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Saturday, 24 February 2018

Welcome To My World

ARRIVAL IN CANADA

Not much one can do about memories.  They come unbidden and they are more often scattered than linear.

The following link will take you to a Video of Dean Martin singing "Welcome To My World".


Recently I’ve been meandering through the time when I’d recently arrived as a new immigrant to Canada.   
To set the stage:  It was very early March – I know that because in all the excitement our wedding anniversary had been completely forgotten, we had much more important matters to attend to.  It was snowing.  It may not have been a blizzard by Canadian standards but it certainly was one by mine.  

The wooden sidewalks on Yonge Street were extremely slushy, and in case you’re thinking of those wooden sidewalks and questioning whether the time frame is the eighteen hundreds, I should perhaps mention that the Yonge Street subway was still being built – ergo- in some places the wooden sidewalks and roadways.



There's gotta be a reason for those pants?
The main casualties that day were my beautiful leather high heeled shoes, newly purchased for my entry into Canada – they made it through the day – but only just!

We had no one to meet us in Toronto.  But we had our youth, our determination, and fifty pounds sterling to help us on our way.  At the time this was probably worth about $150.00.

First order of the day was to find somewhere to sleep, and it had to be cheap, because even though milk was about 10 cents a quart that $150.00 was still not going to last long.  Hotels were too expensive and the cheapest parts of town are always, well, the cheapest parts of town.  So that’s where we found a room.

The room was dry and warm and we stayed for less than a week, but we needed to find something more permanent in order to retrieve our luggage from customs whereby I could get a change of shoes.  We found a lovely little furnished bedroom plus kitchen at Dupont and Davenport that was totally within our budget.

Now that I had dry feet it was time for us to look for employment.  That $150.00 was disappearing fast.  According to what Canada House in London told us, employers were waiting with open arms for British immigrants – they lied!  



David’s employment skills were pretty limited to office work and his reference from British Aluminium didn’t seem to interest any employers. 
Nevertheless, the immigration department did manage to find a labouring job for him at the Massey Harris Ferguson factory on King Street.  


Looks a lot different there now.  I think that's where Liberty Village is??
However, it didn’t last long – he gave it up after two weeks, he didn’t like being dirty travelling on the streetcar!

As for my skills as a bookkeeper, well they presented a bit of a problem.  All of the prospective employers that I approached regretted that I had “no Canadian experience”.  That’s an impossible hurdle to jump when you have no Canadian experience! 

Bear in mind that this was a time of no computers and generally offices only had a very basic hand cranked adding machine. 

Most bookkeepers (me included) were quite capable of adding up a page of figures with the aid of a pencil, paper and standard math skills.  But as it was explained to me: Canadian experience was important because they feared I would have trouble with the decimal system!

This irrational logic made me want to stamp my feet and tear out my hair. A bookkeeper from Canada might possibly have had a bit of a learning curve if moving from Canada to Britain, but not the other way around.  The monetary pounds, shillings and pence system in Britain at that time required three different calculation methods:  The pence being the lowest value were added in twelves; the shillings were added in twenties and finally the last column was always the easiest to calculate: pounds were decimal!

Eventually, I found a job well below my abilities at the Toronto University. It required that I spend all day listing and adding up very small amounts (usually less than $5.00) received by cash and cheques from students for text books and other sundry items they had ordered.  Each afternoon, I was driven to the bank by a security guard with the monies in a case that was chained to my wrist. I felt like an international diplomat or a spy!



It wasn’t well paid and it wasn’t very interesting but I had gained the magical attribute of having “Canadian Experience”.  Time to move on.


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

What a Clever Man was he

Memory focus on one

Today, rather than write about a broad range of memories involving many characters I’ve decided to focus my attention on just one person: my father.

He was a man of many talents, in my eyes he could "fix anything".  Without harping on how poor we were, a found broken alarm clock became a treasure after he had applied his magic.  New shoes for four children were a luxury that we could not afford, so when a hole appeared in the sole he was there with his repair leather and cast iron last anvil, to make the footwear usable again.
One like this repaired many, many shoes in our household.
Make a suitcase, mend a purse, polish a floor, cook a dinner he could do it all.

It was nothing unusual to see him down on his knees applying polish to the shiny cement floors in our apartment, or to see him in the kitchen making Sunday dinner.  My favourite was when he made Liver and Onions, he made the best gravy in the world.  He was a good cook, (perhaps he had learned from his mother).  He was a man with a modern attitude well before his time.   He was more than willing to do chores that at the time were considered woman's work and he never hesitated to teach me how to hold a hammer or use a handsaw.  Some of the many skills that I learned from him I have found to be very useful in my later life; one being how to keep a bunch of brad nails in my mouth without swallowing them. 



No doubt if you’ve been reading my outpourings you are aware that while there must have been times when money was available, there were times when we were as poor as church mice, nevertheless, we always had a piano in the house. Both parents could play without sheet music.  This was referred to as “playing by ear”. As a child it was a phrase I couldn’t understand as they both seemed to use their hands – not their ears. Dad’s favourite rendition was: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", played with a lot of gusto, gestures and dramatic hand movements. The following YouTube By Max Bygraves is the closest I could find to his version.
v=ej4WwbmdX8M&list=PLrS5x6Peorjvo_XK2q0AbB1Ua6Y0JOi-iPLrS5x6Peorjvo_XK2q0AbB1Ua6Y0JOi-i

Mum’s style was more jazzy and fast.

When I think of a pianist hands I imagine long slender fingers. Not so with Dad.  His hands were stubby, large and callused with a clubbed feature that intrigued any doctor who saw them; his nails fully turned over to follow the tops of his fingers.


This being a time when record players were not fully utilized or popular or available meant that both parents were in great demand at parties for their musical skills.  Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor at the side of a piano listening and learning all the words to the latest "sing-along" tune.  Then later that evening I’d fall asleep astride my father's shoulders as he carried me home.

At the start of World War II he was in the Territorial Army. 
Dad - trained and ready!
As far as I could discover the TAs were a part-time army that practiced "in case" of conflict, consequently, they were the first to be called-up when the war was declared.  After all that practicing it’s ironic that he left the army prior to the war's end due to damage to his hearing from working with the big guns in the Royal Artillery division.  Nevertheless, he always kept an interest in what was happening because when the enemy bombers made their nightly actions over London, he would be outside watching the English fighter planes involved in dogfights taking place above him.  The following link will give you a little idea of what these fights entailed:
  
When we were young he would delight in telling us what he thought of as a funny poem but what we thought of as something that scared the living daylights out of us! Especially since he would usually recite this at bedtime in a voice made deep and throaty. I recently discovered an old Victorian picture depicting this poem

One night he awoke, a candle he lit,
he saw his revolver and soon loaded it.
No longer I'll stand it, he savagely said.
Then he blew out his candle and went back to bed,
Ha, Ha, he laughed, Ha, Ha, he cried.
What a clever man am I.
If any of this sounds as if he was an ideal parent with whom I had a wonderful relationship then I've given you the wrong idea completely.  In truth, we were similar in so many ways, that it led to constant clashes of temperament.  He was stubborn and he had many rules.  I was stubborn and I hated his rules.  I hated not being able to wear lipstick, I hated that he wanted to know too much: where I was going, what I was doing.  He made my life miserable!

He loved to have a few or more drinks at the local and consequently when he walked in the door full of liquid bravado his rules became loud enough for the neighbours to shudder,   Although he was very loud I can't truly remember him actually hitting any of us.  Perhaps I've blocked it out, but I doubt it.  I can still see him as he pulled off his leather trouser belt with a flourish -then make it into a loop that he would snap together with an enormous BANG!  This would scare us kids into a corner.  The belt never touched us! It would then be followed by a huge THUMP with his large fist onto whatever table or surface that was near.  These arguments only got worse during my teenage years when I knew everything.

Yes, he could do everything, fix anything,  but he couldn't beat the effects of too much smoking.  He died of cancer in 1960, the year that my son was born.  I wanted to travel to England to see him in the hospital or attend his funeral, but due to the problems with that pregnancy my doctor thought it would not be advisable.


Friday, 8 December 2017

The Name of The Game

PLAYING GAMES

Children have always played games and we were no different, we played games!  What we played might not be recognised by today’s children when compared to what seems to hold a child’s interest nowadays.  Today's parents are worried that their children spend so much time with electronic equipment they have to be told to go outside and get some fresh air!

I find it strange that when you separate the words Playing Games and look up each meaning in a thesaurus.  Two different pictures emerge.

The word “Games” seems to be linked entirely with “Sports” and mostly organised sports, whereas the word “Play” is a much more lively word.  It has a long list of meanings ranging from recreation to fooling around, with a heavy dose of drama and having fun thrown in.  So from this I can presume that what we indulged in was “Playing”, because there was no way that what we did could be called “organised”.  Nobody organised our games – how could they?  We mostly made them up as they occurred.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that my “Silver Cross” doll’s pram was used as a make believe tank, so I won’t go into further details about that, except maybe to mention that those who could not fit into the pram could always be accompanying aircraft as they ran alongside with outstretched arms dipping and swaying in time to the engine noises blasting from each mouth.

Mainly we had variety in our games.  Skipping was always popular with the girls; Double Dutch was played with two lengths of rope (by the way I don’t remember ever having handles – it was probably cut off from the end of a clothes line!) 


Seems to be in a school grounds.  Double ropes but no double skipper!
Whatever you do, do not compare what we called Double Dutch skipping with the marvelous organised examples that can be seen on YouTube videos.  If we could get two girls side by side for a couple of minutes inside two twirling ropes without one or both of us going arse over teakettle – then believe me this was success.

No one needed exercise classes; everyday was one long exercise class.  LS could easily have been the gym teacher – in fact she may well have played that part.  She could contort her body backwards then walk like a crab with her head facing up. 


Family photo of LS. in action
A lot of games involved balls and walls. One of which LS also excelled at was throwing three balls against the wall (so fast it seemed to be all at one time) and then speedily catching and returning them.  I’m not sure that there was any point to this pursuit other than a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

I remember playing a game which if it had a name I can’t recall it.  For this, four sticks of about 6 inches in length were required (if you could steal your mother’s clothes pins – they were ideal!) These were stood against a wall to resemble a cricket wicket; that is three sticks supporting one across the top.   

The “IT” person stands about 8 feet away armed with a ball which is tossed at the wicket; the wicket scatters and so does everyone else. The aim is for someone to rebuild the wicket without getting hit with the ball that is now held by “IT”.  Other than avoiding getting maliciously hit by the ball there didn’t seem to be much point to this game either.

A game mostly played by boys was: Conkers.  I’m sure I would have had the skills but I must have been too aware of the dangers to ever indulge in the conkers pastime.  Conkers being those large nuts that grow on horse chestnut trees throughout London. 
Horse Chestnut before it becomes a Conker!
Before they can be used they must first be baked!  This presumably hardens an already dangerous weapon into a lethal one.  Strung with string and held steadily in front of your face your opponent swings his conker wildly in an attempt to break your conker without knocking out your front teeth.


Internet picture of boy with a sharp eye and all his teeth.
A safer and more relaxing game was one that LB fancied.  Usually played on dusky evenings when the natural light was dim.  An area with no direct street lights was ideal.  At the time that this game was played very few people owned cars; there always seemed to be lots of pedestrians about, and for this game, pedestrians were essential!
Yes, they were so alike they could have been twins, as you can see from another image from the family album.
LB and a buddy, (often LLB his brother) would crouch facing each other on opposing sides of the pavement (sidewalk) with arms extended.  As a pedestrian approached they would implore the walker to “Please, step over the rope”.  As you will have gathered there was no rope and the payoff for this young pair was to laugh at the sight of people carefully lifting their legs to avoid an imaginary obstacle.


Leap Frog in action - note the typical London paving stones - hence we walk on the pavement!
There were so many more games we played – too many to detail here. From Leap-frog, to Hop Scotch, and five stones, and cricket with chalk drawn wall wicket, and at least once because none of us were angels, we all dared to knock on doors and run away.  All of them played outside in the healthy London smog.

But, we did have to come inside sometimes, so, we had to have inside games as well, after all it rains a lot in Britain.  A popular one in our home was Housey-Housey which is the same as BINGO but with the word HOUSE across the top. This was not a game that was bought in a store, but one that Dad had made, with enough cards for all of us to play.  Can’t remember what we used as counters, probably bits of paper. Dad was always the caller with all the standard fancy sayings such as “Under the H Legs Eleven, number eleven”.  If you filled your card you would have a “Full House”. And that was the aim of the game – nothing less was allowed.  No single lines, no diagonals, just everything or nothing.  No money, no prizes but a wonderful satisfaction of having beat your sibling!


But just beware if you ever said; “I’m bored Dad”.  Apart from being given the job of untangling string and rolling it into a ball, if I said I was bored he was more likely to produce a piece of paper (from where is a mystery) and a stub of pencil and I was told to draw. 

Perhaps that's why, like today’s children, the computer has become my piece of paper and my mouse takes over for the pencil stub as I play and play all day.  Soon they’ll be telling me to go outside and get some fresh air!




Wednesday, 15 November 2017

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

EVERYONE ENJOYS A GOOD PARTY, DON’T THEY?


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

ADVENTURES OUTSIDE

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

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pay_it_forward.

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!