Category Archives: memories
Some of you may recall that I recently had a bit of a run-in with one of my neighbours. Welcome to the second instalment…
About ten days or so ago I decided to order a copy of this picture as a large canvas print.
It was meant to be for my fab hubby to remind him of our perfect Caribbean holiday, which seems so very, very long ago now. We’re having a bit of a tough time right now, what with dodgy finances and (the FAB Hubby’s) heart surgery and a distinct lack of purpose in life, coupled with an increasing feeling of having been tossed onto the scrapheap of sentience. I don’t want to impose my life complaints on everyone, but these circumstances are not helping my increasingly severe depression and most days I spend staring at my computer screen, trying to find any kind of motivation to get something achieved.
I have occasional spurts when I try to ‘pull myself together’ like a pair of curtains, but these rarely result in much tangible success, although I do keep on trying.
So actually gathering enough *oomph* to select and order this picture was a major happening for me. I was so pleased with myself for achieving something.The picture is particularly sentimental for us as it is of Pebbles Beach, in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, where I learned to swim as a small child. Taking Mark there was one of the first things we did when we got into the hire car – the satnav wasn’t working, but I managed to guide him to the place without too much of a detour, largely based on forty-year-old memories and a keen sense of direction. To be fair, the island is only 14 miles by 21 so it’s pretty easy to navigate around, but I was still chuffed to have found it so easily.
Standing on the exquisite white sand in the most brilliant sunshine, I was suddenly eight years old once more, in my tiger swim-suit (long story !), whiling away my days, collecting precious shells and rolling in the surf on Pebbles Beach. The Aquatic Club bar – ‘Pebble Beach Inn’ as it was known then – also had a swimming pool although it’s gone now, having been redeveloped in the intervening years. Patrick (my bestest of boy-friends) and I spent day after day either in the sea or the pool, only being dragged out to eat or drink something then back in the water we went, like a pair of water babies. It’s a strange misnomer, because there isn’t a single pebble on Pebble Beach – and there never has been as far as I can recall, so it was shells that we collected on the rare occasions that we emerged from the water.
Showing my husband of thirty-six years this precious memory meant that finally we could share it together and this of course called for a stroll along the length of the beach. I snapped the picture from the top of the steps, then he helped me jump down the steps and being a rather rotund shape these days, I tippled forward and he, being the gallant knight that he is, staggered forward to help me, so that I would be spared the indignity of rolling into a ball on the hot sand. He’d been taking his specs off and replacing them with his new sunglasses – another, whole different story – so this process was interrupted during the rockin’ and rollin’ around in the sand.
Fast forward for about an hour as we stroll the entire length of this gorgeous beach and begin our return journey. By now, the heat has gone from the day and the sun is beginning to set -the light is fading exquisitely albeit rapidly, as it does in the Caribbean, being so much closer to the equator and all that. I’m happily snapping away with my new camera at the scenery, the sand, the water, the sky, everything in fact. I turn to take a snap of the FAB Hubby; he’s looking puzzled and just ever-so-slightly panicky.
‘Why’s he fumbling in his shirt pocket?‘ I ask myself. Then I ask him the same question of course, to which his terrified face blurts out ‘I’ve lost my specs!’.
Now, I should probably explain here that FAB H is virtually blind without his specs. Modern technology has reduced the thickness of the glass these days to something that resembles one of those convex coffee-table paper-weights that people have favoured pressed flowers encased in, as keepsakes or whatever. Jam jars are a thing of the past. Well, mostly anyway. The thing is, he genuinely cannot see a thing without them. So this was a BIG deal.
The entire holiday was on the verge of ruin, for without his eyes, how would he see everything? How would we manage? Plus, the damned things had just cost an arm and a couple of legs to ensure he had them in time for the holiday. Usually he has photo-chromic lenses which means he doesn’t need separate sunglasses, so there was considerable cursing of the incompetent optician’s assistant whose fault it was that we were now having to negotiate our holiday of a lifetime, minus the ability to actually see anything, since the actual reading glasses had taken themselves off for a little holiday of their own.
It’s quite a long beach it turns out.
We retraced our steps, trying to remain positive, in spite of the increasingly fading light, turning every grain of sand over with our hands and feet, checking to see where they may have been washed into the sea, for, of course, just to complicate matters a little further, the tide was coming in. Fast.
We’d almost given up as we arrived back at the steps to clamber back into the car.
And then I saw them, quietly, even contemplatively, watching the sunset sitting squarely in the sand, exactly where he’d knocked them out of his pocket when he chivalrously came to my aid earlier.
Lost. And then found again. Just like the beach was.
Now, let’s get back to the present shall we… stop all this lazing around on tropical beaches!
So, I’d ordered this picture to remind him of our wonderful holiday and perhaps to help motivate us both into better frames of mind. I got a great deal and ordered it in a large size – my pictures are meant to be viewed in large formats. This one was about 60cm x 80cm. That’s about 2 feet by about 2 feet 8 inches for those who don’t do decimals.
Thrilled I was.
When I received the email saying it would arrive on Tuesday, I was still feeling thrilled.
On Tuesday I went out of the house for the first time in about … well forever… to go help some friends hang an exhibition in Scarborough hospital. I almost asked my other neighbour to keep an eye out, but she was busy with her three children, so I left it, thinking ‘We’ll be back in good time, it’ll be fine.‘
Famous last thoughts. ‘It’ll be fine.‘ HAH!
Upon returning home the neighbour and her offspring were still in their garden so I asked about the parcel and she told me our other neighbour, the chap from downstairs, the evil one who made me clean his drains out recently, he was the one who’d taken it in. I sent my son round to go pick it up, but there was some confusion about my apparently ambiguous instruction and the long and short of it was that no-one went to get the parcel that evening. I fretted and worried and got antsy and my *long-suffering men* ignored my slightly manic state and pressed on with the heavy responsibility of watching TV (or rather, snoring in front of the telly) and raising hell in some imaginary computer game world. Ahem.
Fast forward again to the next morning, when, as usual we were woken by the sound of the recycling truck and staff collecting the recycling waste. Thinking nothing more than ‘Did you put the bins out?’ I turned over and went back to sleep, whilst the FABH got up and pottered about downstairs for a while.
When I rose, Cleopatra-like, from my slumber a little later on, my first thought was about the picture so I asked if FABH had yet retrieved it and he agreed to put some trousers on and go to collect it. It’s best to not ask about the trousers – just let that one go for now, OK?
He returned, empty handed, reporting that our (despicable) neighbour had no knowledge of any parcel whatsoever.
I was distraught.
I was beside myself with tormented thoughts.
It wasn’t adding up.
How could he not have known about the parcel? What could have happened to it? Where did the UPS chap leave it? Did anyone see what he did with it? These and many more questions began encircling my tiny brain – like the little cartoon birds that used to fly round Sylvester or Tweety Pie’s head when they crashed into something.
I fretted a little more. I envisaged every and any possible scenario regarding my parcel’s fate. Each a more grisly fate than the last.
The FABH of course remained implacable in the face of potential chaos. He phoned the delivery company (UPS) and we had a delightful conversation with a lovely lady called Sarah, who assured me that the records showed that the parcel had been left in a porch around the back. I explained that this property isn’t what it seems and that ‘around the back‘ are two separate, distinct apartments. She sympathised and suggested that the delivery man might call me himself to explain where he left the parcel. We thought this was an excellent idea and readily agreed.
Then we waited.
Only, I’m not really very good at waiting.
The ants in my pants told me to do it.
I went downstairs and around the back and knocked smartly on my (beastly) neighbour’s door. He was on the phone and clearly, visibly, ignoring me. I could see him through his window. Eventually he gesticulated for me to let myself in, which I did. I asked him about the parcel and he flatly denied all knowledge of it.I described it in detail and he shook his head and threw up his hands, asking me what I wanted to DO about it?
I asked for permission to check his outbuildings- an aluminium shed and another, smaller, store-box, but it wasn’t there. I was even more puzzled now and asked him what I was supposed to think when I’d been told that the delivery man had left it in his domain, but it seemed to have simply vanished. As he sagely nodded his head and attempted to stand up to encourage me to leave, he slumped, in a drunken stupor, to the floor. After helping him to the nearby sofa, I took my cue and left. Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere there.
Upon my return, the delivery driver, Carl, rang and we discussed the situation with him. He suggested that usually in these cases, the ‘thief’ makes the mistake of putting the packaging into the rubbish bin, to which the FABH calmly stated that it’s unlikely he’d find any rubbish in the bin as today was collection day… and then we both looked at each other in horror as the realisation of what might have happened set in.
With tears (of anger, frustration, utter disbelief and the ultimate pain of loss) rolling down my face, we thanked Carl for agreeing to pop by the next day to check on the location of the parcel and then all we could do was sit and wait. Again.
I am really rubbish at waiting – we’ve already established this – so around six-ish, I went to call on our other (Polish) neighbour to see if perhaps Carl had been mistaken and left it in his kitchen instead. He hadn’t. And it turned out that our Polish friend had actually seen my parcel in the other neighbour’s kitchen.
What can you do when faced with such evidence? Clearly, I live next to an unstable and apparently vindictive man who thinks nothing of stealing our mail. I considered going to the police, as well as our mutual landlord, but persuaded myself these options seemed drastic. I even emailed the council in the hopes that someone might have spotted the brand-newness of my parcel and put it aside perhaps… to no avail of course. I didn’t sleep a wink and when Carl arrived the next day having taken a good look around the neighbour’s property, he agreed that the only thing to do was set everything in motion to replace the picture. He promised to drop the necessary paperwork off early next week and then he left.
Imagine how delighted I was yesterday morning then when Carl arrived with my replacement parcel! He confided that the paperwork hadn’t been required since, upon ‘further investigation’ (I know not what that entailed), my dastardly neighbour had admitted that he’d taken the parcel in and then put it straight into the recycling collection. Part of me still mourns for that lost picture, but at least now it’s sitting where it’s meant to be – above the sofa across the room from the FABH, so he can be re-inspired each time he looks at it.
Lost. Stolen. Recovered. Or at least replaced.
It’s a picture with a story to tell…
Thanks for reading again!
Well, that went well.
It’s been a week of good fortune so far in the Gregory family. Good news for our daughter who has secured a fabulous step on her ladder to success which is likely to involve her moving back to London and jetting around Europe and the US doing what she loves and is brilliant at – publishing books. She’s a very private person so I won’t go on about it too much here, just enough to make it clear that I am very proud of her.
Good news also for the GUS.
It was a tense weekend, with sessions in front of the TV, watching the ‘How to pass your practical driving test’ on repeat for most of Saturday, followed by a couple of hours more rehearsing for battle in the chariot on Sunday.
I was mindful of his first attempts at driving, which involved a turquoise, cerise and gold coloured ‘Li’l Tykes’ vehicle, powered by a pair of very sturdy little legs, in a somewhat haphazard fashion around the large living room of our various apartments in Hong Kong – some of the rooms were large enough to cope well, some weren’t. I do recall (vividly) Toby’s elder sister, Natalie and her teenage friends attempting to squeeze themselves into said vehicle to provide an exemplar for the little chap; indelibly etched upon my memory are the sights of Elle (who was actually mostly small enough to sit reasonably comfortably in the tiny driving seat) and Tom (who, frankly, wasn’t) with legs akimbo protruding from the non-existent windscreen and a backside hanging out of the equally hypothetical rear window, which gave new meaning to the word ‘booty’.
Thankfully, these long-buried anamneses have not adversely affected the GUS’s will to learn to drive, although I suspect there may be some therapy bill in the future for ironing out issues raised by such recollections!
In the US, young drivers can begin ‘Drivers’ Education Classes’ in many high schools – I’m not certain, but I think they have to be at least fourteen and a half years old to begin learning to drive. I’ve always thought it would be one very important thing that here in the UK we could consider. Get ’em whilst they’re young and perhaps this will result in more careful drivers when they eventually obtain a full driving licence. It’s not common practice here though, since in order to drive any vehicle at all in the UK the driver MUST have reached the age of seventeen (or, in some exceptional cases usually involving an enhanced mobility component, sixteen). Farmers children can and often do learn to drive tractors at an earlier age, which I think they’re allowed to do on private land (i.e. around their farm) but unless you have some exceptional reason for needing to drive at a younger age, seventeen is the magic number for young motorists here.
So when the GUS reached the designated number of days upon this Earth, he sent off for his provisional driving licence and studied, off and on, to pass the theory test. More off than on the first time round as I recall… but that obstacle was cleared in a matter of two or three months and since then he’s been revving up the Astra on a regular basis with those badges of progress emblazoned firmly on the front and rear of the vehicle – the dreaded ‘L’ plates.
We tried the magnetic ones to start with. Twelve sets of little white squares fluttered joyfully into the ether, freed from their entrancing tethering before we gave in and stuck the markers to the car. It may have been a tad embarrassing to careen around in a carriage marked as an inexperienced coachman, but such is the lot of parents – to do what needs to be done and be thankful for the opportunity.
The day finally came yesterday when the GUS would be tested on his SACKs of motoring proficiency. For those who aren’t teachers, I should probably explain what SACK means – it’s an acronym that stands for Skills, Attitude, Concepts and Knowledge. It’s always made me giggle to think of students carrying around these ever-growing hessian duffel bags filled with parcels labelled ‘Skill: can type quickly’ and ‘Attitude:is considerate of others’, as well as ‘Concept: understands how to walk across a road without dying’ and the inestimable ‘Knowledge: reads at level 43(b) with great expression’, as if this is any use to anyone, except for OFSTED inspectors, but I digress once more. I’m not supposed to be moaning about the burden of teachers any more. Or maybe I will moan thus, but not today.
He’s a good driver. He can make the car go forwards AND backwards at reasonable and responsible speeds AND he knows where to find the tyre pressure requirements at a glance (which, incidentally, was more than I knew until Sunday, perhaps an indicator of how useful this knowledge actually is when you’re driving!). He’d overcome his fear of heeding his father’s advice to make it obvious when he’s looking in the mirrors so that the examiner cannot be under any impression that if there was a twenty-foot tall green and purple dinosaur strolling somewhat inexplicably two cars behind, then Toby will have definitely have made eye-contact with it and have a fully-formed plan of action to deal with any unheralded flight of fancy that it might take.
He was ready.
He passed. First time. With only three minor errors.
Way. To. GO!
Clearly months of driving back and forth to York along the infamous 64 has its advantages – experience will always stand you in good stead. I’m really very proud of Toby for this success – job well done. Onwards and upwards from here!
Thanks for reading again my friends – looks like we may crack a milestone sometime very soon – almost ten thousand hits already!
A new piece of art this evening – a simple digital collage from our walk in the woods a couple of weeks ago. I love the way the light found its way through the trees, creating an atmosphere of serenity. I hope it gives you peace to see it.
It is finally here… our youngest child had reached adulthood at last. Tobias Mark Gregory was born this day in the Matilda Hospital, on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong at 3.56am and so he has now reached the grand age of eighteen, which makes him a proper, fully fledged grown-up person. Actually, due to time differences, we noted he was actually 18 at 7.56pm last night!
It’s a day I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. If you read my last piece, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the prospect of an empty nest after all of these years with at least one small person to take care of, to look out for, to nourish and to cherish, is a somewhat daunting one. It’s a momentous day for us.
Toby was a wonderful addition to our family who has brought so much joy and happiness with him. He has sunshine in his heart and something else that is all-too-rare a quality, he is a genuinely kind and loving person. I don’t know what the future holds for him of course, but I know that the world is a much better place for having him here in it.
He has grown from a wee little Piglet (his older sisters were Pooh Bear and Tigger) into a gentle giant with grace, a keen eye for detail and a robustly dry and quick sense of humour. He is great fun to be with.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing of course… the sheer number of times I’ve been astounded that he is still alive is too many to keep count. From febrile convulsions in infancy and falling head first into a playground sign (five stitches in the forehead, aged three) and again from a thirty-foot rock face (overnight in hospital thanks to concussion, aged five), through a dozen sporting injuries and consequent trips in ambulances from pitch-side to A&E departments – that’s what you get for playing hockey AND rugby from such an early age I suppose – to peritonitis and broken ankles in later teenage years. He has a medical rap-sheet of misadventures that belies his cheerful smile. I can only say that it’s a good job he isn’t actually a cat, because he’s used up ALL nine lives and then some!
I can’t think of a better way to congratulate my big boy, who will forever be my Neanderthal, although I suppose now he’s an adult I should call him my ‘Young Man’. I’ve collected together some photos of his life so far and I hope this little Tobys 18th birthday (click on the words to watch it!) slideshow works to say Happy Birthday Toby!
Thanks for reading!
Thirty-five years is a long time, a lifetime, donkey’s years, or a coon’s age. It’s also a blink of an eye, a jiffy, an instant, a mere moment. It sort of depends upon your yardstick really doesn’t it?
It’s the length of time that has passed since I met my partner in crime, my love, my soul-mate – actually, that and a little bit more in truth. We’re not celebrating an anniversary or anything, it’s just that for most of that time it has been us and our progeny against the world. I note, in passing, that our next anniversary will be our thirty-fifth. Of course, as soon as this thought entered my head, I found myself Googling ‘thirty-fifth wedding anniversary’ and discovered that the traditional gift for that occasion is coral – with ‘blood coral’ (found only near Italy) being the most precious – whilst the modern gift is jade and the precious stone is emerald. I can see a Chinese carved dragon of coral and jade, with glowing emerald eyes looming in my future, which seems to cover all the bases there!
For almost thirty-five years though we have not been alone. Our first child, a beautiful and much-loved daughter came along fairly quickly, followed by her cherished sibling just eighteen months later, so our early years together were as a complete family unit. As our girls grew and our horizons expanded, we ventured further afield and found ourselves in the Far East, Hong Kong before the handover. Our teenagers accepted the challenge of a third child arriving on the scene, doting on their little brother with obvious pride and joy. And then they left to pursue their own lives – which is exactly as life should be. The call of university in far-away England was always going to be strong and for several years, it was a really difficult time for us, as parents, with our girls so very far away. Pride in their achievements, both personally and academically lay hand-in-glove with the heartache of missing them so terribly much.
Our son became almost an only child; perhaps many perceived him as such if they didn’t know of our older children. He’s only seven years older than our eldest grand-child which seemed almost negligible when he was smaller. It’s been challenging at times to re-experience parenting from such a different perspective. I think, for my own mind at least, it may be easier to raise two children together than doing it with a singleton. Childhood is more fun when there’s a close sibling with which to share everything. An important element that featured in my own childhood, I think Toby has experienced more solitariness than I would have liked. On the other hand, of course, there’s the up-side – he is not afraid of ‘being alone’ and has a level of self-confidence that being an only child often brings. And on top of that, he has sisters, grown adults now of course, with whom he shares a different, more relaxed relationship; they are connected by a strong bond and are finding more to like about each other as each day passes. They look forward to being adult siblings, supporting each other through all that life throws at them.
But now he is ‘The Neanderthol’, a strapping almost-adult with magnificent strength and character, of whom we are very proud. His life lays before him as an open book, waiting to be written. He has ideas, some of them hugely entrancing, that will require a great deal of hard work and commitment to achieve, but I have little doubt that he will succeed. He’s that sort of chap. When he says to people that he wants to be a feature film director, their initial smirk of experience soon yields to a genuine smile of appreciation and often develops into the unmistakable glow of awe as they realise that this is not pie-in-the-sky for him, he just doesn’t yet know exactly how he will achieve this lofty desideratum.
So, we find ourselves this autumn, pondering the next step with him.
Options are multitudinous. The most obvious is university – we’ve travelled this road before, although it’s a little different today, with tuition fees, student loans and all the considerations of future employability weighing heavily in the mix. and so it is that we find ourselves travelling from circus to circus – sorry, that should say ‘Open day to open day’ – at the various institutions that offer courses in film-making, television or alternative media. Many of these are channelled through acting or performance-related options and the purpose of seeing a number of different facilities is to try to make sense of which is the most suitable option for him. It’s a minefield though!
At each event, we cruise through the corridors of power – although I am heartily sick of seeing endless corridors that lead to studios or black-box suites where our offspring COULD be learning how to fade-in camera 4, if only the rooms were unlocked for this inaptly monikered ‘Open Day’, which might be better called ‘Closed Day’ in many cases. The best experiences are those in which the tour-guide has an engaging and outgoing personality (which is what you might expect from ambassadors for a performance arts programme) coupled with an intimate and authoritative body of knowledge about the courses, the facilities and the general pros-and-cons of this establishment, which should persuade you to enrol immediately. So far, we’ve only really come across this in Salford.
Salford is, for those who don’t know the place, not a salubrious or particularly beautiful part of England. Even the people who live there, known in the Urban Dictionary as ‘Salfordians‘ would probably agree that whilst beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, one would not necessarily be beholding the town at the time. There is definitely a distinctive pride in the town of the significance of their heritage – the dark and gloomy Victorian mills were a mainstay of the growth of Empire, built on the backs of the workers who churned out goods to be shipped far afield, the manufacturing centre of the universe in the nineteenth century. These buildings’ purpose now long redundant, the area has faced the challenge of regeneration as effectively as the Time Lord, ‘Dr Who’, with the creation of the brand-spankingly new Media City at the core.
Gone are the slums, the filthy rows of mean terraced houses of my youth. L.S.Lowry would not recognise the place any more – many of his straightforward representations of the local landmarks look completely alien when compared with the modern landscape of the town. As a youngster, living in nearby Stockport, being a huge football fan I was occasionally treated to a visit to Old Trafford, the most hallowed ground conceivable in my mind at the time. I recall wending my way through row upon row of red-bricked houses, usually with gleaming white-painted, scrubbed-within-an-inch-of-their-lives stone doorsteps and hundreds of dodgily parked cars for what seemed like miles around the ground. None of this is there any more. I snapped a few photos of the new (to me at least) vista with Old Trafford across the river from Media City. It looks serene these days.
We visited a couple of weekends ago, with a degree of trepidation – Yorkshiremen and Mancunians have long held each other with suspicion, harking back to the Wars of the Roses I think, which raged during the fifteenth century. Five hundred years of rivalry, in business, on the sporting field and in pretty much every respect means that each is at least a tad wary when not on home ground. It’s taken me this long for my Yorkshire family to forgive me for being from ‘The Other Side’. It felt oddly comforting to cross the M62 into Lancashire after such a long absence. I’m not sure my FAB Hubby and the Neanderthol felt the same! The view over the ‘Clouded Hills’ (William Blake’s words from ‘Milton’, immortalised in the hymn ‘Jerusalem’) is definitely one to inspire though.
As Toby delved deeper into the increasingly attractive facilities that Salford University has to offer, I found myself looking at the surroundings with a photographer’s eye. (What? You’re surprised? Who knew?)
Media City is where television is made now in England, for the most part, the BBC and ITV moved many of their London-based operations to the new conurbation in the north a couple of years or so ago; it is pretty self-contained, but possess it’s own, modernistic beauty.
The buildings are functional, of course, but also less bleak than I’d imagined. There’s a real ‘buzz’ in the air. It *feels* creative. I can’t define that. I can’t put my finger on what makes it so.
Maybe some of these pictures can help define it for me?
The Blue Peter Garden, transferred from the roof of Broadcasting House in London, delights children of today so much more because of its accessibility to all in its new location at Media City.
The Lowry Museum intrigued from inside and out…
… whilst other structures, such as the cable stayed footbridge over the water, are all about the linear qualities.
Now… I wonder if you can recognise the original inspiration for these orbs?
All I can do is hope that, if this is the place where my neanderthol chooses to stride out on his own towards, it’s a place where he might do well. Find success.
Then we will truly have achieved what we wanted in life. And being alone, without the constant presence of at least one scion will seem less like a challenge and more like a new adventure. We’ll be waiting for that chapter to unfold.
Thanks for reading once again!
In 2014 we have been continually reminded that this is the centenary of the start of The Great War. During my school days, which do indeed seem like an entire lifetime ago now, I was remarkably interested in this conflict – for reasons unknown at the time. I think I was probably around twelve or so when I first became aware of the fact that the entire world had been at war with each other on two mighty occasions during the twentieth century. I can recall, as clear as day, my thoughts about this – ‘When WILL Man ever learn to live harmoniously, side by side?’ I think you can probably tell that I was a child of the Sixties, born into a generation that truly believed that Peace on Earth not only was possible but is what we will bring about – Man’s crowning glory of an achievement.
Whilst I cannot profess to being a devoted student of war, my interest in The Great War was piqued by the tales my mother was continually regaling me with, which focussed mainly upon World War 2 – she lived through it as a young adult whose equally young husband had fought in Burma, was captured and held as a Japanese prisoner of war for around three years, only to return to a strange and unreal *normality* and somehow they had both survived. I now know that she possessed an active imagination which resulted in many of her tales being augmented truths rather than reliable historical fact, but none-the-less, she inspired me to consider the consequences of war from a practical perspective – how ordinary people reacted to the fluidity of rapid change and carried on, regardless.
I recall being fascinated by the concept that people truly believed, in 1918, that the terrific horrors they had lived through surely were the worst possible things that man could inflict upon each other; that this Great War had assuredly, unquestionably and inexorably been The War To End All Wars. I learned that the benefit of hindsight when considering the mistakes of the past is an oft-misused idea and that to truly understand something you have to consider a person’s actions at the time, without the luxury of retrospection. It’s an important lesson in life, a transferable nugget of knowledge that guides the wise. If only I were wise enough to recall this at important times.
My mother often talked of her father, my granddad, Tom Sharp. She spoke of his gruffness, his taciturn, dour manner with all folk, except perhaps for a gentle twinkling when he spoke to her and her young son. She had clearly been frustrated with his reticence when dealing with others, perhaps wishing he could be more pleasant and cheerful as she felt she had to be. What little she knew of his story I cannot say, but perhaps as a young adult her own life had been so scarred by the events of World War II that she felt, as many young people often do, that it couldn’t possibly have been any worse for him so he should shake it off, forget about it and move on with his life.
She talked of him because through that return to wartime, when sense and reason had departed, she lived with him in a small terraced house in Crowther Street, Stockport. All during the Manchester Blitz, when the Doodlebugs reigned terror upon ordinary people, they clung to each other and survived. Manchester is only a hop-and-a-skip north of Stockport and as home to much of the manufacturing of the arms and weaponry of war, including the famed Avro Lancaster bombers, the city was a prime target. I’m not sure if it’s one of her fantasies or not, but she used to tell me of her work in the factory at Chadderton, where she worked on the Lancasters; it’s entirely possible as it’s only about eight miles, which was a distance she could have travelled by bus to work each day.
Stories of my mother’s wartime experiences I’ll keep for another time – it is Granddad Tom that I’m thinking of today. Only last week when we visited Salford (again, that’s a whole other story!) we found ourselves in the Lowry Museum for a little while. I love to visit galleries and see paintings, sculptures, Art, up close and in reality. Not printed in a book or photographed and available online. But actually, here: right here, in front of my own eyes, where I can observed the brush techniques the artist chose to employ and consider what they might have been envisaging, imagining, conceptualising. I’d managed to sneak a gallery visit into an altogether different trip and was pleased we had made it. Looking at the ‘Match-stalk men and match-stalk cats and dogs’, as Lowry’s paintings have come to be fondly known, took me back to my youth, when Stockport had looked much like many of the scenes depicted with such child-like simplicity. I swear I knew some of the people represented – and I definitely knew the animals!
Imagine my surprise and delight then when I came upon Lowry’s portrayal of Crowther Street, the very same street where my mother, granddad and brother had lived during that terrible period! They had lived there after the war too, for my brother has occasionally told me about his early memories of the place – sliding down the ‘Brew’ (which I think is an old Lancastrian word for steep hill) on a wooden board, nearly killing himself in the process! Granddad Tom used to stand on the doorstep outside their home at Number Five, watching the world go by, tapping our the contents of his pipe on the side of his tin leg. I was touched by the shared memory of a place and a relative that I never knew.
The tin leg intrigued me though. My brother describes his memories in an entry on his Facebook page: ‘My own grandfather (maternal) lost a leg at Paschendaele . It simply disappeared as a shell landed on his artillery wagon, killing his six horses. He was a horse farrier sergeant major and immediately detailed two gunners to go and look for his leg! He was given a tin leg and I remember that it banged like an oven door every time he knocked his pipe out on it!
In another post from my brother, I’ve discovered that our grandfather served in the Royal Horse Artillery for twenty-seven years prior to being invalided out of the Army after his brush with death at Paschendaele. Now this is a man I find I want to get to know. He is one of many hundreds of thousands of men who sacrificed much in service of their country during that egregious conflict. Thankfully, he was spared his life otherwise I would not be here today.
So when I see the commemorative events that mark the centenary of the First World War, I think of the senseless waste of human life yes, but I also think of my grandfather – how that one event must have soured his enthusiasm for life, yet in spite of it all he survived. He returned home from the madness and resumed his life with his family, fathering at least two more children in the following three years after the Great War. He further survived the death of his beloved wife, from complications in labour with their last child – the little boy survived; my eighteen-month-old mother’s only younger sibling. It’s no wonder really, that he was so out-of-sorts with life after that. Perhaps mum could have cut him a little slack for the hardships he had known in his long and difficult life.
I am overwhelmed with sadness when I see poppies each November – it has always affected me on a deep level. When I heard, earlier this year that an artist had created the magnificent ceramic poppies installation at the Tower of London, I was determined to ensure that I took some time to go and see it in real life. In person. Like viewing the Lowry paintings, the actual reality of the piece means so much more than just looking at them online.
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see them this week. It really was a moving experience – consider the symbolism, the presence of each poppy, crafted with care and compassion and planted with equal benevolence by volunteers and patrons – each poppy representing a fallen hero from the many battles during the Great War. The venue of the Tower of London is an excellent idea, largely because of the additional symbolism of this as a place of power in times past. The hustle and bustle of the modern city is never really transcended – but then I imagine that would have been equally difficult in the squalid, unforgiving trenches on the Western Front and elsewhere.
I took many photos, of course, you would not expect anything less, I’m sure. I found myself looking for contrasts to create some contiguous images that might provoke mixed feelings. As I walked around the perimeter walls of the Tower, I noticed a heavenly perfume and was drawn to these beautiful roses, flowering in the mid-September sunshine and suddenly had exactly the juxtaposition that I was seeking. Roses, representing the beauty of individual souls alive in a sea of cold, ceramic poppies, seems so appropriate to me.
Funnily enough, the family of a fallen hero had a similar idea, I discovered, as they left a small bunch of roses tied to the railing, giving a brief account of their loved ones’ sacrifice. I found it very touching.
I also decided to make a photo-montage of the scene that I encountered. My wide-angled lens is good, but I wanted to create something that gave at least some indication of the grand scale of this installation. I took seventy-two shots from the same spot. Then I’ve pieced them together into this montage. The original file is massive of course – around 1.3GB (gigabytes – that’s a whole bunch of pixels!), so I’ve resized it to make it reasonably accessible on this blog. Also, since I did this on Wednesday, I’ve discovered a much more effective tool to stitch the individual images together – but I’m not re-doing this one yet! I hope you enjoy looking at it too.
I’ll leave you with your own thoughts about this piece of artwork – and will be remembering my Granddad too.
Thanks for reading this evening – your presence here keeps me going!
A couple of weekends ago our nephew and his lovely fiancée were married at the Gomersal Park Hotel.
As always here in England, we all worried about the weather; an unnecessary concern as it turned out, because the day was perfect, slightly cooler in the morning, so that all the important people didn’t soak their precious garments in buckets of perspiration, lovely and warm with intermittent sunshine during the afternoon, giving photographs a glorious quality of bright, sparkly light.
I had been asked to take some photos by Lee and Lyndsey at least a year ago, when they first floated the date within the family – August Bank Holiday weekend is notorious for downpours and this probability was high on my radar for potential difficulties on the day. Of course I agreed to do the honours – I do like to take a couple of pictures every now and then, which, if you’re a regular reader, you may already be aware of. I decided to take a positive approach. If I refused to believe that rain might spoil the day and mean that I have to engage in Plan B, then it simply WOULD NOT happen. I’m quite impressed by the power of positive thinking sometimes!
It was probably just as well, because Plan B was not very well thought out.
In fact, it didn’t really exist.
I’m prepared to admit this now, two and a half weeks later, when its actuality is irrelevant. It was never needed, so why worry about it?
So, Plan A was simple.
- Go to the bride’s house (actually, the bridesmaid’s house but let’s not get too picky here!), an hour and a half’s drive from mine, arriving by eight-thirty on W-Day.
- Take a bunch of *getting ready* pictures.
- Follow the bride to the venue.
- Get out of my car ahead of her arrival in order to capture her arrival.
- Capture the Wedding Party as they began their traipsing down/up the aisle.
- Rush to the front and capture the Father of the Bride giving his daughter away.
- Capture as much of the ceremony as possible, as well as some of the audience/witnesses expressions during sai ceremony.
- Rush to back in order to capture the newly-weds as they embark along the aisle towards their new life, together.
- Go outside & capture the guests’ joy at what has just happened -including the throwing of rice or confetti over the new Mr & Mrs Deaves.
- Begin the process of photographing everyone in every possible combination known to man and mathematicians;
- NB: Allocate Ushers to the job of ensuring people are where they are needed at appropriate times
- Make sure the Ushers have a copy of The Plan.
- Include some of the bride’s personal requests regarding particular images she wanted to capture (there’s a rather fetching log to drape brides over – presumably to show the dress off to maximum advantage).
- Try to survive this PLAN without having a heart-attack or personal meltdown.
OK. Looking at it in black and white like this, I can see that there are some minor faults.
Perhaps, it may not have been as simple as I had thought.
The first part of the plan went fairly well… I arrived early enough, drank tea, fiddled with my equipment and took about four hundred shots – many of the adorable new addition to the family, ten-day-old Evelyn. I have to say that her Zen-like approach to the occasion may well be an important lesson for all of us to emulate! I have many shots like this one, where she was napping peacefully, looking like a perfect angel.
Lots of preparation shots, including some adorable ones of The Dress, went well too. There was the inevitable photo-bomb, when snapping away on the upstairs landing, *someone* (notice my discretion there – not naming the culprit!) popped out of the bedroom, right behind the bride and her mum, to ask for some assistance with their dress – their state of undress could have been embarrassing. Fortunately, the two subjects shielded the ‘bomber’ and everyone’s dignity was maintained. Phew!
Everyone was readied, one by one. The Page Boys and Flower Girl looked particularly angelic, for a few minutes at least. The bride’s parents adjusted each other’s buttonholes/sprays and smiled lovingly at each other. People always forget that parents have so much invested in these occasions – that little look an indication of the lifetime of commitment they have given to each other, culminating in this special day for their child. It is the look of love. The bridesmaid arrived downstairs, looking perfect. And then finally, here came the bride. Shining with inner joy, she gracefully posed for photos with her family and the wedding party before they all departed, leaving only the bride and myself to wait for her father’s return. Those last few minutes seemed to take an age. I’m particularly pleased with some of the images from this time.
The, at last, her dad returned and smiling broadly, they posed for a final picture at home. Folding the dress into the car, checking all the doors’ ribbons and finally driving off to the venue. Not a sign of nerves.
Then things went slightly awry – I managed to take an alternative (some would say *wrong*) route to the venue, losing the bridal car in traffic and arriving some ten minutes after them. Fortunately, FAB hubby HAD plan B tucked away at the back of his mind and managed to take some shots for me whilst I found the *right* route and rocked up eventually, a little flustered, but not a lost cause. No siree, not me!
The ceremony went exactly as planned and then we were into the home stretch – just the ‘formal’ pictures to capture.
I may have been a little more successful if I had experience in kitten herding! I think, should I embark upon a venture such as this in the future, I may invest in a Border Collie, a special whistle and take a few lessons in shepherding from Jon Katz and the exemplary Red. That, or maybe a loudhailer. Or, perhaps, a magnum of champagne – that way, I simply won’t care if I’ve managed to photograph everyone!
When all was said and done though, it was a beautiful wedding, enjoyed by all and I hope that the bride and groom will enjoy looking through the three or four hundred photos that I will have eventually have whittled the occasion down to (from the eighteen hundred ++ that were taken!), when they get back from honeymoon in Mexico, later this week. I hope they’ll like them. Then it will have been worthwhile.
Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Deaves!
Thanks for reading once again!
We’ve moved many times in the thirty-five years that we’ve been together, my FAB hubby and I. When we first moved to Hong Kong, in September 1992, it was a terrifying experience. Everything was completely overwhelming, foreign and strange. It was also exciting, and wonderfully inspirational.
We had to wait for about two months before our furniture arrived – it may have been longer in fact, because we couldn’t inform the removal company where to send it to until we had an address for it to arrive at and as we lived the high life at the Island Shangri-La – a most luxurious, brand-spankingly new, six-star hotel in Pacific Place – for the first four or five weeks; it was getting on for mid-November before our furniture from ‘home’ came anywhere near us.
Moving to this newly-built apartment in Mid-Levels was a big step. We had arrived in Hong Kong with almost nothing – a couple of suitcases of clothing and some photographs to remind us what our children looked like, back in England, enjoying their boarding school. Even when our stuff did arrive, we had only packed the dining table and chairs, our double bed and some essential belongings – the bronze and rosewood cutlery we’d bought ten years earlier, our best china dinner service and a few other knick-knacks. We’d pretty much sold everything else we owned because we had no idea what we could or couldn’t actually take with us.
So the apartment was very strangely empty, even after our belongings arrived. We didn’t really notice because there was so much to see, so much to explore.
One of my favourite places to go was the Japanese department store, Seibu, which occupied a large section of two floors in Pacific Place. It was full of marvellous wonders and most invitingly, had a well-stock art-supplies area that, although a little pricey, seemed like an Aladdin’s cave to me. I spent many hours perusing the goodies and finally decided on some new watercolours and some pastel papers.
Amongst our treasured belongings was a gorgeous calendar with some British Wildlife photos, that I had been given by a relative some years before. Badgers, hares, squirrels and deer frolicked in each different scene. I had intended to put them together in a montage and mount them together, but I was intrigued by my newly-acquired purchases and decided to have a go at painting them for myself, from the photographs.
I finished six fairly quickly and we took them to the framer’s on Queens’ Road East. It took about a week, but collecting them, rushing home with them and seeing my art work hung on my own walls suddenly made this strange, noisy, utterly crazy city feel like home for the first time. Each time we went in and out of our apartment, they greeted us.
They have hung out together on the walls of every home we’ve lived in since then – nine in all (so far). They’ve greeted all our our children and grandchildren. They are like members of the family now. I hope you like them too.
As always, thanks for reading!