Dad’s Drawers Part 11:The Increasing Hoards and the Fairy of Hackney Marshes

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I know it’s been a long time since the last blog. My only excuse is my lazy disposition and my general dislike of the ‘not-putting-off-tomorrow-what-you-can-do-today’ lie. Quite frequently I have found that the upside to putting things off until tomorrow means that you don’t have to do them at all; either because the job no longer needs doing (i.e. the guests have been and gone and they didn’t notice the layers of dust anyway) or because somebody else has got so fed up that they have done the job themselves. It’s worked for me on numerous occasions. One time I should have filled up the car with petrol on the eve of the budget; I imagine I had quite a smug look on my face when I filled up the following day, on the one rare occasion when the petrol duty had actually gone down.

…………and really what is the point of hoovering and dusting today – you might just as well wait for tomorrow’s dust and do it all at the same time.

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For those interested I have a few other similar time-saving tips:

  • Don’t waste time standing with a hose in the garden; this is England – it’s going to rain.
  • If you leave them long enough the cobwebs will fall down under the weight of the dust.
  • When doing the ironing for the first time (after you get married), do such a poor job that you are never allowed near the iron again. This also works with loading the dishwasher. Though, despite valiant attempts (even activating the smoke alarm on many occasions) I have never managed to lose my cooking privileges!
  • Bypass the middle man and throw that tub of Greek yoghurt straight in the bin – you know you are only going to take out one spoonful at the start of your healthy eating kick leaving the remainder to fester at the back of the fridge for months.
  • Don’t even bother with pears unless you are able to keep a watchful eye and catch them in two-minute window when they change from being too hard to too soft.
  • It’s a waste of time folding up your children’s clothes – a week later you will find them crumpled on the floor or, and this has happened to me, back in the dirty laundry basket having never been worn.
  • There’s absolutely no point in writing a shopping list; you know you are going to forget to take it with you.

Lastly, and this may only apply to me:

  • Don’t waste your time relating your amusing family stories to your children.  Without fail they will share a knowing look and say “Oh no, not the one about the wet- suit again!”

IMG_5955 I’ve actually had much of this blog drafted for a few weeks now and had I posted it last week as I planned to, the first paragraph would have read:

“The good news is that the ‘Naked Fat Lady’ has sung and she is no longer destined to spend her remaining days with her face turned to the wall – not in my house anyway!”

Instead it goes like this:

Yes, she successfully went under the hammer (actually that might have improved a few of her features) and yes, I had every reason to believe that the proceeds would be wending it’s way into my bank account; a temporary stop on its way to our chosen charity. Until, that is, the email from Christie’s a few days ago: “Please be advised that we are still waiting for payment from the buyer but are actively chasing them”. Now while I am not at all surprised that any buyer may have had second thoughts; after all, one leg is definitely shorter than the other and there is the issue of the uneven knees – but really, can I not get rid of this woman?

Anyone who has no idea what I am talking about will need to go back to the blog entitled ‘The Fat Nude and the Sea of Bubble Wrap’ and all will become clear!

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A interesting jumble sale find.

 

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At one of his favourite dumps, dad found a whole box of items from the Shepreth East Anglian Cement Company which closed in the 1930’s. there were a number of land deed documents and sales particulars amongst the ‘finds’, that I have since distributed to the relevant village’s historical societies.

So the ‘finds’ still come, though fewer and farther between these days – mainly because of the snail’s pace I have adopted in the clearing process and all the little nooks and crannies already explored. Subconsciously, I guess it’s because I don’t want the process to finish. Then I will no longer have an excuse to disappear into the workshop and take in that smell of my childhood, nor savour the memories of hours spent watching and chatting to dad while he worked on his various projects.

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Compass

The most recent ‘find’ took me back right to the start with the manky cutlery. In that same hiding space under the stairs, where I had felt sure there would be a stash of money, there was this box pushed so far back that I didn’t see it the first time around.

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The Recent Hoard

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The as-yet unidentified object

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Markings: DRGMA indicate a German patent (Deutsche Reich Gebraumeister) and WMFM  I think relates to the manufacturer.

As you can see, the contents of the box are assorted bits of tat. It is a stretch for even me to call this treasure, even if most of it is silver! We have a fork handle, a fork end (obviously they do not match), a silver child’s bracelet monogrammed ‘B’, a single cuff-link monogrammed ‘L.H.’ a broken brooch with a Star of David. There was also the object, pictured just above, that we have yet to identify; though suggestions from my learned friends include portable tea strainer, icing sugar duster, and Fuller’s Earth sprinkler.  Any more suggestions would be most welcome. Again you have to ask yourself the question ‘Why hide something with so little value?  It’s unlikely there was any sentimental value as despite being such a hoarder Dad had no emotional attachment to individual objects.

Work of Art

Work of art or not?

I came across something the other day that jogged another ‘nonconformist dad’ memory.  Some of you my age or older may remember ‘The Little Red School-Book’[i].  It caused controversy in this country even before it was published and after a successful prosecution under the ‘Obscene Publications Act’ it was withdrawn from sale – but not before Dad had managed to get his hands on a few copies; one of which he gave to me.

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Little Red Schoolbook, written by Soren Hansen & Jesper Jensen.

The book had been written by two Danish school teachers and it encouraged young people to question societal norms and authority; giving some helpful hints on how do so. It included chapters on sex, drugs and alcohol as well as a large section on teachers and school.  The fact that it contained a paragraph on ‘What to do if a teacher hits you brutally’ shows that at least some things have changed for the better in the last 40 years.

The general thesis of the book, that children’s natural curiosity and eagerness to learn were in danger of being stifled by dreary and authoritarian teaching methods, was one that despite him being part of the education system dad totally identified with.

Dad had transferred from engineering to teaching when London County Council was actively recruiting metalwork teachers from industry. The shift from engineer to teacher moved him from blue collar to white collar status in overnight. Something he was never particularly comfortable with (especially as he hated wearing a tie).   However, the perks of short hours, long holidays and a reasonable wage were too attractive to resist and he stayed the course until he managed to wangle early retirement after an argument with the lathe and his middle left hand finger.

As a teacher of a practical subject, dad seemed to attract the school ‘write-off’s’.  He was often persuaded by the boys to find them jobs in the workshop so that they had a valid excuse not to go to double maths. This didn’t help dad much in the staff room popularity stakes, but it did create a safe haven for the boys who would probably have skived double maths anyway and got up to no good somewhere else.  An oddity already due to his Austrian accent, short stature, equally short temper and a shout that way exceeded his size (and boy could he shout), dad was seen as something of an anomaly in all the schools where he taught. Eschewing the staff room whenever possible, he preferred to potter around his workshop surrounded by pupils who had found a worth there not on offer elsewhere in the school.

Military Dog Tag

I found this in one of the (many) drawers of assorted bits. For some reason I had thought it was some sort of ‘blakey’. You remember those things you used to put on the soles of your shoes to stop the leather wearing out? However, I recently had a cause to search for military dog tags and saw a picture of something similar. Originally this would have had another half circle, attached at a few points, with matching details. When a soldier was injured or killed they would break one half off to use for administration leaving the other half with the soldier.  I have done a quick search with the details on the tag, but as yet haven’t come up with anything.

Anyway, back to the book:

It was amusing flicking through it again.  It was the sexually explicit content that attracted all of us young people to it at the time; as with all such books that got passed along the back row of the classroom, a well-thumbed copy would without fail fall open at the ‘rude’ pages. It was these that warranted the prosecution; though there is nothing that you wouldn’t be able to read these days in a magazine available on your local supermarket shelf (bottom shelf, not top).

For your entertainment I bring you these ‘Little Red School-Book’ gems of wisdom:

On police stop and search powers:

“Some policemen use this as an excuse to harass any young people who have long hair or look like hippies”

On homosexuals:

“The time will come when homosexual marriages are recognised”. (I bet the authors didn’t think it would take another 45 years)

On school, classrooms and staff meetings:

“Many staff meetings are not real discussion. The head master tells the teacher what he wants them to do.  The teachers who are after promotion say how much they agree.”

“Comfortable chairs are rare”

“Only the teacher has his own cupboard and drawer”

And my all time favourite:

“Never muck about unless you’re absolutely certain that the teacher is an incurable bore”.

(All my teachers must have been really boring).

Brass Plaque

Not sure how dad acquired this, but it would have appealed to his sense of humour to have this on display. It now resides on my wall.

Dad arrived at Victoria Station on a blustery January day in 1955: “I went straight to the tobacconist and bought the current copy of the New Statesman and Nation, and a bag of mints. The London air was rendering me reckless”. Just over two years later he and mum were married and looking for somewhere to live.

Dad being an out-of-work immigrant engineer, whose training had been interrupted by Hitler and mum a secretary at ‘May and Baker’, who had lived her whole life in a council house; they weren’t the most likely candidates to be home owners. A combination of both good and bad luck meant that by the time I was born they were the owners (along with Mortgage Company) of 67 Tollington Park[ii], a house with three stories, a basement one bathroom and its own sitting tenants.  The bad luck was dad having a broken leg after being was knocked over by a learner driver in a Black Humber.  The good luck was that the out of court settlement of £250 was enough to put down as a deposit on what was my first home.  Apart from the flat they lived in there were three others they would have to rent out, one with a sitting tenant. Not only were they now on the housing ladder, but also landlords with all that that involved.  Oh, and the mortgage cost £5 a month.

For years after, whenever we drove past that accident spot on Hackney Marshes I was always encouraged to ‘wave at the fairy’ who had given them such a good start in their married life.

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‘Found’ note from the Tollington Park era

Mum and dad didn’t really know what to expect taking on a rental property with sitting tenants, one of whom was still living in the house when mum and dad sold it six years later. Mrs Littlemore (who was well into in her 70’s), lived on the top floor with her 60 year old toy boy and got jealous every time another woman spoke to him.  The basement had a variety of interesting tenants. There was the window cleaner that refused climb the stairs and leave the house in the usual way through the front door; instead he climbed in and out of his flat through the basement window. There was Mr Pilli, whose curry aromas (welcomed by dad (because he was often invited in to sample), but abhorred by my mum) constantly wafted up from basement to ground floor and whom I blame to this day for putting me off curries for so long (having encouraged me to taste a very hot curry at such a young age).  Then there was the lady of the night; mum and dad didn’t realise that there was a small business going on literally under their feet until they had a knock on the door from a client demanding his money back, followed by a visit from the local constabulary!

Mum and I have discussed this, and we think that it was at this point that dad became a collector of all things interesting.  The Fonthill Road was nearby and full of junks shops.  This was the late fifties/early sixties when new was embraced and old was junked.  Shop after shop was full of discarded belongings available for just a few pennies (old pennies at that) and as this was probably the first time in his life that dad had any space of his own. Here was an opportunity not to be missed!

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Yes kids, this is what we used to use to add up with (after slide rules that is)!

I was five  when we left that house and some of my earliest memories are of that first floor flat with two rooms and a kitchen: the arrival of our first television set (that I used to illicitly watch when I should have been sleeping – hanging out from my bed so I could see the reflection of the screen in the in the glass door that divided living room and bedroom); the broken piano in the hallway with which I used to deafen the tenants – the keys barely at my thee year old eye level, I used to jump up and down and bang on the keys; the pigeon that came down the chimney and landed in the hearth amidst a cloud of black soot; the day I dressed myself for nursery and spent the whole day with no knickers on (this one is scored in my memory as these were the days when I used to wear dresses and it was a windy day); the hollyhocks in the back garden; the irises in the front; swinging on the front gate waiting for mum to come back from the hospital with my baby brother….  I could go on but you might nod off.

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That’s me swinging on the gate waiting for dad to come home from work.

 

Clock

So I have a small confession to make – and please don’t tell on. In addition to bringing my dad’s ‘treasure’ back to my house I have also started adding to it. (Well that is what collectors do, isn’t it?) Amongst dad’s bits I found a lovely Chinese mother of pearl gaming counter, which I thought so beautiful and delicate (and lonely) that after a short foray on the internet I discovered that they they came in all shapes and sizes and that more could be purchased quite easily[iii]. In fact they were screaming ‘Buy Me’ in the same way as Alice’s potion beckoned her to drink, and before I knew it that little parcel had arrived on my doormat.

counters

I also appear to have acquired, quite by accident, several boxes of old theatre programmes dating from the early 1950’s, and these cotton reels I found at a car boot sale just screamed “Good Photo Opportunity” as I walked by.

Reels

Anyway I leave you with this gem I found on another blog about hoarding. (Sadly I can’t credit the writer as I can’t remember where I saw it).

“You are a collector, not a hoarder if you dust once in a while”.

Despite my protestations earlier, as I have actually dusted once or twice in the last couple of years I claim myself to be a collector (I am still the owner of an artwork after all).

Motherof Pearl Buttons

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Red_Schoolbook

[ii]Via the wonders of modern technology you can see the house here; it’s the one with the blue door. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.566814,-0.113611,3a,79.4y,317.53h,91.8t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1so_ZYG6Fo8_mRDAKQSFJncw!2e0

[iii] http://www.chezbill.com/index.php?section=references&catID=7&prodID=229

frieze

Not really sure what these are.

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They have three sides of design and a bar on the fourth side, presumably to hold them in place.

portways slow but sure

I believe that this comes from a Charles Portway cast iron ‘Tortoise’ stove

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Knockers!

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I’ve had this picture lying around now since I cleared dad’s first room. The familiarity had been annoying me for some time.One day I just looked at and realised it was of the poet, Rupert Brooke and further research revealed that it is a copy of one the famous Schnell poses that I believe now hang in the National Portrait Gallery. This photo is 14 1/2 x 11 inches and It has the following pencil markings on the back: “Barker, Red Lion” and “BL 8502/ copy make neg”.

Posted in Collections, Dad, Hoarders, Living History, photgraphs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dad’s Drawers Part 10: The Stepped Wallpaper and the Bees on Barrington Hill

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Okay, so I know it’s been a while since my last blog. I think my head is becoming as cluttered as my garage and there is too much to do, too little time and no sense of order at all.

The good news is that I have found a home for the lathe, the bad news is that my garage has now been condemned as a death trap (by you know who). If I was being totally honest I would have to agree that something needs to be done and my new year’s resolution is to clear a pathway through to the light switch (baby steps).

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As if to prove how long this has taken me to get going on this blog I started writing it just after bonfire night, prompted by the great Round Table firework display on Saffron Walden Common. It reminded me of a couple of bonfire nights growing up. The first is one of my earliest memories.

Until I was 5 we lived in Finsbury Park, North London, in a first floor flat of a house that mum and dad had bought when they were first married. I can remember quite vividly (aged somewhere between 2 and 3) dad lifting me from my bed one night, wrapping me up in a blanket and taking me outside to see the fireworks from the top of the steps at the back of the house.  My guess is that they were nothing compared to the displays of today, but those were the days when people had their own bonfires and fireworks parties so there were fireworks shooting off all over the place and from our steps we had a magnificent view.

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As it has already been established, our family did not do ‘normal’.  Though much like the Christmas rituals that I described in my last blog, there was always some effort made to join the nation in the celebration of certain events, even if we did do something different to mark the occasion.  While all our neighbours were having back garden fireworks displays, we did something else. Whether it was through lack of money, or the implicit understanding that ‘Plisners don’t go with the flow’, I don’t know.  We occasionally had sparklers on bonfire night but never fireworks. However, one evening when I was nine or ten, dad arrived home with some un-marked boxes.  He built a bonfire and proceeded to sprinkle on it an assortment of filings that he had collected from the various metal-working machines at school, creating our own unique firework display. Peter and I looked on as the various copper, iron and aluminium filings danced and crackled in the flames giving a very first (unbeknown to us) chemistry lesson when dad helped us identify the colours produced by the different metal filings.

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Bonfires were in fact a large part of our childhood. These were the times before global warming when local farmers created fake sunsets when the wheat stubble in the fields was set aglow following harvest.  Dad regularly had a bonfire going in the garden and Peter and I would spend hours poking sticks into the flames and generally playing with fire – oh those days before health and safety.  Being fortunate to have a big garden, we never had any complaints from neighbours and ours was the only washing that ever came off of the line smoke-flavoured.

IMG_4452Holloways OintmentIMG_4454

There was one occasion, however that could have made the local headlines. Dad decided, instead of trying to mow his way through an acre of a foot-high dry grass or labour for hours with his scythe, that it would be quicker to use the farmer’s method and set the grass alight.   It was the theme of our childhood that while much preparation went into the planning of something the end result was not often as planned.  Setting fire to the dried grass was indeed a very quick way to remove it, but as the fire sped towards the house there was a very real danger that it too would be removed and the fire brigade had to be called when it was apparent that the single garden hose that had been on standby for such an eventuality would not be sufficient to stem the roar of the approaching flames.

Fortunately for us, and the neighbours, the flames died down of their own accord and the fire brigade had nothing to deal with when they arrived.

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Being so comfortable around bonfires did lead me to be quite blasé about them and not so long ago I had a similar incident here in the corner of my garden. After having a particularly wild and successful bonfire (there is nothing quite like that satisfaction you get after burning through a years’ worth of dead branches and reclaiming that space in the garden) I put out the fire and went inside to change. A couple of hours later my other half, who was about to go on the running machine, pointed out that there was a tree on fire in the garden. He then continued on with his exercise while my daughter, son and I rushed outside and  created a human chain to pass buckets of water from the end of the hose (that was about 5 metres shorter than needed) to the burning tree. An hour later we returned to the house, muddy, cold and soaked to the skin, to be greeted by a “Have you put it out then?  from my other half who, having completed his exercise, was  now sitting warm and dry on the sofa.

Needless to say I have now purchased a longer hose.

buttons

Both these sets of buttons look to be hand painted; the ones on the right are china and those on the left some sort of clay or plaster-of-Paris. They have clips rather than holes to attach them to the garment

As I have already mentioned dad could turn his hand to most things and before embarking on something new there would often be much planning and preparation involved. This would apply to jobs large and small.  However, despite the preparation things didn’t always go to plan.

I have already written about the bees that Dad kept in the back garden. (They can’t have been the most productive of bees, because I can’t ever remember eating any honey that they produced.)  However, anyone who has kept bees will know that it is the local bee-keeper who is called upon when a swarm of bees is spotted. During his bee-keeping period dad was called out on frequent occasions to collect these swarms. The phone call would come, and dad would drive off with his beekeeping paraphernalia that was kept permanently in the back of the car: stick; basket; blanket and, hardly ever used but taken nonetheless: a head-veil and gloves. He would return with the bees buzzing around in the back of the Austin 1300 estate and place them by the side of an empty hive which they would eventually move into and start a new colony. 

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Dad collecting a swarm from a chimney stack.  Note he is standing on several palates balanced atop of the cherry picker!

The swarms were usually found hanging beard-like from a tree or hedge, but occasionally they would be in more difficult areas like on a roof or chimney stack, and dad would usually just knock the swarm into a basket with his stick, cover them with the blanket and put them on the back seat of the car before driving home.

Dad (23)

Dad often struck unusual poses in the garden!

Before I relate the tale of the ‘Bees on Barrington Hill’ I need to put it into context so apologies if you are already well versed in the habits of the humble honey bee. Bees swarm when a colony gets too large and a new queen is created.  When that happens the old queen leaves the nest with her drones to find somewhere new.  Swarming bees are usually quite docile because, in preparation for the journey ahead, they gorge themselves with honey and because their bellies are so full it is hard for them to use their sting. As a consequence, it is usually easy to collect them safely and encourage them into a new hive. However, if you try to collect them when they have been swarming for a few days and their bellies are empty it can prove a bit more difficult.

One day, while I was at a friend’s house in the next village, waiting for my guitar lesson, somebody spotted a swarm in the hedge at the top of the hill (the house was at the bottom) and dad was duly called. When he arrived with the usual kit we all stood (well clear) at the bottom of the hill while dad walked up with his stick and basket with a confident (done-this-many-times-before) air about him.   It quickly became apparent that these bees were not as accommodating as usual when we observed, from the bottom of the hill, dad zigzagging across the road at the top being followed, in a cartoon-like chase, by an angry cloud of bees – still to this day one of the most comical scenes I have ever witnessed.

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After coming back down the hill to collect his gloves and the head protector that he normally eschewed, he managed eventually to persuade the swarm into his basket.  Taking them home in the car was a challenge and I can remember the back of the car ‘alive’ with angry, hungry bees.  They never did settle or take advantage of the new home that had been ready primed with honey and after circling the empty hive for several days they eventually buzzed off to annoy someone else.

Horlicks mixer

All you need for your frothy bedtime Horlicks!

Anyway back to Dad’s meticulous preparations. He spent over a year doing up an old Volkswagen van in preparation for a road trip to Europe with Peter, where they planned to retrace dad’s escape from Austria, through France and Spain. Everything they could need for their journey was installed or packed into this in this bed-sit on wheels. Maps were scrutinised, ferries booked, old friends who they might see along the way were contacted – in fact no stone was left unturned in preparation for the big trip – that is apart from one small detail. After the big send-off, and at about 30 miles into their journey, they ran out of petrol had to call out the AA for assistance!

VW van

Another instance of advance planning, without quite getting everything right, was the wall-papering incident.

Mum was away on a course for a couple of days and dad thought it would be a nice surprise to get the front room wall-papered while she was away, enlisting me as his assistant. Mum had already bought the wallpaper and was planning to put it up herself at some stage and while dad could turn his hand to almost anything, she was the wall-papering expert of the family. Everything was collected together ready for the job and dad, not having done wall-papering for a while, decided it would be a good idea to measure out and cut all the lengths first, before attaching them to the wall. Then there would be only the pasting and sticking up to do.  I had helped mum in the past and her approach had always one piece at a time and once she saw how the first piece went up she would adjust the second accordingly, then the third and so on and so on.

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No, I don’t know what this is either. I would welcome any suggestions

So with the strips for the whole room cut and ready to be pasted we set on with putting the first piece on the wall. I observed with horror that there was a ½ gap at the top and that meant that every piece had been cut ½ inch too short. Not only that, but dad hadn’t factored in the pattern which needed to be lined up, so as well as the length problem, we also lost a further half an inch matching up the design as we went along. By the time we go to the corner of the room we were 2 inches from the ceiling and had a stepped effect along the top of the wall.  Not to be put off, the whole room was completed with dad saying: “Nobody will notice once it has been up a few days”.  In any case it was well above eye level for this sub-five foot family. When mum came back she was surprisingly calm about the mess we had made of the job and promptly went out and bought a small border which covered the poor workmanship and nobody was the wiser!

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Just to end with; in my last blog I said that I didn’t think there would be any more surprise finds, so I am pleased to report one more surprise. I noticed that a poster in one of dad’s make-shift frames looked rather thick and on unclamping the frame, and looking behind the Kandinsky poster that was displayed, I found six copies of the poster photographed below. With the assistance of Google I established that they are stone-signed lithographs of Picasso’s Cote D’Azur – though not as far as I can tell of any great value (though I have been told they might fetch around £100 each).  How long they had been there and why dad had six, hidden behind another picture, I will never know.

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As I mentioned earlier this blog was started some weeks ago and the intention was for the photograph at the top of the blog to be this seasonal Christmas pudding creation. The season having now passed, but not wishing to waste the effort (though it was used on my Christmas cards) I am posting it here at the end of this blog instead.

Christmas Card

Many people have been fascinated with my ‘Dad’s Drawers Collages so I thought that I would show you a bit of background to the creative process.  Laying out the design is the easy part and as you can see from the picture below I start off with my ‘palate’ of drawers.
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Once the design is laid out the tricky bit starts where I have to strap the tripod to the top of the step-ladder to get high enough to fit the design into the frame of the shot.  It’s a bit of a Heath Robinson contraption with the tripod strapped to the top of the ladder and the camera case acting as ballast the other end.  The camera then gets attached to the tripod and “Hey Presto” (after much clambering up and down) we have our shot. Much to the annoyance of the rest of the family, it then takes a couple of weeks to return all the individual bits and pieces back to their rightful drawers, rendering our conservatory out of use for some time!

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To finish with I leave you with an assortment of documents that no-one but my dad would have kept.

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Letter to Dad’s sister Felice refusing dad entry into the UK because the ‘Alien’s Department’ didn’t believe he return home.

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I really wish I knew who this note was fromimg039

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I love the fact that, in response to a problem with the car, somebody has taken the time to respond with detailed instructions for adjustments

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A hand-penned letter from Scotland Yard

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One of many letters received refusing dad naturalisation, despite the fact that he was married to a UK National and had two children born in the UK. He never found out why, (they didn’t have to give you a reason) though he suspected that it may have been because he was once a member of the Communist Party. He gave up  after a few years of trying and remained an Austrian national until the day he died.

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A note from the union with details of sick pay entitlement

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This one has been scanned especially for my friends on the ‘Call the Midwife’ team as polio vaccinations were recently highlighted in one of their episodes. My generation was one of the first to take these vaccinations for granted.

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Oh how times have changed – or have they?
A late 50’s/early 60’s flyer from the ‘Union Movement’ which was a far right political party founded by Oswald Mosley.

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Apparently ‘Toolmaker’s Improver’ was a posh term for Bench-hand

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Dad had a short correspondence with the Hungarian author, Arthur Koestler, whose books he enjoyed and who he contacted when he first arrived in the UK

Posted in Collections, Dad, Hoarders, Living History, photgraphs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Cursing Santa and Tressy with the Knob on her Back

 Blog 9 (or 8 to anyone who has been counting and noticed I missed out number 6)

Collage

Collage of some of the ‘found’ objects

The sorting and clearing process has come to a bit of a halt.  I could quote a number of reasons; one of which is that I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to enter the world of scrap metal and, until I do, there are too many buckets of half-sorted metal in the way of reaching the areas that are left.  I have tried clambering on top of the buckets and leaning over the pile of old motors on a precariously perched ladder, but have decided that the resulting bruises are not worth it and that there needs to be some firm floor space before I venture to clear any of the higher shelves in the workshop.

Tools

Marking Gauges

If I was being totally honest though, the real reason that I have had to stop (for the time being) is that I have transported so much of ‘Dad’s Treasure’ to my house that I can no longer get into my own garage.  Getting in there now entails climbing over several sets of weighing scales, a large box of assorted bones, a big box of valves (used or unused, who can tell), a tray of fossils, piles of books, many boxes of old bottles, a box of old plastic cameras, a pillar drill, a box of volumetric flasks (?? no, I don’t know why either), a box of 1960’s-1970’s colour supplements from Sunday newspapers, an ever-increasing pile of “this-may-be-part-of-something-and-I-don’t-want to-throw-it-away-in-case-I-find-the-other-part”, and that is just to reach the light switch.  Actually reaching the cupboards at the back, where most of our tools are stored, now requires an intermediate gymnastic ability (I used to have it, but not any more) and major rearrangement of said boxes before being able to open the doors to get anything.  Clasping the retrieved item securely, the challenge then is to manoeuvre yourself out of the space you have created, either by moving the boxes back or clambering over them, flicking the light switch off on your way and then negotiating the remainder of the obstacles in the dark.

I am not going to mention any names, but there have been complaints from a certain member of my household!

What this means is that before I bring any more of the treasure here to my house there is going to have to be some further distribution of items.

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Those volumetric flasks

Now here’s the thing; a few years ago I went over to help dad clear some space in his garage.  As fast as I was throwing things into the wheelie bin he was delving in and pulling them out  (quite a feat for a 4ft 11ins Octogenarian – have you seen the size of those wheelie bins?).  When I saw  that it was causing him pain to see me throw away his things, accumulated over the years, I decided to stop.    Dad laughingly said that I could do what I liked with them once he had gone.  At the time I had been happy to throw things away with gay abandon; now I can’t bring myself to dispose of those very same items.  Who knew I would turn into my dad?

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Last Monday was our village fete.  The fete has a bric-a-brac stall which everyone in the village sees as a great opportunity for a clear-out.  This year I too decided that I could shift some of the contents of my garage onto the unsuspecting public and I encouraged my offspring to do the same.  As the fete ended my daughter showed me her purchase from the bric-a-brac stall (an old jewellery box that was, in her words, a bargain at 20p).  Yes, you guessed it, the very same one I had placed on the stall earlier that day (my daughter having rejected it a couple of weeks earlier).   Number 1 son in the meantime purchased something that he himself had thrown out!  Chips off of the old block me thinks.

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Who knew there were so many different shaped oil cans?

Anyway, back to the clearing progress (or not).  I have got to the stage where, although there is still a fair bit to be done, I don’t think there are many surprises left.  I have looked in all the nooks and crannies; there don’t appear to be any more bundles of £50 notes, no more sharp knives wrapped in rags and hidden underneath chests of drawers, no more ugly paintings (more on Ugly Fat Nude later), nor binoculars or guns.  But, every now and then I find something that sparks a bit of interest and is worth a few minutes on the internet.  When I say a few minutes, I am talking internet time here as I believe I enter a time warp when I sit in that chair in front of my computer screen.  Judging by the amount of half-made cold cups of tea (tea-bag still floating on top), burnt toast and over-flowing pans I have had over the years (the jam one that overflowed took ages to clean up and resulted in feet sticking to the kitchen floor for several weeks after) I would guess that 5 minutes of computer time roughly equates to I hour in real time.

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Back to the story….    Last week while on a foray into the workshop to find a piece of wire (of which there was of course plenty) I came across three old posters rolled-up at the back, of a high shelf.  (Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to climb any more ladders until the floor was cleared, but I needed that wire).  As you might expect to find after being in a cold and dirty workshop for at least 30 years the posters are dusty, creased and yellowing with mouse-nibbled edges.  The thing that caught my attention was the (not unfamiliar) big red ‘G’ on one poster advertising a well-known dark Irish ale.  That might be worth a few bob I thought!  A short (internet time) search later revealed that two of the posters (pictured below), both from the 50’s, are the work Abram Games [i].  An artist recognised as one of the best of 20th-century graphic designers.  Apparently his maxim was “Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means”.  I haven’t been able to find out anything about the rather lovely third poster, pictured above, and signed by a Joseph Deibel.

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Travel to Israel

I am sure I have mentioned before that as well the collections of interesting objects, dad kept vast amounts of paperwork, most of which will have no interest to anyone who didn’t know him.  There are some however, that poignantly illustrate familiar points in history.  The documents below are affidavits from relatives, already in the USA, pledging their support of various members of the Plisner family, should the German authorities allow them out and the USA authorities allow them in.  Dad said that following Anschluss[ii] in 1938, everyone spent weeks queuing outside various embassies in Vienna hoping for a visa.  They didn’t really care which country let them in as long as they could get out of Austria (or Germany as it was then).  Having been told by the USA embassy official that the USA quota for Austria had already been filled (with a three-year waiting list) my ever-resourceful 18-year-old dad tried to bypass the usual route; ducking the queue and catching an official off-guard he asked if there was a shortage of geyser-fitters in his country.   Sadly geyser-fitting was not a required profession in the USA and dad was sent to the back of the queue.

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Affidavit of Support from a cousin I have not heard of before. It also gives details of my grandfather’s 8 year stay in the USA in 1906 when he started the process of becoming an American citizen.

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This is the back of the affidavit and a feeble attempt by Google at a translation: “The court confirmed that the prepared dishes from the transcript of the party coincides with the existing stamped from sheet with Ursch ift”. Hopefully, somebody will be able to give me a more accurate translation, but I presume it is a verification that the document is valid.

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Affidavit from Grandfather’s brother

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This letter of support was written by grandfather’s brother who had moved to New York in 1938 and who had changed his name from Rubin to Ralph.

img187 An affidavit of support from another cousin

Every time I start this blog I wonder when I am going to run out of stories about my unusual but wonderful dad, but each time I sit down to write something just comes to me.  I was thinking of Christmas the other day (as you do in the midst of summer – well in our family you do because my 17-year-old daughter has already started the countdown!).

Dad didn’t really do Christmas.  I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that he was born Jewish; he wasn’t a religious man, it was more to do with a hatred of the whole ‘gift buying for gift buying sake’ thing.  The first Christmas my husband Paul spent at our house, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked out of the window on Christmas morning and saw my dad outside digging in the garden.  Dad didn’t see Christmas Day as any different from any other time of the year – just one with a slightly better lunch than usual.

I don’t know whether it was because he was persuaded by my mum, or just didn’t want his children to miss out, but when we were young he made the effort and ‘played along’ with the Father Christmas thing.

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SPOILER ALERT: ANY CHILDREN READING SHOULD SKIP THIS SECTION.

Every Christmas Eve the Plisner family had a ‘Reindeer at the Door’ ritual that went like this:

Knock, knock, knock; jingle, jingle, jingle.

Mum would answer the door.

More jingles.

Loud discussion between mum and Santa about how the reindeer were keeping.

Santa would ask mum to hold on to the reins while he delivered the presents and stockings (real stockings mind – not those phony knitted things we have now).

A couple of loud “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” would be heard as Santa trudged up the stairs (all our fireplaces had long since been boarded up and our chimneys for some reason had buckets on top).

A further “Ho, Ho, Ho” as the presents were deposited at the end of the bed.

(The rustling of wrapped presents as I wiggled my toes under the covers is one that I will never forget).

Yet another “Ho, Ho, Ho” as the stairs were descended.

And a there would be a final jingle of bells as Santa went on his way.

The ritual came to a sudden halt one year. I, being the older sibling, was already suspicious that the big man in red was not all he seemed to be; but Peter, being five years my junior, was still in blissful ignorance and excited about the visit of the generous bearded man.

All had gone to plan until the “Ho, Ho, Ho” as Santa walked in the bedroom when, instead of the third “ho” there was a very loud un-Santa-like four letter word as a drawing pin that had been left upturned on the bedroom floor attached itself to his bare foot (Santa was in his usual outfit of bathrobe and no slippers).  There were no further “Ho, Ho, Ho’s”  (that night or any night after) as the stairs were descended, nor jingle of bells as Santa went on his way; just more cursing and an emphatic “I’m never doing that again” as Santa left the house, never to return again.

Tools

More marking gauges

Actually, given that dad wasn’t bothered about Christmas I have some really fond childhood memories.  Whether due to financial constraints or a wish to stay away from the commercial side of Christmas, I would often awake on Christmas morning to a present had been hand crafted either by my dad or mum, or both.  One year there was a crib for my dolls for which dad had made the frame and mum had sewn the frills and cover.  (Yes despite my preference for boy’s toys, I did actually have a doll or two).

Talking of dolls I feel the need to mention that I was never allowed to have a Cindy, Tressy[iii] or Barbie and I felt slightly hard-done-by when my friends were making Tressy’s hair grow by with the knob on her back, or planning Barbie’s dates with Ken.  I had always thought that there was some principle involved in this decision of my mum’s; that it was because she didn’t approve of the whole ‘dolls looking like adults’ thing. In later years she admitted to me that it was a purely financial decision as she knew that once I had the doll, I would want the clothes, the car the wardrobe etc. to go with it.

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Garden Sculpture

Before I go, I know you are all dying to hear how Ugly Fat Nude fared at the auction.

Well, I bring you good news and bad news.  The good news is that I am still own an art collection of one item – the bad news you will have guessed is that nobody wanted her enough to reach her reserve price (set by Christie’s, not me).  So the poor woman and her uneven knees will spend another year up against a wall – who knows what her knees will be like in year’s time after all that standing!

The auction itself was an interesting experience; far noisier than I expected and quite amazing how many hundreds of thousands were being bid on some old bit of canvas and paint.  You will be pleased to hear that we were all very well-behaved and managed to suppress the giggles most of the way through – though there was a sticky moment when the painting by Khakhar came up (say it out loud to yourself and you will understand) and son number 2 and I looked at each other and very nearly lost all control.

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A spiral of valves

I leave you with these gems from a 1897 book I found on dad’s shelf entitled ‘Enquire Within Upon Everything’.[iv]

Advice to Young Ladies – ‘If you have pretty hands and arms, you may play on the harp if you play well: if they are disposed to be clumsy, work tapestry’

Hints for Wives – ‘A shirt-button being off a collar or wristband has frequently produced the first impatient word of married life’.

Rancid Butter – ‘This may be restored by melting it in a water bath, with some coarsely powdered animal charcoal, which has been thoroughly sifted from dust, and strained through flannel’.


Posted in Collections, Dad, Hoarders, Living History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Dad’s Drawers 8: Overarching Metaphors and the Car Park That Was Too Short

Assorted Collage

Rules and authority were not things that my dad took much notice of.  He had a view that nothing should be accepted without question.  I’m not talking about the type of authority which keeps our country from becoming a lawless state or that is there to protect people’s safety.  More, rules for rules sake or authority that is assumed by those who have had the good fortune of a decent education, title or money.

What makes that person so much more deserving of our respect than the one who serves us our coffee in Starbucks or scans our shopping at the till in Tesco and what is the point of having grass if we can’t walk on it?

Headmasters – why should we take our hands out of our pockets and sit up straight while you are talking to us?  Doctors – why is it acceptable that we have to be punctual for our appointment and you don’t?  Environmental Studies teachers – this one is a bit of a personal gripe –  what’s wrong with doing cartwheels during the field-trip lesson?  I can hear what you are saying just as well upside-down.  (I got two sets of ‘school rules’ for that misdemeanor, despite there being not one mention of cartwheels being prohibited).

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Often when dad and I were out walking together we would frequently pass a “Keep Out, Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” sign without pausing to read, let alone obey its instructions.  I can laugh about it now, but I when venturing into these prohibited territories with dad I was always on the lookout for an angry landowner.

“We shouldn’t be here” I would say.

“Why not?” Dad would reply.

“Because the sign says so” I would say.

“What sign? I saw no sign” he would reply with a grin.

Looking back I don’t know why I was so worried, after all we were just walking, no damage, was done …….. apart from the time he took out his wire cutters (that just happened to be in the bag he always carried with him in case he found anything worth picking up) to cut through a barbed wire fence that the conglomerate, who owned the land at the top of the hill, had erected across a public footpath.

Cars

What was left of my brother’s car collection. Some of which he had customised in his own red and white livery colours and labelled ‘Plisner Buses’

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My fear of being caught disobeying signs may well have stemmed from the time when I was 5 and dad took me on a day out to Battersea Fun Fair.  This was a permanent fun fair which had been installed as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951[i].  The fun fair closed in the early 70’s after an accident on the Big Dipper that killed five and injured many more when one of the carriages became derailed.

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When we arrived we were disappointed to find the Fun Fair closed. That’s England for you.  It might be a glorious day in the middle of summer, but if it’s a Monday you can bet half of the country’s main attractions will be closed!  On this day, the fact that it was closed did not seem to deter dad.  He had promised to take me on the Tree-Walk and that was what he was going to do, even if we did have to step over the: ‘CLOSED, NO ENTRY, YOU ARE DEFINITELY NOT ALLOWED IN HERE, YES THAT MEANS YOU PLISNER’ sign.

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Having climbed over the forbidding sign we were halfway along the Tree-Walk, surveying the silence of the closed park below, when we were caught red-handed and commanded to return to the start (Do not pass Go and do not collect 200 hundred pounds) to be further admonished.  My recollection is that we declined that offer and continued to the end of the Tree-walk, where said irate lady was waiting for us with her ‘how-dare-you’ face which, fortunately for us, had been rendered speechless by her anger.   And that is one of my strongest five-year-old-me memories.

Telephone

Another ignored sign that led to a memorable incident was the one in the multi-story car-park that said ‘Height Restriction, 6ft 6ins’.

Dad was taking his 2nd year form on a day-trip to London and had taken my brother Peter and me along for the ride.  The trip didn’t get off to a particularly good start; dad had driven the minibus, now full of noisy pupils, to collect one of the boys who hadn’t turned up at the school.  He was backing out of the narrow cul-de-sac, having to rely on the boys at the back of the mini-bus for directions.  He had hardly moved inches when the shouts of “you’re going to hit something” started coming in jest.  Unfortunately, but the time that particular statement was actually the correct warning, dad had long stopped listening, choosing instead to rely on his wing mirrors who between them had completely missed the parked Volkswagen Beetle and whose nearside wing was removed quite easily by the minibus bumper.  There was a short delay while the damage to the minibus was inspected and the owner of the VW informed, but about two hours later we  at Hyde Park Corner about to enter the underground car park.  The sign on the barrier said ‘ HEIGHT RESTRICTION 6FT 6INS’. “I’m sure it will be fine” said dad, “We are only six foot six and a half”,  “What difference could half an inch make anyway?”  Sure enough, we drove into the car park with no problems, parked the minibus and did the tourist thing in London.

Clay Pipes

Getting out of the car park, however, was a completely different story.  We had hardly moved a couple of metres, when a scraping sound was heard from the roof of the minibus. A low concrete beam (most likely at exactly 6ft 6ins) was hindering our exit.  “Everybody come to the front” said dad “That will lower the bus a bit and help us through”.  Having got the front of the minibus through, the scraping started again and we were encouraged to move to the back of the bus to get the rest through.  Having cleared the concrete beam we were horrified to see several more at 5 metre intervals all the way along our exit route and spend the next 15 minutes or so running from front to back and back to front to get out of the car park.  A loud cheer went up when we finally go through the barrier and onto the open road.  It was only when we arrived back at the school we discovered the car park barrier, with it’s 6ft 6ins label, still attached to the roof-rack of the minibus.  Needless to say, dad was never let loose with the school minibus again!

I spent a good hour clearing through brambles and other junk just to get close enough to get these pictures

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Back to authority; doing as we are told and not making a fuss about it.  There are some places where, when we enter, we somehow lose our usual confidence to question or complain.  Take hospitals for example.  Why are we so ‘kowtowingly’ grateful when we finally get to see that specialist?  Having been on a waiting list for months, we finally get an appointment.   We arrive on time, even though we know we will be kept waiting.  We sit in those depressing waiting rooms and watch as the clock ticks past our allotted time.  We don’t mind too much because we have this great National Health Service and we should all be grateful (and of course we are).  We sit and observe how well we look/feel compared to all the other poor sick people waiting beside us. On eventually getting to see the specialist/doctor we are dumbstruck in awe of this greater being, listen to the diagnosis and leave the room tripping over our obsequious thank yous, ready to go on to the next waiting list for any necessary treatment.

Why don’t we ever complain?  We wouldn’t put up with this type of service or treatment in any other walk of life.  Because we are British and that’s what we British do.

According to the Parish Council this addition to the village sign (referred to in previous blog) definitely broke the rules

According to the Parish Council my dad’s addition to the village sign (referred to in previous blog) definitely broke the rules

WELL NOT MY DAD (well he wasn’t British for starters).  While he was always grateful to somebody for giving him their time, waiting wasn’t one of the things he did very well.

(I’ve been in shops with him when, having waited for assistance for a few minutes with no success, he would gently start knocking things from the display shelves; nothing that would cause any damage, but just enough to make some noise and attract attention).

Whistles

A few years ago, in his late 80’s he was in hospital after suffering a minor stroke.  At some point he was taken in a wheelchair, by a porter, from his hospital bed to the x-ray department where he was promptly left for some hours (he says hours but it was probably much less).  When they finally came to call him for his x-ray he was nowhere to be seen, setting off a major search in the hospital for one 4ft 11ins, hard of hearing  87-year-old man, with an Austrian accent and, because of the stroke, a visible lack of symmetry.   It was some time, after a fruitless search, that they discovered him tucked up comfortably in bed; the one place they hadn’t thought to look!  Against all protocol he decided he wasn’t going to wait any longer and had wheeled himself through the labyrinth of corridors, back to the ward and into his bed.

Springs

On another occasion, having gone in through A & E with acute back pain and been ‘dumped’ in an inappropriate ward where he was told he wouldn’t be able to have a scan on his back for five days, he promptly called me to come and collect him and discharged himself.  Even with a painful back, he had better things to do than wait in a hospital bed for five days.

Ink Bottle Collection

In his book dad tells a story about a time when breaking the rules actually worked in his mother’s favour.

In 1938, after the German occupation of Austria, my grandmother Sidone, attempted to cross the border into France with her parents, her sister and her 14-year-old nephew Felix.  They were all caught; their passports were stamped ‘refoulement’ and they were instructed to ‘return to Vienna and never show their faces in France again’.

Sidone Frommer Passport

Passport with 'refoule' notice

My Grandmother’s passport with the ‘refoulé’ note and stamp

They got as far as Basle railway station where Felix managed to slip through a hole in the fence into Switzerland and my grandmother, instead of returning to Vienna with the others, made another attempt at the border.  Again she was caught, but this time they couldn’t send her back because now, with the ‘refoulement’ already in her passport, she had broken the law.  She was sentenced to one month imprisonment and fined 100 francs for infringing article 8 of the decree of May 1938.  It was also noted that her presence constituted a hazard to public safety (all 4 ft 6 of her).

Expulsion Notice

This is the expulsion notice given to my grandmother, detailing the law she had broken and instructing her to ‘partir sans délai du territoire de France’.

Stay Extension Stamps

The numerous extensions to her stay in France

After completing her sentence she was instructed to leave French soil and given a ‘refus de séjour’ (refusal to stay) suspended for three days to enable her to make the journey to the border of her choice.  She promptly made her way to Paris where the suspension of her ‘refus de séjour’ was renewed on numerous occasions – in fact she didn’t leave France until 1945.  Breaking the law had saved her life.  Not so fortunate were her parents and sister who returned to Vienna and in 1942, according to records now available online, were deported to concentration camps (Maly Trostinec[ii], sister; Izbica[iii], father; Treblinka[iv], mother) and were not heard of again.

Garden Sculpture

One of the many garden ‘sculptures’

For those of you have an interest in what’s happening with the Fat Nude (referred to in previous blogs).  She now appears in all her finery (well no finery really, as she is naked and her knees are still uneven), on page 104 of the catalogue for Christie’s auction of “South Asian Modern Contemporary Art”[v].  She mingles with such art treasures as ‘Vehicle for Seven Seas 1’, Bronze casts of two airport luggage trolleys (guide price £70 – 100,000) and ‘Sans titre#13’ a piece of luggage cast in aluminium (guide price £30 – 50,000).  They are part of a collection that are described as ‘overarching metaphors for the hopes and dreams invested in journeys as well as the psychological baggage borne by the immigrant migrant worker’.   I do hope prospective buyers at the auction will appreciate the bargain they would be getting with Fat Nude with her guide price of only £3 – 6,000.  To mark the grandness of the occasion Fat Nude is now more formally known as ‘Untitled Standing Nude’, and is labelled as ‘Property from the collection of Julie Plisner Haines’.  It may be a collection of one, but hey, just for a short time I am going to enjoy the moment.  That is unless she goes unsold and I have to carry her home on the tube, to face a couple more decades against the wall.  Maybe I should take the bubble wrap with me just in case.

Hag Stones

Hag Stones

Posted in Collections, Dad, Hoarders, Living History, photgraphs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dad’s Drawers Part 7:Fat Grawers, Manky Rulers and the Generous Gift of the Oil Spill.

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This blog was only ever intended to be a photographic record of my dad’s drawers before the big clear out, but the photos have extended beyond the drawers and the writing way beyond that which I ever intended.

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One of the things I have found fascinating about blogging is the ‘stats’ page where you can track how many people have ‘viewed’ or ’visited’ on any given day/week/month and from where in the world they have looked.  I am quite astonished that having intended this as a slightly humorous piece, for friends and family to enjoy, I have had 1500 ‘views’ to date.

The ‘stats’ page also tells you how people have found the site; whether they have been referred by links, (Facebook, Twitter etc.), or whether they have come via a search engine.

I recently discovered that you can actually see what those ‘accidental’ visitors typed into their search engine box when they stumbled across my blog.

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…….…… and it was at this point I wished I hadn’t looked quite so closely.  On first glance I found it quite amusing that the searches for ‘manky rulers’ (that one’s for you David(1)), and ‘fat grawers’ had found me, and I suppose I should have guessed that having the word ‘naked’ in the title of one of my blogs may have enticed a few extra viewers.  What I didn’t expect was that the words ‘fat’ and ‘bubble-wrap’ would have added to this.   A small selection of the searches (that must have resulted in much disappointment) follow: ‘naked daddy fat’; ‘bubble-wrap nudes;’ ‘Japanese fat naked dad’; ‘old fatty porn naked daddies in rooms’; ‘bubble nude’; ‘fatty naked at sea-side’ and my all time favourite: ‘naked fat person in plastic bubble suit’.

It reminds of a search (mentioned in a previous blog) that I did some years ago, when we returned home from holiday to find a dead and festering muntjac deer in the garden.  I innocently tapped into Google  “What do you do with a dead deer?”  I can’t repeat some of the things I came across, but you may be interested to know that it is not illegal to have sex with one!.   Fortunately, I did eventually find a nice man who disinfected the site, put the carcass in a body-bag and took it away (for a price of course).

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My dad would have loved to blog.  But in the last few years as it became easier to do, his failing memory meant that he sometimes struggled with the computer.

He was a great lover of words and was never without a pencil and notebook.  I have yet to go through all the scribblings on serviettes, backs of shopping lists, bus tickets etc (which I have of course kept).  Below is a small selection of the mass accumulated over the years.   They will make a great scrap-book one day……….

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Over the years dad had been a member of several writer’s groups.  I have already mentioned the one that was run by concrete poetry artist, Bob Cobbing (2) in a previous blog.  He also attended one that took place in the home of Stella Gibbons, author of ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ (3), (and whose daughter later became my aunt, after marrying my mum’s brother).  He was a member of a Cambridge writing group when he started on his book.  He had already had a couple of his short stories published and had been persuaded by friends and family to pen his life story. It was a ‘work in progress’ for several years and he would often send a completed chapter for my opinion. (To be honest, by the time the book did get published I had read through some chapters so many times, that I didn’t get around to reading it in its entirety for some years).

Tools

Having no success in getting a publisher, he spotted a competition being run by Heinemann and Eastern Arts.  What attracted him to it was not the cash prize, but the promise that the winner would have their book published.  There was one slight hitch, the competition was for fiction.  No problem thought dad, I will just change the names, add a couple of stories and no one will know any better.  Nobody was really fooled into thinking that this was anything other than a thinly disguised biography; nonetheless one day when he rang me for a chat he casually dropped into the conversation that he had won the prize and his book was going to be published.  He was 75.

His book, ‘Gravity is Getting me Down’(4), was published in 1994 to good reviews and much media coverage.  You will not be surprised if I tell you that, as well as all of the press cuttings, I have found a box of cassette tapes with recordings of some of the interviews that were aired on both local and national radio.  The strange thing about listening to them now, is that I can finally hear what people have been telling me for years; that my dad had an accent. Of course he did you may say, he was Austrian.  I suppose that having grown up with the accent I never noticed it, thinking that he spoke just like the rest of us.  The book was also translated into German. ‘Die Lust der Schwerkraft. Roman eines Lebens’(5) translated, courtesy of  ‘Google Translate’, as ‘The Pleasure of Gravity, Story of a Life'; doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the English title, but it did well and actually made the bestsellers list in Austria.  The book also went on to win the Society of Authors ‘Sagittarius’ prize (the award presented to him by Laurie Lee).  Sadly, the book is out of print now, and another thing on my ever-lengthening list of ‘To Do’ items is to see how easy it is to get it re-published, or make a digital version available for download.

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One of my favourite chapters in the book is about my great-uncle Walter, an Austrian Jew, who was the brother of my dad’s mum .  Walter was the king of “If I can do something for nothing, why pay?” and if he did have to pay “I’ll give you half of what you’re asking”.

Sound familiar?  I have been with dad when has negotiated down a price for just the ‘bed’ part of  bed and breakfast. (Without any consultation with me I might add!).

Usually though, dad’s was more of a ‘What can I do for you in return?’ type of approach and no money would actually ever change hands.  It worked well both ways for him and I always thought that he must have done a pretty big favour for the ‘Klose’ family who lived in the next village and who mum and dad were friends with.  Whatever he had done, in return their sons (between them) taught me the basics of the guitar.  For a whole summer I was dropped off at their house every Sunday morning (with the guitar that dad had built for me in his workshop) and one of the four brothers, whoever was around, would give me a lesson.  It wasn’t the best way to learn an instrument and I do seem to remember sitting around waiting  a lot of the time (watching the bush-baby that was caged in the kitchen being fed live locusts as I recall); but at the tender age of 15, spending a morning around four good-looking  young men between the ages of 18 and 24 wasn’t such a hardship.

Anyway, back to Walter.  He found his niche in the Viennese furrier district, selling and buying.  I say ‘selling and buying’ rather than ‘buying and selling’ because he would never pay money for anything until he had already sold it.  Each morning he would do his rounds, crumpled brown paper package under his arm; making sales and collecting payment for items that he would, later in the day, buy.  Never having to put any money up front or take any risks.  At the same time he would pick up the off-cuts of fur thrown out because they were too small to do anything with.  When he had enough of these off-cuts he would sell them as a bundle, often back to one of the furriers he had collected them from in the first place.

He used to seek out oil spills on the road and rush to rub the soles of his shoes in them as he said that it extended the life of the leather.  Once, when walking along a Paris street with dad he stood by a spill in the road and gestured magnanimously “Here, Freddie.  This one’s for you”.

He had the foresight to get out of Austria before the ethnic cleansing began and he set up in Paris, hardly losing a day’s work and continuing trading from his small brown paper parcel.  When, in the wake of Anschluss, half of Vienna’s furriers turned up in Paris, Walter was ready and waiting and business picked up where it had left off.

Foresight again took got him out of Paris before the German’s arrived and into the UK where he sat out the rest of the war in the British army as a store-keepers assistant.  This incidentally qualified him for free NHS care even when he was no longer a UK resident. While I was growing up he was a frequent visitor despite living, first in Canada, then Switzerland.  Not surprisingly each visit just happened to coincide with some hospital check up or other.

I visited him and his wife Trudy in Switzerland while I was on holiday there in the ‘80’s. The habits of a lifetime had not changed.   He was most welcoming, offering us all cups of tea and yoghurt.  He then proceeded to make one tea bag stretch for all six cups and he opened one small yoghurt carton which meant we just about managed a tea-spoon full each!

His penny-pinching finally caught up with him in the end.  After years of shopping around for cheap food, which often meant bread, cheeses and fruit with their own micro-cultures, he died at the age of 72  from a tropical disease (diagnosed  courtesy of the NHS) that had only been previously found in the slums of third world countries.

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workshop

Finally, just in case you wondered where I am with the sorting.  The pictures above are just a small section of the workshop.  I have already spent some considerable hours clearing the floor just to be able to get to the shelves, and as you can see have many more to go.

To make any further progress I have realised I can put it off no longer; the time has come to venture into the shady world of scrap metal dealing.

Also, for those of you who have been asking.  The Fat Nude will be up for auction at Christie’s on June 11th as part of their ‘South Asian, Modern Contemporary Art’ sale.  I will be there!

Notes

1. I have said before that this process of going through my dad’s stuff has led me into some strange situations, and odd conversations.   I would never have contemplated writing a blog, a clandestine meeting in a car park, selling a painting at Christie’s or handing a gun over to the police.  Nor would I have ever thought that I would have an email discussion with my daughter’s guitar teacher (and coincidentally an old friend of my dad’s) on the use of the word ‘Manky’; which incidentally doesn’t figure on the Microsoft Word spell check.  But this is the strange road I have traveled over the last year and long may it continue…..…)

2.  Bob Cobbing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Cobbing 3. Stella Gibbons – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Gibbons 4. Gravity is Getting Me Down – Fred Plisner ISBN: 0 434 59078 9 5. Die Lust Der Schwer Kraft. Roman Eins Lebens – Fred Plisner ISBN:3 351 02333 2

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The Japanese ‘Big-Eyes’ and the Car Park Deal

A few months ago during the clearing process I found a large wooden box containing an equally large pair of binoculars.  Ugly things, painted a military green and so heavy that I could barely lift them.  As with all such items, they went into the boot of my car to return home with me.

My family is now well used to my return from a clearing session with a full car load, and have progressed from the  “Ooh, is there anything interesting in there?” to the sarcastic “Oh good, more junk!”   There are constant moans that I have cleared our old junk, from drawers and cupboards in our house, only to replaced it with ‘Fred’s junk’.

This particular junk/treasure went straight into my garage for dealing with a later stage. Never let it be said that putting off today what you can do tomorrow is not the best policy.  It enables you avoid making decisions and, more importantly, means you don’t have to do it today!  Procrastinators Unite! (tomorrow).

Binoculars

I was reminded of the binoculars some weeks later when I was getting something else out of the garage.  I can’t remember now what I was going to get, because once I saw the binoculars I decided that they needed to be photographed straight away.  Whatever it was will probably come to me next time I go to the garage for something else, which in turn will be forgotten, and so it goes on.    That’s pretty much how my life works.

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Photographing the binoculars in their box was fairly straightforward, but I thought that it would be much better if I could get a picture of them on the tripod.  Cue comedy scene in driveway:

My first mistake was choosing the gravel driveway as a suitably stable surface.  You know that voice at the back of your head that tells you “You should really work out how you are going to do this before you start”.  Well, I always ignore it: a) because it seems too much effort and anyway, I want to do it now – not later – not another day; and b) because life is too short to read instructions.  I hasten to add that I don’t apply that same logic to household chores or really anything that actually needs doing; those tasks obviously need very careful planning and can only be done under the right conditions (blue moon, pigs flying, dry English summer).

Sometimes this approach works for me and sometimes it doesn’t.  It didn’t work very well when, in an attempt to repair a dripping shower, I ended up with a high pressured, horizontal spurt of water that resulted in a call-out by the emergency plumber, a bathroom that you could paddle in, and a promise to my husband never to attempt any plumbing repairs again.

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One of the many drawers of lids that I found!

Back to the tripod that, even before the voice had finished, I had cleverly erected and which appeared quite stable; even on the gravel.

With difficulty I lifted the binoculars out of the box and balanced them on the top of the tripod while I looked for the  hole on the underside which would secure them in place.  As I was feeling for the hole (I knew there was one, but hadn’t had the foresight to check exactly where it was before I had started) the tripod started to slowly sinking towards the ground; legs splaying outwards like a sick giraffe.  Determined not to let go of my new-found treasure, I was slowly sinking towards the ground myself trying to place my body between binoculars the ground.  It was only the assistance of a sharp-eyed son who had looked out of the window come to my rescue that stopped me being part of a tripod and binocular heap on the driveway.

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I wasn’t too sure how the binoculars had been acquired, but I had my suspicions. Dad, being a jack-of-all-trades, was often the recipient of items in need of repair, or knives in need of sharpening.  He was always happy to help somebody out, but wasn’t particularly speedy about the process and it would be quite normal for the broken item to hang around the house for a year or so.  Eventually, the owner would turn up and dad would usually do the repair there and then, chatting to them over the lathe/welder/sharpening stone as he did so.  The trouble was that in his later years he couldn’t always remember who had given him which item to repair, and if said item wasn’t collected promptly it could quite easily have been given to some other needy person.  Dad was a generous man and couldn’t see the point of having two of something when he only needed one (and yes, I laugh at the irony of that now), and so he gave anything he considered surplus to his requirements away.  There was an awkward moment once when a friend returned for her newly sharpened knife to find that it had been given away only the day before.  This may or may not have been the case with the binoculars, but they had been lying around the house for about 30 years and in that time nobody had laid claim to them, so we will never know.

Incidentally, as a jack-of-all trades dad resented having to pay for something that he felt he should be able to do himself.  He could put his hand to most small jobs: electrics; plumbing (unlike his daughter); car maintenance; bricklaying (that one I can do) and welding to name just a few.  If he had to buy help in, he would watch that person at work to see how the job was done and by the time the need for it came around again he would have the tools and the expertise to do it himself.  It was something he found very hard to give up in his older years and at 92, only a few months before he died, he was up a ladder at the top of the stairwell replacing a broken light fitting.

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Credit cards, train tickets, cigarette cards, and phone cards; they are all there. If you look carefully you should be able to spot one of the early cashpoint cards, with the punched holes for the computer to read, and my incomplete set of Monkees cards that I thought had been thrown away long ago.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the binoculars.  They didn’t look particularly old and I wasn’t really sure eBay was an option; given their weight postage was likely to cost way more than they were worth. 15 minutes browsing of the wonderful World Wide Web I was able to establish that the binoculars were most likely to be WW2 Japanese ‘Big Eyes’ and that they probably came from a captured Japanese warship at the end of the war.    I found out that the word “Kohgaku” which was written by one of the eye-pieces was the company name (later to become Nippon, then Nikon).  Although I wasn’t able to find an exact match, it did look like they would be worth a bit more than I first thought.

Further investigation was needed.

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Let me tell you that several tins of Brasso and much elbow grease has been expended in the process of getting these pictures to you

I sent an email and pictures out to some specialist dealers and to some auction houses who offered free valuations.  One auction house said they would probably “fetch between £300 – 400”, another said I would be “sadly disappointed” and the third said they were of “little value” and “not the type of item we would sell anyway”.  Out of the two dealers I had contacted.  One offered £800 – £1,000 and another £800 – £1200 depending on the condition.  My children rubbed their hands together with glee.  (If I haven’t mentioned before, any money made from selling the bits and pieces was to be divided between the six grandchildren).

…..and that’s how I found myself in the car park of Duxford Imperial War Museum counting a wodge of £20.00 notes.

More Drawers

I had established who would give me the best deal and, using the wonders of digital photography, a fixed priced was agreed before exchange.  Getting the binoculars to the dealer was not straightforward.  I wasn’t particularly keen on driving all the way to Notting Hill and there was no way I would be able to carry the binoculars on the train.  The dealer had already offered to drive to my home to collect, but I wasn’t to keen on that, what if he was a crook and caught a glimpse of all my other treasure?

The next time I was close to the M11 junction I did a recce for suitable spots for the exchange.   I ruled out the McDonald’s car park as I know they had closed-circuit TV.  I had this awful thought that anyone who saw us might think there was a drug deal going on.  Why I then decided that wouldn’t be the case in the car park of the Imperial War Museum I don’t know? Anyway, that is where I chose.

I did a bit of checking before actually agreeing to meet up and, at the insistence of Paul (husband), requested a photograph – after all no serial killer would send you a picture of themselves would they?
Not experienced in meeting strange men in car parks, I was accompanied by my own personal bodyguard (son Ben) and armed with a picture of a man who looked like everyone’s favourite uncle we pulled into the car park ready for the drop.

After all the nervous anticipation the transaction proceeded very smoothly.  Ben made himself useful by counting out the dosh while I chatted to the dealer and handed over the goods; yet more junk was converted into cash and the six grandchildren were £200 apiece better off.

All this talk of things Japanese reminded me of an incident many years ago when dad decided that it would be amusing to poke a little fun at local bureaucracy.    The Parish Council at the time appeared to be a ‘closed shop’ populated by local landowners.  Planning permission appeared to be determined by who you knew and how much money you had.  Whether there was any truth in that I don’t know, but while mum and dad were refused planning permission on several occasions, the local farmers appeared to build wherever they liked.

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Anyway, dad had a brother-in-law who worked for the AA, in the department that made up signs for special events.  Dad thought it would be amusing to get him to make up as sign that said “Twinned with Yokohama”.  I can remember helping him attach this to the village sign in the dead of night (well just after dark really, but dead of night sounds much more dramatic).  The sign survived for a few days before being taken down by the village powers-that-be, tut-tutting as they did so, and tabling an urgent agenda item for the next meeting to discuss: a) whether planning law had been breached; b) by whom, though they had their suspicions; and c) to agree that even if they wanted to twin with a town, it would be they who would choose it and it would most definitely not be Yokohama, but somewhere much more fitting for dignitarial (I think I just made up that word) visits such as Provence or Tuscany!

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A little story about the picture above.  I found these tools in a container on a shelf; I didn’t know what they were used for so posted a the picture on Facebook and asked if anyone had any ideas.  One friend suggested that they could be apothecary tools, and looking at the various shaped ends it  looked like a distinct possibility.  The next day I was moving some of dad’s old books and came across one that was a 1901 textbook about wood-turning, pattern making and sand casting;  there was a bookmark sticking out and the book fell open at the marked page ……..

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We were of course completely wrong; the tools are finishing tools used in the process of sand casting but if I had believed in communication from beyond the grave, this would have been a pretty sure sign.

I leave you with two more pictures: one a photo that I found a couple of weeks ago that just about sums up my dad’s unique sense of humour.

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….and this, which having been inspired by doing the Christmas Tree, could be the start of several creations using items from the drawers.

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Episode 4: The Pig Chase and the Pheasant in the Brown Paper Bag

I have noticed two things over the past few months.  The first is that I have inherited the ‘might-come-in-useful-one-day’ gene.  While sorting through dad’s things, I can’t bring myself to throw away anything that looks like it might be a part of something else even though I know that the likelihood of me recognising that ‘something else’ is fairly slim.  In true Plisner fashion I now have a pile of these almost-useful objects waiting for their long-lost counterpart that, for all I know, could be lying  in the very same pile.   One day it will have to be dealt with…………..but not today.

The second is that my once-large garage appears to be shrinking; strangely dad’s looks more spacious than usual.

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A couple of blogs ago, when I told the tale of the guns there was a suggestion that dad may have had them to try to shoot a pheasant.  This is the story of the pheasants at the end of the garden and one about the Agnes the pig; interspersed as usual with more drawers and collections.

After moving into the house near Cambridge, dad harboured ideas about using his one acre of land to become self-sufficient.  For inspiration a visit was paid to John Seymour, the 1960’s Self-Sufficiency guru on whom the TV series ‘The Good Life’ was said to be based, at his small-holding in Suffolk.  Mum recently told me that she and dad had been disappointed with the visit. While they were there, John’s wife returned from a day’s shopping in London having purchased lots of fancy cheeses.   This was not a model of self-sufficiency that mum and dad were particularly interested in subscribing to and anyway my mum always hated blue cheese.

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Not to be deterred from the ideal, in the years while I was growing up, dad used the garden to house beehives, pigs, one sheep, geese, ducks, chickens and rabbits and there was always a vegetable patch full of leeks and potatoes.  Having  lived off the land for several years, whilst hiding in rural France during the war, dad was quite a dab hand at killing, plucking and gutting most things and, apart from the occasions when my pet rabbits appeared as Sunday lunch, we were all quite happy to go along with it.

Agnes, our first pig appeared when dad realised that the school where he taught was disposing of large volumes of food on a daily basis.  Anyone who experienced school dinners of the 60’s and 70’s will remember why more was thrown away than was ever eaten and I am sure that a large proportion of the pigs-swill was tapioca and re-hydrated cabbage which at my school seemed to be on the menu every day. True to form dad decided that he could put this waste to good use.  He purchased a pig, two plastic dustbins and some wire fencing.  A pen was constructed in the back garden and before too long Agnes was in residence.  Each day dad would return from school, the two plastic dustbins in the back of his Austin 1300 full of the still-luke-warm food, along with that familiar school-dinner aroma.  Agnes would snort with delight as the dustbins were emptied into her trough.  That same pattern continued for several years, during which time we bred pigs and ate pork as an alternative to chicken and my rabbits were spared.  Then new regulations came in that stated all such food had to be re-processed before it was fed to animals.  At which point the pigs were recycled into the freezer.

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Much of my childhood was spent rounding up said livestock from other people’s gardens in the village (neighbouring villages in the case of the sheep).  The geese were the worst offenders and it was a regular occurrence for my brother Peter or I to have to go up to the village shop, where we would find them hissing away at anyone who passed.  One unforgettable occasion was when I was about 15.  My friend (Splodge) and I were going to a party and, armed with our 30p bottle of cider and dressed in the latest fashion of long wrap-around cheesecloth skirts, we were waiting for a lift.  Just as we were about to get in the car a pig wandered by. The next half-hour was reminiscent of a Benny Hill comedy chase, minus the scantily-dressed women: Pig; followed by Peter; followed by me; (with restricted movement in my long skirt and one hand on my head protecting the curling-tongued hair, that had taken several hours to perfect); followed by dad, who was shouting directions at everyone (including the pig); followed by friend also in long skirt and with curling-tongued hair).   The chase continued around the garden several more times: pig; Peter (who was now armed with a board to try to steer the pig in the right direction); me (skirt now embellished with leaves and twigs and hair slowly un-curling); dad getting louder and louder; friend who by now was wondering how she came to be chasing a pig in her new cheesecloth skirt on a Saturday night.  Eventually the pig was cornered and steered back to her pen.   Though slightly late, we did get to the party sporting a new rustic, unkempt look with just a mild aroma of pig.  Needless to say our pulling power was severely handicapped that night.

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Always on the lookout for menu variety and free food dad had always had his eye on  the pheasants at the end of the garden.  They never came anywhere near the house and you rarely saw them, but you could frequently hear the squawking and fluttering as they moved from ground to tree.

Dad described the pheasant in his book:

He allows me to get within ten paces, pretending not to notice the stealthily approaching homo ineptus, after which he deposits a dropping and withdraws lethargically.  Should I start running, he would lift himself angrily over the hedge, swearing while airborne”

Over the years he tried numerous tricks to entice the pheasants closer to the house so he could bag one for the pot.  One recommended method involved sewing raisins onto a thread, which in turn was attached to a brown paper bag.  The idea was that the pheasant would eat the line of raisins one by one until it got to the last raisin in the bag, by which time it would be inside the bag.  Being the stupid creature it was, once it could not see where to go it would stay put on the ground and could be easily caught.  Unfortunately for dad, nobody had informed the pheasant of its role in this plan and it gaily ate the thread and raisins, shook the bag from its head and disappeared with its raisin-filled gullet back to the hiding place at the end of the garden.  Dad also tried leaving out bowls of brandy in an attempt to make the pheasants too drunk to run or fly away.  The brandy was drunk, but the tolerance for alcohol clearly higher than expected as there was never any sign of an inebriated pheasant.

And, here is the strange part of the story (cue title music to ’Tales of the Unexpected’).  The morning after dad died, just outside the kitchen window, closer to the house than they had ever been seen before, were 5 or 6 pheasants strutting around.  You could almost hear them calling to all their friends “He’s gone; it’s safe to come out now”.

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I add the following four pictures in response to comments made on my blog and an article on Hidden Museum (http://www.hiddenmuseum.net/ihre_post.html).  The article makes references to something that I had always thought was one of my dad’s many eccentricities.  He enjoyed playing with the postal service and as well as sending letters and postcards (mostly addressed back to him) with minimal address details, he would also try various stamp combinations.  For example, he would cut a stamp in half to represent half of its value or he would use foreign stamps in the wrong country or a combination of different country stamps on one envelope.  He would also stick something in the corner of the envelope that wasn’t a postage stamp at all.    If ever I went abroad I would be given a batch of postcards with the request to post them when I got there.  Dad would have already stuck on his assortment of stamps and added odd message.  A lot of these cards and envelopes form part of  ‘the hoard’ and that has enabled me to illustrate his actions and quote a couple of the messages.  “We have left the cat in the oven with enough food and tranquilizers for five days”  was closely followed by “No need to look after the cat, the tranquilisers ran out and she did not survive the trip”.  I can confirm that no real cats were ever subject to either the oven or the tranquilisers.

Australiam and German stamps used for UK postageThis postcard shows the use of both Australian  and German stamps  for postage within the UK

Cut UK stamps This one shows the usage of stamps cut to show a new value

letterA ‘To Pay’ stamp is used here amongst the more usual postage stamps.  These stamps used to be added to the envelopes by the Post Office if the correct value of stamps was not put on the letter.  In this case the ‘To Pay’ stamp has been franked  as if it were a valid postage stamp.

Green Shield Stamp

This is my favourite.  A  letter posted and franked with a Green Shield Stamp.

For those of you too young to remember, Green Shield Stamps were not postage stamps at all, but loyalty stamps, issued by many shops and petrol stations each time a purchase was made.  They were collected and stuck into a book (I’m sure I’m not the only person of my age who remembers being responsible for all the licking and sticking that required).  They could be  exchanged for items that were chosen from the Green Shield Stamp Catalogue and there were  shops of the same name dotted around the country.   I don’t remember anyone who was  patient enough to save up the 375 books required for a colour television, but in 1965 you could exchange just one book for  ‘A set of six mugs in pastel colours’, ”Stainless steel salad servers” or ‘A set of six lager glasses with gold rims’.  All vital items for the 1960’s households!

I leave you with the good news that I have found the stash (I knew there would be one!)   A neat little bundle of damp fifty pound notes was retrieved from under a floor board and came just in time for mum to pay the man for trimming the trees.

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Dad’s Drawers Part Three – The Fat Nude and the sea of bubble wrap

The Fat Nude (with the uneven knees)

….. and, how I ended up in Christie’s Auction House surrounded by a sea of bubble wrap, with a fit of the giggles.

The Fat Nude (my title, not the artist’s) is a pen drawing measuring approximately 100 x 60 cm framed.  It was drawn by an Indian artist called Francis Newton Souza [i] in 1962 and it has spent much of the last half century face against a wall.  You can see why.

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Poor woman appears to have some terrible deformity in her left calf

This isn’t the best photograph, but I had to take it through the glass to avoid any risk of damaging the picture.  Actually, at one point I nearly ruined the picture and the story.  It’s really difficult to take a photograph through glass without getting a reflection of yourself, lights or windows.   I carried the picture around from room to room to find a light place with the least reflections and finally settled on my bedroom.  The room was light and there was a white duvet cover.  There I was standing (wobbling may be a more accurate description) on the bed, one foot either side of the picture (remember it’s size) so that I could get a shot directly from above. My camera slipped from my hand and with a fine tuned, ninja move I caught it  only to come perilously close to landing in the centre of  the ‘work of art’.  All that effort and you can still make out the shadow of my arm holding  the camera above the picture.

So, some background first…..

Dad fancied himself as a bit of an artist and the house and the garden were full of his creations and sculptures. Following his waste-not-want-not philosophy, all of these sculptures were made out of re-used materials.  Nothing ever went to the rubbish tip from our house, in fact other people’s rubbish seem to find its way there.  In the garden were upturned washing machine drums with items placed strategically on top.  Attached to the ends of old curtain rails that were stuck into the ground were plastic dolls heads, skulls (usually animal), pieces of flint and the ever useful two-pint plastic milk bottles.  In fact walking in the garden in high winds could be a hazard without a hard hat as the curtain rails would waver quite violently from side to side throwing off their chosen adornment.

Inside the house there would be creations made from polystyrene packaging, stones, bits of wood, plastic lids, old cd’s and yet more two-pint plastic milk bottles.  These creations would be pinned to the notice board, suspended from the ceiling and glued to the walls, as well as filling  any gap or free surface in the house.  Now, even I recognised that there was a limit to how much of dad’s stuff I could keep so, sad to say, many of the creations from plastic and polystyrene were duly recycled.  All that remain now are a few small items dotted around the house and some of the metal structures in the garden.

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I don’t think this one, made from old plug pins, would look particularly out of  place alongside the Carl Andre’s Bricks or Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal (Fountain) in the Tate Modern 

Some time in the early seventies my dad organised a Bring-and-Buy sale to sell some of his sculptures and raise money for charity.  As was the tradition with these sales (many years before charity shops took off and well before boot sales),  people who attended these events also brought with them things to donate for sale.

……..and that was how I came to have the Fat Nude.

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Dad’s poster, that I found amongst his papers (I told you he didn’t throw away anything) was duplicated in foolscap on the school Gestetner.  Anyone under 50 will probably not remember foolscap-size paper or duplicating machines.  Foolscap was the irritatingly-sized paper that was too big for A4 ring binders, so at school you ended up with a bit of your sheet sticking out of either end of your folder and it eventually became so dog-eared it was useless.  Duplicating machines (Gestetners) were what we had to use before photocopiers were widely available.  I can’t remember exactly, but there was something pink involved and you had to type on a special bit of paper which was attached to the duplicating machine.  You then turned a handle and your copies came out of the other side like magic – oh yes we really knew how to live in the seventies!

Bob Cobbing  [ii] was one of dad’s old friends who had made the journey up from North London.  He brought with him the eponymous drawing, as well as some of his own works, to donate to the sale.  I only recently discovered, when trying to find some link between Bob and the drawing, that he was one of the movers and shakers of  the London poetry, writing and arts scene in sixties London and quite probably rubbed shoulders with Souza.  Dad had met Bob through a writing group  which was run under the umbrella of the Hendon Experimental Arts Group and later led to the formation of the Writer’s Forum.  Among dad’s papers I found a programme from a play that had been put on by the group and in which my dad had appeared.

diary of a scoundrel programmw

Check out the Producer!

On with the story….

Christie’s have a page on their website where you can upload a photograph of an item and request a free valuation.  I have to say I wasn’t expecting much of a response; I had previously sent them details of a pair of binoculars and they had not considered them to be of any value.  That’s another story, but I eventually exchanged them in a museum car park for over £1000, so what did they know?

Anyway, they were apparently Souza experts, having sold a large portion of the Souza estate some years previously and they were really interested in seeing the picture.

So, that is how Paul and I came to be sitting in Christie’s in London; drowning in a sea of bubble wrap and brown tape, and not taking  proceedings with the seriousness befitting of such a grand place. (Yes, we were giggling like schoolchildren).

As yet another aside to this story, I have to tell you about the bubble wrap.

This bubble wrap represented a hoarder’s success.    A few years ago, much to my mum’s horror Dad had gone for a browse around  Staples and had exited carrying a roll of bubble wrap that was nearly as big as him (not too hard when you are only 4ft 11ins).  “It will come in useful one day” he told her.  The roll then remained in the living room of the house for several months, unsuccessfully blending in with the furniture and not having come in useful on any occasion so far. Eventually when mum could stand it there no longer, I agreed to take it away to store in my garage “until they needed it”.  Needless to say it had sat in my garage for several more years again without ever  “coming in useful”.

It was while I was rolling out metres and metres of the stuff onto my hall floor to wrap the picture ready for its journey to London, that I had to smile and say out loud “You were right dad, it did come in useful”.

Christie’s is one of these places that when you enter through the doors that have been held open by the doorman, you feel like you have stepped from reality into an alternative universe.  Objects of desire are sold for vast prices, by people from privileged backgrounds to people from privileged backgrounds.  It felt somewhat surreal and vaguely comical.  Here we were with our bubbled-wrapped fat nude, sitting in the lobby watching projected images of paintings that had been sold for millions of pounds.  By the time Anastasia and Damien  had escorted us into a room to unpeel the numerous layers of bubble wrap and enthuse about the drawing,  the giggles could be suppressed no longer.  They clearly hadn’t spotted the deformed calf  when  gave us a guide price of  £3 – 6,000 and I wasn’t going to be the one point it out.

Some more drawers for you…..

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…and more collections

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I leave you with my Christmas card photo which this year is made up of an assortment from Dad’s Drawers.  Anyone visiting the house over the last few weeks would have found it laid out on the floor of the conservatory with a rather complicated ladder structure to enable me to get the best aerial image possible.  Don’t tell Paul, but I was up a ladder when nobody else was in the house and there was lots of leaning involved. (I am not allowed a chain saw either).

I will leave you to play ‘I Spy’ the ‘Ban the Bomb’ badge, the razor blades, the farthing and the florin…
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Oh, and just to keep you posted.  Gun number four was found yesterday.  Fortunately, it has ‘Starting Pistol’ written on the handle so no panic needed.


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Dad’s Drawers: Episode 2 – The Gun

Dad’s Drawers: Episode two and the story of the gun.

Some background first and then the gun.

My dad was an Austrian Jew, born in Vienna in 1919. Hoping to keep one step ahead of Hitler he, in his own words: “Dressed in 1938 rambling outfit; Lederhosen, hobnail boots, rucksack and Mandolin I set forth from Vienna’s Westbahnhof into the unknown[i]”; he made his way over the border into Switzerland, then over the Alps into France and later over the Pyrenees into Spain.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like to ‘up stumps’, leaving your family and worldly belongings behind; but maybe that alone was the influencing factor to his hoarding habits later in life.  I know that dad found it impossible to part with anything.  As far as he was concerned everything would have a use someday (though not sure what plans he had for the Austin 1100 that is, as I write, slowly sinking in their garden 40 years after it last saw a road).  Growing up, my brother and I had bicycles made up from wheels and frames that had been ‘rescued’ from lay-bys and rubbish tips. Living as we did in the flat countryside of Cambridgeshire; there was never a need for any fancy gears.  Just after I was married, and living in a house where the previous occupants had taken all the curtain rails (and light bulbs), we passed a rubbish tip on the edge of a building site. After some rummaging, dad presented me with a very dirty curtain rail.  “Bit of a clean and it will fine” he said.  We took it back to the house, but never made it inside as Paul, my recently acquired husband said: “I am not having that junk in my house”.  This was to be a familiar pattern in our household over the next 30 years!

Dad couldn’t even throw away plastic containers and in his kitchen the storage jars were cleaned out, 2-pint plastic milk bottles stacked very neatly on top of each other (quite attractive in their own way once filled with rice, lentils and beans).  Well before the green revolution encouraged us to ‘recycle and reuse’ my dad was doing so because he could not bear the thought of any moulded plastic item going to waste.  To date I estimate to have thrown away (into recycling bin of course) several hundred of these plastic milk bottles!

Some of those plastic milk bottles in use

I already knew about the air rifle.  It had belonged to my brother and as children we had spent many an enjoyable afternoon firing air pellets at coke cans in the garden.  Some years ago dad had put the gun under his bed, along with the flash gun from his camera, in case of intruders.  I am not sure what he would have done with the gun had he ever needed to use it.  It wasn’t loaded and too far under the bed for him to reach, maybe the fact that it was there gave him a sense of security.  The flashgun, however, was closer and charged ready for use.  He told me that if anyone entered the bedroom he would fire it off, temporarily blinding the intruder while he made his escape.

Having cleared a corner in his workroom I was ready to shift some furniture (still looking for that elusive stash of money which I was sure I would find somewhere.)  I moved a shelving unit away from a wall and, lo-and-behold, no money, but a handgun!   Now, I have no knowledge of guns but it didn’t look very interesting, was going to add nothing to my growing collections or displays; nor did it look like something I would be selling on Ebay.  I threw it in a box destined for my house and the rapidly growing collection of ‘Not-sure-what-to-do-with-this-so will-deal-with-it-later’.  ‘Later’ meaning that it would sit in a box for several years until space ran out or, as in the case of one house we lived in, until the surveyor warned us our ceilings would fall in if the loft wasn’t lightened of its load.

Anyway, I digress; back to the gun.  A couple of weeks later I was chatting to Julian, a neighbour, who had come over to look at the various ‘large items’ in the workshop (One lathe, several drills, three saws, two grinders, an engraving machine and some machinery as yet to be reached and identified).  We were looking at the remains of a third gun, an old rifle riddled with woodworm, when I told him about the handgun.

He said “Check on the internet, it may be worth something”.

So I did.  I found the make and model of the gun and duly tapped ‘Saxby Palmer Revolver’ into Google.

Imagine my horror when one of the first search items was headed:

“PENSIONER NARROWLY ESCAPES 5 YEAR PRISON SENTENCE FOR POSSESSION OF ILLEGAL FIREARM”

(Not since I had used Google to search the sentence “What can you do with a dead deer” have I been so shocked, but that’s another story altogether).

Further reading of the article told me that: a) The gun was illegal and b) It definitely would not be advisable to try and sell it on Ebay.

What to do next?  Clearly I couldn’t leave it where it was.  Some suggestions on the internet were to saw it to bits with a hacksaw or bury it in the garden; neither of those options was particularly appealing.

Then paranoia set in.  If I took it to the police station, would I be arrested there and then for illegal possession?  What would happen if I got stopped or had an accident on the way to the police station?  My friend Ann, a magistrate, offered to accompany me to the police station and vouch for me.

But, as paranoia faded an over-active imagination stepped into its place.  What if this gun had been used in a crime and my dad had hidden it for somebody?  Would they have to search the house (that my mum still lived in)?  It wasn’t such an outlandish thought.  For most of his working life in England, dad had been a metalwork teacher and, as a teacher of a non-academic subject he attracted the ‘drop-outs’. They would, instead of going to Maths or English hang around the metalwork room pretending they had a free lesson.  Dad never asked any questions, giving them jobs to do to keep their idle hands busy.  After leaving school these same boys (it was always boys as us girls were not allowed to do metalwork in those unenlightened days and I am still very bitter about that!)) would regularly drop by the house for a chat with dad.  He always had time for them and vouched for them when he could.  Education had chewed these boys up and spat them outwith no qualifications or skills, and several of them ended up in borstal or prison.  It crossed my mind that if one of these boys had turned up at the house with gun in hand asking dad to hide it, he probably would have agreed.

I now wanted to be rid of the gun as soon as possible so telephoned the BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation).  Julian had told me that they would be able to advise me.

They confirmed that: yes, the gun was illegal; no, I couldn’t sell it; but yes they would be able to dispose of it for me and better still they would arrange for it to be collected.

So this is how I came to be visited by a very friendly Firearms Officer from Essex Constabulary who, much to the relief of us all, took the gun away saying “Happens all the time, if you find any more just give me a ring”. It turned out that the gun was an air pistol that until recent years was quite legal until they discovered that the cartridges could be adapted for more lethal purposes.  I still don’t know when and why dad came to have the gun and why it was hidden; maybe, as my friend Heidi suggested, it was for the pheasants (that’s another story), but we will never know.

Next week off to Christies of London with the fat nude….


[i] ‘Gravity is getting Me Down’ Fred Plisner. ISBN 0434590789

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Dad’s Drawers: The Story

It was nearly a year ago when I started to tackle, what I lovingly refer to as, ‘Dad’s Treasure’ and the rest of my family refer to as ‘Fred’s Junk’.  It has been an interesting journey with much humour and many a surprise.  One that has seen me exchange goods for cash in a museum car park, has  involved a house call by the local police firearms officer,   has seen an accumulation in my own house of much of the aforementioned junk/treasure, and which, later this month, will see me delivering a ‘work of art’ (otherwise known as a vulgar drawing by a famous dead Indian artist) to Christie’s of London for auction next year.  All I can say is thank goodness we have the internet; it has helped me to identify objects, find and speak to specialists and unload unwanted items.  As I write this I have been watching bids on a couple of old brass handles (Dad’s Treasure) on Ebay raise to the astonishing sum of £107.77.  Quite a nice price for junk, thank you very much.

My father died on the 28th December 2011 at the grand age of 92 and soon after, on a bleak January morning, I started to address the problem of my dad’s accumulations.  The first assessment was that I was dealing with the result of a lifetime of the hoarding of anything and everything,  with drawers and boxes full of random bits and pieces.  As the weeks and months have passed it it is clear that, although some of the things I that have found are unusual (why would anyone collect the silver foil seals from the top of plastic milk bottles?), there was much more order to the chaos than I had first thought.

As well as being spread around  the family home, where he and my mum had lived for 45 years, the hoards took up one (quite large) room which dad used as his office/writing room and  a workshop that had been designed as double garage but that had never  even caught a glimpse of one car, let alone two. To date I have just about finished the ‘office’ but have a long way to go with the workshop which is full of all those bits of machinery no self-respecting engineer could do without, in addition to all those bits and pieces that a self-respecting engineer could easily have been done without but did not.  Many of which bear no relation to engineering of any type, shape or form!

The very first search was to look to see if there was any money stashed away.  Dad would occasionally hand out money to any of the six grand-children and crisp £50 notes would emerge from the finger of a rubber glove or a bag of oily rags.  I was certain that I would discover money secreted all over the house.  There was one hiding place that my mum knew of; a small hole by a light fitting, in the ceiling of a store room.  With anticipation I tentatively put my hand into the hole.  BINGO!  A heavy bundle wrapped in rags and a supermarket carrier bag was pulled out.  Big disappointment when it turned out to be a collection of manky looking, cutlery oddments.

 

Why this particular ‘treasure’ was hidden away we will never know.  It doesn’t appear to have any sentimental or monetary value that I know of.  My suspicion is that it was a decoy in case the house was ever burgled; if these were the prize possessions of the house it would be unlikely that there would be anything of any value anywhere else.  For many years that dad walked around with a ‘dummy’ wallet in his back pocket in the hope that a pick-pocket would steal it and find only cut up newspaper and dummy credit cards.  It had been a standing joke that said wallet was never stolen.

Further searches for cash in oily rag bags and all the rubber and gardening gloves in the house revealed nothing, so with some disappointment and apprehension the real sorting begun.

What follows are pictures from one small set of drawers and a few of the various collections to whet your appetite.  There are more to come…

Who knew padlocks could be so beautiful?

……or meters

That’s why he always carried a screwdriver around with him!

This is a very small selection of the bones he had collected there was also an assortment of skulls

What follows is the first chest of  ‘Dad Drawers’

 

There are more…..many, many more…..

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