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."

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Seaside Shopping

This is my Mum in 1963 buying some fruit from a beachside shop in Chapel St Leonard’s. The photographer would be my Dad, once more demonstrating an uncanny knack for the unusual shot. How Mum put up with him taking a photo of her ‘behind' (on more than one occasion) I’ll never know.

There are several kinds of fruit in the racks behind; oranges, apples and bananas, but I believe Mum and the shopkeeper (the sign says, “Props. E. A. Litchfield & A. D......”) are inspecting peaches and he is helping her to select some ripe ones. The crate label reads ‘Golden Valley’, but that doesn’t really help. I expect Mum was trying to vary the diet from the ice creams and candyfloss we loved to eat on a day trip to the seaside.

Enlarging the picture I can see: buckets and spades; seaside postcards; beachballs, blow-up lilos; paper windmills (for your sandcastle); cricket stumps and a stack of deckchairs. The signs are advertising both Players and Woodbines Cigarettes; take your pick.

On the freezer is a sign stating the hire rate for those deckchairs, 2/-  (two shillings); whether this was for the day or by the hour I’ve no idea.

There is also an advert for Zoom Ice Lollies and a bucket with a label exhorting us to, “Put your Eldorado Ice Cream wrappers here”. Quite right - no litter wanted in front of this tidy shop. I remember Eldorado with fondness, but I don’t believe the company exists any longer. The shop has a sign boasting that it is a ‘Four Star Independent Retailer’. Below the sign are some more inflatables and a couple of boxes of Ashley’s Ice Cream Wafers.

The most curious item is the comic character behind Mum and Mr Litchfield; probably some sort of inflatable toy for lobbing around the beach to scare the kiddies and little old ladies having a nap in their deckchairs.

I also noticed that Mum is wearing tartan slacks (or trews as she liked to call them, even though there wasn’t a drop of Scottish blood in her), a hand-knitted jumper and ‘comfy’ sandals. This helped me identify other shots taken on the same day.

I expect the shop also sold kites as another picture shows me demonstrating my newly purchased model.

I’ve seen that first photograph many times but I’ve never given it more than a passing glance until now. It’s amazing how Sepia Saturday makes us scrutinise and dissect old snaps to discover some little hidden gems we never noticed before. I feel as though I know Mr Litchfield - or is he A.D......? and his neat little four-star beachside shop, so well now. This is one day, more than half a century ago, but it could be yesterday again.  By the time most of you read this another year will have begun and tonight we’ll be ‘Ringing in the New!’ It will be a time for looking forward and making resolutions, but don’t forget to join us at Sepia Saturday as we celebrate the past and look forward to another year of Sepia memories. Happy New Year everyone.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Christmas in Germany

This is my son in Germany, 1983, showing his fascination with Angel Chimes, and probably trying to blow out the candles. We sometimes only lit one candle in order to slow down the speed that the angels flew round and struck the bell.  The chimes were very popular in Germany and we would have bought ours there, during our tour with the RAF.

Although it was a charming and delightful decoration, the novelty sometimes wore off after a short while, due to the repetition of the dinging, rather akin to a dripping tap. The fact that we no longer have this particuar set of Angel Chimes, probably confirms my suspicions that we grew out of them eventually. We now have a minature Angel Chimes (with no noise). There are numerous You Tube videos of people with their own, much-treasured vintage versions, some still in the original packaging. Many feature small children and their reactions to them; others show how to take them out of the box and assemble them, which was no mean feat.

Some the decorations we invested in at that time were beautiful and deserved to be heirlooms. Unfortunately, over many years of being packed away and then re-assembled, some of them suffered damage. In the picture below, from the same year, can be seen two traditional Räuchermann figures; The Essenkehrer (chimney sweep) and the Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas) on the mantelpiece.

The chimney sweep was particularly vulnerable as arms, ladder and other bits and pieces were constantly being glued back on.I  think in a moment of frustration a few years ago, we decided we'd had enough and he was thrown out. I see now that this was particularly ill-judged, as current models cost a considerable sum; we’ll look after the Weihnachtsmann more carefully for sure. Here he is in action last year.

I also regret throwing away out beautifully carved Christmas table centre, which doubled as an Advent Ring. We would light one more candle each Sunday in Advent and then on Christmas Eve all four would be lit.

This decoration suffered the same fate as the poor old chimney sweep; after several re-sprays and much gluing, we decided we’d had enough. What a shame we didn’t just appreciate it for the its age and the memories it held. One more regret.

It can be seen gracing the Christmas Table over the years of family photographs, and is just visible behind my own two angels in this picture.

One decoration from those years which we still have, thank goodness, is our Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas Pyramid) below. This operates in the same way as the Angel Chimes; the candles generate the heat which turns the turbine and send the Nativity Scene spinning round. Unlike the Angel Chimes, this is silent and we still love to light it each Christmas.

For more Christmas memories from the past, be sure to light some candles and go to Sepia Saturday and see what other contributors made of the prompt

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas With Gill

Three years ago today we heard that my lovely sister-in-law, Gill, had died the day before. We were preparing for my Dad’s funeral the next day so it was a doubly dreadful time. However, since 2012, we have remembered both Gill and Dad only for the many happy times we shared, the great love and affection they both showed, the creative gifts they were blessed with and their sense of fun.

I admired Gill for her abilities as an artist and craftswoman; she could turn her hand to anything, from painting, drawing, needlework, dry-stone-walling to creating a stone-wheel herb garden from scratch. I wrote about that in Garden of Remembrance.

The first picture is of Gill, with her her great friend Sue. I can’t be sure, as I wasn’t there, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the cake is one of Gill’s creations. I first spent time with Gill and her daughters back in 1974; I was just her little brother’s girlfriend then, but she made sure I was welcomed as part of the family.

This picture is from that Christmas and shows Gill in her Happi Coat, dressing-gown, which I remember hanging on the back of the bathroom door at the family home. Once again, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of Gill’s creations. It’s a patchwork of curtain fabric remnants. Maria von Trapp would have been proud of her.

Each year of our married life, we tried to spend some time with Gill and her family over the Christmas period. Sometimes, my parents would be there too, or Gill’s daughters and granddaughters. I have very happy memories of visiting her in the 1990s, when Gill would devise a Treasure Hunt around the cottage and gardens where she and her husband lived. You can tell she was a crossword expert by the cryptic nature of the clues - and she got them to rhyme as well!

One year, when her elder daughter was living in Australia, we all got together and made a video for her.  I still have a grainy copy, and I love it because we all said a piece to camera and my Dad spoke in one of his funny voices; a rare piece of footage indeed.

We all associate snowmen with Christmas, and not just on Christmas Cards. This picture shows both that creative talent and the sense of fun that Gill brought to the job of snowman building; who else would fashion the Three Bears instead of just a plain old snowman?

Below are two examples of Gill’s wonderful treasure hunt questions, and look at that lovely writing too.



Chocolate cake after the Treasure Hunt 1993

During the latter years of Gill’s life we spent all our Christmasses here in Lanzarote and when Gill’s Parkinson’s finally became too much, she preferred to be a little quieter. After her second husband died she moved to a care home which catered for her needs. Gill was very content there and the Christmas before she died she was even enjoying making Mince Pies. Sadly the dementia which accompanied the Parkinson’s robbed her of much of that creative ability and the tremor meant she was no longer able to write with a clear hand, but knowing Gill, she would have put her own litte creative stamp on those pies. 

We miss her very much but we prefer to remember her as the funny, clever and creative woman she was, and to recall all those times we were lucky enough to spend 'Christmas with Gill’.

Christmas 2001

For more memories and old photos, visit this week's Sepia Saturday.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Night Flight Stunts

This is another page from my Great Aunt Maud’s Autograph Album and dated 9.12.19; almost ninety-six years ago to the day, ‘HHP’ glued a little bit of history to the page and wrote an explanatory note. He completed it with the official Labour Corps Records stamp; both he and Maud were employed there after the war. I wrote about the album in Another Day at The Office, where you can see more pages of autographs.

The bombings stunts HHP refers to took place during the Spring and Summer of 1917, when the Handley Page bombers were brought in to reinforce the work already being carried out by the Royal Flying Corps and the four Royal Navy fighter squadrons, dispatched at the same time, in attacking the strategic naval ports and dockyards of Dunkirk, Ostend and Zeebrugge. The Handley Page could carry fourteen 112lb bombs as compared to the short bombers eight 65 - pounders, already in use. The Handley Pages were first used for daylight patrols with considerable success, but as their pilots became more skilled they were deployed on these very important night raids. During WW1 the word 'stunts' referred to ‘any performance of outstanding skill or effectiveness, on a large or small scale. You can read about these operations in more detail in ‘The War in The Air; being the story of the part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force’ *

This is what it was like to be ‘Up in the Air in a Handley-Page’**. The photograph is attributed to Tom Aitken. This later model O/400 bomber, was introduced in 1918 and could carry 2000lbs (907 kilos) of bombs and be fitted with four Lewis machine guns. 

The ex 'Observer and Pilot, R.A.F', who signed Maud’s album may have had many such views; in any case he held onto the old flying maps after the war, possibly as some sort of keepsake. Perhaps he was dividing the map and sharing it piecemeal with anyone who requested his autograph. It certainly makes his contribution stand out from the crowd. He could never have foreseen that some ninety five years later it would lead to the current guardian of the album setting out to find more of the details surrounding those ‘bombing stunts’ carried out by the famous Handley-Page aeroplanes.

Take a flight to Sepia Saturday and see what other contributors have come up with.

** The photograph was censored, because it could potentially be of use to the enemy. Original reads ‘Official Photograph taken on the British Western Front in France. Up in the air in a Handley-Page, showing another Handley-Page making for the enemy’s lines.’ Courtesy of Flickr Commons, National Library of Scotland.