Grandma’s Clock

Grandma's clock

The other day I decided I needed to start a project I had had in mind for a while: cataloguing the various “heirlooms” from my family. I suppose writing about de-cluttering the other day has been an additional kick up the backside. Today I made a small start, and the most important item among those photographed was, of course, Grandma’s clock.

What better way to kill two birds with one stone than to write it up and turn it into a riveting online read. I know you are all absolutely desperate to know more about it.

When I was little I loved to sit and watch Grandma comb her hair. When I studied German as a teenager I completely understood the Lorelei, who sat and combed her hair, luring sailors to their doom on the Rhine. I could identify with the men who became entranced; it was like that, watching Grandma. Her hair never went grey apart from a little stripe at the front. The rest was auburn, and fell to her waist when she let it down from its cage of pins.

My grandmother lived with us, so she was very important to me. She read me stories and showed me how to make jam, and always loved my pictures, no matter how awful they were. Mostly I sat with her downstairs in the old battered leather armchair with the horsehair stuffing poking out of the seams, and we read books and drew pictures. Sometimes she got a little muddled and called me “Win”, thinking I was her dead daughter. In my thoughtless way I’d say “No Grandma, I’m not Winnie, she died!”. Way to go, EBL.

Less often I would go up to the bedroom and sit with her. Those occasions felt more special. Her bedroom was definitely hers alone, whereas downstairs everyone was in and out. She had all sorts of her treasures in there, and I liked to play with the jars on her dressing table, laying out the hairpins in patterns and sorting them into sizes. I was that kind of child. Her dressing table also boasted photos in sepia of more dead people, her brothers killed in the trenches of France, and her clock.

“I don’t wind up the chime,” she said a little sadly, “because it’s too noisy for other people.” She meant my parents. “It’s a lovely chime though.”

So of course I wanted to hear it, and so she wound it up just one turn and we listened to it ring. It was pretty and I wanted it to ring all the time, but she shook her head. It wasn’t like my grandmother to be quiet if she wanted something, so I suspect that the chimes also brought back memories she preferred to stifle. I was being allowed a rare glimpse, and I took the crumbs.

She told me about different clock chimes and sang them to me, and we went through “Oranges and Lemons”. She told me about old London churches too, being as she was a Londoner. Then she sang “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” as well. I sang it too.

“You’re not a Londoner though,” she said. “You weren’t born in London.”

It was like that bit in Last of the Mohicans, where Chingachgook says he is the last of his people and Hawkeye’s heart breaks. Well, my heart didn’t quite break, but it hurt, even though she was quite right. I was born in the Royal County of Berkshire.

When Grandma died my parents couldn’t find the key for the clock. It must have been caught up with the things that were thrown away. I insisted on keeping the clock though. It was 35 years before I found someone willing to clean it up and get it going, and now it sits on our mantelpiece and chimes irritatingly over the top of the television, usually at that bit right at the end when there’s a cliffhanger for next week’s show.

The man who fixed it for us stripped it right down and built it up again. Grandma had told me that her clock was a wedding present. I wish I had asked from whom, because it turns out that the clock is older than I thought. Grandma was married in 1910 but the clock apparently dates back to 1860. I assume it was a hand-me-down but I can’t quite work out who would have had it originally. It’s not particularly valuable; these clocks were quite common I understand, and I have seen several similar ones, although nothing exactly like it. Her own parents were married in 1877, so it was unlikely to be theirs except as another hand-me-down. My grandfather was illegitimate. The previous generations married in the 1850s so a little too early. It’s the typical genealogical conundrum, with endless possibilities and no chance of an answer. Don’t try family tree unless you are comfortable with uncertainty!

Anyway, that’s the tale of Grandma’s clock. It’s a big old alabaster Victorian monstrosity and I love it. When it chimes, she is with me still, combing her beautiful, long, auburn hair.

What objects hold memories for you?

Namaste

 

D is for De-cluttering

In my rather bleak post “D is for Difficult, Distress and Diplomacy” for the Quaker Alphabet series I intimated I had originally planned a different post for this letter. So here it is: De-cluttering.

I want to de-clutter. I really do. The reason this features in the Quaker blog series is because of the Quaker testimony to Simplicity. I feel that by leading the life of an inveterate collector of junk, dustballs and pre-loved arcana, I fail to live up to this challenge.

Try-to-live-simply

 

One way this testimony is currently expressed is as follows, in the Advices and Queries:

41. Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?

Advices & Queries, Britain Yearly Meeting

Well, sometimes I try….

I blame it on genetics. My father was an absolute master of hoarding. He never threw anything away if he could help it. And I do mean anything. When he died I found receipts from the local supermarket dating back over 20 years. I’m pretty sure the milk and bread they represented was never intended to last that long.

My parents’ house was full of stuff that my Dad couldn’t throw away. Opening cupboards invariably resulted in a cascade of objects hurtling out at you, landing on your head, or possibly slicing into your shins or trying to crush your toes. There was a shed which you couldn’t get into. Dad had brought the shed with him when he moved into the house in 1957, and it already contained vast piles of my grandparents’ precious bits and pieces. The loft was another treasure trove. There were several old televisions and radios and hi-fis, all beyond repair. I know they were beyond repair because Dad kept fixing them for as long as he could, and being as that was his original profession, he knew what he was doing. One old television emitted a hideous stink as it warmed up, but he and I used it to watch a series of old silent movies while my mother and grandmother sat in the other room watching their programmes. As a result I detect a whiff of rotten eggs every time I see Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd.

When Dad died I tried to rescue some of this cornucopia. There was a pile of 78 rpm records that I wanted to transfer to tape because they held happy memories of my childhood. They had been stacked too high and broken under the weight, but still he couldn’t throw them away.

My mother, on the other hand, threw things out all the time. That included my Spiderman comics, my favourite toys, my own records, my books and even a computer I loaned her to learn word processing. She can be a sentimental creature but not particularly clear on ownership. I’m hardly bitter at all.

These combined examples of hoarding regardless of worth and casual indifference to possessions seem to have left me with a split personality when it comes to keeping things. I keep far too much, and then have a binge of throwing away; almost immediately I suffer pains at the loss and buy more to fill the void in my soul. Taking things to the charity shop is a wonderful double-whammy of self-indulgence. I get to be a hero for donating, and then I spend money buying other people’s cast-offs, which means I donate even more. Go me!

Sigoth hoards as well, although in different ways. It doesn’t help.

Keep-only-what-is

 

We decided last year to try and reduce the clutter, taking as our motto “Keep only what is beautiful or useful”. This meant if we didn’t have a use for something, we had to display it as a decorative object. As an example, I brought my old toy clockwork train out of the loft and it is now on a shelf looking quite sweet and gathering dust.

The problem we have with actually throwing things away is that we can’t abide them just going to landfill when we know that somewhere someone wants them. We have had bad experiences with e-bay; initially it seemed the answer to our problems, but after a run-in with a troll we can’t bear the hassle any more. Nor was the table at the car boot sale particularly successful. I can’t believe how cheap some people are; it’s just plain rude. Somebody wanted to buy an old tea set for almost nothing so I said no and gave it to the charity shop instead. Cheeky blighter.

Once the evenings lighten and the days brighten and I feel my sap rising I plan to start again on the next round. Perhaps I’ll dabble with on-line selling one more time. Perhaps I’ll try one more car boot. Otherwise it’s off to the charity shop again.

And that’s that.

Except it isn’t.

There is all the other stuff that I will still keep. These things fall into a number of categories.

1. Books

I keep books. I have shelves and shelves of them. We live in a large house but there is not enough space for all my books. I have managed to throw away a few bookcases’ worth, but still the majority remain. I have a whole bookcase of the books I have bought but not yet read, and those wretched authors keep writing more. Yet I know that one day I may be unable to afford to buy books, and in that situation I want to have something to read.

2. Clothes

My fat clothes and my thin clothes fill drawers and drawers. Winter and Summer. Work and Home. Posh and Gardening. I can’t afford to keep buying clothes, you know, and I may gain/lose weight any time.

Best to be prepared – can you see the theme here?

3. CDs, DVDs and videos

Eventually these will all be digital but I am still in transition, after 30 years. I even have a cabinet full of my old vinyl albums and singles. Sigoth and I originally implemented a rule that we would only buy a new CD if we also replaced a vinyl album, and for a while it worked and we were able to get rid of quite a few records. Then we stopped, and you know I might one day listen to those old albums again. Funnily enough I am happy to have my music digitally. I can’t manage with books, despite owning and bloating an e-reader with lots of the classics I threw out in dead-tree format. I think this category is one I am most likely to make real strides in improving.

4. China

This is my inexcusable weakness. I do like china; the clay based product as well as the country. It is the former and not the latter that fills my house. Thank goodness. I’m not quite sure where I would stash 1.3 billion Chineses people, given that all the space is taken up with my clutter.

I have tea sets from my grandmother, and mother, and mother-in-law, as well as my own. You can get absolutely gorgeous stuff in charity shops! I collect a couple of common patterns, one in crockery and one in vases. Unfortunately Sigoth likes it too, so I am unrestrained. My excuse is that we like to entertain, and in truth we used to do so. I haven’t done much over recent years as I haven’t felt well enough. I might start again one day and it’s best to be prepared…

5. Heirlooms, Hand-me-downs, Knick-knacks and Gee-gaws

I am an only child and have inherited lots of clutter from the family. Some of the items I managed to rescue from my Dad’s “collection” included my grandmother’s Arts & Crafts style fireguards, her alabaster mantel clock, her hand-built writing bureau, Dad’s hand-made record cabinet, the perpetual calendar, till and scales from Dad’s shop, two Edwardian dining chairs, my parents’ mantel clock, two Lloyd Loom chairs, a sewing workbox, a standard lamp, the chest of drawers my Dad built when I was born, dressing table sets, a gentleman’s razor, and, inevitably, some cuddly toys.

And it’s here sentiment really does kick in.

My plan with the items in this last category is to photograph them and to create a catalogue. I suspect once I have the whole, terrible list in front of me I will be able to let some of them go. I have found this to be a useful tip: once I have the photo of an item to refer to I feel happy to let the actual physical item go out the door.

The furniture is likely to stay though because it’s good, solid, useful furniture. We live in an old house, and it suits the style. However, I really don’t need a shaving set. I’m proud of my whiskers!

Sigoth and I do have a plan and we are enacting it, like vegetable empires, yet more slow. Our poor old house was in need of a lot of work when we bought it and we have been sorting it out over the past decade as time and money permit. The structural work has now been done and we are finally decorating. In each room, as we plan it out, we agree what will live there, and if something does not belong it is removed. It’s one reason the loft is filling up. When we have finished, we will have a pile of leftovers, and those are the things we will have to make decisions about.

Back to Advices and Queries for a moment, because there was a tenuous link at the start. Why is it important to live simply? And does clutter hinder it, as I feel it does? The reason is, I think, that when we are overly mindful of things we cannot see past them to the true essence of living.

Keeping things that are useful or beautiful enhances our appreciation of life; so long as those things do not overwhelm us. I know I regret some of the things I have lost, and I also know that is due to my own insecurities and lack of self-confidence, because those things helped define who I am and gave me a sense of security (being prepared, being in control, being able to deal with whatever life threw my way). By strengthening my inner resources I will learn to let go of my outward crutches and walk freely in the light. In fact, then I might come to follow the advice of George Fox to its fullest extent.

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.

George Fox, 1656

By working towards simplicity I hope to recognise what Fox called “that of God”, and others may call the Inner Buddha, or Seed, or Light, or Christ, in myself and in others so that I can be part of bringing about peace.

Namaste

 

Tug of war

The weather outside is pretty wet and the fields are as muddy as they come, so how better to indulge in rest and relaxation as per doctor’s orders than by participating in a hearty tug of war?

That’s just what is going on over at The Matticus Kingdom, and I for one am heading along to join in the fun. The Jester himself has decreed that all are welcome to join in the debate on the thorny issue of which is better: DC or Marvel. I felt it was time to settle this particular thorny issue for once and for all. Time for some EBL wisdom.

By the way and for your information, the last time I took part in a tug of war I was 16 years old. I got to be the anchor because I was heaviest (ie fattest), but who cares because we won, and that was the one and only time being the fat girl worked in my favour. So look out world, here I come again.

When I was no more than a little Bag Girl, back in the days before Electronic was even a thing, I was a devotee of Superman comics. Bunty and Princess just didn’t quite float my boat. The rest of the girls at school loved them, but I was a bit of a rebel and preferred my super-heroes. And what was not to like about Superman: square-jawed, clean-cut and generally-hyphenated even down to having an alter-ego in Clark Kent? As a short-sighted child I adored a hero who wore glasses and wasn’t the Milky Bar Kid.

Comics also had to compete with television, even in those prehistoric times. And on television was another superhero: Batman, with his quirkily scripted sidekick Robin and hilarious villains, not to mention cartoon-captioned fight scenes. Kapow! Zonk!

And so DC ruled my imagination for my early life. What you learn as a child stays with you. Admittedly I actually preferred Marine Boy, but that is another story.

After a time though, the Superman premise got a bit thin. What was that kryptonite thing about? A super-hero who couldn’t go near a rock? And all those LLs…. I was pretty sure Mrs Woodrow at school would have something to say about stories where everyone had the same initials. I wasn’t sure what that was, but I didn’t think it would be complimentary. Mrs Woodrow did not approve of laziness. Or a lack of imagination, which was a good thing when you coem to think of it.

Then one day I was in a newsagent and saw a new comic. It had The Incredible Hulk and Spiderman. I didn’t know who they were but the drawing style caught my eye and it was a special price because it was an introductory issue. Small girls with limited pocket money learn very early to spot a bargain, and I seized it with both sticky hands, despite the newsagent man giving me the eye because I was a girl and he thought it was a comic for boys.

O (as the young people have been wont to text and tweet) and M and finally G.

Who needs to be fighting alliterative villains when you have to avenge the murder of Uncle Ben and work off your existential guilt? Who needs a Bat Cave when just getting angry has consequences for your wardrobe? And never mind all those soppy LL girls, when there was the Invisible Girl! Who needs clean-cut, square-jawed, boring and serious heroes when you can have drippy, anxious, bumbling college boys and science geeks and the types who make emos look like Zeno the Stoic. It was all so full-on, in-your-face, shades-of-grey that I almost wept for the joy of it. There were ethical debates and impossible choices and consequences and philosophy. It all felt exhilaratingly grown up, which is a slightly odd thing to say about teenagers in lycra, but there you have it.

Superman was for babies; Spiderman was for the more mature, ten year old girl about town. I was finally confronted with stories where the good guys did bad things and the bad guys had proper back stories with causes and effects and it was in one sense just a teensy bit like real life. Complicated. You weren’t even quite sure who would win in a fight, and sometimes no one did.

Admittedly I didn’t realise Pater Parker and the guys were foreigners (Americans) until later when cartoons arrived on television. Until then I kind of imagined Peter talking a bit like a Cockney geezer. Kind of Lock Stock for kids. Uncle Ben would have been like Bob Hoskins: “Right, Peter, wiv great power comes great responsibility, geddit?”

Oh, did I mention the theme tune?

I won’t start on what happened when I discovered 2000AD. And as for the Sandman, well now. I think we’ll stop right there.

Now none of this is particularly witty or amusing. Comics are far too important for that. But the reasons my vote goes for Marvel are that (a) I like complicated, (b) I like blurred boundaries and (c) kids need to have a chance to explore their dark side too. I may have learned my science from Star Trek, but I established my moral compass with Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

Namaste

Santa made me cry

Saturday night in front of the telly and my evening’s viewing was disrupted by a noise outside. I put my glass of wine down carefully and tweaked back the curtain. It was the Lions’ Christmas float, cautiously inching past the cars on the bend in the lane and blaring out carols while people in high-vis vests ran about with buckets to collect money. There were lights and music and cheery greetings, and goodness me, there was Father Christmas, taking time out from his busy schedule to parade through our hamlet. The elves must have everything under control back at base while the wily old gent scouts out the terrain ahead of the Big Night. Mind you, the elves are pretty experienced and the wily old gent has been doing the rounds on floats for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes he sub-contracted.

If you are a big devotee of Father Christmas and write him imploring letters every year, do not read further. It may be distressing. If you are not sure what to do, check with your mum or dad and take their advice.

Meanwhile, all I can tell you is one of the sub-contractors was my own dear papa, and in fact this is why as a child I never believed in Father Christmas (although I do believe, perhaps more foolishly and childishly, in peace on earth and that Christmas tree smell; my eyes are still full of tinsel and fire).

Rotary Float in 1967

My Dad was the local Rotary Club’s Santa. His costume would be hanging up to dry in the kitchen throughout December and I knew that Dad was all there was (it was more than enough) and other kids were deluded. I didn’t tell anyone though; it would have been unkind.

So he would go out on the float at night, and when I was a little older I was allowed to go too and help with the collections. I always got a good haul because people were sentimental about a small child lisping her way through the spiel about raising money for the poor and elderly of the locality. It also meant I got to go on the annual coach trip to the seaside with the old dears, who spoilt me thoroughly with toffees and boiled sweets.

me as santaI even wore the costume on Christmas Day to hand out the presents.

It might help to explain what happened when I saw the float on Saturday if I tell you a bit about my week, or rather my Thursday. Recently the nurses found that my mother’s blood tests were indicating a lack of iron. As she has a good and varied diet the doctor decided she was bleeding internally, although he didn’t know why. She seemed well and was eating and drinking without problems. So we stopped her anti-coagulants, which would be exacerbating any bleed, and waited a bit. Her blood results have been improving steadily so she is no longer bleeding. Excellent news.

Except she is no longer taking her anti-coagulants, which means she is at increased risk of stroke and as she has vascular dementia, at increased risk of more vascular incidents which will further melt her brain.

The doctor and I talked it all through on Thursday. The bleed may have been a temporary problem highlighted by the anti-coagulants thinning her blood; it may be caused by some disease of the bowel; or it may be bowel cancer.  To find out would require difficult, uncomfortable and potentially inconclusive investigations, which she would find inexplicable and terrifying because she can’t understand what is going on. Even if they found the cause, which is not guaranteed, we would then be faced with a decision around whether she is strong enough to take any treatment, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. She isn’t, and even if she were, the trauma could be either damaging or fatal by stressing her too far.

So I decided we would let her alone. We’ll restart the anti-coagulants when her blood tests indicate she is back to normal, hoping she doesn’t have a stroke or vascular incident in the meantime (it should only be a couple of weeks). If her blood tests then get worse again, we will have to decide whether to risk stopping them or not.

So it had been a stressful Thursday.

There I was 48 hours later looking at a Christmas float pass by and waving to Santa, who waved back and boomed out a “Merry Christmas!” and I fell apart at the gate, in the dark and cold, where no one could see.

Because last year my mother saw the float and we remembered how Dad used to be Santa. She cannot now.

Because I wanted my dad here to help me. He cannot now.

Because whatever the blood tests tell us, nothing will be good or beautiful or gentle. Yet I must choose.

So I cried silent self-pity in the dark and cold where no one could see, then wiped my eyes and went back into the warm house and sat with Sigoth by the fire.

Because I have joy as well as sadness.

On Joy & Sorrow

Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Namaste.

There was a wocket in my pocket

Theres_a_wocket_in_my_pocketWhen Sigoth and I moved into EBL Towers some years ago it was a house in a poor state of repair. It cried out to us for TLC, and we tried to oblige. Let me tell you, when we moved in, not only did it need a new roof, new windows, new wiring, new plumbing and new floorboards (there was a hole in the floor of one bedroom), but it also needed quite a bit of elbow grease to cut through to its inner beauty.

We moved into the house during a blizzard, so it was a little fraught. We used up all our salt on the path to help the men move the furniture and books up the precipitous slope. They had to haul most things round the back because the front door key jammed in the lock. Sigoth took a hacksaw to it and we broke it open eventually, and so slept the first night in our new home with the door wedged shut against the snow until we could fit a new lock in the morning.

My dears, there were nupboards in the cupboards, hiding in the darkest recesses and getting a little snarly when invited to move along. In the end they succumbed to the superior logic of our cleaning products and trudged out the door with all their possessions tied up in spotted kerchiefs and slung over their shoulders on a stick. There was certainly wailing and gnashing of nupboardy teeth but we insisted.

Indeed, there were even ghairs on the stairs, mostly in pairs.

“It’s not fairs,” I told them, “so don’t get airs. If you pay your way, then you can stay.” But they said nay, so I set snares.

Nupboards and ghairs dealt with, we turned our attention to other squatters. There were mice in the attic, although oddly not in the kitchen. We left the starlings and sparrows under the roof tiles for the added insulation. Sigoth was on deportation duty both for mice and spiders. The latter were especially large, with fangs that dripped venom, and almost certainly had black belts in arachnid martial arts. They exhibited traditional Yorkshire grit; if we asked them politely to vacate the premises they would give us the eye, multi-faceted, and reply “Aye ‘appen you’d like that, ‘appen I won’t.” So Sigoth would rugby tackle them to the ground and drag them, protesting all the way, to the exit. Once outside, the more determined of them would sit on the windowsill or doorstep with a placard and play the mouth organ into the small hours of the morning. It was really most trying.

Other visitors were more welcome however. Neighbours appeared at random intervals offering coffee and sympathy. One such person was Rose, and one morning she called to suggest we might like a break and a beverage at her house. We agreed.

Rose lived a couple of doors down but as I mentioned there had recently been a blizzard and winter yet held its sway with an unyielding grip. A hundred yards without coat, boots, scarf and gloves was simply not an option. So I pulled on boots and coat, wrapped a scarf about my neck and dug into my pockets for gloves, because on days like that all you need is gloves. Indeed, gloves is all you need.

As I put my hand into my pocket its contents wriggled, then leapt out and dashed away. I screamed. Helpfully, Sigoth and Rose doubled up laughing.

The wocket from my pocket had vanished under the sideboard. It had plenty of options from there, so coming quietly was way down its list.

“You can borrow Lacy!” Rose suggested brightly and rushed outside to fetch her. Lacy was one of her cats, an evil-tempered, horribly beweaponed fiend of an animal and legendary for her wocket-catching prowess. The body count outside Rose’s back door each morning looked like the aftermath of the Fall of Mordor. Rose saw these gifts as evidence of Lacy’s affection, because she is mad; the rest of us saw them as proof of Lacy’s suitability as an alternative to the national nuclear deterrent.

Sigoth and I felt a twinge of guilt, but agreed to Rose’s proposal. We had tried hard to prevent the field wockets from invading the kitchen and didn’t want this one letting all its friends in while our backs were turned.

Rose was calling Lacy outside, and Lacy duly warped into view after a fashionable delay, just to make it clear she was choosing to come and see what the fuss was about, and that she was not, in fact, a dog. Rose picked her up and crooned the magic spell that prevented her from taking demon form in the company of humans, then placed her on the floor next to the sideboard.  She pointed at the corner and said “Wocket!” loudly. Lacy looked at Rose with a sneer, then started to lick her fur. After that she wandered about the kitchen for a bit, showing a keen interest in many areas which were notable for their lack of wocket.

“She’s just settling in,” Rose hissed to us. “She hasn’t been in here before.”

We waited expectantly. Lacy went to sleep in front of the Aga where it was warm.

After a while Rose picked her up again, at great personal risk, and took her home. Sigoth and I concocted a Heath Robinson contraption and managed to catch the wocket and take it outside. It was a field wocket and had only popped in to escape the blizzard, so it waved a fond farewell and we never saw it again. It never even sent a card.

We didn’t mention the incident again to Lacy. It seemed polite not to.

What can I tell you? Cats are crazy people.

Namaste.

 

Misty wanderings

The other day Sigoth and I went Christmas shopping. It’s a little early for us, but I had an unexpected day off work, and time is galloping by in the run up to seasonal festivities. Mostly I have placed orders on-line, hoping that the pictures of the products do not lie. However, where stocking fillers are concerned nothing beats a trip to town.

That’s not what I want to tell you about though, you will be pleased to read. It was the journey back that I wanted to share, although to no great purpose.

North Yorkshire landscapeI live in a small village in North Yorkshire, and I love the peace and quiet we enjoy for most of the year. I particularly like the serious quietness of winter, when the earth settles down for a snooze and the cold freezes all the frantic activity of nature to let things take a rest. At this time of year, in our northern hemisphere, the light is relatively brief. So as Sigoth and I were driving home at about 3.30 it was already getting dark.

Sigoth remarked that it was only 3 weeks until mid-winter after which the days would start to get longer again. He is a creature of the sun and light and warmth, and he is looking forward to spring.

I sat and stared out of the window at the hills around us. There were no lights along the road, or across the fields. Everything was grey and there was a slight mist forming. It was ancient. This was the experience of our forebears, as they too prepared for a feast to shut out the worst of winter. I was glad I did not have to worry about wolves.

The hills rolled onwards forever, smudged in grey. Briefly I did see a light in a distant farmhouse but soon it was hidden by the trees. The road was unusually quiet so there were not too many headlights coming towards us.

Sigoth said he didn’t remember it getting dark quite so early.  I disagreed.

I thought back to 3.30 on winter afternoons when I was at school, cycling home in darkness and sleet, my knees blue and my hands frozen into position on the handle bars, my books dragging me back. When I got into the house I made tea and toast, or hot chocolate and a bacon sandwich, trying to thaw my unresponsive fingers as I waited for the kettle to boil.

At the top of Golden Hill we saw the local market town spread out ahead of us. The lights glowed in the fuzzy air, each with its own perfect halo. We carried on past town and headed for our village. There’s a point along the main road where you can see the houses on the ridge like a line of lanterns showing us how much further we need to go.

Our house was dark, except for the annexe where my mother sat with her electric coal fire and chatty television, dozing in her chair. We unloaded the car and gave thanks for the ancient Aga warming the kitchen. Of course we made tea.

The garden was invisible now as the mist and dark grew heavier. The house enfolded us against the cold and wolves, and I drew the curtains.

Sigoth planned when he was going to go and get the Christmas Tree. I put the shopping away and together we made chowder.

On Thursday night the pub is having a curry night, so we’ll walk through the village, stumbling in the dark and slipping on the old fallen leaves and the mud, while we look for constellations in the sky (unless it’s cloudy).

The dark and misty hills reminded me of Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” partly because of the opening lines, but also because it ends on an uncharacteristically cheerful note for Hardy.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

And so, in darkness and in light, may we all sing joyfully.

Namaste.

 

The grown-ups speak again

I recently shared with you some of my family’s verbal peculiarities in the form of odd sayings that became part of the very fabric of life. Since then of course my brain has been bombarded by other sayings jostling for attention and asking me why I hadn’t picked them and saying it wasn’t fair and slamming doors. Some of the sayings have had to go to their rooms and think about what they did until they are ready to apologise. I explained to them they were letting the family down, they were letting me down, but worst of all, they were letting themselves down, somewhat like the inflatable child with the sharp pin. But that’s another story.

Time for more sayings I think. On the whole this batch of child-terrorising phrases probably helps to explain the damaged psyche that is EBL today. Allons-y!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/3670504.stm

Don’t pull that face or the wind may change

Grizzly toddlers everywhere are subjected to this kind of verbal and psychological abuse. They are threatened with the prospect of a deformed and ugly face just when they most need a hug. Well, that’s the way it can sometimes seem.

I do remember that I was occasionally interested to see what kind of face I could mould, but never managed to keep it long enough to set, no matter how long I stood in the garden like a determined miniature gargoyle, chin thrust defiantly into the prevailing breeze. As a result I quickly uncovered the duplicity of this particular piece of adult intimidation, and also learned the implicit message that no one loves you if you are not pretty.

EBL is many things but you could not accuse her of prettiness.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-beard-sailor-image29213076

Enough blue to make a sailor a pair of trousers

Another top saying from my grandmother, this particular phrase was utilised to acknowledge breaks in the cloud cover of England when bits of blue sky could peep through and make the end of winter seem a viable proposition. I don’t think it was intended to convey anything more than appreciation for a bit of decent weather, something of great significance in our soggy isles. At least, I never understood it to mean more. Who knows with grandmothers?

I never quite understood why sailors got the nice blue sky for garments, but it sounded pretty darn cool.

http://1hdwallpapers.com/amazing_stormy_sky-wallpaper.html

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a bit black over our Bill’s mother’s

Conversely my mother used this one when the sky was getting ominous with dark cloud and rain looked like it was on the way. And by rain I mean the proper stuff, not a puerile drizzle or heavy Scotch mist, but real, honest-to-deity-of-your-choice solid coat-soaking feet-squelching shoe-drenching hair-dripping pocket-filling neck-freezing rain.  The kind that, to coin another phrase, comes down in rods, possibly with cats and/or dogs implicated. Real English rain. It can go on for weeks like that. The phrase was employed with a certain degree of relish, as without such calamities we English have nothing to talk about and conversation while waiting at the bus stop can be terribly stilted.

Of course, I knew that one of my not-really-an-aunty Aunties had an attachment called Uncle Bill, and as our house looked out across a field to more houses I was convinced for years that his dear old mum lived in one of them. But we never visited. Probably because the wind had changed.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/brian-lee-recalls-unusual-traditions-5811698

It’s not the cough that carried him off, but the coffin they carried him off in

This one was one of my Dad’s, and he would trot it out whenever his delicate little flower was hacking her lungs out with that lovely catarrh-ridden, phlegmy liquidy noise only available to single-digit-aged children or heavy smokers; not mutually exclusive categories of course, especially in those days when as a six year old I could run an errand to the corner shop for my mother to get a pack of 20 John Player’s No. 6. You couldn’t do that now. It’s health and safety gone mad, I tell you.

So I’d cough up, my Dad would chirp up, and I’d be traumatised with thoughts of death until the cold cleared up, about three years later on average.

bedtime

Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and down Sheet Lane

Ah, the cosiness at the end of the day, that put right many of the preceding traumas. Bath done, teeth brushed, nightie donned, it was time to say goodnight and go to bed.

I didn’t go to sleep easily as a small child. When I was five I caught the measles and had three weeks off school because that was the quarantine period you had to go through. My grandmother was distraught as her own daughter had died at a similar age from measles and diphtheria. She sat up with me all night and every night and scared me half to death as a result, because clearly I was very ill, despite feeling quite feisty and rather bored because I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends.

After that was all over she stopped, but by then I couldn’t get to sleep on my own so my poor father had to sit with me every night until I nodded off. Usually he went first and started snoring very loudly, so I would climb over him and go downstairs to get my mother to come and wake him up again.

reading in bed

If possible I preferred to read in bed instead.

What bad stories did your parents use to try and pull the wool over your eyes?

Namaste

Half a century of inspiration

I know, I know, serious minded individuals have been poring over the meaning and legacy of the Kennedy assassination for days and weeks. It was important I am sure. I was a toddler, so I don’t remember; it’s all history to me and to be honest I find the impact of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand more distressing. It may be sacrilege but I suspect the Sixties would have panned out pretty much the same regardless of JFK.

Forgive my vacuous frivolity but I was more interested in a different 50th anniversary this weekend. The Doctor’s. Again, I missed the initial broadcasts, for the same reason as the Kennedy event, and didn’t really watch until Patrick Troughton had appeared. Even then it was tricky because my mother was determined it was unsuitable and turned it off if she could. My best hope was that she was making tea while she thought I was still watching Basil Brush. So it wasn’t until Jon Pertwee that I really was able to establish a regular liaison with that most British of heroes (and most heroic of Brits – albeit with dual Gallifreyan nationality).

If you don’t like Dr Who, I suggest you go and do something else because this post is unashamedly a fangirl production.

And yet I will try to leaven it with some pop psychology, in the time-honoured tradition of the amateur blogeuse, because otherwise I could simply reduce this post to tweeting “OMG! LOOOVE DR WHO! #savethday”, which is barely comprehensible even to me, and I wrote it. Already I can see John Hurt quirking an eyebrow and stirring impatiently in his War Doctor persona.

So, what’s the pop psychology then, EBL? Get it off your chest, love.

I’m glad you asked! It’s about Inspiration.

The reason I am talking about inspiration is that yesterday was not only the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, but also our local Quaker Area Meeting (a geographical cluster of local Quaker groups). Obviously it pales by comparison, but Sigoth and I attended for the day because (a) it had an important item to consider on the agenda, and (b) we knew it would be over in good time for Doctor Who in the evening. I hesitate to suggest that in a tussle between Area Meeting and the good Doctor, Area Meeting may have come second. It’s hypothetical. Nevertheless I think I know which way it would have gone.

The important thing in the meeting was about increasing the number of people in our local meetings who also take part in the Area Meeting and take on various jobs and responsibilities. It’s not a new problem either for Quakers or other church groups. Things are kept running by tireless volunteers who are predominantly elderly and frail, and whose numbers inevitably are decreasing without the next generation taking up the strain.

Essentially we discussed the purpose of the Area Meeting and as a starting point took away the idea that it is there to nurture our spiritual life of our members. It was exciting to be part of the mighty Quaker Business Method in action. I’m sure you can google for more information (or read about it at the Quaker website here); this is not a public service broadcast for Quakerism. As I said, it’s actually about Doctor Who. Nevertheless, when rightly held Quaker business blossoms before your eyes, it is a bona fide miracle. It is, to me, inspiring.

So, feeling inspired I went home to watch the TV, and reflected that it had been a good week for inspiration. There had been a WhoFest of mega-proportions, and Sigoth and I revelled in every lovely second. Our people have risen and had their say. Most impressively there was a whole Culture Show dedicated to looking at Dr Who as a cultural phenomenon. The presenter, Matthew Sweet, interviewed important people about why it was all so significant, with serious music and references. But the bit that struck me was when he was speaking about a time he and his friend were about to be beaten up by school bullies and he shouted out Patrick Troughton’s catchphrase of “When I say run, run, …. RUN!”, and off they dashed to safety. The Doctor gave him permission to run away and deal with the problem differently. I know this sounds a little anti-climactic, but I think for a child to know it’s OK to run away when confronted by overwhelming odds, rather than either getting beaten up or feeling a coward, is actually positive. Boys in particular need to know there are alternatives to knocking seven bells out of each other.

Doctor Who had a profound impact on his young and impressionable fans, dealing with difficult situations in creative and predominantly peaceful ways. Although to be fair he was also fond of Venusian Aikido and blowing up Daleks, preferably in large numbers.

In the 50th anniversary episode there is a key scene (if you haven’t seen it yet look away now – spoilers, darlings, spoilers) where Clara reminds of the Doctors present of why those chose to take on the name and role of the Doctor.

Clara: You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise?

Tenth Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly.

War Doctor: Never give up, never give in.

But the Doctor has been inspiring children with more than running away for far longer. When I was a a mere Electronic Bag Bairn, this is what my Doctor, the Third Doctor told us:

Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.

It was something I understood, and watched him live up to (albeit as a television story). I don’t always succeed in following his example, but I try my best. When I am nervous of speaking up or standing up or facing up to bad things, something like Jon Pertwee’s voice will often run through my head reminding me of the meaning of courage and give me a push. For such positive early influences on my life, I am grateful.

I also learned all my science from Star Trek, but no one’s perfect.

What influenced you as a child to make you who you are?

Namaste.

 

Talking like a grown up

Did you ever find, as a person of limited years and growth, that the Big Folk talked above your head (literally and metaphorically)? For those of you who have the luck to be parents, did you do that to your Offspringses? I can assure you that Sigoth and I employed such techniques on a regular basis. Life is complicated enough without having to try and explain it to children, especially when you can’t even explain it satisfactorily to yourself.

There are plenty of websites out there if you want to learn about the various differences between dialects in spoken English. In my part of the world there are also numerous books dedicated to trying to interpret Yorkshire dialect for foreigners, such as anyone from London.

In fact I once took a colleague from London to her hotel in York, where she was asked for her passport. She was quite discombobulated. “I’m only from London!” she wailed. The receptionist looked at her sceptically. “It’s true,” I confirmed, “and she’s going back tomorrow.” So they let her in anyway.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I wanted to talk about some of those odd phrases adults use when talking to each other. The kinds of phrases that, as a small child, tend to make you stop and say “Whaaat?” and scratch your head.

some feet on stairs

I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!

This phrase I had never experienced in the actual eardrum until sitting on the top of a double decker bus hurtling down a very steep road in Sheffield. It was in my green and growing youth when I was exploring various universities to decide on courses I might want to study. I was visiting Sheffield, had wandered rather far, and decided to catch a bus back to the railway station. Largely this was because I was lost and a bus with a destination of “Railway Station” seemed a rather neat solution; plus sitting up top meant I got a good view of the city as we travelled.

A couple of middle-aged women came up after me and sat down just behind me. They started chatting about something or other, involving a lot of “She said..so I said” and “Well I never!”. As we started down an especially steep hill, and I gripped the rail in front of me to keep firmly on my seat, as opposed to being pressed like a distressed mime act against the front window pane,  I was delighted to hear one of the women exclaim “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!”

“Foot of our stairs?” I thought to myself, clutching grimly to the rail, “it’ll be foot of the bloody hill in minute, without the bus!” However, miraculously we made it in one piece, and I found my way safely back to the sunny shires of southern England before midnight, with a richer appreciation of our island’s cultural tapestry.

The translation for anyone unsure is roughly “Goodness me, how very surprising!”

fur_coat_1910

All fur coat and no knickers

My mother used to use this to describe a woman who lived down our street. To be fair the woman in question, who was a very kind lady and free with the distribution of sweets and drinks of orange squash to local children, did often wear her fur coat, even in the summer. As a child I assumed this was because unfortunately she had no knickers and was therefore too cold and/or embarrassed to go out without her coat. I felt very sorry for her and wondered how she could afford the squash and sweets if she couldn’t afford knickers.

Later I learned it really meant she was perceived to be a woman of easy virtue. It certainly explained the variety of people you met coming and going from her house, given that grown men rarely enjoyed sweets and orange squash as devotedly as the rest of us.

goldwatch

Cough up chicken, it’ll be a gold watch next time!

When I was suffering a coughing fit, for whatever reason, my mother would say this.

As a child I was naturally concerned about the possibility. True, some coughs, induced by swallowing the wrong way, could make you feel like you were about to cough up a substantial part of your insides. On the other wrist, so to speak, the option of a gold watch was appealing. I got my first watch once I learned to tell the time in Miss Weatherill’s class (I must have been 5 or 6) so I was very keen on getting a shinier one to flash about in emphasis of my academic superiority. Sadly I have yet to achieve the feat of coughing up an actual gold watch, no matter how hard I hack my lungs. The phrase itself must be from her childhood as my mother still says it dutifully every time she coughs and splutters at us. Still, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

My family used strange phrases and sayings all the time, but the strangest was one I have never quite got to the bottom of. When I was a grizzly little toddler, having a particularly moany and whingey day, my grandmother would try and cajole me out of my soggy sullenness by saying:

Lcdr_badge

Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!

The confusion this provoked was itself sufficient to stop the grizzling. I believe it may refer to an old railway line, the London, Chatham and Dover, but beyond that I can’t tell you any more I’m afraid. I wonder if there’s a connection with hop-picking…

dogsinboots

Even my dog wears boots!

Last but not least is a local nugget of wisdom. “Even my dog wears boots” is a legendary, and possibly apocryphal, response made by a builder who carried on working with a fractured ankle. When pressed to go to a doctor or A&E or somewhere of a medical nature because he had fractured his ankle, it is said that this was his answer. Apparently it is intended to indicate that the person in question is so hard that he will not be inconvenienced by such a triviality. That’s Yorkshire Grit, tha knaws. Aye.

Every family has their odd phrases and sayings: I’d love to know yours!

Later, alligators…

Namaste.

800px-AmericanAlligator

Dark

Well my dears, it’s been a while, but here I am again.

Busy, you know. Thinking of you all but just plain busy. Things may be turning a corner soon though. Hope springs eternal.

This weekend the clocks changed, by which I mean we agreed as a nation to move from British Summer Time to Greenwich MeanTime, the real time by which the world spins.  So tonight we ate dinner with the dark night looming outside instead of merely fading light. And this year for the first time in my memory my mother didn’t remark upon nights drawing in. It was a tradition almost, that every year when the clocks changed she would mourn the loss of light in the evenings.

This year she is unaware of the change. By this token is her decline measured.

This weekend I finally caught up with the Internet – it seems to have managed without me for the last couple of weeks. Who knew that could happen; I had been concerned.

Anyway I came across a quote by Robin Williams:

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not, the worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone

When we completed dinner without the obligatory nod to winter’s imminence, I realised that in a way we were both alone. And that the pain of living with a relative with dementia is that you live with someone who makes you feel alone, because they are no longer present with you.

I’m sorry this is rather depressing to share. I have much to be thankful for regarding my mother. We are able to provide care for her that allows her to be happy. She is not aggressive or hard to deal with. She is cheerful most of the time. She eats well and asks for very  little. You can make her smile just by saying hello.

But when we sit together in a room, neither of us has anyone sitting with us.

John Donne claimed no man was an island, but perhaps dementia makes islands of us all.

May you enjoy the presence of loved ones, even those who are far away but can phone or email or tweet.

Namaste.