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Sunday, 29 July 2012


 Warning - this is a long one so you might need a cup of tea with it or perhaps to just skip it altogether.

 No not the Olympic Games about which there is plenty being said by others more capable than I but games children play or maybe I should say used to play.  I read of a Canadian report recently in which it said that many  children  spend less than 3 hours a week out of doors and this really shocked me.  I know that they must be including those who live in high rise flats with no gardens where playing outside might well be difficult apart from an occasional trip to the park and always assuming that mum or dad is willing and able to take them but 3 hours a week?!!!!

 As is my wont these days my mind went back to my own childhood and I seemed to remember being outside all the time.  Of course that couldn't have been true and I began to think about what we played both indoors and out, of how we filled our hours back in the 1950s .

I was lucky in having a mainly country childhood and never did we live anywhere that didn't have a garden.  My earliest memories are of living at Hightown near Liverpool where my mother worked as a live in housekeeper for a couple of elderly ladies (well they seemed old to me though were probably a good bit younger than I am now!)  Here I am riding my tricycle round the garden aged about 3 or 4 I also loved paddling in their pond .  They seemed to think I was the best thing since sliced bread and so thoroughly spoiled me and I was free to run about their garden most of the time as I pleased..

Children in the late 40s and 50s had much more outdoor exercise than nowadays as we usually walked to school, we had daily physical education lessons sometimes outside where we played rounders, running and jumping etc, and we spent nearly all our playtimes out in the playground playing games like tag, skipping, ball and so on as well as climbing and swinging on the frame in the playground - I particularly remember enjoying hanging upside down with one leg over each of two parallel ropes which were provided!  Then in our free time we would walk to our friends' homes to see if they wanted to come out to play and proceed to spend hours playing in the road.  There being very few cars this wasn't as dangerous as it sounds and when the shout went up "Car coming!" we rushed to untie our skipping rope (probably a piece of old washing line) from the lamp-post across the street to allow said car to pass before going on with our games!  Imagine that now!

No this isn't me this time!

We played two, or even three, ball games where we tucked our dresses into our knickers (well the girls did) and played complicated games including different movements with the balls against some poor beleaguered neighbour's wall sometimes throwing the balls under one leg hence the need for dresses being tucked up out of the way.  We did handstands against the walls too and when we got tired of that we would find a scrap of old chalk or maybe even a scrap of slate or soft stone and draw out a hopscotch pitch on the pavement for a game of hopscotch.  If we fancied something a bit less physical we might play five stones or if anyone had some maybe a game of Jacks which involved squatting down and bouncing a small rubber ball whilst doing intricate manoeuvers with the jacks.  Or we might decide to go for a walk and collect wildflowers which we'd press when we got home.  Or maybe just a game of pretend such as mothers and fathers or for the boys more likely cowboys and indians or something like that.

Many of our activities involved plants such as making daisy chains, shooting the heads off plantains by wrapping the stalks round just below the head and of course that perennial favourite of most children where you choose a length of grass and holding it between both thumbs to keep it taut blow on the edge to create an ear splitting sound!  We knew that elder trees had hollow stems if you could poke the pithy insides out and had ideas of making blow pipes or recorders though I suspect we never got that far.  We knew the names of many of the wild flowers, which plants were safe to eat and which to leave well alone, natural remedies such as dock leaves to soothe nettle stings and so on and best of all we were free from adult supervision.

We learned hand eye co-ordination, independence, to use our own initiative and our instincts and many other of life's lessons along the way and all the time we were outside in Nature's classroom.  I wonder how many hours a week we spent out of doors - probably 4 or 5 hours a day on dry school days and more in the holidays  and even on wet days we would have had to walk to school.

Yesterday I took a walk into town, along this route past the lakes, to pick up a few library books and came across some children playing a game of "Dare" and was immediately transported back to my own childhood.  These children were daring each other to jump across a ditch (probably about 3 feet wide) which feeds this lake and was filled with shallow water from the side I was walking across to a little wooden jetty presumably placed to allow people to feed the ducks without standing in the mud.  I remember playing a similar game where we dared each other to jump over a dry ditch with a barbed wire fence at ever widening places!  It's clever how children's innate sense of self preservation and their ability to recognise their limitations meant that nobody ever attempted what they couldn't achieve and so there were no gashes and no trips to hospital ever required or maybe we were just lucky.  It was good to see that children given half a chance will play outside and do many of the same things we did!

But of course it wasn't always possible to play outside and then we would have to think of something to do indoors.  Being an only child board games or anything that required someone else to play with were no good to me (maybe why I am not keen on card games or Scrabble or anything like that even now?)  but there were books to read - perhaps from the library at school which would lend a child a couple of books each week.  I did have some books of my own received as birthday presents and I also read some of Grandfather's books from his shelf including Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Water Babies which both had a fusty smell and pages mottled with brown spots due to age and the damp!  If I could get Grandfather to knock a few sprigs into an empty wooden cotton reel I might do French knitting and finish up with a length of cord - I am not sure what I did with it but for children back then the doing was the thing as much as the finished product!  Since my mother knitted most of my woolies there was usually enough leftover yarn to make these cords or maybe to do some cat's cradles with.  Of course I sometimes put on my mac (who remembers the navy gaberdine macs we wore to school back then?) and set off to walk to a friend's house to play inside with her and then the range of activities was much wider of course.

One of my favourite indoor games was Bayco - a current day health and safety inspector's nightmare as it involved putting wire rods into a grid of holes on a plastic base and then slotting the "bricks" between these wires to build houses - I never heard of anyone having their eye out with these wires though!  Nor with the lethal wire eyes that our teddies used to have - just the eye on a long wire poked into the teddy's face and liable to come out if pulled!!

We knew nothing of computers and televisions nor did we know about the present day dangers and although we lacked many shop bought playthings - post war nobody had much - I think we were happy making up our own games and playing with what we had.  Happy days and yes many more than 3 hours a week spent outside!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympic venue

Just in case you thought the Olympic Games were to be held only in London come with me on a walk we did yesterday round Portland Bay - the venue for the sailing events!  We haven't done any real walks since Easter for one reason or another and so as the weather forecast was set fair we decided to get back into things gently by doing the level walk we had planned when we went to Portland at the end of May see my post here and ran out of time.

We got the bus to Weymouth - parking is almost impossible just now and it is a pleasant ride and free to us oldies - and walked past the marina towards the start of the Rodwell Trail.  This level walk follows a disused railway track from Weymouth to Portland and seemed an ideal walk to get us gradually back to some sort of fitness. 

Our first stop was Westham Halt which as you can see is still in the built up area of Weymouth

 The route gradually became quite pretty as we progressed and once away from the first few yards which smelled of dogs(!) it became really pleasant walking and the air filled with the perfume of budleia, honeysuckle and privet (a scent which transports me back to childhood summers for some reason!) with plenty of sunshine and some shade too.

 The trail runs close to the sea and in places it is possible to catch a glimpse.

Half way along is Sandsfoot Castle where there is a ruined castle set in pretty gardens and most importantly a cafe for refreshements.  For more about the castle see the link.  As you can see it's been a while since any trains actually halted here!

 We wandered round the ruins and admired the scenery seen from the windows.

 Strolled round the gardens before visiting the cafe where we sat in the shade with our drinks for a while enjoying the views across the harbour to Portland and Chesil Beach.

 Refreshed by now we continued our walk - by now the sea was close to the path and visible all the time.

 Next week this bay will be busy with the sailing events of the Olympic Games.

 Having left Weymouth behind the coast becomes more rugged and natural - if you click on the photo you should be able to see a dog enjoying a swim ...

 ... and here a child happily playing on his own - Dad was just out of the shot and Mum sitting a few yards away enjoying five minutes peace!  We had now reached Ferrybridge and we got a bus back to Weymouth and walked along the front to the harbour.

 I was glad I didn't want to join the throng on the beach in the hot sunshine - there'll be a few sore backs and shoulders today I'm sure!

 Traditional Punch and Judy...

 Donkeys waiting in the shade for customers - these donkeys looked happy and well cared for and have won an award for best group given by the Donkey Sanctuary see here.

 This one preferred to leave the shade and get a bit of petting from the lad on the promenade!

We found a place to eat and sat with crab sandwiches and a cold drink overlooking the harbour which seemed extra busy with many boats going back and forth as we sat watching.

 So many of the boats moored along the harbour had flags (or do I mean pennants?) flying and it all looked very gay (can I say that now and mean what I mean?!) and jolly.

 Across Weymouth bay you can see a carving of a man on a horse said to be King George III who visited Weymouth often but nobody seems to know who did it!  See here: for more information.  We had enjoyed our walk although I am not sure as training it had had much effect since we'd mainly strolled but it was lovely to be out in the sunshine by the sea.  I hope the Olympians have the kind of weather they need for sailing and that it all goes off well - I think there are to be fireworks and lots of barbeques and the Opening Ceremony will be relayed on huge screens which were being erected on the beach - should be fun but I think we'll watch from our armchairs at home!!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Communication II

I didn't realise what a rich seam I was mining when I wrote my previous post about letter writing!  It seems I am not alone in wishing that just occasionally the postman might bring a real letter for me. Thank you all so much for your kind and interesting comments - all read carefully and much appreciated.

Last week I received not one but two hand written missives from bloggers who knew my postal address.  Of course a handwritten letter or notecard requires a hand written reply and those have now gone in the post to Simone and Lesley.  I realised however that since I rarely write real letters I didn't have any "proper" writing paper so apologies for that but I did write them both using a fountain pen and ink.  I also discovered how much easier it is to write using a keyboard - being a touch typist I can more easily get my thoughts down as fast as I think them whereas with the pen I was lagging behind as it were and my writing was getting worse as I went along!

Lesley mentioned coloured inks and the etiquette surrounding this.  I did remember learning that it was "correct" to use blue or black ink but not coloured ink but couldn't remember the details.  Some research on the internet unearthed a website which said that apparently red ink can be seen as aggressive and should not be used and in some cases it is believed to foretell death!  I hadn't realised that there were so many different inks available - on line of course as in the town shops when I wanted some there was Quink or nothing!!  See this web page for some of the different types available - ink is obviously alive and kicking still!

Then of course there are the pens available to use.  If you plan to write in ink you need a fountain pen or a dip pen (who remembers those from school?)  I still have the pen my aunt gave me on my passing the 11+ exam - it had been given to her by her Canadian Air Force boyfriend so was a treasured gift!  It needs repairing now though as the rubber inside seems to have perished with age so I am currently using a Shaefer fountain pen which my husband gave me.  See my propelling pencil and pen still in the little bag I made for it nearly 60 years ago still with ink on it from back then!

As well as pens and ink there were other accoutrements required such as blotters - my writing case has a blotter seen above.  Blotting paper came in various colours and qualities - I remember pink and green as well as white which is what I have here. Again who remembers blotting paper being stuffed into the ink wells at school so that it might be used as a missile when flicked with a nice bendy ruler when nobody was looking?!)  Then there were pen wipers which were used to wipe the nibs of dip pens to prevent them going rusty and also of fountain pens to clear any excess ink after filling them. I came across this web site for all things to do with pens and ink etc - do check it out it's fascinating there are Sevres porcelain ink wells, blotters, leather cases for pens etc.

You may remember me showing you this book ages ago?  Well I got it from the library again recently and have been enjoying reading it - in it the author speaks of writing letters and of having to cut quills to use as pens and making ink using elderberries (not too successful apparently as it was too pale) and oak apples cooked in a rusty iron pot - thank goodness we don't have to do that these days.

One last tid bit - I read recently that using plastic throw away biros is very ungreen both in their manufacture and disposal - I guess reusable is always going to be beter in the eco stakes.

A subject which would produce enough "stuff" for a small book - you'll be glad to know I won't be writing one though and certainly not here!

On a different note - remember this photo taken from the bus to London?

 Well when I looked at it again I thought that it would make a good tapestry or maybe even a small piece of felt.  I searched my stash of fleece and yarns and could find no red so poppy fields were out unless I bought some but then I wondered if I could do a crazy patchwork of it.

 I sat in the sun and finished embellishing this piece yesterday whilst DH sat watching the Tour de France (how wonderful is that that in Jubilee year and the year that London hosts the Olympics we have a British winner?) I don't really know what to do with it now though other than toss it in the back of the cupboard and found it difficult to get effect I had in mind.  I had no suitable ribbon to do the hedge as I knew it was neither black nor green so I used narrow cut strips of fabric - what a lot of misapplied labour I thought last night when I had had enough of it! Without the photo you'd never guess what it was meant to be would you but hey I enjoyed my couple of hours in the garden under the umbrella (yes it was so sunny we needed to have some shade).

I'll stop waffling on now and if you are still with me - thanks and congratulations you deserve a medal!

Monday, 16 July 2012


The postman came today but all he had for us was a bank statement.  Is it only me who mourns the demise of letters?  These days we are able to communicate in so many different ways that wouldn't have been possible years ago but I sometimes wonder whether we have lost something in the process.

On any train you can see people with their mobile phones, i-pads, Blackberries and whatever - it seems people are in constant contact with each other now.  Being on the train used to mean one was unobtainable for the duration of the journey and businessmen and women could breathe a sigh of relief at being not get atable for an hour or so.  I don't Twitter nor have a Facebook account but these too I gather enable people to keep each other informed of their every movement. Why?

Time was when we made arrangements face to face or by letter and if for any reason it was not possible to keep to the plan then one had to telephone (always provided that both people had phones).  People who did have a telephone often had to share the line with a neighbour - so you see phone conversations were not undertaken lightly.  In dire emergency (or as a special for birthdays and weddings etc) a telegram could be sent - this entailed going to the post office and carefully writing out one's message, paid for according to the number of words used, and this message would be telephoned to the nearest post office to the recipient where it was printed out and a boy sent post haste on a bike to deliver it.  Is it really possible that in my lifetime we can have gone from this to being able to speak, text, Twitter or e-mail anyone instantly?  I do sound old!!

I miss getting letters from friends - they were an occasional treat and when I received one I often saved it till I had made a cup of tea and had time to sit down and really savour it.  A letter could be re-read many times and saved - today's young couples will have no bundle of letters tied with a ribbon to look back on in their dotage will they?!  You can't do that with a text message can you? 

E-mail and mobile telephones are great and it is lovely to be able to send a message so quickly without having to trudge to the post box in the rain but I sometimes wonder, whether because contact is so easy to make, we actually make it more often, to more people.  Just because we can doesn't always mean we should..  Do we read our e-mails properly and feel at one with the friend who wrote it in the same way as we would with a real letter when there are many more in our in-box waiting to be read.  Are we forgetting the pleasure to be found in writing  to each other on real paper with a pen and ink maybe.  Will our youngsters forget how to write properly and will books (what are they now we have Kindles!) be written in txtspk instead of English?  Will they all have arthritis in their thumb joints from all that tapping when they are old?

Modern technology is wonderful in its place but just occasionally I wish they'd bring back letters (though with the cost of stamps it would probably need to be only occasionally!).

Friday, 13 July 2012

Another day out + policmen!

 Fancy coming with me for a day out?  Well hop on the bus and we'll go to London.

  Last time I went to London we passed of a field of poppies but I didn't have my camera to hand in time.  Yesterday I went again, with my husband this time, and this time I had my camera at the ready even though I didn't expect the poppies to be still in bloom but there they were still reminding me of an Oriental carpet spread over the fields.

 As you can see although the sky wasn't clear blue it was at least not raining and the sun did poke through between the clouds.

 We took the bus to Oxford Street - slowed by a couple of policemen on horseback which I tried to get a photo of without success - but eventually arriving in time to have lunch together before parting to go our separate ways before meeting up for a cup of tea later.  I am going to break my neck one of these days with my habit of looking up at the buildings above the shop fronts but I am always taken by the wonderful stone carvings and the architecture which isn't apparent at street level.  This is Selfridges.

After lunch I took the bus from Marble Arch ( this time it was policemen on bicycles dashing past - maybe it's easier to get through on a bike?!) to Exhibition Road near the Albert Hall and walked through the park noticing the carving on the gate post...

 ..and the ironwork details on the gate - love the little dandelion growing bravely in the paving there!

 There was a lot going on in the park - marquees being put up and taken down as well as a huge arena being built for something called Russia.Sochi.Park which is to be held from 26th July to 12 August and looks interesting.  Further along there was another big marquee in which is staged a production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which again looked interesting!

However it was still possible to forget all that in the peace and calm of the gardens which were looking lovely in the afternoon sunshine and more colourful than last time when it was cloudy see here.

There is also plenty of grass space for running about on and I noticed a group of small children all in day-glo vests and obviously from a nearby school being ushered into the Gardens and onto an area of grass where they were being encouraged to run about under the close eye of several teachers!

I came out onto Kensington High Street and again noticed the differing architecture and the workmanship which our ancestors used to put into buildings.  I love all the little balconies on this building - imagine having an appartment in the rooftop with that lovely stone balcony  seen on the left of the photo or any of the wrought iron ones would do too! (If you click on the photos they should enlarge and you will be able to see what I mean)

More stone carving - the mind boggles at the craftsmanship and will people in future times will be able to say the same about modern buildings although I know not all of them are ugly nor plain.  This one looks as if there should be a statue of some sort in the alcove doesn't it?

I wonder how many people popping in for a pizza in Pizza Hut on the ground floor notice the wonderful facade above them?

Or look up at this ornate building with not only stone carving above the windows but mosaic designs below and the red tiles below the window are also carved and not just left plain - it's as though nothing was too much trouble and speed of building wasn't the main criteria obviously!

We took the bus back to Hammersmith this time (you may remember I walked last time) as it was raining by now but we had been lucky with the weather all day.  However the traffic out of London was horrific (possibly due to the M4 closure? - or maybe just the rain?) and the journey took nearly 4 hours instead of the usual 2 and three quarters not helped when on the motorway all traffic was stopped by a police motorcyclist.  We had a ring side view when a taxi tried to overtake the line of stopped vehicles by driving along the hard shoulder and didn't seem to want to stop when a police motorcyclist indicated to him to pull into the stopped lane of traffic and wait alongside our coach.  The policeman wrenched open the driver's door and there was some sort of altercation before the taxi did as he was told and seconds afterwards several cars with a police escort were waved through (word has it that it was David Cameron but I don't know if that is true) but whoever it was they obviously got to their destination more quickly than we did!  We got back to two cross and hungry cats after a long but interesting day.  Next Thursday I am off to meet up with some friends but I'm hoping it won't be another trip to London just yet as it is too tiring!