Saturday, 13 February 2021

How Can I Help?

It's LGBTQ+ History Month and I've been mulling over how, and even whether, I should be blogging about it. I'm a 50-something straight, white, cisgender woman; young enough to have benefited from the actions of the feminists who came before me, old enough not to have been taken in by the post-feminsim of the 90s and noughties, when some  assumed all the battles had been won and that "feminist" was an embarrassing and archaic way to describe yourself. You could easily say "What's it got to do with her?"

On the other hand, homosexuality was only decriminalised within my lifetime and I was middle aged with children of my own before equal marriage was recognised in law. I was in my 20s when AIDS came to public attention, at university when Section 28 was introduced. It may not have affected me directly, but LGBT History was happening all around me.

Things did get better. Section 28 was repealed; civil partnerships and equal marriage; the Gender Recognition Act. A few years back, watching Great Manchester Police take part in the Pride parade, my partner and I commented that when we had come to the city as students, the force was led by James AndertonFor a good while it looked to the straight, white world as if attitudes had shifted permanently. The homophobia and racism of the 70s and 80s that we'd grown up with had been banished to the fringes of discourse, vocalised only by the very worst of people. 

What the last decade (and especially the last 5 years) has shown us, though, is that those attitudes did not go away; they merely went to ground for a while, until they were again given legitimacy by a small but influential group of the very worst people, given massive public platforms in the name of "balance."

The targets have shifted, but the aim is the same - to 'other', delegitimise and demonise a minority group. The current moral panic is about transgender people but the "debate" remains depressingly similar. So much of the transphobia of today is the re-heated homophobic prejudice of my youth.  What is different about today's transphobia is that it is led and spurred on by..... feminists.

It is unutterably depressing to watch women of my generation raging against trans people, shouting about their "sex-based rights" and aligning themselves with racists, far right politicians and extreme evangelical religious organisations. Women who spent their youth acting in solidarity with other marginalised groups are now pursuing an irrational vendetta against one of the most marginalised of those groups and siding with the very people they fought against for so long, putting forward the falsehood that granting others rights will diminish their own. As academic Alison Phipps says:

Of all the awful things about trans-exclusionary feminism, it’s the claims of victimhood I find most difficult. In my experience these women enjoy unprecedented institutional protection: trans people and their allies are silenced & scared. We are being gaslit & it’s so painful.

— Alison Phipps (@alisonphipps) September 14, 2019

I think what I am coming round to, in a convoluted way, is intersectionality. This is, to be fair, a concept which struggles when released into the wild, but is nonetheless fundamental to how we as human beings relate to each other. Our life experiences will overlap and sometimes contradict those of others and recognising both differences and similarities is vital. Life is messy, and we sometimes may feel aggrieved that someone appears to be ahead of us in the pecking order, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to support those who are more marginalised and oppressed than we are. 

I am heterosexual, so I cannot know what it's like to be gay or trans, but that does not mean that as a feminist I should ignore (and even oppose!) the fights and rights of others. The forces of reaction won't stop at the current marginalised group - if they succeed in taking away the rights of one group of people, they will move on to the next, and finally you will be the one being demonised.

For those of us who do have a fair amount of privilege, we should both acknowledge that privilege and not resent others' desire to have the same rights that we have. And we have a duty to act as the best allies we can be. That's not to say that we charge in and take control of the discourse (see - again - Alison Phipps' excellent book on the tendency for white feminism to do this) but to stand up to transphobes, to amplify trans voices and to do - well, the things feminists should always do!

I came to a position of trans allyship the hard way. 

I come, unashamedly, from a long line of "stroppy" women who did things their way. A child of the '60s and '70s, I reaped the benefits of the social mobility of the post-war era. I can't ever remember not being a feminist - my infant brain took issue with the whole Christian Garden of Eden thing, where banishment was on the basis of "She did it!" and I was one of a group of girls at my primary school who loudly voiced our objections when we were discriminated against. When the WWII air raid shelters below the boys' playground were about to be filled in, we were all promised a trip below ground. When we discovered the demolition had begun, and that the boys had been allowed down and we hadn't, we gave the headmaster the full "women's rights" treatment (as much as 10 year olds can).

I was very much a product of my age and background and I thought I knew my feminism. When my son came out as trans in 2015 it hit me like a brick. In part, I went into mourning for the fabulous, feminist woman he would have been but also I knew so little about trans issues - I'd heard of Stephen Whittle and Jan Morris, but that was about it - that I was very ill-prepared to deal with it. And, to be honest, I dealt with it badly. A friend pointed me in the direction of literature on ROGD and told me my son was "just a butch lesbian but hasn't realised it yet." Life got very difficult (especially as my partner had been far more accepting) and it threatened to wreck my relationship with my child. Over time, I tried hard to understand the issues and things got a little easier.

The turning point was the 2018 GoFundMe campaign by some Labour party members to challenge Labour's decision to allow trans women on all women shortlists, which stated clearly that "any leftover funds would be used to fight self-ID". Two women I considered friends and political allies had signed it. I was so upset  and angry that I blogged about it, as a result of which I have spoken to neither since. This saddened me, but ultimately it came to a choice between my political friends and my child. Like I said, life's messy.

Over the last few years, I have done my best to be a good ally. Followed and shared trans voices on social media. Got to know my son's friends (a universally lovely group). Sought out other cis het women who aren't prepared to have gender critical feminists purport to speak for us - the many cis women who have no problem with trans women sharing our spaces, who aren't threatened by trans women and who believe that feminism without inclusion is not feminism. 

So my relationship to LGBTQ+ History Month is one of allyship. I have no relevant  lived experience, but I can at least do my best to be an empathetic ally and if I can't do much to make things better at least not make them worse. Promoting  marginalised voices rather than speaking for them and challenging transphobia. 

They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so this time I'm paying attention.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Patience is a Virtue (especially when you're trans)

This started off as a series of tweets which transcribed messages sent to me by my son in 2019, expressing his frustration with Gender Identity Development Services and the medical profession in general in relation to his treatment. Delay and procrastination seemed to be SOP and since Things Have Only Got Worse© since then, I've decided to put the thread into a blog post to save me having to keep searching for it.

Shared with his permission.

"anyway it's 2am and i can't sleep and i'm angry about newcastle so i made a Timeline Of Events since u love those things"

25th Jan 2015 - official coming out Jan 2016 - Saw the GP (who should've been able to refer me straight to tavi, but wasn't sure how to proceed and "felt more comfortable" referring me to CAMHS, which was no longer the recommended pathway)

June 2016 - Appointment with CAMHS, but had to be rescheduled because I had two GCSEs that day (He was taking his GCSEs as his grandfather was dying of cancer...)

July 2016 - Appointment with CAMHS where they wrote my Tavi referral (going through the entire history of my "gender journey" and getting info on my feelings, plans, family situation, etc)

23rd Dec 2016 - Received first letter from Tavi with initial appointment date

18th Jan 2017 - First Tavi appointment

Throughout 2017 I had six sessions, which were literally just a long form version of exactly what I got asked at CAMHS the year before. (Which had also necessitated him and us travelling to Leeds 6 times in order to answer them)

December 2017 - Final Tavi appointment, Newc referral written, came to the conclusion that I displayed all the signs of gender dysphoria and recommended me for treatment (aka Diagnosis 1)

April 2018 - First Newcastle [Adult services] appointment (in Carlisle, given 5 days notice, cost £40+ to get there, and they spent 35 minutes asking the exact same questions and coming to the exact same conclusions as CAMHS and Tavi, before telling me that because I wasn't on blockers I couldn't be put on the expedited waiting list for ex-Tavi patients, and said I had a ten month wait but they were doing their best to make it shorter) (aka Diagnosis 2)

December 2018 - Went to my new GP [by this time he'd gone to university] with 9 pages of documentation asking for a bridging prescription (which he should have been able to give me, but he "felt more comfortable" referring me to an endocrinologist despite the fact that the good practice guidelines say that GPs have the right to prescribe hormones "when the gender clinic is unable to meet the patient's needs within a reasonable or safe time frame")

Jan 2019 - Appointment with endo (two hour wait, missed a lesson, only to be told that she too wouldn't be willing to write me a bridging prescription because she "felt more comfortable" writing to Newcastle asking them what they thought she should do)

March 2019 - Bullshit letter from Newcastle arrives reading "Hi, We can't do anything, you can't either, we'll do something at some point lol" [He is, I think, paraphrasing here]

"It's been 47 weeks since my Newcastle appointment which is a Fair Bit Fucking Longer than anyone should have to fucking wait for medical intervention." [His words, not mine]

Me: Luckily, despite everything, he's an intelligent and resilient young man who appreciates that there are plenty of young trans people worse off than him in terms of mental distress.

But to all you "they're forcing young people to transition far too fast" types out there - this does not look to me like they're doing anything "too fast"; quite the reverse. The complete waste of effort spending a year going over to Leeds Tavi; the reluctance of all parties to actually act in the way that the guidelines suggest; the lack of any progress despite not one but two formal diagnoses of gender dysphoria. Nothing here is screaming "Slow down! You're moving too fast!!" at me.

And yes, I had reservations when he first came out ("You used to be a bit of a TERF, mum, but you're OK now."). I wanted to be sure he was sure of himself, but really - would you really put yourself through this for 4+ years if you were weren't serious?

A question I should probably put to the person who assured me a couple of years back that "she's just a butch lesbian but hasn't realised it yet." Anyway, that's his thoughts at the moment on where he's up to. Shared with his full consent. I'm proud of him.

(Apart from his inability to use capital letters...)

March 2019 - UPDATE: He's just re-read the thread on here, and has commented: "literally every single person i've seen has refused treatment on the grounds of what makes them feel most comfortable."

A point which a number of commentators had picked up on. Not exclusive to trans healthcare, of course, but far too prevalent.

And so 2019 came and went without a murmur, and then 2020 and Covid, with its inevitable delays. And then:

October 2020 - Me: A year and a half on, he's just had a letter from Newcastle about an appointment. He has to respond by the end of the month or they'll discharge him! He came out at 14; he's now 20. He's not going to have changed his mind. It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious.

He's since had a phone consultation and is due another appointment this month, so maybe things are finally beginning to move...

But if you want an indication of the level of misinformation and outright untruths being put forward by "gender critical feminists" pontificating about trans youth being forced down the transition route too quickly, this is it.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

How Not to Do Christmas

Listening to all the media prattle about how to do Christmas this year (now rendered meaningless thanks to Johnson the Incompetent) I was reminded of one of our attempts to travel the length of the country to meet up with family which was pretty fraught even without a pandemic to contend with. Our usual Christmas routine at this time was to visit my mother-in-law in Bristol for a long weekend in mid-December to do some Christmas shopping and to meet up with my family, who travelled up from Devon for a meal and present exchange before we all headed home for Christmas itself. 
This post is adapted from an old Facebook Note (remember them?) I wrote 10 years ago. It was, if you remember, the year where we got unusually heavy snowfall in December. 
Friday: Due to an adverse weather forecast, we completely changed our plans for the pre-Christmas trip to Bristol, travelling Friday straight after school (last day of term) rather than the more civilised Saturday morning. This turned out to be a good decision, as the journey only took 4 hours, including rush hour through Birmingham (this was before the era of the smart motorway). 

Saturday: We woke up to about 1" snow. My mother in law's house (as with a lot of places in Bristol) was at the top of steep hill, so this was not encouraging. 

Also, Kid#1 was now unwell so I had to stay at home with the children instead of all of us heading out into Bristol to shop. With no internet and only basic TV channels, it was lucky we packed the Wii! The weather wasn’t too bad in Bristol, but if anyone remembers that huge weather system which dumped snow over south east England, closing airports, etc? We saw it moving west to east across the country from the comfort of my mother-in-law's living room...


 (That's the moon showing above the clouds)

Sunday: Kid#1 a little better, but Kid#2 now unwell. Stayed at home again while Other Half headed into town to shop (and buy emergency Calpol). Kids rallied enough for the planned meal with my sister and niece that evening, so headed into an ice-cold city centre for a meal in a virtually deserted Pizza Express. 
Monday: Kids still poorly. Got up early to take mother-in-law for a planned blood test. While in Bedminster (at the bottom of the hill from her house), more snow came on very rapidly and so we struggled through semi-stationary traffic all the way home on untreated roads. 45 mins to do the 10-minute drive home.  

While this was going on, my sister was trying to arrange to meet up for the present-swap, and eventually opted to drive to mother-in-law’s house (getting lost and stuck on black ice in the process). With the weather worsening all the time, she had to make a decision whether to head back to Devon or stay in Bristol with us (which would have meant seven of us in a small house usually occupied by one, with no additional food in the house). She decided to risk the trip home and got lucky with roads.  

The state of the roads precluded me getting into the city to shop for presents for Other Half, but even if this wasn't the case, the fuel leak I'd discovered on the car meant a call to AA (we were warned it could take up to 24 hrs for them to come) so I was stuck in house anyway, waiting for them. Hasty revision of plans to take mother-in-law to BRI for her op on Tuesday morning (which might be cancelled anyway, due to weather). In fact, the AA came within 90 mins of logging the call and a very, very nice man fixed the problem, but by then Other Half had gone into town on the bus and the kids were still not up to travelling. OH did his hunter-gatherer bit by buying M&S food for tea, and at least we had hospital transport again. 
Tuesday: Mother-in -law delivered to hospital and I went back to the house to pack the car, which involved carrying all luggage down 20 snow-covered steps from the house. MIL’s op fine, but our reserve plan to stay overnight to make sure she was fully OK scuppered by a weather forecast for heavy snow through Midlands on Wednesday. 
An indication of health of the kids - neither of them showed any desire to play in the snow all weekend. 
The journey home was fine, as there was little traffic on the road, but a drop in temperature froze the windscreen washer, so I was unable to clear screen properly. At one point the screen was nothing but an emulsion of salt and oil, making it virtually opaque (pretty scary), a bit like covering your windscreen with vinaigrette! Thank goodness for congestion at M5/M6 interchange (not often you can say that!) which enabled me to spray de-icer on the screen as a temporary measure until we could stop at Hilton Park. 

Once home, all I had to do was all the planned Christmas food shopping and an attempt at last-minute present buying with two poorly/bored kids in tow! Still at least I wasn't stuck at Heathrow bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t get to Bali! 

As ever, though, Christmas (just the four of us) came and went as normal, regardless of preparation or panic, and we’ll be doing much the same this year except for meeting up with family – Manchester and Bristol are both Tier 3 and my sister’s bit of Devon is Tier 2. That way, hopefully, we’ll all still be around to meet up next year. 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Dettol be the Day...

This morning the Campaign to Get the Serfs Back in the Workplace to Save Capitalism was bolstered by the appearance on the London Underground (and shortly thereafter on social media) of this piece of inanity from a well-known manufacturer of disinfectant:

I'd put good money on the people who created this not having worked in a typical office in some years. Or, like the "creatives" on the floor above us in one of my previous workplaces, have spent their time lounging on beanbags, playing ping-pong and setting the fire alarms off because they don't know how to use a toaster.

Let's take their points one by one...

Hearing an alarm  
Nope, haven't missed that. Having ditched the Today programme after more than 40 years, I wake up in a far better mood. And you know what? I'm never late for work - I now wake up naturally at the right time. 

Putting on a tie
Pah! Ties are a 19/20th century anachronism which should have been ditched years ago. If open necks and rolled-up shirt sleeves are good enough for the G8, they're good enough for an office in Slough. As with school uniform, they're all about petty control and damping down individuality.

Carrying a handbag
There you go again with your gender stereotypes. Hate handbags, always have done. Although my backpack's looking a little unloved of late, give me something practical.

Ours are lovely, but I don't go to work because of them...

Caffeine-filled air
Fine if you like the smell of coffee, I suppose... my partner, who dislikes the smell of coffee used to find his office unbearable at times. And does caffeine even have a small?

Taking a lift
The stairs at home are better for you.

Seeing your second family
Second family?! Who makes this s**t up? I mean, I like my colleagues but if you think of them in this way you probably need to seek help. Just because we used to see more of them than our own families due to Britain's long hours culture, doesn't mean they actually are family.

Watercooler conversations
We're in sitcom territory here, aren't we? I mean, do you know anyone in real life who stands around the big bottle of water chatting about last night's TV (especially now that we don't all watch the same few channels live). I'm usually a good 6 months-10 years behind the viewing public...

Proper bants
Anyone using "bants" should be fired immediately.

The boss's jokes
...can still be heard via Zoom, if that's your thing.

Plastic plants
Or a summer of home-grown potatoes, courgettes, raspberries, blackcurrants and apples...

Office gossip
Probably sour grapes as I'm the world's worst for picking up gossip, but not sure spreading rumours and sniggering about colleagues is really what we go to work for (unless you work at Labour HQ, I suppose).

Those weird carpets
Do you spend your day staring at the furnishings?! You need a better job.

Face to Face meetings
As we've discovered, in all but a few cases we don't need them. And as someone whose working life used to revolve around trying to arrange meetings for busy people, trying to get them all in the same place at one time, my (and their) lives have been made immeasurably easier through the use of virtual meetings. Of course without face to face meetings there's little justification for spending all that money on HS2 to cut 20 mins off journey times to London...

Not having to make lunch
Actually, mate, I now stop and have lunch (something I was very bad at in the office). Not an over-chilled, over-priced sandwich, either. Proper food instead of the bag of crisps I was likely to snaffle on the go. Better all round.

cc-ing, bcc-ing
These things can be done from any computer, anywhere in the world. Amazing, isn't it?

Accidentally Replying All
Ditto. But not recommended in any setting.

Hearing buzzwords
See "bants" above. Home working offers some level of protection from both.

Leaving early for a cheeky afternoon in the sun.
So much to unravel here - 

If you can leave early for no reason without it affect you or your colleagues, you probably don't have enough to do. Your boss needs to take a look at that.

A "cheeky" afternoon in the sun (in the UK. In September?) sounds like skiving to me.

Millions of us have been working flat out - from  home - since March. I probably have more additional hours built up than the PM has put in to COBRA meetings since the start of the pandemic. We didn't "leave early" for any reason, because there was a load of work to be done (that's what happens when you're in care sector). Making sense of the government guidance that changed overnight; trying to source enough PPE; making provision for keeping staff safe while still providing vital services; our teachers providing virtual lessons and pastoral care to our students. We haven't been at home doing nothing - we've been working as usual. Nothing changed but the location. So I'm getting a bit fed up with the presumption that we haven't been doing anything for 6 months. I mean, who's had the time to make sourdough? 

I love my work and I have brilliant colleagues, but home working has been really beneficial to my wellbeing. There is only one thing I really miss about being away from the office, and that can't be replicated at home - the wonderful young people from our training kitchen coming round with the trolley; they make the best scones and cakes!

Yes, there are people who need to get back to a workplace because of their home circumstances, and they should have priority. If we're going to reduce emissions, we need to cut down on commuting. Employers are seeing benefits, too, so HM Govt may find that the ship has already sailed. There are already reports of local independent retailers and food outlets experiencing increased activity in the suburban localities where people live - if the big sandwich chains don't want to fold, they need to invest in some bikes and go out and look for custom, just like Norman Tebbitt told us all to do in the 80s.The world of work has moved on.

To be honest, when I first saw this ad I assumed it was a passive-aggressive GOV.UK thing rather than an advert from a commercial company. I think that says quite a bit about the state of HM Govt these days. 

Here's an alternative view:

Having time for breakfast. Not having a commute that can take anything from 20-70 minutes for a 5 mile journey. Having a proper window with light and ventilation. Not falling asleep in your armchair at 9pm. The prospect of seeing daylight during the week in the winter months. Being able to make a "cheeky" trip to an appointment for a young person with a disability, knowing you can just make the time up later on. Keeping up to date with colleagues via online meetings (and getting to know them better than you did when you were at work with them all the time).

I've always preferred Savlon anyway.

Friday, 28 December 2018

There's a Camel in Our Cellar...

One of this year's Christmas presents was Rhodri Marsden's A Very British Christmas, an affectionate tribute our national traditions and eccentricities regarding the festive season. My reactions ranged from "Oh, yes, I remember those..." to "They do WHAT??!!" and agree with his conclusion that there simply is no 'right' way to do Christmas, and part of its glory is that you can be as reverential, daft or indifferent to it as you see fit.

In our house, this includes continuing to hang up the decorations made of DAS modelling clay which I made when my partner and I were students and couldn't afford to buy decorations:

Or my late mother's 1930's cherubs, complete with the piece of cotton tied unceremoniously round one of their necks, the one with the tetanus-inducing wire hook on its wings and the one with no wings at all. These used to glow in the dark, which has spooked the odd guest who wasn't expecting it, but are now completely glow-less.

And then there is the falling-to-pieces rocking chair my sister gifted us as she didn't have the space for it, and about which we keep saying "We really should get rid of this" - except it's where Rudolph the stuffed reindeer spends his Christmas! Originally, he was placed over the back of the chair to stop our small children rocking it back into chimney block or - worse - the glass doors of a cabinet when it was moved to accommodate the tree, but they're now adults and we are only keeping the chair so Rudolph has somewhere to sit...

These are all 'traditions' which relate to our immediate family, and are changing now the kids are grown and off doing their own thing. We don't 'go away for Christmas' (partly so as to minimise the change/disruption for our autistic daughter) - our family get-together is held a few weeks' earlier, when we de-camp to Bristol for the weekend to visit my mother in law, and where my family come up from Devon to meet for a meal. At one time there were 12 of us, but the passage of time has reduced the number and this year we were 6 and likely to get smaller still over the next few years, as the younger generation have their own work, study, or families to contend with.

There is one major component missing from the Christmases of my childhood, though. My mother was a dancing teacher and she and my dad ran an amateur theatre group in my home town. Despite having a Municipal Theatre (later re-named the Hazlitt, after one of Maidstone's few notable residents), the Borough Council didn't see fit to put on a pantomime, so mum and dad decided to fill the gap. Mum always said her pupils had little outlet for their dancing other than interminable 'dancing displays' and that it would be good for them to get some actual theatre experience, and for their parents to see the results of the lessons they were paying for.

Between 1966 and 1976, we provided the town with its panto - mum's rule that only pupils of six and over could take place, meant that I missed out on being in the inaugural production of Cinderella (I was 5), although I did sit in the audience with my granny, fuming that I wasn't allowed on stage, especially as I knew all the dances. From the next year (Aladdin) until I left home, I was in every production, initially as one of the dancers, then taking on small parts and eventually principal boy (Aladdin, Dandini) or - much more fun - comedy sidekick.

From September every year, when rehearsals started, the house turned into Panto Central. I told my first proper boyfriend "This is what I do every year. You don't have to get involved but..." and bless him, he subjected himself to several years of dancing, singing and tights on my behalf. We lived 'above the shop' - dance studio downstairs, flat above) so scripts  were churned out on the dining table on an old Gestetner machine:

The living room  was festooned with costumes, the sewing machine had to be moved in order for me to do my homework, scenery-painting took place in the cellar (there's a whole other story connected to that - see "A broken mug"), it completely dominated our Autumn and Winter. On Christmas Eve, the panic would set in and mum would rush round un-hanging the costumes from the living room picture rails and hanging them up somewhere else for the duration; the ironing board would be stowed away and the living room would again become a normal family space for two and a bit days.

My special Christmas job was emptying the ashtrays, in advance of the Christmas Eve open house my parents held for friends and family. Mum baked industrial quantities of mince pies and chicken patties (I was never sure what these were - the filling suggested some kind of poultry-based, short crust vol au vent) and a punch which I've never managed to recreate - cider, brandy and a cinnamon stick thrown at it. Mum also used to make her own Christmas puddings which - every year - dad would assess as "Lovely, Fred, but not quite as good as last year's." Her reputation for them grew and at one stage she was producing about 6 puddings for friends and neighbours as well as ours. She never quite got out of the habit of mass-production, though, and was still producing extra puddings and tons of mince pies even when it was just the two of them. The mincemeat recipe - dad's thing, nicked from Mrs Beeton - was passed down to me. It was only when I was discussing mum's newly-diagnosed diabetes 20 years later and mentioned the mincemeat having no added sugar that we realised dad had missed the sugar off when typing out the recipe (I still make it without).

Christmas pudding, 1972 (the year I got a Kodak Instamatic). Not quite sure what that drink is in my sister's hand...

Anyway, back to panto. Once Boxing Day was over, the costumes reappeared, and we prepared to move into the theatre. As my birthday falls between Christmas and New Year, my birthday tea was very often held on trestle tables onstage, between the matinee and evening performances. In a pre-Whacky Warehouse/stretch limo era, this was pretty damned cool. And we all got to wear fancy dress (there wasn't time to change...).

When the council finally cottoned on that they might be able to make money out of a professional pantomime, we found ourselves without a gig so mum and dad simply re-designed the existing productions and took the show on the road, visiting residential homes and village halls, taking panto to the masses (or at least those sections of the masses for whom getting in to the rival panto at the Hazlitt was a bus-ride away). 

After a few years, we realised that those people who'd taken the kids to the panto in December were ready to submit themselves to another round of it in January (when, let's face it, there's not much else to do), so we returned to the Hazllitt after the pro show had finished. Mum and dad continued to put on shows until their retirement, at which point the costumes were given away to other local groups and they moved to Devon.... where they proceeded to join a choir and carried on doing performances well into their 80s, when they finally decided to call it a day.

And as for the camel? That was me aged about five. Like all good amateur drama groups, we had a pantomime cow (stage name: Christabelle) and a camel whose name was Phyllis. One day the gas man came to read the meter and I announced "There's a camel in our cellar." "Yes, dear" he said indulgently, only to emerge from the cellar having read the meter and said to mum "She's right, there is a camel in your cellar." Grown-ups, eh? They don't believe a word you say.

It was an odd childhood....

Friday, 25 May 2018

Scattered Black and Whites...

Nearly two years after their deaths, I am still going through my parents' many photographs. Dad was a keen amateur photographer and did his own black and white processing, so there are hundreds of images to sort through. Today I found a couple of a family holiday in the late 1960's. They say every picture tells a story... 

The cute little moppet in the ill-fitting bathing costume, sunhat and cardigan(!) is me, seen here with mum and our (t)rusty old Austin A35 van. You'll notice the CalorGaz bottle and cooker on the grass, along with a 1 gallon water carrier and assorted items lying around the place. This was the morning after the night before.

We had been staying in Devon for a couple of days and then broke camp and headed for a campsite near Looe, in Cornwall. As we took the tent down it began spitting with rain.

By the time we reached Cornwall it was raining very hard and getting dark, so dad pitched the tent in the only space he could find available and mum tried to organise some food for two small, tired, hungry girls. The rain kept on coming and when the gas bottle floated out from behind the cooker, dad realised that a) pitching the tent at the bottom of a field was probably not the best idea and b) that it was time to evacuate!

My sister and I were put in the van to try and keep dry, along with two bowls of tinned spaghetti, our makeshift tea. Mum and dad tried to salvage our luggage and bedding and get it back into the van. The rain carried on into the night, until it looked as if the van was going to get bogged down in the mud. At this stage, a family with a caravan pitched higher up the site came over to offer assistance. The teenage sons were offering help to stranded campers and their parents asked if my sister and I wanted to come and sleep in the dry in the caravan - I said yes, but my sister wanted to stay with mum. I repaid this kindness by keeping them awake all night telling them that yetis are really very shy creatures and not at all like the nasty ones on Doctor Who!

Eventually, dad decided that he had to move the car to higher ground - by this time his clothes were soaked and he was dressed only in a towel round his waist. He got in the car and went to put his foot on the clutch, but instead put it into a bowl of cold spaghetti which one of us had failed to eat.

The next morning the rain had passed and the day dawned bright and breezy; amazingly, by mid-day, everything was dry and ordered and dad finally lay down in the tent to get some rest. Just as he dozed off, he was aware of some movement and opened his eyes to see the van rolling downhill towards him...

I had got into the van to get my colouring book and crayons and in doing so had trodden on the handbrake, thus releasing it. Fortunately there was a 5 gallon water carrier lying on the ground and the van rolled into this and to a stop. This is me shortly thereafter, with said colouring book and not a care in the world, least of all having 
nearly killed my father.

I'm guessing from the position of the van parked safely next to the tent in the earlier picture that it was taken after this event. The L-plate was for mum. She was a fine driver - dad used to sit quite happily in the passenger seat while she negotiated the winding Cornish country lanes. Sadly, this competence deserted her in test conditions and she never did get a full licence.

I don't remember what we did for the rest of that holiday. A lot of people would never have gone camping again, but mum and dad continued to do it for another 25 years. Eventually they stopped dividing the holiday between Devon and Cornwall and settled on the tiny but lovely village of Strete, near Dartmouth, where we spent many happy childhood holidays, including the long, hot Summer of 1976, when the campsite threw up dust whenever a car drove in or out and the skyline was dotted with hillfires.

Me in '76: my propensity for stupid hats remained undiminished

And it is here that their ashes are scattered, in a place that meant the world to them - "Who needs foreign holidays" my dad would say, "when you have views like this?"

[It should be noted that they never went abroad, so really didn't have anything to compare "this" to, but I take his point - it's a lovely bit of the country.]

Mindful of these events, though, when we go on holiday we hire a cottage!

Post Script:

The bowls with the cold spaghetti in them? These!

 I found them while clearing the house and brought them home with me to use for gardening. I couldn't just throw them out, could I?

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Miscellaneous Items with No Better Home

A tweet last night about odd things older relatives store prompted me to share a picture of a file I found while clearing my parents's house:

This got me thinking about the other oddities we found. My late parents were inveterate hoarders - possibly something to do with being the wartime generation that couldn't afford to just throw things away, but not entirely....

Mum always despaired of the unnamed, dis-assembled pieces of mechanical detritus ("little iron dingbats" as she called them) which dad would bring into the house and then leave on the arm of his armchair, the coffee table, etc. They ran a dancing school and amateur theatre group (for a fuller picture of them, click here), and we lived 'above the shop' so space was a bit limited and our family Christmases tended to be a race against time to tidy away all the costumes before Father Christmas arrived!

When they retired, they converted the house back to a conventional 4 bedroomed house in anticipation of their retirement to Devon. When the time came to move, I was advised to take a trip home to pick up anything that belonged to me that I'd not already collected. We were in the process of buying our own house, too, so it was the perfect time to collect my dolls house (!) and some furniture they no longer wanted. I distinctly remember a conversation with dad which went something along the lines of:

"We're having a good old clear out, as we can't take all this to Devon and it will be less for you to sort through when we die."

This was in 1993. They did multiple trips to the local tip, donated all their costumes to local groups, and off they went to set up their new, streamlined home.

Fast forward to 2012. They were getting on a bit now, and no longer the active 60-somethings who'd moved in. Dad's tendency to stockpile bits of timber (when they bought a new sofa, rather than send the old one to the tip he stripped it down and kept all the component parts, "just in case.") and mum's accumulation of fabric, flower-arranging kit and teddy bears (a late-onset obsession) meant their house was full to bursting. Down for a week over the Easter holidays with the grandchildren, I volunteered to clear out dad's workshop, which was looking like this:

Beneath that lot you can just make out mum's old bureau and a barbers' chair, several sets of tools (dad's, his dad's) the number plate to a long-crushed Vauxhall Cavalier, the strimmer which broke several years before and which he'd attempted a repair with Araldite (as a child, I thought the whole world was held together with this). 

Reader, it took me a week to clear it. 

Fortunately, I had the foresight to catalogue what I found, so I can now treat you to the highlights. Bear in mind, most of these had been transported 250 miles across country in order to sit there for 20 years:

This was a vacuum cleaner which he'd kept because it had an attachment which converted it into a paint sprayer for decorating. It plugged into the light socket. Last used: 1968

A broken mug. To be fair, there is a story to this. We painted panto scenery in the cellar, and there was a hatch in the floor through which flats were lifted and dropped back in. Dad and a friend were painting in the cellar with the hatch open and my sister brought them both a cup of coffee. "Where do you want it?" she asked. "Oh just bring it in" they said, so she backed in through the door in plunged straight down the hatch. Luckily, heavily-painted hessian broke her fall. And the mug (above).

"Why on earth did you keep this?" I asked. "I always intended to make it into a novelty lamp for your sister." he said.

I have no idea of the provenance of this, but it's older than me and probably a fire risk.

An Oxo tin full of sash pulleys. The house was fully double glazed in uPVC.

Three light bulbs he rescued from a skip when his office was refurbished (he did a lot of skip-cycling). They are oversized, screw-thread 200w bulbs that didn't fit any light fittings we either owned or were aware of, at the old house or this one. Again, transported across country.

A box full of dowel rods, "just in case". The yellow ones are from my cot.

This is the other end of the workshop, after I'd cleared it so he could get to his circular saw bench. As I said at the time, "pondering the wisdom of an 82 year old using a circular saw, but let's park that for now..." 

Note also the one spare toilet seat we let him keep of the five he had stored there, "just in case"; the bathroom cabinet from the old house; a home-made light box and a set of plywood circles, purpose unknown; and my grandmother's white stick (she died in 1976).

A wooden box, containing.... stuff. "You can't throw that out, it belonged to Uncle Bert" - this was the man who sold my parents their old home. He wasn't an uncle, but some kind of family friend of my mother's. I left it there - I'm not heartless!

This was a home made inspection lamp, fashioned out of a 'Party 7'-style beer can. "It's only a bit illegal" he said."It's not earthed."

A dolls' wardrobe, given to me by a family friend who is now a grandmother herself. Not sure how/why it made the trip to Retirementland.

Reclaimed window glass..... yes, you guessed, "just in case"

The ladder to our childhood bunk beds, long since replaced with new bunk beds (with an integral ladder) for when the grandchildren come to stay.

My first record player, a very old Garrard deck which dad replaced with a newer one in 1973.

A Gestetner duplicator, the photocopier of its day, which used a wax-coated stencil onto which panto scripts were typed and reproduced using a horribly sticky ink. Making corrections was very difficult, though, so on one occasion Prince Charming declared that "Cinderella shall be my bridge!"

Oh, and there were these in the bathroom cabinet. Corfe's the Chemist had ceased trading before I was born.

At the end of the week, I had the workshop looking like this:

Emboldened, the following year I cleared the attic (well, I needed something to keep me busy while the Royal Wedding was on). Upholstery, old bank statements and the five spare kettles that were stored up there. And the next year, my daughter and I redecorated their bedroom, taking the opportunity to clear a few of the bags full of carrier bags, etc, that were in the cupboards.

And then, in 2016, everything changed. In February, dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and as his health deteriorated, we had to make adjustments to the house to accommodate his increasing frailty and lack of mobility (Note: don't think just because you future-proof your home by installing a stairlift that old age won't defeat you - eventually, just getting on and off the stairlift is a challenge). As a result, my sister and I had to empty their dining room/study to make room for two beds. Part of the clearance included finding the file that prompted this post, but also some other gems. 

Why, for instance, was his map of all the doodlebugs which fell on Kent in WII stored next to the dishwasher instructions?

His annotated copies of some promotional videos:

And with this over-taping, I swear he was just trolling us...

Sadly, both mum and dad died within a few days of each other and once their joint funeral was over, my sister and I had to clear the house. Despite the clear-out before they retired and my sporadic life laundries over the years, there was still so much to do. My sister's trips to the tip were so frequent that the staff honestly thought she was identical twins! Every utility bill, including the gas bill for the year before they left the old house. Details of every car he'd ever owned. The full pupil registers and exam reports of mum's dancing school from 1948-1992, and the books, the books...

We still have most of these and more still in boxes, waiting to be sorted. We are both book hoarders too, so we now have four people's libraries in the house. Mum and dad's aren't in great condition - mum tended to use paperbacks as coasters - but I don't want them being pulped just because a charity shop can't shift them. We may be e-Baying these for years....

Other items captured for posterity include:

"Seriously damaged. Cannot repair" (but still kept).

Bought for my A level Graphics course in 1979... 

From left to right - dad's 1940s edition of Pigeon Post (bought for him by his elder brother); my rather more battered 1970s edition; the mug I bought him which he kept especially for hot chocolate.

Mum's barrel bag - very modish in the 1950s and it fascinated me when I was little. Not sure I'll ever use it, though.

And finally, I found a swatch of the wallpaper from our childhood bedroom, which stayed up, much to my chagrin, until I was 14.

And now the house and its clutter has gone, and I really need to start sorting things out here so my children don't have exactly the same thing to deal with when the time comes. These were all small, inconsequential objects but contain so many memories of my parents, and the daft-ness of some of them is really evocative of the people they were. As memorials go, this is a fine way to remember them.

[With thanks to @rhodri for giving me the idea.]