Friday 27 December 2013

1993 Cornwall - not snowing

Jim was an excellent cook.  He made a good stew, but not often with turkey.  I have no idea what he put in it apart from turkey, but it was very tasty.    My sister was terribly determined to be cheerful on this holiday, despite the fact that it rained and was cold every day.  She only joined us for a week at the start, but as it was so wet, she decided to extend it to the full two weeks on the grounds that it couldn't possibly keep so cold for that long.  It did though! I remember her squelching down to the end of the lane in the mud to the telephone box to call her boss and extend her holiday.  Mobile phones were only available on Star Trek, and the cottage had no phone line of its own.

It seems unbelievable now, but when we married in the mid 1970s, we had no telephone and no television for at least the first year.  Life was very peaceful and slow paced compared to now.  The only interruptions were by letter or visitor!  Jim was quite keen to have a TV, whereas I wasn't so bothered.  One day he came home from work with a small TV and that was that.  Before that we used to mainly listen to the radio...

Carol had just extended her holiday when we saw this weather forecast.  In the 1990s the forecast for a maritime climate like ours was notoriously unreliable, so we watched it and then decided to hope for the best.  Unfortunately it was totally correct.  It really rained every day from then on.  The cottage we stayed in was dank and dismal, so we went out anyway with the boys, and sat on cold windswept beaches and drank lots of hot drinks to keep warm.  The photo below was taken on a cold grey day!  Sam went an interesting shade of  air force blue in low temperatures which used to cause comment from passers by. He didn't have to be that chilly for it to start, but it was quite spectacular!  He was wearing a t shirt, jumper, windproof jacket,  hoodie and a towel, but his lips were still blue!  George is sitting there with his little bare legs out and his hands in the clammy wet sand.  He just looked red and healthy!  The wonderful sandcastle was built by Mummy and Auntie Carol.  (Children are rubbish at building sandcastles).  They did sit in it until the tide came in and washed it away, then we all went home to have a hot bath and soup.

Despite the occasional cold and the lack of proper sun, I still love the English seaside, especially Cornwall.  When the sun shines like it did last year, it is far lovelier than anywhere else in the world, and when it rains it is wild, rugged and more beautiful than any other place on Earth.  I love the fact that walking a few hundred yards will bring you to a stretch of primevally unspoilt beach - hard wet sand running down to a bracingly cold and rough ocean, with not a soul in sight.  Total bliss.  Thankfully however, not everyone agrees with me!

Saturday 7 December 2013

1993 Cornwall - Cars and money pits.

Back in the day, cars had exhaust pipes which rusted and fell off with monotonous regularity.

We had bought this car secondhand a few weeks before the holiday, thinking it would be just the thing for trouble free travelling. It was a seven seater Montego estate with fold down rear facing seats.  The garage must have seen us coming because it turned out to be a money pit.  We got to know the Britannia rescue call centre people quite well during the three years we had it.  The exhaust was the first in a long line of faults which cost us about £3k.  The wiring caught fire on the way to scouts one evening, the rear tailgate piston broke one afternoon in the supermarket car park, the suspension went, the brakes failed, we had a fuel leak etc etc etc.  Finally we gave in and bought a newer and more reliable car.

Paul loved his cars and was always terribly disappointed when they were broken, as they always seemed to be.  We always seemed to get cars that had been made on Friday afternoons when no one was trying!

Mobile phones were in their infancy and only a few people had them.  The young man who arrived to tow us home had a very low opinion of the phone he was provided with. My sister was in the business at the time and she tried phones as a chat up line. Young men still have low opinions, but phones are generally better.  Carol was unlucky, the chat up didn't work.    She said later he was too young, but I think it was just sour grapes.

George the risk taker, a child with his glass always nearly full, found the whole thing a big exciting adventure.  Sam the worrier, who really took after his dad and had his glass permanently almost empty, worried about the car falling off the back of the tow truck, the fact that he had a lap belt on, the fact that Daddy couldn't do up his seat belt and the possibility that the young man might exceed the speed limit.  I said to George that it wasn't exciting, but actually I did find it rather fun.  It would have been most unwise to admit that to Jim and Sam though, so I kept quiet.

Cornish people are generally very friendly unless they happen to live in a picturesque town and have to put up with dozens of tourists tramping through the town wanting souvenirs.  Londoners feel the same when someone asks the way to the Tower of London for the 47th time when they are just trying to get to work.  I suppose that it is the same in any major tourist centre, although I have to say that Americans pretend to like tourists in a very believable way.  Maybe the American accent  sounds sincere to Brits - I understand that some accents are regarded as more sincere than others, so it might be that.

So anyway, Jim's day got a bit difficult, and he had to complain to the garage where we bought the car, as the exhaust was held together with duct tape and paint when they sold it to us.  I have tried this subsequently and it never works for long.  We got home safely and it didn't snow, for which we should be grateful.  It doesn't snow in July usually, but you never know.

Thursday 28 November 2013

1993 St Michael's Mount. A toilety day.

This is a day trip we had to St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.  Such a beautiful place to visit, and very interesting.  My sister pointed out afterwards that the young man on the boat to St Michael's Mount was quite handsome and rugged.  Personally I hadn't noticed!  I think I was  busy not dropping the children in the sea!

Sam did his thing again, panicking that one of us would miss the boat, or take too long or something of that nature.  He was such a worry-guts.  George, on the other hand,  seemed to be collecting toilets, or maybe he was affected by the sound of the water, whatever the reason, he needed to go again.  I was meanly making Jim take them to the toilet.  After all they could hardly go in the ladies, could they? (Actually I didn't tell him, but that's where they usually went when he wasn't there).  Consequently Jim was spending more time than he wanted to in the rather sandy and smelly public toilets that seemed to be available at the time in Cornwall.  They are better now thank goodness.

We had a lovely walk around the castle on St Michael's mount - the views are spectacular and - every small boy's dream - there are cannons!

Jim had been to the toilets with the boys and found that they were not terrible.  He had a nice walk and stretched his legs.  He enjoyed the view and altogether he felt the day had been pretty good.

It didn't last.

Children go through many phases as they are growing up.  Working out what presses their adults' buttons is their main aim in life.  As soon as they have worked it out, they press them unmercifully.  Jim always wanted everyone to have a good time, particularly when food was involved.  The boys knew this, so only ever really complained about the food! They didn't do it to me.  I was always a bit of a dustbin, so they knew if they didn't like their food, I would probably eat it, at which stage they would suddenly find it much more appetising.

The causeway we are standing on is only usable at low tide, which is why we had to get on a boat on the way there. In our teens, my sister and I swam from the beach at Marazion to the quayside on St Michael's Mount.  The Cornish sea is not for the fainthearted, being rather chilly even in the height of summer. (After all, it is the Atlantic).  We had a boat as an escort in case we ran out of puff half way, but we made it, despite the strong tide and cold water.

Somehow, looking at it with more adult eyes, we didn't like seeing all the strange creatures and deep dangerous looking rocks which had been underneath us in the water when we swam.  They were always there, but we had pretended they weren't!  In consequence, we both felt quite proud of ourselves, but we never wanted to do it again.

I see Jim is about to have to find another toilet.

Watch out for the next instalment where his life is about to take a bit of a downturn.  (Nothing really serious, for those of you who don't relish cliff hangers with stress!)

Friday 22 November 2013

1993 Cornish tin mines - an indoor day

I don't know about anyone else, but it used to take us ages to get going.  Someone always needed a wee at the last minute when you had just locked up and put their seat belt on properly, or had forgotten some vital piece of equipment George had a stick which had to go everywhere with him - clearly a vital accessory to every outing.  It was invariably unaccountably lost in the garden and like Ratty in Wind in the Willows, he "won't have any other".  In the end we painted it bright red on one of our art days.  He chose the colour and painted it on himself.  At least it was easier to find in the woods.

My sister, being single, had no idea why we took so long and seemed so hopeless and indecisive.  She was very brave about it and only moaned a tiny bit in the privacy of her own bedroom.  Despite her verbal forbearance, I could still hear her thinking!

 I remember Sam being a liability with that fishing net.  He only wanted it with him in the car so he could poke George with it to ease the tedium of the journey.  I put it firmly in the boot - I knew what he was like!

Boxy jackets were in that year I see.  I remember the boys both had little sailor style jackets and blue and white stripey t shirts.  So cute.

Looking at all the moans and groans which I have drawn, despite the fact that we are on holiday, I perhaps ought to explain that we were still in a state of shock after Sam's hospital stay, and although we didn't realise it at the time we were quite low and stressy most of the time.  So was Sam.  He was so keen to pack every experience in and miss nothing.  He was terribly worried that we would be late, or left behind, or miss out in some way.  I suppose now you would call it post traumatic stress, but we didn't notice and just thought we were normal.  We really weren't!

It certainly was a very wet holiday.  Everywhere we went was muddy and as George was still a little unreliable in the toilet department.  We constantly had our eyes peeled for the next facility!

George was totally intrepid in those days.  He still thought he could do anything and would try every activity with total confidence and abandon.  Such a joyful child!

This was the best that we could find in the way of family entertainment in wet weather at the time. It was all outdoors but at least  you could keep your clothes on and get a cup of tea.

George had no notion of steering, but he could sit on the bike and watch people whizzing past and that was enough for him to be ecstatic and want to do it again.

My sister was footloose and fancy free.  Anything in trousers - honestly!


Sam was always keen on the water.  He also had a good sense of things that would hurt if he fell off.  He didn't fall well.  They wouldn't let George on the boats because he was too young. Probably just as well, he wasn't able to swim at that age, and he definitely would have fallen in. Just saying.

The best bit of the visit was the actual mine, in my opinion, but tastes differ and the children preferred the rather insipid fairground style amusements to trekking along in the dark underground.  The mine is still open and is now a part of the Cornish mining world heritage site.  It is also much more visitor friendly.  The horrible amusements have been replaced by interesting children's activities which certainly seemed popular last time I was there.


Saturday 16 November 2013

1993 A Cornish tale - sunburn and showers

In 1993 we decided that Cornwall would be a great place to return to for our holidays.  I spent two weeks there almost every year from the age of two until I left home at 18, and quite a few times after that with Jim before we had children.  My sister Carol came with us for a week.  Our shared experience as children meant we both loved sea bathing, especially on the north coast where the surf can be amazing and the cold water is - shall we say - 'invigorating'.  Jim was not a swimmer then, and is still not a swimmer, despite my best efforts.

The first problem was that the house was dark and damp and Sam was afraid of the bedroom.  Children take against rooms in my experience.  There's no fathoming it.  I was apparently inclined to scream (as a baby) whenever I was taken into the front room of my parents' first flat.  When they changed the curtains I stopped screaming.  Mum was convinced that the black cartwheels on a red background looked like spiders, but why would a babe in arms be afraid of spiders?  As I said, there's no fathoming it, although they were horrible curtains.

The second problem was that it rained.  Constantly.

The boys were terribly excited.  Especially Sam, who had been too compromised by his health to really take part in any kind of physical holiday much before.  George was always terribly excited so you couldn't really see much difference.

My sister is not a morning person, but as we all know, children are.  She bore it bravely.

Her legs are that interesting shade (no exaggeration in the picture) because she determinedly sunbathed even though she was and is a true blonde with very fair un-tannable skin. Sunburn arose, even though it rained, because it was fitfully sunny and windy the first day.  You can get a really nasty sunburn on a Cornish beach in July even in cloudy weather.  Not sure why. Every year she would lie in a state of undress on the windy beach trying to tan, and every year she "overdid it on the first day" and all the other days, if memory serves.

In those far off times, a tan was the thing, and pale skin regarded as sickly and unhealthy.  Mrs James whose boarding house we stayed in for many years, used to look in horror at my naturally rather pasty father as he arrived after a long and stressful drive.  "Well midears" she would say conspiratorially, "us'll soon 'ave 'n lookin better". (Apologies to any Cornish people if I have remembered this incorrectly). She nodded happily as soon as his cheeks became suitably weathered. Tanning lotions were merely oils to fry in.  SPF was not involved.

My poor mum who blistered in the sun, being if possible even blonder, used to sit on the beach sulking under towels and a giant sombrero wearing full length trousers, shirt and socks.  Even then she got a burned nose from the reflection from the sand.  As children we regularly got quite painful burns from the sun.  I am still waiting to see if I get skin cancer!  I was so much more careful with my kids, big swimsuits, sunblock etc, but my sister was incorrigible.

Jim and I insisted on a cup of tea in bed while the boys rushed around playing "ogres and controls" or "brave knights"  which they were deeply into at the time (hence the swords).

The house was a bungalow so there was nothing for George to fall from, except the bunk bed, so he did that.  Fortunately no harm done.  We needed the bedroom lights on even though it was high summer - light at 4am and properly dark only after 10pm.  The house was surrounded by large trees and dripping wet leaves were the main view  a few feet from any window.

Ah! The joys of an English holiday!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Tea time and the 3 Amigos

Here are Sam and George having tea.  George was a messy eater and hated the thought of becoming sticky.  I seem to remember thinking that I could wipe skin or put him in the bath more easily than washing a bib!  I also seem to remember that we got him a rather natty bucket shaped bib which was made of plastic and could be washed up like a plate.

Sam had strange tastes in food.  Garlic pitta bread?  For pudding? I suspect Jim was cooking that evening!  After all, he was home early.

By the way that is a plastic tablecloth.  As my mum would say, probably invented by a woman...

We have redecorated the dining room and gone all blue and white.  I still like blue and white all these years later. The carpet is now in the guest room (of a different house to that one) where Sam now lives as he is back from university and has not found a good job yet. Teenagers are a bit like boomerangs.  You think you have got rid of them but they keep coming back.

When the children first saw the Three Amigos it was an instant hit.  They still laugh at the jokes.  We were surprised to find that my friend's family also loved it as children.  Walking home from work together recently my friend and I suddenly found ourselves bursting into song at the same moment.  The song?  You guessed it -  "My little buttercup". I was even more surprised to find that we were in the same key!

The boys could procrastinate for England.  They would do anything rather than what they had been asked to do.  I suppose most things are more fun than putting on your pyjamas.  George was still addicted to "milk-in-a-bottle-and-warm-please"at this stage.  He was about 3 years old in this cartoon. His bones needed food.  He certainly has a fine crop now.

We had lovely new sofas made (we thought) of leather.  They were in fact not leather, but some awful product called rohide which did not take kindly the counsel of the years.  By the time we moved a few years later, they had become torn and rough textured.  I was so disappointed.

I have since found that no sofa takes our life kindly.

Sam was always a bit lippy.  This was a usual rant.

He had a great thirst for getting every possible activity done, maybe because he had experienced not having enough energy to do things when he was younger. He so hated to wait, that we used to hide the fact that we were going on holiday until we were about to leave.  His face when we woke him in the middle of the night to go to the airport was a picture.  It saved endless questions for weeks in advance - "how many more sleeps until we go?"

George went to bed like a lamb having tired himself out like a puppy on a mission. (Oh dear! Too many similes!) He once saw an episode of Sooty and Sweep about safety.  In it Sweep the dog, who could only squeak, got his ear caught in a door through "running around and being silly".  George was horrified and took it greatly to heart.  He was closely interested in the bandage on Sweep's ear and would react very positively if we told him he was running around, or indeed, being silly.  Sadly he was always getting some part or another caught in doors.  Still does.

So by one stair at a time, up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided, to quote Dickens. 

And relax.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Hot summer days, long lost afternoon teas, slam door trains.

I had a lovely time with my friend Chrisi while the kids were at school.  We often used to pick the children up and take them to one or other house and have tea together.  Sam was friends with Mark and they used to wander along like little old men talking about their toys, the weather, what happened in assembly or Lego.  They mainly talked about Lego.  They both loved it.

Sam is working in a toy shop at the moment and he plans to use his staff discount and buy some Lego.  He is 27.  Some people never grow up.  He has promised to let me put it together with him if I am good.

Somehow I always got my children back from school in a dishevelled state.  Other kids would come out looking neat and clean, but mine looked as if they had been in a speed dressing contest with a blindfold on.  Shirt untucked, tie under left ear, buttoned up wrong and stained.  Later when it was George he would also come out covered in sticking plasters with holes in his trousers.

The boys played in their sand pit whenever they got the chance, Sam especially liked the hot weather and George enjoyed being wet and preferably muddy as well.

I am sorry about the speedos.  At the time I thought they were cute and although I now realise my mistake, it is simply too late to remove the evidence.  As they were only little boys, they didn't realise the fashion faux pas, but they are aghast when they see old photographs of them in speedos now.

Well personally I think they should count themselves lucky.   As a small child I wore speedos too.  And there are photos to prove it!

The sand pit was very robust and we kept it until last year when I decided that it was no use any more. Unfortunately I now find it would have been just the thing for bathing the dog when he has found a deliciously odorous fox poo to roll in.  This happens almost every time we take him out for a walk, and ALWAYS happens when I have just cleaned the bathroom.  Foxes have a lingering and pungent smell which seems to get into the wallpaper given half a chance.

Jim was dieting this particular summer.  He never had before so it was a bit novel. It didn't really last, but 20 years later he is dieting for the second time.  Let's hope it is less fleeting this time! Jim came home early from time to time which was always a treat for all of us.  He often did if it was really hot, to avoid the crowds and heat on the train.  

Standing up all the way from Waterloo station on one of the old carriages they used as rolling stock in those days was no joke, especially if the weather was hot.  We were on the track known as the Hounslow loop and often the trains would be short and therefore very crowded.  Somehow the modern trains with their pneumatic doors are not half so romantic as the corridor trains with slam doors.  I suppose they in their turn were not half so romantic as steam, so there you go.  Progress.

Here is one of the lovely old slam door trains.  I think I remember them fondly because it was so exciting to go to London with Mum and go on the train. I couldn't open the doors as the locks were incredibly stiff.  Often, even after I started work and commuted, I would have to hope that some strong man would open the door to get out so I could nip out behind him.  I was too shy to ask!

In idle moments I wonder what it was really like then, I can't see things as clearly as I would like, I need a time machine to go back and have a good look round.   If only I could go back to the roof garden at Biba and pay what seemed like an arm and a leg for afternoon tea. I certainly wouldn't go somewhere cheaper if I had the chance again! I would also like to go back to the Ceylon Tea House where we had tea in about 1965.  It was a good tea out even to my childish eyes.  how I would relish it now!  And just imagine all the lovely things you could buy at the prices then...

Sunday 20 October 2013

More stay at home parenting, and some 1920s bon mots.

I make no apology for showing the world that I worked hard.  It is very easy for people to think (admit it!)  that stay at home Mums do nothing much all day, or that they do a bit of housework and then put their feet up.  "What do you find to do all day?" was something I was asked from time to time.  This resulted in an answer of varying savagery, depending on how tired, benevolent or hormonal I was feeling.

I will be the first to admit that it was fun doing this stuff (although I know not everyone would agree with that), but it is physically tiring doing housework, and if you are doing it properly it is mentally challenging bringing up children.  They do not naturally grow up well on their own, they need good solid parenting.  They do not always co-operate in this!

So there is a sample of a typical day.  Other stuff happened as well.

George was home from about 12 and had a drink to keep him going while I got his lunch.  He was growing so fast and was frantically hungry when he got home from playgroup.

Tots TV was supposed to introduce the child to the idea of French as a separate language.  Apart from the theme tune I don't think they remembered anything.  They still don't know what a 'sac magie' is any more than the next person, though it featured heavily!

A lot of children's TV was very trippy in the 80s, but probably only from a 70s raised adult's point of view.  Mind you, look at the Tellytubbies!  And nowadays the Night Garden is a bit strange from what I have seen.

I always sat with George to eat.  He was a messy eater and a wobbly sitter so I was keen to stay close to catch the drips and possibly the child.  We used to chatter about what happened at playgroup and who he was best friends with ( everyone).  He used to tell me all about Tots TV too, but from what I overheard from the kitchen, it bore no resemblance to what actually happened in the show.  The good thing was that it was a lovely programme so I felt he could watch it without being corrupted in any way.

He used to add bits of playgroup games into the story and sometimes talk about the Tots coming round for tea.  He lived in a world of pure fantasy, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.    A strong imagination is a wonderful gift.

My grandmother was still alive and living in her own little flat at this time.  We used to go and visit quite often.  She was the daughter of an East End mounted policeman.  She took lessons as a young girl in the 1920s to improve her speech, as she felt at the time that a London accent did not allow one to 'speak properly' which was really the only acceptable way if you wanted to get on in the world at the time.  She looked after her mother-in-law for a while.  'Don't say "ain't", Mother', she would chide, say "isn't"'.  Luckily Great Grandma was very deaf, so never learned where she was going wrong.

She was a stickler for the correct forms in table manners and speech and just generally.  'Cleanliness is next to Godliness' she would say, and mean it.  'Don't put it down, put it away' 'A place for everything, and everything in its place'  'Elbows tucked in and not on the table' and my favourite 'horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow'.

I think girls learned these sayings at school.  They produced their own problems - my uncle says he still finds himself putting things away half way through using them, and then spends ages wondering where they are...

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Lemon trees, Narnia, Peter Pan

Here we are sitting drinking an early morning cup of tea in our lovely conservatory.  The carpet was an evil brown 1970s creation in very hard wearing wool...  I had it in my bedroom before I left home. The conservatory was a great place to wake up properly because it was light and warm.  Jim had hair in those days!
It was also ideal for growing houseplants and my epiphyllum never flowered so well before, or since.  I had two lemon trees in there, but I think they were outside for the summer.  I grew them from pips in my gin and tonic at the office Christmas party in 1979.  I remember stumbling to my desk (no hot desking then!) and inserting the pips into my silver leaf begonia's pot.  I scooped some water out of the goldfish bowl to water them in and by the beginning of January they were up and off.  They grew up and out and eventually had to be taken home due to size considerations...  They finally fruited in 1999 just the one lemon each.  Sadly after thirty two years of me carrying them in and out of the house every spring and autumn, they got too heavy so I gave up and left them out.  The winter of 2011 did for them.

Sam was very, very good at procrastinating.  He hasn't changed a bit.

Sam, George and I are walking to school along the lane between the park and the hospital.  It was very pretty in the summer. Lots of birdsong.  Birdsong is one of the things that makes most people happy.  It's a shame that we are not more careful about keeping them safe.

I had read the Narnia stories so often by then, sometimes out loud, that I could remember them pretty much scene for scene.  This came in extremely useful on the way to school.  I think I was reading them as Sam's bedtime story and if he fell asleep half way through I could re-tell that bit on the way in the next day.

They were just starting to knock down the Victorian Nurses' Home judging by the yellow skip in the picture.  It was red brick, damp and tall.  I didn't miss it in the least.  I am sure it had rats.

After dropping Sam off I took George to one of his playgroups.  They had a lovely lady of about 70 who wore tracksuits in shocking pink, with matching trainers.  George loved her, almost as much as he loved Peter Pan.  We had a dressing up box and both the boys dressed up all the time.  George had a little Peter Pan outfit, but he really preferred to dress as Hook with a plastic hook and sword.  Look at those trousers with that jumper -pretty psychedelic - I like it!

Friday 20 September 2013

Bathrooms and magic fires -the power of advertising. A little piece of domestic history.

Funny things 1990s bathrooms.  Often they were the room in the house which looked least like a room you would go into to become clean.  They were often damp, slightly chilly places with a touch of mould in the corners.  Ours was no exception.  It was, however a luxurious palace compared to our first bathroom.

We rented a flat when we were first married. It was unfurnished, without anything at all in it except a gas poker to light the open fire.  We bought the kitchen goods from a friend's granny for £5 - a lovely twin tub washing machine, a three ring cooker and a beautiful fridge.  The fridge was very old even then, but it still worked as long as we turned it upside down now and again.   It was a pretty green colour inside.  I have always liked the 1930s look!
My lovely fridge!

Our bathroom stove
The bathroom was a fairly typical one for its day - dank, unheated and dismal.  The single-glazed metal-framed windows had been painted so often that they no longer kept out the wind.  The bath was made of cast iron which was chipped and discoloured.  The bath surround was wooden, with holes filled with Polyfilla painted over in a fetching shade of blue.  Our only source of heat was a paraffin stove which my grandmother had given us,
so on cold days the toilet would freeze and the windows would have a sheet of ice inside.  Jim and I used to argue heatedly (how ironic) about whose turn it was to go and light the stove in the morning.

Granny's stove
My granny kept her bathroom warm with an even older stove rather like this - only hers was a cream colour and beautifully clean.  One day, getting out of the bath, she bumped it with her bottom, which remained prettily patterned to the end of her days.  These stoves got very hot on top.  I think you were supposed to boil a kettle on them...

Well well!  I can't imagine any of my kids wanting to start out with hand-me-down paraffin heaters,  times have changed for the better I think - but enough of ancient reminiscences.  Back to the future!

British Coal had an advert in the mid 1980s which showed  toys getting out of the toy box in the night and sitting round the fire.  The advert was still in use when Sam was a child.  When he saw it he was agog to see if his toys would do the same when we had a fire.  We often had one - our house was draughty and wet under the floor. I used to find slug trails on the carpet, and, on one memorable occasion in the dead of night, I trod on a live slug.  Eeugh!  It took me days to get the slime from between my toes.

The central heating helped a lot, but a real fire in the grate just can't be beaten for comfort and toastiness.  One night we succumbed to the bright idea (if such a thing is possible) of moving the toys to sit in a semicircle round the fire.  Dinosaurs and trucks sat side by side with George's sword and Captain Hook puppet.  Sooty and Sweep joined in as well. We went to town on it.  It was a design classic.

When Sam came down the next morning he couldn't believe his eyes.  "My dinosaurs have been magic in the night!  The swords have been fighting on their own!"  George's eyes were out on stalks too.  After this lapse in judgement we were forced to arrange the toys every time we had a fire for years.  We used to argue about whose turn it was to do that as well!

Thursday 19 September 2013

The Tooth Fairy, Playbus and the violin.

Every child used to get sixpence when their tooth fell out.  As sixpence is now virtually worthless at two and a half pence, or 4 US cents, most children seem to get about £1($1.60ish)  My kids used to get 20 pence but that is a while ago.  I still feel as if a 20p coin has a sort of similarity in mood to the old sixpence.  Anyway, my children got really excited when they had a tooth event, so like Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy was a welcome visitor.  We used to wrap the tooth in tissue and secrete it under the pillow, where - lo and behold - in the morning would be a 20p coin!  Many's the time I have risen in the dead of night, having forgotten to make the exchange, and wrested the damp tissue from the child's resisting grasp.  Often I needed a torch to find the tooth which had escaped into the bed on its own.  We tooth fairies have a hard life.

A few years ago, I found mine and my sister's teeth at Mum's house when I was mooching about.  Following this slightly horrific experience, I came home and disposed of my children's baby teeth straight away.  Sometimes sentimental value can be taken too far!

Show and tell at school.  I don't know if they still have it,  but I found it quite a trial.  A sort of parental competitiveness comes over you to provide something that will be just right, in that it will give your child status with his classmates, whilst giving you status with the teacher.

I know this is silly, but I also know that we all do this sort of thing.  It's like leaving the most cool book open on the table when you have guests.  "Dostoyevsky?" you say dismissively, "Yes I fancied a lighter book.  I found Schopenhauer a little depressing." No one is fooled.

On this day I considered sending the cat (good for Sam, bad for the teacher), something mouldy (great for Sam disgusting for the teacher) or a cuddly toy (a bit boring, but a safe bet for the teacher).  We went with a cuddly toy.  There is such a thing as trying too hard.

Playbus was a lovely BBC children's show.  The Dot Stop was George's favourite.  He was fascinated by the lady called Dot, who played the violin.  For his second birthday I dressed a Barbie in the white suit with coloured spots which Dot wore on Playbus and he had it as his present.  He was beside himself with joy.  (He was such a cheap date!) When he started school and was offered the chance to learn a musical instrument it was the violin straight away.  He learned the viola, as his teacher assured me it was less shrill and unpleasant to listen to in the early stages.  This turned out to be very lucky as he grew to be far too big to play the violin.

When he went anywhere he would find two sticks to pretend to play the violin with.  He was obsessed.  Now he can play reasonably well, Christmas carols and so on, even playing in the church band for a while.  On the whole I think the years of 'shrill and unpleasant' practise were worth it!

Here is one of my favourite pictures of George as a child is playing the violin with two spades on the beach.  I feel proud that I could find it when I looked in my photo filing!  So cute!

George on Woolacombe beach North Devon

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Strawberry Dragons - first contact

One day after school, Mum took  the children to the allotment.  She wanted to weed the carrots before they got too big.  She asked the children to pick some strawberries for tea.  It was a very hot afternoon and the children soon got tired of picking strawberries and went to the blackcurrant bushes to sit in the shade.

Sam was lying on his back dreamily watching clouds pass overhead. George was playing with two sticks for a violin.  Clara was watching ants and woodlice as usual.

Suddenly Sam flapped his hand.  'That was a big bee,' he remarked.

'Well don't flap at it,' said Clara, who loved insects, 'it will sting you.  It won't do any harm if you leave it alone.'

'Well you're a fine one to talk...'  began Sam when something large and red flew up and landed squarely on his nose.

'Don't move Sam,' breathed Clara.  Sam didn't answer.  He was afraid that if he opened his mouth the thing would fall in.  Clara moved cautiously closer.  'It isn't a bee,' she said consideringly, it's a kind of a strawberry, but it's got wings.  I've never seen one before.'

George looked up from his symphony.  'Ooh!  What is that?'  he exclaimed.

Clara was very close indeed by now.  She looked up blankly.  'He says he's the king of the Strawberry Dragons and he wants to know why we are causing an earthquake.'

A few minutes later the three children were sitting attentively in front of the blackcurrant bush where the King had perched.  They had to strain to hear him as he was small and his voice was difficult to pick out above the birds and insects humming all around.

'I can't be doing with this!' he was saying, you will just have to come to the Hall.  Follow me!'

Obediently, the children followed him as he flew slowly towards the strawberry patch.  As they got closer they noticed they were getting smaller, like Alice, and found themselves walking behind a suddenly person-sized Strawberry Dragon, as he waddled into an arched gateway hidden under a leaf.

To be continued...

Saturday 14 September 2013

Puzzles and the park

When George came home from playgroup, (or praygroot as he called it)  we would have lunch then games.  He loved watching puzzles come together.  He was particularly fond of an old fashioned puzzle of mice having tea in little frocks.  I think it was one of mine when I was small.

We had to do it over and over again, and after a while he would agree to try and put a piece in.  He was always excited if he could do it, but cried bitter tears of frustration when it was too hard.  He could see quite well where the piece should go but his dyspraxia made it really hard for him to place it accurately.  "I can't" was always countered by me saying "yes you can!" so eventually that was what he said - "I can't, yes I can".

I was always behind with the washing and ironing.  I think it is a normal state to be in when you have kids.  Our lovely friend Ian had did some plumbing for us and moved the boiler out of the airing cupboard into the kitchen.  It was great because we could stack the washing machine and dryer in the airing cupboard instead of having them in the tiny galley kitchen.  Even better, because I could close the door, there was no chance of one of the kids putting the cat in for a bath!

I am ironing in the conservatory in the picture.  It was a wonderful room, north facing, so light but not hot, and full of flowers.  It used to be a dank and dark outside area as was common with Victorian terraces.  It contained a double concrete coal bunker (with resident massive spiders) and a manhole for the shared drain.  Moss and snails grew there in abundance.  We got our next door neighbours' agreement and roofed and fronted the area from their bathroom wall to ours with glass.  Their house was warmer and ours was transformed.  A win win situation no less!

George loved to move around.  Especially bouncing. Despite regular bumps and bruises he adored going to the park which was luckily only a few minutes walk from our house. He found it exciting although he was an expert at falling off or out of any playground equipment.  It didn't matter that it had been designed by experts to be almost totally safe for his age group.  He didn't know that, so he fell out of it anyway in inventive and improbable ways.

He got stuck in this one.  Upside down.  I believe he was trying to get in on his own.  He also managed to roll down the slide, even though it was a curly one. I still cannot understand how.  I felt I had to go down the slide with him a few times every visit to show him how it should be done.  (That was my excuse anyway.  I would still do it if I could find a child to go with).

Like I said, being a parent of small children is a license to have fun in a way which adults normally can't .  I really miss being able to be silly without anyone giving me a strange look, or edging away.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Nursery teas again - a great institution

When the kids were little I earned money by any number of jobs that could be slotted in while they were at nursery or school.  I had two and a half hours so I went and worked for my sister who had a whizzy and well paid job which took all her time.  I was a dab hand at decorating (you wouldn't think so to look at the spacing on those bricks!) so I carried on with her lounge.  I seem to remember being very sticky afterwards.

I also cleaned houses,  and took in ironing for a business man.  He was not a good client.  He wore the best quality heavy linen/cotton shirts, up to 20 a week. Sadly he tumble dried them to such an extent that I had a lot of trouble opening them out from their stiffly crumpled state ready to iron.  In the end I used to run them through the washing machine again and iron them damp.  At 50p or 78 US cents a shirt, he wasn't grateful enough, so I was secretly rather glad when he told me that he couldn't afford me any more!  The best money maker was cleaning as I charged a hefty £8 an hour (the average was about £6).  I used to take the baby with me and
                                                                          arrive early to put up the playpen.  I could earn £16 for two and a half hours out of the house, which was quite good in 1992.  Twenty or so years on  I can't imagine working that hard physically for so little reward.  What it is to be young and springy! But it gave me some pocket money for things like new clothes and presents which gave me back a feeling of independence.  I found it hard to be reliant totally on Jim and felt I shouldn't spend any money on myself.  He couldn't understand that I felt it wasn't my money, he was fine with me spending it.  I don't think I would have such a problem with it now.  Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?

George's paintings were always very wet, and totally indescribable, even by George.  "It's a sort of a thing you get in one of those caves" he would say mysteriously.  Sometimes it would be of Mummy,  or a spider, but the painting was always the same.  I put them up and admired them anyway.  He was artistic in his little soul.

He still is, but now he does it by pressing keys on a computer and constructing huge complicated cities in Minecraft.  He is also writing a book so I guess that the encouragement to be creative paid off in the end.

My mum knitted that jumper. It was green chenille with orange boucle leaves.  It had a tendency to sag, so it was a lot shorter when I first got it. I thought I looked amazing in it with the green leggings to match.  I really should have known better, after all I lived through the 70s!

I know for a fact the dining room was never that tidy.  I have also missed off the crusts of weetabix on the yellow booster seat.

Marmite is one of those things that you either love or hate.  George and Sam loved it.  Sam still has crumpets with Marmite and honey when he feels he needs comfort food.  And yes I do mean together!

Everyone has their favourite nursery food I think.  I used to love Heinz baby dinner.  I have no idea what it was really called but I used to ask for it if I had been ill as my first proper food.  If I close my eyes I can still taste it, and the soft, white, thickly buttered bread we had with it.  I would happily eat it even now, but it is long gone.

I have just asked the grown up "boys" what they remember as the best nursery food, George says weetabix would be his, but it makes him ill nowadays, so he can't have it. After a short but intense discussion that results in a quick snack, they say unanimously sausages and pasta.  They do agree that Marmite and honey crumpets is a close second, so I wasn't too far out.