Looking back at the real historical stories.

I think that I’ve always been interested in looking back. Partly, at the beginning, it was sitting at the dinner table listening to conversations that started with “During the war” or “Before the war”. At the time I didn’t really know what “the war” was. I was born in 1949, so by the time I was able to understand the conversations, the war was in the “olden days”.

The conversations weren’t generally about fighting, bombings, or people being killed. More often they were about family and friends; stories of places visited, difficulties encountered when trying to travel, and of shortages of various types.

When, aged seven, I visited Belsen, I was used to looking back, and the awfulness and horror of the Holocaust was not lost on me. It had a lifelong effect on me. It made me interested in history. Not the history they tried to teach at school, the dry, dusty lists of events and dates, but the real thing. I was lucky that I had a father who felt it was important to teach me what happens when people lose their humanity. He didn’t try to shield me from any of it, and he explained things as we walked round. Especially poignant was the small room piled high with shoes and boots, false limbs, crutches and sticks. I can still picture one shoe, a ladies brown leather shoe, with a strap and a button. It was old and worn, and had been bent out of shape. I could see where the woman’s  foot had shaped the shoe. It really caught my imagination, and it made me cry.

The mass graves, marked “10,000 Jews buried in this grave” were just too enormous to comprehend, but that shoe represented one person. One woman, now dead, who had lived, loved, laughed, and ultimately had suffered terribly before dying before her time.

Now, when given the chance, I like to hear other people’s stories. I’m still not very interested in the history that I was taught at school. How interesting though, to be told about the life of a kitchen maid in a big house, or of a particular soldier’s part in the war.

The war is part of history to our school children now. I’m glad to see that history is taught in a much more imaginative way, with children dressing up for school trips. Even though I knew it wasn’t real, I still got a lump in my throat when I encountered a group of evacuees with their cardboard “gas mask” boxes, and brown name labels. It was made all the more real because I was at Beamish Museum of Northern Life. http://www.beamish.org.uk/. Incidentally, a wonderful place for a day out.

It won’t be long until they start teaching children about the 50s and 60s as part of history. Perhaps I should get together with my friends and relations and start writing down our stories. If anyone has memories they’d be willing to share, I’d love to be able to add them to my own on here…..email me!

Aside

Praise and effect!

When I was a little girl I found PE very difficult. I was little and thin, but not naturally athletic. I was a bit scared of hurting myself, so I didn’t just go for it, I held back. The problem was compounded when I was at Brownies when I was seven. Brownies was held at our school, and during a game which involved running, I tripped and slid on the gravel on the newly laid tarmac playground. The graze started at my hairline and ran down my nose and chin, and ended at my neck. I knew then that I would never win a race at Sports Day, because I was never going to run so quickly again.

Fast forward a couple of years to a PE session in the school hall. I dreaded these lessons, and given the choice would rather have curled up in a corner with a book. On that particular day, we were told to climb halfway up the wall bars, and then make ourselves a small as possible. I was stunned and delighted when the teacher told the class that the only person who had made themselves really small was me, and she asked me to climb again and show everyone how it should be done. Perhaps she’d just done a course on the effect of praise on young children. Perhaps I really had done better than everyone else. Whatever the reason, my confidence was boosted, and I started to look forward to the work we did on the wall bars. 

When I was ten, in an art class, my teacher told me that the smoke I had painted coming out of the chimney on the house I was painting was so realistic he could almost smell it. He mentioned the colours, and the way the smoke curled up to the sky. I was no artist, but his comments gave me a lift, and encouraged me to practice my drawing and painting.

As a teenager, having passed my NNEB, and working in a Dr Barnardo’s home, I was absolutely delighted to be made group mother of Heather Nursery. There were six new Staff Nurses, and four nurseries, so two girls were going to float between the nurseries, to cover days off or sick leave. I’d never expected to be lucky enough to have my own nursery. Mrs L., the superintendent of the home, said she felt that I was calm and motherly, just what the children needed. That was an enormous boost to my confidence, and I think I blossomed that year.

Over the years, I’ve received praise from time to time, at work, or from social workers. I realised I always tried extra hard in any task if I knew that someone thought that I was good at something. Now I’m practically retired – well ok, I am retired, and I do a few hours cleaning to supplement my pension, I’ve stopped needing praise. I do my best, I don’t skimp on cleaning or cut corners, I like to be fair and earn my money honestly.

This morning we got back home, and I received a text from the lady whose house we had cleaned:

“Just got home. Oh my goodness, I wish you would both move in with me!!!”

Guess whose house will be even better next time?

 

Forty years of love.

Forty years ago today I had my second baby. My little girl was born three weeks early, induced because of my pre-eclampsia. I’d been put on bed rest at first at home, and then in hospital very early on in the pregnancy. 

The day of the birth was lovely. The sister in the ward, a very stern ex military nurse, had some ways of making a planned induction day special. Breakfast was toast and marmalade, brought on a tray with a starched linen and lace tray cloth. No cups of tea from a big pot on the trolley on that special day. – No, I had a beautiful porcelain cup saucer and plate, with a matching teapot.

At ten o’clock I was taken to a room where a nurse broke my waters, and by midday I was having regular contractions. I’d returned to the main ward by this time, to the friends I’d made over the last few weeks. Some had been in for days, some for weeks. None had spent as long in there as I had, over four months. They kept me company, made me laugh, chatted with me between contractions, called the nurse when the incontinence sheet I was sitting on needed to be changed, and sympathised with me when I was in pain.

I was in a large 24 bed ward. The hospital was an old one, and there wasn’t room for a separate ante natal ward, so we were in with the women who had already given birth. They tried to keep us all together down one end of the ward until the babies were born. This system failed when we insisted on being back with our friends after the birth, and so there was a general move around practically every day, as more babies were born and taken home, more pregnant women came in for rest, and more long term patients gave birth.

At 2pm, the ward started to fill with visitors, including my husband. I seemed to be the centre of attention as the other women told their visitors that I was in labour. Very soon I realised that things were really moving, and I knew I needed to go to the labour ward. My husband asked if he should call a nurse, but I thought being carted out on my bed in the middle of visiting time would be far too embarrassing, so he helped me into my dressing gown, and out of bed, so I could walk out without too much fuss. I hoped people would just think I was going to the toilet. I’d forgotten that my waters had broken, until I noticed the trail I was leaving behind me all the way up the ward….

My beautiful baby was born at 4.25pm, just as visiting time was finishing. A lovely auxiliary called Elsie shouted out the news that “It’s a girl!” and was greeted with a cheer and a round of applause.

Tania was a tiny, perfect little girl. She weighed 2lb 12oz, and she was immediately bundled up in a huge white towel. They said “Say hello to Mummy” as they showed her to me, and within seconds they had rushed out of the room with her. I had no time even to touch her little face. It didn’t stop the rush of love, though. I was elated and scared all at the same time. Elated that I had a little girl to join my first child, a boy, and scared that I might lose her.

Three days later I was discharged from hospital. I hardly slept the night before. I was excited about going home at last and seeing my little boy again, and worried about how he would cope. After all, he was only a baby himself, 16 months old. He’d bonded with my wonderful friend who had cared for him for four months. And I was devastated at having to leave my baby behind. I thought she might feel abandoned. That she might know I wasn’t there.

Care of premature babies was so different then. I wasn’t allowed to touch her “in case of infection.” I hadn’t even been allowed to touch her hand. When I think about it now, I don’t know why I didn’t protest. Did it not occur to me that I was no more likely to infect her than the nurses or doctors were? The only explanation I can give is that in those days, doctors were treated like some sort of gods, they knew best, and we didn’t argue with them.

One day we walked in to visit her and her incubator was empty. My heart was in my mouth, and I panicked. My first thought was that she had died. I knew that they couldn’t contact me by phone to tell me, because we didn’t have a phone. Writing this now, I can still feel how I felt then. It was the most terrible feeling. Then a nurse came in, saw my face, and said “Don’t panic, Tania’s in a cot now.” 

Tears streamed down my face as they sat me down and handed her to me for my first cuddle. I have no words to describe how that felt. I couldn’t get enough of the feel of her in my arms, the smell of her skin, and the taste of her, as I gave way to a primeval need to lick her head…whilst trying to pretend that I was just kissing her.

Tania, your first two years were marred by the scourge that is post natal depression. Thankfully you have a father who was able to take over and give you the physical affection it was sometimes difficult for me to show you. You were the most loveable little girl, and I’m sad that we both missed out. I hope you felt the love I had for you though. It was always there. It’s still there. Happy Fortieth Birthday. I am so proud of the beautiful baby you were, the gorgeous unselfish little girl that you were, and the sensitive, compassionate, intelligent, capable woman that you are. I am proud to be your mother. I love you. x

Families, in all their guises.

I started today watching a programme called “Maternity Ward”. Through the TV screen, I became part of the audience watching several babies being born. I watched fathers crying with emotion at the births of their children, and I watched mothers kissing little faces, and thanking doctors and midwives for their help in delivering these little miracles.

I saw them load their precious babies into car safety seats when it was time to leave the hospital. I knew that for most of them that first car journey was the start of a wonderful, though often difficult time. Parenthood is never easy, and those first few weeks of broken sleep, colic, problems with feeding, are very hard. As is often said, babies don’t come with an instruction manual.

But what we always hope is that through all the problems there is love for the child, and that will always help a parent deal with whatever is going on.

This afternoon we went to East Sussex to meet up with my daughter and her partner, and their two youngest children, a toddler and a baby. Their love for their children, all three of them, is so obvious. It isn’t proved by the buying of toys, or by constant fussing over them. It’s shown in their interest when a child says something, in their willingness to stand and wait whilst their toddler dawdles behind or gets distracted by something on the ground. It’s shown with cuddles and kisses and praise when it’s due.

We went to the Seven Sisters Country Park, and walked down to the sea, and of course as soon as I saw the sea, I needed to leave the others and hurry back to the nearest loo, about a mile away. It was a lovely day, so the park was busy with lots of families with buggies, children walking, dogs, people on bikes, some with children in baby seats. I was thinking about how each of these children had their own birth story. Each parent had experienced the joy of the births of their babies, and the hopes for their futures.

For a while I followed a couple and their little boy. He was riding on his father’s shoulders, and they all chatted as they walked along, the little boy asking questions, and the parents patiently answering him, and pointing out things to him as they went along. It seemed like a very loving little family, and I could imagine the joy at this child’s birth. He’s a lucky, obviously very much loved little boy.

I’ve always liked to see families out doing things together, and cycling is one of those things that can involve everyone, including tiny babies, with the use of trailers and bike seats. I was just coming up to a gate where a man and a little boy aged about seven had got off their bikes to walk through. I’d seen them earlier, a man, woman, and the little boy, and had thought that their bike ride through the park together was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

As I got closer, I realised that the child was crying. The man, very impatiently, said “What are you crying for?”, and the boy replied “Mummy just said I was stupid”. I waited for comforting words, but none came. His father uttered what can only be described as a grunt, but which was obviously meant to be translated as “Oh for goodness sake grow up and stop making a fuss about nothing”. He got on his bike and cycled after his wife, leaving the little boy to trail after him, still visibly upset.

I’m sure that if we could see a film of that little boy’s birth, seven years ago, we would see the tears of emotion, the kisses on his little head…the love.  I’d like to know where that all went. What happened in the intervening years to cause a mother to call her child stupid, and a father to be able to ignore his child’s distress? What had seemed like an idyllic scene, parents sharing a bike ride with their child, suddenly seemed very different. All I can hope is that their actions today were out of the ordinary, and that tonight they are reading a story and tucking their child up in bed, and giving him the kisses and cuddles he needed this afternoon.

Warning! You’ll be like me one day!

I have a habit of forgetting the names of places…and people, if I’m honest. It means that there are a lot of conversations in our house that start something like this:

“Shall we go to that place?… you know, that shop that’s cheap? …. the place where we looked at those things, you know, those things that hold waste.”

Do you mean dustbins?’

“No, not dustbins, we’ve never looked at dustbins.”

“Well, I know, that’s why I was confused’

“You know what I mean, the thing we put the vegetable peelings in”….

‘Do you mean the plastic box that’s by the sink?’

“No, not that thing. The thing you empty that into”

‘The compost bin?’

“Yes, the compost bin, that’s what I mean!”

“What about it?’

“What about what?”

‘The compost bin”

By that time I’ve got so confused I’ve forgotten what I was saying in the first place. It would be so much easier if I remembered the name of the place I wanted to go to, before making the suggestion.

This is how we ended up in a Garden Centre today that was a completely different one to the one I’d meant. Added to that, I was so engrossed in a phone call that I didn’t realise we were going the wrong way until we were nearly there. The mistake happened because instead of naming the place, I’d said “That garden centre that has a craft shop next to it.”  I meant a shop that sells beautiful crafts. My husband assumed I meant another garden centre, one that has a Hobbycraft shop next door.

We strolled around the first one for an hour, then got back in the car and drove to the other one. We had a wander round, stopped for a coffee, and then went into the craft shop. Our little detour didn’t detract from  the outing at all. In fact, rather the opposite.  I’ve had a really nice afternoon.

Time to cook the dinner now. We’re having that stuff I bought in the Co-op a couple of days ago, you know, it was two packs for £5…we had it when our friends came for dinner last time. usually I cook it in a sauce with mushrooms…. What’s it called? Oh yes… chicken.

 

Life through Facebook

 

When I joined Facebook, I wasn’t very sure what it could bring to my online experience. I’d joined Handbag.com and had quickly got sucked in to the forums. Strangers with even stranger user names became important to me. I followed their stories with interest. I learned about pregnancies sometimes before they had become public knowledge in real life, and I joined in the congratulations and the cooing when photographs of new babies appeared on the site.

I followed with interest, wedding plans, saw wedding dresses and invitations, gave my opinion when asked about venues, cakes, and bridesmaid dresses. I thought about brides when their big day arrived, and looked forward to their wedding photographs, some of which were even posted on the day!

Sometimes within weeks I read accounts of marriages in trouble, of separation, and eventually of divorce.

All life was on my computer screen. l laughed and cried with the people I “met” on there. I was invited to one girl’s wedding, and was trying to decide how to get out of going, when everything went horribly wrong for her, and thankfully it was cancelled. I hadn’t met her fiancé, but I didn’t like him much.

Eventually the site was taken over and changed to such an extent that people left in their droves, and it all but collapsed. I still check in from time to time, but it isn’t the same.

At about the time of Handbag’s downturn somebody asked me if I was on Facebook, and I decided to join. At first I had little understanding of what the site was about, but I persevered with it, and in a matter of weeks I was hooked.

Facebook has had some bad publicity. Tales of bullying, secrets being told, gossip, marriages breaking up because of illicit relationships spawned on Facebook. Tune into Jeremy Kyle any morning and you’ll see DNA tests and lie detector tests being carried out because of something that has been said on Facebook.

For me though, Facebook has been nothing but positive. Through Facebook I can see photos of my Grandchildren, on the day they were taken. I can follow the lives of my nieces and nephews and their children. I hear their joyous news, and I hear their sad news. I have close contact with cousins, and am able to share their ups and downs, to ask for and to give advice. I read their jokes, laugh with them, and sometimes cry with them.

I have made new friends too, people I will never meet in real life, but who have become important to me. Some of them through games I no longer play, but the connection I felt then is still there, maybe through some shared interest, or just through a shared sense of humour. Some of them are friends because we play Scrabble or Words with Friends. Thankfully none of them seem to mind playing against someone like me, who is too impatient to be a competent player. I don’t mind losing though…and I’m happy to boost their winning statistics!

I think the point is, that I’m not just addicted to Facebook, I’m thankful to have all this contact with people who mean a lot to me, who I’d rarely see, and probably never speak to on the phone or write to. I wonder now what I did before Facebook?

Letter to my ex husband.

Dear Ex Husband,

OK, you’ve done it… you’ve got our attention. There’s a wide circle of people thinking about you, talking about you, and worried about you. 

Twenty years ago, about this time of year, we were in the middle of a divorce. A lot has happened for both of us since then. For me, after lots of ups and downs, I have settled into a very very happy marriage.

You, unfortunately are now going through your second marriage break up. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out for you and your wife, but these things happen, and when I heard the news I hoped that you would meet someone else and find the same sort of love that I have found. After all, you are only in your early sixties, there’s plenty of time.

What has happened in the last few days has shocked all of us. You have had a stroke. Luckily it seems to be a minor stroke, and with treatment the damage will be limited. It could have been so much worse. Instead of me phoning to tell our daughters that you were in hospital, I could have been breaking much worse news to them.

The first time I ever caught sight of you, it was a Sunday afternoon, and I was going for an interview in the small village where you had been born and brought up. You were crossing the road, wearing your mechanic’s overalls. My Dad laughed and remarked that at least there was one boy in the village! The fact that it was a Sunday, and you’d obviously been working, should have warned me.

We didn’t get together for over two years, but you were part of the crowd of village boys that came regularly to The Mews, the accommodation we student Nursery Nurses shared. We eventually got together at a dance in Brighton. Very quickly we decided we wanted to be married, and so in January 1970 we started our life together.

One of the things I liked and admired about you was your work ethic. When I met you you were working overtime every day, by starting an hour early and working an hour late. I still think that is admirable in a boy of eighteen. 

We had our first baby the same year we were married, and I remember you taking him in his carry cot when you were doing private work. I’d been admitted to hospital. You were looking after the baby, taking him to your Mum’s in the day, collecting him after work, having dinner and then going out to fix cars, baby in tow.

Within seven years of our marriage we had four children, and your Mother was beginning to  express anxiety about you, and our marriage, simply because your work had taken over your life. You were self employed by then, and working very long hours. Fourteen hours a day was probably a short day for you. Your Mum even suggested that I should give you a shock by leaving you, as she had done when your Dad had been working all hours and leaving her with five children to care for. It had worked for them, but I couldn’t think of doing the same to you.

Gradually as your career developed and changed, the long days became weeks away from home, with you still managing to fit in 14 hour days, eating and drinking on the run, and mostly sleeping in your lorry. All your life people have told you that you should slow down. I know you so well though. You are proud of your ability to work on when others have given up and gone to sleep. 

I think you probably managed to slow a little when you first got together with your second wife, but that very soon she too was alone at home with her children far more than she should have been. I don’t know why you and she split up, but I do wonder whether the cracks started to appear because of your need to fill your life with work. Only she could tell me that. Perhaps one day she will…we have a lot in common, after all.

So here we are, and for the first time in your life you have been forced to stop for a while, and it hasn’t been because you have listened to your mum, or your wife. Your own body is at last telling you that you’ve been taking it for granted. You have been a very fit man, still are in a lot of ways, and that will help you recover, but only if you listen. You are in your sixties now, by no means an old man, but you have done what you have always done in the run up to Easter. You have worked all hours, seven days a week, for the last six weeks….Why? So some Garden Centres can be set up in time for this busy weekend, and make more money off your back. You have risked your life and your health for that. Please don’t tell me you think that it’s worth it.

You have so many people that love you and respect you, and to whom how many hours you work doesn’t matter, except when that working encroaches on the time you can spend with them. Your children and Grandchildren need you to spend time with them, not just a couple of hours here and there when you are working in the area, though those extra visits would still be appreciated.

Last year you took some of the Grandchildren away on holiday. They will never forget that week…don’t let it be the last happy memory they have of you.

You are the father of my children. When I heard that you were in hospital I was shocked and upset. I hope that the coming month, when you are not allowed to drive, and when I’ve no doubt your Mother will insist that you take it easy, you will discover that not working is not such a bad thing, that there are other ways you can fill your time.

Get well soon,

With my love always. x

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