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

Writing 101 – Sunday for Tea

judithhb:

Day 10 and the challenge is :

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal the one that was always a treat, that meant  celebration, or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

For this challenge I decided to reblog a post I wrote a couple of years ago at the beginning of this journey into the world of blogs.

Originally posted on I choose how I will spend the rest of my life:

Sunday for tea
I’ll see you Sunday for tea
And though it’s not far away
Each hour’s a day to me

Lettuce and ham
Or maybe crumpets and jam
Oh baby it’ll be fun
Havin’ a Sunday tea

So sang Peter and Gordon in the 1960s.

For our family Sunday afternoon tea was a ritual.  The whole family that is Grandma and Poppy, their two sons and daughter, their spouses and the 9 grandchildren regularly met on Sunday at Grandma and Poppy’s apartment.

While the adults talked and discussed whatever adults discussed, the 8 granddaughters and the sole grandson amused themselves as children did then. We played cards, dominoes, monopoly  and other childish games that our grandchildren would not think of playing today.

DominoesPlaying cards

Dice

The adults would of course, have cups of tea while catching up on the gossip.  They all lived near each other, in fact my grandparents lived in…

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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

Home Again

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver, 1935 -

Well now a change in lifestyle for me.

I arrived home safely from my European adventure.  And what an adventure that was.  After almost 11 weeks I was happy to be back home and ready to begin the next phase in this life.

I have lived alone for 15 years since my Dashing Young Scotsman died and thought I would spend the rest of my life so.  I was happy with my family, friends and little dog and then into this settled life came another Dashing but older man, to take me to pastures new.  He has a passion for music, for travel and as an architect, for beautiful buildings.   Of course, we plan to go back to Florence together in the New Year.

So lots of pluses to this new life.  But there are some major changes to get used to when living daily with another.  For so many years I made decisions, appointments and plans with no thought for another.  Now there are two of us to consider.  I think when living alone one does become rather selfish and so it’s very good to have to stop and think before I say “Yes” to an invitation.  The other person must be considered too.  I am learning here.

We are very involved in selling this current house (see the garden view into the beech forest as the header to the blog) and building another house.  Daily I am involved in decisions on the new house and it’s very exciting.

And I am so excited.  My sister in London has agreed to come for a visit in the New Year.  None of my family has ever been here so I shall enjoy showing her this beautiful country and introducing her to my friends and my special friend when she gets here.

So much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for.  Each day I note all the things for which I am grateful my health, my lifestyle, my friends, my family.

I have been absent from the blogosphere for a few weeks while I become adjusted to this new way of life, but now I am back.  I hope/expect to have more adventures in the future (and at present) that I should like to share with you.

I have been re-reading Mary Oliver recently and so I have another favourite quote to share with you

“….there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

Rainbow

My rainbow

 

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

The siren call of home has sounded and each day it is getting   louder.  It is now 10 weeks since I kissed my family and special friend goodbye at Wellington airport and set off on this adventure.  And what an adventure it has been.

Wellington August 2013 040

First I visited my sister in London and we did things that sisters would do if they saw each other on a regular basis.  We don’t but we make up for it when we do meet.  We visited family, and aged aunt with Alzheimer’s (although we discovered she is only a few years older than us), cousins, nieces and a special blogging buddy in Oxford.

Sisters

Originally our plans were to both go to Florence, hut these plans were dashed when my sister had to have a series of tests after suffering what was thought could be a heart attack.  She wasn’t allowed to fly so I went on my own.

I felt rather shaky on the day I left London.  I was going off alone to a country where I knew nobody and didn’t speak the language.  But what a great time I had there.  I found my way around very easily and quickly felt at home in this wonderful city.  Paris is described a the City of Light but for me now Florence will always have that soubriquet.

I discovered all the wonderful buildings and artwork that I had read about so many times in the past but I also discovered the back streets where lesser known wonders were housed.  I discovered the joys/benefits of living in an apartment in a suburb as opposed to living in a five-star hotel in the centre of town.  And there is a certain freedom in being somewhere where one is not known and one knows no-one.

I have waxed on and on about the wonders of this now my favourite city in earlier posts and so wont bore you here, but if you have missed them or if you are a new reader of this blog please click here to read of my adventures.

Il Duomo

Click the photo to read some of the posts on my visit to Florence

After almost three weeks the call of family and home was becoming stronger and so I left Florence and went back to London to decide on the next leg of this journey/adventure/experience.  The decision was made that I should return home and resume normal life albeit slightly differently because now my partner and I have decided we want to spend the rest of our lives together.  So another chapter in this long and colourful life is beginning.

Wellington city and harbour.

Wellington City and harbour. Via Wikipedia

Changes to the airline ticket have been made and I am now going home on Saturday 2 November – that’s only “four more sleeps” and I am getting excited about seeing family and friends again. Oh I shall miss my sister,the interaction, laughs,stories and jokes but it is time for normal service to be resumed.

China Southern Airlines

Because of the mix up on the way to London the airline has upgraded me to First Class travel home.  I another reason to be looking forward to Saturday.  I am looking forward to it.

So I will be off-line for a few days, but watch this space.

“Is it possible for home to be a person and
not a place?”
Stephanie Perkins,  American author

Goodbye

My visit to London is rapidly coming to a close.  My original intention was to be here for some two weeks and then go to Florence with my sister.  She would stay for a couple of weeks and I would stay on alone for a couple of months.

London-Skyline 3Alas, the best laid plans etc .  Shortly before I arrived in London it was thought that my sister had suffered a heart attack.  So in the first few days we spent time at the local hospital having a barrage of tests.  Nothing moves fast in this big, over crowded city and so she is only today receiving the results of these tests from her GP.  Several more tests were called for which entailed waiting for the letters of appointment, as they were in two different hospitals, and to make life complete she was advised not to fly until the results were all in.

At this time she is still waiting for the final test to be carried out and this will happen next week.

So it was decided that I should go to Florence and she will join me when she is cleared to fly.

british-museum-27-09-13-005.jpgMeantime we have been enjoying my native city again.  Not as a tourist because I was born and brought up here, but as a returning visitor.

The most surprising thing of all is the changes wrought to the East End by last year’s Olympics.  Stratford that was once a really derelict and run down area has been transformed.  During World War II, the area suffered severe bombing damage. Industrial decline followed, accelerated by the closure of the docks from the 1960s onward. And the ethnically mixed area suffered from high unemployment, a labor force with low skills and crowded housing..  But all this changed once London was awarded the 2012 Olympics.

Where once were disused factories now stand tall apartment blocks,

University of Eat London

University of Eat London

the University of East London and student housing to accompany it, a large Westfield Shopping Mall and a new transport hub.  This has been good news for most of the people living in the area.

There has of course, been controversy.

_Orbit_at_nightThe Orbit sculpture and observation tower has been praised and denigrated by the public.  It was  designed by  artist Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond  and stands 114.5 metre (376 feet).  It is apparently the largest public sculpture in Britain.   Orbit closed after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as the South Plaza area of the Park (in which Orbit is positioned) is under significant construction – and will re-open to visitors in April 2014.

London Olympic Stadium 2The Olympic Stadium is still being fought over by rival football clubs who want to use it as their base.  Currently the  has been awarded to West Ham but Leyton Orient are claiming that exclusive use rights should not have been given and that these two East End clubs should have equal access to the facility.

London_Aquatics_Centre,_16_April_2012

The London Aquatics Centre.  An indoor facility with two 50-metre (160-foot) swimming pools and a 25-metre (82-foot) diving pool.

Some of the residents of course, were moved on to make way for this huge redevelopment, and the redevelopment is still going on.  I saw a sign advertising a shopping and entertainment centre of 1.9 million square feet..  Wow!

the_Shard_London_Bridge_5205

The Shard Via Wikipedia

And the changes are not restricted to the East End.  The City is changing.  Where once were old office blocks now stand huge glass monoliths that do little to differentiate my home town from many other I have visited around the world.

British_Museum_from_NE_2

The British Museum – Still hasn’t lost its charm*

But the old favourites remain.  The Bank of England in Threadneedle Street, The British Museum in Great  Russell Street, The Tower of London, St Paul’s and of course, Parliament and Big Ben.  These are all a must see on any visit I make to London.

Portobello RoadAnd of course no visit to London would be complete without the street markets.  I have written of these in an earlier post.  The World famous Portobello Market in Notting Hill (you probably saw the film Notting Hill  staring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant), the local markets at Roman Road and Ridley Road, Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane, the antique market at Islington and on and on,

So as my time here comes to an end and once again I say farewell to family and friends, I am a trifle sad and of course, nostalgic.  But I have my adventure in Florence to look forward to and of course, I shall be back here again after that before taking that long haul flight back to the other side of the world.

“My formula for living is quite simple.  I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night.  In between, I occupy myself as best I can”
Cary Grant,  1904 – 1986 ,
English stage and Hollywood film actor

Related Posts:

The Market 
Down Memory Lane

The Oxford Adventure

“There behind me, far away, never more beautiful since, was the fabled cluster of spires and towers.”
From Surprised by Joy – C S Lewis.

With Sallyann2 On Saturday we spent the day in Oxford with my blogging friend, Sallyann from Photographic Memories.  Sallyann lives in Oxford so we were lucky in having our own private tour guide.

I have been to Oxford several times before but have never seen many of the places Sallyann showed us.  Sallyann is the intrepid photographer but for this day, I took the shots.Oxford TubeWe went on a bus from London – 3.5 hours ride from London to Oxford.  Sallyann met us at the bus terminal and we decided to start our afternoon with lunch.  Had we ever been to the pie shop?  No so let’s all go there.  The Pieminster is one of a chain of pie shops and this one is set in the Covered Market in Oxford.

Covered Market

Covered market, Oxford

Sallyann hadn’t been there either; her daughters had suggested that she take us there. Sallyann and my sister each had Kate and Sydney (steak and kidney) and I had Chicken of Arragon pie (chicken, smoked bacon and tarragon) all served with mashed potatoes and gravy.  We all declared them very good and ate up every last bit.  This was different to the pie shops that abounded when I grew up in the east end of London.  These pies there were beef, served with mashed  potatoes and liquor – a gravy made primarily of parsley and a taste unlike any other I have ever had.  But back to Saturday and our pies and the rest of the afternoon.London September 2013 007We started in the castle precinct.  Oxford Castle is a large, partly ruined Norman medieval castle.  We didn’t go inside but we went to the prison (part of the castle precinct) that has now been turned into a high class hotel. – Malmaison, Oxford Castle.  We are told that the rooms are made from joining two cells. Unfortunately we were too late in the day to see the rooms opened as they were being cleaned.London September 2013 016We wandered around with our own personal tour guide, down alleys  and little streets that one would hardly think could have traffic going in both directions – many looked too narrow for cars to pass each other.

Narnia doorHidden-away squares adorned with Victorian style lampposts made us feel as though we’d  stumbled out of the wardrobe and into Narnia.  We saw the Brasenose College Door said to be the inspiration for C S Lewis’ “The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe”  with the close by,  Radcliffe Camera.  C.S. Lewis, creator of the Narnia stories, created them right here in Oxford when he was a professor at Magdalen College.

London September 2013 078We were taken to a 13th century  pub – no we didn’t go in.  It was full of students and visitors on a busy Saturday afternoon.  But without our guide we would never have stumbled upon this gem.

We all agreed it was a great afternoon.  It ended with coffee, laughter and promises to keep in touch.

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.

Spirits?

I have only one relative (apart from my children and their families) living in New Zealand.  This is a cousin of my Mother’s who is only a couple of years older than me.

We talk from time to time on the phone.  Reminiscing about growing up in London during and after the war and generally catching up with each other these phone calls have been known to last an hour or more.  And yesterday was no different.

We talked at length about our families where they were at and how they were doing.  His second wife is Samoan and I always love to hear about their culture and how they do things so differently from us.  Apparently family comes before all else and if you have something and they don’t you either give it to them or share with them.  Isn’t that lovely.  Although as my cousin says, this can go too far.  He is the only one with a car and so he runs a taxi service for the extended family 24/7.  But he is good humoured about it.

We then got back to the subject of London.  His father was killed during the war and he and his mother moved back home and lived with her parents and two aunts.  From the outside it looked like a perfect set up.  There was always somebody to look after the young child while his mother worked.  But there were drawbacks for a young boy brought up in a predominantly female household.  As he grew up he spent less and less time at home and played in the streets amongst the ruins of houses that had suffered in the bombings.

Other times he spent with his grandfather “Pop” whose business was making  spirit levels.  You have all seen these things and no doubt many of you own one.  Well, Pop was a master craftsman and the spirit levels were made of beautifully carved and finished hard wood – sorry I don’t know the type of hardwood.  Each one was lovingly hand made and as soon as he was old enough, my cousin would rush home from school to help Pop.  I never understood his explanation about the little bubble that showed when the surface was flat/level nor the complicated way in which the liquid spirit /alcohol was put into the small glass vial.

On occasion we girls would visit the factory in the mews where in earlier times horses had been stabled for the wealthy.  We would stand and watch in wonder as the liquid was poured into the tiny phials.  I remember it being hot so I suppose that Pop was also a glass blower.

I should like to say that my cousin carried on the tradition being one of  only two males in the family, after the grandfather died, but instead he became a printer and emigrated with his then wife and two small girls to NZ.   I understand he still has one of the levels given to him by his grandfather as a birthday present.

Now of course, spirit levels are mass-produced.  No more the lovingly produced articles of all those years ago.  But wouldn’t it be lovely to own one of them.

“A man who works with his hands is a labourer;
a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman’
but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”
Louis Nizer.  British born US lawyer and author.
1902-1994.