Sunday, 30 January 2011

Cars I've Loved and Left - Part I

Well, I was looking for a more light-hearted post to clear the heavy atmosphere of the last.  So, following up on the conversation with Jg, and picking up on his title idea, here's another autobiographical chapter. 

I mentioned before having graduated high school at almost-16; back in 1972 it was.  The following fall I was to start college.  They call it university here in England; colleges are something slightly different, I think.  I've never got my head around the educational system here. The (then) Central State University was in Edmond, OK, 15 miles away.  I also got my first job that summer, as a waitress at the Wiley Post Airport, a tiny airport then, mostly for private planes.   Bill's always asked why Oklahoma City names its airports for people who died in crashes (actually, it was the same crash, in 1935).  I don't have an answer for that. 

Anyhow, I needed a car to go with my new <hard> contact lenses, my first checking account, and of course to get to work and to university.  My Dad had given me driving lessons in his car, a 1964 Nash Rambler:  white with a standard transmission, '3-speed on the column'.  I burned two clutches out of it, but fortunately he was a dab hand at car repair back then.  He spent most summer weekends under his cars, as I recall.  

1964 Rambler (white)
My Uncle Bernard spent that summer ensuring I passed my driving test (in a red Dodge, that was very important several years later) and my Aunt Rita was currently driving a maroon Chevy Corvair, one she was about ready to get rid of (Rita changed cars like most women back then changed their winter coats).  It was a thing of beauty with great lines and the cutest little automatic gear shift, a tiny T-shaped lever on the dash.  Enter Mr. Nader and somehow that Corvair ended up rusting away in a field somewhere.  At least that's how I remember the story; Pat might know more.  I just remember being very disappointed.  

1968 Chevy Corvair Monza (maroon)

Luckily, my Uncle Pat happened to have a car he was getting rid of:  a 1967 Chevy Malibu.  It was sort of a brownie-gold colour, an automatic (but I learned to lay scratch by revving it in neutral and dropping it into first - probably not a brilliant idea, but fun nonetheless). 

1967 Chevy Malibu (?gold?)
It had a 283 V-eight, I remember.  Like '3-speed on the column' just rolls out of my brain, so does '283 V-eight'; why is that?  I didn't know much about what that meant, but the guys at the pool hall where I liked to hang out seemed to think that was pretty cool.  There were only two problems with it:  Pat had been in an accident in it, so the passenger side looked like a piece of crumpled-and-straighted aluminum foil, though the door worked OK.  The other problem was that the tail pipe seemed to get disconnected easily and that made it noisy.  I wasn't happy about either of those, but I didn't have to look at the passenger side much and I had enough money to get the tail pipe fixed.  I remember the freedom of driving myself anywhere and every where.  Gas was 24 cents a gallon (and by cracky bread was only 10 cents a loaf, 'sonny').  I drove for sheer pleasure and happiness, just to see where a road went, radio blasting and windows rolled down.  Fortunately most OKC roads are on a grid:  N/S, E/W, so it's easy not to be too lost.  Either that, or my sense of direction was better back then, I'm not sure, because I'm famous over here for getting lost.  Never mind, this is about then.

Do you remember the pleasure of your first ever car?

Saturday, 29 January 2011


I got some information over the holidays that has thrown me off kilter.  We subscribe to, the commercial website that the LDS church has for people interested in doing genealogy.  Another  subscriber, named Camille, visited the historical society in Minnesota and found an index of names of adopted children, their dates of birth, their original names, date of adoption and the location of the adopting family.  As my family name is quite unusual, she was relatively certain that the name on the index would be the same person as the name on my family tree. She took it upon herself to contact me with this information and 'hoped that it would enhance my family research'.  I don't think she clocked that the adopted person was my father.

There are any number of certainies we all enjoy (or not) and take for granted.  I was absolutely certain that I knew about my family heritage and most of the quirks - mostly on my Mom's side of the family, it has to be said.  Part of me says I can't take something for granted and then turn around and say I cherish it, but you know we all do exactly that.  Certainly my blog posts about my family members are testiment that I love them, though I completely took them for granted when they were around.

One of the gifts of genealogy is that you feel you know your relatives, even those who died before your were born.  By the very nature of sleuthing out a new generation, testing the dates to see if they fit, finding corroborating facts to confirm their identify, pondering the reasons for their move across the country or immigration from another one, noting the births and deaths of their young children; by the time you've done all that you feel you almost 'know' the person.  Being the greedy possessive body that I am, I felt I owned them.

I'm not upset that my Dad was adopted so much as I'm upset that I only found out when I was 54 years old and he's been dead for 23 years.  His parents have been gone for 37 years.  I can't ask anyone anything.  They are so tangibly alive in my memories it sometimes catches me by surprise  that they aren't available to tell them things or to check with them.  I asked my closest living relative, my Uncle Pat, who also happens to have been adopted by my maternal Grandmother, and he was skeptical, having been around Mom and Dad so much and them never saying anything at some obvious moments.  I wrote to my Dad's paternal cousins in Minneapolis to ask if they could please check the records in the historical society, in case this woman made it all up - there was no identifying information with the portion of the listing she sent.  It seems unlikely to have been a hoax, but a careful research always checks the facts.  They might also be able tell me how to apply to a District Court Judge to get the records opened nine years early.

It dawned on me a while later that I had another contact, a maternal cousin of my Dad, who always said my Grandma was his favourite aunt.  I know him only through the genealogy research, something he's lost interest in; he doesn't always reply to emails I've sent trying to know him better, but he answered this time.  Ah, he wrote back, we always pretty much knew your Dad was adopted.  Didn't realise you didn't know.

Pat and I both have sifted through memories, searching for clues.  Best as we can tell, my Dad didn't know.  My Dad was quiet, introspective and somewhat introverted, but he was not secretive.  A few times the things he shared with me in the interest of honesty and education were almost 'too much information' from my perspective.  I'm pretty certain that had my Dad known he was adopted he would have told me.  Pat was kind enough to re-assure me that I am in fact the child of my parents (well, my Mom's anyhow); he was around at the time and can to attest to the fact.  It seems silly now, but I can tell you that when one big certainty tumbles, the dominoes around it teeter.

Poor Bill.  He's going through this major life change called 'retirement' and we are doing the usual dance of negotiation that couples unused to sharing the same space ALL day EVERY day go through.  I love my solitude and whilst I'm not specifically a couch potato Bill sometimes comes into the East wing to dust the cobwebs that have formed between me and the computer.  I don't know how to act when he comes up and stands around.  My mind generally is buried in the intricacies of devising and populating some silly financial spreadsheet, composing a post or writing a 'Race Director' email.  He comes in for a bit of companionship and gets my 'What can I do for you' response.  We've finally learned to stop and have a coffee break together.  Bill's going through a major change in his life and here I am weeping around the house as though there's been a death in my family and there hasn't.  I'm not sleeping well and frequently give up in the wee hours to commune with the computer instead of practicing patience awaiting sleep.  Some mornings I have a debate with myself about why I should get out of bed at all.  Bill thinks I'm showing signs of depression.  Well, he's a mental health nurse, he would say that. 

I've been weighing up what exactly is the loss I've been grieving:  maybe my German heritage, though the birth name Broun sounds pretty German to me.  My Grandparents are still mine, though, dammit.  Their way of life made a big impression on me and I aspire to move more in the direction of their thrift, industry and simplicity (maybe that's harder than I realised because it's not genetic, hmmm?).  This has caused me not only to question what I know or just think I know.  It's also caused me to perceive Grandma and Grandpa differently.  When Grandmother adopted four children from Catholic Charities it was in the 1940s.  Daddy's adoption was in 1920, from the Owatonna Public School.  A lot of the laws and social customs changed between those dates.  Whilst part of me thinks it's a shame that Grandma and Grandpa were less than honest, they deserve full credit that no one could ever have questioned their love and commitment to my Dad, even when he disappointed and frustrated them.  I have no question at all that they loved me, too, so whilst I'm sad they kept a secret, they did everything else impeccably.  

Grandma always struggled with the fact that she was four years older than her husband, she either didn't know or didn't want to tell that her father was born in Germany, not Indiana; having experienced the disappointment of infertility myself, I can sort of understand why she would want to block that out and pretend a child was hers by birth.  A couple of Grandpa's brothers also adopted children, but it was never made secret in those families.  Secrecy must have been a strange and difficult choice to make.  They'll have had their reasons; it doesn't matter if I agree with them.

I have no idea what Camille, the woman who presented me with this unwelcome information, was thinking.  I've not written to her yet, though I do want to suggest to her that blundering around in the adoption records and passing around information that is none of her business is perhaps a bad idea.  I'm angry with her.  I'd like to rip away some of her comfortable certainties and see how she likes it.  So, I'm not ready to say anything yet.

All my life I've wondered about glaucoma,  Alzheimer's and stroke, some of the genetic gifts I might or might not receive from Grandma.  One of my Dad's biggest fears was senility and dependency, another reason I'm certain he never knew.  I've no idea what I should concern myself with now, but that's no different to a lot of people, so no matter.

I had a great night's sleep last night:  I finally remembered the melatonin I brought back from the States ages ago (it's not licensed here in the UK; valerian works pretty well too, though).  I found an interesting website today, about the history of adoption.  Minnesota apparently was at the forefront of some of the laws concerning confidentiality and the sealing of records, passing the first law in 1917.  Other states followed suit between the two world wars.  In 1939, a book called The Chosen Baby was published and was a major influence in the practice of telling children they were adopted. So, I've found something else to be interested in, something else that might tell me about how things were in the 1920s, my era of fascination, only relating to something other than fashion and famous people.

I've sort of gone off genealogy for the moment.  All those hours in the library collecting information from the Catholic records in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Wiskirchen, Germany, wasted.  I can claim my Grandparents and perhaps their parents who influenced them, but at some point those other people don't seem particularly relevent anymore, except as incidental historical fodder.  I don't 'own' the blacksmith who came from Germany and I'm no longer related to the man who invented insulin (according to  That woman didn't just steal my certainty, she chopped off half my family tree.  Which at least gives me a use for the quotation I picked up the other day from Maya Angelou's book, Even the Stars Look Lonesome.  (If you've not read any of her books, I recommend starting at the beginning of her autobiographical works, with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

The quote is an old African saying:
The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.

And of course there's my old stand-by: 

This, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I Found Bill's Word!

I think it just goes to show that all good things come to those who read enough (or, as in my case, way too much).  You'll recall that just the other day I mentioned my frustration at never being able to validate Bill's choice of the word 'policies'.  New readers may not realise we have a habit of referring to our three (used to be four, but now there is a large landing) bedroomed semi-detached (sort of like a duplex) house with attached garage, front and back gardens (a very middling house) in grand terms:  the East Wing (bedroom), the West Wing, the Dining Hall, the Theatre (the landing with the TV) and the Policies (the grounds outside the house).  What with having started the seedlings (little leeks already peeking!) in the Box Room (a legit name) I may begin referring to it as the Garden Room or perhaps the Conservatory.

Anyhow, I was sitting reading a library book, Memories of Ninety Years, by Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester.  On page 32 she is saying 
"The family bus was a horse-drawn waggonette, sitting five aside facing each other.  The policies at Dalkeith stood between the North and South Esk."
 Don't you know I was thrilled to bits!  (Yes, I have been told I'm easily amused.)  

The Princess (a title given as a courtesy by her neice, the present Queen, so she didn't have to be a 'Dowager Duchess' - always makes me think of a humped back, that title) talks about her many homes, both before and after marrying the Queen's uncle Henry.   Princess Anne's father was John, the 7th Duke of Buccleuch and the 9th Duke of Queensberry.  (I'm always amazed when they have more than one title, as though one wouldn't be amply sufficient for anyone; no wonder there aren't enough to go around to everybody.)

Montagu House, in London, now part of the offices at Whitehall, has two Wikipedia entries for some reason, possibly to do with its life as a house vs being an office. This is where the extended family and servants, as many as 68 people, lived during The Season in London.  With one indoor toilet.  (I'd no idea that the present Queen abolished the ritual presentation of debutantes to court in 1958.  I'm sure it was dreadfully boring, but really!)

Eildon Hall, in the area of Scotland referred to as the Scottish Borders, near Newtown St Boswells.  This is where they always went in July, after The Season.  They travelled up by train.  Their own train.

Drumlanrig Castle, in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, belonged to her grandparents.  It appears to be a hotel now.  The children visited between September and Christmas, during hunting season.  

Dalkeith House, AKA Dalkeith Palace, is on the outskirts of Edinburgh.  This was where the family traditionally spent Christmas and New Years until 1914, the year of the Great War and of her grandfather's death.  It was opened in 1982 for the marriage of Princess Anne's nephuew.  It is currently "European study centre for the University of Wisconsin USA, accommodating some 80 students at a time."  Hmmmm.

Bowhill, in Scotland, is still the home of the present Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, but it is open part of the year to visitors.

That's as far as I've got with the book, so we'll have to pick this up again sometime.  Before I go, I would mention that it does no good to put 'policies' into Google, not even with Scottish legal terms.  I did find that if one Googled 'castles' and 'policies' that a wonderful list of properties in Scotland appeared.  Even better, however, the Gazetteer for Scotland that shows you the map of the Scottish Borders, also provides a glossary:

Policy:  In Scotland a policy is the name given to the designed landscape surrounding a mansion.

So, Bill's got his retirement job cut out for him, eh, maintaining the policies...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

2011 Garden Started

One of the things I'm hopeful about Bill's retirement is that we'll have more food from our garden.  He likes to garden, given the time and energy; I don't.  We recently reviewed the state of 'the policies'.  He uses this word like 'the grounds' or 'the estate' and I've never seen it or found it elsewhere; but then he knows terms like 'polled oak' and 'treen', so I'm not saying it isn't a word.   Anyhow, in spite of my dislike I had managed to put in some plants and tend them a bit, so we were out to see what, if anything, was still there.  Amazingly, we discovered that the spinach, the new strawberry plants and the beetroots have actually survived being buried in  snow for weeks.  We're getting rid of the blackberry bush; it hasn't produced well and we can find plenty for free nearby.  I'm especially pleased about the strawberry shoots as I'd kicked myself for not having brought them in before the snow.

What I can painlessly contribute to the gardening process is seedlings.  I puttered around in the garage and found large and small trays, all with holes in the bottom.  I cut up a large green trash bag and made liners for the big ones, then filled smaller trays with compost.  I planted all the seeds we already had that can be sown in January:  leeks, lobelia, sweetpeas, and chives.  When I ran out of small trays I raided the re-cycling bin for small containers I could stab holes in, or use a tin opener to almost remove the bottom. 

The 'greenhouse' again this year is the box room, having a west-facing window and a radiator to its credit.  The shelves are courtesy of Helen and Martin who had put this perfectly nice plant stand out for the trash collectors.  Even after I stopped with the seedlings, I put together trays of soil ready for the February planting.  Hopefully some of the January seeds will have sprouted and be ready to move into the back porch, which has a south-facing window, but no heat.  They need to toughen up, right?

Another project is to sort out the garage, probably getting rid of Ella's old refrigerator and replacing it with a chest freezer.  I'm not altogether convinced that two people should need so much food storage, but I still dream of having a year round supply of blackberries (unbelievably healthy) and sufficient tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce again.  Allotment gardeners here manage it in greenhouses, but we've never been prepared to splash out on a greenhouse...yet.  The day may actually come!

Have you started your 2011 garden yet?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Whole Lotta Whirring Goin' On

This afternoon Bill took a break from his downstairs project to see what I was working on.  He suddenly realised that when his power drill was quiet there was still a noise upstairs - the sewing machine.  I don't use it often, so he was curious.

I am in the midst of refashioning an old (1980's from a charity shop) long, dolman-sleeved sweater with horizontal stripes into a shorter cardigan with vertical stripes, all going well.  If the cardigan doesn't work out, it might be a vest.  One of the sewing ladies commented this was how I could afford all those holidays abroad.  She is right that I don't spend much on clothes at all, but it isn't just to save money that I undertook this project.  It's more because re-making or tailoring clothes is a skill I still want to learn.  You might even say it's in my Bucket List.  

The sweater's unique collection of muted colours have always appealed to me so I've hung on to it, though I can't remember the last wearing.  I set myself the target of making it useful again.  If it all fails miserably, it's still a textile that can be recycled into paper or a mattress or something.  If I end up with a wearable garment you can be sure that I will show it to you.

Meanwhile downstairs, Bill is installing white curtain railings over the front door and the door to the sitting room.  We're replacing the window curtains and rail to match the new door curtains.  You might guess they aren't new only newly acquired, in a cream coloured brocade.  The white and cream coordinate with the wall and woodwork colours, but the actual aim is to have a warmer house.   This is only one of several decorating projects Bill has in mind.  I feel very fortunate that he likes doing this sort of thing - which is likely why he knows how to do it.  

Of course the curtains have to gather to one side when not in use, so there are items that used to occupy that wallspace that need new homes.  It was time to re-think the wall decor anyhow.  I did my best to take these pictures with right angles, but as those are rare in this 90-year-old house, it was probably a wasted effort.

I don't mind sewing once I sit down and start, I'm just expert at putting it off.  Are there things you want to like better so you can improve?  Or is it the other way around...

Friday, 21 January 2011

Careful Reading

Dorothy, one of the ladies in my sewing group, was reading a Danielle Steele novel a few weeks ago.  When we met up for our Christmas lunch together, she'd brought a piece of paper with a list of 'American terms' she wanted to understand better.  She explained that the book was set in San Francisco and the background had to do with the stock exchange.  I could tell her that the SEC was the Securities Exchange Commission, a sort of watchdog organisation, but I couldn't tell her about IPO (turns out that was Initial Public Offering) and I wasn't confident in describing a presidio other than it was a big building, which she'd figured out from the context. 

I'm conscious that for most of my life, I've just ripped through books, grasping at the characters, consuming the plot and hurrying along to the denouement without pausing to ponder much along the way.  Now that I tend to chose books for the time period in which they are set, I treat them more like the gourmet meals they are and - indulging in my natural tendency - take notes about unfamiliar words or to keep an interesting idea for later digestion.  For example, I just finished reading Queen of the Flowers, a Phryne Fisher novel by Kerry Greenwood.

In it, I thought about how elegant a menu sounds written in French:

hors d'oeuvres froids (cold appetisers)
a soup (unspecified soup)
poulet a la diva  (Australian version of Chicken Divan)
haricot flageolets (flageolet beans)
pomme de terre fondantes (fondant potatoes)
glace Alhambra (ice Alhambra, but beyond that I'm stumped)

A Celebration Feast (with dishes named for female royalty)
The soup: consumme printanier Imperatrice (Spring Empress soup)
The fish:  sole a la Reine (Sole with sauce of the Queen)
The meat: selle d'agneau Duchesse (Saddle of Lamb Duchess)
The dessert: pĂȘche Dame Blanche (White lady peaches)

I also learned that a tarn is a small glacial lake and that one is mentioned in the plot of The Fall of the House of Usher, a story written in 1839 by Edgar Allen Poe.

I remembered Siegfried Sassoon from reading the biography of Vera Brittain, but not Wilfred Owen, judged by the characters to have been the better poet, also sadly that he fell in battle a week before WWI ended.

Apparently a sherry cobbler is not a fruit pastry but an alcoholic beverage.  The lyrebird has to be seen (heard) to be believed.  Violet cachous are a Victorian breath mint or candy.  The Castle of Otranto is a novel (free from the Project Gutenburg, if you're interested) by Horace Walpole who lived in the 1700s, is thought to have been a forerunner of Poe and his ilk, and is quoted as saying that
"This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel."  
He also coined one of my favourite words: serendipity.

Finally, I could tell you the recipe for Mr. Butler's Refreshing Cocktail, made with equal parts cherry brandy and gin with a splash of Cointreau...but why spoil the book for you?

How would you describe your reading style:  rapturous or rapacious?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

January in Retrospect

Several blogs that I read make a practice of pulling up posts from their archives and I often find material I missed the first time around.  So I thought I'd give it a go.  Rather than call myself 'copying' I'm referring to this as re-using a good idea and re-cycling material; this blog is nothing if not green (get it?).

In 2009:
  • I wrote about Living with the Cold.  I still use most of these ideas.  Now that Bill is finally retired and inhabiting the house with me most days, I find he's pretty tough about not turning on the heat until late afternoon.  He thinks it's his job to keep moving to stay warm until the sun goes down.  I find that if he's not going to turn on the heat, well neither am I.  You may be thinking about that saying that couples company and misery, but actually, I'm getting a lot more done, always a good thing.
  • I attempted to publish my first blogroll without adding to the clutter of the main page.  I really like the thingie that tells you about when a new post appears (when it's not stuck).  This saves time wasted looking at what's already been read.  For lack of better IT skills, I started another blog, called ShelleysList, that I visit when I want to look at my current reading list, much changed from the original. 

In 2010:
  • We visited Simon in Middlewich.  Simon now lives in  Chester, only a single train stop or a short bike ride from his new-ish job.  I understand he also has a new-ish woman in his life; we've yet to meet her.   His work regularly takes him (business class) to France, Germany and the U.S., and he seems far happier in this position, so I'm very pleased for him.  He asks me if he can bring me anything from my homeland, but I've yet to think of what to trouble him with. 
  • I wrote about the handmade gifts I made for Christmas.  I can't write about this year's gifts yet because not everyone has received theirs yet.  Yes, I know, they're kinda late.  I think of it like one of the bloggers who wrote that she saves back a gift to give the kids after all the holidays are over and they are a bit deflated.  She calls it the gift that Santa 'forgot' to deliver Christmas Eve.  I think of my very late boxes as kind of like that, OK?
  • I posted some snow pictures back when I still thought snow was pretty...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Downton Revisited

I have finally sickened myself on the Downton Abbey videos; I know the script by heart and I've paused a million times to study the details of the clothing.  So I will put it all away and come back to renew my pleasure at a later time.  Before stepping off the fantasy train, however, I checked out the place where the series was filmed. 

Highclere Castle is located in Berkshire (that's pronounced Bark-sure by the way).

Between London and Bath, Oxford and Southampton, it's a 'good address' I suppose.  If you're at all curious, best enter their postcode "RG20 9RN" into Google maps and browse to your heart's content.  I can recommend the Highclere Castle website as well, giving all the information one needs to time a visit and a stroll.  I should warn you that the video on that website is a bit of a jolt.  Several of the actors, the author and the owners - as in the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon - are  shown in real life.  Let's just say they are a stark contrast to the appearance and behaviour portrayed in the television series.

If the name Carnarvon rings a bell, well it should.  George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was involved with Howard Carter and the discovery of the Tomb of King Tutankhamun.  It sometimes strikes me that my life runs in circles - pardon me, please, whilst I digress.  Just the other day, Jg. commented about my word, pentimento, and introduced me to another:  conflation.  I chewed on it a bit and decided it might be a bit rich for my diet, but then I ran across it again here, courtesy of Delia.  I was very pleased with myself for recognising it.  In another slightly vaguer but similar circle, Egyptology is the background theme of the Amelia Peabody series, written by Elizabeth Peters, that I've been working my way through.  Let me reassure you here that I do still know the difference between fantasy and reality, but you could be forgiven for wondering at times.

Finally, Bill was struck by the Highclere website as well, given that his family tree eventually links him to the Carnarvon family.  It's a tenuous and dangling twig, that connection, and I confess to being a tad skeptical about that.  In spite of the fact that the present Earl is just my age, and I'm sure the Countess and I have loads in common to talk about , let's just say we're not likely to be calling round for tea.  I'm afraid I much prefer the television series viewed in the comfort of my own castle, thank you.  We might wonder over for a stroll through the estate, however, should we find ourselves in the neighbourhood.  I'll be sure to take my camera, I promise...

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Letter from Uncle Lewis

Here is the text of a letter from Lewis Carroll to Sydney Bowles.  There is a sketch of a cat in the upper left corner (what else?).  The letter was written from 'Ch.Ch. Oxford', (or Christchurch College) dated May 22, 1891.

My dear Sydney,

       I am so sorry, and so ashamed!  Do you know, I didn't even know of your existence?  And it was such a surprise to hear that you had sent me your love!  I felt just as if Nobody had suddenly run into the room, & had given me a kiss!  (That's a thing that happens to me, most days, just now.)  If only I had known you were existing, I would have sent you heaps of love, long ago.  And, now I come to think about it, I ought to have sent you the love, without being so particular about whether you existed or not.  In some ways, you know, people, that don't exist, are much nicer than people that do.  For instance, people that don't exist are never cross:  and they never contradict you:  and they never tread on your toes!  Oh, they're ever so much nicer than people that do exist!  However, never mind:  you can't help existing, you know; and I daresay you're just as nice as if you didn't.

       Which of my books shall I give you, now that I know you're a real child?  Would you like 'Alice in Wonderland'?  Or 'Alice Under Ground'?  (That's the book just as I first wrote it, with my own pictures).

     Please give my love, and a kiss, to Weenie and Vera, & yourself (don't forget the kiss to yourself, please:  on the forehead is the best place.)

Your affectionate friend,
Lewis Carroll!
That's just about how you would expect him to write, isn't it?  This is from a library book, The Mitford Family Album.   Carroll, in real life a mathematics don at Christchurch College named Charles Dodgson, was a friend of her father.  Sydney Bowles married devastatingly handsome David Mitford, and the rest is history...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15th is the birth date of civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is a US federal holiday that will be observed this year on Monday, the 17th.   It is apparently a rather controversial holiday; I'd no idea what a circus there was around it, and reading about this in Wikipedia I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  A bit of both, probably.  Can't say I'm that fussed about whether or not that particular birthday is a holiday at this point, though when it was enacted I was well pleased to have another day off.  What grates at the moment is what jackasses (my Grandmother's word) we make of ourselves arguing over it.

King was assassinated when I was 11 years old.  I don't well remember his or Bobby Kennedy's demise, but I remember where I was when JFK died (in my third grade class sitting on the floor watching the Spanish lesson on TV; the teacher came in and changed the channel to the news and then we were all sent home for the day).  I mainly remember that the world seemed to me a violent, ugly place, full of hate.   I think I began my reluctance to keep up with current affairs about then.  'No news is good news' has sort of been my code ever since.

I grew up knowing that racism existed.  Mom always taught me to say 'NEgro' (the polite word in that day); the other word with two g's in it was on the list attached to the bar of soap in the bathroom.  She taught me to always be considerate of any black person I met because they didn't have a fair shake in life.  I dunno, does that mean Mom was a bit of an activist herself?  Wouldn't much surprise me, actually, except that by my Dad's account, her adored father was one of the biggest, ugliest racists around.  Go figure.  

I remember when my high school was finally integrated in the early 70s.  A Judge Luther Bohanon of the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided busing was needed to desegregate high schools.  Property taxes funded schools and this  meant that the poorer areas didn't have as good schools as the richer.  So, each Oklahoma City high school was assigned a sort of lead area:  science, maths, language, and the like.  I think my alma mater, John Marshall, got math.  I got on a bus twice a week and got shipped to North East High School for a chemistry class, some one's idea of a fat joke.  I'm reasonably certain I passed chemistry because I wore hot pants and boots to class.  My aim wasn't to pass chemistry, but to engender protective feelings in one of my fellow bus passengers, Wayne, who being the size of a refrigerator may well have gone on to play college football.

It's a strange feeling being a minority for the first time.  It made me avoid liquids so I wouldn't need to use the bathroom and thus be out of Wayne's vicinity.  It also made me go out of my way to be friendly to the two black girls in my geometry class, because I knew it was probably scary at my school for them.  I remember how reserved they were, but it got better in time, almost really good but never quite relaxed.  Some of the richest and most interesting friendships I've had since have been with persons of other cultures, colours and nationalities. 

That scary feeling that came with integration wasn't entirely a mistake, though.  At least two kids died from knife wounds at school that year, something completely unheard of before, in my part of town anyhow.   Though my parents applauded the desegregation decision in principle, the potential danger was worrying.  That was why the school counselors gave parents the option of having their children take full course-loads (no study halls, no drivers education for me) and two summer school sessions (Algebra and English) to get all the required credits to graduate at the end of their junior year.  Having been put up a year from first to second grade and having done this hurry-up route, I graduated high school two weeks before my 16th birthday.  For all the good it did me.  But - as they say - enough about me.

I looked up King's 'I Have a Dream' speech.  I probably wouldn't have enjoyed hearing it delivered -- the Baptist preaching style doesn't do anything positive for me -- but I liked reading his words and I'm sorry I've never looked it up before.  See what a wonderful exercise this blog is for me?   I'm thinking I may need to find a biography...of his wife. 

Friday, 14 January 2011

Mind Candy

If a book could be chocolate - or perhaps for me, caramel is more appropriate - I think it would be named Brideshead Revisited.  I read it not so much for the story of 'forbidden love' and all that but because it was set in the 1920s and 30s.  The book took me to Oxford, to the beautiful grand house called Brideshead, to Paris, Venice, Morocco, Mexico and on a cruise from New York back to England.  It described clothing, objects and rooms so beautifully that I wrote ten pages of notes - words I wanted to look up, things to find pictures of, foods to try.  And of course, I met Aloysius, the teddy bear.  Wasn't it strange that the main character should marry and have two children, named Johnjohn and Caroline?  [NB:  I chose the Kindle link because I liked the picture best, not because I'm a Kindle fan.]

Apparently there was a movie of the book with Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon that didn't do very well, which is hard to believe.  Perhaps people were squeamish about the 'friendship' between the two young men at Oxford.  There is not a single hint of anything physical that I recall in the book, but I wouldn't trust a film maker not to spice it up.  There was a previous TV series from 1981 that reviewers  surmised did such a great job that people were skeptical that the more recent movie could do better.  Hmm...much as I love Thompson and Gambon, can they really weigh in against Olivier and Gielgud?  Also, it does look as though Emma Thompson out-does her character's written role and so I might find the film frustrating, but I'm sure I will have to investigate finding probably both these films in order to enjoy the scenery, the house, the clothes and all that.


Strangely enough, in spite of the gay relationship which everyone seems to remember most about this book, one of the main themes in the book is the over-riding influence of the family's Catholic religion and the fact that the narrator could never quite understand their religious beliefs.  Evelyn Waugh, the author, himself converted to Catholicism at the age of 27 and in this, his 'magnum opus' he intended to explain how central religion was to his life.  Some how I think that message gets overlooked in the midst of all the worldly distractions he presents.

Even the setting aside, there are passages in the book that so perfectly describe an interchange, a moment, an understanding, that it is a delicious book.  Going online I wasn't disappointed, either.  I found this sort of guide, explaining all those unfamiliar terms - I can't wait to absorb it all!
Have you ever found a book that captured your mind so well, it took a while to bring your attention back to real life?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

I Found My Word!!

If you don't love words like I do, I'm sure you'll think I'm mental.  Perhaps you're right, but way back in 2009 we visited a gallery in Sydney.  You remember, don't you?  I told you all about it.  I was excited at learning a new word, the word for when a painting is painted on top of another, hidden, one.  I took a photo of the placard that gave the word, but my photo didn't come out and as much as I Googled, I couldn't find it.

Enter Encyclopedia of the Exquisite.  Amongst the p-words (punto in aria, pell mell, perfume) was PENTIMENTOan underlying image in a painting.  It comes from the Latin paenitere, "to regret".  Jenkins, the author, doesn't talk about Goupil's Village Girl, however.  She tells a story about a 19th Century French painter, named Gustave Courbet (her dates for his lifespan are at odds with Wikipedia and the Musee d'Orsay, so I wouldn't pin any money on these facts, but the story is interesting nonetheless).  

In 1973 an x-ray revealed another painting beneath The Wounded Man, which depicts a defeated, dying dualist with a sword at his side.  This is not one that the artist ever sold, but kept it with him even when he left France to live the rest of his life in Switzerland.

The painting beneath has his love of fourteen years in place of the sword; her head is on his shoulder and they are napping under the tree.  She left him and took their young son, so Courbet painted his regret into the new painting.  You can see it here.  I shall try to remember this as his 'penitent momento' and perhaps hang on to my new word.

Have you found any new words lately?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Black January

I never got around to mentioning that my preferred clothing colour in December was purple.  This worked especially well as I got to wear my 'new' purple velvet slacks from Munero, or are they from Coast?  Maybe they are 'by' Coast.  Never mind.  The important thing is that, judging from their website, the original owner paid between £80-85 for these lovely slacks.  She took them to Munero, a consignment shop (or dress agency as they call them here) and got £7.50 back, which is better than nothing.  I bought them for £15.  My math says that's 82% OFF, which constitutes a bargain in my book (actually, I figure it's probably about what it cost to manufacture them, if that much).  I wore my purple velvet to anything at all social and my cost per wear is already down to £3.75.

I've not done any 2011 resolutions, really.  I sort of fell apart on my 2010 goals towards the end of the year and haven't yet recovered my resolve.  Two ideas came to mind in the last few months, which I shall substitute for resolutions until something more noble comes to mind:
Bring more velvet into your life. 

Raise the game a bit:  buy from consignment shops rather than thrift stores; or, find the more upscale thrift stores.   

Save up for core pieces of clothing, the classic ones that go with everything and lifts your spirits because they really look good.

Sorry, what was the title of this post?  Oh yes, black.  Well, it's an easy one.  Every one has plenty of black (too much) in their closet.  It goes with most things (even brown if you find a print that has both colours in it).  It rather suits my outlook in this cold month.  It pushes me to use that vast collection of scarves that belonged to my Aunt Rita.  And yes, one of my favourite pieces of clothing is a pair of black velvet slacks from Monsoon (via a charity shop in Beverley).

Do you have any velvet in your life?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Kate's Birthday

I was browsing through British Vogue's website -- all in the line of blogging duty, you understand -- when I thought I caught a glimpse of a headline that said 'Happy Birthday'.  I never found it again, but neverthless enjoyed looking at pictures of the happy couple.  They looked so entirely different to Charles and Diana's at their pathetic announcement, didn't you think?

I double checked on Wikipedia, and sure enough, Kate Middleton, future Queen, turns 29 today.  If you enjoy seeing pretty clothes and a pretty face, perhaps you'll like to look through this

I wonder what she'll get for her birthday...

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Year of Style - January

This is an 'old' book, published back in 2000.  Before you go 'Oh, that's just so Millennium', I'd like to state that I still enjoy this book.  It has pretty pictures and interesting ideas; it's sort of like a big, hard-backed magazine (and you know how I am about those).

For each month the author has a topic (this month is Simplify) and covers an area of advice: hair, make-up, clothing, beauty; but mostly hair - he's a hair stylist after all.  For each day of the month, he makes a sort of lifestyle suggestion.  Some of these are quite fun, but most don't feel like they apply to me:  I'm a tightwad, I'm not a chocoholic, I don't live in France or San Francisco, etc. Still, enough are sufficiently intriguing that I return to the lists again and again. 

I'm so in love with books generally that I have to be careful not to let them completely over run my house.  To help myself keep a rein on it all, I put a slip of paper into each and every one, titled 'Last Read'.  The list for Year of Style reads:  April 06, Jan 07, Jan 08, Oct 09, Jan 11.  That's sufficient evidence for that the book earns its space on our shelves.  

The ideas that I like for January include:
  • Learn to sit properly
  • If you wear a hat, it should match either your coat or your shoes (I would add bag or gloves, or maybe even hair, but what do I know?)
  • Learn your geography.  It's embarrassing not to know where Tibet is located.
As to the verb 'simplify',  I'm not sure it's part of my functional vocabulary yet, but I'm working on it.

What do you match your hat with?

Friday, 7 January 2011

Walk on the Beach

I'd had every intention of going for a run on the beach on New Years Day, but I just wasn't up for it, so I went for a walk on the beach instead.  So did loads of other people.  Even though we waited until mid-afternoon, the tide was still quite far in so everyone was scrunched up together more than usual. 


This can be interesting when probably 60% of people have brought one or more dogs and most are not on leads.  

There wasn't a lot else going on, but the waves looked much bigger than usual, so you had your requisite mad surfers.  Bill kept pointing out the two ships 'parked up' outside the harbour, they pitched about quite a bit.  I started to say 'yaw' but perhaps this only applies to airplanes?  

There was an occasional rogue wave that came in far higher than the wet sand would lead one to expect and everyone would have to scurry up further.  I worked out that the key was to not get trapped between a group of people/dogs and the sea, which was good to know as Bill and I needed to do a couple of genuine sprints to keep our feet dry.  

We walked up and back and then up the stairs towards home.   As I've said before, going for a walk is always a good mental exercise and if there is any of the Great Outdoors that I appreciate around here, 'our' beach is certainly part of it, so all in all not a bad start to 2011.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Grumpy New Year's Eve

We had big social plans for doing the rounds of the neighbourhood on New Years Eve, but on the day I actually couldn't be bothered.  So we went to plan B which was to continue watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny.  I can't believe I've admitted to this, as it definitely qualifies us as Sad Old People.  So be it.  I'm so sad I actually enjoyed some of the acts which included Wanda Jackson, a 73 year old that I later learned was from Oklahoma City, (though born in Maud, OK) and is crowned the Queen of Rockabilly.  Her act wasn't one of my very favourites, but Bill said she definitely still 'had it'.  I may need to listen to some of her earlier music in order to decide what 'it' is.

Before that we watched something about Grumpy Old People whinging about New Year's Eve.  It was pretty boring listening to people complain about all the strangers they 'snogged' (a rather ugly word for kissing) or had drunken sex with in the toilets or had throw up on them.  British TV at its finest there. 

The best show we watched was about 100 Years of History of the London Palladium.  I really enjoyed snatches of Danny Kaye's act and Graham Norton (whom I normally cannot tolerate) teasing Charles and Camilla in the Royal Box following the Pussycat Doll's singing 'Don't Cha Wish Your Girlfriend was Hot Like Me' at the Royal Variety.  The best part for me though was a film clip of Josephine Baker from 1974 in blue pantsuit and feathered turban.  She could actually sing well.  Somehow I'd always worried she just got acts because of her past nearly-nude dancing in Paris.  Silly me.  Come to think of it, you could watch her, too, right here.  I can just about die happy now, having seen Josephine Baker.  As soon as Bill goes off to do his last duties this week, I suspect I'm going to borrow his laptop (on which the sound works) and watch all the Josephine videos I can find. And maybe a couple of Wanda Jackson, since she is from my home state.

At midnight the fireworks started and we did the circle thing singing Auld Lang Syne.  [I see I wrote similar stuff this time last year, so how boring is that?]  I went next door and gave Elsie a kiss and then we went back into the house, which I thought looked rather cozy.  To watch more Jools.  What can I say?  It's preferable to 'snogging' (I swear, that word sounds like something disgusting and nasal) or whatever in the toilet.  

So there are some distinct benefits to being older, eh?