Saturday, 30 November 2013

War and Peace

The Second World War threw a long shadow over our family. Grandma had lost her brother, Grandpa had lost his youth. He had spent 6 years in the Middle East and never wanted to see a grain of sand again. The tales he told in later years made us realize how hard it had been. Not everybody had suffered like him. Uncle Tom's face lit up when he reminisced about the juicy oranges he had eaten in Sorrento and how the girls flocked round him, Grandpa's friend S... had had the time of his life in Canada. His brother-in-law had been posted to Wick, one of the wettest and windiest places on the East coast of Scotland. Some years after the war Grandpa went to Wick, he sent Uncle L... a postcard,  and wrote one line, "I think I had the better deal after all".
Clearing out the cupboards in my parents' house I discovered a box full of letters, postcards and newspaper cuttings. They were all of the war years. Grandpa grinning in his uniform, in front of the Pyramids, reading a newspaper in the Dead Sea, with his brother. On the back of all the photographs were witty, warm comments. His letters home to his family and Grandma were reassuring, comforting, humourous and full of hope.
A few years ago there was a film about "The battle of Stalingrad", it started on 26th October 1942, Grandpa's 22nd birthday. I rang him up the next day and asked him if he remembered it. "Remember it? - he said - I was close there". He said the Officers had told them to grab anything they could to defend themselves with because if the Russians lost they were the next in line. Grandpa had a hammer, a hammer to defend himself with .
Somehow Grandma and Grandpa thought all their generation's suffering was worth it if it meant P.... wouldn't ever have to go to war.
When the Iraqi war began Grandma said sadly "It's a good job your Dad 's isn't here, this war would have killed him."

Pause for Reflection

Now, yesterday when I wrote my post I felt a bit flat and wondered if perhaps I was getting rather maudlin. When my daughter set up my blog I just started writing it as a thank you to her. I imagined just writing a few thoughts and points of view, like a sort of postcard from Italy. Suddenly I found my thoughts plunged into the past. All my life in England came to the surface. Maybe it is because since Grandma passed on 2 years ago I have got to come to terms with it. Yes she was nearly 90, Grandpa had always promised us that she would live a long life, but I had been missing her for so long. The heart takes a while to catch up with the head ( not a quotation from a famous poet I just made it up he he).
Luke 6 verse 45 says "... For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.".
Maybe it could be said for my blog too.

Friday, 29 November 2013

French Friends

During the war Grandma worked with a young French woman called Marcelle who had an English Grandfather. They became firm friends and kept in touch throughout their lives. Marcelle had two daughters  and when they came to see us one Summer we all got on so well they invited us to stay at their home in Arras.
We went on our own by train and took the ferry to Boulogne. The whole family were waiting to greet us. French roads were not like English ones then, and French cars were made to cope with bumpy roads. We bounced along in their car on the ... wrong side of the road smiling at each other with affection. They were so kind to us. We went to see Vimy Ridge Memorial to pay our respects to the Canadian soldiers who had fought there. Northern France still bore the signs of the terrible years it had gone through. The only tense moment came when General de Gaulle appeared on the television and Uncle Peter  let out the most amazing loud raspberry I have ever heard. They politely laughed ...

The streets of London

Our family treat was often a trip to London. I fell in love with it straight away. Whether we arrived by car driving through Knightsbridge past all the museums or arrived by train at Marylebone or Paddington, it was thrilling. Even though I am not a Londoner, "I get a funny feeling inside of me ... just walking up and down". It was the city of heroes, people who had stared the enemy in the face and won, at great cost. They had had to send  their children away, many never seen again. They were colourful, bright and interesting. Cockney slang showed a great creative use of the English language, apples and pears - stairs. If London was a man he would be brave and strong, generous and forgiving, all embracing and understanding. Also very, very interesting and inspiring.
Our main treat was often a show and we immersed ourselves in them with gusto. We went to see The black and white minstrel show and learned all the songs off by heart. We went to see Ben Hur and clung to the edge of our seats to join in the chariot race, we went to see How the west was won and crossed the Wild West frontier in a wagon. We went to see Mary Poppins and didn't want it to end.
We knew we were privileged to do this, it all seemed so spectacular. We went to see Thunderball on a huge screen and came home with a glossy souvenir magazine. It all seemed very daring.
Sometimes Grandma would take Thekla, Debbie and me up on the train for the day. Just to walk around and have a cake in Lyons Corner House (now the Swiss Centre). She always wore a red hat, and told us to keep an eye on it at all times. No nagging, no dire recriminations about what would happen to us if we got lost. Just look at her red hat, and we did.

Knock knock ... "Who's there?"
M-A-B is a big horse
M-A-B is a big horse who?
M-A-B is a because I m a Londoner
that I love London town
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up and down
So M-A-B is a big horse I'm a Londoner
That I love London town.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Moving House

The first two houses we lived in were both along Cressex Road. They were both South facing and looked over glorious countryside as far as you could see. There were fields to go mushrooming in and build houses out of straw bales. There were trees to climb and Piggy Lane that lead to Piggy Farm. Best of all from our bedroom window we could see as far as Windsor Castle and Hilltop Farm. One of Grandma's great gifts to us was her great delight in the countryside, in  her joy of the passing of the seasons. We would sit looking out of the window, watching the stars, the twinkling lights of Hilltop Farm and imagine the little bunnies scampering home to their burrows, the birds safe in their nests and marvel at natures beauty.
One day however, building started in the fields at the back. First they built the M40 to Oxford. That wasn't too bad, it was quite nice to hear the swoosh of the cars when lying in bed in Summer with the windows open. Then they built a school and a community centre so we decided to move.
We looked at lots of houses all over the place until one day, by chance, we drove past Pleasant Rose. It was being built along with Furlongs. It was South facing with fields at the back that could never be built on because it was the Green Belt. It was perfect, we all fell in love with it.
Then something even more marvellous happened. Uncle Peter decided he had had enough of his Boarding School and was coming back home for good. We were all going to live in our lovely new home, he was going to do his A levels at the local school. We would have meals together every day!
We would have fun exploring our new surroundings, and I would be a Marlow girl.

Cuddles and Bundles of joy

Last week there was an article in theguardian, Men stroked in their pants to shed light on chemistry that bonds relationships - to see if it made them more faithful to their partners. I thought it must be some sort of laughter therapy that the Scandinavians are so keen on. But no, it was a serious study. Apparently, being stroked produces a hormone called ossitocine that makes people bond.Yesterday this great discovery was in an Italian paper too.
We always cuddled a lot and whenever things were getting  out of hand Grandma would say, "Let's have a bundle", and we would huddle happily together everything all right again. I also recently read that by caressing and admiring babies little limbs you can boost their self esteem.
But being paid to stroke men's underpants???

Helpers and Carers

Grandpa was always trying to make life easier for us, to look after us and protect us. One of things he did was to organize help in the house.
The first helper I remember was Mrs Ellis. Not being naturally gifted linguistically it took me a long time to be able to pronounce the S and SW. So I called her MI HI El IH. She and I loved playing together. She brought me a doll and I wanted to call it Mi hi El ih, but Grandma persuaded  me to call her Caroline. I also said imoot (swimsuit) and ong ong (do you want one) After Mrs Ellis we had Beryl to help us. She  tore through our house like a tornado, stacking things in piles, tidying up and making the house unrecognisable. Beryl became Uncle Peter's arch enemy. He could never find  anything, after she had been round. She inspired Grandpa to use a phrase which then echoed down the years:  "That woman is a Menace" - he would growl.
When we moved to Marlow we had Mrs Bowles to help us in the house. She became one of the family, cooking full English breakfasts and making tea for "the men" - the gas man, the electrician, the plumber. I adored her and loved her company. She was one of 13 children and had been brought up on a farm in a little workers' cottage. She lived in a caravan with her mysterious husband and one of her missions was to always have his tea ready by 6 pm. She was invited to my brother's wedding and proudly bought a long purple dress and hat. She was so happy.
The only downside was that she had to be collected from the town and this meant Grandpa had to go and pick her up and often he would go in his pyjamas!

Elocution lessons

My Bucks accent was in great contrast to Uncle Peter s dulcet boarding school tones so Grandpa and Grandma decided I should go to Elocution lessons. Auntie Olive thought it was such a good idea that Johnny came with me. I don't know how much it must have cost but I have still got a Bucks accent and all I can remember is the following rhyme:

Knobbly knees
knobbly knees
Bend a little
If you please
Whether knees are thin or fat
they should bend as much as that
So knobbly knees
knobbly knees
bend a little if you please.

Johnny and I had  a lot of fun and Grandpa and Grandma loved  listening to me recite that so it was probable worth me going there for entertainment value.

Friends-forever

Three very important and precious childhood companions are sadly no longer here.
My dear cousins Johnny and Debbie were always at our house. We would play in the garden from dawn to dusk, we rode our bikes all over the neighbourhood. They were even more scared of everything than me so they made me feel brave. Ian looked after me and I looked after them. I could make them howl with laughter at the drop of a hat. Their mother was Auntie Olive, one of Grandma's sisters, just as sweet and gentle and kind.
I'm not going to write a lot about them here, when they passed on I was distraught with grief and guilt. I should have stayed in England and looked after them! Just at my lowest ebb I got a phone call from my Dad, "Angela !!! - he barked - you are NOT to wallow in grief ". "I forbid you - he continued - you ve got  3 lovely children and they need you". Years of psychotherapy could not have put things into perspective more efficiently.
My other friend who passed on was Thekla. She was the daughter of the local vicar and she loved coming to our house. She only had BBC on her television and loved watching the adverts on ours which had ITV. She also was devoted to Grandma (who wouldn't be?). She would cuddle up to her and Grandma would tell us stories, we would go down to our caravan by the river, picnics, camp fires sing-songs in the car. Thekla joined in with everything. She had a lot in common with Grandma, they both liked spooky stuff. "Woman in a church yard stood ooooo aaaaaaa", they would sing while I trembled in fear. Grandma told campfire stories about golden arms  that made me jump out of my skin, but Thekla just laughed.  Thekla had a hole in her heart because she had had whooping cough very badly. One day she just went to sleep in her kitchen with her mother nearby. She was brave and kind and very, very dear. I had to share Grandma with so many people, as armies of carers and helpers marched through our house, but I shared her with  no one as happily as with Thekla.

Helpful Hints

I have been reading helpful hints for writing a blog. It said to think who you are writing  to.
This blog really is for my children and also my son in law- wonderful Luca!
If anyone else reads it and enjoys it I ll be delighted!!!

The Eleven Plus

The first line that we had to write at Teachers Training College was "The British education system is a haphazard sequence of events". One of these events was the 11 plus. In theory it could sound sensible, testing children and dividing them into 3 groups, Academic, Technical or Practical.
It ended up being a question of Pass or Fail.
Well I passed it, it was based mainly on English language, Maths and General Knowledge. I loved all those subjects at Primary school. I was the only one that passed it in my class.
Grandma lovingly prepared my uniform with all the name labels and Grandpa bought me satchel.
The satchel was made of real leather and even now one whiff of that smell and I am back in a gymslip.
There by started a period of gloom for me.
The High school was enormous. 6 classes of 30 girls in each year, divided according to our birthdays.
There were the Wycombe girls, the Marlow girls and me.
There were lots of rules, you couldn't go here and you couldn't go there. You had to wear the horrible hat at all times. No eating in the street, no talking, no laughing. Everyone seemed very serious, very clever and very smart.
The personality that I had developed playing pinch-bum-he and making little ones laugh, was a bit out of place. Anyone with a name like "Hardick", the teacher's bad breath, serious cello playing- all were guaranteed to have me rolling on the floor with helpless laughter (on my own). I became quiet, miserable and withdrawn.
The bright spot of the day was going Home, I looked forward to going Home to Grandma all day long. Even now when the hands of the clock point to 3.20 pm or 4 my heart gives a little lift.
Going home to Grandma was always the most wonderful thing to do in the whole world. We would sit by the fire eating jam tarts and watching children's television in the Winter, sit drinking tea in the garden in the Summer.
She did nt really understand why I was so unhappy. She had had to leave school at 14, I had passed the 11 plus so I must be alright, I was lucky to go to such a good school.

Changing schools

Grandpa decided I should go to a school near his factory so he could take me by car if need be and it was also on a bus route that stopped near our house. It was terrible, I didn't want to go there at all, I clung to the car door, I cried and screamed, how could I go to a school where I didn't know anyone wearing my ugly glasses! I was in deep distress.
Then lots and lots of wonderful things occurred that made the 2 years I spent in that school the happiest of my entire pathetic academic career.
Kathleen and Raymond started the school - I wasn't the only new girl any more, we lived near each other and could go home together.
Eileen and her friends asked me to join them at play time.
Grandma started giving me a 4 bar Kit Kat to eat in the break. She must have known that I couldn't have eaten it all by myself, so there I was sharing it out and suddenly I was part of the gang, just like I'd always been there. The boys asked me to play pinch-bum-he with them. Gary, Leo, Tim, Kerry, Michael, we tore round the playground and laughed all our cares away.
I was a monitor, a janitor, in charge of the little ones. I discovered that I could make the Infants laugh, they clung to my hand and wanted me to be with them all the time.
I was in the school play, Mrs Rabbit, the Head Master beamed with delight at my antics, the other children roared their approval.
We had Christmas parties and danced the "twist". Whenever I hear I feel fine by the Beatles that great, happy feeling creeps over me again just like then.
I was Captain of the Netball team, handing out slices of orange at half time, welcoming the teams from the other schools. I wasn't actually any good, just enthusiastic..
We raised money to buy a swimming pool and I learnt to swim 10 strokes.
I engraved my name and age on my ruler. Angela aged 10, then aged 11.
There were 40 of us in our class, I sat at the front because of the glasses. Never again did I enjoy learning so much. The teacher read us the Odyssey of Homer, we were transported to far off shores.
We did projects, we sang, laughed did maths with gusto.
But then  we had to take the 11 plus.

On my own

Uncle Peter's abrupt departure from my daily life left me a bit alone. Grandpa and Grandma were wonderful and at home I was safe and happy. The walk to school suddenly seemed menacing. There were long stretches through deserted housing estates, empty playing fields and woods. There were "bullies" on the way and strangers lurking in the nearby woods. Rescue came in the form of Auntie Peggy. She was Ian's Mum and brave and strong like him. I'm sure she'd tell the devil to pull himself together and stop having tantrums. She held my hand tightly as we walked to school and all the dangers melted away.
Auntie Peggy wasn't my real auntie, she was a very kind and generous neighbour. She remembers looking after us as babies. She was always bright and brisk with a heart of gold. Once she was busy tidying away our toys and Uncle Peter gave her a massive shove.  We weren't used to such efficiency. She still remembers that.
Auntie Peggy and her husband Uncle Tom were the perfect neighbours for our family. They made things for us, stilts, tree houses, Victoria sandwiches. Auntie Peggy would come in the back door regularly and call out happily "coo eee ... just checking that everything is alright ...". We thought she was funny and loved her. She certainly made my childhood a safer place.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Boarding School

My brother suddenly disappeared off to boarding school when I was 8 and he was 10. He wanted to go so much. He greatly admired a second cousin of ours who went to a boarding school in Canterbury. So off he went. He had a smart brown trunk with a tuck box and Grandma sewed labels with his name on into all his new clothes, blazer, shirts, trousers, the lot. He had a straw boater to wear in Summer  which he lost sticking his head out of a train window one day.
All the way to Canterbury he kept saying he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming, so happy was he.
I couldn't understand it, why would anyone want to leave our lovely Mum who told us stories and sung us songs, our wonderful, cuddly Dad who romped on the floor with us and always came to kiss us good night with his warm, lovely reassuringly masculine smell ( of beer and cigarettes in those days), but he was so ecstatic I could only wipe away the tears and be happy for him, achieving his dream. "Peter is as happy as a little sandboy" - Dad would say, I m still not sure what a sandboy is but they must be happy about something.
Every 3 weeks we would drive down to Canterbury and take Peter out on an exeat. We always had a delicious cream tea and a meal in a Beefeater. The highlight of the weekend was a trip to Dreamland in Margate. In the 60s Margate was the home of the Mods and Rockers and seemed a very daring place to be. There was a huge Amusement Arcade and Grandpa would give us 12 pennies and then see who could make it last the longest. It always disappeared astonishingly fast and made us very wary of gambling, but it was marvellous. For younger readers, there were 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound.
Sometimes Uncle Peter's friends would join us. They all had Boarding school nicknames like Nosnoj Woody and Smirk. Peter had become "La Tete ". Once Linda came with us (see Best friend post) and she spent a lot of time sitting intimately on Nosnoj's lap. There were no seatbelts in those days, we just all piled in.
On the long drive home from the Exeats we were always rather quiet in the car. We would listen to a programme on the radio called "The Adams Singers", play I Spy and in the Winter count the Christmas trees in the front windows of the houses we passed by. There was no motorway or M25 then. I sat in the back thinking of Peter doing his "prep"  and his "dorm" and wishing he was in the car with me.
Sing something simple, as cares go by.
Sing something simple, just you and I tra la la la.
(Theme tune of the Adams Singers)

Northern accents

My Mum and I loved Northern accents. The Clitheroe kid, Mrs Dale"s Diary, everyone sounded so warm and friendly. "Ee by gum Mrs Hardcastle would tha like a cup of tea" sounded so nice to us, we would often borrow Northern expressions.
One day, when I was about 11 we got new neighbours. They came from Stoke on Trent. Oh it was wonderful hearing them speak to each other. Our Audrey, ya Mum. It all sounded so cosy and intimate. I wanted us to speak  to each other like that too, but seriously. My Mum thought it was a huge joke, "Angie -she'd say- ask ya Dad if he'd like a coop of tea" giggle giggle
They were a lovely  family, but they didn't stay long. They took advantage of the 10 pound crossing to Australia that was so popular in the 60s.We just got one postcard from them saying "I think we've made it", Ray and family. I wonder if they kept on their charming expressions.

Bottle Blonde Bimbo

Bottle blonde bimbo was a sort of derogatory term they used in Tabloids to describe dim women with dyed blonde hair. Well that's me !! One of the originals !!
Everyone in my class seemed to have blue eyes and fair hair, except me. When my Dad got me my first passport he just quickly wrote down brown eyes, brown hair. How boring that sounded, not even flecks of green in a bright light, or sort of reddish highlights at sunset, just brown.
When we were in our early teens my friends and I would trail around Boots after school looking at all the cosmetics with aimed at us. Here was a whole new world, my appearance could change! Sheer genius took  care of my pale complexion and hint of a tint was supposed to make my hair more interesting.Only it did nt, so I kept on trying stronger stuff until it eventually turned blonde. "Oh I like it Angie -said my Mum- it suits you". Well praise from her was praise indeed, so I kept it.
The next thing I could change was the colour of my eyes. After years of misery wearing my NHS glasses my Dad gave me contact lenses for my 18th birthday. Once I had got used to them I was daring enough to try coloured ones. My friends at college described my eyes as like lime green jelly and when I met up again with my future husband after a few years intermission, he said the one thing about me that  he did nt recall was how green my  eyes  were. Not wanting to disappoint him I kept silent, only the next day I lost one and that was the end of that illusion! I was always losing a contact lens with him and he would often have to grope all over me to try and find it, much to the astonishment of passers by...

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Books that change your life

A few weeks ago in theguardian online they asked readers to tell them which books have changed their lives. I have always loved reading and hundreds of books have helped me in various ways, but change my life? Yes there is one book that really did change completely how I saw the opposite sex.
A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow made me see young men  with great compassion and  affection and made me realize that I only ever wanted to have a baby by someone who declared his undying love for me...he he
It is the story of a young man who 'gets his girlfriend into trouble' and then does 'the right thing' by marrying her. Our society in the West has moved a long way since then. Thankfully lots of taboos have disappeared, people can marry who they like or not at all, single women and men can have a lot of fun, people can have babies without a father in sight. This is all wonderful and I cannot think that anyone would prefer to see people trapped in miserable marriages or doomed to a life without sex because they never found a partner. Except Bert Baxter in the Adrian Mole novels who said he was against divorce because he had 55 years of misery and didn't see why anyone else should get away with it .
I think the book is out of print now, but it was well worth reading.

Bilingual babes

There is a lot of talk in the papers about  being bilingual. I even read about the possibility of personality being different depending on the language you are speaking in. When my eldest son was born, my Italian was too poor to speak to a baby all day long, so he had to listen to my nursery rhymes and lullabyes in English. When he was 1 until he was 2 we lived in Belgrade and so he could happily communicate in Serbo-Croat and English. On our return to Italy Nonna was horrified that he couldn't speak Italian and quickly set to change that by happily chatting to him constantly. Within 6 months he was perfectly at ease in both languages, but forgot his Serbo Croat. Our daughter was such a sweet, gentle baby we thought she might find it too much to cope with 2 languages, but by 1 year she was saying acqua or water as the case may be. By the time our youngest son was born we really didn't give it any thought at all, it was all just natural.
My main challenge was to make them feel Italian, that they belonged here and it was their home, in spite of having a Mum with a weird accent who made strange things to eat.
I think I succeeded rather well because whenever there are international football matches they have to walk out of the room if Italy is doing badly but just make me a cup of camomile tea when England plays.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Best friends

Last week in la Repubblica there was an article about how young people today tend to skip out the best friend phase of social development and rely on groups and gangs for their relationships.
From my Teachers training years I remember  from the Child Psychology lessons that the best friend was a great preparation for having a life partner, husband or wife. This seemed quite logical, the fun and complicity and shared secrets and jokes,  having someone who would always stick up for you and defend you, protect you, share your enthusiasm and generally care about you, these are all qualities we  hope for in a spouse (apart from the obvious ones like love and dot dot dot as they say in Mamma Mia).
The group phase helps us learn how to adapt to the complicated society we live in and  to develop into a well integrated individual who is able to undertake in the community the responsibility for which his gifts are suited ... there  !! now you can tell I went to Teachers training college ha ha)

Each phase of my upbringing seems to have had a suitable best friend. In early childhood I played with my brother, cousins and the local children. Grandma would always say to me things like "if you want to have a friend you've got to be one", and "it doesn't matter  whether or not people like you Angie, it's do you like them?", "Yes !! - I'd wail - I like everybody",  How wonderful to be a grown up and not suffer any more from the hurt that friends can cause....

One thing is certain, that when you have a full time commitment, or life time partner, they must be your best friend.

Apart from my brother, parents and wonderful relations, my best friend was definitely Ian, the boy next door. He was 2 years younger than me but we had the same sense of humour and he was very brave and this helped me a lot because I was scared of everything. Next came Kathleen who lived on a farm and had 6 brothers and sisters. She and her little brother Raymond and I walked home from school every day and looked after each other. At the High School I had a best friend at school and one at home so there were no conflicts. My best friend at home was Eileen, she was very kind and caring and we had a lot of fun together. Her Dad took us to see West Side Story and we giggled madly evry time they burst into song. Grandpa took us to Wycombe market together to buy us our first mini skirts, one pale blue for her, dark blue for me - like Oxford and Cambrodge he said. Eileen can still remember  how kind Grandpa was, also how he wouldn't leave to go on holiday even though the car was packed and the ferry booked, on that amazing day in 1966 when England eventually beat Germany and won the World cup  at Wembley.
My best friend at school was Linda, she  was very advanced for her years and had 3 little brothers and a baby sister so she was very maternal. She would tell me all about her adventures in the barn with Dave it was all very interesting and fascinating and also extremely remote to me at 12. Linda's dad was in the RAF so they moved away.
When we moved to Marlow I moved on to the group phase and thanks to Uncle Peter's popularity we had lots of really nice friends and did exciting things like have "gatherings"...This involved us going to each others houses, drinking coffee or cider and having a lot of fun.
I had 2  special friends then, Pam and Elaine, but they were not exclusive friendships any more, we were quite happy to go about with other people too.
At Teachers training college I did have a best friend, Rosie. She is from the North, and the minute I met her I thought how lovely it would be to be her friend. Even now when we see each other it is like being 19 again, we always say how important we were to each other, just 3 years but so informative and life shaping.Everybody wanted to be Rosie s friend, she was always kind and fun. It took her a long time to find her life partner, she got married at 51, but probably because she really wanted to find A Best Friend and Roger certainly is.
This is probably long enough for today - I've just read Blogging for Dummies...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Magazines

I  love seeing the excitement and joy that my little grandchildren get from receiving Cars or Disney Princesses magazines. Ever since I could read I was hooked. Bunty, Judy, Princess Beano, the Dandy. I would have read them all. Grandma said we could have 2 each, so I chose Bunty and Judy and Uncle Peter had Eagle and Swift. They arrived on Tuesday and even now Tuesday seems a special day, in my mind it is pink. The days of the week have always had a colour each for me. Monday-green, Tuesday-pink, Wednesday-brown, Thursday-grey, Friday-yellow, Saturday-white and Sunday-black.
When we moved to Marlow Grandpa arranged for me to have a magazine called Jackie, I collected it on Thursdays before catching the bus for school in Quoiting Square. I was 13, and Jackie held all the excitement of those  mysterious , magical teenage years that hold all the promise of that amazing, far away world of being a woman. (Actually Dad thought I had some sort of mental block at that point and never got beyond the age of 12).
Jackie had a problem page called Cathy and Claire; they gave the wisest and kindest advice to teenage girls that I have ever read. More about all that later.
Newsagents ("edicole", in Italian) are little microcosms containing information and making promises within the colourful pages of their multitude of magazines, covering subjects from knitting to Nuts.
When I was 10 I had a paper round with my friend Eileen. We would set off at 7.30 on Sunday mornings delivering papers and magazines to the people on the nearby housing estate. We took them The News of the World, The People, The Sun. They looked quite different from The Sunday Times that we had. We read all the stories about Jayne Mansfield, The Profumo affair, and took quick peeks inside the Playboy magazine, marvelling that any one could ever look like that.
When I was 17 Grandma bought me the first Cosmopolitan and with it there was a free book called J. How to be a sensuous woman. I have still got it !!
Grandpa would send me big rolls of magazines to Italy and when they arrived  with the watermarks of the Green Street Post office I felt much closer to home. For years he would send me magazines and newspapers and as I eagerly devoured them he would joke that I knew more about what was going on than he did.
Now we can just turn on our computers and read the papers on line. I like The Guardian and The Daily Mail because they contrast each other quite nicely and I love to read people's comments -often more revealing than the articles themselves. Louise likes The Independent and BBC News, also very good.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Grandpa

I just wanted to say quickly some thing about Grandpa. There is a lot to say about him of course. Les says that if he had the capacity he would write a book about him. We talk about Grandpa when we drive from Stansted to Marlow and back again. We never tire talking about him.

Grandpa used to like to tell me about his childhood and his beloved mother and sisters. He would always say what a hard time they had, what a horrible century he had lived in. The big fear for his generation of children was TB (Tuberculosis), caused by the damp living conditions. He said when he heard his mother talking about TB in hushed tones he thought for a long time it meant TWO BABIES.

He liked telling me that. I think for him to think of all these people having 2 babies was far nicer!!

Uncle Peter and I were children when the National Health service was at it s height. We had free milk every morning at school to  make our bones grow strong, free orange juice and vitamin C, free dentist, free optician and free education. We had vaccinations to prevent us getting horrible diseases like polio and diphtheria. I remember my Auntie Peggy bursting through the back door and telling Grandma that there was a smallpox epidemic and we were rushed off to get a jab for that too.
Now I'm not going to go on about the past all the time like some old  fogy, Grandpa and Grandma wouldn't approve at all. This is just to get me started.

Eat, breathe, hope and pray

In the papers there is a lot about toxic waste and contaminated food. Vasco Rossi said he won't vote in protest against who is poisoning Italy. There have always been stories in the papers about how our food is contaminated. Grain from Chernobyl  in our pasta, blue mozzarella, hormones in chicken, antibiotics in beef. In the 70s there was a song by the Beach Boys called Don't go near the water protesting about how polluted the rivers and seas are. Years ago London was so smoky and dirty the term smog was invented to describe air full of fog and smoke. Breathing the air in cities is like smoking a packet of cigarettes a day. What can we ordinary people do? Well I wonder what these people that know about ILVA at Taranto, toxic waste and contaminated earth eat themselves. I have heard that people that make wine have a special unpolluted supply for their own consumption. We cannot really do much except keep away from exhaust pipes, traffic ridden streets, try and buy food with the best guarantee possible and hope. We should also vote, always vote, it is one way of showing we care even if we do not have the power to protect our precious Earth.

Moving on

Today I went to lunch at Sxxx's with Txxx and Oxxx. We had couscous and a Tunisian stew. Sxxx  is very involved with a movement  about awareness of women being victimized etc. It is all very sobering stuff. She read us the speech she is going to give at Padua university. Oxxx told us all about her horrible mother. It was a very wet November day, it had its charm though, with the gentle yellow colours of the trees  getting ready for Winter.

Then we went to Txxx s and played scrabble, and I felt like a run-up to Christmas.

Kinder uova

I have to explain why my granddaughter said she ate 4 Kinder uova  (eggs). I bought 2 boxes of 3 eggs, a Disney princess one and Puffi (Smurfs) one . So one in 3 had to be a Princess! Of course it had to be the last one and so eager was I to get the Princess for her, we opened all 3 and shared the (not so special) chocolate between the 4 of us. I ate most of it, Dad with his great self control put his in the kitchen and so eventually I ate that too.

Si stava meglio quando si stava peggio ? ("Those were the days")

Every day you read a letter in a newspaper or hear someone say what a mess we're in, the recession, the brain drain, the numbers of young people that are unemployed. Last Sunday in church the priest used the expression "si stava meglio quando si stava peggio". Whenever I hear these comments I think of my dear sweet Nana, my Mum's Mum! The Elizabeth that my Mother, my Daughter and I have included as our second name in the hope that her gentle strength will live on in us. She had three children before the First World war and three after. She had no inside bathroom, no washing machine, no disposable nappies, no central heating. She saw her husband off to fight in the trenches and return a broken man. She saw her youngest son fly off in the Second world war, never to return. Does that sound  better???
My father was one of the staunchest feminists I ever knew. He admired his own mother so much. She had five children and they were always happy and healthy. It was a hard life though with no modern conveniences and two World Wars reaching in to destroy a generation .
When he had his factory, Grandpa would say he would go to his workers' homes and see a huge difference in the quality of life there. The same salary coming home but different standards of warmth and comfort. He thought this depended entirely on the woman of the house xxx

Friday, 22 November 2013

English as she is spoke


I have started thinking about this blog all the time and what I can write in it!!!
I have got a huge inferiority complex about my written English - forget my Italian!!! Having lived in Italy for 36 years I now speak two languages badly . This is rather depressing because I know what I was capable of. Although I've never been gifted at languages, English was always my best subject at school.
I had a hilarious experience in the first year of the High School when the teacher asked us to write down all the French we knew and I proudly produced "kel er ay teel" (quelle heure est il?) and "san fairy ann" (├ža ne fait rien).
My life at school rapidly improved when we started reading David Copperfield. I was hooked! Sitting in a dull and dingy classroom on a grey November day listening to the teacher read this gripping story which seemed to hold so many of life's lessons was manna from heaven for me.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Today was a lovely autumnal day. Blustery and wet. The leaves are gently turning yellow and gold with the occasional splash of vibrant red from the maple trees. It is not spectacular like New England or even like Beechy Bucks but with careful observation you can savour the changing season, we are on the brink of Winter and the promise of Christmas lingers in the mist.
Txxx and I went to Sxxx's for lunch. A friend of hers called Oxxx was there too, she told us all about her horrible mother and how she had run away from her. Tears were in her eyes while she told us her sorry story and in ours too by the end. Hopefully we gave her some encouragement and sound advice. To have a mother and father that love you is a wonderful gift even though it should be everybody's birth right.
After the lunch Txxx took me to her house where Mxxx and Gxxx were waiting for us and we played Scrabble.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Let s go !!

Well here I am writing a blog. Thanks to my daughter Laura who set it up for me. I chose the colour  for the background and she chose the name.
The term expat has always left me a bit perplexed and I'm never sure if I want to be one. Being an "ex" anything doesn't sound very positive to me.
When my son  enrolled me on Twitter and I had to write my profile I put English woman who came to live in Italy for love. That was 36 years ago and a lot has changed in Europe since then. Up until then the fact that I was English seemed to be the most insignificant thing about me and suddenly it was the most important. I was a foreigner, just passing through. It took me a long time to come to terms with my new identity, an English woman living in Italy and married to an Italian. All this might seem laughable now, there is much more freedom of movement, customs, where we queued for ages to show our passports, and many other boundaries are quickly disappearing.
This can only be a good thing in the long run. If we want free trade we should surely also be in favour of freedom of movement for people.
Nobody should have to leave their country for anything other than love.
Technology has changed the way we communicate in an astounding way. When I first came to Italy I had to go through the operator and book a phone call to England, and this often resulted in frustration and disappointment if the person you were calling was out. Whenever the phone bill arrived my father would phone in a fury saying that my mother could have flown to see me three times over for the same amount, my husband would angrily comment about our trivial conversations.
All flights were very expensive and needed careful planning through a travel agent and were either charter flights at awkward times of the day and very unreliable or extremely expensive British Airways or Alitalia.
How different it is today with mobile phones enabling us to be instantly available. How my father would have loved to  have been able to text me at his whim, "In the pub with Pete, will ring at 2pm".
This would have been magic for us and made the distance between us much easier to bear.
Actually it was Alitalia that unwittingly helped me with my identity crisis.
I was on a flight to London with my 3 small children and speaking to them in Italian in a wish to blend in and be polite. When I asked for some water one steward called to the other that it was for the woman who was pretending .