Tag Archives: Children

Life in Songs

I don’t know if you are familiar with this enigmatic song but the lyrics came back to haunt me recently. It’s been recorded many times but my favourite version is by Dusty Springfield.

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth.
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth.

Now there are no games to only pass the time
No more colouring books, no Christmas bells to chime
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win.

I can recall the time
When I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to a friend.
And now I think I’ve got
A lot more than a skipping rope to lend.

Now there’s more to do than watch my sailboat glide
And every day can be my magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years.

Let everyone debate the true reality
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s all we lack
So catch me if you can I’m goin’ back.

Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King the words seem to describe lost innocence using iconic images like skipping ropes and colouring books and magic-carpet rides – freeze-framed elements of childhood in the sixties.

While visiting my sister in Kent, we decided to take a walk around our childhood. It was a fine spring afternoon and we dabbled in nostalgia as our walk recalled the extraordinary freedoms with which we were blessed ‘in our youth’.

Upchurch, the village where we grew up, lies on the southern shores of the Thames Estuary and is set on a small, low-lying peninsula where the ragged shoreline breaks into a maze of tiny inlets. These muddy, virtually unnavigable rivers, are ruled by the tide and we’d spend most of our summer holidays playing in the ribs of rotting barges, imagining the lives of those who came before. When the tide came in we would go and dig for treasure amongst piles of Victorian rubbish originally shipped as ballast and dumped beside the old jetties in days when boats, not cars, governed local transport. Amongst our best finds were a bronze Roman coin and half a mammoth’s tusk, all donated (unwillingly) to a local museum.

‘Going back’ to our childhood made us realise how little the region where we grew-up had changed. But times have changed and I doubt any mother today could permit such freedom without being accused of negligence. Not that we realised the dangers, we were too busy having fun.

Perhaps this song does sum-up the best things in childhood. Certainly that’s what Carole King captures in her bouncy, up-beat recording of 1966, made at a time when she was still ageless with youth. But listen to Dusty Springfield’s soul-ridden performance and the words resound with sadness, this songstress wants to hold onto the past because she’s terrified by the prospect of growing old.

But the fact that really sparks my interest is how the same words can be performed in such a way they generate very different emotional responses. Like the past, it means different things to different people. And that is the enigma which makes writing about the past so very fascinating. We can only visit the past when we’ve experienced the future.

North Kent Marshes

North Kent Marshes

“CliffeCreekFleet 0312”. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CliffeCreekFleet_0312.JPG#/media/File:CliffeCreekFleet_0312.JPG

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Filed under Changes, Family, Growing, Interpretation, Kent, Marsh, Nostalgia, Writing

Love Affairs

The Great Fire of London: 1666

I’ve always loved history. I think it stems from being curious how people lived their lives under different circumstances. Looking at the past is like unravelling a mystery. I peer into other worlds and wonder how I would cope. Working as a costume designer meant being involved in how the past was interpreted by other people but I’ve never held myself up as an expert, just someone who loves history.

So I wasn’t sure what to say when my daughter asked me to come into school and help the infants develop their studies on The Great Fire of London. I knew my two grandsons felt inspired by the project-work and already understood the most significant facts, such as where the fire began, and how. They’d even told me all about the diarist Samuel Pepys burying his precious cheese, just in case his house was engulfed by flames. What more could I add?

Women's work

I printed a selection of pertinent primary sources and gathered together a few books and maps to illustrate the topics I thought might be of interest. Then I discovered an animated film by a company called Pudding Lane Productions made by computer gaming students in response to a competition run by the British Library. The film lasts barely two minutes but gives a better visual description of Restoration London on the eve of the Great Fire than I could ever hope to reveal with books and papers. Beginning near Pudding Lane the animation sweeps through the city’s narrow streets and alleys, briefly gazing into houses to show the minutiae of everyday life; washing hung out to dry, braziers burning and candles lit – it’s packed with well-researched detail yet nothing nasty that could spark nightmares (the oldest child was seven).

Classroom technology being what it is we were able to start by showing the film. Then we asked what item they would save if they had to abandon their home in an emergency. While most opted to rescue their pets one little voice piped up to say he would take his iPad. When we pointed out that he wouldn’t have an iPad he persisted that indeed he ‘did have one’. This led to a discussion about what a seventeenth century home would or wouldn’t have, and of course it didn’t take long before we got to sanitary arrangements.

– Very few buildings had an indoor toilet, only bigger buildings like palaces and castles.

– Did people have to go to the castle when they needed a wee?

– No they would have to use something like a potty or, if they had a garden, a dirt-box.

– It must have been very smelly in London.

cheapsidehoard

I’d taken along some pictures of the Cheapside Hoard, jewels buried around this period, to illustrate the sort of things that might be buried for safe keeping. Almost as an afterthought I asked my husband if he could lend an item of jewellery to show the class and the ring he produced was actually made in the 17th century. It was very delicate, a fancy gold band mounted with two tiny, white enamel, love-birds set with minuscule emeralds, rubies and diamonds. However as the ring was handed carefully around the class the children became unusually quiet and I worried that they didn’t find it interesting enough to warrant any discussion.

Today I received twenty-three ‘thank-you’ letters, hand-written and beautifully illustrated. The only item mentioned, and illustrated, in almost every letter was the ring. It’s a mute point that history lies in an imagined world but being able to handle an object from that world somehow brings it to life. And I do think my grandsons are blessed to go to a school which believes that the class-room is just a beginning.

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Ice Friends

Listening to the radio a few years ago, I heard this story recounted. I’m only sorry I didn’t take note of their names but still, I believe, it’s a story worth telling.

At the beginning of the Second World War two English children were sent to live in the USA. Their father lectured at an Oxford college and Princeton University had a scheme offering families of British academics temporary homes away from any danger of bombing raids. The children, then aged eight and eleven, arrived with their mother during the autumn of 1941.

While the older brother settled easily into a new way of life his sister struggled. She didn’t like the curriculum at her new school and she missed her English friends, but her favourite pastime was ice skating and most afternoons, after school finished, she would go skating. Her brother didn’t skate but accompanied her as chaperone and generally sat at the side of the rink doing his homework. As the weeks went by his sister befriended an elderly gentleman who also had a passion for ice skating. Gradually a friendship formed and the two would skate and chat together incessantly.

One afternoon, after their skating session ended, the girl asked the old man if he would like to come home for tea. The old man had previously informed her that he was quite good at maths and she was having a problem with her maths homework. The brother, worried by this sudden invitation to a complete stranger, raced home to warn his mother, concerned mainly that she wouldn’t have enough food prepared. Imagine the woman’s surprise when she opened the door – to Albert Einstein. After that he came to tea regularly, and helped both children with their homework.

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Momentous Times

In the King household the year 2015 is going to be marked by ‘milestone’ birthdays and ‘special’ anniversaries. I should probably be anticipating these occasions with great joy but I wish it was possible to slow the pace down, just a little.

When my daughter was at university, studying psychology, a professor suggested she should write her obituary – To make you aware of what you want to be remembered for.  I thought that was very dark indeed – almost like tempting fate but, for me, birthdays have exactly the same effect. Inevitably I wonder how many more ‘milestone’ birthdays will there be? I’ve tried to ignore the fact that 2015 has already begun but before we get close to celebrating I want to reflect on my reasons for having reservations.

Twenty years ago, with another ‘milestone’ birthday looming, I decided it was time to take a break from pushing my academic boundaries. I’d spent four years studying with the Open University and absolutely enjoyed the challenge but was finding it increasingly difficult to find a balance between my goals and those of my husband and two children. I wasn’t good at half measures and every spare minute was dedicated to reading and research, especially at weekends. At the time we lived ‘over the shop’ and our bespoke craft business had been expanding steadily. With an increased clientele came the need for me to be more available, more hands-on. And our children were growing up, they would soon both be teenagers and I wanted more time for us to do ‘things’ together. In short I felt guilty.

Then, during the first week of that year, life was sent into turmoil when my son fell ill with pneumonia. He’d been suffering from tonsillitis for weeks but the morning I opened the door to his bedroom and found him too sick to respond my instincts went into overdrive. I rang our GP immediately, telling him I was coming to the surgery whether there was an available appointment or not. I scooped my ten year old into my arms, laid him in the back of the car wrapped in a blanket, and drove like a fury into town. David was prescribed three different antibiotics for the next month, but he recovered. And just to help his recovery we took him ice skating.

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Ten years later another ‘momentous’ year loomed. Our business had expanded, everything seemed rosy. We rented a villa in Spain and invited my sister-in-law and her family to join us. The idea was to celebrate together in the sun (except our son couldn’t make it because he was training in Poland) prior to the ‘occassions’ in November. Without trawling over particulars the effective event was that one day my husband nearly drowned while helping to save two little boys and their father from drowning. A vicious rip-tide nearly wiped away our future. Thankfully everyone survived with only minor injuries (and twenty-four hours in a Spanish hospital) but the drama of that day sits in my memory as clearly as any movie and our lives were changed in the knowledge that everything could so easily have turned out differently.

Spain 2005 near disaster

Each of these events led to a tidal change in our lives, driving us towards new goals, new directions which were ultimately more demanding but immeasurably enriching. So forgive me if I approach this year tentatively. I have good reason. And I refuse to make any resolutions, but I’ve written the obituary, just in case.

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What Do You Want Santa To Bring You For Christmas?

BUT WHAT DO YOU WANT SANTA TO BRING YOU FOR CHRISTMAS?

It’s a huge decision. And four year old Reuben has struggled with it every day for almost a whole month – he mustn’t get his choices wrong.

Obviously with so much to deliver Santa has to restrict all little boys and girls to three toys, otherwise how could everything possibly arrive on time. Reubs big brother Oscar (aged five) knew just what he wanted. At the beginning of December he carefully copied out his letter to Santa, checking the spellings more than twice. He even got most of the words to fit the lines while using his very best handwriting. The stamp he drew on the envelope was coloured-in with crayons and mummy took him to the local post office so he could make sure the address was absolutely correct. Oscar also enquired if Santa ever had trouble with Polar Bears because they live at the North Pole too. Very concerned for Santa’s welfare is our Oscar.

Thinking a visit to the old man himself would help resolve matters my daughter booked Reuben an appointment. He sat on Santa’s lap, completely overcome with fear. Eventually he whispered into the whiskers. But later that night, just as he was closing his eyes to go to sleep, Reuben burst into tears. He’d asked Santa for Lego – but as Lego comes in all shapes and sizes how would Santa know what sort to bring him.

Reuben was still struggling with his decision on the final day of school. My daughter and I were in Edinburgh for the day, enjoying the festive market that fills the old Nor Loch and looking for stocking fillers, when my son-in-law rang with the news that Reubs had decided that the only thing he wanted Santa to bring was a Teksta puppy – in blue.

Now, of course, the one toy completely sold out in every shop was a Teksta puppy of any colour. Very popular this year, we’re informed. Meanwhile my son-in-law had no luck on the internet either. I sent an urgent text to my sister. She works for John Lewis’s, in London – but even that great metropolis was Out of Stock. Less than a week to go and it seemed we had no chance of fulfilling Reubs wish.

But then we found one on E-bay, second-hand but unused, the woman said, because her daughter wanted red, not blue. It arrived in the post, yesterday. My daughter, elated with success, asked Reubs if there was anything else he wanted Santa to bring.

A scarf he said, with the letter ‘R’ on it, for Reuben.?????????????????

Guess who’s spent all day sewing?

Happy Christmas Everyone, hope you get everything you wished for….

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Best Laid Plans

Busy family life

Busy family life

Well both grandsons are off to school (Reuben’s first year, Oscar’s second), summer is drawing to a close and I’m all fired up ready to proceed with my Grand Plan – back to writing that novel again. Seriously!

Eight thirty in the morning I’m sitting at my desk, fingertips at the ready, but almost immediately the phone rings.
‘You’ll have to come to work’ – husband’s voice – ‘there’s a couple of things I need you to look at urgently’.
OK. So I jump into the car and drive straight to our business premises five minutes away.

All the problems are solved quickly but once at work I decide I might as well open the day’s post and sort through some invoices and then I remember I need to pop into town to get some food for dinner. And might as well drop off the ironing – after a houseful of visitors last week it’s all piled up and there’s this wonderful local business where the ladies are better than fairy godmothers.

Lunchtime already? I’m just settling down for a quick snack before starting work on my Grand Plan when the phone rings again.
‘Are you doing anything’ – daughter Sam’s voice – ‘only I need to pop to town for an appointment and Delilah’s asleep?’
No problem, Sam promises she will just be an hour – I grab my tablet, proving I’m trying hard to succeed with the Grand Plan and it makes me seem like an avant-garde gran.

Delilah wakes after less than half an hour. As soon as I pop my head around the door she takes my hand and leads me on a route march around her house, a guided tour, discharged in a language of her own making which she assumes I comprehend. As we enter the kitchen she waves a finger at the tap – time for a drink of water? Already, at one year old, her nature leaves me in no doubt she had a previous existence as a headmistress.

Sam arrives home. Relieved of duty I can shoot off home but as I leave she hands me a bag of freshly picked damsons surplus to requirements…if I don’t want them perhaps great-gran would?
It seems sensible to take the damsons straight to mum’s, it’s not very far, almost en route, and they’ll only go rotten if I take them home. Having had a spectacular harvest this year we’ve got piles of ripe fruit gently going rotten in assorted bowls and we can only eat so much jam and chutney and the freezer is full.

Dad’s mowing the lawn. As soon as I appear he stops work and leads me to the garage, a look of smug triumph on his face. Ever since my parents moved here two years ago the garage has been full to bursting with household goods and furniture deemed no longer useful. We suggested they give all the stuff they no longer want or need to charity shops but old furniture is bulky and unfashionable and even local auction houses aren’t interested in taking it. However dad has discovered a man with a van (a community charity) and he is coming to take everything away later today, so last chance if I want anything.

I’d been meaning to grab their emergency fridge –newer and smarter than the one we have at work and doesn’t need defrosting. And then there’s the brass coffee table – can’t let that go because I have its twin. But it’s hardly fair not to take them away immediately. Dad’s been waiting long enough to park his car inside the garage – it’s so untidy cluttering up the drive.
Husband isn’t too pleased but comes immediately. Another essential job done and dusted.

Now where was I? Better make the dinner…..best laid plans and all that. I’ll just have to start on my big plan tomorrow.

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Two Kings

Two Kings

Where did you see this star?

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December 18, 2013 · 1:10 pm

I believe in magic

 I love the magic of Christmas. But like anything magical it’s impossible to predict or prescribe. We can decorate the house and garden with glittery ornaments and twinkling lights but we can’t make the magic appear. Yet sometime during the heady season of panic, when there is more to do than there are hours in the day, there’s a special moment when something seen or said or done ignites the wonder, the magic, of Christmas.

 

Of course expectations are high. Christmas is formed through family traditions, heavily seasoned with memories and nostalgia. No wonder the magic is elusive. And it’s sparked by something different every year, despite the careful rituals, tangled inside the busy bustle obligatory to the season, between shopping and wrapping presents and writing cards and making lists and checking them twice.  

 

It’s also my experience that magic manifests itself through means which might, to others, appear mundane; a scene in a movie not seen for years; a forgotten piece of music; words from a song; an unexpected phone call, or letter, from a friend. If I could explain what triggered the magic I might know how to attract it. All I know is that something wonderful happens when the sparkle of magic ignites into Christmas.

 

My first experience of spine-tingling magic happened when I made my debut in pantomime. At the age of eight I was memorably cast as a Christmas pudding. All the role required was to walk on stage as a big, round pudding then tug a cord which allowed the top to open and reveal the pudding had been magically transformed into a little girl. I’m not sure how the cord got knotted, it always ran smoothly during rehearsals, but I wriggled and shook until I managed to squeeze out through the bottom, to tumultuous applause (and my one and only encore).

 

Later, as an apathetic art student, it was ‘cool’ to deny the sense of anticipation as the final week of winter term exploded into ‘Xmas’ parties. But I remember walking home by moonlight on Christmas Eve, in the wee small hours, and it began to snow for the first time in years. Soon big, white flakes lay thick on the ground and silhouetted against a window I caught sight of a small child jumping up and down with sheer delight. In that moment I realised it doesn’t matter what or where or when or how, you just have to believe, whether you are eight or eighty.

 

I hope the magic of Christmas stays with me forever. I accept remembrance of past happiness weighs heavily upon the present, and the coming together of family and friends also brings sadness for those no longer here to share our celebrations, but we hold them in our hearts as part of our collective memory of what Christmas means. And now I’m a grandmother I’ve discovered nothing can be more magical than seeing Christmas through my grandchildren’s eyes.

 

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Where do stories begin?

I often wonder about that moment…..when the telling of tales first began?

Cave-paintings show how our earliest ancestors lived, and their pictures reveal, like tiny chinks of light, what mattered to our ancestors and what their lives involved. But when the men went away to do the hunting what stories did Neolithic mums tell their young? I’m sure they must have had lots to tell, events in their ancestors lives, stories passed from mother to child? Were those stories about love or, like cave paintings, did they revolve around the thrill of the chase. And what about the battles their people had lost and won? Did these mums tell stories to comfort sweet dreams or risk adding horror to nightmares? And did those primitive mums also sing songs to lull their babies to sleep?

 

A couple of years ago I was fascinated to hear a folk musician on the radio (I was driving at the time and couldn’t take note of his name) explain his life-long search for the oldest tune in the world. And the most  ‘common tune’ he discovered (admittedly sung with different words) in just about every culture he explored, from the Sami peoples of the Arctic Circle to fishermen on the Mediterranean, was the tune known I know as ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star.’ 

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are?

Up above the world so high

Like a diamond in the sky.

He showed how the structure/phasing/melody are all extremely simple, which means the basic tune can be played on fundamental, hand-carved instruments. But I wonder if an Egyptian mother sang similar words as she lay on the roof of her mud-brick home with her children, seeking a cool breeze in the middle of the night after an unbearably hot day. Did she look up at the great span of stars and wonder…… We may never know how long the song has been sung but it is strangely comforting to think it precedes written history.

 

So back to my original question, how old is storytelling? I believe it is likely as old as humanity, if not older. Even, perhaps, we imagined the story and then we began.

 

World Storytelling Day is celebrated on the Spring Equinox in northern territories and on the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere. The theme for 2013 is Monsters and Dragons. For more information go to: http://www.freewebs.com/worldstorytellingday/

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Summertime

The English are defined by their summers. By the time we get to June the first complaints strike everyone’s lips – When will it ever stop raining? We’ve not had much of a summer? We need a bit more sun!

 

We spend the winter months hoping for the right weather to take part in all the things we love. Things like walking around other people’s gardens, touring around other people’s houses, walking through places we have never been before to discover the things we have never known. And every weekend from June to October there are many private houses, grand and small, which open to the public just one or two days a year to raise money for charity, and although they can be enjoyed in the rain a hot sunny day makes the outing more exciting.  

 

For the last seven years summers have been dull, August particularly dismal, the moment term ends in July the rain comes every single day. And recognising that the weather might follow a similar pattern this year we decided to take every possible advantage to adventure out in June. Last Sunday we made the acquaintance of Kirklinton Hall and the wild surrounding landscape which the guide describes as gardens. Once it was a palace but now the empty shell of this beautiful building sits like a sandstone crater at the side of a meandering river, conjuring up dreams of what might have been. Ruins have such impact, such enigma attached.

 Image

We met the owners, distributing the mandatory tea and cake, and talked of their plans to re-build the hall, to re-instate its former glory. And we learned something of its history. Once there was a castle, just beyond the gardens, but being on the fringes of the Debateable Land it met its demise in the fierce Border Wars back in the sixteenth century. Anyone familiar with those lawless times will be interested to know the stronghold then belonged to the Musgrave clan. But when the current building was raised England and Scotland shared a ruler. Its final claim to fame is that it sheltered a more dubious London family, the Kray twins. The house was an unlicensed casino in the fifties and sixties and whenever the ‘twins’ found it necessary to ‘lay low’ they hot-footed it to Kirklinton. If only walls could talk? 

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Our day was only tested by the Faerie Glen. We set off down to the woods with the map provided and tried to identify the whereabouts of the host of faeries known to inhabit the trees. Reuben (aged 2) and Oscar (aged 4) crawled and climbed through the undergrowth in search of the little ladies but I think they heard them coming. We only managed to find about half the resident population, but what memories! We followed the path by the river until we came to a natural ‘beach’ where the boys paddled and played while we lazed in the sunshine and watched the buzzards wheel overhead. Such stuff as summers are made of.

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If you want to learn more about Kirklinton Hall you can go to: www.kirklintonhall.co.uk

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