Monday, 19 September 2011

An Autumn Embrace

The days seem just that little less warm and there's a reminder that the seasons are about to change! It was nearly a year ago that we did a couple of trips north of London and were mesmerised by the beautiful Autumn colours along the motorway. The thought that came to mind was that God's Autumn designer fashion range was now being paraded along the motorways of England's countryside. Entry is free! All are welcome!

However, this is also a time for change as I move away from bustling London and into village life, so the London house is cluttered with boxes, papers, bags and other bits and bobs. While sorting and packing, I found a story I'd written a few months ago, drawing on the occupation and residence of an ancestor, and since it has a hint of Autumn in it, thought I'd share it here!

An Autumn Embrace

     “Mrs H!” In the manner of the times William Holesgrove called out to his wife.  Their rambling Chelsea home had often been a curse in trying to find a family member, but the strong, gentle shoemaker had a voice which resonated among the oak timbers.  The sweet aroma of fresh bread, fruit puddings and a venison stew were very attractive to William’s nose as he strode into the warm, homely kitchen.

“Welcome home Mr H.” said Sarah, “The kettle is on the fire and we can sit and have a cup of tea while the dinner finishes cooking. What tales of Burlington do you have for me today?”

William made himself comfortable at the table and helped himself to a crunchy apple which had been earmarked for tomorrow’s apple pie!

“No fancy news today my dear; Miss Asser had a busy morning.” William offered this piece of information knowing his wife was actually asking if Miss Asser had been delivered of her baby yet.

“Sarah, I’m going to speak to Mr Crew tomorrow. He will assist me in ensuring that you and the children will have all you need when the time comes for me to go.” William spoke lovingly to his wife; she was his world, he respected her and cherished her.

“Thank you William, I’m sure he will advise you well.” It was obvious in exchanged looks, how devoted they each were to the other.

William was entering his seventy second year. Over the last few months he had recognised that it took him just a little longer to walk the short half mile to the Arcade each day. He’d acknowledged that it took a little more time to craft a pair of exquisite shoes for the ladies and gentlemen of Piccadilly. His son, also named William, assisted him in the workshop and was charming to each customer he attended.  William was proud to know he could leave the thriving, reputable business in his son’s capable hands.

The Last Will & Testament was properly drawn up. Thomas Crew, the Solicitor, ensured that all William’s assets would go to his family and not be ‘available’ to any fortune hunter or be handed over for an unwise spouse’s  misfortunate debts. He left the shoe-making business in equal shares to his son and his daughter Elizabeth - “as a precaution” Thomas had said.

Wise words, for just short of two winters later, young William’s life was tragically taken in a freak accident at the Thames dock side.

William aged even more with the pain of losing a son. His health deteriorated, his face carried deep and long sadness. Sarah in her own grief continued to tempt her beloved husband with food to build up his strength and health, but it all became too much for William and his heart died within the year, leaving his wife grieving both a son and husband.

Elizabeth, with a husband and family of her own, had no choice but to sell the Holesgrove Shoe & Bootmakers’ business to a neighbouring Arcade shoemaker. Mr Beyer bought the equipment and the Goodwill of the business and promised Elizabeth he would honour her father’s name and reputation as an honest and skilful master shoemaker.

It was Autumn 1854. Sarah had planned this day for the last few weeks. It was time to end her mourning and to publicly acknowledge her deep appreciation to her husband’s colleagues and for the assistance and love they had shown her since his passing.  She set aside the black dress with the black lace necktie, and held the dark grey woollen dress against her slim body before the looking glass.

Taking a deep breath, Sarah walked down the steps of the home she’d shared with a most wonderful man. The deep red shawl over her shoulders gave even more dignity and elegance to her walk as she made her way to the Arcade. She’d made this journey many times, usually with a hot pie and half a jug of ale for her husband’s lunch in her basket. Today she carried a delicate white handkerchief and a suitably autumnal parasol.

Mr Lord met her at the north entrance, doffed his top hat, and accompanied her to No. 66.  The worn workbench on which many shoes had been formed had been replaced and softened with woollen hose, kid-goat leather gloves and neatly folded white linen shirts. The proud sign of ‘Holesgrove Shoe & Bootmakers’ had been removed and ‘Charles Price Hosiers’ had taken its place. Sarah did not go into the shop. She nodded respectfully to Mr Price as he came to the door, then turned to walk back the way she’d come.

Mrs Durlin, the ladies shoemaker from the shop next door, quietly took over Mr Lord’s place beside Sarah and walked with her in silence to her front door. Sarah was aware of the sweet aroma of leather and dubbin and felt comforted by the familiarity. Before ascending the steps she turned to Jane Durlin, smiled, gently laid her lace-gloved hand on Jane’s working rough fingers and nodded her appreciation of the company.

Sarah stood before the looking glass William had bought her when they promised to love each other forever. “You were a wonderful man William Holesgrove. I will always love you!”

        She smiled at the reflection as she felt William’s presence embrace her in the empty home.

Building a story around an ancestor makes them more real! The details of this story may hold no truth, but the Burlington Arcade in Picadilly, London, the names of the neighbouring shop owners and the Beadle Mr Lord, were real people during the time 4x Great Grandfather William Holesgrove had his shoe shop there in the middle of the 19th century.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

An Architectural Leaning to Arches

Over the last two weeks in Chelmondiston, Suffolk, I've thought of many ideas for a blog. The daily newspaper which we don't usually get, but which the owners of the house we have been house-sitting for do, has provided many frustrating emotions, expressions of incredulity, and gasps of horror - mainly in connection with the national health service! However to put this frustration into words on a screen was too big a task if I was to do it without getting into trouble!!

Then there's been thoughts of country life, which I tried, but later felt it was inadequate and therefore my feelings of moving out of London into village life in Suffolk might not have come across clearly. There were the thoughts and fears of moving and the task ahead of fitting into the community and doing ministry here - it's OK to feel a little apprehensive!

Or maybe I could have written about the three dogs we've been looking after and taking for walks and swims every day - 6.30am being Dave's shift and the 4pm shift together through the country lanes and hedges.

However, today we went for a drive and found the ruins of an Abbey and I discovered an architechtural leaning towards arches! So here they are, the arches of Leiston Abbey!
And lastly, one of the altar:
Information on Leiston Abbey can be found here.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Trial Run

So here we are in the country for two weeks looking after a friend's dogs. This is like a trial run to the big move in just a month's time. Of course we won't be living on a farm like we are now, so the routine won't be quite the same.

Picking apples fresh off the tree and preparing them for the freezer; collecting cherry tomatoes off the vine for salad tonight; pulling up huge carrots for supper and picking raspberries for a crumble - much, much better than selecting a bag off the supermarket shelf!
Picking enough flowers for three big vases from various parts of the wrap-around garden, emptying the old flowers on the compost heap at the bottom of the garden - maybe some city dwellers do the same, but I haven't, so this is all part of the experience!

Walking the dogs, no leads, down puddle littered lanes, through harvested barley fields, under trees and butterfly inhabited woods; looking out at white sails of yachts sailing on the sun drenched river - what a pleasure! 

The quietness is delightful! No Heathrow-bound planes screeching on their final approach, no red London busses shaking the foundations, no constant emergency sirens.
Just the squealing of pigs, a neigh from the equestrian school next door, the cooing of doves, the buzzing of flies, and the grandfather clock rythmically ticking the late summer afternoon by.

This is my kind of day! This is my kind of life! Roll on four weeks! Country life, here I come!

(With many, many thanks to Jon & Heather for the opportunity of experiencing their beautiful home and garden and their three perfectly behaved dogs - Toffee (who loves apples!), Muppet and Nellie! Thank you all! We look forward to living in your community!)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Country girl

I love home décor magazines! Not the ones with lots of ads in, but ones with real, affordable, pleasant-on-the-eye ideas; and most important while living in London (and UK as a whole probably) ideas on making the most of the space we live in! So I hoard these magazines; they have so many great ideas I can’t throw them away! But there comes a time when some things have to go.

So here’s what I did, with an interesting revelation!

 I bought a decent A4 note-book (it was actually a squared notebook and the squares work very well as the background) and I stuck into this book pictures from the magazines that I couldn’t bear to throw away, and then threw the rest of the magazine away – guiltily. It’s a fiddly job cutting with scissors, and sometimes tearing can be disastrous or look messy, but tearing against a ruler is perfect. (Unfortunately nearly every exercise book currently on the shop shelves has perforated pages, so please turn the pages gently!)

In my red ‘mood’ book – a little different from a designers ‘mood board’ but on a similar theme – I have neatly torn pictures of home items and styles which are both pleasant to look at and creatively inspiring. 

 There are pictures of iron bedsteads and country-style patchwork quilts; antique-looking, delicately flowered milk jugs; baskets on shelves; cottage gardens with foxgloves, rambling roses and carnations; white painted, glass fronted kitchen cupboards; floor to ceiling bookshelves; pink patchwork, striped and delicately floral patterned outdoor cushions; blue & white china; photo displays; a dining table with odd chairs; sofas with checked blankets over the arms and a patchwork quilt over the back; rugs, curtains, mirrors, lamps and a dark blue striped/checked very comfy looking armchair.

 Every now and then I page through this book to remind myself what I like – hmmm! That didn’t sound quite right! I know what I like, but looking through this ‘scrapbook’, it becomes very evident what kind of décor I like – there’s no doubt about it, I’m a country style kind of girl!

I suppose that’s a good thing to be sure of when in just a couple of months I’ll be moving into a country village – although not exactly a country cottage, or farm cottage! I’ve decided I like the mix-and-match look! Today I bought three Johnson Bros. dinner plates with a quaint thatched cottage pattern, plus two ‘Alfred Meakin England Flow Blue Greenville’ dinner plates, all from about the 1930’s era (Memories of Mortlake is a treasure trove if you’ve got the time to pick out individual pieces among the countless bits & bobs of practically every kind of material available!) Together with my current BHS Country Garland plates, (very kindly gifted to me when we first arrived in London – thanks Pat!) there’s now nothing stopping me from ‘mixing’ them at a dinner table set for, say, six! (Except that the Alfred Meakin plates are much smaller than the others; Oh well, maybe someone will have a small appetite!)

And together with the odd plates I’ll add a salt & pepper set for each guest – all different of course; the Zimbabwe wooden ones from Sean, the ‘Karkloof’ butterfly ones from Nicole, the blue & white lighthouse ones from Megan, the blue & white floral ones from a charity shop, the red & blue ‘couple’ ones from my sister, and perhaps the Country Garland ones, but not with the Country Garland plates! If I hold everything together with a plain tablecloth, and we all have the same chairs, do you think I could stretch to decorated cutlery as well?!  (Coffees will be served in non-matching ‘pretty’ mugs, but tea will be served in the Cartwright & Edwards Victoria pattern bone china tea cups!)

 And the revelation? Well I kind of know that I like country style things, but the revelation is that a lot of the magazine tear-outs, but not all, whether they’re cushions, curtains, sofas or table-ware, are PINK!!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Two Trees

by Doug Street:

       Everything in the garden was lovely. The flowers were in full bloom, and the perfume was exotic. The trees were in fruit and ... what fruit! Never had the young couple, who now wandered along the carefully prepared pathways, hand in hand, seen such beauty or tasted such fruit. Not a plant was out of place, colour and size was so perfectly blended; and ... not a weed was to be seen!
       "Think of it," murmured the young man to his beautiful bride, "all this is ours," and they strolled still further into the garden, exclaiming at the fresh beauty as they turned yet another corner along the many pathways.
     "Ah!" they spoke almost together. "This must be the very centre of the garden, see there is the tree that the Master spoke of, just look at that fruit, did you ever see such beauty?"
     "Yes, indeed, but remember, he also said we must not eat of that fruit, any other, indeed every other fruit we may eat, but not that or we shall die, and we've only just started to live, so let us enjoy what is ours."
     How wise the young husband was. But .... was it strange that day after day they felt drawn back to that one tree ... wondering ... could there be anything wrong with such a beautiful looking fruit? Could the one who had planted such a perfect garden, put just one tree, right in the centre, that was not good to eat? Indeed was deadly poison?
     Was it not strange that they should ignore another tree just a few yards away, almost identical to the ordinary observer, to the one with the "DO NOT TOUCH" notice on it?
     At last they could stand the strain no longer, they had to make the choice ... which tree to eat from ....?  They chose .... the forbidden fruit ... and .... immediately something snapped! No, they did not fall down dead .... but something inside snapped, and died.  The peace the young couple had enjoyed suddenly disappeared. Fear gripped them. They knew they had chosen wrongly. They shrank among the bushes realising it was too late to be sorry. Spiritually they were dead. Their body only lived on, to suffer the results of disobedience.

     "Why," exclaimed a young man in anger, "should I suffer and be punished because of what Adam did? It wasn't my fault he chose wrongly!"
     Are these your thoughts too, I wonder? Then I have news for you! You do NOT have to suffer for what someone else did wrong. No, you are only to be punished because you too are making the wrong choice. Remember we said there were two trees - both bearing fruit. One was the Tree of Knowledge, the other the Tree of Life.  Mankind down the ages has chosen Knowledge in preference to Life.
     One man, Solomon, when given a choice, chose wisdom and God gave him not only wisdom, but riches beyond measure. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you."

     One day Jesus Christ, God's son, had to make a choice. He chose to die on the cross of Calvary, the most cruel death ever devised by man. He said: "No man takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord," in order that you need not die in the same way Adam died. Jesus died to pay the penalty, the price, of all sin; to give to all people a new life ... that Life which snapped and died when Adam ate the wrong fruit can be brought back to life in you.
     You do not have to suffer. You are not punished because of what someone else has done. That would not be justice, would it? And God is a just and righteous God. No, you will be judged and punished at the last day only because of your rejection of God's offer of salvation. It was for you that Jesus died; won't you accept his wonderful offer now?
     Just turn to him in simple prayer and tell him you want this new life. You want this dead part in you to be born again. Tell him you are sorry you have been rejecting him for so long and thank him for making it possible for you, at the end of this life, to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life. Thank him for dying for you and accept his wonderful pardon ... and begin to LIVE!

(Bible references: Genesis 2v9; 1 Kings 3:5-14; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 26:39; John 10:18; Deuteronomy 32:4; Revelation 2:7)

This tract was written by my father many years ago. He is now enjoying LIFE with Jesus in Heaven!

Thursday, 23 June 2011


In a previous blog I mentioned I was writing my life story – probably till I die, so it won’t be published very soon! I’ve now got to page 73 in Word and to the year 1978, and my diaries (also something no-one’s ever going to see until I’m gone!) mention hearing “Dave ? who used to sing in Hawk” in Pretoria at a YFC SuperRally. Simple research confirmed that this was Dave Ornellas, band member of 'Hawk', the most successful rock band in the 70’s in South Africa.  However, Dave became a Christian, and continued to sing to the glory of God. (His son Daniel is a band member of Tree63, a South African Christian band.)

I discovered he died in September last year at the age of 62 and found some YouTube videos. His song, ‘Painter, Take your Picture off the Wall’, was the first one I clicked on and although it’s over 30years ago, it triggered something that said, Yes! I remember that!

I couldn’t find the lyrics on the web, and don’t know if he wrote them or they’re someone else’s. I also don’t know which Painter he might be referring to, but it doesn’t matter.

Painter, take your picture off the wall

You did not portray what happened there at all

Yes I know you are a master

And you’re known by your brush

Painter, take your picture off the wall

Now I don’t deny you’ve caught the atmosphere

With those darkened skies, those tortured clouds appear

Amid the mocking of the soldiers

And the weeping of the few

Painter, take you picture off the wall

Paint it, paint it, use your reds and blues

Show the sin of man through darkened bruises, broken flesh

Paint it, paint it, paint it like it was

Don’t deny the agony

Upon the wooden cross

Now did you really think he looked that way

With that unmarked face so beautiful and grey

Where are those tears of agony which fell from loving eyes

Painter, take your picture off the wall

Now I hope you don’t mind me just telling you

And you ask me how I know these things are true

You see those soldiers with their laughing eyes

One’s me the other you

So Painter, take your picture off the wall.

Paint it, paint it, use your reds and blues

Show the sin of man through darkened bruises, broken flesh

Paint it, paint it, paint it like it was

Don’t deny the agony upon the wooden cross.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Am I a teacher?!!

      For the month of May I’ll be filling in for a student tutoring primary age children in English – should be fun!  The ages range from 8years to 13 years and the class size from 1-5, (I can see my teacher friends envious at such a small class!) and they are non-British children, but their English seems to be first class to start with!
     Last Thursday was the first session, with two private lessons of one hour each, one after the other; then two lessons with groups the next day of 1½ hours each; then one group lesson of giggly cute girls on Saturday for one hour.  Of the five groups, two of them are ‘reading’ classes, i.e. the children have read a book – which means I have to read it too! – and we discuss the book generally, and the other three groups are English grammar, spelling etc. Fortunately the grammar worksheets are pre-prepared (but not proofread!!!), but for the reading classes I have to prepare a worksheet!  Remember, I am not a teacher! I have no teaching qualifications or degrees, and the only experience I have had is teaching RE (religious education) to a class of thirty 10 year olds once a week for about a year, and making sure my own children did their homework – and that was a while ago!

     I don’t think I would have been able to carry it if I were working full time; it’s amazing how much time it takes to prepare a reading worksheet, as well as read the books!  (And the marking afterwards!) The children are expected to read a book in two weeks; so they’ve recently finished The Borrowers (fortunately I only have to mark a previous worksheet, because I know little about The Borrowers except snippets of the movie!), Jungle Book (I came in on the second half of the book which I decided was far more interesting than dear old Mowgli, Baloo and the gang!), and Black Beauty. 

     It’s amazing what one picks up from children’s books!  For example, in Jungle Book, the last four ‘books’ after Mowgli (yes, Jungle Book is more than the monkeys and tigers and snakes in the jungle!) have some powerful messages.  The White Seal is about a seal that is white – duh! – which means it is different from the others. It is however treated as one of them, but Kotick (the white seal’s name, probably Russian) has more sense than the others! Kotick sees man drive some of his buddies away from their colony and follows them secretly, only to see them being clubbed to death L.  He runs back and tells everyone what is happening, but they don’t believe him. This is something they have got used to over the years: that man drives some of their colony off ‘somewhere else’ – beyond that they have no knowledge of what happens and are certainly not going to believe the white seal.

     Kotick however, is not stupid and sets out to find a place for his friends and family where man cannot drive them off and kill them. He has little support from anyone, but is determined to find this ‘paradise’.  With a few hints from a wise walrus, he eventually does find the absolutely perfect, man-impenetrable, delightful, beautiful sea and sand! And being the loving and caring seal he is, he goes back to tell the rest and to take them away from danger.  Do they listen? Of course not! Well some do, but the majority don’t. Sound familiar? How often does a preacher warn people of hell and they don’t listen! Firstly they don’t believe the danger is there, then they don’t want to go to a Perfect Paradise – just sounds unbelievable!

     Another story in Jungle Book is His Majesty’s Service. A number of animals were used in old-time war efforts. The horse, mule, bullock, camel and elephants tell each other of their part in the war. It becomes very clear that no one animal is better than the others – they all have a part to play, and it is a part which no-one else can play. So there’s a moral in every story! But the dialogue in this one, showing the interaction was fun! It’s just how I imagine a group of men standing around a BBQ with their beers, strangers to start with, ‘jostling’ with their achievements and status, but eventually all agree that whereas the dustman would not be able to plan their five year tax avoidance strategy, the accountant wouldn’t be able to lift and throw heavy bags and bins all day in all kinds of weather!
     Today I finished reading Black Beauty – I probably read it as a child and know the basic story, but can’t even remember reading it to my girls – I think they probably read it for themselves! In the last few chapters Black Beauty becomes a London cab horse, and since I’m now living in London (and like Black Beauty would prefer the green open countryside!), I found it interesting that the streets were described exactly as they are now!

“I had a very good mouth – that is, I could be guided by the slightest touch of the rein, and that is a great thing in London, amongst carriages, omnibuses, carts, vans, trucks, cabs, and great wagons creeping along at a walking pace; some going one way, some another, some going slowly, others wanting to pass them, omnibuses stopping short every few minutes to take up a passenger, obliging the horse that is coming behind to pull up too, or to pass and get before them; perhaps you try to pass, but just then something else comes dashing in through the narrow opening, and you have to keep in behind the omnibus again; presently you think you see a chance, and manage to get to the front, going so near the wheels on each side that half an inch nearer and they would scrape. (Whew! That’s all one sentence!) Well, you get along for a bit, but soon find yourself in a long train of carts and carriages all obliged to go at a walk; perhaps you come to a regular block-up and have to stand still for minutes together, till something clears out into a side street, or the policeman interferes; you have to be ready for any chance – to dash forward if there be an opening, and be quick as a rat dog to see if there be room, and if there be time, lest you get your own wheels locked, or smashed, or the shaft of some other vehicle run into your chest or shoulder.  All this is what you have to be ready for. If you want to get through London fast in the middle of the day, it wants a deal of patience.”

And believe me, nothing’s changed!! Change the omnibus to bus, the carriages to cars, the carts to scooters and bikes, and the great wagons to lorries, and it's a contemporary description!

Maybe I should read more children’s books!!

Oh and yes, I’m enjoying the teaching!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Tele-Sales Tales

       I don’t like companies who get hold of my mobile number and then try and sell me something I don’t want, or pretend they know what I need or want.  My family know the routine – I might listen for a second or two, string them along for a good few minutes, and then tell them bluntly that they are frauds and liars!  Take the call I had a little while ago….

     “Hello, my name is So-And-So from Mumble Company.  I’d like to talk to you about the accident you had last year. We can get compensation for you.”

     “Oh, really?!” I ask incredulously, since I didn’t have an accident last year, or this year or any other year!

     “Yes, ma’am,” they’re always polite and calm, they obviously have a good anger management consultant.

     “Go on.”  Might as well hear what they think they know!

     “You had an accident in DooDah Road last year and we can arrange a sum in compensation for you.”

     That’s a bit scary, since I now know they have my mobile number and they know which road I live in.

    “Can you tell me where you got this information?” I ask politely, being the perfectly-within-her-rights polite customer – or that’s how it’s meant to come across.  The answer is mumbled and vague and the next statement on their list is proffered, something about another car which smashed into the back of my car.  Since I personally don’t own a car and haven’t driven the family car for over a year, I think I’m entitled to know what further information they think they have!

    “I’m sorry,” say I, apologetically and sounding as blonde as I can, “Can you just remind me what happened; it was a while ago and you know, one does tend to forget or block out bad experiences, plus it seems I may have developed a little amnesia as a result of the accident.” Ha-ha! Amnesia!  But this is said with all genuineness trying to prise out how this Mumble Company has come to the fantastical conclusion that I’ve had an accident!

    “I’m sorry ma’am, we are not given all the information, that is protected by Data Protection laws.”  Now that’s a laugh! And then I’m in for the kill!

   “Sorry, what was your name again?” I at least start politely. “So-And-So, I think you should know that I have never had an accident. The information you have is totally false. Maybe you are aware of this and you know that the company you work for is fraudulent and deceitful, which of course makes you fraudulent and deceitful.  But maybe you aren’t aware, so I am now enlightening you. Your company is lying to me, to other so called clients and maybe even to you. If you are aware of this, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you aren’t aware, you should now feel ashamed and get out and get a real job.  Goodbye.”  I wait a few seconds for the anger-management polite response of “I’m sorry, ma’am, thank you for your time,” before ending the call.

     Honestly do these people think we’re all so stupid? Maybe some are that stupid, but sometimes it’s the So-And-So who is really stupid!  Five minutes later my phone rings again.

     “Hello, my name is So-And-So from Mumble Company, I’d like to talk to you about the accident you had last year. We can get compensation for you.”

     For a couple of seconds I’m dumbstruck. If he was calling to apologise, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got the entire introductory sentence.

    “So-And-So, you spoke to me a couple of minutes ago! You know, the woman who ranted and raved and called you deceitful and a liar!” This time he put the phone down halfway through my rant!!

    Who would ever want to work in a tele-sales environment with invisible clients like me?!!! 

Friday, 22 April 2011

In the beginning ....

          A few years ago I bought a writers magazine for my daughter who was about to embark on a university course in creative writing. However, I found the mag fascinating and started putting pen to paper myself! One of the competitions in the mag was to write a short story based on a simple photograph. I remember the picture well – it was a woman with a red umbrella walking up some steps. I wrote the story but didn’t submit it. At least it was a beginning!

         Soon afterwards I read a novel which began with someone describing photographs to a blind girl. There was a story in everything she described: the reason why the caravan was at an angle, the weather, the tree, the Spring flowers. This inspired me to start building a family story book on the photos I have in biscuit tins and ice-cream tubs. It was like stepping into a time machine with every picture; I recalled the occasion, the place, the people, the laughs, and the tears.  Needless to say this can leave one in a rather quiet and melancholic state of mind. I have written short stories and poetry, but I don’t have the patience to carry an entire novel. 
        When my mother turned 70, we bought her a lever-arch file, a pad of paper and a brand new pen and instructed her to write down her life story! She was always saying things like: “When we were kids….”, or “Your Granddad used to….”.  She enjoyed the experience and we now have a lovely story of her childhood, early days of marriage, travels to a far away country, fears and aspirations. Although I’m nowhere near 70, I decided I needed to at least start on my own life story – for my children and still-to-come grandchildren!  I’ve got 67 pages, with a few photos, and haven’t yet got to the part of meeting my darling husband!
       Fortunately I’m a diary writer. For my first Christmas after finishing school, my sister gave me a very small page-by-page diary to record my first impressions of working life. The following year I continued on note-pads – which are now falling apart and almost out of date order! Apart from quite a gap when my children were very small – which would probably have been good fun and the most interesting parts of a diary – I’ve sat each morning over coffee and breakfast and recorded frustrations, the weather, and family news, so it was easy to start writing a life-story, but it’s possibly also a life-long task!
       And then to blogs ….. And a family website ….. And an internet-published story …. And a real published poem! 
      Come to think of it, I have a vague memory of saying I was “writing a story” as a 9 or 10 year old, so maybe the beginning was earlier than I thought!?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Ghosts of Grandad's Past!

There is always the danger, when researching a family history, of finding the proverbial ‘skeleton in the cupboard’. Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve found anything too serious yet!  But through the numerous contacts family history researchers build up, we often get some vital information and sometimes -  photographs!


Last week I received a photo of the KELLAND great grandfather – Francis Arthur Kelland. He’s the one who left Dartmouth some time after 1871 to settle in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa.  Since there was a business in East London called “Kelland & Booth”  (painters, decorators, coach trimmers) established in 1880, it seems he may have returned to his home country a little while afterwards and married Annie Jane Gillard in November 1882 in Dartmouth. He might have left her a few years earlier promising to set up a business and then come back for her – which he did!  The photo comes from the archives of the East London Municipality (South Africa), where he was a town councillor from 1889 – 1895.

Also last week I had an email from the Northampton Museum (UK) saying they had received a pair of early 19th century shoes with a very clear label inside.  To H.R.H. Princess Augusta” above the Lion & Unicorn coat of arms and “Holesgrove Boot & Shue Maker, 67 Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly” clearly printed with scroll sides beneath.  (The Northampton Museum & Art Gallery is said to be “the home of the World Famous Show Collection” -

Granny Crossley – Violet Maud – was born a Holesgrove in 1894. Her Great Great Grandfather William was a Boot & Shoe Maker at Burlington Arcade, in the Piccadilly or Kensington/Chelsea area, as was her Great Grandfather William Holesgrove!  Which means that the shoes that the Northampton Museum have, were made by the current Kelland’s maternal Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather!! (See an earlier blog for more on the Chelsea Holesgrove's)

The lady at the Museum very kindly provided some information on the type of shoe:  The shoes date to 1820’s-1830’s. They are typical of the style for women at the time sporting a square toe, flat sole and look very like ballet shoes. They are satin lined with white kid leather and have blue kid leather toe caps.”

And in case you’re wondering how she got hold of me …. she obviously used faithful Google and found our family website!!

Final words come from my dear sister-in-law in response to my Facebook status announcing the Shoe Find: "Just to remind people, don't have any skeletons in the cupboard; someone, somewhere, some era, will find them!"

(Thanks to Keith Tankard for the photo of F.A. Kelland, and "Mrs King" via Rebecca Shawcross of the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery for allowing me to use the picture of the shoes.)

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Follow up to London Traffic!

This is a follow up to "Argghgh! London Traffic!"

So the first trip to destination 8.9 miles from home through London at 10am Sunday took approximately 35 minutes to drive.  The return trip starting at 12.45pm took 75 minutes.  The second trip to the same destination leaving home at 5.15pm took 66 minutes and the return trip at 8pm took 33minutes!!!

I said I'd count the traffic lights : 8.9 miles, 66minutes driving we went through 52 traffic and pedestrian lights! 30 were pedestrian lights, 22 traffic lights. Of these 22 we had to come to a stop at 8. (Londonders being 'polite' to buses and allowing long station wagons to do U-turns in the middle of the busy road, being the main reasons for slow progress!)

Driving in London is just not fun!  But I did get home with a bunch of flowers (benefits of being the preacher's wife), had a scrumptious bacon buttie (bacon sandwich for the non-Brits!), and watched the last strains of the PGA - yep! I watched golf!

Argghh! London traffic!

Today it took us 75 minutes to drive 8.9 miles (14.3km)! That’s about from our old home in Howick, South Africa, to my daughter’s home in Hilton – normally no more than 15 minutes drive (I think!, but definitely nowhere near over an hour.) In 75 minutes I could have driven from Howick to Durban!

 But this is London. It took us about 35 minutes to get to our destination and 75 minutes to get back! It was a sunny day, all Londoners came out to play! In their cars! They don’t use their cars during the week. They use public transport to get to work – busses, trains and tubes – so Sunday is the day to give the car a little run – uhm, maybe a crawl, not even a walk.

Why did it take so long, apart from the fact that the roads are so congested? I think a lot of the blame lies in the road system itself - in the road layout. I have never ever seen such chaotic road systems as one finds in the central London area! You'll be travelling along quite reasonably at 20mph (32kph), if you're lucky, (speed limit is 30mph - 48kph), -  but it's not often you get a road clear enough to go at such a breakneck speed! - on a two-lane, two-way road. You will have to stop at one of the trillion traffic lights, and then discover that just on the other side of the lights, the lane you're in disappears, quite suddenly! Just to be clear, it doesn't matter whether you're in the left or right hand lane, that is the one which will disappear and you'll have to indicate that you're barging into the traffic alongside. By the time you've done this, the road has become two lanes again and you're at the next traffic light, and the lane will again disappear across the intersection, usually the opposite lane to the one previously!

Visitors have been heard to say that Londoners are so polite on the road: they always allow drivers from side roads to come in to the stream of traffic. Well, yes, you’re going so slowly that it’s just downright rude not to let the poor soul in – but then again, some drivers are just downright rude! On the other hand there are so many yellow zig-zag lines with “Keep Clear” across intersections, that the side roads just take advantage and feed in anyway – slowing down the main stream of traffic immensely.

And talking of road layout, it’s quite common to have to cross all three or four lanes of traffic to get to the next section of your route.
It’s almost unimaginable, but if you picture a snail’s trail across your paving on a misty morning - very few straight lines, criss-crossing, sharp turns, bends and corners - that is what the London road system looks like!  “Someone” said the English had designed their roads like this to confuse the Germans during the war – only the English can understand, and explain the logic of, their road system!

So we travelled home at a sedate 10 miles per hour, feeling quite windblown when for ten yards we managed to get to 20mph. That would be when we were first at the red traffic light – and we caught nearly every one of the 100 or so on this particular trip – and had open space to catch up to the bottle-neck from the previous red-lighters!
And don’t forget the bus lanes – can we or can’t we drive in the bus lane today? Some are marked “Mon-Sat”, some are marked “Mon – Sun”, some are marked “Mon – Sun 7am-7pm”. You just have to read the little blue signs while edging closer to the car in front and not getting hooted at for taking so long to close the gap, and watching the bicycles or motorbikes take your side mirror off as they whizz past, and the pedestrian stepping off the pavement – was that a pedestrian crossing? Was it a Zebra crossing or a Pelican crossing? Or maybe a Puffin crossing or Toucan crossing? Or was it a Pegasus crossing?!! (Oh my goodness, I see that they call the lights at a railway
crossing “Wig-Wags”!!)  And before you know it you’re at another traffic light!

Some bright spark in 2007 said that there were too many traffic lights in London and that they were responsible for increased congestion! Doesn’t seem that the powers-that-be read that article!
is a good read. It’s a 2006 article but nothing’s changed!

I am going to try and remember to count the traffic lights we have to go through tonight – same trip as this morning – red lights, green
lights, amber lights, if it’s a traffic light I’ll count it – if I remember! 

Oh dear, I didn't get to the motorway overhead speed restriction signs which seem totally and utterly pointless except that someone in a control room somewhere can't count past 50 cars and so presses the "go slow" button, or perhaps they knock it by accident while reaching for their coffee! And I didn't get to write about the parking and how that causes congestion and irritation and frustration and ............. It's not the traffic, Mr London Mayor, it's the systems!  Arggghgh! London traffic! Get me out of here!

(And you wonder why the English are so stressed?!!!)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Summer's coming! Beachwear fashions!

Today was a beautiful Spring day: the skies were blue, the sun was bright, the daffodils nodded and the banks of the River Thames were inaccessible due to the congestion of canoes and people in wetsuits waiting to flex their muscles! If today was a Spring day then Summer can't be far away! Summer conjures up sunny days, only one layer of clothing and pleasant days on the beach. Does your beach wardrobe look anything like this:
Let's look at the 'Lady' first (since this is a family album she might be one of my Great Aunts!) The year is 1925; she's wearing flat, sensible, walking, maybe lace-up shoes and good old English black tights - except I don't think they called them 'tights' back then, they're probably woollen stockings! A heavy looking skirt and jacket, which if she found herself overcome by an over-ambitious wave, would have added some serious stones & pounds (equivalent of kilograms & grams!) and hampered her rescue! A fur stole? On a beach?! It takes all sorts I suppose! And please note the black umbrella she's holding possibly with a bamboo handle - this is England after all! All topped off with the black brimmed felt (?) hat.  Now the boy: He looks barely into his teenage years and the knee-high socks and long shorts would be the acceptable attire for a young man. Note that the shorts may be long to the knees but they're also probably quite high up on the waist - none of this halfway down the bum fashion! Not only does he have a white shirt and tie, he's also wearing a waistcoat and with a watch chain by the looks of it too! A school cap tops it all and the dog is a good looking accessory!
This is one of my Great Aunts, and I'm happy to see her smiling here as in most of the photos she looks quite miserable! So here once again we have the reasonably sensible black shoes - can't go barefoot like the children, there are pebbles on the sand! - black stockings, and the heavy black coat and fur stole - are those pom-poms on the coat? Great Aunt is wearing a simple hat this time, but gloves and even  pearls make a beach outing the social occasion of the year!

Two young lads having a paddle in the shallows! Funny thing is, when my hubby saw this photo he said it could have been him and his brother! I don't think so! I think he was born at least a decade later than this was taken! School boys never wore long trousers; you had to be a 'man' before you could graduate out of those knee length shorts! But at least they were easy to roll up or hold up. Once again they're in the 'regulation' tie and jacket, and I wonder if they got into trouble if they arrived home very wet and sandy!

This is Great Uncle Fred - always identifiable in photos because he's lopsided! He usually has a stick but I don't know if he was injured or had a defect from birth or childhood. Such white legs Great Uncle Fred!  Once again, not dressed without cap, shirt & tie, and jacket, but at least his trousers are rolled up! He's probably hoping the photographer - I wonder if it was my Great Aunt? - would hurry up because the water's cold!

This looks better! Although you can't see the sea or sand, the buckets and spades give the game away! The ladies are now in their nylon stockings, wearing hats, black jackets and carrying demure handbags. The men wouldn't be dressed without their hats, shoes & socks and a tie, no matter where they were. Little girls' pretty peep-toe shoes shouldn't be worn without little white ankle socks, and even if the little girls are wearing a light cotton summer dress, always combine it with a dark cardigan or jacket! Fashion has a tendency to repeat itself, as we see in the felt cloche hat of lady number three on the bench! D'you think wearing ties, hats, shoes & socks to the beach will come back?!

These two lovely people are my maternal Grandparents - Walter & Lydia Ash (nee Hawley). This is how I remember them so I'm guessing this photo was taken in the mid to late 1960's. There's the famous Blackpool Tower and just looking at Grandma's hair it may have been a bit windy! Maybe only the 'upper class' came to the beach in their furs and pearls, or maybe we got wiser as the decades passed, because Grandma's not even wearing a hat! She seems to have a knitted scarf over her head and around her neck - haven't the shops been advertising this fashion accessory this past winter?! I'm not sure that Grandma and Grandad would have gone to the seaside in the winter, so I'm wondering if England is getting warmer - since we wouldn't normally take our heavy coats, gloves and scarf on summer holiday - would we? Another hint that this photo is later than previous ones is that Grandad isn't wearing a hat! In fact I can't remember seeing any photo of my Grandad wearing a hat (except a gardening one that looked like a plant pot!) However the tie is still there and the casual jacket, but that looks like a knitted waistcoat or pullover, I wonder if Grandma made it for him!

And finally ... probably about 1967 at Lytham St Anne's. I loved those sandals (worn with white ankle socks!) but I'm glad I don't remember those toffee-striped shorts! Are those bruises all up my shins! Light blue peter-pan collar blouse (probably didn't call them 'shirts' for girls then) and a pretty light green lacy cardi - nice and summery! Not sure about the hairstyle though, I think Mum cut it around a pudding bowl! Mum looks like she's just had her hair permed and I wish I could say I still had that red plaid blanket, it looks very nice!

I am so glad fashions change! 

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Not quite a country walk!

One nice thing about England are the many ‘public footpath’ signs, leading through farmlands, moors, alongside rivers and through woodlands. Not only that, one can download a map of a specific walk – which is what we did yesterday.  Box Moor is an area around Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and run by the Box Moor Trust. They offer maps of four walks of varying difficulty and averaging between one and six kilometres. Not being avid walkers and having never followed a walking map before, we went for the fairly easy “Blue Walk – The Valley Floor" – This is an easy walk through traditionally grazed meadows says the description, 4km (2.5miles) approximately 2 hours.

We’d never been to Hemel Hempstead so set the Tom-Tom to St John’s Church and were out of London in 45 minutes.  The temperature was about 8C, it was dry and we looked forward to our walk with the map safely ensconced in a plastic sleeve (in case it did rain!).

Through the first few ‘kissing gates’ and ‘meadows’ and the A41 busy motorway competed noisily with the London Midland and the Southern railway.  It didn’t take long for us to realise that this was a circular walk around the A41 and it wasn’t what we would call quiet ‘countryside’! But it was a walk in an area we’d never been to before, and there was the promise of walking along the towpath of a canal!

There were about nine ‘kissing gates’ through the ‘meadows’, which according to Wikipedia, are gates which “…merely kiss (touch) the enclosure either side, rather than needing to be securely latched.” Not what you thought eh?!  Basically for the non-UK readers, it’s a gate designed to allow pedestrians through, not sheep or livestock, and usually only one person at a time, allowing the gate to close before the next one can enter. However, there is an urban legend that when the gate has closed on the first person and the second is waiting to go through, a ‘toll’ kiss is to be paid over the gate! “Indeed in some circles it is considered good form for everyone passing through a kissing gate to exchange kisses in this way (provided all parties are sufficiently friendly with each other.)” (Wikipedia again).  Oops! We missed that rule!

The ‘meadows’ – as they are described on the map – are simply fields of grass just off the road, Ok, so there were some sheep in one of the meadows we didn’t get to, but bounded by the A41 and railway line, and the main road through the town, I just couldn’t call them ‘meadows’!!
Robert Snooks Grave
The map was very helpful, very accurate and described everything as it really was, including “Snooks Grave” in the middle of one of the meadows! Robert Snooks – his real name was James Blackman Snooks, and the Robert probably came from ‘Robber Snooks’ – was the last man to be executed in England for highway robbery on 11th March 1802. One of the versions of the story say that he stole £80 from the post boy, but left a broken saddle at the scene of the crime helping to identify him! The white triangular stone and a small block of stone mark the spot where he was hanged and buried. He was 42 years old.

About halfway on the walk there’s a pub – there’s always a pub nearby! The Three Horseshoes pub is in the village of Winkwell and alongside the Grand Union Canal. It dates back in parts to 1535 when the land was part of a ‘monastic establishment’. After the dissolution of the monastery by Henry VIII in 1539, the land and buildings ended up on “Crown Land”! Passing to Edward VI, Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, it’s had some regal owners, but Robert Dudley “rather ungratefully” (according to the pubs history on its website) sold the land to get him the cash to buy more lavish gifts for his queen, in the hopes of winning her heart – and hand! And eventually it all came down to the Boxmoor Trust.

Having spent a half hour or more at lunch – with a good 10 minutes of that spent brushing the mud off our boots on the custom made shoe-brusher outside (two yard-brush heads facing inwards and mounted on an adjustable iron frame) – we enjoyed the walk back alongside the canal, admiring the boats (one with a pirate flag, one called ‘My Overdraught’) and the locks.  No fish were sighted although there were supposed to be brown trout in either the canal or the stream alongside or the reservoir lake on the other side of the hedge! But there were the usual ducks of various colours and brands!

The houses on the banks of the canal reminded us of the Howick houses on the banks of the Umgeni – bungalows (single storeys, unusual for England!) with sloping gardens down to the river’s edge, and steps on which to sit with toes in the water or a crude stick, line and worm – on a summer’s day of course!

A very pleasant - if somewhat noisy with traffic and trains although no planes! - walk on a good English winter's day! Especially considering the next day was rainy and cold!

(Pics downloaded from internet - I didn't take any on this trip!)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

"Sugar Baby Love" (The Rubettes 1974)

So we were driving the 100miles back from a day out, windscreen wipers on, radio on, and I began to think ….. who was the first guy who called his girlfriend “Baby”?  And what was her reaction?!!

Baby? Honey? Sugar? Doll?  Girlfriend pet-names, used in pop songs over many decades. I haven’t done huge research but Ted Lewis had a hit (7 weeks at number 1) with When my Baby Smiles at Me in … 1920!! (not the Peter Allen 1979 Dante's Inferno version!)

What exactly does he mean when he calls her his Baby?! I don’t think I want to even explore the possibilities!  Honey? – I suppose she’s sweet, much like Sugar. Doll? – a plaything? Little boys have never been associated kindly with dolls! They’ve been known to swing them around by their hair, or break off their heads, or – as in a current UK TV ad (for gravy nogal!) – they throw them up on the roof to be mean to their little sister!  Mmmm! Sorry Cliff Richard! Maybe that Cryin’, Talkin’, Sleepin’, Walkin’ Livin’ Doll was a little scared, hence the cryin’, and trying to run not just walkin’!! Take a look at her hair, it’s real – now how was that determined?!!

OK, enough of the doll!  I know a young lady who was not too impressed when her boy-cousin – who she hadn’t seen for a good many years – called her Cookie!  Now would that be a Chocolate Chip Cookie? Or a Fortune Cookie?! Or just the Basic Cookie? The same young lady used to be called Pumpkin by a close relative!  A big orange round thing?! With holes poked in at Halloween?! 

Angel? She has to be the perfect one – that’s OK! Chick? That’s so 80’s? A fluffy yellow, high squeaking, demanding ….?!!

I suppose as long as he loves you, it doesn't matter ---- does it?!! 

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Hobnobbing in Chelsea!

So Tuesday we did the family history tour! A little while ago I discovered that Dave’s maternal ancestors had lived and worked in Chelsea, and since we’re in London, thought it would be fun to find their house, visit the church they were christened, married and buried in, and find their work place!

Just a quick intro as to who we were tracing:  Dave’s Mum, Stella G. Crossley, was the daughter of Richard E Crossley and Violet Maud Holesgrove, (his grandparents). Violet Maud Holesgrove was the daughter of William Charles Cobbett Holesgrove and Annie Jane Ferguson (she’s the Irish link!) Wiliam CC was born in 1862 in Grahamstown, and was the son of William Cobbett Holesgrove who was born in 1828 in Chelsea. William C emigrated to South Africa sometime before 1851 (his Grandfather’s Will mentions him in South Africa). His father died in 1853 in Chelsea, and his mother Sarah also emigrated to South Africa with her other children (all over 21 years old and two of them deaf and dumb), to join her son William Cobbett who was a clerk in Grahamstown.  That’s the SA link, but I wanted to see where the Holesgrove family were in Chelsea.

We started with a bus ride to South Kensington to find St Luke’s Church in Chelsea where Great Great grandfather William Cobbett Holesgrove was christened, as were others of the Holesgrove family. Some were married there and GGG & GGGG grandfather William Holesgrove were buried there. (Don’t get hung up on all the Williams!) Unfortunately all the headstones have been moved to the side of the property and the burial ground is now a playground!! The headstones we could see were very badly eroded and there were no Holesgrove names on the ones we could read.
Before we tackled the higgledy-piggeldy Kensington streets to find the ancestral home, we tried to find somewhere for a light lunch. Walking through one narrow street we were ‘accosted’ by waitrons from two different eating places, offering us their menu and trying to get us to come inside! I suppose they have to compete for the London lunch-time business crowd! We did go inside and were served by happy and efficient people (foreigners!) I love people-watching, so it was  interesting to see the young men in their pin-stripe suits sitting in the crowded eating space for just half an hour’s lunch break, next to the painter in his white overalls eating a huge dish of some kind of stew!  A Julia Roberts look-alike made herself comfortable next to us and she also managed to finish a huge plate of food while reading a classic.

            As we took our time over our omelette, chips and cappuccino, London rushed in and out of that little eating place. None were there for longer than 10 minutes, most wolfing down a huge plate of food, before rushing off for the afternoon shift at the office. Some of them, like the Julia Roberts look-alike, probably only get home well after 9pm and that hoovered down lunch was their main meal for the day.

            No. 8 and No. 16 Charles Street - all the houses in this area are the three or four storey terraced houses – not quite as grand as the ones you see in Oliver! but still quite pricey I’m sure! Today they are probably three or four flats (or more?!), but I wonder what it was like in the 1850’s. Did our family use this entire building as their home?

         Just another 10 minutes walk away is the prestigious Burlington Arcade, where GGGG Grandfather William had a Boot & Shoe Shop ( No. 66, which used to be his Shoe Shop is Cameo Corner today, selling a beautiful and rare collection of antique Victorian and Edwardian cameos. Burlington Arcade is most definitely an upmarket shopping arcade – most of the shops are jewellery outlets with the most exquisite pieces in the windows, and a very small interior space. (Probably more internet sales than passing trade). There were still two or three Shoe shops and one with a shoe-shiner in training! 
        Having gawked at sparkling diamonds, brilliant emeralds, sapphires and rubies, it was time to head home before the working Londoners i.e. avoid the crowded tube! We walked down Old Bond Street, past Prada, Gucci and Yves St Laurent, but decided we didn’t have the time to pop in this time! Even The Ritz just didn’t look inviting!!

        I’m just a simple country gal and was glad to leave the city-rush junkies in the city, and climb on the bus to home in the London ‘suburbs’! The London streets from the very front seat upstairs on a double-decker bus look very different. You see the architecture, the intricate carvings around the gabled roofs, the carved stone blocks stating that the building was built in 1831, or a business was established in 1897. Old painted advertising signs still shout out their long-gone wares, and pubs advertise anti-Valentine parties and live music!

The less I go into London city, the better! But this was an interesting visit to where our ancestors lived and worked!

(Apologies for the picture quality of some of the pics!)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

What were you doing 30 years ago today?

I know what I was doing 30 years ago today!

30 years ago today was a Sunday. It was the Sunday that the Lakeside Baptist Church was officially 'transplanted' from Meadowridge Baptist Church, (Cape Peninsula, South Africa) to Muizenberg / Lakeside area.  A crowd of about 30 adults and children stood in front of the regular Meadowridge congregation while the minister (sorry can't remember who it was!) prayed for us.

After the service, standing outside on a beautiful Cape Town summer's day, Peter Bosch, one of the Lakeside founder members asked me how I was doing.  "I'm fine!" I replied, "A little tummy-ache, but nothing serious!"

So what else was special about the 25th January 1981?  It was the day our first born child was due to enter the world!  He arrived one day later! 

We didn't know if it was a girl or boy. Most people had 'predicted' it would be a girl and I had a few girl's names lined up but no boy's names! My mother was the only one who said it would be a boy - just by looking at the way I was carrying!  Always listen to your mother!

A nameless little boy was born at False Bay Hospital in Fish Hoek (South Africa) at 10.15am on Monday 26th January 1981.  He wasn't nameless for very long - Sean (as in Sean Connery!) Philip - after his paternal grandfather who had died 6 months previously from cancer. He was 6lb 2oz (2.78Kg) and was a little jaundiced so had to spend most of the week under lights, but was taken out regularly for feeds and cuddles, especially when Grandma's and Grandad came to visit. He was tiny! Look at him now!

"Monday's child is fair of face" - well considering the gaggle of girls always around him at youth clubs in his teens, I'd say they thought so too!

Happy birthday for the 26th Sean!  You are precious and loved by me, your father, your sisters, your wife and many, many more people. But you are precious in the eyes of God and he loves you more than any of us can!

God bless and enjoy your day!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Children and pressure in school?

                 A short British TV program tonight aired the question of whether the children of today are too pressurised. Is there too much pressure on them to do well in school, in tests, exams or general school work?  The majority seem to think that exams put far too much pressure on the poor young things and high percentages were quoted for teenage depression and other mental and emotional diagnoses due to pressure.
Some mums were concerned that their children weren’t “playing out” enough (presumably they mean “playing outside”!) and arranged to have their street closed to traffic for a few hours in the week to allow the kids to kick a ball or ride a tricycle! (No cricket in the street though – cars were still parked on the side!)  Coming from a totally different – although still ‘Western’ - culture, these observations still amaze us a family. 
Children in South Africa start school at 6 years old (not 4 years) after a pre-school year which is a lot of play but structured times learning how to write their name, memorise their telephone number (in case of emergency) learning the alphabet and to count. So they get four or five full years of simple play – no pressure! Once they get to ‘big school’ at age 6, then it’s time for uniforms, discipline, sitting at desks, listening, and learning. A South African child’s school day typically begins no later than 8am and finishes somewhere between 12.30pm for the very young ones, and 2pm for the older ones. During the day they will have two break times; the first approximately 10-15 minutes and the second, more of a lunch break, 30-40 minutes.  Most schools have a reasonably sized grass area which will be well used during these break times to run around, kick a ball, or simply sit with friends and talk – mobile phones are not allowed in most schools and it would therefore be unusual to see children texting all during a break time! Social skills – talking, discussing, debating, sharing life’s highs and lows – necessary life skills on the playground!
All children are strongly encouraged to take part in at least one of the many sports offered, especially in primary school –age 6 to 12 – but it’s not compulsory. However, most usually take advantage of football, cricket, hockey, rugby, netball, athletics, cross country running, swimming, tennis and even golf.  For the non-sporty child there are the options of arts & crafts, chess, choir, speech & drama, computer club, dancing, music, etc. Most of these activities contain some sort of competitiveness, but there’s not a big thing made of ‘pressure’ in competition! 
Surely competitiveness is as much part of life as learning?! Being competitive teaches us to stretch our minds and strive further than we thought we could go! It also teaches us to be gracious, both in victory and defeat – social skills. It’s such a pity that competitiveness is often seen as a negative in today’s British child’s education.
The same goes for exams or tests. Regular tests – like the weekly spelling tests we used to have – encourage a child to learn – isn’t that why they go to school? To learn? Test results show what they haven’t yet grasped and they can try again – perseverance - or be proud of themselves in achieving realistic goals.
Yes, there are always children who are not academically minded and who struggle to learn. But can almost an entire nation of children be in this category, as it seems the British media is trying to tell us?!
South African children may have a shorter day in the classroom than their British counterpart, but they do get the vital physical exercise they need during and after school, and they usually have homework for the next day or the next week - this teaches them about deadlines, prioritising, and time management.
Most South African children come away from their twelve years of formal schooling and become responsible, happy, well-balanced, young adults!
Of course the family unit also comes into play. I’ve heard of many London families, where both Mum & Dad could work late into the evening and end up with only a few minutes to hurry their little darling into bed and say goodnight!  We’ve also heard the cry from parents that they feel they’re ‘not there’ enough for their children, and it’s being able to create the right work ethic that is difficult. Different countries and cultures perhaps put different emphases on the ‘work ethic’!
From what I’ve heard, I’m glad my children were educated in South African schools! They are responsible, well-balanced, happy and respected young adults within their social & working circles, each having achieved – and still achieving – goals they have set themselves to reach.
No pressure!