30 Jan 2014

Mag # 204 - A Winter's Tale

This is a re-post of a piece I wrote some time ago.

The Mill - Andrew Wyeth 1964
As kids we always looked forward to it snowing. We hoped each year that it would snow for Christmas, but it seldom did. It usually arrived in January.

You knew as soon as you opened your eyes in the morning if it had snowed overnight. The quality of the light would be different and sounds were muted. The first thing to do was to look out of the window to see how deep it was. Jack Frost would have left beautiful fern-like ice patterns on the bottoms of the window panes. We didn’t have central heating so the windows always iced up from condensation when the temperature dropped below freezing. Getting dressed in the cold room I would sing a little ‘hurrying’ song to myself to get dressed as quickly as possible.

Down the stairs at full speed to have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Dad was always the first one up and there would be a pot of tea and a double-boiler full of porridge to cater for all comers at whatever time. After breakfast you would try to be the first one out of the door so that you could be the first to put footprints in the pristine snow. Then you had to cover as much territory as possible before anyone else came out.

Snowball fights would ensue, leaving hats and gloves nice and soggy. If there was enough snow we would make a snowman. Two bits of coal for eyes; a carrot for a nose and more bits of coal for a mouth. Sometimes we would see how large a ball of snow we could make by starting off with a hand-sized snowball and rolling it around and around to gather up as much snow as we could. The final size was determined by how many kids were involved. We’d roll until it outgrew our collective strength. Sometimes our strength would run out when the snowball was in the middle of the road, which made the grown-ups not very happy.

On snowy schooldays we (all the kids in our known Universe) would get to school by sliding. There would be slide after slide with a few steps in between as a run-up, all the way to school. Kids would form a queue at each slide and they would end up like glass. We couldn’t slide home again because while we were in school ‘old’ people (meaning anyone over thirty) would have scattered ashes and salt onto the treacherous surface. As a child, I thought it was a rather mean-spirited thing to do, but now I’m clogging on myself I realise it was from a sense of self-preservation.

Another winter pastime was sucking on icicles. This was not for any particular pleasure it gave, but simply because we could. We didn’t have a fridge. Hard to imagine these days, I know, but we didn’t, so having ice to suck was something of a novelty. Sometimes in winter if someone went out of the front door and slammed it, it would dislodge an avalanche of snow from the roof. Quite entertaining for onlookers!

We were not allowed to wear trousers to school in the winter. The uniform was gymslips for girls and shorts for boys, and it didn’t matter how cold it got – that was it. Boys could only wear long pants when they reached high school and not before. Girls were not allowed to wear trousers at all. The place was populated by kids with red, chapped knees and hands during the winter. The backs of my hands would always open up and bleed and also my ears at the bottom where they join my head. Mum would cover them in lanolin cream in the evenings. Most kids also sported ‘wellie marks’ on the backs of their calves. These were caused by wet wellies (rubber/gum boots) banging on the backs of your legs with each step you took. They would get very red and sore and sometimes open  up if it was really cold. This would cause you to adopt a very careful gait to try to stop them from banging on your legs and you ended up walking as if you’d filled your pants. Not nice.(God, it sounds like the dark ages, but it was just part of life back then).

Everyone walked to school. Very few people had cars, and if they did the last thing they would've been used for was carting kids around. You had legs; you walked!

We were wrapped up well for school apart from our legs. We were not allowed to wear wellies in class and had to change into black plimsolls which were kept in a slipper bag on our peg in the cloakroom. Mum would make sure we didn’t lose our gloves. She would sew a length of tape (which would be the length of your outstretched arms) to one glove, pass it through the coat loop at the neck of the coat and then attach the other glove. When you took your coat off the gloves stayed with it. There were seven of us and replacing gloves can be a costly business when you don’t have a lot of money. We never lost our gloves!

Yes, when I was a kid snow and ice were good fun. The memories are good. Now…………I’m not so sure. I don’t think I would like to be splothering about on snow and ice at my age, but I emigrated from the UK to Australia in 1970 so it's not something I have to worry about.


Image kindly supplied by Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales, where you can read more pieces based on the picture.

21 Jan 2014

Mag # 203 - Rainy Day Endeavours

Musician in the Rain - Robert Doisneau

I hope that bus will be here soon. My cello's going to warp if we have to stand here much longer. 

If I had half a brain I would've bought a bigger umbrella. This one's not doing much at all for either of us. A golf umbrella would've been more suitable for this weather. I think this is more of a parasol.

Did I turn the iron off?........... I'm pretty sure I did.

Apparently I'm not the only half-wit at large today. That bloke behind me is trying to paint a picture! And it's not as if he's been caught in the rain. He's dressed for it! Wonder what sort of paint he's using? Must be watercolour (hehe).

Thank goodness! The bus is here.


This visual prompt was kindly provided by Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales.

9 Oct 2013

Mag #189 - Clocks

image by crilleb50
Man seated on park bench, pondering the inscrutable, surrounded by clocks of the ticking variety and also dandelion clocks. Remember those? Blowing the seeds off the dandelion, and however many blows it took to disperse them all was what the time was. Do kids still do that??

I love real clocks. I grew up with them. They had hands and faces and ticked gently in the background.

There's something soulless about digital clocks.

My Godmother had a thing for clocks and her house contained many. There was at least one, and often more, in each room. In her lounge room there was a clock on the mantlepiece and two pendulum clocks on the wall. They were the kind that have a wooden case and three bevelled glass panels in the front so that you could see the pendulum swinging. One had Roman numerals and the other Arabic, and they both had Westminster chimes, although only one had the chiming part wound up. Two going off every quarter of an hour would have been a bit much.

On our mantlepiece at home we had one of those clocks that's shaped like a hump-back bridge and you had to open the glass front to wind it up. They were ugly clocks.

My Aunty Ginny had a grandmother clock in her cottage. It was made of a light-coloured wood and stood in the corner recess by the fire. She kept the biscuit tin in the bottom of the case, and if we behaved ourselves she would get it out and let us have a biscuit. No-one else I knew had a clock that big. Most people just had mantel clocks.

I once had a cuckoo clock which we got on holiday in Europe. It was weight-driven and the weights were in the shape of pine cones. I don't know what happened to that clock.

Lots of people now can't tell the time using a clock with a face. It's always 8.40, not twenty to nine, etc. In fact, when I've been asked the time and put it in those terms I've received bewildered looks, so I have to rephrase it.

I have proper, ticking clocks in my house.


Here's a puzzle. Mantlepiece is spelt 'tle' but a mantel clock is 'tel'. I wonder why?

Image supplied courtesy of Magpie Tales and Tess Kincaid. More prose and poems can be found there.

19 Nov 2012

Mag # 144 - Walking Man

Andrew Wyeth - 'Squall'  1986

Walking Man is a local character. He goes past every day, sometimes several times a day, and he walks everywhere. He is a tall, spare man in his seventies - possibly eighties. He's been walking past my house now for many years, getting a little slower as he gets older................. but then don't we all?

I think he has arthritis as his knees are swollen and one doesn't straighten properly when he walks. He travels miles. In summer he wears short shorts, a singlet and thongs and goes down early in the morning to the beach for a swim - I know this because he has a towel around his neck. Later in the day he will be passing with his shopping bag - empty in one direction and full in the other.

In winter he wears a yellow slicker and sou'wester. He's usually still in his shorts and thongs, but last winter when it was quite cold he did wear trackies and trainers. I've only seen him dressed up once. I think he must have been to a wedding or a funeral. He had shiny shoes on that day.

Walking Man 'wombles'. I love to see what he collects. One day I was out in the front garden and heard a rumbling sound and wondered what it was. I didn't have long to wait to find out. It was Walking Man with one of those small luggage trolleys and a bath balanced on it. A full-sized bath! Another day he was trundling along with a larger trolley and a recliner chair balanced on it. I saw him on a bike once, too - just the once.

I don't know whether he sells stuff on, or he's got a backyard like a tip. He usually comes back with some interesting items when it's 'bulk rubbish' time and people have put stuff on the side of the road for the council to collect.

I like characters. They make life interesting.

This lovely painting prompt was supplied once again 
by Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales.
The place for poems and prose.

12 Nov 2012

Mag # 143 - The Great War

Verdun 1917 by Felix Vallotton

When I was about twenty years old, I worked for a very small concern as secretary to the two bosses - one male and one female. The only other people employed by the company were two retired pensioners. One was an elderly spinster, whose name escapes me, - she kept the accounts - and the other was Arthur, who was in charge of packing and postage. They both only worked in the mornings. They were both very nice people and were very kind to me.

Arthur is the only person I ever knew who had been in the First World War, who spoke about it - briefly.  He must have been in his seventies at the time. He had a limp and when we were having our tea break one morning I asked him about it.

'First World War,' he said. 'That's where I got this.'
'Oh,' I said, being young and not knowing what an appropriate response might be.
'Aye, Ypres.' (Except he called it Wipers). 'I shot meself in the foot.'
'Did your gun go off by accident?'
'No, love, I shot meself on purpose to get out of the bloody place. It was an 'ell 'ole. Only got half a foot, but I didn't have to go back. That's why I'm 'ere today. I'm not the only one who did it either.'

That's all he said. Nothing more.

I only stayed in that job for about six weeks. The male boss was creepy. He was a tall man with thinning hair and blue eyes that were almost colourless. Arthur did the teas in the morning and it was my job to make the teas in the afternoon, and the boss would follow me into the kitchen. When he put his arm around my shoulder one time, I shrugged him away and handed in my notice the next morning. I was very naive but have always gone with my instincts. I think the female boss fancied me too, but I didn't realise that until years later (she wore tweed skirts and comfortable shoes and gave me a leather covered diary/notebook thing). 'Gay' wasn't even on my radar back then.

My own grandfather died in the First World War - my mother's father- and when mum's brother, Uncle Bill, died in 2010, aged 93, I found among his papers documents telling where his father's remains were buried.

(click to enlarge)

My Grandfather, Arthur; my
Grandmother Ellen, my mum Ethel
and her younger brother Arthur, who
died aged 4 from meningitis

My other Uncle Bill - really my great uncle - went off to the Great War too. I think he could possibly have also served in the second Boer War (1899 - 1902). He was always known as 'Drummer' and was held in great regard by the locals in his town. I found this out a couple of years later when chatting to the manager of another place I worked for, and he told me he came from the same small town and knew him well. I got the impression that the nickname 'Drummer' had something to do with war, but I really don't know. I don't think drummers were used in WW1, so the nickname might have been from a previous war. Neither he, nor my other Uncle Bill, who spent the Second World War in Burma with the Chindits spoke about it.


My eldest grandchild, Rhys, was born on 11 November and he turned 18 yesterday.


Thanks for the visual prompt for this piece go to
Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales, where more stories 
and poems about the image can be found.

5 Nov 2012

Mag #142 - A Weekend at the Lake

Charis, Lake Ediza, California
1937 by Edward Weston
This was not exactly what I had in mind when Edgar invited me to Lake Ediza. I had visions of a cottage by the lake and relaxing with a book, or perhaps messing about in a boat and a little swimming. It was not until I had accepted the invitation that the details were disclosed. Hiking and
climbing and .......... roughing it!!  Seriously? I had no idea what 'roughing it' meant. The cottage would have been my idea of roughing it. But no, sleeping under canvas and exerting oneself is Edgar's idea of an exciting weekend.

I had only met Edgar two weeks prior. He was introduced to me at the Country Club by Edward (who took this photograph). I wrongly assumed that he was the type to enjoy dining and dancing, as Edward does, which is why I accepted the invitation to a weekend at the lake, knowing that Edward was one of the party, too.

After all was explained to me, it was suggested that I kit myself out with some appropriate attire and the other woman in our adventure group - Mary Turlington-Fitzgerald - helped with the selection. Apparently, this is her idea of an exciting weekend, too. She's one of those 'tweedy' women, and she smokes a pipe. I have a feeling she is not fond of men. Enough said.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up with this glamorous outfit. The boots alone took ten minutes each to put on. All that lacing! The photo is of me sitting-it-out by the lake. The others had all gone in for a swim, but I was so bone-weary after the day's slog that I didn't have the energy or the will to cope with the boots. They had all stripped naked and gone in, but I could tell from the amount of shrinkage that the water was very cold, so I was glad I hadn't bothered.

Tents were erected after the swim. The ground was rock-hard, and I didn't get much sleep that night either. We had to relieve ourselves behind rocks, and hope that nothing bit us while we were about it! That was a first for me!

It was certainly an experience. One that I will, hopefully, never have to repeat. I shall be sure next time I'm invited anywhere to get more information before committing myself.

Roughing-it indeed!


The visual prompt kindly supplied by Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales
where you will find more, interesting takes on this image.

6 Aug 2012

Mag # 129 - A Formal Affair

A Dinner Table at Night - 1884 John Singer Sargent

What on earth was he thinking, asking me to dinner to meet his parents? We've only been stepping out together for a few weeks. I had no idea it was going to be a formal affair. He could've warned me. I felt as if I ought to be serving rather than sitting at the table. I think they thought so too. I had to sneak looks to see which bit of cutlery I was supposed to be using. I've never seen so many different knives and spoons. We've only ordinary knives and forks at home.

There were a great many awkward silences throughout the meal - sprinkled with questions about my family and situation. Well, what can you talk about when you come from different worlds? I'd no idea! Bertie always dresses smart and is a thorough gentleman. I knew he wasn't a labouring man, but I'd no idea they were monied. Mam'll have a fit. She's no time for toffs. I think when this meal's over so's the friendship. They've all but checked my teeth to see how old I am.

No, this'll never do! 

He's a lovely fellow but I'd never be at ease here ................ not that they're about to let that happen anyway. She's had a right frosty look on her face all evening, but her good breeding has forced her to be polite. He's chosen to ignore me, which suits me fine. 

I'll not have any wine. It will go straight to my head and then I might say something unkind, and I don't want to hurt Bertie's feelings. 

Oh, good, Bertie's fetched my coat. He must be able to see how uncomfortable I am. I'll thank them for the lovely meal and say it was nice to meet them, and that'll be that. We Coopers might not have money but we do have manners.


Visual prompt kindly supplied by Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales
where you can read lots of other posts for the image.

For some reason Blogger has added extra space between paragraphs, which I find quite irritating.