October 31, 2012
I’ve always enjoyed working. I’ve enjoyed nearly every job, or at least some aspect of it. My first proper part time job was Sunday morning at the newsagents in the small town where I grew up. I loved it. As with all my jobs, my sister had done it first and then I got the gig when she gave up. Having had her diligence and efficiency for a number of months (maybe years), the owner had no hesitation in disappearing after my very first hour and leaving me to get on with it. It was simple enough. People came in, chose their paper or asked for it from where it had been reserved in advance, got their cigarettes and I took the money. The till was a childhood joy. A proper pre-digital cash register. Loved it loved it.
And friends would come in for their cigarettes. Twenty Number 6 was probably the commonest request. They’d cost 33p and my mate would give me 50p and I would give her change of about 30p so she got them at a discount. I feel bad even admitting it now, but sadly it is true.
The papers were laid out on a large flat counter which I stood behind. Magazines were on shelves on the other side of the shop, in front of me. All the classics were there. And a top shelf.
The townsfolk would come in and I would know most of them as it was a small town. I am twelve or thirteen. It takes a few weeks for me to recognise the patterns. Firstly it is nearly always the men who come in for the paper. Women come for cigarettes and some do buy papers, but not often. Those buying a combination of the Sunday Times plus the News of the World would put the NoW hidden inside the Sunday Times so that no one could see it as they walked home. Those buying the NoW and The Sunday People didn’t care who saw.
Then there were the various rituals. One of the men had his News of the World under his arm and said. “And another £2”. I was puzzled. “Sorry,” I asked, “What do you mean?” “Take for the News of the World and add another two pounds on because I owe it.” I still didn’t understand. “Is there a bill for it?” I asked, moving towards the huge book of money owing. “No,” he sighed resignedly, “It’s for a magazine” But I still didn’t get it. Didn’t understand he was trying to save both of us so I asked “Which magazine ?” Whereupon he pulled out Mayfair or Playboy, (I don’t remember I was so emabarrased at the enormous breasts) so I could see the title name. I started to look for the price but I couldn’t see it. All I could see were enormous bosoms and the hugest nipples known to man. Other customers were coming in to the shop and he was keen t get this over with. He said, “It’s £2. Here. Just take the money”. Which I did. I never questioned anyone again if they wanted to give me extra.
Then there were those coming in to pay for their newspaper deliveries. In those days, lots of people had newspapers delivered, and there was an enormous book with alphabetical tagging. Within each section were pages of yellow sheets perforated to make tiny yellow tickets, each corresponding to a week. The customer would pay for however many weeks they were owing and I would carefully tear out the tiny tickets and give them as a receipt. Wonder if those books still exist. The only emabarrasment there was when people would ask to pay and I would have to ask them their name. If you come from a small town everybody expects everyone else to know their name.
And sometimes men would come in and say “There should be an envelope for me,” as if I was meant to know what that meant. But sure enough they’d point me in the direction of a grey plastic box, and there would be a small brown envelope with the customer’s name on. So I’d hand it over, none the wiser. And I never asked the owner. So it was that when I also started working on a Saturday occasionally, men would come in with a brown envelope and say “Give that to Mike for me.” or “Put that in the box for Mike.” Mike owned the shop. I would put it in same grey box and thought no more about it. Until a few weeks later, when Mike had a word with me. “When the men bring in the envelopes you need to write on it the time they brought it in.” I asked one of the women who worked in the shop what it was all about. Turns out that as there was no betting shop in our town, he would basically do it on the side. My not putting the time on the envelopes had meant that canny customers realised they could bet on races that had just run and he would be none the wiser as he only picked up all the envelopes at the end of the day -so he wouldn’t know they’d been placed after the results were in. I must have lost him a lot of money, but he didnt make a fuss. And I realised I had unwittingly become an illegal bookie’s runner – another job to add to the CV.
October 28, 2012
Another Ode, this time to my sister, a connoisoeur of doggerel generated by the family. I think she enjoyed it – she was in tears as is her usual emotional state when anyone says anything nice about her.
It is bizarre how non-tactile we are as family members. I am less likely to kiss her in greeting than an old work colleague. Even the children screamed with amazement the first time we did it (about 10 years ago). But it doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. Just we weren’t brought up in a household that ever said ‘I love you’ or any other sentimental guff.
We had a turbulent relationship during our teens – she was out there, getting in to trouble with my parents whilst I was a few years behind and getting away with much much more. Oh what luck it is to be the younger child. But since we both left home and didn’t have to live together under the same roof we recognise each others strengths and rely on them. And get on really well. So, of no interest to anyone who doesn’t know her no doubt, but herewith a tribute to my sibling.
Ode on the Occasion of Kate’s 50th Birthday
On this auspicious date
To celebrate with wine and food,
The youthfulness of Kate
For aging isn’t something
That Kate cares much to do
She gets fitter, better looking
Than she was at twenty two
In childhood she seemed older,
Taking care to be so good,
And organising friends and me
Into a cycling sisterhood
Being sensible was her hallmark,
So she couldn’t believe it when,
She saw the film Pollyanna twice and
The girl broke her leg AGAIN.
From Scotland then we moved toWales,
She went straight to grammar school,
Where slowly but undoubtedly she
Started to be cool
My friends would tell me wide eyed tales
Of my sister’s latest antic
Of boys with bikes or bus or truck
No wonder Mum was frantic.
And moving swiftly on from then,
She left home at seventeen,
A gap year then to Uni
Where her Dad and Nain had been
Although English was her subject
Her forte seems to be
Making friends who’ve lasted through the years
From both home and from Uni
And then the world of work did call
With Marconi her first job
From training into personnel,
Or HR, sorry Rob.
Her loyalty and diligence,
And increasing expertise
Ensured her working life was full
As she moved around with ease.
In her twenties and her thirties
She seemed to have it all,
Enjoying country life indeed
From Kent to Dunstaball
An endless round of social whirls
With friends both far and wide
They spent their time just having fun
And learning how to ride
And of course that’s something she still does
The only family member yet
To win not one but two great big
First place red rosettes
As teens she’d sometimes slap me
“Just because I can”,
But she’s been a rock to lean on
When the s*** has hit the fan.
As an aunt she has been perfect,
Giving time, and love (and gifts)
The children all adore her
(No I’m not taking the pi**)
You are loyal, you are caring
You put others before you,
You have insight, sensitivity
And you know what’s right to do
You are modest, self-effacing
Well organised and smart
And now you seem much more relaxed
Since someone stole your heart.
So now please raise your glasses
And let’s really celebrate
The wonderful woman that she is
My elder sister Kate
October 27, 2012
Then there are the small children in groups with their Mums hanging around and I think why are you teaching your kids it’s OK to believe that if someone isn’t nice to you you can throw an egg at their door? What life lesson is that?
What happened to the Halloweens we had as a child and ours had when small? Bobbing apples, dressing up and having a party at home with friends. The U S of fucking A happened. That’s what. And we saw a chance to get a shed load of sweets from unsuspecting neighbours and took it. The supermarkets latched on and now we have a plethora of halloween-related paraphernalia that we are supposed to buy to ensure any sweets we do give away are specially wrapped for the event.
I didn’t let ours go trick or treating except I think I might have once when a friend was doing the Mum thing and taking them round. But she’d been round to the various neighbours in advance and asked if it was OK so she didn’t worry any of them or put them in a difficult position.
And it’s also caused the death of the penny for a Guy. No-one does that anymore – building a Guy and hawking it round asking for contributions. But not saying “But if you don’t give me a penny I’m going to do something horrible to you or your property” – Penny for the Guy was straightforward fundraising to buy the fireworks or sweets for bonfire night.
If, like Carol Singers or penny for the Guy -ers they came round and hoped for a donation because the effort they have been to was worth it I wouldn’t really have an issue. It’s the inclusion of the threat in the request that rankles with me. It’s so un-British. It’s not the way we do things. The giving of sweets or treats is a reward for the effort of dressing up, it’s not a right because it’s October 31st.
October 25, 2012
As we take our seats the athletes are warming up on stage in their Lycra. As the house lights dim the familiar strains of Van Gellis kick in and they start running around the revolving stage and the track that is made round the front rows and back of the stage. Men in in long white shorts and tee shirts join them and the Lycra clad athletes peel off leaving us in the 1920s. Suddenly we are at at Cambridge train station and Harold Abrahams is arriving for his first term. There are some wonderful set pieces of singing, running and dining evoking life at Cauis college. We meet Eric Liddell in the puritanical Scottish highlands and see more wonderful running. There is a marvellous hurdling scene with the champagne resting on the ends as the actor flies over repeatedly. These boys have to be bloody fit with all the running and jumping they do.
The production is great and clever and fun. But the pace dips in the middle third. Luckily we all know how it goes thanks to the film, so we give them a bit of leeway and the second half picks up being the actual Olympics. Having had such a fantastic experience this year at London 2012 just seeing the five rings lifted spirits and basked us all in a warm glow. And then the races were run and the big sweeping music kicked in and we cheered him home.
Great idea for Olympic year and impressive multiskilled cast- acting, singing, running, playing instruments, choreographed moves, but not as emotionally engaging as the film. Which I am going to get off amazon and watch again! Three stars.
October 21, 2012
I was out a few weeks ago with three mates who I have known for about twenty years. They are friends that I met through having children. We haven’t lived in each others pockets, but have constantly met throughout those years and seen each other at numerous events. We have marked occasions together, had dinner parties, barbeques, walks, picnics, coffees galore, seen shows, days out… the list goes on.
We had a lovely time . We chatted and laughed and talked about what we had been doing, and about our husbands and children. Against the national statistics we are all still married to the fathers of our children. And in fact I look around my local friends and find the vast majority are still together. Why is that? We aren’t a religious sub cult that can’t get divorced. But perhaps it is the luxury of having a local network of friends to share stresses and strains with over a coffee or a chablis that has helped us all through the difficult times even without talking about those difficulties directly.
I’m not suggesting it is the counselling of friends that helps relationships, but simply the outlet of having friends to be able to take some time out with. To have a good time. To see beyond the relationship. To see others in their relationships. To see things are not always sweetness and light even in the seemingly most harmonious of households. And knowing that’s OK.
facebook has reconnected me with many people that I had lost touch with and it has been utterly wonderful to talk to them in cyberspace and in real life. Even those I had kept in some contact with are now closer than ever as we can easily write a line to each other or comment on a photo. Even this blog allows me to feel I am still maintaining contact with people albeit through this bizarre medium. But when someone mentions in passing that they read something on here,, it lifts my heart to know we are keeping in touch.
And it is when I am physically with longstanding friends that I realise the fact that we have so much history together is part and parcel of the binding. The memories of times past. Times when things went well, went badly or just went. Someone says something about a present situation and someone else remembers a previous time when something similar happened. And the re-living of those memories can be so gratifying – recharging and reminding us of great times we have had, or bad times we have been through and recovered from. When one is feeling low it can be a real boost to reminisce – sometimes to remind us that actually things weren’t always as fabulous as rose-tinted spectacles would have us believe, and other times simply to re-enjoy fantastic moments and to cherish them even more with the benefit of time. And old friends can do that for us – be a present reminder of the history of our lives.
Here’s to all of you with love.