Saturday, 19 December 2009

Sepia Saturday: Julia

My grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, and many of his tales were rooted in his own upbringing. He often spoke affectionately about his mother, a soft and gentle woman, who had endured great hardship without complaint.

But beyond the funny anecdotes and hidden amidst the touching accounts of her struggles, were few details of her origins. When asked about his mother's birthplace, grandfather would make vague references to the Hampshire market town of Romsey. He knew little more than that, and there was no reason why he should have.

Some years after his death, I started to research the family history, and made the discovery that Julia Elizabeth Baker had, in fact, been born in a neighbouring village.

It was odd that we moved to our present location in 2000, not realising for one moment, that my great grandmother had started her life just two miles from our front door. What's more, her father, James Baker, was born, here in our village, as was his father and his father before. In fact, the Bakers have a history, right here, back to the late 1600s.

In 1896 Julia, aged 22, married my great grandfather, William George Gregory. Five years later they were living in Sway, in the New Forest, with their new daughter, my great aunt May. Six more children followed in the ensuing years, as the family moved about the county, taking up residence in a series of tied cottages. Agricultural work apparently lasted little more than a two year term with any one employer. Michaelmas seems to have been the point in the calendar when men openly declared themselves available for new work, usually by wearing an ear of wheat in their button-hole on market days.

Julia had a musical ear and taught herself to play the harmonium. Each week, the Sunday newspaper (I think it was the News of the World) printed the sheet music of a popular song of the day. Gathering around to listen and sing was the highlight of the week.

Having developed heart problems later in life, Julia died in 1940. William continued living on his own until ill health prompted my grandfather to take him in. The doctor gave him a few weeks at most. He recovered and stayed for nine years. There are no photographs of William but I have a clear mental image of him, thanks to family recollections. He wouldn't have his image 'taken'. I'm so glad that Julia took a different view.

More Sepia Saturday participants 

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sepia Saturday: Just William

My great grandfather, William Benjamin Butler was born in 1881 in Nutfield, Surrey, England. I know few details about him, other than what I've gleaned from various documents in the course of family history research. My grandmother had only vague memories of her father, and there was a level of reluctance to speak of him in conversation, for whatever reason.

I do know that, like his father before him, he was a groom, and my grandmother always maintained that she inherited his love of horses.

In 1901, he was living at 71, Lyall Mews West, London; a relatively short distance from where my great grandmother worked as a domestic servant in Bruton Street.

The circumstances of their courtship is unknown, but they were married in 1906 and five years later, they were living in a three room, tied house with their three year old daughter, Dorothy, in Kirk Langley, Derbyshire. William was now employed as a coachman.

In 1915, aged 34, William signed up to fight in the Great War. My grandmother and her twin brother were just two years old.

I've seen the beautifully embroidered postcards he sent back to his beloved Edith, from France, inscribed with sentimental longing. They are among my second cousin's most treasured possessions. I have a small shaving dish, passed to me by my grandmother, that is believed to have belonged to him during his time spent in the conflict.

In the photograph, taken on the Isle of Wight, William has the look of a confident young man. Dressed in, what is presumably, his groom's attire, he poses quite well for the camera of Mr Ernest A. Kime of 116, St James Street, Newport. Quite what he was doing on the Isle of Wight, is unclear. Even more of a mystery is why he would have had a studio photograph taken while dressed for work. Answers on a postcard?

He died in 1924. I haven't got around to buying a copy of his death certificate yet, but the family speculation is that he may have caught syphilis on his travels.

More Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Vaccinate or Procrastinate?

Apparently the swine flu vaccination for children under five is being put on hold because the British Medical Association and the government cannot agree a deal.

Excuse me, I thought, before reading the opening paragraph of the article once more, have I got this right? Doctors and politicians are arguing over contractual flexibility while that group of the population most likely to be hospitalised with swine flu is left to take its chances.

How can it be that the UK found itself at the head of the queue when the vaccine became available, managed to get the immunisation programme for other at-risk groups under-way quite easily, only to fail our young children?

If we're to believe what we read, politicians are stubbornly refusing to give doctors any latitude during this time of crisis; while doctors consider our little ones time-consuming and fear that the vaccination of three million children, under their present contract, would leave them out of pocket.

So instead of concentrating on breaking the impasse, the government will try to get around the problem by roping in other health workers to administer the jabs. Just a hole or two in that plan. First, the Health Secretary is talking about 'local' plans and 'local' agreements with health authorities, which could surely result in another postcode lottery. Secondly, many of the health workers would need extra training, as they will not have had any previous experience of vaccinating. How much will this cost?

The hope is to get things going before Christmas. Well, that's alright then. Some infants can look forward to receiving the gift of immunisation while others will have to be satisfied with what they get from the lucky dip.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Monday, 7 December 2009

Pink Stinks?

I was listening to an item on the radio this morning, about the 'pinkstinks' campaign. The pinkstinks website sums up the agenda neatly with this  statement, “PinkStinks is a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls' lives.”

I feel bound to say I have some sympathy, and I speak from our experiences with Speckly-Woo! She is a beautiful, bright, blonde three year old, and while her favourite colour is pink, an affinity for all things fluffy is conspicuous by its absence. She chose a wooden train set for her birthday present, and is in her element reconstructing episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine. She clings to my hands, scales my frame and demonstrates amazing powers of balance as she waves wildly from the summit of my shoulders.

She loves to paint and glue and make extraordinary meals from play-doh. Her best friend is Mary, a rag doll with striped legs and mad hair, who gets into any number of scrapes...and out again, courtesy of the Speckly-Woo! rescue service.

Speckly-Woo! is a happy little girl, finding her way in the world. She knows what she likes and we applaud her mum and dad for respecting her development without steering her into stereotypical territory.

She is happy with princesses and the like, but very selective. Her current favourites are Princess Fiona from Shrek and the hilarious Little Princess (see clip below).

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Our eldest granddaughter, aka Speckly-Woo! celebrated her 3rd birthday today. Things got off to a good start with her having a CBeebies presenter offer birthday greetings whilst holding up our daughter's card-making handiwork for all to see. Obviously a proud moment for us, on two fronts.

Then came the news that the poor little soul was running a high temperature and not showing any sign of the good appetite she normally has.

When we arrived for her birthday tea, complete with great grandmother, Speckly-Woo! had been asleep on the settee for over an hour, pale and limp, having sent the electronic thermometer into a red light reading.

After ten minutes or so, she stirred to life and eventually sat up, cross legged and wearily surveying her birthday visitors. Then she rallied a little and had a stab at unwrapping gifts, with intermittent cuddles from mummy.

We recalled a time when our own daughter was about two years old. It was mid-winter and we were living in a small Cornish cottage, built around 1860, with no heating in the upstairs rooms. At two in the morning we entered our little girl's bedroom to find her burning up, switching her head from side to side, hair saturated, muttering deliriously. Mags comforted her while I telephoned our doctor (yes, you could still call your duty doctor at any time out of hours then). It seemed like an age, but eventually he answered the call at his house, somewhere in the remote wilds of Bodmin Moor.

He listened intently as I gabbled the symptoms and requested a home visit, before advising me to calm down. So, I calmed down and listened.

“Place a cold compress on her forehead and try to get her to take some fluids,” he said.

I listened for further instructions but none came. “But she's delirious,” I explained.

“Of course she's delirious,” he answered, “you'd probably be delirious if you were running a high temperature.” He refrained to comment on the fact that I sounded far from lucid in any case.

He went on, “If there's no change in a couple of hours, call me again and I'll be straight out to you.”

The following two hours seemed like an eternity but, as is often the case with children, the fever subsided almost as quickly as it came. We never did make that second call.

The fact is, there's nothing like a sick child for bringing on a sense of helplessness in us. We'd rather be ill ourselves than see the little ones suffering. But these moments have a positive, and that is the reminder, if ever we needed one, of how so very precious our children and grandchildren are. We love you Speckly-Woo! Happy Birthday and get well soon.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A Tangled Web

I think it's fair to say that my maternal grandmother was an eccentric. And although, as a family, we recognise that a pinch of eccentricity is 'in the genes', her sometimes unconventional approach and her unpredictable personality probably owed more to nurture than nature.

A bright child with a passion for learning, she would have fulfilled her potential at school but for the social hurdles of her time, too high to clear without serious money. Ability just wasn't enough.

Abandoned to the care of a grandmother she adored, she grew up on a ramshackle smallholding on the fringes of a large artificial lake. An idyllic scene perhaps, but she found little romance in fetching cows down through the woods for milking in all weathers, laying in bed with rats scurrying about in the roof above and living in fear of her grandfather's moods, that darkened after bouts of drinking. In fact, Wellington, or 'Duke', as he was known, wasn't her real grandfather. He just happened to marry Jinny, her grandmother, when she was already a single mother.

Duke and Jinny coming home from market

A liaison, in 1883, between Jinny and an unidentified aristocrat, left her holding a very real baby, in the shape of my great grandmother. Nothing unusual in that, of course. Guest of the family at the 'big house' has wicked way with lowly parlour maid. Maid is dismissed under a cloud of shame whilst the gentleman in question goes about his merry, procreative business.

Unusually, in Jinny's case, her former employers, for whatever reason, provided her with somewhere to live in addition to occasional, though meagre financial assistance.

Jinny feeding swans on the lake by her cottage

My grandmother knew the whole story, apart from the true identity of her real grandfather. She would recall how Jinny's funeral, in 1943, was attended by representatives of those who had 'looked after' her. She remembered, clearly, the expressions of relief on their faces when she assured them, that what had taken place all those years ago, was now over.  

In the course of researching our family history, I discovered that my great grandmother was in service in London around 1900. Coincidentally, the head of that house, had a place in the country adjoining the previously mentioned, 'big house', where in all probability she was conceived. These highly privileged neighbours were both senior officers in the same regiment of the British Army and prominent Freemasons. In fact, my great grandmother's employer was not only an English Mason, but a Knight Templar, Grand Inspector-General of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, a 9th degree member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, and 2nd degree in the Order of Light (Fratres Lucis), an occult body founded in 1882. He was also a Justice of the Peace.

The mystery is always going to be there, but I'm sure that much of what occurred in her youth, made my grandmother the person she was. I think it would have been impossible to remain unaffected by the weighty intrigue generated by such enigmatic characters, their secret lives and arrangements.....don't you?

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Monday, 16 November 2009

Learning Curve

Some readers will remember this post from last November. However, with some added visual fare, I thought it worth re-posting for Sepia Saturday.

When I attended my first school, I wasn't summoned by bells, but by a series of sharp hand-claps that echoed about the yard like mousetraps being sprung in quick succession.

My first school - Bishops Waltham Infants.

Each morning, the same ritual, we all sloped off, to our learning, reluctant to give up the magic qualities of the outdoors.

In spite of its tall windows, the interior of the school was dark and shadowy. So it was in relatively poor visibility that Mrs Woods and Miss Windebanks pooled their efforts to teach us. Theirs was a world of basic arithmetic, heavily crayoned artwork and good manners.

Singing songs always provided a welcome interlude and carols rang around the classrooms at Christmas with great zest and little harmony. But it was the nursery rhymes that I liked. You know, those with the lifetime guarantee. Often, we would sing of things we could do on a cold and frosty morning. In turns, we all got to nominate an activity before singing a solo about it. Being a country boy, I once offered up the way I took 'pot shots' at wood pigeons on a cold and frosty morning. It was the truth, but I was punished for not choosing something more wholesome, like shoe cleaning.

First school photograph (even I can't believe this is me)

At playtime, what joy it was to get into the fresh air once more. Away from the after smell of school meals, chalk-dust and a classmate whose terror of the learning process drove him to incontinence.

Suddenly the world regained its colour. We were a squadron of fighter planes under the command of Graham Wyatt, the policeman's son. Taking off from beneath the heavy limbs of a great yew tree, our arms outstretched and ready for combat. We weaved and dodged, looped the loop with blood curdling cries and crashed with alarming regularity, only to rebuild seconds later for another sortie. Our cannon fire was inexhaustible and deafening.

We watched, intently, when the doors to this undertaker's workshop were open. What were those men making, in amongst the clouds of flying saw dust? Big boxes, but for what?

I like to think that I was a reasonably brave lad then. I shrugged off cuts and grazes, and never even withered under the glare of Mrs Woods. But I did fear a visit to the outside lavatories; those wooden seated conveniences housed in ancient, creaking cubicles. In summer the fuming disinfectant was totally overpowering and cracking open the latched doors resulted in partial asphyxiation as the evil odours wafted up and smothered your face. Calls of nature were inevitably postponed.

In winter the story was equally harrowing. Crossing the yard through the elements, we endured the damp and icy winds that rattled the roofs of the outhouses. Those who had been brave enough to make the journey returned with blue legs and chattering teeth that only the glow of the coke stove could cure.

Gradually I gained valuable knowledge. I learned the art of cutting out. Indeed, I managed to cut every other square of an intricately patterned pullover my mother had knitted for me. I learned that the school dentist was a faceless gentleman, who sat with a blinding sun behind him while he probed about inside my mouth with painful metallic instruments. I learned that it was not prudent to put plasticine up my nose and that to ask a teacher to extract it was more painful than the dental examination. And I learned that to become infected with ringworm by a favourite puppy resulted in an instant loss of friends. So began my formal education.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Visiting Time

I know you're real, your skin to touch,
Enfolds the slow and sad surprise
Of words that will not sound as such,
From life behind closed eyes.

You cannot hide, I know you're there.
Hands, heart and face,
Are large as life, held in the chair,
That is your time and space.

I've come to see the you I know,
A glimpse, a sign, a trace
Of a life that's drifting to and fro
In some secret, distant place.

From where you are, can you recall
A snatch of memory or single clue
Of where we were before the fall,
When I was me and you were you?

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembering RIDGES, C.F., Driver, R.A.S.C

In 1912, Nellie and Charles took their vows. One year after the birth of their first daughter, Nellie and Charles said goodbye.

He volunteered in August 1914 and was immediately drafted to France, where he served on various sectors of the Front. He was present during heavy fighting on the Somme, when he sustained severe wounds, which necessitated the amputation of his right arm. He was invalided out in April 1917, and holds the 1914 Star, and the General Service and Victory Medals.
(National Roll Of The Great War)

As a small child, my mother-in-law, would cast her gaze back at the ghostly figure, gently waving to her from an upstairs window as she walked to Sunday School.

His mind and body damaged, Charles found employment in a brewery. There, he laboured, giving good service until, on 1st July 1926, death finally reached him from the fields of France and swept him away.

Nellie and Charles said goodbye.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Hair Today......

I never attended Sunday School as a boy. But at my Grandparent's house, 'The Laurels', I could witness a gathering of story-telling men whose expressive,  weather-beaten faces should have lit up some ancient illustration or other.

The Laurels

On the 'day of rest', Grandad took to wielding a comb, scissors and clippers instead of his billhook, axe and adze. Sunday mornings were for tidying the heads of farmers, dairymen, thatchers and labourers who came in dribs and drabs to a ramshackle shed, propped up by an aged apple tree and smothered in 'plums and custard' honeysuckle.

I'd sit on a broken bale of hay with one arm around the neck of a chocolate mongrel called Sally, whilst the clientele sat as squarely as was possible on a lop-sided kitchen chair.

In the summertime the men would be mere silhouettes against the bright morning, framed in the gaping doorway. Everything drifted; the smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes and pipes, the hair and the conversation. All fell softly and steadily.

In winter the door remained firmly shut to the elements. Grandad snipped away under the flickering illumination of a weak bulb and a woodchip burning stove offered a little warmth when the wind was in the right quarter.

When things became quiet, I contented myself by driving old nails into a log or maybe Grandad would seize the moment to sharpen hooks or shears. As showers of sparks rained down from his grindstone I'd be poised with my magnet, knowing I could make the filings dance and stand on end when the job was done.

No permanent damage done to my curly locks

Out of all the regulars I had my favourites; Bill Burrows, for instance. There was a big man with a beer-barrel body who, after succumbing to Grandad's scissors, would immediately try his great brown trilby on for size. After the usual, "That's a better fit, Jim'' he'd take out his snuff box. Where most men would merely take a pinch, Bill Burrows tipped a mole-hill of powder on to the back of his thick wrist and sniffed the entire lot up in one go. A minute or so later he'd sneeze into his red and white spotted handkerchief with the force of a hurricane. A broad smile followed, and with an expression of relief on his shining, red face, he'd sit astride his ancient creaking bicycle and wobble homeward.

Old Charlie Page, was a hard working farmer, but his overgrown white moustache and frail, steel-rimmed spectacles somehow made him seem more suited to the part of a telegraph operator in the wild west.

Echoes of Alf Churcher's squeaky laugh, and the grace of Fred Gray's laconic smile. These characters, all trussed up with sturdy braces and leather belts strong enough to hold a shire-horse, coloured my early years with their wonderful yarns.

What would they have made of today's barbers? Well perhaps an old farmer of the Carpenter family summed it up on the day when Charlie Randall brought his long haired, teenage son along for a trim. While Grandad stood looking bemused, having never been confronted with such a mop before, old man Carpenter removed his long dead and crusty pipe from between his lips, adjusted his battered hat and suggested quietly, "Bess thing t' do there Jim, is sling 'alf a gallon o' parfeen on, an' set light to it ."

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Sitting It Out

I have to confess, I'm feeling little bit tired today. It's not entirely attributable to the heavy cold I've succumbed to, but mostly associated with trying to keep up with the outrageously high energy levels of our (nearly three year old) Speckly-Woo!

Today, the little treasure attained her level one badge at Gym Tots .....and, she executed her first, unaided forward-roll. Obviously, she couldn't wait to demonstrate it to her grandparents when she arrived home. But after the painful realisation that the rug in the lounge was not as forgiving as a foam mat, we were limited to only one performance.

There followed, a lot more activity. Not wishing to take a chance on her regular human climbing frame (me), due to health and safety issues, she decided to assault Mummy instead. Then we were treated to the kind of 'wee-wee' dance you can expect occasionally from a child that's 99% potty-trained.

Eventually, I was prised off the sofa to play hide and seek around the house with Mary (sometime astronaut of the rag-doll variety).

It occurred to me, whilst writing this post, that another small offering of benches might be in order.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 26 September 2009


We visited a local park this morning, with our daughter and grandchildren. Speckly-Woo! fed the ducks while the twins, Icky and Immy (see previous post), reclined in their buggy, taking it all in.

I thought it might be a good opportunity to get some interesting shots with my A640 Powershot, a camera that suits my 'happy snapper' tendencies.

I wandered off to see if anything presented itself in a form worthy of a photograph. The park is almost encircled by running water and that got me thinking about being contained, trapped even. As is often the case, when your thoughts are influenced by a theme, the perspective of your surroundings undergoes serious change.

Floral felons behind bars.

Reflections gripped by shadows.

A crooked house or the one that eventually wriggled away?

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Oh, Aren't They Lovely!

Getting out and about with three little girls under three years of age, is bound to draw the odd comment from passers-by, and obviously the twins get targeted because they're, well...twins, and identical at that.

Speckly-Woo!, already a charming and spirited soul, with a series of 'one-liners' that belies her toddler status, takes her compliments with grace, and will name the twins at lightning speed when the inevitable question comes.

This is usually what happens. Strangers hesitate, catch your eye, stop, ask about the children and go about their business with a smile and, one assumes, hearts that have melted ever so slightly.

Of course, this is to be expected. When the girls are out on the town, they are all cleaned up, dressed in their finery and on their best behaviour. On the domestic front things go on that would, understandably, quicken the pace of the most reluctant passer-by.

Picture the scene. It's countdown to feeding time. Just minutes left on the clock and Mum is frantically combining a masterclass performance in puree with her well practiced bottle warming technique. She's willing the hands of time to speed up when twin number one starts to yell out a cry like Norman Wisdom being strangled. This is the cue for twin number two to out-mimic her sister. They swiftly settle into a pattern of alternating screaming and all else is drowned out as the darling twins become the queens of implacability.

At last the bottles are eagerly taken, other occupants of the room begin tilting their heads and stirring their ears with their fingers, to check that they haven't been struck deaf. Such is the impact of instant silence.

Watching them feed is a truly wonderful sight. But the intermittent grunts, contorted expressions and assorted tunes from nature's music-box all signify action taking place down below. Their Mum offers up a wry 'thank you' to both of them as they continue to fill their nappies in unison.

There are few words of comfort to offer a Mum operating in the front-line. There's no point in citing her good fortune over that of mothers to large families in days gone by. It would not only be irrelevant but it would be about as helpful as tripping over a freshly filled potty!

Frances Lillian, 1886-1967 (with the six eldest of her sixteen children)

However, I can't help but admire women like Frances, the younger sister of my great grandmother, who had sixteen to cope with.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Place of Birth

I'm not exactly sure what started me thinking about my birthplace. Not the village itself, you understand, but the one half of a pair of unremarkable dwellings known as 'Yule Cottage'. Whatever it was that stirred my thoughts, it sparked a chain reaction of flashbacks. Some as clear as crystal and others murky and indistinct.

Chocolate buttons kept by my maternal grandmother in a tin decorated with flowers. On one side of the tin the design was scorched and blackened. I have no idea why or how. My immediate interest would have been concentrated on the contents.

A little cross-bred dog called Bobby. His patchy white chest moving rapidly as he panted during warm weather.

Watching men working in the field adjoining our garden. They must have been hay-making but I wouldn't have known that. All I saw was men labouring under the sun and a cloudless blue sky.

I sensed that our neighbours were elderly, even though I had no concept of what being old meant. Mr Plank, a veteran of the First World War, softly spoken and never without his flat cap, always called me 'Smarty'.

Later, when I was old enough to identify the sound of a cricket match being broadcast on the radio and long after my time at 'Yule Cottage', I recognised that Mr Plank must have been a keen cricket fan. You see, I was alert to the sound and vision but had not yet developed a method of interpretation. I was only aware of Mr Plank's front door being open, the interior of his cottage being exceptionally dark (in fact, no light made its way much beyond the threshold) and the distant staccato tones of a male voice, punctuated occasionally with what might have been applause.

It wasn't unknown for Mrs Plank to cross over into our back garden to pick a leaf of Laurel. She was adamant that it enhanced her custards with the flavour of almonds. For goodness sake don't try this at home. I'm sure Laurel is toxic.

We had no mains water and, like a lot of people in 1950s rural England, our outside privy was emptied regularly by men in blue overalls and long red rubber gloves. We did have a television though, one of only two in the entire community. In fact, the coronation of Elizabeth II was viewed on our set by a substantial audience of villagers in the cosy confines of the parlour.

I was easily influenced then. After seeing a man, with no shirt, riding his bicycle in the next village, I decided to emulate him, much to the consternation of my family. At every opportunity I would pull my shirt up to my chin and run around the way all good would-be cyclists do. Strangely, I recall pressing my bare torso against the cool interior walls of the cottage, imagining that the sensation was the same as being exposed to a healthy breeze.

I knew when I was on to a good thing too. If I clung to the front gate when Mr Draper walked past,  it was a surefire bet that he would stop, plunge his hand deep into his overcoat pocket and produce a Murray Mint for me. Likewise, a visit to the village shop usually ended with me being given a green foil-wrapped triangular chocolate from the Quality Street jar.

Perhaps being born at home plays some part in bonding us with the actual fabric of the building. As I stated at the top of this post, I'm not exactly sure what started me thinking about my birthplace. What I am certain about is that such memories are valuable and worth giving some time.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 18 September 2009

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

It probably won't come as too much of a surprise to hear that, since becoming a grandparent, my television viewing habits have changed markedly. For instance, CBeebies was a channel I used to skip past without a second glance. Now I appear to be more familiar with the schedule of offerings there than anywhere else!

We've lingered In the Night Garden and sampled other surreal fare, including Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! Thankfully, before Mr Tumble succeeds in driving me to distraction, we're moving on to what I call 'proper' kid's programmes'. My current favourite is the comedy drama, Grandpa In My Pocket in which Grandpa is played by the incomparable James Bolam, an actor I can relate to. After all, I was his Terry Collier to my mate Andy's Bob Ferris in the days when we could so easily have been a southern reflection of The Likely Lads, although we would probably have been dubbed The Highly Improbable Lads.

A far cry from the days of Muffin the Mule and Picture Book, originally fronted by Annette Mills and Patricia Driscoll respectively.

For those who don't believe in the power of television to influence young minds, the rather ecstatic youngster pictured aboard Muffin went on to be a portrait of sand!

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I never thought I'd see the day when I had 'followers'. Yet, Square Sunshine currently has five of them! A far cry from Luke's mass of 285, Delwyn's 137 or Jinksy's 115, and a little way off Friko's impressive 49. But in an, 'it's the thought that counts' kind of way, I tell myself the numbers don't matter so much. Each time I go, often bleary-eyed, to my blog there are five friendly faces looking back at me, and they give me a lift.

In turn, I've declared myself a 'follower' on a number of blogs that I find interesting and stimulating, but until today, with one difference. Because I hadn't added a photograph to my profile I appeared to be represented as the front cover of a Raymond Chandler paperback. Admittedly my name comes to view when you run the cursor over my little silhouette but it all looks a bit anonymous and, in a bad light, much like the real thing.....a bit scary.

So I've resolved the issue. I now have not so much an exact portrait but an attempt at reasonable representation, as sketched in the sand by my son-in-law, under the strict artistic guidance of Speckly-Woo! In fact, both Nan and Grandad were drawn on the beach of the Camel estuary in Cornwall whilst the family were on their holidays last year. So at least I wasn't the only mean, subject.


Strange how others see us and even stranger when they're pushed to produce a likeness. Well, in this case I'm prepared to give the artist the benefit of the doubt. Intense pressure from the commissioning patron, a natural flair for the ridiculous or perhaps a blunt drawing instrument. Any of these might explain our distinctly grainy appearance. Or then again, it could just be the chosen medium.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Solarised Panels

Today has been one of those grey, overcast days that was always going to end in the form of raindrops.

I could feel the moisture in the air long before it came.

Halfway through a game of hide and seek with Speckly-Woo! (for the benefit of new visitors, this is our two year old granddaughter) I excused myself and took to the garden with my camera. I'm not sure what I hoped to find there, and as it turned out, I didn't really capture anything of great interest. Then I started to idly play around with the images this evening and produced the following. I don't usually make a habit of messing with my photographs to this degree but I found these shots quite pleasing in an otherwise colourless day.....weatherwise, that is!



© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Washing Your Hands Of It

This weekend we had our two year old granddaughter (Speckly-Woo!) to stay overnight with us for the very first time. It would be difficult to say whether she or her grandparents were most excited at the prospect. It was a very close-run thing!

We thought we'd get the adventure off to a good start by taking her along to a Country Show. The weather was great, the show was not a million miles from home and we knew that there would be plenty to see for adults and tots alike. Thirty years ago we took our own daughter along for the day.

Mother and daughter - 1979

Of course she was too young at three months old to appreciate much and, inevitably, she has since developed a more refined dress sense. A knotted handkerchief as a sun-shield is now so passé.

We may have been alert to the dangers of too much sun three decades ago, but I can say with some certainty that E.coli was not on our minds. That one completely slipped us by, which meant that we had a stress-free, family day out amongst the livestock and anything that they were inclined to leave behind.

The experience was similar this weekend. Speckly-Woo! was fascinated by the pigs in particular and eagerly gripped her way around the outside of the pen. We also got up close to the cattle and horses.

Spare a thought then for the parents and grandparents of those children who have been struck down with E.coli after visiting Godstone Farm. There will no doubt be fingers pointed, blame apportioned and lessons learned. But at the centre of this story are children, and accompanying adults whose worlds have been turned upside down by a potentially fatal infection. Here's wishing for a full and speedy recovery for those concerned.

We all know (or should know) the basic rules of personal hygiene. Washing hands before they find their way to mouths is so important, but it's not always straightforward with little ones. Juggling children in and out of temporary toilet blocks at big events, doing regular head-counts and generally trying to keep at least one step ahead requires concentration on a superhuman scale.

As for the hand-washing, we probably took a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, but a handy-size bottle of alcohol gel (as seen in a dispenser at the door of an NHS facility near you) is good. Easily applied and offering adequate protection and peace of mind.

Incidents like this do make you think though. When I was a youngster I dread to think what I was carrying on my hands. We had a dog, whose kennel I was known to share on occasion. I was always out of doors, touching this and that. There was a large garden, liberally fertilized, where I played and got myself dirty. Yet, I wasn't a sickly child.

 At the pump

Maybe the answer lies in my curiosity for and ability to work the hand-pump in the yard.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 11 September 2009

A Nightingale Sang

It's been a day of two halves. This morning we were careering along the M27 during the 'rush hour', on our way to and from Sainsbury's. We arrived with a list and when we left, our obligatory wobbly trolley also had a the left if I remember correctly.

Surely an experience like that should carry a health warning for grandfathers? Or is it my natural aversion to the shopping experience? Probably the latter.

Anyway, as an antidote to fast-lane traffic (on the motorway and in supermarket aisles) we decided to visit our favourite country pub for lunch.The Lamb was busy but not packed to overflowing. This meant that we could enjoy a leisurely meal in the garden with the sun shining and only one annoying wasp on a continuous aerial reconnaissance of my side-salad.

Watered and fed, we set off along the lanes for home. Then for some reason, perhaps still needing a little extra consolation after our shopping excursion, we headed for nearby East Wellow and somewhere we hadn't been for over 30 years; the Parish Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, the resting place of Florence Nightingale.

We were greeted  at the gate of the 13th century place of worship with the song of a solitary Robin, and when the music stopped, all was completely silent. A totally peaceful place.



There is local rumour that the isolated position of the church is in some way connected to plague, a flea-borne infection carried by rats. Nowadays, though, these tranquil surroundings offer a temporary shelter from a different kind of plague. That which is in many ways connected to the 'rat race'.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Fine Line

Whenever I'm drafting the next post for this blog I always try to keep it light and humourous where possible. But life isn't always, as you will be only too well aware, a bed of roses.

Shortly after the twins were born, last April, I watched them sleeping. They looked so vulnerable at that early stage of their lives. My thoughts drifted towards wondering what they would grow to be like as people, what sort of occupations they might have, their physical appearance when they eventually get to where I am now. It was this last question that pulled me up with a start. Unless I live way past my centenary I'll never know the answer to that one. For an instant, a pretty depressing thought. Luckily, however, I'm not the sort of person who dwells on issues around mortality and even as I write this, I am somehow disconnected from imagining the end of my days.

Yesterday I visited a cousin who, only two months ago, was leading a normal life. Then he was diagnosed with having a chest infection, which laid him low for a few weeks. He later collapsed at work and underwent further examination before receiving a far more devastating diagnosis,  Acute myeloid leukemia.

Like me, he has a loving family. He's 52 - a little younger than me – but a grandfather, as I am. He's one of those fairly distant relatives that I've known since I was a boy and it's been the kind of relationship that brings about surprise at reunions and gatherings of the clan. You see, I always carry a picture of him in my head but whenever we meet he never matches the mental image. I dare say the same is true for him, and yet there is an undeniable connection.

My mum travelled to the hospital with me yesterday and in the Haematology and Oncology unit we both 'gowned-up' and waited patiently with two other visitors until the Chaplain had finished her call.

When we eventually met him at the threshold of his room there was an emotional exchange of greetings, probably charged by the news that after one course of chemotherapy his blood readings were ever so slightly improved. He had, in his own words, woken that morning as 'Mr Angry' but then came some minute sign of improvement.

Although he has a mountain to climb, he is now looking forward. Forward to being home, forward to having his family and friends around him in a normal environment, forward to living.

The doctor told him that twenty years ago this condition would have meant one month and that would have been his lot. Today it's possible to live with it.

Occasionally, we need timely reminders of how fine the line is that we all tread. I know this is true, I had one yesterday.

Get well soon Derek. We're all rooting for you.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Monday, 7 September 2009

Zoo Time

Number one granddaughter (Speckly-Woo!) was on good form today. Having had the weekend to sharpen up her act she wasted no time at all before giving me my lines and thrusting the hapless Mary (some of you will remember Mary from a previous post) into my hand. From here on in it all gets pretty surreal. I have to bear in mind that (a) this is a two year old child and (b) Mary can only fly after Tinkerbell (yes, the very same) has sprinkled her with 'pixie-dust'. I also have to anticipate that Mary is likely to want some eggs from a shopkeeper who greets her customers with a rather surly 'what do you want?'

To complicate matters, Mary can only access the shop by using the lift at the end of the sofa, and only then when the shopkeeper presses the button.....and actually utters the word 'press'. She may also need to wear a large hat because she's scared of the dark and doesn't like an owl to see her eyes.

I try to firm up my grip on reality by asking the shopkeeper (through Mary, of course) for some custard to go with my cabbage and some gravy to complement my strawberry jelly. However, the shopkeeper does not suffer fools gladly and after rectifying my culinary mistakes for me, she looks disappointed to think that her grandad doesn't know the basics of good food preparation.

Soon, the diminutive Emily, AKA 'Beady Eyes', is being shoved into a small cupboard. I must pretend I haven't seen anything. More importantly I must look suitably puzzled when our shopkeeper turned school-teacher asks where Emily is. “Can Tinkerbell look for Emily?” comes the inevitable request. But before I can get into my role of tracker/hostage negotiator – you have to understand that sometimes Captain Hook is involved – I'm required to make Tinkerbell chase Mary round and round until I feel queasy.

In the distance I hear my daughter ask if I want tea or coffee. Suddenly I'm filled with bitter regret at having given up caffeine.

Just a few minutes into our visit and I'm wearing an expression uncannily similar to the assembled collection from the soft-toy zoo. The unblinking eyes, the fixed smile and just a small indication of loose stitching.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Field-Good Factor

Most weekends we try to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. And if ever we needed an incentive, just ten minutes from our front door lies some of the most beautiful countryside in Hampshire. On Saturday we were passing right through an agricultural work of art.




© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Don't Forget To Write

Back in the early-mid 1980s my life was so very different. It was a time of high unemployment in the UK (a phenomenon we're sadly witnessing again today) and I was in a 'sink or swim' situation. Eventually a lifeline came to me through writing, after I'd bombarded the editor of a provincial Sunday newspaper with so many articles, he eventually invited me to lunch. I suspect this was his way of telling me thanks, but no thanks. However, in the event, he invited me to write a 13 week series that lasted almost two years.

During this time of personal discovery my confidence was at an all-time high. I wrote a stream of letters to various authors and playwrights I admired, often with the inclusion of the request...'would you take a look at my work please?'

Of course I was pretty 'green' then and would have settled for compliments when I should have been looking for constructive criticism. All these years later I know that to produce writing that's worth its salt you have to accept that the percentages are probably in the region of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. You have to GET ON WITH IT!

I was so naïve, but then my naivety was probably the key to my confidence. I was running on that 'have-a-go' spirit that we so often see in our grandchildren. I had no fear of failure. From where I was, what did I have to lose?

Yesterday it was announced that one of those authors I admire had passed away. Keith Waterhouse's reply to a letter I sent him around 1984-85 still resides in my copy of his wonderful 'There is a Happy Land'. It reads as follows:

'Many thanks. I hate to say this but no. I don't have the time – my working day, finishing a book, is about 15 hours at present and you can imagine how much I want to read a MS after that!

But writers are the worst people to show work to – the people who publish writing are publishers. You write the book, you send it on its way, and hope that one of them will take it – that's how it's done, and I don't know of any other way. And if they won't take it, you write another. Hard life, isn't it? But that's how books get published. Good luck.'
  Keith Waterhouse.

Thanks for the reality-check Keith.

As it was, I denied my natural inclination to continue writing and opted instead for academia, where it dawned upon me, after a decade or so, that I was now, with a few exceptions, surrounded by people who lived in fear of failure.

Since taking early retirement I have been encouraged to write once more, and for the first time in years I feel as though I'm back on track.

What advice would I give my three beautiful granddaughters? Use your talents and be prepared to go wherever they lead you. Don't ever get talked out of that 'have-a-go' spirit.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 3 September 2009

A Question Of Where and When

I've been working in our daughter's garden today. There's still a lot of landscaping to do, but ultimately it'll be worth the effort. Before the end of the year we hope to have cleared the jungle and laid a new lawn.

A garden is a valuable space in our lives and I don't know about you but whenever I'm pottering about outside I find it so much easier to think. Generally, we can consider the deeper questions when we're beyond the confines of four walls. Our eldest granddaughter is no exception. Whilst on her swing she caught sight of a gold ring on the necklace her Nanny was wearing. “What's that?” she asked, pointing a small finger. “That's my mummy's wedding ring,” Nanny replied.

There was a period of silence, apart from me clearing some brambles nearby. “But where is your mummy?”

At this point Nanny was struggling for the right words. The loss of her mother only a fortnight before our our little enquirer was born is still quite painful. At only two years old, our granddaughter had asked the profoundest of questions.

As it happened, I remembered a response our son-in-law gave recently before leaving to attend the funeral of a friend. When asked where he was going he replied, quite simply, he and mummy were going to say goodbye to someone. The result, one satisfied little girl who could grasp the idea of saying goodbye.

Although even very small children often surprise us with their apparent capacity for taking on board quite complex explanations, there is a good argument for crossing some bridges as we come to them.

In the garden today, I offered up a variation on his response, telling her that we had to say goodbye to Nanny's mummy. But as the words were leaving my lips I had an image in my head of the twins and their beaming smiles. How often have we remarked about the uncanny resemblance to Nanny's mummy when they're smiling? Something to remember if I ever get asked an awkward question like, 'when will she be coming back?' In part, she's still here.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Good Enough To Eat

We are what we eat, some would say. We certainly are better informed about what we eat. The findings from academic research, the persuasive tones of health conscious TV chefs, the protestations of animal rights campaigners, all tell us what is bad and what is good to consume and why.

Responsibility for keeping to a balanced diet weighs heavily enough for an adult with all the information at his or her fingertips. When you're taking responsibility for what goes into your children – to make them healthy and strong – it's another matter completely. Young children will soon develop a palate for what tastes good and what doesn't (I hated swede throughout my entire childhood – who didn't?) but they aren't in a position to decide what is nutritious or what makes for healthy eating. That's the parent's call, and it can be a hard one in the face of convenience and the 'hard sell'.

For our own grandchildren, 'junk food' is off the menu. Their parents made that decision early on and they have stuck to it. There's always a full fruit bowl on the table and apart from the odd sweet treat, our two year old granddaughter snacks on raisins, fruit flakes or some other healthy option. Her twin sisters have only just started eating solids, but their pureed meals are home-cooked vegetables out of the skins rather than tins.

We aren't health fanatics in our family but we are health conscious, a trend that my own grandmother started in the 60s. Hilda May (my maternal grandmother) was quite a character and a bit of a revolutionary. We all know that the 60s bore witness to a generation bent on changing the status quo, but Hilda was born in 1913 and was about as much a part of hippy culture as she was a part of the NASA space programme.

Hilda May (grandmother extraordinaire) in the 1960s

Hilda's passion was food and nutrition. She weaned us off refined white sugar and saturated cooking fats by introducing us to the wonders of polyunsaturates and vitamin supplements. She also used astonishingly effective tales of how too much of the wrong fat can block up our plumbing!

Hilda May's 75' tomato greenhouse

A keen gardener for the best part of her 91 years, she specialised in growing organic salad crops and tomatoes in particular. Ironically Hilda was dogged by arthritis and in her later years coped with heart problems and Polymyalgia rheumatica. Still she never lost faith in the benefits of good food. She attributed her own ill-health to poor nutrition in her early years and an ignorance of the long-term damaging effects saturated fats can have on the vascular system.

I've listened to many inspirational arguments for improving the standard of our diet. Recently I caught the following video clip of a talk given by Mark Bittman – food writer, journalist and TV personality. I think Hilda would have approved of him.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Stringing Words Like Beads

You know how it is when you rediscover a word in the sense that you hear it and you know it but it sounds totally strange all the same?

For me, just such a word has been ‘bead’. If I repeat it over and over in my head very soon the connection between label and object becomes almost completely erased. There ceases to be any significant relevance applied or association made. Why on earth is a small decorative ball with a hole in the middle a ‘bead’?

At times like this I have to re-establish a link before I become in danger of slowly erasing yet another word from my limited vocabulary. In the case of the ‘bead’ I remind myself of a joke I heard on a Sunday lunchtime radio comedy show when I was a kid. It may have been ‘Round The Horne’, I can’t remember exactly. The joke was about an exotic dancer who performed a dance wearing just one single bead. Predictably, there followed a number of saucy quips and riotous laughter from the audience. The punch-line was that men drooled over the dancer in question, straining to discover what the bead concealed. Then, one fateful day, during an unchoreographed contortion, the bead fell off. The poor woman's exposure was her downfall and her adoring fans deserted her, quickly concluding that without the bead she wasn’t really up to much. Pathetic isn't it? But this, for me, is what brought 'bead' back from the dead.

Now I have a much better reference. Our Speckly-Woo (two year-old granddaughter) is a 'dab hand' at carefully creating ‘bead people’. Now, I find, the word is more likely to conjure an image of the rather loosely formed Mr and Mrs Bead. And, believe me, these are people I can relate to.

The loosely formed Mr Bead

The long-suffering Mrs Bead

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Friday, 28 August 2009

What Do They Call You?

I'm not sure when we started to use pet names in our family, but they are pretty well established now. Whenever I sign off my emails to our daughter, I always use the name of a character from the 1971 film Gumshoe. For some obscure reason our daughter takes on the name of one of Rupert Bear's best friends when we send a text message. My wife and I have been jointly associated with a line from Return of the Pink Panther for years. Little wonder then, that our granddaughters are loved, in order of seniority, as Speckly-Woo, Immy and Icky. Immy and Icky being five month old twins.

In most cases this odd renaming process is likely to have resulted from a memorable line in a film, comedy sketch or perhaps just a moment of lunacy. The latter instance being the kind that can only be experienced when a joke has developed a life of its own and is then liberated from those sharing it. Don't tell me you and your family have never succumbed to a collective fit of giggles while the cause has taken off madly, like an untied balloon, around the room. Usually in an attempt to bring about order everyone has a go at predicting the joke's next move. Ultimately, of course, the joke comes to rest but the most memorable remnants remain in our heads, only to resurface as esoteric 'one liners' and exclusive reference points.

All joking aside though, pet names are intimate labels we choose for those closest to us. It can be a reminder of a shared moment, a humourous association or even an unintentional slip of the tongue. In short, it's special, private and protective........which is precisely why I will be using pet names when making reference to our grandchildren in future posts.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Woodburning Desire

In recent days I swear I've sensed autumn in the air, and it only takes a whiff of wood smoke to remind me of when we enjoyed the ancient practice of warming ourselves at the hearth. Whenever an aromatic haze lingers in the lanes around our home, I deliberately slow down to give myself the best chance of a ‘fix’. A little over a decade ago we lived in a cosy cottage, nestled in a tiny Cornish village. Taking delivery of winter logs was an annual highlight. Unloading, splitting and stacking. The sweet scent of torn bark and glistening sap. The sight of the exposed grain and the fibrous feel of the timber. The comforting prospect of living flame.

There is an abiding memory from childhood. A Sunday morning set in a hoare frost and me standing in a clearing of a copse that my Grandfather worked. A small group of men, including my Grandfather, stood around a blaze of trimmings. Some had cigarettes hanging lazily from their mouths, hands plunged deep into pockets. Others were breathing into their cupped hands or rhythmically throwing their arms about their bodies to keep warm.

My Grandfather (left) in the copse with fellow hurdle-maker sometime in the 1970s

I watched through my knitted balaclava as the men slowly got down to the business of sawing and chopping piles of logs. Even though perilously close to the bonfire I was frozen. Holding a cup of hot cocoa from a Thermos restored some life to my lips and fingers but my toes were totally numb. I was stood on my own little stumps and I wouldn’t thaw out properly until much later in the day when a match had been put to our own fire at home.

Wood fire at my Grandparent's home - The Laurels

I was entrusted to light bonfires before I started school, so it was a skill I took on board early, coached by my Grandfather (an expert in ‘burning up’) who constantly stressed that fire was a dutiful servant but a bad master. Sadly, our present rural abode doesn’t boast a spot where sparks fly and smoke turns itself inside-out before letting loose from the chimney in wisps. In short, the evenings promise no glowing embers for us to contemplate. Instead, storage heaters stand in a lifeless pose against the walls, their pale metallic casings emblematic of a social conscience that prefers clean convenience over living warmth.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Concrete and Play

Life doesn't need to be all gift-wrapped and sparkling to light up the eyes of a two year old. It's worth remembering that building things (while obviously important) can wear a little thin. Yes, there's something about the sight of a familiar object being taken apart that resonates deeply with toddlers.

For the past two days my son-in-law and I have been breaking up concrete that used to form the bases of a small dilapidated garage and a glassless greenhouse. The idea is to free up more space in the garden for the children. Our two year old granddaughter already needs the extra room to accommodate her attempts at breaking speed records whilst going about her daily business. The twins are only 6 months old and still regard any extraordinary goings-on with rather bemused expressions. But the time will undoubtedly arrive when all three will be careering about within the confines of their own 'outdoors' and it will be handy for all concerned if we minimise the risk of collision.

This afternoon we completed the first stage of project 'garden expansion'. We moved 6 cubic yards of rubble and deposited it in a waste skip. During the process our little landscaper was assisting by carrying the withered remains of a forsythia bush, that had fallen victim to our efforts, to the skip. Not quite tall enough to complete the manoeuvre on her own, we took turns to raise her up like a champion so that she could bathe in the glory of her achievement.

All along the way there were enough pairs of adult eyes to keep her safe. The important thing was that felt involved and useful. Little people need to know their worth too.

She was beaming with pride and evidently filled with delight.......just before she announced that it was time for her to receive a drink and a biscuit as her due reward. At this point it was difficult to raise an argument against taking a break. Kids are so perceptive aren't they?

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 21 August 2009

Belts And Braces

A huge industry has taken off in the interests of in-car safety. Rear facing car seats for babies, front facing car seats for toddlers and booster seats when children reach the correct height/weight threshold.

In 1979, when we transported our daughter around in a dilapidated Renault 10, more often than not, she slept peacefully in a carry-cot on the rear seat with her Mum, without belts. We didn't see anything wrong with that in the days before tree-climbing was considered bad for kids. Of course now we would be held to account for acting so irresponsibly.

As a child - or as an adult, for that matter - I never considered my grandfather to be irresponsible. In fact I would have trusted him with my life, as my mother obviously did.

With this in mind my thoughts were drawn back to the June issue of Hampshire Magazine, 1988, where one of my regular articles contained the following:

"On occasions when I was allowed to tag along, we went 'up the copse' by motorcycle and box. Grandad sat astride his Triumph while I rode in a rough wooden box that couldn't have been elevated to real sidecar status in a million years. Though despite its humble appearance, this rickety conveyance had high spots on its passenger list. It had transported several members of the armed forces, a pilot and his parachute and my great grandfather in his armchair through the city of Winchester; though not all at once, and it was great grandad who rode through Winchester announcing, in response to raised eyebrows, that he didn't give a damn long before Rhett Butler made the words immortal.

The famed Triumph Thunderbird and box in 1982

So it was that I followed distinguished folk when I settled myself amidst the folded sacks, binder twine, hooks, saws and assorted implements. I was proud to take my place in a permanent swirl of dust behind my own windshield that flapped wildly only inches from my nose. Child restraints? Well my mother may have prayed for one in a moment of anguish, but it wouldn't have been applied in the interests of road safety. A gag was probably the sort of thing she'd have in mind, and looking back, who could blame her? A few miles from my home village of Upham then, and we might take the lane off the main Winchester road to either Redlands copse or Deeps wood, depending on where the hazel was ready for working.

Now the journeying along properly surfaced roads in the box was one thing. Careering along the woodland rides was another entirely. To me the effect had all the marvel of the switchback at the fair, and all the alarming qualities of shooting Niagara in a barrel. We wended our way over the ruts and ridges, the thundering machine and creaking box pitching and rolling at crazy angles. Great tentacles of greenery reached out at intervals and slapped me in the face. I ducked and dodged while grandad remained impervious in his flat cap, leather gauntlets and heavy canvas coat."

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Hats Off To Space

My journeys to the planet 'Toddler' are never a complete waste of time. I often return in an altered state of mind, which is either attributable to inspirational grandchildren or oxygen starvation.

Today I have a handy tip to offer. Basically, it's how to turn a novelty birthday hat into an intergalactic mode of transport for all manner of soft toys.

A perfectly ordinary novelty birthday hat complete with candles

Mary (you remember Mary, from yesterday?) graciously agreed to be the test pilot so we are all truly indebted to her for that.

Mary just landing after the trip of a lifetime - flaring candle-rockets and all

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hiding To Something

You know, some days spent with our grandchildren leave me feeling rejuvenated. Others leave me feeling as though I haven't been 'let in' on the plot. One thing is for certain...I always feel tired!

Today much of my time was taken up with entertaining our two year old granddaughter. She's a strong-minded little girl and today she was wearing her Director's hat. Early on I knew that this meant that I would be on the sharp end of an ever changing script, involving the 'usual suspects' from her collection of dolls and soft toys.

Left to right - Emily, Tinkerbell and Mary, with Mr Teddy learning his lines

Sure enough, Mary and Tinkerbell were soon centre-stage with me speaking lines dreamt up on the hoof and delivered in a highly improvised fashion. The plot revolved around the repeated disappearance of Emily, a diminutive character dressed for winter,complete with silver boots. Put simply, our 'director' took off with Emily and concealed her (usually somewhere right under my gaze) before sending me off with Mary, an awkward looking rag doll whose legs have been poured into unforgiving striped tights, on a mission of mercy.

To keep the tension high Mary deliberately searched everywhere but the place where Emily was lost, much to the annoyance of our 'director' who hasn't quite mastered the concept of hide and seek. With a manic waving of the arms (complete with fading chickenpox) I was urged, to cries of “She's there granddad, under my stool,” to find the hapless Emily.

As is often the case, I soon became unsure as to whether this was the actual shoot or merely an audition, because each member of the cast took it in turns to be hidden before being discovered, predictably, by yours truly.

Between takes, I mulled over the idea of hiding somewhere myself, but then I remembered I haven't got a 'get out' clause in my contract. Hmmm, she seems to have thought of everything.

These two characters appear to have found the ideal hideaway

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges