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.
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!”
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
“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).
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.
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!
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.
So I have a small confession to make – and please don’t tell on me. 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.
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.
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).
[ii]Via the wonders of modern technology you can see the house here; it’s the one with the blue door. https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-0.113611,3a,79.4y,317.53h,91.8t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1so_ZYG6Fo8_mRDAKQSFJncw!2e0