Sunday, 26 October 2014

DAF 55 - the sound of the variomatic gear box

In 1972 I was 4 years old. During story-time with Miss Janine, my class teacher, I ate my bus money. Not all of it, just the 1/2p. I can't piece together what happened next. I don't remember telling anyone I'd swallowed it. I could feel the painful reminder of my absent-minded stupidity half way down my gullet. I have to surmise what happened next. Perhaps I told the teacher I had lost it and she gave me another ha'penny or perhaps she telephoned my Mum to collect me.

At some point around this time my mum got a car. We were now a two car family. Dad had a Rover 3500 V8 in chocolate brown and Mum had a white DAF 55.

When I came out of school she would say, "Don't distract me!" and grip the steering wheel. I would sit wide-eyed on the back seat, bursting to tell her about all the injustices in my day. The drive down through Grands Vaux, Town Mills and Rouge Bouillon was conducted in total silence whilst she grappled with this not quite tameable beast of a car. Reversing into a space in Midvale Road car park frequently ended with her slamming the car into the granite wall.

Later she would remonstrate with my Dad. "I swear it goes backwards faster than it does forwards." Don't be ridiculous!" said Dad. On this rare occasion, it turns out he was wrong due to the peculiarities of the variomatic gear box. As my Mum once said "I gave up trying to argue about five years into marriage. There was no point. He always won." It was about five years into marriage that she started taking Doctor prescribed pills, including Mummy's little helper - Valium.

Not long after this, the car was sold and I was back on the school bus. 

Saturday morning music school

1976, whilst everyone else was watching Multi-coloured Swap Shop on BBC1 on Saturday mornings, I was taking descant recorder lessons with Mr Pont at Highlands College. We used to talk about which instrument I would like to play and for three years I had my eye on the clarinet.

When I was 11 the time came to move to an orchestral instrument. My Dad came with me to meet Helen Brooks. The man who was never late for anything and a stickler for timing had somehow got it wrong. Miss Brooks cheerfully said "Sorry there's no more room for clarinets but you can learn the flute" and that's how I ended up playing the flute. 

Saturday morning music lessons were wonderful. It was free. You learnt an instrument, took a theory/aural lesson and played in the orchestra in the Great Hall in front of its numinous stained glass window and it was all free. Did I say that before? It was all free!

The first piece I played in the orchestra required two notes A and B all the way through Offenbach's Bacarolle. NB - this is not a recording of the Youth Orchestra. Skip to 30 seconds in to hear the repetitious two notes. I thought we were absolutely marvellous and could not have been more proud to be performing in such an august body.

I made friends that I have kept to this day.

Because I lived about a twenty minute walk away, by the age of 11 I would walk there and back. One Saturday, I was thrilled when my friend's mum offered me a lift in her brown DAF 44.

Isn't it strange, the moments that take meaning in our lives? I never forgot that simple act of kindness from an adult. At that moment, I had not only fallen in love with my friend but also his entire family. I have never deviated from that loyal devotion. 

On arrival home from Highlands, I would be greeted by a plate of steaming home made macaroni cheese with grilled melted cheese on top. Death and loss provide meaning to the strangest of items. I still own that white and blue enamel dish. 

John Peel - Home Truths

Whilst many single people in their thirties would be having a lie-in, from 1998 until 2004 I had a reason to be awake from 9 to 10 every Saturday morning.... “Home Truths” on BBC Radio 4. Can it really be ten years ago today (Saturday October 25th 2014) that the legend John Peel died? 

Home Truths was a wonderful gathering place for us oddballs. It was a virtual family before Facebook existed. It was a place for ordinary people to go to where we could tell our less ordinary tales and feel a sense of community. There was a large correspondence from listeners. I remember writing in, sharing something I would never have shared with my friends but somehow felt this was a safe place.

After my father had died on January 15th 1999, I don’t know why but I kept his false teeth and his glasses. Added to one of his hats, usually a ships captain’s hat I could recreate a facsimile of him. Of course it sounds ridiculous, embarrassing to write this now but at the time I had lost him but I still had his smile.

As a child, on the odd occasion he told me off with his favourite phrase, “You’re a right little stinker” (said in broad Lancastrian) the whole force of this statement was lost when his top set invariably dropped down. His teeth were all removed before I was born so I never saw his natural smile. He was always taking them out and fiddling with them, filing bits off that has started to make his gums sore. I never saw him without a tube of Bonjela.

The above photograph was taken shortly before my Dad died. I love this photograph as it encapsulates the essence of him. The shoes are shined, they were purchased some time in the 1960s and he had worn them for over thirty years, replacing the leather soles when needed.

The photograph evidences the frugality, thriftiness and make-do and mend attitude of those who had been through a war. The chair has seen better days but Dad simply added more pillows the more it sagged.

He built the fireplace in 1952 out of some spare floor tiles he had found and a piece of wood. The carpet was threadbare from years of guests walking through, "It'll see me out".

The bit I love most about this picture is the old television stand that Dad had converted into a table. This was possibly mark IV or V. He loved this utilitarian piece of furniture. The little lip around the edge prevented things falling off. The ice-cream tub contained some small items; Bonjela, sandpaper, tape measure, tide tables, assorted screws and batteries. He had everything he needed at hand.
He is wearing a shirt and tie despite having retired in 1975. He would never be seen without a tie. He even had one to wear when decorating. The only exception was when were on holiday on the River Rance in our boat. In which case he wore a button up Fred Perry style T-shirt.

My dog Fred is sat in pride of place. Throughout my childhood I had begged for a dog and the reply was the same, "No". However, in 1998 I was watching a programme about Battersea dogs home with Dad and asked again. He said "Yes". Before he could change his mind, I had organised for the Jersey Animal Shelter to do a home visit and booked a flight to London to go to Battersea.

There were 700 dogs to choose from. I spotted one I liked but they brought out the wrong one. I didn't say anything. We were put in a room together to see how we got on. Danny Boy, as he was called, came up and cocked his leg on my handbag. At that moment, I decided that he would be my dog.

He had been a "lifer" at Battersea - not to be re-homed with children or other pets (hmmm). As soon as he arrived in Jersey he plonked himself next to Dad and that's where he stayed.

We tried calling him Danny but by then early dementia was setting in and for some reason the only word that came to mind was "Fred" and that's how he got his name.

Shortly after, Dad died. My friend Nancy has always wondered whether Dad said I could have a dog so that I wasn't left alone.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

BBC Radio 4

The advantages of having elderly parents were - 1) they never shouted or lost their temper with me 2) they never went out or had people around the house so I never had a baby-sitter or had to make polite conversation 3) afternoon naps and 4) BBC Radio 4.

My parents married in 1952 and I was born in 1968. My Dad said he wanted to pay the mortgage off before having children. So I was born when my Mum was 42 and my Dad was 55. I was and remain an only-child, although now a bit more alone as all my relatives have died.  I don’t know whether my Dad wanted a son. It was never spoken of but looking back I don’t feel I had a typically female biased gender stereotypical childhood. More of this in future posts I imagine.

Whilst younger parents might have been listening to Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2, Radio 4 was the near constant soundtrack to my childhood. Each day had a natural rhythm laid down by the BBC.

Each day began with the sound of the Goblin teas-made gurgling and the smell of freshly brewed tea. I was woken up by this as I slept in the same room as my parents. All the other rooms were let out as my Mum ran a B&B. Each day began with the voice of Peter Jefferson at 0520 GMT reading the shipping forecast. I've since read that it moved to Radio 4 in 1978 so I cannot say whether that was when I first heard it, or whether my Dad tuned in elsewhere before that, being a sailing man.

The shipping forecast had as much meaning for me as the comforting words of the Catholic mass, learnt by rote via weekly attendance at St. Thomas’ Church and latterly St Mary & St Peter’s church, until the age of 15 when I departed for boarding school. Both the Credo and the shipping forecast elicit the same response of comforting, calm familiarity.

To this day I cannot explain the anticipation and the thrill on hearing the words "South Utsire, Cromarty, Forth or German Bight" and for reasons I cannot explain "Channel Light Vessel, Automatic" had a particular appeal. Where were these places? What were these things? And then there was the final thrill when Jersey got a mention. All was well, we still existed.

Zeb Soanes explains it best, "To the non-nautical, it is a nightly litany of the sea It reinforces a sense of being islanders with a proud seafaring past. Whilst the listener is safely tucked-up in their bed, they can imagine small fishing-bots bobbing about at Plymouth or 170ft waves crashing against Rockall."

The pips and the bongs have been a part of every day of my life as has the Today Programme. I remember feeling a shocking sense of loss when Brian Redhead was no longer part of my morning ritual. The comforting presence of his instantly recognisable voice was there from 1975 when I was 7 years old until 1993. 

I have very clear memories of Woman’s hour and the Archers. As a pre-schooler I would have to be silent whilst my parents took an after lunch snooze. My Dad came home for lunch everyday. I would play silently with my toys whilst the Archers and then Woman’s Hour was on. I couldn’t wait for them to end and for my parents to wake up. I never disturbed them.

My Mum found Gardeners' Question Time this utterly fascinating. People would visit to ask her questions as she was very knowledgeable on the art of growing from cuttings in jam jars on the window sill. She grew everything from cuttings and shared them around. We had pear trees in the garden in St Mark’s Lane and mum sold them by the bagful to Mrs Derrien in the Greengrocer’s in Stopford Road. Now you'd call it localism and sustainability but at the time it was just "getting rid of the pears before the birds eat them". You can still see her fuschias in the front garden at 43 David Place. Now, despite a) not having a garden and b) finding it a bit boring,  I listen as a bizarre link to my long-dead Mum. In the picture above you can see some fuschias. That's me in the photo, first day at FCJ September 1972, not quite 4 years old.

When I think of the hundreds of questions my children ask of me and how I casually type the question into Google, I wonder, did I ask those questions or did I not bother because I knew there was no answer available?

One of the most exciting books I had was “Pears Cyclopedia”. I loved this book and would randomly open it to retrieve an interesting snippet.

It was Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  series, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, when I was 10 years old that would have a lasting effect. I was taken from the mundane rhythm of the school day to contemplating the universe. I was forced to consider complicated questions like “Is it better to eat an animal that wants to be eaten?” or could a “babel fish” translator ever exist and "What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?".

I wonder whether this was the start of my layperson's interest in particle physics and trying to understand how the universe works - which is quite tricky without A level maths.

I could never have imagined that I would go to CERN to see the Large Hadron Collider projects and that as a result of that visit my son would win a prize for writing an essay about his visit.