Saturday, 28 April 2012

Me and how I become a librarian

One day while mooching about The Library Association library I found a collection of novels about librarians; I then spent many happy hours reading them rather than writing essays.  My favourite was a 1960s Mills and Boon about a butch, stern yet sensitive, Chief Librarian who ruled his library with a rod of iron.  The local Mayor (or some such), using nefarious means,  persuades Butch to employ his niece (the Mayor's niece I mean).  Said niece is young, innocent, pretty and good; the Chief Lib does not approve of nepotism (he is a man of honour) and thinks Girly is a light-weight (she is, but it doesn't matter - she is our heroine).  After numerous trials and tribulations true love/lust wins out in the cataloguing room; they get together and she decides to go to library school - a star is born.  I'd like to say my introduction to the career of Librarianship was as thrilling/sexually charged - but that would be a lie.

It starts when I am at University.  I am a regular in the library with my friend Landa - we have our regular table (like two old blokes in the pub) and follow a strict timetable.
9.30: Arrive in library and have a chat (so many things have happened since we saw each other 15 hours ago)
10.00: Do some work.
10.30: Go for a coffee and more chat.
11.00: Come back extremely hyper from too much caffeine and talk for 30 minutes.
11.30: Work for 30 minutes.
12.00: Wander round the library - don't want to get DVT.
12.30: Off to lunch.
This continues until 5pm when we go home.

We had a great time - unfortunately the Librarian didn't.  He was a nice guy (apart from his beard - stubble and nice beards are fine, but wire wool versions not good in MHO) who would instruct and/or implore us not to talk in the library.  We being a couple of cheeky young hussies would point out that we were the only people in the library and no one else was being disturbed.  He would then say we disturbed him and go back to his office in a sad and defeated way.  This war of attrition (I am ashamed to admit) continued for three years.  Each year he had a different young women working for him  who were all very lively and liked to join in our chats - to his despair.

One day in the summer term of my final year he asked me my birth sign, my thoughts on golf, if I ever stopped talking and what I planned to do when I graduated.  Having replied - Capricorn, bit boring, no and don't know - he suggested I come and work for him because he'd got used to me and his latest 'girl assistant' was leaving.   I took him up on his offer and spent the next year telling students not to talk with the enthusiasm of the poacher turned gamekeeper.  I wasn't quite so keen on being introduced to people as his 'girl assistant' - perhaps I should have embraced it and been the Emma Peel to his Stead.  Actually he bore more of a resemblance to how I think Merlin would have looked - if I'd be a Goth I could have released my inner Morgan Le Fay -  missed a turn there me thinks.

No romance ensued, although we became good friends. He said I was too tall for him (I am 5'6" on a tall day) and I could not imagine caressing a long goatee beard (a la Brad).

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Me and how to entertain yourself when bored: part 2

To continue the account of some of my childhood hobbies.

A speedy and cheap activity is loo paper Papier-mâché.  First take sheets of loo paper (having checked you haven't taken the last roll in the house - you could find yourself rather unpopular) and put them in water.  Put the soggy mass on a mould e.g. egg cup.  Leave until completely dry and then it can be pulled off in one piece (well, it will come off in one piece once in every twenty goes and only if you are very, very careful).  It can be painted with very, very dry paint - anything too liquid will destroy your creation.  The resulting object will have a very short life - so don't imagine you will be making a family heirloom.

I also liked decorating things with shells that I'd collect on holiday.  I would take an empty matchbox (one of the few advantages of being the child of a couple of chain smokers is a constant supply of match boxes), glue on the shells in patterns and then present the box to a delighted (possibly slightly glazed-eyed and bored) grandmother.  Poor Nan -  her bedroom often smelt a bit odd in the weeks after receiving these gifts as I rarely checked to see if the sea creature has left its home before I wielded the glue brush.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Nan and coats

Nan liked to buy me clothes and always insisted on buying what she called 'big things' such as coats and shoes.  She aimed to buy items that got you looked at,  as in her mind any attention was good attention.  Unfortunately her idea of what was a good look rarely matched mine - I refer you to the tale of the   Nan and the party dress

Coats were always dangerous.  I remember a maroon cord coat with white fur around the cuffs and hood - so not a good colour on me and the fluff moulted something dreadful.  Nan insisted I looked like someone called Lara.  I have since seen Dr Zhivago and have to say - sadly- I bore absolutely no resemblance to Julie Christie.  In fact in this coat I looked like Like a cross between Little Red Riding Hood and Liam Gallagher.

She then turned up with an enormous fake fur coat - made for someone about 40 years, no  60 years older than me.  It was an alarming yellowy-brown colour and looked like it had been made from a dozen dead cats.  When I wore it (under duress) people used to hiss at me and chant 'Fur is murder'.  I wondered at what stage Nylon had been alive.

But the height (low) of her coat purchases was the Afghan coat.  Her friend worked in a dress shop and when clearing out old stock the woman passed various items to Nan.  One of which came my way.  Now I think Jimi looks fantastic in his Afghan, but by the time I got mine they had not been in fashion for some time.  It had the advantage of keeping me warm, but my goodness when it rained - well, of course it smelt like a wet goat mixed with my signature scent Rive Gauche - hideous. Fortunately  one day I 'left' it on the bus - and it was never seen again.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Me and trying to look different

In a fairly tame way I tried to look different when I was a teenager and I found it most gratifying when old ladies said rude things about me on the bus.

A favoured outfit included one of a number of pairs of vintage (i.e.old and grotty) stilettos from Oxfam, worn with fishnet or footless tights (I vaguely remember this was a winter craze as my legs feel cold as I write).  On top I wore a leotard (dreadful things when you need a pee in a hurry) and a tight skirt.  My parents would roll their eyes and Dad would ask if I was off to work walking the streets - their humour was not appreciated.

I also had a penchant for dungarees (think some misguided fool had said I looked cute or it might have been my continuing crush on John Boy Walton).  Lee dungarees were my favourite, but I also had a bright red pair.   I thought the legs were too baggy so altered them to a skin-tight fit - again this made me a cheap date (no - not in that way - I was a nice girl) as I couldn't risk drinking too much and having to go to the loo.

The skin-tight theme continues with the purple satin trousers (terrible for VPLs) worn with a black vest - I remember wearing this outfit to a Rockabilly club and wondering why I got stared at.  I think the most shameful outfit was the red and white striped bikini which I would wear with a pair of cut-off shorts when walking from my university hall near Gower Street to Regents Park.  Any bloke who happened to even look in my direction was greeted with a hissed, 'Sexist pig - women can wear what they like, Germaine says so'.
Um ... the folly of youth or was it the vanity of a size 10 body?  The latter I fear.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Love letter to my Nan

My Dad phoned earlier to say that Nan died this afternoon after a month's illness.

As a child I loved her unconditionally, although when I was a teenager she sometimes made me angry.  But most of all she made me the woman I am today; she taught me how to love and nurture people, that food is a weapon of love, that you can never have enough flowers and that you should laugh every day.

She wasn't always been a good influence; she was an outrageous flirt - charming all my boyfriends - I too am a flirt, but unlike Nan I can't flirt with those I genuinely like.  Like her I adore the sea; although she could not swim  - I can picture her now, wearing an emerald-green swimming costume and a swimming hat decorated with flowers, standing beside me as I practised front crawl, insisting I didn't splash her as she didn't want to get wet.  I can feel that icy coldness, the salt water in my eyes and mouth and that heart-bursting love I felt for her.

 I could confide my nastiest, most ungenerous thoughts to her and  know that she would always love me and be on my side.  Her advice was sometimes flawed; she thought I should give University a miss as it was full of 'posh people' and I wouldn't fit in.  But she also inspired me to read and to tell stories.  When I stayed with her I would sleep in her bed with the slippery, shiny green eiderdown and she would tell me stories from her childhood about moonlight flits, her own much beloved Granny, her irascible mother, louche uncles and a crazy woman who roamed Ramsgate chopping the pigtails off little girls.

I did tell her I loved her, but she always said we'll have enough of that old china and offered me a biscuit..

So Tiny Woman with size 3 feet, lover of raw cabbage and banana sandwiches,  who preferred animals to people (your two grand daughters aside), wearer of emerald green jumpers, scented with Coty's L'Aimant, skin-smooth with Oil of Ulay, I just want to say to you, wherever you have gone to, that there will always be a part of you somewhere deep within my soul.

Thanks for everything Nan

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Me and Forever Amber

As a family we were all avid members of the public library and would make weekly visits to pick up our full quota.

Initially I was happy in the children's library: Enid Blyton, Leon Garfield, Malcolm Saville, Noel Stretfield (Ballet Shoes - definitely my favourite - so sad, so happy).  But by the age of 12 I was bored and keen to move on to the forbidden delights of the adult library.  Unfortunately you had to be 13 to join the 'big' library; after much special pleading from my parents (worn down by my sulking, whining and general surliness) I was allowed to move 'up' on the understanding that the Librarian had the right of veto over anything I borrowed .  It grieves me to say that 'she' could have starred in some awful cliché ridden comedy about librarians - does one actually exist already?  Anyway I think the idea of her intervention was to save me from myself and to stop me borrowing corrupting and salacious books.  Actually the dodgy books were the ones I read in  the library, quickly shoving them on the shelves when 'she' came by.

The great day came when 'she' was ill and the woman from the junior library stood in and I was able to borrow Forever Amber.  A bodice ripper of the first order (as you can see from the selection of covers) the book is set in the 17th century and tells how Amber moves up in society by marrying/having sex with increasingly powerful men, but all the time still longing for original love.

I had a quick look on the Internet and was delighted to find that it had been banned in several American states (it was written in 1944).  This quote is from  '...The first was Massachusetts, whose attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and "10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men" as reasons for banning the novel.'  

 Now I remember it being a good read and a satisfactory introduction to Restoration England (well, better than my A Level textbook as it missed out the boring bits...), but I really don't remember the above.  I shall buy a copy and check to see if it is accurate.  
Kathleen Winsor - I salute you - great heroine, great book.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Me and philosophy

I am interested in either tangible things (preferably decorative or edible) or in human emotions  - I can discuss both with enthusiasm.  But ideas that are just about ideas are not for me - my brain is not built to understand them (bit like maths).  So it probably surprised friends that as a teenager I answered an advert asking for a young person to read philosophy to a mature gentleman for two hours every Wednesday evening - in retrospect this sounds so incredibly dodgy I'm surprised my parents allowed it.

The elderly gentleman was kind (probably wasn't really that elderly - but when you are under 18 anyone over 30 seems positively ancient - I expect my daughter thinks I should sleep in a coffin - just in case) and very keen to teach me about philosophy.

Strangely the male of the species have always wanted to teach me things - do I look like there is room in my brain for esoteric pursuits?  I have been offered lessons on ancient Greek, electronics, plumbing, UDC Classification (well, he was a librarian - turned that one down very smartly), driving (that didn't last long),  how to play Medal of Honour and a few things I really can't bring myself to share (but I shall treasure the thought - nice to be viewed as adventurous even by delusional people).

Anyway decrepit gentleman (DG hereafter) announces we are going to read Plato's The Republic.  I refer you to wikipedia for more information as I can remember nothing about it (like physics it has been expunged from my memory).

I would read a page, stumbling over the names - Greek not being a language I had ever studied.  DG patiently corrected my pronunciation - but to no avail I just can not remember them.  Then horror of horrors he would ask me what I thought the recently read section meant; not wanting to disappoint I would waffle on until he took pity on me and explained in great  detail.  About half way through the session his wife would totter in bearing  a tray with two mugs of cocoa - I'd pray that at least one was laced with hemlock - frankly I didn't care if it was his or mine.

My new found passion for philosophy had nothing to do with a thirst for knowledge.  It just meant that Mum was happy for me to go into Oxford on a school night and I could combine the reading with a visit to my boyfriend who was a student.  Students were generally not trusted by parents - especially during the hours of darkness.  I was reminded on a daily (hourly?) basis that students were only after one thing (I felt it tactful not to enlighten them on the libido of the teenage girl), but fortunately combined with philosophy, my virtue was thought to be safe.

Coincidentally the boyfriend was also studying philosophy.  He frequently asked if I would like a philosophy master class (the fool) - I swiftly disabused him of this notion and suggested he saved his thoughts on The Republic for his next tutorial.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Me and how to entertain yourself when bored: part 1

As a child there always seemed to be hours of time to fill and despite busying myself with reading Mallory Towers, playing with Barbie and writing poems I was often bored.  It was about this time that my passion for making things started.   Anyway I'll pass on a few of my childhood craft ideas in case you are suffering from ennui and need inspiration.

Then as now I have little patience for making things that don't give fairly immediate results; French Knitting was a quick win.  You need a wooden cotton reel (haven't seen one of these for a while) for the authentic Renka experience or a commercially-made knitting dolly.  Tap four small nails into the top of the reel, stuff a tail of wool through the hole - I'm getting a bit bored trying to describe this - so for excellent instructions I shall refer you to:

Eventually a small woollen sausage will appear at the bottom of the cotton reel - if you are very impatient you can pull the tail and stretch the wool.  Keep going until you lose the will to live or you have run out of wool.  I would then sew the said sausage into hats, capes and skirts for my dolls.  Alternatively I'd sew them into circles and give them to Nan -she would (loyally) put them on her dressing table as coasters for flagons of  Oil Of Olay (aka Oil of Ugly ).

Another time-consuming activity was shoe box weaving (no - you are not weaving a shoe box - just read on).  Take the body of a shoe box, on the rims of the short-side cut shallow notches at about 1cm apart.  Knot some wool and thread it through a notch, take it to the far end and thread through the facing notch, wind around the tag (this instruction writing is obviously an art which is beyond me and a little dull) and then take it back up again.  Continue until all notches are full - you now have your warp.  You are now ready for the exciting (everything is relative) part. Take a small ruler and use it to lift up alternative warps and slide under a length of  wool to act as a weft or woof (those Anglo-Saxons really knew how to make a good word in my uttlerly biased opinion). If you vary the wool colours and don't pull it too tight you will produce a tiny magic carpet (or big if you happen to have very large feet) - warning this takes ages and ages.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Me and being working class

I make a new friend at secondary school called Holly who invites me to her house for the weekend.  We have fun staying up late and eating sweets in bed (an innocent age).   On the first morning I go down to breakfast in my pyjamas - the family are all bundled up in dressing gowns.  The next morning I get up to go to the loo and hear Holly's parents talking - I quickly realise they are talking about me and, of course, can not resist listening.  Holly's mother says, 'She is a nice little girl, but I'm not sure she is quite the friend I want for Holly.'
Holly's father says, 'I think they get on quite well.'
Mother then asked him if he hadn't noticed that I came down to breakfast without a dressing gown which indicates I am working class.

What is this thing called working class?  I feel uncomfortable all day and can't wait to go home to ask my Dad.  Dad laughs and confirms that I am working class, but that it is something to do proud of.  Mum is cross and asks why on earth didn't I pack a dressing gown as I have a perfectly respectable one upstairs.  The reason I didn't take it was because there was no room in my bag.

I often wonder if this early trauma explains why I have an excess of dressing gowns hanging in my bedroom?  My favourite being a genuine Japanese kimono; it has enormous sleeves with deliberately gaping holes under the armpits (not to be worn when starkers as somewhat revealing).  It is sky blue and decorated with pictures of water lilies, chrysanthemums and peonies - great for tripping around the house while pretending to be a geisha.  I also have a sensible shortish grey jersey dressing gown for wearing over shorts - if I ever take up boxing I could wear it into the ring.  The least favourite, which rarely gets an outing, is a white towelling robe - not  all flattering as it makes me look like a non-cute polar bear - think this should be discarded forthwith.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Nan and bedtime

When Nan's sons were small she had a night time job as a nursing auxiliary in a local hospital.  She would put the boys to bed and then cycle off to work, coming home in  the early hours to catch a few hours sleep, get them up for school and then cycle off to her day job.

The three mischievous (Nan's description of them was slightly more salty) boys rarely stayed in bed and often  planned practical jokes to play on their weary mother.  One night they put a cat in her bed - at about the level you might put a hot water bottle.  The cat, strangely, did not complain, but settled under the weight of blankets for a contented sleep.

Nan arrived home, exhausted and staggered into bed, within seconds she began to scream loudly as her feet met the furry bundle that objecting to being woken attached  claws to her calves. Nan was not amused and often referred to this episode as if on level with matricide.  When asked which cat it was (well - this detail was important to me) she would say: 'How should I know - all cats are the same in the dark.'
When I was older I looked up this saying - big mistake- and chanced upon Benjamin Franklin's advice to a young friend - I was quite glad that this Nanism/Franklinism hadn't become part of my vocabulary.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Me and Jane Austen

Jane Austen remained a closed book (a pun so awful - I just couldn't resist) to me until I was nineteen.  We didn't go in for the classics of English literature at home and I suppose I was lucky not to have 'done' Austen for A Level. At university I joined the local public library and vowed to read the fiction section from  A - Z; it was pretty heavy going at times and I read an awful lot of second rate books.  Fortunately Jane Austen made it all worthwhile. I had always imagined her books would be austere and humourless - instead they still make me laugh like a drain.  

I love them all and read them at least once a year since that moment of discovery.  They are comfort when I feel sad or ill and skip along when I feel happy.  Having said that I have to admit that reading Northanger Abbey is a bit of an ordeal, but for the sake of completeness I wade through it.    Also Fanny Price in Mansfield Park needs a good shake, no - let's make that a good slap.  For goodness sake Fanny,  why didn't you accept the handsome (and fairly sexy - for an Austen anti-hero) Henry Crawford - I know Edmund is a good egg, but I reckon he'd bore you silly within a year (if not before).

Pride and Prejudice - such a fantastic range of characters and great story with lots of twist and turns.  It even translates well on TV and at the cinema; especially the Firth/Ehle TV version - no complaints from me about the addition of Darcy jumping in the lake (poor lamb did look a bit warm).  But I do wish Alison Steadman hadn't played Mrs Bennett as a pantomime dame and - while I'm complaining - I'm not convinced by the guy who plays Wickham - would you elope with him and risk social ruin?.  Definitely don't approve of the Keira Knightly/Matthew thingy film - she's too thin and he's just a bit of a drip (Daughter has come in and thinks I am being a little harsh to Matthew thingy). The 1940 film, although not totally true to the book, is good (disappointing that they didn't stick with the Regency period on a costume front).  Laurence Olivier sounds good as Darcy, but his hair is too glossy to be convincing.

 But for me the best of all the books is Persuasion where second chances are possible and faithful love is rewarded. I recently went  to Lyme Regis and en hommage to Ms Austen walked on the Cobb.  Actually I didn't enjoy this very much - it was rainy and windy, the Cobb is high, I got vertigo and was worried I'd replicate Louisa Musgrove's fateful jump.  Fortunately I managed to stagger off the Cobb into the nearest museum (by way of a café and a restorative shopping experience).  

Anne Elliot is a brilliant Austen heroine - long in the tooth (for those days at least - think she was about 28), long suffering (awful father, selfish sisters, interfering friend) and longing for her former beau Captain Wentworth. Frederick Wentworth is my all-time hero, despite being a bit of a chump at times - someone really should have told him that women don't like to overhear their heart's desire telling all and sundry that they haven't worn that well.  But having written (in MHO) the best love letter in literature he redeems himself - you can judge for yourself:

... You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

 I hope they never make another TV/film version as no one can out-do Ciaran Hinds - Captain Wentworth personified.  A note to my colleague (you know who you are)  I will not have Ciaran described as a horse and do not send me images of him pouting - it is very disturbing. Do I insult Michael (office pin-up) Fassbender?  Although I must admit that young Michael makes a more convincing Mr Rochester - less facial hair than poor Ciaran had to sport in 1997 (just had an unpleasant thought - I'm assuming those mutton chop whiskers were stick on - say they were real?).

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

me and the guinea pigs

The guinea pigs live in a hutch with a large run in the back garden; despite living in the countryside they are never threatened by foxes - the rural fox being much too busy.  In the winter they come into the house as it is too cold outside and - joy of joys - they live in my bedroom.  I'm not an enthusiastic hutch cleaner so the smell is a bit rank, but you do get used to it.  But fortunately when summer comes they go back into the garden - Dad moves the hutch every day so not to spoil his beloved lawn.

The guinea pigs are allowed to roam free during the day; they snuffle around the garden with our two dogs who never try to bite their legs.  One day Peachy, bigger, four-legged and more adventerous disappears under the garden fence, towards the brook and then the field full of cows.  We hunt for him, calling his name - I want Nan to ask Doreen what he was called before he came to us - say his name wasn't Peachy - he might be confused and think we are calling another guinea pig.  He is gone.

Tufty is sad and his squeaks become fewer and fewer.  But one autumn day when the hutch has been moved back inside a plump guinea pig appears in the back garden.  Peachy has returned - obviously we know nothing of his adventures (despite what my Nan says we are unable to communicate with our pets), but I'm sure he had a good time.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Me and Easter eggs: Nan tells me off -part 2

Probably best not to read this if eating a chocolate egg.

It would be true to say I was an indulged child (at least until Sister was born - I'm not jealous - honestly).
Every Saturday Nan would buy me two comics.  Early favourites were Beano and The Dandy - how I loved Beryl the Peril (it may have been her striped t-shirt, not the beret; I've never got on with berets - they do accentuate the ears I find).  In later years these changed to unsuitable teenage magazines with dodgy problem pages that made me feel inadequate as I didn't have interesting problems to send in.

An aside - while musing on  problem pages - few nights ago when watching 4Music with my son there was an advert for a mobile phone service that advised on becoming a better kisser. We spent an idle 30 seconds wondering what advice they might give - we came up with to brush your teeth more than occasionally, shave off any extra straggly moustaches especially if used as a crumb catcher  and avoid looking over your partner's shoulder to see if someone you'd rather kiss has come in the room.

Back to the past. The main indulgence was food especially regular sweets to go with the comics, Christmas selection boxes and best of all Easter.  In spite of my misadventure I still love chocolate (Galaxy being my chocolate of choice - not so keen on anything with a  high cocoa content  - but then again Charbonnel et Walker rose or violet creams - although almost unnatural - are delicious and have great packaging).

I received an Easter egg from Mum and Dad, one from Nan, one from Nan and Grampy and one each from my three uncles and two aunts.  One of the uncles had been to Jersey for a holiday and came back with a tin containing Jersey fudge (I remember the tin now - it had a relief map of the Channel Islands in vivid colours). That makes 8 eggs and 1 tin of fudge.

It is Easter morning - I am in Nan's bed with my hoard.  I inspect them closely and try to decide in what order I should eat them.  Even with Easter eggs there are dilemmas to be solved - do I eat the caramel ones first (I don't like caramel very much) and get them over and done with quickly or save them to the end when I probably won't care less what I'm eating.  I'm afraid it does not occur to me to share them.

Nan gets up and tells me I can eat a little bit of an egg and then must come downstairs for breakfast. When she leaves the room I begin to eat the eggs systematically and in between each egg I eat the fudge (even the rum and raisin flavour - yuck).

Some time later Nan comes upstairs. I realise I will get into trouble, hide the boxes under the blankets and pretend to be asleep - I don't feel so good.  She goes back downstairs and I go back to eating the eggs despite my churning stomach.   Eventually the inevitable happens and I am violently sick all over her bedroom (I really do mean ALL over her bedroom).  Nan is cross and shouts at me - this is the first time I ever remember her telling me off.  
In future years I am only allowed to eat Easter eggs in public places.
Lesson learned:
Lesson 1:  Don't be a pig - no one needs to eat that much chocolate.
Lesson 2: Avoid anything with caramel or rum and raisin flavouring.
Lesson 3: If you must over-indulged do it in your own bedroom.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Me and the village crime wave

When I was nine I went back to live with my mum and dad in the countryside.  School was in a village about three miles away and we went there by coach.  A boy in the year above me constantly picked on me saying I talked funny, had nits (I didn't - I can assure you) and needed a good thumping. Robin was a tough little ruffian with brown hair and rosy cheeks and proceeded  to  make my life miserable.

But then one day things changed.  On the way to school one morning he announced to the coach that I was now his girlfriend (this relationship had no long term future - I wasn't his cousin so probably wouldn't have been accepted by his family).  My feelings didn't seem to matter, but to be honest this was preferable to physcial violence.  Robin then decided only he could say who say next to me on the coach home - he, of course, didn't because he sat in the back seat with all the naughty boys.  He also objected to me reading as he could hardly read or write.

During the summer holidays we returned from our family holiday and there was a lumpy envelope in the hallway.  Addressed to me in ill-formed writing it contained two rings and a necklace - I knew it was from my swain and took it as my due.  Sometime after he asked for the return of my jewels - which were currently adorning Barbie.  His mum had noticed her denuded jewellery box, accused his older brother of stealing them to buy cider and was threatening to call the police.

I was relieved when he left to go to secondary school and I could sit where I liked on the coach.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The two nans

Nan and my other Nan lived next-door to each other for much of my childhood.  I would like to say they were the best of friends, chatting over the garden fence, having cosy coffee mornings  and lending each other sugar  - but that would be a lie.

In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that they hated each other with a vengeance - difficult to deal with as I spent six out of seven days a week living between their two houses.

Nan was a vivacious brunette (slightly less-blowsy Elsie Tanner for vintage Corrie fans) always dressed in the brightest of colours with lashings of red lippy and a generous spritz of scent.  She lived with her three sons, four cats (could be more - depending how many 'strays' came through the garden), one dog,  two budgies and two chipmunks.

Nan was a divorcée - this was still frowned upon when the Nans first encountered each other.  Despite unfortunate experiences she still sought true love and to help in her search she had numerous boyfriends - few of whom were satisfactory.  Satisfactory boyfriend material meant they should be: romantic (i.e. give compliments, presents, flowers), smartly dressed (in a slightly louche sports-coated way), good looking (in Nan's world this ran the gamut from Omar Sharif to Clark Gable - moustaches being obligatory).  Nan was wild, flirtatious and a great raconteur - especially after a few port and lemons.  To her everything was black and white.  She was never indifferent to people; if she disliked you she would really hate you, but if she loved you it was with devotion.  Until my mid-teens I truly thought she could solve any problem I had from dodgy eyesight (eat more carrots and don't war your glasses to strengthen your eyes) to unrequited love (find someone who appreciates you - then he'll be sorry).

Nan-next-door was about five years younger,  always dressed like an old lady in either drab cross-over aprons or dresses and sensible shoes, her brown hair tightly permed.  Nan-next-door was married to Grampy, a taciturn man who knew who was boss (and it wasn't him).  Her life was centred around her home and family; going out - apart from annual holidays or the odd family wedding - was morally reprehensible in her eyes.  Needless to say she did not approve of Nan, who she said was a loose woman and all the respectable husbands in the road needed protecting from her (and themselves).

Although Nan didn't have a live-in man she had no interest in the male residents of the road; this was because  they had allotments, wore bicycle clips, sleeveless pullovers and  liberal applications of Brylcreem.  Nan wanted someone more sophisticated; she had a boyfriend called Ralph, who owned a red setter dog and drove a jag - more Terry Thomas than Morse, but there are some great photos of him leaning against car with slicked-back hair and very baggy trousers, usually with the dog at his feet. The attraction of Ralph, I suspect,  was a cross between his car (very cool, red with  leather seats) and his dog - Nan had a matching red setter called Rufus.

Nan thought Nan-next-door dull and provincial, deplored her taste in clothes and disliked being portrayed as the nearest thing to a lady of the night in their road.  She was in fact rather proper and her 'gentlemen' were allowed no liberties.

Their mutual dislike increased exponentially when Nan's middle son and Nan-next-door's eldest daughter decided they should become an item.  It must have been like Romeo and Juliet, but with real-life Montagus and Capulets insulting each other over the Forsythia hedge; for example -  'Slut - all that red lipstick!'  'Thick ankles' (Nan's insult of choice).  The worst happened and they became related by marriage.

Me and school uniform

My school uniform was pretty standard: white blouse, pleated skirt (on the knee), grey pullover, grey socks (very nasty and itchy) worn with a turquoise, black and silver tie.

In year 7 some girls managed to make this uniform their own - displaying black and red lacy bras through the thin white cotton (mustn't exaggerate - two girls did this).  The rest of us wore M&S vests and could only aspire to such greatness. 

But depending on prevailing fashion we all spent quite a lot of time either rolling our skirts up - to create a curious artificial muffin top or at other seasons pulling the skirt as low as possible - taking care not to reveal too much knicker.

There was also a fashion for wearing as baggy a jumper as you could get away with.  Girls would sit with their knees clutched to chests and then pull the jumper over knees; after a lunch break sat in this position most jumpers would be bigger (if although rarely uniformly - it produced a strange lumpy effect) - sadly for me Mum's washing techniques always returned mine back to normal size or possibly somewhat smaller.

Ties were worn as short and fat as possible, especially by those with cleavage; alternatively you tied them so that the slim side was uppermost (think Justin Timberlake in school uniform - there is a man who likes a skinny tie)  Strange that we never tried different knots - so much variety out there - Windsor, Pratt, Four-in-hand, Prince Albert (um ... mind boggles with the last one - I couldn't bring myself to do a Google image search).

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Nan-next-door and ants in the pantry

I am playing in Nan-next-door's garden with my uncle Colin - he is only a few years older than me.  Whatever the weather we are sent outside so Nan can clean the house and then when the house is clean we have to stay outside so it stays clean.  Our activities are fairly limited as we couldn't do anything that will damage Grampy's veg patch or his dahlias (very nasty flowers - have never seen the attraction - always full of earwigs).

We are complaining that Nan-next-door won't get a pet - probably she feels she has enough contact with animals as she has to endure Nan's increasing menagerie (the two Nans live in adjoining houses).

We mooch around the garden looking for trouble.  Uncle Colin finds an ants' nest, we poke it with sticks and pour water on it (I know that childhood cruelty to insects is often seen as an indicator of propensity to serial killing - but let me assure you that neither of us followed this path - he went into cars and I follow the same profession as Casanova).  Uncle then suggests that we adopt the ants as our pets, so we get the big mixing bowl from the kitchen and one of Grampy's trowels and begin to put our pets in their new home along with the sandy soil that they like. I want to give them names, but Colin tells me to stop being soft and get digging -while he supervises.

When it starts to rain we take the mixing bowl into the house.  We leave it on a shelf in the pantry and promptly forget about it.  Nan-next-door is not amused to find the Sunday trifle overrun with ants.