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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Stuck on Luck


“See a Penny pick it up – all that day you’ll have good luck.” No doubt we’ve all heard that catchy little saying and no doubt some of us have picked up a penny hoping for good luck to follow.  

Of course, nowadays in Canada, you would have to be extremely lucky to find a penny to pick up because pennies are no longer in circulation.  Perhaps it’s time to change the denomination to “a nickel”?
You may wonder why I’m even thinking about this subject.  Well, like all of the memories that invade my consciousness it begins quite innocently with a chance remark.
Recently, I learned that LS would be travelling by air on Friday the 13th.  We both laughed and agreed that for our family the 13th was believed to be a very lucky number!  And of course, belief is the operative word in any discussion about superstitions.
Our belief that the number 13 was lucky, is very strange when you consider that our mother came from a long line of super-superstitious Irish Catholics.  We were brought up in a household where almost everything was imbued with either good or bad luck. So, how come the 13th got a pass?  Nothing else did. 

As a modern woman I consider these beliefs to be suitable for entertaining conversation but unable to stand the light of scientific inspection.  Nevertheless, ALL of these beliefs were very important to my mother's life, and by extension our little Covey that lived under their spell. So I think they deserve the time I've spent with Mr. Google researching the whats and whys.

Being told: "Don't walk under that ladder!"  seems to me more like good advice rather than superstition.  And the same goes for not opening umbrellas inside the house.  After all, you're very unlucky if you get poked with one of those spikey parts.  Seems there was always a little bit of common sense attached to these decrees.  If you Break a mirror - get seven years of bad luck.  Broken bits of mirror equal more sharp objects and it's always bad luck if you cut yourself.  But seven years!  However, if you broke a mirror in our house you'd probably get seven years of being reminded of the fact that you broke it.  There was other stuff to do with mirrors, including covering them up if someone died.  Of course you could always ward off bad luck by doing the following:
Knock on wood
I understand this works by calling on the “good spirits” who live in trees. Don’t ask me how it works when I say this as I knock on my own head!

To Make a wish on a wishbone

you first need to get the wishbone of a chicken, catch one end of it with your little finger and tell somebody else to catch the other end and whoever gets the larger side after pulling it apart may wish for whatever they like.”
This no doubt sounds to you like a very innocent harmless superstition. Perhaps it could have been if there were fewer participants and many more chickens. That did not occur very often in our house.  Unless we were eating LS’s pet we were fortunate if we had chicken once a year. Work it out.  There were four children all of whom desperately wanted a wish fulfilled!

Cross your fingers. I still do this. Cross one finger over another and wish for luck. Apparently, it’s a gesture that's said to date back to early Christianity. (Anything associated with the shape of the Christian cross was thought to be good luck.) These days, just saying "fingers crossed" is enough to get the message, well, across.

We learned that it was very unlucky to Spill the salt. I did not have much handling of the salt but I do recall watching my mother spill salt then take a pinch to throw over her left shoulder.

Apparently, this counteracted all the bad stuff by throwing the salt into the eyes of the devil.  Of course, it was wise not to stand behind her when she was cooking in case you stood in for the devil.

Growing up, Shoes on the table was a definite No! No! 

It kind of has a nice hygienic ring to it, doesn’t it? And one that has a personal memory for me.  As a grown woman with many, many years of self sufficiency under my belt, secure in the knowledge that all these stupid superstitions meant nothing to me, it came as quite a surprise when I found myself seated next to a complete stranger at a local dance.  She had insisted in placing her dance shoes on the table, and I, I like to think uncharacteristically, lost it!

If ever we had the sensation of Burning ears we knew somebody, somewhere, was talking about us.  I'm not sure but I think it wasn't good stuff they were saying, so burning ears was not as good as itchy palms.  Of course, the good or bad luck of this phenomena was dependent on which palm was itching,  Either way it had to do with money.  One hand meant you had money coming to you while the other hand meant you had to pay it out.  I could never remember which was which so I'd try to decide whether I normally paid out money with my right hand and received money with my left, or whether I used my right hand for both transactions.  I didn't really matter because there was a whole rigmarole of rubbing the itchy hand on various body parts whilst reciting a somewhat risque rhyme to ensure that the money was received.

Other beliefs
There were many smaller and less invasive superstitions that guided our everyday lives such as the unfortunate occurrence of putting on an item of clothing inside out, it had to be left that way because it was unlucky to change it.  Mum never wore green – must have been something to do with shamrocks!  One other of her little commands was never to allow playing cards in the house.  

This last must have caused all kinds of problems behind the scenes because Dad was a fabulous card player.  He loved cribbage and he taught everyone one of us how to play Whist.  If you really wanted to play cards then you’d better have kept them hidden, because if Mum found them, they were gone!
It is very understandable that there are so many superstitions that involve knives. Knives are sharp.  Knives are dangerous.  Knives can kill. So, attached to many of these beliefs is an element of practicality.

Knives could never be crossed for that foretold a row or argument was in the offing. However, if you straightened them immediately you might be able to prevent it.
Giving a gift of a knife was a sure-fire way of severing a relationship. This could be prevented by the recipient making a small token payment.  Apparently, this superstition actually dates back to the Vikings who believe that gifting a knife to someone implies that the receiver isn’t able to buy himself a good enough knife to kill the giver so he has to be given the knife for free. Thus, to avoid the intended insult, Vikings would “sell” a knife to a friend extremely cheap – the cost of one copper coin.

Never stir anything using your knife especially not your tea, because that would bring bad luck. Remember the rhyme: stir with a knife and stir up strife.

But the one prevalent belief that stayed with her until the very end involved never ever, ever picking up a knife she had dropped.  It stayed where it landed until someone came in who could be asked to picked it up for her.
This must have been very powerful supernatural stuff because whenever any one of us made a visit from Canada we always knew to pick up the knives that were scattered around her kitchen floor.
That’s quite a list of superstitions that controlled our everyday lives and when you know that according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina, about 17 million people fear Friday the 13th.  and the number 13 has a long history of being considered unlucky, it’s very difficult to understand that in our house the number 13 was believed to be lucky.  We can only guess why.
This is my guess:  Mum’s superstitious beliefs were a force apart, but I’m sure she also believed that “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. That’s what happened with the number thirteen.  After the war, the government put in a tremendous but very slow effort to find accommodation for all the people who were short of, or inadequately housed.  Finally, our turn came.   We became the proud residents of a three-bedroom apartment with the number 13 starkly displayed on the front door!  What could she do?  From then on Mum decided that number 13 was a very lucky number.  After all we had been very lucky to get the apartment!

Thursday, 24 May 2018



The verb “Create” means to bring something into existence 

We are created by our birth so it’s my belief that all human beings are born with a strong urge to be creative, but, in order to stay creative we have to get a goodly and constant supply of “Wows”. As a child, these “Wows” are often fueled by an outside influence such as a parent or a teacher, but the best kind of “Wows’ are those that are encouraged from within.

Creativity is not limited to painting works of art, or designing a wedding dress, or building an architectural masterpiece.  It can be found in a little bit of metal or wood that just fits and enables a damaged motor to run, or picture to hang straight, or a space craft to stay aloft.  Creativity is the art of lateral thinking, the art of wondering, and what today is often referred to as “thinking outside the box”.

When we were young our Covey did a lot of “thinking outside the box”. Mainly because we didn’t have a box, certainly not the box that toys came in. If playing is a dress rehearsal for life then we were certainly getting ready for a life of creativity.  Our games were fueled with imagination rather than electricity.  Outside games involved physical activity and inside games often centred around paper and pencil, or bits of string, or found stones.  The only limitations being what else could we do with them?

It’s certainly obvious that one of our members absorbed these playing lessons very well as evidenced by the following story:

It was a time of much importance.  It concerned the first visit of LB’s in-laws to this lovely land of Canada.  The usual preparations were well in hand.  House was cleaned from top to bottom.  Lawn was mowed and garden was spruced.  Food was bought in large quantities.  There were just a couple of items still on the “To Do” list.  A rod was required for a bedroom drape that needed hanging, and a welcoming cake needed to be baked.  Both of these jobs had LB’s initials beside them.  After all he was in the construction trade and he was a trained baker.

The day started out fine.  The cake had risen beautifully and was cooling on the kitchen counter prior to being iced with marzipan and frosting.

LB decided it was good time to start on his other job of hanging the drapes.

As it happened that was not a good decision.  You see at that time there was another member of the family that has so far not been mentioned.  

His name was Toby.  Toby was a very large, very lovable black dog that liked cake. Well actually, he liked cake and any other food that was available, and to Toby’s nose and eyes that cake on the counter was available, so he took a bite!

That was just about the time when LB strolled into the kitchen feeling good that he had finished installing the drapes.  

From what I’m told he exploded in the only way that LB could explode, so I won’t go into details of that.  Instead, I will concentrate on the creative part of this story.

Had this happened to me I’m pretty sure that after I’d finished crying, the cake would have landed in the garbage with a thud.  Not so with LB.

I wish I had a picture of that cake, because it became a piece de resistance, a work of art. You know the expression: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, well he certainly made lemonade!

The guests were enthralled with the cake.  Never had they (or anyone else) seen anything like it.

There it stood in all its Canadian majesty: NIAGARA HORSESHOE FALLS in royal icing!  Everyone wholeheartedly agreed it deserved all the “Wows” it received.  

Many also agreed that it tasted wonderful.  Of course there were others who explained they were overstuffed and would come back to it later – much later!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Adventure Travel

Adventure Travel involves exploration and a certain degree of risk.

I’ve been struggling and wondering what kind of memory is going to rise to the surface next?

If you are anything like me then memories come unbidden or they start with a nudge from someone else.  You know, as when someone tells me a story or relates an event that has happened, then immediately it reminds me of something that occurred in my own life.  That’s probably when I interrupt and start telling my story instead of listening to hers.

It happened recently when a friend and I were sitting down solving all the world’s problems over a cup of tea.  We were attempting to understand and compare the education of today’s children with that of an earlier age.  We’d already tut-tutted and disapproved of their lack of cursive skills and abilities to read an analog clock, but it was when she told me about schools having to teach teenage children how to ride on public transport by presenting it as an adventure that my memories really began to zero in. 

Riding on trams and buses and tubes were no adventure for our little Covey of Cockneys, it was part of living, part of getting from A to B.  It goes without saying that there was no car in our driveway.  In truth there was no driveway either.  If we needed to get somewhere we used shanks’ pony.  If it was a long way and we had the fare, we took the tram or bus.

I’ve mentioned before that as a very young person I needed public transport to get to school and I often travelled by tram from Battersea to Islington to visit my grandmother.  I have now confirmed that when I moved on LS took over and often travelled the same grandmother route.  Here’s her reply to my request for info:
“I had been doing the tram trip to Nanny B’s for sometime...maybe I was eight or nine...Somewhere there is a very faded picture of me with NB...she had just made me the happiest girl walking...she had put my hair into two braids (mum wouldn’t allow it...because it would ruin my curls!!!) the braids must have been as thick as my finger...BUT...she had an ingenious idea.. she tied heavy rag strips ( ribbons) on the I felt them swish around and I could toss them over my shoulder...Can’t believe I remember that sensation but I do..l just wanted to be like my friend Nicky...her mother had the hens...Nicky had really long braids that were probably six inches wide...!!...Anyway...I look really young in that picture and I know I went there on my own.”

I just love the memory of the “rag strip ribbons” and think it would be wonderful if we could find the photograph. Unfortunately, that's probably never going to happen. So this make believe one will have to do!

We moved to Clapham in the 1950’s.   No trams where we lived, so we took the bus; for 10 year old LB that meant taking the bus to school.  According to his recollection that would not have been any big deal as he already had experience of wandering around without supervision:

"I do remember getting lost with George and some other kids when we lived on Silverthorne Rd. We were up around some flats by the church yard steps Wandsworth Road.  I would have been around 7 or 8, maybe younger."

Bringing the memories more up to date with my own children, it seems that number one and only son recalls leaving home at about 10 or 11 years of age armed with two bags of chips.  He didn’t bother with wheeled transport he just kept walking until all the chips had been devoured and with no idea where the next meal would come from, he headed home.

I couldn’t help but wonder about my parenting skills when my youngest daughter reminded me that she took her first public transport trip alone at the age of 3 years!  Well, she wasn’t technically alone.  I wasn’t with her but she was accompanied by her four or five year old friend!  The friend had suggested they walk to the store to get candies, so they did.  I was not there so I cannot say for certain what happened, but eventually she came home with a tale of riding a bus! 

There’s a lot written today about how much risk a child should be able to experience in order to learn to make viable judgments in the future.  To this end children’s playgrounds are being redesigned (at least in Britain) to include dangerous aspects, 

and no doubt the public transport “adventure” is part of that trend.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that today’s parents, like any parents of any time, are doing their best.  They want their children to be safe.  So, imagine how you would feel if you were the parent of the 12 year old boy from “down under” who, according to a report on April 24 /18 really took the Adventure Travel to the ultimate extreme.

What more can I say!

Friday, 16 March 2018

Measured Words

Check twice before you write it down.

The recent (March 14th 2018) death of Stephen Hawking led me to thinking about intelligence and definitions of “smart”.  It’s very confusing to me.  

It was mentioned in the news clips that he was not particularly outstanding as far as school grades. Then there are the words ascribed to a Munich schoolmaster in 1895:  “He will never amount to anything.” Obviously that educator must have had many opportunities to eat those words because he definitely failed to spot the potential in a young Albert Einstein. 

Most educators are wonderful dedicated people but then there are those who need a new prescription for their eyeglasses.  Charlotte Bronte’s teacher might have gained from a pair of insightful (pun intended) spectacles when she opined that Charlotte wrote “indifferently” and “knew nothing of grammar”.

Generally, these scholarly pontificators pass through history unnamed, but not a Mr. Gaddum of Eton.  He is credited with saying in a withering 1949 end-of-term report for John Gurdon “It would be a sheer waste of time for Gurdon to pursue a career in science. He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t learn simple biological facts and, horror of horrors he insisted on doing work in his own way.  In one test, Gurdon scored a miserable two out of 50”.  Amazingly he said this about a guy who was eventually knighted and received a Nobel Prize for his work in “cloning”!

These instances are freely available courtesy of Mr. Google.  But what about the rest of us as we live our lives of Mr. Thoreau’s “quiet desperation”?  What if our young foreheads were stamped with a large “L”?  Personally, I was very lucky to have had encouraging and enthusiastic teachers but one member of our little Covey was not quite as fortunate.

LB struggled with learning, he struggled with reading.  The methods used by the educators of the time did not help.  Constant berating, belittling and put downs by the teachers did not foster a love of or desire for learning.   Nevertheless, LB is and always has been a large character. He has always known what he wanted and how to get it.  As a child he knew he didn’t want to go to school and he had a million ways to achieve that end. A stomach ache was a good starter, but any number of symptoms could be produced when called for: headaches, nausea, tears, were only a small portion of his repertoire.  So, keeping that in mind, perhaps when I tell you this next story you will be kind and find room to forgive the part I played.

Relying on my memory I’d say it was the early 1950s.  LB was about 12 years of age.  I was a very young married woman no longer living with my Covey, but still involved with all the happenings there.  The latest happening was that LB had developed an entirely new and strange set of symptoms: he now complained of lumps and pain in all the joints of his body. 

Amazing!  What would he do next to avoid going to school?  Obviously the old complaints were not working so he’d moved up the ante.

So, you may ask why not let him rest, let him stay home.  Well, you see it wasn’t that easy. Dad worked, Mum worked, LS and LLB had to go to school and I lived elsewhere.  For him to be home and in bed was extremely inconvenient.   My completely unwanted and unasked for advice was to ignore him and make him go to school.

I can happily report that eventually, probably when he developed an extremely high fever, my advice was not taken and he was taken to a hospital where his symptoms:  small, painless nodules under the skin - chest pain - rapid fluttering or pounding chest palpitations - lethargy or fatigue – nosebleeds - stomach pain - painful or sore joints in the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles - pain in one joint that moves to another joint, were discovered to be rheumatic fever.

This led to an extremely long London hospital and seaside convalescent stay where our would-be-school-truant finally recovered.

The story now jumps forward many, many years and many, many miles to our home in Canada.

It’s pretty obvious by this time that LB has recovered completely and is very healthy and strong, so much so that he has started his own construction business.  Of course like his father he is a renaissance man so he can do anything.  He trained as a baker in England, so he can bake.  However, no one taught him to make fireworks, or how sew himself a suit of clothing, or how to make beautiful guitars or do the million and one things he discovers every day.  He is so smart that if he wanted to fly to the moon I’m sure he would find a way to do it!

I remember a time when computers were just starting to be talked about.  Not bought, just talked about.  I remember my Ex asking “What good are they?  You can’t do anything with them!”  And he was right.  Very little could be done with the first computers that came on the market.  But, if you were LB and have a genuine enquiring mind they were something that needed investigating – so he bought one.  And I for one am glad he did because his purchase affected my later and retirement years.

Eventually, LB moved on from that very primitive beginning computer. He purchased and then taught himself how to use and how to construct computers.  He really was becoming an expert.  All this knowledge was very useful in outfitting the private school that his wife and he owned; it was one of the earliest local schools to make a computer available in every class.

Meantime, I was finally fulfilling my dream of university study and in order to complete assignments decided to purchase the latest computer dummy’s choice: a Macintosh 128k computer.  It couldn’t store anything – storage was done on a 720k disk.

I never really learnt anything with that computer.  My computer education took place after I took LB’s advice and purchased a “clone”.  Clones were the only alternative to an IBM or Apple.  They were the forerunners of today’s Windows O.S. Computers.  My education with computers took place with the student that his teachers said would never be able to achieve anything in life.  How wrong they were!

Sitting by his side I learnt the intricacies of DOS at a time when there was only a very archaic internet. There was no Google, no YouTube, and no Facebook.  There was no colour and no images.  There was just my teacher LB and a huge book on DOS that he was reading. 

Typical Black and White DOS screen at the time
With the knowledge background I obtained I managed to earn a few dollars in my later years teaching others how to use computers. And now, in my late, late years I keep my grey cells alive as I design in Photoshop or write this blog. Of course every now and then I need to refer back to the person whose final report card from Mr. Woods the headmaster of Tennyson Street School said: “This boy will never amount to anything, He will be a labourer all his life.”

Oh Mr. Woods, I wish you were alive to read this now.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Welcome To My World


Not much one can do about memories.  They come unbidden and they are more often scattered than linear.

The following link will take you to a Video of Dean Martin singing "Welcome To My World".

Recently I’ve been meandering through the time when I’d recently arrived as a new immigrant to Canada.   
To set the stage:  It was very early March – I know that because in all the excitement our wedding anniversary had been completely forgotten, we had much more important matters to attend to.  It was snowing.  It may not have been a blizzard by Canadian standards but it certainly was one by mine.  

The wooden sidewalks on Yonge Street were extremely slushy, and in case you’re thinking of those wooden sidewalks and questioning whether the time frame is the eighteen hundreds, I should perhaps mention that the Yonge Street subway was still being built – ergo- in some places the wooden sidewalks and roadways.

There's gotta be a reason for those pants?
The main casualties that day were my beautiful leather high heeled shoes, newly purchased for my entry into Canada – they made it through the day – but only just!

We had no one to meet us in Toronto.  But we had our youth, our determination, and fifty pounds sterling to help us on our way.  At the time this was probably worth about $150.00.

First order of the day was to find somewhere to sleep, and it had to be cheap, because even though milk was about 10 cents a quart that $150.00 was still not going to last long.  Hotels were too expensive and the cheapest parts of town are always, well, the cheapest parts of town.  So that’s where we found a room.

The room was dry and warm and we stayed for less than a week, but we needed to find something more permanent in order to retrieve our luggage from customs whereby I could get a change of shoes.  We found a lovely little furnished bedroom plus kitchen at Dupont and Davenport that was totally within our budget.

Now that I had dry feet it was time for us to look for employment.  That $150.00 was disappearing fast.  According to what Canada House in London told us, employers were waiting with open arms for British immigrants – they lied!  

David’s employment skills were pretty limited to office work and his reference from British Aluminium didn’t seem to interest any employers. 
Nevertheless, the immigration department did manage to find a labouring job for him at the Massey Harris Ferguson factory on King Street.  

Looks a lot different there now.  I think that's where Liberty Village is??
However, it didn’t last long – he gave it up after two weeks, he didn’t like being dirty travelling on the streetcar!

As for my skills as a bookkeeper, well they presented a bit of a problem.  All of the prospective employers that I approached regretted that I had “no Canadian experience”.  That’s an impossible hurdle to jump when you have no Canadian experience! 

Bear in mind that this was a time of no computers and generally offices only had a very basic hand cranked adding machine. 

Most bookkeepers (me included) were quite capable of adding up a page of figures with the aid of a pencil, paper and standard math skills.  But as it was explained to me: Canadian experience was important because they feared I would have trouble with the decimal system!

This irrational logic made me want to stamp my feet and tear out my hair. A bookkeeper from Canada might possibly have had a bit of a learning curve if moving from Canada to Britain, but not the other way around.  The monetary pounds, shillings and pence system in Britain at that time required three different calculation methods:  The pence being the lowest value were added in twelves; the shillings were added in twenties and finally the last column was always the easiest to calculate: pounds were decimal!

Eventually, I found a job well below my abilities at the Toronto University. It required that I spend all day listing and adding up very small amounts (usually less than $5.00) received by cash and cheques from students for text books and other sundry items they had ordered.  Each afternoon, I was driven to the bank by a security guard with the monies in a case that was chained to my wrist. I felt like an international diplomat or a spy!

It wasn’t well paid and it wasn’t very interesting but I had gained the magical attribute of having “Canadian Experience”.  Time to move on.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

What a Clever Man was he

Memory focus on one

Today, rather than write about a broad range of memories involving many characters I’ve decided to focus my attention on just one person: my father.

He was a man of many talents, in my eyes he could "fix anything".  Without harping on how poor we were, a found broken alarm clock became a treasure after he had applied his magic.  New shoes for four children were a luxury that we could not afford, so when a hole appeared in the sole he was there with his repair leather and cast iron last anvil, to make the footwear usable again.
One like this repaired many, many shoes in our household.
Make a suitcase, mend a purse, polish a floor, cook a dinner he could do it all.

It was nothing unusual to see him down on his knees applying polish to the shiny cement floors in our apartment, or to see him in the kitchen making Sunday dinner.  My favourite was when he made Liver and Onions, he made the best gravy in the world.  He was a good cook, (perhaps he had learned from his mother).  He was a man with a modern attitude well before his time.   He was more than willing to do chores that at the time were considered woman's work and he never hesitated to teach me how to hold a hammer or use a handsaw.  Some of the many skills that I learned from him I have found to be very useful in my later life; one being how to keep a bunch of brad nails in my mouth without swallowing them. 

No doubt if you’ve been reading my outpourings you are aware that while there must have been times when money was available, there were times when we were as poor as church mice, nevertheless, we always had a piano in the house. Both parents could play without sheet music.  This was referred to as “playing by ear”. As a child it was a phrase I couldn’t understand as they both seemed to use their hands – not their ears. Dad’s favourite rendition was: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", played with a lot of gusto, gestures and dramatic hand movements. The following YouTube By Max Bygraves is the closest I could find to his version.

Mum’s style was more jazzy and fast.

When I think of a pianist hands I imagine long slender fingers. Not so with Dad.  His hands were stubby, large and callused with a clubbed feature that intrigued any doctor who saw them; his nails fully turned over to follow the tops of his fingers.

This being a time when record players were not fully utilized or popular or available meant that both parents were in great demand at parties for their musical skills.  Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor at the side of a piano listening and learning all the words to the latest "sing-along" tune.  Then later that evening I’d fall asleep astride my father's shoulders as he carried me home.

At the start of World War II he was in the Territorial Army. 
Dad - trained and ready!
As far as I could discover the TAs were a part-time army that practiced "in case" of conflict, consequently, they were the first to be called-up when the war was declared.  After all that practicing it’s ironic that he left the army prior to the war's end due to damage to his hearing from working with the big guns in the Royal Artillery division.  Nevertheless, he always kept an interest in what was happening because when the enemy bombers made their nightly actions over London, he would be outside watching the English fighter planes involved in dogfights taking place above him.  The following link will give you a little idea of what these fights entailed:
When we were young he would delight in telling us what he thought of as a funny poem but what we thought of as something that scared the living daylights out of us! Especially since he would usually recite this at bedtime in a voice made deep and throaty. I recently discovered an old Victorian picture depicting this poem

One night he awoke, a candle he lit,
he saw his revolver and soon loaded it.
No longer I'll stand it, he savagely said.
Then he blew out his candle and went back to bed,
Ha, Ha, he laughed, Ha, Ha, he cried.
What a clever man am I.
If any of this sounds as if he was an ideal parent with whom I had a wonderful relationship then I've given you the wrong idea completely.  In truth, we were similar in so many ways, that it led to constant clashes of temperament.  He was stubborn and he had many rules.  I was stubborn and I hated his rules.  I hated not being able to wear lipstick, I hated that he wanted to know too much: where I was going, what I was doing.  He made my life miserable!

He loved to have a few or more drinks at the local and consequently when he walked in the door full of liquid bravado his rules became loud enough for the neighbours to shudder,   Although he was very loud I can't truly remember him actually hitting any of us.  Perhaps I've blocked it out, but I doubt it.  I can still see him as he pulled off his leather trouser belt with a flourish -then make it into a loop that he would snap together with an enormous BANG!  This would scare us kids into a corner.  The belt never touched us! It would then be followed by a huge THUMP with his large fist onto whatever table or surface that was near.  These arguments only got worse during my teenage years when I knew everything.

Yes, he could do everything, fix anything,  but he couldn't beat the effects of too much smoking.  He died of cancer in 1960, the year that my son was born.  I wanted to travel to England to see him in the hospital or attend his funeral, but due to the problems with that pregnancy my doctor thought it would not be advisable.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Name of The Game


Children have always played games and we were no different, we played games!  What we played might not be recognised by today’s children when compared to what seems to hold a child’s interest nowadays.  Today's parents are worried that their children spend so much time with electronic equipment they have to be told to go outside and get some fresh air!

I find it strange that when you separate the words Playing Games and look up each meaning in a thesaurus.  Two different pictures emerge.

The word “Games” seems to be linked entirely with “Sports” and mostly organised sports, whereas the word “Play” is a much more lively word.  It has a long list of meanings ranging from recreation to fooling around, with a heavy dose of drama and having fun thrown in.  So from this I can presume that what we indulged in was “Playing”, because there was no way that what we did could be called “organised”.  Nobody organised our games – how could they?  We mostly made them up as they occurred.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that my “Silver Cross” doll’s pram was used as a make believe tank, so I won’t go into further details about that, except maybe to mention that those who could not fit into the pram could always be accompanying aircraft as they ran alongside with outstretched arms dipping and swaying in time to the engine noises blasting from each mouth.

Mainly we had variety in our games.  Skipping was always popular with the girls; Double Dutch was played with two lengths of rope (by the way I don’t remember ever having handles – it was probably cut off from the end of a clothes line!) 

Seems to be in a school grounds.  Double ropes but no double skipper!
Whatever you do, do not compare what we called Double Dutch skipping with the marvelous organised examples that can be seen on YouTube videos.  If we could get two girls side by side for a couple of minutes inside two twirling ropes without one or both of us going arse over teakettle – then believe me this was success.

No one needed exercise classes; everyday was one long exercise class.  LS could easily have been the gym teacher – in fact she may well have played that part.  She could contort her body backwards then walk like a crab with her head facing up. 

Family photo of LS. in action
A lot of games involved balls and walls. One of which LS also excelled at was throwing three balls against the wall (so fast it seemed to be all at one time) and then speedily catching and returning them.  I’m not sure that there was any point to this pursuit other than a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

I remember playing a game which if it had a name I can’t recall it.  For this, four sticks of about 6 inches in length were required (if you could steal your mother’s clothes pins – they were ideal!) These were stood against a wall to resemble a cricket wicket; that is three sticks supporting one across the top.   

The “IT” person stands about 8 feet away armed with a ball which is tossed at the wicket; the wicket scatters and so does everyone else. The aim is for someone to rebuild the wicket without getting hit with the ball that is now held by “IT”.  Other than avoiding getting maliciously hit by the ball there didn’t seem to be much point to this game either.

A game mostly played by boys was: Conkers.  I’m sure I would have had the skills but I must have been too aware of the dangers to ever indulge in the conkers pastime.  Conkers being those large nuts that grow on horse chestnut trees throughout London. 
Horse Chestnut before it becomes a Conker!
Before they can be used they must first be baked!  This presumably hardens an already dangerous weapon into a lethal one.  Strung with string and held steadily in front of your face your opponent swings his conker wildly in an attempt to break your conker without knocking out your front teeth.

Internet picture of boy with a sharp eye and all his teeth.
A safer and more relaxing game was one that LB fancied.  Usually played on dusky evenings when the natural light was dim.  An area with no direct street lights was ideal.  At the time that this game was played very few people owned cars; there always seemed to be lots of pedestrians about, and for this game, pedestrians were essential!
Yes, they were so alike they could have been twins, as you can see from another image from the family album.
LB and a buddy, (often LLB his brother) would crouch facing each other on opposing sides of the pavement (sidewalk) with arms extended.  As a pedestrian approached they would implore the walker to “Please, step over the rope”.  As you will have gathered there was no rope and the payoff for this young pair was to laugh at the sight of people carefully lifting their legs to avoid an imaginary obstacle.

Leap Frog in action - note the typical London paving stones - hence we walk on the pavement!
There were so many more games we played – too many to detail here. From Leap-frog, to Hop Scotch, and five stones, and cricket with chalk drawn wall wicket, and at least once because none of us were angels, we all dared to knock on doors and run away.  All of them played outside in the healthy London smog.

But, we did have to come inside sometimes, so, we had to have inside games as well, after all it rains a lot in Britain.  A popular one in our home was Housey-Housey which is the same as BINGO but with the word HOUSE across the top. This was not a game that was bought in a store, but one that Dad had made, with enough cards for all of us to play.  Can’t remember what we used as counters, probably bits of paper. Dad was always the caller with all the standard fancy sayings such as “Under the H Legs Eleven, number eleven”.  If you filled your card you would have a “Full House”. And that was the aim of the game – nothing less was allowed.  No single lines, no diagonals, just everything or nothing.  No money, no prizes but a wonderful satisfaction of having beat your sibling!

But just beware if you ever said; “I’m bored Dad”.  Apart from being given the job of untangling string and rolling it into a ball, if I said I was bored he was more likely to produce a piece of paper (from where is a mystery) and a stub of pencil and I was told to draw. 

Perhaps that's why, like today’s children, the computer has become my piece of paper and my mouse takes over for the pencil stub as I play and play all day.  Soon they’ll be telling me to go outside and get some fresh air!