Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Fairy Mary Christmas Everyone

This is my Mum, Mary, in about 1925, dressed in a fairy outfit made by my grandma out of crepe paper. Mum has just celebrated her 93rd birthday and is well-known to long-standing followers of this blog as she is the star of so many posts, often accompanied by my Dad.

She joins me in wishing a Happy Christmas to everyone who has supported Hanging on My Word by visiting and leaving such lovely comments this year. She gets to read them all and has three of my ‘Sepia Stories’ books which she enjoys re-reading.  Here she is with the latest issue on her birthday last month. Number four will be in her Christmas stocking. She also has ‘The Best of Sepia Saturday’ which she says is a really good read.

You can find out more about this fairy and my mother-in-law, also called Mary, and how they came to be dressed up as fairies in Mary the Fairy. In the meantime, we are taking a break over the Christmas holiday period and we will be back with more sepia stories in 2014.

There are more stars over at Sepia Saturday. Go and see what Christmas cards other contributors have posted. You’ll to find some shining examples to see you through the winter nights.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

In Loving Memory

The sweet-faced little artist in the picture above is my late Sister-in law Gillian, in about 1942. She actually developed into a very talented artist and teacher as an adult. This post is in loving memory as  a year ago we received the news of Gill’s sudden death at the age of 73. It was the day before my Dad’s funeral, and we were back in England with my own family, when John was told by his brother that Gill had died the day before. She had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease in her later years and slowly the accompanying dementia was robbing us of this lovely, vivacious, witty and warm-hearted woman. The news was a terrible shock and made us very sad, but we all were relieved in a way that she had gone so quickly and painlessly.

My memories of Gill (or Jilly) are all happy ones, but of course I can only speak for myself.  I knew her for the last forty years or so, and didn’t witness the many facets of the personality she shared with her family and friends. We only saw the picture above for the first time this week as her daughters have ensured that all her albums have been scanned and made available to us. She will of course feature in future posts but I’m linking this one with Sepia Saturday, which is all about old pictures and memories.

She was John’s big sister, older than him by ten years; protective and caring. We still have a birthday card in which she had written that she loved him very much, and he for his part, told me when we first met that he ‘adored’ her.

The care and love Gill is showing young John in this picture, was mirrored in many family snapshots of her with children over the years.

Gill was expert at throwing babies into the air and making them laugh with delight. Both these sets of photos are some thirty-five years apart, showing her first with a daughter, and then a granddaughter.

She was a kind and affectionate aunty to my own two children, and there are many happy memories of Christmases past, when she ensured that there would be little treats and surprises, and not forgetting her famous treasure-hunts. Here’s Gill (above left), with her own daughters, and my two offspring in 1979, and in the second picture, taken in 2000, she is in her element with her three granddaughters.

Gill had two lovely husbands, both of whom pre-deceased her, but of whose extended families she was very much a part. I took this picture of her and her second husband in 2000, when she was still very active. She was a very creative lady and she filled her house with beautiful tapestries, pictures and quilts of her own making.  On a chair in this house she had dolls she had made and cleverly embroidered features and added clothes so that they resembled her girls.

There is so much more to tell about Gillian, but some of the stories need to be added to by others and this is just one small chapter; an abridged version. Here she is one of my favourite pictures of her with John, taken about twenty-five years ago. It’s how I always think of her and how I best like to remember her.

Sepians will be pleased to know that Gill was a lover of old photos too.

I started this post of young Gillian being creative and that’s how I’m going to end it. Here she is sorting old sepia and black and white photos into her albums. Sadly Gill was not into computers or I’m sure she would have been a regular visitor to Sepia Saturday.  

Join us there this week to see what other contributors have come up with as they surface from delving into their own albums and shoeboxes of old photos

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ready- Aye Ready

Christmas 1975, and here’s my husband in his New Year’s Eve outfit. The theme of the party was rôle reversal, and we were asked to dress in the style of an occupation normally undertaken by the opposite sex. My husband is demonstrating the ‘domestic drudge’ look, hence his down-in-the-mouth look. I’ve no idea what the rosette he is sporting has written on it, some witty comment designed to draw snorts of laughter from his brother officers no doubt. Yes, this was an RAF Mess party at Waddington, Lincolnshire, where we were stationed. This would have been deemed amusing nearly forty years ago when women’s lib was just taking off and the PC brigade didn’t have much of a voice.

The very useful pinny has a design which was later to come under fire from the latter. It depicts a label for “Camp” Coffee a very well-known store-cupboard standby and something of an advertising icon.  When we were children, our mothers used it  whenever a recipe called for ‘coffee essence’, and we followed suit when we had homes of our own. Without it coffee cake, coffee icing, coffee kisses etc. would have been much duller, and what would we have used as ‘coffee sauce’ on our ice cream?

Camp is apparently still available, but back in 2006 the label was changed after pressure was put on the company, citing racism. The new label has the Sikh soldier seated next to the Highlander as an equal, enjoying a nice cup of coffee. Not historically accurate of course, but more palatable to the modern consumer. The slogan on the label was ‘Ready- aye ready’ with the aye being used in the sense of ‘always’, confirming the instant nature of the brew.

The pinny (or apron) was used by me whenever a job called for protection from mess. Here’s me wearing it as I slap on the wallpaper paste and to keep myself out of a potentially sticky situation. I’m newly returned from honeymoon - hence the slight tan- and was probably acting as paperhanger’s assistant. We would have had an assembly line going, with me sloshing on the paste and my husband manoeuvring the wallpaper into position. Being the seventies it was very likely wood chip wallpaper. This was our first home and we wanted only the best!

I expect you’d like to see my outfit for New Year 1975 too. Well by good fortune I also wore a pinny. Here I am dressed as a Lady Butcher, meat cleaver (cleverly fashioned from hardboard) in hand. Striped apron and lightweight plastic boater. I’ve no idea why I chose this rôle and it’s quite possible that I offended the vegetarian guests, but it was probably based on the availability of costumes. The striped pinny was to hand and obviously suggested itself as a butcher’s apron. The less time we had to spend sorting out our costume, the more time to enjoy ourselves.

I don’t look too happy either. Let’s hope we both cheered up when we got to the party and had a few glasses of bubbly.

For more cheerful pinny-wearers, visit this week’s Sepia Saturday, where this was the theme suggested by the image below. Ready? - Aye Ready!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Step Up

The youngster with the Marlon Brando gaze, is my Dad aged about eight or nine. He’s surrounded by assorted relatives, Mother, aunt, cousins, sister. I’ve no idea whose doorway this is, perhaps it’s his Aunt Sarah (Cis), the lady in the middle at the back. Cis is rather good at standing in doorways as regular readers will remember from ‘Open All Hours’, and now appearing in the soon to be published Sepia Saturday 200 book. I thought I’d used all my doorway pictures in that post and 'Doorstep Delivery’ (including the one below) but as luck would have it the one above magically appeared.

By 1950 Dad had graduated from Marlon Brando to David Niven/Errol Flynn, as he posed in a much happier mood, with Mum in front of their first real home together. Definitely a step up! When they married in 1942 they were both serving in the armed forces and even after demob they lived with my Grandma and Granddad until a council house in Nottingham became available to rent. I also lived in this house until we moved to Kendal in The English Lake District, when I was five.

There were to be many more doors for all of us over the next sixty years, and I’m pleased to say that they were all happy homes. It’s exactly one year since I last saw Dad, and he passed away a week later; I’m so glad that I have all these lovely photographs to remind me of him. Next week is also Mum's 93rd birthday and I’ll be flying to Nottingham and landing on her doorstep to give her a big hug. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

For more people framed in doorways step up to this week’s Sepia Saturday. There may be a Marlon Brando or David Niven caught by the camera.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Sands of Time

They look like the victims of an attack; bodies laid out on the sandy beach under the searing heat of the midday sun at Seathorne on the Lincolnshire coast in 1962. In fact it was a group of family and friends making the most of a sunny weekend and snapped by one of the party at the moment when they were all obviously overcome with exhaustion. In the shade of the red and white striped towel sits my little dog, Kim, the only one who has remained wide awake, and with his attention caught by something in the distance.

A little later and most of the adults have stirred, although one or two are still napping. My mother is tending to the dog, who was still only a puppy. This time it was me whose attention was on something far more interesting further down the beach, whilst the little family friend with whom I’d been building sand pies is rubbing her eyes with tiredness.

Later still and there’s no chance of anyone’s attention wandering as all eyes are on the lady struggling out of her swimsuit with as much dignity as she can on a crowded beach - except her husband, who stares at his toes and pretends he’s not there. The older lady tries valiantly to cover any embarrassment that may result if a body part is accidentally exposed. The chap with the grin and the camera is feeling pleased with himself because he’s just taken a picture of her efforts for posterity. Even a ten-year old me, sitting in the centre of the picture, holding onto my beach ball, finds the situation amusing, as do the strangers on the steps. Of course I know all the people in the picture as well as the cameraman, my Dad, but he and four others in the group have now gone to play on the great sandy beach in the sky, including the contortionist, her husband, her assistant and the cheeky photographer. My little friend and I are grandmothers and my Mum and the lady in yellow are great-grandmothers. It seems like only yesterday, but the sands of time have already trickled through to the half-century mark. I wonder what people will find to smile about when the hourglass reaches the hundred mark.

For more amusing beach stories take a day trip to sunny Sepia Saturday, where our prompt picture this week was a beach photographer and his assistants.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun 
 Came peeping in at morn.


I remember, I remember 
The roses red and white,
The violets and the lily cups -
Those flowers made of light.

The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday-
The tree is living yet

I remember, I remember 
Where I used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh:
To swallows on the wing.

I remember, I remember
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky.

With thanks to Thomas Hood (1799-1845) whose lines these are. I have omitted some of the ‘darker’ elements. All photos are my own. Numbers one and two are of me and my brother in the first house I ever lived in; the roses, lilacs and fir trees are from three houses back (we’ve moved around a lot) and my son is pictured, thirty years ago, on a swing in my husband’s childhood home.

Why not take a tour of the Sepia Saturday estate this week, and see how other contributors have responded to the prompt picture?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Open All Hours

We are celebrating at Sepia Saturday this week as we have reached our 200th post. Co-incidentally it is also my 200th blogpost on Hanging On My Word. I wasn’t part of the sepia fun at its inception, but now I’m part of the admin team! I decided to share one of my early posts, which is also one of my favourites.
The very detailed pictured provided as a prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday, shows a shop doorway in Sydney, Australia in 1934. This sent me delving into my father’s side of the family, where I knew that at least three of them had been shopkeepers. It’s amazing what a little research for a blogpost will nudge, quite literally, into the frame. I had always been aware of a blurry sepia picture of my great-grandfather Sydney (Dad’s Grandfather on his mother’s side) standing in the doorway of his fishmonger’s shop in Nottingham. My older brother knew a few more details but also provided me with three new pictures I had never seen before. The first of these is the one I like best; the nonchalant pose is not one I’ve ever seen adopted by a 'sepia shopkeeper' before!

Now, I know this isn’t a fishmonger’s, it appears to be a grocer’s, so we have a bit of a mystery. Could it be two windows of the same premises? Behind him, in the shop, can be seen tins of biscuits and other dried goods which would have been his stock-in-trade. 

A second picture appears to confirm this, though he doesn’t look quite so dapper here; waistcoat off and sleeves rolled up. The child beside him is a friend of the family and the other youngster just happened to have run in front of the intended subjects, as small children so annoyingly can when a shot is being posed. No digital cameras then, and films were precious, so once the shutter clicked it would have to do. This picture seems to pre-date the next one as my Great-grandfather looks a little younger, but it’s interesting to note the price of bread is the same as that in the Sepia Saturday prompt. The shop reminds me of the one kept by Arkwright in the TV series ‘Open All Hours’. I wonder if it had a similar lethal till (cash register). I talked to my 90 year old father about the fishmongers on Manvers Street, Nottingham. Dad remembers his Grandfather also sold rabbits, and my Grandmother (one of his fourteen children) as a girl, had the job of skinning them. There was sawdust on the shopfloor to catch the blood .

Here’s the picture of my Great-grandfather which started me on this quest. Now we see him in yet another working outfit, complete with striped apron, from which he would produce a halfpenny when my Dad visited as a child. The window advertises cod and crabs. I’m told this was Jubilee Day 1934, and the bunting can just be seen above the window and door.

My Dad, who was a travelling salesman, also inherited the selling gene from Lydia, his Grandmother on his Father’s side. At some time around the turn of the twentieth century we know that she had what Dad called a ‘Bread Shop’, but I don’t think it was what we would now know as Baker’s. It was more likely a corner shop, typical of many a street in town and village at that time. The shop would provide those commodities needed by people with little income, who   had only to walk to the end of the road where they lived to buy a loaf or a packet of tea.

The last picture is of yet another member of the family. The lady in the doorway is not Lydia, who died in 1910, but her daughter Sarah (born in 1885). This picture was probably taken in the late 1920s or early 30s. She was my Dad’s Aunt ‘Cis' who would later run a sweet shop in Delta Street. Cis would have given up her original skilled job, which according to the 1901 census, was that of a lace-hand in Nottingham’s famous lace industry. I like the way the children in the street have engineered to be in the photograph; it makes it all the more interesting. The little chap is being given a ride on a bike which is far too big for him - he could never reach the pedals. On the other hand it seems too small for his older sibling. There’s another smaller bike on the right, face on to camera. What do we think the youngster on the left is doing? And no, he’s not sending a text!

I asked both my parents about the sweetshops of their childhood. Dad recalled Pontefract Cakes, Marshmallows,Tiger Nuts, Turkish Delight and Barley Sugar sticks. Mum remembered that when she was a little girl in the 1920s, she would visit a shop run by the Misses Mackintosh on Tealby Terrace, Nottingham, where 2oz of sweets would cost one penny and a bar of chocolate would be tuppence. There would be fruit drops, dolly mixtures and liquorice sticks. Mum loved walnut whips (a rare treat) and sherbert fountains. “Do you know, she said, I haven’t had one of those in years. I wonder if you can still get them. I’ll look out for them next time I’m out shopping.” Mum will be 91 in November, with a wonderful memory for the small details of her childhood. "Aniseed balls,” she said, “We used to suck them until they changed colour, and we’d keep sticking our tongues out to each other to check.” She also recalled her friend Tommy who always gave her the little toy from his ‘Lucky Bag’ for her Doll’s House. The simple pleasures of childhood.

To see what other Sepians have chosen as their favourites, take a look at Sepia Saturday 200 and join the celebrations.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Getting to Know Guernica

Most people are familiar with Picasso's painting, but how many know the background to it? The picture above is of course not the original painting which is housed in the Reine Sofia in Madrid, but a full sized ceramic representation which stands in Guernica itself. I first became familiar with the image as a teenager when a reproduction hung in my school. I knew nothing of the terrible scene it depicts but I have learned more over the years and our recent trip to the Basque Country allowed me to get to know Guernica much better. It was day one of our week's tour and we were en route from Santander to San Sebastián.

Guernica was founded by Count Tello in 1366 and its strategic importance lay in the fact that it was at the intersection of several main routes as well as a major river estuary where ships could dock. When the Domain of Biscay was incorporated into the kingdom of Castile, the king and queen would visit to swear an oath under the famous Tree of Gernika, pledging to maintain The Basques' ancient privileges. In time the oak came to symbolise Basque Nationalist Pride and although the original remained in place for four hundred years, and its replacement withstood the 1937 bombings, the current Gernika Tree was planted in 2005 to replace it  when a heatwave finished it off after 146 years.

It was those bombings during the Spanish Civil War, which give Guernica a unique place in modern history. Much has been written about the attack and more can be found here, but what Picasso was depicting was the combined onslaught of Italian and Luftwaffe aircraft for four hours on the afternoon of April 26th 1937. They had been called in by Franco's Nationalist forces and the town was razed to the ground with very few building remaining and the effect on the civilian population was devastating.

We visited the Peace Museum where an extremely enthusiastic and helpful steward ensured that our visit was memorable. For just five euros each we spent an hour admiring the excellent exhibits, including a gallery of paintings to illustrate the Human Rights Charter, and being immersed in the interactive displays. Perhaps the most moving was the audio-visual experience combined with sound effects and eye-witness accounts of survivors of the tragedy. 

George L Steer was The Times war correspondent whose eyewitness accounts of the bombings did much to inspire Picasso's painting. He described German bomb casings and the use of thermolite to create a firestorm in the town.

In a park at the top of the hill stands a vast sculpture by Henry Moore, 'Large Figure in a Shelter', part of his War Helmets collection, along with one by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, 'Our Father's House'. These were installed to represent Guernica's status as a city of peace and the setting is indeed quiet and tranquil, allowing us to listen to the birdsong and enjoy a few moments of quiet reflection. 

The city is rightly proud of its work to promote peace and the Gothic style Church of Santa Maria, one of the few buildings to survive the bombings, is testimony to those efforts as once again we found the setting quiet and calming. There were no worshippers as this was a mid-week afternoon and  just a few tourists, and pilgrims were visiting. 

In Fueros Square near the town hall, cultural centre and the convention centre, stands the figure of the town's founder Don Tello, sword and scroll in hand, and with Santa Maria in the background.

It wasn't all culture; we were hungry tourists and full of enthusiasm on our first day, so, at the suggestion of the helpful lady in the tourist Information Office, we bought book of a tickets for the Pinchos Route. The idea is that you select one item (pinchos are tapas) at each establishment, but I think our timing was off and the selection wasn't huge at midday. We managed a couple each and called it a day. 

It was in Guernica that we spotted the first of many statues we were to encounter on our tour. This was Jose Maria Iparragirre, guitarist and author of the hymn 'Gernikako Arbola' (1853) about the oak tree which means so much to the Basque people .

Holy Tree do not fall, without your sweet shadow we are lost.

Friday, 18 October 2013

A National Treasure

Next week the Royal National Theatre will celebrate its 50th birthday. The very first production in 1963, under Laurence Olivier, was Hamlet starring Peter O'Toole. The theatre was then housed in The Old Vic, and in 1976, it was officially opened by the Queen, its patron. It was granted the title 'Royal' in 1988, having been built under a special act of Parliament. The National will be hosting a gala event and you can find out more here. I have loved theatre since I was first taken by my mother, at the age of nine to the old Nottingham Playhouse to see Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice', and it was there, and later at the new playhouse, that I saw John Neville perform in many fine productions. He became artistic director but left in 1967 due to arguments over funding with the local authority and the Arts Council. He emigrated with his family to Canada. By co-incidence it's also the 50th birthday of the 'new' Nottingham Playhouse, which opened on December 11th 1963 with a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, starring John Neville, with Ian McKellen, Michael Crawford and Leo McKern. My love of Shakespeare has not waned in the half century since.

In 1990 I heard that John Neville was returning from Canada to play at the National in Sheridan's restoration comedy 'The School for Scandal'. I booked seats for my family for the matinee performance on 21st April, and we drove to London, from our home in Wiltshire. I had been at school with three of John Neville's children, when he was at Nottingham, and I wrote to tell him of how much pleasure his performances had given me as a child and that I was now re-living the experience with my own children. I was amazed to receive a handwritten card in reply, which of course I still treasure.

The play was wonderful, and was well received by the critics. I kept the newspaper reviews, although one is a rather poor photocopy, but full of details, from which I quote here. Peter Wood the director, insisted on hearing all the consonants as well as the vowels, and this was one of the reasons he was keen to entice Neville back to the UK.

"I thought how wonderful it would be to have John Neville's deservedly famous diction at the centre of this play, leading a cast which can get through three subordinate clauses and reach the end of a sentence."

The National's Director, Richard Eyre, had been Neville's protegé at Nottingham was eager to bring him back after an 18-year absence.

The headline for the piece was 'Unmasking a Masterpiece', for this play had kept audiences laughing since 1777. The 25 year-old Richard Brinsley Sheridan kept rewriting the play until the last minute for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which he managed and part-owned.

The last page of the manuscript bears his heartfelt comment "Finis - thank God", to which a prompter had added his own "Amen".*

According to the article, Wood had assembled one of the strongest casts seen by the National in some time. I've reproduced pages of the programme so that readers can have fun spotting the actors they know. Some will be less familiar to American audiences, although they may notice a young Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey (Hugh Boneville), before he changed his name from Richard. John Neville may also better known in the States for his film rôles of Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes. Canadian readers may also know of his work in Stratford, Ontario between 1986-9 in putting the company back in the black after years of increasing deficit. Nottingham's loss was definitely Canada's gain.

John Neville died in November 2011 and The Times obituary noted that he was appointed OBE in 1965 and a member of the Order of Canada in 2006. He was described as a charismatic figure possessed of great charm and generous of spirit. My home city of Nottingham was lucky to have him and it is a source of regret by many to this day that he was allowed to slip through their fingers.

Many of his contemporaries and actors with whom he worked in those early days have been recognised by being made Dames or Knights of the British Empire; Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Judi Dench, whose first Ophelia was opposite Neville at the Old Vic in 1957. Dame Judi paid tribute to Neville in a recent newspaper article, where this rôle was discussed, and she confessed that she was not very good initially and lost the part to another actress for its American tour. In the intervening six months she honed her craft and was given the part back when the other actress moved on.

It was John Neville who told me "You've got to decide why you want to be an actress. Don't tell anyone the reason, but keep it at the forefront of your mind." I've done that ever since and I've never told anyone what it is.** 

The late, great Richard Burton called him 'My beloved John Neville' when describing their alternating Shakespeare rôles in his diaries.

Not until February this year did Nottingham Playhouse finally recognise the achievement of John Neville by opening a studio in his name and awarding The Neville Prize for a new play. Had he remained in Britain John Neville would surely have become a true National Treasure, and it's a pity he didn't live to see the celebrations of both Nottingham Playhouse and The Royal National Theatre this year. For my part, I have many happy memories of seeing him on stage at both theatres, and I am grateful to him for making the experiences so memorable.

This week Sepia Saturday is celebrating theatre in its many forms. Why not join the rest of the cast in this week's performance? I can guarantee a place on the Front Row.

* Peter Lewis, The Sunday Times
**John Preston, The Daily Telegraph