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.