Sunday, August 16, 2015

The baby named for a bet

If you look closely in the photo of Albert House you'll notice this:
It's one of two plaster ornaments that used to be sit either side of the steps outside the front door. You'll see one more clearly in the photo of my great-gran and me. (Incidentally the steps that feature in more family photos that anyone else were large pieces of slate that warmed up wonderfully in the sunshine.) One said Home and the other Sweet. For some reason I think they were placed to read Home Sweet rather than Sweet Home but I could be remembering wrongly.

Yesterday I asked my great-aunt, who was born in Albert house and who now at the age of 96 lives next door, about them and she told me her father Hobart Honey had been commissioned to make three of these saying, Home Sweet Home but the woman from Norton who ordered them died before he'd finished. So they ended up decorating Hobart's garden.

I asked the builders about them. They thought the owner intended to keep them but I might try and contact him and ask him if he'd like to sell them to me. I don't know where we'd put them but I would rather like to have them back.

Going back to Hobart Honey there is a story about him in a book of old Mumbles pubs but the story related there is not quite accurate according to family legend.
The original Hobart Pasha

He was born in the Marine Hotel, a public house near the sea front in Southend, Mumbles. At the time Mumbles was a yachting centre and was visited by the rich and famous including a Hobart Pasha, the admiral of the Turkish fleet. Apparently Thomas Honey, the landlord, got into conversation with a customer who mentioned that Hobart Pasha had left the village. 'No, he hasn't,' retorted my great-great-grandfather.
The customer argued that he was right so the landlord challenged him to put his money where his mouth was.

Once the bet had been taken, the landlord went upstairs and brought down his new baby son. 'Meet Hobart Pasha,' he declared.

We're not told what his wife, my great-great-gran, thought about this choice of name for her baby.

Homes and families

Albert House is being renovated. The house, place of my birth and my home for twenty-five years, is being brought into the 21st century. And with it the past is being chipped away. The garden has already been destroyed. The apple trees, my mother's pride and joy, are gone as is the orange blossom that she planted so I could carry some of this most traditional flower on my wedding day. She didn't live to see that day but I did carry orange blossom in my bouquet and I left for the church from this my home.

The destruction being wrought made me think back, to remember

It took the builders three days to knock through the wall of my bedroom to put in a window. Day after day, they chipped and hammered and swore until the hole in the four foot thick wall was big enough to let in the sun, but bigger than the view of Polly Garter next-door’s garden deserved. 

With my great-gran on the steps of Albert House
My bedroom was at the back of the house in the part that had already withstood eight generations. In my great-great-great-grandfather’s day it had been a public house. Years later, when it was finally rid of the smell of ale and gin, my great-grandmother wanted the front, which at that time still bore the legend, ‘Albert Inn’, fashionably pebble-dashed. The work had scarcely begun before the local bigwig, Harry Libby, came thundering to the door, ‘What are you doing, woman? This is sheer vandalism, destroying the heritage of the village.’ My great-grandmother didn’t give birth to twelve and raise eight children to be told what she could or couldn’t do with her own home — especially not by an upstart village boy — and she told him so.

That house, the stands in the middle of a terrace in the heart of the village. It was a matriarchal household: throughout my childhood there were four generations of women living there. My grandfather was a quiet gentle man, content to sit in his chair by the window, listening to the wireless and smoking his cigarettes, and my father, well, he was a character in one of my library books. On the rare occasions when I felt well-disposed towards him, he was the heroic Mr March away at war; most times he was the unseen parent who packed his daughter off to boarding school and sold her pony the moment she’d gone.

My great-grandfather, the man occupying centre stage
My great-grandfather, on the other hand, had died the year before I was born leaving a legacy of legend. He – almost single-handedly if family history is to be believed - had built Ford’s first factories in America. When the hiraeth became too strong, and he returned home to Wales, Henry Ford himself – again, the stuff of family myth - came to our village and begged him to return, offering to transport the whole family back to the States. But the women wouldn’t go and a good thing too else my story would be completely different.

As I said, my great-grandmother had eight surviving children and her presence in my growing-up home meant a constant flow of visitors. The encompassing of me within this extended family provided a shelter, the walls of which were stronger than bricks and mortar, and it was easy to ignore the non-existence of one person, to have only a vague awareness that something was missing but that it didn’t really matter much. I was surrounded with love and its Welsh synonym, good home cooking. When there were lots of us, the family, there for dinner we would pull out the table and I would squeeze onto the bench next to the wall. This was my favourite place, where the bricks I leaned against were warmed by Mr Shires next door’s fire. I sat quietly in the glow of conversation and knew that here I was safe. 

In 1964 I passed my eleven plus and the door to the another world, to Glanmor Grammar School, a more precarious world of Latin and physics, was opened to me. There was one other fatherless girl in the class but her father had had the decency to die. I explained to those who wanted to know that my father worked abroad. The summer of love was still to come and, in any case, free love only applied to the beautiful people out there, not the parents of good grammar school girls in South Wales.

My French teacher was called Miss George. She was soft-spoken with a gentle face and greying uncontrollable hair. In her lesson she asks around the class the question, Est ce que faites votre pere? Thirty three girls sitting in rows waiting for their turn, or in my case, praying for the bell to ring, please, before Miss George gets to me, please don’t let her ask me. Shall I lie, make up an answer? Il est un medecin. Tres bien, where does he work? No, I’d blush, stutter, be caught out. Mon pere est mort. Convenient but they all know. The bell rings, the problem goes away for today, and I go home to steak and kidney pie and rice pudding.

Some of that extended family on the steps
So was that it? The worst I had to bear? It stands out in my memory but when I stop and think, try as I might, I cannot recall one unkind comment, not one slur on my parentage through the whole of my childhood and adolescence. If that was as bad as it got, then surely the family did its job well. 

When I enter the house that is now my home, I breathe in the same sense of security that my first home gave me; I hope my children feel it too. 

Since it was sold out of the family, Albert House has come on the market several times. Each time one or other member of the family views it with barely-concealed desire. But it’s never really suitable: too big, too small, no garage, no garden. 

I was the last of the family to be born in Albert House and I linger over the link with the past. I’ve looked on old maps, tried to locate the public house that was to become my home. I’ve never been able to find it. 

Pride and talking too much

George agreed with me.
'Yes, you did that okay. Do it like that and you'll be fine.'

While we'd been walking through the woods I'd been practising what I was planning on saying when leading bible study in Zac's that evening, and I came home feeling confident and pleased with myself. Which should have been an alert in itself.

Problem 1
The printer wasn't working so I couldn't print out my pages of notes. That wasn't a problem for practising as it didn't matter if I got things in the wrong order; it would be a problem when it came to the real thing.

Husband came up with a solution. 'Use your tablet.'
'I know my happy pill works wonders but I don't think I could get many notes on it.'
'No, your Android tablet,' he explained patiently.
'Oh, like Steve does! Oh, yes, I could do that. I could be a super-techy whizz kid!' (Again I should have heeded the warning sign.)

Problem 2
I would like to blame technology, say it was all the fault of my tablet, but you and I both know that really it was the fault of the user.

My tablet is set to switch itself off if not used for a specific time, in its case, a very short specific time. I keep saying I should find out how to reset it but never seem to get round to it. Hence each time I glanced down at my notes on my tablet while leading bible study I was faced with a blank screen. 

I ended up having to keep wiggling my finger on the screen to stop it shutting down. And while doing that I managed to bring up the keyboard - and couldn't make it disappear again - so my actual view of my notes was one line.

So I was just a little distracted. Also I'd had what I thought was a good idea, to do things a little differently. That didn't work either.

You can understand why they say pride comes before a fall.

P.S. Gary interrupted one regular who was speaking, grumbling that he was going on for too long. 'You're worse than Liz,' he said.
Must be the first time I've been accused of talking too much.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Serious holiday planning

Last night I started reading The Spectacle Salesman's Family. I have a feeling I might have tried before and I suspect I will give up fairly quickly this time too. Not because of the story: I think I would enjoy it. No, I'll give up because of the writing style.

The author doesn't believe in putting direct speech on separate lines or in quotation marks and as I read mostly last thing at night I just don't have the enthusiasm to work out what is speech (and who is speaking) and what is narrative. Which is a shame but life's too short etc.

Meanwhile I've just about finished holiday clothes shopping and have now started on the serious stuff: choosing holiday reading. For the first time I'll be relying on the kindle reader on my tablet so I'm hoping I'll cope. Knowing several keen readers who have embraced kindles has encouraged me. One good thing - although as an author I'm not sure if it's good - is that ebooks are cheaper.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Swoll or swelled?

I haven't posted for ages because once again life has got in the way.

First I should mention that Operation Bombard, whereby I am sending three different manuscripts off to different agents, is resulting in lots of rejections and a quick turn-round. What is the magic number I wonder. How many rejections do I receive before I go down the self-publishing route again?

One of the main advantages of finding an agent - and then with more luck a publisher - is that my book will get into shops nationwide and will receive some promotion at least. But that is an almost minor benefit compared to the fact that it means someone somewhere has thought my writing good enough to take a chance on it. Having someone else believe in you to that extent - and it does need total belief as they all say when they write back, that it isn't necessarily that the author can't write but simply that the agent receives hundreds of submissions and has to go only with the ones that really entrance her (or him) - would make such a difference.

But hey ho. Apart from submission queries I've hardly written anything at all for weeks. And I miss it. It is part of me and not having a writing project, or even an idea, on the go, means I am missing something. 

Something as well as time that is. 

Uncle is still in hospital and will be for many more weeks I suspect. But his appetite has returned and he's in good spirits. 

A friend is in the same hospital so I'm able to pop in and see her too. At least I try. On Friday I called in before going to see Uncle: she'd gone for a smoke. I visited Uncle and went back: this time she'd gone to radiotherapy. Yesterday each time I tried she was asleep and as I know she's feeling rotten I didn't want to wake her. Today again I tried twice. The second time she opened her eyes, looked at me and promptly went straight back to sleep. I have that effect on people.

GrandSon2 also had an overnight stay in hospital after developing breathing problems. They think it was a virus and he seems to be getting better now. And, finally on this theme, I feared a trip to A&E might be coming up yesterday after Husband was stung on the lip by a wasp who was learning to swim in his beer. Although his lip and then face swelled up and he was both numb and in pain it wasn't too bad.  No, honestly, I did try to be a good nurse and offered him a cold compress (ice cubes in a plastic bag) after googling what to do but he said it was a waste of time so I gave up and let him suffer. I tried to take photos but they don't capture the full effect.

Now I'm sure there's lots more much more interesting news but I can't think of it. 

Incidentally is the Labour leadership campaign going on for ever? Or is there an end in sight?

And incidentally again, is there such a word as swoll? I was going to write 'his lip swoll up,' but that didn't look right. But I'm sure people say that. Or am I just tired?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thinking seriously about euthanasia

Uncle is in a busy ward with a variety of other bone-damaged men. Some are young; most are older. One or two are either very old or slightly strange: the man in the next bed yesterday stared, wide-eyed, at me throughout my visit. I'm not sure if he thought I was odd or if I was in his line of view for the television.

As I said, each time I visit Uncle I have to play Find the Patient so his neighbours change but one has stayed in my head.

He is very elderly, not apparently aware and has to have everything done for him including  feeding. I watched as the nurse spooned a mushed-up goo into his mouth and reflected on the similarity between very young and very old age.

And I wondered what's the point? He has none of that all-important much-talked-about quality of life and I imagine there is little chance of that changing. In fact things can only get worse. His visitors turn up and sit beside him, reading their newspapers and then going home, having done their duty. It's a drag for them and I suppose, if they allow themselves to think about it, incredibly depressing to see what he has become.

Uncle who has always been very active and has spent his life helping others is finding it very hard to cope with being helped and has been depressed and talking about not wanting to live if this is how it's going to be.

So I've been thinking about euthanasia - leaving aside any of the Christian principles about Thou shalt not kill. I have never been entirely convinced that it is wrong in every circumstance and if life is empty then maybe it is a reasonable alternative.

But then I looked again at the old man being fed. The nurse didn't have to force his mouth open. He was aware enough to open it, eagerly even, suggesting he understood this at least, maybe even felt hungry or conscious of a need for something.

How easy it would be, if euthanasia were legal (and I'm aware that there would be all sorts of conditions that would have to be fulfilled) for unscrupulous relatives to take advantage to rid themselves of a burden. Even for loving and protective children to see it as being in their parent's best interest. 'He wouldn't want to live like this.' And those conditions could in time be relaxed as euthanasia became an acceptable option.

But quality of life is different for everyone. A man in a wheelchair all his life will have a different idea of what makes his life worth living than a high-achieving athlete or even me. We all find our level according to what is realistically possible.

In a very short period of time, basically as long as it took for the man to be fed, I changed from, 'Well, yeah, why not?' to 'I would not want to make that judgement. I don't have the right. I am not God and nor is anyone else.' However I notice that trending on facebook today we have Katie Something or other's comments about there being too many old people and there should be euthanasia vans; now that possibly is one judgement about someone's value to life that I would be prepared to make.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Cricket-eating, sand-sculpting and ice cream

With Uncle still in hospital life this week has had to include factoring in visits. On Monday there was a rumour that he was being moved to Singleton - much closer to us - but it came to naught. Visiting him though has become like a game of Find the Patient, as he's changed location 3 times in 3 days. Where he'll be today is anybody's guess.

Around that life has gone on as normal. Except for one thing: for the first time for as long as I can remember I didn't make a cake for Zac's because I didn't have time. Fortunately a good angel left some cakes on the doorstep. (Honestly, anyone could poison us as we eat anything that's left on our doorstep.)

It was my turn to lead bible study in Zac's on Tuesday night. A child fully committed to being a Terrible Two looked like making the study impossible until the wonderful Golly offered to take him for a walk. A new visitor asked if he was allowed to express his views. I told him, 'Yes, of course, everyone can as long as we all respect each other and don't talk over each other.' Unfortunately he didn't catch what I said as he was too busy talking over me. After a bit of this, the equally wonderful Andre suggested the two of them could go outside for a chat, and we all breathed again and enjoyed an interesting study with lots of contributions and comments. (And at the end the young man came back in and was grateful for a tent, blanket and food as he was sleeping rough.)

Afterwards one of the young women present said, 'I always enjoy it when you lead as you're so relaxed and it's calm.'
I looked behind me to see who she was talking to.

Wednesday I took two grandchildren along to Sculpture by the Sea, a free workshop on the beach. I was in my element - and did most of the work - but GrandDaughter1 enjoyed it. GrandSon2 soon got bored but the whirly ice cream with flake, rainbow sprinkles and chocolate sauce made it worthwhile.

We made a fish, turtle and starfish. The artists leading it were encouraging us to be biologically accurate, adding a tail to the turtle and checking we had the right number of legs on the starfish. I'm not sure how anatomically correct they were in their sculpture of a dragon though.
Thursday and it was women's bible study at Zac's. Did I mention that we had a barbecue on the beach last week?

Oh, nearly forgot, last weekend we went to the Gower Chilli Festival again ... and I ate some crickets.

I blame this very persuasive man. He described them as being like savoury sugar puffs. As long as I didn't look at them I could do it but they weren't particularly delicious. As 'they' say insects will be the food of the future I hope they devise more interesting ways of serving them. Maybe coated in some of the Bourbon, bacon and maple syrup chilli jam he was also selling.

I'm sure more than that happened this week but I don't remember ...

Friday, July 17, 2015

I did used to have a brain really I did

So I'm in the Civic Centre and I need to get to the second floor. I walk to the lifts and go to press the button when I stop: which button do I press? Now that's not as stupid as it sounds*, trust me. The choice looked liked this:
I was on the ground floor so where was the up button? Why was there only a down button and what did A mean? (You'll have to believe me that it looked more like an A than it might do in my drawing.)

I walked to the next set of buttons and they were exactly the same. How was it possible to go upstairs if there wasn't an up button?! (I was struggling to carry a baby in a car seat at the time so I wasn't being lazy by not using the stairs.)

And maybe the fact that I'd carried said seat from a distant car park contributed to my blankness, I don't know, but eventually I decided I might as well try the A button and see what happened. It wasn't until I was stepping into the lift, when the light must have been hitting the buttons from a different angle (that's my excuse), that I realised the error of my ways.

Join me again next week when I try to push a pull door.

*Okay, possibly it is.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe

Two quick book recommendations.

After a couple of duff ones from the library I hit lucky again.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas. 4*
"The first word spoken by the Indian man Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod upon his arrival in France was, oddly enough, a Swedish word. Ikea."
The fakir has travelled to Paris to buy a new bed of nails. All he has with him is a fake 100 euro note. From there his journey takes him inadvertently to England, Spain, Libya, Paris, Rome. 

It's an unusual tale, told with an eccentricity of its own, and is simply delightful. A tale of redemption, true love and a bed of nails.

Another well-written but far more earthy and distressing tale is Out of the Easy. By Ruh Sepetys, it's the story of Josie Moraine. Named after a famous Madam in New Orleans, Josie grows up in the 50s  without a father but with her prostitute mother. She is smart and streetwise and dreams of escaping her situation by going to a prestigious college.

This young adult title gets 5* from an old adult. 

I'm going to have to look for more by this author.

The joy of ... Radio 4

For various reasons I've spent more than usual time on my own in the car recently and I've been tuning in to Radio 4. Each time I do I think I must listen to the radio more often as it's always interesting. Subjects that I wouldn't consider watching on television are made more fascinating.

Two items particularly intrigued me.

One was about the way ours has become more and more of a self service society. From DIY online banking to supermarket shopping we do far more for ourselves these days than we ever did in the past. Years ago if you wanted to pay a bill you went to a bank and asked the cashier; if you wanted butter and tea you went to the corner shop and an assistant would serve you. (Not so much choice but probably simpler for that.)

Someone (no doubt funded by a worthy institution) had worked out that on average the work we now do that would have been done for us in the past is worth £3,600 per person. On a national scale that translates to £5.4 billion. (Husband wishes to point out that there are all sorts of flaws in this argument but I think it's interesting nevertheless.) The moral of this story being: never undervalue yourself; you are worth £3,600 at least!

The other topic was a short report that was part of the Battle of Britain commemorations about women who flew planes during the war. Not into action but from factory to base and so on. There was an interview with a 92-year-old who reminisced about her experiences and the difference between flying a spitfire and a hurricane. 'It was so light. You only had to touch the controls and it would go where you wanted it.'

She remembered them as good days but did get in a quick dig at the way women, after the war, were expected to return meekly to the kitchen sink.

As well as these snippets there was a really good play on one afternoon when I was baking. It told the story of the radicalisation of a young Scottish Muslim girl. When I've listened to news reports about young women fleeing to Syria with their children so they can fight for ISIS I've been aghast and slightly unbelieving: how on earth could that be possible? What could have happened to make women living in the freedom that this country gives be willing to relinquish it for a cause that would probably mean death for their children? The play explained it very well, made it seem plausible, reasonable even. (Unfortunately I don't remember the name or any more details and I can't find it on iplayer.)