Tuesday, December 01, 2015



Whatever did we do before Facebook? Today someone posted a picture of old-fashioned school gym equipment which provoked a flurry of nostalgic comments about climbing up parallel bars and playing pirates on the ropes.

In My Day

Both my schools had reasonably good gymnastic equipment. At Junior school the dining hall doubled as a gym and much work had to be done before you could use anything.

At grammar school we had a purpose-built gymnasium. It sported a terrifying array of wall bars and ladders, and ropes could be swung across from the ceiling. It was also marked out as an indoor netball pitch.

There were vaulting "horses", benches and other pieces of movable furniture. All very nice, you might say. I hated everything. I had no physical confidence (how, exactly, do you climb up a rope?) and struggled to achieve anything. When the ropes came out I got well into the centre of the fray and hoped no-one would notice me. The wall bars were simply frightening, struggling with a vertical climb was so hard and there was nothing to break your fall. I think Beatrice did actually fall off them once, was concussed which may have caused or contributed to her epilepsy,

The worst of all was the vaulting horse. For this you stood in a queue and then rushed at it, hoping to get over. I generally failed to get even close and there was no place to hide. I think I once did get over it, but I had no idea how, wasn't encouraged in any way, and never succeeded again. One teacher even scolded me publicly as "sloppy". 

Looking back, I think that the method of teaching was designed to help those who could do it anyway get better and, probably unintentionally, left those who couldn't in a humiliated limbo. In fact, I'm not sure that wasn't true of nearly all my schooling; the best received the best teachers, the worst had to follow as best they could.

I rather regret that I wasn't taught to develop better confidence and feel that I missed out on an essential skill.

Saturday, November 21, 2015



On Facebook yesterday Becky had posted some pictures of a day trip to the Natural History Museum. "What a wonderful building this is!" I enthused. Just to walk in the doors inspires awe and wonder which primes you for the natural wonders you are about to see.

In My Day

Visits to the Cromwell Road museums were a regular part of my childhood and something that I continued as long as I lived in London. The amazing displays and fascinating collections never lost their wonders and it seemed as though  the possibilities were inexhaustible.  

My last visit to the NHM was for a rather different reason. One of our regular conductors in the Laetare Singers was a man named John Thackray. He was with the group from 1986 and always brought new insights to our music. He had, I always felt, a dancing spirit and would sometimes do the morning warm-up at Cropthorne by having us walk around the lawns singing "The Silver Swan" without music, and another time he had a small group of us serenade the others at the start of dinner with Tallis's "Non Nobis Domine" as grace.

So, it was with sadness that we heard of his death, aged only fifty, from cancer back in 1999. Soon after, his widow asked us to take part in a memorial performance of the Brahms Requiem. This was to be performed at the Natural History Museum, where, we learnt, John had been chief archivist for many years, as well as president of the Society for the History of Natural History

We joined forces with other musical groups with which he'd been involved. After a long rehearsal in a church in Prince Consort Road we performed to a selected audience in the great hall at the museum. What an amazing way to be remembered!

The choir was arranged on the stairs at the back with orchestra and soloists in front and the music echoed dramatically among the great Byzantine arches. The audience sat in the main part on either side of the great diplodocus (Dippy), who, I hope, found the work uplifting.

Earlier this year the NHM announced that Dippy had to go, to be replaced by a blue whale skeleton. Dippy, however, is still there, because, it would appear from browsing the museum website, that they can't find another museum big enough who'll give him houseroom!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Against the Wall


Facebook throws up some funny things. Today someone posted a picture of girls playing with balls against a wall. "2 balls against the wall - how many did this?" the poster asked. Well, me, for one.

In My Day

Despite having what is colloquially known as a "wall eye" which is lazy to boot, I have always been good at throwing and catching. I was good at rounders as a fielder and was a fair goal shooter in netball.

As a child one of my pleasures was to play with two balls - usually tennis balls or something with a similar bounciness. I would throw them up one after the other - a sort of juggling really which makes me wonder why I never progressed to three or more balls - catching them one at a time. My hands were too small to catch them both at once so the trick was to keep one ball in the air at all times (that's also true of juggling).

4BH also had plenty of exterior wall space so I would spend hours practising playing with these balls against the wall. When I used to awake early, after a night riddled with nightmares, I'd go out into the garden in the dawn light and play, alone, for a long time, until breakfast was called or until the treacherous bright morning gave way to clouds and rain. I'd practise underhand and overhand throws, high or low on the wall and one-handed. I am always interested in how hard children will sometimes work to prefect a minor skill. I think I once broke a window while engaged in this pastime and reluctantly owned up.

I don't remember my siblings being involved; it certainly is in my memory as a solitary game. 

What is curious about the Facebook posting is the suggestion that it isn't something done today and I can't imagine why not, tennis balls still being available.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015



At Becky's last week I was asked about my thoughts and ideas on moving child-safety up a notch as Carmen becomes even more agile and inquisitive. One thing I threw away was a broken music box in the shape of a teddy sitting on a drum. "Put it on the windowsill, please, Grandma" said Carmen. I told her no and showed her the spike emerging from its ruined insides. She eventually seemed to understand what I was saying and agreed with me "in the bin!"

In My Day

When Lizzie was about three Paul and I had occasion to visit an antiques fair or shop. I can't quite remember where it was - Wisbech, I think. While there we saw a Mobo horse. Mobo were manufacturers of pressed steel toys and this was a sprung toy horse, about three foot tall. I think it was painted blue. This picture shows the sort of thing it was.

We thought that Lizzie would love it and stuffed it into the back of the car and drove home. (We were stopped on the way by police who were looking for a criminal antiques dealer, but that's another story).

So, we got the creature home and ensconced in Lizzie's bedroom. It was enormous, relative to the size of Rowan Avenue, and as our house filled up with Becky and a range of long-term visitors, it was moved from place to place, ending up in our tiny front porch which also housed a chest freezer. We could hardly get in and out. One day I'd had enough. To my knowledge, Lizzie had never actually got up on the horse, nor shown any interest in it and visiting children ignored it as well. So one day I just got rid of it - I can't remember by what means.

Cue tantrums from Lizzie. She bewailed the loss of her horse as though it had been her best buddy. Even Paul glowered at me and I felt like a criminal myself.

Well, it was too late, and Lizzie eventually got over it. Looking back, I do think that if I had simply discussed it with her  first (as I did with Carmen over the drum) all might  have been well.

Although, given the way Carmen remembers things, I fully expect her to complain for months to come that I threw out her music box.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Old Chestnut


This year's Sainsbury's Christmas ad is very delightful in which Mog the cat manages to wreck the whole house. In one sequence chestnuts start roasting and flying all over the kitchen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuRn2S7iPNU

In My Day

We rarely roasted chestnuts as children, although some were sometimes bunged on a shovel and put on the fire at Guy Fawkes. More commonly, we had them peeled and simmered in turkey stock to go with Christmas dinner.

Paul often used to extol the delights of roasted chestnuts as enjoyed when he lived in the 17th century Dial House. He conjured up visions of roaring log fires, cosy family evenings full of simple home-spun pleasures.

Picture this: It's evening at Rowan Avenue in about 1975 or 76. Lizzie is  tucked up in bed and we're relaxing for the evening. Suddenly there's a sound of gunfire; spasmodic loud explosions. Was there a shoot-out in the street? Should we call the Police?  Hang on! Weren't they coming from the kitchen? Looking panic-stricken, Paul rushed to the kitchen and opened the oven door. More explosions, this time firing straight at his face. He slammed the door shut and switched off the oven.

Thinking to please me, Paul had put some chestnuts in the oven to roast. How delightful it would be to recreate his childhood experience in our bare 1970's semi! However, fantasy needs to meet reality at some stage if disaster is to be avoided, and what Paul had never noticed during those cosy evenings was that every chestnut had a prick in its shell so that it could expand in the heat.

I think we scraped a few chestnuts off the tray and I'm not sure that I ever got the oven quite clean.

They say it's the thought that counts but that saying is a bit of an old chestnut as well.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

You Know You want To


Reactions to Thames Valley Police's Tea Consent video about rape have ranged from the derisive to the amused to the "I know what they're getting at".

I'm mainly in the last camp; although whether this will affect the number of rapes is another question.

In My Day

Back in about 1987, Lizzie had invited a bunch of her schoolfriends over. They were all about 14. Somehow the subject got onto rape and one girl (speaking from her vast experience) talked about it as though it was something you might want and even enjoy. In her mind rape was just slightly more forceful sex. Maybe she'd read too many bodice-rippers.

"Look, Vicky," I said, also forcefully  "It's like this: supposing you really like Mars Bars and have let it be known that they're your favourite. A person offers you a Mars Bar. You don't fancy one at the time so you say no. They say, 'go on, you know you want one'. You say 'Really, no thanks'. They come closer to you, telling you want a Mars Bar right now. As you continue to refuse they grab you, force your mouth open and stuff it down your throat."

I paused for effect while Vicky looked a bit sick. "Rape", I told Vicky and the other girls around the table "has little to do with sex and everything to do with violence, and don't any of you confuse the two."

No matter if you love sex, no matter if you like wearing short skirts or going clubbing, you have the right to refuse and to be respected. As I write, rape is a way of life in countries around the world, as well as being used as a weapon of war in many, and we must do all we can to change this.

So, full marks for trying, TVP, I just hope your video doesn't have a trivialising effect on how we view this crime of dominance and hatred .

Monday, November 02, 2015



On Facebook my niece was describing how one of her dogs had guzzled down a bottle of coconut oil and the resulting mess when the dog's body rejected the oil.... "Dogs seem to have zero self-control" commented Lizzie.

In My Day

Caspian, our dog, had all the best qualities of a mongrel. He ate whenever there was an opportunity, clearly having no faith in the regular arrival of his next meal. Food never seemed to touch the sides and you couldn't leave him alone with it. 

In our garden at Montfort Close there were a couple of conference pear trees. The fruit was nothing special but Cas used to sit beneath the trees, crunching on windfalls, earwigs and all. He could consume 20 at a time. He never made the link between how bad he felt the next day, shivering and vomiting, and these orgies.

He once stole 5 kilos of cheese after I carelessly left a shopping bag on the floor and another time spent a night at the local chippy in Crowborough devouring the contents of the bins.

On another occasion he  took a flying leap into someone's picnic when we lived at Southampton, stealing a Marmite sandwich just as its rightful owner was lifting it to his lips. And I routinely had calls from the butcher at Stoke St Michael to tell me that Cas had got into his bins.

His worst hours came after he'd found a catering pack of mixed dried fruit. He consumed the lot, only to lose it all on the patio a couple of hours later, feeling very ill indeed.

What he also never understood was why we had to starve him for twenty-four hours after each of these excesses to give his body a chance to recover, and that a visit to the vet might also be necessitated.

I don't think that self-control is in a dog's dictionary, Lizzie, so we have to try to have it for them! At least in Sarah's case the accident necessitated an huge house clean, which might be a good thing, only I doubt if that was how she had planned to spend her Sunday.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bloody Cheek


There has been much publicity recently about whether the government will or won't remove the VAT on women's sanitary products.

Ever since the introduction of VAT they have been classed as "luxury" items which beggars belief and reinforces the feeling that we are still ruled by a misogynistic elite.

"Many men", I told Paul this morning "are disgusted by this simple reproductive fact".

In My Day

It is true that we are more open about these matters these days. But when I was young the subject was still rather taboo and our family was unusual in the way in which this fact of life was explained.

Daddy simply broached the subject one evening after Mamma had been displaying some (to us) inexplicably irrational behaviour. He not only gave us the reason why but explained the biological process. He didn't make a song and dance about it; in fact, I think we had just finished supper and were all round the table.

Later, as I approached puberty, Mamma took me to one side and explained how to manage it when it occurred. This meant that when I had my first period, I had only a moment's surprise before remembering Mamma's advice so that I was able to speak to her quite normally.

Even in our plain-speaking family there still had to be a euphemism "The Circus" my mother called it, presumably because of the regularity with which it came round, and my mother-in-law called it "The Curse".

I had a colleague who had been educated by nuns and was completely ignorant about the whole thing. When she awoke to a pool of blood one morning she thought she was dying. She spoke to the nuns about it and they said "It's a cross we women have to bear", and left it at that. It was years before she was able to accept this part of her life as normal.

While I think that that menstruating is a personal matter and that it's crass to make jokes a la Jo Brand about the function, maybe it's a necessary part of the process of bringing it out of the shadows of disgust and into the realm of normality.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Don't Feed the Animals


A few days ago, we took Carmen to Longleat. She seemed to enjoy her day, especially when we stopped to look at the giraffes and zebras. Until you are close up to a giraffe you forget just how huge they are.

In My Day

I think it was in about 1987 and I was caring for a friend's child who was of a similar age to Becky. One day I decided that it would be a treat to take the girls to Longleat. I packed up a nice picnic and off we set.

I was using my car to drive round and we stopped in the area where the zebras, giraffes and camels were. These days you  don't walk amongst these animals; you walk on a raised walkway and view from above.

I was carrying the picnic bag and decided in my wisdom that we didn't need to go into the designated picnic area; what was wrong with sitting on the grass?

We sat down and I unpacked the picnic: hard-boiled eggs, new potatoes, cans of pop, crisps etc. We began to tuck in. Suddenly I noticed a giraffe striding toward us. He was about twenty foot tall and his intentions were plain. He wanted our picnic. I began to pack up as he loomed ever closer. I had two urgent anxieties. One was to get the children and myself away from those enormous hooves. The other was to grab a ring-pull that was lying on a plate, as I feared that this might kill the giraffe if he accidentally swallowed it.

Just as he reached us I grabbed all the hardware, leaving Becky's unfinished picnic to meet its fate and we scrambled into the picnic area.

The giraffe really enjoyed Becky's picnic, although using his mouth, which is adapted to eating leaves, to attempt to spear the egg and potato was fascinating to watch, He rolled them around, eventually getting them into his mouth and down the hatch.

We were very lucky that there weren't worse consequences. It's easy to think that a herbivorous animal with a reputation for gentleness can't possibly hurt you, but of course they are all equipped to defend themselves very ably, and I learnt a lesson in respect that day.

Saturday, August 29, 2015



This morning on Facebook someone posted a silly picture of two cats agreeing that (presumably mice) don't have souls.

In My Day

On my first trip to join the Laetare Singers at Holland House in 1994, I hesitantly made my way down to breakfast on the the first morning. I didn't know anybody so joined a group of people at a table where there seemed to be a space.

An animated conversation was going on. "I say," said a pompous-looking man, who had a small and meek-looking wife beside him, "Have you seen Stella lately?" No-one had. "Only I was wondering if she was planning to come to the Belshazzar's Feast workshop next week." Someone volunteered that she wasn't because her dog was terminally ill and she had to stay and nurse it. "And miss Belshazzar!!" said the man incredulously. "That's terrible!" He didn't seem to think that a beloved dog dying was terrible at all.

"Quite, Quite." agreed several. "She should just get the dog put down", said another. Others agreed and I listened to this conversation with fascination for a while. Eventually I said "You wouldn't suggest this if it were Granny." "Oh, but dogs don't have souls" was the reply. While I digested this piece of nonsense, the little wife was meekly nodding her head to all her husband's outrageous remarks.

"Well", I said "I wouldn't know about that, but I do think that if we take on responsibility for an animal we have a duty to care for it. We can't just kill it because it's inconvenient." There was silence. Then little wifey spoke up "I quite agree", she said in a prim voice. Hubby looked daggers at her defiance and the conversation shifted to safer topics.

If having a soul means something about the capacity for  life after death, I couldn't say. If it means having a personality and capacity to express emotion, any pet owner will disagree with the "soulless" statement vigorously.

Monday, August 24, 2015



A friend of mine reported that she was looking after a neighbour's  hamster. This hamster escaped, so there was much panic until food lured him back.

In My Day

There was an occasion, back in about 1989 or so when our neighbours asked us to feed their Siberian hamster while they were on holiday. Siberian hamsters are very small. All went OK, except we had to go away for a couple of days ourselves, so we delegated the task to another neighbour. This was all very well, but these two neighbours didn't get on at all well, so we had no intention of revealing what we'd done. We'd be back first; what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, actually.

When we got back, neighbour number two (Kim, her name was). told us that the little blighter had got out because she'd failed to latch the little hatch on the cage properly. We were horrified and Paul went over with Kim to try to find it (remember Siberian Hamsters are very small).

They went over several times and were in fits of laughter as they hunted all over the place. Food was left out and it was eaten but the creature would not be found. How were we going to explain it? Whichever way was bad. We'd either lost the hamster ourselves,  showing us to be unreliable, or we had to reveal that we'd handed their house keys to hated neighbour Kim. 

Eventually, having failed in our search, we stuck a notice on the door so that they wouldn't accidentally let him out of the front door and gave up.

Fortunately, our neighbours found the whole thing funny too and the little blighter eventually turned up, but not before he'd chewed through a TV aerial cable.

In general, I think, agreeing to look after any creature smaller than a Guinea-pig is a liability and should be avoided!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hello, Campers


Carmen is having her first experience of camping today. I wonder if she'll enjoy it.

In My Day

These days I avoid camping as much as possible but back in 1974 it seemed like a very good way to have a cheap holiday. We went into a camping a shop behind the London Road in Brighton and confidently bought a large frame tent, an airbed, sleeping bags, camping stove and a range of other apparently vital items. It cost more than our combined week's wages but we reasoned that this would more than pay for itself over the years.

We decided to spend our Summer holiday at a campsite near Lynton in Devon. Lizzie was about twenty-two months old. Well, we found the campsite and somehow got the tent erected. Exactly why were the tent poles joined in the middle by a sort of spring clip? (It was years before we realised that this natty convenience allows you to do all the fiddly bits with the tent at half-mast, so to speak, rather than stretching up to 6 feet.) The airbed was pumped up and I mastered the art of the camping stove.

Actually it was a capacious tent for two people and a toddler and I was relieved by the existence of inner zipped bedrooms that would (I hoped) keep earwigs and mozzies at bay. I think that the Summer of 1974 wasn't too bad. There was a little drizzle, but mainly the sun shone.

Lizzie discovered that the communal tap in the middle of the site was leaking and she spent many joyous hours playing with the water and a little bucket. And we explored Exmoor, discovering a beautiful grassy bank on Weir Water near Robber's Bridge where Lizzie played in the shallow fast-running stream and Paul lost a contact lense and taking Lizzie to spend lots of time on the beach and at Watersmeet. 

As with many of life's experiences, camping had its proper time and place in our lives and I'm glad I don't have to do it ever again if I don't want.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Catch a Falling Star


Last night we decided to sit out late to try to catch some of the lightshow known as the Perseid meteor shower. We don't have much light pollution in Oakhill, although we do have a lot of trees which slightly obscured our view of the sky.

The night was warm, there was no moon, the sky was filled with stars and we seemed to be sitting right under the Milky Way. After an hour the clouds began to creep across and we went indoors.

During that time we saw 2 shooting stars.... Hardly a shower, more like a couple of drops,

In My Day

Back in 1969 on my great hitch-hiking holiday, I spent a week or so in Crete. We stayed at the (then) hippie resort of Matala. There were lots of other hitch-hikers and travellers and we joined a loose group of about half-a-dozen Americans. The days were hot and the nights dry and warm. There was no point in trying to find accommodation (anyway, we had very little money) and the caves cut into the cliff faces were very stuffy and only useful in the event of rain.

So we just slept on the beach. After eating omelettes with raw onions and tomatoes and drinking local red wine, we'd lie back on the sand, quietly chatting, singing and dozing. Crete has a dry climate and at that time was undeveloped as a resort, so the night skies were black and clear. I would lie and gaze and gaze at the stars above. and there were often shooting stars. I don't think that I really knew what a shooting star was; perhaps I actually thought they were stars, not fragments of a comet. The show was wonderful and added to the dreamy quality of that time.

It's only now that I realise, the month being August, that I was probably witnessing the Perseid shower.

It's a slight compensation for the fact that a: I like to go bed earlier and b: the night skies in Blighty are often cloudy, that I have had this experience.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fly my Kite


My Nephew posted a picture this morning of his family flying kites on the beach.

In My Day

I don't think I had much experience in flying kites as a child but we did have a brief dalliance when the girls were small. It was about 1979 and Paul and I had spent a very good day Christmas shopping in London. Among the things we had bought was a beautiful silk and bamboo chinese kite shaped like a butterfly, which we'd bought in Liberty's Oriental department. This was duly given as a gift to Lizzie for Christmas.

On new Year's Day we and our neighbours Beverley and John decided that the best way to cure our hangovers was to take all our children up to Beachy Head and fly kites. I think they had a kite as well. We unpacked the butterfly and
constructed our beautiful kite. This picture shows the type of thing that it was.

Off it went! How lovely it looked, with the wings flapping realistically and its eyes revolving in its head! How quickly it came down again; Paul & I not being the world's best kite experts. Off it went again! This time we managed to keep it up for some time. When it did come to rest it did so in the middle of an enormous thorn bush (there are lots of these on the Downs), and we had to try to retrieve it. We couldn't simply pull it; that would rip the silk. The answer seemed for me to climb onto John's shoulders and lean in to gently disentangle it. I succeeded and we were off again. That kite must have had a particular love of thorn bushes as this sequence was repeated time and time again.

Eventually, John couldn't take the strain anymore and the children were starting to freeze. So we wrapped up the kite, never to fly it again and went of to the cinema to watch Snow White.

I guess kite-flying is a skill like any other, but it's probably wise to keep away from trees and bushes and stick to the beach.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Power of Dreams


Nobody really knows, even today, why we have dreams and what function they perform. Last night I had a trivial dream, involving finding a pair of knickers for a small child, from which I awoke with a pounding heart, the effect of which hasn't gone away in over three hours.

In My Day

I think it would be true to say that my dreams in childhood formed a sort of night-time country which I inhabited. Some I even remember today - fish with huge blue eyes that swam around close to my face, great swollen visages that seemed to press onto me.

Falling asleep with my light on always resulted in nightmares and I found myself with a dilemma. Reading my books at three a.m. was a way of helping me get back to sleep and getting up to turn the light off would break that drowsiness. But I began to dread the awful visions of the nightmares and struggled to keep awake. Often it was only with the dawn that I allowed sleep to overtake me.

Often these light-on dreams involved my trying to walk or run, but finding that I couldn't lift my feet up or that the way became steeper and steeper, or I was trying to run in treacle-like mud. Sometimes wild animals were roaming around the house and I spent the dream in attempting to conceal myself. Then there were the dreams in which a half-naked me was trying to hide the fact of my inappropriate dress.

Once I dreamt I was being strangled and actually awoke to find the pillow on my face. How had that happened?

My parents slept on another floor from us and would probably not have heard if I had cried out (and sometime I was forced out of a dream by trying to shout or scream). By morning I was keen to enter the daylit world and rarely mentioned what my nights were like. Maybe my Mother half-guessed which is why she later called me "secretive".

If dreams are a way of processing daily experiences, what were mine trying to do? They mostly had the effect of exhausting me and making me anxious about sleep altogether. Even today, I submit to sleep, rather than welcoming it. 

Do you know, there are some people who say they don't dream, despite what the scientists say. And I say, happy for them if they can lay down their heads and wake up seven hours later without a thumpy heart or tearful eyes. Ah! If only!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Art of Lute


Last night was Cantilena's Summer concert, We entitled it "the Art of Love" which we explored through Italian and English madrigals and the poetry of Johnson, Marlowe and Spencer. We also had a lutenist who gently played some English and Spanish tunes to set the 17th C mood.

In My Day

I'm not sure when it was, about 1993, I think, when I was approached by someone who told me that a friend of his was learning the lute and would I like to sing with him. I was very interested and contacted this person.

He told me that  he was a widower, formerly a dentist, who had been a semi-professional guitarist. He had now decided to take up the lute and was working on Dowland's Lachrymae. He lived at Lydford near Shepton Mallet and one sunny Sunday I drove off to meet him.

He was a tall, rather raw-boned man, probably in his mid 60s and lived in a modern shambolic bungalow, the ground floor of which was full of  furniture and unused. He himself lived in a little attic annexe. Thither he took me and offered me a delightfully prepared light lunch. He fluttered around anxiously, offering me tea, wine, water etc. 

Eventually it was time to start and he took up his lute and I began to sing. About 3 bars in he stopped to replay a missed note, which slightly threw me. We started again. This time he faltered at the 4th bar and replayed a couple of notes. We started again. Things got worse and worse with him constantly stopping to go back. I said to him, "When you are accompanying you can't really do that; you just have to keep on going, otherwise I won't know where I am, We can tidy things up afterwards." He started again, getting more and more flustered. "I've practised and practised!" He cried despairingly.

We agreed that we would meet again, a week or so later, to give him more time. Each meeting was a repeat of the first. We never got past the first 20 bars and he would lament (rather like Dowland) that he had been practising until the small hours and then he would go all to pieces when we tried to put it together. I even tried singing the whole song without him so that he could hear what it sounded like. He was always so upset and flustered and I began to suspect that he was a little in love with me.

Finally, I decided that I couldn't sacrifice any more Sundays on this fruitless enterprise and we parted. I saw him occasionally at Cantilena concerts when he always sported very loud jackets in citrus shades.

Embarrassingly, I can no longer remember his name. I hope he eventually played the Lachrymae without any tears of his own.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Great Escape


It's funny how a minor disaster makes people more friendly. Yesterday, although the cause was not minor, it being a person hit by a train, the effect on me was only a 90 minute delay before my train left Paddington.

I and my neighbour, a pleasant young woman of about eighteen, got chatting. We talked about travels and I regaled her with tales of my 1969 hitch-hiking tour. She was especially amused/horrified by my story of our escape from the Algerians.

In My Day

When my friend, Angela and I started on our trip, we had very little experience of anything really, let alone hitch-hiking. We disembarked at Calais and set off heading, we hoped, for the Rhone valley.

Our second lift was with two men who said that they were also heading South and were avoiding Paris. We put our rucksacks into their boot and climbed into the back. When they explained that they were leaving the Route Nationale because of the peage, that seemed reasonable. But soon the roads they took became smaller and smaller.

Angela spoke nothing but English but my French was pretty good in those days, and I became concerned when I realised that our hosts were talking to each other in a dialect I couldn't understand. They spoke regular French to me, and I gathered at some point that they were French Algerians.

It was getting dark and the narrow road was now winding through a thick forest. The driver stopped and the men asked that we change places so that one of us would be in the back with one of them, the other in the front. I didn't like this at all and challenged them. When they wouldn't alter their request I said that we wanted to go and demanded that we have our rucksacks back. I had to push for this, eventually accusing one that he intended stealing our belongings. He opened the boot. We grabbed our bags, ran away from the car and scrambled into the forest as soon as we could.

Somehow we got away from the road and crouched among the trees while the Algerians turned their car round and came slowly down the road looking for us. They did this, back and forth a few times, while we stayed hidden. Eventually it seemed they'd driven away. It was pitch dark by this time so we unravelled our sleeping bags and tried to find a comfortable spot among the undergrowth.

We dozed fitfully. At one time we heard something large crashing about in the undergrowth. Was it the men come back for us? We hadn't heard a car; maybe it was a wild boar. We stayed very still until all noises had ceased.

At last the dawn broke and we emerged onto the lane (that's all it was really). We had no idea where we were and just had to keep walking until we found a main road. After that we became more careful, never being parted from our rucksacks and generally refusing lifts in cars with more than one male.

Given that I survived the experience, I much enjoy telling these tales of my early adventures and they don't seem to lose any of their entertainment value in the telling.

Monday, May 04, 2015



One surefire way of getting Carmen to sleep is to sing "Ten Green Bottles" - maybe she finds it reassuring or maybe it's just so dull, but she's usually nodded off by the time we get to five.

Now this is a song that we all know and it got me thinking about these kinds of songs and how it is that they enter our consciousness.

At English Concert Singers get togethers we always sing "And when the Saints" with decorations, and every football club has its song, roared out drunkenly at matches. And we all know "Happy Birthday".

In My Day

There were a number of songs like this which we sang as children or young people, often when we were passing the time, waiting in a queue or travelling in a coach. 

"Ten Green Bottles" was clearly one at the simpler, juvenile end, along with "There Were Ten in the Bed". We sang "One Man went to Mow", adding more and more strange items to his lunchbox and equipment, and "Clementine".

We progressed onto "On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at", much enjoying its gruesome ending (actually, that might have contributed to my wish to be buried under a strawberry plant) and by this time we were able to add harmonies and little riffs. We certainly used to sing these while queuing outside door 2 at the Proms. Our knowledge of anatomy was helped by "Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones". There were shorter interludes: "Lloyd George Knew my Father" and "My Eyes are Dim" - these sung to hymn tunes. We  added the more melodic "Kumbaya" and "Michael Row the Boat Ashore".

One strange song was "Green Grow the Rushes". This was sung progressively, like "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and we had scant idea of the meaning, though I think it was religious in inspiration, and it kept us going for a good long time.

 I'll sing you one ho
Green grow the rushes ho, What is your one ho?
One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so.
I'll sing you two ho
Green grow the rushes ho, What is your two ho?
Two, two the little white boys clothes all in green ho, ho!
One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so
Twelve for the Twelve Apostles
Eleven for the eleven who went to Heaven
Ten for the Ten Commandments
Nine for the nine bright shiners
Eight for the April rainers
Seven for the seven stars in the sky
Six for the six proud walkers
Five for symbols at your door
Four for the Gospel makers
Three, three the rivals

Were these songs just a feature of our times and are they being replaced with new ones? I don't know, although these days there are people who don't know "On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at". But at last Saturday's Britain's got Talent, the audience all roared along with "Let it Go" from "Frozen" in much the same was as we roared out our ditties. So maybe all isn't lost: it's just changing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adventures in Baby Sitting


Becky was making arrangements for her babysitter. First, making sure that she and Carmen had a chance to meet, second, that the babysitter had a comfortable somewhere to sit and third, that there was a nice supper available. All right and proper and pretty standard stuff, you might say.

In My Day

When I was between fifteen and eighteen I belonged to the St John's Church Youth Club in Upper Norwood. One of the things we offered was a babysitting service. The customers had access to a pool of young people whose credentials they could trust and we earned some very useful pocket money.

Clients came in all forms. The best were those who invited you to meet the children; maybe read them a bedtime story. Then they showed you the kitchen where there would be tea and coffee, a snack or access to biscuits etc. If you were lucky you had a very comfortable evening during which you watched TV or got some "A" level work done (I think that I completed most of my theatre design coursework while babysitting) and had peacefully sleeping children.

There was one family whose idea of meeting the children first was to leave their four sons (aged between about three and nine) racketing about their very untidy and dirty house while they scooted cheerfully off. I considered it a real achievement if I could get them all in bed before the parents got home. I rarely had time for a snack and a sit down (anyway their sofas were all pretty grimy). They did pay well, though.

At another home the little baby  never stopped crying. The parents would tiptoe out, leaving baby and me to get acquainted as best we could while she screamed her poor little heart out. I guess she got to know me in the end but she still cried and I think that the parents were unwise not to give us any stress-free time together before bedtime.

I had two extreme clients. There was a couple who simply had no idea of time. "Home by eleven" could mean home by two am. I would be getting more and more anxious; had there been an accident? Dare I have a little doze on the sofa? How was I going to get up in the morning? They did pay well, but that wasn't really the point. On the final occasion that I sat for them, Daddy called at about one am, understandably worried about me. When I said that the parents weren't back he announced his intention of coming to get me. He had to walk there and twenty minutes later he turned up, frothed into a right rage. He told me to come with him. I said that I couldn't leave the children and we were still arguing when the parents breezed in. Daddy told them what he thought of them and then marched back up the hill, refusing a lift,  while I was driven home. I didn't go back there.

Much the best were the parents of little Paul. They were quite well-off and his mother used to leave out a lovely meal for me and was very friendly. They came to trust me with Paul with whom I got on famously and invited me to join a family party at Marazion in Cornwall where a ruby wedding was being celebrated. My job was to look after Paul and his little cousin when the family went out for evening jaunts. The rest of the time I was free and I took advantage of this, walking along the coast and drawing pictures of local objects and  St Michael's Mount. The cousin cried rather a lot when she was with me, but she was very young and we hadn't been introduced, but otherwise it was a very enjoyable salaried holiday.

I was completely untrained and these families trusted me with their little ones. Whether this was a tribute to my reliability or a comment on their difficulties with childcare I can't say. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rejoice and Sing


I don't know why or how some tunes suddenly arrive unbidden in our heads, but this morning I've found myself humming Hava Nagila 

In My Day

For some reason, when I was in the sixth form at school we all knew this song. I don't think that we had much of a Jewish contingent at Selhurst Grammar School for Girls and I suspect that there was more than a little snobbery in the fact that we even knew the Jewish words. We didn't know the meaning of them, I think.

I remember an excursion to the theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon to see, I think, Julius Caesar, which was one of our A-level texts. The trip involved an overnight stay at a hostel, a visit to Ann Hathaway's cottage and other sites. At last we arrived at the theatre, far too early and had to wait for the doors to open. How to spend the time? We joined hands in a circle and danced round, faster and faster, singing Hava Nagila, also faster and faster, until we fell apart, laughing. I've no idea what other people thought of a dozen or so seventeen year-old schoolgirls dancing crazily; today we would probably be regarded as some kind of street theatre, but we were quite uninhibited and kept the dancing going until the theatre opened and we could be thrilled by "et tu, Brute".

Here's modern video of proper Jewish people dancing it:


I've since discovered that it's a fairly modern song, that the words basically mean "sing and rejoice" and are sung at Bar/bat mitzvahs. Not so unsuitable for girls on the threshold of adult life to sing joyously.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Changing Trains


There was a recent thread on Facebook in which my nephew was wondering about trains to Stockport. "All trains change at Crewe!" I airily remarked "not these days", said my nephew. "Unless you want to go to Cheltenham from Birmingham New Street!" I added.

There's some history to this:

In My Day

On 8 March 1996 a train carrying liquid CO2 suffered an axle failure and collided with a mail train at Rickerscote, near Stafford. One of the trains came to rest against the end wall of a house.

This meant that it was several days before the loco could be removed and trains in this busy area get back to normal.

At the same time I had business in the North West and travelled by train from Bristol Parkway to Preston via a number of train changes at Birmingham New Street and Nuneaton.

I'd had a chilly, lonely, but productive week, and was very anxious to get home on the Friday. After much struggling (Nuneaton featured again, I think) I eventually got to Birmingham New Street by about nine at night. The station was chaos; flocks of people milled around trying to find their platform and announcements contradicted earlier ones.

At last I found the platform for Bristol. The train  was a long time coming. Near me on the platform were a jolly couple of men, both aged about 60. They were cheerfully drunk and I gathered from their conversation that they'd done quite well at Cheltenham Races that had been on that week. They both had broad northern accents and discussed vociferously whether they were on the right platform. "All trains change at Crewe!" announced one old geezer. "Quite right", slurred his mate "all trains do change at Crewe".

Shortly after this the train trundled up and we all piled in, the two ageing drunks with the rest. The train stayed for some time and our companions regaled the compartment, talking about how great the '60s had been "Easy Rider - best film ever made", said one guy as though he'd spent his youth on a motorbike road trip, not drudging away up North. "It's like wartime", agreed his friend "maybe we should all sing some Vera Lynn". And he lifted up his voice in "We'll Meet Again."

The train began to pull out "Great!" said drunk number one "We'll soon be home". "Oh, yes! All trains change at Crewe!" 

As we got going one of the men leaned across the gangway to a young women and said, "Where are you going, love?" "Bristol Temple Meads", came the reply. There was a long silence while a ripple of laughter went round the compartment. 

He looked accusingly at me "You knew we were on the wrong train." "How was I to know?" I replied. "You haven't spoken a word of sense since you got on the train!" 

It turned out that they were trying to get home to Stockport and had to leave the train at the next stop which happened to be Cheltenham. So they had to spend their hard-earned races winnings on overnight accommodation and fresh train tickets.

So, you are right, Chris, not all trains change at Crewe. But that incident cheered up a long and tiring journey and has made me smile ever since.

Friday, April 10, 2015



Becky sent me a gorgeous picture showing Carmen wearing her new sunglasses. Very cool.

Everyone these days owns sunglasses; they're are seen as essential, even in cloudy Britain.

I don't much like them for myself and hardly ever wear them. In fact, I am only using them now because of my recent cataract operations. 

In My Day

I don't think we had sunglasses as children. In fact, nobody we knew had them. My parents never wore any and, day to day, if I saw someone wearing dark glasses I assumed that they were blind or partially sighted and wore them for protection.

Paul's Mum used to wear sunglasses by the time I first met her and told of an occasion when she was in her 80s when she forgot them and sat sunning herself in the Italian garden in Eastbourne and damaged her eyelids. But then Tricia was also inclined to sit in the sun rather too much. This picture taken during the '50s shows her and friends in Hastings where none of these otherwise glamorous mums are wearing sunglasses. They probably weren't wearing skin protection either.

I remember once buying a little pair of sunglasses for Lizzie when she was about two and Mum disapprovingly telling me that they would "draw" the eyes. I asked her what she meant and she said "well you know, draw". Which clarified things perfectly.

What I am wondering is whether our eyes are the better or worse for this as surely we must be adapted as a species to a reasonably high level of light entering our eyes.

Well, chacun etc and one generation's luxury is another's essential and Carmen does look rather cute in hers. And I doubt whether her eyes will be any the worse for them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015



Today is something of an anniversary, it being just about 10 years since I started this blog. While I've actually blogged 476 times, I've noticed that I write fewer blogs these days and have been wondering why this is. Is it because I'm running out of memories, is it that some memories are not right to share with the world at large or is it that I've already told them so many times that they are becoming repetitive?

This has got me thinking about the memories that we share and how and when we share them.

In My Day

Mamma and Daddy both used to share memories of their younger days with us. Daddy's were mostly harrowing tales of his slum childhood, days in prison as a conscientious objector and stories about his toxic second wife just before and during the War (although the objective truth of this last one is a little called into question by reading his diaries....).

Mamma told us tales of her comfortable childhood in Germany where it seemed that she was involved in all sorts of community events and enjoyed a rich cultural life. She described life at the "Household School" where she was taught all the housewifely arts and told me about walking in the Hartz Mountains with her father where she experienced terrifying thunderstorms. 

Although we knew about the impact of Nazi Germany on her life, horror stories didn't come from her; it was mainly Daddy who filled in the gaps. Even stories about time spent as a lowly gardener or nanny took on a shine as she regaled us with stories about the quirks and oddities of the people she worked for and sweet stories about children she cared for. And her gardening knowledge seemed to be an endless store. She seemed to be able to give a spin to stories many of which, as I became older and learnt more, were actually stories of repression and hid the deep frustration she must have felt about losing her opportunities and family life so brutally.

I loved these stories and didn't mind how many times I heard them. Sometimes she'd preface them with "Stop me if you'd heard this one before", and, being brutal as children so often are, we'd shout her down vociferously. In truth, I think that many tales can stand repeated telling, like good books and films, and it may be that my memory of what my parents used to tell is partly so good precisely because of that repetition. 

Becky and Richard have given us a book in which to put various bits of family history as a future gift for Carmen. I think it's quite a sweet idea, but I hope she also reads my diaries, blogs and books when she's older and lets me tell her tales of my life endlessly .....

Sunday, March 22, 2015



Tonight's supper is Florentine pancakes. This simple dish involves pancakes, spinach and a yummy cheese topping.

In My Day

I first discovered this delight at the Strode Arms in Cranmore. In the early years at Stoke St Michael,  we were frequent visitors. There wasn't much for vegetarians - saute potatoes topped with grated cheese often did duty, although the amount of cheese varied and you weren't allowed to order this in the restaurant.

Florentine pancakes, however, were a very good dinner and Becky and I often had these. I suppose it must have been at least fifteen years ago, maybe more, and Becky and I fancied a night out. We ordered our usual, but, to be truthful, these weren't the best we'd had. The spinach was grey and a watery liquid enveloped the cheesy-ness. Still we ate it and decided that another glass and a pud were in order.

Becky went up to the bar. The landlord (now deceased) was a man called Rod. As Becky went to place her order he asked her what she's thought of her dinner. "Well, not the best", said Becky honestly "there was a lot of liquid from the spinach so it was rather soggy."

"I don't know why you bother to come here", replied Rod heatedly "you're always complaining, you're a pain in the butt." Becky walked back uncertainly to our table, clutching the refilled wine glasses and told me what had happened.

"That's out of order", I replied equally heatedly "let's go." I went to the bar "We'll be off, Rod", I said "we won't be wanting our desserts." He waved his hand at me, in a way that indicated that he wouldn't be taking my money and we left. 

Needing pud, we drove up to the Waggon & Horses on Doulting Beacon and had a nice Tiramisu, while airing our grievance.

I wrote to Rod, but received no reply or apology, so we never went back to the Strode until after Rod's death and a change of ownership.

Even had it been true that Becky was always complaining (which she wasn't) I have always thought that the initial rudeness was bad enough. but the failure to climb down afterwards was pure bad customer services and lost him some custom.

The cheese is browning nicely on my version, tho'!

Monday, March 09, 2015



Over the past couple of weeks we have been asking ourselves, "did Carmen actually catch Chickenpox?" Her cousin, with whom she played, certainly had a mild dose and a few little spots did appear on Carmen's face. But it all faded away very quickly, so who knows for sure?

"Best to get it over young," said many people knowledgeably.

In My Day

Mamma always said that I had Chickenpox so mildly that only she and the doctor knew. I was about the same age as Carmen is now and caught from my infant-school-age brothers, who both probably suffered more than I did. I had a few spots in my hair and showed no sign of unwell-ness. The same is true of Measles, German Measles and maybe Mumps. I have been in contact with these diseases several times in adulthood with no ill-effects.

The idea that these illnesses are worse when you're older is certainly borne out by my sister Beatrice's experience, as she had both Mumps and Chickenpox in her 20s. She told me about the mumps and how she could only eat porridge for about a week and how much it hurt.

Chickenpox she had whilst living with me in about 1979. She was very unwell, with a high temperature and lots of nasty, blisters on face, body and legs. The illness took a couple of weeks to clear, but its effects were felt for considerably longer.

The first effect was that one at least of the sores on her legs triggered a cellulitis attack, because of her Milroy's disease. I remember the argument with the doctor's receptionist who would not allow me to collect the necessary Flucloxacillin on her behalf, nor agree to a home visit for the incapacitated Beatrice. We attempted and failed to  manhandle her into a taxi. I called the surgery and attacked the receptionist so fiercely that she eventually passed me to a doctor who agreed that we could have the medication. We collected it but several precious hours were lost. So poor Beatrice again had a sky-high temperature and was laid up for another ten days or so.

At last we were free of infection and one Sunday morning I was just heaving a sigh of relief when I heard a huge shout from Beatrice's room. Up I dashed to find her in the middle of an epileptic seizure; the high temperatures having weakened her defences.

So much for Chickenpox being worse when you're older; I sincerely hope you have had it, Carmen, and will be immune in the future.

Sunday, March 08, 2015



My nephew was on Facebook bewailing the fact that he'd chosen to go to Ikea on a Sunday. There was  chorus of "what were you thinking?" in response.

In My Day

Although friends and family had been extolling the virtues of Ikea for some time I wasn't persuaded into a foray until the year 2000, following the creation a new bedroom at 7 Mead Close. We needed bedroom furniture; simples! Off to Ikea - everybody was doing it and it's Scandinavian so must be a Good Thing. We set off to Bristol with Becky and a friend of hers one Saturday afternoon.

Having to join a queue to enter the carpark ought to have been our warning. We should have turned around right then and there. But, having come so far we weren't going to be deterred. Eventually, about half an hour later, we managed to squeeze into a place.

We confidently walked into the store, planning to go to the bedroom dept, buy what we wanted and leave. Oh no, that's not a possibility at Ikea. The only way to get where you wanted was to walk through every department. Little jolly footprints on the floor marked the way and there were no shortcuts. In fact, I don't think I've ever been in a shop, other than Ikea, that uses this bullying sales tactic.

The shop was heaving, children ran uncontrolled through the aisles. We became more and more irritated and still hadn't seen what we wanted. At last we got to the right place and saw a useful wardrobe, bedside table, wall mounted cupboard and glazed cabinet. Perfect! Now to buy them.

This turned out to be almost as hard as getting into the carpark. Clutching our little dockets which told us in which aisle in the warehouse our items were, we then had to go through the entire rest of the shop  before getting to the warehouse. There was scant help if the items you were after were on the highest shelf or were too heavy for you to manage.

At last we dragged our overloaded trolley to the checkout where the queues were about an hour long. We waited and waited and waited. Ikea's only solution to the problem was to come round with dishes of boiled sweets as though all we needed was a sugar top-up to maintain our stamina and good humour.

We eventually got out and home and unloaded our stuff, only to discover that one item had a crack in it and the only solution was to take it back. I called Ikea "Which is your quietest time?" I demanded. "Tuesday mornings" was the answer, so we trekked back to change the item the following Tuesday, growling "never again".

I took proper umbrage a few years ago when a friend, admiring an original painting on my wall, asked, "Is it from Ikea?" (It was actually by Alce Harfield). Ikea is not my standard for art with which to adorn my walls!

I can't even avail myself of the consolation prize suggested by some, which is just to head for the cafe and wolf down meatballs, as I'm a veggie.