Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Conduct Very Satisfactory

I like the casual pose of the three pals in this picture. It was taken in 1935 when my Dad was 13, or nearly 14 years old. He’s the one on the right with his right arm resting on his friend’s shoulder. I’ve no idea who the other two are, but the one in the middle looks a little older, perhaps the other boy’s big brother. I only came by this picture recently as there are very few pictures of Dad as a youngster. Some of my blog readers will remember him as the Brylcreemed youngster in Boy on a Bicycle, the window-smashing footballer in Let’s Play a Game and in his Boys Brigade uniform in Something for the Boys.  Dad died in late November 2012 and I am still finding out things about him that I never knew. I have a couple of his old school reports from about this time and they are in quite a fragile state but the one from that Summer Term of 1935, tells me something more about the boy in the photograph.

I know that he had moved from Nottingham to Doncaster with his family in 1933, when my grandfather, a railway worker, transferred to the repair shops there. This would have been Dad’s final (terminal) report at the school before moving on to the world of work.

He was a good attendee and received praise from his master for making good progress and his conduct and industry were 'very satisfactory’. What I can also deduce is that Dad was in a small-sized class of 31 (his previous one had 52 pupils) and that he was a reasonable, above average scholar. His composition, spelling and written and spoken English were good; there was no separate comment for handwriting then, which is a shame as Dad had the most beautiful copperplate handwriting right to the end of his life. What we now call Humanities were clearly not his strong subjects, but he was good at Geometry and Music and shone at Arts and Crafts. All this accords with the father I knew, who went on from there to further study Maths, English, Draughtsmanship and Mechanical Engineering at Evening College and trained with Castell’s Window Dressers, whilst playing his drum kit in his spare time. Longtime readers will remember that Dad was a very good hobby artist and  was still painting up until a year or so before his death.

The teacher summed Dad up well, his conduct was exemplary; he was a gentleman, and he worked ceaselessly throughout his life to make sure that his family were well cared for. He wasn’t always appreciated by his employers and he never rose to the top. He was once told he didn’t have 'enough fire in his belly'; he was far too nice. He didn’t toady and creep and was really quite gullible, often taking people at face value. He didn’t learn the secret handshake and he didn’t marry the boss’s daughter. What he did have was lots of friends who appreciated his friendship and his many kindnesses. Even today people still speak of him as ‘such a lovely man’ which gives my mother great comfort. I bet his two pals in the picture knew him as a good friend as well, just look at the body language.

Our prompt this week was what led me to this picture of my Dad. Three pals together with one casually resting his hand on another’s shoulder. However, I don’t think their whisky-fuelled behaviour was ‘very satisfactory’ and they all look a little worse for wear. Join other contributors to Sepia Saturday to read more reports.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Monkey Puzzle

That’s me with the monkey and my big brother with the parrot, in 1960. We were at the seaside somewhere, probably Southsea, and had our pictures taken with these exotic pets, presumably because it was out of the ordinary. What can’t be seen is that the monkey was digging its teeth into my hand and it’s a wonder I wasn’t afflicted by some awful disease. I’ve never understood the appeal of monkeys as pets, they’re far too similar to humans; however our picture prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday shows an itinerant musician and one of his monkeys c1900, surrounded by a group of children, and this was the closest I could come to matching it. The little girl next to the man appears to have been crying - perhaps she’s been bitten by the monkey too!

When I opened the link to the original photograph in the Flickr photostream, of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, it showed more of the street scene; the Flickr image is a detail and is copyright free, but the original print is taken from a plate glass negative collected by E.R. Pretyman (1870-1930) and copies may be downloaded for research and study purposes only, so I’ve just included a thumbnail. It’s worth doing so for for your own enjoyment and it will allow you to form an opinion on my next question.

Whist searching through Flickr for pictures of itinerant musicians, hurdy gurdy men, men with monkeys, street entertainers etc, the words ‘organ grinder  gave mixed results, but there in the top right was this picture from 1908.

This one comes from the State Library of Queensland and there are biographical notes about the subject. Anders Bernhardt Nielsen and his pet monkey performing in Brisbane. Anders owned several performing monkeys and travelled to mostly country shows with them, accompanied by his wife Mary Kate. In his younger days Anders and his brother had a travelling boxing tent.

Is it the same man in both photographs? Anders was of small stature and the man in the original Tasmanian print is also small and stocky. He isn't much taller than the children. The clothes, hat, moustache and monkeys outfit all look similar. He is a little older of course in the Brisbane photograph, as can be expected. Looking at the maps its not inconceivable that Anders would have plied his trade along the Queensland coast, the most populated area, and then onto Tasmania.

According to a message board on ancestry.com, posted by a descendant, Anders was born in 1865 in Copenhagen and arrived in Australia in 1885. He lived in Pittsworth, Queensland and married Mary Kate Dobson in 1900, about the time that our prompt picture was taken. They went on to have at least four children; with so many mouths to feed its not surprising that he would travel far afield. This is where I also found that he had most likely 'jumped ship' and settled in Melbourne in 1885 (via Tasmania), thereafter changing his name to avoid detection, and setting up the boxing business with his brother for a while. Its a fascinating story but I didnt want to get into it too much as Anders is not my own ancestor, although I feel I know him so much better now. I wonder if anyone else has made the connection between the two photographs. The power of Sepia Saturday to lead us down untrodden paths, never ceases to amaze me. Dont forget to join other contributor this week to see what they made of the prompt.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Must Run!!

"We thought we were running away from the grown-us and now we are the grown-ups."
Margaret Attwood 

It’s 1982 and we’re running away from Daddy, down a country lane somewhere in the Black Forest. We were on holiday there in a caravan and we had a great time. We ran all the way down the lane and back to Mummy, who was very pleased to have us back. We weren’t being naughty, just being happy!

It’s 1987 and we’re on the run again! This time we’re running, jumping, hopping and skipping for joy. We’re on our way back home to Netheravon in Wiltshire where we lived whilst Daddy was in the RAF there. This is Fittleton, the next village along. Isn’t it pretty?

That’s enough running away; time to walk sensibly on the pavement.

This week’s Sepia Saturday has a picture of a man running away from a beach, and Mummy says it suggested that she post these picture of her two darlings. Mummy says to remind you all to run away and visit all the other nice people who have posted this week. Here’s a little picture of the big one Uncle Alan posted before he went away on his holidays. Mummy chose it and Uncle Alan did all the hard work putting it on the page, so Mummy says he deserves a holiday! It’s time for us to return to the photo album now before our grown-up selves find what we’ve been up to. Must run!!!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Faces and Fans

"Zounds and I were now by this rascal I could brain him with his lady’s fan.”
Hotspur; Henry IV Part 1; Shakespeare

Our Sepia Saturday picture prompt this week is two Spanish ladies wearing mantillas and peinatas (combs) and partially hiding their faces with fans. The lady above has the comb and mantilla but sadly no fan; she was taken during our trip to Jerez earlier this year (The same day as our visit to see the drunken mouse in When the Cat’s Away. This was a hand-coloured postcard, displayed in one of the cabinets in a very small Museum of Flamenco, and the subject certainly has an interesting face. I’m saving the dance and music pictures for another time, but you may be surprised to hear that there was only one tiny picture where a fan was in evidence.

The year before our Jerez trip we had been to Madrid for my birthday. This colourful shop window display of fans and mantillas caught my eye but I wasn’t tempted to buy one.

"Oh most dainty man, to see him walk before a lady and bear her fan.” Costard; Loves’s Labours Lost; Shakespeare

One of the main reasons for our Madrid trip was to visit the Prado Museum where many of the world’s most famous paintings are housed. It was there that I discovered a delightful painting, which has now become one of my favourites.

Marina Fortuny: The Artist’s Children in the Japanese Room 1874

In the gift shop I bought a fan decorated with a section of this painting, for my friend’s birthday.

"To have my love to bed and to arise;
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies,
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes."
Titania; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Shakespeare

Last year my daughter visited the Fan Museum in Greenwich and sent me these shots. The exhibition was called ‘Curiosities and Quirky Fans’ and you can see a shadowy reflection of my daughter’s face as she snaps the poster.

The display case shows just a few examples of the almost 4,000 exhibits. The museum sounded a fascinating place and you’ll get more of an idea of the setting and what’s on offer there by clicking the link above. The current exhibition is ‘Seduced! - Fans and the Art of Advertising’.

More than twenty-five years ago my daughter posed as Flamenco dancer herself, complete with comb and castanets, though no fan.....

......but she made up for it a few years later when she posed behind this giant oriental fan for a friend, who was an amateur photographer.

John Winstanley 1742

The poem above refers in part to the coded messages ladies could give, depending on the position of their fans. At the moment it’s very hot here in Lanzarote and we have fans running at night and sometimes during the day. I do carry a hand fan at all times, in common with many of the Spanish ladies here; I hope I’m not inadvertently sending a coded message when I simply want to cool down!

Join other fans of faces, combs, Mantillas or hidden meanings, over at Sepia Saturday.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Just a Line From the Old Place

That was how my Gran started her postcard home in 1969 and when I scanned it recently it brought back memories of another holiday.

 Mablethorpe 1967, the year I joined my Grandparents on their annual holiday to the Lincolnshire coast. Grandad loved the sun, but my Gran, who was a very large lady, preferred the shade. The lady on the left is my Gran’s younger, widowed sister, Ellen, my great-aunty Nellie.

All three were very loving and generous, but Nellie, who had never had children of her own, would always be buying me little treats. I only had to gaze at some cheap seaside souvenir in a shop window, and she’d have her purse open before I could turn round; “Aunty Nellie’ll buy it for you.” It gave her as much pleasure as it did me.

There are a few abiding memories of that holiday; one was that I had a terrible bout of hay fever which made me feel very low, and another was that I shared a bedroom in our rented cottage, with Nellie, who snored so loudly, that it felt as if the room was shaking. Between us we generated a cacophony of sound; Nellie’s snores and my sneezes and coughs.

I also remember Grandad trying his hand on the rifle range at the funfair and of all of us eating ice cream cones, outside the seaside chalet which we also rented for the week. The chalet had deckchairs and a primus stove for making cups of tea or coffee. I’d forgotten this until I unearthed a postcard my Gran sent me a couple of years later. They missed me making ‘elevenses’ as the morning coffee ritual was known. She also made reference to something else I’d forgotten; my puppy love for the local lifeguard. Gran had obviously shared my good taste and reminded me of it in the postcard.

Another memory is of Grandad offering me a puff of his cigarette, something apparently he had also done to my mother; naughty Grandad! I adored him and was devastated when he died the year after the postcard was sent.  Because Gran was not very mobile, it was Granddad and I who did the shopping, and who were snapped together by the ever-present street photographer. In the last picture I’m applying suncream to Grandad’s forehead. He’s taken off his glasses and paused from reading the paper. The final memory is that I made that blue cotton floral trouser suit I’m wearing, on Mum’s old Singer sewing machine.

Why not join us on this week’s Sepia Saturday and see what other memories have been evoked by letters and postcards home.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Broken Promise

Image (by Keith Haring) courtesy of Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

Take back this ring I proffer,
There was no real offer
of marriage, of true minds.
Your love altered, was not love,
and proved Time’s fool at last,
There was no ring, except 
around my heart, so now
admit impediment,
take back this ring I proffer,
There was no real offer.

© Marilyn Brindley

Tess at Magpie Tales provided the image prompt for our creative thoughts. The references are to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, which was not all it seemed.  

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Curious Incident

How many of you can say that they have rubbed shoulders with a murderer? I have. In 1960 John Louis Constantine aged 23 was hanged for capital murder on 1st September 1960, having been convicted at Birmingham Assizes on 22nd July of that year.

Unfortunately we have been unable to find photographs of my older brother’s birthday party, which Johnny (as he was known to my family), attended. I have a sneaking suspicion that he was eradicated from the family records after his conviction. I don’t remember him at all as I was very young, but I  do have hazy recollections of the shock and horror which rippled through my family at the time. I spoke earlier today to my 93 year-old mother, who maintains that Johnny was a lovely boy who ‘got in with the wrong crowd’. When my parents moved to their first marital home after the war in 1946, the Constantines were their neighbours. All the families on their road had young children, and got on well. By the time that news of Johnny’s crime broke, we had moved away from our home city of Nottingham for a couple of years and had only just returned. I remember whispered conversations and telephone calls and, when I was growing up, my mother would often recount the story, telling us that Johnny’s father had ‘washed his hands of him’! My brother, who is eight years older than me, has a better recollection of Johnny as the teenage boy who everyone on the street got on with, and possibly looked up to. At my brother’s birthday party, Johnny was happy to be dressed in fancy dress by my Dad and join in the fun. We spoke today, my brother and I, of our regret at not being able to trace those photographs.

I can easily find details of Johnny’s execution, as it was recorded in Hansard, and there is an occasional mention of him in a book about murder, executions or the 1960s. An Internet search revealed that he was married and someone in a history forum mentioned that his  wife worked with her. This would accord with my parents’ memories that they had met him when he was a young man, with a girl on his arm.

So what made Johnny ‘turn bad’? Was my Mum’s explanation that he had been led on by his ‘friends’ correct? Was it desperation? Was he not managing to pay the rent? Did he have gambling debts? Was it a moment of madness? Without delving further into court records we can only speculate.

Here is the crime of which he was convicted according to ‘Hanged at Lincoln’ by Stephen Wade (the noose on the front cover leaves us in no doubt as to the fate of the subjects!).

“ Lily Parry lived over her shop and always kept the takings in her bedroom at night. A young girl, Judith Reddish, stayed there, and on 22nd April 1960 she arrived back from an evening out and settled down for the night, then Mrs Parry locked up and went to bed. Early the next day, blood was seen coming from under Mrs Parry's bedroom door, the police  arrived and found her, skull broken and almost dead. She died later in hospital.

John Constantine lived in the same street, Waterloo Promenade, Nottingham. His place had a room that was close to the shop and he was duly questioned. He admitted that he had robbed the shop but denied committing murder. He did however say that he had hit out at a figure that had advanced towards him. He said at first that he had hit her with a crowbar but changed his story later. He tried to blame someone else, and blamed another man, Colathan, who was allegedly his accomplice, but Colathan had an alibi, which was confirmed by several people.

The defence brought in the famous ‘dog didn’t bark’ storyline. As Mrs Parry had a dog and it had not barked; they argued that the dog must have been kept silent by an accomplice, but that was not accepted by the jury and they returned a guilty verdict. An appeal failed, and then a reprieve request was turned down. Harry Allen was the executioner, and, as N.V. Gagen pointed out, there was no high-profile media interest in the execution - only four journalists were present - and no execution notice was posted on the prison gates."

And that was the end of Johnny’s story. Researching this has brought back many childhood memories; however, I am left with the haunting vision of a young man, now forgotten, who only exits in the imagination and blurred memories of the few who knew him.

The dog who didn’t bark or ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night’? Well, that was Conan Doyle and a Sherlock Holmes story, 'Silver Blaze’.

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident.”

Over half a century has passed since that carefree young lad at my brother’s birthday party took an implement of some kind and beat an elderly widow to death. Researching the story has awakened ghosts from my past; memories of my childhood, and a time when a British jury could convict a young man to death. I offer no judgement of my own, and this is not the place to debate Capital Punishment, about which I’m sure many of you have their own views. Instead I ask you to ponder on the two families torn apart and the needless loss of life; as in so many of these cases, before and since; an elderly widow, probably contentedly looking forward to eventual retirement, and a young man, so desperate that he robbed and killed a neighbour for a few pounds.

I told you that, sadly there are no pictures this week which are relevant to the Sepia Saturday prompt picture, instead you will have to be content with my sepia-tinted memories.

And let the above picture act a s a sobering reminder of the dark days when a ‘criminal' could simply be left to die and his body left to rot as a warning to others. I took this picture last year at a Medieval Fair in Leon, Spain.

It’s visiting hours at Sepia Saturday so why not head over there and see what other contributors have made of the prompt picture?