In order for people who have not signed up to receive this (Oh, I’m so envious..), I’ve had to put it online again. Apologies to you if you’ve already received it!
Julian puts the rubbish out, if I ask him to. I doubt if he knows when the bin-men are due and I’m sure he doesn’t know whether it’s general-rubbish-week or re-cycling-week. Once a year he goes on-line and does my tax return for me, he’ll vacuum downstairs or upstairs if I ask (occasionally) and has been known to dust his own bedroom – if given a duster. Once in a while he empties and refills the dish-washer and he has been known to cook his own meal, as long as it is a “ready-meal” which he can put in the microwave. If he’s not doing anything else, he will take me to the supermarket and – given a list – will go around one end of the shop gathering up things we need. He makes me a coffee, if he’s having one and, most evenings after dinner, he’ll say: “Let me know when you want a coffee,” though he knows I usually don’t because I feel a bit guilty if he’s watching a programme or doing something on his laptop. (Ready meals are for nights when Julian is going out early and needs to eat before he goes. I am not keen on eating at five thirty and he is quite happy with ready meals!)
A typical day
Julian gets up before me, gets washed and dressed and goes downstairs for his breakfast. He goes to the cupboard, takes out the cereal of the moment, finds a bowl, a spoon and the milk and sits down to eat. Because I’m taking amitriptyline in order to prevent a return of the dreaded sciatica, I tend to sleep late – but, as the doctor asked when I complained about it some years ago, “Does it really matter?” the obvious answer is, “No, it doesn’t really”. I may get up at eight or nine or even ten in the morning unless I have something important to do then I can force myself to get up earlier. I wander down still in my pyjamas at whatever time suits my sleep pattern and have my cereal, fruit and coffee.
Then my day begins. I go upstairs to wash, dress and tidy my room, then – depending on what I’ve planned for the day – I get to work. Twice a week I wash clothes. If I leave it for a day or two, it is difficult to get a load of washing dry. British weather being completely unpredictable and, not wanting to add to climate change, we don’t have a tumble dryer. Instead,we have an old-fashioned hanging contraption in the downstairs ‘loo’, which has four long slats and is pulled up/let down by means of a rope and pulley. I learned long ago not just to drape clothes over the slats as individual items take up too much room so I hang anything I can on a hanger (they breed like rabbits in our cupboards!), and use those special hangers with the sprung clips for trousers and for pairs of socks. I know it isn’t the kind of work my grandmother (or her servants) would have had to do and of course, it really doesn’t take that much time out of my day, but Ido it.
The clothes drying rack
Perhaps, on washing day (or some other day) I’ll do the half-weekly shop. (In order to have fresh food, fresh fruit and veges, fresh bread, I have to go twice). At the supermarket, which is huge with an enormous parking lot, I try to park as far from the doors as I can so that I get some walking done (!), I put my pound coin into the slot on a trolley and race round the market, picking up fruit which should last for four or five days, two loaves of bread, one of which I can freeze, fresh sprouts, carrots, peas, asparagus or whatever is in season, fish, meat etc and all those other things I didn’t remember I need the last time I came. I love how I can go round, in this particular supermarket, with a hand-held scanner, pack my items into bags and just point the scanner at a machine at the end of my shopping expedition and be told, by the machine, how much I owe. Then I insert my debit card, put in my PIN, take my receipt and go. Occasionally, I am chosen by the machine, and a member of staff will check that I have been truthful in my scanning. Also, if I buy alcohol, the machine flashes a light to tell a member of staff to ascertain that I am over 25. If I am feeling in a ‘fun’ mood, I will assure the young person that I am, indeed, over 25 – as if he would think by looking at me that I may not have reached that age. My hair, as you can tell from the name of my blog, is white (though I suppose it could be dyed) and my skin is no longer that of a young woman, though it’s not bad for a woman of nearly three quarters of a century!
The food cupboard. (The sweet tins hold candles, not sweets!
If I haven’t planned anything for a particular day, there will still be things that should be accomplished like the washing of pots and pans which don’t always go into the dish-washer, sweeping and even (heaven forbid) washing the kitchen floor, emptying the various waste paper baskets that are around the house, cleaning basins, the bath, the shower, the loo floor, the loo (see footnote!), and any one of dozens of other little jobs that have to be done – eventually.
Writing this blog
My mother, as I believe I have mentioned before, was born into a wealthy family. Her mother did very little all day besides dead-head a rose or two, check on her tomatoes, lie on her bed chatting to friends on the phone and ordering weird stuff from the shopping channel (which already existed in Zanesville in the late fifties, I think). As a result of her mother’s lack of knowledge of the housewifely arts, my mother also had that lack – alas, she also had no money for servants, either, so learned about being a housewife by sheer necessity. This meant, of course, that there were many things that she didn’t even know were ‘necessary’ and as a result, she didn’t bring us girls up to know about these things, either. I remember, when I was teaching at The Malling School in around 1992, one of the boys was telling me about his week-end. He said that he had been helping his mother with the cleaning and had had the job of dusting the skirting boards. I didn’t let on that I had never dusted my skirting boards and, in fact, had never even thought of looking at my skirting boards for dust! I’m fairly sure that I have reached my (near) milestone age still not knowing everything I should be doing in the way of housekeeping!
A small bit of skirting board.
Back to the point of this post:
When I have finished whatever housework I consider necessary on any given day, I might write a blog post, paint a picture, do some gardening – if the weather isn’t too bad or go to a class or a film. Meanwhile, Julian will have possibly been out with his painting pals at a local beauty spot. This is what happens at least three days a week and often more, if the weather isn’t too off-putting. He’ll come back with a water colour or two, or an oil painting of places he has been, photograph them and add them to his web-site. If he’s not out, he’ll be preparing boards to paint on, tweaking paintings he did earlier or painting from a photograph.
Dinner is usually ready about seven. We sit down, usually with Emmerdale(!), and eat the meal which I will have chosen, shopped for and prepared. After dinner I do a swift tidy while Julian goes into the living room to watch more tv or into the studio to look at Facebook or Youtube or an artist talking about painting. I usually stay in the kitchen to watch the small tv, do a puzzle or two, read The Spectator or chat with Jennie or Caroline or Myrna on the phone. If Julian is in the studio, I might go into the lounge to watch a boxed set (Mr Robot, series 2 at the moment or, for light relief, Californication which is rude and so funny).
Having read this, can you guess why I envy Julian? He has a clean house, clean clothes, tidy (if not spotless) rooms in which to sit and eat, me to talk to if he wants to chat, food lovingly(!) prepared, and Kitkats in the fridge for when he’s peckish. I would love to be looked after in such a way and in another life, I might have been. When he’s read this, I’m sure Julian will point out that he mows the grass, goes into the cellar to turn the electricity back on if the trip-switch puts out the lights, and does some of the jobs that I just can’t manage. I’ll do an update!
Footnote: When we were growing up in Cincinnati, before we came to England, Patty (my mother) was at university studying to become an architect. She hired a woman to come in, clean and look after us. Her name was Jones. (“My name is Jones. My first name’s Jones and my last name’s Jones. My name is Jones Jones,” she said upon our first meeting.) Jones did all the cleaning except the commodes (what she called toilets) which she refused to do. For some reason there don’t appear in my memory any toilet brushes. Whether they didn’t exist or my mother hadn’t realised they existed, I don’t know but Jones Jones gave Judy, Jennie and me the job of cleaning the two toilets in the house. I don’t think we did much toilet cleaning though and Jones Jones didn’t last more than a week!
Julian read a few sentences. He says he wishes that I had discussed this with him first as he is willing to do more if I just ask him to. He doesn’t see “mess” – and I know that – so is unlikely to do dusting or vacuuming or cleaning without being asked. He says he asks me if there’s anything he can do and I usually say ‘no’, which is true. And, importantly, he says he does appreciate what I do. I think women, particularly of my generation/age will understand what I said and how I feel more than men or younger people will or can.
After reading the post, my daughter rang to see if World War III had broken out in our house!
Life goes on😊
When I was a kid in America, we occasionally had ‘art lessons’ which consisted of being given a piece of paper and told to draw whatever. We had pictures to colour-in and were encouraged to ‘decorate’ round the edges of compositions but there were, to my knowledge, no painting and no drawing lessons. I spent a year at a private girls’ school where we did have proper art lessons but I was six or seven years behind the other girls and my attempts weren’t much good.
Fast forward to London, circa 1960. My mother, who was good at drawing and had done some painting, hired a young person whose name I have forgotten, to come and give drawing lessons to my sister, Jennie – at least, that’s the way I remember it. Apparently, I drew something during one of those lessons, which was thought to be ‘good’ but I was far more interested in boys, dancing, pop songs etc and didn’t even remember doing that drawing until Jennie reminded me some time ago.
Fast forward yet again to the mid-eighties. Ralph (Julian’s dad) had found another project in West Malling (see earlier post about the Wine Bar) and had brought back to life a small courtyard of old buildings in Swan Street. He opened The Mill Yard Craft Centre where there were some really interesting businesses. Dorothy, who hand-knitted gorgeous sweaters, a man who made wooden toys and other articles, a photographer who took black and white photos, husband and wife ceramicists, a silversmith, a great café and a few others which have slipped my mind. There was a slightly more modern building as well which had a room in which craft fairs were held occasionally and, upstairs, a large room which was used for spiritual-healing sessions and art lessons.
I thought I might like to paint (I don’t know why as I had never had that urge before!) My first painting teacher was Diane whom I knew from one of the schools I worked in. I chose oil painting as I instinctively knew that I hadn’t the necessary skill for water colours. I stayed with Diane for a year and enjoyed my painting but didn’t really feel that I was an ‘artist’. After that first year I didn’t carry on with lessons and forgot all about it for a year or two. Then, Angela, my lovely mother-in-law, started teaching a class with the title “I Can’t Draw, I Can’t Paint” and I thought, that’s the one for me!
In that class we were given interesting items to draw – scrunched up pieces of foil, fruit and vegetables, fabrics etc and I went so far as to go out and buy a small sketch book which I carried everywhere. If I had a little spare time I would draw what I could see. I can’t remember why I stopped going to that class but I got out of the habit of sketching and did something else….I’ve no idea what it was but it probably wasn’t as fun or as useful as sketching.
Fast forward to 2007. Having retired and moved to Broadstairs two years earlier, I needed to find ways and reasons to go out and meet people. At first I went to a class on Roman and Greek history, then to a class on Baroque and Rococo art. Then, I thought, why not take up painting again? This happened because Julian, a much more out-going person than I am, came home from his art group meeting with a gorgeous set of Rosemary brushes. I lusted after the brushes though I had no paint or canvas. That set me on the path to becoming a real oil painter!
I signed up for an adult education class for beginners in oils. Although I had painted in oils about twenty years earlier, I thought I would start again. I bought a big sketch book, paints, some Rosemary brushes, a pad of oil painting paper, a pad of disposable palette paper and some turps. My teacher was called Judith and she was excellent at explaining how to get various effects and introducing us to the works of famous artists. After a year I had to give up because my knees were so bad but, after a year or so out for operations and recovery, I went back to Judith’s class. But, I still didn’t feel like an artist.
Then Judith left to do some art of her own and Duncan came in her place. He introduced us to new techniques and to other painters – and, though I know I didn’t paint the things Duncan wanted me to, because I couldn’t, I began to feel like an artist!
Last year I quit going to classes and started painting in a makeshift studio at home, sharing what should be the dining room with my husband at one end and me at the other. He paints things that he sees and his paintings are usually good or, even excellent, and are in a more-or-less impressionist style. Me? My paintings don’t seem to come under any label I can find. They are certainly not realism, nor are they impressionism, cubism, fauvism etc. The nearest is abstract, but I think an abstract has to start out as one thing from which a painter abstracts something and ends up with another thing. My paintings don’t start with a picture in my head (read my post on APHANTASIA or look it up on Google) nor even with an idea. I stare at my tubes of paint, choose the ones I’ll start with, get a large brush and PAINT. I keep looking at it, adding bits, wishing I hadn’t put that colour there, turning the canvas on its side, applying more paint, intertwining lines of colour, and eventually, I decide I’ve finished – for now. I might go back to a painting weeks or months later and change it by adding one or more colours or painting over it entirely!
A month ago I entered two of my paintings into a well-known exhibition and I am now waiting to hear whether either has been accepted. The two I’ve entered are two that I worked on over a year ago then added to, more recently. I am very pleased with them but I know liking a painting is subjective and no-one else might like them as much as I do! I’ll let you know if one or other is accepted and, if they’re accepted, I’ll add photos of them, then.
The paintings above are about 36″ long
The title, of course, refers to the mess I make as an artist. After an hour of painting, my hands, my apron and sometimes my clothes are covered with paint. Some people are very tidy and you wouldn’t know they had been painting (I’m not talking about you here, Andrea!!). And too, often my paintings look to me like just a mess of paint but I can deal with that. What I dislike is cleaning brushes. They cause so much mess! Just a swift cleanse is fine – swish in spirit (I use Zest-it), a wipe on cloth, another swish, another wipe and it can be used again, at least for a similar colour but for a really clean brush you have to swish it in spirit quite a few times and get as much of the oil and pigment as possible out of the brush then wash with soap and warm water. Just when you think there’s no more pigment left, the water turns slightly pink (or blue or green) and you have to soap it up again, By the time the brushes are clean, the sink needs a good clean as do the splashback, wall and floor!
My latest post – University, At Last is about my continuing education, even through my 70’s.
When I was young and still at school my greatest desire and ambition was to be a teacher. At the time, in the UK, one had to go to a Teacher Training College where one studied loads of educational subjects (child psychology, art, maths, a bit of philosophy, history, physical education, etc) and one subject in depth. Having failed some of my school exams, I failed to qualify for a place at a Training College although I was employed for a year by the now-defunct London County Council as a ‘pre-trainee teacher’.
If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know that I had my brilliant daughter without being married to her father which, in those days (1964) was a societal no-no, so I was busy looking after her with the help of my mother and sisters. I was lucky to have had her in London where people were a little more broad-minded than people in some other parts of England, where a lot of girls, who would have been happy to keep their babies, were sent off by their families to ‘mother and baby homes’, which provided a place for girls to ‘hide’ until the baby was born and placed for adoption. As a new mum I couldn’t go back to school to re-study for the exams I had failed, straight away and I put my ambition to one side – happily, I might add, as I enjoyed the job of looking after and bringing up my gorgeous girl.
Seven years passed. I was working as a secretary for a sign-manufacturer. The boss decided I would make a good salesperson, going out on the road to sell our signs to architects. He obviously didn’t know me very well as, at the time, I was very shy and unconfident (I still am in large groups of people that I don’t know). After a few months of being a ‘rep’ as well as the secretary, I was made redundant. (He wanted an excuse to get rid of me!).
About a five minute walk away from my work-place was Acton Town Hall which, at the time, housed a Teacher Training College named after a man called Thomas Huxley. I went into the college office and found that I was just in time to apply for a place for the next term and, that very day, to take a short exam. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have all the proper qualifications as I was considered a ‘mature’ student, had basic ‘O’ levels as well as French ‘A’ level and, happily, I passed the entrance exam.
I became a teacher and was employed as such for the next twenty or so years, in various ways – as a class teacher, as a ‘supply teacher’, as a part-time French teacher and as a Saturday morning French teacher for small groups of eight to ten year olds. I’m sad to say that I didn’t love teaching as much as I thought I would though there were some wonderful days.
After I started as an antique dealer I carried on the supply teaching as it brought in more money than the antiques but after a while schools started using agencies to find supply staff and I didn’t want to go on an agency’s books as I would probably have been expected to do more than the occasional day.
Having studied French in depth, I thought I’d like to get a degree in it as I hadn’t actually been to university. While I was still teaching I had done the ‘Arts Foundation’ course with the Open University and had enjoyed the challenges it set. A year or so later I signed up for a degree course in French with the University of Kent. The degree would take, I seem to remember, five years and I would go to their branch in Tonbridge one night a week for classes. I was thrilled!
I had thought the the Open University course was challenging but it was nothing compared to this! We had to read one full French novel a week, in French, plus pages of grammar exercises and learning new vocabulary. I enjoyed the reading, I enjoyed the grammar but I absolutely HATED having to speak in front of a large group of people IN FRENCH. (Again the shyness and lack of confidence).
What I didn’t know was that Judy, my sister who lived in America, would come home to die that year. I gave up the degree course and gave as much of my time as I could to helping by taking her to hospital appointments etc. After Judy’s death I didn’t seriously turn my thoughts to degree courses again. Julian and I carried on with our shop, I had a new grand-daughter on whom to lavish all those maternal feelings I still had, visiting her and her mum and dad in London at least once a week and, of course, there were auctions to go to where I could spend money on items I thought would sell in the shop. (I loved buying stuff I liked, knowing I would have to sell it at some point but having it to hold and look at for a while!)
Retirement and the seaside happened in 2005. Being quite happy with my own company I didn’t rush out to make loads of new friends but, as the years sped by, I joined classes where I used my brain, spent hours a week in the local swimming pool, meeting new friends, started painting classes again and met more new friends and convinced Julian that we needed to look into the U3A which we eventually joined.
The U3A – The University of the Third Age. If you are interested to know exactly what the U3A is, please Google it! I’ll tell you what it is, to me. It is a way of using my brain – at this moment I am attending a Latin group which is run by a member of the U3A and all my fellow ‘students’ are members, too. It is a once-a-week-for-seven-weeks course which will give us a taste of the language in a fun way (no Caesar de Bello Gallico or Vergil). At the end of the seven weeks I assume we’ll either be offered a further course or will be able to carry on alone. Perhaps there are Latin classes in the adult education centre….if I’m interested, I’ll find out!
I’ve also joined the Armchair Critics, a group of members who go to the local cinema (110 seats or thereabouts!), watch a film, then go off to a local pub to discuss the film and have a coffee or something a little stronger. Another of my favourite groups is the Lunch Group. A U3A member scouts out a good place to eat, sends out a newsletter with menus, a date and the cost and we send back our menu choice and a cheque for the right amount. This month we are going to a Greek restaurant in Ramsgate.
Julian is more gregarious than I am and is always out, painting or singing and last year he went to a four week drama course which is totally unlike him! This term he’s doing the History of Blues course which I attended last term and which is run by our next door neighbour who is, coincidentally, the husband of the woman who started the Armchair Critics.
I used to co-run a group of people interested in antiques and ‘collectables’ with my friend, Myrna. The first week there were four or five people who came but after that people dropped away and we gave that group up. There is a very successful Collectors Group run by my friend Margaret who also runs a few other groups. That’s the good thing about the U3A. You can do as much or as little as you want. You can run a group for small or larger groups about something that interests you, or about something you are expert at. You can eat with the Lunch group, do country dancing, join the gardening group, read poetry, write prose, learn about computers or – and this is more like me – do absolutely nothing for a while then find a course that interests you, spend a few weeks or months doing that until it finishes, then do nothing again for a while. I would like to run a group but I have no expertise (except, maybe, in old jigsaw puzzles) and, anyway, at the moment I am concentrating on Tai-chi (local adult education) Latin and my oil paintings.
So, I’m finally a member of a university – one from which I will not receive a degree, but from which I have made friends, learned smatterings of various subjects, seen films I might not otherwise have seen and eaten at some great restaurants! There are U3A groups all over the UK if you are retired and want something to do. (I’m not sure whether there are similar groups in the rest of the world.)
In 1994 we moved to a gorgeous little village about a mile or so away from East Malling called Wateringbury. Our new house was partly very old. The two-storey front of the house was built in the nineteenth century but the one storey back was much older (though no one ever told me just how much older!) There was a small front garden which was planted with shrubs and I didn’t really have anything to do in it but the back garden was huge and wonderful! It had been planned and planted by the previous owners who had been there for nearly 25 years. I think maybe they wanted to move into a different place so that they could start planning another garden.
In ours there were plants from all corners of the world. There was a wonderful old cedar tree, a eucalyptus, a lovely wisteria growing near the back terrace, an arbour which was covered, when we moved in, with some sort of vine, and myriad other shrubs, trees and perennials which I can’t now name as well as bulbs and evergreen ground cover plants. There were two ponds. The biggest was just beyond the terrace and it was fed by the smaller pond via a waterfall as the small pond was on a higher level. This bigger pond was stocked with some gorgeous fish. It had an electric filter. It’s wiring was all underground and it had a little door in the ground where you could find the on/off switch and the plug and socket.
Now, I like all animals but I can’t bring myself to get emotionally attached to fish (after a traumatising occurrence way back in Cincinnati with a bowl of guppies), but I did feel that we should look after the fish and the ponds properly as they had been bequeathed to us (sort of) by the previous owners. During our second summer there, the big pond sprung a leak in its liner and we were having to add water every day. I won’t go into details about the very smelly business of removing all the fish to the small pond and emptying out the water and sludge, nor about the fitting of a new liner and all the travails the whole thing entailed but I have never again wanted to have a pond in the garden! (Unfortunately, when we moved to the seaside in 2005, we again inherited a large pond stocked with carp and other fish!)
The rest of the garden wasn’t such a problem but there are definitely downsides to a garden which is perfect – it doesn’t stay perfect because leaves fall, plants grow, plants die, stuff has to be got rid of in a garden that has no place for a bonfire or a compost heap. And, of course, the real problem with the Wateringbury garden was that it was already so beautifully planted, it wasn’t really ours.☹️
Around this time both Julian and I changed professions – Julian went to Wales and came back a fully fledged upholsterer (it took some months with gaps between) and I gave up full-time teaching and did some supply teaching (substitute teaching to my American friends) as well as started doing a little buying and selling of antique linens and sewing tools.
After a year or so of doing upholstery jobs in a crowded garage and the house getting (slightly) overwhelmed with the loads of linens I was buying to sell, we decided to find premises where we could do furniture restoration, upholstery and sell antiques. We were really lucky and found an old pub which had been turned into offices with living accommodation above. It was the old Rose and Crown which was just opposite my old home, Market Cross Cottage (see earlier posts) in West Malling High Street. The Rose and Crown became Rose and Crown Antiques and J&C Furniture Restoration.
We moved into the premises in 1997 and spent the next seven years or so having a great time, buying and selling antiques of all sorts – I had spread my buying wings to include ‘smalls’ and Julian bought and sold large pieces of antique furniture, though he carried on with the upholstery. One thing that The Rose and Crown didn’t have, though, was a garden. During those seven years I occasionally planted pots of flowers but, on the whole, my interest in gardens subsided. I gave away almost all my gardening books, stored most of my tools in Julian’s dad’s garage and put all my effort into buying and selling. (Don’t let anyone tell you all antique dealers are rich, by the way. One thing you need as a dealer is contacts, none of which we had. Another thing you need is ruthlessness when it comes to buying privately and, I found out rather quickly, neither Julian nor I had that ruthless streak.)
All good things come to an end and so it happened that after seven years we realised we were living hand-to-mouth and we were getting too old for the life we were living so we decided to retire and move ‘to the seaside’.
Here, we have a good-sized garden which we have made our own – with the help of a local garden design company who dug out almost everything, removed the blasted fish pond, made us a level seating area in the part of the garden that gets the best sun, and gave me a wild-flower area to lure birds, bees and butterflies. I have bought and planted a few shrubs and trees and put annuals and perennials into the raised beds. I haven’t got the energy or agility that I once had and don’t do as much gardening as I would like to do but am happy pottering and watching things grow. One of my favourite bits is the ‘insect hotel’ which I put up a year or so ago. It’s great to see the ‘entrances’ of the holes bunged up with bits of leaf, curls of wood or what looks like mud.
Today is the kind of day that reminds you why you love getting out into the garden. From inside it looks sunny and warm. Outside, it is cold though, being only January. It’s nice to realise that it won’t be too long before the days are longer than the nights and I can sit outside with my morning coffee, watching the birds, bees, neighbourhood cats and Julian mowing.😀
So, once more I will say, thank you, Iris for helping me learn to dig, sow, reap and, especially, love my outside space!
I would just like to thank all those new readers and followers from Bangladesh. I can’t imagine what drew you to my blog posts but am happy that you are here! Welcome!😀
When we lived in London, we lived mostly in flats. The first was on the sixth floor and the only area outside was a fire escape where the rubbish bins were kept; the second flat was above a shoe shop and had the flat roof of the shop as outdoor space. The woman next door, Marge, had made quite a nice area of pots of summer flowers and I tried to do the same but I had never done anything in the way of gardening and wasn’t too successful. Our house near Ravenscourt Park, where we lived for under a year, had a pie-wedge shaped garden which was facing the north and never got any sun. Everything that we planted was stunted and turned yellow. It was a good space for our first tortoise who, sadly though, did not make it into the early months of the year following the one winter we spent there, as the dog next door constantly leapt over the fence and grabbed her in his mouth, running into his own house and hiding her – leaving her with bite holes in her shell. Even with the bites she might have survived her hibernation had one of our cats (probably Moosh) not found her in the box room and used her hibernation box with its straw as a cat toilet!
We moved to West Malling in 1971. In West Malling we had a little walled garden (at the bottom of which was the outdoor toilet which I have told you, before). Looking out of the back door, the wall on the left was a three foot thick stone wall which was also the side wall of the building next door. When we moved in, there was a glorious passion flower plant growing over the entire wall. Each year it produced many flowers, each of which only lasted a day. There were even some passion fruits but never were they proper, edible fruits. I figured it was because the plant needed new soil. I was wrong! Changing the soil did one thing only – lured the cats to use it as a toilet! Another cat-manufactured disaster! (and pretty much my fault for not reading about how to treat passion flower plants which quite like old, tired soil!)
We lived in West Malling for twelve years. Those first years I was busy learning to be a teacher and, later, teaching. There came a time, though, that I hungered to do some serious gardening, perhaps grow food rather than just pretty little flowers but we had no room in the yard which was something like fifteen feet by twelve feet and cobbled.
One day I was walking down Swan Street when I passed the Bow Window sweet shop (which is now, I think, the dental practice – there’s irony in there somewhere!) In the window was a little notice:
Allotment to rent, please ring 84—- .
so I went home and rang. The nice woman whose son owned the land said that she thought someone else had already been given it but to come and have a look. I walked down to the A20 through Banky Meadow and along the road to a group of four brick terraced houses. To get to the door I had to walk down a driveway. On the left were the houses and on the right was a stream and a beautiful – but very wild – big plot of land. I was shown around and immediately fell in love with the place, but knew that the other person had asked first and was going to take it……..She didn’t!
I bought a spade and some seeds. Daily I would go to the allotment and try to dig up a space where I could sow seeds. Not having had any real gardening experience, I didn’t get far. I was very lucky, though. Iris, the wife of the restaurant owner, offered to help. She had loads of experience as she had once lived in a house with a garden before Frank bought the restaurant. She offered to advise me and, though she was in her sixties, also offered to help with the digging! With her help we were able to dig and remove weeds from a nice sized plot of around six metres by six metres where I planted broad beans, peas, French beans, Swiss chard, and bush tomatoes. Of those vegetables, the French beans, chard and tomatoes survived and, eventually, paid for all the hard work. The broad beans and peas were covered with aphids which I just couldn’t control so I dug those plants out. I still didn’t know much! I was learning, though, about crop rotation etc.
The next year I had onions, tomatoes, chard, beans and tomatoes and decided I’d try potatoes. I got out my special hoe (the name of which I don’t remember but it was supposed to make digging a lot easier!). I started on a new patch which had not been tackled the previous year. Suddenly, clang! I hit something hard. I got down on my hands and knees and found a hard substance with a rounded top. With my trowel, I carefully dug further along and the object was there, too. Then I panicked! I thought of the fact that West Malling had been a target for German bombers in WWII and was convinced that this was a bomb!
A family friend, Georgia, lived in West Malling. She had been through the war and was not a ‘scaredy cat’ like me. She came down to the allotment, grabbed my trowel and started hitting the object with force! I stepped back. She stood and said, “It’s not a bomb, it’s stone.” I still wasn’t convinced so, later that day, covered it over with soil and dug somewhere else for my potatoes. (Some years later I tried to find the stone object again, but, to no avail!)
Sometime later, listening to stories about West Malling, I realised that the object I found could have been the top of a man-made tunnel. West Malling Abbey is on the hill above the allotment (but not in view) and there were many stories about there being tunnels to Leybourne Castle which is about half a mile from the allotment site in the opposite direction. Whether it was or wasn’t a tunnel really isn’t important any longer, though, as the “powers that be” decided, some years after I stopped using that land, to knock down the houses, and use all that land plus a lot more, for roads, roundabouts and traffic islands. I doubt if any archaeology was done and assume that the bulldozers went in and did whatever needed doing.
Then I met Julian and we bought a house in East Malling. There was a huge garden at the back – about 30 metres long by 25 metres wide – but it had not been cultivated so I used all my garden knowledge to bring it under control. We moved in, in November, 1982 so there wasn’t much I could do but clear out areas where rubbish had been dumped. There were old wooden stakes with lots of wire attached, there was a green house frame, and there were weeds galore. Brambles – for those who don’t know – are blackberry plants gone bonkers!
It took several years but we did eventually tame that bit of the garden. There were other bits that just needed mowing and digging. There was a half decent lawn, a wonderful ancient apple tree (Ribston Pippins), and a white lilac planted by the previous owners, and a lovely damson tree which helped me make many a jar of delicious jam until the ‘hurricane’ of 1987 when it was blown over.
End of Part one
Even today in Britain 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 from the local paper mills for some 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 whom we would phone when we needed to have the cess pit emptied.
Now, to change the subject for a short time before coming back to cess pits, Julian had bought an old military vehicle called a Dingo, which arrived in many pieces and which he spent many, many evenings and week-ends putting together and making nuts and bolts for, before it was finally finished and road worthy. About eight or nine miles away was a yearly Fair where owners of old military stuff would turn up to show off their vehicles, look at other peoples’ vehicles, sell bits and pieces and, finally, parade themselves and their various tanks, Ambulances, jeeps, etc around a ring (at least this is what I think they did. Julian will soon tell me what they actually did when he reads this!). Julian and a young friend from a nearby farm were determined to take his Dingo to this military show. Julian filled it with fuel and he and the youngster set off down the road. Not much later the Dingo stopped and refused to restart or go further so it was towed back to the house and parked on the driveway.
Shortly, it started to rain and, as the Dingo didn’t at that time have a lid or roof, Julian wanted to cover it with tarpaulin. The young friend stood on an old log to throw the tarpaulin over the top. Unfortunately, the log was on the cess pit lid and its weight plus the youngster’s weight collapsed the lid! Luckily, the boy, with great presence of mind, opened out his elbows and stopped himself from falling into the cess pit! He shouted out and we found him dangling over the open cess pit which, luckily had been partially emptied not many days earlier. We grabbed him and pulled him out and, aside from a ruined pair of shoes, he was none the worse for his experience. The cess pit lid was replaced with a much stronger one the next day.
Other things we found in England which were surprising to a teenage girl who had hardly been out of Ohio:
The cars – compare on Google the difference between late 1950’s cars in the US and UK. We had left behind colourful cars with huge fins and found dingy, quite small cars. Also, the legal age for acquiring a driving license was 17 and they didn’t have driving lessons at school! (I was very disappointed about that but, in fact, owning a car in London would have been a waste as the public transport system was pretty good!)
The roads – in America roads were broad, often with cars parked on either side plus room for two cars easily to pass. In most places in the UK the roads were built for users on foot or horse and couldn’t be adapted to take large vehicles because of the buildings which, in some cases, had been there for hundreds of years. Roads that were made from the beginning of car ownership were built with the compact British cars in mind and, also, in 1958 and for another ten years or so, car ownership was the exception rather than the rule.
The ‘fast food’ – We came from a country which had delicious hamburgers and thick chocolate milkshakes made with as much ice cream as you wanted on practically every corner to a country with one ‘Wimpy Bar’ a mile away which offered ‘hamburgers’ which were flat and with no salad, french fries that were called ‘chips’, and strange items like ‘scotch eggs’ and ‘sausage rolls’. The pizzas, which we were able to find once in a blue moon, were completely different from the lovely little single pizzas I bought after school at Edrico’s in Ludlow Avenue and I couldn’t find an ice cream parlour anywhere, where I could get a ‘hot fudge sundae’! (Even today I haven’t found a real hot fudge sundae that compares favourably and, as for pizza, I’m not sure that I will ever find one that is as great!)
The money – I didn’t expect there to be dollars and cents but the huge pennies, the strangely shaped ‘thrupenny bit’, the little sixpence, the shilling (or bob), the ‘florin’ (two shillings) and the ‘half crown’ (two and six) plus the ten shilling and pound notes were so different. There were also ‘crowns’, which were not often found in one’s change, half-pennies, and farthings which were worth a quarter of a penny and were on their way out of use quite soon after we arrived. [then, in the early 70’s, everything changed again in the way of coins and notes and we went decimal!]
Nowadays all of those ‘strange’ things have changed and the ones I experienced have become part of my history and so, a part of me. We live in a house which is attatched to a sewage system (albeit with hundred year old pipes connecting us to it), we have two cars, neither of which has fins(!), we could, if we wanted to, easily find fast food in the shape of McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut etc, and we are very used to handling the once strange coins and notes.
(If you have any questions about something I’ve said, please get in touch)