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Friday, 30 June 2017

HOME COOKING

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

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 HAVE TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_J._Corbett 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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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?



Saturday, 22 April 2017

Evacuation to Somerset

I’ve never visited Somerset in my adult life, but I have all manner of memory “snippets” from when I was almost 8 years of age.


First a little bit of background.  Somerset is situated just south of Wales on the west coast of England.  It’s known for its abundance of Cider and Cheddar cheese (the map even shows a town that carries that name!) Must be a bit confusing to visitors when asked if they like cheddar? But I digress.


We were evacuated to an area close to Frome

Another famous town is Glastonbury.  Good stuff abounds with myth and legend regarding Glastonbury Abbey.  If you’re a fan of King Arthur and his Knights you probably know that Arthur and Guinevere are said to be buried there.  “Said” being the operative word because another group insists they are buried at Avalon!  However that’s difficult to prove because no one knows where Avalon is.   Oh, don’t you just love these “Olde English tales”!  This one is a bit like my memory: Only acceptable with a pinch of salt!


City of the lost tomb!

This little story will not go back that far but it will return to 1940.  If you recall from a previous post, late 1940 Hitler was trying to bomb London out of existence. While he was trying to kill everyone, Mum was doing her bit to achieve the opposite; she was heavily pregnant with child number three.  Not wanting to stay around to give Hitler his chance we are off again on the evacuation train, this time to Somerset!




My memories of this period are getting a little more detailed than previously as I’m remembering feelings as well.  How we got there I don’t know but I can clearly see what looks to me to be a sea of mud that I must step in with my little red wellies to cross to the farmhouse which appears to be miles away.  Mum is at my side but I’m scared that my wellies will get stuck and so will I. 



Of course, we reach the house safely but I’m not impressed with this introduction.

Nighttime brings another astonishment: so far in my young life I’ve slept in my own bed.  This night would be different.  Our little family has been assigned to a very small room containing one very small bed on which Mum with her very large midriff plus LS and I are all meant to slumber.  I can’t recall how many nights we did the top and tail routine but I do recall when GM arrived from London to set everything right. 

I wasn’t privy to the actual word exchange but I know that before GM had finished raining down Irish curses on the farmer and his flock, we had been moved to the cottage of one of his workers.  This was much better; we had a large room with ample sleeping surfaces for all of us.

Not sure how long we stayed but definitely long enough to thumb our noses at Hitler, when Mum gives birth to a bonny baby boy on November 20th, identified in these tales as LB.  It was about this time that we received a typed letter from Dad who was stationed somewhere in Wales. The advanced technology of this typed letter caused much excitement and much discussion of how he could have had access to such a machine!


Frome grew up as a market town. Indeed, its market is thought to predate the arrival of the Normans in 1066. In 1239, King Henry III granted a Royal Charter that confirmed the town's right to hold a market. There is still some evidence of the former medieval street layout. Cheap Street and Apple Alley date back to this period, although many of the buildings that can be seen here today date from the Tudor era.
My other memories include riding a bus to school in Frome, and me reciting the poem “Wee Willy Winkie” at a Christmas concert.  and struggling to understand why the farmhand’s grown son spent all day sitting by a window recording the license plate numbers of every passing car.

Generally, it was a quiet time except for the rumour that bombs had been dropped on some cows.  Eventually things must also have quietened down in London because once again we are back in Battersea,  battened down and waiting for our next evacuation opportunity. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Rhymes from the heart

RHYMES FROM THE HEART 

When I started this blog I didn’t know how it would be received.  I guess I should have realised that it would spark memories in my “Cast of Characters” crew, because it seems it did!

Not the least of which is a series of poems written by LS.  I have to share these with you (it’s O.K. I’ve asked and received permission) because in many instances they dove-tail with the stories I’ve told, or maybe plan to tell.  They do not have titles because LS has given none.
Remember the post called “Easter, Christmas and in Between”?  Well, the following poetry will provide insight from another perspective.

For Easter I'd three pennies
So I bought myself a chick
So yellow and so chirpy
I ran him home real quick

Who'll keep it warm and feed it
Was all my Mum would say
I'll ask the lady with the hens
Who lives across the way

I used to sit and watch him grow
I think the roost he ruled
But I never really noticed
When mother watched she drooled

Who could believe at Christmas
When joy should fill your heart
That one could slay and pluck and cook
While you are torn apart

When reading these poems you may notice that they don’t always jibe exactly with what I’ve written.    To me that’s perfect!  Memory is a very subjective thing, part real, part imagined, part invented and altogether wonderful!  You’ll no doubt figure out quickly that the following merges nicely with the posting:  “Beer, Bombs and a dog called BoyBoy”.

My sister wanted a puppy
But dad brought her a huge dog
It followed him home from work today
All eyes on him were agog
My mother screams "We can’t keep him
He'll probably chew us to shreds
It'll cost us money to feed him
And I know he’ll sleep on your beds"
He lets us ride upon his back
And does all kinds of feats
But mothers still complaining
About how much he eats
The rent man comes collecting
For money he never will get
We send the dog to scare him off
Mother says "He's a luverly pet"

I’m including one more little one that is so personal to LS, that I’m sure I could never write a story that would highlight the emotion it contains.  
It is particularly poignant at this time because she is referring of course to LLB.

One brother’s only five years old
His hair I love to touch
It's long and blond and curly
Yes I like it very much
Today when I came home from school
I cried because I care
Mother said "He's a big boy now"
She'd cut off all his hair

Mum with LLB at a much younger age than in poem, but showing the start of  his gorgeous blond curls.


I have more of these poems that I’ve scanned and OCR’d – I’m saving them for later, so stay tuned!


Saturday, 15 April 2017

World War Two Ends

V.E. Day May 8th 1945

I had planned to post this story when I had completed exhausted all the WWII tales I could remember.  But, just like all “Best Laid Plans” life intervenes and I’ve decided to post it now.


To give you a bit of a background it’s one that I’ve presented many times as a Toastmaster, (fully garbed to resemble the heroine). I’ve submitted it to various contests and won a number of prizes, not the least of which was a Barry Manilow record!  So I hope you enjoy it too.

On May the 8th 1945 I was a twelve year old girl living in London England.  Like any other twelve year old I was not very impressed with my parents, especially my extroverted and well liked Mother.  Frankly, she embarrassed me and never more so than on that day.

May the 8th you see was Mother’s birthday!  It must have felt to her that the gods had given her the best gift ever: the end of the war, the end of the bombing, and eventually the end of rationing.  What a gift!  It was time to celebrate as only she knew how.

She began by commandeering the bicycle of a passing cyclist. One which I’m sure he was happy to relinquish once he saw the outfit in which Mother planned to ride.  From some hidden treasure stash she had donned a large pair of bright red knickers to accompany her white blouse and just to keep it thematic she had tied a blue something or other around her waist.  
Though not an exact replica it would have been similar and quite daring for 1945!

Thus dressed, to everyone’s delight except mine, this very cockney Britannia rode up and down the streets of our neighbourhood announcing the wonderful news of the end of the war.

This exertion could only last so long.  She eventually became tired and thirsty, and in Britain there is no better place to slake ones thirst than in the local pub.
The stop-over at the pub rather than dampening her enthusiasm filled her with even more fervour for the occasion.  

Not content with her mere personal adornment she proceeded to decorate our rented row house.  With broad artistic strokes and some left over paint she applied wide stripes of red, white and blue to all the surfaces on the outside of our house that she could reach.  It certainly made a timely patriotic statement!

As I recall her strokes were not as straight as I've depicted.  Remember where she had been!

But time being what it is: it marches on.  Six years later when a prospective beau walked me home after a movie show I learned to overcome my embarrassment and hone my story telling skills as I proudly explained why I lived in a faded flag.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Comfort Food

COMFORT FOOD

Remembering a Grandmother from the viewpoint of a grandmother is not an easy thing to do.  

I would like to think that I’m as loving a grandmother as mine was, but I fear I fall short.  Of course it could be that my grandchildren never needed a grandmother the way I did – and that’s a good thing!

Life in our little cockney household was not always the “happy-go-lucky” adventure that my stories tend to highlight.  Sometimes I needed to escape and where better to escape to than my Nanny GM’s.  

Unfortunately she didn’t live around the corner.  While we lived south of the Thames in the south west part of London she lived north of the Thames in the north east.  I’m amazed when I think how old I must have been, definitely younger than 12 years.  I know this because I was 12 years old when the war ended and my travels took place before and after that date.

It’s difficult to tell from a small map but London is not laid out in any grid type formation.  It’s a higgledy-piggledy mass of streets and alleyways and there was no direct route from our house to hers.  To the best of my ancient recollection: first a tram ride that took me across Westminster bridge, where I got off this tram and waited for another on the Embankment as I gazed at Big Ben looming over me.  

There, I boarded another tram which wonder of wonders went below ground into the only tram tunnel I’ve ever been on.  

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel is an abandoned tunnel, built to connect the "North Side" and "South Side" tramway systems in the Holborn area of London. 
One of the underground stations
Eventually the tram emerged at what I now know was a street called Theobalds Rd. and continued to travel North East until it reached “The Angel”.


Emerging from the tunnel

From here I knew my way.  A short walk, then turn left into Chapel Street Market, a shopping mall of costermongers with their wooden stalls and barrows set up curbside in front of regular stores.  

Chapel Street Marker in more recent times - not too different from when I knew it.

My next landmark was the Italian ice cream parlour, where if I had enough money I would buy an ice cream sandwich, (none of those baby cones for me).  Turn right until I came to the pub on the corner, peek inside, yell out her name, if no reply then I continued on until I reached her house.  

If you think this is strange behaviour I should mention that my Nan didn’t know I was about to visit.  Phones, while certainly available in the familiar red phone boxes were not something that many individuals possessed.

Upon reaching her house I would bang the knocker three times.  She lived on the third floor and three knocks indicated to her that she should look out of her window to see who waited below. When she saw that it was me she would toss out a door key for me to use.  

Once inside her two room home I could explain to her about all the disagreements, arguments and problems that I was dealing with on the other side of the city.  She never told me I was in the wrong; come to think of it she never told I was in the right either!   I just somehow knew I was in a comfort zone, as she sat me down to eat her jelly pudding made so thick it was like chewing toffee.  I got to like jelly made like that.  Grandmother’s food is always different from mother’s food, isn’t it?

I don’t know when Louis Pasteur’s pasteurized milk became all encompassing, but my Nanny GM was having none of it!  Sterilized milk was her tea whitener of choice.  It was quite safe to drink, it had been boiled to remove impurities.  You might wonder why I’m mentioning this. Yes?  

Well, it’s only lately that I’ve been able to make the connection myself.  I’m no fan of regular milk, but a peek into my kitchen cupboards will reveal a number of cans of evaporated milk.  Of course you know that evaporated milk is fresh milk boiled until the water evaporates.  Add back some water and it tastes just like sterilized milk!