Friday, 24 February 2012

Ken's guest blog

This week's blog is a guest memoir rendered beautifully and drily by my octogenarian uncle....

An Old Man’s Musings 
The widely-held assertion that with age comes wisdom, is a comforting responsibility to which one, already enjoying an agreeable retirement, must dutifully respond. Plainly, a life-time of mature reflections will contain some beneficial message which those, younger in years, must surely be eager to learn?
Just starting out in life

Homes fit for Heroes promotional picture
There is but a brief time allowed for this before the potential years of emergent dotage take over. This then, perhaps, is such a moment for one boy born after the First World War and in 1928, settled in one of the vast numbers of new council houses built as ‘ Fit for heroes’, evidently such as my soldier father, then a civil servant.
Yet even with such a blessing compared to the many more bound to the Victorian slum properties of East London, there was a vague air of austerity to life all around one. It touched even this, then a five year old, together with my father struggling to raise a deposit to buy a detached house in South West London.
Great then, was the uplifting of spirits on moving day as the Waterloo Station escalator rose to the bright sky seen through the clean glass roof. Such a welcome metaphor of progress indeed. Such a contrast to the steam train grime of Liverpool Street Station.
The bright new and spacious placement of these houses with potential for every then conceivable mains electricity device, promised luxury, even holidays in Cornwall and Devon before the age 11 school choice.  Was this to be further progress or not? Well, an entrance exam later, I found myself in school blazer at Rutlish College, Merton.
This rather grand private school offered expanding new worlds of study, languages, sciences, humanities and the gentler scholarly way of life the school espoused. And even enhanced, in the choice of rugger with such as Haberdashers’ Aske and Taunton Grammar Schools in preparation for Oxbridge.
But we had to be fit for such company, observing the school motto translatable as modesty, strength and holiness set in politeness of manner. These are hardly the attributes of the raw, emergent teenager and even less so with an estuary-English accent. So we had social customs and speech training as priorities.
On Monday afternoons for two years we learnt our diphthongs, to pronounce terminals such as d’s and t’s . We emerged ready with phrases such as ‘Jolly decent, old chap’ with an authoritative delivery under a straw boater. We were beginning to make our mark.
As our dear Victorian-moulded Headmaster put it:
‘The right accent must be accompanied by politeness of manner’.
He instanced in a career advice talk, "Suppose you were being interviewed by a prospective employer and he asked you to ‘take tea’ with him? " 
Plainly you would have to fluently measure up to this test if you were to secure the job.              
In RAF uniform
But war intervened and schooling was evacuated. Thence post-matriculation, the VI form and the R.A.F. After four such years civilian life imposed a career choice.
Well, my father had progressed in the Civil Service to an observable affluence and so I followed his example in some good times and some bad times. Thus I progressed to a senior position over some thirty-eight years.
Inevitable white hair 
Thence to retirement 27 years ago and now inevitable white hair, which with well-practised gentleness of manner, does often tempt quite nice young ladies to rise, offering their seat on a crowded bus. Only polite to accept of course: “Thanks, jolly decent of you”. But an invitation in gratitude, to “Take tea” might not be properly interpreted.
Perhaps my old Headmaster was only partly right. Mild manners and the right accent can help one both in work and retirement, but only so far.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Saturday job and decimalisation

The year is 1971 and I am 15 and a half. The half is important - well actually the quarter is important because that is the age you were allowed to work.

"old money" - pounds, shillings and pence
I had found a job in a supermarket in the nearby town on Saturdays and had been employed for three months when D Day came. That was the name that was given to the change over of our coins in the UK from pounds, shillings and pence to decimals. It was known as decimalisation. Although there must have been years of planning for this change the schools didn't seem to be focussing on this in my formative infant years and we were taught in what is now called "old money" so we had very little advantage over the rest of the population.  But I was helped by the fact that I was involved in the changing of all the pricing of merchandise the night before we went decimal - 15th February. Then the tins, for example, and tins are what I recall the most,  had purple inked prices on them that had to be rubbed off with alcohol to be replaced with a more advanced ticketing machine label with its new price.

I enjoyed working in the supermarket most of the time but thinking about it does bring back some memories of pungent smells - the metallic, cardboard smell of the warehouse for instance. Then there is the time I left 2 minutes early and the giant mechanical clock on the wall showed 5.28 as the manager bellowed across the store - Susan Clow you are two minutes early, just as the numbers dropped and revealed 5.30! Did I scurry!

Another time after I had been moved to the canteen I was asked to take a cup of tea to the Manager's office. I knocked on the door and went in and declared that I had been asked to take a cup of tea up to his bedroom! Nothing was further from my mind - not a Freudian slip this - he was 30 years older than me...but he said "it must have been the come to bed look in my eyes". Was I embarrassed! More scurrying!

The canteen was a bit of a doddle. The only problem was finding a way to please the more genteel ladies
[don't fill it right to the top please..] and the rough butchers [what's this half a cup?] but I met a lovely Polish cook, did some cake making and was sometimes left in charge. Big plus - I could go early and still get payed - now what was it? 2/6 an hour in old money or 12 1/2 p in new!! I still managed to buy a watch with my earnings after a few months though...

Saturday, 11 February 2012

No time to stand and stare

I told a friend that I had started writing blogs and she said that I must have more time than she had. It started me thinking that we have dangled before us at every turn the idea that to lead a fulfilled life we have to pack in as much as we can into it. This is a topic I often think about as I review how I am living my life and if I want to live it differently.

I think we are under pressure to lead a "life in the fast lane" and "live life to the full". We complain to each other that there are "not enough hours in the day". If you search these terms there is a big body of writing out there especially from the self improvement market. Then you find this sort of thing posted on Facebook:

A busy life is a lived life

But what does it mean? For me the idea that I must be constantly stuffing myself with new experiences and never wasting a moment is worrying as though I like to see new places and do different things I get the most out of savouring small pleasures. I was very pleased to come across the antithesis to this rush rush mentality with a website called SLOW DOWN. 

Think about all the things that give small pleasure and they add up to more than the white water rafting or the bungee jumping  [extreme examples that spring to mind working as I do in a young team of adrenalin driven people!] or the rushing to this or that experience. On the way you might let these "not doing" experiences sweep past unnoticed:

watching the clouds go by

  • choosing a new book to read
  • getting into a warm bed on a cold night
  • watching the sun set
  • a good shower
  • smelling new cut grass, just baked bread
  • watching the sea
  • watching clouds pass by
  • feeling the sun in winter
  • sharing banter and humour
  • feeling a texture that makes you glow
  • musical notes in just the right order ..the list is endless. 
So with all that going on how can we be the person in Ezra Pound's poem:

          The days are not full enough
         The nights are not full enough
         Life slips by like a field mouse
         Not shaking the grass

I am with William Henry Davies myself who famously wrote:

       What is this life if full of care
       We have no time to stand and stare?

That is what I am aiming for and I will NOT feel guilty about it....!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Guest blog week

This week my blog is a guest memoir on Wrote by Rote and  am grateful to Arlee for making my blog into such a professional looking piece and to Eve for being so good at remembering her time as a telephonist in the 1940s! I will be checking for comments so have a look...