Thursday, 30 December 2010

Just Martin

I've really been enjoying the latest BBC adaptation of Richmal Crompton's stories about the mischievous schoolboy, William Brown, and his pals, The Outlaws. I sit there, sniggering, and empathising with the eleven year old lad who, as yet, has no room in his world for girls.

So, did boys ever really career through the woods, engaging each other in mock sword fights? Yes.
Did they really slap their backsides, to gee-up their imaginary steeds? Yes.
Did they really arrive home with lame excuses for being covered in mud, from head to toe? Yes.

At the end of a dim and distant 'parents evening', my long-suffering maths teacher, Mr Shields, shrugged his shoulders and confirmed what my mother already knew, too well,  that she had produced the kind of boy that should try harder. My problem was, there were too many better things to do, other than pay attention in class. For instance, I could use my time more creatively by manufacturing miniature blowpipes from empty fountain pen cartridges. Simply snip off the ends, load with wet paper pellets of the correct calibre, and blow. After some practice, it was possible to hit the back of someone's head, from twelve or fifteen feet.

Daniel Roche, as the BBC's current incarnation of William

In my eleventh year, we moved to the town. The lads at my new school seemed to be hard-edged, compared with those I had known in the country. Nevertheless, there were a half a dozen or so I gravitated towards. Our common interests revolved around, tree climbing, football, bicycles, fishing and maintaining a girl-free zone.

Yours truly. A delightful young man. 

I have, largely, happy childhood memories. Those things I wished to be different, were in the hands of grown-ups, so I never got to vote. Not many children do.

Once, my science teacher, at secondary school, held me back after a particularly disastrous chemistry lesson, a little incident with a bunsen burner, as I recall. He warned me that, unless I knuckled down, I would come to no good. Oddly, he seemed to think I had the potential to be a master criminal or a comedian. At the time of our discussion, he hadn't, yet, decided which!

Early signs of me in William Brown mode, HERE.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lost Gift

Speckly Woo's recent birthday has ignited another old flame that used to flicker, on and off, in dreams throughout my childhood, and occasionally into early adulthood.

Now, those of you with a psychoanalytical leaning will probably be stroking your chins and quietly expressing your thoughts with a, hmmm…

Let me say, this recurring and unresolved affair, is centred around a birthday present of my own. Some marvellous toy, I could never quite clearly identify. Neither could I recall who gave it to me. But the most trying thing, was the fact that I could never remember where it lived. Obviously it was stored away somewhere safe, but by whom? Was it something so precious, I was only offered the briefest glimpse before it was placed out of harm's way? Did I lock it up somewhere, away from the attentions of a younger sibling?

Perhaps there was a message inscribed on the package, NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL HE IS OLDER…MUCH OLDER. If that's so, it will have fallen into the hands, or dreams, of another youngster by now.

The rational explanation has to be something along the lines of wishful thinking, doesn't it? You know, the way adults sometimes dream of great wealth. They have the virtual money in their virtual bank, but the new lifestyle that beckons is hazy and fragmented, as a mosaic of mansions, cars, kitchens, and warm climates floats in and out of designer focus.

Sadly, I fear my mystery gift falls into the same category. But, if you have recollections of a vaguely similar something-or-other, from your own childhood, do tell.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Far Reaching Tentacles of Love

We celebrated Speckly Woo's fourth birthday yesterday. A close family affair, enjoyed in all the chaos and commotion associated with opening gifts and entertaining three little girls.

Our three granddaughters have taken centre-stage these past few years but, yesterday, my thoughts drifted back to around ten days before Speckly Woo's arrival. Occasionally, in our lives, we are blessed with special moments, days to remember and people to cherish.

It was my birthday, 23rd November, 2006. I had dropped Mags off at her place of work before heading over to our daughter's house. On arrival, she gave me a birthday hug and handed me a card and CD-shaped gift. It was the 'Love' album, by The Beatles.

We're both big fans. So we sat, with mugs of coffee, the hi-fi cranked up, and the music playing. Hardly a comment passed between us. Perhaps, the odd glance as a particular favourite cued up. This was one of those special times, a father and daughter experience. A string of time holding those jewelled moments. And at the heart of it all, a tear. Not a tear of sadness, but a tear of joy that sprung deep from her childhood. Something connected without warning, as the album progressed into 'Octopus's Garden/Lady Madonna'. Whatever else, it was a shared instant of joy, not to be analysed or investigated. Merely held, and kept safe.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Sepia Saturday: Mr & Mrs Light Come To Town

This will probably be my last Sepia Saturday contribution, for a while, and I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate 50 weeks of Alan's excellent blog, with a story of my 2 x Great Grandparents, as reported in the Daily Herald on Wednesday, 25th August, 1937.

Two excited old people, Mr. Wellington ("Duke") Light, 78 year-old Hampshire farmer, and his 74 year-old wife, yesterday visited London for the first time.

They came as guests of the "Daily Herald" - and their visit fulfilled a life ambition.

For, they had never before been more than 25 miles from their home in Colden Common, near Winchester.

Married 52 years, they have never been separated, had never ridden in a bus or been to a theatre or cinema.

Here is how they spent their day with a "Daily Herald" Special Correspondent, who showed them the sights.

1 P.M. Driving over Westminster Bridges, they catch their first glimpse of the river.
"How beautiful," says Mrs Light, "Look Duke, it's just like the sea. And is that Big Ben right up there? We've read all about him in the papers."

1.10 Passing Buckingham Palace. "Is that where the King lives," asks Duke, unbelieving. "why does he have such a great place as that?"
Mrs Light interpolated the story of "how we nearly couldn't come to London after all because one of Duke's pigs, which he bought at market yesterday at 22s. each, and very nice little pigs too, escaped and ran away. But it was all right after all. We found him this morning, sleeping in the next sty."

1.15 Mr and Mrs Light shake hands all round at the Royal Palace Hotel. Going up to their room they take their first trip in a lift.
"What?" says "Duke," again incredulous, "Up three flights of stairs in about a second. I never would have believed. If that isn't a licker."

2 P.M. Lunch in the Cumberland Grill. Says "Duke," pointing to the concealed lights, "Is that the sun coming in there? No? It must be some wonderful lights."

Later, he tells the waiter how he nearly couldn't come to London because of the lost pig, lights a cigar and clears up the Stilton.

3.30 "What high buildings you have up here" (around Marble Arch) "I never dreamt there were such places."

4.15 At the Bank of England, they see "where the money comes from," and watch the pigeons outside the Royal Exchange.
"I used to keep pigeons," says Mrs Light, "but the cat killed them all. Does anybody ever feed these, (anxiously) I thought they looked well fed."

5 P.M. "I do believe my man will want to come and live here," she adds, as the car slips along the Embankment. "Well, I've heard a lot about London, but I never would have believed," says "Duke." "What a mighty place it is to be sure."

5.30 "marvellous, marvellous" they both say in Hyde Park. "You Londoners ought never to want for fresh air."

6 P.M. Mrs Light tells the manager of the hotel all about the day (and about the lost pig).

Mr Light explains to the Hall Porter that "it's the best day I ever did spend. Fifty two years we've been married, last Monday as ever was, but I never dreamed of anything like this and that's the truth."

8 P.M. At the News Theatre, they see their first pictures. "It's hard to think it isn't real," whispers "Duke," in my ear. "I've read about the pictures, but I never would have believed…"

Later he confesses that the Silly Symphony, "Father Noah's Ark," troubled him a little. "I don't like mockery…"

9 P.M. On the way back to the hotel. "I've told that manager man," says Mrs Light, not to be surprised if I'm up at 5 o'clock tomorrow raking the fires about. He did laugh!" They decided that tomorrow they would like to see the Zoo.

My Grandmother told me that Duke and Jinny had their trip to the Zoo, but although they knew the animals were well cared for, it upset them both to see them in captivity. At that point, Jinny became homesick. She thought about her cows, wandering free in the meadows, and suddenly she felt like a prisoner. She was never one to mince words, and duly informed her hosts that she had seen enough and wanted to go home.

On their return, Duke was asked if he had been nervous about anything. "Only of the bath," he exclaimed, "we're only used to an inch or two in the tin bath in front of the range. In the hotel, the maid had filled the bath three parts full!" This, he thought, was wasteful.

Monday, 8 November 2010

High Chairs and Settling Dust

I've been raising dust today, not to mention eyebrows, because the broom cupboard, I call study, was in desperate need of a tidy up. The shredder's been working overtime and the recycling bin is bulging at the sides. I can see my face in my monitor (not all good news, then) and there's space on my desk!

Of course, stuff that I've tidied away, is now lost until the next purge. Conversely, stuff I gave up for lost, has now reappeared. That's not all, I have also discovered items I never knew I had. From within the confines of a crumpled envelope, a handful of old postcards made themselves known to me.

This one, illustrated by Mabel Lucie Attwell, caught my eye straight away. And I was just dwelling on the peaceful innocence, encapsulated in this picture, when my thoughts turned to the next scene in a possible sequence. One where the child has woken up, hungry. How might Lucy have portrayed the scene?

More than 30 years ago, we had just the girl for the job. Alas, she arrived 15 years after dear Lucy departed.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cake, Anyone?

To be truthful, my writing outside of this blog, is pretty stop/start. I do have projects underway, but progress is slow. I know some of the problem…I think too much. I mean, I still try to write within touching distance of the sign that reads, 'RULES'.

Cue Speckly Woo! Yesterday I was, once more, the willing accomplice in one of her colourful, free-flowing plot-lines. Hang on to your hats, it went something like this.

There was to be a party, attended by as many yellow rabbits as a lump of play doh would allow. The rabbits had to remain asleep while Speckly Woo! made a special cake for the celebrations. The cake, which borrowed certain design features that are standard in pizza-making, was topped off with a single cherry. There's a piece missing, and I'll tell you why in a moment.

Enter the bad wolf…or, rather, wolf's head. At first he has been invited to the party because he has promised to stick to cake, and not eat any of the rabbits. Unfortunately, temptation got the better of him, and at least one bunny lost an ear or two. I've decided not to show that scene, as it's too distressing.

Uncharacteristically, Speckly Woo! set about the errant wolf, with a small rolling pin. Then she felt sorry for the poor chap and promptly tore away some the cake to use as a bandage.

With the wolf convalescing, wrapped in recycled cake, the plot took another twist. The remaining cake was to be transformed into spaghetti, for the rabbits, it being their favourite food.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Sepia Saturday: Finding George

When I began to write this post, about my maternal grandfather's cousin, George, I thought it would probably run to little more than a few lines. Along with the postcard, this would make a perfectly acceptable contribution to Sepia Saturday. As it turned out, I've been digging through my family history files, raiding google for street views and trying to remember when I last saw cousin George.

A postcard of Edward George Gregory 

The last part proved to be relatively straight forward. It would have been at least 35 years ago. I remember we were visiting my grandparents on a Sunday afternoon, when this slightly built, elderly gentleman came strolling through the gate. Born in 1900, George would have been in his mid 70s (my arithmetic is atrocious). On that day, he had taken the ferry from the Isle of Wight, caught a bus from Southampton and walked the last half a mile from the bus stop. A bit adventurous for a man, well into his retirement, just to visit family, on spec. But I have learnt that adventure was probably in his blood.

His father, Robert Frank Gregory, was born in Dewlish, Dorset, in 1867. Robert's early life would have been centred around his father's agricultural duties as a Dairyman. The family lived in a small hamlet, in the most rural of locations. However, Robert had an itch he needed to scratch, and by 1891, he had gone to London in search of some excitement. In fact, he and another chap, John Holmes, just four years his senior, were lodging together in Burchell Road, Peckham, both working as Tram Drivers. This wasn't the only thing they had in common. They were also from the same hamlet in Dorset. Somehow, it isn't difficult to imagine two young men, showing an urge to move off the land and, perhaps, encouraged by the signs of increasing mechanisation on farms, determined to capitalise on a new age.

15 Garfield Road, Shanklin - courtesy of Google

I know he married Kate and that they had lived in Frome, Somerset, for a while. But things are a little sketchy, until the family turns up at 15 Garfield Road, Shanklin, IOW, in 1901. Cousin George is now 1 year old and Robert is working as a butcher.

Half the fun of family history research, is tying up loose ends, following clues and making educated guesses. For instance, my grandfather vaguely remembered his Uncle Robert had some connection with buses or coaches. Try trams, for good measure. Maybe that's what he was doing in Somerset, during the lost decade or so.

The oddly, patched, reverse side of the postcard, with Christmas message

However, some things will remain a mystery. The patchwork of paper scraps on the reverse side of George's postcard takes some working out. I can only imagine that he sent this to my grandfather in an envelope (as there is no stamp), one Christmas.

73, High Street, Shanklin - courtesy of Google

One thing is for certain. The flat he occupied at the time of sending the postcard was unlikely to have had The Bag Shop below. I am wondering if this could possibly have been a butcher's shop, then. In which case, I'll probably be left with more scrag ends than loose ends.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Blogging: A Rich Experience...Literally!

One of the joys of blogging is, undoubtedly, the community spirit it generates. Add to that, personal development, shared creativity and serendipity, and you have a recipe for something we have all come to appreciate as being very special.

From time to time, I'll get an email out of the blue - assuming cyberspace is blue - from a complete stranger. It's usually someone responding to my open invitation to get in touch personally, rather than leave a comment, publicly. But yesterday, I was contacted, after a Google search, by Stephanie Rich. In her message she says, "Square Sunshine is a wonderful site - I came upon it by googling best grandparent sites and finding a list of them actually. Then kind of handpicked the ones I thought were interesting!" Flattery will get you everywhere, I thought. Then, Stephanie went on to tell me about a book she has written, and I have to say, I was hooked from the moment she mentioned her Grandfather. This is how she describes her wonderful project.

A Followed Path: Travels with My Grandfather, documents the summer of 2009, when Stephanie re-traced a European trip that her grandfather, Leo H. Rich (a New York native) took back in 1931. Stephanie carefully recreated more than 150 of Leo’s photographs and her results are showcased next to his original pictures throughout the book.

A Followed Path showcases the original and retaken photos side by side. It focuses on their photography, but also details what it was like for a young woman to travel through the eyes of a grandfather she never had the chance to meet. Leo's world came alive to his granddaughter as she traveled in his footsteps throughout Europe. Alongside more than 350 full colour photographs are the stories of the challenges, people and adventures Stephanie encountered while trying to find these often unlabelled locations. Through Leo's letters and photographs, and her own historical research, she describes what the Europe of Leo’s experience was like and how it has changed in 78 years.

Stephanie Rich was born in 1983, seventeen years after the death of her grandfather Leo. She grew up in Minneapolis and studied at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. After spending several years as a film sales agent in Los Angeles, Stephanie is now reading for her MBA at the University of Cambridge in England.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

An Air Of Mystery

If I was asked to choose the single most fascinating thing about our identical twin granddaughters, I'd be scratching my head for a while. There are so many aspects of their character and behaviour to be fascinated with.

I took a series of photographs of the twins just recently. This one 
was almost consigned to the waste bin. Then I had a thought. 
Perhaps this is what mystery looks like, when it surrounds certain aspects of behaviour.

At 18 months old, they are into everything. They play together and they play independently, finding new and interesting applications for the contents of their toy box. They share their snacks and pass each other's drinks. They squabble over a single item yet, openly offer the spare, where there are two.

If one gets upset, the other cries too. When either of them lands with a bump, the other is there with a look of concern and a reassuring stroke of the hair.

Most curious of all is 'twin talk' or, cryptophasia. More often than not, they'll communicate with glances or hand gestures. At odd times, you can feel like an outsider, as they actually talk to each other in their own language. It is totally exclusive and, although it sounds a bit like gobbledegook, it's mutually understood by them.

I've heard all kinds of stories about identical twins. Among the most interesting was one told to me by a friend and former colleague. When she was at university, one of her lecturers was an identical twin. He had a very bad stammer, which was sometimes hard to control. His twin brother was also a lecturer in another university. During the time my friend was being taught by the brother with the stammer, his twin died. Almost simultaneously, her lecturer lost the stammer he'd had since childhood. A mystery, don't you think?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Sepia Saturday: A Kitchen Tale

The kitchen is usually the hub of any household. This one, tiny and haphazard, with my grandmother at the helm, was no exception. It was the heart of her home for many reasons. Here was a place where she concocted experimental health food recipes, boiled up potato peel for her chickens, made jams and bottled fruit. It's where the division of labour involved my grandfather lighting the range and making the tea. Aside from these duties, it was a room he drifted through, en route to where they both sat to eat, watch television and play Scrabble.

At night, two sets of dentures resided in a bowl of water, frothed with Steradent tablets.

Lighting the range at around 05.00 was a ritual. As the bright burning wood generated enough heat to cook, an ancient electric kettle was used to make tea. A cupful was conveyed upstairs to the bedroom, and grandmother sipped it while porridge was stirred to the correct consistency.

Hot, kettled water was used for washing in the kitchen sink, before the addition of a proper bathroom.

The air was always heavy with the aroma of woodsmoke, Fairy household soap and baking.

On wet days, I'd play word games with my grandmother or, spend time investigating the inner workings of an old clock. I might even make iron filings dance on newspaper, by running a small magnet underneath.

I recall, one frosty morning when my great uncle dropped in. He sat himself on the kitchen chair, removed his boots and proceeded to warm his feet in front of the open oven door!

Phyll, the woman who delivered the daily papers - more about her in a future post - tied my school tie here, once. She'd claimed to be an expert and grandmother was getting more exasperated with her own failed efforts. Some expert! Phyll tied my tie in a bundle of knots that took almost the entire length of my school bus journey to unravel.

Whenever I look at this slightly out-of-focus photograph, so many memories come flooding back. Tucking into baked rashers, cabbage and potatoes, followed by a hot milk pudding. Steaming cups of cocoa just before bedtime. A friendly face and a warm welcome on every visit, regardless.

Most poignant of all, the day we called to discover grandmother on the floor, following a tumble. Grandfather - nearly 90 at the time - too frail to help her to her feet. Not much damage done on that occasion but, a significant turning point in the lives of this fiercely independent couple.

I must have taken this photograph in the mid-seventies yet, that kettle still looks as though it might be ready and willing to make us all a cuppa.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Days become shorter, the air takes on a chill and the clinging damp of Autumn rises up from the fallen leaves and lingers in the hedgerows. The wind sprints past, without apology, like a late errand boy with a message for the receding Summer.

These are the days of afternoon walks, lit with a weakening sun. A time for home comforts. Warm familiarity as you cross the threshold. Soft lamps and the light rasp of drawn curtains. Maybe, toast for tea, or one of my favourites, a baked apple with sultanas, brown sugar and cinnamon oozing and bubbling from the hollowed core.

Before tuning-in to the chaos of the wider world, you might pull a book from the shelf. A best-loved title from childhood? You open at the first page, read a few lines, the fragrance of evening still filling your senses.*

In no time at all, you're drawn in, the story developing around you. For me, this might mean that I'd drifted into the company of Kay Harker.

Spangled puddles rest, undisturbed, in the quiet of the night. Not a ripple, after footpaths have shrugged off the last lonely footsteps.

Upon waking, the season hangs around the houses, in paralysed veils.

* Our Speckly Woo is not quite four. During a recent overnight stay with us, I introduced her to the BBC version of 'The Box of Delights'. She's a year younger than her mother was, when she was mesmerised back in 1984. Speckly Woo let her taste buds influence her reactions to the story. There came a stream of questions relating to "the box of angel delights", most of which centred on "King Horlicks", rather than Cole Hawlins. Magical!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Boundlessness And The Model Rabbit

This afternoon, some time between moulding a green Peter Rabbit out of Play-Doh and, colluding in his eventual demise by means of a poison carrot, Speckly Woo and I shared our thoughts on the world, as we see it, respectively.

For the most part, when we spend time together, I listen intently while she arrows me with sharp observations, such as the fact that I have black bits on some of my teeth (fillings) because I didn't brush well when I was little.

Currently, the home education support group has taken on the theme of daily life in Britain during WW2. Last Friday, she picked up on the plight of evacuees and was intrigued to learn that children were packed off to the safety of the countryside, to live with people they didn't know.

Just after Peter Rabbit had been despatched, having eaten my ill-proportioned, poisoned red carrot, Speckly Woo was deep in thought. She was rolling a tiny piece of Play-Doh between her fingers - a miracle pill, designed to bring Peter back to the land of brightly coloured misfits - when she suddenly made reference to the gas masks that evacuated children had to carry at all times. "They were to protect the little children from 'naughty smoke', Grandad," she said.

This prompted me to remember a question I had asked in childhood. Nothing unique, in that almost every child must wonder, if they don't actually ask, 'where does the sky end?' It was explained to me, that there was no end, which seemed a bit of a lame answer to a boy with a headful of Dan Dare. I was hoping there was an outer limit that my heroes headed for. Some place where they could tie up their space ships, get a couple of shots of cosmic 'red-eye' and catch forty winks before embarking on the next adventure.

For years, I wrestled with the concept of infinity. Okay, I could see space rolling out to way beyond the point where I could no longer see. But, the more I tried to imagine 'no end', my mind kept providing me with brick walls, fences and huge sheets of white. And beyond every one of these barriers was, of course, more space, until the next partition.

Whilst preoccupied with the conundrum of time and space, I had been - under instruction from Speckly Woo - almost unconsciously creating a crazy rabbit, with large eyes and an evil grin. "Where does this fit into the story?" I asked, handing the long-eared specimen over.

"You'll see, Grandad," came the sweet reply, "but first, I must cut his head off, to make sure he's safe."

Back to Earth, then.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

NOT Back To School

Yesterday, Mags and I attended a special event on Southampton Common. It was the 'NOT Back To School Picnic'.

The annual get together is held by the local home schooling support group. They're a friendly bunch, very welcoming and enthusiastic about teaching children at home.

Before we sat down to sandwiches and soft drinks, our daughter and Speckly Woo (three year old granddaughter) joined parents and children for a nature walk, in the company of a local expert. Not only did Speckly Woo return with her pockets stuffed with various leaves and berries, she also had a head full of information that was keen to share with us.

Southampton Common

After the picnic, the children played games and the grown ups chatted. Speckly Woo was very much at home with her new friends, ranging in age, from four to twelve. She was quickly taken under the wing of a ten year old girl and played happily until it was time for us all to leave.

The decision to try this route with our granddaughter's education has not been taken lightly. Their parents want the girls to grow and learn in a less formal way that allows them to develop as individuals and, we support them totally in that.

Another view of the Common

We are all prepared for those inevitable questions. On the back of the picnic flyer, three of the more likely ones have been addressed:

Is it legal?

Yes it is - in English law, parents are responsible for providing their children with an education 'in school or otherwise'.

What about socialisation?

Many children who leave school for home education find that their social life and social skills develop better and more naturally than when they spent a large part of each day sitting in a room with 29 other people of the same age. Home educated children mix with a wider variety of ages wherever they go. Many areas have groups where children meet and play, as well as getting together at each other's houses and going on trips together. Home educated children can also join such groups as Scouts, Guides, Brownies, sports clubs, drama clubs, etc.

Dont you have to be a teacher?

No you don't. Teachers need training to educate a large group of children in a particular way. If a child at home asks a question and the parent doesn't know the answer, the parent can show the child not just what the answer is but how to develop the skills need to find it him/herself - using reference material or the internet, for example.

From conversations I've had with some educationalists, there is a private consensus that home schooling is a fine way for children to learn. We'll see how it goes. These are early days but, the signs are very positive. For more information, Education Otherwise, a registered charity, is a good place to start.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Sepia Saturday: Working With Hazel

My maternal grandfather, Asher Gregory, was skilled in a range of woodland and country crafts. Hedge-layering, thatching, and coppicing. Inextricably linked to the latter, was hurdle-making.

Grandfather (on the left) is seen here, in conversation with fellow hurdle-maker, Reg Cole. I think this photograph was taken in Deeps Copse, near Owslebury, Hampshire. Asher would have been approaching 70 around this time. He had a little pick-up he drove to work although, for many years beforehand, he rode a motorcycle, with a rickety wooden box attached to where the sidecar should have been.

Here, you can see a hazel hurdle 'in progress'. The uprights, held firm in a heavy wooden mould on the copse floor. The split lengths that would eventually be woven around the uprights, are laying against the rail to the right of the picture. In the foreground and, in the clearing to the left, the hazel stumps are clearly visible. The wood is ready for cutting every seven years.

Very little was left to waste. By-products included bundles of pea sticks and bean sticks/poles. There was always a considerable market for these, in the days when most country-dwellers grew their own vegetables. I remember how I was fascinated with the way grandfather tied up his bundles with lengths of twisted, green hazel. His hands were so calloused, there was no need for protective gloves.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Sepia Saturday: 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, from the playground, 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.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Sepia Saturday: Path to the Past

This week, my Sepia Saturday offering might seem a little out of the ordinary. Not a person in sight. No visible family member, no ancestor posing for the camera. Just a snap of a garden path, lined with trees. And not a particularly good snap, either.

I have other photographs of this scene, sharper, in colour and taken at a time when the flower borders were better developed, more vibrant. However, this little snap takes me where no others can.

The hedge to the left is laurel. My maternal grandparent's house was called
'The Laurels'.

I can't look at this path without the memories coming back. I remember when it was laid, in concrete, from the conservatory door to the well. In fact, you can just make out the housing for the water pump, at the far end of the path.

I see my grandmother walking along its length, with a waddle caused by her arthritic hip. I can feel the newness of the surface under the soles of my child-sized shoes.

There was an incident that occurred on that strip of grass, between the apple trees and the laurel hedge, on the left. As a small boy, I trod on a garden rake that I hadn't noticed. The handle came up and struck me, soundly, on the forehead, and I let forth with all the mysterious words I knew adults used in moments of crisis or shock. It was my secret, or so I thought. Only years later, did my grandmother's elderly neighbour, Mrs Cooper, confess that she'd heard my outburst, as she had been working in her garden on the other side of the hedge. She had wanted to ask me if I was alright but, was so doubled up with stifled laughter, it was impossible to call to me.

My grandfather was proud of his old apple trees. Beauty of Bath and Worcester Pearmains to the left. Russets (his particular favourite - and mine) to the right. He learned how to graft, and eventually had a number of trees bearing two or three different types of apple.

There were other paths. They skirted around the greenhouse, the potting shed, the orchards and various plots and, they, like the lawns, were all neatly mown.

How many times did I walk this path? Called for tea by the warmth of the fire. Plodding along after feeding the chickens. Casually strolling with an apple in hand.

Yes, a simple and, on the face of it, a fairly nondescript snap. But, when allowed to tell a story, it becomes a treasured slice of my life.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Clickety-Clack, Takes Me Back.

Here's a little tale that some of you will relate to, I'm sure.

About ten years ago, I travelled, with a colleague, to attend an event at the British Newspaper Library in Colindale, North London. We arrived at Waterloo and had a bite to eat before boarding the tube train which would take us along the Edgware branch of the Northern Line.

Now, you know how it is with any train journey. When conversation dries up, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track can be quite hypnotic. I remember casually gazing at the passing scenery as we made our way on the overground section of the line. Viewing the backs of houses from a seat on a slow moving train has always intrigued me. So much to see, especially at dusk, when families are settling in for the evening. In a moment, it's possible to make out a father padding around the dining room, children agog at the TV, someone answering the telephone or merely reading the newspaper. 

So, here I was, mid-afternoon, on a winter's day, enjoying the snapshots of people going about their everyday lives. But, at some point between Golders Green and Brent Cross, something strange began to happen. The passing view was becoming more and more familiar. At first, I resigned myself to the fact that, after a while, the houses were bound look the same, so there would be a degree of predictability. Yet, with each clickety-clack, I could envisage exactly what I would see, before it came into sight. In short, I knew this place like the back of my hand, even though this was absolutely the first time I had ever been here. It was all beginning to get a bit disconcerting, when my colleague tapped me on the knee and asked me if I was okay.

"I know you'll think this sounds barmy," I said, "but I know this place. I've never been here before but, for a while back there, the houses, the skyline, it was all so familiar." 

My colleague looked through the window for a moment, as though he was trying to gather evidence to support my claim. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders. "Déjà vu," he said.

Although Déjà vu continues to baffle those studying the phenomenon at a scientific level, there are some claims that it can be induced under hypnosis. Which leaves me wondering if, somehow, the clickety-clack had momentarily taken me a little off route.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 13 August 2010

Sepia Saturday: On Three Wheels

Back in April of this year, I posted about Mag's great aunt Jessica, born 1896. Not an awful lot is known about her, other than the fact that, at some stage, she moved from Southampton to Ilford, in Essex. She had two children, Eric and Joan, and Mag's late mother, May, took holidays with them during the years before she was married.

In the few photographs we have of her, Jessica dresses in a  stylish manner and has the appearance of someone in a position of responsibility or authority.

Then I discovered this fabulous snap of her, and it's oozing humour. Not just the image of the grown woman, still wearing her (office attire?), sitting astride a child's tricycle. But look at the expression on her face, and the shape of her mouth. She may have been caught in the middle of a song or, perhaps, a little mock protest at being photographed in such a bizarre pose.   

The leaves and the grasses, in what I can only imagine as being the wild end of a garden, suggest summer. Jessica's short-sleeved blouse is a giveaway too.

So, who took the photograph? Were there children present? This is the kind of nonsense I might get up to, if I was looking to make the grandchildren laugh. Maybe it was an impromptu act, having just discovered the tricycle in the undergrowth.

If she was singing a little ditty, I wonder what it was?

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Who's Your friend?

I was trying to remember if, as a child, I'd ever had an imaginary friend. After some effort I could vaguely recall talking to myself sometimes but that was just me having a one-way conversation. I don't think I ever actually conjured up a little pal who was exclusively visible and accessible to me. Someone I could consult and play games with.

Photograph by Speckly Woo!

As I watch our three granddaughters growing up, I'm intrigued to see if any of them show signs of having imaginary friends. But, as yet, Speckly Woo! continues to have inventive conversations with her long suffering rag doll, Mary, and the 16 month old twins haven't developed a recognisable vocabulary. Most of the time, they burble away in their own little world. Some might say, like grandfather, like granddaughters.

The point is, 'their own little world' is a place we have no way of entering. We can only guess at what goes on there. For example, there are those eerie moments when a toddler's full attention is drawn to a point somewhere in middle distance. Question marks start to appear over your head.  Even more inexplicable, the little darlings begin to smile at their new object of interest.

I have read theories that small children may use levels of consciousness that recede or get overtaken as they pass the two year mark. As always, there's a danger that we adults may place a heavily speculative label on that which we don't fully understand. When our daughter was about two and a half, we told her about our wedding. She listened intently before declaring, "I was there. They carried me in on a pink cushion." It's reasonable to expect that my instant reaction would be to try and work out what had given her that idea. On the contrary, I was more intrigued to know who 'they' were.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Sepia Saturday: Tea-break

This slightly out-of-focus photograph of my maternal grandfather, Asher James Gregory, is one of my favourite images of him.

The grandfather clock was working then, and as the time was almost 10.15, Asher had probably just finished a cup of tea, before returning to whatever he had been doing outside. Our daughter has the clock now and, even though the hands have long since stopped, I can't help hearing the slow, regular swing of the pendulum, in my memory.

The table that's showing off one corner is now in our home. There is history to it. My mother used to sleep under it during the war. We have sat around it, as a family, for countless meals and celebrations. Now, my granddaughters sit around it when they visit, and the eldest - Speckly Woo! - draws her world in coloured crayons on it, just the way I did.

The room Asher is standing in, is the dining room. Although, it was always referred to as the 'kitchen'. The room adjoining, is the kitchen but, always referred to as the 'scullery'. Out of shot, in the top right hand corner of the scullery, sat a holding tank, full of spring water, pumped up to the house from a well in the garden. When I look at this picture, I can taste the sweetness of that water.

It looks as though Asher is ready to leave now. He's about to put his jacket on.

As I sit here, watching him, I know the exact smells, sounds and peaceful surroundings he's experiencing in this captured moment. The timeless magic of treasured family photographs.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Sepia Saturday: Say Cheese!

Family group photographs are probably the mainstay of most family albums. I've never been a huge fan of these formal assemblies, but it's the easiest way for most of us to document the shape and size of our tribal gatherings.

Frankly, unless we can claim to have lives interesting enough for the likes of Dominique Tarlé to come and live with us for a few months, we'll need to keeping seizing the opportunity to squeeze up a bit, smile and stay 'in shot'.

This picture introduces us to some members of Mag's family (including the girl, herself), taken over the Christmas period, sometime around the late 50s.

Left to right, at the back: Nellie Jemima (Mag's Nan), cousin Pat, Aunt Eileen, May (Mag's Mum), Albert (Mag's Dad - looking as though he's straight off the set of 'The Untouchables').

At the front: Cousin John, Mags, Sheila (Mag's sister.

As ever, I kept scanning this photograph for something beyond the faces and the furniture. Not to mention those snazzy slippers.

I think what strikes me is the level of attention the photographer (Pat's boyfriend, Brian) is getting. No doubt, he's saying things to encourage the smiles, but even those who are still only thinking about smiling, are looking right at him. He has gained that momentary degree of control essential when snapping the family group for posterity.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Still Here?

So, Square Sunshine reaches its first birthday. Who'd have thought it?

I've been on quite a journey. When I began posting, I wanted the blog to evolve around 'the thoughts and observations of a grandfather', but I didn't anticipate that would eventually include trying my hand at poetry or delving into the family photograph album for Sepia Saturday contributions. 

Originally, the intention was to focus on being a grandfather and what that role can entail. Regular visitors will know that Mags and I are proud grandparents to three beautiful girls. Speckly Woo! aged three and a half and identical twins (Curly and Whirly) aged 15 months. They have been, and continue to be, an inspiration, so there should be plenty more posts to come, where they have centre-stage.

In these past twelve months I've learnt a lot, not least, about myself. I've also learnt a great deal about the lives of people around the world who share their wonderful talents and ideas through their own blogs. But aside from the offered insights, the documented domestic details and the eloquent expression, there's a sense of community. Yes, blogging is a two-way street folks. I have been bowled over by the high percentage of comments that have been thoughtful and encouraging. I won't embarrass any individuals by naming names, but there are those out there who have given valuable support (perhaps sometimes, unknowingly) to my efforts with kind words and constructive advice. So, a big thank you to them.

I don't know where the coming twelve months might lead but, rest assured, the sun will continue to shine squarely in this little corner of blogland.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Monday, 19 July 2010

Fairy Song

As Speckly Woo! and I were getting down to some serious colouring today, she suddenly burst into song. I thought it must be something she'd heard on a TV programme, or maybe she'd picked it up from listening to one of her CDs.

I looked to our daughter for some guidance. She informed me, with a big grin that, as far as she could ascertain, this was a Speckly Woo! composition.

You'll have to do without the melody, but I did manage to get the words written down, and they are as follows:

I wish I was a fairy
Landing in the dairy,
Wishing for a cow
And Ballerina Belle
And a spaceship
And a rocket
And a star.

She was singing it in such a carefree and easy manner. A jewel of a moment.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Sunday, 18 July 2010


Where do we find the will to run
With shameless spirit, innocent ease,
To where we had abandoned fun,
And pinned our dreams to a random breeze?

When does a feeling translate to a look
Of irresistible knowing,
Instinctive reaction, emotional hook,
Mutual grounds for not going?

Where, in the heart, are those dials
That read the rate of tears,
Measure distance out in smiles,
Calculate the depth of fears?

For reasons too complex to go into here, we are not making the move to Cornwall after all. Initially, we were desperately disappointed, now we're trying to be philosophical. We're staying put - at least, for now.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Sepia Saturday: Hanging On To Goat Tales

My maternal grandmother, Hilda May, had a passion for animals. She'd often call cows from the adjoining fields, to her garden hedge. Likewise, horses. She had a soft spot for them, and would tell tales of when, in her teens, she rode bareback on a Cob that belonged to her own grandmother. Her love for them was enduring, despite having taken a fall that left her with a damaged hip for the rest of her life.

She couldn't stand by and watch when animals were ill-treated. My mother recalls how Hilda would chase gypsies through the village on her bicycle if she ever caught them whipping their horses, chastising them all the way.

No surprise then, to learn that one of her dogs was rescued from the back of a gypsy caravan. 'Little Sally' was an affectionate mongrel who arrived wearing a heavy collar and carrying a heavy heart. For the remainder of her days she had the run of almost an acre of garden and was never tied up or collared.

'Little Sally'

In the first photograph, we can see Hilda taking delivery of two goats. Actually, I can't remember these characters staying in residence for long. I can, however, remember a pair of goats called Matilda and History - sadly no photos. Poor Matilda was a sad looking specimen - another of Hilda's rescue stories, no doubt - and History was so sleek….for a goat. If History was a model for Goat Couture, Matilda was the ideal portable clothes rack.

They stayed long enough for us to form an attachment. We drank the milk and took them for walks along the lane, where they tore into the vegetation with gusto. Hilda also used to bring them with her to meet me from the school bus. This might turn a few heads today but, back then, people didn't appear too surprised at anything where my grandmother was involved.

More Sepia Saturday posts HERE

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Deep Thoughts

Tomorrow, Friday 25th, we're driving down to Cornwall for a week, to recharge our batteries. I'm hoping to get some writing done somewhere along the way, so the laptop will be coming too. If I can get access to the internet, I might even post now and then.

Anyhow, I'll leave you with this wonderful quote from Speckly-Woo! As we were returning home from a walk to our village shop, yesterday, she noticed the long grasses growing on some nearby common-land. She paused for a moment, and then declared, "I like tall grass, but not deep water." 

Oh for the mind of a child.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Post-Punk, Parenthood and Promise

I have to thank Kat Mortensen for inviting me back to the 80s.

For me, like many of my generation living in the UK at the time, that decade will always be defined by the huge social and economic upheaval that came about, courtesy of the Thatcher government. I was one of the 4 million unemployed, an experience that continues to shape my thinking today.

On 17th January, 1981, this young family took a leap into the unknown and moved a couple of hundred miles to the west of everything they were familiar with.

We didn't have any connection with Cornwall, yet we were convinced it was the perfect place to build a life and raise a child. After three months of trailing around, looking for work, I landed a job in an entertainment complex, where I would keep the bars stocked with booze. That was the first of many turning points for us. I recall, we had just enough money for the fare to get me to the interview. It was a long walk back.

So, it's that summer of 1981 that I'm writing about here. A long, hot, busy season by the sea, earning a little over £1 an hour. With chart-topping bands playing most nights at the Cornwall Coliseum, I didn't finish my shifts until the small hours. You can do the arithmetic. Fourteen hours earned me something in the region of £15.

There are lots of stories to tell, though not all suitable for this blog as, inevitably, some of the rock 'n' roll left its mark. For instance, a colleague had his car dumped into the olympic size swimming pool by an over exuberant Rainbow road crew. Another time, I was roped in, along with every other able bodied male, one exceptionally humid evening, to carry out Adam Ant fans who had collapsed in the stifling heat. I'm only sorry I don't have a picture of the line of semi-conscious partygoers laid outside in the fading light, with only a heavy drizzle to bring them round.

It fell to me to put up the drinks orders for the likes of The Tubes, Dr Hook, The Jam, UB40, Ultravox and countless others. Great blue bins of alcohol were delivered to the dressing rooms. Even now, I find it hard to see how so much could be consumed by the average band, but consume it they did.

It wasn't all sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll though. Arguably, one of the real highlights was running into town for a jar of honey and some fresh lemons. Why? Well, to ease the sore throat of one Ray Davies, of course! The Kinks' legend was suffering, and I was despatched to pick up the remedy. I actually handed the goods over to him myself. Then, in a somewhat surreal postscript, I found myself standing on the same stage, during a soundcheck, watching him singing Waterloo Sunset.

The job lasted for 18 months before redundancy struck. There followed almost four years of more lows than highs, but I eventually got a break with my writing. Another major turning point.

Perhaps more posts from this era sometime. For now, I have to thank Kat for the idea of harking back 30 years or so.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Friday, 18 June 2010

Sepia Saturday: Swing-time

This picture of my maternal grandparents, Asher and Hilda Gregory, encapsulates the spirit of my early childhood. Have we got rope and a piece of board? Great, let's build a swing!

And my grandfather's inventiveness didn't stop at swings. He once ran a length of cable between two apple trees and spent all day improvising a 'commando-style' pulley wheel, with hand-grips for me to hang on to. Halfway through my dangling, swaying, death-defying, trial run, it dawned on him that I wouldn't be able to stop before I reached the tree at the end. I heard him tell me to jump, which I did, landing unceremoniously in a series of forward rolls and uncontrollable laughter.

He was a big fan of 'French' cricket and badminton. We played croquet (home- made mallets and hoops, and recycled cricket balls) and even ventured into the surreal world of 'clock' golf. 

Whenever there was a new craze, he would replicate it in his own inimitable style. But some fun things were the products of his own childlike imagination. I remember how he fashioned celluloid flying saucers and launched them with huge rubber bands cut from old inner tubes of worn out tyres. Given the strength needed, I think this was one for him, rather than me. There was a see-saw/roundabout combination that involved the use of a long plank and an oil drum, a tree house and a wooden box on a set of old pram wheels.

As I relate these things to you, I'm thinking it's probably luck that I'm here to tell the tale.

This is a Sepia Saturday post.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Sepia Saturday: Dear Margaret

Margaret Gregory was just 23 years old when she died. I don’t know why, but somehow, she looks older in this photograph. This could be due, in some part, to the styles of the day. Perhaps the way she wore her hair, or maybe something in the pose.

To the outside world, Margaret was a lively, outgoing young woman, the youngest sister of my grandfather, Asher Gregory. In truth, she was the illegitimate daughter of Asher’s older sister, and had been raised by my great grandparents, William and Julia, as one of their own.

During WW2, Margaret was a Land Army girl. Her work included delivering milk in the area where she lived, and it was while she was going about her business, one day in 1943, that her life suddenly ended.

A convoy of army vehicles was making its way along the road where Margaret was making her deliveries. The convoy included tanks, and the noise would have been deafening. A Land Army girl would have been used to this kind of military movement. It would have been a fairly regular occurrence.

So, when one of the tanks went out of control and started to veer off the road, in her direction, Margaret remained oblivious. The driver’s desperate warning was drowned out by the rest of the convoy. Margaret was killed instantly.

At the inquest, the driver of the tank, was a shunned and distraught figure, even though he hadn’t been at fault. It’s not unusual for people to look for a scapegoat in such circumstances.

In the end, it was Margaret’s uncle Asher that eventually placed an arm around the man's shoulder and tried to reassure him that it really had been a tragic accident. Margaret had died, but who knows how this poor fellow coped with his memories of the event?

More Sepia Saturday posts HERE

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Where are the Goblins?

Look Grandad, the enchanted forest!
Is that where the goblins live?
Perhaps we’ll see the big, bad wolf.
Can we walk into the enchanted forest?

Whoa, one thing at a time.
Hold my hand, and we’ll take a look.

Where are the goblins?

You can’t see them in the daytime.
But you can hear the birds singing.
Listen, did you hear the cuckoo?

But, where are the goblins?

Keep a hold of my hand, we’re approaching the road.

I don’t like the enchanted forest.

Can you see, over there, a mummy cow and her new baby?
I think the baby cow wants a drink from his mummy.

Can we stroke the baby cow?

We can watch from a distance.


Because we don’t want to disturb mummy and baby cow.

Why can’t we see goblins in the daytime?

Maybe they don’t like the sun.

Why don’t they like the sun, Grandad?

Because, then,  we might see the mischief they get up to.

What’s mischief?


Grandad, I need a wee-wee.


© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Sepia Saturday: Bertha and the Brothers

Bertha, 1889-1966 and George, 1893-1967

My late father-in-law’s mother, Bertha, married George Maidment in 1919, the year after the end of World War One. Her first husband, Pte. Frederick Maidment, was killed in action on 28th March, 1918, aged 29. He had only just returned to the ‘front’ after a short leave.

Bertha’s youngest sister, Eva, wrote in her journal, “This was a great tragedy, and Bertha was so shocked, that she and Reg and Ivy came home to stay with us for long periods.”

Her life turned upside down, and left with two young children to raise, Bertha gradually saw a future with her husband’s younger brother, George. They duly tied the knot and, together, they had two more sons; Albert, my father-in-law and Maurice.

Eva went on to write, “George was a very good husband, and became a kind and generous step-father to Reg and Ivy. He was a wonderful gardener.” “Bertha was a very clean and thorough housewife, with a very high standard of cleanliness and discipline: each child had certain tasks to fulfil."

“When Bertha and George were in their 70s, they had to move to an old cottage as a new road was being built, and their house had to be demolished. Bertha had a very long illness when she was middle-aged, suffering from cancer. But she made a miraculous recovery and lived until she was 77.”

In the picture, above, Bertha and George are enjoying a day trip to Stonehenge. The photograph was taken by their youngest son, Maurice, who is still alive and well today.

More Sepia Saturday posts HERE

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges