The Real Meaning of Christmas

This morning one of my daughters tagged me in a photo on Facebook, asking, “Remember this?”

Wow, that was a blast from the past. I not only remember the Christmas stockings in the photographs, I’d made them with two of my children, and even though it was a long time ago, I still remember that Christmas extremely well. How things have changed since then.

The year was 1975 or 1976, and my husband and I had moved to a new house with our two young children. My husband had just recently started working; it was a poorly paid job and we didn’t have a lot of money. I was doing my bit by doing a few hours in a pub, behind the bar, and we struggled to keep our heads above water.

We were managing day-to-day, but the extra bills were very worrying. The old coin meter in our previous home had been robbed when some kids had broken into our flat. We were responsible for the meter so we had to pay the missing money back to the gas board, on top of our regular bill and so the debt came with us. Despite constantly asking for a gas meter reading and subsequently, the bill we were still waiting nearly a year later and each quarter that passed hiked the worry up another notch. I had tried putting some money away for when the gas bill finally materialised, but growing children have needs, shoes, coats, food, just the basics of life. And the children came first.

Finally, a couple of weeks before Christmas the bill turned up on our mat, demanding payment for the year’s supply of gas and the amount owing from our flat. It was a lot of money, money we just didn’t have.

I contacted the company and frankly, they didn’t want to know. We owed this money, they wanted it, and it had to be paid before 23rd of December. End of discussion.

My husband was on two weeks holiday over the Christmas period, and had received his pay for the entire month. So it was with a very heavy heart we went on the bus to the city centre Gas Board shop and paid over every penny we had. There hadn’t been quite enough so I had put the family allowance I’d been trying to save, towards paying the bill.

It was two weeks before Christmas and we were penniless. We had two children to feed and luckily I had bought a little extra food for the holidays. It just meant come Christmas we would have very little if anything left. And more importantly, we couldn’t buy any presents for our children. Nothing, and we no way to provide them with anything.

Clothing for them were fairly easy. I had an old treadle sewing machine sitting in the back bedroom. I could make them something new for Christmas but it would have to be from whatever I had round the house.

I found a piece of crimplene fabric in my basket, rough and scratchy but blue, suitable for trousers for my son. So, using his outgrown pair of pants as a pattern, I tapered the flared legs a little so it fitted on the material and still left a little to make him a little waistcoat and bow tie. I hadn’t been able to make him a shirt so I cut the sleeves off a one which he’d out-grown and made them short so he could still wear it. The bow tie was a sort of a success, but it hung badly as the only elastic I could find for it was old and worn; it had as much stretch left in it as a piece of old grey string.

The waistcoat would have benefitted from a bit of lining but I has nothing suitable that I could use. But fastened with the two old brass buttons out of my treasure box it looked quite snazzy. My treasure box was my button tin, filled to brimming with beautiful vintage fastenings and buttons of every conceivable size and shape. Inherited from my Nanna and added to from jumble sale items it was a great source of fun for the children. Sorting, counting, making different noises. The huge old coat buttons from the forties and fifties are great for making whizzers*. ( I’ll add instructions at the end so you can try it too.)

For my daughter I made a dress from a small piece of floral cotton fabric that I had that was just sufficient for her size. I added some lace that I had taken off my slip, sewn around the neck and the sleeves and a prettier dress you couldn’t have found anywhere. She tried it on and told me she was like a princess as she spun round and round to make the skirt lift up into the air. There was enough lace to sew around the top of her ankle socks, and a tiny ribbon bow also taken off my slip was added to finish them off.

I didn’t have time to knit her a new cardigan, I’m a very slow and often reluctant knitter. It’s was not my favourite hobby. So my daughter had to make do with one of her old ones.

That was the clothes sorted, but what to do about the rest of Christmas? At the bottom of my wardrobe I found an orange corduroy skirt that I’d made for myself the previous year. I had only worn it a couple of times because it was rather bright and gaudy, but it was ideal for two Christmas stockings. The children helped me to decorate the sewn up socks, using scraps from my fabric box. A piece of blue from the pants I’d made, a scrap of the floral material I’d used for my daughters dress, a little remnant from a suit I’d made myself. And finally the inside of the hem of my dressing gown, which was a lovely shiny fabric that my daughter admired. It was easy to cut the piece without damaging the dressing gown too much.

The brown cotton trimming that went round the top came from an old cushion that was going to be thrown out, but it fit the purpose well. The kids helped with pinning and sewing the stockings and were pleased as punch to be making things together.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough orange corduroy for the stocking for our dog Tipsy, but I found a small piece of felt that I embroidered her name onto. I later called into our butchers and asked for a bone for her, so that was another present sorted. We didn’t want Tipsy to feel left out, that would have upset the kids.

Another day and another job. We spent a couple of hours, cutting newspaper into strips to make into paper chains. How dirty were our hands? We couldn’t resist rubbing the printing ink on each other till we ended up looking like little black elves. We rolled about on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, tears running down our filthy faces leaving long thin streaks where the pink of our shiny cheeks shone through.

After a break for tea and toast, we hung the chains around the room, brightened up with three or four balloons left over from a birthday party. Then we set to again, making spirals to hang on our old tinselly tree. I’d been given it by my mother for our first Christmas together. It was definitely past it’s prime, shedding bits of dusty tinsel all over the floor.

We needed an angel, ours was broken. The elastic bands holding her arms on had perished and I couldn’t find another to replace it. I tried mending her using thread but her poor arms hung limply by her side, making her look so disheveled. So we made another celestial being, using wool I had scavenged from an old knitted baby cardigan, a piece of the cornflake box and some silver foil. And not just a new angel but several little people made from scraps of left over wool were soon adorning our tree. Santa, snowman, soldier, a boy, a girl. We soon had enough beautiful decorations to decorate out tree. With its string of lights twinkling in the darkness it looked magnificent, worthy of any home.

We scavenged in the cupboards, looking for things to wrap up to hang on the tree with our homemade crackers. The Oxo box, soap powder box, a tennis ball, a bar of soap, they all made ideal ‘presents’. Before long we had a decent pile ready, along with homemade gift tags. We had fun writing out the tags to the dog, my son’s pet spider, the vicar. The list of recipients was longer than the number of ‘presents’ we had but it didn’t matter. The kids were having such fun, they took to wrapping up socks, a scarf, till everybody had something.

The children went to bed that night very tired but happy. So I got to work making them a present. The double doll I made for my daughter was the easiest. Two old socks from her dad’s drawer soon transformed into Cinderella, wearing rags at one end and her dress for a party at the other. Her yellow wool hair was sewn up into a curly bun for the ball. A tiny crown fashioned out of silver foil sat upon her head, a truly beautiful princess.

The garage for my son was the hardest to make. I had some pieces of ply wood and long pieces of wood in the garden. I was not the most proficient with a saw but after drawing up a plan, and working out the measurements, I finally managed to cut up what I needed without losing any of my fingers or toes. I had helped my dad with woodwork in the past, and had the scars to prove it. He’d shown me how to make a plan, but hadn’t shown me how to make joints. But I got round my lack of knowledge by looking at how my wall units were made and adapt it to my garage using a similar technique.

It took me a couple of evenings to put the garage together before I painted it using some white gloss I had left after decorating. I wasn’t sure if it would work but I wrote my son’s name across the front, and marked out spaces for his cars to park with an old red felt pen I found in the toy box. I’d tried the little blocks of paints we had for colouring in but they just rubbed off. Anyway, the pen worked and I was quite pleased with the result.

Things were looking a lot more positive, Christmas wasn’t going to be too bad at all.

The only thing left now was some food for Christmas Day. I had bought a huge sack of potatoes, so we could have them. There was very little left in the fridge, a piece of dried up cheese and a carrot, but I was sure I could rustle up some sort of meal for us. I had a tin of corned beef which I mashed with the boiled potatoes, sprinkled it with cheese and made a pie. Luckily, I always had flour in the cupboard as I baked most weekend, so I managed a few scones, and some fairy buns, without the icing sugar. But the scraping of jam spread on top of the buns looked just as good.

But then we had a wonderful surprise. I’d mentioned to one of my neighbours about the bill we had to pay. She’d had a word with a couple of other people, then turned up on our doorstep on Christmas Eve with a cooked chicken, enough vegetables for a couple of meals and a strawberry jelly and a tin of fruit.

We’d just returned from the Christingle service at our church clutching the golden oranges I was planning on making into a pudding for our Christmas dinner when our neighbour turned up on the doorstep with the basket filled with goodies. She’d even put in biscuits for our dog and a selection box for the two kids. She wouldn’t come in when I invited her, just wished us all a very happy Christmas and left.

And I cried.

Cried because I was ashamed: ashamed that I could not provide for my children.

Cried because of the kindness of people I barely knew; because of the goodness of people, some of them strangers.

Cried because despite everything it was going to be a good Christmas after all.

I cried even more the next morning when my son and daughter woke up and found the bits and pieces in their stockings, when they ooh’d and ahhh’d over the meagre presents I’d made. Cried when they went to bed that night, with happy memories of a day filled with laughter, silly games, and family time spent together.

Those stockings lasted a long time, year after year they were hung for Santa.

I never knew what had happened to those stockings till the other day, when my daughter asked, “remember this?”
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How could I ever forget? The kindness of others can be overwhelming sometimes. The spirit of Christmas, the love, peace and sharing we witnessed that year will always stay with me. I always try to repay that huge act of kindness that made Christmas so special for us. So each year I quietly give thanks for everything we have and try to do some small act of kindness for others.

I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas time and ask that you give a little thought to someone less fortunate than yourselves.

 

If only…..

Are all children like mine? Asleep, like sweet cherubs, their rosy cheeks shining in the light of dawn. But as soon as they awake, the opening of their bleary eyes act as a trigger to launch their mouths. Mouths that start up like rusty machines, newly oiled and coiled, ready to burst into life. Bickering and fighting, squawking and squabbling, turning the bedrooms into a no-man’s, a bloody battlefield of petty altercations.

Shrieks of……

“where did you put my woodwork apron that you borrowed the other day?”

“That’s my blouse, get it off, I wanted to wear that today!”

“Mam, where my football boots?”

“Tell her Mam, she’s doing it again. Tell her stop looking at me”

…. float down the stairs to mingle with the clanking of the old washing machine that has already started its daily routine. Clinks and clangs, bumps and bangs as shoes and bags are moved around on the bedroom floors as they scrabble to find missing objects.

“Mam, tell him to get off, he’s pulling my hair”, follows the bloodcurdling screams that vie for my attention and struggle to compete with the three different tunes floating on the air, a cacophony of aural bombardment guaranteed to wake up even the deadest of door nails.

if only….

they could agree on one tune in the morning, or wear earphones.

If only….

they would get dressed quietly then eat their breakfast like civilised beings. Or are such mortals a myth invented by people who would never admit their children were also morning monsters?  Appalling aliens?

But no, they fight over the bathroom space; about the towels, of which there are many;  over their own tiny portion of the mirror.  Why do girls need five feet of personal space each before they feel they can brush their hair to some degree of tidiness? Why do boys need such a huge amount of elbow room to brush their teeth.

If only….

they were more tolerant of each of other.

If only….

they could see they all have needs and weaknesses. Every morning, seven days a week, 365 days a year without pause, as regular as clockwork they never fail to perform the alien invasion of the ‘war of the worlds’. Orson Welles would applauded their production, and revel in the originality of their histrionics.

Eventually, seated silently at the kitchen table they eye each other with all the warmth of a cobra poised to strike at the first opportunity. But the silence is short lived, the cease-fire shorter, than a  70’s mini skirt, over too soon, and battle is resumed. Everyone wants the same cereal, but the amount in the box is insufficient to satisfy them all.

If only…..

manufacturers could squeeze just a bit more into the box, then there’d be ample for everyone and there wouldn’t be a problem. Life would be easier, quieter, more civilised.

There should have been more than plenty milk for the morning meal, and there was till one of the girls decided to drink it by the glassfull. No milk, no cornflakes, no problem. If only…..

If only…..

they had not been raised to communicate with each other at meal times.

If only….

they been taught not to talk at the table.

If only….

Eventually, the front door closes and peace reigns, and I sit savouring the stillness in the air. A huge intake of breath and it’s time to tackle the rest of the day. As I stand and move toward the kitchen to empty the now silent washing machine I glance out of the window to see a group of children I barely recognise, as they make their way up the garden path.

Having walked over the pristine step at the front door, through the magical portal that turns monsters into laughing happy children, the siblings were revelling in each other’s company, united as one to the outside world.

If only….

A home within a Home

Although rather small the living room is the nucleus of our family home, a place essential for the congregating of all the family. One entire wall is occupied with units, one large shelf of which belongs to the children. A place where a jumble of multi coloured books, records, crayons and plasticine sculptures brighten up the lower level of the unit. Printed volumes, some worn with age and constant use stand like tired veterans on parade. A “First Aid” book rubs shoulders with a Holy Bible, and Pears Cyclopedia. Whilst the entire library of Agatha Christie mysteries and Readers Digest hard backed books nestle between others by John Wyndham and Charles Dickens. Another shelf groans under the weight of cherished and much-loved ornaments, and knick knacks of little value to anyone but the owner; but greatly loved nevertheless. image

An old green pottery dog presented to the eldest child when a baby by his great Nanna, stands guard over a plastic tub of jaded artificial daisies. A Mother’s Day present made by the youngest daughter of the household with all the care and creativity her little fingers could manage when placing the tiny white flowers in the discarded margarine tub. Standing proudly in the centre of the unit is a fabulous crystal fruit dish, a wide shallow bowl held aloft by a tall trumpet-shaped stem, a fabulous example of cut crystal from an earlier era. Above the fruit dish a row of crystal bells lie concealed amongst a sea of colourful birthday cards, portraying fluffy animals and young boys fishing, testament to the celebration of the eldest and youngest family members whose birthdays follow each other. Cool, green foliage creates a miniature garden along the entire length of the top of the teak shelving, partially masking the rows of books and china figurines underneath. A large asparagus fern spreads its feathery fronds like a protective guardian over a host of training greenery, wandering jew Almost hidden by the plants lurks a black gentleman. Fashioned from a small bottle this male figure sports a Pink bulbous nose and black beady eyes on his otherwise smooth visage. One of his homemade papier mâché limbs hangs limply by his side, whilst the other points stiffly to the ceiling. His On a nearby corner table the polished leaves so a mermaid vine grow in harmony with the sturdy majestic leaves of a mature rubber plant. The rubber plant close-by is healthy but highly unusual in that although it is strong and thriving none of its leaves carry the distinctive cut-out patterns, characteristic to its genus. Sturdy and robust it threatens to engulf the corner as it grows towards the huge sunlit eye to the outside world. The wallpaper behind the plants is hidden underneath a sea of silent faces seen through dusty glass. Uniformed children, smart in school ties and neat haircuts share the space with celebratory couples dressed in all their wedding finery, huge smiles inviting the observer to share in their joy. Hanging above the fire-place is a treasured watercolour, depicting an old derelict mill house. The wheel broken and still, no longer driving the water from the passing stream.  Long since painted it never loses its pristine freshness, a permanent reminder of a close friendship forged several years before with the artist. On top of the now silent television sits a small brass carriage clock loudly ticking off second after second of each and every day. The glare of a beige pottery lamp, gleams off the polished brass and spread like a veil over the darkness of the corner in the night. A white and tan Jack Russell lies curled up in the corner of the dark brown velvet seats which curve gracefully around the room. The small triangular glassed top units fitted between the seats accommodate even more plants. The bushy red and green leaves of a prayer plant, and the stark white and satiny green of the leopard lily provide a bold splash of colour in an otherwise dull corner. Colours reflected in the glass are remarkably like strange aquatic beings, and made even more vibrant by the nearby lamp light, but trapped in a stationary state beneath the surface. In comparison the beings in the aquarium by the door experience the space and fluidity of the water gently carrying them back and forth across the tank. Water bubbling around their golden fins as they pass to and fro amongst the swaying weeds, pop up to the placid surface like tiny pearls escaping their shells. The gentle hum of the filter harmonises with the silent movements of the fishes mouths so they appear to be singing to their trapped companions. Rainbows created by the overhead light shines back from the mirrored sides revealing an underwater kingdom, a home not dissimilar to the home in which it stands, but a place where no human can set foot.

Six weeks in six paragraphs.

It has been quite an eventful summer for me, softened by the beautiful but unusually hot north east weather. I can’t remember the last time we had so much sunshine, over such a long period of time. I have loved every minute of it. Armed with my factor 50 sun cream, I have wallowed in the glorious heat trapped in our south-facing garden.

But the unexpected can be relied upon to jump up and bite us on the bum just when we least expect it. The beginning of the six weeks school holidays should have passed unnoticed by me, now that I am no longer tied to council timetables, but it just wasn’t to be. The first day into the holidays brought us a pair of house guests, in the form of two grandchildren. They may be little but by gum they make their presence felt, and our roomy home quickly diminished in size as the two boys settled into what was to become their home for the next six weeks.

How could I have forgotten the amount of space needed by two growing young boys? Just the physical space needed for their clothes, shoes, and coats can prove overwhelming to someone who is accustomed to having a neat and tidy living space. Add the toys, electrical and computerised equipment into the equation and the building, once more than adequate for our needs, shrank daily. Our dining room table groaned under the weight of laptops and Lego, Meccano and monster trucks. Bikes and scooters lay strewn both in the utility room and down the summer house till the house seemed fit to bursting. Luckily the sunny days allowed us to dining in the garden in the shade, away from the searing heat. Picnics became the norm every lunch time as we fought for space to breath.

Probably the hardest things for me were the meals. My husband and I are rather lacksidaisy when it comes to eating. We don’t have set meal times. We have breakfast when we get up, which is normally 7ish for my hubby, and about 9 for me but depending on how much sleep I have been able to get the night before. Tonight, for example we came upstairs about 9.45 because we were both tired and were nodding off downstairs.My husband is snoring gently besides me as I write, oblivious of the words being quietly typed.

Lunch is a very hitty missy event inasmuch as it doesn’t really exist here in our house. It has no set or regular time because we eat later some days, depending on how tired I am. And that leaves dinner. For six weeks whilst the boys were here, it meant a take away from either the fish and chip shop or our local Chinese. Unlike my own children who are virtually anything I cooked these two young fellows are so particular about food, I was tearing my hair out day after day finding food they would eat. So take-aways have been the best way of ensuring they had had something nourishing to satisfy them.

Yes, life can be very unexpected, not everything goes as planned, but we are usually up to the challenge. We enjoyed the lively company of two growing boys and my hubby and I benefitted from all the extra exercise we got running around from Dawn to dusk.

Nobody Steps Twice Into the Same River……

Nobody Steps Twice Into The Same River…..

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This intrigued me when I heard it the other day, and it set me off thinking again. Initially I thought what a silly thing to say, but then when the little wheels started grating round and round in my head I realised that it was a perfectly logical statement that made a lot of sense.

Each year on a summer’s day my family would march off to the local railway station, sit waiting on the same wooden benches to wait for the old steam train to draw up hauling the same old coaches filled with the same excited people all off on a jaunt to the seaside. Each year we set off for  a little bay called Cullercoats, situated on the scenic and beautiful Northumberland Coast.

Each year my grandparents, my Aunty, Uncle and their family would join ours for a fun-filled day, each year saw a new addition to the family wrapped up safely in the same old pushchairs.

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Each year my nanna would fashion a ‘table’ out of the same sand, cover it in the same red and white checkered table-cloth to furnish us kids with a unique table from which to eat our pooled picnic.

Each year I would wait in line at the little hut at the bottom of the ramp, next to the shawled old lady who sold the same old willicks and mussels collected by her and her family from the same rocks for the usual summer customers. Reaching the head of the queue I’d pay a few pennies for hot water to fill the dark brown boody teapot to make the tea, then ever so carefully carry it back across the damp sand to be given pride of place in the centre of the plates of stottie bread sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, bread and jam.

Each year we would tuck into our feast like it was going to be our last, chatting to each other incessantly, until one of the adults told us to quieted down.  The silence would last a minute or two before exploding into the same all chatter.  Each year there would be another mouth to feed as our families slowly expanded, so babies bottles would have to be mixed and cooled, until eventually everyone, young and old, had their bellies filled.

Each year we children would strip down to our underwear, replacing our overly warm clothes with our swim suits. We always came warmly dressed in anticipation of the changeable north-easterly summer weather. It could be so hot one moment, then a wind or a sea fret would spring from nowhere and we’d be glad of the extra warmth of the cardigan or jumper our parents had insisted we’d worn. Often after the fret and the wind, the rain would then pour down from the heavens, then the sun would be back out drying everything up. However, nothing could ever spoil our day, so we would shelter under hastily unfurled umbrellas determined to have fun regardless.  Many a game of rounders has been played by children running around with brollies or large hankies tied over their heads to keep their hair dry.

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Each year after a plodge in the same cold North Sea, we’d climb the same wall to walk to the end of the same pier, scrabble about on the same rocks below before returning to the fold.  Wrapped in the same big towels we used year after year, we would eat and eat, complaining about the inevitable grains of sand that snuck into every nook and cranny, between the pieces of our stottie, and lying in the bottom of our cups when we drained our tea.  And once the food was all  gone, the cloth would be shaken to scatter the crumbs across the sand, for the squealing, diving seagulls who has been waiting nearby.  Crockery and cutlery would be packed away in the shopping bags and the adults would settle down in the same old striped canvas deck chairs, hired for the day, so they could have a grown-up natter and a game of pontoon whilst the kiddies played. Each year we followed the same timetable, the same tradition, on the same old sandy beach.

Each year our hunger sated, the thought of pirates drew us to the dark dank odorous caves, where we played out fantasy after fantasy, searching for treasure, rescuing each other from roving brigands, from sea monsters and imagined creatures of the deep. We’d scream into the darkness, hearing the noise bouncing of the cave walls till the echoes faded and died.

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And each year we would take our few pennies up to the shops, buy ourselves a stick of seaside rock or a sugar dummy, then ‘lose’ our remaining few pennies in the one arm bandits before returning to the beach.

 

 

Each year buckets and shovels in hand, we would build the same huge sand castles decorated with same treasures we’d found at the water’s edge; shells and feathers, drift wood and seaweed, precious stones, pebbles and rocks, they all found a place in our glorious designs.  And of course the obligatory moat; no self-respecting castle would be complete without one. How else could our beautiful princess locked up in the high tower escape when the tide came in?

Each year the friendly competition between families would spill over to include  other families  near by who would collaborate in our fantasy  buildings.  Teams formed by children and adults would compete against each other in a variety of ball games and the beach would ring with laughter and screams of delight.Each year we would approach the inevitable clearing up time with little enthusiasm as the kids scrambled around trying to find their socks and shoes, vest and knickers, buckets and spades. Each year the adults would join in the hunt for the missing articles whilst at the same time trying to round-up all the youngsters from amongst the other kids spread across the crowded beach.

 

And each year, at the end of a long day groups of tired, sleepy children would pile into the same Cullercoats train station, then climb onto the same old train, homeward bound.  Huddled together in the old carriages, the whistle blowing and the steam leaving vaporous trails in the darkening sky, sleepy children curled up together, dreaming of the wonderful day we had all had, but nonetheless happy to be returning to our homes.

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And so the pattern went year after year. Nothing changing. Except it could never be the same,  for everything  changes. No matter what we do or where we go, who we are with and why we are doing it,  whatever the weather or the occasion we can never ever fully recreate the exactly same situation or scenario that we have previously experienced. Nothing and no one stands still in time. Each second of every minute sees the tiniest of changes that can alter the following second, then the next and the next and so on, infinitum.

So, yes can can step in the river twice , except it can never be the SAME river. As the water flows each molecule is constantly being replace, each stone,  pebble,  grain of sand is moved and worn ever so slightly in the current, the temperature changes constantly so it can never be the same twice.

Nobody steps into the same river twice, or in our case, onto the same sand or into the same sea twice.

 

I’m On My Way, I’m Coming Home….

For the past fortnight I have escaped the cold and rain of home, having swapped the British weather for the hot sunny days and balmy nights of foreign shores. This is my second visit to Tunisia and like the previous one I have once again enjoyed the friendliness of the people both in and outside the hotel which is beautiful and airy.  The art work round the walls depict a life far removed from what I’ve known, and the comfortable seating invites you to lounge around and relax, perfect after the ample feasts served in the bright and roomy restaurant.
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The way of life here is so different to ours, the people are more laid back than at home; everyone seems less intense, working at a far slower pace than we normally do.  From what I have observed during my time here Health and safety has yet to be invented; painters balance precariously up makeshift ladders, hang from ledges that back in the UK would only be inhabited by pigeons. I’ve watched repair men use grinding tools and blow torches without gloves, goggles or overalls and when observing them at work they appear to use the tools correctly without messing about or taking unnecessary risks and so survive to work another day.  They put themselves at enormous risks every working day and nobody blinks an eyelid.

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On the other hand it appears that everyone is allowed to think for themselves, make informed choices and accept responsibility for any mistakes they may make.  Remember when accidents were just that?  Accidents?   Sometimes preventative,  sometimes caused by human error, but either way we all used to be responsible for our own follies and errors.  You won’t find any Accident claim solicitors here yet, there is not one in sight, bliss.  Unheard of back home!!

 

One of the greatest differences between home and the hotel was the amount of freedom afforded children on holiday. I didn’t hear a single adult say to a child, “don’t do that, you’ll fall, trip, hurt yourself, scrape your knees”, or other parts of their anatomy.  Boys and girls ran around inside the hotel and out: kicked footballs, plodged and swam in the pool, pretended to be red Indians, sorry native Americans, spacemen, bank robbers and pirates.   They chased each other and generally used their imagination and behaved like children used to do.  By the same token, I never saw any children bleeding, crying, or looking too terrified to sneeze in case they had caught a cold and would be huddled off to bed by over-protective parents.   The children ran and laughed and played, made friends with others from different countries and cultures and thoroughly enjoyed themselves doing it. They interacted with grown ups in the restaurant and by the pool, out at the crazy golf, and in the lobby and were generally very happy playing in the sun.

What was very striking to me was the lack of  warning signs pasted as far as the eye can see and no government departments telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat, how or how not to live our lives. I ate my fruit and vegetables every day because I enjoyed them, not because some official decided what was best for me. I had chips without worrying the cholesterol police were going to drop on me from a great height. And I even treated myself to a bowl or two of banana ice-cream, I presumed this counted as one of my twenty a day (or did they again raise the number that is good for me whilst I was away?) I even dared to have a little glass of wine or two with my meals, only lunch and dinner, I didn’t want anyone gossiping about the old sot having rose with her cornflakes.

Anther thing that was fairly obvious to the untrained eye was that The Highway Code and speed limits are virtually non-existent.  Yesterday, whilst waiting for the noddy train to take us back to the hotel, I observed a large 4  X 4 try to park in a small gap.  The driver hit and shoved a little beaten up old car along the road, before deciding there really wasn’t enough space for his vehicle, before driving off up the road to park elsewhere.  Drivers here appear to be more tolerant if slightly reckless, nobody I observed got angry if someone made a mistake.  Everyone seemed to drive at such a speed they were able to stop instantly if the need had arisen. There were no road markings but the drivers allow ample room for each other, and for pedestrians crossing the street.  In one way it is a very simplistic way of life, but not one I particularly envy. I don’t think I would like to completely adopt the Tunisian way of life but where the children and their freedom are concerned I think we have lost so much in the last thirty of forty years, and would gladly welcome it all back.

 

 

The Very Curious Incident of the Girl In the Photograph

I make no excuses for the title; if it bears any semblance to a well-known book and play by the author Mark Haddon it is purely deliberate.

Just recently I logged onto the Newcastle’s Classic photos page on Facebook and came across this photograph dating back to round about the late 19th century. It shows a group of people waiting expectantly for some unknown reason. Most of the figures appear to be gazing up the street in anticipation, though it could well be that the person behind the camera had instructed the crowd in their pose. The lady at the back beside the wall appears to be biting her fingers with a look of apprehension on her face as she watches for someone or something to appear down the cobbled road. I thought maybe a visit from some dignitary was expected but surely, that being such a rare occurrence at the time such a visit it would have surely drawn greater crowds of people. One will never know the occasion of the scene. Nevertheless, the photo is a wonderful testament to the society of the day, a true reflection of the history of the people of Newcastle upon Tyne.

As the city expanded and the population increased, travelling down towards the quay side were rows of rundown lowly buildings, well past their best, inhabited by ordinary folks who rented individual rooms to house their often large families. The buildings themselves, were most often the remnants of houses abandoned when the gentry and more affluent members of the time moved away to the more pleasant suburbs; away from the overcrowding; away from he stench of the working river. The dwellings left behind quickly became slums, as families too large for the individual rooms struggled to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. Families consisting of mum and dad and ten, fifteen or up to twenty children was not unusual. Neither was the fact that some families with more than one room dwellings often rented out one of the rooms to a couple of lodgers to compliment their lowly wages. How different to our world today.

It was only when I looked further at the buildings and focused on the figures that I became intrigued as to why they were standing there waiting. imageBack in those days people had to stand posed for quite a while before the photograph was taken: I couldn’t imagine many children today staying still for so long. Photograph wasn’t available for everyone, yet here was a street scene that could have been taken right off the page of a Dickens’ novel. As I further scanned the photograph I was taken aback by the curly-haired youngster standing in the foreground. She was so familiar I felt I knew her. But how could that be? I may be getting on a bit, but I certainly wasn’t around a hundred plus years ago. Where had I seen her before? Could I have seen this photograph previously but forgotten about it? I didn’t think so. The girl did seem familiar yet I didn’t recall the buildings. Maybe I was imaging it, but I did feel like I knew this girl from somewhere.

I wondered, did I have a copy of this picture amongst my own? Maybe I had a copy in my family tree or in a folder waiting to be added into my family history album. It was then that it occurred to me that this young girl closely resembled myself at a similar age, a face I remember seeing in a photograph taken by my Dad in my granddad’s garden when I was about twenty months old. I remembered the photograph being in my cupboard so I dug out the box and trawled through the old pictures until eventually I found what I was searching for. Yes, the young girl looked a bit like me as I’d thought but on closer examination I was confronted with could only be described as my doppelgänger, which was quite a shock. I told myself it was just my imagination: but closer examination with a magnifying glass confirmed what I had initially thought might be a slight resemblance was anything but. image Those two pictures could have been of the exact same person. Yet more than a hundred years separated them. Both girls look well fed and cared for, especially the girl in the oldest of the two photos. In comparison, Some of the other children looked a bit unkempt, were barefooted and looked a bit grubby.

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I was intrigued, I copied both the photographs, cropped the old one and put the two figures next to each other.

The result took my breath away. Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it was just a trick of the camera creating the resemblance, so I dug through more photos and there near the bottom of the box was another picture of me that also mirrored this girl from so long ago.

imageThis set me to thinking, who had that young girl been? Could she have been one of my ancestors? The photo was taken somewhere in old Newcastle where my great grandparents had lived. In fact, my paternal Nanna had been born in Nunn Street, almost in the centre of the town so there is every possibility that there is a family connection. Who could this girl have been? Perhaps I will never know, but one day I will find the time to do some research, hopefully finding out the reason the people are standing there, and from that find out her identity.

And so, thereby begins the tale of,
‘The Very Curious Incident of the Girl in the Photograph’

Happy Mother’s Day

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On the 30th March here in the UK, Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day as it is commonly  known, is celebrated by families spending time together and giving gifts.

The tradition started sometime during the 16th century when people returned to their mother church on the fourth Sunday of Lent, a Christian celebration leading up to Easter.

This was the only time that domestic servants were given a day off, therefore joining their mothers and families at their mother church, or cathedral was an important and cherished time for them. Servants and their families rarely had a day off that coincided with each other, making their time together very precious.

imageThe religious tradition of young people and children in service collecting wild flowers on the way to church to meet their mothers, evolved into the Mothering Sunday tradition of giving gifts and flowers to Mothers. Mothering Sunday, is still practiced in the Church of England but over the years society has merged it with the imported Mother’s Day celebrations that was started early in the 19th century in the USA.

By the 1950’s Mother’s Day celebrations had spread across the UK and so began a very lucrative commercial enterprise. Each year the price of flowers rise considerably on the day, and people are encouraged to buy more and more expensive gifts, to show their love for their mothers.

Because the two days, Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday,  have been mixed together people wrongly assume they are the same thing. Mothering Sunday is still part of the church calendar, and during the service the children are given small cards and posies of flowers to give to their mothers.

Internationally, Mother’s Day has been adopted as part of the culture of many countries; it has been incorporated into existing religious and traditional celebrations, held on a variety of different dates.

Mother’s Day however can be a very negative day for some people. It can leave them feeling sad and resentful that they haven’t experienced the kind of love portrayed by the media. Every child deserves the protection and love of their parent but as we know not everybody has that experience growing up.  The closeness they crave is out of reach, leaving them bereft of and on the outside of  society’s happiness bubble of motherly love.

There has been many song written about mothers some good, some bad, but one of the most poignant  I know was written by John Lennon when he was undergoing therapy.  His father, a seaman, was absent for most of John’s childhood and he was left to live with his aunt.  His reunion with his mother was short-lived after she was killed in a traffic accident.  The lyrics of  the song “Mother” written and performed by John Lennon expresses the hurt and detachment he experienced as he grew up.

Mother
Mother, you had me, but I never had you
I wanted you, you didn’t want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye, goodbye

Father, you left me, but I never left you
I needed you, you didn’t need me
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye, goodbye

Children, don’t do what I have done
I couldn’t walk and I tried to run
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye, goodbye

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home<

Whatever your feelings about Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day, whatever your feelings about your own mother, have the best day you can have, spend it with those you love and who make you feel good.   And if you have children, be the best parent you can be, give them the best memories they can have and give them all the love you have to give.

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Happy Mother’s Day