Saturday, 31 December 2011

You are on now

I want to tackle the sometimes scary concept of public speaking.

In common with many people I spent  a lot of my school years hoping the bell would ring before I would have to read out loud in class but I decided to challenge myself and joined a drama group. I also took the opportunity to take spoken English exams. Both are probably still the stuff of my nightmares but have provided lots to look back on. They also made me much more confident and were never regretted.

reflexology socks
The spoken English exam is etched in my memory because part of it involved being given a topic to speak about for 5 minutes with a moment's notice. I got "socks"...well I survived somehow and remember there were not the fancy socks on the market in the late 1960's. It would have been good if they made these reflexology socks for instance. Mind you I did manage to get in the idea of sock suspenders I think which had long fascinated me - my grandfather wore them - and must have given the assessor a wry smile.
sock suspenders
Drama wise the main speaking role I had was in an old fashioned play by Dodie Smith "Dear Octopus" where I had to have a row with another actor/6th former whilst laying a table for a dinner. I had to threaten her with a knife and can still recall the slight drawing in of breath in the audience.

On leaving school and in the government on a management training course there was a day on public speaking and I was absolutely chuffed to bits to see I was marked down as a "natural speaker" - this after years of being told I spoke too fast and must slow down. Then another student came over and asked me if he had noted like he had her that I had a "posh voice". He hadn't but only last month I was telling this story to a friend who teaches people how to speak in public. When I told her what my fellow course member had said she looked at me astounded and pronounced a resonating  "DID she?" So I think either my colleague was well off the mark or my speech has deteriorated over the years!

Panel discussion 
I have had to speak a number of times in public over the years including five years of teaching adults and one or two work related events that have been highly stressful to orchestrate involving sniffer dogs and celebrities but quite fun, in hindsight at least. This panel at the Oxford Literary Festival some years ago was taken by a blogger who was in the audience so there is even evidence of me public speaking in the ether!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Loving my name

In common with many people my relationship with my name has had a chequered history.

At primary school I took pains to get the saying of the name over as quickly as possible and found its use, especially the whole name - Susan Clow - excruciatingly embarrassing. I had mostly become a Sue by the time I was in the juniors and not enjoying the mildly derogatory Clowie that came from the boys lips...put me off that sweet little name Chloe of course. I also had the most common female name of the mid 1950's - the male equivalent was John - so along with many others I have spent a lot of my childhood looking up to "Susan!". There were several in my class including at one point a glamorously named Susan Hayward who must have had a very difficult time!

The pronunciation of my last name has been an issue partly because there seem to have evolved two ways of pronouncing it with each side firmly adhering to the way they were taught from the start of course. I understand Clow derives from Cloh, meaning side of a ravine and it may be from West Yorkshire. My family history research has led me to the seventeenth century where a whole raft of Clows I can track forward lived in the village of Ide near Exeter in South Devon and low and behold a Susan Clow there in the 1640s! So yes, the pronunciation - I have to say Clow as in blow not Clow as in cow, but some say the reverse I imagine.

I have assertively re adopted by name in the last 15 years including the full Susan which seems to suit the short last name so well having given up the name for 20 years. I feel proud of it now and I don't even flinch when my name is read out - hell I have even used it for my blogs...! I might even say that now I love my name...

Mandarin Susan

Sunday, 18 December 2011


I am chronically indecisive when it comes to making a firm decision about an issue. I always wonder if I have the complete story and what the other person's perspective might be, where the shades of grey might be.  Throw in a dash of cynicism too and it is a lethal cocktail for deciding.

I was so impressed by a poster by Annie and Ken Meharg for One World Week in 1993 that I kept it all these years because it seemed to highlight what I was feeling. The poster, and rhyme below was their modern rendition of an old Hindu story about a blind man and an elephant. If you have ever played that game where you sit back to back and one describes an object to the other and they rely on abstract description then you will understand all this and that is just about methods of communication! The elephant in the poster looked like this and the focus was TV coverage:

The rhyme [ and I hope they forgive me for quoting it again ] goes like this:

"On Channel 1 the SIDE was shown. The man began to drawl:
“It’s wrinkly, grey and flat and big, and vertical and tall.
You see,” said he “The elephant is just a concrete WALL.”

When Channel 2 came into view, TUSK pictures were quite clear,
It glinted, sharp, still, long and white. “Like ivory, my dear,
You see,” said she, “The elephant is an exquisite SPEAR.”

On Channel 3 the TRUNK swayed free; a curl, a wave, a shake.
It wriggled, twisted, dance in air. “It’s lively, no mistake,
You see” said he, “The elephant is a long fat wriggly SNAKE.”

On Channel 4, the huge LEG bore resemblance, you could see,
to something sturdy, broad an tall, set in the earth, said she:
“It’s obvious the elephant’s another kind of TREE.”

On Channel 5, the EAR shown live. From an excited man:
“It flaps, it’s flat, it’s just like that, it’s thin, it flies, it can!
To me”, said he “The elephant’s a frisky, fancy, FAN.”

On Channel 6 the TAIL pix. We saw the newsman grope.
It hung, it swung, quite long and strong! It’s clear to any dope –
this creature called an elephant is nothing but a ROPE.”

People tuned to different channels argue loud and long –
though none has seen an elephant, each holds one view so strong,
and each is partly in the right, but all are in the wrong!"

What more can I say? It says it all...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Snap happy!

Brownie Vecta
At eight years old I had what I now realise was a newly launched camera as a gift - the Kodak Brownie Vecta. It took 8 pictures in black and white and my first shots were of animals in a zoo in Guernsey. I can see the light grey case I carried it around in now and recall the excitement of this magical thing!

Slide projector
My father loved to take photographs. He would spend what to us were endless hours getting his shots just right, us with rictus smiles, and equally endless hours showing them on a slide projector and screen at home. In fact these sessions were quite fun for us as at least we would see our holidays again and glimpse ourselves but what friends made of this I can only imagine - they were very patient. No Flickr then of course... I recall one evening when I was about 17 coming home to find a show in progress and I had had a couple of vodka and oranges or Dubonnets and needed to demonstrate my steadiness and was desperately trying to look sober!

A short Polaroid experience - when working with young offenders in the 1980s the face of a young lad who was being photographed for the project kept coming out black. A few weeks later he died in an accident in a car he had always made me ambivalent about these instant cameras.

I would have liked to have had experience of black and white developing which was all the rage if you had space to dedicate a light tight room to the chemical processing. I did once take some shots to be developed at college and had the unexpected support of a tutor who was as embarrassed as I was to watch a nude torso shot of me clarify itself in the developing tray.

Cut to parenthood and one very jerky hand held video camera series of moments with young children that makes you feel seasick to watch, and a lot of regret that I could not do more moving pictures.

Now photos are my aide memoire for everything and I get so much pleasure out of digital photography and the manipulation of images in things that I do....probably the most enjoyable digital experience there is....!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The reading bug with Dick and Dora

Dick and Dora 1960ish
Tracing my love of reading takes me back to my first book experiences as a five year old. I am told that on the first day of school rather than cling to my almost tearful, worried Mum I ran over to the book corner and got ensconced without a backward glance. My learning to read schemes must have given me something despite the fact that they look pretty dreary half a century later. In 1960 infant reading schemes in the UK were split between readers that involved Janet and John and those that involved what was probably the older - Dick and Dora. Our school was in the Dick and Dora camp. Just look at the wonderful pictures!

I was an avid reader and devoured Enid Blyton especially but also liked the Just William books, Arthur Ransome  and Jennings and Derbyshire. Having read them all I had to have permission to move to the adult section of the local library before 11 and then had authors like Gerald Durrell, Conan Doyle, Wodehouse and Wheatley to pursue. Not really any adolescent fiction then. Much more choice now of course. When I started on the A level English route my teacher gave us a book list that she said would make us book snobs for the rest of our lives. It contained, of course, the Huxleys and Hemingways of the world. I can recall feeling distinctly guilty reading Jacqueline Susann at 18 when I started to deviate from the list for some light reading.
so much to read....!
I decided not to do a degree in English because I was worried that it would take away all the pleasure I got from reading by analysing them out of existence. Now my biggest worry is not being able to remember books after I have read them - even books I have loved. I cannot even recall them long enough for a good discussion about them, unless I record as I go along. Feel like a goldfish brain sometimes. I have even been known to choose the same book again unaware I have read it until my partner tells me.

Still whatever my memory I do agree with this quote from George R R Martin:

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The life of a potteries caster

I want to capture some of the experiences of my mother in law who was a Staffordshire pottery caster in Burslem for 40 years.

Millie began working in the potteries in 1941 during World War II aged 14. Her mother had wanted her to work in a clothes shop and not enter the potteries industry like most of the people around her. She went for an interview and got the job but turned it down – she couldn’t see herself in the shop and the wages were only 10/6 a week, much lower than in the “pot banks”. She decided to go for Doultons which offered the princely wage of 14/7 a week.
Millie learnt about figure ware and the basics of casting at Doultons and when at 17 she got her call up papers and she had the choice of the Land Army or munitions work she was, like her colleagues, able to stay working in the potteries because they were doing work men had left to join the forces. Millie had an aunt who was a caster and she was in the same “shop” and at one time she also had four cousins there. At Doultons as well as the figure ware – figurines in ball gowns and the like, there was a brisk trade in character jugs of war time personalities like Churchill and Montgomery.

Jugs and figurines were quite complex sometimes with three or four parts to be joined and seams to be removed. They were on piece work and this meant that they could get 4d for a dozen character jugs. The jug had to have its handle put on, be cast fettled and sponged. 
character jug

There was an art to working out the varying qualities and consistencies of the “slip” that was used for casting and when it was ready to pour out. Needless to say there was a tendency to repetitive strain from tipping and from lifting heavy plaster of Paris moulds.

In the 1950s Millie wanted more flexibility as she had a child to care for and she moved to a nearby pottery Midwinters. One of their specialties was a collection of dinosaurs and at one point she knew them all by name. They also made a lot of figures especially religious ones. The owner Robin Midwinter used to come into their casting shop and tell them that the rest of the production was his bread and butter but they were his jam! Highly thought of when there were bus strikes the workers  were picked up by car to ensure production continued.

Potteries were already using tunnel kilns not the brick pot banks kilns of the history books. Pots would enter on a conveyer belt in a timed journey but Millie and her colleagues rarely saw any of this in their workshops. They were lucky too that for them the levels of dust were not too bad either with the biggest threat to their lungs being the Saturday morning cleaning of the troughs.
Doulton figurine

There were a lot of potteries in the Stoke area. Millie also spent time at Summerbanks Pottery which produced a lot for the USA – she recalls baseball players and shire horses in particular. She had some time in a selecting role – picking out the quality pieces and wrapping them in wood wool and putting them in great tubs to be transported for export on the canal to exotic sounding places places like the Pitcairn Islands. But she always felt her first love was as a caster!
Midwinters casters

Monday, 21 November 2011

Strictly left footed

Degas ballerinas
Ballroom dancing
On the walls of my childhood home was what I realise now to be a reproduction Degas ballerina pastel and this might have been the back drop to the decision to send me to ballet classes at the age of 5 or 6. Bearing in mind that I was a little hefty as an infant and had the nick name "fairy elephant" given to me by the local butchers [bless 'em] this was not likely to go well. I can recall the chestnut brown mini skirt and egg yolk yellow cross over knitted cardigan top which us ballet students had to wear and the slightly worried walk to the venue in the village. It was later I realised why I struggled with the class [apart from having limited co ordination anyway] - I couldn't get to the beginners class as it started too early and had to go the next one up. I had no idea what they were doing and guiltily peeked when we had to close our eyes for some of the exercises. I didn't last long...The next experience at school involved a lazy PE teacher who alternately marched us round the gym or sat filing her nails while we trampolined. Mmm..One day she shouted at me SUSAN CLOW YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE OF RHYTHM... A powerful bit of teaching there... A few years later I managed a bit of slow dream ballet dancing in Oklahoma at school but on leaving school I joined - for some reason - a lunchtime ballroom dance class attached to my job. An uneasy affair. Think I began to get the message. I tried again about 14 years ago...and joined an evening class with my partner, a brilliant dancer - even worse. As soon as I start to enjoy it and relax the whole thing goes from my head and I forget what to do next. We gave up, sadly.
My Fair Lady gavotte
Cut to more recent local amateur musical theatre and having to waltz in a scene in My Fair Lady. Dicey to say the least especially as my partner in that one was equally left footed. Still I was OK scraping through the gavotte and worth it to wear such lovely outfits. Probably about all I can manage if I am honest!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Scenes from a sketchbook

I have just given my two year old grandson his first easel and he loves it. He can't stop drawing! It has made me realise what a long relationship I have had with drawing and how easy it is to let it all slip.

I was taught drawing by a traditional teacher who set us up with shells and milk bottles and told us about dark and shade and the existence of ellipses.  My real love though has always been people so of course I have drawn myself countless times - pretty depressing as you get older, and any one else who lingers long enough in my life in a still position...which isn't many when I come to think of it. Life classes have been interesting though it is years since I went to one. I have been on both sides of this having modelled one season myself - it certainly gives you an insight. I once fainted trying to maintain a standing pose on a table top which was embarrassing to say the least. Why I didn't say that it was going black I don't know.

I always have good intentions. I take a sketch book on every holiday and usually end up sketching at the airport or round the pool - surreptitiously of course, like this man with sound excluding headphones this year:

sunbed man
twinkly eye
female head
What I really like are older faces with a bit of character like this twinkly eyed man - well I only got one eye sorted but you get the idea. What I like about it is that I can disappear into a drawing. Time is of no consequence. Of course I have a cupboard of special crayons, conte pencils, charcoal, wonderful paper that I dare not use - the usual, and I am always meaning to take it up properly instead of doing the odd sketch and then getting distracted. Still at least I have some sketches of family members to look back on and one day perhaps I will actually take it up again.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Cars, cars cars!

If my father or his brother Geoff had written blogs the first one they would have written would have been about cars so this is a tribute the them.

Austin A40
My way of tackling the topic of cars might be a bit different - not about their horse power or their special features but about the memories they evoke. For a start I am sure I do recall standing on a running board on the first car we had in my childhood although most of my childhood is symbolised by the Austin A40. It was what would now be  called a hatch back and had room enough for two small bodies - mine and my brother's to curl up in the back on that 8 hour annual journey to Cornwall. The excitement of leaving at 3 in the morning, drifting off the sleep with disembodied parental voices and the hum of the car in the background. And a holiday to look forward to! I am terrible at remembering numbers but the two A40's number plates will never be forgotten.

Mk 1 Cortina
Then cut to the 1970s and the car I learnt to drive in was a Mk 1 Cortina of ban the bomb tail lights fame. It was bottle green and a snip for £80 and given the name Nellie [not all my cars have had names]. Not a perfect first car, too big for me but all I had. I certainly learned a lot about diagnosing car problems from the noises she produced that have come in handy ever since. My very first  passenger after I passed my test got out of the car after a couple of miles - I was in central London - and was violently sick! Nothing to do with my driving but not an auspicious start!

Ford Popular
I had a six month spell with a cream Austin 1100 which had a dicky gear box and didn't last long but my next memorable car was a sensible Ford pictured in the drive named Olive that had only 17,000 miles on the clock despite being 4 years old [ now I do sound like my Dad!]. I am here with the very missed Beckton.

I loved my next car a red Mini Clubman estate in which I could carry my infant children until a Dutch lorry driver scraped the whole of its side one afternoon while I sat helplessly at the wheel. and left me like jelly.

I enjoyed my silver Escort with its sun roof - don't see those any more, and then a green Citroen Estate but the only new car I have had has been with one job where I took delivery of an Astra and that was an exciting afternoon and was followed with 11 years of Astra use and many miles of work travel.

Leisure wise there are loads of memories attached to the camper van we had for some years for  weekend overnights. Great views driving up there too though I have to confess I never quite got the hang of driving it or used to the pain in my ankle from the pedal position and was mostly a passenger. Just need to remember to take the roof down coming out of car parks!

Camper van
What I would really like to have - if the weather was good enough is a Suzuki Vitara but I have to be satisfied with the odd few days hire on holiday.

Suzuki vitara

Sunday, 30 October 2011

childhood memorabilia

1966 diary entry of 10 year old
Listening to the News Quiz the other evening one of the comedians said that he had all his books from school for his children to read.   Along with my own children's art work and freestyle writing I too have some of my childhood books packed away - I kept some illustrated diaries from primary school. In the example to the right I had progressed from those childish crayons my baby brother was using, to proper crayons..ooh! Both of us must be fondly imagining a time when we will pore over them and smile at the idiosyncratic writing, the childish preoccupations and the changed cultures. I don't think it happens like that of course, partly because they are usually packed away and may never see the light of day.

And certainly there would be something missing in the pictures to today's children - where are the people on their mobile phones for instance, why is no one taking a photo? In this topical entry around firework night in 1966 the excitement was that we had sparklers...! And look how close we are to the bonfire...a health and safety nightmare. This must be the only entry that does not note the exact time I went to bed or watched a TV programme though there is the usual preoccupation with food, and there is the swimming again [shh the mothers went shopping...shame!] and oh yes the fireworks started at 6.30. Not that I was ruled by the clock at 10 ....

What else do I have, let's think. Show pictures from secondary school, scrap books from my late teens of my time in London and my book of autographs. Anyone fancy a Peter Osgood autograph?

Note to self - all this needs to be disposed of  - but thank goodness for scanners!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Noises off...please

I love singing and sing choral works quite merrily, immersing myself in them totally, but here is a conundrum...I also love silence and I have noise intolerance.

I have never lost my startle reflex as completely as I should have done – I am sure there must be a picture of me covering my ears like the woman in this picture if only for some imagined emergency ahead, a ball coming towards me perhaps that I am supposed to catch. Mostly though I cover my ears to block out fire, ambulance and police sirens in the street and for a small market town we seem to get a lot of them – and cut to me the only person with fingers in her ears trying unsuccessfully to block out the high pitched searing through her head.

ticking clock
It took me ages to stop worrying that the landlady of the bed and breakfast I once stayed in wouldn’t know where I had stashed the clock that was in the room – the ticking was driving me demented. I had wrapped it in a towel and put it in a cupboard...middle of the night of course – why not take out the battery?

I am equally intolerant when radios in the house are above a certain level, when the central heating tithers in a way that only I can hear and when fan heaters are on and I can feel my body relax as the sound level is reduced and the jangling can stop. 

If I want a blast – and I sometimes do – I have to be in control. Driving alone up the motorway for instance singing loudly to Tina Turner perhaps. Then I am perfectly OK!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Touching experience

tactile book
I am apt to embarrass in the company of something tactile like sheepskin, fur, velvet  or silk. I have this terrible urge to reach out and feel it and it can lead to some odd exchanges....

I have been thinking about a comment made by a mother to a nine year old daughter about to be ensnared to fashion in a recent family comedy on television. She asked her if she wanted to be someone who spent all morning looking for tops. Now bearing in mind the script was written by two men and it was a dig at women who shop and the stereotype of a predilection for clothes, she had  a point. But is it just about buying clothes? What about that tactile experience that is wandering around racks of clothes sampling so many different textures, rolling it between finger and thumb, savouring its friction, its shininess, its depth, its sheerness. Well that is what I do when I get into a clothes shop. And probably why I can't resist a quick pat on the head of passing dogs too [love the ones with those soft ears!]  And then what about all those gorgeous tactile books now available to children? Perhaps it is us grown ups who get the most out of them? I had a go at making one once and had huge fun.

But it is not all positive. Some things make me squirm. The soft wallpaper they called Novamura that felt like living flesh...and I won't say what kind of flesh it reminded me of for fear of further embarrassment... [not that in its place that is unpleasant I hasten to add!] I know we are not all the same. My mother in law cannot bear anything furry because she hates feeling her hand disappear into it and I am not quite so happy about felt making though others devote their lives to it. Life is full of touching stories...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Family History

I began tracing my family history about 10 years ago before the days of all those fascinating programmes magically unearthing amazing links to historic figures in the past of celebrities - and of course much harder work than it appears too! Being the actual searcher and having the experience of handling the enormous paper registers at the family records office with its earnest and hushed atmosphere - is an unbeatable experience. I am glad too that I have had the experience of hand cranking the microfiche machine when I compare it with the infinitely faster online method. Still I am grateful to the internet for the new opportunities it has given us to track down more and more information about our ancestors and for the online community of relatives it reveals to us.

It can still be a fraught business and lead you up the wrong path. Having found wall to wall working class crafts people on both sides of my parents' family lines I was, for one nano second, interested to see the splindly words Lawyer written on a marriage certificate - only to realise it said "Steam Sawyer".(yet more woodworkers!)

Tracking down my grandmother took another wrong path initially. Not a very common combination of names and the same birth year turned up - unbeknownst to me - two candidates. I only spotted one and established a story in my head about how my grandmother had come from alkali labourer stock in the Preston area. Later in transpired that she came from the only middle class part of my family history. Her family, it seems, were in the luggage trade and were located in a wealthy part of central London. Here is my grandmother in her Edwardian hat in about 1915:
Family group
There is a lot of interest in the census records. Over the years this 10 yearly audit added more fields of information but the sense of overcrowding, the age of the children already working, whole families engaged in one industry...the glove trade on the other side...and the mortality rates...fascinating stuff.

It was the sepia postcard photograph of this family group that set me off I suppose - given to me for safe keeping by my father but I think it is the lives of the working families that interest me the most. I try to imagine what kind of conditions a dyer might have endured in 1840s  Devon, or what it was like to be a female home worker making gloves. I have travelled to London and the west country in search of streets and houses to try and get a sense of my ancestors and visited their graves where I could to add to my knowledge and been greatly rewarded and frustrated in turn. I have enjoyed every minute of it though and almost wish I could start all over again!

Monday, 3 October 2011

The thrill of a guinea pig

Tales of the riverbank

What are your wild life thrills? For some it will be the sights of wild game or herds of wild elephants on safari. Not for me – it is the tiniest feral rodents and cavies that make my heart sing…I would rather catch a rare glimpse of a water rat amongst the reeds, or blink and almost miss a shrew dashing across a road than a hundred tigers. Likewise I have a soft spot for guinea pigs and though I would normally run a mile from anything that smacks of anthropomorphism I think my love of Johnny Morris’ Tales of the Riverbank on TV as a child must have been one of the determining factors.

 I actually went on to have guinea pigs as a child – sales must have gone though the roof after these programmes. And they were such characters. Here is my Dad who was definitely NOT at home with a cavy!

Dad and Candy the guinea pig
And when I say I would run a mile – giving human voices to animals doesn’t count…nothing logical about me!

I suppose for me the equivalent in countries I have visited with wildlife potential is the basking iguana or monitor lizard. And one magical half hour watching a two toed sloth come down from a tree on one of it fortnightly forays, not in a wild terrain but in our hotel grounds. I do like the idea that harmless wild animals can wander into our domestic areas. Despite the bad publicity the sight of urban foxes - is there anything else? - still cheers me up. A special day I recall was a snowy January in the centre of the city of Leicester. I had taken 15 minutes longer than usual to get to work due to the snow but the sight of the fox beautifully contrasted against the snow on the street corner more than made up for the unreasonable dressing down I got for being late!

Squirrel on our garden wall
Bizarrely I was in a bird hide the other day watching nuthatches and tits and a man with a VERY large spotter scope [or so I am reliably informed]  pointed to the undergrowth and said in a genuinely awed and hushed voice "It’s a squirrel….!” Perhaps he feels the same as me about our small animals…though I have to say I don’t quite stop in my tracks for squirrels these days with this little devil walking up and down our wall every ten minutes ..still a fantastic shot of a beautiful animal all the same.  

Friday, 16 September 2011

Telling histories

What would you choose to research the history of if you had the opportunity?

Before the days of computers and for my teaching course in the 1970's I decided to research my primary school. I imagine I could get most of what I needed on the internet now but it was such an exciting thing to do to seek out all the primary sources. The school had been built as a Board School in 1874 in response to the Education Act 1870 and was located in the middle of a common in Surrey. I found the old punishment book with its records of worrying sheep on the common - four strokes on the hand, or "dirty habits" or "prevarication". The school log played an important role in recording the changing curriculum, health issues, the changes during war time - digging for victory etc. I interviewed a retired caretaker who had been in post since the 1920s. I found the original map denoting the land to be used. Heady times!

map of land
timetable 1915
It was a very dilapidated building and we had a new one built which was ready for my final year at primary school. I once said to my Mum that the hamster had got out and that the teacher had said it had probably been eaten by the rats! The loos froze over every winter and were definitely to be avoided if at all possible at all times. But how compelling those memories are - memories of those rooms and the playgrounds - boys and girls - still abide. Sad that it was demolished and never used as a living building again but even though there is not a brick left of it on the common its 100 years of history is still very evident in the memories of people, in the archives and in the foundations it laid for current educational practice...and if I concentrate I can just see myself holding a skipping rope in that playground beyond the gate...
the school in the 1960s

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A worry wart's solution

blue box for work worries
All my life I have been an agoniser. Trying to see things from every viewpoint. Not only does it create indecisiveness it also means lots of worry - night and day. Of course I have tried meditative exercises, focussing on breathing, all that palava. At night I have counted sheep, taken imaginary walks, recreated journeys - anything to keep unwanted thought from rising to the surface and swamping every waking - and sleeping -  moment.

basket for worries
red box
I should have realised sooner how helpful a visualising technique I was shown 20 years ago from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) would be. Then I was trying to deal with cat allergy. I believe that  imagining a cage and putting, in my mind, a cat in it and closing the cage door has helped and I haven't had a problem since. I have started to apply that principle to three different worries recently. I have created imaginary boxes and baskets to put worries in. Take work. How easy it is to go over and over things in your precious non working time, nothing productive and the present passes you by while you are engrossed. For this I have a blue box. I imagine putting the worry in and shutting down the lid. I don't have to get as far as locking the box now and it has triggered me back to the present! Then onto worries about family. So many ways to get this broken record of thoughts taking over enjoyment of living the present...I have a basket for this - it seemed appropriate.This is a picnic hamper as it needs to be large and comes from memories of Andy Pandy of children's TV when I was a child. I have a third set of unwanted well trod thoughts...and this is a red box...getting crowded!! I have a friend who uses boxes too but he says they are so brim full there is no room left! For me they are bottomless so I will be alright.

There is one problem. In the middle of the night it is not quite so effective. The brain doesn't seem to respond to these triggers quite so well and things that at night make sense are complete gibberish when you examine them in the light of day. Still I am working on it. Ideas on a postcard...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Ice cream

The topic of ice cream is a rich seam to mine.

mini ice cream cone
My mother and her brother when children had the tantalising experience of watching their parents eat their way through their ice creams knowing that they were not allowed more than a teaspoon on the last inch of a cone -  they thought ice cream was bad for you. This of course was the generation that believed the idea that taking up smoking would ward off the influenza that hit the country at the end of the World War 1! My Grandmother even gave Mum her first cigarette as a teenager during a flood emergency - to calm her I suppose.

Ice creams in my childhood are associated with a broken arm when I was nine when I fell from a tree and was given two ice creams to eat on the way to casualty to stop me thinking about the pain!

Later I  had a lucky opportunity to join a school choir and go an their planned trip as compensation for a teacher accidentally squashing my finger flat in a partition during a school dinner time. The choir went to see Anne of Green Gables, the musical - my first ever experience of a live show. I came across the song about ice cream  with the clever rhyming - is anything more delectable than ice cream? Even the most respectable eat ice cream... I am still singing and still love musicals. Funny how things happen.

Anne of Green Gables poster c1965
Later at 11 at secondary school an ice cream van was allowed into our school playground at lunchtime and we could buy glorious cones with hundreds and thousands on them for two old pennies. The highlight of the whole day sometimes.

ice cream van
I had a dog who had a real penchant for ice cream. If she heard the van's chimes she would start to bark. Must have been something to do with the fact that she got that tiny cone of that sweet cold stuff whenever I succumbed. And I probably did quite a lot now I come to think of it...and now I have this van that has found a rich seam of its own right outside my house. Wait a minute while I relive all this and then grab my purse...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Swim Gym fun

I am so lucky to be in the only town in the UK with a Swim Gym. Three times a week we take a 25 minute walk to the Swim Gym. We have five individual pools, nicely warm, with an adjustable current that you can swim in or use weights or paddles to push against the water. A good 30 minute workout is followed by a  shower in a private bathroom to finish the visit off. A redecorate has made it extra enjoyable to visit!

The benefits are many - I came with a long term low back problem and if I keep going it almost disappears. My partner had shoulder problems and he has had similar positive results. We both enjoy not having to use a public pool and compete with the lane swimmers. We like the warmth of the pools and the additional ways you can exercise in water that the Swim Gym provides. Now that I have mastered the unique way of swimming I find it is the time to do my thinking. Swimming underwater which I do a lot - using snorkel and mask - is the best time though it always has an overlay of counting. It is amazing how the brain can manage to think and count at the same time. Counting can become a bit compulsive sometimes so that even when swimming in the sea I find myself inwardly chanting 1-2-3 and on.

Every time I go for my swim I worry how I would manage if I had to go back to my old ways before we discovered the Swim Gym. More counting then..? My blessings I suppose!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Naming things

hover fly
I am sitting at a table surrounded by leaves from all kinds of trees picked on a recent walk and slowly drying out. I have picked them to try and identify them at the ripe old age of 56. I feel cross with myself that I cannot identify a Hornbeam or be sure which is a Maple or a Plane Tree. Surely you would think this can't be possible. I have reached this point having conveyed the extent of my knowledge tree wise to my partner who knew less than me and could just about tell an oak from a chestnut. He now at least knows an elder from a hawthorn...but why do we have this need to name things? Take insects for example. A new camera means we can get in close and be fascinated by the tiniest of insect. So that means we need to know what it is called...the hover fly is easy but what about what I now know is a Demoiselle Damsel - a kind of dragon fly - we saw at the canal just up the road.

I have recently catalogued the plants in my garden - a way to learn some new names really. I started out on this quest as a small girl picking wild flowers down Cornish country lanes on holiday. I probably learnt about Pink Campions first, then Trefoil and then Cow Parsley. I could have been learning about Greek Gods  about which I know nothing unlike  my partner, but I have a litany that relates to nature. It is funny what sticks. A level biology and the most insistent name in my memory is Fucus vesiculosis - bladder wrack seaweed - and Laminaria Saccharina, another seaweed like strips of leather. I cannot pass either without a silent chant. Perhaps there is something quite soothing about names - when they come to mind that is - perhaps they are a link with the past and a symbol of living....

Sunday, 7 August 2011

commuter trains

I started writing this blog on the train surrounded by the disembodied voices of people reporting home on their mobiles or catching up on last minute work problems. Some of the voices are not quite so disembodied as they could be, and some are blithely "sodcasting" [listening their ipods so loudly we can all hear it] and there are constant mea culpa announcements and warnings on the tannoy to contend with too.

I am a twice weekly commuter from the midlands to London. It has given me the chance to see the latest technologies close at hand. If I sit next to someone with an ipad or a Kindle I always ask end up asking them about them. I know I am breaking an unspoken rule to be unspoken...but they always gush enthusiastically and seem to enjoy telling me about the features of their new machines.

Talking to people on trains can be quite an eye opener. Once I sat next to very hairy muscle man going down to London with a beautician. They were going to be on the daytime Ruby Wax Show. He was going to have his chest waxed on TV [wince..] Would love to have seen it - don't think he had any idea of the pain he was to endure!

I think on a long journey it is advisable to start any conversation towards its end to prevent being trapped for the whole journey with someone who could not stop talking, but sometimes it is a chance I end up taking. This week I chatted with a woman who proceeded to apply full face make up using her entire case of arcane brushes and powders - a process that took over half the journey. She explained to me how it made her feel to wear make up and where she got her special face cream from and I could only wonder - as a non make up wearer - in amazement.

Amusing announcements can break the atmosphere nicely. It still tickles me to hear we have slowed down for sheep on the track and it always makes me think of the first Reggie Perrin TV series in the 70's when he would arrive for work with a deliberately outrageous excuse for lateness  like "22 minutes late - badger on the line!"

Thanks to Stephen Pointer for this shot of my station of departure. St Pancras here I come..

Friday, 29 July 2011

Blooming Britain

When I told my head of department at work that I was writing blogs he said he wasn't a ranter and couldn't do it himself. I smiled to myself at the thought that the only blog was a rant - but - on this occasion allow me to indulge myself.

earth and planter
weedy meter
I am sure that many countries have civic pride competitions and here one of them is Britain in Bloom. I love flowers and you would think that this would be right up my street. I am full of admiration for the many people who dedicate their time and energies to planting out baskets and troughs every year. But hasn't it sort of lost its direction? In the town I live in we are visited by the judges in early to mid July. You would normally expect planters to have been giving pleasure to the town from early June but ours are left as bare earth and not planted until the week before the judges come... This year hasn't been quite so bad due to the dry weather but some years I have seen beautiful baskets, say, along a road junction but immediately below them 4 foot high stinging nettles! As someone who mentally weeds everywhere I go I find this so painful. Even in the central area of town by the river there are planted troughs - in much need of a lick of paint - looking very sorry for themselves because the surrounding bed has over the years become a walking track and no alternative solution has been devised. Even car parks take on a look of neglect when - ironically- blooms appear that are not planned. I know that the ownership of land is an issue and again wonder how retail stores ignore the fact that their surroundings are part of their brand statement.  I do feel for those volunteers because their efforts are not part of an holistic approach to civic pride. That of course could lead me onto another rant  - litter - but I will try to contain myself.