea was that, in order to prepare them for the real world, the students should attend a series of "liberal studies" classes or lectures.

I would be giving a forty-minute session on the subject of tax to a class of seventeen year-olds - a topic which they would be sure to find fascinating. I didn't really know where to start. I drafted a few notes and trotted off to the college well in time. I met the form teacher who asked me if I wanted her to be present. "You see", she said "when the man from the Abbey National came to give a talk about savings and mortgages he was so dull that there was a lot of misbehaviour and he lost control."

This cheered me up a great deal. "Well", I replied"My job isn't discipline, so please stay in the class."

The students filed into the classroom in an uncommitted way and took their places. As the teacher introduced me I wondered how I was going to fill the forty minutes. After deciding that running screaming with panic out of the classroom wasn't an option, I started with a brief introduction on the English tax system. 

Clearly this wasn't going to keep them riveted - I glanced around the room at the bored faces and decided on a new tack. "That's just an introduction", I said "I'm now going to take you through your adult lives with some information about the tax consequences. I need two volunteers." I pointed at a girl and boy "your names? Right, Darren and Sharon, let's see what you might encounter."

I then proceeded to sketch out their lives - they had jobs, married each other, had babies, mortgages, company cars, were divorced and lived abroad. Darren and Sharon loved being the centres of attention and the rest of the class were so busy running behind me to see what I'd dream up next that they didn't have time to misbehave. The forty minutes flashed by and I breathed with relief.

I continued with these sessions for the next couple of years and the form teacher marvelled at my uncanny instinct for spotting the potential trouble-makers and making them my focus. (I'm still not sure what it was - a little swagger, a challenging look at me, a little admiring entourage who followed them in?)

But I proved my point - you can make almost any subject interesting to the most reluctant group and I'd rather come away with a sense of a job well done than simply coast through it as some of my nephew's colleagues suggested to him. And it seems that Chris took my advice and did such a good job that more training has been requested. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Window of Opportunity

Today

As Carmen becomes more active, we become more aware of the dangers around her. Last week, while I was caring for her I noticed that she is working out that it's possible to climb up on things to give her more access to the forbidden. Her home has enormous Victorian sash windows which have spent most of their time open during the warm weather, and she is already attempting to rig up a way to look out, or maybe climb out, of them.

In My Day

We moved to Rowan Avenue in Eastbourne in 1975. Lizzie was about three and had a little bedroom at the front overlooking a quiet path and, at that time, fields. The windows were modern and just had a small top casement that we kept open during the warm summer months.

One evening, after we'd settled Lizzie and were at last relaxing together, we heard the most terrific rattling and banging from her room. 

We stared at each other for a moment, aghast. What could be happening? We rushed upstairs to find Lizzie with one leg out of the window, clearly attempting her escape. Somehow, she'd clambered onto the windowsill and up the window and opened the catch fully. I don't know whether she would have succeeded and there was a porch roof beneath to break her fall, but it doesn't really bear thinking about.

We heaved Lizzie down, admonished her and shut the window. The next day saw us at the hardware shop buying a lock that would allow us to leave the window open a fixed amount and prevent baby-mountaineering in the future.

Lizzie seemed relaxed about it and the next time she attempted to leave home it was through the front door, carrying provisions and accompanied by her best friend, at the age of about six, but that's another story.

My great-nephew has a more laissez-faire attitude to his baby's explorings, saying "she'll only do it once!" But she isn't walking yet and they say that a baby has to do things ten times before learning it. I'm not sure that I'd want to risk the first nine attempts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dog's Hair

Today

My nephew Mark and his wife are on their way from Canada to spend a few days with us and to celebrate a family wedding. Becky & family and my sister will arrive by the weekend.

So I've been laying in supplies. Among other items were two bottles of pomegranate juice. "I remember when I first had pomegranate juice," I said to Paul.

In My Day

It's New Year's day 2006 and we are waking up at Marks' house after a long and jolly celebration the night before that involved a murder mystery, dancing and much champagne.

As we surfaced and started the clear up, we realised that there were a number of half-finished bottles of champagne, that still seemed to have a bit of fizz.

There seemed to be nothing for it. "We need Buck's Fizz!" I announced. I don't know what I was thinking; maybe I thought that a few dog's hairs might do me good.

Hindy found a small quantity of orange juice that would barely cover a round of Buck's fizzes. My sister Carol joined us and held out her glass. Gradually we finished the champagne, working our way through Mark and Hindy's supplies of fruit juice. Eventually we reached the pomegranate juice. Dark and rich in flavour it brought our morning's (maybe it was long past morning by this time; I  don't know!) imbibings to a satisfactory close.  We all returned to our beds, happy that we had done our duty and hadn't left any champagne abandoned in forgotten corners. 

If those bucks of yore had had pomegranate juice I feel sure that our range of juice-laced fizz would have been much enhanced much earlier. 

Although I don't insist on my guests adding champagne to it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ducky

Today

Much excitement today at Carmen's ability to recognise and say the word "duck". She loves the Muppet "Rubber Ducky" song and enjoys playing with her ducks in the bath, so it's not surprising.

In My Day
 
My mother always said that my first word was "duck" and I loved to play with my ducks. We had a garden full of chickens, geese and ducks (a remnant of war time efforts to be self-supporting, I believe). So I probably saw them from my vantage point in the big pram; the big pram being where I, along with most other children of my generation, spent a lot of time.


Me inspecting new-born geese


We didn't have many toys back in the post-war years, so I don't suppose that the ducks had much competition. But I apparently couldn't bear to be parted from mine.

Sometime later, I first encountered penguins. I logically made the connection between  my beloved ducks and the fact that penguins are upright and spindly and called them "pinducks" - a name that was used by the family for years.

Carmen is  visiting this weekend and we have a  flotilla of ducks, who actually say "quack" quite a lot, swimming on the stream, so we are watching out for her reaction when she sees the real thing. I don't know whether she'll graduate to "pinduck", despite having a photo of a penguin on her bedroom wall.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Night Life

Today

So sad to see Eastbourne Pier go up in flames. There was a chorus of regrets and memories from many people.

"My first visit to a nightclub was on Eastbourne Pier", remembered Becky.

In My Day

In 1989 Lizzie and Becky went to stay in Eastbourne with my friends the Levetts. I'm sure that they had lots of fun together and on one occasion, paid a visit to the night club on the Pier.

Lizzie and Becky went with friend Frannie. Becky hadn't gone to Eastbourne equipped for clubbing so my friend Beverley lent her a dress (probably an LBD). Hair was washed, makeup applied and the girls set off on their jaunt.

The rules of the club were strict; no entry to under 18-year olds, which explains why Lizzie, aged 16, Frannie aged, 15 and Becky bringing up the rear at age 11, were able to get in with ease. Becky hadn't reached her full 6ft in height by that time, but she was tall and elegant and Beverley's dress, which I suspect was rather too short for her, added to the impression that she was older than she actually was.

At this distance I shan't ask how they managed to wangle their way in, nor how they entertained themselves while they were there, since they are all safe and well and I didn't know about it until afterwards.  If I had known, would I have prevented it? Probably not, as I have always been laissez-faire about this sort of thing.

It remains to be seen what attitude her parents will have should Carmen want to go clubbing at age eleven.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cracking the Whip

Today

In a recent letter my sister was commenting that her place of work scans and shreds every document so that there's hardly a scrap of paper in the place. A far cry from the Inland Revenue (HMRC) with its rooms full of files, she said.

In My Day

When I worked in the Inland Revenue the system was that a file was created for every taxpayer. In the PAYE section there was also a card on which the basic tax code and annual P60 details were entered. The cards sat in "hods" which lived in the desk drawers of the officer dealing with the relevant cases. The files were placed in huge shelves. When I worked at Eastbourne these shelves were all down the centre of the main office.

Now, for the vast majority of PAYE taxpayers, the files were never looked at again. The tax was collected by the employers and the P60 details were entered annually on the cards. A quick check was made that the amount collected was correct within a given tolerance and that was that. Very efficient, PAYE is.

In 1984 the powers that be woke up to the fact that across the country enormous amounts of valuable office space was devoted to these useless files. This was before scanning so Head Office was reluctant just to chuck everything out. However, they did have access to central space at their sorting office in Kew. So it was decided that a rolling programme of file clearance was to take place. Guidelines as to what was to stay and what was to be sent to Kew were issued, together with the time slot in which the job was to be completed.

At Eastbourne our slot was about ten days before Christmas. The job was given to the clerical staff on PAYE and was simply piled on top of their everyday work with no provision for overtime or extra staff. I was the manager in charge of the PAYE administration group. I looked thoughtfully at my grumpy team. Clearly they were going to drag their heels over this one and I would have to become some kind of mule-driver wielding a whip, not a prospect I relished.

I marched into the inspector's office. "Permission to consume alcohol in the office" I requested. He was a mild man so he merely blinked and said OK. I went back to my team. "Right!" I said "This is what we're going to do"

I went out to buy wine and mince pies. Then I rolled up my sleeves and got cracking alongside the clerical assistants with the sorting and movement of the files into great crates. At coffee and tea breaks we had wine and mince pies. The job went with a swing, was done in half the time and I never once had to get out my whip.

Within two years the computerisation of PAYE had been completed so the files and cards became redundant anyway. And hardly anybody works in local offices any more.

I guess that is more efficient than the days when on officer could easily have six hundred pieces of unanswered post sitting on their desk, but I personally still feel hesitation about throwing out paper documents and devote quite a bit of my space at home to storing them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Waistcoat

Today

I'm in the process of making a waistcoat for my brother-in-law. He bought one off "Handmade by Julia" but had failed to take into account the fact that, like all of us, he's not as slender as he used to be. So I'm making another one.

I have several waistcoat patterns and when I pulled out the one I'm going to make I found myself reminiscing about the first time I used it.

In My Day

Like many of my creations, the idea for the garment came first from the fabric. Back in 1999 I'd picked up a remnant of foil-printed cloth with a design of metallic musical notes. "That's ideal for a waistcoat for David!" I thought. I found a pattern with a rather swanky low-cut front with curved collar and set to work.

I'd never used foil-printed fabric before and quickly discovered that a: it's very slippery and b: it's slightly see-through. Pas de probleme - I would just interface it. However, I only had white interfacing in my stock and the design was printed onto black. 

It was a few days before Christmas and I was working in Bath. So I nipped out to the local fabric shop to buy what I needed. The shop was off the main road and had a high step to get into the front door. I bought my interfacing, enjoyed a jolly chat with other fabric inspired ladies and turned to go. Alas! My foot slipped on the steep and slippery marble step and I sprawled onto the pavement inelegantly. 

I knew straightaway that standing up would be a bad idea. A small crowd gathered asking if I was OK? No. I was not. The lady from the shop kept popping out to offer me cushions, water, tea. Eventually I replied firmy - "Would you just please call for an ambulance?" She scuttled off to do this. A kind passer-by crouched down in the damp and cold and gently elevated my leg, resting it on her knee. A curious bystander asked if she was practising Chinese healing. "No", she said "I'm holding up her leg!"

I was taken to the hospital where an x-ray revealed that I had fractured my right navicular bone and sprained the ankle; a very painful combination. The plaster was removed after a couple of days, so that I could treat the sprain with frozen peas.

Well, you might ask, did David get his waistcoat in time for Christmas? The answer is yes. I managed by working at it over frequent very short periods, resting when the action of my foot on the machine pedal was too painful.

And I believe he still has it, although it was later recycled for some event or other by covering the crotchet-covered fabric with a bright shiny leprechaun green, a style of which I'm not so fond.

I wish I'd known the name of the kind lady who held my foot up out of the cold and wet. I'd like to thank her.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Degree of Separation

Today

Carmen has just started her trial run at nursery. After more than ten months at home, it's a big step. Sometimes, things long in the planning have more capacity to create anxiety than last-minute decisions.

There was a discussion on Facebook in which other mothers shared how they felt on their child's first day away. "I can't remember", was my contribution, "I just lumbered on from day to day".

In My Day

I had neither the protection of generous maternity leave legislation, nor the money to take much time off after Lizzie was born.

I had taken the full three months then allowed by the Civil Service, but Lizzie's late arrival meant I actually only had two weeks' paid leave left when she was born. I took a month's unpaid but then it was straight back to work.

I had no particular system or routine in place, I barely knew my baby, and was so tired that I think I often felt quite sick. Thank goodness that Lizzie was an all-night sleeper! I also had very little technological help. I splurged my maternity allowance on a spin-dryer but had no washing machine. Every morning the dirty nappies would go in a bucket of Napisan and the previous day's clothes soaked in detergent. Nappies were less efficient than they are today, so there was often a wet sheet as well. My first job when I got home from work was to rinse and spin the nappies and clothing. I did this before we ate.

It was just a question of doing what I had to do; there was no room to worry about my baby. I found her a great childminder and kept my eyes fixed firmly forwards. I don't remember feeling hard-done by; in fact I don't remember feeling anything at all. I did, indeed, just lumber on.

I don't feel any resentment about this; I just marvel that I did it at all and that my Lizzie was unharmed by it all. And I feel very happy that today's mothers' and babies' needs are properly recognised by legislation and employers alike.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Biassed

Today

Today has all been about bias. Not the political kind, but related to fabrics. I needed some wide bias binding to edge some seat covers I'm making, but the local shop could only provide 25mm wide and I need at least 50mm so as to house the elastic.

Then I found myself ridiculously confused trying to cut out an envelope-style bias cut cushion cover, as though I'd never cut on the cross before.

"Bias" in sewing means cutting at a 45 degree angle to the grain of the fabric. Woven fabric is basically a grid.of threads at 90 degrees, with the "grain" being the warp, running down the length of the piece.

In My Day

When I was at college learning about theatrical costumes, I was told that in the 12th century dresses were cut on the bias without other shaping to give that sensuous Guinevere look. I'm not sure now how much of this is true and how much is just down to artistic licence.

I learnt that the even more sensuous look of fashion in the 1930's was down to bias cut, enabling the garments to cling and drape at the same time. You can use bias cut fabric to give beautiful cowl necklines which have no bulk, and bias cut satin unforgivingly clings to each and every curve.

When I made corsets, using a combination of bias on the more stretchy side panels and straight on the stiff fronts allowed me to produce curvaceous corsets of the type worn on the 1840's. 

By the time I went to Eastbourne teacher training college to train to teach needlework I had more or less worked out when it could be used to advantage.

The tutor in charge of dressmaking was affectionately know an "Auntie Vi". She was a rather Victorian type of lady who set strict standards and rules and would probably have had us stitching samplers if she had been allowed. I don't think she was used to having students who had done more than "A" level needlework and I guess she found me hard work.


Inevitably she had her favourite student, a diligent, neat, rather self-righteous girl who was never seen at student parties. One day she wandered in to the sewing room where I was busy cutting out a dress for myself. She watched in disbelief as I laid the bodice pieces on the bias. Eventually she could restrain herself no longer and gave me a short lecture on how Auntie Vi said that the centre front should always be on the straight grain. I listened, than gave her a short lecture on the principles of cutting across the grain. Here is a picture of me wearing the dress - see how nicely it fits my top half without the need for darts or other shaping!

I may still be able to remember the principles of bias cutting, but I wouldn't mind a bias in favour of being as slim as I was then!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dicky Bib

Today

Carmen's progressed onto feeding herself, at least some of the time. Becky gives her a selection of chopped items to choose from. Quite a lot misses the mouth. "I bought one of those plastic bibs with a scoop," explained Becky.

"Oh, I used to call those Dicky Bibs," I replied

In My Day

Like all babies, Lizzie slowly learnt to feed herself. It was a messy business, involving the placing of a large plastic groundsheet under her highchair to stop bits from falling on our new carpet. This sheet had to be shaken out and wiped every day - a chore that I didn't much like having to perform. Plus, the towelling bibs she wore became grimed with food as well as soaked from spilt milk and water.

One day, in Mothercare, I saw exactly the thing! A bright yellow plastic bib with a curved up bottom to catch the food, It was called a "Dicky bib". What a fantastic idea! food wouldn't fall on the carpet, the fronts of Lizzie's clothing would stay dry and clean and the bib itself would just go in the washing up.

I carried this object home in triumph,  showed it to Lizzie at the next mealtime. and popped it round her neck.

Maybe I'd been too enthusiastic. Lizzie looked down admiringly at her yellow plastic front before starting her meal. Success! The food that didn't go into her mouth went into the bib's tray. My smile of relief that the thing actually worked turned to a grimace as Lizzie, dismayed at the way the nice new bib was being spoiled, put her hand into the tray and scooped the food out onto the floor. There! Now the bib was nice and clean again!

She smiled at me triumphantly, well pleased with her ingenuity, and I reinstated the plastic sheet.

Which just goes to show that something that works for the parent just might not be seen in the same way by the child!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Childhood Glory

Today

Walking along Bexhill Seafront the other day, Paul said "I performed in the De La Warr Pavilion when I was a child." He reminisced about saying little poems at South Coast festivals "Get upon a chuff-chuff" he declaimed "Ours is a nice house, ours is". and so on. He won prizes for singing ("I never won gold" he said, a little sorrowfully) and later for making a speech about life on Mars.

In My Day

Alone, I think, among my siblings, as a child I competed in the local competitions, entirely in the verse-speaking class.

My first ever poem was recited at the age of four and went like this:

"Goose, goose girl, come and mind your geese
They're making such a cackling we can't get any peace."

Over the next few years, I recited a range of poems. I had a clear voice, which elocution lessons made clearer, and a formidable memory, both attributes which I still possess. I was also pretty cute, which I certainly am not now.

In fact Mamma didn't think I was cute enough because she continually grumbled that I didn't win gold, not because I wasn't the best reciter in the contest, but because the regular winner was cuter than I.....

In these ways we shape our children's self-esteem.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Muzak

Today

On the way home from Market Harborough we stopped for coffee at a little tea shop in Moreton-in-Marsh. Maybe it was because we were tired, but when Paul went to use the facilities he came back complaining that there was even piped music in the vestibule leading to the loos. "Whatever happened to quiet?" he grumbled.

In My Day

Back in 1965 I and my friend Anne Bryant went cycling in Cornwall. One day we were peddling along and realised that we were very hungry and had no lunch with us. Anne spotted a sign to a restaurant and we cycled up a long track which led to an up-market establishment.

Full of bravado we parked our bikes and went in. There were no other customers and a youngish waitress ushered us to our seats at a table which was laid with impeccable white napery. We were hot and sweaty and clad in shorts. The menus were brought and we regarded the prices with horror. While we made up our minds that we really only wanted soup and bread, the waitress wounded up the background music. I think that it was rather tasteful stuff - maybe Mantovani or quiet chamber music. I remember that were rather amused by this.

We may have had posh accents but we didn't have posh money. The waitress took our orders for soup without comment.

I just hope she thought that we were worth all the effort - maybe any customers are better than none and we appreciated the music at least.

I heard about someone who, when the neighbouring club's high decibel offering drowned out the already unsuitable Bach's B Minor Mass muzak at the restaurant in which she was eating, was appalled that the waiter's response to her protest was to turn the B Minor mass up to max in an attempt to drown out disco hell!!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Too Posh to Wash

Today

Whilst having supper tonight I joked about some of the food having been on the kitchen floor. "That's OK", said Paul "I'll scrape out the spiders and bugs.. " "Well", I said "Why don't we just embrace upper class squalor?" "I think we have", responded my spouse.

In My Day

Noticing and caring about cleaning up stuff is a very middle-class virtue, I think. There are truly some people so posh that they don't notice trivial things like dirt.

One summer, about 1997 or so, Becky had Summer jobs as a Nanny. One of these took her to an Exmoor farmhouse where a couple with an unpronounceable Balkan surname lived. He was something in the City, she was an artist of sorts, and they were awaiting the arrival of child number two.

The whole exciting story of baby two's arrival on the sitting room floor is Becky's to tell. However, we became involved because the rough drive to the farmhouse which was all right for their 4X4, slaughtered the subframe of Becky's little Metro. So we ferried her down weekly.

The farmhouse certainly had Thomas Hardy charm. It also had Thomas Hardy filth. In fact, probably more than it would have done in Hardy's day, when people slaved night and day with brooms and hot water and soap. The quarry tiled kitchen floor had probably not seen soap and hot water for about a hundred years. Food vied with mud, doggy footprints and other unmentionables. We gingerly sat down on some greasy chairs and made polite small talk and admired the baby, wondering how soon we could escape.

It's not as though they displayed even the tiniest bit of embarrassment ("Sorry about the mess" etc etc) and they were certainly able to afford a cleaner;  they were simply above that sort of thing. I immediately dubbed their lifestyle "Upper Class Squalor"

 Becky always said that after the new baby was born on the sitting room floor there was a suspicious stain on the carpet that was never cleaned up, but more importantly, was simply never mentioned. 

Thinking about that has made me determined to steam clean the kitchen floor at the first opportunity Oh, and none of the food had actually been on the floor.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Naughty Kittie

Today

On Sunday, after a long day in the Bentley on the Mendip Classic Car Tour, I arrived home to find that Abby had slipped into our bedroom unseen and was asleep on our bed. I railed about this on Facebook and one friend commented, "I remember a cat called Ariadne who got up to similar tricks"

In My Day

When did I decide that cats on the bed was a no-no?

When I first had Ariadne I shared her. so to speak with a flat-mate. She quickly became "mine",  as I took responsibility for care during weekends and holidays.

4 Beulah Hill was a large Victorian house on four floors and my bedroom was in the attic. In addition to our family there were also some tenants living in a range of flatlets and other accommodation so it wasn't really acceptable for Ariadne to have the run of the house at night.

So she slept in  my room at nights. That effectively meant my bed of course. She would start out on top of the covers but she often ended up in the bed, once at least, right at the bottom where she kept my feet warm. On that occasion, I did slightly panic, worrying that there would be insufficient oxygen and I would be pulling a dead cat out of the bed. 

To be honest, there was something comforting about having a warm creature snuggled up with me, although when Ariadne took to bringing rodents in through the open window at the student house in Station Road, Worthing, that was altogether less comforting.

It was after my marriage, when Paul and I at last had our own place, that I put a stop to it. There were two reasons: the first one was that, quite frankly, a cat in the room interfered with our sex life. Secondly, however careful we were, the cats got fleas, and fleas, in my opinion, have no place in the bed!

Generally, Abby is a most mannerly cat who understand that the bedtime routine doesn't involve nipping upstairs to our room.  But, despite her seventeen years, she is sometimes quite cheeky and just decides that the price of being chased out is worth it for a few hours of blissful snuggliness in a place that smells reassuringly of us.

In 2008 when she had her dreadful accident, I think she imagined that she could sleep with us, as a child wants to climb into your bed when they're unwell. We found her not just on the bed, but tucked under the covers, with her head on the pillow and front paws on the bedspread. All this while wearing a "lampshade"!

Just be clear, Abby: your advanced age doesn't mean that the chasing out is going to stop!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dough

Today

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

Jackdaw

Today

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

Today

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

Brew

Today

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.