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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.


I guess it’s reasonable that this being November I should be thinking about LLB.  After all, November 10th is the day he was born.

This particular memory is dated many years after that.  It’s when he and his young bride were introduced to Canada.  At that time Australia was offering immigrants passage via a beautiful cruise like ship to their lovely warm southern country for the paltry sum of ten pounds sterling.  Imagine, all those days at sea with meals thrown in! 

Canada however had its own incentive.   You didn't even need 10 pounds. Canada would underwrite the fare for an immigrant to get here by any method of transportation.  There was a small catch however: the fare advance had to be paid back with interest.  Such was the method used by LLB.  This choice was enough to send the remaining three siblings who were already here into a frenzied fit of creativity.  It was reasoned that this paucity of funds had to be acknowledged and what better way than to throw a welcoming party that would highlight this situation.

So was born the “Tramp Party”.

Invitations were extended to a wide group of friends; all good party aficionados who could be guaranteed to follow the instructions to the letter.  They were instructed to arrive dressed in their very best “down and out, hobo, tramp like” clothing.

The party decorations as I recall included newspapers as table cloths, and newly purchased ceramic chamber pots held peanuts and other snacks. The glasses for drinks were mismatched and very unsightly.  I may not remember all the little details that went into the planning for this event but I’ll never forget the outfits that made it to my townhouse basement.

One very hilarious gent came as a boating captain with jaunty cap and rumpled untidy jacket with gold coloured buttons.  However, the shirt beneath was made of paper and only covered a small portion of the front of his chest.

LS’s husband looked the most tramp like of all wrapped as his legs were in newspapers – maybe to keep out the cold.  

LS and her friend “K” were undoubtedly the belles of the ball.  They had made special long - elegant dresses with strategically torn areas.  These dresses were teamed with gloves and large raggedy hats.  Not that either Belle could ever look ugly but they did their best by blackening a few teeth.

The evening was a great success but it must have been an eye opener for the new arrivals from England, especially later in the evening.

Not everyone knew each other very well; some may only have been passing acquaintances.  Nevertheless, as the evening progressed and the liquor flowed, relationships became more open, more knowing.  This discerning and recognizing was started with an interaction between LS and the sham boating captain.  She, in a spirit of style and to be sure that everyone looked their very best, approached said captain with the suggestion that the jacket pocket sitting outside his jacket “looked very untidy”.  Then, before he could say “What?”  she had removed the offending pocket by tearing it off.

Did he say “Thank you”? No he did not.

He took it upon himself to do some styling of his own.

It seems that those “strategically torn areas” were a tremendous temptation for a man who had just had his carefully planned attire decimated.  He applied a crooked finger to one such area as he remarked:  “You seem to have a tear in your dress, dear lady.”  Before removing his bent finger he gave it a bit of a tug making the tear a good deal larger.  This of course led LS to laughingly attack his paper shirt.   And so it began. 

The next part of the evening had definitely not been planned although the behavior of the other guests belied that.  Everyone joined in the fun.  That’s everyone but the two guests of honour.  They had not been told of the dress requirements so thankfully came normally attired which saved them from any attempts of styling.  This must have been a blessing for the young bride who we later discovered to be a good deal shyer than our Covey of Cockneys.

I’ve never had what you would call a large closet full of clothes, but after that evening it was decidedly smaller because so many of my guests needed coverage to make their way home.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Parenting 101


Or, who needs "play dates"?

If you’re reading this blog then you probably know that I’m aging not so much like fine wine but more like that left-over soup at the back of your fridge.  Nevertheless, there was a time when I was a young mother with young children to care for and this little story is a memory of that time.

When I look around me I see how mothers today care for their children and it makes me wonder how mine survived.   I’m not referring to the extreme “helicopter” parents who garner a fair amount of newsprint but rather the ones I see driving their children to school, the ones who make sure by arranging “play dates” that their offspring do not play in the dangerous outside.  They are no doubt convinced that the world is a much more perilous place than when they themselves were young.

I don’t know how true those beliefs are I only know how I acted as a parent in the “good ‘ole days”.  Let me tell you.

Immigrant travel in the 1960s

The time frame was the 1960’s.  LS along with her husband and child had just immigrated to Canada.  On the day I’m remembering they were visiting us at our third floor apartment situated on a busy North York street.  My family then consisted of two children.  The eldest was a boisterous 3 year old who, had I known about ADHD, I might have said was afflicted with every letter of the alphabet.  Whereas, LS’s daughter was a 6 year old calm-well-behaved English young lady.

The apartment building where we lived.

Both children were tired of the constraints of the apartment.  They wanted to go outside to play! No problem.  It was a fine spring day and a little fresh air would do them good.  In case you’re thinking that either LS or I would accompany them - let me set the record straight.  We didn’t!   

Instead, the mature 6 year old was given that responsibility, and responsible she was.  She knew she was charged with keeping her small cousin safe and sound.  She kept her eye out for any potential danger.  She surveyed her surroundings and carefully forewarned her young cousin if anything came to light.

It did!  “Whatever you do” she directed, “do not put your finger in that hole, it is dangerous”.

Had I been there, as the mother of this child I would have rather slit my throat than have called attention to something of this nature, especially when it was made even more appealing with the admonition to not go near it.  But I wasn’t there.

Need I say more.

Should you mention this story to the now grown man he will gladly show you the scar on his finger.  Glass makes a nasty cut!

Perhaps today’s parents do know a thing or two.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The More We Are Together, Together, Together!

This is the Reel Story

I’ve been struggling lately trying to decide on a memory that I wish to write about.  Not that I’ve exhausted the childhood ones but some of the later ones from early adulthood are pulling heavily at me.

This past weekend tipped that decision over the edge.  The adult members of the family sat around listening to reel to reel audio tapes that LB had made fifty years ago!  Yes, that’s 50 – a big five – oh.  It was marvelous!
The quality was not what we have become used to in this technological age we live in but that did not detract from the emotional impact.

Now that you know the “when” you might be wondering about “what” was on the tapes and “how and why” does LB still have them!  The “how” is easy – he retrieved them from my mother’s belongings at the time of her death. As for the rest - well here’s a bit of background:

As the eldest of the Covey of Cockneys, I, along with my better half arrived in Canada in 1954.  I did and do love Canada but I missed my “Covey”.  You can’t have a “Covey” of one.  Happily for me, the other members arrived over the following years.  Of course while this was “happily for me” it meant that our mother was now alone!

So what could we do to keep in touch?

Telephone calls?  Certainly.  However, these were extremely expensive and with the time constraints – never very satisfactory.

Letter writing?  Yes, that was where all the finer details of daily living were spelled out.

Mum liked it best when we were all together:  laughing and singing, all talking over each other.  In other words she loved having her noisy family all around her. Telephone calls and letter writing didn’t quite cut the mustard.

So began the birth of the “reel to reel” tapes.

Remember, in this time period there was nothing digital available, even cassette tapes, eight track, and Walkman had not yet been invented.  You wanted sound you went BIG.  So LB went big.  He bought a reel to reel.  It was explained to Mum that she would need to rent a machine in order to hear the recordings.  Not to be out done she also bought a machine!

Similar but not the same as LB's

Now we are really committed to making family recordings!

Weekly gatherings of our little Covey and our very understanding partners took place.

LB and LLB would sing accompanied by their guitars while a cacophony of the rest of our voices provided background atmosphere.  We did “off the cuff” skits long before Second City even existed.  One I remember was based on a ballroom dancing competition similar to shows seen on British Television.  Another took place on an imaginary London bus. Naturally the participants were all Covey members.

My personal favourites always involved the children especially when LB used his interviewing skills.

I could tell lots more about that time, but then, these are my memories and truly: “You had to be there”.  And that’s why this past weekend was like a little bit of magic because once again I heard voices that can no longer be heard as I was transported “there”.  

Monday, 24 July 2017

Paying it Forward


We hear about something such as ‘Paying it Forward” and we think it’s a new concept, well at least I did.  

That was until I thought about writing this post.  Naturally I went on line to do a little research and found that just as the old saying goes: “There’s nothing new under the sun”.  Well, paying it forward is not a new concept.  See article from Wikipedia:

I got stuck thinking about this when I considered whether one could “pay if forward” without being aware of doing so:  A sort of banking of a good deed that would pay dividends much later. Furthermore, could this good deed be accrued to oneself?  Let me explain.

As always these little tales involve our cockney childhood but to be more accurate the teenage years of LS. 

By the time this event occurred I’ve moved on to being a young adult or at least I think I am.  I earn money, I have a job.  I pay rent for the privilege of living at home.  I buy my own clothes and in particular I buy shoes.  I love shoes and one pair of shoes I’ll always remember. 

Made of the softest leather you could ever imagine in a style and colour that was guaranteed to attract attention these shoes were my pride and joy.  But not for long.

You see they stretched!  Dad said it was due to the softness of the leather and though he could fix most things other than a suggestion for wearing a pair of socks there was nothing he could do.

Much later in life I discovered why my shoes had stretched: The following poem by LS gives a little clue.
I wish I were my sister
Who wears such pretty clothes
Maybe in a few more years
To loan them I'll propose
But when I see her dressed so smart
For boys who stand and stare
I sneak to get her high red shoes
To wear when she's not there.

Obviously, my shoes were going out more than I was and they were travelling on feet that were just a shade bigger than mine.  

But life goes on and I eventually stopped despairing for my little red shoes.

Karma has no concept of time so for the “Paying Forward” to work this story jumps many decades to my recent bout with surgery.
One of the problems I experienced was a swelling of my feet and legs.  The therapy for this was walking.  And what does walking require?  The hospital was adamant that walking required foot covering.  I was prepared for that.  I had shoes and I had slippers nicely stowed in my bag.  And that’s where they stayed!  No way would they fit on my swollen feet.

Here’s where I blessed the feet that stretched my red sandals.  LS provided a marvelous pair of worked in sneakers that fit my swollen feet to a tee. 

How can anyone not believe in “Paying it Forward” to oneself!

Friday, 30 June 2017


Well, here I am again.  I survived the surgery and while I won’t say I’m hale and hearty I have a lot to be thankful for.

Being in hospital was a great time to consider “Home Cooking” if only for the absolute lack of it! I thought about all the T.V. shows and the stars like Rachel Ray and Nigella Lawson who have blurred my idea of what home cooking is as they’ve made an industry based on recipes and fancy cookware.

My ideas of Home Cooking are those meals you grew up with.  Those special dishes your Mum made that in later life you wish you could duplicate.  Those dishes that when the family gets together everyone agrees: “Yes! Those are Mum’s ______ (insert your own choice of food)”.

Two staple dishes of English “Home cooking” in my estimation will always be: Firstly, a typical roast dinner.  This could be with beef or lamb, always served with Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes and some kind of veg. 

The other staple English meal is the very humble Egg and Chips.  If you ever saw the movie “Shirley Valentine” you may remember the scene where Shirley feeds the evening’s steak to the neighbour’s dog.  Later her husband does not complain that he is being served Egg and Chips he just cannot understand why it is happening on the wrong night!

Our little Covey of Cockneys were fortunate in so many ways: Dad was a good cook and he was always in charge of the Sunday Roast, the Egg and Chips' nights were left to Mum, and the funny thing is - I don't remember Dad being around when we had Egg and Chips.


Rationing put a crimp in everyone's cooking skills.  It began in 1940 and yes everyone had a ration book containing coupons which were handed to the shop keeper when you bought food.

Child's ration book

Despite the rationing during the war there were many things that Dad managed to cook that will always have a special place in my food memories: Liver and onions with liberal amounts of the best gravy you can imagine.  
These appear to have many more raisins than I recall.

Rock cakes, which now that I think back were very aptly named, after all they were made with lard and if they contained sugar it couldn't have been much and the few raisins could not have added much sweetening.

As great as these memories are, when we Covey of Cockneys sit around tossing memories of Home Cooking these are NOT the meals that immediately come to mind. No, we are more likely to say: "Does anyone remember Mum making Egg and Chips?"  And of course we do! 

The time frame is after WWII.  Imagine if you will it's Egg and Chip night.  Four hungry children with an age difference of 10 years between the youngest to the eldest sit patiently waiting and soon to be feed:  Perhaps you are thinking that there's a big pot of cut up potatoes bubbling in oil on the stove.  Not quite.  You see Mum had a unique way of cooking what we in North America call "French Fries".

Firstly, she would peel and dice a potato.  Next she would select a few of these chips for cooking, not a lot, just enough to fit into the couple of tablespoons of fat she had in a frying pan.  

With the pan tilted to just the right angle she would make sure that each delicious chip got nice and toasty brown.  At which time these few morsels would be served to an awaiting child with the words: "Here love, start on this, I'll make your egg now".  Which she did!

Of course it was done in the same inimitable manner!

It took a while for all to be served but hey, what else did we have to do, and when you're a child even strange cooking methods are normal.  After all, perhaps everyone cooks Egg and Chips this way!

Sunday, 30 April 2017


We learn lessons throughout our lives but none more enduring than those learnt in childhood.

It’s said that the strongest motivation that living organisms experience is the urge for self-preservation and this is evident in even a one cell organism.  Pain and fear are the two things which immediately kick-start this will-to-live into action.  Pain being evidence that all is “not well Batman” indicates that in order to survive the pain must go.  Fear needs no physical pain but often depends on a related or personal memory of pain and the knowledge that it must be avoided.

Children are not always as cognizant of all the dangers that could impede there self-preservation so fear must be related to them.  For a long period of time parents become the self-preserving agent in a child’s life; A mother cautions a child that the stove is hot and any contact between it and the child will result in pain!  

This works for reaching - but what about turning those knobs?

My father was more of a physical hands-on type of person so had a different method of fulfilling his duties, let me explain:

As I’ve mentioned before (perhaps too frequently) we lived in a rough and tough neighbourhood where fist fights were an accepted method of settling differences and where Darwin could have studied all he needed to know about survival of the fittest  without going to the Galapagos Islands!

I can’t honestly say I met a lot of bullies in my childhood, but, at about the age of ten years, or maybe even less, I did meet one and that was enough.  He punched me in the face and as a consequence I had a nasty- painful-fat lip.  I can’t remember the motive for this interaction but I can remember my father’s response.

Dad was a great admirer of the boxer James John Corbett known as “Gentleman Jim”

 (Here’s a Wikipedia link if you want to take a short dive into boxing history.) And, although Dad never, as far as I know, took part in the sport himself, he did love to listen to radio broadcasts of matches and I’m sure secretly considered himself a “boxing expert”.  With this in mind he set about providing me with the self-preservation skills I needed for the area we lived in.  He taught me how to box!

No wild silly slugging for me. No, no. I was taught the proper stance for the feet, methods for protecting my face, and where to aim my punches for the most damage to the opponent.  He was very pleased to discover that I was a “Sourf Paw”, apparently to be so is confusing for one’s opponent. 

He also told me that if I sensed an altercation about to erupt then I should be the first to deliver my deadly South Paw blows, offense being the better part of defense.

I never did get the opportunity to exhibit these undoubtedly superior boxing skills because from then on, the tormenting boy never even came close to me.

Unbeknownst to me, my father also had another parental method of securing my self-preservation; albeit somewhat unorthodox it was quite acceptable in the area we lived in. 

The family story suggests that he set his alarm to wake himself up at some ungodly hour in the morning, long before the sun had risen. Whereupon he marched down the street to the bullying child’s house and pounded on the door.  The boy’s father still groggy from sleep opened the door to be met with a well placed fist at the end of my father’s arm.  “That’s a reminder to stop yer boy from ‘itting my girl!”.

This method though crude, assured my self-preservation for the time being!  But, let this be a warning: despite never having had to use these skills, this rather ancient grandmother stills remembers what I was so carefully taught and I know that a swift offense is the best defense!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Birmingham & Harrogate

Birmingham and Harrogate

D-Day June 1944 was an uplifting time for Britons.  At last, we were taking the initiative, we were moving forward.  For once, fewer bombs were falling on London than on German cities.

No doubt this really ticked off Hitler who had engaged the services of Wernher Von Braun the scientist with a penchant for inventing flying objects.  Londoner’s first introduction to his skills was on June 13th 1944 when the first of the flying bombs christened “Buzz Bombs” or “Doodle Bugs” made its appearance.  Because of the limited range of these objects, South London where we lived was a prime target.

V1 - Buzz Bomb or Doodlebug

Anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced these V1’s will tell you that the thing they remember is the sound.  It did not sound like a plane.  It was a hard to describe “buzzing” sound.  (I’ve heard it described as a motor cycle engine).  The scary part was when this sound stopped, that meant the bomb was ready to drop! Unless you were a Saint, everyone wished for the sound to continue and for someone else to be its victim.

Soon, however, Von Braun upped the stakes.  The silent and stealthily V2 rockets became the norm.  So, this may have been the time when we once again took up our evacuation adventures.  But then again my memory being what it is these trips could have occurred earlier.

In order to write these stories I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the internet about World War II and evacuees. While it’s a wonderful source for checking dates it’s also a treasure trove of personal stories.  When I read some of these accounts where children were ill-treated, some half-starved, I am forever thankful that our mother fit the criteria for accompanying us: pregnant women and mothers with children under five. Sometimes she fit into both categories.

By now, our evacuating family has reached it full complement: Mum, Me, LS, LB, and finally LLB.  This is a good point to pop in one of the lovely poems by LS:

My mother’s third baby's expected
She tells us she's going to knit
An undershirt for this unborn one
A miracle if it should fit

She bought herself a ball of white wool
A very good pattern and read it
She'd never done any knitting before
So we had to give her credit

Many times with wool in hand
The pattern she'd try to figure
The undershirt remained at row one
But her tummy sure grew bigger

My mother’s fourth baby’s expected
She tells us that she will finish
The undershirt for this unborn one
Her hopes we wouldn’t diminish

It could have been around this time when we were sent to Birmingham.  I’ve never been able to figure out why Birmingham?  It was and is an industrial city that suffered bombing throughout the war, so why send evacuees there?  
Perhaps a more pertinent question would be why would they want us?  Surely it wasn’t for the money.

We couldn’t have been there very long because I have an almost blackout of memories from that period. 

However, I do know that Mum being Mum was not one to forego an opportunity because I recall a visit we all made to a WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) centre where we were all outfitted with clothing for free.  I remember it most vividly because the shoes I was given were hideous to my burgeoning teenage eyes!

Our next stopover is in Harrogate, Yorkshire.  Here we are billeted in a huge communal stop-over type of building, prior to being boarded elsewhere.  We are housed in a room that had bunk beds that I thought were pretty neat; I’d never seen the like before.  It was fair sized room that overlooked a large garden that backed onto railway tracks.  The sound of the trains became a comforting sound that I’ve always liked.

Every family was expected to contribute to the running and care of the household.  We sat as a large group for meals and while I’m sure there was a roster for all kinds of jobs I only remember having to help with the washing up.

Our stay here was delayed because LS became very ill and needed to be hospitalised.   Also, there probably were not a lot of households ready for a mother and four young children. After LS returned, our billeting came through and I hated it!  Mum and the two youngest were in one house with sweet pea flowers around the front door, and LS and I were living in a house controlled by a miserable harridan of a woman, on the opposite side of the street.

I think it was while we were there that notice came that I had won a scholarship to attend a school that also had been evacuated and was operating from a satellite site in the countryside of Woking.  Time again to pack up and leave!

1946 Edition of first Post-War School Magazine

However, I never did get to the Woking site for Mayfield Grammar School for Young Ladies; by the time forms had been completed, uniforms arranged and directions received, wonder of wonders; the war was over and the school returned to its home in Putney.

Evacuations are done with and life returns to normal, but that begs the question: what is normal for this little Covey of Cockneys? Is there another another tale to be told?