The strange things we learned about England when we came here in 1958

We arrived in England thirteen years after the end of the war and the whole of Britain was just about recovering from the terrible bombings, the rationing and the many deaths and maimings that had occurred. My memory is of a grey London with lots of grey-clad people and grey cars though of course there must have been colour in the parks and clothes and even some cars.

Probably the first thing we realised was that most homes didn’t have a means of refrigeration. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that at the boarding house we stayed in during our first six weeks in London, our breakfast milk always had little bits of slightly sour cream floating in it. I imagine that English people were just happy to be able to buy however much milk they wanted and they used it up even if it had started to ‘turn’

Another thing was the toilet paper: in America toilet paper was just naturally soft and absorbent, in England the toilet paper was just like tracing paper and totally non-absorbent. (We spent a lot of money buying tissues which were like American tissues but not only for our noses!)

We moved into what was called a ‘luxury flat’ which had a fridge as part of the furnishings, which, as I pointed out above, was unusual. Even more unusual was the fridge was run by gas. It was about big enough to hold a bottle of milk, a half pound of butter and a couple of other things. In those days (1950’s) we did the shopping daily so we didn’t need lots of storage – we lived on a busy city street with butchers, greengrocers, delicatessens, tobacconists and off-licenses and even a coffee house!

We soon learned, though, that it was important to remember to buy anything necessary for a Thursday evening either on the Wednesday before or on that Thursday morning. Even today some small shops have one day a week which close at lunchtime but in the 50’s (and right the way through the 60’s and 70’s), all shops closed for a half day on one day a week. It just happened to be Thursday afternoon around where we lived. Of course, in those days, too, all shops were closed on Sundays but it was the same in America so that wasn’t strange to us. Prices’s Delicatessen in Queensway stayed open on Thursday afternoons but there were rules about what they could and couldn’t sell. You could buy some fresh ham but you couldn’t buy sausages and you could buy tissues but not toilet paper. (I’m not sure of the reasoning behind tissues vs toilet paper but I know that ham is something you can just pop into your mouth whereas sausages have to be cooked.) According to Google, the early-closing law was rescinded in the 90’s.

Just to go back to the gas-run fridge for a moment, the reason we couldn’t have a normal fridge was the electricity in the block of flats was direct current rather than the usual alternating current. I believe the direct current was something to do with the fact that the block was (still is) above an ice-skating rink and they used direct current for the ice. I could be wrong; it might have been for some other equally obscure reason. Not only could we not have a normal fridge but things like radios, televisions, tape recorders and record players all needed alternating current. We had ‘plumbed-in’ radio via a knob on the wall and a speaker in the corner near the ceiling in the living room. There were four set radio stations – BBC Light, BBC Home and BBC Third and, when we were very lucky, late on a Saturday evening, Radio Luxembourg where we would find ‘pop’ songs! It was a matter of luck because Radio Luxembourg was broadcast from abroad and hearing it depended on things like the weather. BBC Light had ‘light’ music, lots of what I believe are called ‘standards’, Home had drama, news and comedy programmes and I think the Third had some classical music and possibly plays and poetry.

We didn’t have a television for the first two years we were in London but, eventually, Patty went to Radio Rentals and rented a tv. In those days there were two channels and all programmes were in black and white. I seem to remember that the programmes started around five o’clock in the afternoon and went on until about ten in the evening. We girls, having had tv that started with cartoons at seven in the morning or even earlier and which went on into the early hours of the next morning with old movies (at least during the summer vacation) and three channels (at least), were disgusted with British ‘telly’! We hadn’t had colour tv in America (though we had seen it at friends’ houses) so we didn’t really miss that bit. 1960 was a far cry from today’s hundreds of channels, HD, surround sound and Netflix.

Other things we found weird: most houses had neither central heating nor a constant source of hot water. We didn’t really appreciate this fact until our eighth year in England. We moved out of the ‘luxury flat’ where the annual rent exceeded Patty’s income but where it was always warm and hot water came out of the hot tap when we turned it on, and into the flat above a shoe shop. I may have mentioned all this before and please forgive me if I’ve already gone over it! The flat, which was a great place on quite a few floors, had neither a method of heating the water nor a method of heating the humans. We solved the water situation by installing an ‘Ascot’, a gas fuelled water heater which was placed above the kitchen sink and which also piped hot water to the bathroom, above. The bathroom was the only room in the house which had a gas fire in the form of a sort of radiator. In order to turn it on one had to turn a key and apply a lit match. The rest of the rooms (kitchen, living room and three bedrooms) had paraffin heaters.

I don’t know if these exist in America so I’ll give brief description. A typical paraffin heater was cylindrical with a round wick which had ‘tails’ going down into a reservoir which holds the paraffin. There was often a hinge so that the bottom part of the cylinder could be exposed. This was where you would find the wick which would need to be lit. Then the top part (which is probably two or three times the height of the lower part) would be replaced. There was a little mica window through which you could see if the heater was alight and make sure that the wick was burning with a blue flame. The worst thing you could do was forget to turn the fire off before it ran out of paraffin! The smell was terrible and seemed to hang around for days. Also, the wicks had to be trimmed often, which was a bind

In order to fill the paraffin heaters it would usually fall to me, as the eldest daughter, to go to the nearest place where paraffin was sold. Luckily ours was an ironmongers about a five minute walk away. I would set out with two light-weight empty two gallon cans which were pink plastic (we used pink paraffin!) and struggle home again with two exceedingly heavy cans. The heaters had to be filled through a hole in the top of the reservoir using a large pink funnel. If a drop was spilled on the hearth, woe betide you! As soon as the match was applied to the wick the fumes of the spilt paraffin would start to stink. All you could do was wash that dribble before you lit the wick and hope you got it all! [I don’t have any photos or paraffin heaters but look for them on Google images]

Not only did most houses not have central heating and constant hot water, many still had no indoor toilet nor even a proper bathroom! I told you about the house Patty bought in West Malling earlier and how the bath was in the kitchen under a worktop lid on hinges and the toilet was across the garden in a sort of shed in an earlier post. Even in the 90’s I knew of a house which had its toilet and bath in an outhouse. By the 90’s this was unusual but in the late 50’s and through the 60’s there were still many houses without indoor ‘facilities’! I suppose it’s because lots of people were living in houses that were built before indoor plumbing was even thought of but also because there were no sewers nearby.

Even today there are lots of houses built before the twentieth century or even later which have either cess pits or septic tanks because, for one reason or another, there are no nearby sewers to carry away the waste. Cess pits have to be emptied from time to time which is a costly and smelly business. When we lived in East Malling our electricity came, not from the national grid but from the local paper mills for some weird reason and the waste from toilet, washing machine, bath, shower and basin all went into the cess pit which was under our driveway. There was a lid, about (and I’m guessing here) 2’6′ x 2’6″ which needed to be lifted off for the cess pit lorry which we would phone when we needed to have the cess pit emptied.

I seem to have come, rather abruptly, to the end of my thoughts on strange things we found in England when we came here. I haven’t included the strange words and accents, nor the fact that people you had never met before, called you ‘love’ or ‘ducks’. These things may still happen today, for all I know, but I’m so used to it I just don’t notice – and, as for accents, my ear has attuned to many of the regional accents but, with old age comes some deafness, so I use subtitles whenever I watch tv – be it a scandi thriller in Danish, a soap in english or an American cop show.

I imagine that this post will be of interest to people in America who are my age but haven’t strayed too far from their home town and, I believe, it will also be of interest to anyone born within the last 40 or so years in the UK – things have changed so much!

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Risk-Averse? Who, Me? Yes, me!

I think of myself as a ‘risk averse’ old lady. I don’t like travelling in cars, planes, buses, trains – and certainly not on the back of a motorbike or scooter, with or without a helmet. Maybe it’s because my mother, Patty, was ‘a nervous wreck’ most of her life and passed it on to me. Certainly in my youth she tried, not always successfully, to keep her daughters from doing something that could possibly backfire and harm them.

Now, I will admit to riding on the back of a motor scooter in the late 50’s or early 60’s without a helmet (it was legal then), even when the weather was poor and the roads slippery. When it looked like I might be riding bare-headed more often, I did buy a helmet but it was second-hand and who knows how effective it would have been if we had ever had an accident? My scooter-driving friend, Dennis – a photographer – was a reasonably careful driver, I guess, and we never had the opportunity to find out about the efficacy of my second-hand helmet. The last I remember of seeing and talking to Dennis, he had his heart’s desire – a little, old Morgan car – and was in the process of photographing a car collection belonging to some Lord or other. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to him.

Not me and not Dennis (and probably not the 1960’s!

Back to Patty for a moment. When Judy and I were 5 and 3 (I’m the older), we both had bikes which we used to ride on the sidewalk up and down Sunset Avenue where we lived and, daringly, around the corner into what I seem to remember is called Maple Avenue – where, incidentally, my first grade teacher, Miss Meyers, lived. But, I was still only in Kindergarten when the following happened and I don’t want to get ahead of myself!

Not Judy on a bike in late 1940’s!

Judy was riding her bike. She went off down the street and around the corner – and out into the main road (Maple Avenue) traffic. Someone snitched to Patty. Judy had her bike taken away and so did I! They were taken away for ever and we were never allowed bikes again. I obviously still hold a grudge! I didn’t go in the road and nearly get hit by a truck!

(Years later we found our uncle’s bike in Ethel’s cellar and rode it around the neighbourhood when Patty wasn’t looking. And, even later on, I used to visit my friend, Judy Weed, and she and I would take turns riding her bike down a hill. It was great fun until, one time, the handle bars suddenly came loose and I lost control, ruining my brand new pair of stripey pedal-pushers.😩)

Not me but a generic photo of someone riding a bike and, maybe, coming off it!

Elsewhere I have written about the (to me) horrific flight we made to England in 1958 – the cause of my non-flying-forever-after-life. Except, feeling exceedingly guilty that Julian could never go on holiday abroad because I wouldn’t fly, one day in the late days of the 20th century, I suddenly said, if you want to go to Italy for a holiday, I will fly!

We decided the destination would be Florence and booked two return flights via Ryan Air to Florence. We drove to Stansted and did all the things one does before getting on a (quite small) plane. I am not a believer but I prayed the whole way there clutching my St Christopher medal!

The rooftops of Florentine houses and the Duomo in Florence.

We had a lovely time in Florence, stood in queues for hours to visit the Uffizi, walked across the famous Ponte Vecchio, looking at all the (enormously expensive!) wares in the shops, spent a day in the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, enjoying the views; went to gorgeous Sienna and sat in the Piazza del Campo; and spent our last day in Pisa, where the airport is. Somewhere I have a photo of Julian holding up the Leaning Tower (just like every other tourist who visits Pisa.)

Ponte Vecchio
Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We ended our stay in Italy at the airport which is also the train station. Though we had survived the flight to Italy, I wasn’t so sure about the return journey, especially when I found out that there are trains going from Pisa that I could take towards home! I had my credit card and was very tempted but……thwarted by the fact that the trains that day were all on strike! The only thing that made that flight interesting is that a relatively unknown British politician, of whom I had actually heard, called Boris Johnson, was on the same flight. I figured that we would be unlikely to crash with someone important on board —- then thought of all the famous people who had gone down with airplanes!

Not either of the planes we flew on!

I prayed all the way back!

The first time I saw Julian, he was onstage in an amateur production by the West Wickham Operatic Society of, I think, La Périchole by Offenbach at the Churchill Theatre. A friend was playing violin in the orchestra and gave me some tickets to see it, so I drove Veronica and her best Vicki to Bromley to see it. In the chorus was a young Julian – whom I would love to say I saw and fell head-over-heels in love with, but sadly I didn’t notice him at all!

Not the West Wickham Operatic Society!

I tell you this because I hated the drive (possibly 20 minutes) because it was on the motorway and it was in the dark. I have never got over my dislike of motorways – the cars around you are going too fast – nor of driving in the dark.

On the way back, as we approached the turn-off for West Malling, I was trying to remember the rules about the countdown markers posting the way off the motorway. I remembered that there should be signs of three slanted lines, then two, then one…..but I couldn’t remember how much space came after the one slanted line before I should move left….and went to my left too soon! Nothing bad happened to us, no one saw me and reported my mistake, but, obviously, I’ve never forgotten it!

A few days or weeks later, Julian walked in to the wine bar (as mentioned in a previous post) and I knew he was Mr Right (and he felt the same about me – except that I was Miss Right.) His aunt, Jackie, was the chef at that time and, when I found out who Julian was and that she was his aunt, I went into the kitchen to do some snooping. When she said he lived in Bromley, I was worried! How was I going to see him if he lived so far (20 mins up motorway!) but she assured me that Julian loved driving and would be happy to drive to West Malling whenever we wanted to meet.

It was true – and he still loves driving. I, on the other hand, have happily given up driving and intensely dislike going even a short distance in the car – even as a passenger, though I do have to get places from time to time and then will sit nervously in the passenger seat. This year I have missed out on a trip to Norfolk, one to Cornwall and a third to north Wales but I don’t mind. If Julian’s away, I don’t have to cook – I happily make do with salads, bowls of porridge, or eggs on toast.

I put my eggs on the toast!

And now for trains. As with all other means of mass transport, sometimes I get very nervous when I’m travelling on a train. I can clearly remember a train I was on one evening which was going from Victoria to West Malling. As the train was zooming along between Bromley and Swanley, it seemed to me to be going much more quickly than normal and I started worrying that the train, somehow, was not being driven but was ‘a runaway’! When it stopped at Swanley some few minutes after I began to panic, I decided to get off the train and phone Julian to come and get me.

I walked out of the station, along the station road, found my way onto the main street but not one phone box did I find! (This was in the days before many people had mobile phones – and I certainly didn’t). I walked further and further and finally found a phone box. I rang Julian who, thankfully was at home, and explained my predicament. I don’t think he was at all sympathetic and by this time it was beginning to get dark and cold and I was beginning to realise what a ninny I had been. Luckily, Julian does like driving so he came and picked me up and I was so pleased!

I have often felt this panic when travelling on a train but seldom when on a coach – but, a few years ago I took a coach from Broadstairs to London and sat behind the driver. (Why there? I had forgotten my glasses and hoped that Julian could catch up with the coach so he could give me them when we stopped, but that didn’t work – so I bought some when I got to London).

Not the coach I was on!

Anyway. As we were speeding along the road I couldn’t sit and read so I looked out the window at the side and ahead, out of the windscreen. I realised that the driver wasn’t actually watching the road the whole time but was looking down and to the right….I think he was reading texts or maybe watching something on a screen – or maybe neither of those things but he had some sort of tic that made him do that. Whatever, I was doing the old praying thing for an hour or so before we reached some part of London where the traffic kept us going at a snail’s pace.

To continue with this aversion to risk I will name a few more things I haven’t done, knowing how nervous I would be.

I was invited to fly in a hot-air balloon – no way!

I was invited on an all expenses trip to Las Vegas when my daughter and her husband went back to celebrate their first 10 happy years. Nope!

And, more recently, I missed out on the trip to Brands Hatch to watch Julian speed round the track which was a present to him for his 70th. I just couldn’t face the journey there and back plus the worry of watching speed-demon Jules in a fast car!

On the other hand, even in my 70’s I have travelled long distance on trains and have driven back and forth to places 50 or so miles away (but never on motorways). When I was still in my youth, Julian used to insist on driving us to places like Northumberland and Cornwall for holidays and I did visit several caves (Wookey Hole, Blue John) without fainting at the thought of tonnes of earth and rock being overhead!

But, of course, I have been a smoker (but not for the past 40 or so years), a drinker (but surprisingly for members of my family, very moderately) and an eater of red meat and butter, cream, sugar, salt white bread and e-numbers and have reached a rather healthy 78, with most of my own teeth, no high blood pressure and at a reasonable weight.

I must have been doing something right! (Or maybe it’s just luck.😁)

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Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles from the early 20th century

A partly put-together jigsaw made in the early part of the 20th century.

When I moved to the seaside I gave up selling most antiques but I didn’t give up entirely – I started a website (now closed) selling antique and vintage games and wooden jigsaw puzzles. There were a few other websites selling games but, as far as I know, there were no others selling jigsaws, possibly because you really needed to know if all the pieces were there and the only way to know, for sure, was to put them together. I had plenty of time, being retired. I also had plenty of help as Julian, also retired, is very good at seeing whether pieces will fit together (and I’ve got better with time and practice.)

In the very early part of the 21st century I could buy a whole box full of old jigsaws (sight unseen, of course) for very little money. Going to auctions meant I could buy, say, 25 jigsaws for £100 – £4 each! Some of the puzzles would be only half there, some would be very uninteresting, but some would be incredible! I have photos of some of those I sold in the years up to 2014 when I gave up which I would like to share. They were sold, long ago and I don’t know who I sold them to – I hope they don’t mind my using the photos!

I think my favourite one that I sold is this one:

One of the first and most amusing – came in an anonymous box with no picture or title. Like many jigsaws of the time, this one has pieces that aren’t interlocking.
Another one that I had, early on in my “jigsaw career.” It’s easy to see the pieces in this photo and you can see that the pieces are very unlike most puzzles today.
Another of my early and favourite jigsaws. Full of beautiful items, including the gorgeous table cloth, the glasses and luscious fruits. I think there was only one piece of the large puzzle missing.
Another, very similar, puzzle but with two or three pieces missing.
A gorgeous puzzle that I loved so much I had the photo used on my business cards. Such a shame about that one small piece missing!
And now for something completely different! As with most of the puzzles I bought, this one was completely anonymous. Luckily, it was completely complete, too!
I believe this ‘elephant’ puzzle shows Hannibal transporting his elephants across the Rhone. What a wonderful surprise this anonymous puzzle was!
Another jigsaw of historical events but there was no clue on the box.
The first of two which I think were from adverts about travel.
I just love this jigsaw! The costumes and poses scream ‘30’s” to me. I can just imagine going on a cruise in those far-off days!
This is one I kept. It is obvious to me that the papers for the picture were from a Japanese print. This is one I take out and put together, often.
I bought this one privately, thinking I might start a collection of Japanese print puzzles. This photo is a bit blurry, I’m afraid. I’m not so sure this was a Japanese print, but it could have been.
One more in the oriental style.
Another picture of ‘foreigners! This jigsaw is still upstairs in a rather dilapidated box – but, one with a makers’ label. It was produced by Delta puzzles.

Last week I saw a jigsaw on-line in an auction. It arrived this morning. Here is a photo of the container it is in.

Very little clue here as to the size of the bag and its contents! But, I do have a photo, kindly included by the previous owners.
A photo of the photo. I think I’ll keep this one to do during the Christmas period when we’ll have some time to spare. I’ll update you when we’ve done it!

I hope you will agree with me how interesting and unusual older, wooden jigsaws can be. For more information and a lot more photos, have a look at the site thejigasaurus.com – an interesting and helpful website, exclusively about all things jigsaw! 🤪

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The Uselessness of Stuff – Part 3

I’ll tell you where my collecting ‘stuff’ really started, before I finish telling you about the stuff I have and how useless it really is (except for that platter I showed you last time, which has been very handy on occasion!)

In 1994, Julian’s first wife’s mother died and he was the executor of her estate. She lived in a 1930’s house in outer London which was full of ‘stuff’, much of it useful to Mary (first m-in-law) but really outdated without being antique or even vintage. But, some of it was antique. There was a lovely walnut table which was left to her brother along with a gorgeous secretaire-bookcase and a nice chest of drawers and there were a collection of gorgeous Chinese mother-of-pearl gaming counters, a few bits of china, some good boxes, some cutlery and a few paintings, which went to auction. Mainly, though, there were things like some kitchen utensils which could be described as vintage, but of no value along with old reels of cotton, large wardrobes of uncertain vintage, dining table and chairs from the 40’s which all went to house clearance people.

That year I was working as a supply teacher so had time to go to Mary’s house and see to the sorting, tidying, packing, etc that needed to be done. It was a job that I really enjoyed, despite the sad circumstances of Mary’s death.

Some months later, when life had returned to normal, I was thinking about how I had enjoyed finding things I knew nothing about (especially the mother-of-pearl counters which were sold for a quite substantial sum) and realised that my daughter and her daughter wouldn’t find anything very interesting if they had to do the same job when I died. That was my reason for starting to build such a huge store of ‘stuff’.

So, now to the other ‘stuff’….

I have a large shoebox full of ‘scraps’. They were mostly made in the late 19th century by the firm of Raphael Tuck, who had come to Britain from Germany in the second half of the 19th century. His firm also made greetings cards, postcards, cardboard toys, jigsaw puzzles and little books for children, all of very good quality. Though I still search them out – and have sold some in the distant past – I really don’t know what to do with them! Don’t tell me to get rid of them because I really like them, even if they are useless.

I also have a shoe box full of greetings cards (mainly antique), several shoe boxes full of postcards (mainly late 19th/early 20th century) including half a box of Tuck postcards, a small selection of advertising cards, and another of ‘song’ cards, ten or fifteen boxed sets of puzzle cubes, a few old and interesting games, shelves full of old wooden jigsaw puzzles, a 1930’s dolls house with lots of furniture and several box files full of ‘interesting’ papers. Sitting here, I’m sure I’ve forgotten other stuff but you get my gist…..many things that may once have been very useful, are in my possession and are no longer useful. But I like them!

So, folks, I guess these things do have a use (besides something to write about.) Their use is to tell part of my story to my descendants when I’m no longer around – which is, in fact, the purpose of all my posts!

A very pretty set of puzzle blocks.
The box of old greetings cards.
Some of the scraps which I’ve taken out of the box-full.
Several of the advertising cards.
Some of the many postcards.

And here is a selection of things made from wood that I have collected over the years. Some were bought to sell but weren’t, others I couldn’t bear to part with.

Left to right: A painted box, a Chinese table snuff, a mini chest of drawers, a cup-and-ball game, a spinning top (at back), a tiny wooden container in 3 parts, and a mystery item which I will tell you about below.
This strange object was used by a teacher to remind her class to be quiet. It was called ‘a mistress‘s clicker’. (None of my classes would ever have been able to hear the very muted sound it makes!)

Last, but never least, wooden jigsaw puzzles. The best I ever bought were in anonymous cardboard boxes and came without a picture of the finished puzzle – the kind I still love today.

This old ‘butter’ box has a 30’s puzzle in it, possibly a Victory puzzle, which has pieces that interlock – as most do today.
This came in another anonymous box. You will see that the face of a child is separate from the other pieces, many of which are interlocking. The finished puzzle is below.
A jigsaw made from an old Pears’Soap advert (symbol in right bottom corner tells me this). It is missing two pieces but they don’t really make much difference. For a longer post about old wooden jigsaws, see my archived post, “Confession: I was a push-fit, colour-cut, wooden jigsaw virgin.” which I posted in 2017.

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My next post will be one that I wrote some time ago but, for some reason did not publish at the time, called “The strange things we learned about England when we came here in 1958”

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The Uselessness of Stuff Part Two

As well as all the sewing stuff (of which you have seen a very small sample), I collected buttons – one of only three things that I was/am really interested in. (The others are linens and wooden jigsaw puzzles/block puzzles).

Cut steel buttons. The big one is quite old and damaged by rust.

Before zips, elastic and velcro, buttons were far more important. Baby clothes often had little tiny mother-of-pearl buttons, mourning clothes were fastened by jet buttons, clothes could be made much more interesting looking with glass or metal buttons. Shoes and boots were often held on the foot by buttons and collars were fastened to shirts with special buttons called studs.

Loads of buttons used on every day clothes were made in the UK but glass buttons were often imported from countries like the former Czechoslovakia (as were glass beads) and beautiful enamelled buttons were imported from France. In the thirties and fifties of the 20th century, buttons were often made in fun shapes in the new and useful material of ‘plastic’. Also made in plastic were millions or even trillions of really boring buttons of which I have had my fair share.

An old tin crammed full with many of my mother-of-pearl buttons.
Some of the many mother-of-pearl buttons I have.
Some of my favourite buttons – enamel at the top, crochet in the middle and a small button made of stone? And painted with gold and silver marks.

I found very quickly that I wasn’t the only person interested in buttons, as I could seldom find any at auction, except very run of the mill, modern buttons, but every once in a while I would come across a cache of buttons that was very exciting (to me)!

Moulded black glass buttons decorated with gold or silver paints.
A selection of “Glow Bubbles”
Glass buttons of various sorts.

My most memorable ‘find’ was in a small town we stopped in on our way home from a holiday. We saw a charity shop while we were walking around the town, went in and found an entire cake-sized tin of buttons for 50p! I still have some of those buttons, but can’t think of how to display my favourites so they all sit in bags in a cupboard.

On the right, a very beautiful and quite large carved mother of pearl button with a “bird cage” back.
Bird cage back, which has four holes in brass which has been glued to the back of the button.

Linens were really where I started. I knew absolutely nothing about sheets, table cloths, doilies, coasters except for their obvious uses but I quickly saw that some of the better quality linens had been hand-embroidered with beautiful cut-work, and counted thread work.

Tea-table cloth (unironed!) with lovely crocheted border.

It is a sad fact that many, if not most, of the linens one buys from auction are stained with either food residue or rust. I spent a small fortune finding products I could remove old stains with an, once clean, I ironed them – a job I particularly dislike in the normal run of things.

One time I bought a lot containing many rolls of hand-made lace of different widths. The work was so gorgeous that I was able to sell most of them within a couple of weeks.

One of the many doilies I still have (but don’t use!)
Some pretty, little hankies that I still have.

Doilies and antimacassars are another item that turned up in their dozens as well as huckabuck towels, pocket handkerchiefs, and the occasional piece of clothing.

Okay – I’ve turned this into a lesson on linens and I didn’t mean to so –

Once my shop had been open for about 6 months a gentleman called Des B. turned up. He was, I suppose, a ‘runner’ – someone who goes to sales and picks up pieces at a reasonable price then sells it on to other dealers, still at a good enough price that she can make a profit. Des knew more about ceramics than I could ever hope to know and thus began some years of buying – and learning – from, him. I learned the difference between ‘china’, porcelain, and earthenware. I learned about the earlier English ceramic factories such as Caughley, and the more famous, Worcester, Chamberlain and Davenport. The strange thing is that I didn’t become very interested in ceramics. During the early years of the 21st century, people went in for minimalism and stopped buying antique plates, thus I am still the proud owner of six full crates of antique and vintage plates (and other bits and pieces of ‘china’.

A Minton blue and white platter I kept because it had a little damage on the rim.

In the next part, I’ll discuss the wooden jigsaw puzzles and antique and vintage games, as well as the large box of ‘scraps’, many post cards, and other pieces of paper ephemera that I have had or still have.

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Not a blog post, a correction!

I really should have proof-read my post more carefully. I’ve found one or two places I wish I hadn’t used the words I used but, that’s not so terrible. One word I used that upsets me, though, is the word ‘lead’, in the 6th paragraph, final sentence.

Yes, it sounds like what I meant, but it doesn’t mean the same. Lead, has two pronunciations which sound either like led or leed in the English language. Lead, pronounced led, is a noun which means a grey metal which used to be used in water pipes etc whereas lead, pronounced leed, is a verb, the past tense of which is led, which is what I meant to, should have used! Of course the second lead can also be a noun describing an article used to take an animal with you…..Lola has a red lead.

Who says English is easy!

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The Uselessness of Stuff Part One

When I was young, I felt that it would be ‘a good thing’ to collect something. I couldn’t think of anything I was really interested in so I started picking up bits of rock in the back garden. Looking back, I think that most of them were the same kind of rock – mainly with bits of silica which was shiny, and therefore, interesting. From that last sentence you can deduce that I didn’t get hooked enough on rocks to study them – and where those little stones are now, I have no idea.

Then, I collected pictures of movie stars. Every magazine I bought had adverts for photos of the most important and glamorous stars of the time (this was the mid 1950’s when I would have been between 13 and 15). I had a huge collection of black and white photos of movie stars but, once I had them, they didn’t really hold much interest. I imagine that they were stored in my grandmother’s basement in the pile of other stuff we had to leave behind when we moved to London. The stuff was there, three years later, when we went to visit but, instead of only staying in England for 2 or 3 years, our move was permanent and I never went back after that visit, not even for a holiday. After my grandmother died and her house was sold, I imagine that all my carefully collected dolls, soft toys, and movie star photos as well as Judy’s and Jennie’s toys, ended up in the rubbish.

Looking back at my later teen years, I can’t remember collecting anything. Boys were much more important during those years!

Then, in my 20’s, I had Veronica to look after, a job to find, teacher training to concentrate on and in my 30’s finding a teaching job and finding out how difficult being a working mother was, plus not earning a fortune, stopped me from even thinking about collecting stuff.

Then, in my 50’s I discovered old sewing implements – silk winders, wool winders, thimbles, scissors, tatting shuttles etc. It was around this time that Julian went off to Wales every few months to train to be an upholsterer and when he had finished training, he decided to set up shop as a furniture restorer and upholsterer. We shared the premises we found in West Malling High Street, and I opened an antiques and collectables business in my half of the shop.

The building Julian and I shared – a few years earlier than we were there!

We had a great time deciding how to display our items, finding fittings, putting up wall paper and laying down carpets. Julian had one side with a large window looking in at his work in progress and I had the other side where I offered small and large items for sale. That lead to our going to auctions – what a joy!

My first auctions were in the old market in Maidstone. Every Thursday morning there would be a huge number of people looking at an even bigger number of things. On one side were the ‘smalls’, (which I was interested in) and on the other the furniture, where Julian hoped to find a chair or sofa he could reupholster and sell. I bought so many interesting items at those auctions!

There was a huge cardboard box full of wonderful table cloths, doilies etc, mostly from the 1930’s and ‘50’s and, in the bottom was a postcard. It was from a Mr Carley to his family from a holiday visit to, I seem to recall, Bournemouth. One of our friends at the time was called Mike Carley so I showed it to him later. It turned out to be from his uncle to some distant cousins!

Another buy was a blue glass dish with Lalique engraved in tiny letters on the rim underneath. Of course I had heard of Lalique but I had never seen a piece nor even looked up the name. Only one other person at the auction was bidding for it which came with an orange piece of Scottish glass. We went quite high (for me, in those days) and, with commissions, the two pieces of glass cost me £90. I thought I had made a killing – particularly when the other bidder came and asked me to sell her the blue dish. I believed that it was a Lalique and that I would make a good deal more than I paid, so refused. Several weeks later, I offered the dish for sale at an antiques fair. A young man (dealer, I think) came up to me and quietly told me that the dish was definitely not by Lalique and was nowhere near as valuable as the price I was asking. I should have done my homework, ladies and gentlemen, because the ‘signature’ on the bottom of the dish was nothing like the signature on Lalique’s work. I still have that little dish 🙂 and sometimes I take it out of the cupboard, look at it, and blush!

A lovely wooden necessaire which holds needles, cottons, thimble etc. I believe it was made in Germany around the middle to end of the 19th century. I still have it but daren’t use it as, in the rough and tumble of today, the paint could flake or rub off.
A small selection of sewing/costume items which I have kept in a box. At the top is a little silver pencil holder with a tiny pencil in it. The round orange item is a ceramic dress or hat decoration which can be sewn onto the garment. In the bottom left is another garment decoration made from a peacock feather.

Next time, I’ll add some further photos of stuff and tell you about my drawers full of old linens and my crates full of old plates and ask the question: what can I do with all this stuff?

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More about my sister, Judy

Those of you who have been reading my blog posts for some time will remember that my sister, Judy, died when she was a couple of days under 46. What I haven’t told you, I think, is that Judy lived in the US for about ten years after having a nervous break-down.

At first, she lived in Carmel with our father and his second family, then went back to Zanesville to stay with our uncle’s family. During the first year she was away, my mother flew out to visit the family, too. Patty (my mum) and Judy, along with Ethel, Patty’s very elderly mother, went sailing on the Ohio River – or maybe the Muskingum – I’m not sure and wasn’t given loads of details. The upshot of this bit of the story is that, on the boat, Judy met a much older man who was called Charley – and was married to him by the captain of the boat.

Some months later, Judy and Patty came back to England but Judy could not forget Charley who often wrote to her, asking her to come back. Even though she was around 35 and he was about 80, she had actually fallen in love with him, so she said farewell to us all and went back to Charley and they married (for real) and lived together for the next nine years or thereabouts.

I’ve told you this so that I can publish a short piece of writing that I found recently which Judy wrote a few months after Charley died. I’m sure you will find it as beautiful as I do.

“When Charley died, we (a nurse from the hospice and myself) had been by his bed for four hours. I’d phoned the hospice when I couldn’t wake him and the nurse came and examined him and told me that his ‘system was closing down’. She offered to take him to the hospice but I told her that he wanted to die at home. We sat there. I had a glass of Southern Comfort. Charley’s favourite. A lot of times we thought he had died because there was a long time between breaths. We looked at each other and suddenly he would breathe again. Then he stopped breathing for good and we didn’t look at each other because we knew. Then she took out her stethoscope etc. He was dead. A few minutes later I said, “Are you sure he’s dead?” because I couldn’t believe it. She examined him again and said, “Yes”. She asked me if I wanted to be alone with him and I said I would because I thought that was the right thing to say. I was still lying next to him with my arms around him. She went downstairs and I wondered what I was supposed to do in our last moments together. I kissed him on the lips. I said “Good-bye, Charley.” It didn’t seem to mean anything.

A few weeks later I took Dagwood (a cat given to Charley and me for a wedding present) to the vet. She had to be put to sleep because of a neurological problem. I held her in my arms, too, while she died. I cried. I thought of Charley and the way he called her ‘that damn cat’ even though I had come across him from time to time, making a secret fuss of her. I thought of Charley up in heaven (which I don’t believe in) saying, “How did that damn cat get here?”, and I laughed. It was the first time I had really cried and really laughed. I felt guilty that the tears and laughter were for Dagwood – but I guess they were really for Charley.”

(The piece of writing above is as she wrote it, aside from the occasional comma.)

Captain Judy on Charley’s boat
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Friday, June 12, 2020

This morning, around seven thirty, I woke up, opened my eyes and realised that the room was spinning wildly. I thought, “You’re imagining things!”, opened my eyes again and knew that it wasn’t my imagination.

I stood up and felt really dizzy and nauseous as well. I staggered to the loo holding on to the walls on both sides of the corridor and thought I was going to be sick. I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t kneel because of my knee ops (the fake knees press on the skin from the inside and could break!) I thought, “If I sit on the toilet, where can I vomit without making a terrible mess?”

All this time I had been rather vocal about how I was feeling, using a few choice swear words, which must have got through to Julian who was still in bed. He asked me if I needed anything so I asked him to bring me the bin from the bathroom but to take out the rubbish bag first (!) He did, I sat. Nothing much happened so I went back to bed. I took my temperature (35.5) and my blood pressure (62/45!) and soon went back to sleep.

All the time I was thinking the worst, of course, COVID 19!

When I woke up it was half past eleven and I was not dizzy, nor feeling sick, nor coughing. I got up, had breakfast, had a shower, ate lunch and am okay. What was it? I don’t know but now, every time I feel strange or headachy, I will immediately begin to worry – I’m over 70 and I’m gonna die! (I know, it’s pretty inevitable anyway but I don’t want it to be too soon!)

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This story reminds me of my sister, Judy, who was frightened her whole life that she had cancer. She would consult the family medical dictionary (quite an old one) or go to the library, which was handily across the road, to have a look at their more up-to-date encyclopaedia of medicine. She once told me that she had been through the entire encyclopaedia and found she had every type of cancer except any cancer of the male genitalia!

Sadly, she died of a squamous cell cancer when she was a very young 45.

Judy, when she was in her thirties.
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Several Weeks after Some Restrictions Have Been Lifted

I am extremely lucky!

Though I like people and am happy to go to the cinema, shops, parties etc, I am happiest when I am home. Why should I go anywhere when I am retired and live in a ‘holiday resort’? This infuriates Julian who loves to travel.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know I won’t fly due to the flight we took in 1958 from New Jersey to somewhere in northern England. So, poor Jules has to fly on his own or, if I go with him, he has to travel by train.

Tomorrow I begin my 13th week of covid 19 lockdown. I have spent that time doing all the things I was doing before the virus appeared and am, essentially, happy to carry on doing the same for the next 13 weeks!

I take Lola out for walks unless the weather is diabolical, I do word puzzles of various sorts, I read, watch tv, carry out all my house-wifely duties (clean, tidy, wash, iron, cook, vacuum, tidy again, iron, cuddle Lola, sit up late waiting to get a Tesco grocery slot for the coming weeks, clean out cupboards etc etc), have a look at Twitter and an occasional glance at Facebook and, once in a while, think about making some sort of painting – but, so far, no inspiration has appeared so no painting, either. I am content with my life!

Lola waiting for a walk

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Just this past week, on the 3rd of June, we reached our 37th wedding anniversary. As Julian loves to say, “A life sentence in prison isn’t that long!” There have been ups and downs but we’re both people who are too stubborn to give up, which is probably just as good a reason as any for still putting up with one another.

We celebrated with an afternoon tea delivered (in a socially distant manner) by an Indian restaurant in Margate which specialises in modern, Indian inspired food. There were savouries and sweets as well as a wonderful selection of teas. We ate Indian-inspired sandwiches until we were bursting and found that the sweet tray just had to wait for some hours! I think my favourites were the little macaroons, the coconut cake and the little cream filled chocolate cups. (Is it any wonder that I was so overweight!)

With covid-19 still around and Julian’s love of mixing with groups of friends and fellow artists, I wonder if we’ll be around for our 38th!?

37 years!
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