Posts Tagged ‘family’

I had a bizarre experience a couple of weeks ago. While visiting Mum, we decided to take a trip to the local supermarket so she could stock up on provisions. However, once we got there, Mum decided that, on account of a dodgy knee, she’d rather sit in the car while I whizzed round with her list. Which I did. In double quick time.

I decanted the shopping from trolley to conveyor belt in frenzied fashion, mindful of Mum waiting in the car on an unusually hot day, thinking of those stickers you see in windows about dogs being left in sizzling cars reasoning, well, it’s only her leg she’s having trouble with, surely she could open the door in case of emergency. But you must have experienced this type of scenario: the angst just increases with every minute…

“Do you need a bag?” asked the sales assistant.

“No thanks, I have one here,” I said breezily in my I’m saving-the-planet-single-handedly voice, smugly rummaging around for my trusty fold-up carrier. (Eco-friendly or what?)

And then, without changing tone and whilst swiping the barcode on a loaf of bread, she said, “Are you Jennifer?”

I looked at her incomprehensibly for what felt like hours but was probably a nano-second or so. She looked at me and waited. I squinted at her name badge. Tina. Ah, a clue. Tina…Tina Perkins. Tina Perkins. Yes, right, got it. I’m there, back in time aged about nine at our local primary school. Tina Perkins was in the year below me. It was all coming back to me now…

Tina and her friend Gillian spent much of their time giggling at the back of the classroom not doing as they were told. To be fair, Tina was probably led by Gillian – the only girl in a large family of feisty brothers well able to look after themselves. You definitely wouldn’t cross Gillian – it was probably a sensible move to make her your friend. Gillian had decimated Dad’s coconut shie at our school’s annual June Fair one year, being an ace shot with a wooden ball, knocking the fruits off the wobbly wooden poles. She and Tina left the stall with armfuls of the things.

Anyway, I learned that Tina had moved away for a while and lived ‘Up North’ but she returned recently to the village where some of her family are still living to discover that the place had changed substantially in the half century since we were children and it just wasn’t the same. (I didn’t say anything here, I promise). The sweet shop that we all used to make a bee-line for after school – Miss Knight’s, we called it, had closed years ago.

Miss Knight’s sweet shop could easily have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s ‘Grubber.’ Essentially it was the front room of her house, a stone’s throw (well, for Gillian, at least), from the school gates. Shelves were lined with huge dusty glass jars of sweets – lemon drops, fizzers, liquorice twists, fruit salads, cough candies, black jacks – you remember them, they’d be there. You’d be able to fill a little white paper bag for four-a-penny and then ruin your teeth on the walk home. There was a malevolent ginger cat who sat on Miss Knight’s makeshift counter next to her scales, scowling in a feline way at all the children waiting in line to be served. In the summer you’d be able to purchase a home-made penny lolly – iced water that Miss Knight had attached sticks to and added various shades of dubious food colouring. We’d end up with lips stained bright blue or poisonous green. Health and Safety being a thing of the future, we all managed to survive somehow.


As I finished loading the shopping I asked Tina how on earth she had recognised me in the first place, whereupon she replied that I didn’t look any different. Which I suppose I could have taken as a huge compliment had I been comfortable with my nine year old appearance (I was often mistaken for a boy), but since she reckoned the last time she saw me I was dressed as Tufty the road-safety squirrel, I don’t think it was. Tufty – remember him? ROSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents introduced Tufty and his chums as far back as 1953 to encourage children to learn how to cross a road safely and I was in costume, taking part in the village carnival.

Every year, there was a fancy dress parade for us children and this particular year, a Tufty costume (in my size, unfortunately), had become available. We borrowed it from another student who attended my swimming lessons at a nearby pool – his mother and mine had become pals in the viewing gallery while we all floundered away below with our polystyrene floats, choking on the chlorine as we attempted a width without drowning. Tina and I reminisced away, but that latest swimming pool memory had nagged something in the back of my mind.

Lordy! I’d forgotten about Mum, cooking away in my car. Much to the relief of the queues that had built up behind me, I bade Tina a hasty goodbye and hot-footed it out of there.








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I come from a family of collectors. When we were children my mother went through phases of collecting different things – piggy banks, china cottages, pill boxes. At the moment I have my suspicions that her assortment of teddy bears is getting larger – she can’t pass a forlorn little furry face without rescuing it from a shop shelf and bringing it home to join the others for a bit of tender loving care. Dad amassed tools. He had a workshop built onto the back of the kitchen which he filled with screwdrivers, chisels, tins of nails and tacks, hammers, saws for any eventuality, bits of wood (my sister and I were always accompanying him to the wood yard), planes, drills, attachments, cans of oil, string and goodness knows what else. Glue. He had a lot of glue.

Dad's workshop looked a little like this

Dad’s workshop looked a little like this model from Brooklands Museum in Surrey

So, as a child, I began collecting things. Shells from days at the beach; bus tickets, theatre tickets and programmes; pencils (I was always buying pencils with pocket money); Enid Blyton books; note pads and drawing paper. I hoarded them all. Imagine my excitement, at around the age of nine or ten, when someone sent me a chain letter with promises of postcards from every corner of the world. All I had to do was send a postcard from my village to the unknown person at the top of the attached list and forward the letter to six friends. Which I dutifully did and then waited with delicious anticipation for my exponential pile of postcards to arrive, once my name had moved to the top of the list. I waited and watched the doormat under the front door every day for the post to arrive. For weeks. After an eternity, three cards dropped through the letter box. Two were from England, one from Wales. And that was it. Forever. No four corners of the earth for me. It was probably this one event that triggered my long-term cynical outlook on life.

My sister and I moved onto other things. We began collecting badges: the cloth ones that could be sewn onto an anorak – rather like those earned in the Brownies or Guides but since neither of us lasted very long in that particular institution we decided to create our own sleeves of honour. These were very popular decades ago, there being no such thing as designer logo back then. We’d buy them on our holidays – woven badges depicting a county, or a particular town or historical place. This was a craze that only lasted as long as the anorak fitted. My sister went on to accumulating  wrapped sugar lumps which she stored in an old cigar box. I think that’s when I gave up and became a minimalist. My brother, in the meantime, was collecting football cards.

I did, however, accumulate a variety of pigs at one point. I made the mistake of admitting I liked them, found them misunderstood and quite cute which was like opening the floodgates for every Christmas and birthday thereafter. They ended up stuffed in a box and then farmed out to charity shops.

So I don’t think I’m really a collector of things. A collector has to be dogged; determined and should enjoy displaying (and dusting) whatever it is that’s being sought. When Son was learning the clarinet at around the age of eleven, we had to visit the home of the piano accompanist who would take him through his music exam rehearsal. Her home was full of frogs. Everywhere. Wooden, knitted, metal, fabric, macramé. On cushions, tea towels, on teacups and saucers. There were pictures on the walls of frogs and she had stone ornaments of them in various poses in her garden. This was extreme collecting. To be honest, it was creepy. She even looked a little amphibian herself. I was glad when the half hour session was over.

Is storing one’s own stories collecting, do you think? If it is, then I am still a collector of sorts. Trawling through my computer files this week, I came across this 300 flash, written some time ago in response to “Theft” – a creative writing prompt.

Mavis opened the battered leather case and stroked the faded purple velvet into which the six silver apostle spoons were nestled. They were perfect; just in need of a shine. Holding her polishing cloth in one hand, she took one of the spoons in the other and twirled it around on the cloth until the little figure shone with a soft glow as she rubbed the tarnish away. She would check the hallmark later in the little reference book Mr Hennessy had given her, after she had expressed an interest one morning, whilst wiping his mantelpiece.

Of course when Mr Hennessy died suddenly, a couple of years ago, it had come as a shock. Mavis had worked for the Hennessy’s for years but she was even more shocked when, continuing her employment, she discovered that Mrs Hennessy had no taste, preferring to display garish china dogs rather than the beautiful pieces of silver Mr Hennessy had collected over the years. She found his collection one morning, stuffed into the back of the sideboard, unloved and forgotten. She took the pieces out, polished them and arranged them on a table but the following week they were back in their cupboard and she was left to dust the loathsome Staffordshire spaniels.

The eighteenth century cow creamer came home first – it looked lovely under Mavis’ lamp in her front room. Next came the owls cruet set and the Mappin and Webb porringer; a tiny snuff box with an enamel lid (in which Mavis kept her sweeteners); an ivory handled paper knife, a pair of Victorian berry spoons and the Paul Storr coffee pot, in use every day since.  What Mavis was doing with Mr Hennessy’s collection couldn’t be classed as stealing, she told herself: it was appreciating.

What do you collect?

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Things have been rather fraught here this week. The atmosphere at home has been charged with every emotion imaginable. If I compare it to something like the thrill of winning marathon gold to then be told that, as you cross the finishing line, you’re about to face extensive root canal work, should give you some idea of the peaks and troughs we’ve been experiencing.

I am talking about Son’s book. (I mentioned it last year in my post ‘Waiting for D-Day,’ which if you haven’t already, you can read about here ). His three years of research and writing about the 101st American Airborne’s time in England prior to the D-Day invasion in 1944 is on the brink of being published. (Marathon gold).

Proofs came back last week and while the cover and layout were perfect, inevitably there were minor changes required – a typo here, an upper case there and captions to check for the umpteenth time. (Root canal work).

Now that’s all been done, the book is back at the publisher’s awaiting final approval, there is nothing more Son can do but sit tight and wait and let that malignant enemy of all writers, self-doubt, descend.

So while being immensely proud I’ve been doling out pep talks and reassurance in equal measure. It’s exhausting. (And far more nerve-wracking than it ever was waiting for exam results). All being well – and it will be – (I have faith), his book will be available at the end of the month via Amazon. I will of course post details here as soon as he has a release date.

phone photos 010

My walks on the common therefore have been even more welcome this week. A sanctuary where there’s no phone coverage and where I can begin to deal with all the thoughts buzzing in my brain; to prioritise my own writing tasks I need to have finished by the end of the month and to let a dose of fresh air inspire me.

phone photos 008

I begin to see the wood for the trees.

phone photos 007

As the late afternoon sunshine sends its lengthening Giacometti shadows I turn for home, wondering which end of the spectrum I’ll be facing this evening. I trudge in my waterproofs over the slowly drying heath land and spy the season’s first wild crocus; green shoots of possibility pushing heads tentatively through a dormant tangle of brown bracken.

android phone 010

 There’s an analogy in there somewhere but for now I’ll just do what’s needed.

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Stop Press!

I make no apology for a short post today to promote creativity within the family…

Have you bought your Christmas cards yet?

No? – Oh good, you might like to have a look at some designs that Hattie, my illustrious illustrating niece has just produced for her first seasonal greetings range.

washing line card

She has set up an online shop here, where you can browse her complete collection. Available in packs of six with envelopes, the cards are handmade and can be shipped worldwide. Left blank inside for your own message, each card contains a tiny illustration relating to the main design on the front.

Hattie, a recent fine art graduate, is beavering away at building up her portfolio and accepting commissions for – well, anything, actually, although her current aim is to illustrate children’s books. You can check out her portfolio here.

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I have a couple of items to share mid-week. The first is an addendum to last week’s post on the merits or not of Halloween. A non-blogging friend, who seems to read my ramblings on a regular basis, sent me an email describing her memories of Halloween Bonfire parties. I thought they were too good to keep to myself, so have reproduced her message here:

 As children we celebrated Halloween with a big party for all the children in our road.  My parents couldn’t afford fireworks therefore Halloween was a big bonfire with lots of games:

Courtesy Clipart

Courtesy Clipart

buns on the washing line, bobbing the apple, blindfolded tasting (disgusting!! especially tasting a spoonful of some hideous spice!!) and Dad always told us a gruesome story about Lord Nelson – we were blindfolded and I vaguely remember having to stick my finger in an eye socket (half an orange) and walking the plank (an old scaffold plank, child balanced on it, Dad made it rock a bit, child had to jump but actually you were only a couple of inches off the ground).  All very terrifying and all brilliant fun.  My Dad has always been really creative.

Always baked potatoes and sausages in rolls. So our Halloween didn’t go outside the garden, no ‘trick or treats’ and we had a sparkler to finish!

 Very fond memories and one that I continued with my own children until very recently.

 Now, doesn’t that sounds like a great family tradition in the making? My friend can have the last word on this one.

 Secondly, I am sure many of you are aware that November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – have a go at writing 50,000 words in thirty days and get a first draft of that ever elusive novel down in black and white.  I know that two of our blogging chums have taken up this daunting challenge and I’d like to wish them both the very best of luck. Interestingly, they are both also long distance runners. Writing a novel is like running a marathon – it requires dedication, determination and perseverance, even when the going gets tough; which it undoubtedly will. Runners have to warm up, train regularly, whatever the weather. Sustained writing requires similar strengths: do it every day – not just when the creative urge strikes. To commit to writing what amounts to just under 1700 words a day is no mean feat, as the rest of us know all too well.

So, just as if they were running a marathon, I shall be standing on the sidelines, cheering them on, delighted when they cross the finishing line.

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I was amused by a recent article in the Guardian, forwarded to me by a friend. It concerned a group of ten grown men playing an elaborate version of tag, which has evolved over twenty years. It brought to mind a game my sister and I started, years ago, shortly after she was married.

I was at her house for coffee one morning and together we were admiring her wedding gifts, until she came to one which she placed carefully on the table. What was this odd thing? Even now I find it hard to describe. It was given to the happy couple by an elderly lady who was going through a phase of producing goods to sell at craft fairs. (I don’t think the phase could have lasted long).

Imagine if you will, a large pebble, the type you’d find on Brighton beach.

It was not as tasteful as these

It was not as tasteful as these

Encase this in a woollen jacket crocheted in a variety of mismatched colours and weights of yarn. What have you got? Well, we had no idea. It didn’t look like an animal or a goofy little Gonk thing. There were no eyes, for a start. We looked at it. I picked it up, turned it over. I tried to think of something kind to say; my sister, typically, was enjoying my discomfort.  I caught her eye and we started to laugh and we carried on until we were howling uncontrollably. We decided eventually, once we’d calmed down, that it must be a paperweight. There was nothing else it could be – it certainly wasn’t ornamental, it was hideous.

Some weeks later, after my sister had visited me (and I think some of you will guess where this is going), I found the Stone sitting on the windowsill in our cloakroom. I cried with laughter all over again, by myself, while I pictured her doing the same thing, thinking about my discovery. We share a warped sense of humour.

The next time I went to my sister’s I left the Stone somewhere she would later find it. And so our little game began. We never mentioned the Stone again, but I knew that she knew that I knew there was a competition on to see who could hide the Stone in the most obscure place.

The anticipation of an impending visit caused as much hilarity as the search afterwards. Over the next couple of years the Stone turned up in a number of unlikely places – under the kitchen sink, in our bed, the freezer, in a bag of potatoes, on top of a cupboard, in the garden shed. As soon as she’d gone, I’d  rummage around the house until I found the Stone, (sometimes it would take days), ready to re-hide it when I visited my sister.

My husband and I even took the Stone away with us on holiday, featured it in some of our holiday snaps which I later showed my sister who didn’t bat an eyelid.

Our game came to a tragic end, however, when I hid the Stone inside a floor cushion filled with polystyrene beads. Weeks went by, my sister visited me, I had my usual, by now obsessive, ransack but to no avail: the Stone was missing. At first I thought she’d moved the game up a notch by purposely not hiding it just to confuse me but then I discovered through a bit of family subterfuge that my brother-in-law had sat down abruptly on said cushion, split the cover and spilled beads everywhere.

My sister, in a fit of rage, scooped the whole lot into a bin bag and took it to the tip.

Or did she? I live in hope that I might stumble across the Stone when I’m least expecting it; that my family intel was wrong, that she found the Stone and hid it somewhere so ingenious at our house that in twenty years it has remained undiscovered.

Whatever really happened, I guess we’ll never be sure – neither one of us wants to break the silence. But we had the most hilarious fun playing our game of hide and seek – perhaps that is for what the Stone was intended. Surely no other wedding present has provided so much mileage in terms of mirth – and it would never have been used as a paperweight.

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