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Wednesday 22 February 2023


My vision issues make reading and participating in comment quite challenging just now, but I continue to enjoy your blog posts which the computer reads for me.

Today, I want illustrate life's vicissitudes through the story of my mother's lifelong friend Doreen. They are the kind of things we like to pretend do not happen.

Shortly after my parents married, they rented the two-bedroomed terraced house where I spent my first years. It needed thorough cleaning, so Mum busied herself scrubbing floors, washing windows, scouring the kitchin, sweeping the yard and hanging curtains. I can imagine the hot, damp smell of soap flakes, coal tar soap, scouring powder and disinfectant. There were few detergents. She had escaped her claustrophobic village and mother for her own little house in town, where she built a new life and blossomed.

In the back-bedroom of the house across the lane at the rear, a woman of similar age lay in bed-rest at her mother-in-laws', heavily pregnant with twins. She watched my mother at work and wondered who was this energetic and pleasant-looking young woman she had never seen before. Her mother-in-law came across to make contact, and Mum went across to meet Doreen. They had lots in commom and talked for hours.

They became lifelong friends. We visited each others' houses all the time. I called her Aunty Doreen. I have a lovely photograph of my pregnant (with me) Mum with Doreen, her husband and the twins walking along the promenade on a sunny day-trip to the seaside. They are all laughing and happy.

A few hears later we moved to a bigger house in the next street, so saw a little less of each other, but still visited often. It did not therefore surprise me on returning from school one afternoon to find the twins at our house. They were a girl and a boy then aged around ten. I was around seven. What I did not know was that they were there because their father had been taken seriously ill at the mill where he worked. He had had a massive heart attack. After a time someone knocked on the door and my mother sat the twins down at the table because she had something to tell them. "Your daddy's died" she simply said. It must have been almost impossible to say. They both burst into floods of tears. I didn't really understand but knew it was awful. People at the mill remembered how disturbing it was to see his overalls and shoes still at his peg. His body lay at rest at hone in the front room until the funeral. Doreen was still in her thirties.

But life goes on. With support from relatives, friends and neighbours Doreen brought up the twins into teenagers. A few doors along the street lived Maurice, a railway engine driver who had lived alone since his parents had died a few years earlier. He was a good-looking, gentle giant of a man, shy and quiet. The twins thought him wonderful and he became like an uncle who played with them. He formed a close friendship with Doreen and eventually proposed. Doreen was forty-two, Maurice about thirty-four.

"But he's so much younger than me," Doreen told by mother.   

"Gerrim married," Mum replied.

So she did, with my mother looking radiant and lovely as Matron-of-Honour. She had never been a bridesmaid before.

The photographs show a happy day, although as I have seen in other families including ly owm, her late husband's mother does not look entirely behind the idea. The marriage worked and lasted over thirty years.

On his days off, Maurice liked to do odd-jobs, and I sometimes found him round at our house quietly washing the windows.

Then at around the age of sixty, Doreen became very ill with bowel cancer.

"They'll be taking me out of here in a box," she told my mother visiting her in hospital. And we all thought that was true.

And yet, against all the odds, she survived. She had an ileostomy operation and it was successful. It was my mother who died two years later of breast cancer and Doreen survived her by twenty years before falling into old-age and dementia. Maurice lived on for another ten years.

To get through life without encountering such dreadful ups and downs is very fortunate. For the rest of us that do, I don't know how do manage to cope. We must be very resiliant. It's not all rosy, is it!

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Guitar Books

These are the books that taught me to play guitar. They came new with my first guitar in 1965.

Actually, books can't teach you to play a musical instrument. You have to motivate and do it yourself, and if you've got it you'll get there, and if not you won't. It is hard-earned. I remember so many whose desire exceeted their application.

'Tune A Day' was helpful by starting me off with two-chord songs such as 'Some Folks Like To Fret And Scold', played just on three strings, but I had to keep trying over and over again before it sounded anything like it should. Most find that being able to change between chords is the most difficult bit. It can also be hard to know when the guitar is out of tune.

You then struggle to master more chords using more strings, and pehaps after a few months you begin to realise you can do it. But as a guitar teacher in Hull (Tim Keech) told me, "it takes you ten years before you realise how crap you are" (which is true of so many other things too). 

Once I could play a bit, there was another book that did in fact teach be quite a lot, Hal White's 'Leeds Guitar Method' from the nineteen-fifties. It explained things clearly, such as on this page about Augmented Chords, and followed up with contempory songs that used them; in this case Dickie Valentine's 'The Finger Of Suspicion Points At You'. My copy of the book came from a long-forgotten school friend whose  name and address I am disturbed to see written in the front. I wonder what became of him. 

Play regularly for ten years and you become reasonably competent. When I lived in a shared house we often bought a big bottle of cider each and played through the Beatles' Songbook.

Here are a couble of multi-track recordings I made in the severties: a J.S.Bach two-part invention, or if that's not your thing, you might recognise the other piece as an improvisation around the Beatlers' song 'You're Gonna Lose That Girl'. You don't have to tell me now how messy it is, but I was making much of the improvisation up as I went along. I wish I could still do it as well as that now. 

If you can't see the videos they are at:

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Family Photographs

My vision issues make reading and participating in comment quite challenging just now, but I continue to enjoy your blog posts which the computer reads for me. 

A similar sequence in families throught the Western world, labelled in albums if they are lucky.

Early in mine, among the various family lines, are my great-grandparents around 1908. My great-grandfather is resplendant in is uniform, a newly qualified Master Mariner.

Later there are lots of weddings. Don't they all look well!

Now a very faded picture of his son, my grandfather, with his new wife, on holiday with friends and cousins at Mablethorpe Lincolnshire after the Great War. Along comes a son, my father, then a daughter, my aunty. They begin to look more prosperous and go on days out to the Yorkshire coast. My grandfather sits on the beach in his hat and suit looking uncomfortable.

The children grow older and get married. My father and mother help tend the family allotment. Then I appear as a baby and begin to grow. Dad plays and entertains me for hours, carrying me around town on his bicycle crossbar seat, and then does it all over again six years later with my brother. Wasn't he fantastic! Again we take holidays on the Yorkshire coast, and further afield too.

We even have audio recordings and bits of digitised cine film from the nineteen-sixties.

I look at it all over and over again obsessively, and digitise it, and add pictures of my own family. I leave everything well-organised for the future.

And in that future, my children have little more than passing interest in the earlies pictures of people they never knew. And their children even less.

"So who was he? Is that some kind of seaman's uniform?"  

I suppose I might be the same if there were photographs of relatives I never knew from 1800, who lived such unimaginably different lives through unimaginably different times. It is too difficult to connect with them.

The whole lot might survive another century at best before being deleted, becoming inaccessible or simply thrown out.

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Too Much Television

New month old post, originally posted as part of a longer post on the 19th September 2014. The other part of which was used at the beginning of last month.

We weren’t the last, but late enough for others to exclaim in disbelief: “What! You really don’t have a television?”

Dad thought them a mindless waste of time. After hours talking at work, he was happy to settle down to a book, or poetry, or his bible readings from church, or the B.B.C. “Book at Bedtime”. Mum, when not finishing housework, would be knitting, reading novels from the library or learning lines for her twice-yearly parts with a local drama group. I got through two or three library books a week too, and still had time for other worthwhile activities, not to mention homework. No one needed a television. There was always plenty to do. We were one of the last to have an X- or H-shaped aerial on the chimney stack.

My first viewing memories are therefore all on other peoples’ sets: school friends, the neighbour who regularly invited Mum, with me in tow, to watch ‘Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, another relative who let me watch football cup finals on Saturday afternoons, and one of my Mum’s aunts where I went once a week after school for tea. I remember the now forgotten Don Arrol’s brief stint as Palladium compere when he stood in for the ill Bruce Forsyth in 1960, the 1958 FA cup final when Bolton Wanderers beat a tragically depleted Manchester United after the Munich air disaster, and seemingly no end of escapist adventure series on Granada Television which was then the newly-licenced commercial provider for the whole of the North of England.

How many can you remember? How many theme tunes can you still sing? There was ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Rawhide’, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, ‘The Adventures of William Tell’, ‘The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin’, ‘The Adventures of Long John Silver’, and ‘The Buccaneers’, to name but a few. The only theme tune I can’t remember is ‘The Buccaneers’, despite it being one of my favourite series. The tune was simply unmemorable. But I can still sing you the standby music used by Granada Television before programmes started at five o’clock.

Dad eventually surrendered to the inevitable and bought a set around 1962. I watched the first Transatlantic transmissions over the Telstar satellite in July of that year at home.

But all the many “worthwhile activities” soon disappeared. A year later I was watching the indisputably inane quiz show ‘Take Your Pick’ (the one in which Michael Miles tried to trick contestants into using the word “No”) when news of President Kennedy’s assassination came through. Within a few years, some programmes had become part of the bedrock of British society watched by more than half the population, and activities outside the home gradually dwindled away. For me, homework took second place on Thursdays when ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ were on.

Dad remained a bastion of common sense. As soon as the television was turned on, he retired to his books, radio and other activities. I’m not quite that good, but I do try. Think of all the skills and knowledge lost to all that television. What goes around comes around. While I sit here trying desperately to improve my writing skills and perfect my pirate voice, my family sit the other room watching that embodiment of triviality, ‘The X factor’. 

originally posted as part of a longer post on the 19th September 2014