The Railway Carriage Child

Later this year Wendy will be sharing her long-awaited autobiography with the world. The publication is planned for September and work on the nuts and bolts of getting the book ready to face its readers, on time, is well underway.

The book is beautifully written, evocative of a time now past and Whittlesey a place much changed. Those of us who travelled along different paths but during the same time will recognise and remember the many experiences we all shared.

Unfortunately, her mentor and friend Edward Storey died as Wendy was finishing her book, he did, however, comment on it earlier, “we share Wendy’s journeys and experiences, her descriptions are so vivid we are there with her, sitting by her side.”

This is a first glimpse of the book’s cover, it may change a little before publication but this is it at the moment. There will be further posts once we have a price and firm publication date.

The Railway Carriage Child
The Railway Carriage Child

The Misspending of youth

Our dances weren’t quite this hectic

 

In this post, Val Chapman is sharing her thoughts on the changing world of school and aspects of life the young encounter now. Things that passed us by when we were of that age. A lovely thoughtful piece thank you, Val.

 

I was looking at a photograph of my neighbours’ grandson dressed up ready to go to his ‘School Prom’.

When did this become a ‘thing’?

We were lucky to get the occasional disco. It was always in the school hall though, no fancy hotel or stately home for us. I dare say the idea was the same, dressing ‘up to the nines’, one or two of us having a sneaky drink or cigarette before the teachers found out. Not me obviously, I was a real goody goody. Well, mostly…….

It felt quite anarchic, dancing in the school hall without it being ‘The Gay Gordons’, or ‘Dashing White Sergeant’!

I was born in 1957, so by the time my school discos came along, platform shoes and miniskirts were the order of the day.

That suited me fine though, I was a size 10-12, about 5’8″, and most of my height was in my legs!

Oh, how the mighty have fallen……….., and no, I’m not just talking about boobs here, my bum is definitely nearer the ground than it used to be.

See, that’s the thing though, isn’t it? ‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,’ to quote Joni Mitchel, a favourite from back in the day. I was a bit of a hippy, so she was right up my street.

Then again, my musical tastes varied hugely. I would happily dance around to Mott the Hoople, Cream, Bread, T. Rex, Free, Stevie Wonder. Diversity doesn’t come close. Maybe I was just trying to find “my” band, but the truth is I just enjoyed being with my friends and didn’t have any particular favourite.

Anyway, back to the Prom.

It seems to me, that this idea has spread here from ‘over the pond’. It appears that we do pick up on more than a few American ideas.

Take Halloween for example.

Have you seen the stuff in the shops for Halloween from about August?

It will be taking over from Christmas soon! And as for the ‘trick or treat’ idea.

To my mind, it’s just getting money, or sweets by extortion. ‘Give me the goodies, or else’. I may be a killjoy, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren thinking this is a respectable way to behave.

Oh dear, I’m sounding more and more like my parents.

If you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, doing ‘the funky chicken’ to something ridiculous.

 

Another way of seeing things

Writing
Dedicated writing

Wendy’s interesting perspective, it really is another way of seeing things.

Val’s piece about Plagiarism probably touched a nerve with most of us. We do not write in isolation, somehow screened from the real world and its influence.

When I first learned to write, aged about four, I traced the shape of letters that had been designed by someone else; A, B, C and D were not my invention.

Within a year or so, I was putting those shapes together to write my first words: C-A-T and D-O-G. Again, there was nothing original here.

It is just a myth that we writers produce anything original. We are not the proverbial chimps sitting at a keyboard and likely to produce a masterpiece if we are given enough time.

The secret of good writing and, perhaps more importantly, staying out of trouble, is to be inspired, influenced, led by others, but to build our own framework on which to hang these snippets.

An analogy might be that we see leaves blowing in the wind and scoop them up, then drape them on a branch where they form an interesting and unique pattern. We don’t uproot whole trees.

With this in mind, I would like to tell you about my latest collection of leaves.

I have been unable to drive for the last three months and have relied on public transport. The conversations that I have overheard have been an eye-opener of some magnitude. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in the Fens.

So, if you have been travelling in East Anglia, over the last few weeks, you might want to see if you can spot a few words from that lengthy discussion you were having on the bus.

“Well, it was only this morning I was saying to my ‘usband………’

Wendy Fletcher

 

The Mother I Never Knew

We are a diverse group of writers shaped by our experiences, this is another autobiographical piece from one of our U3A writing group members. Tessa writes about her mother, the mother she never had a chance to know.

Tessa's Mum
Tessa’s mother

My mother died at the age of 31. She had been a young bride, an abused wife, a mother of four, a WAAF, a lover of some, a prisoner, and at the end, a consumptive. I never knew my mother; I was three and a half when she died but her life had an enormous impact on her four surviving children. The consequences for us all were huge. The expression most used about my mother when I was growing up was “spirited”.

 

My mother was born on October 6th 1917 in Limerick, southern Ireland. She was christened Teresa although when it suited her she could and did, change her name. She was the eldest child of six children. A seventh child died in infancy. My grandfather was with the Royal Engineers based in Ireland at the time of my mother’s birth. My grandmother helped her mother at a guest house near the camp. My grandparents had a long and happy marriage mainly because my grandfather agreed on everything with my grandmother. There was one exception to this however, my mother. Despite her many failings, and indiscretions, my mother was without doubt my grandfather’s favourite child, something that would be tested many times.

 

My mother enjoyed the freedom of the large encampment and in particular the dances. She loved the dances. Actually my grandfather forbade her to go to them and her younger sister was supposed to ensure she was at home on the dance nights. But my mother always managed to sneak out and stand by the door of the dance hall. She was rarely caught and frequently managed a dance.

 

My mother and the family moved to England and to Welwyn Garden City sometime around 1932. She would have been about 15. In 1938 aged just twenty, and three months pregnant she married. She gave birth that year to twin girls. I cannot say if this was an unhappy marriage from the start. I do know from things I have learned as an adult that her husband was a violent man whose drinking would frequently result in abuse, both verbal and physical towards my mother. In 1940 she gave birth to a boy. With her husband away in the army I think my mother; young as she was must have found life very tough and lonely. She must have yearned for the freedom her sisters enjoyed, as they were yet to marry.

 

That freedom came with the soldiers on leave, looking for relief from the fighting. In Welwyn Garden City at that time was a large pub with an even larger ballroom. Dances were held several times a week. My mother would frequently leave the children in their cots, with glass bottle feeders and a roaring fire in the grate, and go dancing. It was reckless but it’s hard for me to condemn her. I have some sympathy for a young woman in uncertain times wanting to have some fun. It was usually left to my grandmother to respond when the neighbours heard the children crying in the house.

 

Sometime in 1942 my mother left her three children in the care of her husband’s sister and joined the WAAF band as a girl drummer based in Chivenham in Devon.  How she was able to do this, with a family left at home I don’t know but I imagine during war time anything is possible. My mother’s life must have changed dramatically. She was in uniform; she had many friends, though most seemed to be men. She came home on leave with stories of the great time she was having. My grandmother kept in touch with the children but at some point, and I am unclear as to when, my mother’s husband placed the twins in to an orphanage, and the boy he gave to friends who later adopted him. During this time my mother changed her forename and linked it with her married surname, gave her status as single and dropped her age by five years. She had a number of affairs judging by the number of young Americans in particular, who came to my grandmother’s house asking for her.

 

In July 1944 at The Parish church of Emmanuel, Compton Gifford near Plymouth she married a 22 year old Leading Airman in the RAF.  He was one of triplets, and was known to my family. Of course my mother was still married. On the front page of the Western Evening Herald dated Monday July 24th is a picture of the happy couple with a guard of honour of airmen and women. Had my mother lost her mind? The wedding certificate states that she was a spinster, aged 22 and single. She had to alter her father’s name to bring it in line with her own and gave his employment as a Company Sergeant Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. I’m sure my grandfather would have been tickled pink by that.

 

Whatever happiness she may have felt at this time, was soon dispelled. Her real husband was told of the marriage and informed the police. On leave, and visiting home she realised the game was up and went on the run. She appears to have been AWOL for at least 8 or 9 months during which time she must have had a relationship with someone as I was born in December 1945.  Whether my mother gave herself up or was caught I don’t know. Where she was during that time is also unknown. But at sometime during the summer of 1945 she faced trial for bigamy at the Old Bailey. My grandparents both attended the trial which, with the journey alone must have been quite a trial for them as well. She was sentenced to nine months imprisonment deferred until after I was born. By the beginning of January 1946 my mother’s sentence began at Holloway Prison. My mother never saw me again.

 

She left prison sometime in late 1946. I’m not sure exactly when or whether she had time off for good behaviour. But whilst in prison she contracted tuberculosis. Meanwhile I was in hospital suffering from septicaemia. Because of my mother’s illness I had an extended stay in hospital and didn’t leave until she died in May 1949.

 

The twins stayed in an orphanage until they were 16. Their lives were severely blighted by that experience and neither of them lived happily. The boy was adopted by people who were unkind and at times cruel. I met him for the first time a few years ago and we keep in touch. As for me, well my life has had many tragic moments and times I would rather forget. Most of my childhood is blocked from my memory, and that which I can remember I would rather not. As to my father, who knows? My mother did of course and asked my grandmother if she wanted to know. But she said no.

Tessa Thomson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting Penfriends

Gwen Bunting is a recent recruit to the Wordsmiths. This is her fascinating account of her sixty odd year friendship with a friend in Holland.

Gwen and Lilian
Gwen seated Lilian on the sun lounger

I have been writing to Lilian Boogaard in Holland since we were thirteen-year-old schoolgirls it wasn’t until we were both aged twenty that we first met, this was in 1963.

 

I flew from Heathrow whilst waiting to board a KLM flight to Schipol Amsterdam thinking back to when I was younger. Standing then in the Queens Building as a young child with my mother, watching the aircraft land and take off. I made up my mind whilst watching the planes that one day I would fly from Heathrow myself.

 

It took me all year to save up for the trip. The flight was about £16 but hard to come by when you only earned a third of that amount weekly and had to pay your board at home.

 

The day duly arrived and my dear brothers drove me to Heathrow overnight. Having my passport and Guilders for my big adventure. They left me at the departure gate and I was on my own. A big step for me, but I moved on to the correct area and boarded the flight which lasted about an hour.

 

Landing in Schipol I followed the signs making my way through passport control answering their questions. We were not in the common market then. I was duly stamped and moved through, collecting my case from the carousel.  Walking through into the open area looking for Lilian. No one was there. I cannot remember how long I sat waiting. She had been given all the flight details but she was nowhere to be seen.  Eventually, they arrived and we drove off to Loenen a small village about 30min drive from Amsterdam. Their English was stilted and my knowledge of Dutch much the same.

 

We went into Lilian’s mother’s house a tobacconists shop with the most wonderful smell of cigars, the Dutch are big cigar smokers. When we sat down to have a cup of tea they were surprised when I put milk into mine. This is called baby-tea they drink theirs weak and black. The other comment was that I did not speak like the Queen, I said very few of us do.

 

I stayed a week with my friend we lived with her brother and sister in law, who was pregnant. The things I remember and hold dear are my first taste of plain yoghurt which I still do not like; the delicious cakes I bought at the baker’s next door and visiting a windmill in the village.

Gwen and Marijke
Marijke seated and Gwen

 

I was able to help make a dress for Marijke my friends sister-in-law. Her baby was to be named Michael and they wanted the English spelling.

Michael
Michael Lilian’s nephew

 

Other reminisces are eating chips with mayonnaise instead of vinegar.  My friend’s father was in the Dutch Resistance, but he never spoke about the war. The family stuffed four gold Dutch gilders inside a toy dog belonging to my friend’s brother. He was told never to let anyone have his toy. The dog was to go everywhere with him. These gilders were later retrieved and made into pendants. I was so envious of these necklaces, knowing the history attached to them.

Lilian’s father worked on farms inseminating cows, this was hard to explain in English. We accompanied him on several visits, him donning long plastic gloves. He jokingly asked me if I would like to shake hands.  This was my first chance to wear clogs, they used them on the farm. Happy memories.

I visited again the following year and taught Michael to walk I am told.

Henk and Lilian
Henk, Lilian and chips with mayonaise

Sadly my friend suffers from severe arthritis, causing her to retire from work early. She had been a physiotherapist with the largest clinic in Amsterdam. Lilian lives with Henk who is a doctor. They have no children, but I am pleased that after all these years we are still in touch.

Lilian and Gwen
Lilian with Gwen more recently

 

In the last two years, I have visited again, being taken out on the boat along with the family and Michael who was there to steer the boat. more than fifty years later, happy memories.

Michael and Marijke
Michael and Marijke

 

Gwen Bunting

All my own work.

Plaigarism

Val Chapman tackles the issue of plagiarism in this post, raising issues and giving us her thoughts

……They accused me of plagiarism. Their words, not mine……..

 

I do sometimes wonder if I should include certain quotes in my stories. Obviously, I do not want anyone to think I have knowingly ‘stolen’ someone else’s work, passing it off as my own.

I have a little book where I write snippets of conversation I overhear, perhaps an interesting sentence or story I may read in a magazine. I look through this from time to time, looking for inspiration.

Sometimes it helps, mostly it does not.

But because these little prompts are ‘second hand’, should I use them at all?

I do wonder at times what constitutes plagiarism?

I think ‘knowingly’ is the keyword.

Surely we have all, at some point, used words from another body of work we have remembered and used in our own efforts, either consciously or unconsciously?

I assume that to be classed as ‘plagiarism’, it refers to a whole piece of work and not a few words or sentences here and there. Let’s face it, if it referred to ANYTHING then we wouldn’t be able to write at all!

So I’ll just continue along, in blissful ignorance and hope I don’t incur the wrath of someone with far more talent than me.

 

Val Chapman

I Love Writing Because…

Writing 2This piece is by Val Fish one of our talented Wordsmiths.

I’ve had a love of words and stories since my school days; my primary school report said ‘Valerie has a good imagination’, and a fantastic English teacher at grammar school was a great inspiration to me. English Language was one of only two subjects I was any good at (the other being French).

I was a big Blue Peter fan in my youth, every year I would get the annual as a Christmas present and was lucky enough to win two Blue Peter badges in their competitions.

As I grew older, I entered the world of consumer competitions, having to complete slogans that usually started something like ‘I shop at XYZ because’, in 12 words or less.

I won hundreds of prizes over the years, little and large, among them a few holidays; my biggest successes were the much sought after prize car; a Mini Metro, and a conservatory worth a massive ten thousand pounds.   One of my prizes of least value, but providing much amusement, was a frozen chicken, worth a measly £1.50 at the time. The winners had to go to the store to collect their prize, and we were photographed all holding our chickens aloft.  I did feel rather silly and particularly self-conscious as I was eight months pregnant at the time.

I could go on and on about the wondrous things that I won, but that’s another story to be told.

Although of course, the prizes were great, for me it was more the composing of the slogans that brought me pleasure. Trying to be witty in so few words and to stand out from the hundreds of others was a challenge I’d always relish. Maybe that’s why these days my forte is flash fiction.

As this type of competition began to die out, it seemed a natural progression to turn to creative writing.

So these days my words are somewhat longer, no big prizes to be won; in most cases, it’s simply seeing my efforts posted online, which gives me just as much pleasure

 

I couldn’t imagine not writing; it’s good therapy for me, all my cares and woes are temporarily forgotten. And an added bonus, it keeps those grey cells ticking over, much needed at my age. I like to think I’ll l be writing as long as I’ve still got my faculties, however long that may be.