On books and reading… (1)

This has been in my draft posts folder for a while – I was annoyed because I’d lost half the post with a little bit of unjudicious button pressing, so I flounced off in a bit of a huff. I’ve revisited it…

It’s interesting that I have recently read two posts about reading habits and how they started. The first is over at The Homeplace Web, where the author recalls going to the library in her youth, and searching out books to keep her (I assume it’s her!) going through the week. Secondly, and purely by coincidence, I read Sue, in The Cottage at the End of the Lane as she wrote about Lucy Mangan’s book, “Bookworm”, which is on the subject of childhood reading.  Both posts are interesting, and I urge you to go over and read them.

Isn’t it a beautiful book cover?!

These posts started me thinking about my reading habits…

We always, always had books around the house. I think a lot of them were from book clubs, such as the Folio book club, as they all had similar covers. I don’t remember my parents reading much – I imagine they were too busy, as mum had a part time job as a teacher and a full time job as a housewife, and dad was a busy GP – but there were always books by their bedside. I remember the built-in bookshelves in the lounge, filled with books that I would browse and flick through if I was feeling bored:  an entire set of Winston Churchill’s memoirs, with the great man’s signature embossed on the front, and also a book about the sinking of the Titanic. I would sometimes pull this off the shelf, and look at the photos, read the tragic stories, and dream about what would have happened had I been on that ship…

We were always encouraged to read, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read. I think we learned using Ladybird books, as I can recall a lot of Janet and John; I also remember the pride of working my way through the reading scheme at school – each different level had a colour. The Silver book of Fairy Stories and the Gold book of Fairy Stories were the pinnacle of achievement! It was in one of these that I first read the fairy tale of The Wild Swans, by Hans Christian Anderson, which was a story that I loved! The sadness that the princess couldn’t fully transform her youngest brother, whom she loved, was so sad to me then!

Books always featured in our Christmas pillowcases – I still have two that I pored over until they were quite battered. Both were by the author Roger Lancelyn Green – “Myths from Many Lands” and “Tales of the Greeks & Trojans” I loved the illustrations, and later on, I used them a lot when I was teaching, as each story was on a double page spread, lasting between five or ten minutes to read aloud, and offering lots of food for the imagination.

Whenever we went on holiday, mum would buy us one or two new books, which we were never allowed to even open before we arrived at our destination. What a difficult choice – did I choose a book which I really wanted, or did I choose a thick book which would keep me going? It would have been unthinkable to run out of reading material! We often stayed at the appartment of a friend-of-a-friend in Geneva, and I got to know Glynn’s bookshelves very well. He had vintage editions of Doctor Doolittle’s Circus and Doctor Doolittle’s Zoo, so I knew I could always reacquaint myself with these if I ran out of books! I loved Doctor Doolittle, and went through the whole series.

There were certain authors Mum considered more “suitable” than others. Enid Blyton was frowned upon, but tolerated, as, I think she thought that any reading was better than none. My friend Val and I devoured the Famous Five books – Val had almost all of them in hard back, so I was able to borrow them. We dreamed of being child investigators, and solving mysteries, but a suburb of Liverpool didn’t seem to contain the same adult villains that Kirren Island did! I was never as enamoured by the Secret Seven, but loved the “boarding school” series: The Twins at Saint Clare’s, and Mallory Towers. I longed to go to boarding school almost as much as I longed to be an investigator!

Rather like the HomePlace Web, the library was my Saturday morning hideaway. I can still picture the layout of the place, with its beautiful parquet flooring. There were three public areas: the children’s library, the reference section, and the adult section. In the childrens section there were tables and chairs where you could sit and do homework, using the non fiction books (because you weren’t going to waste any of your precious six tickets on anything as boring as non fiction! ) and deep window sills, with hot air blowers underneath, which were a pleasure to sit on in winter! Books were arranged alphabetically by author, but sometimes the staff would arrange a special display of a particular theme, to encourage us to try new authors or subject matter.

I had six library tickets, rather like these

Each book would have a label inside, with a pocket and a card with the title & author on. When you took the book out of the library, the book card would be put inside your library ticket (which you can see is like a little pocket), the label inside the book would be stamped with the date you had to bring it back by (usually in 3 weeks), and the library ticket placed in some sort of filing system. On returning the book, the assistant would riffle through the filing system to find the ticket with the card inside. The card would be returned to inside the book, and your own ticket returned to you.

Every Saturday I would get my six allocated books from the library, go home, and lie on my bed, reading as though it was going out of fashion. I had usually finished all six books by Sunday evening, so would be reduced to re-reading old favourites from the shelves in my bedroom. I had three shelves, each about a metre long, screwed to the wall above my bed, each one loaded with paperbacks.

After Enid Blyton, I advanced to lots of historical novels, particularly enjoying Rosemary Sutcliffe. I remember loving her books “Brother Dusty Feet” and “The Armourer’s House” with their illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. These stories swept me away to another time and place – together with books by Geoffrey Trease and Henry Treece, again historical novels set in Tudor or Roman times.

As I grew older tastes changed slightly, and I found the young adult (or “teenage” as it was called then!) choices at the library less appealing. They were also rather thin on the ground. One book that has stuck in my mind is one called “Sugar Mouse” by John Branfield.

It is about a girl with diabetes, and her dog. She is trying to come to terms with her illness and realises that her dog has many of the symptoms of diabetes. Instead of taking the dog to the vet, she tests the dog’s blood and discovers the dog does have diabetes. Instead of taking the dog to the vet at this point, she starts giving the dog shots of her own insulin… I don’t know why I remember this book more than any other, as I’m not diabetic, nor did I know anyone diabetic as I was growing up, but for some reason this book, and its cover, has stuck firmly in my mind…

As there were few teenage orientated books on offer at the library, I graduated on to the adult section round about 14 or 15. Instead of turning left into the children’s room, I turned right into the adult section…bigger, with so much more choice…More about that another time.

 

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Misunderstandings and misconceptions…

Just a quick post today…

I thought this was fun…but also demonstrates the subtleties of language that non-native speakers don’t pick up on. I’ve always had difficulty explaining that there is no real difference between “That’s pretty good” and “That’s not bad”.

Mayber this is why international negotiations sometimes go awry.

Sobering thoughts

Every day I go to Tracing Rainbows, Ang’s blog, where she posts faithfully on a daily basis. She blogs about all number of topics – crafting, recycling, her family, her faith – there is always something interesting to read.

Today she writes about family – the importance of family, the joy of seeing the Thai boys, who were rescued from the cave, reunited with their families, the pain of seeing children separated from their parents by the Trump administration. Ang explains this is why she joined the protests against Donald Trump’s visit to the UK. I don’t usually comment, but today I did.

I wrote supporting her attendance at the anti-Trump protests, and said that I see Trump’s administration as evil – I find the man distasteful, his attitudes are to be decried, he appears to be racist, xenophobic, mysogynistic, a liar, and unintelligent. His government, and others like it, seem to be fuelling the far right, fascist parts of our society, giving them permission to air their fear mongering, hate filled policies and beliefs.

This chilling piece – it is long, but it is worth reading – was written by Fintan O’Toole, published in the Irish Times on July 8th

“To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.
One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities.

Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about forty percent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your forty percent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too.

And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.
But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery.

Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

People have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”.

And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

And the results are quite satisfactory. There is good news on two fronts. First, Rupert Murdoch is happy with it – his Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness: making animal noises at the mention of a Down syndrome child, describing crying children as actors. They went the whole swinish hog: even the brown babies are liars. Those sobs of anguish are typical of the manipulative behaviour of the strangers coming to infest us – should we not fear a race whose very infants can be so devious?

Second, the hardcore fans loved it: Fifty-eight percent of Republicans are in favour of this brutality. Trump’s overall approval ratings are up to 42.5 per cent.
This is greatly encouraging for the pre-fascist agenda. The blooding process has begun within the democratic world. The muscles that the propaganda machines need for defending the indefensible are being toned up. Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable.

So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.”

Let us protect our freedom with all our democratic power, and continue to be brave with everything we must face.

 

Leaving aside the problem that the use of “men” in this quotation might bring up (let’s assume that the author was talking about humankind) this is so true.

And yet…

I feel helpless. In the midst of what is going on in the world, the hate, the lies, the rise of fascism – and dear God, could what happened before happen again? Is that what we are being cajoled into supporting?! – what can I do, here in my house in the middle of France?

I suppose I can do the small things for now – supporting charities that promote love and support the homeless (PC4R), fighting where I can for justice (Amnesty International) and speaking out against even the tiniest bit of opinion that talks about refugees and migrants as “vermin” or “undeserving” Not letting it pass “because I don’t know how to say it in French”.

Leaving aside the problem that the use of “man” in this quotation might bring up (let’s assume AGAIN that the author was talking about humankind) this too is true. Every person on this earth has a part to play and we cannot, we must not, separate ourselves from the suffering of others. As Christians, as Muslims, as Jews, as atheists, as those who aren’t sure, we should be fully involved, fully implicated, fully engaged in alleviating the pain and anguish that others are experiencing.We shouldn’t see them as “other people”, or “different to us” – they are part of this earth as much as we are, and are as fully deserving of our respect and our support as our neighbour, our friends or our family.

It’s just that I don’t really know what I can do…

Words, words, words!

I was reading back over old posts, and came across this one which I rather liked “The A-Z of me” It was fun to write, and quite a lot of people commented on it.

In the post I linked to a site which gives definitions of archaic & obscure words.

I thought I’d share a couple with you that I liked…

  • DONTOPEDOLOGY: “putting one’s foot in one’s mouth” !! I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of that from time to time – but I hadn’t realised there was a specific word for it!
  • PILLIWINKS – this sounds such a sweet little thing. It could be a pet name for one’s lover, or something you say to your child. No, this is defined as “a torture instrument for crushing fingers” Ouch!
  • YESTERTEMPEST – “immediately preceding the last tempest” – this seems very precise! Not the last rainfall, or the last bit of bad weather, but the last tempest. I wonder if that “yester” was used more in the past meaning “immediately preceding —-” and so “yesterday” was initially “yestertoday”

But, I still think my favourite is the word “ucalegon” , which, as I wrote back in 2015, has the very specific meaning “a neighbour whose house is on fire”. Not just “neighbour”, not “neighbour in trouble”, but “neighbour whose house is on fire”. I would imagine that the number of times one can use this word is very limited!

“Quick! Phone the fire brigade!! We have an ucalegon!”

(Don’t worry about the photo – everyone escaped from this house fire safely)

 

Here are a couple more obscure words that appeal – can you find ways of inserting them into everyday conversation?!

 

Apologies for this final text box which is something I can’t get rid of. There’s probably a word for that!!

Food Nostalgia.

There was an interesting article in Saturday’s Guardian partly about convenience vs “proper” food, but also about food eaten regularly in the author’s childhood. While I was interested in some of the comments made, I found myself distracted by nostalgia for certain foods of my childhood…I wonder how they’d taste to me now? That is why I have enjoyed the BBC series “Back in time for…” and particularly the 60s and 70s, which were the decades when I was growing up.

What do I remember…?

Mum was a good cook, and she loved “entertaining”, and having friends for dinner. But I think the everyday feeding of three children, and a hardworking husband, while also holding down a job as a teacher probably wasn’t such a joy to her. She did rely on convenience foods to a certain extent, such as packet sauces. Meals I remember were

the occasional Vesta curry, served with chopped banana and raisins, for that “exotic touch”

The prawns were tiny, and slightly rubbery, but oh! We felt so sophisticated!

I didn’t like shepherd’s pie night – the tinned tomatoes were never really broken down, and I didn’t like mum’s addition of a tin of baked beans. Of course, now I understand she was stretching the meat content, but then I couldn’t work out why she would do this!

Butterscotch Angel Delight though was a different matter – Mum would usually serve this over chopped bananas, and with a crumbled Cadbury’s Flake over the top. I’d be very willing to help transport the dessert from the kitchen, and put it on the trolley in the dining room, because that gave me the chance to snaffle the largest pieces of chocolate from each dish! It was always served in little metal Sundae dishes.

And then, as a special treat, we might have a ring doughnut, served with vanilla ice cream and hot jam sauce! They were special times.

Sometimes she’d make “apple snow” – which wasn’t my favourite dessert, but was better than plain old stewed apple, or rhubarb “steamrollers” (thick pieces of stewed rhubarb)

I don’t think mum was a great pudding maker – relying on such things as Angel Delight and doughnuts – but she was well known for her apple pies. She has always had “pastry hands”, which I have not inherited!, and most Sundays we would have an apple pie, baked on one of those white enamel pie plates with a blue rim

Pastry top and bottom, stewed apple inside – I remember sitting in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, watching Mum peel the huge Bramley apples, and I’d beg her to try to cut it off all in one long spiral. She’d let me eat the peelings. Served with cream this was the perfect end to a roast dinner. Then Marks & Spencer started selling food, and Mum discovered “Lattice tarts”

Now, while these were acceptable as a midweek convenience pudding, there was near uproar when she brought out a rhubarb lattice tart for Sunday lunch! Poor mum! She did persevere though, and we did finally accept Lattice Tart from time to time. Just not every week!

We were not encouraged to eat biscuits and so on. I don’t remember a biscuit tin or biscuit barrel being readily available. But I do recall the cosy pleasure of “supper” when I was 16 or 17. My brother and sister had gone to university or the world of work by now, so it was just me, and my parents. Just before News at Ten, we would have a little something – a glass of milk, and either a slice of hot buttered toast, or a couple of digestive biscuits.

Dad tried to help out when he could, but he was a busy GP, who rarely got home before 7.30 in the evening. He had Wednesday afternoon off, and would go and play golf with his GP pals, but then would come home and cook a three course meal to give mum a night off…initially using Delia Smith’s “How to cheat at cooking” I remember a “cheese paté” made of cream cheese with chopped celery and red pepper in it.

But once Dad grew confident, he graduated on to using “The Hungry Monk” recipes, which were rather more sophisticated, being recipes from a real restaurant!

Dad was one for new food experiences – when the fish & chip shop at the Old Roan closed, but then reopened as a Greek restaurant, he took us there. When the Greek restaurant closed, but then opened up as a Chinese restaurant, we were first in the queue!

He bought Paul Masson wine (at the garage!) which came in its own decanter – there’s posh! – and mum and dad would have a glass with their meal

But the best times were when we went out for a meal to either a Berni Inn, or to Flynn’s Steak House, both in the centre of Liverpool. I think that maybe dad would be working in Liverpool, so maybe the rest of us would go in on the bus, and meet him for dinner. They really were special times! I couldn’t understand why we didn’t do it more often, but of course it must have been quite expensive to pay for 5 people, especially when I don’t remember there being a children’s menu – but maybe my memory is playing tricks.

I think the Berni was underground, which made it even more special – going down the red carpeted stairs made me feel really grown up! The choices were no doubt limited – I guess there was prawn cocktail or soup to start, but then it would be steak, chips, peas, button mushrooms and possibly onion rings. The ice cream or cheese and biscuits just topped off a sophisticated dining experience! I wonder what I had to drink: I don’t remember Coca Cola being allowed, or even tasted. Maybe an orange juice and lemonade, or just lemonade? It was such a special occasion to go out with Mum and Dad for a “grown up” meal.

Here’s an old advert for a Berni in Grimsby, with some of the choices that were available

 

And then there were the sweeties – again, I wasn’t really allowed many sweets, which made them all the more alluring. When we went to my Nana’s for Sunday tea, she would always give us one sweet from the sweetie tin just before we went home – there would be lots of different kinds of sweets: Nuttals Mintoes, strawberry Ruffles, Opal Fruits, and many more. Being a basically greedy, and remarkably unsubtle child, as the clock ticked nearer to 7.00, when we would leave to go home, I would start singing a little song that I had invented, which emphasised certain words: Candy and Andy and Sweetie-Pie…, I would warble irritatingly, until the tin came out.

I would often steal the odd sixpence from mum’s purse, when I was doing the shopping, and buy myself sweets – here’s a picture of various sweets and chocolates from the 70s. Do you remember any?

I remember the “Weekend” box of chocolates/sweets – which were often a disappointment – Caramac, Bar Six (basically KiKat by a different name), Spangles, Old Jamaica chocolate – I seem to remember this had shreds of something in it? – and orange Matchmakers. Oh, they were posh. Mum would serve those after dinner with her friends ( never After Eight, or mint Matchmakers, as she hated the combination of chocolate and mint!)

Talking of stealing, I remember (still!) stealing half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) from mum’s purse, which was a lot of money back then. I wonder how many problems that caused for the housekeeping that week. I went to the local Sayers cake shop and bought FIVE cream cakes (I told you I was greedy!) I sat in the park and ate them all myself, furtively cramming them into my mouth. A mum from school came across me, and asked what I was doing; I made up a story about an event at school, and mum giving me my picnic tea to eat – I wonder what she thought of the local doctor’s daughter eating five cream cakes for tea!

Well…there’s a meander through some of my food memories. What about you – is there anything you particularly remember from your childhood?

 

Souvenirs

I like the French word “souvenir” as it can mean both a memory, and the thing that creates a memory

What mementoes do you have around your house of times or people goneby?

I’m very bad at getting rid of “stuff” because so many things remind me of people or places. I read in one of those “declutter your life” articles that one could take photos of the things, and then throw them away. That way, one has the memory, whenever you look at the photo, without having the clutter – but somehow that seems heartless.

Here are just some of the things that I can see as I sit at my computer and look around:

  • a tiny painted cockerel, bought as a souvenir of our holiday in Portugal
  • Two other painted cockerels, sent to me by my Godson, from his working holiday in Columbia
  • A heart shaped stone, bought (with one exactly the same) on Puy de Dome. One for me, one for Mr FD on the ocassion of our 30th Wedding Anniversary
  • A painted stone, painted on Iona when I went with a group from church, and my Godson,in 1999
  • A beautiful painting brought back from the Holy Land by my mum
  • A desk mat, with the French verbs “etre” and “avoir”, and the English “to have” and “to be” conjugated and illustrated, given to me when friends from the UK came to visit
  • A “selfie” of my colleagues at Lines in 2015 – framed as a gift from David, our Head of Department
  • A Victorian opal-and-semi precious stone ring that I wear every day, which belonged to “Auntie”Cynthia, a good friend of my parents.
  • myriad postcards and cards stuck on the wall and doors, each with messages of love and support from various people all over the world.

I would hate to throw these things away. When I look at them I smile and, however fleetingly, remember those who gave them to me, or the places where I bought them.

And the blanket in the picture?

That was crocheted for me by my Nana, using scraps of wool from all the jumpers she would knit for me, my brother and sister, and other relatives. She made this for my bed round about 1972. It went with me to college, to my first digs in Maidstone, to the house share in London, and it has been in every one of my houses in my married life. Every time I sit with it on my lap, or over the bed, I think of my Nana. I can even identify one or two of the wools used, and say which garments they were from. (For example, the red/yellow/green/blue self-striping wool on the right hand side was from the yoke of a mostly white jumper that I wore when I was about 9 or 10) It is remarkably precious, even though it is starting to fall apart, and is one thing I would NOT be throwing away!

Do you have any souvenirs that you would never part with?