Once upon a time a long time ago, a pretty girl from a small Ulster town was swept off her feet by a dashing young squaddie in a smart uniform and a devilish twinkle in his eye. Army life on the move quickly followed with babies dropped in married quarters here and there – Ireland, Germany, Malaysia, England, Malaysia (again). Sadly, her military man died young – way too young – and the pretty girl soldiered on alone as a single mother. She recently turned ninety and we had a bit of a do. Apart from being a little mutton and frail, Thursday’s child has still far to go. As they say in the Emerald Isle…
The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.
I inherited my Father’s devilish twinkle. I just hope I’ve inherited my Mother’s genes.
On one of our rare visits to the home counties, my sister-in-law fished out an ancient, long-forgotten photo of me from a biscuit tin she keeps under the stairs. I’m guessing I was about 14. I look older, I think. I matured young – so young, in fact, that at the tender age of 12 I used my Dad’s razor to shave my legs in the bath. No, not because I fancied slipping on my sister’s tights (just in case you were wondering) but because I was embarrassed. Most of my contemporaries at school hardly had a short and curly between them.
The backdrop to the image is a perfect picture of naff seventies-chic. Our south London parlour was a riot of clashing colours and patterns – orange floral flock wallpaper, red faux-velvet curtains, an orange and brown three piece suite in synthetic wool and a swirly carpet in reds, blues and greens. It made my old girl proud. Nowadays, it would make everyone else feel nauseous.
As for me, what are those goggles about? And the shocking locks? They had a will all of their own until tamed by creeping male pattern baldness. Still, I was cute – even if I do say so myself – with raging hormones, a 26-inch waist and cheekbones that could slice cheese. Happy days. The grim, buttoned-up decade never held me back. And what was my chopper doing behind that sofa? Now that would be telling.
Fewer and fewer people can be bothered to go to an actual shop, buy an actual card, write an actual greeting, slip it into an actual envelope, write an actual address, stick on an actual stamp and pop it into an actual post box. When I say it like that it does like a bit of a palaver, doesn’t it? Instant messages, instantly sent on instant social media is the modern way. I’m fine with that. I do it too. I’m a thoroughly modern Millie. But who would deny the pleasure of a dull slap on the mat when the postie’s been?
It was my birthday recently; nothing special – just another year closer to the edge. A few of my nearest and dearest did bother to go to an actual shop, buy an actual card, write an actual greeting, slip it into an actual envelope, write an actual address, stick on an actual stamp and pop it into an actual post box. And what actual theme emerged? Wine, willies and my golden years. As the old nursery rhyme goes…
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
A family ‘do’ took us cross country to Hertford, north of London – three trains there, three trains back. On the way, we changed at Cambridge – ‘the City of Perspiring Dreams’ as it’s known to the top-notch scholars who tread the hallowed precincts. Last year we took the same route and stopped off for a look around. This time we didn’t pop in – too many perspiring tourists for my liking. On the return leg, we changed at Ely, a tiny city with a vast cathedral dominating the flatlands. God’s house can be seen for miles around, demonstrating just how important He used to be to the prince, the pauper and everyone else in between. The city sits on a small patch of highish ground at the heart of the Fens, a once expansive marsh long-since tamed by dykes and ditches and drained for agriculture.
A sign at Ely station caught my eye.
I’ve had a bit of bother with my own Office package of late so it amused me. My picture-taking caught the eye of a ragged local with a lumpy face.
‘Take my picture,’ he insisted. ‘I’m famous, you know. I’ve been on the telly.’
It cost nothing to oblige him and I showed him the snapshot. He smiled and shuffled off down the platform. He may never have been on the box but at least he’s now on the blog.
As for teeny-weeny Ely with its oversized church, calmed waters and bobbing boats, it’s on the bucket list for next year.
And what better place to have one than Brick Lane in London, the curry capital of the UK and popularly known as Banglatown? The area has seen successive waves of immigrants down the centuries – French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, East European Jews escaping murderous pogroms and, more recently, Bangladeshis seeking work in the sweat shops of the rag trade. There’s no greater symbol of this evolution than the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, a Grade II listed Georgian building which has gone from church to synagogue and now to mosque. Forget the messy Brexit, for me, it represents what London is all about.
The changes are still a-ringing. Brick Lane is rapidly becoming a magnet for creatives and fashionistas, trend-setters and tourists, and the streets provide a canvas for some stunning wall art. We added to the chaotic throng, day trippers on a mission for ‘authentic’ South Asian grub and a catch-up with two old friends. We nattered so much, I hardly took any photos but I did manage to snap this quirky sculpture near Spitalfields Market as we meandered back to Liverpool Street Station to catch our train home. What’s it about? Beats me but I love it.
March was Maker’s Month at the Forum where handy creatives from across the county showcased their passion for all things woven and sewn. Traditional skills have come back into fashion as a welcome antidote to our no-time-to-knit, wear-it-only-once society. I’m all for it. The revival is good for the mind as well as the pocket. Some of the exhibits, though, were plain scary.
Back in the day many working class mothers knitted, and my mother was no exception. I was raised to the clicking of knitting needles, and half-finished woollens could often be found stuffed down the side of the sofa. Mother knitted for all her sprogs – jumpers and cardigans mostly. Here’s one she made earlier for my first school photo.
It itched. That bit I remember.
She also made mittens and we had a balaclava each, which, on a frosty day, made us look like a gang of apprentice muggers.
One day, mother decided to raise her game and invested in a knitting machine on the ‘never, never’ as hire-purchase financing was called. Why ‘never, never’? Because the item was never, never yours until the final payment was made. And if you missed a payment, off it went back to the shop, no money back. I assume she forged my father’s signature as back then, housewives couldn’t get credit. Sadly, mother’s venture into mass production was short-lived; the machine was sent packing by my father when he got home from the barracks. Who knows? She could have been Britain’s answer to Benetton. Or perhaps not, judging by the scratchy cardigan. Nice buttons, though.
This winter’s brought some lively weather to keep us from our slumber and to wake the dead in the funeral parlour next door. Unsurprisingly, the huffing and puffing of storm Eileen and her gusty sisters trying to blow our house down damaged the roof over our heads. So it was over to our property management company to contact our freeholders to contact their insurers to contact the roofers to contact the scaffolders to repair the flashing loosened by the ladies. It’s a long supply chain and, of course, we didn’t get any warning before a couple of butch men in hard hats and tool belts over woolly jumpers arrived to chuck some poles up the side of the microloft. It’s just as well I wasn’t sitting in my underwear and fluffy mules.
I should be used to chance encounters with scaffolders. Before we bought the microloft, the roof of our rented weaver’s cottage had sprung a leak. The workers turned up unannounced then too. But that was in the summer and at least I had something scanty to ogle – discretely, naturally.
And then there was the time back in the day when I had a proper job with a proper office on Kensington High Street. The building had been caged in scaffolding for repainting and repointing. There I was, busy counting beans at my proper desk, when there was a rat-a-tat-tat at the window. I looked up to see my brother-in-law beaming at me.
“Milk and two sugars, please,”
Yes, he’s a butch scaffolder. And yes, I made him a brew.