Friday, November 27, 2015

the aunties *

The only time I ever visited Newfoundland was when my mother and I flew to England for a lengthy visit with family. This was so long ago that Toronto's airport was still named Malton after a nearby town; you walked out on the runway to climb a staircase to your plane while your friends and relatives stood on the roof of the terminal from which they could wave and shout last minute advice; the planes all had propellors which made the landing at Gander, Newfoundland necessary. Why, my younger readers may be asking themselves? Well, it was because the flights that were slow and took ages required refueling before making the big leap across the Atlantic.

There were several reasons we went at that particular time, one of the main ones being that my mother wanted to attend the wedding of her younger sister - a second marriage that would, hopefully, be a happier one. Back then, even in England, second marriages were rarely celebrated in churches and this one was no different. But after the ceremony at the Registry office they had a wonderful party - one that spilled out of the saloon bar at the local pub onto the lawn. The aunties danced.

Ah, how sweet to remember those bygone days when people could be silly without the risk of hearing the next day that videos of their antics had gone viral on youtube.

"Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business."
~ Tom Robbins

* faded pictures of fading memories

Friday, November 20, 2015


Am I alone in thinking that all times past were more innocent? Even this time a week ago appears to be much more naive a period than now. Then there are those much earlier eras in my life when the world was fresh and alive with possibility in every moment. One of the great delights of the few short years I lived in England was making journeys away from London. While I spent some months in Paris at the latter part of that time, in general, my lack of fluency in any language other than English made long stays in European cities difficult. It may be hard to imagine now but tourism in the mid-60s was mostly limited to the well off who could afford high fares and to stay in places that catered to their needs - including mono-linguists. Not to say there weren't already lots of students adventuring in groups, but I wasn't one of their number and hitchiking to India by myself didn't seem wise.

So, instead, I often travelled to out of the way places in England by train, sitting in little private compartments like this one whose door would open onto the platform and an inner door to the corridor where you could stand at the windows to watch the other side of the countryside pass by. As a fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies that weren't very old at the time, the confined space on board heightened the feeling of drama, intrigue, romance and adventure - all played out at high speed as the train made it's relaxing kacunkachunk rattle over the sleepers. Being a witness to the world and yet remote from its troubles was a boon to maturing - a little, at least.

It turns out I did all that at a very good time because within a few more years most of those railway lines between idyllic country towns had been torn up and sold in order that highways could be built instead. A very similar thing happened in North America with the promotion of the interstate highways and airline travel. It could be argued now that high speed rail lines in Europe and Japan have done much to destroy a more relaxed and humane way of getting from one place to another. Then again, I'll admit to always giving equal merit to the journey as well as the destination.

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.”
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

stations along the way

While there may be some things I can draw a bit better than others I'm not sure architecture is among them. Still, among my favorite memories of living in England are the great railway stations of London. Paddington, King's Cross, St Pancras, Euston, Charing Cross, Victoria,  Liverpool Street, and Waterloo are names and places to remember for their names alone, never mind their grandeur. Sometimes I'd visit them just to enjoy the atmosphere - cavernous sheds, seemingly endless platforms, and always lots of interesting characters. Other times, the best ones, were the days when I had a ticket and a place to visit somewhere along one of the lines.

Here's a story told by Terry Jones about something that happened to Douglas Adams at a large railway station around the time I lived there:

Early for a train, Douglas bought The Guardian, a cup of coffee and a packet of biscuits, and sat down at a table, putting the folded newspaper down so he could do the crossword. The packet of biscuits was in the middle of the table.

There was another man already sitting at the table and this man now leant calmly across, tore open the packet of biscuits and ate one. Douglas said he went into a sort of state of shock, but — determined not to show any reaction — he equally calmly leant forward and took the second biscuit. A few minutes later, the man took the third and ate it. Douglas then took the fourth and tried his best not to glare at the man.

The man then stood up and wandered off as if nothing had happened, at which point Douglas’s train was announced. So he hurriedly finished his coffee and picked up his belongings, only to find his packet of biscuits under the newspaper.

Somehow, I can't imagine that happening at an airport.. or maybe not anywhere now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

a fawlty assumption

This one didn't work out quite the way I'd hoped but it's enough to give a general idea of the time I went up north (north being the little village of Eastgate in Co. Durham) to visit my grandmother. I'd been in England, living on my own in London, for a couple of months by then and a visit was already overdue. What was I? 18 or 19, perhaps? Goodness knows, I thought I was about as grown up and sophisticated as a girl could be. My grandmother was probably 80 or maybe a bit older by the time I arrived on her doorstep - the first we'd seen of each other since 1958 when my mother and I had spent 3 months traveling the country visiting family. Naturally we'd been in Eastgate a lot. My granddad had died two years before so she was on her own in the two storey cottage they'd shared in retirement.

So there I was back with my grandmother for what I'd imagined would be a relaxing few days of quiet teas, long walks, and early bedtimes that would let me unwind from my busy life in the south country. What happened instead is that I'd hardly got in the door that evening before she put on her fur collar and her sparkly earrings, refreshed her lipstick and perfume, and hustled me out the door and around the corner to the local pub. My grandparents had been publicans among their many occupations over the years and had always been well loved in the area. So, unsurprisingly, just about everybody from the village and roundabout was there waiting for us to arrive, including the village bobby.

Now I never was much of a drinker, but people were buying rounds for my grandmother and me and the only way she was going to get another glass of blackcurrant brandy was when I'd finished what was in my glass. Nanna enjoyed her drink as much as a good joke and there were plenty of both going around the tables that evening. As it got later I comforted myself with the knowledge that soon the landlord would call 'Time!' and everybody would finish their drinks and go home. I'd had a very long train ride and a bus trip to follow so I was tired to say the least. Finally I heard the little bell ring and the landlord's call for last drinks. The policeman left. Five minutes later he was back wearing his comfortable clothes and the party continued for three more hours.

I could tell you some stories about some of my grandmother's exploits but it's late now and I should go to bed. I'm not the woman my nanna was. :)