Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Mustn't grumble

 My life and Some Times

Chapter 1 Please mention the war

I cannot remember my earliest memory.

I have a photograph, taken with a Brownie box camera, of a tiny child holding a stick and looking pleased with itself (the infant, not the stick). I recognise the setting, the back yard of 51 High Street Hadley Nr Wellington Shropshire, but I do not recognise the child or the stick. But I guess it must be me because of the pretty face, the curly blond hair and the bulging crotch, betokening, no doubt, a fine nappyful.

The house was in the High Street, set well back from the road. It was at a guess built in late Victorian times, had a double pitched roof and a long single-story extension at the back which served as kitchen, utility room and bathroom/toilet (not that the bath was plumbed in; it was there just for show. Baths were taken in a zinc bath in the living room in front of the fire (of which more anon).

My friend Alicia {she lived next door) sent me, many years later, a cutting from the local newspaper, known then as the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News. The cutting described Hadley High Street and all the people who lived there. The reference to our house was laconic in the extreme: “A man called Allsop lived there.”

There was a large garden front and back, which my father used to plant up with vegetables during the war in obedience to the wartime exhortation: ”Dig for Victory”, the war in question being the Second World War, 1939-1945. [Note: it is politically correct nowadays to say we fought the Nazis. We didn't. We fought the Germans].

After the war, my father relaxed somewhat and grew a lot of flowers. We had a brown Thomas Crapper lavatory bowl opposite the back door which spilled over with gorgeous red geraniums. What I remember best, however, were the rows of “Sweet Peas”, my mother's favourite. I can remember seeing my father bringing bunches of sweet peas into the house for my mother, but it was only later that I realised what a loving gesture it was.

I was born in 1936, so didn't get a chance to fight the Germans, but I did my bit by hating a boy at school called John Heinemann, and I also kept my eye on an older boy called Lehmann, who lived down Montgomery and never spoke to anybody. I knew it was because he only knew German, couldn't speak English. I was a smart kid.

My first memory is in fact quite romantic (I think that's the word). Opposite our house was a farm lane, leading, as you might expect to a farm, owned by the Benbows: Mr Benbow, ugly grumpy father; Mrs Benwos, dumpy earth-mother type whom I knew slightly as I used to go to the half-door with the empty bottles which she would fill from a metal churn. They had three children: John the eldest - I mean OLD, at least eighteen; Alan, a couple of years older than me: and Margaret, my age and pretty as a, well, pretty as far as I was concerned. Anyway, she came to our house on one occasion, and she and I were under the living room table. I kissed her. An amazing moment, but I'd rather tell you about the table.

The table seemed to me to be enormous, with long drawers on both sides. One was mine to keep all my rubbish. It would seat the four of us - father, mother, my sister Betty and me - at one end of the table. Once when some relatives of my father came, there were at least ten people seated round the table. I learned later that it was a half-size billiard table. It was a very sensible table and the four of us had our set place: father and mother at the head, Betty next to dad, and me next to mum. During the war, we listened to the BBC news on the wireless (Yes, WIRELESS, nobody used the word radio in those days). 

The news always began: This the 6 o'clock BBC news and this is [name of reader] reading it. We sat holding our breath to see which newsreader it would be, because we each had our own. Dad's was Bruce Belfridge, Mum's was Wilfred Pickles, Betty's Stuart Hibberd, and mine was Alvar Liddell. I had never seen the name written, so I imagined it to be Al Varley Dell. Such excitement when the name of YOUR reader was announced! I can't remember listening to the news itself, of course, me being so new to the planet.

[Aside: many years later, I was interviewing people for summer teaching jobs in the language school where I was Principal. One applicant's form caught my eye: it was a young man called Alvar Liddell. I turned out he was related - son or grandson, I can't remember which.]

One other story about the table and then I promise to make no further reference to furniture. Living where we did in a sleepy rural county of no military importance, we had very little connection with the war, except for a German plane, which crashed in a field about two miles away, and the silver foil strips that they used to throw out of their planes to thwart the radar. What we had was the sound and sometimes the sight of squadrons of German bombers overhead on their way to bomb Liverpool, Manchester and other strategic places way to the northwest of us.

Only once did the war come really close. My father was an ARP warden - I still have the yellow lanyard and whistle which he wore over his shoulder - and he was regularly out on night duty, with, frankly, nothing much do to except to tell people to respect the blackout (“Close that curtain!”), and watch the German squadrons coming and eventually returning having done their dirty work. 

On one night, he came home early and we all spend the night sleeping under the table. I guessed later that he had heard they were going to bomb Birmingham, which was about 25 miles to the south-east of us, and thought a stray bomb might land on 51 High Street Hadley (It was a practice of bombers, whatever the air force, to jettison any leftover bombs from a raid as they returned to base).

No, the war was somewhere else as far as we were concerned. But the consequences of being at war - shortages, make-do-and-mend, the comradely spirit, the spivs, and so on - are still very clear in my memory. And because I am a grey-beard loon and refuse to unhand you, I will keep you here, transfixed, and tell you some more about me and the war.

Chapter 2 Pubs, shops and shopping baskets

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Crispy water

I do not understand iceberg lettuce. I bought one for the first time on Monday of the week and now, in the reflective calm of a Thursday evening, I have decided to bin it. What the hell is it? It's like crispy water, texture but no taste. When I took it out of the veg section of the fridge, it was sitting in a  pool of water. Do they eventually dissolve if you leave them long enough?
Well, having bought it, my canny Salopian upbringing dictated that I should eat it. It's weird. You cannot peel off a whole leaf, it disintegrates into small soggy pieces if you try. By Wednesday I had grown to hate it. I shredded it, thinking I could put in salads, but even the shredded pieces started to melt. By lunchtime today, I made the awful decision that it had to go. If only I had a pet rabbit, I thought, and then realised it would need to be a thirsty pet rabbit.
So, it is no more, it's an ex-lettuce, it has shuffled off its damp mortal coil, it has gorn to join the choir invisibule, no doubt whistling the theme from Handel's Water Music. It is defunct.
Bloody thing. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A letter from the Principality

Nefoedd da! I can hardly believe my eyes! My dear Mrs Scrote, I see you still haven't gone to join the Choir Invisibule, though you must be at least a centurion by now - isn't that what you call someone who lives to be hundred?
Of course I am dilated that you are still among us. I too am still among us, as you can see, but, I tell you, dear, it gets harder every year, what with arthuritis,  haerrimoids and inconsistence all making life a misery for a body. 
Still, nil carborundum, as the late Mr Trellis used to say, up girl and at 'em, there's a dance or two in the old dog yet, etc. It's funny how you can be married to someone for forty-something years and most of the time not understand what they're talking about. Did you have the same problem with Mr Scrote? Or maybe there wasn't a Mr Scrote - I have sometimes wondered whether you were one of those Greek women, lesabians they're called, no offence, I was once fondled by a WAAF and I didn't flinch. Ah, the war years! Still, mustn't renimisce.
Anyway, I won't keep you, I expect you're still busy doing whatever it is that keeps your boat afloat.
Yours as before
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow. retd.

PS What do you think of that Theresa May? I'm surprised they elected a woman without a bosom - they say she doesn't have a brain either, but who am I to judge? She wears nice hats, and that's something.

Food that fights back

                                                              Male Sparrowhawk

Looking at that gopher tortoise, the crusty meat pie on legs, reminded me that I don't like food that fights back. For example:
- chilli and curry dishes that burn your lips and your throat
- peas and small broad beans that refuse to let themselves be forked
- peanuts and any crumbly food that takes refuge between your molars
- slushy rice-pudding-type dishes that delight in falling on to your shirt front
- long wriggly pasta or noodles that remain dangling from your lips however hard you suck
Well, you get the idea.
I was also reminded of the notion of food that fights back when I watched a male Sparrowhawk on the lawn the other day trying to subdue a young Starling. If I were a male Sparrowhawk (by the way, in most species of raptor, the male is smaller than the female), I would stick to sparrows and finches. I can see the temptation to go for a Cumberland sausage rather than a chipolata, so to speak, but the struggle burns up a lot of energy. "Say not the struggle naught availeth", well, yes, in the end the Sparrowhawk got the better of the young Starling, but took quite a beating from the Starling's sharp claws and dagger-like beak before ripping its flesh to pieces.
No, I definitely don't like food that fights back.

Gopher it!

I recently received an email with an attachment about the Gopher Tortoise. In the body of the email there was a plea that I should revive this venerable blog (Old Scrote's Home). Because the request came from my Turkish grandson***, I have no choice but to obey - you know how the young always manage to have their way with the old.
So, above, is a picture of a group of Floridan children admiring what, to me, looks like a crusty meat pie on legs.
There, Deniz, torunum benim, you have succeeded in rousing me from my lethargy, though I cannot be sure how long it will last!

*** You might wonder how I come to have a Turkish grandson. I also have a Brazilian granddaughter, Bruna (whom I still think of as Bruninha, even though she is now married and a mother). It's no mystery: I like to collect bright young people to keep my brain from atrophying.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mrs Trellis gets in touch

Dear Mrs Scrote, your long silence had me preoccupated for a while, so I was relieved to hear from a mutual friend that the rumbles of your death were greatly exaggerated. It seems that you are not dead, just sleeping a lot more than you used to.
That is a condition I understand well, having been married for years to the late Mr Trellis, who always appeared to be asleep even when he was awake. I used to pop into his room from time to time, and the only way I could be certain he hadn't shuffled of his mortal coil was the fact that the tea in his cup had gone down by an inch or so.
Forgive me if I don't write more at this time, but, like you, I have very little lead left in my pencil.
Yours respectably
BTrellis, Mrs, widow, retd, still open to offers.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Please think of the children

If you have a moment, please read the following: