Writing 101: Size Matters

Well today is Wednesday here in New Zealand and I should be completing the Day 13 Challenge, but I haven’t completed 11 and 12 yet.  So being very late with this, I shall try to catch up once again.

Day 11 and the challenge is:

“Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve.  Which town, city or country?  Was it a home or an apartment?  A boarding school or foster home?  An airstream or an RV?  Who lived there with you? and

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.”

London 1950.  We had recently moved from an apartment to a brand new house.  My parents’ house had been taken for road widening or something before I was born and in addition to a paltry sum of money ( (their words) they were given a Council owned apartment to rent.  This was in a low rise block in a good neighbourhood but as it had only two bedrooms it was rather cramped for a family of five.

So we moved.  Again the house was Council owned but in a different part of the borough and totally new to us.  Mother was delighted.  It was in a group of ten houses five on one side and five facing them.  Each set of five houses were  attached and we were fortunate to have an end one.  This meant we had neighbours on only one side of us.

The house had three bedrooms, a living room complete with fireplace, a dining room also with a fireplace.  The kitchen was at the front of the house and had a fire that heated the water.  A bathroom and separate lavatory completed this  house – I think it was probably 800 sq feet in all.  At this time I shared a bedroom with my elder sister and later with my younger sister.  At no time did anybody think that I, as the middle daughter, should have a bedroom of her own.

Mother was delighted with the move and the house.  She kept this house clean, polished and shining to within an inch of its life, and even polished the copper waste pipes from the kitchen, so proud was she.

But what I remember most about that house was the love and the the laughter which out played any tears and cross words.  Of course, with three daughters, two of which were coming up to the teenage years, there was the occasional slamming of a door and a “no speak” phase but these didn’t last long.  Mother was the disciplinarian and father the peace maker.  I often wonder how he kept his sanity in a house full of women.

He used to take himself off to work early in the morning but was always home by 6pm at which time, dinner would be ready and whatever plans we three girls had for the evening we had to be there for dinner.  Oh there were some lively discussions over the dinner table.  Father usually had a funny story to tell us about something that happened at work.  And of course, we all had to tell what we had been up to that day.  Our successes were lauded and our (occasional) failures commiserated upon.

I clearly remember father singing.  Beautiful love songs to his wife particularly if he thought we couldn’t hear him.  For us he sang Music Hall songs (Vaudeville for our US friends).  I remember Lily of Laguna and Sorrento in particular. These have stayed with me and my children and grandchildren have all been entertained with songs of that far off time.

As I have written before, this was shortly after the war ended so there were few, if any, luxuries.  But the love, the laughter and the friendship that existed within that little house have followed me through my long life and I hope that what I learned during those years has been passed onto my own family.

Rainbow

My rainbow

New Zealand Calling

After months of not writing a blog, I got up last Friday (04/04) fully intending that this would be the first day of many blogs.

I have had a lovely few months.  We had a holiday at the beginning of the year away from the stresses of an architect building a home for himself; then we spent 5 weeks travelling around the country with my sister from England and sharing with her some of my favourite places in this beautiful land;then more friends from overseas.  We had a few days in Australia visiting 4 artists in their studios and then a trip to Hobart in Tasmania to visit MONA – Museum of Old and New Art.  What an exciting time that was and what an amazing building.  Here’s the link. Please take a look you will hardly believe what has been achieved here.

In February we moved house although the new house isn’t ready to move into and following a series of minor (or maybe major) disasters it wont be ready for another two or three months so we are going to Europe for three months.  We are busy planning our trip with friends in Italy with whom we shall stay and then go to Spain with them.  How exciting!

Fire at storage unit

But the best laid plans – on Friday (04/04) we heard that there had been a major fire in a storage facility in Wellington and yes, all my worldly goods were stored in that facility.  Panic ensued and nothing else was thought of for the rest of the day.  However, the next day we went to the site and discussed the situation with the General Manager and the Fire Chief.  We were told there would be water and smoke damage but both thought it would be minimal.

So there followed a week of waiting to be told that we could go onto site; meeting with removal men to determine where the soggy goods would be stored; going to the new facility and sorting out what had to be removed immediately – boxes that disintegrated as they were lifted.  These mainly held linen and scarves – easily washed so no real problem – and shoes.  This was a different matter as they all had to be stuffed with newspaper and dried at the fire.

Of real concern though was the artwork, prints etc.  Fortunately my daughter has just bought a house with a self-contained apartment attached.  So we moved the pictures into that and set the dehumidifier.  It looks as if we have been really lucky.

Books, photos and papers were in plastic storage bins so again we have been very lucky.  The photos and letters were what I was most concerned about.  Everything else is just stuff.

And now we are told that the fire was arson.  The mind boggles at how anybody could do something like this.  All week we have heard terrible stories of people having lost everything.  CCTV coverage shows a man entering the facility with what looks like a drum of petrol.  Let’s hope they get this man quickly.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The Adventure Begins

London skyline

Well I have now been in London for 14 days.  I arrived after two very long flights from New Zealand exacerbated by a mix up in bookings. But the frustration was quickly forgotten when I eventually arrived at my sister’s house.

Since then the time has been spent mostly in catching up on each others news and meeting family.  And I am part of a very large family.  Father was one of 13 and each of the siblings had a couple of children, with the exception of one sister and one brother who had none.  So while there are only two surviving siblings of Father’s there are plenty of cousins.  And my sister has three children and six grandchildren so life has been rather busy.

One highlight was a visit to a retirement home where one of the surviving sisters lives.  She is suffering a form of dementia.  She was perfectly lucid for most of the time we were there but then she couldn’t remember any of us, not even her son,his wife and their two little girls.  How very sad.  She also became very tearful when she was told that her brothers had died.  Very sad and scary because she is only 8 years older than I am.

NZ House

via Wikipedia

Today we have been to NZ House to have a copy of my passport certified.  Somehow I have mislaid my driver’s licence so I had to apply for a replacement.  Have you traveled on the public transport in London?  One bus ride, three tube trains and one hour and forty-five minutes later we arrived at the Haymarket and NZ House.  I had quite forgotten how big, noisy and crowded London is.  It is a shock to a “colonial” even a “colonial” who was born and brought up in London.

And how strange it is that when I am in NZ I call England “home” and when I am here I call NZ “home”  Today I felt quite at home in New Zealand House.

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.
Maya Angelou, American author and poet
1928 – **

And London has of course changed since I was last here.  The changes to the East End are amazing -  this is because the Olympics were mainly staged in this area last year.  More on these changes shortly.

 ** Thanks to Nancy for pointing out that this originally read 1982.

My Father’s Hands

I have said before that I read and use Judy Reeves “A Creative Writer’s Kit”  As part of this kit there is a book called ‘Prompts and Practices”.  Each day of the year has a suggestion for what to write.  And today’s was “Write about your father’s hands”.

Well if you have been reading or following me for a while now you will know that I consider myself the luckiest person alive in that my father was a fabulous person.    I wrote about him in September last year - Memories of My Father.  He was a special man.

But now his hands.  These were the strong hands of a working man.  He had been a cabinetmaker all his life and so his hands were rough to the touch and scarred from using and being nicked by his tools.  The hands were  strong and capable.  Apart from being a master craftsman he was a virtual jack of all trades.  He it was who reupholstered the couch when it needed to be done; he decorated the apartment and then our house, he fixed leaking pipes and he fixed his daughters’ lives when any of his girls was unhappy.

On my wedding day those were the hands that held mine in the car on the way to the church and those were the hands that passed  me over into the care of my DYS (dashing young Scotsman).

Those were the hands that lovingly cradled his first grandchild the day she was born.  Those hands went on to cradle each of the other grandchildren in turn.

Those were the hands that helped a small boy build with Meccano pieces and on a later visit showed that small boy how to use some of his tools.

Those were the hands that picked up small people when they had mishaps with their tricycles.

The nails were short and bluntly cut.  I remember when I was visiting him in London late in his life that I offered to do his nails for him.  He agreed and so the next day when I went to see him I took my manicure things with me.  Of course, I had no intention of giving him a manicure, it was just to get a laugh out of him.  He took one look at all the implements and said “Just cut the nail straight across”.  However, he did enjoy my applying hand cream.

So my memories of my father’s hands are many.  He was a good man and his hands feature in many of my memories of him.

Sadly he is no longer with us and is sorely missed by his three daughters and their families.  At his funeral they played “Unforgettable” and that certainly sums up my father.

“To live in lives we leave behind
is not to die.”
Judith Baxter, daughter, sister & friend.

The time has come

The walrus and the carpenter

via wikispaces

“The time has come” the Walrus said, “to talk of may things;
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings”
Lewis Carroll – From “Through the looking glass”.

Well the time has most certainly come for me to stop mooning around and get back to the discipline of writing my blog.  So what to write about?  How many times have I asked myself that question over the months and years that I have been writing my blog.
There is a big hole of course, where Lotte used to be and the hole I guess will always be there.  But it’s time to move on.  And now Miss Bella is making her presence felt and helping to close the hole.
I had one of my grandsons staying with me last week and what a joy that is.  He it was who arrived with his young brother the day after Lotte died complete with flowers and chocolates for Granma; they made my bed and kept me supplied with cups of coffee throughout the day.  He was  staying  here last week while his younger brother and their mother were at a rowing competition – the Maadi Cup, the premier rowing competition for schools in New Zealand.  The team did very well reaching the semi finals.
One of the things I really love about having time with my grandsons is the scope of topics we discuss.  Dinner on night was enlivened with talk of the war – that is World War 2 and what it was like to actually live during a war.  It then moved on to Vietnam, the Cuban crisis and the war in Iraq.  How knowledgeable these grandsons are.  We discussed what had caused the two World Wars – how well read this boy is – the futility of war, how really there are no winners, each side loses and what a waste of life all wars cause.
We then went on to discuss the favourite subject of all boys – technology and how far we have come and how much things have changed not only in my life time but also in his.  I just love talking with and listening to these lively young minds at work.  And I conclude that the world can be a better place if the leaders of the future are drawn from the likes of these young men.
And yesterday I picked up my eldest grandson from University.  He has just started and is doing a Network Engineering course.  We had a lovely hour driving in the car together while he told me about his course and his observations on the difference between school life and University life.   He has decided that one night a week he will come to stay.  It takes him about 1.15 hours to get to University and if he has a late session followed by an early morning one he thinks it makes sense for him to stay here.  And I must say I wholeheartedly encourage this.
And now it is almost Good Friday.  Once again we will have the shopping debacle/fiasco of which retailers may open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday and which must remain closed.    Every year there is a number of retailers who are fined for ignoring the trading hours rules.  But as we are definitely moving away from a totally Christian nation into one of many faiths, questions are being raised about the rules governing these holidays.  No doubt the controversy will rage for many more years.
happy_easter_bunny-13452
So I wish you all a Happy Easter whether you celebrate in the traditional Christian way,  or in your own faith or however else you choose.  May it be all that you wish for.
Bella Day 1-1
I shall spend it getting to know more of my new friend.

A Tiring Day

We all know that right up the top of the most common stressors in life are separation/divorce and moving house.  Well, my lovely daughter has just separated from her husband of 17 years which of course, necessitated selling their house and moving.

Yesterday was moving day and today I helped her clean up the house they were leaving to get it ready for the new owners.  My job was oven cleaning. And those of you who know me personally know that I am very vain and careful of my hands and my beautiful nails.

Painted nailsBut as a good mother does, I donned the rubber gloves and got to work.  The result – a sparkling oven and a delighted daughter  It was worth the effort.  And wiping out kitchen cupboards and drawers was a piece of cake after that..

Then to the new house and the unpacking. That was still going on when I left around 8.30pm after dinner. I was pleased to return to my tidy little house. No boxes and everything in its place.

Never want to move again.  Off to sleep now before going back again with my friend to dismantle and then re-mantle (is there such a word) the desk that wont fit through the door to the study.

Grandmas

Several years ago shortly after the death of my DYS I met my daughter and her small baby for coffee.  As I was feeling particularly miserable she bought me a little book called 365 Reflections on Grandmothers.  Looking through this book today I came across:

“When grandma was a girl she didn’t do things the girls do today
But then the grandmas didn’t do things grandmas do today.”
Anon

Isn’t that true?  My grandmother was always a little old lady, in a long dress.  Always smiling and always pleased to see us but concerned only with her family and its wellbeing.  Not for her involvement in work outside the home – did she ever go out to work once she was married.  I guess not.  It most certainly wasn’t done nor was it expected all those years ago.

Instead she concentrated on making her home as pleasant and as welcoming as possible.

She was born at the end of the 19th century in a fairly poor area of London.  I suspect that life for her and her young husband and family was not easy.  It was more complicated as she had married a Jewish boy who had then been cast out of his family.  I know little about my grandfather’s family but do know that he was a caring and gentle man.

Contrast this with my life.  How lucky I am to live now and those of us who are  grandmothers are able to do so much more than our grandmothers.  Look at what is now available to us.  No longer are we just ‘housewives, mothers and grandmothers’.   The whole world is out there for us and we can choose to be as involved as we wish.  Some grandmothers I know are involved in politics, local and government, some hold high powered jobs in what was once a man’s world.

So while I loved my grandmother and all she represented and presented to me, I am glad I am living now rather than in the early part of the 20th century.  And though she was born and lived before my grandmother, I like this quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe:

“These remarkable women of olden times are like the ancient painted glass – the art of making them is lost; my mother was less than her mother, and I am less than my mother.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896, abolitionist and author.

One Down, Three To Go

Success sign

Another milestone in life.  Yesterday was the last day at school for my Number One grandson.  Apart from going to sit four or five exams, his connection with school days is over.  And now the rest of his life, with all its adventures and excitements is opening in front of him.

This is one laid back almost 18 year old kid.  When I saw him on Wednesday he was getting ready for the leavers’ dinner,  unfazed by the fact that this huge change was about to take place in his life.

How exciting the next few years will be for him as he discovers an independent lifestyle through university and his other activities.  Since he got his own car a year or so ago, he has become fairly independent of his parents, but now…..

And I wonder how his late grandfather would react to this strong, charming young man who was only a toddler when he last saw him.  Would he be proud of how his grandson has grown and is maturing.  I am sure that the answer would be a resounding yes!

So go forth into the world young man, knowing that anything and everything is possible.  It’s your choice what you do from here on and what you make of yourself.  But know always, that you are greatly loved my No 1 Grandson.


Our grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends – and hardly ever our own grown children.
Ruth Goode
, author, 1905-1997

Related posts

A Sad Card

A funny thing happened on the way to Mary Potter Hospice today.  I went to the mail box and there , among the usual bills and junk mail, was  a pretty card with an illustration of irises on the front  The back cover advised  that it was part of the Hope Greeting Collection, made from rycled paper and gave the website www.habitat.org.

Iris in flower

Inside was this sad plea, and because it was so sad, I will reproduce it exactly word for word as it was written :

“Judith my dear -
I heard of this poor soul who hasn’t
heard from her sisters for almost three
weeks.
It breaks your heart.
Love you
God Bless
Christine”

Now what would you do in the face of such a plea.  Send an email; make a phone call or send a response through snail mail?
I hate to think of this poor soul on the other side of the world (well as Christine lives in California I have to assume that she lives on the other side of the world too) waiting, hoping for a response.

So I immediately sent the following back to Christine via email :

“Oh Christine
Thank you for your card.
Your generous heart knows no bounds.
How lucky is that woman to have met you.
Can she now count you as a friend?
Please tell her that your sisters are both alive and
well, albeit in far flung places, and offer us to her as
surrogate sisters who will keep in touch with her regularly.
Love Judith”

Mother and her daughters c1945

Of course, we have been in touch since she posted this card several days ago.

What will you leave behind?

“What you leave behind is not
what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Pericles – Ancient Greek Politician, General and Statesman
495 BC-429 BC

I started blogging on March 1 2011 and for the next 365 days (with one or two exceptions) and well into 2012, I wrote a post daily.  My intention was to leave something for my grandsons after I have left this world.  They would hopefully then, get an insight into their grandmother’s thoughts and experiences through my writing.

I have written about growing up in London during the Second World War.  How could they be expected to understand this part of my life if I didn’t tell them about it?  And they needed to be told about the loving family in which I grew up.  Little money, no luxuries but so much love to spread around.  I cherish those memories and hope that I have passed them on to my children and their children.

I have told about the close relationship I have always enjoyed with my two sisters, even though one lives in London, England and the other in Los Angeles, California.  With my living in Wellington, New Zealand could we live further away from each other if we had planned it?  I told how we used to keep in contact through letters and the occasional (very expensive) phone call.  Now of course, since the internet, communication is mostly via email.

In another post I told about my wonderful Father and his influence on my life.  How he supported his three daughters telling them they could be and do anything they chose.  How this filled us with self confidence that has stood us in great stead over the years.  In fact, because of this grounding I have been able to do so many things over my life.

I have written about meeting my DYS (dashing young Scotsman) when I was 19 and marrying him a few months later.  I have told of following him around the world with two small children in tow as he furthered his career.  Of leaving one set of friends behind and making new ones wherever we went.  And although the boys may well have heard of these travels from their parents their view of this part of our lives would naturally be different to mine.  I have no way of knowing  how my children really felt about being uprooted yet again to move to a new place.  They both did seem to cope very well and have turned into two well rounded adults in spite of the disruptions in their lives.  And in later years when we have spoken of this they assured me that they felt they had benefited from the moving around.  And here I can insert one of my favourite words – They had what could be described as a peripatetic childhood.

I have written about Yesterday when I was Young and some of the happy memories I have of those times when the children were living at home and life was so busy.  And then of the times after they had moved onto the next phase of their lives, and there were only the two of us to move through the next phase of our lives.

I have told about deciding to move away from the city to an idyllic place beside the water far from the madding crowd, and how, when things didn’t turn out as expected, we moved back to civilisation once again.

In my blog posts I have written about my Mother’s death , of my Father’s death and the ghastly time following  the untimely death of my DYS (is any death really timely?)  But life goes on and I have chronicled some of things I have done since being on my own.

I spent several months on three separate occasions playing companion to an elderly English woman.  A great learning process and a fabulous area to live in and explore.  If I win the Lottery I shall buy a ‘cottage’ there and spend our winter months in Sussex.

So while I am not writing a post every day now, I hope that I have succeeded in part in what I set out to do.  The posts recording memories and activities will still continue as and when something comes up that I think somebody may be interested in hearing about.  Currently I am researching how to put the posts into a published book for the boys.   I imagine that will take some time.  And I have just remembered, my daughter always tells friends when I am leaving their houses not to “worry about what she takes but what she leaves behind”.  I hope I am leaving something special.

“To live in lives we leave behind
is not to die”
Judith Baxter, Blogger, friend, mother…
1938 -

If you are interested in reading some of the posts mentioned above, here are the links: