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?