Tag Archives: Family

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 other’s 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.

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 travelled on 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.


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 were 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 hardwood – sorry I don’t know the type of hardwood.  Each one was lovingly handmade 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 glassblower.

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.

To The Gasworks

We were watching something on TV tonight and the subject of coke came up.  Do you know that coke is the end result of coal that has been burned?  According to Wikipedia “Coke is a fuel with few impurities and a high carbon content. It is the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Cokes made from coal are grey, hard, and porous.”

Don’t know about any of that but I do know that it gave off enough heat to warm our apartment.

During and immediately after the war coal was rationed and as open fires were the main form of heating in most houses it was sorely missed.  I remember one day my Mother dressed us all in our coats, hats and gloves and took us outside the apartment.  There, sitting at our front door was a pram borrowed from a neighbour.

About a mile or so from where we lived was the local gasworks that consumed enormous amounts of coal and then discarded the coke that was left.  One day Mother had heard that one could buy coke but that one had to go to the gasworks yard to collect it.  Hence the pram borrowed from the neighbour.

Gasometer_in_East_London

Gasometer in East London via Wikipedia

I remember it was a bitterly cold winter day – I think mid-afternoon – and the four of us walked to the gasworks.  When we arrived we were met with a long line of women who obviously had heard the same rumour.   I seem to remember there were only women in the queue, I suppose all the men were away fighting.

The line moved slowly, oh so slowly for three little girls with nothing to do but stand around.  I remember putting my youngest sister into the pram and my elder sister and I wheeled her up and down the line, talking to strangers and showing off our darling sister.  I can’t imagine any mother allowing her children to do this today.  Talking to strangers and accepting candy from some of them.  And they were all glad of anything to relieve the monotony of standing in line. I think other children joined us in our perambulations.

Eventually, we were at the head of the queue.  Mother asked how much she could have and was told two bags.  She paid whatever was asked (2 shillings comes to mind but I may be wrong) and the kindly man loaded the bags into the pram for us.

By this time it was dark as well as bitterly cold, but mother was in an exuberant mood.  She had bought extra heating for us.  And I do remember that as we trudged back home she balanced our youngest sister on top of the coke bags while my elder sister and I skipped along the road.  Mother’s excitement was catching although at the time we really didn’t understand the reason for it.  But in the cold nights ahead we were very pleased that we had gone to the gasworks.

How strong those women were who kept their homes and families together while their men were away fighting for King and country.  I wonder if I would have been as resilient as my Mother in the same circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the world says, “Give up,”
Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
Author Unknown

Books, What Else

This is what I was thinking about a year ago. Really? 365 days ago. I do hope that each of those days have been spent productively although to me productive may be just walking or reading or catching up with friends, These are “the peaceful years of time for me” and I am enjoying them.

I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

Those of you have read some of my earlier blogs will know that I have two very dear sisters.  One lives in London, UK and one in Los Angeles, California.  We keep in touch by phone and of course, emails.  Emails are always addressed to both sisters on the other side of the world.

Phone calls are rather more rare but it is great to hear their voices.  Recently after several many futile phone attempts I connected with my American sister.

We of course, discussed many things but we always without fail, discuss books we have read and those we hope to read.  Because at that time, I had just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 I was full of this book.  Others have written great reviews of it so I wont do so here.  Maybe an idea for another blog?

My sister is a prolific reader and she shared several…

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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 with the help of Jae, grandson No 4.. 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 won’t fit through the door to the study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Thinking About Christmas

Santa at the beach

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is still strange after 40 plus years living in New Zealand.  I have told of how the first Christmas we were here my then 7-year-old daughter, asked in her piping Scottish accent “When is it going to snow Mummy”.  That first Christmas we had a fantastic summer.  All the promises that were made in the coloured brochures provided to us by the NZ High Commission in London proved to be true.  Long lazy days at the beach but at Christmas?

Even after all these years setting up a tree with lights and putting decorations around the house still doesn’t feel quite right.  And reindeer – where’s the snow?  Another vexing question for my daughter and her younger brother all those years ago was how would Santa get here if the reindeer didn’t bring him?  And more importantly, would he know that they had moved from Lenzie in Dumbartonshire, Scotland to Auckland, New Zealand?  And of course, there was no chimney – so how would he get in?

That first Christmas, the day dawned hot and humid and of course, having been brought up in the Northern Hemisphere I did the traditional dinner with all the trimmings.  Everybody ate in their bathing suits.  Another strange thing for us to contemplate (and add to the list of strange things).

Things went back to normal when we lived in Montreal and Christmas was once again in the winter.  And if you have ever been to Montreal in the winter you will know that there was no shortage of snow.  And there were two chimneys in our house so that solved the problem of access and the snow solved the reindeer question but by this time my children were 9 and 7 and Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as English and Scottish children knew him then) was relegated to the arena of fairies and fairy tales.

But now we are used to the upside-down seasons and accept that it will be warm and hopefully sunny on Christmas Day.  My son will no doubt cook a barbecue and we will relax on a patio with a cold drink in hand, surrounded by family and friends.

And as I write this post on Saturday, December 8 at 1pm I find that there are only 16 days 10 hours 58 minutes and 26 seconds to Christmas.  Is that sufficient time to do all the things on my Christmas To Do List?   Well, it will have to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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A Sad Card

A funny thing happened on the way to Mary Potter Hospice today.  I went to the mailbox 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 recycled 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Just Another Day

When we lose somebody we love, certain days take on special meanings for us.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas etc all become so much more than just days.  These are the days when we don’t want to be with other people and just want to wallow in memories and maybe self-pity.  But after many years of this, one suddenly realises that yes these are just days.

Today is my Dashing Young Scotsman’s birthday.  Had he lived he would be 83 years old.  I ask myself how would I feel living with an 83-year-old and answer great.  Every year on this day since his sudden death in 1998, I have spent time only with the family.  In the beginning, the small boys helped bring me out of the “slough of despair” and I was so very grateful to them and their parents.

But yesterday I decided that enough was enough.  November 1 is just another day and as I remember my DYS every day of the year, I don’t need to make this day any different or any more special.

But this is a special day as this is the first day of the rest of my life. and so…A few months ago I wrote a poem which I think sums up where I am now and how I choose to live the rest of my life –

My lot is cast
In different places
Not beside the river or the ocean
But in the city with its life and vitality.
Not in the distant years of my youth
Nor the busy years of family life
But the peaceful years of time for me
To enjoy friends and family.
Time to investigate new things
New activities and new friends
Time to be me.

..And here’s my rainbow to help those of you battling with the after effects of Sandy.  My thoughts are with you all in this dire time.
Rainbow

My rainbow